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I was so lost that I could neither see nor hear, but she said a thousand things worse, and, but for Voltaire, she would have beaten me-he seized her round the waist, and dragged her away from me; for all this was said with fists clenched in my face, ready at every word to strike me. But in vain would he drag her away; she returned whenever she could get loose, screaming against my infamy—my infamous treachery, and all this in the hearing of my servant. I was a great while without being able to speak; at last I begged to see the letter—"you shan't have it," she screamed; but at length I was allowed to look at a passage of it: it was a letter of your's, in which you say, the canto of Joan is charming ; this unhappy phrase brought the whole affair to my recollection, and I remembered my innocent account of the canto which I had heard read. I told them so, and to do him justice, Voltaire believed me at once, and begged pardon for his cruel suspicion and violence. This dreadful trial lasted till five o'clock in the morning.'
We have not patience to go on with this story; the mean tricks and attempts at reconciliation, or rather oblivion, which these people played off, are even more disgusting than their original treachery and violence. The unhappy Madame de Grafigny was so poor that she had not the means of quitting the hell into which she had been betrayed; and they, afraid of exposure, were unwilling to let her go till they had secured her silence. Then came the tender Voltaire, weeping; then came the dishonoured husband, sympathising; then came the grosse dame, advising; then came the Fury equivocating; and an act of such open brutality was followed by successive scenes of the basest perfidy. At last the letter which had given rise to the unlucky answer was recalled; it proved Madame de Grafigny's innocence; it contained not a line of the poem, and only, as we have already stated, a mere outline of the plot of one canto; but it was too late—the whole mystery of iniquity was discovered—she could no longer remain amongst such devils— the word infamy stuck in her throat;' and to crown all, Desmarets made her the tendre aveu' already quoted. The poor wonian borrowed or begged a little money somewhere, and made her escape to Paris, where the liveliness of her conversation, and the ease of her manners, procured her a ready admission into society, and she became a regular blue-stocking :-publishing two or three works which were suspected not to be her own-keeping Voltaire in check by the fear of disclosing his brutality, and finally dying, much regretted by her intimates, in the year 1756, at the age of about sixty-six.
The latter half of the volume contains some unpublished letters of Voltaire, of no kind of interest. They are addressed to the President de Hainault, M. de Richelieu and M. D'Argental, in the same style of smart fummery which characterizes the letters to these persons which are already known. We have not met in
them a passage worth quoting; and as we have already given more space to this Article than the subject perhaps deserves, we are unwilling to occupy any time in dishing up again the crambe recocta’ of this verbose, vain and wearisome correspondence. Voltaire was a man of astonishing quickness, extent and versatility of talents; he had a great deal of wordly sense and of literary acuteness; and in individual cases, where his personal vanity (his ruling passion) was not compromised, he would sometimes be friendly and generous: but his total want of all principle, moral or religious; his impudent audacity; bis filthy sensuality; his persecuting envy; his base adulation; his unwearied treachery; his tyranny; his cruelty; his profligacy; his hypocrisy, will render him for ever the scorn, as his unbounded powers will the wonder of mankind.
ART. VIII.— Poems, descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. By
John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant. Second Edition.
cr. 8vo. London. 1820. pp. 213. W E had nearly overlooked, amidst the bulkier works which in
cessantly solicit our attention, this interesting little volume; which bears indubitable evidence of being composed altogether from the impulses of the writer's mind, as excited by external objects and internal sensations. Here are no tawdry and feeble paraphrases of former poets, no attempts at describing what the author might have become acquainted with in his limited reading: the woods, the vales, the brooks—
the crimson spots
l' the bottom of a cowslip,-'. or the loftier phenomena of the heavens, contemplated through the alternations of hope and despondency, are the principal sources whence the youth, whose adverse circunstances and resignatio ; under them extort our sympathy, drew the faithful and vivid pictures before us.
Examples of minds, highly gifted by nature, struggling with and breaking through the bondage of adversity, are not rare in this country; but privation is not destitution; and the instance before us is, perhaps, one of the most striking, of patient and persevering talent existing and enduring in the most forlorn and seemingly hopeless condition, that literature has at any time exhibited.
Clare, the youth of whom we speak, was born at Helpstone, a village most unpoetically situated where the easternmost point of Northamptonshire indents the Lincolnshire fens. His father and mother are parish-paupers; the former, from constant exposure to the inclemency of the seasons, being prematurely de
crepit, crepit, the latter, his cheerful companion in youth, has become, as they totter down the hill of life, his natural and constant nurse. If this condition of the parents enabled them to afford small indulgence to the son, the example of conjugal affection, we may hope, will not be lost upon a heart very susceptible of kind impressions. Our author, who is the elder of twins, was born in July, 1793;—the sister, who died immediately after the birth, was, to use his mother's figure of speech,' a bouncing girl, while John might have gone into a pint pot;' indicating a delicacy of frame under which he has always laboured. His education necessarily squared with the limited means of his parents. Of the dame, who in every village wields the 'tway birchen twigs' to the terror of the surrounding urchins, he learnt to spell and put two syllables together; and before he was six years old, was able, his mother says, to read a chapter in the Bible. As soon, however, as he was able to lead the fore-horse of the harvest team, he was set to work, and returning one evening from the field thus occupied, had the misfortune of seeing the loader fall from the waggon, and break his neck: this fatal accident threw him into fits, from which he did not recover till after a considerable lapse of time, nor without much anxiety and expense to his parents : even at this day he is not wholly free from apprehensions of their return. At the age of twelve, he assisted in the laborious employment of thrashing; the boy, in his father's own words, was weak but willing, and the good old man made a flail for him somewhat suitable to his strength. When his share of the day's toil was over, he eagerly ran to the village school under the belfry, and in this desultory and casual manner gathered his imperfect knowledge of language, and skill in writing. At the early period of which we are speaking, Clare felt the poetic ostrum. He relates, that twice or thrice in the winter weeks it was his office to fetch a bag of flour from the village of Maxey, and darkness often came on before he could return. The state of his nerves corresponded with his slender frane. The tales of terror with which his mother's memory shortened the long nights returned freshly to his fancy the next day, and to beguile the way and dissipate his fears, he used to walk back with his eyes fixed immovably on the ground, revolving in his mind some adventure without a ghost in it,' which he turned into verse; and thus, he adds, he reached the village of Helpstone often before he was aware of his approach. .
• The fate of Amy' is one of those stories with which every village, more especially every secluded village, abounds; and the pool, from her catastrophe named the haunted pool, is still shewn, while the niound at the head of it attests the place of her interL4
ment. We do not propose to institute a very rigid criticism on these poems, but we must not omit to notice the delicacy with which the circumstances of this inartificial tale are suggested, rather than disclosed; indeed it may be remarked generally that, though associating necessarily with the meanest and most uneducated of society, the poet's homeliest stories have nothing of coarseness and vulgarity in their construction. Some of his ballad stanzas rival the native simplicity of Tickel or Mallett.
• The flowers the sultry summer kills,
Spring's milder suns restore;
Blooms once, and blooms no more.
Their hearts no beauty warms;
That envied once her charms.
Her eye's bright lustre fled;
A sickly paleness spread.
Where canker-worms assail,
- Beneath the sickly gale’-p. 26. For the boisterous sports and amusements which form the usual delight of village youth, Clare had neither strength nor relish; his mother found it necessary to drive him from the chimney corner to exercise and to play, whence he quickly returned, contemplative and silent. His parents—we speak from knowledgewere apprehensive for his mind as well as his health ; not knowing how to interpret, or to what cause to refer these habits so opposite to those of other boys of his condition ; and when, a few years later, they found him hourly employed in writing,—and writing verses too,—the gear was not mended in their estimation. When he was fourteen or fifteen,' says Dame Clare, he would shew me a piece of paper, printed sometimes on one side, and scrawled all over on the other, and he would say, Mother, this is worth so much ; and I used to say to him, Aye, boy, it looks as if it warr —but I thought he was wasting his time.' Clare's history, for a few succeeding years, is composed in two words, spare diet and hard labour, cheered by visions of fancy which promised him happier days: there is an amusing mixture of earnestness and coquetry in his invocation to Hope, the deceitful sustainer, time immemorial, of poets and lovers.
Come, *Come, flattering Hope! now woes distress me,
Thy flattery I desire again;
To find thy vainness doubly vain.
And jeering whisper, thou art vain,
Still hope—and be deceived again.'—p. 122. The eccentricities of genius, as we gently phrase its most reprehensible excesses, contribute no interest to the biography of Clare. We cannot, however, regret this. Once, it seems,' visions of glory' crowded on his sight, and, he enlisted at Peterboro' in the local militia. He still speaks of the short period passed in his new character, with evident satisfaction. After a while, he took the bounty for extended service, and marched to Oundle; where, at the conclusion of a bloodless campaign, his corps was disbanded and he was constrained to return to Helpstone, to the dreary abode of poverty and sickness. His novel occupation does not appear to have excited any martial poetry; we need not therefere
unsphere the spirit of Plato,' adequately to celebrate the warlike strains of the modern Tyrtæus.
The clouds which had hung so heavily over the youth of Clare, far from dispersing, grew denser and darker as he advanced towards manhood. His father, who had been the constant associate of his labours, became more and more infirm, and he was constrained to toil alone, and far beyond his strength, to obtain a mere subsistence. It was at this cheerless moment, he composed “What is Life?' in which he has treated a common subject with an earnestness, a solemnity, and an originality deserving of all praise: some of the lines have a terseness of expression and a nervous freedom of versification not unworthy of Drummond, or of Cowley.
* And what is Life?--An hour-glass on the run,
A mist, reatreating from the morning sun,
Its length ?-A minute's pause, a moment's thought.
That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.
That robs each floweret of its gem,—and dies;
Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.
A long and lingering sleep, the weary crave.
peace -Where can its happiness abound?