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The author of “Lacon” was educated at Cambridge, where, in 1804, being then in the twenty-fifth year of his age, he obtained a fellowship. He took orders, and was presented with the livings of Tiverton, Kew and Petersham. These, with his fellowship, produced a liberal income, but his necessities or eccentricities caused him to reside in an obscure garret, where he wrote the most celebrated of his works, “Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words.” By this he acquired considerable reputation, and his disappearance soon after, on the murder of WEARE, a person with whom he was supposed to have had some gambling transactions, induced a rumour that he had been assassinated. He left England however only to avoid his creditors, and came to America. Here, under an assumed name, he remained two years, at the end of which time he went to France, where he continued to reside for the residue of his life.
In Paris, he devoted himself to literature, gambling, and trade in pictures and wine. He wrote the celebrated letters in the London Morning Chronicle, signed O. P. Q.,” which attracted so much attention during the time of the Greek revolution, and several pamphlets on French politics and the state of Europe. He was deprived of his church livings for nonresidence, but is said to have more than supplied the loss with his cards and dice. He committed suicide, at Fontainebleau, in the summer of 1832.
The habits of Mr. Colton, in his most prosperous days, were peculiar. A friend who visited his lodgings in London, when he was in the zenith of his reputation, describes them as the most singular and ill-furnished apartments he had ever seen. IWeeping no servant, he swept his own floors, and lighted his own fires. He had but a single chair fit for use, but his closet was always stored with wines and cigars of the finest qualities, and he received his guests therefore without a thought
* This signature was subsequently used by a letter. writer of inferior abilities, Mr. Colton's correspondence ended we believe in 1831.
of apologies for the meanness of his rooms. Notwithstanding his dissolute life, few men were ever more earnest and constant in their advocacy of virtue; and the eloquence and energy with which he delivered his public discourses, sometimes led his parishioners to think he had reformed his morals. On one occasion, he surprised his congregation by a sermon of extraordinary power, uttered with the most serious and impressive voice and gesture; but on leaving the pulpit, with gun in hand, he joined his dogs, and drove to the house of a sporting friend in the neighbourhood, to be ready for the next day's chase. “Lacon” is doubtless a work of great merit, but the germs of many of its ideas may be found in BAcon and other authors, and some of its passages are commonplace in both thought and diction. Mr. Colton's other productions are “A Narrative of the Sampford Ghost,” “Remarks on the Talents of Lord Byron and the Tendencies of Don Juan,” poems entitled “Napoleon,” “The Conflagration of Moscow,” and “Hypocrisy;” and “Modern Antiquity, and other Lyrical Pieces,” published after his death. They are very unequal, and are marked sometimes by a redundancy of epithets, at others by a condensation which renders them unintelligible, and nearly always by a straining after effect and antithesis. One of the finest of his pieces is that beginning
“How long shall man’s imprison'd spirit groan 3”
which was written but a few weeks before he entered unbidden the presence of Him of whose laws he was so conspicuous a teacher and violator. Mr. Colton's political writings are among the most powerful and original essays in the language, but they were on subjects of temporary interest, and are forgotten. No work of its kind ever attracted more universal or lasting regard than “Lacon;” but with a perversity of judgment not without parallel in the histories of men of genius, he regarded “Hypocrisy” as the most perfect and endur
ing of his productions,
THE CONFLAGRATION OF MOSCOW.
HER royal nest the Russian eagle fires,
Blaze on, ye gilded domes and turrets high,
A fiery dungeon, where he hoped a throne.
Blaze on thou costliest, proudest sacrifice
From pine-ploughed Baltic, to that ice-bound coast,
Red-robed destruction far and wide extends Her thousand arms, and summons all her fiends To glut their fill, a gaunt and ghastly brood: Their food is carnage, and their drink is blood; Their music, wo: nor did that feast of hell Fit concert want, the conquerors' savage yell— Their groans and shrieks whom sickness, age, or wound, Or changeless, fearless love in fatal durance bound. While valour sternly sighs, while beauty weeps; And vengeance, soon to wake like Samson, sleeps, Shrouded in flame, the imperial city low Like Dagon's temple falls—but falls to crush the foe! Tyrant! think not she unavenged shall burn; Thou too hast much to suffer, much to learn : That thirst of power the Danube but inflamed, By Neva's cooler current may be tamed. Triumph a little space by craft and crime, Two foes thou canst not conquer–Truth and time. Resistless pair they doom thy power to fade, Lost in the ruins that itself hath made 1 Or, damn'd to fame, like Babylon to scowl O'er wastes where serpents hiss, hyaenas howl. Forge then the links of martial law, that bind, Enslave, imbrute, and mechanise the mind ; Indite thy conscript code with iron pen, That cancels crime, demoralizes men; Thy false and fatal aid to virtue lend, And start a Washington, a Nero end; And vainly strive to strangle in his youth Freedom, the Herculean son of light and truth. Stepfather foul —thou to his infant bed Didst steal, and drop a changeling in his stead. —Yes, yes, I see thee turn thy vaunting gaze, Where files reflect to files the o'erpowering blaze; Rather, like Xerxes, o'er those numbers sigh, Braver than his, but sooner doom'd to die. Here—not mber onfy courts that death it cloys Here—might is weakness, and herself destroys; Lead then thy southern myriads lock'd in steel, Lead on too soon their nerveless arm shall feel Those magazines impregnable of snow, That kill without a wound, o'erwhelm without a foe! I see thee,_'t is the bard's prophetic eye, Blindly presumptuous chief—I see thee fly While breathing skeletons, and bloodless dead, Point to the thirsting foe the track you tread. To seize was easy, and to march was plain; Hard to retreat, and harder to retain. Reft of thy trappings, pomp, and glittering gear, Dearth in thy van,—destruction in thy rear, Like foil'd Darius, doom'd too late to know The stern enigmas of a Scythian foe, Thy standard torn, while vengeful scorpions sting The imperial bird, and cramp his flagging wing, The days are number'd of thy motley host, Freedom's vain fear, oppression's vainer boast. And lo! the Beresyna opens wide His yawning mouth, his wintry weltering tide: Expectant of his mighty meal, he flows In silent ambush through his trackless snows: There shall thy way-worn ranks despairing stand, Like trooping spectres on the Stygian strand, And curse their fate and thee.—and conquest sown With retribution deep, in vain repentance moan
Thy veteran worn by wounds, and years, and toils, Pilgrim of honour in all suns and soils' By thy ambition foully tempted forth To fight the frozen rigours of the north, Above complaint, indignant at his wrongs, Curses the morsel that his life prolongs, [sighUnpierced, unconquer'd sinks; yet breathes a For he had hoped a soldier's death to die. Was it for this that fatal hour he braved, When o'er the cross the conquering crescent waved! Was it for this he ploughed the western main, To weld the struggling negro's broken chain, Faced his relentless hate, to frenzy fired; Stung by past wrongs, by present hopes inspired,— Then hurried home to lend his treacherous aid, And stain more deeply still the warrior's blade, When spoiled Iberia, roused to deeds sublime, Made vengeance virtue—clemency a crime; And 'scaped he these, to fall without a foe! The wolf his sepulchre—his shroud the snow ! 'T is morn!—but lo, the warrior-steed in vain The trumpet summons from the bloodless plain; Ne'er was he known till now to stand aloof, Still midst the slain was found his crimson hoof; And struggling still to join that well-known sound, He dies, ignobly dies, without a wound ! Oft had he hailed the battle from afar, And paw'd to meet the rushing wreck of war! With reinless neck the danger oft had braved, And crush'd the foe—his wounded rider saved; Oft had the rattling spear and sword assail'd His generous heart, and had as often fail'd : That heart no more life's frozen current thaws, Brave, guiltless champion, in a guilty cause ! One northern night more hideous work hath done Than whole campaigns beneath a southern sun. Spoil'd child of fortune! could the murder'd Turk Or wronged Iberian view thy ghastly work, They'd sheathe the vengeful blade, and clearly see Franco needs no deadlier, direr curse than thee. War hath fed war !—such was thy dread behest, Now view the iron fragments of the feast. Oh, if to cause and witness others' grief Unmoved, be firmness—thou art Stoa's chief! Thy fell recorded boast, all Zeno said Outdoes—“I wear my heart within my head"— Caught in the northern net, what darest thou dare 1 Snatch might from madness! courage from despair! If courage lend thy breast a transient ray, 'T is the storm's lightning—not the beam of day: When on thine hopes the cloud of battle lowers, And frowns the vengeance of insulted powers; When victory trembles in the doubtful scale, And death deals thick and fast his iron hail ; When all is staked, and the dread hazard known, A rising scaffold, and a falling throne ! Then, can thy dastard soul some semblance wear Of manhood's stamp—when fear hath conquer'd fear ! Canst thou be brave! whose dying prospects show A scene of all that's horrible in wo' On whose ambition, long by carnage nursed, Death stamps the greatest change—the last, the
Death !—to thy view most terrible of things,
While courage rears his limbs of giant form,
Events, as yet imprisoned in their seeds;