Theodore Hook (1788-1841), author.
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career of Edgar A. Poe is not without its counterpart in English
literary biography. Johnson, in his painful memoir of Savage,
has told a similar story of genius and misfortune, or rather genius
and misconduct; for it is a mistake to suppose that the possession
of genius in any way conduces to misfortune, except through the
misconduct of its possessor. Poetry and a garret used at one
time to be identified; but life in a garret may be as noble as life
in a palace, and a great deal purer. As Sir Walter Raleigh
once wrote in the little dungeon in the Tower, still pointed out as
the place of his confinement,—
"My mind to me a kingdom is!"
It is the mind that makes the man, and not the place—call it a
hovel, a garret, or a palace —in which the body lives. Even Johnson
has summed up the ills of the scholar's life in these words: "Toil,
envy, want, the patron, and the jail." But Johnson, doubtless,
bitterly remembered the day when he signed himself Impransus,
or Dinnerless, and received the anonymous alms of a pair of
shoes. Johnson must have been in one of his ungenial moods when he
penned those bitter words.
The fate of Chatterton, also, was a hapless one. Proud, impulsive,
ardent, and full of genius, like Poe, his career was short, unhappy,
and mournfully concluded. That of Otway, the author of "Venice
Preserved," who perished for want of bread, also springs to mind. Nor are other equally mournful examples a-wanting, which it would be
painful to relate. These instances are apt to be dwelt upon too
much, and cited from time to time as illustrations of the unhappy
lot of genius; whereas they are merely exceptional cases, not at all
characteristic of literary men in general.
Poets and authors are often charged with being improvident, as a
rule. But are there no improvident lawyers, divines, merchants, and
shopkeepers? The case of Theophilus Cibber is sometimes cited, who
begged a guinea and spent it on a dish of ortolans; and perhaps of
poor Goldsmith, who, when preserved from a jail by the money
received for "The Vicar of Wakefield," forthwith celebrated the
circumstance by a jollification with his landlady. But authors have
their weaknesses and their frailties, like other men; and some of
them are drunken, and some improvident, as other men are. As a
class, however, they are neither generally improvident nor out at
elbows. But we are usually disposed to think much more of the "calamities of authors" than we do of the calamities of other men. A
hundred bankers might break, and ten thousand merchants ruin
themselves by their improvidence, but none would think it worth
their while to record such events in books; nor, except as a mere
matter of news for living men, would any one care to read of such
occurrences. But how different in the case of a poet! Biographers
eagerly seize the minutest matter of detail in the history of a man
of genius. Johnson tells us the story of Savage, Southey relates the
career of Chatterton, Cunningham recounts the life of Burns, and
every tittle of their history is carefully gathered up and published
for the information of contemporary and future readers.
The late Thomas Hood, in one of his prose works, little known, well
"Literary men, as a body, will bear comparison in point of conduct
with any other class. It must not be forgotten that they are
subjected to an ordeal quite peculiar, and scarcely milder than the
Inquisition. The lives of literary men are proverbially barren of
incident, and consequently the most trivial particulars, the most
private affairs, are unceremoniously worked up, to furnish matter
for their bald biographies. Accordingly, as soon as an author is
defunct, his character is submitted to a sort of Egyptian post
mortem trial; or rather, a moral inquest, with Paul Pry for the
coroner, and a judge of assize, a commissioner of bankrupts, a Jew
broker, a Methodist parson, a dramatic licenser, a dancing-master, a
master of the ceremonies, a rat-catcher, a bone-collector, a parish
clerk, a schoolmaster, and a reviewer, for a jury. It is the
province of these personages to rummage, ransack, scrape together,
rake up, ferret out, sniff, detect, analyze, and appraise, all
particulars of the birth, parentage, and education, life, character,
and behaviour, breeding, accomplishments, opinions, and literary
performances of the departed. Secret drawers are searched, private
and confidential letters published, manuscripts intended for the
fire are set up in type, tavern-bills and washing-bills are compared
with their receipts, copies of writs re-copied, inventories taken of
effects, wardrobe ticked off by the tailor's accounts, bygone toys
of youth—billets-doux, snuff-boxes, canes—exhibited,—discarded
hobby-horses are trotted out,—perhaps even a dissecting surgeon is
called in to draw up a minute report of the state of the corpse and
its viscera; in short, nothing is spared that can make an item for
the clerk to insert in his memoir. Outrageous as it may seem, this
is scarcely an exaggeration. For example, who will dare to say that
we do not know at this very hour more of Goldsmith's affairs than he
ever did himself? It is rather wonderful than otherwise, that the
literary character should shine out as it does after such a severe
It is not enough, however, that literary men will bear comparison in
point of conduct with any other class. We think the public are
entitled to expect more than this; and to apply to them the words,
"Of those to whom much is given, much shall be required." They are
men of the highest culture, and ought to be men of the highest
character. As influencing the minds and morals of all readers,—and
the world is daily looking more and more to the books which men of
genius write, for instruction,—they ought to cultivate in themselves
a high standard of character,—the very highest standard of
character,—in order that those who study and contemplate them in
their books may be lifted and lighted up by their example. At all
events, we think the public are not over-exacting when they require
that the great gifts with which the leading minds among men have
been endowed shall not be prostituted for unworthy purposes, nor
employed for merely selfish and venial ends. Genius is a great gift,
and ought to be used wisely and uprightly for the elevation of the
moral character and the advancement of the intelligence of the world
at large. If not so employed, genius and talent may be a curse to
their possessor, and not a blessing to others,—they may even be a
fountain of bitterness and woe, spreading moral poison throughout
We do not say that Theodore Hook was an author of this latter class;
but we do think that a perusal of his life, as written by one of his
own friends and admirers, [p.349]
cannot fail to leave on the reader's mind the impression, that here
was a man gifted with the finest powers, in whom genius proved a
traitor to itself, and false to its high mission. With shining
abilities, a fine intellect, sparkling wit, and great capacity for
work, Hook seemed to have no higher ambition in life than to sit as
an ornament at the tables of the great,—to buzz about their candles,
and consume himself for their merriment and diversion. In the houses
of titled men, who kept fine company and gave great dinners, he did
but play the part of the licensed wit and jester,—wearing the livery
of his as entertainers, not on his person, indeed, but in his soul;
bartering the birthright of his superior intellect for a mess of
pottage,—as Douglas Jerrold has said, "a mess of pottage served up
at a lord's table in a lord's platter."
Theodore Hook was the son of a musical composer of some note in his
day, [p.350] and born in Bedford Square, London, in 1788. He had an only
brother, James, who afterwards became Dean of Worcester, and whose
son, Dr. Hook, Dean of Chichester, survives to do honour to the
talents and reputation of the family. Theodore was, in early life,
petted by his father, who regarded him as a prodigy. He was sent to
school at Harrow, where he was the school-fellow of Byron and Peel,
though not in the same form. But on the death of his mother, Mr.
Hook took the boy from school, partly because he found his society
an amusing solace, and also because he had discovered that he could
turn the youth's precocious talents to profitable account. Already,
at the age of fourteen, Theodore could play expertly on the piano,
and sing pathetic as well as comic songs with remarkable expression.
One evening he enchanted the father especially by singing, to his
own accompaniment, two new ballads, one grave and one gay. Whence
the airs,—whence the words? It turned out that the verses and the
music were both Theodore's own! Here was a mine for the veteran
artist to work! Hitherto he had been forced to borrow his words: now
the whole manufacture might be done at home. So young Hook was taken
into partnership with his father, at the age of sixteen; and
straightway became a precocious man, admired of musicians and
players, the friends and boon companions of his father. Several of
his songs "took" on the stage, and he became the pet of the
green-room. Night after night he hung about the theatres, with the
privilege of admission before the curtain and behind it. Popular
actors laughed at his jokes, and pretty actresses would have their
bouquets banded to them by nobody but Theodore.
An effort was made by his brother—then advancing in the Church—to
have the youth removed from this atmosphere of dissipation and
frivolity; and, at his urgent remonstrance, Theodore was entered a
student at Oxford. But he carried his spirit of rebellious frolic
with him. When the Vice-Chancellor, noticing his boyish appearance,
said, "You seem very young, sir; are you prepared to sign the
Thirty-nine Articles?" "O yes, sir," briskly answered
Theodore,—"quite ready,—forty, if you please!" The dignitary
shut the book; the brother apologized, the boy looked contrite, the
articles were duly signed, and the young scapegrace matriculated at
Alma Mater. He was not yet to reside at Oxford, however, but
returned to London to go through a prescribed course of reading. Under his father's eye, however, no serious study could go forward;
besides, the youth's head was full of farce. At sixteen, he began to
write Vaudevilles for the stage, the music adapted to which was
supplied by his father. These trifles succeeded, and the clever boy
became a greater green-room pet than ever. He thus made the
acquaintance of Mathews and Liston, for whom he wrote farces. Hook
was not over particular about the sources from whence he cribbed his
"points;" borrowing unscrupulously from all quarters. In the course
of four years, he wrote more than ten plays, which had a
considerable run at the time, though they are now all but forgotten. Two of them have, nevertheless, been recently revived, namely,
"Exchange no Robbery," and "Killing no Murder." Had he gone on
writing plays, he would certainly have established a reputation as a
first-rate farce-writer. But, in his volatile humour, he must needs
try novels; and forthwith, at twenty years old, he wrote
"Musgrave,"—a novel of ridiculous sentimentality, but sparkling and
clever: yet it was a failure. About the same time, his life was a
succession of boisterous buffooneries, of which his "Gilbert Gurney"
may be regarded as a pretty faithful record. Unquestionably, Hook
wrote that novel chiefly from personal recollections; it is
virtually his autobiography; and in his diary, when speaking of its
progress, he uses the words, "working at my life."
Hook often used to tell the story—which he gives in detail in
"Gilbert Gurney"—of Mathews and himself, when one day rowing to
Richmond, being suddenly smitten by the sight of a placard at the
foot of a Barnes garden,—"Nobody permitted to land here—Offenders
prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the Law." The pair instantly
disembarked on the forbidden paradise; the fishing-line was
converted into a surveyor's measuring-tape; the wags paced to and
fro on the beautiful lawn,—Hook, the surveyor, with his book and
pencil in hand,—Mathews, the clerk, with the cord and walking-stick,
both soon pinned into the exquisite turf. Then suddenly opened the
parlour-window of the mansion above, and forth stepped, in
blustering ire, a napkined alderman, who advanced with what haste he
could against the intruders on his paradise. The comedians stood
cool, and scarcely condescended to reply to his indignant inquiries. At length oozed out the gradual announcement of their being the
agents of a New Canal Company, settling where the new cut was to
cross the old gentleman's pleasure-ground. Their regret was extreme
at having "to perform so disagreeable a duty," but public interests
must be regarded. Then came the alderman's suggestion that the pair
had better "walk in and talk the matter over;" their reluctant
acquiescence,—"had only a quarter of an hour to spare,—feared that
it was of no use" their endeavouring to avoid the beautiful
spot,—the new cut must come through the grounds. However, in they
went; the turkey was just served, an excellent dinner followed,
washed down with madeira, champagne, claret, and so on. At length
the good fare produced its effect,—the projected branch of the canal
was reconsidered,—the city knight's arguments were acknowledged to
be of more and more weight. "Really," says the alderman, "this cut
must be given up; but one bottle more, dear gentlemen." At last when
it was getting dark—they were eight miles from Westminster
Bridge—Hook burst out into song, and narrated in extempore verse the
whole transaction, winding up with —
"And we greatly approve of your fare,
Your cellar's as prime as your cook,
And this clerk here is Mathews the player,
And my name, sir, is—Theodore Hook!
The adventure forms the subject of a capital chapter in "Gilbert
Gurney," which many of our readers may have read.
But the maddest of Hook's tricks was that known as the "Berners
Street Hoax," which happened in 1809, as follows. Walking down
Berners Street, one day, Hook's companion (probably Mathews) called
his attention to a particularly neat and modest house, the
residence—as was inferred from the door-plate—of some decent
shopkeeper's widow. "I'll lay you a guinea," said Theodore, "that in
one week that nice quiet dwelling shall be the most famous in all
London." The bet was taken, and in the course of four or five days,
Hook had written and posted one thousand letters, annexing
orders to tradesmen of every sort within the bills of mortality, all
to be executed on one particular day, and as nearly as possible at
one fixed hour. From "wagons of coals and potatoes, to books,
prints, feathers, ices, jellies, and cranberry tarts," nothing in
any way whatever available to any human being but was commanded from
scores of rival dealers, scattered all over the city, from Wapping
to Lambeth, from Whitechapel to Paddington. It can only be feebly
imagined what the crash and jam and tumult of that day was. Hook had
provided himself with a lodging nearly opposite the fated house,
where, with a couple of trusty allies, he watched the progress of the
melodrama. The mayor and his chaplain arrived,—invited there to take
the death-bed confession of a peculating common-councilman. There
also came the Governor of the Bank, the Chairman of the East India
Company, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Prime Minister,—above all,
there came his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, and His Royal
Highness the Commander-in-Chief. These all obeyed the summons, for
every pious and patriotic feeling had been most movingly appealed
to. They could not all reach Berners Street, however,—the avenues
leading to it being jammed up with drays, carts, and carriages, all
pressing on to the solitary widow's house; but certainly the Duke of
York's military punctuality and crimson liveries brought him to the
point of attack before the poor woman's astonishment had risen to
terror and despair. Most fierce were the growlings of doctors and
surgeons, scores of whom had been cheated of valuable hours. Attorneys, teachers of every kind, male and female, hair-dressers,
tailors, popular preachers, Parliamentary philanthropists, had been
alike victimized. There was an awful smashing of glass, china,
harpsichords, and coach-panels. Many a horse fell, never to rise
again. Beer-barrels and wine-barrels were overturned and exhausted
with impunity amidst the press of countless multitudes. It was a
great day for the pickpockets; and a great godsend to the
newspapers. Then arose many a fervent hue and cry for the detection
of the wholesale deceiver and destroyer. Though in Hook's own
theatrical world he was instantly suspected, no sign escaped either
him or his confidants. He found it convenient to be laid up a week
or two by a severe fit of illness, and then promoted reconvalescence
by a few weeks' country tour. He revisited Oxford, and professed an
intention of commencing his residence there. But the storm blew
over, and Hook returned with tranquillity to the green-room. This
was followed by other tricks and hoaxes, in one of which he made
Romeo Coates his victim. These may be found detailed at some length
in "Gilbert Gurney," and in Mrs. Mathews's Memoirs of her husband,
who was usually Hook's accomplice in such kinds of mischief.
One of Hook's extraordinary talents—which amounted in him to almost
a genius—was his gift of singing improvised songs on the spur of the
moment, while under the influence of excited convivial feelings. He
would sit down to the piano-forte, and, quite unhesitatingly,
compose a verse upon every person in the room, full of the most
pointed wit, and with the truest rhyme, gathering up, as he
proceeded, every incident of the evening, and working up the whole
into a brilliant song. He would often, like John Parry, sport with
operatic measures, in which he would triumph over every variety of
metre and complication of stanza. But John Parry's exhibitions are
carefully studied, whereas Hook's happiest effects were spontaneous
and unpremeditated. The effect he produced on such occasions was
almost marvellous. Sheridan frequently witnessed these exhibitions,
and declared that he could not have believed such power possible,
had he not witnessed it. Of course, Hook was usually stimulated by
wine or punch when he ventured on such exploits; and it is recorded,
that during one of his songs, at which Coleridge was present, every
pane in the room window was riddled by the glasses flung through
them by the guests, the host crowning the bacchanalian riot by
demolishing the chandelier with his goblet.
Hook's fame as a wit, a jester, a talker, and an improvisatory
singer, shortly reached aristocratic circles; and he was invited to
their houses to make sport for them. Sheridan mentioned him to the
Marchioness of Hertford as a most amusing fellow, and he was shortly
after called upon to display his musical and metrical facility in
her Ladyship's presence; which he did. He was called, in like
manner, to minister to the amusement of the Sybarite Prince Regent
at a supper in Manchester Square, and he so delighted his Royal
Highness, that, on leaving the room, he said, "Mr. Hook, I must see
you and hear you again." Hook was only too glad to play merry-andrew
to the Prince; and after a few similar evenings, his Royal Highness
was so good as to make inquiry about Hook's position, when, finding
he was without a profession or fixed income of any sort, he
signified his opinion that "something must be done for Hook." As the
word of the Prince was equivalent to a law, and quiet jobs were
easily done in those days, Hook's promotion followed as a matter of
course. He was almost immediately after appointed Accountant-General
and Treasurer to the Colony of the Mauritius, with an income of
£2,000 a year. Hook had no knowledge of accounts; but he had the
Prince Regent's good word, and that was enough. He stayed five years
in the Mauritius, paying no attention to the duties of his office,
living in great style, a leading man on the turf, the very prince of
Mauritian hospitality. But it came to a sad end. In March, 1818,
Hook was arrested, while supping at a friend's house, and dragged,
by torchlight, through crowded streets, to the common prison of the
town, on a charge of embezzling the public moneys in the colonial
treasury to a large amount! From thence he was conveyed to England,
tried before the law officers of the crown, and brought in as
defaulter to the extent of £12,000. This debt he never paid; though
his earnings by his pen, for many years after, were very large. Into
the merits of the case against Hook we shall not here enter; but as
the government which brought him to book was friendly to him, and
under the influences of many of his personal friends, we must
presume the charges to have been well founded. The most favourable
view of his case that can be taken is this: that somebody embezzled
the colonial moneys; but as Hook had no knowledge of accounts, and
rarely took any concern in the treasury business, spending his
£2,000 a year in the manner of a gentlemanly sinecurist, the
colonial funds were "mumbled away," and Hook, being the responsible
party, was saddled with the blame.
On reaching London again, to wait the issue of the government
investigation, he was set at liberty, on the Attorney-General's
report, that there was no apparent ground for a criminal procedure;
and the case was treated as one of defalcation and civil prosecution
only. In order to live in the meanwhile, Hook had recourse to his
ever-ready pen. First, he wrote for magazines and newspapers; then
he tried a shilling magazine, called "The Arcadian," of which only
a few numbers were issued, when the publisher lost heart. In 1820,
Sir Walter Scott accidentally met Hook at a dinner-party at Daniel
Terry's, and was delighted, as everybody could not help being, with
Hook's brilliant conversation. Hook, notwithstanding the affair of
his colonial defalcations, and the prosecution of him by the Audit
Board, still held his "good old Tory" views of politics; and
gratefully remembered his personal obligations to the Prince Regent,
now the reigning monarch. He was consequently violently opposed to
the pretensions and partisans of Queen Caroline. The strong colour
of his politics induced Scott to mention Hook to a gentleman who
shortly after applied to him to recommend an editor for a newspaper
about to be established. To this circumstance his connection with
the famous "John Bull" is probably to be attributed. At all events,
the John Bull shortly after came out, with Hook for its editor. But
he preserved his incognito carefully for many years, which was the
more necessary in consequence of the thick cloud which still hung
over his moral character in connection with his colonial affair. Hook threw himself with great fury into the ranks of the Georgites,
and published many violent squibs against Queen Caroline and her
friends, which excited a storm of popular indignation. The John Bull
was generally admitted to be the most powerful, unscrupulous, and
violent advocate of the king's cause; whether it was the better for
the advocacy, we shall not here venture to determine. The paper was
well supported with money,—as was surmised, from "head-quarters;"
and for some years Hook's income, from the John Bull alone, amounted
to as much as £2,000 a year. At length it began to ooze out that
Hook was the editor of the John Bull. Though furnishing nearly the
whole of the articles and squibs which appeared in it, he at once
indignantly denied the imputation, in a "letter to the editor," in
which he disclaimed and disavowed all connection with the paper. But, by slow degrees, the truth came out, and at last all was known. The
John Bull was denounced by many as a "reckless," "venomous,"
"malignant," slandering," "lying" publication; and by others it was
defended as a "spirited," "courageous," "loyal," and "admirable"
defender of the church, crown, and constitution.
In 1823 Hook was arrested for the sum of £12,000, which the
authorities had finally decided that he stood indebted to the public
exchequer. He was then confined in a sheriff's officer's house in
Shire Lane,—a miserable, squalid neighbourhood. He remained there
for several months, during which his health seriously suffered. While shut up in Shire Lane he made the acquaintance of Dr. William Maginn, who had recently come over from Ireland, a literary
adventurer, but had fallen into the sheriff's officer's custody. It
was a lucky meeting for both, however, as Magnin proved of great
assistance to Hook, in furnishing the requisite amount of "spicy"
copy for the columns of the John Bull. Hook was transferred to the
Rules of the King's Bench, where he remained for a year, and
afterwards succeeded in getting liberated; but was told distinctly
that the debt must hang over him until every farthing was paid. He
then took a cottage at Putney, and re-entered society again. He had
for companion here a young woman whom he ought to have married; that
he did not—that he left upon the heads of his innocent offspring by
her, a stigma and a stain in the eyes of the world—was only, we
regret to say, too much in keeping with the character and career of
the reckless, unscrupulous, and feeble-conscienced Theodore Hook.
While living in his apartments at Temple Place, within the Rules of
the King's Bench, Hook had begun his career as a novelist. His first
series of "Sayings and Doings" was very successful, and yielded him
a profit of £2,000. The second and third series were equally
successful. His other novels, entitled "Maxwell," "The Parson's
Daughter," "Love and Pride," were also successful novels, and paid
him well. In 1836 he became the editor of the New Monthly Magazine,
in which he published "Gilbert Gurney," (perhaps the raciest of all
his novels, being chiefly drawn from his own personal experiences,)
and afterwards "Gurney Married," "Jack Brag," "Births, Deaths, and
Marriages," "Precepts and Practice," and "Fathers and Sons." These
were all collected and republished afterwards in separate forms. The
number of these works,—thirty-eight volumes,—which he wrote within
sixteen years, at the time when he was editor and almost sole writer
for a newspaper, and for several years the conductor of a magazine,
argue a by no means idle disposition. Indeed, Hook worked very hard;
the pity is that he worked to so little purpose, and that he
squandered the money with which he ought to have paid his debts (and
he himself admitted that he was in justice responsible for £9,000)
in vying with fashionable people to keep up appearances, and live a
worthless life of dissipation, frivolity, and burlesque "bon ton." For many years Hook must have been earning from £4,000 to £5,000 a
year by his pen, and yet he was always poor! How did he spend his
earnings? Let the friend who has written the sketch of him in the
Quarterly Review explain the secret.
"In 1827 (after leaving his house at Putney) he took a higher
flight. He became the tenant of a house in Cleveland Row,—on the
edge, therefore, of what, in one of his novels, he describes as the
'real London,—the space between Pall Mall on the south, and
Piccadilly on the north, St. James's Street on the west, and the
Opera House to the cast.' The residence was handsome, and, to
persons ignorant of his domestic arrangements, appeared
extravagantly too large for his purpose; we have since heard of it
as inhabited by a nobleman of distinction. He was admitted a member
of diverse clubs; shone the first attraction of their House dinners;
and, in such as allowed of play, he might commonly be seen in the
course of his protracted evening. Presently he began to receive
invitations to great houses in the country, and, for week after
week, often travelled from one to another such scene, to all outward
appearance in the style of an idler of high condition. In a word, he
had soon entangled himself with habits and connections which implied
much curtailment of the time for labour at the desk, and a course of
expenditure more than sufficient to swallow all the profits of what
remained. To the upper world he was visible solely as the jocund
convivialist of the club,—the brilliant wit of the lordly
banquet,—the lion of the crowded assembly,—the star of a Christmas
or Easter party in a rural palace,—the unfailing stage-manager,
prompter, author, and occasionally excellent comic actor, of the
private theatricals, at which noble guardsmen were the valets, and
lovely peeresses the soubrettes."
Thus did the brilliant Hook flutter like a dazzled moth around the
burning taper of aristocracy, scorching his wings, and at length
sinking destroyed by the seductive blaze, when he was at once swept
away as some unsightly object.
It was a feverish, miserable, unhealthy life,
with scarcely a redeeming feature in it. To make up for the
time devoted by him to the amusement of aristocratic circles, and to
raise the money wherewithal to carry on this brilliant dissipation,
as well as to relieve himself of the pressure of his more urgent
pecuniary embarrassments, Hook worked day and night when at his own
house, often under the influence of stimulants, and thus increased
the nervous agonies of a frame prematurely wasted and exhausted.
Meanwhile he was pressed by his publisher, into whose debt he had
fallen; and publishers, in such a case, are exacting, like everybody
else in similar circumstances. Debts—debts—forever
debts—accumulated about Hook, each debt a grinning phantom, mocking
at him even in the midst of his gayest pleasures. "Little did
his fine friends know at what tear and wear of life he was devoting
his evenings to their amusement. The ministrants of pleasure
with whom they measured him were almost all as idle as
themselves,—elegant, accomplished men, easy in circumstances, with
leisure at command, who drove to the rendezvous after a morning
divided between voluptuous lounging in a library chair and healthful
exercise out of doors. But he came forth, at best, from a long day of labour at his writing-desk,
after his faculties had been kept on the stretch,—feeling, passion,
thought, fancy, excitable nerves, suicidal brain, all worked,
perhaps well-nigh exhausted,—compelled, since he came at all, to
disappoint by silence, or to seek the support of tempting stimulants
in his new career of exertion. And we may guess what must have been
the effect on his mind of the consciousness, while seated among the
revellers of a princely saloon, that next morning must be, not given
to the mere toil of the pen, but divided between scenes in the
back-shops of three or four eager, irritated booksellers, and weary prowlings through the dens of city usurers for the means of
discounting this long bill, staving off that attorney's threat; not
less commonly—even more urgently—of liquidating a debt of honour to
the grandee, or some of the smiling satellites of his pomp.
"There is recorded (in his diary) in more than usual detail, one
winter visit at the seat of a nobleman of almost unequalled wealth
(Marquis of Hertford?), evidently particularly fond of Hook, and
always mentioned in terms of real gratitude,—even affection. Here
was a large company, including some of the very highest names in
England; the Party seem to have remained together for more than a
fortnight, or, if one went, the place was filled immediately by
another not less distinguished by the advantages of birth and
fortune; Hook's is the only untitled name, except a led captain and
chaplain or two, and some misses of musical celebrity. What a
struggle he has to maintain! Every Thursday he must meet the printer
of the John Bull to arrange the paper for Saturday's impression. While the rest are shooting or hunting, he clears his head as well
as he can, and steals a few hours to write his articles. When they
go to bed on Wednesday night, he smuggles himself into a
post-chaise, and is carried fifty miles across the country, to some
appointed Blue Boar, or Crooked Billet. Thursday morning is spent in
overhauling correspondence,—in all the details of the editorship. He, with hard driving, gets back to the neighbourhood of the castle
when the dressing-bell is ringing. Mr. Hook's servant has intimated
that his master is slightly indisposed; he enters the gate as if
from a short walk in the wood; in half an hour, behold him answering
placidly the inquiries of the ladies,—his headache fortunately gone
at last,—quite ready for the turtle and champagne,—puns rattle like
a hail-shower,—'that dear Theodore' had never been more brilliant. At a decorous
hour the great lord and his graver guests retire; it
is supposed that the evening is over,—that the house is shut up. But
Hook is quartered in a long bachelor's gallery, with half a dozen
bachelors of far different calibre. One of them, a dashing young
earl, proposes what the diary calls 'something comfortable' in his
dressing-room. Hook, after his sleepless night and busy day,
hesitates,—but is persuaded. The broiled bones are attended by more
champagne, Roman punch, hot brandy and water, finally; for there are
plenty of butlers and grooms of the chamber ready to minister to the
delights of the distant gallery, ever productive of fees to man and
maid. The end is, that they play deep, and that Theodore loses a
great deal more money than he had brought with him from town, or
knows how to come at if he were there. But he rises next morning
with a swimming, bewildered head, and, as the fumes disperse,
perceives that he must write instantly for money. No difficulty is
to be made; the fashionable tailor (alias merciless Jew) to whom he
discloses the case, must on any terms remit a hundred pounds by
return of post. It is accomplished,—the debt is discharged. Thursday
comes round again, and again he escapes to meet the printer. This
time the printer brings a payment of salary with him, and Hook
drives back to the castle in great glee. Exactly the same scene
occurs a night or two afterwards. The salary all goes. When the time
comes for him at last to leave his splendid friend, he finds that he
has lost a fortnight as respects a book that must be finished within
a month or six weeks; and that what with travelling expenses hither
and thither (he has to defray the printer's, too), and losses at
play to silken coxcombs,—who consider him an admirable jack-pudding,
and also as an invaluable pigeon, since he drains his glass as well
as fills it,—he has thrown away more money than he could have earned
by the labour of three months in his own room at Fulham. But then
the rumble of the green chariot is seen well stocked with pheasants
and hares, as it pauses in passing through town at Crockford's, the
Carlton, or the Athenæum; and as often as the Morning Post alluded
to the noble peer's Christmas court, Mr. Theodore Hook's name closed
the paragraph of 'fashionable intelligence.'"
But at last the end of all came, and the poor
jester and bon-vivant
strutted off the stage. To the last, even when positively ill, he
could not refuse an invitation to dine with titled people. To the
last,—a padded-up old man,—he tried to be effervescent and gay. He
died in August, 1841, and the play was ended. Some may call such a
life as this a tragedy, and a painful one it seems. To look at it
now, there appears little genuine mirth in it: the laughter was all
hollow. As for the noble and titled friends for whom Hook had made
so much merriment during his unhappy life, they let him die
overburdened with debt, and go to his grave unwept and unattended. They did nothing for his children,—it is true they were such as the
respectable world usually disown; and they did not, so far as we
know, place a stone over the grave in which their jester was laid to
sleep. Notwithstanding Theodore Hook's naturally brilliant
powers,—his sagacity, his humour, his genius,—we fear that the
verdict of his survivors and of posterity will be, that here was the
life of a greatly gifted man worse than wasted.
DR. ANDREW COMBE.
Andrew Combe (1797-1847), Scottish physiologist.
Picture Internet Text Archive.
THE life of
Andrew Combe was quiet and unostentatious. It was chiefly occupied
by the investigations and labours incident to the calling which be
had chosen,—that of medicine;—a profession which, when followed
successfully, leaves comparatively little leisure for the indulgence
of literary tastes. Yet we do not exaggerate when we say, that there
are few writers who have effected greater practical good, and done
more to beneficially affect the moral and physical well-being of
mankind, than the subject of this memoir. He was one of the first
writers who directed public attention to the subject of Physiology
in connection with Health and Education. There had, indeed, been no
want of writers on physiology previous to his time; but they
addressed themselves mainly to the professional mind; and their
books were, for the most part, so full of technical phrases, that,
so far as the public was concerned, they might as well have been
written in an unknown tongue. As Dr. Combe grew up towards manhood,
and acquired habits of independent observation, he perceived that
the majority of men and women were, for the most part, living in
habitual violation of the laws of health, and thus bringing upon
themselves debility, disease, premature decay, and death: not to
speak of generations unborn, on whom the penalty of neglect or
violation of the physiological laws inevitably descends. He
conceived the idea of instructing the people in those laws, in a
simple and intelligible manner, and in language divested of
technical terms. And there are words enough in the English
tongue in which to utter commonsense to common people upon such
subjects as air, exercise, diet, cleanliness, and so on, as
affecting the healthy lives of human beings, without drawing so
largely as had been customary upon Greek and Latin terminology for
Dr. Combe's first book, on "The Principles of Physiology
applied to the Preservation of Health, and to the Improvement of
Physical and Mental Education," was written in this rational and
commonsense style. In that work, Dr. Combe appealed to the
ordinary, average understandings of men. He explained the laws
which regulate the physical life,—the conditions necessary for the
healthy action of the various functions of the system; and he
directed particular attention to those habits and practices which
were in violation of the natural laws, pointing out the necessity
for amendment in various ways, in a cogent, persuasive, and
perspicuous manner. We remember very well the appearance of
the book in question. It excited comparatively small attention
at first,—the subject was so unusual, and up to that time deemed so
unattractive. People were afraid then, as they often are now,
to look into their own physical system, and learn something of its
working. There is alarm to many minds, in the thought of the
heart beating, and the lungs blowing, and the arteries contracting
upon their red blood. The consideration of such subjects used
formerly to be regarded as strictly professional; and people were
for the most part satisfied to leave health, and all that concerned
it, to the exclusive charge of "the doctors." And, truth to
say, medical men were disposed to regard the publication of Dr.
Combe's "Physiology" as somewhat "infra dig.;" for it looked
like a revealing of the secrets of the profession before the eyes of
the general public. But all such feeling has long since
disappeared; and medical men now find that they have in the readers
of good works on popular physiology more intelligent patients to
deal with,—more able to co-operate with them in their attempts to
subdue disease and restore the bodily functions to health,—than when
they have mere blank ignorance and blind prejudice to encounter.
Where there is not sound information, there will always be found
prejudices enough,—the most difficult of all things to contend
against. It is not improbable, also, that to the growing
popular knowledge of physiological conditions we are, in a great
measure, to attribute the improvement in the medical profession
which has taken place of late years. For medical men are the
better for knowing that, in order to make good their influence and
to advance as a profession, they must keep well ahead of the
intelligence of their employers. Everybody knows that
questions of health,—as affecting the sanitary condition of
towns,—are among the leading questions of this day; and we cannot
help attributing much of the active concern which now exists among
legislators, philanthropists, and all public-spirited men, for the
improvement of the physical condition of the people, to the impulse
given to the subject by the publication of Dr. Combe's admirable
Dr. Combe was himself a serious sufferer through neglect of
the laws of physical health; and it was probably this circumstance
which early directed his attention to the subject, and induced him
to give it the prominency which he did in nearly all his published
works. He was the fifteenth child of respectable parents,
living in Edinburgh: his father was a brewer at Livingston's Yards,
a suburb of the Old Town, situated nearly under the southwest angle
of Edinburgh Castle rock. Seventeen children in all were born
to the Combes in that place; but the neighbourhood abounded with
offensive pools and ditches, the noxious influence of which (in
conjunction with defective ventilation in small or overcrowded
sleeping apartments) must have been a potent cause of the disease
and early mortality which prevailed in the family. Very few of
the seventeen children grew up to adult years; and although the
parents, who were of robust constitution, lived to an old age, those
of the children who survived grew up with feeble constitutions, and,
in Andrew's case, containing within them the seeds of serious
disease. Nor was the mental discipline of the children of a
much healthier kind. As an illustration, George Combe, in the
Life of his brother, recently published, gives the following picture
of the Sabbath, as spent in a Scotch family:—
"The gate of the brewery was
locked, and all except the most necessary work was suspended.
The children rose at eight, breakfasted at nine, and were taken to
the West Church at eleven. The forenoon service lasted till
one. There was a lunch between one and two. The
afternoon's service lasted from two till four. They then
dined; and after dinner, portions of the Psalms and of the Shorter
Catechism with the 'Proofs' were prescribed to be learnt by heart.
After these had been repeated, tea was served. Next the
children sat round a table and read the Bible aloud, each a verse in
turn, till a chapter for every reader had been completed.
After this, sermons or other pious works were read till nine
o'clock, when supper was served, after which all retired to rest.
Jaded and exhausted in brain and body as the children were by the
performance of heavy tasks at school during six days of the week,
these Sundays were no days of rest to them."
From a private school, Andrew Combe proceeded to the High
School, and then he was placed apprentice to an Edinburgh surgeon.
He was singularly obstinate in connection with his entry upon his
profession. Although he had chosen to be "a doctor," when
finally asked "what he would be," his answer in the vernacular
Scotch was, "I'll no be naething." He would give no further
answer; and after all kinds of "fleechin" and persuading were tried,
he at length had to be carried by force out of the house, to
begin his professional career! His father and brother George,
afterwards his biographer, with a younger brother, James, performed
this remarkable duty. George thus describes the scene.
"A consultation was now held as to what was to be
done; and again it was resolved that Andrew should not be allowed to
conquer, seeing that he still assigned no reason for his resistance.
He was, therefore, lifted from the ground; he refused to stand; but
his father supported one shoulder, George carried the other, and his
younger brother, James, pushed him on behind; and in this fashion he
was carried from the house, through the brewery, and several hundred
yards along the high road, before he placed a foot on the ground.
His elder brother John, observing what was passing, anxiously
inquired, 'What's the matter?' James replied, 'We are taking
Andrew to the doctor.' 'To the doctor! what's the matter with
him,—is he ill, James?' 'O, not at all,—we are taking him to
make him a doctor.' At last, Andrew's sense of shame
prevailed, and he walked quietly. His father and George
accompanied him to Mr. Johnston's house; Andrew was introduced and
received, and his father left him. George inquired what had
passed in Mr. Johnston's presence. 'Nothing particular,'
replied his father; 'only my conscience smote me when Mr. Johnston
hoped that Andrew had come quite willingly! I replied,
that I had given him a solemn promise that, if he did not like the
profession after a trial, he should be at liberty to leave it.'
'Quite right,' said Mr. Johnston; and Andrew was conducted to the
laboratory. Andrew returned to Mr. Johnston's the next morning
without being asked to do so and to the day of his death he was fond
of his profession.
In a touching letter to George, written nearly thirty years
after the above event, he thanked him cordially for having been
instrumental in sending him to a liberal profession; and he
confesses that he really "wished and meant to be a doctor,"
notwithstanding his absurd way of showing his willingness.
Always ready, as both he and his brother were, to account for
everything phrenologically, he attributed the resistance on the
occasion to Wit and Secretiveness. "I recollect well," he says
in the letter referred to,
"that my habitual phrase was, 'I'll no be naething.'
This was universally construed to mean, 'I'll be naething.'
The true meaning I had in view was what the words bore, 'I will be
something;' and the clew to the riddle was, that my Wit was
tickled at school by the rule that 'two negatives make an
affirmative,' and I was diverted with the mystification their use
and literal truth produced in this instance. In no one
instance did mortal man or woman hear me say seriously, (if ever,)
'I'll be naething.' All this is as clear to me as if of
yesterday's occurrence, and the double entendre was a source
of internal chuckling to me. You may say, Why, then, so
unwilling to go to Mr. Johnston's? That is a natural question,
and touches upon another feature altogether. I was a dour
[stubborn] boy, when not taken in the right way, and for a time
nothing would then move me. Once committed, I resolved not to
yield, and hence the laughable extravaganza which ensued."
At the age of fifteen, Andrew Combe went to live with his
elder brother George, who in 1812 began practising as Writer to the
Signet. This was an advantage to Andrew, in point of health,
and was a convenience to him in attending his place of business, and
also the medical lectures in the University. In his letters to
his brother, written in after life, Andrew often referred with
regret to the neglect of ventilation, ablution, and bathing, in his
father's family; to which he attributed the premature deaths of the
greater number, and the impaired constitutions of the few who
survived. Our parents," he said in one letter,
"erred from sheer ignorance; but what are we to think
of the mechanical and tradesman-like views of a medical man who
could see all these causes of disease existing, and producing these
results year after year, without its ever occurring to him that it
was part of his solemn duty to warn his employers, and try to remedy
the evil? All parties were anxious to cure the disease,
but no one sought to remove its causes; and yet so entirely were the
causes within the control of reason and knowledge, that my
conviction has long been complete, that, if we had been properly
treated from infancy, we should, even with the constitutions we
possessed at birth, have survived in health and active usefulness to
a good old age, unless cut off by some acute disease."
But nearly all medical men were alike empirical in those days.
They merely attacked the symptoms which presented themselves; and
when these were overcome, their task was accomplished. That
medical men are now so careful in directing their measures towards
the prevention as well as the cure of disease, we have to
thank Dr. Combe, Edwin Chadwick, and other popular writers and
labourers in the cause of Public Health.
At the early age of nineteen, Andrew Combe passed at
Surgeons' Hall. He used afterwards to say, that it would have
been better for him had he been then only commencing his studies.
Shortly after, Dr. Spurzheim, the phrenologist, visited Edinburgh,
and attracted many ardent admirers, of whom George Combe, then a
young man, shortly became one. Andrew, like most of the
medical men of the day, was at first disposed to laugh at the new
science; but before many years had passed, he too became an ardent
disciple of Dr. Spurzheim. He afterwards attributed much of
the improvement of his mind and character to his study of this
science, and to the practical application of its principles to his
own case. In 1817 he went to Paris, where he studied under
Dupuytren, Alibert, Esquirol, Richerand, and other celebrated men.
He also cultivated the friendship of Dr. Spurzheim, and pursued his
observations and studies in Phrenology. From Paris, he
proceeded with a friend on a walking tour through Switzerland and
the north of Italy. Disregarding the laws of health, he
injured his delicate constitution by exposure, irregular diet, and
over-fatigue; and on his return to Edinburgh, shortly after, he was
seized with a serious illness, the beginning of long-continued lung
disease. He removed for a season to the south of England, and
then proceeded to Italy, wintering at Leghorn. There his cough
left him, and he regained his health and strength so far as to be
enabled to practise for a time as a physician among the English in
that town and Pisa. Returning to Edinburgh in 1823, he
regularly settled down in that city as a medical practitioner.
In this profession he was very successful. His quiet
manner, suavity, and kindness, good sense, attention, professional
abilities, and gentlemanly demeanour, secured him many friends; and
he won them to his heart by his truthful candour, and by the manner
in which he sought to obtain their intelligent co-operation in the
remedial measures which he thought proper to employ. He deemed
it as much a part of his duty to instruct his patients as to the
conditions which regulate the healthy action of the bodily organs,
as to administer drugs to them for the purpose of curing their
immediate ailments. But he found great obstacles in his way,
in consequence of the previous ignorance of most people—even those
considered well educated—as to the simplest laws which regulate the
animal economy. Hence he very early felt the necessity of
improving this department of elementary instruction; and with that
view he set about composing his works on popular physiology.
His first appearance as an author was in the pages of the
Phrenological Journal,—an excellent periodical now defunct.
To the subject of Phrenology he devoted considerable attention, and
soon became known as one of its ablest defenders. Some of his
friends told him that be would injure his professional standing and
connection by the prominency of his advocacy of the new views; but
be persevered, nevertheless, "firmly trusting in the sustaining
power of truth;" and he afterwards found that, instead of being
professionally injured, he was greatly benefited by the labour which
he bestowed upon the study and exposition of the science. To
Phrenology he attributed, in a great measure, the direction of his
attention to the subject of hygienic principles; and after his mind
had been fairly opened to the importance of those principles, he not
only reduced them to practice in his own personal habits, but
laboured to disseminate a knowledge of them among the public
In the midst of the arduous duties of his profession, Dr. Combe was
more than once under the necessity of leaving home and going abroad
for the benefit of his health. Disease had fixed upon his lungs, and
he felt that his life could only be preserved by removing to a
milder air. He travelled to Paris, to Orleans, to Nantes, to Lyons,
to Naples, to Rome, returning rather improved, but with his lungs
full of tubercles. For many years his life hung as by a thread, and
it was only by his careful observance of the laws of health that he
was enabled to survive. In his work on "The Principles of
Physiology" speaking of the advantages experienced in his own person
of paying implicit obedience to the physiological laws, he says:
he not been fully aware of the gravity of his own situation, and,
from previous knowledge of the admirable adaptation of the
physiological laws to carry on the machinery of life, disposed to
place implicit reliance on the superior advantages of fulfilling
them, as the direct dictates of Divine Wisdom, he would never have
been able to persevere in the course chalked out for him, with that
ready and long-enduring regularity and cheerfulness which have
contributed so much to their successful fulfilment and results. And,
therefore, he feels himself entitled to call upon those who,
impatient at the slowness of their progress, are apt after a time to
disregard all restrictions, to take a sounder view of their true
position, to make themselves acquainted with the real dictates of
the organic laws; and having done so, to yield them full, implicit,
and persevering obedience, in the certain assurance that they will
reap their reward in renewed health, if recovery be still possible;
and if not, that they will thereby obtain more peace of mind and
bodily ease than by any other means which they can use."
Dr. Combe's first published book was on "Phrenology applied to the
Treatment of Insanity." It was given to the world in 1831, and
proved very successful, being soon out of print. His second book was
on "The Principles of Physiology," some chapters of which were first
published in the Phrenological Journal. This book was published in
1834. Among the booksellers it was regarded with aversion. It was
one of the successful books which booksellers sometimes reject. The
first edition, of 750 copies, and a second edition, of 1,000 copies,
both printed at the author's expense, were sold off; when Dr. Combe
offered to dispose of the copyright to John Murray, without naming
terms. Mr. Murray, and all the other London publishers who were
applied to, declined to have anything to do with the purchase of the
copyright; and the author went on publishing the book at his own
expense. We need scarcely say that the book had a great run: about
30,000 copies were sold in England, besides numerous editions in the
Although Dr. Combe was enabled at intervals to resume his practice
in Edinburgh, he found it necessary to leave it from time to time
for the benefits of a Continental residence; until, in 1836, he was
induced to accept the appointment of Physician to the King of the
Belgians, believing that a residence at Brussels might possibly suit
his constitution. But his health again gave way on reaching
Brussels, and he was shortly under the necessity of giving up the
appointment,—preserving, however, the honorary office of Consulting
Physician to the Belgian Court. During the leisure which the
cessation from professional pursuits afforded him, he prepared his
next work, on "The Physiology of Digestion," another highly
successful book. And in 1840 appeared his last work, on "The
Physiological and Moral Management of Infancy." All these books have
had a large circulation in England and in America, besides having
been translated and circulated largely in Continental countries.
In 1841 Dr. Combe was again attacked with hæmoptysis, or discharge
of blood from the lungs, and fell into a state of gradual and steady
decline. As he himself said, "I believe I am going slowly and gently
down hill." He continued, however, to live for several years. In
1842 and 1843, he paid two visits to Madeira, and spent some time in
Italy; and in the two following years he was enabled to travel
about, a pallid invalid, taking a deep interest meanwhile in all
useful public and social movements. His judgment seemed to grow
stronger, and his insight into men and things clearer, as his bodily
powers decayed. On all topics connected with education, as his
correspondence shows, he took an especially lively interest. In 1847
he made a voyage to New York, chiefly for the purpose of visiting
his brother William, who had long been settled in the States; but
the heat of the climate proved too trying for his enfeebled
constitution, and he almost immediately took ship again for England. The last literary labour in which he occupied himself was thoroughly
characteristic of the man. While in the States, he had been sickened
by the accounts of the ravages which the ship-fever had made among
the poor Irish emigrants, and he determined to bring the whole
subject before the public in an article in the Times. Writing to a
corn merchant in Liverpool, on his return home, for information as
to the regulations of emigrant ships, he said: "I have not yet
regained either my ordinary health or power of thinking, and,
consequently, find writing rather heavy work; but my spirit is moved
by the horrible details from Quebec and New York, and I cannot
rest without doing something in the matter." The letter in which
this passage occurred was the last that Dr. Combe wrote. His article
had meanwhile been hastily prepared, and it appeared in the Times of
the 17th of September, 1847, occupying nearly three columns of that
paper. He was interrupted, even while he was writing it, by a severe
attack of the diarrhoea, from which he died, after a few days'
illness, on the 9th of August, 1847. His dying hours were peaceful,
and the last words he uttered, when he could scarcely articulate,
were, "Happy, happy!"
Such is a brief outline of the life of an eminently, useful man,
who, without the aid of any brilliant qualities, and merely by the
exercise of industry, good sense, and well-cultivated moral
feelings, was enabled to effect a large amount of good during his
lifetime, and beneficially to influence the condition of mankind, it
may be for generations to come.
Robert Browning (1812-89): playwright and major English poet;
husband of the poetess
sonnet, addressed by Walter Savage Landor to Robert Browning, blends
the just judgment of the critic with the tender admiration of the
"There is delight in singing, though none
Beside the singer: and there is delight
In praising, though the praiser sit alone
And see the praised far off him, far above.
Shakespeare is not our poet, but the world's,
Therefore on him no speech! and brief for thee,
Browning! Since Chaucer was alive and hale,
No man hath walkt along our roads with step
So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
So varied in discourse. But warmer climes
Give brighter plumage, stronger wing: the breeze
Of Alpine heights thou playest with, borne on
Beyond Sorrento and Amalfi, where
The Siren waits thee, singing song for song."
A little piece of Browning's, entitled "Home Thoughts, from
Abroad," shows how this stout traveller along the common roads of
England remembered, far away in Italy, what he saw and heard at
"O, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brush-wood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
"And after April, when May follows,
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows,—
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field, and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops,—at the bent spray's edge, —
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
"And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower,
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!"
Mr. Browning was born in Camberwell, a suburb of London, in
the year 1812. His father was a Dissenter, and he received his
collegiate education at the London University, after which, at the
age of about twenty, he visited Italy. Here, first and last,
he has spent many years, and a large number of his poems are
inspired by Italian scenes and legends. They show that his
inquiring eye and active step have been busy, not only in the
libraries and closets of that storied land, but along the highways
and by-paths and among the common people of the country. His
first published work was "Paracelsus," which appeared in 1835.
It is a dramatic poem, of a strikingly original character, of the
class to which belong Prometheus, Faust, Festus, and other works, in
which poets of all ages have sought to penetrate the mysteries of
existence and of human destiny. The Paracelsus of history, who
is physician, alchemist, quack, juggler, drunkard, and the father of
modern chemistry, appears in this poem as a high and sovereign
intellect aspiring after the secrets of the world, yet dying
disappointed and heart-broken, having forfeited success by seeking
to transcend the necessities and limitations of humanity, instead of
patiently working within them. This poem drew towards Mr.
Browning the immediate attention of the critics, ever on the
look-out for the coming great poet. On the whole, they
received Paracelsus kindly, and the most thoughtful men in England
and America have agreed that it contains much fine poetry, as well
as nice metaphysical thought. In 1837 Mr. Browning published
"Strafford," a purely English tragedy, which, although placed upon
the stage by Mr. Macready, who represented the principal character,
did not meet with great success. Three years afterwards
appeared "Sordello," another dramatic poem, upon which various
opinions have been pronounced. Most of the current criticism
of the time is written in a hurry, and "Sordello" was not to be
digested or even read in a day. It was rough, tangled, and to
a large degree unintelligible to most readers. Some students
of poetry who had leisure and a taste for occult mysteries tried
their hands at it, and came to the conclusion that it had a great
deal of meaning and many beautiful passages. But the early
judgment has not been reversed during the twenty years which have
elapsed since the poem was given to the world. Perhaps the
best description of it is that given by an American critic, who says
it was a fine poem before the author wrote it. If Mr. Browning
had stopped here, the world would not have recognized him, as it now
does, as one of the greatest dramatic poets since Shakespeare's day.
He kept on writing, and between 1842 and 1846 produced, under the
title of "Bells and Pomegranates," a series of dramas and lyrics, or
dramatic poems, for the lyrics are as dramatic, almost, as the
dramas, upon which his fame thus far chiefly rests. The dramas
are entitled "Pippa Passes," "King Victor and King Charles," "Colombe's
Birthday," "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon," "The Return of the Druses,"
"Luria," and "A Soul's Tragedy." In these poems, Mr. Browning
displays that depth, clearness, minuteness, and universality of
vision, that power of revealing the object of his thought without
revealing himself, that force of imagination which "turns the common
dust of servile opportunity to gold," and that humour which sees
remote and fanciful resemblances and develops their secret
relationship to each other, which constitute the true poet and the
great dramatist. The "Blot in the 'Scutcheon" is a piteous
tragedy. It was produced at Drury Lane in 1843, but its
success was moderate. This proves only that the applause of
the pit is not the test of dramatic merit, for it is almost a
perfect work. "Pippa Passes" is also a charming poem. In
it occurs the following remarkable figure, startling as the
"OTTIMA (to her paramour).
"Buried in woods we lay, you recollect;
Swift ran the searching tempest overhead;
And ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burnt through the pine-tree roof,—here burnt and there,
As if God's messenger through the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me."
Some of the lyrics and romances included in this collection
of poems have passed into the school-books and standard collections
of poetry; for instance, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," "How they
brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," and "The Lost Leader;"
while others, among which may be mentioned the "Soliloquy of the
Spanish Cloister" and "Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis," display a
quaintness of humour which makes them exceedingly pleasant reading.
The following little piece shows with what quick and rapid strokes
Mr. Browning can place a vivid natural picture and a bit of personal
experience before the eye of the reader:—
"MEETING AT NIGHT."
"The grey sea and the long, black land;
And the yellow half-moon, large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow
And quench its speed in the slushy sand.
"Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch,
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!"
In 1850 Mr. Browning published a poem in two parts, entitled
"Christmas Eve and Easter Day." It deals with theological
problems, and expresses some phases of the author's spiritual
experience with great force and vividness. It also furnishes a
remarkable instance of the ease with which Mr. Browning puts into
melodious verse the elaborate niceties of a metaphysical argument,
diversifying it with picturesque and humorous descriptions.
Some of the pictures of country people and rural life are as
faithful and minute as those of Crabbe. And here is a sketch
of a Göttingen Rationalist Professor, which exhibits the same
fidelity and accuracy of detail, with a touch of the author's
"But hist!—a buzzing and emotion!
All settle themselves, the while ascends
By the creaking rail to the lecture desk,
Step by step, deliberate
Because of his cranium's overweight,
Three parts sublime to one grotesque,
If I have proved an accurate guesser,
The hawk-nosed, high-cheek-boned Professor.
I felt at once as if there ran
A shoot of love from my heart to the man,—
That sallow, virgin-minded, studious
Martyr to mild enthusiasm,
As he uttered a kind of cough-preludious
That woke my sympathetic spasm,
(Beside some spitting that made me sorry,)
And stood, surveying his auditory,
With a wan, pure look, well-nigh celestial.—
—Those blue eyes had survived so much!
While, under the foot they could not smutch,
Lay all the fleshly and the bestial.
Over he bowed, and arranged his notes,
Till the auditory's clearing of throats
Was done with, died into a silence;
And, when each glance was upward sent,
Each bearded mouth composed intent,
And a pin might be heard drop half a mile hence,—
He pushed back higher his spectacles,
Let the eyes stream out like lamps from cells,
And giving his head of hair—a hake
Of undressed tow, for colour and quantity—
One rapid and impatient shake,
As our own young England adjusts a jaunty tie,
(When about to impart, on mature digestion,
Some thrilling view of the surplus question,)
—The Professor's grave voice, sweet though hoarse,
Broke into his Christmas-eve's discourse."
1882 Caricature from Punch. Picture
Mr. Browning's latest work is entitled "Men and Women."
It is a collection of fifty poems, which display all the rich and
various qualities of his genius. We quote one of the most
pleasing of the poems in this volume:—
Beautiful Evelyn Hope is dead!
Sit and watch by her side an hour;
That is her bookshelf, this her bed;
She plucked that piece of geranium-flower,
Beginning to die too in the glass.
Little has yet been changed, I think,—
The shutters are shut, no light may pass
Save two long rays through the hinge's chink.
"Sixteen years old when she died!
Perhaps she had scarcely heard my name,
It was not her time to love: beside,
Her life had many a hope and aim,
Duties enough and little cares,
And now was quiet, now astir,—
Till God's hand beckoned unawares,
And the sweet white brow is all of her.
"Is it too late then, Evelyn Hope?
What, your soul was pure and true,
The good stars met in your horoscope,
Made you of spirit, fire, and dew,—
And just because I was thrice as old,
And our paths in the world diverged so wide,
Each was naught to each, must I be told?
We were fellow-mortals, naught beside?
"No, indeed! for God above
Is great to grant, as mighty to make,
And creates the love to reward the love,—
I claim you still, for my own love's sake!
Delayed it may be for more lives yet,
Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few,—
Much is to learn and much to forget
Ere the time be come for taking you.
"But the time will come,—at last it will,—
When, Evelyn Hope, what meant, I shall say,
In the lower earth, in the years long still,
That body and soul so pure and gay?
Why your hair was amber, I shall divine,
And your mouth of your own geranium's red,—
And what you would do with me, in fine,
In the new life come in the old one's stead.
"I have lived, I shall say, so much since then;
Given up myself so many times,
Gained me the gains of various men,
Ransacked the ages, spoiled the climes;
Yet one thing, one, in my soul's full scope,
Either I missed, or itself missed me,—
And I want and find you, Evelyn Hope!
What is the issue? let us see!
"I loved you, Evelyn, all the while;
My heart seemed full as it could hold,—
There was place and to spare for the frank, young smile,
And the red young mouth, and the hair's young gold.
So, hush,—I will give you this leaf to keep, —
See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand.
There, that is our secret! go to sleep;
You will wake, and remember, and understand."
The last piece in "Men and Women" is a beautiful love poem
addressed to E. B. B., the poet's wife. In November, 1846, Mr.
Browning was married to Elizabeth Barrett, of whom a biographical
sketch is included in this volume. Since their marriage, Mr.
and Mrs. Browning have generally resided at Casa Guidi in Florence,
but they occasionally pass a winter in Rome. Mr. George S.
Hillard, an American author, says:
"A happier home and a more perfect union than theirs
it is not easy to imagine; and this completeness arises, not only
from the rare qualities which each possesses, but from their
adaptation to each other. It is a privilege to know such
beings, singly and separately, but to see their powers quickened,
and their happiness rounded by the sacred tie of marriage, is a
cause for peculiar and lasting gratitude. A union so complete
as theirs—in which the mind has nothing to crave nor the heart to
sigh for—is cordial to behold and soothing to remember."
Mr. Browning's thoughtful lines on the perishableness of fame
may sadden the minds of ambitious poets:—
"See, as the prettiest graves will do in
Our poet's wants the freshness of its prime;
Spite of the sexton's browsing horse, the sods
Have struggled through its binding osier-rods;
Headstone and half-sunk footstone lean awry,
Wanting the brick-work promised by and by;
How the minute gray lichens, plate o'er plate,
Have softened down the crisp-cut name and date!"
by Elliott & Fry.
Forty years ago, Mr. Jeffrey uttered a lament
over the forgotten poets; forgotten merely because there was not
room in men's memories for them. He consoled himself with the
reflection that Campbell and Byron and Scott and Crabbe and Southey,
and the other poets of his day, might live, in unequal proportions,
in some new collections of specimens. But the posterity of
1820, sometimes correcting his estimate, as in the case of
Wordsworth, seems still to enjoy complete editions of the works of
the great masters of the art of poetry, as well as ever. And
we are confident that Mr. Browning's dramas and lyrics will long
continue to find appreciative readers, and that, as culture and
taste and love of pure art make progress, the number of his constant
admirers will steadily increase. If we are mistaken, he must be
consoled with the phrase from Milton which is expected to soothe all
great and unpopular poets; for he may safely rely till the end of
time upon his "fit audience, though few."
Sir Edwin Chadwick KCB (1800–90): English social
reformer, noted for his
work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary
conditions and public
health. Picture Wikipedia.
CHADWICK has not yet
received ordinary justice from his contemporaries. He is one
of the most indefatigable and successful workers of the age, and
has, perhaps, more than any other single man beneficially influenced
the legislation of his time; yet we hear less of him than we do of
many a fifth-rate Parliamentary babbler. We do not know much
about his birth or ancestry; but that is a matter of small
consequence. We know, however, that he was born near
Manchester, and belongs to a Lancashire family. He received
his education chiefly in London, and, having chosen the law for his
profession, he was enrolled a student of the Inner Temple in his
twenty-sixth year. There he "ate his way," as the saying goes,
to the Bar; maintaining himself, as Lord Campbell at one time in his
life did, by reporting and writing for the daily press. He was
not a man of brilliant powers, nor of any extraordinary amount of
learning. But he was a most sagacious and persevering man, and
was ready to confront any amount of labour in prosecuting an object,
no matter how remote its attainment might at first sight appear.
At an early period in his career, Edwin Chadwick became
possessed of an Idea. And it is a great thing to be thoroughly
possessed by an idea, provided its aim and end be beneficent.
It gives a colour and a bias to the whole of a man's life. The
idea was not a new one; but being now taken up by an earnest,
energetic, and hard-working man, there was hope for the practical
working out of this idea in the actual life of humanity. The
idea was neither more nor less than the Sanitary Idea,—the germ of
the sanitary movement.
We must now briefly state how he worked his way to the practical
realization of his idea, in the sanitary movement. It appears that
Mr. Morgan, the government actuary, having been examined before a
Parliamentary committee as to the soundness of the government
annuity-tables, stated that, though the circumstances of the middle
classes had improved, their "expectation of life " had not
lengthened. This being diametrically opposed to our student's idea,
he forthwith set to work to demonstrate the fallacy of the
government actuary's opinion. He laid aside for a time the dreary
law papers on which he had been engaged, and entered upon an equally
dreary course of reading and sifting of statistical documents,
blue-books, life-tables, and population-tables. His practice of
sifting evidence for the attorneys in private cases doubtless helped
him in this investigation. He bored his way through the cumbrous
pile, working his way to the light, and bringing an accumulation of
facts from the most unlooked-for quarters, to illustrate his idea,
and elucidate his master-thought. The result was published in an
able article which appeared in the Westminster Review for April,
1828. He there demonstrated, by an extraordinary array of facts and
arguments, that the circumstances which surround human beings must
have an influence upon their health; that health must improve with
an improvement of these circumstances; that many of those
circumstances which were unfavourable to the healthy lives of men
were under man's control, and capable of being removed; that the
practice of vaccination, the diminution of the ancestral vice of
hard drinking, the increase of habits of cleanliness, the
improvements in medical science, and the better construction of
streets and houses, must, according to all medical and popular
experience, have contributed, à priori, to lengthen life; and these
he proved by a citation of facts from numerous authentic sources. In
short, Mr. Morgan was wrong. The "expectancy of life," as is now
universally admitted, has improved and is rapidly improving; but it
was never thoroughly demonstrated until Edwin Chadwick undertook the
discussion and argument of the entire question.
The article in the Westminster attracted the notice of Lord
Melbourne, who had a remarkable tact for discovering the qualities
of men; and he determined to enlist Mr. Chadwick in the public
service. Though no "eloquent" writer, Mr. Chadwick's pen thus
enabled him to enter upon a highly useful, if not a brilliant,
career in life. Let no one say that the Pen has lost its power in
In like manner, another article, which Mr. Chadwick published in the
London Review, in 1829, on "Preventive Police," was read by Jeremy
Bentham, then in his eighty-second year, who so much admired it,
that he craved an introduction to the writer. The consequence was
the formation of a friendship, that lasted without interruption
until the death of the philosopher, in 1832. Mr. Bentham wished to
engage the whole of his young friend's time in assisting him with
the preparation of his Administrative Code, and he offered to place
him in independent circumstances if he would devote himself
exclusively to the advancement of his works. The offer was, however,
declined, Mr. Chadwick probably foreseeing that the inheritance of
the old jurist's principles might hinder his freedom in life; and,
with a manly independence, he doubtless felt desirous of carving out
for himself his own career.
Mr. Chadwick completed his law studies, and was called to the bar in
November, 1830. He was preparing to enter upon the practice of
common law, occasionally contributing articles to the Westminster,
when he was, in 1832, appointed a commissioner, in conjunction with
Dr. Southwood Smith and Mr. Tooke, to investigate the question of
Factory Labour, which Lord Ashley and Mr. Sadler were at that time
strongly pressing on public attention. The sanitary idea again found
opportunity for expression in the report of the commission, which
referred to "defective drainage, ventilation, water supply," and the
like, as causes of disease,—acting, concurrently with excessive
toil, to depress the health and shorten the lives of the factory
In the same year (1832) an important Commission of Inquiry was
appointed by Lord Grey's government, in reference to the operation
of the Poor Laws in England and Wales. Mr. Chadwick was appointed
one of the assistant commissioners, for the purpose of taking
evidence on the subject; and the districts of London and Berkshire
were allotted to him. His report, which was published in the
following year, is a model of what a report should be. It is full of
information, admirably classified and arranged, and so racy, by
virtue of the facts brought to light, and the care taken to preserve
the very words of the witnesses as they were spoken, that the report
may be read with interest by even the most inveterate enemy of
Mr. Chadwick showed himself so thoroughly master of the entire
subject,—his suggestions were so full of practical value,—that he
was, shortly after the publication of the report, advanced from the
post of assistant commissioner to that of chief commissioner: and he
largely shared, with Mr. Senior, in the labours and honours of the
commissioners' report submitted to the House of Commons in 1834, and
also in the famous Poor-Law Amendment Act passed in August of the
same year, in which the recommendations of the commissioners were
substantially adopted and formalized. [p.389]
One may venture to say now, without fear of being contradicted, that
that law is one of the most valuable that has been placed on the
statute-book in modern times. And yet no law was more unpopular than
this was for years after it was enacted. But Mr. Chadwick never
ceased to have perfect faith in the soundness of the principles on
which it was based, and he was indefatigable in defending and
establishing it. He is, indeed, a man who has never failed in the
courage needful to enable him to do the right thing, even though it
should be the unpopular thing. It has been well said, that to become
popular is an easy thing; but to do unpopular justice,—that
requires a MAN." And Edwin Chadwick was unquestionably such a
While burrowing amidst the voluminous evidence on the Poor Laws, he
never lost sight of his sanitary idea. All his reports were
strongly impressed with it; and in them not less than one fourth of the
then existing pauperism was traced to preventable causes of disease. Mr. Chadwick's minute investigations into the condition of the
labouring population, and of the poor generally, gave him a thorough
acquaintance with the physical evils that were preying on the
community, carrying them prematurely out of existence by fevers,
consumption, and cholera; and the sanitary idea took firmer
possession of his mind than ever.
One day, in 1838, when engaged in his then official vocation of
Secretary to the Poor-Law Commission, "an officer of the Whitechapel
Union entered hastily the Board-room of the Poor-Law Commission,
and, with a troubled countenance, informed the secretary that a
terrible fever had broken out around a stagnant pool in Whitechapel;
that the people were dying by scores; and that the extreme malignity
of the cases gave reason to apprehend that they were allied to
Asiatic cholera. On hearing this the Board, at our sanitary
reformer's instance, immediately appointed Drs. Arnott, Kay, and
Southwood Smith to investigate the causes of this alarming
mortality, and generally to report on the sanitary condition of
London. Drs. Arnott and Kay sent in a joint report, and Dr. Smith a
separate supplemental one; in which, amongst other things, the
pernicious effects of the foul water sold in London were ably set
forth. These reports were circulated to the extent of 4,000 or 5,000
This inquiry ripened at length into the sanitary inquiry, into which
Mr. Chadwick threw his prodigious industry and energy. In the meantime he had been engaged as a member of the Commission of Inquiry "as to the best means of establishing an efficient constabulary force
in England and Wales;" the evidence taken in which inquiry Mr.
Chadwick embodied in a report as interesting as a novel of Dickens,
affording the most curious insight into the modes of living, the
customs and habits, of the lowest classes of the population. When
this question had been dismissed, Mr. Chadwick proceeded to devote
himself almost exclusively to the great work of his life,—the
Sanitary Movement. The Bishop of London, in 1839, moved in the
Lords, that the inquiry which had been made at Mr. Chadwick's
instance by Drs. Southwood Smith, Arnott, and Kay, into the sanitary
state of the metropolis, should be extended to the whole population,
city, rural, and manufacturing, of England and Wales. Some residents
in Edinburgh also petitioned that Scotland might be included and
accordingly, in August, 1839, Lord John Russell addressed a letter
to the Poor-Law Board, authorizing them by royal command to extend
to the whole of Great Britain the inquiry into preventable disease
which had already been gone through with in regard to the
metropolis. On Mr. Chadwick devolved the onerous task of setting on
foot and superintending the inquiry throughout, of sifting evidence,
and of afterwards classifying and condensing the information for the
purposes of publication.
The first Report on the Health of Towns was ready for publication in
1842; and its preparation was altogether the work of Mr. Chadwick. It ought to have appeared as the Official Report of the Poor-Law
Board; but as the commissioners (some of whom were at variance with
Mr. Chadwick with respect to the administration of the New Poor-Law)
refused to assume the responsibility of a document which contained
much that must necessarily offend many influential public bodies,
Mr. Chadwick took the responsibility on himself, and it was
published as his report,—which, indeed, it was,—and accepted from
him as such by the commissioners.
The amount of dry, hard work encountered by Mr. Chadwick in the
preparation of this and his other reports can scarcely be estimated,
except by those who know something of the labour involved in
extracting from masses of evidence, written and printed, sent in
from all parts of the empire, only the most striking results bearing
on the question in hand which are deemed worthy of publication. The
mountains of paper which Mr. Chadwick has thus bored through in his
lifetime are immense; and could they now be presented before him in
one pile, they would appal even his stout heart!
The sensation excited throughout the country by the publication of
Mr. Chadwick's Sanitary Report was immense. Such a revelation of the
horrors lying concealed beneath the fair surface of our modern
Christian civilization had never been made before. But Mr. Chadwick
had no idea of merely exciting a sensation; he had an object in
view, which he persistently pursued. The report was nothing, unless
followed by legislative enactments, which, indeed, shortly followed. A sanitary party was formed; and the ministers for the time being,
of both sides in politics, were its influential leaders, giving
practical effect to the sanitary idea.
Mr. Chadwick followed up this report in the following year by
another elaborate report on the practice of interment of towns,—a
work which extended and enforced the views of Mr. Walker on this
A Sanitary Commission was appointed in 1844, to consider the whole
question in its practical bearings. The Commission published two
reports, with a view to legislation; but the Free-Trade struggle
interfered, and little was done for several years. Meanwhile our
sanitary reformer was occupied as a commissioner in inquiring into
the condition of the metropolis. This Commission published three
reports, in which the defective drainage, sewage, and water-supply
of London were discussed in detail; and these have recently been
followed by important acts of legislation.
We cannot here enter upon any description of Mr. Chadwick's
numerous valuable reports; but will mention his report (published in
1845) on the Drainage, Paving, Cleansing, and Water-supply of Towns,
as one of the ablest state papers ever issued from a government
The sanitary idea at length had its triumph in the enactment of the
Public Health Act of 1848, and the appointment of a General Board of
Health (of which Mr. Chadwick was a member) to superintend its
administration. Numerous supplemental measures have since been
enacted, with a view to carrying into practical effect the sanitary
principles enunciated by Mr. Chadwick and adopted by the Board. They
published reports, from time to time, full of valuable information:
for instance, in reference to the application of sewage water to
agricultural purposes; on Epidemic Cholera; on Quarantine; on
Drainage; on Public Lodging-Houses; and the like. The sanitary
movement, in short, became a "great fact;" and that it is so, we
have mainly to thank Edwin Chadwick, the missionary of the Sanitary
Idea. It is true, he has recently been summarily dismissed from his
position of influence at the Board of Health,—partly through spleen,
but chiefly because of his own unaccommodating
nature,—unaccommodating especially to petty local authorities and
individual interests opposed to the public good. [p.
393] But with all
thinking and impartial men, his character stands as high as it did. At all events, his works will remain.
We do not know a more striking instance than that presented by this
gentleman's career, of the large amount of good which a man strongly
possessed by a beneficent idea can accomplish, provided he have only
the force of purpose and perseverance to follow it up. Mr. Chadwick
also furnishes an illustration of this truth,—that a true man, of
high and original powers, works for the service of humanity and not
for the honours which it has to bestow. Though he is not an actual
legislator, he has nevertheless been the mover of more wise measures
than any legislator of our time. He has possessed the legislature
with his leading Idea; and he has created a public opinion out of
doors in favour of sanitary reform which will not let them lag, even
if they would. Take him in all, Edwin Chadwick is one of the most
useful of practical men. If he be not esteemed in future times as a
Clarkson or a Howard, it will not be because he has not deserved
this. He certainly deserves to be regarded as one of the best
practical benefactors of his kind.
We conclude our sketch with an account of a somewhat remarkable
interview which took place some years ago between Mr. Chadwick and
the Emperor of the French, which is not without its interest for the
At the time of the Great Exhibition in Paris, in 1854, a deputation
from England, of whom Mr. Chadwick was one, had occasion to wait
upon the Emperor at his palace of St. Cloud. We give the account of
the interview exactly as related to us by one who was present, and
it will be found to bring out something of the humour of Louis
Napoleon, as well as the peculiarities which characterize Mr. Edwin
The appointment was arranged for Sunday afternoon, at two o'clock,
and the deputation was punctual. The Emperor, however, was engaged
on business with members of the Diplomatic Corps, and could not
receive them for nearly an hour: but, with prompt decision, he
ordered the Galleries of Art to be thrown open, and trusted the
gentlemen from England would be able to amuse themselves for a short
time. His thoughtful kindliness was well calculated to make a
favourable impression, and the time indeed seemed short when it was
announced that the Emperor was waiting. On entering the
audience-chamber, Lord Cowley handed to an attendant the names of
those forming the deputation, who took their places in the order in
which they were written. The attendant withdrew, and soon after the
Emperor entered accompanied by some of his officers of state. Lord
Cowley introduced the head of the deputation by name, who read an
address, to which the Emperor replied in familiar terms, and then,
approaching the leader of the deputation, and speaking to him by
name, shook him cordially by the hand and bade him welcome. There
was nothing surprising in this, because it was natural to suppose
that his name might be remembered. But when he passed along the
semicircle, and shook each by the hand, and spoke to him by name,
without reference to any document, they were absolutely amazed. After expressing the hope that they would enjoy their visit to Paris
the Emperor returned to Mr. Chadwick, when the following dialogue
"Well, Mr. Chadwick, and how do you enjoy Paris?"
"May it please your Majesty, I enjoy Paris much, and being here on a
special mission, as your Majesty is aware, I shall feel it to be my
duty to report faithfully, and to the best of my judgment, on
matters connected with the inquiry."
"I hope your report will be favourable, Mr. Chadwick."
"In many respects entirely so; but in others not. All that meets the
eye is beautiful, and I find much that is worthy of imitation. But
—" and here Mr. Chadwick paused.
"But—I suppose you were about to add, Mr. Chadwick—but all that
meets the nose is not so agreeable." (The Emperor here smiled,—so
did the deputation.)
"In this presence," replied Mr. Chadwick, "I should not have
ventured to say so much, but your Majesty has accurately interpreted
the thought I wished to convey."
"Could you suggest any remedy, Mr. Chadwick?"
"Undoubtedly, your Majesty! Nothing could be easier than the
drainage of Paris. The area of the city is small, and the gradient
so good, that the system might be made the most perfect, and the
Paris atmosphere the purest of any city in the world."
"Would you drain the refuse matter of Paris into the Seine, as you
drain London into the Thames, Mr. Chadwick?"
"No, your Majesty; that has been found to be a terrible mistake; and
we are about to entirely change the system. We have in England a
town drained on what we consider a model system. I refer to the town
of Rugby. The authorities have completed their drainage, and entered
into an agreement with an enterprising agriculturist, who pays a
certain fixed sum per annum for the entire sewage, of which he takes
possession at the boundary of the town, and, by means of pipes laid
at his own cost, conveys it to such points of his farm as will
enable him best to spread it equally all over his land. And the
result is, that he has several crops of grass in each year of
immense weight and value."
"Do you mean, Mr. Chadwick, that your enterprising agriculturist
spreads that unpleasant stuff on the green grass?"
"I do, your Majesty."
"Then it must be very unpleasant to sit upon!"
The whimsicality of this remark broke down all restraint. The
deputation laughed outright, and in their laughter the Emperor
Here was a fine opening for a bucolic member of the deputation, who
eagerly seized the opportunity of stepping forward to enlighten the
Emperor. He begged to assure his Majesty that it was neither
unpleasant, nor dangerous to health. It was the nature of all
vegetation to greedily absorb the food suitable to it. Sewage matter
was the natural food of plants, and—
The Emperor, however, fearing a tedious lecture upon agricultural
chemistry, suddenly turned from his new friend, and again addressed
himself to his imperturbable friend Chadwick.
"If your time admits, Mr. Chadwick, perhaps you will
kindly proceed, and give me a few practical hints as to the how of the case?"
"Your Majesty will allow that, of all places, the greatest demand
for vegetables of every variety exists in Paris. To economize
labour, and thus lessen the cost of a prime necessity of food, is a
question well worthy the consideration of your Majesty. The
surrounding land is hungry for the refuse of your city, and every
visitor cries, 'Away with it!' By a proper and simple system,
arrangements might be made by which, within a radius of twenty miles
of Paris, a larger quantity of vegetables might be produced than is
now obtained from a radius of fifty miles. Your houses are so high,
that they are almost like perpendicular streets, and half drain
themselves by simple gravity. The gradients are all good, and only
require the necessary pipes and a sufficient supply of water. But,
in my humble opinion, if your Majesty wills it, the work is half
"I thank you, Mr. Chadwick, and the gentlemen present; and if I can
do anything to make your stay in Paris more pleasant, let your
wishes be made known through the Minister, and they shall be
promptly attended to. I shall appoint a commission to inquire into
the question Mr. Chadwick has introduced; and should they find it
necessary to visit London for further information, I assume they may
reckon upon receiving the assistance of this deputation?"
A promise to that effect was given; and here the interview might
have closed. But Mr. Chadwick desired another last word, and, moving
a step in advance, he said:—
"It was the boast of Augustus, that he found Rome brick, and left it
marble; but it will be a greater, a wiser, and a prouder boast, if,
in the time to come, it can be truly said, 'The Emperor Napoleon
the Third found Paris offensively odorous, and left it sweet!"
The Emperor seemed greatly pleased with these parting words of the
sanitary philosopher, and the deputation withdrew amidst general
The unexpected frankness, familiarity, and humour of the Emperor,
during the interview, astonished everybody; and, to judge from the
look of surprise which the faces of his attendants expressed, it was
quite clear that it was to them an unusual scene. That Louis
Napoleon thoroughly entered into the spirit of the interview, there
can be no doubt. But whether he laughed with, or at, the deputation,
no one now can tell; and it is one of the secrets which time itself
will be unable to divulge. It is, nevertheless, gratifying to find
that the plans introduced in a way so peculiar are being gradually
carried out; and it is by no means improbable, that the ideal of Mr.
Chadwick may be more than accomplished, and that Paris will
eventually be, not only the most beautiful, but also one of the
healthiest, because one of the purest, cities in the world. [p.398]
(1814-37): Scottish poet and Editor of the Leeds Times.
THE name of
Robert Nicoll will always take high rank among the poets of
Scotland. He was one of the many illustrious Scotchmen who
have risen up to adorn the lot of toil, and reflect honour on the
class from which they have sprung,—the laborious and hard-working
peasantry of their land. Nicoll, like Burns, was a man of whom
those who live in poor men's huts may well be proud. They
declare, from day to day, that intellect is of no class, but that
even in abodes of the deepest poverty there are warm hearts and
noble minds, wanting but the opportunity and the circumstances to
enable them to take their place as honourable and zealous labourers
in the work of human improvement and Christian progress.
The life of Robert Nicoll was not one of much variety
of incident. It was, alas! brought to an early close; for he
died almost ere he had reached manhood. But in his short
allotted span, it is not too much to say, that he lived more than
most men have done who reach their threescore years and ten.
He was born of hard-working, God-fearing parents, in the year 1814,
at the little village of Tulliebelton, situated near the foot of the
Grampian Hills, in Perthshire. At an early period of his life,
his father had rented the small farm of Ordie-braes; but having been
unsuccessful in his farming, and falling behind with his rent, his
home was broken up by the laird; the farm-stocking was sold off by
public roup; and the poor man was reduced to the rank of a common
Robert was the second of a family of seven children,
six sons and one daughter, the "sister Margaret" of whom the poet
afterwards spoke and wrote so affectionately. Out of the bare
weekly income of a day-labourer, there was not, as might be
inferred, much to spare for schooling. But the mother was an
intelligent, active woman, and assiduously devoted herself to the
culture of her children. She taught them to read, and gave
them daily lessons in the Assembly's Catechism; so that before being
sent to school, which they all were in due course, this good and
prudent mother had laid the foundations in them of a sound moral and
"My mother," says Nicoll, in one of his letters, "in
her early years, was an ardent book-woman. When she became
poor, her time was too precious to admit of its being spent in
reading, and I generally read to her while she was working; for she
took care that the children should not want education."
Robert's subsequent instruction at school included
the common branches of reading, writing, and accounts; the remainder
of his education was his own work. He became a voracious
reader, laying half the parish under contribution for books. A
circulating library was got up in the neighbouring village of
Auchtergaven, which the lad managed to connect himself with, and his
mind became stored apace.
Robert, like the rest of the children, when he became
big enough and old enough, was sent out to field-work, to contribute
by the aid of his slender gains towards the common store. At
seven he was sent to the herding of cattle, an occupation, by the
way, in which many distinguished Scotchmen—Burns, James Ferguson,
Mungo Park, Dr. Murray (the Orientalist), and James Hogg—spent their
early years. In winter, Nicoll attended the school with his
"fee." When occupied in herding, the boy had always a book for
his companion; and he read going to his work and returning from it.
While engaged in this humble vocation he read most of the Waverley
novels. At a future period of his life, he says, "I can yet
look back with no common feelings on the wood in which, while
herding, I read Kenilworth." Probably the perusal of that
beautiful fiction never gave a purer pleasure, even in the stately
halls of rank and fashion, than it gave to the poor herd-boy in the
wood at Tulliebelton.
When twelve years of age, Robert was taken from the
herding, and went to work in the garden of a neighbouring
proprietor. Shortly after, when about thirteen, he began to
scribble his thoughts, and to string rhymes together. About
this time also, as one of his intimate friends has told us, he
passed through a strange phasis of being. He was in the
practice of relating to his companions the most wonderful and
incredible stories as facts,—stories that matched the wonders of the
Arabian Tales,—and evidencing the inordinate ascendancy at that time
of his imagination over the other faculties of his mind. The
tales and novel literature, which, in common with all other kinds of
books, he devoured with avidity, probably tended to the development
of this disease (for such it really seemed to be) in his young and
excitable nature. As for the verses which he then wrote, they
were not at all such as satisfied himself; for, despairing of ever
being able to write the English language correctly, he gathered all
his papers together and made a bonfire of them, resolving to write
no more "poetry" for the present. He became, however, the
local correspondent of a provincial newspaper circulating in the
district, furnishing it with weekly paragraphs and scraps of news,
on the state of the weather, crops, &c. His return for this
service was an occasional copy of the paper, and the consequence
attendant on being the "correspondent" of the village. But
another person was afterwards found more to the liking of the editor
of the paper, and Robert, to his chagrin, lost his profitless post.
Nicoll's next change was an important one to him.
He left his native hamlet and went into the world of active life.
At the age of seventeen he was bound apprentice to a grocer and
wine-merchant in Perth. There he came in contact with
business, and activity, and opinion. The time was stirring
with agitation. The Reform movement had passed over the face
of the country like a tornado, raising millions of minds to action.
The exciting effects of the agitation on the intellects and
sympathies of the youth of that day are still remembered; and few
there were who did not feel more or less influenced by them.
The excitable mind of Nicoll was one of the first to be influenced;
he burned to distinguish himself as a warrior on the people's side;
he had longings infinite after popular enlargement, enfranchisement,
and happiness. His thoughts shortly found vent in verse, and
he became a poet. He joined a debating-society, and made
speeches. Every spare moment of his time was devoted to
self-improvement,—to the study of grammar, to the reading of works
on political economy, and to politics in all their forms. In the
course of one summer, he several times read through with attention
Smith's Wealth of Nations, not improbably with an eye to some future
employment on the newspaper press. He also read Milton, Locke,
and Bentham, and devoured with avidity all other books that he could
lay hands on. The debating-society with which he was connected
proposed to start a periodical, and Nicoll undertook to write a tale
for the first number. The periodical did not appear, and the
tale was sent to Johnstone's Edinburgh Magazine, where it was
published under the title of "Jessie Ogilvy," to the no small joy of
the writer. It decided Nicoll's vocation,—it determined him to
be an author. He proclaimed his Radicalism,—his resolution to
"stand by his order," that of "the many." His letters to his
relatives, about this time, are full of political allusions.
He was working very hard, too,— attending in his mistress's shop,
from seven in the morning till nine at night, and afterwards sitting
up to read and write; rising early in the morning, and going forth
to the North Inch by five o'clock, to write or to read until the
hour of shop-opening. At the same time he was living on the
poorest possible diet,—literally on bread and cheese, and
water,—that he might devote every possible farthing of his small
gains to the purposes of mental improvement.
Few constitutions can stand such intense labour and
privation with impunity; and there is little doubt but Nicoll was
even then undermining his health, and sowing the seeds of the malady
which in so short a time after was to bring him to his grave.
But he was eager to distinguish himself in the field of letters,
though but a poor shop-lad; and, more than all, he was ambitious to
be independent, and have the means of aiding his mother in her
humble exertions for a living; never losing sight of the comfort and
welfare of that first and fastest of his friends. At length,
however, his health became seriously impaired, so much so that his
Perth apprenticeship was abruptly brought to a close, and he was
sent home by his mistress to be nursed by his mother at Ordie
Braes,—not, however, before he had contributed another Radical
story, entitled "The Zingaro," a poem on "Bessy Bell and Mary Gray,"
and an article on "The Life and Times of John Milton," to
Edinburgh Magazine. An old friend and schoolfellow, who saw
him in the course of this visit to his mother's house, thus speaks
of him at the time: "Robert's city life had not spoiled him.
His acquaintance with men and books had improved his mind without
chilling his heart. At this time he was full of joy and hope.
A bright literary life stretched before him. His conversation
was gay, and sparkling, and rushed forth like a stream that flows
through flowery summer vales."
His health soon became re-established, and he then
paid a visit to Edinburgh, (Turing the period of the Grey
Festival,—and there met his kind friend Mrs. Johnstone, William Tait,
Robert Chambers, Robert Gilfillan, and others known in the literary
world, by all of whom he was treated with much kindness and
hospitality. His search for literary employment, however,
which was the main cause of his visit to Edinburgh, was in vain, and
he returned home disappointed, though not hopeless.
He was about twenty when he went to Dundee, there to
start a small circulating library. The project was not very
successful; but while be kept it going, he worked harder than ever
at literary improvement. He now wrote his Lyrics and Poems,
which, on their publication, were extremely well received by the
press. He also wrote for the liberal newspapers of the town,
delivered lectures, made speeches, and extended his knowledge of men
and society. In a letter to a friend, written in February,
1836, he says: "No wonder I am busy. I am at this moment
writing poetry: I have almost half a volume of a novel written; I
have to attend the meetings of the Kinloch Monument Committee;
attend my shop; write some half-dozen articles a week for the
Advertiser; and, to crown all, I have fallen in love." At
last, however, finding the library to be a losing concern, he made
it entirely over to the partner who had joined him, and quitted
Dundee, with the intention of seeking out some literary employment
by which he might live.
The Dundee speculation had involved Nicoll, and
through him his mother, in debt, though to only a small amount.
This debt weighed heavy on his mind, and he thus opened his heart in
a highly characteristic letter to his parent about it: "This money
of R.'s (a friend who had lent him a few pounds to commence business
with) hangs like a millstone about my neck. If I had it paid,
I would never borrow again from mortal man. But do not mistake
me, mother; I am not one of those men who faint and falter in the
great battle of life. God has given me too strong a heart for
that. I look upon earth as a place where every man is set to
struggle, and to work, that he may be made humble and pure-hearted,
and fit for that better land for which earth is a preparation,—to
which earth is the gate. Cowardly is that man who bows before
the storm of life,—who runs not the needful race manfully, and with
a cheerful heart. If men would but consider how little of real
evil there is in all the ills of which they are so much
afraid,—poverty included,—there would be more virtue and happiness,
and less world and mammon worship on earth than is. I think,
mother, that to me has been given talent; and if so, that talent was
given to make it useful to man. To man it cannot be made a
source of happiness unless it be cultivated; and cultivated it
cannot be unless, I think, little [here some words are obliterated];
and much and well of purifying and enlightening the soul. This
is my philosophy; and its motto is,—
Despair, thy name is written on
The roll of common men.
Half the unhappiness of life
springs from looking back to griefs which are past, and forward with
fear to the future. That is not my way. I am determined
never to bend to the storm that is coming, and never to look back on it
after it has passed. Fear not for me, dear mother; for I
feel myself daily growing firmer, and more hopeful in spirit. The
more I think and reflect,—and thinking, instead of reading, is now my
occupation,—I feel that, whether I be growing richer or not, I am
growing a wiser man, which is far better. Pain, poverty, and all
the other wild beasts of life which so affright others, I am so bold as
to think I could look in the face without shrinking, without losing
respect for myself, faith in man's high destinies, and trust in God.
There is a point which it costs much mental toil and struggling to gain,
but which, when once gained, a man can look down from, as a traveller
from a lofty mountain, on storms raging below, while he is walking in
sunshine. That I have yet gained this point in life, I will not
say, but I feel myself daily nearer it."
About the end of the year 1836, Nicoll succeeded,
through the kind assistance of Mr. Tait, of Edinburgh, in obtaining an
appointment as editor of an English newspaper, the
Leeds Times. This was the kind of occupation for which he
had longed; and he entered upon the arduous labours of his office with
great spirit. During his year and a half of editorship his mind
seemed to be on fire; and on the occasion of a Parliamentary contest in
the town in which the paper was published, he wrote in a style which to
some seemed bordering on frenzy. He neither gave nor took quarter.
The man who went not so far as he did in political opinion was regarded
by him as an enemy, and denounced accordingly. He dealt about his
blows with almost savage violence. This novel and daring style,
however, attracted attention to the paper, and its circulation rapidly
increased, sometimes at the rate of two or three hundred a week.
One can scarcely believe that the tender-hearted poet and the fierce
political partisan were one and the same person, or that he who had so
I dare not scorn the meanest thing
That on the earth Cloth crawl,
should have held up his political
opponents, in the words of another poet,
To grinning scorn a sacrifice,
And endless infamy.
inconsistencies are, we believe, reconcilable in the mental histories of
ardent and impetuous men. Doubtless, had Nicoll lived, we should
have found his sympathies becoming more enlarged, and embracing other
classes besides those of only one form of political creed. One of
his friends once asked him why, like Elliot, he did not write political
poetry. His reply was, that "he could not: when writing politics,
he could be as wild as he chose: he felt a vehement desire, a feeling
amounting almost to a wish, for vengeance upon the oppressor: but when
he turned to poetry, a softening influence came over him, and he could
be bitter no longer."
His literary labours while in Leeds were enormous.
He was not satisfied with writing from four to five columns weekly for the paper; but he was engaged at the same time in writing a long poem, a novel, and in furnishing leading articles for a new Sheffield newspaper.
In the midst of this tremendous labour, he found time to go down to Dundee to get married to the young woman with whom he had fallen in love.
The comfort of his home was thus increased, though his labours continued as before.
They soon told upon his health. The clear and ruddy complexion of the youth grew pallid; the erect, manly gait became stooping; the firm step faltered; the lustrous eye dimmed; and health gave place to debility: the worm of disease was already at his heart and gnawing away his vitals.
His cough, which had never entirely left him since his illness, brought on by
self-imposed privation and study while at Perth, again appeared in an aggravated form; his breath grew short and thick; his cheeks became shrunken; and the hectic flush which rarely deceives, soon made its appearance.
He appeared as if suddenly to grow old; his shoulders became contracted; he appeared to wither up, and the sap of life to shrink from his veins.
Need we detail the melancholy progress of a disease which is, in this country, the annual fate of thousands.
As Nicoll's illness increased, he expressed an anxious desire to see his mother, and she was informed of it accordingly.
She was very poor, and little able to afford an expensive journey to Yorkshire by coach; nevertheless she contrived to pay the visit to her son.
Afterwards, when a friend inquired how she had been able to incur the expense, as poor Robert was in no condition to assist her even to the extent of the coach fare, her simple but noble reply was, "Indeed,
Mr.――, I shore for the siller." The true woman, worthy mother of so worthy a son, earned as a reaper the means of honestly and independently fulfilling her boy's dying wish, and the ardent desire of her own loving heart.
So soon as she set eyes on him on her arrival at Leeds, she felt at once that his days were numbered.
It almost seemed as if, while the body of the poet decayed, his mind grew more active and excitable, and that, as the physical powers become more weakened, his sense of sympathy became more keen.
When he engaged in conversation upon a subject which he loved,—upon human progress, the amelioration of the lot of the poor, the emancipation of
mind,—he seemed as one inspired. Usually quiet and reserved, he would on such occasions work himself into a state of the greatest excitement.
His breast heaved, his whole frame was agitated, and while he spoke, his large lustrous eyes beamed with unwonted fire.
His wife feared such outbursts, which were followed by sleepless nights, and the aggravation of his complaint.
Throughout the whole progress of his disease, down to the time when he left Leeds, Nicoll did not fail to produce his usual weekly quota of literary
labour. They little know, who have not learnt from experience, what pains and anxieties, what sorrows and cares, he hid under the columns of a daily or weekly newspaper.
No galley-slave at the oar tugs harder for life than the man who writes in newspapers for the indispensable of daily bread.
The press is ever at his heels, crying, "Give, give!" and well or ill, gay or sad, the Editor must supply the usual complement of "leading article."
The last articles poor Nicoll wrote for the paper were prepared whilst he sat up in bed, propped about by pillows.
A friend entered just as he had finished them, and found him in a state of high excitement: the veins on his forehead were turgid and his eyes bloodshot; his whole frame quivered, and the perspiration streamed from him.
He had produced a pile of blotted and blurred manuscript, written in his usual energetic manner.
It was immediately after sent to press. These were the last leaders he wrote.
They were shortly after followed by a short address to the readers of the paper, in which he took a short but affectionate farewell of them, stating that he went "to try the effect of his native air, as a last chance for life."
Almost at the moment of his departure from Leeds, an incident occurred which must have been exceedingly affecting to Nicoll, as it was to those who witnessed it.
Ebenezer Elliott, the "Corn-Law Rhymer," who entertained an enthusiastic admiration for the young poet, had gone over from Sheffield to deliver a short course of lectures to the Leeds Literary Institution, and promised himself the pleasure of a kindly interview with Robert Nicoll.
On inquiring about him, after the delivery of his first lecture, he was distressed to learn the sad state to which he was reduced.
"No words," says Elliott, in a letter to the writer of this memoir, "can express the pain I felt when informed, on my return to my inn, that he was dying, and that if I would see him I must reach his dwelling before eight o'clock next morning, at which hour he would depart by railway for Edinburgh, in the hope that his native air might restore him.
I was five minutes too late to see him at his house, but I followed him to the station, where about a minute before the train started he was pointed out to me in one of the carriages, seated, I believe, between his wife and his mother.
I stood on the step of the carriage and told him my name. He
gasped,—they all three wept; but I heard not his voice."
The invalid reached Newhaven, near Leith, sick, exhausted, distressed, and dying.
He was received under the hospitable roof of Mrs. Johnstone, his early friend, who tended him as if he had been her own child.
Other friends gathered around him, and contributed to smooth his dying couch.
It was not the least of Nicoll's distresses, that towards his latter end he was tortured by the horrors of destitution; not so much for himself as for those who were dependent on him for their daily bread.
A generous gift of £50 was forwarded by Sir William Molesworth, but Nicoll did not live to enjoy the bounty; in a few days after, he breathed his last in the arms of his wife.
The remains of Robert Nicoll rest in a narrow spot in Newhaven Churchyard.
No stone marks his resting place; only a small green mound, that has been watered by the tears of the loved he has left behind him.
On that spot the eye of God dwells; and around the precincts of the poet's grave, the memories of friends still hover with a fond and melancholy regret.
Robert Nicoll was no ordinary man; Ebenezer Elliott has said of him, "Burns at his age had done nothing like him."
His poetry is the very soul of pathos, tenderness, and sublimity.
We might almost style him the Scottish Keats; though he was much more real and lifelike, and more definite in his aims and purposes, than Keats was.
There is a truthful earnestness in the poetry of Nicoll, which comes home to the universal heart. Especially does he give utterance to that deep poetry which lives in the heart, and murmurs in the lot of the poor man.
He knew and felt it all, and found for it a voice in his exquisite lyrics.
These have truth written on their very front;—as Nicoll said truly to a friend, "I have written my
heart in my poems; and rude, unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there."
"We are lowly," "The Ha' Bible," "The Hero," "The Bursting of the Chain," "I dare not scorn," and numerous other pieces which might be named, are inferior to few things of their kind in the English language.
"The Ha' Bible" is perhaps not unworthy to take rank with "The Cotter's Saturday Night" of Robert Burns.
It is as follows:—
THE HA' BIBLE.
Chief of the Household Gods
Which hallow Scotland's lowly cottage homes!
While looking on thy signs,
That speak, though dumb, deep thought upon me comes,—
With glad yet solemn dreams my heart is stirred,
Like Childhood's when it hears the carol of a bird!
The Mountains old and hear,—
The chainless Winds,—the Streams so pure and free,—
The God-enamelled Flowers,—
The waving Forest,—the eternal Sea,—
The Eagle floating o'er the mountain's brow,—
Are Teachers all; but oh! they are not such as thou!
O, I could worship thee!
Thou art a gift a God of love might give;
For Love and Hope and Joy
In thy Almighty-written pages live!—
The Slave who reads shall never crouch again;
For, mind-inspired by thee, he bursts his feeble chain!
God! Unto Thee I kneel,
And thank Thee! Thou unto my native land—
Yea, to the outspread Earth—
Hast stretched in love Thy Everlasting hand,
And Thou hast given Earth and Sea and Air,—
Yea, all that heart can ask of Good and Pure and Fair!
And, Father, Thou hast spread
Before men's eyes this Charter of the Free,
That all Thy Book might read,
And Justice love, and Truth and Liberty.
The Gift was unto Men,—the Giver God!
Thou Slave! it stamps thee Man,—go spurn thy weary load
Thou doubly-precious Book!
Unto thy light what doth not Scotland owe?—
Thou teachest Age to die,
And Youth in Truth unsullied up to grow!
In lowly homes a Comforter art thou,—
A sunbeam sent from God,—an Everlasting bow!
O'er thy broad ample page
How many dim and aged eyes have pored?
How many hearts o'er thee
In silence deep and holy have adored?
How many Mothers, by their Infants' bed,
Thy Holy, Blessed, Pure, Child-loving words have read!
And o'er thee soft young hands
Have oft in truthful plighted Love been joined,
And thou to wedded hearts
Hast been a bond,—an altar of the mind!—
Above all kingly power or kingly law
May Scotland reverence aye the Bible of the Ha'!