"2 mo, 11, 1839.
Thy cordial approval [writes Barton] of my brother John's hearty wish to bring us back to the simple habits of the olden time, induces me to ask thee if I mentioned in either of my late letters the curious old papers he stumbled on in hunting through the repositories of our late excellent spinster sister? I quite forget whether I did or not; so I will not at a venture repeat all the items. But he found an inventory of the goods and chattels of our great-grandfather, John Barton of Ive-Gill, a little hamlet about five or seven miles from Carlisle; by which it seems our progenitor was one of those truly patriarchal personages, a Cumbrian statesman — living on his own little estate, and drawing from it all things needful for himself and his family. I will be bound for it my good brother was more gratified at finding his earliest traceable ancestor such a one than if he had found him in the college of heralds with gules purpure and argent emblazoned as his bearings. The total amount of his stock, independent of house, land, and any money he might have, seems by the valuation to have been £61 6s., and the copy of his admission to his little estate gives the fine as £3, so that I suppose its annual value was then estimated at £2 15s. This was about a century back. Yet this man was the chief means of building the little chapel in the dale, still standing. (He was a churchman.) I doubt not he was a fine simple-hearted, noble-minded yeoman, in his day, and I am very proud of him. Why did his son, my grandfather, after whom I was named, ever leave that pleasant dale, and go and set up a manufactory in Carlisle; inventing a piece of machinery for which he had a medal from the Royal Society? — so says Pennant. Methinks he had better have abode in the old grey stone slate-covered homestead on the banks of that pretty brooklet the Ive! But I bear his name, so I will not quarrel with his memory."
Thus far Bernard Barton traces the history of his family. And it appears that, as his grandfather's mechanical genius drew him away from the pastoral life at Ive-Gill, so his father, who was of a literary turn, reconciled himself with difficulty to the manufactory he inherited at Carlisle. "I always," he wrote, "perused a Locke, an Addison, or a Pope, with delight," and ever sat down to my ledger with a sort of disgust;" and he at one time determined to quit a business in which he had been "neither successfully nor agreeably engaged," and become "a minister of some sect of religion — it will then be time," he says, "to determine of what sect, when I am enabled to judge of their respective merits. But this I will freely confess to you, that if there be any one of them, the tenets of which are more favourable to rational religion than the one in which I have been brought up, I shall be so far from thinking it a crime, that I cannot but consider it my duty to embrace it." This, however, was written when he was very young. He never gave up business, but changed one business for another, and shifted the scene of its transaction. His religious inquiries led to a more decided result. He very soon left the Church of England, and became a member of the Society of Friends.
About the same time he married a Quaker lady, Mary Done, of a Cheshire family. She bore him several children: but only three lived to maturity; two daughters, of whom the elder, Maria, distinguished herself, afterward, as the author of many useful children's books under her married name, Hack; and one son, Bernard, the poet, who was born January 31,1784.
Shortly before Bernard's birth, however, John Barton had removed to London, where he engaged in something of the same business he had quitted at Carlisle, but where he probably found society and interests more suited to his taste. I do not know whether he ever acted as minister in his Society; but his name appears on one record of their most valuable endeavours. The Quakers had from the very time of George Fox distinguished themselves by their opposition to slavery: a like feeling had gradually been growing up in other quarters of England; and in 1787 a mixed committee of twelve persons was appointed to promote the Abolition of the Slave-trade; Wilberforce engaging to second them with all his influence in parliament. Among these twelve stands the name of John Barton, in honourable companionship with that of Thomas Clarkson.
"I lost my mother," again writes B. B., "when I was only a few days old; and my father married again in my infancy so wisely and so happily, that I knew not but his second wife was my own mother, till I learned it years after at a boarding school." The name of this amiable step-mother was Elizabeth Home; a Quaker also; daughter of a merchant, who, with his house in London and villa at Tottenham, was an object of B. B.'s earliest regard and latest recollection. "Some of my first recollections," he wrote fifty years after, "are looking out of his parlour windows at Bankside on the busy Thames, with its ever-hanging scene, and the dome of St. Paul's rising out of the smoke on the other side of the river. But my most delightful recollections of boyhood are connected with the fine old country-house in a green lane diverging from the high road which runs through Tottenham. I would give seven years of life as it now is, for a week of that which l then led. It was a large old house, with an iron palisade and a pair of iron gates in front and a huge stone eagle on each pier. Leading up to the steps by which you went up to the hall door was a wide gravel walk, bordered in summer time by huge tubs, in which were orange and lemon trees, and in the centre of the grass-plot stood a tub yet huger, holding an enormous aloe. The hall itself to my fancy then lofty and wide as a cathedral would seem now was a famous place for battledore and shuttlecock; and behind was a garden, equal to that of old Alcinous himself. My favourite walk was one of turf by a long strait pond, bordered with lime-trees. But the whole demesne was the fairy ground of my childhood; and its presiding genius was grandpapa. He must have been a handsome man in his youth, for I remember him at nearly eighty, a very fine looking one, even in the decay of mind and body. In the morning a velvet cap; by dinner, a flaxen wig; and features always expressive of benignity and placid cheerfulness. When he walked out into the garden, his cocked hat and amber-headed cane completed his costume. To the recollection of this delightful personage, I am, I think, indebted for many soothing and pleasing associations with old age."
John Barton did not live to see the only child — a son — that was born to him by this second marriage. He had some time before quitted London, and taken partnership in a malting business at Hertford, where he died in the prime of life. After his death his widow returned to Tottenham, and there with her son and step-children continued for some time to reside.
In due time, Bernard was sent to a much-esteemed Quaker school at Ipswich: returning always to spend his holidays at Tottenham. When fourteen years old, he was apprenticed to Mr. Samuel Jesup, a shopkeeper at Halstead in Essex. "There I stood," he writes, "for eight years behind the counter of the corner shop at the top of Halstead Hill, kept to this day" (Nov. 9, 1828) "by my old master, and still worthy uncle, S. Jesup."
In 1806 he went to Woodbridge: and a year after married Lacy Jesup, the niece of his former master, and entered into partnership with her brother as coal and corn merchant. But she died a year after marriage in giving birth to the only child, who now survives them both; and he perhaps sickened with the scene of his blighted love and finding, like his father, that he had less taste for the ledger than for literature, almost directly quitted Woodbridge, and engaged himself as private tutor in the family of Mr. Waterhouse, a merchant in Liverpool. There Bernard Barton had some family connexions; and there also he was kindly received and entertained by the Roscoe family, who were old acquaintances of his father and mother.
After a year's residence in Liverpool, he returned to Woodbridge, and there became clerk in Messrs. Alexander's bank — a kind of office which secures certain, if small, remuneration, without any of the anxiety of business; and there he continued for forty years, working till within two days of his death.
He had always been fond of books; was one of the most active members of a Woodbridge Book Club, which he only quitted a month or two before he died; and had written and sent to his friends occasional copies of verse. In 1812 he published his first volume of poems, called Metrical Effusions, and began a correspondence with Southey, who continued to give him most kind and wise advice for many years. A complimentary copy of verses which he had addressed to the author of The Queen's Wake, (just then come into notice,) brought him long and vehement letters from the Ettrick Shepherd, full of thanks to Barton and praises of himself; and along with all this, a tragedy "that will astonish the world ten times more than the Queen's Wake has done," a tragedy with so many characters in it of equal importance "that justice cannot be done it in Edinburgh," and therefore the author confidentially intrusts it to Bernard Barton to get it represented in London. Theatres, and managers of theatres, being rather out of the Quaker poet's way, he called into council Capel Lofft, with whom he also corresponded, and from whom he received flying visits in the course of Lofft's attendance at the county sessions. Lofft took the matter into consideration, and promised all assistance, but on the whole dissuaded Hogg from trying London managers; he himself having sent them three tragedies of his own; and others by friends of "transcendent merit, equal to Miss Baillie's," all of which had fallen on barren ground.
In 1818 Bernard Barton published by subscription a thin 4to volume — Poems by an Amateur, — and shortly afterward appeared under the auspices of a London publisher in a volume of Poems, which, being favourably reviewed in the Edinburgh, reached a fourth edition by 1825. In 1822 came out his Napoleon, which he managed to get dedicated and presented to George the Fourth. And now being launched upon the public with a favouring gale, he pushed forward with an eagerness that was little to his ultimate advantage. Between 1822 and 1828 he published five volumes of verse. Each of these contained many pretty poems; but many that were very hasty, and written more as task-work, when the mind was already wearied with the desk-labours of the day; not waiting for the occasion to suggest, nor the impulse to improve. Of this he was warned by his friends, and of the danger of making himself too cheap with publishers and the public. But the advice of others had little weight in the hour of success with one so inexperienced and so hopeful as himself. And there was in Bernard Barton a certain boyish impetuosity in pursuit of anything he had at heart that age itself scarcely could subdue. Thus it was with his correspondence; and thus it was with his poetry. He wrote always with great facility, almost unretarded by that worst labour of correction, for he was not fastidious himself about exactness of thought or of harmony of numbers, and he could scarce comprehend why the public should be less easily satisfied. Or if he did labour — and labour he did at that time — still it was at task-work of a kind he liked. He loved poetry for its own sake, whether to read or to compose, and felt assured that he was employing his own talent in the cause of virtue and religion , and the blameless affections of men. No doubt he also liked praise; though not in any degree proportional to his eagerness in publishing; but inversely, rather. Very vain men are seldom so careless in the production of that from which they expect their reward. And Barton soon seemed to forget one book in the preparation of another; and in time to forget the contents of all except a few pieces that arose more directly from his heart, and so naturally attached themselves to his memory. And there was in him one great sign of the absence of any inordinate vanity — the total want of envy. He was quite as anxious others should publish as himself; would never believe there could be too much poetry abroad; would scarce admit a fault in the verses of others, whether private friends or public authors, though after a while (as in his own case) his mind silently and unconsciously adopted only what was good in them. A much more likely motive for this mistaken activity of publication is the desire to add to the slender income of his clerkship. For Bernard Barton was a generous, and not a provident man; and, few and modest as were his wants he did not usually manage to square them to the still narrower limit of his means.
But apart from all these motives, the preparation of a book was amusement and excitement to one who had little enough of it in the ordinary routine of daily life: treaties with publishers — arrangements of printing — correspondence with friends on the subject — and, when the little volume was at last afloat, watching it for a while somewhat as a boy watches a paper boat committed to the sea.
His health appears to have suffered from his emotions. He writes to friends complaining of low spirits, head-ache, &c., the usual effect of sedentary habits late hours, and overtasked brain. Charles Lamb advises after his usual fashion: some grains of sterling available truth amid a heap of jests. Southey replies more gravely, in a letter that should be read and marked by every student.
"Keswick, 27 Jan., 1822.
I am much pleased with the 'Poet's Lot' — no, not with his lot, but with the verses in which he describes it. But let me ask you — are you not pursuing your studies intemperately, and to the danger of your health? To be 'writing long after midnight' and 'with a miserable head-ache' is what no man can do with impunity; and what no pressure of business, no ardour of composition, has over made me do. I beseech you, remember the fate of Kirke White; — and remember that if you sacrifice your health (not to say your life) in the same manner, you will be held up to your own community as a warning — not as an example for imitation. The spirit which disturbed poor Scott of Amwell in his last illness will fasten upon your name; and your fate will be instanced to prove the inconsistency of your pursuits with that sobriety and evenness of mind which Quakerism requires, and is intended to produce.—
You will take this as it is meant I am, sure.
My friend, go early to bed; — and if you eat suppers, read afterwards, but never compose, that you may lie down with a quiet intellect. There is an intellectual as well as a religious peace of mind; — and without the former, be assured there can be no health for a poet. God bless you.
Yours very truly,
Mr. Barton had even entertained an idea of quitting the bank altogether, and trusting to his pen for subsistence. — An unwise scheme in all men: most unwise in one who had so little tact with the public as himself. From this, however, he was fortunately diverted by all the friends to whom he communicated his design. Charles Lamb thus wrote to him:—
"9th January, 1823.
Throw yourself on the world without any rational plan of support beyond what the chance employ of booksellers would afford you!!!
Throw yourself rather, my dear Sir, from the steep Tarpeian rock, slap-dash headlong upon iron spikes. If you have but five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, make much of them, and live a century in them, rather than turn slave to the booksellers. They are Turks and Tartars when they have poor authors at their beck. Hitherto you have been at arm's length from them. Come not within their grasp. I have known many authors want for bread — some repining — others enjoying the blest security of a counting-house — all agreeing they would rather have been tailors, weavers, — what not? — rather than the things they were. I have known some starved, some to go mad, one dear friend literally dying in a workhouse. You know not what a rapacious, dishonest set these booksellers are. Ask even Southey, who (a single case almost) has made a fortune by book-drudgery, what he has found them. O you know not, may you never know! the miseries of subsisting by authorship! 'Tis a pretty appendage to a situation like yours or mine; but a slavery worse than all slavery, to be a bookseller's dependent, to drudge your brains for pots of ale and breasts of mutton, to change your free thoughts and voluntary numbers for ungracious task-work. The booksellers hate us. The reason I take to be, that, contrary to other trades, in which the master gets all the credit, (a jeweller or silversmith for instance,) and the journeyman, who really does the fine work, is in the background: in our work the world gives all the credit to us, whom they consider as their journeymen, and therefore do they hate us, and cheat us, and oppress us, and would wring the blood out of us, to put another sixpence in their mechanic pouches.
* * * * * * *
Keep to your bank, and the bank will keep you. Trust not to the public: you may hang, starve, drown yourself for any thing that worthy personage cares. I bless every star that Providence, not seeing good to make me independent, has seen it next good to settle me upon the stable foundation of Leadenhall. Sit down, good B. B., in the banking office: what! is there not from six to eleven P. M., six days in the week, and is there not all Sunday? Fie what a superfluity of man's time, if you could think so! Enough for relaxation, mirth, converse, poetry, good thoughts, quiet thoughts. O the corroding, torturing, tormenting thoughts that disturb the brain of the unlucky wight, who must draw upon it for daily sustenance! Henceforth I retract all my fond complaints of mercantile employment — look upon them as lovers' quarrels. I was but half in earnest. Welcome dead timber of a desk that gives me life. A little grumbling is a wholesome medicine for the spleen, but in my inner heart do I approve and embrace this our close but unharassing way of life. I am quite serious.
In 1824, however, his income received a handsome addition from another quarter. A few members of his Society, including some of the wealthier of his own family, raised £1200 among them for his benefit. Mr. Shewell of Ipswich, who was one of the main contributors to this fund, writes to me that the scheme originated with Joseph John Gurney: — "one of those innumerable acts of kindness and beneficence which marked his character, and the measure of which will never be known upon the earth." Nor was the measure of it known in this instance; for of the large sum that he handed in as the subscription of several, Mr. Shewell thinks he was "a larger donor than he chose to acknowledge." The money thus raised was vested in the name of Mr. Shewell, and its yearly interest paid to Bernard Barton; till, in 1839, the greater part of it was laid out in buying that old house and the land around it, which Mr. Barton so much loved as the habitation of his wife's mother, Martha Jesup.
It seems that he felt some delicacy at first in accepting this munificent testimony which his own people offered to his talents. But here again Lamb assisted him with plain, sincere, and wise advice.
"March 24th, 1824.
Dear B. B.,
I hasten to say that if my opinion can strengthen you in your choice, it is decisive for your acceptance of what has been so handsomely offered. I can see nothing injurious to your most honourable sense. Think that you are called to a poetical ministry — nothing worse — the minister is worthy of his hire.
The only objection I feel is founded on a fear that the acceptance may be a temptation to you to let fall the bone (hard as it is) which is in your mouth and must afford tolerable pickings, for the shadow of independence. You cannot propose to become independent on what the low state of interest could afford you from such a principal as you mention; and the most graceful excuse for the acceptance would be, that it left you free to your voluntary functions: that is the less light part of the scruple. It has no darker shade. I put in darker, because of the ambiguity of the word light, which Donne, in his admirable poem on the Metempsychosis, has so ingeniously illustrated in his invocation — "Make my dark heavy poem light and light" — where the two senses of light are opposed to different opposites. A trifling criticism. — I can see no reason for any scruple then but what arises from your own interest; which is in your own power, of course, to solve. If you still have doubts, read over Sanderson's Cases of Conscience, and Jeremy Taylor's Doctor Dubitantium; the first a moderate octavo, the latter a folio of nine hundred close pages: and when you have thoroughly digested the admirable reasons pro and con which they give for every possible ease, you will be — just as wise as when you began. Every man is his own best casuist; and, after all, as Ephraim Smooth, in the pleasant comedy of Wild Oats, has it, There's no harm in a guinea. A fortiori, there is less in two thousand.
I therefore most sincerely congratulate with you, excepting so far as excepted above. If you have fair prospects of adding to the principal, cut the bank; but in either case, do not refuse an honest service. Your heart tells you it is not offered to bribe you from any duty, but to a duty which you feel to be your vocation.
While Mr. Barton had been busy publishing, his correspondence with literary people had greatly increased. The drawers and boxes which at last received the overflowings of his capacious Quaker pockets, (and he scarcely ever destroyed a letter,) contain a multitude of letters from literary people, dead or living. Beside those from Southey and Lamb, there are many from Charles Lloyd — simple, noble, and kind, telling of his many Poems — of a Romance in six volumes he was then copying out with his own hand for the seventh time; — from old Lloyd, the father, into whose hands Barton's letters occasionally fell by mistake, telling of his son's many books, but it that it is easier to write them than to gain numerous readers;" — from old Mr. Plumptre, who mourns the insensibility of publishers to his castigated editions of Gay and Dibdin — leaving one letter midway, to go to his "spring task of pruning the gooseberries and Currants." There are also girlish letters from L. E. L.; and feminine ones from Mrs. Hemans. Of living authors there are many letters from Mitford, Bowring, Conder, Mrs. Opie, C. B. Tayler; the Howitts, &c.
Owing to Mr. Barton's circumstances, his connexion with most of these persons was solely by letter. He went indeed occasionally to Hadleigh, where Dr. Drake then flourished, and Mr. Tayler was curate; — to Mr. Mitford's at Benhall; — and he visited Charles Lamb once or twice in London and at Islington. He once also met Southey at Thomas Clarkson's at Playford, in the spring of 1824. But the rest of the persons whose letters l have just mentioned, I believe he never saw. And thus perhaps he acquired a habit of writing that supplied the place of personal intercourse. Confined to a town where there was but little stirring in the literary way, he naturally travelled out of it by letter, for communication on those matters; and this habit gradually extended itself to acquaintances not literary, whom he seemed as happy to converse with by letter as face to face. His correspondence with Mr. Clemesha arose out of their meeting once, and once only, by chance in the commercial room of an inn. And with Mrs. Sutton, who, beside other matters of interest, could tell him about the "North Countrie," from which his ancestors came, and which he always loved in fancy, (for he never saw it,) —he kept up a correspondence of nearly thirty years, though he and she never met to give form and substance to their visionary conceptions of one another.
From the year 1828, his books, as well as his correspondence with those "whose talk was of" books, declined; and soon after this he seemed to settle down contentedly into that quiet course of life in which he continued to the end. His literary talents social amiability, and blameless character, made him respected liked, and courted among his neighbours. Few, high or low, but were glad to see him at his customary place in the bank, from which he smiled a kindly greeting, or came down with friendly open hand, and some frank words of family inquiry — perhaps with the offer of a pinch from his never-failing snuff box — or the withdrawal of the visitor, if more intimate, to see some letter or copy of verses, just received or just composed, or some picture just purchased. Few, high or low, but were glad to have him at their tables; where he was equally pleasant and equally pleased, whether with the fine folks at the Hall, or with the homely company at the Farm; carrying every where indifferently the same good feeling, good spirits, and good manners; and by a happy frankness of nature, that did not too precisely measure its utterance on such occasions, checkering the conventional gentility of the drawing-room with some humours of humbler life, which in turn he refined with a little sprinkling of literature. — Now too, after having long lived in a house that was just big enough to sit and sleep in, while he was obliged to board with the ladies of a Quaker school over the way, he obtained a convenient house of his own, where he got his books and pictures about him. But, more than all this, his daughter was now grown up to be his housekeeper and companion. And amiable as Bernard Barton was in social life, his amiability in this little tete a tete household of his was yet a fairer thing to behold; so completely was all authority absorbed into confidence, and into love—
A constant flow of love, that knew no fall,
Ne'er roughen'd by those cataracts and breaks
That humour interposed too often makes,
but gliding on uninterruptedly for twenty years, until death concealed its current from all human witness.
In earlier life Bernard Barton had been a fair pedestrian; and was fond of walking over to the house of his friend Arthur Biddell at Playford. There, beside the instructive and agreeable society of his host and hostess, he used to meet George Airy, now Astronomer Royal, then a lad of wonderful promise; with whom he had many a discussion about poetry, and Sir Walter's last new novel, a volume of which perhaps the poet had brought in his pocket. Mr. Biddell, at one time, lent him a horse to expedite his journeys to and fro, and to refresh him with some wholesome change of exercise. But of that Barton soon tired. He gradually got to dislike exercise very much; and no doubt greatly injured his health by its disuse. But it was not to be wondered at, that having spent the day in the uncongenial task of "figure-work," as he called it, he should covet his evenings for books, or verses, or social intercourse. It was very difficult to get him out even for a stroll in the garden after dinner, or along the banks of his favourite Deben on a summer evening. He would, after going a little way, with much humorous grumbling at the useless fatigue he was put to endure, stop short of a sudden, and, sitting down in the long grass by the river-side, watch the tide run past, and the well-known vessels gliding into harbour, or dropping down to pursue their voyage under the stars at sea, until his companions, returning from their prolonged walk, drew him to his feet again, to saunter homeward far more willingly than he set forth, with the prospect of the easy chair, the book, and the cheerful supper before him.
His excursions rarely extended beyond a few miles round Woodbridge — to the vale of Dedham, Constable's birth-place and painting-room; or to the neighbouring sea-coast, loved for its own sake — and few could love the sea and the heaths beside it better than he did — but doubly dear to him from its association with the memory and poetry of Crabbe. Once or twice he went as far as Hampshire on a visit to his brother; and once he visited Mr. W. B. Donne, at Mattishall, in Norfolk, where he saw many portraits and mementoes of his favourite poet Cowper, Mr. Donne's kinsman. That which most interested him there was Mrs. Bodham, ninety years old, and almost blind, but with all the courtesy of the old school about her — once the "Rose" whom Cowper had played with at Catfield parsonage when both were children together, and whom until 1790, when she revived their acquaintance by sending him his mother's picture, he had thought "withered and fallen from the stalk." Such little excursions it might be absurd to record of other men; but they were some of the few that Bernard Barton could take, and from their rare occurrence, and the simplicity of his nature, they made a strong impression upon him.
He still continued to write verses, as well on private occasions as for annuals; and in 1836 published another volume, chiefly composed of such fragments. In 1845 came out his last volume; which he got permission to dedicate to the Queen. He sent also a copy of it to Sir Robert Peel, then prime minister, with whom he had already corresponded slightly on the subject of the income tax, which Mr. Barton thought pressed rather unduly on clerks, and others, whose narrow income was only for life. Sir Robert asked him to dinner at Whitehall. — "Twenty years ago," writes Barton, "such a summons had elated and exhilarated me — now I feel humbled and depressed at it. Why? — but that I verge on the period when the lighting down of the grasshopper is a burden, and desire itself beams to fail." — He went however, and was sincerely pleased with the courtesy, and astonished at the social ease, of a man who had so many and so heavy cares on his shoulders. When the Quaker poet was first ushered into the room, there were but three guests assembled, of whom he little expected to know one. But the mutual exclamations of "George Airy!" and "Bernard Barton!" soon satisfied Sir Robert as to his country guest's feeling at home at the great town dinner.
On leaving office a year after, Sir Robert recommended him to the queen for an annual pension of £100: — one of the last acts, as the retiring minister intimated, of his official career, and one he should always reflect on with pleasure. — B. Barton gratefully accepted the boon. And to the very close of life he continued, after his fashion, to send letters and occasional poems to Sir Robert, and to receive a few kind words in reply.
In 1844 died Bernard's eldest sister, Maria Hack. She was five or six years older than himself; very like him in the face; and had been his instructress ("a sort of oracle to me," he says) when both were children. "It is a heavy blow to me," he writes, "for Maria is almost the first human being I remember to have fondly loved, or been fondly loved by — the only living participant in my first and earliest recollections. When I lose her, I had almost as well never have been a child; for she only knew me as such — and the best and brightest of memories are apt to grow dim when they can no more be reflected." "She was just older enough than I," he elsewhere says, "to recollect distinctly what I have a confused glimmering of — about our house at Hertford — even of hers at Carlisle."
Mr. Barton had for many years been an ailing man, though he never was, I believe, dangerously ill (as it is called) till the last year of his life. He took very little care of himself; laughed at all rules of diet, except temperance; and had for nearly forty years, as he said, "taken almost as little exercise as a mile-stone, and far less fresh air." Some years before his death he had been warned of a liability to disease in the heart, an intimation he did not regard, as he never felt pain in that region. Nor did he to that refer the increased distress he began to feel in exertion of any kind, walking fast or going up-stairs, a distress which he looked upon as the disease of old age, and which he used to give vent to in half-humorous groans, that seemed to many of his friends rather expressive of his dislike to exercise, than implying any serious inconvenience from it. But probably the disease that partly arose from inactivity now became the true apology for it. During the last year of his life, too, some loss of his little fortune, and some perplexity in his affairs, not so distressing because of any present inconvenience to himself, as in the prospect of future evil to one whom he loved as himself; may have increased the disease within him, and hastened its final blow.
Toward the end of 1848 the evil symptoms increased much upon him; and shortly after Christmas, it was found that the disease was far advanced. He consented to have his diet regulated; protesting humorously against the small glass of small beer allowed him in place of the temperate allowance of generous port, or ale, to which he was accustomed. He fulfilled his daily duty in the bank, only remitting (as he was peremptorily bid) his attendance there after his four o'clock dinner. And though not able to go out to his friends, he was glad to see them at his own house to the last.
Here is a letter, written a few days before his death, to one of his kindest and most hospitable friends.
"2 mo, 14, 1849.
My dear old Friend,
Thy home-brewed has been duly received, and I drank a glass yesterday with relish, but I must not indulge too often — for I make slow way, if any, toward recovery, and at times go on puffing, panting, groaning, and making a variety of noises, not unlike a loco-motive at first starting; more to give vent to my own discomfort, than for the delectation of those around me. So I am not fit to go into company, and cannot guess when I shall. However, I am free from much acute suffering, and not so much hypp'd as might be forgiven in a man who has such trouble about his breathing that it naturally puts him an thinking how long he may be able to breathe at all. But if the hairs of one's head are numbered, so, by a parity of reasoning, are the puffs of our bellows. I write not in levity, though I use homely words I do not think J— sees any present cause of serious alarm, but I do not think he sees, on the other hand, much prospect of speedy recovery, if of entire recovery at all. The thing has been coming on for years; and cannot be cured at once, if at all. A man can't poke over desk or table for forty years without putting some of the machinery of the chest out of sorts. As the evenings get warm and light we shall see what gentle exercise and a little fresh air can do. In the last few days too I have been in solicitude about a little pet niece of mine dying, if not dead, at York: this has somewhat worried me, and agitation or excitement is as bad for me as work or quickness of motion. Yet, after all, I have really more to be thankful for than to grumble about. I have no very acute pain, a skeely doctor, a good nurse, kind solicitous friends, a remission of the worst part of my desk hours — so why should I fret? Love to the younkers.
On Monday, February 19, he was unable to get into the bank, having passed a very unquiet night — the first night of distress, he thankfully said, that his illness had caused him. He suffered during the day; but welcomed as usual the friends who came to see him as he lay on his sofa; and wrote a few notes — for his correspondence must now, as he had humorously lamented, become as short-breathed as himself. In the evening, at half-past eight, as he was yet conversing cheerfully with a friend, he rose up, went to his bed-room, and suddenly rang the bell. He was found by his daughter — dying. Assistance was sent for; but all assistance was vain. "In a few minutes more," says the note despatched from the house of death that night, "all distress was over on his part — and that warm kind heart is still for ever."
The Letters and Poems that follow are very faithful revelations of Barton's soul; of the genuine piety to God, good-will to men, and cheerful guileless spirit, which an animated him, not only rising in the undisturbed seclusion of the closet, but (what is a very different matter) through the walk and practice of daily life. They prove also his intimate acquaintance with the Bible, and his deep appreciation of many beautiful passages which might escape a common reader.
The Letters show, that while be had well considered, and well approved the principles of Quakerism, he was equally liberal in his recognition of other forms of Christianity. He could attend the church, or the chapel, if the meeting were not at hand, and once assisted in raising money to build a new Established Church in Woodbridge. And while he was sometimes roused to defend Dissent from the vulgar attacks of High Church and Tory, he could also give the bishops a good word when they were unjustly assailed.
While duly conforming to the usages of his Society on all proper occasions, he could forget "thee" and "thou" while mixing in social intercourse with people of another vocabulary, and smile at the Reviewer who reproved him for using the heathen name November in his Poems. "I find," he said, "these names of the months the prescriptive dialect of poetry, used as such by many members of our Society before me — 'sans peur et sans reproche;' and I use them accordingly, asking no questions for conscience' sake, as to their origin. Yet while I do this, I can give my cordial tribute of approval to the scruples of our early friends, who advocate a simpler nomenclature. I can quite understand and respect their simplicity and godly sincerity; and I conceive that I have duly shown my reverence for their scruples in adhering personally to their dialect, and only using another poetically. Ask the British Friend the name of the planet with a belt round it, and he would say Saturn; at the peril, and on the pain, of excommunication."
As to his politics, he always used to call himself "a Whig of the old school." Perhaps, like most men in easy circumstances, he grew more averse to change as he grew older. He thus writes to a friend in 1845, during the heats occasioned by the proposed Repeal of the Corn Laws: — "Queer times these, and strange events. I feel most shamefully indifferent about the whole affair: but my political fever has long since spent itself. It was about its height when they sent Burdett to the Tower. It has cooled down wonderfully since then. He went there, to the best of my recollection, in the character of Burns's Sir William Wallace — "Great patriot hero — ill-requited chief;" — and dwindled down afterwards to 'Old Glory.' No more patriots for me." But Bernard Barton did not trouble himself much about politics. He occasionally grew interested when the interests of those he loved were at stake; and his affections generally guided his judgment. Hence he was always against a Repeal of the Corn Laws, because he loved Suffolk farmers, Suffolk labourers, and Suffolk fields. Occasionally he took part in the election of a friend to Parliament — writing in prose or verse in the county papers. And here also, though he more willingly sided with the Liberal interest, he would put out a hand to help the good old Tory at a pinch.
He was equally tolerant of men, and free of acquaintance. So long as men were honest, (and he was slow to suspect them to be otherwise,) and reasonably agreeable, (and he was easily pleased,) could find company in them. "My temperament," he writes, "is, as far as a man can judge of himself, eminently social. I am wont to live out of myself, and to cling to anybody loveable within my reach." I have before said that he was equally welcome and equally at ease, whether at the Hall or at the Farm; himself indifferent to rank, though he gave to every one his title, not wondering even at those of his own community, who, unmindful perhaps of the military implication, owned to the soft impeachment of Esquire. But no where was he more amiable than in some of those humbler meetings — about the fire in the keeping-room at Christmas, or under the walnut-tree in summer. He had his cheerful remembrances with the old; a playful word for the young — especially with children, whom he loved and was loved by. — Or, on some summer afternoon, perhaps, at the little inn on the heath, or by the riverside — or when, after a pleasant pic-nic on the sea-shore, we drifted homeward up the river, while the breeze died away at sunset, and the heron, at last startled by our gliding boat, slowly rove from the ooze over which the tide was momentarily encroaching.
By nature, as well as by discipline perhaps, he had a great dislike to most violent occasions of feeling and manifestations of it, whether in real life or story. Many years ago he entreated the author of "May you like it," who had written some tales of powerful interest, to write others "where the appeals to one's feelings were perhaps less frequent — I mean one's sympathetic feelings with suffering virtue — and the more pleasurable emotions called forth by the spectacle of quiet, unobtrusive, domestic happiness more dwelt on." And when Mr. Tayler had long neglected to answer a letter, Barton humorously proposed to rob him on the highway, in hopes of recovering an interest by crime which he supposed every-day good conduct had lost. Even in Walter Scott, his great favourite, he seemed to relish the humorous parts more than the pathetic, — Baillie Nicol Jarvie's dilemmas at Glennaquoich rather than Fergus Mac Ivor's trial; and Oldbuck and his sister Grizel rather than the scenes at the fisherman's cottage. Indeed, many, I dare say, of those who only know Barton by his poetry, will be surprised to hear how much humour he had in himself; and how much he relished it in others. Especially, perhaps, in later life, when men have commonly had quite enough of "domestic tragedy," and are glad to laugh when they can.
With little critical knowledge of pictures, he was very fond of them, especially such as represented scenery familiar to him — the shady lane, the heath, the corn-field, the village, the seashore. And he loved after coming away from the bank to sit in his room and watch the twilight steal over his landscapes as over the real face of nature, and then lit up again by fire or candle light. Nor could any itinerant picture-dealer pass Mr. Barton's door without calling to tempt him to a now purchase. And then was B. B. to be seen, just come up from the bank, with broad-brim and spectacles on, examining some picture set before him on a chair in the most advantageous light; the dealer recommending, and Barton wavering, until partly by money, and partly by exchange of some older favourites, with perhaps a snuff-box thrown in to turn the scale; a bargain was concluded — generally to B. B's great disadvantage and great content. Then friends were called in to admire; and letters written to describe; and the picture taken up to his bed-room to be seen by candle light on going to bed, and by the morning sun on awaking; then hung up in the best place in the best room; till in time perhaps it was itself exchanged away for some newer favourite.
He was not learned — in language, science, or philosophy. Nor did he care for the loftiest kinds of poetry — "the heroics," as he called it. His favourite authors were those that dealt most in humour, good sense, domestic feeling, and pastoral description — Goldsmith, Cowper, Wordsworth in his lowlier moods, and Crabbe. One of his favourite prose books was Boswell's Johnson; of which he knew all the good things by heart, an inexhaustible store for a country dinner-table. And many will long remember him as he used to sit at table, his snuff-box in his hand, and a glass of genial wine before him, repeating some favourite passage, and glancing his fine brown eyes about him as he recited.
But perhaps his favourite prose book was Scott's Novels. These he seemed never tired of reading, and hearing read. During the last four or five winters I have gone through several of the best of these with him — generally on one night in each week — Saturday night, that left him free to the prospect of Sunday's relaxation. Then was the volume taken down impatiently from the shelf almost before tea was over; and at last, when the room was clear, candles snuffed, and fire stirred, he would read out, or listen to, those fine stories, anticipating with a glance, or an Impatient ejaculation of pleasure, the good things he knew were coming — which he liked all the bettor for knowing they were coming — relishing them afresh in the fresh enjoyment of his companion, to whom they were less familiar; until the modest supper coming in closed the book, and recalled him to his cheerful hospitality.