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MR. OLDAKER ON MODERN IMPROVE-
[New Monthly Magazine.]
Mr. Editor. I trust that, even in this age of improvement you will suffer one of the oldest of the old school to occupy a small space in your pages. A few words respecting myself will, however, be necessary to apologize for my opinions. Once I was among the gayest and sprightliest of youthful aspirants for fame and fortune. Being a second son, I was bred to the bar, and pursued my studies with great vigour and eager hope, in the Middle Temple. I loved, too, one of the fairest of her sex, and was beloved in return. My toils were sweetened by the delightful hope that they would procure me an income sufficient for the creditable support of the mistress of my soul. Alas! at the very moment when the unlooked-for devise of a large estate from a distant relative gave; me affluence, she for whom alone I desired wealth, sunk under the attack of a fever into the grave. Religion enabled me to bear her loss with firmness, but I determined, for her sake, ever to remain a bachelor. Although composed and tranquil, I felt myself unable to endure the forms, or to taste the pleasures of London. I retired to my estate in the country, where I have lived for almost forty years in the society of a maiden sister, happy if an old friend came for a few days to visit me, but chiefly delighting to cherish in silence the remembrance of my only love, and to anticipate the time when I shall be laid beside her. At last, a wish to settle an orphan nephew in my own profession, has compelled me to visit the scenes of my early days, and to mingle, for a short time, with the world. My resolution
once taken, I felt a melancholy pleasure in the expectation of seeing the places with which I was once familiar, and which were ever linked in my mind with sweet and blighted hope. Every change has been to me as a shock. I have looked at large on society too, and there I see little in brilliant innovation to admire. Returned at last to my own fire-side, I sit down to throw together a few thoughts on the new and boasted Improvements, over which I mourn. If I should seem too querulous, let it be remembered, that my own happy days are long past, and that recollection is the sole earthly joy which is left me.
My old haunts have indeed suffered comparatively small mutation. The princely hall of the Middle Temple has the same venerable aspect as when, in my boyish days, I felt my heart beating with a strange feeling of mingled pride and reverence on becoming one of its members. The fountain yet plays among the old trees, which used to gladden my eye in spring for a few days with their tender green, to become so prematurely desolate. But the front of the Inner Temple hall, upon the terrace, is sadly altered for the worse. When I first knew it, the noble solidity of its appearance, especially of the figure over the gateway, cut massively in the stone, carried the mind back into the deep antiquity of the scene. Now the whole building is white-washed and plastered over, the majestic entrance supplied by an arch of pseudogothic, and a new library added at vast cost in the worst taste of the modern antique. The view from the garden is spoiled by that splendid nuisance, the Waterloo Bridge. Formerly we used to enjoy the enormous bend of the river, far fairer than the most marvellous work of art; and while our eyes dwelt on the placid mirror of water, our imagination went over it, through calm and majestic windings, into sweet rural scenes, and far inland bowers. Now the river appears only an oblong lake, and the feeling of the country once let into the town by that glorious avenue of crystal, is shut out by a noble piece of mere human workmanship! But nature never changes, and some of her humble works are ever found to renew old feelings within us, notwithstanding the sportive changes of mortal fancy. The short grass of the Temple garden is the same as when forty years ago I was accustomed to refresh my weary eyes with its greenness. There I have strolled again; and while I bent my head downwards, and fixed my eyes on the thin blades and the soft daisies, I felt as I had felt when last I walked there—all between was as nothing, or a feverish dream—and I once more dreamed of the Seals, and of the living Sophia!—I felt—but I dare not trust myself on this subject farther.
The profession of the law is strangely altered since the days of my youth. It was then surely more liberal, as well as more rational, than I now find it. The business and pleasure of a lawyer were not entirely separated, as at present, when the first is mere toil, and the second lighter than vanity. The old stout-hearted pleaders threw a jovial life into their tremendous drudgeries, which almost rendered them delightful. Wine did but open to them the most curious intricacies of their art: they rose from it, like giants refreshed, to grapple with the sternest difficulties, and rejoiced in the encounter. Their powers caught a glow in the severity of the struggle, almost like that arising from strong exertion of the bodily frame. Nor did they disdain to enjoy the quaint jest, the far-fetched allusion, or the antique fancy, which sometimes craftily peeped out on them amidst their
laborious researches. Poor T W was one of the
last of the race. He was the heartiest and most romantic of special pleaders. Thrice happy was the attorney who could engage him to a steak or broiled fowl in the old coffee-room in Fleet-street, where I have often met him. How would he then dilate, in the warmth of his heart, on all his professional triumphs—now chuckling over the fall of a brother into a trap set artfully for him in the fair guise of liberal pleading —now whispering a joy past joy in a stumble of the Lord Chief Justice himself, among the filmy cords drawn about his path! When the first bottle was despatched, arrived the time for his wary host to produce his papers in succession, to be drawn or settled by the joyous pleader. The welllauded inspiration of a poet is not more genuine than that with which he then was gifted. All his nice discernment— all his vast memory—all his skill in drawing analogies and discerning principles in the "great obscurity" of the Year Books—were set in rapid and unerring action. On he went —covering page after page, his pen " in giddy mazes running," and his mind growing subtler and more acute with every glass. How dextrously did he then glide through all the strange windings of the case, with a sagacity which neyer failed, while he garnished his discourse with many a legal pun and learned conceit, which was as the light bubble on the deep stream of his knowledge! He is gone!—and I find none to resemble him in this generation—none who thus can put a spirit into their work, which may make cobweb-sophistries look golden, and change a laborious life into one long holiday!
In the greater world, I have observed with sorrow, a prevailing disregard of the past, and a desire to extol the present, or to expatiate in visionary prospects of the future. I fear this may be traced not so much to philanthropy as to self-love, which inspires men with the wish personally to distinguish themselves as the teachers and benefactors of their species, instead of resting contented to share in the vast stock of recollections and sympathies which is common to all. They would fain persuade us that mankind, created, "a little lower than the angels," is now for the first time "crowned with glory and honour;" and they exultingly point to institutions of yesterday for the means to regenerate the earth. Some, for example, pronounce the great mass of the people, through all ages, as scarcely elevated above the brutes which perish, because the arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic, were not commonly diffused among them; and on the diffusion of these they ground their predictions of a golden age. And were there then no virtuous hardihood, no guileless innocence, no affections stronger than the grave, in that mighty lapse of years which we contemptuously stigmatize as dark-? Are disinterested patriotism, conjugal love, open-handed hospitality, meek self-sacrifice, and chivalrous contempt of danger and of death, modern inventions 1 Has man's great birthright been in abeyance even until now1 Oh, no! The Chaktean shepherd did not cast his quiet gaze through weeks and years in vain to the silent skies. He knew not, indeed, the discoveries of science, which have substituted an immense variety of figures on space and distance, for the sweet influences of the stars; yet did the heavens tell to him the glory of God, and angel faces smile on him from the golden clouds. Book-learning is, perhaps, the least part of the education of the species. Nature is the mightiest and
the kindliest of teachers. The rocks and unchanging hills