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MEMORIAL POETRY.—THE DOCTOR'S ESSAY.
MHE curfew tolls the knell of parting day.' I suppose
that Gray was thinking of summer when he wrote the line; and the summer twilight, with its lowing herds, its drowsy tinklings, its smell of sweet clover and winnowed hay and the milking-pail, is a very pleasant
But I have a particular attachment to the parting hour when the trees are leafless, and the fields are white with snow,—the twilight of the dying year. At what other season do you see such a fire in the west ? do you return from the cover with such a keen glow of enjoyment? does your cigar burn so brightly? does your pulse beat so steadily? That walk home from the Ardlaw Hill, when the frosty daylight is failing, when Donald grows confidential about the smuggling forays in which he has borne part, when the Commodore spins a yarn about South Sea Islanders, and the trade in African gold and niggers, is one for which I have a keen relish.
The guns are discharged outside the ‘Muckle Planting,' to the great edification of sundry rabbits, who are
scampering in the moonlight. This is our curfew bell. The Doctor descends from his study, Letty sees that her tea-tray is in readiness, Sissy is violently combed and curried, and scrambles into her new white frock. By the time the sportsmen appear, the fire is blazing lustily in the Cottage drawing-room, and Letty is making tea.' The afternoon cup of tea, a nice apology for a charming half-hour's chat, was a happy thought. At the Cottage they adopted the reformed doctrines at an early period, -their neighbour at the Lodge being always welcome. The Doctor brings the morning papers with him from his study, and comments upon the news of the day, how a battle, where thirty thousand men were killed and wounded, has been fought at some place in America, whose obscure or plebeian name is destined henceforth to become heroic; how the Germans are drinking the health of the fatherland in a confused, passionate manner; how the Danes are gathering quietly along the northern frontier ; how the Thames has been frozen over; how Lord Palmerston has been out with the harriers. On other days the new novel-in the religious-sensation line—is in requisition, and the Doctor reads for our edification (and he reads well) the crowning chapter, wherein the hero, on discovering that he has married his grandmother, is taken in hand by Dr. Cumming, and makes an exemplary end as a districtvisitor. Or it may be the new poem, Jean Ingelow's grand pathetic ballad on the high tide in Lincolnshire, or a lyric by Miss Rossetti, or Mr. Woolner's My Beautiful Lady. Or it may be an essay from that Book
of Essays, DE OMNIBUS REBUS ET QUIBUSDAM ALIIS, on which rumour declares the Doctor to be at present engaged. The Commodore listens gravely,-a very simple, uncorrupted man is the Commodore, yet with a poetic instinct in his heart, which silent night-watches under African skies and
among Indian seas may have tended to quicken into keener life. Sissy rolls herself up in a cashmere shawl, with one of the terriers and a white kitten, at Letty's feet. Letty, as usual, is superbly arranged. Whatever she does is done with a pure natural grace, not without a touch of daring, which makes the manner of doing distinctive and peculiar. She has rummaged out of some obscure closet the oldfashioned spinning-wheel which belonged to her grandmother and her great-grandmother, and has had it set up and brought into use. Letty at the spinning-wheelher delicate little foot in its gold-beaded slipper resting upon the foot-board, as she daintily arranges the threads over which her shapely head is bent—is a picture which unites the glory of the Italian with the quaintness of the Dutch. One of Titian's blue-eyed, golden-haired Madonnas in Flemish masquerade! But it is one of the prettiest of masquerades—as young Horace Lovelace, the parson's son, very clearly appears to think, when he occasionally joins our tea-party-and therefore I do not wonder that many great artists have delighted to represent their heroines employed at the spindle, from Helen of Lacedæmon to Sylvia of Haytersbank.
A simple society, pleased with simple pleasures !
But to-day-this Christmas-day-a shadow has fallen upon our happiness. We are sad because a great man has been taken from us suddenly – because that good white head, which all men knew,' has been laid low. When our old postman, Sandy, brought me my letters this forenoon he said to me, ‘Ye'll have heard, sir, that Mr. Thackeray is gaen.' Sandy is a bit of a scholar; he is, moreover, a High Churchman and a High Tory; not unfamiliar with the literature in which the distinction between the king de jure and the king de facto is drawn with such quaint precision; not unfamiliar with the controversies about transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and the like. Yet even Sandy, sublimely elevated above popular excitement, as a postman and antiquary should be, was affected when he told us that the great man was dead.
Some of us had known him well, and had loved—as who could help loving ?-that noble simple gentleman. I recalled the last time I had seen him, a year or two previously, when I found him sitting in his den at the top of his house in Onslow Square. Even then he had suffered much and long, and the traces of suffering were visible in his face. I think that even in his brightest moods it was possible to detect these traces, sometimes in the eyes, more frequently about the grave curves of the mouth. Of course I was ushered into his den-of course he told me how much, and from what, he was suffering. This perfect unreserve, this almost childish openness of nature, was characteristic of Thackeray. He was willing that his whole life should be laid bare,
and looked through. He seemed to say, “There is my life-if there are any blemishes in it, make the most of them.' The clear transparent simplicity of the boy at the Charterhouse never deserted him. In fact, he often reminded one of a boy. On this very day of which I am speaking he wore an old shooting-coat much too short for him : it sat upon the giant as a boy's jacket would fit an ordinary mortal. And then the contrast would strike one. This mighty, vehement, whiteheaded boy had written the simplest, purest, most idiomatic English; he had sketched, with a touch incomparably delicate and finished, the intricate mental relations of a meditative but feverish age, of an active yet pensive society; he was a master of that implied and constructive irony which is the last refinement of banter, that irony which is a feature of our modern literature, of which we see no sign in the emphatic satire of Dryden, only an occasional trace in the polemical writings of Pope and Bolingbroke, but which bursts into perfect flower in the serious books of Mr. Thackeray and the satirical speeches of Mr. Disraeli.*
* Full justice has not been done to the remarkable felicity of Mr. Disraeli's 'satiric touch. Putting the famous Rembrandtlike full-length of Sir Robert aside (as somewhat overdone), the lightly touched sketches of contemporary statesmen which are to be found in his speeches (Palmerston, Russell, Gladstone, Sir Charles Wood) form a gallery of portraits to which any future historian of our time, who desires to represent these men in their habit as they lived, must turn. The sketches are conceived in a satirical spirit: the form is mocking and ironical: but they never degenerate into caricature, and manifest a rarely