Arthur Hallam

WE were standing in the old English church at Clevedon on a summer afternoon. And here, said my companion, pausing in the chancel, sleeps Arthur Hallam, the friend of Alfred Tennyson, and the subject of “ In Memoriam.”

“ ‘Tis well, ‘tis something, we may stand
Where he in English earth is laid.”

His burial-place is on a hill overhanging the Bristol Channel, a spot selected by his father as a fit resting-place for his beloved boy. And so

“ They laid him by the pleasant shore,
And in the hearing of the wave.”

Dying at twenty-two, the hope and pride of all who knew him, “remarkable for the early splendor of his genius,” the career of this young man concentres the interest of more than his native country. Tennyson has laid upon his early grave a poem which will never let his ashes be forgotten, or his memory fade like that of common clay. What Southey so felicitously says of Kirke White applies most eloquently to young Hallam :—“ Just at that age when the painter would have wished to fix his likeness and the lover of poetry would delight to contemplate him, in the fair morning of his virtues, the full spring-blossom of his hopes, — just at that age hath death set the seal of eternity upon him, and the beautiful hath been made permanent.”

Arthur Henry Hallam was born in Bedford Place, London, on the 1st of February, 1811. The eldest son of Henry Hallam, the eminent historian and critic, his earliest years had every advantage which culture and moral excellence could bring to his education. His father has feelingly commemorated his boyish virtues and talents by recording his “ peculiar clearness of perception, his facility of acquiring knowledge, and, above all, an undeviating sweetness of disposition, and adherence to his sense of what was right and becoming.” From that tearful record, not publicly circulated, our recital is partly gathered. Companions of his childhood have often told us well-remembered incidents of his life, and this is the too brief story of his earthly career.

When about eight years of age, Arthur resided some time In Germany and Switzerland, with his father and mother, He had already become familiar with the French language, and a year later he read Latin with some facility. Although the father judiciously studied to repress his son’s marked precocity of talent, Arthur wrote about this time several plays in prose and in rhyme, — compositions which were never exhibited, however, beyond the family-circle.

At ten years of age he became a pupil at a school in Putney, under the tuition of an excellent clergyman, where he continued two years. He then took a short tour on the Continent, and, returning, went to Eton, where he studied nearly five years. While at Eton, he was reckoned, according to the usual test at that place, not a first-rate Latin student, for his mind had a predominant bias toward English literature, and there he lingered among the exhaustless fountains of the earlier poetry of his native tongue. One who knew him well in those years has described him to us as a sweetvoiced lad, moving about the pleasant playing-fields of Eton with a thoughtful eye and a most kindly expression. Afterwards, as Tennyson, singing to the witch-elms and the towering sycamore, paints him, he mixed in all the simple sports, and loved to gather a happy group about him, as he lay on the grass and discussed grave questions of state. And again, —

“ Thy converse drew us with delight,
The men of rathe and riper years:
The feeble soul, a haunt of fears,
Forgot his weakness in thy sight.”

His taste for philosophical poetry increased with his years, and Wordsworth and Shelley became his prime favorites. His contributions to the “Eton Miscellany ” were various, sometimes in prose and now and then in verse. A poet by nature, he could not resist the Muse’s influence, and he expressed a genuine emotion, oftentimes elegantly, and never without a meaning.

In the summer of 1827 he left Eton, and travelled with his parents eight months in Italy. And now began that life of thought and feeling so conspicuous to the end of his too brief career. Among the Alps his whole soul took the impress of those early introductions to what is most glorious and beautiful in Nature. After passing the mountains, Italian literature claimed his attention, and he entered upon its study with all the ardor of a young and earnest student. An Abbate who recognized his genius encouraged him with his assitance in the difficult art of Italian versification, and, after a very brief stay in Italy, at the age of seventeen, he wrote several sonnets which attracted considerable attention among scholars. Very soon after acquiring the Italian language, the great Florentine poet opened to him his mystic visions. Dante became his worship, and his own spirit responded to that of the author of the “ Divina Commedia.”

His growing taste led him to admire deeply all that is noble in Art, and he soon prized with enthusiasm the. great pictures of the Venetian, the Tusean, and the Roman schools. “ His eyes,” says his father, “ were fixed on the best pictures with silent, intense delight.” One can imagine him at this period wandering with all the ardor of youthful passion through the great galleries, not with the stolid stony gaze of a coldblooded critic, but with that unmixed enthusiasm which so well becomes the unwearied traveller in his buoyant days of experience among the unveiled glories of genius now first revealed to his astonished vision.

He returned home in 1828, and went to reside at Cambridge, having been entered, before his departure for the Continent, at Trinity College. It is said that he cared little for academical reputation, and in the severe scrutiny ot examination he did not appear as a competitor for accurate mathematical demonstrations. He knew better than those about him where his treasures lay,— and to some he may have seemed a dreamer, to others an indifferent student, perhaps. His aims were higher than the tutor’s black-board, and his life-thoughts ran counter to the usual college-routine. Disordered health soon began to appear, and a too rapid determination of blood to the brain often deprived him of the power of much mental labor. At Florence he had been seized with a slight attack of the same nature, and there was always a tendency to derangement of the vital functions. Irregularity of circulation occasioned sometimes a morbid depression of spirits, and his friends anxiously watched for symptoms of returning health. In his third Cambridge year he grew better, and all who knew and loved him rejoiced in his apparent recovery.

About this time, some of his poetical pieces were printed, but withheld from publication. It was the original intention for the two friends, Alfred Tennyson and Arthur Hallam, to publish together; but the idea was abandoned. Such lines as these the young poet addressed to the man who was afterwards to lend interest and immortality to the story of his early loss:—

“ Alfred, I would that you beheld me now,
Sitting beneath a mossy, ivied wall
On a quaint bench, which to that structure old
Winds an accordant curve. Above my head
Dilates immeasurable a wild of leaves,
Seeming received into the blue expanse
That vaults this summer noon. Before me lies
A lawn of English verdure, smooth and bright,
Mottled with fainter hues of early hay,
Whose fragrance, blended with the roseperfume
From that white flowering bush, invites my sense
To a delicious madness,— and faint thoughts
Of childish years are borne into my brain
By unforgotten ardors waking now.
Beyond, a gentle slope leads into shade
Of mighty trees, to bend whose eminent crown
Is the prime labor of the pettish winds,
That now in lighter mood are twirling leaves
Over my feet, or hurrying butterflies,
And the gay humming things that summer loves,
Through the warm air, or altering the bound
Where yon elm-shadows in majestic line
Divide dominion with the abundant light.”

And this fine descriptive passage was also written at this period of his life: —

“ The garden trees are busy With the shower
That fell ere sunset: now methinks they talk,
Lowly and sweetly, as befits the hour,
One to another down the grassy walk.
Hark ! the laburnum from his opening flower
This cheery creeper greets in whisper light,
While the grim fir, rejoicing in the night,
Hoarse mutters to the murmuring sycamore.
What shall I deem their converse ? Would they hail
The wild gray light that fronts yon massive cloud,
Or the half-bow rising like pillared fire?
Or are they sighing faintly for desire
That with May dawn their leaves may be o’erflowed,
And dews about their feet may never fail ? ”

The first college prize for English declamation was awarded to him this year; and his exercise, “ The Conduct of the Independent Party during the Civil War,” greatly improved his standing at the University. Other honors quickly followed his successful essay, and he was chosen to deliver an oration in the College Chapel just before the Christmas vacation. This was in the year 1831. He selected as Ids subject the one eminently congenial to his thought; and his theme, “The Influence of Italian upon English Literature,” was admirably treated. The oration is before us as we write, and we turn the pages with a fond and loving eye. We remember, as we read, his brief sojourn, — that he died “in the sweet hour of prime,”—and we are astonished at the eloquent wisdom displayed by a lad of twenty summers. “ I cannot help considering,” he says, “ the sonnets of Shakspeare as a sort of homage to the Genius of Christian Europe, necessarily exacted, although voluntarily paid, before he was allowed to take in hand the sceptre of his endless dominion,” And he ends his charming disquisition in these words: — “An English mind that has drunk deep at the sources of Southern inspiration, and especially that is imbued with the spirit of the mighty Florentine, will be conscious of a perpetual freshness and quiet beauty resting on his imagination and spreading gently over his affections, until, by the blessing of Heaven, it may be absorbed without loss in the pure inner light of which that voice has spoken, as no other can,—

‘ Light intellectual, yet full of love, Love of true beauty, therefore full of joy, Joy, every other sweetness far above.’ ”

It was young Hallam’s privilege to be among Coleridge’s favorites, and in one of his poems Arthur alludes to him as a man in whose face “every line wore the pale cast of thought.” His conversations with “ the old man eloquent ” gave him intense delight, and he often alluded to the wonderful talks he had enjoyed with the great dreamer, whose magical richness of illustration took him captive for the time being.

At Abbotsford he became known to Sir Walter Scott, and Lockhart thus chronicles his visit: —

“ Among a few other friends from a distance, Sir Walter received this summer [1829] a short visit from Mr. Hallam, and made in his company several of the little excursions which had in former days been of constant recurrence. Mr. Hallam had with him his son, Arthur, a young gentleman of extraordinary abilities, and as modest as able, who not long afterwards was cut off in the very bloom of opening life and genius. His beautiful verses, ‘On Melrose seen in Company with Scott,’ have since been often printed.”

“I lived an hour in fair Melrose:
It was not when ‘the pale moonlight’
Its magnifying charm bestows;
Yet deem I that I ‘ viewed it right.’
The wind-swept shadows fast careered,
Like living things that joyed or feared,
A down the sunny Eildon Hill,
And the sweet winding Tweed the distance crowned well.
“ I inly laughed to see that scene
Wear such a countenance of youth,
Though many an age those hills were green,
And yonder river glided smooth,
Ere in these now disjointed walls
The Mother Church held festivals, And full-voiced anthemings the while
Swelled from the choir, and lingered down the echoing aisle.
“ I coveted that Abbey's doom:
For if, I thought, the early flowers
Of our affection may not bloom,
Like those green hills, through countless hours,
Grant me at least a tardy waning,
Some pleasure still in age’s paining;
Though lines and forms must fade away,
Still may old Beauty share the empire of Decay!
“ But looking toward the grassy mound
Where calm the Douglas chieftains lie,
Who, living, quiet never found,
I straightway learnt a lesson high:
For there an old man sat serene,
And well I knew that thoughtful mien
Of him whose early lyre had thrown
Over these mouldering walls the magic of its tone.
“ Then ceased I from my envying state,
And knew that aweless intellect
Hath power upon the ways of Fate,
And works through time and space uncheck'd.
That minstrel of old Chivalry
In the cold grave must come to be;
But his transmitted thoughts have part
In the collective mind, and never shall depart.
“ It was a comfort, too, to see
Those dogs that from him ne’er would rove,
And always eyed him reverently,
With glances of depending love.
They know not of that eminence
Which marks him to my reasoning sense;
They know but that lie is a man,
And still to them is kind, and glads them all he can.
“And hence their quiet looks confiding,
Hence grateful instincts Seated deep,
By whose strong bond, were ill betiding,
They’d risk their own his life to keep.
What joy to watch in lower creature
Such dawning of a moral nature,
And how (the rule all things obey)
They look to a higher mind to be their law and stay! ”

At the University he lived a sweet and gracious life. No man had truer or fonder friends, or was more admired for his excellent accomplishments. Earnest in whatever be attempted, his enthusiasm for all that was high and holy in literature stamped his career at Trinity as one of remarkable superiority. ‘‘I have known many young men, both at Oxford and elsewhere, of whose abilities I think highly, but I never met with one whom I considered worthy of being put into competition with Arthur for a moment,” writes his early and intimate friend. “ I can scarcely hope to describe the feelings with which I regarded him, much less the daily beauty of his existence, out of which they grew,” writes another of his companions. Polities, literature, philosophy he discussed with a metaphysical subtilty marvellous in one so young. The highest comprehension seemed native to his mind, so that all who came within the sphere of his influence were alike impressed with his vast and various powers. The life and grace of a charmed circle, the display of his gifts was not for show, and he never Forgot to keep the solemn injunction, “My son, give me thine heart,” clearly engraven before him.

Among his favorite authors, while at the Uuiversity, we have been told he greatly delighted in the old dramatists, Webster, Heywood, and Fletcher. The grace and harmony of style and versification which he found particularly in the latter master became one of his favorite themes, and he often dwelt upon this excellence. He loved to repeat the sad old strains of Bion ; and Æschylus and Sophocles interested him deeply.

On leaving Cambridge, he took his degree and went immediately to London to reside with his father. It was a beautiful relation which always existed between the elder and the younger scholar; and now, as soon as Arthur had been entered on the boards of the Inner Temple, the father and son sat down to read law together. Legal studies occupied the young student till the month of October, 1832, when he became an inmate of the office of an eminent conveyancer in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Although he applied himself diligently to obtain a sound practical knowledge of the profession he had chosen, his former habits of literary pursuit did not entirely desert him. During the winter he translated most of the sonnets in the “ Vita Nuova,” and composed a dramatic sketch with Raffaello for the hero. About this period he wrote brief, but excellent, memoirs of Petrarch, Voltaire, and Burke, for the “ Gallery of Portraits,” then publishing by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. But his time, when unoccupied at the office, was principally devoted to metaphysical research and the history of philosophical opinion. His spirits, sometimes apt to be graver than is the wont of youth, now became more animated and even gay, so that his family were cheered on to hope that his health was firmly gaining ground. The unpleasant symptoms which manifested themselves in his earlier years had almost entirely disappeared, when an attack of intermittent fever in the spring of 1833 gave the fatal blow to his constitution. In August, the careful, tender father took his beloved son into Germany, trusting to a change of climate for restoration. Travelling slowly, they lingered among the scenes connected with a literature and a history both were so familiar with, and many pleasant and profitable hours of delightful converse gladdened Arthur’s journey. It is difficult to picture a more interesting group of travellers through the picturesque regions, they were again exploring.

No child was ever more ardently loved — nay, worshipped —by his father than Arthur Hallam. The parallel, perhaps, exists in Edmund Burke’s fond attachment for and subsequent calamity in the loss of his son Richard. That passage in the life of the great statesman is one of the most affecting in all biographical literature. “ The son thus deeply lamented,” says Prior, “had always Conducted himself with much filial duty and affection. Their confidence on all subjects was even more unreserved than commonly prevails between father and son, and their esteem for each other higher. . . . The son looked to the father as one of the first, if not the very first, character in history; the father had formed the very highest opinion of the talents of the son, and among his friends rated them superior to his own.” The same confiding companionship grew up between Henry Hallam and his eldest boy, and continued till “ death set the seal of eternity ” upon the young and gifted Arthur.

The travellers were returning to Vienna from Pesth; a damp day set in while they were on the journey; again intermittent fever attacked the sensitive invalid, and suddenly, mysteriously, his life was ended. It was the 15th of September, 1833, and Arthur Hallam lay dead in his father’s arms. Twenty-two brief years, and all high hopes for him, the manly, the noble-spirited, this side the tomb, are broken down forever. Well might his heart-crushed father sob aloud, “ He seemed to tread the earth as a spirit from some better world.” The author of “ Horæ Subsecivæ” aptly quotes Shakspeare's memorable words, in connection with the tragic bereavement of that autumnal day in Vienna: —

“ The idea of thy life shall sweetly creep
Into my study of imagination;
And every lovely organ of thy life
Shall come apparelled in more precious habit,
More moving delicate, and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of my soul,
Than when thou liv’dst indeed.”

Standing by the grave of this young person, now made so renowned by the genius of a great poet, whose song has embalmed his name and called the world’s attention to his death, the inevitable reflection is not of sorrow. He sleeps well who is tints lamented, and “ nothing can touch him further.”