Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

the wisdom of our ancestors; but that was out of a sort of constitutional resistance to fanaticism and despotism, and not because he was advancing with the world. He came in with the principles of freedom, and maintained them zealously in the abstract. But he could not, as knowledge accumulated, accumulate new stores with it; nor could he well understand how others could be always in motion that way.

His habitual distaste for the toil of books, arising from his mental isolation, rendered him unfit for literary .labours in a professional sense. But necessity forced him to write, whether he would or not. The consequence was, that in trying to re-shape old materials, or dig up fragments of reflection that might have hitherto escaped, he frequently fell into extravagance and mysticism. He has written things that resemble the dreams of a disturbed imagination. He either did not see his subject clearly, or did not feel it sufficiently to make it intelligible.

“ Much has been said of the caustic bitterness of his style when occasion demanded it, and the public have not hesitated to ascribe it to his natural disposition. The inference was hasty and erroneous. Hazlitt was mild, even to a child's temper; he was self-willed, but who needed to have drawn out the venom ? Had he been suffered to pursue his career at his ease, he would not have afforded grounds for charging malignity upon him. The malignity grew up elsewhere, and extracted from him all the gall that was in his heart. For some unaccountable reason, which Hazlitt could never fathom, Blackwood's Magazine took an extraordinary pleasure in ridiculing him. They went beyond ridicule, - they made him appear all that was base in public and private, until at last his fame became a sort of dangerous notoriety. His political and religious opinions were represented in such odious colours, that even the booksellers, our trading ones, shrunk from the publication of his writings, as if they contained nothing but treason and blasphemy. That impression went abroad, and nearly ruined him. He attributed it solely to the writers in Blackwood, who painted him as a cockney of the worst description, mixing up wickedness with namby-pamby. Even Lady Morgan, smarting under his criticism in the Edinburgh Review, followed the

cry in her stupid “ Book of the Boudoir.” It was not surprising that a man of Hazlitt's solitary habits should feel and resent this in his brooding moods. He did resent it, and fearfully, and the passion of revenge was instilled into his being, subdued only by the imperious presence of philosophy. He had strong passions and affections; and they swelled the torrent,

up

[blocks in formation]

Those who charge him with evil should pause over the story of his agitated life.

“ When you were first introduced to Hazlitt, with this previous impression of his bold character on your mind, you were disappointed or astonished to meet an individual, nervous, low-spoken, and feeble, who lived on tea as a regimen. There was not a par. ticle of energy about him ordinarily. His face, when at repose, had none of the marks of extraordinary intellect, or even of ani. mation. The common expression was that of pain, or rather the traces left by pain : it was languor and inertion. But when he kindled, a Aush mantled over his sunken cheeks, his eyes lighted up wildly, his chest expanded, he looked like one inspired, his motions were eloquent, and his whole form partook of the enthusiasm. This is commonly the case with men of genius, but it was so in a remarkable degree with him. His conversation, generally, was ragged in expression, exceedingly careless as to phraseology, and not always clear in purport. He used the most familiar words; and, for ease-sake, fell into conventional turns of language, to save himself the trouble of explanation. This was not so, however, when he grew warmed. Then he sometimes mounted into sublime Alights. But his conversational powers were, at the best, below his literary capacity.

As a periodical writer, for the reasons we have stated, Hazlitt was unable to sustain any rank. The best articles of that kind for which we are indebted to his pen are to be found in the Edinburgh Review, where he had scope to enlarge upon his principles of taste and his political theories. Of his dramatic criticisms it may be remarked, that they cannot claim to be considered as being comprehensive. He could not read enough to make them so.

But they are acute, sound, and in a philosophical spirit. Few had a higher zest for the poetry of the drama, but he did not permit it to develope itself freely. He warped and narrowed it. Taking a single point of beauty, he followed it up into all its aspects, but had no relish for judging by the context. His criticisms on the fine arts are more elaborate and liberal. There all was contemplation, and he could master it.

The subject required no aids from drudgery in the library, and happened to fall in felicitously with his tastes.

“ But the work by which Hazlitt will be remembered, and through which he desired to transmit his name and his opinions to posterity, is his Life of Napoleon Bonaparte.' It was the greatest undertaking in which he ever engaged. It exhibits his powerful mind in a position most favourable for its display; and presents an imperishable record of the strength and versatility of his genius. As a history, it has the merit of rendering narrative subservient to instruction, by making events the keys to thought. Hazlitt was too abstract and philosophical for the labour of details : hence his work contains so much of fact as is necessary to the ends of truth, and may be perused from the beginning to the end without inspiring in the reader a single misgiving that a page of matter has been wasted. That is a merit in an extensive history, not to speak of its other higher merits, that we have rarely an opportunity of applauding."

468

No. XVIII.

JAMES RENNELL, Esq.

F. R. S. OF LONDON AND EDINBURGH ; MEMBER OF THE

ROYAL INSTITUTE OF FRANCE, OF THE IMPERIAL ACADEMY OF ST. PETERSBURG, AND OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF GOTTINGEN; AND LATE MAJOR OF ENGINEERS, AND SURVEYOR-GENERAL OF BENGAL.

Tradition ascribes to this celebrated geographer a Norman extraction. One of the knights who accompanied William the Conqueror in his descent upon England is believed to have been his paternal ancestor. He was born in the year 1742, at Chudleigh, in Devonshire ; where his father had long been settled on a small estate, yielding sufficient for the enjoyments of private life. His education was derived from a free grammar-school in the neighbourhood.

Family circumstances rendering necessary his early settlement in life, he, at the age of fifteen, entered the naval service of his country. At the siege of Pondicherry, he gave proof of enterprise and talent. Some sloops of war belonging to the enemy having moored beyond the reach of our guns, in shallow water, he requested of his Captain the use of a boat. This, as the night was far advanced, was at first refused, but ultimately granted. Accompanied by only one sailor, Mr. Rennell accordingly departed, with what object in view no one was acquainted. After a brief interval he returned, with the assurance of having ascertained that, as the tide was unusually high, there was sufficient depth of water by which to reach the sloops of the enemy. This information was promptly acted upon, and the result was completely successful.

At the age of twenty-four, Mr. Rennell, on the suggestion of a friend, who possessed considerable interest in the India House, left the navy, entered into the army, and was immediately sent upon active service to India as an officer of engineers. There he distinguished himself greatly. During the sanguinary wars which led to the final conquest of the peninsula of India, his spirit of enterprise was apparent on many occasions; and his known skill and

ever-varying resources were well appreciated by the great Lord Clive. He received many desperate wounds, and was speedily promoted to a majority, the highest rank he ever attained.

In 1778 Major Rennell produced his first work, “ A Chart of the Bank and Current of Cape Lagullas." This publication, of great local interest and utility, gave to him the reputation of one of the first geographers of the day. He was soon afterwards appointed to the laborious but lucrative office of Surveyor-General of Bengal. His next publications were his “ History of the Transactions of the British Nation in Hindostan,” and “ A Description of the Roads in Bengal and Bahur." In 1781 he published his “Bengal Atlas,” and “ An Account of the Ganges and Burrampooter Rivers.” The latter, which greatly advanced the reputation of its author, was inserted in the “ Philosophical Transactions."

While in India, Major Rennell married one of the daughters of Dr. Thackeray, many years head-master of Harrow School. Soon after his marriage he returned to England, where he was received with great distinction, and his acquaintance courted by the most eminent men of the day. He was elected, by acclamation, as it were, a member of the Royal Society. From this period, he maintained an extensive correspondence with many

of the most learned men of Europe. Amongst his most intimate friends were Dr. Horsley, Bishop of St. Asaph; Dr. Vincent, Dean of Westminster; and Sir William Jones. It was the publication, in 1782, of his “ Memoir of a Map of Hindostan, or the Mogul's Empire,” which introduced him to the friendship of the two former. With characteristic ardour, he aided Sir William Jones in his “ Oriental Collections ;” and many of the best articles in the Asiatic Researches and Registers were from his pen. A brief passage from one of these is important in itself, and at the same time indicates the character of the author's belief as a Christian :

With regard to the conformity between some of the Christian and Indian doctrines, I have no hesitation to assert that all examination into Indian history and antiquities most strongly confirms the Mosaic and scriptural account."

In 1788 Major Rennell published “ A Map of Hindostan, with a new Memoir;" in 1790, “ A Memoir on the Geography of Africa, with an adjoined Map;" in 1791, a treatise “On the Rate of Travelling as performed by Camels, and its Application by a Scale to the Purposes of Geometry;" in 1792, “ The Marches of the British Armies in the Peninsula of India, during the Campaigns of 1790 and 1791;" and in 1793, “ A Memoir on a Map of the Peninsula in India.”

« PoprzedniaDalej »