Page images
PDF
EPUB

HUMPHREY CLINKER

COMPLETED.

319

of his only child, a girl of fifteen, were chiefly spent in restless travel. Visiting France and Italy, he vented his increasing spleen upon even the crumbling ruins of old Rome, and the exquisite statue of the Venus de Medici. The poor peevish author was hastening to his end; but before he sank beneath this life's horizon, his genius shot forth its brightest beam. Disappointed in his last earthly hope that of obtaining a consulship on some shore of the Mediterranean, where his last hours might be prolonged in a milder air—he travelled to the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and, settling in a cottage there, finished Humphrey Clinker, which is undoubtedly his finest work. Lismahago is the best character in this picture of English life; Bath is the principal scene, upon which the actors play their various parts. Scarcely was this brilliant work completed, when Smollett 1771 died, an invalided exile, worn out long before the allotted seventy years.

His pictures of the navy-men who trod English decks a century ago, are unsurpassed and imperishable. Trunnion, the oneeyed commodore; Hatchway and Bowling, the lieutenants; ApMorgan, the kind but fiery Welsh surgeon; Tom Pipes, the silent boatswain, remain as types of a race of men long extinct, who manned our ships when they were, in literal earnest, wooden walls, and when the language and the discipline, to which officers of the royal navy were accustomed, were somewhat of the roughest and the hardest.

Smollett wrote poetry also, but it hardly rises above mediocrity. His Ode to Independence, his Lines to Leven Water, and his Tears of Scotland, present the most favourable specimens of his poetic powers.

A.D.

AN UNEXPECTED REÜNION.

As we stood at the window of an inn that fronted the public prison, a person arrived on horseback, genteelly though plainly dressed in a blue frock, with his own hair cut short, and a gold-laced hat upon his head. Alighting, and giving his horse to the landlord, he advanced to an old man who was at work in paving the street, and accosted him in these words: “ This is hard work for such an old man as you.” So saying, he took the instrument out of his hand, and began to

320

SPECIMEN OF SMOLLETT'S PROSE.

thump the pavement. After a few strokes, “ Have you never a son," said he, to ease you of this labour ?" “Yes, an' please your honour,” replied the senior, “I have three hopeful lads, but at present they are out of the way.” Honour not me,” cried the stranger; “it more becomes me to honour your grey hairs. Where are those sons you talk of?” The ancient pavier said, his eldest son was a captain in the East Indies, and the youngest had lately enlisted as a soldier, in hopes of prospering like his brother. The gentleman desiring to know what was become of the second, he wiped his eyes, and owned he had taken upon him his old father's debts, for which he was now in the prison hard by.

The traveller made three quick steps towards the jail; then turning short, Tell me," said he, “has that unnatural captain sent you nothing to relieve your distresses ?” “ Call him not unnatural,” replied the other; “ God's blessing be upon him! he sent me a great deal of money, but I made a bad use of it; I lost it by being security for a gentleman that was my landlord, and was stripped of all I had in the world besides.” At that instant a young man, thrusting out his head and neck between two iron bars in the prison window, exclaimed : “Father ! father! if my brother William is in life, that's he.” “I am ! I am !" cried the stranger, clasping the old man in his arms, and shedding a flood of tears—“I am your son Willy, sure enough!" Before the father, who was quite confounded, could make any return to this tenderness, a decent old woman, bolting out from the door of a poor babitation, cried : “Where is my bairn? where is my dear Willy?” The captain no sooner beheld her than he quitted his father, and ran into her embrace.

[blocks in formation]

The poet Gray was born in noisy Cornhill on a December day in 1716. His father, a money-scrivener, was a bad man, so violent in temper that Mrs. Gray, separating from him, joined her sister in opening a shop in Cornhill for the sale of Indian goods. To the love of this good mother Thomas Gray owed his superior education. Her brother being a master at Eton, the lad went there to school, and found among his class-fellows young Horace Walpole, with whom he soon struck up a close friendship. Many a time, no doubt, Walpole, Gray, and West, another chum of the scrivener's son, did their Latin verses together, and many a golden summer evening they passed merrily with bat and ball in the meadows by the smoothly flowing Thames.

In 1735 he entered as a pensioner at Peter-house, Cambridge, bis uncle's college. And for three years he lingered out his life there, chained to a place whose laws and lectures he felt to be most irksome. Mathematics were his especial disgust; but the classics he loved with no common love, and studied with no common zeal. His school-fellow Walpole was at Cambridge too; and when in 1738 Gray left without a degree, the two friends agreed to set out on a Continental tour. Together they saw France and Italy; the poet wandering with delight amid the ruins of the great past; the connoisseur ransacking the old curiosity shops of Rome and Florence in search of rare pictures and choice medallions, such as in later days he piled up in dainty confusion under the roof of Strawberry

322

A HERMIT AT CAMBRIDGE.

Hill. Their tastes being thus dissimilar, it is no wonder that Walpole and Gray quarrelled and separated after some time.

Gray returned to England, and, upon his father's death, he settled down at Cambridge, where most of his after life was spent. It has been already said that he hated the ways of the place, which, in his opinion, never looked so well as when it was empty; but there were books in abundance on the shelves of its noble libraries, and their silent yet speaking charms-he knew no other lovebound the poet for life to the banks of the Cam. Here, like a monk in his cell, he read and wrote untiringly. A glance round his study would, no doubt, have shown his tastes. Between the leaves of a well-used Plato or Aristophanes there might often have been found, drying for his hortus siccus, some rare wild flowers, which he had gathered in the meadows by the Cam. Books on heraldry and architecture shouldered the trim classics on his loaded book-shelves, while such things as sketches of ivied ruins, a lumbering suit of rusty armour, or a collection of curious daggers and pistols hanging on the crowded walls, most probably displayed the antiquarian tastes of the inmate.

A quiet life, like that the poet led, has almost no history. Besides such salient points as the appearance of his various works, there are only three events worthy of notice in his later years. These events were—his removal in 1756 to Pembroke Hall from Peter-house, caused by the annoyance of some madcap students; his refusal in 1757 of the laurel, vacant by Cibber's death; and his appointment in 1768 to the professorship of Modern History at Cambridge. His chief trips were to London, where he lodged near the British Museum, and explored its literary treasures with a student's patient love; to Scotland, where he met the poet Beattie; to the English lakes in 1769; and to Wales in the autumn before his death. This sad event took place in 1771. He had been breaking up for many months, when gout, settling in his stomach, cut him off with a sudden attack.

Gray is best known by his famous Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard, whose solemn stanzas roll out their muffled music, like the subdued tolling of a great minster bell. Corrected and re

[blocks in formation]

corrected line by line, as were all this poet's works, it yet shows no sign of elaboration--its melancholy grace is the perfection of art. There are writers with whom a slovenly style stands for nature, and rude unpruned stanzas for the fairest growths of poetry. Gray was not of these. His classically formed taste was too pure and too fastidious to be content with anything but carefully polished verses: and we therefore have to thank him for giving us, in the “Elegy," as noble a specimen of grave and scholarly English as our literature affords. This poem was published in 1750.

But the triumph of his genius may be viewed in his two magnificent Odes, The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard. The subject of the latter is the terrific malison of a Welsh bard, escaped from the massacre at Conway, who, standing on an inaccessible crag, prophesies the doom of the Norman line of kings, and the glories of the Tudors. This done, he springs from the rock to perish in the foaming flood below. The chief facts of early Eng. lish history have never been so finely woven into poetry as in “ The Bard.”

Among his other poems we may notice his Ode to Spring; Hymn to Adversity ; his much admired Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton; and some light, humorouis verses, on Mr. Walpole's Cat. His chief prose writings are Letters, written in a clear, elegant, and often most picturesque style.

OPENING STANZAS OF TIIE “ELEGY."

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods bis weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the gliminering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his roning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant fulds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

« PreviousContinue »