Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

"The minstrel's merry month of June!"-so | the realization of poetic visions when the sum

we think Sir E. Bulwer Lytton has styled it in one of his graceful poems; and although the epithet may have been applied a hundred times beside, it can never pall on repetition, because it is so truthfully expressive. Spring is now changing imperceptibly into Summer: the buds of promise are expanding into the matured flowers, that we may have the fruition of earlier foreshadowings-the accomplishment as well as the prophecy.

mer moon-floating in a liquid sky where darkness, for a season, cannot once dwell-lights up the sparkling dew-drops into diamonds, and changes the darkest water to a crystal stream, surpassing fairy tales in magic power, giving new beauty to the beautiful. Breathe not the folded flowers a voiceless prayer-a spiritually audible anthem amid their incense? Are not the quick pulsations of Nature's giant heart as perceptible as in the glowing noon? Yes, during the deep sleep of all-day-toiling creatures, the never-resting principle of life works still around us; and the thankful hymn of Creation has not ceased since first the worlds were made.

Not yet have the plumed choir wholly ceased their vernal strains-the songs emanating from love-though one after another they become silent as the season advances. Still, beneath the evening shadows, deep in thick-wooded glens, sings the blithe mavis; and now, when other warblers slumber, the sedge-bird, sitting among the river willows, will pour a strain as sweet, if not as classical, as that of the southern nightingale. Why should we lament Philomela's absence-we who have a legend for every rock, a spirit sitting by every stream? It is well to dream beneath the olive groves of Greece, of Tereus' guilt and Progue's savage feast.

A night in June! how balmy! how delicious

Ten thousand mighty eyes look down upon us; ten thousand starry orbs, whose everlasting music in their courses is to us indistinct, though it blends perpetually with the angels' and the archangels' songs. Along the north, beneath the polar star, lingers the purple day, whose reign knows now no interruption upon the Arctic hills. So in the midst of Night may Day be found; and, in the hour of blackest sorrow— Hope.

A change appears! A creeping mist—a gathered veil of wreathing vapours, that hides

The Vesper Hour.

the lowlands, and for a space obscures even the heavenly host. And this is also beautiful, for

"though the stars be dim, Yet let us think upon the balmy showers That gladden the green earth, and we shall find A pleasure in the dimness of the stars."

COLERIDGE.

A poet is essentially a naturalist, although he may be utterly ignorant of the technicalities of science so also a true naturalist must be imbued with a portion of the poetic spirit, although he may never have written one line of verse. Nature and Poetry are one-united and indissoluble-alike in the past and in the present, in the distance and at hand. Why is it, that whilst so many thousands eagerly embark in speculations and pursuits calculated to harden their hearts and stifle man's best feelings, so few pause to look on the book of Nature, and to study her mysterious but most exquisite laws? Mammon! corrupter of the human soul! thou -"the least erected spirit that fell from heaven" -prompter alike of the greatest and the meanest crimes, this likewise is thy work!

But not for us is thy worship: avoid thee, evil one! Be it ours still to gaze and to admire-to study and to adore, reading on the high hills and in the lowly valleys-on the fertile plains and on the never-silent sea, the wondrous love which THE ALMIGHTY Himself hath written there-wandering in the deep woodlands when noon is high, or amid the dewy moonlight-listening to the cheerful melody of singing birds, or the hum of nightwandering insects-watching the flowers spring, and bloom, and die, even as doth man himself-each creature and every herb fufillling the just law of its given life, making earth still lovely, though sin has obscured its primæval beauty.

When can we better hold converse with Nature than in the leafy "merrie" June ?

Banks of the Yore.

TO A LITTLE STAR SHINING AT MY WINDOW.

Oh, little Star, that every night

Across the Tiber's banks doth peep, And on my lidded eyes alight

Art thou a dream to bless my sleep?

Methinks since thou hast come to me,

As Dian to Endymion bent, My visions are more heavenly,

With sweeter recollections blent.

Methinks the figures of the dead

Slide on thy glimmer from the skies, And softly waft unto my bed

The balmy breath of Paradise.

O twinkling orb, desert me not, For in the clear pellucid ray That from thy distant wheel is shot

I recognize the far away

The parted from me by the seas,
Them too thou bringest oft at night;
No wonder that thy dream should please
With such ineffable delight.

I prize thy blessing, little one,
Not less that at the break of morn
The effulgence of Italia's sun
Into my quiet room is borne :

Your joint attendance I would keep,

And value each for each's sakeThy tranquil smile before I sleep;

His golden glory when I wake.

For thou art that last thought to heaven,

Ere dreams that may be death we face; And he, the strength and courage given From God to run our mortal race.

P. P. C.

THE VESPER HOUR.

Lovely star, whose pallid splendour

Breaks through evening's sickly light, Ere that lessening light surrender Nature to the gloom of Night.

How I love thy hour, when sadness

Stealthily invades the breast, As the scenes of recent gladness Night's descending shades invest!

When the holy thoughts that slumber

While we swell the festive throng, Wake, and Memory loves to number Over, days departed long ;

When the zephyr's lowly whisper,

Stealing through the branches near— Like the tones of friends far distantFalls on Contemplation's ear;

When the thought of joys that never
We again on earth may know,
Shared with hearts now hushed for ever,
Bids the tears of Feeling flow;

When her shade, whom Time's rude billow
Swept from us in brighter day-
Her who smoothed our infant pillow-
Hovers round our lonely way;

When her song-those "fairy numbers"
Which beguiled each April tear,
And composed our infant slumbers-
Faintly floats on Fancy's ear!

333

[blocks in formation]

A RECOLLECTION OF THE GIFTED.

BY ELIZABETH YOU ATT.

"Beside the marble bust
Which marks where venerable goodness waits
The Archangel's call, tradition loves to sit
And chronicle her deeds."

MRS. WEST.

We shall begin by bespeaking the reader's love and pity towards our simple heroine, for she deserved and needed both, and was early distinguished from amidst those with whom she associated, as much by her rare beauty, as by a singular affliction to which we shall presently advert. On the night which we have selected for our first scene, there was a dance given at the farm-house where Elizabeth, for we will know her at present by no other name, resided, with a widowed mother, and a numerous family of brothers and sisters, the latter all more or less distinguished for their personal attractions; but they wanted that " something than beauty dearer," which formed through life the sweetest charm of her of whom we write.

They were all very merry, somewhat too boisterously so, perhaps, to suit the more refined notions of our modern belles; but it was what Elizabeth had been accustomed to, and she was never very fastidious in welcoming all sorts and kinds of innocent mirth and recreation, come in what shape they would. There were times when the natural joyousness of her disposition burst through all restraint-when her laugh is described to have been the most musical and gladsome sound imaginable-but this was not one of them. And it was no new thing then for her to stand apart and neglected, as it were, for a whole evening.

She was at this period about seventeen years of age, "with a figure," to use the language of one of her biographers, "that could not be seen without astonishment at its rare loveliness; tall and slender, of the purest complexion and most beautiful features; her hair was of a golden auburn; her eyes full of a sweetness and delicacy that checked presumption, while they interested and captivated the heart." There have been many beautiful women in the world, who have lived, and died, and been forgotten; and so might our heroine, but for that one misfortune, which may after all have been only a blessing in disguise. But we are slow to recognise such, and more apt to repine than submit meekly to His will who ordereth everything for the best.

Poor Elizabeth had a defect in her speech, which for a long time kept her from society, and rendered her scarcely intelligible to strangers.

And then it was, in those dark and solitary hours, that she doubtless imbibed that passion for literature to which she owed her after-fame. Not that we would by any means insinuate that fame is necessary to happiness--far from it; but, judging from the future destiny of the other members of the family, we may safely conclude that Elizabeth's talents were given her to be a blessing both to herself and them, and to enable her to become their guardian angel in the time of need.

Owing in a great measure to her own patient perseverance, our heroine had of late almost entirely conquered the youthful defect to which we have alluded, although its consequences remained, colouring her whole future existence. It was choice rather than necessity which kept her apart and solitary on that festival night, looking through the half-open casement, and lost in a thousand wild dreams. What a world of romance lay hid in that young heart! - real, girlish romance, ready to be poured out on the first object that presented itself-lighting up everything with its own golden hues, and making unto itself strange idols, to which it turns back in after years with mingled smiles and weeping! Beside this, came restless and haunting desires-the love of change-ambitious aspirings after celebrity-the proud consciousness of untried powers. Nothing would do but Elizabeth must be an actress! It was a strange choice, more especially for her, and doubtless awakened by early association, for she was not the only one of her family who had imbibed a passion for theatricals, although, for obvious reasons, they abstained from offering any encouragement to their young sister; and even laughed at the idea of her appearing on the stage.

That night they had another subject of mirth. Elizabeth, it appears, had a lover! We rather suspect that she had a great many, but only one "real one," as her sister Deborah called him; “a man almost old enough to have been her father." She had met with him while on a visit to London, some years previously, and permitted him occasionally to correspond with her: it was one of these letters left carelessly about, for the whole world might have seen them for aught she

A Recollection of the Gifted.

cared, that formed the ground-work of their present mirthful attack; the girl herself laughing as merrily as any of them; she little thought then what the end would be-what changes a twelvemonth only would have brought to pass. The spell of her solitary musing was broken: she romped, she danced, she smiled; flitting here and there in her bright, girlish loveliness, like a sunbeam! and winning the hearts of old and young. Wilful, coquettish, full of a playful wit, in which there mingled not a particle of illnature-waiting upon the guests with her own hands-performing a thousand domestic offices -and looking all the time like one of those beautiful princesses of whom we read in fairy tales. Such was Elizabeth, in the home of her childhood, on that night. Very soon afterwards she quitted its humble roof for ever.

And now we change the scene from that lone farm-house in Suffolk, bright with fair faces, and echoing to the simple merriment of young and gladsome voices, to the Bristol theatre, crowded to the ceiling with an eager and expectant multitude, gathered together to witness the début of a new actress, of whom report spoke in exaggerated terms of praise. The character selected for her was Cordelia, in "King Lear," by no means a very arduous one, but requiring nevertheless a gentle and womanly tenderness, which was naturally and effectively sustained throughout. From the very first, when the kindness of her reception drew forward the young débutante to drop her timid curtsy, and the light, falling full upon her face, discovered its rare and dazzling beauty, she disarmed all criticism, and fairly took the house by storm. "Never," writes one of the first critics of the day, never were there tones that spoke to and from the heart like hers." From which we may safely conclude that she had entirely conquered that early defect, of which mention has before been made. But for all her beauty, and her silvery voice, she never rose above respectability as an actress; her good sense, perseverance, and personal advantages, preventing her from sinking below that standard.

66

Again the youthful Cordelia curtsied her graceful thanks for their flattering plaudits, and a few moments afterwards stood, with her lap full of bouquets, and a countenance beaming with glad triumph, looking up into the face of a man somewhat advanced in years, whose sympathy seemed alone wanting to complete her happiness. And kindly and readily was it given; for he was not a little proud of his young wife, as he well might be.

The reader will have doubtless long since recognized Elizabeth, in the successful debutante. He whose smile she had first sought, the very same whom her sister Deborah had called " old enough to be her father," was now her husband. And yet a few months only had passed away; it might have been years, by the change they had wrought. Urged into marriage rather by circumstance than affection, it is certain that he was not the object of her romantic love. The difference in their dispositions appears to have

335

been almost as great as between their age; and she doubtless teased him occasionally, and was not a little self-willed and provoking, at which times he seemed harsh. We are also told that they had many warm debates, sometimes ending in disputes, concerning the division and appro priation of her salary; Elizabeth being very anxious to reserve a portion of her earnings for the benefit of those dear ones at home, who were never long absent from her thoughts, and whose necessities required even then all that she could well spare towards their relief. One instance in particular is related, where the sum given her for the purchase of a new dress had been expended in a suitable present for her mother; and the young wife looked so beautiful in her old one, that her husband lost all heart to scold in gazing at her. Her defence was simple enough, but there was no gainsaying it. “My dear mother will be so pleased! and you know it does not signify for myself, for I always look well whatever I wear!" Such scenes, with the little variation of time and circumstances, are common enough in every-day life passing clouds-April showers, chased away by the returning sunshine of a fond smile-trifles, that a kiss, or a kind word, hush to rest for ever, and which it is the curse of celebrity to have raked up and exposed, with a thousand exaggerations and misconstructions, to the public gaze-domestic grievances, that may be written with tears, but which it seems almost like sacrilege to publish! Whatever might have been his faults (and who among us is faultless?) Elizabeth seems to have taken pleasure in bearing record to, and dwelling upon, numberless instances of kindness and affection; an affection that had withstood all the caprices of time, and her own early indifference, and been again proffered at the very moment when the consequences of her girlish imprudence, in leaving home without the knowledge of her family, had exposed her to misconstruction and even insult, and she stood most in need of a protector.

In seasons of trial and wounded feeling, when the heart only knoweth its own bitterness, wild repinings and complainings may have found utterance--nay, it is only natural that it should be so; but who among us does not shudder at the very idea of such revelations being made public? If Elizabeth did not love him with all the romance of which her young heart was capable, they were at any rate tolerably happy on the whole; and his death, which happened when she was but six-and-twenty, proved a source of deep affliction; not only at the time, but often and often years afterwards, during the trying period of her lonely struggle through the world. The following extract from her journal briefly and touchingly alludes to this event-" Began the year a happy wife-finished it a wretched widow."

It is pleasant enough to pass over the connecting links in the iron chain of circumstances -now stained and rusted with tears, and anon flashing brightly forth--and pause just where it suits our fancy.

Our heroine has turned authoress! the real, The great ones of the earth have immortalized it bent of her restless genius has discovered itself with their praises-the sorrowful hallow it with at last. She is sitting alone in a small room, their blessings; or bless her, it may be, unconscantily furnished, the shutters of which are sciously, for the secret and timely aid afforded closed, in order that she may not be disturbed; by this unknown benefactress. while a ray of sunlight escaping through them, falls upon a face still retaining much of its original beauty. What a study for an artist! She is not writing now; the pen has fallen from her hand, and she leans back idly, lost in meditation. The bright golden hair is swept carelessly from the fair brow; there is a roguish smile dimpling the parted lips, and shining tearfully forth from those clear, thoughtful eyes, like the April sunlight. Ten to one but she is dreaming of the earlier scenes of her widowhood--its numerous enjoyments-its innocent flirtations-its little romantic episodes-its feminine manœuvring; for Elizabeth was a very woman-nay, almost a child in her frank and guileless simplicity. Naturally fond of admiration, and too candid to attempt to conceal it; a little disposed to coquetry, corrected by the truthfulness of a nature that disdained all subterfuge-doing good, and thinking good of every human being-self-denying open-heartedopen-handed-often erring, but never sinning; that is, as men use the term, for in the sight of God we are all sinners, even the best and purest, and that she knew well. Such was our heroine. And if it be indeed true that "all good deeds are acted poetry," then was her life one long and beautiful poem!

And now she has started up and resumed her pen. If the truth must be confessed, the handwriting is somewhat cramped, and her orthography occasionally rather doubtful, to say the least of it, but will be read with tears, nevertheless. There is a flower on the table before her, most likely the gift of some friend; and presently, perceiving for the first time that it looked faded and drooping, Elizabeth rose up from her task to open the window a little way, in order that it might have air and light. We mention this trifling incident, as affording a truthful and beautiful illustration of the real character of one of the most unselfish beings that perhaps ever existed. Her natural kindness of heart extended even to a flower; while for herself, the darkness and the gloom had been unfelt.

Another scene, and we have done. This time it must be a winter one, and when the winter of her life was somewhat more advanced, otherwise there is little change. The authoress is still alone at her task; toiling on with a persevering industry that made amends for many early deficiencies in her education, and worked out its own reward. But the beauty is passing away from lip and brow, over which the shadow of years gathered thick and fast. The golden hair is streaked with grey-the eyes lacked something of their usual brightness; but nevertheless it was still a sweet face to look upon. Her early dreams, her youthful aspirings, are all realized, and her name enrolled among the gifted of the land! and, what is better still, engraven upon many a grateful and loving heart.

She writes on; but the hands, once so small and white, have grown coarse and toil-spread; and are chilled, beside, with the piercing cold, which makes her pause ever and anon, to gather closer about her the faded and well-worn shawl, meant to supply the place of a fire; and still she smiled at the inward revelations of her own glad thoughts. It is no task upon which she is now employed, but a labour of love; and she writes thus out of a full heart, to one who both loved and understood her :

66

Many a time this winter, when I cried with cold, I said to myself, But, thank God, my sister has not to stir from her room; she has her fire lighted every morning; all her provisions bought, and brought to her ready cooked; she would be less able to bear what I bear; and how much more would I have to suffer, but from this reflection!" It almost made me warm when I reflected that she suffered no cold."

It must have been at some such period as this, that Elizabeth experienced the full force of her own simple and touching record of human weakness and sorrow, together with the only source of true strength and consolation, thus briefly given to the world-" Prayed, cried, and felt purely!"

66

My evenings," she writes to the same friend, in a sadder strain-" my evenings now begin to get dull. They are so long, and no fire to warm them. All the entertainment I require is the exchange of a few sentences, and I do not sometimes obtain that for days together."

And then again the natural cheerfulness of her disposition, which nothing could destroy for long, breaks pleasantly forth:

"I am at the top of the house, so far removed from the first part of it, that I cannot even hear the noise in the street. But then I have a great deal of fresh air, more delightful than most people in London, and an enchanting view of the Thames, the Surrey hills; and of three windmills, often throwing about their giant arms, secure from every attack of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance !"

But it is time that the mystery in which we have thought proper to shroud the real name of our heroine should be cleared away; that is, if the reader have not already guessed it. In order to effect which revelation we have only to refer them to the title-page of that one work which was alone sufficient to make it famous, had she never written another line—“THE SIMPLE STORY."

We can remember, as though it were but yesterday, the eagerness with which we first perused it-the tears we shed-and how we could not sleep at night for thinking of it, and marvelling how it would end, feeling ready to exclaim with Desdemona

"In faith, 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange, 'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful!”

« PreviousContinue »