« ForrigeFortsett »
Art. VIII. Headlong Hall. 12mo. pp. 216. Price 6s. Hookham, Jun. and Co. 1816.
TT is truly refreshing to meet with a production of chaste and genuine humour. Our satirists are for the most part of that saturnine complexion, that forbids their relaxing into the easy hilarity which characterizes the pleasantry of Goldsmith or of Addison; while our professed comic writers seem to have no other notion of humour than that of caricature or broad farce. Some of our writers exhibit in their attempts to be facetious, an appearance analogous to the Sardonic grimace ; and others, in their ursine capers, betray only a desperate determination to be droll, contrary to the irreversible decree of nature. We ought now, perhaps, to proceed to investigate, why our language presents so few specimens of humorous writing, and how far language, climate, and manners, may operate in characterizing the national productions in this respect, determining the solemn irony of Cervantes, and prompting the sparkling mirthful satire of Le Sage, or the keen sarcastic ridicule of Swift. We might then shew what rank such compositions hold in the scale of literature; and trace the decline of this species of wit to the French Revolution, or the Income Tax, or some other obvious political cause. But these discussions, tempting as they are, being such as, did we occupy the rank of Quarterly Journalists, we should feel it our bounden duty to exhaust in a preliminary dissertation, must now, owing to our narrow limits and the press of business, be unavoidably postponed; and we shall at once introduce our readers to Headlong Hall, the seat of Harry Headlong, Esq. of the ancient and honourable Welsh family of the Headlongs, of the Vale of Llanberris, in Caernarvonshire.
The Lord of the mansion has.assembled a select party of London literati, to share the hospitalities of Christmas. Among them, the leading personages are Mr. Foster, (quasi Qmm(, from ?<*o; and T*siv,) the perfectibilian; Mr. Escot, (qua«i i? maren, in tenebras, scilicet, intuens), the deteriorationist; Mr. Jenkison (aim ff Mi, semper ex wqualibutij, the statu-quo-ite; and the Rev. Doctor Gaster (scilicet Teumf, Venter, et preterea nihilj.
The opinions of the former two of these gentlemen differ, as Mr. Jenkison (the round-faced little gentleman of forty-five) observes, toto ccelo.
'I have often (he adds) debated the matter in my own mind, pro and con, and nave at length arrived at this conclusion, that there is not in the human race a tendency either to moral perfectibility or deterioration; but that the quantities of each are so exactly balanced by their reciprocal results, that the species, with respect to the sum of good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, happiness and misery, remains exactly and perpetually in statu. quo."
• " Surely," said Mr. Foster, "you cannot maintain such a proposition in the face of evidence so luminous. Look at the progress of all the arts and sciences,—see chemistry botany, astronomy"
'" Surely,' said Mr. Escot, "experience deposes against you. Look at the rapid growth of corruption, luxury, selfishness—"
'"Really, gentlemen," said the Reverend Doctor Gaster, after clearing the husk in his throat with two or three hems, " this is a very sceptical, and, I must say, atheistical conversation, and I should have thought, out of respect to my cloth "' pp. 9—11.
The subsequent arrivals consist of Marmadukc Milestone, Esq. a picturesque landscape gardener of the first celebrity, with a portfolio under his arm, who is not without hopes of persuading'Squire Headlong to put his romantic pleasure grounds under a process of improvement; Mr. Cranium, and his lovely daughter; Messrs. Gall and Treacle 'who followed the trade 'of reviewers, but occasionally-indulged themselves in the com'position of bad poetry;' and' two very multitudinous versifiers, 'Mr. Nightshade and Mr. Mac Laurel, who followed the trade 'of poetry, but occasionally indulged themselves in the composi'tii Mi of bad criticism'
'The last arrivals were Mr. Cornelius Chromatic, the most profound and scientific of all amateurs of the fiddle, with his two blooming daughters, Miss Tenorina and Miss Graziosa; Sir Patrick O'Prism, a dilettanti painter of high renown, and his maiden aunt Miss Philomela Poppyseed, an indefatigable compounder of novels, written for the express purpose of supporting every species-of superstition and prejudice; and Mr. Panoscope, the chemical, botanical, geological, astronomical, mathematical, metaphysical, meteorological, anatomical, physiological, galvanistical, musical, pictorial, bibliographical, critical philosopher, who had run through the whole circle of the sciences, and understood them all equally well.' pp. 31, 32.
Mr. Milestone soon perceives that 'Squire Headlong's grounds 'have never been touched by the finger of taste,' and the 'Squire accords with Mr. Milestone, 'that the place is quite 'a wilderness.'
« « My dear Sir," said Mr. Milestone, "accord me your permif•ion to wave the wand of enchantment over your grounds. The rocks shall be blown up, the trees shall be cut down, the wilderness and all its goats shall vanish like mist. Pagodas and Chinese bridges, gravel walks and shrubberies, bowling-greens, canals, and clumps of larch, shall rise upon its ruins. One age, Sir, has brought to light the treasures of ancient learning: a second has penetrated into the depths of metaphysics: a third has brought to perfection the science of astronomy: but it was reserved for the exclusive genius of the present times, to invent the noble art of picturesque gardening, which has given, as it were, a new tint to the complexion of nature, and a new outline to the physiognomy of the universe!"
• " Give me leave," said Sir Patrick O'Prisra, "to take an exception to that same. Your system of levelling, and trimming, and clipping, and docking, and clumping, and polishing, and cropping, and shaving, destroys all the beautiful intricacies of natural luxuriance, and all the graduated harmonics of light and shade, melting into one another, as you see them on that rock over yonder. I never saw one of your improved places, as you call them, and which are nothing but big bowling-greens, like sheets of green paper, with a parcel of round clumps scattered over them like so many spots of ink, flicked at random out of a pen*, and a solitary animal here and there looking as if it were lost, that I did not think it was for all the world like Hounslow Heath, thinly sprinkled over with bushes and highwaymen."
'" Sir," said Mr. Milestone, "you will have the goodness to make a distinction between the picturesque and the beautiful."
• "Will I?" said Sir Patrick, «' och! but I won't. For what is beautiful? That which pleases the eye. And what pleases the eye: Tints variously broken and blended. Now tints variously broken and blended, constitute the picturesque."
'"Allow me," said Mr. Gall. "I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, and I add to them, in the laying out of grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness,"
'" Pray, Sir," said Mr. Milestone, " by what name do you distinguish this character, when a person walks round the grounds for the second timef?"
'Mr. Gall bit his lips, and inwardly vowed to revenge himself on Milestone, by cutting up his next publication.' pp. 35—-38.
The next conversation takes place alter dinner, during the absence of the ladies, when the Burgundy had taken two or three turns of the table, and extorted from Mr. Mac Laurel the remark that it was ' the vara neectar itsel.' 'Ye hae saretainly 1 deescovered the tarreestrial paradise,' be adds, ' but it flows 'wi' a better leecor than milk an' honey.'
'The Reverend Doctor Gaster.—Hem! Mr. Mac Laurel! there is a degree of profaneness in that observation, which I should not have looked for in so staunch a supporter of church and state. Milk and honey was the pure food of the antediluvian patriarchs, who knew not the use of the grape, happily for them.-—(Toning off a bumper nf Burgundy.)
'Mr. Escot—-Happily, indeed! The first inhabitants of the world knew not the use either of vine or animal food; it is therefore by no means incredible that they lived to the age of several centuries, free from war, and commerce, and arbitrary government, and every other species of desolating wickedness. But man was then a very different animal from what he now is •. he had not the faculty of speech; he was not encumbered with clothes; he lived in the open
* See Price on the Picturesque,
air; his first step out of which, as Hamlet truly observes, is into his grave*. His first dwellings, of course, were the hollows of trees and rocks: in process of time he began to build: thence grew villages; thence grew cities: luxury, oppression, poverty, misery, and disease kept pace with the progress of his pretended improvements, till, from a free, strong, healthy, peaceful animal, he has become a weak, distempered, cruel, carnivorous slave.
'The Reverend Docxoii Gaster.—Your doctrine is orthodox, in so far as you assert, that the original man was not encumbered with clothes, and that he lived in the open air; but as to the faculty of speech, that it is certain he had, for the authority of Moses
'Mr. Escox.—Of course. Sir, I do not presume to dissent from the very exalted anthority of that most enlightened astronomer and profound cosmogonist, who had, moreover, the advantage of being inspired: but when I indulge myself with a ramble in the fields of speculation, and attempt to deduce what is probable and rational from the sources of analysis, experience, and comparison, I confess 1 am too often apt to lose sight of the doctrines of that great fountain of theological and geological philosophy. 'Squire Headlong.—Push about the bottle. 'Mr. Foster.—Do you suppose the mere animal life of a wild man, living on acorns, and sleeping on the ground, comparable in felicity to that of a Newton, ranging through unlimited space, and penetrating into the arcana of universal motion—to that of a Locke, unravelling the labyrinth of mind—to that of a Lavoisier, detecting the minutest combinations of matter, and reducing all nature to its elements—to that of a Shakespear, piercing and developing the springs of passion—or of a Milton, identifying himself, as it were, with the beings of an invisible world?
« M*. Escot.—You suppose extreme cases: but, on the score of happiness, what comparison can you make between the trauquil being of the wild man of the woods and the wretched and turbulent existence of Milton, the victim of persecution, poverty, blindness, and neglect? The records of literature demonstrate that Happiness and Intelligence are seldom sisters. Even if it were otherwise, it would prove nothing. The many are always sacrificed to the lew. Where one man advances, hundreds retrograde; and the balance is always in favour of universal deterioration.
'Mr Foster.—Virtue is independent of external circumstances. The exalted understanding looks into the truth of things, and in its own peaceful contemplations rises superior to the world. No philosopher would resign his mental acquisitions for the purchase of any terrestrial good.
'Mr. Escot.—In other words, no man whatever would resign his identity, which is nothing more than the consciousness of his perceptions, as the price of any acquisition. But every man, without exception, would willingly effect a very material change in his relative situation to other individuals. Unluckily fur the rest of your argument, the understanding of literary people is.for the most part
* See Lord Monboddo's Ancient Metaphysics.
exalted, at you express it, not so much by the love of truth and virtue, as by arrogance and self-sufficiency; and there is perhaps less disinterestedness, less liberality, less general benevolence, and more envy, hatred, and uncharitableness among them, than among any other description of men.
(Tne eye of Mr. Escot, as he pronounced these words, rested very innocently and unintentionally on Mr. Gall.)
1 Mr. Gall.—You allude, Sir. I presume, to my Review?
'Mr. Escot.—Pardon me, Sir. You will be convinced it is impossible I can allude to your Review, when I assure you that I have never read a single page of it.
'Mr. Gall, Mr. Treacle, Mr. Nightshade, And Mr. Mac Laurel.—Never read our Review!!!!' pp. 47—53.
We must break off: we feel the honour of the craft attacked; but we critics, like Sir Fretful Plagiary, are never put out of temper. No, no, we are ' not at all angry.' Only we cannot help wishing in revenge, that the Author was doomed,
as a punishment for this defamatory attack, to be a Reviewer
himself. But possibly he is one, and has turned king's evidence. Out upon him, as Lord Byron says of Time; out upon the fellow!
Mr. Mac Laurel rebukes Mr. Escot in a becoming spirit for the manner in which bespeaks 'o' the first creetics an scho- 'lars o' the age.' The conversation then takes a turn, in consequence of a remark drawn from the same gentleman, that 'one 'of the ingredients of justice is disinterestedness. •»
'Mr. Mac Laurel—It is na admceted, Sir, amang the philosophers of Edinbroo', that there is ony sic a thing as diseenterestedness in the warld, or that a mon can care for onything sae much as his ain sel: for ye mun observe, Sir, eevery mon has-his ain parteecular feelings of what is gude, an' beautiful, an' consentaneous to his ain indiveedual nature, an' desires to see eevery thing aboot him in that parteecular state which is maist conformable to his ain notions o' the moral an' poleetical fitness o' things. Twa men, Sir, shall purchase a piece o' groond between 'em, and ane mon shall cover his half wi' a park
'Mr. Milestone.—Beautifully laid out in lawns and clumps, with a belt of trees at the circumference, and an artificial lake in the centre.
4 Mr. Mac Laurel.—Exactly, Sir: an' shall keep it a' for his ain sel; an' the other mon shall divide his half into leetle farms of twa or three acres
'Mr. Escot.—Like those of the Roman republic, and build a cottage on each of them, and cover his land with a simple, innocent, and smiling population, who shall owe, not only their happiness, but their existence, to his benevolence.
• Mr. Mac Laurel.—Exactly, Sir: an' ye will ca'the first mon selfish, an' the second diseenterested; but the pheelosophical truth is seemply this, that the ane is pleased wi' looking at trees, an' the