« AnteriorContinuar »
self from its present embarrassment, how it is to escape from the poverty that seems to be overwhelming it, and how the government is to quiet the multitudes that are already turbulent and clamorous, and are yet but in the beginning of their real miseries, I cannot conceive.”
The embarrassments of the agricultural and laboring classes and of the government were as serious in 1816 as they have again become in 1881.
During 1817 Irving was mostly in the depths of gloom, a prey to the monotony of life and torpidity of intellect. Rays of sunlight pierce the clouds occasionally. The Van Wart household at Birmingham was a frequent refuge for him, and we have pretty pictures of the domestic life there; glimpses of Old Parr, whose reputation as a gourmand was only second to his fame as a Grecian, and of that delightful genius, the Rev. Rann Kennedy, who might have been famous if he had ever committed to paper the long poems that he carried about in his head, and the engaging sight of Irving playing the flute for the little Van Warts to dance. During the holidays Irving paid another visit to the haunts of Isaac Walton, and his description of the adventures and mishaps of a pleasure party on the banks of the Dove suggest that the incorrigible bachelor was still sensitive to the allurements of life, and liable to wander over the “dead-line " of matrimonial danger. He confesses that he was all day in Elysium. “When we had descended from the last precipice,” he says, “and come to where the Dove flowed musically through a verdant meadow—then - fancy me, oh, thou “sweetest of poets,’ wandering by the course of this romantic stream — a lovely girl hanging on my arm, pointing out the beauties of the surrounding scenery, and repeating in the most dulcet voice tracts of heaven-born poetry. If a strawberry smothered in cream has any consciousness of its delicious situation, it must feel as I felt at that moment.” Indeed, the letters of this doleful year are enlivened by so many references to the graces and attractions of lovely women, seen and remembered, that insensibility cannot be attributed to the author of the “SketchBook.” The death of Irving's mother in the spring of 1817 determined him to remain
LIFE IN EUROPE. 113
another year abroad. Business did not improve. His brother-in-law Van Wart called a meeting of his creditors, the Irving brothers floundered on into greater depths of embarrassment, and Washington, who could not think of returning home to face poverty in New York, began to revolve a plan that would give him a scanty but sufficient support. The idea of the “Sketch-Book” was in his mind. He had as yet made few literary acquaintances in England. It is an illustration of the warping effect of friendship upon the critical faculty that his opinion of Moore at this time was totally changed by subsequent intimacy. At a later date the two authors became warm friends and mutual admirers of each other's productions. In June, 1817, “Lalla Rookh” was just from the press, and Irving writes to Brevoort: “Moore's new poem is just out. I have not sent it to you, for it is dear and worthless. It is written in the most effeminate taste, and fit only to delight boarding-school girls and lads of nineteen just in their first loves. Moore should have kept to songs and epigrammatic conceits. His stream of intellect
is too small to bear expansion — it spreads into mere surface.” Too much cream for the strawberry ! Notwithstanding business harassments in the summer and fall of 1817 he found time for some wandering about the island; he was occasionally in London, dining at Murray's, where he made the acquaintance of the elder D'Israeli and other men of letters (one of his notes of a dinner at Murray's is this: “Lord Byron told Murray that he was much happier after breaking with Lady Byron — he hated this still, quiet life"); he was publishing a new edition of the “ Knickerbocker,” illustrated by Leslie and Allston; and we find him at home in the friendly and brilliant society of Edinburgh; both the magazine publishers, Constable and Blackwood, were very civil to him, and Mr. Jeffrey (Mrs. Renwick was his sister) was very attentive; and he passed some days with Walter Scott, whose home life he so agreeably describes in his sketch of “Abbotsford.” He looked back longingly to the happy hours there (he writes to his brother): “Scott reading, occasionally, from ‘Prince Arthur'; telling border stories or characteristic anecdotes ; Sophy Scott singing with charming naïveté a little border song ; the rest of the family disposed in listening groups, while greyhounds, spaniels, and cats bask in unbounded indulgence before the fire. Everything about Scott is perfect character and picture.” In the beginning of 1818 the business affairs of the brothers became so irretrievably involved that Peter and Washington went through the humiliating experience of taking the bankrupt act. Washington's connection with the concern was little more than nominal, and he felt small anxiety for himself, and was eager to escape from an occupation which had taken all the elasticity out of his mind. But on account of his brothers, in this dismal wreck of a family connection, his soul was steeped in bitterness. Pending the proceedings of the commissioners, he shut himself up day and night to the study of German, and while waiting for the examination used to walk up and down the room, conning over the German verbs. In August he went up to London and cast himself irrevocably upon the fortune of his pen. He had accumulated some mate.