Obrazy na stronie

open it with pleasure, and who would refuse him admittance? But God forbid that I should attempt to catch him in a snare !

Come forth then, ye enchanting images of youth, though the pictures ye exhibit scarcely seem to bear any resemblance to my present self! Come forth ! delude my fancy, ye beloved shadows !--ascend, ye sweet hours of infancy, as a thin vapour from the ocean of the past, and float once more before my eyes !--I stand upon the brink of the stream of time, and eagerly watch the current as it bears my flower along upon its surface. Even now I behold it glittering upon the back of a wave, for the last time ere it be plunged into the depth below, and lost for ever to my sight.

Let me catch this last glitter !--See there that boy who hangs with fixed eyes upon his mother's lips, while on a winter's evening she reads in some good book to him and his sister!-See him again making a table of his stool, and a seat of the footstep, as he eagerly feasts upon a beloved romance, while his ball and hobby-horse lie neglected in a corner !-Ah, that boy is a child no longer !

My good mother-thanks be to heaven, she still lives to witness the effusions of my gratitude !-My good mother, early left a widow, renounced many of the charms and enjoyments of life, to devote herself to the education of her children and the formation of their infant minds. She possessed a refined taste, with correct feelings, and a mind well cultivated by reading, to which she added a rich treasure of maternal tenderness. With qualities like these she could scarcely find her toils wholly unrewarded.

She engaged tutors for my instruction, young divines, who while anxiously waiting, till in quality of their godly vocation, they should be called to the care of a flock, made me feel most heavily the weight of their shepherds' crooks. They indeed spared no pains, within the sphere of correction, to make a

hopeful sheep of me. One of them was a physiognomist, another had a heart deeply transfixed with the arrows of love. The former was eternally cri. ticising the formation of my nose, the latter employed me in conveying billets doux to his mistress. But the mischief done by them was always repaired by my mother. One evening spent with her, one hour's private reading in her rooin, was of more use to me than all the time employed in drudging at 'Langen's Colloquies,' or in poring over Luther's long and short Catechisms. My tutors taught the parrot to prate, my mother taught the child to feel. From her I imbibed a taste for reading almost at the breast ; and even when I was not more than four or five years old, books had more charms for me than a rockinghorse.

The first work from which I recollect to have received any strong impression, was a collection of tales from various languages, called Evening Hours,' at that time a very popular book for children. It consisted of several volumes, which, seated in the manner I have before described, I used to read over and over again. In the title-page was the figure of a sleeping dog, with the motto Non omnibus

dormio. What this vignette was intended to represent I do not know ; but this I know, that even to the present moment I never pass a dog asleep without thinking of the Evening Hours.'

My favourite tale among this collection, and which called forth the first tears of sensibility I ever shed, was the story of Romeo and Juliet, from 'which Weisse took the materials for his tragedy. It affected me so deeply, that I think the preference I have ever since retained for pathetic tales, may perhaps be traced to this source, since it is certain, that those things which make a strong impression upon the mind in infancy, have a considerable influence in forming the future taste.

The next work that eagerly attracted my attention was Don Quixote ; and though that admirable history has lately been much better translated by Bertuch, yet I will freely own that I never received half the pleasure from this improved version, as from what I read in my infancy. A child brings to his studies, as well as to his play, a stronger sensibility, with a greater aptitude to receive powerful impressions, and therefore finds in both, charms which are, in fact, rather to be ascribed to the quickness of his own feelings, than to the real attraction of the things themselves, as a leaf though half-withered, still appears beautiful when the inorning sun shines upon it.

It is therefore that the youth, and even the man, will sometimes feel an ardent wish to read again in his maturer years, a book with which he had been transported in his infancy. He endeavours to procure it, he succeeds at last, and then wonders that he no longer finds it entertaining. My taste,he says, is

refined.Ah no! but thou hast not perused it with the like sensations as formerly. A gentle touch sufficed at that time to make every nerve tremble, but now, to be affected they must be shaken. Indeed were it true that this difference is solely the effect of a more refined taste, still it were but a melancholy truth, since it only shews how much the circle of our mental enjoyments must be every moment.contracting. We cannot endure to read any but works of decided superiority, we value ourselves upon this fastidiousness, and make it our pride that such only can afford us entertainment; yet we esteem the contented man who eats his homely broth with the same relish that Frederick the Second ate his Polenta. Is content, then, only a corporeal virtue?

But hold, thou renowned Don Quixote, thou art leading me too far !-Accept my thanks for the many hours of real happiness thou hast procured me, and share them with Sancho Pança. Ye are excellent companions, and most gladly did I receive you as inmates, till the wonderful adventurer, Robinson Crusoe, thrust you out. With irresistible force did he, as a magnet, attract me towards him, as he attracts every other boy. To him I clung, as to the choicest treasure of my soul, and with him under my arm have frequently flown along the Redway, as it was called, to the threshold of the stable, there undisturbed hy the noise of my playfellows to accompany him in his goat-huntings. The hour for the evening heaver struck, but I heard it not; the sun set, yet I read on till my eyes were weary with endeavouring in vain to read longer. Oh, how anxiously did I then wish that fortune might one day throw me on a desert island! How delicious did I find in idea the bread baked in the earth after Robinson's fashion, and the goat's flesh dressed in pots of my own making!

I immediately began to search after all the adven. turous Robinsons which the desire of imitation had produced in my own country, but no one was to be found that in strength, nature, and interest, approached the original. The island of Felsenburg indeed charmed me in no slight degree ; and the appearance of the spirit, rising out of the water in the form of a cloud, gave me tolerable sensations of terror. Robert Pierrot also had no inconsiderable share of my favour, and particularly in that part where he receives cannonization on coming out of the cave with the skulls. But still these were nothing to my beloved Robinson : he remained the object of my dearest admiration, while I entertained a very sincere affection for his Friday, and was beguiled of many a tear by the artless transports he evinced at meeting again with his father.

An island, and particularly a desert island, were at that time like words of magic to my soul, to which were annexed a long train of the most enchanting images. Sometimes I thought within myself, Why do I learn to decline, to conjugate, to expound? Were it not better to be instructed in such mechani


cal trades as I might hereafter find useful in my soli. tude ? Since, if fate would grant my most ardent wish, in process of time I should make a voyage in a leaky ship, and be wrecked on an uninhabited coast, where I alone of all the crew being saved, should have nothing with which to build myself a house but the shattered remains of the vessel.

Who would have thought of this wish being eagerly revived, after a lapse of five-and-twenty years ?-I was born with a heart susceptible of an ardent relish for society, consequently necessity alone could drive me into solitude ; yet I would rather live for ever removed from the malice and vices of mankind, than be obliged daily to witness them, and detest my species. The word island still electrifies my soul as formerly, only that I no longer wish it to be uninhabited; nor at the magic sound do I now think of Robinson Crusoe, but of thee, my worthy Ungern. The island thou inhabitest, my proved, my faithful friend, shall be my last asylum; and if fate shall destroy my happiness in society for ever, thou shalt grant me a little spot where I may drop a tear unmolested over the miserable wreck.

If at any time my imagination was over-heated by the Pearl islands or the island of Felsenburg, by the floating, or the flying island, my mother always contrived to select something for our evening reading, which might moderate this ardour, and make a gentler impression upon my too susceptible fancy. I was fond of Æsop's fables, and soon also became familiarly acquainted with Gellert's fables and songs, many of which I learned by heart. Haller and Bodmer were above me; but with Gleim, Uz, and Hagedorn, I was delighted, because I could understand them perfectly, and very early in life they became objects of my imitation. Well do I remember my first attempt at writing poetry. I was scarcely six years old, and used to keep my manuscript behind the looking-glass with the rod. The poem was to be a description of

« PoprzedniaDalej »