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Fontenelle on the signs of Death, - . There and Back Again—Chap. xvi-xviii,
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- - - - It contains indeed the ex language, but this by its immense extent and comprehension includes a portraiture of of human mind in
WAshingtoN, 27 Dec., 1845.
sition only of the current literature of the
LITTELL’S LIVING AGE.-No. 292.—22 DECEMBER, 1849.
From the Spectator. BerNARD BARTON's Life AND LETTERs.”
TheRE is more of melancholy about the disappearance of the lesser than the greater stars of literature. The author whose works are for “all time” is as much alive to posterity as he was to his contemporaries; the writer whose name is to dwindle away through a slow tradition, and only be preserved for the literary student in literary history, comes more home to the feelings of our common nature—“mentem mortalia tangunt.” When accident or satire turns up a name once frequent in the world's mouth, but now forgotten save by those whose trade it is to remember such, a feeling arises akin to that which touches the mind of the wayfarer who lingers over the mementos of mortality in a country churchyard. The feeling is deeper, or at least fuller, in the case of a contemporary who continually appeared before the public, whose subjects were generally associated with the common sentiments and common feelings of mankind, and whose treatment if deficient in art and study was always pleasing— not too homely for the refined, not too deep or lofty for the humble. Such was Bernard Barton; some of whose strains yet linger in the memory, and who was almost tenderly associated in many minds from his long connection with the Annuals. Indeed, to their better spirit his own was appropriate, and they seem to have perished with if not before him. The genius of Bernard Barton was probably capable of achieving greater excellence than his poems exhibit. Although he cannot exactly be called the founder of a school, we think he was the first in point of time who practised the domestic or household style of poetry, where the common incidents of daily life, the things or circumstances that are familiar to all of us, and the sentiments which are colored by a high state of civilization, if they are not owing to it, are embodied in smooth and pleasing rather than strong and striking verse. If this style were carried to the pitch which the style is capable of, the founder might be entitled to the praise of an original poet. As he did not reach, and apparently did not aim at the highest excellence, his merit of priority was lost in a crowd of imitators; while Mrs. Hemans and (perhaps) Miss Landon, by adding the historical and romantic to their humbler themes, have attracted to themselves some of that reputation which rightfully belonged to Bernard Barton. But it must be owned, that if we judge from actual specimens, not from possible excellence, the style was not striking in itself. It was one of those ideas * Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton. Edited by his daughter. Published by Hall and
cCXCII. LIVING AGE. WOL. XXIII.
which arise spontaneously in many minds under certain conditions of society, and is therefore rather to be considered as common to many a moderate than peculiar to one original mind. It is natural but obvious.
The biographical information in the present volume lets us into part of the secret of Bernard Barton's acquiescence in a pleasing mediocrity, instead of struggling for excellence. He had little literature and little leisure ; his genius was dis cursive rather than concentrated ; and he had the fatal gift of easy fluency. “He wrote in numbers for the numbers came ;” or if they did not, he poured out his thoughts in prose—always agreeable, it would seem, and with a substratum of reality, but of necessity superficial, and dependent for attraction on the subject, or the felicity of the hour. His rapidity of composition, its injurious effects upon his poetical character, with the outline of his literary career, are well and succinctly told by the friend who arranged and added to the autobiographical papers which Bernard Barton left behind him.
In 1812, he published his first volume of poems, called “Metrical Effusions,” and began a correspondence with Southey, who continued to give him most kind and wise advice for many years. * *
In 1818 Bernard Barton published by subscription a thin quarto volume—“Poems by an Amateur ;” and shortly afterwards appeared under the auspices of a London publisher in a volume of “Poems,” which, being favorably reviewed in the “Edinburgh,” reached a fourth edition by 1825. In 1822 came out his “ Napoleon,” which he managed to get dedicated and presented to George the Fourth. And now being launched upon the public with a favoring gale, he pushed forward with an eagerness that was little to his ultimate advantage. Between 1822 and 1828 he published five volumes of verse. Each of these contained many pretty poems; but many that were very hasty, and written more as task-work, when the mind was already wearied with the desk-labors of the day; not waiting for the occasion to suggest, nor the impulse to improve. Of this he was warned by his friends, and of the danger of making himself too cheap with publishers and the public. But the advice of others had little weight in the hour of success with one so inexperienced and so hopeful as himself. And there was in Bernard Barton a certain boyish impetuosity in pursuit of anything he had at heart, that age itself scarcely could subdue. Thus it was with his correspondence; and thus it was with his poetry. He wrote always with great facility, almost unretarded by that worst labor of correction; for he was not fastidious himself about exactness of thought or harmony of numbers, and he could scarce comprehend why the public should be less easily satisfied.
One reason assigned by his biographer for the poet's “mistaken activity” was, that publishing was the sole event which varied the monotony of Bernard Barton's life. His career, indeed, was uneventful enough. He was born in 1784; lost both his parents in early life; was sent to a Quaker school at Ipswich, and on leaving it was apprenticed to a shopkeeper at Halsted in Essex, where “he stood behind the counter for eight years.”
In 1806 he went to Woodbridge; and a year after married Lucy Jesup, the niece of his former master, and entered into partnership with her brother as coal and corn merchant. But she died a year after marriage, in giving birth to the only child, who now survives them both ; and he, perhaps sickened with the scene of his blighted love, and finding, like his father, that he had less taste for the ledger than for literature, almost directly quitted Woodbridge, and engaged himself as private tutor in the family of Mr. Waterhouse, a merchant in Liverpool. There Bernard Barton had some family connections ; and there also he was kindly received and entertained by the Roscoe family, who were old acquaintances of his father and mother.
After a year's residence in Liverpool he returned to Woodbridge, and there became clerk in Messrs. Alexander's bank—a kind of office which secures certain if small remuneration, without any of the anxiety of business ; and there he continued for forty years, working till within two days of his death.
This took place suddenly, on the 19th February in the present year, from disease of the heart.
The volume before us contains the memoir from which we have already quoted, a selection from the correspondence of Bernard Barton, and a selection from his poems; forming altogether a volume of much interest. The memoir is one of the best things of the kind we have seen, both as regards judgment and execution. The poet and the man are thoroughly appreciated, and, what is rare when the biographer is a friend, are rated at their true value—the good qualities of each perceived, the failings not overlooked but touched gently. The facts of the life are narrated rapidly ; the habits and peculiarities of the subject are presented as only personal knowledge can present them ; and Bernard Barton is allowed to tell his own story when his letters are biographical. The selection from the poet's correspondence is perhaps a little overdone, some of the letters being on personal topics or matters of mere opinion : in general, however, they are full of character; especially those from Charles Lamb, who comes out genially rich, and from Bernard himself, who in his way is almost as rich as Lamb, and not unlike him—such as Charles might have been had fate made him a Quaker. This letter on fame, which explains itself, is a sober “Elia.”
9 mo. 1, 1845.
Many years ago I wrote some verses for a child's annual to accompany a print of Doddridge's mother teaching him Bible history from the Dutch tiles round their fireplace. I had clean forgotten both the print and my verses; but some one has sent me
celebrity tickles me somewhat. Talk of fame ' is not this a fame which comes home, not only to “men’s business and bosoms,” but to children's noses into the bargain Tom Churchyard (an artist) calls it an indignity, an insult, looks scorny at it, and says he would cuff any urchin whom he caught blowing his nose on one of his sketches. All this arises from his not knowing the complicated nature and texture of all worldly fame. *. like the image the Babylonish king dreamt of, with its golden head, baser metal lower down, and miry clay for the feet. It will not do to be fastidious: you must take the idol as it is—its gold sconce if you can get it—if not, take the clay feet, or one toe of another foot, and be thankful, and make what you can of it. I write verse to be read ; it is a matter of comparative indifference to me whether I am read from a fine bound book on a drawing-room table, or spelt over from a penny rag of a kerchief by the child of a peasant or a weaver. So, honor to the cotton-printer, say I, whoever he be; that bit of rag is my patent as a household poet.
Bernard Barton was a Quaker and a stanch one, but he was of far too genial a nature to care for the fopperies of the Friends, or to circumscribe salvation to a sect. His elder sister, his daughter, and other near connections, formally left “the meeting,” and were baptized in the “steeplehouse,” with his regrets, but no other feeling. He himself did not scruple to attend the church service ; and he graciously bore with the surveillance and remonstrances of the straitest of his sect. Besides its other features, his correspondence is curious for occasional glimpses of the arbitrary interference of Quakers with the personal conduct of one another. Here are his pleadings on the waistcoat and the bell.
9 mo. 12, 1846.
And now, my dear old friend of above twenty years' standing, I have two points on which I must try to right myself in thy good opinion—the swansdown waistcoat, and the bell with the somewhat unquakerly inscription of “Mr. Barton's bell” graven above the handle thereof. I could not well suppress a smile at both counts of the indictment, for both are true to a certain extent, though I do not know that I should feel at all bound to plead guilty to either in a criminal one. It is true that prior to my birthday, now nearly two years ago, my daughter, without consulting me, did work for me in worsted work, as they do now-a-days for slippers, a piece of sempstress-ship or needle-craft, formin the forepart of a waistcoat; the pattern of W.; being rather larger than I should have chosen had choice been allowed me, gave it some semblance of the striped or flowered waistcoats, which, for aught I know, may be designated at swansdown ; but the colors, drab and chocolate, were so very sober, that I put it on as I found it, thinking no evil, and wore it first and week days all last winter, and may probably through the coming one, at least on week days. It is cut in my wonted single-breasted fashion; and as my collarless coat, coming pretty forward, allows no great display of it, I had not heard before a word of scandal, or even censure, on its unfriendliness. Considering who worked it for me, I am not sure had the royal arms been worked thereon, if in such
a child's penny cotton handkerchief, on which I sober colors, but I might have worn it, and thought find a transcript of that identical print, and four of it less fine and less fashionable than the velvet and
my stanzas printed under it. This haudkerchief
silk ones which I have seen, ere now, in our galleries, and worn by Friends of high standing and undoubted orthodoxy. But I attach comparatively little importance to dress, while there is enough left in the tout ensemble of the costume to give ample evidence that the wearer is a Quaker. So much for the waistcoat; now for the bell ! I live in the back part of the bank premises, and the approach to the yard leading to my habitat is by a gate opening out of the principal street or thoroughfare through our town ; the same gate serving for an approach to my cousin's kitchen-door, to a large bar-iron warehouse in the same yard, and I know not what besides. Under these circumstances, some notification was thought needful to mark the bell appertaining to our domicil, though I suppose nearly a hundred yards off; and the bell-hanger, without any consultation with me, and without my knowledge, had put these words over the handle of the bell, in a recess or hole in the wall by the gateside; and they had stood there unnoticed and unobserved by me for weeks, if not months, before I ever saw them. When aware of their being there, having had no concern whatever in their being put there, having given no directions for their inscription, and not having to pay for them, I quietly let them stand; and, until thy letter reached me, I have never heard one word of comment on said inscription as an unquakerly one ; for I believe it is well known among all our neighbors that the job of making two houses out of one was done by contract with artisans not of us, who executed their commission according to the usual custom, without taking our phraseology into account. Such, my good friend, are the simple facts of the two cases.
We close our extracts from this agreeable volume with a story from the memoir, throwing light upon a prime minister as well as the poet.
In 1845 came out his last volume, which he got permission to dedicate to the queen. He sent also a copy of it to Sir Robert Peel, then prime minister, with whom he had already corresponded slightly on the subject of the income-tax, which Mr. Barton thought pressed rather unduly on clerks and others whose narrow income was only for life. Sir Robert asked him to dinner at Whitehall. “Twenty years ago,” writes Barton, “such a summons had elated and exhilarated me—now I feel humbled and depressed at it. Why, but that I verge on the period when the lighting down of the grasshopper is a burden, and desire itself begins to fail.” He went, however, and was sincerely pleased with the courtesy and astonished at the social ease of a man who had so many and so heavy cares on his shoulders. When the Quaker poet was first ushered into the room, there were but three guests assembled, of whom he little expected to know one. But the mutual exclamations of “George Airy''' and “Bernard Barton ''' soon satisfied Sir Robert as to his country guests feeling at home at the great town-dinner.
On leaving office a year after, Sir Robert recommended him to the queen for an annual pension of 1007.; one of the last acts, as the retiring minister intimated, of his official career, and one he should always reflect on with pleasure. B. Barton gratefully accepted the boon. And to the very close of life he continued, after his fashion, to send letters and occasional poems to Sir Robert, and to receive a few kind words in reply.
From the Spectator. DR, cHALMERs' preLECTIONs.”
This concluding volume of the edition of the Posthumous Works of Dr. Chalmers contains the lectures, notes, or commentaries, delivered by the great preacher of the Scottish Church from the Theological chair, on Butler's Analogy, Paley's Evidences, and Hill's Lectures in Divinity. There are two modes, as Dr. Chalmers lays it down, of teaching that “most voluminous of all the sciences, theology.” " " " “One method is for the professor to describe the whole mighty series of topics in written compositions of his own.” Another, and our author thinks a better way, is to take certain classics in theology, to prescribe a given portion to be read and digested by the students at home, to subject them to examination in the lecture-room on what they have thus perused and mastered, and then for the professor to give “ prelections” on the successive parts so read, as Dr. Chalmers has done in the volume before us. The plan has this objection, if it is an objection—the student will not be surrounded by the theologico-literary atmosphere of his own day, nor will the latest novelties in theology be presented to his mind, unless the teacher add a kind of supplement to his commentaries. In other points of view the method is a very good one. The student has the printed text of an established classic before him to study at leisure, instead of listening to a spoken lecture that may be far from classical, and of which he, however attentive, can only carry a portion away. A full knowledge of his author will be secured by a proper examination of the pupils, especially if their teacher look into their note-books to see whether they have really made the species of analytical abridgment Dr. Chalmers recommended to his class. Any errors in the original author may be pointed out by the prelector, any obscurities cleared up, and any deficiencies supplied, even to the extent of whole topics if such should be omitted in the originăl. No objection can be taken to Dr. Chalmers’ choice of books. Butler shows the consistency of revelation with creation such as we see it, and the probability of the scriptural revelation; thus placing Christianity on the basis of nature. Paley rightly comes next in order, with historical and logical evidences in support of that Christianity whose possibility Butler had argued for, while he had shown the probability of some revelation. Hill, unfolding a professor's system of what may be called clerical theology, properly closes the series, and winds up with the professional, as it were, in opposition to the general character of the preceding writers. In a scholastic sense, the execution is not equal
* Prelections on, Butler's Analogy, Paley's Evidences of Christianity, and Hill's Lectures in Divinity. ... With two Introductory. Lectures, and four Addresses delivered in the New College, Edinburgh. By the late Thomas Chalmers, DD., if b. (Chalmers' Posthumous Works, Volume IX.), Published by Hamilton and Adams, Lon. don; and Sutherland and Knox, Edinburgh.
to the plan. Probably it was some misgiving as to how far his previous habits and studies had fitted him for the task of unfolding an entire system of theology, that suggested to Dr. Chalmers the course we have described ; since, however generally preferable his method may be, there was no reason why a man of ambition and ability should not have given a course of lectures adapted to his own times. Even in the humbler and more discursive path he has chosen, there is some want of the clearness and closeness of the well-trained scholar and divine. There is something of the platform orator in the manner in which he now and then needlessly heaps illustration upon illustration, and smothers an argument by avoidance or by words, rather than settles it in a close grapple. Occasionally he appears to be averse to “close quarters,” and keeps firing long shots, as much round as at the mark. It should be observed, however, that these observations apply more to Paley's Eridences than to the other authors; and Dr. Chalmers' Notes on Paley are only fragments, the choicer matter having been used in other works. The peculiarities, though not adding to the value of the prelections in a scientific sense, have attraction from their display of the genius of the author, and his well-stored, various, and discursive mind. They also very often contain useful advice to the young divine; and, when impressed by Chalmers' earnest yet playful manner, they might be more serviceable in fact than they may seem in print. The following hints on preaching may be advantageously pondered by young pulpit orators; though they are not likely to repeat the good story that closes them
I doubt if the literary or argumentative evidence is a befitting topic for the pulpit at all. The tendency of the youthful preacher, when warm from the hall, is to prepare and preach sermons on the leading topics of the Deistical controversy, and sometimes even to come forth with the demonstrations, the merely academic demonstrations, of natural theology. It is not stripping the expositions of the pulpit of evidence, and of sufficient evidence, even though the historical argument, or indeed any formal argument whatever, should form no part of them. If, as we believe, the main credentials of Christianity lie in its substance and contents, then you, in the simple unfolding of these contents, are in fact presenting them with the credentials, although you never offer them to their notice as credentials, but simply as truths which do in fact carry the belief by their own manifestation to the consciences of the people. In making demonstration of their guilt, in making proposal to them of the offered remedy, in representing the danger of those who reject the Saviour, in urging the duty of those who have embraced him—when thus employed, you are dealing with what I would call the great elements of preaching ; and it is a mistake, that because not formally descanting on the evidence, you are therefore laboring to form a Christianity among your people without evidence. In the language of the Apostle, what you thus preach can commend itself to every man's conscience, and the resulting faith is neither the faith of imagination
nor of servile compliance with authority; but a faith which has a substantial and vindicable ground of evidence to rest upon, and not the less substantial and vindicable though not one word about the vindication ever passes betwixt you and the people whom you are the instrument of Christianizing.
The most striking example of the inapplicable introduction of an academic subject into the pulpit that I remember to have heard of, occurred many years ago in the west of Scotland; when a preacher, on receiving a presentation to a country parish, preached his first and customary sermon previous to the moderation of the call. The people were not, even from the first, very much prepossessed in his favor ; and he unfortunately did not make ground amongst them by this earliest exhibition of his gifts, he having selected for the topic of his pulpit demonstration the immateriality of the soul. This had the effect of ripening and confirming their disinclination into a violent antipathy, which carried them so far, that they lodged with the Presbytery a formal complaint against him, containing a series of heavy charges; where, among other articles of their indictment, they alleged that he told them the soul was immaterial—which, according to their version of it, was tantamount to telling them that it was not material whether they had souls or no.
This passage is from the Notes on Hill; which are closer than those on Paley, probably for the reason already suggested. We, however, rate the commentary on Butler the highest. The clear, close bogic of the bishop keeps Dr. Chalmers closer to his subject, and the Analogy may have been an old and familiar companion. He takes large views of its subject and treatment ; his criticism is sounder and firmer; though he is more successful in impugning the evangelism than the logic of Butler. The last century was deficient, no doubt, in vital religion ; but perhaps Dr. Chalmers may not have sufficiently discriminated between an argument addressed under an assumed state of things, and an opinion held absolutely. At the same time, it must be allowed that Butler and many of his contemporaries (very pious men too) did not partake of the views of the Puritans, or of the Methodists of the last century, and might not have gone the more sober length of some modern sects as to new birth and the instantaneous effects of grace.
Butler, in one brief paragraph of this chapter, exceeds the usual aim and limit of his argument, and aspires to an absolute windication of the ways of God. He tells us that, in regard to religion, there is no more required of men than what they are well able to do and well able to go through. We fear that he here makes the first, though not the only exhibition which occurs in the work, of his meagre and moderate theology. There seems no adequate view in this passage of man's total inability for what is spiritually and acceptably good; for, by the very analogy which he institutes, the doctrine of any special help to that obedience which qualifies for heaven is kept out of sight. We are represented as fit for the work of religion, in the same way that we are fit, by a moderate degree of care, for managing our temporal affairs with tolerable prudence. There is no account made here of, that peculiar helplessness which obtains in the mat