ページの画像
PDF
ePub

these letters draw from home might, on many points, have been written yesterday. His father tells him of the Norwich election, and the rivalship of the two Whig candidates, Mr. Hobart and Mr. Beevor. What follows is among those transparent truths which people who tuck their head under their wings, are so often astonished to see other folks have discovered. “ As the dispute was not upon the ground of political principles, for both candidates professed the same, that is, Whiggism, and an attachment to the present Ministry, I wondered to see them so eager; but as it was for power and interest, and which of the two factions should rule, I ought to have known that the corruption of the present age would be as zealous as the principles of the last. * * * * The day that was to terminate the dispute proved good weather, and every room in the market was filled with well-dressed ladies, fluttering their white handkerchiefs out of the windows, with a favour in the corner." The political opinions of the worthy old gentleman himself were of a good school. It is delightful to find him reading such histories or books of travels as enabled him to track his son across the Alps, and among the many objects of art and antiquity which Sir James visited; and yet more satisfactory to hear him say,—“I am reading Milton, (the prose works,) with great reverence and pleasure. * * * * I never met so nervous an opposer of temporal and spiritual tyranny, as far as I have yet gone in the books. * * * The work is an invaluable gem in your library. As to the people of England, what with factions, plundering and being plun.. dered, and luxury, they seem dead to their true interests, nay, to their safety.”

Sir James made a short visit to Switzerland, and returned, through Savoy, to Paris, from whence he came home, and in the following year, published his tour, which his lady believes, and justly, is less known than it deserves to be. She says, “ she feels she shall be treated with indul. gence, if she speaks with enthusiasm of the volumes which first disclosed to her knowledge the taste and character of their author ;” and the feel. ing is too amiable and sacred to be lightly regarded, although it rested on a slighter foundation than the refinement which pervaded the character of her husband, “ and gave a charm to his domestic habits, and social pleasures, which stood in place of the luxuries of fortune, and surpassed them."

Early in 1788, Sir James removed from Chelsea to London, to commence medical practitioner in the Metropolis, saying to his father, at the same time,-“ You may depend on it, natural history will always be the main object of my life, and, I doubt not, you will be thankful that I have so noble a one. I rely on this to give me real lasting honour, and to make me useful to mankind, through ages when I am no more." These were noble aspirations with which to begin life. And now we must again revert to the father, conceiving the illustration which these volumes afford of the ties of blood and affection, rightly understood, and manfully and generously acted upon, as their highest merit. At this new and momentous era in his professional life, his father thus addresses him :

“I am proud of the light you stand in ; and every advance you make to fame lifts my heart with transport, and I want only to give you an independent fortune to make me perfectly happy : but as I cannot do that, nor any thing like it, I must repeat, my dear James, that a determination to depend upon yourself and to be your own master is so consonant to my own disposition, that it gives me great pleasure, I believe it springs from a better principle than pride in both of us, the love of dear Liberty, which is the birth-right of every individual of mankind, and has my strongest affection. I wish to see her universally enjoyed, and therefore must most earnestly desire it may be the portion of each of my dear children. Would to God I may be able to leave every one of them in a condition to possess it in a rational, vir. tuous degree !”

Sir James, at last, realized his fondest desires, by the establishment of a Linnæan society, of which he was chosen president, his treasures forming its wealth. Its first meeting was held at his house on the 8th April, 1788. “ Thus,” says his affectionate editor, “Sir James cheerfully abandoned the promise of a lucrative professional life to become the leader of a band of naturalists, who should follow in the steps of the immortal Linnæus." He gave regular lectures on botany and zoology, and was well and fashionably attended.

After his return to London, and when he had, for some time, been a fashionable lecturer, Sir James, by an accidental circumstance, or an oppor. tune introduction, obtained the honour of—conversing, is the term-with Queen Charlotte and her daughters, on the elements of botany and zoology --and was highly flattered by a distinction which he soon forfeited. In one of Miss Edgeworth's novels, a young, low-born aspirant for the honour of an introduction to her Majesty's drawing-room, forfeits or impedes her chances, so dexterously manæuvred for by her courtier patroness, from un. fortunately subscribing for a Whig pamphlet, and having her name on the obnoxious list; but Sir James was guilty of deeper offence, and forfeited his high privilege of conversing with Majesty about insects and flowers, in a very simple way. More and more charmed “ by the benignity and cultivated understandings of the principal personages,” Sir James was in the way of becoming as much of a courtier as a philosopher need be, when he seems to have abruptly received his congée. Some unlucky passage in his Tour had been represented as “injurious, in these times, to crowned heads.” It was now 1791. “A passage, in which he eulo. gized Rousseau, was regarded as hostile to religion, virtue, and loyalty.” Sir James was deeply concerned at the Royal wrath ; and assuredly went far enough, when he represented what he says of Rousseau “ rather as an apology than eulogium." What he said offensively of Marie Antoinette, he manfully vindicates, as the most favourable apology consistent with the regard due to truth, and the sacred interests of virtue, that he could make.” One epithet he regretted,-he had called the Queen by the ugly name of Messalina, which the Court of the Prince Regent and of George IV. afterwards delighted to hear applied to the daughter-in-law of Queen Charlotte. Sir James had caught the spirit of the liberals of the time, and too readily credited the brutal calumnies propagated against the private character of the Queen of France, who committed great and dangerous political faults, though she was certainly free of the gross vices imputed to her.*

* In the MEMOIRS OF LOUIS THE EIGHTEENTH, which are about to appear, and which are said to have been written by the King himself, that Prince sagaciously says, or is made to say, that there was no reason either for the infatuation or calumny of which his sister-in-law was alternately the object. He means, we presume, that the Austrian Princess, with a strong temper, and a mediocre understanding, was no more the fitting subject of the chivalrous raptures of Burke, than of the brutal and obscene slanders, which, he asserts, were traced home to the courtiers themselves. The libellers of the Queen were neither the People nor the Men of Letters. They were, according to Louis XVIII., the Dukes d’Aiguillon and St. Florentin, the Rohans, and the Noailles, and other angry and disappointed persons around the unhappy Queen.

It is but justice to the memory of Sir James Smith to give at full length the obnoxious passages in his Tour, which lost him the grace and patronage of Queen Charlotte.

“Of her political faults during her prosperity, I presume not to form an idea ; for who could dive into the intricacies of one of the most intriguing of all courts? Her subsequent conduct, her plots, as they are called, her treason against her oppressors, none that can put themselves into her situation will wonder at or blame. Her pri. vate faults I will not palliate. They were but too well known, when she was in a situation that might be supposed out of the reach of all justice, except the divine; but they will not fail now to be blackened, no doubt, where that can be done. Let it, however, be remembered, that the state prisons revealed no secrets to the dishonour of this unfortunate Queen, no victims of her jealousy or resentment, though they were often filled with those of the worthless mistresses of former kings. The canting Madam Maintenon spared no pains to entrap and to confine for life a Dutch bookseller, who had exposed her character : but Marie Antoinette took not the least ven. geance of the most abusive things, written and published by persons within her own power.

“ With respect to the character of Rousseau, about which the opinion of the world is so much divided, I have found it improve on a near examination. Every one who knew him speaks of him with the most affectionate esteem, as the most friendly, unaffected and modest of men, and the most unassuming in conrersation. Enthusiastically fond of the study of Nature, and of Linnæus as the best interpreter of her works, he was always warmly attached to those who agreed with him in this taste. The amiable and accomplished lady to whom his Letters on Botany were addressed, concurs in this account, and holds his memory in the highest veneration. I have ventured to ask her opinion upon some unaccountable actions in his life, and especially about those misanthropic horrors and suspicions which em bit. tered his latter days. She seemed to think the last not entirely groundless; but still, for the most part, to be attributed to a something not quite right in his mind, for which he was to be pitied, not censured. Her charming daughter showed me a col. lection of dried plants, made and presented to her by Rousseau, neatly pasted on small writing-paper, and accompanied with their Linnæan names and other particulars.

“Botany seems to have been his most favourite amusement in the latter part of life; and his feelings with respect to this pursuit are expressed with that energy and grace so peculiarly his own, in his letter to Linnæus, the original of which I preserve as an inestimable relic. I need offer no apology to the candid and rell-informed reader for this minuteness of anecdote concerning so celebrated a character. Those who have only partial notions of Rousseau, may perhaps wonder to hear that his memory is cherished by any well-disposed minds. To such I beg leave to observe, that I hold in a very subordinate light that beauty of style and language, those golden passages, which will immortalize his writings; and a faint resemblance of which is the only merit of some of his enemies. I respect him as a writer eminently favourable on the whole to the interests of humanity, reason, and religion. Whereever he goes counter to any of these, I as freely dissent from him ; but do not on that account throw all his works into the fire. As the best and most religious persons of my acquaintances are among his warmest admirers, I may perhaps be biassed in my judgment; but it is certainly more amiable to be misled by the fair parts of a cha. racter, than to make its imperfections a pretence for not admiring or profiting by its beauties. Nor can any defects or inconsistencies in the private character of Rousseau depreciate the refined moral and religious principles with which his works abound. Truth is truth wherever it comes from. No imperfections of humanity can discredit a noble cause; and it would be madness to reject Christianity, for instance, either because Peter denied Christ, or Judas betrayed him. * “ It will be hard to meet with a more edifying or more consolatory lecture on religion than the death-bed of Julia. Her character is evidently intended as a model in this respect. By that, then, we should judge of its author, and not by fretful doubts and petulant expressions, the sad fruits of unjust persecution, and of good intentions misconstrued.

“ Nor would it be difficult to produce, from the works of Rousseau, a vast majo. rity of passages directly in support of Christianity itself, compared with what are supposed hostile to it. It is notorious that he incurred the ridicule of Voltaire, for ex

Madame de Lessert.

alting the character and death of Jesus above that of Socrates. But he was insidi. ous, and he disbelieved miracles,' says his opponents. If he believed Christianity without the assistance of miracles to support his faith, is it a proof of his infidelity ? If he was insidious, that is his own concern. I have nothing to do with hidden meanings or mystical explanations of any book, certainly not of the writings of so ingenuous and perspicuous an author as Rousseau. Unfortunately for him, the whole tenour of those writings has been too hostile to the prevailing opinions, or at least to the darling interests of those in authority among whom he lived; for Scribes and Pharisees are never wanting to depress every attempt at improving or instructing the world, and the greatest heresy and most unpardonable offence is always that of being in the right. For this cause, having had the honour of feeling the vengeance of all ranks of tyrants and bigots, from a king or bishop of France, to a paltry magistrate of Berne, or a Swiss pastor, he was obliged to take refuge in England. Here he was received with open arms, being justly considered as the martyr of that spirit of investigation and liberty which is the basis of our constitution, and on which alone our reformed religion depends. He was caressed and entertained by the best and most accomplished people, and experienced in a particular manner the bounty of our pre. sent amiable suvereign.

“ One cannot but lament, that one of the most eminent, and I believe virtuous, public characters of that day, should of late have vainly enough attempted to compliment the same sovereign, by telling him he came to the crown in contempt of his people, should have held up a Messalina for public veneration, and become the calumniator of Rousseau !

“ It is, indeed, true, that a certain morbid degree of sensibility and delicacy, added to the inequalities of a temper broken down by persecution and ill health, made Rousseau often receive apparently well-meant attentions with a very bad grace: Yet, from most of the complaints of this kind, which I have heard from the parties immediately concerned, I very much suspect he was not unfrequently in the right. But supposing him to have been to blame in all these instances, they occurred posterior to his most celebrated publications. Was it not very unjust, therefore, for those who had patronized and extolled him for those publications, to vent their animosity against them for any thing in his conduct afterwards?

“ Far be it from me, however, to attempt a full justification of his writings. I only contend for the generally good intention of their author. The works themselves must be judged by impartial posterity. I merely offer my own sentiments ; but I offer them freely, scorning to disguise my opinion, either because infidels have pressed Rousseau into their service, or because the uncandid and the dishonest have traduced him falsely, not daring to declare the real cause of their aversion,-his virtuous sin. cerity.”

Though his Tour lost Sir James the favour of Queen Charlotte, it gained him some valuable friends. Among these was Colonel Johnes of Hafod, a name familiar in the gossiping literary history of the last thirty years, and distinguished as that of the translator of Froissart. The visits of Sir James to Hafod, and his descriptions of that splendid place and its inmates, make an agreeable section of his memoirs. His first visit was made in 1795; and in the following year, a second was undertaken, in company with Lady Smith, then, we presume, newly married. She was charmed with the beauty of this romantic seat, and with its presiding genius.

In the previous year, Sir James lost his excellent father, of whom he justly says, “ There never was a more honest, sensible, judicious man, or excellent parent.” In the church of St. Peter's, Norwich, his inscription to the memory of this affectionate father may now be seen. His mother survived till 1820, when, in a letter to his friend, Mr. Roscoe, of Liverpool, he mentions, that “She fell asleep so happily as never to have known what death was: nor did she ever know the fear of it. Her religion was of the most cheerful kind ; no gloom, no uncharitableness, had any share in it. I had been in the habit of almost daily calls, to chat a minute or two with her, and I miss her with a degree of sadness I did not expect."

Among the most agreeable of the correspondents of Sir James, is a young Swiss gentleman, Mr. Davall of Orbe, enthusiastic in his love of botany, and nature, and of their high priest in England. His letters are highly pleasing.

Lecturing, composing his works, and extending his scientific correspondence, the life of Sir James passed smoothly on. One of his works was dedicated to the Marchioness of Rockingham, and a Most Honour. able letter is received from her, delicately expressive of her alarm at some terrible blunder in the style of address, lest offence be given to noble Duchesses by an infringement of their exclusive honours and rights. Lady Smith has been over-anxious for the preservation and promulgation of these testimonials of the nobility; nor can we help noticing, to the credit of his tact, that Sir James seems to have known the full value of female patronage.

After his marriage, he removed to Hammersmith to be near the nurseries, but spent the greater part of every year in Norwich, going to London to deliver his lectures. He also lectured on botany in other large towns in England, still going on with his own periodical works, and his contributions to those published by different booksellers.

By 1814, Sir James had so far overcome the bad odour of his Tour of 1788, that he received the honour of knighthood.

The miscellaneous correspondence which occupies so much of these volumes, would bear to be sifted and much diminished ; yet there are interspersed many agreeable letters from Roscoe, from a warm-hearted Irish friend, named Caldwell, and from other persons eminent in science or in rank. Among the best of the letters of the remaining part of the work, is one from himself to Mrs. Cobbold, vindicating Mrs. Barbauld's poem, entitled “ Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," which gave so much offence in certain High-Church and High-Tory quarters, that we believe, a Scottish literary lady was moved to put her pen in shaft against the Barbauld heresies. Mrs. Cobbold was indignant at the praises lavished upon America by the poetess, a subject on which no Tory can keep his temper quietly ; and, at the deprecation of the war. Sir James vindi. cates the poetess with energy and fervour, and, it is very probable, shared her views. He, however, concludes very kindly ; “ Now, my dear friend, forget all party, and be (not a false, but) a true Christian philosopher, take this excellent woman to your heart as a congenial spirit; for if you knew her as well as I do, I will do you the justice to believe you would love and admire her as much.”

In 1818 Sir James was induced to offer himself a candidate for the botanical chair of Cambridge, though neither a member of the University, nor of the Church of England, and though holding opinions materially opposed to the Church creed. His peculiar tenets may be given in his own words, and those of his editor, for we are rather at a loss how to designate them. They were those :

««That' a man can be no Christian, as to faith, who does not judge for himself ; nor, as to practice, who does not allow others to do so without presuming to cena sure or to hinder them.

“ His opinions were formed from the same source whence many, with equal sincerity, derive very different ones. His creed was the New Testo ment, and he read it as a celebrated divine recommends; that is, was a man would read a letter from a friend, in the which he doth only seek after what was his friend's mind and mean. ing, not what he can put upon his words.'

“ He was a firm believer in the divine mission of Jesus Christ; and, in maintaining the doctrine of the strict unity of God, as one of the truths our great Master 25 commissioned to teach, he considered his opinion truly apostolical.

« 前へ次へ »