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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
JANUARY 1, 1828.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE,
Sir,—I have a singular facility at composing, but I hate the mechanical process of writing—it is so troublesome! Strong motives, however, will vanquish strong antipathies; and my natural tendency to inertness yields to the impulse of getting rid of a greater annoyance by the endurance of a less. Such is the philosophy of the present epistle. But to come to the point, without farther preface. The person who has the honour of addressing you is the last representative of the family of the Lazenby's (or Lazy bees) of Snug-borough, Bedfordshire. Dutch by descent, and phlegmatic by temperament, our family possesses no gratuitous activity; and the enterprise of commerce, which brought us to England, diminishing with the necessity in which it arose, expired with my great grandfather. For myself, the heir to the moderate income and moderate views of my immediate progenitors, I improved on their natural tendency to repose, by selling our small landed property in Bedfordshire, and placing the proceeds in the funds, thus sparing myself all farther trouble of receiving rents and keeping accounts. All my family had lived in ease and died of apoplexy. Such was the family abhorrence of all the chances and changes of this transitory life, that even the colour of my Dutch great-grandsire's family coat (a bottle green) has never been changed by any one of the four generations (myself included) which have succeeded him. I came into the world the victim of a vis inertiæ, for which I am as little accountable as for my stature and complexion; and the lazy" blood” which had in my race" crept through sluggards ever since the flood,” is an answer to all the reproaches launched against me by kind friends or by malignant enemies, (the slaves of a circulation something quicker than my own,) who talked of " the highest natural endowments rendered unavailable by consummate indolence.” What jargon! Notwithstanding this corporeal indolence, my intellectual activity is very considerable. My world is all within--and a very busy world it has been. Even in the go-cart, which I occupied like a cage, in what ruminations did I not indulge on the rattle that lay motionless in my listless grasp! At school, where I was so often punished for “ my idleness," what a life of labour did I not lead -what sums did I not work, while spinning my humming-top, (my favourite amusement)—and what problems did I not solve from Euclid, while standing motionless with the bandeau of blindman's buff upon my eyes! At college I obtained the reputation of a clever idle fellow-a bookworm, whose assiduity would never turn to any other account
Jan. 1828. -VOL. XXII. NO. LXXXV.
than his own amusement. Insensible, however, to that weathercock thing called public opinion, the fluctuations of which are sources of perpetual anxiety to those who care for them, I continued to study, to lounge, and to enjoy, utterly careless of the on-dits of my college chums, or the admonitions of my college tutors. With a taste for literature, that amounted almost to a passion, and hating all the professions, liberal and illiberal, I soon made my election in favour of a life of literary leisure; and anxious to partake of the intellectual resources of the capital, without its bustle, 1 resolved on setiling in the vicinity of London, beyond the reach of its noise and turmoil, and within the reach of its bookshops and libraries. In my twenty-second year, therefore, I removed from my rooms in Cambridge, to a small house in Church-lane, Kensington, flanked on one side by the church-yard, on the other by the quiet dwelling of an old Quaker lady, and commanding, in front, a view of the high dead walls of Kensington-gardens, surmounted by the dusky foliage of the high old trees, which I beheld budding and withering for ten successive years, nor ever changed, nor wished to change, my place.” The few friends whom I thought it worth the trouble to retain, did not spare me on the worn-out subject of my inveterate indolence; for it is the vulgar error, even of the wise, to make money
of utility, and to suppose, because a man does not consider life as a tread-mill
, and convert himself into a dray-horse, that he is therefore an idle man, as if the term actirity was only applicable to the inferior and animal faculties of the human species. The fact is, that he who is frequently stigmatized as indolent, is the most laborious of human beings; for what are the pirouettes and entrechats of " Les dieux de la danse,” or the rapid movements of a runner to a bank, a commercial traveller, or a messenger to a cabinet minister, compared to the activity of him, who, seated in his easy chair, his slippered feet resting on the fender, his eyes fixed on nothing at all, sends forth his excursive thoughts over half the universe, nay over “ the great globe itself,” and having occupied the world of space with his mental creations, only brings back his “thick coming fancies” to work and recombine them upon objects directly within the sphere of his own immediate perceptions ? With what strenuous idleness have I not laboured the powers of my imagination upon a single coal, in the front bar of my grate ; now beholding in its dim red lustre “one entire and perfect chrysolite;" and now, by a rapid decomposition, the carbonic mass broken up into elements of a chaotic world, till, suddenly assuming the form of my own red night-cap, it gradually ramified into those grotesque particles which image the old woman's beauideal of the “Great Unknown," with hoofs and horns and saucer eyes ; the whole phantasmagoric appearance terminating in a grand explosion, giving me a better view of Vesuvius burying under its showers of fire Pompeii and Herculaneum, than I have ever seen exhibited in the best and most splendid Panorama. But the arduous dreams of my winter's fire-side are nothing to the reveries of my summer lounges in Kensington Gardens, or other “realms of peace" and sameness,-reveries which send me “ from Indus to the Pole," and alternately drive me from an iceberg in the frozen regions to the burning sands of ArabiaPeuxa.
Many a long summer's evening have I passed on the bank of some motionless pond, stretching “my listless length along," and, appa
rently, as dull and inert as the over-fed carp that lay imbedded in their native mud beneath; but, internally, a Scylla or Charybdis of thought; watching “ the lazy pacing clouds above," and seemingly, pursuing their " shapeless idleness," I have originated schemes for the general improvement of society, drawn inferences, come at conclusions, and perfected inventions, which, had I but the physical force to realize my moral combinations, might have obtained for me the reputation of a Socrates in one age, an Archimedes in another, a Newton, or an Abbé Sieyes, according to the state of society in which I flourished; for my range of intellectual faculties was boundless. Had my volition been as strong as my mental energies—could I but have taken the trouble of seizing a pen, and made the effort of realizing all my ingenious cogitations, what a reputation I should have enjoyed by this ! A philanthropist, a philosopher, a mechanist, a metaphysician, and above all, a political economist: I have seen all my theories, systems, inventions, and discoveries, gradually forestalled by men, not more ingenious, but more active than myself. I had in my own mind written a book upon population, that anticipated all Malthus had to say, long before Malthus was heard of. I had conceived a work on
" the errors of Church-of-Englandism,” just as Bentham published his. I had discovered the causes of the miseries of Ireland, and discussed the Corn Laws, long before a pamphlet or paper upon either of these now worn-out subjects had appeared ; 'and I had found out the properties of vapour, and contrived a carriage to go entirely by steam, before Mr. Gurney had broached the idea. Nay, I had even drawn up a plan in my own mind for cutting Ireland in two, by means of a ship canal, which would have brought all the trade of the two Americas into Ireland, and given ample employment to its pauper population, long before a patriotic Irish nobleman hit upon a similar plan, and thus added to the sum of gratitude already secured to him, by the services he has rendered to a country so largely his debtor: It was thus my mental energies were constantly forestalled by the physical activity of ingenious contemporaries; for, oh! Mr. Editor, had you, as Rousseau says,
seen the books I have not written !" Still, without a wish for “ the bubble reputation,” dreading the trouble of celebrity, hating the notoriety which imposed duty or called for representation, I was, what the most active so often fail to be, what philosophers rarely are, and the candidates for fame never can be - happy! The happiest, as well as the idlest of men I should have remained, but for a circumstance beyond human control, which has been the ultimate cause of the exertion I have now made in thus addressing you, and in writing more in one day than I ever have written, or ever intended to write, during the course of my life.
There are, Mr. Editor, certain predispositions, (or feelings, if you will,) which no indolence of temperament or inveteracy of habit can wholly subdue or eradicate, and which religion and philosophy have alike resisted in vain. St. Augustin admits the fact; and Anaxagoras, in denying, proves it, for his " Lais possesses not me, I possess Lais,” is but an idle quibble of the Schools. I was naturally of an impassioned character, and if love had only come " and tapt at my window," as lie did at Anacreon's, I would have let him in with all my soul; but to run after him, as boys hunt butterflies—to submit to the
drudgery of wooing, and endure the vicissitudes of even the most successful suit-no, better to live on loveless and unloved, with no mistress but the poetical idol of my fancy; with no wife but the epicene of my conjugal Utopia. And yet, there were moments when I found my waking dreams disturbed by an instinctive wish to have some gentle being to dream with me; or to whom, without putting the world in my confidence, through the medium of pen, ink, and paper, I could communicate my thoughts. I was haunted too by the eternal presence of a dormeuse, or easy-chair, that stood vacant opposite to my own, and which my upholsterer insisted upon sending, as what he called a pendant (for all the fashionable tradesmen speak French now) to that delicious reposoir which seemed to stretch out its arms to receive me. Besides, my sedentary habits and full living had brought on occasional derangements of health, which frequently assumed a serious aspect, from my neglecting the first symptoms, merely to avoid the trouble of writing for my apothecary, and thus rendered a vigilant and kind gouvernante a great desideratum. But I am a moral man; for morality, like honesty, is not only the best policy, but it is also the least troublesome; and yet the idea of a wife terrified me. The very sight of her ruffs and muffs, and things, breaking up the uniformity of my furniture, would, I was well aware, prove a source of extreme annoyance. Besides, since the days of * the sleeping beauty in the wood,” with whose charms and suspended animation I had been deeply enamoured in my boyhood, I had read and heard of nothing on which to model my ideas of a wife. A silent sympathy, a sort of “ love in idleness," was the outline of my conjugal speculations, with occasional exhibitions of vigilance and utility, intelligence, and tenderness ; such as woman only can bestow upon man in his hours of pain and care. A coquette would have tortured me to madness; a bustler would have worn me to an atrophy; and a worldling, a blue-stocking, or a politician, would have killed me in a week. But what are the devices or speculations or opinions of man where woman is concerned ?
It was my habit for ten revolving summers (for, like all indolent people, I am the creature of habit) to lounge for an hour every evening, while under the transient excitement of coffee, beneath the shady avenues of Kensington Gardens ; and it happened that, during my perambulations last summer, I was occasionally struck by an unusual apparition in the window of the first-floor of my Quiaker neighbour's house, opposite to which I regularly crossed on my return from my walk. This apparition was the head of a female bent downward in the same invariable position, indicatiny one who was abstracted from all external objects by profound and habitual occupation. The head was neither crepé nor frisée ; it appeared somewhat neg. lected, but still it was a handsome black cropped head, tossed, as it were, into luxuriant disorder. I had observed this singular head for seven successive evenings, until, by degrees, it began to mount my own, and I was gradually worked up to curiosity, a passion the most opposite to my habits of feeling; and I was actually led to make the extraordinary exertion of climbing up the wall opposite the fatal window, for the purpose of obtaining a fuller view of my stationary neighbour. What a revulsion of temperament and habit, to become at
once curious, enterprising, and agile! The interior of the apartment thus occupied, lay before me. It was fitted up with quaker-like sim- : plicity, witnout one article of ornament or luxury, save an easy-chair, which even I might envy, and in which the owner of the black head was seated, and a tabouret of velvet, on which her feet reposed. As she sat wrapt in a large shawl, there was an air of personal negligence about the fair young solitary (and fair and young indeed she was) which "gave assurance of a woman,” to whom the frivolous labours of the toilette were unknown. She was writing into a large volume that lay before her, with intense application, her table covered with books, and her fingers with ink. Here there were intellectual pursuit, mental abstraction, habitual occupation, sedentariness, silence, easy chairs, cushioned foot-stools, a sleepy eye, a handsome head, and the absence of all personal vanity—that source of so much trouble, restlessness, and expense. I descended from my wall, more in love with my fair unknown than Pyramus when he rushed to his, where Thisbé awaited him at the friendly fracture. But oh ! the trouble of being in love, the bore, the restlessness, the sleepless nights, the agitated days, the harassing alternations of hope and fear, and doubt and confidence ! On the third day of my malady I could bear it no longer; I had reached the crisis ; I could not endure the agony of the paroxysm, and resolved on ending it. I made a desperate effort ; introduced myself by letter to this disturber of my peace, gave her in the briefest possible manner the details of my birth, fortune, and circumstances; and all this with a certain vehemence and explosion of passion peculiar to men of my habits and temperament, which no cold medium know," and which always succeed with women. But I will not trouble you with our brief courtship, which indeed bore the
“ Perfume and suppliance of an hour.” I found the lady all I wished in woman-soft, silent, unresisting; for our tender intercourse was actually carried on by silence that spoke, and eloquence of eyes." A murmured "yes" was the laconic confirmation of my hopes ; and my listless languid love seemed so little disposed to loquacity or locomotion, that she never left her chair from our first acquaintance, but to be carried to the altar ; nor ever got through a whole phrase, till she pronounced that enchanting sentence : " love, honour, and obey." What halcyon days succeeded to that which made me the happiest of men! My wife continued to write into ber quarto-I continued to read in my favourite authors. Neither took : the trouble of inquiring into the occupations of the other. We rose late-retired early--took our meals, like the Pythagoreans, in silencelooked unutterable things--said nothing, and led the life of two enamoured dormice. We had been married some weeks before my wife volunteered to tell me, that delicate health had induced her to reside in Kensington ; for, though she was still attended by her apothecary, I never had bored her by a question on the subject, it is so troublesome to ask questions). It was enough for me that I saw her daily improve in looks; and then she ate, drank, and slept as well as I did myself; though certainly not as much. In the midst of a life so tranquil, of " such serene repose”-I was roused to inevitable exertion ; for, to my utter horror and consternation, a fortune of two thousand per annum! was bequeathed to me by the perverse, unexpected, and unwanted