Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

when the day's work was done. And there sat William Dove-[who was born with one of those heads in which the thin partition which divides great wits from folly is wanting. Though all was not there, there was a great deal. Some of bis faculties were more acute than ordinary, and his temper had never been soured by ill usage. His memory was retentive of all curious proverbial wis. dom and traditional lore, and had he come into the world a century sooner, he would have been taken nolens volens into some baron's household, to wear motley, make sport for the guests and domestics, and live in fear of the rod. But it was his better fortune to live in an age when this calamity rendered him liable to no such oppression, and to be precisely in that station which secured for him all the enjoyments of which he was capable, and all the care he needed. In higher life, he would probably have been consigned to the keeping of strangers who would have taken charge of him for pay ; in a humbler degree he must have depended upon the parish for support; or have been made an inmate of one of those moral lazar-houses in which age and infancy, the barlot and the idiot, the profligate and the unfortunate are herded together.

William Dove escaped these aggravations of calamity. He escaped also that persecution to which he would have been exposed in populous places where boys run loose in packs, and harden one another in impudence, mischief, and cruelty. Natural feeling, when natural feeling is not corrupted, leads men to regard persons in his condition with a compassion not unmixed with awe. It is common with the country people when they speak of such persons to point significantly at the head and say, 'T'is not all there: words denoting a sense of the mysteriousness of our nature which perbaps they feel more deeply on this than any other occasion. No outward and visible deformity can make thein so truly apprehend how fearfully and wonderfully we are made.

William Dove's was not a case of fatuity. Though all was not there, there was a great deal. He was what is called half saved. Some of his faculties were more acute than ordinary, but the power of self-conduct was entirely wanting in him. Fortunately, it was supplied by a sense of entire dependance which produced entire docility. A dog does not obey his master more dutifully thau William obeyed his brother; and in this obedience there was nothing of fear; with all the strength and simplicity of a child's love, it had also the char. acter and merit of a moral attachment.

The professed and privileged fool was generally characterized by a spice of knavery, and not unfrequently of maliciousness: the unnatural situation in which he was placed tended to excite such propensities, and even to produce them. William had shrewdness enough for the character, but nothing of this appeared in his disposition; ill usage might perhaps have awakened it, and to a fearful degree, if he had proved as sensible to injury as he was to kindness. But he bad never felt an injury. He could not bave been treated with more tenderness in Turkey, (where a degree of holiness is imputed to persons in his condition) than was uniformly shown him within the little sphere of his perambulations. It was surprising how much he had picked up within that little sphere. Whatever event occurred, whatever tale was current, whatever traditions were preserved, whatever superstitions were believed, William knew them all; and all that his insatiable ear took in, his memory hoarded. Half the proverbial sayings in Ray's volume were in his head, and as many more with which Ray was unacquainted. He knew many of the stories which our children are now reading as novelties in the selections from Grimm's Kinder-und Haus Marchen, and as many of those which are collected in the Danish Folk Sagn. And if some zealous lover of legendary lore (like poor John Leyden, or Sir Walter Scott) had fallen in with him, the Shaksperian commentators might perhaps have had the whole story of St. Withold; the Wolf of the World's End might have been identified with Fenris, and found to be a relic of the Scalds: and Rauf Collyer and John the Reeve might still have been as well known as Adam Bell, and Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslie.

Light lie the earth upon the bones of Richard Guy, the schoolmaster of Ingit. ton! He never consumed birch enough in his vocation to have made a besom ; and his ferula was never applied unless when some moral offense called for a chastisement that would be felt. There is a closer connection between good nature and good sense than is commonly supposed. A sour, ill-tempered peda gogue would have driven Daniel through the briars and brambles of the grammar and foundered him in its sloughs; Guy led him gently along the green sward. He felt that childhood should not be made altogether a season of painful acquisition, and that the fruits of the sacrifices then made are uncertain as to the account to which they may be turned, and are also liable to the contingencies of life at least, if not otherwise jeopardized. "Puisque le jour peut lui manquer, laissons le un peu jouir de l'Aurore !" (Lest the day should not be his, let him enjoy the dawn.) The precept which warmth of imagination inspired in Jean Jacques was impressed upon Guy's practice by gentleness of heart. He never crammed the memory of his pupil with such horrific terms as prothesis, aphæresis, epenthesis, syncope, paragoge, and apocope; never questioned him concerning appositio, evocatio, syllepsis, prolepsis, zeugma, synthesis, antiptosis, and synecdoche; never attempted to deter him (as Lily says boys are above all things to be deterred) from those faults which Lily also says, seem almost natural to the English-the heinous faults of iotacism, lambdacism, (which Alcibiades effected,) ischnotesism, trauli'sm, and plateasm. But having grounded him well in the nouns and verbs, and made him understand the concords, he then followed in part the excellent advice of Lily thus given in his address to the reader:

"When these concords be well known unto them, (an easy and pleasant pain if the foregrounds be well and thoroughly beaten in,) let them not continue in learning of the rules orderly, as they lie in their syntax, but rather learn some pretty book, wherein is contained not only the eloquence of the tongue, but also a good plain lesson of honesty and godliness; and thereof take some little sentence as it lieth, and learn to make the same first out of English into Latin, not seeing the book, or construing it thereupon. And if there fall any necessary rule of the syntax to be known, then to learn it, as the occasion of the sentence giveth cause that day; which sentence once made well, and as nigh as may be with the words of the book, then to take the book and construe it; and so shall he be less troubled with the parsing of it, and easiliest carry his lesson in rr.ind."

Guy followed this advice in part, and in part he deviated from it, upon Lily's uw anthority, as "judging that the most sufficient way which he saw to be the readiest mean;" while, therefore, he exercised his pupil in writing Latin pursuant to this plan, he carried him on faster in construing, and promoted the Loy's progress by gratifying his desire of getting forward. When he had dono

with Curdery, Erasmus was taken up; for some of Erasmus's colloquics were in those days used as a school-book, and the most attractive one that could be put into a boy's hands. After he had got through this, the aid of an English version was laid aside. And here Guy departed from the ordinary course, not upon any notion that he could improve upon it, but merely because he happened to possess an old book composed for the use of schools, which was easy enough to suit young Daniel's progress in the language, and might, therefore, save the cost of purchasing Justin, or Phædrus, or Cornelius Nepos, or Eutropius—to one or other of which he would otherwise have been introduced.

Now it has sometimes appeared to me, that, in like manner, boys might acquire their first knowledge of Latin from authors very inferior to those which are now used in all schools; provided the matter was unexceptionable and the Latinity good; and that they should not be introduced to the standard works of antiquity till they are of an age in some degree to appreciate what they read.

If the dead have any cognizance of posthumous fame, one would think it must abate somewhat of the pleasure with which Virgil and Ovid regard their earthly immortality, when they see to what base purposes their productions are applied. That their verses should be administered to boys in regular doses, as lessons or impositions, and some dim conception of their meaning whipped into the tail when it has failed to penetrate the head, can not be just the sort of homage to their genius which they anticipated or desired.

Not from any reasonings or refinements of this kind, but from the mere accident of possessing the book, Guy put into his pupil's hands the Dialogues of Johannes Ravisius Textor. Jean Tixier, Seigneur de Ravisy, in the Nivernois, who thus latinized his name, is a person whose works, according to Baillet's severe censure, were buried in the dust of a few petty colleges and unfrequented shops, more than a century ago. He was, however, in his day, a person of no mean station in the world of letters, having been rector of the university of Paris, at the commencement of the sixteenth century; and few, indeed, are the writers whose books have been so much used; for perhaps no other author ever contributed so largely to the manufacture of exercises, whether in prose or verse, and of sermons also. Textor may be considered as the first compiler of the Gradus ad Parnassum; and that collection of apothegms was originally formed by him, which Conrade. Lycosthenes enlarged and rearranged; which thie Jesuits adopted after expurgating it; and which during many generations, served as one of the standard commonplace books for commonplace divines in this country as well as on the Continent.

But though Textor was continually working in classical literature with a patience and perseverance which nothing but the delight he experienced in such occupations could have sustained, he was without a particle of classical taste. His taste was that of the age wherein he flourished, and these his dialogues aro moralities in Latin verse. The designs and thoughts, which would have accorded with their language had they been written either in old French or old English, appear, when presented in Latinity, which is always that of a scholar, and largely interwoven with scraps from familiar classics, as strange as Harlequin and Pantaloon would do in heroic costume.

Earth opens the first of these curious compositions with a bitter complaint for the misfortunes which it is her lot to witness. Age (tas) overhears the lamentation, and inquires the cause; and after a dialogue, in which the author makes the most liberal use of his own commonplaces, it appears that the perishable nature of all sublunary things is the cause of this mourning. Etas endeavors to persuade Terra that her grief is altogether unreasonable by such brief and cogent observations as Fata Jubent, Fata volunt, Ita Diis placitum. Earth asks the name of her philosophic consoler, but upon discovering it, calls her falsa virago, and meretrir, and abuses her as being the very author of all the evils that distress her. However, Ætas succeeds in talking Terra into better humor, advises her to exhort man that he should not set his heart upon perishable things, and takes her leave as Homo enters. After a recognition between mother and son, Terra proceeds to warn Homo against all the ordinary pursuits of this world, To convince him of the vanity of glory she calls up in succession the ghosts of Hector, Achilles, Alexander, and Samson, who tell their tales and admonish him that valor and renown afford no protection against Death. To exemplify the vanity of beauty, Helen, Lais, Tbisbe, and Lucretia are summoned, relate in like manner their respective fortunes, and remind him that 'pulvis et umbra sumus. Virgil preaches to him upon the emptiness of literary fame. Xerxes tells him that there is no avail in power, Nero that there is none in tyranny, Sardanapalus that there is none in voluptuousness. But the application which Homo makes of all this, is the very reverse to what his mother intended: be infers that seeing he must die at last, live how he will, the best thing he can do is to make a merry life of it, so away he goes to dance and revel, and enjoy himself: and Terra concludes with the mournful observation that men will still pursue their bane, unmindful of their latter end.

Another of these moralities begins with three worldlings (tres mundani) ringing changes upon the pleasures of profligacy, in Textor's peculiar manner, each in regular succession saying something to the same purport in different words. As thuis: PRIMUS MUNDANUS,

Si breve tempus abit,

SECUNDUS MUNDANUS,
PRIMUS MUNDANUS,

Si vita caduca recedit,
Dies abeunt,

TERTIUS MUNDANUS
SECUNDUS MUNDANUS,

Si cadit hora
Perit Omne,
TERTIUS MUNDANUS,

Venit Mors. PRIMUS MUNDANUS,

Quidnam prodesset fati meminisse futuri? SECUNDUS MUNDANUS.

Quidnam prodesset lachrymis cousumere vitam? TERTIUS MUNDANUS.

Quidnam prodesset tantis incumbere curis ? Upon which an unpleasant personage, who has just appeared to interrupt their trialogue, observes

"Si breve tempus abit, si vita caduca recedit,

Si cadit hora, dies abeunt, perit Omne, venit Mors,

Quidnam lethiferæ Mortis meminisse nocebit ?" It is Mors herself who asks the question. The three wordlings, however, behave as resolutely as Don Juan in the old drama; they tell Death that they are young, and rich, and active, and vigorous, and set all admonition at defiance. Death, or rather Mrs. Death, (for Mors being feminine is called lcena, and meretrix, and virago,) takes all this patiently, and letting them go off in a dance, calls up Human Nature, who has been asleep meantime, and asks her how she can sleep in peace while her song are leading a life of dissipation and debauchery. Nature very coolly replies by demanding why they should not: and Death answers, because they must go to the infernal regions for so doing. Upon this Nature, who appears to be liberally inclined, asks if it is credible that any should be obliged to go there: and Death, to convince her, calls up a soul from bale to give an account of his own sufferings. A dreadful account this Damnatas gives; and when Nature, shocked at what she hears, inquires if he is the only one who is tormented in Orcus, Damnatus assures her that hardly one in a thousand goes to heaven, but that his fellow sufferers are in number numberless; and he specifies among them kings and popes, and senators and severe schoolmasters-a class of men whom Textor seems to have held in great and proper abhorrence-as if, like poor Thomas Tusser, he had suffered under their inhuman discipline.

Horrified at this, Nature asks advice of Mors, and Mors advises her to send a son of Thunder round the world, who should reprove the nations for their sins, and sow the seeds of virtue by his preaching. Peregrinus goes upon this mission, and returns to give an account of it. Nothing can be worse than the report. As for the kings of the earth, it would be dangerous, he says, to say what they were doing. The popes suffered the ship of Peter to go wherever the winds carried it. Senators were won by intercession, or corrupted by gold. Doctors spread their nets in the temples for prey, and lawyers were dumnb unless their tongues were loosened by money. Had he seen the Italians ?-Italy was full of dissensions, ripe for war, and defiled by its own infamous vice. The Spaniards ?—They were suckled by Pride. The English ?—

"Gens tacitis prægnans arcanis, ardua tentans,

Edita tartareis mihi creditur esse tenebris." In short, the missionary concludes that he has found every where an abund. ant crop of vices, and that all his endeavors to produce amendment have been like ploughing the seashore. Again afflicted Nature asks advice of Mors, and Mors recommends that she should call up Justice, and send her abroad with her scourge to repress the wicked. But Justice is found to be so fast asleep that no calling can awaken her. Mors then advises her to summon Verias-alas! ‘unbappy Veritas enters complaining of pains from head to foot, and in all the intermediate parts, within and without; she is dying, and entreats that Nature will call some one to confess her. But who shall be applied to? Kings ?They will not come. Nobles?- Veritas is a hateful personage to them. Bishops, or mitred abbots ?- They have no regard for Truth. Some saint from the desert?-Nature knows not where to find one! Poor Veritas therefore dies “ unhouseled, disappointed, unannealed ;” and forth with three demons enter rejoicing that Human Nature is left with none to help her, and that they are kings of this world. They call in their ministers, Caro, and Voluptas, and Vitium, and send them to their work among mankind. These successful missionaries return, and relate how well they have sped every where; and the demons being by this time hungry, after washing in due form, and many coremonious compliments among themselves, sit down to a repast which their min. isters have provided. The bill of fare was one which Belzebub's court of aldermen might have approved. There were the brains of a fat mouk- roasted doctor of divinity who afforded great satisfactiou—a king's surloin--some

« AnteriorContinua »