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OR THE MODERN SILENUS : BY THE AUTHOR OF THE GOVERNOR'S VISIT TO JEMAICO.'
"SILENUM pucri somno videre jacentem,
VIRG. Ecl. VI.
The day of your picturesque drunkards is almost over. lands have perished from their brows, and the last Anacreon is dead of a grape-stone. We look at them with Spartan eyes; for adulterous drugs are mingled with the juice of the vintage, and instead of the old age of the bacchanal, and fine frenzy, and wantonness to be smiled at, death comes prematurely, preceded by bloatedness, and trembling delirium. The young man perisheth suddenly in his cups, and rarely are the words of the Teian repeated : 'Anacreon, the women say that thou art an old man.'
I recollect, at the period of my early boyhood, while at school at J—, a poor old man,' totally given to a life of intoxication, who used to roam about the village, by the name of Joe Haywood. From some circumstances connected with him, he was not followed with the unpitying detestation which is the lot of the common drunkard. He was never driven away, when he solicited at the hand of charity, and in some of the kindest hearts in the village, there was a sympathy for his ruin.
Not a few would permit him to take a breakfast in the kitchen, or bestow on him clean articles of dress, or conduct him to a place of shelter for the night; to a barn or a shed, it is true, for his day was
past for wishing or deserving any thing better. Here, when his crutches were deposited, and his bed made of straw, and his white head composed on some old cushion, he saw that his stone bottle was safe at his side, and then, with often eloquent gratitude, wished a 'good night' to his conductors, and a far happier lot than his own.
In summer, his nightly retreat was in an old arbor, overrun with vines, in a garden. Thither, as the shades of night came on, he was tenderly conducted by boys and urchins, and as his vinous head sank among the sweet branches of the honeysuckle, beguiled them with many an antique song, and marvellous tale, until dark night had closed upon the scene, and a disturbed repose sealed up the eyes of the bacchanal.
There was something very touching in this old man's history. I shall not attempt to mention all the particulars, but in his more subdued moments, he himself would eloquently recount them. The bitterness of soul which he manifested during these recitals, and the self-loathing expressions with which he acknowledged himself vanquished, and without the power to resi jt
, were affecting to all who heard him, and showed that in a hear, seared by a guilty passion, there was still an under current of feeling, which would display itself at intervals; like the fount of Arethusa, which, though long concealed from human view, pursued its unintcrrupted course, until it threw up its sparkling waters in the far-dist. i isle of Ortygia. The elevation from which he had fallen was fearful. An Englishman by birth, and of a respectable parentage, his early prospects had been dazzling. But there is many a fair and pleasant moming, which turns to be a dark and stormy day.' In the possession of ample fortune, undoubted talents, brilliant wit, and a glorious beauty, he ran his wild career through the university, where he was the master-spirit of every festive circle. Haywood loved his wine, his friends, his classics, and his horse. Betwixt them all, he fared badly. His company was sought, his wit approved, his songs encored, his money dissipated, his health impaired. After this, a few successive winters spent amid the allurements of the metropolis, destroyed the last remnants of fortune and character. A tale in which love, beauty, passion, jealousy, and a duel, were mingled, came to its dénouement. Deserted by friends, and reduced to abject beggary, he enlisted a soldier, ani), after various service in eastern countries, his regiment was ordered to Nova Scotia. He subsequently wandered into the United States, and was employed as usher in different seminaries of learning; but intemperate habits, contracted in youth, and rendered inveterate in the camp, unfitted him for any responsible office, so that he began to lead a vagabond life, and at the time when I recollect bin, was a poor, abject, pitied old man, a hanger-on of the village. Still, however, he retained much of his former wit and erudition, and in conversation displayed the shattered fragments of a once elegant and educated mind. He was indeed acquainted with all English literature, especially the poets, as far back as Chaucer, being able to recite many passages ; and if a vigorous memory ever failed him, he supplied the deficiency himself. He was accustomed to vary his selections with his company. In the village inn, he repeated the pointed stanzas of Prior, with great applause ; but in the open air, on steps, porticos, piazzas, and under
trees, his favorites were Dryden, Collins, and Gray. When not too deeply imbued to render his utterance indistinct, he recited lyric poetry with considerable propriety. I used to think that he spoke
Alexander's Feasť to a miracle, and took especial notice of that part which contains the praise of Bacchus:
"The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
Of Bacchus ever fair and young :
He shows his honest face:
Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Here his flaming cheeks, preternatural vivacity, and eyeballs starting from his head, almost possessed one with the idea that he was a personification of the god himself:
"Now strike the golden lyre again,
Wo be to any one that offered him insult, at this impassioned moment! Wo be to any one that approached too near the blustering deity! — else would he suit the action to the word, and 'rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder,' indeed. To have seen the old man at such a time, after he had been “tipsily quaffing,' surrounded by school-boys, and raving poetry, would have reminded you of that fine eclogue of Virgil, where the satyrs caught the old Silenus sleeping in his grotto, and stained his brows with mulberries, and bound him hand and foot with his own garlands, and when he awoke, laughing heartily at the fraud, demanded of him their promised song. And he smiled, and sang most philosophically of the beginning of all things, when fire, earth, air, and water, were mingled in the vasty void. And the song was even more exquisite than that of Phæbus or Orpheus, so that the fawns, and the oaks, and the rocks, danced until the rising of the evening star.
Joe Haywood was a great friend of school-boys, and justly, for they served him many a good turn, and vice versa. He was skilled in classic lore, and could bellow forth whole pages of Latin and Greek, like Porson. So that if the bell was nearly done ringing, and the last part of my Virgil,' or of my Anacreon,' or of my Cicero,' (such is the affectionate language with which school-boys appropriate their beloved authors,) was not learned, what a very present help was Joe! How many a tranverse timber has he explicated in ‘the bridge' of Cæsar, and expounded many a passage in the wanderings of the 'pius Æneas.' He was the dernier resort in time of trouble, serving instead of Ainsworth, ordo,' explicatio,' and every other help to the attainment of the tongues. He was a • Gradus ad Parnassum' to the idle,
and had abundance of epithets' to eke out nonsense verses. In short, he was a species of out-door professor of languages at the academy. Under him, we were all philosophers of the peripatetic sect, walking constantly about the play grounds, and bestowing on fives, base, cricket, and foot ball, the irreparabile tempus' due to the * wise men of Greece. Hence he was quite a troublous fellow to the in-door professors. They found nothing classic in his bacchant
' air;' they loved him not, and wished him afar off. Yet was it dangerous to reprove Joseph Haywood, he was so dangerously quick at rejoinder. He would raise an irrepressible laugh, crushing their bolstered dignity- angering them grievously. A crabbed old usher used to order him peremptorily from the grounds, with a procul 0! procul,' rolling the dog-letter r round his tongue, as was his snarling custom; to which Joe would reply voluminously, with a string of opprobrious epithets from Aristophanes or Lucian. And then fifty bats would immediately fall to the ground, and balls roll unheeded over the
groups assemble at a respectful distance, and delightedly survey a contest of more engrossing interest than all the wars of Cæsar. The usher came, saw, and was conquered,' by the universal assent of the by-standers, morally conquered ; but he took vengeance by having Joe carried from the dominions by brute force. He returned however duly to his post the next day, expounded Latin and Greek, and received the secret reward of his services
a sufficiency of pence to make him oblivious for the day. Once, and once only, did he fall out with his juvenile friends, when young
Charles received his opaque bottle to be filled. He, with the sportive temerity of a child, went to a pure spring, and while the waters reflected his laughing face, and the nymphs stood smiling by, filled it full of the clear, rejoicing wave. Joe Haywood received the gift, recumbent, and turning up the bottle, with a twinkling eye, exhausted half of it at a draught. Evoe Bacchus! —what a rage !
It is probable that more heathen mythology was learned from this veteran in a month, than from Lemprière, or Tooke's Pantheon, in a year. He was considered the true oracle, from whom classic lore might be more legitimately derived, being always in that state of fine frenzy so necessary for giving the response. Charmingly did he chaunt the odes of Horace; and the lighter precepts of Anacreon had a peculiar grace, as they came from the professing lips of the bacchanal. He dwelt much on the expedition of Bacchus into India, a sublime fiction of the ancients, and recited the progress of the god, with his attendant train :
"Whence come ye, jolly satyrs, whence come ye,
So many, and so many, and such glee?
Your nuts in oak-tree cleft ?
And cold mushrooms;
To our mad minstrelsy.'
Greek, and English together, until he was too drunk for any thing, or was prematurely ordered away by the usher aforesaid.
I remember more than one of those out-door scenes, and think I can now see Mr.
coming down the long portico, on his errand of hostility, his old frock coat of blue flying around his skeleton legs, his head denuded, and spectacles superciliously adjusted, face of a scarlet redness, and eyes somewhat blood-shot, (for he himself was no stranger to the most generous juices,) and approaching the spot where Joe was lying sub tegmine fagi. On full tilt would he come, with perchance a pair of asses' ears cut out of stiff copy-book covers dangling by a string from his button-hole, (for the lengthening of their ears was the classic penalty to juvenile delinquents, and something like the following confabulation would ensue :
Usher. Odi profanum vulgus !'
Usher. Servant of Bacchus, I, the priest of the muses, (sacerdos musarum,) command you to depart from these bounds.' Joe.
• Μαντι κακων - prophet of evil, never have you spoken to me a good word. By Hercules! Joseph Haywood will not budge an inch !
Usher. “Joe, Joe, vex me not with words, neither contend with me, for I am better than thou; as it is said in the first book of the Iliad ;' (complacently chuckling.)
Joe. "In veritate fictum est. In very truth it is false. Volo scias domine, I wish you to know, Sir, that I do not r-r-reconcile your pretensions. Oh! you bibber of the juices of Madeira! -- you root-digger !— you pedagogue ! — you — you
Usher. (Calling the sawyer,) · R-richard, r-remove the poor-r wr-retch fr-rom the grounds !' (rolling all the r’s.)
Joe. “Sir, give me a sixpence to have my beard taken off, and I
USHER. 'Sir-rah, no!'
put an abrupt stop to the conversation, for he allowed himself to exchange but few words with Joe, and that only for the purpose of displaying his pedantry; and Richard the wood-sawyer, with as much kindness as the executive nature of his office would admit, assisted him to depart from the grounds. And there was generally no resistance on his part to authorities. His familiar impudence vented itself until checked, and no farther; and then he would go quietly about his business, until it was time to come round again.
On the approach of winter, he went into barracks at the county poor-house, having first levied a contribution on the public, to supply him with his daily can. But he crawled forth with the first mild breath of spring, and might be found asleep upon a premature green bank, with a rum-bottle in each pocket, or wide awake, and chaunting some ancient lyric.
Oh! rare Joe Haywood! Most tolerant and most tolerable of drunkards! toper of topers ! most Bacchic! most classical! most poetical! Surely, I never used to behold thee with disgust. The exits and the entrances of thy vinous visage gave variety to the first scenes of the first acts of the comedy of my life. You are too much