« AnteriorContinuar »
a false name, though his true situation was known to the Captain. He had spent all his money, except fifteen pounds, in paying foi his passage, and purchasing what he thought he wanted. He had declared he would shoot any person who came to take him; but that if his father came he would shoot himself. His youth, for he was but sixteen, made the threat appear incredible. The pistols, pocket-book, and remaining money were locked up in safety for him by his acquaintance. But he had another pair of pistols concealed. Mr. Holcroft and his friend went on board, made inquiries, and understood he was there. He had retired into a dark part of the steerage. When he was called, and did not answer, a light was sent for; and as he heard the ship's steward, some of the sailors, and his father, approaching, conscious of what he had done, and unable to bear the presence of his father, and the open shame of detection, he suddenly put an end to his existence.
"The shock which Mr. Holcroft received was almost mortal. For three days he could not see his own family, and nothing but the love he bore that family could probably have prevented him from sinking under his affliction. He seldom went out of his house for a whole year afterward; and the impression was never completely effaced from his mind"
After recovering from this calamity, Mr. Holcroft was surprised by one of a totally different nature, which came in the form of an indictment for high treason. Nothing but the panic into which the minds of men were thrown by the crimes and excesses of the first French Revolution can explain the virulence with which every one who stood suspected of cherishing liberty or desiring reform, was assailed during that evil day. It was the cruel and unreasoning persecution that is born of fear; and in Mr. Holcroft's case the wrong was more glaring than in that of most others, inasmuch as he was a purely speculative politician, and his speculations, although sufficiently visionary and Utopian, were anything rather than sanguinary or violent. One of his friends said of him, that he was a sort of natural Quaker. And certainly it would be as wise to prosecute a member of the Peace Society, or a writer on the millennium, as one whose dreams were of the perfectibility of human nature, the extinction of warfare, and the triumph of wisdom and justice upon earth.
He belonged, it is true, to the Society for Constitutional Reformation, but had moved none of the resolutions, had seldom spoken, and except for his literary eminence was one of the least prominent members of the association. Nevertheless his name, together with those of Hardy, Thelwall, Home Tooke, and eight others, appeared in the Bill presented to the Grand Jury at Hicks's Hall. Mr. Holcroft in some measure retaliated upon the Crown lawyers the surprise they had occasioned him, by unexpectedly presenting himself before Chief Justice Eyre, and surrendering himself to the Court without waiting for the execution of the warrant. The manliness and firmness of his conduct, accompanied by perfect respectfulness and self-command, obtained for him more civility than was shown to the other parties included in the indictment.
The issue is well known. Thomas Hardy, the first man put into the dock, was acquitted, and the other prisoners were discharged without being brought to trial.
But the effect of this accusation did not terminate in the court of justice. The demon of party hatred was evoked. Even such a man as Mr. Windham, high-minded, large-hearted, chivalrous as he was, did not disdain to talk of "acquitted felons," and as a dramatic writer Mr. Holcroft was especially amenable to public opinion. Every fresh play was a fresh battle; and a battle, whatever be the issue, is in itself fatal to a great success; so that at last, comedies which had no more to do with politics than "The Merry Wives of Windsor" were fain to be brought out under the name of a fictitious author.
It is not many years ago that I and another lover of the drama, an old and valued friend, were disputing as to the writer of "He's Much to Blame." Both possessed the play, and both were certain as to the name printed in the title-page. Neither were wrong. It was the story of the two knights and the shield. My friend's copy was the first edition with the feigned name; mine the seventh when the ordeal was past, and the true author restored to his rightful place. May Heaven avert from us the renewal of such prejudice and such injustice!
Wearied out with these conflicts Mr. Holcroft retired first to Hamburgh and then to France, where he resided many years, occasionally sending to England translations of popular foreign books. His last original work was one on France of great merit. Few knew the people better or could describe them so well. His stories are pleasant and characteristic:
"My wife was one day buying some fish; while she was undetermined the girl said to her, 'Prenez cela, car votre mair est un brave homme V My wife replied, ' Oui, cela, se pent bien: mats comment savez-vous qu'il est un brave Iwmme V 'C'est egal' answered the girl, 'cela fait plaisir a entendre.' The girl's maxim is sound morality wherever I have been in France."
This is characteristic too in the best sense: a charming mixture of goodness and grace.
"A poor musician who usually brought a small pianoforte in the afternoon to the Champs Elysees, and played that those who were pleased might reward him by a trifle, having played in vain one evening was sorrowfully returning home. He was seen by Elleviou (a famous actor), remarked, and questioned. The poverty and ill success of the wandering musician moved the pity of the actor, who desired the instrument might again be put down; and stepping aside he said he would return instantly. His wife and friend had passed on, and he brought them back. It was nearly dark. Pradere, his friend, sat down to the pianoforte and accompanied Elleviou, who began to sing to the astonishment of numbers that were soon assembled. The men had drawn the hat over the brow, Madame Elleviou let down her vail, and went round to collect. The pleasingness of her manner, the little thankful courtesies she dropped to all who gave, the whiteness of her hand, and the extraordinary music they heard, rendered the audience so liberal, that she made several tours, and none ineffectually. Elleviou however could not long remain unknown, and finding themselves discovered, Madame Elleviou gave all, and it was supposed more than all, she had collected from the crowd to the poor musician. The sum amounted to thirty shillings, and among the pence and halfpence there were crown pieces which no doubt were given by the actors. The feelings of the man as the audience dispersed are not easily to be described. The unexpected relief afforded to him who was departing so disconsolate was great indeed; but it was forgotten in the charming behavior of those who relieved him; in their almost divine music and in the strangeness of the adventure. The surrounding people were scarcely less moved; so kind an act from a man in such high public estimation excited more than admiration; and the tears of gratitude shed by the musician drew sympathizing drops from many of the spectators."
Mr. Holcroft wrote little verse, but had he chosen that medium of thought, would probably have excelled in it. The story of "Gaffer Gray" has, in common with many short poems of Southey written at the same period, the great fault of setting class against class, a fault which generally involves a want of truth; but it does its work admirably, and produces exactly the effect intended in the fewest possible words.
"Ho! why dost thou shiver and shake,
"Then line thy worn doublet with ale,
"Hie away to the house on the brow,
"The lawyer lives under the hill,
Gaffer Gray, Warmly fenced both in back and in front." "He will fasten his locks,
j And will threaten the stocks, Should he ever more find me in want, Well-a-day!"
"The squire has fat beeves and brown ale,
"My keg is but low, I confess,
This author, Bo gifted, so various, and so laborious, one of the most remarkable of self-educated men, died in London on the 3d of March, 1809, after a long and painful illness, at the age of sixty-three; I fear poor.