Imágenes de página


indeed, a common origin. Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke were both Irishmen. But Goldsmith carried his country about with him wherever he went; he was always blundering and reckless, and goodnatured. Burke only showed where he had been born by his zeal for the improvement of his country whenever its affairs came under discussion. I believe that these two men, with the vast differences that there are between them, may both become our friends, and that we shall not thoroughly enjoy the Deserted Village, or the · Vicar of Wakefield,' or the Speeches on American Taxation, or the 'Reflections on the French Revolution,' unless they do. All Goldsmith's friends were always scolding him, laughing at him, and learning from him. They found that he had a fund of knowledge which he had picked up they could not tell how; but apparently by sympathising with all the people that he came into contact with, and so getting to be really acquainted with them. He compiled histories without much learning about the people he was writing of; yet he did not make them false or foolish, because he had more notion than many diligent historians have of what men must be like in any latitudes. In his poetry he never goes out of his depth; he speaks of things which he has seen and felt himself, and so it tells us of him if it does not tell us of much else. In spite of all his troubles he is as good-natured as Addison; only he mixed with a different class of people from Addison, and can tell us of country vicars, and their wives and daughters, though he may not

know much of a Sir Roger de Coverley. His books, I think, must be always pleasant, as well as profitable, friends, provided we do not expect from them, as we ought not to expect from any friend, more than they profess to give.

Burke is a friend of another order. Johnson said of him, “ that if you met him under a gateway in a shower of rain, you must perceive that he was a remarkable man.” I do not think we can take up

the most insignificant fragment of the most insignificant speech or pamphlet he ever put forth, without arriving at the same conviction. But he does what is better than make us acknowledge him as a remarkable man. He makes us acknowledge that we are small men, that we have talked about subjects of which we had little knowledge, and the principles of which we had imperfectly sounded.

He told the electors of Bristol that they might reject him if they pleased, but that he should maintain his position as an English statesman and an honest man. They did reject him, of course, but his speech remains as a model for all true men to follow; as a warning to all who adopt another course, that they may make friends for the moment, but that they will not have a friend in their own conscience, and that their books, if they leave any, will be no friends to those who read them in the times to come.

Away from the club in which Johnson, Burke, and Goldsmith, were wont to meet, in a little village in Buckinghamshire, dwelt another poet, who was not

z 2

uninterested in their doings, and who had in his youth mixed with London wits. William Cowper inspired much friendship among men, and still more among women, during his lifetime; they found him the pleasantest of all companions in his bright hours, and they did not desert him in his dark hours. His books have been friends to a great many since he left the earth, because they exhibit him very faithfully in both; some of his letters and some of his poems being full of mirth and quiet gladness, some of them revealing awful struggles and despair. Whatever estimate may be formed of his poetry in comparison with that of earlier or later writers, every one must feel that his English is that of a scholar and a gentleman; that he had the purest enjoyment of domestic life, and of what one may call the domestic or still life of nature. One is sure also that he had the most earnest faith, which he cherished for others when he could find no comfort in it for himself. These would be sufficient explanations of the interest which he has awakened in so many simple and honest readers, who turn to books for sympathy and fellowship, and do not like a writer at all the worse because he also demands their sympathy with him. Cowper is one of the strongest instances, and proofs, how much more qualities of this kind affect Englishmen than any others. The gentleness of his life might lead some to suspect him of effeminacy; hut the old Westminster school-boy and cricketer, comes out in the midst of his · Meditation on Sofas; and the deep tragedy which was at the bottom of his whole life, and which grew more terrible as the shadows of evening closed upon him, shows that there

may be unutterable struggles in those natures which seem least formed for the rough work of the world. In one of his later poems he speaks of himself as one

“Who, tempest-tossed, and wrecked at last,

Comes home to port no more.But his nephew, who was with him on his death-bed, says that there was a look of holy surprise on his features after his eyes were closed, as if there were very bright visions for him behind the veil that was impenetrable to him here.



“Happy season of Childhood! Kind Nature, that art to all a bountiful mother ; that visitest the poor man's hut with auroral radiance; and for thy nursling hast provided a soft swathing of Love and infinite Hope, wherein he waxes and slumbers, danced-round by sweetest dreams! If the paternal cottage still shuts us in, its roof still screens us; with a father we have as yet a prophet, priest and king, and an obedience that makes us free.

"The young spirit has awakened out of Eternity. and knows not what we mean by Time ; as yet time is no fast-hurrying stream, but a sportful sunlit ocean;


years to the child are as ages : Ah! the secret of Vicissitude, of that slower or quicker decay, and ceaseless down-rushing of the universal world-fabric, from the granite mountain to the man or day-moth, is yet unknown; and in a motionless universe, we taste, what afterwards, in the quick-whirling universe is for ever denied us, the balm of rest. Sleep on, thou fair child, for thy long rough journey is at hand! A little while, and thou too shalt sleep no more, but thy very dreams shall be mimic battles; thou, too, with old Arnauld, wilt have to say in stern patience; “Rest! Rest! Shall I not have all Eternity to rest in?' Celestial nepenthe! though a Pyrrhus conquer empires, and an Alexander sack the world, he finds thee not; and thou hast once fallen gently, of thy own accord, on the eyelids, on the heart of every mother's child. For as yet, sleeping and waking are one; the fair Lifegarden rustles infinite around, and everywhere is dewy fragrance, and the budding of hope; which budding, if in youth, too frostnipt, it grows to flowers, will in manhood yield no fruit, but a prickly, bitter-rinded stone-fruit, of which the fewest can find the kernel."


Properly speaking, there is but one era in the life of Burns, and that the earliest. We have not youth and manhood, but only youth : for, to the end, we discerii no decisive change in the complexion of his character; in his thirty-seventh year, he is still, as it were, in youth. With all that resoluteness of judgment, that

« AnteriorContinuar »