Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

XI.

VOLUMINOUS AUTHORS.

HARGRAVE'S STATE TRIALS.

All my life long I have delighted in voluminous works; in other words, I have delighted in that sort of detail which permits so intimate a familiarity with the subjects of which it treats. This fancy of mine seems most opposed to the spirit of an age fertile in abridgments and selections. And yet my taste is hardly, perhaps, so singular as it seems: witness the six volume biographies of Scott and Southey, which everybody wishes as long again as they are; witness the voluminous histories of single events—the Conquest of Peru and of Mexico, by Mr. Prescott, the French Revolution of M. Thiers, the Girondins of M. de Lamartine. Even the most successful writers of modern fiction have found the

magical effects of bringing the public into intimacy with their heroes. Hence Mr. Cooper (dead I regret to say, but yet imperishably alive in his graphic novels,) extended to fifteen volumes the adventures of Leather-Stocking, until every reader offered his hand to greet the honest backwoodsman as if he had been a daily visitor; and Balzac, a still greater artist, brought the same dramatis persone, the same set of walking ladies and gentlemen to fill up the background of his scenes of the “Life of Paris and of the Provinces,” with an illusion so perfect and so masterly, that I myself, who ought to have some acquaintance with the artifices of storytelling, was so completely deceived as to inquire by letter of the friend who had introduced me to those remarkable books, whether the Horace Bianchon, whom I had just found consulted for the twentieth time in some grave malady, were a make-believe physician, or a real living man : to which my friend, herself no novice in this sort of deception, replied that he was certainly a fictitious personage, for that she had written two years ago to Paris to ask the same question.

Even in this world of Beauties, and of Extracts, I do not believe myself quite alone in my love of the elaborate and the minute; and yet I doubt if many people contemplate very long very big books with the sense of coming enjoyment which such a prospect gives me; and few shrink, as I do, with

aversion and horror from that" invention of the enemy—an Abridgment. I never shall forget the shock I experienced in seeing Bruce, that opprobrium of an unbelieving age, that great and graphic traveller, whose eight or nine goodly volumes took such possession of me, that I named a whole colony of bantams after his Abyssinian princes and princesses, calling a little golden strutter of a cock after that arch-tyrant the Ras Michael, and a speckled hen, the beauty of the poultry-yard, Ozoro Esther, in honour of the Ras's favourite wife-I never felt greater disgust than at seeing this magnificent work cut down to a thick, dumpty volume, seven inches by five; except, perhaps, when I happened to light upon another pet book-Drinkwater's “Siege of Gibraltar,” where I had first learned to tremble at the grim realities of war, had watched day by day the firing of the red hot balls, had groped my way through the galleries, and taken refuge in the casemates, degraded from the fair proportions of a goodly quarto, into the thin and meagre pamphlet of a lending library, losing a portion of its life-like truth with every page that was cut away.

Besides books long in themselves, I love large collections of works, of the same class. Shakespeare I had always known, of course. But what joy it was to wander at will through the vellum bound folio of Beaumont and Fletcher, and then to diverge

..

to Ben Jonson, to Massinger, to Ford, to Webster, to the countless riches of Dodsley's Old Plays ! How pleasant to get together books united only by a common subject, collections of English ballads, Percy, Weber, Heber, Ritson, Scott, the Chronicles of Froissart and de Joinville, of Hollinshed and of Hall, the endless Memoirs of Louis the Fourteenth's day, or the still more endless Journals and Diaries, whether by prince or valet, whether false or true, that show us vividly as in life him whom Beranger has called “the great poet of modern times,” the marvellous Napoleon !

Or again, books by the same author : the novels of Richardson; the letters of Walpole—will they come to an end? I hope not.

The majestic verse and graceful prose of Dryden, whose prefaces contain some of our earliest criticism and some of our best; the wisdom of Bacon; the wit of Swift; the easy truth of Jane Austen; the matchless charm of Scott. I have read of Prynne and Defoe more than would break down a writingtable, and about the French Revolution as much as would fill a room.

Nor do I perceive much change in this devouring passion. Nearly forty years ago, I had occasion to acquire as much knowledge as I could on the subject of the Commonwealth, and it was a labour of love. From the lives of Hutchinson and Fairfax, so charmingly told by their loving wives, and the

ever

exciting histories of Burnet and Clarendon to the dullest State Papers of the Record Office, my ravenous appetite “had stomach for them all.” Four winters since, I was reading for my own pleasure, Lucas Monsigny's “Life of Mirabeau.” It was a hired book, a Brussels edition, in ten volumes, from Mr. Rolandi's excellent Foreign Library in Berners Street, and I had only the first four. Full of Mirabeau, of that strange creature his father, and that little less remarkable personage the Bailli, his uncle, worse than the vain, tyrannical father in my mind, because he had a perception of the stupendous intellect and noble nature with which they were dealing, and yet submitted in all things to that heartless coxcomb, the Marquis; full of these people, I could not think of waiting until I had written to London, I should never have closed my eyes; so I ran off to a most kind neighbour, whose rich library and constant indulgence afforded me some chance of supplying this pressing want. “Vie de Mirabeau, par son fils adoptif ?” said the fair daughter, whom I encountered in the park. “Yes,” answered I, with a thousand thanks : “that life of Mirabeau, if Sir Henry happen to have it. any life, any book, by or about him, to serve until I can get the true thing !" And so I went my way! In a few hours, a horse and cart arrived at my door, containing a great trunk, and a note with a key enclosed. And this precious trunk was full of

If not,

« AnteriorContinuar »