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The spectators of this sad ceremony were few. Here and there a soldier of the Parliament walked by the side of the corpse--and some muttered an exclamation of compassion-and some repeated a sentence from the scriptures, which they applied to the fall of him whom they held as a scourge and a tyrant. The inner gates of the fortress creaked heavily on their massy hinges as the funeral passed; and here the guard was numerous. At intervals a file of Parliamentary troops were under arms ;but such precautions seemed unnecessary. Few of the people were admitted within the ward; and no knell announced the melancholy business that was in hand. The evening was lowering;-and fitful gusts of wind echoed along the old and tenantless towers, the only requiem to the soul of the departed. The day was just closed; and the few torches were required, not for splendour but for use. They deepened the gloom;—and the whole scene wore such a character of solemn indistinctness, that those who loved the King felt their weight of grief almost insupportable, and those who hated him had surrendered almost all of their fierceness and their levity, to the associations of death that were about them.
The scanty procession at length reached the western entrance of the chapel. It was here again met by a file of musqueteers, but they exhibited no martial reverence to the remains of a king. No gorgeous tapers shed their illumination over the lofty columns and the fretted roof;—no choral voices sung the sacred dirge which proclaims the hopes of immortality ; no crowds of nobles came in their mantles of state to bear witness to the vanity of all earthly dignities. At the grave, however, stood the faithful Juxon. The bearers put down the corpse in silence ;Herbert and those who followed the king crowded round those remains which would soon pass for ever from their view; and the bishop opened his service book. After a moment's interval he began his duty with a broken and trenulous voice :
“ I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue."
A loud knocking was heard at the outer door. The bishop paused, but proceeded :
“ I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle, while the ungodly is in my sight."
Colonel Whitchot strode into the choir, and with a peremptory voice, exclaimed, “Silence, Master Juxon, silence.” The mourners looked up tremblingly, and the good bishop said,
May we not quietly pay the last duties to our master?" It may not be, Sir, it may not be. Know you not that the Directory has forbidden all vain, and catholic, and anti-christian cere
monies over the dead, which smell of the abominations of the great Harlot ? Soldiers, lower the body into the grave.”
The mandate was quickly executed. The servant of God and the faithful mourners lifted up their eyes to heaven, and waited the issue of this violence. After the musqueteers had lowered the coffin, the three lords, with Dr. Juxon, and Herhert, and two or three anxious followers, went down into the vault; and there the bishop threw himself upon his knees, a motion which all present involuntarily imitated, and exclaimed,
“ Almighty God, with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; we give thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world, beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom.”
“ Amen,” answered all with a firm voice ;-and Whitchot heard that holy sound from the bowels of the grave, and his heart smote him.
ON THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LITERATURE.
This is the age of societies. There is scarcely one Englishman in ten who has not belonged to some association for distributing books, or for prosecuting them; for sending invalids to the hospital, or beggars to the treadmill; for giving plate to the rich or blankets to the poor. To be the most absurd institution among so many institutions, is no small distinction; it seems, however, to belong indisputably to the Royal Society of Literature. At the first establishment of that ridiculous academy, every sensible man predicted that, in spite of regal patronage and episcopal management, it would do nothing, or do harm. And it will scarcely be denied that those expectations have hitherto been fulfilled.
I do not attack the founders of the association. Their characters are respectable ; their motives, I am willing to believe, were laudable. But I feel, and it is the duty of every literary man to feel, a strong jealousy of their proceedings. Their society can be innocent only while it continues to be despicable. Should they ever possess the power to encourage merit, they must also possess the power to depress it. Which power will be more frequently exercised, let every one who has studied literary history, let every one who has studied human nature, declare.
Envy and faction insinuate themselves into all communities. They often disturb the peace, and pervert the decisions, of benevolent and scientific associations. But it is in literary academies that they exert the most extensive and pernicious influence. In the first place, the principles of literary criticism, though equally fixed with those on which the chemist and the surgeon proceed, are by no means equally recognized. Men are rarely able to assign a reason for their approbation or dislike on questions of taste; and therefore they willingly submit to any guide who boldly asserts his claim to superior discernment. It is more difficult to ascertain and establish the merits of a poem, than the powers of a machine, or the benefits of a new remedy. Hence it is in literature, that quackery is most easily puffed, and excellence most easily decried.
In some degree this argument applies to academies of the fine arts ; and it is fully confirmed by all that I have ever heard of that institution which annually disfigures the walls of Somerset-House with an acre of spoiled canvass. But a literary tribunal is incomparably more dangerous. Other societies, at least, have no tendency to call forth any opinions on those subjects which most agitate and inflame the minds of men. The sceptic and the zealot, the revolutionist and the placeman, meet on common ground in a gallery of paintings or a laboratory of science. They can praise or censure without reference to the differences which exist between them. In a literary body this can never be the case. Literature is, and always must be, inseparably blended with politics and theology; it is the great engine which moves the feelings of a people on the most momentous questions. It is, therefore, impossible that any society can be formed so impartial as to consider the literary character of an individual abstracted from the opinions which his writings inculcate. It is not to be hoped, perhaps it is not to be wished, that the feelings of the man should be so completely forgotten in the duties of the academician. The consequences are evident. The honours and censures of this Star-chamber of the Muses will be awarded according to the prejudices of the particular sect or faction which may at the time predominate. Whigs would canvass against a Southey, Tories against a Byron. Those who might at first protest against such conduct as unjust, would soon adopt it on the plea of retaliation; and the general good of literature, for which the Society was professedly instituted, would be forgotten in the stronger claims of political and religious partiality.
Yet even this is not the worst. Should the institution ever acquire any influence, it will afford most pernicious facilities to every malignant coward who may desire to blast a reputation which he envies. It will furnish a secure ambuscade, behind
which the Maroons of literature may take a certain and deadly aim. The editorial we has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead. The academic we would have a far greater and more ruinous influence. Numbers, while they increased the effect, would diminish the shame of injustice. The advantages of an open and those of an anonymous attack would be combined ; and the authority of avowal would be united to the security of concealment. The serpents in Virgil, after they had destroyed Laocoon, found an asylum from the vengeance of the enraged people behind the shield of the statue of Minerva. And in the same manner, every thing that is grovelling and venomous, every thing that can hiss, and every thing that can sting, would take sanctuary in the recesses of this new temple of wisdom,
The French academy was, of all such associations, the most widely and the most justly celebrated. It was founded by the greatest of ministers; it was patronized by successive kings ; it numbered in its lists most of the eminent French writers. Yet what benefit has literature derived from its labours? What is its history but an uninterrupted record of servile compliances-of paltry artifices—of deadly quarrels—of perfidious friendships ? Whether governed by the Court, by the Sorbonne, or by the Philosophers, it was always equally powerful for evil, and equally impotent for good. I might speak of the attacks by which it attempted to depress the rising fame of Corneille; I might speak of the reluctance with which it gave its tardy confirmation to the applauses which the whole civilized world had bestowed on the genius of Voltaire. I might prove by overwhelming evidence that, to the latest period of its existence, even under the superintendence of the all-accomplished D'Alembert, it continued to be a scene of the fiercest animosities and the basest intrigues. I might cite Piron's epigrams, and Marmontel's memoirs, and Montesquieu's letters. But I hasten on to another topic.
One of the modes by which our Society proposes to encourage merit is the distribution of prizes. The munificence of the King has enabled it to offer an annual premium of a hundred guineas for the best essay in prose, and another of fifty guineas for the best poem which may be transmitted to it. laughable. In the first place the judges may err.
Those imperfections of human intellect to which, as the articles of the church tell us, even general councils are subject, may possibly be found even in the Royal Society of Literature. The French academy, as I have already said, was the most illustrious assembly of the kind; and numbered among its associates men much more distinguished than ever will assemble at Mr. Hatchard's to rum
VOL. I. PART I.
This is very
mage the box of the English Society. Yet this famous body gave a poetical prize, for which Voltaire was a candidate, to a fellow who wrote some verses about the frozen and the burning pole.
Yet granting that the prizes were always awarded to the best composition, that composition, I say without hesitation, will always be bad. A prize poem is like a prize sheep. The object of the competitor for the agricultural premium is to produce an animal fit, not to be eaten, but to be weighed. Accordingly he pampers his victim into morbid and unnatural fatness, and, when it is in such a state that it would be sent away in disgust from any table, he offers it to the judges. The object of the poetical candidate, in like manner, is to produce, not a good poem, but a poem of that exact degree of frigidity or bombast which may appear to his censors to be correct or sublime. Compositions thus constructed will always be worthless. The few excellences which they may contain will have an exotic aspect and flavour. In general, prize sheep are good for nothing but to make tallow candles, and prize poems are good for nothing but to light them.
The first subject proposed by the Society to the poets of England was Dartmoor. I thought that they intended a covert sarcasm at their own projects. Their institution was a literary Dartmoor scheme ;---a plan for forcing into cultivation the waste lands of intellect,--for raising poetical produce, by means of bounties, from soil too meagre to have yielded any returns in the natural course of things. The plan for the cultivation of Dartmoor has, I hear, been abandoned. I hope that this may be an omen of the fate of the Society.
In truth, this seems by no means improbable. They have been offering for several years the rewards which the King placed at their disposal, and have not, as far as I can learn, been able to find in their box one composition which they have deemed worthy of publication. At least no publication has taken place. The associates may perhaps be astonished at this. But I will attempt to explain it, after the manner of ancient times, by means of an apologue.
About four hundred years after the deluge, King Gomer Chephoraod reigned in Babylon. He united all the characteristics of an excellent sovereign. He made good laws, won great battles, and white-washed long streets. He was, in consequence, idolized by his people, and panegyrized by many poets and orators. A book was then a serious undertaking. Neither paper nor any similar material had been invented. Authors were therefore under the necessity of inscribing their compositions on massive bricks. Some of these Babylonian records are still preserved in European museums; but the language in which they are written has never been deciphered.