Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

The effects, too, of our climate, composed of a Siberian winter and an Italian summer, furnish new and peculiar objects for description. The circumstances of remote regions are here blended, and strikingly opposite appearances witnessed in the same spot at different seasons of the year. In our winters, we have the sun at the same altitude as in Italy, shining on an unlimited surface of snow, which in Europe can be found only in the higher latitudes, where the sun in winter rises little above the horizon. The dazzling brilliance of a winter's day and a moonlight night, in an atmosphere astonishingly clear and frosty, when the utmost splendor of the sky is reflected from a surface of spotless white, attended with the most excessive cold, is peculiar to the northern parts of the United States. What, too, can surpass the celestial purity and transparency of the atmosphere in a finé autumnal day, when our vision and our thought seem carried to the third heaven; the gorgeous magnificence of the close, when the sun sinks from our view, surrounded with various masses of clouds fringed with gold and purple, and reflecting in evanescent tints all the hues of the rainbow !

From the moment the sun is down, every thing becomes silent on the shore, which our windows overlook; and the murmurs of the broad St. Lawrence, more than two miles wide immediately before us, and a little way to the right spreading to five or six miles in breadth, are sometimes for an hour the only sounds that arrest our attention. Every evening since we have been here, black clouds and splendid moonlight have hung over and embellished the tranquil scene; and on two of these evenings we have been attracted to the window by the plaintive Canadian boat-song. In one instance, it arose from a solitary voyager, floating in his light canoe, which occasionally appeared and disappeared on the sparkling river, and in its distant course seemed no longer than some sportive insect. In another instance, a larger boat, with more numerous and less melodious voices, not indeed in perfect harmony, passed nearer to the shore, and gave additional life to the scene, A few minutes after, the moon broke out from a throne of dark clouds, and seemed to convert the whole expanse of water into one vast sheet of glittering silver; and in the very brightest spot, at the distance of more than a mile, again appeared a solitary boat, but too distant to admit of our hearing the song with which the boatman was probably solacing his lonely course.

LESSON CXII.

Shakspeare's Tomb.

WASHINGTON IRVING.

corners.

I HAD come to Stratford on a poetical pilgrimage. My first visit was to the house where Shakspeare was born, and where, according to tradition, he was brought up to his father's craft of wool-combing. It is a small, mean-looking edifice of wood and plaster, a true nestling-place of genius, which seems to delight in hatching its offspring in by

The walls of its squalid chambers are covered with names and inscriptions, in every language, by pilgrims of all nations, ranks, and conditions, from the prince to the peasant, and present a simple but striking instance of the spontaneous and universal homage of mankind to the great poet of nature.

The house is shown by a garrulous old lady in a frosty red face, lighted up by a cold, blue, anxious eye, and garnished with artificial locks of flaxen hair, curling from under an exceedingly dirty cap. She was peculiarly assiduous in exhibiting the relics with which this, like all other celebrated shrines, abounds. There was the shattered stock of the very matchlock with which Shakspeare shot the deer, on his poaching exploit. There, too, was his tobacco-box — which proves that he was a rival smoker of Sir Walter Raleigh; the sword also with which he played Hamlet; and the identical lantern with which Friar Lawrence discovered Romeo and Juliet at the tomb! There was an ample supply also of Shakspeare's mulberry-tree, which seems to have as extraordinary powers of self-multiplication as the wood of“ the true cross; of which there is enough extant to build a ship of the line.

From the birthplace of Shakspeare a few paces brought me to his grave. He lies buried in the chancel of the parish church, a large and venerable pile, mouldering with age, but richly ornamented. It stands on the banks of the Avon, on an embowered point, and separated by adjoining gardens from the suburbs of the town. Its situation is quiet and retired : the river runs murmuring at the foot of the churchyard, and the elms which grow upon its banks droop their branches into its clear bosom. An avenue of limes, the boughs of which are curiously interlaced, so as to form in summer an arched way of foliage, leads up from the gate of the yard to the church porch. The graves are overgrown with grass ;

the gray tombstones, some of them nearly sunk into the earth, are half covered with moss, which has likewise tinted the reverend old building. Small birds have built their nests among the cornices and fissures of the walls, and keep up a continual flutter and chirping; and rooks are sailing and cawing about its lofty gray spire.

We approached the church through the avenue of limes, and entered by a Gothic porch, highly ornamented, with carved doors of massive oak. The interior is spacious, and the architecture and embellishments superior to those of most country churches. There are several ancient monuments of nobility and gentry, over some of which hang funeral escutcheons, and banners dropping piecemeal from the walls. The tomb of Shakspcare is in the chancel. The place is solemn and sepulchral. Tall elms wave before the pointed windows, and the Avon, which runs at a short distance from the walls, keeps up a low, perpetual murmur. А flat stone marks the spot where the bard is buried. There are four lines inscribed on it, said to have been written by himself, and which have in them something extremely awful. If they are indeed his own, they show that solicitude about the quiet of the grave, which seems natural' to fine sensibilities and thoughtful minds :

[merged small][ocr errors]

Just over the grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of Shakspeare, put up shortly after his death, and considered as a resemblance. The aspect is pleasant and serene, with a finely-arched forehead; and I thought I could read in it clear indications of that cheerful, social disposition, by which he was as much characterized, among his contemporaries, as by the vastness of his genius. The inscription mentions his age, at the time of his decease fifty-three years; an untimely death for the world ; for what fruit might not have been expected from the golden autumn of such a mind, sheltered as it was from the stormy vicissitudes of life, and Mourishing in the sunshine of popular and royal favor !

The inscription on the tombstone has not been without its effect. It has prevented the removal of his remains from the bosom of his native place to Westminster Abbey, which was at one time contemplated. A few years since also, as some laborers were digging to make an adjoining vault, the earth caved in, so as to leave a vacant place almost like an arch, through which one might have reached his grave. No one, however, presumed to meddle with his remains, so awfully guarded by a malediction; and lest any of the idle or the curious, or any collector of relics, should be tempted to commit depredations, the old sexton kept watch over the place for two days, until the vault was finished and the aperture closed again. He told me that he had made bold to look in at the hole, but could see neither coffin nor bones - nothing but

dust. There are other monuments around, but the mind refuses to dwell on any thing that is not connected with Shakspeare. His idea pervades the place; the whole pile seems but as his mausoleum.

He who has sought renown about the world, and has reaped a full harvest of worldly favor, will find, after all, that there is no love, no admiration, no applause, so sweet to the soul, as that which springs up in his native place. It is there that he seeks to be gathered, in peace and honor, among his kindred and his early friends. And when the weary heart and failing head begin to warn him that the evening of life is drawing on, he turns as fondly as does the infant to the mother's arms, to sink to sleep in the bosom of the scene of his childhood. How would it have cheered the spirit of the youthfu, bard, when, wandering forth in disgrace upon a doubtful world, he cast back a heavy look upon his paternal home, could he have foreseen that, before many years, he should return to it covered with renown; that his name should become the boast and glory of his native place; that his ashes should be religiously guarded, as its most precious treasure; and that its lessening spire, on which his eyes were fixed in tearful contemplation, should one day become the beacon, towering amidst the gentle landscape, to guide the literary pilgrim of every nation to his tomb!

LESSON CXIII.

The Quarrel of Brutus and Cassius.

SHAKSPEARE.

Cas. That you have wronged me, doth appear in this; You have condemned and noted Lucius. Pella, For taking bribes here of the Sardians ; Wherein my letters, praying on his side,

« VorigeDoorgaan »