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RAMBLES AND REVIEWS OF A MODERN MORALIST.
No. I.—VANISHED THINGS.
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palace?.
Few people can look back into the past without a sigh. Even the most fortunate among us, for whom the bitter cup has seldom been mixed, treasure up recollections of lost friends and sad partings from pleasant places, of things which were, but never can be again, which have merged into the vanished things of earth. If we reflect a moment, we shall find that very few pleasures which we have enjoyed have equalled the delight of anticipation, or the sad chaste joy of retrospection. How bright were the pictures of anticipated pleasure which imagination drew in those rosy tints which only imagination can produce! how rich was the enjoyment of living from day to day, not in that "hope deferred, which maketh the heart sick," but in eager expectation, feeling that every hour brought us nearer the wished-for object! In such cases as this there can be no doubt that "distance lends enchantment to the view;" for when the real enjoyment came at last, though possibly very delightful, yet how far inferior was it to the anticipated joys and bright visions of our expectant fancy! And then, when the wished-for pleasure has passed away into the place of vanished things, is there not real comfort in looking back upon it, though we may do so through a mist of tears?
All my readers must know this feeling well; they must know the void which is left between them and the past, even if that past be but of yesterday. Who has not experienced this feeling of isolation and loss when they have parted with some dear one, perhaps only for a short time? When the last words are spoken, and the train glides swiftly out of the station, how mournful is the look of that last carriage as it vanishes round a curve in the line! The rest of the train passes away with little notice, but the back of that last carriage seems sternly mocking our impotence to stay the course of the tyrant which is bearing off the loved ones from our eyes. This may be thought fanciful, but I am writing what I have felt many times. It is the same when the steam-boat has left the pier: the trough in the eddying waters, which the keel has ploughed for a moment in its course, seems to swallow up the hope of meet
ing once again; it tells us that the last moment is past and gone—that we are alone! We may meet those friends again on earth in a few months or years, but we may have to wait till both have reached the echoless shore, where the winds sleep, and whence "no traveller returns," and the uncertainty is overwhelming.
Of a truth, there are not in our language two more difficult words to utter than these, " Farewell," and " Gone 1" The one is the sad signal of separation—the sign which tells us that the last moment has arrived and will soon be past; we would lengthen it out as long as possible, we would gladly dwell on its syllables; but in vain; the fatal word is said, and we have to realize the second hard reality—" Gone!" Yes, the ties are broken; the silver cord of companionship is loosened; there is a void, a blank; the loved ones, *' the old familiar faces," the long-seen spots, are gone.
Let it not be supposed that I write this in a spirit of morbid discontent; on the contrary, I find pleasure in living in the past and the future, as well as in working in the present; I do not agree, therefore, with Longfellow's words—
"Let the dead Past bury its dead I"
We may look back along the course we have travelled, and learn from it some lesson to guide us on our farther way. Let me ask you, then, my reader, to ramble with me for awhile, not forward, among the scenes and sounds which are, but back to the phantoms of past people and places and thoughts, over which the curtain of oblivion has not yet descended. There are not many among us, I fancy, who hare not a secret storehouse of vanished things, laid up somewhere or other in their memory. Even the hard, unsentimental man of business, who pretends to think everything romance and nonsense which does not in some way tend to the production of money, even he has some green oasis in his barren desert of dry bones, and recollects some vanished things over which he can afford to sigh when he can find time to think. There is that spot somewhere away in the country, where he played and worked and fought through bis schoolboy years. Think you that that man who looks so hard and close and worldly, never (roes back along the pleatut paths of memory to that old school-house, where the white-haired master bore his pupils' stupidity with such gentle resignation, and sighed oyer the beautiful thoughts of those of old time which they could not discover? Think yon that many a busy worldling who now pretends to laugh at anything except "business" and "getting on in life" does not occasionally open the penetralia of his heart, and look into the past with cad or cheerful eyes, according as he has used the days that are gone? I believe My that there is more sentiment in this world than most people imagine; the fault is, that men now-a-days are ashamed of their sentiments, and are afraid of being thought to have harts that beat for anything beyond the gifts of peat King Mammon.
But let me pass on to some of my own vanished things. 1 am far from country scenes and sounds now; the noisy road, the smoky atmosphere, the November fog are my companions; yet I can live back into the summer weather, I can hear the skylark instead of the carriages; and November's muddy streets are blooming forth into golden corn-fields and waring flowers. I am away among the sweetsmelling hop-gardens of pleasant Kent, where the wandering Arab tribes have found a brief abiding-place among the green clusters of the hops. These hop-pickers have come from afar, in every direction, from the wretched purlieus of eastern London, from the Irish haunts of evil St. Giles's, and once courtly Kensington, from the wretched hives of crime and misery which fringe the mud of unlovely Thames; and from many a place besides, these wandering families have met together among the sweet, breezy hop-gardens.
Again, the green meadows are all around me, I am rambling among the wild flowers in the hedges and sunny banks beloved of brightwinged insects. The delicate white blossoms of the wild convolvulus are climbing luxuriantly over every hedge, and the lilac-flowered scabious is blooming on yonder sloping bank where the sunlight sleeps so dreamily. A bright and pleasant flower is that wild scabious—very different to her mournful sister, that sombre flower which St. Pierre tells us of in the sad and beautiful story of "Paul and Virginia." On the uplands yonder the ruddy corn is waving, its golden billows diversified by the gaudy crimson puppies (fit emblem of Vanity), and by many another gay flower. The reapers have already begun their work, and the golden cornfields will soon be, in fact are now, whilst I write these lines, bare stubble-deserts where the partridge hides, and the field-mouse has her subterranean abode. But anon I am away by a krne stream's side, and may say with Milton—
"There, in close covert by some brook
That at her flowery work doth sing,
To the true lovers of nature, even if
"Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
the banks of a stream must ever be a welcome
"From yon ivy-mantled tower
so I must ramble no more at present.
But see! the rain is beating on my window, l tbe wintry fox is about me, and I -can hear, O most terrible of sounds, an organ! Yet have I been abroad in the corn-fields and flowery meadows, by the river and by tbe hedge-row, but they are only the spectres of vanished things.
Let us look into another vista of the past. What a crowd of vanished things belonged to those days when people sang
"God save great George our King I"
What memories of powdered hair that needed tbe eternal supervision of the coiffeur, of kneebreeches and gold buckles, of Petersham coats and Tilbury carriages! Where is tbe Count d'Orsay of our time, he who set the fashion to tbe beau monde, which fashion tbey must needs follow, or perish in tbe attempt? Who sets the fashion now, I wonder? Is it Blondin or Lord Dundreary? Or is it "Lady Audley's Secret," or the Ghost? Those were gay times and witty times, for all the sins of wicked " old Q." and the extravagances of the "First Gentleman" and his friends. There are, perhaps, as bad men and women now, though they do not flutter their painted wings in tbe sun of court favour, but the buns mots and gay dresses are vanished things. Who would think now-a-days of taking perfumed baths daily, as did the handsome and witty Count d'Orsay? Who would think of lighting a duel, and, when wounded, of hurrying on one's recovery in order to kill the more fortunate adversary, as did Count Montrond? Where are the Beau Brummels of 1863, who think that " they once tasted a pea"? We have lordly victims of ennui, and fine ladies who are au desespoir at finding " nothing new under the sun." But the beaux are gone to the place where hairpowder and cocked-hats have gone before them.
And yet there are people in our days quite as indolent. as these sons of a vanished fashion, and nothing proves this better than the following fact. A gentleman was walking through the streets of Manchester, and noticed a number of porters lying under the wall of the Royal Exchange, as their custom is, waiting to be hired. They were all either asleep or in the last stage of indolent helplessness. The gentleman, amused at this scene, exclaimed, putting his hand into his pocket, " Come, here's half-acrown for the laziest fellow among you!" The effect was magical; the torpid porters sprang into life, and advanced their respective claims, except one fellow, who remained nodding against the sunny wall. "Here, my man," Ht.i(l the patron of laziness, "you've certainly earned the money." Upon which the porter replied, in drowsy tones, "If it's a good uii, you can put it in my pocket!" Not even tbe idlest of modern Club loungers can surpass this, I fancy.
But let us look into lhe past again. Where are the once gay gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh r Vanished things are they; vanished the cool fountains, and the green arcades, all blazing
with parti-coloured lamps; vanished the nightingales too, which haunted the cool shades of the Gardens; few indeed are the Philomels of Lambeth and Chelsea now! Pleasant places must those gardens have been, in spite of masked ladies who beset good Sir Roger de Coverley, and of ruffling gallants who were too ready with the rapier and dagger. The walks, too, of Fox Hall, or New Spring Garden, as it was then called, are rendered classic by the presence of the graceful Addison, the graphic Fielding, the gentle Goldsmith, the polished Horace Walpole, and the talented Madame d'Arblay. Here all the wits and gay pleasureseekers roamed; and here, of course, came busy Master Pepys, who never missed his diversion, come what might of his duties to the Board of Admiralty. Hear what he tells of bis doings in his diary of June 20, 1665: "By water to Fox Hall, and thence walked an hour alone, observing the several humours of the citizens that were this holyday pulling oil" cherries, and God knows what." And again a little later he writes: "By water to Fox Hall, and there walked in Spring Garden. A great deal of company, and the weather and garden pleasant, and it is very pleasant and cheap going thither, for a man may go to spend what he will, or nothing, all as one. But to hear the nightingale and other birds, and here fiddles, and there a Harp, and here a Jew's trump, and here laughing, and here fine people walking, is mighty diverting. Here fell into the company of Harry Killigrew, a rogue newly come out of France, but still in disgrace at our Court, and Newport and others, and so to supper in an arbour; but. Lord! their mad talk did make my heart ache."
There was queer talking, doubtless, in those Vauxhall arbours, or it would not have offended the not too scrupulous ears of Master Pepys; but it is pleasant to think of the gay parties coming thither by water, ere yet the steamboats were thought of, and of Evelina's adventure in "the dark walks" there, when she came to hear the nightingales, as Madame d'Arblay tells us. Dean Swift, too, came to Vauxhall for the same purpose, thougb I should imagine their melody was but little suited to the tastes and feelings of the coarse-miuded, heartless lover of Stella, to whom he writes in May, 1711 : "I was this evening with Lady Kerry and Mrs. Pratt at Vauxhall, to hear the nightingales, but they are almost past singing."
Shade of Vauxhall! What remains of thee now? Where are the sylvan beauties which delighted the author of "The Citizen of the World," and called forth bis praises in the mouth of his Chinese philosopher i WThere is the statue of Handel which the chisel of Roubiliac shaped, or the boxes which the pencil of Hogarth adorned? I remember some time ago a dreary desert of boarding and waste land where once the nightingales tang, and even this ha* long Bince passed away.
I was rambling lately in tbe gardens of Chelsea Hospital, where the old pensioners sit Winking in the sun, dreaming doubtless of the Peninsula and Waterloo, and as I passed under the few trees that grew there, I thought of the times when those same trees were bright v.itta coloured lamps, and all the world was gay where the old pensioners tat dozing, for here once stood Ranelagh Gardens. Here the ladies of fashion excited each other's envy by displaying the much-coveted novel, "Pamela," just written by Samuel Richardson, the printer, of Parson's Green. Here came Horace Walpole and the Prince of Wales, and here with mighty tread stalked Dr. Johnson. "When I first entered Ranelagh," he writes, "it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I neter experienced anywhere else. But as Xerxes wept when be viewed his immense army, and considered that not one of that great multitade would be alive a hundred years afterwards, Jo it went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all that brilliant circle that was ■ot afraid to go home and think, but that the thoughts of each individual there would be distressing when alone." To how many of us does the same thought occur in the gay haunts where comes no truthful moralist like Samuel Johnson?
We may gain a fair idea of how the world disported itself at Ranelagh from this description given by the poet Blooinfield :—
"To Ranelagh, once in my life,
Such was the dancing in the rotunda at Rane-
pabt, and I have done. The distance is only a few years, and the vanished thing is a huge building now dismantled.* I wander very often by that great building, so much abused by the people who enjoyed it most, and who held their peace till the whole thing was completed, and then suddenly discovered j that they had foreseen its failure from the be'ginning. I look at the now glassless domes on which the hailstorm of criticism descended Bo j fiercely, and visions and ghosts of its past I splendour flit before me as I gaze in at the j open doors of what once was the great International Exhibition of 1862. The vast nave, | lately blazing with the gorgeous treasures of j many lands, is bare and desolate now; no more 1 does Minton's fountain afford its perfumed | showers, tempting the rustic visitors to dip their handkerchiefs, which were wetted but not scented by the treacherous waters. The side courts are gloomy deserts, where once stood the graceful sculptures of Rome, and the rich treasures of France. Cleopatra has fled from her pedestal, and the tinted Venus has transported her cream-coloured charms elsewhere. No longer does the "Reading Girl" attract a pugilistic crowd of squeezing spectators, eager to gaze upon her pensive beauty; but she is i reading on as calmly as ever in a photographic saloon in Regent-street, and there I saw her not long ago. "The Sleep of Sorrow," and "The Dream of Joy," are both ended, as far as the Exhibition is concerned, and the sad Georgian solicits sympathy in the adjacent gardens. And what of the frog which the enthusiastic Welshmen found in a block of coal, and wondered how it got there? That most unfortunate of animals, after causing great excitement, and puzzling many learned men, and many foolish, and after hearing daily discussions as to whether or not he was really alive, finally ended the controversy by dying outright; and, truly, after being stared out of countenance so long, and argued about so vexatiously, it was the very best thing for the poor frog to do.
Hark! was that the sound of the great organ swelling through the deserted building? But no, it is but Nature's organ which the wind is playing up and down the melancholy galleries. There solitude reigns supreme where lately were displayed the wealth of the Lancashire looms, the produce of the widest and remotest lands, and the matchless works of the world's artists. The wind is playing hide-and-seek in the obscure corner where stood Mr. Babbage's calculating machine, perhaps the most wonderful of all that treasure-house of wonders, and an insolent vagrant sparrow who has lost his way flutters about, the sole living inhabitant of the spot where so lately the world and his wife, aye, and his children to boot, «andered and wondered, and gaped and stared, then gaped and stared again. But the sparrow has flown away, and my visions are becoming also mere phan
* This paper was written in 1868.
toms of thin. air. Still, "in my mind's eye, Horatio," I can see that vast building peopled once again; I can see the hungry crowd plunging at the counters of the refreshment rooms, and the worthy people from Somersetshire devouring pork-pies, apples, and bottled beer in fabulous quantities at the foot of Shakespeare's monument.
I can hear the bell clanging discordantly, and hurrying the crowds out into the evening sunset or pouring rain, and nerving them to fight manfully for omnibuses to bear them I know
not where, or how, so numberless do they seem. But now the bell has ceased to ring, or the ringing in my ear has ended, the last visitor has passed out, and I am alone. Vanished things are all these. Why should I linger longer over the ashes of the past? I have raked out my last cinder; this ramble is made and ended; it, too, will soon be among the vanished things. To-day will be part of the dim past, the curtain will have fallen on our life's drama, and the play will be played out. Come, let us turn over a new page!
It is a difficult question to decide how far the epithet " great" has been rightly bestowed upon men of mark. Popular prejudice, a devotion to hero-worship, and many other causes, operate to blind men's judgment in their estimate of character. The lives and deeds of most wellknown characters are surrounded by such a fictitious glare of praise and romance, that, like a scene at the theatre beheld through the light of red fire, everything is invested with an unnatural splendour. It may be reasonably doubted whether a great conqueror is "great" in any other sense than that of a destroyer— whether many so-called "great" writers are so except in the estimation of a body of readers who have made it fashionable to praise their protege". In old times the title was not so easily gained as it is now, when the newest musichall singer, or the latest performer on the trapeze, earns the meed of greatness; and among those so-called great ones of the past, none, perhaps, deserved the title more thoroughly than Charlemagne, the Karolus Magnus of the middle-age writers.
The source from which most details of Charlemagne's life are taken is not, perhaps, very well known to the general reader. We are indebted for them to Eginhard, the secretary of the great Emperor, who in his "Vita Karoli Magni," and "Annales," gives not only the history of his master's reign, but many glimpses of his private life. This Eginhard, or Einhardus as he calls himself in Latin, was born in Franconia, and was, during part of his life, Abbot of the monastery of St. Bavo, the patron saint of Ghent. He married Imma, or Emma, a daughter of Charlemagne. Eginhard tells his story of the life of the Emperor in Latin, in a very simple, straightforward style, beginning with a slight retrospective glance at the events which brought the dynasty of the long-haired Merovingians to a close. That race had steadily sunk into weakness and obscurity since the
fame of their founder, Clovis, or Clodovicb, had expired. The same brilliant origin, ending in rapid decline and ruin, marked the Merovingians, as it did so many of the nations of the middle ages—just as the descendants of Augustus dwindled down to Romulus Augustulus, the deposed puppet of Odoacer, juat as the Ommiad Caliphs of Damascus were succeeded by the Abbassides —just as the Seljukian Turks gave place to the Mongols, and the Mongols to the Ottomans, so the "long-haired kings" had declined till they became the reges insensati, the rots faineants, whom Eginhard describes.
It seems to have been the fate of all the kings of that age to have masters over them. The Roman Emperors had their barbarian rulers, the Caliphs had their Emirs-al-Omra; so the Merovingians bad their Mayors of the palace. It will not be necessary here to tell the story of Pepin of Herstal, of Charles Martel, whose hammer-like arm did such service against the Spanish Arabs at Tours, or of Pepin le bref, the father of Charlemagne. Before, however, we glance at the life of Charlemagne, it is important to understand rightly the character of the Roman Empire at this time—a subject lately treated with great skill and much research. All the world knows that, after Constantino removed the seat of empire to Constantinople, a line of Emperors still occupied the throne of Rome. Thus two lines of Emperors ruled, one in the east, the other in the west; yet the Roman Empire was supposed to beoneand undivided.The keynote to the politics of the middle-ages is this, that there existed in men's minds a notion that the Roman Empire was eternal and universal; a monarchy of the world on its secular side, a church of the world on its religious side. This fond dream pervaded the middle ages: men saw a phantom fluttering in the purple of the Caesars, and yet reverenced the idea of the Empire though they despised the Emperor.