Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

London, when Sir James and Lady entered the drawing-room, the lady dressed in a green gown, with a shawl of the same verdant hue, and a bright red turban. Madame de Staël marched up to her in her eager manner, and exclaimed, " Ah, mon Dieu, miladi ! comme vous ressemblez à un perroquet.' . The poor lady looked confounded : the company tried, but in vain, to suppress the smiles the observation excited; but all felt that the making it betrayed a total want of tact in the Corinne.

“ Does the cant of sentiment still continue in England ? (asked Byron.) Childe Harold' called it forth; but my Juan was well calculated to cast it into shade, and had that merit, if it had no other; but I must not refer to the Don, as that, I remember, is a prohibited subject between us. Nothing sickens me so completely (said Byron) as women who affect sentiment in conversation. A woman without sentiment is not a woman; but I have observed, that those who most display it in words have least of the reality. Sentiment, like love and grief, should be reserved for privacy; and when I hear women affichant their sentimentality, I look upon it as an allegorical mode of declaring their wish of finding an object on whom they could bestow its superfluity. I am of a jealous nature, (said Byron,) and should wish to call slumbering sentiment into life in the woman I love, instead of finding that I was chosen, from its excess and activity rendering a partner in the firm indispensable. I should hate a woman (continued Byron) who could laugh at or ridicule sentiment, as I should, and do, women who have not religious feelings ; and, much as I dislike bigotry, I think it a thousand times more pardonable in a woman than irreligion. There is something umfeminine in the want of religion, that takes off the peculiar charm of woman. It inculcates mildness, forbearance, and charity, those graces that adorn them more than all others, (continued Byron,) and whose beneficent effects are felt, not only on their minds and manners, but are visible in their countenances, to which they give their own sweet character. But when I say that I admire religion in women, (said Byron,) don't fancy that I like sectarian ladies, distributors of tracts, armed and ready for controversies, many of whom only preach religion, but do not practise it. No! I like to know that it is the guide of woman's actions, the softener of her words, the soother of her cares, and those of all dear to her, who are comforted by her,—that it is, in short, the animating principle to which all else is referred. When I see women professing religion and violating its duties,-mothers turning from erring daughters, instead of staying to reclaim,-sisters deserting sisters, whom, in their hearts, they know to be more pure than themselves,—and wives abandoning husbands on the ground of faults that they should have wept over, and redeemed by the force of love,--then it is (continued Byron) that I exclaim against the cant of false religion, and laugh at the credulity of those who can reconcile such conduct with the dictates of a creed that ordains forgiveness, and commands that 'if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted ;' and that tells a wife, that if she hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,' &c. Now, people professing religion either believe, or do not believe, such creeds, (continued Byron.) If they believe, and act contrary to their belief, what avails their religion, except to throw discredit on its followers, by showing that they practise not its tenets ? and if they inwardly disbelieve, as their conduct would lead one to think, are they not guilty of hypocrisy? It is such incongruities between the professions and conduct of those who affect to be religious that puts me out of patience, (continued Byron,) and makes me wage war with cant, and not, as many suppose, a disbelief or want of faith in religion. I want to see it practised, and to know, which is soon made known by the conduct, that it dwells in the heart, instead of being on the lips only of its votaries. Let me not be told that the mothers, sisters, and wives, who violate the duties such relationships impose, are good and religious people : let it be admitted that a mother, sister, or wife, who deserts instead of trying to lead back the stray sheep to the flock, cannot be truly religious, and I shall exclaim no more against hypocrisy and cant, because they will no longer be dangerous. Poor Mrs. Sheppard tried more, and did more, to reclaim me (continued Byron) than-but no, as I have been preaching religion, I shall practise one of its tenets, and be charitable; so I shall not finish the sentence."

It appears to me that Byron has reflected much on religion, and that many, if not all, the doubts and sarcasms he has expressed on it are to. be attributed only to his enmity against its false worshippers. He is indignant at seeing people professing it governed wholly by worldly principles in their conduct; and fancies that he is serving the true cause by exposing the votaries that he thinks dishonour it. He forgets that in so exposing and decrying them, he is breaking through the command ments of charity he admires, and says ought to govern our actions towards our erring brethren ; but that he reflects deeply on the subject of religion and its duties, is, I hope, a step gained in the right path, in which I trust he will continue to advance; and which step I attribute, as does he, to the effect the prayer of Mrs. Sheppard had on his mind, and which, it is evident, has made a lasting impression, by the frequency and seriousness with which he refers to it.

(To be continued.)

HIDDEN LITERARY TREASURE.

“ OURS is a wonderful country,” say those meritorious persons to whom the commendation of their native land is at heart,—the salubrious climate, the fertility of the soil, the universal beauty of the landscape, the irriguous and unfading meadows, the pleasant villages, the frequent rivers with their commodious havens, all the external and visible means of enjoyment and opulence have long continued to furnish the theme of just praise. In later times, statistical panegyric, according to the fashion of the age,-of an iron age, in more than one sense, -has laboured to demonstrate the pre-eminence of England, by reason of our internal and invisible wealth--of our subterranean and hidden treasure. The value of the metals and minerals, that, with an unwearied activity and ineredible ingenuity, are extracted every year from beneath the surface of this island, is, indeed, astonishing-so vast, indeed, that it would ill become the uninstructed to endeavour to measure it, or to attempt to repeat, in the language of more skilful calculators, the enormous reckoning. It is necessary, even for the most studious, to consent at once to be for ever ignorant of many things, and to be satisfied with a vague admiration, and with the conviction that our country is, in this respeet, truly wonderful. If the term “ hidden treasure” were understood in the largest sense; if the various capabilities that certainly exist, but as certainly have existed hitherto in vain; if all the precious things now concealed, and dishonoured, and trampled beneath our feet; if the whole of these, and whatever is now out of sight and out of mind, but Inight advantageously be brought to day, were included in those two familiar words, and if their extent and magnitude were fully explained, the admiration would be infinitely, and perhaps painfully, increased. Our unexplored and unprized wealth is prodigious. One instance may be adduced, which can be expressed in a few words : it will be intelligible to every one; and the simple fact, in a new and striking manner, will at once convince the most sceptical that ours is, indeed, a wonderful country.

It is not generally known, nor has it hitherto occurred to any person, not even to the most learned, to state, that there are several thousand MSS. in England, of great antiquity and importance, hidden and buried, and from the use of which scholars are practically shut out and wholly excluded, although these precious volumes are undeniably and indispus tably public property. It is unnecessary and inexpedient to detail exactly the minute particulars respecting the precise amount of the treasure and the mode of concealment; it will be enough at present to offer a brief and popular history of the extraordivary fact. A collection of the catalogues of the various MSS. in England and Ireland was published at Oxford in 1697, in folio. The first of the two volumes comprehends the libraries of the two Universities only: it may be laid aside, therefore, entirely; since, however unsatisfactory the arrangements at Oxford or Cambridge, with respect to the custody of MSS. and the access to them, may be, they have no connexion whatever with that very remarkable matter to which the attention of the curious is now directed, The second volume comprises the titles of about twelve thousand MSS. : some of these were undoubtedly at that time the private property of the individuals in whose collections they found a place; and although many of the excepted books have since been transferred to public repositories, inasmuch as a nice accurary with respect to numbers is wholly unimportant, one-half may perhaps be subtracted, and six thousand volumes will remain-six thousand MSS. of great antiquity, value, and interest, belonging, unquestionably, to the king, or to the three estates, or to the people of England, -that is to say, being public property, whereof the use ought to be as free to all who could estimate its worth, as it is to navigate the Thames, or to expatiate in Hyde Park; but which are as inaccessible, or rather far more so, since the diving-bell has opened the secrets of the deep, as if they were submerged in the hold of the Royal George. It is probable, indeed, that the number of MSS. is far greater than has been stated ; a superficial inspection of the volume before referred to will convince even the least experienced that such is the case. Several of our cathedral and collegiate churches are altogether unnoticed;-in no instance is the public library of any bishop, which is annexed to his see, and transmitted by each prelate to his successor, mentioned ;-the printed catalogue of the archiepiscopal library at Lambeth alone enumerates about twelve hundred MSS. Of the collections actually inserted the list is usually scanty and imperfect, containing such volumes only as the compiler deemed valuable, or chanced to have examined. Whether the total amount be really five, or ten, or twenty thousand, it matters not, in truth; for the smallest of these numbers, or a much smaller number than the smallest, would suffice to fill a mind capable of reflection with astonishment, that such things could be in any civilized, or, indeed, in any barbarous nation. If it were possible that, through some unaccountable accident, a few hundred books should be brought together amongst Hottentots, or Otaheitans, or New Zealanders, although the casual collectors might perhaps avail themselves of their literary stores as little as our bishops and deans, is it probable, or credible, that inquisitive strangers would be kept off with equal pertinacity by the less in hospitable savages ?

A recent instance will prove how effectually foreigners are prevented, by wicked and unnatural restrictions, from participating in the benefits that might be derived and communicated from our public, but concealed, hoards. Of about one hundred MSS. which are enumerated in the preface to the edition of Aristotle's works, lately published at Berlin, as having been collated by the editors in various countries, for the purification and correction of the text, one only is English. The MSS. of the various treatises of Aristotle, of which British damp and British worms enjoy a strict monopoly, are numerous. The intercourse of Prussian scholars with England is more frequent than that of many other continental nations: if their steady and resolute diligence were not notorious, the elaborate correction of the Stagyrite before alluded to would alone prove that such brave men are not to be driven out of the path which leads to knowledge by ordinary obstacles; yet ignorant and impudent impostors still dare to assert, that, in a land blessed by their auspices, the human mind rapidly crosses the field of science in every direction by forced marches, conquering and to conquer the difficult and the impossible.

That an alien, however bold, patient, wily, and indefatigable, should set his foot within the threshold of the library of any of our cathedral

the space

or collegiate churches, or of the public collection of MSS. in the care of a bishop, seems, of all impracticable things, the least practicable. All-daring and all-enduring cunning was the beautiful ideal of the Greek character in the days of the father of poetry, as it is in our times; he has accordingly embodied the national subtlety, and has wrought therewith specious miracles. His hero, Ulysses, was able to eat of the curds and cheese, and to drink the milk and whey, although they were in the custody of the Cyclops ; but the poet did not venture to predict, through Circe, or some other vehicle of prophecy, that a stranger of Grecian descent would one day enter a den guarded by a dean, and would obtain a sight of some mouldering copy of the divine poem. His loyal admirers never presume to doubt that Homer knew and foreknew all things; the prodigy was present, therefore, to his comprehensive mind, but he rejected it, although picturesque and striking, because it would have violated even the epic probability. To a foreigner, admission is, and has long been, absolutely impossible; to a native, it is difficult beyond description or conception. A large volume would not contain the various obstacles and disappointments which one inquisitive and active student has encountered within of a few years.

The site of the library is not known to the vicinage; but time at last makes wise, and experience suggests the question—" Which is the door that is always locked ?" The outer door is found and examined, being black and solid, of oak and of iron : it is unusual, but not unlawful, to call aloud, to kick, or to strike, with hand, or stone, or stick. How few persons are able to hunt out those who can declare that he is absent, who would point out him, who could declare that the man is not to be found anywhere, who should make the first excuse! Sometimes, however, all are frank, and candid, and forward : whatever can be desired is forthcoming; they concede, in short, every thing but the key. The credulous scholar, confiding in promises, posts thither from a distance; and the key, he is told at the door, was forgotten, or lost, or mislaid, or another has been substituted by mistake. The resolute, however, sometimes triumph. After a resistance not unbecoming its strength, the outer door has yielded, and the inner door, in a struggle commensurate with its weakness, has also given way : but there is lock within lock; the press is locked; and although the back of the desired MS. is seen through the bars, it cannot be approached. A determined inquirer, who was thus tantalized, urged strenuously that a fresh search should be instituted, since the game was in sight. The delay was long, and the reluctance great; nevertheless the key of the press was at last found; and although the books were in the charge of a learned body far less hostile to letters than the corporations to which our literary treasures are usually confided, it was shown, by unerring proofs, that it had been missing, but never missed, for full eighty years.

At a library in the metropolis, a visiter has been repeatedly informed that the keeper of the MSS. was residing upon his living in Yorkshire : the period of his departure was so remote, that it was forgotten; and the time of his return so uncertain, that it could not be predicted. It is no easy task, indeed, to look a librarian in the face, still less easy is it to pin him down to anything definite; for, like a Hebrew witness, he is commonly a shifting, changeful fellow, although, like the Jew, civil and fair-spoken. An unmerited opulence, however, has sometimes gene

Sept.-VOL. XXXIX. NO. CLIII.

« PoprzedniaDalej »