Imágenes de páginas

with Agassiz, that nobility in dog nature is as immortal as it is in the human soul. Doctor Brown's essays appear in «Horæ Subsecivæ » (two volumes) and in «John Leech and Other Papers.” He loved what was simple, true, and unpretentious, and his work is never likely to go out of favor.


I JE HAVE seen no satisfactory portrait of Mr. Thackeray. We V like the photographs better than the prints; and we have

an old daguerreotype of him without his spectacles which is good; but no photograph can give more of a man than there is in any one ordinary — often very ordinary - look of him; it is only Sir Joshua and his brethren who can paint a man liker than himself. Lawrence's first drawing has much of his thoroughbred look, but the head is too much tossed up and vif. The photograph from the later drawing by the same hand we like better; he is alone, and reading with his book close up to his eyes. This gives the prodigious size and solidity of his head, and the sweet mouth. We have not seen that by Mr. Watts, but if it is as full of power and delicacy as his Tennyson, it will be a com. fort.

Though in no sense a selfish man, he had a wonderful interest in himself as an object of study, and nothing could be more delightful and unlike anything else than to listen to him on himself. He often draws his own likeness in his books. In the “Fraserians,” by Maclise, in Fraser, is a slight sketch of him in his unknown youth; and there is an excessively funny and not unlike extravaganza of him by Doyle or Leech, in the Month, a little short-lived periodical, edited by Albert Smith. He is rep. resented lecturing, when certainly he looked his best.

The foregoing estimate of his genius must stand instead of any special portraiture of the man. Yet we would mention two leading traits of character traceable, to a large extent, in his works, though finding no appropriate place in a literary criticism of them. One was the deep steady melancholy of his nature. He was fond of telling how on one occasion at Paris he found himself in a great crowded salon; and looking from the one end across the sea of heads, being in Swift's place of calm in a crowd, he saw at the other end a strange visage staring at him

with an expression of comical woebegoneness. After a little he found that this rueful being was himself in the mirror. He was not, indeed, morose. He was alive to and thankful for every-day blessings, great and small; for the happiness of home, for friendship, for wit and music, for beauty of all kinds, for the pleasures of the « faithful old gold pen”; now running into some felicitous expression, now playing itself into some droll initial letter; nay, even for the creature comforts. But his persistent state, especially for the latter half of his life, was profoundly morne,– there is no other word for it. This arose in part from temperament, from a quick sense of the littleness and wretchedness of mankind. His keen perception of the meanness and vulgarity of the realities around him contrasted with the ideal present to his mind could produce no other effect. This feeling, embittered by disappointment, acting on a harsh and savage nature, ended in the sæva indignatio of Swift; acting on the kindly and too sensitive nature of Mr. Thackeray, it led only to compassionate sad. ness. In part, too, this melancholy was the result of private calamities. He alludes to these often in his writings, and a knowledge that his sorrows were great is necessary to the per. fect appreciation of much of his deepest pathos. We allude to them here, painful as the subject is, mainly because they have given rise to stories, - some quite untrue, some even cruelly injurious. The loss of his second child in infancy was always an abiding sorrow,- described in the “Hoggarty Diamond,” in a passage of surpassing tenderness, too sacred to be severed from its context. A yet keener and more constantly present affliction was the illness of his wife. He married her in Paris when he was “mewing his mighty youth,” preparing for the great career which awaited him. One likes to think on these early days of happiness, when he could draw and write with that loved companion by his side; he has himself sketched the picture: «The humblest painter, be he ever so poor, may have a friend watching at his easel, or a gentle wife sitting by with her work in her lap, and with fond smiles or talk or silence cheering his labors.” After some years of marriage, Mrs. Thackeray caught a fever, brought on by imprudent exposure at a time when the effects of such ailments are more than usually lasting both on the system and the nerves. She never afterwards recovered so as to be able to be with her husband and children. But she has been from the first intrusted to the good offices of a kind family, tenderly cared for, surrounded with every comfort by his unwearied affection. The beautiful lines in the ballad of the Bouillabaisse » are well known:

«Ah me! how quick the days are Aitting!

I mind me of a time that's gone,
When here I'd sit as now I'm sitting,

In this same place, – but not alone.
A fair young form was nestled near me,

A dear, dear face looked fondly up,
And sweetly spoke and smiled to cheer me,

- There's no one now to share my cup.”

In one of the latest Roundabouts we have this touching confession; "I own for my part that, in reading pages which this hand penned formerly, I often lose sight of the text under my eyes. It is not the words I see, but that past day; that bygone page of life's history; that tragedy, comedy it may be, which our little home-company was enacting; that merry-making which we shared; that funeral which we followed; that bitter, bitter grief which we buried.” But all who knew him well, love to recall how these sorrows were soothed and his home made a place of happiness by his two daughters and his mother, who were his perpetual companions, delights, and blessings, and whose feeling of inestimable loss now will be best borne and comforted by remembering how they were everything to him, as he was to them.

His sense of a higher Power, his reverence and godly fear, is felt more than expressed – as indeed it mainly should always be

- in everything he wrote. It comes out at times quite suddenly, and stops at once, in its full strength. We could readily give many instances of this. One we give, as it occurs very early, when he was probably little more than six-and-twenty; it is from the paper, « Madam Sand and the New Apocalypse.” Referring to Heinrich Heine's frightful words, “Dieu qui se meurt,Dieu est mort,” and to the godlessness of Spiridion, he thus bursts out: « O awful, awful name of God! Light unbearable! mystery unfathomable! vastness immeasurable! Who are these who come forward to explain the mystery, and gaze unblinking into the depths of the light, and measure the immeasurable vastness to a hair ? O name that God's people of old did fear to utter! O light that God's prophet would have perished had he seen! who are these now so familiar with it? In ordinary intercourse the same sudden «Te Deum” would occur, always brief and intense, like lightning from a cloudless heaven; he seemed almost ashamed, - not of it, but of his giving it expression.

We cannot resist here recalling one Sunday evening in December, when he was walking with two friends along the Dean road, to the west of Edinburgh, - one of the noblest outlets to any city. It was a lovely evening, — such a sunset as one never forgets; a rich dark bar of cloud hovered over the sun, going down behind the Highland hills, lying bathed in amethystine bloom; between this cloud and the hills, there was a narrow slip of the pure ether, of a tender cowslip color, lucid as if it were the very body of heaven in its clearness; every object standing out as if etched upon the sky. The northwest end of Corstorphine Hill, with its trees and rocks, lay in the heart of this pure radiance, and there a wooden crane, used in the quarry below, was so placed as to assume the figure of a cross; there it was, unmistakable, lifted up against the crystalline sky. All three gazed at it silently. As they gazed, he gave utterance in a tremulous, gentle, and rapid voice, to what all were feeling, in the word « Calvary! » The friends walked on in silence and then turned to other things. All that evening he was very gentle and serious, speaking as he seldom did of divine things,- of death, of sin, of eternity, of salvation; expressing his simple faith in God and in his Savior.

There is a passage at the close of the Roundabout paper, No. XXIII., De Finibus, in which a sense of the ebb of life is very marked: the whole paper is like a soliloquy. It opens with a drawing of Mr. Punch, with unusually mild eyes, retiring for the night; he is putting out his high-heeled shoes, and before disappearing gives a wistful look into the passage, as if bidding it and all else good-night. He will be in bed, his candle out, and in darkness, in five minutes, and his shoes found next morn. ing at his door, the little potentate all the while in his final sleep. The whole paper is worth the most careful study; it reveals not a little of his real nature, and unfolds very curiously the secret of his work, the vitality and abiding power of his own creations; how he “invented a certain Costigan, out of scraps, heel taps, odds and ends of characters,” and met the original the other day, without surprise, in a tavern parlor. The following is beautiful: «Years ago I had a quarrel with a certain well-known person (I believed a statement regarding him which his friends imparted to me, and which turned out to be quite incorrect). To his dying day that quarrel was never quite made up. I said to his brother: Why is your brother's soul still dark against me? It is I who ought to be angry and unforgiving, for I was in the wrong.)» Odisse quem læseris was never better contravened. But what we chiefly refer to now is the profound pensiveness of the following strain, as if written with a presentiment of what was not then very far off: “Another Finis written; another milestone on this journey from birth to the next world. Sure it is a subject for solemn cogitation. Shall we continue this story. telling business, and be voluble to the end of our age? Will it not be presently time, O prattler, to hold your tongue?” And thus he ends:

“Oh, the sad old pages, the dull old pages; oh, the cares, the ennui, the squabbles, the repetitions, the old conversations over and over again! But now and again a kind thought is recalled, and now and again a dear memory. Yet a few chapters more, and then the last; after which, behold Finis itself comes to an end, and the Infinite begins.”

He sent the proof of this paper to his dear neighbors,” in Onslow Square, to whom he owed so much almost daily pleasure, with his corrections, the whole of the last paragraph in manuscript, and above a first sketch of it also in manuscript, which is fuller and more impassioned. His fear of “enthusiastic writing” had led him, we think, to sacrifice something of the sacred power of his first words, which we give with its interlineations:

«Another Finis, another slice of life which Tempus edax has devoured! And I may have to write the word once or twice perhaps, and then an end of Ends. Oh, the troubles, the cares, the ennui, the disputes, the repetitions, the old conversations over and over again, and here and there, and oh! the delightful passages, the dear, the brief, the forever remembered! A few chapters more, and then the last, and then behold Finis itself coming to an end and the Infinite beginning ! »

How like music this, — like one trying the same air in different ways; as it were, searching out and sounding all its depths. «The dear, the brief, the forever remembered"; these are like a bar out of Beethoven, deep and melancholy as the sea! He had been suffering on Sunday from an old and cruel enemy. He fixed with his friend and surgeon to come again on Tuesday; but

« AnteriorContinuar »