« PreviousContinue »
CONVERSATION. There is a freshness, a flash, a brilliancy of conversation, which is indescribable, when kindred spirits meet, and the time present seems like some happiest segment of a spiritual existence. But to keep up the impression; to chain down the lightning; to transmit or render abiding that unrestricted play of passion, wit, and sentiment, the eloquence which speaks directly from the heart, at the same time to render intelligible the quick and subtle transitions of thought- what rapid dexterity of Art can do it? And thus every day is a kind of treasure lost, of which the subtle charm escapes forever, and no vestige can be preserved from time. This is a destruction which none seem duly to estimate. For complete works of art, which are decayed or lost, we are scarcely consoled by the ample riches which remain. Many a noble poem has perished; many a splendid work is only known to have existed; many a fragment lies neglected in the dust, to show how glorious was the full conception; and when Alexandria shone with that baleful fire which consumed in one night the learning and poetry of ages, the eyes which looked on their destruction were suffused with tears, and the lamentation of the world has been a perpetual epitaph over their ashes. But none regard as things lost, or stop to compute their value if gained, of the bright intelligence and converse of the hour. Alas! are a few short and pithy sayings all which have come down to us of the wise men of Greece? Is the 'know thyself' of SOLON, and the several adages of CHILO, PITTACUS, BIAS, PERIANDER, CLEOBULUS and THALES, all the wisdom which escaped from their lips at times when they spoke not as professed teachers, but whatever the occasion prompted? We know DEMOSTHENES at the bar, CICERO at the forum, CESAR on the battle-field; what would we give to know them where the hard-earned, impetuous diction of the first, the profuse polish of the second, the versatile attainments of the latter, and the studied art of all, should forget themselves; all frigid ceremonial be banished from the social board, and thought burst from the rules and precepts which bind it down, and soar away into a more elastic element? Conversation may be erratic though brilliant; it may be hard to appreciate its fine connexion; it may pour forth volumes in an hour, garnered from every treasury of knowledge; but if the links are many, the chain may be all golden. It admits of every variety, adapts itself to all tastes, and begets more novelty and splendor than the hardest study can infuse into composition. It exhibits gems brighter than those of poetry, reasonings deep as the logic of the schools, eloquence more transcendent than the orator's; but better than all, it is too sudden, too natural, to admit of any disguise; it involuntarily reveals the whole inner structure and affections of the heart. No wit is apt to be so subtle, no pathos so touching, no fancy so daring, as that which does not smell of the lamp,' and which the very occasion brings forth. Even as in music, the tenderest and most passionate is not that which has resulted from some fixed determination to compose it, but which has never been written down in notes, simply because it was impossible. It does not consist in themes varied by great masters; not in the crash of instruments; not in the anthem which rolls like thunder through the cathedral arches; not in the overwhelming chorus; not in the utmost passion which art feigns upon the strings; but that which, from some instant impression upon the heart, the brain, is born in an instant, like the blush of modesty or the tints of the rainbow, which is no sooner past than obsolete. One sits down to an instrument, and would express some feeling too deep to be told in words. The time, the hour, may be one which disposes the mind to tenderness, when twilight melts into the evening shades, and memory calls up some dear image from the dead. The strings are passive. A few chords are waked; artless, but understood. Then some spirit seems to arouse, like that of an Eolian harp, which swells like a blast of the wild wind, and dies away in the sweetest murmurs. Like that Miserére which is played during Passion Week at Rome, which begins sadly and scarce audibly in the darkness of the cathedral, and has not rapt you into transport until the whole place is blazing with light. We have often thought how much impassioned music has vanished forever into air with the ecstacy which gave it birth. What combinations! what
sudden chords! what quick thoughts of genius conceived, expressed, filling the soul brimfull; then gone beyond recovery! So in conversation. It is the merit of preserving so much of the passing hour, that has rendered BoswELL's book the most charming of its kind. The written works form but small part of the emanations of a great mind, of the sparks and scintillations which attrition kindles. There is the flash of wit, so sudden and so subtle in its elements, that its very nature is to evanesce; the apt thought, which must not be changed in its apt expression; the spontaneous eloquence, which gathers its passion from the passing object; from the thunder-cloud which breaks that instant overhead, from the sunshine which bursts suddenly on the valley, from the voice of a small bird, or the expanding beauties of a flower; there are the gorgeous visions, painted by a single dash of description; the inspiration, enkindled in a moment, but which vanishes like the early cloud or like the morning dew. Who is there that can watch a man so closely as to lose nothing of the divine essence of genius which is continually escaping, as a candescent body throws off its particles of light?
GOSSIP WITH READERS AND CORRESPONDENTS. — IT is not our wont to stretch the contributors to this Magazine upon a Procrustean bed; to make them say precisely what we should wish them to say, upon all subjects. It is sufficient for us, if the purpose which they aim to serve is a desirable one in the main. In this regard it was, that we placed unclipped in the hands of the printer the initial paper of the present number, which we deem somewhat too sweeping and general in its conclusions; and yet the national cheerfulness and independence which it would inculcate, and the tendency to ultraism in every thing, for which as a country we are remarkable, which it condemns, will receive the approbation of all candid and sensible minds. THANKS to a favorite contributor for the following sketch of an odd philosopher'-friend of his. The theme is done to a turn' in the individual specimen: To draw out' certain characters where you find them distinctly marked, and distinguished from the common herd (especially if their matériel be somewhat soft and ductile,) is a capital amusement, though it may be a little cruel; yet it is excusable, on the same ground that you run a pin through 'specimens' of insects. Some men have so many traits entirely original, that you scarce think of them in connection with the genus homo. They stand aloof. You forget that they have many hidden points of resemblance; that they have like passions; you only notice that in them which is different. As you would not call a monkey a man, so you hardly think of those who possess these mental eccentricities as fellow-beings. Such a one is not a man: he is a TOMPKINS.' There goes a BRUMMEL.' I have been inspecting 'a BILCOX' to day. What is a Bilcox? What I have in view is the very shallowest philosopher. The current has no depth, and scarcely covers, much less conceals, the pebbles. Yet it has a certain sparkling vivacity. With a thin stream it goes squirming about; meets a big stone, and runs around it; encounters a stick, and is confounded a moment; then runs on in precipitate haste, and glories in its shallowness; comes foul of an opposing current and dances round, then on again; and however checked, somehow gets beyond the obstacle, and bears upon its surface a smile and a dimple of eternal complacence. Such is the small-beer philosophy which makes so many corks to pop, and contains within it such an 'industrial principle;' an exemplification of which I saw 'working' on a hot Sunday last August. An old woman, who kept a stand by Washington-Square, had a regular pitched battle with one of her bottles, which got spreeing on sassafras-roots. Pop! whiz-z! phiz-z-z-zz! — down it fell on the pavement, and the unruly element gushed out; snatched in her arms, it flew cascading into the willow tree; and after a sharp contention, she got her thumb over the stopper, whence it suc ceeded in forcing itself out laterally, and flew into her eyes, until the unruly spirit was exhausted. That fuss, it is to be feared, cost the old lady sixpence! But to return to BILcox. He is not worth a brass farthing; nay, he is 'extremely indebted' to all his friends; VOL. XXV.
has acknowledged many an act' of their kindness and taken the benefit of the act. He takes me into the City Hotel, helps himself to biscuit, the good man of the house regarding him with resigned silence. He then introduces me into the reading-room, and says he will talk with me. My friend and pitcher,' says he, supposing that he addressed a waiter, and calling him up by a wink of the eye and a motion of his first finger, 'give this here sofa a dusting.' I saw by the stare of the major-domo that some little mistake had occurred, and so intimated, by a gentle touch of the elbow, to the BILCOX; upon which he caused his teeth to shine, and passed it off by a philosophy alike sparkling and shallow: 'My friend,' says he, for he always reiterates that endearing title, 'my friend,' what was I going to say? Oh,' said I, let me tell you that I regard you sometimes with admiration; I mean with wonder. How do you maintain such a charming cheerfulness? You have had losses, you have had troubles?' Enough to weigh down an elephant, my friend!' 'Or to break the back of an ass?' 'Jus' so, jus' so: I have passed through the fiery furnace of innumerable horsewhippings; I have been kicked; they can't conquer me! Dreadfully scorched, and cuffed, and had my share of domestic afflictions, and my nose broken, and the erysipelas; lost a dear boy, and my furniture sacrificed under the hammer; my collar-bone broken, and slurs on my reputation; had one of my ears bit off. My friend,' said he, looking me full in the face, ' put your ear down close ——— 'BILCOX, your looks are now cannibalish!' 'Jus' so, jus' so; put your ear down close, and I'll tell you the secret that sustains me.' I listened attentively, and with deepest interest; I heard him breathe the word PHILOSOPHY!' 'Yes,' said I; 'it would sustain any man. It sustains you. Somewhat though in an inferior degree, like true piety''My friend,' said he, grasping my hand with energy, upon my soul I am glad you mentioned that word. Last summer at Pleasant Valley I was truly pious. My sensations were subdued, my mind was peaceful, calm, quiet, composed, unruffled. Nothing troubled me; it was the happiest season of my life. When the Sabbath came round, it found me with a clean shirt, and I used to go to the little church, and pa'take the sacrament.' 'I trust,' said I, that you were more attentive to the discourse than a Dutchman in the same parish. The parson said to him, "The Sabbath must be to you a sweet day of rest?' Yaw,' quoth he,' 'I goes to the church, and I opens my pook, and puts my heels up, and throws my head back, and looks right straight at you, and thinks of nothin.' 'Jus' so, jus' so. I was very pious; had given my heart away. I was ready to die.' 'Yes, you kept the commandments then. You invited me to come to your place and eat cherries. I was very modest, and declined. At last I said, 'I love them very much; I will go.' You pressed me, and insisted that I should fetch a basket. I modestly said, 'No, I will eat as many as I want, and carry none away.' You said, 'My friend, go back after a basket; you shall carry some home to your family.' I yielded. You conducted me to the trees and said, 'Take your fill; I will go into the house, and take you back in my little wagon, when you are ready to go.' I clambered seven trees in succession, and devil a cherry could I find; and with an empty belly and an empty basket, searched in vain for horse, wagon, cherries or — BILCOX.' 'Jus' so, jus' so I was then pious. I kept the commandments. Ah, my friend, the best-meaning persons err. I fear I have swore since that. You know what a time I had with ADDIX; it would have put a saint in purgatory, and killed a common man with vexation.' 'What kept you up? 'Philosophy. Ishould have been in my grave without it. I tell you, my friend, I have got the most indomitable courage. Yet I can't get along; I swear I can't get along! Why not? you have resources in yourself. You are never lonely on a rainy day; you have seen the world.' 'Yes, my friend, I have been in Rome; seen the Corso, seen the races; been fired with enthusiasm with the classical air breathed by the CESARS; the inscriptions on the walls, 'SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANI.' Sometimes I think of that, my friend; or if time hangs heavy on my hand, I read; either the sentimental GIBBON, or HUME's natural history of England, or BYRON's Corsair, or the Bible, or the splendid CHESTERFIELD, or the charming SHAKSPEARE, or the classical CICERO, or the elegant HOMER, or the pleasant MILTON, or the sublime CESAR, or the pretty PINDAR, or the divine SMOLLET, or WEBSTER's Re
ply to HAYNE, talking about drums and militia training, or the exquisitely-sweet LONGFELLow; every thing, in short, from history down to political economy and civil engineering, and so on to literature in general.' 'Woman -?''My friend, you kill me dead! Sweeter than the rose of Sharon, she plants me in the midst of a tangent of raptures, and drives me off into obstetrics! My friend, if there is any thing in this world which sooths my delinquencies, touches up my good traits, chisels out my character to its fair proportions, leads me back captive to Babylon like the children of Egypt, and sets me all up on end, it is the spectacle of a captivating woman trying to exercise a domination over me; putting her soothing hand in mine, looking up to me with a pair of dove's eyes, and with persuasive ability foisting herself on my attention. It's the mint-julap of delight, and the sherry-cobler of satisfaction! I would n't exchange my position for the crowned heads of Europe, or for the petty princes of Germany. The struggle is an excruciating one whether I wont die of a fit. Have I explained myself on that point? What think you of me now, my friend?" 'Oh, I think you're a- - BILCOX!' This gentleman reminds one of the dreadful bore encountered on the Sacrâ Viâ, in Rome, by HORACE. JEREMY TAYLOR, in allusion to babblers, while writing on the Good and Evil Tongue,' says of multiloquium,' or talking too much: Much speaking is sometimes necessary, sometimes useful, sometimes pleasant; and when it is none of all these, though it be tedious and imprudent, yet it is not always criminal. Such was the humor of the gentleman MARTIAL speaks of. He was a good man, and full of sweetness and justice and nobleness; but he would read his nonsenseverses to all companies. There are some persons so full of nothings that, like the straight sea of Pontus, they perpetually empty themselves by their mouth, making every person or single company they fasten on, their Propontis. WE have already welcomed to our pages the writer who is so good as to send us the following, which will commend itself to general perusal. By the by, if the reader has never seen RETSCH's illustrations of SCHILLER'S 'Song of the Bell,' let these lines be a mnemotechnic symbol to prompt him to com pass that pleasure:
EUREKA! We have found it at last! The lamp that lights us on our way' burns with a flame bright and clear as the 'stars that clip us round about!' Many thousands of lines,
intended for your edification have we written, reader, while we were vexed and perplexed in the extreme' with the black snow-storm that was falling silently from the chimney of our camphine reading-lamp, upon every thing around us; smooching fair works of art, covering elegant literature' with lamp-black, and tasking the temper almost beyond endurance. For four years we have borne with the offending vessel; for sometimes it would behave with propriety, and give promise of amendment, which however was seldom redeemed. We have therefore cast it from us; and there now stands in its place on the editor's table one of Cargel's Mechanical Lamps, manufactured in Paris expressly for the dépôt of the American agents, Messrs. DIACON AND SAXTON, at Number Twenty, Johnstreet. We have tested this lamp, and have found it the very thing. Simple and concealed machinery pumps the oil up to the wick in regular and regulated supply; the light is abundant, clear, and widely diffusive; there is no smoke, no smell; and with trifling care, it is liable to no disorder. These lamps may be had in every variety in which artificial light is used; they are tastefully got up;' and in some of their forms, are most exquisite ornaments of the drawing-room table and the mantel-piece; the supporting vases, the globes and shades, being often of the richest workmanship and design. We commend them, in the sense of conferring a favor upon our readers, to all who want light upon any subject, that can be examined at night.... WE have read Bishop SOUTHGATE'S 'Letter' in reply to a recent pamphlet from certain American Missionaries at Constantinople, with mingled emotions. That the writer's bearing toward his fellow-laborers in the Oriental vineyard of the LORD was in the main courteous and gentleman-like, we conceive to be established; that there was disingenuousness on the part of his accusers, and what a layman would be apt to term 'sneakishness,' is abundantly evident from the labored dictated' letters of their secretary. But why should Mr. SOUTHGATE apologise for, or seek to excuse, the act of partaking the Sacrament with his evangelical brethren? I had been two years without the Sacrament,' he says, 'and was suffering inexpressibly from the privation. I therefore communed with my Congregational brethren. But I did it at the moment with considerable hesitation, and regretted it as soon as it was done. I resolved, moreover, never to do it again.' Indeed! And was this the spirit in which you sought to proclaim to the benighted' Orientals the doctrines of the PRINCE OF PEACE? Could not forms and creeds be suspended on an occasion such as that? Why did not the Bishop call to mind the REDEEMER's Own words, so well paraphrased in the stanza:
'IN memory of your dying Friend,
The fact upon which we are animadverting is one of the things whereof Bishop SOUTHGATE humbly prays that he may have grace to speak with plainness and sincerity.' Without assuming to insult the majesty of Heaven by asking its endorsement of an act of Christian illiberality, we may yet humbly hope to be forgiven for characterising such an offence as we think it deserves to be characterized. THERE is one consolation for our Ann-Arbor' correspondent. His life is insured, so long as he has the fever and-ague; since it is perhaps one of the worst features of that most contemptible disorder, that no one ever dies of it. We can only give our correspondent the advice of Hood's doctor'smaid: Take bark; the best form is the canine pill.' If this proves effectual, we shall expect the second half of the Border Tale.' We are reluctant to make a commencement until we have secured the conclusion. This remark will also apply to several other half-finished communications, which it is unnecessary more particularly to designate. There should be a oneness' in papers submitted for consideration. . . . SINCE the clever satire of MARRYAT upon the novels of the modern Italian school, wherein the hero, ABSENPRENSENTINI, feels his way along the slimy wall,' and kills seven midnight antagonists in succession, each of whom expires without a groan,' we have not encountered a better thing in its kind than the following, which we transfer from a late number of the New-York