« VorigeDoorgaan »
selves. Parker Clare, was a farmer's labourer; but he was hapless enough to become a sufferer under rheumatic pains, in so great a degree, as to be disenabled. Lord Milton's liberality supplied him with means to go to seabathing, where he was relieved; but, in coming home from Scarborough, he determined upon walking a part of the distance; but the exertion and exposure to the weather again brought on the pain, and he, in consequence, was obliged to ask assistance of the parish, from which he received an allowance of five shillings a-week.
Poverty was therefore the early companion of our poet, and he saw it no doubt, in all its distressing shapes. His home was the receptacle of woe, and his eyes were dimned by tears that misery excited. In his " Address to Plenty" after speaking of the uneven distribution of riches amongst some, he thus brings in his own griefs:~
"While poor shatter'd poverty, To advantage is seen in me, With his rags, his wants, and pain, Waking pity but in vain, Bowing, cringing at thy side, Begs his mite, and is denied." Disease and penury stared Clare in the face, and he must have suffered under the forebodings, that these would ever be his attendants. There could be no glimmer of hope to buoy him up; and therefore it is the more remarkable that he should have been enabled to acquire any learning whatever. When John was a boy, his father used to be employed in thrashing; and he himself did work as a plough boy. By helping his father each morning and evening, he earned the money that paid for his education. Eight weeks labour generally produced pay for a month's schooling. His schoolmaster was kind to him, and rewarded his recitations with a present of threepence or sixpence. With these sums, Clare bought a few books.
When he could read tolerably well, he borrowed of one of his companions, Robinson Crusoe; and at the age of thirteen he met with a copy of Thompson's Seasons; and it was this latter work that excited particularly Clare's love for poetry. As early as he had saved a shilling, he determined upon purchasing this work for himself; and for this end, he set out to Stamford, at so soon an hour that none of the
shops were opened when he arrived there. On his return home, he passed through the beautiful scenery of Burghley Park, when he composed his first piece of poetry, which he called "The Morning Walk." This was soon followed by the Evening Walk,” and
other little pieces.
It is said that Clare's first expression of fondness for poetry was shewn before he had learnt to read. He had been looking one day at the pictures in a volume of poems, which he thinks were Pomfret's, when his father read him a piece in the book. The delight he experienced at hearing this read, still is vivid in his remembrance
"He felt enraptur'd though he knew not why;" but it is possible that he was pleased with the harmony of the numbers only, and that he had no knowledge of what he heard but was delighted by the sound, rather than the sense. The impression, however, made on this occasion, was never effaced.
To the kindness of a Mr. John Turnill, must be attributed Clare's learning, writing and arithmetic. The greater part of his poems were composed in the fields, or on the road-sides; and Clare, not trusting to his memory, wrote them down with a pencil on the spot, his hat serving him for a desk. If it happened that he had no opportunity, soon after, of transcribing these imperfect memorials in a more legible and corrected form, he could seldom decypher them, or recover his first thoughts. From this cause several of his poems are quite lost, and others only exist in fragments. Of those which he had committed to writing, especially his earlier pieces, many were destroyed from another circumstance, which shows how little he expected to please others, or to derive profit from them: he had a small niche in the wall of his room, in which he was accustomed to deposit his manuscripts, and from this little coffer of his treasures was frequently taking a piece of paper to hold the kettle with, or to light the fire. This is much to be regretted, as it may be fitly supposed that these "shreads and patches" which were thus prematurely destroyed, might have been woven into a deathless tome; and that in many of these effusions might have been hid the brightest expressions of genius and poesy.
It is now fourteen years since Clare
composed his first poem: in all that time he has gone on secretly cultivating his taste and talent for poetry, without one word of encouragement, or the most distant prospect of reward. That passion must have been originally very strong and pure, which could sustain itself, for so many years, through want, and toil, and hapless misery. scenes amidst which he lived were the only subjects upon which he could indulge his talent; and it says much, that in the observation of them, he never seems to have tired, but to have ever found a theme for his eulogies in the 66 rushing greens," or "weed-beds, wild and rank." He has a sincere love for Nature, otherwise he must have long since sickened in looking upon objects which might be expected to wear through time a monotonous appearance.
A volume of Clare's poems were published early in 1820; and it was an accident that led to that circumstance. In December 1818, Mr. Edward Drury, Bookseller, of Stamford, met by chance with a Sonnet to "the Setting Sun," written on a piece of paper in which a letter had been wrapped up, and signed I. H.-Having ascertained the name and residence of the writer, he went to Helpstone, where he saw some other poems with which he was much pleased. At his request, Clare made a collection of the pieces he had written and added some others to them. They were then sent to London, for the opinion of the publishers, and those were selected which appeared in the volume above mentioned. No alterations were made but what were necessary to correct orthography and grammar, when such could be effected without changing the words. Clare revised them and made a few alterations, when they were printed and offered to the world.
That such a publication should go unnoticed was not to be expected; but it received in addition a full meed of applause. Reviewers and Critics have laid down their bitterness and taken up their pens only in the service of the young bard. His errors, (so natural from his want of education,) were either spoken of in a strain of kind tuition and pointed out but for his improvement, or else they were overlooked entirely. This lenity on their part reflects great honour, and exhibits,in its effects, a spirit of benevolence and sympathy,—
Of those poems, many were among his earliest efforts. The Fate of Amy was begun when he was fourteen: Helpstone, The Gipsy's Evening Blaze, Reflection in Autumn, The Robin, Noon, The Universal Epitaphs, and some others, were written before he was seventeen. The Village Funeral was written in 1815; the Address to Plenty, in December, 1817; The Elegy on the Ruins of Peckworth, in 1818. In a note on this poem Clare says, "The Elegy on the Ruins of Peckworth was written on Sunday morning after I had been helping to dig the hole for a lime kiln, where the many fragments of mortality and perished ruins, inspired me with thoughts of other times, and warmed me into song." Most of the other poems are of a recent date, with almost all the Sonnets.
To be continued next week.
Clare had been employed during a part of 1820, by Mr. Wilders, of BridgeCasterton, two miles north of Stamford; where the river Gwash, which crosses the road, gave him the subject for one of his Sonnets. His wages were nine shillings a week, and his food; out of which he had to pay one shilling and sixpence a week for a bed, it being impossible that he could return every night to Helpstone, a distance of nine miles but at the beginning of November, his employer proposed to allow him only seven shillings a week; on which, he quitted his service and returned home. His residence was again with his parents, and he worked for any one who would enploy him.
MARIA ELEONORA SCHONING.
The following beautiful and affecting narrative is from the able pen of Mr. Coleridge; and we present it to our readers as producing much beauty, pathos, and tenderness.
"Maria Eleonora Schoning, was the daughter of a Nuremberg wire-drawer. She received her unhappy existence at the price of her mother's life, and at the age of 17, she followed, as the sole mourner, the bier of her remaining parent. From her 13th year she had passed her life at her father's sick-bed, the gout having deprived him of the use of his limbs: and beheld the arch
of heaven only when she went to fetch food or medicines. The discharge of her filial duties occupied the whole of her time and all her thoughts. was his only nurse, and for the last two years they lived without a servant. She prepared his scanty meals, she bathed his aching limbs, and though weak and delicate, from constant confinement and the poison of melancholy thoughts, she had acquired an unusual power in her arms, from the habit of lifting her old and suffering father out of and into his bed of pain. Thus passed away her early youth in sorrow: she grew up in tears, a stranger to the amusements of youth, and its more delightful schemes and imaginations. She was not, however, unhappy: she attributed, indeed, no merit to herself for her virtues, but for that reason were they the more her reward. peace, which passeth all understanding, disclosed itself in all her looks and movements. It lay on her countenance, like a steady unshadowed moonlight: and her voice, which was naturally at once sweet and subtle, came from her like the flute-tones of a masterly performer, which still floating at some uncertain distance, seem to be created by the player, rather than to proceed from the instrument. If you had listened to it in one of those brief sabbaths of the soul, when the activity and discursiveness of the thoughts are suspended, and the mind quietly eddies round, instead of flowing onward (as at late evening in the spring I have seen a bat wheel in silent circles round and round a fruit-tree in full blossom, in the midst of which, as within a close tent of the purest white, an unseen nightingale was piping its sweetest notes,) in such a mood you might have half fancied, half felt, that her voice had a separate being of its own-that it was a living something, whose mode of existence was for the ear only: so deep was her resignation, so entirely had it become the unconscious habit of her nature, and in all she did or said, so perfectly were both her movements and her utterance without effort, and without the appearance of effort! Her dying father's last words, addressed to the clergyman who attended him, were his grateful testimony, that during his long and sore trial, his good Maria had behaved to him like an angel: that the most dis
agreeable offices and the least suited to her age and sex, had never drawn an unwilling look from her, and that whenever his eye had met her's, he had been sure to see it either the tear of pity, or the sudden smile, expressive of her affection and wish to cheer him. God (said he) will reward the good girl for all her long dutifulness to me! He departed during the inward prayer, which followed these his last words. His wish will be fulfilled in eternity; but for this world the prayer of the dying man was not heard!
"Maria sat and wept by the grave, which now contained her father, her friend, the only bond by which she was linked to life. But while yet the last sound of his death-bell was murmuring away in the air, she was obliged to return with two revenue officers, who demanded entrance into the house, in order to take possession of the papers of the deceased, and from them to discover whether he had always given in his income, and paid the yearly income tax according to his oath, and in proportion to his property. After the few documents had been looked through and collated with the registers, the
"This tax called the Losum or Ransom, in Nuremberg, was at first a voluntary contribution: every one gave according to his liking or circumstances. But in the beginning of the 15th century the heavy contributions levied for the service of the empire, forced the magistrates to determine the proportions and make the payment compulsory. At the time in which this event took place, 1787, every citizen_ must yearly take what was called his Ransom Oath (Losungseid) that the sum paid by him had been in the strict determinate proportion to his property. On the death of any citizen, the Ransom Office, or commissioners for this income or porperty tax, possess the right to examine his books and papers, and to compare his yearly payment as found in their registers with the property he appears to have possessed during that time. any disproportion appeared, if the yearly declaration of the deceased should have been inaccurate in the least de. gree, his whole effects are confiscated, and though he should have left wife and child, the state treasury becomes his heir,"
officers found, or pretended to find, sufficient proofs that the deceased had not paid his tax proportionably, which imposed on them the duty to put all the effects under lock and seals. They therefore desired the maiden to retire to an empty room, till the Ransom Office had decided on the affair. Bred up in suffering, and habituated to immediate compliance, the affrighted and weeping maiden obeyed. She hastened to the empty garret, while the revenue officers placed the lock and seal upon the other doors, and finally took away the papers to the Ransom Office.
"Not before evening did the poor faint Maria, exhausted with weeping, rouse herself with the intention of going to her bed; but she found the door of her chamber sealed up, and must pass the night on the floor of the garret. The officers had had the humanity to place at the door the small portion of food that happened to be in the house. Thus passed several days, till the officers returned with an order that Maria Eleonora Schoning should leave the house without delay, the commission court having confiscated the whole property to the city treasury. The father before he was bed-ridden had never possessed any considerable property; but yet, by his industry, had been able not only to keep himself free from debt, but to lay up a small sum for the evil day. Three years of evil days, three whole years of sickness, had consumed the greatest part of this; yet still enough remained not only to defend his daughter from immediate want, but likewise to maintain her till she could get into some service or employment, and have recovered her spirits sufficiently to bear up against the hardships of life. With this thought her dying father had comforted himself, and this hope too proved vain?
A timid girl, whose past life had been made up of sorrow and privation, she went indeed to solicit the commissioners in her own behalf; but these were, as is mostly the case on the Continent, advocates-the most hateful class, perhaps, of human society, hardened by the frequent sight of misery, and seldom superior in moral character to English pettifoggers, or Old Bailey attornies. She went to them, indeed, but not a word could she say for herself.Her tears and inarticulate sounds-for these her judges had no ears or eyes.
Mute and confounded, like an unfledged dove fallen out from its mother's nest. Maria betook herself to her home, and found the house door too, now shut upon her. Her whole wealth consisted in the clothes she wore. She had no relations to whom she could apply, for those of her mother had disclaimed all acquaintance with her, and her father was a Nether Saxon by birth. She had no acquaintance, for all the friends of old Schoning had forsaken him in the first year of his sickness. She had no playfellow, for who was likely to have been the companion of a nurse in the room of a sick man? Surely, since the creation, never was a human being more solitary and forsaken, than this innocent poor creature, that now roamed about, friendless in a populous city, to the whole of whose inhabitants her filial tenderness, her patient domestic goodness, and all her soft yet difficult virtues, might well have been the model.
'But homeless near a thousand homes she stood, And near a thousand tables pin'd and wanted food!
"The night came, and Maria knew not where to find a shelter. She tottered to the church-yard of the St. James's church, in Nuremberg, where the body of her father rested. Upon the yet grassless grave she threw herself down: and could anguish have prevailed over youth, that night she had been in heaven. The day came, and like a guilty thing, this guiltless, this good being, stole away from the crowd that began to pass through the church-yard, and hastening through the streets to the city gate, she hid herself behind a garden hedge just beyond it, and there wept away the second day of her desolation. The evening closed in: the pang of hunger made itself felt amid the dull aching of self-wearied anguish, and drove the sufferer back again into the city. Yet what could she gain there? She had not courage to beg, and the very thought of stealing never occurred to her innocent mind. Scarce conscious "whither she was going, or why she went, she found herself once more by her father's grave, as the last relict of evening faded away in the horizon. I have sat for some minutes with my pen resting: I can scarce summon the courage to tell what I scarce know, whether I ought to tell. Were I composing a tale of fiction, the reader might justly suspect the purity of my own heart, and most
certainly would have abundant right to resent such an incident, as an outrage wantonly offered to his imagination.As I think of the circumstance, it seems more and more like a distempered dream but alas! what is guilt so detestable. other than a dream of madness, that worst madness, the madness of the heart? I cannot but believe, that the dark and restless passions must first have drawn the mind in upon themselves, and as with the confusion of imperfect sleep, have in some strange manner taken away the sense of reality, in order to render it impossible for a human being to perpetrate what it is too certain that human beings have perpetrated. The church-yards in most of the German cities, and too often, I fear, in those of our own country, are not more injurious to health than to morality. Their former venerable character is no more. The religion of the place has followed its superstitions, and their darkness and loneliness tempt worse spirits to roam in them than those whose nightly wanderings appalled the believ ing hearts of our brave forefathers! It was close by the new-made grave of her father, that the meek and spotless daughter became the victim to brutal violence, which weeping and watching, and cold and hunger had rendered her utterly unable to resist. The monster left her in a trance of stupefaction, and into her right hand, which she had clenched convulsively, he had forced a half-dollar.
"It was one of the darkest nights of Autumn: in the deep and dead silence, the only sounds audible were the slow blunt ticking of the church clock. and now and then the sinking down of bones in the nigh charnel house. Maria, when she had in some degree recovered her senses, sat upon the grave near which--not her innocence had been sacrificed, but that which, from the frequent admonitions and almost the dying words of her father, she had been accustomed to consider as such. Guiltless, she felt the pangs of guilt, and still continued to grasp the coin which the monster had left in her hand, with an anguish as sore as if it had been indeed the wages of voluntary prostitution.-Giddy and faint from want of food, her brain becoming feverish from sleeplessness, and this unexampled concurrence of calamities, this complication and entanglement of
misery in misery! she imagined that she heard her father's voice bidding her leave his sight. His last blessings had been conditional, for in his last hours he had told her, that the loss of her innocence would not let him rest quiet in his grave. His last blessings now sounded in her ears like curses, and she fled from the church-yard as if a dæmon had been chasing her; and hurrying along the streets, through which it is probable her accursed violater had walked with quiet and orderly step † to his place of rest and security, she was seized by the watchmen of the night—a welcome prey, as they receive in Nuremberg half a gulden from the police chest, for every woman they find in the streets after ten o'clock at night. It was midnight, and she was taken to the next watch-house.
† It must surely have been after hearing of, or witnessing some similar event or scene of wretchedness, that the most eloquent of our writers (I had almost said of our poets) Jeremy Taylor, wrote the following paragraph, which at least, in Longinus's sense of the word, we may place among the sublime passages in English literature. "He that is no fool, but can consider wisely, if he be in love with this world, we need not despair that a witty man might reconcile him with tortures, and make him think charitably of the rack, and be brought to admire the harmony that is made by a herd of evening wolves, when they miss their draught of blood in their midnight revels. The groans of a man in a fit of the stone, are worse than all these; and the distractions of a troubled conscience are worse than those groans: yet a careless merry sinner is worse than all that. But if we could from one of the battlements of heaven espy, how many men and women at this time lie fainting and dying for want of bread; how many young men are hewn down by the sword of war; how many poor orphans are, now weeping over the graves of their father, by whose life they were enabled to eat; if we could but hear how many mariners and passengers are at this present in a storm, and shriek out because their keel dashes against a rock, or bulges under them; how many people there are that weep with want, and are mad with oppression, or are desperate by