Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

prevailing hue of the times. Its mimicry, though powerful to foster and encourage feelings which the mind approves, has small success in assailing these convictions, and no creative power to inspire any emotion which conscience is in arms to resist. Rather, then, than raise the cry against the dramatic art, be it the general aim to cultivate and promote those tastes and principles, which will lead to the perfect purity of the stage.

A graver authority on the subject of morals I should not desire to quote, than him whose life I have been reviewing, and from the tenour of that life we may gather what were his sentiments upon this point.

We behold John Home, a man distinguished by every virtue, a celebrated scholar, and a member of a most holy order, devoting, through a long life, his talents to the culture of the dramatic art; making virtue, heroism, truth, and fortitude his theme;'enlisting our sympathies for these, and arraying them against vice and unchastened passion ; his golden periods, the luxury of our intellectual taste; his sentiments, like stars set up to lighten and to enkindle generous emulation. Seeing this, who can impugn his motives, complain of the application of his talent, or doubt that the most enlightened principle inspired and guided his labours ?

To those who are accustomed to consider smoothness and melody of poetical diction as the result of a musical ear, it may appear surprising that John Home had neither taste for, nor appreciation of the art of sweet sounds.

Recalling all the personal peculiarities of this gifted and amiable man, his partiality for the colour of green occurs to me vividly; perhaps it was his ancestral notions, that encouraged his taste for the family colour; but so it was, his wardrobe always boasted a garment of bottlegreen.

I have seen him, however, in all his variety of attire. In his clerical suit; in his regimentals, as an officer of the Buccleugh Fencibles; in his claret-coloured uniform, when he sat as conservator in the general assembly of Scotland; in his dark bottle-green, which became him best of all; and in his court-dress, in which he is represented by one of the happiest and most elegant efforts of the pencil of Sir Henry Raeburn.

When I asked him to sit for this portrait, he shook me kindly by the hand, and seemed gratified by the request, and during the progress of the work displayed considerable anxiety for its completion.

It is certainly the masterpiece of the artist, and is allowed by judges of all degrees and countries, to be a gem of great value. He had frequently been painted before by different artists, and also by Sir Henry; and recently a bust, taken from the portrait in my possession, has been executed by Mr. Angus Fletcher, which is a work of much merit, and wonderfully like, considering the difficulty of such an undertaking.

A small matter sometimes serves to characterize the man. At the advanced age of seventy-five, we find John Home keeping up and encouraging the remembrance of ancient friendships, by continuing to be a member of the “ Hen Club," as it was called.

The youngest class in the Edinburgh College, had, in those days, the sobriquet of the “ Hen Class ;” and he and his contemporaries had formed themselves into a club, under a title which, doubtless, in their elevated moments afforded a subject for plenty of crowing over the old boasted Roman name of the class, “ The Humanity Class.” The following is a copy of the invitation card, in the year 1797 :

" Edinburgh, 8th March, 1797. “ Chuck, Chuck! “ To a meeting of Hens, in Fortune's, Princes’-street, on Friday, 17th March current, where your company is requested by

“ Geo. BROWN,
“ Join MacGOWAN.

“ Dinner on the table at 4 o'clock, p. m. “ To John Home, Esq., of Kilduff,

N. Hanover-street."

Amongst the great mass of papers that have come into my hand, are numerous epitaphs, epistles in verse, &c., to different persons, but mostly so fragmentary as to be unfit for publication. The verses written upon the death of Provost Coutts, of Edinburgh, which his son, the London banker, told me were the finest of John Home's composition, are unfortunately lost. The epitaph to his brother David, like the books of the Sibyl, every time I turn to it seems to grow in value. It is in Latin, but only a line or two remains to be seen. His brother was in the navy, and died abroad, and the poet speaks with enthusiasm of his exploits, and bewails his loss in fervid terms, in this way erecting, as he says, the cenotaph

“ Fortissimi et delectissimi Fratris.” I have also met with very spirited prologues and addresses in verse, for different actors and actresses, in particular one for Mrs. Barry, and another for Mrs. Abingdon, both first-rate performers of that day.

At different periods of his life, as was formerly mentioned, he yielded to his sanguine temperament, and addressed the public on various topics through the medium of the periodical press. Amongst the last of his appeals of this sort, I find him taking up the pen to denounce Tom Payne's works.

It is surprising in how many ways he condescended to notice such a writer. Sometimes entering into particulars of his low origin and habits, at others in a dramatic form, introducing young recruits to tell of the mischief which Payne's writings were working in the army, and at another devoting the author and his pages to all the fires and torments of another world. Whether such lucubrations ever met the public eye, I cannot say, but the subject of them is now falling rapidly into oblivion.

Early in the spring, I think it was of the year 1801, John Home spoke of going to London, a jaunt he always looked forward to with all the ardour of a youth. He was now, however, far advanced in life, declining, and his nearest relations very naturally heard of his proposal with uneasiness. At this time I had business to transact in London, and it was agreed that I should accompany him, and an early day was fixed for our departure.

I had promised to be with him by eight o'clock in the morning; but he, always watchful and anxious, sent his man Thomas a few minutes before the hour to acquaint me that the post-chaise was at the door, and that all was ready. In two minutes I joined him, and found him all life and in high spirits for the journey. The servant Thomas, a Berwickshire man, accompanied us in the carriage.

Nothing could exceed the pleasure with which we moved forward. The poet had often made the same journey before, and through our whole progress he was recognised at the stages where we stopped, by the different hosts, who seemed to double their civilities when they saw him.

At Newcastle Sir Alexander Kinloch, of Gilmerton, his oldest friend, of whose family I have before spoken particularly, came to meet John Home. We arrived at Newcastle about midday, and Sir Alexander and the host of the inn were on the stairs.

Their meeting was most interesting, and in innumerable ways did Sir Alexander show his respect and attachment for his old friend.

We dined together; and when the bottle was wearing low, the poet, in the jollity of his heart said, “Well, Sir Alexander, you have come a great way to see me. You will now take my bottle;" and with the air of a spark of thirty, he drew out his long purse and ordered another bottle of the same wine, paying for it instanter. Old remembrances and allusions, interesting to both parties, formed the substance of the conversation ; and when the two friends parted, they embraced each other very warmly.

Excepting this halt at Newcastle, we always travelled through the whole day, seldom stopping till the evening, at which time we dined. The poet always dressed before dinner at whatever hour we arrived ; and before retiring to bed, there was generally a tasting of something for which the place might be famed. He had a notion about rum, fancying it the only spirit in which there is any nourishment, and sometimes its aid was called into request in the evening.

He never seemed exhausted or fatigued by the journey, and was not the last on foot in the morning. Every proposal he approved of and agreed to cheerfully, and in all things seemed to bend to the desires of others. In this way no wonder the journey passed pleasantly.

When we came to Alnwick, and got sight of the ancient and imposing castle of the Dukes of Northumberland, he said, “ The Duke of Northumberland was ancestor to the Earl of Home: it is from this house we all sprung.” And amongst his papers I find a note illustrating this, entitled “ Genealogy of the Earldom of Home."

At the inn the host recognised the poet, and was entreated to summon forth the old ostler, who it seems had been an appendage to the establishment for twenty years, and an old acquaintance of the poet's.

The ostler having appeared, and pledged his honour as an ostler to serve us with the best pair of horses in the stable, John Home gave him a crown from his own pocket, not to interfere with the stock purse of the journey. “ Bless

your honour !" said the astonished ostler, “this is indeed prize cup!"

During the journey I kept the purse and disbursed, and was reminded by the poet to pay the postboys handsomely. You should ring the half-crown on the window-glass,” he said gaily; but that was unnecessary: the sound of his liberality had reached their ears long ago, they seemed conscious of their freight, and they now displayed their utmost zeal of whip and spur in anticipating their reward.

When we arrived at Ferrybridge, again the hostess, a genteel elderly matron, recognised the traveller, and in the most courteous manner entered into conversation with him, and complimented him upon his hale and hearty appearance.

In the afternoon of the fifth day, I think we came within a stage or two of London, when a council was held. Thomas, who had been well instructed at home to take special care of his master, and who had very likely heard stories of the perils of approaching the great city in the dark, put in his protest against proceeding, and it was agreed, as the sailors say, to lay-to during the night.

Next morning we were again in motion, but now John Home was no longer to be distinguished as a traveller.

As you approach London, the stream, fed from a thousand channels, rapidly expands as it were into a great estuary, on which objects lose their individuality; and soon you begin to touch the vast ocean of the population of this wonderful and mighty mass, and enter on a new existence.

A little after noon we reached Piccadilly, where lodgings had been prepared for the poet.

He had been in the same place before, and immediately found himself at home, the whole household, one after another, coming to welcome his arrival. My head-quarters were to be in the city, and not without a feeling of uneasiness I took leave of my relation

My stay in town was short; yet I sometimes called at Piccadilly, and when the poet was not to be found I saw Thomas, who expressed his surprise at many things, and especially at the constant and extraordinary attentions of his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland to his master, and at the crowd of visiters, many of them the distinguished characters of the time.

One day when I called I found the poet fast asleep in his chair, his head covered with a napkin. He had been out to Cadell's, the bookseller, he said, probably to treat with him about the “ History of the Rebellion."

On the table lay the large manuscript of the history, which for the first time I had seen. I turned to the first page, and reading a few lines remarked that he had repeated the same expression in one passage. With great ease he replied he knew it, and in this way the passage was more elegant.

Although his chief object in this journey to London was the publication of his History, up to this hour not a word had ever been uttered of its existence; indeed, John Home never in the most distant manner alluded to any of his works. His tragedy of “ Douglas,” which has carried his name all over Europe, he never mentioned. He seemed the only man of his time unconscious of its existence; and when at times I have broken in with an expression quoted from some of his own tragedies, it was only received with a smile, and the pleasure which it pro

duced, though its gleam was quite visible, was enjoyed in silence. In a day or two after the time just mentioned, I called to take leave of the poet, and receive his compliments for Scotland ; and it brings the full gush again from my heart when I say that when I rose to go, and approached this good and amiable man, he folded me in his arms, and kissed me with a warmth that quite surprised and overcame me.

After the publication of the “History of the Rebellion," it appears he had acquired some additional matter of interest, which he wished to introduce in a second edition of the work, but the booksellers, Cadell and Davis, relying on the terms of their contract with the author, would not agree to it, unless all the advantage were to be theirs.

At this time of dilemma he writes the following letter to Mr. Coutts, the banker, who I believe loved the poet as a brother, begging his interference with the booksellers.

The naïveté with which he speaks of the booksellers' terms, and his ignorance of their import, are quite characteristic of the man.

" Edinburgh, 15th July, 1802. “My dear Sir, “ A few days before I left London I called at Cadell and Davis's shop in the Strand; and as Mr. Cadell was not within, had a good deal of conversation with Mr. Davis alone. After we had talked together some time Mr. Davies wrote a paper, of which he made two copies, and read them to me—another copy is enclosed in this letter.

“ As I was not at all acquainted with the terms and phrases used by booksellers, I had not the most distant idea that any thing was meant by the phrase "copyright,' than a right to him and his partner of their share of a second edition of the · History of the Rebellion.' Since the first edition was published I have had several letters from the Highlands, which contain information that enables me to prepare a second edition of the history, which will be much superior to the first; and it was my intention to have published that edition in two large volumes octavo; but by the construction which Mr. Davies seems to put upon the paper which he himself wrote, I am engaged to give all the additions and corrections in my possession to him and his partner, which I certainly will not do if I can help it. Embarrassed in this manner, I apply to you, my dear sir, and sensible of all your civility and kindness, shown to me since we became acquainted, entreat you to interfere, and convince Mr. Davies that the account of this matter I give in the second page of this letter is just and true. “ Believe that I am, with great truth,

“ Most sincerely yours,

“ J. HOME.”

How this affair was settled I know not, as at this time I was occupied with business at a distance.

It may be well believed that the desire to see John Home, a man so distinguished in literature was very great; and that I, and others his relations, had at times pressing applications on this head. “I would rather see John Home than the king of England,” was often said to me. But I required to be somewhat scrupulous about this. It was not pos

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »