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Lavengro - The Scholar, The Gypsy, The Priest
by George Borrow
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'Ask Pharaoh.'

'I would, if he were here, but I do not see him.'

'I am Pharaoh.'

'Then you are a king.'

'Chachipen Pal.'

'I do not understand you.'

'Where are your languages? You want two things, brother: mother sense, and gentle Rommany.'

'What makes you think that I want sense?'

'That, being so old, you can't yet guide yourself!'

'I can read Dante, Jasper.'

'Anan, brother.'

'I can charm snakes, Jasper.'

'I know you can, brother.'

'Yes, and horses too; bring me the most vicious in the land, if I whisper he'll be tame.'

'Then the more shame for you—a snake-fellow—a horse-witch—and a lil- reader—yet you can't shift for yourself. I laugh at you, brother!'

'Then you can shift for yourself?'

'For myself and for others, brother.'

'And what does Chikno?'

'Sells me horses, when I bid him. Those horses on the chong were mine.'

'And has he none of his own?'

'Sometimes he has; but he is not so well off as myself. When my father and mother were bitchadey pawdel, which, to tell you the truth, they were for chiving wafodo dloovu, they left me all they had, which was not a little, and I became the head of our family, which was not a small one. I was not older than you when that happened; yet our people said they had never a better krallis to contrive and plan for them, and to keep them in order. And this is so well known that many Rommany Chals, not of our family, come and join themselves to us, living with us for a time, in order to better themselves, more especially those of the poorer sort, who have little of their own. Tawno is one of these.'

'Is that fine fellow poor?'

'One of the poorest, brother. Handsome as he is, he has not a horse of his own to ride on. Perhaps we may put it down to his wife, who cannot move about, being a cripple, as you saw.'

'And you are what is called a Gypsy King?'

'Ay, ay; a Rommany Kral.'

'Are there other kings?'

'Those who call themselves so; but the true Pharaoh is Petulengro.'

'Did Pharaoh make horse-shoes?'

'The first who ever did, brother.'

'Pharaoh lived in Egypt.'

'So did we once, brother.'

'And you left it?'

'My fathers did, brother.'

'And why did they come here?'

'They had their reasons, brother.'

'And you are not English?'

'We are not gorgios.'

'And you have a language of your own?'

'Avali.'

'This is wonderful.'

'Ha, ha!' cried the woman, who had hitherto sat knitting, at the farther end of the tent, without saying a word, though not inattentive to our conversation, as I could perceive by certain glances which she occasionally cast upon us both. 'Ha, ha!' she screamed, fixing upon me two eyes, which shone like burning coals, and which were filled with an expression both of scorn and malignity, 'It is wonderful, is it, that we should have a language of our own? What, you grudge the poor people the speech they talk among themselves? That's just like you gorgios; you would have everybody stupid, single-tongued idiots, like yourselves. We are taken before the Poknees of the gav, myself and sister, to give an account of ourselves. So I says to my sister's little boy, speaking Rommany, I says to the little boy who is with us, Run to my son Jasper, and the rest, and tell them to be off, there are hawks abroad. So the Poknees questions us, and lets us go, not being able to make anything of us; but, as we are going, he calls us back. "Good woman," says the Poknees, "what was that I heard you say just now to the little boy?" "I was telling him, your worship, to go and see the time of day, and to save trouble, I said it in our language." "Where did you get that language?" says the Poknees. "'Tis our own language, sir," I tells him, "we did not steal it." "Shall I tell you what it is, my good woman?" says the Poknees. "I would thank you, sir," says I, "for 'tis often we are asked about it." "Well, then," says the Poknees, "it is no language at all, merely a made-up gibberish." "Oh, bless your wisdom," says I, with a curtsey, "you can tell us what our language is, without understanding it!" Another time we meet a parson. "Good woman," says he, "what's that you are talking? Is it broken language?" "Of course, your reverence," says I, "we are broken people; give a shilling, your reverence, to the poor broken woman." Oh, these gorgios! they grudge us our very language!'

'She called you her son, Jasper?'

'I am her son, brother.'

'I thought you said your parents were—'

'Bitchadey pawdel; you thought right, brother. This is my wife's mother.'

'Then you are married, Jasper?'

'Ay, truly; I am husband and father. You will see wife and chabo anon.'

'Where are they now?'

'In the gav, penning dukkerin.'

'We were talking of language, Jasper?'

'True, brother.'

'Yours must be a rum one?'

''Tis called Rommany.'

'I would gladly know it.'

'You need it sorely.'

'Would you teach it me?'

'None sooner.'

'Suppose we begin now?'

'Suppose we do, brother.'

'Not whilst I am here,' said the woman, flinging her knitting down, and starting upon her feet; 'not whilst I am here shall this gorgio learn Rommany. A pretty manoeuvre, truly; and what would be the end of it? I goes to the farming ker with my sister, to tell a fortune, and earn a few sixpences for the chabes. I sees a jolly pig in the yard, and I says to my sister, speaking Rommany, "Do so and so," says I; which the farming man hearing, asks what we are talking about. "Nothing at all, master," says I; "something about the weather"; when who should start up from behind a pale, where he has been listening, but this ugly gorgio, crying out, "They are after poisoning your pigs, neighbour!" so that we are glad to run, I and my sister, with perhaps the farm-engro shouting after us. Says my sister to me, when we have got fairly off, "How came that ugly one to know what you said to me?" Whereupon I answers, "It all comes of my son Jasper, who brings the gorgio to our fire, and must needs be teaching him." "Who was fool there?" says my sister. "Who, indeed, but my son Jasper," I answers. And here should I be a greater fool to sit still and suffer it; which I will not do. I do not like the look of him; he looks over-gorgeous. An ill day to the Romans when he masters Rommany; and, when I says that, I pens a true dukkerin.'

'What do you call God, Jasper?'

'You had better be jawing,' said the woman, raising her voice to a terrible scream; 'you had better be moving off, my gorgio; hang you for a keen one, sitting there by the fire, and stealing my language before my face. Do you know whom you have to deal with? Do you know that I am dangerous? My name is Herne, and I comes of the hairy ones!'

And a hairy one she looked! She wore her hair clubbed upon her head, fastened with many strings and ligatures; but now, tearing these off, her locks, originally jet black, but now partially grizzled with age, fell down on every side of her, covering her face and back as far down as her knees. No she-bear of Lapland ever looked more fierce and hairy than did that woman, as standing in the open part of the tent, with her head bent down, and her shoulders drawn up, seemingly about to precipitate herself upon me, she repeated, again and again,—

'My name is Herne, and I comes of the hairy ones!—'

'I call God Duvel, brother.'

'It sounds very like Devil.'

'It doth, brother, it doth.'

'And what do you call divine, I mean godly?'

'Oh! I call that duvelskoe.'

'I am thinking of something, Jasper.'

'What are you thinking of, brother?'

'Would it not be a rum thing if divine and devilish were originally one and the same word?'

'It would, brother, it would—'

. . .

From this time I had frequent interviews with Jasper, sometimes in his tent, sometimes on the heath, about which we would roam for hours, discoursing on various matters. Sometimes, mounted on one of his horses, of which he had several, I would accompany him to various fairs and markets in the neighbourhood, to which he went on his own affairs, or those of his tribe. I soon found that I had become acquainted with a most singular people, whose habits and pursuits awakened within me the highest interest. Of all connected with them, however, their language was doubtless that which exercised the greatest influence over my imagination. I had at first some suspicion that it would prove a mere made-up gibberish; but I was soon undeceived. Broken, corrupted, and half in ruins as it was, it was not long before I found that it was an original speech, far more so, indeed, than one or two others of high name and celebrity, which, up to that time, I had been in the habit of regarding with respect and veneration. Indeed many obscure points connected with the vocabulary of these languages, and to which neither classic nor modern lore afforded any clue, I thought I could now clear up by means of this strange broken tongue, spoken by people who dwelt amongst thickets and furze bushes, in tents as tawny as their faces, and whom the generality of mankind designated, and with much semblance of justice, as thieves and vagabonds. But where did this speech come from, and who were they who spoke it? These were questions which I could not solve, and which Jasper himself, when pressed, confessed his inability to answer. 'But, whoever we be, brother,' said he, 'we are an old people, and not what folks in general imagine, broken gorgios; and, if we are not Egyptians, we are at any rate Rommany Chals!'

{picture:'My name is Herne, and I comes of the hairy ones!': page122.jpg}

'Rommany Chals! I should not wonder after all,' said I, 'that these people had something to do with the founding of Rome. Rome, it is said, was built by vagabonds, who knows but that some tribe of the kind settled down thereabouts, and called the town which they built after their name; but whence did they come originally? ah! there is the difficulty.'

But abandoning these questions, which at that time were far too profound for me, I went on studying the language, and at the same time the characters and manners of these strange people. My rapid progress in the former astonished, while it delighted, Jasper. 'We'll no longer call you Sap-engro, brother,' said he; but rather Lav-engro, which in the language of the gorgios meaneth Word-master.' 'Nay, brother,' said Tawno Chikno, with whom I had become very intimate, 'you had better call him Cooro-mengro, I have put on the gloves with him, and find him a pure fist-master; I like him for that, for I am a Cooro-mengro myself, and was born at Brummagem.'

'I likes him for his modesty,' said Mrs. Chikno; 'I never hears any ill words come from his mouth, but, on the contrary, much sweet language. His talk is golden, and he has taught my eldest to say his prayers in Rommany, which my rover had never the grace to do.' 'He is the pal of my rom,' said Mrs. Petulengro, who was a very handsome woman, 'and therefore I likes him, and not the less for his being a rye; folks calls me high- minded, and perhaps I have reason to be so; before I married Pharaoh I had an offer from a lord—I likes the young rye, and, if he chooses to follow us, he shall have my sister. What say you, mother? should not the young rye have my sister Ursula?'

{picture:'To gain a bad brother, ye have lost a good mother.': page124.jpg}

'I am going to my people,' said Mrs. Herne, placing a bundle upon a donkey, which was her own peculiar property; 'I am going to Yorkshire, for I can stand this no longer. You say you like him: in that we differs; I hates the gorgio, and would like, speaking Romanly, to mix a little poison with his waters. And now go to Lundra, my children, I goes to Yorkshire. Take my blessing with ye, and a little bit of a gillie to cheer your hearts with when ye are weary. In all kinds of weather have we lived together; but now we are parted. I goes broken-hearted—I can't keep you company; ye are no longer Rommany. To gain a bad brother, ye have lost a good mother.'



CHAPTER XVIII

What profession?—Not fitted for a Churchman—Erratic course—The bitter draught—Principle of woe—Thou wouldst be joyous—What ails you?—Poor child of clay.

So the gypsies departed; Mrs. Herne to Yorkshire, and the rest to London: as for myself, I continued in the house of my parents, passing my time in much the same manner as I have already described, principally in philological pursuits; but I was now sixteen, and it was highly necessary that I should adopt some profession, unless I intended to fritter away my existence, and to be a useless burden to those who had given me birth; but what profession was I to choose? there being none in the wide world perhaps for which I was suited; nor was there any one for which I felt any decided inclination, though perhaps there existed within me a lurking penchant for the profession of arms, which was natural enough, as, from my earliest infancy, I had been accustomed to military sights and sounds; but this profession was then closed, as I have already hinted, and, as I believe, it has since continued, to those who, like myself, had no better claims to urge than the services of a father.

My father, who, for certain reasons of his own, had no very high opinion of the advantages resulting from this career, would have gladly seen me enter the Church. His desire was, however, considerably abated by one or two passages of my life, which occurred to his recollection. He particularly dwelt on the unheard-of manner in which I had picked up the Irish language, and drew from thence the conclusion that I was not fitted by nature to cut a respectable figure at an English university. 'He will fly off in a tangent,' said he, 'and, when called upon to exhibit his skill in Greek, will be found proficient in Irish; I have observed the poor lad attentively, and really do not know what to make of him; but I am afraid he will never make a churchman!' And I have no doubt that my excellent father was right, both in his premisses and the conclusion at which he arrived. I had undoubtedly, at one period of my life, forsaken Greek for Irish, and the instructions of a learned Protestant divine for those of a Papist gossoon, the card-fancying Murtagh; and of late, though I kept it a strict secret, I had abandoned in a great measure the study of the beautiful Italian, and the recitation of the sonorous terzets of the Divine Comedy, in which at one time I took the greatest delight, in order to become acquainted with the broken speech, and yet more broken songs, of certain houseless wanderers whom I had met at a horse fair. Such an erratic course was certainly by no means in consonance with the sober and unvarying routine of college study. And my father, who was a man of excellent common sense, displayed it in not pressing me to adopt a profession which required qualities of mind which he saw I did not possess.

Other professions were talked of, amongst which the law; but now an event occurred which had nearly stopped my career, and merged all minor points of solicitude in anxiety for my life. My strength and appetite suddenly deserted me, and I began to pine and droop. Some said that I had overgrown myself, and that these were the symptoms of a rapid decline; I grew worse and worse, and was soon stretched upon my bed, from which it seemed scarcely probable that I should ever more rise, the physicians themselves giving but slight hopes of my recovery: as for myself, I made up my mind to die, and felt quite resigned. I was sadly ignorant at that time, and, when I thought of death, it appeared to me little else than a pleasant sleep, and I wished for sleep, of which I got but little. It was well that I did not die that time, for I repeat that I was sadly ignorant of many important things. I did not die, for somebody coming gave me a strange, bitter draught; a decoction, I believe, of a bitter root which grows on commons and desolate places: and the person who gave it me was an ancient female, a kind of doctress, who had been my nurse in my infancy, and who, hearing of my state, had come to see me; so I drank the draught, and became a little better, and I continued taking draughts made from the bitter root till I manifested symptoms of convalescence.

But how much more quickly does strength desert the human frame than return to it! I had become convalescent, it is true, but my state of feebleness was truly pitiable. I believe it is in that state that the most remarkable feature of human physiology frequently exhibits itself. Oh, how dare I mention the dark feeling of mysterious dread which comes over the mind, and which the lamp of reason, though burning bright the while, is unable to dispel! Art thou, as leeches say, the concomitant of disease—the result of shattered nerves? Nay, rather the principle of woe itself, the fountain-head of all sorrow coexistent with man, whose influence he feels when yet unborn, and whose workings he testifies with his earliest cries, when, 'drowned in tears,' he first beholds the light; for, as the sparks fly upward, so is man born to trouble, and woe doth he bring with him into the world, even thyself, dark one, terrible one, causeless, unbegotten, without a father. Oh, how unfrequently dost thou break down the barriers which divide thee from the poor soul of man, and overcast its sunshine with thy gloomy shadow. In the brightest days of prosperity—in the midst of health and wealth—how sentient is the poor human creature of thy neighbourhood! how instinctively aware that the flood-gates of horror may be cast open, and the dark stream engulf him for ever and ever! Then is it not lawful for man to exclaim, 'Better that I had never been born!' Fool, for thyself thou wast not born, but to fulfil the inscrutable decrees of thy Creator; and how dost thou know that this dark principle is not, after all, thy best friend; that it is not that which tempers the whole mass of thy corruption? It may be, for what thou knowest, the mother of wisdom, and of great works: it is the dread of the horror of the night that makes the pilgrim hasten on his way. When thou feelest it nigh, let thy safety word be 'Onward'; if thou tarry, thou art overwhelmed. Courage! build great works—'tis urging thee—it is ever nearest the favourites of God—the fool knows little of it. Thou wouldst be joyous, wouldst thou? then be a fool. What great work was ever the result of joy, the puny one? Who have been the wise ones, the mighty ones, the conquering ones of this earth? the joyous? I believe not. The fool is happy, or comparatively so—certainly the least sorrowful, but he is still a fool: and whose notes are sweetest, those of the nightingale, or of the silly lark?

'What ails you, my child?' said a mother to her son, as he lay on a couch under the influence of the dreadful one; 'what ails you? you seem afraid!'

Boy. And so I am; a dreadful fear is upon me.

Mother. But of what? There is no one can harm you; of what are you apprehensive?

Boy. Of nothing that I can express; I know not what I am afraid of, but afraid I am.

Mother. Perhaps you see sights and visions; I knew a lady once who was continually thinking that she saw an armed man threaten her, but it was only an imagination, a phantom of the brain.

Boy. No armed man threatens me; and 'tis not a thing like that would cause me any fear. Did an armed man threaten me, I would get up and fight him; weak as I am, I would wish for nothing better, for then, perhaps, I should lose this fear; mine is a dread of I know not what, and there the horror lies.

Mother. Your forehead is cool, and your speech collected. Do you know where you are?

Boy. I know where I am, and I see things just as they are; you are beside me, and upon the table there is a book which was written by a Florentine; all this I see, and that there is no ground for being afraid. I am, moreover, quite cool, and feel no pain—but, but—

And then there was a burst of 'gemiti, sospiri ed alti guai.' Alas, alas, poor child of clay! as the sparks fly upward, so wast thou born to sorrow—Onward!



CHAPTER XIX

Agreeable delusions—Youth—A profession—Ab Gwilym—Glorious English law—There they pass—My dear old master—The deal desk—Language of the tents—Where is Morfydd?—Go to—only once.

It has been said by this or that writer, I scarcely know by whom, that, in proportion as we grow old, and our time becomes short, the swifter does it pass, until at last, as we approach the borders of the grave, it assumes all the speed and impetuosity of a river about to precipitate itself into an abyss; this is doubtless the case, provided we can carry to the grave those pleasant thoughts and delusions, which alone render life agreeable, and to which even to the very last we would gladly cling; but what becomes of the swiftness of time, when the mind sees the vanity of human pursuits? which is sure to be the case when its fondest, dearest hopes have been blighted at the very moment when the harvest was deemed secure. What becomes from that moment, I repeat, of the shortness of time? I put not the question to those who have never known that trial, they are satisfied with themselves and all around them, with what they have done, and yet hope to do; some carry their delusions with them to the borders of the grave, ay, to the very moment when they fall into it; a beautiful golden cloud surrounds them to the last, and such talk of the shortness of time: through the medium of that cloud the world has ever been a pleasant world to them; their only regret is that they are so soon to quit it; but oh, ye dear deluded hearts, it is not every one who is so fortunate!

To the generality of mankind there is no period like youth. The generality are far from fortunate; but the period of youth, even to the least so, offers moments of considerable happiness, for they are not only disposed but able to enjoy most things within their reach. With what trifles at that period are we content; the things from which in after- life we should turn away in disdain please us then, for we are in the midst of a golden cloud, and everything seems decked with a golden hue. Never during any portion of my life did time flow on more speedily than during the two or three years immediately succeeding the period to which we arrived in the preceding chapter: since then it has flagged often enough; sometimes it has seemed to stand entirely still; and the reader may easily judge how it fares at the present, from the circumstance of my taking pen in hand, and endeavouring to write down the passages of my life—a last resource with most people. But at the period to which I allude I was just, as I may say, entering upon life; I had adopted a profession, and, to keep up my character, simultaneously with that profession—the study of a new language. I speedily became a proficient in the one, but ever remained a novice in the other: a novice in the law, but a perfect master in the Welsh tongue.

Yes; very pleasant times were those, when within the womb of a lofty deal desk, behind which I sat for some eight hours every day, transcribing (when I imagined eyes were upon me) documents of every description in every possible hand, Blackstone kept company with Ab Gwilym—the polished English lawyer of the last century, who wrote long and prosy chapters on the rights of things—with a certain wild Welshman, who some four hundred years before that time indited immortal cowydds and odes to the wives of Cambrian chieftains—more particularly to one Morfydd, the wife of a certain hunchbacked dignitary called by the poet facetiously Bwa Bach—generally terminating with the modest request of a little private parlance beneath the greenwood bough, with no other witness than the eos, or nightingale, a request which, if the poet himself may be believed, rather a doubtful point, was seldom, very seldom, denied. And by what strange chance had Ab Gwilym and Blackstone, two personages so exceedingly different, been thus brought together? From what the reader already knows of me, he may be quite prepared to find me reading the former; but what could have induced me to take up Blackstone, or rather the law?

I have ever loved to be as explicit as possible; on which account, perhaps, I never attained to any proficiency in the law, the essence of which is said to be ambiguity; most questions may be answered in a few words, and this among the rest, though connected with the law. My parents deemed it necessary that I should adopt some profession, they named the law; the law was as agreeable to me as any other profession within my reach, so I adopted the law, and the consequence was, that Blackstone, probably for the first time, found himself in company with Ab Gwilym. By adopting the law I had not ceased to be Lavengro.

So I sat behind a desk many hours in the day, ostensibly engaged in transcribing documents of various kinds; the scene of my labours was a strange old house, occupying one side of a long and narrow court, into which, however, the greater number of the windows looked not, but into an extensive garden, filled with fruit trees, in the rear of a large, handsome house, belonging to a highly respectable gentleman, who, moyennant un douceur considerable, had consented to instruct my father's youngest son in the mysteries of glorious English law. Ah! would that I could describe the good gentleman in the manner which he deserves; he has long since sunk to his place in a respectable vault, in the aisle of a very respectable church, whilst an exceedingly respectable marble slab against the neighbouring wall tells on a Sunday some eye wandering from its prayer-book that his dust lies below; to secure such respectabilities in death, he passed a most respectable life. Let no one sneer, he accomplished much; his life was peaceful, so was his death. Are these trifles? I wish I could describe him, for I loved the man, and with reason, for he was ever kind to me, to whom kindness has not always been shown; and he was, moreover, a choice specimen of a class which no longer exists—a gentleman lawyer of the old school. I would fain describe him, but figures with which he has nought to do press forward and keep him from my mind's eye; there they pass, Spaniard and Moor, Gypsy, Turk, and livid Jew. But who is that? what that thick pursy man in the loose, snuff-coloured greatcoat, with the white stockings, drab breeches, and silver buckles on his shoes; that man with the bull neck, and singular head, immense in the lower part, especially about the jaws, but tapering upward like a pear; the man with the bushy brows, small gray eyes replete with catlike expression, whose grizzled hair is cut close, and whose ear- lobes are pierced with small golden rings? Oh! that is not my dear old master, but a widely different personage. Bon jour, Monsieur Vidocq! expressions de ma part a Monsieur Le Baron Taylor. But here he comes at last, my veritable old master!

A more respectable-looking individual was never seen; he really looked what he was, a gentleman of the law—there was nothing of the pettifogger about him: somewhat under the middle size, and somewhat rotund in person, he was always dressed in a full suit of black, never worn long enough to become threadbare. His face was rubicund, and not without keenness; but the most remarkable thing about him was the crown of his head, which was bald, and shone like polished ivory, nothing more white, smooth, and lustrous. Some people have said that he wore false calves, probably because his black silk stockings never exhibited a wrinkle; they might just as well have said that he waddled, because his shoes creaked; for these last, which were always without a speck, and polished as his crown, though of a different hue, did creak, as he walked rather slowly. I cannot say that I ever saw him walk fast.

He had a handsome practice, and might have died a very rich man, much richer than he did, had he not been in the habit of giving rather expensive dinners to certain great people, who gave him nothing in return except their company; I could never discover his reasons for doing so, as he always appeared to me a remarkably quiet man, by nature averse to noise and bustle; but in all dispositions there are anomalies: I have already said that he lived in a handsome house, and I may as well here add that he had a very handsome wife, who both dressed and talked exceedingly well.

So I sat behind the deal desk, engaged in copying documents of various kinds; and in the apartment in which I sat, and in the adjoining ones, there were others, some of whom likewise copied documents, while some were engaged in the yet more difficult task of drawing them up; and some of these, sons of nobody, were paid for the work they did, whilst others, like myself, sons of somebody, paid for being permitted to work, which, as our principal observed, was but reasonable, forasmuch as we not unfrequently utterly spoiled the greater part of the work intrusted to our hands.

There was one part of the day when I generally found myself quite alone, I mean at the hour when the rest went home to their principal meal; I, being the youngest, was left to take care of the premises, to answer the bell, and so forth, till relieved, which was seldom before the expiration of an hour and a half, when I myself went home; this period, however, was anything but disagreeable to me, for it was then that I did what best pleased me, and, leaving off copying the documents, I sometimes indulged in a fit of musing, my chin resting on both my hands, and my elbows planted on the desk; or, opening the desk aforesaid, I would take out one of the books contained within it, and the book which I took out was almost invariably, not Blackstone, but Ab Gwilym.

Ah, that Ab Gwilym! I am much indebted to him, and it were ungrateful on my part not to devote a few lines to him and his songs in this my history. Start not, reader, I am not going to trouble you with a poetical dissertation; no, no; I know my duty too well to introduce anything of the kind; but I, who imagine I know several things, and amongst others the workings of your mind at this moment, have an idea that you are anxious to learn a little, a very little, more about Ab Gwilym than I have hitherto told you, the two or three words that I have dropped having awakened within you a languid kind of curiosity. I have no hesitation in saying that he makes one of the some half-dozen really great poets whose verses, in whatever language they wrote, exist at the present day, and are more or less known. It matters little how I first became acquainted with the writings of this man, and how the short thick volume, stuffed full with his immortal imaginings, first came into my hands. I was studying Welsh, and I fell in with Ab Gwilym by no very strange chance. But, before I say more about Ab Gwilym, I must be permitted—I really must—to say a word or two about the language in which he wrote, that same 'Sweet Welsh.' If I remember right, I found the language a difficult one; in mastering it, however, I derived unexpected assistance from what of Irish remained in my head, and I soon found that they were cognate dialects, springing from some old tongue which itself, perhaps, had sprung from one much older. And here I cannot help observing cursorily that I every now and then, whilst studying this Welsh, generally supposed to be the original tongue of Britain, encountered words which, according to the lexicographers, were venerable words highly expressive, showing the wonderful power and originality of the Welsh, in which, however, they were no longer used in common discourse, but were relics, precious relics, of the first speech of Britain, perhaps of the world; with which words, however, I was already well acquainted, and which I had picked up, not in learned books, classic books, and in tongues of old renown, but whilst listening to Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno talking over their everyday affairs in the language of the tents; which circumstance did not fail to give rise to deep reflection in those moments when, planting my elbows on the deal desk, I rested my chin upon my hands. But it is probable that I should have abandoned the pursuit of the Welsh language, after obtaining a very superficial acquaintance with it, had it not been for Ab Gwilym.

A strange songster was that who, pretending to be captivated by every woman he saw, was, in reality, in love with nature alone—wild, beautiful, solitary nature—her mountains and cascades, her forests and streams, her birds, fishes, and wild animals. Go to, Ab Gwilym, with thy pseudo-amatory odes, to Morfydd, or this or that other lady, fair or ugly; little didst thou care for any of them, Dame Nature was thy love, however thou mayest seek to disguise the truth. Yes, yes, send thy love- message to Morfydd, the fair wanton. By whom dost thou send it, I would know? by the salmon forsooth, which haunts the rushing stream! the glorious salmon which bounds and gambols in the flashing water, and whose ways and circumstances thou so well describest—see, there he hurries upwards through the flashing water. Halloo! what a glimpse of glory—but where is Morfydd the while? What, another message to the wife of Bwa Bach? Ay, truly; and by whom?—the wind! the swift wind, the rider of the world, whose course is not to be stayed; who gallops o'er the mountain, and, when he comes to broadest river, asks neither for boat nor ferry; who has described the wind so well—his speed and power? But where is Morfydd? And now thou art awaiting Morfydd, the wanton, the wife of the Bwa Bach; thou art awaiting her beneath the tall trees, amidst the underwood; but she comes not; no Morfydd is there. Quite right, Ab Gwilym; what wantest thou with Morfydd? But another form is nigh at hand, that of red Reynard, who, seated upon his chine at the mouth of his cave, looks very composedly at thee; thou startest, bendest thy bow, thy cross-bow, intending to hit Reynard with the bolt just about the jaw; but the bow breaks, Reynard barks and disappears into his cave, which by thine own account reaches hell—and then thou ravest at the misfortune of thy bow, and the non-appearance of Morfydd, and abusest Reynard. Go to, thou carest neither for thy bow nor for Morfydd, thou merely seekest an opportunity to speak of Reynard; and who has described him like thee? the brute with the sharp shrill cry, the black reverse of melody, whose face sometimes wears a smile like the devil's in the Evangile. But now thou art actually with Morfydd; yes, she has stolen from the dwelling of the Bwa Bach and has met thee beneath those rocks—she is actually with thee, Ab Gwilym; but she is not long with thee, for a storm comes on, and thunder shatters the rocks—Morfydd flees! Quite right, Ab Gwilym; thou hadst no need of her, a better theme for song is the voice of the Lord—the rock-shatterer—than the frail wife of the Bwa Bach. Go to, Ab Gwilym, thou wast a wiser and a better man than thou wouldst fain have had people believe.

But enough of thee and thy songs! Those times passed rapidly; with Ab Gwilym in my hand, I was in the midst of enchanted ground, in which I experienced sensations akin to those I had felt of yore whilst spelling my way through the wonderful book—the delight of my childhood. I say akin, for perhaps only once in our lives do we experience unmixed wonder and delight; and these I had already known.



CHAPTER XX

Silver gray—Good word for everybody—A remarkable youth—Clients—Grades in society—The archdeacon—Reading the Bible.

'I am afraid that I have not acted very wisely in putting this boy of ours to the law,' said my father to my mother, as they sat together one summer evening in their little garden, beneath the shade of some tall poplars.

Yes, there sat my father in the garden chair which leaned against the wall of his quiet home, the haven in which he had sought rest, and, praise be to God, found it, after many a year of poorly-requited toil; there he sat, with locks of silver gray which set off so nobly his fine bold but benevolent face, his faithful consort at his side, and his trusty dog at his feet—an eccentric animal of the genuine regimental breed, who, born amongst red coats, had not yet become reconciled to those of any other hue, barking and tearing at them when they drew near the door, but testifying his fond reminiscence of the former by hospitable waggings of the tail whenever a uniform made its appearance—at present a very unfrequent occurrence.

'I am afraid I have not done right in putting him to the law,' said my father, resting his chin upon his gold-headed bamboo cane.

'Why, what makes you think so?' said my mother.

'I have been taking my usual evening walk up the road, with the animal here,' said my father; 'and, as I walked along, I overtook the boy's master, Mr. S—-. We shook hands, and, after walking a little way farther, we turned back together, talking about this and that; the state of the country, the weather, and the dog, which he greatly admired; for he is a good-natured man, and has a good word for everybody, though the dog all but bit him when he attempted to coax his head; after the dog, we began talking about the boy; it was myself who introduced that subject: I thought it was a good opportunity to learn how he was getting on, so I asked what he thought of my son; he hesitated at first, seeming scarcely to know what to say; at length he came out with "Oh, a very extraordinary youth, a most remarkable youth indeed, captain!" "Indeed," said I, "I am glad to hear it, but I hope you find him steady?" "Steady, steady," said he, "why, yes, he's steady, I cannot say that he is not steady." "Come, come," said I, beginning to be rather uneasy, "I see plainly that you are not altogether satisfied with him; I was afraid you would not be, for, though he is my own son, I am anything but blind to his imperfections; but do tell me what particular fault you have to find with him; and I will do my best to make him alter his conduct." "No fault to find with him, captain, I assure you, no fault whatever; the youth is a remarkable youth, an extraordinary youth, only—" As I told you before, Mr. S—- is the best-natured man in the world, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could get him to say a single word to the disadvantage of the boy, for whom he seems to entertain a very great regard. At last I forced the truth from him, and grieved I was to hear it; though I must confess that I was somewhat prepared for it. It appears that the lad has a total want of discrimination.'

'I don't understand you,' said my mother.

'You can understand nothing that would seem for a moment to impugn the conduct of that child. I am not, however, so blind; want of discrimination was the word, and it both sounds well, and is expressive. It appears that, since he has been placed where is, he has been guilty of the grossest blunders; only the other day, Mr. S—- told me, as he was engaged in close conversation with one of his principal clients, the boy came to tell him that a person wanted particularly to speak with him; and, on going out, he found a lamentable figure with one eye, who came to ask for charity; whom, nevertheless, the lad had ushered into a private room, and installed in an arm-chair, like a justice of the peace, instead of telling him to go about his business—now what did that show, but a total want of discrimination?'

'I wish we may never have anything worse to reproach him with,' said my mother.

'I don't know what worse we could reproach him with,' said my father; 'I mean of course as far as his profession is concerned; discrimination is the very keystone; if he treated all people alike, he would soon become a beggar himself; there are grades in society as well as in the army; and according to those grades we should fashion our behaviour, else there would instantly be an end of all order and discipline. I am afraid that the child is too condescending to his inferiors, whilst to his superiors he is apt to be unbending enough; I don't believe that would do in the world; I am sure it would not in the army. He told me another anecdote with respect to his behaviour, which shocked me more than the other had done. It appears that his wife, who by the bye, is a very fine woman, and highly fashionable, gave him permission to ask the boy to tea one evening, for she is herself rather partial to the lad; there had been a great dinner party there that day, and there were a great many fashionable people, so the boy went and behaved very well and modestly for some time, and was rather noticed, till, unluckily, a very great gentleman, an archdeacon I think, put some questions to him, and, finding that he understood the languages, began talking to him about the classics. What do you think? the boy had the impertinence to say that the classics were much overvalued, and amongst other things that some horrid fellow or other, some Welshman I think (thank God it was not an Irishman), was a better poet than Ovid; the company were of course horrified; the archdeacon, who is seventy years of age, and has seven thousand a year, took snuff and turned away. Mrs. S—- turned up her eyes, Mr. S—-, however, told me with his usual good-nature (I suppose to spare my feelings) that he rather enjoyed the thing, and thought it a capital joke.'

'I think so too,' said my mother.

'I do not,' said my father; 'that a boy of his years should entertain an opinion of his own—I mean one which militates against all established authority—is astounding; as well might a raw recruit pretend to offer an unfavourable opinion on the manual and platoon exercise; the idea is preposterous; the lad is too independent by half. I never yet knew one of an independent spirit get on in the army, the secret of success in the army is the spirit of subordination.'

'Which is a poor spirit after all,' said my mother; 'but the child is not in the army.'

'And it is well for him that he is not,' said my father; 'but you do not talk wisely, the world is a field of battle, and he who leaves the ranks, what can he expect but to be cut down? I call his present behaviour leaving the ranks, and going vapouring about without orders; his only chance lies in falling in again as quick as possible; does he think he can carry the day by himself? an opinion of his own at these years—I confess I am exceedingly uneasy about the lad.'

'You make me uneasy too,' said my mother; 'but I really think you are too hard upon the child; he is not a bad child, after all, though not, perhaps, all you could wish him; he is always ready to read the Bible. Let us go in; he is in the room above us; at least he was two hours ago, I left him there bending over his books; I wonder what he has been doing all this time, it is now getting late; let us go in, and he shall read to us.'

'I am getting old,' said my father; 'and I love to hear the Bible read to me, for my own sight is something dim; yet I do not wish the child to read to me this night, I cannot so soon forget what I have heard; but I hear my eldest son's voice, he is now entering the gate; he shall read the Bible to us this night. What say you?'



CHAPTER XXI

The eldest son—Saying of wild Finland—The critical time—Vaunting polls—One thing wanted—A father's blessing—Miracle of art—The Pope's house—Young enthusiast—Pictures of England—Persist and wrestle—The little dark man.

The eldest son! The regard and affection which my father entertained for his first-born were natural enough, and appeared to none more so than myself, who cherished the same feelings towards him. What he was as a boy the reader already knows, for the reader has seen him as a boy; fain would I describe him at the time of which I am now speaking, when he had attained the verge of manhood, but the pen fails me, and I attempt not the task; and yet it ought to be an easy one, for how frequently does his form visit my mind's eye in slumber and in wakefulness, in the light of day and in the night watches; but last night I saw him in his beauty and his strength; he was about to speak, and my ear was on the stretch, when at once I awoke, and there was I alone, and the night storm was howling amidst the branches of the pines which surround my lonely dwelling: 'Listen to the moaning of the pine, at whose root thy hut is fastened,'—a saying that, of wild Finland, in which there is wisdom; I listened and thought of life and death. . . . Of all human beings that I have ever known, that elder brother was the most frank and generous, ay, and the quickest and readiest, and the best adapted to do a great thing needful at the critical time, when the delay of a moment would be fatal. I have known him dash from a steep bank into a stream in his full dress, and pull out a man who was drowning; yet there were twenty others bathing in the water, who might have saved him by putting out a hand, without inconvenience to themselves, which, however, they did not do, but stared with stupid surprise at the drowning one's struggles. Yes, whilst some shouted from the bank to those in the water to save the drowning one, and those in the water did nothing, my brother neither shouted nor stood still, but dashed from the bank and did the one thing needful, which, under such circumstances, not one man in a million would have done. Now, who can wonder that a brave old man should love a son like this, and prefer him to any other?

'My boy, my own boy, you are the very image of myself, the day I took off my coat in the park to fight Big Ben,' said my father, on meeting his son wet and dripping, immediately after his bold feat. And who cannot excuse the honest pride of the old man—the stout old man?

Ay, old man, that son was worthy of thee, and thou wast worthy of such a son; a noble specimen wast thou of those strong single-minded Englishmen, who, without making a parade either of religion or loyalty, feared God and honoured their king, and were not particularly friendly to the French, whose vaunting polls they occasionally broke, as at Minden and at Malplaquet, to the confusion vast of the eternal foes of the English land. I, who was so little like thee that thou understoodst me not, and in whom with justice thou didst feel so little pride, had yet perception enough to see all thy worth, and to feel it an honour to be able to call myself thy son; and if at some no distant time, when the foreign enemy ventures to insult our shore, I be permitted to break some vaunting poll, it will be a triumph to me to think that, if thou hadst lived, thou wouldst have hailed the deed, and mightest yet discover some distant resemblance to thyself, the day when thou didst all but vanquish the mighty Brain.

I have already spoken of my brother's taste for painting, and the progress he had made in that beautiful art. It is probable that, if circumstances had not eventually diverted his mind from the pursuit, he would have attained excellence, and left behind him some enduring monument of his powers, for he had an imagination to conceive, and that yet rarer endowment, a hand capable of giving life, body, and reality to the conceptions of his mind; perhaps he wanted one thing, the want of which is but too often fatal to the sons of genius, and without which genius is little more than a splendid toy in the hands of the possessor—perseverance, dogged perseverance, in his proper calling; otherwise, though the grave had closed over him, he might still be living in the admiration of his fellow-creatures. O ye gifted ones, follow your calling, for, however various your talents may be, ye can have but one calling capable of leading ye to eminence and renown; follow resolutely the one straight path before you, it is that of your good angel, let neither obstacles nor temptations induce ye to leave it; bound along if you can; if not, on hands and knees follow it, perish in it, if needful; but ye need not fear that; no one ever yet died in the true path of his calling before he had attained the pinnacle. Turn into other paths, and for a momentary advantage or gratification ye have sold your inheritance, your immortality. Ye will never be heard of after death.

'My father has given me a hundred and fifty pounds,' said my brother to me one morning, 'and something which is better—his blessing. I am going to leave you.'

'And where are you going?'

'Where? to the great city; to London, to be sure.'

'I should like to go with you.'

'Pooh,' said my brother, 'what should you do there? But don't be discouraged, I daresay a time will come when you too will go to London.'

And, sure enough, so it did, and all but too soon.

'And what do you purpose doing there?' I demanded.

'Oh, I go to improve myself in art, to place myself under some master of high name, at least I hope to do so eventually. I have, however, a plan in my head, which I should wish first to execute; indeed, I do not think I can rest till I have done so; every one talks so much about Italy, and the wondrous artists which it has produced, and the wondrous pictures which are to be found there; now I wish to see Italy, or rather Rome, the great city, for I am told that in a certain room there is contained the grand miracle of art.'

'And what do you call it?'

'The Transfiguration, painted by one Rafael, and it is said to be the greatest work of the greatest painter whom the world has ever known. I suppose it is because everybody says so, that I have such a strange desire to see it. I have already made myself well acquainted with its locality, and think that I could almost find my way to it blindfold. When I have crossed the Tiber, which, as you are aware, runs through Rome, I must presently turn to the right, up a rather shabby street, which communicates with a large square, the farther end of which is entirely occupied by the front of an immense church, with a dome which ascends almost to the clouds, and this church they call St. Peter's.'

'Ay, ay,' said I, 'I have read about that in Keysler's Travels.'

'Before the church, in the square, are two fountains, one on either side, casting up water in showers; between them, in the midst, is an obelisk, brought from Egypt, and covered with mysterious writing; on your right rises an edifice, not beautiful nor grand, but huge and bulky, where lives a strange kind of priest whom men call the Pope, a very horrible old individual, who would fain keep Christ in leading strings, calls the Virgin Mary the Queen of Heaven, and himself God's Lieutenant-General upon earth.'

'Ay, ay,' said I, 'I have read of him in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.'

'Well, I do not go straight forward up the flight of steps conducting into the church, but I turn to the right, and, passing under the piazza, find myself in a court of the huge bulky house; and then ascend various staircases, and pass along various corridors and galleries, all of which I could describe to you, though I have never seen them; at last a door is unlocked, and we enter a room rather high, but not particularly large, communicating with another room, into which, however, I do not go, though there are noble things in that second room—immortal things, by immortal artists; amongst others, a grand piece of Correggio; I do not enter it, for the grand picture of the world is not there; but I stand still immediately on entering the first room, and I look straight before me, neither to the right nor left, though there are noble things both on the right and left, for immediately before me at the farther end, hanging against the wall, is a picture which arrests me, and I can see nothing else, for that picture at the farther end hanging against the wall is the picture of the world. . . .'

Yes, go thy way, young enthusiast, and, whether to London town or to old Rome, may success attend thee; yet strange fears assail me and misgivings on thy account. Thou canst not rest, thou say'st, till thou hast seen the picture in the chamber at old Rome hanging over against the wall; ay, and thus thou dust exemplify thy weakness—thy strength too, it may be—for the one idea, fantastic yet lovely, which now possesses thee, could only have originated in a genial and fervent brain. Well, go, if thou must go; yet it perhaps were better for thee to bide in thy native land, and there, with fear and trembling, with groanings, with straining eyeballs, toil, drudge, slave, till thou hast made excellence thine own; thou wilt scarcely acquire it by staring at the picture over against the door in the high chamber of old Rome. Seekest thou inspiration? thou needest it not, thou hast it already; and it was never yet found by crossing the sea. What hast thou to do with old Rome, and thou an Englishman? 'Did thy blood never glow at the mention of thy native land?' as an artist merely? Yes, I trow, and with reason, for thy native land need not grudge old Rome her 'pictures of the world'; she has pictures of her own, 'pictures of England'; and is it a new thing to toss up caps and shout—England against the world? Yes, against the world in all, in all; in science and in arms, in minstrel strain, and not less in the art 'which enables the hand to deceive the intoxicated soul by means of pictures.' {143} Seek'st models? to Gainsborough and Hogarth turn, not names of the world, maybe, but English names—and England against the world! A living master? why, there he comes! thou hast had him long, he has long guided thy young hand towards the excellence which is yet far from thee, but which thou canst attain if thou shouldst persist and wrestle, even as he has done, 'midst gloom and despondency—ay, and even contempt; he who now comes up the creaking stair to thy little studio in the second floor to inspect thy last effort before thou departest, the little stout man whose face is very dark, and whose eye is vivacious; that man has attained excellence, destined some day to be acknowledged, though not till he is cold, and his mortal part returned to its kindred clay. He has painted, not pictures of the world, but English pictures, such as Gainsborough himself might have done; beautiful rural pieces, with trees which might well tempt the wild birds to perch upon them, thou needest not run to Rome, brother, where lives the old Mariolater, after pictures of the world, whilst at home there are pictures of England; nor needest thou even go to London, the big city, in search of a master, for thou hast one at home in the old East Anglian town who can instruct thee whilst thou needest instruction: better stay at home, brother, at least for a season, and toil and strive 'midst groanings and despondency till thou hast attained excellence even as he has done—the little dark man with the brown coat and the top-boots, whose name will one day be considered the chief ornament of the old town, and whose works will at no distant period rank amongst the proudest pictures of England—and England against the world!—thy master, my brother, thy, at present, all too little considered master—Crome.



CHAPTER XXII

Desire for novelty—Lives of the lawless—Countenances—Old yeoman and dame—We live near the sea—Uncouth-looking volume—The other condition—Draoitheac—A dilemma—The Antinomian—Lodowick Muggleton—Almost blind—Anders Vedel.

But to proceed with my own story: I now ceased all at once to take much pleasure in the pursuits which formerly interested me, I yawned over Ab Gwilym, even as I now in my mind's eye perceive the reader yawning over the present pages. What was the cause of this? Constitutional lassitude, or a desire for novelty? Both it is probable had some influence in the matter, but I rather think that the latter feeling was predominant. The parting words of my brother had sunk into my mind. He had talked of travelling in strange regions and seeing strange and wonderful objects, and my imagination fell to work, and drew pictures of adventures wild and fantastic, and I thought what a fine thing it must be to travel, and I wished that my father would give me his blessing, and the same sum that he had given my brother, and bid me go forth into the world; always forgetting that I had neither talents nor energies at this period which would enable me to make any successful figure on its stage.

And then I again sought up the book which had so captivated me in my infancy, and I read it through; and I sought up others of a similar character, and in seeking for them I met books also of adventure, but by no means of a harmless description, lives of wicked and lawless men, Murray and Latroon—books of singular power, but of coarse and prurient imagination—books at one time highly in vogue; now deservedly forgotten, and most difficult to be found.

And when I had gone through these books, what was my state of mind? I had derived entertainment from their perusal, but they left me more listless and unsettled than before, and really knew not what to do to pass my time. My philological studies had become distasteful, and I had never taken any pleasure in the duties of my profession. I sat behind my desk in a state of torpor, my mind almost as blank as the paper before me, on which I rarely traced a line. It was always a relief to hear the bell ring, as it afforded me an opportunity of doing something which I was yet capable of doing, to rise and open the door and stare in the countenances of the visitors. All of a sudden I fell to studying countenances, and soon flattered myself that I had made considerable progress in the science.

'There is no faith in countenances,' said some Roman of old; 'trust anything but a person's countenance.' 'Not trust a man's countenance?' say some moderns, 'why, it is the only thing in many people that we can trust; on which account they keep it most assiduously out of the way. Trust not a man's words if you please, or you may come to very erroneous conclusions; but at all times place implicit confidence in a man's countenance, in which there is no deceit; and of necessity there can be none. If people would but look each other more in the face, we should have less cause to complain of the deception of the world; nothing so easy as physiognomy nor so useful.' Somewhat in this latter strain I thought at the time of which I am speaking. I am now older, and, let us hope, less presumptuous. It is true that in the course of my life I have scarcely ever had occasion to repent placing confidence in individuals whose countenances have prepossessed me in their favour; though to how many I may have been unjust, from whose countenances I may have drawn unfavourable conclusions, is another matter.

But it had been decreed by that Fate which governs our every action that I was soon to return to my old pursuits. It was written that I should not yet cease to be Lav-engro, though I had become, in my own opinion, a kind of Lavater. It is singular enough that my renewed ardour for philology seems to have been brought about indirectly by my physiognomical researches, in which had I not indulged, the event which I am about to relate, as far as connected with myself, might never have occurred. Amongst the various countenances which I admitted during the period of my answering the bell, there were two which particularly pleased me, and which belonged to an elderly yeoman and his wife, whom some little business had brought to our law sanctuary. I believe they experienced from me some kindness and attention, which won the old people's hearts. So, one day, when their little business had been brought to a conclusion, and they chanced to be alone with me, who was seated as usual behind the deal desk in the outer room, the old man with some confusion began to tell me how grateful himself and dame felt for the many attentions I had shown them, and how desirous they were to make me some remuneration. 'Of course,' said the old man, 'we must be cautious what we offer to so fine a young gentleman as yourself; we have, however, something we think will just suit the occasion, a strange kind of thing which people say is a book, though no one that my dame or myself have shown it to can make anything out of it; so as we are told that you are a fine young gentleman, who can read all the tongues of the earth and stars, as the Bible says, we thought, I and my dame, that it would be just the thing you would like and my dame has it now at the bottom of her basket.'

'A book!' said I, 'how did you come by it?'

'We live near the sea,' said the old man; 'so near that sometimes our thatch is wet with the spray; and it may now be a year ago that there was a fearful storm, and a ship was driven ashore during the night, and ere the morn was a complete wreck. When we got up at daylight, there were the poor shivering crew at our door; they were foreigners, red-haired men, whose speech we did not understand; but we took them in, and warmed them, and they remained with us three days; and when they went away they left behind them this thing, here it is, part of the contents of a box which was washed ashore.'

'And did you learn who they were?'

'Why, yes; they made us understand that they were Danes.'

Danes! thought I, Danes! and instantaneously, huge and grisly, appeared to rise up before my vision the skull of the old pirate Dane, even as I had seen it of yore in the pent-house of the ancient church to which, with my mother and my brother, I had wandered on the memorable summer eve.

And now the old man handed me the book; a strange and uncouth-looking volume enough. It was not very large, but instead of the usual covering was bound in wood, and was compressed with strong iron clasps. It was a printed book, but the pages were not of paper, but vellum, and the characters were black, and resembled those generally termed Gothic.

'It is certainly a curious book,' said I; 'and I should like to have it, but I can't think of taking it as a gift, I must give you an equivalent, I never take presents from anybody.'

The old man whispered with his dame and chuckled, and then turned his face to me, and said, with another chuckle, 'Well, we have agreed about the price, but, maybe, you will not consent.'

'I don't know,' said I; 'what do you demand?'

'Why, that you shake me by the hand, and hold out your cheek to my old dame, she has taken an affection to you.'

'I shall be very glad to shake you by the hand,' said I, 'but as for the other condition, it requires consideration.'

'No consideration at all,' said the old man, with something like a sigh; 'she thinks you like her son, our only child, that was lost twenty years ago in the waves of the North Sea.'

'Oh, that alters the case altogether,' said I, 'and of course I can have no objection.'

And now at once I shook off my listlessness, to enable me to do which nothing could have happened more opportune than the above event. The Danes, the Danes! And was I at last to become acquainted, and in so singular a manner, with the speech of a people which had as far back as I could remember exercised the strongest influence over my imagination, as how should they not!—in infancy there was the summer-eve adventure, to which I often looked back, and always with a kind of strange interest with respect to those to whom such gigantic and wondrous bones could belong as I had seen on that occasion; and, more than this, I had been in Ireland, and there, under peculiar circumstances, this same interest was increased tenfold. I had mingled much whilst there with the genuine Irish—a wild but kind-hearted race, whose conversation was deeply imbued with traditionary lore, connected with the early history of their own romantic land, and from them I heard enough of the Danes, but nothing commonplace, for they never mentioned them but in terms which tallied well with my own preconceived ideas. For at an early period the Danes had invaded Ireland, and had subdued it, and, though eventually driven out, had left behind them an enduring remembrance in the minds of the people, who loved to speak of their strength and their stature, in evidence of which they would point to the ancient raths or mounds where the old Danes were buried, and where bones of extraordinary size were occasionally exhumed. And as the Danes surpassed other people in strength, so, according to my narrators, they also excelled all others in wisdom, or rather in Draoitheac, or magic, for they were powerful sorcerers, they said, compared with whom the fairy men of the present day knew nothing at all, at all; and, amongst other wonderful things, they knew how to make strong beer from the heather that grows upon the bogs. Little wonder if the interest, the mysterious interest, which I had early felt about the Danes, was increased tenfold by my sojourn in Ireland.

And now I had in my possession a Danish book, which, from its appearance, might be supposed to have belonged to the very old Danes indeed; but how was I to turn it to any account? I had the book, it is true, but I did not understand the language, and how was I to overcome that difficulty? hardly by poring over the book; yet I did pore over the book, daily and nightly, till my eyes were dim, and it appeared to me that every now and then I encountered words which I understood—English words, though strangely disguised; and I said to myself, Courage! English and Danish are cognate dialects, a time will come when I shall understand this Danish; and then I pored over the book again, but with all my poring I could not understand it; and then I became angry, and I bit my lips till the blood came; and I occasionally tore a handful from my hair, and flung it upon the floor, but that did not mend the matter, for still I did not understand the book, which, however, I began to see was written in rhyme—a circumstance rather difficult to discover at first, the arrangement of the lines not differing from that which is employed in prose; and its being written in rhyme made me only the more eager to understand it.

But I toiled in vain, for I had neither grammar nor dictionary of the language; and when I sought for them could procure neither; and I was much dispirited, till suddenly a bright thought came into my head, and I said, although I cannot obtain a dictionary or grammar, I can perhaps obtain a Bible in this language, and if I can procure a Bible, I can learn the language, for the Bible in every tongue contains the same thing, and I have only to compare the words of the Danish Bible with those of the English, and, if I persevere, I shall in time acquire the language of the Danes; and I was pleased with the thought, which I considered to be a bright one, and I no longer bit my lips, or tore my hair, but I took my hat, and, going forth, I flung my hat into the air.

And when my hat came down, I put it on my head and commenced running, directing my course to the house of the Antinomian preacher, who sold books, and whom I knew to have Bibles in various tongues amongst the number, and I arrived out of breath, and I found the Antinomian in his little library, dusting his books; and the Antinomian clergyman was a tall man of about seventy, who wore a hat with a broad brim and a shallow crown, and whose manner of speaking was exceedingly nasal; and when I saw him, I cried, out of breath, 'Have you a Danish Bible?' and he replied, 'What do you want it for, friend?' and I answered, 'To learn Danish by'; 'And maybe to learn thy duty,' replied the Antinomian preacher. 'Truly, I have it not, but, as you are a customer of mine, I will endeavour to procure you one, and I will write to that laudable society which men call the Bible Society, an unworthy member of which I am, and I hope by next week to procure what you desire.'

And when I heard these words of the old man, I was very glad, and my heart yearned towards him, and I would fain enter into conversation with him; and I said, 'Why are you an Antinomian? For my part I would rather be a dog than belong to such a religion.' 'Nay, friend,' said the Antinomian, 'thou forejudgest us; know that those who call us Antinomians call us so despitefully, we do not acknowledge the designation.' 'Then you do not set all law at nought?' said I. 'Far be it from us,' said the old man, 'we only hope that, being sanctified by the Spirit from above, we have no need of the law to keep us in order. Did you ever hear tell of Lodowick Muggleton?' 'Not I.' 'That is strange; know then that he was the founder of our poor society, and after him we are frequently, though opprobriously, termed Muggletonians, for we are Christians. Here is his book, which, perhaps, you can do no better than purchase, you are fond of rare books, and this is both curious and rare; I will sell it cheap. Thank you, and now be gone, I will do all I can to procure the Bible.'

And in this manner I procured the Danish Bible, and I commenced my task; first of all, however, I locked up in a closet the volume which had excited my curiosity, saying, 'Out of this closet thou comest not till I deem myself competent to read thee,' and then I sat down in right earnest, comparing every line in the one version with the corresponding one in the other; and I passed entire nights in this manner, till I was almost blind, and the task was tedious enough at first, but I quailed not, and soon began to make progress: and at first I had a misgiving that the old book might not prove a Danish book, but was soon reassured by reading many words in the Bible which I remembered to have seen in the book; and then I went on right merrily, and I found that the language which I was studying was by no means a difficult one, and in less than a month I deemed myself able to read the book.

Anon, I took the book from the closet, and proceeded to make myself master of its contents; I had some difficulty, for the language of the book, though in the main the same as the language of the Bible, differed from it in some points, being apparently a more ancient dialect; by degrees, however, I overcame this difficulty, and I understood the contents of the book, and well did they correspond with all those ideas in which I had indulged connected with the Danes. For the book was a book of ballads, about the deeds of knights and champions, and men of huge stature; ballads which from time immemorial had been sung in the North, and which some two centuries before the time of which I am speaking had been collected by one Anders Vedel, who lived with a certain Tycho Brahe, and assisted him in making observations upon the heavenly bodies, at a place called Uranias Castle, on the little island of Hveen, in the Cattegat.



CHAPTER XXIII

The two individuals—The long pipe—The Germans—Werther—The female Quaker—Suicide—Gibbon—Jesus of Bethlehem—Fill your glass—Shakespeare—English at Minden—Melancholy Swayne Vonved—The fifth dinner—Strange doctrines—Are you happy?—Improve yourself in German.

It might be some six months after the events last recorded, that two individuals were seated together in a certain room, in a certain street of the old town which I have so frequently had occasion to mention in the preceding pages; one of them was an elderly, and the other a very young man, and they sat on either side of a fireplace, beside a table on which were fruit and wine; the room was a small one, and in its furniture exhibited nothing remarkable. Over the mantelpiece, however, hung a small picture with naked figures in the foreground, and with much foliage behind. It might not have struck every beholder, for it looked old and smoke-dried; but a connoisseur, on inspecting it closely, would have pronounced it to be a judgment of Paris, and a masterpiece of the Flemish school.

The forehead of the elder individual was high, and perhaps appeared more so than it really was, from the hair being carefully brushed back, as if for the purpose of displaying to the best advantage that part of the cranium; his eyes were large and full, and of a light brown, and might have been called heavy and dull, had they not been occasionally lighted up by a sudden gleam—not so brilliant however as that which at every inhalation shone from the bowl of the long clay pipe which he was smoking, but which, from a certain sucking sound which about this time began to be heard from the bottom, appeared to be giving notice that it would soon require replenishment from a certain canister, which, together with a lighted taper, stood upon the table beside him.

'You do not smoke?' said he, at length, laying down his pipe, and directing his glance to his companion.

Now there was at least one thing singular connected with this last, namely, the colour of his hair, which, notwithstanding his extreme youth, appeared to be rapidly becoming gray. He had very long limbs, and was apparently tall of stature, in which he differed from his elderly companion, who must have been somewhat below the usual height.

'No, I can't smoke,' said the youth, in reply to the observation of the other; 'I have often tried, but could never succeed to my satisfaction.'

'Is it possible to become a good German without smoking?' said the senior, half speaking to himself.

'I daresay not,' said the youth; 'but I shan't break my heart on that account.'

'As for breaking your heart, of course you would never think of such a thing; he is a fool who breaks his heart on any account; but it is good to be a German, the Germans are the most philosophic people in the world, and the greatest smokers: now I trace their philosophy to their smoking.'

'I have heard say their philosophy is all smoke—is that your opinion?'

'Why, no; but smoking has a sedative effect upon the nerves, and enables a man to bear the sorrows of this life (of which every one has his share) not only decently, but dignifiedly. Suicide is not a national habit in Germany as it is in England.'

'But that poor creature, Werther, who committed suicide, was a German.'

'Werther is a fictitious character, and by no means a felicitous one; I am no admirer either of Werther or his author. But I should say that, if there ever was a Werther in Germany, he did not smoke. Werther, as you very justly observe, was a poor creature.'

'And a very sinful one; I have heard my parents say that suicide is a great crime.'

'Broadly, and without qualification, to say that suicide is a crime, is speaking somewhat unphilosophically. No doubt suicide, under many circumstances, is a crime, a very heinous one. When the father of a family, for example, to escape from certain difficulties, commits suicide, he commits a crime; there are those around him who look to him for support, by the law of nature, and he has no right to withdraw himself from those who have a claim upon his exertions; he is a person who decamps with other people's goods as well as his own. Indeed, there can be no crime which is not founded upon the depriving others of something which belongs to them. A man is hanged for setting fire to his house in a crowded city, for he burns at the same time or damages those of other people; but if a man who has a house on a heath sets fire to it, he is not hanged, for he has not damaged or endangered any other individual's property, and the principle of revenge, upon which all punishment is founded, has not been aroused. Similar to such a case is that of the man who, without any family ties, commits suicide; for example, were I to do the thing this evening, who would have a right to call me to account? I am alone in the world, have no family to support, and, so far from damaging any one, should even benefit my heir by my accelerated death. However, I am no advocate for suicide under any circumstances; there is something undignified in it, unheroic, un-Germanic. But if you must commit suicide—and there is no knowing to what people may be brought—always contrive to do it as decorously as possible; the decencies, whether of life or of death, should never be lost sight of. I remember a female Quaker who committed suicide by cutting her throat, but she did it decorously and decently: kneeling down over a pail, so that not one drop fell upon the floor; thus exhibiting in her last act that nice sense of neatness for which Quakers are distinguished. I have always had a respect for that woman's memory.'

And here, filling his pipe from the canister, and lighting it at the taper, he recommenced smoking calmly and sedately.

'But is not suicide forbidden in the Bible?' the youth demanded.

'Why, no; but what though it were!—the Bible is a respectable book, but I should hardly call it one whose philosophy is of the soundest. I have said that it is a respectable book; I mean respectable from its antiquity, and from containing, as Herder says, "the earliest records of the human race," though those records are far from being dispassionately written, on which account they are of less value than they otherwise might have been. There is too much passion in the Bible, too much violence; now, to come to all truth, especially historic truth, requires cool dispassionate investigation, for which the Jews do not appear to have ever been famous. We are ourselves not famous for it, for we are a passionate people; the Germans are not—they are not a passionate people—a people celebrated for their oaths; we are. The Germans have many excellent historic writers, we . . . 'tis true we have Gibbon . . . You have been reading Gibbon—what do you think of him?'

'I think him a very wonderful writer.'

'He is a wonderful writer—one sui generis—uniting the perspicuity of the English—for we are perspicuous—with the cool dispassionate reasoning of the Germans. Gibbon sought after the truth, found it, and made it clear.'

'Then you think Gibbon a truthful writer?'

'Why, yes; who shall convict Gibbon of falsehood? Many people have endeavoured to convict Gibbon of falsehood; they have followed him in his researches, and have never found him once tripping. Oh, he is a wonderful writer! his power of condensation is admirable; the lore of the whole world is to be found in his pages. Sometimes in a single note he has given us the result of the study of years; or, to speak metaphorically, "he has ransacked a thousand Gulistans, and has condensed all his fragrant booty into a single drop of otto."'

'But was not Gibbon an enemy to the Christian faith?'

'Why, no; he was rather an enemy to priestcraft, so am I; and when I say the philosophy of the Bible is in many respects unsound, I always wish to make an exception in favour of that part of it which contains the life and sayings of Jesus of Bethlehem, to which I must always concede my unqualified admiration—of Jesus, mind you; for with his followers and their dogmas I have nothing to do. Of all historic characters Jesus is the most beautiful and the most heroic. I have always been a friend to hero-worship, it is the only rational one, and has always been in use amongst civilised people—the worship of spirits is synonymous with barbarism—it is mere fetish; the savages of West Africa are all spirit- worshippers. But there is something philosophic in the worship of the heroes of the human race, and the true hero is the benefactor. Brahma, Jupiter, Bacchus, were all benefactors, and, therefore, entitled to the worship of their respective peoples. The Celts worshipped Hesus, who taught them to plough, a highly useful art. We, who have attained a much higher state of civilisation than the Celts ever did, worship Jesus, the first who endeavoured to teach men to behave decently and decorously under all circumstances; who was the foe of vengeance, in which there is something highly indecorous; who had first the courage to lift his voice against that violent dogma, "an eye for an eye"; who shouted conquer, but conquer with kindness; who said put up the sword, a violent unphilosophic weapon; and who finally died calmly and decorously in defence of his philosophy. He must be a savage who denies worship to the hero of Golgotha.'

'But he was something more than a hero; he was the Son of God, wasn't he?'

The elderly individual made no immediate answer; but, after a few more whiffs from his pipe, exclaimed, 'Come, fill your glass! How do you advance with your translation of Tell'?

'It is nearly finished; but I do not think I shall proceed with it; I begin to think the original somewhat dull.'

'There you are wrong; it is the masterpiece of Schiller, the first of German poets.'

'It may be so,' said the youth. 'But, pray excuse me, I do not think very highly of German poetry. I have lately been reading Shakespeare; and, when I turn from him to the Germans—even the best of them—they appear mere pigmies. You will pardon the liberty I perhaps take in saying so.'

'I like that every one should have an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual; 'and, what is more, declare it. Nothing displeases me more than to see people assenting to everything that they hear said; I at once come to the conclusion that they are either hypocrites, or there is nothing in them. But, with respect to Shakespeare, whom I have not read for thirty years, is he not rather given to bombast, "crackling bombast," as I think I have said in one of my essays?'

'I daresay he is,' said the youth; 'but I can't help thinking him the greatest of all poets, not even excepting Homer. I would sooner have written that series of plays, founded on the fortunes of the House of Lancaster, than the Iliad itself. The events described are as lofty as those sung by Homer in his great work, and the characters brought upon the stage still more interesting. I think Hotspur as much of a hero as Hector, and young Henry more of a man than Achilles; and then there is the fat knight, the quintessence of fun, wit, and rascality. Falstaff is a creation beyond the genius even of Homer.'

'You almost tempt me to read Shakespeare again—but the Germans?'

'I don't admire the Germans,' said the youth, somewhat excited. 'I don't admire them in any point of view. I have heard my father say that, though good sharpshooters, they can't be much depended upon as soldiers; and that old Sergeant Meredith told him that Minden would never have been won but for the two English regiments, who charged the French with fixed bayonets, and sent them to the right-about in double-quick time. With respect to poetry, setting Shakespeare and the English altogether aside, I think there is another Gothic nation, at least, entitled to dispute with them the palm. Indeed, to my mind, there is more genuine poetry contained in the old Danish book which I came so strangely by, than has been produced in Germany from the period of the Niebelungen lay to the present.'

'Ah, the Koempe Viser?' said the elderly individual, breathing forth an immense volume of smoke, which he had been collecting during the declamation of his young companion. 'There are singular things in that book, I must confess; and I thank you for showing it to me, or rather your attempt at translation. I was struck with that ballad of Orm Ungarswayne, who goes by night to the grave-hill of his father to seek for counsel. And then, again, that strange melancholy Swayne Vonved, who roams about the world propounding people riddles; slaying those who cannot answer, and rewarding those who can with golden bracelets. Were it not for the violence, I should say that ballad has a philosophic tendency. I thank you for making me acquainted with the book, and I thank the Jew Mousha for making me acquainted with you.'

'That Mousha was a strange customer,' said the youth, collecting himself.

'He was a strange customer,' said the elder individual, breathing forth a gentle cloud. 'I love to exercise hospitality to wandering strangers, especially foreigners; and when he came to this place, pretending to teach German and Hebrew, I asked him to dinner. After the first dinner, he asked me to lend him five pounds; I did lend him five pounds. After the fifth dinner, he asked me to lend him fifty pounds; I did not lend him the fifty pounds.'

'He was as ignorant of German as of Hebrew,' said the youth; 'on which account he was soon glad, I suppose, to transfer his pupil to some one else.'

'He told me,' said the elder individual, 'that he intended to leave a town where he did not find sufficient encouragement; and, at the same time, expressed regret at being obliged to abandon a certain extraordinary pupil, for whom he had a particular regard. Now I, who have taught many people German from the love which I bear to it, and the desire which I feel that it should be generally diffused, instantly said that I should be happy to take his pupil off his hands, and afford him what instruction I could in German, for, as to Hebrew, I have never taken much interest in it. Such was the origin of our acquaintance. You have been an apt scholar. Of late, however, I have seen little of you—what is the reason?'

The youth made no answer.

'You think, probably, that you have learned all I can teach you? Well, perhaps you are right.'

'Not so, not so,' said the young man eagerly; 'before I knew you I knew nothing, and am still very ignorant; but of late my father's health has been very much broken, and he requires attention; his spirits also have become low, which, to tell you the truth, he attributes to my misconduct. He says that I have imbibed all kinds of strange notions and doctrines, which will, in all probability, prove my ruin, both here and hereafter; which—which—'

'Ah! I understand,' said the elder, with another calm whiff. 'I have always had a kind of respect for your father, for there is something remarkable in his appearance, something heroic, and I would fain have cultivated his acquaintance; the feeling, however, has not been reciprocated. I met him, the other day, up the road, with his cane and dog, and saluted him; he did not return my salutation.'

'He has certain opinions of his own,' said the youth, 'which are widely different from those which he has heard that you profess.'

'I respect a man for entertaining an opinion of his own,' said the elderly individual. 'I hold certain opinions; but I should not respect an individual the more for adopting them. All I wish for is tolerance, which I myself endeavour to practise. I have always loved the truth, and sought it; if I have not found it, the greater my misfortune.'

'Are you happy?' said the young man.

'Why, no! And, between ourselves, it is that which induces me to doubt sometimes the truth of my opinions. My life, upon the whole, I consider a failure; on which account, I would not counsel you, or any one, to follow my example too closely. It is getting late, and you had better be going, especially as your father, you say, is anxious about you. But, as we may never meet again, I think there are three things which I may safely venture to press upon you. The first is, that the decencies and gentlenesses should never be lost sight of, as the practice of the decencies and gentlenesses is at all times compatible with independence of thought and action. The second thing which I would wish to impress upon you is, that there is always some eye upon us; and that it is impossible to keep anything we do from the world, as it will assuredly be divulged by somebody as soon as it is his interest to do so. The third thing which I would wish to press upon you—'

'Yes,' said the youth, eagerly bending forward.

'Is—' and here the elderly individual laid down his pipe upon the table—'that it will be as well to go on improving yourself in German!'



CHAPTER XXIV

The alehouse-keeper—Compassion for the rich—Old English gentleman—How is this?—Madeira—The Greek Parr—Twenty languages—Whiter's health—About the fight—A sporting gentleman—The flattened nose—Lend us that pightle—The surly nod.

'Holloa, master! can you tell us where the fight is likely to be?'

Such were the words shouted out to me by a short thick fellow, in brown top-boots, and bareheaded, who stood, with his hands in his pockets, at the door of a country alehouse as I was passing by.

Now, as I knew nothing about the fight, and as the appearance of the man did not tempt me greatly to enter into conversation with him, I merely answered in the negative, and continued my way.

It was a fine lovely morning in May, the sun shone bright above, and the birds were carolling in the hedgerows. I was wont to be cheerful at such seasons, for, from my earliest recollection, sunshine and the song of birds have been dear to me; yet, about that period, I was not cheerful, my mind was not at rest; I was debating within myself, and the debate was dreary and unsatisfactory enough. I sighed, and turning my eyes upward, I ejaculated, 'What is truth?'

But suddenly, by a violent effort breaking away from my meditations, I hastened forward; one mile, two miles, three miles were speedily left behind; and now I came to a grove of birch and other trees, and opening a gate I passed up a kind of avenue, and soon arriving before a large brick house, of rather antique appearance, knocked at the door.

In this house there lived a gentleman with whom I had business. He was said to be a genuine old English gentleman, and a man of considerable property; at this time, however, he wanted a thousand pounds, as gentlemen of considerable property every now and then do. I had brought him a thousand pounds in my pocket, for it is astonishing how many eager helpers the rich find, and with what compassion people look upon their distresses. He was said to have good wine in his cellar.

'Is your master at home?' said I, to a servant who appeared at the door.

'His worship is at home, young man,' said the servant, as he looked at my shoes, which bore evidence that I had come walking. 'I beg your pardon, sir,' he added, as he looked me in the face.

'Ay, ay, servants,' thought I, as I followed the man into the house, 'always look people in the face when you open the door, and do so before you look at their shoes, or you may mistake the heir of a Prime Minister for a shopkeeper's son.'

I found his worship a jolly, red-faced gentleman, of about fifty-five; he was dressed in a green coat, white corduroy breeches, and drab gaiters, and sat on an old-fashioned leather sofa, with two small, thoroughbred, black English terriers, one on each side of him. He had all the appearance of a genuine old English gentleman who kept good wine in his cellar.

'Sir,' said I, 'I have brought you a thousand pounds'; and I said this after the servant had retired, and the two terriers had ceased the barking which is natural to all such dogs at the sight of a stranger.

And when the magistrate had received the money, and signed and returned a certain paper which I handed to him, he rubbed his hands, and looking very benignantly at me, exclaimed—

'And now, young gentleman, that our business is over, perhaps you can tell me where the fight is to take place?'

'I am sorry, sir,' said I, 'that I can't inform you, but everybody seems to be anxious about it'; and then I told him what had occurred to me on the road with the alehouse-keeper.

'I know him,' said his worship; 'he's a tenant of mine, and a good fellow, somewhat too much in my debt though. But how is this, young gentleman, you look as if you had been walking; you did not come on foot?'

'Yes, sir, I came on foot.'

'On foot! why it is sixteen miles.'

'I shan't be tired when I have walked back.'

'You can't ride, I suppose?'

'Better than I can walk.'

'Then why do you walk?'

'I have frequently to make journeys connected with my profession; sometimes I walk, sometimes I ride, just as the whim takes me.'

'Will you take a glass of wine?'

'Yes.'

'That's right; what shall it be?'

'Madeira!'

The magistrate gave a violent slap on his knee; 'I like your taste,' said he, 'I am fond of a glass of Madeira myself, and can give you such a one as you will not drink every day; sit down, young gentleman, you shall have a glass of Madeira, and the best I have.'

Thereupon he got up, and, followed by his two terriers, walked slowly out of the room.

I looked round the room, and, seeing nothing which promised me much amusement, I sat down, and fell again into my former train of thought. 'What is truth?' said I.

'Here it is,' said the magistrate, returning at the end of a quarter of an hour, followed by the servant with a tray; 'here's the true thing, or I am no judge, far less a justice. It has been thirty years in my cellar last Christmas. There,' said he to the servant, 'put it down, and leave my young friend and me to ourselves. Now, what do you think of it?'

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