Billeder på siden

[ocr errors]

having given him a false index of character in his feminine beauty, and to take a pleasure in contradicting it. Had it been in his power, I am sure he would have spoiled it. Certain it is, that from the time he reached his eleventh birthday, he had begun already to withdraw himself from the society of all other boys to fall into long fits of abstraction and to throw himself upon his own resources in a way neither usual nor necessary. Schoolfellows of his own age and standing those even who were the most amiable he shunned; and, many years after his disappearance, I found, in his handwriting, a collection of fragments, couched in a sort of wild lyrical verses, presenting, unquestionably, the most extraordinary evidences of a proud, self-sustained mind, consciously concentring his own hopes in himself and abjuring the rest of the world, that can ever have emanated from so young a person; since, upon the largest concession, and supposing them to have been written on the eve of his quitting England, which, however, was hardly compatible with the situation where they were found even in that case, they must have been written at the age of thirteen. I have often speculated on the subject of these mysterious compositions; they were of a nature to have proceeded rather from some mystical quietist, such as Madame Guyon, if one can suppose the union with this rapt devotion of a rebellious spirit of worldly aspiration: passionate apostrophes there were, to nature and the powers of nature; and what seemed strangest of all was — that, in style, not only were they free from all tumor and inflation which might have been looked for in so young a writer, but were even wilfully childish and colloquial in a pathetic degree in fact, in point of tone, allowing for the difference between a narrative poem and a lyrical, they some

[ocr errors]

what resembled that very beautiful and little-known* poem of George Herbert, in which he describes symbolically to a friend, under the form of treacherous ill usage he had suspected, the religious processes by which a soul is weaned from the world. Taken as a whole, they most remind me of 'Lewti,' a joint poem by Coleridge and Wordsworth. The most obvious solution of the mystery would be, to suppose these fragments to have been copied from some obscure author: but, besides that no author could have remained obscure in this age of elaborate research, who had been capable of sighs, (for such I may call them,) drawn up from such well-like recesses of feeling, and expressed with such dithyrambic fervor and exquisite simplicity of language there was another testimony to their being the productions of him who owned the penmanship; which was, that some of the papers exhibited the whole process of creation and growth, such as erasures, substitutions, doubts expressed as to this and that form of expression, together with references backwards and forwards. Now, that the handwriting was my brother's, admitted of no doubt whatsoever. I now go on with his story. In 1800, my visit to Ireland, and visits to other places subsequently, separated me from him for above a year. In 1801, we were at very different schools: I in the highest class of a great public school he at a very sequestered parsonage in a northern county. This situation, probably, fed and cherished his melancholy habits; for he had no society except that of a younger brother, who would give him no disturbance at all. The development of our national resources had not yet gone so far as absolutely to exterminate from the map of Eng

*This poem, from great admiration of its mother English, and to illustrate some ideas upon style, Mr. Coleridge republished in his Biographia Literaria.

land everything like a heath, a breezy down, (such as gave so peculiar a character to the counties of Wilts, Somerset, Dorset, &c.,) or even a village common. Heaths were yet to be found in England, not so spacious, indeed, as the landes of France, but as wild and romantic. In such a situation my brother lived, and under the tuition of a clergyman, retired in his habits, and even ascetic, but gentle in his manners. (To that I can speak myself; for, in the winter of 1801, I dined with him, and I found that his yoke was, indeed, a mild one; since, even to my youngest brother, a headstrong child of seven, he used no stronger remonstrance in urging him to some essential point of duty, than Do be persuaded, sir.') Here, therefore was the best of all possible situations for my brother's wayward and haughty nature. The clergyman was

[ocr errors]

learned, quiet, absorbed in his studies; humble and modest beyond the proprieties of his situation; and treating my brother in all points as a companion: whilst, on the other hand, my brother was not the person to forget the respect due, by a triple title, to a clergyman, a scholar, and his own preceptor one, besides, who so little thought of exacting it. How happy might all parties have been what suffering, what danger, what years of miserable anxiety might have been spared to all who were interested had the guardians and executors of my father's will thought fit to let well alone!' But, ‘per star meglio,'* they chose to remove my brother from this gentle recluse to an active, bustling man of the world, the very anti-pole in character. What might be the pretensions of this gentleman to scholarship, I never had any means of judging; and, considering that he must now, (if

* The well-known Italian epitaph-'Stava bene: ma, per star meglio, sto qui.'

living at all,) at a distance of thirty-six years, be grayheaded, I shall respect his age so far as to suppress his name. He was of a class now annually declining (and I hope, rapidly) to extinction. Thanks be to God, in that point, at least, for the dignity of human nature, that, amongst the many, many cases of reform held by some of us, or destined, however, in defiance of all opinions, eventually to turn out chimerical, this one, at least, never can be defeated, injured, or eclipsed. As man grows more intellectual, the power of managing him by his intellect and his moral nature, in utter contempt of all appeals to his mere animal instincts of pain, must go on pari passu. And, if a Te Deum,' or an O, Jubilate !' were to be celebrated by all nations and languages for any one advance and absolute conquest over wrong and error won by human nature in our times excepting

[ocr errors]

'The bloody writing by all nations torn'

yes, not

the abolition of the commerce in slaves to my thinking, that festival should be for the mighty progress made towards the suppression of brutal, bestial modes of punishment. Nay, I may call them worse than bestial; for a man of any goodness of nature does not willingly or needlessly resort to the spur or the lash with his horse or with his hound. But, with respect to man, if he will not be moved or won over by conciliatory means, by means that presuppose him a reasonable creature, then let him. die, confounded in his own vileness: but let not me, let not the man (that is to say) who has him in his power, dishonor himself by inflicting punishments, violating that image of human nature which, not in any vague rhetorical sense, but upon a religious principle of duty, (the human person is expressly exalted in Scripture, under

the notion that it is the temple of the Holy Ghost,') ought to be a consecrated thing in the eyes of all good men; and of this, we may be assured this, which I am now going to say, is more sure than day or night — that, in proportion as man, as man, is honored, raised, exalted, trusted, in that proportion will he become more worthy of honor, of exaltation, of trust.

Well, this schoolmaster had very different views of man and his nature. He not only thought that physical coercion was the one sole engine by which man could be managed, but -on the principle of that common maxim which declares that, when two schoolboys meet, with powers at all near to a balance, no peace can be expected between them until it is fairly put to the trial, and settled who is the master- on that same principle, he fancied that no pupil could adequately or proportionably reverence his master, until he had settled the precise proportion of superiority in animal powers by which his master was in advance of himself. Strength of blows only could ascertain that: and, as he was not very nice about creating his opportunities, as he plunged at once in medias res,' and more especially when he saw or suspected any rebellious tendencies, he soon picked a quarrel with my unfortunate brother. Not, be it observed, that he much cared for a well-looking or respectable quarrel. No. I have been assured that, even when the most fawning obsequiousness had appealed to his clemency, in the person of some timorous new-comer, appalled by the reports he had heard - even in such cases, (deeming it wise to impress, from the beginning, a salutary awe of his Jovian thunders,) he made a practice of doing thus :- He would speak loud, utter some order, not very clearly, perhaps, as respected the sound, but with perfect perplexity as regarded the sense, to the timid, sensitive boy upon

« ForrigeFortsæt »