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naked huddled millions,—signs of disaster, famine, and misery; and in the foreground still that princely man, his features ploughed with care, knitting his brows in fierce anger and disdain, stamping on the ground, while his eastern slaves cowered around him, as he hastily perused letters and despatches, his English secretary, attendants, and aids-de-camp standing back, anxiously scanning his looks, and reading his troubled mind in his working and eloquent features.
This scene passed, and he was next seen in an English ship, more stately if possible than the former vessel, freighted with all the rich and rare productions of the East; but the bright look had waxed dim, the buoyant spirit of the outward-bound voyager was now heavy and slow. Anon, and he lay reclined on a couch on the deck, under a silken and gold awning. A physician felt his purse; black servants in splendid costumes fanned him; others approached with profound salams, bearing perfumes, and offering service, as they might have done to a divinity. Indifferent to all, his eye remained riveted on one paper, on a few cabalistic words, which, like the damned bloodspot on the hand of Lady Macbeth, would not out, could not sweeten.
"Turn we again to England," said Mr Dodsley, shifting the scene, " to our stern, ambitious, iron-minded man, of invincible purpose, of unconquerable perseverance, and, let me add, of strong intellect, and yet stronger ambition;—there you see him, the slough of the temple cast, in the king's bench, in the court of chancery, in the commons' house of parliament, every energy of his mind in perpetual activity, already surrounded by satellites, the ministers or slaves of his will, subdued by that mighty and resistless will to its own purposes of selfish aggrandizement, of intrigue and political ambition, and, it may occasionally be, of pure patriotism. And now every obstacle overcome, undermined, or boldly trampled under foot, see him make one grand spring to reach the height at which every act of his life has aimed; while all men, the stronger as well as the feebler spirits, give way to his resistless progress, or cheer him on to the spot where lie the coveted rich robes, the patents, and the purses, and by these the mighty insignia of the lord high chancellor of England."
"I begin to long for a glimpse of our gentle boy now," said Sophia, "dreaming over his ' Thomson's Seasons.' Has he been borne down by the torrent which has carried his bold and daring companion so high and far ?—Our gentle interesting boy!—has he been cast away like a weed, or has he cast away himself?"—" You shall judge," said
Mr Dodsley,—" Here is our lost one ." And there he was, the
very boy, developed in the thin, melancholy, woe-worn man, sitting lonely on a tombstone, under the elms of a country church-yard.— "He is curate of that church," said Sophia; "and I daresay he has lost his wife or his child. How refined and how expressive are his faded features \ a look of meek resignation, stealing over the traces of some deep mysterious affliction."
"He never was in orders, nor yet had wife or child, my sprightly guesser," said Mr Dodsley. "Mental blight, dark and fearful trial, and the utter desolation of worldly prospects, have all passed over him; but he is, as you see, better now,—there is even an occasional flash of humour kindling over those placid features,—of which, however, gentle kindness, deep, holy submission, is the fixed and habitual expression."
"It makes my heart ache to see him so far thrown out," said Sophia; "for even at Westminster I liked him best."—" He was my boy too," cried Fanny. This was not quite correct, for Sophia had expressed strong sympathy with the " noble boy," as she called him, and great admiration of the Oriental Vice-king; but Mr Dodsley accepted her own interpretation of her altered feelings, and said " He was 'a stricken deer that left the herd '—nor was he free from blame; but his dark hour is past. Shall we follow him to his humble abode, not far from those church-yard elms, or return to those scenes of splendour, of grandeur, of substantial wealth, of real power, in which his early compeers preside, guiding or wielding the energies and the destinies of nations?"
"Follow him, sir," said Sophia; and the boys, though anxious for more stirring pictures of life, politely yielded to her wish. The quickly shifting scenes exhibited a dull, dingy, and even mean-looking house, in the centre of a small fifth-rate market town, and again a low-roofed parlour in that house, very plainly furnished with things neither fine nor new, and still less fashionable. Here sat an elderly, but comely gentlewoman knitting; and before her stood a plain tea equipage, waiting, as the next scene showed, the arrival of the loiterer under the church-yard elms, whom she seemed to welcome with the placid smile of long-tried affection. This scene looked brighter than the former. The old window curtain was let down, the old sofa wheeled in, the tea-kettle was steaming,—and it was singing also, no doubt, if pictures could give out sounds; the shadows of a blazing fire of wood were dancing and quivering on walls and roof, and shining on all the polished surfaces of the furniture; and a couple of hares at a touch were seen in another scene, leaping from a box. They gamboled and wheeled on the well-brushed carpet, their benevolent master and protector looking on their sports, and caracoles, and gambades, with pleased, affectionate, and even interested eyes.
"How lively those scenes—they are nature itself, Mr Dodsley," said Miss Jane Harding—" Your magic lantern is the finest mimic representation of life I ever saw.''
"I know whereabouts we are now," cried Sophia, in a low, earnest, yet delighted tone of voice. Olney! Cowper! Mrs Unwin!—Ah! sulky Tiney, and Mistress Bess the vaulter!"—" Let me see, let me see," cried the younger children; and Sophia had now a much stronger object of interest than the pictured scene, which she left to Fanny and Charles, and the other little ones.
"But the studious, thoughtful youth, who pored over the folio in the temple," she cried, "the dark-browed, stern man of the chancery court, Cowper's early friend—who was he?"
"Edward Thurlow, lord high chancellor of England."—" And that other boy—the noble boy—the Westminster scholar?" said Sophia.
"Warren Hastings, governor-general of India. These three youths started from the same point. In birth, Cowper was certainly the most distinguished of the three;—of their respective talents we will now speak—great men they all were—good men too, let us hope. The lot was cast into the lap. All started for the prize:—by routes how different did each gain the appointed place where all human travellers meet! What then were their gains?—which was happiest in his course of life?—But we must follow them farther; true is the Italian proverb, which says that no man can be pronounced happy till he is dead! Which of the three Westminster boys became the best man? Which most nobly fulfilled his duties to his God, his country, and his kind? Which—now that they all are gone to their reward—enjoys the widest, the purest, the highest fame? Which remains the best model to the youth of England ?—Not one of the three faultless, without doubt; but which of these three great men comes nearest the mark at which you, my boys, would aim?"
"I suppose lord Thurlow was chancellor before Henry VII.'s time," said Fanny Herbert; and Charles added in explanation, "Our history of England only begins then, so we don't know lord Thurlow. Sir Thomas More, you remember, Fanny ?—he was a merry, kind man, that chancellor."
"Your history goes back to a decently remote period,'' said Mr Dodsley, smiling at the observation of the young historians. "Lord Thurlow held this high office at a very recent date, in the reign of George 111., at the same time that Mr Hastings exercised the mighty government of the East, and Mr Cowper lived in neglect, and obscurity, composing his poetry."
"If we were to judge by our little audience," said Mrs Herbertf "one of your questions, nay, perhaps two, are already answered. The modest poet, living apart in that nameless obscurity, already enjoys not only a higher, but a more universal fame than either of his youthful compeers. All our good little folks here know him, less or more, in his daily life, as well as in his beautiful verse; they read him, and quote him, and love him, and, by daily draughts from his stores of wisdom and of love, nourish their moral and intellectual nature to a strength and stature it might never otherwise have attained."
"I fear you are a confirmed Cowperite," said Miss Harding, to her sister. "But what say you, young gentleman?"
"Hastings for me!" cried Mr Frank Consadine, the Irish youth. "Hastings, prince and conqueror!"—" And for me the woolsack," cried George Herbert. "I would rather, I think, just now, but I may change my mind, be high chancellor of England, than England's sovereign; to the one a prince is born, the other a man must achieve."
"If," said Norman Gordon, the Scottish youth, "one could bean Eastern vice-king, or English chancellor, and author of the ' Task' at the same time, one would be at no loss to decideand he halflaughed at the profound silliness of his own cautious conclusion.
"You would unite impossibilities, Mr Norman," said the curate. "Cowper's poetry required not only an original cast or bias of mind, but a preparatory course of life, and a mental discipline quite peculiar—very different, indeed, from that of a lawyer and politician, or Eastern legislator and conqueror. We must take our three schoolboys and men exactly as we find them; and determine the claims, and estimate the happiness of each on his own merits, nor think of what might have been."
The younger children liked pictures better than discussion, so the whole group solicited Mr Dodsley to proceed with his exhibition, which he did, still adhering to the original idea.
"To afford you wider grounds for forming your opinions, my little friends, you shall see each of our heroes by his own fireside, and also in more active and distinguished scenes. This first, is the lords' house of'parliament, solemn and antique, with its Gothic, tag-rag decorations.
"It is the day of a trial. These are the peers of Britain,— yonder the judges and prelates of the land,—there some of the young princes of the blood-royal, honoured in being created members of this house. Taken all in all, the scene before you represents the most august tribunal in the world; and before that tribunal is arraigned Warren Hastings, the victim of a triumphant faction, the object of much ignorant clamour, and of popular hatred, which one can yet hardly condemn, as it sprang from the best feelings of humanity. You see the long perspective of council, and clerks, and ushers, and reporters. That is Burke, who, with the lightnings of his eloquence, blights and withers the once flourishing and princely Hastings. And there stands Sheridan, ready to pounce on his victim,—to hold up the proud-minded vice-king to the abhorrence and execration of the world, as a monster of rapacity, cruelty, and tyranny, swollen with wealth and bloated with crime, the desolator of the fairest portion of the east, the wholesale, cold-blooded murderer of millions of Asiatics.
"The partisan orator may be half-conscious of the falsehood of many of his representations, and entirely so of their artificial gloss and high-colouring; but candour and truth are not the object of the party man; he vehemently proceeds in his statements, boldly makes his charges, and eloquently supports them.
"We shall now presume the house adjourned, and follow Hastings to his retirement. Where now, Sophia, is the gay Westminster boy, the gallant, ambitious, high-minded statesman and soldier of the east? Can you trace him in that sallow, drooping, arraigned criminal, whose spirit is chafed almost to madness. In public he folds up his arms in self-supporting disdain 5 he tries to smooth his careworn brow, and to teach his quivering lip to curl in contempt of his open accusers, and more rancorous secret enemies. But, alas! contempt and disdain of our fellow-men are not calm, much less are they happy feelings. The persecuted, if not yet degraded man, is sick at his very soul; his heart is bursting with the indignant anguish, which will break it at last. There may have been, and in this still hour of self-communion conscience so whispers, things faulty and blameworthy in his bold and illustrious career. Nor is he free of guilt; for his station was one of great difficulty, and loaded with responsibility which might make even the strongest and best-hearted man tremble. Images of long-acted, painful scenes rise before him in his solitude; actions justified, in their passing, by the plea of a strong necessity, which he dislikes and dreads to think of now. And here, the world shut out, surrounded as he is with all the wealth and luxury of the eastern and western hemispheres, the hootings of the London rabble, and the hissings of the adder-tongues of his enemies, still ring in his ears; and to these envenomed sounds conscience in his own bosom returns a faint, yet an undying echo. Perhaps he may wish, in this anguished hour, that his lot, though less splendid, had been more .safe.
"To beguile an hour of care he takes up a volume of the poetry of his old school-fellow, the lost William Cowper. He has little leisure for literature, but a lingering taste remains for what engrossed so many of the happy hours of happier days. He turns up one passage after another; and the map and history of Cowper's life lie before him. Are his feelings those of pity or of envy? Probably they are a strangely-entangled mixture of both. His eye is riveted on a passage in the poem of Expostulation; he reads on and on; and, as if spell-urged, pronounces aloud,