Immagini della pagina

of life's tormenting fire. I wish I had you here, that we might look at the cliffs together, and feel the freshness of the sea-gale. If sensation could make one happy, Brighton would do it. Everything is gay, healthsome, heartsome, as the Scotch say, and amusing. The air gives an appetite, the fish is delicious; and the Library is quite a pleasant lounge, with the luxury of a band of music. I cannot get other lodgings, so must be contented where I am; although the noise of the family and the green bird often drive me to the dreadful thought of committing poll-parricide. T. C."

[ocr errors]

In his next, a very different letter, Campbell has recorded the deep impression left upon his mind by an interview with the illustrious and venerable Herschel.

September 15, 1813.

"I wish you had been with me the day before yesterday, when you would have joined me, I am sure, deeply, in admiring a great, simple, good old man--Dr. Herschel. Do not think me vain, or at least put up with my vanity, in saying that I almost flatter myself I have made him my friend. I have got an invitation, and a pressing one, to go to his house; and the lady who introduced me to him, says he spoke of me as if he would really be happy to see me. I spent all Sunday with him and his family. His son is a prodigy in science, and fond of poetry, but very unassuming.

[ocr errors]

"Now, for the old Astronomer himself-his simplicity, his kindness, his anecdotes, his readiness to explain, and make perfectly perspicuous too, his own sublime conceptions of the universe, are indescribably charming. He is seventy-six, but fresh and stout; and there he sat, nearest the door, at his friend's house, alternately smiling at a joke, or contentedly sitting without share or notice in the conversation. Any train of conversation he follows implicitly; anything you ask, he labors with a sort of boyish earnestness to explain.

"I was anxious to get from him as many particulars as I could about his interview with Buonaparte. The latter, it was reported, had astonished him by his astronomical knowledge, No,' he said: The First Consul did surprise me by his quickness and versatility on all subjects; but in science he seemed to know little more than any well-educated gentleman; and of astronomy, much less, for instance, than our own king. His


ÆT. 35.]


general air,' he said, 'was something like affecting to know more than he did know.' He was high, and tried to be great with Herschel, I suppose, without success; and I remarked,' said the Astronomer, his hypocrisy in concluding the conversation on astronomy by observing how all these glorious views gave proofs of an Almighty wisdom.' I asked him if he thought the system of Laplace to be quite certain, with regard to the total security of the planetary system, from the effects of gravitation losing its present balance? He said, No; he thought by no means that the universe was secured from the chance of sudden losses of parts. He was convinced that there had existed a planet between Mars and Jupiter, in our own system, of which the little Asteroids, or planetkins, lately discovered, are indubitably fragments; and 'Remember,' said he, that though they have discovered only four of those parts, there will be thousands-perhaps thirty thousand more-yet discovered.' This planet he believed to have been lost by explosion.

"With great kindness and patience, he referred me, in the course of my attempts to talk with him, to a theorem in Newton's 'Principles of Natural Philosophy,' in which the time that the light takes to travel from the sun is proved with a simplicity which requires but a few steps in reasoning. In talking of some inconceivably distant bodies, he introduced the mention of this plain theorem, to remind me that the progress of light could be measured in the one case as well as the other. Then, speaking of himself, he said, with a modesty of manner which quite overcame me, when taken together with the greatness of the assertion-I have looked further into space than ever human being did before me. I have observed stars, of which the light, it can be proved, must take two millions of years to reach this earth.' I really, and unfeignedly, felt at the moment as if I had been conversing with a supernatural intelligence. Nay, more,' said he, if those distant bodies had ceased to exist two millions of years ago, we should still see them, as the light would travel after the body was gone.' These were Herschel's words; and if you had heard him speak them, you would not think he was apt to tell more than truth.


"After leaving Herschel, I felt elevated and overcome; and have, in writing to you, made only this memorandum of some of the most interesting moments of my life.* T. C."


The impression left upon Campbell's mind by this conversation, appears to have been a little too strong: Herschel's opinion never amounted

A few days later he writes :

September 19, 1813.

"I cannot tell you how much a kind letter, when I receive it in the morning, contributes to give a cheerful tone to my thoughts for the rest of the day. Worthing is a pleasant-looking place. I made the jaunt in company with an American gentleman, who knew my brother Archibald intimately, and spoke of him in kindness itself. The parrot left my lodgings yesterday. It is bought for eight guineas, being an excellent speaker, by an elderly lady who, I suppose, had advertised for a 'companion;' but, alas, the dear children are those of a widower, who is obliged to leave them to the charge of a nursery-maid. The poor mother died very suddenly.

"I intend to come home on Wednesday.

T. C."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Once more at Sydenham, Campbell resumed his study of the "British Poets," and finished several of the biographical prefaces. His progress, however, was suddenly interrupted by a summons to Liverpool, where a sister of Mrs. Campbell's had been taken alarmingly ill. On his return home, his pen was again active; and, among many private letters, is one to a lady, which shows so remarkable a dexterity, in touching a very delicate point, that I will not withhold what places the writer in a very amiable light.

"SYDENHAM, December 9, 1813.

I know not if I am breaking a false or a true delicacy when I send you this note, which I wish you to make entirely confidential; but I know that I am very sorry for losing one day-one hour in communicating a little piece of information which I was prevented from giving you, partly by the presence of others, and partly by an embarrassment on the subject; not, I think, unflattering to you, nor wrong in me. The seal*

to more than hypothesis, having some degree of probability. Sir John Herschel remembers his father saying “If that hypothesis were true, and if the planet destroyed were as large as the earth, there must have been at least 30,000 such fragments;" but always as an hypothesis-he was never heard to declare any degree of conviction that it was so. [Nov. 1847.] W. B.

A fancy seal which had been given to his friend by a young lady, as a specimen of lithoglyphic art.


ET. 35.]

is a vignette from a little French poem, of which neither you nor your amiable friend ever heard, or are likely to read a line. Not one person in a thousand would recognise the reference of the picture to the poem, or verses; for a poem is a sacred name, and should not be applied to such a degradation of rhyme and metre. But the verses may possibly be recollected by seeing the seal; and my pride takes alarm at the idea of your being smiled at, in your entire ignorance of the licentious verses to which the seal alludes, by one who may happen to have read them. I hope you know that I am not a searcher for such verses; but you may depend upon the accuracy of my recollection in having instantly recognised the connexion of the vignette and the verses. You need not alarm yourself with thinking that many persons could know this disagreeable association of ideas; for, unless I had by chance made the subject of modern imitations of antique gems a particular study at one time of my life, I should have looked on the seal, with you, as one of the simplest of all things. At the same time, I could not delay sending this veto about the device. I thought it was everything to gain time. I hesitated and fretted about it, but concluded that, supposing myself in your place, I should have thought it the kindest part to be honest, and even free. A third person, who did not understand my motives as you do, would be apt to call me a prig-a puritanan officious fellow; but I thought that if done at all, the sooner the better. Would not you, in a similar case, be equally free? -I can trust you would. T. C."


In the following letter to Mr. Alison, with authority to draw his pension, and containing various particulars of public and private interest, he reverts with great pleasure to the day spent with Dr. Herschel.

"SYDENHAM, Dec. 12, 1813.


"I inclose the little certificate, according to custom, by which it appears that I was alive this morning. You know the sequel of the problem-quod est faciendum-namely, to get as much as you can in exchange for it at the Royal Exchequer. My heart bleeds at the idea of taking money from the public at this terrible moment, when we have just heard in the city, that thirteen millions are to be immediately raised for the support of our allies, on the continent, independent of the new taxes. I have been in London to-day, and I assure you the general face looks

long. I met with an American, on whose word I have the greatest reliance, who was in France within the last five weeks; he says it is known that Buonaparte, in drawing out the Conscription of 1815, which will be organized this winter, will have assuredly at his disposal eight hundred thousand men! ... And yet the public prints talk of his being surrounded!

"If I heard a little more from you, my dearest Alison, I should talk to you less about things foreign to our old subjects of correspondence. But from dearth of particular information from yourself, I am obliged to grow a politician, or an egotist. Do, I pray, take up your pen when you have a spare moment of leisure. Ten years of absence have only deepened the interest that subsisted between us on my part―

'Time but the impression deeper makes,
As streams their channels deeper wear.'

I would not wish, however, to impose either a tax or conscription on your time. Give me but a word or two. . . . I spent three weeks with my family at Brighton, in charming weather, and much pleased with, as well as benefited by the place.

"There I met a man with whom you will stare at the idea of my being congenial, or having the vanity to think myself sothe great Herschel. He is a simple, great being-I had almost said, as pleasant as yourself. I once in my life looked at Newton's 'Principia,' and attended an astronomical class at Glasgow; wonderful it seemed to myself, that the great man condescended to understand my questions, to be even apparently earnest in communicating to me as much information as my limited capacity and preparation for such knowledge would admit. He invited me to see him at his own abode, and so kindly, that I could not believe that it was mere good breeding; but a sincere wish to see me again. I had a full day with him; he described to me his whole interview with Buonaparte; said it was not true, as reported, that Buonaparte understood astronomical subjects deeply; but affected more than he knew.

"In speaking of his great and chief telescope (which I trust I shall see in a few months), he said with an air, not of the least pride, but with a greatness and simplicity of expression that struck me with wonder,-'I have looked further into space than ever human being did before me. I have observed stars, of which the light takes two millions of years to travel to this globe.' I mean to pay him a reverential visit at Slough, as soon as my book is out this winter.

« IndietroContinua »