« VorigeDoorgaan »
sure. Did a labouring man pass me in these rambles I could look him in the face with perfect freedom, or continue my meditations undisturbed; perchance he could even be made use of, and brought into my verse; but the annoyance it gave me to meet any well-dressed persons, persons of the intelligent order of society, is what I suspect I could never make intelligible to you, who have been always a rational being. Conscious that I was to them a subject of ridicule, yet feeling for all this that I was the giant and they the dwarfs, I was agitated by a mixture of pride, and resentment, and shamefacedness, as I hurried ra pidly past them. I would go out of my way, change my course, dodge behind trees, to avoid the mere transit of a harmless stranger, who assuredly was quite unconscious of the disturbance he was creating. However, I used to say to myself, when my poem shall be published all will be made clear; my position in society will be understood; and I shall move on, not only in peace, but enjoying the profound respect of all men. That deportment which now provokes a smile, will be deemed quite appropriate in the author of . It will be scen that not for nothing have I walked apart, lost in thought.
"The fulness of time came, and my poem was published-well thou knowest with what startling effect upon the world. Not a single copy sold! It was duly advertised, and editors were favoured with its perusal gratuitously. Not a single word was written on it, good or bad! One does not quite suddenly give up the idea that one is a poet and has a genius; but this experiment was so very satisfactory, that at the end of a few months I had resigned for ever this very glorious and most lamentable delusion. I took a solemn farewell to poetry. Looking over my remaining manuscripts, I selected a few fragments, which still retained some merit in the eyes
of their author; these, which consisted of mere scraps of loose paper, I placed within the leaves of a copy of the printed poem; the rest I consumed. The volume, thus additionally enriched for oblivion, I folded up in parchment, sealed, and deposited in an iron chest, where our family papers were kept. The whole of the impression besides, amounting to be
tween two and three hundred volumes, I ordered home from the publisher. Going out into the garden, I dug with my own hands a profound pit, and there I laid the new uncut volumes, arranging them in even piles just as regularly as they would have stood on a bookseller's counter. Then, with most vigorous handling of the spade, I shovelled in the damp earth, and pressed it hard upon them. Thus I buried my poetic offspring, and turn. ed again towards the world to seek what new it had to offer me.
"Nor did any one ever turn from a grave in sadder or more desolate condition than I from this mock burial. The passion even for poetic authorship, the wish to address one's-self to the world, or rather to that scattered audience of kindred minds that lie here and there commingled with the world, admits of a representation which would place it far on this side of the ridicu Îous.
Who is there of reflective mind, who, finding himself agitated by many thoughts and passions, does not grow desirous of giving them expression? Yet it is not in the circle of friends and relatives that he finds an audience, nor is it to them that his sentiments have any peculiar reference: it is to man-to all whom it may concernthat he wishes to speak, and amongst the multitude without must he find his listeners. Moreover, it is through the medium of books that such a one has been himself informed and prompted to thought, and therefore these present themselves to him as the natural channel for the transmission of ideas which are the response, as it were, that books have called forth from him. He runs to the press as his only fit organ of communication; and although the passion for fame or distinction can never be far distant from him who touches pen, and ventures upon authorship; yet he may, in the first instance, reach forward to that fatal instrument' with spontaneous eagerness, merely as his appropriate mode of intercourse with the world. Every reflective man may be set down as at heart an author, whether he has yielded or not to the seductive impulsewhether he has ever seen his name stare at him from a title-page, or has only recognised his anonymous offspring as it passed, unnoticed by any other eye, along the full tide of periodical literature. Some intention,
though it may be most vague and remote, to write, mingles itself with the efforts of every man who from reading has been taught to think. For my own part, I found that in resigning all aim of authorship, I had resigned half the luxury of thought. I found, to my cost, how intimately the pleasure or purpose of literary enterprise had combined with my most solitary cogitations. I could still enjoy, I said to myself, those sentiments of which I wrote, without telling them to the world. Alas! when I reverted to them again, I was returning to a country which had been laid waste in my absence. The fleeting thought, why should I arrest or retain it? I had no longer to make it permanent in my verse. Every mood of my mind, every feeling, seemed now indeed smit with transciency, and to rush past into sudden oblivion-the record of my life was no longer to be kept the light and shifting sand would not bear my footmark-henceforth I should be, at each moment of my existence, as if I had never been till then. I remember that even that love of nature, which seemed so distinct and independent a source of pleasure, proved to have been greatly enhanced, to have been partly constituted, by the habit or the effort of developing the varied sentiment in felicitous language. As I now took my solitary ramble along the river-side, those little points of observation as the shadow of the cloud or the motion of the bird-which once interested me keenly, were now valueless. There was no description to be written; they were no longer to be registered in my memory; nor was I concerned to find for what I saw or felt that apt expression, that very word, the seeking after and the dwelling upon which unconsciously re-acts upon our feelings, prolonging and deepening them. The fresh air was good, and the green bank was refreshing to the eye, and the shade of the tree was grateful, and the river by its motion and its brightness was a pleasant thing to look upon; but as to that vague and charming sentiment which used to hover over all-this was gone. And why should I make an effort to recall it? Its peculiarity and refinement were nothing now. I had no verse to make. What were these shadowy eestasies of thought to me more than to any other man? Or why
should I prefer them now to any other the most homely elements of pleasur able existence?
"At this time I do not think we were in the habit of frequently seeing each other. Indeed, I suspect that at this utter failure, this complete bankruptcy in my literary adventure, I avoided very studiously all old acquaintances. You came upon me again about two years after, and you found me immersed in the profundities of philosophy. From poetry to metaphysics seems a great stride. But in reality it is not so. We are led into metaphysical lucubrations by those problems of thought which are most exciting of all, and most likely to attract the poetic temperament-the mysterious questions of free-will and fate, of immortality and the Divine nature. These directly conduct us unto what, without this connexion, would indeed be a scene of mere weariness and vexation. For myself, I seemed to have left the shore, and all sight of shore, and in some little cock-boat to be rising and falling amidst swelling waves, which hid all prospect except their own changeful and yet monotonous forms. Instead of labouring within a definite circle of thoughts, where not only some intelligible ideas can be mastered, but where knowledge is felt to be a sort of wealth, a possession for which men respect you, I had launched forth, regardless of every personal consideration of whatever description, and thrown my spirit loose and self-abandoned on a vast sea of subject, which I had no visual power to embrace or to overlook. Nor was this sort of philosophy enough, it seemed, to perplex and confound; but theories of society, and Utopian projects for the reconstruction of the world on an altogether better plan, were added to my labours. If I turned to survey the affairs of nations and of commonwealths, my thoughts were not of what men call politics: I cared for no party struggles, whether at home or abroad; my spirit rose far above those questions which concern our own times, or the government of our own country, or indeed any known government whatever: I was occupied with ideal forms of society-was enquiring incessantly why the race of man, a race gifted with reason, should not carry into effect some scheme for its own happiness far different from
those, the result of chance and passion, which the world had hitherto witnessed. I was not occupied in limiting or extending the franchise, I was enfranchising all mankind from the harass ing cares of existence: I was not canvassing the Poor-Law Amendment Act, I was banishing all poverty at once from the earth; free trade and the corn-laws were questions looked on with indifference by one who saw that the earth yielded her increase, and wished to know why the living, thinking beings on its surface, could not divide its fruits amongst themselves in better manner than to create per petual discontent, giving superfluity to some, and want to others, and anxiety to all. The destiny of the world lay on me like a care. It was mine to remodel the affairs of a planet of some1 what too stubborn materials, alas! for the plastic power of philosophy. Thus the truths that belong to eternity, the fate that in some undefined futurity might be realized by mankind, were the subjects of my ceaseless meditation, of my profound solicitude. I cannot tell you how miserable I was in this task of reforming the world.
"These modes of thought-on the one hand this obstinate enquiry into the incomprehensible, into mysteries which lie without the circle of naturethis constant peering over the boundary wall of our mundane habitation into the eternal stillness beyond; and, on the other, this painful search, almost equally vain, after a given possible condition of human society which shall solve the problem that lies between man's existence and God's benevolence-have their use, I doubt not, and a noble use; but it is very easy to have more of them than enough. From such habits of thought, if once they have fastened on a man, he will with far more difficulty release himself than even from the love of poetry or poetic fame. He may learn to live without the air of compliment, may learn to rejoice or to endure without making the world at large the confidant of his joys and his griefs-(that world to which he can speak with so much more openness and freedom than to any single one of its inhabitants, and to which, if he cannot speak, he seems condemned to utter silence)but he will hardly ever wean himself from mysteries which have become dear to him, and from schemes which
present themselves as not only consolatory to his mind, but as the necessary complement of that intelligible whole he has become so anxious to conceive. Many a time will he smile at himself for thus occupying his thoughts, and after spending his wea ry, pleasing, painful bours over his favourite subjects of meditation, he will be the first to give a bitter and satirical account of them to others. He will revenge himself abroad for the thraldom he endures within. Perhaps he most sincerely regrets the time and feelings wasted thus fruitlessly; and, breaking loose from these ensnaring reveries, he resolves to live for the future, like the rest of the world, for himself and his friends. He will start forthwith on some active and personal career. What's Hecuba to him? But before he starts on this new and quite practical career, this sound and profitable scheme of existence, he will cast one more glance over specu lations to be abandoned for ever, if it be only to mark again their futility, that he may go forth free of heart, and with full certainty that had he stayed amongst them he could have effected nothing more. He turns and takes his parting survey; discarded reasonings, hopes that had been mocked at a thousand times, visions that had been again and again dispelled, arise—surroundenthral him. He has looked back on the city of vain thoughts, so busy and so idle, and he stands motionless as the pillar of salt. He is rooted to the earth by those ceaseless and deceptive meditations, which present themselves perpetually in new disguises, only to betray him as perpetually to the old disappointment and self-derision.
"Such was more than once my own experience. I seemed separated from the world of action by a magic circle which I could not overpass. However, though I could not break the circle, I, by dint of thinking, raised myself higher in it. I attained a certain calm position, whence I could at all events survey the world with equanimity. I by degrees inured myself to the dubiety and indifference of philosophy, and endeavoured to satisfy the propensity for something more genial and distinct, by a very cordial sympathy with all good sentiments and good faiths as they exist in other men. I made it out to myself thus :all subjects of human reflection, whe
ther they be thoughts or things, may be either regarded in the relation of cause and effect, and placed accurately in the chain of events, mental or phy sical, which constitutes our world; or they may be contemplated for the sake of the varied feelings, as of admiration, love, or terror, which they excite in the heart of the human spectator. The first of these is the scientific, the second the poetic form of thought. Whether our subjects be of the external world, or belong to the world of feeling and sentiment, there are but these two forms of reflection in which they can be considered. Now, I was accustomed to congratulate myself on the just equality and strict impartiality with which I cultivated both these great sections of the intellectual character. Thus, if philosophy swept much away and made wide open spaces, I could pitch therein the tents of imagination, and under new names let the old revelry proceed. I am not sure that this account of matters was not as near the truth as those which are given by the thoughtful spirits of our age, who attempt to include all which as men they are attached to under the name of philosophy. It is the fashion, or at least it was when I used to read on such subjects, to abuse the philosophy of the eighteenth century for its narrowness, and tendency to negation. Men found they could not embrace under it what they were nevertheless determined not to resign; so they stretched the cords of philosophy. Whether they strengthened the stakes at the same time, I may be permitted to doubt. Remember that philosophy has not grown more modest in the nineteenth century, or more willing to admit other and more sacred sources of knowledge than her own; she has in truth grown more self-sufficient, and thinks more depends on her arbitration than ever; and thus it is that in her attempt to perform all functions she becomes fantastic and insincere. If the philosophy of the past century is justly described as narrow and limited, that of the present supposing that depreciating epithets alone are to be applied to either) will be designated as visionary and hollow.
"To return to myself-whatever else I had attained, I had succeeded in scraping together, what is really a most precious commodity, a little self
complacency. I could even quote those lines of the good old song :— 'My mind to me a kingdom is, Such great delight I find therein." I used to boast that, while I could analyse with the most severe anatomist of thought, I could also re-combine, nor had forgotten how to madire the revived compound; and that the very habit of penetrating into the secret operations of the mind, taught me to enter with full and unembarrassed sympathy into all its boldest flights, into all the daring dreams and faiths of humanity. I knew well what the imagination was, and respected it; I knew well that middle region of the air, neither earth nor heaven, where the meteors form and play-meteors which are still to be admired, though neither credited nor feared. Sentiments the most dreamy, thoughts the most vagrant, feelings the wildest and most conflicting-I knew them all-could claim or dismiss them at will. Whether it were that lucid enthusiasm of a lettered imagination, whereby we partake of the rapture of strong feelings, though our own lives are calm and serene; or whether it were the solemn mood, speculative or religious, chanting hope or a dirge over the human race-I could feel it all, respect and participate. And thus I walked along the level line of reason, yet not above humanity.
“I hear men, I would exclaim, speak in censure or in fear of metaphysical studies, or it may be in contempt. I know what they are worth, what they can and can not effect: I know the scanty list of truths they are able to add to the stock of human knowledge. But the result they leave behind, whether in the shape of actual truth or mental power, there is nothing that would induce me to forego; nor is there any other intellectual ware whatever for which I would exchange it. Others may have been acquiring greater share of erudition, of knowledge valuable as merchandise, learning of settled price and reputation in the world; but I feel that in these philosophic exercises I have been growing in the mind itself, and fitting myself by a far severer discipline than they have undergone, to appropriate of their stores whenever and whatsoever I please. Let the erudite and the scientific assume what airs they will, I feel that I am their
intellectual superior; I am their law ful critic; I have earned the power to overlook, and therefore the right to pass judgment on these men. As to simple-minded people, if any such remain, who frankly protest that for themselves they would rather not be troubled by subtle devices of man's brain-that they would prefer to wrap themselves in some coarser but more comfortable garment than can be woven of philosophy, with the aid of poetry to boot-in thoughts quite at hand, native and familiar, and such as their social position has long since in vested them with-I object not to their choice, would perhaps even commend it.
Let them walk in honest broad cloth, buttoned to the chin.' I wish them god-speed! Yet let them not in return speak ill of that which they have refused to know; nor heap scandal and abuse upon a refinement of thought which has done them no harm, which may have done them good they know not of. Let them, however, speak as they will, I shall not the less continue to bear with them in that spirit of indulgence and equanimity which becomes philosophy.
"At some such explosion as this it was that you most irreverently burst into a fit of laughter. Then, suddenly checking your mirth, you very gravely said, shaking that long head of thine,
This won't do, Howard. This is worse than ever. When you were riding your hobby, though it were ever so cursed a one-though it were even of Pegasian breed-you made some way, or at all events had a way
you wished to go; but now that you have not even got a hobby to mount, I cannot tell what is to become of you. Have you really no better stuff to make a life of than this super-refinement of philosophy? Do you expect to remain there standing where we cannot soar,' merely looking on, just thinking of us all, or rather viewing all things as they are reflected in a sort of mirror which you have fixed up for yourself on that serene altitude? God help thee! I say.'
"Even you, when you uttered these ill bodings, had little expectations how soon they were to be justified, or by how slight and gentle a hand I was to be dashed from my elevation. There came to visit us the daughter of an old friend of the family, a captain who had retired into Devonshire to make his half-pay extend over the expenses of the whole year. She was neither the most beautiful, nor the most witty, nor the most accomplished of her sex ; but she was wonderfully pleasing, constantly cheerful and amiable, with a genuine frankness of manner quite delightful. I suppose that, in my conversation with Juliana, which grew to be frequent enough, it was I who bore the chief part, yet it seemed to me that from her alone all the conversation really sprung. Had I been asked, I should have attributed all the merit, if merit of any kind there was, all that was curious or refined in our dialogue, all its mirth, and pleasantry, and feeling, entirely to her.*
"The period of her visit flew like
* This description of his Juliana reminds us of a song we have somewhere met with, or which, at all events, our readers shall meet with here.
Lady, 'tis not in frowns to kill,
As poets flattering feign;
Nor do we die before a grace,
For soon behind the empty face
The empty heart is seen.
Glad smiles and frank, that chase all care,
The very light of joy,
Oh! these may dart the keen despair,
These win us, or destroy.
But boast not much the luckless lot
Of swain deject for know,
'Tis only when you wish it not