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parts of Europe owe to them, even surrounded as they were by all the rapine and ignorance of the feudal barons, the existence of the useful arts, and the cultivation of a free spirit. Bruges, and Ghent, and Brussels, and other towns of the Low Countries, were the most advanced of any portion of Europe north of the Alps.
While England and France were spreading and enjoying the advantages of “those monstrous mummeries of the middle ages,” chivalry and the feudal system, the trading towns of the Low Countries and of Italy were advancing in all the arts of cultivated life--of intellectual superiority—of physical comfort.
Had it not been for them, we might still have been wrapped in our own untanned skins, with rushes and filth struggling for predominance on our floors, and the diseases incident upon dirt and rude living paying us a visit almost every year. Let it never be forgotten that to the burghers of these towns we owe the art of printing; the revival of painting; the discovery of the mariner's compass, with all its attendant train of benefits—a New World, and the passage by sea to the East. These we owe to the traders of Flanders and of the Italian cities.
For what are we to thank the feudal barons of France and England ? Ignorance, craft, cruelty, and superstition, were all the seed they sowed; and the crop was proportionably barren. They produced, however, a great number of very respectable “robbers and pyllers,”—fellows whose merit consisted in the bullying bravery of highwaymen, combined with something less than the honesty of a modern pickpocket. Ignorant and barbarous themselves, they seized “routes of mules," laden with the produce of other people's skill and industry ;-and these are the sort of men whom we are told to admire, duly despising the race who did no more for humanity than to confer on it all that we at this day consider as giving to it value, and refinement, and beauty! It is not too much to say that we owe all these to the merchants of Bruges and Venice, of Ghent and of Genoa, of Brussels and of Florence. As for the knights and barons, they could neither read nor write; they could only give and receive dry blows and foul language.
THERE were two fathers in this ghastly 'Twas borne by the rude wave wherein crew,
'twas cast; And with them their two sons, of whom Then he himself sunk down all dumb and the one
shivering, Was more robust and hardy to the view; And gave no sign of life, save his limbs But he died early: and when he was quivering.
gone, His nearest messmate told his sire, who threw
'Twas twilight, and the sunless day went
down One glance on him, and said, “Heaven's
Over the waste of waters; like a veil, will be done! I can do nothing ;” and he saw him thrown Which, if withdrawn, would but disclose LEARNING BY HEART.
the frown Into the deep, without a tear or groan.
Of one whose hate is masked but to as
sail. The other father had a weaklier child, Thus to their hopeless eyes the night was Of a soft cheek, and aspect delicate;
shown, But the boy bore up long, and with a And grimly darkled o'er their faces mild
pale, And patient spirit held aloof his fate : And the dim, desolate deep: twelve days Little he said, and now and then he had Fear smiled,
Been their familiar, and now Death was As if to win a part from off the weight here. He saw increasing on his father's heart, With the deep, deadly thought, that they Then rose from sea to sky the wild faremust part.
Then shrieked the timid, and stood still And o'er him bent his sire, and never the brave raised
Then some leaped overboard with dreadful His eyes from off his face, but wiped the yell, foam
As eager to anticipate their grave; From his pale lips, and ever on him And the sea yawned around her, like a gazed:
hell, And when the wished-for shower at length And down she sucked with her the whirl. was come,
ing wave, And the boy's eyes, which the dull film Like one who grapples with his enemy, half glazed,
And strives to strangle him before he Brightened, and for a moment seemed die.
to roam, He squeezed from out rag some drops of
one universal shriek there rain
rushed, Into his dying child's mouth; but in vain!
Louder than the loud ocean-like a
crash The boy expired: the father held the clay, Of echoing thunder; and then all was And looked upon it long; and when at hushed, last
Save the wild wind and the remorseless Death left no doubt, and the dead burden dash lay
Of billows; but at intervals there gushed, Stiff on his heart, and pulse and hope Accompanied by a convulsive splash, were past,
A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry
Till he has fairly tried it, I suspect a reader does not know how much he would gain from committing to memory passages of real excellence; precisely because he does not know how much be overlooks in merely reading. Learn one true poem by heart, and see if you
do not find it so. Beauty after beauty will reveal itself, in chosen phrase, or happy music, or noble suggestion, otherwise undreamed of. It is like looking at one of Nature's wonders through a microscope. Again: how much in such a poem that you really did feel admirable and lovely on a first reading, passes away,
you do not give it a further and much better reading !passes away utterly, like a sweet sound, or an image on the lake, which the first breath of wind dispels. If you could only fix that image, as the photographers do theirs, so beautifully, so perfectly! And you can do so! Learn it by heart, and it is yours
for ever! I have said, a true poem; for naturally men will choose to learn poetry-from the beginning of time they have done so. To immortal verse the memory gives a willing, a joyous, and a lasting home. However, some prose is poetical, is poetry, and altogether worthy to be learned by heart; and the learning is not so very difficult It is not difficult or toilsome to learn that which pleases us; and the labour, once given, is forgotten, while the result remains.
Poems and noble extracts, whether of verse or prose, once so reduced into possession and rendered truly our own, may be to us a daily pleasure ;-better far than a whole library unused. They may come to us in our dull moments, to refresh us as with spring flowers; in our selfish musings, to win us by pure delight from the tyranny of foolish castle-building, self-congratulations, and mean anxieties. They may be with us in the work-shop, in the crowded streets, by the fireside ; sometimes, perhaps, on pleasant hill-sides, or by sounding shores ;-noble friends and companions—our own! never intrusive, ever at hand, coming at our call! Shakspeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson,-the words of such men do not stale upon us, they do not grow old or cold. .... Further: though you are young now, some day you will be old. Some day you may reach that time when a man lives in greater part for memory and by memory. I can imagine a chance renewal, chance visitation of the words long remembered, long garnered in the heart, and I think I see a gleam of rare joy in the eyes of the old man.
For those, in particular, whose leisure time is short, and precious as scant rations to beleaguered men, I believe there could not be a better expenditure of time than deliberately giving an occasional hour-it requires no more—to committing to memory chosen passages from great authors. If the mind were thus daily nourished with a few choice words of the best English poets and writers; if the habit of learning by heart were to become so general, that, as a matter of course, any person presuming to be educated amongst us might be expected to be equipped with a few good pieces, I believe it would lead, far more than the mere sound of it suggests, to the diffusion of the best kind of literature, and the right appreciation of it, and men would not long rest satisfied with knowing a few stock pieces. .
The only objection I can conceive to what I have been saying is, that it may be said that a relish for higher literature belongs only to the few; that it is the result of cultivation; and that there is no use in trying to create what must be in general only a fictitious interest. But I do not admit that literature, even the higher literature, must belong to the few. Poetry is, in the main, essentially catholic-addressed to all men; and though some poetry requires particular knowledge and superior culture, much, and that the noblest, needs only natural feeling and the light of common experience. Such poetry, taken in moderation, followed with genuine good-will, shared in common, will be intelligible and delightful most men who will take the trouble to be students at all, and ever more and more so.
Perhaps, also, there may be a fragment of truth in what Charles Lamb has said,—that any spouting “withers and blows upon a
fine passage;" that there is no enjoying it after it has been “pawed about by declamatory boys and men."
But surely there is a reasonable habit of recitation as well as an unreasonable one; there is no need of declamatory pawing. To abandon all recitation, is to give up a custom which has given delight and instruction to all the races of articulately speaking
If our faces are set against vain display, and set towards rational enjoyment of one another, each freely giving his best, and freely receiving what his neighbour offers, we need not fear that our social evenings will be marred by an occasional recitation, or that the fine passages will wither. And, moreover, it is not for reciting's sake that I chiefly recommend this most faithful form of reading-learning by heart.
I come back, therefore, to this, that learning by heart is a good thing, and is neglected amongst us. Why is it neglected ? Partly because of our indolence, but partly, I take it, because we do not sufficiently consider that it is a good thing, and needs to be taken in hand. We need to be reminded of it: I here remind you.
Like a town-crier, ringing my bell, I would say to you, “ Oyez, oyez ! Lost, stolen, or strayed, a good ancient practice-the good ancient practice of learning by heart. Every finder should be handsomely
If any ask, “What shall I learn ?" the answer is, Do as you do with tunes—begin with what you sincerely like best, what you would most wish to remember, what you would most enjoy saying to yourself or repeating to another. You will soon find the list inexhaustible. Then“ keeping up” is easy. Every one has spare ten minutes; one of the problems of life is how to employ them usefully. You may well spend some in looking after and securing this good property you have won.