페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

of extreme debility, and as knowing that he must die in the place where he was. In one letter, in which he wishes his correspondent every comfort and consolation that this rascally age affords,' he shows his continued interest in home-affairs by asking whether Junius, then at the height of his mysterious celebrity, is not supposed to be Burke. On the whole, however, he had withdrawn himself as much as possible from any interest in current British politics beyond that which a British invalid in Italy might feel in glancing at a newspaper when it came in his way; and what intervals of ease the kindly climate of Italy afforded him in the course of his gradual decline were spent in the composition of a novel, in which he seems to have taken more pleasure than in any of its predecessors. This was • The Expedition of Humphry Clinker,' the manuscript of which was sent over to London and published there in three small volumes towards the middle of 1771. Critical notices of this work appeared but slowly; and before many of them could have reached him, the author was past all feeling of their influence. The stage of pain had been succeeded by one of languishing weakness; and on the 21st of October, 1771, he died at his house near Leghorn. He had just reached the fifty-first year of his age.

The estimate that had been formed of Smollett's genius in his lifetime was necessarily enhanced after his death, as the public became aware of the merits of the work which they had been so slow to read. Humphry Clinker,' says Mr. Thackeray, 'is, I do believe, the most laughable story that has ever been written since the goodly art of novel-writing began.'* This verdict is in accordance with the general opinion, and it may be added that not only is the lumour of the book finer and clearer than in any of Smollett's former novels, but the style is also more mellow, and the whole conception deeper and happier. There is a harsher power in some parts of . Peregrine Pickle;' but, if any one of Smollett's novels is entitled to a permanent place among the English classics, it is · Humphry Clinker.' Coming after the Adventures of an Atom,' it is a biographical curiosity; and we can only account for the more genial spirit which it shows as compared with that savage performance, by supposing that, in the quiet of his Italian retirement, the author had regained something of serenity and resignation. Looking back, in this state of comparative composure, on the preceding three or four years

of his life, we can conceive him dwelling with a melancholy selfirony on their various reminiscences, and resolving then to cast

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

Smollett, however, has now heen surpassed in richness of humour by Mr. Diekens, who in this particular has never had an equal.

them

them into the shape of a novel. In Matthew Bramble, the tetchy yet benevolent old invalid, travelling about for the recovery of his health, he figures himself; in Jerry Melford, Bramble's sprightly nephew, there is something of his own nephew, Major Telfer; in Lydia Melford, the niece, it was thought there was some recollection of his lost daughter ; Tabitha Bramble, the housekeeping sister, and Winifred Jenkins, the maid, were possibly also in part copies from originals ; and what more easy than to lead this family group, with a lover for Lydia in the background, on a tour through Bath and London to Scotland, picking up new characters by the way, such as Clinker himself and the Scotch lieutenant, Lismahago? In carrying out this scheme, Smollett had more than the usual pleasure which an author feels in a story of his own making. An exile on the Italian coast, he repeated in imagination, as he wrote, his recent visit to his native land; fancied himself walking once more, in the person

of Matthew Bramble, in the High Street of Edinburgh ; posting thence with Jerry to Glasgow, and there shaking hands with Moore and his other Glasgow acquaintances; and finally, as the goal of his ideal journey, domiciled again in his cousin's house, amid the oak-woods of Cameron, in the heart of scenery to him the loveliest in the world. The Scotticism of · Humphry Clinker' is unmistakeable. The best parts of the book are unquestionably those describing the Scotch portion of the tour, and these are written with an accuracy as to places, persons, and names, which shows that it was Smollett's intention in the book to enlighten English ignorance as to the state of the northern part of the island, and beat down by facts as well as laugh down by jests the international rancour still prevailing. How patriotically, for example, he speaks of Edinburgh as a hot-bed of genius,' enumerating eminent contemporary names in proof of the representation; and with what satisfaction, in passing through Glasgow, he introduces Glassford, the great merchant, as a proof of the enterprise of the place, and his old master, Dr. Gordon, as a proof of its public spirit! With what care, too, is the character of Lismahago drawn, as a type at once of the good and the bad, the excellent and the absurd, in the Scottish national temper. Scott's Dugald Dalgetty is not a better character than Smollett's Lismahago.

It was after Smollett's death also that it began to be seen how much he had in him potentially of the higher faculty of the poet. He had published a metrical tragedy and two metrical satires in his lifetime, besides one or two scraps of verse in the course of his novels; but it was only after his death that these scraps

of verse, with others which he had left in manuscript, were collected and read together as “Smollett's Poems. It was then found that,

a

6

in lyrical poetry especially, Smollett might have been something in his day, even with Gray for his rival. His ‘Ode to Independence' alone would show that there was the spirit of poet in him :

• Thy spirit, Independence ! let me share,

Lord of the lion-heart and eagle-eye ;
Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,

Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.'
And in the same Ode there is this powerful strophe :-

In Fortune's car behold that minion ride,

With either India's glittering spoils oppress'd;
So moves the sumpter-mule in harness'd pride

That bears the treasure which he cannot taste.
For him let venal bards disgrace the bay,

And hireling minstrels wake the tinkling string ;
Her sensual snares let faithless Pleasure lay,

And jingling bells fantastic Folly ring;
Disquiet, doubt, and dread shall intervene,

And Nature, still to all her feelings just,
In vengeance hang a damp on every scene

Shook from the baleful pinions of Disgust.'
If in Smollett's novels there is sometimes an anticipation of
Scott, such lines as these seem also like an anticipation of
Burns.

Three years after Smollett's death a monument was erected to his memory by his cousin, Commissary Smollett, of Bonbill, on the banks of the Leven, and close to the old house of Dalquhurn in wbich he was born. The monument still stands, a tall Tuscan column, attracting the eye of tourists on their way between the Clyde and Loch Lomond, and informing them that the ground they are travelling over is the land of Smollett. The inscription on the monument, which is in Latin, was furnished in part by Johnson when he visited Commissary Smollett with Boswell in 1774 on his way to the Hebrides. Two years afterwards the Commissary died. Had Smollett been alive, he would then, as next male heir, have come into possession of the Bonhill estate, valued at above 10001. a-year. As it was, the property came to his sister, Mrs. Telfer, who thereupon resumed her maiden name of Smollett. It was during her possession of Bonhill (17761789) that bleaching-works and printing-works were first established on the banks of the Leven, breaking up the pastoral solitude of the vale, but greatly improving the rental; and a village having been founded by her for the accommodation of the work people it was called Renton, after her future daughter-inlaw, Miss Renton, who, it appears, was the identical • Miss R—mentioned in ‘Humphry Clinker' as one of the belles of Edinburgh, by whose charms Jerry Melford was smitten. It is not pleasant to have to add that Smollett's widow seems to have been neglected by her Scotch relatives. She continued to live in Leghorn, where she erected a plain monument over her husband's grave, with an inscription furnished her for the purpose by Armstrong. In March, 1784, some theatrical performances were got up for her benefit in Edinburgh, and the proceeds, to the amount of 3001., were sent over to her at Leghorn.

law,

Art. IV.-1. Ancient Wiltshire. By Sir R. C. Hoare. London,

1812-19. Folio. 2. Modern Wiltshire. By Sir R. C. Hoare. London, 1823. 3. Aubrey's Collections for Wilts. London, 1821. 4. Magazine of the Wiltshire Archæological Society. Nos. 1-12. 5. Handbook for Wiltshire. 1856.

VERY English county may be observed to possess some

E or

guished from its fellows. Yorkshire has its wolds, Westmoreland its lakes and mountains, Cumberland its border-towers and legends, Lincolnshire its fens and churches, Lancashire its faetories, Cheshire its dairies and salt-works, Derbyshire its peak, Cornwall its mines, Hereford its cider-orchards, Sussex its hopgrounds, and so on. Wiltshire is characterised by its downs. Its very name summons up ideas of the shepherd of Salisbury Plain-visions of rolling prairies of short elastic turf, dotted with distant flocks, and otherwise objectless, except where some crested earthwork or cone-shaped mound rears its strange outline against the sky.

In truth, about half of the area of the county does consist of an elevated platform of bare chalk downs, whose steep bordering bluffs rise conspicuously from the adjoining vales, and seem to claim a kind of supremacy over the remaining half. Nowhere are you out of sight of them. Even to the north-west, where the limits of the county recede some fifteen miles from their extreme northern scarp, the surface of the vale rises so gradually towards the high platform of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds as to command from every slight eminence a view of the curtain of naked downs behind, hanging high in air their shadowy folds, brightened up at intervals by a chalk-pit, or a white horse, perhaps, cut out of the steep turfy slope, and glittering in the western sun.

This northern vale is well known to travellers by the Great Western as that of the Swindon Station and its bifurcating lines; to agriculturists, as the North-Wilts cheese district; to sportsmen, as the Vale of White Horse; to geographers, as the common basin whence the Thames and Avon, rising within a few miles of each other, draw off their first sprightly runnings,' as if in rivalry, towards the opposite sides of England.

Two other wide but smaller vales penetrate far into the great elevated chalk plain with wedge-shaped indentations, the broad ends of each opening to the west. That to the north is the Vale of Pewsey, noted among geologists for its abundant green-sand fossils. It terminates near the eastern limit of the county in a narrow cleft, through which the Kennett and Avon Canal reaches Hungerford. The southern vale of the Nadder, a tributary to the southern or Hampshire Avon, takes its name from the old castle of Wardour, which once guarded its entrance; and here too the green sand crops out from below the chalk, forming a high ridge, which rises at the hill surmounted by Alfred's Tower, in the grounds of Stourhead, to the height of 800 feet above the sea.

Both of these valleys run east and west, and both are drained by branches of this southern Avon, which after the singular fashion common to the rivers of chalk districts, carry off their waters not in the direction of the vale's length, but through a fissure-like depression, broken at right angles to that direction, and due north and south, across the whole breadth of the chalk platform into the channel at Christchurch. The county thus impartially distributes its surface streams in nearly equal proportions between the three seas. Indeed, the chalk ridge of Martinsell and St. Anne's Hill, not far from the centre of the county, furnishes three springs, which, as old Aubrey, the Wiltshire antiquary of the seventeenth century, observed, do take their courses thence three several waies:' one to the German ocean through the Thames, one by Salisbury to the Channel, the third by Calne and Bristol into the Atlantic.

In early ages the vales were deep with miry clays, and in that congenial soil flourished vast oak forests, whose fastnesses afforded to the rude inhabitants some shelter from the invading legions of Cæsar. But they dwelt chiefly upon the hills. Indeed, it may be remarked, not of Wiltshire only but of a large part of England, that while in the present civilized age the great bulk of the population occupies the sheltered and fertile vales of the island-the highlands remaining comparatively uninhabited, and, until within a few years past, untilled-these last show evident marks of baving been in very early ages densely populated and subjected to cultivation. The turfy downs of

Wiltshire

« 이전계속 »