HotFreeBooks.com
The Notebook of an English Opium-Eater
by Thomas de Quincey
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Meantime, if the murderer allows himself to loiter, the ropemaker overhead does not. Well he knows that the poor child's fate is on the edge of a razor: for all turns upon the alarm being raised before the murderer reaches her bedside. And at this very moment, whilst desperate agitation is nearly paralyzing his fingers, he hears the sullen stealthy step of the murderer creeping up through the darkness. It had been the expectation of the journeyman (founded on the clamorous uproar with which the street-door was slammed) that Williams, when disposable for his up-stairs work, would come racing at a long jubilant gallop, and with a tiger roar; and perhaps, on his natural instincts, he would have done so. But this mode of approach, which was of dreadful effect when applied to a case of surprise, became dangerous in the case of people who might by this time have been placed fully upon their guard. The step which he had heard was on the staircase—but upon which stair? He fancied upon the lowest: and in a movement so slow and cautious, even this might make all the difference; yet might it not have been the tenth, twelfth, or fourteenth stair? Never, perhaps, in this world did any man feel his own responsibility so cruelly loaded and strained, as at this moment did the poor journeyman on behalf of the slumbering child. Lose but two seconds, through awkwardness or through the self-counteractions of panic, and for her the total difference arose between life and death. Still there is a hope: and nothing can so frightfully expound the hellish nature of him whose baleful shadow, to speak astrologically, at this moment darkens the house of life, than the simple expression of the ground on which this hope rested. The journeyman felt sure that the murderer would not be satisfied to kill the poor child whilst unconscious. This would be to defeat his whole purpose in murdering her at all. To an epicure in murder such as Williams, it would be taking away the very sting of the enjoyment, if the poor child should be suffered to drink off the bitter cup of death without fully apprehending the misery of the situation. But this luckily would require time: the double confusion of mind, first, from being roused up at so unusual an hour, and, secondly, from the horror of the occasion when explained to her, would at first produce fainting, or some mode of insensibility or distraction, such as must occupy a considerable time. The logic of the case, in short, all rested upon the ultra fiendishness of Williams. Were he likely to be content with the mere fact of the child's death, apart from the process and leisurely expansion of its mental agony—in that case there would be no hope. But, because our present murderer is fastidiously finical in his exactions—a sort of martinet in the scenical grouping and draping of the circumstances in his murders—therefore it is that hope becomes reasonable, since all such refinements of preparation demand time. Murders of mere necessity Williams was obliged to hurry; but, in a murder of pure voluptuousness, entirely disinterested, where no hostile witness was to be removed, no extra booty to be gained, and no revenge to be gratified, it is clear that to hurry would be altogether to ruin. If this child, therefore, is to be saved, it will be on pure aesthetical considerations. [5]

But all considerations whatever are at this moment suddenly cut short. A second step is heard on the stairs, but still stealthy and cautious; a third—and then the child's doom seems fixed. But just at that. moment all is ready. The window is wide open; the rope is swinging free; the journeyman has launched himself; and already he is in the first stage of his descent. Simply by the weight of his person he descended, and by the resistance of his hands he retarded the descent. The danger was, that the rope should run too smoothly through his hands, and that by too rapid an acceleration of pace he should come violently to the ground. Happily he was able to resist the descending impetus: the knots of the splicings furnished a succession of retardations. But the rope proved shorter by four or five feet than he had calculated: ten or eleven feet from the ground he hung suspended in the air; speechless for the present, through long-continued agitation; and not daring to drop boldly on the rough carriage pavement, lest he should fracture his legs. But the night was not dark, as it had been on occasion of the Marr murders. And yet, for purposes of criminal police, it was by accident worse than the darkest night that ever hid a murder or baffled a pursuit. London, from east to west, was covered with a deep pall (rising from the river) of universal fog. Hence it happened, that for twenty or thirty seconds the young man hanging in the air was not observed. His white shirt at length attracted notice. Three or four people ran up, and received him in their arms, all anticipating some dreadful annunciation. To what house did he belong? Even that was not instantly apparent; but he pointed with his finger to Williamson's door, and said in a half-choking whisper—'Marr's murderer, now at work!'

All explained itself in a moment: the silent language of the fact made its own eloquent revelation. The mysterious exterminator of No. 29 Ratcliffe Highway had visited another house; and, behold! one man only had escaped through the air, and in his night-dress, to tell the tale. Superstitiously, there was something to check the pursuit of this unintelligible criminal. Morally, and in the interests of vindictive justice, there was everything to rouse, quicken, and sustain it.

Yes, Marr's murderer—the man of mystery—was again at work; at this moment perhaps extinguishing some lamp of life, and not at any remote place, but here—in the very house which the listeners to this dreadful announcement were actually touching. The chaos and blind uproar of the scene which followed, measured by the crowded reports in the journals of many subsequent days, and in one feature of that case, has never to my knowledge had its parallel; or, if a parallel, only in one case—what followed, I mean, on the acquittal of the seven bishops at Westminster in 1688. At present there was more than passionate enthusiasm. The frenzied movement of mixed horror and exultation—the ululation of vengeance which ascended instantaneously from the individual street, and then by a sublime sort of magnetic contagion from all the adjacent streets, can be adequately expressed only by a rapturous passage in Shelley:—

'The transport of a fierce and monstrous gladness Spread through the multitudinous streets, fast flying Upon the wings of fear:—From his dull madness The starveling waked, and died in joy: the dying, Among the corpses in stark agony lying, Just heard the happy tidings, and in hope Closed their faint eyes: from house to house replying With loud acclaim the living shook heaven's cope, And fill'd the startled earth with echoes.' [6]

There was something, indeed, half inexplicable in the instantaneous interpretation of the gathering shout according to its true meaning. In fact, the deadly roar of vengeance, and its sublime unity, could point in this district only to the one demon whose idea had brooded and tyrannized, for twelve days, over the general heart: every door, every window in the neighborhood, flew open as if at a word of command; multitudes, without waiting for the regular means of egress, leaped down at once from the windows on the lower story; sick men rose from their beds; in one instance, as if expressly to verify the image of Shelley (in v. 4, 5, 6, 7), a man whose death had been looked for through some days, and who actually did die on the following day, rose, armed himself with a sword, and descended in his shirt into the street. The chance was a good one, and the mob were made aware of it, for catching the wolfish dog in the high noon and carnival of his bloody revels—in the very centre of his own shambles. For a moment the mob was self-baffled by its own numbers and its own fury. But even that fury felt the call for self-control. It was evident that the massy street-door must be driven in, since there was no longer any living person to co-operate with their efforts from within, excepting only a female child. Crowbars dexterously applied in one minute threw the door out of hangings, and the people entered like a torrent. It may be guessed with what fret and irritation to their consuming fury, a signal of pause and absolute silence was made by a person of local importance. In the hope of receiving some useful communication, the mob became silent. 'Now listen,' said the man of authority, 'and we shall learn whether he is above-stairs or below.' Immediately a noise was heard as if of some one forcing windows, and clearly the sound came from a bedroom above. Yes, the fact was apparent that the murderer was even yet in the house: he had been caught in a trap. Not having made himself familiar with the details of Williamson's house, to all appearance he had suddenly become a prisoner in one of the upper rooms. Towards this the crowd now rushed impetuously. The door, however, was found to be slightly fastened; and, at the moment when this was forced, a loud crash of the window, both glass and frame, announced that the wretch had made his escape. He had leaped down; and several persons in the crowd, who burned with the general fury, leaped after him. These persons had not troubled themselves about the nature of the ground; but now, on making an examination of it with torches, they reported it to be an inclined plane, or embankment of clay, very wet and adhesive. The prints of the man's footsteps were deeply impressed upon the clay, and therefore easily traced up to the summit of the embankment; but it was perceived at once that pursuit would be useless, from the density of the mist. Two feet ahead of you, a man was entirely withdrawn from your power of identification; and, on overtaking him, you could not venture to challenge him as the same whom you had lost sight of. Never, through the course of a whole century, could there be a night expected more propitious to an escaping criminal: means of disguise Williams now had in excess; and the dens were innumerable in the neighborhood of the river that could have sheltered him for years from troublesome inquiries. But favors are thrown away upon the reckless and the thankless. That night, when the turning-point offered itself for his whole future career, Williams took the wrong turn; for, out of mere indolence, he took the turn to his old lodgings—that place which, in all England, he had just now the most reason to shun.

Meantime the crowd had thoroughly searched the premises of Williamson. The first inquiry was for the young grand-daughter. Williams, it was evident, had gone into her room: but in this room apparently it was that the sudden uproar in the streets had surprised him; after which his undivided attention had been directed to the windows, since through these only any retreat had been left open to him. Even this retreat he owed only to the fog and to the hurry of the moment, and to the difficulty of approaching the premises by the rear. The little girl was naturally agitated by the influx of strangers at that hour; but otherwise, through the humane precautions of the neighbors, she was preserved from all knowledge of the dreadful events that had occurred whilst she herself was sleeping. Her poor old grandfather was still missing, until the crowd descended into the cellar; he was then found lying prostrate on the cellar floor: apparently he had been thrown down from the top of the cellar stairs, and with so much violence, that one leg was broken. After he had been thus disabled, Williams had gone down to him, and cut his throat. There was much discussion at the time, in some of the public journals, upon the possibility of reconciling these incidents with other circumstantialities of the case, supposing that only one man had been concerned in the affair. That there was only one man concerned, seems to be certain. One only was seen or heard at Marr's: one only, and beyond all doubt the same man, was seen by the young journeyman in Mrs. Williamson's parlor; and one only was traced by his footmarks on the clay embankment. Apparently the course which he had pursued was this: he had introduced himself to Williamson by ordering some beer. This order would oblige the old man to go down into the cellar; Williams would wait until he had reached it, and would then 'slam' and lock the street-door in the violent way described. Williamson would come up in agitation upon hearing this violence. The murderer, aware that he would do so, met him, no doubt, at the head of the cellar stairs, and threw him down; after which he would go down to consummate the murder in his ordinary way. All this would occupy a minute, or a minute and a half; and in that way the interval would be accounted for that elapsed between the alarming sound of the street-door as heard by the journeyman, and the lamentable outcry of the female servant. It is evident also, that the reason why no cry whatsoever had been heard from the lips of Mrs. Williamson, is due to the positions of the parties as I have sketched them. Coming behind Mrs. Williamson, unseen therefore, and from her deafness unheard, the murderer would inflict entire abolition of consciousness while she was yet unaware of his presence. But with the servant, who had unavoidably witnessed the attack upon her mistress, the murderer could not obtain the same fulness of advantage; and she therefore had time for making an agonizing ejaculation.

It has been mentioned, that the murderer of the Marrs was not for nearly a fortnight so much as suspected; meaning that, previously to the Williamson murder, no vestige of any ground for suspicion in any direction whatever had occurred either to the general public or to the police. But there were two very limited exceptions to this state of absolute ignorance. Some of the magistrates had in their possession something which, when closely examined, offered a very probable means for tracing the criminal. But as yet they had not traced him. Until the Friday morning next after the destruction of the Williamsons, they had not published the important fact, that upon the ship-carpenter's mallet (with which, as regarded the stunning or disabling process, the murders had been achieved) were inscribed the letters 'J. P.' This mallet had, by a strange oversight on the part of the murderer, been left behind in Marr's shop; and it is an interesting fact, therefore, that, had the villain been intercepted by the brave pawnbroker, he would have been met virtually disarmed. This public notification was made officially on the Friday, viz., on the thirteenth day after the first murder. And it was instantly followed (as will be seen) by a most important result. Meantime, within the secrecy of one single bedroom in all London, it is a fact that Williams had been whisperingly the object of very deep suspicion from the very first—that is, within that same hour which witnessed the Marr tragedy. And singular it is, that the suspicion was due entirely to his own folly. Williams lodged, in company with other men of various nations, at a public-house. In a large dormitory there were arranged five or six beds; these were occupied by artisans, generally of respectable character. One or two Englishmen there were, one or two Scotchmen, three or four Germans, and Williams, whose birth-place was not certainly known. On the fatal Saturday night, about half-past one o'clock, when Williams returned from his dreadful labors, he found the English and Scotch party asleep, but the Germans awake: one of them was sitting up with a lighted candle in his hands, and reading aloud to the other two. Upon this, Williams said, in an angry and very peremptory tone, 'Oh, put that candle out; put it out directly; we shall all be burned in our beds.' Had the British party in the room been awake, Mr. Williams would have roused a mutinous protest against this arrogant mandate. But Germans are generally mild and facile in their tempers; so the light was complaisantly extinguished. Yet, as there were no curtains, it struck the Germans that the danger was really none at all; for bed-clothes, massed upon each other, will no more burn than the leaves of a closed book. Privately, therefore, the Germans drew an inference, that Mr. Williams must have had some urgent motive for withdrawing his own person and dress from observation. What this motive might be, the next day's news diffused all over London, and of course at this house, not two furlongs from Marr's shop, made awfully evident; and, as may well be supposed, the suspicion was communicated to the other members of the dormitory. All of them, however, were aware of the legal danger attaching, under English law, to insinuations against a man, even if true, which might not admit of proof. In reality, had Williams used the most obvious precautions, had he simply walked down to the Thames (not a stone's-throw distant), and flung two of his implements into the river, no conclusive proof could have been adduced against him. And he might have realized the scheme of Courvoisier (the murderer of Lord William Russell) —viz., have sought each separate month's support in a separate well- concerted murder. The party in the dormitory, meantime, were satisfied themselves, but waited for evidences that might satisfy others. No sooner, therefore, had the official notice been published as to the initials J. P. on the mallet, than every man in the house recognized at once the well- known initials of an honest Norwegian ship-carpenter, John Petersen, who had worked in the English dockyards until the present year; but, having occasion to revisit his native land, had left his box of tools in the garrets of this inn. These garrets were now searched. Petersen's tool- chest was found, but wanting the mallet; and, on further examination, another overwhelming discovery was made. The surgeon, who examined the corpses at Williamson's, had given it as his opinion that the throats were not cut by means of a razor, but of some implement differently shaped. It was now remembered that Williams had recently borrowed a large French knife of peculiar construction; and accordingly, from a heap of old lumber and rags, there was soon extricated a waistcoat, which the whole house could swear to as recently worn by Williams. In this waistcoat, and glued by gore to the lining of its pockets, was found the French knife. Next, it was matter of notoriety to everybody in the inn, that Williams ordinarily wore at present a pair of creaking shoes, and a brown surtout lined with silk. Many other presumptions seemed scarcely called for. Williams was immediately apprehended, and briefly examined. This was on the Friday. On the Saturday morning (viz., fourteen days from the Marr murders) he was again brought up. The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming; Williams watched its course, but said very little. At the close, he was fully committed for trial at the next sessions; and it is needless to say, that, on his road to prison, he was pursued by mobs so fierce, that, under ordinary circumstances, there would have been small hope of escaping summary vengeance. But upon this occasion a powerful escort had been provided; so that he was safely lodged in jail. In this particular jail at this time, the regulation was, that at five o'clock, P. M. all the prisoners on the criminal side should be finally locked up for the night, and without candles. For fourteen hours (that is, until seven o'clock on the next morning) they were left unvisited, and in total darkness. Time, therefore, Williams had for committing suicide. The means in other respects were small. One iron bar there was, meant (if I remember) for the suspension of a lamp; upon this he had hanged himself by his braces. At what hour was uncertain: some people fancied at midnight. And in that case, precisely at the hour when, fourteen days before, he had been spreading horror and desolation through the quiet family of poor Marr, now was he forced into drinking of the same cup, presented to his lips by the same accursed hands.

* * * * *

The case of the M'Keans, which has been specially alluded to, merits also a slight rehearsal for the dreadful picturesqueness of some two or three amongst its circumstances. The scene of this murder was at a rustic inn, some few miles (I think) from Manchester; and the advantageous situation of this inn it was, out of which arose the two fold temptations of the case. Generally speaking, an inn argues, of course, a close cincture of neighbors—as the original motive for opening such an establishment. But, in this case, the house individually was solitary, so that no interruption was to be looked for from any persons living within reach of screams; and yet, on the other hand, the circumjacent vicinity was eminently populous; as one consequence of which, a benefit club had established its weekly rendezvous in this inn, and left the peculiar accumulations in their club- room, under the custody of the landlord. This fund arose often to a considerable amount, fifty or seventy pounds, before it was transferred to the hands of a banker. Here, therefore, was a treasure worth some little risk, and a situation that promised next to none. These attractive circumstances had, by accident, become accurately known to one or both of the two M'Keans; and, unfortunately, at a moment of overwhelming misfortune to themselves. They were hawkers; and, until lately, had borne most respectable characters: but some mercantile crash had overtaken them with utter ruin, in which their joint capital had been swallowed up to the last shilling. This sudden prostration had made them desperate: their own little property had been swallowed up in a large social catastrophe, and society at large they looked upon as accountable to them for a robbery. In preying, therefore, upon society, they considered themselves as pursuing a wild natural justice of retaliation. The money aimed at did certainly assume the character of public money, being the product of many separate subscriptions. They forgot, however, that in the murderous acts, which too certainly they meditated as preliminaries to the robbery, they could plead no such imaginary social precedent. In dealing with a family that seemed almost helpless, if all went smoothly, they relied entirely upon their own bodily strength. They were stout young men, twenty-eight to thirty-two years old; somewhat undersized as to height; but squarely built, deep- chested, broad-shouldered, and so beautifully formed, as regarded the symmetry of their limbs and their articulations, that, after their execution, the bodies were privately exhibited by the surgeons of the Manchester Infirmary, as objects of statuesque interest. On the other hand, the household which they proposed to attack consisted of the following four persons:—1. the landlord, a stoutish farmer—but him they intended to disable by a trick then newly introduced amongst robbers, and termed hocussing, i.e., clandestinely drugging the liquor of the victim with laudanum; 2. the landlord's wife; 3. a young servant woman; 4. a boy, twelve or fourteen years old. The danger was, that out of four persons, scattered by possibility over a house which had two separate exits, one at least might escape, and by better acquaintance with the adjacent paths, might succeed in giving an alarm to some of the houses a furlong distant. Their final resolution was, to be guided by circumstances as to the mode of conducting the affair; and yet, as it seemed essential to success that they should assume the air of strangers to each other, it was necessary that they should preconcert some general outline of their plan; since it would on this scheme be impossible, without awaking violent suspicions, to make any communications under the eyes of the family. This outline included, at the least, one murder: so much was settled; but, otherwise, their subsequent proceedings make it evident that they wished to have as little bloodshed as was consistent with their final object. On the appointed day, they presented themselves separately at the rustic inn, and at different hours. One came as early as four o'clock in the afternoon; the other not until half-past seven. They saluted each other distantly and shyly; and, though occasionally exchanging a few words in the character of strangers, did not seem disposed to any familiar intercourse. With the landlord, however, on his return about eight o'clock from Manchester, one of the brothers entered into a lively conversation; invited him to take a tumbler of punch; and, at a moment when the landlord's absence from the room allowed it, poured into the punch a spoonful of laudanum. Some time after this, the clock struck ten; upon which the elder M'Kean, professing to be weary, asked to be shown up to his bedroom: for each brother, immediately on arriving, had engaged a bed. On this, the poor servant girl had presented herself with a bed-candle to light him upstairs. At this critical moment the family were distributed thus:—the landlord, stupefied with the horrid narcotic which he had drunk, had retired to a private room adjoining the public room, for the purpose of reclining upon a sofa: and he, luckily for his own safety, was looked upon as entirely incapacitated for action. The landlady was occupied with her husband. And thus the younger M'Kean was left alone in the public room. He rose, therefore, softly, and placed himself at the foot of the stairs which his brother had just ascended, so as to be sure of intercepting any fugitive from the bedroom above. Into that room the elder M'Kean was ushered by the servant, who pointed to two beds—one of which was already half occupied by the boy, and the other empty: in these, she intimated that the two strangers must dispose of themselves for the night, according to any arrangement that they might agree upon. Saying this, she presented him with the candle, which he in a moment placed upon the table; and, intercepting her retreat from the room threw his arm round her neck with a gesture as though he meant to kiss her. This was evidently what she herself anticipated, and endeavored to prevent. Her horror may be imagined, when she felt the perfidious hand that clasped her neck armed with a razor, and violently cutting her throat. She was hardly able to utter one scream, before she sank powerless upon the floor. This dreadful spectacle was witnessed by the boy, who was not asleep, but had presence of mind enough instantly to close his eyes. The murderer advanced hastily to the bed, and anxiously examined the expression of the boy's features: satisfied he was not, and he then placed his hand upon the boy's heart, in order to judge by its beatings whether he were agitated or not. This was a dreadful trial: and no doubt the counterfeit sleep would immediately have been detected, when suddenly a dreadful spectacle drew off the attention of the murderer. Solemnly, and in ghostly silence, uprose in her dying delirium the murdered girl; she stood upright, she walked steadily for a moment or two, she bent her steps towards the door. The murderer turned away to pursue her; and at that moment the boy, feeling that his one solitary chance was to fly while this scene was in progress, bounded out of bed. On the landing at the head of the stairs was one murderer, at the foot of the stairs was the other: who could believe that the boy had the shadow of a chance for escaping? And yet, in the most natural way, he surmounted all hindrances. In the boy's horror, he laid his left hand on the balustrade, and took a flying leap over it, which landed him at the bottom of the stairs, without having touched a single stair. He had thus effectually passed one of the murderers: the other, it is true, was still to be passed; and this would have been impossible but for a sudden accident. The landlady had been alarmed by the faint scream of the young woman; had hurried from her private room to the girl's assistance; but at the foot of the stairs had been intercepted by the younger brother, and was at this moment struggling with him. The confusion of this life-and- death conflict had allowed the boy to whirl past them. Luckily he took a turn into a kitchen, out of which was a back-door, fastened by a single bolt, that ran freely at a touch; and through this door he rushed into the open fields. But at this moment the elder brother was set free for pursuit by the death of the poor girl. There is no doubt, that in her delirium the image moving through her thoughts was that of the club, which met once a- week. She fancied it no doubt sitting; and to this room, for help and for safety she staggered along; she entered it, and within the doorway once more she dropped down, and instantly expired. Her murderer, who had followed her closely, now saw himself set at liberty for the pursuit of the boy. At this critical moment, all was at stake; unless the boy were caught, the enterprise was ruined. He passed his brother, therefore, and the landlady without pausing, and rushed through the open door into the fields. By a single second, perhaps, he was too late. The boy was keenly aware, that if he continued in sight, he would have no chance of escaping from a powerful young man. He made, therefore, at once for a ditch, into which he tumbled headlong. Had the murderer ventured to make a leisurely examination of the nearest ditch, he would easily have found the boy—made so conspicuous by his white shirt. But he lost all heart, upon failing at once to arrest the boy's flight. And every succeeding second made his despair the greater. If the boy had really effected his escape to the neighboring farm-house, a party of men might be gathered within five minutes; and already it might have become difficult for himself and his brother, unacquainted with the field paths, to evade being intercepted. Nothing remained, therefore, but to summon his brother away. Thus it happened that the landlady, though mangled, escaped with life, and eventually recovered. The landlord owed his safety to the stupefying potion. And the baffled murderers had the misery of knowing that their dreadful crime had been altogether profitless. The road, indeed, was now open to the club-room; and, probably, forty seconds would have sufficed to carry off the box of treasure, which afterwards might have been burst open and pillaged at leisure. But the fear of intercepting enemies was too strongly upon them; and they fled rapidly by a road which carried them actually within six feet of the lurking boy. That night they passed through Manchester. When daylight returned, they slept in a thicket twenty miles distant from the scene of their guilty attempt. On the second and third nights, they pursued their march on foot, resting again during the day. About sunrise on the fourth morning, they were entering some village near Kirby Lonsdale, in Westmoreland. They must have designedly quitted the direct line of route; for their object was Ayrshire, of which county they were natives; and the regular road would have led them through Shap, Penrith, Carlisle. Probably they were seeking to elude the persecution of the stage-coaches, which, for the last thirty hours, had been scattering at all the inns and road-side cabarets hand-bills describing their persons and dress. It happened (perhaps through design) that on this fourth morning they had separated, so as to enter the village ten minutes apart from each other. They were exhausted and footsore. In this condition it was easy to stop them. A blacksmith had silently reconnoitred them, and compared their appearance with the description of the hand-bills. They were then easily overtaken, and separately arrested. Their trial and condemnation speedily followed at Lancaster; and in those days it followed, of course, that they were executed. Otherwise their case fell so far within the sheltering limits of what would now be regarded as extenuating circumstances—that, whilst a murder more or less was not to repel them from their object, very evidently they were anxious to economize the bloodshed as much as possible. Immeasurable, therefore, was the interval which divided them from the monster Williams. They perished on the scaffold: Williams, as I have said, by his own hand; and, in obedience to the law as it then stood, he was buried in the centre of a quadrivium, or conflux of four roads (in this case four streets), with a stake driven through his heart. And over him drives for ever the uproar of unresting London!

FOOTNOTES

[1] See 'Miscellaneous Essays,' p. 17.

[2] I am not sure whether Southey held at this time his appointment to the editorship of the 'Edinburgh Annual Register.' If he did, no doubt in the domestic section of that chronicle will be found an excellent account of the whole.

[3] An artist told me in this year, 1812, that having accidentally seen a native Devonshire regiment (either volunteers or militia), nine hundred strong, marching past a station at which he had posted himself, he did not observe a dozen men that would not have been described in common parlance as 'good looking.'

[4] I do not remember, chronologically, the history of gas-lights. But in London, long after Mr. Winsor had shown the value of gas-lighting, and its applicability to street purposes, various districts were prevented, for many years, from resorting to the new system, in consequence of old contracts with oil-dealers, subsisting through long terms of years.

[5] Let the reader, who is disposed to regard as exaggerated or romantic the pure fiendishness imputed to Williams, recollect that, except for the luxurious purpose of basking and revelling in the anguish of dying despair, he had no motive at all, small or great, for attempting the murder of this young girl. She had seen nothing, heard nothing—was fast asleep, and her door was closed; so that, as a witness against him, he knew that she was as useless as any one of the three corpses. And yet he was making preparations for her murder, when the alarm in the street interrupted him.

[6] 'Revolt of Islam,' canto xii.

[7] See his bitter letters to Lady Suffolk.



THE TRUE RELATIONS OF THE BIBLE TO MERELY HUMAN SCIENCE.

It is sometimes said, that a religious messenger from God does not come amongst men for the sake of teaching truths in science, or of correcting errors in science. Most justly is this said: but often in terms far too feeble. For generally these terms are such as to imply, that, although no direct and imperative function of his mission, it was yet open to him, as a permissible function—that, although not pressing with the force of an obligation upon the missionary, it was yet at his discretion—if not to correct other men's errors, yet at least in his own person to speak with scientific precision. I contend that it was not. I contend, that to have uttered the truths of astronomy, of geology, &c., at the era of new- born Christianity, was not only below and beside the purposes of a religion, but would have been against them. Even upon errors of a far more important class than errors in science can ever be—superstitions, for instance, that degraded the very idea of God; prejudices and false usages, that laid waste human happiness (such as slavery, and many hundreds of other abuses that might be mentioned), the rule evidently acted upon by the Founder of Christianity was this—Given the purification of the well-head, once assumed that the fountains of truth are cleansed, all these derivative currents of evil will cleanse themselves. As a general rule, the branches of error were disregarded, and the roots only attacked. If, then, so lofty a station was taken with regard even to such errors as really had moral and spiritual relations, how much more with regard to the comparative trifles (as in the ultimate relations of human nature they are) of merely human science! But, for my part, I go further, and assert, that upon three reasons it was impossible for any messenger from God (or offering himself in that character) to have descended into the communication of truth merely scientific, or economic, or worldly. And the three reasons are these:—First, Because such a descent would have degraded his mission, by lowering it to the base level of a collusion with human curiosity, or (in the most favorable case) of a collusion with petty and transitory interests. Secondly, Because it would have ruined his mission, by disturbing its free agency, and misdirecting its energies, in two separate modes: first, by destroying the spiritual auctoritas (the prestige and consideration) of the missionary; secondly, by vitiating the spiritual atmosphere of his audience—that is, corrupting and misdirecting the character of their thoughts and expectations. He that in the early days of Christianity should have proclaimed the true theory of the solar system, or that by any chance word or allusion should then, in a condition of man so little prepared to receive such truths, have asserted or assumed the daily motion of the earth on its own axis, or its annual motion round the sun, would have found himself entangled at once and irretrievably in the following unmanageable consequences:—First of all, and instantaneously, he would have been roused to the alarming fact, that, by this dreadful indiscretion he himself, the professed deliverer of a new and spiritual religion, had in a moment untuned the spirituality of his audience. He would find that he had awakened within them the passion of curiosity—the most unspiritual of passions, and of curiosity in a fierce polemic shape. The very safest step in so deplorable a situation would be, instantly to recant. Already by this one may estimate the evil, when such would be its readiest palliation. For in what condition would the reputation of the teacher be left for discretion and wisdom as an intellectual guide, when his first act must be to recant—and to recant what to the whole body of his hearers would wear the character of a lunatic proposition. Such considerations might possibly induce him not to recant. But in that case the consequences are far worse. Having once allowed himself to sanction what his hearers regard as the most monstrous of paradoxes, he has no liberty of retreat open to him. He must stand to the promises of his own acts. Uttering the first truth of a science, he is pledged to the second; taking the main step, he is committed to all which follow. He is thrown at once upon the endless controversies which science in every stage provokes, and in none more than in the earliest. Starting, besides, from the authority of a divine mission, he could not (as others might) have the privilege of selecting arbitrarily or partially. If upon one science, then upon all; if upon science, then upon art; if upon art and science, then upon every branch of social economy his reformations and advances are equally due—due as to all, if due as to any. To move in one direction, is constructively to undertake for all. Without power to retreat, he has thus thrown the intellectual interests of his followers into a channel utterly alien to the purposes of a spiritual mission.

The spiritual mission, therefore, the purpose for which only the religious teacher was sent, has now perished altogether—overlaid and confounded by the merely scientific wranglings to which his own inconsiderate precipitance has opened the door. But suppose at this point that the teacher, aware at length of the mischief which he has caused, and seeing that the fatal error of uttering one solitary novel truth upon a matter of mere science is by inevitable consequence to throw him upon a road leading altogether away from the proper field of his mission, takes the laudable course of confessing his error, and of attempting a return into his proper spiritual province. This may be his best course; yet, after all, it will not retrieve his lost ground. He returns with a character confessedly damaged. His very excuse rests upon the blindness and shortsightedness which forbade his anticipating the true and natural consequences. Neither will his own account of the case be generally accepted. He will not be supposed to retreat from further controversy, as inconsistent with spiritual purposes, but because he finds himself unequal to the dispute. And, in the very best case, he is, by his own acknowledgment, tainted with human infirmity. He has been ruined for a servant of inspiration; and how? By a process, let it be remembered, of which all the steps are inevitable under the same agency: that is, in the case of any primitive Christian teacher having attempted to speak the language of scientific truth in dealing with the phenomena of astronomy, geology, or of any merely human knowledge.

Now, thirdly and lastly, in order to try the question in an extreme form, let it be supposed that, aided by powers of working miracles, some early apostle of Christianity should actually have succeeded in carrying through the Copernican system of astronomy, as an article of blind belief, sixteen centuries before the progress of man's intellect had qualified him for naturally developing that system. What, in such a case, would be the true estimate and valuation of the achievement? Simply this, that he had thus succeeded in cancelling and counteracting a determinate scheme of divine discipline and training for man. Wherefore did God give to man the powers for contending with scientific difficulties? Wherefore did he lay a secret train of continual occasions, that should rise, by relays, through scores of generations, for provoking and developing those activities in man's intellect, if, after all, he is to send a messenger of his own, more than human, to intercept and strangle all these great purposes? This is to mistake the very meaning and purposes of a revelation. A revelation is not made for the purpose of showing to indolent men that which, by faculties already given to them, they may show to themselves; no: but for the purpose of showing that which the moral darkness of man will not, without supernatural light, allow him to perceive. With disdain, therefore, must every thoughtful person regard the notion, that God could wilfully interfere with his own plans, by accrediting ambassadors to reveal astronomy, or any other science, which he has commanded men, by qualifying men, to reveal for themselves.

Even as regards astronomy—a science so nearly allying itself to religion by the loftiness and by the purity of its contemplations—Scripture is nowhere the parent of any doctrine, nor so much as the silent sanctioner of any doctrine. It is made impossible for Scripture to teach falsely, by the simple fact that Scripture, on such subjects, will not condescend to teach at all. The Bible adopts the erroneous language of men (which at any rate it must do, in order to make itself understood), not by way of sanctioning a theory, but by way of using a fact. The Bible, for instance, uses (postulates) the phenomena of day and night, of summer and winter; and, in relation to their causes, speaks by the same popular and inaccurate language which is current for ordinary purposes, even amongst the most scientific of astronomers. For the man of science, equally with the populace, talks of the sun as rising and setting, as having finished half his day's journey, &c., and, without pedantry, could not in many cases talk otherwise. But the results, which are all that concern Scripture, are equally true, whether accounted for by one hypothesis which is philosophically just, or by another which is popular and erring.

Now, on the other hand, in geology and cosmology, the case is stronger. Here there is no opening for a compliance even with a language that is erroneous; for no language at all is current upon subjects that have never engaged the popular attention. Here, where there is no such stream of apparent phenomena running counter (as in astronomy there is) to the real phenomena, neither is there any popular language opposed to the scientific. The whole are abtruse speculations, even as regards their objects, nor dreamed of as possibilities, either in their true aspects or their false aspects, till modern times. The Scriptures, therefore, nowhere allude to such sciences, either as taking the shape of histories, applied to processes current and in movement, or as taking the shape of theories applied to processes past and accomplished. The Mosaic cosmogony, indeed, gives the succession of natural births; and probably the general outline of such a succession will be more and more confirmed as geology advances. But as to the time, the duration, of this successive evolution, it is the idlest of notions that the Scriptures either have, or could have, condescended to human curiosity upon so awful a prologue to the drama of this world. Genesis would no more have indulged so mean a passion with respect to the mysterious inauguration of the world, than the Apocalypse with respect to its mysterious close. 'Yet the six days of Moses!' Days! But is it possible that human folly should go the length of understanding by the Mosaical day, the mysterious day of that awful agency which moulded the heavens and the heavenly host, no more than the ordinary nychthemeron or cycle of twenty-four hours? The period implied in a day, when used in relation to the inaugural manifestation of creative power in that vast drama which introduces God to man in the character of a demiurgus or creator of the world, indicated one stage amongst six; involving probably many millions of years. The silliest of nurses, in her nursery babble, could hardly suppose that the mighty process began on a Monday morning, and ended on Saturday night. If we are seriously to study the value and scriptural acceptation of scriptural words and phrases, I presume that our first business will be to collate the use of these words in one part of Scripture, with their use in other parts, holding the same spiritual relations. The creation, for instance, does not belong to the earthly or merely historical records, but to the spiritual records of the Bible; to the same category, therefore, as the prophetic sections of the Bible. Now, in those, and in the Psalms, how do we understand the word day? Is any man so little versed in biblical language as not to know, that (except in the merely historical parts of the Jewish records) every section of time has a secret and separate acceptation in the Scriptures? Does an aeon, though a Grecian word, bear scripturally (either in Daniel or in St. John) any sense known to Grecian ears? Do the seventy weeks of the prophet mean weeks in the sense of human calendars? Already the Psalms (xc.), already St. Peter (2d Epist.), warn us of a peculiar sense attached to the word day in divine ears. And who of the innumerable interpreters understands the twelve hundred and sixty days in Daniel, or his two thousand and odd days, to mean, by possibility, periods of twenty-four hours? Surely the theme of Moses was as mystical, and as much entitled to the benefit of mystical language, as that of the prophets.

The sum of this matter is this:—God, by a Hebrew prophet, is sublimely described as the Revealer; and, in variation of his own expression, the same prophet describes him as the Being 'that knoweth the darkness.' Under no idea can the relations of God to man be more grandly expressed. But of what is he the revealer? Not surely of those things which he has enabled man to reveal for himself, but of those things which, were it not through special light from heaven, must eternally remain sealed up in inaccessible darkness. On this principle we should all laugh at a revealed cookery. But essentially the same ridicule, not more, and not less, applies to a revealed astronomy, or a revealed geology. As a fact, there is no such astronomy or geology: as a possibility, by the a priori argument which I have used (viz., that a revelation on such fields would counteract other machineries of providence), there can be no such astronomy or geology in the Bible. Consequently there is none. Consequently there can be no schism or feud upon these subjects between the Bible and the philosophies outside.



SCHLOSSER'S LITERARY HISTORY OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.

In the person of this Mr. Schlosser is exemplified a common abuse, not confined to literature. An artist from the Italian opera of London and Paris, making a professional excursion to our provinces, is received according to the tariff of the metropolis; no one being bold enough to dispute decisions coming down from the courts above. In that particular case there is seldom any reason to complain—since really out of Germany and Italy there is no city, if you except Paris and London, possessing materials, in that field of art, for the composition of an audience large enough to act as a court of revision. It would be presumption in the provincial audience, so slightly trained to good music and dancing, if it should affect to reverse a judgment ratified in the supreme capital. The result, therefore, is practically just, if the original verdict was just; what was right from the first cannot be made wrong by iteration. Yet, even in such a case, there is something not satisfactory to a delicate sense of equity; for the artist returns from the tour as if from some new and independent triumph, whereas, all is but the reverberation of an old one; it seems a new access of sunlight, whereas it is but a reflex illumination from satellites.

In literature the corresponding case is worse. An author, passing by means of translation before a foreign people, ought de jure to find himself before a new tribunal; but de facto, he does not. Like the opera artist, but not with the same propriety, he comes before a court that never interferes to disturb a judgment, but only to re-affirm it. And he returns to his native country, quartering in his armorial bearings these new trophies, as though won by new trials, when, in fact, they are due to servile ratifications of old ones. When Sue, or Balzac, Hugo, or George Sand, comes before an English audience—the opportunity is invariably lost for estimating them at a new angle of sight. All who dislike them lay them aside—whilst those only apply themselves seriously to their study, who are predisposed to the particular key of feeling, through which originally these authors had prospered. And thus a new set of judges, that might usefully have modified the narrow views of the old ones, fall by mere inertia into the humble character of echoes and sounding-boards to swell the uproar of the original mob.

In this way is thrown away the opportunity, not only of applying corrections to false national tastes, but oftentimes even to the unfair accidents of luck that befall books. For it is well known to all who watch literature with vigilance, that books and authors have their fortunes, which travel upon a far different scale of proportions from those that measure their merits. Not even the caprice or the folly of the reading public is required to account for this. Very often, indeed, the whole difference between an extensive circulation for one book, and none at all for another of about equal merit, belongs to no particular blindness in men, but to the simple fact, that the one has, whilst the other has not, been brought effectually under the eyes of the public. By far the greater part of books are lost, not because they are rejected, but because they are never introduced. In any proper sense of the word, very few books are published. Technically they are published; which means, that for six or ten times they are advertised, but they are not made known to attentive ears, or to ears prepared for attention. And amongst the causes which account for this difference in the fortune of books, although there are many, we may reckon, as foremost, personal accidents of position in the authors. For instance, with us in England it will do a bad book no ultimate service, that it is written by a lord, or a bishop, or a privy counsellor, or a member of Parliament—though, undoubtedly, it will do an instant service—it will sell an edition or so. This being the case, it being certain that no rank will reprieve a bad writer from final condemnation, the sycophantic glorifier of the public fancies his idol justified; but not so. A bad book, it is true, will not be saved by advantages of position in the author; but a book moderately good will be extravagantly aided by such advantages. Lectures on Christianity, that happened to be respectably written and delivered, had prodigious success in my young days, because, also, they happened to be lectures of a prelate; three times the ability would not have procured them any attention had they been the lectures of an obscure curate. Yet on the other hand, it is but justice to say, that, if written with three times less ability, lawn-sleeves would not have given them buoyancy, but, on the contrary, they would have sunk the bishop irrecoverably; whilst the curate, favored by obscurity, would have survived for another chance. So again, and indeed, more than so, as to poetry. Lord Carlisle, of the last generation, wrote tolerable verses. They were better than Lord Roscommon's, which, for one hundred and fifty years, the judicious public has allowed the booksellers to incorporate, along with other refuse of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, into the costly collections of the 'British Poets.' And really, if you will insist on odious comparisons, they were not so very much below the verses of an amiable prime minister known to us all. Yet, because they wanted vital stamina, not only they fell, but, in falling, they caused the earl to reel much more than any commoner would have done. Now, on the other hand, a kinsman of Lord Carlisle, viz., Lord Byron, because he brought real genius and power to the effort, found a vast auxiliary advantage in a peerage and a very ancient descent. On these double wings he soared into a region of public interest, far higher than ever he would have reached by poetic power alone. Not only all his rubbish—which in quantity is great—passed for jewels, but also what are incontestably jewels have been, and will be, valued at a far higher rate than if they had been raised from less aristocratic mines. So fatal for mediocrity, so gracious for real power, is any adventitious distinction from birth, station, or circumstances of brilliant notoriety. In reality, the public, our never-sufficiently-to-be- respected mother, is the most unutterable sycophant that ever the clouds dropped their rheum upon. She is always ready for jacobinical scoffs at a man for being a lord, if he happens to fail; she is always ready for toadying a lord, if he happens to make a hit. Ah, dear sycophantic old lady, I kiss your sycophantic hands, and wish heartily that I were a duke for your sake!

It would be a mistake to fancy that this tendency to confound real merit and its accidents of position is at all peculiar to us or to our age. Dr. Sacheverell, by embarking his small capital of talent on the springtide of a furious political collision, brought back an ampler return for his little investment than ever did Wickliffe or Luther. Such was his popularity in the heart of love and the heart of hatred, that he would have been assassinated by the Whigs, on his triumphal progresses through England, had he not been canonized by the Tories. He was a dead man if he had not been suddenly gilt and lacquered as an idol. Neither is the case peculiar at all to England. Ronge, the ci-devant Romish priest (whose name pronounce as you would the English word wrong, supposing that it had for a second syllable the final a of 'sopha,' i.e., Wronguh), has been found a wrong-headed man by all parties, and in a venial degree is, perhaps, a stupid man; but he moves about with more eclat by far than the ablest man in Germany. And, in days of old, the man that burned down a miracle of beauty, viz., the temple of Ephesus, protesting, with tears in his eyes, that he had no other way of getting himself a name, has got it in spite of us all. He's booked for a ride down all history, whether you and I like it or not. Every pocket dictionary knows that Erostratus was that scamp. So of Martin, the man that parboiled, or par- roasted York Minster some ten or twelve years back; that fellow will float down to posterity with the annals of the glorious cathedral: he will

'Pursue the triumph and partake the gale,'

whilst the founders and benefactors of the Minster are practically forgotten.

These incendiaries, in short, are as well known as Ephesus or York; but not one of us can tell, without humming and hawing, who it was that rebuilt the Ephesian wonder of the world, or that repaired the time- honored Minster. Equally in literature, not the weight of service done, or the power exerted, is sometimes considered chiefly—either of these must be very conspicuous before it will be considered at all—but the splendor, or the notoriety, or the absurdity, or even the scandalousness of the circumstances [1] surrounding the author.

Schlosser must have benefitted in some such adventitious way before he ever could have risen to his German celebrity. What was it that raised him to his momentary distinction? Was it something very wicked that he did, or something very brilliant that he said? I should rather conjecture that it must have been something inconceivably absurd which he proposed. Any one of the three achievements stands good in Germany for a reputation. But, however it were that Mr. Schlosser first gained his reputation, mark what now follows. On the wings of this equivocal reputation he flies abroad to Paris and London. There he thrives, not by any approving experience or knowledge of his works, but through blind faith in his original German public. And back he flies afterwards to Germany, as if carrying with him new and independent testimonies to his merit, and from two nations that are directly concerned in his violent judgments; whereas (which is the simple truth) he carries back a careless reverberation of his first German character, from those who have far too much to read for declining aid from vicarious criticism when it will spare that effort to themselves. Thus it is that German critics become audacious and libellous. Kohl, Von Raumer, Dr. Carus, physician to the King of Saxony, by means of introductory letters floating them into circles far above any they had seen in homely Germany, are qualified by our own negligence and indulgence for mounting a European tribunal, from which they pronounce malicious edicts against ourselves. Sentinels present arms to Von Raumer at Windsor, because he rides in a carriage of Queen Adelaide's; and Von Raumer immediately conceives himself the Chancellor of all Christendom, keeper of the conscience to universal Europe, upon all questions of art, manners, politics, or any conceivable intellectual relations of England. Schlosser meditates the same career.

But have I any right to quote Schlosser's words from an English translation? I do so only because this happens to be at hand, and the German not. German books are still rare in this country, though more (by one thousand to one) than they were thirty years ago. But I have a full right to rely on the English of Mr. Davison. 'I hold in my hand,' as gentlemen so often say at public meetings, 'a certificate from Herr Schlosser, that to quote Mr. Davison is to quote him.' The English translation is one which Mr. Schlosser 'durchgelesen hat, und fur deren genauigkeit und richtigkeit er burgt [has read through, and for the accuracy and propriety of which he pledges himself]. Mr. Schossler was so anxious for the spiritual welfare of us poor islanders, that he not only read it through, but he has even aufmerksam durchgelesen it [read it through wide awake] und gepruft [and carefully examined it]; nay, he has done all this in company with the translator. 'Oh ye Athenians! how hard do I labor to earn your applause!' And, as the result of such herculean labors, a second time he makes himself surety for its precision; 'er burgt also dafur wie fur seine eigne arbeit' [he guarantees it accordingly as he would his own workmanship]. Were it not for this unlimited certificate, I should have sent for the book to Germany. As it is, I need not wait; and all complaints on this score I defy, above all from Herr Schlosser. [2]

In dealing with an author so desultory as Mr. Schlosser, the critic has a right to an extra allowance of desultoriness for his own share; so excuse me, reader, for rushing at once in medias res.

Of Swift, Mr. Schlosser selects for notice three works—the 'Drapier's Letters,' 'Gulliver's Travels,' and the 'Tale of a Tub.' With respect to the first, as it is a necessity of Mr. S. to be forever wrong in his substratum of facts, he adopts the old erroneous account of Wood's contract as to the copper coinage, and of the imaginary wrong which it inflicted on Ireland. Of all Swift's villainies for the sake of popularity, and still more for the sake of wielding this popularity vindictively, none is so scandalous as this. In any new life of Swift the case must be stated de novo. Even Sir Walter Scott is not impartial; and for the same reason as now forces me to blink it, viz., the difficulty of presenting the details in a readable shape. 'Gulliver's Travels' Schlosser strangely considers 'spun out to an intolerable extent.' Many evil things might be said of Gulliver; but not this. The captain is anything but tedious. And, indeed, it becomes a question of mere mensuration, that can be settled in a moment. A year or two since I had in my hands a pocket edition, comprehending all the four parts of the worthy skipper's adventures within a single volume of 420 pages. Some part of the space was also wasted on notes, often very idle. Now the 1st part contains two separate voyages (Lilliput and Blefuscu), the 2d, one, the 3d, five, and the 4th, one; so that, in all, this active navigator, who has enriched geography, I hope, with something of a higher quality than your old muffs that thought much of doubling Cape Horn, here gives us nine great discoveries, far more surprising than the pretended discoveries of Sinbad (which are known to be fabulous), averaging quam proxime, forty- seven small 16mo pages each. Oh you unconscionable German, built round in your own country with circumvallations of impregnable 4tos, oftentimes dark and dull as Avernus—that you will have the face to describe dear excellent Captain Lemuel Gulliver of Redriff, and subsequently of Newark, that 'darling of children and men,' as tedious. It is exactly because he is not tedious, because he does not shoot into German foliosity, that Schlosser finds him 'intolerable.' I have justly transferred to Gulliver's use the words originally applied by the poet to the robin- redbreast, for it is remarkable that Gulliver and the Arabian Nights are amongst the few books where children and men find themselves meeting and jostling each other. This was the case from its first publication, just one hundred and twenty years since. 'It was received,' says Dr. Johnson, 'with such avidity, that the price of the first edition was raised before the second could be made—it was read by the high and the low, the learned and the illiterate. Criticism was lost in wonder. Now, on the contrary, Schlosser wonders not at all, but simply criticises; which we could bear, if the criticism were even ingenious. Whereas, he utterly misunderstands Swift, and is a malicious calumniator of the captain who, luckily, roaming in Sherwood, and thinking, often with a sigh, of his little nurse, [3] Glumdalclitch, would trouble himself slightly about what Heidelberg might say in the next century. There is but one example on our earth of a novel received with such indiscriminate applause as 'Gulliver;' and that was 'Don Quixote.' Many have been welcomed joyfully by a class —these two by a people. Now, could that have happened had it been characterized by dulness? Of all faults, it could least have had that. As to the 'Tale of a Tub,' Schlosser is in such Cimmerian vapors that no system of bellows could blow open a shaft or tube through which he might gain a glimpse of the English truth and daylight. It is useless talking to such a man on such a subject. I consign him to the attentions of some patriotic Irishman.

Schlosser, however, is right in a graver reflection which he makes upon the prevailing philosophy of Swift, viz., that 'all his views were directed towards what was immediately beneficial, which is the characteristic of savages.' This is undeniable. The meanness of Swift's nature, and his rigid incapacity for dealing with the grandeurs of the human spirit, with religion, with poetry, or even with science, when it rose above the mercenary practical, is absolutely appalling. His own yahoo is not a more abominable one-sided degradation of humanity, than is he himself under this aspect. And, perhaps, it places this incapacity of his in its strongest light, when we recur to the fact of his astonishment at a religious princess refusing to confer a bishoprick upon one that had treated the Trinity, and all the profoundest mysteries of Christianity, not with mere scepticism, or casual sneer, but with set pompous merriment and farcical buffoonery. This dignitary of the church, Dean of the most conspicuous cathedral in Ireland, had, in full canonicals, made himself into a regular mountebank, for the sake of giving fuller effect, by the force of contrast, to the silliest of jests directed against all that was most inalienable from Christianity. Ridiculing such things, could he, in any just sense, be thought a Christian? But, as Schlosser justly remarks, even ridiculing the peculiarities of Luther and Calvin as he did ridicule them, Swift could not be thought other than constitutionally incapable of religion. Even a Pagan philosopher, if made to understand the case, would be incapable of scoffing at any form, natural or casual, simple or distorted, which might be assumed by the most solemn of problems—problems that rest with the weight of worlds upon the human spirit—

'Fix'd fate, free-will, fore-knowledge absolute.'

the destiny of man, or the relations of man to God. Anger, therefore, Swift might feel, and he felt it [7] to the end of his most wretched life; but what reasonable ground had a man of sense for astonishment— that a princess, who (according to her knowledge) was sincerely pious, should decline to place such a man upon an Episcopal throne? This argues, beyond a doubt, that Swift was in that state of constitutional irreligion, irreligion from a vulgar temperament, which imputes to everybody else its own plebeian feelings. People differed, he fancied, not by more and less religion, but by more and less dissimulations. And, therefore, it seemed to him scandalous that a princess, who must, of course, in her heart regard (in common with himself) all mysteries as solemn masques and mummeries, should pretend in a case of downright serious business, to pump up, out of dry conventional hoaxes, any solid objection to a man of his shining merit. 'The Trinity,' for instance, that he viewed as the password, which the knowing ones gave in answer to the challenge of the sentinel; but, as soon as it had obtained admission for the party within the gates of the camp, it was rightly dismissed to oblivion or to laughter. No case so much illustrates Swift's essential irreligion; since, if he had shared in ordinary human feelings on such subjects, not only he could not have been surprised at his own exclusion from the bench of bishops, after such ribaldries, but originally he would have abstained from them as inevitable bars to clerical promotion, even upon principles of public decorum.

As to the style of Swift, Mr. Schlosser shows himself without sensibility in his objections, as the often hackneyed English reader shows himself without philosophic knowledge of style in his applause. Schlosser thinks the style of Gulliver 'somewhat dull.' This shows Schlosser's presumption in speaking upon a point where he wanted, 1st, original delicacy of tact; and, 2dly, familiar knowledge of English. Gulliver's style is purposely touched slightly with that dulness of circumstantiality which besets the excellent, but 'somewhat dull' race of men—old sea captains. Yet it wears only an aerial tint of dulness; the felicity of this coloring in Swift's management is, that it never goes the length of wearying, but only of giving a comic air of downright Wapping and Rotherhithe verisimilitude. All men grow dull, and ought to be dull, that live under a solemn sense of eternal danger, one inch only of plank (often worm-eaten) between themselves and the grave; and, also, that see for ever one wilderness of waters—sublime, but (like the wilderness on shore) monotonous. All sublime people, being monotonous, have a tendency to be dull, and sublime things also. Milton and Aeschylus, the sublimest of men, are crossed at times by a shade of dulness. It is their weak side. But as to a sea captain, a regular nor'-nor'-wester, and sou'-sou'-easter, he ought to be kicked out of the room if he is not dull. It is not 'ship-shape,' or barely tolerable, that he should be otherwise. Yet, after all, considering what I have stated about Captain Gulliver's nine voyages crowding into one pocket volume, he cannot really have much abused his professional license for being dull. Indeed, one has to look out an excuse for his being so little dull; which excuse is found in the fact that he had studied three years at a learned university. Captain Gulliver, though a sailor, I would have you to know, was a gownsman of Cambridge: so says Swift, who knew more about the Captain than anybody now-a-days. Cantabs are all horsemen, ergo, Gulliver was fit for any thing, from the wooden shoon of Cambridge up to the Horse Marines.

Now, on the other hand, you, common-place reader, that (as an old tradition) believe Swift's style to be a model of excellence, hereafter I shall say a word to you, drawn from deeper principles. At present I content myself with these three propositions, which overthrow if you can;—

1. That the merit, which justly you ascribe to Swift, is vernacularity; he never forgets his mother-tongue in exotic forms, unless we may call Irish exotic; for Hibernicisms he certainly has. This merit, however, is exhibited—not, as you fancy, in a graceful artlessness, but in a coarse inartificiality. To be artless, and to be inartificial, are very different things; as different as being natural and being gross; as different as being simple and being homely.

2. That whatever, meantime, be the particular sort of excellence, or the value of the excellence, in the style of Swift, he had it in common with multitudes beside of that age. De Foe wrote a style for all the world the same as to kind and degree of excellence, only pure from Hibernicisms. So did every honest skipper [Dampier was something more] who had occasion to record his voyages in this world of storms. So did many a hundred of religious writers. And what wonder should there be in this, when the main qualification for such a style was plain good sense, natural feeling, unpretendingness, some little scholarly practice in putting together the clockwork of sentences, so as to avoid mechanical awkwardness of construction, but above all the advantage of a subject, such in its nature as instinctively to reject ornament, lest it should draw off attention from itself? Such subjects are common; but grand impassioned subjects insist upon a different treatment; and there it is that the true difficulties of style commence.

3. [Which partly is suggested by the last remark.] That nearly all the blockheads with whom I have at any time had the pleasure of conversing upon the subject of style (and pardon me for saying that men of the most sense are apt, upon two subjects, viz., poetry and style, to talk most like blockheads), have invariably regarded Swift's style not as if relatively good [i.e. given a proper subject], but as if absolutely good—good unconditionally, no matter what the subject. Now, my friend, suppose the case, that the Dean had been required to write a pendant for Sir Walter Raleigh's immortal apostrophe to Death, or to many passages that I will select in Sir Thomas Brown's 'Religio Medici,' and his 'Urn-burial,' or to Jeremy Taylor's inaugural sections of his 'Holy Living and Dying,' do you know what would have happened? Are you aware what sort of ridiculous figure your poor bald Jonathan would have cut? About the same that would be cut by a forlorn scullion or waiter from a greasy eating-house at Rotterdam, if suddenly called away in vision to act as seneschal to the festival of Belshazzar the king, before a thousand of his lords.

Schlosser, after saying any thing right and true (and he really did say the true thing about Swift's essential irreligion), usually becomes exhausted, like a boa-constrictor after eating his half-yearly dinner. The boa gathers himself up, it is to be hoped for a long fit of dyspepsy, in which the horns and hoofs that he has swallowed may chance to avenge the poor goat that owned them. Schlosser, on the other hand, retires into a corner, for the purpose of obstinately talking nonsense, until the gong sounds again for a slight refection of sense. Accordingly he likens Swift, before he has done with him, to whom? I might safely allow the reader three years for guessing, if the greatest of wagers were depending between us. He likens him to Kotzebue, in the first place. How faithful the resemblance! How exactly Swift reminds you of Count Benyowski in Siberia, and of Mrs. Haller moping her eyes in the 'Stranger!' One really is puzzled to say, according to the negro's logic, whether Mrs. Haller is more like the Dean of St. Patrick's, or the Dean more like Mrs. Haller. Anyhow, the likeness is prodigious, if it is not quite reciprocal. The other terminus of the comparison is Wieland. Now there is some shadow of a resemblance there. For Wieland had a touch of the comico-cynical in his nature; and it is notorious that he was often called the German Voltaire, which argues some tiger-monkey grin that traversed his features at intervals. Wieland's malice, however, was far more playful and genial than Swift's; something of this is shown in his romance of 'Idris,' and oftentimes in his prose. But what the world knows Wieland by is his 'Oberon.' Now in this gay, musical romance of Sir Huon and his enchanted horn, with its gleams of voluptuousness, is there a possibility that any suggestion of a scowling face like Swift's should cross the festal scenes?

From Swift the scene changes to Addison and Steele. Steele is of less importance; for, though a man of greater intellectual activity [4] than Addison, he had far less of genius. So I turn him out, as one would turn out upon a heath a ram that had missed his way into one's tulip preserve; requesting him to fight for himself against Schlosser, or others that may molest him. But, so far as concerns Addison, I am happy to support the character of Schlosser for consistency, by assuring the reader that, of all the monstrosities uttered by any man upon Addison, and of all the monstrosities uttered by Schlosser upon any man, a thing which he says about Addison is the worst. But this I reserve for a climax at the end. Schlosser really puts his best leg foremost at starting, and one thinks he's going to mend; for he catches a truth, viz., the following—that all the brilliances of the Queen Anne period (which so many inconsiderate people have called the Augustan age of our literature) 'point to this— that the reading public wished to be entertained, not roused to think; to be gently moved, not deeply excited.' Undoubtedly what strikes a man in Addison, or will strike him when indicated, is the coyness and timidity, almost the girlish shame, which he betrays in the presence of all the elementary majesties belonging to impassioned or idealized nature. Like one bred in crowded cities, when first left alone in forests or amongst mountains, he is frightened at their silence, their solitude, their magnitude of form, or their frowning glooms. It has been remarked by others that Addison and his companions never rise to the idea of addressing the 'nation' or the 'people;' it is always the 'town.' Even their audience was conceived of by them under a limited form. Yet for this they had some excuse in the state of facts. A man would like at this moment to assume that Europe and Asia were listening to him; and as some few copies of his book do really go to Paris and Naples, some to Calcutta, there is a sort of legal fiction that such an assumption is steadily taking root. Yet, unhappily, that ugly barrier of languages interferes. Schamyl, the Circassian chief, though much of a savage, is not so wanting in taste and discernment as to be backward in reading any book of yours or mine. Doubtless he yearns to read it. But then, you see, that infernal Tchirkass language steps between our book, the darling, and him, the discerning reader. Now, just such a barrier existed for the Spectator in the travelling arrangements of England. The very few old heavies that had begun to creep along three or four main roads, depended so much on wind and weather, their chances of foundering were so uncalculated, their periods of revolution were so cometary and uncertain, that no body of scientific observations had yet been collected to warrant a prudent man in risking a heavy bale of goods; and, on the whole, even for York, Norwich, or Winchester, a consignment of 'Specs' was not quite a safe spec. Still, I could have told the Spectator who was anxious to make money, where he might have been sure of a distant sale, though returns would have been slow, viz., at Oxford and Cambridge. We know from Milton that old Hobson delivered his parcels pretty regularly eighty years before 1710. And, one generation before that, it is plain, by the interesting (though somewhat Jacobinical) letters [5] of Joseph Mede, the commenter on the Apocalypse, that news and politics of one kind or other (and scandal of every kind) found out for themselves a sort of contraband lungs to breathe through between London and Cambridge; not quite so regular in their systole and diastole as the tides of ebb and flood, but better than nothing. If you consigned a packet into the proper hands on the 1st of May, 'as sure as death' to speak Scottice, it would be delivered within sixty miles of the capital before mid-summer. Still there were delays; and these forced a man into carving his world out of London. That excuses the word town.

Inexcusable, however, were many other forms of expression in those days, which argued cowardly feelings. One would like to see a searching investigation into the state of society in Anne's days—its extreme artificiality, its sheepish reserve upon all the impassioned grandeurs, its shameless outrages upon all the decencies of human nature. Certain it is, that Addison (because everybody) was in that meanest of conditions which blushes at any expression of sympathy with the lovely, the noble, or the impassioned. The wretches were ashamed of their own nature, and perhaps with reason; for in their own denaturalized hearts they read only a degraded nature. Addison, in particular, shrank from every bold and every profound expression as from an offence against good taste. He durst not for his life have used the word 'passion' except in the vulgar sense of an angry paroxysm. He durst as soon have danced a hornpipe on the top of the 'monument' as have talked of a 'rapturous emotion.' What would he have said? Why, 'sentiments that were of a nature to prove agreeable after an unusual rate.' In their odious verses, the creatures of that age talk of love as something that 'burns' them. You suppose at first that they are discoursing of tallow candles, though you cannot imagine by what impertinence they address you, that are no tallow-chandler, upon such painful subjects. And, when they apostrophize the woman of their heart (for you are to understand that they pretend to such an organ), they beseech her to 'ease their pain.' Can human meanness descend lower? As if the man, being ill from pleurisy, therefore had a right to take a lady for one of the dressers in an hospital, whose duty it would be to fix a burgundy-pitch plaster between his shoulders. Ah, the monsters! Then to read of their Phillises and Strephons, and Chloes, and Corydons—names that, by their very non-reality amongst names of flesh and blood, proclaim the fantasticalness of the life with which they are poetically connected— it throws me into such convulsions of rage, that I move to the window, and (without thinking what I am about) throwing it up, calling, 'Police! police!' What's that for? What can the police do in the business? Why, certainly nothing. What I meant in my dream was, perhaps [but one forgets what one meant upon recovering one's temper], that the police should take Strephon and Corydon into custody, whom I fancied at the other end of the room. And really the justifiable fury, that arises upon recalling such abominable attempts at bucolic sentiments in such abominable language, sometimes transports me into a luxurious vision sinking back through one hundred and thirty years, in which I see Addison, Phillips, both John and Ambrose, Tickell, Fickell, Budgell, and Cudgell, with many others beside, all cudgelled in a round robin, none claiming precedency of another, none able to shrink from his own dividend, until a voice seems to recall me to milder thoughts by saying, 'But surely, my friend, you never could wish to see Addison cudgelled? Let Strephon and Corydon be cudgelled without end, if the police can show any warrant for doing it But Addison was a man of great genius.' True, he was so. I recollect it suddenly, and will back out of any angry things that I have been misled into saying by Schlosser, who, by-the-bye, was right, after all, for a wonder.

But now I will turn my whole fury in vengeance upon Schlosser. And, looking round for a stone to throw at him, I observe this. Addison could not be so entirely careless of exciting the public to think and feel, as Schlosser pretends, when he took so much pains to inoculate that public with a sense of the Miltonic grandeur. The 'Paradise Lost' had then been published barely forty years, which was nothing in an age without reviews; the editions were still scanty; and though no Addison could eventually promote, for the instant he quickened, the circulation. If I recollect, Tonson's accurate revision of the text followed immediately upon Addison's papers. And it is certain that Addison [6] must have diffused the knowledge of Milton upon the continent, from signs that soon followed. But does not this prove that I myself have been in the wrong as well as Schlosser? No: that's impossible. Schlosser's always in the wrong; but it's the next thing to an impossibility that I should be detected in an error: philosophically speaking, it is supposed to involve a contradiction. 'But surely I said the very same thing as Schlosser by assenting to what he said.' Maybe I did: but then I have time to make a distinction, because my article is not yet finished; we are only at page six or seven; whereas Schlosser can't make any distinction now, because his book's printed; and his list of errata (which is shocking though he does not confess to the thousandth part), is actually published. My distinction is—that, though Addison generally hated the impassioned, and shrank from it as from a fearful thing, yet this was when it combined with forms of life and fleshy realities (as in dramatic works), but not when it combined with elder forms of eternal abstractions. Hence, he did not read, and did not like Shakspeare; the music was here too rapid and life-like: but he sympathized profoundly with the solemn cathedral chanting of Milton. An appeal to his sympathies which exacted quick changes in those sympathies he could not meet, but a more stationary key of solemnity he could. Indeed, this difference is illustrated daily. A long list can be cited of passages in Shakspeare, which have been solemnly denounced by many eminent men (all blockheads) as ridiculous: and if a man does find a passage in a tragedy that displeases him, it is sure to seem ludicrous: witness the indecent exposures of themselves made by Voltaire, La Harpe, and many billions beside of bilious people. Whereas, of all the shameful people (equally billions and not less bilious) that have presumed to quarrel with Milton, not one has thought him ludicrous, but only dull and somnolent. In 'Lear' and in 'Hamlet,' as in a human face agitated by passion, are many things that tremble on the brink of the ludicrous to an observer endowed with small range of sympathy or intellect. But no man ever found the starry heavens ludicrous, though many find them dull, and prefer a near view of a brandy flask. So in the solemn wheelings of the Miltonic movement, Addison could find a sincere delight. But the sublimities of earthly misery and of human frenzy were for him a book sealed. Beside all which, Milton, renewed the types of Grecian beauty as to form, whilst Shakspeare, without designing at all to contradict these types, did so, in effect, by his fidelity to a new nature, radiating from a Gothic centre.

In the midst, however, of much just feeling, which one could only wish a little deeper, in the Addisonian papers on 'Paradise Lost,' there are some gross blunders of criticism, as there are in Dr. Johnson, and from the self-same cause—an understanding suddenly palsied from defective passion, A feeble capacity of passion must, upon a question of passion, constitute a feeble range of intellect. But, after all, the worst thing uttered by Addison in these papers is, not against Milton, but meant to be complimentary. Towards enhancing the splendor of the great poem, he tells us that it is a Grecian palace as to amplitude, symmetry, and architectural skill: but being in the English language, it is to be regarded as if built in brick; whereas, had it been so happy as to be written in Greek, then it would have been a palace built in Parian marble. Indeed! that's smart—'that's handsome, I calculate.' Yet, before a man undertakes to sell his mother-tongue, as old pewter trucked against gold, he should be quite sure of his own metallurgic skill; because else, the gold may happen to be copper, and the pewter to be silver. Are you quite sure, my Addison, that you have understood the powers of this language which you toss away so lightly, as an old tea-kettle? Is it a ruled case that you have exhausted its resources? Nobody doubts your grace in a certain line of composition, but it is only one line among many, and it is far from being amongst the highest. It is dangerous, without examination, to sell even old kettles; misers conceal old stockings filled with guineas in old tea-kettles; and we all know that Aladdin's servant, by exchanging an old lamp for a new one, caused an Iliad of calamities: his master's palace jumped from Bagdad to some place on the road to Ashantee; Mrs. Aladdin and the piccaninies were carried off as inside passengers; and Aladdin himself only escaped being lagged, for a rogue and a conjuror, by a flying jump after his palace. Now, mark the folly of man. Most of the people I am going to mention subscribed, generally, to the supreme excellence of Milton; but each wished for a little change to be made— which, and which only was wanted to perfection. Dr. Johnson, though he pretended to be satisfied with the 'Paradise Lost,' even in what he regarded as the undress of blank verse, still secretly wished it in rhyme. That's No. 1. Addison, though quite content with it in English, still could have wished it in Greek. That's No. 2. Bentley, though admiring the blind old poet in the highest degree, still observed, smilingly, that after all he was blind; he, therefore, slashing Dick, could have wished that the great man had always been surrounded by honest people; but, as that was not to be, he could have wished that his amanuensis has been hanged; but, as that also had become impossible, he could wish to do execution upon him in effigy, by sinking, burning, and destroying his handywork—upon which basis of posthumous justice, he proceeded to amputate all the finest passages in the poem. Slashing Dick was No. 3. Payne Knight was a severer man even than slashing Dick; he professed to look upon the first book of 'Paradise Lost' as the finest thing that earth had to show; but, for that very reason, he could have wished, by your leave, to see the other eleven books sawed off, and sent overboard; because, though tolerable perhaps in another situation, they really were a national disgrace, when standing behind that unrivalled portico of book 1. There goes No. 4. Then came a fellow, whose name was either not on his title page, or I have forgotten it, that pronounced the poem to be laudable, and full of good materials; but still he could have wished that the materials had been put together in a more workmanlike manner; which kind office he set about himself. He made a general clearance of all lumber: the expression of every thought he entirely re-cast: and he fitted up the metre with beautiful patent rhymes; not, I believe, out of any consideration for Dr. Johnson's comfort, but on principles of mere abstract decency: as it was, the poem seemed naked, and yet was not ashamed. There went No. 5. Him succeeded a droller fellow than any of the rest. A French book-seller had caused a prose French translation to be made of the 'Paradise Lost,' without particularly noticing its English origin, or at least not in the title page. Our friend, No. 6, getting hold of this as an original French romance, translated it back into English prose, as a satisfactory novel for the season. His little mistake was at length discovered, and communicated to him with shouts of laughter; on which, after considerable kicking and plunging (for a man cannot but turn restive when he finds that he has not only got the wrong sow by the ear, but actually sold the sow to a bookseller), the poor translator was tamed into sulkiness; in which state ho observed that he could have wished his own work, being evidently so much superior to the earliest form of the romance, might be admitted by the courtesy of England to take the precedency as the original 'Paradise Lost,' and to supersede the very rude performance of 'Milton, Mr. John.' [7]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse