Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Iiimself engaged in the biography of Petrarch. On his makiug this communication, the Abbe freely placed his manuscript collections at the disposal of his visiter; and Mr. Coxe addressed himself to the task of selecting and compiling, with the zealous application which characterized him in all his literary undertakings,— though in this instance it was destined to produce no apparent fruit. Such labours, however, are not always thrown away, because they miss their completion: a task ineffectually pursued may discipline and strengthen the intellect for more fortunate enterprises; and the early history of literary men often resembles that of the youths in the old fable, who were directed by their father's will to dig in certain grounds for a hidden treasure, and, after labouring many days, discovered that, although they could come at no gold, they had made an excellent vineyard.

Lord Herbert extended his tour to the northern kingdoms of Europe, and 'Mr. Coxe accompanied him to Warsaw, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, availing himself indefatigably of the opportunities afforded him to investigate the history, literature, and social and political condition of the countries through which he passed. Nor were such researches uninteresting even in these remote realms, when the traveller could converse with Miiller on northern history and antiquities, and with Pallas on science, and collect information from persons who remembered Peter the Great and Charles the Twelfth. At Warsaw, Mr. Coxe was admitted to a familiar and confidential intercourse by the accomplished and ill-fated Stanislaus Augustus. In a conversation on some proposed improvement in the laws and government of his own kingdom,—' Happy Englishmen!' exclaimed Stanislaus, ' your house is raised, and mine is yet to build.' The building of that house he was never to behold; and the too happy English are now intent only upon plucking down theirs. At St. Petersburg, the travellers were presented to the Empress Catherine II.; and that sovereign, doubtless not unwilling to make the best impression on a literary Englishman, encouraged the researches of Mr. Coxe into the state and administration of the Russian prisons,—a subject on which, while at Vienna, he had conversed with the celebrated Howard, and received from that illustrious man suggestions for the guidance of his inquiries. The empress permitted Mr. Coxe to propose to a member of her government a series of written questions on this subject, and to some she herself dictated the answers, which were for the most part direct and candid. One of them had a good deal of nai vete. The question was,—' Are the prisoners permitted to purchase spirituous liquors, and do the jailers sell them V The empress answered,—' Every species of food is sold in the prisons, but the

jailer cannot sell spirituous liquors, and that for two reasons : first, because spirituous liquors can only be sold by those who farm the right of vending them from the crown; secondly, which is very extraordinary, there are no jailers to any of the prisons, although the laws make mention of them.'*

Soon after his return from this tour, (which lasted about four years,) Mr. Coxe published his 'Account of the Russian Discoveries in the Seas between Asia and America,'—a work of great merit and utility, and fortunate to its author, since it was the origin of a friendship with the accomplished and excellent Dr. Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, which Mr. Coxe esteemed one of the most honourable as well as advantageous occurrences of his life. The incident which led to this acquaintance shows both parties in a very amiable light, and we are enabled to tell it in Mr. Coxe's own words :—

'The first origin of my acquaintance with him arose<from the accidental circumstance of my friend Mr. Cadell introducing- me to him in his shop, as one literary man to another, soon after my first return from abroad. When I was ahout to publish my " Russian Discoveries," I formed an opinion concerning the two continents of Asia and America very different from that which Dr. Douglas had shown in his Preface to Cook's First Voyage, and I thought it necessary to controvert his sentiments. But as I did not wish to do it without acquainting him with my intention in the least offensive manner, I desired my friend and bookseller, Mr. Cadell, to mention my intention, and express my hope that he would not take it amiss if I ventured to dissent from so respectable an authority. Mr. Cadell brought me a very liberal answer from Dr. Douglas, as might have been expected from a man of his character. Soon after this he met me himself in the street, and taking me aside, mentioned the application of Mr. Cadell; and, while he expressed his thanks for my attention, begged, with that humility which distinguished his character, "that I would let him down as gently as possible." 1 now felt my own extreme inferiority, and was quite ashamed to oppose the opinion of so respectable a man on points so problematical, and consequently renounced my intention. Fortunately I did so, for the bishop was right and 1 wrong. This procedure occasioned a more intimate acquaintance. I frequently dined with him both at Windsor and in London, and received many literary favours from him.'

About the same period, Mr. Coxe formed, or renewed, an acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, whom he frequently met at Mr. Thrale's. When his host presented him to Johnson, ' 1 know him,' said the great man courteously, 'and I know his Switzerland.' Mr. Coxe felt a just pride in learning that Johnson was accustomed to praise and recommend his works ; and the venerable

* 'The prisoners are guarded by soldiers.'Coxe.

critic critic proved the sincerity of his approbation by urging Mr. Coxe to continue writing. He suggested as a subject, Poland, a country, he said, not quite civilized nor quite uncivilized, and but little known to us. At one of the evening parties at Streatham, Mr. Coxe was discoursing, perhaps not very considerately, on the happiness of retiring from the world. Johnson cautioned him against indulging such fancies. 'Exert your talents,' said he, ' and distinguish yourself, and don't think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire.' The admonition was gentle and complimentary; but Johnson did not always use the patte de velours when upon this subject. According to Mrs. Piozzi, he once said to some one who complained of the neglect shown to Jeremiah Markland,—' He is a scholar undoubtedly, sir; but remember he would run from the world, and it is not the world's business to run after him. I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice, or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as 1 do, and bark.'*

Mr. Coxe now passed the greatest portion of his time at Cambridge, occupied in preparing his ' Northern Travels' for the press, but in other respects uncertain as to his future course of life. Porsou was at this time residing in the university, (having taken his bachelor's degree and become fellow of Trinity,) and was already enjoying the celebrity which his great talents deserved. Mr. Coxe visited and formed an acquaintance with him:—

'I was at first greatly struck,' he says in one of his manuscript papers, ' with the acuteness of his understanding, and his multifarious acquaintance with every branch of polite literature and classical attainment. I also found him extremely modest and humble, and not vain-glorious of his astonishing erudition and capacity. I was not less struck with his memory. Taking tea one afternoon in his company at Dockerell's coffee-house, I read a pamphlet written by Ritson against Tom VVarton. I was pleased with the work, and after I had read it I gave it to Porson, who began it, and I left him perusing it. On the ensuing clay he drank tea with me, with several other friends, and the conversation happened to turn on Ritson's pamphlet. I alluded to one particular part about Shakspeare which had greatly

* We muit not cite this anecrlote without referring to a very satisfactory note upon it, in Mr. Croker's 'Boswell,' vol. iv. p. 376, where justice is done both to the eminent scholar 'tossed and gored' on this occasion, and tu Johnson, who in reality entertained for him the esteem due to his learning and character. ( Jeremiah Markland/ says his descendant, the learned editor of the Chester Mysteries, 'was no growler: he sought for, because he loved, retirement; and rejected all the honours and rewards which were liberally offered to him. During a long life lie devoted himself unceasingly to those pursuits for which he was best fitted, collating the classics, and illustrating the Scriptures.' On the 2d October, 17S2, we find Johnson urging Nichulls to obtam some record of the life of Markland, whom, with Jortin and Thirlby, he calls ' three contemporaries of great eminence.'—See also, Quart. Bsview, vol. vii. p. 442.

interested interested me, adding, to those who had not read it, I wish I could convey to you a specific idea of the remainder. Porson repeated a page and a half word for word. I expressed my surprise, and said, "I suppose you studied the whole evening at the coffee-house, and got it by heart." "Not at all; I do assure you that I only read it once."'

Porson's favourite project at this period was to publish an edition of iEschylus, and Mr. Coxe endeavoured, with his usual active benevolence, to procure him the necessary patronage. With this view he introduced him to Jacob Bryant, who exerted himself, but unsuccessfully, to procure subscriptions. Their efforts were not much seconded by Porson. Poor Mr. Bryant seems to have found him as stiff-necked as Prometheus himself.

'I have tried a great deal to serve him,' said he in one of his letters, 'on account of his uncommon learning, but cannot obtain the least encouragement.—He cannot carry on the scheme he has formed without assiduity and solicitation, and a proper respect to those from whom there is any expectation. But he visits nobody, and omits every necessary regard. A handsome gratuity from me shall certainly be ready when demanded, but I find a total disinclination in others.'

In 1784 Mr. Coxe published his Travels in Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. This work confirmed the literary reputation of its author, and from the time of its first appearance it has been esteemed one of the most valuable sources of knowledge on the subject of Northern Europe. Some of the earlier portions were submitted to Dr. Robertson the historian, who carefully revised them, and whose suggestions were gratefully adopted.

Soon after the publication of this work Mr. Coxe again undertook the office of a travelling tutor, having for his pupil the late Mr. Whitbread. They began their journey with the northern kingdoms, and in the subsequent part of it made a hasty passage through Italy. It was expected that Mr. Coxe would publish his travels in this latter country; but although 'charmed and astonished/ as he expressed himself, by the classical scenes of the south, and though labouring under the res angusta which so often prompts men to inauspicious literary attempts, he yet felt that the limited opportunities he had possessed of observing and inquiring could not qualify him to perform the task satisfactorily, and he wisely and honestly forbore to undertake it.

He returned to England in 178(3. In the nine following years he made another tour on the Continent and in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, with Mr. Portman, (eldest son of Mr. Portman of Bryanston,) and again travelled with Lord Brome, eldest son of the Marquis Cornwallis. During the same period he succeeded to the college living of Kingston-upou

Thames, Thames, but resigned it on being presented by Lord Pembroke (in 1788) to the rectory of Bemerton, which he held during the remainder of his life. Lord Cornwallis also appointed him chaplain of the Tower. In the intervals of travelling Mr. Coxe augmented and improved his works on Switzerland and the North of Europe, which went through several editions. His mind now took a decided bent towards that department of literary labour from which his subsequent reputation as an author was principally derived. In 1792 he circulated a prospectus of an Historical and Political State of Europe, in which he proposed to give a separate account of the principal kingdoms and states, treating of each, country under two heads, historical and statistical. No person could have been found so well qualified for this undertaking; for to the talent, industry, and integrity of which his former works had given proof, Mr. Coxe united a personal knowledge of almost all the countries to be described, (Spain ard Portugal, and Turkey, were the principal exceptions,) and an extensive acquaintance with men of letters, science, rank, and political influence in each. But the French Revolution—the end and the beginning of so many things—compelled him to abandon this project. The sources of information became closed or difficult of access; it was a waste of labour in that time of subversion and chausre to describe institutions, and trace the outline of territories; and the past occurrences of modern European history, compared with the portentous scenes which then occupied men's minds, appeared small and obscure, like events of distant antiquity.

While engaged on this work, Mr. Coxe had passed several months in examining and arranging the voluminous correspondence of Horatio, Lord Walpole, (brother of Sir Robert,) during his embassies in France and Holland; and, on discontinuing his State of Europe, he proposed, under the sanction of Lord Walpole, (son of the ambassador,) who had encouraged and assisted his researches, to publish a selection from these papers. In the progress of his new undertaking the transactions and correspondence of Sir Robert necessarily engaged much of his attention, and the history of that minister became gradually the chief subject of his inquiries, which were warmly patronized by Horace, Lord Oiford. He placed all that remained in his possession of his father's papers at Mr. Coxe's command, and related in conversation many facts which no other person could authenticate, adding this observation, 'You will remember that I am the son of Sir Robert Walpole, and therefore must be prejudiced in his favour. Facts I will not misrepresent or disguise; but my opinions and reflections on those facts you will receive with caution, and adopt or reject at your discretion.' The papers of Sir Robert's brotherin-law

« ElőzőTovább »