Изображения страниц

his cart in an hour, was, a hundred and sixty years ago, a day's journey from him. The street, which now affords to the artisan, during the whole night, a secure, a convenient, and a brilliantlylighted walk, was, a hundred and sixty years ago, so dark after sunset that he would not have been able to see his hand, so ill paved that he would have run constant risk of breaking his neck, and so ill watched that he would have been in imminent danger of being knocked down and plundered of his small earnings. Every bricklayer who falls from a scaffold, every sweeper of a crossing who is run over by a carriage, now may have his wounds dressed and his limbs set with a skill such as, a hundred and sixty years ago, all the wealth of a great lord like Ormond, or of a merchant prince like Clayton, could not have purchased.

2. Some frightful diseases have been extir' pated by science, and some have been banished by police. The term of human life has been lengthened over the whole kingdom, and especially in the towns. The year 1685 was not accounted sickly; yet in the year 1685 more than one in twenty-three of the inhabitants of the capital died. At present only one inhabitant of the capital in forty dies annually. The difference in salubrity between the London of the nineteenth century and the London of the seventeenth century is very far greater than the difference between London in an ordinary season and London in the cholera.

3. Still more important is the benefit which all orders of society, and especially the lower orders, have derived from the mollifying influence of civilization on the national character. The ground-work of that character has indeed been the same through many generations, in the sense in which the groundwork of the character of an individual may be said to be the same when he is a rude and thoughtless schoolboy and when he is a refined and accomplished man. It is pleasing to reflect that the public mind of England has softened while it has ripened, and that we have, in the course of ages, become, not only a wiser, but also a kinder people. There is scarcely a page of the history or lighter literature of the seventeenth century which does not contain some proof that our ancestors were less humane than their posterity.

4. The discipline of work-shops, of schools, of private families, though not more efficient than at present, was infinitely harsher. Masters, well born and bred, were in the habit of beating their servants. Pedagogues knew no way of imparting knowledge but by beating their pupils. Husbands of decent station were not ashamed to beat their wives. The implaca. bility of hostile factions was such as we can scarcely conceive. As little mercy was shown by the populace to sufferers of a

humbler rank. If an offender was put into the pillory, Et it was well if he escaped with life from the shower of brick-bats and paving-stones. If he was tied to the cart's tail, the crowd pressed round him, imploring the hangman to give it the fellow well, and make him howl.

5. Gentlemen arranged parties of pleasure to Bridewellel on court days, for the purpose of seeing the wretched women who beat hemp there whipped. A man pressed to death for refusing to plead, a woman burned for coining, excited less sympathy than is now felt for a galled horse or an over-driven ox. Fights compared with which a boxing-match is a refined and humane spectacle were among the favorite diversions of a large part of the town. Multitudes assembled to see gladiatorsk hack each other to pieces with deadly weapons, and shouted with delight when one of the combatants lost a finger or an eye.

6. The prisons were hells on earth, seminaries of every crime and of every disease. At the assi’zes, El the lean and yellow culprits brought with them from their cells to the docker an atmosphere of stench and pestilence which sometimes avenged them signally on bench, bar, and jury. But on all this misery society looked with profound indifference. Nowhere could be found that sensitive and restless compassion which, in our time, pries into the stores and water-casks of every emigrant ship, which winces at every lash laid on the back of a drunken sol. dier, which will not suffer the thief in the hulkse to be ill fed or over-worked, and which has repeatedly endeavored to save the life even of the murderer.

7. It is true that compassion ought, like all other feelings, to be under the government of reason, and has, for want of such government, produced some ridiculous and some deplorable effects. But, the more we study the annals of the past, the more shall we rejoice that we live in a merciful age, in an age in which cruelty is abhorred, and in which pain, even when deserved, is inflicted reluctantly and from a sense of duty. Every class, doubtless, has gained largely by this great moral change; but the class which has gained most is the poorest, the most dependent, and the most defenceless.


CLXI. — GIL" BLAS AND THE ARCHBISHOP. Archbishop. What is your business with me, my friend ?

Gil Blas. I am the young man who was recommended to you by your nephew, Don Fernando.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Arch. O! you are the person of whom he spoke so hand. Bomely. I retain you in my service; I regard you as an acqui. sition. Your education, it would seem, has not been neglected; you know enough of Greek and Latin for my purpose, and your handwriting suits me. I am obliged to my nephew for sending me so clever a young fellow. So good a copyist must be also a grammarian. Tell me, did you find nothing in the sermon you transcribed for me which shocked your taste? - no little negligence of style, or impropriety of diction?

Gil B. O, sir! I am not qualified to play the critic; and if I were, I am persuaded that your Grace's compositions would defy censure.

Arch. Ahem! well, I do flatter myself that not many flaws could be picked in them. But, my young friend, tell me what passages struck you most forcibly.

Gil B. If, where all was excellent, any passages more particularly moved me, they were those personifying hope, and describing the good man's death.

Arch. You show an accurate taste and delicate appreciation. I see your judgment may be relied upon. Give yourself no inqui. etude, Gil Blas, in regard to your advancement in life. I will take care of that. I have an affection for you, and, to prove it, I will now make you my confidant. Yes, my young friend, I will make you the depositary of my most secret thoughts. Listen to what I have to say. I am fond of preaching, and my sermons are not without effect upon my hearers. The conversions of which I am the humble instrument ought to content me. But, — shall I confess my weakness ? — my reputation as a finished orator is what gratifies me most. My productions are celebrated as at once vigorous and elegant. But I would, of all things, avoid the mistake of those authors who do not know when to stop — I would produce nothing beneath my reputation; I would retire seasonably, ere that is impaired. And so, my dear Gil Blas, one thing I exact of your zeal, which is, that when you shall find that my pen begins to flag and to give signs of old age in the owner, you shall not hesitate to apprise ine of the fact. Do not be afraid that I shall take it unkindly. I cannot trust my own judgment on this point; self-love may mislead me. A disin'terested understanding is what I require for my guidance • I make choice of yours, and mean to abide by your decision.

Gil B. Thank Heaven, sir, the period is likely to be far distant when any such hint shall be needed. Besides, a genius like yours will wear better than that of an inferior man; or, to speak more justly, your faculties are above the encroachments of


age. Instead of being weakened, they promise to be invigorated by time.

Arch. No flattery, my friend. I am well aware that I am liable to give way at any time, all at once. At my age, certain infirmities of the flesh are unavoidable, and they must needs affect the mental powers. I repeat it, Gil Blas, so soon as you shall perceive the slightest symptom of deterioration in my writings, give me fair warning. Do not shrink from being per. fectly candid and sincere ; for I shall receive such a monition as a token of your regard for me.

Gil B. In good faith, sir, I shall endeavor to merit your confidence.

Arch. Nay, your interests are bound up with your obedience in this respect; for if, unfortunately for you, I should hear in the city a whisper of a falling-off in my discourses, - an intimation that I ought to stop preaching, -I should hold you responsible, and coneider myself exempted from all care for your fortunes. Such will be the result of your false discretion.

Gil B. Indeed, sir, I shall be vigilant to observe your wishes, and to detect any blemish in your writings.

Arch. And now tell me, Gil Blas, what does the world say of my last discourse ? Think you it gave general satisfaction?

Gil B. Since you exact it of me in so pressing a manner to be frank —

Arch. Frank? O, certainly, by all means; speak out, my young friend.

Gii B. Your Grace's sermons never fail to be admired; but

Arch. But - Well? Do not be afraid to let me know all.

Gil B. If I may venture the observation, it seemed to me that your last discourse did not have that effect upon your audience which your former efforts have had. Perhaps your Grace's recent illness

Arch. What, what! Has it encountered, then, some Aristarchus ? EL

Gil B. No, sir, no. Such productions as yours are beyond criticism. Everybody was charmed with it; but — since you have demanded it of me to be frank and sincere — I take tho liberty to remark that your last discourse did not seem to me altogether equal to your preceding. It lacked the strength — the — Do you not agree with me, sir ?

Arch. Mr. Gil Blas, that discourse, then, is not to your taste ?

Gil B. I did not say that, sir. I found it excellent.- only a little inferior to your others.

Arch. So! Now I understand. I seem to you to be on the wane - eh? Out with it! You think it about time that I should retire ?

Gil B. I should not have presumed, sir, to speak so freely, but for your express commands. I have simply rendered you obedience; and I humbly trust that you will not be offended at my hardihood.

Arch. Offended! O! not at all, Mr. Gil Blas. I utter no reproaches. I don't take it at all ill that you should speak your sentiments; it is your sentiment only that I find ill. I have been duped in supposing you to be a person of any intelligence — that is all. Gil B. But, sir, if, in my zeal to serve you, I have erred in —

Arch. Say no more — say no more! You are yet too raw to discriminate. Know that I never composed a better sermon than that which has had the misfortune to lack your approbation. My faculties, thank Heaven, have lost nothing of their vigor. Hereafter I will make a better choice of an adviser. Go, tell my treasurer to count you out a hundred ducats, and may Heaven conduct you with that sum. Adieu, Mr. Gil Blas ! I wish you all manner of prosperity — with a little more taste.


Mar. He is possessed by a commanding spirit,
And his, too, is the station of command,
And well for us it is so !
Well for the whole, if there be found a man 166
Stands fixed and stately, like a firm-built column,
Where all may press with joy and confidence.
Now, such a man is Wallenstein.
The oracle within him, that which lives,
He must invoke and question—not dead books,
Not ordinances, not mould-rotted papers.

Octavio. My son, of those old narrow ordinances
Let us not hold too lightly.
The way of ancient ordinance, though it winds,
Is yet no devious way. Straight forward goes
The lightning's path, and straight the fearful path
Of the cannon-ball. Direct it tlies and rapid,
Shattering that it may reach, and shattering what it reaches
My son, the road the human being travels,
That on which blessing comes and goes, doth follow
The river’s course, the valley's playful windings,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »