Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

She had recovered her spirits, and looked the very picture of careless gladness as she leaned in one of those graceful and unstudied attitudes peculiar to her, supported by the framework of the window, and with the trailing jessamine waving round her in the soft summer breeze. She lifted her ungloved hand, and gathered the roses above her head as she talked to her husband.

“You most disorderly and unmethodic of men,” she said, laughing; “I wouldn't mind betting you won't find it.”

I'm afraid that Mr. Mellish muttered an oath as he tossed about the heterogeneous mass of papers in his search for the missing document.

“I had it five minutes before you came in, Aurora,” he said, “and now there's not a sign of it—oh, here it is !"

Mr. Mellish unfolded the letter, and, smoothing it out upon the table before him, cleared his throat preparatory to reading the epistle. Aurora still leaned against the window-frame, half in and half out of the room, singing a snatch of a popular song, and trying to gather an obstinate half-blown rose which grew provokingly out of reach.

“ You're attending, Aurora ?”
“Yes, dearest and best."
“But do come in. You can't hear a word there."

Mrs. Mellish shrugged her shoulders, as who should say, "I submit to the command of a tyrant,” and advanced a couple of paces from the window; then looking at John with an enchantingly insolent toss of her head, she folded her hands behind her, and told him she would be good." She was a careless, impetuous creature, dreadfully forgetful of what Mrs. Walter Powell called her “responsibilities;" every mortal thing by turns, and never any one thing for two minutes together; happy, generous, affectionate; taking life as a glorious summer's holiday, and thanking God for the bounty which made it so pleasant to her.

Mr. John Pastern began his letter with an apology for having so long deferred writing. He had lost the address of the person he had wished to recommend, and had waited until the man wrote to him.

“I think he will suit you very well,” the letter went on to say, he is well up in his business, having had plenty of experience, as groom, jockey, and trainer. He is only thirty years of age, but met with an accident some time since, which lamed him for life. He was half killed in a steeple-chase in Prussia, and was for upwards of a year in a hospital at Berlin. His name is James Conyers, and he can have a character from_"

The letter dropped out of John Mellish's hand as he looked up at his wife. It was not a scream which she had uttered. It was a gasping cry, more terrible to hear than the shrillest scream that ever came from the throat of woman in all the long history of womanly distress.

“Aurora! Aurora !”

He looked at her, and his own face changed and whitened at the sight of hers. So terrible a transformation had come over her during the

as

reading of that letter, that the shock could scarcely have been greater had he looked up and seen another person in her place.

It's wrong! it's wrong!she cried hoarsely;"you've read the name wrong. It can't be that !"

“ What name ?”

“What name ?" she echoed fiercely, her face flaming up with a wild fury,—“ that name! I tell you, it can't be. Give me the letter.”

He obeyed her mechanically, picking up the paper and handing it to her, but never removing his eyes from her face.

She snatched it from him; looked at it for a few moments, with her eyes dilated and her lips apart; then, reeling back two or three paces, her knees bent under her, she fell heavily to the ground.

New Notes from Old Strings.

PREFATORY.
“ We are come with willingness to bear
What torturing death or punishment you please."

Old Play of Edward II1., 1596. “Une préface est presque toujours une prétention, quand elle cesse d'être une précaution.”-ULBACH, Susan Duchemin, In preface-writing we resemble the celebrated Mayor of Calais either in his first or second attitude. We either sound the trumpet of defiance and non-surrender, or we present ourselves with the key of our meaning in our hands and the halter of submission round our necks; of which articles, however, the former rarely answers its purpose, and the latter is never intended to do so.

“ There might be keener knowledge of human nature than was dreamt of in their philosophy,' which passed with them for commonplace.”—LOCKHART, Life of Scott.

Hazy readers are apt to take that which their understanding acknowledges as true for that which their memory recognises as old. It is just here that thorough and well-read criticism distinguishes, and shallow criticism confounds.

“ Lees, that and refine

The agitated soul of generous wine.”—DRYDEN. Such are often critical notes on the classical writers; they are the result of impurities in the text, lie like dregs at the bottom of the page, and are far from agreeable; but without them the wine of the great Greek and Roman poets would not have run clear.

“ There is to this day a merry tale, that the king's monkey tore his principal note-book all to pieces, whereat the court, which liked not these pensive accounts, was almost tickled with the sport.”—Bacon, History of Henry VII.

So have we sometimes seen a book of royal thought torn to pieces by monkey critics, and the public have been tickled if the monkeys did it drolly.

Herods, bloody-hunting, slaughter men.”-SHAKESPEARE.
Some critics seem to massacre the innocents indiscriminately,-

“Those guiltless babes of Bethel slain by guess," to use old Lord Stirling's words. Others go their rounds like conscientious Lycurgus-policemen, fancying that they do the state of literature" some service" by putting out of the way what they imagine to be monstrosities, malformations, and puny children,—often, however, making horrible mistakes. Alexander the Great would have had no chance with them, on account of that well-known twist in the neck, which they would have twisted a little further; and poor Byron, the champion and poet of Greece, would have “gone to it” like one of Lance's puppies, drowned far more satisfactorily for halting in one of his natural feet by the Lycurgus-policeman, than he was by Jeffrey for halting in his poetical ones.

“ The knight upstarted brave
Out of the well wherein he drenched lay,

Like eagle fresh out of the ocean wave,
So new this new-born knight to battle new did rise.

I wot not whether his revenging steele
Was hardened with that holy-water dew

Wherein he fell.”—SPENSER, Faërie Queen e.
Admirably applicable to the case of Byron and many others. The
Lycurgus-well of the critics often proves to genius a bath or a baptism.
Just, though severe, criticism invigorates; stupid censure almost conse-
crates; as Ben Jonson says,

“Of whom to be dispraised is no small praise."

" I have been renowned in battle ; but I never told my name to a foe.”Ossian, Carthon.

This would perhaps have revealed some ancestral friendship, and so have prevented the encounter. This was the old Caledonian hero's reason for silence. There may be, and doubtless are, admirable reasons for anonymous censure and criticism ; but we have often more modern reasons for not telling our name to a foe.

“ I'll not dissected be, T'instruct your art with my anatomy.

HABINGTON, Castara. We prefer that others should censure our particular faults rather than criticise our general characters. It is not pleasant to be philosophised upon. On the other hand, in our own confessions and our autobiographies

, we greatly prefer giving a general sketch of our minds to particularising our misdemeanours.

“ Un souffle l'a crée, un souffle le détruit.” — VICTOR HUGO. Is it owing to the equity, the envy, or the contradictoriness of mankind, that a strong puff of praise puts out the flame of credit? However, it generally only happens when the flame is small or newly kindled. The furnace well lighted does not fear the blast.

“Fac plurima mediocriter, si non possis facere unum aliquid insigniter.” — Pliny, Letters.

“It is better to do a good many things in a middling style, if you cannot do one thing thoroughly well.”

We demur. For instance, if, as is often the case, the twenty verses which a man might make in one hour, and the one verse about which he might be puzzling for twenty hours, are likely to be exactly of the same quality, we should greatly prefer his devoting himself to the one.

" An uncommon degree of imagination constitutes poetical genius.”-DUGALD STEWART, Philosophy of the Mind.

Then the worst poets have it, and that in no common degree, for they imagine what nobody else can,—that their poems will sell; and further, that when they are giving you a cup of the waters of Marah, or, at the best, of Lethe, they are presenting you with a goblet of Helicon,

" pretendea gran vena in poesia, Nè il meschin s'accorgea ch'era pazzia."

Tassoni, Secchia Rapita.

“ The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet,

Are of imagination all compact.”-SHAKESPEARE. And many a love ditty has shown how admirably all three characters are combined in the composer.

« Grief framed in numbers never is so fierce :

For he tames grief that fetters it in verse."-DONNE. The elegiac poet is like the Æolian harp, that moulds the bitter nightwind into music.

“ Finished the whole, and labour'd every part,

With patient touches of unwearied art.”--POPE. It is only the greatest and truest poets that can keep the metal warm while these touches are given. There may be extreme delicacy and finish, but there will always be a perceptible stiffness when the fire has gone out before the work is ended. Compare with this wonderful second line of Pope the parallels in Thomson's Liberty:

“With the cool touches of judicious toil

Their rapid genius curbing;” and Milton's in The Apology for Smectymnus :

"Such a subject as the publishing thereof might be delayed at pleasure, and time enough to pencil it over with all the curious touches of art, even to the perfection of a faultless picture.” But let us remember that elsewhere Milton demands for poetry, that it should be also “simple, sensuous, passionate."

« ForrigeFortsæt »