LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness
Chapter VI.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
‣ Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
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Asceticism, as we have already observed, formed no part of Mr. Harness’s creed; he took no misanthropic view of the world: on the contrary, he loved society and its humanizing influences. Naturally of a genial disposition, he found himself everywhere welcomed by those who appreciated his talents and his gentle and retiring manners. A certain amount of social intercourse he considered indispensably necessary for the maintenance of a duly-balanced mind; and he believed that some of the writings of our eminent literary men would have been more generally valuable, had their authors not too much secluded themselves from the outer world. He did not consider it to be the duty of a Christian to avoid the society of his fellow-men, even though he might disapprove of their conduct. “If the practice of withdrawing ourselves from the more promiscuous society of our
fellow-creatures, under the hope of attaining greater facilities of salvation, has a natural tendency to foster our spiritual pride and destroy our charity, there is nothing which will more readily conduce to humble that pride and rectify our views—to instruct us in the virtues we have overlooked in others and the defects we have neglected in ourselves—than such a degree of impartial intercourse with all classes of men as a Christian (without any compromise of principle or sacrifice of duty) may holily entertain. There is not perhaps a single individual of our race but may prove to be our superior in some moral or intellectual quality; and there is consequently no individual of our race from whom we may not derive an experimental lesson in humility. As there is no man so righteous as to be wholly free from evil, neither is there any man so depraved as to be wholly destitute of good . . . . If there be many lessons of heavenly import which the worldly man may receive from the disciple of the Gospel, there are also admonitions on very material points of duty for which the disciple of the Gospel may in return be indebted to him.”

Mr. Harness obeyed the Apostle’s injunction “to use the world as not abusing it.” He was not a man to lose the instruction or refreshment which social intercourse affords; and it was one of the happiest features in his character that, notwith-
standing the laborious duty of a London parish, which made him daily conversant with all that was destitute and depressing, his mind still remained vigorous and elastic, and equal to taking an interest in the brighter paths of life. Especially was he attracted to the study of human nature, and of the varying phases of our emotions; and the insight thus obtained gave additional success to his persuasive exhortations in the pulpit. Not only was he adapted to benefit by social intercourse, but also to shine in it; indeed the sowing and reaping are in this case closely connected. “From the first,” writes
Miss Mitford, “he took rank as one of the best conversationalists of the day.” And in a later letter she says, “He is one of the finest preachers in London, but still better known as the friend of all that has been eminent for the last forty years, having lived in the closest intimacy with every person who combined high talent with fair character. It is to the honour of the highest part of the aristocracy, the Lord Lansdownes and Lord Derbys, that he has invitations to dinner amongst them every day through the season, and very many to stay on visits at large country-houses. Certainly he is the most charming person that ever trod the earth, and as good as he is charming.”

The pleasure derived by others from his information gave him the means of increasing his store
of knowledge, and he thus enjoyed opportunities such, as seldom fall to the lot of any one individual. He had also gifts which enabled him to turn these opportunities to account. Ordinary persons would never have remarked the distinctive character of their friends’ conversation; fewer would have noted particularly any of their observations; and fewer still would have remembered them in after-years, and been able to retail them in nearly their original words. But a man in whom memory and observation co-exist in such a high degree of excellence as to be equal to the task, is eminently qualified to be the social historian of his times. Had
Mr. Harness committed to writing all the remarkable conversations in which he took part, we should have possessed such a history; but unfortunately he kept no record of them, and only accidentally quoted words and made allusions to them in his occasional intercourse with his friends. Broken flowers thus casually dropt can scarcely be formed into a closely woven wreath; but it would still be culpable to leave them to perish by the wayside, and preserve none of their sweet fragrance as an offering for future years.

“A society which, taken for all in all, has never been surpassed!” Such are the words in which Mr. Harness describes the social circle in which he lived. The limits of “society” were then more
defined than they are at present; and within those limits there was greater freedom and intimacy. Confidence was not restricted by the presence of those heterogeneous elements which disjoint the intercourse of the present day. The small aristocracy which then existed was one exclusively of birth, formed of men who had received a liberal education, and who had time which they were able to devote to the cultivation of elegant accomplishments. Hence arose the elaborate dandyism, the polished manners, the classical taste of the age when men
“played and lost, and wooed and won,
Like gentlemen and scholars,”
and which, notwithstanding its pedantry, leaves pleasant recollections of bygone days.

Literature had of late shown signs of life. ‘Romans’ and ‘Grecians’ walked the London Parks; even Grub Street had produced some butterflies; and gentlemen had begun to apostrophize their mistresses, and ladies their lap-dogs, in odes which displayed a certain improvement in wit and sentiment. But now the talismanic names of Scott, Byron, and Wordsworth were to raise the belles-lettres to a position they had never occupied before, and to rivet the attention of a world not yet dazzled by the barbaric splendours of wealth. Literature became the fashion. The great autocrats of society, appearing as the Mæcenates of the day, did not disdain to
shine in the reflected lustre of their satellites, and to raise the nobility of rank by associating it with that of nature. The most conspicuous among these patrons was
Lord Lansdowne, who was unwearied in his kindness and liberality to men of genius. Mr. Harness was not only indebted to this nobleman for many acts of hospitality, but also for a very substantial benefit conferred upon him shortly before he left St. Pancras. The office of Clerical Registrar to the Privy Council happened to fall vacant, and Lord Lansdowne immediately designed to offer it to his literary friend. He was himself too generous a man to be influenced by party prejudice, but he thought it necessary, for the satisfaction of his colleagues, to inquire of Dr. Milman whether their friend had ever published anything calculated to kindle political animosity. The Dean was able to give the fullest assurances on the point, for he well knew that Mr. Harness had always to the utmost in his power avoided every sort of polemical discussion. On receiving this intelligence, Lord Lansdowne wrote to make the offer, which was highly valued by its recipient, both as a proof of friendship and esteem, and as a material addition to his somewhat limited income.

Although it would be impossible to collect from memory one half of the brilliant fragments which made Mr. Harness’s conversation so delightful, or
to reset them in their original mosaic, I have yet been tempted to undertake a certain amount of restoration; and, imperfect as such a work must be, I hope I may succeed in giving some idea of the variety and beauty of the store from whence these small specimens are derived.

Mr. Harness’s recollections formed an interesting link between several generations of literary men. As a child he had known Joseph Warton, whose brother, the celebrated poet, had been acquainted with Pope; who, in turn, could remember to have seen Racine walking in his red stockings in Paris. Sir George Beaumont told him that when at Rome he had spoken to the donkey-man who had accompanied Claude and Gaspar Poussin on their sketching excursion to Tivoli. In his youth he remembered Dr. Parr—his snappish wit, and the long pipe he smoked after dinner; the latter causing him especial astonishment, as smoking was then rare and unfashionable. He might also have known Paley, but his information about him was probably derived from some of the tutors at Christ’s College, to which the great apologist had himself belonged. Mr. Harness had several little anecdotes illustrative of Paley’s homely manners and rough humour. At the first visitation he attended, after his preferment to the archdeaconry, he dined in company with a large assemblage of clergymen, all of whom were
eager to hear his observations. He remained silent, to their great disappointment, until the second course was served. At length the great man spoke; every ear was strained. What was his oracular utterance? “I don’t think these puddens are much good unless the seeds are taken out of the raisins!” At another banquet, shortly after his preferment, he found himself exposed to an unpleasant draught of air. “Shut that window behind me,” he called out to one of the waiters, “and open one lower down, behind one of the curates!”

Later than these was Crabbe, the poet, who after publishing “The Library,” “The Village,” and other poems, disappeared from public sight in a country living for two and twenty years, and was generally supposed to be dead, until he revived again in the “Register” in 1807, and re-entered London literary circles in 1813. Mr. Harness greatly admired his poems; perhaps he appreciated them the more because they referred so much to country parish life. He particularly noticed the beauty of a little story in the “Tales,” where an heiress is prevented by a rich aunt from marrying a man of inferior position. She by degrees forgets him, and becomes entirely engrossed with the accumulation of money. Her lover, on the other hand, becomes poorer, and is at last an inmate of an alms-house. He reminds her of her promise, which she disowns.

“He shares a parish-gift; at church he sees
The pious Dinah dropped upon her knees;
Thence, as she walks the streets with stately air,
As chance directs, oft meet the parted pair;
When he, with thickest coat of badgeman’s blue,
Moves near her shaded silk of changeful hue;
When his thin locks of gray approach her braid,
A costly purchase made in beauty’s aid;
When his frank air, and his unstudied pace,
Are seen with her soft manner, air, and grace,
It might some wonder in a stranger move,
How these together could have talked of love.”

Crabbe visited Edinburgh in 1822, when the festivities in honour of the arrival of George the Fourth drew together such a brilliant assemblage of rank and talent. Scott was too much engaged to do the honours for all his distinguished friends, and assigned some of them to Lockhart, who, to afford mutual gratification, introduced Crabbe to Brewster. Next day, to his consternation, Crabbe observed, “That Dr. Brewster seems an agreeable man—what is he?” and Brewster, on meeting Lockhart, inquired, “By-the-way, who was that old clergyman you brought to see me? Did you say his name was Crabbe?”

In the opening article of the “Quarterly,” for January, 1868, a review appeared of the “Life of Scott,” written by Dean Milman, and towards the end of it was the following reference:—“Proofs of the veneration in which all classes held him greeted
Scott wherever he went. Twice on the occasion of the Coronation of George the Fourth this was shown in a remarkable way. The Rev. Mr. Harness, the accomplished friend of Mrs. Siddons and Lord Byron, describes that, while he was standing in Westminster Hall, a spectator of the Coronation Feast, he observed Sir Walter trying, but in vain, to make his way through a crowd to a seat which had been reserved for him. ‘There’s Sir Walter Scott,’ said Mr. Harness; ‘let’s make way for him.’ There was no need for more; the throng pressed itself back so as to make a lane for Scott, and he passed through without the slightest inconvenience.” Milman was writing from memory, and Mr. Harness told me that the facts were not quite accurately given in this account. Scott had been in Lord Willoughby’s box, but had left it, and on returning found it full of ladies. He was accordingly left without a seat, and while looking hopelessly about was seen by Harness from the balcony, who immediately beckoned to him; and all the people, when they heard who he was, compressed themselves to make room for him. He said, however, that they were very anxious to know whether he was quite sure that he was Sir Walter Scott?

Few persons who heard him speak could have doubted Scott’s nationality; it could not have been said with justice that Scott—
On the soft phrase of Southern tongue.”
His accent, on the contrary, was so broad that
Mr. Harness said he sometimes could not understand him without difficulty. One day when they had been talking of “Lucia di Lammermuir,” which had lately appeared, he changed the subject by observing, “Weel! I think we’ve a’most had enow of that chiel.” Literature, according to Scott’s account, was much better paid then than it is at present; for on a friend asking him to subscribe to assist a poor author, he refused to comply, asserting that he knew no one worthy of the name—except Coleridge—who was not making from £500 to £12,000 a-year.

Mr. Harness used occasionally to visit Coleridge when the latter was staying with Mr. Gillman, the apothecary-doctor, at Highgate. The poet originally went there to recover his health, which he had broken down by over-indulgence in opium. He placed himself there under a sort of voluntary restraint, and strict orders were given by Mr. Gillman that no drugs of any kind were to be allowed him. Coleridge, missing the stimulant to which he had been long accustomed, pined and languished under the restriction; he abandoned his pen and sank into utter despondency. One day a large roll of papers came to the poet from the publisher, and on Mr. Gillman’s visiting him in the evening he found him
an altered man; Coleridge was himself again, full of animation and energy, and busily employed in writing an article for the forthcoming Review. The change was so sudden and remarkable that the Doctor’s suspicions were aroused. He instituted inquiries and found that a roll of opium had, at the Poet’s entreaty, been enclosed in the packet which had arrived that morning from the publisher.

Eminent literary men have often been remarkable for the fertility of their conversation, and their powers in this respect have not unfrequently been used without due restraint and discrimination. Coleridge was no exception to this rule; he would continue to talk on in an unbroken flow, and connect his arguments and observations so adroitly that until you had left him you could not detect their fallacy.* Mr. Harness called on him one day with Milman, on their return from paying a visit to Joanna Baillie. The poet seemed unusually inspired, and rambled on, raising his hands and his head in the manner which Charles Mathews so cleverly caricatured; and asserting, among other

* Wordsworth and Rogers called on him one forenoon in Pall Mall. He talked uninterruptedly for two hours, during which time Wordsworth listened with profound attention. On leaving, Rogers said to Wordsworth, “Well! I could not make head or tail of Coleridge’s oration: did you understand it?” “Not a syllable,” replied Wordsworth. Sometimes, however, his conversation was admirable.

strange theories, that
Shakespeare was a man of too pure a mind to be able to depict a really worthless character. “All his villains,” he said, “were bad upon good principles; even Caliban had something good in him.” Coleridge, in his old age, became a characteristic feature in Highgate. He was the terror and amusement of all the little children who bowled their hoops along the poplar avenue. Notwithstanding his fondness for them—he called them ‘Kingdom-of-Heaven-ites’—his Cyclopean figure and learned language caused them indescribable alarm. Sometimes he would lay his hand on the shoulders of one of them and walk along discoursing metaphysics to the trembling captive, while the rest fled for refuge and peeped out with laughing faces from behind the trees. “I never,” he exclaimed one day to the baker’s boy—“I never knew a man good because he was religious, but I have known one religious because he was good.”

We can scarcely mention Coleridge without being reminded of his friend and schoolfellow Charles Lamb. On reading the life of this author, lately published by Barry Cornwall, Mr. Harness observed that it must surprise every one how such a clever man as Lamb could have said so few good things. He was chief jester to the “Morning Post,” and though it by no means follows—he was a man of
undoubted wit. Mr. Harness remembered many bright bits of fun which from time to time sparkled in his conversation. On one occasion, an old lady was pouring into his ear a tirade, more remarkable for length than substance, when, observing that the Essayist was fast lapsing into a state of oblivion, she aroused him by remarking in a loud voice, “I’m afraid, Mr. Lamb, you are deriving no benefit from my observations!” “Well, Madam!” he replied, recollecting himself, “I cannot say that I am; but perhaps the lady on the other side of me is, for they go in at one ear and out of the other.”

At another time, when making a journey in a stage-coach, after they had halted for dinner, a passenger presented himself, requesting accommodation. “Are you full inside?” asked the guard at the window. “I can’t answer for the other gentlemen,” replied Lamb, “but that pudding has done for me.”

Elliston, the actor, a self-educated man, was playing cribbage one evening with Lamb, and on drawing out his first card, exclaimed, “When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.” “Yes,” replied Lamb, “and when you meet Greek, you don’t understand it.”

The name of Lamb reminds us of the Burneys. Madame d’Arblay has written the following on
the fly-leaf of a presentation copy of her father’s life:—“To the
Rev. William Harness, to whose active good offices the immediate publication of this work is indebted.”

Joanna Baillie, the authoress, was a great friend of Mr. Harness, who was a warm admirer of her genius. The following letter seems to be written in acknowledgment of the receipt of a copy of some of his published sermons. Mr. Harness, as I have before remarked, always took a genial view of the world, and of mankind in general, and never allowed the depravity of a certain portion of our nature to conceal the lustre of its more generous impulses.

“I am very much obliged to you for your friendly present, and beg you will accept my best thanks. I have read your excellent sermons on the ‘Image of God’* with much satisfaction, and hope they will find many readers who will agree with you as heartily as I do. You have made out your argument clearly, both from reason and Scripture, and I hope it will have a good effect on some of the gloomy Calvinists of these days, who seem so intent upon establishing eternal damnation as the decreed portion of the greater part of mankind, and are anxious

* Four sermons delivered by Mr. Harness at Cambridge when Select Preacher.

to cast a kindred gloom over every young person with whom they have influence.

“Was the subject given you by the University of Cambridge, or was it your own choosing? A more useful one could not have been taken up at the present time.

“I hope you and Miss Harness are well, and offer my sister’s kind regards to you both, joined with those of your faithful friend.

J. Baillie.”

Among authoresses, Joanna Baillie ranked next to Miss Austen in Mr. Harness’s estimation. The latter was his greater favourite, and he was never tired of reading and re-reading her novels. Loving quiet and domestic scenes, rather than the more exciting episodes of life, he preferred the simple story of “Persuasion,” to those more stirring narratives upon which the fame of the authoress was founded. Miss Austen was very inadequately remunerated for her earlier productions; “Sense and Sensibility,” her best, bringing her only £150, and she often remarked to Mr. Harness that she could not understand why at first she received so little, although afterwards she was so amply paid. Miss Mitford, in one of her letters, spoke somewhat disparagingly of Miss Austen. “Mamma says that she was the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-
hunting butterfly she ever remembers”;* and this so offended Mr. Harness’s jealous admiration of his favourite, that he took exception to it, and added the note: “Every other account of Jane Austen, from whatever quarter, represents her as handsome, graceful, amiable, and shy.”

The following letter comes from the hand of another celebrated authoress:—

“Tynemouth, June 3rd, [ ]

“My friend Mrs. Reid has just arrived; and she brings me the very agreeable news that your sermons are coming to me from yourself. I had seen the advertisement, with a sort of envious feeling of those in whose way that book would come; and I am not a little pleased at the prospect of having it, and from your hand.

“A parcel will soon be coming to me from Mrs. Reid’s (6, Grenville Street, Brunswick Square), and I shall be much obliged if you will either have the book left there, or tell her servants to which of my publishers to send for the parcel.

“Some months ago, when publishing ‘The Hour and the Man,’ I ordered a copy to be sent to you. I did this, not with any idea that you would not

* Miss Mitford’s letter of April 3rd, 1815, to Sir William Elford. See Vol I., at pages 305-6 of her Life.

discover and feel the artistical faults of the book, or with any hope that you, who have never known negroes in any but a degraded state, could believe them to be what I have represented; but because I remember your saying that it must be the most delightful thing in the world to spend a summer in the country, in the exclusive society of one’s own personages. It is true, you doubtless took for granted two very important things which I had not—health, and the power of going out of doors; but still I found your words so far true as to be moved to send you the book; and I hope you received it.

“You will have heard (so many common friends as we have) that I am not better, nor expecting to be so. Your experience among the sick will prevent your being surprised, perhaps, at what has surprised me—that I have never once felt the slightest and most transient desire to be well. The divine repose of life in two rooms (especially with a fine sea-view); the simplification of duty to one rather prone to be tender-conscienced; and the perpetual feast of the heart administered by the kindness of friends, are good things, in the midst of which bodily troubles are lost and forgotten on review, if not from moment to moment. Into another part of the matter, Pascal had insight: ‘Quand on se porte bien, on ne comprend pas comment on pourrait faire si l’on était malade; et quand on l’est, on prend médecine gaie-
ment: le mal y résout. On n’a plus les passions et les désirs des divertissements et des promenades, que la santé donnait, et qui sont incompatibles avec les nécessités de la maladie. La nature donne alors des passions et des désirs conformes à l’état pràsent. Ce ne sont que les craintes que nous nous donnons nous-mêmes, et non pas la nature, qui nous troublent; parce-qu’elles joignent à l’état ou nous sommes les passions de l’état où nous ne sommes pas.’

“I should not have thought he had known enough of health to write the above. On the whole, his deficiencies seem to be those which arise from want of knowledge of a healthy state, and of sympathy with those who are well.

“Pray remember me kindly to Miss Harness, and believe me, very truly yours.