« PreviousContinue »
There are many other incidents in this man's life which we had intended to remark upon.' The task, however, is an irksome one, and after convicting him of a transportable offence, we have not the patience to accumulate charges of petty larceny. We would wish, however, before parting with this subject, to deprecate any intention of identifying the American people generally with Barnum. Too often has injustice been done to that noble nation who, like all others, have their own imperfections. It is one of the weakuesses of hamanity to bow down before the man who has the command of great wealth ; society is often for a time led astray by this cause, but when once a well proved charge is brought against the millionaire, his ill-gotten money does not save him froin public contempt and execrationi. Society tramples upon the man whoin formerly it adored : we would this were otherwise, and that these extremes could be avoided. Such reactions, however, show a healthy tone of public morality. We have no doubt this reaction will come upon Barnum, if it has not already commenced, and we should deem it as unjust to stig. matize America ou account of Barnum, as to identify Eng. land with Hudson, her quondam Railway King.
Art. VIII-MRS. JAMESON'S COMMONPLACE BOOK. 4 Common-place Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies, Original and Selected. Part I.--Ethics and Character. Part II.-Literature and Art. With Illustrations and Etchings. By Mrs. Jameson, London: Longman and Co. 1951,
It was wisely observed by Doctor Johnson, that “ He who collects is laudably employed; for though he exerts no great talents in the work, he facilitates the progress of others; and by making that easy of attainment which is already written, may give some mind, more vigorous or more adventurous than bis own, leisure for new thoughts and original designs;" and truly, here, in this book, this book charming in all its “thoughts, meinories, and fancies” selected, and exquisite in every “thought, memory, and fancy" original, the full force of the great moralist's opinion is brought evidently before the reader. Mrs. Jameson has not, it is true, proclaimed herself “ a patient drudge;" this book is not a compilation of wise saws, or a spiritless but well designed "Beauties of Literature.” The authoress tells us at the outset, that she has never aspired to teach, being herself but a learner ;, yet, in our mind, she has done better than if she had written with this purpose of teaching, because in the working of her own intellectual and moral being, as evidenced in these “ thoughts, memories, and fancies," she is teaching in that best of all forms, a womanly woman's counsels of example. · There is not one, in the whole noble band of English female writers, from the Duchess of Newcastle, of whose life of her husband Charles Lamb wrote, "uo casket is rich enough, no casing sufficiently durable, to honour and keep safe such a jewel,” to Hannah More, of whom Sydney Smith said, ban. tering, that he spoke timidly of her, as of a mysterious and superior being, more worthy of the great praise bestowed upon her works than Mrs. Jameson. Twenty-two years have elapsed since she delighted, instructed, and taught, in her admirable Characteristics of Women. Who can read without feelings of delight and wonder her papers on Imogen, Desdemona, and Hermione, in her exposition of the “ Characters of the Affections ?” and how beautifully she observes All that can render sorrow majestic is gathered around Hermione-all that can render misery heart-breaking is assembled round Desdemona ! The wronged but self-sustained virtue of Hermione commands our veneration; the injured and defenceless innocence of Desdemona so wrings the soul, that all for pity we could die!"
Remembering these passages, recalling happy hours which owed their chiefest pleasure to these, and other books from Mrs. Jameson's pen,we opened her Commonplace Book hoping to find it worthy her reputation, and from chapter to chapter we read on, finding in each some thought of beauty or of goodness, and over all was that charm of womanliness which ever shines in Mrs. Jameson's works-till, closing the last page,we exclaimed, as did Cassio of Desdemona
“She's a most exquisite lady." The title of the work expresses its exact character : it is a Commonplace Book of thoughts, of memories, and of feelings
and of its composition and publication, Mrs. Jameson thus writes:
“For many years I have been accustomed to make a memorandum of any thought which might come across me (if pen and paper were at hand), and to mark (and remark) any passage in a book which excited either a sympathetic or an antagonistic feeling. This col. lection of totes aqcumulated insensibly from day to day. The volumes on Shakspeare's Women, on Saered and Legendary Art, and various other productions, sprung from seed thus lightly and casually sown, which, I hardly know how, grew up and expanded into a regular, readable form, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But what was to be done with the fragments which remained without beginning, and without end-links of a hidden or a broken chain ? Whether to preserve them or destroy them became a question, and one I could not answer for myself. In allowing a portion of them to go forth to the world in their original form, as unconnected fragments, I have been guided by the wishes of others, who deemed it not wholly uninteresting or profitless to trace the path, sometimes devious enough, of an inquiring spirit,' even by the little pebbles dropped as vestiges by the way side."
Of the Commonplace Book the first part is composed of original and extracted notes, on subjects of a nature ethical and characteristic, and it contains, also, some Poetical Fragments, an allegory entitled “ The Indian Hunter and the Fire,” and best of all," A Revelation of Childhood.” In this latter, Mrs. Jameson intends to show, through her own experiences, the mistakes in
our present educational system. It is most admirable in design, but we prefer it as a beautiful tale, like the opening chapter of The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, rather than as a didactic, formal essay on a very grave subject; and we therefore extract from it those passages indicating how Mrs. Jameson came to be the Mrs. Jameson all the world admires :
"Enough of the pains, and mistakes, and vagaries of childhood; let me tell of some of its pleasurés equally únguessed and unexpressed. A great, an exquisite source of enjoyment arose out of an early, instinctive, boundless delight in external beauty. How this went hand in hand with my terrors and reveries, how it could coexist with them, I cannot tell now-it was s0; and if this sympathy with the external, living, beautiful world, had been properly, scientifically cultivated, and directed to useful definite purposes, it would have been the best remedy for much that was morbid: this was not the case, and we weré, unhappily for me, too early removed from the country to a town residence. I can remember, however, that in very early years the appearances of nature did truly haunt me like a passion, the stars were to me as the gates of heaven ; the rolling of the wave to the shore, the graceful weeds and grasses bending before the breeze as they grew by the wayside ; the minute and de
licate forms of insects; the trembling shadows of boughs and leaves dancing on the ground in the highest noon; these were to me perfect pleasures of which the imagery now in my mind is distinct. Wordsworth's poem of · The Daffodils,' the one beginning
. "I wandered lonely as a cloud,' may appear to some unintelligible or overcharged, but to me it was à vivid truth, a simple fact; and if Wordsworth had been then in my hands I think I must have loved him. It was this intense sense of beauty which gave the first zest to poetry: I loved it, not because it told me what I did not know, but because it helped me to words in which to clothe my own knowledge and perceptions, and reflected back the pictures unconsciously hoarded up in my mind. This was "what made Thomson's Seasons' a favourite book when I first began
to read for my own amusement, and before I could understand one half of it ; St. Pierre's Indian Cottage' ('La Chaumière Indienne') was also charming, either because it reflected my dreams, or 'gave me new stuff for them in pictures of an external world quite different from that I inhabited, -palm-trees, elephants, tigers, dark-turbaned men with flowing draperies; and the Arabian Nights' completed my Oriental intoxication, which lasted for a long time."
I have said little of the impressions left by books, and of my first religious notions. A friend of mine had once the wise idea of col. ·lecting together a variety of evidence as to the impressions left by
certain books on childish or immature minds : if carried out, it would have been one of the most valuable additions to educational experience ever made. For myself I did not much care about the books put into my hands, nor imbibe much information from them. I had a great taste, I am sorry to say, for forbidden books; yet it was not the forbidden books that did the mischief, except in their being read furtively. I remember impressions of vice and cruelty from some parts of the Old Testament and Goldsmith's History of England, which I shudder to recall. Shakspeare was on the forbidden shelf. I had read him all through between seven and ten years old. He never did me any moral mischief. He never soiled my mind with any disordered image. What was exceptionable and coarse in language I passed by without attaching any meaning whatever to it. How it might have been if I had read Shakspeare first when I was fifteen or sixteen, I do not know ; perhaps the occasional coarsenesses and obscurities might have shocked the delicacy or puzzled the intelligence of that sensitive and inquiring age. But at nine or ten I had no comprehension of what was unseemly ; what might be obscure in words to wordy commentators, was to me lighted up by the idea I found or interpreted for myself-right or wrong
No; I repeat, Shakspeare_bless him! -never did me any moral mischief. T'hough the Witches in Macbeth troubled me, though the Ghost in Hamlet terrified me (the picture that is,-for the spirit in Shakspeare was solemn and pathetic, not hideous)—though poor little Arthur cost me an ocean of tears,—yet much that was obscure, and all that was painful and revolting was merged on the whole in the vivid presence of a new, beautiful, vigorous, living world. The plays which I now think the most wonderful produced comparatively little effect on my faney : Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, struck me then less than the historical plays, and far less than the Midsummer Night's Dream and Cymbeline. It may be thought, perhaps, that Falstaff is not a character to strike a child, or to be understood by a child :-no; surely not. To me Falstaff was not witty and wicked-only irresistibly fat and funny; and I remember lying on the ground rolling with laughter over some of the scenes in Henry the Fourth,—the mock play, and the seven men in buckram. But The Tempest and Cymbeline were the plays I liked best and knew best.
Altogether I should say that in my early years books were known to me, not as such, not for their general contents, but for some especial image or picture I had picked out of them and assimilated to my own mind and mixed up with my own life. For example, out of Homer's Odyssey (lent to me by the parish clerk) I had the picture of Nasicaa and her maidens going down in their chariots to wash their linen: so that when the first time I went to the Pitti Palace, and could hardly see the pictures through blinding tears, I saw that picture of Rubens, which all remember who have been at Florence, and it flashed delight and refreshment through those re. membered childish associations. The Syrens and Polypheme left also vivid pictures on my fancy, The Iliad, on the contrary, wearied me, except the parting of Hector and Andromache, in which the child, scared by its father's dazzling helm and nodding crest, remains a vivid image in my mind from that time.
The same parish clerk-a curious fellow in his way,-lent me also some religious tracts and stories by Hannah More. It is most certain that more moral mischief was done to me by some of these than by all Shakspeare's plays together. These so-called pious tracts first introduced me to a knowledge of the vices of vulgar life, and the excitements of a vulgar religion, the fear of being hanged and the fear of hell became coexistent in my mind; and the teaching resolved itself into this,--that it was not by being naughty, but by being found out, that I was to incur the risk of both. My fairy world was better!
About Religion :--I was taught religion as children used to be taught it in my younger days, and are taught it still in some cases, I believe through the medium of creeds and catechisms. I read the Bible too early, and too indiscriminately, and too irreverently. Even the New Testament was too early placed in my hands; too early made a lesson book, as the custom then was. The letter of the Seriptures the words-were familiarised to me by sermonising and dogmatising, long before I could enter into the spirit. Meantime, bappily, another religion was growing up in my heart, which, strangely enough, seemed to me quite apart from that which was taught,-which, indeed, I never in any way regarded as the same which I was taught when I stood up wearily on a Sunday to repeat the collect and say the catechism. It was quite another thing. Not only the taught religion and the sentiment of faith and adoration were never combined, but it never for years entered into my head to combine them, the first remained extraneous, the latter had gradually taken