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What the Lady Erminia wails forth in the same tragedy, might equally avail for Agrippina:
-Oh heavens !
Thanksgivings, blessed the loan of so much virtue.* It is a strong point with the novelists, this antithesis between adult crime, or vice, or meanness, and childish innocent promise. In one of Theodore Hook's fictions we enter within a prison-yard, and see the crowd of victims to offended justice walking, laughing, and talking, as if either uncertain of their fate, or careless of the event. “What a picture ! To think that every one of those doomed to perish by the hands of the common executioner, had been nursed, and fondled, and loved, and praised to the very echo, by his fond father and doting mother—the pain, the perils, that his parents had undergone to rear him; the anxious watchings of his innocent slumbers ; the affectionate kiss with which at night they laid him to rest; the smile, the laugh,—his little playful efforts to speak --the joy that beamed in their eyes as he made progress, and could pronounce the endearing word 'father,' or 'mother'-and then to see the same beings hardened in guilt—the victims of vice-marks for the law's aim--retributive sacrifices upon the altar of offended justice.”+ “He never cries or frets, as children generally do," the widowed mother of the future facile princeps of housebreakers is made to say, “but lies at my bosom, or on my knee, as quiet and as gentle as you see him now. But, when I look upon his innocent face, and see how like he is to his father —when I think of that father's shameful ending, and recollect how free from guilt he once was-at such times despair will come over me.”i Everywhere we meet with similar cases, and see the child set in damning contrast with the man,
And the sweet records of young innocent years
Transformed to shame-envenomed agony.s Once a child—now a blackleg, now a redemptionless scamp, now a ruthless villain, now an obdurate convict, now a shivering wretch in the condemned cell—but, for all that, and before all that, once a child. Mr. Thackeray in his Old Bailey sketch, on the morning of the execution, is careful to tell us of Courvoisier, when they bring him his breakfast “from the coffee-house opposite,” that “he will take nothing, however, but goes on writing. He has to write to his mother—the pious mother far
away in his own country—who reared him and loved him; and even now has sent him her forgiveness and her blessing.”|| For was not the Swiss valet, though a stealthy midnight assassin, once a little child?
Behold the group by the pale lamp,
Thos. Lovell Beddoes, The Brides' Tragedy, Act IV. Sc. 4.
I Jack Sheppard, ch. i.
See yon pale stripling! when a boy,
An early image fills his mind, * the image of what he was in the bygone days, and of what the roof-tree wa that once rang with his childish laughter.—The blind pauper mother in one of Crabbe's tales, relates how her "deluded boy" took his last ride, to the gallows :-the touch in the last couplet is thoroughly Crabbe-like in its painful realism :
Slowly they went; he smiled and look'd so smart,
Now let me speak no more-yet all declared
s'd. it In a later section of the same poem, relentless in its Dutch-school exactness, we see a highwayman in the condemned cell of the Borough prison, whose troubled dreams have some brief interruption and relief, as from judge and jury they revert to people and places he knew and loved in his best days :
At this his terrors take a sudden flight,
The hours of innocence. Such blessed though too transitory power has sleep, even for the guilty and the lost. Hence the Opium-eater's impassioned apostrophe : “o just, subtle, and all-conquering opium ! that, to the hearts of rich and poor alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for the pangs of grief that “tempt the spirit to rebel,' bringest an assuaging balm ;-eloquent opium ! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath, pleadest effectually for relenting pity, and through one night's heavenly sleep callest back to the guilty man the visions of his infancy, and hands washed pure from blood !" But, as a dream when one awaketh, what so swiftly vanisheth away? And the voice at waking is heard, He that is guilty, let him be guilty still.
Ah! who would think
Scott, Rokeby, canto iii.
† The Borough: “Ellen Orford.” Ibid., Letter XXIII.: “ Prisons." Confessions of an English Opium-eater, pp. 212-13. (Edit. 1856.)
Of all her climes—these wretched, these depraved,
To pity dead, * had been, each of them, once a child—“ fretted with sallies of his mother's kisses, with light upon him from his father's eyes”—one for whom the best was hoped for, that life and hope in a bright future could avail to bestow.
There are few things finer of the kind in modern fiction, than Mr. Charles Reade's description throughout of the rough gold-diggers listening to the caged skylark under an Australian sky. The winding-up of that description is pertinent to our theme,-after we have seen the rugged mouths opened and so stayed, and the shaggy lips tremble, and more than one drop trickle from fierce unbridled hearts down bronzed and rugged cheeks. “ Dulce domum! And these shaggy men full of oaths and strife and cupidity had once been white-headed boys, and had strolled about the English fields with little sisters and little brothers, and heard him sing this very song. The little playmates lay in the churchyard, and they were full of oaths and drink and lust and remorses—but no note was changed in this immortal song. And so for a moment or two, years of vice rolled away like a dark cloud from the
and the past shone out in the song-shine: they came back, bright as the immortal notes that lighted them, those faded pictures and those fleeted days ; the cottage, the old mother's tears when he left her without one grain of sorrow; the village church and its simple chimes; the cloverfield hard by in which he lay and gambolled, while the lark praised God overhead; the chubby playmates that never grew to be wicked, the sweet hours of youth—and innocence-and home.”+
That scene, in Schiller's “ Robbers," on the hills beside the Danube, where Karl Moor looks at the setting sun, and thinks of old hopes, and times “ when he could not sleep if his evening prayers had been forgotten,”—a scene which, as Mr. Carlyle has said, I is one that, with all its extravagances or improprieties, ever clings to the memory,-contains this aspiration and this remorseful regret : “O Heaven, that I could be as one of these day-labourers! Oh, I would toil till the blood ran down from my temples, to buy myself the pleasure of one noontide sleep, the blessing of a single tear! There was a time, too, when I could weepO ye days of peace, thou castle of my father, ye green lovely valleys ! O‘all ye Elysian scenes of my childhood, will ye never come again, never with your balmy sighing cool my burning bosom ? Mourn with me, Nature! They will never come again, never cool my burning bosom with their balmy sighing. They are gone, gone, and may not return!"S So true is it that as every man (incredible though, in some cases, this may seem) has been once, no man can be more than once, a child.
No reader of Carlyle will have forgotten that parenthesis of peace amid the violence and confusion of France's Reign of Terror, which describes Danton retiring for a brief interval from the bloodshed and the blackness, and trying to re-construct, re-make, re-create for himself, the tranquil epoch of his pleasant boyhood. “The great heart of Danton is weary of
• Wordsworth, The Excursion, book v.
It is Never too Late to Mend, ch. Ixiii. | Life of Schiller, part i.
§ The Robbers, Act III. Sc. 2.
it. Danton is gone to native Arcis, for a little breathing-time of peace : Away, black Arachne-webs, thou world of Fury, Terror, and Suspicion ; welcome, thou everlasting Mother, with thy spring greenness, thy kind household loves and memories ; true art thou, were all else untrue! The great Titan walks silent, by the banks of the murmuring Aube, in young native haunts that knew him when a boy; wonders what the end of these things will be.”* We cannot, says one, get out of our mind that last visit of Danton to his native village. We see him visiting, for the last time, Arcis-sur-Aube, the spot where his mother bare him, " for he, too, had a mother, and lay warm in his cradle like the rest of us." Which phrase, however, is a misquotation of what Mr. Carlyle says of another, and far less human, leader of the Terrorist party. Relating how Marat's brother came from Neufchâtel, after Charlotte Corday had struck the knife home, to ask of the Convention, “that the deceased Jean-Paul Marat's musket be given him," the historian adds: “For Marat too had a brother, and natural affections; and was wrapped once in swaddlingclothes, and slept safe in a cradle like the rest of us. Ye children of men! "+
In another of his works the same graphic philosopher declares it strikes him dumb to look over the long series of faces, such as any full Church, Court-house, London Tavern Meeting, or miscellany of men will show them: remembering the while, that, some score or two of years ago all these were “little red-coloured pulpy infants ; each of them capable of being kneaded, baked into any social form you chose : yet see now how they are fixed and hardened—into artisans, artists, clergy, gentry, learned serjeants, unlearned dandies, and can and shall now be nothing else henceforth !"# Which reflection reminds us of an apostrophe in this writer's historiette of the Diamond Necklace, addressed to that “foul Circe Megæra," Dame de Lamotte, who figured so disastrously in that portentous intrigue: “O Dame de Lamotte! Dame de Lamotte! Now, when the circle of thy existence lies complete ; and my eye glances over these two score and three years that were lent thee, to do evil as thou couldst; and I behold thee a bright-eyed little Tatterdemalion, begging and gathering sticks in the Bois de Boulogne; and also at length a squelched Putrefaction, here on London pavements; with the headdressings and hungerings, the gaddings and hysterical gigglings that came between,—what shall I say was the meaning of thee at all?_S"
And in truth the sadness of the words, Once a child, as involving present degradation and vice, is but too sensibly enhanced when it is of womanhood they are spoken. The lapse then looks more tragical still, more painful the contrast, keener the reproach, more scathing the shame. Is there a crueller item than this, in the catalogue of woes detailed in malign minuteness by the first of the Two Voices
His little daughter, whose sweet face
Becomes dishonour to her raceilor a sharper pang in the Wife's Tragedy than when she recals how she, too, was once a child ;
* Carlyle's Hist. of the French Revolution, bk. vi. ch. i. † Ibid. bk. iv. ch. i.
| Past and Present, ch. xvi. Ś Carlyle's Miscellanies, vol. iii.: “The Diamond Necklace,” ch. xvi.
Tennyson, The Two Voices.
When a careless girl I clung
With proud trust to my own powers;
I, too, dream'd of happier hours !* Of Miss Ray, the celebrated singer, whose fatal story is so prominent in the annals of political gallantry (as Lord Sandwich's mistress), of the eighteenth-century oratorio, and of Tyburn-tree, on which Mr. Kackman was hung for murdering her, Mr. Leigh Hunt tells us, “ His [Hackman's] victim was buried at Elstree, where she had been a lovely and happy child, running about with her blooming face, and little thinking what trouble it was to cost her.”+ She is said to have been the daughter of a labourer at Elstree-and woe worth the day that a Cabinet Minister set eyes on the Hertfordshire rustic's darling. Thousands at this hour, far lower sunk than ever she was, can scarce endure the reminder that each blighted form among themselves, too, was once a child.
I meet sin-bloated faces in the streets,
CURIOUS MESMERIC EXPERIENCES IN CALIFORNIA.
It is now seven years since I have written you, but want of affection has not been the reason of my silence. No doubt, however, you would
You knew I was alive. The protestations of friendship I had soʻrecently made were fresh in your recollection; the subjects of letters were interesting to me, and some of them required answers, and still no letter from me; and then you stopped writing, but not till you had vehemently reproached me for the fickleness of my friendship. Ah! brother of my soul, I had other reasons for not writing you-reasons which, after the interval of six years, I still shudder to think of, and shrink from narrating. My friend, I did not write you because I had undergone a trial so horrible, a period of suffering so excruciating, that it is only lately I have regained sufficient self-possession to take any in life.
You will remember that before leaving this country I was a student of mesmerism, and no mean adept in its practice. You recollect the success with which I induced coma, even in the cases of the most obstinate unbelievers, and you must have been struck with several extraordinary cases of clairvoyance which I succeeded in producing. Above all, you must have remarked the mastery I obtained over the wills of one or two of the more susceptible of our friends, and how I seemed, as it were, to infuse my mind into theirs ; so that they acted, felt, spoke precisely as I did, without any external indications by me, of my wishes or feelings; but there was, if possible, a more extraordinary faculty which I occasionally possessed. I had at certain seasons of the year, and generally in spring, the power of drawing the minds of others into my own; so that I thought, * Owen Meredith, The Wife's Tragedy.
† The Town, ch, viii. | Alex. Smith, A Life-Drama, sc. ix.