Page images



ALTHOUGH Horace Walpole wrote the 'Castle of Otranto,' which Byron has called the first romance in our language, and published incessantly various antiquarian and critical works, we doubt if he would take rank amongst the best authors" but for his Letters, which have been given to the world from time to time during the last fifty years. These now form six considerable octavo volumes. These letters were as much authorship as if they had been written for the press. They have not the greatest of all charms in letterwriting, a free outpouring of the thoughts in friendly confidence. They are the carefully wrought observations of a clever, sarcastic, vain, and fastidious man of rank, upon the artit cial tastes and habits of the society amongst which he lived. There is no heart in them, and therefore we care nothing for the writer. Upon the whole, they induce a feeling of dislike towards him. We see how much of insincerity there must have been in this clever embalmer of perishable scandals. His object was to amuse his correspondents for the price of their admiration. He now amuses a larger circle, who have very little esteem to give him in return. Horace Walpole was the youngest son of the famous minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and was born in 1717. Throughout his life he took a small part in public affairs, although his interest in the movements of party was always considerable. He succeeded to the title of Earl of Orford in 1791, and died in 1797.]

"Portents and prodigies are grown so frequent,
That they have lost their name."

My text is not literally true; but, as far as earthquakes go towards lowering the price of wonderful commodities, to be sure we are overstocked. We have had a second, much more violent than the first; and you must not be surprised if, by next post, you hear of a burning mountain sprung up in Smithfield. In the night between Wednesday and Thursday last, (exactly a month since the first shock,) the earth had a shivering fit between one and two; but so slight that, if no more had followed, I don't believe it would have been noticed. I had been awoke, and had scarce dozed again-on a sudden I felt my bolster lift up my head; I thought somebody was getting from under my bed, but soon found it was a strong earthquake, that lasted near half a minute, with a violent vibration and great roaring. I rang my bell; my servant came in, frightened out of his senses; in an instant we heard all the windows in the neighbourhood flung up. I got up and found people running into the streets, but saw no mischief done: there has been some; two old houses flung down, several chimneys, and much chinaware. The bells rung in several houses. Admiral Knowles, who had lived long in Jamaica, and felt seven there, says this was more violent than any of them; Francesco prefers it to the dreadful one at Leghorn. The wise say, that if we have not rain soon, we shall certainly have more. Several people are going out of town, for it has nowhere reached above ten miles from London; they say, they are not frightened, but that it is such fine weather, "Lord! one can't help going into the country!" The only visible effect it has had, was on the Ridotto, at which, being the following night, there were but four hundred people. A parson, who came into White's the morning of earthquake the first, and heard bets laid whether it was an earthquake or blowing up of powder mills, went away exceedingly scandalized, and said, "I protest, they are such an impious set of people, I believe if the last trumpet was to sound, they would bet puppet-show against judgment." If we get any nearer still to the torrid zone, shall pique myself on sending you a present of cedrati and orange-flower water : I am already planning a terreno for Strawberry Hill.

You will not wonder so much at our earthquakes, as at the effects they have had.


All the women in the town have taken them up upon the foot of judgments; and the clergy, who have had no windfalls of a long season, have driven horse and foot into this opinion. There has been a shower of sermons and exhortations. Secker, the jesuitical Bishop of Oxford, began the mode. He heard the women were all going out of town to avoid the next shock; and so, for fear of losing his Easter offerings, he set himself to advise them to await God's good pleasure in fear and trembling. But what is more astonishing, Sherlock, who has much better sense, and much less of the popish confessor, has been running a race with him for the old ladies, and has written a pastoral letter, of which ten thousand were sold in two days; and fifty thousand have been subscribed for since the two first editions.

I told you the women talked of going out of town; several families have literally gone, and many more going to day and to-morrow; for what adds to the absurdity, is, that the second shock having happened exactly a month after the former, it prevails that there will be a third on Thursday next, another month, which is to swallow up London. I am almost ready to burn my letter now I have begun it, lest you should think I am laughing at you; but it is so true, that Arthur of White's told me last night, that he should put off the last ridotto, which was to be on Thursday, because he hears nobody would come to it. I have advised several who are going to keep their next earthquake in the country, to take the bark for it, as it is so periodic.* Dick Leveson and Mr. Rigby, who had supped and staid late at Bedford House the other night, knocked at several doors, and in a watchman's voice cried, "Past four o'clock, and a dreadful earthquake!" But I have done with this ridiculous panic: two pages were too much to talk of it.

I had not time to finish my letter on Monday. I return to the earthquake, which I had mistaken; it is to be to-day. This frantic terror prevails so much, that within these three days seven hundred and thirty coaches have been counted passing Hyde Park corner, with whole parties removing into the country. Here is a good advertisement which I cut out of the papers to-day.

"On Monday next will be published (price 6d.) a true and exact list of all the nobility and gentry who have left, or shall leave, this place through fear of another earthquake."

Several women have made earthquake gowns, that is, warm gowns to sit out of doors all to-night. These are of the more courageous. One woman, still more heroic, is come to town on purpose: she says all her friends are in London, and she will not survive them. But what will you think of Lady Caroline Pelham, Lady Frances Arundel, and Lord and Lady Galway, who go this evening to an inn ten miles out of town, where they are to play at brag till five in the morning, and then come back-I suppose, to look for the bones of their husbands and families under the rubbish.t

I did not doubt but you would be diverted with the detail of absurdities that were committed after the earthquake. I could have filled more paper with such relations, if I had not feared tiring you. We have swarmed with sermons, essays,

"I remember," says Addison, in the two hundred and fortieth Tatler, "when our whole island was shaken with an earthquake some years ago, that there was an impudent mountebank who sold pills, which, as he told the country people, were very good against an earthquake!"

+ "Incredible numbers of people left their houses, and walked in the fields or lay in boats all night: many persons of fashion in the neighbouring villages sat in their coaches till daybreak; others went to a greater distance, so that the roads were never more thronged."— Gentleman's Magazine.

relations, poems, and exhortations on that subject. One Stukely, a parson, has accounted for it, and I think prettily, by electricity-but that is the fashionable cause, and every thing is resolved into electrical appearances as formerly every thing was accounted for by Descartes's vortices and Sir Isaac's gravitation; but they all take care, after accounting for the earthquake systematically, to assure you that still it was nothing less than a judgment. Dr. Barton, the rector of St. Andrews, was the only sensible, or at least honest, divine, upon the occasion. When some women would have had him pray to them in his parish church against the intended shock, he excused himself on having a great cold. "And besides," said he, “you may go to St. James's Church; the Bishop of Oxford is to preach there all night about earthquakes." Turner, a great chinaman, at the corner of next street, had a jar cracked by the shock: he originally asked ten guineas for the pair; he now asks twenty, "because it is the only jar in Europe that had been cracked by an earthquake."



[WE scarcely know whether the Night Thoughts' of EDWARD YOUNG have ceased to find a place in the libraries of general readers. Half a century ago they were amongst the most popular of poems, and were reprinted in every collection which bore the name of English Classics. There are some things in them which ought not to be forgotten. Their general tone is gloomy; their satire is harsh; there is much of meretricious ornament in their illus trations; the blank verse wants the musical flow of the great masters of that noble instrument: but they are strikingly impressive; and we have few productions more calculated to arrest the career of levity-perhaps only for a passing moment—by presenting to its view "the vast concerns of an eternal scene." Young's Satires, entitled 'The Love of Fame,' are sometimes looked at; and they stand out to advantage amidst the poetical mediocrity of the age which succeeded Pope. His tragedies are forgotten, in their false sublime of language and exaggerated display of character. Edward Young was born in 1684, according to the most correct accounts, and died in 1765. He did not take orders in the Church till 1727.]

Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep,
He, like the world, his ready visit pays

Where fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes;
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,

And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.

From short (as usual) and disturb'd repose,

I wake: how happy they who wake no more!

Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.

I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams

Tumultuous; where my wreck'd desponding thought,
From wave to wave of fancied misery,

At random drove, her helm of reason lost.

Though now restored, 'tis only change of pain,

(A bitter change!) severer for severe.

The day too short for my distress; and night,
Ev'n in the zenith of her dark domain,
Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.

Night, sable goddess! from her ebon throne,

In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumb'ring world.

Silence, how dead! and darkness, how profound!
Nor eye, nor list'ning ear, an object finds;

Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the gen'ral pulse
Of life stood still, and Nature made a pause;
An awful pause! prophetic of her end.
And let her prophecy be soon fulfill'd ;

Fate drop the curtain; I can lose no more.
Silence, and Darkness! solemn sisters! twins
From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought
To reason, and on reason build resolve,

(That column of true majesty in man,)

Assist me I will thank you in the grave

The grave, your kingdom: there this frame shall fall A victim sacred to your dreary shrine.

But what are ye ?

Thou who didst put to flight

Primæval silence, when the morning stars,
Exulting, shouted on the rising ball;

O thou, whose word from solid darkness struck
That spark, the sun; strike wisdom from my soul;
My soul, which flies to thee, her trust, her treasure,
As misers to their gold, while others rest.

Through this opaque of nature, and of soul,
This double night, transmit one pitying ray,
To lighten and to cheer. Oh, lead my mind;
(A mind that fain would wander from its woe ;)
Lead it through various scenes of life and death;
And from each scene the noblest truths inspire.
Nor less inspire my conduct, than my song;
Teach my best reason, reason; my best will
Teach rectitude; and fix my firm resolve
Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear;
Nor let the phial of thy vengeance, pour'd
On this devoted head, be pour'd in vain.

The bell strikes one. We take no note of time, But from its loss. To give it then a tongue

Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,

I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,

It is the knell of my departed hours :

Where are they? With the years beyond the flood.
It is the signal that demands despatch;

How much is to be done! my hopes and fears
Start up alarm'd, and o'er life's narrow verge
Look down-On what? A fathomless abyss;
A dread eternity! how surely mine !

And can eternity belong to me,

Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour?

How poor, how rich,, how abject, how august,

How complicate, how wonderful, is man!
How passing wonder he, who made him such !
Who centred in our make such strange extremes,
From diff'rent natures marvellously mix'd!
Connection exquisite of distant worlds!
Distinguish'd link in being's endless chain !

Midway from nothing to the Deity!
A beam ethereal, sullied, and absorb'd !
Though sullied, and dishonour'd, still divine!
Dim miniature of greatness absolute!
Au heir of glory! a frail child of dust!
Helpless immortal! insect infinite!

A worm! a god !—I tremble at myself,
And in myself am lost! at home a stranger,
Thought wanders up and down, surprised, aghast,
And wond'ring at her own: How reason reels!
Oh, what a miracle to man is man.

Triumphantly distress'd! what joy, what dread!
Alternately transported, and alarm'd!

What can preserve my life! or what destroy!
An angel's arm can't snatch me from the grave;
Legions of angels can't confine me there.

'Tis past conjecture; all things rise in proof;
While o'er my limbs sleep's soft dominion spread,
What though my soul fantastic measures trod
O'er fairy fields; or mourn'd along the gloom
Of pathless woods; or down the craggy steep
Hurl'd headlong, swam with pain the mantled pool;
Or scaled the cliff; or danced on hollow winds,
With antique shapes, wild natives of the brain!
Her ceaseless flight, though devious, speaks her nature
Of subtler essence than the trodden clod;
Active, aërial, tow'ring, unconfined,

Unfetter'd with her gross companion's fall.
Ev'n silent night proclaims my soul immortal:
Ev'n silent night proclaims eternal day.

For human weal, Heav'n husbands all events;
Dull sleep instructs, nor sport vain dreams in vain.
Why then their loss deplore, that are not lost?
Why wanders wretched thought their tombs around,
In infidel distress? Are angels there?
Slumbers, raked up in dust, ethereal fire?

They live! they greatly live a life on earth
Unkindled, unconceived; and from an eye
Of tenderness let heav'nly pity fall

On me, more justly number'd with the dead.
This is the desert, this the solitude;
How populous, how vital, is the grave!
This is creation's melancholy vault,
The vale funereal, the sad cypress gloom;
The land of apparitions, empty shades!
All, all on earth, is shadow; all beyond
Is substance; the reverse is folly's creed:
How solid all, where change shall be no more!

« PreviousContinue »