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common visitor be inconsiderate enough, on an ordinary occasion, to sit beyond all reasonable hour, it must be reckoned as a fatality, as an ignorance of men and things, against which you cannot possibly provide : as a sort of visitation, which must be borne with patience, and which is not likely to recur often, if you know whom you invite, and those who are invited know you. But with an occasional excess of the fireside what social virtue shall quarrel? A single friend, perhaps, loiters behind the rest; you are alone in the house ; you have just got upon a subject delightful to you both; the fire is of a candent brightness; the wind howls out of doors; the rain beats ; the cold is piercing! Sit down. This is a time when the most melancholy temperament may defy the clouds and storms, and even extract from them a pleasure that will take no substance by daylight. The ghost of his happiness sits by him, and puts on the likeness of former hours; and if such a man can be made comfortable by the moment, what enjoyment may it not furnish to an unclouded spirit! If the excess belong not to vice, temperance does not forbid it when it only grows out of the occasion. The great poet, whom I have quoted so often for the fireside, and who will enjoy it with us to the last, was, like the rest of our great poets, an ardent recommender of temperance in all its branches; but though he practised what he preached, he could take his night out of the hands of sleep as well as the most entrenching of us. To pass over, as foreign to our subject in point of place, his noble wish that he might “oft outwatch the bear," with what a wrapped-up recollection of snugness, in the elegy on his friend Diodati, does he describe the fireside enjoyment of 2 winter's night ?
“ Pectora cui credam ? Quis me lenire docebit
“In whom shall I confide? Whose counsel find
A balmy med'cine for my troubled mind?
Cowper's Translation. Even when left alone, there is sometimes a charm in watching out the decaying fire, - in getting closer and closer to it with tilted chair and knees against the bars, and letting the whole multitude of fancies, that work in the night silence, come whispering about the yielding faculties. The world around is silent; and for a moment the very cares of day seem to have gone with it to sleep, leaving you to catch a waking sense of disenthralment, and to commune with a thousand airy visitants that come to play with innocent thoughts. Then, for imagination's sake, not for superstition's, are recalled the stories of the Secret World and the midnight pranks of Fairyism. The fancy roams out of doors after rustics led astray by the jacko'-lantern, or minute laughings heard upon the wind, or the night-spirit on his horse that comes flouncing through the air on his way to a surfeited citizen, or the tiny morrisdance that springs up in the watery glimpses of the moon; or keeping at home, it finds a spirit in every room peeping at it as it opens the door, while a cry is heard from upstairs announcing the azure marks inflicted by
“The nips of fairies upon maids' white hips,"
or hearing a snoring from below, it tiptoes down into the kitchen, and beholds where
-“ Lies him down the lubber fiend, And stretch'd out all the chimney's length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength.” Presently the whole band of fairies, ancient and modern, — the demons, sylphs, gnomes, sprites, elves, peries, genii, and above all, the fairies of the fireside, the salamanders, lob-lie-by-the-fires, lars, lemures, larvæ, come flitting between the fancy's eyes, and the dying coals, some with their weapons and lights, others with grave steadfastness on book or dish, others of the softer kind with their arch looks, and their conscious pretence of attitude, while a minute music tinkles in the ear, and Oberon gives his gentle order : –
“ Through this house in glimmering light
By the dead and drowsy fire,
Hop as light as bird from briar ;
Sing and dance it trippingly.” Anon, the whole is vanished, and the dreamer, turning his eye down aside, almost looks for a laughing sprite gazing at him from a tiny chair, and mimicking his face and attitude. Idle fancies these, and incomprehensible to minds clogged with every-day earthliness; but not useless, either as an exercise of the invention, or even as adding consciousness to the range and destiny of the soul. They will occupy us too, and steal us away from ourselves, when other recollections fail us or grow painful, when friends are found selfish, or better friends can but commiserate, or when the world has nothing in it to compare with what we have missed out of it. They may even lead us to
higher and more solemn meditations, till we work up our way beyond the clinging and heavy atmosphere of this earthly sojourn, and look abroad upon the light that knows neither blemish nor bound, while our ears are saluted at that egress by the harmony of the skies, and our eyes behold the lost and congenial spirits that we have loved hastening to welcome us with their sparkling eyes, and their curls that are ripe with sunshine.
But earth recalls us again; the last flame is out; the fading embers tinkle with a gaping dreariness; and the chill reminds us where we should be. Another gaze on the hearth that has so cheered us, and the last, lingering action is to wind up the watch for the next day. Upon how many anxieties shall the finger of that brief chronicler strike, – and upon how many comforts too! Tomorrow our fire shall be trimmed anew; and so, gentle reader, good night: may the weariness I have caused you make sleep the pleasanter !
“Let no lamenting cryes, nor dolefull tears,
Be heard all night within, nor yet without;
SPENSER's Epithalamion. *
* In the new edition of “ The Round Table," published in the Bayard Series of books, this article is given to Hazlitt. “Our style bewrays us,” says Burton; and "A Day by the Fire” is full of Leigh Hunt's peculiarities of thought and diction. The question of authorship, however, is not to be de
ON COMMONPLACE PEOPLE.
57 GREEABLY to our chivalrous, as well as do
mestic, character, and in order to show further in what sort of spirit we shall hereafter confer blame and praise, whom we shall cut up for
the benefit of humanity, and to whom apply our healing balsams, we have thought fit, in our present number, to take the part of a very numerous and ill-treated body of persons, known by the various appellations of commonplace people, — dull fellows, or people who have nothing to say.
It is perhaps wrong, indeed, to call these persons commonplace. Those who are the most vehement in objecting to them have the truest right to the title, however little they may suspect it; but of this more hereafter. It is a name by which the others are very commonly known ; though they might rather be called persons of simple common sense, and, in fact, have just enough of that valuable quality to inspire them with the very quietness which brings them into so much contempt.
We need not, however, take any pains to describe a set of people so well known. They are, of course, what none of our readers are, but many are acquainted with. They are the more silent part of companies, and generally the
cided upon internal evidence ; facts prove that the essay was written by the author of the “Story of Rimini.” The prolusion was originally published in the “Reflector," with Hunt's well-known signature, - r. It was afterwards re-printed in the “Examiner,” as one of “The Round Table” papers. When these essays were collected into a volume, Leigh Hunt's initials were printed at the end of "A Day by the Fire;” and Hazlitt, in the preface to this original edition of “The Round Table,” says, “out of the fifty-two numbers, twelve are Mr. Hunt's, with the signature, L. H.” – Ed.