Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

he sits down, consider his genius with respect and Mr. Dickens, whose forte lies in characto his subject matter. If you are not imbued ter, not in description, has often gone to the with the spirit of history, eschew it. If you most absurd lengths in his attempts to divest have no penetration for character, avoid bio- a necessary picturing of its tedium. Again, graphy. If you have no courage, no confi- all these beauties must be used sparingly, and dence, no spark of satire in your soul, eschew in the right time and quantity. If you cry the critical, and measure your powers for the wolf

too often, your neighbours become deaf. serious essay. Above all

, if you want some- Mr. Macaulay might profit not a little by what of all these, and passion into the bargain, allowing his lofty style, beautiful as it is, to know that you are not fit to write a good subside from time to time into quiet narranovel. Let each man write as he thinks, tive, and take a lesson from Gibbon, or, (as and as he would speak. Let not the pen he is an essayist and not a historian,) still and the ink bottle frighten him into more better from Emerson, who, with all his ori. solemnity than his topic demands. He is ginality, is not ashamed at times to kick away in company of the world, but really he will the stilts and speak like a common man, address individuals only. The world is not when the subject itself is commonplace. a Brobdignagian, it is a compound of lillipu- Other beauties to which one must be born tian minds. The absolute requirements of are, terseness, in which the French far sura good style are few-clearness, easy flow, pass us, and of which we need not say, the sustained interest, good taste; but if you most remarkable instances in the whole have none of these in you, it is of no use to literature of the world are Tacitus, Voltaire, form your style, you must educate your Gibbon, Lamartine, and Emerson, though mind. Then, when you have written a little, the terseness of Voltaire and Emerson is Jook over it carefully, or better still, get a very different from that of the rest, for it is friend of good judgment to look over it for not the terseness of narrative, so rare, so you, and correct what is poor or bad. The admirable, so essential to the good historian; next time you will avoid these errors intui- antithesis, well handled in Gibbon, and rarely tively.

found now-a-days; the close union of cause In English there is one great advantage in and effect, which is another beauty in the writting conversationally. No language is same writer, and metaphor. As to this last, richer in synonymes, but nothing but natural it is evident that it best befits the essay and taste can direct us how to select. The man the novel, for in the former it serves in place who writes as he thinks will choose the Saxon of instances which become tedious if multielement naturally, in preference to the clas- plied ; and in the latter it gives a sweet sical

, wherever it is feasible. He will choose poesy to the style, that enwraps the reader, the commonest and best-known words, and and lifts him cloudwards with the romance his style will be stronger, broader, and strike of the story. Indeed, so great a beauty is more home. It is only when we attempt to this same metaphor, that it is admissible talk fine, that we bring in the classical pre- even in history, and the entire want of it, as ponderance. Not that we would proscribe in the case of Hume, is like the absence of it altogether. We have a wardrobe of all water in a large garden, where you have kinds. It is as much an affectation to clothe every beauty, but no refreshment for the ourselves only in the russet, sombre, and eye. The young England school is full of old-fashioned suit of the Quaker, as to deck it, and Carlyle and Emerson have as much our poor limbs in all the purple and gold of poetry in their likenings as any old divine of the dictionary.

Queen Bess's Court. Who do not remem. But the style must differ in proportion to ber how sweetly Bacon speaks of truth in the subject, and when this requires it, there metaphor, “ This same truth is a naked and are beauties which must be brought in. Ve- open day-light, that doth not show the masks nus must not be slovenly and unkempt. and mummeries and triumphs of the world,

These adornments, like the blemishes which half so stately and daintily as candle-lights." we have pointed out, are some derived from But he who uses it must beware that it be genius, some from education. The former applicable in every particular, and simple, must not be striven after, but their absence fetched from home, and a ground known to in a writer of celebrity is justly censured. all, not from abroad, nor from the realm of Such are power, warmth, enthusiasm, and science or learning, which savours of pedanlofty fights. Yet the excess of these virtues try. To notice all the beauties that genius constitutes some of the vices mentioned. may bring to deck the simplicity of prose, Mr. G. P. R. James is a signal instance of but which must be used with the utmost too much power, (whether natural or not, care, would be far beyond our limits. If we we leave the reader to decide,)-becoming point to Emerson, Wilson, and Bulwer, as bombastic, unnatural, and even ridiculous; I quite modern writers, who may be called

the Poets of Prose, we yield them no extra- so, is the vice into which satire risks degevagant praise, because we are speaking solely nerating. of style, and will not assert or deny that Satire is a confession of weakness, they are or might have been Poets of weapon to shelter as well as to strike. For Poetry.

the man who wears it, though he attacks as But there are two qualities peculiar to a he lists, is feared and left alone. Now, very few men, which are so nearly vices, where this confession is no disgrace, where that it is hard to know when to praise and you attack a class, or a country, or anything when to blame them. These are humour which you cannot in reason match, it is very and satire. Gibbon has sometimes a delicate meet to don the weapon of satire. You do touch of the latter in history, and Jeffrey not go out against Goliath, depending on has made a brilliant use of it in the serious your fists alone, but choose sleek pebbles essay. But, as a rule, we believe these two from the streafn to dint his ugly brow. But should be confined to lighter writing. Of when the contest is of man to man, it is humour it may be said, that it differs in cowardice to use the missile; and it may be every age. The manners of one will not doubted if the reviewer should not take not tolerate the humour of another. In Geoffrey only equal, but even vantage ground. He Chaucer, in Fielding, and even in Swift, is the judge of the author,--he public is the whom Jeffrey calls “the greatest and most jury. They will give the verdict, but he efficient libeller that ever exercised the must instruct them. It is beneath him to trade,” we can well imagine that their respect- call the prisoner names. ive ages forgot the coarseness or indelicacy On the other hand, there are some things in the enjoyment of the wit; and even fifty too high for satire. Voltaire became imyears make difference enough to set all eyes pertinent when his theme was Divinity. It staring if Sydney Smith could now write is like a child throwing stones at an obelisk. in the Edinburgh as he did about “Delphine" | If you shoot arrows at the mid-day sun, they at the beginning of the century

will fall upon your own head. The atheist

is expected to blaspheme the Bible, but even “ This dismal trash, which bas nearly dislocat- he must not sneer at it, if he esteems good ed the jaws of every critic among us with gaping, taste. has so alarmed Bonaparte, that he has seized the

The beauties which may be acquired by whole impression, sent Madame de Staël out of Paris, and for aught we know, sleeps in a night- care and self-tuition, are fewer. In variation eap of steel, and dagger-proof blankets." of words, Johnson and Sydney Smith excelled.

The one by labour, the other through taste. In a steady-going, respectable, tedious Variety of tone consists in a kind of crescenthree-monthly Review of 1857, the world do and decrescendo movement, from the sowould simple call this impertinence. But lemn to the smiling, from the lofty to the that same impertinence is a delightful relief, common-place,--from the imaginative to the and in light literature absolutely a virtue if sensible, and even a sudden and startling well done. This is one of the charms of change is a beauty, when introduced in the French novelists. They are never abashed right place. Besides this, we may assume by the eyes of the public, and they will an affectation of humility, in argument or write, when they choose it, as if they were satire,-a pretended confession of error, and “chaffing" a friend in the coulisses of the gentle retreat,-only to end in a quiet senopera. Take, for instance, M. De Girar- tence that fells the opponent, as the boxer din's Preface to “ La Canne de Mons. Bal- withdraws a few steps ere he gives the deci

sive blow.

When Johnson affirms that there is one " Il y avait dans ce Roman"

fixed national style in every nation" which "Mais ce n'est pas un Roman." “ Dans cet ouvrage" —

never becomes obsolete,” we meet him with "Mais ce n'est pas un ouvrage."

both theory and facts. There is such a thing " Dans ce livre

as national genius, and such another thing as * C'est encore moins un livre."

national education. The first alters with “Dans ces pages enfio-il y avait un chapitre the climate, with civilisation, with intercourse assez piquant intitulé-Le Conseil des Minis- and contact with other nations. The second tres.'

alters with time and progress. The Aryan « On a dit à l'auteur: Prenez garde. On fera race were not the contemplative philosophers des applications ; on reconnaitra des personda- which we now know them to be, when they ges; ne pabliez pas le chapitre. “ 'Et l'auteur docile a retranché le chapitre."

came fresh from the highlands of Thibet, and

settled for the time in the Punjab. And. And so on. All this is harmless; but im- there is no less difference between the napertinence may be harmful; and, when it is tional genius which appreciated Deutero

zac:"

nomy, and the drivelling mysticism of the Dean Trench has pointed out three pass. Talmudic generation. Again, the age which ages in the New Testament, where single listened to Homer could not have tolerated words have undergone a complete change of the Thebais of Antimachus, in spite of meaning, and this merely by way of instance Hadrian's preference for the latter. -for both Old and New Testament teem

But if history proves that the genius, no with them. The first is the word " nephews" less than the character, of a people, may be used by St. Paul. “If any widow have one under one circle of circumstances, (for children or nephews,” &c. (1 Tim, v. 4), circumstances affect the genius no less than where nephews is a literal rendering of physical conformation,) and other under nepotes, by which the Vulgate translates others, then national style must differ at dif- Ekyova. The second is in,“We took ferent epochs. That education is influenced up our carriages and went up to Jerusalem" by progress and civilisation, and that in turn (Acts xxi. 15), where “carriages" is nothing it influences literature, we believe will not more nor less than “ baggage." The third be disputed.

is, however, of far more importance; for But let us come more home. If one style ignorant pretenders have made use of it to of writing could ever be stereotyped, it sever High and Low Church still farther than would surely be so after the introduction of they now are severed. The word “religion" printing. We will say nothing of the old in "pure religion and undefiled before God Chroniclers; the mere fact of their being and the Father is this to visit the fatherless read now only by the studious or the eccen- and widows in their affliction," meant, as tric, is sufficient to prove that those of them Dean Trench ably shows, nothing more than who wrote English at all, did not write in outward service, and is a translation of the national English style of the nineteenth θρησκεία. . century. But let us take the Bible as our But, apart from this question, there are test, and admitting the immense advantage few chapters in modern literature more inthat this Book has over every other in being teresting than this little one of Dean Trench's, so completely the book of all times and on the “Changes of Meaning in English classes, and that it has gone so far in form- Words;" though of course it treats the subing our national character, that it is almost ject very briefly, and scarcely investigates an ingraft in each man's mind and heart, the phases of national genius that these we still affirm that its style is not that of changes of words indicate. to-day. The nervous diction of our transla- To mark the stages of this outward tion is not wholly and only accounted for by journey of mind is the province of the the original, nor is an exact portraying of it. historian of literature. We are content to It was in a measure the style of the day speak of the style and genius of to-day, The when the translation was made, and the co- classical odour of the last century appears temporary writings were not so much in- like a restoration of prose, after the Alimsy debted to it for their simplicity, - their liberties which marked the Stuart dynasty. flowers of metaphor,--their bold pointedness, In France, at the same period, the classical and absence of all squeamish reserve, as it purity had revived in the drama; for the was indebted to them for its good old Saxon pleasure-seeking Frenchman throws all his idiom. In both we find that simple emphasis, nationality upon the stage--the respectable which placed the most striking word first in “ Britisher” develops it in the solemn ethical the whole sentence, with its verb next and essay. Under the Empire the stiff classical the subject following. In both we find that softened into the pagan prettiness of Watteau. wise and tasteful mingling of the classic and it is to Goethe that England owes the return Saxon element, which never tortures our to the romantic school, and it is from Engunderstanding, nor palls upon us with its land that France has caught the contagion, affectation of purity. But that this was though not until after the Restoration. Wars owing to the age as much as to the original, and revolutions at the beginning of this cenis shown by the latter translations that have tury, demanded force and passion in every: sometimes been attempted. Not to speak thing, in both countries, and the romantic of the Douay version, which was made from soon broke out in Byron and Lamertine. the Vulgate, and will not therefore bear the The essayists waged war on the poets in Eng; comparison, we will only ask any one to land, while in France the drama began to attend the divinity lectures at any of our throw off the proprieties of Racine and Cor! English Universities, and they will there hear neille, and deck itself, in that half-nude attire, the possibility of translating the Bible into which alone seems to satisfy the vicious modern English, which no more resembles tastes of a Parisian public. It was not till the authentio version in style, than Mr. Ma- the middle of the peace that the highly rocaulay's writing is like Sir Walter Raleigh's. mantic subsided into the natural and domestic VOL. XXVI.

D-13

in England, and the essayist ceased to be a Smith, may be said to have paved the way critic, and though this cry for the “natural” for Scott to march in. Madame de Staël, has resounded from epd to end of this coun- herself among the earliest of European try, and been caught up in Germany, it has female writers of distinction, had already only just begun to influence France, while it marked the influence of their softer feelings will be many years yet ere the simple and on the stiff orthodoxy of the Georges. She domestic there supersedes the passionate says,* “ Une sensibilité rêveuse et profonde, and highly coloured. Thus we see that lit- est une des plus grandes charmes de quelques erature in England began by being natural, ouvrages modernes; et ce sont les femmes and Chaucer wrote from what he heard and qui, ne connaissant de la vie que la faculté saw. The romantic_ followed, till it was d'aimer, ont fait passer la douceur de leurs frost-bitten by the Puritans. Then prose impressions dans le style de quelques became more cultivated, and style careful écrivains." There is no doubt that this new and classical. This stiff regime was next element not only poured warmth and freshbroken up, and the romantic revived, only ness into the rigid purity of last century's to appear ridiculous a little later, and give style, but also supplied that originality way to the natural. That this cry of the which it seems to have lacked. It is the absuperlativeness of nature will soon exhaust sence of erudition in women, and the courage itself, and that cheap literature will force on which their very weakness gives them, that a reaction in favour of classical propriety support this originality. They think for and purity, we have, ourselves, no doubt. themselves fearlessly, because they cannot

But it is with the so-called "natural" clash with our stronger minds upon the same style of to-day that we have to deal. There ground. They have no fear of the imputaare three circumstances which account for tion of ignorance or want of learning, which the peculiarities of our present national style, has often deterred the greatest geniuses from -Practical Philosophy, Lady-writers, and putting forth the full powers of their original the Newspapers.

thought. It was the severity of Queen " Philosophy,” says Jeffrey (Essay i. p. Anne's school which first forced Lady Mary 107,) " which has led to the investigation of Wortley Montague and others to match causes, has robbed the world of much of its their minds with men's; and the ice once sublimity, and by preventing us from be- broken by the fair correspondents, it was lieving much, and from wondering at any- natural that their daughters and granddaughthing, has taken away half our enthusiasm, ters should come forward and assert their and more than half our admiration.” This position in print. is but half true, and mostly for the vulgar. But half a century has completely altered " Nil admirari" is the gentility of puny the state of things, and when we find our minds. Philosophy is a stream, which near wives and sisters bringing their prejudice this huge city--the world-washes down the and their strong affections into works which refuse of its sewers, its strong-smelling be require coolness and impartiality, and history liefs, and rotten superstitions ; but mount sinking to the level of fiction, we are naturally the rivulet a little higher, a little beyond the anxious lest the masculine nerve pass wholly world, and you will find it pure and refresh- from our letters. Even in fiction we must ing, fit for Naiades to sport in. To wonder needs look askance at the maudlin effeminacy at nothing is the companion of being roused that is stealing in, and sigh when we comat nothing; and when the late war brought pare Fielding

or Scott, or even Bulwer, with the first blush of enthusiasm into the faces of the young-ladyisms of Miss Yonge. Yet, our newspapers, the world of London quaked, on the other hand, we cannot wholly sympa and readers were quite uncomfortable. It thize with the unfeminine strides of a Mrs. is true that “nil admirari” is the disgusting Shelley or a Mrs. Clive, and we must concoxcombry of conceited Englishmen, and this tent ourselves with grumbling at cheap and spirit of listlessness has found its way into railway literature, which, with all its advanour press, and thence among those who are tages, is destroying the purity alike of our weak enough to imitate the style of the press; style and our tone of feeling. but, thank Heaven! there are yet a few But if we have to thank the fair sex for authors who can and will write warmly and the originality of the age, 'we must blame enthusiastically-ay, and even admiringly the press for our want of courage. This is on many things.

no place to discuss whether newspapers in a The ladies have had a very different effect free country do really represent the opinions on our literature. It is to them that we owe of the masses. It may be doubted whether the foundation, or rather restoration, of the romantic school in England; and Mrs Rad- * "De la Littérature, considerée dans ses Rapports cliffe, Mrs. Barbauld, and Mrs. Charlotte avec les Institutions Sociales," p. 214.

the masses” have any opinion of their own, (level of sign-board and scene-painting. But
and whether they be not always guided more the æsthetic has still its devotees among
or less by the small class of independent our young ladies, and will drag out a sickly
educated men. But it is certain that, put- existence for some time yet among our
ting politics on one side, there is a large magazines and our railway writers.
number of social topics, which we may call The school which we call “natural," be-
" things in general," in which all newspapers cause it prides itself on being so, commenced
mainly agree, and concerning which their de- as far back as Miss Edgeworth and Miss
cision is taken to be that of the people. We Austin, and Sydney Smith, who might have
regret this oligarchy of common sense, founded a school if there had been followers
which subjects all that is beautiful and worthy of him to form it, may be taken as
chivalrous to the judgment of the useful and its representative in essay-writing. But it
£ s. d. We believe that much-lauded judge was not till Mr. Dickens began that it came
to be sometimes very “common” indeed, into full favour. The influence of fiction is
and that conscience is a higher and a less very great, and it is due to this style of
worldly guide; yet who dare assert it, in writing to state that it has increased that
the face of those unknown tyrants who issue influence, by removing the objections made,
their daily ukases from a dirty printing-of (as was thought in the cause of morality,)
fice? What author, what essayist, but must to the passionate excitement of romantic
subscribe to the articles of opinion which novels. This influence on the public mind
they authorize? We are convinced that this is reflected upon general literature; so that
community of opinion, this tacit agreement taking novels and essays as the extremes of
with the apparent majority, this electioneer- modern style, we are able to gain a suffi-
ing principle of decision, is opposed to the ciently clear idea of it, to compare our Eng.
attainment of truth; and we look forward to lish with our neighbours' writing.
a reaction against the newspaper monopoly One, and the chief of these national charac-
of opinion with no less joy than we do to one teristics does not seem to have changed
against the young-ladyism of our literature. with the revolutions of national taste. The

To return, however, to the question of French are still as remarkable for their national style. Its periods are usually mea- terseness, and the English for their redunsured by the duration of popularity of those dancy and prolixity, as when Madame de authors who best represent them. But the Staël pointed out the latter as our worst moment any one favourite style falls into fault. *Jeffrey was most unfortunate when the hands of a crowd of petty imitators, and he met this criticism by citing Hume and there is no one to support it ably, some Adam Smith as specimens of English terseman of genius is sure to spring up with a ness; and Massillon, Buffon, and D'Alemnew style of his own, or, at worst, a good bert as examples of French prolixity. On revival, and thus found a new school. That the one hand, Hume and Adam Smith were the natural as opposed to the Romantic, the confessedly French. The former spent Dutch as opposed to the Italian, the homely three years at Rheims, and at La Flèche, in and characteristic as opposed to the highly- Anjou, when only twenty-three years old, coloured and imaginative is now popular, is and before he produced his “Treatise on proved by the pressure that this popularity Human Nature, and at that age, when his has had on one of the best writers of the mind could have scarcely settled, we can declining style. We mean Sir Edward imagine the effect of French literature and Lytton. Take Rienzi, Zanoni, Ernest Mal- education upon it. Smith, when at Balliol travers, and Night and Morning, as speci- College, passed much of his time in transmens of what Germans call the æsthetic, as lating from French, and used to recommend distinguished from the sentimental, though this to all young authors desirous of imhaving the same groundwork. And yet proving their style; besides, we know that when this man of genius and poetry saw his own was so carefully formed, that not himself being gradually shelved by the cabi- long before his death he told Stewart that net-pictures of Dickens and Thackeray, he he wrote with just as much difficulty then was weak-or shall we call it clever---enough as when he first began. But we have not a to veer round and produce “ The Caxtons," finer specimen of terseness in the English and “My Novel.” * Not that the romantic tongue than Edward Gibbon, who acknowschool is yet quite gone out. The rapid ledged in one of his letters that on his first machinery of Mr. James, with impossible return from Lausanne, he had almost for heroes and heroines in dictionary slips, gotten how to write his native language at ready to be taken out when required, gave all. On the other hand, Massillon was too it the first blow, by reducing the grand his- eloquent a preacher to write well; while torical pictures of Scott and Bulwer to the Buffon and D'Alembert were men of sci

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »