Page images
PDF
EPUB

repeated till the reader is overpowered we must remember how small a proporwith weariness, had condescended to be tion the good or evil effected by a single the Boswell of the Long Parliament. statesman can bear to the good or evil Let us suppose that he had exhibited to of a great social system. us the wise and lofty self-government of Bishop Watson compares a geologist to Hampden, leading while he seemed to a gnat mounted on an elephant, and layfollow, and propounding unanswerable ing down theories as to the whole interarguments in the strongest forms with nal structure of the vast animal, from the modest air of an inquirer anxious for the phenomena of the hide. The cominformation; the delusions which misled parison is unjust to the geologists; but is the noble spirit of Vane; the coarse fan- very applicable to those historians who aticism which concealed the yet loftier write as if the body politic were homogenius of Cromwell, destined to control geneous, who look only on the surface of a mutinous army and a factious people, affairs, and never think of the mighty to abase the flag of Holland, to arrest and various organization which lies deep the victorious arms of Sweden, and to below. hold the balance firm between the rival In the works of such writers as these, monarchies of France and Spain. Let us England, at the close of the Seven Years' suppose that he had made his Cavaliers War, is in the highest state of prosperity: and Roundheads talk in their own style; at the close of the American war she is that he had reported some of the ribaldry in a miserable and degraded condition ; of Rupert's pages, and some of the cant as if the people were not on the whole of Harrison and Fleetwood. Would not as rich, as well governed, and as well his work in that case have been more educated at the latter period as at the interesting? Would it not have been former. We have read books called more accurate?

Histories of England, under the reign of A history in which every particular George the Second, in which the rise incident may be true may on the whole of Methodism is not even mentioned. A be false. The circumstances which have hundred years hence this breed of authors most influence on the happiness of man- will, we hope, be extinct. If it should kind, the changes of manners and morals, still exist, the late ministerial interthe transition of communities from pov- regnum will be described in terms which erty to wealth, from knowledge to igno- will seem to imply that all government rance, from ferocity to humanity — these was at end; that the social contract was are, for the most part, noiseless revolu- annulled; and that the hand of every man tions. Their progress is rarely indicated was against his neighbour until the wisdom by what historians are pleased to call and virtue of the new cabinet educed important events. They are not achieved order out of the chaos of anarchy. We by armies, or enacted by senates. They are quite certain that misconceptions as are sanctioned by no treaties, and re- gross prevail at this moment respecting corded in no archives. They are carried many important parts of our annals. on in every school, in every church, be- The effect of historical reading is hind ten thousand counters, at ten thou- analogous, in many respects, to that prosand firesides. The upper current of duced by foreign travel. The student, , society presents no certain criterion by

like the tourist, is transported into a which we can judge of the direction in new state of society. He sees new fashwhich the under current flows. We read ions. He hears new modes of expression. of defeats and victories. But we know His mind is enlarged by contemplating that nations may be miserable amidst the wide diversities of laws, of morals victories and prosperous amidst defeats. and of manners. But men may travel We read of the fall of wise ministers and far, and return with minds as contracted of the rise of profligate favourites. But as if they had never stirred from their

[ocr errors]

own market-town.

In the same manner, have been usurped by fiction. In his men may know the dates of many battles narrative a due subordination is observed : and the genealogies of many royal houses, some transactions are prominent; others and yet be no wiser. Most people look retire. But the scale on which he repreat past times as princes look at foreign sents them is increased or diminished, not countries. More than one illustrious according to the dignity of the persons stranger has landed on our island amidst concerned in them, but according to the the shouts of a mob, has dined with the degree in which they elucidate the conKing, has hunted with the master of the dition of society and the nature of man. stag-hounds, has seen the Guards re- He shows us the court, the camp, and the viewed, and a knight of the garter in- senate. But he shows us also the nation. stalled, has cantered along Regent Street, He considers no anecdote, no peculiarity has visited Saint Paul's, and noted down of manner, no familiar saying, as too its dimensions; and has then departed, insignificant for his notice which is not thinking that he has seen England. He too insignificant to illustrate the operahas, in fact, seen a few public buildings, tion of laws, of religion, and of educapublic men, and public ceremonies. But tion, and to mark the progress of the of the vast and complex system of society, human mind. Men will not merely be deof the fine shades of national character, scribed, but will be made intimately of the practical operation of government known to us. The changes of manners and laws, he knows nothing. He who will be indicated, not merely by a few would understand these things rightly general phrases or a few extracts from must not confine his observations to statistical documents, but by appropriate palaces and solemn days. He must see images presented in every line. ordinary men as they appear in their If a man, such as we are supposing, ordinary business and in their ordinary should write the history of England, he pleasures. He must mingle in the crowds would assuredly not omit the battles, the of the exchange and the coffee-house. sieges, the negotiations, the seditions, the He must obtain admittance to the con- ministerial changes. But with these he vivial table and the domestic hearth. He would intersperse the details which are must bear with vulgar expressions. He the charm of historical romances. At must not shrink from exploring even the Lincoln Cathedral there is a beautiful retreats of misery. He who wishes to painted window, which was made by an understand the condition of mankind in apprentice out of the pieces of glass which former ages must proceed on the same had been rejected by his master. It is principle. If he attends only to public so far superior to every other in the church, transactions, to wars, congresses, and de- that, according to the tradition, the vanbates, his studies will be as unprofitable quished artist killed himself from mortias the travels of those imperial, royal fication. Sir Walter Scott, in the same and serene sovereigns who form their manner, has used those fragments of judgment of our island from having gone truth which historians have scornfully in state to a few fine sights, and from thrown behind them in a manner which having held formal conferences with a may well excite their envy. He has confew great officers.

structed out of their gleanings works The perfect historian is he in whose which, even considered as histories, are work the character and spirit of an age scarcely less valuable than theirs. But a is exhibited in miniature. He relates no truly great historian would reclaim those fact, he attributes no expression to his materials which the novelist has approcharacters, which is not authenticated by priated. The history of the government, sufficient testimony. But, by judicious and the history of the people, would be selection, rejection, and arrangement, he exhibited in that mode in which alone gives to truth those attractions which they can be exhibited justly, in inseparable

ease.

conjunction and intermixture. We should and to the last we should detect some renot then have to look for the wars and mains of that open and noble temper votes of the Puritans in Clarendon, and which endeared him to a people whom he for their phraseology in Old Mortality; oppressed, struggling with the hardness for one half of King James in Hume, and of despotism and the irritability of disfor the other half in the Fortunes of Nigel.

We should see Elizabeth in all her The early part of our imaginary history weakness and in all her strength, surwould be rich with colouring from romance, rounded by the handsome favourites whom ballad, and chronicle. We should find she never trusted, and the wise old statesourselves in the company of knights such man whom she never dismissed, uniting as those of Froissart, and of pilgrims such in herself the most contradictory qualities as those who rode with Chaucer from the of both her parents, — the coquetry, the Tabard. Society would be shown from caprice, the petty malice of Anne, – the the highest to the lowest, — from the haughty and resolute spirit of Henry. royal cloth of state to the den of the out- We have no hesitation in saying that a law; from the throne of the Legate to the great artist might produce a portrait of chimney-corner where the begging friar this remarkable woman at least as strikregaled himself. Palmers, minstrels, cru- ing as that in the novel of Kenilworth, saders, - the stately monastery, with the without employing a single trait not augood cheer in its refectory and the high- thenticated by ample testimony. In the mass in its chapel, the manor-house, meantime, we should see arts cultivated, with its hunting and hawking, - the wealth, accumulated, the conveniences of tournament, with the heralds and ladies, life improved. We should see the keeps, the trumpets and the cloth of gold, where nobles, insecure themselves, spread would give truth and life to the repre- insecurity around them, gradually giving sentation. We should perceive, in a thou- place to the halls of peaceful opulence, sand slight touches, the importance of to the oriels of Longleat, and the stately the privileged burgher, and the fierce and pinnacles of Burleigh. We should see haughty spirit which swelled under the towns extended, deserts cultivated, the collar of the degraded villain. The re- hamlets of fishermen turned into wealthy vival of letters would not merely be de- havens, the meal of the peasant improved, scribed in a few magnificent periods. We and his hut more commodiously furnished. should discern, in innumerable particu- We should see those opinions and feellars, the fermentation of mind, the eager ings which produced the great struggle appetite for knowledge, which distin- against the House of Stuart slowly growguished the sixteenth from the fifteenth ing up in the bosom of private families, century. In the Reformation we should before they manifested themselves in see, not merely a schism which changed parliamentary debates. Then would come the ecclesiastical constitution of England the Civil War. Those skirmishes on and the mutual relations of the European which Clarendon dwells so minutely powers, but a moral war which raged in would be told, as Thucydides would have every family, which set the father against told them, with perspicuous conciseness. the son, and the son against the father, They are merely connecting links. the mother against the daughter, and the the great characteristics of the age, the daughter against the mother. Henry loyal enthusiasm of the brave English would be painted with the skill of Tacitus. gentry, the fierce licentiousness of the We should have the change of his char- swearing, dicing drunken reprobates acter from his profuse and joyous youth to whose excesses disgraced the royal cause, his savage and imperious old age. We - the austerity of the Presbyterian Sabshould perceive the gradual progress of baths in the city, the extravagance of the selfish and tyrannical passions in a mind independent preachers in the camp, the not naturally insensible or ungenerous; precise garb, the severe countenance, the

petty scruples, the affected accent, the that generous and liberal fastidiousness absurd names and phrases which marked which is not inconsistent with the strongthe Puritans, — the valour, the policy, the est sensibility to merit, and which, while public spirit, which lurked beneath these it exalts our conceptions of the art, does ungraceful disguises, - the dreams of the not render us unjust to the artist. raving Fifth-monarchyman, the dreams, scarcely less wild, of the philosophic re

OLIVER GOLDSMITH publican, - all these would enter into

the representation, and render it at once OLIVER GOLDSMITH was one of the most more exact and more striking.

pleasing English writers of the eighteenth The instruction derived from history century. He was of a Protestant and thus written would be of a vivid and Saxon family which had been long settled practical character. It would be received in Ireland, and which had, like most other by the imagination as well as by the Protestant and Saxon families, been, in reason. It would be not merely traced troubled times, harassed and put in fear on the mind, but branded into it. Many by the native population. His father, truths, too, would be learned, which can Charles Goldsmith, studied, in the reign be learned in no other manner. As the of Queen Anne, at the diocesan school of history of states is generally written, the Elphin, became attached to the daughter greatest and most momentous revolutions of the school-master, married her, took seem to come upon them like supernatural orders, and settled at a place called Pallas, inflictions, without warning or cause. in the county of Longford. There he But the fact is, that such revolutions are with difficulty supported his wife and almost always the consequences of moral children on what he could earn, partly as changes, which have gradually passed on a curate and partly as a farmer. the mass of the community, and which At Pallas, Oliver Goldsmith was born ordinarily proceed far, before their prog- in November, 1728. That spot was then, ress is indicated by any public measure. for all practical purposes, almost as reAn intimate knowledge of the domestic mote from the busy and splendid capital history of nations is therefore absolutely in which his later years were passed, as necessary to the prognosis of political any clearing in Upper Canada or any events. A narrative, defective in this sheep-walk in Australasia now is. Even respect, is as useless as a medical treatise at this day those enthusiasts who venture which should pass by all the symptoms to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of attendant on the early stage of a disease the poet are forced to perform the latter and mention only what occurs when the part of their journey on foot. The hampatient is beyond the reach of remedies. let lies far from any highroad, on a dreary

A historian such as we have been at- plain which, in wet weather, is often a lake. tempting to describe would indeed be an The lanes would break any jaunting-car intellectual prodigy. In his mind, powers to pieces; and there are ruts and sloughs scarcely compatible with each other must through which the most strongly built be tempered into an exquisite harmony. wheels cannot be dragged. We shall sooner see another Shakespeare When Oliver was still a child, his father or another Homer. The highest excel- was presented to a living, worth about lence to which any single faculty can be two hundred pounds a year, in the county brought would be less surprising than of Westmeath. The family accordingly such a happy and delicate combination of quitted their cottage in the wilderness for qualities. Yet the contemplation of im- a spacious house on a frequented road, aginary models is not an unpleasant or near the village of Lissoy. Here the boy useless employment of the mind. It can- was taught his letters by a maid-servant, not indeed produce perfection; but it and was sent, in his seventh year, to a produces improvement, and nourishes village school kept by an old quartermaster on half pay, who professed to teach ground, and flogged as a dunce in the nothing but reading, writing, and arith- school-room. When he had arisen to metic, but who had an inexhaustible fund eminence, those who once derided him of stories about ghosts, banshees, and ransacked their memory for the events fairies, about the great Rapparee chiefs, of his early years, and recited repartees Baldearg O'Donnell and galloping Hogan and couplets which had dropped from him, and about the exploits of Peterborough and which, though little noticed at the and Stanhope, the surprise of Monjuich, time, were supposed, a quarter of a cenand the glorious disaster of Brihuega. tury later, to indicate the powers which This man must have been of the Protestant produced the Vicar of Wakefield and the religion, but he was of the aboriginal race, Deserted Village. and not only spoke the Irish language, In his seventeenth year Oliver went up but could pour forth unpremeditated Irish to Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar. verses. Oliver early became, and through The sizars paid nothing for food and life continued to be, a passionate admirer tuition, and very little for lodging; but of the Irish music, and especially of the they had to perform some menial services compositions of Carolan, some of the last from which they have long been relieved. notes of whose harp he heard. It ought They swept the court; they carried up to be added that Oliver, though by birth the dinner to the fellows' table, and one of the Englishry, and though con- changed the plates and poured out the nected by numerous ties with the Estab- ale of the rulers of the society. Goldlished Church, never showed the least smith was quartered, not alone, in a garret, sign of that contemptuous antipathy with on the window of which his name, scrawled which, in his days, the ruling minority in by himself, is still read with interest. Ireland too generally regarded the sub- From such garrets many men of less parts ject majority. So far, indeed, was he than his have made their way to the woolfrom sharing in the opinions and feelings sack or to the episcopal bench. But of the caste to which he belonged, that he Goldsmith, while he suffered all the huconceived an aversion to the Glorious and miliations, threw away all the advantages Immortal Memory, and, even when George of his situation. He neglected the studies the Third was on the throne, maintained of the place, stood low at the examinations, that nothing but the restoration of the was turned down to the bottom of his banished dynasty could save the country. class for playing the buffoon in the lecture

From the humble academy kept by the room, was severely reprimanded for pumpold soldier Goldsmith was removed in his ing on a constable, and was caned by a ninth year. He went to several grammar- brutal tutor for giving a ball in the attic schools, and acquired some knowledge of story of the college to some gay youths the ancient languages. His life at this and damsels from the city. time seems to have been far from happy. While Oliver was leading at Dublin a He had, as appears from the admirable life divided between squalid distress and portrait of him at Knowle, features harsh squalid dissipation, his father died, leaving even to ugliness. The small-pox had set a mere pittance. The youth obtained his its mark on him with more than usual batchelor's degree, and left the university. severity. His stature was small, and his During some time the humble dwelling to limbs ill put together. Among boys little which his widowed mother had retired tenderness is shown to personal defects; was his home. He was now in his twentyand the ridicule excited by poor Oliver's first year; it was necessary that he should appearance was heightened by a peculiar do something; and his education seemed simplicity and a disposition to blunder to have fitted him to do nothing but to which he retained to the last. He became dress himself in gaudy colors, of which he the common butt of boys and masters, was as fond as a magpie, to take a hand was pointed at as a fright in the play- at cards, to sing Irish airs, to play the

« EelmineJätka »