« السابقةمتابعة »
LIFE AND OBSERVATIONS
A PERSON OF LEISURE.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS THE SUNDRY MORAL AND LEARNED REFLECTIONS WHICH, AT
• THE CLOSE OF THE LAST CHAPTER, THE READER WAS REQUESTED TO MAKE FOR HIMSELF.
CHAPTER THE THIRD.*
Mrs. Dangle. Why should you affect the character of a critic? I have no patience with you! Have n't you made yoursell the jest of all your acquaintance by your interference in matters where you have no business?
Sheridan's “ Critic," 1, 1.
IN THIS CHAPTER THE AUTHOR CONSIDERS CERTAIN REFLECTIONS WHICH IN CHAPTER THE
SECOND THE READER SAW FIT TO MAKE.
No sir! You may say precisely what you please about the description of my birth, and I defy you to prove that there is an indelicate word in it.
Was there ever any thing so provoking! Just fancy me, dear reader, (and before I advance another step in that address, let me distinctly set forth that the reader to whom I now turn my attention is by no means the one who on former occasions has been distinguished by that epithet. So far is this from being the case, that I can see that benighted gentleman absolutely turning up his cynical nose at the idea of such a thing, and in the very excess of his blindness, positively shaking his sides with internal and suppressed laughter, as he hears his forfeited title bestowed on another ; and having explained this accurately, let us commence our apostrophe again.) Just fancy me, I say, dear reader, (“ and why dear reader? Why not call me gentle, eh? Mr. Author !" My very good sir—not to say dear sir, lest I should seem to take the very point at issue as granted—if you persist in interrupting me in this way, pray, how do you suppose we are ever to make an end of this chapter ? Not, however, to seem disobliging, I will answer you. I do not then say “gentle reader," because the shortness of my acquaintance, and the consequent inadequacy of my information respecting your moral characteristics, forbid my stating positively whether you be indeed gentle or not. For any knowledge
* The author begs that it may be understocd that this chapter is no Quixotic ex. pedition against a wiudmill, but a serious reply to an actual charge!
of mine to the contrary, you may be a roystering, swaggering, bullying varlet, with a throat like
“ Tuba mirum spargens sonum ;" whose volume of sound cannot be less than a folio ; who besprinkles his talk with oaths, and sees you to perdition in the matter of a curse or so; a sort of Bombastes Furioso, or a Tamburlane the Great, with his chariot drawn by conquered kings, whom he reviles as
“Those pampered jades of Asia that can draw
But twenty miles a-day.” Who knows? Not I, certainly. You say I've hit it? and very glad I am of that, for, do you know, I have a great liking for that style of man? Therefore I shall continue to call you dear reader, as I have already entitled you twice before.) Just fancy me then, dear reader,me, a modest man in white neckcloth and steel-rimmed spectacles, (for those of gold ever smacked too strongly of ostentatious vulgarity for my taste,) sandy-haired, pale-faced, oldish, with the second finger of my right hand somewhat discolored by frequent contact with my gray goosequill, suffering at the time from a repletion of ink,-me, the good, quiet Mr. Doldrum, that mothers ask to escort their daughters to public places—fancy me, I say, penning that account of my nativity. Picture to yourself, the nice weighing of words, the cautious advancement of facts, at first rather hinted at than stated, the conscious blush as I alter a sufficiently delicate phrase for one a shadow inore remote from odious plain speaking. See me, timidly, and with a startling circumlocution, approach the subject. How I dally with a parenthesis that may brake the fall upon so dreadful a disclosure, and finally blurt it out with an assumed boldness, the offspring of shamefacedness in excess. And then to be accused of indelicacy!
I have said it, I do not know how many times, and Æsop, I've an idea, made a similar remark, that it is nonsense to try to please every body. In trying to carry our donkey, we are sure to make asses of ourselves, and hence (we have a weakness toward philological research) the origin of the expression. Therefore shall we not attempt this impossible task. If our language be exceptionable, put us down, and avoid us as you would the Gentleman in Black, or if curiosity triumph over fastidiousness, take out your pencil and relieve your sense of duty by writing “shameful!” in very sharply defined letters, on the outer margin, and so pass us by.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH. “ They thrust their children to the study of law and divinity before they be informed aright or capable of such studies."
Anutomy of Melancholy. CHAPTER THE FOURTH CONTINUES THE HISTORY OF THE AUTHOR THRO' A STUDIOUS CHILD
HOOD AND YOUTH. Had I a better memory of my earlier years—or rather I should say days, for what child erer reckoned time by any other measurement, nor is it till a later period that we learn to reduce to minutes or generalize to years, the seasons of pleasure or pain that we pass through
-it cannot be but I should tire of this self-imposed task Tong ere the history should reach the period of manhood. Pleasant though it may seem to wander at will over the fields of memory ere we set out on the excursion, we have no sooner started than we are convinced of our mistake. How dully we trudge along the path we once trod so merrily, and what sad havoc does the heavy heel of manhood make among the flowers over which the child's tiny foot once tripped so lightly! How rudely does the eye of the full grown man, matured by age and polished by society, penetrate the gossamer veil of time-worn recollections; and as we continue the scrutiny, how facts appear in their real colors, and divesting themselves of fancy's raiment, stand forth in naked deformity. Or if indeed this scrutiny be safely passed, and the scenes of bygone years are proved as lovely as we could wish to paint them, if distance have indeed lent no enchantment, if life in the past be all we would dream in the present, how sad the comparison between the world of revery and the world of reality, how dreary to emerge from a Paradise of Fancy into a Purgatory of Fact! (“ What do you mean by that, Mr. Author ?" Nothing, my dear sir, but the antithesis is a pretty one, and as I have been struggling to in
troduce it in the three previous chapters, you will perhaps excuse its i presence now.)
· I have some recollection of having left myself (a chapter or so back) on the lap of my nurse, siinmering, as mine host John Willet was wont to do, before a very hot fire ; and here my memory fails me. Either that my mind, in its infantile state, found itself unable to set in motion such a complicated machine as that of vision, or that the impressions then formed upon the tablet of memory, were so faint as to be obliterated, each by the one that followed it, or that the thoughts, as they trickled into the mind, were sopped out by sleep as with a sponge-or that with the obstinate dislike for new notions that has since been so characteristic of me, I folded myself up in mental swaddling clothes, as Mrs. Crone had previously folded me in bodily ones, and refused to perceive; or that the spirit (a supposition not impossible) had not as yet fairly entered its fleshly tabernacle, but was at that time traveling, a vagrant, through space, or that some other equally indistinct cause was productive of some other similarly undefined elfect; but the result, however you explain it, is this : that no outlines however faint of the events of the six months following, are shadowed on the retina of memory. (“What makes you so full of metaphor, Mr. Author ?" I have been reading The Faery Queen and Jeremy Taylor's Golden Grove, my good sir.)
Therefore am I unable to give more than a wide guess at the earlier portions of my childhood. To be sure, here and there are known facts, anecdotes of odd precocity, memorials of stunted virtues or overgrown failings, which can serve as stepping stones by which we may walk dryshod over the stream of conjecture that flows between. Such are the tales that my old nurse, not Mrs. Crone, who, after trotting me as though
I contained milk, which it were necessary to churn, and smothering me in blankets, as though she feared my brief candle would be blown out by the first breath of air, and preferred putting an extinguisher on it to avoid smoke, had resigned her post at the month's end to another, a kind, doting old soul, who died—Heaven assoil her!-twenty years ago last autumn,-such are the tales she used to tell of my wonderful childhood. How I used to ride on the gold-headed cane which the Rev. Dr., my father, carried with him so pompously when he walked ;-how I measured my increasing stature by the diminishing distance between the top of my flaxen-haired poll and the Roman nose of the uncouth head which, under the pretence of being a knocker, disfigured our front door ;-how I stoutly resisted the invasions of the alphabet, and made a fresh stand on each individual letter, until, driven from one stronghold to another, I made my final surrender at “and by itself and”— were some of the traditions which this goodly dame delighted to recount to me, an auditor who wondered and admired as I listened to the recital of my own exploits.
And now comes my own memory to begin her task, and I, quantum mutatus ab illo, summon up before me the image of my boyish self, as it gambols over the grass, and leaves its footprints in the flower beds where it had been forbidden to tread, and reads bright fairy tales under quiet trees, not with the thankless abstraction of later years, but with a happy glance ever and anon at a bird or a butterfly, or the wavering suplight as it falls through the gaps in the foliage, thinking them no intrusions, but rather blending them with the enchanted story, till they seemed part of it, and knowing not whether it be bird or butterfly, sunshine or fairy tale that it is reading, but only that it is happy in them all (“ How is that, Mr. Author ?” Interpret it as you please, my dear sir.)
And so passed my childhood. When eight years old my father, who had delayed thus long that he might not expose me to temptation ere, as he said, my principles were formed, sent me to school! Hitherto I had been kept at my books at home for an hour or so in the day, and my mind had been more cultivated by society than by books. An only child, and the constant companion of my parents, who doted on me, I grew old while in petticoats, and became pedantic without affectation. My language was far from child-like, and by frequent familiarity with their use by others, sesquipedalia verba, (or what seemed such for my years,) were “household words” to me. Had my elders talked Latin, Costard's honorificabilitudinitatibus would have been of my vocabulary. Natural though this was, it was far from seeming such to my schoolmates, and “ Jed. Doldrum, with his long words," was a frequent subject of merriment. But for this, boyhood had passed as happily as childhood, and at sixteen I was despatched for Yale College, of which my reverend father had been a graduate, and for which he had the highest possible respect. But my history there deserves another chapter.