Farming had, of course, to engage his attention as well as love-making, but he was less successful in the one than in the other. The first year of Mossgiel, from buying bad seed, the second from a late harvest, he lost half his crops. In these circumstances, he thought of proceeding to the West Indies. Presently he had further cause for contemplating an escape from his native land. Among his "flames" was one Jean Armour, the daughter of a mason in Mauchline, where she was the reigning toast. Jean found herself "as ladies wish to be that love their lords." Burns's worldly circumstances were in a most miserable state when he was informed of her condition, and he was staggered. He saw nothing for it but to fly the country at once.
Meanwhile, meeting Jean, he yielded to her tears, and gave her a written acknowledgment of marriage, valid according to Scottish law. Her father's wrath was not appeased thereby. Burns, confessing himself unequal to the support of a family, proposed to go immediately to Jamaica in search of better fortunes. He offered, if this were rejected, to abandon his farm, already a hopeless concern, and earn at least bread for his wife and children as a day labourer at home. But nothing would satisfy Armour, who, in his indignation, made his daughter destroy the written evidence of her "marriage."
III.—Burns at His Zenith
Such was his poverty that he could not satisfy the parish officers; and the only alternative that presented itself to him was America or a gaol. A situation was obtained for him in Jamaica, but he had no money to pay his passage. It occurred to him that the money might be raised by publishing his poems; and a first edition, printed at Kilmarnock in 1786, brought him nearly L20, out of which he paid for a steerage passage from the Clyde. "My chest was on the road to Greenock," he tells; "I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia, 'The gloomy night is gathering fast,' when a letter from Dr. Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition."
Blacklock, the blind divine upon whom Johnson "looked with reverence," had read the newly published poems, and it was his praise of them that directly prevented Burns from expatriating himself. "His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh fired me so much that away I posted for that city, without a single acquaintance, or a single letter of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influence in my zenith for once made a revolution to the nadir." In Edinburgh, which Burns reached in November, 1786, he was introduced by Blacklock to all the literati, and within a fortnight he was writing to a friend: "I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a Kempis or John Bunyan; and you may expect to see my birthday inscribed among the wonderful events in the Poor Robin and Aberdeen Almanacks, along with the Black Monday and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge."
But he bore his honours in a manner worthy of himself. "The attentions he received," says Dugald Stewart, "from all ranks and descriptions of persons were such as would have turned any head but his own. I cannot say that I could perceive any unfavourable effect which they left on his mind." Scott, then a lad of fifteen, met him, and wrote a vivid description of his appearance:
"His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect, perhaps, from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth's picture, but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school—i.e., none of your modern agriculturists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, which glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. He was like a farmer dressed in his best to dine with the laird. I do not speak in malam partem when I say I never saw a man in company with his superiors in station and information more perfectly free from either the reality or the affectation of embarrassment. I was told that his address to females was extremely deferential, and always with a turn either to the pathetic or humorous, which engaged their attention particularly. I have heard the late Duchess of Gordon remark this."
It needs no effort of imagination to conceive what the sensations of an isolated set of scholars, almost all either clergymen or professors, must have been in the presence of this big-boned, brawny stranger, with his great flashing eyes, who had forced his way among them from the plough-tail at a single stride; and it will always be a reflection in their honour that they suffered no pedantic prejudices to interfere with their reception of the poet.
Shortly after his arrival he arranged with Creech, the chief bookseller in Edinburgh, to undertake a second edition of his poems. This was published in March, 1787, the subscribers numbering over 1,500. Out of money thus derived, he provided a tombstone for the neglected grave of Robert Fergusson, his "elder brother in the muses," in the Canongate churchyard. Then he decided to visit some of the classic scenes of Scottish history and romance. He had as yet seen but a small part of his own country, and this by no means among the most interesting, until, indeed, his own poetry made it equal, on that score, to any other. Various tours were, in fact, undertaken, the chief being, however, in the Border district and in the Highlands. Usually he returned to Edinburgh, partly to be near his jovial intimates, and partly because, after the excitement attending his first appearance in the capital, he found himself incapable of settling down contentedly in the humble circle at Mossgiel.
IV.—The Clarinda Romance
During the winter of 1787—1788, he had a little romance with Mrs. McLehose, the beautiful widow to whom he addressed the song, "Clarinda, mistress of my soul," and a series of letters which present more instances of bad taste, bombastic language, and fulsome sentiment than could be produced from all his writings besides. It was the same lady who inspired the lines which furnished Byron with a motto, and Scott declared to be "worth a thousand romances ":
Had we never loved so kindly Had we never loved sae blindly, Never met—or never parted, We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
At this time the publication of Johnson's "Scots Musical Museum" was going on in Edinburgh; and Burns, being enlisted as a contributor, furnished many of his best songs to that work. From his youth upwards he had been an enthusiastic lover of the old minstrelsy and music of his country; but he now studied both subjects with better opportunities and appliances than he could have commanded previously; and it is from this time that we must date his ambition to transmit his own poetry to posterity, in eternal association with those exquisite airs which had hitherto, in far too many instances, been married to verses that did not deserve to be immortal. Later, beginning in 1792, he wrote about sixty songs for George Thomson's collection, many of which, like "Auld Lang Syne" and "Scots Wha Hae," are in the front rank of popularity. The letters he addressed to Thomson are full of interesting detail of various kinds. In one he writes:
"Until I am complete master of a tune in my own singing, such as it is, I can never compose for it. My way is this. I consider the poetic sentiment correspondent to my idea of the musical expression—then choose my theme—compose one stanza. When that is composed, which is generally the most difficult part of the business, I walk out, sit down now and then, look out for objects in Nature round me that are in unison or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom, humming every now and then the air, with the verses I have framed. When I feel my muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of my study, and there commit my effusions to paper; swinging at intervals on the hind legs of my elbow-chair, by way of calling forth my own critical strictures, as my pen goes. Seriously this, at home, is almost invariably my way."
But to return. During his second winter in Edinburgh, Burns met with a hackney coach accident which kept him to the house for six weeks. While in this state he learned from Mauchline that his intimacy with Jean Armour had again exposed her to the reproaches of her family. The father sternly turned her out of doors, and Burns had to arrange about a shelter for her and his children in a friend's house. In the meantime, through the influence of some sympathisers, he had been appointed an officer of excise. "I have chosen this," he wrote, "after mature deliberation. It is immediate bread, and, though poor in comparison of the last eighteen months of my existence, 'tis luxury in comparison of all my preceding life." However, when he settled finally with Creech about his poems, he found himself with between L500 and L600; and he retained his excise commission as a dernier ressort, to be used only if a reverse of fortune rendered it necessary.
He decided now to exchange Mossgiel for Ellisland farm, about six miles from Dumfries. As soon as he was able to leave Edinburgh, he had hurried to Mossgiel and gone through a justice-of-peace marriage with Jean Armour. Burns, with all his faults, was an honest and a high-spirited man, and he loved the mother of his children. Had he hesitated to make her his wife, he must have sunk into the callousness of a ruffian, or that misery of miseries, the remorse of a poet.
Some months later he writes that his marriage "was not, perhaps, in consequence of the attachment of romance, but I have no cause to repent it. If I have not got polite tattle, modish manners, and fashionable dress, I am not sickened and disgusted with the multiform curse of boarding-school affectation; and I have got the handsomest figure, the sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and the kindest heart in the country." It was during the honeymoon, as he calls it, that he wrote the beautiful "O a' the airts the wind can blaw." He used to say that the happiest period of his life was the first winter at Ellisland, with wife and children around him. It was then that he wrote, among other songs, "John Anderson, my Jo," "Tarn Glen," "My heart's in the Highlands," "Go fetch to me a pint of wine," and "Willie brewed a peck o' maut."
But the "golden days" of Ellisland were short. Burns's farming speculations once more failed, and he had to take up his excise commission. "I am now," says he, "a poor rascally gauger, condemned to gallop two hundred miles every week to inspect dirty ponds and yeasty barrels." Both in prose and verse he has recorded the feelings with which he first followed his new vocation, and his jests on the subject are uniformly bitter. It was a vocation which exposed him to temptations of the kind he was least likely to resist. His extraordinary conversational powers led him into peril wherever he went. If he entered an inn at midnight, after all the inmates were in bed, the news of his arrival circulated from the cellar to the garret; and ere ten minutes had elapsed, the landlord and all his guests were assembled round the ingle; the largest punch-bowl was produced; and "Be ours this night—who knows what comes to-morrow?" was the language of every eye in the circle that welcomed him.
At home, too, lion-gazers from all quarters beset him; they ate and drank at his cost, and often went away to criticise him and his fare, as if they had done Burns and his black bowl great honour in condescending to be entertained for a single evening with such company. Among others who called on him was Captain Grose, the antiquary, and it is to this acquaintance that we owe "Tam o' Shanter," which Burns believed to be the best of all his productions.
V.—Closing Years of the Poet's Life
Towards the close of 1791 he gave up his farm, and procuring an excise appointment to the Dumfries division, removed to the county town. His moral course from this time was downwards. "In Dumfries," says Heron, speaking from personal knowledge, "his dissipation became still more deeply habitual. He was here exposed more than in the country to be solicited to share the riot of the dissolute and idle." His intemperance was, as Heron says, in fits; his aberrations were occasional, not systematic; they were all to himself the sources of exquisite misery in the retrospect; they were the aberrations of a man whose moral sense was never deadened, of one who encountered more temptations from without and from within than the immense majority of mankind, far from having to contend against, are even able to imagine; of one, finally, who prayed for pardon, where alone effectual pardon could be found.
In how far the "thoughtless follies" of the poet did actually hasten his end, it is needless to conjecture. They had their share, unquestionably, along with other influences which it would be inhuman to characterise as mere follies. In these closing years of his life he had to struggle constantly with pecuniary difficulties, than which nothing could have been more likely to pour bitterness intolerable into the cup of his existence. His lively imagination exaggerated to itself every real evil; and this among, and perhaps above, all the rest; at least, in many of his letters we find him alluding to the probability of his being arrested for debts, which we now know to have been of very trivial amount.
In 1795 he was greatly upset by the death, in his absence, of his youngest child. Writing in January, 1796, he says: "I had scarcely begun to recover from that shock, when I became myself the victim of a most severe rheumatic fever, and long the die spun doubtful, until, after many weeks of a sick-bed, it seems to have turned up life, and I am beginning to crawl across my room, and once indeed have been before my own door in the street."
But a few days after this Burns was so imprudent as to join a festive circle at a tavern dinner, where he remained till about three in the morning. The weather was severe, and he, being too much intoxicated, took no precaution in thus exposing his debilitated frame to its influence. It has been said that he fell asleep upon the snow on his way home. The result was an acute return of his rheumatism, and his health gradually got worse. He went to the Solway for sea-bathing, but came back to Dumfries "visibly changed in his looks, being with difficulty able to stand upright and reach his own door."
It soon became known that he was dying, and the anxiety, not of the rich and the learned only, but of the mechanics and peasants, exceeded all belief. Wherever two or three people stood together their talk was solely of Burns. His good humour was unruffled, and his wit never forsook him; but he repressed with a smile the hopes of his friends, and told them he had lived long enough. The fever increased, and his strength diminished, and he died on July 21, 1796. His funeral, attended by ten or twelve thousand people, was an impressive and mournful sight. The grave was at first covered by a plain tombstone; but a costly mausoleum was subsequently erected on the most elevated site which the churchyard presented. Thither the remains of the poet were solemnly transferred on June 5, 1815.
It requires a graver audacity of hypocrisy than falls to the share of most men to declaim against Burns's sensibility to the tangible cares and toils of his earthly condition; there are more who venture on broad denunciations of his sympathy with the joys of sense and passion.
That some men in every age will comfort themselves in the practice of certain vices, by reference to particular passages both in the history and in the poetry of Burns, there is all reason to fear; but surely the general influence of both is calculated, and has been found, to produce far different effects. The universal popularity which his writings have all along enjoyed among one of the most virtuous of nations is of itself a decisive circumstance.
On one point there can be no controversy; the poetry of Burns has had most powerful influence in reviving and strengthening the national feelings of his countrymen. Amidst penury and labour his youth fed on the old minstrelsy and traditional glories of his nation, and his genius divined that what he felt so deeply must belong to a spirit that might lie smothered around him, but could not be extinguished. Burns "knew his own worth, and reverenced the lyre." But he ever announced himself, as a peasant, the representative of his class, the painter of their manners, inspired by the same influences which ruled their bosoms; and whosoever sympathised with his verse had his soul opened for the moment to the whole family of man.
Short and painful as were his years, Burns has left behind him a volume in which there is inspiration for every fancy and music for every mood; which lives, and will live in strength and vigour, "to soothe," as a generous lover of genius has said, "the sorrows of how many a lover, to inflame the patriotism of how many a soldier, to fan the fires of how many a genius, to disperse the gloom of solitude, appease the agonies of pain, encourage virtue, and show vice its ugliness." In this volume, centuries hence as now, wherever a Scotsman may wander he will find the dearest consolation of his exile.
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Martin Luther, "the monk who shook the world," was born Nov. 10, 1483, at Eisleben, in Germany. In 1507 he was ordained a priest, and became popular almost immediately as a preacher. A visit to Rome shocked him, and in revolt against the practice of raising money by the sale of indulgences, he began his career as a reformer. In 1518 he was summoned to Rome to answer for his opinions, which now included a total denial of the right of the Pope to forgive sins. He proceeded to attack the whole doctrinal system of the Roman Catholic Church. For this he was denounced in a papal bull and his writings were condemned to be burned. In 1525 he married an escaped nun. That Luther was a true child of his age may be seen in the selections made from his "Table Talk." His shrewdness, humour, plain bold speech, and his change of belief from an infallible Church to an infallible Bible there appear, as also do his narrowness of knowledge, asperity of temper, and susceptibility to superstition. He must be judged by the mind of his times, not by modern standards. We give some of his strong opinions that have not borne the wear and tear of later ages; but they are more than balanced by teaching what is beautiful, as well as true. Luther died on February 18, 1546.
God's Word and Book
That the Bible is God's word and book I prove thus. Infinite potentates have raged against it, and sought to destroy and uproot it—King Alexander the Great, the princes of Egypt and Babylon, the monarchs of Persia, of Greece, and of Rome, the Emperors Julius and Augustus—but they nothing prevailed; they are all gone and vanished, while the book remains and will remain. Who has thus helped it? Who has thus protected it against such mighty forces? No one, surely, but God Himself, who is the Master of all things.
The Holy Scriptures are full of divine gifts and virtues. The books of the heathen taught nothing of faith, hope, or charity; they present no idea of these things; they contemplate only the present, and that which man, with the use of his material reason, can grasp and comprehend. Look not therein for aught of hope and trust in God. But see how the Psalms and the Book of Job treat of faith, hope, resignation, and prayer; in a word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity far otherwise than mere human reason can, and when evil oppresses us it teaches how these virtues throw light upon the darkness.
The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to the fever for writing. The Bible is now buried under so many commentaries that the text is nothing regarded. I could wish all my books were buried nine ells deep in the ground by reason of the ill example they will give. I would not have those who read my books, in these stormy times, devote one moment to them that they would otherwise have consecrated to the Bible itself.
God's Dealing with Us
How should God deal with us? Good days we cannot bear, evil we cannot endure. Gives He riches unto us—then we are proud, so that no man can live by us in peace; nay, we will be carried on heads and shoulders, and will be adored as gods. Gives He poverty to us—then are we dismayed, impatient, and murmur against Him.
God only, and not wealth, maintains the world; riches merely make people proud and lazy. Great wealth cannot still hunger, but rather occasions more dearth, for where rich people are there things are always dear. Moreover, money makes no man right merry, but much rather pensive and full of sorrow; for riches, says Christ, are thorns that prick people. Yet is the world so made that it sets therein all its joy and felicity, and we are such unthankful slovens that we give God not so much as a Deo Gratias, though we receive of Him overflowing benefits, merely out of His goodness and mercy. No man can estimate the great charge God is at only in maintaining birds and such creatures, comparatively nothing worth. I am persuaded that it costs Him yearly more to maintain only the sparrows than the revenue of the French king amounts to.
Points from "Popedom"
I much marvel that the pope extols his church at Rome as the chief, whereas the church at Jerusalem is the mother; for there Christian doctrine was first revealed. Next was the church at Antioch, whence the Christians have their name. Thirdly, was the church at Alexandria; and still before the Romish were the churches of the Galatians, of the Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians. Is it so great a matter that St. Peter was at Rome? Which, however, has never yet been proved, nor ever will be, whereas our blessed Saviour Christ Himself was at Jerusalem, where all the articles of our Christian faith were made.
Prayer in popedom is mere tongue-threshing; not prayer but a work of obedience. Hence the confused sea of howling and babbling in cells and monasteries, where they read and sing the psalms and collects without any spiritual devotion. Though I had done no more but only freed people from that torment, they might well give me thanks for it.
Kings and princes coin money only out of metals, but the pope coins money out of everything—indulgences, ceremonials, dispensations, pardons; 'tis all fish comes to his net. 'Tis only baptism escapes him, for children come into the world without clothes to be stolen or teeth to be drawn.
I will not presume to criticise too closely the writings of the fathers, seeing they are received of the church and have great applause, but whoso reads Chrysostom will find he digresses from the chief points, and proceeds on other matters, saying nothing, or very little, of that which pertains to the business. St. Jerome wrote upon Matthew, upon the Epistles to the Galatians, and Titus, but, alas, very coldly. Ambrose wrote six books upon the first book of Moses, but they are very poor.
We must read the fathers cautiously, and lay them in the gold balance, for they often stumbled and went astray. Gregory expounds the five pounds mentioned in the Gospel, which the husbandman gave to his servant to put to use, to be the five senses, which the beasts also possess. The two pounds he construes to be the reason and understanding. Faithful Christians should heed only the embassy of our blessed Saviour Christ, and what He says.
None of the fathers of the church made mention of original sin until Augustine came, who made a difference between original and actual sin, namely, that original sin is to covet, to lust, and to desire, which is the root and cause of actual sin.
Hints for Preachers
The good preacher should know when to make an end. A preacher that will speak everything that comes into his mind is like a maid that goes to market, and, meeting another maid, makes a stand, and they hold together a goose-market.
I would not have preachers in their sermons use Hebrew, Greek, or foreign languages, for in the church we ought to speak as we use to do at home, the plain mother tongue, which everyone is acquainted with. It may be allowed in courtiers, lawyers, advocates, etc., to use quaint, curious words. St. Paul never used such high and stately words as Demosthenes and Cicero used.
Ambition is the rankest poison to the church when it possesses preachers. It is a consuming fire.
When I preach I sink myself deep down. I regard neither doctors nor magistrates, of whom are here in this church above forty; but I have an eye to the multitude of young people, children, and servants, of whom are more than two thousand. I preach to those. Will not the rest hear me?
It is said Occasion has a forelock, but it is bald behind. Our Lord has taught this by the course of nature. A farmer must sow his barley and oats about Easter; if he defer it till Michaelmas it were too late. When apples are ripe they must be plucked from the tree or they are spoiled. Procrastination is as bad as over-hastiness. There is my servant Wolf, when four or five birds fall upon the bird-net he will not draw it; but says, "Oh, I will stay until more come." Then they all fly away, and he gets none.
Occasion is a great matter. Terence says well, "I came in time, which is the chief thing of all." Julius Caesar understood Occasion; Pompey and Hannibal did not. Boys at school understand it not, therefore they must have fathers and masters, with the rod, to hold them thereto, that they neglect not time and lose it. Many a young fellow has a school stipend for six or seven years, during which he ought diligently to study, but he thinks, "Oh, I have time enough yet." But I say, "No, fellow; what little Jack learns not great John learns not." Occasion salutes thee, and reaches out her forelock to thee, saying, "Here I am, take hold of me." Thou thinkest she will come again. Then says she, "Well, seeing thou wilt not take hold of my top, take hold of my tail," and therewith she flings away.
Whereto serve or profit such superfluity, such show, such ostentation, such extraordinary luxurious kind of life as is now come upon us? If Adam were to return to earth, and see our mode of living, our food, drink, and dress, how would he marvel. He would say: "Surely this is not the world I was in?" For Adam drank water, ate fruit from the trees, and, if he had any house at all, 'twas a hut supported by four wooden forks; he had no knife or iron, and he wore simply a coat of skin. Now we spend immense sums in eating and drinking, now we raise sumptuous palaces, and decorate them with a luxury beyond all comparison. The ancient Israelites lived in great moderation and quiet. Boaz says: "Dip thy bread in vinegar and refresh thyself therewith."
Ministers and Matrimony
I advise in everything that ministers interfere not in matrimonial questions. First, because we have enough to do in our own office; secondly, because these affairs concern not the church, but are temporal things, pertaining to temporal magistrates; thirdly, because such cases are in a manner innumerable; they are very high, broad, and deep, and produce many offences, which may tend to the shame and dishonour of the Gospel. Moreover, we are therein ill dealt with—they draw us into the business, and then, if the issue is evil, the blame is laid altogether upon us. Therefore, we will leave them to the lawyers and magistrates.
Philip Melancthon showing Luther a letter from Augsburg wherein he was informed that a very learned divine, a papist of that city, was converted, and had received the Gospel, Luther said, "I like best those that do not fall off suddenly, but ponder the case with considerate discretion, compare together the writing and arguments of both parties, and lay them on the gold balance, and in God's fear search after the upright truth; and of such fit people are made, able to stand in controversy. Such a man was St. Paul, who at first was a strict Pharisee and man of works, who stiffly and earnestly defended the law; but afterwards preached Christ in the best and purest manner against the whole nation of the Jews."
As all people feel they must die, each seeks immortality here on earth, that he may be had in everlasting remembrance. Some great princes and kings seek it by raising great columns of stone and high pyramids, great churches, costly and glorious palaces and castles. Soldiers hunt after praise and honour by obtaining famous victories. The learned seek an everlasting name by writing books. With these and such like things people think to be immortal. But as to the true everlasting and incorruptible honour and eternity of God, no man thinks or looks after these things.
When two goats meet on a narrow bridge over deep waters how do they behave? Neither of them can turn back again, and neither can pass the other because the bridge is too narrow. If they should thrust one another they might both fall into the water and be drowned. Nature, then, has taught them that if one lays himself down and permits the other to go over him both remain without hurt. Even so, people should endure to be trod upon rather than to fall into discord with one another.
Strong Opinions Outworn by Time
I should have no compassion on witches; I would burn all of them. We read in the old law that the priests threw the first stone at such malefactors. Our ordinary sins offend and anger God. What then must be His wrath against witchcraft, which we may justly designate high treason against divine majesty, a revolt against the infinite power of God. The maladies I suffer are not natural but devils' spells.
Luther, taking up a caterpillar, said: "'Tis an emblem of the devil in its crawling, and bears his colours in its changing hue."
The devil plagues and torments us in the place where we are most tender and weak. In Paradise he fell not upon Adam, but upon Eve. It commonly rains where it was wet enough before.
The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things.
I always loved music. A schoolmaster ought to have skill in music, or I would not regard him; neither should we ordain young men as preachers unless they have been well exercised in music.
Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth. He made several attempts to draw me into his snares, and I should have been in danger but that God lent me special aid. Erasmus was poisoned at Rome and at Venice with epicurean doctrines. His chief doctrine is that we must carry ourselves according to the time, or, as the proverb goes, hang the cloak according to the wind. I hold Erasmus to be Christ's most bitter enemy.
I never work better than when I am inspired by anger. When I am angry I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.
When the abbot throws the dice, the whole convent will play.
When men blaspheme we should pray and be silent, and not carry wood to the fire.
When Jesus Christ utters a word, He opens His mouth so wide that it embraces all heaven and earth, even though that word be but in a whisper.
When I lay sucking at my mother's breast I had no notion how I should afterwards eat, drink, and live. Even so we on the earth have no idea what the life to come will be.
The two sins, hatred and pride, deck and trim themselves out as the devil clothed himself in the Godhead. Hatred will be godlike; pride will be truth. These two are right deadly sins; hatred is killing, pride is lying.
A scorpion thinks that when his head lies hid under a leaf he cannot be seen; even so the hypocrites and false saints think, when they have hoisted up one or two good works, all their sins therewith are covered and hid.
Luther, holding a rose in his hand, said, "'Tis a magnificent work of God. Could a man make but one such rose as this he would be thought worthy of all honour, but the manifold gifts of God lose their value in our eyes from their very infinity."
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Honore Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, was born at Bignon, near Nemours, on March 9, 1749, and died at Paris on April 2, 1791. His father was a most eccentric and tyrannical representative of the French aristocracy, and Honore, a younger son, inherited something of his violent temperament, but was endowed with real genius. Entering the army, young Mirabeau soon displayed an erratic disposition by eloping with the young wife of an aged nobleman. He fled to Holland, but was captured and imprisoned. Being at length liberated, he turned to literature and politics, and soon gained celebrity in both. His magnificent oratorical powers brought him rapidly to the front in the period immediately anterior to the outbreak of the Revolution. Mirabeau's "Memoirs, by Himself, his Father, his Uncle, and his Adopted Son," published in eight volumes in 1834, contain no original writings by Mirabeau himself, except in the shape of extracts from his speeches, letters, and pamphlets. The following epitome has been prepared from the French text.
The Marquis of Mirabeau, father of Honore Gabriel, the subject of these memoirs, was endowed with a mind of great power, rendered fruitful by the best education. He had, however, become independent at too early an age, and this had brought into play his natural inordinate vanity.
Honore Gabriel, since so famous under the name of the Count of Mirabeau, was the fifth child of the marquis. Destined to be the most turbulent and active of youths, as well as the most eloquent of men and the greatest orator of his day, Gabriel was born with one foot twisted and his tongue tied, in addition to which his size and strength were extraordinary, and already two molars were formed in his jaw. At the age of three the boy nearly lost his life from small-pox, and was thus disfigured greatly for life; while the other children were, like the parents, gifted with wonderful beauty.
Young Gabriel was a most precocious child, and he received an excellent education. At the age of seven he was confirmed by a cardinal, but his childhood was difficult of control, and chastisement from his father and tutor was continual. His inquisitiveness was irrepressible. He relates that at the family supper after his confirmation, "they explained to me that God could not make contradictions—for instance, a stick with only one end. I asked whether a stick which had but one end was not a miracle. My grandmother never forgave me."
Placed under the kindly teaching of the Abbe Choquart in a military school of high repute in Paris, Gabriel made marvellously rapid progress, assiduously exercising his memory, which afterwards became a prodigious repository of the most diversified knowledge.
On July 10, 1767, Gabriel entered the army, joining the Marquis of Lambert's regiment. The young volunteer, who was now eighteen, behaved well, and speedily gave evidence of the military talents he afterwards displayed. But a quarrel arose over a love affair, which led to harsh punishment by his colonel. The incident was bitterly resented by his father, who condemned him without hearing his side of the matter, and actually procured his imprisonment in the fortress of the Isle of Rhe.
When the young soldier came out of prison he unwittingly offended an officer at Rochelle, who had been dismissed the service. The result was a duel, in which the aggressor was wounded. Gabriel was appointed to service in Corsica, with the rank of second-lieutenant, and here he distinguished himself by his zeal, his military talents, and his constant application.
Young Mirabeau was, in September, 1770, transferred to Limousin, in west Central France. Such was his energy that he was called "the hurricane." Now began a series of troubles caused by bitter quarrels between his parents, who were openly at variance. Each sought to gain an adherent in their son, who was condemned to witness the wickedness and folly of both in their ungovernable passion. The effect on the character of the young count was deplorable.
Then ensued a singular episode. The marquis had determined that Gabriel should marry before the age of twenty-three, and had fixed on Mary Emily de Covet, only daughter of the Marquis de Marignane, eighteen years of age, for his son's bride. She was plain, yet attractive, with a sweet smile, fine eyes, and beautiful hair, and was gay, lively, sensible, mild, and very amiable. Having been neglected by her father and ill-treated by her mother, she showed no disinclination to marriage, and in 1772 young Mirabeau obtained the hand of the wealthy heiress.
No sooner was the young count married than every attempt was made to ruin him. He received no property with his bride, and his avaricious father refused to advance him any money for necessary expenses. His father-in-law offered to lend him 60,000 livres, but his father's consent was indispensable, and this was sternly refused. Mirabeau, harassed by creditors, was dragged into lawsuits, and his embarrassments only set his father entirely against him. The marquis actually procured a lettre de cachet, obliging his son to leave the home he had set up, and to confine himself to the little town of Manosque.
Here domestic sorrow and the most painful circumstances assailed the young exile. But these did not prevent him from pursuing serious studies and composing his first work, the "Essay on Despotism." Misfortunes accumulated. Chastising with a horsewhip a baron who grossly insulted him, the count was again imprisoned, this time in the Chateau d'If, a gloomy citadel on a barren rock near Marseilles.
On May 25, 1770, Mirabeau was transferred to the Castle of Joux, near Pontarlier, where, on June 11, 1775, festivities were held, as at other places, to honour the coronation of Louis XVI. Here Mirabeau enjoyed a sort of half freedom, being allowed to visit in Pontarlier, and the event ensued which, it must sorrowfully be owned, tarnished his name. In a word, we see Mirabeau "ruin himself," by a fatal intimacy with the young wife of the aged Marquis of Monnier. The two fled to Dijon, where Mirabeau surrendered himself at the castle.
He was released after a short time and went on to Geneva, nearly perishing in a storm on the lake. Returning to Pontarlier, he was joined by Sophie Monnier, and the two left for Holland, and arrived at Amsterdam on October 7, 1776. Mirabeau was naturally obliged to draw his principal means of subsistence from his literary labours, and this, perhaps, had been his motive for choosing Holland as his residence, for at that period the Dutch booksellers entered largely into literary speculations.
Mirabeau and Sophie Monnier were arrested at Amsterdam on May 14, 1777. Both were brought to France. She was placed in a convent at Monilmontant, and Mirabeau was deposited on June 7 in the donjon of Vincennes, and was subjected to every sort of privation, remaining in confinement for forty-two months. His release marked the end of his private life; his public and political life was about to begin.
II.—Into Political Life
The "Essay on Despotism" had been the first sign of Mirabeau's political vocation, and the most singular instance, perhaps, of a war audaciously declared against despotism by a young man bearing its yoke. The keynote is that though the natural man may not be inclined to despotism, the social man assuredly is disposed to be a despot. This spirit, maintains Mirabeau, exists even in republics.
In 1784 Mirabeau visited England. One of his motives was to collect materials for his "Considerations on the Order of Cincinnatus," a treatise dealing with Washington and American independence. He was greatly delighted with English scenery. "It is here," he says, "that nature is improved, not forced. All tells me that here the people are something; that every man enjoys the development and free exercise of his faculties, and that I am in another order of things."
But he proceeds: "I am not an enthusiast in favour of England, and I now know sufficient of that country to tell you that if its constitution is the best known, the application of this constitution is the worst possible; and that if the Englishman is as a social man the most free in the world, the English people are the least free of any."
He resided in England from August to February, 1785. During that brief period he began to write his "History of Geneva," and he showed his versatility by composing for a young refugee clergyman a sermon on the immortality of the soul. By the gift of this sermon he drew the exiled preacher from poverty, for it was the means of obtaining for him a lucrative appointment.
Mirabeau sent forth from Paris several most able pamphlets on banking and on share companies. These were written with energy and often with violence. As they attacked many private interests they aroused against their author much hatred, insult, and calumny. He was accused of venality, though he was attacking and driving to despair powerful stock-jobbers, who would have paid him magnificently for silence, could he have been bought.
In July, 1785, Mirabeau went to Berlin. It is a singular fact that in his various journeys some accident always befel him. On the way to Berlin an attempt was made to assassinate him by some unknown enemies, but he safely reached the German capital. King Frederick the Great, now very aged, no longer received foreigners, yet he replied to a letter from Mirabeau and fixed a day for seeing him at Potsdam.
Mirabeau informed the king that he had come to seek permission to study the great military manoeuvres, and that he hoped to push on to Russia. During this period he worked like a labourer all day at his writings. Part of his time he spent at supper parties of the most tiresome etiquette. The same laborious habits attended him everywhere, in prison and in freedom, in his own country and in other lands. It was in Germany that he conceived the idea of his treatise on "The Reform of the Jews," which is acknowledged to be one of his best works.
Frederick the Great died on August 17, 1786. Feeling that he could do nothing useful, Mirabeau resolved at the close of 1786 to quit Berlin. He was urged also by a special motive in which he took pride, and which he thus described in a letter: "My heart has not grown old, and if my enthusiasm is damped, it is not extinguished. I have fully experienced this to-day. I consider one of the best days of my life that on which I received an account of the convocation of the notables, which no doubt will not long precede that of the National Assembly. In this I see a new order of things which may regenerate the monarchy. I should deem myself a thousand times honoured in being even the junior secretary of this assembly, of which I had the happiness of giving the first idea."
Mirabeau was prodigiously occupied at Berlin. He often did not retire to rest till one in the morning, but regularly rose at five, even in the midst of severe winter. Without anything on but a simple quilted dressing-gown, without stockings or waistcoat, he worked away without even calling up his servant to light a fire. Besides his correspondence in cypher, which occupied him much, he worked assiduously at his "Prussian Monarchy," which was published in 1788.
On departing from Berlin the count wrote a most eloquent letter of counsel to King Frederick William, appealing to him to cultivate peace, reminding him that his illustrious predecessor had conquered the admiration of mankind but never won their love, commending him not to extend the direct action of the royal power to matters which did not require it, advising him not to govern too much, and exhorting him to abolish military slavery; that is to say, the obligation then imposed on every Prussian to serve as a soldier from the age of eighteen to sixty or more, which forced men to go to the battle-field like cattle to the slaughterhouse.
In the same remarkable document Mirabeau raises his voice against the harsh laws which arbitrarily deprived Prussians of freedom to leave the country. The tyrannical prohibition of emigration excited his vehement protest, and he proceeded also to denounce to the new king the right of seizing the property of deceased foreigners, and demanded for burghers the freedom of purchasing the estates of nobles. He urged Frederick William to abolish the prerogatives claimed by nobles and the helotism of all who were not noble, and suggested that judges should be appointed for life and justice rendered free of expense.
III.—For King and People
It was chiefly the meeting of the notables which had hastened Mirabeau's return to Paris. He felt that his proper place was in the centre of the great events announced and begun by this convocation. After the undignified and inglorious prodigality of the previous reign, which had laid the foundation of serious financial vicissitudes, the young King Louis XVI. had brought with him to the throne the private virtues of a good and honest man, but not the qualities of a sovereign.
Though economic to excess himself, he nevertheless suffered to exist and even to increase around him those dilapidations which at last ruined the resources of the state. He had no confidence in himself, and Mirabeau respectfully reproached him with his fatal timidity. Nothing was done either to increase revenue or diminish expenditure.
The possessors of privilege and representatives of personal interest, the courtiers, the great lords, and the parliaments strenuously resisted all reforms and then drove from office the best intentioned, the most virtuous, and the ablest ministers whom the young king, in the sincerity of his patriotism, had chosen on his accession, in deference to public feeling. Among these ministers were Malesherbes, Turgot, Necker, and Calonne.
Mirabeau returned to Paris on January 27, 1787. He at once published that famous "Address to the Notables," in which he denounced the whole corrupt system of finance and in which he demanded local provincial administrations. This and his "Denunciation of Stock-jobbing" made great impression on the public mind.
Nevertheless, the "Denunciation" displeased the government, and the author was much persecuted. He learned that he was to be arrested and sent, not to the Bastille, but to a remote provincial fortress, where he would have been lost to public notice. So he escaped from Paris to Liege, whence he again attacked the administration of Calonne and the policy of Necker, declaring that loans should have been effected on methods less onerous for the state.
His exile from Paris was of brief duration, for friends intervened. But Mirabeau returned only to renew and intensify his attacks. He remained, however, only for a short time, for on May 24, 1787, he set out on a third journey to Prussia, in order to complete his great work on the "Prussian Monarchy." Returning to France, he reached Paris in September. Five months had elapsed since the assembling of the notables. The eloquent Leominie de Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, had been the most brilliant figure in the conclave. The first assembly broke up on July 27, 1787. Though gathered by the privileged orders, patriotism had raised its voice within it, and the archbishop, as prime minister, had failed to direct the new current aright.
Mirabeau disapproved of what had taken place in his absence, and declined to be employed by the administration, but he offered to undertake any foreign mission in the exercise of the king to which he might be appointed. The application was unsuccessful. The crisis approached nearer and nearer. Archbishop Brienne passed rapidly from violence to weakness. Mirabeau refused to countenance his plans for contracting a new loan of 420 millions. The king was resisted by an almost unanimous opposition, headed by the Duke of Orleans, and the loan was refused at a memorable sitting.
Mirabeau exhorted the government to announce in precise and solemn terms the convocation of the States-General in 1789, that bankruptcy might be averted and the national honour saved. Said he: "The year in which the king assembles the nation will be the finest in his life. Everybody knows that he has been deceived, and could not help being so, and everybody will do justice to his intentions. The assembled nation has a right to vote a tax. In future the nation alone will raise up its political fortunes."
Mirabeau saw that the nation ought to be trusted. He strenuously contended for a policy in accordance with this conviction. But he indefatigably continued his literary labours, sending forth pamphlet after pamphlet, one against the prison system in vogue, another demanding the liberty of the Press, in which he extolled the example of England. He became increasingly impatient with the ineptitude of the government, for the affairs of the state were lapsing into desperate disorder, and the public discontent was being steadily aggravated.
The aim of Mirabeau was at one and the same time to support the monarchy and to subvert the influences by which the throne was environed. He was solicitous of securing popular freedom, but regarded the monarchy as the only form of rule suitable for France in that age, and was led to adopt that peculiar statesmanship identifying the royal interest with the popular cause. Though ready to give his life for the people, he did not hesitate to risk his popularity by his fidelity to the throne.
IV.—President of the National Assembly
The immediate causes of the Revolution were now in full operation. Mirabeau, attempting to practise his own doctrine of the freedom of the Press, turned journalist and brought out a gazette. The famous National Assembly opened on May 5, 1789. He then entered on a career of immense political energy, beginning by issuing a stirring and eloquent "Address to the French People." This was especially a reply to a reactionary protest on the part of the clergy.
Soon there were disturbances everywhere. The Bastille was stormed by the furious Parisians and demolished. Just at this time Mirabeau lost his father, and the event overwhelmed him with grief. He refused to stand for election as mayor of Paris. But he brought about a constitutional organisation of the municipality, and delivered a splendid series of orations on various abuses, such as plural voting, iniquitous monopolies, etc. Yet he proved his studious moderation by strenuously declaiming against the famous "Declaration of the Rights of Man," pronouncing it inopportune and perilous. His heroic harangues provoked disorder in his audience dangerous to himself. But his courage was dauntless, for even when the king and his chief minister abandoned the royal prerogative, Mirabeau defended it.
Throughout the terrible events of 1789 Mirabeau was consistent as a loyalist and as a patriot. But disappointment awaited his generous illusions, for the vacillation of the king rendered the outlook hopeless.
At the end of January, 1791, he was appointed president of the National Assembly, which, during the stormy period of its existence during twenty-one months, had already had forty-two presidents.
He exercised his functions with consummate skill, but the end of his wonderful life was at hand. He had been in weak health from the very first sittings of the Assembly, his condition causing constant anxiety to his intimate friends and his admirers. He was depressed by sad presentiments, and was in constant apprehension of assassination, for it was well-known that there were plots against his life. After a brilliant oration, the great tribune went home exhausted, and, indeed, dying.
One of his last experiences was a pathetic interview with Talleyrand, with whom he had often crossed swords in debate. His weakness dated from February, 1788, when he was attacked with violent internal pains, and was bled to such an extent by a surgeon that he never recovered his wonderful natural vitality. After much suffering, endured with the most heroic fortitude, he passed away as if in sleep, with a sweet smile on his features. France mourned the loss of the greatest orator that had ever graced her tribune. His funeral was celebrated at St. Genevieve with splendid ceremonial. The verdict of those best qualified to judge was that Mirabeau was the most remarkable man of the eighteenth century, and that his premature death, soon after the outbreak of the Revolution, led to the overthrow of a monarchy which he alone could have saved.
* * * * *
Life of Byron
Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, was born in Dublin on May 28, 1779, was educated at Trinity College, and studied for the Bar at the Middle Temple. At twenty-one years of age he published a translation of Anacreon, and his reputation was further established by his love-poems, under the pseudonym of Thomas Little, in 1801. He received in 1803 an official post in Bermuda, but entrusted his duties there to a substitute, by whose defalcations he was later embarrassed. He was married at thirty-one to a beautiful and amiable actress, Bessy Dyke, and lived very happily for most of his life in Wiltshire, but with an interval of a few years in Paris. In 1835 he received a literary pension of L300, to which a Civil List pension of L100 was added in 1850. He died on February 25, 1852. Undoubtedly, Moore's most important contribution to prose literature was his "Letters and Journals of Lord Byron," published in 1830, six years after the poet's death; as payment he received L4,200. Although the work was frankly and even severely criticised in many quarters, it did a great deal to put Byron right with public opinion. Certainly no literary contemporary was better fitted to write the biography of his friend than Moore, who, moreover, had been marked for this work by a free gift of Byron's own memoirs.
I.—Ancestors and Early Days
It has been said of Lord Byron that he was prouder of being a descendant of those Byrons of Normandy, who accompanied William the Conqueror into England, than of having been the author of "Childe Harold." The remark is not altogether unfounded, for the pride of ancestry was a feature of his character; and justly so, for his line was honourably known on the fields of Cressy, Bosworth, and Marston Moor; and in the faithful royalist, Sir John Biron, afterwards Lord Biron, throughout the Civil Wars.
In 1784, the father of the poet, Captain John Byron, nephew of the fifth Lord Byron, with the sole object of relieving his debts, married, as his second wife, Miss Catherine Gordon, a wealthy lady of illustrious Scottish ancestry. Her fortune was swallowed up, and she was reduced to L150 a year, before she gave birth, on January 22, 1788, in Holles Street, London, to her first and only child, George Gordon Byron. The boy was somewhat deformed, one of his feet being twisted.
In 1790, we find the unhappy parents living in separate lodgings in Aberdeen; and this estrangement was followed by complete separation, the worthless Captain Byron proceeding to France, where he died in the following year. The mother, a woman of the most passionate extremes, sent the boy to day school and grammar school. His schoolmates remember him as lively, warm-hearted, and more ready to give a blow than to take one. To summer excursions with his mother in the Highlands the poet traces his love of scenery and especially of mountainous countries; and he refers many years after, still with keen feeling, to a little girl, Mary Duff, for whom, in his eighth year, he cherished a consuming attachment. So early were his sensibilities dominant.
On the death, in 1794, of the grandson of the old lord, little George stood in immediate succession to the peerage; in May, 1798, the fifth Lord Byron died at Newstead Abbey, and the boy's name was called in school with the title "Dominus." The Earl of Carlisle was appointed his guardian in chancery, and in the same summer, Lord Byron, in his eleventh year, took possession, with his mother, of the seat of his ancestors. The next year Mrs. Byron was placed on the Civil List for a pension of L300 a year. Removing to London, she placed George at school with Dr. Glennie at Dulwich, but thwarted the progress of his education with her fondness and self-will, until Lord Carlisle gave up all hope of ruling her. It was at this period that a boyish love for Margaret Parker, his cousin, who died shortly after, led Byron into the practice of verse.
From 1801 to 1805, from thirteen years of age to seventeen, George was at Harrow, where he sat beside Peel, the future statesman. This period of ardent friendship with his fellows includes also the romantic affection, in 1803, for Miss Chaworth, heiress of Annesley, near Newstead, who looked on her admirer as the mere schoolboy that he was. Leaving Harrow with the reputation of an idler who would never learn, Byron was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October, 1805. His vacations were spent with his mother at Southwell, and her explosions of temper, in which she would throw poker and tongs, alienated him increasingly. In vacation and in term alike he read with extraordinary avidity and variety, wrote a great deal of verse, and in November, 1806, printed a small volume of poems for private circulation.
He was a frank and vivid correspondent; his letters to Miss Pigot, of Southwell, and others, are full of the liveliest descriptions of the Cambridge days. At this time Byron was painfully shy of new faces, and perpetually mortified on account of his poverty. He rose, and retired to rest, very late. He was very fond of the exercises of swimming, riding, shooting, fencing, and sparring; greatly devoted to his dogs, delighted in music, and was known as remarkably superstitious. Of his charity and kindheartedness there was no end. Always conscious of his deformity, and terribly afraid of becoming corpulent, he was sedulously careful of his person and dress.
"Hours of Idleness," Byron's first published volume, came out while he was at the university, and was received by the "Edinburgh Review" with a contempt which stung him to the quick. With intervals of dissipation in London and at Brighton, Byron threw himself, at Newstead, into the preparation of a satirical revenge, training himself for it by a deep study of the writings of Pope. After his coming of age, in 1809, he went up to London with his satire, and on March 13 took his seat in the House of Lords. A few days later "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" was the talk of the town. Wild festivities at Newstead followed its publication, and on July 2 Byron sailed from Falmouth in the Lisbon packet.
II.—The Poet Finds Himself
Lord Byron was absent from England for two years, and in the solitude of his nights at sea and in his lone wanderings through Greece he had leisure and seclusion to look within himself, and there catch the first glimpses of his glorious mind. His deep passion for solitude grew to full power; the varied excitement of his travels invigorated his character and stored his imagination with impressions, and his inborn sadness rose from a querulous bitterness to the grandeur of his later melancholy.
His letters show him on Parnassus, where a flight of eagles seemed an omen of his destiny; at Athens, where he lodged with the mother of the "Maid of Athens"; standing among the ruins of Ephesus and the mounds of Troy; swimming the Hellespont in honour of Leander; at Constantinople, where the prospect of the Golden Horn seemed the fairest of all; at Patras, in the woeful debility of fever; and again at Athens, making acquaintance with Lady Hester Stanhope and "Abyssinian" Bruce. Through all these varied scenes his mind was brooding on the verses of the "Childe Harold."
On Byron's return to England, in July, 1811, that poem was placed in Mr. Murray's hands, and thus was laid the foundation of a long connection between author and publisher. Mrs. Byron died on August 1. With all her faults she had loved her son deeply, and he could at least look back upon dutiful and kindly behaviour to her. It was in November that I first had the pleasure of meeting the poet at dinner, and what I chiefly remarked was the nobleness of his air, his beauty, the gentleness of his voice and manner, and his marked kindness. From our first meeting our acquaintance quickly ripened into friendship.
On February 27, 1812, a day or two before the appearance of "Childe Harold," Byron made the first trial of his eloquence in the House of Lords, and it was on this occasion that he made the acquaintance of Lord Holland. The subject of debate was the Nottingham Frame-breaking Bill. Workmen were rioting and wrecking because their labour had been displaced by the introduction of machinery, and Byron's view was that "we must not allow mankind to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism"—"the maintenance of the industrious poor is of greater consequence than the enrichment of monopolists"—"I have seen the state of these miserable men, and it is a disgrace to a civilised country." The speech was well received. The impression produced two days later by Byron's "Childe Harold" was as instantaneous as it has proved deep and lasting. Even the dashes of scepticism, with which he darkened his strain, served only to heighten its success. The Prince Regent had the poet presented to him, and the author of "Marmion" offered his praise. In the following May appeared the wild and beautiful fragment, "The Giaour." This new offspring of his genius was hailed with wonder and delight, and on my rejoining him in town this spring, I found an intense enthusiasm for Byron throughout the literary and social world. But his mind was already turning to freedom and solitude, and his third and last speech in the House of Lords was made in June.
III.—Byron's Unfortunate Marriage
Byron's restlessness is reflected throughout his "Journal," which he began at this time. He had dreams of living in the Grecian Islands and of adopting an Eastern manner of life; but in December, 1813, when "The Bride of Abydos" was published, he was still feverishly dissipating himself in England.
A significant entry in the "Journal" says: "A wife would be the salvation of me," and Lord Byron became a suitor for the hand of Miss Milbanke, a relative of Lady Melbourne. His proposal was not at first accepted, but a correspondence ensued between them, and in September, 1814, after the appearance of "The Corsair" and "Lara," they became formally affianced. I was much in his society at this time, and was filled with foreboding anxieties, which the unfortunate events that followed only too fully justified. At the end of December he set out for Seaham, the seat of Sir Ralph Milbanke, the lady's father, and on January 2, 1815, was married. On March 8, he wrote to me from Seaham: "Bell is in health, and unvaried good-humour and behaviour."
Lord Byron's pecuniary embarrassments now accumulated upon him, and just a year after his marriage, and shortly after the birth of their daughter, I received a letter which breathed a profound melancholy, due partly to his difficulties, but more, I thought, to a return of the restless and roving spirit. I replied: "Do tell me you are happier than that letter has led me to fear, and I shall be satisfied." It was only a few weeks later that Lady Byron adopted the resolution of parting from him. She had left London in January on a visit to her father, and Byron was to follow her. They had parted in the utmost kindness; she wrote him a letter, full of playfulness and affection, on the road; but immediately on her arrival her father wrote to acquaint Lord Byron that she would return to him no more. At the time when he had to stand this unexpected shock, his financial troubles, which had led to eight or nine executions in his house within the year, had arrived at their utmost; and at a moment when, to use his own expression, he was "standing alone on his hearth, with his household gods shivered around him," he was also doomed to receive the startling intelligence that the wife who had just parted with him in kindness, had parted with him for ever.
I must quote from a letter he wrote me in March: "The fault was not in my choice, unless in choosing at all; for I do not believe—and I must say it in the very dregs of all this bitter business—that there ever was a better, or even a brighter, a kinder, or a more amiable and agreeable being than Lady Byron. I never had any reproach to make her while with me. Where there is blame, it belongs to myself, and if I cannot redeem, I must bear it."
IV.—Wanderings and Work
On April 25, 1816, being now twenty-eight years of age, Byron took final leave of England, and sailed with two servants for Ostend. His route, by Flanders and the Rhine, may be traced in his matchless verses. He settled in Geneva, where he met Shelley and Mrs. Shelley; they boated on the lake and walked together, and Byron's susceptible mind was deeply influenced by his mystical companion. We may discover traces of that vague sublimity in the third canto of "Childe Harold," and traces also of Mr. Wordsworth's mood which Byron absorbed from Shelley's favourite author.
From November, 1816, his letters are dated from Venice. "This has always been, next to the East, the greenest island of my imagination, and it has not disappointed me." They are considerably taken up with love affairs of an irregular kind, and contain also many vivid pictures of Venetian society and manners. "Manfred" was completed in 1817, and was followed by the fourth canto of "Childe Harold." Margarita Cogni was the reigning favourite of Byron's unworthy harem at this time; and his poem of "Don Juan," now begun, most faithfully and lamentably reflects every whim and passion that, like the rack of autumn, swept across his mind.
But April, 1819, brought a revulsion against all this libertine way of living, and brought also the dawn of the only real love of his whole life. Lord Byron had first met the Countess Guiccioli in the autumn of 1818, when she made her appearance, three days after her marriage, at the house of the Countess Albrizzi, in all the gaiety of bridal array, and the first delight of exchanging a convent for the world. She has given her impressions of their meeting: "His noble and exquisitely beautiful countenance, the tone of his voice, his manners, the thousand enchantments that surrounded him, rendered him so superior a being to any whom I had hitherto seen, that it was impossible he should not have left the most profound impression upon me."
In June, Byron joined her at Ravenna, and for the next three years remained devotedly attached to her. She struck me, during our first interview, when I visited them at La Mira, as a lady not only of a style of beauty singular in an Italian, as being fair-complexioned and delicate, but also as being highly intelligent and amiable.
A letter to me from Pisa, dated August 27, 1822, has a mournful interest: "We have been burning the bodies of Shelley and Williams on the seashore. You can have no idea what an extraordinary effect such a funeral pile has, with mountains in the background and the sea before." Another, of November 17, to Lady Byron, shows that if the author of it had not right on his side, he had at least most of those good feelings which generally accompany it. "I have to acknowledge the receipt of Ada's [their daughter's] hair; this note will reach you about her birthday.... We both made a bitter mistake; but now it is over, and better so.... I assure you that I bear you now no resentment whatever.... Whether the offence has been solely on my side, or reciprocal, or on yours chiefly, I have ceased to reflect on any but two things—that you are the mother of my child, and that we shall never meet again."
Byron was thirty-five years old when from his exile at Genoa he turned his eyes to Greece, where a spirit was now rising such as he had imaged forth in dreams of song, but hardly could have dreamed that he should have lived to see it realised. He longed to witness, and very probably to share in, the present triumphs of liberty on those very fields where he had gathered for immortality such memorials of the liberty of the past. Lord Byron was in touch with the committee concerned with Grecian liberty in May, 1823, and two months later sailed with his party on July 14.
Arriving at Cephalonia he made a journey to Ithaca for a few days. His confidence in the Greek cause was soon clouded; the people were grossly degenerate, and he saw that the work of regeneration must be slow. To convince the government and the chiefs of the paralysing effect of their dissensions, to inculcate the spirit of union, to endeavour to humanise the feelings of the belligerents on both sides, so as to take from the war the character of barbarism—these, with the generous aid of his money, were the objects of his interference.
At length the time for action arrived, and, leaving Cephalonia, Byron landed at Missolonghi on January 4, 1824. He was welcomed with all honour, and at the end of the month received a formal commission from the government as commander of the expedition against Lepanto, a fortified town. This design was a failure, and Byron occupied himself with the fortification of Missolonghi, and with the formation of a brigade for the next campaign.
But his health had lately been giving way; he was living in little better than a swamp; and one day, after exposure to a heavy shower, he was seized with acute pains. On April 11, the illness, now recognised as rheumatic fever, increased, and on the 19th he was no more. The funeral took place in the Church of St. Nicholas, Missolonghi, on April 22, and the remains were carried to England on the brig Florida, and buried, close to those of his mother, in the village church of Hucknall.
V.—A Bewildering Personality
Can I clear away some of the mists that hang round my friend, and show him as worthy of love as he was of admiration? The task is not an easy one. In most minds some one influence governs, from which all secondary impulses are found to radiate, but this pivot of character was wanting to Lord Byron. Governed at different moments by totally different passions, and impelled sometimes, as in his excess of parsimony in Italy, by springs of action never before developed in his nature, he presents the strangest contradictions and inconsistencies, a bewildering complication of qualities.
So various, indeed, were his moral and intellectual attributes, that he may be pronounced to have been not one, but many. It was this multiform aspect that led the world to compare him with a medley host of personages: "within nine years," as he playfully records, "to Rousseau, Goethe, Young, Aretino, Timon of Athens, Dante, Petrarch, Satan, Shakespeare, Buonaparte, Tiberius, AEschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Harlequin, Henry VIII., Mirabeau, Michael Angelo, Diogenes, Milton, Alfieri, and many others."
But this very versatility, which renders it so difficult to fix the fairy fabric of his character, is itself the clue to whatever was most dazzling in his might, or startling in his levity, or most attractive or most repellent in his life and genius. A variety of powers almost boundless, and a pride no less vast in displaying them; an unusual susceptibility and an uncontrolled impetuosity—such were the two great sources of all that varied spectacle of his life—unchecked feeling and dominant self-will.
Great versatility of power will hardly be found without a tendency to versatility of principle. Byron was fully aware, not only of this characteristic quality of his nature, but also of its danger to singleness of character; and this consciousness had the effect of keeping him in a general line of consistency, throughout life, on certain great subjects, and helped him to preserve unbroken the greater number of his personal attachments. But, except in some few respects, he gave way to his versatile humour without scruple or check; and it was impossible but that such a range of will and power should be abused. Is it to be wondered at that in the works of one thus gifted and carried away we should find, without any design of corrupting on his side, evil too often invested with a grandeur which belongs intrinsically but to good?
Nay, it will be found that even the strength and impressiveness of Byron's poetry is sometimes injured by a capricious and desultory quality due to this very pliancy of mind. It may be questioned whether a concentration of his powers would not have afforded a grander result. It may be that, if Lord Byron had not been so actively versatile, he would have been, not less wonderful, but more great.
Again, this love of variety was one of the most pervading weaknesses, not only to his poetry, but of his life. The pride of personating every kind of character, evil as well as good, influenced his ambition and his conduct; and to such a perverse length did he carry this fancy for self-defamation that, if there was any tendency to mental derangement, it was in this point that it manifested itself. I have known him more than once, as we have sat together, to throw out dark hints of his past life with an air of gloom and mystery designed to awaken interest; and I have little doubt that, to produce effect at the moment, there is hardly any crime so dark or so desperate of which, in the excitement of acting upon the imaginations of others, he would not have hinted that he had been guilty. It has sometimes occurred to me that the occult cause of his lady's separation from him may have been nothing more, after all, than some imposture of this kind, some dim confession of undefined horror.
But the over-frankness with which he uttered every chance impression of the moment was by itself enough to bring his character unfavourably before the world. Which of us could bear to be judged by the unnumbered thoughts that course like waves of the sea through our minds and pass away unuttered and even unowned by ourselves? To such a test was Byron's character, throughout his life, exposed.
Yet, to this readiness in reflecting all hues, whether of the shadows or lights of our variegated existence, Lord Byron owed his personal fascination. His social intercourse was perfectly charming, because whoever was with him occupied for the moment all his thoughts and feelings. Even with the casual acquaintance of the hour his heart was on his lips, ready to give away every secret of his life.
To my assertion that "at no time of his life was Lord Byron a confirmed unbeliever" it has been objected that his writings prove the direct contrary. But this is to confuse the words "unbeliever" and "sceptic," the former of which implies decision of opinion, and the latter only doubt. Many passages in his "Journal" show doubt strongly inclined to belief. "Of the immortality of the soul it appears to me there can be little doubt." "I have often been inclined to materialism in philosophy, but could never bear its introduction into Christianity, which appears to me essentially founded upon the soul." Here are doubt and unrest, but not unbelief.
And so I conclude my labours, undertaken at the wish of my friend, and leave his character to the judgement of the world. Let it be remembered that through life, with all his faults, he never lost a friend; that those about him in his youth, whether as companions, teachers, or servants, remained attached to him to the last; that the woman to whom he gave the love of his maturer years idolises his name; and that, with a single unhappy exception, those who were brought into relations of amity with him have felt towards him a kind regard in life, and retain a fondness for his memory.
* * * * *
JAMES COTTER MORISON
Life and Times of St. Bernard
James Augustus Cotter Morison, English essayist and historian, was born in London on April 20, 1832, and was the son of the inventor and proprietor of "Morison's Pills." His first years were spent in Paris, where he laid the foundation of his intimate knowledge of the French people. After graduating at Oxford, he wrote for the "Saturday Review" and other papers, and in 1863 brought out his "Life and Times of Saint Bernard." His other chief work is entitled "The Service of Man: an Essay towards the Religion of the Future," published in 1886. He had projected an historical study of France under Louis XIV., but never completed it. He died on February 26, 1888. Morison was a Positivist, and had many friends in that group, and his rich mind and genial temper endeared him to several of the leading literary men of his time, such as George Meredith, Mark Pattison and Matthew Arnold.
I.—The Early Days of a Useful Life
Saint Bernard was born in 1091, and died in 1153. His life thus almost coincides with the central portion of the Middle Ages. He saw the First and Second Crusades, the rising liberties of the communes, and the beginnings of scholasticism under Abelard. A large Church reformation and the noblest period of monasticism occurred in his day, and received deep marks of his genius.
He was the son of Tesselin, a wealthy feudal baron of Burgundy, remarkable for his courage, piety, justice and modesty. Alith, his mother, was earnest, loving and devout, and full of humility and charity. His earliest years were passed amid the European fervour of the First Crusade; and as he grew from boyhood into youth—at which time his mother died—he made choice of the monastic profession. His friends vainly tried to tempt him aside into the pursuit of philosophy; but his commanding personal ascendancy brought his brothers and friends to follow him instead into the religious life. Having assembled a company of about thirty chosen spirits, he retired into seclusion with them for six months, and then, in 1113, at the age of twenty-two, led them within the gates of Citeaux.
This community, founded fifteen years before, and now ruled by Stephen Harding, an Englishman from Dorsetshire, was exceedingly austere, keeping Saint Benedict's rule literally. Here Bernard's uncompromising self-mortification, and his love of, and communion with, Nature, showed themselves as the chief characteristics of his noble spirit. "Believe me," he said to a pupil, "you will find something far greater in the woods than you will in books; stones and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters." The arrival of Bernard and his companions was a turning-point in the history of Citeaux; and the monastery had to send out two colonies, to La Ferte and Pontigny, and in 1115 a third, under Bernard himself, to Clairvaux. Here, in a deep umbrageous valley, traversed by a limpid stream, the thirteen pioneers built a house little better than a barn. Their privations were great. Beech-nuts and roots were at first their main support; but soon the sympathy of the surrounding country brought sufficiency for their frugal needs. Bernard was consecrated Abbot of Clairvaux by the Bishop of Chalons, the renowned William of Champeaux, with whom he established a deep friendship.
His labours, anxieties and austerities had well-nigh brought Bernard to the grave, when the good bishop, finding him inflexible, went to Citeaux, and, prostrating himself before Stephen Harding, begged and obtained leave to direct and manage Bernard for one year only. The young abbot obeyed his new director absolutely, and lived in a cottage apart from the monastery "at leisure for himself and God, and exulting, as it were, in the delights of Paradise."
William of St. Thierry and other chroniclers, telling of Clairvaux at this time, are fervid in their reverence and praise. "Methought I saw a new heaven and a new earth" ... "the golden age seemed to have revisited the world" ... "as you descended the hill you could see it was a temple of God; the still, silent valley bespoke the unfeigned humility of Christ's poor. In this valley full of men, where one and all were occupied with their allotted tasks, a silence, deep as that of night, prevailed. The sounds of labour, or the chants of the brethren in the choral service, were the only exceptions. The order of this silence struck such a reverence even into secular persons that they dreaded breaking it even by pertinent remarks."
Saint Benedict's rule had reference only to a single religious house; but Abbot Stephen of Citeaux united in one compact whole all the monasteries which sprang from the parent stock of Citeaux, and established an organised system of mutual supervision and control. A general chapter was held annually in September, and every Cistercian abbot whose monastery was in France, Italy or Germany was bound to attend every year; those from Spain, every two years; those from Ireland, Scotland, Sicily and Portugal, every four years; those from Norway, every five years; and those from Syria and Palestine, every seven years. The "Charter of Charity," promulgated by this chapter for the guidance of the Cistercian Order, is a brief but pregnant document, which quite explains its success.
II.—A Great Preacher and Essayist
About 1119, Bernard, who had resumed the duties of abbot, began the career of literary and ecclesiastical activity—the wide and impassioned correspondence, the series of marvellous sermons—which have won for him the title of the Last of the Fathers. His early essays are vigorous, but lack judgement and skill; they are stiff and rhetorical, and far removed from the tender poetry of his later writings. Three years later we find Bernard credited with many miracles, narrated by William of St. Thierry, who afterwards retired to become a monk at Signy, where he wrote his record of the saint. It was then regarded as natural that a man of eminent piety should work miracles; and we ought to accept these stories, in their native crudity and simplicity, not as true, but as significant. Belonging to the time, as much as feudal castles and mail armour do, they form part of a picture of it.
With the exception of a visit to La Grande Chartreuse, and of another to Paris, where he preached the "true philosophy" of poverty and contempt of the world to the schools distracted by scholastic puzzles, Bernard remained a secluded monk of a new and humble Order. But already, in his thirty-fifth year, the foundations had been laid of that authority which enabled him to quell a widespread schism, to oppose a formidable heretic, and to give the strongest impulse to the Second Crusade. His power was growing, chiefly by his voluminous correspondence. He wrote to persons of all classes on all subjects; his letters afford to the historian a wide repertory of indubitable facts, and show what was the part played at that time by the spiritual power—that of a divine morality and superior culture coming into conflict with, and strong enough to withstand, a vigorous barbarism. These epistles are full of commonsense and clear, practical advice, and often give us a glimpse of the human, as distinct from the ascetic, element in monastic life. They show how men could pass pleasant and thoughtful days amid the barbarism of the time.
The feudal fighting, plundering and slaying seemed to spectators of that time, and doubtless to Bernard also, as fixed and unalterable, part of the nature of things. Louis VI., King of France, had spent his life in a succession of sieges, forays and devastations, as one feudal lord among others often more powerful than he. But generally he was in the right, and his enemies in the wrong; he generally fought for justice and mercy, and they for power and for plunder. The feudal aristocracy was now at the zenith of its power, and the peasant was oppressed by injustice, taxation and forced labour. Only the Church, and she only on grand occasions, could stand up for the poor; but now the royal power made common cause with Church and poor, and was rewarded by a gain in extent and in influence. Yet even Louis, whose whole life showed respect for the spiritual power, had some disagreement with the Bishop of Paris and with the Archbishop of Sens, so that the two ecclesiastics placed the kingdom under interdict, and fled to Citeaux. Thence Bernard, with an astonishing tone of authority, called upon his king to do justice; and Louis was on the point of restoring the stolen property. Pope Honorius, however, sent letters to the king, raising the interdict, and thereupon Bernard turned his fearless indignation upon the supreme pontiff himself. "We speak with sadness; the honour of the Church has been not a little blemished in the time of Honorius."
The same intrepidity is shown in Bernard's controversy with the monks of Cluny, an abbey of pre-eminent power and moral authority, so that Louis had called it the "noblest member of his kingdom." Pontius, its abbot, having fallen into ways of pride and extortion, had been induced from Rome to resign his abbacy, and to promise a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; but soon afterwards he fell upon the monastery with an armed force, and ruled there like a robber chieftain. This scandalous outrage was soon reported at Rome, and the sacrilegious usurper was excommunicated and banished. Bernard seized the moment when laxity of observance of the rule had produced its bitterest fruit to break out in remonstrances and warnings, as well to his own Cistercians as to the Cluniacs, on the decline of the genuine monastic spirit. The invective of what he calls his "Apology" spares neither the softness, nor the ostentation, nor the avarice, of religious houses. It condemns even their stately sanctuaries. "The walls of your church are resplendent, but the poor are not there." It recalls the erring monasteries to real mortification. In another early treatise, "The Degrees of Humility and of Pride," the modes of pride are exhibited forcibly, and with not a little humour. Curiosity, thoughtless mirth, mock humility, and other symptoms of the protean vice are painted by a master.
But Bernard's period of retirement was drawing to a close; he was becoming indispensable to his contemporaries. In 1128 he was called to the Council of Troyes, at which the Order of Knights Templars was founded, and wrote a treatise in praise of the "new warfare," called the "Exhortation to the Knights of the Temple." He was brought, again, to the council convened by Louis VI. at Etampes to decide between the claims of the rival Popes in the Papal schism. The council opened by unanimous consent that Bernard's judgement should decide their views; and without hesitation he pronounced Innocent II. the lawful Pope, and Peter Leonis, or Anacletus II., a vain pretender. He bore the same testimony, in the presence of Innocent, before Henry I. of England, at Chartres, and before Lotharius, the German Emperor, at Liege. The Pope visited Clairvaux, where he was moved to tears at the sight of the tattered flock of "Christ's poor," then presided at the Council of Rheims, 1131, and continued his journey into Italy, still accompanied by the Abbot of Clairvaux. Bernard, convinced that the cause of Innocent was the cause of justice and religion, set no bounds to his advocacy of it in letters to kings, bishops and cities. Such was now the fame of his sanctity that on his approach to Milan the whole population came out to meet him.
He returned to Clairvaux in 1135, where he found the community all living in Christian amity, and again retired to a cottage in the neighbourhood for rest and reflection. "Bernard was in the heavens," says Arnold of Bonnevaux; "but they compelled him to come down and listen to their sublunary business." The buildings were too small for their constantly growing numbers, and a convenient site had been found in an open plain farther down the valley. Bishops, barons and merchants came to the help of the good work; and the new abbey and church rose quickly.
To Bernard's forty-fifth year belong the "Sermons on the Canticles." In the auditorium, or talking-room of the monastery, the abbot, surrounded by his white-cowled monks, delivered his spiritual discourses. A strange company it was: the old, stooping monk and the young beginner, the lord and the peasant, listening together to the man whose message they believed came from another world.