Page images
PDF
EPUB

The artists form a class by themselves. Yet among them, though seeking special aims by special means, may also be found the lineaments of these two classes, as well as of the third, of which I am now to speak.

This is that of the thinking American,-a man who, recognizing the immense advantage of being born to a new world and on a virgin soil, yet does not wish one seed from the past to be lost. He is anxious to gather and carry back with him every plant that will bear a new climate and new culture. Some will dwindle; others will attain a bloom and stature unknown before. He wishes to gather them clean, free from noxious insects, and to give them a fair trial in his new world. And that he may know the conditions under which he may best place them in that new world, he does not neglect to study their history in this.

The history of our planet in some moments seems so painfully mean and little,—such terrible bafflings and failures to compensate some brilliant successes; such a crushing of the mass of men beneath the feet of a few, and these too often the least worthy; such a small drop of honey to each cup of gall, and in many cases so mingled that it is never one moment in life purely tasted; above all, so little achieved for humanity as a whole, such tides of war and pestilence intervening to blot out the traces of each triumph, — that no wonder if the strongest soul sometimes pauses aghast; no wonder if the many indolently console themselves with gross joys and frivolous prizes. Yes! those men are worthy of admiration, who can carry this cross faithfully through fifty years; it is a great while for all the agonies that beset a lover of good, a lover of men; it makes a soul worthy of a speedier ascent, a more productive ministry in the next sphere. Blessed are they who ever keep that portion of pure, generous love with which they began life! How blessed those who have deepened the fountains, and have enough to spare for the thirst of others! Some such there are; and feeling that, with all the excuses for failure, still only the sight of those who triumph gives a meaning to life or makes its pangs endura. ble, we must arise and follow.

A CHARACTER SKETCH OF CARLYLE

LETTER TO R. W. EMERSON

From Memoirs): Paris, — 1846 | ENJOYED the time extremely [in London]. I find myself much

in my element in European society. It does not indeed come

up to my ideal, but so many of the incumbrances are cleared away that used to weary me in America, that I can enjoy a freer play of faculty, and feel, if not like a bird in the air, at least as easy as a fish in water. . . .

Of the people I saw in London, you will wish me to speak first of the Carlyles. Mr. Carlyle came to see me at once, and appointed an evening to be passed at their house. That first time I was delighted with him. He was in a very sweet humor,- full of wit and pathos, without being overbearing or oppressive. I was quite carried away with the rich flow of his discourse; and the hearty, noble earnestness of his personal being brought back the charm which once was upon his writing, before I wearied of it. I admired his Scotch, his way of singing his great full sentences, so that each one was like the stanza of a narrative ballad. He let me talk, now and then, enough to free my lungs and change my position, so that I did not get tired. That evening he talked of the present state of things in England, giving light, witty sketches of the men of the day, fanatics and others, and some sweet, homely stories he told of things he had known of the Scotch peasantry. Of you he spoke with hearty kindness; and he told with beautiful feeling a story of some poor farmer or artisan in the country, who on Sunday lays aside the cark and care of that dirty English world, and sits reading the 'Essays) and looking upon the sea....

The second time, Mr. Carlyle had a dinner party, at which was a witty, French, flippant sort of a man, named Lewes, author of a History of Philosophy,' and now writing a life of Goethe, a task for which he must be as unfit as irreligion and sparkling shallowness can make him. But he told stories admirably, and was allowed sometimes to interrupt Carlyle a little,- of which one was glad, for that night he was in his acrid mood; and though much more brilliant than on the former evening, grew wearisome to me, who disclaimed and rejected almost everything he said. . . .

Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse, only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men,happily not one invariable or inevitable, — that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority,raising his voice and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance in his thoughts. But it is the impulse of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse, as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase.

Carlyle indeed is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness, no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror; it is his nature, and the untamable impulse that has given him power to crush the dragons. He sings rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally catching up, near the beginning, some singular epithet which serves as a refrain when his song is full, or with which, as with a knitting-needle, he catches up the stitches, if he has chanced now and then to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd. He sometimes stops a minute to laugh at it himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor; for all the spirits he is driving before him as Fata Morgana, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about; but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels. His talk, like his books, is full of pictures; his critical strokes masterly. Allow for his point of view, and his survey is admirable. He is a large subject. I cannot speak more or wiselier of him now, nor needs it; his works are true, to blame and praise him, - the Siegfried of England, great and powerful, if not quite in vulnerable, and of a might rather to destroy evil than legislate for

good.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

THE fragrance which surrounds the writings of Thomas Fuller S seems blended of his wit, his quaint worldliness, his sweet

lo and happy spirit. The after-glow of the dazzling day of Shakespeare and his brotherhood rests upon the pages of this divine. In Fuller the world -spirit of the Elizabethan dramatists becomes urbanity, the mellow humor of the dweller in the town. Too well satisfied with the kindly comforts of life to agonize over humanity and the eternal problems of existence, Fuller, although a Church of England clergyman, was no less a cavalier at heart than the most jaunty follower of King Charles. He had not the intensity of nature which characterizes the theologian by the grace of God. His Holy and Profane State, his "Good Thoughts in Bad Times,' and (Good Thoughts in Worse Times,' evidence a comfortable and reasonable reliance on the Unseen; but they will not be read for their spiritual insight so much as for their well-seasoned and delightful English. That quaint and fragrant style of his lends charm even to those pas

THOMAS FULLER sages in which his thought is commonplace.

It is in Thomas Fuller the historian and biographer, that posterity recognizes a man of marked intellectual power. His scholarship is exhibited in such a work as the Church History of Britain'; his peculiar faculty for happy description in the Worthies of England.' Fuller was fitted by temperament and training to be a recorder of his own country and countrymen. His life was spent upon his island; his love was fastened upon its places and its people. Born the same year as Milton, 1608, the son of a clergyman of the same name as his own, he was from boyhood both a scholar and an observer of men and things. His education at Cambridge fostered his love of books.

His subsequent incumbency of various comfortable livings afforded him opportunities for close acquaintance with the English world of his day, and especially with its “gentry.” By birth, education, and inclination, Fuller was an aristocrat. During the civil war he took the side of King Charles, to whose stately life and mournful death he has devoted the last volume of his great work, the History of

X1—384

[graphic]

the Church of Britain.' Under the Protectorate, the genial priest and man of the world found himself in an alien atmosphere. Like many others in Anglican orders, he was silenced” by the sour Puritan authorities, but was permitted to preach again in London by the grace of Cromwell. He was subsequently appointed chaplain to Charles II., but did not live long after the Restoration, dying of a fever in 1661.

An early instance of modern scholarship is found in the histories written by Thomas Fuller. Being by nature an antiquarian, he was not inclined to find his material at second hand. He went back always to the earliest sources for his historical data. It is this fact which gives their permanent value to the History of the Church of Britain and to the History of the Holy War. These works bear witness to wide and patient research, to a thorough sifting of material. The antiquarian spirit displayed in them loses some of its scholarly dignity, and takes on the social humor of the gossip, in the (Worthies of England. Fuller's other writings may be of more intrinsic value, but it is through the Worthies that he is remembered and loved. The book is rich in charm. It is as quaint as an ancient Aower garden, where blooms of every sort grow in lavish tangle. He considers the counties of England, one by one, telling of their physical characteristics, of their legends, of their proverbs, of the princely children born in them, of the other «Worthies ” — scholars, soldiers, and saints — who have shed lustre upon them. Fuller gathered his material for this variegated record from every quarter of his beloved little island. As a chaplain in the Cavalier army, he had many opportunities of visiting places and studying their people. As an incumbent of country parishes, he would listen to the ramblings of the old women of the hamlets, for the sake of discovering in their talk some tradition of the country-side, or some quaint bit of folk-lore. He writes of the strange, gay, sad lives of princely families as familiarly as he writes of the villagers and townsfolk. Sometimes an exquisite tenderness lies like light upon his record, as in this, of the little Princess Anne, daughter to Charles I.:

She was a very pregnant lady above her years, and died in her infancy, when not fully four years old. Being minded by those about her to call upon God even when the pangs of death were upon her, “I am not able,” saith she, «to say my long prayer » (meaning the Lord's Prayer), “but I will say my short one, Lighten mine eyes, O Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death.) » This done, the little lamb gave up the ghost.

Because of passages like these, Thomas Fuller will always be numbered among those writers who, irrespective of their rank in the world of letters, awaken a deep and lasting affection in the hearts of their readers.

« PreviousContinue »