« PreviousContinue »
SELWYN'S BLASPHEMOUS FREAK.
certain club in Oxford, at a wine-party with his friends, George sent to a certain silversmith's for a certain chalice, intrusted to the shopkeeper from a certain church to be repaired in a certain manner.
This being brought, Master George-then, be it remembered, not at the delicate and frivolous age of most Oxford boys, but at the mature one of six-and-twenty-filled it with wine, and handing it round, used the sacred words, “ Drink this in remembrance of me. This, if any thing can be so, was a blasphemous parody of the most sacred rite of the Church. Selwyn was not a man to inquire whether that rite, so practiced, was in effect the rite instituted by our Savior. Had there even been that doubt in his mind, which certainly there is in the minds of some, the manner of indicating it would have been unpardonable. All he could say for himself was, that he was drunk when he did it. The other plea, that he did it in ridicule of the transubstantiation of the Romish Church, will not hold water at all;, and was most weakly put forward. Let Oxford Dons be what they will; let them put a stop to all religious inquiry, and nearly expel Adam Smith for reading Hume's “Essay on Human Nature;" let them be, as many allege, narrow-minded, hypocritical, and ignorant; we can not charge them with wrong-dealing in expelling the originator of such open blasphemy, which nothing can be found to palliate, and of which its perpetrator did not appear to repent, rather complaining that the treatment of the Dons was harsh. The act of expulsion was, of course, considered in the same light by his numerous acquaintance, many of whom condoled with him on the occasion. It is true, the Oxford Dons are often charged with injustice and partiality, and too often the evidence is not sufficiently strong to excuse their judgments; but in this the evidence was not denied; only a palliative was put in, which every one can see through. The only injustice we can discover in this case is, that the head of Hart Hall, as Hertford College was called, seems to have been influenced in pronouncing his sentence of expulsion by certain previous suspicions, having no bearing on the question before him, which had been entertained by another set of tutors—those of Christchurch - where Selwyn had many friends, and where, probably enough, he indulged in many collegian's freaks. This knack of bringing up a mere suspicion, is truly characteristic of the Oxford Don, and since the same Head of his HouseDr. Newton-acknowledged that Selwyn was, during his Oxford career, neither intemperate, dissolute, nor a gamester, it
, is fair to give him the advantage of the doubt, that the judg. ment on the evidence had been influenced by the consideration of "suspicions” of former misdeeds, which had not been
THE PROFESSION OF A WIT.
But one may
proved, perhaps never committed. Knowing the after life of the man, we can scarcely doubt that George had led a fast life at the University, and given cause for mistrust. ask whether Dons, whose love of drinking, and whose tendency to jest on the most solemn subjects, are well known even in the present day, might not have treated Selwyn less harshly for what was done under the influence of wine? To this we are inclined to reply, that no punishment is too severe for profanation; and that drunkenness is not an excuse, but an aggravation. Selwyn threatened to appeal, and took advice on the matter. This, as usual, was vain. Many an expelled man, more unjustly treated than Selwyn, has talked of appeal in vain. Appeal to whom? to what? Appeal against men who never acknowledge themselves wrong, and who, to maintain that they are right, will listen to evidence which they can see is contradictory, and which they know to be worthless! An appeal from an Oxford decision is as hopeless in the present day as it was in Selwyn's. He wisely left it alone, but less wisely insisted on reappearing in Oxford, against the advice of all his friends, whose characters were lost if the ostracized man were seen among them.
From this time he entered upon his “profession,” that of a wit, gambler, club-lounger, and man about town; for these many characters are all mixed in the one which is generally called “a wit.” Let us remember that he was good-hearted, and not ill-intentioned, though imbued with the false ideas of his day. He was not a great man, but a great wit.
The localities in which the trade of wit was plied were, then, the clubs, and the drawing-rooms of fashionable beauties. The former were in Selwyn's youth still limited in the number of their members, thirty constituting a large club; and as the subscribers were all known to one another, presented an admirable field for display of mental powers in conversation. In fact, the early clubs were nothing more than dining-societies, precisely the same in theory as our breakfasting arrangements at Oxford, which were every whit as exclusive, though not balloted for. The ballot, however, and the principle of a single black ball suffering to negative an election, were not only, under such circumstances, excusable, but even necessary for the actual preservation of peace. Of course, in a succession of dinner-parties, if any two members were at all opposed to one another, the awkwardness would be intolerable. In the present day, two men may belong to the same club and scarcely meet, even on the stairs, oftener than once or twice in a season.
Gradually, however, in the place of the “feast of reason and flow of soul” and wine, instead of the evenings spent in toast
THE THIRST FOR HAZARD.
ing, talking, emptying bottles and filling heads, as in the case of the old Kit-kat, men took to the monstrous amusement of examining fate, and on club-tables the dice rattled far more freely than the glasses, though these latter were not necessarily abandoned. Then came the thirst for hazard that brought men early in the day to try their fortune, and thus made the club-room a lounge. Selwyn was an habitual frequenter of Brookes's.
Brookes's was, perhaps, the principal club of the day, though “White's Chocolate House” was almost on a par with it. But Selwyn did not confine his attention solely to this club. It was the fashion to belong to as many of them as possible, and Wilberforce mentions no less than five to which he himself belonged : Brookes's, Boodle's, White's, Miles and Evans's in New Palace Yard, and Goosetree's. As their names imply, these were all, originally, mere coffee-houses, kept by men of the above names. One or two rooms then sufficed for the requirements of a small party, and it was not till the members were greatly increased that the coffee-house rose majestically to the dignity of a bow-window, and was entirely and exclusively appropriated to the requirements of the club.
This was especially the case with White's, of which so many of the wits and talkers of Selwyn's day were members. Who does not know that bow-window at the top of St. James's Street, where there are sure, about three or four in the afternoon, to be at least three gentlemen, two old and one young, standing, to the exclusion of light within, talking and contemplating the oft-repeated movement outside. White's was established as early as 1698, and was thus one of the original coffee-houses. It was then kept by a man named Arthur:
here Chesterfield gamed and talked, to be succeeded by Gilly Williams, Charles Townshend, and George Selwyn. The old house was burnt down in 1733. It was at White's—or as Hogarth calls it in his pictorial squib, Black’s—that, when a man fell dead at the door, he was lugged.in and bets made as to whether he was dead or no. The surgeon's operations were opposed, for fear of disturbing the bets. Here, too, did George Selwyn and Charles Townshend pit their wit against wit; and here Pelham passed all the time he was not forced to devote to politics. In short it was, next to Brookes's, the club of the day, and perhaps in some respects had a greater renown than even that famous club, and its play was as high.
In Brookes's and White's Selwyn appeared with a twofold fame, that of a pronouncer of bon-mots, and that of a lover of horrors. His wit was of the quaintest order. He was no inveterate talker, like Sydney Smith ; no clever dissimulator,
like Mr. Hook. Calmly, almost sanctimoniously, he uttered those neat and telling sayings which the next day passed over England as “Selwyn's last." Walpole describes his manner admirably—his eyes turned up, his mouth set primly, a look almost of melancholy in his whole face. Reynolds, in his Conversation-piece, celebrated when in the Strawberry Collection, and representing Selwyn leaning on a chair, Gilly Williams, crayon in hand, and Dick Edgecombe by his side, has caught the pseudo-solemn expression of his face admirably. The ease of the figure, one hand empochée, the other holding a paper of epigrams, or what not, the huge waistcoat with a dozen buttons and huge flaps, the ruffled sleeve, the bob-wig, all belong to the outer man; but the calm, quiet, almost inquiring face, the look half of melancholy, half of reproach, and, as the Milesian would say, the other half of sleek wisdom; the long nose, the prim mouth and joined lips, the elevated brow, and beneath it the quiet contemplative eye, contemplative not of heaven or hell, but of this world as it had seen it, in its most worldly point of view, yet twinkling with a flashing thought of incongruity made congruous, are the indices of the inner man. Most of our wits, it must have been seen, have had some other interest and occupation in life than that of “making wit:" some have been authors, some statesmen, some soldiers, some wildrakes, and some players of tricks: Selwyn had no profession but that of diseur de bons mots; for, though he sat in the House, he took no prominent part in politics; though he gambled extensively, he did not game for the sake of money only. Thus his life was that merely of a London bachelor, with a few incidents to mark it, and therefore his memoir must
a resolve itself more or less into a series of anecdotes of his eccentricities and list of his witticisms.
His friend Walpole gives us an immense number of both, not all of a first-rate nature, nor many interesting in the present day. Selwyn, calm as he was, brought out his sayings on the spur of the moment, and their appropriateness to the occasion was one of their greatest recommendations. A good saying, like a good sermon, depends much on its delivery, and loses much in print. Nothing less immortal than wit! To take iirst, however, the eccentricities of his character, and especially his love of horrors, we find anecdotes by the dozen retailed of him. It was so well known, that Lord Holland, when dying, ordered his servant to be sure to admit Mr. Selwyn if he called to inquire after him, “ for if I am alive,” said he, “I shall be glad to see him, and if I am dead, he will be glad to see me.” The name of Holland leads us to an anecdote told by Walpole. Selwyn was looking over Cornbury with Lord Abergavenny
A MOST IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION.
and Mrs. Frere, “who loved one another a little," and was disgusted with the frivolity of the woman who could take no interest in any thing worth seeing; “You don't know what you missed in the other room,” he cried at last, peevishly. “Why, what ?” “Why, my Lord Holland's picture.'
"Weil, what is my Lord Holland to me?" “Don't you know?" whispered the wit mysteriously, “that Lord Holland's body lies in the same vault in Kensington Church with my
Lord Abergavenny's mother ?” “Lord! she was so obliged,” says Walpole, “and thanked him a thousand times !"
Selwyn knew the vaults as thoroughly as old Anthony Wood knew the brasses. The elder Craggs had risen by the favor of Marlborough, whose footman he had been, and his son was eventually a Secretary of State. Arthur Moore, the father of James Moore Smyth, of whom Pope wrote
" Arthur, whose giddy son neglects the laws,
Imputes to me and my damned works the cause,” had worn a livery too. When Craggs got into a coach with him, he exclaimed, “Why, Arthur, I am always getting up behind, are not you?” Walpole having related this story to Selwyn, the latter told him, as a most important communication, that Arthur Moore had had his coffin chained to that of his mistress. “ Lord ! how do you know ?” asked Horace.
Why, I saw them the other day in a vault at St. Giles's.” “Oh, your servant, Mr. Selwyn,” cried the man who showed the tombs at Westminster Abbey, “I expected to see you here the other day when the old Duke of Richmond's body was
Criminals were, of course, included in his passion. Walpole affirms that he had a great share in bringing Lord Dacre's footman, who had murdered the butler, to confess his crime. In writing the confession, the ingenious plush coolly stopped and asked how “murder” was spelt. But it mattered little to George whether the criminal were alive or dead, and he defended his eccentric taste with his usual wit; and when rallied by some women for going to see the Jacobite Lord Lovat's head cut off, he retorted sharply—“I made full amends, for I went to see it sewn on again.” He had indeed done so, and given the company at the undertaker's a touch of his favorite blasphemy, for when the man of coffins had done his work, and laid the body in its box, Selwyn, imitating the voice of the Lord Chancellor at the trial, muttered, “ My Lord Lovat, you may rise.” He said a better thing on the trial of a confederate of Lovat's, that Lord Kilmarnock, with whom the ladies fell so desperately in love as he stood on his defense. Mrs.