Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

for deer-stealing. I think his name was Shakspeare. I presume he soon sunk into oblivion,

- On the contrary,” said I, “it is owing to that very man that the literature of his period has experienced a duration beyond the ordinary term of Eng. lish literature. There arise authors now and then, who seem proof against the mutability of language, because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging principles of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream, which, by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface, and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the overflowing current, and hold up many a neighbouring plant, and, perhaps, worthless weed, to perpetuity. Such is the case with Shakspeare, whom we behold, defying the encroachments of time, retaining in modern use the language and literature of his day, and giving duration to many an indifferent author merely from having flourished in his vicinity. But even he, I grieve to say, is gradually assuming the tint of age, and his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them.”

Here the little quarto began to heave his sides and chuckle, until at length he broke out into a plethoric fit of laughter that had well nigh choked him, by reason of his excessive corpulency. “Mighty well!" cried he, as soon as he could recover breath, " mighty

well! and so you would persuade me that the literature of an age is to be perpetuated by a vagabond deer-stealer! by a man without learning! by a poet ! forsooth-a poet!” And here he wheezed forth another fit of laughter.

I confess that I felt somewhat nettled at this rudeness, which, however, I pardoned on account of his having flourished in a less polished age. I determined, nevertheless, not to give up my point.

“ Yes," resumed I positively, “a poet; for of all writers he has the best chance for immortality. Others may write from the head, but he writes from the heart, and the heart will always understand him. He is the faithful portrayer of Nature, whose features are always the same, and always interesting. Prose writers are voluminous and unwieldy; their pages crowded with commonplaces, and their thoughts expanded into tediousness. But with the true poet every thing is terse, touching, or brilliant. He gives the choicest thoughts in the choicest language. He illustrates them by every thing that he sees most striking in nature and art. He enriches them by pictures of human life, such as it is passing before him. His writings, therefore, contain the spirit, the aroma, if I may use the phrase, of the age in which he lives. They are caskets which inclose within a small compass the wealth of the language-its family jewels, which are thus transmitted in a portable form to posterity. The setting may occasionally be antiquated, and require now and then to be renewed, as in the

[ocr errors]

case of Chaucer ; but the brilliancy and intrinsic value of the gems continue unaltered. Cast a look back over the long reach of literary history. What vast valleys of dulness, filled with monkish legends and academical controversies! What bogs of theological speculations! What dreary wastes of metaphysics ! Here and there only do we behold the heaven-illumined bards, elevated like beacons on their widelyseparated heights, to transmit the pure light of poetical intelligence from age to age.

I was just about to launch forth into eulogiums upon the poets of the day, when the sudden opening of the door caused me to turn my head. It was the verger, who came to inform me that it was time to close the library. I sought to have a parting word with the quarto, but the worthy little tome was silent; the clasps were closed ; and it looked perfectly unconscious of all that had passed. I have been to the library two or three times since, and have endeavour

* Thorow earth, and waters deepe,

The pen by skill doth passe :
And featly nyps the worldes abuse,

And shoes us in a glasse,
The vertu and the vice

Of every wight alyve;
The honey combe that bee doth make,

Is not so sweet in hyve,
As are the golden leves

That drops from poet's head;
Which doth surmount our common talke,
As farre as dross doth lead.

CHURCHYARD.

ed to draw it into further conversation, but in vain : and whether all this rambling colloquy actually took place, or whether it was another of those odd daydreams to which I am subject, I have never, to this moment, been able to discover.

RURAL FUNERALS.

Here's a few flowers! but about midnight more :
The herbs that have on them cold dew o' the night
Are strewings fitt’st for graves
You were as flowers now withered: even so
These herb'lets shall, which we upon you strow.

CYMBELINE.

Among the beautiful and simple-hearted customs of rural life which still linger in some parts of England, are those of strewing flowers before the funerals and planting them at the graves of departed friends. These, it is said, are the remains of some of the rites of the primitive church; but they are of still higher antiquity, having been observed among the Greeks and Romans, and frequently mentioned by their writers, and were, no doubt, the spontaneous tributes of unlettered affection, originating long before art had tasked itself to modulate sorrow into song, or story it on the monument. They are now only to be met with in the most distant and retired places of the kingdom, where fashion and innovation have not been able to throng in, and trample out all the curious and interesting traces of the olden time.

« ПредишнаНапред »