Obrazy na stronie

been and done-subdued to pa- strain. Once again we disavow thetic calm by that quiet despair all ideas of competition with and sense of the conclusion of all Shakespeare. Mr Browning's possibilities—is such a perfect pic- mind is not Shakespearian in any ture as no other art could make, sense of the word. But it is not and overwhelms us with the pathos necessary to be of the stature of of a self-portraiture from which all Jove, in order to stand high self-deceptions have died away. among the gods. In the persons The completeness of the mourn- of Lord Tennyson and Mr Brownful vision, which is not without a ing, our half-century need not fear smile at itself and at all the de- to hold up its head in the comlusions that are over, and that pany of the ages. profound consciousness of defeat We will not discuss the younger which has so few expositors, yet band, whose position is yet not which is perhaps the most deeply wholly ascertained. Mr Swinburne, moving of all the experiences of indeed, has made his mark; and posexistence, convey to our minds terity is not likely to reverse the a pang of pity and sympathy. decision with which his own geneQuite different, on the very oppo- ration has crowned this master of site edge of life, is the experi- exquisite words and all the music ence of the poet, the all-accom- that can be put into verse--all the plished, all-fortunate Greek, to music, but perhaps less than the whose dignified retirement the due amount of meaning. Rossetti, offerings and the adoration of to whom the completeness of the princely admirers come, and who preterite has come, has his own is surrounded by everything beau- niche in the Temple of Fame-a tiful and rare, and the conscious- conspicuous one, yet never, we ness of having done all that ge- think, to be a centre of that uninius and good fortune can—yet versal consent of love and interest whose sigh out of his old age and which is the meed of a great poet. that one inevitable failure of wan- He is a poet who never ceases to ing life which makes the great poet be a painter; nor does he in his in his greatness less than the vigor- most exalted moments of mystic ous manhood of the slave whose spiritualism ever break that bond muscles he casts a passing, admir- of Aesh and circumstance which is ing, half-contemptuous, half-envi- necessary to his original art. His ous glance at, as he raises his head Blessed Damozel is as ready as from his tablets—is little less sad any large-eyed model to be rethan that of the painter. The produced on canvas. No man can reader, whose verdict after all is paint a soul; therefore it is entirely that of final fame_he who pretends comprehensible that the heavenly to no profounder insight, but vision, as revealed to a painter's judges the highest poetry as well eyes, should warm with the presas the commonest prose by the sure of her bosom the bar upon light of reason and nature—will which she leans, looking out for her find in this fine series nothing to lover. But it is not celestial; nor alarm him or unduly tax his un- is it thus that the great poets derstanding, and much that he realise the unseen. Mr Matthew will find nowhere else,—the work- Arnold is a most accomplished and ings of a very powerful and phi. distinguished writer; but our own losophical mind, combined with mind is not made up about his a poetical genius of the highest poetry, though it has, no doubt,

reached a large degree of appreci- the world, and the profounder pasation, especially among the culti- sion of maternal love which convated classes. So has Mr William quers shame—are very fine and Morris. In our present undecided true. This poem has fallen a little frame of mind, we are disposed to out of sight amid the crowds of think that the fare provided by modern competition, as everything both these poets is of the nature does; but it must always find an of luxury—a something above and honourable place in the literary beyond the necessities of living. records of Queen Victoria's reign. Perhaps some readers will think In the dignified realm of hisall poetry partakes of this char- tory during those fifty years, we acter. We are not, however, of have the growth of a new and that opinion. Great poetry is daily brilliant school to record. Hisbread.

tory was more serious than enterIt would be at once unjust and taining fifty years ago. It aiined untender to pass over, in the re- at an authoritative standing, and cord of these fifty years of poetry, to fix the canon of what was and the name of Elizabeth Barrett what was not to be believed. In Browning, who is perhaps, taken those days Hallam was in the all in all, the greatest Woman- front of literature, with his grave poet whom England has known. and deeply considered record of No woman, so far as we know, has the English constitution—one of ever been a great poet, or attained those unique and final books which the level of the highest. But may originate an entire school, among those who have at all ap- but are never themselves put out proached that level, Mrs Browning of date; and we had the brilliant holds the first place. Some of her military pictures of Sir William sonnets (so called) from the Portu- Napier to carry on the existing guese are exquisite in their tender- recollection, which had not yet ness and beauty; and her only died out of men's minds, of the sustained effort, Aurora Leigh,' great wars which England hoped has much power and sweetness, had pacified the world. And Sir and a force of subdued but sus- Archibald Alison had begun that tained enthusiasm which is very great history of Europe--great in impressive. Although it touches volume and in subject—which so upon a loathsome subject, with many years were necessary to comthat curious attraction in repul- plete. But in these great works sion which seems to move the the subjects were approached from feminine mind towards what it the point of view of a scientific most hates, the poem is full of perspective, and the writers did the finest thought and of that not propose to themselves to rival love of love and all things lovely the most vivid romancer in imawhich gives one of its deepest ginative realisation and reproduccharms to poetry. The fresh and tion. Napier, it is true, was alpeaceful English landscape, the ways vivid, always brilliant, with “old miraculous mountains heav- the energetic genius of his race-ing forth,” as Italy, almost more a soldier even when a historian. beloved than England, comes in But the muse of History, in all her sight-and the corresponding pic- seriousness, still led the serious tures of life and thought, the glow footsteps of her servants through of feeling in the young enthusiasts the straight road, the king's highwho feel it their mission to reclaim way of important events. The





first historian of her Majesty's readers breathless through even reign, Lord Mahon, continued in the survey and estimate of the the same traditions, in his pre- condition of the country at the cise, correct, and not inelegant great Revolution, which in almost history of the eighteenth century, any other hands would have been which continues to hold its place a chapter of reference, to be fol

a trustworthy and impartial lowed to its end only by the narrative of an age full of import- plodding reader or careful student. ant decisions, more picturesque This book, we may venture to say, than our own, and in many re- changed the fashion of historical spects the turning-point of national writing, and was in itself a literary life. The first of the Victorian revoluton. It was not an imparhistorians

not brilliant tial history. There are those who writer, nor was there much that affirm that it is not even trustwas novel or striking in his views; worthy in many details; that its but he did his work with great view throughout is a Whig view; accuracy and care, and at one por- that its author carried his party tion of his narrative, that in which prejudices with him, and darkened the unhappy house of Stuart the shadows and heightened the made its last romantic attempt to lights in a manner which added recover the throne, and under- relief and animation to the picture went the last disastrous catas- as well as splendour to the trophe, almost rises into the heroic achievements of his hero; but style which becomes so tragic a which anything but that subject. But eloquence was not calm balance and judicial estimate the characteristic of the book, which had been expected from which, in general, was very calm, history. No doubt there was a regular, and systematic—a duty certain foundation for those comand necessity, rather than a plea- plaints; but this new impulse has sure, to read.

been carried so much further since This work however

was, at then, and has found its issue in the moment of its appearance, many partisan records and and

matter of literature, highly coloured narratives, that far less important than the great we turn back to Macaulay with outburst of new style and relief, feeling that the malicious school, the brilliant and dazzling pleasure he perhaps felt in lightly volumes in which a writer als impaling a Quaker courtier was ready known, who had leapt in- at least pardonable, and that the to the literary field, with a style careless contempt with which he singularly formed and polished, in sometimes sweeps aside explanathe very heat of youth, now took tions and motives which on the the world by storm. Macaulay other side he gives the utmost had already gained an important force of his skill to elaborate and reputation in various fields. He set forth, was, on the whole, less had made his mark in Parliament, wilfully injurious to the opposite he had done excellent work in party than naturally favourable India, he had contributed many to his own. It is one thing to striking essays to the Edinburgh incline with a higher appreciation Review.' But the public was to those views and leaders on scarcely prepared for a work which whom one's eyes have been bent was as enthralling in its interest by all the traditions of breeding as any romance, and carried its and party, and another to fix with






a keen personal prejudice and Another historical work of a enmity upon a historical figure still more remarkable but very far removed from the present different kind one which has scene, and pursue an unfortunate taken its place among the greatest race with posthumous virulence. works of literature without ever Macaulay has, perhaps, been guilty approaching near the popular acof the first and milder injustice: ceptance of Macaulay—had come he can scarcely be accused of the into being ten years before, at the second. William of Orange had very beginning of her Majesty's never been a popular hero, nor is reign- The History of the French he, now that his historian has done Revolution,' by Thomas Carlyle. all that man could do for him ; This is not the place for discusbut it is a not ungenerous office sions of character or individual to concentrate the most favourable arguments, since it is books we light upon the head of a man who have to deal with and not men; filled a thankless position, and oc- but it is difficult to mention that cupied a necessary place with much great and much - traduced name stoical and unappreciated self-sac- without a protest against the cruel rifice, though also with much ad- and false estimate of our illusdition to his outward rank and trious countryman—a man never greatness. The fine pictorial back- apt to study the light in which he ground, the brilliant individual should present himself to posterity, portraits, the life and vivid em- or to take thought of the manner bodiment of the age in all its in which his mantle was wrapped struggles and endless intrigues, about him when he fell—which were all novel and delightful to it seems probable will be accepted the readers of this splendid piece as final by the world. Whether of historical work. It made an he is ever likely to be placed epoch in literature, to use the in a

more true light before a phrase of the time. No book, we generation which has no other suppose, of modern and conse- way of knowing him than that quently none of ancient) times afforded by his trusted biographer, has ever had so vast a circulation. we mournfully doubt. The quesNeither the circulation nor the tion is too painful a one to be enalmost fabulous remuneration is tered into here. • The History of an absolute test of excellence, it is the French Revolution' has nothneedless to say. But the univer- ing of the brilliant ease and sparksal admiration, interest, and de- ling lights of that which we have light with which the book was just been discussing. Macaulay's received more trustworthy smooth and accomplished grasp evidences, and these were never of his period is like the touch so entirely the recompense of any of a white-gloved demonstrator English history up to this day. in a drawing-room, or at least in The first volumes were published the most refined of lecture-rooms, in the year 1848, when the Con- beside the giant's grip with which tinent was all aflame with rev- Carlyle takes hold of that wild olutions, none of which were so - the one mad and horrilasting or so momentous as that ble moment of modern history in of which our historian treated. which all that was permitted to The story of literature contains the ancient drama, the pity and no greater sensation, and few more terror of solemn fate, is overimportant events.


passed in the horror of that tra



gedy of real life which knows no be little doubt that it modified to limits. Carlyle is no raconteur ; he a very great degree the common is a spectator, looking on while opinion upon that great figure in those confused yet tragic combina- English history, and to a large extions roll up, form, and disperse, tent vindicated the Protector from breaking away again into frag- those imputations of hypocrisy and ments, like the storm-clouds upon selfish ambition which had become the sky, and while the torrents of the commonplaces of history. It is blood burst forth, and the demons not necessary to paint everything rage, and carnage fills the streets. concerning a great actor in history He sees, what no mere historian in the most odious colours, in order can see, the murderers of Septem- to emphasise our disagreement with ber at their horrible work in one him, or even moral disapproval of corner of the great and terrible the part he had taken ; but this city, while in another the children was what preceding historians, play and the women chatter, and with almost one accord, had done. humble life goes on as if such Apart from Carlyle's success in things could never be. Sometimes this respect—if anything in the a tone of heart - breaking pathos book can be considered apart from comes in, sometimes that laugh the one great image which fills itwhich is more terrible than tears. the picture of the time is as vivid The pathetic groups in the prisons, as that of the French Revolution, the livid fanatic at the head of and made in a similar way, as by the affairs, the theorists, the avengers, hand of a spectator, more actively the little human vanities all in engaged than in the former caseflower upon the very edge of the himself almost acting, expounding, scaffold, are in movement before elucidating all that passes before our eyes, the terrible panorama his eyes, with a sentiment much opening out in scene after scene. stronger, identifying himself with There may be some upon whom the all that takes place. Indeed Cargrim humour will jar, and some to lyle is as present as Cromwell, inwhom the confusion of the tragic terpreting in the strong medium of scene will be increased by the his natural Scotch Calvinism and peculiarities of the diction, the religionism, deeply tinctured by the rolling clouds of words heaped up- Old Testament, the other rugged on each other in vaporous stormy personality, the Puritan, in which sentences, altogether unlike the so many predominating principles polished calm of a restrained and were the same. We cannot but dignified historical style. But no feel that the choice of Frederick as one can deny the force and splen- the hero of Carlyle's later life was dour of the picture, or the supreme something of a mistake; for there and shuddering interest with which was no such point of contact by the reader is made to enter into which the biographer could enter sight and hearing of this terrible into the most intimate relations world - convulsion and crisis of with his subject: and that wonnational existence.

derful mass of learning and reThe history of Oliver Cromwell search, which was the burden of and his period, which followed from his own life for years, has not sucthe same hand, at a considerable ceeded in impressing upon the interval of years, was of a nature general mind anything like so to excite greater discussion and a remarkable an apprehension of the warmer criticism.

But there can questionable hero and his time as

« PoprzedniaDalej »