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“I bave often spoken of myself in these letters, because self-knowledge is professed in the title of them to be one of the subjects treated: many will reject such a subject as inadınissible; but they who entertain, it will probably think that I have said too little, rather than too much on it. I consider Montaigne's Essays, with all their faults, to be one of the golden books of literature: they are almost all about himself, his own opinions, sentiments, speculations, and habits." (0 modesty!)
But we really begin to feel that we have quoted too much nonsense from a book, which, after all that we have said, we have no wish whatever, to represent as etterly valueless. It is indeed the greatest of all blessings that few can write much in this way from themselves, without writing something that the world will prize. But in spite of all his ridiculous theories, Sir Egerton Brydges is a man of talents, and having had the fortune to be born in a high station, and in spite of himself and his system to have mingled a good deal in the course of his life with men of acknowledged eminence in the world, he has not been able to write a book under the title of recollections without giving us some chapters such as none can read without interest. In a late paper on Lord Byron, we had occasion to say some things about Sir Egerton which we would hope may serve as a sufficient introduction to certain passages which we are now about to quote from this, the really valuable portion of the present work. In point of fact we consider Sir Egerton to be exactly like Don Quixote, (but he will not understand us, since nobody reads Cervantes,) a madman upon one subject, and an extremely sensible person upon all others. Take him off his theories about genius, and poetry, and wit, and the vox populi, and Sir Egerton, restored to himself in a twinkling, thinks and talks in a style calculated to do him much honour. We do not mean to say that he talks so that every one must agree with him, or even so that we agree with him, (though we often do;) but that he always talks so as to be well worthy of a hearing.
Exempli gratia, take the following little excursion from Naples to London.
“Naples is, as a city, the most pleasant capital I have yet seen; and next to it, Florence. Of London it is not necessary to say here what I think; it would add to my enemies when there is no occasion,-and I have already more than enough. But i may say, that when young I never approached it without horror, and never left it without delight. I had an uncle, (the only uncle I ever remember,)-he lived to seventy,-ihe most cheerful and ainiable country gentleman whom imagi. nation can form,-a perfect sportsman,- the best rider of his day,—who, when he could no longer follow the severer chase of the fos, rode after his beadles with ad.. mirable skill till within three weeks of his death, but caught a cold in his vocation, in a severe wintry day, which brought him to his grave: he had been a imember of the Middle Temple after he left college, and kept all his terms, and he was accustomed to say, that when lie had mounted Shooter': Hill, and saw black London in the smoke beneath him, he grew sick, his heart sunk, and his spirits never rose again, till, having mounted the other steep of the same hill, he could look back and laugh bis leave of it! Yet he did not love mere solitude; he was the most lively and talkative companion whom I have ever known, of infinite humour, and some wit,
“I remember London such as it was when Miss Burney's Cecilia came out, and such as she describes it in that novel;--when the great public entertainment of the season was Ranelagh, to which no equal substitute has ever succeeded; when
the town was beginning to be very ridiculous with a thousand follies;—when East Indians and West Indians were, by their glitter, driving all the old families out of society; but when still they thought it necessary to perch upon landed property in England, and re-issue from it. The modern dazzlers are content to issue directly from the alley. (Indeed, stock.jobbing is now a principal employ of every great city in Europe; and even the small city of Geneva occupies itself with little else.) I need not dwell on the evil or the meanness of this species of gambling, which does ! not add an atom to the wealth of nations, but only transfers from one to another by a system of habitual chicaneries. I remember English society thus almost turned topsy-turvy: scarce a name that now flourishes in fashion had then been eren heard of.”
Sir Egerton, as we have had occasion to see ere now, is no lover of the Beau Monde of modern London. Towards the conclusion of the present book, we have him thus denouncing it pleno ore.
“To define or analyse of what that little world consists is an utter impossibility. Its materials are so heterogeneous, whimsical, and irregular, that the very supposition of its existing by any principle is absurd. We know what it affects: it af. fects to consist of persons of the highest rank, birth, and wealth, who therefore are entitled to give the ton by the elegance of their manners, accomplishments, and habits. But in fact, all who are acquainted with the world, can prove that it does not answer any one of these ingredients. It has, perhaps, some persons of the higher titles of nobility mixed up with it; but these very sparingly; and even then almost always of equivocal origin and character; and, without exception, of frivolous minds; all the rest are the bubbles of forward and usurping vanity, blown up by foolish arrogance and an unfeeling desire of distinction, hardened in its outset to all rebuffs.
“These little puffed-up parties, which throw round themselves such a myste. rious consequence, and obtain such an unfounded influence over the light-headed multitude, who stare and wonder without examining, do not gain their superiority without a great deal of finesse, management, and intrigue. They have their petty cabinets in which they exercise as much diplomacy, mean contrivance, and duplicity, as the politicians who govern states. They also call in the aid of political faction; which, in return, while it despises them, calls on them for its own purposes. I have heard of a silly, countess thus made the head, that she might draw in the young, the light, the vain, and the weak.
“There is, probably, no capital in the world where all this has been so much played off as in London; and there are many reasons for it, arising from its extraordinary size, its mixed manners, and still more mixed population. No where else is wealth so suddenly acquired; does it fluctuate so much ; or has it so much influence: no where else are ranks so little marked, and men so little traced and contrasted from one situation to another. Even he who attends his ware-house or retail-shop in Wapping, of a morning, gives a splendid dinner or assembly in a fine house in a western square of an evening, or drives out in a beautiful equipage, with all its due accompaniments of servants and horses, without a suspicion that he is the same person. Money will do every thing! the extreme vulgarity of his language and ideas, which cannot be shaken off, will be passed quite unnoticed in the highest company; and if it is thought that he can give his daughter fifty or sixty thousand pounds, a distressed duke will not hesitate to marry her. • As, therefore, there is nothing in meanness of birth, manners
, occupation, and character, which will keep a man out of leading society, he who is the greatest intriguer, and has the strongest stimulus to undergo the pain of servility, and various other disagreeable and degrading sacrifices, is the best qualified, and most likely to succeed, as an aspirant in the circles of fashion. There must always be a certain sprinkling of title and rank; but these are easily had among the more frivolous and trifling members of the very multiplied modern and mongrel nobility; and there will always be some stray fools from the highest, to disgrace their cast.
“The low aspirants, though best qualified to succeed finally, will not gain a bloodless victory. It must be a task of long perseverance, and many rubs and wounds. He must patiently, and with apparent indifference, endure a long series of provocations and insults; he must be obsequious, active, profuse, ostentatious;
a slave to forms and etiquettes, reserved, mysterious, cunning, affected and false. A long service of this kind will at length accustom those to him on whom he has fixed himself; they will then submit, partly by habit and partly by necessity to have him among them on terms of nearer equality. From that day he shares the influence of the cast over the uninitiated; and his tyranny is exercised in proportion to the cost of his power.
“Almost all the great families, at least all the manly and dignified members of them,--all persons of true genius or talent,-all who are engaged in solid occupations,--all who are employed in matters of state or legislation,-all pursuing grave literature,-all seriously addicted to grave and honourable professions,-keep aloof from these most contemptible trickeries of distinction. Temporary recruits are sometimes found from weak young men of good provincial families with good fortunes: but they almost always retire in disgust after the first vanities of youth are over ;---sometimes, perhaps, with the inalienable incumbrance of a cast-off Lady Belty, or Lady Jane, who has outstood the market among her titled companions.
“It is true, that there are little wits and poetasters, who join themselves to these societies; and who think that what they say and write is to have a great additional value because they bave been so admitied. And so it will have among those coterics, and this too will be extended a little beyond themselves; but it is all hollow, as themselves are; and will soon die, and be forgotten. I wonder these men have not too much pride, thus to be made tools of, and treated like mountebanks or conjurors.
Though money will do every thing in England, as to introduction and respect in society, it will not do it without the aid of a forward, intruding, unfeeling temper, and a great deal of arrogance, vanity, and pretension. To make it all a jumble of contradictions, aristocratical pride and insolence prevails at present more than ever; but while it is thus offensive to the meek and unpretending, it submits with incredible meanness to upstart riches and brass-faced intriguing adventurers; so that society at once incurs the opposite evils of aristocratic pride, new wealth, and impudent adventure, without the good of any of then). England is, at present, extraordinarily pressed by the irritable inconveniences of an illegitimate nobility.- I mean a nobility not standing on the true basis of such a privileged order. The union with Ireland has, in this respect, been a terrible blow on the English gentry.”
Sir Egerton was for some years in Parliament, and his retrospect of that period must be interesting. We recommend in particular, to public notice, the passage concerning that much injured great and good man, the late Marquis of Londonderry. His character was never so well drawn before in print.
“The six years I passed in Parliament,-1812 to 1818,-though not without their mortifications, were, perhaps, altogether the most satisfactory of my life. They opened many new points of view to me, and occupied .me practically in a manner not inconsistent with my former pursuits and habits of mind. In this station one is, or imagines one's self, nearer the source of action; and the opportunity of a closer inspection of public characters affords subjects of interesting observation, while the manner in which they to whom the management of affairs of state is committed exhibit talents, knowledge, or skill, teaches us practically how the world is governed. Constituted as London is, which is filled with an overgrown mass of miscellaneous population, the legislative function gives an opening in society, without which an individual, not of bustling and obstrusive manners, is likely to be buried and lost in society: here what is most actively eminent is commonly con. centrated, though it must be admitted that it grows less so every day.
What first and most struck me in the House of Commons, was the extreme ra. rity, not only of great and eloquent speakers, but even of moderately good ones, and the number of those whose delivery was not only bad but execrable. Canning, was the only one who could be said to speak with a polished eloquence; and he did not then speak often, and his speeches were at that time too much studied. Of the other speakers who took the lead, where the matter was good, there were many natural or technical defects: the accent was national, provincial, professional, or inelegant; or the voice was bad, or the language clumsy. Three of the most extraordinary have gone to their graves, by one singular and lamented destiny. Whitbread improved as a speaker, to the fast: he was a man of strong head, always well informed, generally ingenious, sometimes subtile, occasionally eloquent, but not naturally of a delicate taste and classical sensibility. He was al. most always too violent, and sometimes tumid: his person was course and ungraceful, and his voice seldom melodious; and the whole of his manner betrayed too much of labour and art. He began too high, and soon ran himself out of breath.
“ Sir Samuel Romilly was a very effective speaker on the topics which he handled: he was a most acute reasoner,--of extraordinary penetration and subtlety,-with occasional appeals to sentiment, and addresses to the heart; but still his manner was strictly professional, (which is never a popular manner in Parliament,) and it had also something of a Puritan tone, which, with a grave, worn, pallid, puritanic visage and attitude, took off from the impression of a perfect orator, though it never operated to diminish the great attention and respect with which he was heard. The veneration for his character, the admiration of him as a profound lawyer, the confidence in the integrity of his principles, and his enlighiened, as well as conscientious study, of the principles of the constitution of his country, procured for all he said the most submissive attention; and they who thought him in politics a stern and bigoted republican, whose opinions were uncongenial to the mixed government of Great Britain, and therefore dissented rolo corde from bis positions, deductions, and general views of legislation and of state, never dared to treat lightly whatever came from his lips. He had a cold reserved manner, which repclied intimacy and familiarity; and, therefore, whatever he did, he did by his own sole strength.
“Lord Castlereagh belonged to a different order, and was cast in a very oppo. site mould. He had a most prepossessing air; and was, in manner, by far the most perfect gentleman I have ever seen. He bad led an active and stormy life; and his abilities were at last tried beyond their strength, and beyond the strength of any mind. He was, in general, not a good speaker; sometimes even a bad one: but once or twice I have heard him, in the department of strength and manliness, speak better than any man in the House. I aitribute, therefore, his general habit of confusion mainly to a want of self-confidence; for the times of success to which I allude were on his first return from the Continent in the summer of 1814, on concluding the peace, when he was greeted on his entry into the House by the universal cheers of all parties. This of course elevated his spirits, and he then spoke with the most unembarrassed Auency and vigour. He was not a popular minister; and I firmly believe that this conviction hung, in common, a heavy weight upon his faculties. His abilities were, unquestionably, most ignorantly and absurdly under. rated; and when once accident makes a man a butt for the witlings who pander for his opponents, it spreads a contagion through the light heads and hearts of the populace, which it is difficult to resist. An epigrammatist, having got his cue, goes on hammering his brains, year after year, upon one string: and if he can but have his jest and his point, and the applause of ingenuity for a clever distich, cares not for truth or justice, or how many poisoned daggers he fixes in the heart of another. Lord Castlereagh was laborious and well-informed : perhaps he was not quick enough to master all the various points which forced themselves upon his attention; and he had not that sort of convenient ingenuity which enables a man to skim the surface in such a manner as to disguise ignorance. He was apt sometimes to penetrate a little, when he had neither strength to go through, nor to extricate himself. He had had a great rise; but yet in no degree such as many of those on whom none of the odium which attended him fell. His mother was a Conway of the highest English nobility; his father's family had for some generations enjoyed wealth. His father's mother was the daughter of an East-India go. vernor, of immense riches for those days. At the time of the marriage of Lord Castlereagh's mother, her father, the Earl of Hertford, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland: and Lord Castlereagh was brought up in England among the Seymours; and Lord Orford's letters will prove that he gave early indications of great talents. I never met with a man of less haughty and more conciliatory manners than Lord Castlereagh. I have encountered, and I suppose most persons have encountered, men, thinking themselves great, who have appeared as if they could not see one, as if one was covered with an invisible cloak, and was to them as if one did not exist; so lofty were their optics, and so high they carried their nose and chin; and yet these were not men of noble blood, high pretensions, and invested with high functions like Lord Castlereagh; men perhaps of some talent, but who seemed io think themselves gifted with an absolute monopoly of genius and talent. I do not think such men fit to govern the complicated machine of state, however they may excel in some single faculty.
“George Ponsonby was a very indifferent speaker, though he was put at the head of a party, and had been Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Perhaps he was worn out at this time, though not sixty; for his knowledge was scanty, his ideas were few, and he always treated a subject in a strangely narrow and detached manner, as if his whole ambition was confined to a few epigrammatic remarks.
“ Francis Horner was a rising speaker, when he was taken off in the fower of his age. He was calm, rational, strong, and so argumentative and clear, as to fix the attention, and carry with him very frequently the conviction of a part of his audience against their will; yet he never rose to eloquence, and had always something of a professional manner.
“The manner of Wilberforce had a little too much of the pulpit. His voice was weak and shrill; and his person extremely unfavourable. But he had the prudence to speak seldom except on great topics on which bis opinions and arguments were, from the habits of his life, extremely desirable to be known by the public.
“Old George Rose spoke in a gossiping, garrulous manner, and never had the good luck to carry much weight with himn; 'while his knowledge of details was always suspected of some party purpose.
“Tiemey made his way by a fund of subtle humour and drollery peculiar to himself, which caused him to be listened to, not only without fatigue, but with eagerness and pleasure.
“The tone of Brougham's oratory is still in such daily exercise, that it is unne. cessary to particularize it. It is often powerful, sometimes irresistible; but some. times deals too much in exaggeration, and sometimes in verbiage. Its sarcasm and irony is not easily withstood. The accentuation is something peculiar, half Westmoreland and half Scotch; and he never loses the tone, expressions, and air of an advocate.
“Sir James Mackintosh's matter and language are admirable ; but his voice is weak and unmusical, and his pronunciation retains a great deal of his Scotch birth.
“Peel is a clear, well-arranged, intelligent, and able speaker on points of busi. ness; but his voice is a little affected, and almost always tends to a whine.
“ The present Chancellor of the Exchequer did not, at the time of which I am speaking, hold this important office. He then spoke seldom; but when he did rise, he always spoke with liveliness, talent, vigour, knowledge, and sound ser.se, and with an extraordinary appearance of gentlemanly and honourable feeling.
“It is said that lawyers make bad speakers in Parliament; yet it must be ob. served, that most of the persons here named were brought up to the bar.
“ While I sat in this House, I made great efforts to amend the Poor Laws; nor did I take less pains to get the cruel and unjust provisions of the Copy-right Act altered. I was not successful; but in both cases I had powerful and overwhelm. ing parties to contend with. In the first, all the manufacturing towns, and all towns; in the second, the universities of the three kingdoms, and all their members. Now, when I contemplate the subject coolly, I wonder that I made the little progress which I did. I was in my fiftieth year when I took my seat, and this is much too late to indulge the hope of becoming a parliamentary speaker of any power. I did my best; but I rose very seldom, for my nerves were not strong enough to enable me to retain my self-possession, and bring together my ideas with sufficient strength and clearness to do justice to them. I have no reason to complain of want of candour bere, for I was treated with quite as much candour as i deserved. Indeed, had I had as fair usage in the rest of my days as in Parliament, I should be unjust to be discontented with mankind, or with my lot in life. The gloom and plaintiveness of which I am accused would never then have been the inmates of my bosom. I witnessed slights, and jealousies, and rudeness, even there; but such are the inevitable attendants of our human lot.
“There is much fatigue in attending strictly the multitudinous business of the House ; and the late debates, prolonged till bong after midnight, are often very wearisome; and the return home through the night-air, when the House, which is not large enough to hold conveniently all its members, has been crowded and hot, is very trying to the health.
“To encounter many things that depress, and many that disgust, is no more