Obrázky stránek
[ocr errors]

and Mr. Nash : the latter of these gentlemen most liberally said,

I do not know, Mr. Godwin, exactly what may be your thoughts in coming to me (I went to both gentlemen without any other introduction than my name), but if you would wish to place your son as a pupil with me, I will only say that my usual fee is five hundred guineas. In the meantime, I feel that respect for your character, that I will willingly receive your son to precisely the same advantages without a fee.”

During these experiments, however, my son betrayed an unsteady and roving disposition. None of the occupations he had chosen perfectly suited him. He had nearly completed the twenty-first year of his age, when he first showed any external indications of a vocation to literature ; and up to that time I had had no reason to suspect that he could, with any degree of taste, turn a sentence or construct a paragraph. He worked his way in silence; and in November and December, 1823, I was agreeably surprised at having put into my hands two little Essays of his, printed in the “Literary Examiner : ” one entitled “ Country Church-yards,” and the other “ The Cottage.” The scene of the first was laid in Woodford Church-yard, and both of them are pregnant with striking indications of the peculiar turn of his mind, being marked all through with an agreeable egotism, as well as with strong tokens of sensibility.

Having, however, given no more decided evidences of a special vocation, and it being on all accounts proper that he should engage in some mode of gaining a subsistence by his own industry, he, in the course of the year 1823, engaged in the business of a Reporter to “ The Morning Chronicle,” which with a short interval he continued to pursue to the period of his death. Beside this, he employed himself latterly in regular contributions to “ The Mirror of Parliament.”

But in the midst of all this industry, he was constantly uneasy. He felt that he was not in the position that properly belonged to him, and that he was born to better things. He therefore always found time to engage his thoughts and his pen in other matters, that might lead to somewhat of a nigher character. He essayed various pieces of a dramatic nature. It was his propensity to engage with fervour and an eager impatience in what he thus projected, and, being little satisfied with what he had done, then to throw it aside, and seemingly to forget that it had ever existed. He wrote a slight piéce in the nature of an opera on the story of Robin Hood, and even attempted a tragedy on the fate of Regulus. He wrote in the same manner a story in the form of a novel,

[ocr errors]

which he afterwards consigned to oblivion. Among his papers was found a catalogue of subjects for the Drama and for miscellaneous compositions.

He formed a sound estimate of his own productions, even at the moment that they came fresh from his pen; those which he regarded as inconsiderable, he caused to be brought out in the minor periodical publications. But having traced a thought and a feeling with extraordinary energy of purpose, under the name of “ The Executioner," he sent it to “Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine," and designed to follow with other contributions of a similar nature.

He instituted, about two years before his death , a club in commemoration of Shakspeare, which he named “ The Mulberries," that held its meetings once a week, and a more solemn meeting annually on the birth-day of the great poet. It was part of the plan of this club that each member should in rotation produce and read before his fellows, on certain select occasions, an original Essay on any subject he might think proper, provided it bore some reference to the object of the club.. Accordingly, two of the Essays produced by him were, the first entitled “On Shakspeare's Knowledge of his own Greatness,” and the second

Dissertation on the Dramatic Unities,” which were after his death printed in the “ Court Magazine.” Both of these pieces were worthy of the maturity of his mind. In the first, he examined, apd, it will perhaps be thought, satisfactorily refuted, the vulgar idea that our great poet wrote his immortal effusions in total unconsciousness of their unparalleled grandeur ; showing, on the contrary, that the writer was fully aware that what he was penning could never afterwards perish. The second was a learned and perspicuous explanation of what the Greek poets understood by the Unities, and what was their conception of the nature of dramatic composition, which has been so much and so grossly misunderstood.

A year or two before his death he framed the plan of the following work, and endeavoured to apply the energies of his mind to its correspondent execution. The original conception is not a little extraordinary; and it will perhaps be admitted that a very considerable fervour and mastery are displayed in the development. If he had lived, I make no doubt that he would have achieved more memorable things. But he was cut off just when he began to know himself, and when his mind was most pregnant with lofty conceptions and purposes.

To many readers it will be the more interesting to follow him

in his intellectual development, and to conceive what he might have been, if the Great Disposer of all things had allowed him to fulfil his career, agreeably to the ordinary duration of human


But he was cut off almost without a warning. He had certainly of late exerted himself beyond his strength, and thus became a prepared victim to the malignant and terrible disease which destroyed him. On Tuesday, the fourth of September, 1832, he appeared capable of extraordinary bodily exertion, and in fact exposed himself to an undue degree of fatigue. He went to bed that night apparently in health, and at no unseasonable hour. But, during the hours of darkness, he became very considerably indisposed. In the course of the succeeding day he grew worse. I and his mother were sent for on Thursday morning; and we attended him almost incessantly, till his death, at half-aster five on Saturday morning, the ninth. But he was almost immediately laid prostrate. He knew every body on Thursday, but on Friday was almost insensible to the persons about him. His distemper was cholera; and, in compliance with the apprehensions of those who were near him, he was buried the next day, Sunday, in the nearest churchyard, St. John the Evangelist, Waterloo Road,

William Godwin, the subject of these pages, was of a somewhat fiery disposition, but easily disposed to listen to reason when it was duly presented to him. He was inclined to be somewhat reserved and self-concentrated, where he apprehended an opposition which came to him in the shape of authority. But if you could once show that there was sound sense and sobriety in what was alleged in opposition to his views, he instantly became attentive. and tractable. He was a being of the warmest affections and the most entire generosity of temper. He had great powers of conversation, and could easily pass through all its humours, "from grave to gay, from lively to severe. And accordingly, all his chosen associates felt a very earnest attachment to him, and a strong sense of his extraordinary gifts. In the last two years of his life, he in a striking degree shook off the errors that occasionally clouded his earlier years, and would infallibly have distinguished himself with honour in any career in which he had engaged.

He has left a widow whom he affectionately loved, and had no children.

May, 1, 1835.





Haste, haste, he lies in wait, he 's at the door ;
Insidious Death! Should his strong hand arrest,
No composition sets the prisoner free.

Young's Night Thoughts.

The vale of death! that hushed Cimmerian vale,
Where darkness, brooding o'er unfinish'd fate,
With raven wing incumbent, waits the day,
Dread day! that interdicts all future change!


Have this scene before you, if a poor description may do it. Though it is but an humble cottage that occupies the foreground and presents the scene of action, Nature around this unassuming abode has been most prodigal. Look far away to both the east and west, and see how mountain after mountain tops its neighbour, and climbs beyond the power of sight, as if these swellings of Old Earth were, indeed, to kiss the sky, but clothed in such mystery as God alone can weave to cloak the meeting from all human eyes. Survey the more gentle South, where first soft plains, parcelled out by ever-running streams; and then bright uplands, giving a green reflection to the westward sun, present themselves. These are the fragrant places, where the denizens of yonder village-sweet Unwalden,

-waste their easy hours; these are the honied spots, where tottering childhood, upright maturity, and wavering old age meet as one,—the common creatures of a mother that has been bountiful to them. Surely this is a scene which claims to be always lovely! Then how much more so now, when the bright sun is getting larger, as he gets lower, in the west; when thin streams of purple, gold, and radiant crimson,

[ocr errors]

stealing his rays, do homage to his parting; when the light air knows no disturbance; when the brisk birds, the lowing flocks, and all the tinier things of the creation speak their joy as Nature best has taught them.

“ In the midst of life we are in avath.” Look into that cottage which occupies the foreground of all this pleasantness, and see how ill the scene there accords with what is extant without. Tread softly, as you approach the sick-bed, which may scarce be seen, so carefully has some kind hand excluded the severer rays of light. She that lies there, with death touching her cheek, and decay fining the thin veins of her wasted hand, is a mother-and such a mother! Oh, think of the softest moments of care ; bring back, if they need it, to your recollections, the tenderest solicitudes that your own mothers have on deepdrawing occasions spent upon you; such as they were, under trials, have emanated from this mother on all occasions, and ever.

Trust me, this is a good parent, and needs not the iron hand of death for the closer drawing of those bonds of affection which are now about to be snapped asunder. Give a glance, too, at the gentle form that overhangs the bed where his parent is undergoing this mortal arbitrament with death. It is young Albert, who, as he props her pillow, answers each broken respiration of the sufferer with a tear. Mark how he gazes upon her murmuring lips, as though he would drink in each syllable before it had utterance; and yet it is but pitiful foolery, for he hears her not ; nature at his birth killed this communing sense, and although art and practice have taught him to speak, he receives no reply but by signs.

I have said that her lips murmured. Was it that her intellect failed her, or that her sight grew so dim that she could not see that only her poor deaf boy lingered by her side, and that the daughter of her heart was even at such a moment absent. Be it as it may, thus she spoke in scarcely audible sounds.

“ Press closer to me, children. Give me thy hand, my Madeline; and sign to Albert to do likewise. Alas! it is all weakness with me, or I myself would have instructed the dear boy. Death is my bedfellow, Madeline : I feel him pressing closer and closer, and I have not command of either soul or body to withstand his approach! Oh, children, now I feel the

« PředchozíPokračovat »