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in Folio. The Octavo editions are painful to look at. I have no sympathy with them. If they were as much read as the current editions of the other poet, I should prefer them in that shape to the older one. I do not know a more heartless sight than the reprint of the Anatomy of Melancholy. What need was there of unearthing the bones of that fantastic old great man, to expose them in a winding-sheet of the newest fashion to modern censure? what hapless stationer could dream of Burton ever becoming popular? — The wretched Malone could not do worse, when he bribed the sexton of Stratford church to let him white-wash the painted effigy of old Shakspeare, which stood there, in rude but lively fashion depicted, to the very colour of the cheek, the eye, the eye-brow, hair, the very dress he used to wear—the only authentic testimony we had, however imperfect, of these curious parts and parcels of him. They covered him over with a coat of white paint. By , if I had been a justice of peace for Warwickshire, I would have clapt both commentator and sexton fast in the stocks, for a pair of meddling sacrilegious varlets.
I think I see them at their work—these sapient trouble-tombs.
Shall I be thought fantastical, if I confess, that the names of some of our poets sound sweeter, and have a finer relish to the ear — to mine, at least— than that of Milton or of Shakspeare? It may be, that the latter are more staled and rung upon in common discourse. The sweetest names, and which carry a perfume in the mention, are, Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley.
Much depends upon when and where you read a book. In the five or six impatient minutes, before the dinner is quite ready, who would think of taking up the Fairy Queen for a stop-gap, or a volume of Bishop Andrewes' sermons?
Milton almost requires a solemn service of music to be played before you enter upon him. But he brings his music, to which, who listens, had need bring docile thoughts, and purged ears.
Winter evenings — the world shut out — with less of ceremony the gentle Shakspeare enters. At such a season, the Tempest, or his own Winter's Tale—
These two poets you cannot avoid reading aloud —to yourself, or (as it chances) to some single person listening. More than one— and it degenerates into an audience.
Books of quick interest, that hurry on for incidents, are for the eye to glide over only. It will not do to read them out. I could never listen to even the better kind of modern novels without extreme irksomeness.
A newspaper, read out, is intolerable. In some of the Bank offices it is the custom (to save so much individual time) for one of the clerks — who is the best scholar — to commence upon the Times, or the Chronicle, and recite its entire contents aloud pro bono publico. With every advantage of lungs and elocution, the effect is singularly vapid. In barbers' shops and public-houses a fellow will get up, and spell out a paragraph, which he communicates as some discovery. Another follows with his selection. So the entire journal transpires at length by piece-meal. Seldom-readers are slow readers, and, without this expedient no one in the company would probably ever travel through the contents of a whole paper.
Newspapers always excite curiosity. No one ever lays one down without a feeling of disappointment.
What an eternal time that gentleman in black, at Nando's, keeps the paper! I am sick of hearing the waiter bawling out incessantly, "the Chronicle is in hand, Sir."
Coming in to an inn at night — having ordered your supper — what can be more delightful than to find lying in the window-seat, left there time out of mind by the carelessness of some former guest —two or three numbers of the old Town and Country Magazine, with its amusing tite-a-tite
pictures—" The Royal Lover and Lady G;"
"The Melting Platonic and the old Beau," — and such like antiquated scandal? Would you exchange it — at that time, and in that place — for a better book?
Poor Tobin, who latterly fell blind, did not regret it so much for the weightier kinds of reading —the Paradise Lost, or Comus, he could have read to him— but he missed the pleasure of skimming over with his own eye a magazine, or a light pamphlet.
I should not care to be caught in the serious avenues of some cathedral alone, and reading Candide.
I do not remember a more whimsical surprise than having been once detected —by a familiar damsel — reclined at my ease upon the grass, on Primrose Hill (her Cythera), reading — Pamela. There was nothing in the book to make a man seriously ashamed at the exposure; but as she seated herself down by me, and seemed determined to read in company, I could have wished it had been— any other book. We read on very sociably for a few pages; and, not finding the author much to her taste, she got up, and—went away. Gentle casuist, I leave it to thee to conjecture, whether the blush (for there was one between us) was the property of the nymph or the swain in this dilemma. From me you shall never get the secret.
I am not much a friend to out-of-doors reading. I cannot settle my spirits to it. I knew a Unitarian minister, who was generally to be seen upon Snow-hill (as yet Skinner's-street was not), between the hours of ten and eleven in the morning, studying a volume of Lardner. I own this to have been a strain of abstraction beyond my reach. I used to admire how he sidled along, keeping clear of secular contacts. An illiterate encounter with a porter's knot, or a bread basket, would have quickly put to flight all the theology I am master of, and have left me worse than indifferent to the five points.
There is a class of street-readers, whom I can never contemplate without affection — the poor gentry, who, not having wherewithal to buy or hire a