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Autobiographic Sketches By Thomas de Quincey Characters: 35541

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

My last two chapters, very slenderly connected with Birmingham, are yet made to rise out of it; the one out of Birmingham's own relation to the topic concerned, (viz., Travelling,) and the other (viz., My Brother) out of its relation to all possible times in my earlier life, and, therefore, why not to all possible places? Any where introduced, the chapter was partially out of its place; as well then to introduce it in Birmingham as elsewhere. Somewhat arbitrary episodes, therefore, are these two last chapters; yet still endurable as occurring in a work confessedly rambling, and whose very duty lies in the pleasant paths of vagrancy. Pretending only to amuse my reader, or pretending chiefly to that, however much I may have sought, or shall seek, to interest him occasionally through his profounder affections, I enjoy a privilege of neglecting harsher logic, and connecting the separate sections of these sketches, not by ropes and cables, but by threads of aerial gossamer.

This present chapter, it may seem, promises something of the same episodical or parenthetic character. But in reality it does not. I am now returning into the main current of my narrative, although I may need to linger for a moment upon a past anecdote. I have mentioned already, that, on inquiring at the Birmingham post office for a letter addressed to myself, I found one directing me to join my sister Mary at Laxton, a seat of Lord Carbery's in Northamptonshire, and giving me to understand, that, during my residence at this place, some fixed resolution would be taken and announced to me in regard to the future disposal of my time, during the two or three years before I should be old enough on the English system for matriculating at Oxford or Cambridge. In the poor countries of Europe, where they cannot afford double sets of scholastic establishments,-having, therefore, no splendid schools, such as are, in fact, peculiar to England,-they are compelled to throw the duties of such schools upon their universities; and consequently you see boys of thirteen and fourteen, or even younger, crowding such institutions, which, in fact, they ruin for all higher functions. But England, whose regal establishments of both classes emancipate her from this dependency, sends her young men to college not until they have ceased to be boys-not earlier, therefore, than eighteen.

But when, by what test, by what indication, does manhood commence? Physically by one criterion, legally by another, morally by a third, intellectually by a fourth-and all indefinite. Equator, absolute equator, there is none. Between the two spheres of youth and age, perfect and imperfect manhood, as in all analogous cases, there is no strict line of bisection. The change is a large process, accomplished within a large and corresponding space; having, perhaps, some central or equatorial line, but lying, like that of our earth, between certain tropics, or limits widely separated. This intertropical region may, and generally does, cover a number of years; and, therefore, it is hard to say, even for an assigned case, by any tolerable approximation, at what precise era it would be reasonable to describe the individual as having ceased to be a boy, and as having attained his inauguration as a man. Physically, we know that there is a very large latitude of differences, in the periods of human maturity, not merely between individual and individual, but also between nation and nation; differences so great, that, in some southern regions of Asia, we hear of matrons at the age of twelve. And though, as Mr. Sadler rightly insists, a romance of exaggeration has been built upon the facts, enough remains behind of real marvel to irritate the curiosity of the physiologist as to its efficient, and, perhaps, of the philosopher as to its final cause. Legally and politically, that is, conventionally, the differences are even greater on a comparison of nations and eras. In England we have seen senators of mark and authority, nay, even a prime minister, the haughtiest, [1] the most despotic, and the most irresponsible of his times, at an age which, in many states, both ancient and modern, would have operated as a ground of absolute challenge to the candidate for offices the meanest. Intellectually speaking, again, a very large proportion of men never attain maturity. Nonage is their final destiny; and manhood, in this respect, is for them a pure idea. Finally, as regards the moral development,-by which I mean the whole system and economy of their love and hatred, of their admirations and contempts, the total organization of their pleasures and their pains,-hardly any of our species ever attain manhood. It would be unphilosophic to say that intellects of the highest order were, or could be, developed fully without a corresponding development of the whole nature. But of such intellects there do not appear above two or three in a thousand years. It is a fact, forced upon one by the whole experience of life, that almost all men are children, more or less, in their tastes and admirations. Were it not for man's latent tendencies,-were it not for that imperishable grandeur which exists by way of germ and ultimate possibility in his nature, hidden though it is, and often all but effaced,-how unlimited would be the contempt amongst all the wise for his species! and misanthropy would, but for the angelic ideal buried and imbruted in man's sordid race, become amongst the noble fixed, absolute, and deliberately cherished.

But, to resume my question, how, under so variable a standard, both natural and conventional, of every thing almost that can be received for a test or a presumption of manhood, shall we seize upon any characteristic feature, sufficiently universal to serve a practical use, as a criterion of the transition from the childish mind to the dignity (relative dignity at least) of that mind which belongs to conscious maturity? One such criterion, and one only, as I believe, there is-all others are variable and uncertain. It lies in the reverential feeling, sometimes suddenly developed, towards woman, and the idea of woman. From that moment when women cease to be regarded with carelessness, and when the ideal of womanhood, in its total pomp of loveliness and purity, dawns like some vast aurora upon the mind, boyhood has ended; childish thoughts and inclinations have passed away forever; and the gravity of manhood, with the self-respecting views of manhood, have commenced.

"Mentemque priorem

Expulit, atque hominem toto sibi cedere jussit


These feelings, no doubt, depend for their development in part upon physical causes; but they are also determined by the many retarding or accelerating forces enveloped in circumstances of position, and sometimes in pure accident. For myself, I remember most distinctly the very day- the scene and its accidents-when that mysterious awe fell upon me which belongs to woman in her ideal portrait; and from that hour a profounder gravity colored all my thoughts, and a "beauty still more beauteous" was lit up for me in this agitating world. Lord Westport and myself had been on a visit to a noble family about fifty miles from Dublin; and we were returning from Tullamore by a public passage boat, on the splendid canal which connects that place with the metropolis. To avoid attracting an unpleasant attention to ourselves in public situations, I observed a rule of never addressing Lord Westport by his title: but it so happened that the canal carried us along the margin of an estate belonging to the Earl (now Marquis) of Westmeath; and, on turning an angle, we came suddenly in view of this nobleman taking his morning lounge in the sun. Somewhat loftily he reconnoitred the miscellaneous party of clean and unclean beasts, crowded on the deck of our ark, ourselves amongst the number, whom he challenged gayly as young acquaintances from Dublin; and my friend he saluted more than once as "My lord." This accident made known to the assembled mob of our fellow-travellers Lord Westport's rank, and led to a scene rather too broadly exposing the spirit of this world. Herded together on the deck (or roof of that den denominated the "state cabin") stood a party of young ladies, headed by their governess. In the cabin below was mamma, who as yet had not condescended to illuminate our circle, for she was an awful personage-a wit, a bluestocking, (I call her by the name then current,) and a leader of ton in Dublin and Belfast. The fact, however, that a young lord, and one of great expectations, was on board, brought her up. A short cross examination of Lord Westport's French valet had confirmed the flying report, and at the same time (I suppose) put her in possession of my defect in all those advantages of title, fortune, and expectation which so brilliantly distinguished my friend. Her admiration of him, and her contempt for myself, were equally undisguised. And in the ring which she soon cleared out for public exhibition, she made us both fully sensible of the very equitable stations which she assigned to us in her regard. She was neither very brilliant, nor altogether a pretender, but might be described as a showy woman, of slight but popular accomplishments. Any woman, however has the advantage of possessing the ear of any company; and a woman of forty, with such tact and experience as she will naturally have gathered in a talking practice of such duration, can find little difficulty in mortifying a boy, or sometimes, perhaps, in tempting him to unfortunate sallies of irritation. Me it was clear that she viewed in the light of a humble friend, or what is known in fashionable life by the humiliating name of a "toad-eater." Lord Westport, full of generosity in what regarded his own pretensions, and who never had violated the perfect equality which reigned in our deportment to each other, colored with as much confusion as myself at her coarse insinuations. And, in reality, our ages scarcely allowed of that relation which she supposed to exist between us. Possibly she did not suppose it; but it is essential to the wit and the display of some people that it should have a foundation in malice. A victim and a sacrifice are indispensable conditions in every exhibition. In such a case, my natural sense of justice would generally have armed me a hundred fold for retaliation; but at present, chiefly, perhaps, because I had no effectual ally, and could count upon no sympathy in my audience, I was mortified beyond the power of retort, and became a passive butt to the lady's stinging contumely and the arrowy sleet of her gay rhetoric. The narrow bounds of our deck made it not easy to get beyond talking range; and thus it happened, that for two hours I stood the worst of this bright lady's feud. At length the tables turned. Two ladies appeared slowly ascending from the cabin, both in deepest mourning, but else as different in aspect as summer and winter. The elder was the Countess of Errol, then mourning an affliction which had laid her life desolate, and admitted of no human consolation. Heavier grief-grief more self-occupied and deaf to all voice of sympathy-I have not happened to witness. She seemed scarcely aware of our presence, except it were by placing herself as far as was possible from the annoyance of our odious conversation. The circumstances of her loss are now forgotten; at that time they were known to a large circle in Bath and London, and I violate no confidence in reviewing them. Lord Errol had been privately intrusted by Mr. Pitt with an official secret, viz., the outline and principal details of a foreign expedition; in which, according to Mr. Pitt's original purpose, his lordship was to have held a high command. In a moment of intoxication, the earl confided this secret to some false friend, who published the communication and its author. Upon this, the unhappy nobleman, under too keen a sense of wounded honor, and perhaps with an exaggerated notion of the evils attached to his indiscretion, destroyed himself. Months had passed since that calamity when we met his widow; but time appeared to have done nothing in mitigating her sorrow. The younger lady, on the other hand, who was Lady Errol's sister,- Heavens! what a spirit of joy and festal pleasure radiated from her eyes, her step, her voice, her manner! She was Irish, and the very impersonation of innocent gayety, such as we find oftener, perhaps, amongst Irish women than those of any other country. Mourning, I have said, she wore; from sisterly consideration, the deepest mourning; that sole expression there was about her of gloom or solemn feeling,-

"But all things else about her drawn

From May time and the cheerful dawn."

Odious bluestocking [2] of Belfast and Dublin! as some would call you, how I hated you up to that moment! half an hour after, how grateful I felt for the hostility which had procured me such an alliance! One minute sufficed to put the quick-witted young Irish woman in possession of our little drama and the several parts we were playing. To look was to understand, to wish was to execute, with this ardent child of nature. Like Spenser's Bradamant, with martial scorn she couched her lance on the side of the party suffering wrong. Her rank, as sister-in-law to the constable of Scotland, gave her some advantage for winning a favorable audience; and throwing her aegis over me, she extended that benefit to myself. Road was now made perforce for me also; my replies were no longer stifled in noise and laughter. Personalities were banished; literature was extensively discussed; and that is a subject which, offering little room to argument, offers the widest to eloquent display. I had immense reading; vast command of words, which somewhat diminished as ideas and doubts multiplied; and, speaking no longer to a deaf audience, but to a generous and indulgent protectress, I threw out, as from a cornucopia, my illustrative details and recollections; trivial enough, perhaps, as I might now think, but the more intelligible to my present circle. It might seem too much the case of a storm in a slop basin, if I were to spend any words upon the revolution which ensued. Suffice it, that I remained the lion of that company which had previously been most insultingly facetious at my expense; and the intellectual lady finally declared the air of the deck unpleasant.

Never, until this hour, had I thought of women as objects of a possible interest or of a reverential love. I had known them either in their infirmities and their unamiable aspects, or else in those sterner relations which made them objects of ungenial and uncompanionable feelings. Now first it struck me that life might owe half its attractions and all its graces to female companionship. Gazing, perhaps, with too earnest an admiration at this generous and spirited young daughter of Ireland, and in that way making her those acknowledgments for her goodness which I could not properly clothe in words, I was aroused to a sense of my indecorum by seeing her suddenly blush. I believe that Miss Bl-- interpreted my admiration rightly; for she was not offended, but, on the contrary, for the rest of the day, when not attending to her sister, conversed almost exclusively, and in a confidential way, with Lord Westport and myself. The whole, in fact, of this conversation must have convinced her that I, mere boy as I was, (viz., about fifteen,) could not have presumed to direct my admiration to her, a fine young woman of twenty, in any other character than that of a generous champion, and a very adroit mistress in the dazzling fence of colloquial skirmish. My admiration had, in reality, been addressed to her moral qualities, her enthusiasm, her spirit, and her generosity. Yet that blush, evanescent as it was,-the mere possibility that I, so very a child, should have called up the most transitory sense of bashfulness or confusion upon any female cheek, first,-and suddenly, as with a flash of lightning, penetrating some utter darkness, illuminated to my own startled consciousness, never again to be obscured, the pure and powerful ideal of womanhood and womanly excellence. This was, in a proper sense, a revelation; it fixed a great era of change in my life; and this new-born idea, being agreeable to the uniform tendencies of my own nature,-that is, lofty and aspiring,-it governed my life with great power, and with most salutary effects. Ever after, throughout the period of youth, I was jealous of my own demeanor, reserved and awe-struck, in the presence of women; reverencing, often, not so much them as my own ideal of woman latent in them. For I carried about with me the idea, to which often I seemed to see an approximation, of

"A perfect woman, nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, to command."

And from this day I was an altered creature, never again relapsing into the careless, irreflective mind of childhood.

At the same time I do not wish, in paying my homage to the other sex, and in glorifying its possible power over ours, to be confounded with those thoughtless and trivial rhetoricians who flatter woman with a false lip worship; and, like Lord Byron's buccaneers, hold out to them a picture of their own empire, built only upon sensual or upon shadowy excellences. We find continually a false enthusiasm, a mere bacchanalian inebriation, on behalf of woman, put forth by modern verse writers, expressly at the expense of the other sex, as though woman could be of porcelain, whilst man was of common earthern ware. Even the testimonies of Ledyard and Park are partly false (though amiable) tributes to female excellence; at least they are merely one-sided truths-aspects of one

phasis, and under a peculiar angle. For, though the sexes differ characteristically, yet they never fail to reflect each other; nor can they differ as to the general amount of development; never yet was woman in one stage of elevation, and man (of the same community) in another. Thou, therefore, daughter of God and man, all-potent woman! reverence thy own ideal; and in the wildest of the homage which is paid to thee, as also in the most real aspects of thy wide dominion, read no trophy of idle vanity, but a silent indication of the possible grandeur enshrined in thy nature; which realize to the extent of thy power,-

"And show us how divine a thing

A woman may become."

For what purpose have I repeated this story? The reader may, perhaps, suppose it introductory to some tale of boyish romantic passion for some female idol clothed with imaginary perfections. But in that case he will be mistaken. Nothing of the kind was possible to me. I was preoccupied by other passions. Under the disease-for disease it was-which at that time mastered me, one solitary desire, one frenzy, one demoniac fascination, stronger than the fascinations of calenture, brooded over me as the moon over the tides-forcing me day and night into speculations upon great intellectual problems, many times beyond my strength, as indeed often beyond all human strength, but not the less provoking me to pursue them. As a prophet in days of old had no power to resist the voice which, from hidden worlds, called him to a mission, sometimes, perhaps, revolting to his human sensibilities, as he must deliver, was under a coercion to deliver the burning word that spoke within his heart,-or as a ship on the Indian Ocean cannot seek rest by anchoring, but must run before the wrath of the monsoon,-such in its fury, such in its unrelentingness, was the persecution that overmastered me. School tasks under these circumstances, it may well be supposed, had become a torment to me. For a long time they had lost even that slight power of stimulation which belongs to the irritation of difficulty. Easy and simple they had now become as the elementary lessons of childhood. Not that it is possible for Greek studies, if pursued with unflinching sincerity, ever to fall so far into the rear as a palaestra for exercising both strength and skill; but, in a school where the exercises are pursued, in common by large classes, the burden must be adapted to the powers of the weakest, and not of the strongest. And, apart from that objection, at this period, the hasty unfolding of far different intellectual interests than such as belong to mere literature had, for a time, dimmed in my eyes the lustre of classical studies, pursued at whatsoever depth and on whatsoever scale. For more than a year, every thing connected with schools and the business of schools had been growing more and more hateful to me. At first, however, my disgust had been merely the disgust of weariness and pride. But now, at this crisis, (for crisis it was virtually to me,) when a premature development of my whole mind was rushing in like a cataract, forcing channels for itself and for the new tastes which it introduced, my disgust was no longer simply intellectual, but had deepened into a moral sense as of some inner dignity continually violated. Once the petty round of school tasks had been felt as a molestation; but now, at last, as a degradation. Constant conversation with grown-up men for the last half year, and upon topics oftentimes of the gravest order,-the responsibility that had always in some slight degree settled upon myself since I had become the eldest surviving son of my family, but of late much more so when circumstances had thrown me as an English stranger upon the society of distinguished Irishmen,-more, however, than all beside, the inevitable rebound and counter-growth of internal dignity from the everlasting commerce with lofty speculations, these agencies in constant operation had imbittered my school disgust, until it was travelling fast into a mania. Precisely at this culminating point of my self-conflict did that scene occur which I have described with Miss Bl--. In that hour another element, which assuredly was not wanted, fell into the seething caldron of new-born impulses, that, like the magic caldron of Medea, was now transforming me into a new creature. Then first and suddenly I brought powerfully before myself the change which was worked in the aspects of society by the presence of woman-woman, pure, thoughtful, noble, coming before me as a Pandora crowned with perfections. Right over against this ennobling spectacle, with equal suddenness, I placed the odious spectacle of schoolboy society-no matter in what region of the earth; schoolboy society, so frivolous in the matter of its disputes, often so brutal in the manner; so foolishly careless, and yet so revoltingly selfish; dedicated ostensibly to learning, and yet beyond any section of human beings so conspicuously ignorant. Was it indeed that heavenly which I was soon to exchange for this earthly? It seemed to me, when contemplating the possibility that I could yet have nearly three years to pass in such society as this, that I heard some irresistible voice saying, Lay aside thy fleshly robes of humanity, and enter for a season into some brutal incarnation. But what connection had this painful prospect with Laxton? Why should it press upon my anxieties in approaching that mansion, more than it had done at Westport? Naturally enough, in part, because every day brought me nearer to the horror from which I recoiled: my return to England would recall the attention of my guardians to the question, which as yet had slumbered; and the knowledge that I had reached Northamptonshire would precipitate their decision. Obscurely, besides, through a hint which had reached me, I guessed what this decision was likely to be, and it took the very worst shape it could have taken. All this increased my agitation from hour to hour. But all this was quickened and barbed by the certainty of so immediately meeting Lady Carbery. To her it was, and to her only, that I could look for any useful advice or any effectual aid. She over my mother, as in turn my mother over her, exercised considerable influence; whilst my mother's power was very seldom disturbed by the other guardians. The mistress of Laxton it was, therefore, whose opinion upon the case would virtually be decisive; since, if she saw no reasonable encouragement to any contest with my guardians, I felt too surely that my own uncountenanced and unaided energies drooped too much for such an effort. Who Lady Carbery was, I will explain in my next chapter, entitled Laxton. Meantime, to me, individually, she was the one sole friend that ever I could regard as entirely fulfilling the offices of an honorable friendship. She had known me from infancy: when I was in my first year of life, she, an orphan and a great heiress, was in her tenth or eleventh; and on her occasional visits to "the Farm," (a rustic old house then occupied by my father,) I, a household pet, suffering under an ague, which lasted from my first year to my third, naturally fell into her hands as a sort of superior toy, a toy that could breathe and talk. Every year our intimacy had been renewed, until her marriage interrupted it. But, after no very long interval, when my mother had transferred her household to Bath, in that city we frequently met again; Lord Carbery liking Bath for itself, as well as for its easy connection with London, whilst Lady Carbery's health was supposed to benefit by the waters. Her understanding was justly reputed a fine one; but, in general, it was calculated to win respect rather than love, for it was masculine and austere, with very little toleration for sentiment or romance. But to myself she had always been indulgently kind; I was protected in her regard, beyond any body's power to dislodge me, by her childish remembrances; and of late years she had begun to entertain the highest opinion of my intellectual promises. Whatever could be done to assist my views, I most certainly might count upon her doing; that is to say, within the limits of her conscientious judgment upon the propriety of my own plans. Having, besides, so much more knowledge of the world than myself, she might see cause to dissent widely from my own view of what was expedient as well as what was right; in which case I was well assured that, in the midst of kindness and unaffected sympathy, she would firmly adhere to the views of my guardians. In any circumstances she would have done so. But at present a new element had begun to mix with the ordinary influences which governed her estimates of things: she had, as I knew from my sister's report, become religious; and her new opinions were of a gloomy cast, Calvinistic, in fact, and tending to what is now technically known in England as "Low Church," or "Evangelical Christianity." These views, being adopted in a great measure from my mother, were naturally the same as my mother's; so that I could form some guess as to the general spirit, if not the exact direction, in which her counsels would flow. It is singular that, until this time, I had never regarded Lady Carbery under any relation whatever to female intellectual society. My early childish knowledge of her had shut out that mode of viewing her. But now, suddenly, under the new-born sympathies awakened by the scene with Miss Bl--, I became aware of the distinguished place she was qualified to fill in such society. In that Eden-for such it had now consciously become to me-I had no necessity to cultivate an interest or solicit an admission; already, through Lady Carbery's too flattering estimate of my own pretensions, and through old, childish memories, I held the most distinguished place. This Eden, she it was that lighted up suddenly to my new-born powers of appreciation in all its dreadful points of contrast with the killing society of schoolboys. She it was, fitted to be the glory of such an Eden, who probably would assist in banishing me for the present to the wilderness outside. My distress of mind was inexpressible. And, in the midst of glittering saloons, at times also in the midst of society the most fascinating, I-contemplating the idea of that gloomy academic dungeon to which for three long years I anticipated too certainly a sentence of exile-felt very much as in the middle ages must have felt some victim of evil destiny, inheritor of a false, fleeting prosperity, that suddenly, in a moment of time, by signs blazing out past all concealment on his forehead, was detected as a leper; and in that character, as a public nuisance and universal horror, was summoned instantly to withdraw from society; prince or peasant, was indulged with no time for preparation or evasion; and, from the midst of any society, the sweetest or the most dazzling, was driven violently to take up his abode amid the sorrow-haunted chambers of a lazar house.


[1] "The haughtiest."-Which, however, is very doubtful. Such, certainly, was the popular impression. But people who knew Mr. Pitt intimately have always ascribed to him a nature the most amiable and social, under an unfortunate reserve of manner. Whilst, on the contrary, Mr. Fox, ultra democratic in his principles and frank in his address, was repulsively aristocratic in his temper and sympathies.

[2] I have sometimes had occasion to remark, as a noticeable phenomenon of our present times, that the order of ladies called bluestockings, by way of reproach, has become totally extinct amongst us, except only here and there with superannuated clingers to obsolete remembrances. The reason of this change is interesting; and I do not scruple to call it honorable to our intellectual progress. In the last (but still more in the penultimate) generation, any tincture of literature, of liberal curiosity about science, or of ennobling interest in books, carried with it an air of something unsexual, mannish, and (as it was treated by the sycophantish satirists that for ever humor the prevailing folly) of something ludicrous. This mode of treatment was possible so long as the literary class of ladies formed a feeble minority. But now, when two vast peoples, English and American, counting between them forty-nine millions, when the leaders of transcendent civilization (to say nothing of Germany and France) behold their entire educated class, male and female alike, calling out, not for Panem et circenses, (Give us this day our daily bread and our games of the circus,) but for Panem et literas, (Give us this day our daily bread and literature,) the universality of the call has swept away the very name of bluestocking; the very possibility of the ridicule has been undermined by stern realities; and the verbal expression of the reproach is fast becoming, not simply obsolete, but even unintelligible to our juniors. By the way, the origin of this term bluestocking has never been satisfactorily accounted for, unless the reader should incline to think my account satisfactory. I incline to that opinion myself. Dr. Bisset (in his Life of Burke) traces it idly to a sobriquet imposed by Mrs. Montagu, and the literary ladies of her circle, upon a certain obscure Dr. Stillingfleet, who was the sole masculine assistant at their literary sittings in Portman Square, and chose, upon some inexplicable craze, to wear blue stockings. The translation, however, of this name from the doctor's legs to the ladies' legs is still unsolved. That great _hiatus _needs filling up. I, therefore, whether erroneously or not, in reviewing a German historical work of some pretensions, where this problem emerges, rejected the Portman Square doctor altogether, and traced the term to an old Oxford statute-one of the many which meddle with dress, and which charges it as a point of conscience upon loyal scholastic students that they shall wear cerulean socks. Such socks, therefore, indicated scholasticism: worn by females, they would indicate a self-dedication to what for them would be regarded as pedantic studies. But, says an objector, no rational female would wear cerulean socks. Perhaps not, female taste being too good. But as such socks would symbolize such a profession of pedantry, so, inversely, any profession of pedantry, by whatever signs expressed, would be symbolized reproachfully by the imputation of wearing cerulean socks. It classed a woman, in effect, as a scholastic pedant. Now, however, when the vast diffusion of literature as a sort of daily bread has made all ridicule of female literary culture not less ridiculous than would be the attempt to ridicule that same daily bread, the whole phenomenon, thing and word, substance and shadow, is melting away from amongst us. Something of the same kind has happened in the history of silver forks. Forks of any kind, as is well known, were first introduced into Italy; thence by a fantastic (but, in this instance, judicious) English traveller immediately (and not mediately through France) were introduced into England. This elegant revolution occurred about 240 years ago; and never since that day have there been wanting English protesters against the infamy of eating without forks; and for the last 160 years, at least, against the paganism of using _steel _forks; or, 2dly, two- pronged forks; or, 3dly, of putting the knife into the mouth. At least 120 years ago, the Duchess of Queensberry, (Gay's duchess,) that leonine woman, used to shriek out, on seeing a hyperborean squire conveying peas to his abominable mouth on the point of a knife. "O, stop him, stop him! that man's going to commit suicide." This anecdote argues silver forks as existing much more than a century back, else the squire had a good defence. Since then, in fact, about the time of the French revolution, silver forks have been recognized as not less indispensable appendages to any elegant dinner table than silver spoons; and, along with silver forks, came in the explosion of that anti-Queensberry brutalism which forks first superseded-viz., the fiendish practice of introducing the knife between the lips. But, in defiance of all these facts, certain select hacks of the daily press, who never had an opportunity of seeing a civilized dinner, and fancying that their own obscene modes of feeding prevailed every where, got up the name of the Silver-fork School, (which should have indicated the school of decency,) as representing some ideal school of fantastic or ultra refinement. At length, however, when cheap counterfeits of silver have made the decent four-pronged fork cheaper than the two-pronged steel barbarism, what has followed? Why, this-that the universality of the diffusion has made it hopeless any longer to banter it. There is, therefore, this strict analogy between "the silver fork" reproach and "the bluestocking" reproach-that in both cases alike a recognition, gradually becoming universal, of the thing itself, as a social necessity, has put down forever all idle attempts to throw ridicule upon it-upon literature, in the one case, as a most appropriate female ornament; and upon silver forks, on the other, as an element of social decorum.

* * * * *

The author has exerted himself every where to keep the text accurate; and he is disposed to believe that his own care, combined with the general accuracy of the press, must have enabled him to succeed in that object. But if it should appear that any errors have after all escaped him, he must request his readers to excuse them, after explaining that he suffers under the oppression of a nervous distraction, which renders all labors exacting any energy of attention inexpressibly painful.

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