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terious, than the “immortal longings" of this globe's one immortal tenant; and whether the nucleus of thought be a spear-head or a cistvaen, half a stone coffin, or a whole battle-field's skeletons exposed from under our feet; one of our castle-ruins, or Tadmor in the Desert; that principle equally exalts all in the eye of the true antiquary.
Wales, remarkably rich in these fine remains, where we cannot travel far without food for such sublime conjecturings, has not yet, I fear, excited in her own sons a spirit of curiosity equal to that which has brought so many English visitors to the scenes of them. There are names of places of a mere stone, or solitary brook, of a shepherd dingle,—“the Stone of the Captive," the “Poisoned Brook," the “Hollow of Woe,” which are as indices to human histories, all lost, sealed for ever, except such fragmental index remaining to each. The curiosity these, and many more, excite in some minds is actually tormenting, and almost intense as that involved in the grand secret of our world's infancy, our being's purpose and end, of eternal life or death; all those never-satisfied questions, which, for an answer, must await the sounding of the last trump.
Yet, when some retired meditative scholar among her own natives, presuming that his countrymen, at least, will appreciate some curious discovery he has made, in their very haunts and “daily neighbourhood,” gives publicity to it, it is ten to one that he is met with the “what then?” of my imagined anti-antiquary; when he unfolds the map of their country, shewing the mutations it has undergone, or invites them to a solemn “feast of reason,” in some carnedd lain open, full of historical associations, the invitation often leads thither those less nationally interested; the stranger will inquire the spot, but the native pass it by unsought; and farther, the imputation of being dry, will attach to the very vehicle of his valuable hint; the work, whatever it may be, in which he publishes it, without great care in the publisher to duly dilute his sterling ore with, at least, less sterling, or perhaps, even downright alloy.
The justice of this remark Welshmen are at liberty to impugn; especially, seeing that I cannot boast Cambro-British blood in my veins, but only Cambro-British partiality in my heart, I may be deemed unjust to their literary ardours; but the best mode of impugning it, I believe, will be by proof, not declamation, nor high-sounding flights of oratory at Eisteddvods; by following the example of our
Scottish neighbours, who, by encouraging enthusiastically the antiquarian spirit of the author of Waverly, and the high ambition in exalting the national literature of a Jeffery, have converted Auld Reekie into the Modern Athens, (the term is not wholly unmerited,) within the comparatively short period elapsed since the birth of the Edinburgh Review, and the first fame of Scott, when he explored the dales and heaths of Scotland for her metrical and traditionary antiquities.
That I may not be suspected of ultra-antiquarianism, let me here declare my innocent ignorance of those occult researches which I can value notwithstanding. The only relic in my possession is a very small portion of the internal network or cancelli of the os femoris (thigh-bone) of the renowned Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, once protector of the realm, now a crumbling skeleton in fragments, exposed through the battered lead of his outer coffin, and half-buried still in the black dust of his inner one, in a vault of St. Alban's Abbey. All my study of the antique consists in placing now and then, at midnight, this bit of mahoganycoloured dirt, part and parcel of Shakspeare's Duke Humphrey," on my open book full before me. Then viewing it intently by dim fire-light, I feel the full force of association of ideas: his unhappy wife Elinor moves by in her penance-sheet, and taper in hand; his brother “ Hal revels in East Cheap, wooes and marries in France; a babyking—is crowned; the Red Rose and the White factions
wage a bloody war, in my studio of some fifteen feet by twelve.
This, I confess, is the enthusiasm of a solitary or melancholy man; and it cannot be denied that the excess of this feeling may betray a professed antiquary into too strong a faith in the kindred taste of readers, it is so natural to believe those labours we delight in, equally delightful to all. And though it ill becomes a people whose country's chief claim to distinction consists in her noble remains, to complain of such “amabilis insania" in the devotees to antiquity, still it would not be amiss for Cambrian scholars to take a hint from the great reviver of Scottish ancient lore, and smear the bitter cup (since bitter it must be thought,) of antiquarian, with the honey of more seductive matter.
In opening the volumes of the“ author of Waverly," under an impression generally received of his profound intimacy with past times and their lost treasures, we are surprised at the slight degree of direct antiquarian research we find there.
The touches by which he revives the picture of feudal manners, or sets before the mind's eye venerable objects, are rather incidental and sketchy than laborious reproductions. Whatever may have been his labours they appear not in the page, but by a light and pleasant interest, blending the past with the present. In the most delightful subjects we may weary by too recondite and unrelaxing a pursuit. We may perhaps compare that of antiquities, unworldly and embued with such fine philosophic melancholy, to some romantic shady pool in the shadow of ancient rocks, such as Welsh landscapes present, by which we may lie most pleasantly, retreating from the sun and the world, and keep shaping all kinds of beauties, grottos, castles, groves, out of the aquatic masses and fretted stone of its profound and dimly descried floor; but if we will plunge in and dive thither, we stir up sediments that not only confuse our vision but render the whole disgusting.
But besides the excessive spirit of true antiquarianism, there is a sort of superstition in it that forms a very different character—the virtuoso, or pseudo-antiquary,—often confounded with the true, and is the occasion of all the senseless ridicule that has been cast on both indiscriminately. The virtuoso bears no closer relation to the real antiquary than does a fancier of tulips to a lover of nature, and thence of flowers generally, as a beautiful part of her productions and nothing more. The long-buried coin or urn, or half lost inscription, is not, per se, of any value to the philosophic explorer of remains, but as a symbol of the past, –a link by which thought may recover its failing hold, and grapple with all the interesting objects coeval with that otherwise worthless trifle. On his mind it has a similar effect to that of a single strain of music on ears exquisitely formed to thrill the heart by its means. The little melody may be but a snatch of some old fuller one, but it conjures up a thousand recollections; it seems to enchant this old working world around them, into a new—a milder one, a sort of fairy world of calm and repose, and a fine forgetfulness. To the virtuoso, on the contrary, the wormy or rusty relic seems to become of itself invested with ideal value, he hoards it as the thing, rather than the type of the thing, worthy of preservation; disregards, while he studies the hieroglyphics on a pyramid, the age it was reared and inscribed
commemorate, like the bigot, who while he hugs a crucifix, forgets the God it was designed to keep in his remembrance. The virtuoso explores his cabinet, the antiquary a departed world, for food for
contemplation. The one is self-possessed and busied about. things rare, and prized but for rarity; the other loves to lose himself among the ruins of time: as a philosopher he feels his mortality, and therefore feels a deep interest in those pathetic monuments of decay, the few remains of the features of that departed world. Turning his thoughts within, he finds his own nature already a desolation. All his
past loves, aims, and eager hopes, are become antiquities to himself—beyond the power of revival, all his spent hours already in the grave, and his prides-once so towering—as a flat and nameless tomb, now that they exist no more.
Exploring the history of the past and dead, he feels that he is but studying his own nature and reading his own doom, and he grows fond of his solemn contemplation, much on the same principle that a man, declined in the “vale of years," finds a soothing in the observation of the decline of the year, and loves to walk the autumn-wood ankle deep in its fallen leaves. Without entering into, or even conceiving, however, this deeper feeling of association between man the short-lived—the fleshy grass--the "cut down as a flower"the “full of misery”_man, in short,—the moral ruin, with nature in her beauty's decay, and the pride of art in their ruins,—all may cultivate a feeling so little romantic, so plainly rational, as a curiosity about legacies of grandeur and beauty left us by our ancestors, that give such a charm to an old country, as also that kindred feeling which attaches to its natural beauties, which I have, perhaps, not fully expressed by the term of a taste for
This taste enjoys more popular toleration, at least, than that for the antique. Being supposed to imply taste as a gift of nature, which most are unwilling to be thought deficient in, it has raised a multitude of pretenders, but few devotees. It is difficult to conceive genuine raptures, in the scenic beauty of nature, warming the minds of the same persons who are content to let her spring and summer waste their sweetness on the desert air,” for any thing they know or regard of her. The stupid doggrel tacked to extravagant caricatures, called the “Tour of Doctor Syntax," was but a dull satire on the passion for the picturesque. The bitterest satire on it is the biped one, the man of fashion, who having hid himself from the beauty and the glory of those seasons, deep in the hot and reeking brick-forest of London streets, runs down to Wales, or to the lakes, smit with a passion to
see, the fall of the leaf, to enjoy the world's withering, to revel in winter and the picturesque.
It may seem strange that so many should but pretend to an enjoyment, the reality of which is in every one's reach, with less trouble than the maintaining the pretence of it; a taste which costs nothing in cultivation, requires no study, no high talent, the finest food for which is every where; a common feast spread equally for every one who has eye to see and heart to feel, invitingly spread by day and by night, below and above, in the mild green brilliance of springmeadows with their flowers, and the milder noon-day blue or intense night-azure of those inaccessible fields, with their pomp of clustering stars which we call the flowers of heaven; a feast which the ploughman and night-watching shepherd may partake with the prince. That the pretence to this taste is so general and the reality so rare, may prove that in a degree it is a gift not an acquirement, but by no means that its cultivation on that account is to be neglected. Every power of mind and of body languishes if unexercised; and my opinion is, that every one born, (provided there is not imbecility of mind,) is born with a susceptibility to nature's beauties, to be developed with other matured faculties, if not prematurely crushed by habits destructive to its exercise. A life of coarse and servile exertion for its very preservation, and one of frivolous dissipation, will equally leave it dormant in the soul, till it utterly dies away within it. Few can be by birth so prone-minded or perverse, as to prefer a fen-light to a moon, a boy's rushlight in his hollowed turnip to a king's palace or a whole city in a grand illumination. Yet we see this miracle of stupidity, not to say unthankfulness to the God of all gifts, daily and nightly, and in men who would be indignant to have their reasoning powers called in question. I see a man of the beau monde highly exhilarated by the brilliancy of a ball room, by certain lights of wax or cotton and grease, dangling above his head; and I see him walk home, lighted, not by torch or lamp, but by ten thousand worlds, wonderfully doing the office, and do not see him once lift his head, or his heart, or his hand above in joy or devotion; all his aim being, like one quite sated with those glories of the crowded room, to reach home, and carefully exclude these meaner ones by walls and curtains.
If we reflect at what a terrible cost thousands buy joys, not only inferior to that of the enthusiast in this state, but