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an anecdote, however, which shows from the trifles which engaged the attention of the Prussian generals, how incapable they were of contending with men whose new-born patriotism was a violent passion, sharpening and strengthening all their faculties to attain its object. “ I was not the only person attentive to the minerals of the
When the soldiers dug even a cooking-hole, they found plenty of fine white chalk, of which they used a considerable quantity about their dress. An order was accordingly issued to the whole army, for every soldier to provide himself with as much as possible of this necessary material. Sunk in dirt, the soldiers were to load themselves with earth, as the means of cleanliness and ornament; and when they were destitute of bread, to content themselves with stones.”
Such generals were under the influence of emigrants, of whom the following anecdote is very characteristic.
“ On our return to our quarters we found a French marquis, whom we had before known. We welcomed him, and he did not despise our frugal repast ; but we observed that something affected him, of which he desired to lighten his heart. When we had encouraged him to confide in us, he exclaimed violently against the cruelty with which the King of Prussia treated the French princes. We were astonished, and demanded in what manner. 'On leaving Glorieur,' he said, “though it rained, (it mizzled a little) the king did not put on either a great coat or a cloak, and the princes were therefore obliged to deny themselves this sort of protection against the weather. When I saw them, continued the marquis, “who are the hope of France, lightly clothed, dripping with rain, I would have given my life to be able to provide them with a dry carriage.”
Here are two anecdotes, characteristic of the men whom the Prussians and the emigrants expected to subdue, by merely looking on them.
“ The inhabitants of Verdun, afraid that the whole city would be destroyed by the bombardment,--at length compelled the governor, M. Beaurepaire, to surrender. As soon as he had given his consent in full council, he drew forth a pistol and shot himself, that he might set an example of sacrificing himself for his country.”—“As the Prussians marched into the town, a musquet was fired from among the crowd, which, however, injured nobody. A French grenadier acknowledging that he had fired it, he was apprehended and carried to the guard-house, where I saw him. He was a young man, very well made, with a serious countenance and easy behaviour. Till his fate was decided, he was not subjected to rigid confinement. Close to the guard house was a bridge, over one of the arms of the Maese; he seated himself on the wall, remained a short time composed and at his ease, then turned himself backwards, tumbled himself into the river, and was taken up quite dead.”
Men so resolute to brave death were not to be subdued in the field by the pipeclay-loving generals of Prussia, or the petit-maitres of their own country, who, from fearing them, had before fled from a less hazardous encounter.
It has long ago been justly remarked, that Goëthe is one of the vainest men alive. But there is something in the manner he is acted on by external circumstances and passing events, allowing them to suggest subjects of meditation, long trains of thought, and even literary undertakings, which seems in direct opposition with vanity. As an author he is vain only when he writes, as in his Memoirs, expressly of himself. In his other works he never even appears in propria persona, but is entirely lost in his subject. He is constantly alive to the influence of what is passing about him; and he reflects unchanged whatever he perceives. He describes things admirably. For minuteness and correctness, his descriptions, in general, and we may quote that of the Carnival at Rome for an example, have perhaps never been surpassed. There is in him no prevailing sentiment-no ruling passion, which, as in most great poets, tinges with its own colours all that they as well as other men behold. His mind seems to create nothing ; but to be rather like a huge reservoir filled to the brim, out of which he draws nearly unchanged whatever a long and varied life, great industry, and an excellent education, have collected. As an author, he suffers himself not merely to be influenced, but to be guided by passing events; as a man, on the contrary, he seems all volition, and almost beyond the influence of circumstances, or of other men. These feelings and characters are only matters which he notes down as materials to work on; they are never objects of sympathy, of love, or of hatred. The living being is to him what the corpse is to the anatomist; and man is more interesting than a stone, because he has more phases and is a better subject for a determined author. Goëthe, though full of cleverness and talents, wants affections. The seeming inconsistencies, however, may perhaps be referred to the same principle. He is so vain of the individual Goëthe, the standard of excellence, that he has a sovereign contempt for his species; and though he has been a close observer and almost a worshipper of Nature, he has never looked on man as the noblest of her works. Though this cannot be justified, it may be explained by his situation. He had the misfortune, and with his great talents we think it a misfortune to the world, to be born and brought up in a country politically degraded; and he thinks ill of man because he has only known him in his character of a slave. We shall give an extract or two to illustrate what we have said.
“ After making these preparations for future usefulness and present com. fort, I turned to look over the extensive meadow on which we were encamped. An extraordinary appearance at one spot attracted my notice-a number of soldiers were sitting in a circle and busily employed, with their attention directed towards the centre. On going nearer to them I found they were seated round a tunnel-shaped hole filled with the clearest spring-water, and about thirty feet in diameter. In it were a great number of little fishes which the soldiers were trying to catch. The water was as clear as possible, and the sport pleasant to see. I speedily remarked, however, that, when the fishes moved, they displayed different colours. At first I regarded this as caused by their changing their colours; but a welcome explanation soon offered itself. A piece of earthenware had fallen into the hole, which sent forth the most beautiful prismatic colours. The border farthest from me reflected blue and violet; the one nearest me, on the contrary, red and yellow, As I moved round the hole, the colours appeared always the same. Already passionately occupied with the subject, I was orerjoyed to see this phenomenon so beautiful in the open air, while natural philosophers with their scholars, to obtain a sight of it, have been accustomed for more than a century to shut themselves in a dark chamber. I procured some more pieces of earthen. ware, which I threw in; and observed that the refractions began at a short distance beneath the surface of the water, increased as the pieces sunk lower, and at last, when arrived at the bottom, a small white body appeared of many colours and like a little flame.”
This incident did not exactly occasion Goëthe to write that theory of colours by which he attempts to overthrow the system of Newton, for he had before directed his attention to the subject; but it encouraged
him in the pursuit. “In this case," he says, "it happened as with my poems : I did not make them, but they (meaning, we believe, the circumstances which occasioned the poems) made me." While the phenomenon and all the trains of thought it excited were still fresh before him, and even the firing of cannon could not divert his mind from the subject, he met a willing auditor in Prince Reuss XI. “who had always been gracious to me," and to him he expatiated with great animation on the whole doctrine of colours. The prince was surprised to find the novelist and the tragic author converted at once to a philosopher. He listened, however, with great patience, and encouraged Goëthe to proceed in his remarks and inquiries. Such attention could not do otherwise than draw forth a commendation from the author; and as his work was not equally well received by the learned, he couples his praise of the prince with a censure on them.
“ I have always noticed (he says) that men of the world and of business, who are obliged to pay attention to many observations and reports produced at the moment, are the most agreeable to converse with even on scientific subjects. Their minds are unprejudiced, and they listen to the speaker with no other object in view but their own instruction. On the contrary, men of learning usually attend to nothing but what they have already learnt and taught, and which is adopted in the schools. Words take the place of things, and men attach their faith to favourite forms of expression, or, as he calls them in another place, 'to printed traditions.”
Long before he could finish his work on colours, the events of the French Revolution engaged all his attention. He began both an opera and a drama, founded on the celebrated Necklace-story, which “ appeared to him the terrible forerunner of evil, as the Revolution seemed its horrid completion.” The opera was never finished, and the drama when represented was wholly unsuccessful. To this "he was quite indifferent, he drew no instruction from the failure," but went on dramatizing, as they cast up, the most conspicuous events of the Revolution. As might be expected, theatrical pieces, founded on recent and horrid circumstances, “ produced such disagreeable effects that his friends were obliged for their own honour to maintain that he was not the author, but had only lent his name and a few strokes of his pen to some very subaltern production." “But nothing external could ever estrange him from self;" this judgment of the world only made him describe it “as good for nothing :" when it no longer offered the incense of devotion to him, it had turned heretic; and the unchangeable Goëthe appeared to himself as worthy of admiration as before. He might have gone on making dramas from the gazettes till now, but he was “unable to follow the on-rolling history of the world;" and while he was hobbling after it, came Bonaparte, and “the riddle was resolved in a manner equally decisive and unexpected.”
On the Conversation of Authors. An author is bound to write--well or ill, wisely or foolishly : it is his trade. But I do not see that he is bound to talk, any more than he is bound to dance, or ride, or fence, better than other people. Reading, study, silence, thought, are a bad introduction to loquacity. It would be sooner learnt of chambermaids and tapsters. He understands the art and mystery of his own profession, which is bookmaking : what right has any one to expect or require him to do more
- to make a bow gracefully on entering or leaving a room, to make love charmingly, or to make a fortune at all? In all things there is a division of labour. A lord is no less amorous for writing ridiculous love-letters, nor a general less successful for wanting wit and honesty. Why then may not a poor author say nothing, and yet pass muster? Set him on the top of a stage-coach, he will make no figure; he is mum-chance, while the slang-wit flies about as fast as the dust, with the crack of the whip and the clatter of the horses' heels : put him in a ring of boxers, he is a poor creature
“ And of his port as meek as is a maid.” Introduce him to a tea-party of milliner's girls, and they are ready to split their sides with laughing at him: over his bottle, he is dry: in the drawing-room, rude or awkward : he is too refined for the vulgar, too clownish for the fashionable :—“he is one that cannot make a good leg, one that cannot eat a mess of broth cleanly, one that cannot ride a horse without spur-galling, one that cannot salute a woman and look on her directly:"—in courts, in camps, in town and country, he is a cypher or a butt: he is good for nothing but a laughing-stock or a scare-crow. You can scarcely get a word out of him for love or money. He knows nothing. He has no notion of pleasure or business, or of what is going on in the world ; he does not understand cookery, unless he is a doctor in divinity-nor surgery, nor chemistry, unless he is a Quidnunc--nor mechanics, nor husbandry and tillage, unless he is as great an admirer of Tull's Husbandry, and has profited as much by it as the philosopher of Botley-no, nor music, painting, the Drama, nor the Fine Arts in general.
" What the deuce is it then, my good sir, that he does understand, or know
any thing about ?” “ Books, Venus, books!" “ What books ?”
“Not receipt-books, Madona, nor account-books, nor books of pharmacy, or the veterinary art (they belong to their respective callings and handicrafts); but books of liberal taste and general knowledge.”
" What do you mean by that general knowledge which implies not a knowledge of things in general, but an ignorance, by your own account, of every one in particular: or by that liberal taste which scorns the pursuits and acquirements of the rest of the world in succession, and is confined exclusively, and by way of excellence, to what nobody takes an interest in but yourself, and a few idlers like yourself? Is this what the critics mean by the belles-lettres, and the study of humanity ?"
Book-knowledge, in a word, then, is knowledge communicable' by books: and it is general and liberal for this reason, that it is intelligible and interesting on the bare suggestion. That to which any one feels a romantic attachment, merely from finding it in a book, must be interesting in itself: that which he instantly forms a lively and entire conception of, from seeing a few marks and scratches upon paper, must be taken from common nature: that which, the first time you meet with it, seizes upon the attention as a curious speculation, must exercise the general faculties of the human mind. There are certain broader aspects of society and views of things common to every subject, and more or less cognizable to every mind; and these the scholar treats, and founds his claim to general attention upon them, without being chargeable with pedantry. The minute descriptions of fishing-tackle, of baits and Alics in Walton's Complete Angler, make that work a great favourite with sportsmen : the alloy of an amiable humanity, and the modest but touching descriptions of familiar incidents and rural objects scattered through it, have made it an equal favourite with every reader of taste and feeling. Montaigne's Essays, Dilworth's Spelling-book, and Fearn's Treatise on Contingent Řemainders, are all equally books, but not equally adapted for all classes of readers. The two last are of no use but to schoolmasters and lawyers: but the first is a work we may recommend to any one to read who has ever thought at all, or who would learn to think justly on any subject. Persons of different trades and professions--the mechanic, the shop-keeper, the medical practitioner, the artist, &c. may all have great knowledge and ingenuity in their several vocations, the details of which will be very edifying to themselves, and just as incomprehensible to their neighbours : but over and above this professional and technical knowledge, they must be supposed to have a stock of common sense and common feeling to furnish subjects for common conversation, or to give them any pleasure in each other's company. It is to this common stock of ideas, spread over the surface, or striking its roots into the very centre of society, that the popular writer appeals, and not in vain ; for he finds readers. It is of this finer essence of wisdom and humanity, "ethereal mould, sky-tinctured,” that books of the better sort are made. They contain the language of thought. It must happen that, in the course of time and the variety of human capacity, some persons will have struck out finer observations, reflections, and sentiments than others. These they have committed to books of memory, have bequeathed as a lasting legacy to posterity; and such persons have become standard authors. We visit at the shrine, drink in some measure of the inspiration, and cannot easily “ breathe in other air less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits.” Are we to be blamed for this, because the vulgar and illiterate do not always understand us? The fault is rather in them, who are “confined and cabin’d in," each in his own particular sphere and compartment of ideas, and have not the same refined medium of communication or abstracted topics of discourse. Bring a number of literary, or of illiterate persons together, perfect strangers to each other, and see which party will make the best company. Verily, we have our reward.” We have made our election, and have no reason to repent it, if we were wise. But the misfortune is, we wish to have all the advantages on
VOL. V. NO. XXIV.