« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
one with time, are by no means uncommon. But Byron's influence is wearing out, and they are pretty generally laughed at. Yet where a lad at college can say sincerely, as Thorndale said—
For me there was more excitement to be got out of any dingy book, thumbed over by a solitary rushlight, than from fifty ballrooms
his mind is taking a morbid growth, which bodes no good to himself; nor are things better when he goes on a tour to the Cumberland lakes, and instead of cheerfully enjoying the scenes around him, goes on as follows:–
Forgetful of lake and mountain, my eyes fixed perhaps on the topmost bar of some roadside gate, which I had intended to open, or pausing stock-still before some hedgerow in the solitary lane, apparently intent upon the buds of the hawthorn, as if I were penetrating into the very secrets of vegetable life, I have stood for hours musing on the intricate problems which our social condition presents to us.
We need not say that such a man is out of his place in England in the nineteenth century. In this age we want, not visionaries, but actors; healthy, robust men, like Arnold, who can think and reason, and who can likewise walk five miles in the hour. Perhaps, indeed, the cry for “Muscular Christianity’ is passing into cant; and we know of noble minds which, notwithstanding the clog of physical debility and suffering, bear a kindly sympathy towards all mankind, and make the race their debtors for the gift of elevating thoughts. But as for Thorndale—sensitive as the mimosa, ever watching with introverted eye the lights and shadows of his own mind—how could he be happy : A certain amount of insensibility is in this world needful to that. We must not bear a nervous system so delicately appreciative of external influences as to keep us ever on the flutter or on the rack. Above all, let us have the equable mind, though it should live in a light which is uniformly subdued, rather than that which is ever alternating between April sunshine and April gloom. Justly and thoughtfully did Wordsworth make this equanimity a marked characteristic of the happiness of a higher life:–
He spake of love, such love as spirits feel,
We may have faults to find with the character of Thorndale, regarded as that of a representative man : but we feel at once with what delicate accuracy the author maintains its keeping. From first to last, he never speaks or acts otherwise than he ought, under the given conditions. The malady that killed him had marked him from his birth; and he is always the same kindly, tender-hearted, meditative, unenergetic, spiritless being. Mr. Smith shows us the whole man by one happy touch. Thorndale had chosen the shores of Loch Lomond as his autumn retreat one year. He had been there only a day, when he suddenly resolved that he would return and seek the hand of a gentle cousin whom he loved, and who appears not to have been indifferent to him. He had hitherto kept silence, because her worldly position was higher than his own. He left Loch Lomond on the instant; he travelled on day and night; he seemed never to have drawn breath till he stood at the gate of the shrubbery that surrounded Sutton Manor, her home and his.
Then indeed I paused. Leaning on the half-opened gate, I saw again my own position in its true and natural light. Was it not always known and understood that such a thing was not to be One after the other, all my fallacious reasonings deserted me. What madness could have brought me there ! I hoped no one had seen me. Slowly and softly the half-opened gate was closed again. I walked away, retracing my steps as unobserved as possible through the village.
Here was Thorndale himself. Like most thoughtful men, he had much of the irresolution of Hamlet, —the irresolution that comes of thinking too much. There can be no doubt that in order to act slap-dash with promptness and decision, it is best not to see a case in all its bearings. It is best to see one side clearly and strongly ; and then no lurking irresolution will retard the arm in its descent. Here was the secret of poor Thorndale’s creeping away with a sinking heart from the only presence he cared for in this world. There is not invariable truth in the lines of Montrose,
He either fears his fate too much,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
We need not relate how the author explains his chancing upon Villa Scarpa in wandering about Naples. The villa was then deserted : all was over. We have no particulars recorded of Thorndale's death. We confess we feel in this omission something of cruelty on the author's part towards his hero. There is something pitiful in the story of the neglected manuscriptvolume, found after the poor visionary was gone, hidden away in the roof of the abandoned house; and in the picture which rises before us of the tender-hearted youth, lying down to die alone. He had a kind servant, indeed; and an old friend, with his little adopted daughter, who reappeared as evening was darkening down, may be supposed to have tended and soothed the last agony. But Mr. Smith, in his careful avoidance of whatever might seem a clap-trap expedient to excite interest and feeling, is entirely silent as to the close. However, he chanced on the deserted Villa Scarpa : he found a despatch-box, bearing the name of Charles Thorndale, whom he had known, though not intimately. This despatch-box contained the manuscript volume already mentioned, which Thorndale seemed to have bequeathed to the first finder; and the good-natured Italian to whom the villa belonged, willingly gave up box and manuscript to one who said he had been Thorndale's friend. We quote a single sentence, for its graceful beauty, from the picture of Thorndale called up to the mind's eye of his editor, on thus chancing on his last retreat :—
His eye was not that of which it is so often said that it looks through you, for it rather seemed to be looking out beyond you. The object at which it gazed became the half-forgotten centre round which the eddying stream of thought was flowing; and you stood there, like some islet in a river which is encircled on all sides by the swift and silent flood.
The manuscript volume now published has been divided by its editor into five books, and each of these into several chapters. Book I. is called The Last Retreat ; it is given to many reflections, mostly thrown out with little arrangement, upon the Sentiment of Beauty, and upon the two Futurities, the one on this side and the other beyond the grave. In Book II., which is called The Retrospect, the current of thought has set away into the past; and we have an autobiographical sketch. Book III., called Cyril, or the Modern Cistercian, gives an account of the conflict of thought by which a companion passed from an evangelical Anglican to a Roman Catholic monk. Book IV., Seckendorf, or the Spirit of Denial, sketches the character and views of a friend who cavilled at the possibility of all human progress. In Book V., Clarence, or the Utopian, we first read how, as strength and life had well-nigh ebbed away, Thorndale met once more with an old friend of hopeful views, who seems to have stayed by him to the last : and when Thorndale’s weak hand had laid down the pen for the last time, Clarence wrote out, in the last two hundred pages of the volume, his Confessio Fidei ;—a connected view of his theory of man, the growth of the individual consciousness, and the development of the human race.
The earlier part of the book is very desultory; and the book as a whole appeals to a limited class of