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with many honorable exceptions, taste has been gradually declining, and an appetite awakening for productions rather stimulating than solid, rather ornamental than useful, rather striking than just. In France, more especially, from the stirring events which have happened in that country during and since their revolution, and the utter absorption of the public attention by the noble object of regaining their long lost liberties, and establishing a wholesome government, (I speak it with many prepossessions in her favor, and an ardent admiration of her superiority,) her literati, for the most part, seem to have abandoned those habits of persevering application and devotion to the perusal of the best models, which are indispensable to the production of the greatest writers. In consequence, the largest number of her authors, since her beneficial changes in government, have been characterized by a superficial science and false taste. Our country discovers, in matters of this nature, all the symptoms of a great scientific and literary nation in embryo, or its juvenile state. If an over: weening fondness for superabundant finery in style is our prevailing literary sin at this time, even this deficiency, as in a young man, is an indication of that fertility of imagination and vigor of genius, which, in mature age, will lead us to the greatest eminence and imperishable fame.
The blast that sweeps o'er the frozen earth,
The last leaves from the forest shaking,
To the heart that's heavy and breaking.
Or the wildest strains of the viol,
In the garden of gloom and trial ?
Ye may kindle smiles in the drooping eye,
Though tears o'er the pale cheeks are stealing,
When the storm is sullenly pealing.
Though sorrow can know no assuaging,
O'er the gulf where torrents are raging.
Then, worldling, sing to the broken heart,
In 'vain of its anguish beguiling,
When your victim is wildly smiling!
Not a pang of the bosom quelling,
And illumines without dispelling.
B. D. W.
If life were to be measured by incidents, I should have lived a long, and apparently a useless one. I feel that it is drawing to a close, though I am not old now
not old in years. But I have lived long enough to survive the love of life; and this seems strange to myself, as I look upon a world so intent upon the mere act of living, and so careless of the future. As I revert to the past, I find little to regret, save the waste of time, and the misapplication of powers ; and these were more the work of education, than my own agency. The reason why I am not happier, is, that I have acquired so strong a moral momentum in certain courses - not criminal ones, as the world judges - that I find it impossible to turn myself 10 useful
I grasp at the idea that I may yet be useful, by giving a history of my mind, and of my growth in pernicious habits. I know that I represent thousands of Americans, born as I was born, nurtured as I was nurtured, and feeling as I feel. I start in this project with doubt and uncertainty. It seems impossible that I can finish it. I throw down my pen, even at the commencement, and resume it again with a trembling hope that I have not started another chimera to cheat me of my time, and delude me into nothingness ; for now I am literally nothing. I am alone. No one cares for me care for many. I love my fellow men. I
for their miseries ; I pity their misfortunes. I look upon them as creatures of circumstance, with myself. The vile have become so, by degrees imperceptible to themselves; the good are equally incapable of tracing their progress. When men begin to reflect, and to look about them, and to be acted on by pride of character - to find themselves subjected to the arbitrary criterions of society- to discover the reasons why they occupy this station or that they then begin to play an equal game with their fellows. But until this time of awakening to their real situation, they are passive instruments in the hands of fate. Some never think never awake
but live on, they inquire not how, or where. The present moment absorbs them; they are satisfied, and chance directs them, or what is the same thing, as far as they are concerned, the actions of other men decide their destiny. Whether this be good or bad, is to them a matter of mere fortune.
* The story of 'Wilson CONWORTH' is what it purports to be, a veritable transcript from real life. The correspondent from whom we receive it, was a college classmate of the writer, of whom he thus speaks : 'In reading over the history of my friend, I have felt disposed to expunge some sentiments, which the world may not perhaps call just; but upon reflection, I have coocluded to submit it in its original state. As it is, it is a perfect picture of his character, as he himself observes; and if any moral is to be deduced from his story, it must be read as he wrote it.' It may be proper to add, that the mss. is all before us, arranged in such a manner as to preserve in each of its several divisions an interest which is pot contingent upon what may follow. Our readers will find in this autobiography, when they shall have fairly entered upon it, or we greatly mistake human feeling and good taste, much of the beautiful sentiment and simple grace of Irving, united with a calma and thoughtful philosophy, and a thorough knowledge of the world - the harvest of an observant eye.
So men find themselves occupying a certain rank in the world, at the time they begin to think for themselves. They presume upon what they have, be it never so little. This lays thein open to casualty, and they rise or fall, as the chance may be. If loss has happened, they still have something. Like the spendthrift, they look at the remaining coin, and promise themselves one pleasure more. Thinking thus, what sentiment can the bad excite, but pity ? — and how can we look upon the good, but as fortunate ? It
may be said, in answer to this, that men are the weavers of their own fortunes — that every one has the opportunity to turn circumstances to his own benefit. Yes! we say, but the disposition to make this effort — the moral force necessary to the exertion — is a matter of education of early, infant education; and who will deny that this is in the hands of others ?
I have said that I have determined to write my life in a plain, unvarnished history. I shall tell nothing but what I know to have taken place. I am so obscure, that the author can never be known. 1 delight in the thought that I shall appear in a mask before the world. I can send abroad the true and genuine feelings of the human heart. There is no fiction here, though I wear the garb of a tale. Those who read me, will talk about my being true to nature, little thinking, perchance, that they are criticizing nature herself.
I shall do no injustice to friends, for they are mostly dead. Those who survive, will. hardly recognise themselves in the true picture I shall give of them, under assumed names ; for who knows himself, save the unhappy? I pride myself upon an original plan of doing good. Who dare lay bare his heart to the inspection of his fellow men? It may be that I shall keep back a part of the price I have paid for my experience; though I begin in the candid feeling of saying all. Why should men be afraid to confess their weaknesses, when all the world knows they possess them? My faults are of a common order, and may assist many in the work of self-knowledge.
The youth in our cities see the profligate and licentious, the idle and the luxurious, in the height of their course. In public, they are all gay and careless, and seem, to the young
eager for a knowledge of life, to be the happiest of the happy. They know little of the certain and inevitable descent of such painted rottenness. They do not follow them to their chambers of despair ; they do not accompany them to linger out their lives of wretchedness and want in foreign lands; they do not feel the pangs of remorse that wring their bosoms, when they revert back in memory to the pure years of their childhood, and rear in imagination - perhaps in the cells of a prison — the mother whose arms cradled their infancy, and compare what they are with what they might have been ; they do not see all this and more; but like the foolish insects, that fit by my nightlamp, they rush to death, because it looks bright to the eye. My story will unfold the consequences of a life of pleasure.
While many men of the present day write false journeyings, imaginary love scenes, speculating robberies, and amusing murders, to make money, and give the young
false views of life, I write these plain and true events, which may take place in the life of any American - which no one ever thinks of telling, and which may be trite
in themselves, taken singly, but when viewed as a whole, will evince the importance of small steps in a long journey, and give a better insight into the errors of early education, than all the very natural rhodomontade about wine, women, and robbers, ever written.
But I trust my story will not be devoid of interest. For I have travelled much in my own country. I have seen many sects of people. I have been on familiar terms with the extremes of society. My mother gave me a kind heart, and a social disposition was the result of a nervous temperament; for so fond of excitement was I, that, rather than be alone, I would mix with any of the species. But all this will grow out of my history, and without farther prelude, I hasten to enter upon it.
I was born of respectable and wealthy parents, in the city of that is to say, my father was wealthy, for no one thinks of attaching any wealth to the mother, in this country, unless she has inherited it. The father makes the money; he holds the purse-strings; he dispenses the daily dole ; he goes to market, followed by his servant, with a large basket; and not a copper is expended in the family, without his knowledge. Ten to one but he buys all his wife's dresses, and shoes, and calls them presents. The father is the factotum of his family in America, as he should be every where. The mother bears and nurses the children, and goes to meeting with him on Sundays; and he calls her dear,' by way of title. The reader must date
my birth some forty years back, for this puritanical vestige is fast fading away, and the ladies are oftener the governors than their husbands. Fashionable life obtains in our cities ; ladies make morning calls in coaches of their own; put the children under the care of nurses; have servants to go to market; keep tradesmen's bills; give balls and parties without consulting their husbands; regulate the education of the children, and, in short, do every thing of a domestic nature; while the husband appears on 'Change, takes care of his business, and attends to his own clubs, and, if he can, pays his bills.
We Americans were a very simple people when I was a boy. Extravagance was a rare thing. Propriety was more thought of than fashion eloquence, than style. Still, in New England, there exists a trace of the puritans who were despots in their families – though so faint is it, that in another generation it will entirely have vanished. Wealth, luxury, love of the world and its honors — scope for which passions is now afforded by our physical and political advancement have shut out the gloominess and fanaticism of our fathers, who copied after Bible characters, and esteemed themselves upon an equality with the holy men of old. Their self-consequence was much helped along by their secluded situation, and their want of general knowledge. The early puritans had none to compare themselves with, and, after the decease of the original landers at Plymouth, their descendants knew not but they were the greatest men in the world ; surely they had heavy responsibilities, and we can hardly regret their delusion, since it begat an energy which supported us through a toilsome revolution. This character has been gradually falling away, growing more and more faint in each succeeding generation, until now, when it is hardly discernible.
My father, then, was a respectable merchant, worth a great deal of money. He lived in a large and handsomely-furnished house, kept a carriage, and one man-servant for every thing, and three or four maid-servants mostly for nothing. He was called a rich man, and treated as rich men always are ; bowed to, very low, by shopkeepers and mechanics, and all those who hoped for his custom. He was greeted in the street by other rich men like himself, with great respect, who wished to set an example to the lookers-on how rich men should be treated. The smile and bow of all those who wished for his dinners, and wine, and parties, were extremely insinuating and complaisant. But, reader, he had his abasement. The million man and the half million man looked down upon him. They bowed, but the million man and the half million man bowed the most lordly. You might have seen the 'mens conscia auri' in their eyes, as they passed by my father. The skirts of their coats were wider, the brim of their hats a little broader, and their abdomens rather more rotund, than my father's ; for I have remarked, that rich men, in America, when they get a little old, always wear coats and hats a little broader than the common run of men.
I hope the reader has got by this time some idea of what my father was — for his reputation and standing in the world, had an important influence upon my life.
My earliest recollection is, of being tied up in a chair, to obviate the trouble of holding me, and to keep me from falling. Even now, I feel the agony of the situation and the restraint. I could not talk, and utter my pain, and explain the reason; but I could cry, and this I was permitted to do to any extent, under the idea that it would strengthen my lungs.
I was born a nervous child — that is, my physical susceptibilities were always acute, even in infancy. My mother was of delicate frame, and possessed of the nicest organs. She sang to perfection the most difficult pieces of music, without knowing any thing of the science. She is said to have been highly accomplished by nature. She gained by ready intuition, what others acquire by labor and practice. I believe I received my nature from her. In a woman, it was an excellence, in the eyes of her acquaintance, though it could not have made her happy. To me it was a curse. I recollect, too, that I was devotedly attached to my mother, and very much afraid of my father, excepting when, after dinner, I was brought into the room when we had company, and coaxed to sing a little song,
and toss off a glass of wine, like a man. I have no other infantile remembrances. When about eight years
and from this time I recollect distinctly every passage in my life — I was sent to dancing-school, and being a little, short, squat personage, with a good ear for music, and some agjlity, I was quite an object of curiosity and wonder. This gratified me: the feeling was encouraged by my relations; and the love of praise became a passion I have never outgrown.