Page images
[ocr errors]

I need not quote all those beautiful little invitations he sent to his acquaintances, telling one of them that a neat room and a sparkling fire were waiting for him ; describing to another the smoke springing out of the roof in curling volumes, and even congratulating his friends in general on the opportunity of enjoyment afforded them by a stormy day; but, to take leave at once of these frigid connoisseurs, hear with what rapture he describes one of those friendly parties, in which he passed his winter evenings, and which only wanted the finish of our better morality and our patent fireplaces, to resemble the one I am now fancying

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

And streams with icy fetters bound
Benumb'd and crampt to solid ground.

With well-heap'd logs dissolve the cold,

And feed the genial hearth with fires,
Produce the wine that makes us bold,

And sprightly wit and mirth inspires.
For what hereafter shall betide,
Jove, if 'tis worth his care, provide.

Th’appointed hour of promis'd bliss,

The pleasing whisper in the dark,
The half unwilling, willing kiss,

The laugh that guides thee to the mark,
When the kind nymph would coyness feign,
And hides but to be found again,
These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.”


The Roman poet, however, though he occasionally boasts of his temperance, is too apt to lose sight of the intellectual part of his entertainment, or at least to make the sensual part predominate over the intellectual. Now, I reckon the nicety of social enjoyment to consist in the reverse; and, after partaking with Homer of his plentiful boiled and roast, and with Horace of his flowercrowned wine-parties, the poetical reader must come at last to us barbarians of the North for the perfection of fireside festivity, — that is to say, for the union of practical philosophy with absolute merriment, — for light meals and unintoxicating glasses ; for refection that administers to enjoyment, instead of repletions that at once constitute and contradict it. I am speaking, of course, not of our commonplace eaters and drinkers, but of our classical arbiters of pleasure, as contrasted with those of other countries; these, it is observable, have all delighted in Horace, and copied him as far as their tastes were congenial; but, without relaxing a jot of their real comfort, how pleasingly does their native philosophy temper and adorn the freedom of their conviviality, — feeding the fire, as it were, with an equable fuel that hinders it alike from scorching and from going out, and, instead of the artificial enthusiasm of a heated body, enabling them to enjoy the healthful and unclouded predominance of a sparkling intelligence! It is curious, indeed, to see how distinct from all excess are their freest and heartiest notions of relaxation. Thus our old poet, Drayton, reminding his favorite companion of a fireside meeting, expressly unites freedom with moderation :

[ocr errors]

My dearly loved friend, how oft have we
In winter evenings, mean to be free,
To some well-chosen place us'd to retire,
And there with moderate meat, and wine, and fire,
Have pass'd the hours contentedly in chat,
Now talk'd of this, and then discours'd of that,
Spoke our own verses 'twixt ourselves, if not
Other men's lines, which we by chance had got.”

EPISTLE TO Henry REYNOLDS, ESQ., of Poets and Poesy.

And Milton, in his “ Sonnet to Cyriack Skinner," one of the turns of which is plainly imitated from Horace, particularly qualifies a strong invitation to merriment by anticipating what Horace would always drive from your reflections, the feelings of the day after :

“ Cyriack, whose Grandsire, on the royal bench

Of British Themis, with no mean applause

Pronounc'd, and in his volumes taught, our laws,
Which others at their bar so often wrench;
To-day deep thoughts resolve with me to drench
In mirth, that, after, no repenting draws.

Let Euclid rest, and Archimedes pause,
And what the Swede intends, and what the French
To measure life learn thou betimes, and know

Tow'rd solid good what leads the nearest way.


For other things mild Heav'n a time ordains,
And disapproves that care, though wise in show,
That with superfluous burden loads the day,

And when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains." But the execution of this sonnet is not to be compared in gracefulness and a finished sociality with the one addressed to his friend Lawrence, which, as it presents us with the acme of elegant repast, may conclude the hour which I have just been describing, and conduct us complacently to our twilight, —

Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,

Now that the fields are dank, and ways are mire,
Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
Help waste sullen day, — what may be won
From the hard season gaining? Time will run

On smoother, till Favonius re-inspire

The frozen earth, and clothe in fresh attire
The lily and rose, that neither sow'd nor spun,
What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,

Of Attic taste, with wine, whence we may rise
To hear the lute well-touch'd, and artful voice

Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?
He who of these delights can judge, and spare

To interpose them oft, is not unwise." But twilight comes : and the lover of the fireside, for the perfection of the moment, is now alone. He was reading a minute or two ago, and for some time was unconscious of the increasing dusk, till, on looking up, he perceived the objects out of doors deepening into massy outline, while the sides of his fireplace began to reflect the light of the flames, and the shadow of himself and his chair fidgeted with huge obscurity on the wall. Still wishing to read, he pushed himself nearer and nearer the window, and continued fixing on his book till he happened to take another glance out of doors, and on returning to it, could make out nothing. He therefore lays it aside, and

restoring his chair to the fireplace, seats himself right before it in a reclining posture, his feet apart upon the fender, his eyes bent down towards the grate, his arms on the chair's elbows, one hand hanging down, and the palm of the other turned up and presented to the fire, not to keep it from him, for there is no glare or scorch about it, but to intercept and have a more kindly feel of its genial warmth. It is thus that the greatest and wisest of mankind have sat and meditated; a homely truism, perhaps, but such a one as we are apt enough to forget. We talk of going to Athens or to Rome to see the precise objects which the Greeks and Romans beheld; and forget that the moon, which may be looking upon us at the moment, is the same identical planet that enchanted Homer and Virgil, and that has been contemplated and admired by all the great men and geniuses that have existed : by Socrates and Plato in Athens, by the Antonines in Rome, by the Alfreds, the l'Hospitals, the Miltons, Newtons, and Shakespeares. In like manner, we are anxious to discover how these great men and poets appeared in common, what habits they loved, in what way they talked and meditated, nay, in what postures they delighted to sit, and whether they indulged in the same tricks and little comforts that we do. Look at nature and their works, and we shall see that they did ; and that, when we act naturally and think earnestly, we are reflecting their commonest habits to the life. Thus we have seen Horace talking of his blazing hearth and snug accommodations like the jolliest of our acquaintances; and thus we may safely imagine that Milton was in some such attitude as I have described, when he sketched that enchanting little picture which beats all the cabinet portraits that have been produced,

« PreviousContinue »