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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine -- Volume
54, No. 335, September 1843, by Various
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
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Title: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine -- Volume 54, No. 335, September 1843
Author: Various
Release Date: January 21, 2005 [EBook #14753]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by Jon Ingram, donlei, Internet Library of Early Journals
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
* * * * *
Some time ago, business of an important character carried me to the
beautiful and populous city of ----. I remember to have visited it when I
was a child, in the company of a doating mother, who breathed her last
there; and the place, associated with that circumstance, had ever
afterwards been the gloomiest spot in the county of my birth. A calamity
such as that to which I have alluded leaves no _half_ impressions. It
stamps itself deep, deep in the human heart; and a change, scarcely less
than organic, for good or ill, is wrought there. Agreeably with this
fact, the scene itself of the event becomes at once, to the survivor,
either hallowed and beloved, or hated and avoided. Not that natural
beauty or deformity has any thing to do in the production of such
feelings. They have a mysterious origin, and are, in truth, not to be
accounted for or explained. A father sees the hope and joy of his manhood
deposited amongst the gardens of the soil, and from that moment the
fruitful fields and unobstructed sky are things he cannot gaze upon;
whilst the brother, who has lived in the court or alley of a crowded city
with the sister of his infancy, and has buried her, with his burning
tears, in the dense churchyard of the denser street, clings to the
neighbourhood, close and unhealthy though it be, with a love that renders
it for him the brightest and the dearest nook of earth. He cannot quit
it, and be at peace. Causes that seem alike, are not always so in their
effects. For my own part, for years after the first bitter lesson of my
life became connected with that city, I could not think of it without
pain, or hear its name spoken without suffering a depression of spirits,
as difficult to throw off as are the heavy clouds that follow in the
track, and hide the little light of a December sun. At school, I remember
well how grievously I wept upon the map on which I first saw the word
written, and how completely I expunged the characters from the paper,
forbidding my eyes to glance even to the county from which I had erased
them. Time passes, hardening the heart as it rolls over it, and we afford
to laugh at the strong feelings and extravagant views of our youth. It is
well, perhaps, that we do so; and yet on that subject a word or two of
profitable matter might be offered, which shall be withholden now. For
many years I have battled through the world, an orphan, on my own
account; and it is not surprising that the vehemence of my early days
should have gradually sobered down before the stern realities that have
at every step encountered me. Long before I received the unwelcome
intelligence, that it was literally incumbent upon me to revisit the spot
of my beloved mother's dissolution, the mention of its name had ceased to
evoke any violent emotion, or to affect me as of old. I say _unwelcome_,
because, notwithstanding the stoicism of which I boast, I felt quite
uncomfortable enough to write to my correspondent by the return of post,
urging him to make one more endeavour to complete my business without my
aid, and to spare, if possible, my personal attendance. I gave no reason
for this wish. I did not choose to tell a falsehood, and I had hardly
honesty to acknowledge, even to myself--the truth. I failed, however, in
my application, and with any but a cheerful mind, I quitted London on my
journey. Thirty years before I had travelled to ---- in a stupendous
machine, of which now I recollect only that it seemed to take years out
of my little life in arriving at its destination, and that, on its broad,
substantial rear, it bore the effigy of "_an ancient Briton_." Locomotion
then, like me, was in a state of infancy. On the occasion of my second
visit to the city, I had hardly time to wonder at the velocity with which
I was borne along. Distance was annihilated. The two hundred miles over
which _the ancient Briton_ had wearisomely laboured, were reduced to
twenty, and before I could satisfy myself that our journey was more than
begun, my horseless coach, and fifty more besides, had actually gone over
them. I experienced a nervous palpitation at the heart as I proceeded
from the outskirts of the city, and grew more and more fidgety the nearer
I approached the din and noise of the prosperous seat of business. I
could not account for the feeling, until I detected myself walking as
briskly as I could, with my eyes fixed hard upon the ground, as though
afraid to glance upon a street, a house, an object which could recall the
past, or carry me back to the first dark days of life. Then it was that I
summoned courage, and, with a desperate effort to crush the morbid
sensibility, raised myself to my full height, gazed around me, and awoke,
effectually and for ever, from my dream. The city was not the same. The
well-remembered thoroughfares were gone; their names extinct, and
superseded by others more euphonic; the buildings, which I had carried in
my mind as in a book--the thought of meeting which had given me so much
pain, had been removed--destroyed, and not a brick remained which I could
call a friend, or offer one warm tear, in testimony of old acquaintance.
A noble street, a line of palaces--merchants' palaces--had taken to
itself the room of twenty narrow ways, that, in the good old times, had
met and crossed in close, but questionable, friendship. Bright stone,
that in the sunlight shone brighter than itself, flanked every broad and
stately avenue, denoting wealth and high commercial dignity. Every
venerable association was swept away, and nothing remained of the
long-cherished and always unsightly picture, but the faint shadow in my
own brain--growing fainter now with every moment, and which the
unexpected scene and new excitement were not slow to obliterate
altogether. I breathed more freely as I went my way, and reached my
agent's house at length, lighter of heart than I had been for hours
before. Mr Treherne was a man of business, and a prosperous one too, or
surely he had no right to place before the dozen corpulent gentlemen whom
I met on my arrival--a dinner, towards which the viscera of princes might
have turned without ruffling a fold of their intestinal dignity. I
partook of the feast--that is to say, I sat at the groaning table, and,
like a cautious and dyspeptic man, I eat roast beef--_toujours_ roast
beef, and nothing else--appeased my thirst with grateful claret, and
retired at last to wholesome sleep and quiet dreams. Not so the corpulent
guests. It may be to my dyspeptic habit, which enables me to be virtuous
at a trifling cost, and to nothing loftier, that I am bound to attribute
the feeling with which I invariably sit down to feasting; be this the
fact or not, I confess that a sense of shame, uneasiness, and dislike,
renders an affair of this kind to me the most irksome and unpleasant of
enjoyments. The eagerness of appetite that one can fairly see in the
watery and sensual eyes of men to whom _eating_ has become the aim and
joy of their existence--the absorption of every faculty in the gluttonous
pursuit--the animal indulgence and delight--these are sickening; then the
deliberate and cold-blooded torture of the creatures whose marrowy bones
are _crunched_ by the epicure, without a thought of the suffering that
preceded his intensely pleasurable emotions, and the bare mention of
which, in this narrative, is almost more than sufficient, then, worst of
all, the wilful prodigality and waste--the wickedness of casting to the
dogs the healthy food for which whole families, widows, and beggared
orphans are pining in the neighbouring street--the guilty indifference of
him who finds the wealth for the profusion, and the impudent recklessness
of the underling who abuses it. Such are a few of the causes which concur
in giving to the finest banquet I have seen an aspect not more odious
than humiliating; and here I dwell upon the fact, because the incident
which I shall shortly bring before the reader's eye, served to confirm
the feelings which I entertain on this subject, and presented an
instructive contrast to the splendid entertainment which greeted my
immediate arrival.
I slept at the house of Mr Treherne, and, on the following morning, was an
early riser. I strolled through the city, and, returning home, found my
active friend seated at his breakfast-table, with a host of papers, and a
packet of newly-arrived letters before him. The dinner was no more like
the breakfast, than was my friend in the midst of his guests like my
friend alone with his papers. His meal consisted of one slice of dry
toast, and one cup of tea, already cold. The face that was all smile and
relaxation of muscle on the preceding evening, was solemn and composed.
You might have ventured to assert that tea and toast were that man's most
stimulating diet, and that the pleasures of the counting-house were the
highest this world could afford him. I, however, had passed the evening
with him, and was better informed. Mr Treherne requested me to ring the
bell. I did so, and his servant speedily appeared with a tray of garnished
dainties, of which I was invited to partake, with many expressions of
kindness uttered by my man-of-business, without a look at me, or a
movement of his mind and eye from the pile of paper with which he was
busy. In the course of half an hour, I had brought my repast to a close,
and Mr Treherne was primed for the conflict of the day. His engagements
did not permit him to give me his assistance in my own matters until the
following morning. He begged me to excuse him until dinner-time--to make
myself perfectly at home--to wile away an hour or so in his library--and,
when I got tired of that, to take what amusement I could amongst the lions
of the town--offering which advice, he quitted me and his house with a
head much more heavily laden, I am sure, than any that ever groaned
beneath the hard and aching knot. Would that the labourer could be taught
to think so!
After having passed an unsatisfactory hour in Mr Treherne's library, in
which the only books which I cared to look at were very wisely locked up,
on account of their rich binding, too beautiful to be touched, I sauntered
once more through the broad streets of the city, and, in my solitary walk,
philosophized upon the busy spirit of trade which pervaded them. It is at
such a time and place that the quiet and observant mind is startled by the
stern and settled appearance of reality and continuance which all things
take. If the world were the abiding-place of man, and life eternity, such
earnestness, such vigour, such intensity of purpose and of action as I saw
stamped upon the harassed brows of men, would be in harmony with such a
scene and destination. HERE such concentration of the glorious energies of
man is mockery, delusion, and robs the human soul of--who shall say how
much? Look at the stream of life pouring through the streets of commerce,
from morn till night, and mark the young and old--yes, the youngest and
the oldest--and discover, if you can, the expression of any thought but
that of traffic and of gain, as if the aim and end of living were summed
up in these. And are they? Yes, if we may trust the evidence of age, of
him who creeps and totters on his way, who has told his threescore years
and ten, and on the threshold of eternity has found the vanity of all
things. Oh, look at him, and learn how hard it is, even at the door of
death, to FEEL the mutability and nothingness of earth! Palsied he is, yet
to the Exchange he daily hies, and his dull eye glistens on the mart--his
ear is greedy for the sounds that come too tardily--his quick and treble
voice is loud amongst the loudest. He is as quick to apprehend, as eager
now to learn, as ravenous for gain, as when he trusted first an untried
world. If life be truly but a shadow, and mortals but the actors in the
vision, is it not marvellous that age, and wisdom, and experience build
and fasten there as on a rock? Such thoughts as these engaged my mind, as
I pursued my way alone, unoccupied, amongst the labouring multitude, and
cast a melancholy hue on things that, to the eye external, looked bright,
beautiful, and enduring. I was arrested in my meditations at length by a
crowd of persons--men, women, and children--who thronged about the
entrance of a spacious, well-built edifice. They were for the most part in
rags, and their looks betrayed them for poor and reckless creatures all.
They presented so singular a feature of the scene, contrasted so
disagreeably with the solid richness and perfect finish of the building,
that I stopped involuntarily, and enquired into the cause of their
attendance. Before I could obtain an answer, a well-dressed and better-fed
official came suddenly to the door, and bawled the name of one poor
wretch, who answered it immediately, stepped from the crowd, and followed
the appellant, as the latter vanished quickly from the door again. A
remark which, at the same moment, escaped another of the group, told me
that I stood before the sessions'-house, and that a man, well known to
most of them, was now upon trial for his life. He was a murderer--and the
questionable-looking gentleman who had been invited to appear in court,
had travelled many miles on foot, to give the criminal the benefit of his
good word. He was the witness for the defence, and came to speak to
_character_! My curiosity was excited, and I was determined to see the end
of the proceeding. It is the custom to pay for every thing in happy
England. I was charged _box-price_ for my admittance, and was provided
with as good a seat as I could wish, amongst the _élite_ of the assembly.
Quick as I had been, I was already too late. There was a bustle and buzz
in the court, that denoted the trial to be at an end. Indeed, it had been
so previously to the appearance of the devoted witness, whose presence had
served only to confirm the evidence, which had been most damnatory and
conclusive. The judge still sat upon the bench, and, having once perceived
him, it was not easy to withdraw my gaze again. "The man is surely
guilty," said I to myself, "who is pronounced so, when that judge has
summed up the evidence against him." I had never in my life beheld so much
benignity and gentleness--so much of truth, ingenuousness, and pure
humanity, stamped on a face before. There was the fascination of the
serpent there; and the longer I looked, the more pleasing became the
countenance, and the longer I wished to protract my observation and
delight. He was a middle-aged man--for a judge, he might be called young.
His form was manly--his head massive--his forehead glorious and
intellectual. His features were finely formed; but it was not these that
seized my admiration, and, if I dare so express myself, my actual love,
with the first brief glance. The EXPRESSION of the face, which I have
already attempted faintly to describe, was its charm. Such an utter, such
a refreshing absence of all earthiness--such purity and calmness of
soul--such mental sweetness as it bespoke! When I first directed my eye
to him, it seemed as if his thoughts were abstracted from the
comparatively noisy scene over which he presided--busy it might be, in
reviewing the charge which he had delivered to the jury, and upon the
credit of which the miserable culprit had been doomed to die. I do not
exaggerate when I assert, that at this moment--during this short
reverie--his face, which I had never seen before, seemed, by a miracle,
as familiar to me as my own--a fact which I afterwards explained, by
discovering the closest resemblance between it and a painting of our
Saviour, one of the finest works of art, the production of the greatest
genius of his time, and a portrait which is imprinted on my memory and
heart by its beauty, and by repeated and repeated examination. The
touching expressiveness of the countenance would not have accorded with
the stern office of the judge, had not its softness been relieved by a
bold outline of feature, and exalted by the massy formation of the head
itself. These were sufficient to command respect--_that_ made its way
quickly to the heart. An opportunity was soon afforded me to obtain some
information in respect of him. I was not surprised to hear that his name
and blood were closely connected with those of a brilliant poet and
philosopher, and that his own genius and attainments were of the highest
character. I was hardly prepared to find that his knowledge as a lawyer
was profound, and that he was esteemed erudite amongst the most learned
of his order. My attention was called reluctantly from the judge to the
second case of the day, which now came for adjudication. The court was
hushed as a ruffian and monster walked sullenly into the dock, charged
with the perpetration of the most horrible offences. I turned
instinctively from the prisoner to the judge again. The latter sat with
his attention fixed, his elbow resting on a desk, his head supported by
his hand. Nothing could be finer than the sight. Oh! I would have given
much for the ability to convey to paper a lasting copy of that
countenance--a memorial for my life, to cling to in my hours of weakness
and despondency, and to take strength and consolation from the spectacle
of that intelligence, that meekness and chastity of soul, thus allied and
linked to our humanity.
It was instructive to look alternately at the criminal and at him who
must award his punishment. There they were, both men--both the children
of a universal Father--both sons of immortality. Yet one so unlike his
species, so deeply sunken in his state, so hideous and hateful as to be
disowned by man, and ranked with fiercest brutes; the other, as far
removed, by excellence, from the majority of mankind, and as near the
angels and their ineffable joy as the dull earth will let him. Say what
we will, the gifts of Heaven are inscrutable as mysterious, and education
gives no clue to them. The business of the hour went on, and my attention
was soon wholly taken up in the development of the gigantic guilt of the
wretched culprit before me. I could not have conceived of such atrocity
as I heard brought home to him, and to which, miserable man! he listened,
now with a smile, now with perfect unconcern, as crime after crime was
exhibited and proved. His history was a fearful one even from his
boyhood; but of many offences of which he was publicly known to be
guilty, one of the latest and most shocking was selected, and on this he
was arraigned. It appeared that for the last few years he had cohabited
with a female of the most disreputable character. The issue of this
connexion was a weakly child, who, at the age of two years, was removed
from her dissolute parents through the kindness of a benevolent lady in
the neighbourhood, and placed in the care of humble but honest villagers
at some distance from them. The child improved in health and, it is
unnecessary to add, in morals. No enquiry or application was made for her
by the pair until she had entered her fifth year, and then suddenly the
prisoner demanded her instant restoration. The charitable lady was
alarmed for the safety of her _protegée_, and, with a liberal price,
bought off the father's natural desire. He duly gave a receipt for the
sum thus paid him, and engaged to see the child no more. The next morning
he stole the girl from the labourer's cottage. He was seen loitering
about the hut before day-break, and the shrieks of the victim were heard
plainly at a considerable distance from the spot where he had first
seized her. Constables were dispatched to his den. It was shut up, and,
being forced open, was found deserted, and stripped of every thing. He
was hunted over the county, but not discovered. He had retired to haunts
which baffled the detective skill of the most experienced and alert. This
is the first act of the tragedy. It will be necessary to stain these
pages by a description of the last. The child became more and more
unhappy under the roof of her persecutors, as they soon proved themselves
to be. She was taught to beg and to steal, and was taken into the
highways by her mother, who watched near her, whilst, with streaming
eyes, the unhappy creature now lied for alms, now pilfered from the
village. Constant tramping, ill treatment, and the wear and tear of
spirit which the new mode of existence effected, soon reduced the child
to its former state of ill health and helplessness. She pined, and with
her sickness came want and hunger to the hut. The father, affecting to
disbelieve, and not listening to the sad creature's complaint, still
dismissed her abroad, and when she could not walk, compelled the mother
to carry her to the public road, and there to leave her in her agony, the
more effectually to secure the sympathy of passengers. Even this
opportunity was not long afforded him. The child grew weaker, and was at
length unable to move. He plied her with menaces and oaths, and, last of
all, deliberately threatened to murder her, if she did not rise and
procure bread for all of them. She had, alas! no longer power to comply
with his request, and--merciful Heaven!--the fiend, in a moment of
unbridled passion, made good his fearful promise. With one blow of a
hatchet--alas! it needed not a hard one--_he destroyed her_. I caught the
judge's eye as this announcement was made. It quivered, and his
countenance was pale. I wished to see the monster _too_, but my heart
failed me, and my blood boiled with indignation, and I could not turn to
him. The short account which I have given here does bare justice to the
evidence which came thick and full against the prisoner, leaving upon the
minds of none the remotest doubt of his fearful criminality. The mother,
and a beggar who had passed the night in the hut when the murder was
perpetrated, were the principal witnesses against the infanticide, and
their depositions could not be shaken. I waited with anxiety and great
irritability for the sentence which should remove the prisoner from the
bar. The earth seemed polluted as long as he breathed upon it; he could
not be too quickly withdrawn, and hidden for ever in the grave. The case
for the prosecution being closed, a young barrister arose, and there was
a perfect stillness in the court. My curiosity to know what this
gentleman could possibly urge on behalf of his client was extreme. To me
"the probation bore no hinge, nor loop to ban a doubt on." But the
smoothfaced counsellor, whose modesty had no reference to his years,
seemed in no way burdened by the weight of his responsibility, nor to
view his position as one of difficulty and risk. He stood, cool and
erect, in the silence of the assembly, and with a self-satisfied _smile_
he proceeded to address the judge. Yes, he laughed, and he had heard that
heart-breaking recital; and the life of the man for whom he pleaded was
hardly worth a pin's fee. The words of the poet rushed involuntarily to
my mind. "Heaven!" I mentally exclaimed, "_Has this fellow no feeling of
his business--he sings at grave-making_!" He made no allusion to the
evidence which had been adduced, but he spoke of INFORMALITY. I trembled
with alarm and anger. I had often heard and read of justice defeated
by such a trick of trade; but I prayed that such dishonour and public
shame might not await her now. Informality! Surely we had heard of the
cold-blooded cruelty, the slow and exquisite torture, the final
deathblow; there was no informality in these; the man had not denied his
guilt, his defender did not seek to palliate it. Away with the juggle, it
cannot avail you here! But in spite of my feverish security, the shrewd
lawyer--well might he smile and chuckle at his skill--proceeded calmly to
assert the prisoner's right to his immediate _discharge! There was a flaw
in the declaration, and the indictment was invalid_. And thus he proved
it. The man was charged with murdering his child--described as his, and
bearing his own name. Now, the deceased was illegitimate, and should have
borne its mother's name. He appealed to his lordship on the bench, and
demanded for his client the benefit which law allowed him. You might have
heard the faintest whisper in the court, so suspended and so kept back
was every drop of human breath, whilst every eye was fixed upon the
judge. The latter spoke. "_The exception was conclusive; the prisoner
must be discharged_." I could not conceive it possible. What were truth,
equity, morality--Nothing? And was murder _innocence_, if a quibble made
it so? The jailer approached the monster, and whispered into his ear that
he was now at liberty. He held down his head stupidly to receive the
words, and he drew it back again, incredulous and astounded. Oh, what a
secret he had learned for future government and conduct! What a friend
and abettor, in his fight against mankind, had he found in the law of his
land! I was maddened when I saw him depart from the well-secured bar in
which he had been placed for trial. There he had looked the thing he
was--a tiger caught, and fastened in his den. Could it do less than chill
the blood, and make the heart grow sick and faint, to see the bolts drawn
back--the monster loosed again, and turned unchained, untamed, fiercer
than ever, into life again? Legislators, be merciful to humanity, and
cease to embolden and incite these beasts of prey! Melancholy as the
above recital is, it is to be considered rather as an episode in this
narration, than as the proper subject of it. Had my morning's adventure
finished with this disgraceful acquittal, the reader would not have been
troubled with the perusal of these pages. My vexation would have been
confined to my own breast, and I should have nourished my discontent in
silence. The scene which immediately followed the dismissal of the
murderer, is that to which I have chiefly to beg attention. It led to an
acquaintance, for which I was unprepared--enabled me to do an act of
charity, for which I shall ever thank God who gave me the power--and
disclosed a character and a history to which the intelligent and
kind-hearted may well afford the tribute of their sympathy. It was by way
of contrast and relief, I presume, that the authorities had contrived
that the next trial should hardly call upon the time and trouble of the
court. It was a case, in fact, which ought to have been months before
summarily disposed of by the committing magistrate, and one of those too
frequently visited with undue severity, whilst offences of a deeper dye
escape unpunished, or, worse still, are washed away in _gold_. A poor man
had stolen from a baker's shop a loaf of bread. _The clerk of the
arraigns_, as I believe he is called, involved this simple charge in many
words, and took much time to state it but when he had finished his
oration, I could discover nothing more or less than the bare fact. A few
minutes before the appearance of the delinquent, I remarked a great
bustle in the neighbourhood of the young barrister already spoken of. A
stout fresh-coloured man had taken a seat behind him with two thinner
men, his companions, and they were all in earnest conversation. The stout
man was the prosecutor--his companions were his witnesses--and the
youthful counsellor was, on this occasion, retained _against_ the
prisoner. I must confess that, for the moment, I had a fiendish delight
in finding the legal gentleman in his present position. "It well becomes
the man," thought I, "through whose instrumentality that monster has been
set free, to fall with all his weight of eloquence and legal subtlety
upon this poor criminal." If he smiled before, he was in earnest now. He
frowned, and closed his lips with much solemnity, and every look bespoke
the importance of the interests committed to his charge.--A beggar!--and
to steal a loaf of bread! Ay, ay! society must be protected--our houses
and our homes must be defended. Anarchy must be strangled in its birth.
Such thoughts as these I read upon the brow of youthful wisdom. Ever and
anon, a good point in the case struck forcibly the lusty prosecutor, who
communicated it forthwith to his adviser. _He_ listened most attentively,
and shook his head, as who should say "Leave that to me--we have him on
the hip." The witnesses grew busy in comparing notes, and nothing now was
wanting but the great offender--the fly who must be crushed upon the
wheel--and he appeared. Reader, you have seen many such. You have not
lived in the crowded thoroughfares of an overgrown city, where every
grade of poverty and wealth, of vice and virtue, meet the eye, mingling
as they pass along--where splendid royalty is carried quicker than the
clouds adown the road which palsied hunger scarce can cross for lack of
strength--where lovely forms, and faces pure as angels' in their innocent
expression, are met and tainted on the path by unwomanly immodesty and
bare licentiousness--amongst such common sights you have not dwelt, and
not observed some face pale and wasted from disease, and want, and
sorrow, not one, but all, and all uniting to assail the weakly citadel of
flesh, and to reduce it to the earth from which it sprung. Such a
countenance was here--forlorn--emaciated--careworn--every vestige of
human joy long since removed from it, and every indication of real misery
too deeply marked to admit a thought of simulation or pretence. The eye
of the man was vacant. He obeyed the turnkey listlessly, when that
functionary, with a patronizing air, directed him to the situation in the
dock in which he was required to stand, and did not raise his head to
look around him. A sadder picture of the subdued, crushed heart, had
never been. Punishment! alack, what punishment could be inflicted now on
him, who, in the school of suffering, had grown insensible to torture?
Notwithstanding his rags, and the prejudice arising from his degraded
condition, there was something in his look and movements which struck me,
and secured my pity. He was very ill, and had not been placed many
minutes before the judge, when he tottered and grew faint. The turnkey
assisted the poor fellow to a chair, and placed in his hands, with a
rough but natural kindness, which I shall not easily forget, a bunch of
sweet-smelling marjoram. The acknowledgement which the miserable creature
attempted to make for the seasonable aid, convinced me that he was
something better than he seemed. A shy and half-formed bow--the impulse
of a heart and mind once cultivated, though covered now with weeds and
noxious growths--redeemed him from the common herd of thieves. In the
calendar his age was stated to be thirty-five. Double it, and that face
will warrant you in your belief. Desirous as I was to know the
circumstances which had led the man to the commission of his offence, it
was not without intense satisfaction that I heard him, at the
commencement of the proceedings, in his thin tremulous voice, plead
_guilty_ to the charge. There was such rage painted on the broad face of
the prosecutor, such disappointment written in the thinner visage of the
counsellor, such indignation and astonishment in those of the witnesses,
that you might have supposed those gentlemen were interested only in the
establishment of the prisoner's innocence, and were anxious only for his
acquittal. For their sakes was gratified at what I hoped would prove the
abrupt conclusion of the case. The prisoner had spoken; his head again
hung down despondingly--his eyes, gazing at nothing, were fixed upon the
ground; the turnkey whispered to him that it was time to retire--he was
about to obey, when the judge's voice was heard, and it detained him.
"Is the prisoner known?" enquired his lordship.
The counsellor rose _instanter_.
"Oh, very well, my lud--an old hand, my lud--one of the pests of his
"Is this his first offence?"
The barrister poked his ear close to the mouth of the prosecutor before he
"By no means, my lud--he has been frequently convicted."
"For the like offence?" enquired the Judge.
Again the ear and mouth were in juxtaposition.
"We believe so, my lud--we believe so," replied the smart barrister; "but
we cannot speak positively."
The culprit raised his leaden eye, and turned his sad look towards the
judge, his best friend there.
"For BEGGARY, my lord," he uttered, almost solemnly.
"Does any body know you, prisoner?" asked my lord. "Can any one speak to
your previous character?"
The deserted one looked around the court languidly enough, and shook his
head, but, at the same instant there was a rustling amongst the crowd of
auditors, and a general movement, such as follows the breaking up of a
compact mass of men when one is striving to pass through it.
"Si-_lence_!" exclaimed a sonorous voice, belonging to a punchy body, a
tall wand, and a black bombasin gown; and immediately afterwards, "a
friend of the prisoner's, my lord. Get into that box--speak loud--look at
his lordship. Si-_lence_!"
The individual who caused this little excitement, and who now ascended the
witness's tribune, was a labouring man. He held a paper cap in his hand,
and wore a jacket of flannel. The prisoner glanced at him without seeming
to recognize his friend, whilst the eyes of the young lawyer actually
glistened at the opportunity which had come at last for the display of his
"What are you, my man?" said the judge in a tone of kindness.
"A journeyman carpenter, please your worship."
"You must say _my lord_--say _my lord_," interposed the bombasin gown.
"Speak out. Si-_lence_!"
"Where do you live?"
"Friar's Place--please you, my lord." The bombasin smiled pitifully at the
ignorance of the witness, and said no more.
"Do you know the prisoner at the bar?"
"About ten weeks ago--please you, my lord, I was hired by the landlord--"
"Answer his lordship, sir," exclaimed the counsel for the prosecution in a
tone of thunder. "Never mind the landlord. Do you know the prisoner?"
"Why, I was a saying, please you, my lord, about ten weeks ago I was hired
by the landlord--"
"Answer directly, sir," continued the animated barrister--"or take the
consequences. Do you know the prisoner?"
"Let him tell his story his own way, Mr Nailhim," interposed his lordship
blandly. "We shall sooner get to the end of it."
Mr Nailhim bowed to the opinion of the court, and sat down.
"Now, my man," said his lordship, "as quickly as you can, tell me whatever
you know of the prisoner."
"About ten weeks ago--please you, my lord," began the journey-man _de
novo_, "I was hired by the landlord of them houses as is sitiwated where
Mr Warton lives--" (The bombasin looked at the witness with profound
contempt, and well he might! The idea of calling a prisoner at the bar
_Mr_--stupendous ignorance!) "and I see'd him day arter day, and nobody
was put to it as bad as he was. He has got a wife and three children, and
I know he worked as hard as he could whilst he was able; but when he got
ill he couldn't, and he was druv to it. I have often taken a loaf of bread
to him, and all I wish is, he had stolen one of mine behind my back
instead of the baker's. I shouldn't have come agin him, poor fellow! and I
am sure he wouldn't have done it if his young uns hadn't been starving. I
never see'd him before that time, but I could take my affidavy he's an
industrious and honest man, and as sober, please you, my lord, as a
At this last piece of irreverence, the man with the staff stood perfectly
still, lost as it seemed, in wonder at the hardihood of him who could so
"Have you any thing more to say?" asked his lordship.
The carpenter hesitated for a second or two, and then acknowledged that he
had not; and, such being the case, it seemed hardly necessary for Mr
Nailhim to prolong his examination. But that gentleman thought otherwise.
He rose, adjusted his gown, and looked not only _at_ the witness, but
through and through him.
"Now, young man," said he, "what is your name?"
"John Mallett, sir," replied the carpenter.
"John Mallett. Very well. Now, John Mallett, who advised you to come here
to-day? Take care what you are about, John Mallett."
The carpenter, without a moment's hesitation, answered that his "old woman
had advised him; and very good advice it was, he thought."
"Never mind your thoughts, sir. You don't come here to think. Where do you
The witness answered.
"You have not lived long there, I believe?"
"Not quite a fortnight, sir."
"You left your last lodging in a hurry too, I think, John Mallett?"
"Rather so, sir," answered Innocence itself, little dreaming of effects
and consequences.
"A little trouble, eh, John Mallett?"
"Mighty deal your lordship, ah, ah, ah!" replied the witness quite
jocosely, and beginning to enjoy the sport.
"Don't laugh here, sir, but can you tell us what you were doing, sir, last
Christmas four years?"
Of course he could not--and Mr Nailhim knew it, or he never would have put
the question; and the unlucky witness grew so confused in his attempt to
find the matter out, and, in his guesses, so confounded one Christmas with
another, that first he blushed, and then he spoke, and then he checked
himself, and spoke again, just contradicting what he said before, and
looked at length as like a guilty man as any in the jail. Lest the effect
upon the court might still be incomplete, the wily Nailhim, in the height
of Mallett's trouble, threw, furtively and knowingly, a glance towards the
jury, and smiled upon them so familiarly, that any lingering doubt must
instantly have given way. They agreed unanimously with Nailhim. A greater
scoundrel never lived than this John Mallett. The counsellor perceived his
victory, and spoke.
"Go down, sir, instantly," said he, "and take care how you show your face
up there again. I have nothing more to say, my lud."
And down John Mallett went, his friend and he much worse for his
"And now this mighty case is closed!" thought I. "What will they do to
such a wretch!" I was disappointed. The good judge was determined not to
forsake the man, and he once more addressed him.
"Prisoner," said he, "what induced you to commit this act?"
The prisoner again turned his desponding eye upwards, and answered, as
"Beggary, my lord."
"What are you?"
"Nothing, my lord--any thing."
"Have you no trade?"
"No, my lord."
"What do your wife and children do?"
"They are helpless, my lord, and they starve with me."
"Does no one know you in your neighbourhood?"
"No one, my lord. I am a stranger there. _We are all low people there_, my
There was something so truly humble and plaintive in the tone with which
these words were spoken, and the eyes of the afflicted man filled so
suddenly with tears as he uttered them, that I became affected in a manner
which I now find it difficult to describe. My blood seemed to chill, and
my heart to rush into my throat. I am ashamed to say that my own eyes were
as moist as the prisoner's. I resolved from that moment to become his
friend, and to enquire into his circumstances and character, as soon as
the present proceedings were at an end.
"How long has the prisoner been confined already?"
"Something like three months, my lud," answered the barrister cavalierly
as if months were minutes.
"It is punishment enough," said the judge--"let him be discharged now.
Prisoner, you are discharged--you must endeavour to get employment. If you
are ill, apply to your parish; there is no excuse for stealing--none
whatever. You are at liberty now."
The information did not seem to carry much delight to the heart of him
whom it was intended to benefit. He rose from his chair, bowed to his
lordship, and then followed the turnkey, in whose expression of
countenance and attentions there was certainly a marked alteration since
the wind had set in favourably from the bench. The man departed. Moved by
a natural impulse, I likewise quitted the court the instant afterwards,
enquired of one of the officials the way of egress for discharged
prisoners, and betook myself there without delay. What my object was I
cannot now, as I could not then, define. I certainly did not intend to
accost the poor fellow, or to commit myself in any way with him, for the
present, at all events. Yet there I was, and I could not move from the
spot, however useless or absurd my presence there might be. It was a small
low door, with broad nails beaten into it, through which the liberated
passed, as they stepped from gloom and despair, into freedom and the
unshackled light of heaven. I was not then in a mood to trust myself to
the consideration of the various and mingled feelings with which men from
time to time, and after months of hopelessness and pain, must have bounded
from that barrier, into the joy of liberty and life. My feelings had
become in some way mastered by what I had seen, and all about my heart was
disturbance and unseemly effeminacy. There was only one individual,
besides myself, walking in the narrow court-yard, which, but for our
footsteps, would have been as silent as a grave. This was a woman--a
beggar--carrying, as usual, a child, that drew less sustenance than sorrow
from the mother's breast. She was in rags, but she looked clean, and she
might once have been beautiful; but settled trouble and privation had
pressed upon her hollow eye--had feasted on her bloomy skin. I could not
tell her age. With a glance I saw that she was old in suffering. And what
was her business here? For whom did _she_ wait? Was it for the father of
that child?--and was she so satisfied of her partner's innocence, and the
justice of mankind, that here she lingered to receive him, assured of
meeting him again? What was his crime?--his character?--her history? I
would have given much to know, indeed, I was about to question her, when I
was startled and detained by the drawing of a bolt--the opening of the
door--and the appearance of the very man whom I had come to see. He did
not perceive me. He perceived nothing but the mother and the child--_his_
wife and _his_ child. She ran to him, and sobbed on his bosom. He said
nothing. He was calm--composed; but he took the child gently from her
arms, carried the little thing himself to give her ease, and walked on.
She at his side, weeping ever; but he silent, and not suffering himself to
speak, save when a word of tenderness could lull the hungry child, who
cried for what the mother might not yield her. Still without a specific
object, I followed the pair, and passed with them into the most ancient
and least reputable quarter of the city. They trudged from street to
street, through squalid courts and lanes, until I questioned the propriety
of proceeding, and the likelihood of my ever getting home again. At
length, however, they stopped. It was a close, narrow, densely peopled
lane in which they halted. The road was thick with mud and filth; the
pavement and the doorways of the houses were filled with ill-clad sickly
children, the houses themselves looked forbidding and unclean. The
bread-stealer and his wife were recognised by half a dozen coarse women,
who, half intoxicated, thronged the entrance to the house opposite to
that in which they lodged, and a significant laugh and nod of the head
were the greetings with which they received the released one back again.
There was little heart or sympathy in the movement, and the wretched
couple understood it so. The woman had dried her tears--both held down
their heads--even there--for shame, and both crawled into the hole in
which, for their children's sake, they _lived_, and were content to find
their home. Now, then, it was time to retrace my steps. It was, but I
could not move from the spot--that is, not retreat from it, as yet. There
was something to do. My conscience cried aloud to me, and, thank God, was
clamorous till I grew human and obedient. I entered the house. A child
was sitting at the foot of the stairs, her face and arms begrimed--her
black hair hanging to her back foul with disease and dirt. She was about
nine years old; but evil knowledge, cunning duplicity, and the rest, were
glaring in her precocious face. She clasped her knees with her extended
hands, and swinging backwards and forwards, sang, in a loud and impudent
voice, the burden of an obscene song. I asked this creature if a man
named Warton dwelt there. She ceased her song, and commenced
whistling--then stared me full in the face and burst into loud laughter.
"What will you give if I tell you?" said she, with a bold grin. "Will you
stand a glass of gin?"
I shuddered. At the same moment I heard a loud coughing, and the voice of
the man himself overhead. I ascended the stairs, and, as I did so, the
girl began her song again, as if she had suffered no interruption. I
gathered from a crone whom I encountered at the top of the first flight of
steps, that the person of whom I was in quest lived with his family in the
back room of the highest floor; and thither, with unfailing courage, I
proceeded. I arrived at the door, knocked at it briskly without a moment's
hesitation, and recognized the deep and now well-known tones of Warton in
the voice desiring men to enter. The room was very small, and had no
article of furniture except a table and two chairs. Some straw was strewn
in a corner of the room, and two children were lying asleep upon it, their
only covering being a few patches of worn-out carpet. Another layer was in
the opposite corner, similarly provided with clothing. This was the
parents' bed. I was too confused, and too anxious to avoid giving offence,
to make a closer observation. The man and his wife were sitting together
when I entered. The former had still the infant in his arms, and he rose
to receive me with an air of good breeding and politeness, that staggered
me from the contrast it afforded with his miserable condition--his
frightful poverty.
"I have to ask your pardon," said I, "for this intrusion, but your name is
Warton, I believe?"
"It is, sir," he replied--and the eyes of the wife glistened again, as she
gathered hope and comfort from my unexpected visit. She trembled as she
looked at me, and the tears gushed forth again.
("These are not bad people, I will swear it," I said to myself, as I
marked her, and I took confidence from the conviction, and went on.)
"I have come to you," said I, "straight from the sessions'-house, where,
by accident, I was present during your short trial. I wish to be of a
little service to you. I am not a rich man, and my means do not enable me
to do as much as I would desire; but I can relieve your immediate want,
and perhaps do something more for you hereafter, if I find you are
deserving of assistance."
"You are very kind, sir," answered the man, "and I am very grateful to
you. We are strangers to you, sir, but I trust these (pointing to his wife
and children) _may_ deserve your bounty. For myself--"
"Hush, dear!" said his wife, with a gentleness and accent that confounded
me. _Low_ people! why, with full stomachs, decent clothing, and a few
pounds, they might with every propriety have been ushered at once into a
"Poor Warton is very ill, sir," continued the wife, "and much suffering
has robbed him of his peace of mind. I am sure, sir, we shall be truly
grateful for your help. We need it, sir, Heaven knows, and he is not
undeserving--no, let them say what they will."
I believed it in my heart, but I would not say so without less partial
"Well," I continued, "we will talk of this by and by. I am determined to
make a strict enquiry, for your own sakes as well as my own. But you are
starving now, it seems, and I sha'n't enquire whether you deserve a loaf
of bread. Here," said I, giving, them a sovereign, "get something to eat,
for God's sake, and put a little colour, if you can, into those little
faces when they wake again."
The man started suddenly from his chair, and walked quickly to the window.
His wife followed him, alarmed, and took the infant from his arms, whilst
he himself pressed his hand to his heart, as though he would prevent its
bursting. His face grew deathly pale. The female watched him earnestly,
and the hitherto silent and morose man, convulsed by excess of feeling,
quivered in every limb, whilst he said with difficulty--
"Anna, I shall die--I am suffocated--air--air--my heart beats like a
I threw the window open, and the man drooped on the sill, and wept
"What does this mean?" I asked, speaking in a low tone to the wife.
"Your sudden kindness, sir. He is not able to bear it. He is proof against
cruelty and persecution--he has grown reckless to them, but constant
illness has made him so weak, that any thing unusual quite overcomes him."
"Well, there, take the money, and get some food as quickly as you can. I
will not wait to distress him now. I will call again to-morrow; he will be
quieter then, and we'll see what can be done for you. Those children must
be cold. Have you no blankets?"
"None, sir. We have nothing in the world. What, you see here, even to the
straw, belongs, to the landlord of the house, who has been charitable
enough to give us shelter."
"Well, never mind--don't despond--don't give way--keep the poor fellow's
sprits up. Here's another crown. Let him have a glass of wine, it will
strengthen him; and do you take a glass too. I shall see you again
to-morrow. There, good-by."
And, fool and woman that I was, on I went, and stood for some minutes,
ashamed of myself, in the passage below, because, forsooth, I had been
talking and exciting myself until my eyes had filled uncomfortably with
It was impossible for me to go to sleep again until I had purchased
blankets for these people, and so I resolved at once to get them. I was
leaving the house for that purpose, when a porter with a bundle entered
"Whom do you want, my man?" said I.
"One Warton, sir", said he.
"Top of the house," said I again--"back room--to the right. What have you
got there?"
"Some sheets and blankets, sir."
"From whom?"
"My master sir, here's his card."
It was the card of an upholsterer living within a short distance of where
I stood. I directed the porter again, and forthwith sallied to the man of
furniture. Here I learnt that I had been forestalled by an individual as
zealous in the cause of poor Warton as myself. I was glad of this, for I
knew very well, in doing any little piece of duty, how apt our dirty
vanity is to puff us up, and to make us assume so much more than we have
any title to; and it is nothing short of relief to be able to extinguish
this said vanity in the broad light of other men's benevolence. The
upholsterer, however, could not inform me who this generous man was, or
how he had been made aware of Warton's indigence. It appears that he had
called only a few minutes before I arrived, and had requested that the
articles which he purchased should be sent, without a moment's delay, to
the address which he gave. He waited in the shop until the porter quitted
it, and then departed, having, at the request of the upholsterer, who was
curious for the name of his customer, described himself in the day-book as
Mr Jones. "He was not a gentleman," said the man of business, "certainly
not, and he didn't look like a tradesman. I should say," he added, "that
he was a gentleman's butler, for he was mighty consequential, ordered
every body about, and wanted me to take off discount."
My mind being made easy in respect of the blankets, I had nothing to do
but to return, as diligently as I could, to the house of my friend, Mr
Treherne. I reached his dwelling in time to prepare for dinner, at which
repast, as on the previous evening, I encountered a few select friends and
opulent business men. These were a different set. Before joining them,
Treherne had given me to understand that they were all very wealthy, and
very liberal in their politics, and before quitting them I heartily
believed him. There was a great deal of talk during dinner, and, as the
newspapers say, after the cloth was removed, on the aspect of affairs in
general. The corn-laws were discussed, the condition of the Irish was
lamented, the landed gentry were abused, the Church was threatened, the
Tories were alluded to as the enemies of mankind and the locusts of the
earth; whilst the people, the poor, the labouring classes, the masses, and
whatever was comprised within these terms, had their warmest sympathy and
approbation. My habits are somewhat retired, and I mix now little with
men. I can conscientiously affirm, that I never in my life heard finer
sentiments or deeper philanthropy than I did on this occasion from the
guests of my friend, and with what pleasure I need not say, when it
suddenly occurred to me to call upon them for a subscription on behalf of
the starving family whom I had met that day.
"You must take care, my dear sir," said a gentleman, before I had half
finished my story, (he might be called the leader of the opposition from
the precedence which he took in the company in opposing all existing
institutions,)--"You must, indeed; you are a stranger here. You must not
believe all you hear. These fellows will trump up any tale. I know them of
old. Don't you be taken in. Take my word--it's a man's own fault if he
comes to want. Depend upon it."
"So it is--so it is; that's very true," responded half-a-dozen gentlemen
with large bellies, sipping claret as they spoke.
"I do not think, gentlemen," I answered, "that I am imposed upon in this
"Ah, ah!" said many Liberals at once, shaking their heads in pity at my
"At all events," I added, "you'll not refuse a little aid."
"Certainly, I shall," replied the leader; "it's a rule, sir. I wouldn't
break through it. I act entirely upon principle! I can't encourage robbery
and vagrancy. It's Quixotic."
"Quite so--quite so!" murmured the bellies.
"Besides, there's the Union; we are paying for that. Why don't these
people go in? Why, they tell me they may live in luxury there!"
"He has a wife and three children--it's hard to separate, perhaps--"
"Pooh, pooh, sir!"
"Pooh, pooh!" echoed the bellies.
"And, I'll tell you what, sir," said the gentleman emphatically in
conclusion, "if you want to do good to society, you mustn't begin at the
fag end of it; leave the thieves to the jailers, and the poor to the
guardians. Repeal the corn-laws--give us free trade--universal
suffrage--and religious liberty; that's what we want. I don't ask you to
put a tax upon tallow--why do you want to put a tax upon corn? I don't
ask you to pay my minister--why do you want me to pay your parson? I
don't ask you--"
"Oh! don't let us hear all that over again, there's a good fellow," said
Treherne, imploringly. "Curse politics. Who is for whist? The tables are
The company rose to a man at the mention of whist, and took their places
at the tables. I did not plead again for poor Warton; but his wretched
apartment came often before my eyes in the glitter of the wax-lit room in
which I stood, surrounded by profusion. His unhappy but faithful wife--his
sleeping children--his own affecting expression of gratitude, occupied my
mind, and soothed it. What a blessed thing it is to minister to the
necessities of others! How happy I felt in the knowledge that they would
sleep peacefully and well that night! I had been for some time musing in a
corner of the room, when I was roused by the loud voice of the Liberal.
"Well, I tell you what, Treherne, I'll bet you five to one on the game."
"Done!" said Treherne.
"Crowns?" added the Liberal.
"Just as you like--go on--your play."
In a few minutes the game was settled. The Liberal lost his crowns, and
Treherne took them. Madmen both! Half of that sum would have given a
month's bread to the beggars. Did it enrich or serve the wealthy winner?
No. What was it these men craved? They could part with their money freely
when they chose. Was it excitement? And is none to be derived from
appeasing the hunger, and securing the heartfelt prayers of the naked and
the poor? I withdrew from the noisy party, and retired to my room,
determined to investigate the affairs of my new acquaintances at an early
hour in the morning, and effectually to help them if I could.
Mr Treherne readily acquiesced in my wish to delay the execution of our
business for another day, when I made the proposition to him on our
meeting the following morning at his breakfast table. He seemed so
thoroughly engrossed in his own affairs, so overwhelmed with his peculiar
labours, that he was, I believe, grateful to me for the reprieve. For my
own part, I had engaged to afford myself a week's recreation, and I had no
wish to revisit London until the last moment of my holiday had been
accomplished. It is little pastime that the employments of the present day
enable a man to take, who would fain retain his position, and not be
elbowed out of it by the ninety and nine unprovided gentlemen who are
waiting for a scramble. The race of life has grown intense--the runners
are on each other's heels. Woe be to him who rests, or stays to tie his
shoe-string! Our repast concluded, and Mr Treherne, again taking leave of
me until dinner-time, I set out at once for the attic of my unhappy
bread-stealer. What was the object of my visit? I had given him a
sovereign. What did I intend further to do for him? I had, in truth, no
clear conception of my purpose. The man was ill, friendless, without
employment, and had "_the incumbrances_," wife and children, as the sick
and unemployed invariably do have; but although these facts, coming
before a man, presented a fair claim upon his purse (if he chanced to
have one) to the extent of that purse's ability, yet the demand closed
legitimately here, and the hand of charity being neither grudgingly nor
ostentatiously proffered, the conscience of the donor and the heart of
the receiver had no reason whatever to complain. Still my conscience was
not at ease, and it _did_ complain whenever I hesitated and argued the
propriety of engaging any further in the business of a man whom I had
known only a few hours, and whose acquaintance had been made, certainly,
not under the most favourable circumstances. It is a good thing to obey
an instinct, if it be stimulated toward that which is honourable or good
for man to do; yes, though cold deliberation will not give it sanction.
It was an urging of this kind that led me on. Convinced that I had done
enough for this unhappy man, I was provoked, importuned to believe that I
ought to do still more. "It may be"--the words forced their way into my
ears--"that the interest which has been excited in me for this family, is
not the result of a mere accident. Providence may have led me to their
rescue, and confided their future welfare to my conduct. _He_ is an
outcast--isolated amongst men--may be a worthy and deserving creature,
crushed and kept down by his misfortunes. Is a trifling exertion enough
to raise him, and shall I not give it to him?" Then passed before my eyes
visions, the possibility of realizing which, made me blush with shame for
a moment's indecision or delay. First, I pictured myself applying to my
friend Pennyfeather, who lives in that dark court near the Bank of
England, and sleeps in Paradise at his charming villa in Kent, and
gaining through his powerful interest a situation--say of eighty pounds
per annum--for the father of the family; then visiting that incomparable
and gentle lady, Mrs Pennyfeather, whose woman's heart opens to a tale of
sorrow, as flowers turn their beauty to the sun, and obtaining a firm
promise touching the needle-work for Mrs Warton. And then the scene
changed altogether, and I was walking in the gayest spirits, whistling
and singing through Camden town on my way to their snug lodgings in the
vale of Hampstead heath--and the time is twilight. And first I meet the
children, neatly dressed, clean, and wholesome looking, jumping and
leaping about the heather at no particular sport, but in the very joy and
healthiness of their young blood--and they catch sight of me, and rush to
greet me, one and all. They lead me to their mother. How beautiful she
has become in the subsidence of mental tumult, in quiet, grateful labour,
and, more than all, in the sunlight of her husband's gradual restoration!
She is busy with her needle, and her chair is at the window, so that she
may watch the youngsters even whilst she works; and near her is the
table, already covered with a snow-white cloth, and ready for "dear
Warton" when he comes home, an hour hence, to supper. "Well, you are
happy, Mrs Warton, now, I think," say I. "Yes, thanks to you, kind sir,"
is the reply. "We owe it all to you;" and the children, as if they
understand my claim upon their love, hang about my chair;--one at my
knee, looking in my face; another with my hand, pressing it, with all his
little might, in his; a third inactive, but ready to urge me to prolong
my stay, as soon as I should think of quitting them. What a glow of
comfort and self-respect passed through my system, as the picture, bright
with life and colour, fixed itself upon my brain, stepping, as I was,
into the unwholesome lane, and shrinking from the foetid atmosphere. I
could hesitate no longer. I began to make my plans as I trudged up the
filthy stairs. The measured tones of a voice, engaged apparently with a
book, made me stop short at the attic floor. I recognised the sound, and
caught the words. The mendicants were at their prayers. "The benevolent
stranger" was not forgotten in the supplication, nor was he unmoved as be
listened in secret to the fervent accents of his fellow man. Whilst I
have no pretension to the character of a saint, I am free to confess,
that amongst the fairest things of earth few look so sublime as piety,
steadfast and serene, amidst the cloud and tempest of calamity. Was it so
here? I had yet to learn. A striking improvement had taken place in the
aspect of the room since the preceding evening. The straw was gone. Its
place had been supplied by the gift of the anonymous benefactor, of whom,
by the way, nothing was known, or had since been heard. The beds were
already removed to an angle of the apartment--the pieces of carpet were
converted into a rug for the fire place, and a chair or two were ready
for visitors. Warton himself looked a hundred per cent better--his wife
was all smiles, when she could refrain from tears; and the children had
been too much astonished by their sumptuous fare, to be any thing but
satiated, contented, happy. My vision was already half realized. When I
had submitted for an inconvenient space of time to their reiterated
thanks and protestations, I put an end to further expressions of
gratitude, by informing them that my stay in the city was limited--that I
had no time for any thing but business, and that we must have as few
_words_ as possible. I wished to know in what way I could effectually
serve them.
"You said, sir, yesterday," replied Warton, "that you would take no steps
in our favour, until you had satisfied yourself that we, at least,
deserved your bounty. Had you not said it, I should not have been happy
until I had afforded you all the satisfaction in my power. Heaven knows I
owe it to you! It is to you, sir--"
"Come, my good fellow, remember what I told you. No protestations. Let us
come to the point."
"Thank you, sir--I will. Are you acquainted with London?"
"Tolerably well. What then?"
"You may have heard, sir, of a merchant there of the name of ----"
"Ay have I. One of our first men. Do you know him? Will he give you a
"He is my uncle, sir--my mother's brother. Apply to him, and he will tell
you I am a plunderer and a villain."
I looked at Mr Warton, somewhat startled by his frank communication, and
waited to hear more.
"It is false--it is false!" continued the speaker emphatically. "I cannot
melt a rock. I cannot penetrate a heart of stone. If I could do so, he
would be otherwise."
"You surprise me!" I exclaimed.
"That I live, sir, is a miracle to myself. That I have not been destroyed
by the misery which I have borne, is marvellous. A giant's strength must
yield before oppression heaped upon oppression. But there, sir"--he added,
pointing to his wife, and struggling for composure--"there has been my
stay, my hope, my incitement; but for her--God bless her"--The wife
motioned him to be silent, and he paused.
"This excitement is too much for him, is it not?" I asked. "Come, Mr
Warton, you are still weak and unwell. I will not distress you now."
"I ask your pardon, sir. Three years' illness, annoyance, irritation,
poverty, have made me what you see me. It has not been so always. I was
vigorous and manly until the flesh gave way, and refused to bear me longer
up. But I will be calm. It is very strange, sir, but even now one look
from her subdues me, and restores me to myself."
"You have received a good education--have you not, Mr Warton?"
"Will you spare an hour, sir, to listen to my history?"
"I should be glad to hear it," I replied, "but it will be as well to wait,
I looked enquiringly at his wife.
"No, sir," resumed the man, "I am tranquil now. It is a hard task, but I
have strength for it. You shall know every thing. Before you do a second
act of charity, you shall hear of the trials of those whom you have saved
already. You shall be satisfied."
"Well, be it so," I answered. "Proceed, and I will listen patiently."
Warton glanced at his wife, who rose immediately and quitted the room with
her three children. The latter were evidently staggered by the sudden
change in their circumstances, and they stared full in my face until the
latest moment. Being left alone with my new acquaintance, I felt, for a
short time, somewhat ill at ease; but when the poor fellow commenced his
history, my attention was excited, and I soon became wholly engrossed in
his recital, which proved far more strange and striking than I had any
reason to expect.
Mr Warton, as well as I can remember, spoke to me as follows:--
"Knowing what you do, sir," he began, "you will smile, and hardly believe
me, when I tell you that the sin of _Pride_ has been my ruin. Yes,
criminal as I was yesterday--beggar as I am to-day--surrounded by every
sign and evidence of want, I confess it to my shame--Pride, has helped to
bring me where I am--Pride, not resulting from the consciousness of blood,
or the possession of dignities and wealth--but pride, founded upon
nothing. I am one of three children. I had two sisters--both are dead. My
father was a workhouse boy, and his parentage was unknown. I told you that
I had little reason to build a self-esteem upon my family descent; yet
there was a period in my life when I would have given all I had in the
world for an honourable pedigree--to know that I had bounding in my veins
a portion of the blood that ages since had fallen to secure a nation's
liberties, or in any way had served to perpetuate its fame. Wealth, simple
wealth, I always regarded with disdain. I revered the well-born. My father
was apprenticed from the workhouse to a maker of watch-springs, living in
Clerkenwell; but after remaining with his master a few months, during
which time he was treated with great severity, he ran away. He obtained a
situation in the establishment of a silk-merchant in the city, and began
life on his own account as helper to the porter of the house. My father,
sir--we may speak well of the departed--had great abilities. He was a
wonderful man--not so much on account of what he accomplished, (and, in
his station, this was not a little,) as for what he proved himself to be,
under every disadvantage that could retard a man struggling through the
world, even from his infancy. His perseverance was remarkable, and he had
a depth of feeling which no ill treatment or vicissitude could diminish.
He must have risen amongst men; for mind is buoyant, and leaps above the
grosser element. He had resolved, in his first situation, to do his duty
strictly, rather to overdo than to fall short of it, and to make himself,
if possible, essential to his employers. He saw, likewise, the advantage
of respectful behaviour, and cheerfulness of temper. Whatever he did, he
did with a good grace, and with a willingness to oblige, that secured for
him the regard of those he served. He was not long in discovering, that it
was impossible for him to advance far with his present amount of
attainment, however sanguine he might be, and resolute in purpose. The
porter's boy might lead in time to the office of porter; but there was no
material rise from this, and the emolument was, at the best, sufficient
only for the necessities of life. He learned that the head of the firm
himself had been originally a servant in the establishment, and had been
promoted gradually from the desk, on account of his industry,
trustworthiness, and skill in figures. Now, honest and industrious my
father knew himself to be, but of skill in figures he had none. He
determined at once to make himself a good accountant, and every leisure
hour was employed thenceforward with that object. At the same time he was
diligent in improving his handwriting, in storing his mind with useful
information, and in preparing himself for any vacancy which might occur at
the desk, when his age would justify him in offering himself to fill it.
He had held his situation for three years, when an accident happened that
materially helped him on. A fire broke out in his master's warehouse. The
gentleman was from home, and nobody was on the premises at the time but
the porter and himself, who lived and slept in the house. It was in the
middle of the night. A fierce wind set in when the flames were at their
highest, and, before morning, the place was a heap of ruins. In the first
alarm, my father remembered that, in the counting-house, a tin box had
been left by his master, which previously had always been carefully locked
away in the iron chest. He was sure that it contained papers of great
value, and that its loss would be severely felt. He determined to secure
it, or, at the least, to make every endeavour. He succeeded, and gained
the treasure almost at the expense of life. He was not mistaken in his
supposition. In the box were deposited documents of the highest importance
to his master; and the latter, delighted with the boy's acuteness, and
grateful for the service, was eager to remunerate him. My father made
known his wishes, and his acquaintance with accounts, and in less than six
months as soon, indeed, as the house was rebuilt--he had his foot on the
first step of the ladder, and took his place amongst the clerks in the
counting-house. Ah, sir! there is nothing like perseverance. My father
knew his powers, and was the man to exert them. He worked at the desk from
morning till night. He gave his heart to his business, and no time was his
which could be given to that. What was the consequence? His less energetic
brethren envied and hated him, but his employer esteemed and valued him.
And he ascended rapidly. It is said that circumstances make the man. I
doubt the truth of this. The highest order of minds controls them, moulds
them to his purposes, and makes them what he will. Time and opportunity
are the crutches of the timid and the helpless. In the course of a few
years, my father became the youngest partner in the firm--the youngest,
but the most active and the most useful. He began to accumulate. He
remained in this position until he reached his thirtieth year, when he
looked abroad for a companion and a home. He proposed as a suitor to the
daughter of his senior partner--a vain and foolish, although a wealthy
man, who had made great plans for his child, and looked for an alliance
with nobility. She, a proud and handsome girl, scorned the approaches of
the silk-merchant, and wondered at his boldness. One word, sir, of her,
before I follow my father in his career. Oh, the vicissitudes of life--the
changes--the sudden rise--the violent fall of men! Well may the player
say, 'The spirits of the wise sit in the clouds and mock us.' They do,
they do, what a spectacle for gods is man! The woman, sir this arrogant,
this supercilious damsel, cradled in gold and satin, and bred in the
glossy lap of luxury--died--rotted on a dunghill. Her father gained his
nobleman--she, a paramour. She eloped with a marquis, who deserted her.
She returned to her home, and found it shut against her. She who had
feasted upon the choice morsels of abundance, must, like me, commit crime
for a loaf of bread. She is carried abroad by a new protector, and
strangers bear her to a pauper's grave. This was her fate, sir. But to
return. In consequence of the refusal, a coolness arose between the
partners. An angry word or two took place--a taunt--something too galling
for my father's pride was spoken, and there was a separation. My father
then commenced business on his own foundation--it is hardly necessary for
me to say with success. He could not but prosper. To fail whilst reason
was left him was impossibility. He soon married. His wife--my mother--was
the daughter of a rich merchant. You know the name, sir. Her brother, my
uncle, bears the same. I told it you just now. There could not have been a
more unfortunate union. My father was full of feeling and noble impulses,
intelligent, active, passionate, and required, if not his own qualities in
a partner, at least a milder reflex of himself--a woman that could
appreciate his nature, encourage, help, support him; a woman, in a word,
with a heart and mind, and both devoted. My mother, unfortunately for her,
for all, had no sympathy for her husband--had nothing to offer him but the
portion which she brought, and the hand which her father bade her give.
She was a cold--must I say it?--unfeeling woman, with little thought
beyond herself, her apparel, and her pleasures. I hope, sir, I shall make
you understand me. It is hard to speak disparagingly of her who gave me
life. Let me be careful that I do her justice. _I_ bring against her no
charge of vice. I believe her _not_ vicious. I ever considered her too
weak to be so. I would have you imagine a woman apathetic and
characterless; her mental powers just equal to providing her with a
becoming garment; her feelings capable, perhaps, of their full expansion
if a stranger moved them with some hollow compliment upon her good taste,
or, easier still, her beauty--for she was not without this dangerous
gift--a lovely image, sir. I have myself, as a boy, often seen a radiance
upon her countenance at such a season, when the pretty gambols of my
infant sister has failed to draw one smile of approbation. The little
sensibility she had waited on a paltry vanity. I may say with truth, that
her children caused her no pain. By a fortunate physical constitution, she
bore the burden of a mother without the pangs that usually attend a
mother's state. In this respect she was considered a remarkable woman by
those who deemed their judgement in such matters sound. Once in the world,
her care was at an end. I have heard, sir--I have read of mother's love. I
can feel what it should be; I can guess what wonders it may work in the
wayward spirit of man; for I longed and yearned for it, but it never came.
My elder sister died when a child of two years. My father was then in the
zenith of his prosperity, and was absorbed in his affairs; yet this
loss--this heavy blow--came upon him like a thunderstroke. Many things
occupied his time, but this alone his mind. Deep sighs would escape him
in the active prosecution of his business, and his cheeks were suffused
with tears as he sped along the city's streets, sacred only to gain and
worldly commerce. He doated on his girls, and to lose one was to lose
half the joy of his existence. The effect of this calamity was otherwise
on my mother; and I revert to the difference in order to make clear to
you their respective natures. My mother wept at the death of her
child--she would not else have been a woman; but as I have seen weak
watery clouds pass across the moon's surface, leaving the planet
untouched and tranquil in their transit, so the thin veil of her sorrows
did not disturb the palpable unconcern--the neutrality of soul that were
behind. One easy flow of tears, and the claim of the departed was
satisfied. In a day, the privation had ceased to be one. Here then, sir,
are the seeds of a wilderness of after woe: my father, overflowing with
affection, and craving, as it were, for sympathy, turning to my mother,
and finding there a blank--nothing to rest upon. 'What is fortune,' says
the poet, 'to a heart yearning for affection, and finding it not? Is it
not as a triumphal crown to the brows of one parched with fever, and
asking for one fresh, healthful draught--_the cup of cold water_?' So it
was here, and hence husband and wife became soon estranged from one
another. The former, busy from hour to hour in his counting-house, had
little time to spare upon his children; the latter, with all her time at
her disposal, took no delight in the task. My sister and I, in our
infancy, were made over to strangers; and from the hands of the nurse we
were transmitted to those of the schoolmistress. When I was old enough, I
was removed from my sister's school, and placed, with a select number of
young gentlemen, under the care of a highly respectable master. It was
here that my pride began to take root. One of my schoolfellows was the
son of a general, another the son of a large landed proprietor, a third
was heir to a peerage, a fourth traced his ancestors to a period when the
soil was yet untrodden by a Norman foot. I was chagrined at my
position--irritated--humbled, but the boys, especially those to whom I
have alluded, behaved towards me with extreme kindness, and whilst I felt
humbled, I did not envy them, because I loved them. I had one advantage,
I was the son of a rich _merchant_, as he was called in the school,
although _I_ knew that title to be one of courtesy only, and I was
ashamed of the little superiority which that advantage gave me. What
cause for pride can there be in the possession of so much dross? You will
smile, sir, when I tell you of the resolution which fixed itself in the
mind of a boy scarcely in his teens. My playfellows were respected on
account of the considerations which I have named. Why should I not be
respected? I vowed that I would become so. And how? For what? For nothing
less, sir, than _myself_; for my own high principle and integrity of
conduct. It is true, sir. There were the sons of a noble ancestry about
me who would condescend to tell a falsehood, the nephew of an officer who
was mean enough to borrow money and not repay it. There were many whose
notions of honour were lax and unbecoming. Had I entertained them, they
must have been fatal to me. Discarding them for ever, and speaking and
acting on all occasions, of trifling or of serious moment, with the most
jealous regard to truth and honesty, I relied upon securing for myself
what my predecessors had failed to leave me--the respect of my
fellow-men, and a good and honourable name. It seems a noble resolution.
I repent it to this hour. It is true that I rose rapidly in the
estimation of my master, and that I was regarded even with deference, as
I grew up, by boys of my own age, and of better standing; but it is no
less true, that, from the moment my determination was made, I became
morbidly anxious for the good opinion of men, painfully alive to
ridicule, and as fearful of the breath of slander or reproach as though
it came loaded with the plagues of Egypt. With such an idiosyncrasy, what
becomes of happiness on earth? But I tire you, sir."
"Go on, I beg of you," I answered, deeply interested in the narrative, and
no less surprised at the language and manner of the speaker, both of which
convinced me that he was a man of genius and of education. The whole thing
was a mystery, and I was impatient for the solution and the end. "Do not
fatigue yourself," I continued. "For my own part I listen with the
greatest interest."
"I remember, sir," proceeded Mr Warton, "as if it were yesterday, my first
return home. It was for the midsummer holidays, and gay enough were my
spirits then. All was sunshine and hope. I had not seen my parents for two
years. It seemed as if twenty had passed over my father's head since our
leave-taking. His hair had become blanched, and a settled frown had grown
upon his brow. His forehead was full of lines and wrinkles; his lips were
constantly pressed together; anger was the predominant expression of his
face. The openness of countenance which had so well become him, and which
inspired me even as a child with loving confidence, was chased away, and
disappointment and vexation had seated themselves in its place. He relaxed
for a moment when he saw me, and pressed me, even then, passionately to
his arms; but the clouds soon gathered again, and asserted their right of
possession. I, boylike and apprehensive, concluded that his affairs were
in a disordered state. I had but one thought at the time. I prayed that
misfortune, and not _dishonesty_, might appear to the world as the
occasion of his difficulties. My mother looked younger than ever. She was
dressed with much care, and there was a bloom upon her cheek that would
have adorned a country maiden. Not a line, not a shadow of a line, was
visible on her soft skin--not a tooth had departed from the ivory and
well-formed set. She had retained all that was valueless, and had lost
entirely and irreparably the priceless treasure of her husband's love. At
supper-time, on the very first evening of my arrival, I was made
thoroughly aware of the fearful change which, in so short a time, had come
over the spirit of our home. Joy, I knew, had long since fled from it--now
peace had been startled, and there was discord, nothing but discord, at
the hearth. My father drew his chair to the table, in the sullen and angry
temper which I have told you was visible on his countenance at our
meeting. It seemed at first as though he had received offence elsewhere,
and was resolved to remain discomforted. I could not understand it, but I
was awed by his frown, and sat in terror. In a few minutes, the flame
burst forth. My father required a silver spoon. There was one within arm's
reach of him. 'But why was it not _before_ him?' He repeated the question
again and again, until he forced an answer, which gave him no
satisfaction, but provoked fresh rage. Then came insipid remonstrances
from my mother, foolish argument--passionless, but not on that account
less irritating, allusions to the past. There was little incitement
required, and a word from her lips scarcely worth noticing was sufficient
to maintain a quarrel for an hour. To a stranger, the scene would have
been lamentable; to me, their child, it was sad and sickening indeed. I
have no terms to express to you the fierceness of my father's anger. By
degrees, he lost all mastery over himself; he used the most opprobrious
epithets, and, but for me, he would have struck her. For three hours this
state of things continued, and at midnight they withdrew, to retire to
separate beds, and separate rooms.
"'And all this,' said my mother as she closed her door--'all this for the
sake of a paltry spoon!' Ah! poor woman, could she but have understood how
guiltless of offence was that said spoon, she would have learnt the secret
of her troubles; but we are not all physicians, sir, and we do not trouble
ourselves concerning the _seat_ of our complaint, whilst its effects are
killing us with pain. It was evident that every spark of affection was
extinguished in my father's breast, that his disposition was soured, and
that, cause or no cause, misery must be our daily bread. I could not sleep
that night, and I rose from my bed in the morning, determined to speak
boldly to my father on what had taken place. I loved him--child never
loved parent better--and I knew I could speak respectfully--
affectionately--yes, and solemnly to him; for, God bless him--he was proud
of me, and he listened with regard to my words--on account of my little
education, already so superior to his own. I was better able to
remonstrate with him, because I had taken no part in the contest which I
had witnessed, further than placing myself between them when _his_ rage
seemed to have robbed him of reason.
"I stepped into his bed-room before he quitted it.
"Father"--said I.
"'What? Edgar,' he replied kindly, 'what can I do for you?'
"I had arranged in my mind the words which I proposed to utter, but they
vanished suddenly, and I could do nothing but weep.
"My father, sir, was the strangest of men. Indeed, since his alienation
from his wife, the most unaccountable. Rude and violent as he could be to
her--he was the tenderest, the most anxious of fathers. He turned pale as
death when he saw me in tears, and entreated me to tell him what I
suffered. I gained confidence from his anxiety, and spoke.
"'Father,' I said, 'you must not be angry with me for speaking boldly.
Poor mother! you will kill her--you do not treat her well. I am sure
nothing could justify all you said and did last night. You called her
cruel names. It is not right. I am certain it is not.'
"'Edgar,' said my father, frowning as he went on, 'be silent. You are a
child, and I love you. I will do any thing for your happiness. I forbid
you to speak to me of your mother.'
"'But if you love me,' I answered quickly, 'you ought to love my mother,
too. Oh! do, dear father--do be kind and loving to her.'
"'Edgar,' exclaimed my parent passionately, 'you are very young now--you
will be older if you live, and then I can speak to you as a friend. You
cannot understand me now. She has broken your father's heart--she has
rendered me the most miserable of men. I would I could speak to you, dear
Edgar but this tongue will perhaps be cold and immovable before you can
understand the tale. I am wretched, wretched, indeed!'
"My father was overcome. He could not himself refrain from tears. I felt
deeply for him, and would have given any thing to hear this secret cause
of grief. But his expressions kept me silent; and I clasped his hands in
"'Edgar,' he continued in a loud voice, and speaking through his tears,
'listen to my words. They are sacred. Receive them as you would my dying
syllables. You may be distant when the blow falls which divides us. Edgar,
I implore you, when you become a man, to let one consideration only guide
you in your selection of a partner. Mark me--only one--see that she has a
heart--a _virtuous_ heart--and that it be yours entire. Despise wealth--
beauty--family--look to nothing but that. Would to Heaven that I had!--
Edgar--your happiness--your salvation, every thing, depends upon it. I
have lost all--I am crushed and ruined; but do you, dear child, learn
wisdom from your father's wreck.'
"He said no more. I could not answer him, for my heart was choked. In a
few minutes he bade me, in a quiet tone, retire to the breakfast room; and
shortly afterwards he made his own appearance there, looking as moodily
and cross when he beheld my mother, as when he had encountered her at
supper on the night before.
"Now, sir, I am ashamed to confess to you--but I have asked you to hear my
history--and you shall hear the truth in the teeth of shame--that all my
sympathy was, from this hour, towards my father, and against my mother. It
may be wrong--wicked--but I could not control the strong feeling within
me. His words had left a powerful impression upon my mind. His tone, his
tears--his man's tears--stamped those words with truth, and I believed him
wronged. In what way I knew not--nor did I care. It was sufficient for me
to hear it, as I did, from his lips, and to be told that it was not
possible to reveal more. Besides, sir, I have already intimated to you
that there was little tenderness in my mother's heart for me. She was
cold, indifferent, and had never had part in all my little joys and
griefs. My father, even with his heavy fault--a fault almost pardoned, as
I believed; by the provocation--watched my boyish steps, and rejoiced with
me in my well-doing. Nothing had interest for me which was not important
to him. He encouraged me in learning. He grudged no money that could be
spent in my improvement--he had no joy so great as that which waited on my
desire for knowledge. He had been to me a playmate, counsellor, friend,
whenever his slender opportunities permitted him to escape to me; and
evidences of the most devoted affection had disturbed my youthful heart
with an emotion too deep for utterance in the silence and solitude of my
schoolboy hours. Yes--right or wrong--by necessity--my sympathy was all
for him. And to convince you, sir, that my feelings were enlisted in his
cause, irrespectively of self, without the most distant view to my own
interest, I have but to refer to the life which I passed under his roof,
until I left it, to return, for a second time, to the enjoyments and
consolations--as they were always--of my school. Although his affection
for me was unbounded, it was not long before I perceived, with bitterness
and trouble, that it was impossible for him to save me from the fury of a
temper which he had no longer power to govern. I could read, or I believed
I could, his inmost soul, and I could see the hourly struggle for
forbearance and self-control. It was in vain. If his passion obtained the
rein for an instant--it was wild--away--beyond his reach--and he thought
not, in the paroxysm, of the sufferer, whose smile he would not have
ruffled in the season of sobriety and quiet. I did not fail again and
again to remonstrate on behalf of my mother--for the scene which I have
described to you became an endless one; but perceiving at length that
representation added only fuel to the fire, I desisted. My lively habits
soon appeared to be unsuited to the new order of things. My father would
once have smiled with enjoyment at some piece of boyish mischief which now
roused him to anger, and before excuse could be offered, or pardon
asked--the severest chastisement--I cannot tell how severe, was inflicted
on my flesh."
"Madman!" I exclaimed involuntarily, interrupting Warton in his narrative.
"Madman do you say, sir?" he answered quickly. "Yes, I have often thought
so--and to an extent, I grant you--if it be madness to have the reason
prostrate before passion. But it is profitless to define the malady. I
would have you dwell, sir, on the _cause_--_her_ fatal apathy--her
indifference--_I know not what besides_--which made him what he was. You
may imagine, sir, that my blood has boiled beneath the punishment--that I
have burned with indignation beneath the weight of it, undeserved and
cruel as it was. Oh, sir! God has visited me these many years with sore
affliction. I am a forlorn, disabled, cast-off creature--nothing lives
viler than the thing I have become; and yet in this dark hour I thank my
Maker with an overflowing grateful heart that He tied down my hands when
they have tingled in my agony to return the father's blow. I never did--I
never did."
The speaker grew more and more excited, and his voice at last failed him.
I rose, and retired to the window, but he proceeded whilst my face was
turned away. I know not why--but my own eyes smarted.
"Yes, sir, time after time the horrible desire to be avenged, and to give
back blow for blow, has possessed me; and, as if eternal torture were to
be the immediate penalty of the unnatural act, I have thrown my arms
behind me, clasped hand in hand, and held them tiger-like together, until
the fit was passed away. And then who could be more penitent, more
sorrowful, than he! Within an hour of perpetrating this barbarity, he has
met me with a look pleading for forgiveness, which I would have given him
had he offended me, oh much--much more. What could he say to his child?
What could his child allow him to utter? Nothing. I have kissed him; he
has taken me by the hand, we have walked abroad together; and he has
loaded me with gifts for the joy of our reconciliation."
Curious as I was to hear more, I deemed it expedient, for the present, to
close the history. The man seemed carried away by the subject, and his
cheeks were scorched with this burning flush which the unusual exertion of
mind and body had summoned up. He spoke vehemently--hurriedly--at the top
of his voice, and I knew not how far his agitation might carry him. I
again proposed to him to abstain from fatigue, and to leave his history
unfinished for the present. He paused for a few minutes, wiped the heavy
perspiration from his brow, and answered me in a calm and steady voice--
"I will transgress no more, sir. I have never spoken of these things
yet--and they come before my mind too vividly--they inflame and mislead
me. I ask your pardon. But let me finish now--the tale is soon told--I
cannot for a second time revert to it."
"Go on," I answered, yielding once more to his wish, and in the same
composed and quiet voice he _began_ again.
"The first watch which I called my own, was given to me on one of these
occasions. My father had requested me to execute some small commission. I
forgot to do it. In his eyes the fault for a moment assumed the form of
wilful disobedience. That moment was enough--he was roused--the paroxysm
prevailed--and I was beaten like a dog. An hour afterwards he was
persuaded that his child was not undutiful. His reason had returned to
him, and, with it a load of miserable remorse. He offered me, with a
tremulous hand, the bauble, which I accepted; and, as I took it, I saw a
weight of sorrow tumble from his unhappy breast. This was my father, sir.
A man who would have been the best of fathers--had he been permitted, as
his heart directed him, to be the tenderest of husbands. I could see in my
boyhood that blame attached to my mother--to what extent I did not know. I
lived in the hope of hearing at some future time. That time never came. I
remained at home two months, and then went back to school. I received a
letter from one of my father's clerks, who was an especial favourite of
mine. It must have been about a week after my departure. It told me that
my father had drooped since I quitted him. On the morning that I came
away, he left his business and locked himself in my bedroom. He was shut
up at least two hours there. Fifty different matters required his presence
in the counting-house, and at length my friend, the clerk, disturbed him.
When the door was opened he found his master, his eyes streaming with
tears, intent upon a little book in which he had seen me reading many days
before. Oh, it was like him, sir! Within a few days I received another
letter from the same hand. My father was dangerously ill, and I was
summoned home. I flew, and arrived to find him delirious. He had been
seized with inflammation the day before. The fire blazed in a system that
was ripe for it. The doctors were baffled. Mortification had already
begun. He did not recognize me, but he spoke of me in his delirium in
terms of endearment, whilst curses against my mother rolled from his
unconscious lips. Three hours after my arrival he was a corpse. And such a
corpse! They told me it was my father, and I believed them.
"Are _you_, sir, fatherless?" asked Warton suddenly.
I told him, and he continued. "You have felt then the lightning shock
that has altered the very face of nature. Earth, before and after that
event, is not the same. It never was to human being yet. It cannot be.
What a secret is learnt upon that day! How tottering and insecure have
become the things of life that seemed so firm and fixed! The penalty is
heavy which we pay for the privilege to be our own master. Oh, the
desolation of a fatherless home! My father died, having made no will. So
it was said at first--but in a few days there was another version. My
mother's brother--the uncle that I spoke of--then appeared upon the
stage, and was most active for his sister's interests. He had never been
a friend of my father's. They had not spoken for years. I did not know
why. I had never enquired--for the man was a stranger to me, and since my
birth he had not crossed our threshold. My father believed that his
relative had wronged him--of this I was sure--and I hated him therefore
when he appeared. When my father was buried, this man produced a will. I
was present when it was read--bodily present; but my heart and soul were
away with him in the grave--and with him, sir, in heaven, beyond it. They
told me at the conclusion of the ceremony, that my father had died worth
fifty thousand pounds--that he had left my mother the bulk of his
property--to my sister a fortune of ten thousand pounds, and to me the
sum of a hundred and fifty pounds per annum. But they might have talked
to stone. What cared my young and inexperienced, and still bleeding
heart, for particulars and sums? A crust without him was more than
enough. It was more than I could swallow now--and what was _wealth_ to
me? My uncle, I heard afterwards, watched me as the different items were
read over, and seemed pleased to observe upon my face no sign of
disappointment. That he was pleased, I am certain, for he spoke kindly to
me when all was over, and said that I was a good boy, and should be taken
care of. "-Taken care of-!"--and so I was--and so I am--for look about
you, sir, and observe the evidences of my uncle's love. The clerk, to
whom I have alluded, took an early opportunity to remind me of the nature
of my father's will--and to hint to me suspicions of foul play. I readily
believed him. It was not that I cared for the money. At that age I was
ignorant of its value, and my little portion seemed a mine of wealth. But
I wished to dislike my uncle, because he had given pain to my dear
father. I avoided his presence as much as I could, and I made him feel
that my aversion was hearty. We never became _friends_. We seldom
spoke--and never but when obliged. He was a coarse man then--I have not
seen him for many years--ungentlemanly and unfeeling in his deportment.
It would have been as easy for him to alter the framework of his body as
to have shown regard for the sensibilities of other men. He lived to
amass. He counts his tens of thousands now--they may have been scraped
together amidst the groans and shrieks of the distressed, but there they
are--he has them, and he is happy. I asked, and obtained from my mother,
permission to return to school. I remained there without visiting my home
again for three years. My mother did not once write to me, or come to see
me. I did not write to her. My expenses were paid from my income. My
father's business was still conducted by my mother with her assistants,
and she resided in the old house. Did I tell you that my uncle was the
appointed executor of my father's will, and my guardian? He managed my
affairs, and for the present I suffered him to do as he thought proper.
In the meanwhile my happiness at school was unbounded. My existence there
was sweet and tranquil, like the flow of a small secluded stream. I loved
my master. Ill-taught and self-neglected nearly till the time that I came
under his instruction, I believed that I owed all my education to him;
and whilst I thirsted for knowledge as the means of raising myself and my
own mind, he supplied me with the healthful sustenance, and helped me
forward with his precepts. I had neither taste nor application for the
severer studies. Science was too hard and real for the warm imagination
with which Providence had liberally endowed me. It was a scarecrow in the
garden of knowledge, and I looked at it with fear from the sunny heights
of poesy on which I basked and dreamed. History--fiction--the strains of
Fletcher, Shakspeare--the lore of former worlds--these had unspeakable
charms for me; and such information as they yielded, I imbibed greedily.
Admiration of the beautiful creations of mind leads rapidly in ardent
spirits to an emulative longing; and the desire to achieve--to a firm
belief of capability. The grateful glow of love within is mistaken for
the gift divine. I burned to follow in the steps of the immortal, and
already believed myself inspired. Hours and days I passed in
compositions, which have since helped to warm our poverty-stricken room;
for they had all one destination--the fire. I shall, however, never
consider the days ill-spent which were engaged in such pursuits. The
pleasure was intense--the advantage, if unseen and indirect, was not
insignificant. Whatever _tends_ to elevate and purify, is in itself good
and noble. We cannot withdraw ourselves from the selfishness of life, and
incline our souls to the wisdom of the speaking dead, and not advance--be
it but one step--heavenward. And in my own case--the intellectual
character was associated with all that is lofty in principle, and exalted
in conduct. _Sans peur et sans reproche_ was its fit motto. Falsehood and
dishonesty must not attach to it. In my own mind I pictured a moral
excellence which it was necessary to attain; and in my strivings for
intellectual fame, _that_, as the essential accompaniment, was never once
lost sight of. Pride still clung to me--and was fed throughout. I was
eighteen years of age, and I desired to enter the university. I fixed
upon Oxford, as holding out a better prospect of success than the sister
seat of learning. I enquired what sum of money was necessary for my
education there; and received for answer, that two hundred pounds a-year
might carry me comfortably through, but that, with some economy and
self-denial, a hundred and fifty might be sufficient. It is a curious
circumstance that the very post which brought this information, brought
likewise a letter from my uncle, offering, as my guardian, and at his own
expense, to send me to the university. I was indignant at the
proposition, and vowed, before his letter was half read, that I would
rather live upon a meal a-day, than owe my bread to one whom I regarded
as my father's foe. Does it not strike you, sir, as somewhat singular,
that my father should make this man executor, trustee, and guardian? Men
do not generally appoint their enemies to such offices. I wrote to my
uncle in reply, declined coldly but respectfully his offer, and told him
my intention. Here our correspondence ended, and six months afterwards my
name was on the boards of my college. I went up knowing no one, but
carrying from my friend, the schoolmaster, a letter of introduction to a
clergyman who had been his college friend, and who (now married and the
father of one child) earned his subsistence by taking pupils. I was
received by this poor but worthy man with extreme kindness. He read the
character which I had brought with me, and bade me make his house my
home. His hospitality was at first a great advantage to me. My slender
income compelled me to exercise rigid economy--and to avoid all company.
Although very poor, I have told you that I was already very proud. I
would not receive a favour which I could not pay back--I would not permit
the breath of slander to whisper a syllable against my name. There were
hours in which no book could be read with pleasure, which no study could
make light. Such were passed in delightful converse with my friend, and
thus I was spared even the temptation to walk astray. I need not tell you
that I had no tutor. It was a luxury I could not afford. I worked the
harder, and was all the happier for the victory I had gained--such I
deemed it--over my uncle. At the end of a twelve-month, I found my
expenses were even within my income. It was a sweet discovery. I had paid
my way. I did not owe a penny. I was respected, and no one knew my mode
of life, or the amount of income that I possessed. My friend, I said, had
one child. She was a daughter. During my first year's residence I had
never seen her. She was away in Dorsetshire nursing a cousin, who died at
length in her arms. She returned home at the commencement of my second
year, and I was introduced to her. She fell upon my solitary life like
the primrose that comes alone to enliven the dull earth--a simple flower
of loveliness and promise, graceful in herself--but to the gazer's eye
more beautiful, no other flower being present to provoke comparison. We
met often. She was an artless creature sir, and gave her love to me long,
long before she knew the price of such a gift. She doated on her father,
and it was a virtue that I understood. She was very fair to look at;
timid as the fawn--as guileless; a creature of poetry, sent to be a
dream, and to shed about her a beguiling unsubstantial brightness. All
things looked practicable and easy in the light in which she moved. The
difficulties of life were softened--its rewards and joys coloured and
enhanced. I thought of her as a wife, and the tone of my existence was
from the moment changed. If you could have seen her, sir--the angel of
that quiet house--gliding about, ministering happiness--her innocent
expression--her lovely form--her golden hair falling to her swelling
bosom--her truthfulness and cultivated mind--you would, like me, have
blessed the fortune which had brought her to your side, and revealed the
treasure to your youthful heart. I told her that I loved, and her tears
and maiden blushes made her own affection manifest. Her father spoke to
me, bade me reflect, take counsel, and be cautious. He gave at last no
opposition to our wishes--but requested that time might be allowed for
trial, and my settlement in life. And so it was agreed. I prosecuted my
studies more diligently than ever, and looked with impatience for the
hour when my profession (for I had gone to the university with a view to
the church) and my little income would justify me in offering to my
darling one a home. Did I now mourn over the inequality of my fortune?
Did I upbraid the dead--accuse the living? I did not, sir. Too pleased to
labour for the girl whom I had chosen--I rejoiced to owe my bread to my
exertion. She then, as now--for it was her--my Anna, sir--the wreck whom
you have seen--cruelly misused by poverty and grief--robbed of her beauty
and her strength--the miserable outline of her former self--she then,
even as now, was in all things actuated by the highest motives--a serious
and religious maid. She cheered me with her smiles--her perfect patience
and tranquil hope. It was to her a privilege to be united to a clergyman,
and to find her earthly joy combined with usefulness and good. In our
walks, I have painted the future which was never to be--the bliss we were
never to experience. I have spoken of the parsonage, and its little lawn
and many flowers--pictured myself at work--visiting the poor--comforting
the sick--herself my dear attendant at the cottage doors, with hosts of
little ones about her, whom she might call her children, and for whom she
might exercise more than a mother's care. She could not listen to such
promises, and not grow happier in her inexperience than reality could
ever render her; and yet sighs, sighs, ominous sighs, would from the
first escape her. Still for a twelvemonth our nook of earth was Paradise,
and sorrow, the universal lot, was banished from our door. The tales
which I had been accustomed to hear of the world's deceit and falsehood
seemed groundless and cruel--the inventions of envious disappointed
minds--whose ambition had betrayed them into hopes, too preposterous for
fulfilment Happiness was on earth--did I not find her in my daily
walk?--for such as were not loth to greet her with a lowly and contented
spirit. I had no present care. The days were prosperous. I obtained a
scholarship in my college at the end of the first year, which was worth
to me at least fifty pounds per annum. This, not requiring, I saved up. I
worked hard during the day--withdrew myself from all intercourse with
men, and every evening was rewarded with the smiles of her for whose dear
sake all labour was so easy. Oh, the tranquillity and ineffable bliss of
those distant bygone days! _Bygone_, did I say? No--they exist still.
Poverty--misery--persecution--such things pass away, and are in truth a
dream. The troubles of yesterday vanish with the sun that set upon
them--but those hours, deeply impressed upon the soul, have left their
mark indelible; the intense, unspeakable joy that filled them, lingers
yet, and brightens up one spot that stands alone, distinct in life. Cast
when I will one single glance there, and I behold the stationary sun
shine. I do so now. None feel so vigorous and well as they who are on the
eve of some prostrating sickness. Dreaming of security, and as I looked
about, perceiving from no side the probability or show of evil, I was in
truth entangled in a maze of peril. My summer's day was at an end. The
cloud had gathered--was overhead, and ready to burst and overwhelm me.
For one twelvemonth, as I have said, I felt the perfect enjoyment of
life, and was blest. At the end of that period I received a letter from
my uncle. It was full of tenderness and affection. The first few lines
were taken up with enquiries--and immediately afterwards there came a
proposition. It was to this effect. "My mother wished to retire from
business; it was still a lucrative one, and she offered it to me. She
undertook to leave in the firm a capital sufficiently large to carry it
on, and receiving a moderate interest only for this sum, she would
relinquish all other profit in favour of her son." I read the letter, and
had faith in its sincerity. _As_ I read it, a devil whispered delusively
into my ear, and the sounds were music there, until my ruin was
completed. I knew the business to be affluent and thriving. The income
derived from it enabled my mother to live luxuriously. _Half the sum
would afford every wished-for comfort to my Anna, and much less would
enable us at once to marry_. Here was the rock on which I went to
pieces--here was the giddy light that blinded me to all
considerations--here was the sophistry that made all other reasoning dull
and valueless. I did not stop to enquire what movement of feeling could
operate so generously upon my uncle. If an unfavourable suggestion forced
itself upon me, it was expelled at once; and persuasion of the purity of
his motives was too easy, where my wish was father to the thought. If I
remained at college, years might elapse before our union. _Now,
immediately_, if I accepted this unlooked-for offer--she was mine, and a
home, such as in other circumstances I could never hope to give her, was
ready for her reception! I could think of nothing else, but I beheld in
the unexpected good--the outstretched hand of Providence. Full of my
delight, I communicated the intelligence to Anna; but very different was
its effect on her. She read the letter, and looked at me as if she wished
to read the most hidden of my secret wishes.
"'What have you thought of doing, then?' she asked.
"'Accepting the proposal, Anna,' I replied, 'with your consent.'
"'Never with that,' she answered almost solemnly. 'My lips shall never bid
you turn from the course which you have chosen, and to which you have been
called. You do not require wealth--you have said so many times--and I am
sure it is not necessary for your happiness.'
"'I think not of myself, dear Anna,' I replied. 'I have more than enough
for my own wants. It is for your sake that I would accept their offer, and
become richer than we can ever be if I refuse it. Our marriage now depends
upon a hundred things--is distant at the best, and may never be. The
moment that I consent to this arrangement, you are mine for ever.'
"'Warton,' she said, more seriously than ever, 'I am yours. You have my
heart, and I have engaged to give you, when you ask it, this poor hand. In
any condition of life--I am yours. But I tell you that I never can
deliberately ask you to resign the hopes which we have cherished--with, as
we have believed, the approbation and the blessing of our God. Your line
of duty is, as I conceive it--marked. Whilst you proceed, steadily and
with a simple mind--come what may, your pillow will never be moistened
with tears of remorse. If affliction and trial come--they will come as the
chastening of your Father, who will give you strength to bear the load you
have not cast upon yourself. But once diverge from the straight and narrow
path, and who can see the end of difficulty and danger? You are unused to
business, you know nothing of its forms, its ways--you are not fit for it.
Your habits--your temperament are opposed to it, and you cannot enter the
field as you should--to prosper. Think not of me. I wish--my happiness,
and joy, and pride will be to see you a respected minister of God. I am
not impatient. If we do right, our reward will come at last. Let years
intervene, and my love for you will burn as steadily as now. Do not be
tempted--and do not let us think that good can result--if, for my sake,
you are unfaithful--_there_!' She pointed upwards as she spoke, and for a
moment the sinfulness of my wishes blazed before me--startled, and
silenced me. I resolved to decline my uncle's offer; yet a week elapsed,
and the letter was not written. But another came from _him_. It was one of
tender reproach for my long silence, and it requested an immediate answer
to the munificent proposal of my mother. If I refused it, a stranger would
be called upon to enjoy my rights, and the opportunity for realizing a
handsome fortune would never occur again. Such were its exciting terms,
and once more, perplexed by desire and doubt, I appealed to the purer
judgment of my Anna.
"She wept when she came to the close of the epistle, and had not a word to
"'I distress you, Anna,' said I, 'by my indecision. Dry your tears, my
beloved; I will hesitate no longer.'
"'I know not what to do,' she faltered; 'if you should act upon my advice,
and afterwards repent, you would never forgive me. Yet, I believe from my
very soul that you should flee from this temptation. But do as you
will--as seems wisest and best--and trust not to a weak woman. Do what
reason and principle direct, and happen what will--I will be satisfied.
One thing occurs to me. Can you trust your uncle?"
I hesitated.
"'I ask,' she continued, 'because you have often spoken of him as if you
could not confidently. May he not have--I judge of him only from your
report--some motive for his present conduct which we cannot penetrate? It
is an unkind world, and the innocent and guileless are not safe from the
schemes and contrivances of the wicked. I speak at random, but I am filled
with alarm for you. You are safe now--but one step may be your ruin.'
"'You are right, Anna,' I replied; 'it is too great a venture, I cannot
trust this man. I will not leave the path of duty. I will refuse his offer
this very night.'
"And I did so. In her presence I wrote an answer to his letter, and
declined respectfully the brilliant prospect which he had placed before
me. The letter was dispatched--Anna was at peace, and my own mind was
"It was, however, not my fate to pass safely through this fiery ordeal.
Nothing but my destruction, final and entire, would satisfy my greedy
persecutor--and artfully enough did he at length encompass it. In a few
days, there arrived a third communication on the same subject, but from
another hand. My mother became the correspondent, and she conjured me by
my filial love and duty, not to disobey her. She desired to retire into
privacy. She was growing old and it was time to make arrangements for
another world. Her son, if he would, might enable her to carry out her
pious wish--or, by his obstinate refusal, hurry her with sorrow to the
grave. There was much more to this effect. Appeal upon appeal was made
_there_, where she knew me to be most vulnerable, and the choice of
action was not left me. To deny her longer--would be to stand convicted
of disobedience, undutifulness, and all unfilial faults. From this
period, I was lost. One word before I hurry to the end. I absolve my
mother from all participation in the crimes of which boldly I accuse my
uncle. She, poor helpless woman, was but his instrument, and believed,
when she urged me, that it was with a view to my advancement and lasting
benefit. I conveyed my mother's communication immediately to Anna. She
made no observation on its contents--bade me seek counsel of her father;
and with her eyes streaming with agonizing tears, left me to pray upon my
knees for counsel and direction from on high. Her father--I could not
blame him--a man who had struggled hardly for his bread as a clergyman
and a scholar--and seen more of the dark shadows than the light of
life--received my intelligence with unmingled satisfaction. He charged
me, as I loved his child, and valued her future welfare, to accept the
princely kindness of my friends--to see them instantly, and secure my
fortune whilst time and circumstances served. And then, as if to appease
his own qualms of conscience, and to justify his counsel, he reasoned
about the usefulness which, even to a pious mind, was permitted in the
exercise of trade. Infinite was the good that I might do. Yea, more,
perhaps, than if I persisted in my first design, and remained for ever a
poor clergyman; I might relieve the poor even to my heart's content. What
privilege so great as this! What suffering so acute as the desire to help
the sick and needy with no ability to do it! 'Be sure, young man, the
hand of Providence is here; it would be sinful to deny it.' O
_interest--interest!--self--self_!--words of magic and of power; they
rendered my poor friend blind as they did me. I listened to his advice
with eagerness and delight; and though I knew that to obey it was to cast
myself from security into turmoil and danger, I laboured to persuade
myself that he was right, and that hesitation was now criminal. Again I
saw my betrothed, and I approached her--innocent and truthful as she
was--with shame and self-abasement. I repeated her father's words, and
she shook her head sadly, but made no reply. What need was there of
reply? Had she not already spoken?
"'Let me, at least, dear Anna, go to London,' I said, 'and implore my
mother to retract this wish, unsay her words. I would rather give up the
world, than take it without your cheerful acquiescence. Your happiness is
every thing to me. You shall decide for me.'
"'No, Warton,' she replied--'you and my father must decide, and may Heaven
direct you both. Go to London--do as you wish. I am resigned. I am
presumptuous, and may be wrong. All will be for the best. Go! God bless
you and support you.'
"And I went, traitor and renegade that I was, prepared to surrender to the
bitterest foe that ever hunted victim down. Believe me not, sir, when I
say that any sense of filial duty actuated me in my resolve, that any
feeling influenced this unsteady heart but one--The desire to call my Anna
mine--the pride I felt in the consciousness of wealth--and of the power
to bestow it all on her.
"My reception in London was as favourable as I could wish it. My uncle was
an altered man--at least he appeared so. He met me with smiles and honied
words, and made such promises of friendship and protection, that I stood
before him convicted of uncharitableness and gross misconduct. I
reproached myself for the old prejudices, and for the malice which I had
always borne him, and attributed them all to boyish inexperience, and
stubbornness. I was older now, and could see with the eyes of a man. Not
only did I acquit him of all intention of wrong, but I could have fallen
on my knees before him, and asked his pardon for my own offences. I wrote
a long letter to Anna, and described in lively colours my own agreeable
surprise, desired her to be of good heart, and to rely upon my prudence. I
engaged to write daily, to announce the progress of my mission--and to
advise her of the proposed arrangements. This was my first communication.
Before she could receive a second, I had put my hand to paper, and signed
my death-warrant. I had irretrievably committed myself. I was living with
my uncle. His wine was of the best. He could drink freely of it, and get
cooler and more collected at each glass, but frequent draughts animated
and inflamed my younger head. He spoke to me with kindness, and I grew
confiding and loquacious. I told him of my engagement with Anna, described
her beauty, extolled her virtues. He seized the golden opportunity, and
reproved me gently for the little consideration which I exhibited for one
so worthy of my love. It was unpardonably selfish to hesitate one instant
longer. It was due to her, and to our future offspring, to make every
provision for their maintenance and comfort. It was madness to overlook
the advantages which my mother's offer gave. She herself, the lovely Anna,
as her cares increased, would mourn over the cruel obstinacy of him who
might have placed her beyond anxiety and apprehension, but who preferred
to keep her poor, dependent, joyless. She was young, and spoke, doubtless,
as she felt--but time would dissipate romance, and bitterly would she
regret that he who professed to love her had not taken pains to prove that
love more thoughtful and sincere. So he went on--and, in the height of his
appeal, a visitor was announced--Mr Gilbert, an old friend, an intimate,
who was immediately admitted. I was requested not to mind him, for he knew
every secret of my uncle's. The latter repeated my story, and ended with
an account of my ingratitude to Anna. Mr Gilbert could scarcely speak for
his astonishment. He shook his head severely, and vowed the case was quite
unparalleled. I drank on--the thought of the immediate possession of my
Anna flashed once powerfully and effectually across my brain, and I held
out no longer. I yielded to the sweet solicitation--and was lost.
"On the following morning, Mr Gilbert arrived to breakfast. The subject
was resumed. My uncle produced a paper, which he had hastily drawn up. It
should be signed by all. Mr Gilbert, as a friend, could witness it. It was
a rough draught, but would answer every purpose for the present. The
statement was very simple. My mother left in the firm twenty thousand
pounds in stock, and cash and book debts. For this I made myself
responsible, and undertook to pay an interest of five per cent. All
profits in the business were my own. Fool that I was, I signed the
document without reflection--gave, with one movement of the pen, my
liberty, my happiness, and life, into the power of one who had for years
resolved to get them in his clutch. My uncle followed with his
signature--then Mr Gilbert. To make all sure, however, a clerk of the
former was summoned to the room, and requested to act as second witness
to the deed.
"You are perfectly satisfied with the contents?' said Mr Gilbert to my
uncle, when the clerk had finished.
"'Quite so,' was the answer.
"'And you, sir?' he continued, turning then to me.
"'I answered, '_Yes_,' whilst a sickening shudder crept through my blood,
and the remonstrance of Anna sounded in my ears like a knell.
"I remained in London, and a week after this ceremony I entered upon my
duties at the counting-house. _At the earnest recommendation of my
uncle_, I carried into the business, as additional capital, the sum of
money from which I had hitherto derived my income. This amounted to
nearly four thousand pounds. It may seem strange to you, sir, as it does
to me now, that I should so readily have adopted the statement of my
uncle, and so deeply involved myself upon the strength of his simple
_ipse dixit_. It was a mad-man's act, and yet there were many excuses for
it at the time. I was but a boy--fresh from a life of retirement and
study--unused to the ways of men--unprepared for fraud. Satisfied of my
own integrity, I believed implicitly in the ingenuousness of others. I
had no friend to act for me--to investigate and warn--my heart was
burthened with its love, and all my thoughts were far away. The business
had prospered for years, and it was conducted externally as in the days
of my poor father. All was decorous and business-like, and the reputation
of the house was high and unblemished. There was nothing in the
appearance of things to excite suspicion--and not a breath was suggested
from my own too easy and confiding nature. The father of my betrothed!
was delighted at the step which I had taken. He wrote me an impassioned
letter, full of praise and brilliant prophecies, none of which he lived
to see fulfilled. His daughter, he assured me, would yet be grateful to
me for the firmness I had evinced, and that the blessing of Heaven must
attend conduct so estimable and wise. Anna herself wrote in another
strain. The act which she had so long dreaded was accomplished--it was
useless to look back--she could only hope and pray for the future. She
entreated me to be careful of my health, and to accustom myself gradually
to my new employment. It was a consolation to behold her father so very
happy, and to find me contented in my position. Nothing would give her
now such satisfaction, as to be convinced that she had been wrong
throughout, and that I had done well in giving up my former occupations.
A month passed quickly by. The engagements of the firm were met--and its
affairs were carried on as usual. No change took place. The only
difference was my presence, and the appearance of my name in all the
transactions of the house. I saw my mother frequently--but my uncle, by
degrees, withdrew. His own affairs required his constant attention, but
he provided me with help and countenance in the person of Mr Gilbert.
This gentleman, in addition to the character of a bosom friend, sustained
another--that of _legal adviser_ to my uncle! He visited me daily, and
helped me marvellously. He procured from my uncle my patrimony of four
thousand pounds--drew up in return for it a release, which I
executed--paid the money into my banker's hands--received my mother's
dividend--inspected the accounts--advised summary proceedings against
defaulters--and settled, at a certain rate, to purchase a few outstanding
debts, which it would cost some trouble and manoeuvring to get in. I
could not choose but act upon advice that was at once so very friendly
and professional. My inexperience, for a time, gratefully reposed in Mr
Gilbert. Exactly two months after I had entered the concern, I married.
Sun never rose more promisingly upon a wedding-day--a lovelier bride had
never graced it. I pass over the few intoxicating weeks during which life
assumes a form and hue which it never wore before--never puts forth
again. The novelty of my situation--the joy I had in her possession, and
in the knowledge that she was wholly mine--lived now and breathed for
me--the pride with which I gazed upon her blooming beauty, and communed
with her, as with a new-found better self--all combined to render one
brief season a sweet delirium--an ecstatic dream. It is time to wake from
it. I return to the business. I had agreed to pay my mother's dividend
every quarter--and, as I told you, Mr Gilbert received the money for her.
She did not live to enjoy it. A short illness removed her from a world
which had never been one of sorrow to her. Her heart was adamant, and
troubled waters passed over--did not enter and disturb it. All that she
had became my uncle's, and he was now my creditor. I beg you, sir, to
mark this. Twice had he inherited the property which should have been my
own. It was about a twelvemonth after the death of my mother, that small,
dark shadows appeared in the horizon, foretelling storm and tempest. At
first they gave me no uneasiness, but they increased and gathered, and
soon compelled me to take measures for the outbreak. I continued to
discharge my uncle's claim with undeviating regularity. Mr Gilbert
sharply saw to that; but a difficulty arose at length of meeting
punctually all the demands which came upon me in the way of business.
This was overcome in the beginning, by enforcing payment from customers
who had traded previously on a liberal credit. The evil thus temporarily
repaired gave rise, however, to a greater evil. Our friends withdrew
their favours, and offered them else where. This critical state of things
did not improve, but caused me daily fresh alarm. Money became more
scarce--the difficulty of meeting payments more imminent and harassing.
It was very strange. It had not been so in my father's time; nor later,
when my mother had the management of affairs. Was it my fault? What had I
done amiss. Frightful thoughts began to haunt my bosom, and my sleep was
broken, as a criminal's might be. One day I had a heavy sum to pay. It
was on the fourth of the month--a serious day to many--and, although I
had made every exertion to meet this payment, I found myself, on the very
morning, at least two hundred pounds deficient. I have told you, that the
credit of our house was without a spot. Its reputation stood high amongst
the highest. Slander had not dared to breathe one syllable against it. To
me was entrusted this precious jewel, and I was now upon the very brink
of losing it. I rose from my pillow before daylight, and endeavoured to
contrive a plan for my relief. Fear and excitement prevented all
deliberate thought, and I walked to the counting-house confounded--almost
delirious. I had taken no food. I could not break my fast until the
exigency had passed away. I was sitting in the little room, filled with
dismal apprehensions, when Mr Gilbert was announced, and suddenly
appeared. As suddenly I resolved to tell him of my necessity, and to ask
his aid or counsel. Blushing to the forehead, I confided my situation to
him, and asked what it was possible to do. He smiled in answer produced
his pocket-book, and gave me, without a word; a draft upon his banker for
the sum required. At that moment, sir, I felt what it was to be respited
after sentence of death--to be rescued from drowning--to awaken into life
from horrible and numbing dreams. I pressed the hand of my deliverer with
the most affectionate zeal, and assured him of my everlasting gratitude.
"'No occasion, my dear sir,' answered Mr Gilbert. 'This is a very common
case in business, and will happen to the best of men. Never hesitate to
ask me when you are in need. When I have the cash, you shall command me
always. Give me your IOU--that will be quite sufficient, and pay the money
back when it is quite convenient.' Disinterested, most praiseworthy man!
He left me, impressed with his benevolence, and with my spirit at rest.
With the dismissal of my incubus, my appetite was restored. I partook of a
hearty dinner, and returned home, happy as a boy again. At the end of a
week, I was enabled to repay my benefactor; but, at the end of a
fortnight; I was again in need of his assistance. Emboldened by his offer,
I did not hesitate to apply; as freely as before he responded to my call;
and I felt that I had gained a friend indeed. Men who have committed
heinous crimes, will tell you that it is the first divergence from the
point of rectitude that gives them pain and anguish. The false direction
once obtained, and the moral sense is blunted. So in matters of this kind.
There was no blushing or palpitation when I begged a third time for a
temporary loan. The occasion soon presented itself, and I asked
deliberately for the sum I wanted. Mr Gilbert likewise had grown familiar
with these demands; and familiarity, they say, does not heighten our
politeness and respect. He had not the money by him, but he might get it,
though, from a friend, he thought, if it were absolutely necessary. But
then a friend is not like one's self. He must be paid for what he did.
Well, for once in the way, I could afford it. I must borrow as cheaply, as
I could, and give my note of hand, &c. Sir, in less than three months; I
was in a mesh of difficulties, from which it was impossible to tear
myself. Bill after bill had I accepted and given to this Gilbert--pounds
upon pounds had he sucked from me in the way of interest; He grew greedier
every hour. If I hesitated; he spoke to me of exposure--I refused, he
threatened enforcement of his previous claims. And, what was worse than
all, notwithstanding the heavy sums which he advanced, and for which he
held securities, my affairs remained disordered, and the demand for money
increased with every new supply. I could not understand it. I had not
communicated with my uncle. I was afraid to do it; but I took care to pay
his dividend the instant it was due. Had I omitted it, Mr Gilbert would
have looked to me; for he was even more anxious than myself to keep my
affairs a secret from my uncle. It was not long before I got bewildered by
the accumulated anxieties of my position. My mind was paralyzed. My days
were wretched. Home had no delight for me; and neither there nor elsewhere
could I find repose. Before daybreak, I quitted my bed, and until
midnight, I was occupied in arranging for the engagements of the coming
day. Legitimate and profitable business was neglected; lost sight of, and
all my faculties were engrossed in the one great object of obtaining
_money_ to appease the present and the pressing importunity. In the midst
of my trouble, I was thrown, for the first time, upon a bed of sickness. I
was attacked with fever, but I rallied in a day or two, and was prepared
once more to cast myself into the vortex from which I saw no hope or
possibility of escape. It was the evening before the day on which I had
determined to resume the whirl of my sickening occupation. I was in bed,
and, tired with the thought that weighed upon my brain, had fallen into a
temporary sleep, from which I woke too soon, to find my wife, now about to
become a mother, weeping as if her heart were broken, at my side. Trouble,
sir, had soured my temper, and I had ceased to be as tender as she
deserved. I was base enough to speak unkindly to her.
"'You are discontented, Anna,' I exclaimed. You are not satisfied--you
repent now that you married me'--I see you do.'
"'Warton,' she exclaimed, 'if you love me, leave this cruel business. Let
us live upon a crust. I will work for you. I will submit to any thing to
see you calm and happy. This will kill you.'
"'It will, it must!' I cried out in misery. 'I cannot help it. What is to
be done?'
"'Retire from it--resign all--every thing--but save us both. This
agitation--this ceaseless wear and tear--must eventually, and soon,
destroy you. What, then, becomes of me?'
"'Show me, Anna, how I can do what you desire with honour. Show me the
way, and I will bless you. Oh, why did I not heed your words before! Why
did I suffer myself to be entrapped'--
"She stopped me in my exclamations.
"'You have promised, dear,' said she, 'never to look upon the past. You
acted for the best. So did we all. It is our consolation and support. But
the present is sad and mournful, and, I believe, it rests with ourselves
to secure our happiness for the future. Are you content to do it?'
"'Oh, can you ask me, Anna? Tell me how I may escape without
discredit--without shame and one dishonourable taint--and you take me
from the depths of my despair. I see no end to this career. I am fixed to
the stake, and I must burn.'
"'Listen to me, dearest. You shall write to your uncle without delay, and
explain to him your wishes. You shall tell him of your difficulties
frankly and unreservedly. Make known to him your state of health, and tell
him firmly that you are unequal to the burden which is laid upon you.
Should he insist upon a recompense for your loss, you have money of your
own there--yield it to him, and these hands shall never rest until they
have earned for you every shilling of it back again. Be tranquil,
resolute, cheerful, and all will yet be well, I trust--I feel it will.'
"I had once refused to act on her advice, and the consequences had been
dire enough. When compliance was too late, I implicitly obeyed her. The
letter was written, and an answer came as speedily as we could wish it. It
was a kind reply. My uncle was sorry for my illness, and was content to
take the business off my hands, if I was ready to resign it in the
condition that I had found it. And this, I thanked my God with tears of
joy, I was prepared to do. My personal expenses had been trifling. The
amount of business done was large--my the profits had not been withdrawn.
Although my sufferings had been great, and difficulties had met me which I
could neither prevent nor comprehend, still reason told me that the
property must have increased in value. It was with alacrity that I
engaged, at my uncle's particular request, an accountant to investigate
the proceedings of the house, and to pronounce upon its present state. The
result of the examination could not but be most satisfactory. It did not
occur to me at the time, that my uncle had deemed no accountant necessary
when he heaped upon me the responsibility which I had borne so ill. It
would have been but fair, methinks. A time was fixed for a meeting with my
uncle, and for producing the result of the enquiry. The accountant had
been closely engaged at his work for many days, and had brought it to an
end only on the evening preceding the day of our appointment. He submitted
his estimate to me, and you shall judge my horror when I perused it. There
were many sheets of paper, but in one line my misery was summed up. EIGHT
THOUSAND POUNDS _were deficient and unaccounted for_. Yes, and my own
small fortune had been included in the amount of capital. The accountant
had been careful and exact--there was not a flaw in his reckoning. The
glaring discrepancy stared me in the face, and pronounced my ruin. I knew
not what to think or do. In accents of the most earnest supplication, I
entreated the accountant to pass the night in reviewing his labours, and
to afford me, if possible, the means of rescuing my name from the obloquy
which, in a few hours, must attach to it. I offered him any sum of
money--all that he could ask--for his pains, and he promised to comply
with my request. The idea that I had been the victim of a trick, a fraud,
never glanced across my mind. No, when my wretchedness permitted me to
think at all, I suspected and accused no one but myself. I could imagine
and believe that, inadvertently, I had committed some great error when my
soul had been darkened by the daily and hourly anxieties which had
followed it so long. But how to discover it? How to make my innocence
apparent to the world? How to face my uncle? How to brave the taunts of
men? How, above all, to meet the huge demands which soon would press and
fall upon me? The tortures of hell cannot exceed in acuteness all that I
suffered that long and bitter night. The accountant was waiting for me in
the parlour when I left my bed. He had spent the night as I had wished
him but had not found one error in his calculations. I tore the papers
from his hands, and strained my eyes upon the pages to extract the lie
which existed there to damn me. It would not go--it could not be removed.
I was a doomed, lost man. Whatever might be the consequence, I resolved
to see my uncle, and to speak the truth. I relied upon the sympathy which
I believed inherent in the nature of man. I relied upon my own integrity,
and the serenity which conscious innocence should give. I met my uncle. I
shall never forget that interview. He received me in his private
house--in his drawing-room. We were alone. He sat at a table: his face
was somewhat pale, but he was cool and undisturbed--ah, how much more so
than his trembling sacrifice! I placed before him the condemning paper.
It was that only that he cared to see. He looked at once to the result,
and then, without a word, he turned his withering eye upon me.
"'I know it,' I cried out, not permitting him to speak. 'I know what you
would say. It is a mystery, and I cannot solve it. There is a fearful
error somewhere--but where I know not. I am as innocent--'
"'Innocent!' exclaimed my uncle, in a tone of bitterness, 'Well, go on,
"'Yes, innocent,' I repeated. 'Time will prove it, and make the mystery
clear. My brain is now confused; but it cannot be that this gigantic error
can escape me when I am calm--composed. Grant me but time.'
"'I grant nothing,' said my uncle, fiercely. 'Plunderer! I show no mercy.
You would have shown me none--you would have left me in the lurch, and
laughed at me as you made merry with your stolen wealth. Mark me,
sir--restore it--labour till you have made it good, or I crush you--once,
and for ever.'
"I was rendered speechless by these words. I attempted to make answer; but
my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth--my throat grew dry and hot--my
brain was dizzy, and the room swam round me. I thought of the name which I
had been striving for years to build up--the honourable name which I had
gained--the height from which I was about to fall--the yawning gulf
below--a thousand painful thoughts rushed in one instant to my mind, and
overcame me. I should have fallen to the earth, had not my heart found in
my eyes a passage for its grief, and rendered me weaker than a child
before a creature who had never felt the luxury of one human tear. I wept
aloud and fearfully.
"'Guilt, guilt, palpable guilt!' exclaimed my uncle. 'None but the guilty
weep. You do not take me by surprise, young man. I was prepared for
this--I have but a word to say. Restore this money, or undertake to pay
it back to me--to the last farthing of my lawful claim. Do this, and I
forgive you, and forget your indiscretion. Refuse, and to-morrow you are
a bankrupt and a beggar. Leave me, and take time for your decision. Come
to me again this evening. If you fail--_you_ may expect a visit in the
"This was said deliberately, but in a tone most expressive of sincerity. I
staggered from his presence, and hurried homeward. A sickening sensation
checked me as I approached my door. I could not enter it. I rushed away;
and in the open fields, where I could weep and rave unnoticed and alone, I
cursed my fate, and entreated heaven to smite me with its thunders. My
mind was tottering. Hours passed before I reached the house again, how,
when, or by what means I arrived there, I could not tell. The servant girl
who gave me admittance looked savagely upon me, as I thought. It was
sorrow, and not anger, that was written in her face; but how could I
discriminate? Her mistress was seriously ill. She had been alarmed by the
visit of a gentleman, who waited for me in the parlour, and by my
protracted absence; and her agitation had brought on the pangs of labour.
A physician was now with her. Who was this gentleman? I entered the room,
and there the fiend sate, white with irritation and gnawing
disappointment. I started back, but he advanced to me--held my papers to
my face, and pointed to one portion of them with a finger that was alive
with rage and agitation.
"'Is it true?' asked my uncle, gnashing his teeth. 'Answer me--yes or
no?--one word, is it true?'
"'It is a lie!' I answered, ignorant of his meaning, and half crazed with
the excitement. 'I am innocent--innocent--Heaven knows I am.'
"'Have you, or have you not given to Gilbert, for these heavy sums, a
power of attorney? Has he got it? Answer me in a word.'
"'He advanced me money,' I replied, 'and I gave him such documents as he
"'Enough!' said my uncle. 'You are a beggar!'--and without another word he
left me.
"For a week my wife remained in a dangerous condition. Threatened with the
loss of her, I did not leave her side. What was the business to me at such
a time?--what was reputation--what life? Life!--sir, I carried about with
me a potent poison, and I waited only for her latest breath to drink it
off, and join her in the grave. She rallied, however, and once more I
walked abroad--to find myself a bankrupt and a castaway. The very day that
my uncle quitted me, he called my creditors together--exposed the state of
my affairs--and accused me of the vilest practices. A docket was struck
against me. Every thing that I possessed was dragged away--even to the bed
on which my Anna had been cast, and which she so much needed now. Every
thing was gone; but the blow had fallen, and I was callous to the loss. In
the midst of the desolation I struggled to preserve one trifle from the
common wreck. Do not smile, sir, when I mention _my reputation_. Yes, I
felt that if it could be rescued all might be spared, and I might yet defy
and shame my persecutors. I appealed to the commissioner who had charge of
my estate. I proclaimed aloud, and in the face of men, my innocence. I
conjured him to subject me to the severest trial--to compel the closest
examination of my affairs--my books--and every individual connected with
the house. I demanded it for the sake of justice--for my own sake, and for
the sake of the poor creatures--I was a father now--whose fortunes were
linked with mine, whose bread depended upon the verdict which should be
pronounced against me. My passionate supplication was not in vain. The
affairs of our house were looked into--the business that had been done for
years was sifted--and clerks and men were subjected to every interrogatory
that could elucidate a fact. At the end of six months it was publicly
announced that an important error had been discovered--that the estimate
given to me was incorrect, _and by many thousand pounds greater than the
true value_.
"There had been a _mistake_! The bankrupt departed from the court without
a blemish on his character. He had been indiscreet in entering heedlessly
upon so large an undertaking, and must pay dearly for that in discretion.
He was strictly liable and bound to pay what he had acknowledged with his
hand to be a lawful debt. There was no help for him. The young man was
worthy of commiseration, and his creditors should show him mercy." This
was the verdict of the commissioner, spoken in the ears of one who was a
stranger to mercy, and who had vowed to show me _none_. Guilt, however,
attached to my good name no longer, and I smiled at his malignity. It was
too soon _to smile_. The secret of all my difficulty was now explained.
Trading upon a false capital, to an extravagant extent beyond the real
one--draining my exchequer of its resources to pay an ever-recurring
interest, whilst the principal was but a fiction in the estate, it was no
wonder that I became hemmed in by claims impossible to meet, and that the
services of Mr Gilbert were so soon in requisition. In giving to Mr
Gilbert a power over the firm, I acted according to my ideas of justice.
When I was impoverished, he furnished me with the means of keeping up the
credit of the house. But for him it must have fallen. I believed that I
was solvent. Why should I hesitate to make this man secure? But it is for
this preference, which rendered my uncle's dividend comparatively nothing,
that I have been followed through my life with rancour and malevolence
unparalleled. Mark me, sir; the _mistake_, as it was called--the vital
_error_--was a deliberate fraud committed by my uncle at the outset.
He had withdrawn this heavy sum of money at the beginning--he had resolved
to keep me for my life his servant and his slave--to feast upon the
dropping sweat of my exhausted mind--to convert my heart's blood into
gold, which was his god. He hated me for my conduct towards him in my
boyhood, which he had neither forgotten nor forgiven; and his detestation
gave zest to his hellish desire of accumulating wealth at any cost. Had I
applied to _him_, had I entered into new engagements with _him_, given to
_him_ the securities which, from a notion of right, I had presented to
Gilbert--had I made over to the fiend soul as well as body, I might still
have retained his friendship, still been permitted to labour and to toil
for his aggrandizement and ease. It was Gilbert himself who revealed to me
his patron's villany. It was time for the vultures to quarrel when they
could not both fatten on my prostrate carcass; but they were bound
together by the dark doings of years, and it was only by imperfect hints
and innuendoes that I was made aware of their treachery. If proofs existed
to convict my uncle, Gilbert could not afford to produce them. The price
was life, or something short of it; but I heard enough for satisfaction.
Although I was deprived of everything that I possessed, my mind recovered
its buoyancy, and my spirit, after the first shock, grew sanguine. I had
been proclaimed an innocent and injured man, and my beloved Anna was at my
side smiling and rejoicing. In our overthrow, she beheld only the dark
storm of morning, that sometimes ushers in the glorious noon and golden
sunset. I spoke of the past with anger; she reverted to it with the
chastened sorrow of a repentant angel. I looked to the future with
distrust and apprehension, she, with a bright, abiding confidence. Never
had she appeared so happy, so contented--never had the smile remained so
constant to her cheek, so unalloyed with touch of care, as when we stood
houseless and homeless in the world, and nothing but her fortitude and
love were left me to rely upon. My first care after my dismission into
life again, was to obtain my certificate from my creditors, and with
almost all of them I was successful. The exceptions were my uncle, and
three individuals--his creatures, and willing instruments of torture. They
were sufficient to brand me with disgrace, and to affix for ever to my
name that mark of infamy which an after life of virtue shall never wash
away or hide. UNCERTIFICATED BANKRUPT was the badge I carried with me.
From this period my decline was rapid and unequivocal. A creditor, who had
not proved his debt upon the estate, hearing tell of my defenceless
situation, cast me forthwith into prison. I will not tell you of the
sufferings we endured during a two years' cruel incarceration. Starvation
and its horrors came gradually upon us. Application upon application was
made to my uncle; entreaties for nothing more than justice; and my poor
meek Anna was turned with contumely from his doors. After years of
privation, a glimmering of light stole in upon us, to be soon
extinguished. I obtained temporary employment in a school far away from
the scenes of my misery, and hither my evil fortune followed me. The
schoolmaster was an ignorant, gross man. He gained my services for a song,
and he treated me with disrespect in consequence. I had been with him
about six months when some silver spoons were stolen from his house. The
thief escaped detection; but the master received an anonymous
communication, containing a false history of my life, with a true
statement of my unfortunate position. He at once charged me with the crime
of being an uncertificated bankrupt. I confessed to it, and the very day I
was dragged before a magistrate on suspicion of felony. I was acquitted,
it is true, for want of evidence; but what could acquit me--what could
release me from the super-added stigma? _An uncertificated bankrupt, and a
suspected felon_! Alas! the charity of man will not look further than the
surface of things, and is it not secretly pleased to find there, rather an
excuse for neglect, than a reason for exertion? Excited almost to madness
by privation and want, and unable to get assistance from a human being, I
visited my uncle. I could not see my wife and children drooping and
sinking day by day, and not make one great struggle for their rescue. I
resolved to accost him with meekness and humility--yes, to fall upon my
knees and kiss the dust before him, so that he would fill their famished
mouths. He would not see me. I watched for him in the street, and there
addressed him. He reviled me--cast me off--provoked me to exasperation,
and finally gave me into custody for an attempt upon his life. Again I was
taken to the magistrate, but not again discharged so easily. My character
and previous _offences_ were exhibited. The magistrate, serious with
judicial sorrow, looked upon me as you would turn an eye towards a reptile
that defiles the earth. I appealed to him, and in a loud and animated
voice proclaimed my grievances. It was suggested that I was a lunatic, and
whilst the justice committed me to hard labour, he benevolently promised
that the prison surgeon should visit me, and pronounce upon my fitness for
Saint Luke's. It was during my temporary confinement for this offence,
that I was seized with the illness from which I have never since been
free. For three years I was unable to work for my family, and by the end
of that period we were sunk into the lowest depths. My Anna sickened
likewise; but as long as she was able she laboured for our support. We
have been hunted and driven from place to place, and the little which we
have been able to earn in our wanderings, has hardly kept us alive. Twice
have I stolen a loaf of bread to appease the children's hunger. What could
I do? I could not bear to see their languid glassy eyes, and hear their
little voices imploring for the food--God knows, I could not let them die
before my face--I could not be their murderer--I could not--"
"Stay, Mr Warton," said I, interrupting the narrator, "I have heard
enough. Spare me for the present. Your statements must be corroborated.
This is all I ask. Leave the rest to me."
If the reader has perused, with painful interest, the account that I have
laid before him, let me gratify him with the intelligence that I have
accomplished for this unfortunate family all that I could wish. Warton's
account of himself was strengthened and confirmed by the strict enquiry
which I set on foot immediately. He was, as he asserted, _an innocent and
injured man_. Satisfied of this, I transmitted to the worthy judge, who
had been moved by the man's misfortunes, a faithful history of his life. I
was not disappointed here. It was that functionary who obtained for Warton
the situation which he at present fills--and for his children the
education which they are now receiving. Nor was this his first exertion on
their behalf. It was he who furnished them with clothing on the night of
the criminal's discharge. They are restored to happiness, to comfort, and
to health. The moderate ambition of the faithful Anna is realized, and my
vision is a vision no longer.
Reader, I have nothing more to add. I have told you a simple tale and a
true one. It is for you to say whether it shall be--useless and
* * * * *
[Footnote A: 1. _Geschichte der alten und neuen Literatur von_ FRIEDRICH
SCHLEGEL. _Neue auflage. Berlin_, 1842.
2. Lectures on the History of Ancient and Modern Literature, from the
German of Frederick Schlegel. New edition. Blackwood: Edinburgh and
London, 1841.
3. The Philosophy of History, translated from the German of FRIEDRICH VON
SCHLEGEL, with a Memoir of the Author, by JAMES BURTON ROBERTSON, Esq. In
two vols. London, 1835. Reprinted in America, 1841.
4. _Philosophie des Lebens_ von FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL. Wien, 1828.]
"I would not have you pin your faith too closely to these SCHLEGELS," said
FICHTE one day at Berlin to VARNHAGEN VON ENSE, or one of his friends, in
his own peculiar, cutting, commanding style--"I would not have you pin
your faith to these Schlegels. I know them well. The elder brother wants
depth, and the younger clearness. One good thing they both have--that is,
hatred of mediocrity; but they have also both a great jealousy of the
highest excellence; and, therefore, where they can neither be great
themselves nor deny greatness in others, they, out of sheer desperation,
fall into an outrageous strain of eulogizing. Thus they have bepraised
Goethe, and thus they have bepraised me."[B]
[Footnote B: _Denkwürdigkeiten_ von K. A. VARNHAGEN VON ENSE. Mannheim,
1837. Vol. ii. p. 60.]
Some people, from pride, don't like to be praised at all; and all
sensible people, from propriety, don't like to be praised extravagantly:
whether from pride or from propriety, or from a mixture of both,
philosopher Fichte seemed to have held in very small account the
patronage with which he was favoured at the hands of the twin aesthetical
dictators, the Castor and Pollux of romantic criticism; and, strange
enough also, poet Goethe, who had worship enough in his day, and is said
to have been somewhat fond of the homage, chimes in to the same tune
thus: "the Schlegels, with all their fine natural gifts, have been
unhappy men their life long, both the one and the other; they wished both
to be and do something more than nature had given them capacity for; and
accordingly they have been the means of bringing about not a little harm
both in art and literature. From their false principles in the fine
arts--principles which, however much trumpeted and gospeled about, were
in fact egotism united with weakness--our German artists have not yet
recovered, and are filling the exhibitions, as we see, with pictures
which nobody will buy. Frederick, the younger of these Dioscouri, choked
himself at last with the eternal chewing of moral and religious
absurdities, which, in his uncomfortable passage through life, he had
collected together from all quarters, and was eager to hawk about with
the solemn air of a preacher to every body: he accordingly betook
himself, as a last refuge, to Catholicism, and drew after him, as a
companion to his own views, a man of very fair but falsely overwrought
talent--Adam Müller.
"As for their Sanscrit studies again, that was at bottom only a _pis
aller_. They were clear-sighted enough to perceive that neither Greek nor
Latin offered any thing brilliant enough for them; they accordingly threw
themselves into the far East; and in this direction, unquestionably, the
talent of Augustus William manifests itself in the most honourable way.
All that, and more, time will show. Schiller never loved them: hated them
rather; and I think it peeps out of our correspondence how I did my best,
in our Weimar circles at least, to keep this dislike from coming to an
open difference. In the great revolution which they actually effected, I
had the luck to get off with a whole skin, (_sie liessen mich noth dürftig
stehen_,) to the great annoyance of their romantic brother Novalis, who
wished to have me _simpliciter_ deleted. 'Twas a lucky thing for me, in
the midst of this critical hubbub, that I was always too busy with myself
to take much note of what others were saying about me.
"Schiller had good reason to be angry with them. With their aesthetical
denunciations and critical club-law, it was a comparatively cheap matter
for them to knock him down in a fashion; but Schiller had no weapons that
could prostrate them. He said to me on one occasion, displeased with my
universal toleration even for what I did not like. 'KOTZEBUE, with his
frivolous fertility, is more respectable in my eyes than that barren
generation, who, though always limping themselves, are never content with
bawling out to those who have legs--STOP!'"[C]
[Footnote C: Briefwechse Zwischen GOETHE und ZELTER. Berlin, 1834. Vol. vi.
p. 318.]
That there is some truth in these severe remarks, the paltry personal
squibs in the _Leipzig Almanach_ for 1832, which called them forth, with
regard to Augustus Schlegel at least, sufficiently show: but there is a
general truth involved in them also, which the worthy fraternity of us
who, in this paper age, wield the critical pen, would do well to take
seriously to heart; and it is this, that great poets and philosophers have
a natural aversion as much to be praised and patronized, as to be rated
and railed at by great critics; and very justly so. For as a priest is a
profane person, who makes use of his sacred office mainly to show his gods
about, (so to speak,) that people may stare at them, and worship him; so a
critic who forgets his inferior position in reference to creative genius,
so far as to assume the air of legislation and dictatorship, when
explanation and commentary are the utmost he can achieve, has himself only
to blame, if, after his noisy trumpet has blared itself out, he reaps only
ridicule from the really witty, and reproof from the substantially wise.
Not that a true philosopher or poet shrinks from, and does not rather
invite, true criticism. The evil is not in the deed, but in the manner of
doing it. Here, as in all moral matters, the tone of the thing is the soul
of the thing. And in this view, the blame which Fichte and Goethe attach
to the Schlegels, amounts substantially to this, not that in their
critical vocation the romantic brothers wanted either learning or judgment
generally, but that they were too ambitious, too pretenceful, too
dictatorial that they must needs talk on all subjects, and always as if
they were the masters and the lions, when they were only the servants and
the exhibitors; that they made a serious business of that which is often
best done when it is done accidentally, viz. discussing what our
neighbours are about, instead of doing something ourselves; and that they
attempted to raise up an independent literary reputation, nay, and even to
found a new poetical school, upon mere criticism--an attempt which, with
all due respect for Aristarchus and the Alexandrians, is, and remains, a
literary impossibility.
But was Frederick Schlegel merely a critic? No He was a philosopher also,
and not a vulgar one; and herein lies the foundation of his fame. His
criticism, also, was thoroughly and characteristically a philosophical
criticism; and herein mainly, along with its vastness of erudition and
comprehensiveness of view, lies the foundation of its fame. To understand
the criticism thoroughly, one must first understand the philosophy. Will
the _un_philosophical English reader have patience with us for a few
minutes while we endeavour to throw off a short sketch of the philosophy
of Frederick Schlegel? If the philosophical system of a transcendental
German and _Viennese_ Romanist, can have small intrinsic practical value
to a British Protestant, it may extrinsically be of use even to him as
putting into his hands the key to one of the most intellectual, useful, an
popular books of modern times--"The history of ancient and modern
literature, by Frederick Von Schlegel,"--a book, moreover, which is not
merely "a great national possession of the Germans," as by one of
themselves it has been proudly designated, but has also, through the
classical translation of Mr Lockhart,[D] been made the peculiar property of
English literature.
[Footnote D: Lectures on the History of Literature, Ancient and Modern.
Blackwoods, Edinburgh, 1841.]
In the first chapter of his "_Philosophie des Lebens_," the Viennese
lecturer states very clearly the catholic and comprehensive ground which
all philosophy must take that would save itself from dangerous error. The
philosopher must start from the complete living totality of man, formed as
he is, not of flesh merely, a Falstaff--or of spirit merely, a Simon
Pillarman and Total Abstinence Saint--but of both flesh and spirit, body
and soul, in his healthy and normal condition. For this reason
clearly--true philosophy is not merely sense-derived and material like
the French philosophy of Helvetius, nor altogether ideal like that of
Plotinus, and the pious old mathematical visionaries at Alexandria; but
it stands on mother earth, like old Antaeus drinking strength therefrom,
and filches fire at the same time, Prometheus-like, from heaven, feeding
men with hopes--not, as Aeschylus says, altogether "blind," ([Greek:
tuphlas d eu autois elôidas katôkioa)] but only blinking. Don't court,
therefore, if you would philosophize wisely, too intimate an acquaintance
with your brute brother, the baboon--a creature, whose nature speculative
naturalists have most cunningly set forth by the theory, that it is a
parody which the devil, in a fit of ill humour, made upon God's noblest
work, man; and don't hope, on the other hand, as many great saints and
sages have done, by prayer and fasting, or by study and meditation, to
work yourself up to a god, and jump bodily out of your human skin. Assume
as the first postulate, and lay it down as the last proposition of your
"philosophy of life," that a man is neither a brute, nor a god nor an
angel, but simply and sheerly a MAN. Furthermore, as man is not only a
very comprehensive and complex, but also, (to appearance at least,) in
many points, a very contrary and contradictory creature, see that you
take the _whole_ man along with you into your metaphysical chamber; for
if there be one paper that has a bearing in the case amissing out of your
green bag, (which has happened only too often,) the evidence will be
imperfect, and the sentence false or partial--shake your wig as you
please. Remember, that though you may be a very subtle logician, the soul
of man is not all made up of logic; remember that reason, (_Vernunft_,)
the purest that Kant ever criticized withal, is not the proper vital soul
in man; is not the creative and productive faculty in intellect at all,
but is merely the tool of that which, in philosophers no less than in
poets, is the proper inventive power, IMAGINATION, as Wordsworth phrases
it: Schlegel's word is _fantasie_. Remember that in more cases than
academic dignities may be willing to admit, the heart (where a man has
one) is the only safe guide, the only legitimate ruler of the head; and
that a mere metaphysician, and solitary speculator, however properly
"One to whose smooth-rubb'd soul can cling
Nor form nor feeling, great nor small;
A reasoning, self-sufficing thing,
An intellectual all-in-all,"
may write very famous books, profound even to unintelligibility, but can
never be a philosopher. Therefore reject Hegel, "that merely thinking, on
a barren heath speculating, self-sufficient, self-satisfied little EGO;"[E]
and consider Kant as weighed in the balance and found wanting on his own
showing: for if that critical portal of pure reason had indeed been
sufficient, as it gave itself out to be, for all the purposes of a human
philosophy, what need was there of the "practical back-door" which, at the
categorical command of conscience, was afterwards laid open to all men in
the "Metaphysic of Ethics?" As little will you allow your philosophical
need to be satisfied with any thing you can get from SCHELLING; for
however well it sounds to "throw yourself from the transcendental
emptiness of ideal reason into the warm embrace of living and luxuriant
nature," here also you will find yourself haunted by the intellectual
phantom of absolute identity, (say absolute inanity,) or in its best
phasis a "pantheizing deification of nature." Strange enough as it may
seem, the true philosophy is to be found any where rather than among
philosophers. Each philosopher builds up a reasoned system of a part of
existence; but life is based upon God-given instincts and emotions, with
which reason has nothing to do; and nature contains many things which it
is not given to mortal brain to comprehend, much less to systematize. True
philosophy is not to be found in any intellectual system, much less in any
of the Aristotelian quality, where the emotional element in man is
excluded or subordinated; but in a living experience. To know philosophy,
therefore, first know life. To learn to philosophize, learn to live; and
live not partially, but with the full outspread vitality of human reason.
You go to college, and, as if you were made altogether of head, expect
some Peter Abelard forthwith, by academic disputation, to _reason_ you
into manhood; but neither manhood nor any vital WHOLE ever was learned by
reasoning. Pray, therefore, to the Author of all good, in the first place,
that you may _be_ something rather than that you may _know_ something. Get
yourself planted in God's garden, and learn to GROW. Woo the sun of life,
which is love, and the breeze which is enthusiasm, an impulse from that
same creative Spirit, which, brooding upon the primeval waters, out of
void brought fulness, and out of chaos a world.
[Footnote E: This is Menzel's phrase, not Schlegel's. "Hegel's _centrum war
ein blos denkendes, auf öder Heide spekulirendes, kleines, suffisantes,
selbstgenügsames Ichlein_." The untranslatable beauty of the German is in
the diminutive with which the sentence closes. It is difficult to say
whether Menzel or Schlegel shows the greater hostility to the poor Berlin
Such, shortly, so far as we can gather, is the main scope, popularly
stated, of Frederick Schlegel's philosophy, as it is delivered in his two
first lectures on the philosophy of life, the first being titled, "Of the
thinking soul, or the central point of consciousness;" and the second, "Of
the loving soul, or the central point of moral life." The healthy-toned
reader, who has been exercised in speculations of this kind, will feel at
once that there is much that is noble in all this, and much that is true;
but not a little also, when examined in detail, of that sublime-sounding
sweep of despotic generality, (so inherent a vice of German literature,)
which delights to confound the differences, rather than to discriminate
the characters, of things; much that seems only too justly to warrant that
oracular sentence of the stern Fichte with which we set out, "_The younger
brother wants clearness_;" much that, when applied to practice, and
consistently followed out in that grand style of consistency which belongs
to a real German philosopher, becomes what we in English call Puseyism and
Popery, and what Goethe in German called a "_chewing the cud of moral and
religious absurdities_." But we have neither space nor inclination, in
this place, to make an analysis of the Schlegelian philosophy, or to set
forth how much of it is true and how much of it is false. Our intention
was merely to sketch a rapid outline, in as popular phrase as philosophy
would allow itself to be clothed in; to finish which outline without
extraneous remark, with the reader's permission, we now proceed.
If man be not, according to Aristotle's phrase, a [Greek: zôon logikon] in
his highest faculty, a _ratiocinative_, but rather an emotional and
imaginative animal; and if to start from, as to end, in mere reason, be in
human psychology a gross one-sidedness, much more in theology is such a
procedure erroneous, and altogether perverse. If not the smallest poem of
a small poet ever came to him from mere reason, but from something deeper
and more vital, much less are the strong pulsations of pure emotion, the
deep-seated convictions of religious faith in the inner man, to be spoke
of as things that mere reason can either assert or deny; and in fact we
see, when we look narrowly into the great philosophical systems that have
been projected by scheming reasoners in France and Germany, each man out
of his own brain, that they all end either in materialism and atheism on
the one hand, or in idealism and pantheism on the other. All our
philosophers have stopped short of that one living, personal, moral God,
on whose existence alone humanity can confidently repose--who alone can
give to the trembling arch of human speculation that keystone which it
demands. The idea of God, in fact, is not a thing that individual reason
has first to strike out, so to speak, by the collision or combination of
ideas, the collocation of proofs, and the concatenation of arguments. It
is a living growth rather of our whole nature, a primary instinct of all
moral beings, a necessary postulate of healthy humanity, which is given
and received as our life and our breath is, and admits not of being
reasoned into any soul that has it not already from other sources. And as
no philosopher of Greek or German times that history tells of, ever
succeeded yet in inventing a satisfactory theology, or establishing a
religion in which men could find solace to their souls, therefore it is
clear that that satisfactory Christian theology and Christian religion
which we have, and not only that, but all the glimpses of great
theological truth that are found twinkling through the darkness of a
widespread superstition, came originally from God by common revelation,
and not from man by private reasoning. The knowledge of God and a living
theology is, in fact, a simple science of experience like any other, only
of a peculiar quality and higher in degree. All true human knowledge in
moral matters rests on experience, internal or external, higher or lower,
on tradition, on language as the bearer of tradition, on revelation;
while that false, monstrous, and unconditioned science to which the pride
of human reason has always aspired, which would grasp at every thing at
once by one despotic clutch, and by a violent bound of logic bestride and
beride the ALL, is, and remains, an oscillating abortion that always
would be something, and always can be nothing. A living, personal, moral
God, the faith of nations, the watch-word of tradition, the cry of
nature, the demand of mind, received not invented, existing in the soul
not reasoned into it--this is the gravitating point of the moral world,
the only intelligible centre of any world; from which whatsoever is
centrifugal errs, and to which whatsoever is opposed is the devil.
Not private speculation, therefore, or famous philosophies of any kind,
but the living spiritual man, and the totality of the living flow of
sacred tradition on which he is borne, and with which he is encompassed,
are the two grand sources of "the philosophy of life." Let us follow these
principles, now, into a few of their wide-spread streams and multiform
historical branchings. First, the Bible clearly indicates what the
profoundest study of the earliest and most venerable literatures confirms,
that man was not created at first in a brutish state, crawling with a slow
and painful progress out of the dull slime of a half organic state into
apehood, and from apehood painfully into manhood; but he was created
perfect in the image of God, and has fallen from his primeval glory. This
is to be understood not only of the state of man before the Fall as
recorded in the two first chapters of Genesis; but every thing in the
Bible, and the early traditions of famous peoples, warrants us to believe,
that the first ages of men before the Flood, were spiritually enlightened
from one great common source of extraordinary aboriginal revelation; so
that the earliest ages of the world were not the most infantine and
ignorant to a comprehensive survey, as modern conceit so fondly imagines,
but the most gigantic and the most enlightened. That beautiful but
material and debasing heathenism, with which our Greek and Latin education
has made us so familiar, is only a defaced fragment of the venerable whole
which preceded it, that old and true heathenism of the holy aboriginal
fathers of our race. "There were GIANTS on the earth in those days." We
read this; but who believes it? We ought seriously to consider what it
means, and adopt it _bona fide_ into our living faith of man, and man's
history. Like the landscape of some Alpine country, where the primeval
granite Titans, protruding their huge shoulders every where above us and
around, make us feel how petty and how weak a thing is man; so ought our
imagination to picture the inhabitants of the world before the Flood.
Nobility precedes baseness always, and truth is more ancient than error.
Antediluvian man--antediluvian nature, is to be imaged as nobler in every
respect, more sublime and more pure than postdiluvian man, and
postdiluvian nature. But mighty energies, when abused, produce mighty
corruptions; hence the gigantic scale of the sins into which the
antediluvian men fell; and the terrible precipitation of humanity which
followed. This is a point of primary importance, in every attempt to
understand how to estimate the value of that world-famous Greek
philosophy, which is commonly represented as the crown and the glory of
the ancient world. All that Pythagoras and Plato ever wrote of noble and
elevating truths, are merely flashes of that primeval light, in the full
flood of which, man, in his more perfect antediluvian state, delighted to
dwell; and it is remarkable in the case of Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Thales,
and so many other of the Greek philosophers, that the further we trace
them back, we come nearer to the divine truth, which, in the systems of
Epicurus, Aristippus, Zeno, or the shallow or cold philosophers of later
origin, altogether disappears. Pythagoras and Plato were indeed divinely
gifted with a scientific presentiment of the great truths of Christianity
soon to be revealed, or say rather restored to the world; while Aristotle,
on the other hand, is to be regarded as the father of those unhappy
academical schismatics from the Great Church of living humanity, who
allowed the ministrant faculty of reason to assume an unlawful supremacy
over the higher powers of intellect, and gave birth to that voracious
despotism of barren dialectics, in the middle ages commonly called the
scholastic philosophy. The Greek philosophy, however, even its noblest
Avatar, Plato, much less in the case of a Zeno or an Aristotle, was never
able to achieve that which must be the practically proposed end of all
higher philosophy that is in earnest; viz. the coming out of the narrow
sphere of the school and the palaestra, uniting itself with actual life,
and embodying itself completely in the shape of that which we call a
CHURCH. This Platonism could not do. Christianity did it. Revelation did
it. God Incarnate did it. Now once again came humanity forth, fresh from
the bosom of the divine creativeness, conquering and to conquer. There was
no Aristotle and Plato--no Abelard and Bernard here--reason carping at
imagination, and imagination despising reason. But once, if but once in
four thousand years, man appeared in all the might of his living
completeness. Love walked hand in hand with knowledge, and both were
identified in life. The spirit of divine peace brooded in the inner
sanctuary of the heart, while the outer man was mailed for the sternest
warfare. Such was pure Christianity, so long as it lasted--for the
celestial plant was condemned to grow in a terrestrial atmosphere; and
there, alas! it could only grow with a stunted likeness of itself. It
was more than stunted also--it was tainted; for are not all things tainted
here? Do we not live in a tainted atmosphere? do we not live in a time out
of joint? Does not the whole creation literally groan? Too manifestly it
does, however natural philosophers may affect to speak of the book of
nature, as if it were the clear and uncorrupted text of the living book of
God. Not only man, but the whole environment of external nature, which
belongs to him, has been deranged by the Fall. In such a world as this,
wherein whoso will not believe a devil cannot believe a God, it was
impossible for Christianity to remain in that state of blissful vital
harmony with itself with which it set out. It became divided. Extravagant
developments of ambitious, monopolizing faculties became manifest on every
side. Self-sufficing Pelagianisn and Arianism, here; self-confounding
Gnosticism and Manichaeism there. Then came those two great strifes and
divisions of the middle ages--the one, that old dualism of the inner man,
the ever-repeated strife between reason and imagination, to which we have
so often alluded--the other, a no less serious strife of the outward
machinery of life, the strife between the spiritual and the temporal
powers, between the Pope and the Emperor. This was bad enough; that the
two vicars of God on earth should not know to keep the peace among
themselves, when the keeping of the peace among others was the very end
and aim of the appointment. But worse times were coming. For in the
middle ages, notwithstanding the rank evils of barren scholasticism,
secular-minded popes, and intrusive emperors, there was still a church, a
common Christian religion, a common faith of all Christians; but now,
since that anarchical and rebellious movement, commonly called the
Reformation, but more fitly termed the revolution, the overturning and
overthrowing of the religion of Christendom, we have no more a mere
internal strife and division to vex us, but there is an entire separation
and divorce of one part of the Christian church (so called) from the main
mother institution. The abode of peace has become the camp of war and the
arena of battles; that dogmatical theology of the Christian church,
which, if it be not the infallible pure mathematics of the moral world,
has been deceiving men for 1800 years, and is a liar--that theology is
now publicly discussed and denied, scorned and scouted by men who do not
blush to call themselves Christians; there is no universal peace any
longer to be found in that region where it is the instinct of humanity,
before all things, to seek repose; the only religious peace which the
present age recognises, is that of which the Indian talks, when he says
of certain epochs of the world's history, _Brahma sleeps_! Those who
sleep and are indifferent in spiritual matters find peace; but those who
are alive and awake must beat the wind, and battle, belike, with much
useless loss of strength, before they can arrive even at that first
postulate of all healthy thinking--there is a God. "_Ueber Gott werd ich
nie streiten_," said Herder. "About God I will never dispute." Yet look
at German rationalism, look at Protestant theology--what do you see
there? Reason usurping the mastery in each individual, without control of
the higher faculties of the soul, and of those institutions in life by
which those faculties are represented; and as one man's reason is as good
as another's, thence arises war of each self-asserted despotism against
that which happens to be next it, and of all against all--a spiritual
anarchy, which threatens the entire dissolution of the moral world, and
from which there is no refuge but in recurring to the old traditionary
faith of a revolted humanity, no redemption but in the venerable
repository of those traditions--the one and indivisible holy Catholic
church of Christ, of whom, as the inner and eternal keystone is God, so
the outer and temporal is the Pope.
Such is a general outline of the philosophy of Frederick Schlegel--a
philosophy belonging to the class theological and supernatural, to the
genus Christian, to the species sacerdotal and Popish. Now, without
stopping here to blame its sublime generalities and beautiful confusions,
on the one hand, or to praise its elevated tendency, its catholic and
reconciling tone on the other, we shall merely call attention, in a single
sentence, physiologically, to its main and distinguishing character. It
was, in fact, (in spirit and tendency, though not in outward
accomplishment,) to German literature twenty years ago what Puseyism is
now to the English church--it was a bold and grand attempt to get rid of
those vexing doubts and disputes on the most important subjects that will
ever disquiet minds of a certain constitution, so long as they have
nothing to lean on but their own judgment; and as Protestantism, when
consistently carried out, summarily throws a man back on his individual
opinion, and subjects the vastest and most momentous questions to the
scrutiny of reason and the torture of doubt, therefore Schlegel in
literary Germany, and Pusey in ecclesiastical England, were equally
forced, if they would not lose Christianity altogether, to renounce
Protestantism, and to base their philosophy upon sacerdotal authority and
ecclesiastical tradition. That Schlegel became a Romanist at Cologne, and
Dr Pusey an Anglo-Catholic at Oxford, does not affect the kinship. Both,
to escape from the anarchy of Protestant individualism, (as it was felt by
them,) were obliged to assert not merely Christianity, but a
hierarchy--not merely the Bible, but an authoritative interpretation of
the Bible; and both found, or seemed to find, that authoritative
interpretation and exorcism of doubt there, where alone in their
circumstances, and intellectually constituted as they were, it was to be
found. Dr Pusey did not become a Papist like Frederick Schlegel, for two
plain reasons--first, because he was an Englishman, second, because he
was an English churchman. The authority which he sought for lay at his
door; why should he travel to Rome for it? Archbishop Laud had taught
apostolical succession before--Dr Pusey might teach it again. But this
convenient prop of Popery without the Pope was not prepared for Frederick
Schlegel. There was no Episcopal church, no Oxford in Germany, into whose
bosom he could throw himself, and find relief from the agony of religious
doubt. He was a German, moreover, and a philosopher. To his searching eye
and circumspective wariness, the general basis of tradition which might
satisfy a Pusey, though sufficiently broad, did not appear sure enough.
To his lofty architectural imagination a hierarchical aristocracy,
untopped by a hierarchical monarch, did not appear sufficiently sublime.
To his all-comprehending and all-combining historical sympathies, a
Christian priesthood, with Cyprian, Augustine, and Jerome, but without
Hildebrand, Innocent, and Boniface, would have presented the appearance
of a fair landscape, with a black yawning chasm in the middle, into which
whoever looked shuddered. Therefore Frederick Schlegel, spurning all half
measures, inglorious compromises, and vain attempts to reconcile the
irreconcilable, vaulted himself at once, with a bold leap, into the
central point of sacerdotal Christianity. The obstacles that would have
deterred ordinary minds had no effect on him. All points of detail were
sunk in the over-whelming importance of the general question.
Transubstantiation or consubstantiation, conception, maculate or
immaculate, were a matter of small moment with him. What he wanted was a
divinely commissioned church with sacred mysteries--a spiritual house of
refuge from the weary battle of intellectual east winds, blasting and
barren, with which he saw Protestant Germany desolated. This house of
refuge he found in Cologne, in Vienna; and having once made up his mind
that spiritual unity and peace were to be found only in the one mother
church of Christendom, not being one of those half characters who,
"making _I dare not_ wait upon _I would_," are continually weaving a net
of paltry external _no's_ to entangle the progress of every grand decided
_yes_ of the inner man, Schlegel did not for a moment hesitate to make
his thought a deed, and publicly profess his return to Romanism in the
face of enlightened and "ultra-Protestant" Germany. To do this certainly
required some moral courage; and no just judge of human actions will
refuse to sympathize with the motive of this one, however little he may
feel himself at liberty to agree with the result.
But Frederick Schlegel, a well informed writer has said,[F] "became
Romanist in a way peculiar to himself, and had in no sense given up his
right of private judgment." We have not been able to see, from a careful
perusal of his works, (in all of which there is more or less of
theology,) that there is any foundation for this assertion of Varnhagen.
Frederick Schlegel, the German, was as honest and stout a Romanist in
this nineteenth century as any Spanish Ferdinand Catholicus in the
fifteenth. Freedom of speculation indeed, within certain known limits,
and spirituality of creed above what the meagre charity of some
Protestants may conceive possible in a Papist, we do find in this man;
but these good qualities a St Bernard, a Dante, a Savonarola, a Fénélon,
had exhibited in the Romish Church before Schlegel, and others as great
may exhibit them again. Freedom of thought, however, in the sense in
which it is understood by Protestants, was the very thing which Schlegel,
Göres, Adam Müller, and so many others, did give up when they entered the
Catholic Church. They felt as Wordsworth did when he wrote his beautiful
ode to "Duty;" they had more liberty than they knew how to use--
"Me this uncharter'd freedom tires;
I feel the weight of chance desires;
My hopes no more must change their name--
I long for a repose that ever is the same."
And if it seem strange to any one that Frederick Schlegel, the learned,
the profound, the comprehensive, should believe in Transubstantiation,[G]
let him look at a broader aspect of history than that of German books,
and ask himself--Did Isabella of Castile--the gentle, the noble, the
generous--establish the Inquisition, or allow Ximenes to establish it? In
a world which surrounds us on all sides with apparent contradictions, he
who admits a real one now and then into his faith, or into his practice,
is neither a fool nor a monster.
[Footnote F: Varnhagen Von Ense, Rahel's Umgang, i. p. 227. "Er war
auf besondere Weise Katholisch, und hatte seine Geistesfreiheit dabei
gar nicht aufgegeben."]
[Footnote G: The following is Schlegel's philosophy of
transubstantiation--"Though it be true, that in the Holy Scriptures, in
accordance with the symbolical nature of man, there is much that is
generally symbolical, and symbolically to be understood; yet when a
symbol proceeds immediately from God, it can in this case be nothing less
than substantial; it cannot be a mere sign, it must also be something
actual; otherwise it would be as if one would palm on the eternal LOGOS,
who is the ground of all existence and all knowledge, words without
meaning and without power. Quite natural, therefore, it must be regarded,
i.e. quite suitable to the nature of the thing, although _per se_
certainly supernatural, and surpassing all comprehension, when that
highest symbol which forms the proper principle of unity, and the living
central point of Christianity, is perceived to possess this character,
that it is at once the sign and the thing signified. For now, that on the
high altar of divine love the one great sacrifice has been accomplished
for ever, and no flame more can rise from it save the inspiration of a
pure God-united will, that solemn act by which the bond formed between
the soul and God is from time to time revealed, can consist in nothing
else than this--that here the essential substance of the divine power and
the divine love is in all its lively fullness communicated to, and
received by man, as the miraculous sign of his union with
God."--_Philosophie des Lebene_, p. 376. On the logic of this remarkable
passage, those who are strong in Mill and Whately may decide; its
orthodoxy belongs to the consideration of the Tridentine doctors.]
In his political opinions, Schlegel maintained the same grand consistency
that characterizes his religious philosophy. He had more sense, however,
and more of the spirit of Christian fraternity in him than, for the sake
of absolutism, to become a Turk or a Russian; nay, from some passages in
the _Concordia_--a political journal, published by him and his friend
Adam Müller, in 1820, and quoted by Mr Robertson--it would almost appear
that he would have preferred a monarchy limited by states, conceived in
the spirit of the middle ages, to the almost absolute form of monarchical
government, under whose protection he lived and lectured at Vienna. To
some such constitution as that which now exists in Sweden, for instance,
we think he would have had no objections. At the same time, it is certain
he gave great offence to the constitutional party in Germany, by the
anti-popular tone of his writings generally, more perhaps than by any
special absolutist abuses which he had publicly patronized. He was,
indeed, a decided enemy to the modern system of representative
constitutions, and popular checks; a king by divine right according to
the idea of our English nonjurors, was as necessary a corner-stone to his
political, as a pope by apostolical succession to his ecclesiastical
edifice. And as no confessed corruption of the church, represented as it
might be by the monstrous brutality of a Borgia, or the military madness
of a Julius, was, in his view, sufficient to authorize any hasty Luther
to make a profane bonfire of a papal bull; any hot Henry to usurp the
trade of manufacturing creeds; so no "sacred right of insurrection," no
unflinching patriotic opposition, no claim of rights, (by petitioners
having _swords_ in their hands,) are admissible in his system of a
Christian state. And as for the British constitution, and "the glorious
Revolution of 1688," this latter, indeed, is one of the best of a bad
kind, and that boasted constitution as an example of a house divided
against itself, and yet _not_ falling, is a perfect miracle of dynamical
art, a lucky accident of politics, scarcely to be looked for again in the
history of social development, much less to be eagerly sought after and
ignorantly imitated. Nay, rather, if we look at this boasted constitution
a little more narrowly, and instruct ourselves as to its practical
working, what do we see? "Historical experience, the great teacher of
political science, manifestly shows that in these dynamical states, which
exist by the cunningly devised balance and counter-balance of different
powers, what is called governing is, in truth, a continual strife and
contention between the Ministry and the Opposition, who seem to delight
in nothing so much as in tugging and tearing the state and its resources
to pieces between them, while the hallowed freedom of the hereditary
monarch seems to serve only as an old tree, under whose shades the
contending parties may the more comfortably choose their ground, and
fight out their battles."[H] It is but too manifest, indeed, according to
Schlegel's projection of the universe, that all constitutionalism is,
properly speaking, a sort of political Protestantism, a fretful fever of
the social body, having its origin (like the religious epidemic of the
sixteenth century) in the private conceit of the individual, growing by
violence and strife, and ending in dissolution. This is the ever-repeated
refrain of his political discourses, puerile enough, it may be, to our
rude hearing in Britain, but very grateful to polite and patriotic ears
at Vienna, when the cannon of Wagram was yet sounding in audible echo
beneath their towers. The propounder of such philosophy had not only the
common necessity of all philosophers to pile up his political in majestic
consistency with his ecclesiastical creed, but he had also to pay back
the mad French liberalism with something more mad if possible, and more
despotic. And if also Danton, and Mirabeau, and Robespierre, and other
terrible Avatars of the destroying Siva in Paris, had raised his
naturally romantic temperament a little into the febrile and delirious
now and then, what wonder? Shall the devil walk the public streets at
noon day, and men not be afraid?
[Footnote H: _Philosophie des Lebens_, p.407.]
We said that Frederick Schlegel's philosophy, political and religious, but
chiefly religious, was the grand key to his popular work on the history of
literature. We may illustrate this now by a few instances. In the first
place, the "many-sided" Goethe seems to be as little profound as he is
charitable, when he sees nothing in the Sanscrit studies of the romantic
brothers but a _pis aller_, and a vulgar ambition to bring forward
something new, and make German men stare. We do not answer for the elder
brother; but Frederick certainly made the cruise to the east, as Columbus
did to the west, from a romantic spirit of adventure. He was not pleased
with the old world--he wished to find a new world more to his mind, and,
beyond the Indus, he found it. The Hindoos to him were the Greeks of the
aboriginal world--"_diese Griechen der Urwelt_"--and so much better and
more divine than the western Greeks, as the aboriginal world was better
and more divine than that which came after it. If imagination was the
prime, the creative faculty in man, here, in the holy Eddas, it had sat
throned for thousands of years as high as the Himalayas. If repose was
sought for, and rest to the soul from the toil and turmoil of religious
wars in Europe, here, in the secret meditations of pious Yooges, waiting
to be absorbed into the bosom of Brahma, surely peace was to be found.
Take another matter. Why did Frederick Schlegel make so much talk of the
middle ages? Why were the times, so dark to others, instinct to him with a
steady solar effluence, in comparison of which the boasted enlightenment
of these latter days was but as the busy exhibition of squibs by
impertinent boys, the uncertain trembling of fire-flies in a dusky
twilight? The middle ages were historically the glory of Germany; and
those who had lived to see and to feel the Confederation of the Rhine, and
the Protectorate of Napoleon, did not require the particular predilections
of a Schlegel to carry them back with eager reaction to the days of the
Henries, the Othos, and the Fredericks, when to be the German emperor was
to be the greatest man in Europe, after the Pope. But to Schlegel the
middle ages were something more. The glory of Germany to the patriot, they
were the glory of Europe to the thinker. Modern wits have laughed at the
enthusiasm of the Crusades. Did they weep over the perfidy of the
partition of Poland? Do they really trust themselves to persuade a
generous mind that the principle of mutual jealousy and mere selfishness,
the meagre inspiration of the so called balance of power in modern
politics, is, according to any norm of nobility in action, a more laudable
motive for a public war, than a holy zeal against those who were at once
the enemies of Christ, and (as future events but too clearly showed) the
enemies of Europe? Modern wits sneer at the scholastic drivelling or the
cloudy mistiness of the writers of the middle ages. Did they ever blush
for the impious baseness of Helvetius, for the portentous scaffolding of
notional skeletons in Hegel? But, alas! we talk of we know not what. What
spectacle does modern life present equal to that of St Bernard, the pious
monk of Clairvaux, the feeble, emaciated thinker, brooding, with his
dove-like eyes, ("_oculos columbinos_,") over the wild motions of the
twelfth century, and by the calm might of divine love, guiding the
sceptre of the secular king, and the crosier of the spiritual pontiff
alike? Was that a weak or a dark age, when the strength of mind and the
light of love could triumph so signally over brute force, and that
natural selfishness of public motive which has achieved its cold,
glittering triumphs in the lives of so many modern heroes and heroines--a
Louis, a Frederick, a Catharine, a Napoleon? But indeed here, as
elsewhere, we see that the modern world has fallen altogether into a
practical atheism by the idolatry of mere reason; whereas all true
greatness comes not down from the head, but up from the heart of man. In
which greatness of the heart, the Bernards and the Barbarossas of the
middle ages excelled; and therefore they were better than we.
It is by no means necessary for the admirer of Schlegel to maintain that
all this eulogium of the twelfth century, or this depreciation of the
times we live in, is just and well-merited. Nothing is more cheap than to
praise a pretty village perched far away amid the blue skies, and to rail
at the sharp edges and corners of things that fret against our ribs. Let
it be admitted that there is not a little of artistical decoration, and a
great deal of optical illusion, in the matter; still there is some truth,
some great truth, that lay in comparative neglect till Schlegel brought it
into prominency. This is genuine literary merit; it is that sort of
discovery, so to speak, which makes criticism original. And it was not
merely with the bringing forward of new materials, but by throwing new
lights on the old, that Frederick Schlegel enriched aesthetical science.
If the criticism of the nineteenth century may justly boast of a more
catholic sympathy, of a wider flight, of a more comprehensive view, and
more various feast than that which it superseded, it owes this, with
something that belongs to the spirit of the age generally, chiefly to the
special captainship of Frederick Schlegel. If the grand spirit of
combination and comprehension which distinguishes the "Lectures on Ancient
and Modern Literature," be that quality which mainly distinguishes the so
called Romantic from the Classical school of aesthetics, then let us
profess ourselves Romanticists by all means immediately; for the one seems
to include the other as the genus does the species. The beauty of
Frederick Schlegel is, that his romance arches over every thing like a
sky, and excludes nothing; he delights indeed to override every thing
despotically, with one dominant theological and ecclesiastical idea, and
now and then, of course, gives rather a rough jog to whatever thing may
stand in his way; but generally he seeks about with cautious,
conscientious care to find room for every thing; and for a wholesale
dealer in denunciation (as in some views we cannot choose but call him) is
really the most kind, considerate, and charitable Aristarchus that ever
wielded a pen. Hear what Varnhagen Von Ense says on this point--"The
inward character of this man, the fundamental impulses of his nature, the
merit or the results of his intellectual activity, have as yet found none
to describe them in such a manner as he has often succeeded in describing
others. It is not every body's business to attempt an anatomy and
re-combination of this kind. One must have courage, coolness, profound
study, wide sympathies, and a free comprehensiveness, to keep a steady
footing and a clear eye in the midst of this gigantic, rolling
conglomeration of contradictions, eccentricities, and singularities of
all kinds. Here every sort of demon and devil, genius and ghost, Lucinde
and Charlemagne, Alarcos, Maria, Plato, Spinoza and Bonald, Goethe
consecrated and Goethe condemned, revolution and hierarchy, reel about
restlessly, come together, and, what is the strangest thing of all, do
_not_ clash. For Schlegel, however many Protean shapes he might assume,
never cast away any thing that had ever formed a substantial element in
his intellectual existence, but found an _advocatus Dei_ to plead always
with a certain reputable eloquence even for the most unmannerly of them;
and with good reason too, for in his all-appropriating and curiously
combining soul, there did exist a living connexion between the most
apparently contradictory of his ideas. To point out this connexion, to
trace the secret thread of unity through the most distant extremes, to
mark the delicate shade of transition from one phasis of intellectual
development to another, to remove, at every doubtful point, the veil and
to expose the substance, that were a problem for the sagacity of no
common critic."[I] We take the hint. It is not every Byron that finds a
Goethe to take him to pieces and build him up again, and peruse him and
admire him, as Cuvier did the Mammoth. Those who feel an inward vocation
to do so by Schlegel may yet do so in Germany; if there be any in these
busy times, even there, who may have leisure to applaud such a work. To
us in Britain it may suffice to have essayed to exhibit the fruit and the
final results, without attempting curiously to dissect the growth of
Schlegel's criticism.
[Footnote I: RAHEL'S _Umgang_. FRIEDRICH VON SCHLEGEL, vol. i. p. 325.]
The outward fates of this great critic's life may be found, like every
thing else, in the famous "Conversations Lexicon;" but as very few
readers of these remarks, or students of the history of ancient and
modern literature, may be in a condition to refer to that most useful
Cyclopaedia of literary reference, we may here sketch the main lines of
Schlegel's biography from the sources supplied by Mr Robertson,[J] in the
preface to his excellent translation of the "Lectures on the philosophy
of history." Whatever we take from a different source will be distinctly
[Footnote J: The authorities given by Mr Robertson are, (1.) _La
Biographie des Vivans, Paris_. (2.) An article for July 1829, in the
French _Globe_, apparently an abridgement of the account of Schlegel in
the Conversations Lexicon. (3.) A fuller and truer account of the author,
in a French work published several years ago at Paris, entitled "Memoirs
of distinguished Converts." (4.) Some facts in _Le Catholique_, a
journal, edited at Paris from 1826 to 1829, by Schlegel's friend, the
Baron d'Echstein.]
The brothers Schlegel belonged to what Frederick in his lectures calls the
third generation of modern German literature. The whole period from 1750
to 1800, being divided into three generations, the first comprehends all
those whose period of greatest activity falls into the first decade, from
1750 to 1760, and thereabout. Its chief heroes are Wieland, Klopstock, and
Lessing. These men of course were all born before the year 1730. The
second generation extends from 1770 to 1790, and thereabouts, and presents
a development, which stands to the first in the relation of summer to
spring--Goethe and Schiller are the two names by which it will be sent
down to posterity. Of these the one was born in 1749, and the other in
1759. Then follows that third generation to which Schlegel himself
belongs, and which is more generally known in literary history as the era
of the Romantic school--a school answering both in chronology, and in many
points of character also, to what we call the Lake school in England.
Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey, are contemporaries of Tieck, Novalis,
and the Schlegels. Their political contemporaries are Napoleon and
Wellington. The event which gave a direction to their literary
development, no less decidedly than it did to the political history of
Europe, was the French Revolution. Accordingly, we find that all these
great European characters--for so they all are more or less--made the
all-important passage from youth into manhood during the ferment of the
years that followed that ominous date, 1789. This coincidence explains the
celebrity of the famous biographical year 1769--Walter Scott was born in
that year, Wellington and Napoleon, as every body knows--and the elder
Aristarchus of the Romantic school, _the_ translator of Shakspeare,
Augustus William Von Schlegel was born in 1767. At Hanover, five years
later, was born his brother Frederick, that is to say, in May 1772, and
our Coleridge in the same year--and to carry on the parallel for another
year, Ludwig Tieck, Henry Steffens, and Novalis, were all born in 1773.
These dates are curious; when taken along with the great fact of the
age--the French Revolution--they may serve to that family likeness which
we have noted in characterizing the Romanticists in Germany and the Lake
school in England. When Coleridge here was dreaming of America and
Pantisocracy, Frederick Schlegel was studying Plato, and scheming
republics there.[K] In the first years of his literary career Schlegel
devoted himself chiefly to classical literature; and between 1794 and
1797 published several works on Greek and Roman poetry and philosophy,
the substance of which was afterwards concentrated into the four first
lectures on the history of literature. About this time he appears to have
lived chiefly by his literary exertions--a method of obtaining a
livelihood very precarious, (as those know best who have tried it,) and
to men of a turn of mind more philosophical than popular, even in
philosophical Germany, exceedingly irksome. Schlegel felt this as deeply
as poor Coleridge--"to live by literature," says he, in one of those
letters to Rahel from which we have just quoted--"is to me _je länger je
unerträglicher_--the longer I try it the more intolerable." Happily, to
keep him from absolute starvation, he married the daughter of Moses
Mendelsohn, the Jewish philosopher, who, it appears, had a few pence in
her pocket, but not many;[L] and between these, and the produce of his
own pen, which could move with equal facility in French as in German, he
managed not merely to keep himself and his wife alive, but to transport
himself to Paris in the year 1802, and remain there for a year or two,
laying the foundation for that oriental evangel which, in 1808, he
proclaimed to his countrymen in the little book, _Ueber die Sprache und
Weisheit der Indier_. Meanwhile, in the year 1805, he had returned from
France to his own Germany--alas, then about to be _one_ Germany no more!
And while the sun of Austerlitz was rising brightly on the then Emperor
of France, and soon to be protector of the Rhine, the future secretary of
the Archduke Charles, and literary evangelist of Prince Metternich, was
prostrating himself before the three holy kings, and swearing fealty to
the shade of Charlemagne in Catholic Cologne. There were some men in
those days base enough to impeach the purity of Schlegel's motives in the
public profession thus made of the old Romish faith. Such men wherever
they are to be found now or then, ought to be whipped out of the world.
If mere worldly motives could have had any influence on such a mind, the
gates of Berlin were as open to him as the gates of Vienna. As it was,
not wishing to expatriate himself, like Winkelmann, he had nowhere to go
to but Vienna; in those days, indeed, mere patriotism and Teutonic
feeling, (in which the Romantic school was never deficient,)
independently altogether of Popery, could lead him nowhere else. To
Vienna, accordingly, he went; and Vienna is not a place--whatever
Napoleon, after Mack's affair, might say of the "stupid Austrians"--where
a man like Schlegel will ever be neglected. Prince Metternich and the
Archduke Charles had eyes in their head; and with the latter, therefore,
we find the great Sanscrit scholar marching to share the glory of Aspern
and the honour of Wagram; while the former afterwards decorated him with
what of courtly remuneration, in the shape of titles and pensions, it is
the policy alike and the privilege of politicians to bestow on poets and
philosophers who can do them service. Nay, with some diplomatic missions
and messages to Frankfurt also, we find the Romantic philosopher
entrusted and even in the great European Congress of Vienna in 1815, he
appears exhibiting himself, in no undignified position, alongside of
Gentz, Cardinal Gonsalvi, and the Prince of Benevento.[M] We are not to
imagine, however, from this, either that the comprehensive philosopher of
history had any peculiar talent for practical diplomacy, or that he is to
be regarded as a thorough Austrian in politics. For the nice practical
problems of diplomacy, he was perhaps the very worst man in the world;
and what Varnhagen states in the place just referred to, that Schlegel
was, what we should call in England, far too much of a high churchman for
Prince Metternich, is only too manifest from the well-known
ecclesiastical policy of the Austrian government, contrasted as it is
with the ultramontane and Guelphic views propounded by the Viennese
lecturer in his philosophy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Frederick Schlegel wished to see the state, with relation to the church,
in the attitude that Frederick Barbarossa assumed before Alexander III.
at Venice--kneeling, and holding the stirrup.
"An emperor tramples where an emperor knelt."
Joseph II., in his estimation, had inverted the poles of the moral world,
making the state supreme, and the church subordinate--that degrading
position, which the Non-intrusionsts picture to themselves when they talk
of ERASTIANISM, and which Schlegel would have denominated
[Footnote K: "_Das republikanishe Werk erscheint gewiss nicht vor Zwei
Jahren_."--Letters to Rahel--1802. Varnhagen, as above. Vol. I. p. 234.]
[Footnote L: "_Das kleine Vermogen meiner Frau_."--Letters to Rahel.
Paris: 1803.]
[Footnote M: _Das Wiener Congress_ in 1814-15, by VARNHAGEN VON ENSE, in
the fifth volume of his _Denkwürdigkeiten_, p. 51. By the way here, Mr
Robertson in his list of famous Catholics in Germany, (p. 19,) includes
Gentz. Now, Varnhagen, who knew well, says that Gentz was only
politically an Austrian, and always remained Protestant in his religious
opinions; which is doubtless the fact.]
During his long residence at Vienna, from 1806 to 1828, Schlegel
delivered four courses of public lectures in the following
order:--One-and-twenty lectures on Modern History,[N] delivered in the
year 1810; sixteen lectures on Ancient and Modern Literature, delivered
in the spring of 1812, fifteen lectures on the Philosophy of Life,
delivered in 1827; and lastly, eighteen lectures on the Philosophy of
History, delivered in 1828. Of these, the Philosophy of life contains the
theory, as the lectures on literature and on history do the application,
of Schlegel's catholic and combining system of human intellect, and,
altogether, they form a complete and consistent body of Schlegelism.
Three works more speculatively complete, and more practically useful in
their way, the production of one consistent architectural mind, are, in
the history of literature, not easily to be found.
[Footnote N: _Ueber die neuere Geschichte Vorlesungen gehalten zu Wien im
Jahre 1810; Wien, 1811_.]
Towards the close of the year 1828, Schlegel repaired to Dresden, a city
endeared to him by the recollections of enthusiastic juvenile studies.
Here he delivered nine lectures _Ueber die Philosophie der Sprache, und
des Worts_, on the Philosophy of Language, a work which the present writer
laments much that he has not seen; as it is manifest that the prominency
given in Schlegel's Philosophy of Life above sketched to living experience
and primeval tradition, must, along with his various accomplishments as a
linguist, have eminently fitted him for developing systematically the high
significance of human speech. On Sunday the 11th January 1829, he was
engaged in composing a lecture which was to be delivered on the following
Wednesday, and had just come to the significant words--"_Das ganz
vollendete und voll-kommene Verstehen selbst, aber_"--"The perfect and
complete understanding of things, however"--when the mortal palsy suddenly
seized his hand, and before one o'clock on the same night he had ceased to
philosophize. The words with which his pen ended its long and laborious
career, are characteristic enough, both of the general imperfection of
human knowledge, and of the particular quality of Schlegel's mind. The
Germans have a proverb:--"_Alles wäre gut wäre kein ABER dabei_"--"every
thing would be good were it not for an ABER--for a HOWEVER--for a BUT."
This is the general human vice that lies in that significant ABER. But
Schlegel's part in it is a virtue--one of his greatest virtues--a
conscientious anxiety never to state a general proposition in philosophy,
without, at the same time, stating in what various ways the eternal truth
comes to be limited and modified in practice. Great, indeed, is the virtue
of a Schlegelian ABER. Had it not been for that, he would have had his
place long ago among the vulgar herds of erudite and intellectual
Heinrich Steffens, a well-known literary and scientific character in
Germany, in his personal memoirs recently published,[O] describes
Frederick Schlegel, at Jena in 1798, as "a remarkable man, slenderly
built, but with beautiful regular features, and a very intellectual
expression"--(_im höchsten Grade gisntreich_.) In his manner there was
something remarkably calm and cool, almost phlegmatic. He spoke with
great slowness and deliberation, but often with much point, and a great
deal of reflective wit. He was thus a thorough German in his temperament;
so at least as Englishmen and Frenchmen, of a more nimble blood, delight
to picture the Rhenish Teut, not always in the most complimentary
contrast with themselves. As it is, his merit shines forth only so much
the more, that being a German of the Germans, he should by one small
work, more of a combining than of a creative character, have achieved an
European reputation and popularity with a certain sphere, that bids fair
to last for a generation or two, at least, even in this book-making age.
Such an earnest devotedness of research; such a gigantic capacity of
appropriation, such a kingly faculty of comprehension, will rarely be
found united in one individual. The multifarious truths which the noble
industry of such a spirit either evolved wisely or happily disposed, will
long continue to be received as a welcome legacy by our studious youth;
and as for his errors in a literary point of view, and with reference to
British use, practically considered they are the mere breadth of
fantastic colouring, which, being removed, does not destroy the drawing.
[Footnote O: _Was Ich Erlebte_, von HEINRICH STEFFENS. Breslau, 1840-2.
Vol. iv. p. 303.]
* * * * *
"Have I not in my time hear lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puft up with wind,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in the pitched battle heard
Loud 'larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?"
What that residence and Brighton have since become, is familiar to the
world--the one an oriental palace, and the other an English city. But at
this time all that men saw in the surrounding landscape was almost as it
had been seen by our forefathers the Picts and Saxons. I found the prince
standing, with four or five gentlemen of distinguished appearance, under
the veranda which shaded the front of the cottage from the evening sun.
The day had been one of that sultry atmosphere in which autumn sometimes
takes its leave of us, and the air from the sea was now delightfully
refreshing. The flowers, clustered in thick knots over the little lawn,
were raising their languid heads, and breathing their renewed fragrance.
All was sweetness and calmness. The sunlight, falling on the amphitheatre
of hills, and touching them with diversities of colour as it fell on their
various heights and hollows, gave the whole a glittering and fantastic
aspect; while the total silence, and absence of all look of life, except
an occasional curl of smoke from some of the scattered cottages along the
beach; with the magnificent expanse of the ocean bounding all, smooth and
blue as a floor of lapis-lazuli, completed the character of a scene which
might have been in fairyland.
The prince, whose politeness was undeviating to all, came forward to meet
me at once, introduced me to his circle, and entered into conversation;
the topic was his beautiful little dwelling.
"You see, Mr Marston," said he, "we live here like hermits, and in not
much more space. I give myself credit for having made the discovery of
this spot. I dare say, the name of Brighthelmstone may have been in the
journal of some voyager to unknown lands, but I believe I have the honour
of being the first who ever made it known in London."
I fully acknowledged the taste of his discovery.
"Why," said he, "it certainly is not the taste of Kew, whose chief
prospect is the ugliest town on the face of the earth, and whose chief
zephyrs are the breath of its brew houses and lime-kilns. Hampton Court
has always reminded me of a monastery, which I should never dream of
inhabiting unless I put on the gown of a monk. St James's still looks the
hospital that it once was. Windsor is certainly a noble
structure--Edward's mile of palaces--but that residence is better
tenanted than by a subject. While, here I have found a desert, it is
true; but as the poet says or sings--
'I am monarch of all I survey.'"
"Yes," I observed. "But still a desert highly picturesque, and capable of
"Oh! I hope not," he answered laughingly. "The first appearance of
cultivation would put me to flight at once. Fortunately, cultivation is
almost impossible. The soil almost totally prohibits tillage, the sea air
prohibits trees, the shore prohibits trade, nothing can live here but a
fisherman or a shrimp, and thus I am secure against the invasion of all
_improvers_. W----, come here, and assist me to cure Mr Marston of his
skepticism on the absolute impossibility of our ever being surrounded by
London brick and mortar."
A man of a remarkably graceful air bowed to the call, and came towards us.
"W----," said the prince, "comfort me, by saying that no man can be
citizenized in this corner of the world."
"It is certainly highly improbable," was the answer. "And yet, when we
know John Bull's variety of tastes, and heroic contempt of money in
indulging them, such things may be. I lately found one of my country
constituents the inhabitant of a very pretty villa--which he had built,
too, for himself--in Sicily; and of all places, in the Val di Noto, the
most notorious spot in the island, or perhaps on the earth, for all kinds
of desperadoes--the very haunt of Italian smugglers, refugee Catalonians,
expert beyond all living knaves in piracy, and African renegades. Yet
there sat my honest and fat-cheeked friend, with Aetna roaring above him;
declaiming on liberty and property, as comfortably as if he could not be
shot for the tenth of a sixpence, or swept off, chattels and all, at the
nod of an Algerine. No, sir. If the whim takes the Londoner, you will have
him down here without mercy. To the three per cents nothing is
"Well, well," said the good-humoured prince, "that cannot happen for
another hundred years; and in the mean time my prospect will never be shut
out. Let them build, or pull down the pyramids, if they will. The tide of
city wealth will never roll through this valley; the noise of city life
will never fill those quiet fields; the smoke of an insurrection of city
hovels will never mingle with the freshness of such an evening as this.
Here, at all events, I have spent half a dozen of the pleasantest years of
my existence, and here, if I should live so long, I might spend the next
fifty, notwithstanding your prophecies, W----, as far from London, except
in the mere matter of miles, as if I had fixed myself in a valley of the
His royal highness was clever, but he was no prophet, more than other men.
Need I say that London found him out within the tenth part of his fifty
years; instead of suffering him to escape, compelled him to build: and,
after the outlay of a quarter of a million, shut him up within his own
walls, like the giant of the Arabian tales in a bottle--His village a huge
suburb of the huge metropolis; his lawn surrounded by a circumvallation of
taverns and toyshops; the sea invisible; and the landscape scattered over
with prettinesses of architecture created by the wealth of Cheapside, and
worthy of all the caprices of all the tourists of this much travelled
But simple as was the exterior of the cottage, all within was costliness,
so far as it can be united with elegance. Later days somewhat impaired the
taste of this accomplished man, and he sought in splendour what was only
to be found in grace. But here, every decoration, from the ceiling to the
floor, exhibited the simplicity of refinement. A few busts of his public
friends, a few statues of the patriots of antiquity, and a few pictures of
the great political geniuses of Europe--among which the broad forehead and
powerful eye of Machiavel were conspicuous--showed at a glance that we
were under the roof of a political personage. Even the figures in chased
silver on the table were characteristic of this taste. A Timoleon, a
Brutus, and a Themistocles, incomparably classic, stood on the plateau;
and a rapier which had belonged to Doria, and a sabre which had been worn
by Castruccio, hung on either side of the mantelpiece. The whole had a
republican tendency, but it was republicanism in gold and
silver--mother-of-pearl republicanism--the Whig principle embalmed in
Cellini chalices and porcelain of Frederic le Grand. Fortunately the
conversation did not turn upon home politics. It wandered lightly through
all the pleasanter topics of the day; slight ventilations of public
character, dexterous allusions to anecdotes which none but the initiated
could understand; and the general easy intercourse of well-bred men who
met under the roof of another well-bred man to spend a few hours as
agreeably as they could. The prince took his full share in the gaiety of
the evening; and I was surprised to find at once so remarkable a
familiarity with the classics, whose sound was scarcely out of my college
ears; and with those habits of the humbler ranks, which could have so
seldom come to his personal knowledge. To his exterior, nature had been
singularly favourable. His figure, though full, still retained all the
activity and grace of youth; his features, though by no means regular,
had a general look of manly beauty, and his smile was cordiality itself.
I have often since heard him praised for supreme elegance; but his manner
was rather that of a man of great natural good-humour, who yet felt his
own place in society, and of that degree of intelligence which qualified
him to enjoy the wit and talents of others, without suffering a sense of
inferiority. Among those at table were C---- and H----, names well known
in the circles of Devonshire House; Sir P---- F----, who struck me at
first sight by his penetrating physiognomy, and who was even then
suspected of being the author of that most brilliant of all libels,
Junius; W----, then in the flower of life, and whose subtilty and whim
might be seen in his fine forehead and volatile eyes; some others, whose
names I did not know, and among them one of low stature, but of
singularly animated features. He was evidently a military man, and of the
Sister Isle, a prime favourite with the prince and every body; and I
think a secretary in the prince's household. He had just returned from
Paris; and as French news was then the universal topic, he took an ample
share in the conversation. The name of La Fayette happening to be
mentioned, as then carrying every thing before him in France--
"I doubt his talents," said the prince.
"I more doubt his sincerity," said W----.
"I still more doubt whether this day three months he will have his head on
his shoulders," said Sir P----.
"None can doubt his present popularity," said the secretary.
"At all events," said his highness, "I cannot doubt that he has wit, which
in France was always something, and now, in the general crash of pedigree,
is the only thing. Any man who could furnish the Parsans with a _bon-mot_
a-day, would have a strong chance of succeeding to the throne in the
probable vacancy."
"A case has just occurred in point," said the secretary. "Last week La
Fayette had a quarrel with a battalion of the National Guard on the
subject of drill; they considering the manual exercise as an infringement
of the Rights of Man. The general being of the contrary opinion, a
deputation of corporals, for any thing higher would have looked too
aristocratic, waited on him at the quarters of his staff in the Place
Vendôme, to demand--his immediate resignation. On further enquiry, he
ascertained that all the battalions, amounting to thirty thousand men,
were precisely of the same sentiments. Next morning happened to have been
appointed for a general review of the National Guard. La Fayette appeared
on the ground as commandant at the head of his staff, and after a gallop
along the line, suddenly alighted from his horse, and taking a musket on
his shoulder, to the utter astonishment of every body walked direct into
the centre of the line, and took post in the ranks. Of course all the
field-officers flew up to learn the reason. 'Gentlemen,' said he, 'I am
tired of receiving orders as commander-in-chief, and that I may _give_
them, I have become a _private_, as you see.' The announcement was
received with a shout of merriment; and, as in France a pleasantry would
privilege a man to set fire to a church, the general was cheered on all
sides, was remounted and the citizen army, suspending the 'Rights of Man'
for the day, proceeded to march and manoeuvre according to the drill
framed by despots and kings."
"Well done, La Fayette," said the prince, "I did not think that there was
so much in him. To be sure, to have one's neck in danger--for the next
step to deposing would probably be to hang him--might sharpen a man's wits
a good deal."
"Yes," said Sir P----, "so many live by their wits in Paris, that even the
marquis of the mob might have his chance; but a bon-mot actually saved,
within these few days, one even so obnoxious as a bishop from being _sus.
per coll_. In the general system of purifying the church by hanging the
priests, the rabble of the Palais Royal seized the Bishop of Autun, and
were proceeding to treat him 'à la lanterne' as an aristocrat. It must be
owned that the lamps in Paris, swinging by ropes across the streets, offer
really a very striking suggestion for giving a final lesson in politics.
It was night, and the lamp was trimmed. They were already letting it down
for the bishop to be its successor; when he observed, with the coolness of
a spectator--'Gentlemen, if I am to take the place of that lamp, it does
not strike me that the street will be better lighted.' The whimsicality of
the idea caught them at once; a bishop for a _reverbère_ was a new idea;
they roared with laughter at the conception, and bid him go home for a
'_bon enfant_!'"
"I cannot equal the La Fayette story," said C----, "but I remember one not
unlike it, when the Duke of Rutland was Irish viceroy. Charlemont was
reviewing a brigade of his volunteers when he found a sudden stop in one
of the movements, a troop of cavalry on a flank: choosing to exhibit a
will of their own in an extraordinary way. If the brigade advanced, they
halted; if it halted, they advanced. The captain bawled in vain.
Aide-de-camp after aide-de-camp was sent to enquire the cause; they all
came back roaring with laughter. At length Charlemont, rather irritated
by the ridicule of the display, rode down the line and desired the
captain to order them to move; not a man stirred; they were as immovable
as a wall of brass. He then took the affair upon himself; and angrily
asked, 'if they meant to insult him.' 'Not a bit of it, my lord,' cried
out all the Paddies together. 'But we are not on _speaking terms_ with
the captain.'"
"How perfectly I can see Charlemont's countenance at that capital answer:
his fastidious look turning into a laugh, and the real dignity of the man
forced to give way to his national sense of ridicule. Is there any hope of
his coming over this season, C----?" asked the prince.
"Not much. He talks in his letters of England, as a man married to a
termagant might talk of his first love--hopeless regrets, inevitable
destiny, and so forth. He is bound to Ireland, and she treats him as
Catharine treated Petruchio before marriage. But he has not the whip of
Petruchio, nor perhaps the will, since the knot has been tied. He is only
one of the many elegant and accomplished Irishmen who have done just the
same--who find some strange spell in the confusions of a country full of
calamities; prefer clouds to sunshine, and complain of their choice all
their lives."
"Yes," said W----. "It is like the attempt to put a coat and trousers on
the American Indian. The hero flings them off on the first opportunity,
takes to his plumes and painted skin, and prefers being tomahawked in a
swamp to dying in a feather-bed like a gentleman!"
"Or," said the prince, "as Goldsmith so charmingly expresses it of the
Swiss--to whom, however, it is much less applicable than his own
'For as the babe, whom rising storms molest,
Clings but the closer to his mother's breast,
So the rude whirlwind and the tempest's roar
But bind him to his native mountains more.'"
My story next came upon the _tapis_; and the sketch of my capture by the
free-traders was listened to with polite interest.
"Very possibly I may have some irregular neighbours," was the prince's
remark. "But, it must be confessed, that I am the intruder on their
domain, not they on mine; and, if I were plundered, perhaps I should have
not much more right to complain, than a whale-catcher has of being swamped
by a blow of the tail, or a man fond of law being forced to pay a bill of
"On the contrary," said the secretary, "I give them no slight credit for
their forbearance; for the sacking of this cottage would, probably, be an
easier exploit than beating off a revenue cruiser, and the value of their
prize would be worth many a successful run. I make it a point never to go
to war with the multitude. I had a little lesson on the subject myself,
within the week, in Paris"--
An attendant here brought in a letter for the prince, which stopped the
narrative. The prince honoured the letter with a smile.
"It is from Devonshire House," said he--"a very charming woman the
Duchess; just enough of the woman to reconcile us to the wit, and just
enough of the wit to give poignancy to the woman. She laughingly says she
is growing 'heartless, harmless, and old.' What a pity that so fine a
creature should grow any of the three!"
"There is no great fear of that," observed Sir P----, "if it is to be left
to her Grace's own decision. There is no question in the world on which a
fine woman is more deliberate in coming to a conclusion."
"Well, well," said the prince; "_she_, at least, is privileged. Diamonds
never grow old."
"They may require a little resetting now and then, however," said I.
"Yes, perhaps; but it is only once in a hundred years. If they sparkle
during one generation, what can _we_ ask more? Her Grace tells me an
excellent hit--the last flash of my old friend Selwyn. It happens that
Lady ----"--another fine woman was mentioned--"has looked rather distantly
upon her former associates since her husband was created a marquis. 'I
enquired the other day,' says the duchess, 'for a particular friend of
hers, the wife of an earl.' 'I have not seen her for a long time,' was the
answer. Selwyn whispered at the moment, I dare say, long enough--she has
not seen her since the _creation_.'"
"If Selwyn," said Sir P----, "had not made such a trade of wit; if he had
not been such a palpable machine for grinding every thing into _bons-mots_;
if his distillation of the dross of common talk into the spirit of
pleasantry were less tardy and less palpable; I should have allowed him to
"What?" asked some one from the end of the table.
"Less a _bore than he was_," was the succinct answer.
"For my part," said the prince, "I think that old George was amusing to
the last. He had great observation of oddity, and, you will admit, that he
had no slight opportunities; for he was a member of, I believe, every club
for five miles round St James's. But he _was_ slow. Wit should be like a
pistol-shot; a flash and a hit, and both best when they come closest
together. Still, he was a fragment of an age gone by, and I prize him as I
should a piece of pottery from Herculaneum; its use past away, but its
colours not extinguished, and, though altogether valueless at the time,
curious as the _beau reste_ of a pipkin of antiquity."
"Sheridan," observed C----, "amounts, in my idea, to a perfect wit, at
once keen and polished; nothing of either violence or virulence--nothing
of the sabre or the saw; his weapon is the stiletto, fine as a needle, yet
it strikes home."
"_Apropos_," said the prince, "does any one know whether there is to be a
debate this evening? He was to have dined here. What can have happened to
"What always happens to him," said one of the party; "he has postponed
it. Ask Sheridan for Monday at seven, and you will have him next week on
Tuesday at eight. 'Procrastination is the thief of time,' to him more
than, I suppose, any other man living."
"At all events," said H----, "it is the only thief that Sheridan has to
fear. His present condition defies all the skill of larceny. He is
completely in the position of Horace's traveller--he might sing in a
forest of felons."
At this moment the sound of a post-chaise was heard rushing up the avenue,
and Sheridan soon made his appearance. He was received by the prince with
evident gladness, and by all the table with congratulations on his having
arrived at all. He was abundant in apologies; among the rest "his carriage
had broken down halfway--he had been compelled to spend the morning with
Charles Fox--he had been subpoenaed on the trial of one of the Scottish
conspirators--he had been summoned on a committee of a contested
election." The prince smiled sceptically enough at this succession of
causes to produce the single effect of being an hour behind-hand.
"The prince bows at every new excuse," said H---- at my side, "as Boileau
took off his hat at every plagiarism in his friend's comedy--on the score
of old acquaintance. If one word of all this is true, it may be the
breaking down of his post-chaise, and even that he probably broke down for
the sake of the excuse. Sheridan could not walk from the door to the
dinner-table without a stratagem."
I had now, for the first time, an opportunity of seeing this remarkable
man. He was then in the prime of life, his fame, and of his powers. His
countenance struck me at a glance, as the most characteristic that I had
ever seen. Fancy may do much, but I thought that I could discover in his
physiognomy every quality for which he was distinguished: the pleasantry
of the man of the world, the keen observation of the great dramatist, and
the vividness and daring of the first-rate orator. His features were fine,
but their combination was so powerfully intellectual, that, at the moment
when he turned his face to you, you felt that you were looking on a man of
the highest order of faculties. None of the leading men of his day had a
physiognomy so palpably mental. Burke's spectacled eyes told but little;
Fox, with the grand outlines of a Greek sage, had no mobility of feature;
Pitt was evidently no favourite of whatever goddess presides over beauty
at our birth. But Sheridan's countenance was the actual mirror of one of
the most glowing, versatile, and vivid minds in the world. His eyes alone
would have given expression to a face of clay. I never saw in human head
orbs so large, of so intense a black, and of such sparkling lustre. His
manners, too, were then admirable; easy without negligence, and
respectful, as the guest at a royal table, without a shadow of servility.
He also was wholly free from that affectation of epigram, which tempts a
man who cannot help knowing that his good things are recorded. He laughed,
and listened, and rambled through the common topics of the day, with all
the evidence of one enjoying the moment, and glad to contribute to its
enjoyment; and yet, in all this ease, I could see that remoter thoughts,
from time to time, passed through his mind. In the midst of our gaiety,
the contraction of his deep and noble brows showed that he was wandering
far away from the slight topics of the table; and I could imagine what he
might be, when struggling against the gigantic strength of Pitt, or
thundering against Indian tyranny before the Peerage in Westminster Hall.
I saw him long afterwards, when the promise of his day was overcast; when
the flashes of his genius were like guns of distress; and his character,
talents, and frame were alike sinking. But, ruined as he was, and
humiliated by folly as much as by misfortune, I have never been able to
regard Sheridan but as a fallen star--a star, too, of the first magnitude;
without a superior in the whole galaxy from which he fell, and with an
original brilliancy perhaps more lustrous than them all.
"Well, Sheridan, what news have you brought with you?" asked the prince.
The answer was a laugh. "Nothing, but that Downing Street has turned into
Parnassus. The astounding fact is, that Grenville has teemed, and, as the
fruits of the long vacation, has produced a Latin epigram.
'Veris risit Amor roses caducas:
Cui Ver--"Vane puer, tuine flores,
Quaeso, perpetuum manent in aevum?'"
The prince laughed. "He writes on the principle, of course, that in one's
dotage we are privileged to return to the triflings of our infancy, and
that Downing Street cannot be better employed in these days than as a
chapel of ease to Eton."
"Yet, even there, he is but a translator," said Sir P----.
"'The tenth transmitter of an idler's line,'
It is merely a _rechauffé_ of the old Italian.
'Amor volea schernir la primavera
Sulla breve durata e passegiera
Dei vaghi fiori suoi.
Ma la belle stagione a lui rispose
Forse i piacere tuoi
Vita piu lunga avran delle mie rose.'"
The prince, who, under Cyril Jackson, had acquired no trivial scholarship,
now alluded to a singular poetic production, _printed_ in 1618, which
seemed distinctly to announce the French Revolution.
'Festinat propere cursu jam temporis ordo,
Quo locus, et Franci majestas prisca, senatus,
Papa, sacerdotes, missae, simulacra, Deique
Fictitii, atque omnis superos exosa potestas,
Judicio Domini justo sublata peribunt.[A]
[Footnote A:
The time is rushing on
When France shall be undone;
And like a dream shall pass,
Pope, monarch, priest, and mass;
And vengeance shall be just,
And all her shrines be dust,
And thunder dig the grave
Of sovereign and of slave.]
"The production is certainly curious," remarked W----; "but poets always
had something of the fortune-teller; and it is striking, that in many of
the modern Italian Latinists you will find more instances of strong
declamation against Rome, and against France as its chief supporter, than
perhaps in any other authorship of Europe. Audacity was the result of
terror. All Italy reminds one of the papal palace at Avignon--the
banqueting-rooms above, the dungeons of the Inquisition below; popes and
princes feasting within sound of the rack and the scourge. The Revolution
is but the ripening of the disease; the hydrophobia which has been lurking
in the system for centuries."
"Why, then," said Sheridan, "shall we all wonder at what all expected?
France may be running mad without waiting for the moon; mad in broad day;
absolutely stripping off, not merely the royal livery, which she wore for
the last five hundred years with so much the look of a well-bred footman;
but tearing away the last coverture of the national nakedness. Well; in a
week or two of this process, she will have got rid not only of church and
king, but of laws, property, and personal freedom. But, I ask, what
business have we to interfere? If she is madder than the maddest of March
hares, she is only the less dangerous; she will probably dash out her
brains against the first wall that she cannot spring over."
"But, at least, we know that mischief is already done among ourselves.
Those French affairs are dividing our strength in the House," remarked
"What then?" quickly demanded Sheridan. "What is it to me if others have
the nightmare, while I feel my eyes open? Burke, in his dreams, may dread
the example of France; but I as little dread it as I should a fire at the
Pole. He thinks that Englishmen have such a passion for foreign
importations, that if the pestilence were raging on the other side of the
Channel, we should send for specimens. My proposition is, that the example
of France is more likely to make slaves of us than republicans."
"Is it," asked W----, "to make us
'Fly from minor tyrants to the throne?'"
"I laugh at the whole," replied Sheridan, "as a bugbear. I have no fear of
France as either a schoolmaster, or a seducer, of England. France is
lunatic, and who dreads a lunatic after his first paroxysm? Exhaustion,
disgust, decay, perhaps death, are the natural results. If there is any
peril to us, it is only from our meddling. The lunatic never revenges
himself but on his keeper. I should leave the patient to the native
doctors, or to those best of all doctors for mad nations, suffering,
shame, and time. Chain, taunt, or torment the lunatic, and he rewards you
by knocking out your brains."
"Those are not exactly the opinions of our friend Charles," observed the
prince with peculiar emphasis.
"No," was the reply. "I think for myself. Some would take the madman by
the hand, and treat him as if in possession of his senses. Burke would
gather all the dignitaries of Church and State, and treat him as a
demoniac; attempt to exorcise the evil spirit, and if it continued
intractable, solemnly excommunicate the possessed by bell, book, and