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“ What things," exclaims Beaumont in his verses to Ben Jonson, “ have we not seen done at the Mermaid !
Then when there hath been thrown
I cannot say the same of the S- , though it stands on classic ground, and is connected by local tradition with the great names of the Elizabethan age. What a falling off is here! Our ancestors of that period seem not only to be older by two hundred years, and proportionably wiser and wittier than we, but hardly a trace of them is left, not even the memory of what has been. How should I make my friend M- stare, if I were to mention the name of my still better friend, old honest Signor Friscobaldo, the father of Bellafront:-yet his name was perhaps invented, and the scenes in which he figures unrivalled might for the first time have been read aloud to thrilling ears on
opinion altogether incorrigible, and according to the suggestions of others, should be hanged out of the way without judge or jury for the safety of church and state. Marry, hang them ! they may be left to die a natural death : the race is nearly extinct of itself, and can do little more good or harm !
this very spot! Who reads Deckar now? Or if by chance any one awakes the strings of that ancient lyre, and starts with delight as they yield wild, broken music, is he not accused of envy to the living Muse? What would a linendraper from Holborn think, if I were to ask him after the clerk of St. Andrew's, the immortal, the forgotten Webster? His name and his works are no more heard of : though these were written with a pen of adamant, “within the red-leaved tables of the heart,” his fame was “ writ in water.” So perishable is genius, so swift is time, so fluctuating is knowledge, and so far is it from being true that men perpetually accumulate the means of improvement and refinement. On the contrary, living knowledge is the tomb of the dead, and while light and worthless materials float on the surface, the solid and sterling as often sink to the bottom, and are swallowed up for ever in weeds and quicksands !-A striking instance of the short-lived nature of popular reputation occurred one evening at the S when we got into a dispute, the most learned and recondite that ever took place, on the comparative merits of Lord Byron and Gray. A country-gentleman happened to drop in, and thinking to show off in London company, launched into a lofty panegyric on the Bard of Gray as the sublimest composition in the English language. This assertion presently appeared to be an anachronism, though it was probably the opinion in vogue thirty years ago, when the gentleman was last in town. After a little floundering, one of the party volunteered to express a more contemporary sentiment, by asking in a tone of mingled confidence and doubt—"But you don't think, Sir, that Gray is to be mentioned as a poet in the same day with my Lord Byron?” The disputants were now at issue: all that resulted was that Gray was set aside as a poet who would not go down among readers of the present day, and his patron treated the works of the Noble Bard as mere ephemeral effusions, and spoke of poets that would be admired thirty years hence, which was the farthest stretch of his critical imagination. His antagonist's did not even reach so far. This was the most romantic digression we ever had; and the subject was not afterwards resumed.-No one here (generally speaking) has the slightest notion of any thing that has happened, that has been said, thought, or done out of his own recollection. It would be in vain to hearken after those “ wit-skirmishes,” those“ brave sublunary things,” which were the employment and delight of the Beaumonts
and Bens of former times: but we may happily repose on dulness, drift with the tide of nonsense, and gain an agreeable vertigo by lending an ear to endless controversies. The confusion, provided you do not mingle in the fray and try to disentangle it, is amusing and edifying enough. Every species of false wit and spurious argument may be learnt here by potent examples. Whatever observations you hear dropt, have been picked up in the same place or in a kindred atmosphere. There is a kind of conversation made up entirely of scraps and hearsay, as there are a kind of books made up entirely of references to other books. This may account for the frequent contradictions which abound in the discourse of persons educated and disciplined wholly in coffee-houses. There is nothing stable or wellgrounded in it: it is “ nothing but vanity, chaotic vanity.” They hear a remark at the Globe which they do not know what to make of; another at the Rainbow in direct opposition to it; and not having time to reconcile them, vent both at the Mitre. In the course of half an hour, if they are not more than ordinarily dull, you are sure to find them on opposite sides of the question. This is the sickening part of it. People do not seem to talk for the sake of expressing their opinions, but to maintain an
opinion for the sake of talking. We meet neither with modest ignorance nor studious acquirement. Their knowledge has been taken in too much by snatches to digest properly. There is neither sincerity nor system in what they say. They hazard the first crude notion that comes to hand, and then defend it how they can; which is for the most part but ill. « Don't you think,” says M ,“ that Mr. — is a very sensible, well-informed man?"-" Why no,” I say, “ he seems to me to have no ideas of his own, and only to wait to see what others will say in order to set himself against it. I should not think that is the way to get at the truth. I do not desire to be driven out of my conclusions (such as they are) merely to make way for his upstart pretensions.”_" Then there is : what of him?”—“ He might very well express all he has to say in half the time, and with half the trouble. Why should he beat about the bush as he does ? He appears to be getting up a little speech, and practising on a smaller scale for a Debating Society—the lowest ambition a man can have. Besides, by his manner of drawling out his words, and interlarding his periods with inuendos and formal reservations, he is evidently making up his mind all the time which side he shall take. He puts his sentences