Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

6

(

6

with laughter, and at times tinged with cutting satire. Bits of genuine information lift the characters out from the ideal, and clothe them in the old quaint garments of the period. A country gentleman went to Court in yellow stockings, and learned to kisse his hand & make a legge both together;' a fine gentleman, lest he should take fidlers unprovided, whistles his owne galliard.' An Innes of Court man,' with his silk stockings and beaver hat, 'laughs at every man whose band sits not well or that hath not a faire shoe-tie;' and a fencer his foile, and his doublet, weare not out above two buttons,' whom the Lord Mayor's triumph makes him a man, for that's his best time to flourish.' And the hypocritical timeserver is delightfully portrayed in the words: 'He reads the statutes in his chamber, and weares the Bible in the streetes,'-i.e. attached to the girdle, which was not uncommon at the author's time. He describes another character: His zeal consists much in hanging his Bible in a dutch button.' The affectation of gentility is hit off in the courtier, whom you shall find in Pauls with a picke tooth in his hat, a cape cloak, & a long stocking.' A young lawyer who doth itch towards a poet,' is described as eating ginger-bread at a playhouse,' and 'ventures fairly for a broken pate at the banquetting house.' 'A councellor at law loves the velvet breeches he was first made barester in.' Young gallants' ordinary sports are cock fights, and actors 'entertaine us in the best leasure of our life, that is betweene meales.' The 'habit' of the watchman is a long gowne made at first to cover his knavery, but that growing too monstrous, hee now goes in buffe.' It was a time when a chambermaid 'reads Greene's works over & over,' and old men count it an ornament of speech to close the period with a cough; & it is venerable to spend time in wiping their driveled beards.' Then wise men did not chuse friends by the subsidy-book,' and a franklin, an ancient yeoman of England, 'allowes of honest pastime, & thinkes not the bones of the dead anything bruised, or the worse for it, though the country lasses dance in the churchyard after evensong.' Rock Monday and the wake in summer, shrovings and the ketches on Christmas Eve, he yearly kept, yet holds them no reliques of popery;' and a country maid, 'in choosing her garments, counts no bravery i' th' world like decencie.' A youth of spirit and frolic, y'clept a Roaring Boy, sleepes with a tobacco-pipe in 's mouth,' and 'commonly dies like Anacreon, with a grape in's throat; or Hercules, with fire in's The forcible realism, the simple vigour, the life-like humours of these whims and accurate descriptions, the scraps, the bits, and greasy relics' of these bygone times, are written in the spirit of delightful serio-comedy. Even assuming that he wrote not for absolute truth and accuracy of expression, in his captivating conceits and quaint quips, there is a mighty gladness in life as he it, which is made lovely by the fulness and freshness of his spirits, and the buoyant setting of his dainty expressions. National characteristics are so beautifully mixed with the graver and lighter

6

marrow.'

saw

6

6

side lights, that one's heart goes out involuntarily with the exquisite fragments of what was once every-day speech. The simple expressions, meant with no rhetorical effect, come direct to us with all the force of genuine table-talk. A young gallant is pointed out, for, as he leaves the room, 'tis with a kind of walking epilogue between the two candles, to know if his suit may passe for currant;' another 'sits in as great state over his penny-commons as ever Vitellius did at his greatest banquet;' the country gentleman speakes statutes & husbandry well enough to make his neighbors thinke him a wise man;' and the elder brother's 'ambition flies justice-height.' We meet with the 'Meere Common Lawyer,' who next 'tearme walks his hoopsleeve gowne to the hall,' and the dame whose wrie little finger bewraies carving.' He who delights in such information and such manners will find ample in Overbury to satisfy him; and in those times the boare's head' was the first dish on Christmas Day, and at one's elbow a tankard of March beere,' while ladies, perfumed with 'pomanders,' ornamented with 'partlets,' and danced the popular galliard.'

Whether in the choice of words and idioms, or in the construction of sentences, Overbury followed the manly and direct British style, which disregarded, and yet in its disregard attained a wonderful power of rhetoric. We have here in a fair state of preservation the idiom of our language, the mother tongue, as spoken by educated men and courtiers. And although the French method was to a certain extent followed, the periods being uniformly short, unelaborate and rapid, a swell and cadence move occasionally when required, and the quickness of a period is now and again broken and rolls away with a pretty conceit or a surprising fancy. His sentences are simple structures, brief, terse, simple, of the old English idiomatic talk. Beginning with something like a definition of the character, he looks at it from various side views, and ends by a bit of sarcasm or a show of wit. As in good conversation, he passes easily from one point to another, or, as in the game of hunt the slipper, he never lingers over one feature, but briskly moves backwards and forwards, so he neither becomes dull nor alloquial. And in this idiomatic language he never draws our attention from the subject or from himself by learned quotations or critical disputations; we at once come face to face with the character. He is singularly free from references to authors; indeed one would think that Shakespeare, who lived so shortly before him, or the authors of the Elizabethan period, had no existence; and when he borrows, it is a phrase from an older song or ballad.

Hallam thought that the wit was often flat: of that we fear he was but an indifferent judge, he having little mother wit; but he, no doubt, expressed the opinion of the nineteenth century mind when he considered Overbury occasionally vulgar. To us this only shows that our author was a real piece of humanity in those days. There is no mark of the vulgar in his best portraits-the mirth of a Good Woman is so clear that you may looke through it, into vertue, but

6

not beyond,' though it may be deemed by some that such a stain rests on a very woman who 'sends religion afore to sixty, where she never overtakes it, or drives before her againe.' The keen touch of laughing satire is felt in the neat description of a Fine Gentleman, who sighs sweetly and speaks lamently; for his breath is perfumed and his words are wind;' and the barb of sarcasm is felt in the words of an Ignorant Glory Hunter, who confesseth vices he is guiltlesse of, if they be in fashion.' He admired in no faint manner an old English butler and housekeeper, and the true English spirit of the time railed against French cooks, to whose skill he had a delightful John Bull antipathy, as they were only fit to wake a funeral feast, where men should eat their victuals in mourning.' A great part of his humour consists in whimsical conceits, which he renders attractive in their strange setting. Stern critics might consider them ill-natured, but they are only piquant, no doubt with a strong flavour at times.

Himself a gentleman of courtly speech and courtly manners, he has paid the gentle sex some of the neatest and heartiest compliments they can receive. Old and wise and melancholy men he reverenced in a true spirit; and one who could bestow such sincere tributes of respect and admiration to good women, old and young, as Overbury did, could have been no vulgar man. The sentences flowed from a close and appreciative reader of the best characters. A good woman, as he naïvely said, 'seekes not an husband but finds him;' a husband without a good wife is misery in men's apparel, to whom she is both a staff and a chain;' but for a 'Vertuous Widdow' he reserves the wealth of his genuine reverence: She is like the purest gold, only imployed for princes medals, she never receives but one man's impression. . . . She ought to be a mirrour for our younger dames to dresse themselves by, when she is fullest of wrinkles. . . . She hath laid his body in the worthiest monument that can be; she hath buried it in her owne heart.' The poetic, grave, and tender fancy is clothed in the simple beauty of the old words. Equally well sketched is the young gallant, who is sadly disturbed to maintain talk with a gentle woman,' which Goldsmith's Young Marlowe repeats almost to the word; and the conceited man, who laughs to think what a foole he could make of Solomon, if hee were now alive.'

6

The fire of the national British spirit sparkles in the Worthy Commander in the Warres.'. It is a song in praise of the pluck and heroism of the indomitable British commander, ringing in notes of hearty cheer and spirited as the call of a cavalry trumpet. The enthusiasm for brave, daring deeds is tempered with a generons 'noble heaviness.' He figures as an honest man which no coward can be, and he never bloudies his sword but in heat of battel.' The martial spirit that breathes through the character is the same mighty force which animated our old English commanders and admirals, who knew not fear, and were made courtiers by being so honourably mercifull to women in surprizall.' He approved of the old conditions on

6

C

which a war could be concluded by an assured peace; absolute victory or an honest death;' and his prayers best became him when armed cap à pe; like the Hebrew generall he utters them on horseback." The quick, quaint fancy of our author completes the portrait in all the glory associated with our historical English hero, who belongs to no period but to the occasion, and who in our hand-shakes with war each century is held up as a mirror for generals to measure themselves by; and lastly, when peace folds him up, his silver head should lean neere the golden sceptre and dye in his princes bosome.' Now look on the other portrait, that of a 'Vaine-glorious Coward in command,' which he has satirised in scorn. There's a great amount of the Bombastes furioso in him who has received this mighty t characteristic title, and it is a piece of broad comedy. There may be a little ill-nature in the description of him at muster: 'he goes with such noise, as if his body were the wheele barrow that carried his judgment rumbling to drill his souldiers;' but there is a fine touch of delightful, though it may be extravagant humour, and also a dash of the picturesque, in these words: When he comes at first upon a camisado, he lookes like the four winds in painting, as if he would blow away the enemy; but at the very first on-set suffers feare and trembling to dresse themselves in his face apparently.'

6

His play of humour never rises into gusty storms, his plainness of speech, or, as it may be now considered, his coarseness, never rushes into peals of burly oaths, and his flatness is relieved by interesting facts of old manners and a store of ever poetic imagery, to the delight of those who admire old customs, even to the eating of red-herring, and going wet-shod.' All his characters are now in the misty world of shadowland. The simple, idiomatic language has in its tender pathos something 'dearly sweet and bitter,' like the taletalk of an old nurse; and in his own exquisite words life is the tilted lees of pleasure, dasht over with a little decking to hold colour.' His best prose, not dappled with ink-horn terms,' is enriched with the richness of the Elizabethan period; his sentences trip to the old dance music, though his poetry and prose, to quote a line of the former

Both may bud; grow greene, and wither.

He does not, like Montaigne, sit in his arm-chair and converse with us; but he is the companion in our walks on foot in the city and country; and with infinite delight he points out the maid who rises with chanticlere, and at night makes the lamb her curfew.'

JAMES PURVES.

CALLADON.

CHAPTER I.

ABRACADABRA.

IF
F you were to take three hoops, the second half as large round as

the first, and the third half as large round as the second, and lay them on the floor one inside of the other, you would have a groundplan of the house in which Calladon lived. The outermost wall was built of brick, and had five narrow windows; the middle wall was of stone, and had also five windows; the inner wall was of the purest alabaster, and was a kind of window in itself.

In the centre of the innermost room a lamp was always burning, and the light which it gave out was so soft and penetrating that it glowed through the alabaster walls and illuminated the room outside with a pale white lustre, and some rays penetrated through the windows of this room, into the outermost room of all, and there met the darkness that streamed in through the outer windows—for the house stood in that part of the world where it is night all the year round. The name of the innermost room was Abra ; that of the middle room was Cada, and that of the outermost room was Bra. The whole house, therefore, was called Abracadabra.

It was a curious thing about this house, that if you were in Abra, you could see into both Cada and Bra, but, if you were in Cada, you could not see into Abra, and if you were in Bra, you could not see into either Abra or Cada. As a general thing, it is easier to see from

. darkness towards light than from light towards darkness. But there was probably something peculiar about this light—and, for the matter of that, about this darkness too.

As for Calladon himself, he was one of the best-behaved boys ever known, and he was not less good-looking than he was good. He was a fine, straight-backed, rosy-cheeked little fellow, with bright eyes, a cheerful voice, and an obedient spirit. He was seven years old, and knew as much as it is well for a boy of his age to know.

This was due to the Master who had charge of him, and who had put across his breast the gold sash, which always pressed against his heart when he wished to do wrong, and reminded him to stop. The Master had lived with Calladon ever since Calladon could remember, and probably for a good while before that. The Master had tended him in his illness, played with him in his plays, helped him in his studies, and sympathised with him in his troubles. Calladon loved the Master as much as if he had been his father and mother in one. Who his father and mother might be, he, however, did not know; but the Master used to tell him that when his education was finished he should see them.

« AnteriorContinuar »