« AnteriorContinuar »
strives to render bim unfit for the commerce of civilised society. According to the plan recommended by the philosopher of Ge neva, every thing that a youth would meet with, when he enters the world, would be repugnant to his habits and feelings. He would, indeed, be able to mend a chair or a kettle, and to find his way in the dark without fearing to meet a gbost or a hobgoblin; but he would probably eat with his fingers, and wipe his mouth with the sleeve of his coat.-Add to this, that the system is utterly impracticable, unless a whole nation should combine to carry on the farce by which children are to be tricked into the performance of their duty.
One of the most extraordinary parts of this extraordinary book is the confession of the Savoyard priest ; in which, after drawing a most striking and beautiful parallel between Jesus and Socrates, and contending that the miracles attested by the Evangelists are as clearly proved as any of the events recorded by Xenophon, be concludes by deciding in favour of Deism, because the duration of human life is too short to acquire the different languages, and perform the long journies, which can alone qualify a man to form an impartial judgment between Judaism, Christianity, and Mahometism! In a writer less addicted to paradoxes, it would be impossible to reconcile the magnificent picture drawn by Rousseau of the Redeemer of mankind with the total rejection of bis divinity ; but nothing was too inconsistent for that man to adopt who, though incessantly talking of justice and benevolence, discarded his mistress when she had no friend except himself to support ber, and sent her five children to an eleemosynary asylum, where it was impossible they should ever be recognised. "To sum up bis character as concisely and fairly as we are able, we shall remark, that as a philosopher he was paradoxical and dangerous; as a moralist lax and licentious; as a theologian unsettled and sceptical; as a politician bold and delusive; as a parent unnatural; as a lover sellish ; and as a friend suspicious and ungrateful : yet, with all his eccentricities, and all his failings, he is certainly one of the most fascinating writers that ever drew tears from a reader.
Voltaire was endowed with very different qualities, and placed in a very different situation. As pride was the ruling passion of Rousseau, so was vanity that of the philosopher of Ferney. This inordinate love of popular applause gave a tone and colour to all his actions during a long and splendid career, and induced bim to dedicate transcendent abilities to purposes the most vile and pernicious. It was vanity that induced him to decorate a metrical narrative of battles and intrigues with the lofty title of epic, and to forget that the exalted reputation of Homer and Virgil was not acquired by the flowery recital of a dream or a journey, nor by the
introduction of spirits and divinities, but by a creative genius, an elevated imagination, and an eloquent and touching simplicity. It was vanity that led him to sully his pen with disgusting obscenity, and an ostentatious display of impiety, and to flatter himself that a happy mixture of satire and wit might atone for their turpitude, and place the name of a revolting blasphemer upon a level with that of Ariosto. It was vanity that tempted him to undermine the faith of his countrymen by ridiculing the established worship, and representing those by whom it was administered under the odious character of hypocrites. The hostility of Voltaire toward the Christian dispensation is rather that of a rival than of a philosopher. He wished to overturn it, not so much from his entertaining any solid objection to its beautiful theory, or doubting the miracles by which it is attested, as because he envied the glory of its divine author, and even hoped to be able, is Christianity was abolished, to introduce in its place a system of moral indulgence of which he might become the pontiff and patriarch.
But it would be useless to push the subject farther. The French Revolution has furnished the most satisfactory comment upon the GRAND EXPERIMENT of the philosophers; and we are firmly persuaded that no person in future, unless actually labouring under mental derangement, will attempt to govern mankind by simple reason, unassisted by the light of revelation. No; it is religion alone that has authority to silence the clamours of interest, to controul the sensual appetites, and to fetter the turbulence of ambition.
ART. XII. The Remorse. A Tragedy. By S. T. Coleridge.
Second Edition. 8vo. London. 1814.
W HEN a system of opinions, either new, or apparently so, is
formally laid before the world, no judgment can be formed respecting its merits, till the whole has been attentively considered: but when philosophical opinions come to us cursorily scattered through volumes of miscellaneous poetry, it can scarcely be expected that their merits will be so fairly tried. The premises being sometimes not at all, and, perhaps, never formally laid down, tlie conclusion appears to rest on little authority; in this page the reader is startled with one peculiar idea, in the next with another, and between both, perhaps, traces no connection. Thus he proceeds nearly through the book, still ignorant of its characteristic feature ; his vanity is mortified, and forget ting that his ignorance should in justice prevent his forming any judgment, he suffers it to be the very groundwork of his condemVOL. XI. NO. XXI.
nation. Or if towards the conclusion, he should have acquired a knowledge of the general theory, the previous disgust is in most instances so strong, that he feels no inclination with the new light he has acquired, to reperuse the volume.
That Mr. Coleridge and his poetical friends (or, to use a colloquial title, the Lake Poets) have suffered in the judgment of the world from this circumstance, we cannot but believe; and we lament that no one of them should have stated briefly and plainly to the public the nature of their poetical theory. We lament this the more, because, though it will be found, perhaps, erroneous in parts, on the whole we think it contains truth enough for all the purposes of poetry, and in its effects must be beneficial to all the noble and gentle affections of the heart. Without undertaking to supply the deficiency, we will yet venture a few remarks, which may help us in forming our judgment on the work before us.
To a profound admiration of Shakspeare, Milton, and our earlier poets, the authors of the system, on which we are remarking, appear to have united much of metaphysical babit, and metaphysical learning. This admiration was not of the kind which displays itself in the conventional language of criticism; it was real, practical and from the beart; it led to ceaseless study, to imitation of its objects. Analysing by metaphysical aids the principles on which these great men exercised such imperial sway over the human heart, they found that it was not so much by operating on the reason as on the imagination of the reader. We mean that it was not so much by argument, or description, which the reason acknowledged to be true, as by touching some chord of association in the mind, which woke the imagination and set it instantly on a creation of its own. An example
or two will make this clear. In the parting speech of Polonius to Laertes we admire consummate prudence and beautiful expression, and there the labour and the enjoyment of the mind ceases; but when Gertrude says of the frantic Hamlet
• Anon as patient as the female dove,
His silenee will set drooping.'
i thousand ideas of a gentle, placid, and affectionate nature rise within us in a train, which we seem ourselves to have created and arrayed. Once more--in the following passage from Milton every reader of taste will admit that he is very differently affected by different parts of it, and that the differenee solely results from the exercise of the imagination in some lines, and its repose in others, . :
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears.' It was evident in fact, that the latter process must be far more delightful to the mind than the former; as in the one case, however we may be instructed and improved, we are still conscious of our inferiority ; we stand as pupils before our master, and advance not a single step beyond the limit, which he marks for us. But in the other, it is our master, indeed, who presents us with the key of Paradise, but we ourselves open the gate, all our wanderings are unconstrained, and we find beauties, and trace likenesses with all the delight of original composition. It is true, that a closer analysis would shew that in this apparent freedom we are in factfollowing a prescribed direction :--but the restraint which is neither seen, nor felt, is in fact no restraint.
In so far then as metaphysical inquiry led them to this conclusion, it did them good service; and no one who has read Mr. Alison's beautiful Essays on Taste, will doubt for an instant that they had arrived at the true theory of poetic delight. Beyond this point metaphysics (prompting, indeed, at times peculiar beauties) were on the whole dangerous companions; and from the habits of making every mental emotion the subject of analysis have resulted, we think, most of the defects which continue to impede their progress to popular favour.
Ít is observed of Marivaux, by one of his countrymen, that, 'Il ne donne pas le résultat de son observation, mais l'acte même de l'observation. The remark will apply to our Poets; minute in their analyses and analysing the minutest emotions; preferring, indeed, from the greater skill required in the task, to trace to their causes the slight and transient, rather than the strong and perman nent feelings of the mind, they have too often become not so much the painters of nature as the commentators upon her.
By this method they have sacrificed the chance of general popularity for the devoted admiration of a few; and it may be said that the alternative was entirely at their option. But still we think the choice a faulty one; the majority of mankind are little conversant in metaphysical pursuits; whereas it should be at least a principal object of poetry to please generally, and it is one of the highest boasts of genius that its strains, like the liturgy of out church, are not too high for the low and simple, nor yet too low for the wise and learned.
But this is not all; for it may be reasonably doubted, whether, from the continual habit of studying these slighter emotions, certain results, having a tendency to erroneous conclusions in philosophy, do not of necessity follow. For first it seems likely that the heart itself would become more susceptible of emotion from slight causes than those of the generality of men ; as it is certain that the mind of the artist, or the connoisseur, will receive the most exquisite delight from parts of a production, which leave the common observer in a state of indifference. Now though it may be desirable that a picture should contain some of these latent beauties, yet it is evident that the artist who built his fame entirely upon them, must resign his claims to genius for the reputation of mere science, and can never aspire to the praise of being a perfect painter.
Again, such a study long continued can scarcely fail of attaching a greater degree of importance to the emotions so raised, than they merit. Whatever we dwell upon with intenseness and ardour invariably swells in our conception to a false magnitude; indeed this is implied by the very eagerness of our pursuit ; and if this be true with the weed, the shell, or the butterfly, it is evident how much more strongly it will apply, where the study, (as must be the case with all studies conversant about the operations of the soul) unites much of real dignity and importance as the basis on which to build the exaggerations of partial fondness. The native of a flat country gradually swells his mole-bills to mountains; no wonder then, if by constantly beholding, and deeply feeling the grandeur and beauty of their own lakes, Mr. Coleridge and his friends have learned to invest every part with a false appearance of greatness ; if, in their eyes, every stream swells to a river, every lake to an ocean, and every headland, that breaks or ornaments their prospect, assumes the awful form of a giant promontory. But what is still worse, the habitual examination of their own feelings tends to produce in them a variation from nature almost amounting to distortion. The slight and subtle workings of the heart must be left to play unobserved, and without fear of observation, if they are intended to play freely and naturally ; to be overlooked is to be absolutely restrained. The man who is for ever examining his feet, as he walks, will probably soon move in a stiff and constrained pace; and if we are constantly on the watch to discover the nature, order, and cause of our slightest emotions, it can scarcely be expected that they will operate in their free course or natural direction.
Now if we are justified in any of these suppositions, we cannot wonder that to a large portion of mankind the views of nature exbibited by the Lake Poets, and their own feelings with the excite