Page images
PDF
EPUB

fable. But how far was the truth dishonourable to England? American settlers, and not Englishmen, were chiefly the white men calling themselves Christians who were engaged in this affair. I shall be reminded, perhaps, that they also called themselves Loyalists. But for Heaven's sake let not English loyalty be dragged down to palliate atrocities, or English delicacy be invoked to conceal them. I may be told that England permitted the war, and was therefore responsible for its occurrences. Not surely universally, nor directly. I should be unwilling to make even Lord North's administration answerable for all the actions of Butler's rangers; and I should be still more sorry to make all England amenable either for Lord North's administration or for Butler's rangers. Was the American war an unanimous and heartfelt war of the people? Were the best patriots and the brightest luminaries of our Senate for, or against it? Chatham declared that if America fell she would fall like the strong man-that she would embrace the pillars of our constitution and perish beneath its ruins. Burke, Fox, and Barré kindled even the breasts of St. Stephen's chapel against it; and William Pitt pronounced it a war against the sacred cause of Liberty. If so, the loss of our colonies was a blessing, compared with the triumph of those principles that would have brought Washington home in chains. If Chatham and Pitt were our friends in denouncing the injustice of this war, then Washington was only nominally our foe in resisting it; and he was as much the enemy of the worst enemies of our constitution, as if he had fought against the return of the Stuarts on the banks of the Spey or the Thames. I say, therefore, with full and free charity to those who think differently, that the American war was disgraceful only to those who were its abettors, and that the honour of Englishmen is redeemed in proportion as they deprecate its principles and deplore its details. Had my theme even involved English character more than it does, I could still defend it. If my Canadian critic alleges that a poet may not blame the actions of his country, I meet his allegation, and deny it. No doubt, a poet ought not for ever to harp and carp upon the faults of his country; but he may be her moral censor, and he must not be her parasite. If an English poet under Edward III. had only dared to leave one generous line of commiseration to the memory of Sir William Wallace, how much he would have raised our estimation of the moral character of the age! There is a present and a future in national character, as well as a past, and the character of the present age is best provided for by impartial and generous sentiments respecting the past, The twentieth century will not think the worse of the nineteenth for regretting the American war. I know the slender importance of my own works. I am contending, however, against a false principle of delicacy that would degrade poetry itself if it were adopted;-but it never will be adopted.

I therefore regret nothing in the historical allusions of my poem, except the mistake about your father. Nor, though I have spoken freely of American affairs, do I mean to deny that your native tribes may have had a just cause of quarrel with the American colonists. And I regard it as a mark of their gratitude that they adhered to the royal cause, because the governors acting in the king's name, had been their most constant friends, and the colonial subjects, possibly at times their treacherous invaders. I could say much of European injustice towards your tribes, but in spite of all that I could say, I must still

deplore the event of Christians having adopted their mode of warfare, and, as circumstances then stood, of their having invoked their alliance. If the Indians thirsted for vengeance on the colonists, that should have been the very circumstance to deter us from blending their arms with ours. I trust you will understand this declaration to be made in the spirit of frankness, and not of mean and inhospitable arrogance. If I were to speak to you in that spirit, how easily and how truly could you tell me that the American Indians have departed faster from their old practices of warfare, than Christians have departed from their habits of religious persecution. If I were to preach to you about European humanity, you might ask me how long the ashes of the Inquisition have been cold, and whether the slave-trade be yet abolished? You might demand, how many-no, how few generations have elapsed since our old women were burnt for imaginary commerce with the devil, and whether the houses be not yet standing from which our great-grandmothers may have looked on the hurdles passing to the place of execution, whilst they blessed themselves that they were not witches! A horrible occurrence of this nature took place in Scotland during my own grandfather's life-time. As to warlike customs, I should be exceedingly sorry if you were to press me even on those of my brave old ancestors, the Scottish Highlanders. I can, nevertheless, recollect the energy, faith, and hospitality of those ancestors, and at the same time I am not forgetful of the simple virtues of yours.*

I have been thus special in addressing you from a wish to vindicate my own consistency, as well as to do justice to you in your present circumstances, which are peculiarly and publicly interesting. The chief of an aboriginal tribe, now settled under the protection of our sovereign in Canada, you are anxious to lead on your people in a train of civilization that is already begun. It is impossible that the British community should not be touched with regard for an Indian stranger of respectable private character, possessing such useful and honourable views. Trusting that you will amply succeed in them, and long live to promote improvement and happiness amidst the residue of your ancient race,

I remain, your sincere well-wisher,

1

THOMAS CAMpbell.

Considering the filial motives of the young chief's appeal to me, I am not afraid that any part of this letter, immediately relating to him, will be thought ostentatious or prolix. And if charitably judged, I hope that what I have said of myself and of my poem will not be felt as offensive egotism. The public has never been troubled with any defences of mine against any attacks on my poetry that were merely literary: although I may have been as far as authors generally are from bowing to the justice of hostile criticism. To shew that I have not been overanxious about publicity, I must mention a misrepresentation respecting my poem on Wyoming which I have suffered to remain uncontradicted for ten years. Mr. Washington Irving, in a biographical sketch prefixed to it in an American edition, described me as having injured the composition of the poem by shewing it to friends who struck out its best passages. Now I read it to very few friends, and to none at whose suggestion I ever struck out a single line. Nor did I ever lean on the taste of others with that miserable distrust of my own judgment which the anecdote conveys. I knew that Mr. Irving was the last man in the world to make such a misrepresentation intentionally, and that I could easily contradict it; but from aversion to bring a petty anecdote about myself before the world, I forbore to say. any thing about it. The case was different when a Canadian writer hinted at the patriotism of my subject. There he touched on my principles, and I have de fended them, contending that on the supposition of the story of Wyoming being true, it is a higher compliment to British feeling to reveal than to palliate or hide it.

THE FIGHT.

"The fight, the fight 's the thing,

Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

Where there's a will, there's a way.-I said so to myself, as I walked down Chancery-lane, about half-past six o'clock on Monday the 10th of December, to inquire at Jack Randall's where the fight the next day was to be; and I found the proverb" nothing "musty" in the present instance. I was determined to see this fight, come what would, and see it I did, in great style. It was my first fight, yet it more than answered my expectations. Ladies! it is to you I dedicate this description; nor let it seem out of character for the fair to notice the exploits of the brave. Courage and modesty are the old English virtues; and may they never look cold and askance on one another! Think, ye fairest of the fair, loveliest of the lovely kind, ye practisers of soft enchantment, how many more ye kill with poisoned baits than ever fell in the ring; and listen with subdued air and without shuddering, to a tale tragic only in appearance, and sacred to the FANCY!

I was going down Chancery-lane, thinking to ask at Jack Randall's where the fight was to be, when looking through the glass-door of the Hole in the Wall, I heard a gentleman asking the same question at Mrs. Randall, as the author of Waverley would express it. Now Mrs. Randall stood answering the gentleman's question, with the authenticity of the lady of the Champion of the Light Weights. Thinks I, I'll wait till this person comes out, and learn from him how it is. For to say a truth, I was not fond of going into this house of call for heroes and philosophers, ever since the owner of it (for Jack is no gentleman) threatened once upon a time to kick me out of doors for wanting a mutton-chop at his hospitable board, when the conqueror in thirteen battles was more full of blue ruin than of good manners. I was the more mortified at this repulse, inasmuch as I had heard Mr. James Simpkins, hosier in the Strand, one day when the character of the Hole in the Wall was brought in question, observe-"The house is a very good house, and the company quite genteel: I have been there myself!" Remembering this unkind treatment of mine host, to which mine hostess was also a party, and not wishing to put her in unquiet thoughts at a time jubilant like the present, I waited at the door, when, who should issue forth but my friend Jo. Toms, and turning suddenly up Chancerylane with that quick jerk and impatient stride which distinguishes a lover of the FANCY, I said, "I'll be hanged if that fellow is not going to the fight, and is on his way to get me to go with him." So it proved in effect, and we agreed to adjourn to my lodgings to discuss measures with that cordiality which makes old friends like new, and new friends like old, on great occasions. We are cold to others only when we are dull in ourselves, and have neither thoughts nor feelings to impart to them. Give a man a topic in his head, a throb of pleasure in his heart, and he will be glad to share it with the first person he meets. Toms and I, though we seldom meet, were an alter idem on this memorable occasion, and had not an idea that we did not candidly impart; and so carelessly did we fleet the time," that I wish no better, when there is another fight, than to have him for a companion on my journey down, and to return with my friend Jack Pigott, talking of what was to happen or of what did happen, with a noble subject always at hand,

46

and liberty to digress to others whenever they offered. Indeed, on my repeating the lines from Spenser in an involuntary fit of enthusiasm, "What more felicity can fall to creature,

Than to enjoy delight with liberty?”

my last-named ingenious friend stopped me by saying that this, trans. lated into the vulgate, meant " Going to see a fight."

Jo. Toms and I could not settle about the method of going down. He said there was a caravan, he understood, to start from Tom Belcher's at two, which would go there right out and back again the next day. Now I never travel all night, and said I should get a cast to Newbury by one of the mails. Jo. swore the thing was impossible, and I could only answer that I had made up my mind to it. In short, he seemed to me to waver, said he only came to see if I was going, had letters to write, a cause coming on the day after, and faintly said at parting (for I was bent on setting out that moment)" Well, we meet at Philippi!" I made the best of my way to Piccadilly. The mail coach stand was bare. "They are all gone," said I-" this is always the way with me-in the instant I lose the future-if I had not stayed to pour out that last cup of tea, I should have been just in time”—and cursing my folly and ill-luck together, without inquiring at the coach-office whether the mails were gone or not, I walked on in despite, and to punish my own dilatoriness and want of determination. At any rate, I would not turn back: I might get to Hounslow, or perhaps farther, to be on my road the next morning. I passed Hyde Park Corner (my Rubicon), and trusted to fortune. Suddenly I heard the clattering of a Brentford stage, and the fight rushed full upon my fancy. I argued (not unwisely) that even a Brentford coachman was better company than my own thoughts (such as they were just then), and at his invitation mounted the box with him. I immediately stated my case to him--namely, my quarrel with myself for missing the Bath or Bristol mail, and my determination to get on in consequence as well as I could, without any disparagement or insulting comparison between longer or shorter stages. It is a maxim with me that stage-coaches, and consequently stage-coachmen, are respectable in proportion to the distance they have to travel: so I said nothing on that subject to my Brentford friend. Any incipient tendency to an abstract proposition, or (as he might have construed it) to a personal reflection of this kind, was however nipped in the bud; for I had no sooner declared indignantly that I had missed the mails, than he flatly denied that they were gone along, and lo! at the instant three of them drove by in rapid, provoking, orderly succession, as if they would devour the ground before them. Here again I seemed in the contradictory situation of the man in Dryden who exclaims,

"I follow Fate, which does too hard pursue!"

If I had stopped to inquire at the White Horse Cellar, which would not have taken me a minute, I should now have been driving down the road in all the dignified unconcern and ideal perfection of mechanical conveyance. The Bath mail I had set my mind upon, and I had missed it, as I missed every thing else, by my own absurdity, in putting the will for the deed, and aiming at ends without employing means. Sir," said he of the Brentford, "the Bath mail will be up presently, my brother-in-law drives it, and I will engage to stop him if there is a place empty." I almost doubted my good genius; but, sure enough, up it

[ocr errors]

drove like lightning, and stopped directly at the call of the Brentford Jehu. I would not have believed this possible, but the brother-in-law of a mail-coach driver is himself no mean man. I was transferred without loss of time from the top of one coach to that of the other, desired the guard to pay my fare to the Brentford coachman for me as I had no change, was accommodated with a great coat, put up my umbrella to keep off a drizzling mist, and we began to cut through the air like an arrow. The mile-stones disappeared one after another, the rain kept off; Tom Turtle, the trainer, sat before me on the coach-box, with whom I exchanged civilities as a gentleman going to the fight; the passion that had transported me an hour before was subdued to pensive regret and conjectural musing on the next day's battle; I was promised a place inside at Reading, and upon the whole, I thought myself a lucky fellow. Such is the force of imagination! On the outside of any other coach on the 10th of December with a Scotch mist drizzling through the cloudy moonlight air, I should have been cold, comfortless, impatient, and, no doubt, wet through; but seated on the Royal mail, I felt warm and comfortable, the air did me good, the ride did me good, I was pleased with the progress we had made, and confident that all would go well through the journey. When I got inside at Reading, I found Turtle and a stout valetudinarian, whose costume bespoke him one of the FANCY, and who had risen from a three months' sick bed to get into the mail to see the fight. They were intimate, and we fell into a lively discourse. My friend the trainer was confined in his topics to fighting dogs and men, to bears and badgers; beyond this he was "quite chap-fallen," had not a word to throw at a dog, or indeed very wisely fell asleep, when any other game was started. The whole art of training (I, however, learnt from him,) consists in two things, exercise and abstinence, abstinence and exercise, repeated alternately and without end. A yolk of an egg with a spoonful of rum in it is the first thing in a morning, and then a walk of six miles till breakfast. This meal consists of a plentiful supply of tea and toast and beef-steaks. Then another six or seven miles till dinner-time, and another supply of solid beef or mutton with a pint of porter, and perhaps, at the utmost, a couple of glasses of sherry. Martin trains on water, but this increases his infirmity on another very dangerous side. The Gas-man takes now and then a chirping glass (under the rose) to console him, during a six weeks probation, for the absence of Mrs. Hickman-an agreeable woman, with (I understand) a pretty fortune of two hundred pounds. How matter presses on me! What stubborn things are facts! How inexhaustible is nature and art! "It is well," as I once heard Mr. Richmond observe, "to see a variety." He was speaking of cockfighting as an edifying spectacle. I cannot deny but that one learns more of what is (I do not say of what ought to be) in this desultory mode of practical study, than from reading the same book twice over, even though it should be a moral treatise. Where was I? I was sitting at dinner with the candidate for the honours of the ring," where good digestion waits on appetite, and health on both." Then follows an hour of social chat and native glee; and afterwards, to another breathing over heathy hill or dale. Back to supper, and then to bed, and up by six again-Our hero

"Follows so the ever-running sun,
With profitable ardour—”

« PreviousContinue »