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THERE was one dapper little gentleman in bright coloured clothes, with a chirping gossiping expression of counte, nance, who had all the appearance of an author on good terms with his bookseller. After considering him attentively, I recognized in him a diligent getter up of miscellaneous works, which bustled off well with the trade. I was curious to see how he manufactured his wares. He made more stir and show of business than any of the others; dipping into various books, fluttering over the leaves of manuscripts, taking a morsel out of one, a morsel out of another, " line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” The contents of his book seemed to be as heterogeneous as those of the witches' caldron in Macbeth. It was here a finger and there a thumb, toe of frog and blind worm's sting, with his own gossip poured in, like " baboon's blood,'' to make the medley "slab and good."
After all, thought I, may not this pilfering disposition be implanted in authors for wise purposes; may it not be the way in which Providence has taken care that the seeds of knowledge and wisdom shall be preserved from age to age, in spite of the inevitable decay of the works in which they were first produced? We see that nature has wisely, though whimsically, provided for the convey. ance of seeds from clime to clime, in the maws of certain birds; so that animals, which, in themselves, are little better than carrion, and apparently the lawless plunderers of the orchard and the corn field, are, in fact, Nature's, carriers to disperse and perpetuate her blessings. In like manner, the beauties and fine thoughts of ancient and obsolete authors are caught up by these flights of predatory writers, and cast forth again to flourish and bear fruit in a remote and distant tract of time. Many of their works, also, undergo a kind of metemphsychosis, and spring up under new forms. What was formerly a ponderous history, revives in the shape of a romance-an old legend changes into a modern play-and a sober philosophical treatise furnishes the body for a whole series of bouncing and sparkling essays. "Thus it is in the clearing of our American woodlands; where 'we burn down a forest of stately pines, a progeny of dwarf oaks start up
in their place: and we never see the prostrate trunk of tree mouldering into soil, but it gives birth to a whole tribe of fungi.
Let us not, then, lament over the decay and oblivion into which ancient writers descend; they do but submit to the great law of nature, which declares that all sublunary shapes of matter shall be limited in their duration, but which decrees, also, that their elements shall never perish. Generation after generation, both in animal and vegetable life, passes away, but the vital principle is transmitted to posterity, and the species continue to flourish. Thus, also, do authors beget authors, and having produced a numerous progeny, in a good old age they sleep with their fathers, that is to say, with the authors who preceded them—and from whom they had stolen.
Whilst I was indulging in these rambling fancies, I had leaned my head against a pile of reverend folios. Whether it was owing to the soporific emanations from these works; or to the profound quiet of the room; or to the lassitude arising from much wandering; or to an unlucky habit of napping at improper times and places, with which I am grievously afflicted, so it was, that I fell into a doze. Still, however, my imagination continued busy, and indeed the same scene remained before my mind's eye, only a little changed in some of the details. I dreamt that the chamber was still decorated with the portraits of ancient authors, but the number was increased. The long tables had disappeared, and in place of the sage magi, I beheld a ragged, threadbare throng, such as may be seen plying about the great repository of cast-off clothes, Monmouth Street. Whenever they seized upon a book, by one of those incongruities common to dreams, methought it turned into a garment of foreign or antique fashion, with which they proceeded to equip themselves. I noticed, however, that no one pretended to clothe him self from any particular suit, but took a sleeve from one, a cape from another, a skirt from a third, thus decking himself out piecemeal, while some of his original rags would peep out from among his borrowed finery.
There was a portly, rosy, well-fed parson, whom I observed ogling several mouldy polemical writers through an eye-glass. He soon contrived to slip on the voluminous mantle of one of the old fathers, and having purloined the gray beard of another, endeavoured to look exceedingly wise; but the smirking common place of his countenance set at nought all the trappings of wisdom. One sickly looking gentleman was busied embroidering a very flimsy garment with gold thread drawn out of several old court dresses of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Another had trimmed himself magnificently from an illuminated manuscript, had stuck a nosegay in his bosom, culled from “ The Paradise of dainty devices," and having put Sir Philip Sidney's hat on one side of his head, strutted off with an exquisite air of vulgar elegance. A third, who was but of puny dimensions, had bolstered himself out bravely with the spoils from several obscure tracts of philosophy, so that he had a very imposing front; but he was lamentably tattered in rear, and I perceived that he had patched his small-clothes with scraps of parchment from a Latin author.
There were some well dressed gentlemen, it is true, who only helped themselves to a gem or so, which sparkled among their own ornaments, without eclipsing them, Some, too, seemed to contemplate the costumes of the old writers, merely to imbibe their principles of taste, and to catch their air and spirit; but I grieve to say, that too many were apt to array themselves from top to toe, in the patchwork manner I have mentioned." I shalí not omit to speak of one genius, in drab breeches and gaiters, and an Arcadian hat, who had a violent propen. sity to the pastoral, but whose rural wanderings had been confined to the classic haunts of Primrose Hill, and the solitudes of the Regent's Park. He had decked himself in wreaths and ribands from all the old pastoral poets, and hanging his head on one side, went about with a fantastical lack-a-daisical air,“ babbling about green fields." But the personage that most struck my attention was a pragmatical old gentleman, in clerical robes with a remarkably large and square, but bald head. He entered the ragm wheezing and puffing, elbowed his way Errough the throng, with a look of 'sturdy self-confidence, and having laid hands upon a thick Greek quarto, clapped it upon his head, and swept majestically away in a Formidable frizzled wig.
In the height of this literary masquerade, a cry suddenly resounded from every side, of “Thieves ! thieves !" I looked, and lo! the portraits about the wall became animated! The old authors thrust out, first a head, then a shoulder from the canvass, looked down curiously, for an instant, upon the motley throng, and then descended, with
fury in their eyes, to claim their 'rified property. The scene of scampering and hubbub that ensued baffles all description. The unhappy culprits endeavoured in vain to escape with the plunder. On one side might be seen half a dozen old monks, stripping a modern professor; on another, there was sad devastation carried into the ranks of modern dramatic writers. Beaumont and Fletcher, side by side, raged round the field like Castor and Pollux, and sturdy Ben Jonson enacted more wonders than when a volunteer with the army in Flanders. As to the dapper little compiler of farragos, mentioned some time since, he had arrayed himself in as many patches and colours as Harlequin, and there was as fierce a contention of claimants about him, as about the dead body of Patroclus. I was grieved to see many men, to whom I had been accustomed to look upon with awe and reverence, fain to steal off with scarce a rag to cover their nakedness. Just then my eye was caught by the pragmatical old gentleman in the Greek frizzled wig, who was scrambling away sore affrighted with half a score of authors in full cry after him. They were close upon his haunches; in a twinkling off went his wig; at every turn some strip of raiment was peeled away; until in a few moments, from his domineering pomp, he shrunk into a little, pursy, "chopp?d bald shot," and made his exit with only a few tags and bags fiuttering at his back.
There was something so ludicrous in the catastrophe of this learned Theban, that I burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, which broke the whole illusion. The tumult and the scuffle were at an end. The chamber resumed its usual appearance. The old authors shrunk back into their picture-frames, and hung in shadowy solemnity along the walls. In short, I found myself wide awake in my corner, with the whole assemblage of .bookworms gazing at me with astonishment. Nothing of the dream had been real but my burst of laughter, a sound never before heard in that grave sanctuary, and so abhorrent to the ears of wisdom, as to electrify the fraternity.
The librarian now stepped up to me, and demanded whether I had a card of admission. At first I did not comprehend him, but I soon found that the library was a kind of literary "preserve,” subject to game laws, and that no one must presume to hunt there without special license and permission. In a word, I stood convicted of being an arrant poacher, and was glad to make a precipitate retreat,
lest I should have a whole pack of authors let loose upon
A DUTCH SETTLER'S DREAM.
And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream-and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees in that selfsame waggon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children; and he came and descended hard by where the heroes of Communipaw had made their late repast. And the shrewd Van Kortland knew him by his broad hat, his long pipe, and the resemblance which he bore to the figure on the brow of the Goede Vrouw. And he lit his pipe by the fire, and he sat himself down and smoked ; and as he smoked, the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead. And the sage Oloffe bethought him, and he hastened and climbed up to the top of one of the tallest trees, and saw that the smoke spread over a great extent of country; and as he considered it more attentively, he fancied that the great volume of smoke assumed a variety of marvellous forms, where in dim obscurity he saw shadowed out palaces and domes and lofty spires, all of which lasted but a moment, and then faded away, until the whole rolled off, and nothing but the green woods were left. And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then mounting his waggon, he returned over the tree tops and disappeared.
And Van Kortlandt awoke from his sleep greatly instructed, and he aroused his companions and related to them his dream: and interpreted it
, that it was the will of St. Nicholas that they should settle down and build the city here. And that the smoke of the pipe was a type how vast should be the extent of the city; inasmuch as the volumes of its smoke should spread over a vast extent of country. And they all with one voice assented to this interpretation excepting Mynheer Tenbroeck, who declared the meaning to be that it should be a city wherein a little fire should occasion a great smoke, or in other words, a very vapouring little city--both which interpretations have strangely come to pass.