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My impression is, that our government was composed of men who were better suited to make books than to be governors over young men, except in a few instances. We had one professor who was up to any thing. He was a complete speculator. He knew all vices and tricks, probably from experience. He was an iron-fisted fellow, with a inost unscholar-like look and air, although it is said he is a good measurer of land, and can make himself quite agreeable to his superiors. To the students, his subjects, he was a tyrant. He vented his spleen by confusing his class at recitation by a variety of little plans, which no generous mind could ever conceive.
I mean no disrespect to the respectable officers of this college. They were generally good men, as the world will testify; but some of them had the failings of mortality -- a fact rarely acknowledged of the clergy and the officers of a college. But how unfit are bookworms to form practical rules of government !
We needed a man of the world at the head of our college ; and they have got one now, I think; a ripe scholar, to boot. The fact is, that men unacquainted with the world, except from books, had to deal with young men, who were a great deal in the world, by some means or other. quite an object with the government, sometimes, to obtain a case admitting of severe punishment, for the sake of awing down the petty faults not large enough to get hold of. Some suffered severely for the sake of the general good; with a show of justice, too, which left the poor victim. no hope of escape on any side. It was a kind of decimation, which belongs only to cases of great civil necessity.
I began to read a little at this time. I recollect well that I commenced my regular reading with Colley Cibber's Lives, which I read faithfully, as a task imposed upon myself, by some one's advice, from beginning to end. My own taste, however, soon led me into a kind of reading more congenial to my natural disposition. I had at this time given up all hopes of rank in the class, and my only desire was to live easily, get a degree, and avoid suspension. This year I read Irving, Scott, and Miss Edgeworth, Mackenzie's Man of Feeling, and Man of the World. The Man of Feeling was my favorite of all books — that, and the Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life; for I was sufficiently well educated to drink in the idea of things all beauty from beginning to end.
These books, although they gave a sickly tinge to my character, were of great service to me on one account : they gave me a taste for reading. I have often remained in my room for weeks, under the plea of sickness, for the sake of getting time to read. I devoured every thing - history, biography, romance and poetry. Essays had great charms for me, and I read the forty volumes of the British Essayists in course : so that although I had the reputation of an idler, and one fond of frolics, still my college life was not spent so totally without employment. I waded through Hume and Gibbon, but I apprehend with little benefit. I was induced to undertake these works, because I had been complimented as a great reader, and I began to aim at the name. This I might have attained without the labor; but I merely wished to believe myself something ; so I read the works faithfully from beginning to end.
Occasionally I was drawn into scrapes, because I did not know
how to refuse, and I loved excitement; but at this period, I had no fixed habits of dissipation. The rëaction of high excitement was terrible to me. I could not bear the slightest elevation of feeling, even laughter, without a painful depression afterward.
After one party, I was ready for another, for I could not read nor be alone ; so that for three weeks of seclusion, I generally spent one of idleness and folly. I attended the theatre upon these occasions, played billiards, and rode about the country, in defiance of all college rules.
I was now in my second year, and my father began to suspect that his eldest son was not quite perfect. Bills of large amount were sent to him, and I stood exposed to his eyes in my true character, So, to avoid temptation, he hired a room for me out of college, at a great expense, and I lived alone. Here I spent some of the happiest hours of my life. My room overlooked the river, and beyond it commanded a delightful view of the country, cultivated as a garden. The college-grounds, finely intersected with gravel walks, and shaded by venerable trees, were a pleasant resort in the evening. Surely there is every thing about this college to inspire a love of learning ; a library filled with the choicest books; society partaking of the literary taste of the institution ; removal from every thing that is gross and worldly. The student may live in a world of letters, and find constant matter for pleasant occupation.
Freed entirely from all cares of a pecuniary nature, with good health and friends who were looking at my course with the strongest interest, why was I a fool? I did not see then as I do now. My situation was too easy. I did not estimate my advantages. I was like the natives of golden regions, spurning the precious ore, because it is so common. My Majora was interlined; I could tic my Latin, and get off; mathematics I neglected, and I loved to write my themes. My time was spent in reading. Day and night books were in my hands. I lived in a world of romance. Scott's Pirate was my favorite book — the character of Minna Troil the perfection of my ideas of woman. I read of her, and thought of my Catholic cousin. l indulged in the most extravagant fancies. I worshipped her -- looked toward the place where she lived placed myself by her side in imagination — kissed her dewy cheek knelt at her feet, and poured out the rapturous emotions of my soul. I was a fictitious lover, and suffered and joyed, as if actually going through the scenes I imagined
All this was entirely owing to my reading. My mind, having no proper objects of interest, spent itself in these vagaries. Force will find a vent; and the force of my mind ran to swell this channel. The exclusively imaginative works, in which, of late, I had been engaged, had brought out the qualities of the imagination, at the expense of more steady thoughts.
At this period of my life, my character underwent important changes. Tastes were fixed which have never been eradicated. It was fortunate that the books I read were of good moral tendency, or rather of not a bad moral tendency. If Bulwer had written at that day, I feel that the consequences would have been injurious to me beyond calculation. Not that Mr. Bulwer's works are bad in themselves, but they lay bare the depravity of the human heart;
they cause us to mistrust human nature, and create a contempt for man, which he undoubtedly deserves; but such thoughts, taking root in a young mind, interfere with the thousand incentives to exertion, which the respect we bear the world and the world's honors, furnishes. The great objections I should make to Bulwer's writings, are, that they bave exposed the shallowness of the world, and substituted nothing for the delusions he has deprived us of. We rise from the perusal of his works with much the same feelings a Catholic may be supposed to indulge, who finds himself shaken in his faith. He is without a religion, and he is desolate.
But have we any right to blame this giftedsifter of mankind ? No. We must right ourselves as we can. The present age in England may suffer from his common sense doctrine, which has divested the peerage of its infallibility, but posterity will venerate his
With a bold hand he has seized the very senate by the beard, and shaken the aristocratic powder from their pates. They look like other men; and the people of England have awakened to a sense of their rights.
From Miss Edgeworth's 'Ennui' I reaped great good. The Man of Feeling' rather improved the kindliness of my heart. Scott gave me ideas of regality, and threw light upon my historical reading. I had my head full of scraps of poetry once —
although I relished it, generally, far less than prose which I used to bring out upon every occasion I could make, because it was thought literary to do so; but I have got over such puppyism. I sported Latin, for the
How silly I must have appeared, to men who knew the human heart !
If you are a young man, weary reader, beware how you quote poetry, and more careful how you write it - at least to publish. The eyes of old heads are upon you, which fathom your
shallow vanity, pity your boyish enthusiasm, and your false views. Keep your tongue close, in select societies, where you discover quiet-look. ing men, who seem wrapped in their own thoughts, and not to be aware of your existence. Their eyes are upon you. They were once like you. The mist has been cleared from their sight. They see in, around, and upon you. You are an object of curious speculation to them. Beware!
I have said I had no great love for poetry. There was one poem, however, which I did read with unalloyed pleasure - Moore's • Loves of the Angels.' I read it, because I loved the book. I could repeat almost the whole of it, for it came unbidden to my mind. One passage I shall never forget :
It was in dreams that first I stole
In gentle mastery o'er her mind,
When reason's beam, half hid behind
Each shadowy shape that fancy builds.' I thought, and still think, this one of the finest passages in poetry, for versification, truth, music, and language. To say nothing of the pretty alliteration, 'shadowy shape,' it is perfect in measure and cadence. What can equal the bright fantasy of a dream, unless it
be a 'rich twilight?' Has not the soul its morning, when it rouses itself
up, its noon of quiet and repose ? — and then the eventide comes on, the cares of day are banished, and it yields itself to the luxuries of domestic bliss, the pleasures of song and intellect; and the anticipation of these delights makes the rich twilight' of the poet. He has drawn from out of visible nature' that which alone can express a high state of moral and mental rest.
Those angels loved after my own heart. I could sympathize with the depth of their devotion. And then the constancy of Zaraph and Nama! Such a conclusion! How exalted! Her eyes were like my cousin's. I was a second Zaraph. I was reclining upon a grassy hill — the gorgeous sun was setting - we (I did not know exactly who) were conversing upon high events. She came to call me. Her impatient love could not delay. I was the happiest of men. Alas! what scenes of idle dreaming did my room, that year, witness! Toward the close of it, one day, as I was indulging in one of these golden dreams of unreal bliss, playing king or lover, savage or saint, martyr or hero, to myself, with my feet on the fender, and a cigar in my mouth, the president's fresh came in, and handed me a suspension-bill
, and left me, with a mock bow. I opened it. It was a suspension for --- idleness !
It has of late become quite fashionable to immortalize the world's people in the form of biography. But as no one has had sufficient sagacity to discover my virtues, or candor to declare them, I am determined to immortalize myself. I do not intend to go down 'unwept, unhonored, and unsung ;' and although my enemies may consider me egotistical, yet I must say, with the poet, that whatever may be my deserved fame,
Like Garcia's, let me hear it.' Many years ago, when the continent was new, I recollect that I was a small sapling, in a vast unpruned wilderness, and completely overshadowed by the giant trees that waved above me. The red man wandered wild and free through the solitude, and at eve couched himself upon the earth, beneath my tender branches. Around me was scattered all the wild magnificence of nature. Cataracts thundered, and in the twilight of the morning their rolling mists floated up and caught the red beams of the ascending sun. The little stream wimpled down the mossy declivity, and flowers of many a hue gathered about its margin. In the winter, dense bodies of snow descended upon our leafy evergreen roof, and threw a deep shadow below, imparting imaginings of a Lapland night. At times, in the solemn hush of midnight, some regal pine would crash away, and roar in its fall, like the thunder of heaven. The wolf, the bear, the panther, and the deer passed rapidly by, gaunt and starving, and the Indian, their lord, followed on, with death in his eye. No white man had then ever trod the earth whereon I stood; the red man reigned supreme over the territory around.
But as I grew up to the stature of a tree, I saw with pain the tribes, one by one, melting away. Like the snow upon slopes, they wasted, and their arms became weak, as the beams of civilization warmed around them. They grew impatient and restless, and, in a moody and broken spirit, burst the strings of their bow's, and flung them to the winds. They saw their sovereignty depart