The value of money, and the increase of our opulence, might form, says Johnson, a curious subject of research. In the reign of Edward the Sixth, Latimer mentions it as a proof of his father's prosperity, that though but a yeoman, he gave his daughters five pounds each for their portion. At the latter end of Elizabeth's reign, seven hundred pounds were such a temptation to courtship, as made all other motives suspected. Congreve makes twelve thousand pounds more than a counterbalance to the affection of Belinda. No poet will now fly his favourite character at less than fifty thousand. Clarissa Harlowe had but a moderate fortune.
In Sir John Vanbrugh's Confederacy, a woman of fashion is presented with a bill of millinery as long as herself.—Yet it only amounts to a poor fifty pounds! at present this sounds oddly on the stage. I have heard of a lady of quality and fashion who had a bill of her fancy dressmaker, for the expenditure of one year, to the tune of, or rather, which closed in the deep diapason of, six thousand pounds!
THE EARLY DRAMA.
"It is curious to trace the first rude attempts of the drama in various nations; to observe at that moment how crude is the imagination, and to trace the caprices it indulges; and that the resemblance in these attempts holds in the earliest essays of Greece, of France, of Spain, of England, and, what appears extraordinary, even of China and Mexico."
The rude beginnings of the drama of Greece are sufficiently known, and the old mysteries of Europe have been exhibited in a former article. The progress of the French theatre has been this:—
Etienne Jodelle, in 1552, seems to have been the first who had a tragedy represented of his own invention, entitled Cleopatra—it was a servile imitation of the form of the Grecian tragedy; but if this did not require the highest genius, it did the utmost intrepidity; for the people were, through long habit, intoxicated with the wild amusement they amply received from their farces and moralities.
The following curious anecdote, which followed the first attempt at classical imitation, is very observable. Jodelle's success was such, that his rival poets, touched by the spirit of the Grecian muse, showed a singular proof of their enthusiasm for this new poet, in a classical festivity which gave room for no little scandal in that day; yet as it was produced by a carnival, it was probably a kind of drunken bout. Fifty poets, during the carnival of 1552, went to Arcueil. Chance, says the writer of the life of the old French bard Ronsard, who was one of the present profane party, threw across their road a goat—which having caught, they ornamented the goat with chaplets of flowers, and carried it triumphantly to the hall of their festival, to appear to sacrifice to Bacchus, and to present it to Jodelle; for the goat, among the ancients, was the prize of the tragic bards; the victim of Bacchus, who presided over tragedy,
Carmine, qui tragico, vilem certavit ob hircum.
The goat thus adorned, and his beard painted, was hunted about the long table, at which the fifty poets were seated; and after having served them for a subject of laughter for some time, he was hunted out of the room, and not sacrificed to Bacchus. Each of the guests made verses on the occasion, in imitation of the Bacchanalia of the ancients. Ronsard composed some dithyrambics to celebrate the festival of the goat of Etienne Jodelle; and another, entitled "Our travels to Arcueil." However, this Bacchaualian freak did not finish as it ought, where it had begun, among the poets. Several ecclesiastics sounded the alarm, and one Chandieu accused Ronsard with having performed an idolatrous sacrifice; and it was easy to accuse the moral habits of fifty poets assembled together, who were far, doubtless, from being irreproachable. They repented for some time of their classical sacrifice of a goat to Tragedy.
Hardi, the French Lope de Vega, wrote 800 dramatic pieces from 1600 to 1637; his imagination was the most fertile possible; but so wild and unchecked, that though its extravagances are very amusing, they served as so many instructive lessons to his successors. One may form a notion of his violation of the unities by his piece "La Force du Sang." In the first act Leocadia is carried off and ravished. In the second she is sent back with an evident sign of pregnancy. In the third she lies in, and at the close of this act her son is about ten years old. In the fourth, the father of the child acknowledges him; and in the fifth, lamenting his son's unhappy fate, he marries Leocadia. Such are the pieces in the infancy of the drama.
Rotrou was the first who ventured to introduce several persons in the same scene; before his time they rarely exceeded two persons; if a third appeared, he was usually a mute actor, who never joined the other two. The state of the theatre was even then very rude; the most lascivious embraces were publicly given and taken; and Rotrou even ventured to introduce a naked page in the scene, who in this situation holds a dialogue with one of his heroines. In another piece, "Scedase, ou l'hospitalite violee," Hardi makes two young Spartans carry off Scedase's two daughters, ravish them on the stage, and, violating them in the side scenes, the spectators heard their cries and their complaints. Cardinal Richelieu made the theatre one of his favourite pursuits, and though not successful as a dramatic writer, his encouragement of the drama gradually gave birth to genius. Scudery was the first who introduced the twenty-four hours from Aristotle; and Mairet studied the construction of the fable, and the rules of the drama. They yet groped in the dark, and their beauties were yet only occasional; Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Crebillon, and Voltaire perfected the French drama.
In the infancy of the tragic art in our country, the bowl and dagger were considered as the great instruments of a sublime pathos; and the "Die all" and "Die nobly" of the exquisite and affecting tragedy of Fielding were frequently realised in our popular dramas. Thomas Goff, of the university of Oxford, in the reign of James I., was considered as no contemptible tragic poet: he concludes the first part of his Courageous Turk, by promising a second, thus:—
If this first part, gentles! do like you well, The second part shall greater murthers tell.
Specimens of extravagant bombast might be selected from his tragedies. The following speech of Amurath the Turk, who coming on the stage, and seeing "an appearance of the heavens being on fire, comets and blazing stars, thus addresses the heavens," which seem to have been in as mad a condition as the poet's own mind:—
—How now, ye heavens! grow you So proud, that you must needs put on curled locks, And clothe yourselves in periwigs of fire!"
In the Raging Turk, or Bajazet the Second, he is introduced with this most raging speech:—
Am I not emperor? he that breathes a no Damns in that negative syllable his soul; Durst any god gainsay it, he should feel The strength of fiercest giants in my armies; Mine anger's at the highest, and I could shake The firm foundation of the earthly globe; Could I but grasp the poles in these two hands I'd pluck the world asunder. He would scale heaven, and when he had ——got beyond the utmost sphere, Besiege the concave of this universe, And hunger-starve the gods till they confessed What furies did oppress his sleeping soul.
These plays went through two editions: the last printed in 1656.
The following passage from a similar bard is as precious. The king in the play exclaims,—
By all the ancient gods of Rome and Greece, I love my daughter!—better than my niece! If any one should ask the reason why, I'd tell them—Nature makes the stronger tie!
One of the rude French plays, about 1600, is entitled "La Rebellion, ou meseontentment des Grenouilles contre Jupiter," in five acts. The subject of this tragi-comic piece is nothing more than the fable of the frogs who asked Jupiter for a king. In the pantomimical scenes of a wild fancy, the actors were seen croaking in their fens, or climbing up the steep ascent of Olympus; they were dressed so as to appear gigantic frogs; and in pleading their cause before Jupiter and his court, the dull humour was to croak sublimely, whenever they did not agree with their judge.
Clavigero, in his curious history of Mexico, has given Acosta's account of the Mexican theatre, which appears to resemble the first scenes among the Greeks, and these French frogs, but with more fancy and taste. Acosta writes, "The small theatre was curiously whitened, adorned with boughs, and arches made of flowers and feathers, from which were suspended many birds, rabbits, and other pleasing objects. The actors exhibited burlesque characters, feigning themselves deaf, sick with colds, lame, blind, crippled, and addressing an idol for the return of health. The deaf people answered at cross-purposes; those who had colds by coughing, and the lame by halting; all recited their complaints and misfortunes, which produced infinite mirth among the audience. Others appeared under the names of different little animals; some disguised as beetles, some like toads, some like lizards, and upon encountering each, other, reciprocally explained their employments, which was highly satisfactory to the people, as they performed their parts with infinite ingenuity. Several little boys also, belonging to the temple, appeared in the disguise of butterflies, and birds of various colours, and mounting upon the trees which were fixed there on purpose, little balls of earth were thrown at them with slings, occasioning many humorous incidents to the spectators."
Something very wild and original appears in this singular exhibition; where at times the actors seem to have been spectators, and the spectators were actors.
THE MARRIAGE OF THE ARTS.
As a literary curiosity, can we deny a niche to that "obliquity of distorted wit," of Barton Holyday, who has composed a strange comedy, in five acts, performed at Christ Church, Oxford, 1630, not for the entertainment, as an anecdote records, of James the First?
The title of the comedy of this unclassical classic, for Holyday is known as the translator of Juvenal with a very learned commentary, is TEXNOTAMIA, or the Marriage of the Arts, 1630, quarto; extremely dull, excessively rare, and extraordinarily high-priced among collectors.
It may be exhibited as one of the most extravagant inventions of a pedant. Who but a pedant could have conceived the dull fancy of forming a comedy, of five acts, on the subject of marrying the Arts! They are the dramatis personae of this piece, and the bachelor of arts describes their intrigues and characters. His actors are Polites, a magistrate;—Physica;—Astronomia, daughter to Physica;—Ethicus, an old man;—Geographus, a traveller and courtier, in love with Astronomia;—Arithmetica, in love with Geometres;—Logicus;—Grammaticus, a schoolmaster;—Poeta;—Historia, in love with Poeta;—Rhetorica, in love with Logicus;—Melancholico, Poeta's man;—Phantastes, servant to Geographus;—Choler, Grammaticus's man.
All these refined and abstract ladies and gentlemen have as bodily feelings, and employ as gross language, as if they had been every-day characters. A specimen of his grotesque dulness may entertain:—
Fruits of dull heat, and sooterkins of wit.
Geographus opens the play with declaring his passion to Astronomia, and that very rudely indeed! See the pedant wreathing the roses of Love!
"Geog. Come, now you shall, Astronomia.
Ast. What shall I, Geographus?
Ast. What, in spite of my teeth!
Geog. No, not so! I hope you do not use to kisse with your teeth.
Ast. Marry, and I hope I do not use to kisse without them.
Geog. Ay, but my fine wit-catcher, I mean you do not show your teeth when you kisse."
He then kisses her, as he says, in the different manners of a French, Spanish and Dutch kiss. He wants to take off the zone of Astronomia. She begs he would not fondle her like an elephant as he is; and Geographus says again, "Won't you then?"
Ast. Won't I what?
Geo. Be kinde?
Ast. Be kinde! How?"
Fortunately Geographus is here interrupted by Astronomia's mother Physica. This dialogue is a specimen of the whole piece: very flat, and very gross. Yet the piece is still curious,—not only for its absurdity, but for that sort of ingenuity, which so whimsically contrived to bring together the different arts; this pedantic writer, however, owes more to the subject, than the subject derived from him; without wit or humour, he has at times an extravagance of invention. As for instance,—Geographus and his man Phantastes describe to Poeta the lying wonders they pretend to have witnessed; and this is one:—
"Phan. Sir, we met with a traveller that could speak six languages at the same instant.
Poeta. How? at the same instant, that's impossible!
Phan. Nay, sir, the actuality of the performance puts it beyond all contradiction. With his tongue he'd so vowel you out as smooth Italian as any man breathing; with his eye he would sparkle forth the proud Spanish; with his nose blow out most robustious Dutch; the creaking of his high-heeled shoe would articulate exact Polonian; the knocking of his shinbone feminine French; and his belly would grumble most pure and scholar-like Hungary."
This, though extravagant without fancy, is not the worst part of the absurd humour which runs through this pedantic comedy.
The classical reader may perhaps be amused by the following strange conceits. Poeta, who was in love with Historia, capriciously falls in love with Astronomia, and thus compares his mistress:—
Her brow is like a brave heroic line That does a sacred majestie inshrine; Her nose, Phaleuciake-like, in comely sort, Ends in a Trochie, or a long and short. Her mouth is like a pretty Dimeter; Her eie-brows like a little-longer Trimeter. Her chinne is an adonicke, and her tongue Is an Hypermeter, somewhat too long. Her eies I may compare them unto two Quick-turning dactyles, for their nimble view. Her ribs like staues of Sapphicks doe descend Thither, which but to name were to offend. Her arms like two Iambics raised on hie, Doe with her brow bear equal majestie; Her legs like two straight spondees keep apace Slow as two scazons, but with stately grace.
The piece concludes with a speech by Polites, who settles all the disputes and loves of the Arts. Poeta promises for the future to attach himself to Historia. Rhetorica, though she loves Logicus, yet as they do not mutually agree, she is united to Grammaticus. Polites counsels Phlegmatico, who is Logicus's man, to leave off smoking, and to learn better manners; and Choler, Grammaticus's man, to bridle himself;—that Ethicus and Oeconoma would vouchsafe to give good advice to Poeta and Historia;—and Physica to her children Geographus and Astronomia! for Grammaticus and Rhetorica, he says, their tongues will always agree, and will not fall out; and for Geometres and Arithmetica, they will be very regular. Melancholico, who is Poeta's man, is left quite alone, and agrees to be married to Musica: and at length Phantastes, by the entreaty of Poeta, becomes the servant of Melancholico, and Musica. Physiognomus and Cheiromantes, who are in the character of gipsies and fortune-tellers, are finally exiled from the island of Fortunata, where lies the whole scene of the action in the residence of the Married Arts.
The pedant-comic-writer has even attended to the dresses of his characters, which are minutely given. Thus Melancholico wears a black suit, a black hat, a black cloak, and black worked band, black gloves, and black shoes. Sanguis, the servant of Medicus, is in a red suit; on the breast is a man with his nose bleeding; on the back, one letting blood in his arm; with a red hat and band, red stockings and red pumps.
It is recorded of this play, that the Oxford scholars resolving to give James I. a relish of their genius, requested leave to act this notable piece. Honest Anthony Wood tells us, that it being too grave for the king, and too scholastic for the auditory, or, as some have said, the actors had taken too much wine, his majesty offered several times, after two acts, to withdraw. He was prevailed to sit it out, in mere charity to the Oxford scholars. The following humorous epigram was produced on the occasion:—
At Christ-church marriage, done before the king, Lest that those mates should want an offering, The king himself did offer;—What, I pray? He offered twice or thrice—to go away!"
A CONTRIVANCE IN DRAMATIC DIALOGUE.
Crown, in his "City Politiques," 1688, a comedy written to satirise the Whigs of those days, was accused of having copied his character too closely after life, and his enemies turned his comedy into a libel. He has defended himself in his preface from this imputation. It was particularly laid to his charge, that in the characters of Bartoline, an old corrupt lawyer, and his wife Lucinda, a wanton country girl, he intended to ridicule a certain Serjeant M—— and his young wife. It was even said that the comedian mimicked the odd speech of the aforesaid Serjeant, who, having lost all his teeth, uttered his words in a very peculiar manner. On this, Crown tells us in his defence, that the comedian must not be blamed for this peculiarity, as it was an invention of the author himself, who had taught it to the player. He seems to have considered it as no ordinary invention, and was so pleased with it that he has most painfully printed the speeches of the lawyer in this singular gibberish; and his reasons, as well as his discovery, appear remarkable.
He says, that "Not any one old man more than another is mimiqued, by Mr. Lee's way of speaking, which all comedians can witness, was my own invention, and Mr. Lee was taught it by me. To prove this farther, I have printed Bartoline's part in that manner of spelling by which I taught it Mr. Lee. They who have no teeth cannot pronounce many letters plain, but perpetually lisp and break their words, and some words they cannot bring out at all. As for instance th is pronounced by thrusting the tongue hard to the teeth, therefore that sound they cannot make, but something like it. For that reason you will often find in Bartoline's part, instead of th, ya, as yat for that; yish for this; yosh for those; sometimes a t is left out, as housand for thousand; hirty for thirty. S they pronounce like sh, as sher for sir; musht for must; t they speak like ch,—therefore you will find chrue for true; chreason for treason; cho for to; choo for two; chen for ten; chake for take. And this ch is not to be pronounced like k, as 'tis in Christian, but as in child, church, chest. I desire the reader to observe these things, because otherwise he will hardly understand much of the lawyer's part, which in the opinion of all is the most divertising in the comedy; but when this ridiculous way of speaking is familiar with him, it will render the part more pleasant."
One hardly expects so curious a piece of orthoepy in the preface to a comedy. It may have required great observation and ingenuity to have discovered the cause of old toothless men mumbling their words. But as a piece of comic humour, on which the author appears to have prided himself, the effect is far from fortunate. Humour arising from a personal defect is but a miserable substitute for that of a more genuine kind. I shall give a specimen of this strange gibberish as it is so laboriously printed. It may amuse the reader to see his mother language transformed into so odd a shape that it is with difficulty he can recognise it.
Old Bartoline thus speaks:—"I wrong'd my shelf, cho entcher incho bondsh of marriage and could not perform covenantsh I might well hinke you would chake the forfeiture of the bond; and I never found equichy in a bedg in my life; but I'll trounce you boh; I have paved jaylsh wi' the bonesh of honester people yen you are, yat never did me nor any man any wrong, but had law of yeir shydsh and right o' yeir shydsh, but because yey had not me o' yeir shydsh. I ha' hrown 'em in jaylsh, and got yeir eshchatsch for my clyentsh yat had no more chytle to 'em yen dogsh."
THE COMEDY OF A MADMAN.
Desmarets, the friend of Richelieu, was a very extraordinary character, and produced many effusions of genius in early life, till he became a mystical fanatic. It was said of him that "he was the greatest madman among poets, and the best poet among madmen." His comedy of "The Visionaries" is one of the most extraordinary dramatic projects, and, in respect to its genius and its lunacy, may be considered as a literary curiosity.
In this singular comedy all Bedlam seems to be let loose on the stage, and every character has a high claim to an apartment in it. It is indeed suspected that the cardinal had a hand in this anomalous drama, and in spite of its extravagance it was favourably received by the public, who certainly had never seen anything like it.
Every character in this piece acts under some hallucination of the mind, or a fit of madness. Artabaze is a cowardly hero, who believes he has conquered the world. Amidor is a wild poet, who imagines he ranks above Homer. Filidan is a lover, who becomes inflammable as gunpowder for every mistress he reads of in romances. Phalante is a beggarly bankrupt, who thinks himself as rich as Croesus. Melisse, in reading the "History of Alexander," has become madly in love with this hero, and will have no other husband than "him of Macedon." Hesperie imagines her fatal charms occasion a hundred disappointments in the world, but prides herself on her perfect insensibility. Sestiane, who knows no other happiness than comedies, and whatever she sees or hears, immediately plans a scene for dramatic effect, renounces any other occupation; and finally, Alcidon, the father of these three mad girls, as imbecile as his daughters are wild. So much for the amiable characters!
The plot is in perfect harmony with the genius of the author, and the characters he has invented—perfectly unconnected, and fancifully wild. Alcidon resolves to marry his three daughters, who, however, have no such project of their own. He offers them to the first who comes. He accepts for his son-in-law the first who offers, and is clearly convinced that he is within a very short period of accomplishing his wishes. As the four ridiculous personages whom we have noticed frequently haunt his house, he becomes embarrassed in finding one lover too many, having only three daughters.
The catastrophe relieves the old gentleman from his embarrassments. Melisse, faithful to her Macedonian hero, declares her resolution of dying before she marries any meaner personage. Hesperie refuses to marry, out of pity for mankind; for to make one man happy she thinks she must plunge a hundred into despair. Sestiane, only passionate for comedy, cannot consent to any marriage, and tells her father, in very lively verses,
Je ne veux point, mon pere, espouser un censeur; Puisque vous me souffrez recevoir la douceur Des plaisirs innocens que le theatre apporte, Prendrais-je le hasard de vivre d'autre sorte? Puis on a des enfans, qui vous sont sur les bras, Les mener an theatre, O Dieux! quel embarras! Tantot couche ou grossesse, on quelque maladie; Pour jamais vous font dire, adieu la comedie!
No, no, my father, I will have no critic, (Miscalled a husband) since you still permit The innocent sweet pleasures of the stage; And shall I venture to exchange my lot? Then we have children folded in our arms To bring them to the play-house; heavens! what troubles! Then we lie in, are big, or sick, or vexed: These make us bid farewell to comedy!
At length these imagined sons-in-law appear; Filidan declares that in these three girls he cannot find the mistress he adores. Amidor confesses he only asked for one of his daughters out of pure gallantry, and that he is only a lover—in verse! When Phalante is questioned after the great fortunes he hinted at, the father discovers that he has not a stiver, and out of credit to borrow: while Artabaze declares that he only allowed Alcidon, out of mere benevolence, to flatter himself for a moment with the hope of an honour that even Jupiter would not dare to pretend to. The four lovers disperse and leave the old gentleman more embarrassed than ever, and his daughters perfectly enchanted to enjoy their whimsical reveries, and die old maids—all alike "Visionaries!"
We possess, among our own native treasures, two treatises on this subject, composed with no ordinary talent, and not their least value consists in one being an apology for solitude, while the other combats that prevailing passion of the studious. Zimmerman's popular work is overloaded with commonplace; the garrulity of eloquence. The two treatises now noticed may be compared to the highly-finished gems, whose figure may be more finely designed, and whose strokes may be more delicate in the smaller space they occupy than the ponderous block of marble hewed out by the German chiseller.
Sir George Mackenzie, a polite writer, and a most eloquent pleader, published, in 1665, a moral essay, preferring Solitude to public employment. The eloquence of his style was well suited to the dignity of his subject; the advocates for solitude have always prevailed over those for active life, because there is something sublime in those feelings which would retire from the circle of indolent triflers, or depraved geniuses. The tract of Mackenzie was ingeniously answered by the elegant taste of John Evelyn in 1667. Mackenzie, though he wrote in favour of solitude, passed a very active life, first as a pleader, and afterwards as a judge; that he was an eloquent writer, and an eloquent critic, we have the authority of Dryden, who says, that till he was acquainted with that noble wit of Scotland, Sir George Mackenzie, he had not known the beautiful turn of words and thoughts in poetry, which Sir George had explained and exemplified to him in conversation. As a judge, and king's advocate, will not the barbarous customs of the age defend his name? He is most hideously painted forth by the dark pencil of a poetical Spagnoletti (Grahame), in his poem on "The Birds of Scotland." Sir George lived in the age of rebellion, and used torture: we must entirely put aside his political, to attend to his literary character. Blair has quoted his pleadings as a model of eloquence, and Grahame is unjust to the fame of Mackenzie, when he alludes to his "half-forgotten name." In 1689, he retired to Oxford, to indulge the luxuries of study in the Bodleian Library, and to practise that solitude which so delighted him in theory; but three years afterwards he fixed himself in London. Evelyn, who wrote in favour of public employment being preferable to solitude, passed his days in the tranquillity of his studies, and wrote against the habits which he himself most loved. By this it may appear, that that of which we have the least experience ourselves, will ever be what appears most delightful! Alas! everything in life seems to have in it the nature of a bubble of air, and, when touched, we find nothing but emptiness in our hand. It is certain that the most eloquent writers in favour of solitude have left behind them too many memorials of their unhappy feelings, when they indulged this passion to excess; and some ancient has justly said, that none but a god, or a savage, can suffer this exile from human nature.
The following extracts from Sir George Mackenzie's tract on Solitude are eloquent and impressive, and merit to be rescued from that oblivion which surrounds many writers, whose genius has not been effaced, but concealed, by the transient crowd of their posterity:—
I have admired to see persons of virtue and humour long much to be in the city, where, when they come they found nor sought for no other divertissement than to visit one another; and there to do nothing else than to make legs, view others habit, talk of the weather, or some such pitiful subject, and it may be, if they made a farther inroad upon any other affair, they did so pick one another, that it afforded them matter of eternal quarrel; for what was at first but an indifferent subject, is by interest adopted into the number of our quarrels.—What pleasure can be received by talking of new fashions, buying and selling of lands, advancement or ruin of favourites, victories or defeats of strange princes, which is the ordinary subject of ordinary conversation?—Most desire to frequent their superiors, and these men must either suffer their raillery, or must not be suffered to continue in their society; if we converse with them who speak with more address than ourselves, then we repine equally at our own dulness, and envy the acuteness that accomplishes the speaker; or, if we converse with duller animals than ourselves, then we are weary to draw the yoke alone, and fret at our being in ill company; but if chance blows us in amongst our equals, then we are so at guard to catch all advantages, and so interested in point d'honneur, that it rather cruciates than recreates us. How many make themselves cheap by these occasions, whom we had valued highly if they had frequented us less! And how many frequent persons who laugh at that simplicity which the addresser admires in himself as wit, and yet both recreate themselves with double laughters!
In solitude, he addresses his friend:—"My dear Celador, enter into your own breast, and there survey the several operations of your own soul, the progress of your passions, the strugglings of your appetite, the wanderings of your fancy, and ye will find, I assure you, more variety in that one piece than there is to be learned in all the courts of Christendom. Represent to yourself the last age, all the actions and interests in it, how much this person was infatuated with zeal, that person with lust; how much one pursued honour, and another riches; and in the next thought draw that scene, and represent them all turned to dust and ashes!"
I cannot close this subject without the addition of some anecdotes, which may be useful. A man of letters finds solitude necessary, and for him solitude has its pleasures and its conveniences; but we shall find that it also has a hundred things to be dreaded.
Solitude is indispensable for literary pursuits. No considerable work has yet been composed, but its author, like an ancient magician, retired first to the grove or the closet, to invocate his spirits. Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm. When the youth sighs and languishes, and feels himself among crowds in an irksome solitude,—that is the moment to fly into seclusion and meditation. Where can he indulge but in solitude the fine romances of his soul? where but in solitude can he occupy himself in useful dreams by night, and, when the morning rises, fly without interruption to his unfinished labours? Retirement to the frivolous is a vast desert, to the man of genius it is the enchanted garden of Armida.
Cicero was uneasy amidst applauding Rome, and he has designated his numerous works by the titles of his various villas, where they were composed. Voltaire had talents, and a taste for society, yet he not only withdrew by intervals, but at one period of his life passed five years in the most secret seclusion and fervent studies. Montesquieu quitted the brilliant circles of Paris for his books, his meditations, and for his immortal work, and was ridiculed by the gay triflers he relinquished. Harrington, to compose his Oceana, severed himself from the society of his friends, and was so wrapped in abstraction, that he was pitied as a lunatic. Descartes, inflamed by genius, abruptly breaks off all his friendly connexions, hires an obscure house in an unfrequented corner at Paris, and applies himself to study during two years unknown to his acquaintance. Adam Smith, after the publication of his first work, throws himself into a retirement that lasted ten years; even Hume rallied him for separating himself from the world; but the great political inquirer satisfied the world, and his friends, by his great work on the Wealth of Nations.
But this solitude, at first a necessity, and then a pleasure, at length is not borne without repining. I will call for a witness a great genius, and he shall speak himself. Gibbon says, "I feel, and shall continue to feel, that domestic solitude, however it may be alleviated by the world, by study, and even by friendship, is a comfortless state, which will grow more painful as I descend in the vale of years." And afterwards he writes to a friend, "Your visit has only served to remind me that man, however amused and occupied in his closet, was not made to live alone."
I must therefore now sketch a different picture of literary solitude than some sanguine and youthful minds conceive.
Even the sublimest of men, Milton, who is not apt to vent complaints, appears to have felt this irksome period of life. In the preface to Smectymnuus, he says, "It is but justice, not to defraud of due esteem the wearisome labours and studious watchings, wherein I have spent and tired out almost a whole youth."
Solitude in a later period of life, or rather the neglect which awaits the solitary man, is felt with acuter sensibility. Cowley, that enthusiast for rural seclusion, in his retirement calls himself "The melancholy Cowley." Mason has truly transferred the same epithet to Gray. Bead in his letters the history of solitude. We lament the loss of Cowley's correspondence, through the mistaken notion of Sprat; he assuredly had painted the sorrows of his heart. But Shenstone has filled his pages with the cries of an amiable being whose soul bleeds in the dead oblivion of solitude. Listen to his melancholy expressions:—"Now I am come from a visit, every little uneasiness is sufficient to introduce my whole train of melancholy considerations, and to make me utterly dissatisfied with the life I now lead, and the life I foresee I shall lead. I am angry, and envious, and dejected, and frantic, and disregard all present things, as becomes a madman to do. I am infinitely pleased (though it is a gloomy joy) with the application of Dr. Swift's complaint, that he is forced to die in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole." Let the lover of solitude muse on its picture throughout the year, in the following stanza by the same poet:—
Tedious again to curse the drizzling day, Again to trace the wintry tracks of snow! Or, soothed by vernal airs, again survey The self-same hawthorns bud, and cowslips blow!
Swift's letters paint in terrifying colours a picture of solitude, and at length his despair closed with idiotism. The amiable Gresset could not sport with the brilliant wings of his butterfly muse, without dropping some querulous expression on the solitude of genius. In his "Epistle to his Muse," he exquisitely paints the situation of men of genius:
——Je les vois, victimes du genie, Au foible prix d'un eclat passager, Vivre isoles, sans jouir de la vie!
And afterwards he adds,
Vingt ans d'ennuis, pour quelques jours de gloire!
I conclude with one more anecdote on solitude, which may amuse. When Menage, attacked by some, and abandoned by others, was seized by a fit of the spleen, he retreated into the country, and gave up his famous Mercuriales; those Wednesdays when the literati assembled at his house, to praise up or cry down one another, as is usual with the literary populace. Menage expected to find that tranquillity in the country which he had frequently described in his verses; but as he was only a poetical plagiarist, it is not strange that our pastoral writer was greatly disappointed. Some country rogues having killed his pigeons, they gave him more vexation than his critics. He hastened his return to Paris. "It is better," he observed, "since we are born to suffer, to feel only reasonable sorrows."
The memorable friendship of Beaumont and Fletcher so closely united their labours, that we cannot discover the productions of either; and biographers cannot, without difficulty, compose the memoirs of the one, without running into the life of the other. They pourtrayed the same characters, while they mingled sentiment with sentiment; and their days were as closely interwoven as their verses. Metastasio and Farinelli were born about the same time, and early acquainted. They called one another Gemello, or The Twin, both the delight of Europe, both lived to an advanced age, and died nearly at the same time. Their fortune bore, too, a resemblance; for they were both pensioned, but lived and died separated in the distant courts of Vienna and Madrid. Montaigne and Charron were rivals, but always friends; such was Montaigne's affection for Charron, that he permitted him by his will to bear the full arms of his family; and Charron evinced his gratitude to the manes of his departed friend, by leaving his fortune to the sister of Montaigne, who had married. Forty years of friendship, uninterrupted by rivalry or envy, crowned the lives of Poggius and Leonard Aretin, two of the illustrious revivers of letters. A singular custom formerly prevailed among our own writers, which was an affectionate tribute to our literary veterans by young writers. The former adopted the latter by the title of sons. Ben Jonson had twelve of these poetical sons. Walton the angler adopted Cotton, the translator of Montaigne.
Among the most fascinating effusions of genius are those little pieces which it consecrates to the cause of friendship. In that poem of Cowley, composed on the death of his friend Harvey, the following stanza presents a pleasing picture of the employments of two young students:—
Say, for you saw us, ye immortal lights, How oft unwearied have we spent the nights! Till the Ledaean stars, so famed for love, Wondered at us from above. We spent them not in toys, in lust, or wine, But search of deep philosophy, Wit, eloquence, and poetry, Arts which I loved, for they, my friend, were thine.
Milton has not only given the exquisite Lycidas to the memory of a young friend, but in his Epitaphium Damonis, to that of Deodatus, has poured forth some interesting sentiments. It has been versified by Langhorne. Now, says the poet,
To whom shall I my hopes and fears impart, Or trust the cares and follies of my heart?
The elegy of Tickell, maliciously called by Steele "prose in rhyme," is alike inspired by affection and fancy; it has a melodious languor, and a melancholy grace. The sonnet of Gray to the memory of West is a beautiful effusion, and a model for English sonnets. Helvetius was the protector of men of genius, whom he assisted not only with his criticism, but his fortune. At his death, Saurin read in the French Academy an epistle to the manes of his friend. Saurin, wrestling with obscurity and poverty, had been drawn into literary existence by the supporting hand of Helvetius. Our poet thus addresses him in the warm tones of gratitude:
C'est toi qui me cherchant au sein de l'infortune, Relevas mon sort abattu, Et sus me rendre chere une vie importune.
* * * *
Qu'importent ces pleurs— O douleur impuissante! o regrets superflus! Je vis, helas! Je vis, et mon ami n'est plus!
In misery's haunts, thy friend thy bounties seize, And give an urgent life some days of ease; Ah! ye vain griefs, superfluous tears I chide! I live, alas! I live—and thou hast died!
The literary friendship of a father with his son is one of the rarest alliances in the republic of letters. It was gratifying to the feelings of young Gibbon, in the fervour of literary ambition, to dedicate his first-fruits to his father. The too lively son of Crebillon, though his was a very different genius to the grandeur of his father's, yet dedicated his works to him, and for a moment put aside his wit and raillery for the pathetic expressions of filial veneration. We have had a remarkable instance in the two Richardsons; and the father, in his original manner, has in the most glowing language expressed his affectionate sentiments. He says, "My time of learning was employed in business; but after all, I have the Greek and Latin tongues, because a part of me possesses them, to whom I can recur at pleasure, just as I have a hand when I would write or paint, feet to walk, and eyes to see. My son is my learning, as I am that to him which he has not.—We make one man, and such a compound man may probably produce what no single man can." And further, "I always think it my peculiar happiness to be as it were enlarged, expanded, made another man, by the acquisition of my son; and he thinks in the same manner concerning my union with him." This is as curious as it is uncommon; however the cynic may call it egotism!
Some for their friend have died penetrated with inconsolable grief; some have sacrificed their character to preserve his own; some have shared their limited fortune; and some have remained attached to their friend in the cold season of adversity.
Jurieu denounced Bayle as an impious writer, and drew his conclusions from the "Avis aux Refugies." This work is written against the Calvinists, and therefore becomes impious in Holland. Bayle might have exculpated himself with facility, by declaring the work was composed by La Roque; but he preferred to be persecuted rather than to ruin his friend; he therefore was silent, and was condemned. When the minister Fouquet was abandoned by all, it was the men of letters he had patronised who never forsook his prison; and many have dedicated their works to great men in their adversity, whom they scorned to notice at the time when they were noticed by all. The learned Goguet bequeathed his MSS. and library to his friend Fugere, with whom he had united his affections and his studies. His work on the "Origin of the Arts and Sciences" had been much indebted to his aid. Fugere, who knew his friend to be past recovery, preserved a mute despair, during the slow and painful disease; and on the death of Goguet, the victim of sensibility perished amidst the manuscripts which his friend had in vain bequeathed to prepare for publication. The Abbe de Saint Pierre gave an interesting proof of literary friendship. When he was at college he formed a union with Varignon, the geometrician. They were of congenial dispositions. When he went to Paris he invited Varignon to accompany him; but Varignon had nothing, and the Abbe was far from rich. A certain income was necessary for the tranquil pursuits of geometry. Our Abbe had an income of 1800 livres; from this he deducted 300, which he gave to the geometrician, accompanied by a delicacy which few but a man of genius could conceive. "I do not give it to you," he said, "as a salary, but an annuity, that you may be independent, and quit me when you dislike me." Something nearly similar embellishes our own literary history. When Akenside was in great danger of experiencing famine as well as fame, Mr. Dyson allowed him three hundred pounds a year. Of this gentleman, perhaps, nothing is known; yet whatever his life may be, it merits the tribute of the biographer. To close with these honourable testimonies of literary friendship, we must not omit that of Churchill and Lloyd. It is known that when Lloyd heard of the death of our poet, he acted the part which Fugere did to Goguet. The page is crowded, but my facts are by no means exhausted.
The most illustrious of the ancients prefixed the name of some friend to the head of their works.—We too often place that of some patron. They honourably inserted it in their works. When a man of genius, however, shows that he is not less mindful of his social affection than his fame, he is the more loved by his reader. Plato communicated a ray of his glory to his brothers; for in his Republic he ascribes some parts to Adimanthus and Glauchon; and Antiphon the youngest is made to deliver his sentiments in the Parmenides, To perpetuate the fondness of friendship, several authors have entitled their works by the name of some cherished associate. Cicero to his Treatise on Orators gave the title of Brutus; to that of Friendship, Lelius; and to that of Old Age, Cato. They have been imitated by the moderns. The poetical Tasso to his dialogue on Friendship gave the name of Manso, who was afterwards his affectionate biographer. Sepulvueda entitles his Treatise on Glory by the name of his friend Gonsalves. Lociel to his Dialogues on the Lawyers of Paris prefixes the name of the learned Pasquier. Thus Plato distinguishes his Dialogues by the names of certain persons; the one on Lying is entitled Hippius; on Rhetoric, Gorgias; and on Beauty, Phaedrus.
Luther has perhaps carried this feeling to an extravagant point. He was so delighted by his favourite "Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians," that he distinguished it by a title of doting fondness; he named it after his wife, and called it "His Catherine."
ANECDOTES OF ABSTRACTION OF MIND.
Some have exercised this power of abstraction to a degree that appears marvellous to volatile spirits, and puny thinkers.
To this patient habit, Newton is indebted for many of his great discoveries; an apple falls upon him in his orchard,—and the system of attraction succeeds in his mind! he observes boys blowing soap bubbles, and the properties of light display themselves! Of Socrates, it is said, that he would frequently remain an entire day and night in the same attitude, absorbed in meditation; and why should we doubt this, when we know that La Fontaine and Thomson, Descartes and Newton, experienced the same abstraction? Mercator, the celebrated geographer, found such delight in the ceaseless progression of his studies, that he would never willingly quit his maps to take the necessary refreshments of life. In Cicero's Treatise on Old Age, Cato applauds Gallus, who, when he sat down to write in the morning, was surprised by the evening; and when he took up his pen in the evening was surprised by the appearance of the morning. Buffon once described these delicious moments with his accustomed eloquence:—"Invention depends on patience; contemplate your subject long; it will gradually unfold, till a sort of electric spark convulses for a moment the brain, and spreads down to the very heart a glow of irritation. Then come the luxuries of genius! the true hours for production and composition; hours so delightful, that I have spent twelve and fourteen successively at my writing-desk, and still been in a state of pleasure." The anecdote related of Marini, the Italian poet, may be true. Once absorbed in revising his Adonis, he suffered his leg to be burnt for some time, without any sensation.
Abstraction of this sublime kind is the first step to that noble enthusiasm which accompanies Genius; it produces those raptures and that intense delight, which some curious facts will explain to us.
Poggius relates of Dante, that he indulged his meditations more strongly than any man he knew! whenever he read, he was only alive to what was passing in his mind; to all human concerns, he was as if they had not been! Dante went one day to a great public procession; he entered the shop of a bookseller to be a spectator of the passing show. He found a book which greatly interested him; he devoured it in silence, and plunged into an abyss of thought. On his return he declared that he had neither seen, nor heard, the slightest occurrence of the public exhibition which had passed before him. This enthusiasm renders everything surrounding us as distant as if an immense interval separated us from the scene. A modern astronomer, one summer night, withdrew to his chamber; the brightness of the heaven showed a phenomenon. He passed the whole night in observing it, and when they came to him early in the morning, and found him in the same attitude, he said, like one who had been recollecting his thoughts for a few moments, "It must be thus; but I'll go to bed before 'tis late!" He had gazed the entire night in meditation, and did not know it.
This intense abstraction operates visibly; this perturbation of the faculties, as might be supposed, affects persons of genius physically. What a forcible description the late Madame Roland, who certainly was a woman of the first genius, gives of herself on her first reading of Telemachus and Tasso. "My respiration rose; I felt a rapid fire colouring my face, and my voice changing, had betrayed my agitation; I was Eucharis for Telemachus, and Erminia for Tancred; however, during this perfect transformation, I did not yet think that I myself was any thing, for any one. The whole had no connexion with myself, I sought for nothing around me; I was them, I saw only the objects which existed for them; it was a dream, without being awakened."—Metastasio describes a similar situation. "When I apply with a little attention, the nerves of my sensorium are put into a violent tumult. I grow as red in the face as a drunkard, and am obliged to quit my work." When Malebranche first took up Descartes on Man, the germ and origin of his philosophy, he was obliged frequently to interrupt his reading by a violent palpitation of the heart. When the first idea of the Essay on the Arts and Sciences rushed on the mind of Rousseau, it occasioned such a feverish agitation that it approached to a delirium.
This delicious inebriation of the imagination occasioned the ancients, who sometimes perceived the effects, to believe it was not short of divine inspiration. Fielding says, "I do not doubt but that the most pathetic and affecting scenes have been writ with tears." He perhaps would have been pleased to have confirmed his observation by the following circumstances. The tremors of Dryden, after having written an Ode, a circumstance tradition has accidentally handed down, were not unusual with him; in the preface to his Tales he tells us, that in translating Homer he found greater pleasure than in Virgil; but it was not a pleasure without pain; the continual agitation of the spirits must needs be a weakener to any constitution, especially in age, and many pauses are required for refreshment betwixt the heats. In writing the ninth scene of the second act of the Olimpiade, Metastasio found himself in tears; an effect which afterwards, says Dr. Burney, proved very contagious. It was on this occasion that that tender poet commemorated the circumstance in the following interesting sonnet:—
SONNET FROM METASTASIO. "Scrivendo l'Autore in Vienna l'anno 1733 la sua Olimpiade si senti commosa fino alle lagrime nell' esprimere la divisione di due teneri amici: e meravigliandosi che un falso, e da lui inventato disastro, potesse cagionargli una si vera passione, si fece a riflettere quanto poco ragionevole e solido fondamento possano aver le altre che soglion frequentamente agitarci, nel corso di nostra vita.
Sogni e favole io fingo, e pure in carte Mentre favole, e sogni, orno e disegno, In lor, (folle ch' io son!) prendo tal parte Che del mal che inventai piango, e mi sdegno. Ma forse allor che non m' inganna l'arte, Piu saggio io sono e l'agitato ingegno Forse allo piu tranquillo? O forse parte Da piu salda cagion l'amor, lo sdegno? Ah che non sol quelle, ch'io canto, o scrivo Favole son; ma quanto temo, o spero, Tutt' e manzogna, e delirando io vivo! Sogno della mia vita e il corso intero. Deh tu, Signor, quando a destarmi arrivo Fa, ch'io trovi riposo in sen del VERO.
In 1733, the Author, composing his Olimpiade, felt himself suddenly moved, even to tears, in expressing the separation of two tender lovers. Surprised that a fictitious grief, invented too by himself, could raise so true a passion, he reflected how little reasonable and solid a foundation the others had, which, so frequently agitated us in this state of our existence.
Fables and dreams I feign; yet though but verse The dreams and fables that adorn this scroll, Fond fool! I rave, and grieve as I rehearse; While GENUINE TEARS for FANCIED SORROWS roll. Perhaps the dear delusion of my heart Is wisdom; and the agitated mind, As still responding to each plaintive part, With love and rage, a tranquil hour can find. Ah! not alone the tender RHYMES I give Are fictions: but my FEARS and HOPES I deem Are FABLES all; deliriously I live, And life's whole course is one protracted dream. Eternal Power! when shall I wake to rest This wearied brain on TRUTH'S immortal breast?
The censure which the Shakspeare of novelists has incurred for the tedious procrastination and the minute details of his fable; his slow unfolding characters, and the slightest gestures of his personages, is extremely unjust; for is it not evident that we could not have his peculiar excellences without these accompanying defects? When characters are fully delineated, the narrative must be suspended. Whenever the narrative is rapid, which so much delights superficial readers, the characters cannot be very minutely featured; and the writer who aims to instruct (as Richardson avowedly did) by the glow and eloquence of his feelings, must often sacrifice to this his local descriptions. Richardson himself has given us the principle that guided him in composing. He tells us, "If I give speeches and conversations, I ought to give them justly; for the humours and characters of persons cannot be known unless I repeat what they say, and their manner of saying."
Foreign critics have been more just to Richardson than many of his own countrymen. I shall notice the opinions of three celebrated writers, D'Alembert, Rousseau, and Diderot.
D'Alembert was a great mathematician. His literary taste was extremely cold: he was not worthy of reading Richardson. The volumes, if he ever read them, must have fallen from his hands. The delicate and subtle turnings, those folds of the human heart, which require so nice a touch, was a problem which the mathematician could never solve. There is no other demonstration in the human heart, but an appeal to its feelings: and what are the calculating feelings of an arithmetician of lines and curves? He therefore declared of Richardson that "La Nature est bonne A imiter, mais non pas jusqu'a l'ennui."
But thus it was not with the other two congenial geniuses! The fervent opinion of Rousseau must be familiar to the reader; but Diderot, in his eloge on Richardson, exceeds even Rousseau in the enthusiasm of his feelings. I extract some of the most interesting passages. Of Clarissa he says, "I yet remember with delight the first time it came into my hands. I was in the country. How deliciously was I affected! At every moment I saw my happiness abridged by a page. I then experienced the same sensations those feel who have long lived with one they love, and are on the point of separation. At the close of the work I seemed to remain deserted."
The impassioned Diderot then breaks forth:—"Oh, Richardson! thou singular genius in my eyes! thou shalt form my reading in all times. If forced by sharp necessity, my friend falls into indigence; if the mediocrity of my fortune is not sufficient to bestow on my children the necessary cares for their education, I will sell my books,—but thou shalt remain! yes, thou shalt rest in the same class with MOSES, HOMER, EURIPIDES, and SOPHOCLES, to be read alternately.
"Oh Richardson, I dare pronounce that the most veritable history is full of fictions, and thy romances are full of truths. History paints some individuals; thou paintest the human species. History attributes to some individuals what they have neither said nor done; all that thou attributest to man he has said and done. History embraces but a portion of duration, a point on the surface of the globe; thou hast embraced all places and all times. The human heart, which has ever been and ever shall be the same, is the model which thou copiest. If we were severely to criticise the best historian, would he maintain his ground as thou? In this point of view, I venture to say, that frequently history is a miserable romance; and romance, as thou hast composed it, is a good history. Painter of nature, thou never liest!
"I have never yet met with a person who shared my enthusiasm, that I was not tempted to embrace, and to press him in my arms!
"Richardson is no more! His loss touches me, as if my brother was no more. I bore him in my heart without having seen him, and knowing him but by his works. He has not had all the reputation he merited. Richardson! if living thy merit has been disputed; how great wilt thou appear to our children's children, when we shall view thee at the distance we now view Homer! Then who will dare to steal a line from thy sublime works! Thou hast had more admirers amongst us than in thine own country, and at this I rejoice!"
It is probable that to a Frenchman the style of Richardson is not so objectionable when translated, as to ourselves. I think myself that it is very idiomatic and energetic; others have thought differently. The misfortune of Richardson was, that he was unskilful in the art of writing, and that he could never lay the pen down while his inkhorn supplied it.
He was delighted by his own works. No author enjoyed so much the bliss of excessive fondness. I heard from the late Charlotte Lenox the anecdote which so severely reprimanded his innocent vanity, which Boswell has recorded. This lady was a regular visitor at Richardson's house, and she could scarcely recollect one visit which was not taxed by our author reading one of his voluminous letters, or two or three, if his auditor was quiet and friendly.
The extreme delight which he felt on a review of his own works the works themselves witness. Each is an evidence of what some will deem a violent literary vanity. To Pamela is prefixed a letter from the editor (whom we know to be the author), consisting of one of the most minutely laboured panegyrics of the work itself, that ever the blindest idolater of some ancient classic paid to the object of his frenetic imagination. In several places there, he contrives to repeat the striking parts of the narrative which display the fertility of his imagination to great advantage. To the author's own edition of his Clarissa is appended an alphabetical arrangement of the sentiments dispersed throughout the work; and such was the fondness that dictated this voluminous arrangement, that such trivial aphorisms as, "habits are not easily changed," "men are known by their companions," &c., seem alike to be the object of their author's admiration. This collection of sentiments, said indeed to have been sent to him anonymously, is curious and useful, and shows the value of the work, by the extensive grasp of that mind which could think so justly on such numerous topics. And in his third and final labour, to each volume of Sir Charles Grandison is not only prefixed a complete index, with as much exactness as if it were a History of England, but there is also appended a list of the similes and allusions in the volume; some of which do not exceed three or four in nearly as many hundred pages.
Literary history does not record a more singular example of that self-delight which an author has felt on a revision of his works. It was this intense pleasure which produced his voluminous labours. It must be confessed there are readers deficient in that sort of genius which makes the mind of Richardson so fertile and prodigal.
INFLUENCE OF A NAME.
What's in a NAME? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.
Names, by an involuntary suggestion, produce an extraordinary illusion. Favour or disappointment has been often conceded as the name of the claimant has affected us; and the accidental affinity or coincidence of a name, connected with ridicule or hatred, with pleasure or disgust, has operated like magic. But the facts connected with this subject will show how this prejudice has branched out.
Sterne has touched on this unreasonable propensity of judging by names, in his humorous account of the elder Mr. Shandy's system of Christian names. And Wilkes has expressed, in Boswell's Life of Johnson, all the influence of baptismal names, even in matters of poetry! He said, "The last city poet was Elkanah Settle. There is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now Elkanah Settle sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits."
A lively critic noticing some American poets, says "There is or was a Mr. Dwight who wrote a poem in the shape of an epic; and his baptismal name was Timothy;" and involuntarily we infer the sort of epic that a Timothy must write. Sterne humorously exhorts all godfathers not "to Nicodemus a man into nothing."
There is more truth in this observation than some may be inclined to allow; and that it affects mankind strongly, all ages and all climates may be called on to testify. Even in the barbarous age of Louis XI., they felt a delicacy respecting names, which produced an ordinance from his majesty. The king's barber was named Olivier le Diable. At first the king allowed him to got rid of the offensive part by changing it to Le Malin; but the improvement was not happy, and for a third time he was called Le Mauvais. Even this did not answer his purpose; and as he was a great racer, he finally had his majesty's ordinance to be called Le Dain, under penalty of law if any one should call him Le Diable, Le Malin, or Le Mauvais. According to Platina, Sergius the Second was the first pope who changed his name in ascending the papal throne; because his proper name was Hog's-mouth, very unsuitable with the pomp of the tiara. The ancients felt the same fastidiousness; and among the Romans, those who were called to the equestrian order, having low and vulgar names, were new named on the occasion, lest the former one should disgrace the dignity.
When Burlier, a French wit, was chosen for the preceptor of Colbert's son, he felt his name was so uncongenial to his new profession, that he assumed the more splendid one of D'Aucour, by which he is now known. Madame Gomez had married a person named Bonhomme; but she would never exchange her nobler Spanish name to prefix her married one to her romances, which indicated too much of meek humility. Guez (a beggar) is a French writer of great pomp of style; but he felt such extreme delicacy at so low a name, that to give some authority to the splendour of his diction, he assumed the name of his estate, and is well known as Balzac. A French poet of the name of Theophile Viaut, finding that his surname pronounced like veau (calf), exposed him to the infinite jests of the minor wits, silently dropped it, by retaining the more poetical appellation of Theophile. Various literary artifices have been employed by some who, still preserving a natural attachment to the names of their fathers, yet blushing at the same time for their meanness, have in their Latin works attempted to obviate the ridicule which they provoked. One Gaucher (left-handed) borrowed the name of Scevola, because Scevola, having burnt his right arm, became consequently left-handed. Thus also one De la Borgne (one-eyed) called himself Strabo; De Charpentier took that of Fabricius; De Valet translated his Servilius; and an unlucky gentleman, who bore the name of Du bout d'Homme, boldly assumed that of Virulus. Dorat, a French poet, had for his real name Disnemandi, which, in the dialect of the Limousins, signifies one who dines in the morning; that is, who has no other dinner than his breakfast. This degrading name he changed to Dorat, or gilded, a nickname which one of his ancestors had borne for his fair tresses. But by changing his name, his feelings were not entirely quieted, for unfortunately his daughter cherished an invincible passion for a learned man, who unluckily was named Goulu; that is, a shark, as gluttonous as a shark. Miss Disnemandi felt naturally a strong attraction for a goulu; and in spite of her father's remonstrances, she once more renewed his sorrows in this alliance!
There are unfortunate names, which are very injurious to the cause in which they are engaged; for instance, the Long Parliament in Cromwell's time, called by derision the Rump, was headed by one Barebones, a leather-seller. It was afterwards called by his unlucky name, which served to heighten the ridicule cast over it by the nation.
Formerly a custom prevailed with learned men to change their names. They showed at once their contempt for vulgar denominations and their ingenious erudition. They christened themselves with Latin and Greek. This disguising of names came, at length, to be considered to have a political tendency, and so much alarmed Pope Paul the Second, that he imprisoned several persons for their using certain affected names, and some, indeed, which they could not give a reason why they assumed. Desiderius Erasmus was a name formed out of his family name Gerard, which in Dutch signifies amiable; or GAR all, AERD nature. He first changed it to a Latin word of much the same signification, desiderius, which afterwards he refined into the Greek Erasmus, by which name he is now known. The celebrated Reuchlin, which in German signifies smoke, considered it more dignified to smoke in Greek by the name of Capnio. An Italian physician of the name of Senza Malizia, prided himself as much on his translating it into the Greek Akakia, as on the works which he published under that name. One of the most amiable of the reformers was originally named Hertz Schwartz (black earth), which he elegantly turned into the Greek name Melancthon. The vulgar name of a great Italian poet was Trapasso; but when the learned Gravius resolved to devote the youth to the muses, he gave him a mellifluous name, which they have long known and cherished—Metastasio.
Harsh names will have, in spite of all our philosophy, a painful and ludicrous effect on our ears and our associations: it is vexatious that the softness of delicious vowels, or the ruggedness of inexorable consonants, should at all be connected with a man's happiness, or even have an influence on his fortune.
The actor Macklin was softened down by taking in the first and last syllables of the name of Macklaughlin, as Malloch was polished to Mallet; and even our sublime Milton, in a moment of humour and hatred to the Scots, condescends to insinuate that their barbarous names are symbolical of their natures,—and from a man of the name of Mac Collkittok, he expects no mercy. Virgil, when young, formed a design of a national poem, but was soon discouraged from proceeding, merely by the roughness and asperity of the old Roman names, such as Decius Mus; Lucumo; Vibius Caudex. The same thing has happened to a friend who began an Epic on the subject of Drake's discoveries; the name of the hero often will produce a ludicrous effect, but one of the most unlucky of his chief heroes must be Thomas Doughty! One of Blackmore's chief heroes in his Alfred is named Gunter; a printer's erratum might have been fatal to all his heroism; as it is, he makes a sorry appearance. Metastasio found himself in the same situation. In one of his letters he writes, "The title of my new opera is Il Re Pastor. The chief incident is the restitution of the kingdom of Sidon to the lawful heir: a prince with such a hypochondriac name, that he would have disgraced the title-page of any piece; who would have been able to bear an opera entitled L'Abdolonimo? I have contrived to name him as seldom as possible." So true is it, as the caustic Boileau exclaims of an epic poet of his days, who had shown some dexterity in cacophony, when he chose his hero—
O le plaisant projet d'un poete ignorant, Qui de tant de heros va choisir Childebrand! D'un seul nom quelquefois le son dur et bizarre Bend un poeme entier, ou burlesque ou barbare. Art Poetique, c. iii. v. 241.
In such a crowd the Poet were to blame To choose King Chilperic for his hero's name. SIR W. SOAMES.
This epic poet perceiving the town joined in the severe raillery of the poet, published a long defence of his hero's name; but the town was inexorable, and the epic poet afterwards changed Childebrand's name to Charles Martel, which probably was discovered to have something more humane. Corneille's Pertharite was an unsuccessful tragedy, and Voltaire deduces its ill fortune partly from its barbarous names, such as Garibald and Edvidge. Voltaire, in giving the names of the founders of Helvetic freedom, says, the difficulty of pronouncing these respectable names is injurious to their celebrity; they are Melchthal, Stawffarcher, and Valtherfurst.
We almost hesitate to credit what we know to be true, that the length or the shortness of a name can seriously influence the mind. But history records many facts of this nature. Some nations have long cherished a feeling that there is a certain elevation or abasement in proper names. Montaigne on this subject says, "A gentleman, one of my neighbours, in over-valuing the excellences of old times, never omitted noticing the pride and magnificence of the names of the nobility of those days! Don Grumedan, Quadragan, Argesilan, when fully sounded, were evidently men of another stamp than Peter, Giles, and Michel." What could be hoped for from the names of Ebenezer, Malachi, and Methusalem? The Spaniards have long been known for cherishing a passion for dignified names, and are marvellously affected by long and voluminous ones; to enlarge them they often add the places of their residence. We ourselves seem affected by triple names; and the authors of certain periodical publications always assume for their nom de guerre a triple name, which doubtless raises them much higher in their reader's esteem than a mere Christian and surname. Many Spaniards have given themselves names from some remarkable incident in their lives. One took the name of the Royal Transport, for having conducted the Infanta in Italy. Orendayes added de la Paz, for having signed the peace in 1725. Navarro, after a naval battle off Toulon, added la Vittoria, though he had remained in safety at Cadiz while the French admiral Le Court had fought the battle, which was entirely in favour of the English. A favourite of the King of Spain, a great genius, and the friend of Farinelli, who had sprung from a very obscure origin, to express his contempt of these empty and haughty names assumed, when called to the administration, that of the Marquis of La Ensenada (nothing in himself).
But the influence of long names is of very ancient standing. Lucian notices one Simon, who coming to a great fortune aggrandised his name to Simonides. Dioclesian had once been plain Diocles before he was emperor. When Bruna became queen of France, it was thought proper to convey some of the regal pomp in her name by calling her Brunehault.
The Spaniards then must feel a most singular contempt for a very short name, and on this subject Fuller has recorded a pleasant fact. An opulent citizen of the name of John Cuts (what name can be more unluckily short?) was ordered by Elizabeth to receive the Spanish ambassador; but the latter complained grievously, and thought he was disparaged by the shortness of his name. He imagined that a man bearing a monosyllabic name could never, in the great alphabet of civil life, have performed anything great or honourable; but when he found that honest John Cuts displayed a hospitality which had nothing monosyllabic in it, he groaned only at the utterance of the name of his host.
There are names, indeed, which in the social circle will in spite of all due gravity awaken a harmless smile, and Shenstone solemnly thanked God that his name was not liable to a pun. There are some names which excite horror, such as Mr. Stabback; others contempt, as Mr. Twopenny; and others of vulgar or absurd signification, subject too often to the insolence of domestic witlings, which occasions irritation even in the minds of worthy, but suffering, men.
There is an association of pleasing ideas with certain names,—and in the literary world they produce a fine effect. Bloomfield is a name apt and fortunate for a rustic bard; as Florian seems to describe his sweet and flowery style. Dr. Parr derived his first acquaintance with the late Mr. Homer from the aptness of his name, associating with his pursuits. Our writers of romances and novels are initiated into all the arcana of names, which cost them many painful inventions. It is recorded of one of the old Spanish writers of romance, that he was for many days at a loss to coin a fit name for one of his giants; he wished to hammer out one equal in magnitude to the person he conceived in imagination; and in the haughty and lofty name of Traquitantos, he thought he had succeeded. Richardson, the great father of our novelists, appears to have considered the name of Sir Charles Grandison as perfect as his character, for his heroine writes, "You know his noble name, my Lucy." He felt the same for his Clementina, for Miss Byron writes, "Ah, Lucy, what a pretty name is Clementina!" We experience a certain tenderness for names, and persons of refined imaginations are fond to give affectionate or lively epithets to things and persons they love. Petrarch would call one friend Lellus, and another Socrates, as descriptive of their character.
In our own country, formerly, the ladies appear to have been equally sensible to poetical or elegant names, such as Alicia, Celicia, Diana, Helena, &c. Spenser, the poet, gave to his two sons two names of this kind; he called one Silvanus, from the woody Kilcolman, his estate; and the other Peregrine, from his having been born in a strange place, and his mother then travelling. The fair Eloisa gave the whimsical name of Astrolabus to her boy; it bore some reference to the stars, as her own to the sun.
Whether this name of Astrolabus had any scientific influence over the son, I know not; but I have no doubt that whimsical names may have a great influence over our characters. The practice of romantic names among persons, even of the lowest orders of society, has become a very general evil: and doubtless many unfortunate beauties, of the names of Clarissa and Eloisa, might have escaped under the less dangerous appellatives of Elizabeth or Deborah. I know a person who has not passed his life without some inconvenience from his name, mean talents and violent passions not according with Antoninus; and a certain writer of verses might have been no versifier, and less a lover of the true Falernian, had it not been for his namesake Horace. The Americans, by assuming Roman names, produce ludicrous associations; Romulus Higgs, and Junius Brutus Booth. There was more sense, when the Foundling Hospital was first instituted, in baptizing the most robust boys, designed for the sea-service, by the names of Drake, Norris, or Blake, after our famous admirals.
It is no trifling misfortune in life to bear an illustrious name; and in an author it is peculiarly severe. A history now by a Mr. Hume, or a poem by a Mr. Pope, would be examined with different eyes than had they borne any other name. The relative of a great author should endeavour not to be an author. Thomas Corneille had the unfortunate honour of being brother to a great poet, and his own merits have been considerably injured by the involuntary comparison. The son of Racine has written with an amenity not unworthy of his celebrated father; amiable and candid, he had his portrait painted, with the works of his father in his hand, and his eye fixed on this verse from Phaedra,—
Et moi, fils inconnu d'un si glorieux pere!
But even his modesty only served to whet the dart of epigram. It was once bitterly said of the son of an eminent literary character,—
He tries to write because his father writ, And shows himself a bastard by his wit.
Amongst some of the disagreeable consequences attending some names, is, when they are unluckily adapted to an uncommon rhyme; how can any man defend himself from this malicious ingenuity of wit? Freret, one of those unfortunate victims to Boileau's verse, is said not to have been deficient in the decorum of his manners, and he complained that he was represented as a drunkard, merely because his name rhymed to Cabaret. Murphy, no doubt, felicitated himself in his literary quarrel with Dr. Franklin, the poet and critical reviewer, by adopting the singular rhyme of "envy rankling" to his rival's and critic's name.
Superstition has interfered even in the choice of names, and this solemn folly has received the name of a science, called Onomantia; of which the superstitious ancients discovered a hundred foolish mysteries. They cast up the numeral letters of names, and Achilles was therefore fated to vanquish Hector, from the numeral letters in his name amounting to a higher number than his rival's. They made many whimsical divisions and subdivisions of names, to prove them lucky or unlucky. But these follies are not those that I am now treating on. Some names have been considered as more auspicious than others. Cicero informs us that when the Romans raised troops, they were anxious that the name of the first soldier who enlisted should be one of good augury. When the censors numbered the citizens, they always began by a fortunate name, such as Salvius Valereus. A person of the name of Regillianus was chosen emperor, merely from the royal sound of his name, and Jovian was elected because his name approached nearest to the beloved one of the philosophic Julian. This fanciful superstition was even carried so far that some were considered as auspicious, and others as unfortunate. The superstitious belief in auspicious names was so strong, that Caesar, in his African expedition, gave a command to an obscure and distant relative of the Scipios, to please the popular prejudice that the Scipios were invincible in Africa. Suetonius observes that all those of the family of Caesar who bore the surname of Caius perished by the sword.
The Emperor Severus consoled himself for the licentious life of his empress Julia, from the fatality attending those of her name. This strange prejudice of lucky and unlucky names prevailed in modern Europe. The successor of Adrian VI. (as Guicciardini tells us) wished to preserve his own name on the papal throne; but he gave up the wish when the conclave of cardinals used the powerful argument that all the popes who had preserved their own names had died in the first year of their pontificates. Cardinal Marcel Cervin, who preserved his name when elected pope, died on the twentieth day of his pontificate, and this confirmed this superstitious opinion. La Motte le Vayer gravely asserts that all the queens of Naples of the name of Joan, and the kings of Scotland of the name of James, have been unfortunate: and we have formal treatises of the fatality of Christian names. It is a vulgar notion that every female of the name of Agnes is fated to become mad. Every nation has some names labouring with this popular prejudice.
Herrera, the Spanish historian, records an anecdote in which the choice of a queen entirely arose from her name. When two French ambassadors negotiated a marriage between one of the Spanish princesses and Louis VIII., the names of the Royal females were Urraca and Blanche. The former was the elder and the more beautiful, and intended by the Spanish court for the French monarch; but they resolutely preferred Blanche, observing that the name of Urraca would never do! and for the sake of a more mellifluous sound, they carried off, exulting in their own discerning ears, the happier named, but less beautiful princess.
There are names indeed which are painful to the feelings, from the associations of our passions. I have seen the Christian name of a gentleman, the victim of the caprice of his godfather, who is called Blast us Godly,—which, were he designed for a bishop, must irritate religious feelings. I am not surprised that one of the Spanish monarchs refused to employ a sound catholic for his secretary, because his name (Martin Lutero) had an affinity to the name of the reformer. Mr. Rose has recently informed us that an architect called Malacarne, who, I believe, had nothing against him but his name, was lately deprived of his place as principal architect by the Austrian government,—let us hope not for his unlucky name; though that government, according to Mr. Rose, acts on capricious principles! The fondness which some have felt to perpetuate their names, when their race has fallen extinct, is well known; and a fortune has then been bestowed for a change of name. But the affection for names has gone even farther. A similitude of names, Camden observes, "dothe kindle sparkes of love and liking among meere strangers." I have observed the great pleasure of persons with uncommon names meeting with another of the same name; an instant relationship appears to take place; and I have known that fortunes have been bequeathed for namesakes. An ornamental manufacturer, who bears a name which he supposes to be very uncommon, having executed an order for a gentleman of the same name, refused to send his bill, never having met with the like, preferring to payment the honour of serving him for namesake.
Among the Greeks and the Romans, beautiful and significant names were studied. The sublime Plato himself has noticed the present topic; his visionary ear was sensible to the delicacy of a name; and his exalted fancy was delighted with beautiful names, as well as every other species of beauty. In his Cratylus he is solicitous that persons should have happy, harmonious, and attractive names. According to Aulus Gellius, the Athenians enacted by a public decree, that no slave should ever bear the consecrated names of their two youthful patriots, Harmodius and Aristogiton,—names which had been devoted to the liberties of their country, they considered would be contaminated by servitude. The ancient Romans decreed that the surnames of infamous patricians should not be borne by any other patrician of that family, that their very names might be degraded and expire with them. Eutropius gives a pleasing proof of national friendships being cemented by a name; by a treaty of peace between the Romans and the Sabines, they agreed to melt the two nations into one mass, that they should bear their names conjointly; the Roman should add his to the Sabine, and the Sabine take a Roman name.
The ancients named both persons and things from some event or other circumstance connected with the object they were to name. Chance, fancy, superstition, fondness, and piety, have invented names. It was a common and whimsical custom among the ancients, (observes Larcher) to give as nicknames the letters of the alphabet. Thus a lame girl was called Lambda, on account of the resemblance which her lameness made her bear to the letter [Greek: l], or lambda! AEsop was called Theta by his master, from his superior acuteness. Another was called Beta, from his love of beet. It was thus Scarron, with infinite good temper, alluded to his zig-zag body, by comparing himself to the letter s or z.
The learned Calmet also notices among the Hebrews nicknames and names of raillery taken from defects of body or mind, &c. One is called Nabal, or fool; another Hamor, the Ass; Hagab, the Grasshopper, &c. Women had frequently the names of animals; as Deborah, the Bee; Rachel, the Sheep. Others from their nature or other qualifications; as Tamar, the Palm-tree; Hadassa, the Myrtle; Sarah, the Princess; Hannah, the Gracious. The Indians of North America employ sublime and picturesque names; such are the great Eagle—the Partridge—Dawn of the Day!—Great swift Arrow!—Path-opener!—Sun-bright!