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Ye Mariners of England.
Ye mariners of England!
Your glorious standard launch again To match another foe!
And sweep through the deep
The spirits of your fathers Shall start from every wave!
For the deck it was their field of fame,
Britannia needs no bulwark,
Her march is o'er the mountain-waves,
The meteor flag of England
Till danger's troubled night depart,
On Linden, when the sun was low,
But Linden saw another sight,
MATTHEW GREGORY LEWIS.
MATTHEW GREGORY LEWIS, author of The Monk, was born in London in the year 1773. His father was deputy secretary in the war-office-a lucrative situation-and was owner also of extensive West Indian possessions. Matthew was educated at Westminster school, where he was more remarkable for his love of theatrical exhibitions than for his love of learning. On leaving Westminster, he was entered of Christ Church college, Oxford, but remained only a short period, being sent to Germany with the view of acquiring a knowledge of the language of that country. When a child, Lewis had
Matthew Gregory Lewis.
pored over Glanville on Witches, and other books of diablerie; and in Germany he found abundant food of the same description. Romance and the drama were his favourite studies; and whilst resident abroad, he composed his story of The Monk,' a work more extravagant in its use of supernatural machinery than any previous English tale of modern times, and disfigured with passages of great licentiousness. The novel was published in 1795, and attracted much attention. A prosecution, it is said, was threatened on account of the peccant scenes and descriptions; to avert which, Lewis pledged himself to recall the printed copies, and to recast the work in another edition. The author continued through life the same strain of marvellous and terrific composition-now clothing it in verse, now infusing it into the scenes of a drama, and at other times expanding it into regular tales. His Feudal Tyrants, Romantic Tales, his Tales of Terror, and Tales of Wonder, and his numerous plays, all bespeak the same parentage as The Monk,' and none of them excel it. His best poetry, as well as prose, is to be found in this novel; for, like Mrs Radcliffe, Lewis introduced poetical compositions into his tales; and his ballads of Alonzo the Brave and Durandarte were as attractive as any of the adventures of Ambrosio the monk. Flushed with the brilliant success of his romance, and fond of distinction and high society, Lewis procured a seat in parliament, and was returned for the borough of Hindon. He found himself disqualified by nature for playing the part of an orator or politician; and though he retained
his seat till the dissolution of parliament, he never attempted to address the house. The theatres offered a more attractive field for his genius; and his play of The Castle Spectre, produced in 1797, was applauded as enthusiastically and more universally than his romance. Connected with his dramatic fame a very interesting anecdote is related in the Memoirs and Correspondence of Lewis, published in 1839. It illustrates his native benevolence, which, amidst all the frivolities of fashionable life, and the excitement of misapplied talents, was a conspicuous feature in his character :
Being one autumn on his way to participate in the enjoyments of the season with the rest of the fashionable world at a celebrated watering-place, he passed through a small country town, in which chance occasioned his temporary sojourn: here also were located a company of strolling players, whose performance he one evening witnessed. Among them was a young actress, whose benefit was on the tapis, and who, on hearing of the arrival of a person so talked of as Monk Lewis, waited upon him at the inn, to request the very trifling favour of an original piece from his pen. The lady pleaded in terms that urged the spirit of benevolence to advocate her cause in a heart never closed to such appeal. Lewis had by him at that time an unpublished trifle, called "The Hindoo Bride," in which a widow was immolated on the funeral pile of her husband. The subject was one well suited to attract a country audience, and he determined thus to appropriate the drama. The delighted suppliant departed all joy and gratitude at being requested to call for the manuscript the next day. Lewis, however, soon discovered that he had been reckoning without his host, for, on searching the travelling-desk which contained many of his papers, "The Bride" was nowhere to be found, having, in fact, been left behind in town. Exceedingly annoyed by this circumstance, which there was no time to remedy, the dramatist took a pondering stroll through the rural environs of BA sudden shower obliged him to take refuge within a huckster's shop, where the usual curtained half-glass door in the rear opened to an adjoining apartment: from this room he heard two voices in earnest conversation, and in one of them recognised that of his theatrical petitioner of the morning, apparently replying to the feebler tones of age and infirmity. "There now, mother, always that old story-when I've just brought such good news too-after I've had the face to call on Mr Monk Lewis, and found him so different to what I expected; so good-humoured, so affable, and willing to assist me. I did not say a word about you, mother; for though in some respects it might have done good, I thought it would seem so like a begging affair; so I merely represented my late ill-success, and he promised to give me an original drama, which he had with him, for my benefit. I hope he did not think me too bold!" "I hope not, Jane," replied the feeble voice; " only don't do these things again without consulting me; for you don't know the world, and it may be thoughtThe sun just then gave a broad hint that the shower had ceased, and the sympathising author returned to his inn, and having penned the following letter, ordered post-horses, and despatched a porter to the young actress with the epistle.
her non-appearance; having had an opportunity of witnessing your very admirable performance of a far superior character, in a style true to nature, and which reflects upon you the highest credit. I allude to a most interesting scene, in which you lately sustained the character of "The Daughter!" Brides of all denominations but too often prove their empire delusive; but the character you have chosen will improve upon every representation, both in the estimation of the public and the satisfaction of your own excellent heart. For the infinite gratification I have received, I must long consider myself in your debt. Trusting you will permit the enclosed (fifty pounds) in some measure to discharge the same, I remain, madam, (with sentiments of respect and admiration), your sincere well-wisher-M. G. Lewis."' In 1801 appeared Lewis's 'Tales of Wonder.' A ghost or witch was, he said, a sine qua non ingredient in all the dishes of which he meant to compose his hobgoblin repast, and Sir Walter Scott contributed to it some of his noble ballads. Scott met Lewis in Edinburgh in 1798, and so humble were then his own aspirations, and so brilliant the reputation of the Monk,' that he declared, thirty years afterwards, he never felt such elation as when Lewis asked him to dine with him at his hotel! Lewis schooled the great poet on his incorrect rhyme, and proved himself, as Scott says, 'a martinet in the accuracy of rhymes and numbers.' Sir Walter has recorded that Lewis was fonder of great people than he ought to have been, either as a man of talent or as a man of fashion. 'He had always,' he says, dukes and duchesses in his mouth, and was pathetically fond of any one that had a title: you would have sworn he had been a parvenu of yesterday; yet he had lived all his life in good society."* Yet Scott regarded Lewis with no small affection. 'He was,' added he, one of the kindest and best creatures that ever lived. His father and mother lived separately. Mr Lewis allowed his son a handsome income, but reduced it by more than one-half when he found that he paid his mother a moiety of it. Mat. restricted himself in all his expenses, and shared the diminished income with her as before. He did much good by stealth, and was a most generous creature.' The sterling worth of his character has been illustrated by the publication of his correspondence, which, slumbering twenty years after his death, first disclosed to the public the calm good sense, discretion, and right feeling which were concealed by the exaggerated romance of his writings, and his gay and frivolous appearance and manners. The death of Lewis's father made the poet a man of
*Of this weakness Byron records an amusing instance :
Lewis, at Oatlands, was observed one morning to have his
eyes red and his air sentimental: being asked why? he replied, that when people said anything kind to him it affected him
deeply," and just now the Duchess (of York) has said something so kind to me, that-" here tears began to flow. "Never mind, Lewis," said Colonel Armstrong to him, "never mind don't cry-she could not mean it." Lewis was of extremely diminutive stature. I remember a picture of him,' says Scott,
by Saunders, being handed round at Dalkeith house. The artist had ingeniously flung a dark folding mantle around the form, under which was half hid a dagger, a dark lantern, or some such cut-throat appurtenance. With all this, the features were preserved and ennobled. It passed from hand to hand into that of Henry Duke of Buccleuch, who, hearing the general voice affirm that it was very like-said aloud, "Like
Mat. Lewis! Why, that picture's like a MAN!" He looked,
and lo! Mat. Lewis's head was at his elbow. This boyishness went through life with him. He was a child, and a spoiled
child--but a child of high imagination, and so he wasted himself on ghost stories and German romances. He had the finest ear for the rhythm of verse I ever met with-finer than
"Madam-I am truly sorry to acquaint you that my Hindoo Bride has behaved most improperly in fact, whether the lady has eloped or not, it seems she does not choose to make her appearance, either for your benefit or mine: and to say the truth, I don't at this moment know where to find her. I take the liberty to jest upon the subject, because I really do not think you will have any cause to regret | Byron's.'
independent fortune. He succeeded to considerable plantations in the West Indies, besides a large sum of money; and in order to ascertain personally the condition of the slaves on his estate, he sailed for the West Indies in 1815. Of this voyage he wrote a narrative, and kept journals, forming the most interesting and valuable production of his pen. The manner in which the negroes received him on his arrival amongst them he thus describes:
'As soon as the carriage entered my gates, the uproar and confusion which ensued sets all description at defiance. The works were instantly all abandoned; everything that had life came flocking to the house from all quarters; and not only the men, and the women, and the children, but, "by a bland assimilation," the hogs, and the dogs, and the geese, and the fowls, and the turkeys, all came hurrying along by instinct, to see what could possibly be the matter, and seemed to be afraid of arriving too late. Whether the pleasure of the negroes was sincere, may be doubted; but, certainly, it was the loudest that I ever witnessed: they all talked together, sang, danced, shouted, and, in the violence of their gesticulations, tumbled over each other, and rolled about upon the ground. Twenty voices at once inquired after uncles, and aunts, and grandfathers, and great-grandmothers of mine, who had been buried long before I was in existence, and whom, I verily believe, most of them only knew by tradition. One woman held up her little naked black child to me, grinning from ear to ear-"Look, massa, look here! him nice lilly neger for massa!" Another complained-" So long since none come see we, massa; good massa come at last." As for the old people, they were all in one and the same story: now they had lived once to see massa, they were ready for dying to-morrow-" them no care.'
The shouts, the gaiety, the wild laughter, their strange and sudden bursts of singing and dancing, and several old women, wrapped up in large cloaks, their heads bound round with different-coloured handkerchiefs, leaning on a staff, and standing motionless in the middle of the hubbub, with their eyes fixed upon the portico which I occupied, formed an exact counterpart of the festivity of the witches in Macbeth. Nothing could be more odd or more novel than the whole scene; and yet there was something in it by which I could not help being affected. Perhaps it was the consciousness that all these human beings were my slaves. To be sure, I never saw people look more happy in my life, and I believe their condition to be much more comfortable than that of the labourers of Great Britain; and, after all, slavery in their case is but another name for servitude, now that no more negroes can be forcibly carried away from Africa, and subjected to the horrors of the voyage, and of the seasoning after their arrival. But still I had already experienced, in the morning, that Juliet was wrong in saying "What's in a name?" for, soon after my reaching the lodging-house at Savannah la Mar, a remarkably clean-looking negro lad presented himself with some water and a towel. I concluded him to belong to the inn; and on my returning the towel, as he found that I took no notice of him, he at length ventured to introduce himself, by saying, "Massa not know me-me your slave!" and really the sound made me feel a pang at the heart. The lad appeared all gaiety and good humour, and his whole countenance expressed anxiety to recommend himself to my notice; but the word "slave" seemed to imply that, although he did feel pleasure then in serving me, if he had detested me he must have served me still. I really felt quite humiliated at the moment, and was tempted to tell him-" Do not say that again;
say that you are my negro, but do not call yourself my slave."'
Lewis returned to England in 1816, but went back to Jamaica the following year. He found that his attorney had grossly mismanaged his property, being generally absent on business of his own, and intrusting the whole to an overseer, who was of a tyrannical disposition. Having adjusted his affairs, the 'Monk' embarked on his return home. The climate, however, had impaired his health, and he died of fever while the ship was passing through the Gulf of Florida, in July 1818. Lewis may thus be said to have fallen a martyr to his love of justice and humanity, and the circumstance sheds a lustre on his memory far surpassing mere literary fame. His poetical merits are thus fairly summed up: Pretty conceits airily tricked out in what are called songs; in his more elaborate efforts melodious, skilfullyvaried versification, and here and there a line of such happy ease in construction, that it is sure to linger on the ear; but a slender command either of imagery or of passion. As a poet, Lewis is to a Byron what a scene-painter is to a Hobbima. He produces a startling grotesque of outline, and some grand massy contrasts of light and shade; but he has no notion of working in detail-no atmosphere, no middle tints to satisfy a daylight spectator. The subject of the Isle of Devils (a poem of more than a thousand lines, which Lewis wrote in the course of his homeward voyage in 1816) would, in Lord Byron's hands, have at least rivalled the effect of Manfred; from Lewis it comes only in the shape of a sketchy extravaganza, in which no feeling is seriously grappled with, and a score of magnificent situations are, to all intents and purposes, except that of filling the ear with a succession of delicious sounds, thrown away. The truth is, that though Sir Walter Scott talks of the "high imagination" of Lewis, it was only in his very first flights that he ever was able to maintain a really enthusiastic elevation; and he did so more successfully in the prose of the 'Monk' than in the best of his early verses. Had he lived, in all likelihood he would have turned in earnest to prose composition; and we think no reader of his West India Journals can doubt that, if he had undertaken a novel of manners in mature age, he would have cast immeasurably into the shade even the happiest efforts of his boyish romance.' *
Durandarte and Belerma.
Sad and fearful is the story
Ah! though young I fall, believe me,
* Quarterly Review for 1834.
Oh! my cousin, Montesinos,
When my soul, these limbs forsaking, Eager seeks a purer air,
From my breast the cold heart taking, Give it to Belerma's care.
Say, I of my lands possessor
Eyes, which forth beheld me going, Homewards ne'er shall see me hie; Cousin, stop those tears o'erflowing, Let me on thy bosom die.
Thy kind hand my eyelids closing,
Thus spoke gallant Durandarte; Soon his brave heart broke in twain. Greatly joyed the Moorish party That the gallant knight was slain.
Bitter weeping, Montesinos
To perform his promise made, he
Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogine. A warrior so bold, and a virgin so bright, Conversed as they sat on the green; They gazed on each other with tender delight: Alonzo the Brave was the name of the knightThe maiden's, the Fair Imogine.
'And, oh! said the youth, since to-morrow I go To fight in a far distant land,
Your tears for my absence soon ceasing to flow, Some other will court you, and you will bestow
On a wealthier suitor your hand!'