Shepherd. Ay, that was pittin’ literature and genius to a glorious purpose indeed; and therefore nature and religion smiled on the wark, and have stamped it with immortality.
North. Samuel was seventy years old when he wrote the Lives of the Poets.
Shepherd. What a fine old buck! No unlike yoursel’.
North. Would it were so! He had his prejudicies, and his partialities, and his bigotries, and his blindnesses,—but on the same fruit-tree you see shrivelled pears or apples on the same branch with jargonelles or golden pippins worthy of paradise. Which would ye show to the Horticultural Society as a fair specimen of the tree?
Shepherd. Good, kit, good—philosophically picturesque. (Mimicking the old man’s voice and manner.)
North. Show me the critique that beats his on Pope, and on Dryden— nay, even on Milton; and hang me if you may not read his essay on Shakespeare even after having read Charles Lamb, or heard Coleridge, with increased admiration of the powers of all three, and of their insight, through different avenues, and as it might seem almost with different bodily and mental organs, into Shakespeare’s “old exhausted,” and his “new imagined worlds.” He was a critic and a moralist who would have been wholly wise, had he not been partly—constitutionally insane. For there is blood in the brain, James—even in the organ—the vital principle of all our “eagle-winged raptures”; and there was a taint of the black drop of melancholy in his.
Shepherd. Wheesht—wheesht—let us keep aff that subject. All men ever I knew are mad; and but for that law o’ natur, never, never, in this warld had there been a Noctes Ambrosianae.
North. Miss Mitford has not in my opinion either the pathos or humour of Washington Irving; but she excels him in vigorous conception of character, and in the truth of her pictures of English life and manners. Her writings breathe a sound, pure, and healthy morality, and are pervaded by a genuine rural spirit—the spirit of merry England. Every line bespeaks the lady.
Shepherd. I admire Miss Mitford just excessively. I dinna wunner at her being able to write sae weel as she does about drawing-rooms wi’ sofas and settees, and about the fine folk in them seeing themsels in lookin-glasses frae tap to tae; but what puzzles the like o’ me, is her pictures o’ poachers, and tinklers, and pottery-trampers, and ither neerdoweels, and o’ huts and hovels without riggin’ by the wayside, and the cottages o’ honest puir men, and byres, and barns, and stackyards, and merry-makins at winter ingles, and courtship aneath trees, and at the gable-end of farm houses, ’tween lads and lasses as laigh in life as the servants in her father’s ha’. That’s the puzzle, and that’s the praise. But ae word explains a’—Genius—Genius, wull a’ the metafhizzians in the warld ever expound that mysterious monosyllable.— Nov, 1826.