Page images

And one would suppose that Essays

afford the pabulum on which the minds II. "OF ESSAY WRITING."

of country readers will love to feed. It is not to be wondered at that Essays Take the country parson for instance, — are popular. We all like gossip. The and the country parson interest is 20,000 human bow cannot always be bent, or strong; will he not find just the sort of its string would soon crack. The most reading he wants in Essays (I do not thinking and aspiring philosopher can- mean “Essays and Reviews”), when he not be always in the cloudland of high comes home to his fireside after going thoughts and aspirations, but must come the rounds of his parish? Whilst he down sometimes to the dead level of has been about his work--I am supcommon everyday humanity, and find posing him to be a conscientious man, — himself swayed more or less by the his mind has been on the stretch in the currents of hopes and fears, of anxieties endeavour to infuse into other minds, and passions, by which his fellow-men duller and less intelligent than his own, are swayed. When Johnson the logician, certain great truths, which have to be and Thompson the great art-critic meet adapted to the individual capacity of each other on the shady side of Pall each person with whom he has been Mall, do you think they fall to imme- talking. He has been striving to rouse diately át a word-battle of dialectics, or dead consciences, and to awaken love in are engrossed by a critical discussion of cold hearts. He has been occupied in Millais's last new picture ? Not a bit of that most difficult work, applying special it. The probability is that the topic remedies to special diseases. Wearied which interests them, and on which and jaded with his labour, with a heart they have so much to say to each other, pierced and stained by contact with is closely connected with Johnson's many forms of sin, as his feet are muddinner-hour, or Thompson's mother-in- stained with the mire of the lanes law. In fact we all like that common through which they have passed, he chat which grows out of our common comes home, to seek refreshment for life. And it is for this reason that Essay- mind and body. Now, what book shall writing, which is only a better sort of he take up, when dinner is over, and the gossip, has been always a popular form reading-lamp throws its cheerful light of literature ; bringing, as it does, lite- overdrawn curtains and crowded shelves? rature home to men's businesses and Fiction would seem too trivial; history, bosoms.

perhaps, too solid. The very thing for And, considering what classes of so- him would be a desultory chat, grave or ciety contribute the great mass of readers gay, with some intellectual and talkative at the present day, the only wonder is friend. And such a friend does he find that the writing of Essays does not form in the Essayist. a more manifest current in that great For the Essay furnishes one of the flood of book-making which is sweeping few instances in which easy writing is the modern mind on to chaos and forget- at the same time easy reading. In the fulness. I suppose that the greater first place it is in some measure fragnumber of readers—of people to whom mentary, and can be taken up and put books are a necessity—is to be found in down at odd times. Then it does not country-houses, amongst those who are profess much. It does not set out with tolerably well educated, and yet are drawing a heavy bill on our attention, isolated and shut off from communion and so we are all the more ready to with

many cultivated minds. To such honour its demands. It does not address people books are society, books are us, so to speak, ex cathedra. It assumes friends. It was not in London, but at no judicial or magisterial functions ; it Foston-in-the-Clay, in the wilds of York- rather comes to us as a cheerful, talkshire, that Sydney Smith exclaimed so ative friend who stops us in the street devoutly, “Thank God for, books!" going to or coming from business, and No. 64.–VOL. XI.


gives us five minutes of pleasant chat enough. Every one will remember as a before passing on his way. And, if an case in point how the great lexicographer, educated man of common average ability who made sprats talk like whales, tried throws open his mind and tells us to explain the word “network” by callfrankly his thoughts, this very frank- ing it a reticulation. I would say then, ness conciliates and disarms the criticism that reviews of books, such as we meet of the private reader; all the more, with in the Quarterly and Edinburgh, perhaps, because such unguardedness are not Essays; nor are biographies

, lays the writer open to the stings of however condensed ; nor are treatises, professional criticism, and is therefore however unmethodical. The great charm becoming rarer and rarer every day. We of the Essay is that of a country footpath, only ask that the writer shall be natural which winds irregularly, and yet gets and unaffected in saying what he has to over the ground somehow; here skirting say: not a great demand truly—and yet a coppice, there passing by a mill and not an everyday virtue this. Moreover, its stream ; now dipping into a hollow, the Essay is almost the only form of and now climbing a hill; giving us the literature in which we can pardon ego- while many a picturesque bit of country tism. In truth egotism is here a virtue life and scenery which an artist would -provided, of course, that it is the like to frame and glaze, and hang upon egotism of a cultivated and thoughtful his walls as a possession for ever. One mind; what would be impertinent in might almost define the Essay, then, as other writers is not felt to be so in the a wit defined the science of metaphysics, Essayist; what would be trifling and as “l'art de s'egarer avec méthode.” mean in the Historian is not held to be But then one must not altogether lose trifling and mean in him. For, if he one's way. There must be a clue held would interest us, he must consider in hand throughout. However the grey. nothing too trivial to press into his hounds of thought may twist and double

, service for illustration of his subject; they must catch their hare at last. But he must give us all those little touches one especial virtue the Essay should, at of manners, and feelings, and fancies, any rate, have-it must be short. I look and facts which serve to give point and upon the average run of Essays of the interest to the daily household chat of present day as altogether too long, clever people. “For my part," says old The Essay proper ought not to exceed Montaigne, à propos des bottes, “I am a those which we meet with in the Specgreat lover of your white wines." Upon tator, or in any of the fifty or sixty which the younger Scaliger comments: volumes which crowd old book-shelves “What the deuce does it matter to us under the title of “ British Essayists." whether he was a lover of white wines And, lastly, the Essay has no business to or red ?". Why it matters thus much, be political. My friend, we have news, that but for these little autobiographical papers enough; we have enough demand touches revealing the man under the upon our thoughts for the day that is writer, Montaigne's Essays would have passing, with its wars and rumours of been what Scaliger's writings are, well- war, its successes or failures, its conflicts nigh unread : dust-gathering, fly-en-political, literary, religious. In these tombing tomes upon scholastic book too we must take our part as becomes shelves.

us,-often perhaps upon opposite sides, But it may be expected that in treat working in the valleys of labour under ing of Essay-writing some definition of the hot sun all day. But in the evening the word asay should be given, that let us come forth and mount the bill its boundary and pomorium should, at together, having washed from our souls any rate, be fixed. Now this is a diffi- the taints and bitternesses of the fray, cult thing to do. Any kind of definition that we may meet the fresh breeze of is hard and unsatisfactory, and apt to heaven, and see the sunset still lingering obscure what before perhaps was plain in the sky.




AN EDINBURGH BROTHERHOOD-AGOSTINO RUFFINI. My first acquaintanceships in Edinburgh, gatherings, we did propose to call ourformed chiefly in and about the Uni- selves a club; but, though we even versity, led to others and others of a thought of a name, the proposal came more general kind, until, continuing to to nothing, as too precise and mechanical reside in that city after my direct con

for our limited number and our subtle nexion with the University had ceased, requirements. In vain, then, will the I settled into the more familiar society annals of modern Athens be searched of a pretty definite group of very dear for any documentary trace of what was, friends. For, though Edinburgh is of nevertheless, for some years prior to such a size that everybody in it may 1848, a very real, and not unimportant, after a fashion know everybody else, fellowship of souls within its bounds. yet even there affinities are at work, There still remain there, indeed, one or overruling opportunities, and bringing two who were of us, and who persome into closer relations with each chance, looking round among the new other than any which they can hold associates that time and change have with the general body. And so, while given them, may sometimes revert in there was not one member of the fra- memory to the older ones that are gone, ternity of which I speak that had not a and even assert of them, “fuere fortes,” range of acquaintances of his own in when they speak of them to their the general society of the place, this successorsdid not prevent, among the members collectively, a certain feeling as if they

“ They do not listen to my present singing,

The souls to whom I sang my maiden song ; belonged peculiarly to each other. There Dispersed the friendly few once round me was no external recognition of the fra- clinging; ternity, no approach to a club-organiza- My sorrows to the ears of strangers bringing,

Silent, alas ! the echoes heard so long ; tion. We simply liked to be together

I feel their very praise a kind of wrong, when we could, and, by various ways Since those who once delighted in my ditties and means, were a good deal together. Are dead, or scattered through the wide world's Now it would be the late evening chat

cities." and smoke of one or two of us a kind What was thus felt in Weimar, by of cabinet council for the rest-in the the poet who saw himself surviving so rooms of one in particular; now it many of his former friends, the same, would be a short afternoon stroll of one with the due alteration in the mode of or two, or three or four, of us; at expressing it, must one or two men in intervals it would be a dinner or supper, the city of which I am now thinking volunteered by one who had household feel on looking round them, and comfacilities for such hospitality; and the paring the present with the past. Though largest development which the thing their “singing" may be of no public took was, once or twice in the year, a kind at all, but only the private utterhotel-dinner at Granton, a fish-dinner ance in unrestrained hours of whatever at Newhaven, or a joint excursion for a comes into their minds, for them also, day to the Pentlands, ending not on- whatever may be the compensation of convivially in some inn near Hunters' new intimacies, there must be moments Tryst. Once, at one of these larger when they have a regretful pleasure in surrounding themselves again in fancy himself, reading his Dante, or, with his with the faces of the earlier group. dark eyes fixed on the coals, pursuing “ Dead or scattered ”-how true of that the track of his own ruminations. particular fraternity of which I speak ! And who was this Ruffini ? Writing Methinks I hear one of its Edinburgh now, I may make him at once less unsurvivors reckoning up, for the informa- known to many by saying that he was a tion of the new-comers about him, the younger brother of the Giovanni Ruffini losses in both lists. So-and-so, and whose “Lorenzo Benoni,” “ Doctor Anso-and-so, and yet such another, he tonio,” “ Lavinia,” and other stories, have would reckon among the scattered- within the last few years shown us telling of them as still in the land of how beautifully an Italian, though not the living, but almost lost sight of by residing among us, may write English, dispersion. Then, in the more sacred and have made it a pleasure to count category of the dead, are there not at him among our living English authors. least two whom he would mention in Even before there was this means of inchief? Certainly, if the tradition of troducing my friend, it might have been that one of the two whom I am to speak enough, so far as a few were concerned, of in this paper has faded from the to say that he was one of that family memory of Edinburgh, and is not there of the Ruffinis of Genoa whose sufferstill fresh and bright, intellects are less ings in the old days of Piedmontese discerning, and hearts are colder, than despotism are matter of historical record. they used to be round Arthur Seat. In Louis Blanc's “History of Ten Years”

may be read a reference in particular to AGOSTINO RUFFINI.

the tragical death of one of the brothers,

the young Jacopo Ruffini, after the disHe was, I may say, the centre of the

covery of the design of a general Italian group. Its constituting principle, I may insurrection organized in 1833 by the say, was our common affection for Ruffini. “ Young Italy” party, and which was to Whatever we were individually, or in have its beginning in Piedmont. But other relations, we might, as a fraternity, let me speak of Agostino Ruffini apart have been called the Ruffinians. Who- from such associations, and simply as he ever in Edinburgh knew Ruffini with would have been recognised casually in the due degree of intimacy was actually Edinburgh in those days, before the or potentially one of us. “Or poten- apocalyptic '48, when insurrections and tially” I say, for it has happened that

for it has happened that Italy were by no means such respectable persons who never chanced to meet

things to the British imagination as they each other within the bounds of any of have become since. Well, to the casual those little gatherings which I have view of Edinburgh in those days, he was called more especially those of the fra- a teacher of Italian. It was but a small ternity, have afterwards, on coming effort of reasoning, however, to conclude, together, at once felt themselves old on seeing him, that such a man as he friends, on the simple ground of their had not become a teacher of Italian in having both been friends of Ruffini. Edinburgh on the mere principle of All the more strange was this because voluntary tendency to the position of Ruffini sought no such influence, and perfect felicity. To any one, therefore, was quite unconscious of the magnetism who cared to inquire, it was not difficult that made him such a bond of union. to ascertain that he was a Genoese who In truth, when I think of it now, I had been driven into exile at an early suspect that our attractedness towards age in consequence of some political turhim must have sometimes been a trouble moil in 1833 (no one pretended then to to him, and that, on many an evening exact information about such events), when we gave him our company or and who, after leading the life of a compelled him to be one of us, he would refugee in Switzerland, Paris, and Lonrather have been smoking his pipe by don, had come to Edinburgh in 1840 to

settle there at the age of about thirty. the benefit of any allowance for his being He had brought some introductions with a foreigner, in favour of any points of him, and with such effect that, after demeanour differing from the standard living for a while in lodgings, he had of those among whom he was living, pupils enough for his purpose, and found that he had tried to cure himself of the it convenient to become tenant of the habit of gesticulation when he spoke. upper part of a house in George Street, He had done this in a very characteristic paying rent and taxes like an ordinary way, by writing on the margins of the citizen. This house in George Street books he most frequently took up the was his domicile during the whole time words, “Ruffini, don't gesticulate. He of his stay in Edinburgh after my ac- had succeeded in a great measure, but quaintance with him began. It was not quite. He retained some little movethere that we used to drop in upon

him ments with his shoulders and a peculiar in the evenings; it was thence that we emphatic lifting of his forefinger to his lured him to join us elsewhere on any cheek, which gave great point to what he occasion we could devise; it was in virtue said, and which we would not willingly of the tendency of the footsteps and the have parted with. Another spiteful thoughts of so many different persons thing he was driven to do to himself on thither that there was formed in Edin- the same principle. He wrote most burgh what I have called the Ruffinian beautiful hand,- one of those very small, fraternity. Whenever I am in Edin- upright, print-like hands, with picburgh now, it is with a strange feeling turesquely-formed square letters, which of melancholy that I pass the house, and seem to have been taught in the schools look up at what were Ruffini's windows. in some parts of Italy. He had heard

Ruffini was a man of middle height, so much said of this hand, had been of spare figure, slightly bent forward at praised for it so much, and questioned the shoulders by sedentary habits, of the bout it so much, that at length the normal dark Italian complexion, and with thing became a horror to him, and he features also Italian but far from regular deliberately changed it for the worse, or handsome, – the nose in particular keeping the same square character in the blunted somewhat Socratically, but the writing, but making it more open and brow full, and the eyes of a deep soft clumsy, so as effectually to stop farther black. The general expression was grave, flattery on that score. In such-like reserved, and gentle, with a possibility little traits of self-castigation and selfof sternness. Our northern climate and adjustment a higher reason, I believe, east winds told cruelly at times on his was involved than he avowed, or than health and spirits; he was seldom long such detached telling of them would free from rheumatism or neuralgia, and suggest. It was not, most certainly it was abnormally sensitive to malevolent was not, that he wanted to doff or disapproaching changes of weather. In all guise the Italian. On the contrary, it his personal habits he was scrupulously was because of the very strength of his fastidious, conforming in every possible Italian self-respect. It was because of respect to English custom. Whether in a regard for his country so deep and his old dressing-gown, seated in the arm- proud that it recoiled from the notion chair in the plain attic room to which he that his nationality should be identified confined his smoking, or as he walked with accidents, mannerisms, and trifles, out with his cane, or as he was to be and would take steps to rest the Italian seen in a drawing-room with other guests, claim only on its essentials. his bearing was that of a quiet and He was, indeed, an Italian to the very perfectly-bred gentleman, who might soul. In the fact of his being an Italian, have been mistaken for an Englishman, and so high and just a specimen of the but for his Italian face and accent, and race, lay the first and most general a certain ease of courtesy which was also source of his impressiveness among us. Italian. So unwilling was he to take He was sent among us by Providence,

« PreviousContinue »