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and material man. To the world at large I shall be an airy nothing, with a name, perhaps, but certainly without local habitation; in short,
"an invisible thing, A voice, a mystery."
But while I confess this, and throw the perils of the task on the shoulders most proper to bear them, I would not have you remain ignorant of, or undervalue the pain and sacrifice which a compliance with your wishes will require. You know, I am a man whose hopes have been blighted, and whose heart has been seared by disappointment. I cannot unclasp the volume of my life without pain, and feeling what a fearful world of memory is hidden in the past. Recollection cannot but awaken thoughts "that lie too deep for tears," passions which, though long buried by the ploughshare of time, are yet ever ready to spring up dragon's teeth, again to tear and agitate the soul. Think you it is possible for any man to ponder on the fears, the crimes, the follies, hopes, passions, and delights which have stirred his mortal frame, to recal the dreams of young ambition, and compare the being he might have been with the thing he is,-to think on his vanished hopes, the early love on which fortune frowned, the friendships passed away, and yet feel no burning of the brain, no shuddering and shrinking of the heart? Surely he who can whistle down the wind this painful weakness of his nature, and gaze calmly on the broken links of the manifold chain with which humanity is bound to earth, is an anomaly, not a man ; being whom we may envy, but with whom we can have no fellowship.
Such penalty, my dear North, I feel to be attached to a retrospect of my life, especially that most active and spirit-stirring part of it connected with all the promise of my youth, and the not less transient aspirations of my maturer years. But even this is not all. If, along with the events of his past life, any man be led to take (what is necessarily connected with them) a calm survey of his own character and motives, he must bid adieu for ever to all sentiments of self-respect. None, I am sure, can recal and examine his thoughts and feelings, the motives even of his most approved actions, without a vivid and humiliating emotion of contempt, both for his nature
and himself. His conduct may have been without stain, but how often has he been a villain in his heart? How often has he dallied with dishonour, and treasured in his inmost soul the base suggestions of profitable infamy ? Could we, by intuition, learn the thoughts of even the best and purest of men, and read the secret promptings of his spirit, in what light would he appear to us! How many bright and pleasing delusions would vanish from our eyes! At the tribunal of his own heart, Mr Wilberforce might plead guilty to some visionary rape and battery; old Coutts to having robbed the mail, or some speculative forgery of bank-bills; and Mrs Hannah More herself-chaste as unsunned snow-might be convicted of loose and immoral dalliance with some brawny cornet of the Life Guards. This scrutiny of secret motives, and contemplation of unborn delinquencies, would do more than Luther ever did for the Reformation of Catholicism; the calendar would soon become tolerably clear; not a few interlopers of doubtful virtue would be found to have increased the musterroll of the thirty thousand virgins; the holy army of martyrs might at least be reduced to a brigade; and the legion of saints be contracted within the narrow limits of a baker's dozen. But I begin to wander.
Entertaining as I do such general views of human nature, it would be inconsistent to object to their_broad. est application to myself. I have never been accused of a dishonourable action; I have done wrong to no man to whom I was not always ready to afford fitting satisfaction. I have borne a share in seven battles, have headed a forlorn hope, and fought a duel, at six paces, with notoriously the best pistol-shot in the army, (which cost me three jaw. teeth, and a third of my best whisker,) and on these occasions there was detected no hurried tremor of the voice, no quailing of the eye, nor quiver of the lip; my step was firm and regular, my arm steady; and yet I do not hesitate to own I am, in my own eyes, neither a man of pure principle, uor of high courage. Calm as in these trying circumstances I may have seemed, fear sat like a night-mare on my soul, my heart trembled like a woman's, and, amid the agonies of the
mental conflict, I knew myself to be brave, only because I wanted courage to be a coward. No man fears death more than I do, or would shrink more sensitively from its appalling gripe. But in me the certainty of shame of being cut off from my fellow-men, a mark for the finger of scorn to point at-outweighed in terror the probability of death. Surely to choose the least of two evils, one of which is inevitable, is no proof of courage; more than this I have never done.
You will say this verges on paradox, but I cannot think so. The legitimate conclusion to be drawn from it is, not that he is the brave man who runs away, and the coward who fights, because both equally follow the stronger impulse. The brave man does not fear death less than the coward, but he fears disgrace more.
I have been more prolix about these matters than they require, but I wished you not to think that the task you impose upon me, of favouring the public with an account of my "memorabilia," was attended with neither pain nor sacrifice on my part, and also that you should understand the spirit of perfect openness and sincerity which I shall bring to the execution of it. I shall at lea not attempt to pass myself for better than I am, and if I trade in base metal, no man shall say that I palmed it on him for gold. Of autobiography, (commonly so called,) God knows we have enough, and more than enough. Repetition has staled its infinite varieties, and from Cumberland and Colley Cibber, both upwards and downwards, we have been palled with all the incense and adulation which vanity is ever seeking opportunity to offer at the shrine of selflove. Vanity, in various modifications indeed, but still vanity, is and must be the ruling principle of this kind of work. Some men delight to show themselves in a full-dress holiday suit, and cooped up in stays and a stiff cravat, others dress themselves like opera dancers in flesh-coloured silk, which they wish to pass off upon us for their skin. Easily, however, as such deceptions are detected, they are probably all that, in this kind of writing, we have any reason to expect.
task, even in good faith, he will involuntarily cast his defects into the shade, or endeavour to screen them from our view. Depend on it, when "pimpled Hazlitt" "pimpled Hazlitt" draws his own portrait, he manages that the chief light does not fall on his "starry front," or the huge carbuncle on his nose, and you will see nothing on canvass of the obtrusive buck-tooth by which his visage is disfigured. So it is with us all. Our weakness will not let us exhibit ourselves as God made us, our vanity is ever at work to conceal our mental blotches and eruptions, to erase the impression of the seal which nature set on us, and soften down into dull smoothness and monotony, those marks and prominences on which our very idiosyncrasy depends.
No man will reveal of himself that which he knows must render him an object of disgust or aversion to his fellow-men. When he approaches the
But what a man has not courage to say openly of himself, he may say in the person of another, his words may be uttered by other lips, and his sentiments transferred to another bosom; and the belief that this was done by Lord Byron in his assumed character of Childe Harold, was the circumstance that contributed more than any other to the vivid and overweening interest with which that vigorous creation has been regarded by world. Even in the trifling Sketches which I am about to attempt, therefore, I cannot but consider the "nominis umbra" under which I abide, a great and indispensable advantage. It is a mask which will not hide the changes of the countenance, a robe which will not cover the working of the muscles, or the pulsation of the heart.
It is unnecessary that I should say more. If, after a calm and deliberate consideration, you still persist in thinking your work can derive advantage from any communications of mine, I will not refuse to grant the act of friendship you have so earnestly demanded. I only fear you will accuse me of inordinate vanity in saying so much where so little was required, and furnishing a commentary so voluminous and disproportioned to the value of the text. This is, at best, to adopt the exaggeration of the Eastern Costermonger, who proclaims to the world, in the name of the prophet-"Figs." Ever yours, &c.
THE COUNTRY CURATE.
In a distant part of the parish, in one of its wildest and most uncultivated regions, stands a solitary cottage, which, not more from the absolute dreariness of its location, than from the melancholy aspect of its architecture, can hardly fail to attract the notice of any wanderer who may chance to pass that way. It stands all alone upon a desolate moor. There are not even the varieties occasioned by hill and dale, to give to the thing the least of a romant appearance; but, as far as the eye can reach, all is one flat, dreary common, so perfectly bare of pasture that the very sheep seem to shun it, whilst one or two old withered firs give evidence that man has, at some period or another, endeavoured to turn it to use, but has abandoned the attempt, because he found it fruitless.
Almost in the centre of this moor stands the cottage above alluded to. Its walls, constructed partly of brick, partly of deals, give free passage to every blast, let it blow from what quarter it may; and its roof, originally tiled, is now covered over, where it is covered at all, in some parts by patches of miserable thatch, in others by boards nailed on, by an unskilful hand, to the rafters. The cottage is two stories high, and presents five windows, besides a door on each side of it. The windows, as may be guessed, retain but few fragments of glass within the frames, the deficiency being supplied by old hats, rags, jackets, and rabbit-skins: whilst of the doors, the front or main one hangs by a single hinge, and that behind is fastened to the sinister lintel by no fewer than five latches made of leather.
Of the grounds by which it is begirt, a few words will suffice to convey an adequate idea. In setting out from the Vicarage, he who wishes to reach that cottage had better make, in the first place, for the high-road. Having traversed that for a while, he will observe a narrow foot-path on the left hand, which, after descending to the bottom of a glen, and rising again to the summit of a green hill, will
bring him within view of the desolate tract already noticed, and will conduct him safely, for in truth there is no pass besides itself across the wild, to the hovel in question. There it ends. It stretches nowhere beyond; indeed, it has evidently been formed by the tread of the tenants of that lonely habitation, as they have gone to or returned from church and market; the scantiness of the soil has doubtless given a facility to its formation; for, in truth, were any human being to walk twenty times backwards and forwards over any given spot in the moor, he would leave a trace of his journey behind him, which whole summers and winters would hardly suffice to obliterate.
Whilst the front door of the cottage opens at once upon the heath, a couple of roods of garden-ground, surrounded by a broken gorse-hedge in the rear, give proof of the industry or idleness of its tenants. Through the middle of this plot runs a straight walk, ending at a style, or immovable gate, erected in the lower fence. The articles produced are such only, on each side of that walk, as require little or no soil to bring them to perfection. A bed of potatoes, some rows of cabbages and savoys, two appletrees, a damson and a boolus, half a dozen gooseberry-bushes, with twice as many of red-currant, constitute the sum total of the crop ever reared upon it. To make such a soil produce even these, must, I apprehend, have required some labour; and I will do its inhabitants the justice to observe, that, overgrown as it is now with nettles and rank weeds, there was a time when labour was not spared upon it.
In this miserable hovel dwelt, for many years previous to my arrival in the parish, old Simon Lee, the most skilful and the most determined poacher in all the county; he was now the father of five children, the eldest of whom when I first became acquainted with him, had attained his twenty-third year, whilst the youngest was just beginning to
run alone, being as yet afraid to trust itself beyond arm's-length from the chairs or tables, or any other substance of which it could lay hold. Simon himself was turned sixty. He was a short man, measuring not more than five feet five inches from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. His make was spare, but bony and muscular; his face, seamed as it was by exposure to weather, had, on the whole, a good expression; and there was a great deal more of intelligence in his keen black eye than you will often observe in the eye of an English peasant. Simon's ordinary dress, when he went abroad, was a short brown gaberdine, which reached barely to his knees, a pair of fustian trowsers, hobnailed shoes, and thick worsted stockings. His hat was made of straw, and manufactured by his own hands; and you never failed to observe a piece of black tape or ribbon bound round it, just above the brim. Simon was, or rather would have been, but for his determined predilection in favour of the primitive employment of the chase, one of the best and most trust-worthy labourers in the parish. Set him to what you would, he never failed to do you justice. I have had him, again and again, to dig in my garden, and have compared his diligence with that of other men who bore a fairer character, and I must do Simon the justice to say, that he has invariably worked harder for his day's pay than any individual among them. In the matter of honesty, again, you might trust him with untold gold. Much as he was disliked, and I know no character in a country place more universally disliked than a poacher, not a human being laid a theft or a robbery to his charge; indeed, he was so well thought of in that respect, that it was no uncommon circumstance for the persons who blamed him most severely, to hire him, when occasion required, to watch their orchards or hop-poles: For Simon was well known to fear neither man nor devil. He really and truly was one of the few persons, among the lower orders, whom chance has thrown in my way, whose propensity for poaching I should be disposed to pronounce innate, or a thing of principle.
As a proof of this, I need only men
tion that Simon and I have discussed the subject repeatedly, and that he has argued in favour of his occupation as stoutly and openly as if there had been no law in existence against it. 'Why, you know, it is illegal,” I would say; "and you must likewise know that it is little better than stealing. What right have you to take the hares or partridges which belong to another man?" "Lord bless you, sir," was Simon's invariable reply, "if you will only tell me to whom they belong, I promise you never to kill another while I live." "They belong," said I, "to those upon whose lands they feed. Would you consider it right to take one of Sir Harry Oxendeer's sheep or turkeys; why then will you take his hares or his pheasants ?" "As to the matter of that," replied Simon, "there is a mighty difference between sheep and hares. Sheep are bought for money, they remain always upon one spot, they bear the owner's mark, they are articles of barter and sale," (I profess not to give my friend's exact words, only the substance of his argument,) "and they have always been such. But the hare which is found on Sir Harry's grounds to-day, may be found on Squire Deeds's to-morrow, and mayhap Sir Edward Knatchbull's the day after; now, to which of these three gentlemen can the hare be said to belong? No, sir. God made the wild beasts of the field and the fowls of the air for the poor man as well as for the rich. I will never so far forget myself as to plunder any man's hen-roost, or take away his cattle; but as long as these old arms can wield a gun, and these old hands can set a snare, I will never be without a hare or a pheasant, if I happen to want it." There was no arguing against a man who would talk thus; so after combating the point with him for a time, I finally gave it
The worst of it was, however, that Simon not only poached himself, but he brought up his son to the same occupation. The Lees were notorious throughout the country. Not a gamekeeper round but knew them; nor was there one who did not, in some degree, stand in awe of them. It was suspected, too, that they had good friends somewhere behind the curtain ; for though the patriarch had been con
victed several times, he always managed to pay the fine, and, except once, had never suffered imprisonment.
I deem it no part of a country clergyman's duty to quarrel with one of his parishioners because he happens to set the game-laws at defiance. Perhaps of all the laws that exist they are in themselves the least defensible, and they lead to consequences often more serious than their warmest advocate would willingly anticipate. But with the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy of these laws, I have no concern; there they are upon the statutebook, and, like all other laws, they ought to be observed. Still I repeat, that a clergyman has no business to quarrel with a poor man who transgresses in this point, and in none besides. For my own share, though I never told Simon as much, I could not but feel a kind of respect for him, such as I never felt for any other of the fraternity, because he not only deemed it unnecessary to deny his poaching, but defended it. I love to see men act upon principle, even when the rectitude of the proceedings may be questionable.
I have said that Simon Lee was no favourite among his neighbours, and the only cause which I have as yet assigned for the fact is, that he was a poacher. Doubtless this had its weight. But the love of poaching was, unfortunately for himself, not the only disagreeable humour with which he was afflicted. There exists not within the compass of the four seas a prouder spirit than that which animated the form of Simon Lee. He never would accept a favour from any man; he would not crouch or bend to the highest lord in the land. Yet Simon was no jacobin; quite the reverse. This was the genuine stubbornness, the hardy independence, which was wont to render an English peasant more truly noble than the titled slave of France or Germany, but which, unfortunately, has of late years yielded to the fashionable agricultural system, and to the ruinous and demoralizing operations of the poor laws. Simon was the son of a man who had inherited a farm of some thirty or forty acres, from a long line of ancestors; who loved his landlord, as the clansmen of the Highlands were wont to love their chief, and who prided himself in bringing up his children so as
that they should earn their bread in an honest way, and be beholden to no human being. Simon, being the eldest of the family, succeeded, on the death of his father, to the farm. But he had hardly taken possession when the rage for large farms began to show itself; and in a few years after, he was sent adrift, in order that his fields might be added to those of a wealthy tenant, who undertook to cultivate them better, and pay some two shillings per acre more to the landlord. Whether the new tenant kept his promise in the first of these stipulations may be doubted. In the last he was very punctual, and in a short time he rode as good a horse, and kept as good a table, as his landlord himself.
It was a severe wound to Simon's proud heart, his expulsion from his paternal roof. "In that house, sir," said he to me one day when we talked of the circumstance, "in that house I drew my first breath, and I hoped to draw my last. For two hundred and fifty years have the Lees inhabited it; and I will venture to say, that his honour has not upon all his lands a family who pay their rent more punctually than we did, or one more ready to serve him, either by day or night. Well, well, the landlord cares nothing for the tenant now, nor the tenant for the landlord; it was not so when I was a boy."
I have been told by those who remember his dismissal, that Simon seemed for a time, after leaving his little farm, like one who had lost everything that was dear to him. To hire another was impossible, for small farms were not to be had, and had the contrary been the case, it was more than questioned whether he could have brought himself to bestow the labour of a good tenant upon any besides the fields which he persisted in calling his own. Under these circumstances he took the cottage on the moor, as much, it was said, because it stood far from neighbours, as on any other account, and there he remained in a state of perfect idleness, till his little stock of money was expended, and he felt that he must either work or starve.
Simon had married before the inheritance came to him; his eldest boy was able to run about when he left it. His fifth was weaned, when at length the proceeds of the sale being exhausted, and all the little capital swallowed