Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

BLACKWOOD'S
EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. CCCCII.

APRIL, 1849.

Vol. LXV.

MACAULAY'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

were

The historical and critical essay is the elegant and amusing class of essays a species of literary composition which rendered so popular by Addison and his has arisen, and been brought to perfec- followers passed away. The incessant tion, in the lifetime of a single genera- recurrence of moralising, the frequent tion. Preceding writers, indeed, had use of allegory, the constant strainexcelled in detached pieces of a lighter ing after conceits, which appear even and briefer kind; and in the whole in the pages of the Spectator and the annals of thought there is nothing Rambler, are scarcely redeemed by more charming than some of those the taste of Addison, the fancy of which graced the age of Queen Anne, Steele, or the vigour of Johnson. In and the reigns of the first Georges. But inferior hands they became insupportthough these delightful essays remain, able. Men whose minds and will ever remain, models of the stimulated by the Rights of Manpurest and most elegant composition, who were entranced by the eloand are always distinguished by just quence of Pitt – who followed the and moral reflections, yet their influ- career of Wellington—who were stunence has sensibly declined; and they ned by the thunderbolts of Nelsonare turned to, now, rather from the could not recur to the Delias, the felicity of the expression by which Chloes, or the Phillises of a slumberthey are graced, than either the in- ing and pacific age. The proclamation formation which they contain, the of war to the palace, and peace to the originality by which they are distin- cottage, sent the stories of the coguished, or the depth of the views quette, the prude, and the woman of which they unfold. It is still true sense to the right-about. What was that "he who would attain an English now required was something which style, familiar but not coarse, and could minister to the cravings of an elegant without being ostentatious, excited and enthusiastic age ; which must give his days and his nights to should support or combat the new ideas the study of Addison.” It is not generally prevalent; which should less true, that he who would appre- bring the experience of the past to ciate the force of which the English bear on the visions of the present, and language is capable, and acquire the tell men, from the recorded events of condensed vigour of expression which history, what they had to hope, and enters so largely into the highest kind what to fear, from the passion for of composition, will ever study the innovation which had seized possesprose of Johnson; as much as the poet, sion of so large a portion of the for similar excellencies, will recur to active part of mankind. the Vanity of Human Wishes, or the The Edinburgh Review was the epistles and satires of Pope. first journal which gave a decided

But, with the advent of the French indication of this change in the temRevolution, the rise of fiercer passions, per of the public mind. From the and the collision of dearer interests, very outset it exhibited that vigour

VOL. LXV.-NO. CCCCII.

2 B

of thought, fearlessness of discussion, a paper on a subject in a review, as and raciness of expression, which carefully as they did a regular work bespoke the prevalence of indepen- of a known and respectable author : dent feeling, novel yearnings, and ori- they looked to it not only for amuseginal ideas, among the people. There ment, but for information. It had this was something refreshing and exhila- immense advantage—it was shorter rating in the change. Its success was than a book, and often contained its immediate and immense. The long- essence. It was distilled thought; it slumbering dominion of the monthly was abbreviated knowledge. To say and other reviews, which then had that many of these elaborate and possession of the sceptre of criticism, attractive treatises were founded in was at once destroyed. Mediocrity error that they were directed to fell into the shade when the light of objects of the moment, not of durable genius appeared; criticism assumed a interest, and that their authors too bolder and more decided character. often Men rejoiced to see the pretensions of authors levelled, their vanity mortified, “To party gave up what was meant for

mankind their errors exposed, their pride pulled down, by the stern hand of the merci- is no impeachment either of the ability less reviewer. The practical applica- with which they were executed, or tion of the maxim, " Judex damnatur denial of the beneficial ends to which cum nocens absolvitur,"gave universal they ultimately became subservient. satisfaction. Every one felt his own What though great part of the talents consequence increased, his personal with which they were written is now feelings soothed, his vanity flattered, seen to have been misdirected—of the when the self-constituted teachers of views they contained to have been erromankind were pulled down from their neous. It was that talent which raised lofty pinnacle.

the counter spirit that righted the But it was not merely in literary public mind; it was those views which criticism that the Edinburgh Review ultimately led to their own correction. opened a new era in our periodical In an age of intelligence and mental literature. To its early supporters we activity, no dread need be entertained owe the introduction of the CRITICAL of the ultimate sway of error. ExAND HISTORICAL Essay, which was perience, the great assertor of truth, an entirely new species of composi- is ever at hand to scatter its assailants. tion, and to the frequent use of which It is in an age of mental torpor and the rapid success of that journal is inactivity that the chains of falsehood, mainly to be ascribed. The essay whether in religion or politics, are always had the name of a book pre- abidingly thrown over the human fixed to it: it professed to be a review. mind. But it was generally a review only in But, from this very cause, the poname. The author was frequently litical essays of the Edinburgh Review never once mentioned in its whole have been left behind by the march of extent. His work was made use of the world ; they have been stranded merely as a peg on which to hang a on the shoals of time ; they have long disquisition on the subject of almost all been disproved by the which it treated. This disquisition event. Open one of the political was not, like the essays of Addison essays in the Blue-and-yellow, which or Johnson, the work of a few hours' were read and admired by all the writing, and drawn chiefly from the world thirty or forty years ago, and fancy or imagination of the author: what do you find ? Loud declamations it was the elaborate production of a against the continuance of the war, mind imbued with the subject, and the and emphatic assertions of the inability fruit of weeks or months of careful of England to contend at land with composition. It was sometimes founded the conqueror of continental Europe ; on years of previous and laborious continual reproaches of incapacity study. Thence its great and obvious against the ministry, who were prevalue. It not only enlarged the circle paring the liberation of Spain and the of our ideas; it added to the stock of battle of Waterloo ; ceaseless asserour knowledge. Men came to study tions that the misery of Ireland was entirely owing to misgovernment, qualities and excellencies are so difthat nothing but Catholic emancipa- ferent as at once to invite and suggest tion, and the curtailment of the Pro- critical discrimination. testant church, were required to make The great characteristic of LORD that island the most happy, loyal, and JEFFREY is, with some striking excontented realm, and its Celtic inhabi- ceptions, the fairness and general tants the most industrious and well- justice of the criticism which his works conditioned in Europe; loud denuncia- exhibit, the kindly feeling which tions that the power of the crown" had they evince, and the lively illusincreased, was increasing, and ought to trations with which they abound. be diminished;" lamentations on the He had vast powers of application. evidently approaching extinction of When in great practice at the bar, the liberties of England, under the and deservedly à leading counsel in combined action of a gigantic war ex- jury cases, he contrived to find time penditure and a corrupt selfish oli- to conduct the Edinburgh Review, and garchy; strong recommendations of to enrich its pages by above a hundred the speedy abolition of slavery in our contributions. There is no great exWest India colonies, as the only mode tent of learning in them, few original of enabling our planters to compete with ideas, and little of that earnestness of the efforts of the slave-sugar states. expression which springs from strong Time has enabled the world to estimate internal conviction, and is the chief these doctrines at their true value. It is fountain of eloquent and overpowernot surprising that the political essays ing oratory. He rarely quotes clasof a journal, professing such principles, sical or Italian literature, and his have, amidst great efforts towards writings give no token of a mind bolstering up, and ceaseless strains of stored with their imagery. He seldom party laudation, been quietly con- gives you the feeling that he is signed by subsequent times to the serious, or deeply impressed with his vault of all the Capulets.

subject. He seldom strikes with force, It is on its literary, critical, and but very often touches with felicity. historical essays, therefore, that the The feeling which pervades his writreputation of the journal now almost ings is always excellent, often generentirely rests. No bookseller has yet ous; his taste is correct, his criticism ventured on the hazardous step of in general just; and it is impossible publishing its political essays together. not to admire the light and airy hand They will not supplant those of Burke. with which he treats of the most diffiBut it is otherwise with its literary cult subjects, and the happy expreslucubrations. The publication of the sions with which he often illustrates collected works of its leading contri- the most abstruse ideas. He deals butors, in a separate form, has enabled more in Scotch metaphysics than suits the world to form a tolerably correct the present age: he made some signal opinion of their respective merits and and well-known mistakes in the estideficiencies. Without taking upon mation of contemporary poetry; and ourselves the office of critics, and fully laboured, without effect, to write up aware of the delicacy which one peri- Ford, Massinger, and the old draodical should feel in discussing the matists, whom their inveterate inmerits of another, we may be permitted decency has justly banished from to present, in a few words, what appear general popularity. But these faults tous to be the leading characteristics of are amply redeemed by the attracthe principal and well-known' contri- tions of his essays in other respects. butors to that far-famed journal. This There are no more charming reis the more allowable, as some of views in our language than some them have paid the debt of nature, which his collected papers contain: while others are reposing under the and no one can rise from their perusal shadow of their well-earned laurels, with any surprise that the accomfar removed from the heat and bustle plished anthor of works containing so of the day. Their names are familiar much just and kindly criticism should to every reader; their works have deservedly be a most popular and retaken a lasting place in English as spected judge. well as American literature ; and their It is impossible to imagine a more thorough contrast to Lord Jeffrey than Sir JAMES MACKINTOSH differs as the writings of SIDNEY Smith exhibit. widely from the original pillars of the Though a reverend and pious divine, Edinburgh Review as they do from the prebendary of St Paul's had very each other. The publication of his little of the sacerdotal character in collected essays, with the historical him. His conversational talents were sketch and fragment which he has great, his success in the highest Lon- left, enables us now to form a fair don society unbounded; but this in- estimate of his powers. That they toxicating course neither relaxed the were great, no one can doubt; but vigour of his application, nor deadened they are of a different kind from what the warmth of his feelings. His was at first anticipated. Not a powers, and they were of no ordinary shadow of a doubt can now remain, kind, were always directed, though that, though his noble mind had not sometimes with mistaken zeal, to been in a great degree swallowed up as the interests of humanity. His say- it was in the bottomless gulf of London ings, like those of Talleyrand, were society, and he had spent his whole repeated from one end of the em- forenoons for the last fifteen years of pire to the other. These brilli- his life in writing his history, instead ant and sparkling qualities are con- of conversing with fashionable or litespicuous in his writings, and have rary ladies, his labours would have mainly contributed to their remark- terminated in disappointment. The able success both in this country and beginning of a history which he has America. There is scarcely any left, is a sufficient proof of this : it scholarship, and little information, to is learned, minute, and elaborate, be met with in his works. Few but dull. The Whigs, according to take them up to be instructed ; many their usual practice with all writers of to be amused. He has little of the their own party, hailed its appearequanimity of the judge about him, ance with a flourish of trumpets; but but a great deal of the wit and jocu- we doubt whether many of them larity of the pleader. He would have have yet read it through. He liad made a first-rate jury counsel, for he little dramatic power ; his writings would alternately have driven them exhibit no traces of a pictorial eye, by the force of his arguments, and and though he had much poetry in amused them by the brilliancy of his his mind, they are not imbued with expressions. There is no more the poetic character. These devigorous and forcible diatribe in our ficiencies are fatal to the popularity language than his celebrated letter on of any historian: no amount of learnNorth American repudiation, which ing or philosophical acuteness- can roused the attention, and excited the supply their want in the narrative of admiration, of the repudiators them- events. Guizot is a proof of this: he is, selves. He has expressed in a single perhaps, one of the greatest writers on line a great truth, applicable, it is the philosophy of history that ever to be feared, to other nations be- lived; but his history of the English sides the Americans : “They pre- Revolution is lifeless beside the pages ferred any load of infamy, how- of Livy or Gibbon. Sir James Mackinever great, to any burden of tax- tosh was fitted to have been the ation, however light.” But Sidney Guizot of English history. His mind Smith's blows were expended, and was essentially didactic. Reflection, wit lavished, in general, on subjects not action, was both the bent of his of passing or ephemeral interest : they disposition and the theatre of his were not, like the strokes of Johnson, glory. His History of England, levelled at the universal frailties and written for Lardner's Encyclopedia, characteristics of human nature. On can scarcely be called a history; it this account, though their success is rather a series of essays on history. hitherto has been greater, it is doubt. It treats so largely of some events, ful whether his essays will take so high so scantily of others, that a reader a lasting place in English literature as not previously acquainted with the those of Lord Jeffrey, which in ge- subject, might rise from its perusal neral treat of works of permanent with scarcely any idea of the thread interest.

of English story. But no one who was already informed on it can do so, riches of the stores from which they without feeling his mind stored with are drawn. When warmed in his original and valuable reflection, just subject he is thoroughly in earnest, and profound views. His collected and his language, in consequence, essays from the Edinburgh Review, goes direct to the heart. In many of lately put together, are not so dis- his writings—and especially the first cursive as those of Lord Jeffrey, nor volume of his history, and his essay so amusing as those of Sidney Smith; on the Reformation-there are reflecbut they are much more profound than tions equally just and original, which either, and treat of subjects more per- never were surpassed in the philosophy manently interesting to the human of history. That he is imbued with race. Many of them, particularly the soul of poetry need be told to that on representative governments, none who have read his Battle of the abound with views equally just and Lake Regillus ; that he is a great original. It is impossible not to biographer will be disputed by none regret, that a mind so richly stored who are acquainted with the splendid with historical knowledge, and so biographies of Clive and Hastings, by largely endowed with philosophic much the finest productions of the penetration, should have left so few kind in the English language. Tasting monuments of its great and Macaulay's style, like other original varied powers.

things, has already produced a school of Much as these very eminent men imitators. Its influence may distinctly differ from each other, Mr MACAULAY be traced, both in the periodical and is, perhaps, still more clearly distin- daily literature of the day. Its great guished from either. Both his turn characteristic is the shortness of the of mind and style of writing are pecu- sentences, which often equals that of liar, and exhibit a combination rarely Tacitus himself, and the rapidity with if ever before witnessed in English, or which new and distinct ideas or facts even modern literature. Unlike Lord succeed each other in his richly-stored Jeffrey, he is deeply learned in an- pages. He is the Pope of English cient and modern lore; his mind is prose: he often gives two sentiments and richly stored with the poetry and facts in a single line. No preceding history both of classical and Conti writer in prose, in any modern lannental literature. Unlike Mackintosh, guage with which we are acquainted, he is eminently dramatic and pictorial; has carried this art of abbreviation, he alternately speaks poetry to the or rather cramming of ideas, to such soul and pictures to the eye. Unlike a length; and to its felicitous use Sidney Smith, he has avoided subjects of much of the celebrity which he has party contention and passing interest, acquired is to be ascribed. There is no and grappled with the great questions, doubt that it is a most powerful engine the immortal names, which will for for the stirring of the mind, and when ever attract the interest and command not repeated too often, or carried too the attention of man. Milton, Bacon, far, has a surprising effect. Its introMachiavelli, first awakened his dis- duction forms an era in historical comcriminating and critical taste; Clive, position. To illustrate our meaning, Warren Hastings, Frederick the Great, and at the same time adorn our pages called forth his dramatic and historic with passages of exquisite, almost powers. He has treated of the Refore redundant beauty, we gladly transmation and the Catholic reaction in cribe two well-known ones, taken his review of Ranke; of the splen. from the most perfect of his historical did despotism of the Popedom in that essays. Of Lord Clive he saysof Hildebrand; of the French Revo

“ From Clive's second visit to India lution in that of Barère. There is no danger of his essays being forgotten, English in that country.

dates the political ascendency of the

His dextelike many of those of Addison ; nor

rity and resolution realised, in the course of pompous uniformity of style being of a few months, more than all the gorcomplained of, as in most of those of geous visions which had floated before

the Johnson. His learning is prodigions; imagination of Dupleix. Such an extent and perhaps the chief defects of his of cultivated territory, such an amount of composition arise from the exuberant revenue, such a multitude of subjects, was

« AnteriorContinuar »