With such a course of study before us, we are disposed to make the most of our holiday; and should we chance to be a little too frisky, it must be borne in mind that retribution is at hand, and that we shall speedily become as solemn as ever a fool in the land, as dull as an owl bathing its eyes in the morning sunshine, which—having overslept itself—it takes for the full moon, and dismal enough to satisfy the most ardent advocate of the religious duty of being miserable,—eschewing laughter as we would the tax-gatherer, and refreshing our oppressed spirits alone with serious jokes, and such merriment as may be presented to us under the sanction and recommendation of a college of dissenting divines!
But our harp will be a mingled one, for so is our theme; having a sympathy alike for our mirthful and sorrowful moments, which it alike spiritualizes; striking the light, gleesome chord to the one, and attuning the soul to more ethereal joy; while by its soft influence it tones down the harshness of bitter, unavailing sorrow, and woos the heart, misanthropizing under the pangs of grief or unrequited love—pent up in its own solitude, unpitied and uncared for—and filled with dark thoughts, and sad sounds, and tones of plaintive winds, sighing through the cypress and doleful yew with mournful melody around the resting-place of the loved and lost, to submissive lamentings, and slow stealing tears that assuage its aching anguish and tranquillize the spirit, leading it to the hope of a brighter future, in whose dawning beams it will, ere-long, show like "the tender grass, clear-shining after rain"—more glistening and beautiful for the invigorating dews of the cloud which had overhung it, and beneath whose gloom its beauty faded away—for very trouble!
How often have we found that hard, bitter mood into which the mind under the pressure of suffering which is irremediable, and which has to be borne alone, is so apt to decline—feeling the harder and the bitterer for the careless, galling gaiety of all around—softened, subdued, yea, utterly broken up by the sweet notes of "some old familiar strain," that steal on the willing ear, freshening and exhilarating the spirit like a breezy morning in June, when it seems a sin to be wretched; the twittering birds on dancing boughs crying shame on us, for what is not only wrong, but, as we begin to feel, needless—not to say foolish; and we return from our stroll, wondering what in the world we have done with that load on our chest with which we began our walk—ending in a regular ramble—and which it then seemed incumbent on us, nay, a sacred duty, to pant under for the term of our natural lives; relieving ourselves by such sighs and groans as appeared to us the appropriate forms of expression for all human beings under the sun—made on purpose to be unhappy; we especially, fulfilling the end of our creation. And as we mark the change that has passed upon us—the bounding circulation in place of flagging energies—full, calm breathing, instead of the slow, short respiration of sadness—with reverent heart we bless nature, and, may we say also, nature's great Architect, all-merciful, all-loving!
Such on us is frequently the effect of music; the heaviness of heart, caused by the weary rubs of this rough world, or the result of a temperament that has a constitutionally jarring string in it, is as it were drawn out, and sweetness and calm-breathing tranquillity infused in its stead; while our nerves become as the harmonious strings of a harp, that respond in sympathy with the master chords of one with which it is in unison, and whereon the fresh breeze of morning lightly plays, calling forth sounds of joy and gladness. Therefore do we love it, with a warmth of affection that may perchance appear extravagant to those whose robust, well-balanced minds, clothed with strong, healthy, unsusceptible bodies—people who are always in good spirits, unless there be a reason for the contrary—may render them independent of such external influences, for we must acknowledge, that we do at times express this our affection in somewhat unmeasured phrase, as one who stays not accurately to calculate, and weigh with cool precision, the virtues of a friend, thus laying ourselves open to the unmitigated condemnation of those who soar above, (or sink below!) such sympathies.
Be it so! We are not about to enter into any vindication of ourselves; we shall not even attempt to convince these dull souls, that it is possible for elevated feeling, and repose and tenderness of mind, to be indebted for their origin to such insignificant and material sources as catgut and brass wire—and that they are not therefore to be undervalued; though by way of illustration of the influence of matter over spirit, we would remind them of their own humane and charitable feelings after dinner, compared with the fierce, nay, atrocious sentiments, which their consciences convict them of having entertained, before the pangs of their raging hunger had been appeased by that inestimable mollifier of men's hearts and tempers. For the cause of their insensibility to such impressions—a natural incapacity for receiving them—it is vain to seek a remedy, however willing we might be to apply one; but where cure is impracticable, palliatives are frequently admissible, and we would suggest that one may be found in this case, in the patients' treating the unhappy privation under which they labour with greater tenderness than has been their wont, throwing over it that veil of oblivion and charity with which they so gracefully conceal their other defects, instead of obtruding it on public observation, under the singular misconception of its being an admirable feature in their character, a something of which a man ought to be proud. Conduct like this, they may rest assured, will not fail of being appreciated and rewarded by the corresponding delicacy with which all, who are not utterly barbarous, invariably treat him who, by the deprecating humility with which he seeks to conceal his deficiencies, betrays his painful cognisance of their existence.
We are aware that this is a turning of the tables upon them which they may not be disposed to admire—to be placed at the bar, when they expected a seat on the Bench, and were just smoothing down their ermine, and adjusting their wigs, in order to enter on their duties with the greater impressiveness and dignity; but they must believe us when we tell them, that we, too, have an opinion on this subject, to which we must be permitted to attribute as high authority as they possibly can to their own; and that, tried by this standard, they, being found wanting, would inevitably have been brought up for judgment, but for a merciful leaning, (sanctioned by legal precedent,) which prompts us rather to try the salutary effect of admonition and good counsel, than to proceed at once to inflict extreme penalties on the offenders—in short, that we are not in a hanging humour, or they should swing for it!
Grim, rough Luther, laying about him with his ponderous mace, and making giant Pope tremble in the deepest recesses of his stronghold, lest he should grow utterly savage with his perpetual warfare—albeit a "Holy war"—humanized and spiritualized himself with his lute—(who does not sympathize with his unfailing "Deus noster refugium," that divine stay of his stout heart that trembled not at men or devils!) Ken, undaunted opponent of the tyranny of a king—meek sufferer for that monarch's lawful rights, rose at day-dawn, or so soon as the first brief slumber had recruited his exhausted frame, to give thanks unto the King of kings in strains that, handed down to us, yet thrill the heart by their fervent piety, and plain, vigorous verse, and animate it to a stricter more manly rectitude. Herbert—saintliest of men and priests—after his sacred toils, refreshed his spirit with "divine music;" the more melodious to his ear, that his heart was teeming with the harmony of that "good-will towards man," which seeks and finds its due expression in active exertions on their behalf—disdaining not the lowliest occasion of serving with hearty zeal the lowliest of his neighbours. Rest assured, then, O reader! whosoever thou art, that it is not for thee to pretend to despise it!
Ponder the rather on the power of that art, that could soothe the perturbed soul of Israel's wrath-sent king—mad and moody—and even expel the evil spirit that goaded him; and on its dignity—for prophets of old, when the Divine inspiration came upon them, revealing to their purified eyes the "vision of the Almighty," uttered their "dark sayings upon the harp."
What a plague it sometimes is to be hag-ridden by a tune, racing through one's head, with a never-ending always-beginningness, as though a thousand imps were singing it in one's ears. Wherever you may be, whomsoever with, whatsoever doing, still ring on those incessant tones of perchance the merriest of all jigs, till—it is Sunday morning, and you are preparing for church—you leave your house with the entire and miserable conviction, that, seated in your pew in the very face of the congregation-genteel sinners in silks, and satins, and feathers—you will betray your long-concealed suffering by giving vent to that interminable "Rory O'More," the moment you open your lips for the emission of "All people that on earth do dwell;" so ensuring your rapid transfer to the street, under the escort of the man with the parti-coloured coat and black wand, whose Sabbath duties of jerking the Sunday scholars, and rapping their heads with that authoritative cane, are unceremoniously interfered with on your behalf. Misery and disgrace stare you in the face, and all through an undue titillation of that part of your sensorium that takes cognisance of musical sounds; a titillation not to be subdued by endeavouring to direct your attention from it to the very gravest of all subjects; nor propitiated even by audibly chanting the offending strain, previously retiring into the furthest corner of your coal-cellar, to prevent your unwilling profanity on shocking the strictly conscientious ears of your household. This is bad—and yet it is but a mild form of this morbid affection, which, in its most intense degree, torments the sufferer from fever, (or one stunned by some sudden and violent grief,) when certain sounds, words, or tunes, accidentally determined, thrill through the head with the steadiness and vehement action of the piston of a steam-engine—beat, beat, beat!—every note seeming to fall on the excited brain like the blow of a hammer; while, as the fever and pain increase, the more rapidly and heavily do those torturing notes pursue their furious chase. We well remember, under an attack of disorder in the neighbourhood of the brain, causing severe suffering, lying—we know not how long, it might be a thousand years for any thing we knew—singing over and over again in our mind, for we were speechless with pain, the 148th psalm, which we had just chanced to hear sung, in Brady and Tate's version, to a new and somewhat peculiar tune. Oh, how those "dreadful whales" and "glittering scales" did quaver and quiver in our poor head! Lying like a log—for pain neither permitted us to stir nor groan—still rattled on, hard and quick, the rumbling bass and shrill tenor of that most inappropriately jubilant composition—"cherubim and seraphim," "fire, hail, and snow," succeeding each other with a railway velocity that there was no resisting; no sooner had we got to "stands ever fast," than round again we went to the "boundless realms of joy," and so on, on, on, through each dreary minute of those dreary hours, an infinity, or perchance but twenty-four, according as time is computed by clocks or by agonised human beings. It made a capital Purgatory; one which we have even deemed every way adequate to those slight delinquencies of which we may have been guilty, and which are appointed, as it is understood, to be expiated in this way.
At times some simple air, or even a single chord of unusual, but apparently obvious harmony, will haunt us with a peculiar sweetness, producing a soothing, gentle sadness, as though we listened to distant bells, whose music is borne in surges on the breeze that sways the golden corn on a sunny Sabbath, when our pathway lies through the undulating fields, already "white unto the harvest;" where the pleasant rustling of the ripened grain, as it is stirred by the soft wind, is sweet and soothing; and the gay poppy, and other less obtrusive, though not less beautiful wild-flowers, bloom at our loitering feet. In the power of exciting such feeling, what can equal our old English ballads? There is an inexpressible charm in these, and we would almost give our fingers to be able to describe that indescribable something, which constitutes their peculiar fascination and power over the imagination. Most plain, most artless, does their composition appear; like the natural out-breathing of the heart in its sunny moments; and yet—as with all earthly brightness—with a trace of cloud on that sunshine. They are redolent of the "olden time;" and as they fall softly on the ear, the antique hall, with its groined roof, and mullioned window, glowing with rich heraldic devices, through which the many-tinted lights fall tenderly on arch and pillar, and elaborately fretted walls, studded with ancestral armour, rises up before us; and with the melting tones of the lute, mingles the low, clear voice of a gentle maiden, whose small foot and brocaded train are just seen from behind yonder deeply sculptured oaken screen. What innocence is in that voice! and how expressive are the chords that accompany it—less elaborate and fantastic, perchance, than might win favour in our vitiated ears; but natural, harmonious, full, and in exquisite subordination to the air, which they fill up and enrich, instead of overpowering with misplaced beauty.
And now a movement of the singer reveals still more of the quaint, beautiful costume, with its heavy, yet graceful folds, while—aha! what else do we see?—a plumed hat thrown carelessly on the ground; the armed heel, glittering rapier, and slashed sleeve, just visible, betokening that its owner is not far off, and that the lady fair has not, as we had thought, been wasting her sweetness, either of voice or countenance, on that comfortable-looking pet dog or caged linnet. Sing on, pretty one! for well do gallant knights love to hear their stern deeds sung by innocent lips; and right well, to listen to the strain that tells how the heart of "lady-bright" is won by noble daring. But what means that sudden break in the song, and the confused sweep of the strings, as though the lute had slipped from its owner's grasp; while the masculine paraphernalia which we had just discovered disappears altogether behind that most impervious and curiosity-mocking screen? No great harm done, or that light laugh had not escaped the lips so suddenly silenced; and the offending cavalier is doubtless forgiven on the spot, as they amicably retreat to that deep oriel, framed apparently for the express purpose of excluding intrusionists like ourselves, who would fain follow, where, it is evident, we are marvellously little wanted! Well, well!—maidens will be maidens, we trow, and lovemaking in the olden time is, we suppose, after all, vastly like the same performance by more modern actors. Leave we them to their light-heartedness:—and yet we could linger long in this ancient chamber,
"With quaint oak-carving lined and ceiled;"
so calm, so cool, so repose-breathing,—the shrill twitter of the swallow the only sound now heard amid its silence; the fleecy clouds, throwing that rich interior into alternate light and shade, as they sail lazily along the deep blue sky—the only moving objects, save the long wreaths of ivy, that, green as the tender buds of spring, tap lightly against the casement, as they are swayed by the impulses of the summer breeze. Beyond, is an old-fashioned garden—a pleasance, as it would be called—and truly is it one; with its trim walks, its terraces, and moss-grown urns, around which luxuriant creepers are entwined—its impervious hedges—its close-shorn lawn, decked with appropriate statues, and its yew-trees, clipped into fantastic shapes; while the ivy-covered walls that bound it, afford a shelter from the blasts that too often allay the sunshine of our northern climate, and render it a spot where 'tis sweet to saunter, in idle or quiet contemplative mood, at glowing sunset; or chaster beauty of summer evening, when the pure, cold moon mingles her passionless lustre with the gorgeous hues that still linger around the portals of the west—bright train of the departing monarch that has passed to the sway of a new hemisphere!
Here could we linger in genial meditation, while from the dark pannelled walls look down upon us lovely countenances of those who, centuries ago, have called this home—portraits whose calm, meek dignity so far transcends the more active style in which it too often pleases us moderns to glare from our gilt frames, "looking delightfully with all our might, and staring violently at nothing;" costume and truth being utterly outraged,—the roturier's wife mapped in the ermine of the duchess, and perchance dandling on her maternal lap what appears to be a dancing dog in its professional finery, but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be an imp of a child, made a fool of by its mother and milliner; and my lady—in inadequate garments, and a pair of wings, flourishing as some heathen divinity or abstract virtue! Look at those girlish features, just mantling into fairest womanhood, with their sweet serious look, exhibiting all the self-possession of simplicity; the drapery and other accessories natural, and in perfect keeping with the unpretending character of the whole; and then turn to some recent "portrait of a lady," with what toleration you may. Contrast for one moment that fine ancestral face, dignified and unmoved as the mighty ocean slumbering in his strength, with the eager visage of one of the latest "batch," (cooked, without much regard to the materials, for some ministerial exigency,) who would appear to be standing in rampant defence of his own brand-new coronet, emulative of the well-gilt lion which supports that miracle of ingenuity rather than research, his brightly emblazoned coat-of-arms; whose infinitude of charges and quarterings do honour to the inventive genius of the Herald's Office, and are enough to make the Rouge Dragon of three centuries ago claw out the eyes of the modern functionary.
But, oh dear, dear! where are our ballads all this while? Drifted sadly to leeward, we fear, according to a bad habit of ours, of letting any breeze, from whatever point of the compass it may chance to blow, fill our sails, and float us away before it, utterly unmindful of our original purpose and destination. Thus have we, to the tune of an old Hall and its garniture, sailed away from that which we were aiming—trying to find out, and describe the peculiar fascination of our loved old ballads; flattering ourselves, perhaps, that we were escaping a difficulty which we feared to meet.
There is a quaint cheerfulness in them, toned down with a shade—the shadow of a shade—of the most touching melancholy, effected, we can scarcely tell how, by an exquisitely felicitous, though but slight introduction of the minor key, perchance but a single note or chord. But that suffices, and it is as a sudden vision of our home, far off among the mountains, or in the "happy valley" of our fathers, passing before us in the gay crowded city, bringing plaintive thoughts of remembered joys, and quietude, and childish innocence. Old ballads are like April skies, all smiles and tears, sunshine and swift-flitting clouds, that serve but to heighten the loveliness they concealed for a while. They are like,—nay, we despair; none but our own Shakspeare can express what we should vainly puzzle ourselves to describe, the essence of the "old and antique song."
"Mark it, Cesario; it is old and plain; The spinsters and the knitters in the sun And the free maids that weave their thread with bones, Do use to chaunt it; it is silly sooth, And dallies with the innocence of love, Like the old age."
Ay! like gray eld fondling sunny childhood, gazing on the wavy hair, and pure brow, and calm yet kindling eye, with a fond sad pleasure; for in that young exulting spirit he sees the sure inheritor of his own fading honours, the usurper of his strength, and influence, and worship, rapidly passing away from his feeble grasp; and as he gazes, though his lips pour willing benedictions on the unconscious supplanter, there lingers in his heart the sorrowful, "He shall increase, but I shall decrease."
Something akin in their sad soothing effect, are the waits, (dear reader, you do not need to be told what these are? Wordsworth has immortalized them;) simple, rude, and inharmonious as they would be in the clear, truth-telling daylight, but strange, witching, and half unearthly, when heard between the pauses of some fantastic dream in the deep midnight; when,
"All around, The stars are watching with their thousand eyes;"
those same stars that peered down on this earth, in "earnest gaze," on the first act of that most awful drama, when, in "the winter wild, the heaven-born child"—Him in whom all nations of the world were blessed—was placed in his rude cradle at Bethlehem: in commemoration of whose advent—and this is one secret of their pathos, waking high thoughts in the soul, too long brooding over and degrading itself with the mean cares and hopes of this life—the humble musicians make night tuneful, "scraping the chords with strenuous hand."
A blessing on them as they go, softening our hard, unloving hearts! In our childhood it was one of our most cherished pleasures to lie—half-sleeping, half-waking—listening to them, as the sounds, at times discordant enough, though of that we recked not, rose and fell in pleasing cadence, as the winter wind rose and fell, wafting the notes that, faint and fainter still, at last died away in the distance.
We and our room-companion were under a solemn engagement, each to other, to waken the little sleepy thing beside him, when the more watchful became aware of the approach of the itinerant minstrels; and woe to the one who had forgotten this duty! It would have required no little "music" to soothe the "savage breast" of the aggrieved one; for—as we are pathetically reminded by the old song—"Christmas comes but once a-year," and so often, but no more, did we know that our chance of hearing this seductive harmony occurred. Hence our wrath, if through the neglect, the "breach of promise" of another, so solemnly pledged, we missed it. And even now, dear as is the oblivion of night and dreamless sleep to the spirit, harassed and world-worn, that in outgrowing its child-like feelings and happiness, has, alas! also out-grown what its increase of worldly wisdom can hardly make amends for—the child-like purity, and intense enjoyment of simple pleasures, which marked its earlier years—even now, weary and dull-hearted as we are become, we would not willingly lose this delight of our happier days, although it fall on the still darkness like wail for a departed friend, unsealing the fount of mournful memories, whose bitter waters gush from their stricken rock; sad as are its associations, they are of that sadness whereby the "heart is made better."
What think ye of the drum as a musical instrument? Is there not something magnificent in it, albeit suggestive of a distant wheelbarrow on rough paving-stones, or heavily laden cart in the distance? This latter, by the way,—we appeal with confidence to any musical soul present for confirmation of our assertion—being decidedly its equal, in effect, any day; as in our happy infancy we found out to our sorrow, from being frequently deceived by its dull booming, which our vivid imagination at once pronounced to be its parchment representative; as we writhed and wriggled with agony on our unhonoured bench (selected, and adhered to, for constancy was our forte, chiefly on account of its being out of the reach of the cane, and commanding a good view of the street) in a perfect fever, poor little soul, to squirl away books and slates, and scamper after the soldiers. Scarlet has been said to be like the sound of a trumpet; surely then a drum must be taken as the exponent of that ferocious mixture yclept thunder and lightning, erst dear to country bumpkins, and rendered classical by Master Moses Primrose's coat. It can scarcely be described as music, but rather as sound with an idea in it—the connecting link between mere noise and musical expression. Kettle-drums,
"Whose sullen dub, Is like the hooping of a tub,"
we hate; and never see them in a concert-room without heartily wishing they and their tatooer might tumble, helter-skelter, from their topmost perch into the very lowest depth, if there be one lower than another, of the orchestra; and thereby sustain such a compound fracture, attended by loss of substance, as should put it out of their power, for that night at least, to torture our fastidious ears. Being of a melancholy temperament, we are unfortunately, at times, subject to most ludicrous fancies; and as these ungainly instruments loom on our disgusted eye, we cannot, for the life of us, help imagining them moulds for a couple of enormous gooseberry puddings; and we verily pant at the idea of the sea of melted butter, or yellow cream, requisite to mollify their acidity—and then we laugh like a hyena at the nightmareish vision, and so are disgraced, for it is at a "serious opera:" therefore, we repeat it, do we hate them, cordially and perseveringly. They are horrid things, and ought to be excommunicated. And when employed in military bands—why, a horse looks a complete fool between a couple of these gigantic basins, each with its long tag-rag of unmeaning velvet, beplastered and bedizened with lace and gold, streaming from it; and the unlucky performer perched between them, exactly like an old market-woman, bolstered up between a brace of paniers or milk-pails;—any thing but a fierce dragoon, or most chivalrous hussar. But peace be to the kettle-drums,—ay, peace be to them, say we! and may our ears never again be subjected to the torture of hearing Handel's massive chorus, or Beethoven's fearfully dramatic harmony, disfigured by their most abominable bangs, or villanous rumble-grumble.
Now all this is rank nonsense—we are fully aware of it; and it is a most foolish, unjust prejudice of ours against drums—kettle or otherwise, as it may please Apollo—which are most respectable members of musical society, and good—very good—in their way; were it only as a foil to the enchanting, inspiriting, maddening strains of the horn, the shrill pipe, the regal trumpet, and the various other instruments of our military music, of which we are more passionate admirers, almost ready to follow the drum ourselves. Oh, the supreme delight of having one's arms and legs shot off to such soul-elevating sounds, to the tune of Rule Britannia, and somebody or other's march! "Britons strike home" thrills through the air, and you scarcely feel that you are spitted by a Polish lancer; a flourish of trumpets, and enter a troop of horse, that trot briskly over you as you lie smashed by a round-shot, but heedless of the exhibition of their unceremonious heels to your injuries, for are you not sustained by that "point of war"—mercilessly beaten at your elbow, without the slightest regard to the effect it may have on your cracked head, for which you are indebted to the last trooper who spurred his charger over you: who would care for his vulgar limbs under such excitement? But if this part of our military economy be intended to inspire cowards with courage, and string them up to a disregard of all the chances of warfare, in the way of bullet and sabre, why—why is not so valuable an idea carried out to the full extent of its requirement, and a military band instituted for the comfort and encouragement of the patients (every whit as nervous as if they were under arms) of Guy's Hospital? Why should not the case of poor bedfast wretches in cap and gown, and pale faces, meet with as much consideration as that of your clodpole in scarlet and an 'Albert hat?' (Heaven forgive the prince for making such simpletons of our handsome Englishmen!) Look to it, ye governors of such institutions, and look to it, ye charitable and humane, who empty your purses into the blandly presented plate to buy shoes and stockings for the kangaroos. Consider the case of your afflicted countrymen, and relieve the plethora of your coffers by providing them music, every way equal to that enjoyed by troops going into action; music so entrancing that an arm or leg whipped off shall, under its influence, be no object to them; and let them drink down their odious physic to such masterly compositions of the first artists as shall sweeten the bitterest potion, and elicit a chorus of blessings on the taste and liberality of their munificent benefactors. But we fear that our pleading will be vain—Englishmen, poor, sick, and suffering, are intolerably uninteresting; not to be named on the same day with the happy possessors of woolly locks, flat noses, and copper-coloured skins; these being personal qualifications calculated to excite the intense sympathies of the many whose charity neither begins nor ends "at home." Yet, in the spirit of the little girl, who, on the denial of her request that she might be married, substituted the more modest one of a piece of bread and butter; if unsuccessful in this particular, we will be content to lower our tone, and, in place of the luxury we have recommended, simply require all whom it may concern to give the poor—their own!—honest wages for their honest labour.
We may perhaps be accused of having a Turkish taste in music (after the pattern of that Sultan's, who was chiefly fascinated with the jarring process of tuning the instruments, a thing abhorred by "gods and men") if we venture to own the strange, thrilling effect once produced on us by the discordant, yet withal imposing clangour of some half dozen regimental bands (all of them, mark you, playing different tunes!) which struck up simultaneously as my Lord ——, the then commander-in-chief, (whose spirit has since mingled with the shades of the heroes who had preceded him, not to the hall of Odin, but we trust to a more Christian place,) made his appearance, with his brilliant staff, on —— Moor; whither he came down ostensibly for the purpose of reviewing the troops—really, to marry his nephew and heir to the grand-daughter of a manufacturing millionnaire. (Commercial gold, or heraldic or, is a good modern "tricking;" though we query whether our ancestors would have countenanced such bad heraldry, or been content with such abatements of honour on their old shields!)
The wild sounds streamed on the crisp morning air—'twas one of those September days whose mature beauty rivals the budding grace of spring—with a strange wayward beauty, a barbaric grandeur, that carried away both our heart and ears; and we enjoyed it to the full as much as did the steed of a military lady present, that verily danced with the tingling delight. We had a fellow feeling with the brute, and could ourselves, grave and sensible as we are, have pranced about in an ecstasy of admiration, which was by no means allayed when the deep-toned sullen music—for such it is to us—of the artillery uttered its majestic bass to the sharp ringing fire of musketry. While, as wreath after wreath of the light morning mist floated away before the breeze, the glittering files and compact bristling squares, the centaur-like cavalry, and stealthy riflemen gliding along the windings of the copse, became apparent, stretching far into the distance; now hidden for a moment by the rolling vapour from a discharge of firearms, then, as it curled above them, dimming the clear sky, glancing bright in the sun, which blithely kissed sabre and epaulet, and dancing plume, and the knightly-looking pennoned weapon of the picturesque lancer. Truly the scene was beautiful, and one to breathe a warlike spirit into the most unexcitable. And we gazed in a paroxysm of admiration at the exquisite evolutions and fierce charges that seemed as though they must bear all before them, till this perfection of discipline came to an end, and the long files of troops had taken their slow dusty departure; when, hot and fagged, and with bright colours still dancing before our eyes, we returned to our home. There, as each "pleasure has its pain," we found that one was superinduced on ours, in the shape of a robbery of our plate committed while we were staring ourselves out of countenance at the gay spectacle; our faithless domestics having taken that opportunity of indulging their own taste for the "sublime and beautiful." 'Tis to be hoped they got enough of the "beautiful" at the show, as we indulged them with a touch of the "sublime" (which has one of its sources in terror) when we discovered our loss. But we enjoyed the review thoroughly for all that, and are ready for another to-morrow, first taking the precaution to "lock up all our treasure," warned by a catastrophe which nearly reduced us to wooden spoons and hay-makers.
Military music! But to feel its power fully, let it be heard when the exulting strains that are wont to fill the air with exuberant harmony are saddened into the sweet, mournful, heart-breaking notes that steal on the ear at a soldier's funeral, and the gaudy splendour of military array has passed into the drear pomp of that most touching, most monitory sight. Faint mournful bugle-notes are wafted fitfully on the wind, plumes and glittering weapons glance and disappear as the procession advances, now hidden by the hedge-rows, now flashing on the sight, in the autumnal sun, as it winds slowly along the devious road; louder and louder swell those short abrupt trumpet-notes as it draws near, till the whole sad array, in its affecting beauty, is presented to the eye. The life in death that pervades the melancholy ceremonial!—"Our brother is not dead, but sleepeth," seems written on the impressive pageant; and we almost expect, while we gaze, to see the deep slumber chased from the closed eyelids, and the recumbent form start up again to claim the warlike weapons with which it was wont to be girt, and that now lie, as if awaiting their master's grasp, in unavailing display on the funereal pall. But a mightier than he has for ever wrenched them from his hold, and vain the sword, the helm, the spear, in that unequal conflict. The last contest is over, and "he is in peace."
"Brother, wrapp'd in quiet sleep, Thou hast ceased to watch and weep; Wipe the toil-drops from thy brow, War and strife are over now; Bow the head, and bend the knee, For the crown of victory."
But suppose not pathos confined to the "bugle's wailing sound," and the sad subdued bursts of well-modulated military music—to the long files of slow-pacing troops with reversed arms, and the riderless steed, vainly caparisoned for the battle, that proclaim the obsequies of a chief. We are not ashamed to confess that the tear has been wrung from our eye by the plaintive notes of the few rude instruments that alone lament over the poor private's simple bier—the inharmonious fife, and the measured beats of the muffled drum; while the dull tramp of the appointed mourners following a comrade to his obscure resting-place falls chilly on the heart. Though even he, lowly in death as in life, shares with his leader in the brief wild honours of a soldier's grave—the sharp volleys of musketry pealing over his narrow home, a strange farewell to its passionless inhabitant, on whom the sanctity of the tomb has already passed; the unholy sound falls voiceless on his dull ear, fast closed until
"The last loud trumpet-notes on high Peal through the echoing sky, And cleave the quivering ground"—
breaking, with dreadful summons, "the eternal calm wherewith the grave is bound."
"Facilis descensus!" We cannot say that we admire the hurdy-gurdy, that synthesis of a grindstone and a Jew's-harp, yea, of all that is detestable, musically speaking, which must have owed its origin to a desire on the part of Jupiter Musicus, in a bad temper, to invent a suitable purgatory for expiating the sins of delinquent musicians; affording, on this supposition, an exquisite illustration of the perfect adaptation of means to an end—one well worthy the attention of all future writers on that subject. Independently of the nuisance of its inexpressibly harsh-jingling tones, (as, if you were being hissed by a quantity of rusty iron wire,) it always gives us the fidget to hear it for the sake of poor Abel, (surely its only admirer,) grinding away for dear life, to the extreme exacerbation of the bears growling beneath, under the combined irritation of no supper and his abominable tinkling. How they must have longed to gobble him up, were it only for the sake of popping an extinguisher on the "zit zan zounds" overhead! It was the reverse of the old tale, "no song no supper;" for they got the song, instead of a supper on the nice plump artist, which they would have liked much better. We wish he had stuck to his text, and persisted in his refusal to play; for then the fate that awaited him would but have been poetical justice for his utter and criminal want of taste—an adequate retribution on a wretch patronising an instrument whose demerits transcend every adjective that occurs to us at this present moment.
But as we cannot, even in the wildest freaks of our imagination, conceive of any one really liking the hurdy-gurdy—nay, we are prepared to demonstrate much affection absolutely impossible—we incline to think there must have been some corruption of this tradition in the course of its being handed down to us, so far at least as concerns the name of the instrument played at such a price; and on the antiquarian principle that consonants are changeable at pleasure, and vowels go for nothing, we take leave for hurdy-gurdy (what a vulgar sound it has!) to read flute, violin, lute, or, in short, any other presentable musical instrument that may chance to find the greatest favour in our eyes. A change which has the twofold merit of saving Abel's character for taste, and preserving so excellent a story from carrying a lie on the face of it; and for this service of ours, we desire alike the thanks of musicians and moralists, to whom we most respectfully present our improved version, as suitable for circulation by the most fastidious artist, or rigid precisian.
Mercy on us! What a rattling and clattering of doors and windows! The windows will certainly be blown in at last, for they strain and creak like a ship at sea; and how the wind roars and bellows in the chimney, as if AEolus and all his noisy crew were met on a tipsy revel! There—that last gust shook the house! It is to be hoped the chimneys stand with their feather-edge to it, or we shall have a stack or two about our ears in a trice. We wonder whether the cellars would be the safest place, or, indeed, whether there is a safe place about the house at all! We have often heard of the music of the wind, but never felt less disposed to admire it in our life—for the gale has been howling in our ears all day; and this last hour or two, there has been, as the sailors say, a fresh hand at the bellows; so that we are in no humour to sentimentalize on what is, within a few yards of us, curling the dark waves, that, since the day in which their fluctuation was first decreed, have swallowed up so much of what is goodly and beloved of this earth, and that now roar as if for their prey! of which may the great God that ruleth over the sea, as well as the dry land, disappoint their ravening jaws! We shrink and are half appalled at their clamour, while we are on the point of uttering a hasty vow never again to locate ourselves at the sea-side, though it were prescribed by fifty physicians; or, at all events, not so very near that dun mass of troubled waters, blending on the horizon in strange confusion with the lowering, tempestuous sky. Who could believe, as he views them in their milder mood, as we did yesterday—lying placid as a clear lake among the mountains, wherein the bright face of heaven is mirrored, reflecting each light cloud that floats in the deep azure, or the many-tinted hues of evening—that anon, lashed into foaming wrath, they should devour "rich fruit of earth, and human kind," the gold, and the gems, and the priceless treasures wrung from both hemispheres; and the young, the brave, the loved—the bright locks, and the manly beauty, and the hoary head; crushing their diverse hopes into one watery ruin, surging a wild tumultuous dirge over their one fathomless tomb! And then, sated with destruction, smile and glisten beneath the morning sunbeams with all the sportiveness of child-like innocence.
No, no—speak not to us of the "music of the wind." For to us, in our gloomy moods, it breathes but of desolation, sorrow, and suffering; while, as the blast rises higher, its sentimental mournfulness is mingled with painful thoughts, which press on our spirit, of the peril in which it places so many of our fellow-creatures; and, "God help the poor souls at sea!" rises earnestly in our heart, and even unconsciously passes the barrier of our lips, as we retire, utterly unsympathizing with the selfish enjoyment of those who delight to wrap up themselves, warm and cozy, in their curtained and downy repose, lulled to deeper slumber by the blustering cold in which others are shivering, or, haply, contending with the winds and waves so soon to overwhelm them. And in our more ordinary everyday humour—if it chance to rise above what in our humble opinion ought to be its maximum, a gentle refreshing breeze, just enough to waft sweet woodland sounds, or ripple the quiet stream—why, it discomposes and discomforts us, whistling, howling, and rattling among slates and chimney-tops, and making whirligigs of the dust, in the town; and in the country, soughing among the boughs, as though the trees had got some horrible secret which they were whispering to each other, while their long arms lash each other as if for a wager; the whole exciting in us a most uneasy and undefinable sensation, as though we had done something wrong, and were every minute expecting to be found out! A sensation which might fairly be deemed punishment sufficient for all the minor offences of this offensive world, and which we most decidedly object to having inflicted on us for nothing.
"The music of the wind!" Why, what can be more detestable than the wind whistling through a key-hole? or singing its shrill melancholy song among the straining cordage of the storm-threatened ship? Then, uninteresting accidents happen during squally weather: hats are blown off; coat-tails, and eke the flowing garments of the gentler sex, flap, as if waging war with their distressed wearers; grave dignified persons are compelled to scud along before the gale, shorn of all the impressiveness of their wonted solemn gait, holding, perchance, their shovel-hat firmly on with both hands; and finally, there is neither pathos nor glory in having your head broken by a chimney-pot, or volant weathercock. No, the wide sea is an emblem of all that is deceitful and false, smiling most blandly when preparing to devour you; and the wind is only one shade more respectable—nay, perchance the worse of the two; for the waters, in the self-justifying, neighbour-condemning spirit, apparently inherent in human nature—and for which Father Adam be thanked—may very possibly lay the blame of their fickleness upon it, and bring a host of witnesses into court to testify to their general good behaviour—their calmness, and amenity, and inoffensiveness, till exposed to the evil influence of AEolus's unruly troop—the most wholesale agitators going, and never so happy as when raising a riot.
N.B.—The whole tribe of zephyrs, gentle airs, and evening and morning breezes, will please to consider themselves as not included under the term wind; to which alone, in its common-place hectoring style, this tirade is meant to apply.
(We hate any thing important being popped within a parenthesis, but as the literary sin pinches us less than the immorality, we must here state what truth requires us to say—that the above, being written during a fit of the spleen, induced by the hubbub of winds and waters adverted to, must be received by the candid reader with considerable allowance.)
So much for the wind, which has blown music completely out of our head for a while. What a pity we did not bethink us of placing our AEolian harp in the window, before it had sunk into those short angry gusts which are now alone heard—the mere dregs of the gale; and so have drawn our inspiration from that which puffed it out! But, somehow or other, our bright thoughts generally present themselves too late to be of any use; and this is one in that predicament!
Some people profess to be never tired of music, but to enjoy it a l'outrance, at all times and in all places. With such, we must own, we have no sympathy. With all our love—not mere liking—for the art, we still hold that it is indebted for its charm to the categories of time and place, at least as much as its neighbours; for (but this confession should be made in the smallest, most modest-looking type in the world) there are both times and places when we hate it cordially, and fervently wish that neither harmony, nor its ancestor, melody, had ever been invented. In some such mood as made the very heavens themselves odious and pestilential to Hamlet, does music appear to us as unlike itself, as they really were to his crazed imagination of them; and we look forward with malicious pleasure to the time when, if Dryden is to be believed—but your poets are not always prophets—"music shall untune the sky," as a period when all the miseries it has inflicted on us shall be amply revenged by its perpetrating, or assisting at, this gigantic mischief. 'Tis then that your first-fiddle is but impertinent catgut—your fluent organ a vile box of whistles, fit representative of its Tube-al inventor—and the sweetest pipe ever resonant with the clear, music-breathing air of Italy, or bravely struggling against the damper atmosphere of our humid isle, sounds harsh and shrilly in our ears, instead of soothing our "savage breast," which seems to marshal all its powers the more emphatically to give the poet the lie. This—now that we are in the confessional—we are free to own—yea, it is incumbent on us to do ourselves this justice—is only when we are in one of our unamiable moods, luckily about as rare as snow at mid-summer, but correspondingly chilling and shocking to the genial ones around us,—ourselves usually most so, like quiet sunshine in November. We are, by nature, the meekest of individuals—a "falcon-hearted dove," or anything else, pretty and poetical, that might give the idea of our possessing a brave heart under a most gentle exterior; but when roused, then indeed are we a very dragon; or rather, to keep up our former simile, (which we think a taking one, though, alas! it is not our own,) and delineate, by one expressive phrase, a mouldering, rage kept in check; by the constitutional cowardice on which it is superinduced—then are we a pigeon-hearted hawk, wanting only the courage to be desperately cross! (An impertinent friend, who has been looking over our shoulder, suggests that ourselves, under the two above-named phrases, would be better adumbrated by the figure of a dish of skimmed milk, and that same milk curdled! A plague on friends, say we! the most impertinent impertinencies that fall to our lot in this cross-cornered world are sure to emanate from them.)
Another of our sins which—to make "a clean breast"—we must confess, is that of fickleness in our loves; an occasional flirting with other arts and sciences, in their turn—for we protest against the profligacy of making love to more than one at once! We string together fearful and unreadable lengths of iambics, and dactyles, and trochaics, and write sonnets to the bright queen of night, beginning "O thou!" and stick fast in the middle of sorely-laboured and at length baffling extempores to this, that, and t'other; and, wickeder still, then we din them into the ears of a wretched friend, who having once, in the extremity of his courtesy, unhappily proved himself a good listener, is, for his sins, fated to continue so to the end of the chapter—i.e., our interminable rhymes; til, tired of exchanging our bad prose for worse poetry, (and having the fear of his maledictions before our eyes,) we throw it aside in a pet. Then comes a change over our spirit; and we dabble in paint-pots, and flourish a palette, and are great on canvass, and in chalks, and there is a mingled perfume of oil and turpentine in our studio (whilome study) that is to us highly refreshing, and good against fainting; and we make tours in search of the picturesque, climbing over stone walls, and what not, to gain some hill-top whence we may see the sun set or the moon rise, haply getting soused in a peat-drain for our pains—and we pencil sketches from nature, really very like; and the blue mountains, the solemn sunsets, and purple shadows among the woods, or falling on the tawny sands, girdling the sea, whose blue-gray melts into the horizon, throw us into quick ecstasies of delight that almost paralyse the adventurous hand as it seeks, often vainly, to transfer the quick-changing loveliness to the enduring canvass. And then we fling away our pencils in despair, and worship, with all the devotion of which ignorance is the mother, (for we never handled the chisel,) the serene beauty of sculpture; most passionless, most intellectual art, breathing the repose of divinity, the grand inaction of the All-powerful; shadowing forth in this its perfection, sublime truth, with its faint, troubled, yet still sublime reflection, error;—the "without passions" of Divine revelation, and its perversion, its undue development, the unconsciousness, issuing in the final perfection of annihilation, of Braminical deity. So are the extremes of truth and error linked—the error depending for its existence on its antagonist truth. Painting is objective, sculpture subjective, throwing the mind more upon itself, to seek there the hidden forms of grace and beauty yet unmanifested by pencil or chisel. The one appeals more to the senses, the other to the imagination and the mind; exciting ideas rather than presenting them. Painting, sublimate it as you will, is still of the earth; albeit a purer one than this desolated habitation in which the sons of Adam mourn their exile—even the unviolated Eden; of which it is one of the fairest, tenderest emanations, reaching forward to the angelic, yet still a child of earth with mortality on its brow. Sculpture is of the gods, with its Titanic majesty, and calm, celestial grace.
But next succeeds one of our hard, stern, misanthropical fits, in which verjuice and aloes might be taken as the type of our condition, and we propound strange heresies concerning the affections, social and domestic; the leading one being that they are greater inlets to misery than happiness, and that mankind would have been less wretched had they grown up, like blades of grass, alone and separate; a cheerless doctrine, but one which misanthropical logic legitimately deduces from the more comprehensive one, that in this world evil is more potential than good—more active and influential in its own nature. And we bitterly call to mind all the treachery with which our trustfulness has been met—our leaning on that broken reed, friendship—the placing our whole hope and stay on some loved one who has failed us in our extremity;—we call up (and how they throng at that call!) these gloomy recollections, clad in all the terrors of the dark and indistinct past, to build ourselves up in our gloomy creed. And in our utter weariness of soul, the thought of an uninterrupted sentient existence is oppressive: and we passionately wish that the rest of the grave might not be vouchsafed to our body alone, but that our spirit also might sleep a deep, tranquil sleep, until the great day of awakening. 'Tis a dreary mood—like clouded moonlight on troubled, turbid waters! And we could roast Love with his own torch—and we see every thing through crape spectacles, and have no clarity for the softer, more refined emotions and contemplations; so we plunge our head and ears into a chaos of most musty, dusty metaphysics; and by the time we are nearly choked with them, and have reasoned ourselves, first, out of all intercourse with an external world, secondly, out of its existence, thirdly, out of our own, we are right glad to be brought back to our senses, and our old love, whom we embrace with all the ardour of reconciliation after a lover's quarrel, and willingly yield ourselves to the humanizing effect of music—grave or gay, as our mood may dictate, either perfect after its kind.
Reader, should you haply be of the extreme North, has it ever chanced to you to be present at our glorious English cathedral service? If not, congratulate yourself on this enjoyment in reserve for you; and when you next visit our end of the little island, pass not, we beseech you, those Gothic towers, massive and rich, or taper spires rising majestically above the cloistered arches, buttresses, and pinnacles, of these monuments of the piety, consummate skill, and humility of our ancestors; for no modern black board, with gilt letters, proclaims the name of their founders, who have sought a simple, perchance a nameless, tomb within the sacred walls they have reared. Pass within that lofty doorway; and the silence, the stillness, the vastness within, awe the heart! From the care and turmoil without, one step has placed us lonely as in a desert;—from the surges of life to the presence of the dead, who sleep around as if under the more immediate keeping of the Mighty One in His holy temple! And if, entering, a solitary memorial of the more clouded faith which they inherited from their fathers—the jewel, dimmed by its frail setting—should meet the eye, start not, with the pride of knowledge, from the meek petition, "Ora pro me," enscrolled beneath that mitred effigy, worn by the thoughtless feet of the generations passed away; but believe, and fear not to do so, that "it is accepted according to that a man hath," and that the sincere devotion of the heart, even when erroneously expressed, through involuntary ignorance, shall not be rejected by that just Being who seeks not to reap where He hath not sowed; but that it may come up as holy incense before Him, when our cold, unloving, orthodox prayers, backed by our heathenish lives, and meaner offerings on the altar of our God, shall return, blighted and blighting, into our own bosoms. Or should you be too petrified with pious horror at this—Popery, as with your longest, dismalest face, you will style it—to think with any charity of those who dwelt but in the twilight of your open day—the very verger, sleek, round, and smiling, as he stands by you in his sake-robes, shall, in his honest zeal, supply an antidote for the evil, moralizing on the vanity of such supplications, and winding up his simple homily with the significant—"Where the tree falleth, there it shall lie!" Think on that, rigid critic, and take heed how you fall!—nor, if you have the capacity for finding "good in every thing," will you disdain to learn the lesson of instruction, which your own heart had failed to supply, from so lowly a source.
But you still curl your sanctimonious lip, and shrug your pious shoulders, in intimation of your knowing vastly better than your poor, ignorant forefathers! Ah, well—then live better; that is all we have got to say to you!
Our very parish churches are now emulating the impressive ceremonial and exquisite musical service of the cathedral. Enter, then, with us one that has seemed, in some degree, to revive the glory of the olden time, when men, as they received, gave lavishly for the service of the altar; nor meted out their offerings with the niggard hand that is moved by the heart of this generation; unmoved, unwarmed, but boastful of its light—the light of a moonbeam playing on an iceberg! There is the long sweep of the nave, with the open chancel (not separated from the former by the richly carved and fretted screen, which, however beautiful in itself, mars the grand effect of the whole) leading to the altar—we are old-fashioned people, and fear not to offend by this old-fashioned term—whose sacred garniture glows beneath the many tints of the fine eastern window, with its monograms and emblems, and flowing-robed apostles, through which the mellowed summer sun shines obliquely, throwing strange, grotesque, many-coloured shadows on the walls and pavement; while on either side tall lancet-shaped windows, thickly covered with heraldic devices, bear modest record to the willing service of those whose munificence has reared the pile, and give increased light and richness to the scene. The great western window, also covered with armorial bearings, throws a dim, yet kindling, tint on the stone font aptly placed beneath it, as figurative of its character—initial to that further sacrament, meetly celebrated where the star of Him who first blessed it proclaimed His advent to the expectant world. While throughout the holy building, high-springing arch, and sombre aisle, and vaulted ceiling, and curiously-wrought oaken roof; all combine to impress the mind with awe and admiration, with thoughts of the past and hopes for the future.
But this is not all: these are but the glories of art, worthily employed, indeed, in the service of the temple; 'tis but the body without the life, the soul that animates it. Return at the decline of day, when "man, who goeth forth unto his labour even unto the evening," has received a respite from his ordained toil, and seeks to refresh and elevate his spirit, wearied and worn down with the low, inevitable cares of the day, with the mingled prayer and chant, "rising and falling as on angels' wings," that duly, at each appointed eve, swell through the consecrated structure, filling its concave with solemn melody. The last flush of evening has died in the west, and the scattered worshippers are indistinctly seen by the dim lights, which, bringing out into strong relief the parts immediately adjacent to the massive yet graceful pillars to which they are attached, throw the rest of the interior into deeper gloom, brought into sharp contrast with the illuminated portions, by intersecting arch, clustered shaft, and all the endless intricacies of Gothic architecture; exuberant with profusely decorated spandrils, sculptured bosses, light flying buttresses, and delicate fan-like tracery. How beautiful and hushed is all around! Now the stillness is broken by approaching footsteps, and the white-robed train of priests and choristers is seen advancing along the aisle, the organ uttering its impressive modulations to soothe the heart, and still its tumult of worldly care and feelings, that these may not, "like birds of evil wing," mar the sacrifice about to be offered on its unworthy altar. And then, amid the succeeding silence, fall on the ear—ay, on the very soul!—the words of Holy Writ, deprecating the wrath of an offended Creator, announcing pardon to the repentant, and cleansing from the pollution of guilt to the heart, vexed with the defilement of this evil world, and yearning after the purity of that higher existence for which, erst designed, the inherited frailty of its nature, and the threefold temptations that unweariedly beset it, have rendered it unfit and unworthy.
How clear, simple, yet most thrilling, is the enunciation of those words! and mark the superb harmony with which, proceeding in the sacred service, the single plaintively modulated voice of the officiating minister is answered by the choral supplications of the assembled worshippers—swelling out in joyous exulting tones, and dying away in sorrowful minor cadence, as though the shadow of sin and suffering fell on those pathways to the highest heaven, clouding the radiance unmeet for mortal eye! And if rude tremulous notes, from some of the lowly ones who, still habited in their garb of daily toil, kneel by our side—for, in that house, distinctions are there none—mingle with the harmony, they mingle not harshly, for there is melody in the heart, and it is the voice of a brother; not the less "bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh," that the blessings of this life have been more sparingly bestowed on him—perchance to crown him more abundantly with glory and honour in that which is to come. Succeeding each other, the antiphonal chant—venerable with the port of near eighteen centuries; yea, with the hoar of Jewish, as well as Christian antiquity—the exuberant anthem with its ponderous chorus, and again, the joyous, melancholy, choral response, wherein blend the voices of childish innocence, strong manhood, and plaintive age, hear us on to the close;—that threefold blessing which none may hear unmoved, and whose magnitude seems to transcend our poor belief, as we reverently bow, in awed silence, musing on its unfathomable import; while the deep, mellow voice that pronounced it still lingers on the ear.
How imposing is the sight! One kneeling throng around—the indistinct light, that clothes with mysterious grace the beautiful lineaments of the Gothic structure—the bright gleam on the white and flowing vestments;—and the stillness! broken at length by a low, sad melody, in accordance with the subdued tone resting on all, gradually rising into the more swelling chords of the solemn organ, that, earthly strains though they be, seen not unmeet to mingle with those exalted ones that have gone before—rousing the heart from its more celestial contemplations, and by gentle transition—like a descending dove—bringing it down from its heavenward flight to that earth with which its present daily and active duties are concerned, the more fitly and cheerfully performed when thus hallowed; for, be it remembered, the preparation for that unseen world to which we are tending, is the best preparation for our continuance in this.
But the last wave of harmony has died away in the sounding aisles; one by one the lights are extinguished, throwing the varied beauty of arch, and niche, and pillar, into indistinguishable and fast deepening shade; and, last of the train, we, with heart tranquillized and elevated by the service of that evening hour, slowly follow the departing worshippers into the still, clear night.
BY AN ANCIENT CONTRIBUTOR.
TO THE EDITOR OF BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE.
Sir,—It is twenty years since I first contributed to your Magazine;—it was rather a brief article, and was not inserted in the early part of the work. In short, it consisted of a few lines in the Obituary at the end of the Number, and was as follows:—"Died at Bunderjumm, in the East Indies, Thomas Sneezum, Esq., much and justly regretted by a numerous circle of friends and acquaintances." He was my uncle, sir, and I was his heir,—a highly respectable man, and a remarkable judge of bullocks. He was in the Commissariat, and died worth forty thousand pounds. If you saw his monument, on the wall of our parish church, and read his character, you would know what a beautiful sympathy exists between a dead uncle and a grateful nephew. I took the name of Sneezum in addition to my own—bought an estate, and an immense number of books—and cultivated my land and literature with the greatest care. I planted trees—I drained meadows—and wrote books. The trees grew—the meadows flourished—but the books never came to an end. Something always interfered. I never could get the people in my novels disposed of. When they began talking, they talked for ever; when they fought duels, they were always killed; and, by the time I had got them into the middle of a scrape, I always forgot how I had intended to get them out of it. In history, it was very nearly the same. Centuries jostled against each other like a railway collision. I confused Charlemagne with Frederick Barbarossa, and the Cardinal Richelieu with M. Thiers. So, with the exception of the article I alluded to, in your Magazine, and a few letters on the present potato disease in the Gardener's Guide, I am a Great Unpublished—in the same way as I understand there are a number of extraordinary geniuses in the dramatic line, who have called themselves the Great Unacted. I can only hope that advancing civilization will bring better days to us both—types for me—actors for them.
At the time of the lamented death of my uncle, I was about thirty years of age, and for ten years before that, had been sleeping partner in a house in Liverpool; and I can honestly say I did my part of the duty to the perfect satisfaction of all concerned. I slept incessantly—not exactly in a house in Liverpool but in a very comfortable one—the drawing-room floor, near the Regent's Park. Twice a-year a balance-sheet came in, and a little ready money. I put the money carefully away in a drawer, and threw the balance-sheet in the fire. It was a very happy life, for I subscribed to a circulating library, and wrote the beginnings of books continually.
One day, about six months after I was in possession of the fortune, I heard a ring at the bell. There was something in the ring different from any I had ever heard before—a sort of sweet, modest tingling kind of a ring. I felt as if somebody was shaking my hand all the time; and, on looking back on the event, I think there must be something in mesmerism and every thing else—homoeopathy and the water cure included; for it was certainly quite unaccountable on ordinary principles—but so it was. The maid was very slow in answering the bell. There was another pull. The same mysterious effects—a sort of jump—a tremor as it were, not at all unpleasant, but very odd—so I went to the door myself; and there fixed on me, in the most extraordinary manner, were two of the blackest eyes I ever saw—illuminating cheeks of a dark yellow colour, and increasing the whiteness of the most snowy teeth—the brightest, glistenest, shiningest, teeth that can possibly be imagined. She wore—for I may as well tell you it was a woman—she wore a flowing white veil upon her head, the queerest petticoats, and funniest shoes—at that time I had not seen the Chinese Collection and thought it was Desdemona (whom I had seen Mr Kean put to death a few nights before) "walking" in some of Othello's clothes. What she said, or if she said any thing, I was too much astonished to make out; but she walked into my room, smiling with her wonderful teeth, and curtsying with the extraordinary petticoats down to the very floor—and calling me "Massa Sib."
"My good woman," I said, "I am afraid you make a mistake. I don't know any one of the name of Sib;" but I checked myself, for I thought she perhaps mistook me—I wore prodigious whiskers at that time—for a gallant colonel, whose name begins with that euphonious syllable.
"No, no—no colonel," she said; "me wants you—me no care for colonels." What could she possibly want with me? I had never seen the woman before, or any body like her, except a picture of the Queen of Sheba when she was on a visit to Solomon. Could this woman come from Sheba? Could she take me for—no, no—she couldn't possibly take me for Solomon. So I was quite non-plussed.
"You no get no letter, Massa Sib, to tell you we was to come—eh?"
A letter? a letter?—I had had a hundred and fifty letters, but put them all into a box. How was it possible for me to read such a number? and who did she mean by us? How many more of then were coming?
"Massa Sib vill be so fond of him's babba—him vill"——
A dreadful thought came into my head—a conspiracy to extort money—a declaration at Bow Street—a weekly allowance. "Woman!" I said, "what, in heaven's name, do you mean by babba?"
"Dee little babb; it is so pretty—so like him papa."
"And whose baby is it? for I suppose it's a baby you mean, by your chatter about a babb."
"Your's. Oh! you will so lubb it."
"Mine? you detestable impostor, I never had such a thing in all my life."
"And here it is—oh, dee pretty dear!"
And at that moment, another woman, dressed in the same outlandish style as herself, brought up a little round parcel, that looked like a bundle of clothes, and, before I had time to say a word, or shut the door, or fly, placed it in my arms; and then both the women showed their glistening teeth, stretching from ear to ear, and screamed out in chorus, "You vill so lubb dee babba—it is such a pretty dear!"
I stood in a state of stupefaction for some time, but the dark-visaged visitors by no means shared my inactivity; they ran, and screamed, and bustled; trotted down stairs, jumped up again, and filled the whole passage; then the drawing-room; then the little bedroom behind it, with trunks, and bags, and band-boxes, and bird-cages full of parrots, and cloaks, and shawls; till at last, when I started from my trance—in doing which, nearly let the baby fall—I found my whole house taken possession of, and the two women apparently as much at home as if they had lived with me twenty years.
I unrolled the shawls and things from the baby's face. It was an infant about a year old, and opened its eyes as I was looking at it, and looked so wisely and sagaciously at me in return, that I could almost believe it knew as much of the proceeding as I did—and this it might very easily have done, without being a miracle of premature information, for I had not the remotest conception of what the whole thing was about. So I laid the child on the sofa, and went to the bell to ring for a policeman.
"Oh, don't ring him bell, ve are so comfitable here!" said one of the women. "Yesha vill go home 'gain, and I vill habb little bed in t'oder room, and vill sleep vid dee babb—so nice!"
"Oh, you will—will you? We'll see about that," I answered, astonished at the woman's impudence. "I will get you and your little lump of Newcastle"—this was an allusion to her colour—"turned out into the street."
"Oh, Massa Moggan vill soon be here! Him wrote letter a veek since; but him vill come to-day."
So I did not pull the bell, but looked at the two intruders just as Macready looks at the witches in Macbeth; for Mr Morgan was my legal adviser, and had been my uncle's agent, and transacted all the business connected with the succession; and I had such confidence in him that I never opened his letters, and had of course thrown the note they talked of into the great wooden box that was the receptacle of all my correspondence.
In the mean time, the baby began to squall.
"Take the brat away, and I'll tell a little bit of my mind to Mr Morgan," I said, grinding my teeth in a horrible passion; and, in a moment, the two women disappeared with the child, roaring and screaming, as if they had stuck pins into it on purpose to drive me mad.
If I had been a man of a tragic turn of mind, and fond of giving vent to the passion of a scene, I would have walked up and down the room, striking myself on the brow or breast, and shouting, "Confusion! distraction!" and other powerful words which Mr Kean used to deliver with astonishing emphasis; but I had no talent for the intense, and threw myself on the sofa, exclaiming, "Here's a pretty go!"
And a pretty go it undoubtedly was—two black women and a saffron-coloured baby established with me, as if I had been married to a Hottentot; and my sister-in-law, as is very often the case, had come to attend to her nieces' morals and education.
"So! Mr Morgan, what is the meaning of all this?"
But before I had time for further exclamations, my friend Mr Morgan, who had come quietly into the room, interrupted me——
"Hush, my dear Sneezum—you are delighted, I'm sure. A most interesting incident—eh, Sneezum?"
"Oh! these things do all very well in a book," I began; "but, by jingo, sir, it's a very different thing in real life; and I tell you very fairly, I'd sooner be married at once than have all the troubles of bringing up a set of children that I have nothing to do with."
"Children! my dear Sneezum?"
"To be sure; how do I know that some more black women mayn't come—with some more children—till my house grows like a gallery of bronzed figures; but I'll sell them—see if I don't; I'll pack them all on an Italian boy's head-board, and sell them to the doctors—every one."
"You labour under a mistake, my dear Sneezum. You've got my letter?"
"Yes—I got it—but"——
"Oh, then, of course you are too happy to show such respect to the wishes of the defunct."
"What! uncle Sneezum?" and a wonderful light seemed to break in upon my mind.—"He sent this baby here?"
Mr Morgan nodded his head; and, being a man of great caution, he only put his finger in a mysterious manner alongside of his nose, and said—
"Secrets in all families, Sneezum."
"Oho! well—but the women—they're ugly customers, both of them; uncle Sneezum was no judge of beauty."
"The women! what do you mean?" said Mr Morgan.
"Ay, which of them is it? but you need hardly tell, for I should never know which of them you meant; they're a great deal liker each other than any two peas I ever saw. Are we to call her Mrs Sneezum?"
Here Mr Morgan burst into a great laugh.
"My dear Sneezum, you are always trying to find out some wonderful scene or other to put into one of your books. No, no—these are two nurses; one will remain in charge of the child, the other returns immediately to Calcutta."
"And where will the one that is to remain—where will she live?" I asked with a fearful presentiment of something shockingly unpleasant. But before he had time to answer, the black visage of the nurse herself appeared at the door, smiling with more blindingly white teeth than ever.
"We have took dee room below dis—dee babb is in dee beautiful bed, and ve vill never leave Massa Sib—never no more—so nice!"
So I was booked, and felt it useless to complain.
Fifteen years passed on most happily. I established myself, or rather old Morgan established me, in my present house; he paid L25,000 for the estate; and I have gone on, as I told you at the beginning of this letter, cultivating my farm and my talents with the utmost care. The little girl grew and grew till I thought she would never stop; and by the time she was sixteen she was at least an inch taller than I was. Many people like those prodigious women of five feet six—I'm only five feet five myself, which I believe was the exact measurement of Napoleon; and I must confess that when I looked on Martha Brown—that was her name—a sort of compliment I always thought to the complexion of her Hindoo mother—I could not imagine how she could be the child of such a curious old-fashioned looking individual as I had heard my uncle Sneezum was. Well, she grew tall—and grew stout—and grew clever; and if old Morgan had been her father himself, he could not have taken more care of her. He was always down at Goslingbury, (that's the name of my place—I sometimes put "Park" after it; but the lawn is now in turnips, and not the least like Blenheim,) and his wife, and his two daughters, and his little boy—in fact, the whole family; and though, I confess, they were always most friendly and attentive to me, their principal cares were bestowed on Martha Brown. I never push myself where I perceive my company is not greatly desired; so I went out to see the planting, or thin the copses, or make new fences, or superintend the ploughing, or betook myself to my study, and gave full way to the wildest flights of fancy in my everlasting first chapters of a novel or romance.
Sir,—It was at that time—now nearly four years ago—that I began a work which I don't believe the most hostile criticism—but I will not boast; it will be enough to say that I consider it equal to any two introductory chapters I ever read. The whole of the first consists in a description of my own house—the name of course changed, and the locality removed to another county. I give the number of the rooms, the width of the passages, the height of ceilings, and a description of the new lifting-hinges to the dining-room door, that raise it over the turkey carpet, without sacrificing, as is usual, an inch of the lower part, and leaving a great interval at the sill. The fields are also very particularly described, and in some instances the exact measurement given; it gives such an appearance of reality, as may be seen in Ainsworth and others; and the second chapter is devoted, or meant to be devoted, to the living interests of the story—the dramatis personae, as it were—with hopes, fears, griefs, and the other passions alluded to in Collins's ode.
Mystery has an indescribable charm, which is the thing that makes me so fond of riddles; and so I determined to have a hero or a heroine, I did not care which, of a most unexampled kind. But how to invent an unexampled hero, I could not imagine. Some disgusting fellow had always done it before: even a blackamoor had been taken up—for there was that horrid Othello; a Jew—there was Sheva; a puppy—there was Pelham; a pickpocket—there was Jack Sheppard; and at last, as the sweet source of mystery, and the pleasantest one to unravel, I thought I would take myself. Yes, I would be the hero of my own book; and as to a heroine, why, one of the Misses Morgan, or Martha Brown, or old Mrs Morgan, or the Indian nurse, (whose name was Ayah, which is Sanscrit or Cherokee for her situation,) any body would do. I was not at all particular; so I began my own description.
It is amazing how little difference there is between man and man. A very few touches judiciously applied, would make Roebuck into Wellington, especially if Roebuck held the brush himself. Involuntarily I found my height increasing, my embonpoint diminishing, my eyes brightening, my hair disporting in wavy ringlets over a majestic brow, till at the end of the second page I was Theodore Fitzhedingham, twenty-five years of age, with several grandfathers and grandmothers distinguished in history before the Norman conquest, and a clear rent-roll of forty thousand a-year. And yet, after all, it was my own individual self, Thomas Smith Sneezum—not, perhaps, exactly as I was at that moment—but as I had often and often fancied myself when I had gone through a course of Thaddeus of Warsaws, and other chronicles of the brave and beautiful. For, I confess, I was no wiser than other people, and it is well known they have an amazing tendency to identify themselves with the characters of the books they read, which perhaps accounts for the contempt that Doctors' or Clergymen's wives in country villages entertain for any body of the name of Snookes; and gives them so prodigious an opinion of their own importance, that they wouldn't visit a stockbroker or flannel manufacturer for the world. But there I was, stuck in the third page of the second chapter—Theodore Fitzhedingham—blessed with all that handsomeness, and rolling in all that money, and not able to move hand or foot, or in short make the least progress towards the denouement of the story. For, with all my study, I could not manufacture a heroine out of any of the girls around me. Miss Letitia Morgan had false teeth—I found it quite impossible to make a heroine of her; and besides, I was not even sure of the genuineness of the long curls at the side of her face. For, you will observe, that the beautifying process I have mentioned above; seems strictly confined to one's own particular case. No lying and swopping, and altering and amending, would make those long brown artificial incisors—you saw a roll of the gold wire every time she laughed—into a row of pearls encased in a casket of ruby. That is my description of white teeth in red lips, and I think it is far from bad. Then Miss Sophia was immensely tall, and immensely thin; and in the mornings when she appeared en negligee, as they say in the Morning Post, her clothes hung straight down in perpendicular descent, so that she looked exactly like the canvass air funnels that you see in a steam-boat: and there were no outs and ins, or ups and downs, about her figure from top to toe; and I found it impossible, for a particular reason, to supply these deficiencies by the exercise of my ingenuity in description And that particular reason was this,—that she did it herself. Lord! what a change took place on Miss Sophia as you saw her gliding about the room like a half emptied pillow-case in the morning, and the grand and distinguee (Morning Post again) individual that choked up all the doorways, and occupied whole sofas, when you met her at a party at night. Then there were such flounces and tucks, and furbelows,—she sailed through the room enveloped in such awful circumgyrations of muslin—so pulled in at the waist, and so inflated every where else, that she looked—as you saw only her neck and shoulders emerging from the enormous circle in which the rest of her was buried—like an intrepid aeronaut who has fallen by some accident through a hole in the balloon, and you were lost in calculations of the length of darning-needle that would be needed to reach to the vera superficies. Now if I invent, I like to have the honour of the invention entirely to myself; and I found it impracticable to extract a heroine from seven or eight spring gauze petticoats, and a roll of millinery below the waist, that looked like a military cloak rolled up on the crupper of a life-guardsman's saddle. Then poor Martha Brown was too young, and at that time too bashful, for a heroine; and besides, there was no getting over the blot on her birth. Theodore Fitzhedingham could never think of paying attention to the daughter of a Hindoo woman and old Sneezum, the bullock contractor of Bunderjumm. One day I had been at work in one of the plantations, and just as I was marking with my hand-axe a birch tree to be felled, a thought came into my head. I left the cross half executed, and threw the axe on the bank, hurried home, and locked myself in the study. Pen and paper were lying before me, and in a moment I had got deep into the introduction of my heroine. She was an orphan thrown on Fitzhedingham's care—young, beautiful, accomplished, but of unknown mysterious parentage—and the denouement to consist in the discovery that her father was——but I won't mention it just now, for half the value of these things consists in the surprise. I will give you a page or two of it, only begging you to remark how entirely a man's style alters when he gets into a serious work. Here I go gabbling on and on to you, without much regard to style, or perhaps to grammar—(if there are any slips in it, have the kindness to correct them before you show this to any one)—but the instant I take up my pen to write a portion of my novel, I get dignified and heroic, perhaps you will say a little stiff, but I assure you I have formed myself on the best models. The passage I alluded to was this:—
"To all the graces of external beauty Maria Valentine de Courcy united all the captivations of the intellect—all the attractions of the understanding,—all the enchantments of the soul. Cast in the finest mould of earthly loveliness—radiant in all the charms of youth, of innocence, and of integrity—she was the loved of all approachers—the idol of all observers—the appropriator of all affections. A little more ethereal, she would have been a goddess—a little less celestial, she would have been a more ordinary woman than she was. For her nature was of too lofty a kind—her spirit of too sublimated a character—her disposition of too beatified a placidity, to allow her to be classed with the other individuals constituting the female sex. A period of many years had elapsed since she first took up her residence among the proud halls—the baronial corridors—the heraldic passages of Fitzhedingham Castle. Winter had found her wandering in the snowy lanes—Spring had noticed her careering in the budding meadows—Summer had beheld her perambulating through the flowery grove—and Autumn had kept his eye on her as she galloped her managed palfrey through the umbrageous orchard, or skimmed in her light bark over the pellucid bosom of the silver lake. For many years such had been her unvarying course; and if loveliness has a charm—if innocence has an attraction—if youth has a witchery—all—all—were concentrated in the noble figure and exquisitely-chiselled countenance of the subject of our sketch. The colouring of a Titian, the elasticity of a Rubens, the magnificence of a Michael Angelo Buonaparte."—