« PreviousContinue »
How happy he who crowns, in shades like these,
His heaven commences ere the world be past.” It is with such exquisite words upon its lips, with such sweet music ringing in its ears, with such calm sentiment in its soul, that the First Cycle of English Song passes away to its rest. The above passage may be taken almost as the epitaph of its Old Age. In the poets and the poetry with whom we have been dealing, it may truly be said to bend to the earth with unperceived decay. Indeed, decay there is none. The strain dies away like the sound of a piece of music, growing softer, gentler, sweeter at the close. Another period is coming, when it will not be appreciated ; for whenever did Youth appreciate Old Age? With the French Revolution the European World took a fresh start and was born anew; and since then we have heard some strange judgments passed on epochs which preceded it. But just as it is said, " When you are young, consort with the old: when you are old, consort with the young ;” so do we say to the writers of a generation which has the faults of youth, “Consort with the poets of the Old Age of the first finished Cycle of English Song; for they wil teach
you what even your genius will not enable you to discover for yourselves, since your genius is of a wholly different cast. Read Dryden, Pope, Gray, Goldsmith, morning, noon, and night; not that you may learn to write like them, but that at least you may learn how well they wrote; that you may recognise in them your elders, if not your betters, and that you may temper the shapeless fervour of your vague imaginations in the sober atmosphere of their measured thoughts and almost faultless diction. Admire the sunrise of English poetry, by all means ; exult in its meridian splendour; but do not be unjust to its unclouded setting because another day has risen for you over the horizon, whose end has not yet come, but whose decline can by no possibility be more lustrous and serene.
" Ju the Interests of Science.”
By R. II. D. BARHAM.
You ask me, my dear Ned, if life at W— wasn't uncommon dull." I forbear to dwell on the ungrammatical form of the question, and reply to the spirit. Life at W- was by no means dull. The character of daily events was certainly tame, the order in which they moved regular, not to say monotonous; but to one who has eyes to see and ears to hear, life can never be dull, especially life in the country. You take a walk in the fields, and objects are presented to you innumerable, and works are being wrought around you on every side possessed of sufficient interest, provided you have the wit to notice and the patience to examine them, to perplex or amuse, enliven or sadden, quite as effectually as the most sensational of Mr. Mudie's novels.
Let me relate by way of example a little drama in which, a short time ago, I was led to play rather an unworthy part. It was but a poor affair, involving only the happiness of a couple of very insignificant creatures indeed, but a lesson may be learnt from it all
One burning afternoon in August last I had been strolling in a dreamy, purposeless way beneath the shade of some enormous beechtrees in a retired portion of W— Park. It was a favourite haunt of the deer, being one of the few spots in that domain tolerably free from intrusion, and it was not without a certain consciousness of impertinence that I had broken in upon their privacy. They had retreated with angry looks of protest; and after an hour's enjoyment of the utter solitude in which they left me I was thinking of extending my walk, and was considering whether I dare face the blazing sun that lit up the scene beyond the precincts of my fortress, when my attention was attracted by the movement of some small animal in the long grass before me.
What it was I could not tell.
“It is not,” quoth I, “ quick enough for a weazel or a rat; the brown is of too rich a tint for a hedgehog ; its action is too halting and too awkward for a leveret ;-can't be a cub?" And sunstroke or no sunstroke, I went forth to clear up the mystery. It was a squirrel; nothing better than a trumpery specimen of the Sciurus vulgaris.
But then it was not a squirrel pure and simple. It was a squirrel in difficulties, an embarrassed squirrel, a squirrel with an encumbrance. And I again stepped on to ascertain the nature of its impedimenta. The interesting little rodent made for the stem of an aged thorn hard by, and as it ran up with more caution and less speed than I believed to be the common habit of squirrels, I discovered that it was carrying in its mouth a younger member of the family, a Sciurulus, suspended by the neck. The lesser animal seemed perfectly content with the proceeding, and made no sort of objection to the unpleasantness, as I should take it to have been, of the position which it occupied. But these things are wholly matters of taste, and after all hanging may not be an operation so exceedingly disagreeable as people in general suppose.
Having attained a coign of vantage in the tree, where this variety of the Sciuridæ is more at home than on the ground, the elder squirrel sat herself up, released the infant from her teeth, and, with her tiny paws crossed upon its back, pressed it tenderly and protectingly as it were to her bosom, while the younger one, in the most natural way in the world, clasped her mother round the neck. No mamma in Belgravia-if it is the habit of Belgravian mammas to nurse their children-could, with all the accessories of lace and white satin, have assumed a more graceful attitude.
It was a touching sight, and I stayed to gaze on it with admiration. The little pair on their part looked inquiringly at me with soft wistful eyes, hoping evidently that such a very superior being as I must needs be would leave them in peace, and not think it worth his while to interfere with their humble domestic arrangements. And my first thought was, I assure you, to do this thing—to relieve them at once of my undesirable presence. But then came the second thought, the thought which gentlemen of experience tell us with great self-complacency is the best thought. Ah! believe not the maxim. It is a mean and a lying one. If there be anything pure, anything holy, anything divine left in this broken nature of ours it speaks out at cnce, speaks in the first thought, feebly it may be, but generously and nobly, regardless of consequences, indifferent to self. But the second thought is the cautious thought, begotten by cold calculation, having a sharp eye to business—the selfish, sinful thought, prompted by Diabolus.
And Diabolus, as is usual in these cases, was at my elbow at an instant to back his suggestion.
“ Better examine them a little more closely,” said he with an easy air,“ observe their form, watch their movements, take note of their habits; they are particularly well worth studying. It is all in the interests of science, you know.”
I advanced a step. Maternal instinct took the alarm immediately; and seizing her little one again with her teeth, the squirrel ascended to the summit of the white-thorn. Even this position was not sufficiently secure to inspire perfect confidence, especially as the tree was isolated save on one side. There was, however, a single lateral branch which, reaching out several feet from the parent trunk, met, or all but met, in friendly contact a corresponding limb of a brother May-tree of much larger size. Once amid its sheltering foliage, and all danger was at an end. The giant beeches could easily be regained, and from them not all the queen's horses and all the queen's men, barring the assistance of those villainous guns, could dislodge the fugitives. The distance was really nothing—a mere hop-skip-anda-jump for a squirrel in 'average condition-but then the baby! Peruvian Rolla, if my recollection serves, jumps across a chasm with Cora's child upon his arm. But jumping with a baby in one's mouth! I never tried it, certainly, but should think jumping in a sack a mere joke to it.
The poor little frightened thing evidently had misgivings herself. She ran out towards her city of refuge, and stopped to look back at me; again advanced, and again paused as the twig bent beneath her weight; and then, urged by terror, made a desperate effort to accomplish the leap. She was so far successful as to clear the space herself, but, loosed from her hold in the struggle, her little one fell to the ground at my feet! The mother gave one shrill, sharp cry, and then watched eagerly and motionless the course of events. There can be no sort of doubt about it, I ought at once, as a gentleman, to have made my bow, and taken my leave.
“Nonsense !” said Diabolus ; “there can be no harm in just looking at the animal. It is really very pretty.”
“I will be very gentle with it,” quoth I, and I stooped to pick up the little creature which was vainly endeavouring to conceal itself in the long grass. The mother's agony as I raised it in my hand became intense. She ran in short, spasmodic starts from branch to branch, uttering a low moaning wail, interrupted by a sort of chirruping, which I took to be Sciurian baby-language, addressed, probably by way of encouragement, to the infant itself.
The latter looked up into my face with a half-confident, half-timid expression, as though it would say, "I am very small and very harmless. I am sure you don't mean to kill me."
“Kill you ?" I repeated. “I would not kill you for the world! Pray, my dear madam, be at ease; you shall have your baby in a moment."
“Of course you would not kill it," whispered Diabolus in my ear; “it is far too interesting an animal to be killed. But why not carry it carefully home, put it into a nice cage, and teach it to work the treadmill ? You can study it at your leisure—all in the interests of science, as I observed before. And then, what a pretty pet it would make for Mrs. B-!"
* The interests of science ?" I repeated. Well, yes, there is something in that."
"Something in that! I should think so. Why, it is the most important consideration in the world !” exclaimed Diabolus.
“You wouldn't be such a brute !" thundered Conscience. I was brought to my bearings in an instant.
“ Most decidedly not,” I answered ; "the interests of science beVade retro Sathanas !"
“Oh, certainly, if you desire it; but, remember, you may do worse than adopt my suggestion. Au revoir !”
Determined not to give the adversary another opportunity, and conscious that I had already trifled overmuch with the feelings of the unfortunate pair, I advanced to the white-thorn from which the little creature had fallen. And here was my sad mistake. I ought simply to have replaced it upon the grass, as near as might be to the spot whence I had taken it. The mother would have recovered her offspring in a few minutes, and there would have been an end of her trouble--and of mine. But, alas ! with an inconsiderate officiousness, a fussy zeal, against which Talleyrand's wise counsel should have warned me, I sought to expedite matters by putting my captive into a snug hollow of the tree, where the branches diverged from the trunk. I could not see the cavity ; it was situated at a height too great for that; but I could, when standing on tiptoe, just feel with the ends of my fingers a sort of mossy nest, and into this I carefully dropped the baby squirrel.
I then retired to watch the happiness of the approaching reunion. The mother, all this time, had been uneasily running to and fro just above my head, coming as near to me as she dared venture, and uttering the low soft wail broken by the chirruping of which I have spoken. As soon as I departed she made straight for the spot where I had deposited her young one; but overrunning the mark descended the trunk, clinging to the rough bark, and peering about in every direction, till she reached the foot. Right and left she hunted across the grass, quartering her ground like an experienced pointer. Then back again to the tree, circling the stem, and passing a second time over the very nook in which I had placed her treasure. Out she ran on one branch, dropping to another, springing upon a third, her restless little head spying in every direction, her wail growing more despairing in its tone-and all to no purpose.
They are a couple of noodles,” quoth I. Perhaps my presence flurries them; I will go away altogether.”
And away I went. I would not, however, rest content in uncertainty, so after the space of about a quarter of an hour I returned to