A Father's Memoirs of his Child
BENJ. HEATH MALKIN, ESQ.
Great loss to all that ever him did see;
PRINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, AND ORME,
BY T. BENSLEY, BOLT COURT, FLEET STREET.
OF HAFOD, ESQ. M. P.
LORD LIEUTENANT OF THE COUNTY OF CARDIGAN,
&C. &C. &C.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I have been influenced by several motives, in prefixing your name to the following pages. My pen seems destined to owe its employment, in some shape or other, to Hafod.
When I first traversed your mountains, it was without the most distant thought of engaging a set of readers as the companions or followers of my journey. The fever of authorship never preyed upon my better sense, till your magic creation in the wilds of Cardiganshire gave vent to its fury. The singular combinations of beauty and grandeur, the contrast of wildness and improvement, to be found within the circuit of your estate, first disposed me to extend my excursion through the remaining counties of South Wales, and to attempt a description of its picturesque scenes. Your kind offer to facilitate the historical and antiquarian objects of my enquiry, on my second tour, furnished me with my original introduction to your domestic circle: and it was principally to suggestions there enforced, that this volume owes its appearance. Its first duties should therefore be paid, where they so naturally belong.
You may perhaps recollect, that while I was staying with you last summer, our conversations were nearly as rambling and as various, as our rides over your new mountain-farms, or as the subject matter of these preliminary remarks seems likely to be. We were naturally carried forward, from the rugged sublimity of nature, interspersed here with the opening promise, and there with the thriving luxuriance of judicious cultivation;—from the forest and the field before us, into the track of human life, implicated as it is with pleasures which blossom but for a season, and pains which are indigenous, and grow rank and wanton in the soil. On these occasions, it was impossible for me not to dwell on an event, which had drawn a deep furrow over the level of my happiness. It would have been unnatural, to have concealed the mark of an afflicting dispensation, in society so capable of consoling the survivor, and appreciating the merit of the departed. In the interchange of our thoughts on this subject, the task of furnishing the public with the following facts was urged upon me, at once as a tribute to the latter, and a relief to the feelings of the former.
This had been repeatedly mentioned by others; but I as often declined it, at least in detail. Yet, that I might not altogether oppose the wishes of my friends, I transmitted a short sketch of this little life, to be inserted in a periodical publication, and meant with that to have closed the subject on my part for ever. Though I thought to have acquitted myself of every claim by this account, there were some persons so far interested in it, as to express through the same channel a desire, to receive the original documents from my hands. They represented with sufficient reason, that a character of such high, yet vague pretensions, required the sanction of some avowed authority to confirm its truth, and of some particular and as it were tangible facts, to exemplify its general justice.
Still I felt a reluctance, especially at that early period, to so melancholy and hazardous an office. I strengthened my previous determination by considering, how differently the world estimates the effusions which give pleasure by the family fire-side. At home, they derive a mixed value from intrinsic merit, from the partiality of kindred, and from the evanescent circumstances of local application. Add to this, that an editor or biographer is likely to be perpetually verging towards extravagance, where his feelings are awakened and his discretion laid asleep, by personal ties and recent events. With these arguments, which had hitherto satisfied myself, I again resisted your attack. It would be impertinent, to enter further into them here. Suffice it to say, that they were silenced by those, to whose judgment I must surrender, and whose sincerity I have always found superior to compliment or dissimulation.
But I have other inducements for addressing you in the present case. Our circumstances, opinions, and conduct, have not been altogether dissimilar. We have both of us felt, I hope we may say duly, the importance of the office, which nature and society have entrusted to our care. We have both met with the best materials to work upon. In this principally do we seem to differ, that your task is now accomplished: mine, as far as the subject of these memoirs is concerned, was prematurely closed. At my first acquaintance with Hafod, it seemed as if I saw, allowing for sex and contingent varieties, the consummation of what I had myself hoped and planned. It was neither in your character nor mine, to consider in a light and fantastic point of view, the duty of forming a tender mind. Elegant and tasteful accomplishments, though highly desirable as appendages to a liberal education, are the garnish, and not the food of life. The music-room and the drawing-academy, the circles of rank and of refinement, may each be allowed their attraction and their interest. The manners of the polite world are chiefly satirised by those, who have been foiled in their endeavours to insinuate themselves within its sphere. But there is a still higher ambition, of founding on the basis of useful and reputable attainments, a rational and equable constitution of the mind: a sense of human instability, to keep down the pride of condition; and sentiments of personal honour, to support its dignity. These, as well as all the secondary objects, you have pursued with undeviating perseverance, and with correspondent success. I could point out more particularly the immediate bearing of these remarks: but my young friend, who at the age of thirteen, received from a man, distinctively and most honourably known to the public as Linnean Smith, the tribute of a commendatory and affectionate dedication, prefixed to one of his learned and magnificent works, would draw no additional honour from my public incense.
There is still another motive for this dedication, and that a selfish one. I am apprehensive, lest so unusual an appeal to public attention should, though you anticipate the contrary, bring down a severe censure on my temerity. Supposing my fears to prove true, I shall hope, as you were instrumental towards my offence, to implicate you in some share of my condemnation, and thus alleviate its weight by partnership.
Grainger, speaking of Tibullus's infancy, has the following remark. "The human mind does not always blossom at the same period; and it by no means follows that his childhood must have flourished, whose maturer age has produced fair fruits of science. Perhaps too, details of early excellence are less useful than is commonly imagined, as they often dispirit those who would otherwise in due time have expanded into an extensive reputation."
If it had been of little use, to have traced the juvenile proficiency of Tibullus, an elegant writer of the Augustan age, and as a man remarkable, contrary to the bias of contemporary poets, for his inflexible adherence to the principles of liberty and of the commonwealth, what excuse is to be made for dwelling on the abortive efforts of a genius, which was not suffered to hold on its course to the completion of the seventh year? Neither courts nor factions had solicited its accession to their party: the muses had not yet admitted it to their toilet, nor philosophy enrolled it among her priests. Yet it gratifies curiosity, if it yield no profit more substantial, to be informed on what plan the preceptors of an ingenuous and enterprising youth have conducted his studies. That a prominent example should dispirit others, seems contrary to that almost instinctive emulation, which sometimes electrifies the indolent and kindles up even the dull, in the well-contested rivalships of our public schools. Where the results of a system, as in the present case, are denied to our enquiry, the argumentative application of insulated facts and fortuitous remarks is precluded. We are not to assume, that because the bud, which was cut off in spring, was fair, the fruit, had it been spared, must have been rich in autumn. Nor does it follow on the other hand, that the autumnal fruit must have put forth and germinated, with the first warm breezes of the season. But we are not to hold as nothing, what has not corresponded with our most sanguine hopes. The blossom, which was too short-lived to pamper the palate, or invigorate the habit with its full grown and concocted substance, was still grateful in its odour and its blush. Remembrance is most sweet, and sympathy most endearing, to those whom mutual privations have brought together. Should this book beguile, but for an hour, the sorrows of a single parent, brooding over a similar loss, I shall not repent having put it together, though critics should disapprove, or my bookseller shake his head at the account.
Yet there was with me a doubt of a different nature, which took its rise from a prevailing folly of the time. The passion for infantine and puerile exhibitions, so far from having been a motive for taking advantage of the popular caprice, had almost weighed upon my mind, to defer or abandon the project, and set your friendly wishes at defiance. This town has of late been in a fever of precocious admiration; ready to catch at whatever might administer food to the rage for novelty and the surprising. The most approved models of just recitation, of impressive eloquence, of passionate expression, have been laid on the shelf for inarticulate lispings, or at best for a parrot-taught monotony, the effect of premature and master-ridden study. The powers of music have been called in, to inspire the fatuity of childhood. Memory has been loaded with all the lumber of misplaced erudition. But these are not instances of a powerful and overtopping mind. They may be evidences of parts, but not of genius. Were I soliciting praise for a happy knack at any art, or for the mere talent of imitation, I should expect my pretensions to be treated with contempt. But surely here is something to delineate, which I could never have taught: the result of natural ability, not of laboured acquisition . something which art could never have manufactured, nor neglect have utterly destroyed. It seemed to have been the growth of the climate, unfolded and improved by culture, but not dependent on it for existence or support. On this view of my subject, have I been emboldened to proceed; and I am not afraid, lest the hero of my tale should be confounded with the common mass and vulgar rabble of prodigies. But could it be supposed for a moment, that I brought forward the present, as a parallel or rival case, with that of the Roscii, the Rosciæ, or the Rosciusculi, I should feel nothing but disgust; and were it really so, I should deserve nothing but shame.
On mentioning my design to some of my friends, they expressed their regret, that I had not determined on it sooner. It might perhaps have been more acceptable to those whose feelings were then more immediately awakened by vicinity and personal acquaintance. The moment for complying with such temporary interest is indeed gone by. It would however have been much more proper, for these memoirs to have slept in oblivion, unless they were to carry with them their own passport, at whatever distance of time they might chance to be produced. In every other respect, but that of catching attention while the object is still before the eye, the interval must be considered as an advantage. Under the influence of a calamity not yet overpast, the mind must either have lost its spring, or have been wound up to the opposite extreme of wild and hyperbolical enthusiasm. In either case, the writer would have been disqualified from discharging his memory faithfully, or executing his censorial functions with any tolerable impartial.
Judging however by a question, which has been put to me more than once, there are probably those, who may treat the exercise of such a discretion, even at the distance of more than three years, as the mark of a cold temperament and indifferent heart. I have been asked, "How could you get over such a loss?" I need not say, that this was not your question, for you could never have found it on the list of possible interrogatories: and to you, for that very reason, will I answer it.
I got over this great loss, by considering at once what I had left; how unavailing the lengthened and excessive indulgence of grief would have been to myself, and how useless it would have rendered me to others. Why should I have locked my breast against the return of its accustomed tranquillity, when so many others wisely reconcile themselves to breaches of domestic union, irreparable in kind as well as in degree? Have you never been threatened with a calamity, which, had it befallen you in your only hope, would have pressed more heavily than even mine on me? Yet you would have triumphed, though after many and painful efforts, over the tyranny of despair. When the first agonies of childless destitution had subsided into melancholy, but resigned and contemplative thought, you would have reflected that these are the trials, which constitute the tenure of human life, even on its brightest and most attractive side. Your groves would indeed have lost their music to your ears, and their enchantment to your eyes. The rush of your mountain torrents would have been aggravated into horror. The voice of your tenantry, breaking in as it did with unprecedented importunity on the performance of divine service at the opening of your church, had it not been heard with favour, would have sounded like the knell of all that was worth living for. Yet their necessities, their sorrow, their loss, would at length have roused you from your stupor, and taught you to find your own relief, in the habitual employment of administering to their wants.
Besides this comparison of my own, with the probable or actual circumstances of others, I bore my disappointment the better for the recollection, that personal regards are selfish. If my thoughts were disposed to dwell on the mortifying idea, that society might have lost an ornament derived to it through me, they were soon checked, and ashamed of their presumption. Topics of private bewailing or condolence, of whatever magnitude they may appear to the individual, can never be modestly transferred to general interest. But it was my principal consolation, that the change to him must have been for the better. Supposing the opinion to have been rational and probable, that the promise of this child would have ripened into something more than fair capacity and marketable talent, the prolongation of life was to himself perhaps the less desirable on that very account. It rarely happens, that the world affords even the ordinary allowance of happiness to men of transcendent faculties. Their merits are too frequently denied the protection and encouragement, to which they feel themselves entitled, from the private intimations of their own scrutinizing spirit. When they are most successful, the composure of their minds does not always keep pace with the prosperity of their fortunes. They necessarily have but few companions; few, who are capable of appreciating their high endowments, and entering into the grandeur of their conceptions. Of these few, those who come the nearest to their own rank and standard those who might be the associates of their inmost thoughts, and the partners of their dearest interests, are too often envious of their fame. It is a common remark, that great men are not gregarious. This is but too just; and so much of man's happiness depends upon society, that the comparative solitude, to which a commanding genius condemns its possessor, detracts considerably from the sum of his personal enjoyment.
While I am on this subject, I cannot forbear enlarging somewhat on an instance the more apposite, as being casually connected with the subsequent pages. Hitherto, it has confirmed the observation just hazarded, on the probable fate of stubborn originality in human life. There seems now indeed some prospect, that the current will turn: and I shall be eager, on the evidence of the very first deponent, to disencumber myself of an opinion, which pays so ill a compliment to our nature. In the mean time, I am confident that you, and my other readers of taste and feeling, will readily forgive my travelling a little out of the record, for the purpose of descanting on merit, which ought to be more conspicuous, and which must have become so long since, but for opinions and habits of an eccentric kind.
It is, I hope, unnecessary to call your attention to the ornamental device, round the portrait in this book; but I cannot so easily refrain from introducing to you the designer.
Mr. William Blake, very early in life, had the ordinary opportunities of seeing pictures in the houses of noblemen and gentlemen, and in the king's palaces. He soon improved such casual occasions of study, by attending sales at Langford's, Christie's, and other auction-rooms. At ten years of age he was put to Mr. Pars's drawing-school in the Strand, where he soon attained the art of drawing from casts in plaster of the various antiques. His father bought for him the Gladiator, the Hercules, the Venus of Medicis, and various heads, hands, and feet. The same indulgent parent soon supplied him with money to buy prints; when he immediately began his collection, frequenting the shops of the print-dealers, and the sales of the auctioneers. Langford called him his little connoisseur; and often knocked down to him a cheap lot, with friendly precipitation. He copied Raphael and Michael Angelo, Martin Hemskerck and Albert Durer, Julio Romano, and the rest of the historic class, neglecting to buy any other prints, however celebrated. His choice was for the most part contemned by his youthful companions, who were accustomed to laugh at what they called his mechanical taste. At the age of fourteen, he fixed on the engraver of Stuart's Athens and West's Pylades and Orestes for his master, to whom he served seven years apprenticeship. Basire, whose taste was like his own, approved of what he did. Two years passed over smoothly enough, till two other apprentices were added to the establishment, who completely destroyed its harmony. Blake, not chusing to take part with his master against his fellow apprentices, was sent out to make drawings. This circumstance he always mentions with gratitude to Basire, who said that he was too simple and they too cunning.
He was employed in making drawings from old buildings and monuments, and occasionally, especially in winter, in engraving from those drawings. This occupation led him to an acquaintance with those neglected works of art, called Gothic monuments. There he found a treasure, which he knew how to value. He saw the simple and plain road to the style of art at which he aimed, unentangled in the intricate windings of modern practice. The monuments of Kings and Queens in Westminster Abbey, which surround the chapel of Edward the Confessor, particularly that of King Henry the Third, the beautiful monument and figure of Queen Elinor, Queen Philippa, King Edward the Third, King Richard the Second and his Queen, were among his first studies. All these he drew in every point he could catch, frequently standing on the monument, and viewing the figures from the top. The heads he considered as portraits; and all the ornaments appeared as miracles of art, to his Gothicised imagination. He then drew Aymer de Valence's monument, with his fine figure on the top. Those exquisite little figures which surround it, though dreadfully mutilated, are still models for the study of drapery. But I do not mean to enumerate all his drawings, since they would lead me over all the old monuments in Westminster Abbey, as well as over other churches in and about London.Such was his employment at Basire's. As soon as he was out of his time, he began to engrave two designs from the History of England, after drawings which he had made in the holiday hours of his apprenticeship. They were selected from a great number of historical compositions, the fruits of his fancy. He continued making designs for his own amusement, whenever he could steal a moment from the routine of business; and began a course of study at the Royal Academy, under the eye of Mr. Moser. Here he drew with great care, perhaps all, or certainly nearly all the noble antique figures in various views. But now his peculiar notions began to intercept him in his career. He professes drawing from life always to have been hateful to him; and speaks of it as looking more like death, or smelling of mortality. Yet still he drew a good deal from life, both at the academy and at home. In this manner has he managed his talents, till he is himself almost become a Gothic monument. On a view of his whole life, he still thinks himself authorized to pronounce, that practice and opportunity very soon teach the language of art: but its spirit and poetry, which are seated in the imagination alone, never can be taught; and these make an artist.
Mr. Blake has long been known to the order of men among whom he ranks; and is highly esteemed by those, who can distinguish excellence under the disguise of singularity. Enthusiastic and high flown notions on the subject of religion have hitherto, as they usually do, prevented his general reception, as a son of taste and of the muses. The sceptic and the rational believer, uniting their forces against the visionary, pursue and scare a warm and brilliant imagination, with the hue and cry of madness. Not contented with bringing down the reasonings of the mystical philosopher, as they well may, to this degraded level, they apply the test of cold calculation and mathematical proof to departments of the mind, which are privileged to appeal from so narrow and rigorous a tribunal. They criticise the representations of corporeal beauty, and the allegoric emblems of mental perfections; the image of the visible world, which appeals to the senses for a testimony to its truth, or the type of futurity and the immortal soul, which identifies itself with our hopes and with our hearts, as if they were syllogisms or theorems, demonstrable propositions or consecutive corollaries. By them have the higher powers of this artist been kept from public notice, and his genius tied down, as far as possible, to the mechanical department of his profession. By them, in short, has he been stigmatised as an engraver, who might do tolerably well, if he was not mad. But men, whose names will bear them out, in what they affirm, have now taken up his cause. On occasion of Mr. Blake engaging to illustrate the poem of The Grave, some of the first artists in this country have stept forward, and liberally given the sanction of ardent and encomiastic applause. Mr. Fuseli, with a mind far superior to that jealousy above described, has written some introductory remarks in the Prospectus of the work. To these he has lent all the penetration of his understanding, with all the energy and descriptive power characteristic of his style. Mr. Hope and Mr. Locke have pledged their character as connoisseurs, by approving and patronising these designs. Had I been furnished with an opportunity of shewing them to you, I should, on Mr. Blake's behalf, have requested your concurring testimony, which you would not have refused me, had you viewed them in the same light.
Neither is the capacity of this untutored proficient limited to his professional occupation. He has made several irregular and unfinished attempts at poetry. He has dared to venture on the ancient simplicity; and feeling it in his own character and manners, has succeeded better than those, who have only seen it through a glass. His genius in this line assimilates more with the bold and careless freedom, peculiar to our writers at the latter end of the sixteenth, and former part of the seventeenth century, than with the polished phraseology, and just, but subdued thought of the eighteenth. As the public have hitherto had no opportunity of passing sentence on his poetical powers, I shall trespass on your patience, while I introduce a few specimens from a collection, circulated only among the author's friends, and richly embellished by his pencil.
Such pleasure as the teeming earth
Rare plants from every bank do rise,
'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor:
The book of Revelation, which may well be supposed to engross much of Mr. Blake's study, seems to have directed him, in common with Milton, to some of the foregoing images. "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." Milton comprises the mighty thunderings in the epithet "loud," and adopts the comparison of many waters, which image our poet, having in the first stanza appropriated differently, to their flow rather than to their sound, exchanges in the last for that of a mighty wind.
He ended; and the heav'nly audience loud
|Paradise Lost, Book x. 641.|
It may be worth a moment's consideration, whether Dr. Johnson's remarks on devotional poetry, though strictly just where he applies them, to the artificial compositions of Waller and Watts, are universally and necessarily true. Watts seldom rose above the level of a mere versifier. Waller, though entitled to the higher appellation of poet, had formed himself rather to elegance and delicacy, than to passionate emotions or a lofty and dignified deportment. The devotional pieces of the Hebrew bards are clothed in that simple language, to which Johnson with justice ascribes the character of sublimity. There is no reason therefore, why the poets of other nations should not be equally successful, if they think with the same purity, and express themselves in the same unaffected terms. He says indeed with truth, that "Repentance trembling in the presence of the judge, is not at leisure for cadences and epithets." But though we should exclude the severer topics from our catalogue, mercy and benevolence may be treated poetically, because they are in unison with the mild spirit of poetry. They are seldom treated successfully; but the fault is not in the subject. The mind of the poet is too often at leisure for the mechanical prettinesses of cadence and epithet, when it ought to be engrossed by higher thoughts. Words and numbers present themselves unbidden, when the soul is inspired by sentiment, elevated by enthusiasm, or ravished by devotion. I leave it to the reader to determine, whether the following stanzas have any tendency to vindicate this species of poetry; and whether their simplicity and sentiment at all make amends for their inartificial and unassuming construction.
THE DIVINE IMAGE.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, and his Sonnets, occasioned it to be said by a contemporary, that, "As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous honey-tongued Shakespeare." These poems, now little read, were favourite studies of Mr. Blake's early days. So were Jonson's Underwoods and Miscellanies, and he seems to me to have caught his manner, more than that of Shakspeare in his trifles. The following song is a good deal in the spirit of the Hue and Cry after Cupid, in the Masque on Lord Haddington's marriage. It was written before the age of fourteen, in the heat of youthful fancy, unchastised by judgment. The poet, as such, takes the very strong liberty of equipping himself with wings, and thus appropriates his metaphorical costume to his corporeal fashion and seeming. The conceit is not unclassical; but Pindar and the ancient lyrics arrogated to themselves the bodies of swans for their august residence. Our Gothic songster is content to be encaged by Cupid; and submits, like a young lady's favourite, to all the vagaries of giddy curiosity and tormenting fondness.
How sweet I roamed from field to field,
The playful character ascribed to the prince of love, and especially his wanton and fantastic action while sporting with his captive, in the two last stanzas, render it probable that the author had read the Hue and Cry after Cupid. If so, it had made its impression; but the lines could scarcely have been remembered at the time of writing or the resemblance would have been closer. The stanzas, to which I especially allude, are these.
Wings he hath, which though ye clip,
The two following little pieces are added, as well by way of contrast, as for the sake of their respective merits. In the first, there is a simple and pastoral gaiety, which the poets of a refined age have generally found much more difficult of attainment, than the glitter of wit, or the affectation of antithesis. The second rises with the subject. It wears that garb of grandeur, which the idea of creation communicates to a mind of the higher order. Our bard, having brought the topic he descants on from warmer latitudes than his own, is justified in adopting an imagery, of almost oriental feature and complection.
I love the jocund dance,
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright,
Besides these lyric compositions, Mr. Blake has given several specimens of blank verse. Here, as might be expected, his personifications are bold, his thoughts original, and his style of writing altogether epic in its structure. The unrestrained measure, however, which should warn the poet to restrain himself, has not unfrequently betrayed him into so wild a pursuit of fancy, as to leave harmony unregarded, and to pass the line prescribed by criticism to the career of imagination.
But I have been leading you beside our subject, into a labyrinth of poetical comment, with as little method or ceremony, as if we were to have no witness of our correspondence. It is time we should return from the masquing regions of poetry, to the business with which we set out. Donne, in his Anatomy of the World, remarks the Egyptians to have acted wisely, in bestowing more cost upon their tombs than on their houses. This example he adduces, to justify his own Funeral Elegies: and I may perhaps be allowed to adopt it, as an additional plea, should my former be of no avail, for coming forward with this piece of almost infantine biography. If it be a custom, handed down from high antiquity, to enshrine the breathless clay of honourable men in brass or marble;—if poetry and the arts jointly present their offerings at the obsequies of princes, patriots, or heroes, why may not the frailty of our hopes in private life be moralised, or the sorrows of a family consecrated, by the pen of the father or the friend? The eye, which looks through the magnifying tube of interest or vanity in the public panegyric, may be deceived in the private by affection. In either case, the good is sure to be doubled, and what is amiss to be thrown at a distance. There is however little room for my intellectual vision to be thus deluded. Partiality is the standing reproach of biographers: nor are we disposed to pass a harsh sentence against an error on the side of candour. It is natural to conceal those spots in a beloved character, which we lament; and to extinguish private vices in a radiance of public glory. But I have neither motive nor means for practising such a deception, venial as in some cases it may be. My office is of a far more humble order; yet it has soothed and rewarded me in the performance, as you predicted that it would. I had to relate, from plain and authentic documents, the early progress of a mind, too lately come into the world, to be corrupted by it. In such a mind the springs of action were all single and simple; the virtues were just beginning to move and act under the hand of him who contrived and disposed them, without being crossed as yet by contrary forces or attractions; the love of knowledge moved forward to its object and its end, without the mercenary bias, which often draws it from its proper and more honourable course in later life. I hope to be found, neither to have mistaken the nature of my task, nor to have made too much of it. After all, it is perhaps easier to perceive than to avoid the difficulties, which lie between so modest a delineation, as would deprive the picture of its interest, and so high a varnish and finishing, as might rather bespeak the confidence of the workman, than the excellence of his subject or materials.
I regret, my dear friend, that it was not in my power to furnish you and my readers with a portrait of a later date. We had often talked of allowing ourselves that indulgence; but we were not privy to the event, which was to have communicated to it an incalculable value. The engraving here given, though it might well be taken to represent a much older child, is from a very beautiful miniature, painted by Paye, when Thomas was not quite two years old. He then was only beginning to speak; but there was even at that early period an intelligence in his eye, and an expression about his mouth, which are, I hope, sufficiently characterised in the delineation, to afford no inadequate idea of his physiognomy.
There is a circumstance, to which I cannot but allude, and need do no more. The trick of converting confidential correspondence, private history, or domestic events, to marketable purposes, has been practised of late years with little remorse, and in open defiance of all prejudice on the side of decency. Yet to drag the privacy of a wife or a child into day-light, and expose to an inquisitive world scenes which were never meant to meet the public eye, may be entered in the day-book of the literary trade, among its meanest arts. Without affecting to despise the pecuniary reward, which the labours of the pen may fairly covet and proudly enjoy, I could not but feel repugnant, in the present very peculiar case, to the idea of deriving immediately to myself any casual advantage, from setting the accomplishments of a deceased child to sale. But there is a purpose, which may be honourably promoted by such a contingency. To make some little addition to the library of the young survivors, or to their other means of instruction, beyond what else it might be thought expedient for a moderate fortune to supply, will be an appropriation strictly conformable with the turn and spirit of the departed.
With so very confined an aim, I am not solicitous that this production should circulate extensively; but I do wish, with more anxiety than I am accustomed to experience, that it may prove acceptable among those, whom either personal knowledge or the natural warmth of human kindness may interest in the subject. Should it stagger the sceptical, or disgust the supercilious, I shall easily reconcile myself to the loss of their suffrage. Neither my measure of parental duty, nor my share of satisfaction in its performance, are to be computed by such a standard. I have waited till my passions are cooled: I have exercised the best of my memory and my judgment, without venturing further on the dangerous province of appreciation, than seemed to be warranted by the papers before me. Yet I am still aware that I write as a father; and am consequently liable to indulge myself in a more partial strain, than may meet the approbation and consent of indifferent persons. I have, however, done all I could to be temperate: if I have occasionally forgotten myself, I desire to plead before a jury of fathers, and entrust my fate to their decision.
At all events, this work, though it should escape censure, can rank no higher than a trifle. What apology must I make for addressing it to a fellow-labourer, who has accomplished the serious and difficult task of giving an English dress to Froissart? I think it was Gray, who denominated your venerable original the Herodotus of a barbarous age. But surely that age is entitled to a more respectful epithet, when France could boast its Froissart, Italy its Petrarch, England its Wickliffe, the father of our reformation, and Chaucer, the father of our poetry. If I might slightly alter the designation of so complete a critic, I would prefer calling this simple and genuine historian, the Herodotus of chivalry. But by whatever title we are to greet him, the interesting minuteness of his recital, affording a strong pledge of its fidelity, the lively delineation of manners, and the charm of unadulterated language, all conspire to place him in the first rank of early writers. The public begin to revolt from that spirit of philosophizing on the most common occasions, in consequence of which our modern historians seem to be more ingenious in assigning causes and motives, than assiduous to ascertain facts. We are returning home to plain tales and first-hand authorities; and you will share the honour of pointing out the way. Froissart, hitherto inaccessible to English readers in general, from the obsolete garb both of the French and of Lord Berners's translation, may now be read in such a form, as to unite the peculiar thought and turn of the ancient with the intelligible phraseology of modern times. With my best congratulations on your success, and my earnest request to be forgiven for thus intruding on your leisure, believe me to be,
My dear friend,
Hackney, January 4, 1806.