« VorigeDoorgaan »
the public did not yet furnish the means of comfortable subsistence. The prices paid by booksellers to authors were so low, that a man of considerable talents and unremitting industry could do little more than provide for the day which was passing over him. The lean kine had eaten up the fat kine. The thin and withered ears had devoured the good ears. The season of rich harvests was over, and the period of famine had begun. All that is squalid and miserable might now be summed up in the word poet. That word denoted a creature dressed like a scarecrow, familiar with compters and spunging-houses, and perfectly qualified to decide on the comparative merits of the Common side in the King's Bench Prison and of Mount Scoundrel in the Fleet. Even the poorest pitied him; and they well might pity him. For if their condition was equally abject, their aspirings were not equally high, nor their sense of insult equally acute. To lodge in a garret up four pair of stairs, to dine in a cellar among footmen out of place, to translate ten hours a day for the wages of a ditcher, to be hunted by bailiffs from one haunt of beggary and pestilence to another, from Grub Street to St. George's Field's, and from St. George's Fields to the alleys behind St. Martin's Church, to sleep on a bulk in June and amid the ashes of a glass- house in December, to die in an hospital and to be buried in a parish-vault, was the fate of more than one writer, who, if he had lived thirty years earlier, would have been admitted to the sittings of the Kitcat or the Scriblerus Club, would have sat in Parliament, and would have been intrusted with embassies to the High Allies ; who, if he had lived in our time, would have found encouragement scarcely less munificent in Albemarle-street or in Paternoster-row.
As every climate has its peculiar diseases, so every walk of life has its peculiar temptations. The literary character, assuredly, has always had its share of faults, vanity, jealousy, morbid sensibility. To these faults were now superadded the faults which are commonly found in men whose livelihood is precarious, and whose principles are exposed to the trial of severe distress. All the vices of the gambler and of the beggar were blended with those of the author. The prizes in the wretched lottery of bookmaking were scarcely less ruinous than the blanks. If good fortune came, it came in such a manner that it was almost certain to be abused. After months of starvation and despair, a full third night or a well received dedication filled the pocket of the lean, ragged, unwashed poet with guineas. He hastened to enjoy those luxuries with the images of which his mind had been haunted while he was sleeping amidst the cinders and eating potatoes at the Irish ordinary in Shoe-lane. A week of taverns soon qualified him for another year of night-cellars. Such was the life of Savage, of Boyse, and of a crowd of others. Sometimes blazing in gold-laced hats and waistcoats ; sometimes lying in bed because their coats had gone to pieces, or wearing paper cravats because their linen was in pawn ; sometimes drinking champagne and tokay with Betty Careless; sometimes standing at the window of an eating-house in Porridge Island, to snuff up the scent of what they could not afford to taste : they knew luxury, they knew beggary, but they never knew comfort. These men were irreclaimable. They looked on a regular and frugal life with the same aversion which an old gipsy or Mohawk hunter feels for a stationary abode, and for the restraints and securities of civilized communities.
They were as untameable, as much wedded to their desolate freeVOL. 11. (1843) yo. I.
dom, as the wild ass. They could no more be broken in to the offices of social man than the unicorn could be trained to serve and abide by the crib. It was well if they did not, like beasts of a still fiercer race, tear the hands which ministered to their necessities. To assist them was impossible ; and the most benevolent of mankind at length became weary of giving relief which was dissipated with the wildest profusion as soon as it had been received. If a sum was bestowed on the wretched adventurer, such as, properly husbanded, might have supplied him for six months, it was instantly spent in strange freaks of sensuality; and before forty-eight hours had elapsed, the poet was again pestering all his acquaintance for twopence to get a plate of shin of beef at a subterraneous cook-shop.
If his friends gave him an asylum in their houses, those houses were forthwith turned into bagnios and taverns. All order was destroyed, all business was suspended. The most good-natured host began to repent of his eagerness to serve a man of genius in distress, when he heard his guest roaring for fresh punch at five o'clock in the morning.
Where shall we meet with a more brilliant freedom of manner,a greater apparent sweep of knowledge,-a more feasible style of putting forth a doctrine or dogma; suggesting at every step and instance an impressive sentiment, and pointing to moral truths? And yet it would not be difficult to show that the author's statement, especially in the passages quoted from the paper which adduces Samuel Johnson and his
times, contrasting these with other periods in our annals, is faulty in respect of facts, not only on account of deficiency, but of inaccuracy; while as regards the conclusion in a logical sense, the strict reasoner will first hesitate, and then find that there is a want both of adequacy and precision. There is greater art in making the rhetoric to tell, than anxiety about the exact. The premises are in some measure overstated or given at random ; the inferences truer in an individual than general sense.
What we mean is this,—that if you closely and strictly examine the lives and circumstances of the poets and writers of the two eras, it will be found that it was not authorship alone that led to the conditions described or indicated by Mr. Macaulay; and that even when his account is perfectly true, so far as it goes, and this literally to that extent, yet that in several of the instances so much of fact is overlooked, and so many modifying circumstances are shoved aside, that the statement becomes historically lame, and the inference essentially false; although nothing can be more clearly or powerfully set forth than the facts which are put in array; facts, let it beadded, that proclaim a deep and touching lesson, whatever may be the limited use made of them by disquisionist or critic.
Art. IV.-The Life of a Travelling Physician. 3. vols. Longman. “The Life of a Travelling Physician, from his first Introduction to Practice; including Twenty Years' Wandering through the greater part of Europe," makes a highly entertaining book. It is in three divisions; consisting of the Ramble, the Sojourn, and the Return Home. After having obtained his diploma at Edinhurgh in 1819, the youthful doctor found that his health had become considerably affected, and he was counselled to repair to a warmer climate in order to recruit himself. He proceeded to London with some letters of introduction, but being without any direct influential interest he had difficulties to encounter like most other young men who are destined to rise in the world. However, perseverance, address, no doubt, and above all, it would appear, good luck, won for him the situation of travelling physician to a nobleman who was ordered to the south of France, where he died. Ere long our medical hero met with a second patron in the shape of a Russian or Polish prince, with whom he resided in Paris for several years; afterwards accompanying him through Germany and Poland to Odessa. So far the “Ramble.” The “Sojourn” was in St. Petersburg, where he started in practice, remaining fourteen years. IIe at length found it necessary, or perhaps it was mainly the love of travel and to settle in his native land that swayed him, to seek his native land, coming back to England through Sweden, Prussia, and various parts of Germany, which makes the “Return Home."
So much for the frame-work of the book. The matter consists of the observations of the traveller and resident; the spas and medical subjects, personal incidents, and a free use of disquisition and opinion on manners, morals, politics, and whatever may be supposed to attract the attention of a frank, talkative, and accomplished wanderer, filling the volumes.
The style of the work is that of a polished, shrewd, clever physician, who takes care not to offend polite ears with any of the offensive things of his profession ; who, in fact, avoids the shop with a sparing gracefulness, preferring the delineation of character, the notice of quaint adventure, and Dutch-like minute details-á sly quiet humour pervading the better sketches,—to medical material; this last commodity being reserved for another publication. He is a singularly good-natured and agreeable companion; loving letters and liberal pursuits with the taste and a discernment, such as one loves to associate with the idea of an accomplished physician whose practice lies among the grandees of a nation. The reader may sometimes be apt to suspect that a scene is feigned, a character made, a story told, out of the abundance of extensive observation and diversified experience. But, on the other hand, the portraitures and sketches are so minutely
touched, so spirited, yet so homely and full of matter-of-fact, that one cannot but believe the whole to be truthful and honest.
This truthfulness, of course, has its rise in a great measure, in the favourable circumstances of the traveller for observation and the close study of character; the lengt, of his residence in places which multitudes of tourists have talked about, and his means of access to scenes and society in Poland and Russia afforded by his peculiar relation to a magnate, yielding advantages beyond those which the many can enjoy. It must be confessed that flippancy is the term that ought to be applied to parts of the book; while others are marred by an ubvious effort to raise a laugh. His judgments and estimates at times appear to be both rash and wrong. But upon the whole the work is one which a man of natural good sense, improved by travel and reflection, has produced; nor, were we particularly anxious to point out parts by which to test the excellences of the writer, could we do better for him than to mention his English Sketches, which are remarkably clever and smart ; and next quite a distinct class of subjects,—his account of the Jews of Poland. Without detaining our readers with another observation regarding the merits of the "Life," or wasting space by attempting to link extract to extract, let the following samples be taken as they come, for they will speak for themselves: begin with the physician's visit to his old schoolmaster,
I found my old preceptor in the land of the living. He had been a rake in his day; but Philibert marie. He was fond of all sports, and excelled in most. He was one of the best shots in the country; no man tumbled so many pigeons over at the frequent shooting matches which were held in the neighbourhood. All his geese were swans.
He was a man of naturally good understanding, but vanity got the better of it. He was an optimist in everything which concerned himself. His dogs, his horses, his wife (naturally), were the best in the country. He had no children by the latter, but he had adopted a nephew, who was to inherit his property-a youth of fine parts, and worthy of being his successor. When I first went to him he was already beginning to find that his passions were leaving him, so he became outrageousiy fanatical, and left his passions. He was converted suddenly-it came upon him like a flash of lightning. No man ever forced his religious opinions upon others as he now did. Krahwinkle was in an uproar. The people stood still in the market-place ; the old women sat down upon their eggs and butter.
Ten years of absence had obliterated from my memory all the persecutions of my youth, and ten years had put the schoolmaster into the yellow leaf. I found him feeble, sickly, and decayed-a remnant of himself. Still self predominated, even in the remnant. It was a part of the once entire piece. He received me affectionately, and with tears in his eyes. When I spoke of my present plans and prospects, he listened with attention; and when I had finished, he replied, " I said so—the seed was well sown.” He allowed me no merit, but took all the credit to himself. It was he who had taught me everything, who
put me in the right path. It was the “bread cast upon the waters, and found after many days." He then recapitulated, as in olden time, all the difficulties under which he bad laboured at the commencement of life. How different were the circumstances between himself and myself at the onset of our careers! He had no friends to assist him : his father, God help him ! (and he looked upwards, as if to implore mercy for his parent) had not even given him religious instruction; whereas I had been received into the bosom of the family, had been helped every way, and had slept on a bed of roses. He had earned by the sweat of his brow what I now saw,—and he pointed to his field, and his cows, and his neat cottage ; and putting his hand into his pocket, he looked at me affectionately, and said emphatically, "I have always a hundred pounds to play with.” Had he looked round, he might have discovered some look of disappointment in my face, when after mentioning the hundred pounds, he drew his empty hand from his pocket, and, patting me upon the shoulder, exclaimed, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you." You keep the hundred pounds though! thought I to myself.
Miserable and forlorn as the whole of Casimir appears, still the Jews are not permitted to inhabit the principal street, but are all huddled together in the narrow lanes and alleys which diverge from it. It is impossible to describe the sensation which their appearance creates in the mind of the stranger, when first he sees them walking about the streets like so many spectres, lank and lean, dressed in a long black robe reaching to their feet, and a hussar's fur cap or a large slouch hat upon their heads. They stand gazing around, apparently without any thing to do; no apparent trade or profession ; neither cultivating the land nor defending it in the time of war; they only seem to cumber the ground on which they tread. This state of inaction is only apparent, for they are a very active though not a laborious people, preferring the pittance they may gain without trouble to a competency which common labour would easily procure them; living six days in the week upon black bread, and happy if they can get a morsel of meat on their Sabbath ; cooped up in a hovel, lying pell-mell together without chair or table in their room ; their hed consisting of a bundle of dirty straw; their garments tattered, leaving their bodies half exposed, for they never mend their clothes; no change of apparel, no difference in their dress, night or day, age alone stripping off their rags ; compelled to dwell in the most obscure parts of the town, subject to persecutions inflicted upon them by their own laws and those of the government, which may be said rather to tolerate than to protect them ; the sport and derision of those who deal, and often hold no faith with them.
Such is a true picture of this tribe, which is said to amount to more than half a million in Poland. Pale and haggard in their physiognomies, rendered more hideous by their long dirty beards, there is nevertheless a certain animation in their eye, and a cheerfulness in their countenances, which almost lead you to believe they merit less commisseration. They address you at every instant, either to buy their merchandise, or serve as factors, or do any thing you may please to order them ; money is their sole object,