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RECOLLECTIONS OF A LITERARY LIFE
MY EARLIEST RECOLLECTIONS.
I NEVER take up these three heavily-bound volumes, the actual first edition, at which Dr. Johnson was wont to scoff, without feeling a pleasure quite apart from that excited by the charming book itself; although to that book, far more than to any modern school of minstrelsy, we owe the revival of the taste for romantic and lyrical poetry, which had lain dormant since the days of the Commonwealth.
This pleasure springs from a very simple cause—the association of these ballads with the happiest days of my happy childhood.
In common with many only children, especially where the mother is of a grave and home-loving nature, I learned to read at a very early age. Before I was three years old my father would perch me on the breakfast-table to exhibit my one accomplishment to some admiring guest, who admired
because, a small puny child, looking far younger than I really was, nicely dressed, as only children generally are, and gifted with an affluence of curls, I might have passed for the twin sister of my own great doll. On the table was I perched to read some Foxite newspaper, “Courier,” or “Morn. ing Chronicle,” the Whiggish oracles of the day, and as my delight in the high-seasoned politics of sixty years ago was naturally less than that of my hearers, this display of precocious acquirement was commonly rewarded, not by cakes or sugar-plums, too plentiful in my case to be very greatly cared for, but by a sort of payment in kind. I read leading articles to please the company; and my dear mother recited the
all the more,
“ Children in the Wood” to please me. This was my reward ; and I looked for my favourite ballad after every performance, just as the piping bullfinch that hung in the window looked for his lump of sugar after going through “God save the King.” The two cases were exactly parallel.
One day it happened that I was called upon to exhibit, during some temporary absence of the dear mamma, and cried out amain for the ditty that I loved. My father, who spoiled me, did not know a word of it, but he hunted over all the shelves till he had found the volumes, that he might read it to me himself; and then I grew unreasonable in my demand, and coaxed, and kissed, and begged that the book might be given to my maid Nancy, that she might read it to me whenever I chose. And (have I not said that my father spoilt me?) I carried my point, and the three volumes were actually put in charge of my pretty neat maid, Nancy (in those days nurserygovernesses were not), and she, waxing weary of the “Children in the Wood,” gradually took to reading to me some of the other ballads; and as from three years old I grew to four or five, I learned to read them myself, and the book became the delight of my childhood, as it is now the solace of my age. Ah, well-a-day! sixty years have passed, and I am an old woman, whose nut-brown hair has turned to white ; but I never see that heavily-bound copy of “Percy's Reliques" without the home of my infancy springing up before my eyes.
A pleasant home, in truth, it was. A large house in a little town of the north of Hampshire,—a town, so small that but for an ancient market, very slenderly attended, nobody would have dreamt of calling it anything but a village. The breakfast-room, where I first possessed myself of my beloved ballads, was a lofty and spacious apartment, literally lined with books, which, with its Turkey carpet, its glowing fire, its sofas and its easy chairs, seemed, what indeed it was, a very nest of English comfort. The windows opened on a large oldfashioned garden, full of old-fashioned flowers, stocks, roses, honeysuckles, and pinks; and that again led into a grassy orchard, abounding with fruit-trees, a picturesque country church with its yews and lindens on one side, and beyond, a down as smooth as velvet, dotted with rich islands of coppice, hazel, woodbine, hawthorn, and holly reaching up into the young oaks, and overhanging flowery patches of primroses,