Sidor som bilder
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

inn, and also ordered dinner. 'I am very sorry that I cannot accommodate you, Sir,' said the hostess; but every thing we have in the house has been bespoke by a gentleman who arrived a few minutes before you.'Go up stairs,' said the traveller, and tell your guest I shall be obliged to him if he will permit me to share his dinner, and I will defray ny portion of the expense.' The hostess delivered the message to the first traveller, who politely replied, Tell the gentleman I shall be glad of his company, but that it is not my practice to accept payment from persons whom I invite to dine with me.' The second traveller accordingly went up stairs, and having expressed his acknowledgments for the kind reception he had experienced, they both sat down to table.

[ocr errors]

"The dinner was as cheerful as could be expected, considering the short acquaintance of the parties; but during the dessert, when some excellent wine was placed before them the conversation became more unrestrained, and the second traveller ventured to ask his obliging Amphitryon what had brought him to that part of the country, where he appeared to be a stranger? I have been ordered here,' he replied, by the cardinal.'

[ocr errors]

By the cardinal!' resumed his companion. Pardon my curiosity, Sir, if I inquire whether you have reason to suppose you have given his Eminence any offence?'- By no means,' replied the first traveller; and it is to free myself from any such imputation that I have come here. The fact is, there has been published at Rochelle, my native town, a virulent satire upon the public conduct and personal character of the cardinal, several copies of which have been addressed to the king; and though I never in my life wrote a single word that has appeared in print, I am nojustly accused of being the author of this pamphlet. Nothing obtains such ready belief as the whisperings of folly and illnature; and I have therefore lost no time in obeying the summons of his Eminence, in the hope of effectually refuting the absurd charge that has been brought against me.'—' Sir,' said his companion, with an expression of marked anxiety, return thanks to Providence for the fortunate accident which has introduced me to you to-day. I also have been summoned hither by the cardinal, and for no other purpose, I am convinced, than that of beheading you!' A thrill of horror passed through the frame of the person to whom these words were addressed. Yes, sir,' resumed the speaker, I say again my task would have been to behead you. I am the executioner of a neighbouring town; and whenever the cardinal has any secret act of vengeance to perform I receive orders to repair to the castle. The particulars I have just heard you relate, together with the hour of your appointment here, all convince me, beyond a doubt, that you are marked out as a victim.-But fear nothing: I will secure your escape. Order your horse instantly and go with me. I will acquit myself of the debt of gratitude which your courtesy has imposed on me.'

"The horror and alarm of the poor traveller may be more easily conceived than described. He instantly ordered the horses to be saddled, and having paid the bill, he and his companion set out, taking a private way through the wood of Bertard. 'Do you see,' said his guide, as they approached the castle, that grated window which almost reaches the crannies of the central turret? In that dungeon sentences, against which there is no appeal, are pronounced and executed, and the mutilated bodies of the victims are hurled into the moat below, where they are speedily destroyed

[ocr errors]

by quick-lime. Neglect not to observe my instructions. Conceal yourself hehind that hedge; and if within the space of an hour you see a light glimmering at the window which I have pointed out, then you may conclude that I am ordered here to execute vengeance upon another: but if, on the contrary, you see no light, rely on it that you yourself are the intended victim. In that case lose not a moment. Profit by the darkness of the night and the swiftness of your horse. Gain the frontier, and there plead your cause as you think fit. But permit me to tell you, that it is absurd to seek to justify yourself against the imputation of an offence which you have not committed; for, where despotism reigns law, and justice are powerless.'

"Having expressed unbounded gratitude to his tutelary saint, the traveller withdrew to his hiding-place. The suspicions of the cardinal's agent proved well founded. No light appeared at the window of the turret ; and at the expiration of the hour the traveller galloped off. He immediately quitted France, and did not venture back until after the death of the cardinal.

"On returning to his native country, his first business was to visit the inn of Rouelle, and to make inquiries respecting his benefactor; who, however, had not been seen or heard of for several years. He then related his adventure, which has since become a local tradition, and has conferred celebrity on the inn of Rouelle, known by the sign of the Cheval Blanc. The room in which the two travellers dined is shown to this day, and is called la salle de bon secours.

"You see, gentlemen," added Prince Eugene, "that there is some difference between the impression which Malmaison produced on you, and that which was experienced when the tour des oubliettes was an object of terror to the neighbouring country."-vol. ii. pp. 267–271.

We might go on amusing ourselves and the reader through a dozen or two more pages, exhibiting the attractive matter which teems in the volume before us; but we must put it away, under the hope that we have fairly exhibited its merits, and that we may soon again meet with its accomplished author, in that more important work which he has promised to execute.

ART. III.-Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions, and Discoveries. Interspersed with some Particulars respecting the Author.* By William Godwin. 8vo. pp. 471. London: Wilson, 1831.

We regret to say that this work, like all Mr. Godwin's philosophical productions, must be read with great caution, in order to be read with advantage. It resembles, in its leading features, the same author's "Enquirer-Reflections on Education, Manners and Literature," which was published in 1797. Like that series of essays, the present collection is written in a terse and perspicuous


A work under a title nearly similar to this was some time since announced by Mr. Murray, from the pen of the late Anastasius Hope. Since the death of that accomplished scholar, the work has been very properly suppressed by his executors, as it was thought to be rather too latitudinarian.

[blocks in formation]

style, and bears strong marks of originality and dogmatism. Although the author professes to treat only of topics which had not been discussed by any preceding writer-a profession, by the way, that sounds of a degree of empiricism, which we would not willingly impute to him-nevertheless he has, perhaps unconsciously, reproduced in these pages, several subjects which he had already commenced, at least, in the "Enquirer," in his "Political Justice," as well as in some of his other writings. We find that upon Education, Talents, Character, Benevolence, Frankness, Liberty of Action, Human Virtue, not to mention other heads of his chapters, he has repeated ideas which he had before announced, and expanded many germs of thought, for which he had, more than thirty years ago, obtained his due share of applause. We do not object to this as a material fault in itself; we mention it as a fact that contradicts the assertion of that entire novelty which is assumed as conferring peculiar value upon the present performance.

Indeed, we might observe that, with very few exceptions, there is hardly a single topic developed in this volume, which Mr. Godwin had not directly or indirectly touched upon in his former compositions. We must even go farther and say, that it has been, so far as we can judge, his principal object, in framing the work before us, to impart a more popular form to those notions of the universe, of political and religious institutions, of men and manners, which in common with Helvetius and Rousseau, and the author of the Systême de la Nature, he had propagated in the early part of his life. The style in which he clothes those notions is fresh, and we may add generally elegant and inviting; but the doctrine upon all essential points is still the same. The years that have since scattered their snows upon his head, have produced little alteration in his sentiments. He is still for peace and order in the community, and the means by which he would obtain those ends are more conformable with the existing state of our government than we had expected to find them. He is also still as zealous as ever for the diffusion of happiness, the cultivation of all that is kindly and generous in human feelings; and quite an enthusiast in his admiration of that "miracle," man, and of the world which is around and above him. But believing as he does in the existence of a God, and in the immortality of the soul, he still thinks, as he thought years ago, that what is called Religion is a mere artificial invention, without which man might safely accomplish all that is required of him. Reason and the sentiments of love and friendship and virtue which spring up naturally in the breast, together with the talents that are given to us, and the occupations in which we are engaged, are quite sufficient, according to Mr. Godwin's philosophy, not only to keep the great majority of mankind out of mischief, but to preserve them in innocence, and to conduct them to that felicity which is to have no end. He does not startle us indeed by violent declamations against Christianity, but if he abstain from open and conspicuous hostility to the divine origin of the scriptures,his parenthetical sneers

against them render it impossible that his opinions on this subject should be mistaken. He speaks of the Redeemer merely as the son of a poor carpenter, who had the good fortune to give birth to a sect!-like Mahomet, or the founder of the quakers!

There is much in these essays worthy of praise, both in sentiment and expression; we perceive in them many notions of a cheering and benevolent nature, respecting the human race in general. But, unhappily, we must trace them all to an apocryphal source, found in that system of philosophy which yields nothing to revelation, which admits of no mysteries, and requires mathematical demonstration in all things. Faith, in a religious sense, is altogether discarded from this system. Nothing is of any value which fails to produce conviction. The reason must be a consenting party to the truth and expediency of every rule by which human conduct is to be directed. Living by that light here, we must be happy hereafter, for God is powerful, and can make us happy. He is good, and will, of necessity, exert that attribute in our favour. This is the summary of Mr. Godwin's religion!

How lamentably mistaken should we be, were we to accept this doctrine as the regulator of our thoughts and actions! Mr. Godwin, assuredly, does not persuade himself that such a religion as this is now disclosed for the first time, or that it is a novelty even in his own hands. Warning the reader against its influence, and requesting him to guard himself from the incidental sarcasmns upon Christianity which he will find in these essays, we may at the same time recommend them to his attention. He will find in them a good deal of matter that will excite his reflective faculty and kindle his imagination. He will observe indeed that Mr. Godwin is ambitious of originality, is fond of being considered a leader of his fellows, is often dogmatical, wears the self-sufficient air of a schoolmaster, and has evidently thought more than he has read. His early education was manifestly defective. Although he quotes the classics of the latin and our own language, his mind has received no polish from them; it has not breathed long enough of their atmosphere of poetry to think as they thought, and to be imbued with their taste. Horace talks of the cask that always savours of the generous wine it once contained. This illustration cannot be applied to Mr. Godwin; the cask was seasoned, but the wine was home-made, not the true Falernian. He repaired, as far as he could by self-education, the want of the usual academical course, and by perseverance and a habit of meditation has become what he is, an independent ideologist, a doctrinaire, as the French say, who is anxious to form a school of his own. In this object he has hitherto failed. We have never had any Godwinites, and are not likely to have. The mind of the master is too peculiar to attract many pupils. Nevertheless his lectures may be read with profit and pleasure; there are amiable traits about them which will go to redeem their faults in the eves of the most fastidious moralist.


The personal' particulars' which the author announces as being interpersed through this work, are so few that they hardly deserved to be noticed in the title-page. They are, however, as all autobiography is, interesting as far as they make us acquainted with his intellectual constitution. Voluminous as his compositions have been, he begs his readers to believe that he never in any instance contributed a page to any periodical miscellany. We should not think the worse of him if he had. Perhaps if he had submitted some of his lucubrations to the test of such productions, he might have found the necessity of giving them a more popular and attractive aspect than they now wear. The best essays in our language, Addison's, Steele's, Johnson's, appeared first in a periodical form; and we may presume that a desire to captivate the attention of general readers, tended rather to augment than to diminish the care with which those authors finished their compositions. Hence those artist-like touches which even now we admire in them. Indeed we doubt whether Mr. Godwin would ever succeed as a periodical writer, and perhaps this is the secret of his non-appearance in that character. No one would read in a magazine or newspaper an Essay on Human Innocence,' or on Frankness and Reserve,' whereas in a "regular book" such themes may be endurable as a diversion from more weighty subjects.

[ocr errors]

The author further informs us, as indeed his writings sufficiently prove, that his mind, though constitutionally meditative, is very far from being misanthropical. I have lived,' he says, among, and I feel an ardent interest in, and love for, my brethren of mankind. This sentiment, which I regard with complacency in my own breast, I would gladly cherish in others. In such a cause I am well pleased to enrol myself a missionary!' In another place he expresses himself thus:-'I had entered upon a certain career; and I held it to be my duty not to abandon it.' In other words Mr. Godwin appears to live under an impression that he is destined to teach the purest truths of philosophy to mankind. This idea of a mission is not peculiar to him. Napoleon conceived that he had it in charge to overturn all thrones but his own. Chateaubriand believed himself called to re-construct them. The progress of events is sure to demonstrate the vanity of political charlatans. The world, we apprehend, would go on just as well, if Mr. Godwin's mission' had never taken place, or if his certain career' had long ago been abandoned. Individuals are no more than grains of sand on the sea-shore. Their affectation of self-importance would be laughable, if it were not so humiliating.

[ocr errors]

In other respects we are not displeased with Mr. Godwin's egotism. Religion being altogether out of his calculations, he seems to enjoy life with more zest than most persons of his age. He sets about his purpose like an intellectual Epicurus. His grand rule is, that it is desirable not to accomplish our ends within the briefest possible space of time, but rather to consider existence as 'an

« FöregåendeFortsätt »