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'gold, and whose stomachs cannot brook the homeliest food, need 'not lift up my lowly latch, nor bend their stately bodies to enter 'my humble doorway.'
That is the true country diet; and we doubt not that many will show themselves ready to partake with him. It is a relief to escape from the artificial splendours of modern life to the rustic roof and the old Sabine simplicity; and that is the true secret of the great success of works of this description. We have, indeed, a particular advantage, as we shall presently show, in exploring the country under the guidance of Mr. Miller. He is sprung from, and grew up amongst, the cottage population of England. Not merely the fields and the woods, but those who labour in them are familiar to him. He has not been merely a spectator of the working class, and therefore seeing only their outward forms and more obvious manners, but he has lived with them, played with them as children, conned with them the same primer at the village school, toiled with them as men; has since seen also the life of the same class in our huge metropolis, though by his talents he has raised himself to associate with men of distinction in literature and in general society. Now, it is such men that we want to have. We want to hear them uttering boldly and candidly their experience. It is from such sources that we must come to a better, because a more real acquaintance with the condition and feelings of that class of our countrymen and countrywomen, which, in fact, almost constitutes the country itself, and which yet has hitherto found only, in few instances, organs for the expression of its sentiments. Those instances, however, though few, are splendid ones, and of a kind almost peculiar to this empire. Bloomfield, Clare, Burns, Hogg, Allan Ramsay, Allan Cunningham, Ebenezer Elliott, are noble proofs of the free genius of this kingdom which permits the power of intellect to burst from all the trammels and disabilities of humble and laborious life, and cast its lustre even on the national name. But we want to have more such instances. We look with a sanguine expectation, as education diffuses itself through the ranks of the laboring population, for much of that talent which has hitherto lain buried beneath a mountain of sordid cares, or has expended itself in manual ingenuity, or the clamour of political discontent; to show itself in the exposition of the genuine character of the toiling millions, in the exposition of their real feelings, their wants, their desires. The field of cultivated intellect has hitherto been, comparatively, very partial; but education, under present facilities, must, ere long, make it commensurate with the population; and when all that immensity of yet waste ground shall feel the living ploughshare of active knowledge, who shall calculate the consequences? The germs of intellect and genius are, no doubt, scattered as equally amongst mankind as the other goods of Providence, and education must
stimulate them into action. Writers will no longer be confined to the middle and higher classes, but will start up from the mighty mass, eloquent with their wrongs, their neglects, the hopes and aspirations, which will become the heritage of the whole social family, as they have hitherto been that of the wealthier portion.
But we look for still higher influences from this quarter. We look to the people as they become more intellectual, for the renovation of our literature; for the infusion of new and more healthful blood into the literary system; for a more manly and more expansive growth of human sentiment and sympathy. The wealthier classes of this country are living under the constant pressure of most enervating and pernicious influences. Luxury, rivalry in splendor and expenses, the soothing amenities of the flatteries which everywhere follow affluence and rank, the distractions of an almost incessant dissipation, these causes cannot and do not fail to soften the sinews and the frame of aristocracy, both physically and mentally; and to destroy that stern and simple taste which distinguished our fathers. The first striking consequence of this state of things is the establishment of social maxims, and an etiquette which shall ward off painful knowledge, and prevent the rude snapping of the Sybaritic dream of pleasure. Hence the universally accepted principle, as the basis of social life, that nothing shall be said which can possibly disturb the equanimity of any person present. The conversation in any circle of what is termed good society, is avowedly so lowered as to meet every intellect except the high and healthy ones, and to accord with the most depraved taste. This condition of society has even been highly applauded by an American writer, Mr. Willis, in his 'Pencillings by the Way,' as the very perfection of social existence. But thus, they whom Lord Byron justly and from experience termed
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress,'
are doomed to remain so, unless hastily startled from without. In this country, rent by so many contending interests, so fearfully artificial in its position, and with millions of desperate people clammering for change-no voice, were it not for the press, but that of adulation, could penetrate the brilliant saloons of the titled. But the press, again is made a second barrier against the intrusion of truth. It has set up its own champions to defend the silken slumbers of affluence, and the daring proclaimers of the actual state of things abroad are looked on as vulgar and seditious democrats, are carefully shut out, and journals and books with the requisite and only admissible imprimatur, are to be found on the breakfast and drawing-room tables of fashion. It were to be wished that the spirit of the middle classes was sufficient to coun
teract this evil, and that the mass of writers who are of the middle class, would pour into the libraries and boudoirs of the aristocracy sound knowledge and healthy sentiment; but unfortunately, the middle classes are desperately infected with the mania of the circles above them. The whole tendency of society is upwards, not in the quest of truth, but in quest of ton. There is no truer axiom of political economy, than that the demand of a market will regulate the supply; and unluckily the writers who have to supply books, find the best market amongst the wealthy. Hence the great circulation of the Quarterly Review, hence the daily outpouring of fashionable novels from the manufacturers of Colburn and Bentley, hence the miserable exposures of domestic broils in 'Cheveley's,'' Men of Honour,' and Women of Honour.' It is not possible to describe a more fearful and disgusting condition of popular literature than that of England at the present moment -the literature by which the multitude of the wealthy and idle is daily fed. The gin-palaces of the poor are dreadful, but the literary gin-palaces of the rich are ten-fold more so. And whence is the remedy to come? There is no hope but from the education and the growing spirit of the people. They are freed from all these influences. Except in the dense and corrupted throngs of cities and manufacturing towns, and even there for the greater part -a simple taste-a healthy feeling, an undepraved moral sense still continues. Every one who has had occasion to address large bodies, knows how promptly and how truly the working classes respond to generous and just sentiments. It is from these classes, and from the middle classes backed and supported by these, and in some degree even reformed and saved by them from the deleterious influences we have just recounted, that the salvation of English literature and English morals must come. When the people are once educated, they will be a mighty majority, a majority that will be felt through all society in their applause of virtue and honest talent, and in their censure of evil. What we have therefore to do is to give all possible impetus to the general education of the people, and to take by the hand its writers as they rise.
It is with this feeling that we have taken up the present volume of Mr. Miller. With talents which need no reference to their origin or progress, in order to make their way, he has always had the manly sense to announce himself as of the people. He has told the world that it was while working as a journeyman basketmaker, that he became ambitious of distinguishing himself as an author; and it must, we think, considerably heighten the interest of the reader, as he goes through this book, that it is the production of such a man. The pictures of country life in this work, we can assure our city friends, are the life themselves, and such only
as a man born and brought up in a village could have given us. To us who know something of the people and dialect of the district more particularly referred to, they bring many pleasing recollections of primitive manners, modes of thinking, and of speaking too. The contemplation of the homely virtues and trials of our cottage life must be good for all, and the assurance that so much kindliness amongst the rural poor, as this volume supposes is yet in existence, is consoling to our best feelings. We will take as our first extract, a passage or two from the very opening of the volume:
As a long-parted mother with her child
Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting,
The commonest objects become endeared to us by absence; things which we before scarcely deigned to notice, are then found to possess strange charms, bringing to the memory many a forgotten incident, and to the heart many an old emotion, to which they had been dormant for years. Never did these thoughts and feelings come upon me more strongly than when, a few months ago, I left London to visit my native home; to place my feet upon the very hearthstone by which I had sat when a boy. Mine was no affected feeling, no imaginary delight, but a mad, wild eagerness to look upon the old woods and green hills which had been familiar to me from childhood, and to which my mind had so often sailed on the dreamy wings of pleasure, asleep or awake, just as fancy wandered.
The old house was still the same, and everything it contained seemed to stand in the very position that it occupied twenty years ago; there was no change, saving that they appeared to look older, somehow more venerable; but the alteration was more in myself than the objects I looked upon.
'I gazed upon the old clock, and fancied that the ancient monitor had undergone a great change since my boyish days; it seemed to have lost that clear, sharp clicking with which it saluted mine ears when a child, and when it told the hour, it spoke in a more solemn tone than that of former years. I looked upon the brass figures which ornament the old clock face, until fancy began to trace a resemblance between myself and them. In former days they looked bright and gladsome; they seemed not to bend under the huge load they supported; but now they have a care-worn look about them, and what they seemed once to bear with a playful grace, now hangs upon them like a burden; their brows too seemed heavy, as if they had passed away long years in painful thought. The gilt balls which decorate the tall case, were tarnished; the golden worlds into which my fancy had so often conjured
them, were gone; the light that played around them in other days was dimmed; the sunshine rested upon them no longer. I heard the clock-chains slipping at intervals, as if they could not keep pace with time; they seemed weary with long watching; they could no longer keep the firm foot-hold down the steep hill which they had traversed so many years. I looked on those ancient figures, now black with age, and which were bright when they pointed out my hours of pleasure. They no longer told the time when my playfellows would call upon me to wander into the green fields,-they warned me that it was nearly the hour for the delivering of letters, and I became anxious to hear from those whom I had left nearly two hundred miles behind me ;— another home, and other cares came before me. I called memory a coward for thus reverting to the past. I summoned him before me, and he stood up in my own likeness; a boy who had seen but twelve summers. I looked upon him, and saw that he was unworthy the notice of Care; that Sorrow disdained to buckle her load upon his back; but gave him his own thoughts for playthings to amuse himself with, till he could learn the great game of life. I saw why the tempest passed over him harmlessly, for like a lowly plant, he had no bulk to oppose to its might, and had, only after long years become a work for the storm, with bole and branches strong enough to wrestle against its power. The finger of heaven,' exclaimed I, guideth all things aright.'
My eye fell upon the old mirror into which I had looked twenty years ago, on which I had gazed when a child, and marvelled how another fire and another room could stand within the compass of so small a frame. It gave me neither flattery nor welcome, but gravely threw me back, seated by the same hearth which I had so often scrawled over with the mis-shapen figures of men and monsters, when a boy. We confronted each other with a familiar boldness, as if proud that we had stood the wear-and-tear of time so well. We looked seriously, but not unkindly upon each other. The image in the mirror seemed as if it would have accosted me, and had much to utter, but its lips became compressed, as if it scorned to murmur. It gave back another form for a moment; a lovely maiden stood arranging her ringlets before it; but that was only fancy, for I remembered she had long been dead. The very crack which I had made along the old lookingglass, when a boy, with my ball, seemed like a land-mark dividing the past from the present. I could have moralized for hours on that old mirror.
'On the wall hung the large slate on which I ventured to write my first couplet. What I then wrote was easily obliterated: my ragged jacket cuff was the willing critic that passed lightly over my transgressions, and shone all the brighter after the deed. I knew not that such men as authors lived; every book was taken up without a suspicion of its lacking truth; and strange as they might seem, I felt proud in the wisdom I gathered from their pages. I could point out to my playmates the queer rings which the fairies had made on the grass; tell them the very colors which the elfins wore; or show them a valley