Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

that is not prudent, Mr. Rivulet.”—“Certainly not,” said Mr. Rivulet. There was famous partridge shooting the next day ;-this is religion again !

Honest John, who used to be stubborn, is now become pliant as India rubber,-a grace one of the most prominent in John's gentility. He has strong notions of a double character in Christianity as well as justice; he has laws for rich and poor, and religions too. He sets up two regions of bliss; the upper for people of wealth, the lower for those of whom we were once told on good authority is the Kingdom of Heaven, and who have most need of it, considering how the arrows of suffering pierce into their souls. A very well dressed servant girl mistook a pew in church for her place, and entered it ; “ I will come to church no more," said a lady who had her sitting in the same pew, to the clerk, “ if such creatures are allowed to sit in the same seat by me." -“She won't sit by you again here, madam,” said the simple clerk, “ nor any where else; she is a religious girl, ma'am.”

Honest John has given up following the plough tail-varnishing and japanning have superseded his old farm labours in Gloucestershireall with him wears a false colour-seeming goes for reality,-sincerity is but self-interest-gain is dignity, poverty meanness-gilded ignorance is the clay calf of John's worship-his learning goes not beyond multiplication-his heroes are Rothschilds and Rundles, not Washingtons nor Hampdens-his artists are not the Raphaels nor Rubens of the past, but the Dutchmen who paint low scenes to his comprehension. So of mental qualities; the grand and chivalric are with him the adjuncts of by-gone glories-roast beef, of all John's epic ideas, retains its old place.

As honest John diverges from his former path, he becomes more serious of face ; his tragedy is off the stage, for which reason he can only relish buffoonery upon it. Care bearing the dagger and bowl before him, he hugs the grim phantom of his melo-dramatic existence. Gloom is upon his best moments, relaxing not at success; for, if he has gained ten thousand pounds to-day, he is only more sleepless that to-morrow may come to double it. The lust of gain sucks up the joy of his heart like a sponge-a little money is akin to poverty, and poverty is baseness—the furrows of anxiety grave deeply in his brow —he rarely smiles from the heart-he is a polygamist, wedding exchanges and counting houses numerous as Solomon's wives-yet mark how he walks the city, lugubrious as an undertaker on duty, his polygamy bringing its own punishment. Walk down Cheapside, regard his humanity there, and along the larger thoroughfares; what is the nominative case to his verb--gain--gain without stint-gain to the last heave of expiring nature. « What do you do now with your spare cash ?" said a late city alderman, when he was dying, to a friend who approached his bed to hear any other than the low accents that thus quivered upon the purple lip fading into the hue of the grave.

John's cachinnation is symptomatic-a mere instinctive reply, nine times out of ten, to some word that merely vibrated on the tympanum of the ear. Is he a drinker of wine? his inebriety, as old Froissart says, is produced “ very sorrowfully." When he unbends over his table for a moment, his relaxation is a forced sleep over apoplectic port. Even his legislation is narrow, intricate, and partial. He has enactments for putting down barrel organs, and making sad the face of infancy, by keeping Punch and Judy in terrorem. Singing merry ballads is blasphemy, and a Sunday walk a heinous sin, among, it is to be feared, many secret sinners,—even the playfulness of children is rebuked in the surliness of their sires ;-all are changes in the character of honest John—and what has wrought them? Can it be the spirit of gain, that absorbs all his faculties, and makes the being who is devoted to it soul and body, although surrounded by the glitter of wealth, an animal rather than a man?

But is this too hard upon honest John? The cautery is often useful where the knife fails. We are speaking of the spirit abroad, not of any individual ;- we must draw up another bucket or two of truth from the immortal unfailing well that has so often been the saving of nations ! Riches are the noblest motive of human action-- this is John's great lesson in life. Scarcely is the down upon his cheek, but he is initiated in the morals and practices deducible from this law; his code of morals, his mode of thinking, his line of judgment, and his hope of heaven, must all come within the prescribed circle.

In his political views, with two thirds of his income devoted to paying the interest of his enormous debt, he talks complacently of his resources being inexhaustible, in utter ignorance that he would predicate mischief to the individual so circumstanced, and advise him to apply to the Court of Insolvency. John's virtues are his gold scrapings. “I am better than you, or any other not worth twenty thousand pounds: I have grubbed it together no matter how it is a tangible good.” So Judas, in Quevedo, pleads his merit for selling his master, because of the good that ensued from the base action. It is true, some of the economists tell us it ought to be so—that the mass of the people were born to no purpose, and it is politic they should have no better rule of life, because others profit by their suffering. Hence arise heart-burnings and dislocations in society—the poor set against the rich, the rich against the poor; had John set the like store upon virtue, wisdom, and lofty feeling, burying his scorn of honest poverty in his own bosom, discontent had been less rife, than when the poor are taught there is only one thing in the world worthy of their possession, and that they can never hope to attain. Now, to be without virtue, honour, or religion, will answer very well if we are not without riches

-an inference showing its effect every hour. A narcotic tranquillity is just now over John's eyelids, he reposes in his arm chair in all the stillness of stagnation ; beneath him the dangerous quag may be forming, -John dozes in half-revealed phantasies of new sources of wealth--of more gold heaps. He wears his ignorance for armour, turns his head and snores again. He has forgotten the dangers threatening the “ baseless fabric” which he rears upon visions of political danger; now, while the fatuitous Chartist momentarily disturbs his afterdinner nap, he “ swears a prayer or two and sleeps again." Are the banks safe?--are the funds up ?--are the taxes paying? The affirmative reply securing, he imagines, his own present safety, he goes off again to dreams of more wealth, that leave him no time to dream of danger.

Honest John's conduct being unexceptionable under his own code,

why should he square his moralities by any court of conscience but his own? So of intellect; John is condescending enough to estimate a Newton as something above a chandler who turns forty shillings a week, but very far beneath a substantial stock-broker. What to John are the merits of him who passes the flaming bounds of time and space ?—what to him are the orbs that roll along the skies, the harmony of heaven? what are the trackless paths of comets in the belt of innumerable stellar glories ?---what the heavenly balances to the balances in 'Change Alley, to those of exchequer bills and bank securities, well enough in trade it is true-but what are they to the higher destinies of humanity-to greatness of purpose-to true glory in this life or the hope of immortality ? John answers, in thought and deed “Every thing !" He has sensorial space enough to comprehend the one, in his view the more shining and sterling. He sticks to the merely animal--he battens on his sensualities-he spurns cloudland fancies--he has no curiosity to know how he is formed-to pry into the mysteries of creation to mark the revolution of worlds, science and poverty may concern themselves about those matters. His right ascension and declination relate not to solar movements, but to joint stock shares. The ocean conveys to him no idea of space or quality, but merely the image of a medium for more convenient huckstering, unless when he endures the ennui, because others do so, of visiting some sea-side town, when his eyes roll listlessly over the vast expanse in his efforts to kill time till his dinner-hour, flattening the end of his snub nose against the window-glass all the time, and pronouncing the Thames nothing to it in water, but how much before it in wealth!

John is charitable-he is most forgiving to the failings of social humanity in high places,-never did his religion wink her eyes so frequently at what it is indiscreet for her to behold. A good name being valuable, never did honest John take such pains to obtain one surreptitiously. Ignorance has the happiness of freeing its owner from all apprehension of consequences, so John keeps up, amidst all, the plump round “unmeaning face" that so comports with merely animal bliss, under no rule but policy. Honest John can never be persuaded to do right without regard to consequences, if more be attainable by the law of power; yet no one talks so much of justice, however “ lop-sided," when he is concerned, while he extols his impartial dealings, his theme for laudation before all other themes, except himself, his motto being

“ Je vais chanter un homme, et cet homme c'est moi.” Thus, out of his shop honest John's mental feebleness is almost a disease. He is credulous where infantine comprehension would not be deceived. He has no value for high intellect; his greatest men are often the heroes of a newspaper paragraph; literature and science are to him superfluities; he is blind to all merit beyond his own calibre, as a young owl, nurtured by an eagle, would despise the soaring mother that basked in meridian glory, and hanker after rotten trees, shattered barns, and midnight darkness. After John's opinion, the sovereignty of bis primeval cause will be eternal,—the sordid propensities of human life will continue to be its most exalted humanities, Voracious for gain as John may be, tempt him to risk all he possesses for the chance of more, and no gudgeon will bite more readily, He will send the fruits of his toil to fructify, or his children to fight in any cause, country, or clime, for the mere hope of gain. Thus he will waste countless sums that might have yielded moderate interest at home, and have employed thousands in labour. He will thus pay dear for his whistle, soon forget it, and be ready to go out and buy another to-morrow with the same vain hope, and the same chance of loss as in the former case.

John has dressed up a household god of his own, Ostentation-no Mussulman is more steady in his genuflexions before his Prophet than John Bull before this contemptible idol. He and his family at their devotions to the tinsel doll recal forcibly the child's exclamation on seeing a flock of geese, “ Mama, how beautiful we should all be in peacock's feathers !” John is a staunch aristocrat,- he loves titles. Of two men without fortunes, one a knave with a title, the other an honest man without, -John would, knowingly, give his money and daughter to the knave. He performs the kou tou to every rag of real or affected dignity, and then smokes his evening pipe and talks of lofty feelings, of independence, liberty, and private right, and of the majesty of the people, with which he has no one definite idea, no feeling in community.

Honest John estimates custom highly, but has never been able to exercise the gift of right reason; he follows his neighbour as his neighbour follows some other whom he makes his guide; so John and his family go in a string-Dummlings of the Golden Goose, sticking one behind another. There is nothing like this mechanical existence, because it saves the heart from troubles, sympathies, and the pains of reflection. The generous impulses- the kindly humanities of life-may be thus spared, and the time they would occupy be directed to benefit self. To creation's beauty, to all that irradiates this vale of tears, to what cheers the spirit with immortal foretastes, John is strange, plodding along his animal track “with leaden eye that loves the ground.” True, he talks of civilization, and exhibits its progress by scrambling for threescore years and ten in one poor pursuit, the knaves always uppermost upon their honest neighbours' backs. Tottering at the verge of the grave, John still looks to leaving behind him a larger amount of the root of all evil than his betters, and his wish unsatiated he topples in among his kindred dirt.

John answers the statesman's view as an instrument for self-aggrandisement-he loves taxes and a heavy debt, that enables him, as he fancies, to get interest for his spare cash, insensible that he pays the interest himself. John grumbles only when he has nothing to do. Often he is dazzled by some state empiric blowing him a bubble at the end of a clay pipe, the bubble's gaudy colours reflecting fleets, armies, the pawing of the cavalry, and the futter of the standard. As children love a penny peep, so John is charmed, and pays his “ pretty penny" for the show-but lo! the rainbow-hued bubble bursts, and all is thin air! the costly clay that created the magic orb alone remaining, in the shape of a legacy securing upon him the curses of his posterity. John dreams only that he has had his money's worth-he has answered, 100,

the political end, and goes on to make money as usual, and to be amused with wars and glory in little, to be paid for in great.

John Bull's reading rejoices in heroes of dubious renown, and he gives his sympathies to the Arams and Abershaws of the Story-teller. Different of old-Turpin now supplants Sidney and Russell with him ; and the Newgate Calendar, the Book of Martyrs. So honest John prefers buffoonery to Tragedy,—the clown beats Shakspeare hollow, and the jester's heel wounds the prostrate Melpomene. John affects a love of music, because it requires no learning; he comprehends all of it be desires by the “ porches of his ears.” The trade sell few Miltons or Drydens now. Pope sleeps on the shelf, and Goldsmith is deserted, with his “ Deserted Village.” Hume lies on hand, novels serving John in place of history, called “ historical,” better named “hysterical.” With science, John has no concern ; he looks to the produce of the spindles, and cares not how the power is made that turns them : he regards the outward man alone. There lolls one in an equipage, of which a nobleman would be proud, poking his stupid and vacant face from the window, most condescendingly.—“Who is he?"- John stares and adores this ideal of all that is great and good it is a fellow who makes blacking! There dwells one of rags, a costermonger, employed six days in the week, who struts in the finest broadcloth out of his attic on Sunday; his hands, well washed, but still ingrained with dirt, are thrust into kid gloves,-his wife in satin, the absentee from the washing-tub,-neither can read nor write, John loves the pride that licks the dust six days in the week to make a display on the seventh, In that long line of street, couchant among his wares, John practises a thousand arts on public credulity to get them off his hands by alluring purchasers-large handbills announce the falsehood that he is making ruinous sacrifices-selling at a lossoffering wrecked goods or bankrupt stock, and so on. In another splendid thoroughfare are shut-up shops connected with those who exhibit conduct John would once have severely reprobated as an honest tradesman. Squalid miseries stand pale spectres at the corners of the streets; John passes by, and cannot comprehend how people can degrade themselves by poverty, prosperity being his notion of virtue. John Alings down his penny, and bids them work, as he does. Poor they are, but worse than the icy talons of poverty in their hearts is that reproach-they cannot realise even the Almighty's curse upon their heads- they cannot earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, for labour is banned to them, there is none to be had. The Indian roams free, and hunts down the game God has given him for subsistencethe Polar savage breaks the ice and pulls forth the reeking seal, eats, and reposes—the inhabitant of Torrid climes rests half the day in the shade of the tree from which nature gives him food-the Arab finds his date-tree in the desert, and his bed in the warm sand ;- but, amid high civilization, man is doomed to pine of hunger, or embrace that which is very little better, for no fault of his own; he must now exchange all liberty for a stinted pittance to meet the last call of self-preservation. John cannot conceive how such a state of things can be-he does not inquire-his home is comfortable-his table is replenished-his pursuits are profitable ; so he thinks that enough for

« AnteriorContinua »