In the week of that expedition, the king took "George" with him in his coach to view the ships at Deptford on their departure for Rochelle, when he said to the duke, "George, there are some that wish both these and thou mightest perish together; but care not for them; we will both perish together, if thou doest!"
A few days before the duke went on his last expedition, he gave a farewell masque and supper at York-house to their majesties. In the masque the duke appeared followed by Envy, with many open-mouthed dogs, which were to represent the barkings of the people, while next came Fame and Truth; and the court allegory expressed the king's sentiment and the duke's sanguine hope.
Thus resolutely engaged in the very cause the people had so much at heart, the blood Buckingham would have sealed it with was shed by one of the people themselves; the enterprise, designed to retrieve the national honour, long tarnished, was prevented; and the Protestant cause suffered by one who imagined himself to be, and was blest by nearly the whole nation as, a patriot! Such are the effects of the exaggerations of popular delusion.
I find the following epitaph on Buckingham in a manuscript letter of the times. Its condensed bitterness of spirit gives the popular idea of his unfortunate attempts.
THE DUKE'S EPITAPH.
If idle trav'llers ask who lieth here, Let the duke's tomb this for inscription bear; Paint Cales and Rhe, make French and Spanish laugh; Mix England's shame—and there's his epitaph!
Before his last fatal expedition, among the many libels which abounded, I have discovered a manuscript satire, entitled "Rhodomontados." The thoughtless minister is made to exult in his power over the giddy-headed multitude. Buckingham speaks in his own person; and we have here preserved those false rumours and those aggravated feelings then floating among the people: a curious instance of those heaped up calumnies which are often so heavily laid on the head of a prime minister, no favourite with the people.
'Tis not your threats shall take me from the king!— Nor questioning my counsels and commands, How with the honour of the state it stands; That I lost Rhe and with such loss of men, As scarcely time can e'er repair again; Shall aught affright me; or the care to see The narrow seas from Dunkirk clear and free; Or that you can enforce the king believe, I from the pirates a third share receive; Or that I correspond with foreign states (Whether the king's foes or confederates) To plot the ruin of the king and state, As erst you thought of the Palatinate; Or that five hundred thousand pounds doth lie In the Venice bank to help Spain's majesty; Or that three hundred thousand more doth rest In Dunkirk, for the arch-duchess to contest With England, whene'er occasion offers; Or that by rapine I fill up my coffers; Nor that an office in church, state, or court, Is freely given, but they must pay me for't. Nor shall you ever prove I had a hand In poisoning of the monarch of this land, Or the like hand by poisoning to intox Southampton, Oxford, Hamilton, Lennox. Nor shall you ever prove by magic charms, I wrought the king's affection or his harms. Nor fear I if ten Vitrys now were here, Since I have thrice ten Ravilliacs as near. My power shall be unbounded in each thing, If once I use these words, "I and the king." Seem wise, and cease then to perturb the realm, Or strive with him that sits and guides the helm. I know your reading will inform you soon, What creatures they were, that barkt against the moon. I'll give you better counsel as a friend: Cobblers their latchets ought not to transcend; Meddle with common matters, common wrongs; To the House of Commons common things belongs. Leave him the oar that best knows how to row, And state to him that best the state doth know. If I by industry, deep reach, or grace, Am now arriv'd at this or that great place, Must I, to please your inconsiderate rage, Throw down mine honours? Will nought else assuage Your furious wisdoms? True shall the verse be yet— There's no less wit required to keep, than get. Though Lambe be dead, I'll stand, and you shall see I'll smile at them that can but bark at me.
After Buckingham's death, Charles the First cherished his memory as warmly as his life, advanced his friends, and designed to raise a magnificent monument to his memory; and if any one accused the duke, the king always imputed the fault to himself. The king said, "Let not the duke's enemies seek to catch at any of his offices, for they will find themselves deceived." Charles called Buckingham "his martyr!" and often said the world was much mistaken in the duke's character; for it was commonly thought the duke ruled his majesty; but it was much the contrary, having been his most faithful and obedient servant in all things, as the king said he would make sensibly appear to the world. Indeed, after the death of Buckingham, Charles showed himself extremely active in business. Lord Dorchester wrote—"The death of Buckingham causes no changes; the king holds in his own hands the total direction, leaving the executory part to every man within the compass of his charge." This is one proof, among many, that Charles the First was not the puppet-king of Buckingham, as modern historians have imagined.
FELTON, THE POLITICAL ASSASSIN.
Felton, the assassin of the Duke of Buckingham, by the growing republican party was hailed as a Brutus, rising, in the style of a patriotic bard,
Refulgent from the stroke.—AKENSIDE.
Gibbon has thrown a shade of suspicion even over Brutus's "god-like stroke," as Pope has exalted it. In Felton, a man acting from mixed and confused motives, the political martyr is entirely lost in the contrite penitent; he was, however, considered in his own day as a being almost beyond humanity. Mrs. Macaulay has called him a "lunatic," because the duke had not been assassinated on the right principle. His motives appeared even inconceivable to his contemporaries; for Sir Henry Wotton, who has written a Life of the Duke of Buckingham, observes, that "what may have been the immediate or greatest motive of that felonious conception (the duke's assassination) is even yet in the clouds." After ascertaining that it was not private revenge, he seems to conclude that it was Dr. Eglisham's furious "libel," and the "remonstrance" of the parliament, which, having made the duke "one of the foulest monsters on earth," worked on the dark imagination of Felton.
From Felton's memorable example, and some similar ones, one observation occurs worth the notice of every minister of state who dares the popular odium he has raised. Such a minister will always be in present danger of a violent termination to his career; for however he may be convinced that there is not political virtue enough in a whole people to afford "the god-like stroke," he will always have to dread the arm of some melancholy enthusiast, whose mind, secretly agitated by the public indignation, directs itself solely on him. It was some time after having written this reflection, that I discovered the following notice of the Duke of Buckingham in the unpublished Life of Sir Symonds D'Ewes. "Some of his friends had advised him how generally he was hated in England, and how needful it would be for his greater safety to wear some coat of mail, or some other secret defensive armour, which the duke slighting, said, 'It needs not; there are no Roman spirits left.'"
An account of the contemporary feelings which sympathised with Felton, and almost sanctioned the assassin's deed, I gather from the MS. letters of the times. The public mind, through a long state of discontent, had been prepared for, and not without an obscure expectation of, the mortal end of Buckingham. It is certain the duke received many warnings which he despised. The assassination kindled a tumult of joy throughout the nation, and a state-libel was written in strong characters in the faces of the people. The passage of Felton to London, after the assassination, seemed a triumph. Now pitied, and now blessed, mothers held up their children to behold the saviour of the country; and an old woman exclaimed, as Felton passed her, with a scriptural allusion to his short stature, and the mightiness of Buckingham, "God bless thee, little David!" Felton was nearly sainted before he reached the metropolis. His health was the reigning toast among the republicans. A character, somewhat remarkable, Alexander Gill (usher under his father, Dr. Gill, master of St. Paul's school), who was the tutor of Milton, and his dear friend afterwards, and perhaps from whose impressions in early life Milton derived his vehement hatred of Charles, was committed by the Star-chamber, heavily fined, and sentenced to lose his ears, on three charges, one of which arose from drinking a health to Felton. At Trinity College Gill said that the king was fitter to stand in a Cheapside shop, with an apron before him, and say, What lack ye? than to govern a kingdom; that the duke was gone down to hell to see king James; and drinking a health to Felton, added he was sorry Felton had deprived him of the honour of doing that brave act. In the taste of that day, they contrived a political anagram of his name, to express the immovable self-devotion he showed after the assassination, never attempting to escape; and John Felton, for the nonce, was made to read,
Noh! flie not!
But while Felton's name was echoing through the kingdom, our new Brutus was at this moment exhibiting a piteous spectacle of remorse; so different often is the real person himself from the ideal personage of the public. The assassination, with him, was a sort of theoretical one, depending, as we shall show, on four propositions; so that when the king's attorney, as the attorney-general was then called, had furnished the unhappy criminal with an unexpected argument, which appeared to him to have overturned his, he declared that he had been in a mistake; and lamenting that he had not been aware of it before, from that instant his conscientious spirit sunk into despair. In the open court he stretched out his arm, offering it as the offending instrument to be first cut off; he requested the king's leave to wear sackcloth about his loins, to sprinkle ashes on his head, to carry a halter about his neck, in testimony of repentance; and that he might sink to the lowest point of contrition, he insisted on asking pardon not only of the duchess, the duke's mother, but even of the duke's scullion-boy; and a man naturally brave was seen always shedding tears, so that no one could have imagined that Felton had been "a stout soldier." These particulars were given by one of the divines who attended him, to the writer of the MS. letter.
The character of Felton must not, however, be conceived from this agonising scene of contrition. Of melancholy and retired habits, and one of those thousand officers who had incurred disappointments, both in promotion and in arrears of pay, from the careless duke, he felt, perhaps, although he denied it, a degree of personal animosity towards him. A solitary man who conceives himself injured broods over his revenge. Felton once cut off a piece of his own finger, inclosing it in a challenge, to convince the person whom he addressed that he valued not endangering his whole body, provided it afforded him an opportunity of vengeance. Yet with all this, such was his love of truth and rigid honour, that Felton obtained the nickname of "honest Jack," one which, after the assassination, became extremely popular through the nation. The religious enthusiasm of the times had also deeply possessed his mind, and that enthusiasm, as is well known, was of a nature that might easily occasion its votary to be mistaken for a republican.
Clarendon mentions that in his hat he had sewed a paper, in which were written a few lines of that remonstrance of the Commons, which appeared to him to sanction the act. I have seen a letter from Sir D. Carleton to the queen, detailing the particulars; his lordship was one of those who saved Felton from the swords of the military around him, who in their vexation for the loss of their general the duke, which they considered to be the end of the war, and their ruin, would have avenged themselves. But though Felton, in conversation with Sir D. Carleton, confessed that by reading the remonstrance of the parliament it came into his head, that in committing the act of killing the duke he should do his country a great good service; yet the paper sewed in his hat, thinking he might have fallen a victim in the attempt, was different from that described by Clarendon, and is thus preserved in this letter to the queen by Sir D. Carleton. "If I be slain, let no man condemn me, but rather condemn himself. Our hearts are hardened, and become senseless, or else he had not gone so long unpunished. He is unworthy the name of a gentleman or soldier, in my opinion, that is afraid to sacrifice his life for the honour of God, his king, and country. JOHN FELTON".
Felton's mind had however previously passed through a more evangelical process: four theological propositions struck the knife into the heart of the minister. The conscientious assassin, however, accompanied the fatal blow with a prayer to Heaven, to have mercy on the soul of the victim; and never was a man murdered with more gospel than the duke. The following curious document I have discovered in the MS. letter.
Propositions found in Felton's trunk, at the time he slew the duke.
"1. There is no alliance nearer to any one than his country.
"Except his God and his own soul, said the divines.
"2. The safety of the people is the chiefest law.
"Next to the law of God, said these divines.
"3. No law is more sacred than the safety and welfare of the commonwealth.
"Only God's law is more sacred, said the divines.
"4. God himself hath enacted this law, that all things that are for the good profit and benefit of the commonwealth should be lawful.
"The divines said, We must not do evil that good may come thereon."
The gradual rise in these extraordinary propositions, with the last sweeping one, which includes everything lawless as lawful for the common weal, was at least but feebly parried by the temperate divines, who, while they were so reasonably referring everything to God, wanted the vulgar curiosity to inquire, or the philosophical discernment to discover, that Felton's imagination was driving everything at the duke. Could they imagine that these were but subtle cobwebs, spun by a closet speculation on human affairs? In those troubled times did they not give a thought to the real object of these inquiries? or did they not care what befel a minion of the state?
There is one bright passage in the history of this unhappy man, who, when broken down in spirits, firmly asserted the rights of a Briton; and even the name of John Felton may fill a date in the annals of our constitutional freedom.
Felton was menaced with torture. Rushworth has noticed the fact, and given some imperfect notes of his speech, when threatened to be racked; but the following is not only more ample, but more important in its essential particulars. When Lord Dorset told him (says the MS. letter) "Mr. Felton, it is the king's pleasure that you should be put to the torture, to make you confess your accomplices, and therefore prepare yourself for the rack:"—Felton answered, "My lord, I do not believe that it is the king's pleasure, for he is a just and a gracious prince, and will not have his subjects tortured against law. I do affirm upon my salvation that my purpose was not known to any man living; but if it be his majesty's pleasure, I am ready to suffer whatever his majesty will have inflicted upon me. Yet this I must tell you, by the way, that if I be put upon the rack, I will accuse you, my lord of Dorset, and none but yourself." This firm and sensible speech silenced them. A council was held; the judges were consulted; and on this occasion they came to a very unexpected decision, that "Felton ought not to be tortured by the rack, for no such punishment is known or allowed by our law." Thus the judges condemned what the government had constantly practised. Blackstone yields a fraternal eulogium to the honour of the judges on this occasion; but Hume more philosophically discovers the cause of this sudden tenderness. "So much more exact reasoners, with regard to law, had they become from the jealous scruples of the House of Commons." An argument which may be strengthened from cases which are unknown to the writers of our history. Not two years before the present one, a Captain Brodeman, one who had distinguished himself among the "bold speakers" concerning the king and the duke, had been sent to the Tower, and was reported to have expired on the rack; the death seems doubtful, but the fact of his having been racked is repeated in the MS. letters of the times. The rack has been more frequently used as a state engine than has reached the knowledge of our historians: secret have been the deadly embraces of the Duke of Exeter's daughter. It was only by an original journal of the transactions in the Tower that Burnet discovered the racking of Anne Askew, a narrative of horror! James the First incidentally mentions in his account of the powder-plot that this rack was shown to Guy Fawkes during his examination; and yet under this prince, mild as his temper was, it had been used in a terrific manner. Elizabeth but too frequently employed this engine of arbitrary power; once she had all the servants of the Duke of Norfolk tortured. I have seen in a MS. of the times heads of charges made against some members of the House of Commons in Elizabeth's reign, among which is one for having written against torturing! Yet Coke, the most eminent of our lawyers, extols the mercy of Elizabeth in the trials of Essex and Southampton, because she had not used torture against their accomplices or witnesses. Was it for the head of law itself, as Coke was, to extol the mercy of the sovereign for not violating the laws, for not punishing the subject by an illegal act? The truth is, lawyers are rarely philosophers; the history of the heart, read only in statutes and law cases, presents the worst side of human nature: they are apt to consider men as wild beasts; and they have never spoken with any great abhorrence of what they so erroneously considered a means of obtaining confession. Long after these times, Sir George Mackenzie, a great lawyer in the reign of James the Second, used torture in Scotland. We have seen how the manly spirit of Felton, and the scruples of the Commons, wrenched the hidden law from judges who had hitherto been too silent; and produced that unexpected avowal, which condemned all their former practices. But it was reserved for better times, when philosophy combining with law, enabled the genius of Blackstone to quote with admiration the exquisite ridicule of torture by Beccaria.
On a rumour that Felton was condemned to suffer torture, an effusion of poetry, the ardent breathings of a pure and youthful spirit, was addressed to the supposed political martyr, by Zouch Townley, of the ancient family of the Townleys in Lancashire, to whose last descendant the nation owes the first public collection of ancient art.
The poem I transcribe from a MS. copy of the time; it appears only to have circulated in that secret form, for the writer being summoned to the Star-chamber, and not willing to have any such poem addressed to himself, escaped to the Hague.
TO HIS CONFINED FRIEND, MR. JO. FELTON.
Enjoy thy bondage, make thy prison know Thou hast a liberty, thou canst not owe To those base punishments; keep't entire, since Nothing but guilt shackles the conscience. I dare not tempt thy valiant blood to whey, Enfeebling it to pity; nor dare pray Thy act may mercy finde, least thy great story Lose somewhat of its miracle and glory. I wish thy merit, laboured cruelty; Stout vengeance best befits thy memory. For I would have posterity to hear, He that can bravely do, can bravely bear. Tortures may seem great in a coward's eye; It's no great thing to suffer, less to die. Should all the clouds fall out, and in that strife, Lightning and thunder send to take my life, I would applaud the wisdom of my fate, Which knew to value me at such a rate, As at my fall to trouble all the sky, Emptying upon me Jove's full armoury. Serve in your sharpest mischiefs; use your rack, Enlarge each joint, and make each sinew crack; Thy soul before was straitened; thank thy doom, To show her virtue she hath larger room. Yet sure if every artery were broke, Thou wouldst find strength for such another stroke. And now I leave thee unto Death and Fame, Which lives to shake Ambition with thy name; And if it were not sin, the court by it Should hourly swear before the favourite. Farewell! for thy brave sake we shall not send Henceforth commanders, enemies to defend; Nor will it ever our just monarch please, To keep an admiral to lose our seas. Farewell! undaunted stand, and joy to be Of public service the epitome. Let the duke's name solace and crown thy thrall; All we by him did suffer, thou for all! And I dare boldly write, as thou dar'st die, Stout Felton, England's ransom, here doth lie!
This is to be a great poet. Felton, who was celebrated in such elevated strains, was, at that moment, not the patriot but the penitent. In political history it frequently occurs that the man who accidentally has effectuated the purpose of a party, is immediately invested by them with all their favourite virtues; but in reality having acted from motives originally insignificant and obscure, his character may be quite the reverse they have made him; and such was that of our "honest Jack." Had Townley had a more intimate acquaintance with his Brutus, we might have lost a noble poem on a noble subject.
JOHNSON'S HINTS FOR THE LIFE OF POPE.
I shall preserve a literary curiosity, which perhaps is the only one of its kind. It is an original memorandum of Dr. Johnson's, of hints for the Life of Pope, written down, as they were suggested to his mind, in the course of his researches. The lines in Italics Johnson had scratched with red ink, probably after having made use of them. These notes should be compared with the Life itself. The youthful student will find some use, and the curious be gratified, in discovering the gradual labours of research and observation, and that art of seizing on those general conceptions which afterwards are developed by meditation and illustrated by genius. I once thought of accompanying these hints by the amplified and finished passages derived from them; but this is an amusement which the reader can contrive for himself. I have extracted the most material notes.
This fragment is a companion-piece to the engraved fac-simile of a page of Pope's Homer, in this volume.
That fac-simile, a minutely perfect copy of the manuscript, was not given to show the autograph of Pope,—a practice which has since so generally prevailed,—but to exhibit to the eye of the student the fervour and the diligence required in every work of genius. This could only be done by showing the state of the manuscript itself, with all its erasures, and even its half-formed lines; nor could this effect be produced by giving only some of the corrections, which Johnson had already, in printed characters. My notion has been approved of, because it was comprehended by writers of genius: yet this fac-simile has been considered as nothing more than an autograph by those literary blockheads, who, without taste and imagination, intruding into the province of literature, find themselves as awkward as a once popular divine, in his "Christian Life," assures us certain sinners would in paradise,—like "pigs in a drawing-room."
Nothing occasional. No haste. No rivals. No compulsion. Practised only one form of verse. Facility from use. Emulated former pieces. Cooper's-hill. Dryden's ode. Affected to disdain flattery. Not happy in his selection of patrons. Cobham, Bolingbroke. Cibber's abuse will be better to him than a dose of hartshorn. Poems long delayed. Satire and praise late, alluding to something past. He had always some poetical plan in his head. Echo to the sense. Would not constrain himself too much. Felicities of language. Watts. Luxury of language. Motives to study; want of health, want of money; helps to study; some small patrimony. Prudent and frugal; pint of wine.
Amiable disposition—but he gives his own character. Elaborate. Think what to say—say what one thinks. Letter on sickness to Steele. On Solitude. Ostentatious benevolence. Professions of sincerity. Neglect of fame. Indifference about everything. Sometimes gay and airy, sometimes sober and grave. Too proud of living among the great. Probably forward to make acquaintance. No literary man ever talked so much of his fortune. Grotto. Importance. Post-office, letters open. Cant of despising the world. Affectation of despising poetry. His easiness about the critics.. Something of foppery. His letters to the ladies—pretty. Abuse of Scripture—not all early. Thoughts in his letters that are elsewhere.
ESSAY ON MAN.
Ramsay missed the fall of man. Others the immortality of the soul. Address to our Saviour. Excluded by Berkeley. Bolingbroke's notions not understood. Scale of Being turn it in prose. Part and not the whole always said. Conversation with Bol. R. 220. Bol. meant ill. Pope well. Crousaz. Resnel. Warburton. Good sense. Luxurious—felicities of language. Wall. Loved labour—always poetry in his head. Extreme sensibility. Ill-health, headaches. He never laughed. No conversation. No writings against Swift. Parasitical epithets. Six lines of Iliad. He used to set down what occurred of thoughts—a line—a couplet. The humorous lines end sinner. Prunello. First line made for the sound, or v. versa. Foul lines in Jervas. More notices of books early than late.
The line on Phillips borrowed from another poem. Pope did not increase the difficulties of writing. Poetaepulorum.
MODERN LITERATURE—BAYLE'S CRITICAL DICTIONARY
A new edition of Bayle in France is an event in literary history which could not have been easily predicted. Every work which creates an epoch in literature is one of the great monuments of the human mind; and Bayle may be considered as the father of literary curiosity, and of modern literature. Much has been alleged against our author: yet let us be careful to preserve what is precious. Bayle is the inventor of a work which dignified a collection of facts constituting his text, by the argumentative powers and the copious illustrations which charm us in his diversified commentary. Conducting the humble pursuits of an Aulus Gellius and an Athenaeus with a high spirit, he showed us the philosophy of Books, and communicated to such limited researches a value which they had otherwise not possessed.
This was introducing a study perfectly distinct from what is pre-eminently distinguished as "classical learning," and the subjects which had usually entered into philological pursuits. Ancient literature, from century to century, had constituted the sole labours of the learned; and "variae lectiones" were long their pride and their reward. Latin was the literary language of Europe. The vernacular idiom in Italy was held in such contempt that their youths were not suffered to read Italian books, their native productions. Varchi tells a curious anecdote of his father sending him to prison, where he was kept on bread and water, as a penance for his inveterate passion for reading Italian books! Dante was reproached by the Italians for composing in his mother-tongue, still expressed by the degrading designation of il volgare, which the "resolute" John Florio renders "to make common;" and to translate was contemptuously called volgarizzare. Petrarch rested his fame on his Latin poetry, and called his Italian nugellas vulgares! With us Roger Ascham was the first who boldly avowed "To speak as the common people, to think as wise men;" yet, so late as the time of Bacon, this great man did not consider his "Moral Essays" as likely to last in the moveable sands of a modern language, for he has anxiously had them sculptured in the marble of ancient Rome. Yet what had the great ancients themselves done, but trusted to their own volgare? The Greeks, the finest and most original writers of the ancients, observes Adam Ferguson, "were unacquainted with every language but their own; and if they became learned, it was only by studying what they themselves had produced."
During fourteen centuries, whatever lay out of the pale of classical learning was condemned as barbarism; in the meanwhile, however, amidst this barbarism, another literature was insensibly creating itself in Europe. Every people, in the gradual accessions of their vernacular genius, discovered a new sort of knowledge, one which more deeply interested their feelings and the times, reflecting the image, not of the Greeks and the Latins, but of themselves! A spirit of inquiry, originating in events which had never reached the ancient world, and the same refined taste in the arts of composition caught from the models of antiquity, at length raised up rivals, who competed with the great ancients themselves; and modern literature now occupies a space which appears as immensity, compared with the narrow and the imperfect limits of the ancient. A complete collection of classical works, all the bees of antiquity, may be hived in a glass-case; but those we should find only the milk and honey of our youth; to obtain the substantial nourishment of European knowledge, a library of ten thousand volumes will not avail nor satisfy our inquiries, nor supply our researches even on a single topic!
Let not, however, the votaries of ancient literature dread its neglect, nor be over-jealous of their younger and Gothic sister. The existence of their favourite study is secured, as well by its own imperishable claims, as by the stationary institutions of Europe. But one of those silent revolutions in the intellectual history of mankind, which are not so obvious as those in their political state, seems now fully accomplished. The very term "classical," so long limited to the ancient authors, is now equally applicable to the most elegant writers of every literary people; and although Latin and Greek were long characterised as "the learned languages," yet we cannot in truth any longer concede that those are the most learned who are "inter Graecos Graecissimi, inter Latinos Latinissimi," any more than we can reject from the class of "the learned," those great writers, whose scholarship in the ancient classics may he very indifferent. The modern languages now have also become learned ones, when he who writes in them is imbued with their respective learning. He is a "learned" writer who has embraced most knowledge on the particular subject of his investigation, as he is a "classical" one who composes with the greatest elegance. Sir David Dalrymple dedicates his "Memorials relating to the History of Britain" to the Earl of Hardwicke, whom he styles, with equal happiness and propriety, "Learned in British History." "Scholarship" has hitherto been a term reserved for the adept in ancient literature, whatever may be the mediocrity of his intellect; but the honourable distinction must be extended to all great writers in modern literature, if we would not confound the natural sense and propriety of things.
Modern literature may, perhaps, still be discriminated from the ancient, by a term it began to be called by at the Reformation, that of "the New Learning." Without supplanting the ancient, the modern must grow up with it; the farther we advance in society, it will more deeply occupy our interests; and it has already proved what Bacon, casting his philosophical views retrospectively and prospectively, has observed, "that Time is the greatest of innovators."
When Bayle projected his "Critical Dictionary," he probably had no idea that he was about effecting a revolution in our libraries, and founding a new province in the dominion of human knowledge; creative genius often is itself the creature of its own age: it is but that reaction of public opinion, which is generally the forerunner of some critical change, or which calls forth some want which sooner or later will be supplied. The predisposition for the various but neglected literature, and the curious but the scattered knowledge of the moderns, which had long been increasing, with the speculative turn of inquiry, prevailed in Europe when Bayle took his pen to give the thing itself a name and an existence. But the great authors of modern Europe were not consecrated beings, like the ancients, and their volumes were not read from the chairs of universities; yet the new interests which had arisen in society, the new modes of human life, the new spread of knowledge, the curiosity after even the little things which concern us, the revelations of secret history, and the state-papers which have sometimes escaped from national archives, the philosophical spirit which was hastening its steps and raising up new systems of thinking; all alike required research and criticism, inquiry and discussion. Bayle had first studied his own age before he gave the public his great work.
"If Bayle," says Gibbon, "wrote his Dictionary to empty the various collections he had made, without any particular design, he could not have chosen a better plan. It permitted him everything, and obliged him to nothing. By the double freedom of a dictionary and of notes, he could pitch on what articles he pleased, and say what he pleased in those articles."
"Jacta est alea!" exclaimed Bayle, on the publication of his Dictionary, as yet dubious of the extraordinary enterprise; perhaps, while going on with the work, he knew not at times whither he was directing his course; but we must think that in his own mind he counted on something which might have been difficult even for Bayle himself to have developed. The author of the "Critical Dictionary" had produced a voluminous labour, which, to all appearance, could only rank him among compilers and reviewers, for his work is formed of such materials as they might use. He had never studied any science; he confessed that he could never demonstrate the first problem in Euclid, and to his last day ridiculed that sort of evidence called mathematical demonstration. He had but little taste for classical learning, for he quotes the Latin writers curiously, not elegantly; and there is reason to suspect that he had entirely neglected the Greek. Even the erudition of antiquity usually reached him by the ready medium of some German commentator. His multifarious reading was chiefly confined to the writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With such deficiencies in his literary character, Bayle could not reasonably expect to obtain pre-eminence in any single pursuit. Hitherto his writings had not extricated him from the secondary ranks of literature, where he found a rival at every step; and without his great work, the name of Bayle at this moment had been buried among his controversialists, the rabid Jurieu, the cloudy Jacquelot, and the envious Le Clerc; to these, indeed, he sacrificed too many of his valuable days, and was still answering them at the hour of his death. Such was the cloudy horizon of that bright fame which was to rise over Europe! Bayle, intent on escaping from all beaten tracks, while the very materials he used promised no novelty, for all his knowledge was drawn from old books, opened an eccentric route, where at least he could encounter no parallel; Bayle felt that if he could not stand alone, he would only have been an equal by the side of another. Experience had more than once taught this mortifying lesson; but he was blest with the genius which could stamp an inimitable originality on a folio.
This originality seems to have been obtained in this manner. The exhausted topics of classical literature he resigned as a province not adapted to an ambitious genius; sciences he rarely touched on, and hardly ever without betraying superficial knowledge, and involving himself in absurdity: but in the history of men, in penetrating the motives of their conduct, in clearing up obscure circumstances, in detecting the strong and the weak parts of him whom he was trying, and in the cross-examination of the numerous witnesses he summoned, he assumed at once the judge and the advocate! Books are for him pictures of men's inventions, and the histories of their thoughts; any book, whatever be its quality, must be considered as an experiment of the human mind.
In controversies, in which he was so ambidextrous—in the progress of the human mind, in which he was so philosophical—furnished, too, by his hoarding curiosity with an immense accumulation, of details,—skilful in the art of detecting falsehoods amidst truths, and weighing probability against uncertainty—holding together the chain of argument from its first principles to its remotest consequence—Bayle stands among those masters of the human intellect who taught us to think, and also to unthink! All, indeed, is a collection of researches and of reasonings: he had the art of melting down his curious quotations with his own subtile ideas. He collects everything; if truths, they enter into his history; if fictions, into discussions; he places the secret by the side of the public story; opinion is balanced against opinion: if his arguments grow tedious, a lucky anecdote or an enlivening tale relieves the folio page; and knowing the infirmity of our nature, he picks up trivial things to amuse us, while he is grasping the most abstract and ponderous. Human nature in her shifting scenery, and the human mind in its eccentric directions, open on his view; so that an unknown person, or a worthless book, are equally objects for his speculation with the most eminent—they alike curiously instruct. Such were the materials, and such the genius of the man, whose folios, which seem destined for the retired few, lie open on our parlour tables. The men of genius of his age studied them for instruction, the men of the world for their amusement. Amidst the mass of facts which he has collected, and the enlarged views of human nature which his philosophical spirit has combined with his researches, Bayle may be called the Shakspeare of dictionary makers; a sort of chimerical being, whose existence was not imagined to be possible before the time of Bayle.
But his errors are voluminous as his genius! and what do apologies avail? Apologies only account for the evil which they cannot alter!
Bayle is reproached for carrying his speculations too far into the wilds of scepticism—he wrote in distempered times; he was witnessing the dragonades and the revocations of the Romish church; and he lived amidst the Reformed, or the French prophets, as we called them when they came over to us, and in whom Sir Isaac Newton more than half believed. These testify that they had heard angels singing in the air, while our philosopher was convinced that he was living among men for whom no angel would sing! Bayle had left persecutors to fly to fanatics, both equally appealing to the Gospel, but alike untouched by its blessedness! His impurities were a taste inherited from his favourite old writers, whose naivete seemed to sport with the grossness which it touched, and neither in France nor at home had the age then attained to our moral delicacy: Bayle himself was a man without passions! His trivial matters were an author's compliance with his bookseller's taste, which is always that of the public. His scepticism is said to have thrown everything into disorder. Is it a more positive evil to doubt than to dogmatise? Even Aristotle often pauses with a qualified perhaps, and the egotist Cicero with a modest it seems to me. Bayle's scepticism has been useful in history, and has often shown how facts universally believed are doubtful, and sometimes must be false. Bayle, it is said, is perpetually contradicting himself; but a sceptic must doubt his doubts; he places the antidote close to the poison, and lays the sheath by the sword. Bayle has himself described one of those self-tormenting and many-headed sceptics by a very noble figure, "He was a hydra who was perpetually tearing himself."
The time has now come when Bayle may instruct without danger. We have passed the ordeals he had to go through; we must now consider him as the historian of our thoughts as well as of our actions; he dispenses the literary stores of the moderns, in that vast repository of their wisdom and their follies, which, by its originality of design, has made him an author common to all Europe. Nowhere shall we find a rival for Bayle! and hardly even an imitator! He compared himself, for his power of raising up, or dispelling objections and doubts, to "the cloud-compelling Jove." The great Leibnitz, who was himself a lover of his varia eruditio, applied a line of Virgil to Bayle, characterising his luminous and elevated genius:—
Sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis. Beneath his feet he views the clouds and stars!
CHARACTERISTICS OF BAYLE.
To know Bayle as a man, we must not study him in the folio Life of Des Maizeaux, whose laborious pencil, without colour and without expression, loses, in its indistinctness, the individualising strokes of the portrait. Look for Bayle in his "Letters," those true chronicles of a literary man, when they record his own pursuits.
The personal character of Bayle was unblemished even by calumny; his executor, Basnage, never could mention him without tears! With simplicity which approached to an infantine nature, but with the fortitude of a stoic, our literary philosopher, from his earliest days, dedicated himself to literature; the great sacrifice consisted of those two main objects of human pursuits, fortune and a family. Many an ascetic, who has headed an order, has not so religiously abstained from all worldly interests; yet let us not imagine that there was a sullenness in his stoicism,—an icy misanthropy, which shuts up the heart from its ebb and flow. His domestic affections through life were fervid. When his mother desired to receive his portrait, he opened for her a picture of his heart! Early in life the mind of Bayle was strengthening itself by a philosophical resignation to all human events!
"I am indeed of a disposition neither to fear bad fortune nor to have very ardent desires for good. Yet I lose this steadiness and indifference when I reflect that your love to me makes you feel for everything that happens to me. It is therefore from the consideration that my misfortunes would be a torment to you, that I wish to be happy; and when I think that my happiness would be all your joy, I should lament that my bad fortune should continue to persecute me; though, as to my own particular interest, I dare promise to myself that I shall never be very much affected by it."
An instance occurred of those social affections in which a stoic is sometimes supposed to be deficient, which might have afforded a beautiful illustration to one of our most elegant poets. The remembrance of the happy moments which Bayle spent when young on the borders of the river Auriege, a short distance from his native town of Carlat, where he had been sent to recover from a fever occasioned by an excessive indulgence in reading, induced him many years afterwards to devote an article to it in his "Critical Dictionary," for the sake of quoting the poet who had celebrated this obscure river. It was a "Pleasure of Memory!" a tender association of domestic feeling!
The first step which Bayle took in life is remarkable. He changed his religion and became a catholic. A year afterwards he returned to the creed of his fathers. Posterity might not have known the story, had it not been recorded in his Diary. The circumstance is thus curiously stated:—
Years of the Years Christian of my AEra age.
1669. Tues., Mar. 19. 22. I changed my religion—next day I resumed the study of logic. 1670. Aug. 20. 23. I returned to the reformed religion, and made a private abjuration of the Romish religion, in the hands of four ministers.
His brother was one of these ministers; while a catholic, Bayle had attempted to convert him, by a letter long enough to evince his sincerity; but without his subscription we should not have ascribed it to Bayle.
For this vacillation in his religion has Bayle endured bitter censure. Gibbon, who himself changed his about the same "year of his age," and for as short a period, sarcastically observes of the first entry, that "Bayle should have finished his logic before he changed his religion." It may be retorted, that when he had learnt to reason, he renounced Catholicism. The true fact is, that when Bayle had only studied a few months at college, some books of controversial divinity by the catholics offered many a specious argument against the reformed doctrines. A young student was easily entangled in the nets of the Jesuits. But their passive obedience, and their transubstantiation, and other stuff woven in their looms, soon enabled such a man as Bayle to recover his senses. The promises and the caresses of the wily Jesuits were rejected; and the gush of tears of the brothers, on his return to the religion of his fathers, is one of the most pathetic incidents of domestic life.
Bayle was willing to become an expatriated man; to study, from the love of study, in poverty and honour! It happens sometimes that great men are criminated for their noblest deeds by both parties.
When his great work appeared, the adversaries of Bayle reproached him with haste, while the author expressed his astonishment at his slowness. At first, "The Critical Dictionary," consisting only of two folios, was finished in little more than four years; but in the life of Bayle this was equivalent to a treble amount with men of ordinary application. Bayle even calculated the time of his headaches: "My megrims would have left me had it been in my power to have lived without study; by them I lose many days in every month." The fact is, that Bayle had entirely given up every sort of recreation except that delicious inebriation of his faculties, as we may term it for those who know what it is, which he drew from his books. We have his avowal: "Public amusements, games, country jaunts, morning visits, and other recreations necessary to many students, as they tell us, were none of my business. I wasted no time on them, nor in any domestic cares,—never soliciting for preferment, nor busied in any other way. I have been happily delivered from many occupations which were not suitable to my humour; and I have enjoyed the greatest and the most charming leisure that a man of letters could desire. By such means an author makes a great progress in a few years."
Bayle, at Rotterdam, was appointed to a professorship of philosophy and history; the salary was a competence to his frugal life, and enabled him to publish his celebrated Review, which he dedicates "to the glory of the city," for illa nobis haec otia fecit.
After this grateful acknowledgment, he was unexpectedly deprived of the professorship. The secret history is curious. After a tedious war, some one amused the world by a chimerical "Project of Peace," which was much against the wishes and the designs of our William the Third. Jurieu, the head of the Reformed party in Holland, a man of heated fancies, persuaded William's party that this book was a part of a secret cabal in Europe, raised by Louis the Fourteenth against William the Third; and accused Bayle as the author and promoter of this political confederacy. The magistrates, who were the creatures of William, dismissed Bayle without alleging any reason. To an ordinary philosopher it would have seemed hard to lose his salary because his antagonist was one
Whose sword is sharper than his pen.
Bayle only rejoiced at this emancipation, and quietly returned to his Dictionary. His feelings on this occasion he has himself perpetuated.
"The sweetness and repose I find in the studies in which I have engaged myself, and which are my delight, will induce me to remain in this city, if I am allowed to continue in it, at least till the printing of my Dictionary is finished; for my presence is absolutely necessary in the place where it is printed. I am no lover of money, nor of honours, and would not accept of any invitation should it be made to me; nor am I fond of the disputes, and cabals, and professorial snarlings which reign in all our academies: Canam mihi et Musis." He was indeed so charmed by quiet and independence, that he was continually refusing the most magnificent offers of patronage, from Count Guiscard, the French ambassador; but particularly from our English nobility. The Earls of Shaftesbury, of Albemarle, and of Huntingdon tried every solicitation to win him over to reside with them as their friend; and too nice a sense of honour induced Bayle to refuse the Duke of Shrewsbury's gift of two hundred guineas for the dedication of his Dictionary. "I have so often ridiculed dedications that I must not risk any," was the reply of our philosopher.
The only complaint which escaped from Bayle was the want of books; an evil particularly felt during his writing the "Critical Dictionary;" a work which should have been composed not distant from the shelves of a public library. Men of classical attainments, who are studying about twenty authors, and chiefly for their style, can form no conception of the state of famine to which an "helluo librorum" is too often reduced in the new sort of study which Bayle founded. Taste when once obtained may be said to be no acquiring faculty, and must remain stationary; but knowledge is of perpetual growth, and has infinite demands. Taste, like an artificial canal, winds through a beautiful country; but its borders are confined, and its term is limited. Knowledge navigates the ocean, and is perpetually on voyages of discovery. Bayle often grieves over the scarcity, or the want of books, by which he was compelled to leave many things uncertain, or to take them at second-hand; but he lived to discover that trusting to the reports of others was too often suffering the blind to lead the blind. It was this circumstance which induced Bayle to declare, that some works cannot be written in the country, and that the metropolis only can supply the wants of the literary man. Plutarch has made a similar confession; and the elder Pliny, who had not so many volumes to turn over as a modern, was sensible to the want of books, for he acknowledges that there was no book so bad by which we might not profit.
Bayle's peculiar vein of research and skill in discussion first appeared in his "Pensees sur la Comete." In December, 1680, a comet had appeared, and the public yet trembled at a portentous meteor, which they still imagined was connected with some forthcoming and terrible event! Persons as curious as they were terrified teased Bayle by their inquiries, but resisted all his arguments. They found many things more than arguments in his amusing volumes: "I am not one of the authors by profession," says Bayle, in giving an account of the method he meant to pursue, "who follow a series of views; who first project their subject, then divide it into books and chapters, and who only choose to work on the ideas they have planned. I for my part give up all claims to authorship, and shall chain myself to no such servitude. I cannot meditate with much regularity on one subject; I am too fond of change. I often wander from the subject, and jump into places of which it might be difficult to guess the way out; so that I shall make a learned doctor who looks for method quite impatient with me." The work is indeed full of curiosities and anecdotes, with many critical ones concerning history. At first it found an easy entrance into France, as a simple account of comets; but when it was discovered that Bayle's comet had a number of fiery tales concerning the French and the Austrians, it soon became as terrific as the comet itself, and was prohibited!
Bayle's "Critique generale de l'Histoire du Calvinisme par le Pere Maimbourg," had more pleasantry than bitterness, except to the palate of the vindictive Father, who was of too hot a constitution to relish the delicacy of our author's wit. Maimbourg stirred up all the intrigues he could rouse to get the Critique burnt by the hangman at Paris. The lieutenant of the police, De la Reynie, who was among the many who did not dislike to see the Father corrected by Bayle, delayed this execution from time to time, till there came a final order. This lieutenant of the police was a shrewd fellow, and wishing to put an odium on the bigoted Maimbourg, allowed the irascible Father to write the proclamation himself with all the violence of an enraged author. It is a curious specimen of one who evidently wished to burn his brother with his book. In this curious proclamation, which has been preserved as a literary curiosity, Bayle's "Critique" is declared to be defamatory and calumnious, abounding with seditious forgeries, pernicious to all good subjects, and therefore is condemned to be torn to pieces, and burnt at the Place de Greve. All printers and booksellers are forbidden to print, or to sell, or disperse the said abominable book, under pain of death; and all other persons, of what quality or condition soever, are to undergo the penalty of exemplary punishment. De la Reynie must have smiled on submissively receiving this effusion from our enraged author; and to punish Maimbourg in the only way he could contrive, and to do at the same time the greatest kindness to Bayle, whom he admired, he dispersed three thousand copies of this proclamation to be posted up through Paris; the alarm and the curiosity were simultaneous; but the latter prevailed. Every book collector hastened to procure a copy so terrifically denounced, and at the same time so amusing. The author of the "Livres condamnes au Feu" might have inserted this anecdote in his collection. It may be worth adding, that Maimbourg always affected to say that he had never read Bayle's work, but he afterwards confessed to Menage, that he could not help valuing a book of such curiosity. Jurieu was so jealous of its success, that Beauval attributes his personal hatred of Bayle to our young philosopher overshadowing that veteran.
The taste for literary history we owe to Bayle; and the great interest he communicated to these researches spread in the national tastes of Europe. France has been always the richest in these stores, but our acquisitions have been rapid; and Johnson, who delighted in them, elevated their means and their end, by the ethical philosophy and the spirit of criticism which he awoke. With Bayle, indeed, his minor works were the seed-plots; but his great Dictionary opened the forest.
It is curious, however, to detect the difficulties of early attempts, and the indifferent success which sometimes attends them in their first state. Bayle, to lighten the fatigue of correcting the second edition of his Dictionary, wrote the first volume of "Reponses aux Questions d'un Provincial," a supposititious correspondence with a country gentleman. It was a work of mere literary curiosity, and of a better description of miscellaneous writing than that of the prevalent fashion of giving thoughts and maxims, and fanciful characters, and idle stories, which had satiated the public taste: however, the book was not well received. He attributes the public caprice to his prodigality of literary anecdotes, and other minutiae literariae, and his frequent quotations! but he defends himself with skill: "It is against the nature of things to pretend that in a work to prove and clear up facts, an author should only make use of his own thoughts, or that he ought to quote very seldom. Those who say that the work does not sufficiently interest the public, are doubtless in the right; but an author cannot interest the public except he discusses moral or political subjects. All others with which men of letters fill their books are useless to the public; and we ought to consider them as only a kind of frothy nourishment in themselves; but which, however, gratify the curiosity of many readers, according to the diversity of their tastes. What is there, for example, less interesting to the public than the Bibliotheque Choisie of Colomies (a small bibliographical work); yet is that work looked on as excellent in its kind. I could mention other works which are read, though containing nothing which interests the public." Two years after, when he resumed these letters, he changed his plan; he became more argumentative, and more sparing of literary and historical articles. We have now certainly obtained more decided notions of the nature of this species of composition, and treat such investigations with more skill; still they are "caviare to the general." An accumulation of dry facts, without any exertion of taste or discussion, forms but the barren and obscure diligence of title-hunters. All things which come to the reader without having first passed through the mind, as well as the pen of the writer, will be still open to the fatal objection of insane industry raging with a depraved appetite for trash and cinders; and this is the line of demarcation which will for ever separate a Bayle from a Prosper Marchand, and a Warton from a Ritson; the one must be satisfied to be useful, but the other will not fail to delight. Yet something must be alleged in favour of those who may sometimes indulge researches too minutely; perhaps there is a point beyond which nothing remains but useless curiosity; yet this too may be relative. The pleasure of these pursuits is only tasted by those who are accustomed to them, and whose employments are thus converted into amusements. A man of fine genius, Addison relates, trained up in all the polite studies of antiquity, upon being obliged to search into several rolls and records, at first found this a very dry and irksome employment; yet he assured me, that at last he took an incredible pleasure in it, and preferred it even to the reading of Virgil and Cicero.
As for our Bayle, he exhibits a perfect model of the real literary character. He, with the secret alchymy of human happiness, extracted his tranquillity out of the baser metals, at the cost of his ambition and his fortune. Throughout a voluminous work, he experienced the enjoyment of perpetual acquisition and delight; he obtained glory, and he endured persecution. He died as he had lived, in the same uninterrupted habits of composition; for with his dying hand, and nearly speechless, he sent a fresh proof to the printer!
CICERO VIEWED AS A COLLECTOR.
Fuseli, in the introduction to the second part of his Lectures, has touched on the character of Cicero, respecting his knowledge and feeling of Art, in a manner which excites our curiosity. "Though Cicero seems to have had as little native taste for painting and sculpture, and even less than he had taste for poetry, he had a conception of Nature, and with his usual acumen frequently scattered useful hints and pertinent observations. For many of these he might probably be indebted to Hortensius, with whom, though his rival in eloquence, he lived on terms of familiarity, and who was a man of declared taste, and one of the first collectors of the time." We may trace the progress of Cicero's taste for the works of art. It was probably a late, though an ardent pursuit; and their actual enjoyment seems with this celebrated man rather to have been connected with some future plan of life.
Cicero, when about forty-three years of age, seems to have projected the formation of a library and a collection of antiquities, with the remote intention of secession, and one day stealing away from the noisy honours of the republic. Although that great man remained too long a victim to his political ambition, yet at all times his natural dispositions would break out, and amidst his public avocations he often anticipated a time when life would be unvalued without uninterrupted repose; but repose, destitute of the ample furniture, and even of the luxuries of a mind occupying itself in literature and art, would only for him have opened the repose of a desert! It was rather his provident wisdom than their actual enjoyment, which induced him, at a busied period of his life, to accumulate from all parts books, and statues, and curiosities without number; in a word, to become, according to the term, too often misapplied and misconceived among us, for it is not always understood in an honourable sense, a COLLECTOR!
Like other late collectors, Cicero often appears ardent to possess what he was not able to command; sometimes he entreats, or circuitously negotiates, or is planning the future means to secure the acquisitions which he thirsted after. He is repeatedly soliciting his literary friend Atticus to keep his books for him, and not to dispose of his collections on any terms, however earnestly the bidders may crowd; and, to keep his patience in good hope (for Atticus imagined his collection would exceed the price which Cicero could afford), he desires Atticus not to despair of his being able to make them his, for that he was saving all his rents to purchase these books for the relief of his old age.
This projected library and collection of antiquities it was the intention of Cicero to have placed in his favourite villa in the neighbourhood of Rome, whose name, consecrated by time, now proverbially describes the retirement of a man of elegant taste. To adorn his villa at Tusculum formed the day-dreams of this man of genius; and his passion broke out in all the enthusiasm and impatience which so frequently characterise the modern collector. Not only Atticus, on whose fine taste he could depend, but every one likely to increase his acquisitions was Cicero persecuting with entreaties on entreaties, with the seduction of large prices, and with the expectation, that if the orator and consul would submit to accept any bribe, it would hardly be refused in the shape of a manuscript or a statue. "In the name of our friendship," says Cicero, addressing Atticus, "suffer nothing to escape you of whatever you find curious or rare." When Atticus informed him that he should send him a fine statue, in which the heads of Mercury and Minerva were united together, Cicero, with the enthusiasm of a maniacal lover of the present day, finds every object which is uncommon the very thing for which he has a proper place. "Your discovery is admirable, and the statue you mention seems to have been made purposely for my cabinet." Then follows an explanation of the mystery of this allegorical statue, which expressed the happy union of exercise and study. "Continue," he adds, "to collect for me as you have promised, in as great a quantity as possible, morsels of this kind." Cicero, like other collectors, may be suspected not to have been very difficult in his choice, and for him the curious was not less valued than the beautiful. The mind and temper of Cicero were of a robust and philosophical cast, not too subject to the tortures of those whose morbid imagination and delicacy of taste touch on infirmity. It is, however, amusing to observe this great man, actuated by all the fervour and joy of collecting. "I have paid your agent, as you ordered, for the Megaric statues; send me as many of them as you can, and as soon as possible, with any others which you think proper for the place, and to my taste, and good enough to please yours. You cannot imagine how greatly my passion increases for this sort of things; it is such that it may appear ridiculous in the eyes of many; but you are my friend, and will only think of satisfying my wishes." Again—"Purchase for me, without thinking farther, all that you discover of rarity. My friend, do not spare my purse." And, indeed, in another place he loves Atticus both for his promptitude and cheap purchases: Te multum amamus, quod ea abs te diligenter, parvoque curata sunt.
Our collectors may not be displeased to discover at their head so venerable a personage as Cicero; nor to sanction their own feverish thirst and panting impatience with all the raptures on the day of possession, and the "saving of rents" to afford commanding prices—by the authority of the greatest philosopher of antiquity.
A fact is noticed in this article which requires elucidation. In the life of a true collector, the selling of his books is a singular incident. The truth is, that the elegant friend of Cicero, residing in the literary city of Athens, appears to have enjoyed but a moderate income, and may be said to have traded not only in books, but in gladiators, whom he let out, and also charged interest for the use of his money; circumstances which Cornelius Nepos, who gives an account of his landed property, has omitted, as, perhaps, not well adapted to heighten the interesting picture which he gives of Atticus, but which the Abbe Mongault has detected in his curious notes on Cicero's letters to Atticus. It is certain that he employed his slaves, who, "to the foot-boy," as Middleton expresses himself, were all literary and skilful scribes, in copying the works of the best authors for his own use: but the duplicates were sold, to the common profit of the master and the slave. The state of literature among the ancients may be paralleled with that of the age of our first restorers of learning, when printing was not yet established; then Boccaccio and Petrarch, and such men, were collectors, and zealously occupied in the manual labour of transcription; immeasurable was the delight of that avariciousness of manuscript, by which, in a certain given time, the possessor, with an unwearied pen, could enrich himself by his copy: and this copy an estate would not always purchase! Besides that a manuscript selected by Atticus, or copied by the hand of Boccaccio and Petrarch, must have risen in value, associating it with the known taste and judgment of the COLLECTOR.
THE HISTORY OF THE CARACCI.
The congenial histories of literature and of art are accompanied by the same periodical revolutions; and none is more interesting than that one which occurs in the decline and corruption of arts, when a single mind returning to right principles, amidst the degenerated race who had forsaken them, seems to create a new epoch, and teaches a servile race once more how to invent! These epochs are few, but are easily distinguished. The human mind is never stationary; it advances or it retrogrades: having reached its meridian point, when the hour of perfection has gone by, it must verge to its decline. In all Art, perfection lapses into that weakened state too often dignified as classical imitation; but it sinks into mannerism, and wantons into affectation, till it shoots out into fantastic novelties. When all languishes in a state of mediocrity, or is deformed by false tastes, then is reserved for a fortunate genius the glory of restoring another golden age of invention. The history of the Caracci family serves as an admirable illustration of such an epoch, while the personal characters of the three Caracci throw an additional interest over this curious incident in the history of the works of genius.
The establishment of the famous accademia, or school of painting, at Bologna, which restored the art in the last stage of degeneracy, originated in the profound meditations of Lodovico. There was a happy boldness in the idea; but its great singularity was that of discovering those men of genius, who alone could realise his ideal conception, amidst his own family circle; and yet these were men whose opposite dispositions and acquirements could hardly have given any hope of mutual assistance; and much, less of melting together their minds and their work in such an unity of conception and execution, that even to our days they leave the critics undetermined which of the Caracci to prefer; each excelling the other in some pictorial quality. Often combining together in the same picture, the mingled labour of three painters seemed to proceed from one palette, as their works exhibit which adorn the churches of Bologna. They still dispute about a picture, to ascertain which of the Caracci painted it; and still one prefers Lodovico for his grandiosita, another Agostino for his invention, and another Annibale for his vigour or his grace.
What has been told of others, happened to Lodovico Caracci in his youth; he struggled with a mind tardy in its conceptions, so that he gave no indications of talent; and was apparently so inept as to have been advised by two masters to be satisfied to grind the colours he ought not otherwise to meddle with. Tintoretto, from friendship, exhorted him to change his trade. "This sluggishness of intellect did not proceed," observes the sagacious Lanzi, "from any deficiency, but from the depth of his penetrating mind: early in life he dreaded the ideal as a rock on which so many of his contemporaries had been shipwrecked." His hand was not blest with precocious facility, because his mind was unsettled about truth itself; he was still seeking for nature, which he could not discover in those wretched mannerists, who, boasting of their freedom and expedition in their bewildering tastes, which they called the ideal, relied on the diplomas and honours obtained by intrigue or purchase, which sanctioned their follies in the eyes of the multitude. "Lodovico," says Lanzi, "would first satisfy his own mind on every line; he would not paint till painting well became a habit, and till habit produced facility."
Lodovico then sought in other cities for what he could not find at Bologna. Ho travelled to inspect the works of the elder masters; he meditated on all their details; he penetrated to the very thoughts of the great artists, and grew intimate with their modes of conception and execution. The true principles of art were collected together in his own mind,—the rich fruits of his own studies,—and these first prompted him to invent a new school of painting.
Returning to Bologna, he found his degraded brothers in art still quarrelling about the merits of the old and the new school, and still exulting in their vague conceptions and expeditious methods. Lodovico, who had observed all, had summed up his principle in one grand maxim,—that of combining a close observation of nature with the imitation of the great masters, modifying both, however, by the disposition of the artist himself. Such was the simple idea and the happy project of Lodovico! Every perfection seemed to have been obtained: the Raffaeleschi excelled in the ideal; the Michelagnuoleschi in the anatomical; the Venetian and the Lombard schools in brilliant vivacity or philosophic gravity. All seemed preoccupied; but the secret of breaking the bonds of servile imitation was a new art: of mingling into one school the charms of every school, adapting them with freedom; and having been taught by all, to remain a model for all; or, as Lanzi expresses it, dopo avere appresso da tutte insegno a tutte. To restore Art in its decline, Lodovico pressed all the sweets from all the flowers; or, melting together all his rich materials, formed one Corinthian brass. This school is described by Du Fresnoy in the character of Annibale,
—— Quos sedulus Hannibal omnes In PROPRIAM MENTEM atque morem mira arte COEGIT.
Paraphrased by Mason,
From all their charms combined, with happy toil, Did Annibal compose his wondrous style; O'er the fair fraud so close a veil is thrown, That every borrow'd grace becomes his own.
Lodovico perceived that he could not stand alone in the breach, and single-handed encounter an impetuous multitude. He thought of raising up a party among those youthful aspirants who had not yet been habitually depraved. He had a brother whose talent could never rise beyond a poor copyist's, and him he had the judgment, unswayed by undue partiality, to account as a cipher; but he found two of his cousins men capable of becoming as extraordinary as himself.
These brothers, Agostiuo and Annibale, first by nature, and then by their manners and habits, were of the most opposite dispositions. Born amidst humble occupations, their father was a tailor, and Annibale was still working on the paternal board, while Agostino was occupied by the elegant works of the goldsmith, whence he acquired the fine art of engraving, in which he became the Marc Antonio of his time. Their manners, perhaps, resulted from their trades. Agostino was a man of science and literature: a philosopher and poet of the most polished elegance, the most enchanting conversation, far removed from the vulgar, he became the companion of the learned and the noble. Annibale could scarcely write and read; an inborn ruggedness made him sullen, taciturn, or, if he spoke, sarcastic; scorn and ridicule were his bitter delight. Nature had strangely made these brothers little less than enemies. Annibale despised his brother for having entered into the higher circles; he ridiculed his refined manners, and even the neat elegance of his dress. To mortify Agostino, one day he sent him a portrait of their father threading a needle, and their mother cutting out the cloth, to remind him, as he once whispered in Agostino's ear, when he met him walking with a nobleman, "not to forget that they were sons of a poor tailor!" The same contrast existed in the habits of their mind. Agostino was slow to resolve, difficult to satisfy himself; he was for polishing and maturing everything: Annibale was too rapid to suffer any delay, and, often evading the difficulties of the art, loved to do much in a short time. Lodovico soon perceived their equal and natural aptitude for art; and placing Agostino under a master who was celebrated for his facility of execution, he fixed Annibale in his own study, where his cousin might be taught by observation the Festina lente; how the best works are formed by a leisurely haste. Lodovico seems to have adopted the artifice of Isocrates in his management of two pupils, of whom he said that the one was to be pricked on by the spur, and the other kept in by the rein.
But a new difficulty arose in the attempt to combine together such incongruous natures; the thoughtful Lodovico, intent on the great project of the reformation of the art, by his prudence long balanced their unequal tempers, and with that penetration which so strongly characterises his genius, directed their distinct talents to his one great purpose. From the literary Agostino he obtained the philosophy of critical lectures and scientific principles; invention and designing solely occupied Annibale; while the softness of contours, lightness and grace, were his own acquisition. But though Annibale presumptuously contemned the rare and elevated talents of Agostino, and scarcely submitted to copy the works of Lodovico, whom he preferred to rival, yet, according to a traditional rumour which Lanzi records, it was Annibale's decision of character which enabled him, as it were unperceived, to become the master over his cousin and his brother; Lodovico and Agostino long hesitated to oppose the predominant style, in their first Essays; Annibale hardly decided to persevere in opening their new career by opposing "works to voices;" and to the enervate labours of their wretched rivals, their own works, warm in vigour and freshness, conducted on the principles of nature and art.
The Caracci not only resolved to paint justly, but to preserve the art itself, by perpetuating the perfect taste of the true style among their successors. In their own house they opened an Accademia, calling it degli Incaminati, "the opening a new way," or "the beginners." The academy was furnished with casts, drawings, prints, a school for anatomy, and for the living figure; receiving all comers with kindness; teaching gratuitously, and, as it is said, without jealousy; but too many facts are recorded to allow us to credit the banishment of this infectious passion from the academy of the Caracci, who, like other congregated artists, could not live together and escape their own endemial fever.
It was here, however, that Agostino found his eminence as the director of their studies; delivering lectures on architecture and perspective, and pointing out from his stores of history and fable subjects for the designs of their pupils, who, on certain days exhibited their works to the most skilful judges, adjusting the merits by their decisions. "To the crowned sufficient is the prize of the glory," says Lanzi; and while the poets chanted their praises, the lyre of Agostino himself gratefully celebrated the progress of his pupils. A curious sonnet has been transmitted to us, where Agostino, like the ancient legislators, compresses his new laws into a few verses, easily to be remembered. The sonnet is now well known, since Fuseli and Barry have preserved it in their lectures. This singular production has, however, had the hard fate of being unjustly depreciated: Lanzi calls it pittoresco veramente piu che poetico; Fuseli sarcastically compares it to "a medical prescription." It delighted Barry, who calls it "a beautiful poem. Considered as a didactic and descriptive poem, no lover of art who has ever read it, will cease to repeat it till he has got it by heart. In this academy every one was free to indulge his own taste, provided he did not violate the essential principles of art; for though the critics have usually described the character of this new school to have been an imitation of the preceding ones, it was their first principle to be guided by nature, and their own disposition; and if their painter was deficient in originality, it was not the fault of this academy so much as of the academician. In difficult doubts they had recourse to Lodovico, whom Lanzi describes in his school like Homer among the Greeks, fons ingeniorum, profound in every part of painting. Even the recreations of the pupils were contrived to keep their mind and hand in exercise; in their walks sketching landscapes from nature, or amusing themselves with what the Italians call Caricatura, a term of large signification; for it includes many sorts of grotesque inventions, whimsical incongruities, such as those arabesques found at Herculaneum, where Anchises, AEneas, and Ascanius are burlesqued by heads of apes and pigs, or Arion, with a grotesque motion, is straddling a great trout; or like that ludicrous parody which came from the hand of Titian in a playful hour, when he sketched the Laocoon whose three figures consist of apes. Annibale had a peculiar facility in these incongruous inventions, and even the severe Leonardo da Vinci considered them as useful exercises.
Such was the academy founded by the Caracci; and Lodovico lived to realise his project in the reformation of art, and witnessed the school of Bologna flourishing afresh when all the others had fallen. The great masters of this last epoch of Italian painting were their pupils. Such were Domenichino, who, according to the expression of Bellori, delinea gli animi, colorisce la vita; he drew the soul and coloured life; Albano, whose grace distinguishes him as the Anacreon of painting; Guido, whose touch was all beauty and delicacy, and, as Passeri delightfully expresses it, "whose faces came from Paradise;" a scholar of whom his masters became jealous, while Annibale, to depress Guido, patronised Domenichino, and even the wise Lodovico could not dissimulate the fear of a new competitor in a pupil, and to mortify Guido preferred Guercino, who trod in another path. Lanfranco closes this glorious list, whose freedom and grandeur for their full display required the ample field of some vast history.
The secret history of this Academia forms an illustration for that chapter on "Literary Jealousy" which I have written in "The Literary Character." We have seen even the gentle Lodovico infected by it; but it raged in the breast of Annibale. Careless of fortune as they were through life, and free from the bonds of matrimony, that they might wholly devote themselves to all the enthusiasm of their art, they lived together in the perpetual intercourse of their thoughts; and even at their meals laid on their table their crayons and their papers, so that any motion or gesture which occurred, as worthy of picturing, was instantly sketched. Annibale catching something of the critical taste of Agostino, learnt to work more slowly, and to finish with more perfection, while his inventions were enriched by the elevated thoughts and erudition of Agostino. Yet a circumstance which happened in the academy betrays the mordacity and envy of Annibalo at the superior accomplishments of his more learned brother. While Agostino was describing with great eloquence the beauties of the Laocoon, Annibale approached the wall, and snatching up the crayons, drew the marvellous figure with such perfection, that the spectators gazed on it in astonishment. Alluding to his brother's lecture, the proud artist disdainfully observed, "Poets paint with words, but painters only with their pencils."
The brothers could neither live together nor endure absence. Many years their life was one continued struggle and mortification; and Agostino often sacrificed his genius to pacify the jealousy of Annibale, by relinquishing his palette to resume those exquisite engravings, in which he corrected the faulty outlines of the masters whom he copied, so that his engravings are more perfect than their originals. To this unhappy circumstance, observes Lanzi, we must attribute the loss of so many noble compositions which otherwise Agostino, equal in genius to the other Caracci, had left us. The jealousy of Annibale at length for ever tore them asunder. Lodovico happened not to be with them when they were engaged in painting together the Farnesian gallery at Rome. A rumour spread that in their present combined labour the engraver had excelled the painter. This Annibale could not forgive; he raved at the bite of the serpent: words could not mollify, nor kindness any longer appease, that perturbed spirit; neither the humiliating forbearance of Agostino, the counsels of the wise, nor the mediation of the great. They separated for ever! a separation in which they both languished, till Agostino, broken-hearted, sunk into an early grave, and Annibale, now brotherless, lost half his genius; his great invention no longer accompanied him—for Agostino was not by his side! After suffering many vexations, and preyed on by his evil temper, Annibale was deprived of his senses.
AN ENGLISH ACADEMY OF LITERATURE.
We have Royal Societies for philosophers, for antiquaries, and for artists—none for men of letters! The lovers of philological studies have regretted the want of an asylum since the days of Anne, when the establishment of an English Academy of Literature was designed; but political changes occurred which threw out a literary administration. France and Italy have gloried in great national academies, and even in provincial ones. With us, the curious history and the fate of the societies at Spalding, Stamford, and Peterborough, whom their zealous founder lived to see sink into country clubs, is that of most of our rural attempts at literary academies! The Manchester society has but an ambiguous existence; and that of Exeter expired in its birth. Yet that a great purpose may be obtained by an inconsiderable number, the history of "The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures," &c., may prove; for that originally consisted only of twelve persons, brought together with great difficulty, and neither distinguished for their ability nor their rank.
The opponents to the establishment of an academy in this country may urge, and find Bruyere on their side, that no corporate body generates a single man of genius. No Milton, no Hume, no Adam Smith, will spring out of an academical community, however they may partake of one common labour. Of the fame, too, shared among the many, the individual feels his portion too contracted, besides that he will often suffer by comparison. Literature, with us, exists independent of patronage or association. We have done well without an academy; our dictionary and our style have been polished by individuals, and not by a society.
The advocates for such a literary institution may reply, that in what has been advanced against it we may perhaps find more glory than profit. Had an academy been established in this country, we should have possessed all our present advantages, with the peculiar ones of such an institution. A series of volumes composed by the learned of England had rivalled the precious "Memoirs of the French Academy," probably more philosophical, and more congenial to our modes of thinking! The congregating spirit creates by its sympathy; an intercourse exists between its members which had not otherwise occurred; in this attrition of minds, the torpid awakens, the timid is emboldened, and the secluded is called forth; to contradict, and to be contradicted, is the privilege and the source of knowledge. Those original ideas, hints, and suggestions, which some literary men sometimes throw out once or twice during their whole lives, might here be preserved; and if endowed with sufficient funds, there are important labours, which surpass the means and industry of the individual, which would be more advantageously performed by such literary unions.
An academy of literature can only succeed by the same means in which originated all such academies—among individuals themselves. It will not be "by the favour of the MANY, but by the wisdom and energy of the FEW." It is not even in the power of royalty to create at a word what can only be formed by the co-operation of the workmen themselves, and of the great taskmaster, Time!
Such institutions have sprung from the same principle, and have followed the same march. It was from a private meeting that "The French Academy" derived its origin; and the true beginners of that celebrated institution assuredly had no foresight of the object to which their conferences tended. Several literary friends at Paris, finding the extent of the city occasioned much loss of time in their visits, agreed to meet on a fixed day every week, and chose Conrart's residence as centrical. They met for the purposes of general conversation, or to walk together, or, what was not least social, to partake in some refreshing collation. All being literary men, those who were authors submitted their new works to this friendly society, who, without jealousy or malice, freely communicated their strictures; the works were improved, the authors were delighted, and the critics were honest! Such was the happy life of the members of this private society during three or four years. Pelisson, the earliest historian of the French Academy, has delightfully described it: "It was such that, now when they speak of these first days of the Academy, they call it the golden age, during which, with all the innocence and freedom of that fortunate period, without pomp and noise, and without any other laws than those of friendship, they enjoyed together all which a society of minds, and a rational life, can yield of whatever softens and charms."
They were happy, and they resolved to be silent; nor was this bond and compact of friendship violated till one of them, Malleville, secretary of Marshal Bassompierre, being anxious that his friend Faret, who had just printed his L'Honnete Homme, which he had drawn from the famous "Il Cortigiano" of Castiglione, should profit by all their opinions, procured his admission to one of their conferences; Faret presented them with his book, heard a great deal concerning the nature of his work, was charmed by their literary communications, and returned home ready to burst with the secret. Could the society hope that others would be more faithful than they had been to themselves? Faret happened to be one of those light-hearted men who are communicative in the degree in which they are grateful, and he whispered the secret to Des Marets and to Boisrobert. The first, as soon as he heard of such a literary senate, used every effort to appear before them and read the first volume of his "Ariane." Boisrobert, a man of distinction, and a common friend to them all, could not be refused an admission; he admired the frankness of their mutual criticisms. The society, besides, was a new object; and his daily business was to furnish an amusing story to his patron, Richelieu. The cardinal-minister was very literary, and apt to be so hipped in his hours of retirement, that the physician declared, that "all his drugs were of no avail, unless his patient mixed with them a drachm of Boisrobert." In one of those fortunate moments, when the cardinal was "in the vein," Boisrobert painted, with the warmest hues, this region of literary felicity, of a small, happy society formed of critics and authors! The minister, who was ever considering things in that particular aspect which might tend to his own glory, instantly asked Boisrobert, whether this private meeting would not like to be constituted a public body, and establish itself by letters patent, offering them his protection. The flatterer of the minister was overjoyed, and executed the important mission; but not one of the members shared in the rapture, while some regretted an honour which would only disturb the sweetness and familiarity of their intercourse. Malleville, whose master was a prisoner in the Bastile, and Serisay, the intendant of the Duke of Rochefoucault, who was in disgrace at court, louldly protested, in the style of an opposition party, against the protection of the minister; but Chapelain, who was known to have no party-interests, argued so clearly, that he left them to infer that Richelieu's offer was a command; that the cardinal was a minister who willed not things by halves; and was one of those very great men who avenge any contempt shown to them even on such little men as themselves! In a word, the dogs bowed their necks to the golden collar. However, the appearance, if not the reality, of freedom was left to them; and the minister allowed them to frame their own constitution, and elect their own magistrates and citizens in this infant and illustrious republic of literature. The history of the farther establishment of the French Academy is elegantly narrated by Pelisson. The usual difficulty occurred of fixing on a title; and they appear to have changed it so often, that the Academy was at first addressed by more than one title; Academie des beaux Esprits; Academie de l'Eloquence; Academie Eminente, in allusion to the quality of the cardinal, its protector. Desirous of avoiding the extravagant and mystifying titles of the Italian academies, they fixed on the most unaffected, "L'Academie Francaise; but though the national genius may disguise itself for a moment, it cannot be entirely got rid of, and they assumed a vaunting device of a laurel wreath, including their epigraph, "A l'Immortalite." The Academy of Petersburgh has chosen a more enlightened inscription, Paulatim ("little by little"), so expressive of the great labours of man—even of the inventions of genius!
Such was the origin of L'ACADEMIE FRANCAISE; it was long a private meeting before it became a public institution. Yet, like the Royal Society, its origin has been attributed to political motives, with a view to divert the attention from popular discontents; but when we look into the real origin of the French Academy, and our Royal Society, it must be granted, that if the government either in France or England ever entertained this project, it came to them so accidentally, that at least we cannot allow them the merit of profound invention. Statesmen are often considered by speculative men in their closets to be mightier wonder-workers than they often prove to be.
Were the origin of the Royal Society inquired into, it might be justly dated a century before its existence; the real founder was Lord Bacon, who planned the ideal institution in his philosophical romance of the New Atlantis! This notion is not fanciful, and it was that of its first founders, as not only appears by the expression of old Aubrey, when, alluding to the commencement of the society, he adds secundum mentem Domini Baconi; but by a rare print designed by Evelyn, probably for a frontispiece to Bishop Sprat's history, although we seldom find the print in the volume. The design is precious to a Grangerite, exhibiting three fine portraits. On one side is represented a library, and on the table lie the statutes, the journals, and the mace of the Royal Society; on its opposite side are suspended numerous philosophical instruments; in the centre of the print is a column on which is placed the bust of Charles the Second, the patron; on each side whole lengths of Lord Brouncker, the first president, and Lord Bacon, as the founder, inscribed Artium Instaurator. The graver of Hollar has preserved this happy intention of Evelyn's, which exemplifies what may be called the continuity and genealogy of genius, as its spirit is perpetuated by its successors.
When the fury of the civil wars had exhausted all parties, and a breathing time from the passions and madness of the age allowed ingenious men to return once more to their forsaken studies, Bacon's vision of a philosophical society appears to have occupied their reveries. It charmed the fancy of Cowley and Milton; but the politics and religion of the times were still possessed by the same frenzy, and divinity and politics were unanimously agreed to be utterly proscribed from their inquiries. On the subject of religion they were more particularly alarmed, not only at the time of the foundation of the society, but at a much later period, when under the direction of Newton himself. Even Bishop Sprat, their first historian, observed, that "they have freely admitted men of different religions, countries, and professions of life, not to lay the foundation of an English, Scotch, Irish, popish, or protestant philosophy, but a philosophy of mankind." A curious protest of the most illustrious of philosophers may be found: when "the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge were desirous of holding their meetings at the house of the Royal Society, Newton drew up a number of arguments against their admission. One of them is, that "It is a fundamental rule of the society not to meddle with religion; and the reason is, that we may give no occasion to religious bodies to meddle with us." Newton would not even comply with their wishes, lest by this compliance the Royal Society might "dissatisfy those of other religions." The wisdom of the protest by Newton is as admirable as it is remarkable,—the preservation of the Royal Society from the passions of the age.