« AnteriorContinuar »
SONG AT THE FEAST OF BROUGHAM CASTLE, UPON THE RESTORATION OF LORD CLIFFORD, THE SHEPHERD, TO THE ESTATES AND HONOURS OF HIS ANCESTORS.
[THE greatest name in the literature of our own age is William Wordsworth. Twenty years ago we should have been sneered at for this opinion; no one now ventures to doubt its truth, who has outlived the poetical creed of the first Edinburgh Reviewers. Hazlitt, a critic in many respects before his age, writes thus of Wordsworth :-" He is the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the least be spared, for they have no substitute elsewhere. The vulgar do not read them; the learned, who see all things through books, do not understand them; the great despise, the fashionable may ridicule them; but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the retired and lonely student which can never die." The tastes of the retired and lonely student have triumphed over the pedantry of the learned and the coldness of the great and fashionable; and by dint of better education, and a familiarity with good models, the class whom Hazlitt calls "the vulgar" do read the poems of the secluded thinker, who has made the earnest cultivation of the highest poetry the one business of his life. We will not say that he has lived to see his reward;-his reward, his own "exceeding great reward," has been in the tranquil but satisfying course of his contemplative life. Content with competence of worldly goods, he has lived apart from the world;-and has at last influenced the world more enduringly than any of his contemporaries, although his power has been slowly won. The secret of Wordsworth's success is his universality-a secret only known to the very highest of human intellects-the secret of Shakspere.
Mr. Wordsworth was born in 1770. The poet of eighty is still strong in his intellectual and bodily vigour. He is one, that with "blind Mæonides," and with Milton, might be apostrophized in his own beautiful lines :
Fair greeting doth she send to all
"They came with banner, spear, and shield; And it was proved in Bosworth field. Not long the Avenger was withstoodEarth helped him with the cry of blood: St. George was with us, and the might Of blessed angels crowned the right. Loud voice the land has uttered forth, We loudest in the faithful north: Our fields rejoice, our mountains ring, Our streams proclaim a welcoming; Our strong abodes and castles see The glory of their loyalty.
"How glad is Skipton at this hour-
Of all her guardian sons bereft—
"Oh! it was a time forlorn,
Save a mother and her child!
No thoughts hath he but thoughts that pass Light as the wind along the grass.
Can this be he who hither came
In secret, like a smothered flame?
"Alas! when evil men are strong
"A recreant harp, that sings of fear
That learned of him submissive ways;
To his side the fallow-deer
They moved about in open sight,
He knew the rocks which angels haunt
He hath kenned them taking wing:
Tell thy name, thou trembling field
Mailed and horsed, with lance and sword,
Like a reappearing star,
First shall head the flock of war!"
Alas! the fervent harper did not know
Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
In him the savage virtue of the race,
Glad were the vales, and every cottage hearth;
And ages after he was laid in earth,
"The good Lord Clifford" was the name he bore.
Mr. Southey, describing the mountain scenery of the Lake region, says, "The story of the Shepherd Lord Clifford, which was known only to a few antiquarians till it was told so beautifully in verse by Wordsworth, gives a romantic interest to Blencathara." Henry Lord Clifford was the son of John Lord Clifford, who was slain at Towton, which battle placed the House of York upon the throne. His family could expect no mercy from the conqueror; for he was the man who slew the younger brother of Edward IV. in the battle of Wakefield-a deed of cruelty in a cruel age. The hero of this poem fled from his paternal home, and lived for twenty-four years as a shepherd. He was restored to his rank and estates by Henry VII. The following narrative is from an old MS. quoted by Mr. Southey:
"So in the condition of a shepherd's boy at Lonsborrow, where his mother then lived for the most part, did this Lord Clifford spend his youth, till he was about fourteen years of age, about which time his mother's father, Henry Bromflett, Lord Vesey, deceased. But a little after his death it came to be rumoured, at the court, that his daughter's two sons were alive; about which their mother was examined: but her answer was, that she had given directions to send them both beyond seas, to be bred there; and she did not know whether they were dead or alive.
"And as this Henry Lord Clifford did grow to more years, he was still the more capable of his danger, if he had been discovered. And therefore presently after his grandfather, the Lord Vesey, was dead, the said rumour of his being alive, being more and more whispered at the court, made his said loving mother, by the means of her second husband Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, to send him away with the said shepherds and their wives into Cumberland, to be kept as a shepherd there, sometimes at Threlkeld, and amongst his father-in-law's kindred, and sometimes upon the borders of Scotland, where they took lands, purposely for these shepherds that had the custody of him; where many times his father-in-law came purposely to visit him, and sometimes his mother, though very secretly. By which mean kind of breeding this inconvenience befel him, that he could neither write nor read; for they durst not bring him up in any kind of learning lest by it his birth should be discovered. Yet, after he came to his lands and honours, he learnt to write his name only.
“Notwithstanding which disadvantage, after he came to be possessed again, and restored to the enjoyment of his father's estate, he came to be a very wise man, and a very good manager of his estate and fortunes.
“This Henry Lord Clifford, after he came to be possessed of his said estate, was a great builder and repairer of all his castles in the north, which had gone to decay when he came to enjoy them; for they had been in strangers' hands about twenty-four or twenty-five years.
HALF-HOURS WITH THE BEST AUTHORS.
Skipton Castle, and the lands about it, had been given to William Stanley, by King Edward
"This Henry Lord Clifford did, after he came to his estate, exceedingly delight in astronomy, and the contemplation of the course of the stars, which it was likely he was seasoned in during the course of his shepherd's life. He built a great part of Barden Tower (which is now much decayed), and there he lived much; which it is thought he did the rather because in that place he had furnished himself with instruments for that study.
"He was a plain man, and lived for the most part a country life, and came seldom either to the Court or London, but when he was called thither to sit in them as a peer of the realm, in which parliament, it is reported, he behaved himself wisely, and nobly, and like a good Englishman."
23.-STRUGGLING WITH ADVERSITY.
[THERE is only one book of biography in our language, that, in our view, can compare with Boswell's Life of Johnson, and that book is, Lockhart's Life of Scott. The life of the great novelist is more artistically put together than the life of the great moralist and critic; but they each, in their several modes, place you in the most intimate companionship with the heroes of their respective stories. There is more of varied incident in the narrative of Scott's career than in that of Johnson. When Scott falls from his splendid position as regards wealth into comparative poverty, with a load of debt upon his shoulders that might have sunk him to the earth, we trace the gradual approach and consummation of his ruin with an interest that no writer of fiction could ever hope to excite and sustain. And when, again, we see the brave man bearing his load gallantly through years of labour, and gradually casting it off, bit by bit, and winning universal love and admiration by his wondrous exertions of talent and industry, that he may work out his emancipation by the strength of his own hand alone-the world can hardly show another such example of the sublime spectacle of will o'ermastering fate. We offer these obvious remarks upon the career of Scott, as an introduction to a most interesting narrative extracted from Captain Basil Hall's Diary, and published in Mr. Lockhart's Life of Scott. Captain Hall was a most accomplished naval officer-one of that class now happily so common, who unite a taste for science and literature with their professional knowledge. He has described some of his travels and adventures with remarkable spirit, in various popular works. He was born in 1788, and died in 1844.]
A hundred and fifty years hence, when his works have become old classical authorities, it may interest some fervent lover of his writings to know what this great genius was about on Saturday the 10th of June, 1826-five months after the total ruin of his pecuniary fortunes, and twenty-six days after the death of his wife.
In the days of his good luck he used to live at No. 39 in North Castle Street, in a house befitting a rich baronet; but on reaching the door, I found the plate on it covered with rust (so soon is glory obscured), the windows shuttered up, dusty, and comfortless; and from the side of one projected a board, with this inscription, 'To Sell ;' the stairs were unwashed, and not a foot-mark told of the ancient hospitality which reigned within. In all nations with which I am acquainted the fashionable world move westward, in imitation, perhaps, of the great tide of civilization; and, vice versû, those persons who decline in fortune, which is mostly equivalent to declining in fashion, shape their course eastward. Accordingly, by an involuntary impulse, I turned my head that way, and inquiring at the clubs in Prince's Street, learned that he now resided in St. David Street, No. 6.
I was rather glad to recognise my old friend the Abbotsford butler, who answered the door-the saying about heroes and valets-de-chambre comes to one's recollection on such occasions; and nothing, we may be sure, is more likely to be satisfactory to a man whose fortune is reduced than the stanch adherence of a mere servant, whose st be altered for the worse. At the top of the stair we saw a small tray,
with a single plate and glasses for one solitary person's dinner. Some few months ago Sir Walter was surrounded by his family, and wherever he moved, his headquarters were the focus of fashion. Travellers from all nations crowded round, and like the recorded honours of Lord Chatham, 'thickened over him.' Lady and Miss Scott were his constant companions; the Lockharts were his neighbours both in town and in Roxburghshire; his eldest son was his frequent guest; and in short, what with his own family and the clouds of tourists, who, like so many hordes of Cossacks, pressed upon him, there was not, perhaps, out of a palace, any man so attended, I had almost said overpowered, by company. His wife is now dead-his son-in-law and favourite daughter gone to London, and his grandchild, I fear, just staggering, poor little fellow, on the edge of the grave, which, perhaps, is the securest refuge for him —his eldest son is married, and at a distance, and report speaks of no probability of the title descending; in short, all are dispersed, and the tourists, those 'curiosos impertinentes,' drive past Abbotsford gate, and curse their folly in having delayed for a year too late their long projected jaunt to the north. Meanwhile, not to mince the matter, the great man had, somehow or other, managed to involve himself with printers, publishers, bankers, gasmakers, wool-staplers, and all the fraternity of speculators, accommodation-bill manufacturers, land jobbers, and so on, till, at a season of distrust in money-matters, the hour of reckoning came, like a thief in the night; and as our friend, like the unthrifty virgins, had no oil in his lamp, all his affairs went to wreck and ruin, and landed him, after the gale was over, in the predicament of Robinson Crusoe, with little more than a shirt to his back. But like that able navigator, he is not cast away upon a barren rock. The tide has ebbed, indeed, and left him on the beach, but the hull of his fortunes is above water still, and it will go hard indeed with him if he does not shape a raft that shall bring to shore much of the cargo that an ordinary mind would leave in despair, to be swept away by the next change of the moon. The distinction between man and the rest of the living creation, certainly, is in nothing more remarkable than in the power which he possesses over them, of turning to varied account the means with which the world is stocked. But it has always struck me, that there is a far greater distinction between man and man than between many men and most other animals; and it is from a familiarity with the practical operation of this marvellous difference that I venture to predict, that our Crusoe will cultivate his own island, and build himself a bark in which, in process of time, he will sail back to his friends and fortune in greater triumph than if he had never been driven amongst the breakers.
Sir Walter Scott, then, was sitting at a writing-desk covered with papers, and on the top was a pile of bound volumes of the Moniteur,-one, which he was leaning over as my brother and I entered, was open on a chair, and two others were lying on the floor. As he rose to receive us, he closed the volume which he had been extracting from, and came forward to shake hands. He was, of course, in deep mourning, with weepers and the other trappings of wo, but his countenance, though certainly a little wo-begonish, was not cast into any very deep furrows. His tone and manner were as friendly as heretofore, and when he saw that we had no intention of making any attempt at sympathy or moanification, but spoke to him as of old, he gradually contracted the length of his countenance, and allowed the corners of his mouth to curl almost imperceptibly upwards, and a renewed lustre came into his eye, if not exactly indicative of cheerfulness, at all events of well-regulated, patient, Christian resignation. My meaning will be misunderstood if it be imagined from this picture that I suspected any hypocrisy, or an affectation of grief in the first instance. I have no doubt, indeed, that he feels, and most acutely, the bereavements which have come upon him; but we may very fairly suppose, that among the many visitors he must have, there may be some who cannot understand that it is proper, decent, or even