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I have collected from his own memoranda, or from letters, and these failing, from the information of others, not without difficulty and uncertainty. The shadow of oblivion follows close upon our steps, covering up our path as we proceed. If we do not keep an eye behind us, we soon lose sight of our past selves; a loss, I suppose, and a grief to most of us, if only as scanting our tribute of grateful remembrance to the Giver of all good. For myself, I look back on the vacant spaces of memory with a sort of shame, regarding them as lost links in the chain of natural piety. This digression> perhaps my whole narrative—will hardly escape the charge of egotism; but my task has carried me back to the calends of my own May, when I was by my brother's side, and in looking for my companion, my eye is caught by my own image.
“Salve fugacis gloria sæculi !
Et specimen venientis ævi ! ” I said of my brother's outward life: but of this there will be soon but little to record. As regards the stirring interests of this life, after he left college, he may be said to have been “deprived of the residue of his years.” Of his inward life, going on, as it needs must, for time and for eternity, he has himself spoken, in broken but rememberable accents, a strain which will be heard, I think, by those who listen, among the fainter echoes of the past.
A word before I proceed, of more serious import. My brother's life at school was so blameless--he seemed, and was, not merely so simple, tender-hearted, and affectionate, but so truthful, dutiful, and thoughtful—so religious, if not devout, that if his after-years had run in a happier course, the faults of his boyhood might well have been overlooked, and nothing seen but that which promised good. An eye sharpened for closer observation may, in the retrospect, descry the shadow of a coming cloud. A certain infirmity of will, the specific evil of his life, had already shown itself. His sensibility was intense, and he had not wherewithal to control it. He could not open a letter without trembling. He shrank from mental pain,
- he was beyond measure impatient of constraint. He was liable to paroxysms of rage, often the disguise of pity, self-accusation, or other painful emotion-anger it could hardly be called-during which he bit his arm or finger violently. He yielded, as it were, unconsciously to slight temptations, slight in themselves, and slight to him, as if swayed by a mechanical impulse apart from his own volition. It looked like an organic defect-a congenital imperfection. I do not offer this as a sufficient explanation. There are mysteries in our
moral nature, upon which we can only pause and doubt.
The year 1814, when he left school,* belonged
* The following extracts from a metrical letter to his sister, boyish enough in style and execution, but giving promise of that combination of vigorous thought and easy expression by which bis after-compositions were distinguished, may serve to show his feelings on this occasion :
“The holidays are very near,
to the unhappiest period of my father's life. He was residing at Calne, with his friend, Mr. Morgan, (whose subsequent misfortunes are alluded to in one of Mr. Southey's published letters,) in a state of health, bodily and mental, which, together with the position of his affairs, rendered it impossible for him to contribute to my brother's support at college, and difficult, in a degree which his and our FATHER alone can measure, to make any present
In my own feeling's wilderness,
* * * * *
“Sweet sister, 'twas not my intent
exertion on his behalf. A lengthened period of comparative happiness, and consequent usefulness, awaited him in the society of those honoured friends, Mr. and Mrs. Gillman, with whom he was soon after domesticated at Highgate; and when it became necessary to make provision for the residence of his younger son at the University, he was enabled to exert himself effectually
As far as if from black to white,
School-boys are not wont to give “sarcenet surety for their words,” but my brother's expletives were purely literaryborrowed from old-fashioned plays and poems.