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prose writers we have had among us in the last sixty years, would ascribe their obligations rather to a much older school than that of the Lake Poets, although they would warmly welcome men who so cordially delighted in old English writers. One, at least, I have known, well known-one whose writings, whether original or translated, owed great part of their force and beauty to an early acquaintance with the works of those authors from whom Basil Montagu made his selections, together with many others whom he has passed by. I allude to the late Mrs. Sarah Austin-whose hand could be traced in everything she wrote, with or without a signature, having no marked peculiarity whatever, except its wonderful beauty and aptness for every occasion on which she employed it. Mrs. Austin was an exact, classical scholar, a capital modern linguist--employed for many years in translating from the German and French-yet, who ever found her diverging into “strange tongues ?' How firm was her loyalty to good Saxon English! how pure, how fresh, how full of meaning was her habitual style!
I cannot but note that she owed this, in a great measure, to the sensible ideas and practice of a mother, who, though she knew no language but her own, was well read in that, and wrote it with grace and purity-who eschewed all affectations most heartily—whose maxim it was first to consider well what you were going to say, and then to say it as well as possible. Perhaps she was inclined, as her daughter afterwards said, to overrate the value of educational advantages which she did not possess, but she was the more to be commended for holding fast to those she could appreciate perfectly. She had a discernment, a trueness, in her critical power I have never seen surpassed. She wrote far better English than Mrs. Hannah Morc, who was spoilt by her Johnsonian imitations ; and in her own range of subjects, in letters, &c., nothing but leisure and practice were wanted to have made her even surpass Mrs. Barbauld, who did not always escape an over-stately mannerism.
sure she appreciated the Queen Anne's school—the papers of Addison, Steele, and Swift-but the beauties of the elder authors, (I speak of prose,) of Hooker, Taylor, Bacon, and Milton, were much more her delight. And so it was that her daughters learnt to love them too-for, though not both of them authors, they both wrote in the same charming manner.
I trust that the remembrance of what has most struck me in intercourse with minds like these, will not be quite valueless as a testimony to matters of fact. Often have I heard these gifted women express a fear, lest the claims of modern books and many accomplishments should more and more shut up from young people's ken the older writers they delighted in. I hope it may not be so; while we have Shakespeare, and while we have good reprints of our best divines, I do not think we
all lose our love of English ; but I should still be very glad to see an enlarged and improved edition of Basil Montagu's Selections, and think it might be made a “Golden Treasury' indeed. The Retrospective Review, some years ago, opened up mines of half-hidden wealth, and its volumes will
always be precious to English readers ; but they are unattainable to many, and it would really be impossible to present the quarter of what might be culled for us, judiciously, in its original form. Some persons tell us, that we are doing a better thing in reprinting the complete works of old authors. For the few it may be better-not, I am sure, for the many; but good, well chosen half-hour readings might often send us to the authors themselves for further enrichment.
There is no doubt that, in any collection or selection, our divines would occupy a considerable place; but we should not think solely of the Churchman-we should especially, I think, take in lay writers ; and if, even in selecting from divines, we can meet with letters or private addresses, so much the better, as taking them off the ground of mere preaching
Leighton would furnish many such ; and shall we give as an example the following letter from Bishop Hall — which Basil Montagu has inserted in his small volumes. It seems to me nearly perfect in its kind. It is addressed to Lord Denny, ‘On the employment of time.'
I have merely omitted two short passages.
TO LORD DENNY.
All days are His, who gave Time a beginning and continuance; yet some He hath made ours, not to command, but to use.
In none may we forget Him; in some we must forget all besides Him. First, therefore, I desire to awake at those houres, not when I will, but when I must; pleasure is not a fit rule for rest, but health : neither do I consult so much with the sunne, as mine own necessitie whether of body or mind. If this vassall could serve me waking, it should never sleepe: but now it must be pleased, that it may be serviceable. Now—when sleepe is rather driven away than leaves me, I would ever awake with God; my first thoughts are for Him who hath made the night for rest, and the day for travell, and as He gives, so blesses both. If my heart be early seasoned with His presence, it will savour of Him all the day after. While my body is dressing, not with an effeminate curiosity, nor yet with rude neglect, my mind addresses herselfe to her ensuing taske, bethinking what is to bee done, and in what order : and marshalling (as it may) my houres with my worke: that done, after some whiles meditation, I walke up to my masters and companions, my bookes, and sitting downe among them, with the best contentment, I dare not reach forth my hand to salute any of them, till I have first looked up to Heaven and craved favour of Him to whom all my studies are duly referred; without whom I can neither profit, nor labour. After this, out of no over great variety, I cull forth those which may best fit my occasions: wherein I am not too scrupulous of age; sometimes I put myselfe to schoole, to one of those ancients, whom the Church hath honoured with the name of Fathers; whose volumes I confesse not to open without a secret reverence of their holinesse and gravitie: sometimes to those later doctors, which want nothing but age to make them classical; alwayes, to God's booke. That day is lost, whereof some houres are not improved to these Divine monumentes: others I turn over out of choice; these out of duty.
Ere I can have sate unto wearinesse, my family, having now overcome all household distractions, invites me to our common devotions; not without some short preparation. These heartily performed, send me up with a more strong and cheerful appetite to my former worke, which I find made easie to me by intermission and varietie; now therefore I deceive the houres with change of pleasures, that is of labours. One while my eyes are busied, another while my hands, and sometimes my minde takes the burthen from them both, wherein I would imitate the skilfullest cookes, which make the best dishes with manifold mixtures : one houre is spent in textual divinitie, another in controversie; histories relieve them both. Now, when the mind is weary of other labours, it begins to undertake her own: sometimes it meditates and winds up for future use : sometimes it layes forth her conceites into present discourse; sometimes for itselfe, often for others. Neither know I whether it workes or playes in these thoughts; I am sure no sporte hath more pleasure, po worke more use; onely the decay of a weak body makes me thinke these delights insensibly laborious. Thus could I all day (as ringers use) make myself musicke with changes, and complaine sooner of the day for shortnesse than of the business for toyle, were it not that this faint monitor interrupts me still in the midst of my busie pleasures, and enforces me both to respite and repast: I must yield to both: while my body and mind are joyned together in unequal couples, the better must follow the weaker.
Before my meales therefore, and after, I let myselfe loose from all thoughts; and now would forget that I ever studied. A full mind takes away the body's appetite no lesse than a full body makes a dull and unwieldy mind: company, discourse, recreations, are now suitable and welcome; these prepare me for a diet, not gluttonons, but medicinal; the palate may not bee pleased, but the stomach; nor that for its own sake.
After my later meale, my thoughts are sleight-only my memory may be charged with her taske of recalling what was committed to her custody during the day, and my hearte is busie in examining my hands and mouth, and all other senses, of that daye's behaviour. And now the evening is come, no tradesman doth more carefully take in his wares, cleare his shop-board, and shut his windowes, than I would shut my thoughts and cleare my minde. That student shall live miserably, which, like a camel, lies downe under its burden. All this done, calling together my family, we end the day with God. Thus do we rather drive away the time before us than follow it. I grant neither is my practise worthy to be exemplary, neither are our callings proportionable. The lives of a nobleman, of a courtier, of a scholar, of a citizen, of a countriman, differ no lesse than their dispositions; yet must all conspire in honest labour.
Sweat is the destiny of all trades, whether of the browes or of the minde. God never allowed any man to do nothing. How miserable is the condition of those men, which spend the time as if it were given them, and not lent; as if houres were waste creatures and such as should never be accounted for: as if God would take this for a good bit of reckoning-Item, spent upon my pleasures, forty yeares! These men shall find that no blood can privilege idlenesse; and that nothing is more precious to God than that which they desire to cast away, time.
Such are my common days: but God's day calls for another respect. The same sun arises on this day, and enlightens it; yet because that Sun of Righteousness arose upon it, and gave a new life to the world in it, and drew the strength of God's moral precept unto it, therefore justly doe we sing with the Psalmist, “This is the day which the Lord hath made.' Now, I forget the world, and in a sort myselfe; and deale with my wonted thoughts, as great men use, who, at some times of their privacie, forbid the accesse of all sutors. Prayer, meditation, reading, hearing, preaching, singing, good conference, are the businesses of the day, which I dare not bestow on any work or pleasure, but heavenly.
I hate superstition on the one side, and loosenesse on the other: but I find it hard to effend in too much derotion, easie in prophanenesse.
The whole weeke is sanctified by this day: and according to my care of this is my blessing on the rest. I show your lordship what I would doe and what I ought: I commit my desires to the imitation of the weake: my actions to the censures of the wise and holy; my weaknesses to the pardon and redresse of my mercifull God.-Bishop Hall's Works, Decad. VI. Epistle I.
I own I cannot read this specimen of calm and simple description of the habits of a good man's life, without longing for more. Owen Feltham, whose · Resolves' were first published in 1628, and have gone through twelve or fourteen editions, was a different manner of man. There is a rigidity and compression in his English ; but if, as is said, he gave to the world his first ‘Resolves' at the age of eighteen, he was surely very remarkable. He was not a clergyman, but is believed to have been a secretary, and master of the horse, to the Earl of Thomond; and in one edition of his works is appended 'a form of prayer for the family of the Countess of Thomond.' This was a loyalist family, destined to high honours by Charles I. in 1645, which, however, were never consummated. We have no information about Owen Feltham's early education. Cambridge is conjectured to have been his university, if he went to any–his father's family being of ancient and gentlemanly repute in Suffolk and Norfolk as early as the reign of Henry III.; indeed, they were the possessors of Feltham’s manor in Norfolk. (See Bloomfield.)
It is evident, in reading the Resolves, that his education was of a high order—that his mind was stored with classical knowledge and historical wealth. Personally, he knew Ben Jonson, and Carew, and Randolph.
The account he gives of his own motives in writing the “Resolves,' is interesting. He says, “What I aim at in it, I confesse hath most respect to myselfe: that I might, out of my own schoole, take a lesson which should serve for my whole pilgrimage: and if I should wander, my own items might set me in Heaven's direct way again.' (Preface to an old edition.)
There is considerable difficulty in giving specimens—but here are one or two:
The good man's goodness lies not hid in himself alone: he tries to strengthen his weaker brother. Good works and good instructions are the productive acts of the soul-out of which spring new posterity to the Church and the Gospel.
How ungratefully he slinks out of life who has done nothing to reflect a glory to Heaven! What a barren tree he is, that lives and spreads and cumbers the ground, and leaves not one seed, not one good work, to generate another after him! I know all cannot leave alike: yet all may leave something answering to their means; and virtue is distributive, and had rather benefit many with injury to itself, than bury benefits that may do good to a multitude. I doubt whether any one will ever find the way to Heaven, who desires to go thither alone. They are envious favourites who desire their kings to have no loyal subjects but themselves. All heavenly hearts are charitable-enlightened souls disperse their rays. I will, if I can, do something for others and heaven : not to deserve by it, but to express myself and my thanks. Though I cannot do what I would, I will labour to do what I can.- -(Part of the Resolve on Man being extensively good.)
My copy of Owen Feltham bears date 1806, and is prefaced by a short account of the Author by James Cumming, Esq.; it is a small 8vo. of 400 pages closely printed.
Feltham's subjects are many. In the first part alone there are eighty of them. In the second nearly as many, longer or shorter. They are mostly brief, yet perhaps the main fault is that they illustrate too much, both by quotation and reference to authorities. He is best when he gives his own shrewd judgment upon social dangers and difficulties, and upon party contests. The reader will often be reminded of Bacon's Essays in reading him—the cast of thought is alike, and the style will occasionally bear a comparison : he is reverent, though not often spiritual; has strong, determined attachment to the English Church, and is much alive to the weak points of the Puritan side-yet has a kindly tone for all.
Of Prayer he speaks very earnestly.
I had rather be deprived of all the solaces of this life-yea, and the ordinances that tend to a better than be debarred of recourse to my God by prayer. Next to Christ, it is man's mediator, to re-instate him in the favour of an offended Deity... Load a man with chains, let him lie upon the rack, and leave him but a live heart, and prayer shall dwell there out of the tyrant's reach, and comfort him.
If it carry us not safely through all roads of danger, the fault is in ourselves, not it : like a faithful companion, when friends, wealth, health, honour, and life are leaving us, this holds us by the hand, and leads us to overlook the shades of death. When speech is gone it lifts up hands and eyes ; and instead of language groans.
In a lighter mood how well he discourses of Loquacity:'
There is nothing tries me more than words—when they clatter, like a loose window, shaken by the wind. A talkative man may be compared to an unbraced drum, which beats a wise man out of his wits. Surely nature did not guard the tongue with the double fence of teeth and lips, without meaning that it should not move too nimbly. Some will preamble a tale impertinently: and cannot be delivered of a jest till they have travailed an hour in trivials; as if they had taken the whole particulars in short-hand, and were reading from their notes; thus they often spoil a good dish with improper sauce. . . Some are addicted to counseling, and will pour it in, even till they stop the ear. Tedious admonitions stupify the advised, and make the giver contemptible. It is the short reproof which stays like a stab in the memory, that tells : and oftentimes three words do more good than an idle discourse of three hours. Some have varieties of stories, even to the wearing out of an auditor: and this is frequently the grave fully of old persons, whose unwatched tongues stray into the waste of words, and give us cause to blame their memories, for retaining so much of their youth...... Doubtless the best thing is to be short, plain, and natural. Let me hear one wise man sentence it, rather than twenty fools-garrulous in their lengthened tattle.
There is a time when we ought to be silent, and a time when we may speak; but there is no time in which all things should be spoken.
Of travel, Feltham speaks charmingly. “Preaching' comes in for some of his thoughts.
It is a wonder to me, how men can preach so little and yet so long : so long a time, and so little matter. ..... I grieve that anything so excellent as Divinity should fall into a sluttish handling. Surely, though other obstructions do eclipse her, yet this is a principal one. I never knew a good tongue that