Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/826

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CAROLINE HERSCHEL.

the plot of my 'Volpone,' and wrote most of it after a present of ten dozen of palm-sack from my very good Lord T——. That, I am positive, will live to posterity, and be acted, when I and envy be friends, with applause. . . . Memorandum. The first speech in my 'Cattilina,' spoken by Sylla's ghost, was writ after I had parted with my friend at the Devil Tavern: I had drunk well that night, and had brave notions. There is one scene in that play which I think is flat. I resolve to drink no more water in my wine."

These few anecdotes might be perhaps multiplied indefinitely; but, as far as they go, they serve to illustrate sufficiently the various ways of working, purposely or accidentally adopted by composers, and show that ideas are not always to be found only by biting the end of the quill pen.




From Temple Bar.

CAROLINE HERSCHEL.[1]

When Caroline Lucretia Herschel was already an aged woman, living in the exile from England to which she had committed herself after the death of her beloved brother, under the idea that she should not long survive him, she began to write down her recollections, — "A little History of her Life from 1772-1788." She wrote them for her nephew, the son of Sir William Herschel, that he might know something of his excellent grandparents, and also understand the innumerable difficulties which his father had surmounted in his life and labours. It was not to tell of herself, but of others, that she wrote these "Recollections," and it was with diffidence that she sent them to the one person whom she believed would care to read them.

"You must," she writes, "excuse your old aunt, who can only think of what is past, forgetting the present."

Sir John Herschel valued these memorials, and they are carefully preserved in the family along with her letters. But Caroline Herschel would have been very much surprised, and not a little angry, if she could have foreseen that her letters and recollections would ever have been printed, or that a book about herself would ever have been put together.

Writing once to the wife of her nephew, Sir John Herschel, she says, — "I have something to remark about what you call my letters, which were to be deposited in the letter-case. I was in hopes you would have thrown away such incoherent stuff, as I generally write in a hurry, when I am sick for want of knowing how it looks at home [as she always called England], and not let it rise up in judgment against my perhaps bad grammar and bad spelling, etc.; for to the very last I must feel myself walking on uncertain ground, having been obliged to learn too much, without anything thoroughly."

Entire unconsciousness of any worth or merit in herself was one of her remarkable characteristics.

She was endowed with a royal instinct for serving others to the utmost of her powers, doing this as a simple matter of course, feeling only that all she could do was much less than what was needed. This sense of shortcoming was a constant source of regret, and effectually checked all emotions of self-complacency. The one ruling idea that governed her whole life was to work wherever she was placed and to obey those in authority over her. The daughter of a soldier, the spirit of discipline was born with her.

Her obedience, however, was not from constraint, or a feeling of servitude, — she willingly offered herself for the service of those who had a claim upon her services, and her sympathy with whatever work she had in hand gave to all she did the freedom which works from love. From early childhood she took on herself the weight of the family cares and anxieties which she only dimly comprehended, but which she felt, because they troubled her parents. This love of being helpful gave a dignity to the heavy drudgery of being maid-of-all-work to the family. She always obediently did her best — even when, as she records, "she got many a whipping" for not being able to clean the knives and forks with brick-dust, or to wait at table so as to please the lordly eldest brother Jacob. She evidently had a contempt for him which she was too well trained in subordination to express, and a hearty detestation which is sufficiently conveyed to the reader without the help of words. But all the same, when, after the father's death, he became head of the family, she never failed in paying him due obedience; and when in later years, after everything had been arranged for her to accompany her beloved William to England, and Jacob was at the last accident-

  1. The interesting Memoir and Correspondence of this Sister of Sir William and Aunt of Sir John Herschel are just published by Mr. Murray. — Ed.