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ences, which demanded rather precision and shrink from the risk of enthusiasm; which neatness than brilliancy and power. has made us the most universal, if not the
No; this terseness is the offspring of the most accurate of critics, and the lengthiest, French genius. We see it even in the if not the most brilliant of essayists. It is, French character. Take a savant from the perhaps, this too which has made all our Institute, greyheaded, full of learning, full historians, except those two-Hume and of vanity, full of a well-disguised hatred of Gibbon, who were more than half French in his brother savant, and glorying in that bit style discourse on history rather than nar. of blue or yellow ribbon in his button-hole, rate it. which tells that even foreign monarchs have Lastly, the French are philosophical, we appreciated his talents; watch the anxiety religious. The quick invention and rapid with which he ties the bows of those sleek perception of the Frenchman makes him pumps, and arranges the négligé of those seize on a theory and neatly develop it, with scientific locks of iron-grey; watch the eager every possible illustration, long before he flashing of his eyes, and the self-contented has examined the first causes, or tested its curl of his little mouth, as he pours bright truth. He is epigrammatic, while we are conceits into the ears of Madame la Duch- expansive; he proverbial, and we sentenesse; and tell me if he is a whit less French, tious; he philosophizes on the characterisfor all his learning, than the gay young Pa- tics of man, we moralize; he refers everyrisian, neatly gloved and booted, who is thing to the standard of right reason, we to driving a pair of whole-blood horses in the religion. The Frenchman never proses. Bois de Boulogne ? Are not both fonder of Whether in history, description, biography, display than worth, of the surface than of or fiction, he leaves it to the reader to draw depth, of brilliancy and a pleasing effect what inferences or make what reflection he than of accuracy and solidity? Both think pleases. He himself is more than satisfied and speak well, as all Frenchmen do; but with a short neat moral, which is often trite, it is inventively, not reflectively, and hence but always apposite. The Englishman on their terseness.
the other hand, is dogmatical. You must It is the activity of the French mind that not only have his version of the affair, but makes them dramatic. It is by our reflec- you must also have his opinions upon it. tion that we excel in the essay. They are He is not content to give you truth; he impatient and rapid; we are sober and solid. must guarantee, illustrate, and countersign Their mirth is light and even childish ; ours it, before he allows you to dismiss it. is sarcastic, humorous, and dignified enough But it would be tedious to go through the for a bench of big-wigs. A Frenchman whole list of differences, and as, of course, talking to an Englishman reminds us always one Englishman can always beat seven of a jester to his monarch. Again: there is Frenchmen, we have no doubt that many of in the English character a certain self-con- our readers consider it quite derogatory to sciousness. We are prone to criticise and compare the two at all. We humbly beg satirise, and we fear nothing so much as the their pardons, and will pass on to a concritic and the satirist. We write in hand sideration of those numerous British advancuffs, that we have ourselves put on. tages which ought to, and do, make us thank
The greatest difference of all perhaps, be- ful that we were born within the realmstween our national geniuses is our love of irrespective of income-tax-of her Most truth, and the French disregard of it, which Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. makes us practical—them theoretical. It is To begin, then, with history and histothis that makes us redundant. We English rians. There is as much difference between must not be mistaken, and we doubt if we history and the philosophy of history as beshall be believed; hence we explain all our tween geography and physical geography. meaning fully, and repeat our idea in a hun. The one is a practical study; the other a dred different forms, that others may be speculative science. The historian fulfils a impressed with it. We are slow in appre- duty to society, and patiently labours in the hension, and write as if our readers were cause of truth. The philosopher is naturally even more so. It is this love of truth, ad- an egotist, for he exalts his own theories. mirable in itself, which makes even our The historian is therefore none the worse humour heavy and serious, and our satire for not being a philosopher, although people cool, careful, and bilious. It is this again will cite Hume, Gibbon, Hallam, Macaulay, which makes us so impatient of ellipsis, that and some others of less note as philosopherin translating Aristotle or Tacitus we must historians. Hume was indeed a philosopher, fill up the slightest lacunes with whole sen- but he was also, and separately, an historian, tences of explanation. This it is which makes and had the taste not to mingle the two so us dread the expression of passion, and as to spoil either. If Gibbon was a philo. sopher, it was malgré lui. All his tastes to fact, until a pause is wanted for relief, were for history, and the other was a mere when he gives us a paragraph of neat and accessory. The rest are neither pure his- sufficient reflection. His terseness consists torians nor pure philosophers, but philoso. in an absence of absolute or qualifying phraphical historians. On the opposite side, we ses, rather than in the curt appropriate terms can array all the best historians, ancient and which are the signet of Gibbon's. He is modern-Thucydides, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, pure, free from affectation of any kind, suffiThiers, Guizot, Lamartine, Robertson, and cient, but never redundant, and plain almost Thirlwall, to say nothing of Niebuhr, be to a fault. He is devoid of all metaphor, cause we purposely leave the Germans out bloom, or simile, as if he had been guided in of the question. Besides, the two things history only by Bacon's rule. But most are quite independent of one another. Gib- worth notice is the independence of each sebon was a soldier for a time, and tells us it veral sentence, which can almost always be served him a good turn in writing his His- understood without the context. Yet so tory. But should we on that account send well is the narrative kept up, that the sepaoff all our present and future historians to rate pearls form one continuous chain, interIndia or the Crimea ?
rupted, like a rosary, only by the larger Again : historians must not be poets. Im- beads which commence a fresh paragraph. agination, passion, and affection war with His great fault--that of all our good histocool truth. If Lamartine and Goethe are rians (who were mostly Scotchmen) is cold. exceptions, it is because they are men of ness. thorough judgment; while Mr. Macaulay Gibbon is not only terse and antithetical, but must be proved to be a poet, before he can also flowing. Each sentence is self-sufficient. trouble our theory.
There are no conjunctive sentences; nothing But above all, historians must not be es- inserted to fill up. Yet all harmonizes, is sayists. We do not want opinions in his consistent, and consequent. Moreover, he tory, we want facts, and those facts given rises at times. He can be grand and powerin a manner which shall best aid us in form- ful when he needs it; but he has no tendering our own opinions. We do not deny ness, - none of that touching description that many or most historians have been es- which makes Livy so readable --little of sayists, but the good essayists make bad that beauty which makes Lamartine so dehistorians, and vice versa. Besides, many lightful. The only passion he indulges freely historians have weighed eighteen stone. Is is indignation. it, therefore, an advantage to all historians Taking popularity as the test of worthto be in condition? But the historian may where time is wanting to test the popularity, be a novelist, without his imagination, and itself-there are few modern historians who a traveller without his tales. He wants the come near to these two men. It may be descriptive power and perception of charac said of them all, without exception, that ter possessed by the one, and the topo- they are better essayists than historians, as far, graphical knowledge of the other. Besides of course, as style, not matter, is concerned. these, he wants a cool heart, free from pre- Mr. Hallam has the honour of having judice and impartiality, ambitious of truth commenced the School of Philosophical Hisalone,-a sound judgment, a clear narrative tory. His “ Middle Ages" and " Constitustyle, much taste, and sufficient enthusiasm tional History" are powerful, profound, and to be warm when requisite. Yet the his- valuable essays, where the historical facts torian is more than the chronicler, because are introduced, less as a narrative, than as he is the critic of his own authorities, and illustrations and confirmations of his philowill rather give you the results of his re- sophy. His minute detail is fatiguing, while searches, than relate how he carried them his warmth and imagination are out of place. out.
His language is more Latin than Saxon, Terseness and variety are the best points and is often careless-2.9., “The German iņ his style, if we judge from that of the most empire had now assumed so peculiar a chasuccessful historians of the world. But it racter, and the mass of states who composed would be out of date at the present day to it were,” &c. say much about the styles of Gibbon and Sir James Mackintosh is a brillant, beHume, if it were not for the sake of compar- cause a philosophical writer ; but he is glaing the present school with them.
ringly guilty of the English vice of redun" Discretion of speech is more than elo- dancy. Perhaps, in him, we should rather quence,” says Bacon; and it would seem as call it “massing.” He heaps epithets and if Hume and Gibbon had countersigned the synonymes together, and piles sentence upon truth. The style of Hume is strictly histo- sentence, in a manner which would make rical. Fie passes uninterruptedly from fact him heavy, if he were not naturally graceful.
But his periods weary at length, and we sigh sinks. There is no relief, no decrescendo. for a little simplicity, and still more for a while history is didactic to Gibbon, Malittle Saxon purity.
caulay is for ever seeking a primary cause for Mitford and Grote are terrible instances every fact. The one argues from facts to of the wickedness of philosophical history. moral principles, the other from given prinHere are two gentleman, who sit down with ciples to facts. For the rest, his style is principles—the one Tory, the other Radical terse, powerful, elegant and pure. But Gib-firmly fixed in their minds, and pour them bon excels in the sentence, Macaulay only not into their histories only, but even into in the paragraph. their very research. The art of concealing We come to the last, but by no means the or magnifying the importance of facts is here least of the modern historians. Sir Archibrought to perfection, and the result is that bald Alison was content to copy none but you have two histories of Grece, composed Jove himself, and assuming the form of from the same materials, and with equal di John Bull, has triumphantly carried off Euligence, which differ as much as any two ropa herself on his back. The theme was Whig and Tory election addresses possibly large, the scheme courageous, but there we could do.
regret to say the merit ceases.
John Bull, But while we are inclined by party-spirit such as we are told to know him by the to believe all Grote says, and receive only, newspapers, is no historian; and when Sir cum grano, the expositions of his opponent, Archibald Alison arrayed himself in all the we regret that our candidate has so out-Gre commonplaceness of the press, all the trite cianized the Greeks, that it is quite uncom- second-hand articles of Grub Street, he ran fortable to be with him. He is not content the risk of appearing before the public in a with substituting words of classic extraction false character. Preferring quantity to quafor the commonest Saxon terms, and with lity, Sir Archibald evidently expects in his talking of autonomous and circumstantiality ; readers as long a mental wind as he has but must needs adopt the Greek, or, we himself. After fourteen thick volumes, all should be more correct in saying, the Ger- in the same style, he gives us one exhausting man, mode of spelling Greek words. To sentence, that we copy out as a specimen of this the only objection would be that of puz- the whole. “ Distrusting all plans of social zling his readers; but he has not stopped improvement which are not based on indivihere. He is not even consistent in his own dual reformation, recognising no hope for policy, and next to Kaos Krios, Asklepius, man but in the subjugation of the wicked and Kallistô, we find the common forms propensities of the human heart, acknow. Oceanus and Cyclops. At any rate, if Or- ledging the necessity of Divine assistance in thros stands on one page, he should not that Herculean task,—the reflecting observer admit Orthrus on another.
will not, even amidst the greatest evils arisAlison says not amiss of Macaulay, that ing from general impiety—despair of the “he is more a brilliant barrister than an fortunes of the species.” What strain, what upright judge.” The fact is, that he is a effort, what forcing, with five present-partimost successful essayist, and his fame would ciples, the absurdity of recognising a hope, to probably have been as great, and certainly say nothing of the contradiction of entertainpurer, if he had never written a line of his- ing no hope for man save under impossible tory. All this is owing to his style. He circumstances, and yet not despairing of the is one of the few men who has assumed the fortunes of the species ! proper position for a reviewer. He has Sir Archibald has had a great field to taken high, commanding ground, and when work upon, and has not manured it. A he stoops it is rather for downright censure hundred opportunities occur, where other than polite satire. He is grand, noble, and historians have been sparkling or powerful, lofty. He has all the beauties that poetry and he only insipid and commonplace. But can give to prose, without being a real poet it must be admitted that, however little his in his poetry. But this very loftiness, and style may be suited to history, it is by no these beauties, unfit him for a historian. He means objectionable in the essay. It is true rises in the very outset. That he is con- that his criticism ever lacks originality, and scious of doing so, is evident from the ego- that he is content to dish up the trite mots tism with which he ushers in his work. “I of the clubs or the papers with respectable purpose to write the History of England," diction, but it is something that that diction he begins, and the three succeeding sentences is respectable; and it is to his praise, that begin with the same pompous “l.” This is having adopted Blair's notion of criticism, all very well; but this loftiness soon fa- however erroneous it may be, he has given tigues. It is too brilliant, too strained for greater weight to the beauties than to the common narrative, and to this he never blemishes of his authors.
The two extremes of French historical only religion. It is this which makes him style at the present day, are Guizot and La-one-sided, even in ancient history, where martine. Guizot is somewhat English in party-spirit could have little influence on history, Lamartine in poetry and fiction. him; this which fills even our lightest lite
Thiers, French to the core, seems to stand rature with trite religious reflections, which between the two. M. Guizot is a good nar- makes us sarcastic, but seldom abusive; rator, flowing, easy, and clear, but calm and bilious, but rarely fúrious. cold. He has no powers of description, no We, Lowlanders, outdo even Englishmen imagination, and little beauty. He is a pen- in this peculiarity. Foreigners tell us that dant to Huine, for his style is English, lack- our conversation on any serious topic seems ing the point and terseness of his country, to be a succession of downright challenges. but his thinking is French. Thiers is fervent, We are never satisfied that our neighbour enthusiastic, eloquent; with grand, systema does agree with us, we are always confident tic French theory, and broad, decisive French that he must entertain a different opinion, style.
and “we'll just trouble him to speak out." If Macaulay is the philosopher, Lamartine The end of it all is, that we must have an is the poet of history. His style is curt, outlet. This we have sought and found in nervous, and concise, almost to being cate- many different quarters. We never heard, gorical. He never repeats. He seizes the for instance, of a debating society in any romantic and picturesque at once, and sup- foreign university, even under the most lib. plants abstract narration by concrete de- eral governments : and, during a long resiscription. His histories are dramas from dence in France, we never knew a single beginning to end, with their hero or heroine dinner-table in ordinary society, at which stanting out in bold relief, and dramas full criticism of the new books formed the staple of pathos, full of colour, warmth, and beauty, conversation, as it so often does in England. full to overflowing of a lofty enthusiasm. It is true that the stage, and the new actors His metaphor too is powerful, philosophical, and actresses, appear to take the place of and apt. Describing the character of Napo- literature with the French in this respect; leon the Great, he calls him “an offspring of but it has always struck us that their rethe sun, of the sea; and of the battle.field.” marks on this subject were less a criticism He is the only instance of a good poet suc of the piece or the art, than a conversation ceeding--and that too poetically--in history; on the talents and character of the artist. and may be said to have struck out a new But the path in which the English most style of historical writing, which few will delight to vent their opinions is evidently follow up, because very few have his won the critical essay. We do not, of course,
speak of all essays. The mere form of an No class of literature belongs more pecu- essay is the most convenient for several liarly to modern ages and our Northern subjects, and for none more than for philoIslands than the essay-nay, if we examine sophy; so much so that the works of many the matter very closely we may say that it ancient and most modern philosophers may is indigenous to England and Scotland only; be said to have been written in essays, or and that the Irish, like the French and Ger- rather treatises, which, taken together, exmans, have followed us in adopting it, but haust the whole subject, but have little conhave never succeeded. The fact is, that the secutive connexion with one another. If English and Lowland Scotch have an essen- these be called essays, the long essay may tially Saxon characteristic, which not an be said to have been in vogue much longer other people under the sun—except, perhaps, than is generally admitted. On the other their American grandsons, possess—the love hand, the short essay, in which the method of individual opinion. It is a part of their was simply to propound and answer a love of general independence. In France a hypothesis, and proceed to illustrate the inan's opinions are those of his party, or, if solution by instances, or explanation, was he is utterly indifferent to politics, those of used many centuries back by clever or his class. In Germany a man frames his learned men as a vehicle for their undevewhole mind according to the popular theory loped opinions on various topics, whether high he espouses. England is the only country or low, as Bacon discoursed on gardens, where men of the same church, the same buildings, and plantations, with the same party, and the same predilections can afford tone and genius with which he treated truth, or dare to think differently on the most im- honour, and ambition, a few pages back. portant points. The opinion of the English- But we do not mean in using the term man is dearer to him than his wife or friend. critical essay to limit its theme to literature. It is sacred. It is his religion, in fact, and on the contrary, it may be taken to emwe regret to say, with too many of us, his brace every essay which is critical, what
ever its subject be-books, politics, social | the critic can only be to establish a preethics, national characteristics, or, in fact, cedent by which future critics and a future any such topic of the day; provided only public may be guided; all that he is at the essayist sits on the judge's bench, and present concerned to do, is to sum up the not in the chair of the teacher merely. evidence, to point out the law, to guide the With this view of the critical essay, we may taste of the public, and to leave it to their include the writers of Queen Anne's and common sense to give the verdict. That the early Georges' reigns in the same list verdict has been given and still is given in that holds Jeffrey, Smith, Cockburn, Brough- every case with or without the aid of a ream, Wilson, and Carlyle. But the mission viewer, and though no jury is in fallible, the of the one differed from that of the other, in common-sense judgment of the public will the ratio of their times, The practical ex- scarcely err once in a thousand times. Nor travagancies of 1710 were theoretical in can all the charging, and blustering, and 1810. A hundred years had sufficed to bullying of the reviewer divert that judg. take the baton of influence from fashion and ment from its proper channel. Neither rank, and place it in the hands of intellect. Keats, Byron, nor Barry Cornwall have sufThe humour that Addison justly whetted fered as writers from the blows of their against the absurdities of opera, club, rout, critics. As'men they may have suffered and so forth, was replaced by the satire either in health or temper, but that was which Jeffrey levelled at the trivialities of their own fault. But though public opinion petty poets. Again, the task of those was always decides well sooner or later, its verfar easier than the labour of these. If Addi- dict is generally a long time in the finding, son ridiculed fashionable vices, he was cer- where there is anything to be said in extentain that he was in the right. The laws of uation of the prisoner. The public must be social ethics are definite and acknowledged ; locked up for years before it becomes unanibut those of literary tastes still want a gen- mous. But time gives the conquest to the eral council to decide them, and the re- majority. There can be only one opinion viewer of to-day is as much open to review, now about the merits of Shakspere, Marand the critic to criticism, as the author they lowe, Vanbrugh, or Massinger, though there handle.
are two and more about those of WordsIt was not until the establishment of Syd- worth, Southey, and -Hannah More. So, ney Smith's “ Edinburgh,” in the beginning then, in this age of books, when a rapid deof this century, that the reviewer's position cision is absolutely necessary, it is the critic's began to be understood, for the criticism of office to take the onus off the public shoul. the last was directed not by taste, education, ders, and point out the decision which they and a long literary experience, so much as ought to come to. by those pretended laws of criticism which It is this necessity for rapid critiques that everybody disputed, and none but profes- has completely altered the character of our sional critics could defend. It was quite three-monthly reviews within the last fifteen natural then-indeed it could not be other years. No longer able to aid or guide the wise—that the short should extend into a public in their judgment, as the new books long essay, for the reviewer, while passing are read and thrown aside before the quarhis examination had, and still has, to defend terlies are even in print, they have left that his own views, and his method of bringing office to the weekly and even daily papers, them forward. But it was long before this and exchanged the critique for the essay. necessity was felt, and Smith himself clung The ponderous volumes which once rejoiced for at least the first two years to the old in fifteen or twenty brilliant, short and pithy school of short brilliant condemnation. In articles, now groan beneath the burden of the first number, for instance, he wrote no some seven or eight heavy and laboured less than seven critiques, besides editing the treatises ; critiques on single works are whole, five in the third number, and so on. supplanted by reviews on a whole class of
The principle by which our first and best literature, headed by a list of volumes, fit Reviewers were guided, judex damnatur si to throw a nervous reader into hysterics, nocens absolvitur, is a right one only when and the volume in the blue or the white cover, the judex is taken in the English sense of a which was so anxiously awaited towards the judge with a jury. The critic has no right end of December, March, June, or Septemto condemn, because he has no power to ber, that was discussed in every club, drawpunish. When the Quarterly extols what ing.room, and railway-carriage in the kingthe Edinburgh runs down, or vice verså, all dom, now lies upon the table uncut for days, critisism sinks into nothing more than and producing a feeling of terrible nausea in party-spirit, and becomes not only useless, the man of the world, who knows that eti. but absurd. But the highest ambition of quette obliges him to wade through its