ePub 版

The company, at this house, was numerous, and afforded, as usual, abundant topics of speculation. Some were young men, in the hey day of spirits, rattling, restless, and noisy. Some were solid and conversible, and some awkward and reserved. Three ladies, married women, belonged to the company: one of which said nothing, but was as dignified and courteous in demeanor as silence would let her be: another talked much, and a third hit the true medium pretty well. I did not fail to make a great many reflections on the passing scene, which, together with a volume of Cecilia, made the day pass not very tediously.

My friends always carry books with them, even when they go abroad for a few hours. One of them to day produced the Maxims of La Bruyere, the other those of Rouchefoucauld, and some minutes were consumed in decyphering and commenting on these. But the subject which engrossed most attention in the morning, was a plan for procuring a dozen of claret for the embellishment of dinner; and the return of man and chaise, without the claret for which he had been sent to a distant tavern, cast a great damp upon the spirits of most of us. We got rid of the afternoon pretty easily, by giving an hour or two to the bottle, and the rest to the siesta. As to our talk at dinner, there was perfect good humour, and a good deal of inclination to be witty, but I do not recollect a single good thing that deserves to be recorded; and my powers do not enable me to place the common place characters around me in an interesting or amusing point of view. As to my self, I am never at home, never in my element at such a place as this. A thousand nameless restraints incumber my speech and my limbs, and I cannot even listen to others with a gay, unembarrassed mind. Towards evening it began to rain, and not only imprisoned us for the present, but gave us some apprehensions of a detention here for a

week. A detention, which, for many reasons, one of which I have alrea dy mentioned, would have proved extremely disagreeable to me.

My friend, I have grown very tired of my story. I believe I will cut short the rest, and carry you back with me next morning, to New York, in a couple of sentences. The weather on the morrow, was damp and lowering, but it cleared up early. We were again agreeably disappointed in our expectations of a crowded stage,and after breakfasting at Jamaica, reached town at one o'clock. On my return, I was just as unobservant of the passing scene as before, and took as little note of the geography of the isle. Set mẹ out on the same journey again, and I should scarcely recognize a foot of the way. I saw trees and shrubs and grasses, but I could not name them,being as how I am no botanist.

Perhaps, however, I mistake the purpose of such journeys, which is not to exercise the reasoning faculties, or to add to knowledge, but to unbend, to dissipate thought and care, and to strengthen the frame, and refresh the spirits, by mere motion and variety. This is the language which my friends hold; but, I confess, mere mental vacuity gives me neither health nor pleasure. To give time wings, my attention must be fixed on something: I must look about me in pursuit of some expected object; I must converse with my companion on some reasonable topic; I must find some image in my own fancy to examine, or the way is painfully tedious. This jaunt to Rockaway has left few agreeable traces behind it. All I remember with any pleasure, are the appearance of the wide ocean, and the incidents of bathing in its surges. Had I

been a botanist, and lighted upon some new plant; a mineralogist, and found an agate or a petrifaction; a naturalist, and caught such a butterfly as I never saw before, I should have reflected on the journey with no little satisfaction. As it was, I set my foot in the city with no other sentiment, but that of re

[blocks in formation]

The comparative comforts of their prisons offer something in mitigation of the severity of the debtor laws of the English, as they relate to persons who are not wholly destitute of the "one thing needful:" but no apology can be invented for their absurd rigour, as they respect by far the greater number of the victims of debt. The law presumes every debtor solvent; which presumption, in innumerable cases, is absolutely false. The body of the debtor, therefore, in supposition of ability and fraud is consigned to imprisonment at the pleasure of a vindictive creditor. If the debtor be really insolvent, which is surely as probable a supposition as the opposite, he is at the mercy of an angry and perhaps injured individual, who, by a strange perversion of every judicial principle, becomes a judge, with criminal jurisdiction, and is invested with the power of dispensing a severer punishment than the law inflicts on the deepest offences. If poverty be no crime, why punish it with arbitrary imprisonment? If criminal, why is it entrusted to private hands to pardon without discretion, or punish without measure.

An insolvent law is now under parliamentary discussion, for the relief of about ten thousand miserable wretches, now imprisoned in all the different gaols of the United Kingdom, who will probably be soon let loose upon the public, corrupted by the habits, and soiled by the ignominy of a prison. This expedient is adopted once in six or seven years, not as a remedy for the defective laws, but because the

prisons overflow. On this joyful occasion, thousands will emerge from many years' imprisonment, whose original debts did not exceed twenty pounds, now augmented, by the expenses of the law, to fifty or sixty, and in some instances, to an hundred pounds.

If it be for the benefit of trade, the idol of the English nation, that such laws exist, it is much to be lamented that the supposed interests of trade, and the real interests of humanity and justice, should be so much at variance; but the wellgrounded terror of innovation, which prevails in this government, will probably prevent for a long time any change in this monstrous feature of British policy.

The King's Bench prison, which the misfortune of our friend L....... has given me an opportunity of examining, is appropriated to debtors alone, and to such of these only as are prosecuted in the court of King's Bench. This delicacy, which excludes from this society felons, or criminals of any kind, it must be confessed, is honorable to the laws, and adheres to a distinction not well drawn in other respects between debt and felony. The police of this institution is under the direction of a marshal, deputy, clerk of the papers, and three turnkeys; all of which offices are considerably lucrative. There are many immunities and privileges peculiar to the place, and not enjoyed by provincial and county prisons. Each resident holds the key of his own apartment, and has the unlimited power of locomotion at all hours of the day and night, within an area of about six thousand square yards (an acre and a quarter) enclosed by a brick wall forty feet high, over which, from the tops of a stately edifice, you have a pleasant view of the hills of Kent and the city of London. The principal building is three hundred feet in length, fifty feet wide, and four stories high; and contains one hundred and eighty apartments, the greater part of which are in good

repair, painted, and some of them papered. Two persons are allotted to each of these rooms, which are fifteen feet by twelve, length and breadth; but one may enjoy exclusive possession by paying five shillings a week, which the poorer class of prisoners accept as a consideration for relinquishing their right, and, with it, eke out a miserable existence in a common receptacle. Within these walls are inexhaustible springs of hard and soft water, one of which has mineral qualities that are salutary. Shambles every day exhibit every variety in kind and quality of Leadenhall and Billingsgate markets; a public kitchen for cooking, besides half a dozen cook-shops; a coffeehouse and two public taps, from which beer and even wine flow without measure; a bake-house, and in fine every handicraft is carried on here, in the different apart ments, making the place a good epitome of London. An unrestrained ingress and egress is allowed from eight in the morning, till ten at night; and the hum of innumerable visitors of every garb and deportment, with the motley music and appearance of every class of pedlars that walks the streets of London, display a scene extremely lively and grotesque. There is every shade of character, every grade of wealth and (except ing privileged persons) of rank and title. Some of the prisoners exceed a thousand guineas a year in their expences, and are visited by their families, who, if we may judge from their equipages, abate nothing of their wonted luxury. There is another class of debtors who place their families in the neighbourhood, and rather than surrender an annuity or jointure, take up their rest, for life: an insolvent act, or act of grace, compels him not to give his property to the creditor, but leaves him the option of freedom or captivity, and many prefer the latter.

The third class are driven to the most deplorable shifts, and, like

the moths, feed upon their clothes, as long as they last. Absolute starvation, though not frequent, does yet sometimes occur in the annals of the King's Bench. The number of prisoners now amounts to five hundred, and the original debts of threefourths of the number do not, on an average, exceed forty pounds, from which we are obliged to infer that the laws give impunity to opulent knaves, while it bears with undistinguishing severity on the innocent and culpable poor.

For the American Register. CRITICAL NOTICES.

NO. I.

I have now in my hands an old copy of Milton, which at first belonged to my father. It is an old book, and few volumes have been oftener in my hands. I would not exchange it for an edition of the same work embellished by all the arts of the printer, the engraver, and the binder....Inanimate objects have an influence on the affections; else why do I prefer this homely volume, shattered by the hands of time and of use, to Paradise Lost newly printed and decorated? Milton is only inferior to the voice of inspiration....He is first among the poets who were not the prophets of the Lord. His erudition was vast, but his genius was vaster. His learning did not restrain, but regulated his flight. Amidst the glories of heaven he looked undazzled, and rays from his penetrating mind illuminated the depths of despair. Did not their antiquity increase the veneration bestowed on the names of Homer and Virgil, criticism would always place them below Milton on the scale of poetical me rit. I have read, I have studied the Iliad and the Æneid....I have read and examined with critical scrutiny, in the original language or in the translation most of the pu ems which bear the name of epic er

heroic, and the more I read the more I am convinced, the longer I live the more I am convinced that a greater magnitude of mind is discovered in the Paradise Lost, than in any other uninspired poem in existence. Paradise Lost is the greatest effort of its author. His other works rank as follows in the scale of merit:

2 Comus.....3 Paradise Regained ....4 Sampson Agonistes.....5 Lycidas....6 L'Alegro and II Penseroso ....7 Hymn on the Nativity.

I consider the relish for the poetry of Milton as a criterion of the taste and mental elevation of the reader. None can fully admire him, but those who are raised in mind above the profanum vulgus. Miserable was the judgment of Voltaire, which could wonder at an Englishman's passionate admiration of Milton and Shakespeare. An object of contemptuous pity was that fashionable Lord* who declared his preference of the Henriade of Voltaire, before the works of his immortal countryman. Such a man might harrangue to the astonishment of assembled peers, he might offer his sacrifices on the altar of the graces, but he should never attempt to join the councils of correct and dignified criticism. I could fill a volume in speaking of Milton, so keen is my sensibility to his excellencies, so great is the instruction and pleasure which I have received from him. I have marked many of his passages in my almost worn-out copy, and offered upon them some remarks: To these I sometimes recur with satisfaction; they are mementos of former periods which have been passed in converse with the mighty bard, and of some hours of dejection which were lightened by his voice.

Dr. Johnson has said, that we must read Milton's Paradise Lost as a task. This is one among the many premature sentences pronounced by that great man. The whole of his work we could not exChesterfield.

pect to excite the same pleasure; but if the greater part produces not delight, then there is no delight in elevated poetry.....I consider Dr. Johnson's criticism however, on this performance, with some exceptions, to be in the highest degree excellent. Addison's Saturday's Papers on the same subject, though not equally acute, are eminently pleasing. Cowper has said in one of his most agreeable letters, that Milton has employed the only machinery which was justifiable in a Christian poet. I have however admired the conception of Dryden, who, when he thought of writing an epic poem in honour of King Ar-, thur, determined to introduce angels as the guardians of nations. It was the lot of Arthur and the guardian angels to fall into very different hands. Perhaps some have heard that Sir Richard Blackmore has written an epic poem called Arthur, and used the intervention of angels, though they may not have read the poem. The exordium and invocation of Paradise Lost, are eminently happy. They embrace completely the subject which is to be sung; they are simple and strong. How poor is the invocation of any muse to Milton's invocation of the Spirit? His strain was heavenly, and to heaven he looks for aid. As the fall of angels was the fall of man, Milton first discloses to our view the apostate spirits in their regions of sorrow, forming new schemes of rebellion and malice.

Many of the most striking passages of Milton have been noticed by the critic, and suggested to the admiration of the reader. I have however the hope of pointing out, in the course of my Critical Notices, some portions of Milton, and of other pocts, which are deserving of the highest commendation,and on which criticism has not yet been lavish of its praises.

I am deceived if, from all the volumes of uninspired poetry, there can be produced a sublimer description than that which is contained in

the following lines of the VIth Book commonly original description, must of Paradise Lost:

[blocks in formation]

I cannot conceive how it is possible for words or conception to exceed the preceding passage in strength. It represents a termination of a battle purely original.... Here Milton could not tread either in the footsteps of the Grecian or the Roman bard. The scene of the action was on the borders of heaven, and the place in which the routed army was plunged, was the bottomless abyss....chaos, the empire of universal confusion, was, by the rout, encumbered with ruin. The soul which conceived this un

have been agitated by the tumults of poetical rage; and the hand which wrote it, must have trembled. Though all the lines are admirable, yet I have ventured to mark in italics, those which I thought were supereminent among the eminent.

As a contrast to the passage already quoted, I shall offer the following tender and sweetly modu

lated lines:

[blocks in formation]

From the first opening bud, and gave ye names!

Who now shall rear ye to the sun, or ye rank

Your tribes, and water from the ambrosial fount?

Thee lastly, nuptial bower! by me adorn'd

With what to sight or smell was sweet! from thee

How shall I part, and whither wander down

Into a lower world; to this obscure And wild? how shall we breathe in other air

Less pure, accustom'd to immortal fruits?

Whom thus the Angel interrupted mild.

Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign What justly thou hast lost, nor set thy

[blocks in formation]
« 上一頁繼續 »