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A glorified work to time, when fire
For the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, that mine of superb and regal poetry, I have no room now. They must remain untouched.
It is now nearly thirty years ago that two youths appeared at Cambridge, of such literary and poetical promise as the University had not known since the days of Gray. What is rarer still, the promise was kept. One of these “marvelous boys” turned out a man of world-wide renown—the spirited poet, the splendid orator, the brilliant historian, the delightful essayist,-in a word, Thomas Babington Macaulay, now, I suppose, incontestably our greatest living writer. The other was the subject of this paper.
Winthrop Mackworth Praed (I wish it had pleased his godfathers and godmothers to bestow upon him a plain English Christian name, and spare him and me the vulgar abomination of this conglomeration of inharmonious sounds !) Winthrop Mackworth Praed was born in London, in the beginning of this century, of parents belonging to the great banking-house, which still remains in the family. Sent early to Eton, he, while yet a school-boy, followed the example of Canning, who appears to have been the object of his emulation in more points than one, and in conjunction with Mr. Moultrie set up a paper ealled the “ Etonian,” to which he was the principal contributor, and which was so successful that it went through four editions, and established for the chief writer a high reputation for precocious talent. At Cambridge this reputation was more than sustained. He was the pride and glory of Trinity, and left college with an almost unprecedented number of prizes, for Greek ode and Latin epigram. Even the greater world of London, where University fame so often melts away and is seen no more, was equally favorable to Mr. Praed. He and his friendly rival, Mr. Macaulay, gave their valuable assistance to “Knight's Quarterly Magazine,” and every fresh article made its impression. He wrote also in the “New
Monthly," and in the annuals, then seen on every table, with still increasing brilliancy ; contributed pungent political satire to other journals, and finally entered Parliament with such hopes and expectations as his talents might well warrant, but which have seldom been excited by an untried member.
In the House of Commons he did quite enough to justify the warmest anticipations of his friends, and to earn for himself the name of " a rising man,” that most auspicious of all names to a political aspirant.
What he might have become had life been spared it were now vain to conjecture. He married happily; he died young. Light, lively, brilliant, the darling of every society that he entered, he was yet most beloved by those who knew him best. To me it seems that had he outlived the impetuosity of youth, he would have become something higher and better than a political partisan, however clever, or a fashionable poet, however elegant. There was through all his poetry—and it is its deepest although not its most obvious charm-a love of the genuine and the true, a scorn for the false and the pretending, which is the foundation of all that is really good in eloquence as well as in poetry, in conduct and in character, as well as in art. The germ of the patriot and the statesman is to be found in the love of truth and the hatred of pretense ; and never were they more developed than in the poems of Winthrop Mackworth Praed.
That these poems are the most graceful and finished verses of society that can be found in our language, it is impossible to doubt. At present they are so scarce, that the volume from which I transcribe the greater part of the following extracts is an American collection, procured with considerable difficulty and delay from the United States. Others of the poems are taken from his own manuscripts, most kindly lent to me by one of his nearest connections, whom I am happy enough to call my friend; and one or two of the charades I have copied from the “ Penny Magazine” of the author's early friend, Mr. Charles Knight, where they are strangely enough called enigmas.
Had turned our parish topsy-turvy,
And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
St. Mary's Hill and Sandy Thicket, Was always shown across the Green,
And guided to the Parson's wicket.
Back flew the bolt of lissom lath;
Fair Margaret in her tidy kirtle Led the lorn traveler up the path,
Through clean-clipt rows of box and myrtle ; And Don and Sancho, Tramp and Tray,
Upon the parlor-steps collected,
“Our master knows you ; you're expected.”
Up rose the Reverend Doctor Brown,
Up rose the Doctor's “winsome marrow;" The lady laid her knitting down,
Her husband clasped his ponderous barrow Whate'er the stranger's caste or creed,
Pundit or papist, saint or sinner, He found a stable for his steed,
And welcome for himself and dinner.
If, when he reached his journey's end,
And warmed himself in court or college, He had not gained an honest friend,
And twenty curious scraps of knowledge; If he departed as he came,
With no new light on love or liquor, Good sooth the traveler was to blame,
And not the Vicarage or the Vicar.
His talk was like a stream which runs
With rapid change from rocks to roses; It slipped from politics to puns ;
It passed from Mahomet to Moses ; Beginning with the laws which keep
The planets in their radiant courses, And ending with some precept deep
For dressing eels or shoeing horses.
He was a shrewd and sound divine,
Of loud dissent the mortal terror ; And when by dint of page and line,
He 'stablished truth or startled error, The Baptist found him far too deep;
The Deist sighed with saving sorrow, And the lean Levite went to sleep
And dreamt of eating pork to-morrow.
His sermon never said or showed
That earth is foul, that Heaven is gracious, Without refreshment on the road
From Jerome or from Athanasius; And sure a righteous zeal inspired
The hand and head that penned and planned them, For all who understood admired,
And some who did not understand them.
He wrote too, in a quiet way,
Small treatises and smaller verses, And sage remarks on chalk and clay,
And hints to noble lords and nurses; True histories of last year's ghost;
Lines to a ringlet or a turban, And trifles for the “Morning Post,"
And nothings for Sylvanus Urban.
He did not think all mischief fair,
Although he had a knack of joking; He did not make himself a bear,
Although he had a taste for smoking. And when religious sects ran mad
He held, in spite of all his learning, That if a man's belief is bad
It will not be improved by burning.
And he was kind and loved to sit
In the low hut or garnished cottage, And praise the farmer's homely wit,
And share the widow's homelier pottage. At his approach complaint grew mild,
And when his hand unbarred the shutter, The clammy lips of fever smiled · The welcome that they could not utter.
He always had a tale for me
Of Julius Cæsar or of Venus;
Cat's-cradle, leap-frog, and Quæ genus;
To steal the staff he put such trust in And make the puppy dance a jig
When he began to quote Augustine.
Alack the change! In vain I look
For haunts in which my boyhood trifled; The level lawn, the trickling brook,
The trees I climbed, the beds I rifled !