Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

From this rather perilous adventure, we pass on to incidents of a homely, and less exciting interest in the Poet's history. To the letters of his numerous, but unknown correspondents, Campbell, in general, was very attentive. His good nature, however, was too often put to the test by “ardent admirers,” with whose frequent and urgent requests for his autograph, his advice, or an interview with the author of “The Pleasures of Hope," it · was not always expedient to comply. Among the letters that waited his return, was one from a member of this numerous body, which differed so widely from the rest, in its ingenious attempt to elicit an autograph, that Campbell was amused by its originality, and resolved to answer the petitioner in the terms proposed. The letter ran thus :

DUNBAR, Nov. 7, 1814.

SIR,

Some invisible being whispers in my ear, “ Write a letter to the Author of The Pleasures of Hope.” “I am not acquainted with him, nor have I ever seen him; why, then, should I write ?” “ Do as you are de. sired," whispers the voice again. “I cannot do it," I replied, “I have got nothing to say. Were I in possession of a good estate, beautiful and romantic, I would give him an invitation to spend a few months with me, ask him to partake of the sports of the field, and give him an opportunity of composing a poem on the beauties, the comforts, and the hospitality of Kirkwood-hall. But, alas ! since that happiness is not mine, I have it not in my power to ask him. However, should I be so fortunate as ever to be in possession of such a place, I will then write and give him a kind invitation; and I hope that one day or other such a thing will be-how pleasing the thought! Thus hope keeps my spirits from falling; and is this not a pleasure derived from it ?” “Delay not a moment,” speaks the voice again, ã in writing to that admirable author; I command, and you must obey !” Now, sir, you see my writing to you is to fulfil the commands of—I do not know whom; pray can you tell me? Be who it may, I only ease my conscience by doing so. It would add much to my peace and comfort, would you take the trouble to acknowledge the receipt of this letter, and say that you are well! So farewell! May thy days be full of happiness, thy years many, and thy fame as an author handed down to the end of the world ! I am, &c.

: J- K- D, JR. The author of this ingenious stratagem was rewarded by the following prompt and courteous reply :

SYDENHAM, November 15, 1814.

SIR,

I received your letter the day before yesterday, in which, though we are personal 'strangers to each other, you send me your salve! and greet me with wishes of health and prosperity.. I am surely bound to thank you for a salutation, which seems the more kind from your being a stranger; and which can only

ÆT. 36.] UNKNOWN CORRESPONDENT-GODWIN. come from disinterested motives. In return to your inquiries, I can only say that I am almost as well, and as happy, as it is possible for frail man to be; and I am not the less happy to think that a remote stranger wishes me to be so. I cannot, indeed, from my knowledge of spirits--gray, black, or white-precisely give you the name and address of the little eccentric one, which prompted you to write to me; but I suppose it might be Robin Goodfellow; or, dropping all allusions to things out of this world, I might say that it was the “ frater-feeling," as Burns called it, of the human heart. Whoever you are, and whatever -for you cannot take it as a bad compliment that, as you do not describe yourself, I am addressing you as it were in the dark -whatever you are, receive my best wishes in return for yours; and, though you have no castles any more than myself— except those in the air, yet I am not less obliged to you for giving me a welcome, in imagination, to your villa and domain. Adieu! and believe me, &c.

T. C.*

Finding his literary concerns much in arrear at his return home, and confessing that his resolution " to make the pleasures of Paris subservient to study” had not been fully carried out, he now felt the necessity for redoubling his exertions; and, resuming the Specimens and Lectures, worked with so much industry that, in the course of a few weeks, he found a considerable balance in his favor, with some literary vantage-ground for the ensuing spring.

The year concluded with a dinner-party at Mr. Godwin's, to which he was invited in the following terms :

December 29. MY DEAR SIR,

In the familiar occasion of opening the new year on Saturday next, we expect a few friends whom you will not be displeased to meet, and among these a female stranger, who seems to me the very figure of a sylph walked out from the canvass of a capital master. Will you condescend, on that day, at four o'clock, to partake with us the philosophical fare of a boiled turkey with sylph-sauce ?-Faithfully yours,

W. GODWIN.

* These two letters are only introduced as examples of the good-natured familiarity, with which Campbell so often accommodated himself to the harmless whims and eccentricities of his correspondents."

Among the verses of this and the preceding year, are a few short pieces_epitaphs—not found in any edition of his poems. The first was suggested by a deplorable calamity in a private family, where Campbell was intimate; and the second by the death of a clerical friend, whom he regarded as a model of a Christian pastor. The sentiment they breathe is so consonant with all the Poet's better feelings, that the reader may not be displeased to see them in their original, though unfinished state :

In deep submission to the will above,

Yet with no common cause for human tears;
This stone to the lost Partner of his love,

And for his children lost, a mourner rears.
One fatal moment, one o'erwhelming doom,

Tore, threefold, from his heart the ties of earth :
His Mary, Margaret, in their early bloom,

And HER* who gave them life, and taught them worth.
Farewell, ye broken pillars of my fate!

My life's companion, and my two first-born;
Yet while this silent stone I consecrate,

To conjugal, paternal, love forlorn-
Oh, may each passer-by the lesson learn,

Which can alone the bleeding heart sustain,
Where friendship weeps at virtue's funeral urn-

That, to the pure in heart, To die is gain ! T. C.

II.
He pointed out to others, and he trod
Himself, the path to virtue and to God;
The Christian's practice and the preacher's zeal

His life united: many who have lost

Their friend, their pastor, mourn for him ; but most
The hearts that knew him nearest, deepest, feel.
And yet lamented spirit! we should ill
The sacred precepts of thy life fulfill,

*... “We looked to her (Mrs. Shute) as truly elevated, in the scale of beings, for the perfect charity of her heart. The universal feeling of lamentation for her, accords with the benign and simple-minded beauty of her character.”—Extract of a letter from Campbell.

+ These lines are engraved on a monument erected at Monkton Combe, Somerset, to the memory of Mrs. Shute, of Sydenham, and her two daughters, who were drowned at Chepstow, on Sunday, September 20. It is remarkable, that they had attended the Church on that day, and heard a sermon from Philippians, chap. i. verse 21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”-Note by T. C.

ÆT. 36.] EPITAPHS—THE GRAVESTONE.

47 Could we—thy mother and thy widowed wife

Consign thy much-loved relics to the dust

Unsolaced by this high and holy trust

There is another and a better life! * T. C. A. third piece, “ The Gravestone,” hastily written on a slip of waste paper, is too remarkable to be overlooked :

Man! shouldst thou fill the proudest throne,

And have mightiest deeds enacted,
Thither, like steel to th' magnet-stone,

Thou goest compelled-attracted !
The grave-stone-th' amulet of trouble-

Makes love a phantom seem-
Calls glory but a bubble,

And life itself a dream.
The grave 's a sealed letter,

That secrets shall reveal
Of a next world-worse or better

And the gravestone is the seal!
But the seal shall not be broken

Nor the letter's secrets read,
Till the last trump shall have spoken

To the living and the dead!... The correspondence of this year opens with a lively and characteristic letter to Mr. Alison :

“SYDENHAM, January 14, 1816. * Cold and weary with the tooth-ache, my dearest Alison, I return from our village chapel to enclose my accustomed certificate to you. “Eheu fugaces, Posthume! If you have not yet preached a sermon on the shortness of time, you may instance the rapid returns of the Poet Campbell's certificates for his pension, to prove the fleetness of its wings. . . . But, alas ! my dearest Alison, had I been doomed to hear you dissert on that subject, it would have been a comfort to me. But I have been doomed to hear a proser—with an east wind tormenting my rheumatic jaw, and nipping my toes--preach for two hours on the shortness of time; while I need hardly say that his sermon proved anything but his text! ... With sincerest affection, yours ever,

T. C.”

* Inscription for the monument of the Rev. Edward D.

Thus far we have followed the Poet through various alternations of light and shade-here, bright with fame, and soothed by the consolations of friendship; and there, struggling with unmerited difficulties. We are now to change the scene, and observe him under the influence of prosperity. Of the many discouragements he had met with in his career, some have been noticed, but more omitted, in these pages; for to have mentioned them as often as they occur in his letters and memoranda, would have been needlessly depressing and monotonous. He bore them with fortitude; but what rendered him less fit to cope with the many trials of life, was a delicate morbid sensibility, which aggravated every difficulty; and, to troubles, in themselves but slight and transitory, imparted a sense of acute mental suffering, that often induced serious bodily illness.

The most important event in his literary life was the grant of a pension, which had enabled him, since 1806, not only to continue, but to increase, the annuity to his mother and sisters. In the discharge of this pious duty, however, he had often to pay at the rate of twenty per cent. for cash; and if the merit of a good deed be weighed by the personal difficulties encountered in its performance, his conduct was highly meritorious. He never excused himself by saying that he had given hostages to the public; that he had heavy responsibilities and difficulties at home; but cheerfully taxed himself with extra labor to discharge these voluntary obligations. He was poor in the good things of the world, and could not give plenteously; but of the little he had, he did his diligence to give gladly of that little;" and where he gave, “he expected nothing in return.” So much selfdenying generosity excited among the few friends who were privy to it, feelings of sympathy and admiration; and in another quarter, where it was least expected, it happily awakened an interest which was now to operate with permanent advantage to the Poet and his family. Thus, even in a worldly sense, the good work received its recompense : “What he had sown he reaped fourfold;" " and gathered for himself a good reward in the day of necessity.” These facts will appear in the sequel ; but at the date of the previous letter, nothing had yet transpired to enliven his prospects, or relieve his present difficulties, unless perhaps, the hope, which originated with Mr. Roscoe, of trying a course of lectures in the provinces.

The event alluded to, and that which brought to Campbell the earnest of future independence, was the death of his Highland cousin, MacArthur Stewart, of Ascog, which occurred on

« ZurückWeiter »