Page images
PDF
EPUB

no insult likewise could reach you through it. Decus et solamen.

Of quite another stamp was the then accountant, John Tipp. He neither pretended to high blood, nor in good truth cared one fig about the matter. He “ thought an accountant the greatest character in the world, and himself the greatest accountant in it." Yet John was not without his hobby. The fiddle relieved his vacant hours. He sang, certainly, with other notes than to the Orphean lyre. He did, indeed, scream and scrape most abominably. His fine suit of official rooms in 'Threadneedle-street, which, without anything very substantial appended to them, were enough to enlarge a man's notions of himself that lived in them, (I know not who is the occupier of them now,) resounded fortnightly to the notes of a concert of “ sweet breasts,” as our ancestors would have called them, culled from clubrooms and orchestras-chorus singers -- first and second violoncellos-double basses-and clarionets—who ate his cold mutton, and drank his punch, and praised his ear. He sat like Lord Midas among them. But at the desk Tipp was quite another sort of creature Thence all ideas that were purely ornamental were banished. You could not speak of anything romantic without rebuke. Politics were excluded. A newspaper was thought too refined and abstracted. The whole duty of man consisted in writing off dividend warrants. The striking of the annual balance in the company's books (which, perhaps, differed from the balance of last year in the sum of 251. ls. 61.) occupied his days and nights for a month previous. Not that Tipp was blind to the deadness of things (as they call them in the city) in his beloved house, or did not sigh for a return of the old stirring days when South-Sea hopes were young—he was indeed equal to the wielding of any the most intricate accounts of the most flourishing company in these or those days)—but to a genuine accountant the difference of proceeds is as nothing. The fractional farthing is as dear to his heart as the thousands which stand before it. He is the true actor, who, whether his part be a prince or a peasant, must act it with like intensity. With Tipp, form was everything. His life was formal. His actions seemed ruled with a ruler. His pen was not less erring than his heart. He made the best executor in the world : he was plagued with incessant executorships accordingly, which excited his spleen and soothed his vanity in equal ratios. He would swear (for Tipp swore) at the little orphans, whose rights he would guard with a tenacity like the grasp of the dying hand that commended their interests to his protection. With all this there was about him a sort

of timidity-(his few enemies use to give it a worse name)-a something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you please, a little on this side of the heroic. Nature certainly had been pleased to endow John Tipp with a sufficient measure of the principle of self-preservation. There is a cowardice which we do not despise, because it has nothing base or treacherous in its elements ; it betrays itself, not you: it is mere temperament; the absence of the romantic and the enterprising; it sees a lion in the way, and will not, with Fortinbras, " greatly find quarrel in a straw," when some supposed honour is at stake. Tipp never mounted the box of a stage coach in his lise ; or leaned against the rails of a bal. cony; or walked upon the ridge of a parapet; or looked down a precipice ; or let off a gun ; or went upon a water party; or would willingly let you go if he could have helped it: neither was it recorded of him, that for lucre, or for intimidation, he ever forsook friend or principle.

Whom next shall we summon from the dusty dead, in whom common qualities become uncommon? Can I forget thee, Henry Man, the wit, the polished man of letters, the author, of the South-Sea House ? who never enteredst thy office in a morning, or quittedst it in midday, (what didst thou in an office ?) without some quirk that left a sting! Thy gibes and thy jokes are now extinct, or survive but in two forgotten volumes, which I had the good fortune to rescue from a stall in Barbican, not three days ago, and found thee terse, fresh, epigrammatic, as alive. Thy wit is a little gone by in these fastidious days — thy topics are staled by the “newborn gauds” of the time: but great thou used to be in Public Legers, and in chronicles, upon Chatham, and Shelburne, and Rockingham, and Howe, and Burgoyne, and Clinton, and the war which ended in tearing from Great Britain her rebellious colonies—and Keppel, and Wilkes, and Sawbridge, and Bull, and Dunning, and Pratt, and Richmond-and such small politics.

A little less facetious, and a great deal more obstreperous, was fine, rattling, rattle-headed Plumer. He was descended

-not in a right line, reader, (for his lineal pretensions, like his personal, favoured a little of the sinister bend,) from the Plumers of Hertfordshire. So tradition gave him out; and certain family features not a little sanctioned the opinion. Certainly old Walter Plumer (his reputed author) had been a rake in his days, and visited much in Italy, and had seen the world. He was uncle, bachelor uncle, to the fine old whig still living, who has represented the county in so many suco cessive parliaments, and has a fine old mansion near Ware

Walter flourished in George the Second's days, and was the same who was summoned before the house of commons about a business of franks, with the old Duchess of Marlborough. You may read of it in Johnson's life of Cave. Cave came off cleverly in that business. It is certain our Plumer did nothing to discountenance the rumour. He rather seemed pleased whenever it was, with all gentleness, insinuated. But, besides his family pretensions, Plumer was an engaging fellow, and sang gloriously.

Not so sweetly sang Plumer as thou sangest, mild, childlike, pastoral M—; a flute's breathing less divinely whis

-. pering than thy Arcadian melodies, when, in tones worthy of Arden, thou didst chant that song sung by Amiens to the banished duke, which proclaims the winter wind more lenient than for a man to be ungrateful. Thy sire was old surly M--, the unapproachable church warden of Bishopsgate. He knew not what he did when he begat thee, like spring, gentle offspring of blustering winter-only unfortunate in thy ending, which should have been mild, conciliatory, swanlike.

Much remains to sing. Many fantastic shapes rise up, but they must be mine in private : already I have fooled the reader to the top of his bent-else could I omit that strange creature Woollet, who existed in trying the question, and bought litigations ?-and still stranger, inimitable, solemn Hepworth, from whose gravity Newton might have deduced the law o. gravitation. How profoundly would he nib a pen—with wha deliberation would he wet a waler !

But it is time to close--night's wheels are rattling fas over me- it is proper to have done with this solemn mockery

Reader, what if I have been playing with thee all this while --peradventure the very names which I have summoned up before thee are fantastic-unsubstantial--like Henry Pimpernel and old John Naps of Greece.

Be satisfied that sornething answering to them has had a being. Their importance is from the past.

OXFORD IN THE VACATION.

Casting a preparatory glance at the bottom of this article the

wary connoisseur in prints, with cursory eye, (which, while it reads. seems as though it read not,) never fails to

as

consult the quis sculpsit in the corner, before he pronounces some rare piece to be a Vivares, or a Woollet-methinks ] hear you exclaim, reader, Who is Elia?

Because in my last I tried to divert thee with some half-forgotten humours of some old clerks defunct, in an old house of business, long since gone to decay, doubtless you have already set me down in your mind as one of the selfsame col. lege-a votary of the desk—a notched and cropped scrivener -one that sucks his sustenance, as certain sick people are said to do, through a quill.

Well, I do agnize something of this sort. I confess that it is my humour--my fancy in the fore part of the day, when the mind of your man of letters requires some relaxation-(and none better than such as at first sight seems most abhorrent from his beloved studies)—to while away some good hours of my time in the contemplation of indigoes, cottons, raw silks, piece goods, flowered or otherwise. In the first place

and then it sends you home with such increased appetite to your books

not to say that your outside sheets, and waste wrappers of foolscap, do receive into them, most kindly and naturally, the impression of sonnets, epigrams, essaysso that the very parings of a counting house are, in some sort, the settings up of an author. The enfranchised quill, that has plodded all the morning among the cart-rucks of figures and ciphers, frisks and curvets so at its ease over the flowery carpet ground of a midnight dissertation. It feels its promotion.

So that you see, upon the whole, the literary dignity of Elia is very little, if at all, compromised in the condescension.

Not that, in my anxious detail of the many commodities incidental to the life of a public office, I would be thought blind to certain flaws, which a cunning carper might be able to pick in this Joseph's vest. And here I must have leave, in the fulness of my soul, to regret the abolition, and doing away with altogether, of those consolatory interstices, and sprinklings of freedom, through the four seasons—the red-letter days, now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days. There was Paul, and Stephen, and Barnabas

“ Andrew and John, men famous in old times" we were used to keep all their days holy, as long back as ] was at school at Christ's. I remeniber their effigies, by the same token, in the old basket Prayer Book. There hung Peter in bis uneasy posture ; holy Bartlemy in the troublesome act of flaying, after the famous Marsyas by Spagnolette. I hon. oured them all, and could almost have wept the defalcation of

*

Iscariot, so much did we love to keep holy memories sacred; only methought I liule grudged at the coalition of the better Jude with Simon, clubbing (as it were) their sanctities together, to make up one poor gaudy-day between them, as an economy unworthy of the dispensation.

These were bright visitations in a scholar's and a clerk's life, “ far off their coming shone.” I was as good as an almanac in those days. I could have told you such a saint's day falls out next week, or the week after. Peradventure the Epiphany, by some periodical infelicity, would, once in six years, merge in a Sabbath. Now am I little better than one of the profane. Let me not be thought to arraign the wisdom of my civil superiors, who have judged the further observation of these holy tides to be Papistical, superstitious. Only in a custom of such long standing, methinks, if their holinesses the bishops had, in decency, been first sounded—but I am wading out of my depths. I am not the man to decide the limits of civil and ecclesiastical authority-I am plain Eliano Selden, nor Archbishop Usher, though at present in the thick of their books, here in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley.

I can here play the gentleman, enact the student. To such a one as myself, who has been defrauded in his young years of the sweet food of academic institution, nowhere is so pleasant, to while away a few idle weeks at, as one or other of the universities. Their vacation, too, at this time of the year, falls in so pat with ours. Here I can take my walks unmolested, and fancy myself of what degree or standing I please. I seem admitted ad eundum. I fetch up past opportunities. I can rise at the chapel bell, and dream that it rings for me. In moods of humility, I can be a sizer or a servitor. When the peacock vein rises, I strut a gentleman commoner. In graver moments, I proceed master of arts. Indeed, I do not think 1 am much unlike that respectable character. I have seen your dim-eyed vergers, and bedmakers in spectacles, drop a bow or courtesy as I pass, widely mistaking me for something of the sort. I go about in black, which favours the notion. Only in Christ Church reverend quadrangle, I can be content to pass for nothing short of a seraphic doctor.

The walks at these times are so much one's own-the tall trees of Christ's, the groves of Magdalen! The halls deserted, and with open doors inviting one to slip in unperceived, and pay a devoir to some founder, or noble or royal benesactress (that should have been ours) whose portrait seems to smile upon

their overlooked beadsman, and to adopt me for their own.

Then, to take a peep in, by-the-way, at the but

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »