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Captain C. said he could illustrate my sentiments, so flattering to Irishmen, by a statement of facts, which, he stipulated, must, nevertheless, not be considered as descriptive of all, or of the majority of Irish people; but of an individual. He then proceeded with his tale, which I shall here lay before my reader as nearly as possible in the veteran's own words.
“I, with two young friends and fellow-countrymen, embarked for Europe at a sea-port in North America, immediately on the termination of the revolutionary war; that is, at the peace of 1783. In due course of time, we three subalterns reached London-sick, dispirited, in faded garments, strangers in the great city, friendless, and well-nigh penniless; and were discharged from the outside of a stage-coach at the door of the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane.
“ In addition to our vexations above enumerated, we were strongly inclined to eat a hearty meal, but in doubt if our treasury would defray the cost of it. We forthwith called a council in the coffee-room, and after much debating, ventured to order the waiter to provide us with a full allowance of beefsteaks and potatoes, as the most substantial and most economical mess we could think of. Just as we had finished our debate on ways and means, and issued our directions, a tall, portly, and respectablelooking man advanced towards us, and apologizing for the freedom, desired to know if we were not Irish, and military. We replying accordingly, he continued, with an air of assumed displeasure, to ask if we could possibly intend to affront him, and hurt his best feelings? I, who was spokesman on the occasion, assured him we had no such design, and that I was at a loss to conceive on what act of ours he had founded his apprehension. He answered, that he could suppose no less from our having, consulting our own confined circumstances, commanded so mean a repast, at the moment when he was within hearing of our conversation, instead of boldly appealing to him for such a supply as, they might have felt sure, would not have been refused by one of their own beloved and common country, to whom the fickle Goddess was more favourable than to them.
“We, as may be imagined, stared and smiled; and while doing so, the courteous stranger directed the servant to produce-not the dish of beef and potatoes, but a sumptuous feast, which he winningly and cordially insisted on our sharing; as he likewise did on our aiding him in drinking sundry bottles of rich foreign wines which he set before our delighted eyes. We sat, and swilled, and quaffed our goblets till late in the night; when he took leave of us with many thanks for the favour our company had conferred on him, and withdrew: as, speedily after, we did, to our several sleeping apartments.
“On assembling next day in the coffee-room, we naturally and kindly inquired of the waiter after the health and welfare of our generous entertainer; and were then informed that the worthy gentleman had
left the house at a very early hour,--and had also been so considerate as to leave us our shares of the bill to discharge! No language can do justice to our amazement, terror, and mortification. Our united purses would not have paid the twentieth part of the demand to which we were thus perfidiously rendered liable; neither would our portion of the debt have ever been liquidated, but for the accident of one of the fraternity meeting a very wealthy relative, as he rambled along Ludgate Street in despair. To him our calamitous condition was explained, and by his liberality were we rescued from the dilemma in which a consummate villain had involved us, and ultimately all got back to the homes of our kindred.”
This relation is not more true, than the main circumstance is contrary to nature and monstrous; and not only un-Irish, but inhuman, and disgraceful to the name of man.
The greatest imaginable literary, as well as moral, merit may lie in obscurity, while the vilest trash shall, for a season, be brought into strong sun-light beneath the public eye. Witness, Croly's “ Catiline,” and the mewling absurdities that hourly glare upon us, in what affects to be verse, and sometimes looks like rhyme : and which certain reviewers, and the pitiful scribbler himself, would attempt to impose on the world as poetry!
The “Catiline” of Croly was not, it appears, intended, in its printed form, for the stage; though with judicious alterations, it could, undoubtedly, be rendered the very proudest ornament of British drama.
The preface to the published copy of the tragedy, is in itself an inestimable performance; and the five acts of the piece flame with the radiance of genuine poetry; yet, comparatively, few talk of Croly's “ Catiline.”
The author, who in his title-page terms the work only a dramatic poem, furnishes, in that same magnificent preface, a picture of Rome worthy of all praise. In speaking of the Social War, he very justly calls it the commencement of the fall of the republic; and proceeds : “The revolt of the allies, followed by their admission to the citizenship, shook the whole ancient Roman polity. The senate rapidly degenerated into a feeble oligarchy, and the people into a corrupt faction. War is the passion of all powerful republics; and the perpetual hostilities of Rome had gradually thrown civil distinctions into the shade. But a constitution of unrivalled vigour had held the ambition of her generals in obedience, and, for four hundred years, Rome, while her armies were sweeping the remote world, sat, like the centre of a system of comets, in steadfast splendour, until they all rushed back upon her at once, and perturbed her supremacy for ever. The Italian rebellion, and those of Spartacus and Sertorius, brought battle before her eyes, and rendered her familiar with the
dominion of the sword. Within a single generation she saw the despotisms of Marius, Sylla, and Cinna ; and was so harassed and exhausted by the perpetual struggle, that even her foremost and freest-minded citizens, and at their head Cicero, the first of patriots and of men, seemed inclined to take refuge in a king.” Thus it is that history should be written ! It would be difficult to point out a passage within the bounds of English literature superior to the foregoing, in the attributes of fine writing : the extract includes the happiest language most happily employed; the grandeur of the writer's rich style precisely suiting that of his subject: por could the greatest of her orators have more forcibly delineated the might and majesty of the Eternal City.
In the opening scene of the drama, Cethegus gives a description of Catiline's eloquence, abounding in beauties of thought and verse :