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we are, what can one do better? Nonsense, however, should never be written except to one's very intimate friends,good folks, whose careful memories can supply the proper looks and tones, and whose imaginations can restore our stalest good things to their original freshness. Even a pun does not look well on paper; it's so like deliberate villany : and then its orthographical imperfections are so open to the gaze of a censorious world. A lie is still worse,—without the solemn face, it is mere vapid impudence. But a funny thing
—that son and heir of laughter—which never grows old, and might be as good a hundred years hence as at the moment of utterance,-alas ! alas ! pen and ink are its destruction. Woeful it is to reflect, that of all the wonders that you and I and the Maum * have produced in that way,--not one can be of the slightest benefit to posterity. The words, indeed, may be handed down from generation to generation, like relic bones and sacred nail-parings of the saints (most of whom, by the way, never pared their nails at all); but ÓTOTOTOī, tónou dà—they will work no miracles. The wine will be drawn and the bare lees be left this vault to boast of. Two things, therefore, must the world despair of enjoyinga printed collection of our FUNNY THINGS and a polyglott edition of Joe Miller : the latter, by general confession, incomprehensible to all but John Bull, and the former to all but our own single two selves, like the ladies' coronation tickets, not transferable. This is a pity; but what remedy? Let them be like the Druidical mysteries-quce literis tradere nefas. We shall never forget them. I don't know how it is, but I can never laugh at anything but what is exquisitely bad, and, to appearance at least, purely accidental. Indeed, a premeditated funny thing is worse than a premeditated piece of sensibility. Wit to me is hardly ever laughable, because it is an exertion of the faculties; and humour, true humour, is too nearly connected with thought. I may laugh at it at first hearing, or so long as it has the effect of sur
* A playful name for bis mother.
prise; but if it will bear thinking of, I cannot recur to it whenever my sides want a shaking. Few persons, I believe, enjoy the humorous more than myself; and the higher the humour, the greater is my delight; but as far as the mere excitement of the risible muscles is concerned, the coarsest drollery will answer just as well. I never laugh now at Hogarth, or Fielding, or Cervantes, or if I do it is at their meanest jokes, unless in sympathy with others. But at our old funny things I can laugh by myself for an hour together;
-nay, they furnish me with a reservoir of laughter for all needful occasions. If ever any of those jokes which must be laughed at' are obtruded upon me, I have but to recal the image of you kicking about the stone in my aunt's court and complaining how you did hurt yourself' (I can hardly write for thinking of it), and I gratify the joker to the very altitude of his ambition."
He remained in London and the neighbourhood about two years, being domesticated for nearly half that time with the excellent friends to whose kindness I have already alluded, writing, from time to time, small pieces for the “ London Magazine," and intending to do much more,-multa et pulchra minans. His poetic faculty was now approaching to ripeness, as the beautiful sonnets to Robert Jameson, first published in the above-mentioned periodical, sufficiently testify. About this time, the fragment of “The Prometheus” was composed, which his father regarded with much interest.
It was plain, however, that his continued residence in London, without any professional engagement, was not desirable. It was proposed that he should take a school in the north of England. From this my brother turned with not unreasonable repugnance. In a letter to his father, turning upon the painful occurrences to which I have alluded, he thus writes :
“MY DEAR FATHER,
“You have probably, ere this, received Robert's letter, acquainting you that I am well in bodily health. I hope I may add that I am in a sane state of mind. For what is past, it is irremediable, and I know you too well to imagine that mere expressions of contrition, however sincere on my part, could afford you that consolation which can only be derived from a rational hope with regard to the future. You must be aware that the pain arising from the contemplation of a life mis-spent is often the cause of continuance in misdoing, even after the temptations which first misled have lost their power, and when the sophisms which have long deluded appear in their true deformity. Without in the least attempting to palliate conduct which admits of no palliation, I will simply declare to you, that for a long time, almost ever since my return to Mr. Montagu's, I had been oppressed with an inward sinking, a despondency which perhaps the more impaired my voluntary powers, as it did not visibly affect my health. I was, in short, afflicted with a sense of incapability-a dread of looking at my own cure. The more my faults became obvious to those interested in me, the more I was possessed with that helpless consciousness of them, which conduces to anything rather than amendment. Further than this, there has been no cause of despondency with which you are not acquainted. The going to Ambleside in the face of such unfavourable sentiments on the part of some, certainly weighed upon my heart, and I felt a physical incapability of exerting the necessary authority and preserving the necessary distance among a set of boys, in whose number there must needs be found high spirits
and intractable natures. Boys of fifteen are harder to govern than men of twenty, and yet I can sincerely say I did my utmost at Oxford to perform the duties of a tutor, and I did it in vain. I ought, my dear father, to have said this candidly, but I did not. It is past now. I was at the time I last saw you in a state of mind and body truly pitiable. Thank Heaven, I am much better now; and with the recovery of health I have recovered free-will and hope. In regard to my future plans, I shall not decide till I hear from you. It is my wish to make another trial of my talents in London. I know I can make more than a livelihood, and I have hopes -more than hopes—of my own steady perseverance in the right path; but I will not be obstinate. Only let me say,that, what with my past failures, what with the unavoidable weakness of nerves, and defect of that sort of sternness which is a necessary supplement to kindness in a pedagogue, I think schooling, of all things possible, the least eligible.
“My kindest love to dear Mr. and Mrs. Gillman, and Miss Harding and the children. “ I will finish Prometheus forthwith.
“Believe me, my dear father,
He was not obstinate, but his irresolution continued. To Ambleside he went, and so far as this event restored him to the scenes of his boyhood, which, except for two or three short periods, he never afterwards quitted, and to the society of friends by whom he was familiarly known and affectionately esteemed, no better course could have been adopted.*
* “Several years ago, when some of his friends thought of asking him to visit them in the south of England, the project
The school plan, as might have been expected, failed. With the best resolutions, and, as it might seem, under the happiest auspices, he entered upon the field left vacant by the approaching retirement of his old master, Mr. Dawes, with whom he resided for some time, acting as his assistant in directing the studies of some almost grown-up youths preparing for college, “who loved him," it is said, “with a beautiful devotedness.”
The lady, from whom I borrow this expression, draws his picture, as it was then for the first time presented to her, in the following terms:
“A numerous party had assembled one evening at Brathay Hall. Late in the evening I saw such a figure as I had never seen before glide noiselessly into the bright drawing room, small, dressed in black, with thick, long, raven hair almost on his shoulders, in such a manner as to fill up the space between, and to give the upper part of his form a peculiar preponderance over the lower. In his manner of approaching the lady of the house, his stiff, slow, silent bow, a sort of distressed shyness in his countenance, and a deprecating politeness, like that of the olden times, as I fancied it, and in his whole demeanour there was something strange and unusual. His humorous air of simplicity, his slow measured
being mentioned to Wordsworth, he strongly disapproved of it: 'It is far better for him,' said he, (we heard the words ourselves) to remain where he is—where everybody knows him, and everybody loves and takes care of him.'”—Gent. Mag., June, 1851.