Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

One who already trembles with remorse.
But sort me not with those with whom the wrench
Of Nature's links is pastime. Years were gone
Before I knew my blood was in the veins
Of any but the sons beneath my eye;
And then 'twixt justice and thy husband stood
A haughty woman, jealous of her own.
O'erruled in part,

1
yet

commission'd one,
Who proved unworthy of his trust, to make
Such poor amends as could by gold be compass'd,
For absence of parental countenance.
Oh, it was wrong! and I have paid it deeply!
It hath brought down misfortune in such weight
As might almost be look'd on for atonement.
Amongst the rest, my wife is dead, my children
Or dead, or worse in disregarded duty.
My home is solitary but for thee

And him thou lov'st.
Mary.

And who will over-pay
In all a son should be, whatever grief
May elsewhere have befallen thee. My lord,
You come to bring us wealth, and ne'er can know
The half of that son's worth. You should have come
In want, in sickness, and in sorrow too:
Then you had seen how his elastic arms
Had labour'd for your comfort. Then you had felt
How much too tender is that manly heart
To hoard the memory of suffer'd ills.

Caleb rushes in in great horror.
Rayland. What is it, man? speak out.
Mary.

God's mercy, Caleb, Why is your look so dreadful? Nought of him?

Nought of my husband? Rayland.

He is dumb with fear!
Caleb. Would I were so for ever!

Thou hast something
Of matchless horror to relate! My husband !

Oh, quickly speak,-my husband !
Caleb.

Did you mark No strangeness in his manner when you parted? Mary. No-nothing-yes-Oh, God! I charge thee speak! Rayland. Speak out, I tell thee, peasant! I'm his father.

Thou sure canst tell what I can stand to hear.
Caleb. I used my utmost speed, but the deep fen

Clung to my feet and pluck'd me back, as though
It were in league with that most damned whirlpool.

(They stand motionless.)
My heart misgave me, whilst I struggled on.
I thought of his last look, and labour'd harder,
And came within a stone's throw of the bank.
The stream has nothing to oppose its course,
And glides in deadly silence." "Then I heard
The name of “ Mary,” and a plunge, and then
A suffocating gasp--I heard no more;
But dashing through the rushes which conceald
The drowning man, beheld a quivering arın

Just vanish in the greedy whirlpool's gorge!
Mary. But-but-thou say'st-I know—I see thou say'st
It was not he-my husband-God! 0, God!

(She falls into the arms of Rayland.)

Mary.

Ruylund. Thou loitering slave! what need so many words?

Thou ’dst have me think it was indeed my son.
Caleb. A boat had drifted to the shore-'twas Luke's

I leap'd into's, and shouted loud for help,
Which, haply, was at hand. Alas, alas!
None ever rose and none hath e'er been raised,
Alive or dead, from that dark place! I left
My breathless friends lamenting on the bank :-

Their toil was fruitless.
Rayland.

Awful, heavy wrath!
But it is just.-O, my devoted son,
Sharp misery ne'er wrung a tear from thee
So burning as the one which thou thyself
Hast call’d up from thy father's heart !-But how

But how canst thou be sure it was my son ?
Caleb. I saw him yesterday wrought to a pitch

Beyond his custom of impatient grief.
'Twas one of many blank' successless days,
And he talk'd madly of his wife and famine.
I left him late upon the moor—this morn,
As I return'd from Willow Mead, I found him
In strange disorder at his cottage door.
He told me he had slept ; his wife just now
Assured me that he was not home all night,
And, when he came, he brought a purse of gold.-

My Lord, I'm sure you best know how he got it.
Rayland. Well, well—thou’dst not betray him--would'st thou, man?
Caleb. Not í indeed, my Lord. Fear, shame, and anguish,

At what despair and his necessity,

Had done, no doubt, bath caused this dreadful end. Rayland. (after some ineffectual attempts to speak.) Hast thou a bed to

lay this innocent on ? Caleb. Within, my lord :—my wife does love her well, And will watch by her tenderly.

[Rayland supports her out slowly and in great

agitation. Caleb, having endeavoured to preserve his firmness, throws himself into a chair and bursts into tears.

Poor Luke!
This is the saddest way he could have left us.
Raylund. (returning and looking earnestly at him.) Good peasant, thou,

on whom he had no claim
Of kindness, wert the only one of all

Who used him kindly:- Where's that cruel gold?
Caleb. My Lord, she gave it in my charge just when

You entered. It is here (raising it from the tal·le.)
Rayland.

Let me look on it-
Away with it, in mercy.—You are poor,
And my son leaves it to his only friend.
But mark me, as thou hopest that it will buy
Prosperity, be choicer of his secret
Than of thy life.-Now lead me where he lies—
'Tis just, most just-I came not at his need,
And angry Heaven haih snatch'd him up from mine.

OLD AGE.

My age is as a lusty winter,-frosty but kindly."

As you Like it. With the exception of a few reprobates and freethinkers, every body wishes to go to Heaven ; but the most enthusiastic of us all, if he had the choice, would consent to go there as late as possible. This perverse disposition to extend life beyond that period in which the faculties begin to decay, like that of children, who, having eaten the apple, apply themselves voraciously to devour the parings, is any thing but rational : yet so it is, we cling with closer earnestness to the rickety tenement, as its dilapidations increase ; and are never so anxious for a renewal of the lease as at the very moment when the edifice is crumbling about our ears.

The Abbé Morellet was wont to declare, that in spite of his overwhelming infirmities he still clung to life, in the hopes of seeing how the French revolution would end : and it seems not unreasonable to attribute the love of long life very generally to a principle of curiosity. Men are always more or less involved in some series of events which it is disagreeable to leave unfinished. One man would be glad to know how his children will turn out; another has begun a plantation ; a third desires to arrive at the end of a political intrigue ; a fourth longs to witness how his neighbour will cut up; and a fifth (the most unreasonable of all) would see the end of a Chancery suit; and so we go on with time " in its petty space from day to day.”

We see this disposition in individuals to pry into a futurity in whose combinations they have no part, instanced in their thousand minute directions concerning the disposition of their own funerals, in the petty details of direction which accompany the testamentary disposition of property ;--and even the indirect admonitions of sexagenary fathers given in the shape of predictions,—the “Tom, Tom, when I'm gone I suppose you'll carry my trees to Newmarket," and the “ I see how it will be when I'm out of the way,” betray full as much of idle speculation, as of paternal anxiety. If we except the old fellow of a college, who would do nothing for posterity, because posterity had done nothing for him, it would be hard to find an individual, who really entertained no curiosity to know how the world could possibly go on, when deprived of his own co-operation and support.

The desire of long life, abstracted from some such consideration, is the more absurd, because, when “the inevitable hour” arrives, the longest and the shortest life are in the imagination equal. However wearisome existence may have been in the acting, in retrospect it never appears long; and with the oldest, no less than the youngest,“ enough" in this, as in many other cases, signifies pretty generally “a little more."

Louis the Second of Hungary, we are told*, ran through a long career, within the short

compass very

few years. He was born so long before the ordinary conipletion of gestation, that he came into the world without the decent covering of a skin. In his second year

he

of

a

* Huseland on Animal Life.

was crowned ; in his third he succeeded to the throne ; in his fourteenth he had a complete beard; in his fifteenth (comme de raison ) he married ; in his eighteenth he grew grey; and in his twentieth he died, if not full of years, at least at a good old age,” and was gathered to his fathers. This precocity, so rare in the northern climates, is to a certain degree common among the females of warmer regions, who are grandmothers at six and twenty*; yet we do not find these individuals a whit more apt to complain of the brevity of their allotted space, than the Nestors of our species.

But whatever may be the causes of our reluctance to shake off the fardels of this world, the effect is constant; and there is no subject, which excites a more universal interest than this of longevity. Even the warmest partizans of that jovial doctrine, " a short life and a merry one,” would willingly convert it into a long life and a merry one: and the very judges on the bench, those “ sage, grave men, who send others on the great voyage of discovery with so much sang-froid, never lose the opportunity of examining a very aged witness, without interrupting the proceedings, to inquire his mode of life ; as if “my lord" himself had not long ago formed his own habits; and as if time were yet left for a new course of training to qualify for a second century.

On the subject of attaining to old age, almost every one has a theory of his own, and backs it out with a sufficiency of apposite examples water-drinkers, wine-drinkers, ale-drinkers, and brandy-drinkers, meat-consumers, and Hindoos, have all furnished instances of protracted life; tea and no tea, much sleep and little sleep, have each carried their heroes far into the vale of years ; fox-hunters and bookworms have alike contrived occasionally to put off the payment of the debt of nature to the latest moment; and town and city, pole and equator, can each boast of their Parrs and their Jenkinses : nay, there are not wanting persons who have contrived to preserve the balance between their radical heat and their radical moisture by the use of that noxious and pestilente weed” † tobacco. In all these various and opposing theories, it should seem that the judgment, as in other cases, is under the dominion of the passions; and that men recommend as wholesome, those practices which they themselves find the most agreeable,-by an easy mistake, confounding their own powers of resistance with the virtues of their favourite system. Thus, one old drunkard shuts the eyes of a sot to the premature and painful deaths of all his companions; and a certain indolent epicurean has been frequently heard to ask with an air of great seriousness, when pressed to take exercise, if a post-chaise was much improved by a journey of some hundred miles over a rough road ?

The human machine is of so pliant and accommodating a nature, that, with the exception of gross intemperance and abuse of powers, it readily adapts itself to the variety of impressions which accident and habit engender. Although therefore disease may be repaired, and shocks too violent for a tender frame be avoided by care, and though life may thus be protracted beyond what the constitution promises, yet it seems most probable that instances of great longevity depend far

* Letters written during a ten years residence at the Court of Tripoli. + Sir J. Sinclair, Code of Longevity.

more upon original conformation, than on peculiarity of self-management. This much may, however, be safely asserted, that no one ever succeeded in living long, by taking too much pains to effect his purpose. If care will fret and wear away the nine threads which form the whip-cord destiny of a cat, how much more likely is it to snap the single and tender filament which is spun for man! Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the hypochondriacal practices of those who lay themselves under all sorts of minute restrictions for the preservation of their frame, as if the whole business of life were to avoid death. This is indeed to have a slavish fear of destruction,

Et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas. The persons on record, as having passed the ordinary term of existence, have generally been among the lower classes, and consequently removed from the possibility of too much circumspection in this particular. The French, too, who afford among their celebrated characters many instances of the much more valuable property of health and vigour of mind protracted to the eightieth and even ninetieth year, are a peculiarly cheerful and even thoughtless race. Of all the circumstances over which man holds control, perhaps the most influential on longevity is the absence of mental anxiety; and yet this is precisely the condition excluded by too close an observance of codes of health, Whatever good may therefore be expected from consulting the Cheynes and the Cornaros, must be more than counterbalanced by the evil of constant solicitude; even if the end were worthy of the means, and if the outliving of ourselves, and what is still worse—our friends and connexions, were not a calamity which a rational being should seek to avoid. But a truce with sententious morality, to which we have been led involuntarily, for no assignable reason, if it be not punning Tom Ashe's,* that death is a grave theme. The proper object of the present paper is to afford one more instance of a life protracted beyond the common term, contrary to the chances, and under circumstances which, à priori, would not have been favourable to extraordinary longevity.

Standing, "one morning in May," (as the ballad has it) at the door of the neat village inn which opens its hospitable gates at the very base of Mount Cenis, and at the extremity of the town of Lans-leburg, I was wrapped in the pleasing contemplation of one of those storms of wind and snow, which,“ in season and out of season,” are to be met with in these elevated regions. The questions which naturally suggest themselves to a traveller about to undertake a novel journey under such circumstances, engaged a conversation with the by-standers, concerning tourmentes, avalanches, &c. interspersed with divers narrations of persons lost in the snow.

On the mention of one of these adventures, " Ay,” said a hale, hearty, old woman, who was among the group," I rode courier on that occasion, and narrowly escaped being lost myself.”—“Courier!" I replied, in an accent sufficiently indicative of surprise to engage the person to whom I had been speaking in the desired explanation. Yes, Sir,” he continued," she says true ;—that is La donna di centro quattr' anni t, who long kept the inn of this town, and who spent a large part of her life in men's clothes as a courier."

* Swift's Works,

+ The lady of 104 years.

« AnteriorContinuar »