Page images

profess to write, nor indeed care much for reading. No person, under a diviner, can with any prospect of veracity conduct a correspondence at such an arm's length. Two prophets, indeed, might thus interchange intelligence with effect; the epoch of the writer (Habakkuk) falling in with the true present time of the receiver (Daniel); but then we are no prophets.

Then as to sentiment. It fares little better with that. This kind of dish, above all, requires to be served up hot, or sent off in waterplates, that your friend may have it almost as warm as yourself. If it have time to cool, it is the most tasteless of all cold meats. I have often smiled at a conceit of the late Lord C. It seems that, travelling somewhere about Geneva, he came to some pretty green spot, or nook, where a willow, or something, hung so fantastically and invitingly over a stream, was it?or a rock?-no matter, --but the stillness and the repose, after a weary journey 'tis likely, in a languid moment of his Lordship's hot restless life, so took his fancy that he could imagine no place so proper, in the event of his death, to lay his bones in. This was all very natural and excusable as a sentiment, and shows his character in a very pleasing light; but when from a passing sentiment it came to be an act; and when, by a positive testamentary disposal, his remains were actually carried all that way from England; who was there, some desperate sentimentalists excepted, that did not ask the question, Why could not his Lordship have found a spot as solitary, a nook as romantic, a tree as green and pendent, with a stream as emblematic to his purpose, in Surrey, in Dorset, or in Devon? Conceive the sentiment boarded up, freighted, entered at the Custom House (startling the tide-waiters with the novelty), hoisted into a ship. Conceive it pawed about and handled between the rude jests of tarpaulin ruffians, -a thing of its delicate texture, — the salt bilge wetting it till it became as vapid as a damaged lustring. Suppose it in material danger (mariners have some superstition about sentiments) of being tossed over in a fresh gale to some propitiatory shark (spirit of St. Gothard, save us from a quietus so foreign to the deviser's purpose!); but it has happily evaded a fishy consummation. Trace it then to its lucky landing-at Lyons shall we say?—I have not the map before me - jostled upon four men's shoulders - baiting at this town-stopping to refresh at t'other village-waiting a passport here, a license there; the sanction of the magistracy in this district, the concurrence of the ecclesiastics in that canton- till at length it arrives at its destination, tired out and jaded, from a brisk senti

ment, into a feature of silly pride or tawdry, senseless affectation. How few sentiments, my dear F., I am afraid, we can set down, in the sailor's phrase, as quite sea-worthy!

Lastly, as to the agreeable levities, which, though contemptible in bulk, are the twinkling corpuscula which should irradiate a right friendly epistle — your puns and small jests are, I apprehend, extremely circumscribed in their sphere of action. They are so far from a capacity of being packed up and sent beyond sea, they will scarce endure to be transported by hand from this room to the next. Their vigor is as the instant of their birth. Their nutriment for their brief existence is the intellectual atmosphere of the bystanders. . . . A pun hath a hearty kind of present ear-kissing smack with it; you can no more transmit it in its pristine flavor than you can send a kiss. Have you not tried in some instances to palm off a yesterday's pun upon a gentleman, and has it answered? Not but it was new to his hearing, but it did not seem to come new from you. It did not hitch in. It was like picking up at a village alehouse a twodays'-old newspaper. You have not seen it before, but you resent the stale thing as an affront. This sort of merchandise, above all, requires a quick return. A pun, and its recognitory laugh, must be coinstantaneous. The one is the brisk lightning, the other the fierce thunder. A moment's interval, and the link is snapped. A pun is reflected from a friend's face as from a mirror. Who would consult his sweet visnomy if the polished surface were two or three minutes (not to speak of twelve months, my dear F.) in giving back its copy?

I cannot image to myself whereabout you are. When I try to fix it, Peter Wilkins's island comes across me. Sometimes you seem to be in the Hades of Thieves. I see Diogenes prying among you with his perpetual fruitless lantern. What must you be willing by this time to give for the sight of an honest man! You must almost have forgotten how we look. And tell me what your Sydneyites do? are they th. . v . ng all day long? Merciful Heaven! what property can stand against such a depredation! The kangaroos, -your Aborigines,-do they keep their primitive simplicity un-Europetainted, with those little short fore puds, looking like a lesson framed by nature to the pickpocket! Marry, for diving into fobs they are rather lamely provided, à priori; but if the hue and cry were once up, they would show as fair a pair of hind-shifters as the expertest locomotor in the colony. We hear the most improbable tales at this distance. Pray, is it true that the young Spartans among you are

born with six fingers, which spoils their scanning? It must look very odd; but use reconciles. For their scansion, it is less to be regretted, for if they take it into their heads to be poets, it is odds but they turn out, the greater part of them, vile plagiarists. Is there much difference to see, too, between the son of a th.. f and the grandson? or where does the taint stop? Do you bleach in three or in four generations? I have many questions to put, but ten Delphic voyages can be made in a shorter time than it will take to satisfy my scruples. Do you grow your own hemp? What is your staple trade-exclusive of the national profession, I mean? Your locksmiths, I take it, are some of your great capitalists.

I am insensibly chatting to you as familiarly as when we used to exchange good morrows out of our old contiguous windows in pumpfamed Hare Court in the Temple. Why did you ever leave that quiet corner? Why did I ?—with its complement of four poor elms, from whose smoke-dyed barks, the theme of jesting ruralists, I picked my first lady-birds! My heart is as dry as that spring sometimes proves in a thirsty August, when I revert to the space that is between usa length of passage enough to render obsolete the phrases of our English letters before they can reach you. But while I talk, I think you hear me, thoughts dallying with vain surmise,

Aye me! while thee the seas and sounding shores
Hold far away.

Come back before I am grown into a very old man, so as you shall hardly know me. Come before Bridget walks on crutches. Girls whom you left children have become sage matrons while you are tarrying there. The blooming Miss W―r (you remember Sally W-r) called upon us yesterday, an aged crone. Folks whom you knew die off every year. Formerly I thought that death was wearing out I stood ramparted about with so many healthy friends. The departure of J. W., two springs back, corrected my delusion. Since then the old divorcer has been busy. If you do not make haste to return, there will be little left to greet you, of me, or mine.

[Extracts from Blakesmoor.]

I Do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range at will over the deserted apartments of some fine old family mansion. The traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better passion than envy; and con

templations on the great and good, whom we fancy in succession to have been its inhabitants, weave for us illusions incompatible with the bustle of modern occupancy, and vanities of foolish present aristocracy. The same difference of feeling, I think, attends us between entering an empty and a crowded church. In the latter it is chance, but some present human frailty — an act of inattention on the part of some of the auditory, or a trait of affectation, or, worse, vainglory, on that of the preacher - puts us by our best thoughts, disharmonizing the place and the occasion. But wouldst thou know the beauty of holiness? Go alone, on some week-day, borrowing the keys of good Master Sexton; traverse the cool aisles of some country church; think of the piety that has kneeled there, the congregations, old and young, that have found consolation there, the meek pastor, the docile parishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross conflicting comparisons, drink in the tranquillity of the place, till thou thyself become as fixed and motionless as the marble effigies that kneel and weep around thee.

Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going some few miles out of my road to look upon the remains of an old, great house with which I had been impressed in this way in infancy. I was apprised that the owner of it had lately pulled it down; still I had a vague notion that it could not all have perished; that so much solidity with magnificence could not have been crushed all at once into the mere dust and rubbish which I found it.

The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand indeed, and the demolition of a few weeks had reduced it to an antiquity.

Why, every plank and panel of that house, for me, had magic in it. The tapestried bedrooms, — tapestry so much better than painting; not adorning merely, but peopling the wainscots, - at which childhood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting its coverlet replaced as quickly to exercise its tender courage in a momentary eye-encounter with those stern, bright visages, staring reciprocally, all Ovid on the walls, in colors vivider than his descriptions - Actæon in mid sprout, with the unappeasable prudery of Diana, and the still more provoking, and almost culinary, coolness of Dan Phobus, eel fashion, deliberately divesting of Marsyas.

[ocr errors]

The solitude of childhood is not so much the mother of thought as it is the feeder of love, and silence, and admiration. So strange a passion for the place possessed me in those years, that, though

[ocr errors]

there lay, I shame to say how few roods distant from the mansion, -half hid by trees, what I judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound me to the house, and such my carefulness not to pass its strict and proper precincts, that the idle waters lay unexplored for me; and not till late in life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, I found, to my astonishment, a pretty, brawling brook had been the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated views, extensive prospects, and those at no great distance from the house,-I was told of such, — what were they to me, being out of the boundaries of my Eden? So far from a wish to roam, I would have drawn, methought, still closer the fences of my chosen prison, and have been hemmed in by a yet securer cincture of those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed with that garden-loving poet,

"Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines;
Curl me about, ye gadding vines;
And, O, so close your circles lace,
That I may never leave this place;
But, lest your fetters prove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,

Do you, O brambles, chain me too,
And, courteous briers, nail me through."


Walter Savage Landor was born in Warwickshire in 1775. He was educated at Rugby, and afterwards at Oxford. He inherited a fortune, and was able to gratify his tastes for literature, and to live on the Continent, without following any profession. He had a powerful intellect, equal, in many respects, to that of any modern writer; but his impulsive nature and lack of judgment were painfully conspicuous through life. He is said to have been the original of Dickens's brusque character, Boythorn, in "Bleak House." His scholarship was remarkable both for extent and accuracy; so that none of his writings are destitute of interest; but his poetry simply consists of vigorous and correct verses, without inspiration, nd his fame must rest on his prose. His chief work, the Imaginary Conversations, ranges over all the fields of thought and of history, and contains far more of wisdom, eloquence, imagination, apt allusion, acute, critical analysis, and splendor of style, than have sufficed for many more famous books. He wrote for scholars, however, and not for the public. His works were published in two large volumes, in London, under the care of John Forster and Professor Hare, while he lived abroad. His last publication, written after the age of eighty. contained some libellous passages, for which he was compelled to pay heavy damages. It would have been better for his reputation if he had left the world some years earlier.

He died at Florence, in 1868. A selection of striking passages from Landor's works, made by Mr. Hillard of Boston, will give a good idea of the author's varied powers.

[From the Imaginary Conversations.]

SINCE the time of Chaucer, there have been only two poets who at all resemble him; and these two are widely dissimilar one from

« PreviousContinue »