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CHILDREN love to listen to stories about their elders, when they were children ; to stretch their imaginations to the conception of a traditionary great uncle or grandam whom they never saw. It was in this spirit that my little ones crept about me the other evening to hear about their Great-grandmother Field, who lived in a great house in Norfolk (a hundred times bigger than that in which they and papa lived) which had been the scene—so at least it was generally believed in that part of the country-of the tragic incidents which they had lately become familiar with from the ballad of the Children in the Wood. Certain it is that the whole story of the children and their cruel uncle was to be seen fairly carved out in wood upon the chimneypiece of the great hall, the whole story down to the Robin Redbreasts, till a foolish rich person pulled it down to set up a marble one of modern invention in its stead, with no story upon it.
Here Alice put out one of her dear mother's looks, too tender to be called upbraiding.
Then I went on to say how religious and how good their great-grandmother Field was, how beloved and respected by everybody, though she was not indeed the mistress of this great house, but had only the charge of it (and yet in some respects she might be said to be the mistress of it too) committed to her by the owner, who preferred living in a newer and more fashionable mansion which he had purchased somewhere in the adjoining county ; but still she lived in it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up the dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived, which afterward came to decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner's other house, where they were set up, and looked as awkward as if some one were to carry away the old tombs they had seen lately at the Abbey, and stick them up in Lady C.'s tawdry guilt drawing room Here John smiled, as much as to say, " That would be foolish indeed."
And then I told how, when she came to die, her funeral was attended by a concourse of all the poor, and some of the gentry too, of the neighbourhood for many miles round, to show their respect for her memory, because she had been such a good and religious woman ; so good, indeed, that she knew all the Psalter by heart-ay, and a great part of the Testament besides. Here little Alice spread her hands.
Then I told what a tall, upright, graceful person their greatgrandmother Field once was ; and how in her youth she was esteemed the best dancer-here Alice's little right foot played an involuntary movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted—the best dancer, I was saying, in the county, till a cruel disease, called a cancer, came and bowed her down with pain ; but it could never bend her good spirits, or make them stoop, but they were still upright, because she was so good and religious.
Then I told how she was used to sleep by herself in a lone chamber of the great lone house ; and how she believed that an apparition of two infants was to be seen at midnight gliding up and down the great staircase near where she slept, but she said “those innocents would do her no harm ;" and how frightened I used to be, though in those days I had my maid to sleep with me, because I was never half so good or religious as she—and yet I never saw the infants. Here John expanded all his eyebrows and tried to look courageous.
Then I told how good she was to all her grandchildren, having us to the great house in the holydays, where I in particular used to spend many hours by myself, in gazing upon the old busts of the Twelve Cæsars, that had been emperors of Rome, till the old marble heads would seem to live again, or I to be turned into marble with them; how I never could be tired with roaming about that huge mansion, with its vast empty rooms, with their worn-out hangings, fluttering tapestry, and carved oaken panels, with the gilding almost rubbed out —sometimes in the spacious oldfashioned gardens, which I had almost to myself, unless when now and then a solitary gardening man would cross me—and how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, without my ever offering to pluck them, because they were forbidden fruit, unless now and then—and because I had more pleasure in strolling about among the old melancholy-looking yew trees, or the firs, and picking up the red berries and the fir apples, which were good for nothing but to look at—or in lying about upon the fresh grass, with all the fine garden smells around memor basking in the orangery, till I could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges and the limes in that grateful warmth-or in watching the dace that darted to and fro in the fish pond, at the bottom of the garden, with here and there a great sulky pike hanging midway down the water in silent state, as if it mocked at their impertinent friskings-1 had more pleasure in these busy idle diversions than in all the sweet flavours of peaches, nectarines, oranges, and such like common baits of children. Here John slyly deposited back upon the plate a bunch of grapes, which, not unobserved by Alice, he had meditated dividing with her, and both seemed willing to relinquish them for the present as irrelevant.
Then in somewhat a more heightened tone, I told how, though their great-grandmother Field loved all her grandchildren, yet in an especial manner she might be said to love their uncle, John L- because he was so handsome and spirited a youth, and a king to the rest of us; and, instead of moping about in solitary corners, like some of us, he would mount the most mettlesome horse he could get, when but an imp no bigger than themselves, and make it carry him half over the county in a morning, and join the hunters when there were any out—and yet he loved the old great house and gardens too, but had too much spirit to be always pent up within their boundaries--and how their uncle grew up to man's estate, as brave as he was handsome, to the admiration of everybody, but of their great-grandmother Field most especially ; and how he used to carry me upon his back when I was a lame-footed boy-for he was a good bit older than me
-many a mile when I could not walk for pain ; and how in after life he became lame footed too, and I did not always (I fear) make allowances enough for him when he was impatient and in pain, nor remember sufficiently how considerate he had been to me when I was lame footed; and how when he died, though he had not been dead an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a distance there is between life and death; and how I bore his death as I thought pretly well at first, but afterward it haunted and haunted me; and though I did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as I think he would have done if I had died, yet I missed him all day long, and knew not till then how much I had loved him. I missed his kindness, and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be alive again, to be quarrelling with him, (for we quarrelled sometimes,) rather than not have him again, and was as uneasy without him, as he their poor uncle must have been when the doctor took off his limb. Here the children fell a crying, and asked if their little mouring which they had on was not for Uncle John, and they looked up, and prayed me not to go on about their uncle, but to tell them some stories about their pretty dead mother.
Then I told how for seven long years, in hope sometimes, and sometimes in despair, yet persisting ever, I courted the fair Alice W -n; and, as much as children could understand, I explained to them what coyness, and difficulty, and denial meant in maidens—when suddenly turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a reality of representment, that I became in doubt which of chem stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and still receding, till nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech : “We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice call Bartrum father. We are nothing ; less than nothing; and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name.” And immediately awaking, I found myself quietly seated in my bachelor armchair, where I had fallen asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my side--but John L. (or James Elia) was gone for ever
IN A LETTER TO B. F. ESQ., AT SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES.
MY DEAR F.-When I think how welcome the sight of a letter from the world where you were born must be to you in that strange one to which you have been transplanted, I feel some compunctious visitings at my long silence. But, indeed, it is no easy effort to set about a correspondence at our distance. The weary world of waters between us oppresses the imagination. It is difficult to conceive how a scrawl of mine should ever stretch across it. It is a sort of presumption to expect that one's thoughts should live so far. It is like writing for posterity ; and reminds me of one of Mrs. Rowe's superscriptions, “Alcander to Strephon, in the shades.” Cowley's Post Angel is no more than would be expedient in such an intercourse. One drops a package at Lombard-street, and in twenty-four hours a friend in Cumberland gets it as fresh as if it came in ice. It is only like whispering through a long trumpet. But suppose a tube let down from the moon, with yourself at one end and the man at the other; it would be some balk to the spirit of conversation, if you knew that the dialogue exchanged with that interesting theosophist would
take two or three revolutions of a higher luminary in its pas. sage. Yet for aught I know, you may be some parasangs nigher than primitive idea-Plato's man—than we in England here have the honour to reckon ourselves.
Epistolary matter usually compriseth three topics ; news, sentiment, and puns. In the latter, I include all non-serious subjects; or subjects serious in themselves, but treated after my fashion, non-seriously. And first, for news. In them the most desirable circumstance, I suppose, is that they shall be true. But what security can I have that what I now send you for truth, shall not before you get it unaccountably turn into a lie? For instance, our mutual friend P. is at this present writing my Now-in good health, and enjoys a fair share of worldly reputation. You are glad to hear it. This is natural and friendly. But at this present reading--your Now -he may possibly be in the Bench, or going to be hanged, which in reason ought to abate something of your transport, (i. e. at hearing he was well, &c.,) or at least considerably to modify it. I am going to the play this evening, to have a laugh with Munden. You have no theatre, I think you
told me, in your land of d-d realities. You naturally lick your lips, and envy me my felicity. Think but a moment, and you will correct the hateful emotion. Why, it is Sunday morning with you, and 1823. This confusion of tenses, this grand solecism of two presents, is in a degree common to all postage. But if I sent you word to Bath, or the Devises, that I was expecting the aforesaid treat this evening, though at the moment you received the intelligence my full feast of fun would be over; yet there would be for a day or two after, as you would well know, a smack, a relish left upon my mental palate, which would give rational encouragement for you to foster a portion at least of the disagreeable passion, which it was in part my intention to produce. But ten months hence your envy or your sympathy would be as useless as a passion pent upon the dead. Not only does truth, in these long intervals, unessence herself, but (what is harder) one cannot venture a crude fiction for the fear that it may ripen into a truth upon
What a wild improbable banter I put upon you some three years since-of Will Wetherall having inarried a servant maid! I remember gravely consulting you how we were to receive her—for Will's wife was in no case to be rejected ----and your no less serious replication in the matter; how tenderly you advised an abstemious introduction of literary topics before the lady, with a caution not to be too forward in bringing upon the carpet matters more within the splcre of her intelligence ; your deliberate judgment, or rather