« VorigeDoorgaan »
personage is a pleasing specimen of the unambitious, quiet, placable clergyman of the days of Anne, when there was not a vast amount of zeal in the Church, and perhaps not quite so much piety as an earnest Christian would desire.
"My chief companion, when Sir Roger is diverting himself in the woods or the fields, is a very venerable man who is ever with Sir Roger, and has lived at his house in the nature of a chaplain above thirty years. This gentleman is a person of good sense and some learning, of a very regular life and obliging conversation; he heartily loves Sir Roger, and knows that he is very much in the old knight's esteem, so that he lives in the family rather as a relation than a dependant.
"I have observed in several of my papers that my friend Sir Roger, amidst all his good qualities, is something of a humourist; and that his virtues as well as imperfections are, as it were, tinged by a certain extravagance which makes them particularly his, and distinguishes them from those of other men. This cast of mind, as it is generally very innocent in itself, so it renders his conversation highly agreeable and more delightful than the same degree of sense and virtue would appear in their common and ordinary colours. As I was walking with him last night, he asked me how I liked the good man whom I have just now mentioned: and without staying for my answer, told me that he was afraid of being insulted with Latin and Greek at his own table; for which reason he desired a particular friend of his at the university to find him out a clergyman rather of plain sense than much learning, of a good aspect, a clear voice, a sociable temper, and, if possible, a man that understood a little of backgammon. 'My friend,' says Sir Roger, 'found me out this gentleman, who, besides the endowments required of him, is, they tell me, a good scholar, though he does not show it. I have given him the parsonage of the parish; and because I know his value, have set upon him a good annuity for life. If he outlives me, he shall find that he was higher in my esteem than perhaps he thinks he is. He has now been with me thirty years; and though he does not know I have taken notice of it, has never in all that time asked any thing of me for himself, though he is every day soliciting me for something in behalf of one or other of my tenants his parishoners. There has not been a law-suit in the parish since he has lived among them; if any dispute arises, they apply themselves to him for the decision; if they do not acquiesce in his judgment, which I think never happened above once or twice at most, they appeal to me. At his first settling with me, I made him a present of all the good sermons which have been printed in English, and only begged of him that every Sunday he would pronounce one of them in the pulpit. Accordingly he has digested them into such a series that they follow one another naturally, and make a continued system of practical divinity."
The Spectator goes to church, and hears "the Bishop of St Asaph in the morning, and Dr. South in the afternoon;" that is, he hears the chaplain read a sermon from Fleetwood's and South's printed collections. He says, "I was so charmed with the gracefulness of his figure and delivery, as well as with the discourses he pronounced, that I think I never passed any time more to my satisfaction." This is to speak of a sermon as he would of a play; which was indeed very much the temper of the Spectator's age. He recommends to the country clergy not "to waste their spirits in laborious compositions of their own;" but to enforce "by a handsome elocution" those discourses "which have been penned by great masters." Whether the advice be judicious or not is scarcely necessary to be discussed. There is something higher to be attained by preaching than enabling a listener to pass his time to his satisfaction; but something even worse may be effected by cold, incoherent, and dull preaching-drowsiness under the shadow of high pews.
Sir Roger's picture gallery is an interesting portion of his ancient mansion. There is one picture in it which has reference to his own personal history:
"At the very upper end of this handsome structure I saw the portraiture of two young men standing in a river, the one naked, the other in a livery. The person
supported seemed half dead, but still so much alive as to show in his face exquisite joy and love towards the other. I thought the fainting figure resembled my friend Sir Roger; and looking at the butler, who stood by me, for an account of it, he informed me that the person in the livery was a servant of Sir Roger's, who stood on the shore while his master was swimming, and observing him taken with some sudden illness, and sink under water, jumped in and saved him. He told me Sir Roger took off the dress he was in as soon as he came home, and by a great bounty at that time, followed by his favour ever since, had made him master of that pretty seat which we saw at a distance as we came to his house. I remembered, indeed, Sir Roger said, there lived a very worthy gentleman to whom he was highly obliged, without mentioning any thing further. Upon my looking a little dissatisfied at some part of the picture, my attendant informed me that it was against Sir Roger's will, and at the earnest request of the gentleman himself, that he was drawn in the habit in which he had saved his master.
But the gallery is chiefly filled with the portraits of the old De Coverleys. There we have the knight in buff of the days of Elizabeth, who won "a maid of honour, the greatest beauty of her time," in a tournament in the tilt-yard. The spendthrift of the next generation—the fine gentleman who "ruined every body that had any thing to do with him, but never said a rude thing in his life," is drawn at full-length, with his "little boots, laces, and slashes." But the real old English country gentleman, who kept his course of honour in evil times-in days of civil commotion, and afterwards in a period of court profligacy-is a character which we trust will never be obsolete:
"This man (pointing to him I looked at) I take to be the honour of our house, Sir Humphrey de Coverley: he was in his dealings as punctual as a tradesman, and as generous as a gentleman. He would have thought himself as much undone by breaking his word, as if it were to be followed by bankruptcy. He served his country as knight of the shire to his dying day. He found it no easy matter to maintain an integrity in his words and actions, even in things that regarded the offices which were incumbent upon him in the care of his own affairs and relations of life, and therefore dreaded (though he had great talents) to go into employments of state, where he must be exposed to the snares of ambition. Innocence of life and great ability were the distinguishing parts of his character; the latter, he had often observed, had led to the destruction of the former, and he used frequently to lament that great and good had not the same signification. He was an excellent husbandman, but had resolved not to exceed such a degree of wealth; all above it he bestowed in secret bounties many years after the sum he aimed at for his own use was attained. Yet he did not slacken his industry, but to a decent old age spent the life and fortune which were superfluous to himself in the service of his friends and neighbours."
The ghosts which used to haunt Sir Roger's mansion were laid, even in his time, by a good orthodox process :
"My friend Sir Roger has often told me, with a great deal of mirth, that at his first coming to his estate he found three parts of his house altogether useless; that the best room in it had the reputation of being haunted, and by that means was locked up; that noises had been heard in his long gallery, so that he could not get a servant to enter it after eight o'clock at night; that the door of one of his chambers was nailed up, because there went a story in the family, that a butler had formerly hanged himself in it; and that his mother, who lived to a great age, had shut up half the rooms in the house, in which either her husband, a son, or daughter had died. The knight, seeing his habitation reduced to so small a compass, and himself in a manner shut out of his own house, upon the death of his mother ordered all the apartments to be flung open, and exorcised by his chaplain, who lay in every room one after another, and by that means dissipated the fears which had so long reigned in the family."
But the belief in apparitions was not passed away. The haunted ruins are described by Addison with his usual grace :—
"At a little distance from Sir Roger's house, among the ruins of an old abbey, there is a long walk of aged elms, which are shot up so very high, that when one passes under them, the rooks and crows that rest upon the tops of them seem to be cawing in another region. I am very much delighted with this sort of noise, which I consider as a kind of natural prayer to that Being who supplies the wants of his own creation, and who, in the beautiful language of the Psalms, feedeth the young ravens that call upon him. I like this retirement the better, because of an ill report it lies under of being haunted; for which reason (as I have been told in the family) no living creature ever walks in it besides the chaplain. My good friend the butler desired me, with a very grave face, not to venture myself in it after sunset, for that one of the footmen had been almost frightened out of his wits by a spirit that appeared to him in the shape of a black horse without a head; to which he added, that about a month ago one of the maids, coming home late that way with a pail of milk upon her head, heard such a rustling among the bushes that she let it fall.”
The fame of the Spectator's Sir Roger de Coverley was revived some twenty years ago by one of the most beautiful pictures of the modern English school-the charming representation, by Newton, of the fine old squire coming out of church, amidst the reverential greetings of his affectionate tenantry. This was a real old English scene; and such as touched our sympathies even in an age when much of this cordial intercourse between the great and the humble has passed away. The paper of the 'Spectator' upon which this picture is founded is by Addison, and in his best style :-
"I am always very well pleased with a country Sunday, and think, if keeping holy the seventh day were only a human institution, it would be the best method that could have been thought of for the polishing and civilising of mankind. It is certain the country people would soon degenerate into a kind of savages and barbarians, were there not such frequent returns of a stated time, in which the whole village meet together with their best faces, and in their cleanliest habits, to converse with one another upon different subjects, hear their duties explained to them, and join together in adoration of the Supreme Being. Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week, not only as it refreshes in their minds the notions of religion, but as it puts both the sexes upon appearing in their most agreeable forms, and exerting all such qualities as are apt to give them a figure in the eye of the village. A country fellow distinguishes himself as much in the churchyard, as a citizen does upon the 'Change, the whole parish politics being generally discussed in that place either after sermon or before the bell rings.
"My friend Sir Roger, being a good churchman, has beautified the inside of his church with several texts of his own choosing. He has likewise given a handsome pulpit-cloth, and railed in the communion-table at his own expense. He has often told me, that at his coming to his estate he found his parishioners very irregular: and that in order to make them kneel, and join in the responses, he gave every one of them a hassock and a Common Prayer Book; and at the same time employed an itinerant singing-master, who goes about the country for that purpose, to instruct them rightly in the tunes of the Psalms, upon which they now very much value themselves, and indeed outdo most of the country churches that I have ever heard.
"As Sir Roger is landlord to the whole congregation, he keeps them in very good order, and will suffer nobody to sleep in it besides himself; for if by chance he has been surprised into a short nap at sermon, upon recovering out of it he stands up and looks about him, and if he sees any body else nodding, either wakes them himself, or sends his servants to them. Several other of the old knight's particularities break out upon these occasions. Sometimes he will be lengthening out a verse in the singing
Psalms, half a minute after the rest of the congregation have done with it; sometimes when he is pleased with the matter of his devotion, he pronounces Amen three or four times in the same prayer; and sometimes stands up when every body else is upon their knees, to count the congregation, or see if any of his tenants are missing. "I was yesterday very much surprised to hear my old friend, in the midst of the service, calling out to one John Matthews to mind what he was about, and not disturb the congregation. This John Matthews it seems is remarkable for being an idle fellow, and at that time was kicking his heels for his diversion. This authority of the knight, though exerted in that odd manner which accompanies him in all the circumstances of life, has a very good effect upon the parish, who are not polite enough to see any thing ridiculous in his behaviour; besides that the general good sense and worthiness of his character make his friends observe these little singularities as foils that rather set off than blemish his good qualities.
"As soon as the sermon is finished, nobody presumes to stir till Sir Roger is gone out of the church. The knight walks down from his seat in the chancel between a double row of his tenants, that stand bowing to him on each side; and every now and then inquires how such a one's wife or mother, or son, or father do, whom he does not see at church; which is understood as a secret reprimand to the person that is absent.
"The chaplain has often told me, that upon a catechising day, when Sir Roger has been pleased with a boy that answers well, he has ordered a Bible to be given to him next day for his encouragement, and sometimes accompanies it with a flitch of bacon to his mother. Sir Roger has likewise added five pounds a year to the clerk's place; and, that he may encourage the young fellows to make themselves perfect in the church service, has promised upon the death of the present incumbent, who is very old, to bestow it according to merit.
"The fair understanding between Sir Roger and his chaplain, and their mutual concurrence in doing good, is the more remarkable, because the very next village is famous for the differences and contentions that arise between the parson and the 'squire, who live in a perpetual state of war. The parson is always preaching at the 'squire, and the 'squire, to be revenged on the parson, never comes to church. The 'squire has made all his tenants atheists and tithe-stealers, while the parson instructs them every Sunday in the dignity of his order, and insinuates to them, in almost every sermon, that he is a better man than his patron. In short, matters are come to such an extremity, that the 'squire has not said his prayers either in public or private this half-year; and the parson threatens him, if he does not mend his manners, to pray for him in the face of the whole congregation.
"Feuds of this nature, though too frequent in the country, are very fatal to the ordinary people; who are so used to be dazzled with riches, that they pay as much deference to the understanding of a man of an estate as of a man of learning; and are very hardly brought to regard any truth, how important soever it may be, that is preached to them, when they know there are several men of five hundred a year who do not believe it."
The quiet humour of this pleasant description furnishes in itself a tolerable example of the state of opinion in the reign of Queen Anne-our Augustan age, as it has often been called. It shows the cold and worldly aspect which the most solemn institutions presented to the eye of the conventional moralist. There is something much higher in the association of Christians in public worship than even the good of meeting together with "best faces and cleanliest habits." Sunday is to be observed for something better than " clearing away the rust of the week," and "putting both sexes upon appearing in their most agreeable forms." But for too long a period this has been very much the orthodox notion of Sunday and Sunday duties; and the real purpose of public worship, that of calling forth the spiritual and unworldly tendencies of our nature, to the exclusion of the ambition and vanity of every-day life, is only beginning
yet to be generally felt in town or village. We lost for two or three centuries the zealous spirit which made the cathedral and the church a refuge from the hard and irritating cares which belong to a life of struggle and vexation; which there lifted us up to a calm and earnest reliance on the protection of the great Father of all; which made all men equal in their capacity for partaking of this elevation of spirit; which for awhile excluded the distinctions that belong to transitory things alone. The solemn responses, the soul-uttering chants, the assembling together in temples venerable for their antiquity and impressive in their beauty, gave a loftier tone to the mind of the most uninformed than belongs to the discussion of parish politics "after sermon or before the bell rings." A reform of somewhat too sweeping character changed the feelings of the people. Religion came either to be looked at as a severe thing or as a formal thing; and then followed what Addison has painted too truly in the conclusion of his paper, "the differences and contentions between the parson and the 'squire." In this respect we may earnestly hope that the description of the Essayist is wholly obsolete.
[The work from which this is transcribed is entitled 'Elements of Physics, or Natural Philosophy, General and Medical, explained independently of Technical Mathematics.' Of this book the first volume was published some twenty years ago, and has passed through several editions. A portion only of the second volume has appeared. When we consider that this excellent book can only be completed at the rare intervals of leisure in a most arduous professional life-that at the moments when the physician is not removing or mitigating the sufferings of individuals, he is labouring for the great benefit of all by such noble inventions as the Hydrostatic Bed-we can only hope that the well-earned repose which wise men look to in the evening of their day, will give opportunity for perfecting one of the books best calculated to advance the education of the people that the world has seen. When our admirable friend Dr. Arnott has put the last labour to his Elements of Physics,' it will remain for him to add one more claim to our gratitude by making the book cheap.]
Galileo had found that water would rise under the piston of a pump to a height only of about thirty-four feet. His pupil Torricelli, conceiving the happy thought, that the weight of the atmosphere might be the cause of the ascent, concluded that mercury, which is about thirteen times heavier than water, should only rise under the same influence to a thirteenth of the elevation :-he tried and found that this was so, and the mercurial barometer was invented. To afford further evidence that the weight of the atmosphere was the cause of the phenomenon, he afterwards carried the tube of mercury to the tops of buildings and of mountains, and found that it fell always in exact proportion to the portion of the atmosphere left below it; and he found that water-pumps in different situations varied as to sucking power, according to the same law.
It was soon afterwards discovered, by careful observation of the mercurial barometer, that even when remaining in the same place, it did not always stand at the same elevation; in other words, that the weight of atmosphere over any particular part of the earth was constantly fluctuating; a truth which, without the barometer, could never have been suspected. The observation of the instrument being carried still farther, it was found, that in serene dry weather the mercury generally stood high, and that before and during storms and rain it fell :-the instrument therefore might serve as a prophet of the weather, becoming a precious monitor to the husbandman or the sailor.
The reasons why the barometer falls before wind and rain will be better understood a few pages hence; but we may remark here, that when water which has been suspended in the atmosphere, and has formed a part of it, separates as rain, the weight and bulk of the mass are diminished: and that wind must occur when a sudden condensation of aeriform matter, in any situation, disturbs the equilibrium of the air, for the air around will rush towards the situation of diminished pressure.