Our Poet to learned critics does submit, But scorns those little vermin of the pit, Who noise and nonsense vent instead of wit,
and no doubt Bancroft had aims more professional than those of the professional playwrights themselves. He wrote three plays, and lived until 1696. One fancies the discreet and fervent poet-surgeon, laden with his secrets and his confidences. Why did he not write memoirs, and tell us what it was that drove Nat Lee mad, and how Otway really died, and what Dryden's habits were? Why did he not purvey magnificent indiscretions whispered under the great periwig of Wycherley, or repeat that splendid story about Etheredge and my Lord Mulgrave? Alas! we would have given a wilderness of Sertoriuses for such a series of memoirs.
The volume of plays is not exhausted. Here is Weston's Amazon Queen, of 1667, written in pompous rhymed heroics; here is The Fortune Hunters, a comedy of 1689, the only play of that brave fellow, James Carlile, who, being brought up an actor, preferred "to be rather than to personate a hero," and died in gallant fight for William of Orange, at the battle of Aughrim; here is Mr. Anthony, a comedy written by the Right Honourable the Earl of Orrery, and printed in 1690, a piece never republished among the Earl's works, and therefore of some special interest. But I am sure my reader is exhausted, even if the volume is not, and I spare him any further examination of these obscure dramas, lest he should say, as Peter Pindar did of Dr. Johnson, that I
Set wheels on wheels in motion—such a clatter! To force up one poor nipperkin of water; Bid ocean labour with tremendous roar To heave a cockle-shell upon the shore.
I will close, therefore, with one suggestion to the special student of comparative literature—namely, that it is sometimes in the minor writings of an age, where the bias of personal genius is not strongly felt, that the general phenomena of the time are most clearly observed. The Amazon Queen is in rhymed verse, because in 1667 this was the fashionable form for dramatic poetry; Sertorius is in regular and somewhat restrained blank verse, because in 1679 the fashion had once more chopped round. What in Dryden or Otway might be the force of originality may be safely taken as the drift of the age in these imitative and floating nonentities.
A CENSOR OF POETS
The Lives of The Most Famous English Poets, or the Honour of Parnassus; in a Brief Essay of the Works and Writings of above Two Hundred of them, from the Time of K. William the Conqueror, to the Reign of His Present Majesty King James II. Written by William Winstanley. Licensed June 16, 1686. London, Printed by H. Clark, for Samuel Manship at the Sign of the Black Bull in Cornhil, 1687.
A maxim which it would be well for ambitious critics to chalk up on the walls of their workshops is this: never mind whom you praise, but be very careful whom you blame. Most critical reputations have struck on the reef of some poet or novelist whom the great censor, in his proud old age, has thought he might disdain with impunity. Who recollects the admirable treatises of John Dennis, acute, learned, sympathetic? To us he is merely the sore old bear, who was too stupid to perceive the genius of Pope. The grace and discrimination lavished by Francis Jeffrey over a thousand pages, weigh like a feather beside one sentence about Wordsworth's Excursion, and one tasteless sneer at Charles Lamb. Even the mighty figure of Sainte-Beuve totters at the whisper of the name Balzac. Even Matthew Arnold would have been wiser to have taken counsel with himself before he laughed at Shelley. And the very unimportant but sincere and interesting writer, whose book occupies us to-day, is in some respects the crowning instance of the rule. His literary existence has been sacrificed by a single outburst of petulant criticism, which was not even literary, but purely political.
The only passage of Winstanley's Lives of the English Poets which is ever quoted is the paragraph which refers to Milton, who, when it appeared, had been dead thirteen years. It runs thus:
"John Milton was one whose natural parts might deservedly give him a place amongst the principal of our English Poets, having written two Heroick Poems and a Tragedy, namely Paradice Lost, Paradice Regain'd, and Sampson Agonista. But his Fame is gone out like a Candle in a Snuff, and his Memory will always stink, which might have ever lived in honourable Repute, had not he been a notorious Traytor, and most impiously and villanously bely'd that blessed Martyr, King Charles the First."
Mr. Winstanley does not leave us in any doubt of his own political bias, and his mode is simply infamous. It is the roughest and most unpardonable expression now extant of the prejudice generally felt against Milton in London, after the Restoration—a prejudice which even Dryden, who in his heart knew better, could not wholly resist. This one sentence is all that most readers of seventeenth-century literature know about Winstanley, and it is not surprising that it has created an objection to him. I forget who it was, among the critics of the beginning of this century, who was accustomed to buy copies of the Lives of the English Poets wherever he could pick them up, and burn them, in piety to the angry spirit of Milton. This was certainly more sensible conduct than that of the Italian nobleman, who used to build MSS. of Martial into little pyres, and consume them with spices, to express his admiration of Catullus. But no one can wonder that the world has not forgiven Winstanley for that atrocious phrase about Milton's fame having "gone out like a candle in a snuff, so that his memory will always stink." No, Mr. William Winstanley, it is your own name that—smells so very unpleasantly.
Yet I am paradoxical enough to believe that poor Winstanley never wrote these sentences which have destroyed his fame. To support my theory, it is needful to recount the very scanty knowledge we possess of his life. He is said to have been a barber, and to have risen by his exertions with the razor; but, against that legend, is to be posed the fact that on the titles of his earliest books, dedicated to public men who must have known, he styles himself "Gent." The dates of his birth and death are, I believe, a matter of conjecture. But the Lives of the English Poets is the latest of his books, and the earliest was published in 1660. This is his England's Worthies, a group of what we should call to-day "biographical studies." The longest and the most interesting of these is one on Oliver Cromwell, the tone of which is almost grossly laudatory, although published at the very moment of Restoration. Now, it is a curious, and, at first sight, a very disgraceful fact, that in 1684, when the book of England's Worthies was re-issued, all the praise of republicans was cancelled, and abuse substituted for it. And then, in 1687, came the Lives of the English Poets, with its horrible attack on Milton. The character of Winstanley seems to be as base as any on literary record. I have come to the conclusion, however, that Winstanley was guilty, neither of retracting what he said about Cromwell, nor of slandering Milton. The black woman excused her husband for not answering the bell, "'Cause he's dead," and the excuse was considered valid. I hope that when these interpolations were made, poor Winstanley was dead.
Any one who reads the Lives of the English Poets carefully, will be impressed with two facts: first, that the author had an acquaintance with the early versifiers of Great Britain, which was quite extraordinary, and which can hardly be found at fault by our modern knowledge; while, secondly, that he shows a sudden and unaccountable ignorance of his immediate contemporaries of the younger school. Except Campion, who is a discovery of our own day, not a single Elizabethan or Jacobean rhymester of the second or third rank escapes his notice. Among the writers of a still later generation, I miss no names save those of Vaughan, who was very obscure in his own lifetime, and Marvell, who would be excluded by the same prejudice which mocked at Milton. But among Poets of the Restoration, men and women who were in their full fame in 1687, the omissions are quite startling. Not a word is here about Otway, Lee, or Crowne; Butler is not mentioned, nor the Matchless Orinda, nor Roscommon, nor Sir Charles Sedley. A careful examination of the dates of works which Winstanley refers to, produces a curious result. There is not mentioned, so far as I can trace, a single poem or play which was published later than 1675, although the date on the title-page of the Lives of the English Poets is 1687. Rather an elaborate list of Dryden's publications is given, but it stops at Amboyna (1673). On this I think it is not too bold to build a theory, which may last until Winstanley's entry of burial is discovered in some country church, that he died soon after 1675. If this were the case, the recantations in his English Worthies of 1684 would be so many posthumous outrages committed on his blameless tomb, and the infamous sentence about Milton may well have been foisted into a posthumous volume by the same wicked hand. If we could think that Samuel Manship, at the Sign of the Black Bull, was the obsequious rogue who did it, that would be one more sin to be numbered against the sad race of publishers.
In studying old books about the poets, it sometimes occurs to us to wonder whether the readers of two hundred years ago appreciated the same qualities in good verse which are now admired. Did the ringing and romantic cadences of Shakespeare affect their senses as they do ours? We know that they praised Carew and Suckling, but was it "Ask me no more where June bestows," and "Hast thou seen the down in the air," which gave them pleasure? It would sometimes seem, from the phrases they use and the passages they quote, that if poetry was the same two centuries ago, its readers had very different ears from ours. Of Herrick Winstanley says that he was "one of the Scholars of Apollo of the middle Form, yet something above George Withers, in a pretty Flowry and Pastoral Gale of Fancy, in a vernal Prospect of some Hill, Cave, Rock, or Fountain; which but for the interruption of other trivial Passages, might have made up none of the worst Poetick Landskips," and then he quotes, as a sample of Herrick, a tiresome" epigram," in the poet's worst style. This is not delicate or acute criticism, as we judge nowadays; but I would give a good deal to meet Winstanley at a coffee-house, and go through the Hesperides with him over a dish of chocolate. It would be wonderfully interesting to discover which passages in Herrick really struck the contemporary mind as "flowery," and which as "trivial." But this is just what all seventeenth-century criticism, even Dryden's, omits to explain to us. The personal note in poetical criticism, the appeal to definite taste, to the experience of eye and ear, is not met with, even in suggestion, until we reach the pamphlets of John Dennis.
The particular copy of Winstanley which lies before me is a valuable one; I owe it to the generosity of a friend in Chicago, who hoards rare books, and yet has the greatness of soul sometimes to part with them. It is interleaved, and the blank pages are rather densely inscribed with notes in the handwriting of Dr. Thomas Percy, the poetical Bishop of Dromore. From his hands it passed into those of John Bowyer Nichols, the antiquary. Percy's notes are little more than references to other authorities, memoranda for one of his own useful compilations, yet it is pleasant to have even a slight personal relic of so admirable a man. Mr. Riviere has bound the volume for me, and I suppose that poor rejected Winstanley exists nowhere else in so elegant a shape.
THE ROMANCE OF A DICTIONARY
HISTOIRE DE L'ACADEMIE FRANCOISE: avec un Abrege des Vies du Cardinal de Richelieu, Vaugelas, Corneille, Ablancourt, Mezerai, Voiture, Patru, la Fontaine, Boileau, Racine Et autres Illustres Academiciens qui la Composent.
A La Haye, MDCLXXXVIII.
It is not often, in these days, when the pastime of bibliography is reduced to a science, that one is rewarded, as one so often was a quarter of a century ago, by picking up an unregarded treasure on the bookstalls. But the other day I really had a pleasant little "find," and it was the reward of virtue. It came of having a tender heart. My eye caught what Mr. Austin Dobson would call "a dear and dumpy twelve," lying open upon other books, face downward, in the most ignominious posture. I saw at a glance, from the tooling on its faded and half-broken back, that it was French and of the seventeenth century, and that somebody had prized it once. I could read the lettering Academ. Franc., and I gave the pence which were wanted for it. It proved a most rewarding little volume. It was published at The Hague in 1688, and it was a new edition of the Histoire de l'Academie Francaise. A preface says that "for the honour of our nation" (the French, presumably, not the Dutch), the publisher has thought it proper to issue an edition "more correct and more elegant" than has hitherto been seen, brought down to date with many new and curious pieces. Among other things, the said publisher thinks that "the English will not be displeased to see the Panegyric" of King Louis XIV. "admirably rendered in their language by a Person of their Nation." But what immediately caught my attention, and filled me with delight, was an absolutely contemporary account, written specially for this 1688 edition, of the great quarrel between the French Academy and the Abbe Furetiere. Of this I propose to speak to-day.
We live in an age of Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, which we look upon as universal panaceas for culture. There was a similar rage for dictionaries in France two hundred and fifty years ago. We may very rapidly remind ourselves that the French Academy was constituted in 1634 with thirty-five members, who became the stationary and immortal Forty in 1639. One of its original functions was the preparation of a great Dictionary of the French language, under the special care of the eminent grammarian, Vaugelas, who had through his lifetime made collections—"various beautiful and curious observations," as Pellisson calls them—towards a reasoned philological study of French. The poet Chapelain was appointed a sort of general editor of the projected Dictionary, which was solemnly started early in 1638. For the next four years the Academicians were very active, spurred on by Richelieu, but when, in 1642, the Cardinal died, their zeal relented, and when, in 1650, Vaugelas's presence ceased to urge them forward, it flagged altogether. Vaugelas died bankrupt, and his creditors seized his writing-desks, the drawers of which contained a great part of the MS. collections for the Dictionary. It was only after a lawsuit that the Academy recovered those papers, and Mezeray was then set to continue the editing of the work. Still twice a week the Academy met to consult about the Dictionary, but so languidly and with so little fire, that Boisrobert said that not the youngest of the Forty could hope to live to print the letter G. As a matter of fact, not one of those who started the Dictionary lived to see it published.
In this slow fashion, with long Rip Van Winkle slumbers and occasional faint awakenings, the French Academy faltered on with fitful persistence towards the completion of its famous Dictionary. But, as I have said, it was a period of great enthusiasm about all such summaries of knowledge, and Paris was thirsting for grammars, lexicons, inventories of language and the like. The Academy insisted that the world must wait for the approach of their vast and lumbering machine; but meanwhile public curiosity was impatient, and all sorts of brief and imperfect dictionaries were issued to satisfy it. The publication of these spurious guides to knowledge infuriated the Academy, until in 1674 the dog permanently occupied the manger by inducing the King to issue a decree "forbidding all printers and publishers to print any new dictionary of the French language, under any title whatsoever, until the publication of that of the French Academy, or until twenty years have expired since the proclamation of the present decree." This cut the ground from under the feet of all rivals, and the Academy could meet twice a week as before and mumble its definitions with serene assurance. From this false security it was roused by the incident which my "dumpy twelve" recounts.
It was from the very heart of their own body that the great attack upon their privileges unexpectedly fell upon the Academicians. In 1662 they had elected (in the place of De Boissat, a very obscure original member) the Abbe of Chalivoy, Antoine Furetiere. This man, born in Paris of poor parents in 1619, had raised himself to eminence as an Orientalist and grammarian, and was welcomed among the Forty as likely to be particularly helpful to them in their Dictionary work. He was probably one of those men whose true character does not come out until they attain success. But no sooner was Furetiere an Immortal than he began to distinguish himself in unanticipated ways. He proved himself an adept in parody and satire, and so long as he contented himself with laughing at people like Charles Sorel, the author of Francion, who had no friends, the Academicians were calm and amused, But Furetiere was not merely the author of that extremely amusing medley, Le Roman Bourgeois (1666), which still holds its place in French literature as a minor classic, but he was also a real student of philology, and one of those who most ardently desired to see the settlement of the canon of French language. It incensed him beyond words that his colleagues dawdled so endlessly over their committees and their definitions. He began to make collections of his own, no doubt at first with the perfectly loyal intention of adding them to the common store. Meanwhile he lashed the rest of the Academy with his tongue. Other Academicians did this also, such men as Patru and Boisrobert, but they had not Furetiere's nasty way of putting things. One perceives that about the year 1680 the sarcasms of Furetiere had really become something more than the rest of the Immortals could put up with.
He delivered himself into their hands, and here my little volume takes up the tale. On the 3rd of January, 1685, the French Academy met to mourn the death of its most illustrious member, the great Pierre Corneille, and to elect his younger brother to take his place. While the members were chatting together their Librarian handed about among them copies of a "privilege" which had just been obtained by the Abbe Furetiere to publish "a universal Dictionary containing generally all French words, old as well as modern, and the terms employed in all arts and sciences." So declares my little book; but it would seem that the officers of the Academy at least a week earlier had their attention drawn to what Furetiere was doing. Perhaps it was not until the election of Thomas Corneille that an opportunity occurred of making the members generally aware of it. One wonders whether Furetiere himself was present on the 3rd of January; if so, what puttings of periwigs together there must have been in corners, and what taps of gold-headed canes on lace-frilled cuffs! It was felt, as my little volume puts it, that "Monsieur the Abbe Furetiere, being one of the Forty Academicians, ought not to have been privately busying himself on a work which he knew to be the principal occupation of the whole Academy." It is surprising, in the face of the monopoly which that body had secured, that Furetiere was able to obtain a Privilege for his own Dictionary, but in all probability, as he was one of the Forty, the censors supposed that he was acting in concert with his colleagues.
Then began a hue and cry with which the learned world of Paris rang for months. Never was such a scandal, never such a rain of pamphlets and lampoons on one side and the other. One has only to glance at the contemporary portraits of Furetiere to see that he was not the man to yield a point; his wrinkled face looks the very mirror of sarcastic obstinacy and brilliant ill-nature. The Academy, in solemn session, appointed Regnier Desmarais, their secretary, to wait on the Chancellor to demand the cancelling of Furetiere's privilege. But the Abbe had powerful friends also, and by their help the Chancellor's action was delayed, while Furetiere hurried out a specimen of his work. He says in the preface that no author ever had a more pressing need for the protection of a prince than he has who sees the labour of years about to be sacrificed to the envy of others. He goes on to explain that he has never dreamed of interfering with the work of the Academy, for which he has the greatest possible respect, but that he only hopes to render service to the public by supplementing its labours. The Academy, in fact, had expressly declined to include in its Dictionary the technical terms of art and science, and it is particularly with these that Furetiere is occupied. His answer to those who accuse him of stealing from the unpublished cahiers of the Academy is the uniformity of his work from A to Z; whereas, if he had stolen from his colleagues, he must have stopped at O-P, which was the point they had reached in 1684.
The Academy was not pacified, and began to take counsel how they could turn Furetiere out of their body. There was no precedent for such a degradation, but a parallel was sought for in the fact that the Sorbonne had successfully ejected one of its most famous doctors, Arnauld. Meanwhile the suit went on, the Thirty-nine versus the One. Furetiere is said to have bowed for a moment beneath the storm, offering to blend his work in the general Dictionary of the Academy, or to remove from it all words not admitted to deal technically with art and science. But passion had gone too far, and on the 22nd of January, 1685, at a general meeting, twenty Academicians being present, Furetiere was expelled from the body by a majority of nineteen to one. It is believed that the one who voted for mercy was the most illustrious of all, Racine. Boileau and Bossuet also defended the Abbe, and when the matter became at last so serious that the King himself was obliged to take cognisance of it, it was understood that his sympathies also were with Furetiere.
My little volume (written, I think, in 1687) does not know anything about the expulsion, which was therefore probably secret. It says: "As to Monsieur Furetiere, he no longer puts in an appearance at the meetings of the Academy, but it is not known whether any other Academician is to be elected in his place." As a matter of fact, the society hesitated to go so far as this, and the seat was left vacant. Not for long, however; the unanimous rancour of so many men of influence and rank had successfully ruined the fortune and broken the spirit of the old piratical lexicographer. Before retiring into private life, however, he poured out in his Couches de l'Academie a torrent of poison, which was distilled through the presses of Amsterdam in 1687. One of his earlier colleagues at the Academy supplied the bankrupt man with the necessaries of life, until, on the 14th of May, 1688, probably just as the "dumpy twelve" was passing through the press, he died in Paris like a rat in a hole. His Dictionary, being suppressed in France, was edited, after his death, in 1690, at The Hague and Rotterdam, and enjoyed a great success. We learn from a letter of Racine to Boileau that in 1694 the publisher ventured to offer a copy of a new edition of it to the King of France, and that it was graciously received. If the poor old man could have struggled on a little longer he might have lived to see himself become fashionable and successful again.
With all his misfortunes he managed to beat the Academy, for that body, in spite of its superhuman efforts, did not contrive to publish its Dictionary till four years after the appearance of Furetiere's. The latter is a great curiosity of lexicography, a vast storehouse of peculiar and rare information. It is always consulted by scholars, but never without a recollection of the extraordinary struggle which its author sustained, singlehanded, against the world, and in which he fell, overpowered by numbers, only to triumph after all in the ashes of his fame.
LADY WINCHILSEA'S POEMS
MISCELLANY POEMS. _With Two Plays. By Ardelia.
I never list presume to Parnass hill, But piping low, in shade of lowly grove, I play to please myself, albeit ill.
Spencer Shep. Cal. June.
Manuscript in folio. Circa_ 1696.
There is no other book in my library to which I feel that I possess so clear a presumptive right as to this manuscript. Other rare volumes would more fitly adorn the collections of bibliophiles more learned, more ingenious, more elegant, than I. But if there is any person in the two hemispheres who has so fair a claim upon the ghost of Ardelia, let that man stand forth. Ardelia was uncultivated and unsung when I constituted myself, years ago, her champion. With the exception of a noble fragment of laudation from Wordsworth, no discriminating praise from any modern critic had stirred the ashes of her name. I made it my business to insist in many places on the talent of Ardelia. I gave her, for the first time, a chance of challenging public taste, by presenting to readers of Mr. Ward's English Poets many pages of extracts from her writings; and I hope it is not indiscreet to say that, when the third volume of that compilation appeared, Mr. Matthew Arnold told me that its greatest revelation to himself had been the singular merit of this lady. Such being my claim on the consideration of Ardelia, no one will, I think, grudge me the possession of this unknown volume of her works in manuscript. It came into my hands by a strange coincidence. In his brief life of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea—for that was Ardelia's real name—Theophilus Gibber says, "A great number of our authoress' poems still continue unpublished, in the hands of the Rev. Mr. Creake." In 1884 I saw advertised, in an obscure book-list, a folio volume of old manuscript poetry. Something excited my curiosity, and I sent for it. It proved to be a vast collection of the poems of my beloved Anne Finch. I immediately communicated with the bookseller, and asked him whence it came. He replied that it had been sold, with furniture, pictures and books, at the dispersing of the effects of a family of the name of Creake. Thank you, divine Ardelia! It was well done; it was worthy of you.
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, is not a commanding figure in history, but she is an isolated and a well-defined one. She is what one of the precursors of Shakespeare calls "a diminutive excelsitude." She was entirely out of sympathy with her age, and her talent was hampered and suppressed by her conditions. She was the solitary writer of actively developed romantic tastes between Marvell and Gray, and she was not strong enough to create an atmosphere for herself within the vacuum in which she languished. The facts of her life are extremely scanty, although they may now be considerably augmented by the help of my folio. She was born about 1660, the daughter of a Hampshire baronet. She was maid of honour to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, and at Court she met Heneage Finch, who was gentleman of the bed-chamber to the Duke. They married in 1685, probably on the occasion of the enthronement of their master and mistress, and when the crash came in 1688, they fled together to the retirement of Eastwell Park. They inhabited this mansion for the rest of their lives, although it was not until the death of his nephew, in 1712, that Heneage Finch became fourth Earl of Winchilsea. In 1713 Anne was at last persuaded to publish a selection of her poems, and in 1720 she died. The Earl survived her until 1726.
My manuscript was written, I think, in or about the year 1696—that is to say, when Mrs. Finch was in retirement from the Court. She has adopted the habit of writing,
Betrayed by solitude to try Amusements, which the prosperous fly.
But her exile from the world gives her no disquietude. It seems almost an answer to her prayer. Years before, when she was at the centre of fashion in the Court of James II., she had written in an epistle to the Countess of Thanet:
Give me, O indulgent Fate, Give me yet, before I die, A sweet, but absolute retreat, 'Mongst paths so lost, and trees so high, That the world may ne'er invade, Through such windings and such shade, My unshaken liberty.
This was a sentiment rarely expressed and still more rarely felt by English ladies at the close of the seventeenth century. What their real opinion usually was is clothed in crude and ready language by the heroines of Wycherley and Shadwell. Like Lucia, in the comedy of Epsom Wells, to live out of London was to live in a wilderness, with bears and wolves as one's companions. Alone in that age Anne Finch truly loved the country, for its own sake, and had an eye to observe its features.
She had one trouble, constitutional low spirits: she was a terrible sufferer from what was then known as "The Spleen." She wrote a long pindaric Ode on the Spleen, which was printed in a miscellany in 1701, and was her first introduction to the public. She talks much about her melancholy in her verses, but, with singular good sense, she recognised that it was physical, and she tried various nostrums. Neither tea, nor coffee, nor ratafia did her the least service:
In vain to chase thee every art I try, In vain all remedies apply, In vain the Indian leaf infuse, Or the parched eastern berry bruise, Or pass, in vain, those bounds, and nobler liquors use.
Her neurasthenia threw a cloud over her waking hours, and took sleep from her eyelids at night:
How shall I woo thee, gentle Rest, To a sad mind, with cares oppress'd? By what soft means shall I invite Thy powers into my soul to-night? Yet, gentle Sleep, if thou wilt come, Such darkness shall prepare the room As thy own palace overspreads,— Thy palace stored with peaceful beds,— And Silence, too, shall on thee wait Deep, as in the Turkish State; Whilst, still as death, I will be found, My arms by one another bound, And my dull limbs so clos'd shall be As if already seal'd by thee.
She tried a course of the waters at Tunbridge Wells, but without avail. When the abhorred fit came on, the world was darkened to her. Only two things could relieve her—the soothing influence of solitude with nature and the Muses, or the sympathetic presence of her husband. She disdained the little feminine arts of her age:
Nor will in fading silks compose Faintly the inimitable rose, Fill up an ill-drawn bird, or paint on glass The Sovereign's blurr'd and indistinguished face, The threatening angel and the speaking ass.
But she will wander at sundown through the exquisite woods of Eastwell, and will watch the owlets in their downy nest or the nightingale silhouetted against the fading sky. Then her constitutional depression passes, and she is able once more to be happy:
Our sighs are then but vernal air, But April-drops our tears,
as she says in delicious numbers that might be Wordsworth's own. In these delightful moments, released from the burden of her tyrant malady, her eyes seem to have been touched with the herb euphrasy, and she has the gift, denied to the rest of her generation, of seeing nature and describing what she sees. In these moods, this contemporary of Dryden and Congreve gives us such accurate transcripts of country life as the following:
When the loos'd horse now, as his pasture leads, Comes slowly grazing through the adjoining meads, Whose stealing face and lengthened shade we fear, Till torn-up forage in his teeth we hear; When nibbling sheep at large pursue their food, And unmolested kine rechew the cud: When curlews cry beneath the village-walls, And to her straggling brood the partridge calls.
In Eastwell Park there was a hill, called Parnassus, to which she was particularly partial, and to this she commonly turned her footsteps.
Melancholy as she was, however, and devoted to reverie, she could be gay enough upon occasion, and her sprightly poems have a genuine sparkle. Here is an anacreontic—written "for my brother Leslie Finch"—which has never before been printed:
_From the Park, and the Play, And Whitehall, come away To the Punch-bowl by far more inviting; To the fops and 'the beaux Leave those dull empty shows, And see here what is truly delighting.
The half globe 'tis in figure, And would it were bigger, Yet here's the whole universe floating; Here's titles and places, Rich lands, and fair faces, And all that is worthy our doting.
'Twas a world like to this The hot Grecian did miss, Of whom histories keep such a pother; To the bottom he sunk, And when he had drunk, Grew maudlin, and wept for another_.
At another point, Anne Finch bore very little likeness to her noisy sisterhood of fashion. In an age when it was the height of ill-breeding for a wife to admit a partiality for her husband, Ardelia was not ashamed to confess that Daphnis—for so she styled the excellent Heneage Finch—absorbed every corner of her mind that was not occupied by the Muses. It is a real pleasure to transcribe, for the first time since they were written on the 2nd of April, 1685, these honest couplets:
This, to the crown and blessing of my life, The much-loved husband of a happy wife; To him whose constant passion found the art To win a stubborn and ungrateful heart; And to the world by tenderest proof discovers They err who say that husbands can't be lovers. With such return of passion as is due, Daphnis I love, Daphnis my thoughts pursue, Daphnis, my hopes, my joys are bounded all in you!
Nearly thirty years later the same accent is audible, thinned a little by advancing years, and subdued from passion to tenderness, yet as genuine as at first. When at length the Earl began to suffer from the gout, his faithful family songster recorded that also in her amiable verse, and prayed that "the bad disease"
May you but brief unfrequent visits find To prove you patient, your Ardelia kind.
No one can read her sensitive verses, and not be sure that she was the sweetest and most soothing of bed-side visitants.
It was a quiet life which Daphnis and Ardelia spent in the recesses of Eastwell Park. They saw little company and paid few visits. There was a stately excursion now and then, to the hospitable Thynnes at Longleat, and Anne Finch seldom omitted to leave behind her a metrical tribute to the beauties of that mansion. They seem to have kept up little connection with the Court or with London. There is no trace of literary society in this volume. Nicholas Rowe twice sent down for their perusal translations which he had made; and from another source we learn that Lady Winchilsea had a brisk passage of compliments with Pope. But these were rare incidents. We have rather to think of the long years spent in the seclusion of Eastwell, by these gentle impoverished people of quality, the husband occupied with his mathematical studies, his painting, the care of his garden; the wife studying further afield in her romantic reverie, watching the birds in wild corners of her park, carrying her Tasso, hidden in a fold of her dress, to a dell so remote that she forgets the way back, and has to be carried home "in a Water-cart driven by one of the Underkeepers in his green Coat, with a Hazle-bough for a Whip." It is a little oasis of delicate and pensive refinement in that hot close of the seventeenth century, when so many unseemly monsters were bellowing in the social wilderness.
AMASIA: or, The Works of the Muses. A Collection of Poems. In three volumes. By Mr. John Hopkins. London: Printed by Tho. Warren, for Bennet Banbury, at the Blue-Anchor, in the Lower-Walk of the New-Exchange, 1700.
It has often been remarked that if the author of the poorest collection of minor verse would accurately relate in his quavering numbers what his personal observations and adventures have been, his book would not be entirely without value. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this is precisely what he cannot do. His rhymes carry him whither he would not, and he is lost in a fog of imitated phrases and spurious sensations. The very odd and very rare set of three little volumes, which now come before us, offer a curious exception to this rule. The author of Amasia was no poet, but he possessed the faculty of writing with exactitude about himself. He prattled on in heroic couplets from hour to hour, recording the tiny incidents of his life. At first sight, his voluble miscellany seems a mere wilderness of tame verses, but when we examine it closely a story gradually evolves. We come to know John Hopkins, and live in the intimacy of his circle. His poems contain a novelette in solution. So far as I can discover, nothing whatever is known of him save what he reveals of himself, and no one, I think, has ever searched his three uninviting volumes. In the following paragraphs I have put together his story as it is to be found in the pages of Amasia.
By a single allusion to the Epistolary Poems of Charles Hopkins, "very well perform'd by my Brother," in 1694, we are able to identify the author of Amasia with certainty. He was the second son of the Right Rev. Ezekiel Hopkins, Lord Bishop of Derry. The elder brother whom we have mentioned, Charles, was considerably his senior; for six years the latter occupied a tolerably prominent place in London literary society, was the intimate friend of Dryden and Congreve, published three or four plays not without success, and possessed a name which is pretty frequently met with in books of the time. But to John Hopkins I have discovered scarcely an allusion. He does not seem to have moved in his brother's circle, and his society was probably more courtly than literary. If we may trust his own account the author of Amasia was born, doubtless at Londonderry, on the 1st of January, 1675. He was, therefore, only twenty-five when his poems were published, and the exquisitely affected portrait which adorns the first volume must represent him as younger still, since it was executed by the Dutch engraver, F.H. van Hove, who was found murdered in October, 1698.
Pause a moment, dear reader, and observe Mr. John Hopkins, alias Sylvius, set out with all the artillery of ornament to storm the heart of Amasia. Notice his embroidered silken coat, his splendid lace cravat, the languishment of his large foolish eyes, the indubitable touch of Spanish red on those smooth cheeks. But, above all contemplate the wonders of his vast peruke. He has a name, be sure, for every portion of that killing structure. Those sausage-shaped curls, close to the ears, are confidants; those that dangle round the temples, favorites; the sparkling lock that descends alone over the right eyebrow is the passagere; and, above all, the gorgeous knot that unites the curls and descends on the left breast, is aptly named the meurtriere. If he would but turn his head, we should see his creves-coeur, the two delicate curled locks at the nape of his neck. The escutcheon below his portrait bears, very suitably, three loaded muskets rampant. Such was Sylvius, conquering but, alas! not to conquer.
The youth of John Hopkins was passed in the best Irish society. His father, the Bishop, married—apparently in second nuptials, for John speaks not of her as a man speaks of his mother—the daughter of the Earl of Radnor. Lady Araminta Hopkins seems to have been a friend of Isabella, Duchess of Grafton, the exquisite girl who, at the age of five, had married a bridegroom of nine, and at twenty-three was left a widow, to be the first toast in English society. The poems of John Hopkins are dedicated to this Dowager-duchess, who, when they were published, had already for two years been the wife of Sir Thomas Hanmer. At the age of twelve, and probably in Dublin, Hopkins met the mysterious lady who animates these volumes under the name of Amasia. Who was Amasia? That, alas! even the volubility of her lover does not reveal. But she was Irish, the daughter of a wealthy and perhaps titled personage, and the intimate companion for many years of the beautiful Duchess of Grafton.
Love did not begin at first sight. Sylvius played with Amasia when they both were children, and neither thought of love. Later on, in early youth, the poet was devoted only to a male friend, one Martin. To him ecstatic verses are inscribed:
O Martin! Martin! let the grateful sound Reach to that Heav'n which has our Friendship crown'd, And, like our endless Friendship, meet no bound.
But alas! one day Martin came back, after a long absence, and, although he still
With generous, kind, continu'd Friendship burn'd,
he found Sylvius entirely absorbed by Amasia. Martin knew better than to show temper; he accepted the situation, and
the lov'd Amasia's Health flew round, Amasia's Health the Golden Goblets crown'd.
Now began the first and happiest portion of the story. Amasia had no suspicion of the feelings of the poet, and he was only too happy to be permitted to watch her movements. He records, in successive copies of verses, the various things she did. He seems to have been on terms of delightful intimacy with the lady, and he calls all sorts of people of the highest position to witness how he suffered. To Lady Sandwich are dedicated poems on "Amasia, drawing her own Picture," on "Amasia, playing with a Clouded Fan," on "Amasia, singing, and sticking pins in a Red Silk Pincushion." We are told how Amasia "looked at me through a Multiplying-Glass," how she was troubled with a redness in her eyes, how she danced before a looking-glass, how her flowered muslin nightgown (or "night-rail," as he calls it) took fire, and how, though she promised to sing, yet she never performed. We have a poem on the circumstance that Amasia, "having prick'd me with a Pin, accidentally scratched herself with it;" and another on her "asking me if I slept well after so tempestuous a night." But perhaps the most intimate of all is a poem "To Amasia, tickling a Gentleman." It was no perfunctory tickling that Amasia administered:
While round his sides your nimble Fingers played, With pleasing softness did they swiftly rove, While, at each touch, they made his Heart-strings move. As round his Breast, his ravish'd Breast they crowd, We hear their Musick when he laughs aloud.
This is probably the only instance in literature in which a gentleman has complacently celebrated in verse the fact that his lady-love has tickled some other gentleman.
But this generous simplicity was not long to last. In 1690 Hopkins's father, the Bishop, had died. We may conjecture that Lady Araminta took charge of the boy, and that his home, in vacation time, was with her in Dublin or London. He writes like a youth who has always been petted; the frou-frou of fine ladies' petticoats is heard in all his verses. But he had no fortune and no prospects; he was utterly, he confesses, without ambition. The stern papa of Amasia had no notion of bestowing her on the penniless Sylvius, and when the latter began to court her in earnest, she rebuffed him. She tore up his love-letters, she teased him by sending her black page to the window when he was ogling for her in the street below, she told him he was too young for her, and although she had no objection to his addressing verses to her, she gave him no serious encouragement. She was to be married, he hints, to some one of her own rank—some rich "country booby."
At last, early in 1698, in company with the Duchess of Grafton, and possibly on the occasion of the second marriage of the latter, Amasia was taken off to France, and Hopkins never saw her again. A year later he received news of her death, and his little romance was over. He became ill, and Dr. Gibbons, the great fashionable physician of the day, was called in to attend him. The third volume closes by his summoning the faithful and unupbraiding Martin back to his heart:
Love lives in Sun-Shine, or that Storm, Despair, But gentler Friendship Breathes a Mod'rate Air.
And so Sylvius, with all his galaxy of lovely Irish ladies, his fashionable Muses, and his trite and tortured fancy, disappears into thin air.
The only literary man whom he mentions as a friend is George Farquhar, himself a native of Londonderry, and about the same age as Hopkins. This playwright seems to be sometimes alluded to as Daphnis, sometimes under his own name. Before the performance of Love and a Bottle, Hopkins prophesied for the author a place where
Congreve, Vanbrook, and Wicherley must sit, The great Triumvirate of Comick Wit,
and later on he thought that even Collier himself ought to commend the Constant Couple, or A Trip to the Jubilee. At the first performance of this play, towards the close of 1699, Hopkins was greatly perturbed by the presence of a lady who reminded him of Amasia, and when he visited the theatre next he was less pleased with the play. He had a vague and infelicitous scheme for turning Paradise Lost into rhyme. These are the only traces of literary bias. In other respects Hopkins is interested in nothing more serious than a lock of Amasia's hair; the china cup she had, "round the sides of which were painted Trees, and at the bottom a Naked Woman Weeping;" her box of patches, in which she finds a silver penny; or the needlework embroidered on her gown. When Amasia died there was no reason why Sylvius should continue to exist, and he fades out of our vision like a ghost.
LOVE AND BUSINESS
LOVE AND BUSINESS: in a Collection of occasionary Verse and epistolary Prose not hitherto published. By Mr. George Farquhar. En Orenge il n'y a point d'oranges. London, printed for B. Lintott, at the Post-House, in the Middle Temple-Gate, Fleet Street. 1702.
There are some books, like some people, of whom we form an indulgent opinion without finding it easy to justify our liking. The young man who went to the life-insurance office and reported that his father had died of no particular disease, but just of "plain death," would sympathise with the feeling I mention. Sometimes we like a book, not for any special merit, but just because it is what it is. The rare, and yet not celebrated, miscellany of which I am about to write has this character. It is not instructive, or very high-toned, or exceptionally clever, but if it were a man, all people that are not prigs would say that it was a very good sort of fellow. If it be, as it certainly is, a literary advantage for a nondescript collection of trifles, to reproduce minutely the personality of its writer, then Love and Business has one definite merit. Wherever we dip into its pages we may use it as a telephone, and hear a young Englishman, of the year 1700, talking to himself and to his friends in the most unaffected accents.
Captain George Farquhar, in 1702, was four-and-twenty years of age. He was a smart, soldier-like Irishman, of "a splenetic and amorous complexion," half an actor, a quarter a poet, and altogether a very honest and gallant gentleman. He had taken to the stage kindly enough, and at twenty-one had written Love and a Bottle. Since then, two other plays, The Constant Couple and Sir Harry Wildair, had proved that he had wit and fancy, and knew how to knit them together into a rattling comedy. But he was poor, always in pursuit of that timid wild-fowl, the occasional guinea, and with no sort of disposition to settle down into a heavy citizen. In order to bring down a few brace of golden game, he shovels into Lintott's hands his stray verses of all kinds, a bundle of letters he wrote from Holland, a dignified essay or discourse upon Comedy, and, with questionable taste perhaps, a set of copies of the love-letters he had addressed to the lady who became his wife. All this is not very praiseworthy, and as a contribution to literature it is slight indeed; but, then, how genuine and sincere, how guileless and picturesque is the self-revelation of it! There is no attempt to make things better than they are, nor any pandering to a cynical taste by making them worse. Why should he conceal or falsify? The town knows what sort of a fellow George Farquhar is. Here are some letters and some verses; the beaux at White's may read them if they will, and then throw them away.
As we turn the desultory pages, the figure of the author rises before us, good-natured, easygoing, high-coloured, not bad-looking, with an air of a gentleman in spite of his misfortunes. We do not know the exact details of his military honours. We may think of him as swaggering in scarlet regimentals, but we have his own word for it that he was often in mufti. His mind is generally dressed, he says, like his body, in black; for though he is so brisk a spark in company, he suffers sadly from the spleen when he is alone. We can follow him pretty closely through his day. He is a queer mixture of profanity and piety, of coarseness and loyalty, of cleverness and density; we do not breed this kind of beau nowadays, and yet we might do worse, for this specimen is, with all his faults, a man. He dresses carefully in the morning, in his uniform or else in his black suit. When he wants to be specially smart, as, for instance, when he designs a conquest at a birthday-party, he has to ferret among the pawnbrokers for scraps of finery, or secure on loan a fair, full-bottom wig. But he is not so impoverished that he cannot on these occasions give his valet and his barber plenty of work to do preparing his face with razors, perfumes and washes. He would like to be Sir Fopling Flutter, if he could afford it, and gazes a little enviously at that noble creature in his French clothes, as he lounges luxuriantly past him in his coach with six before and six behind.
Poor Captain Farquhar begins to expect that he himself will never be "a first-rate Beau." So, on common mornings, a little splenetic, he wanders down to the coffee-houses and reads the pamphlets, those which find King William glorious, and those that rail at the watery Dutch. He will even be a little Jacobitish for pure foppery, and have a fling at the Church, but in his heart he is with the Ministry. He meets a friend at White's, and they adjourn presently to the Fleece Tavern, where the drawer brings them a bottle of New French and a neat's tongue, over which they discuss the doctrine of predestination so hotly that two mackerel-vendors burst in, mistaking their lifted voices for a cry for fish. His friend has business in the city, and so our poet strolls off to the Park, and takes a turn in the Mall with his hat in his hand, prepared for an adventure or a chat with a friend. Then comes the play, the inevitable early play, still, even in 1700, apt to be so rank-lipped that respectable ladies could only appear at it in masks. It was the transition period, and poor Comedy, who was saying good-bye to literature, was just about to console herself with modesty.
However, a domino may slip aside, and Mr. George Farquhar notices a little lady in a deep mourning mantua, whose eyes are not to be forgotten. She goes, however; it is useless to pursue her; but the music raises his soul to such a pitch of passion that he is almost melancholy. He strolls out into Spring Garden, but there, "with envious eyes, I saw every Man pick up his Mate, whilst I alone walked like solitary Adam before the Creation of his Eve; but the place was no Paradise to me; nothing I found entertaining but the Nightingale." So that in those sweet summer evenings of 1700, over the laced and brocaded couples promenading in Spring Garden, as over good Sir Roger twelve years later, the indulgent nightingale still poured her notes. To-day you cannot hear the very bells of St. Martin's for the roar of the traffic. So lonely, and too easily enamoured, George has to betake himself to the tavern, and a passable Burgundy. There is no idealism about him. He is very fit for repentance next morning. "The searching Wine has sprung the Rheumatism in my Right Hand, my Head aches, my Stomach pukes." Our poor, good-humoured beau has no constitution for this mode of life, and we know, though happily he dreams not of it, that he is to die before he reaches thirty.
This picture of Farquhar's life is nowhere given in the form just related, but not one touch in the portrait but is to be found somewhere in the frank and easy pages of Love and Business. The poems are of their age and kind. There is a "Pindarick," of course; it was so easy to write one, and so reputable. There are compliments in verse to one of the female wits who were writing then for the stage, Mrs. Trotter, author of the Fatal Friendship; there are amatory explanations of all kinds. When he fails to keep an appointment with a lady on account of the rain—for there were no umbrellas in those days—he likens himself to Leander, wistful on the Sestian shore. He is not always very discreet; Damon's thoughts when "Night's black Curtain o'er the World was spread" were very innocent, but such as we have decided nowadays to say nothing about. It was the fashion of the time to be outspoken. There is no value, however, in the verse, except that it is graphic now and then. The letters are much more interesting. Those sent from Holland in the autumn of 1700 are very good reading. I make bold to quote one passage from the first, describing the storm he encountered in crossing. It depicts our hero to the life, with all his inconsistencies. He says: "By a kind of Poetical Philosophy I bore up pretty well under my Apprehensions; though never worse prepared for Death, I must confess, for I think I never had so much Money about me at a time. We had some Ladies aboard, that were so extremely sick, that they often wished for Death, but were damnably afraid of being drown'd. But, as the Scripture says, 'Sorrow may last for a Night, but Joy cometh in the Morning,'" and so on. The poor fellow means no harm by all this, as Hodgson once said of certain remarks of Byron's.
The love-letters are very curious. It is believed that the sequel of them was a very unhappy marriage. Captain Farquhar was of a loving disposition, and as inflammable as a hay-rick. He cannot have been much more than twenty-one when he described what he desired in a wife. "O could I find," he said—
O could I find (Grant, Heaven, that once I may!) A Nymph fair, kind, poetical and gay Whose Love should blaze, unsullied and divine. Lighted at first by the bright Lamp of mine. Free as a Mistress, faithful as a wife. And one that lov'd a Fiddle as her Life, Free from all sordid Ends, from Interest free, For my own Sake affecting only me, What a blest Union should our Souls combine! I hers alone, and she be only mine!
It does not seem a very exacting ideal, but the poor poet missed it. Whether Mrs. Farquhar loved a fiddle as her life is not recorded, but she certainly was not free from all sordid ends and unworthy tricks. The little lady in the mourning mantua soon fell in love with our gallant spark, and when he made court to her, she represented herself as very wealthy. The deed accomplished, Mrs. Farquhar turned out to be penniless; and the poet, like a gentleman as he was, never reproached her, but sat down cheerfully to a double poverty. In Love and Business the story does not proceed so far. He receives Miss Penelope V——'s timid advances, describes himself to her, is soon as much in love with his little lady as she with him, and is making broad demands and rich-blooded confidences in fine style, no offence taken where no harm is meant. In one of the letters to Penelope we get a very interesting glance at a famous, and, as it happens, rather obscure, event—the funeral of the great Dryden, in May 1700. Farquhar says:
"I come now from Mr. Dryden's Funeral, where we had an Ode in Horace sung, instead of David's Psalms; whence you may find that we don't think a Poet worth Christian Burial; the Pomp of the Ceremony was a kind of Rhapsody, and fitter, I think, for Hudibras than him; because the Cavalcade was mostly Burlesque; but he was an extraordinary Man, and bury'd after an extraordinary Fashion; for I believe there was never such another Burial seen; the Oration indeed was great and ingenious, worthy the Subject, and like the Author [Dr. Garth], whose Prescriptions can restore the Living, and his Pen embalm the Dead. And so much for Mr. Dryden, whose Burial was the same with his Life,—Variety, and not of a Piece. The Quality and Mob, Farce and Heroicks, the Sublime and Ridicule mixt in a Piece, great Cleopatra in a Hackney Coach."
WHAT ANN LANG READ
Who was Ann Lang? Alas! I am not sure; but she flourished one hundred and sixty years ago, under his glorious Majesty, George I., and I have become the happy possessor of a portion of her library. It consists of a number of cheap novels, all published in 1723 and 1724, when Ann Lang probably bought them; and each carries, written on the back of the title, "ann Lang book 1727," which is doubtless the date of her lending them to some younger female friend. The letters of this inscription are round and laboriously shaped, while the form is always the same, and never "Ann Lang, her book," which is what one would expect. It is not the hand of a person of quality: I venture to conclude that she who wrote it was a milliner's apprentice or a servant-girl. There are five novels in this little collection, and a play, and a pamphlet of poems, and a bundle of love-letters, all signed upon their title-pages by the Ouida of the period, the great Eliza Haywood.
No one who has not dabbled among old books knows how rare have become the strictly popular publications of a non-literary kind which a generation of the lower middle class has read and thrown away. Eliza Haywood lives in the minds of men solely through one very coarse and cruel allusion to her made by Pope in the Dunciad. She was never recognised among people of intellectual quality; she ardently desired to belong to literature, but her wish was never seriously gratified, even by her friend Aaron Hill. Yet she probably numbered more readers, for a year or two, than any other person in the British realm. She poured forth what she called "little Performances" from a tolerably respectable press; and the wonder is that in these days her abundant writings are so seldom to be met with. The secret doubtless is that her large public consisted almost wholly of people like Ann Lang. Eliza was read by servants in the kitchen, by seamstresses, by basket-women, by 'prentices of all sorts, male and female, but mostly the latter. For girls of this sort there was no other reading of a light kind in 1724. It was Eliza Haywood or nothing. The men of the same class read Defoe; but he, with his cynical severity, his absence of all pity for a melting mood, his savagery towards women, was not likely to be preferred by "straggling nymphs." The footman might read Roxana, and the hackney-writer sit up after his toil over Moll Flanders; there was much in these romances to interest men. But what had Ann Lang to do with stories so cold and harsh? She read Eliza Haywood.
But most of her sisters, of Eliza's great clientele, did not know how to treat a book. They read it to tatters, and they threw it away. It may be news to some readers that these early novels were very cheap. Ann Lang bought Love in Excess, which is quite a thick volume, for two shillings; and the first volume of Idalia (for Eliza was Ouidaesque even in her titles) only cost her eighteen-pence. She seems to have been a clean girl. She did not drop warm lard on the leaves. She did not tottle up her milk-scores on the bastard-title. She did not scribble in the margin "Emanuella is a foul wench." She did not dog's-ear her little library, or stain it, or tear it. I owe it to that rare and fortunate circumstance of her neatness that her beloved books have come into my possession after the passage of so many generations. It must be recollected that Eliza Haywood lived in the very twilight of English fiction. Sixteen years were still to pass, in 1724, before the British novel properly began to dawn in Pamela, twenty-five years before it broke in the full splendour of Tom Jones. Eliza Haywood simply followed where, two generations earlier, the redoubtable Mrs. Aphra Behn had led. She preserved the old romantic manner, a kind of corruption of the splendid Scudery and Calprenede folly of the middle of the seventeenth century. All that distinguished her was her vehement exuberance and the emptiness of the field. Ann Lang was young, and instinctively attracted to the study of the passion of love. She must read something, and there was nothing but Eliza Haywood for her to read.
The heroines of these old stories were all palpitating with sensibility, although that name had not yet been invented to describe their condition. When they received a letter beginning "To the divine Lassellia," or "To the incomparable Donna Emanuella," they were thrown into the most violent disorder; "a thousand different Passions succeeded one another in their turns," and as a rule "'twas all too sudden to admit disguise." When a lady in Eliza Haywood's novels receives a note from a gentleman, "all her Limbs forget their Function, and she sinks fainting on the Bank, in much the same posture as she was before she rais'd herself a little to take the Letter." I am positive that Ann Lang practised this series of attitudes in the solitude of her garret.
There is no respite for the emotions from Eliza's first page to her last. The implacable Douxmoure (for such was her singular name) "continued for some time in a Condition little different from Madness; but when Reason had a little recovered its usual Sway, a deadly Melancholy succeeded Passion." When Bevillia tried to explain to her cousin that Emilius was no fit suitor for her hand, the young lady swooned twice before she seized Bevillia's "cruel meaning;" and then—ah! then—"silent the stormy Passions roll'd in her tortured Bosom, disdaining the mean Ease of raging or complaining. It was a considerable time before she utter'd the least Syllable; and when she did, she seem'd to start as from some dreadful Dream, and cry'd, 'It is enough—in knowing one I know the whole deceiving Sex'"; and she began to address an imaginary Women's Rights Meeting.
Plot was not a matter about which Eliza Haywood greatly troubled herself. A contemporary admirer remarked, with justice:
'Tis Love Eliza's soft Affections fires; Eliza writes, but Love alone inspires; 'Tis Love that gives D'Elmont his manly Charms, And tears Amena from her Father's Arms.
These last-named persons are the hero and heroine of Love in Excess; or The Fatal Inquiry, which seems to have been the most popular of the whole series. This novel might be called Love Through a Window; for it almost entirely consists of a relation of how the gentleman prowled by moonlight in a garden, while the lady, in an agitated disorder, peeped out of her lattice in "a most charming Dishabillee." Alas! there was a lock to the door of a garden staircase, and while the lady "was paying a Compliment to the Recluse, he was dextrous enough to slip the Key out of the Door unperceived." Ann Lang!—"a sudden cry of Murder, and the noise of clashing Swords," come none too soon to save those blushes which, we hope, you had in readiness for the turning of the page! Eliza Haywood assures us, in Idalia, that her object in writing is that "the Warmth and Vigour of Youth may be temper'd by a due Consideration"; yet the moralist must complain that she goes a strange way about it. Idalia herself was "a lovely Inconsiderate" of Venice, who escaped in a "Gondula" up "the River Brent," and set all Vicenza by the ears through her "stock of Haughtiness, which nothing could surmount." At last, after adventures which can scarcely have edified Ann Lang, Idalia abruptly "remember'd to have heard of a Monastery at Verona," and left Vicenza at break of day, taking her "unguarded languishments" out of that city and out of the novel. It is true that Ann Lang, for 2s., bought a continuation of the career of Idalia; but we need not follow her.
The perusal of so many throbbing and melting romances must necessarily have awakened in the breast of female readers a desire to see the creator of these tender scenes. I am happy to inform my readers that there is every reason to believe that Ann Lang gratified this innocent wish. At all events, there exists among her volumes the little book of the play sold at the doors of Drury Lane Theatre, when, in the summer of 1724, Eliza Haywood's new comedy of A Wife to be Lett was acted there, with the author performing in the part of Mrs. Graspall. The play itself is wretched, and tradition says that it owed what little success it enjoyed to the eager desire which the novelist's readers felt to gaze upon her features. She was about thirty years of age at the time; but no one says that she was handsome, and she was undoubtedly a bad actress, I think the disappointment that evening at the Theatre Royal opened the eyes of Ann Lang. Perhaps it was the appearance of Eliza in the flesh which prevented her old admirer from buying The Secret History of Cleomina, suppos'd dead, which I miss from the collection.
If Ann Lang lived on until the publication of Pamela—especially if during the interval she had bettered her social condition—with what ardour must she have hailed the advent of what, with all its shortcomings, was a book worth gold. Perhaps she went to Vauxhall with it in her muff, and shook it triumphantly at some middle-aged lady of her acquaintance. Perhaps she lived long enough to see one great novel after another break forth to lighten the darkness of life. She must have looked back on the pompous and lascivious pages of Eliza Haywood, with their long-drawn palpitating intrigues, with positive disgust. The English novel began in 1740, and after that date there was always something wholesome for Ann Lang and her sisters to read.
LES CHATS. A Rotterdam, chez Jean Daniel Beman, MDCCXXVIII.
An accomplished lady of my acquaintance tells me that she is preparing an anthology of the cat. This announcement has reminded me of one of the oddest and most entertaining volumes in my library. People who collect prints of the eighteenth century know an engraving which represents a tom-cat, rampant, holding up an oval portrait of a gentleman and standing, in order to do so, on a volume. The volume is Les Chats, the book before us, and the portrait is that of the author, the amiable and amusing Augustin Paradis de Moncrif. He was the son of English, or more probably of Scotch parents settled in Paris, where he was born in 1687. All we know of his earlier years is to be found in a single sparkling page of d'Alembert, who makes Moncrif float out of obscurity like the most elegant of iridescent bubbles. He was handsome and seductive, turned a copy of verses with the best of gentlemen, but was particularly distinguished by the art with which he purveyed little dramas for the amateur stage, then so much in fashion in France. Somebody said of him, when he was famous as the laureate of the cats, that he had risen in life by never scratching, by always having velvet paws, and by never putting up his back, even when he was startled. Voltaire called him "my very dear Sylph," and he was the ideal of all that was noiseless, graceful, good-humoured, and well-bred. He slipped unobtrusively into the French Academy, and lived to be eighty-three, dying at last, like Anacreon, in the midst of music and dances and fair nymphs of the Opera, affecting to be a sad old rogue to the very last.
This book on Cats, the only one by which he is now remembered, was the sole production of his lifetime which cost him any annoyance. He was forty years of age when it appeared, and the subject was considered a little frivolous, even for such a petit conteur as Moncrif. People continued to tease him about it, and the only rough thing he ever did was the result of one such twitting. The poet Roy made an epigram about "cats" and "rats," in execrable taste, no doubt; this stung our Sylph to such an excess that he waited outside the Palais Royal and beat Roy with a stick when he came out. The poet was, perhaps, not much hurt; at all events, he had the presence of mind to retort, "Patte de velours, patte de velours, Minon-minet!" It was six years after this that Moncrif was elected into the French Academy, and then the shower of epigrams broke out again. He wished to be made historiographer; "Oh, nonsense," the wits cried, "he must mean historiogriffe" and they invited him, on nights when the Academy met, to climb on to the roof and miau from the chimneypots. He had the weakness to apologise for his charming book, and to withdraw it from circulation. His pastoral tales and heroic ballets, his Zelindors and Zeloides and Erosines, which to us seem utterly vapid and frivolous, never gave him a moment's uneasiness. His crumpled rose-leaf was the book by which his name lives in literature.
The book of cats is written in the form of eleven letters to Madame la Marquise de B——. The anonymous author represents himself as too much excited to sleep, after an evening spent in a fashionable house, where the company was abusing cats. He was unsupported; where was the Marquise, who would have brought a thousand arguments to his assistance, founded on her own experience of virtuous pussies? Instead of going to bed he will sit up and indite the panegyric of the feline race. He is still sore at the prejudice and injustice of the people he has just left. It culminated in the conduct of a lady who declared that cats were poison, and who, "when pussy appeared in the room, had the presence of mind to faint." These people had rallied him on the absurdity of his enthusiasm; but, as he says, the Marquise well knows, "how many women have a passion for cats, and how many men are women in this respect."
So he starts away on his dissertation, with all its elegant pedantry, its paradoxical wit, its genuine touches of observation and its constant sparkle of anecdote. He is troubled to account for the existence of the cat. An Ottoman legend relates that when the animals were in the Ark, Noah gave the lion a great box on the ear, which made him sneeze, and produce a cat out his nose. But the author questions this origin, and is more inclined to agree with a Turkish Minister of Religion, sometime Ambassador to France, that the ape, "weary of a sedentary life" in the Ark, paid his attentions to a very agreeable young lioness, whose infidelities resulted in the birth of a Tom-cat and a Puss-cat, and that these, combining the qualities of their parents, spread through the Ark un esprit de coquetterie—which lasted during the whole of the sojourn there. Moncrif has no difficulty in showing that the East has always been devoted to cats, and he tells the story of Mahomet, who, being consulted one day on a point of piety, preferred to cut off his sleeve, on which his favourite pussy was asleep, rather than wake her violently by rising.
From the French poets, Moncrif collects a good many curious tributes to the "harmless, necessary cat." I am seized with an ambition to put some fragments of these into English verse. Most of them are highly complimentary. It is true that Ronsard was one of those who could not appreciate a "matou." He sang or said:
There is no man now living anywhere Who hates cats with a deeper hate than I; I hate their eyes, their heads, the way they stare, And when I see one come, I turn and fly.
But among the precieuses of the seventeenth century there was much more appreciation. Mme. Deshoulieres wrote a whole series of songs and couplets about her cat, Grisette. In a letter to her husband, referring to the attentions she herself receives from admirers, she adds:
Deshoulieres cares not for the smart Her bright eyes cause, disdainful hussy, But, like a mouse, her idle heart Is captured by a pussy.
Much better than these is the sonnet on the cat of the Duchess of Lesdiguieres, with its admirable line:
Chatte pour tout le monde, et pour les chats tigresse.
A fugitive epistle by Scarron, delightfully turned, is too long to be quoted here, nor can I pause to cite the rondeau which the Duchess of Maine addressed to her favourite. But she supplemented it as follows:
My pretty puss, my solace and delight, To celebrate thy loveliness aright I ought to call to life the bard who sung Of Lesbia's sparrow with so sweet a tongue; But 'tis in vain to summon here to me So famous a dead personage as he, And you must take contentedly to-day This poor rondeau that Cupid wafts your way.
When this cat died the Duchess was too much affected to write its epitaph herself, and accordingly it was done for her, in the following style, by La Mothe le Vayer, the author of the Dialogues:
Puss passer-by, within this simple tomb Lies one whose life fell Atropos hath shred; The happiest cat on earth hath heard her doom, And sleeps for ever in a marble bed. Alas! what long delicious days I've seen! O cats of Egypt, my illustrious sires, You who on altars, bound with garlands green, Have melted hearts, and kindled fond desires,— Hymns in your praise were paid, and offerings too, But I'm not jealous of those rights divine. Since Ludovisa loved me, close and true, Your ancient glory was less proud than mine. To live a simple pussy by her side Was nobler far than to be deified.
To these and other tributes Moncrif adds idyls and romances of his own, while regretting that it never occurred to Theocritus to write a bergerie de chats. He tells stories of blameless pussies beloved by Fontanelle and La Fontaine, and quotes Marot in praise of "the green-eyed Venus." But he tears himself away at last from all these historical reminiscences, and in his eleventh letter he deals with cats as they are. We hasten as lightly as possible over a story of the disinterestedness of a feline Heloise, which is too pathetic for a nineteenth-century ear. But we may repeat the touching anecdote of Bayle's friend, Mlle. Dupuy. This lady excelled to a surprising degree in playing the harp, and she attributed her excellence in this accomplishment to her cat, whose critical taste was only equalled by his close attention to Mlle. Dupuy's performance. She felt that she owed so much to this cat, under whose care her reputation for skill on the harp had become universal, that when she died she left him, in her will, one agreeable house in town and another in the country. To this bequest she added a revenue sufficient to supply all the requirements of a well-bred tom-cat, and at the same time she left pensions to certain persons whose duty it should be to wait upon him. Her ignoble family contested the will, and there was a long suit. Moncrif gives a handsome double-plate illustration of this incident. Mlle. Dupuy, sadly wasted by illness, is seen in bed, with her cat in her arms, dictating her will to the family lawyer in a periwig; her physician is also present.
This leads me to speak of the illustrations to Les Chats, which greatly add to its value. They were engraved by Otten from original drawings by Coypel. In another edition the same drawings are engraved by Count Caylus. Some of them are of a charming absurdity. One, a double plate, represents a tragedy acted by cats on the roof of a fashionable house. The actors are tricked out in the most magnificent feathers and furbelows, but the audience consists of common cats. Cupid sits above, with his bow and fluttering wings. Another plate shows the mausoleum of the Duchess of Lesdiguieres' cat, with a marble pussy of heroic size, upon a marble pillow, in a grove of poplars. Another is a medal to "Chat Noir premier, ne en 1725," with the proud inscription, "Knowing to whom I belong, I am aware of my value." The profile within is that of as haughty a tom as ever shook out his whiskers in a lady's boudoir.
POEMS ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS. By Christopher Smart, A.M., Fellow of Pembroke-Hall, Cambridge. London: Printed for the Author, by W. Strahan; And sold by J. Newbery, at the Bible and Sun, in St. Paul's Churchyard. MDCCLII.
The third section of Robert Browning's Parleyings with certain People of Importance in their Day drew attention to a Cambridge poet of whom little had hitherto been known, Christopher Smart, once fellow of Pembroke College. It may be interesting, therefore, to supply some sketch of the events of his life, and of the particular poem which Browning has aptly compared to a gorgeous chapel lying perdue in a dull old commonplace mansion. No one can afford to be entirely indifferent to the author of verses which one of the greatest of modern writers has declared to be unequalled of their kind between Milton and Keats.
What has hitherto been known of the facts of Smart's life has been founded on the anonymous biography prefixed to the two-volume Reading edition of his works, published in 1791. The copy of this edition in Trinity Library belonged to Dr. Farmer, and contains these words in his handwriting: "From the Editor, Francis Newbery, Esq.; the Life by Mr. Hunter." As this Newbery was the son of Smart's half-brother-in-law and literary employer, it may be taken for granted that the information given in these volumes is authoritative. We may therefore believe it to be correct that Smart was born (as he himself tells us, in The Hop Garden) at Shipbourne, in Kent, on the 11th of April 1722, that his father was steward to the nobleman who afterwards became Earl of Darlington, and that he was "discerned and patronised" by the Duchess of Cleveland. This great lady, we are left in doubt for what reason, carried her complaisance so far as to allow the future poet L40 a year until her death. In a painfully fulsome ode to another member of the Raby Castle family, Smart records the generosity of the dead in order to stimulate that of the living, and oddly remarks that
dignity itself restrains By condescension's silken reins, While you the lowly Muse upraise.
Smart passed, already "an infant bard," from what he calls "the splendour in retreat" of Raby Castle, to Durham School, and in his eighteenth year was admitted of Pembroke Hall, October 30, 1739. His biographer expressly states that his allowance from home was scanty, and that his chief dependence, until he derived an income from his college, was on the bounty of the Duchess of Cleveland.
From this point I am able to supply a certain amount of information with regard to the poet's college life which is entirely new, and which is not, I think, without interest. My friend Mr. R.A. Neil has been so kind as to admit me to the Treasury at Pembroke, and in his company I have had the advantage of searching the contemporary records of the college. What we were lucky enough to discover may here be briefly summarised. The earliest mention of Smart is dated 1740, and refers to the rooms assigned to him as an undergraduate. In January 1743, we find him taking his B.A., and in July of the same year he is elected scholar. As is correctly stated in his Life, he became a fellow of Pembroke on the 3rd of July 1745. That he showed no indication as yet of that disturbance of brain and instability of character which so painfully distinguished him a little later on, is proved by the fact that on the 10th of October 1745, Smart was chosen to be Praelector in Philosophy, and Keeper of the Common Chest. In 1746 he was re-elected to those offices, and also made Praelector in Rhetoric. In 1747 he was not chosen to hold any such college situations, no doubt from the growing extravagance of his conduct.
In November 1747, Smart was in parlous case. Gray complains of his "lies, impertinence and ingratitude," and describes him as confined to his room, lest his creditors should snap him up. He gives a melancholy impression of Smart's moral and physical state, but hastens to add "not that I, nor any other mortal, pity him." The records of the Treasury at Pembroke supply evidence that the members of the college now made a great effort to restore one of whose talents it is certain they were proud. In 1748 we find Smart proposed for catechist, a proof that he had, at all events for the moment, turned over a new leaf. Probably, but for fresh relapses, he would now have taken orders. His allusions to college life are singularly ungracious. He calls Pembroke
this servile cell, Where discipline and dulness dwell,
and commiserates a captive eagle as being doomed in the college courts to watch
scholastic pride Take his precise, pedantic stride;
words which painfully remind us of Gray's reported manner of enjoying a constitutional. It is certain that there was considerable friction between these two men of genius, and Gray roundly prophesied that Smart would find his way to gaol or to Bedlam. Both alternatives of this prediction were fulfilled, and in October, 1751, Gray curtly remarks: "Smart sets out for Bedlam." Of this event we find curious evidence in the Treasury. "October 12, 1751—Ordered that Mr. Smart, being obliged to be absent, there will be allowed him in lieu of commons for the year ended Michaelmas, 1751, the sum of L10." There can be little question that Smart's conduct and condition became more and more unsatisfactory. This particular visit to a madhouse was probably brief, but it was possibly not the first and was soon repeated; for in 1749 and 1752 there are similar entries recording the fact that "Mr. Smart, being obliged to be absent," certain allowances were paid by the college "in consideration of his circumstances." The most curious discovery, however, which we have been able to make is recorded in the following entry:
"Nov. 27, 1753.—Ordered that the dividend assigned to Mr. Smart be deposited in the Treasury till the Society be satisfied that he has a right to the same; it being credibly reported that he has been married for some time, and that notice be sent to Mr. Smart of his dividend being detained."
As a matter of fact, Smart was by this time married to a relative of Newbery, the publisher, for whom he was doing hack work in London. He had, however, formed the habit of writing the Seatonian prize poem, which he had already gained four times, in 1750, 1751, 1752, and 1753. He seems to have clutched at the distinction which he brought on his college by these poems as the last straw by which to keep his fellowship, and, singular to say, he must have succeeded; for on the 16th of January 1754, this order was recorded:
"That Mr. Smart have leave to keep his name in the college books without any expense, so long as he continues to write for the premium left by Mr. Seaton."
How long this inexpensive indulgence lasted does not seem to be known. Smart gained the Seatonian prize in 1755, having apparently failed in 1754, and then appears no more in Pembroke records.
The circumstance of his having made Cambridge too hot to hold him seems to have pulled Smart's loose faculties together. The next five years were probably the sanest and the busiest in his life. He had collected his scattered odes and ballads, and published them, with his ambitious georgic, The Hop Garden, in the handsome quarto before us. Among the seven hundred subscribers to this venture we find "Mr. Voltaire, historiographer of France," and M. Roubilliac, the great statuary, besides such English celebrities as Gray, Collins, Richardson, Savage, Charles Avison, Garrick, and Mason. The kind reception of this work awakened in the poet an inordinate vanity, which found expression, in 1753, in that extraordinary effusion, The Hilliad, an attempt to preserve Dr. John Hill in such amber as Pope held at the command of his satiric passion. But these efforts, and an annual Seatonian, were ill adapted to support a poet who had recently appended a wife and family to a phenomenal appetite for strong waters, and who, moreover, had just been deprived of his stipend as a fellow. Smart descended into Grub Street, and bound himself over, hand and foot, to be the serf of such men as the publisher Newbery, who was none the milder master for being his relative. It was not long after, doubtless, that Smart fell lower still, and let himself out on a lease for ninety-nine years, to toil for a set pittance in the garrets of Gardner's shop; and it was about this time, 1754, that the Rev. T. Tyers was introduced to Smart by a friend who had more sympathy with his frailties than Gray had, namely, Dr. Samuel Johnson.
After a world of vicissitudes, which are very uncomfortable reading, about 1761 Smart became violently insane once more and was shut up again in Bedlam. Dr. Johnson, commenting on this period of the poet's life, told Dr. Burney that Smart grew fat when he was in the madhouse, where he dug in the garden, and Johnson added: "I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as with any one else. Another charge was that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it." When Boswell paid Johnson his memorable first visit in 1763, Smart had recently been released from Bedlam, and Johnson naturally spoke of him. He said: "My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place." Gray about the same time reports that money is being collected to help "poor Smart," not for the first time, since in January 1759, Gray had written: "Poor Smart is not dead, as was said, and Merope is acted for his benefit this week," with the Guardian, a farce which Garrick had kindly composed for that occasion.
It was in 1763, immediately after Smart's release, that the now famous Song to David was published. A long and interesting letter in the correspondence of Hawkesworth, dated October 1764, gives a pleasant idea of Smart restored to cheerfulness and placed "with very decent people in a house, most delightfully situated, with a terrace that overlooks St. James's Park." But this relief was only temporary; Smart fell back presently into drunkenness and debt, and was happily relieved by death in 1770, in his forty-eighth year, at the close of a career as melancholy as any recorded in the chronicles of literature.
Save for one single lyric, that glows with all the flush and bloom of Eden, Smart would take but a poor place on the English Parnassus. His odes and ballads, his psalms and satires, his masques and his georgics, are not bad, but they are mediocre. Here and there the very careful reader may come across lines and phrases that display the concealed author of the Song to David, such as the following, from an excessively tiresome ode to Dr. Webster:
When Israel's host, with all their stores, Passed through the ruby-tinctured crystal shores, The wilderness of waters and of land.
But these are rare. His odes are founded upon those of Gray, and the best that can be said of them is that if they do not quite rise to the frozen elegance of Akenside, they seldom sink to the flaccidity of Mason. Never, for one consecutive stanza or stroke, do they approach Collins or Gray in delicacy or power. But the Song to David—the lyric in 516 lines which Smart is so absurdly fabled to have scratched with a key on the white-washed walls of his cell—this was a portent of beauty and originality. Strange to say, it was utterly neglected when it appeared, and the editor of the 1791 edition of Smart's works expressly omitted to print it on the ground that it bore too many "melancholy proofs of the estrangement of Smart's mind" to be fit for republication. It became rare to the very verge of extinction, and is now scarcely to be found in its entirety save in a pretty reprint of 1819, itself now rare, due to the piety of a Rev. R. Harvey.
It is obvious that Smart's contemporaries and immediate successors looked upon the Song to David as the work of a hopelessly deranged person. In 1763 poetry had to be very sane indeed to be attended to. The year preceding had welcomed the Shipwreck of Falconer, the year to follow would welcome Goldsmith's Traveller and Grainger's Sugar Cane, works of various merit, but all eminently sane. In 1763 Shenstone was dying and Rogers was being born. The tidy, spruce, and discreet poetry of the eighteenth century was passing into its final and most pronounced stage. The Song to David, with its bold mention of unfamiliar things, its warm and highly-coloured phraseology, its daring adjectives and unexampled adverbs, was an outrage upon taste, and one which was best accounted for by the tap of the forefinger on the forehead. No doubt the poem presented and still may present legitimate difficulties. Here, for instance, is a stanza which it is not for those who run to read:
Increasing days their reign exalt, Nor in the pink and mottled vault The opposing spirits tilt; And, by the coasting reader spy'd, The silverlings and crusions glide For Adoration gilt.
This is charming; but if it were in one of the tongues of the heathen we should get Dr. Verrall to explain it away. Poor Mr. Harvey, the editor of 1819, being hopelessly puzzled by "silverlings," the only dictionary meaning of which is "shekels," explained "crusions" to be some other kind of money, from [Greek: krousis]. But "crusions" are golden carp, and when I was a child the Devonshire fishermen used to call the long white fish with argent stripes (whose proper name, I think, is the launce) a silverling. The "coasting reader" is the courteous reader when walking along the coast, and what he sees are silver fish and gold fish, adoring the Lord by the beauty of their scales. The Song to David is cryptic to a very high degree, but I think there are no lines in it which patient reflection will not solve. On every page are stanzas the verbal splendour of which no lover of poetry will question, and lines which will always, to me at least, retain an echo of that gusto with which I have heard Mr. Browning's strong voice recite them:
_The wealthy crops of whitening rice 'Mongst thyine woods and groves of spice, For Adoration grow; And, marshall'd in the fenced land, The peaches and pomegranates stand, Where wild carnations blow.
The laurels with the winter strive; The crocus burnishes alive Upon the snow-clad earth;
* * * * *
For Adoration ripening canes And cocoa's purest milk detains The westering pilgrim's staff; Where rain in, clasping boughs inclos'd, And vines with oranges dispos'd, Embower the social laugh.
For Adoration, beyond match, The scholar bulfinch aims to catch The soft flute's ivory touch; And, careless on the hazle spray, The daring redbreast keeps at bay The damsel's greedy clutch_.
To quote at further length from so fascinating, so divine a poem, would be "purpling too much my mere grey argument." Browning's praise ought to send every one to the original. But here is one more stanza that I cannot resist copying, because it seems so pathetically applicable to Smart himself as a man, and to the one exquisite poem which was "the more than Abishag of his age":
His muse, bright angel of his verse, Gives balm for all the thorns that pierce, For all the pangs that rage; Blest light, still gaining on the gloom, The more than Michal of his bloom, The Abishag of his age.
POMPEY THE LITTLE
THE HISTORY OF POMPEY THE LITTLE; or, the Life and Adventures of a Lap-Dog. London: Printed for M. Cooper, at the Globe in Paternoster Row, MDCCLI.
In February 1751 the town, which had been suffering from rather a dreary spell since the acceptable publication of Tom Jones, was refreshed and enlivened by the simultaneous issue of two delightfully scandalous productions, eminently well adapted to occupy the polite conversation of ladies at drums and at the card-table. Of these one was The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality, so oddly foisted by Smollett into the third volume of his Peregrine Pickle. This was recognised at once as being the work of the frail and adventurous Lady Vane, about whom so many strange stories were already current in society. The other puzzled the gossips much longer, and it seems to have been the poet Gray who first discovered the authorship of Pompey the Little. Gray wrote to tell Horace Walpole who had written the anonymous book that everybody was talking about, adding that he had discovered the secret through the author's own carelessness, three of the characters being taken from a comedy shown him by a young clergyman at Magdalen College, Cambridge. This was the Rev. Francis Coventry, then some twenty-five years of age. The discovery of the authorship made Coventry a nine-days' hero, while his book went into a multitude of editions. It was one of the most successful jeux d'esprit of the eighteenth century.
The copy of the first edition of Pompey the Little, which lies before me, contains an excellent impression of the frontispiece by Louis Boitard, the fashionable engraver-designer, whose print of the Ranelagh Rotunda is so much sought after by amateurs. It represents a curtain drawn aside to reveal a velvet cushion, on which sits a graceful little Italian lap-dog with pendant silky ears and sleek sides spotted like the pard. This is Pompey the Little, whose life and adventures the book proceeds to recount. "Pompey, the son of Julio and Phyllis, was born A.D. 1735, at Bologna in Italy, a place famous for lap-dogs and sausages." At an early age he was carried away from the boudoir of his Italian mistress by Hillario, an English gentleman illustrious for his gallantries, who brought him to London. The rest of the history is really a chain of social episodes, each closed by the incident that Pompey becomes the property of some fresh person. In this way we find ourselves in a dozen successive scenes, each strongly contrasted with the others. It is the art of the author that he knows exactly how much to tell us without wearying our attention, and is able to make the transition to the next scene a plausible one.
There is low life as well as high life in Pompey the Little, sketches after Hogarth, no less than studies a la Watteau. But the high life is by far the better described. Francis Coventry was the cousin of the Earl of that name, he who married the beautiful and silly Maria Gunning. When he painted the ladies of quality at their routs and drums, masquerades, and hurly-burlies, he knew what he was talking about, for this was the life he himself led, when he was not at college. Even at Cambridge, he was under the dazzling influence of his famous and fashionable cousin, Henry Coventry, fellow of the same college of Magdalen, author of the polite Philemonto Hydaspes dialogues, and the latest person who dressed well in the University. The embroidered coats of Henry Coventry, stiff with gold lace, his "most prominent Roman nose" and air of being much a gentleman, were not lost on the younger member of the family, who seems to paint him slyly in his portrait of Mr. Williams.