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LETTERS то NEWTON.
A noble theme demands a noble verse,
But being sent to Olney at free charge,
And therefore overlooked, forgot, or missed.
In consequence of which, your welcome boon
In consequence of which some chanced to die,
For less than twelve pence, send whate'er you may,
Packed in a barrel, they will charge no more.
We say, good madam, and good sir, adieu.
At a date some two years later than this, he tells Newton that he would as soon allow himself the liberty of writing a sheet full of trifles to one of
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
the four Evangelists, as to him. But very speedily after that, we find him writing to the same friend with as much drollery as ever. The truth is, he always wrote according to the frame of his mind and feelings at the moment, and on whatever topic the train of association landed him when putting pen to paper, on that he wrote just what spontaneously he thought and felt. The writing of letters was never irksome to him, though the beginning of them sometimes was. He told Newton in one of his letters in 1784, that the morning was his writing time, but in the morning he had no spirits, and therefore so much the worse for his correspondents. "As the evening approaches, I grow more alert, and when I am retiring to bed, am more fit for mental occupation than at any other time. So it fares with us whom they call nervous. The watch is irregularly wound up; it goes in the night when it is not wanted, and in the day stands still."
A year previous to this, he had been more dejected and distressed than usual, so much so, that even a visit from Newton, "the friend of his heart, with whom he had formerly taken sweet counsel," not only failed to comfort him, but added, as he said, the bitterness of mortification to the sadness of despair. His nights were becoming a terror to him, and he told Newton that he was more and more harassed by dreams in the night, and more
LETTERS TO NEWTON.
deeply poisoned by them in the following day. He feared a return of his malady in all its force. "I know the ground," said he, "before I tread upon it. It is hollow; it is agitated; it suffers shocks in every direction; it is like the soil of Calabria— all whirlpool and undulation." Happily, these terrible forebodings were not then fulfilled; it was not till four years had elapsed that the dreaded prostration came; and his letters continued to be as cheerful as usual. The following to Newton in 1784, beautifully shows what a combination of enjoyment in the rural sights and sounds of nature, and of solemn meditation on the verge of what seemed an eternal gloom, at once occupied his sensibilities.
"My greenhouse is never so pleasant as when we are just upon the point of being turned out of it. The gentleness of the autumnal suns, and the calmness of this latter season, make it a much more agreeable retreat than we ever find it in the summer; when, the winds being generally brisk, we can not cool it by admitting a sufficient quantity of air, without being at the same time incommoded by it. But now I sit with all the windows and the door wide open, and am regaled with the scent of every flower, in a garden as full of flowers as I have known how to make it. We keep no bees, but if I lived in a hive, I should hardly hear more of their music. All the bees in the neighbor
hood resort to a bed of mignionette, opposite to the window, and pay me for the honey they get out of it by a hum, which, though rather monotonous, is as agreeable to my ear as the whistling of my linnets. All the sounds that nature utters are delightful, at least in this country. I should not, perhaps, find the roaring of lions in Africa, or of bears in Russia very pleasing, but I know no beast in England whose voice I do not account musical, save and except always the braying of an ass. The notes of all our birds and fowls please me without an exception. I should not, indeed, think of keeping a goose in a cage, that I might hang him up in the parlor for the sake of his melody, but a goose upon a common or in a farm-yard is no bad performer; and as to insects, if the black beetle, and beetles indeed of all hues, will keep out of my way, I have no objection to any of the rest; on the contrary, in whatever key they sing, from the gnat's fine treble to the base of the humble bee, I admire them all.
"Seriously, however, it strikes me as a very observable instance of Providential kindness to man, that such an exact accord has been contrived between his ear and the sounds with which, at least in a rural situation, it is almost every moment visited. All the world is sensible of the uncomfortable effect that certain sounds have often upon the nerves, and consequently upon the spirits.
And if a sinful world had been filled with such as would have curdled the blood, and have made the sense of hearing a perpetual inconvenience, I do not know that we should have had a right to complain. But now the fields, the woods, the gardens, have each their concert, and the ear of man is forever regaled by creatures who seem only to please themselves. Even the ears that are deaf to the Gospel are continually entertained, though without knowing it, by sounds for which they are solely indebted to its Author. There is somewhere in infinite space a world that does not roll within the precincts of mercy, and as it is reasonable, and even Scriptural to suppose that there is music in heaven, in those dismal regions perhaps the reverse of it is found; tones so dismal as to make woe itself more insupportable, and to acuminate even despair. But my paper admonishes me in good time to draw the reins, and to check the descent of my fancy into deeps with which she is but too familiar."