Casting a preparatory glance at the bottom of this article–as the wary connoisseur in prints, with cursory eye (which, while it reads, seems as though it read not,) never fails to consult the quis sculpsit in the corner, before he pronounces some rare piece to be a Vivares, or a Woollet–methinks I hear you exclaim, Reader, Who is Elia?
Because in my last I tried to divert thee with some half-forgotten humours of some old clerks defunct, in an old house of business, long since gone to decay, doubtless you have already set me down in your mind as one of the self-same college–a votary of the desk–a notched and cropt scrivener–one that sucks his sustenance, as certain sick people are said to do, through a quill.
Well, I do agnize something of the sort. I confess that it is my humour, my fancy–in the forepart of the day, when the mind of your man of letters requires some relaxation–(and none better than such as at first sight seems most abhorrent from his beloved studies)–to while away some good hours of my time in the contemplation of indigos, cottons, raw silks, piece-goods, flowered or otherwise. In the first place ******* and then it sends you home with such increased appetite to your books ***** not to say, that your outside sheets, and waste wrappers of foolscap, do receive into them, most kindly and naturally, the impression of sonnets, epigrams, essays–so that the very parings of a counting-house are, in some sort, the settings up of an author. The enfranchised quill, that has plodded all the morning among the cart-rucks of figures and cyphers, frisks and curvets so at its ease over the flowery carpet-ground of a midnight dissertation.–It feels its promotion. ***** So that you see, upon the whole, the literary dignity of Elia is very little, if at all, compromised in the condescension.
Not that, in my anxious detail of the many commodities incidental to the life of a public office, I would be thought blind to certain flaws, which a cunning carper might be able to pick in this Joseph’s vest. And here I must have leave, in the fulness of my soul, to regret the abolition, and doing-away-with altogether, of those consolatory interstices, and sprinklings of freedom, through the four seasons,–the red-letter days, now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days. There was Paul, and Stephen, and Barnabas–
Andrew and John,
men famous in old times
–we were used to keep all their days holy, as long back as I was at school at Christ’s. I remember their effigies, by the same token, in the old Baskett Prayer Book. There hung Peter in his uneasy posture–holy Bartlemy in the troublesome act of flaying, after the famous Marsyas by Spagnoletti.–I honoured them all, and could almost have wept the defalcation of Iscariot–so much did we love to keep holy memories sacred:–only methought I a little grudged at the coalition of the better Jude with Simon-clubbing (as it were) their sanctities together, to make up one poor gaudy-day between them–as an economy unworthy of the dispensation.
These were bright visitations in a scholar’s and a clerk’s life–“far off their coming shone.”–I was as good as an almanac in those days. I could have told you such a saint’s-day falls out next week, or the week after. Peradventure the Epiphany, by some periodical infelicity, would, once in six years, merge in a Sabbath. Now am I little better than one of the profane. Let me not be thought to arraign the wisdom of my civil superiors, who have judged the further observation of these holy tides to be papistical, superstitious.
Only in a custom of such long standing, methinks, if their Holinesses the Bishops had, in decency, been first sounded–but I am wading out of my depths. I am not the man to decide the limits of civil and ecclesiastical authority–I am plain Elia–no Selden, nor Archbishop Usher–though at present in the thick of their books, here in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley.