Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

one.

The third on our list is the Life of Mr. Lindley Murray,'—two. hundred and eighty pages octavo—price, in boards, nine shillings sterling ;-—and a most extraordinary specimen of the autobiographical art it is; for the whole essence of it might have been comprised in one page octavo, and that page would have been a dull

We had always imagined that Mr. Lindley Murray was a schoolmaster by profession; but the fact turns out otherwise. He was born A.D. 1745, in Pennsylvania, and became, in due course of time, a practising attorney at New York. The state of his health brought him to England in 1794: he took up his abode at a village in Yorkshire; and being shortly afterwards affected with an indescribable sort of muscular weakness, confined himself to his room and his sofa during the remaining thirty years of his life, amusing this long leisure with the composition of the useful manuals which have made his name familiar to the spelling public. He lived in a room the atmosphere of which was kept at a certain equable temperature, day and night, throughout spring, summer, autumn, winter : he was closely shaved and neatly dressed in drab by seven every morning ; breakfasted on coffee and buttered toast at eight, and read the daily papers ; dined on boiled mutton and turnips—which he moistened with one wine-glass of porter—at two; took tea at six; and went to bed upon a posset at nine. The female friend who completes the biography adds that, faring so well, and taking no exercise whatever, he was occasionally obliged to have recourse to “aperient medicine.' The good Quaker's composure and resignation during thirty years thus spent are worthy of the sincerest praise; but two hundred and eighty pages on such a theme are indeed too much. We do not believe that there ever was a more leaden book. Will it be credited that this historical writer lived at New York all through the American war, and that in his account of his · Life and Times' he never drops a hint as to the existence of such a contest?

- except in one sentence, which informs the world that he, Lindley Murray, greatly exercised himself in his pleasure-boat' during the

political storm.' We are very sure that Mr. Murray would never have ventured into any boat in a natural breeze; and are of opinion that, under no circumstances, should any vessel but a punt be navigated by people of his persuasion—but that is no concern of ours; and since there are such things in the world as Quaker pleasureboats, we should have a particular satisfaction in seeing one of them at work. We are, however, travelling away from the record. At page 117, he talks about the devout Addison :' at page 125, he quotes something from the excellent writer, Locke :' and such is the water-gruel vein throughout. The lady who concludes and edits the work talks much about his genius'—the homage' it received the meekness' with which the author of so many

spelling

spelling-books bore his honours ; particularly the honour of a teavisit from the Earl of Buchan, in the month of August, anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and two.—The volume is adorned with a comical-enough portrait, and a facsimile of an autograph letter, wherein, we need scarcely say, the lines are exactly parallel, the hair-strokes turned to a nicety, and the dots distributed under an anxious sense of the justice of the precept which assigns suum cuique.

Major John Cartwright is entitled to a place among these illustrious autobiographers; for although his Memoirs profess to be drawn up by his niece, the volumes are in fact composed almost entirely of passages from his own MSS., diaries, and letters, of all which the deceased patriot appears to have carefully préserved duplicates, with an eye to the benefit of succeeding generations. Miss Frances Cartwright's narrative is merely the thread upon which the Major's own pearls are strung--and precious pearls they are, and great should be our gratitude to the kind hand that gives us the whole of them for a guinea.

Mr. Cartwright was born in 1740; entered the navy in 1758; in 1759 was present and behaved well at the battle between Hawke and Conflans; commanded a cutter on the Newfoundland station in 1766; went on halfpay, and began to write pamphlets in 1770; was made major of the Nottingham militia in 1775; in 1776, declined serving at sea under Lord Howe, because he disapproved of the American war; was dismissed from his majority in 1792, on account of his repeated attendance at seditious meetings; and from that time, down to the day of his death in 1824, was continually before the eye of the public as the most indefatigable and, we may add, the most honest and the most imbecile of all the preachers of radical reform, annual parliaments, and universal suffrage.

His Memoirs, in two volumes octavo, pages eight hundred and forty-six, will be read by few: in fact, we are much at a loss to conceive for what class of persons so large and so dear a book upon such a subject was published; and are pretty sure that no bookseller encountered the risk of the adventure. The Major was by birth a gentleman : so long as his sense of duty allowed him to remain in his Majesty's naval service, he maintained the character of a gallant and faithful officer; and in all the relations of domestic life his conduct appears to have been, throughout, equally upright and amiable. But in the prime of his existence, at the age of thirty-six, he abandoned his honourable profession on grounds which it is impossible not to smile at; and turning his whole activity of mind, the only talent-or semblance of talent--which nature had bestowed on him, into the absurd pursuit of an impracticable

object,

object, lived long enough to exhaust, utterly, the patience of all his own friends, private and political, who had preserved any pretensions to sanity, and to be voted by them, almost as decidedly as by the friends of his country, the most mischievous of English simpletons. The affronts which he met with from the few radicals' of his own rank appear to have tried the old gentleman's virtue sorely: they proposed his health in grand speeches ;--they styled him the Father of Reform'—' the venerable Apostle of Liberty,' &c. &c. &c.; but whenever anything was to be done, they took most especial care to exclude the patriarch from their meetings; and the obstinate indifference with which they treated all his wishes to come into parliament,-putting boys, and not very marvellous boys neither, over his head upon every occasion when they had the power to gratify him—this conduct seems to have had the effect, we shall not ask whether it was the desired effect, of mingling something very like positive mania with the dotage of his declining years. They are now talking of a statue to the Major’s memory, and they will act quite in character if they fulfil this worthy purpose.

It is only their unmanliness in eternally lauding, extolling, and Battering at their dinners, the coadjutor whom they systematically insulted in their deeds, that raises our disgust; that the Major's absurdities should have worn out the most long-suffering of tempers could have excited no wonder ;-and all would have been fair, had his friends told him how the case stood-nay, even had they not told him the reverse. He was an old man and a gentleman, and entitled at their hands either to consistent coolness or to honest courtesy.

His power of boring seems to have been enormous. up at peep. of day, and wrote and dictated letters and pamphlets, received deputations from provincial radicals, made speeches, drew up resolutions-raved and drivelled in one shape or other—till the clock struck teu at night. This was his regular mode of existence through nine months of the year: he had settled in London to the neglect of his fortune and of all the proper duties of his station-for the express purpose of being able to lead such a life. In summer he regularly made a progress through some half-a-dozen counties, nay, he occasionally penetrated even to the Land's End and John o'Groat's house, preaching as he trotted. In short, there was no end to the Major. His printed works, exclusive of innumerable contributions to newspapers and magazines, and of these posthumous Memoirs, amount to the portentous aggregate of fifty-two volumes octava—and such volumes !--the verbosity and tautology of Cobbett without one atom of his humour, his vigour, even if it were but his ferocity; the very mud and slime of Chaos; one long, lazy, dreary puddle and wash of sedition,

We

He got

We have him writing long letters to Mr.President Jefferson, showing that everything would be right if this country could be restored to the beautiful purity of constitution it enjoyed under the AngloSaxon heptarchy: then we have him engaged in a controversy about the horror of saying the monarchical,' whereas it ought to be the 'regal part of the constitution.' Next we find him, the moment the Spaniards roused themselves in 1808, sending out some dozen pamphlets of his own inditing, such as • The Ægis,' Take your Choice,' &c., &c., to teach Señor Arguelles and his friends the proper method of defending the Peninsula, and the sort of political system best adapted, in the Major's opinion, for a country which the Major had never seen. Then

comes the grand question, whether the cap of liberty did not, melioribus annis, form part of the insignia of Britannia on the copper coin of these realms, and the indignant demonstration, that unless the trident be banished and the cap restored, England is ruined. From halfpence the transition is easy to doubloons—the Major takes the field in Peru even before the Abbé de Pradt: the South Americans—the Neapolitans -the Piedmontese—the Greeks--all partake in the paternal care of the Major: he draws up constitutions for each and all of them; the cause of universal suffrage and universal insurrection, all the world over, is his motto. He was a complete Quixote; but his sombre and unrelieved absurdities have already sunk into laughterless night-caruit quia Sancho Panza.

Our bane and antidote are both before us; and it is our own fault if we linger over the poison, however diluted, of Major Cartwright, when we have before us a table richly spread with the most wholesome viands by the careful and conscientious hands of his contemporary, Mr. Joseph Brasbridge, silversmith in London.

Many distinguished authors have, in former times, arisen among the citizens of Augusta Trinobantum; but only two of them, that we know of, have embellished the field of autobiography; and these, being booksellers by trade, occupied so much of their memoirs with the books and authors of their respective eras, that little room was left for the display of the peculiar manners and customs of their own natural compeers in the city. The keen eye of Mr. Brasbridge detected the blank thus left in our literature : he was resolved that we should no longer be constrained to take all our notions of the domestic life and economy of the regions east of Temple-bar from the fallacious authority of novelists and playwrights; and hence the goodly volume entitled • Fruits of Experience. The author writes in his eightieth year, so that his experience has been ample; and those who have not hitherto met with this performance will thank us for affording them a few specimens of its fruits.

Mr.

Mr. Brasbridge is to be commended for the modesty of his title-page: he does not, like the inferior autobiographer we began with, profess to write his “Life and Times. Our author is above such silly vanity—he knows well that the world would have stood very much where it does although he had never sold silver forks in Fleet-street, and therefore that he is by no means entitled to give name to his age. He calls his book · Fruits of Experience;' and we must say that we have doubts whether anybody under the rank of a field-marshal or a minister of state can have any right to promise more, when he sets about publishing his reminiscences. The only legitimate object of the private autobiographer is to give the public the cream of his personal experience; and a fair enough test by which to try the merits of any work of this class is afforded, if we extract from it, in the form of simple propositions, the moral and intellectual lessons it contains, and compare their importance, when thus distinctly presented to the mind's eye, with the quantity of matter from which they have been sifted. The tree is known by its fruit.

To apply this test: what are the fruits of Mr. Frederick Reynolds's experience ?_We have taken the trouble to shake his branches well, and have gathered only two 'apples of wisdom; to wit, first, that in the present state of the English drama it requires nothing but a beggarly account of empty jokes, and a disgusting familiarity with the green-room and the individuals who adorn its society, to be a highly-successful dramatist; secondly, that, even on these terms, dramatic success is worthy of the ambition of no man who can attain it. Mr. Reynolds, the Congreve of his time,' as we have somewhere had the pleasure to see him styled, spent his whole existence on the business of the drama. Besides writing from two to three scores of dramatic masterpieces, he was for years what is called technically maid-of-all-work,' or 'thinker,' (we borrow these terms from his own book,) i. e. universal furbisher, botcher, and grinder, to the great theatre of Covent Garden; and yet, it seems that, in forty years, he made exactly 19,0001., not quite 500l. per annum. A very pretty fellow--such as numerous well-executed line-engravings and mezzotintos, now in the shop-windows of St. James's parish, show Mr. Reynolds to have been with a light heart, a good temper, and a considerable stock of Joe-Millers, could scarcely, we think, bave failed to clear more money in this space of time in any other line of life.

As for Mr. Cradock, his fruits, if they ever had any juice or flavour at all in them, have not fallen until they had had leisure to become quite shrivelled and exsuccous, and we do not think they will answer for preserves. Major Cartwright's crop is much in the same state generally: but there are exceptions to the rule

in

« ПредишнаНапред »