« PoprzedniaDalej »
and welcome as a new light, as soon as it is announced. But such truths, only profound and solid intellects can eliminate in the requisite condensation and purity, from the materials furnished by the nature and experience of man. To cast in the aphoristic mould the casual notions and fancies of other minds; the propositions suddenly adopted, because congenial with present impulses of interest or passion, is to misemploy it; and is, rhetorically considered, a dangerous artifice; because propositions which embody the mere notions of their author, or which embody inferences deduced possibly from his individual, but unsupported by general experience, are liable not to be understood, or to be doubted, or to be rejected as foolish and false by the reader, presented, as they are, in the aphorism, suddenly, and with no explanation of the steps by which their author arrived at them. Mr. Landor employs this artifice habitually, and does not always escape this danger. Every notion suggested to his mind receives from it on the instant the form of an absolute and universal truth. His intellect impelled by his rash and arrogant spirit, coins into maxims the thoughts of the moment. Instances may have been observed by the reader in the extracts quoted. Thus, he makes Tsing-Ti say respecting the interpretation of commands: “ Interpretation of what is commanded is less censurable in its strictness than in its laxity.” This maxim he needs for his present purpose, and therefore he frames it; but one more notoriously untrue is not easily to be conceived—the strict or judaical construction being often the worst possible, and equivalent, in effect, to the perversion or abrogation of the law. Sometimes we meet with a whole cluster of these generalized thoughts; and then the mind has as great difficulty to conceive each distinctly as the eye has to discern each star in a nebulous constellation. In the following specimen, in order the better to illustrate our remarks, we have taken the liberty of numbering what we think are the distinct propositions. In the conversation between Timotheus and Lucian, the former having said of Epaminondas, Phocion, and others, of whom Lucian had praised the virtues—“ virtues, if the poor wretches had any, they were false ones,” Lucian thus proceeds :
“ Lucian.-Scarcely ever has there been a politician, in any free state, without much falsehood and duplicity. I have named the most illustrious exceptions. (1.) Slender and irregular lines of a darker colour run along the bright blade that decides the fate of nations, and may, indeed, be necessary to the perfection of its temper. The great warrior has usually his darker lines of character, necessary, it may be, to constitute his greatness. (2.) No two men possess the same quantity of the same virtues, if they have many or much. (3.) We want some which do not far outstep us, and which we may follow with the hope of reaching; we want others to elevate and others to defend us.
The order of things would be less beautiful without this variety. (4.) Without the ebb and flow of our passions, but guided and moderated by a beneficent light above, the ocean of life would stagnate; and zeal, devotion, eloquence, would become dead carcases, collapsing and wasting on unprofitable sands. (5.) The vices of some men cause the virtues of others, as corruption is the parent of fertility. Timotheus.-O, my cousin ! this doctrine is diabolical.”—Vol. ii. p. 22.
Timotheus here is overhasty; for he ought not to have pronounced the doctrine diabolical before he comprehended it, which he did not; for neither he nor Lucian himself could well say of what general doctrine this rapid series of propositions connected, if at all, by a nearly imperceptible link, is the illustration or proof. Called, in the first place, to consider a remark concerning warriors, not obviously true, the mind gets no time to master it; but is immediately presented with a second proposition, and then with three more, of which not one is indisputable, while no reason appears for their being thus brought all together. No doubt, Mr. Landor's mind felt them to be associated; but (pardon the comparison) so did Sancho Panza the proverbs which he strung together to the great amazement of Don Quixote. Often, in reading these pages, have we experienced a similar surprise, as we found our minds passed down a paragraph through one general remark after another, without well understanding why they should be placed in sequence, and having no more than a very vague conjecture of the issue towards which they were pointing.
A remarkable characteristic is the plentifulness of imagery in these compositions. Perhaps of imagination, strictly so called, or the faculty which creates ideal shapes of new being out of the known realities of perception and reason, the author has none. But fancy, which furnishes reason with decorations for its ideas, by establishing associations between them and external objects, and thus giving rise to metaphors, comparisons, illustrations, &c.
possesses in great vigour and activity. We should call it too active, and too little obedient to reason; as is shown by an overfrequent resort to this fanciful exposition of his thoughts, and his sometimes delineating the image to the obscuration of the idea it was introduced to illustrate. Thus, the “ bright blade” used in the passage last quoted to image the character of a warrior, is somewhat injured as an illustration, by the mention of the dark lines” being“ slender and irregular,” a circumstance true of the real weapon, but having no counterpart in the dark qualities of the men. Thus, also, in a subsequent sentence, having called up the vision of an ocean when thinking of the action of the passions, he becomes so enamoured with it, as to delineate the whole picture—and so, having imagined the passions to be the waters flowing and ebbing, that he may not lose the circumstance
of the “dead carcases” which his mind saw lying on its sands, he turns zeal, devotion, and eloquence into these, although zeal and devotion are themselves passions, and eloquence is the expression of passion, and the whole three could only be, if anywhere, among the stagnant body of waters. The consequence of such over-activity of the fancy is a certain degree of confusion and obscurity created by the multiplicity of the imagery and the faintness or invisibility of the likeness between parts of it and the ideas they should reflect, and also a feeling of fatigue and unrest, caused by the double action of the mind required in this mode of developing ideas, being too frequently repeated. But with these drawbacks, it must be owned that Mr. Landor, by means of this gift, imparts a great charm to his lucubrations. The reader, as he moves along, is entertained with a perpetual succession of pictures. We have been struck with the large range from which his fancy brings his imagery: Common objects are to most men hard realities unconvertible to any imaginative use. Not so with Mr. Landor. He tells us that he had lived and speculated much out of doors, which we had judged to have been the case before we got the information from himself; for so fresh, vivid, and original is his imagery, as to appear often to have been taken by his fancy from objects present to his senses at the moment of his conceiving the ideas it is employed to illustrate. The liveliness of his metaphorical and fanciful ornaments, with the descriptions of actual objects and incidents interspersed through his conversations, gives especial verisimilitude to those supposed to take place out of doors and away from books. At the same time, while admiring highly this excellence, we must say Mr. Landor's images are much more numerous and vivacious than select. He has no scruples about fetching them from any quarter. Be it the kitchen, or the kennel, or filthier objects, if he is in the mood for it, he draws on them for metaphors as well as for allusions and descriptions, as readily and confidently as another man would on the fairest works of art or nature. Often, therefore, does he go, where nice men fear to follow him, sometimes where pure minded men break off from him in disgust. Often, however, is the gratification to the taste unalloyed, while there is perpetual food for wonder at the facility and ingenuity with which the most common objects and incidents are accommodated to his intellectual uses. One ordinary sort of illustration, he uses seldom, perhaps purposely avoids—we mean those borrowed from the art of painting. In this he differs greatly from the crowd of modern writers—with respect to whom he remarks :—“ Since the time of Johnson, the establishment of an academy for painting has much infected our language. If we find five metaphors in a chapter, four of them are upon trust
ways terse, it is still free, never stiff, never pedantic. His words are singularly choice; and they seem as if they came unsought for, and from every department of our composite language. His composition has less of the air of a student's_less of the disciple's of any school—less of the professed writer's, than that of any other recent English author we can call to mind. For the most part, it is that of one intent merely on uttering his thoughts, which it does after no set or favourite form, but in a varying manner, suited to the matter to be delivered. And with a most remarkable readiness, his diction takes the character of the ideas to be expressed, doing its work always promptly, always effectively, and always with ease, sometimes with admirable gracefulness and beauty. This is high praise, but well deserved, and sincere as great. Some defects, however, must be noted. At times the beauty of the language much surpasses the value of the thought. Not unfrequently the fine mechanism of diction ready at his call has deceived, we think, the writer, as for a time it deceives the careless reader, into the belief that it covers meaning, when the meaning is so faint, obscure, or vague as to be the same as none. Lastly, the author is vain of his mastery in language. And he betrays this failing not only by small oddities of spelling, but by phraseology that is at times more English than the English, employing idiomatic rather than more formal modes, with a frequency unusual in our approved writers; and, therefore, blameable, because a noticeable surplusage of an excellence is an offence against good taste, not much inferior to a noticeable defect of it.
A writer having the gifts which are undeniably Mr. Landor's, having great and varied knowledge, originality and force of thought, many and keen sensibilities, great activity and vivacity of fancy, some wit, humour, and satire, with an admirable style, cannot but present among this large collection many things of real literary value. We have said, indeed, and we repeat with increased confidence, regarding the opinions and general remarks vented by Mr. Landor and his speakers, that they are never deliverances of reason, but always expressions of some mood or state of temper, generally of Mr. Landor's personal mood, sometimes, (when his self-consciousness is asleep) of the mood supposed in the fictitious personage who speaks. It is not meant that his propositions or reflections are always irrational; for often he writes justly, and weightily, and beautifully. But that the course and quality of his thoughts are due to the temper of the moment which, whatever it is, controls the present action of his mind, dictating the topics to be handled, the propositions to be asserted or denied, the opinions of men and things to be professed, with the imagery and diction in which they are clothed. And as the moods through which he passes are numerous, as they
VOL. VI. NO. XI.
ence to the order and symmetry of what went before. For an author wilfully to violate the received idioms of his language, and needlessly to invent words and phrases for himself, is not bad taste only, but an offence of a high degree. Well and truly says Mr. Landor, in his Pericles and Aspasia, the depository of many of his finest thoughts,_" It is more bárbarous to undermine the stability of a language, than of an edifice that hath stood as long. This is done by the introduction of changes." It will not excuse the offender that he is intelligible, or even that he is more natural and impressive, than he would have been if he had been more classic. For any possible increase of such qualities, is too dearly purchased by the violation of one chief duty of a literary man, which is to maintain the purity and order of his native language. Our language is not ours individually, but the common inheritance of our countrymen ; and in the use of it, each man is bound to consult its nature, and obey the laws agreed on by general consent. In this way only can the historical and national character of literature be preserved in one of its chief elements. In this way only the knowledge, wit, wisdom, fancy, and pathos of the existing age can mingle with the stream coming down from those before, and the whole flow on to posterity a pure and equable flood. In this way only is the highest excellence in diction attainable; for the language, such as the genius of the nation, working by the hands of its finest wits has made it, must always be a much better and finer dress of thought, than any manufacture of one's own. Thinking thus, and recollecting the strange words and constructions on which some writers have thought fit to venture, we are the more delighted to have such proofs as these volumes furnish, of the copiousness, expressiveness, and beauty of the English language, when spoken purely and idiomatically. Having proposed to himself to be a labourer in literature, Mr. Landor's first care has been to make himself master of his implements. His success has been signally great. In composition, that man has attained the highest merit
, who, without sacrificing any of the accuracy of construction-any of the dignity and richness of phraseology—or any of the variety and harmony of sound expected from a writer, can preserve the simple, direct, elliptical, and concise forms of good conversation. For thereby his language will present the beauties that are the fruit of art, and the beauties that are the growth of nature, free from the deformities that usually attend them—from the marks of the labour which reared the one, and from the roughness and disorderliness native to the wildness of the other. In our opinion, Mr. Landor has gone very near to this triumph of art. His language is finished, yet perfectly natural. Although always visibly correct, and al