« PreviousContinue »
said, "Then we will have no strangers beyond one or two, whom I am sure you will be pleased to see." As to seeing, beyond seeing him and family, and seeing you, the object is, to see London. I was amused by his telling me, in one of his letters, that I should be as quiet and retired as I pleased, have country air, &c., while my object was not to be retired at all, and to take in as little as I could help, of country air. What 1 should be after, would be in the thick of the town every day-in perfect contrast to the seclusion and rural scene and air at Stapleton. . . . . The British Museum will be a very chief object with me; especially the apartment entirely occupied by engravings. My taste has been in that way, to an unfortunate excess, and there may there be inspected innumerable fine and rare things hardly to be seen, (at least, by me) any where else. It is too likely I shall want several days, chiefly in that enormous assemblage of art and nature. Amidst such spectacles, however, it is a great grievance, and partly a shame, to me, to be so destitute as I am, of scientific knowledge. I can only gaze and admire in a mere outside way, just so far as the things are a show to the sight. It is now too late in life for me to aim at any other than the most superficial knowledge.
CLXXXVI. TO JOHN EASTHOPE, ESQ.
Stapleton, April 8, 1836.
The special and duplicate paper explained its purpose, on my opening it. I had failed to notice particularly the "Poets' Corner," as I remember the old newspapers, in Yorkshire, used to have it.-The suc cessive pieces have been unequal, but, for the greater part, sparkling and mischievous enough. Capitally fantastic, witty, and brilliant, that about Jupiter's breakfast. There is the very viper's tooth in the two pieces about the Chimpanzee. How one should like to have seen its effect on that coxcomb Do you ever happen to hear how these detonating balls are actually taken by those they are thrown at? The thorough veterans, one has always heard, main
tain their philosophy perfectly well under such assailments; but to the greener sort one would fancy they may be rather annoying.
The graver people (of whom I am one) have their objection, and may have it without being at all ultra-puritanical, to that tinge of profaneness which the satirist infuses into some of his pieces. Perhaps Jupiter and Hebe might very well be allowed to consign themselves to the Devil, but they had better not have done it in the hearing of the many decorous and even religious people who may be supposed to read the Morning Chronicle. It is really not well-judged, even on the score of good taste, and what I may call literary dignity, to make no higher reference, in the most witty, as well as most ingenious and elegant poet now alive, to indulge himself in diction and allusions accommodated to the appetite of men who trifle with the most serious subjects-an appetite which he probably does in his own mind hold in condemnation and contempt. The wit and the penal justice of satire should eschew such an unworthy association.
CLXXXVII. TO THE REV. JOSIAH HILL.
Stapleton, Aug. 19, 1836.
With about, perhaps, one-tenth part of your experience in the business of local removals, I can yet well understand what an annoyance it is. Have you any particular feeling about becoming attached to a spot, simply as a place of residence? I have always felt an indisposition to contract such an attachment,-independently of not having had any strong local cause for it, and from a kind of feeling of incongruity between such adhesions and our grand destiny to leave, ere long, all earthly localities to abandon the globe itself. I have mused sometimes in wonder, when I have seen persons, perhaps far forward beyond the youthful age, building houses, laying out grounds, contriving, and assiduous in making, what are called "improvements;" delighted with the spot, pulling their friends about through walk after
walk, and from point to point, to show them how beautiful, how commodious, how improved from its original condition; how, perhaps, picturesque; "Isn't it a pleasant spot to set one's self down in ?" One's silent reflection was-"Yes; and for how long?" Some of them will say, it is in consideration of their families, of "my son;" -but the truth is, almost always, that it is chiefly their own passion for the thing, in forgetfulness of the funera that will, one no immensely distant day, be seen passing from this pleasant abode to one narrow, cold, and dark enough. I have always thought, that were I a man of fortune, and located in what is called a "seat," I should take no kind of interest about its adjustments and "improvements," beyond some matter of mere immediate convenience.
I felt no very strong excitement (too old and too cold) among the wonders and grandeurs of the great Babylor, but on returning into the stillness of this obscure den, I felt for a week or more, as if I could do nothing but sleep. . . . . In looking from the top of the Colosseum, over the city, the first on our planet beyond all doubt or comparison, one could not help the invading thought, What an awful, what a direful, spectacle it was, in one view,—the stupendous amount of sin in it. Oh, when will the predicted better age arrive?*
* The following quotations from Mr. Foster's Letters on the Metropolis (Vol. I. p. 291, 2nd edit.), describe some of his first impressions of "the great Babylon."
"London is really a very wonderful place. I do not so much refer to its prominent inanimate features, its great buildings, its repositories of art and curiosities, its shipping, and its magnificent mass of habitations. Accumulations of brick, stone, and wood, are of very subordinate account, except indeed as some of them are monuments of the industry, ingenuity, or superstition of past ages, and others the condication of the condition of the present inhabitants. What strikes me infinitely more, is the astonishing assemblage of human beings. One human individual is to a thoughtful mind a most wonderful object; but in the midst of London you are conscious of being surrounded with eight or nine hundred thousand such individuals, collected together so thick and close as to give at some moments the idea of one undivided, enormous living mass, of which the numerous streets are as the arteries and veins through which the stream o vitality is for ever flowing. You may walk on, and wonder where the moving mass will end. But there is no end; an unnumbered succession of faces still meets you, while you recollect at every step, if thinking of what
Thanks for the Watchman ;-but you will not send the other number; nobody in this world is willing to let one know the whole truth of things.
CLXXXVIII. TO JOHN PURSER, ESQ.
Stapleton, August 26, 1836.
I am very much gratified by the information, that you have resumed your proper position, as adherent and assistant to the Baptist interest in Dublin. No man can you see, 'These are not the same that I saw the last moment;' and again, These are not the same that were passing me when I made that remark; what is become of all that are gone by?' You are apprised at the same time that there is a much greater number in the houses that you pass. Some parts are so crammed that one might suppose there was not a single square league of ground unoccupied on this side the Arctic or Antartic Circle; or that if there be, some powers of pestilence and death possess it, and prohibit the intrusion of man to seek there space, air, and freedom. Image to yourself at the same time, if you can, all the other numerous streets with their moving crowds, and the numbers in the houses on each hand; and finally recollect that each of all this multitude has his thoughts, his tempers, his interests, and his cares, measuring still the importance of interests and cares to each person by the importance which you feel in your own, and you will soon find that the contemplation and the scene contained within a few square miles, grows, like that of infinity, into a magnitude beyond the compass of the mind.
"The extreme activity that prevails on every side would seem partly allied to cheerfulness; but I own that the reflections by which I am subject to be haunted amidst this vast display of eager and gay activity, are not of a very cheerful cast. I should have a mean opinion of the moral sensibility of the man that should not be mournfully impressed by a view of the depravity that is obvious and apparent, and which is but the slight external sign and indication of the enormous measure of unseen evil. This great city in desolation and ruins would be deemed a most melancholy spectacle; but is it not much more melancholy to see on so vast a scale the dignity of man in ruins? Do you not feel it an awful consideration as you traverse the city, that there constantly rests on a few square miles around you, a measure of vice sufficient to poison an universe of corruptible beings? Do you not feel something like what might have been felt by a man standing amidst the streams of Egypt, when Moses had turned the waters into blood? If depravity as an abstraction could be clothed in a form which would render it perceptible by the eyes, the collective depravity of this magnificent city would be the most terrific and ominous apparition that man ever beheld. The fires and smoke that ascended from Sodom on its final morning, were not so dreadful an appearance as would have been such a vision of its wickedness, and as would be such a vision of the vice of a
have a higher respect than I (as far as my knowledge goes) for the Moravians. But I confess I was sorry for your (apparent) secession from what I will call "the good old cause," in the long protracted day of its adversity.
A good while since I heard of the relinquishment of Swift's Alley. I am now gratified by Mr. Bliss's information, that a substitute is rising, or on the point of rising, in so vastly a different locality as Stephen's Green. If the change in the condition of what we name the interest, shall at all correspond to such a change of place, a happy season will come at last. What a long history of depression! dating from, and including, my own temporary occupation there. I am too conscious of my own great deficiency in my duty there, to have anything to say of my many successors; in all reason and candour, I ought, and am most ready, to believe that none of them has been equally deficient.
This self-accusatory recollection put aside, how many images belonging to those times arise in my memory! Your estimable parents it were superfluous even to name, or your sister. There was Meath Street dwelling,
modern great city. I do not think this is the language of excess. Even the man who would take only the laws of the land for his rule of judging, if he believe or nearly believe the statements and conjectures of the author of 'The Police of the Metropolis,' will stand aghast at the view. How much more melancholy, then, must it appear to a Christian moralist who applies, even in the most candid spirit, the laws which determine the opinion of the Judge of the world!
"... I rejoice to believe that there is in London, a large measure of sincere Christianity, but the whole mass of misery which might be relieved and is not, shows you what a measure there is not; that is to say, if our Lord's prophetic description of the last judgment do really exhibit the great test of Christian character. But if the whole amount of that suffering which the affluent might remove without reducing their enjoyments below a sober Christian estimate, be so much crime, is not the charge of very awful magnitude, however it may be divided, or wherever it may mainly fall? It appears to me of urgent and solemn importance to each of the rich people who make a particular profession of the religion of Christ, to be able to stand forth and say, 'I am not guilty of this charge; on others be this sin, which will meet the strongest condemnation of the last day; all that an individual can do, I do.' And can they pronounce this deliberately and firmly amidst that style of luxury and conformity to the world, in which you have had occasion to see that some of them indulge ?"—Mr. Foster to Miss M. Snooke, March 14, and April 2, 1803.