A gigantic genius fit to grapple with whole libraries
Boswell’s life of Johnson
The appointed day arrived when the Colonel and Miss Mannering were expected at Woodbourne. The hour was fast approaching, and the little circle within doors had each their separate subjects of anxiety. Mac-Morlan naturally desired to attach to himself the patronage and countenance of a person of Mannering’s wealth and consequence. He was aware, from his knowledge of mankind, that Mannering, though generous and benevolent, had the foible of expecting and exacting a minute compliance with his directions. He was therefore racking his recollection to discover if everything had been arranged to meet the Colonel’s wishes and instructions, and, under this uncertainty of mind, he traversed the house more than once from the garret to the stables. Mrs. Mac-Morlan revolved in a lesser orbit, comprehending the dining-parlour, housekeeper’s room, and kitchen. She was only afraid that the dinner might be spoiled, to the discredit of her housewifely accomplishments. Even the usual passiveness of the Dominie was so far disturbed that he twice went to the window which looked out upon the avenue, and twice exclaimed, ‘Why tarry the wheels of their chariot?’ Lucy, the most quiet of the expectants, had her own melancholy thoughts. She was now about to be consigned to the charge, almost to the benevolence, of strangers, with whose character, though hitherto very amiably, displayed, she was but imperfectly acquainted. The moments, therefore, of suspense passed anxiously and heavily.
At length the trampling of horses and the sound of wheels were heard. The servants, who had already arrived, drew up in the hall to receive their master and mistress, with an importance and empressement which to Lucy, who had never been accustomed to society, or witnessed what is called the manners of the great, had something alarming. Mac-Morlan went to the door to receive the master and mistress of the family, and in a few moments they were in the drawing-room.
Mannering, who had travelled as usual on horseback, entered with his daughter hanging upon his arm. She was of the middle size, or rather less, but formed with much elegance; piercing dark eyes, and jet-black hair of great length, corresponded with the vivacity and intelligence of features in which were blended a little haughtiness, and a little bashfulness, a great deal of shrewdness, and some power of humorous sarcasm. ‘I shall not like her,’ was the result of Lucy Bertram’s first glance; ‘and yet; I rather think I shall,’ was the thought excited by the second.
Miss Mannering was furred and mantled up to the throat against the severity of the weather; the Colonel in his military great-coat. He bowed to Mrs. Mac-Morlan, whom his daughter also acknowledged with a fashionable courtesy, not dropped so low as at all to incommode her person. The Colonel then led his daughter up to Miss Bertram, and, taking the hand of the latter, with an air of great kindness and almost paternal affection, he said, ‘Julia, this is the young lady whom I hope our good friends have prevailed on to honour our house with a long visit. I shall be much gratified indeed if you can render Woodbourne as pleasant to Miss Bertram as Ellangowan was to me when I first came as a wanderer into this country.’
The young lady courtesied acquiescence, and took her new friend’s hand. Mannering now turned his eye upon the Dominie, who had made bows since his entrance into the room, sprawling out his leg, and bending his back like an automaton, which continues to repeat the same movement until the motion is stopt by the artist. ‘My good friend, Mr. Sampson,’ said Mannering, introducing him to his daughter, and darting at the same time a reproving glance at the damsel, notwithstanding he had himself some disposition to join her too obvious inclination to risibility; ‘this gentleman, Julia, is to put my books in order when they arrive, and I expect to derive great advantage from his extensive learning.’
‘I am sure we are obliged to the gentleman, papa, and, to borrow a ministerial mode of giving thanks, I shall never forget the extraordinary countenance he has been pleased to show us. But, Miss Bertram,’ continued she hastily, for her father’s brows began to darken, ‘we have travelled a good way; will you permit me to retire before dinner?’
This intimation dispersed all the company save the Dominie, who, having no idea of dressing but when he was to rise, or of undressing but when he meant to go to bed, remained by himself, chewing the cud of a mathematical demonstration, until the company again assembled in the drawing-room, and from thence adjourned to the dining-parlour.
When the day was concluded, Mannering took an opportunity to hold a minute’s conversation with his daughter in private.
‘How do you like your guests, Julia?’
‘O, Miss Bertram of all things; but this is a most original parson; why, dear sir, no human being will be able to look at him without laughing.’
‘ While he is under my roof, Julia, every one must learn to do so.’
‘Lord, papa, the very footmen could not keep their gravity!’
‘Then let them strip off my livery,’ said the Colonel, ‘and laugh at their leisure. Mr. Sampson is a man whom I esteem for his simplicity and benevolence of character.’
‘O, I am convinced of his generosity too,’ said this lively lady; ‘he cannot lift a spoonful of soup to his mouth without bestowing a share on everything round.’
‘Julia, you are incorrigible; but remember I expect your mirth on this subject to be under such restraint that it shall neither offend this worthy man’s feelings nor those of Miss Bertram, who may be more apt to feel upon his account than he on his own. And so, goodnight, my dear; and recollect that, though Mr. Sampson has certainly not sacrificed to the graces, there are many things in this world more truly deserving of ridicule than either awkwardness of manners or simplicity of character.’
In a day or two Mr. and Mrs. Mac-Morlan left Woodbourne, after taking an affectionate farewell of their late guest. The household were now settled in their new quarters. The young ladies followed their studies and amusements together. Colonel Mannering was agreeably surprised to find that Miss Bertram was well skilled in French and Italian, thanks to the assiduity of Dominie Sampson, whose labour had silently made him acquainted with most modern as well as ancient languages. Of music she knew little or nothing, but her new friend undertook to give her lessons, in exchange for which she was to learn from Lucy the habit of walking, and the art of riding, and the courage necessary to defy the season. Mannering was careful to substitute for their amusement in the evening such books as might convey some solid instruction with entertainment, and, as he read aloud with great skill and taste, the winter nights passed pleasantly away.
Society was quickly formed where there were so many inducements. Most of the families of the neighbourhood visited Colonel Mannering, and he was soon able to select from among them such as best suited his taste and habits. Charles Hazlewood held a distinguished place in his favour, and was a frequent visitor, not without the consent and approbation of his parents; for there was no knowing, they thought, what assiduous attention might produce, and the beautiful Miss Mannering, of high family, with an Indian fortune, was a prize worth looking after. Dazzled with such a prospect, they never considered the risk which had once been some object of their apprehension, that his boyish and inconsiderate fancy might form an attachment to the penniless Lucy Bertram, who had nothing on earth to recommend her but a pretty face, good birth, and a most amiable disposition. Mannering was more prudent. He considered himself acting as Miss Bertram’s guardian, and, while he did not think it incumbent upon him altogether to check her intercourse with a young gentleman for whom, excepting in wealth, she was a match in every respect, he laid it under such insensible restraints as might prevent any engagement or eclaircissement taking place until the young man should have seen a little more of life and of the world, and have attained that age when he might be considered as entitled to judge for himself in the matter in which his happiness was chiefly interested.
While these matters engaged the attention of the other members of the Woodbourne family, Dominie Sampson was occupied, body and soul, in the arrangement of the late bishop’s library, which had been sent from Liverpool by sea, and conveyed by thirty or forty carts from the sea-port at which it was landed. Sampson’s joy at beholding the ponderous contents of these chests arranged upon the floor of the large apartment, from whence he was to transfer them to the shelves, baffles all description. He grinned like an ogre, swung his arms like the sails of a wind-mill, shouted ‘Prodigious’ till the roof rung to his raptures. ‘He had never,’ he said, ‘seen so many books together, except in the College Library’; and now his dignity and delight in being superintendent of the collection raised him, in his own opinion, almost to the rank of the academical librarian, whom he had always regarded as the greatest and happiest man on earth. Neither were his transports diminished upon a hasty examination of the contents of these volumes. Some, indeed, of belles lettres, poems, plays, or memoirs he tossed indignantly aside, with the implied censure of’psha,‘or ‘frivolous’; but the greater and bulkier part of the collection bore a very different character. The deceased prelate, a divine of the old and deeply-learned cast, had loaded his shelves with volumes which displayed the antique and venerable attributes so happily described by a modern poet:—
That weight of wood, with leathern coat o’erlaid,
Those ample clasps of solid metal made,
The close-press’d leaves unoped for many an age,
The dull red edging of the well-fill’d page,
On the broad back the stubborn ridges roll’d,
Where yet the title stands in tarnish’d gold.
Dominie Sampson in the library
Drawn and Etched by C. O. Murray
Books of theology and controversial divinity, commentaries, and polyglots, sets of the Fathers, and sermons which might each furnish forth ten brief discourses of modern date, books of science, ancient and modern, classical authors in their best and rarest forms — such formed the late bishop’s venerable library, and over such the eye of Dominie Sampson gloated with rapture. He entered them in the catalogue in his best running hand, forming each letter with the accuracy of a lover writing a valentine, and placed each individually on the destined shelf with all the reverence which I have seen a lady pay to a jar of old china. With all this zeal his labours advanced slowly. He often opened a volume when halfway up the library steps, fell upon some interesting passage, and, without shifting his inconvenient posture, continued immersed in the fascinating perusal until the servant pulled him by the skirts to assure him that dinner waited. He then repaired to the parlour, bolted his food down his capacious throat in squares of three inches, answered ay and no at random to whatever question was asked at him, and again hurried back to the library, as soon as his napkin was removed, and sometimes with it hanging round his neck like a pinafore; —
How happily the days Of Thalaba went by!
And, having thus left the principal characters of our tale in a situation which, being sufficiently comfortable to themselves, is, of course, utterly uninteresting to the reader, we take up the history of a person who has as yet only been named, and who has all the interest that uncertainty and misfortune can give.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13