Зображення сторінки
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


turn with delight to Dickens' picture 'sessed of more virtues than any steed of Tom Pinch’s ride to London, or Ir- since the diys of Bucephalus,' appeal ving's description of his journey on irresistibly to our feelings, reminding Christmas Eve. And then what us of the time when we had neither grotesque romance surrounds the idea ' known care nor sorrow, and a holiday of the Coachman! Our experience of was the summit of earthly felicity. human nature tells us, that in too The charming picture of the meeting many cases he must have been a of the youngsters with the old family drunken and insolent vagabond, but servants, accompanied by Carlo the we never allow our ideal to be dese

pointer and the redoubtable Bantam, crated by the intrusion of any such is inimitable. Off they set at last ; gross considerations. We prefer the one on the pony with the dog boundbroadly truthful delineation of this ing and barking before him, and the extinct race given us by Irving. He others holding John's bands ; both has commonly a broad, full face, curi- talking at once, and overpowering him ously mottled with red, as if the blood by questions about home and with had been forced by hard feeding into school anecdotes.' The country inn, every vessel of the skin ; he is swelled where the traveller meets with Frank into jolly dimensions by frequent po- Bracebridge, is admirably sketched. tations of malt liquors, and his bulk is The obliteration of these old coaching still further increased by a multipli- houses has been a necessary, but city of coats, in which he is buried somewhat melancholy, accompaniment like a cauliflower, the upper one reach

of modern progress.

No one who has ing to his heels.

. He en- travelled much in England can fail to joys great consequence and considera- have come across numerous examples tion along the road; has frequent con- of these old inns, 'whose glory has deferences with the village housewives, parted, and whose place knows them who look upon him as a man of great no more.' I remember a striking intrust and dependence ; and be seems stance in the Feathers' Inn on the Camto have a good understanding with bridge road, a few miles out of Ware every bright-eyed country lass.

in Hertfordshire, which possessed, When off the box his hands are thrust and indeed still possesses although in the pockets of his greatcoat, and he mouldering into decay,--stabling for rolls about the inn-yard with an air of fifty horses, but which, instead of rethe most absolute lordliness. As we ounding with the bustle of travel, is read this, a vision of the immortal now deserted, save by the casual Weller Senior rises before our eyes, ploughman calling in for a pint of beer. and we recognise how admirably Irving 'It is well for these old houses that they has hit off the broad characteristics of live in the pages of more than one that class of which Dickens' creation, great writer, so that, although desertin spite of its caricature, must for ever ed and abandoned to decay, they will remain the most finished type. The for long retain their glory as the most humour with which the sayings and perfect embodiments of comfort and doings of the three youngsters, whom cherry hospitality. the coach is taking home for the The thoroughness with which IrChristmas holidays, are recorded, is of ving enters into the spirit of an Engthat tender sort which provokes tears lish Christmas is exemplified by the as readily as laughter. The little ras- manner in which he brings his travelcals, with their unbounded delight at ler to Bracebridge Hall. When we the prospect of the unlimited joys of first meet him in the stage-coach he a six weeks' holiday, with their eager has no fixed destination, but he comes ness to greet their old pony Bantam, across an old travelling acquaintance, who was according to their talk pos- i who, with impulsive good-fellowship,


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


some of

invites him to accompany him to his · had an old-fashioned look, having home, and spend Christmas there. for the most part been brought up in This at once symbolizes the hospitality the household, and grown into keeppeculiar to the season. An English- | ing with the antiquated mansion, and man would not wish his worst enemy the humours of its lord.'* to dine alone on this all-important Indeed, we are continually remindfeast-day, and would rather risk the ed, in reading Irving's Old Christmas, company of the most uncongenial of the visit of Mr. Spectator to Sir guest than endure the thought of an- Roger's country-house, and more parother spending in loneliness the day ticularly of those portions of it which set apart for mutual good-will. Such are described in papers contributed by is the natural introduction of a Christ- Steele, whose essays have a striking afmas guest to the table presided over finity, both in style and matter, with the by the Squire of Bracebridge Hall. writings of Washington Irving. ItHe is the central character of Irving's would be too much to say that if there charming sketch, and it would be im- had been no Sir Roger de Coverley, possible to imagine a more poetical, there would have been no Squire and at the same time more truthful Bracebridge, but it is hardly too much portrait of a 'good old English gen- to say that if The Spectator' had tleman, one of the olden time. I have not existed, Squire Bracebridge would always thought that in delineating have been a somewhat different, and this delightful personage Irving had perhaps a somewhat less endearing before him, perhaps unconsciously to creation. It would be almost imposhimself, that preu.x chevalier Sir Roger sible, however, to present a perfect de Coverley. Not only in general type of the old English gentleman characteristics are the two identical, without investing him with but in many minor points. They both the characteristics of the famous were firmly convinced that there is Knight, and perhaps a more remark‘no condition more truly honourable able coincidence is the resemblance and enviable than that of a country between Irving's description of Masgentleman on his paternal lands,' and ter Simon and Addison's sketch of in spite of the worthy Knight's occa- Mr. Will Wimble. In each of these sional visits to London, they both cases an eccentric personage is porthoroughly lived up to this belief. trayed, with curious habits formed by They were both beloved by, and sole the force of circumstances, and in each arbiters in all the concerns of, their case the habits are at least similar, tenants and dependants, and each es- and the circumstances absolutely teemed every man as a friend, no mat- identical. Irving, it is true, elaborter what his station, who showed him- ates the picture in his most charining self worthy of friendship. We are manner, so that the execution is entold by Mr. Spectator that, as Sir tirely his own, but for the conception Roger was beloved by all about him, it almost seems as if he were indebted ‘his servants never care for leaving to Addison. Old bachelors and poor him ; by this means his domesties are relations are themes upon which Irall in years, and grown old with their ving loved to dilate with kindly good master, You would take his valet de

nature, and certainly if all old bachechambre for his brother, his butler is lors were like Master Simon marriage grey-headed, his groom is one of the would not so generally be deemed the gravest men I have ever seen, and his more honourable state. He had a coachman has the looks of a privy chirping buoyant disposition, always counsellor.' The composition of the enjoying the present moment; and Bracebridge household was exactly similar ; we are told that the servants

bridge Hall' in the paper on Family Servants.

* This idea is still further worked out in Brace

their eyes.

In re

his frequent change of scene and com. pany prevented his acquiring those rusty, unaccommodating habits with which old bachelors are so uncharitably charged.' He made love to all the old spinsters, in whose eyes he was still a gay young dog, and he was adored by all the youngsters, ‘for he must have been a miracle of accomplishments in

He could imitate Punch and Judy; make an old woman of his hand, with the assistance of a burnt cork and pocket handkerchief, and cut an orange into such a ludicrous caricature that the young folks were ready to die with laughing.' The failure of the village choir in the anthem which Master Simon had so industriously endeavoured to drum into their heads, is conceived in the true spirit of comedy, and the old gentleman's joviality after dinner, when he chirped like a grasshopper filled with dew,' and finally grew maudlin about the widow, is excellently humorous. In his choice of a parson the Squire of Bracebridge Hall differed from Sir Roger de Coverley. The little, driedup black-letter hunter, who even on Christmas Day preached a long erudite sermon on the rites and ceremonies proper to the season, citing as his authorities half a score of the ancient fathers, is in marked contrast with the worthy gentleman to whom Sir Roger presented all the good sermons printed in the English language, making it a condition that he should read one of them in the pulpit every Sunday, and leave to others all attempts at originality. The remaining characters are, in this series of papers, but slightly sketched in, but how charming and how comprehensive Irving makes even his slightest sketches! The young

officer who had been wounded at Waterloo, with his dash of natural coxcom bery; the blushing beauty of seventeen, the coy victim of his love-making; the Oxonian, who delighted in quizzing his maiden aunts and cousins with exaggerated airs of gallantry; the captivating little hoy.

dens still in the school-room, who taxed Master Simon's powers of dancing so sorely ; the fat-headed old gentleman, who stuck in the middle of a story, and was the only person in the room who could not remember the end of it; to each of these a vivid personality is given, which could scarcely be increased by any additional elaboration.

With regard to the antiquated manner in which he describes Christmas as having been spent at Bracebridge Hall, Irving was freely criticised on the first appearance of the 'Sketch Book.' If such a criticism were true in 1820, it would be doubly true in 1878, but I venture to think that its truth cannot be sustained. marking upon these strictures at a later period, Irving said, that since writing the Old Christmas papers he had had opportunities of seeing almost all the rural customs which he describes, in full force in many districts in England. With the exception of the dance, accompanied by cudgel play, which so delighted Squire Bracebridge as being the lineal descendant of the sword dance of the ancients, there is nothing described, the counterpart of which could not be found to-day in some parts of England. Surely no one will allege that blindman's buff, hot cockles, bob-apple, or snap-dragon, are obsolete games; or that the Yule Log, the Wassail Bowl, and the time honoured mistletoe are things of the past? With regard to the Antique Masque which concluded the merry Christmas evening, this only purported to be a

burlesque imitation,' and Irving half confesses that he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's Masque of Christmas.

But to refute seriously an allegation against Irving's Old Christmas of want of accuracy, is to fight with shadows. Probably no such exquisite combination of all the sports and merriment belonging to the season, was ever found in any one village of England ; but how many villages of England have lived under the jovial

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

sway of a Squire Bracebridge? A writer bols of things which never fade into anattempting to give a general idea of tiquity, but which bloom fresh and green the pastimes peculiar to Christmas, is with each recurring Christmas. And the not compelled to locate his village, crowning ceremony of all, the Christand confine himself to the customs of mas dinner, the feast which Englishthat particular district ; had Irving at men unanimously exalt to the first any time attempted such pedantry, we place among all feasts, with what a should not only have lost his Christ- humorous gusto is it described ! Irvmas at Bracebridge Hall, but many ing could praise good cheer enthusiasmore of his most delightful essays. It tically, without incurring the slightest is more profitable, however, to aban- suspicion of being himself either a don all ideas of probability or impro- gourmet or a gourmand, and from his bability, and yield ourselves up to the description the Squire's must certainly charm of Irving's writing, and he have been a model Christmas dinner. would be but a churlish reader who The talk over the wine,which the Squire, could resist this, and who could deny whose joviality seemed always temthat he would give a year or so of his pered with a proper love of decorum,' life, to pass one such Christmas at interrupted exactly at the right moBracebridge Hall. Who would not, , ment, is full of pleasant humour. The even on a frosty night, be kept waiting evening games, although themselves at the door, as were our travellers, if no longer necessary accompaniments the reason were that the merriment in to Christmas, constitute an admirable the servants' hall was too uproarious example of the uproarious merriment to allow them to hear the ringing of which most households still indulge in the bell ? To be ushered into such a ¡ on Christmas night. ball, and to greet such a company, we

I have, I hope, said enough to show ourselves would willingly ring from | how thoroughly ideal is the picture one Christmas Eve to another. To see Irving draws of Old Christmas, but it the old Squire, seated in his ancestral | may, in addition, be pointed out that chair beaming like the sun of a sys- all his figures and scenes are, so to tem' gladness to every heart; to see speak, types. He makes no attempt the old hall, with the famous portrait at character-painting, except so far as of the Crusader; to shake hands with is necessary to present each of his drathe parson, and to joke with Master matis personæ, as an example of a Simon; all and any of these would class. The stage-coachman is a type, certainly be worth some waiting for. the country inn is a type, Bracebridge And, after the supper and merry dance Hall is a type, its inmates and surof Christmas Eve, how delightful to roundings, the Squire, the Parson, fall asleep as the music of the waits Master Simon, the village Church, the died away in the distance, and how traveller himself, are all typical ; and doubly delightful to wake, to hear the : finally, the series of papers as a whole, pattering of little feet outside the door, form a wonderful and unique type of and after a whispered consultation, a what Christmas, in its most Christian choir of small voices chanting a carol ! spirit, sometimes is, and always ought And then the family prayers, and the to be. dear old Squire in his Christmas joy It is impossible to dismiss Washand exaltation, allowing his voice to i ington Irving with a reference merely rambleout of all the bounds of time and to his Old Christmas, charming as that tune ; and the walk to church through is, and peculiarly appropriate at this the clear and frosty air, and Master Si- time of the year; and, therefore, it mon's anthem and the Parson's sermon; will hardly be considered out of and the loving greetings of the pea- place to make a few general remarks santry to the Squire all these are sym- upon the position he occupies among


English Essayists. Those writers who have achieved the very first excellence in the familiar style of writing, are few in number. Steele, Goldsmith, Washington Irving and Charles Lamb, are the four greatest, and if of these, judged simply as familiar essayists, Charles Lamb must be deemed facilis princeps, it is not so easy to discriminate between the claims of the remaining three for second place.

In style, as well as in choice of subject, and natural bent of mind, Washington Irving bears a strong resemblance to Steele. They both possessed the same simplicity of mind, combined with kindliness and comprehensive charity: the same deeply reverential spirit characterized them both, and if Washington Irving was not so prone as Steele, to turn his essays into short sermons, it is in a great measure because the accidents of his life, and the tone and temper of the age in which he lived, forbade it. Essayists in the familiar style appeal directly to their readers as friend to friend ; they attempt to engage the heart rather than attract the intellect, and the measure of their success can therefore be gauged better by our affection for them as men, than by our admiration for them as authors. The strong personal feeling which we have for such writers as Lamb, Goldsmith, and Irving, is in some respects a curious phenomenon. It is altogether independent of, and uninfluenced by, their character or the events of their lives, but arises entirely from the effect of their writings upon our emotions and susceptibilities. The reason for this would appear to be that perfection in such writing cannot be approached by any man unless his nature fit him pre-eminently for it, so that the writing is in the truest sense the man. The knowledge of this is unconsciously present to every reader; we know that we are being admitted behind the veil, and that the author's nature, his likes, bis dislikes, sometimes his very soul, are laid bare before us, and naturally we love him as we do a

friend who entrusts us with his every secret. Mere frankness of confession, however, such as Rousseau's or De Quincey's does not necessarily produce such a result, there must not be the slightest intrusion of the tragic,—even our interest must not be too deeply aroused ; we must be thoroughly satisfied with our author's nature, and through him with our own, it being delicately insinuated that, as he is, so are all men. Washington Irving rarely does more than confide to us his tastes and sentiments; he does not, like Charles Lamb, entrust us with his most sacred feelings, and his most human weaknesses; but although for this reason he does not lie so near our hearts as the gentle Elia, his graceful bonhommie and genial warmth render him peculiarly endearing. There is one faculty which essayists of Irving's type must possess in an abnormal degree, and that is taste, or tact, call it which


will. The slightest jar upon the feelings of a reader would neutralize their efforts, and it is only by the possession of this faculty, that men of crotchets, as to certain extent all such writers are, manage to write so as to please all readers. I think too, that another reason why we love these authors is, that as boys we revelled in their works. How well I remember the appearance, the very binding of the well-thumbed Washington Irving in the old school library! When I open the Sketch Book, or Bracebridge Hall, visions of hours of keen delight rise up before me, and I recognise anew the fact, that at no period of life is more enjoyment derived from books, than at that delightful age, which accepts all it reads unhesitatingly, and thinks a hint against its favourite authors treason. There are few authors who can claim equal sway over the boy's imagination and the man's intellect, but of these few Washington Irving is one, and his kindly unostentatious nature would have regarded a boy's delight as a more grateful offering than even the praise of critics.

« НазадПродовжити »