Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

The exhibition of a soporific effect has chasm of time to an England very differ, even been seriously thought to have been ent from the England of to-day, yet intidesigned by the poet, in the proposal of mately and nearly connected with'it. Telemachus to retire to rest shortly after Thé days when our grandsires were the nepenthean cup has gone round; but young have a tender sunshine of their so bald a piece of realism can scarcely own, for after all they belong to us, and so have entered into the contemplation of an do those when our grandchildren shall be artist of such consummate skill.

old; the touch of kindred hands links our For ages past, Thebes in Egypt has lives, as in an electric circuit, with the witnessed the production of opium from years in which we have no actual being. the expressed juice of poppy-heads. Six There is a certain pleasure in dwelling centuries ago, the substance was known upon that near past akin to the pleasure in western Europe as Opium Thebaicum, Leigh Hunt found in the cocked hat and or the “ Theban tincture.” Prosper Alpi- " drowsy charm ” of the bellman: “ for," nus states that the whole of Egypt was says he, “as long as the bellman is alive supplied, at the epoch of his visit

, from one's grandfather does not seem dead." Sajeth, on the site of the ancient hundred. Those italics, which are not Leigh Hunt's, gated city. And since a large proportion emphasize one of his characteristically of the upper classes were undisguised suggestive phrases; in those few words opium-eaters, the demand must have been he reminds us of the safe feeling youth considerable. Now it was precisely in experiences, doubly fenced by two genThebes that Helen, according to Diodo- erations from that inevitable brink, over rus, received the sorrow-soothing drug which nature shrinks from passing. A from her Egyptian hostess; while the time comes when the front rank falls, and women of Thebes, and they only, still in the third generation ahead of us is cut his time preserved the secret of its quali- down almost at one sweep, as it seems, of ties and preparation. Can we doubt that the scythe ; one's grandfather is veritably the ancient nepenthes was in truth no dead, and one begins to realize the passage other than the mediæval Theban tincture of the years. And then, after we are well Even stripping from the statement of accustomed to the fact of having done Diodorus all historical value, its legen- with youth and all its perturbations, the dary significance remains. It proves, be- terrible scythe makes a closer sweep, and yond question, the existence of a tradition the next rank, the last barrier before us, localizing the gift of Polydamna in a spot falls; the kind faces which looked on our noted, from the date of the earliest authen- youth, and the kind arms which cherished tic information on the subject, for the it disappear, and we stand defenceless, production of a modern equivalent. The and exposed to the blast with nothing inference. seems irresistible that the two between us and the shadow-veiled verge. were one, and that, as De Quincey said, At this time grey hairs increase rapidly, Homer is rightly reputed to have known and those who can, look back and rejoice the virtues of opium.

in the fresh ranks springing up behind them in the eternal procession. All this the italicized phrase suggests, and more besides.

And it is from these very papers lying From Murray's Magazine.

here musty and tattered, that this present

phrase was disinterred — from some odd THREE or four papers, yellow and musty numbers of Leigh Hunt's London Journal with age and tattered with much handling, during the winter of 1834-5, rescued just lie before me, about the size and shape of in time from the clutch of the all-destroythe Family Herald; they are stitched ing housemaid, about to kindle the family together with a thing no longer seen in hearth with them. ladies' hands in these degenerate days, Three halfpence is the modest price but familiar and even symbolic to the eyes demanded for the weekly eight pages of of our grandfathers — crimson purse-silk. closely but clearly printed triple-columned This silk, as well as the curious faint odor, literature (and literature it is in the least laden, as it were, with the pathos of the elastic sense of the term), and the editor past, which bygone years impart to paper, very properly observes, in opening one and the yellow hué of the once snowy number with the whole of Keats's exqui. pages, as much as the date on the title site“. Eve of St. Agnes," interpolated with page of more than half a century ago, car- criticism as exquisite in its way as the ries the imagination swiftly over that black poem, that “the reader should this week

a

a

SOME ODD NUMBERS.

[ocr errors]

a

give us three pearls instead of three half- \ The passion poesy, glories infinite, pence.”. It is quite startling after reading Haunt us till they become a cheering light one of these numbers and losing oneself Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast in a world of thought and the atmosphere That, whether there be shine or gloom o'erof a society so different from that of to

cast, day, to find that the journal is printed at a

They always must be with us, or we die. certain steam-press. What; did the mon

Thus people thought of literature in those ster steam, that great dragon of the mod- sweet old days. And, paradoxical as it ern Philistine's adoration, actually co-exist may seem, the feverish haste which leaves with the bellman, with gentlefolk who no leisure for the ethereal enjoyments of were paternally counselled by the editor high thought and delicate fancy is quite to have at least “one picture on the wall,” compatible with a hunger for petty details if it were but a small engraving pinned on and trifling interests, which is daily deand removed when dirty? with duelling, grading our literature and narrowing our which, we are told, “appears to be going lives. We have borrowed their vices from out of fashion," and with skaiters (spelt American papers ; not content with aping with an i) exclusively of the male sex, ad their slang, we report upon the domestic mired by ladies who, as a matter of course, arrangements of poets and artists, and "stand shivering on the brink"? Well, narrate every incident in the lives of murafter all, even in these late Victorian days derers; we record the most trivial tableladies still remain shivering, on many

talk of ex-premiers, and describe the brinks, watching brothers and lovers dis- millinery of actresses; the last result of port themselves in glowing warmth.

the journalism of to-day is the apotheosis One glance at the yellow papers reveals of the infinitely petty: the chasm which yawns between our lit

The numerous periodicals of to-day are erature and that of the days of Leigh admirable, they are also marvellously Hunt. The present is an age of writing; cheap, but not the highest among them never before were such multitudes of pens

can surpass, if it can equal, in sustained plied, and plied so perpetually; never be literary quality, this little three-halfpenny fore were such various subjects treated sheet of Leigh Hunt's. And where can by the pen; never before were so many

we find a style to equal that of the writers buman mouths fed by the labors of the of those days, especially Hunt's own? pen; perhaps never before did such wealth Even Matthew Arnold, spite of his pedan. and honor reward the toil of the penman tic love of form, his exquisite taste, and

but this is not an age of literature. his poetic genius, gives way at times to Cheap literature, so called, is everything those modern phrase-coinages, which are but literary; it is political, commercial, little better than the slang which deluges sectarian, sometimes scientific, often the our journals, floods our pulpits, disgraces atrical, slangy, realistic, and fashionable, our fiction, and degrades our language in but rarely literary. People are in too almost every department of speech or great a hurry nowadays to write, much writing, and our most eloquent proseless to read pure literature — i.e., letters writer, after or perhaps even before De in which beauty is the first consideration Quincey, Ruskin, frequently permits him

— beauty of thought, style, belles-lettres self language which is anything but digni-they do not enjoy its calm, its beauty is fied, much less accurate or beautiful. not of a kind to stir the senses; they all Truly giants walked the earth in those want to be rich, and when they are rich days. As Keats wrote years before, in the they want to be richer. But in these old early days of a golden period which was days of Leigh Hunt, when people did not now drawing to its close : as yet realize that they had entered upon Great spirits now on earth are sojourning; a revolution two years back, and before He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake, free trade had deluged the country with Who on Helvellyn's summit, wide awake, dubious wealth and a squalid and unwieldy He of the rose, the violet, the spring,

Catches his freshness from Archangel's wing: population, a certain divine leisure seems The social smile, the chain for Freedom's to have reigned, men loved literature for

sake, its own sake, and found in it what Keats and lo! - whose steadfastness would never predicates of all beauty in his immortal take prelude to “ Endymion,

A meaner sound than Raphael's whispering. A sleep

And other spirits there are standing apart* Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet Tennyson and Browning were then, unknown to breathing.

Keats, little schoolboys, perhaps kindling their imaginations at the clear flame of his genius.

[ocr errors]

Upon the forehead of the age to come; produced. Carlyle, in the savage strength These, these will give the world another heart of his rugged manhood, was struggling And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum fiercely for bread and fame. One odd Of mighty workings ?

number contains an anonymous extract Listen awhile, ye nations, and be dumb.

from Fraser, the style of which stamps it Great spirits indeed produced the magnifi- unmistakably as Carlyle's. Thackeray cent flood of melody which marked the and Dickens had yet to show what they youth of this aged century, a period un- could do. The glory of the great opium. paralleled in the history of English liter- eater's magnificent prose still shed a ature, unsurpassed even by

glamor on the literature of the day. A those melodious bursts which fill generation of great men, now passing, The spacious times of great Elizabeth,

almost past, away, was then stepping to

the front in its eager youth. a period already in its decadence at the A work of W. S. Landor's is, scarcely date of the odd numbers, yet still quick reviewed, rather criticised, in the journal, ening men's, pulses with the fire of its partly in his own person by the genial vigorous life. The grass was scarcely editor, partly by transcription from the green on the grave of Coleridge; a greater Examiner, and any one who loves careful enchanter though smaller poet than he, criticism, rich allusion, pregnant thoughts, Scott, had been gone two years. The glo- and good style, would enjoy reading it. rious trio of young poets, each greater in These qualities distinguish nearly everyhis way

than any others, even than Cole- thing in the odd numbers, the fiction exridge, since Milton's day Byron, who, cepted. It must be confessed that in the spite of his tiresome egotism and affecta- latter department of literature this genertions, surpasses every writer in the cenation has made a mighty stride. Not that tury in poetic intensity and massive splen- we have any masters of fiction among us, dor of verse; Shelley, whose airy music rather that we have honest and painstakand ethereal imaginings, whose intuitive ing craftsmen, the mass of whose work knowledge of the inmost soul of nature, surpasses that of the journeymen storyhave been equalled by none save Shake. tellers of fifty or sixty years ago. speare, though his touch was lighter and Shakespeare is the theme of Mr. Lanthe vigor of his intellect slighter than By- dor's work. One of W. Hazlitt's characron's; and Keats, the beautiful, immor- ters of Shakespeare, then, the editor tells tal youth, fated never to reach manhood, us, out of print, appears in each of these whose love of beauty and power of creat- odd numbers, and Hunt seldom goes ing it seem the mark of a Greek rather through half a column himself without than an English mind — had all indeed some Shakespearian quotation or allusion; been ten years dead, though had they lived how these men loved Shakespeare! Pero they had still been young; but the strong haps that is one secret of their pure, rich music of their poetry was recent and still style; that, and a wise love of other great vibrating through the atmosphere of those inasters of language to whom he is condays. Wordsworth was then in his ze stantly referring, so deeply had they pernith, with Southey - who reads Southey's meated his thoughts, is certainly one weak verse now? So was the patriotic secret of Hunt's own charm. But in that Campbell, also the musical but tinselly golden pre-Victorian age, people did not Moore – his tinsel is now almost for- study Shakespeare, and the glorious hiegotten though his songs still charm. A rarchy of which he is chief, with a view to host of minors then flourished, amongst satisfying competitive examiners; youths them the Ettrick Shepherd, Cunningham, did not get themselves stuffed with SpenMilnes, Proctor, the Corn Law Rhymer, ser as a means to a commission in the and Keble, whose strain, though thin, is army or a post in the civil service; they exquisite in purity and grace. The ten- waited, like Lamb, till they had obtained der and genial Hood, whose serious po. the post, with its daily bread and its scrap etry is often overlooked in the dazzle of of leisure, and then they devoted them. his witticisms, was then young; so was selves, if so minded, to the study of Enthe minstrel of the “ Lays of Ancient glish literature. Those not so'm ed Rome,” which it is now the fashion to sometimes devoted themselves to port depreciate.

wine and other pernicious joys; to-day Browning and Tennyson, then in the they do that in like case after their study first bloom of manhood, had already made of literature. Another peculiarity of those their mark; Tennyson having never sur-days seems to have been that people studpassed some of the things he had then lied literature first and practised it after

[ocr errors]

he ܕܙ ܕ

[ocr errors]

66

[ocr errors]

6

wards. Then Charles Dickens arose, one | had not as yet vulgarized by his stories of of the greatest dunces who ever handled good-feeding and naudlin sentiment, cona pen, and people, encouraged by the tains a description of a middle-class dosplendor of his genius, took to practising mestic Christinas in a style which Dickens literature first and studying it, if at all, might have envied. But in this article, afterwards, which is not good for litera. which is rich with allusion and dainty ture.

fancy, the season is considered in a How many men of letters have we to broader aspect; the waits suggest "those day to set against that constellation of beautiful accounts of angels singing in the brilliant, cultured, genial men? Who air, which inspired the seraphical strains shall compensate for Charles Lamb? who of Handel and Corelli.” " Handel's reci. for Hunt himself? for the grim Titan, tative of “There were Shepherds, Carlyle? for De Quincey, Landor, Hartley says, “is as exquisite for simplicity as Coleridge, even for Christopher North and the cheek of innocence." Quoting from his fellows of the "Noctes”?

“Hamlet,” the passage concerning the Hunt thus briefly surveys the periodic bebavior of the animals on Christmas literature of his day when “Keepsakes " night, when “the bird of dawning singeth and " Annuals” still existed. “If all our all night long," he observes that Shakecontemporaries improve as we do, what a speare handles his theme “ with a reverenperiodical literature we shall have ! tial tenderness, sweet as if he has spoken Tait and the Monthly Repository will it hushingly." The article closes in a blow such notes of advancement that we more solemn strain befitting the theme. shall all of a sudden be living in the twen- Casual reference elsewhere to the anem. ty-first century, all thriving and merry, one occasions a dainty translation from our days cut beautifully in two betwixt Moschus, the Greek of which is given. work and leisure. Fraser will bring En- How often do we stumble on a passage in glish orthodoxy so well acquainted with Greek type nowadays ? Scholarship is French and Irish vivacity, that all three out of fashion, and members of Parliashall be astonished at finding themselves ment no longer garnish their speeches shaking hands over Rabelais's Oracle of with classic allusion and quotation, for the the Bottle.' The New Monthly shall be excellent reason that half their hearers so very polite and distingué, that men would not understand them. Such flowshall put a leaf of it into their button-holes ers of rhetoric as “That is a lie," are instead of myrtle. The Metropolitan shall occasionally employed instead. begin a new novel once a month, and ren. But what most distinguishes these odd der us so jolly and maritime that, like the numbers from the periodicals of to-day is drinkers in the “ Naufragium Joculare,' we the manner in which they hold aloof from sball take our room for a ship, and begin the press and stir of actual and especially tossing the furniture out of window to political life; the journal scorns to be a lighten her. Then the orthodox Dublin newspaper. In our day there is a growing University Magazine shall more and more tendency to confuse the functions of the delight the candid reader' by praising newspaper and the magazine; both con, Whigs who write about forest trees and tain literature and both news. Provided Radicals who can relish claret. .. Mr. a writer has information to convey, no Loudon, with his Architectural Garden- matter on what subject, whether he be a ing and Naturalist's Magazine, shall build casual pauper, a fine lady going round the all our houses for us, plant all our gardens, world in a yacht or on a tricycle, a nobleand illustrate all our fields.” *

man traversing deserts and savage counThe journal has a little column of pater- tries on foot, a discharged convict, or an nal advice to correspondents, but these American cow-boy relating his expericorrespondents are content to interrogate ences, he is welcomed to the pages of the the editor upon literary, or at least intel- contemporary periodical. Then, again, lectual subjects; they do not ask to be hasty and undigested thoughts on every directed in the conduct of a love-affair, or passing topic, whether political - indeed, advised in the choice of a hair-dye. Yet especially political, — social, fashionable, domestic topics are favored. Besides the religious, artistic, gastronomic, technical, article “Put up a Picture in your Room," appear everywhere, no matter how crude there is one on “The Cat on the Rug; " and ill-written they be, and we have even and one in Leigh Hunt's own sunny style devoted journals to the malicious discus. on Christmas, a season which Dickens sion of our neighbors' domestic affairs.

Gossip has its organs, and through them • London Journal, Dec. 17, 1834. diligently propagates scandal, and fulfils

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

66

on a gigantic scale those functions for as an authority against the dangerous merly relegated to the tea-tables of idle practice of cultivating the intellectual and spiteful' spinsters, and equally idle qualities at the expense of the moral; in and virulent matrons.

them, of course, the pupil is assumed to But then, at the date of these odd num- be exclusively of the male sex. The bers, literature stood apart from "gloomy study of the classics is assailed as a timedays,” and “all the unhealthy and o'er- honored idol necessary to overthrow, not darkened ways,” and proved in very sooth as in these degenerate days on the ground

of its uselessness in practical affairs, An endless fountain of immortal drink,

which in plain English means money-getPouring unto us from the Heaven's brink.

ting, but on the far more exalted ground In an article on “Twelfth Night,” we that the spirit of the Greek and Latin are introduced to a street arab who sings literatures is pagan, that this paganism “Shiny Night,” with an occasional up- enters into the heart of modern life and roarious “Rise, Gentle Moon,” or “Comin' corrupts it, and accounts for the slight thro' the Rye." People never know when hold Christian morality has upon society. they are blest; Mrs. Carlyle about this to determine how far this is true would time also grumbles at some painter's boy, furnish able thinkers with ample matter because “ the creature" scraped her draw- for reflection for some time. But the ing-room door to the tune of “ Love's suggestion is worth much, and sets one Young Dream." Oh, sweet Arcadian age ondering whether the lingering paganism of the fourth William, when the horrors of barbaric nations through the Dark and of the music-hall were yet unknown, the Middle Ages was so great a hindrance to crass hideousness of the topical song and the development of Christianity as the the dismal animal howl of the salvationer classic paganism of the Renascence. did not pervade the atmosphere, when Before taking leave with Lamb, of the the very "outlaws of the pavement sang odd numbers, one more characteristic of melodies, however uproariously! What these latter days, in some measure detri. street boy of to-day sings " Love's Young mental to good art, may be noted. It is Dream”?

the fierce perpetual wrestling with treIt is difficult to realize that our venerable mendous moral and social problems which queen, who has yet to acquire the crown now goes on in all thoughtful and earnest of silver hairs, and the tottering step of minds. Ruskin censures Kingsley's trag. age, though she has seen her children's edy as frightful; it is frightful because it children to the fourth generation, was struggles with the fierceness of reality, actually living in those far-off days. A The earth is full of darkness and cruel well-behaved little princess (she is pic- habitations, and a literature which turns tured about that date in a broad hat and aside from its natural vocation to battle long frilled trousers), she was then quietly with the ills of such a world must contain learning her lessons, half-incredulous, per- a frightful element which is prejudicial to haps, of the great destiny for which she art. But perhaps there are better things was bidden to prepare, and little dream- than art. At all events, we cannot always ing that in four brief years the splendors turn aside from “unhealthy and o'er-darkof England's imperial crown would blaze ened ways,” even though it be the special above her terder troubled brow.

office of literature to do so, or sojourn The notices of music and the fine arts perpetually in peaceful Edens, “fúll of are sufficient to show us what immense sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breath. progress has been made in that direction ing.” Because Lamb and his contemposince the days of the Sailor King, and in raries did so, their writings are so full of one article Hunt speaks confidently of charm and refreshment. "when the English become a more mu- No more now of the odd numbers; we sical people,” his prophetic soul unvext may well marvel in turning from them at by the terror of the music-hall phantom; the amount of delicate intellectual food but he little dreamed what the develop- furnished in these few unpretending three ment and perfecting of mechanical pro- ha'porths. If the present writer has be. cesses, and particularly the undiscovered moaned the inferiority of present literacraft of photography, would effect in the ture and much else in comparison with artistic education of England in the next that of the first thirty years of the century, sixty years.

such a lament may possibly prove refreshThere are some thoughtful papers on ing in contrast to the jubilant self-contem. middle-class education in these odd num- plation which is the theme of every fellowbers. In them Locke is brought forward / scribbler in this auspicious year of grace

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »