Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

sonal emotions, in the full understanding and feeling of imaginative works, we have a natural counterpoise to these domineering, overbearing tendencies, and that, as already mentioned, it is not less true that Painting and all the Ideal arts may be made to confer to morality and magnanimity not less than to delectation.

We have made no observation on the merits merely literary of this work. The faults both of substance and of form are all resolvable into the fact of the author's being a young man, an ardent young man, an earnest, ardent young man. He writes with great spirit and effect; is not seldom eloquent; and assuredly we do not like him the less that style has been but a secondary consideration with him, or, to speak more correctly, has, with the exception of some occasional fine work (chiefly in the second volume,) been no great object at all. He writes because he has something and much to say, and because he is resolved and eager to say it, not from any idle ambition of making sentences and fine writing. He has obviously long meditated his subject; he is master of it as a whole and in detail; he feels it intensely, it burdens him till he throws it off, or, to use a favourite phrase of the day, he has a mission to fulfil

, and he applies himself vigorously to fulfil it, indifferent as to the manner.

This is so far excellent; where thought is, expression will come, and as a consequence of this absence of art, the author has attained the greatest measure of ease, vivacity and directness, without any more inportant sacrifice of the essential attributes of propriety and elegance than a very idiomatic and somewhat colloquial writer will always be exposed to. But it is nevertheless true, that to this excellence is also to be ascribed an important fault which pervades the composition of these volumes, and which is rather to be felt on a perasal of the work, or of large portions of it, than rendered sensible by examples. We refer to a tendency to overdo, a certain redundance, an accumulation of words and images, sometimes, but we will say for the author, of ideas more often; which occurs in the illustration and enforcement of favourite positions and opinions, and is meant, no doubt, to impress them more strongly on the mind of the reader, but which must only have an unhappy contrary result, if it brings over his composition that of the most fatal of all faults, tediousness. Perhaps this fault may go farther; and in speaking of the writer, we speak of a class of great and valuable thinkers. Accompanying, and arising partly from the same cause, is a certain involution and obscurity which in our author's case sometimes, though rarely, interrupts the general distinctness. We perceive how this and the occasional language we speak of would disappear, if what we read had the advantage of being orally delivered by himself; and this,

we believe, affords a clue at all times to a great deal of defective and clouded writing. A young author especially, or one who is new to his occupation, and who has been accustomed chiefly to render himself intelligible in discussion or spoken discourse of any kind, when assisted by voice, by tone, by pause, by the countenance, the gesticulation, the manner, and all that combination of which, and not of utterance alone, speaking is made up, and by which it is distinguished from writing, is apt, when compelled to abandon those familiar advantages, to forget how needful it is to compensate the want of them by the different means of perspicuity, suasion, and power, which writing places in his hands. The present writer we suppose to have been accustomed to pour forth, in conversation or debate, the thoughts and emotions of a very vigorous, fertile, and beautiful mind. He is young, and he feels the same or a still greater anxiety to transfer to his readers his opinions in their integrity, and with all their circumstances about them. This leads him to needless and hurtful repetition, and to neglect sometimes, the proper management and subordination, and what would often be better, the total exclusion, of concomitant and subsidiary ideas, when these crowd in for expression. In his impetuosity and abundance, he delivers all parenthetically, or in regular procession, as may happen, with some carelessness of transition and expression, with some colloquial depravations, and with a tone which the best taste does not always justify. He writes, in short, if not what may be termed a colloquial style, yet one more proper to the chair than to the press. It is a fault perhaps pardonable enough, and has its own agreeableness, and is one from which the most brilliant and profound of living critics is by no means free.

We open the first volume, nearly at random, and we find the following:

"Mountains are, to the rest of the body of the earth, what violent muscular action is to the body of man. The muscles and tendons of its anatomy are, in the mountain, brought out with fierce and convulsive energy, full of expression, passion, and strength; the plains and the lower hills are the repose and the effortless motion of the frame, when its muscles lie dormant and concealed beneath the lines of its beauty, yet ruling those lines in their every undulation. This, then, is the first grand principle of the truth of the earth. The spirit of the hills is action ; that of the lowlands, repose ; and between these there is to be found every variety of motion and of rest; from the inactive plain, sleeping like the firmament, with cities for stars, to the fiery peaks, which, with heaving bosoms and exulting limbs, with the clouds drifting like hair from their bright foreheads, lift up their Titan hands to heaven, saying, "I live for ever!"-Vol. i. p. 208.

The whole of this is perhaps rather fanciful and energetic, rather “ violent and muscular.” But what we wish to remark is, that the sense of the passage, the exposition of the doctrine, terminates with the words, “ of motion and rest," and that whatever follows, where cities are opposed to stars, in which we learn that mountains have heaving bosoms and exulting limbs, and which speaks of the plains and the mountains as placed between themselves, or between their spirits, or between action and repose (for of these three interpretations we shall not decide which is the correct one), is redundant, irrelevant. We think our author would here adınit, that the injunction of the Roman poet, sepe stylum vertas, might have been observed with advantage.

And, as this extract shews, we have occasionally also to complain of more than faults, of some vice of style. We do not allude now to those villainous coinages of words by which so many incapable writers of our time do their utmost to debase our beautiful language, nor to a rather peculiar species of humour or pleasantry in which this author transiently indulges ; for in these, if he sometimes misses, he not seldom lits. We pass those things. What we refer to is some slight symptom and partial outbreak of the sin of effort. This blemish is more apparent in the opening sections of the second volume, and we notice it with the greater regret, because what gratified us so much in the first portion of the work was, as we have stated, a remarkable exemption from this very weakness. We wish, that, in his third and, in some respects, most important volume, the author would determine, at once and for good, not to be eloquent any more.

The article with which we have some quarrel, and which is not in keeping with the general taste of our author, is among the tawdriest of the rhetorical wardrobe, being a sort of accumulated and turgid period, much indebted for its prolongation to the conjunction "and"--in which, in former days, a well-known writer in this city was accustomed to deliver his strained and frigid sublimities. This miserable old garment, the worse (as most old garments are) for the wear, is still an important article of dress among the Lrood of young Wilsons and Carlyles who swarm in the present day, and who, for wise and inscrutable purposes, are permitted to distress us, at intervals in the magazines and in the lecture room, with their insane emphasis and raptures, and tlieir very overpowering sensibilities. We wish, however, that men of sense and reason would leave it to these people, and must regret that a writer of the manliness and vigour, the native taste, and independent temper of our author, should have thought it worth his while to pick it up and use it.

So much for our fault finding. As when we reprove those

we best love, we often do it more severely than we intended, or than we would any one else, in the very “ luxury of disrespect," we may be understood to have made our reproof rather too loudly, but we believe it to be true and to be important. What we owe to him of profit, of delight, of knowledge, and of goodness, we do not care again to say-We are, perhaps, too grateful to be very judicious. In our own case, not only did his thoughts come to us like manna from heaven, but they came likewise to us in the wilderness--when in glorious autumn we found ourselves with all our friends elsewhere, “ in populous city pent, where houses thick and sewers annoy the air, bringing by contrast into our minds the breath of pleasant villages and farms, the airs of the uplands and mountain tops, the voice of the great deep, the smell of grain, of tedded grass, of kine, each rural sight, each rural sound. This book which we then got for the first time, gave us wings, opened new doors into heaven, brought the country into the town, made the invisible seen, the distant near; so that it happened unto us as to poor Susan, “ at the corner of Wood Street," when she heard, “in tl.e silence of morning the song of that bird;" and behold

66 'Twas a note of enchantment; what ails her? she sees

A mountain ascending, a vision of trees ;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the midst of Cheapside.”

ART. V.-Biographia Britannica Literaria. A Literary His

tory of the United Kingdom. By THOMAS WRIGHT, M.A.,

&c. Second Volume. Anglo-Norman Period. Parker, London.

1846.

[ocr errors]

6. THE study of liberty is almost entirely contained in the study of history One of the greatest proficients in this study has made the following emphatic statement : “ Liberty the first social want and condition--has yielded no where but to force and an armed conquest. It is terror alone which has made slaves among men of every race. Open history at any part you will, take at hazard the climate and epoch, if you meet with a colony of men, whether enlightened or still savage, living under a system of servitude, be certain that in looking back you will find a conquest, and that these men are the conquered. Similarly, if you remark a population quartered in some inaccessible place, who have preserved it against the invasion of a foreign race, be sure that on visiting it, you will find liberty there. This perpetual distinction is the key of social history."*

A key, however, with which few historians are acquainted. The standing-point with writers of this class, in general, is not the field or the street where the vanquished population, despoiled of their property and their rights, toil and suffer, but the castles and palaces of their masters. Attracted by physical powerdazzled by the false splendour of courts—their heroes are not patriots struggling for freedom, the dearest possession and the divine right of man-but the royal or imperial robbers who have made flourishing nations desolate. Armies, battles, victories, confiscations, court intrigues, and the fortunes of royal families-often vicious imbeciles, who never uttered a thought or performed a deed with the design of benefiting mankind—these are the themes of popular and school histories. According to them man, as man, is essentially ignoble. His intellect, his virtue, his divine likeness go for nothing. If he is socially unfortunate, he is morally degraded. Successful wickedness alone can elevate him so as to give him a prominent place on the page of history, and a niche in the temple of fame.

The English nation consists of complex elements. To know it truly it must be analysed; and this cannot be done while these

* A. Thierry's Historical Essays. Ess. XV. VOL. VI. NO. XII.

2 E

« PoprzedniaDalej »