« ZurückWeiter »
more fruitful the field of literature becomes, the more do, ito powers of production appear to be increased. How much do we owe to the Supreme Giver of all things, for having betowed on us minds of such infinite variety, and such exhaustless capability. And it is fortunate for the world that our menta) powers are as diversified as the forms which they occupy; so that, while there appear to be no probable limits to their exercise, we are not even obliged to repeat the thoughts of our prede
It bas, indeed, been said, that we live too late that the ancients have seized on all the best subjects. The same complaint might have been, and probably was, made the year before Shakspeare was born, and a month before the birth of Milton; and yet they found subjects, by which to immortalize themselves, and delight the world. This excuse, indeed, has but little foundation in truth, and will not often, if ever, be made by those, on whom nature has betowed the gift of invention.
Our author has admitted that the title of a book does not always designate its contents. His own is not an exception to this remark; and for the information of our readers, we give the contents of his two volumes.
Pen, ink, and paper. -Morna.-Old women.-Life of a flower.—Juvenile delinquency.-An old English year.-The moon and the stars.-Common-place.-The Egotist, No. I, a six miles' tour.–A tale without a name. -A modest confession.--The acorn, an apologue.-Dialogue of the alphabet. A scene not to be found in any play.-Mutability.---War and Peace.---The Egotist, No. 11, my journal.at Scarborough.-The voyage of the blind.--- Apocryphal chapter in the history of England. - The Egotist, No. III, a forenoon at Harrogate. - An African valley. The last day, Postscript, a lucid interval.'
It will be seen by the above contents, that the form these two volumes are much varied. Our límits will not allow us to give an analysis of all; and we shall therefore content ourselves with noticing such as most deserve, or require, observation. We confess from what we knew of the amiable author, that we opened the volumes with predilections in his favor, nor were our expectations disappointed. Where his subject suits the bent of his mind, he pleases and interests us ; and, if some of his papers are not of this class, the majority are such as we can cordially recommend.
But he does not appear to us to be a writer who can throw his mind into any subject, and be at home in all. He is not one who can produce an interesting essay from any subject chosen by lot.
We have essayists who can do this; Hazlett is one of these : he would write you a delightful paper on a preposition, or even on the
papers which letter A. Our author, on the contrary, must have a subject that suits him, and then he can be excellent. This censure applies principally to those papers which he intended to be light or humourous, and embraces the whole of those under the title of “The Egotist.” The following, and they are full of such instances, will justify our remarks. It is from the journal at Scarborough.
“It was not long before the spectral image, which I had been look. ing after, when his unexpected irruption from the wood blinded me to every thing except his own lithe limbs, and indefatigable tail, appeared again in the veritable shape of a poor woman, but neither witch nor giantess ; and yet she was two feet taller than any lady that I know. Ladies, just named, and ever honoured, if you see this, you need not be frightened, for you would not have been frightened if you had seen her: she was indeed two feet, perhaps a yard taller than herself, by a great bundle of harvest-gleanings which she carried on her head. Neither the bulk nor weight of this did I ascertain, though it would only have been a neighbour's turn to lend her my own head and shoulders to carry it a little way for her. This, I confess, I had not the charity to do, though she was obliged to pitch it upon a wall, as I passed by, and there I left her standing to rest. But I had the charity to wish her burthen twice as heavy as it was, being assured that the greater the weight on her head, the lighter it would lie on the poor woman's heart, and the more merrily would her children (I hope she has a house full of them) dance and sing · Harvest Home,' when she arrived at her threshold.”
The Six Miles' Tour, and the Forenoon at Harrogate, fall under the same condemnation. The attempts at wit and humour are generally of a doleful character. 'Indeed, we might fancy that these papers had been written, as a mock journey to Brentford, in ridicule of some of the effusions of modern travellers; but that their want of sufficient point contradicts the supposition. It is true, we occasionally meet with a beautiful thought, which gleams out like a sun-beam from the surrounding vapours. The following is one; and will be appreciated as it ought by every reader of sensibility : its pathos is touching
66 Oh! when we are ill, to have our own home, our own bed, our own friends,-servants, neighbours, every thing familiar, endeared, and vital to comfort by daily use and acquaintance! They have incomprehensible feelings-have they any feelings at all ?--who would choosc, as Sterne somewhere affects, to die at an inn, among those who cared not for them living, nor would mourn for them dead. I would be prepared to die any where, at any time, under any circumstances, among strangers, barbarians, chemies ;--yet, though it might he the sharpest pang of the conflict, to wring the bosoms of the few that love me with my sick fancies, and my dying throes,— last words, last looks, last sighs, I would desire no other witnesses, when heart
and flesh were failing. And they, methinks,--they would not wil. lingly be absent from the scene which human nature most shudders to encounter,-the parting, at the grave's brink, with one whom nothing can detain. Then the sad change that ensues in the dwelling-house where death has been, who could fee from it, with all its tenderness of terror? - The silence after the struggle is past, a repose more dreadful than the agony that preceded; the darkness of that chamber in which, though dim, the light was never permitted to be extinct; the stillness where all was motion,--motion that shunned to be seen or heard, but yet perpetual motion; neglect, but not the neglect of unkindness, where, with unceasing solicitude, every pulse, look, breath, was eagerly watched, and every want and wish anticipated; loneliness, where not for a moment the sufferer was left, even in slumber :-above all, the night after death, while the corpse is yet under the roof with the disconsolate survivors ; -- the night after interment, when the living and the departed, for the first time, but for ever, are separated, in the body. And, oh! when the vehemence of grief hath yielded to the anguish that weeps not, that speaks not,- the internal bleeding of the heart, which none can see, and only one can feel,-for each, however common be the woe, must “mourn apart,"—the sight of the chamber, the bed, the chair, the garments, the very trinkets of the deceased, all hallowed with innumerable, undefinable associations, that turn despondency into transport, while the mind clings to remembrances that cling to it, and will not be shaken off ; till, forgetting that the bitterness of death is past, we long in delirium for another hour, if it were but one, of such sympathizing misery as we unrepiningly endured bcfore the deliverance from all pain of the beloved of our soul!-I must tear myself from such recollections,-such anticipations, for past and future, equally assail me in this train of thought.”
We are happy, however, to turn from these subjects to others on which we can bestow our unqualified approbation. In the piece entitled “Juvenile Delinquency," the author deeply and feelingly laments the frequency of crime in the young:
: and thinks, perhaps with much truth, that it arises more from the neglect of parents than any other cause, added to the temptations abounding in large towns. But when we
eak of the increase of crime,--the increase of population, and the inducements of modern luxury, ought to be taken into the account. And it should not be forgotten, that in the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. there was as great a proportion of crime, if not greater, than there is at this day. The following is a harrowing case, and will tend to show that the country, despite of its pastoral innocence, is not free from scenes of guilt, any more than cities.
" Another instance (a double one) of premature depravity will show that vice, of the direst kind, is not peculiar to populous cities or manufacturing districts, but may sometimes be found in the last places where a poet, at least, would think of looking for it. Hannah ****
was only sixteen years of age when she committed a crime, for which human justice required and took away her life. That crime was the greatest which can be committed ;- it was murder, and murder under circumstances the most atrocious. She was convicted of poisoning Jane *****, apparently from no other motive than the idle hope of obtaining, by her removal, the menial situation in a family which the deceased held, and which she herself had formerly occupied, but had been turned away, on account of her morose and uncontrollably bad temper. The deed had been long premeditated; she carried the poi. son with which she designed to accomplish it, and did accomplish it, at length,-she carried the poison about with her for ten months.The person whom she destroyed was her companion, and she de stroyed her by an act that purported to be an act of kindoess. She gave her a cake as a token of friendship,- During the long interval while she bore the poison about her person, aod the murder in her heart, though she frequently and familiarly associated with her unsuspecting victim, it does not appear that she ever relented from her ferocious purpose ;-when that victim, to her knowledge, was expiring in excruciating torments, she showed no symptoms of compassion, much less of remorse ;- while she herself lay io prison, month after month, awaiting her trial, she appeared more hardened and careless of her doom as the crisis drew nearer ;-when arraigned at the bar of justice, she was stupidly undismayed, and heard the sentence as if it were not her own; nay, her only defence was a most uonatural aggravation of her guilt; she attempted to bring into the same condem. nation with herself her nearest relatives, as accomplices in her crime. Between judgment and execution, she betrayed no compunction for past offences, though blood was upon her soul; no sensibility to present danger, though her very moments were numbered ; and no fear of future retribution, though to her there was but the drop of the scaffold between this world and the next. She yielded in one point only, and that at the last gasp,-she cleared her sister, and other friends, whom she had inculpated, and who were suffering dreadfully uoder the cruel aspersion, from being partakers of her crime or privy to it; and thus the poor infatuated wretch narrowly escaped going into eternity with the guilt of being, by false accusation, the murderer of her next kindred. The hand trembles in transcribing, and the eye revolts from perusing, such a detail of horror, but the value of the lesson to the living makes it a duty not to keep back any part of the known truth. The God of mercy forbid that it should be recorded to cast gratuitous obloquy upon the dead !"
“The old English year,” is an attempt to combat the idea of the climate of England being deteriorated. Indeed, we may be induced to think at times that our summers are less genial, and our winters less severe than formerly: but the mistake, most probably, arises from the vivid recollections which we have of the extremes of these seasons which occurred in our juvenile years, forgetting all these intermediate ones, unmarked by any peculiar intensity. Our author supposes
what would be the result, could we all chuse our own weather. Happily, we have not the power; if we had, scarcely à shower would refresh the earth, till fanjine made us all of one mind.
In the “ Apocryphal Chapter in the History of England," we are presented with a supposed picture of the state of the country, for a year; during which time the influence of the Christian religion was wholly suspended. This we think the author has treated too lightly; his canvass is not coloured sufficiently strong. He has indeed depicted a mass of error and folly, but his tints are much too soft, which, considering his sentiments, we are the more surprized at. Folly! alas the consequences would not be confined to folly! nor can it enter into the heart of nian to conceive the crimés-the horrors that would result from such a tremendous infliction. Remove the dread of futurity, from the generality of men, and they would be worse than the untamed beasts of the forest.
The following is a happy hit at some recent decisions, in cases of literary property.
“I refuse the injunction; and being perfectly certain that no court of law will grant the plaintiff redress, I strenuously advise him to seek it in which soever he pleases forthwith.”
We can only afford space for a brief notice of two or three other subjects. The one entitled "An African Valley,” is a very delightful narrative of an early attempt to convert the Hottentots to the Christian religion. George, a German peasant, who had retired to Saxony to escape the persecution of Austria, inspired with the most ardent philanthropy, and the purest piety; departs singly, and unaided, for the wilds of Africa. "He erects his lonely cottage in the wilderness ; having torn himself from all the joys of home and friendship, to associate with the most degraded and ignorant of his fellowcreatures. By dint of kindness and perseverance, he succeeds in making some converts, and sees the fairest prospect of success opening around him; when he is compelled, by a persécution similar to that which has destroyed the missionary Smith, to quit the country, and mourn the blighting of his pious hopes and benevolent intentions. The scene of his labours is, however, visited about fifty years afterward by some of his countrymen, under more favorable auspices: the ruins of his dwelling, in the forest, are discovered, and one aged convert is found, i ho has cherished his memory, and preserved his gift of a Testament, (for he had taught them to read,) during that long period : and we are left in hope that his good work is consummated. This piece is one of the most pleasing and interesting in the work.
The paper entitled Old Women,” is written with much