"It is certain great knowledge, if it be without vanity, is the most severe bridle of the tongue. For so have I heard, that all the noises and prating of the pool, the croaking of frogs and toads, is hushed and appeased upon the instant of bringing upon them the light of a candle or torch. Every beam of reason, and ray of knowledge, checks the dissolutions of the tongue."-JEREMY TAYLOR.
THEY were received by Mrs. Bluemits with that air of condescension which great souls practise towards ordinary mortals, and which is intended, at one and the same time, to encourage and to repel; to show the extent of their goodness, even while they make, or try to make, their protege feel the immeasurable distance which nature or fortune has placed between them.
It was with this air of patronising grandeur that Mrs. Bluemits took her guests by the hand, and introduced them to the circle of females already assembled.
Mrs. Bluemits was not an avowed authoress; but she was a professed critic, a well-informed woman, a woman of great conversational powers, etc., and, to use her own phrase, nothing but conversation was spoken in her house. Her guests were therefore, always expected to be distinguished, either for some literary production or for their taste in the belles lettres. Two ladies from Scotland, the land of poetry and romance, were consequently hailed as new stars in Mrs. Bluemits's horizon. No sooner were they seated than Mrs. Bluemits began—
"As I am a friend to ease in literary society, we shall, without ceremony, resume our conversation; for, as Seneca observes, the 'comfort of life depends upon conversation.'"
"I think," said Miss Graves, "it is Rochefoucault who says, 'The great art of conversation is to hear patiently and answer precisely.'"
"A very poor definition for so profound a philosopher," remarked Mrs. Apsley.
"The amiable author of what the gigantic Johnson styles the melancholy and angry "Night Thoughts," gives a nobler, a more elevated, and, in my humble opinion, a juster explication of the intercourse of mind," said Miss Parkins; and she repeated the following lines with pompous enthusiasm:—
Speech ventilates our intellectual fire,
Speech burnishes our mental magazine,
Brightens for ornament, and whets for use.
What numbers, sheath'd in erudition, lie,
Plung'd to the hilts in venerable tomes,
And rusted in, who might have borne an edge,
And play'd a sprightly beam, if born to speech—-
If born blest heirs of half their mother's tongue!"
Mrs. Bluemits proceeded:
"'Tis thought's exchange, which, like the alternate push
Of waves conflicting, breaks the learned scum,
And defecates the student's standing pool."
"The sensitive poet of Olney, if I mistake not," said Mrs. Dalton, "steers a middle course, betwixt the somewhat bald maxim of the Parisian philosopher and the mournful pruriency of the Bard of Night, when he says,
'Conversation, in its better part,
May be esteem'd a gift, and not an art.'"
Mary had been accustomed to read, and to reflect upon what she read, and to apply it to the purpose for which it is valuable, viz. in enlarging her mind and cultivating her taste; but she had never been accustomed to prate, or quote, or sit down for the express purpose of displaying her acquirements; and she began to tremble at hearing authors' names "familiar in their mouths as household words;" but Grizzy, strong in ignorance, was no wise daunted. True, she heard what she could not comprehend, but she thought she would soon make things clear; and she therefore turned to her neighbour on her righthand, and accosted her with—"My niece and I are just come from dining at Mrs. Pullens's—I daresay you have heard of her—she was Miss Flora Macfuss; her father, Dr. Macfuss, was a most excellent preacher, and she is a remarkable clever woman."
"Pray, ma'am, has she come out, or is she simply bel esprit?" inquired the lady.
Grizzy was rather at a loss; and, indeed, to answer a question put in an unknown language, would puzzle wiser brains than hers; but Grizzy was accustomed to converse without being able to comprehend, and she therefore went on.
"Her mother, Mrs. Macfuss—but she is dead—was a very clever woman too; I'm sure I declare I don't know whether the Doctor or her was the cleverest; but many people, I know, think Mrs. Pullens beats them both."
"Indeed! may I ask in what department she chiefly excels?"
"Oh, I really think in everything. For one thing, everything in her house is done by steam; and then she can keep everything, I can't tell how long, just in paper bags and bottles; and she is going to publish a book with all her receipts in it. I'm sure it will be very interesting."
"I beg ten thousand pardons for the interruption," cried Mrs. Bluemits from the opposite side of the room; "but my ear was smote with the sounds of publish, and interesting,—words which never fail to awaken a responsive chord in my bosom. Pray," addressing Grizzy, and bringing her into the full blaze of observation, "may I ask, was it of the Campbell these electric words were spoken? To you, Madam, I am sure I need not apologise for my enthusiasm—you who claim the proud distinction of being a country woman, need I ask—an acquaintance?"
All that poor Grizzy could comprehend of this harangue was that it was reckoned a great honour to be acquainted with a Campbell; and chuckling with delight at the idea of her own consequence, she briskly replied—
"Oh, I know plenty of Campbells; there's the Campbells of Mireside, relations of ours; and there's the Campbells of Blackbrae, married into our family; and there's the Campbells of Windlestrae Glen, are not very distant by my mother's side."
Mary felt as if perforated by bullets in all directions, as she encountered the eyes of the company, turned alternately upon her aunt and her; but they were on opposite sides of the room; therefore to interpose betwixt Grizzy and her assailants was impossible.
"Possibly," suggested Mrs. Dalton, "Miss Douglas prefers the loftier strains of the mighty Minstrel of the Mountains to the more polished periods of the Poet of the Transatlantic Plain."
"Without either a possibility or a perhaps," said Mrs. Apsley, "the probability is, Miss Douglas prefers the author of the 'Giaour' to all the rest of her poetical countrymen. Where, in either Walter Scott or Thomas Campbell, will you find such lines as these;—
'Wet with their own best blood, shall drip
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip!'"
"Pardon me, madam," said Miss Parkin; "but I am of opinion you have scarcely given a fair specimen of the powers of the Noble Bard in question. The image here presented is a familiar one; 'the gnashing tooth' and 'haggard lip' we have all witnessed, perhaps some of us may even have experienced. There is consequently little merit in presenting it to the mind's eye. It is easy, comparatively speaking, to portray the feelings and passions of our own kind. We have only, as Dryden expresses it, to descend into ourselves to find the secret imperfections of our mind. It is therefore in his portraiture of the canine race that the illustrious author has so far excelled all his contemporaries—in fact, he has given quite a dramatic cast to his dogs," and she repeated, with an air of triumph—
"And he saw the lean dogs beneath the wall,
Hold o'er the dead their carnival;
Gorging and growling o'er carcase and limb,
They were too busy to bark at him!
From a Tartar's skull they had stripped the flesh,
As ye peel the fig when its fruit is fresh;
And their white tusks crunched o'er the whiter skull,
As it slipped through their jaws when their edge grew dull;
As they lazily mumbled the bones of the dead,
When they scarce could rise from the spot where they fed."
"Now, to enter into the conception of a dog—to embody one's self, as it were, in the person of a brute—to sympathise in its feelings—to make its propensities our own—to 'lazily mumble the bones of the dead,' with our own individual 'white tusks'! Pardon me, madam, but with all due deference to the genius of a Scott, it is a thing he has not dare to attempt. Only the finest mind in the universe as capable of taking so bold a flight. Scott's dogs, madam, are tame, domestic animals—mere human dogs, if I may say so. Byron's dogs—But let them speak for themselves!
'The scalps were in the wild dog's maw,
The hair was tangled round his jaw.'
Show me, if you can, such an image in Scott?"
"Very fine, certainly!" was here uttered by five novices, who were only there as probationers, consequently not privileged to go beyond a response.
"Is it the dancing dogs they are speaking about?" asked Grizzy. But looks of silent contempt were the only replies she received.
"I trust I shall not be esteemed presumptuous," said Miss Graves, "or supposed capable of entertaining views of detracting from the merits of the Noble Author at present under discussion, if I humbly but firmly enter my caveat against the word 'crunch,' as constituting an innovation in our language, the purity of which cannot be too strictly preserved or pointedly enforced. I am aware that by some I may be deemed unnecessarily fastidious; and possibly Christina, Queen of Sweden, might have applied to me the celebrated observation, said to have been elicited from her by the famed work of the laborious French Lexicographer, viz. that he was the most troublesome person in the world, for he required of every word to produce its passport, and to declare whence it came and whither it was going. I confess, I too, for the sake of my country, would wish that every word we use might be compelled to show its passport, attested by our great lawgiver, Dr. Samuel Johnson."
"Unquestionably," said Mrs. Bluemits, "purity of language ought to be preserved inviolate at any price; and it is more especially incumbent to those who exercise a sway over our minds—those are, as it were, the moulds in which our young imaginations are formed, to be the watchful guardians of our language. But I lament to say that in fact it is not so; and that the aberrations of our vernacular tongue have proceeded solely from the licentious use made of it by those whom we are taught to reverence as the fathers of the Sock and Lyre."
"Yet in familiar colloquy, I do not greatly object to the use of a word occasionally, even although unsanctioned by the authority of our mighty Lexicographer," said a new speaker.
"For my part," said Miss Parkins, "a genius fettered by rules always reminds me of Gulliver in the hairy bonds of the Lilliputians; and the sentiment of the elegant and enlightened bard of Twickenham is also mine—
'Great wits sometimes may glorious offend,
And rise to faults true critics dare not mend;
From vulgar bounds with brave disorder part,
And match a grace beyond the reach of art.'
So it is with the subject of our argument: a tamer genius than the illustrious Byron would not have dared to 'crunch' the bone. But where, in the whole compass of the English language, will you find a word capable of conveying the same idea?"
"Pick," modestly suggested one of the novices in a low key, hoping to gain some celebrity by this her first effort; but this dawn of intellect passed unnoticed.
The argument was now beginning to run high; parties were evidently forming of crunchers and anticrunchers, and etymology was beginning to be called for, when a thundering knock at the door caused a cessation of hostilities.
"That, I flatter myself, is my friend Miss Griffon," said Mrs. Bluemits, with an air of additional importance; and the name was whispered round the circle, coupled with "Celebrated Authoress—'Fevers of the Heart'— 'Thoughts of the Moment,'" etc. etc.
"Is she a real authoress that is coming?" asked Miss Grizzy at the lady next her. And her delight was great at receiving an answer in the affirmative; for Grizzy thought to be in company with an authoress was the next thing to being an authoress herself; and, like some other people, she had a sort of vague mysterious reverence for everyone whose words had been printed in a book.
"Ten thousand thousand pardons, dearest Mrs. Bluemits!" exclaimed Miss Griffon, as she entered. "I fear a world of intellect is lost to me by this cruel delay." Then in an audible whisper—"But I was detained by my publisher. He quite persecutes me to write. My 'Fevers of the Heart' has had a prodigious run; and even my 'Thoughts,' which, in fact, cost me no thought, are amazingly recherché. And I actually had to force my way to you to-night through a legion of printer's devils, who were lying in wait for me with each a sheet of my 'Billows of Love.'"
"The title is most musical, most melancholy," said Mrs. Bluemits, "and conveys a perfect idea of what Dryden terms 'the sweeping deluge of the soul;' but I flatter myself we shall have something more than a name from Miss Griffon's genius. The Aonian graces, 'tis well known, always follow in her train."
"They have made a great hole in it then," said Grizzy, officiously displaying a fracture in the train of Miss Griffon's gown, and from thence taking occasion to deliver her sentiments on the propriety of people who tore gowns always being obliged to mend them.
After suitable entreaties had been used, Miss Griflon was at last prevailed upon to favour the company, with some specimens of the "Billows of Love" (of which we were unable to procure copies) and the following sonnet, the production of a friend;—
"Hast thou no note for joy, thou weeping lyre?
Doth yew and willow ever shade thy string
And melancholy sable banners fling,
Warring 'midst hosts of elegant desire?
How vain the strife—how vain the warlike gloom!
Love's arms are grief—his arrows sighs and tears;
And every moan thou mak'st, an altar rears,
To which his worshippers devoutly come.
Then rather, lyre, I pray thee, try thy skill,
In varied measure, on a sprightlier key:
Perchance thy gayer tones' light minstrelsy
May heal the poison that thy plaints distil.
But much I fear that joy is danger still;
And joy, like woe, love's triumph must fulfil."
This called forth unanimous applause—"delicate imagery"—"smooth versification" —"classical ideas"—"Petrarchian sweetness," etc. etc., resounded from all quarters.
But even intellectual joys have their termination, and carriages and servants began to be announced in rapid succession.
"Fly not yet, 'tis just the hour," said Mrs. Bluemits to the first of her departing guests, as the clock struck ten.
"It is gone, with its thorns and its roses," replied er friend with a sigh, and a farewell pressure of the hand.
Another now advanced—"Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day."
"I have less will to go than care to stay," was the reply.
"Parta ti lascio adio," warbled Miss Parkins.
"I vanish," said Mrs. Apsley, snatching up her tippet, reticule, etc., "and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind."
"Fare-thee-well at once—Adieu, adieu, adieu, remember me!" cried the last of the band, as she slowly retreated.
Mrs. Bluemits waved her hand with a look of tender reproach, as she repeated—
"An adieu should in utterance die,
Or, if written, should faintly appear—
Should be heard in the sob of a sigh,
Or be seen in the blot of a teal."
"I'm sure, Mary," said Grizzy, when they were in the carriage, "I expected, when all the ladies were repeating, that you would have repeated something too. You used to have the Hermit and all Watts's Hymns by heart, when you was little. It's a thousand pities, I declare, that you should have forgot them; for I declare I was quite affronted to see you sitting like a stick, and not saying a word, when all the ladies were speaking and turning up their eyes, and moving their hands so prettily; but I'm sure I hope next time you go to Mrs. Bluemits's you will take care to learn something by heart before you go. I'm sure I haven't a very good memory, but I remember some things; and I was very near going to repeat 'Farewell to Lochaber' myself, as we were coming away; and I'm sure I wish to goodness I had done it; but I suppose it wouldn't do to go back now; and at any rate all the ladies are away, and I dare say the candles will be out by this time."
Mary felt it a relief to have done with this surfeit of soul, and was of opinion that learning, like religion, ought never to be forced into conversation; and that people who only read to talk of their reading might as well let it alone. Next morning she gave so ludicrous an account of her entertainment that Lady Emily was quite charmed.
"Now I begin to have hopes of you," said she, "since I see you can laugh at your friends as well as me."
"Not at my friends, I hope," answered Mary; "only at folly."
"Call it what you will—I only wish I had been there. I should certainly have started a controversy upon the respective merits of Tom Thumb and Puss in Boots, and so have called them off Lord Byron. Their pretending to measure the genius of a Scott or a Byron must have been something like a fly attempting to take the altitude of Mont Blanc. How I detest those idle disquisitions about the colour of a goat's beard, or the blood of an oyster."'
Mary had seen in Mrs. Douglas the effects of a highly cultivated understanding shedding its mild radiance on the path of domestic life, heightening its charms, and softening its asperities, with the benign spirit of Christianity. Her charity was not like that of Mrs. Fox; she did not indulge herself in the purchase of elegant ornaments, and then, seated in the easy chair of her drawing-room, extort from her visitors money to satisfy the wants of those who had claims on her own bounty. No: she gave a large portion of her time, her thoughts, her fortune, to the most sacred of all duties—charity, in its most comprehensive meaning. Neither did her knowledge, like that of Mrs. Bluemits, evaporate in pedantic discussion or idle declamation, but showed itself in the tenor of a well-spent life, and in the graceful discharge of those duties which belonged to her sex and station. Next to goodness Mary most ardently admired talents. She knew there were many of her own sex who were justly entitled to the distinction of literary fame. Her introduction to the circle at Mrs. Bluemits's had disappointed her; but they were mere pretenders to the name. How different from those described by one no less amiable and enlightened herself!—"Let such women as are disposed to be vain of their comparatively petty attainments look up with admiration to those contemporary shining examples, the venerable Elizabeth Carter and the blooming Elizabeth Smith. In them let our young ladies contemplate profound and various learning, chastised by true Christian humility. In them let them venerate acquirements which would have been distinguished in a university, meekly softened, and beautifully shaded by the exertion of every domestic virtue, the unaffected exercise of every feminine employment."