Billeder på siden

Viewed in front, they form a golden dowery of hope; viewed in the rear, a burthen of responsibility from which an apprehensive conscience will have reason too often to shrink in sadness.

My father was a plain and unpretending man, who began life with what is considered in England (or was considered) a small fortune, viz., six thousand pounds. I once heard a young banker in Liverpool, with the general assent of those who heard him, fix upon that identical sum of six thousand pounds as exemplifying, for the standard of English life, the absolute ideal of a dangerous inheritance; just too little, as he said, to promise comfort or real independence, and yet large enough to operate as a temptation to indolence. Six thousand pounds, therefore, he considered in the light of a snare to a young man, and almost as a malicious bequest. On the other hand, Ludlow, the regicide, who, as the son of an English baronet, and as ex-commanderin-chief of the Parliament cavalry, &c., knew well what belonged to elegant and luxurious life, records it as his opinion of an Englishman who had sheltered him from state blood-hounds, that in possessing an annual revenue of £100, he enjoyed all the solid comforts of this life, neither himself rapacious of his neighbor's goods, nor rich enough in his own person to offer a mark to the rapacity of others. This was in 1660, when the expenses of living in England were not so widely removed, aquatis æquandis, from the common average of this day; both scales being far below that of the long war-period which followed the French Revolution.

What in one man, however, is wise moderation, may happen in another, differently circumstanced, to be positive injustice, or sordid inaptitude to aspire. At, or about, his 26th year, my father married; and it is probable that

the pretensions of my mother, which were, in some respects, more elevated than his own, might concur with his own activity of mind to break the temptation, if for him any temptation had ever existed, to a life of obscure repose. This small fortune, in a country so expensive as England, did not promise to his wife the style of living to which she had been accustomed. Every man wishes for his wife what, on his own account, he might readily dispense with. Partly, therefore, with a view to what he would consider as her reasonable expectations, he entered into trade as an Irish and a West Indian merchant. But there is no doubt that, even apart from consideration for his wife, the general tone of feeling in English society, which stamps a kind of disreputableness on the avowed intention to do nothing, would, at any rate, have sent him into some mode of active life. In saying that he was a West Indian merchant, I must be careful to acquit his memory of any connection with the slave trade, by which so many fortunes were made at that era in Liverpool, Glasgow, &c. Whatever may be thought of slavery itself as modified in the British colonies, or of the remedies attempted for that evil by modern statesmanship; of the kidnapping, murdering slave-trade,* there cannot be two opinions; and my father, though connected with the West Indian trade in all honorable branches, was so far from lending himself even by a

*The confusion of slavery with the slave-trade, at one time was universal. But now-a-days it is supposed by many to be a superfluous care, if one is sedulous to mark the distinction in a pointed way. Yet it was but last year that, happening to converse with a very respectable and well-informed surgeon in the north, I found him assuming, as a matter of course, that emancipation, &c. had been the express and immediate object of Wilberforce, Clarkson, &c., in their long crusade: nor could I satisfy him that, however ultimately contemplating that result, they had even found it necessary to disown it as a present object.

passive concurrence to this most memorable abomination, that he was one of those conscientious protesters who, throughout England, for a long period after the first publication* of Clarkson's famous Essay, and the evidence delivered before the House of Commons, strictly abstained from the use of sugar in his own family.

Meantime, as respected some paramount feelings of my ́after life, I drew from both parents, and the several aspects of their characters, great advantages. Each, in a different sense, was a high-toned moralist; and my mother had a separate advantage, as compared with persons of that rank, in high-bred and polished manners. Every man has his own standard of a summum bonum, as exemplified in the arrangements of life. For my own part, without troubling others as to my peculiar likings and dislikings, in points which illustrate nothing, I shall acknowledge frankly, that, in every scheme of social happiness I could ever frame, the spirit of manners entered largely as an indispensable element. The Italian ideal of their own language, as a spoken one, is expressed thus — Lingua Toscana in bocca Romana: there must be two elements

the Florentine choice of words, and the Florentine idiom, concurring with the Roman pronunciation. Parodying this, I would express my conception of a society (suppose a household) entirely well constituted, and fitted to yield the greatest amount of lasting pleasure, in these terms, -The morals of the middle classes of England,

* Writing where I have no books, like Salmasius, I make all my references to a forty years' course of reading, by memory. In every case, except where I make a formal citation marked as such, this is to be understood. My chronology on this particular subject is rather uncertain ; Clarkson's Essay, (originally Latin,) published, I think, in 1787, Anthony Benezet's book, Granville Sharpe's Trial of the Slave question in a court of justice these were the openings: then came Wilberfore, Clarkson's second work, the Evidence before Parliament.

combined with the manners of the highest; or, more pointedly, by the morals of the gentry, with the manners of the nobility. Manners more noble, or more polished than the manners of the English nobility, I cannot imagine; nor, on the other hand, a morality which is built less upon the mere amiableness of quick sensibilities, or more entirely upon massy substructions of principle and conscience, than the morality of the British middle classes. Books, literature, institutions of police, facts innumerable, within my own experience, and open to all the world, can be brought to bear with a world of evidence upon this subject. I am aware of the anger which I shall rouse in many minds by both doctrines; but I am not disposed to concede any point of what to me appears the truth, either to general misanthropy and cynicism, to political prejudices, or to anti-national feeling. Such notices as have occurred to me on these subjects, within my personal experience, I shall bring forward as they happen to arise. Let them be met and opposed as they shall deserve. Morals are sturdy things, and not so much liable to erroneous valuation. But the fugitive, volatile, imponderable essences which concern the spirit of manners, are really not susceptible of any just or intelligible treatment by mere words and distinctions, unless, in so far as they are assisted and interpreted by continual illustrations from absolute experience. Meantime, the reader will not accuse me of an aristocratic feeling, now that he understands what it is that I admire in the aristocracy, and with what limitation. It is my infirmity, if the reader chooses so to consider it, that I cannot frame an ideal of society, happily constituted, without including, as a foremost element, and possibly in an undue balance, certain refinements in the spirit of manners, which, to many excellent people, hardly exist at all as objects of conscious regard. In the same

spirit, but without acknowledging the least effeminacy, even in the excess to which I carry it, far better, and more cheerfully I could dispense with some part of the downright necessaries of life, than with certain circumstances of elegance and propriety in the daily habits of using them.

With these feelings, and, if the reader chooses, these infirmities, I was placed in a singularly fortunate position. My father, as I have said, had no brilliant qualities: but the moral integrity which I have attributed to his class, was so peculiarly expressed in him, that in my early life, and for many years after his death, I occasionally met strangers who would say to me, almost in the same form of words, (so essential was their harmony as to the thing,) 'Sir, I knew your father: he was the most upright man I ever met with in my life.' Nobody, that I remember, praised him under the notion of a clever man, or a man of talent. Yet that he was so in some subordinate sense, is probable, both from his success as a man of business, and more unequivocally in other ways. He wrote a book: and though not a book of much pretension in its subject, yet in those days to have written a book at all, was creditable to a man's activity of mind, and to his strength of character, in acting without a precedent. In the execution, this book was really respectable. As to the subject, it was a sketch of a tour in the midland counties of England, in one octavo volume. The plan upon which it was constructed, made it tolerably miscellaneous; for throughout the tour a double purpose was kept before the reader viz. of attention to the Fine Arts, in a general account of the paintings and statues in the principal mansions lying near the line of his route; and, secondly, of attention to the mechanic arts, as displayed in the canals, manufactories, &c. then rising everywhere into activity, and quick

« ForrigeFortsæt »