Obrazy na stronie

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, wę 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 are 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 scene — 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 tragedy 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

very best.

was conveyed to us by the other sufferer may be. But indeed this two great historical studies. The historian's love is as much to be work perhaps was too great, the dreaded as his hatred – as his material too immense, the details recent works have proved. The too minute and voluminous. There picturesque and vivid workmanwas less unity in the interest, and ship of Mr Kinglake, the epic consequently less force in the pic- of a great campaign; the valuture. The comparatively brief nar- able labours of Dr Stubbs, of rative of the Abbot Samson and Mr Freeman, and of other wellhis surrourdings in Past and Pres- known living writers, who still ent,' perhaps the most completely continue to enrich our records, lovable and delightful of all Car- and whose work we hope will not lyle's work, shows his power of yet for a long time be recognisable throwing himself into the scene he as complete, do not require more depicts, and his wonderful sym. than a mention. There is now a pathetic realisation of character great school of historical investiand power of poetic vision at their gation, bringing to the elucidation

of our national records much fine To make a list of all the re- understanding and manly work, a markable historical works which few crotchets, and a great deal of have distinguished our age, would admirable talent and skill. Inbe of itself a laborious undertak- stead of long silence, broken now ing. Chief among them are the and then by a chapter of classical highly coloured, and in many re- history, or a learned prelection spects most effective and pictur- on some distant and unattractive esque, studies of Mr. Froude, in theme, we have a crowd of enerwhich the strong parti pris, the getic workers, clearing the very incapacity for regarding almost springs of history, and spreading enany event or character simply, and lightenment and knowledge round. on its own merits, do not hinder- In Scotland, too, a group of denay, perhaps rather help to secure voted patriotic students have given -the absorbed attention of the their best efforts to the authenreader. Nor does the singular heat tication of our ancient history, of hostile feeling with which he among whose names that of the pursues not only certain favourite late John Hill Burton—whose expersonages, but even such a great cellent and valuable • History of institution as the Church of Eng- Scotland' is scarcely less remarkland for example—or the remark- able than the delightful "Bookable peculiarity of moral vision, Hunter,' which has originated which raises so many grievances quite a little school of its ownalong his path wherever that was for a long time the first. distinguished writer has passed - And a corresponding group in detract from the interest. The Ireland has been labouring, unreader, who cannot fail to have moved by all external clamour, been impressed and stirred by his upon the primitive records of vivid pictures, will yet remember the Isle of Saints.

The great with what relentless hatred he popular acceptance of the brilliant pursued Mary Stuart to the block little History for the People of the and the grave, untouched by even late Rev. J. R. Green, did that inthat natural sentiment which is genious writer wrong; for it forced impressed by every courageous and into the position of an independdignified death-scene, whoever the ent work of personal research and

thought what was intended only tion in the literary world, and the for a more lucid and attractive amiable recluse fouud himself famstatement of the work done by ous to his great surprise and conothers; and thus perhaps wore siderable embarrassment. Howout more quickly than otherwise ever, he took his fame with much might have been, the strength and seriousness, and without any mislife of the writer, whose forces givings as to the result. Buckle were unequal, and whose time was was one of the first of the band of too short for such a task.

philosophical thinkers rejecting the We have spoken (with the one creed of Christianity and even of exception of Carlyle) only of works Theism, which have made so great of English history. But the his- an appearance in our day; and his torical writers of the half-century name naturally leads us to those have not been confined to this sub- of others in many respects more ject. The great work of Grote remarkable than his own, who upon ancient Greece has for a long have given to our philosophical time put every competitor out of literature a new development, and the field, and become in its weighty who have established Natural conscientiousness and power the Science, with all the philosophies chief authority upon that ever-in- dependent on it, as one of the teresting theme. We have al- greatest subjects and most intiready referred to the most prodi- mate occupations of the time. gious piece of work of all, a His- We have again to recur to the tory which has been perhaps more name of Carlyle when we enter, popular than any big book of its or rather before we enter, this field. dimensions ever was, and which His historical works, though so rewas for a long time almost as pro- markable, perhaps scarcely took so ductive as an estate, a most valu- strong a hold upon the mind of his able piece of literary property, Sir generation as those which for want Archibald Alison's History of of a better title we must call philoEurope.' The History of Civili- sophical. He had no system of sation of the late Mr Buckle was philosophy, however, to set forth, still greater in its conception, and but rather the mind and thoughts could it ever have been carried out, upon all things in heaven and earth would no doubt have reached to of one of the most remarkable of some prodigious number of volumes, human beings, a man half prophet, worthy of the huge collection of half iconoclast, in whom a devout books in which its author had heart, instinct with all the lore of built himself up with a curious a cottage-taught religion, and the symbolical fitness. For though his austere morality and rustic intolertheme was mankind, his knowledge ance of a Scotch peasant, were was of books alone, and his work linked with a spirit which had is full of those strange ignorances caught fire at that of Goethe, and clever mistakes to which a and had thrown off all allegiance mind trained in the atmosphere of of faith—a spirit full of sardonic a literary hothouse, out of reach of humour and powers of mockery all practical contact with the na- and vituperation unrivalled, fierceture he attempted to define and ly unsympathetic with all that chronicle, is naturally subject. was uncongenial to his nature, The appearance of his first volume, while tender to every touch of however, the introduction to his feeling within its own

intense vast subject, created a great sensa- but limited range.

The problem of this curiously mingled with crags and precipices and nature, so open to malign inter- heaven-pointing needles, sometimes pretations, yet so attractive to resplendent in the glory of setting all the enthusiasms, puzzled yet de- suns, sometimes clad in the greys lighted the world as it revealed and purples of distance, to which itself in the often grand and some- neither verdure nor snows will cling. times chaotic literary utterance, a A very different apparition is style which was in reality the sub- that of the philosopher whose conlimated but most genuine style of tact with Carlyle has afforded a a Scotch peasant of genius, full of curious anecdote to literary hisreflections from the Hebrew elo- tory, and a still more curious conquence of the Old Testament, and trast between two men as unlike from that prodigious gigantic as any two that could be got togeancient German, which were per- ther at random in any thoroughhaps the two things nearest to his fare, though both so influential in own heroic old Saxon-Scotch. Per- their different ways and so remarkhaps it needs an acquaintance with able. Everybody knows the tragic that ponderous and solemn speech incident of the destruction of Carof the old shepherds and plough- lyle's precious manuscript, the first men, slow and grandiose in unin- volume of the French Revolution,' tended solemnity, “such as grave upon which all his hopes of fame livers do in Scotland use," to com- and even of daily bread hung, by prehend the naturalness and sim- horrible misadventure or carelessplicity of Carlyle's often contorted ness, in the hands of John Stuart and sometimes convulsive utter- Mill; and that memorable scene ance. And it certainly requires a when the pair of penniless people knowledge no longer at all general in London, hearing suddenly of of the primitive moorland peasant this tremendous misfortune, could of the beginning of the century to not by more than a look commuunderstand the fashion of a man, nicate to each other their despair, all astray among fine English liter so

was it to console ary folks in Queen Victoria's reign. the misery of the destroyer, who, These curious contradictions and in- “deadly pale,” came to tell them comprehensibilities will make him of what had happened. What a always a most interesting figure in curious picture! The culprit, rich literary history, even under the and at his ease, to whom a hundred shade which has been thrown or even a thousand pounds was over his name, and nothing can nothing, could that make up for impair the splendour of his contri- this thing which was irremediable, butions to literature. Such works pale and trembling, before that as Sartor Resartus' stand detached proud, passionate, eloquent, fiery like great poems from all surround- pair, either of whom could have ings, and are indeed more rare annihilated with desperate, vehethan the greatest of poems. It ment words any offender. What would be difficult to apportion to lava - torrents of indignation and Carlyle his place in any literature. despair ought to have covered him He stands apart like a great lonely as he stood, turning him to a peak in a world of mountains, not cinder ! As a matter of fact, they loftier perhaps than the great forms were the consolers of his despair, about him veiled in summer ver- not he of theirs. And everybody dure or eternal snow_but more knows also the strange training of conspicuous in solitary grandeur, Mill as disclosed in his Autobio


« PoprzedniaDalej »