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THIRD SERIES.] BOSTON, OCTOBER 1, 1828. [VOL. 1, No. 1.
AN OCTOGENARIAN'S REMINISCENCES OF LONDON.
A MIDSUMMER-DAY'S DREAM.
LET us off to London for an hour or two; not by that unhappy mail-coach, which is not once suffered to cool its axle-tree all the way from this to York Minster, and in which we have committed no crime of sufficient atrocity to deserve imprisonment. No ours be the stiff, breeze-loving Smack; or gallant Steamer, that, never gunwale in, but ever upright as the stately swan, cleaves blast and breaker as they both come right a-head,-the one blackening, and the other whitening,-while Bain's trumpet is heard in the mingled roar, and under his intrepid skill all the hundreds on board feel as safe as in their own beds, though it is near nightfall, and we are now among the shores and shallows of the Swin, where ships untold have gone to pieces.-See, there, a wreck!
As for London, it is long since we have sported our figure in Bond Street or the Park. The House of Lords has long been the object of our most distant respect-and, generally speaking, at the West End, we verily believe we are about as well known as Captain Parry, or any other British officer, will ever be at the North Pole.
Yet once we knew London wellboth by day when it was broad awake, and by night "when all that mighty heart was lying still." We remember now, as yesterday, the eve on which we first-all alone and on foot, reached Hyde-Park Corner. All
1 ATHENEUM, VOL. 1, 3d series.
alone! yes-thousands and hundreds of thousands were on foot then, as well as ourselves, and on horses and in chariots. But still we were alone. Not in misanthropy-no-no-no-for then, as now, and with more intense, more burning passion, with strongerwinged and farther-flighted imagination did we love our kind, for our thoughts were merry as nightingales, untamed as eagles, and tender as doves. But we were young-and we were in a manner foreigners-and few friends had we but the sunbeams and the shadows of our own restless soul. From the solemn and sacred enclosure of thy bell-chiming and cloistered haunts-Rhedicyna! did we come,the tomes of the old world's treasures closed for a season-Homer, and Pindar, and Eschylus, and Plato, and the Stagyrite, and Demosthenes, and Thucydides, left for a while asleep on the shelves of the Gothic-windowed Library, where so many musing days had cloudlike floated by, nor failed to leave behind them an immortal inspiration, pure and high as that breathed from the beauty and the grandeur of the regions of setting suns,-and all at once, from the companionship of the dead did we plunge into that of the living!
From the companionship of the dead! For having bade farewell to our sweet native Scotland, and kissed, ere we parted, the grass and the flow. ers with a shower of filial tears
having bade farewell to all her glens, now aglimmer in the blended light of imagination and memory-with their cairns and kirks, their low-chimneyed huts and their high turreted halls their free-flowing rivers, and lochs dashing like seas-we were all at once buried, not in the Cimmerian gloom, but the Cerulean glitter, of Oxford's ancient academic Groves. The Genius of the place fell upon us -yes! we hear now, in the renewed delight of the awe of our youthful spirit, the pealing organ in that Chapel called the Beautiful-we see the Saints on the stained windows-at the Altar the picture of one up Calvary meekly bearing the cross! It seemed, then, that our hearts had no need even of the kindness of kindred-of the country where we were born, and that had received the continued blessings of our enlarging love! Yet away went, even then, sometimes our thoughts to Scotland, like carrierpigeons wafting love-messages beneath their unwearied wings! They went and they returned, and still their going and coming was blest. But ambition touched us, as with the wand of a magician from a vanished world and a vanished time. The Greek tonguemultitudinous as the sea-kept like the sea sounding in our ears, through the stillness of that world of towers and temples. Lo! Zeno, with his arguments hard and high, beneath the Porch! Plato divinely discoursing in Grove and Garden! The Stagyrite searching for truth in the profounder gloom! The sweet voice of the smiling Socrates, cheering the cloister's shade and the court's sunshine! And when the thunders of Demosthenes ceased, we heard the harping of the old blind glorious Mendicant, whom, for the loss of eyes, Apollo rewarded with the gift of immortal song! And that was our companionship of the dead!
But the voice-the loud and near voice of the living world came upon us-and starting up, like a man wakened from the world of sleep and dreams, we flew to meet it on the wind-onwards and onwards to its
source humming louder and louder as we approached, a magnificent hum as from a city with a thousand gates of everlasting ingress and egress to all the nations of the earth!
Not till then had we known anything of our own being. Before, all had been dream and vision, through which we had sunk, and kept sink sinking, like flowers surcharged with liquid radiance, down to the palaces of naïads, and mermaids, and fairy folk, inhabiting the emerald caves, and walking through the pearl-leaved forests and asphodel meadows of an unreal and unsubstantial world! For a cloudy curtain had still seemed to hang between us and the old world!
darkening even the fields of Marathon and Platea, whose heroes were but as shadows. Now we were in the eddies-the vortices-the whirlpools of the great roaring sea of life! and away we were carried, not afraid, yet somewhat trembling in the awe of our new delight, into the heart of the habitations of all this world's most imperial, most servile-most tyrannous and most slavish passions! all that was most elevating and most degrading-most startling and most subduing too-most trying by temptation of pleasure, and by repulsion of pain-into the heart of all joy, and all grief-all calm and all storm-all dangerous trouble, and more dangerous rest-all rapture and all agony-crime, guilt, misery, madness and despair. A thousand voices, each with a different tone, cried us on-yet over them all one voice, with which the rest were still in unison-the voice of the hidden wickedness that is in the soul of every man who is born of a woman, and that sometimes as if it were of guardian angel, and sometimes of familiar Demon, now lured, persuaded, urged, drove us on-on, on, in amongst shoals and shallows of that dim heaving sea, where many wrecks were visible, sheer hulks heaved up on the dark dry-or mast-heads but a foot out of the foam-here what seemed a beacon, and there a light-house, but on we bore, all sail set, to the very sky-scrapers, with flags flying, and all
the Ship of Life manned by a crew of rebellious passions-and Prudence, that old Palinurus, at the helm fast asleep, and then, as if in his own doom prophetic of ours, overboard amongst breakers!
For a moment, we thought of the great cataracts of Scotland-CorraLinn-Foyers-thousands of nameless torrents tumbling over mountains to the sea-her murmuring forests and caves a-moaning for ever to the winds and waves round the cliff-bound coast of Cape Wrath! But that was the voice of Nature-dead in her thunders, even as in the silence of the grave. This was the voice of Lifesublimer far-and smiting the soul with a sublimer sympathy. Now, our whole being was indeed broad awake -hitherto, in its deepest stirrings, it had been as asleep. All those beautiful and delightful reveries vanished away, as something too airy and indolent for the spirit-passive no more-but rejoicing in its strength, like a full-fledged young eagle, leaping from the edge of its eyry, fearlessly and at once, over the cliff, and away off into the bosom of the storm!
dying eyes-the ambition, neither low nor ignoble, of youth's aspiring hopes, for, not altogether uncrowned had been our temples, even with the Muses' wreath-a whisper of Hope faint, far-off, and uncertain, and haply even now unrealised its promiseand far down buried, but instinct with spirit, beneath them all, a life-deep love for Her, that Orphan-maid—so human, yet so visionary-afar-off in the beauty of her heaven-protected innocence, beneath the shadow of that old castle, where by day the starlings looked down on her loveliness, solesitting among the ruins, and for her the wood-lark, Scotia's nightingale, did sing all night long-a life-deep love, call it passion, pity, friendship, brotherly affection, all united together by smiles, sighs, and tears-songs sung as by an angel in the moonlight glen-prayers in that oratory among the cliffs-the bliss of meetings and of partings among the glimmering woods, sanctified by her presence-of that long, last, eternal farewell!
Therefore, our spirit bore a charmed life into that world of danger and death. That face to us was holy, though then all alive in its loveliness
and, oh! that it should ever have been dead-holy as the face of some figure- -some marble figure of a saint lying on a tomb. Its smile was with us even when our eyes knew it notits voice as the dying close of music, when our ear was given to other sounds less pensive and divine.
With all its senses in a transport, our soul was now in the mighty London! Every single street-musician seemed to us as an Orpheus. Each band of female singers, some harping as they sung, and others, with light guitar ribbon-bound to their graceful shoulders, to us were as the Museseach airy group very Goddesses, "Knit with the Graces and the Loves in dance,"
Whither shall we look? Whither shall we fly? Denizens of a new world-a new universe-chartered libertines, as yet unblamed by Conscience, who took part with the passions, knowing not that even her own sacred light might be obscured by the flapping of their demon-wings! And why should Conscience, even in that danger, have been afraid? It is not one of her duties to start at shadows. God-given to the human breast, she suffers not her state to be troubled by crowds of vain apprehensions, or she would fall in her fear. Even then, Virtue had her sacred allies in our heart. The love of that nature on whose bosom we had been bred a sleeping spark of something like poetry in our souls unextinguishable, and preservative of the innocence it enlightened-reverence of the primitive simplicity of beloved Scotland's Faiththe memory of her old, holy, and heroic songs-the unforgotten blessing of a mother's living lips, of a father's
and leading on the Hours along the illuminated atmosphere, where each lamp was as a star! The whole World seemed houses, palaces, domes, theatres, and temples-and London the universal name! Yet there was often
a shudder as the stream of terrible enjoyment went roaring by-and the faces of all those lost creaturesthose daughters of sin and sorrowwith fair but wan faces, hollow bright eyes-and shrieks of laughter, appalled the heart that wondered at their beauty, and then started to hear afar off, and as in a whisper, the word "Innocence," as if it were the name of something sacred in another life and another world; for here guilt was in its glory and its grief, women angels of light no more, but fiends of darkness, hunting and hunted to despair and death!
How dreamlike the flowings of the Isis by Godstow's ivied Ruin, where blossomed, bloomed, and perished in an hour, Rosamunda-flower of the world! How cheerful, as if waked from a dream, glides on the famous stream by Christ-Church' Cathedral grove! How sweet by Iffley's Saxon tower ! By Nuneham's lime-tree shade how serene as peace! But here thou hast changed thy name and thy nature into the sea-seeking Thames, alive and loud with the tide that murmurs of the ocean-foam, and bridged magnificently as becomes the river that makes glad the City of the Kings who are the umpires of the whole world's wars! Down sailed our spirit, along with the floating standard of England, to the Nore. There her Feet lay moored, like a thunder-cloud whose lightning rules the sea
"Her march is o'er the mountain-wave, Her home is on the deep!"
But it is night, and lo! the crowded Theatre is ablaze with Beauty; and as Tragedy, "with solemn stole, comes sweeping by," the piled-up multitude is all as hush as death. Then first the "buried Majesty of Denmark"-though mimic all the scenewas awful and full of dread to our young imagination, as if indeed "revisiting the glimpses of the moon," on the old battlements of Elsineur-the fine, pensive, high philosophy of the melancholy, world-distracted Hamlet, flowed as if from his own very princely lips the fair Ophelia, as she went
singing and scattering her flowers, was to us a new Image of a purer Innocence, a more woful sorrow, than we knew before to have ever had its birth or burial-place on this earth. There we saw the Shadow of the mightiest Julius standing-imperial still-before his beloved Brutus in the Tent; and as he waved a majestic upbraiding, threatening, and warning, from the hand that had subdued the world, we heard the Cæsar say, “We will meet again at Philippi." There we, too, as well as the Thane, heard a voice cry to all the house, "Sleep no more-Glammis hath murdered sleep-and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more!"—and in glided, with stone eyes and bloodless face, sleepwalking Remorse, in the form of a stately Lady wringing her hands, and groaning, "Out, damned spot," while the Haunted felt in her dream, that "not all the perfumes of Arabia could sweeten that little hand !"
Then there was eloquence in the world, that is, in London, in those days; or did the soul then half-create the thunders she heard pealing from the lips of Burke, and Pitt, and Fox, the great orators of England, and startle at the flash of her own lightning? But the old pillars of the social edifice then seemed to rock as to an earthquake-and the lips of common men, in the general inspiration, were often touched with fire. Even now we see their flashing eyes, their knit brows, their clenched hands, their outstretched arms-their "face inflamed"-even now we hear their voices, flowing like majestic streams, or loud as the headlong cataract-of those whom the world consents to call great. We thought, as we looked and listened, of Him who
"Wielded at will that fierce democracy, Shook the arsenal, and fulmined over GreeceFrom Macedon to Artaxerxes' throne;" nor felt that the son of Chatham was less than the Thunderer," as he stood proudly denouncing vengeance against the legions of the Tricolor, and prophesying the triumph of the glorious Isle, "whose shores beat back the ocean's foamy feet."
awakened by dreadful outcries from too long a sleep-and the alarum-bell that then kept tolling far and wide over the sky, though now its iron tongue is at rest, or but trembling in that "hollow," so soon and so easy made to give forth its sullen music, hangs still over the nations, who, under even the silence of its shadow, shall sink no more into disgraceful slumbers. The ears of kings, and princes, and nobles, were astounded; and all Europe groaned or gloried when the Bourbon's in-vain-anointed head, was with the few fatal words held up dissevered, "Behold the head of a tyrant!" and the axe, that made no respect of persons, bit the fair neck of Marie Antoinette, nathless all those glorious tresses whose beauty had dazzled the world. Life was then struck, over all its surface and all its depths, with a stormy sunshine-dread alternations of brightness and blackness, that made the soul to quake alike in its hopes and in its fears. Who wished, then, to escape the contagion ?—Not even the gentlest, the most fervent, the most devoted lovers of domestic peace. They, too, joined the hymn of thanksgiving-and one Pæan seemed to stun the sky. But the very clouds ere long began to drop blood, and then good men paused even to obey the stern voice of Justice, in fear that the dewy voice of Mercy should never more be heard on earth. Call it not a reaction-for that is a paltry word but thankful to the Great God did men become, when at last standing silent on the desolate shore, they saw the first ebb of that fiercely-flowing tide, and knew that the sea was to return to its former limits, and sweep away no more the peasant's hut and the prince's palace.
The spirit of the world was then and intellectual empire of mind-nor, in the world's admiration, is the triumphal car of victory unworthy of being placed near the Muses' bower. What mighty ones have breathed the air of that Great City-have walked in inspiration along the banks of England's metropolitan-river-have been inhumed in her burial-places, humble or high, frequented by common and careless feet, or by footsteps treading reverentially, while the visitor's eyes are fixed on marble image or monument, sacred to virtue, to valor, or to genius, the memory of the prime men of the earth! These, London, are thy guardian spirits-these thy tutelary gods. When the horrid howl of night-the howl of all those distracted passions is hushed-and the soul, relieved from the sorrow in which it thinks of sin when an eye or ear-witness to its unhallowed orgies, lifts up its eyes to the stars so bright and beautiful, so silent and so serene-then remembereth she the names, the endowments, the achievements, of the immortal dead. There-largest and most lustrousthat star that "dwells apart"—is the image of Milton! That other, softburning, dewy, and almost twinkling star-now seeming to shine out into intenser beauty, and now almost dim, from no obscuring cloud or mist, but as if some internal spirit shaded the light for a moment, even as an angel may veil his countenance with his wings-that is the star of Spenser ! And of all the bright people of the skies, to fancy's gaze, thou, most lovely Planet, art the very Fairyqueen!
That was a time indeed, for men to speak, to whom Heaven had granted the gift of eloquence. And London then held many eloquent, who, when the storm was hushed, relapsed into men of common speech.
The poet and sage walk hand in hand together through the moral
Therefore, to us, enthusiasts then in poetry-and may that enthusiasm survive even the season "of brightness in the grass and glory in the flower," which has almost now passed awayto us, who thought of Poets as beings set apart from the world which their lays illumined-how solemn-how sacred-how sublime a delight-deaf and blind to all the sights and sounds of the common day-to look on the very house in which some great Poet had been born-lived-or died! Were the house itself gone, and some ordi