Изображения страниц

GOD and man required this testimony from me, when the motives from which it is given cannot be suspected.

"On two other occasions I was in danger of legal vengeance. In the first case, I had been merely the printer and publisher of a tract, for a person of wealth and character, who, I admit, may possibly have been ignorant of the misery of fear and suspense in which he involved me, for, till a prosecution should be actually commenced, I had determined never to apply to him, and I never did. [Nor did he ever allude to the circumstance in later intercourse with me.] That gentleman, if living, now resides far from Sheffield, and will not be betrayed by this intimation concerning a fact which I state as a warning to inexperienced publishers. The article itself was a speculative argument respecting war, and, like all other charges which have been brought against me, referred to the iniquity of shedding man's blood. The next case of threatened, but abortive, prosecution assumed a more formidable aspect, the subject being a paragraph of my own, which appeared in the Iris in the autumn of 1805, containing some strictures on the campaign in Germany, in which the renowned General Mack certainly saved an immense effusion of human blood, by surrendering himself and his army alive into the hands of Buonaparte. I never knew how this blow missed me, for it was aimed with a cordiality that meant no repetition of the stroke. I had made up my mind to meet it as the anvil meets the hammer,'-to avow the sentiments, and stand or fall by them, without any other defence than the simple plea of 'Not guilty.' The death of Lord Nelson probably saved me; for in the next Iris, having to announce that lamentable event, I did it in such a strain of patriotism (in the best sense of that word) that my former week's disloyalty was thereafter overlooked. I have sometimes thought that I was indebted for my escape to the firmness and good sense of a gentleman in authority, who declined to countenance the conspiracy against me.


"No man who did not live amidst the delirium of those evil days, and that strife of evil tongues, can well imagine the bitterness of animosity which infatuated the zealous partisans. I was peculiarly unfortunate in being the heir, I may say, to the treasured wrath that was ready to burst upon the head of my predecessor, at my very outset in the world of politics; for example,- before I had committed any offence whatever, I found myself visited with a punishment directly intended for another, in the withdrawal of all the county-advertisements from the Iris, merely because it took the vacated place of the Sheffield Register. It was years before those advertisements were allowed to me. Nay, such was the reign of terror at home, that persons, well disposed to serve me in the way of business, have brought their orders to the office, with express injunctions that no imprint should appear at the foot of their bills, &c., lest they should give offence, and come to harm for having employed an obnoxious


"It is true, that, amidst all these tribulations, I had many ardent and active friends, by whose help I was carried through my legal adversities with small pecuniary loss, and with all the consolations which kind offices could afford. One instance of rare magnanimity I must mention. The late Doctor BROWNE stood by me through every perplexity. He was then at the head of the town, and having the command of all the public business he never failed to throw as much of it into my hands as circumstances would warrant. What rivals solicited, and enemies would have intercepted, he resolutely and gratuitously bestowed upon me, though I never asked a boon of him, nor in any way compromised my own independence to insure his patronage. Even when I was under prosecution, and in prison, at the instance of those with whom he was politically connected, he never changed countenance towards me, nor omitted an opportunity of serving me. The resolutions and addresses of loyal meetings he has repeatedly brought away

with him to my office, jocularly telling me what battles he had been fighting in my behalf to win them. The manliness with which these favours were conferred, gave them a grace and a value beyond what I could estimate at the time, and, probably, secured for me a measure of personal respect in the town, which, otherwise, I might not have so easily obtained. It was in the crisis of my affairs, and during the heedlessness of youth respecting ulterior consequences, that he thus delicately and dexterously aided me, both against my adversaries and myself. Meanwhile I did not shrink from expressing my own opinions in the very newspapers which he made the vehicle of his when at variance with mine; nor did I perceive that I lost his esteem by such conduct. On one occasion, indeed (not political), we had a misunderstanding respecting a point which he very earnestly urged, but which I would not yield, because I was confidently right, according to my most deliberate judgment. This disagreement occurred during a personal interview at his house; but I had scarcely reached home, when I received from him a conciliatory message, which did equal credit to his candour and his condescension. This tribute I gladly pay to the memory of the greatest public character that has done honour or service to Sheffield; and I should prove myself unworthy of his former regards, if I did not thus record the name of Doctor BROWNE as one of my earliest, longest, and best benefactors.

On a

"At the close of 1805 ended the romance of my life. The last twenty years have brought their cares and their trials with them, but these have been of the ordinary kind,—not always the better to bear on that account. review of them I can affirm, that I have endeavoured, according to my knowledge and ability, to serve my townspeople and my country with as little regard to the fear or favour of party-men as personal infirmity would admit. From the beginning I have been no favourite with such characters. By 'the Aristocrats' I was persecuted, and abandoned by

the Jacobins' (as the contending factions were reciprocally styled in those days). I have found as little grace in the sight of the milder representatives of these two classes in later times; yet, if either have cause to complain, it is, that I have occasionally taken part with the other, and sometimes dissented from both, - a presumptive proof of my impartiality. Whatever charges of indecision may be brought against me by those who will see only one side of every thing, while I am often puzzled by seeing so many as hardly to be able to make out the shape of the object, — it cannot be denied, that, on the most important questions which have exercised the understandings or the sympathies of the people of England, I have never flinched from declaring my own sentiments, at the sacrifice both of popularity and interest. I refrain from particulars.

"If I have not done all the good which I might, and which I ought to have done, I have rejected many opportunities of doing mischief; — a negative kind of virtue, which sometimes costs no small self-denial in the editor of a public journal to practise. While I quit a painful responsibility in laying down my office, I am sensible that I resign the possession of great power and influence in the neighbourhood. These I cannot have exercised through so many years without having made the character of my townspeople something different from what it would have been, had I never come among them. Whether they are better or worse for my existence here, they themselves are the best judges. This I can affirm, that I have perseveringly sought the peace of the city' wherein I was led as an exile to dwell; and never neglected an occasion (so far as I can remember) to promote the social, moral, and intellectual improvement of its inhabitants. Nor in retirement can I forget, that the same duty I still owe to them. Either through the channel of this paper, or by personal exertions for the public welfare, I shall be happy to avail myself of any favourable opportunity to show my gratitude for all the hospitality, patience, kindness, and friend

ship, which I have hitherto experienced from about my bosom, the heavier and harder the the people of Sheffield."

After circulating the foregoing address at the close of his editorial course, the Author of these volumes had no thought of further intruding his personal affairs upon the public, either at home or abroad; but, in November of the same year (1825), an entertainment having been given him by his townspeople and neighbours, of every shade of political and religious distinction, avowedly as a token of respect and esteem for him, both in his public and his private character, he was necessarily called upon to make some acknowledgment for the honour and kindness thus bestowed upon him. From the printed report of the sentiments which he uttered on that occasion, the following passages referred more distinctly than would have been becoming in the newspaper farewell to his literary aspirations, disappointments, and successes. The preamble and close, bearing principally upon the speaker's conduct in certain local concerns with which he had been long and actively connected, would be irrelevant here. Lord Viscount Milton (now the Earl Fitzwilliam) being in the chair, their guest gave the following account to his Lordship and the company of his former labours and sufferings :—

"I do not know that I ever stood in a more difficult situation than that in which I find myself at this moment. I have often encountered opposition; and, if I have seldom triumphed, I have never been so vanquished by hostility, but that I have in the end risen above it. Against friendship, however, I cannot hold out; the force of kindness is too much for me; I yield, and cast myself on your indulgence, confident that this will not fail me, though both thoughts and language may, in attempting to address you under my present embarrassment.

"Since I came to this town I have stood through many a fierce and bitter storm, and I wrapt the mantle of pride tighter and tighter

blast beat upon me; nay, when I was prostrate in the dust, without power to rise, or a friend strong enough to raise me, I still clung to my pride, or, rather, my pride clung to me, like the venomed robe of Hercules, not to be torn away but at the expense of life itself. However haughtily I may have carried myself in later trials and conflicts, the warmth and sunshine of this evening, within these walls, compel me, irresistibly, because willingly, to cast off every encumbrance, to lay my pride at your feet, and stand before you modestly, yet upright, in the garment of humility. But the humility which I now assume is as remote as possible from baseness and servility; nay, it is allied to whatever is noble and excellent in social feeling,-it is the offspring of gratitude; gratitude for the favour shown to me this day, by friends, fellow-townsmen, and neighbours. The deaf and dumb boy being required to define 'gratitude,' wrote down upon his slate, 'it is the remembrance of the heart:'—may my heart never lose its memory!

[blocks in formation]

"With politics I do not mean to trouble you here; I have already made my last speech and confession on those topics, as Editor of the Iris. Respecting that farewell address, I know not that I have any thing to add, to explain, or to retract. I give credit to every gentleman present for as much honesty in the choice of his opinions, and as much independence in the assertion of them, as I have always claimed for myself; I only ask, what, indeed, the presence of so many reputable persons of dissimilar persuasions, at this social board, assures me that I have,-I only ask that I may be judged by others as I myself desire to judge them. I may be allowed to observe, that if there be a day in the three hundred and sixty-five that compose the year, and surely out of three hundred and sixty-five there must be one at least, on which the civil war of parties should be suspended, and a truce, nay a jubilee, of all true patriots held; it is the fourth of November (the speaker's birthday), on which are

commemorated, not the event only, but the principles, of the Revolution of 1688. From these principles we all profess to derive our peculiarities; - before we take one step, then, towards dissension, we are all standing on common ground, and, to be consistent, we must be concordant to-day.

. "But the terms of the requisition for this meeting warrant, if they do not make it incumbent on me, that I should allude to a character in which I have won more honour, and hardly suffered less severely, than I have done in politics. In the issue of circumstances too minute and perplexing to bear exposure here, the following was my situation when I came, a stranger, to Sheffield. I had fondly, foolishly, sacrificed all my friends, connections, and prospects in life, and thrown myself headlong into the world, with the sole view of acquiring poetic laurels. The early, ardent breathing of my soul from boyhood had been,

What shall I do to be for ever known ?'


and to gain 'golden opinions from all sorts of men' by the power of my imagined genius, was the cherished hope and determined purpose of my mind. In the retirement of Fulneck, among the Moravian Brethren, by whom I had been educated, I was nearly as ignorant of the world and its every-day concerns, as those gold fishes swimming about in the glass globe on the pedestal before us are of what we are doing around them; and when I took the rash step of running into the vortex, I was nearly as little prepared for the business of general life, as they would be to take a part in our proceedings, were they to leap out of their element upon this table. The experience of something more than two years (at the time to which I now refer) had awakened me to the unpoetical realities around me, and I was left

• The author of Peak Scenery, a beautiful descriptive work, embellished with admirable engravings from sketches by Sir FRANCIS CHANTREY. Mr. RHODES might have been a poet of no mean order, had he

to struggle alone amidst the crowd that compose the world, without any of those inspiring motives left to cheer me, under the delusive influence of which I had flung myself amidst scenes, and into society, for which I was wholly unfit by feeling, taste, habit, or bodily constitution. Thus, I came hither, with all my hopes blighted like the leaves and blossoms of a premature spring, when the woods are spun over with insects' webs, or crawling with caterpillars. There was yet life, but it was perverse unnatural life, in my mind; and the renown which I found to be unattainable, at that time, by legitimate poetry, I resolved to secure by such means as made many of my contemporaries notorious. I wrote verse in the doggerel strain of Peter Pindar, and prose sometimes in imitation of Fielding and Smollett, and occasionally in the strange style of the German plays and romances then in vogue. Effort after effort failed. A Providence of disappointment shut every door in my face by which I attempted to force my way to a dishonourable fame. I was thus happily saved from appearing as the author of works which, at this hour, I should have been ashamed to acknowledge before you. Disheartened at length, with ill success, I gave myself up to indolence and apathy, and lost seven years of that part of my youth which ought to have been the most active and profitable, in alternate listlessness and despondency, using no further exertion in my office affairs than was necessary to keep up my credit under heavy pecuniary obligations, and gradually though slowly to liquidate them.

"During this dreary interval, I had but one friend and counsellor at home, Mr. EBENEZER RHODES*, and another at Manchester, Mr. JOSEPH ASTON, with whom I frequently corresponded. To these two I confided my schemes, entrerpises, and miscarriages; and they, so far as they could, consoled me with

continued to cultivate the talent by which he was advantageously known in his youth. He departed this life in December, 1839.

anticipations of a favourable change in the taste of the times, or a luckier application of my talents, when such productions as mine might be acceptable to the public. About the year 1803 I wrote, in my better vein of seriousness (being sickened with buffoonery and extravagance), a lyric poem, which appeared in the Iris under a signature not likely to betray me. Such were the unexpected applauses bestowed upon this piece (especially by the friends whom I have named), that, thenceforward, I returned to the true Muses, abjured my former eccentricities, and said to myself,

'Give me an honest fame, or give me none.'

(POPE.) Though I made not a literal vow to this purport, yet I have ever since endeavoured to act as though such a vow were upon me; and I do think, that no person in this room, or elsewhere, can rise up to contradict me. One occasional lay after another, in the same reformed spirit, were issued in the course of the two following years. I then began to collect the series into a volume for publication. While this was slowly proceeding through my own press, a gentleman of high talent and skill both in poetry and painting, Mr. WILLIAM CAREY, made several visits to Sheffield; and with him I soon became so well acquainted, that I freely communicated to him my poems and my projects. With zeal, intrepidity, and perseverance most exemplary, he took up my cause, and not only recommended the unknown poet in distant parts of the kingdom which he visited professionally, but made me better known as such even at home, where for a long period I had been principally celebrated as the writer of a weekly article, entitled Facts and Rumours, in my own newspaper.

"Soon afterwards THE WANDERER OF SWITZERLAND appeared, and was immediately hailed by another stranger of distinguished abilities, as a poet, an essayist, and a critic,-the late Dr. AIKIN. He took the poor foundling under his protection,—I may say, adopted it

into his family, -for his illustrious sister, Mrs. BARBAULD, and his accomplished daughter, Miss LUCY AIKIN (who has since proved herself worthy of her lineage by her own admirable writings), as well as two of the Doctor's sons, each eminently gifted,—I eagerly avail myself of the present happy opportunity of confessing obligations, these, all utterly unknown to me, except by their respective works, introduced my little volume into the literary circles of the metropolis, and secured for it, within a few weeks, a reading, which advertisements and reviews might not have obtained in twelve months. This poem and its accompaniments were rapidly rising in reputation, when a critical blast came over my second spring from so deadly a quarter (The Edinburgh Review), that I thought my immortality once more, and for the last time, slain. The devoted volume, however, survived, and it survives to this hour. Meanwhile one publication after another was issued, and success upon success, in the course of a few years, crowned my labours,—not indeed with fame and fortune, as these were lavished on my greater contemporaries, in comparison with whose magnificent possessions on the British Parnassus, my small plot of ground is no more than Naboth's vineyard to Ahab's kingdom: but it is my own, it is no copyhold; I borrowed it, I leased it, from none. Every foot of it I enclosed from the common myself; and I can say that not an inch which I had once gained have I ever lost. I attribute this to no extraordinary power of genius, or felicity of talent in the application of such power as I may possess ;-the estimate of that I leave to you who hear me, not in this moment of generous enthusiasm, but when the evening's enjoyment shall come under the morning's reflection. The secret of my moderate success I consider to have been the right direction of my abilities to right objects. In following this course I have had to contend with many disadvantages, as well as resolutely to avoid the most popular and fashionable ways to fame. I followed no mighty leader, belonged

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »