Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

sure of having in your hand that awful but at the same time artless weapon, a poker-of putting it into the proper bar-gently levering up the coals-and seeing the instant and bustling flame above! To what can I compare that moment? That sudden, empyreal enthusiasm? That fiery expression of vivification? That ardent acknowledgement, as it were, of the care and kindliness of the operator? Let me consider a moment :-it is very odd-I was always reckoned a lively hand at a simile-but language and combination absolutely fail me here. If it is like any thing, it must be something beyond every thing in beauty and life. OhI have it now-think, Reader-if you are one of those who can muster up sufficient sprightliness to engage in a game of forfeitson Twelfth night, for instance-think of a blooming girl, who is condemned to "open her mouth and shut her eyes, and see what heaven," in the shape of a mischievous young fellow, "will send her." Her mouth is opened accordingly, the fire of her eyes is dead, her face assumes a doleful air, up walks the aforesaid heaven or mischievous young fellow, (young Ouranos-Hesiod would have called him,) and instead of a piece of paper, a thimble, or a cinder, claps into her mouth a peg of orange or a long slice of citron-then her eyes above instantly light up again—the smiles wreathe about the sparklings burst forth-and all is warmth, brilliancy, and delight. I am aware that this simile is not perfect; but if it would do for an epic poem, as I think it might after Virgil's whippingtops, and Homer's Jackasses and black-puddings, the reader perhaps will not quarrel with it.

But to describe my feelings in an orderly manner, I must request the reader to go with me through a day's enjoyments by the fireside. It is part of my business, as a Reflector, to look about for helps to reflection; and for this reason, among many others, I indulge myself in keeping a good fire from morning till night. I have also a reflective turn for an easy chair, and a very thinking attachment to comfort in general. But of this as I proceed. Imprimis, then-the morning is clear and cold-time half past seven-scene a breakfast-room. Some persons, by the by, prefer a thick and rainy morning, with a sobbing wind, and the clatter of pattens along the streets; but I confess, for my own part, that being a sedentary person, and too apt to sin against the duties of exercise, I have somewhat too sensitive a consciousness of bad weather, and feel a heavy sky go over me like a featherbed, or rather like a huge brush, which rubs all my nap the wrong way. I am growing better in this respect, and by the help of a stout walk at noon, and getting, as it were, fairly into a favourite poet and a warm fire of an evening, begin to manage a cloud or an East wind tolerably well-but still, for perfection's sake on the present occasion, I must insist upon my clear morning, and

will add to it, if the reader pleases, a little hoar-frost upon the windows, a bird or two coming after the crumbs, and the light smoke from the neighbouring chimnies brightening up into the early sunshine. Even the dustman's bell is not unpleasant from its association; and there is something absolutely musical in the clash of the milk pails suddenly unyoked, and the ineffable, ad libitum note that follows. The waking epicure rises with an elastic anticipation; enjoys the freshening cold-water which endears what is to come; and even goes placidly through the villanous scraping process which we soften down into the level and lawny appellation of shaving. He then hurries down stairs, rubbing his hands, and sawing the sharp air through his teeth; and as he enters the breakfast-room, sees his old companion glowing through the bars-the life of the apartment—and wanting only his friendly hand to be lightened a little, and enabled to shoot up into dancing brilliancy. (I find I am getting into a quantity of epithets here; and must rein in my enthusiasm.)What need I say? The poker is applied, and would be so whether required or not, for it is impossible to resist the sudden ardour inspired by that sight:-the use of the poker, on first seeing one's fire, is as natural as shaking hands with a friend. At that movement, a hundred little sparkles fly up from the coaldust that falls within, while from the masses themselves a roaring flame mounts aloft with a deep and fitful sound as of a shaken carpet:-epithets again-I must recur to poetry at once :

Then shine the bars, the cakes in smoke aspire,

A sudden glory bursts from all the fire.
The conscious wight, rejoicing in the heat,

Rubs the blithe knees, and toasts th' alternate feet.*

The utility as well as beauty of the fire during breakfast need not be pointed out to the most unphlogistic observer. A person would rather be shivering at any time of the day than at that of his first rising--the transition would be too unnatural:-he is not prepared for it—as Barnardine says, when he objects to being hung. If you eat plain bread and butter with your tea, it is fit that your moderation should be rewarded with a good blaze; and if you indulge in hot rolls or toast, you will hardly keep them to their warmth without it, particularly if you read; and then—if you take in a newspaper--what a delightful change from the wet, raw, dabbing fold of paper, when you first touch it, to the dry, crackling, crisp superficies which, with a skilful spat of the finger-nails at its

Parody upon part of the well-known description of night with which Pope has swelled out the passage in Homer, and the faults of which have long been appreciateel by general readers.

upper end, stands at once in your hand, and looks as if it said "Come read me." Nor is it the look of the newspaper only which the fire must render complete :-it is the interest of the ladies who may happen to form part of your family-of your wife in particular, if you have one-to avoid the niggling and pinching aspect of cold; it takes away the harmony of her features and the graces of her behaviour; while on the other hand, there is scarcely a more interesting sight in the world than that of a neat, delicate, goodhumoured female, presiding at your breakfast-table, with hands tapering out of her long sleeves, eyes with a touch of Sir Peter Lely in them, and a face set in a little oval frame of muslin tied under the chin, and retaining a certain tinge of the pillow without its cloudiness. This is indeed the finishing grace of a fireside, though it is impossible to have it at all times, and perhaps not always politic, especially for the studious.

From breakfast to dinner, the quantity and quality of enjoy. ment depend very much on the nature of one's concerns; and occupation of any kind, if we pursue it properly, will hinder us from paying a critical attention to the fireside. It is sufficient, if our employments do not take us away from it, or at least from the genial warmth of a room which it adorns ;-unless, indeed, we are enabled to have recourse to exercise; and in that case, I am not so unjust as to deny that walking or riding has its merits, and that the general glow they diffuse throughout the frame has something in it extremely pleasurable and encouraging;-nay, I must not scruple to confess, that without some preparation of this kind, the enjoyment of the fireside, humanly speaking, is not absolutely perfect; as I have latterly been convinced by a variety of incontestible arguments in the shape of headaches, rheumatisms, mote-haunted eyes, and other logical appeals to one's feelings which are in great use with physicians.-Supposing, therefore, the morning to be passed, and the due portion of exercise to have been taken, the firesider fixes rather an early hour for dinner, particularly in the winter-time; for he has not only been early at breakfast, but there are two luxurious intervals to enjoy between dinner and the time of candles-one that supposes a party round the fire with their wine and fruit-the other, the hour of twilight, of which it has been reasonably doubted whether it is not the most luxurious point of time which a fireside can present: --but opinious will naturally be divided on this as on all other subjects, and every degree of pleasure depends upon so many contingencies, and upon such a variety of associations induced by habit and opinion, that I should be as unwilling as I am unable to decide on the matter. This, however, is certain, that no true firesider can dislike an hour so composing to his thoughts and so cherishing to his whole faculties; and it is equally certain, that

he will be little inclined to protract the dinner beyond what he can help, for if ever a fireside becomes unpleasant, it is during that gross and pernicious prolongation of eating and drinking, to which this latter age has given itself up, and which threatens to make the rising generation regard a meal of repletion as the ultimatum of enjoyment. The inconvenience to which I allude is owing to the way in which we sit at dinner, for the persons who have their backs to the fire are liable to be scorched, while at the same time they render the persons opposite them liable to be frozen; so that the fire becomes uncomfortable to the former and tantalizing to the latter; and thus three evils are produced, of a most absurd and scandalous nature;-in the first place, the fireside loses a degree of its character, and awakens feelings the very reverse of what it should; secondly, the position of the back towards it is a neglect and affront, which it becomes it to resent: and finally, its beauties, its proffered kindness, and its sprightly, social effect, are at once cut off from the company by the interposition of those invidious and idle surfaces called screens. This abuse is the more ridiculous, inasmuch as the remedy is so easy; for we have nothing to do but to use semicircular dining-tables, with the base unoccupied towards the fireplace, and the whole annoyance vanishes at once; the master or mistress might preside in the middle, as was the custom with the Romans, and thus propriety would be observed, while every body had the sight and benefit of the fire;-not to mention, that by this fashion, the table might be brought nearer to it-that the servants would have better access to the dishes-and that screens, if at all necessary, might be turned to better purpose as a general enclosure instead of a separation.-But I hasten from dinner, according to notice; and cannot but observe, that if you have a small set of visiters who enter into your feelings on this head, there is no movement so pleasant as a general one from the table to the fireside, each person taking his glass with him, and a small, slimlegged table being introduced into the circle for the purpose of holding the wine, and perhaps a poet or two, a glee-book, or a lute. If this practice should become general among those who know how to enjoy luxuries in such temperance as not to destroy conversation, it would soon gain for us another social advantage by putting an end to the barbarous custom of sending away the ladies after dinner-a gross violation of those chivalrous graces of life, for which modern times are so highly indebted to the persons whom they are pleased to term Gothic. And here I might digress, with no great impropriety, to show the snug notions that were entertained by the knights and damsels of old in all particulars relating to domestic enjoyment, especially in the article of mixed company; but I must not quit the fireside, and will only

observe, that as the ladies formed its chief ornament, so they con stituted its most familiar delight.

The minstralcie, the service at the feste,
The grete yeftes to the most and leste,
The riche array of Theseus' paleis,
Ne who sate first, ne last upon the deis,
What ladies fairest ben, or best dancing,
Or which of hem can carole best or sing,
Ne who most felingly speketh of love;
What haukis sitten on the perch above,
What houndis liggen on the flour adoun-
Of all this now make I no mencioun.

CHAUCER.

The word snug, however, reminds me, that amidst all the languages, ancient and modern, it belongs exclusively to our own; and that nothing but a want of ideas suggested by that soul-wrapping epithet, could have induced certain frigid connoisseurs to tax our climate with want of genius-supposing, forsooth, that because we have not the sunshine of the southern countries, we have no other warmth for our veins, and that because our skies are not hot enough to keep us in doors, we have no excursiveness of wit and range of imagination. It seems to me that a great deal of good argument in refutation of these calumnies has been wasted upon Monsieur du Bos and the Herrn Winckellmann-the one a narrow-minded, pedantic Frenchman, to whom the freedom of our genius was incomprehensible-the other an Italianized German, who being suddenly transported into the sunshine, began frisking about with unwieldy vivacity, and concluded that nobody could be great or bewitching out of the pale of his advantages. Milton, it is true, in his Paradise Lost, expresses an injudicious ap prehension lest

An age too late, or cold

Climate, or years, damp his intended wing;

but the very complaint which foreign critics bring against him as well as Shakspeare, is, that his wing was not damped enoughthat it was too daring and unsubdued; and he not only avenges himself nobly of his fears by a flight beyond all Italian poetry, but shows like the rest of his countrymen that he could turn the coldness of his climate into a new species of inspiration, as I shall presently make manifest. Not to mention, however, that the Greeks and Romans, Homer in particular, saw a great deal worse weather than these critics would have us imagine, the question is, would the poets themselves have thought as they did? Would

« ForrigeFortsæt »