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mother, of decorating their tables with foreign books, not better than thousands of corresponding books in their mother idiom; or of painfully spelling out the contents, obscurely and doubtfully, as must always happen when people have not a familiar oral acquaintance with the whole force and value of a language. How often, upon the table of a modern litterateur, languid, perhaps, and dyspeptic, so as to be in no condition for enjoying anything, do we see books lying in six or eight different languages, not one of which he has mastered in a degree putting him really and unaffectedly in possession of its idiomatic wealth, or really, and seriously, in a condition to seek his unaffected pleasures in that language. Besides, what reason has any man looking only for enjoyment, to import exotic luxuries, until he has a little exhausted those which are native to the soil? Are Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better indeed than all the waters of Israel? True it is, there are different reasons for learning a language; and with some I have here nothing to do. But where the luxuries of literature are the things sought, I can understand why a Dane should learn English; because his native literature is not wide, nor very original; and the best modern writers of his country have a trick of writing in German, with a view to a larger audience. Even a Spaniard, or a Portuguese, might, with much good sense, acquire at some pains the English or the German; because his own literature, with a few splendid jewels, is not mounted in all departments equally well. But is it for those who have fed on the gifts of Ceres, to discard them for acorns? This is to reverse the old mythological history of human progress. Now, for example, one of the richest departments in English literature happens to be its drama, from the reign of Elizabeth, to the Parliamentary war: such another exhi
bition of human life under a most picturesque form of manners, and a stage of society so rich in original portraiture, and in strength of character, has not existed elsewhere, nor is ever likely to revolve upon ourselves. The tragic drama of Greece is the only section of literature having a corresponding interest or value. Well; few readers are now much acquainted with this section of literature; even the powerful sketches of Beaumont and Fletcher, who, in their comic delineations, approach to Shakspeare, lie covered with dust; and yet, whilst these things are, some twenty years ago we all saw the arid sterilities of Alfieri promoted to a place in every young lady's boudoir. It is true that, in this particular instance, the undue honor paid to this lifeless painter of life, and this undramatic dramatist, was owing to the accident of his memoirs having been just then published; and true also it is, that the insipid dramas, unable to sustain themselves, have long since sunk back into oblivion. But other writers, not better, are still succeeding; as must ever be the case, with readers not sufficiently masters of a language, to bring the true pretensions of a work to any test of feeling, and who are for ever mistaking for some pleas ure conferred by the writer, what is in fact the pleasure naturally attached to the sense of a difficulty overcome.
Not only were there in my father's library no books except English; but even amongst those there were none connected with the Black Letter literature; none in fact, of any kind, which presupposed study and labor, for their enjoyment. It was a poor library, on this account, for a scholar or a man of research. Its use and purpose was mere enjoyment, instant amusement, without effort or
* There can be no doubt that this particular mistake has been a chief cause of the vastly exaggerated appreciation of much that is mediocre in Greek literature.
affectation; but still liberal and intellectual. Living in the country, as most of his order did, my father could not look to a theatre for his evening pleasures or to any public resort. To a theatre he went only when he took his family; and that might be once in five years. Books, gardens on a large scale, and a green-house, were the means generally relied on for daily pleasure. The last, in particular, was so commonly attached to a house, that it formed a principal room in the country-house, with the modest name of The Farm, in which I passed my infancy; it was the principal room, as to dimensions, in a spacious house which my father built for himself; and was not wanting, on some scale or other, in any one house of those which I most visited when a school-boy. I may finish my portrait of my father and his class, by saying that Cowper was the poet whom they generally most valued; that Dr. Johnson, who had only just ceased to be a living author, was looked up to with considerable reverence and interest, upon various mixed feelings; partly for his courage, for his sturdy and uncomplying morality, according to his views, for his general love of truth; and (as usual) for his diction, amongst all who loved the stately, the processional, the artificial, and even the inflated, with the usual dissent, on the part of all who were more open to the natural graces of mother English, and idiomatic liveliness. Finally, I may add, that there was too little music in those houses in those days; and that the reverence paid to learning, to scholastic erudition, I mean, was disproportionate and excessive. Not having had the advantages of a college education themselves, my father and his class looked up with too much admiration to those who had; ascribing to them, with a natural modesty, a superiority greatly beyond the fact; and, not allowing themselves to see, that business, and the practice
of life, had given to themselves countervailing advantages; nor discerning, that too often the scholar had become dull and comatose over his books; whilst the activity of trade, and the strife of practical business, had sharpened their own judgments, set an edge upon their understandings, and increased the mobility of their general powers. As to the general esteem for Cowper, that was inevitable: his picture of an English rural fire-side, with its long winter evening, the sofa wheeled round to the fire, the massy draperies depending from the windows, the teatable with its bubbling and loud hissing urn,' the newspaper and the long debate, - Pitt and Fox ruling the senate, and Erskine the bar, all this held up a mere mirror to that particular period, and their own particular houses ; whilst the character of his rural scenery was exactly the same in Cowper's experience of England, as in their own. So that, in all these features, they recognised their countryman and their contemporary, who saw things from the same station as themselves; whilst his moral denunciations upon all great public questions then afloat, were cast in the very same mould of conscientious principle as their own. In saying that, I mean upon all questions where the moral bearings of the case, (as in the slave-trade, lettres de cachet, &c.) were open to no doubt. They all agreed in being very solicitous, in a point which evidently gives no concern at all to a Frenchman, viz., that in her public and foreign acts, their country should be in the right. In other respects, upon politics, there were great differences of opinion, especially throughout the American war, until the French Revolution began to change its first features of promise. After that, a great monotony of opinion prevailed for many years amongst all of that class.
To pass from my father's house to myself, living in the
country, I was naturally first laid hold of by rural appearances or incidents. The very earliest feelings that I recall of a powerful character, were connected with some clusters of crocuses in the garden. Next, I felt the passion of grief, in a profound degree, for the death of a beautiful bird, a king-fisher, which had been taken up in the garden with a fractured wing. This occurred before I was two years of age. Next, I felt no grief at all, but awe the most enduring, and a dawning sense of the infinite, which brooded over me, more or less, after that time, upon the death of a sister, who must have been one year older than myself; I, that is to say, a few months more than two, she than three. At this time I was afflicted with ague, and suffered under it for two consecutive years. Arsenic was then never administered. The remedy chiefly employed with me was riding on horseback. I was placed before a man on a horse, whose white color and great size I still remember. But of all early remembrances, in distinctness none rivals one connected with an illumination which took place on the King's recovery from his first attack of lunacy. At the date of that illumination I must have been two and a half years old. It marks the general exultation of the people in that event, that my father, living in the country, should have illuminated his house at all; for, of course, there was nobody to see it. Next, in the order of my remembrances, comes the death of another sister, which affected me equally with grief and awe; so that, after this time, if not before, the standing scenery of my thoughts was drawn from objects vast and dim the grave, and the mysteries which lie beyond it. [My sister had died of hydrocephalus. It is well. known that this complaint (which is now treated in its early stages much more successfully than at that time) disposes the intellect to a premature development. Ac