Imágenes de páginas

the child is more dependant upon her ministering offices; and in her it is generally most intense towards the deformed in body or mind, the rickety or the ideotic ;—not from any perverse or deficient judgment, but from a watchful impulse of nature directing her tenderness in that channel where it is the most needed. Preservation of the species seems to be the pervading principle of the world; and it is wonderful to reflect how actively and perpetually this agency is at work without our being conscious of its presence. Birds and beasts, when they have answered the great purpose of temporary protection, lose this instinct, previously so acute; they even cease to have the smallest recognition of their offspring, and though the pride of man revolts from any analogies drawn from the animal kingilom, I believe that in many of their leading tendencies there is a marvellous accordance between them. Thus I apprehend that parental affection progressively weakens as it ceases to be required; and though a sense of benefits conferred or received may substitute a lively sentiment or principle of friendship, it is no longer an instinct about the preservation of which nature is solicitous. Were our feelings upon these points governed by justice or a balance of benefits, they would be much more powerful towards our parents than our offspring; but the reverse is notoriously the case.

I am happy to say that I was rather a stupid boy, and in defiance of the poet's maxim, that “ the child's the father of the man," I am prepared to maintain that I ceased to be thus obtuse long before I had any claim to the toga virilis. Precocity is generally an indication of disease; and it has been very safely predicated of infant prodigies that they rarely grow up clever, because, in fact, they rarely grow up at all. They “o'er-inform their tenement of clay;"--the fire of intellect burns faster than the body can supply it with aliment, and so they spiritualize and evaporate. Mind and body are yoked together to pursue their mysterious journey with equal steps, nor can one outstrip the other without breaking the harness and endangering the whole machine. I would rather that my child's right shoulder should grow higher than his left, than that his mind should get the start of his body; for the former would only affect his symmetry, the latter is frequently a fatal symptom. Were all authors as ingenious as Dr. Johnson in disclaiming the juvenile miracles of wit attributed to them, the number of our really precocious writers, who have attained subsequent celebrity, would probably be extremely limited. As to solitary instances of preternatural talent in children, limited to one direction, they do not come within the scope of my argument. Such is that incomprehensible faculty of arithmetic in the celebrated Calculating Boy, who in an instant can solve problems which would be an hour's puzzle to our ablest calculators “ with all appliances and means to boot," and yet this urchin cannot even explain the process by which he performs the miracle. One would imagine that by some peculiar organization of his brain, a ray of omniscience had shot athwart it, giving us a single glimpse of its divine origin, as when the clouds are opened by lightning, we appear to get a momentary peep into the glories of the inner. most heaven. With such an example of inexplicable intuition we need not despair of future striplings, who, in the intervals of peg-top and cricket, will kindly spare a moment for quadrating the circle, discovering the longitude, explaining the cause of polar attraction, and solving

[ocr errors]

other Edipean riddles which have puzzled the world since its creation, while the young sages shall be all unconscious of the might within them. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings may such revelations be ordained. As, however, the loss of one of our senses generally quickens and strengthens the rest, so the preternatural growth and vigour of any particular mental faculty commonly cripples or weakens the others. A hump-backed man is spindle-shanked, and the Calculating Boy, in all directions but one, was weak-minded and simple. In every thing “order is heaven's first law;" proportion and equilibrium are the only elements of beauty and strength.

Among the advantages of my birth it was my good fortune to be member of a large family, the collision of which is highly beneficial in rubbing off the little asperities and singularities that the youthful character is apt to throw out in the petulance of its development. The severe discipline and turmoil of school completes this process, as the lashing and roaring of the ocean assimilates the pebbles upon its beach; but I question whether in this rough mode of polishing, the remedy be not worse than the disease. What idle cant and talking by rote is it in old men to declare, with a grave shake of the head or theatrical sigh, that their school-days were the happiest of their lives. Away with such nonsense! they were no such thing. For myself I can declare that I look back with unmixed horror to that period, and that no temptations should induce me to live my life over again, if I were again compelled to struggle through that accursed Slough of Despond. Naturally placid and sedate, I was rarely betrayed into pranks, and of course escaped the punishments which they entail : in spite of a disadvantageous intirmity under which I laboured for several years, I was alwafs enabled to keep at the head of my class: I frequently won prizes for good conduct, almost always those for scholastic exercises: I was never flogged; and yet my mental sufferings were acute. Were I called upon to specify them, I could not easily do it: they consisted rather of an aggregate of petty annoyances than of any one overpowering evil. Of a delicate constitution and sensitive mind, every nerve and fibre seemed to be perpetually set on edge. My senses and appetites were all outraged by grossness and coarse viands; I was maddened with noise and hurly-burly; at one time the boisterous mirth and practical jokes of my schoolfellows distressed me; at another I was terrified by their cries and contortions as they suffered under the rod. Tough and obdurate minds soon got inured to all this, but mine was of a more tender temperament, nor could it find any consolation in a hoop or skipping-rope. I hold it little vanity to say that “my desires were dolphin-like, and showed themselves above the element they lived in." So deeply was my mind impressed with the laceration of my feelings at this period, that in after-life I never sent a child to school without a thousand misgivings and qualms of conscience; and I would rather have thrown a boy to the Minotaur at once, than have sacrificed him to the slow torment of any public school, polluted by the system of what is technically termed Fagging—that is, compelling a youngster to crouch beneath the foot of some malignant tyrant of the first or second form, that he may finally take his revenge, not on his oppressor, but on the next stripling over whom, as he advances to seniority, he is to exercise the same wanton cruelty. Cowardly and debasing practice! It may fit boys for the army, but it can hardly fail to render them not less abject towards their superiors than reckless and overbearing to those beneath them.

It is humiliating to reflect how little is subsequently retained after passing through this fiery ordeal. At least five schoolboys out of ten make a point of forgetting their Latin and Greek, which is nearly all they can acquire at a public-school, with as much rapidity as possible. F- says, that such a man is better than one who never studied the classics, as an empty censer still has a grateful odour from the perfume it contained; but I suspect he would rather sit down to one full bottle of Port than smell to a dozen empty claret bottles, whatever might have been the fragrance of their bouquet. Porson, who retained so much that he could afford to boast of what he had lost, was justified in exclaiming to a chattering pretender, “Sir, I have forgotten more than you ever knew.” But after all, it is better to have knowledge to brag of than ignorance. “How comes it,” said a flippant youngster to Dr. Parr, " that you never wrote a book ?-suppose we write one together." “In that way,” said the Doctor, “we might indeed make a very thick one.” “ How?” “Why, by putting in all that I know and all that you do not know."

In due time I exchanged the scholastic form for a stool in a merchant's counting-house, and found my Latin of special service in supplying the initials for pounds, shillings, and pence, with which I headed the columns of the Petty-cash book; while my Grecian lore fully qualified me to institute a comparison between the famous honey of Hybla and Hymettus, and the sugar samples which were ranged on shelves over my head. What a revulsion of mind I experienced at being suddenly plunged from the all-commanding summit of Mount Pindus and the Howery vale of Hæmus, where my young fancy had held converse with nymphs, fauns, and dryads, into the murky day candle-light of a counting-house in the City, where my aspiring intellect was to be fed from the classic fountains of brokers, wharfingers, and sailors. Ductile as water, the mind at that age soon takes the form of whatever surrounds it. The poor pride of excelling, even in this humble knowledge, rendering me assiduous, I won the confidence of my employer, and after due probation was promoted to what is termed a pulpit-desk, where I stood from nine in the morning till eight at night, behind three enormous books which I was employed in posting, and for my sole reward received the honorary appellation of book-keeper. Greater men than I have performed less honourable drudgery for a rag of ribbon across the breast or round the knee; and I only regret the continuance of offices like mine, because in the great improvement of mechanical science I think animal machines may be dispensed with, and a steam-engine be advantageously substituted for a book-keeper. My evenings were my own, and as I was never very fond of theatres, routs, and parties, and was constitutionally temperate, I had still some leisure hours for reading, and invariably carried a book with me to bed to keep me awake; a practice which I have since occasionally adopted for a purpose directly opposite. My range did not extend beyond the catalogue of a circulating-library, but nothing came amiss to me; my appetite was too keen to be discriminative, and I swallowed trash with a relish which nothing but the raciness of youth and novelty can impart, and which I have since found often wanting when more nutritious and wholesome aliments were spread before me. Among other rubbish upon which I fastened in my hunger, was the barren study of Heraldry-one which I now view with sovereign contempt, but to which I am perhaps indebted for the literary turn given to my mind, at an age when trifles were influential, and for all the subsequent comforts and advantages derived from that tendency. Detecting some heraldic error in the Gentleman's Magazine, I wrote a letter to correct it: how many times I corrected my own correction, I cannot say, but I remember it occupied four sides fairly written, and the reader, if he be not bimself an occasional author, can hardly imagine the impatience with which I waited for the end of the month. My hopes of its being inserted were but faint, but they were strong enough to take me to the publisher's early on the first day of the month, where I bought the number, went up a court to look over the table of contents, and found that my communication had been inserted. Few moments of my life have afforded me more gratification. My countenance dropped, however, when I got home and turned to the article, for at the first blush it appeared to me, by the space it occupied, (about a column) to have been miserably cut up and curtailed; but on comparing it with my copy I discovered that not a syllable was suppressed, and that this seeming contraction was but the natural efsect of printing. I continued an occasional correspondent of the venerable Mr. Sylvanus Urban till my mind was out of arms, and I became vain enough to imagine that I was fifty years too young to be entitled to the patronage of this Mæcenas of old women.

(To be continued.)


A Roma Sepultuda en sus ruinas.

Search Rome for Rome, O Traveller! thou shalt see

In Rome, Rome is not; but the grass-green mound

And mouldering wreck, her relics, may be found,
'Mid which th' Aventine rises mournfully.
The Palatine has bow'd to destiny,

A shapeless ruin strew'd along the ground,
O'er its long range of walls, once so renown'd,
The foot of Time bath march'd triumphantly.
Yet Tiber flows as he hath ever flown;

On palaces, and tombs, and temples rent,
He breaks his sorrowing waves with hollow moan.

O Rome! thy grandeur and thy strength are spent-
All of thee that was stable--while alone

That which was fugitive is permanent!

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

When Horace, as the snows descended
On Mount Soracte, recommended

That Logs be doubled,
Until a blazing fire arose,
I wonder whether thoughts like those
Which in my noddle interpose,

His fancy troubled.
Poor Log! I cannot hear thee sigh,
And groan, and hiss, and see thee dic,

To warm a Poet,
Without evincing thy success,
And as thou wanest less and less,
Inditing a farewell address,

To let thee know it.
Peeping from earth-a bud unveilid,
Some “bosky bourne" or dingle hail'd

Thy natal hour,
While infant winds around thee blew,
And thou wert fed with silver dew,
And tender sunbeams oozing through

Thy leafy bower.
Earth-water--air-thy growth prepared,
And if perchance some Robin, scared

From neighbouring manor,
Perch'd on thy crest, it rock'd in air,
aking his ruddy feathers fare
In the sun's ray, as if they were

A fairy banner.
Or if some nightingale impressid
Against thy branching top her breast

Heaving with passion,
And in the leafy nights of June
Outpour'd her sorrows to the moon,
Thy trembling stem thou didst attune

To each vibration.
Thou grew'st a goodly tree, with shoots
Fanning the sky, and earth-bound roots

So grappled under,
That thou whom perching birds could swing,
And zephyrs rock with lightest wing,
From thy firm trunk unmoved didst fling

Tempest and thunder.
Thine offspring leaves-death's annual prey,
Which Herod Winter tore away

From thy caressing,
In heaps, like graves around thee blown,
Each morn thy dewey tears have strown,
O’er each thy branching hands been thrown

As if in blessing
Bursting to life another race,
At touch of Spring, in thy embrace

Sported and fluttered;
Aloft, where wanton breezes play'd,
In thy knit-boughs have ringdoves made
Their nest, and lovers in thy shade

Their vows have uttered.

« AnteriorContinuar »