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GEORGE WILSON MEADLEY, Esg.
The subject of this memoir was esteemed by his friends on account of his amiable manners, his rare endowments, and his ardent, but judicious, love of constitutional liberty. To the world he was known by a series of publications, which occasionally conferred a certain degree of celebrity on his name, and towards the close of his short career, raised him considerably in the public estimation. During one of his periodical excursions, he visited the author of this article in the country; and he had afterwards frequent communications with him in the succeeding autumn and winter, in London.
George Wilson Meadley first saw the light at the confluence of the Wear and the ocean, having been born at Sunderland, in the county-palatine of Durham, January 1, 1774. At a very early period of life he lost his father; but his education does not appear to have been neglected. After the usual initiatory studies, the youth was sent to school at Witton-le-Wear, a small village three miles from BishopAuckland; and it was his good fortune to have the Rev. John Farrer, who is represented “as a very able teacher and excellent man,” for his instructor. While there, he either acquired or displayed a certain tenaciousness of memory, which not only distinguished him from his class-fellows, but actually proved serviceable to his future pursuits in life. He was accordingly enabled to master his lessons with a singular degree of ease and facility; and to this he afterwards, at a maturer period, added a certain felicity of classification and combination, which conferred great advantages in respect to his studies. Thus, both in the
departments of history and biography, he was enabled to acquire and to maintain a certain degree of excellence that could not fail, in due time, to acquire him fame.
His family was respectable, and his father had succeeded in trade: it was not, therefore, the Res Angusta Domi that entirely precluded him from completing his studies at one of the two English universities. He appears to have been satisfied with the resources of a provincial education, and the usual routine of a country school.
Either unable or unwilling to accomplish this grand object, his youthful ambition was soon after fixed on another, which he at length happily accomplished. Mr. Meadley had been induced, like some others of his family, to embrace commerce as a profession; but he soon became weary of a sedentary employment, and tare and tret, and every thing connected with old Cocker at length became odious to him.
He had, by this time, imbibed an ardent desire for foreign travel. He longed to realise the dreams of his early youth; to visit the classic land of Italy; to breathe the same air with the poets, historians, and patriots, of ancient times; to contemplate the beautiful scenery which Virgil had so aptly and elegantly described! He was eager to visit the country which had twice subdued mankind; once by arms, and once by superstition. But he languished, above all things, to behold the capitol, and to contemplate that spot where the first
usurper of the Cæsarean line, whose life was devoted by the laws to the infernal deities, perished under the steel of Brutus, and the other avengers of Roman liberty.
But to accomplish all this, required wealth as well as energy; and unluckily the former of these was not then exactly at his command. However, he at length made a compromise with his feelings; and, as it was impossible for him to view the ancient Latium as a mere traveller, he determined to unite two characters in his own person, better known to ancient than to modern times. Mr. Meadley accordingly sailed for the Mediterranean, about the year 1796, in the strange and singular character of
ą merchant-tourist. He perhaps recollected, that Solon, the great lawgiver of antiquity, had addicted himself to commerce in the earlier part of his life, and during the time when he imbibed and united in his own person all the wisdom of distant nations. Nor would he be displeased, perhaps, to recollect that “the divine Plato" did not disdain to make an investment of the produce of Greece, to defray the expenses of his voyage to Egypt; and that the oil of Attica obtained for
; him a knowledge of the secrets of Memphis !
After visiting the Continent, Mr. Meadley landed in several parts of Italy; and while at Naples, visited one of his senatorial countrymen *, ebbing out the last remains of an interesting but scanty life, dedicated to virtue, and distinguished by public spirit.
Not content with this, he touched at several of the islands of the Mediterranean, and thus contemplated many of the places described by the majestic muse of Homer. He beheld with rapture several parts of the Archipelago, where the females, as in ancient times, still ply the shuttle beneath the shade of a neighbouring grove. He visited Smyrna and Byzantium; he beheld the modern Greek sighing for liberty, amidst the ruins of the palaces and temples of his ancestors; and he had an opportunity to witness the manners of the modern Turk, at once a tyrant and a slave.
Our traveller doubtless kept a journal of his voyages, and his adventures; and it is greatly to be lamented that he did not publish it on his return. The whole of his peregrinations abounded with incidents, and those not unfrequently of a new and singular kind. We know not, indeed, whether he could have enriched his narrative with a shipwreck, or described his piteous situation as a slave at Tetuan or Algiers. Certain it is, however, that the subject of this memoir was exposed to all the horrors of war, both by land and sea ; that he was captured by the enemy, experienced soon after all the joys of an unex
* The late Mr. Lambton, Knight of the Shire for the County Palatine of Durham.
pected deliverance; and in short, underwent and overcame many more difficulties and dangers, than are usually conceived by the utmost stretch of imagination on the part of one of our modern novel writers.
Mr. Meadley returned to his native country, at the end of about a year and a half, with his mind refreshed by foreign travel, and his ideas greatly enlarged by what he had seen and what he had heard.
Soon after he had entered the paternal mansion at BishopWearmouth, he visited Dr. Paley, who had become at once the rector and a resident in that parish which contains the mother-church of Sunderland; to this valuable living he was presented by his friend the Bishop of Durham. From this period, the subject of this memoir appears to have kept up an intercourse, and to have lived in a certain degree of familiarity, with that celebrated divine: a circumstance not a little credit. able to both, as they differed in important religious points ; and doubly honourable to the Doctor, who was of course firmly attached to the tenets of the church of England.
After a short residence of about two years at home, Mr. Meadley, whose fortune had not been greatly benefited by his voyage to the Mediterranean, contrived once more to indulge his taste for contemplating the manners and customs of different countries. Accordingly, in 1801, we find him in the city of Dantzic; and in 1803, he found means to visit a large portion of Germany. His peregrinations, on this occasion, appear to have been regulated with the strictest economy.
After residing a short time at Hamburgh, and rendering himself acquainted with the commerce of the Elbe, he actually travelled on foot from that city through the duchy of Holstein, and took up his abode for a few days at Lubeck. Of this
pedestrian tour, an account drawn up by himself is still in existence.
Of the former of these excursions he has also left an account, which shall be here transcribed; but it may be necessary to premise, that although the youthful bosom of Mr.
Meadley had beaten responsive to the first efforts for liberty in France; yet, as will be immediately seen, he detested the usurpation of Bonaparte, who had violated public freedom, and all laws, both human and divine, solely to gratify his ambition. Accordingly, he augured nothing but evil, both at home and abroad, to arise to a neighbouring nation from his domination.
“ At this important period,” observes he,“ when the unprincipled ambition of a military despot, after triumphing over the independence of Southern Europe, has turned his ferocious troops into the North of Germany; and, devastating the fertile fields of Hanover, threatens the political annihilation of the yet remaining Hanse towns : at a time, too, when the naval superiority of Britain is once more boldly asserted by the blockade of the Elbe, and the Powers of the North invited by a great example to maintain inviolate the independence of their countries, and resist the intrusion of a foreign host, the public attention is naturally directed towards these scenes of action, and every connected region becomes an object of particular regard.
“ The Elbe claims peculiar distinction among the rivers of Europe, not merely from its commercial importance, but as the boundary of the Roman conquests towards the North; for there the veteran troops whom Drusus had long led to victory, were awed, under the command of Tiberius, by the warlike appearance of the Saxon hosts, frowning defiance from its northern banks. From this once sacred stream to the western shores of the Baltic, decisive marks of human industry are every where displayed, whether in the crowded streets and stately buildings of the proud commercial city, or in the cultured fields and rustic habitations of the adjacent plains. A general view of this important country, as it appeared during a short but recent excursion, and a more minute description of these two great commercial emporiums, which once formed distinguished members of the Hanseatic league, and still retain the name of independent cities *, may not, at this moment, be
Hamburgh and Lubeck.