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REDDING'S LITERARY AND POLITICAL RECOLLECTIONS.*
The comparison of yesterday with to-day, the calling forth from the depths of the memory the kaleidoscopic events and feelings of the Past, and then when thus marshalled forth, to contemplate the results in the Present, is not always a very gratifying task, or one in which much pride can be taken. It is the array after the battle. The veteran who has had his share in the combat of life, may still stand erect and unscathed in honour as well as in person ; but around him he sees the ranks dimi. nished, friends and foes alike disabled, mutilated, or dead, and he has only one certainty remaining, and that is that his lot is the same, and his destiny-Pabulum acherontis !
It is not surprising, then, that recollections going back to infancy-so far back, indeed, as to involve, in the opinion of Mr. Cyrus Redding, a period when the body has not yet received the immortal spirit (for, according to him, such is the condition of infancy)-should open with thoughts upon death and the future. When a man has arrived at the point—not of knowing, for we are all familiarised with the great fact from our earliest teachings—but of realising, as it were, and admitting as part of his ever-present consciousness, that all is vanity; and of writing of “blasts from the harlot-trump of fame, the loudest note of which time will soon render inaudible," he has attained the culminating point of human wisdom.
Mr. Cyrus Redding is not what some persons would term orthodox in all bis ideas. But he argues that he is to be excused this, as he cannot help the ideas which pass through his mind-the doubts or certainties, the apprehensions or fixed principles which prevail there. “ I am not," he says, “ answerable to God for these things, because, though arising in my own breast, they are the consequence of the reason which He has planted there, according to which alone, and not according to my will, I believe or reject what is presented to my mind. We can no more believe or reject at our volition than we can see in a cloudy, moonless night the objects which it requires a noonday sun to discern."
But is there not some self-will, a touch of obstinacy, which some would define as self-love and firmness, in this dogma ? Is it not, further, somewhat opposed to the doctrine of responsibility as reasonable creatures, which Mr. Redding himself professes to admit? We are, however, prepared to accede to it to a certain extent. There are, no doubt, differences in mental constitution which render it impossible for all men to agree upon the same points-especially where philosophy and religion are concerned. Upon simple questions of morals and conduct men soon learn to agree, but never in what concerns their inner nature. Mr. Redding, for example, has, by his mental constitution, no sympathy with spiritual things. A hard worker, a close reasoner, and, above all, a free and independent thinker, always endeavouring to view matters in the light which he deems conducive to the happiness and rights of the greater number, he has avowedly no great regard for traditions, formularies, or the innovations of the priesthood," and he extends this spirit of scepticism even to the delicate ground of a belief in spirits or in the spiritual existence of man, which he includes among those other superstitions, and even those coarse and gross impositions which he justly denounces as “ the opprobrium of the time.” Well, here we differ with our excellent author, but what would be the good of an argument ? He would, from the very constitution of his mind, select, as he has done in the present work, all that is most absurd in connexion with what are called “ghost stories ;" we should appeal to all that is most recondite from Justin Martyr's deductions regarding the immortality of the soul, from the appearance of Samuel in the spirit, to Hamlet's wondrous teaching to Horatio. But conviction would be only where the mind, like wax, is susceptible of being impressed.
* Yesterday and To-day. By Cyrus Redding. Being a Sequel to “Fifty Years' Recollections, Literary and Political.” Three Vols. T. Cautley Newby,
Mr. Redding appeals, and with justice, to the ancients for his belief. They are, because they were heathen philosophers, as a rule, too much disregarded. What is grander in all antiquity than the saying of Seneca's, “ Reason alone speaks this truth, for reason is that enunciation of the divine spirit which the Creator has been pleased to impart to man." These, Mr. Redding remarks, “ were more advanced arguments than the Jews exhibited under the law of Moses, for they had no clear mention of the immortality of the soul in their sacred books.” The statement is manifestly open to dispute ; but the result of our own reading has been to impress us with the same idea, notwithstanding the learning and ingenuity of commentators—and their name is legionwho attest to the contrary. But although we should like to see the arguments of Pagan antiquity--more especially the thoughts of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, Zeno, and of a host of others—brought in a more comprehensive and more popular form than yet exists, before a Christian public, still we cannot go so far as to agree with Mr. Redding that the labours of the ancients rendered those of our own Paley superfluous..
This may be deemed, says our author, a commencement something out of the way in a partial memoir, because it is not after precedent; but it is unworthy of any man who retains his reason to be ruled by custom.
How we wish we could cast off the trammels and tyrannies of custom as easily! But here again mental constitutions vary. Some are not so troubled with what the Americans call “self-consciousness;” phrenologists, “ love of approbation;" and the world, “vanity,” as others. Habit with them is not a second nature. They act in utter indifference to the sheeplike opinions of the rest, and they are to be envied-only that sometimes too much independence begets an amount of eccentricity that almost lapses into insanity; and again, the world so insists upon men acting according to set rules and formularies, that we have seen only the other day an attempt made to induce the parliament of this country to legislate even for human beings after their death—at all events, in so far as to decide who are, and who are not, worthy of the prayers of the Church being read over their graves. The practices of those among whom we sojourn constitute a tyranny which is ever fighting to overrule reason; the struggle has lasted from the beginning, and will last probably for ever. No man, according to some, has a right to differ with the majority,
under pains and penalties, moral or practical, and nothing is more im. portunate in this world than free-thinking.
Mr. Redding entered upon life at an epoch when, as he himself says, “ To doubt was in those days a sin beyond all reparation, while habit was the Eleventh Commandment;" but he was not long in emancipating himself from a thraldom under which most people are content to live and die -uninquiring
I was early “suspected" of being "suspicious" of certain tenets, not orthodox in the neighbourhood where I resided. I cannot affirm there were no grounds for it. Yet I never committed myself by any decided betrayal of my sentiments. I never stated anything by which I could be pronounced decidedly inimical to submission to the powers that I was told “Providence"a sad misused word-gave for our instruction, to whom passive obedience was due. I was not long of age before visiting Doubting Castle, and so far from the giant using me in the ill manner in which he did poor Christian, in Bunyan's Pilgrim, I found him a useful ally in aiding me to set about the examination of questions which had sadly puzzled me, and he aided me greatly, as he has done all through life, in clearing them up.
He had always been a thinking youth, and he resolved upon a life spent in thought—to be, in fact, a literary man. He had as a boy perpetrated poetry and prose, and in a summary of his literary labours, given at the conclusion of the present work, the latter are more particularly alluded to in connexion with the results accomplished. But as a youth, seeking his fortune, as it is called, and that as a literary man in London, his erperiences may be deemed upon the whole to have been less thorny than with many another.
I felt that I was every inch a man in my own conceit. I had thought much about becoming a free man by the law of the land—but not that the exchange of parts cost so dear as I afterwards discovered they did cost. Care is the corrosive that eats out life. I had now to think and provide for myself. I do not know that I assumed any important airs upon the occasion. I was by nature tall enough, but I began to imagine I was really taller, though by measurement I had never grown after my eighteenth year.
In London, though I was well provided with letters of introduction, I had no companion that was accessible. An artist from the country was the only individual I knew, except a fellow-townsman, and he knew no more out of the line of his profession than one of the crow family at this moment cawing over my head knows of him.
I have stated in my Recollections that I did not enter seriously into any pursuit until the last month of 1806, living out of London some part of that year. The bustle, the crowded streets, the cold indifference of people towards each other, the selfishness, the inveterate toil, all seemed ungracious, and not at all reconcilable to my feelings or babits. I do not know whether it did not generate very early something of a similar feeling on my part in the way of return. There was still something wanting. The clear air, the country freshness, and the feeling that
" There was a time in that gay spring of life,
When every note was as the mounting lark's,
When all the day was made of melody." So sang an old poet, and so I had felt; but how different in town! If my mind was waxing stronger and more vigorous, as I imagined it was doing, it
was at the expense of that animation. The mind seemed as elastic as before, but there was a lassitude about the bodily powers which I had not felt elsewhere; and, strange to say, I felt more tedium vitæ in London than in the country. It was not through idleness, and as nothing employs the mind more fully than literary composition, so my occupation rather relieved than increased that feeling.
There must be a considerable change produced on delicate youths-delicate, I mean, in bodily constitution-who leave the fresh, pure air of the country for London. It seemed then more damp and foggy than now, and hotter in summer. In town I rose and had breakfasted at eight o'clock. I then wrote from a subject required of me for publication, and in this way the year passed until near the close of November, when I became too busy to find time for any recreation. I read and wrote until four o'clock, and then, going out to dinner at five, I did not return until bedtime. I got, too, into coffee-house acquaintance, as was the mode in that day, and, if not otherwise engaged, passed the evening in company.
One of his first and agreeable reminiscences seems to be associated with Canova. Mr. Redding describes the great sculptor as “the most unassuming of great men.” “I never saw," he says, “ a man more modest, with perfect ease and great affability.” “His conversation,” he also adds, “ like his works, was the speaking picture of his character as a man, the mirror of his soul. Nature took him by the hand in early life, and led him to the shrine of the goddess he worshipped. Here is the difference between a great and a mechanical artist; the one is apprenticed by nature and genius, the other by parents and vanity. The results are as might be expected; the one works the marble, or runs the model into life, leaving a great name and enduring labours behind him ; the other jobs in marble and lumps of brass still, neither honouring the arts nor the country.”
It is not a little singular that Rogers the poet is represented speaking of Canova and the state of art in Italy as having never felt that art flourished in that country under Church patronage, because it was devoted to religious subjects.
Godwin was a man of the stamp suited to our young literary aspirant's turn of mind. His sentiments were precisely of that fearless and independent cast to captivate one who spurned conventionalities. Yet what is the reward of independent thinking ?I would go any length," he says, “in favour of rational liberty, and have consistently, in my humble way, again and again suffered for the stern conviction of that truth, and now pay for it in the age that has brought no compensation. In religion, in politics, in the arts-science is beyond the attempt of the multitude to comprehend—the many are right or wrong by chance.” The “vox populi” is not the “vox Dei” with Cyrus Redding, although used, or rather chivalrously combated for, during a long lifetime. Nor were the ruling powers much better. Mr. Redding's professional duties for he was at that time connected with a newspaper-obliged him to watch and learn all he could in relation to public affairs. He soon found, he says, that he had formed too lofty an idea of the very mediocre country gentlemen that composed at that epoch the larger part of the British senate. Fox was then drooping ; Sheridan, Canning, and Tierney still Aashed forth occasionally as brilliant orators; Brougham's best period was somewhat later. Of Fox, he says, “ I then thought, and think still, that he owed all that did an injury to himself to his being wrongly brought up. Nature did everything for him, discipline nothing. Man is blood-raw until cooked by education and discipline.'”
The “ Catholic question” and “the law of libel” were precisely the kind of questions for an ardent youth, full of popular and liberal aspirations, to tackle with, and they seem to have been among the first that occupied Mr. Redding's thoughts and pen. His father had taught him to eschew bigotry, and his own sense of right condemned the absurdity of a law now repealed, and which made the libel greater, the greater the truth. The case of the Duke of York and of Mrs. Clark, at that time before parliament, also riveted his attention. He resumes the subject even now at length to prove that the lady was not extravagant, nor of low birth, as her opponents attempted to show. But then he adds : “The interest of history makes it a duty to set things right that are accidentally or purposely distorted before the world, no matter for the when or where, or how high or low the parties concerned—truth is everything !” To this, however, it might be replied, has not every historian (and Mr. Redding admits naturally only one such-Hallam) a bias, and does he not consider that as the truth ? Mr. Redding was naturally opposed to Burke. He deemed the evils of the Revolution to have been brought about by the “old abusing, oppressive, vicious, and profligate government of France," the very thing that Burke expended his eloquence in defending. He even vilifies Marie Antoinette, who no doubt had her weaknesses, but no vices, and who was far more unfortunate than criminal. Is there not a bias given even to “ truth” in this estimate of character ?
The great point of Mr. Redding's youthful, literary, and political career was, however, parliamentary reform. The dawn was heralded by the Horne Tookes, the Burdetts, the Bosvilles, Cliffords, Joneses, Jameses, and a host of others-names, so inveterate is prejudice, and so doughtily were they assailed as disloyal and rebellious men, that we still allude to them with an involuntary shudder. Not so with Cyrus Redding, smarting under the prosecutions for pretended seditious speeches and libels with the press, persecuted by Whigs and Tories alike. He says: “ Whatever may be said by the Tories about the men who thus kept reform alive, and boldly persevered in the front of obloquy and penalties, we owe to them, by the Reform Bill, our present advanced state—a reformed government, and Lord Palmerston's wise system of non-intervention with the continental rulers to support them against their people, and uphold despotic rule.” It is just possible that expediency also enters for a little into this boasted doctrine, and that “non-intervention” is at times a mere excuse for inertness, inaction, and even covert hostility.
After his return to London (his newspaper speculation in Plymouth having been brought to a conclusion by political persecutions), Mr. Redding was cheered by a trip to Aix-la-Chapelle, or, as he prefers to write it, Achen, according to the Teutons. His experiences of travelling countrymen, as given in the record before us, are very amusing, if not flattering. Mr. Redding seems, however, to be himself utterly innocent of the pluck of exploratory venture, for he places on record what he calls an odd " adventure” that befel Marryat, in his having had to find his way across country from Rouen to Dieppe. “To an ordinary man,” he says, “ the thing would have been given up as impossible !" Is it possible, for want of self-dependence in travel, to go further ? The deficiency is the