Billeder på siden

books to themselves. Far from it. In several instances they will as little use the books as suffer them to be used. And thus the whole plans and cares of the good (I will say, weighing his motives, of the pious) founder have ter minated in locking up and sequestrating a large collection of books, some being great rarities, in situations where they cannot be opened. Had he bequeathed them to the catacombs of Paris or of Naples, he could not have better provided for their virtual extinction. I ask, does no action at common law lie against the promoters of such enormous abuses? Oh, thou fervent reformer, whose tread he that puts his ear to the ground may hear at a distance coming onwards upon every road if sometimes thou wilt work me and others suffering, from which I shall not

myself, that a book, which some people (and certainly not the least meditative of this age) have pronounced the most original work of modern times, was actually amongst the books thus degraded; it was one of those, as the phrase is, tossed 'into the basket;' and universally this fate is more likely to befall a work of original merit, which disturbs the previous way of thinking and feeling, than one of timid compliance with ordinary models. Secondly with what result? For the present, the degraded books, having been consigned to the basket, were forthwith consigned to a damp cellar. There, at any rate, they were in no condition to be consulted by the public, being piled up in close bales, and in a place not publicly accessible. But there can be no doubt that, sooner or later, their mouldering condition would be made an argument for selling them. And such, when we trace the operation of this law to its final stage, such is the ultimate result of an infringement upon private rights, almost unexampled in any other part of our civil economy. That sole beneficial result, for the sake of which some legislators were willing to sanction a wrong, otherwise admitted to be indefensible, is so little protected and secured to the public, that it is first of all placed at the mercy of an agent in London, whose negligence or indifference may defeat the provision altogether; (I know a publisher of a splendid botanical work, who told me that by forbearing to attract notice to it within the statutable time, he saved his eleven copies,) and again placed at the mercy of a librarian who, (or any one of whose successors,) may, upon a motive of malice to the author or an impulse of false taste, after all proscribe any part of the books thus objectionably acquired.

shrink, work also for me a little good,

this way turn the - winnow me

great hurricanes and levanters of thy wrath this chaff; and let us see at last the garners of pure wheat laid up in elder days for our use, and for two centuries closed against our use!

London we left in haste, to keep an engagement of some standing at the Earl of H-'s, my friend's grandfather. This great admiral, who had filled so large a station in the public eye, being the earliest among the naval heroes of England in the first war of the Revolu tion, and the only one of noble birth, I should have been delighted to see; St. Paul's, and its naval monuments to Captain Riou and Captain, together with its floating pageantries of conquered flags, having awakened within me, in a form of peculiar solemnity, those patriotic remembrances of past glories, which all boys feel so much more vividly than men can do, in whom the sensibility to such impressions is blunted. Lord H., however, I was not destined to see. Of late years, he had generally been absent on public duties; but, on this occasion, his absence was probably due to a reason which will make the reader smile: I believe, but am not perfectly certain, that he was dead; and I have no peerage within my reach by which I could settle that point. The fact is, my knowledge of the family had been too slight and interrupted to have fixed in my memory any chronology of its history. And though I then knew the exact state of the facts, at present I have entirely forgotten everything beyond the mere act of his absence. A death, however, at any rate, there had been, and very recently, in the family, and under circumstances peculiarly startling; and the spirits of the whole house were painfully depressed by that event, at the time of our visit. One of the daughters, a younger -sister of my friend's mother, had been engaged for some


time to a Scottish nobleman, the earl of M—ton, much esteemed by the Royal Family. The day was at length fixed for the marriage; and about a fortnight before that day arrived, some particular dress or ornament was brought to P, in which it was designed that the bride should appear at the altar. The fashion as to this point has often varied; but at that time the custom was for bridal parties to be in full dress. The lady, when the dress arrived, was, to all appearance, in good health; but, by one of those unaccountable misgivings which are on record in many well-attested cases, (as that, for example, of Andrew Marvell's father,) she said, after gazing for a minute or two at the beautiful dress, firmly and pointedly, That, then, is my wedding dress; and it is expected I shall wear it on Thursday the 17th; but I shall not; I shall never wear it. On Thursday the 17th, I shall be dressed in a shroud!' All present were shocked at such a declaration, which the solemnity of the lady's manner made it imposssible to receive as a jest. The old Countess, her mother, even reproved her with some severity for the words, as an expression of distrust in the goodness of God. The bride-elect made no answer, but sighed heavily. Within a fortnight all happened, to the letter, as she had predicted. She was taken suddenly ill she died about three days before the marriage day; and was finally dressed in her shroud, according to the natural course of the funeral arrangements, on her expected marriage morning.

Lord M-ton, the nobleman thus suddenly and remarkably bereaved of his bride, was the only gentleman who appeared at the dinner-table. He took a particular interest in literature; and it was, in fact, through his kindness that, for the first time in my life, I found myself somewhat in the situation of a 'lion.' The occasion of

Lord M.'s flattering notice was a particular copy of verses which had gained for me a public distinction; not, however, I must own, a very brilliant one; the prize awarded to me being not the first, nor even the second: it was simply the third and that fact stated nakedly, might have left it doubtful whether I were to be considered in the light of one honored or of one stigmatized. However, the judges in this case, with more honesty, or more selfdistrust, at least, than belongs to most adjudications of the kind, had printed the first three of the successful essays. Consequently, it was left open to each of the less successful candidates to benefit by any difference of taste amongst their several friends; and my friends, in particular, with the single exception of my mother, who always thought her own children inferior to other people's, (partly, I believe, on a religious principle of repressing our vanity, and partly, also, in a spirit of unaffected modesty about everything connected with herself,) had generally assigned the palm to myself. Lord M. protested loudly that the case admitted of no doubt; that gross injustice had been done me; and, as the ladies of the family were much influenced by his opinion, I thus came, not only to wear the laurel in their estimation, but also with the advantageous addition of having suffered some injustice. I was not only a victor, but a victor in misfortune.

At this moment, looking back from a distance of thirty and odd years upon those trifles, it may well be supposed that I do not attach importance enough to the subject of my fugitive honors, as to have any very decided opinion one way or the other upon my own proportion of merit. I do not even recollect the major part of the verses that which I do recollect, inclines me to think that in the structure of the metre, and in the choice of the expressions, I

had some advantage over my competitors, though otherwise, perhaps, my verses were less finished; Lord M. might, therefore, in a partial sense, have been just, as well as kind. But, little as that may seem likely, even then, and at the moment of reaping some advantage from my honors, which gave me a consideration with the family I was amongst, such as I could not else have had, most unaffectedly I doubted in my own mind whether I were really entitled to the praises which I received. My own verses had not at all satisfied myself; and though I felt elated by the notice they had gained me, and gratified by the generosity of the noble Scotchman in taking my part so warmly, I was so, much more in a spirit of sympathy with the kindness thus manifested in my behalf, and with the consequent kindness which it procured me from others, than from any incitement or support which it gave to my intellectual pride. In fact, though proud as a fiend of those intellectual gifts which I believed or which I knew myself to possess, I made even in those days so far a just estimate of my pretensions as not to imagine my particular vocation to lie in poetry. Well indeed I knew, and I know that—had I chosen to enlist amongst the soi-disant poets of the day, - amongst those I mean who, by mere force of talent and mimetic skill, contrive to sustain the part of poet in a scenical sense, and with a scenical effect

- I also could have won such laurels as are won by such merit; I also could have taken and sustained a place taliter qualiter amongst the poets of the time. Why not then? Because I knew that me, as them, would await the certain destiny in reversion, of resigning that place, in the next generation, to some other candidate having equal or greater skill in appropriating the vague sentiments, and old traditionary language of passion spread through books, and having the advantage of novelty,

« ForrigeFortsæt »