Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

were life's only good, and a human being's sole aim; but it is applied to as a beautiful accomplishment--a poetical recreation amid less humanising influences. Thus, instead of serving merely as an arena for the display of selfish ambition, or a cell wherein unsocial and barren devotion may find scope, it is valued chiefly as a means of embodying the unforced impressions of our own natures, for the happiness and improvement of our fellow creatures, We say that such a view must be taken by sincere authors of their vocation, because they cannot but feel that, from the very constitution of their natures, literature is only a part of the great whole--the soul's beinga single form of its development, and one among the thousand offices to which the versatile mind is called.

It is needless to prove, in detail, Lamb's sincerity. It is, perhaps, his most prominent characteristic ; but in tracing out and dwelling upon its influence, we are newly impressed with the truth of Shaftesbury's declaration, that “wisdom is more from the heart than from the head.” We have ever remarked that the most delightful and truly sincere writers are the most susceptible, affectionate, and unaffected men. We have felt, that however intellectually endowed, the feelings of such individuals are the true sources of their power. Sympathy we consider one of the primal principles of efficient genius. It is this truth of feeling which enabled Shakspeare to depict so strongly the various stages of passion, and the depth, growth, and gradations of sentiment. In whom does this primitive readiness to sympathise--to enter into all the moods of the soul-continue beyond early life, so often as in men devoted to imaginative objects? How frequently are we struck with the child-like character of artists and poets! It sometimes seems as if, along with childhood's ready sympathy, many of the other characteristics of that epoch were projected into the more mature stages of being. " There is often," says Madame de Staël, “in true genius a sort of awkwardness, similar, in some respects, to the credulity of sincere and noble souls."

This readiness to catch impressions—this delicacy and warmth of sympathy which belongs to the sincere school of writers, is inestimable. It is said that a musical amateur traversed the whole of Ireland, and gathered from the peasants the delightful airs to which Moore's beautiful Irish melodies were afterwards adapted. How much of the charm of those sweet songs is owing to their associations with the native and simple music thus gleaned from voices to which it had traditionally descended? And it is by their sympathy—their sincere and universal interest in humanity, that the sweetest poets, the most renowned dramatists, and such humble gleaners in

[ocr errors]

the field of letters, as our quaint essayist, are enabled to write in a manner corresponding with the heaven-attuned, unwritten music of the human heart. Sincerity gives them the means of interpreting for their fellow beings--not only the lofty subjects which filled the soul of the “ blind bard of Paradise," and the broad range of life upon which the observant mind of the poet of human nature was intent, but those lesser and more unique themes which Elia loved to speculate about, and humorously illustrate.

There is a unity of design in the essays of Elia. Disconnected and fugitive as we should deem them at first sight, an attentive perusal reveals, if not a complete theory, yet a definite and pervading spirit which is not devoid of philosophy. After being amused by Lamb's humour, interested by his quaintness, and fascinated by his style, there yet remains a more deep impression upon our minds. We feel that he had a specific object as an essayist; or, at least, that the ideas he suggests tend to a particular result. What, then, was his aim? As an author, what mission does he fulfil? We think Charles Lamb is to life, what Wordsworth is to nature. The latter points out the field flowers, and the meadow rill, the soul's most primal and simple movements, the mind's most single and unsophisticated tendencies; the former indicates the lesser, and scarcely noticed sources of pleasure and annoyance, mirth and reflection, which occur in the beaten track of ordinary life. It was remarked, by an able critic, of the author of the Lyrical Ballads, that," he may be said to take a personal interest in the universe;" with equal truth Elia may be regarded as taking a personal interest in life. He delighted in designating its everyday, universal, and for that very reason-disregarded experiences. Leaving the delineation of martyrdoms, and the deeper joys of the heart, to more ambitious writers, he preferred to dwell upon the misery of children when left awake in their solitary beds in the dark; to shadow forth the peace-destroying phantom of a “poor relation;" to draw up eloquent bacheloric complaints of the “behaviour of married people ;" to describe, in touching terms, the agony of one condemned to hear music " without an ear ;” and to lament pathetically the unsocialaspect of a metropolitan Sabbath, and the disturbing, heartless conduct of those who remove old landmarks. He did not sorrow only over minor miseries, but gloried in minor pleasures. To him, “Elysian exemptions" from ordinary toil-a sweet morning's nap-a "sympathetic solitude"-an incidental act or emotion of benevolence, and, especially, those dear “treasures cased in leathern covers," for which he was so thankful that he assures us he could say grace before reading them; these, and such as these, were to Charles Lamb absolute and

recognised blessings. He seems to have broke away from the bondage of custom and to have seen all things new. One would think, to note the freshness of his perceptions in regard to the most familiar objects of London, that in manhood he was for the first time initiated into city life—that he was a newcomer in the world at an advanced age. Hogarth found no more delight in his street-pencilings, than Lamb in his by-way speculations. In the voyage of life he seemed to be an ordained cicerone, directing attention to that lesser world of . experience to which the mass of men are insensible, — drawing their attention from far-off visions of good, and oppressive reminiscences of grief, to the lowly green herbage, springing up in their way, and the soft gentle voices breathing at their firesides, and around their daily steps. And there is truth in Elia's philosophy, for,

“If rightly trained and bred, Humanity is humble,-finds no spot

Which her heaven-guided feet refuse to tread.” We never rise from one of his essays without a feeling of contentment. He leads our thoughts to the actual available spring of enjoyment. He reconciles us to ourselves; causing home-pleasures, and the charms of the wayside, and the mere comforts of existence, to emerge from the shadow into which our indifference has cast them, into the light of fond recognition. The flat dull surface of common life, he causes to rise into beautiful basso-relieto. In truth, there are few better teachers of gratitude than Lamb. He rejuvenates our worn and weary feelings, revives the dim flame of our enthusiasm, opens our eyes to actual and present good, with his humorous accents, and unpretending manner, reads us a homily on the folly of desponding, and the wisdom of appreciating the cluster of minor joys which surround and may be made continually to cheer our being.

We have endeavoured to designate the most prominent of Charles Lamb's traits as an essayist. There is, however, one point to which all that we know of the man converges. His literary and personal example tends to one striking lesson, which should not be thoughtlessly received. We allude to his singular and constant devotion to the ideal. Indeed, he is one of those beings who make us deeply and newly feel how much there is within a human spirit,-how independent it may become of extrinsic aids,-how richly it may live to itself. Here is an individual whose existence was, for the most part, spent within the smoky precincts of London; first a school-boy at a popular institution, then a laborious clerk, and at length a "lean annuitant.” Public life, with its various mental incite

ments,- foreign travel, with its thousand fertilising associations,--fortune, with the unnumbered objects of taste she affords,-ministered not to him. Yet with what admirable constancy did he follow out that sense of the beautiful, and the perfect, which he regarded as most essentially himself! How ardently did he cherish an ideal life! When outward influences and social restrictions encroached upon this, his great end,--the drama, his favourite authors, a work of art, or a musing hour, were proved restoratives. He did not gratify his fondness for antiquity among the ruins of the ancient world; but the Temple cloisters, or an old folio, were more eloquent to him of the past, than the Colosseum is to the mass of travellers. He knew not the happiness of conjugal affection; but his attachment to a departed object was to him a spring of as deep joy, as the unimaginative often find in an actual passion. No little prattlers came about him at even-tide ; but dreamchildren, as lovely as cherubs, solaced his lonely hours. The taste, the love, the very being of Charles Lamb, was ideal. The struggles for power and gain went on around him; but the tumult disturbed not his repose. The votaries of pleasure swept by him with all the insignia of gaiety and fashion ; but the dazzle and laugh of the careless throng lured him not aside. He felt it was a blessed privilege to stand beneath the broad heavens, to saunter through the fields, to muse upon the ancient and forgotten, to look into the faces of men, to rove on the wings of fancy, to give scope to the benevolent affections, and especially to evolve from his own breast a light "touching all things with hues of heaven;" in a word, to be Elia. And is there not a delight in contemplating such a life beyond that which the annals of noisier and more heartless men inspire ? In an age of restless activity, associated effort, and a devotion to temporary ends, is there not an unspeakable charm in the character of a consistent idealist? When we can recall so many instances of the perversion of the poetical temperament in gifted natures, through passion and error, is there not consolation in the serene and continuous gratification with which it blessed Lamb? He has now left, for ever, the haunts accustomed to his presence. No more shall Elia indite quaint reminiscences and humorous descriptions for our pleasure; no more shall his criticism enlighten, his pathos affect, or his aphorisms delight us. But his sweet and generous sympathies, his refined taste for the excellent in letters, his grateful perception of the true good of being, his ideal spirit, dwells latently in every bosom. And all may brighten and radiate it, till life's cold pathway is bright with the sunshine of the soul.

Art. X.The American in England. By the author of “A

Year in Spain.” 2 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1835.

England must ever be replete with the deepest interest to Americans. Apart from her parental relation, she must always be intimately connected with us, from the community of language, of enterprise, of customs, and of literature. Though circumscribed in territory, overburthened with population, and now agitated with the discussion of questions shaking the very foundations of her government, she must still be regarded as a queen amongst nations. We may behold her as a child might regard a parent, who, though in advanced life, is still vigorous, and who still commands esteem and affection by his mind and his achievements. We may feel pride in her never-failing resources, her immense wealth, her restless enterprise, her colossal power. Harassed with debt, crippled with encumbrances as she is, she is still the enlightened and loyal England.

The numerous and easy means of intercourse between the two countries, have afforded each a considerable insight into the character of the other. Here, however, John Bull has so far had the advantage of us; he has been admitted into our families, he has been invited to criticise our institutions, and he has grumbled at us in every position and relation of life. He has found out that we are vain without much reason, and he has characteristically abused us, not only wherever there was cause, but wherever things were different from those to which he had been accustomed. He has laughed at us because he could not find a hotel like the Clarendon in Michigan, and because the “helps” of the west were not as pliable as the waiters of his own foggy land. He has found out that new countries do not afford quite as polished society as old ones, and that where every one aspires to become rich and respected, few are willing to remain in servile situations. Yet he has occasionally touched us in sore places; he has discovered our vulnerable parts, and we writhe quarterly under the lash of some lusty cockney who skims over the country with his English prejudices on his eyes, and damns us as barbarians because we spit, and will not always call him “my lord.” Jonathan, on the other hand, visits England superficially; he views things from the top of a stage-coach; he peers not into the sanctum of society; he wanders over a fertile country, studded with castles and cities; he sees splendid equipages, and all the appliances of wealth and luxury; he glances at well and happy looking faces along the road, and in the fulness of his heart he utters

« AnteriorContinuar »