« ПредишнаНапред »
and I saw the last Mr Cook"-another pause, in which Charles Kean's triumph was gradually mounting higher and higher. "Yes, sir! Cook, sir, was better than your father; and your father, sir, a long way better than you!"
Now, of course, these things, or something like them, happen every day. If we have not a slave in our chariot, we have a schoolfellow; and I have mentioned this fact to show that I am well aware that though this order of men is a large class, I by no means accept the honour of being brigaded amongst them; and, as I have already declared, I do not desire to bring down the man, but to elevate the thing he has created.
The Cockney who knocks with his knuckles at the great bell of Moscow and pronounces its tone to be poor, is a fair representative of the creatures who impose themselves on men of distinction out of a mere vulgar curiosity, and then go away, disparaging that greatness of which their nature could give them no measure. Besides this, the small fry who hunt celebrities want something applicable to themselves and their own small ways and small habits. They want him to give something to record; to shoot a bird that they may carry home.
It is thus that the world gets crammed with twaddling stories about this or that great general or Minister being singularly heavy in society, taking little part in the conversation, and never by an observation or a remark rising above the veriest commonplace. It is wonderful how even clever men, when little conversant with society, will fall into this mistake. Jeffrey, with all his acuteness, is an instance. He mentions his having met Talleyrand at dinner, and at dinner, and being seated next him. The occasion was a proud one, and he hoped to carry away from it some memories that would not die; but the only remark the great Minister made him was, "Apropos de votre
célèbre potage de cock-a-leekie, Mon. Jeffrey, faut-il le manger avec des prunes ou sans prunes?" Now, had the clever Scotsman been as subtle as a man of society as he was as a lawyer, the question, instead of deterring him by its frivolity, would have opened one of the pleasantest themes that can be discussed at table. Did he want the Treaty of Amiens, the death of the Duc d'Enghien, or the restoration of the Bourbons? You will see, sagacious reader, that I do not seek recruits to my opinion about the superiority of the work to the man amongst those who go about recording their bitter disappointments with clever people.
The greatest men-that is, the men who deal with the greatest questions-are seldom good talkers. The indiscretion so essential to good talk would be fatal to them. Louis Philippe, indeed, would tell you everything-the last interview he had with Guizot, and the contents of the despatch he had sent off to Soult; but then he had this greatest security-nobody believed a word of it. To my theme, however. The man will never be equal to his best work, for this reason, that he will never be able to present such a force of concentration in himself, as in that to which, for a given time at least, he gave all his energy and all his will. What a poor creature have I seen a great chess-player-by what a Cretin" have I been electrified at the piano! What a dotard have I overlooked at the whist-table, displaying traits of veritable genius in the game!
The small folk in art, letters, politics, or the drama may be, I grant, greater than their works. It is not according them any overwhelming praise, and they are welcome to it. There is, indeed, a sort of agreeability that seems to depend on a man's failure in his especial career; and we all of us can call to mind pleasant painters who daubed abominably, and actors who could be delightful in society, though they were always "damned"
on the stage. As for the briefless barrister, he has ever been a charming companion; and I am credibly informed that there are great authorities on the bench who look regretfully back to the time when they went circuit only for change of air. To say that some one portion of a man's life is greater than the whole of it, is not a very startling proposition. Take, for instance, Sydney Smith's defence of Acre; take Wolfe's night-attack on Quebec; Dessaix's charge at Marengo; or take such an action as we saw t'other day, when that American-he is now a Confederate captain-went through the midst of the fight on the Peiho, to the ship of Admiral Hope, rowed in an open boat, through shot and shell and crashing musketry, to offer any succour in his power to the wounded. Tuffnel, I think—I hope I am right-was his name. I say it will be a rare chance if his whole life be up to the level of that noble achievement.
It will be the same in matters of intellectual effort. There will be moments, hours, even days, when some great minds-who knows how nourished, how stimulated, how prompted?-will accomplish what no effort of mere will could ever have effected; and at such times as these the work will be greater than the man. It would seem that there is something uncontrollable at certain periods in human intellectsomething that, revolting against all discipline and all restraint, confers a power on the mind's operations which is never the accompaniment of its normal labours; and in this way it resembles the strength of the man in insanity, which, with out any real accession of increased force, appears to be doubled. These are the seasons in which men work out those conceptions which, after the lapse of years, they come to look on with wonder and astonishment.
sketch of the picture of 'St Martin parting his Cloak.' The Singlespeech Hamiltons are a class. There are a large number of men of one book, one picture, one poem. There are even men of one joke; and I'll be bound, in such a case, that the joke was as good, if not better, than the man who made it.
Now, if men be inferior to their works, I think the reverse is the case with women. They are invariably better than anything they paint, or write, or model, or compose; and one reason is, they have less power of concentration than men-less of that faculty that enables the individual, while directing all his energies to one effort, to invest that effort with something totally extraneous to, and occasionally superior to, the individual who effected it.
Women too, I suspect, work with far less strain on their faculties than men; and part of that natural easy tone so fascinating in their writing is a result of this. Still, it has the effect of all steaming at half power, the pace is comparatively slow.
If I wanted an instance of the woman superior to anything she had produced, I would quote my distinguished countrywoman, Miss Edgeworth. Now, some of her shorter tales are admirable; in the painting of certain traits of the Irish character I do not know her equal. She understood that strange nature with all its varying shades, and its characteristics, at times so opposite and antagonistic, with a nicety of appreciation that none have ever surpassed; and yet how immeasurably above all she wrote was she herself how superior her conversation to the best dialogue of her books-and how infinitely more gentle, more tender, more womanly, in fact, was she than the sweetest heroine she ever drew!
I forbear to quote some others whose names occur to me at this moment, because I have already erred in letting the question lapse into the individual.
THE MODERN CRICHTONS.
The present is unquestionably a moment of national humiliation. We have come exceedingly ill out of Schleswig-Holstein. We are very small on the continent of Europe, and are not, certainly, cutting a distinguished figure in our wars with the savages either in Africa or New Zealand. The noble Premier who guides our fortunes has, indeed, informed us that the Budget is satisfactory and the harvest promising, both being events which redound to the wisdom of the Cabinet; but somehow we have for some years got so much accustomed to hear these gratifying facts, and yet never to recognise that they either manifested themselves in light taxation or cheap bread, that we listen to them with a moderated joy, and without any unbecoming exuberance.
I suppose I must have fallen into a depressing, dispirited vein, for I looked around me in vain to catch anything which should speak to me cheerily and comfortingly. All was 66 out of joint." The Church was squabbling; the laity had bullied them out of an opinion; and when they gave it, every one abused them for having declared it. We are angry with our dear ally France because she wouldn't fight Germany for us, and she so fond of fighting too. We are not quite pleased with our Colonies either. We want themand very naturally-to be loyal and stanch to the mother countryto aid us at a pinch, if need be, but at the same time to be thoroughly self-supporting, and never cost us a sixpence. "Ah!" said the old Irish countess, "there's nothing I like better than oysters; I'd have a supper of them every night if the servants would eat the shells."
While I thus ran over one after another of our grievances-a list that extended from the coast of
Assam to the harbour of Galway I couldn't help asking myself, Have we anything, have we anybody, to be proud of at this moment?
is there a feature of our time that we assume to regard as satisfactory?-when I suddenly bethought me that we have a class probably more nearly approaching perfection than any country was ever endowed with,-men who not alone unite in their characters all the traits which distinguish greatness, but combine within their intellects acquirements the most varied and dissimilar. I do not desire to try your patience. The Admirable Crichtons I mean are the Lawyers! Law itself is a large study. The vast wisdom which ages have accumulated and recorded must ever present a great field for human labour; but what is law to the multiform knowledge of these marvellous men? You imagine that their nights are given to the deep research of their textbooks, and that their heads are crammed full of cases, and writs in error, and arguments in chamber, and so on. Not a bit of it. Law is the least of their accomplishments. In fact, they would seem to practise law as a shopkeeper I knew in Limerick kept a clothshop, "only for the convenience of small change." It is over science, art, and literature-the fine arts, the drama, patent inventions, casualties at sea, and death by mysterious agency-that they roam, as a wild bee floats over a garden.
Take a case of fouling in the Channel, where the Mary Jane of Swansea, being on the starboard tack, was run into by the Dashing Hero of Cardiff, lost her bowsprit, was damaged in her bulwarks, and so severely injured below the waterline that she narrowly escaped foundering off the Nore, and indeed only gained Margate to go down in four fathoms water. Spinks was for the Mary Jane;
Adams represented-I was going to say commanded-the Dashing Hero. Spinks opened beautifully with an account, statistically given, of where the Mary Jane was built, and the admiration that accompanied her on the morning she descended into what newspapers call "her native element." He then grew warmer; he described the joy of Swansea, and the delight of her owners. She was a model craft "swanlike and graceful, and chartered by the house of Rigs and Rags with coal for the works at Millwall." Once at sea- -"the blue, the open sea"-he became Fenimore Cooper, and told how she furrowed the white waves, cleaving her proud way through the crested water, her gallant crew, sons of that land whose home," by some incongruity, "is on the deep," and at the main the flag that for a thousand years, &c., &c.
In the Pool, however, came disaster, and Captain Spinks had now to be professional. Poetry had done its work, and navigation must be called in. "We were, my lord, on our starboard tack; the wind was east-east and by south-a fresh breeze, and threatening to be fresher. We were under a reefed topsail and trysail, with a storm jib and our mainsail doubly reefed. Your lordship will perceive from this that we had taken every possible precaution, even to the battening down our fore hatch."
"What of the main ?" interrupted Adams. "Tell the court, I beg, how was the main hatchway."
Others," you may read how the gallant Adams handled the Dashing Hero, showing by every rule of the Trinity House that, if he had not run into the lubberly collier—it was an unfeeling expression-he would have been "unworthy of his certificate-unworthy of the confidence of his owners."
My lord, my learned friend has told you of the wind, but he has omitted to tell you of the tide."
"A half ebb," from Spinks, looking at his brief.
'Yes, my lord, a half ebb; and what is a half ebb in the Pool, with the wind strong from the southward?"
"East-east and by south," breaks in Spinks.
“Away with these flimsy subtleties, brother Spinks. No man ever walked a deck with more credit than yourself; but these crafty devices are not seamanship. When we saw, my lord, that the Mary Jane was determined to hold on her course, reckless as it was— - when by repeated signals"
"What were your signals?"
"What were our signals! does my gallant brother require at this time of day to be told what is meant by loosening off the foresail of a schooner on the port tack, with her helm hard up?"
The scene grew warm-almost a battle; and when a grand peroration closed Adams's speech about the naval supremacy of Britain, and the rights of Englishmen to do at sea what nobody has ever dared to attempt on land, the genius of the place responded to the appeal, and three lusty cheers shook the courthouse.
Now, when one remembers that either of these intrepid mariners would have been sea-sick in a ferryboat, it must be owned that the exhibition was creditable. It was thoroughly histrionic too; they imparted to the whole discussion a certain bold and dashing character, an air of reckless attack and daring rejoinder, that savoured of a
naval action; and when Adams, in his last appeal to the jury, "hitched" his small-clothes, there ran a murmur of approval through the court, in testimony of one who had thoroughly invested himself with his client's interests.
They are finer still, however, in a patent case-a new treddle, the application of a lately-discovered salt as a dye for cotton prints, or a new apparatus for condensing steam, or enamelling the skin, or strengthening the knee-timbers of iron-clads. The grandest achievement of all is a poisoning casesomething that is to be two-thirds emotional and one-third scientific -where the interest vacillates between the most powerful passions and the pangs of arsenic, and the listener is alternately carried from the domestic hearth to the laboratory and back again.
Now, when one is aware that the "learned Serjeant" knows as much about chemistry as a washerwoman does of the ". wave theory," the display of impromptu learning he makes is positively astounding. Armed with an hour's reading of Beck and Orfila, the great man comes down to court to puzzle, bewilder, and very often confute men of real ability and acquirement; to hold them up to the world as hopelessly ignorant of all that they had devoted their lives to master; and in some cases to exhibit the very science they profess as a mass of crude disjointed facts, from which no inference could be drawn, or a safe conclusion derived.
"Listen to these doctors, gentlemen of the jury; I hope you understand them. I vow to heaven that I do not; and which of them will you believe? Are you for the gentleman who relies on the 'garlic odour,' the beautiful paleblue colour, or that still more scientific performer who insists on a specific gravity of 999; and will any one tell me that the life of a fellow-creature is to hang on subtleties on which the creators themselves are not agreed? In the
name of all humanity I ask, what is this science by whose decision we are to send a man to the scaffold? Dr Peebles tells you that the odour of a garlic is a decisive evidence of arsenic. Heaven help the whole Spanish Peninsula! Gentlemen, in this case the indictment must take in all from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar. Professor Meryweather says blueness, and the last witness declares lightness, to be the infallible witness; and I have no doubt I could put on that table two others just as learned, and who would pronounce that the tests should be a yellow colour, and a greater specific gravity. For, remember, these sciences are in their infancy. The affinities that are to-day believed eternal, to-morrow discovers to be a mere accident. If there be a little salt of this, or muriate of that, or an oxide of the other, the colour blue would be red, and the garlic odour become like violets. How is the business of life to go on in the midst of such refined subtleties as these? Who would have the courage to ask his friend to dinner, when, should the common fate of mortality soon befall him, a question would arise as to what he had eaten on that day, what remarks he had passed on the fish, and what judgment on the sherry? the whole to be closed up with a medical opinion about a garlic odour and a blue tint. Give me three lines of a man's writing, and I'll draw an indictment that will hang him,' was the terrible threat of an old criminal lawyer; but this is worse. Show me the crust or the biscuit your friend offered you, a fragment of the rusk or the cheese you had at luncheon, and I have an analytic professor who will vouch to discover in it either arsenic, corrosive sublimate, or sugar-of-lead."
A pitiable spectacle indeed is that poor man of science, pilloried up in the witness-box and pelted by the flippant ignorance of his examiner ! What a contrast between the diffident caution of true knowledge