In such a vessel ne'er before Did human creature leave the shore. II, p. 72.
And then we are told, that if the sea should get rough, "a beehive would be ship as safe." "But say, what was it?" a poetical interlocutor is made to exclaim most naturally; and here followeth the answer, upon which all the pathos and interest of the story depend.
A HOUSEHOLD TUB, like one of those Which women use to wash their clothes!! II, p. 72.
This, it will be admitted, is carrying the matter as far as it will go; nor is there anything,—down to the wiping of shoes or the evisceration of chickens, which may not be introduced in poetry, if this is tolerated....
Afterwards come some stanzas about an echo repeating a cuckoo's voice.... Then we have Elegiac stanzas "to the spade of a friend," beginning—
Spade! with which Wilkinson hath till'd his lands.
But too dull to be quoted any further.
After this there is a minstrel's song, on the Restoration of Lord Clifford the Shepherd, which is in a very different strain of poetry; and then the volume is wound up with an "Ode," with no other title but the motto Paulo majora canamus. This is, beyond all doubt, the most illegible and unintelligible part of the publication. We can pretend to no analysis or explanation of it....
We have thus gone through this publication, with a view to enable our readers to determine, whether the author of these verses which have now been exhibited, is entitled to claim the honours of an improver or restorer of our poetry, and to found a new school to supersede or new-model all our maxims on the subject. If we were to stop here, we do not think that Mr. Wordsworth, or his admirers, would have any reason to complain; for what we have now quoted is undeniably the most peculiar and characteristic part of his publication, and must be defended and applauded if the merit or originality of his system is to be seriously maintained. In our opinion, however, the demerit of that system cannot be fairly appreciated, until it be shown, that the author of the bad verses which we have already extracted, can write good verses when he pleases; and that, in point of fact, he does always write good verses, when, by any account, he is led to abandon his system, and to transgress the laws of that school which he would fain establish on the ruin of all existing authority.
The length to which our extracts and observations have already extended, necessarily restrains us within more narrow limits in this part of our citations; but it will not require much labour to find a pretty decided contrast to some of the passages we have already detailed. The song on the restoration of Lord Clifford is put into the mouth of an ancient minstrel of the family; and in composing it, the author was led, therefore, almost irresistibly to adopt the manner and phraseology that is understood to be connected with that sort of composition, and to throw aside his own babyish incidents and fantastical sensibilities....
All English writers of sonnets have imitated Milton; and, in this way, Mr. Wordsworth, when he writes sonnets, escapes again from the trammels of his own unfortunate system; and the consequence is, that his sonnets are as much superior to the greater part of his other poems, as Milton's sonnets are superior to his....
When we look at these, and many still finer passages, in the writings of this author, it is impossible not to feel a mixture of indignation and compassion, at that strange infatuation which has bound him up from the fair exercise of his talents, and withheld from the public the many excellent productions that would otherwise have taken the place of the trash now before us. Even in the worst of these productions, there are, no doubt, occasional little traits of delicate feeling and original fancy; but these are quite lost and obscured in the mass of childishness and insipidity with which they are incorporated, nor can anything give us a more melancholy view of the debasing effects of this miserable theory, than that it has given ordinary men a right to wonder at the folly and presumption of a man gifted like Mr. Wordsworth, and made him appear, in his second avowed publication, like a bad imitator of the worst of his former productions.
We venture to hope, that there is now an end of this folly; and that, like other follies, it will be found to have cured itself by the extravagances resulting from its unbridled indulgence. In this point of view, the publication of the volumes before us may ultimately be of service to the good cause of literature. Many a generous rebel, it is said, has been reclaimed to his allegiance by the spectacle of lawless outrage and excess presented in the conduct of the insurgents; and we think there is every reason to hope, that the lamentable consequences which have resulted from Mr. Wordsworth's open violation of the established laws of poetry, will operate as a wholesome warning to those who might otherwise have been seduced by his example, and be the means of restoring to that antient and venerable code its due honour and authority.
ON MATURIN'S "MELMOTH"
[From The Edinburgh Review, July, 1821]
Melmoth, the Wanderer. 4 vols. By the Author of Bertram. Constable & Co. Edinburgh, 1820.
It was said, we remember, of Dr. Darwin's Botanic Garden—that it was the sacrifice of Genius in the Temple of False Taste; and the remark may be applied to the work before us, with the qualifying clause, that in this instance the Genius is less obvious, and the false taste more glaring. No writer of good judgment would have attempted to revive the defunct horrors of Mrs. Radcliffe's School of Romance, or the demoniacal incarnations of Mr. Lewis: But, as if he were determined not to be arraigned for a single error only, Mr. Maturin has contrived to render his production almost as objectionable in the manner as it is in the matter. The construction of his story, which is singularly clumsy and inartificial, we have no intention to analyze:—many will probably have perused the work, before our review reaches them; and to those who have not, it may be sufficient to announce, that the imagination of the author runs riot, even beyond the usual license of romance;—that his hero is a modern Faustus, who has bartered his soul with the powers of darkness for protracted life, and unlimited worldly enjoyment;—his heroine, a species of insular goddess, a virgin Calypso of the Indian ocean, who, amid flowers and foliage, lives upon figs and tamarinds; associates with peacocks, loxias and monkeys; is worshipped by the occasional visitants of her island; finds her way to Spain, where she is married to the aforesaid hero by the hand of a dead hermit, the ghost of a murdered domestic being the witness of their nuptials; and finally dies in the dungeons of the Inquisition at Madrid!—To complete this phantasmagoric exhibition, we are presented with sybils and misers; parricides; maniacs in abundance; monks with scourges pursuing a naked youth streaming with blood; subterranean Jews surrounded by the skeletons of their wives and children; lovers blasted by lightning; Irish hags, Spanish grandees, shipwrecks, caverns, Donna Claras and Donna Isidoras, all opposed to each other in glaring and violent contrast, and all their adventures narrated with the same undeviating display of turgid, vehement, and painfully elaborated language. Such are the materials, and the style of this expanded nightmare: And as we can plainly perceive, among a certain class of writers, a disposition to haunt us with similar apparitions, and to describe them with a corresponding tumor of words, we conceive it high time to step forward and abate a nuisance which threatens to become a besetting evil, unless checked in its outset.
Political changes were not the sole cause of the rapid degeneracy in letters that followed the Augustan era of Rome. Similar corruptions and decay have succeeded to the intellectual eminence of other nations; and we might be almost led to conclude, that mental as well as physical power, after attaining a certain perfection, became weakened by expansion, and sunk into a state of comparative imbecility, until time and circumstance gave it a new progressive impetus. One great cause of this deterioration is the insatiable thirst for novelty, which, becoming weary even of excellence, will "sate itself in a celestial bed, and prey on garbage." In the torpidity produced by an utter exhaustion of sensual enjoyment, the Arreoi Club of Otaheite is recorded to have found a miserable excitement, by swallowing the most revolting filth; and the jaded intellectual appetites of more civilized communities will sometimes seek a new stimulus in changes almost as startling. Some adventurous writer, unable to obtain distinction among a host of competitors, all better qualified than himself to win legitimate applause, strikes out a fantastic or monstrous innovation; and arrests the attention of many who would fall asleep over monotonous excellence. Imitators are soon found;—fashion adopts the new folly;—the old standard of perfection is deemed stale and obsolete;—and thus, by degrees, the whole literature of a country becomes changed and deteriorated. It appears to us, that we are now labouring in a crisis of this nature. In our last Number, we noticed the revolution in our poetry; the transition from the lucid terseness and exquisite polish of Pope and Goldsmith, to the rambling, diffuse, irregular, and imaginative style of composition by which the present era is characterized; and we might have added, that a change equally complete, though diametrically opposite in its tendency, has been silently introduced into our prose. In this we have oscillated from freedom to restraint;—from the easy, natural, and colloquial style of Swift, Addison and Steele, to the perpetually strained, ambitious, and overwrought stiffness, of which the author we are now considering affords a striking exemplification. "He's knight o' the shire, and represents them all." There is not the smallest keeping in his composition:—less solicitous what he shall say, than how he shall say it, he exhausts himself in a continual struggle to produce effect by dazzling, terrifying, or surprising. Annibal Caracci was accused of an affectation of muscularity, and an undue parade of anatomical knowledge, even upon quiescent figures: But the artist whom we are now considering has no quiescent figures:—even his repose is a state of rigid tension, if not extravagant distortion. He is the Fuseli of novelists. Does he deem it necessary to be energetic, he forthwith begins foaming at the mouth, and falling into convulsions; and this orgasm is so often repeated, and upon such inadequate occasions, that we are perpetually reminded of the tremendous puerilities of the Della Cruscan versifiers, or the ludicrous grand eloquence of the Spaniard, who tore a certain portion of his attire, "as if heaven and earth were coming together." In straining to reach the sublime, he perpetually takes that single unfortunate step which conducts him to the ridiculous —a failure which, in a less gifted author, might afford a wicked amusement to the critic, but which, when united with such undoubted genius as the present work exhibits, must excite a sincere and painful regret in every admirer of talent.
Whatever be the cause, the fact, we think, cannot be disputed, that a peculiar tendency to this gaudy and ornate style, exists among the writers of Ireland. Their genius runs riot in the wantonness of its own uncontrolled exuberance;—their imagination, disdaining the restraint of judgment, imparts to their literature the characteristics of a nation in one of the earlier stages of civilization and refinement. The florid imagery, gorgeous diction, and Oriental hyperboles, which possess a sort of wild propriety in the vehement sallies of Antar the Bedoween chieftain of the twelfth century, become cold extravagance and floundering fustian in the mouth of a barrister of the present age; and we question whether any but a native of the sister island would have ventured upon the experiment of their adoption. Even in the productions of Mr. Moore, the sweetest lyric poet of this or perhaps any age, this national peculiarity is not infrequently perceptible; and we were compelled, in our review of his Lalla Rookh, a subject which justified the introduction of much Eastern splendour and elaboration, to point out the excessive finery, the incessant sparkle and efflorescence by which the attention of the reader was fatigued, and his senses overcome. He rouged his roses, and poured perfume upon his jessamines, until we fainted under the oppression of beauty and odour, and were ready to "die of a rose in aromatic pain."
Dryden, in alluding to the metaphysical poets, exclaims "rather than all things wit, let none be there":—though we would not literally adopt this dictum, we can safely confirm the truth of the succeeding lines—
Men doubt, because so thick they lie, If those be stars that paint the Galaxy:—
And we scruple not to avow, whatever contempt may be expressed for our taste by the advocates of the toiling and turgid style, both in and out of Ireland, that the prose works which we have lately perused with the greatest pleasure, so far as their composition was concerned, have been Belzoni's Travels, and Salame's Account of the Attack upon Algiers. Unable, from their insufficient mastery of our tongue, to rival the native manufacture of stiff and laborious verbosity, these foreigners have contented themselves with the plainest and most colloquial language that was consistent with a clear exposition of their meaning;—a practice to which Swift was indebted for the lucid and perspicuous character of his writings, and which alone has enabled a great living purveyor of "twopenny trash" to retain a certain portion of popularity, in spite of his utter abandonment of all consistency and public principle. If the writers to whom we are alluding will not condescend to this unstudied and familiar mode of communing with the public, let them at least have the art to conceal their art, and not obtrude the conviction that they are more anxious to display themselves than inform their readers; and let them, above all things, consent to be intelligible to the plainest capacity; for though speech, according to the averment of a wily Frenchman, was given to us to conceal our thoughts, no one has yet ventured to extend the same mystifying definition to the art of writing ...
After this, let us no longer smile at the furious hyperboles of Della Crusca upon Mrs. Robinson's eyes. In the same strain we are told of a convent whose "walls sweat, and its floors quiver," when a contumacious brother treads them;—and when the parents of the same personage are torn from his room by the Director of the convent, we are informed that "the rushing of their robes as he dragged them out, seemed like the whirlwind that attends the presence of the destroying angel." In a similar spirit, of pushing every thing to extremes when he means to be impressive, the author is sometimes offensively minute; as when he makes the aforesaid persecuted monk declare, that "the cook had learned the secret of the convent (that of tormenting those whom they had no longer hopes of commanding), and mixed the fragments he threw to me with ashes, hair, and dust;"—and sometimes the extravagance of his phrases becomes simply ludicrous. Two persons are trying to turn a key—"It grated, resisted; the lock seemed invincible. Again we tried with cranched teeth, indrawn breath, and fingers stripped almost to the bone—in vain." And yet, after they had almost stripped their fingers to the bone, they succeed in turning that which they could not move when their hands were entire.
We have said that Mr. Maturin had contrived to render his work as objectionable in the matter as in the manner; and we proceed to the confirmation of our assertion. We do not arraign him solely for the occasional indecorousness of his conceptions, or the more offensive tone of some of his colloquies, attempted to be palliated by the flimsy plea, that they are, appropriate in the mouths that utter them. Dr. Johnson, as a proof of the total suppression of the reasoning faculty in dreams, used to cite one of his own, wherein he imagined himself to be holding an argument with an adversary, whose superior powers filled him with a mortification which a moment's reflection would have dissipated, by reminding him that he himself supplied the repartees of his opponent as well as his own. In his waking dreams, Mr. Maturin is equally the parent of all the parties who figure in his Romance; and, though not personally responsible for their sentiments, he is amenable to the bar of criticism for every phrase or thought which transgresses the bounds of decorum, or violates the laws that regulate the habitual intercourse of polished society. It is no defence to say, that profane or gross language is natural to the characters whom he embodies. Why does he select such? It may be proper in them; but what can make it proper to us? There are wretches who never open their lips but to blaspheme; but would any author think himself justified in filling his page with their abominations? It betrays a lamentable deficiency of tact and judgment, to imagine, as the author of Melmoth appears to do, that he may seize upon nature in her most unhallowed or disgusting moods, and dangle her in the eyes of a decorous and civilized community. We shall not stop to stigmatize, as it deserves, the wild and flagrant calumnies which he insinuates against three-fourths of his countrymen, by raking in the long-forgotten rubbish of Popery for extinct enormities, which he exaggerates as the inevitable result, rather than the casual abuse of the system, and brands with an intolerant zeal, quite as uncharitable as that which he condemns. These faults are either so peculiar to the individual, or in their nature so obviously indefensible, as to repel rather than invite imitation. But there is another peculiarity in the productions of this gentleman which claims a more detailed notice, because it seems likely to have extensive effects in corrupting others: —we mean his taste for horrible and revolting subjects. We thought we had supped full of this commodity; but it seems as if the most ghastly and disgusting portion of the meal was reserved for the present day, and its most hideous concoction for the writer before us,—who is never so much in his favourite element as when he can "on horror's head horrors accumulate." He assimilates the sluggish sympathies of his readers to those of sailors and vulgar ballad readers, who cannot be excited to an interest in the battle of the Arethusa, unless they learn that "her sails smoaked with brains, and her scuppers ran blood;"—a line which threatens him with formidable competitors from before the mast. Mere physical horror, unalleviated by an intense mental interest, or redeeming charities of the heart, may possess a certain air of originality, not from the want of ability in former writers to delineate such scenes, but from then-deference to the "multaque tolles ex oculis" of Horace; from the conviction of their utter unfitness for public exhibition. There is, however, a numerous class of inferior caterers to the public, ready to minister to any appetite, however foul and depraved, if they be once furnished with a precedent; and we foresee an inundation of blood and abomination if they be not awed or ridiculed into silence. We have quietly submitted to these inflictions from two or three distinguished writers, whose talents may extenuate, though they cannot justify, such outrages upon feeling. When regular artists and professors conduct us into their dissecting room, the skill with which they anatomise may reconcile us to the offensiveness of the operation; but if butchers and resurrection-men are to drag us into their shambles, while they mangle human carcases with their clumsy and unhallowed hands, the stoutest spectators must turn from the exhibition with sickness and disgust.
Were any proof wanting that this Golgotha style of writing is likely to become contagious, and to be pushed to a more harrowing extravagance at each successive imitation, Mr. Maturin would himself supply it....
We have omitted this miscreant's flippant allusion to Madame de Sevigne and his own damnation, uttered in a spirit which (to use the author's own words upon another occasion), "mingled ridicule with horror, and seemed like a Harlequin in the infernal regions flirting with the furies:"—But we must not forget to mention, as little characteristic touches in this scene of preposterous horrors, that the monster who describes it was also a parricide, and that the female, on whose dying agonies he had feasted, was his only sister! After this appalling extract, we need not pursue our quotations from pages which, as more than one of the personages say of themselves, seem to swim in blood and fire; and we shall conclude with the following passage from a dream—
The next moment I was chained to my chair again,—the fires were lit, the bells rang out, the litanies were sung;—my feet were scorched to a cinder,—my muscles cracked, my blood and marrow hissed, my flesh consumed like shrinking leather,—the bones of my leg hung two black withering and moveless sticks in the ascending blaze;—it ascended, caught my hair,—I was crowned with fire,—my head was a ball of molten metal, my eyes flashed and melted in their sockets:—I opened my mouth, it drank fire,—I closed it, the fire was within,—and still the bells rang on, and the crowd shouted, and the king and queen, and all the nobility and priesthood looked on, and we burned and burned! I was a cinder, body and soul, in my dream. II. 301.
These, and other scenes equally wild and abominable, luckily counteract themselves;—they present such a Fee-fa-fum for grown up people, such a burlesque upon tragic horrors, that a sense of the ludicrous irresistibly predominates over the terrific; and, to avoid disgust, our feelings gladly take refuge in contemptuous laughter. Pathos like this may affect women, and people of weak nerves, with sickness at the stomach;—it may move those of stouter fibre to scornful derision; but we doubt whether, in the whole extensive circle of novel readers, it has ever drawn a single tear. The Society for the Suppression of Mendicity has fortunately cleared our streets of the offensive vagrants who used to thrust their mangled limbs and putrid sores into our faces to extort from our disgust what they could not wring from our compassion:—Be it our care to suppress those greater nuisances who, infesting the high ways of literature, would attempt, by a still more revolting exhibition, to terrify or nauseate us out of those sympathies which they might not have the power to awaken by any legitimate appeal.
Let it not be imagined, from any thing we have now said, that we think meanly of Mr. Maturin's genius and abilities. It is precisely because we hold both in respect that we are sincerely anxious to point out their misapplication; and we have extended our observations to a greater length than we contemplated, partly because we fear that his strong though unregulated imagination, and unlimited command of glowing language, may inflict upon us a herd of imitators who, "possessing the contortions of the Sybil without her inspiration," will deluge us with dull, turgid, and disgusting enormities;—and partly because we are not without hopes that our animadversions, offered in a spirit of sincerity, may induce the Author himself to abandon this new Apotheosis of the old Raw-head-and-bloody-bones, and assume a station in literature more consonant to his high endowments, and to that sacred profession to which, we understand, he does honour by the virtues of his private life.
THE QUARTERLY REVIEW
If Macaulay represents a new Edinburgh from the days of Jeffrey, Brougham, and Sydney Smith, the variety of criticism embraced by the Quarterly is even more startling. There was more malice, and far coarser personalities in the early days, and almost continuously while Gifford, Croker, and Lockhart held the reins: it is—almost certainly— among these three that the responsibility for our "anonymous" group of onslaughts may be distributed. The two earliest appreciations of Jane Austen (from Scott and Whately) offer an interlude—actually in the same period—which positively startles us by the honesty of its attempt at fair criticism and the entire freedom from personality.
Gladstone's interesting recognition of Tennyson, and the "Church in Arms" against Darwin (so ably pleaded by Wilberforce), belong to yet another school of criticism which comes much nearer to our day, though retaining the solemnity, the prolixity, and the ex cathedra assumption of authority with which all the Reviews began their career; and is singularly cautious in its independence.
Gifford was the editor of the Quarterly from its foundation in February, 1809, until September, 1824, and undoubtedly established its reputation for scurrility. It is probable that more reviews were written, or directly inspired, by him than have been actually traced to his pen; and, in any case, as Leigh Hunt puts it, he made it his business to
See that others Misdeem and miscontrue, like miscreant brothers; Misquote, and misplace, and mislead, and misstate, Misapply, misinterpret, misreckon, misdate, Missinform, misconjecture, misargue, in short Miss all that is good, that ye miss not the court.
Gifford was hated even more than his associates; not only, we fear, for his venal sycophancy, but because he had been apprenticed to a shoemaker and never concealed the lowness of his origin. Moreover, "the little man, dumpled up together and so ill-made as to seem almost deformed," received from Fortune—
One eye not overgood, Two sides that to their cost have stood A ten years' hectic cough, Aches, stitches, all the various ills That swell the devilish doctor's bills, And sweep poor mortals off.
Scott is almost alone in his generosity towards the learning and industry of an editor who helped to make infamous the title of critic. His original poems (The Baviad and The Moeviad) have a certain sledge-hammer merit; and he did yeoman service by suppressing the Della Cruscans.
It was Gifford also "who did the butchering business in the Anti-Jacobin." He was far heavier, in bludgeoning, than Jeffrey; while Hazlitt epitomized his principles of criticism with his accustomed vigour:—"He believes that modern literature should wear the fetters of classical antiquity; that truth is to be weighed in the scales of opinion and prejudice; that power is equivalent to right; that genius is dependent on rules; that taste and refinement of language consist in word-catching."
* * * * *
Gifford's review of Ford's Weber is, perhaps, no more than can be expected of the man who had edited Massinger six years before he wrote it; and produced a Ben Jonson in 1816 and a Ford in 1827. Of these works Thomas Moore exclaimed "What a canker'd carle it is! Strange that a man should be able to lash himself up into such a spiteful fury, not only against the living but the dead, with whom he engages in a sort of sciomachy in every page. Poor dull and dead Malone is the shadow at which he thrusts his 'Jonson,' as he did at poor Monck Mason, still duller and deader, in his Massinger." Mr. A.H. Bullen, again, remarks of his Ford, "Gifford was so intent on denouncing the inaccuracy of others that he frequently failed to secure accuracy himself.... In reading the old dramatists we do not want to be distracted by editorial invectives and diatribes."
The review of Endymion called forth Byron's famous apostrophe to—
John Keats, who was killed off by one critique Just as he really promised something great, If not intelligible, without Greek Contrived to talk about the gods of late Much as they might have been supposed to speak. Poor fellow! his was an untoward fate; 'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, Should let itself be snuff'd out by one article.
It is but just to say, however, that the Blackwood review of the same poem, printed below, was scarcely less virulent; and later critics have scouted the notion of the poet not having more strength of mind than he is credited with by Byron. It is strange to notice that De Quincey found in Endymion "the very midsummer madness of affectation, of false vapoury sentiment, and of fantastic effeminacy"; while one is ashamed for the timidity of the publisher who chose to return all unsold copies to George Keats because of "the ridicule which has, time after time, been showered upon it."
JOHN WILSON CROKER
Croker was certainly unfortunate in his enemies, though they have given him immortality. The contemptible Rigby in Disraeli's Coningsby (admittedly drawn from him) is scarcely more damaging to his reputation than the sound, if prejudiced, onslaught of Macaulay's review, of which we find echoes, after twelve years, in the same essayist's Madame D'Arblay. Dr. Hill tells us that he "added considerably to our knowledge of Johnson," yet he was a thoroughly bad editor and had no real sympathy with either the subject or the author of that incomparable "Life": through his essentially low mind. He was not a scholar, and he was inaccurate.
Croker was intimately associated with the Quarterly from its foundation until 1857, retaining his bitterness and spite to the year of his death. But he was a born fighter, and never happier than in the heat of controversy. That he secured the friendship of Scott, Peel, and Wellington must go to prove that his political, and literary prejudices, had not destroyed altogether his private character. He is credited with being the first writer to use the word "conservatives" in the Quarterly, January, 1830. He was a member of the Irish Bar, M.P. for Dublin, Acting Chief Secretary for Ireland, Secretary of the Admiralty (where his best work was accomplished), and a Privy Councillor.
* * * * *
The veiled sarcasm of his attack on Sydney Smith was only to be expected from a Tory reviewer, and was probably inflamed by that heated loyalty to the Church which characterised his paper.
Macaulay had certainly provoked his retaliation, and we may notice here the same eager partisanship of Church and State, pervading even his personal malice.
JOHN GIBSON LOCKHART
It is to be regretted that Lockhart, who is so honourably remembered by his great Life of Scott, his "fine and animated translation" of Spanish Ballads, and his neglected—but powerful—Adam Blair, should be so intimately associated with the black record of the Quarterly. He was also a contributor to Blackwood from October, 1817, succeeding Gifford in the editorial chair of Mr. Murray's Review in 1825 until 1853.
But Lockhart was "more than a satirist and a snarler." His polished jibes were more mischievous than brutal. "This reticent, sensitive, attractive, yet dangerous youth ... slew his victims mostly by the midnight oil, not by any blaze of gaiety, or in the accumulative fervour of social sarcasm. From him came most of those sharp things which the victims could not forget.... Lockhart put in his sting in a moment, inveterate, instantaneous, with the effect of a barbed dart, yet almost, as it seemed, with the mere intention of giving point to his sentences, and no particular feeling at all."
Carlyle describes him as "a precise, brief, active person of considerable faculty, which however, had shaped itself gigmanically only. Fond of quizzing, yet not very maliciously. Has a broad, black brow, indicating force and penetration, but the lower half of the face diminishing into the character at best of distinctness, almost of triviality."
* * * * *
There is certainly a good deal of perversity about the abuse of Vathek, so startlingly combined with almost immoderate eulogy: to which the discriminating enthusiasm of his Coleridge affords a pleasing contrast.
It should be noticed that Lockhart has also been credited with the bitter critical part of the Jane Eyre review, printed below—of which any man ought to have been ashamed—as Miss Rigby (afterwards Lady Eastlake) is believed to have written "the part about the governess." He probably had a hand in the Blackwood series on "The Cockney School of Poetry" (see below); and, in some ways, those reviews are more characteristic.
SIR WALTER SCOTT
It would be out of place here to enter upon any biography or criticism of the author of Waverley, or for that matter of Jane Austen. It is sufficient to notice that Scott has found something generous to say (in diaries, letters, or formal criticism) on every writer he had occasion to mention, and that in his somewhat neglected, but frequently quoted, Lives of the Novelists, a striking pre-eminence was given to women; particularly Mrs. Radcliffe and Clara Reeve. Indeed, the essay on Mrs. Radcliffe, a "very novel and rather heretical revelation" is "probably the best in the whole set."
We remember, too, the famous passage in his General Preface to the Waverley Novels:—"without being so presumptuous as to hope to emulate the rich humour, pathetic tenderness and admirable tact of my accomplished friend, I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland";—an ambition of which the modesty only equals the success achieved.
In "appreciating" Jane Austen, indeed, Scott is far more cautious, if not apologetic, than any critic of to-day would dream of being; but, when we remember the prejudices then existing against women writers (despite the popularity of Madame D'Arblay) and the well-nigh universal neglect accorded the author of Pride and Prejudice, we should perhaps rather marvel at the independent sincerity of his pronounced praise. The article, at any rate, has historic significance, as the first serious recognition of her immortal work.
The "dogmatical and crotchety" Archbishop of Dublin was looked at askance by the extreme Evangelicals of his day (though Thomas Arnold has eulogised his holiness), and there is no doubt that his theology, however able and sincere, was mainly inspired by the "daylight of ordinary reason and of historical fact," opposed to the dogmas of tradition. He combated sceptical criticism by an ingenious parody entitled "Historical Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte," and his epigram on the majority of preachers—that "they aim at nothing and they hit it," proves his freedom from any touch of sacerdotalism. His "Rhetoric," his "Logic," and his "Political Economy" were praised by so eminent a judge as John Stuart Mill, though criticised by Hamilton; and Lecky remarks on the "admirable lucidity of his style."
His work, however, was as a whole too fragmentary to become standard, and he regarded it himself as "the mission of his life to make up cartridges for others to fire."
* * * * *
We may notice that in writing of Jane Austen, only six years after Scott, though still measured and judicial, he permits himself a much more assured attitude of applause; and the article affords most valuable indication of the steady progress by which her masterpieces achieved the supremacy now acknowledged by all.
WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE
It would be no less impertinent, and unnecessary, to dwell in these pages upon the political, or literary, work of the greatest of modern premiers. It is sufficient to recall the certainty which used to follow a notice by Gladstone of a large and immediate rise in sales. Mr. John Morley remarking that Gladstone's "place is not in literary or critical history, but elsewhere," reminds us that his style was sometimes called Johnsonian, though without good ground.... Some critics charged him in 1840 with "prolix clearness." "The old charge," says Mr. Gladstone upon this, was obscure compression. I do not doubt that both may be true, and the former may have been the result of a well-meant effort to escape from the latter.
* * * * *
Mr. Morley, again, selects the essay on Tennyson for especial praise. Though one is apt to forget it, the Laureate did not meet with anything like immediate recognition; and, though coming twenty-eight years after the appreciation by J.S. Mill, this article does not assume the supremacy afterwards accorded the poet by common consent.
"One of the most conspicuous and remarkable figures" of his generation the versatile Bishop of Oxford is said to have come "next to Gladstone as a man of inexhaustible powers of work." Known from his Oxford days as Soapy Sam, he was involved through no fault of his own, in some of the odium attached to the "Essays and Reviews" and "Colenso" cases: his private life was embittered by the secession to Rome of his two brothers, his brother-in-law, his only daughter, and his son-in-law. "He was an unwearied ecclesiastical politician, always involved in discussions and controversies, sometimes, it was thought, in intrigues; without whom nothing was done in convocation, nor, where Church interests were involved, in the House of Lords." The energy with which he governed his diocese for twenty-four years earned for him the title of "Romodeller [Transcriber's note: sic] of the Episcopate."
* * * * *
The attempt, by a man whose "relaxations" were botany and ornithology, but who had no claims to be called an expert, to defeat Darwin on his own ground—and the dignified horror of a Churchman at some deductions from evolution—is eminently characteristic of the period.
The earnest criticism of Newman's conversion to Rome concerns one of the most striking events of his generation, and illustrates the "church" attitude on such questions.
We have hinted already that the responsibility for this group of ill-mannered recriminations may probably be distributed between Gifford, Croker, and Lockhart. It is curious to notice that the second attack on Scott appeared after his admission to the ranks of contributors; and the author of Waverley is perhaps the one man said to have friends both on the Edinburgh and the Quarterly. That on Leigh Hunt, always the pet topic of Toryism, from whom he certainly provoked some retaliation, is only paralleled in Blackwood. We have included the Shakespeare and the Moxon as attractively brief samples on the approved model of savage banter, and the Jane Eyre as perhaps the most flagrant example of bad taste to be found in these merciless pages. It was George Henry Lewis, by the way, who so much offended Charlotte Bronte by the greeting, "There ought to be a bond between us, for we have both written naughty books."
It is interesting to find Thackeray among those it was permitted to praise: though the "moral" objection to his "realism" reveals a strange attitude.
We may notice, with some surprise, that the attitude towards George Eliot is nearly as hostile as towards Charlotte Bronte.
GIFFORD ON WEBER'S "FORD"
[From The Quarterly Review, December, 1811]
... When it is determined to reprint the writings of an ancient author, it is usual, we believe, to bestow a little labour in gratifying the natural desire of the reader to know something of his domestic circumstances. Ford had declared in the title-pages of his several plays, that he was of the Inner Temple; and, from his entry there, Mr. Malone, following up the inquiry, discovered that he was the second son of Thomas Ford, Esq., and that he was baptized at Ilsington, in Devonshire, the 17th of April, 1586. To this information Mr. Weber has added nothing; and he hopes that the meagreness of his biographical account will be readily excused by the reader who has examined the lives of his (Ford's) dramatical contemporaries, in which we are continually "led to lament that our knowledge respecting them amounts to little better than nothing." It would surely be unjust to appear dissatisfied at the imperfect account of an ancient author, when all the sources of information have been industriously explored. But, in the present case, we doubt whether Mr. Weber can safely "lay this flattering unction to his soul"; and we shall therefore give such a sketch of the poet's life, as an attentive examination of his writings has enabled us to compile....
Reversing the observation of Dryden on Shakespeare, it may be said of Ford that "he wrote laboriously, not luckily": always elegant, often elevated, never sublime, he accomplished by patient and careful industry what Shakespeare and Fletcher produced by the spontaneous exuberance of native genius. He seems to have acquired early in life, and to have retained to the last a softness of versification peculiar to himself. Without the majestic march of verse which distinguishes the poetry of Massinger, and with none of that playful gaiety which characterises the dialogue of Fletcher, he is still easy and harmonious. There is, however, a monotony in his poetry, which those who have perused his scenes long together must have inevitably perceived. His dialogue is declamatory and formal, and wants that quick chace of replication and rejoinder so necessary to effect in representation. If we could put out of our remembrance the singular merits of "The Lady's Trial," we should consider the genius of Ford as altogether inclined to tragedy; and even there so large a proportion of the pathetic pervades the drama, that it requires the "humours" of Guzman and Fulgoso, in addition to a happy catastrophe, to warrant the name of comedy. In the plots of his tragedies Ford is far from judicious; they are for the most part too full of the horrible, and he seems to have had recourse to an accumulation of terrific incidents, to obtain that effect which he despairs of producing by pathos of language. Another defect in Ford's poetry, proceeding from the same source, is the alloy of pedantry which pervades his scenes, at one time exhibited in the composition of uncouth phrases, at another in perplexity of language; and he frequently labours with a remote idea, which, rather than throw it away, he obtrudes upon his reader, involved in inextricable obscurity. We cannot agree with the editor in praising his delineation of the female character: less than women in their passions, they are more than masculine in their exploits and sufferings; but, excepting Spinella in "The Lady's Trial," and perhaps Penthea, we do not remember in Ford's plays, any example of that meekness and modesty which compose the charm of the female character....
Mr. Weber is known to the admirers of our antient literature by two publications which, although they may not be deemed of great importance in themselves, have yet a fair claim to notice. We speak of the battle of Flodden Field, and the Romances of the fourteenth century: which, as far as we have looked into them, appear very creditable to his industry and accuracy: his good genius, we sincerely regret to say, appears in a great measure to have forsaken him from the moment that he entered upon the task of editing a dramatic poet.
In the mechanical construction of his work Mr. Weber has followed the last edition of Massinger, with a servility which appears, in his mind, to have obviated all necessity of acknowledging the obligation: we will not stop to enquire whether he might not have found a better model; but proceed to the body of the work. As we feel a warm interest in everything which regards our ancient literature, on the sober cultivation of which the purity, copiousness, and even harmony of the English language must, in no small degree, depend, we shall notice some of the peculiarities of the volumes before us, in the earnest hope that while we relieve Ford from a few of the errors and misrepresentations with which he is here encumbered, we may convince Mr. Weber that something more is necessary to a faithful editor than the copying of printers' blunders, and to a judicious commentator, than a blind confidence in the notes of every collection of old plays.
Mr. Weber's attempts at explanation (for explanations it seems, there must be) are sometimes sufficiently humble. "Carriage," he tells us, "is behaviour." It is so; we remember it in our spelling-book, among the words of three syllables, we have therefore no doubt of it. But you must have, rejoins the editor; and accordingly, in every third or fourth page, he persists in affirming that "carriage is behaviour." In the same strain of thankless kindness, he assures us that "fond is foolish," "but, except," "content, contentment," and vice versa, "period [Transcriber's note: 'peroid' in original], end," "demur, delay," "ever, always," "sudden, quickly," "quick, suddenly," and so on through a long vocabulary of words of which a girl of six years old would blush to ask the meaning....
The confidence which Mr. Weber reposes in Steevens, not only on one but on every occasion, is quite exemplary: the name alone operates as a charm, and supersedes all necessity of examining into the truth of his assertions; and he gently reminds those who occasionally venture to question it, that "they are ignorant and superficial critics." Vol. ii, p. 256.—"I have seen Summer go up and down with hot codlings! Mr. Steevens observes that a codling antiently meant an immature apple, and the present passage plainly proves it, as none but immature apples could be had in summer," all this wisdom is thrown away. We can assure Mr. Weber, on the authority of Ford himself, that "hot codlings" are not apples, either mature or immature. Steevens is a dangerous guide for such as do not look well about them. His errors are specious: for he was a man of ingenuity: but he was often wantonly mischievous, and delighted to stumble for the mere gratification of dragging unsuspecting innocents into the mire with him. He was, in short, the very Puck of commentators....
No writer, in our remembrance, meets with so many "singular words" as the present editor. He conjectures, however, that unvamp'd means disclosed. It means not stale, not patched up. We should have supposed it impossible to miss the sense of so trite an expression.... Mr. Weber's acquaintance with our dramatic writers extends, as the reader must have observed, very little beyond the indexes of Steevens and Reed. If he cannot find the word of which he is in quest, in them, he sets it down as an uncommon expression, or a coinage of his author....
These inadvertences, and many others which might be noticed, being chiefly confined to the notes, do not, perhaps, detract much from the value of the text: we now turn to some of a different kind, which bear hard on the editor, and prove that his want of knowledge is not compensated by any extraordinary degree of attention. It is not sufficient for Mr. Weber to say that many of the errors which we shall point out are found in the old copy. It was his duty to reform them. A facsimile of blunders no one requires. Modern editions of our old poets are purchased upon the faith of a corrected text: this is their only claim to notice; and, if defective here, they become at once little better than waste-paper....
There is something extremely capricious in Mr. Weber's mode of proceeding: words are tampered with which are necessary to the right understanding of the text, while others, which reduce it to absolute jargon, are left unmolested....
We might carry this part of our examination to an immense extent; but we forbear. Enough, and more than enough, is done to show that a strict revision of the text is indispensible; and, if it should fall to the lot of the present editor to undertake it, we trust that he will evince somewhat more care than he manifests in the conclusion of the work before us. It will scarcely be credited that Mr. Weber should travel through such a volume as we have just passed, in quest of errata, and find only one. "Vol. ii (he says), p. 321, line 12, for satiromastrix read satiromastix!"
We could be well content to rest here; but we have a more serious charge to bring against the editor, than the omission of points, or the misapprehension of words. He has polluted his pages with the blasphemies of a poor maniac, who, it seems, once published some detached scenes of the "Broken Heart." For this unfortunate creature, every feeling mind will find an apology in his calamitous situation; but—for Mr. Weber, we know not where the warmest of his friends will seek either palliation or excuse.
[From The Quarterly Review, April, 1818]
Reviewers have sometimes been accused of not reading the works which they affected to criticise. On the present occasion we shall anticipate the author's complaint, and honestly confess that we have not read his work. Not that we have been wanting in our duty—far from it—indeed, we have made efforts almost as superhuman as the story itself appears to be, to get through it; but with the fullest stretch of our perseverence, we are forced to confess that we have not been able to struggle beyond the first of the four books of which this Poetic Romance consists. We should extremely lament this want of energy, or whatever it may be, on our parts, were it not for one consolation—namely, that we are no better acquainted with the meaning of that book through which we have so painfully toiled than we are with that of the three which we have not looked into.
 Endymion: A Poetic Romance. By John Keats. London, 1818.
It is not that Mr. Keats (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his senses would put his real name to such a rhapsody) it is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius—he has all these; but he is unhappily a disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere called Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language.
Of this school Mr. Leigh Hunt, as we observed in a former number, aspires to be the hierophant. Our readers will recollect the pleasant recipes for harmonious and sublime poetry which he gave us in his preface to Rimini, and the still more facetious instances of his harmony and sublimity in the verses themselves; and they will recollect above all the contempt of Pope, Johnson, and such like poetasters and pseudo-critics, which so forcibly contrasted itself with Mr. Leigh Hunt's approbation of
—All the things itself had wrote, Of special merit though of little note.
The author is a copyist of Mr. Hunt, but he is more unintelligible, almost as rugged, twice as diffuse, and ten times more tiresome and absurd than his prototype, who, though he impudently presumed to seat himself in the chair of criticism, and to measure his own poetry by his own standard, yet generally had a meaning. But Mr. Keats had advanced no dogmas which he was bound to support by examples, his nonsense therefore is quite gratuitous; he writes it for its own sake, and being bitten by Mr. Leigh Hunt's insane criticism, more than rivals the insanity of his poetry.
Mr. Keats's preface hints that his poem was produced under peculiar circumstances....
The two first books, and indeed the two last, are not of such completion as to warrant their passing the press. p. vii.
Thus, "the two first books" are, even in his own judgment, unfit to appear, and "the two last" are, it seems, in the same condition—and as two and two make four, and as that is the whole number of books, we have a clear and, we believe, a very just estimate of the entire work.
Mr. Keats, however, deprecates criticism on this "immature and feverish" work in terms which are themselves sufficiently feverish; and we confess that we should have abstained from inflicting upon him any of the tortures of the "fierce hell" of criticism, which terrify his imagination, if he had not begged to be spared in order that he might write more; if we had not observed in him a certain degree of talent which deserves to be put in the right way, or which, at least, ought to be warned of the wrong; and if, finally, he had not told us that he is of an age and temper which imperiously require mental discipline.
Of the story we have been able to make out but little; it seems to be mythological, and probably relates to the loves of Diana and Endymion; but of this, as the scope of the work has altogether escaped us, we cannot speak with any degree of certainty: and must therefore content ourselves with giving some instances of its diction and versification.— And here again we are perplexed and puzzled.—At first it appeared to us, that Mr. Keats had been amusing himself and wearying his readers with an immeasurable game at bouts rimes; but, if we recollect rightly, it is an indispensable condition at this play, that the rhymes when filled up shall have a meaning; and our author, as we have already hinted, has no meaning. He seems to us to write a line at random, and then he follows not the thought excited by this line, but that suggested by the rhyme with which it concludes. There is hardly a complete couplet inclosing a complete idea in the whole book. He wanders from one subject to another, from the association, not of ideas, but of sounds, and the work is composed of hemistichs which, it is quite evident, have forced themselves upon the author by the mere force of the catchwords on which they turn....
Be still the unimaginable lodge For solitary thinkings; such as dodge Conception to the very bourne of heaven, Then leave the naked brain: be still the leaven, That spreading in this dull and clodded earth Gives it a touch ethereal—a new birth. p. 17.
Lodge, dodge—heaven, leaven—earth, birth; such, in six words, is the sum and substance of six lines.
We come now to the author's taste in versification. He cannot indeed write a sentence, but perhaps he may be able to spin a line. Let us see. The following are specimens of his prosodial notions of our English heroic metre.
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon, The passion poesy, glories infinite, p. 4.
So plenteously all weed-hidden roots, p. 6.
... By this time our readers must be pretty well satisfied as to the meaning of his sentences and the structures of his lines: we now present them with some of the new words with which, in imitation of Mr. Leigh Hunt, he adorns our language.
We are told that "turtles passion their voices" (p. 15); that "an arbour was nested" (p. 23); and a lady's locks "gordian'd" up (p. 32); and to supply the place of nouns thus verbalised Mr. Keats, with great fecundity, spawns new ones; such as "men-slugs and human serpentry" (p. 14); "honey-feel of bliss" (p. 45); "wives prepare needments" (p. 13)—and so forth.
Then he has formed new verbs by the process of cutting off their tails, the adverbs, and affixing them to their foreheads; thus "the wine out-sparkled" (p. 10); the "multitude up-follow'd" (p. 11); and "night up-took" (p. 29). "The wind up-blows" (p. 32); and the "hours are down-sunken" (p. 36).
But if he sinks some adverbs in the verbs he compensates the language with adverbs and adjectives which he separates from the parent stock. Thus, a lady "whispers pantingly and close," makes "hushing signs," and steers her skiff into a "ripply cove" (p. 23); a shower falls "refreshfully" (p. 45); and a vulture has a "spreaded tail" (p. 44).
But enough of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his simple neophite.—If anyone should be bold enough to purchase this "Poetic Romance," and so much more patient than ourselves, as to get beyond the first book, and so much more fortunate as to find a meaning, we entreat him to make us acquainted with his success; we shall then return to the task which we now abandon in despair, and endeavour to make all due amends to Mr. Keats and to our readers.
CROKER ON SYDNEY SMITH
[From The Quarterly Review, February, 1810]
This sermon is written on the characters and duties of the clergy. Perhaps it would have produced more effect upon the Yorkshire divines had it come from one who had lived longer among them, and of the correspondence of whose life with his doctrines, they had better opportunities of judging; one whom, from long experience, they knew to be neither sullied by the little "affectations," nor "agitated by the little vanities of the world," whose strict observance of "those decencies and proprieties," which persons in their profession "owe to their situation in society," they had remarked through a long course of years. Whether the life of Mr. Smith would form an illustration of his own precepts remains to be proved. But, if we rightly recollect dates, he is still to his neighbours a sort of unknown person, and hardly yet tried in his new situation of a parish priest. We therefore think, in spite of all the apologies with which he has prefaced his advice, that a more judicious topic might easily have been selected.
 A sermon preached before His Grace the Archbishop of York, and the clergy, at Malton, at the Visitation, Aug., 1809. By the Rev. Sydney Smith, A.M., Rector of Foston, in Yorkshire, and late Fellow of New College, Oxford. Carpenter, 1809.
In the execution of this sermon there is little to commend. As a system of duties for any body of clergy, it is wretchedly deficient:—and really, when we call to mind the rich, the full, the vigorous, eloquent, and impassioned manner in which these duties are recommended and inforced in the writings of our old divines, we are mortified beyond measure at the absolute poverty, crudeness, and meanness of the present attempt to mimic them. As a composition, it is very imperfect: it has nearly the same merits, and rather more than the same defects, which characterise his former publications. Mr. Smith never writes but in a loose declamatory way. He is careless of connection, and not very anxious about argument. His sole object is to produce an effect at the moment, a strong first impression upon an audience, and if that can be done he is very indifferent as to what may be the result of examination and reflection....
If Mr. Smith is not only not a Socinian, but if in his heart he doubts as to the least important point of the most abstruce and controverted subject on which our articles have decided, if, in short, he is not one of the most rigorously orthodox divines that exists, he has been guilty of the grossest and most disgusting hypocrisy—he has pronounced in the face of the public to which he appeals, and of the church to which he belongs, in the most solemn manner, and on the most solemn subject, a direct, intentional, and scandalous falsehood—he has acted in a way utterly subversive of all confidence among men; and the greater part of the wretches who retire from a course of justice degraded for perjury rank higher in the scale of morality, than an educated man holding a respectable place in society, who could thus trifle with the most sacred obligations. He could be induced to this base action only by a base motive, that of obviating any difficulties which a suspicion of his holding opinions different from those avowed by the establishment, might throw in the way of his preferment: and of rendering himself a possible object of the bounty of "his worthy masters and mistresses," whenever the golden days arrive, in which they shall again dispense the favours of the crown. Such must be the case, if Mr. Smith is not sincere. There is no alternative. Now this is scarcely to be believed of any gentleman of tolerably fair character, still less of a teacher of morality and religion, who holds forth in all his writings the most refined sentiments of honour and disinterestedness.
The style of his profession of faith, however, partakes very much of the most offensive peculiarities of his manner. It is abrupt and violent to a degree which not only shocks good taste, but detracts considerably from the appearance of sincerity. It seems as if he considered his creed as a sort of nauseous medicine which could only be taken off at a draught, and he looks round for applause at the heroic effort by which he has drained the cup to its very dregs.
But the passage about the verse in St. John is yet more extraordinary. Has Mr. Smith really gone through the controversy upon this subject? And even if he has, is this the light way in which a man wholly unknown in the learned world, is entitled to contradict the opinion of some of the greatest scholars of Europe? We have, however, the mere word of the facetious rector of Foston, opposite to the authority and the arguments of a Porson and a Griesbach. It is at his command, unsupported by the smallest attempt at reasoning, that we are to set aside the opinion of men whose lives have been spent in the study of the Greek language, and of biblical criticism, and which has been acquiesced in by many of the most competent judges both here and abroad. Such audacity (to call it by no coarser name) is in itself only calculated to excite laughter and contempt: coupled as it is with a most unprovoked and unwarrantable mention of the name of the Bishop of Lincoln, it excites indignation. We feel no morbid sensibility for the character of a mitred divine: but we cannot see a blow aimed at the head of one of the chiefs of the church, a pious, learned, and laborious man, by the hand of ignorance and presumption, without interposing, not to heal the wound, for no wound has been made, but to chastise the assailant. The Bishop of Lincoln gives up these verses, not carelessly, and unadvisedly, but doubtless because he is persuaded that the cause of true Religion can never be so much injured as by resting its defence upon passages liable to so much suspicion; and because he knows, that the doctrine of the Trinity by no means depends upon that particular passage, but may be satisfactorily deduced from various other expressions, and from the general tenor of holy writ. Indeed, if we were not prevented from harbouring any such suspicion by Mr. Smith's flaming profession of the iotal accuracy of his creed; and if we could doubt the orthodoxy of the divine, without impugning the honesty of the man, we should be inclined to suspect that his defence of the verses proceeded from a concealed enemy. We are not unaware that the question cannot even yet be regarded as finally and incontrovertibly settled, but we apprehend the truth to be that Mr. Smith, not having read one syllable upon the subject, but having accidentally heard that there was a disputed verse in St. John relative to the doctrine of the Trinity, and that it had been given up by the Bishop of Lincoln, thought he could not do better than by one dash of the pen, to show his knowledge of controversy, and the orthodoxy of his belief, at the expense of that prelate's character for discretion and zeal....
The next note is mere political, an ebullition of party rage, in which Mr. Smith abuses the present ministry with great bitterness, talks of "wickedness," "weakness," "ignorance," "temerity," after the usual fashion of opposition pamphlets, and clamours loudly against what, with an obstinacy of misrepresentation hardly to be credited, he persists in terming the "persecuting laws" against the Roman Catholics.... He is very anxious that his political friends should not desist from urging the question—an act of tergiversation and unconsistency which, he thinks, would ruin them in the estimation of the public. Yet, if we mistake not, these gentlemen, at least that portion of them with which Mr. Smith (as we are told) is most closely connected, gave up, without a blush, India, Reform, and Peace, all of which they taught us to believe were vital questions in which the honour or the security of the country was involved. But Catholic emancipation has some peculiar recommendations. It is odious to the people, and painful to the King, and therefore it cannot be delayed, without an utter sacrifice of character....
Now we are by no means so eager on Mr. Smith in what he would term the cause of religious freedom. We belong to that vulgar school of timid churchmen, to whom the elevation of a vast body of sectaries to a level with the establishment, is a matter of very grave consideration, if not of alarm. We think that something is due to the prejudices (supposing them to be no more than prejudices) of nine-tenths of the people of England; and we are even so childish (for which we crave Mr. Smith's pardon) as to pay some regard to the feelings of the King, in whose personal mortification, we fairly own, we should not take the smallest pleasure....
We now take leave of the sermon and its notes. But, before we conclude, we are desirous ... to convey to Mr. Smith a little salutary advice ... to remind him that unmeasured severity of invective against others, will naturally produce, at the first favourable opportunity, a retort of similar harshness upon himself; and that unless he feels himself completely invulnerable, the conduct which he has hitherto pursued, is not only uncharitable and violent, but foolish. He should be told that, although he possesses some talents, they are by no means, as he supposes, of the first order. He writes in a tone of superiority which would hardly be justifiable at the close of a long and successful literary career. His acquirements are very moderate, though he wants neither boldness nor dexterity in displaying them to the best advantage; and he is far, very far indeed, from being endowed with that powerful, disciplined, and comprehensive mind, which should entitle him to decide authoritatively and at once upon the most difficult parts of subjects so far removed from one another as biblical criticism and legislation. His style is rapid and lively, but hasty and inaccurate; and he either despises or is incapable of regular and finished composition.
Humour, indeed (we speak now generally, of all these performances which have been ascribed to him by common consent), is his strong point; and here he is often successful; but even from this praise many deductions must be made. His jokes are broad and coarse; he is altogether a mannerist, and never knows where to stop. The [Greek: Paedenagan] seems quite unknown to him. His pleasantry does not proceed from keen and well-supported irony; just, but unexpected comparisons; but depends, for effect, chiefly upon strange polysyllabic epithets, and the endless enumeration of minute circumstances. In this he, no doubt, displays considerable ingenuity, and a strong sense of what is ludicrous; but his good things are almost all prepared after one receipt. There is some talent, but more trick, in their composition. The thing is well done, but it is of a low order; we meet with nothing graceful, nothing exquisite, nothing that pleases upon repetition and reflection. In everything that Mr. Smith attempts, in all his "bravura" passages, serious or comic, one is always shocked by some affectation or absurdity; something in direct defiance of all those principles which have been established by the authority of the best critics, and the example of the best writers: indeed, bad taste seems to be Mr. Smith's evil genius, both as to sentiment and expression. It is always hovering near him, and, like one of the harpies, is sure to pounce down before the end of the feast, and spoil the banquet, and disgust the guests.
The present publication is by far the worst of all his performances, avowed or imputed. Literary merit it has none; but in arrogance, presumption, and absurdity, it far outdoes all his former outdoings. Indeed, we regard it as one of the most deplorable mistakes that has ever been committed by a man of supposed talents....
[From The Quarterly Review, March, 1849]
The History of England from the Accession of James II. By THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY. 2 vols. 8vo. 1849.
The reading world will not need our testimony, though we willingly give it, that Mr. Macaulay possesses great talents and extraordinary acquirements. He unites powers and has achieved successes, not only various, but different in their character, and seldom indeed conjoined in one individual. He was while in Parliament, though not quite an orator, and still less a debater, the most brilliant rhetorician of the House. His Roman ballads (as we said in an article on their first appearance) exhibit a novel idea worked out with a rare felicity, so as to combine the spirit of the ancient minstrels with the regularity of construction and sweetness of versification which modern taste requires; and his critical Essays exhibit a wide variety of knowledge with a great fertility of illustration, and enough of the salt of pleasantry and sarcasm to flavour and in some degree disguise a somewhat declamatory and pretentious dogmatism. It may seem too epigrammatic, but it is, in our serious judgment, strictly true, to say that his History seems to be a kind of combination and exaggeration of the peculiarities of all his former efforts. It is as full of political prejudice and partisan advocacy as any of his parliamentary speeches. It makes the facts of English History as fabulous as his Lays do those of Roman tradition; and it is written with as captious, as dogmatical, and as cynical a spirit as the bitterest of his Reviews. That upon so serious an undertaking he has lavished uncommon exertion, is not to be doubted; nor can any one during the first reading escape the entrainement of his picturesque, vivid, and pregnant execution: but we have fairly stated the impression left on ourselves by a more calm and leisurely perusal. We have been so long the opponents of the political party to which Mr. Macaulay belongs that we welcomed the prospect of again meeting him on the neutral ground of literature. We are of that class of Tories—Protestant Tories, as they were called—that have no sympathy with the Jacobites. We are as strongly convinced as Mr. Macaulay can be of the necessity of the Revolution of 1688—of the general prudence and expediency of the steps taken by our Whig and Tory ancestors of the Convention Parliament, and of the happiness, for a century and a half, of the constitutional results. We were, therefore, not without hope that at least in these two volumes, almost entirely occupied with the progress and accomplishment of that Revolution, we might without any sacrifice of our political feelings enjoy unalloyed the pleasures reasonably to be expected from Mr. Macaulay's high powers both of research and illustration. That hope has been deceived: Mr. Macaulay's historical narrative is poisoned with a rancour more violent than even the passions of the time; and the literary qualities of the work, though in some respects very remarkable, are far from redeeming its substantial defects. There is hardly a page— we speak literally, hardly a page—that does not contain something objectionable either in substance or in colour: and the whole of the brilliant and at first captivating narrative is perceived on examination to be impregnated to a really marvellous degree with bad taste, bad feeling, and, we are under the painful necessity of adding—bad faith.
These are grave charges: but we make them in sincerity, and we think that we shall be able to prove them; and if, here or hereafter, we should seem to our readers to use harsher terms than good taste might approve, we beg in excuse to plead that it is impossible to fix one's attention on, and to transcribe large portions of a work, without being in some degree infected with its spirit; and Mr. Macaulay's pages, whatever may be their other characteristics, are as copious a repertorium of vituperative eloquence as, we believe, our language can produce, and especially against everything in which he chooses (whether right or wrong) to recognise the shibboleth of Toryism. We shall endeavour, however, in the expression of our opinions, to remember the respect we owe to our readers and to Mr. Macaulay's general character and standing in the world of letters, rather than the provocations and examples of the volumes immediately before us.
Mr. Macaulay announces his intention of bringing down the history of England almost to our own times; but these two volumes are complete in themselves, and we may fairly consider them as a history of the Revolution; and in that light the first question that presents itself to us is why Mr. Macaulay has been induced to re-write what had already been so often and even so recently written—among others, by Dalrymple, a strenuous but honest Whig, and by Mr. Macaulay's own oracles, Fox and Mackintosh? It may be answered that both Fox and Mackintosh left their works imperfect. Fox got no farther than Monmouth's death; but Mackintosh came down to the Orange invasion, and covered full nine-tenths of the period as yet occupied by Mr. Macaulay. Why then did Mr. Macaulay not content himself with beginning where Mackintosh left off— that is, with the Revolution? and it would have been the more natural, because, as our readers know, it is there that Hume's history terminates.
What reason does he give for this work of supererogation? None. He does not (as we shall see more fully by and by) take the slightest notice of Mackintosh's history, no more than if it had never existed. Has he produced a new fact? Not one. Has he discovered any new materials? None, as far as we can judge, but the collections of Fox and Mackintosh, confided to him by their families. It seems to us a novelty in literary practice that a writer raised far by fame and fortune above the vulgar temptations of the craft should undertake to tell a story already frequently and recently told by masters of the highest authority and most extensive information, without having, or even professing to have, any additional means or special motive to account for the attempt.
 It appears from two notes of acknowledgments to M. Guizot and the keepers of the archives at The Hague, that Mr. Macaulay obtained some additions to the copies which Mackintosh already had of the letters of Ronquillo the Spanish and Citters the Dutch minister at the court of James. We may conjecture that these additions were insignificant, since Mr. Macaulay has nowhere, that we have observed, specially noticed them; but except these, whatever they may be, we find no trace of anything that Fox and Mackintosh had not already examined and classed.
We suspect, however, that we can trace Mr. Macaulay's design to its true source—the example and success of the author of Waverley. The historical novel, if not invented, at least first developed and illustrated by the happy genius of Scott, took a sudden and extensive hold of the public taste; he himself, in most of his subsequent novels, availed himself largely of the historical element which had contributed so much to the popularity of Waverley. The press has since that time groaned with his imitators. We have had historical novels of all classes and grades. We have had served up in this form the Norman Conquest and the Wars of the Roses, the Gunpowder Plot and the Fire of London, Darnley and Richelieu—and almost at the same moment with Mr. Macaulay's appeared a professed romance of Mr. Ainsworth's on the same subject— James II. Nay, on a novelist of this popular order has been conferred the office of Historiographer to the Queen.
Mr. Macaulay, too mature not to have well measured his own peculiar capacities, not rich in invention but ingenious in application, saw the use that might be made of this principle, and that history itself would be much more popular with a large embroidery of personal, social, and even topographical anecdote and illustration, instead of the sober garb in which we had been in the habit of seeing it. Few histories indeed ever were or could be written without some admixture of this sort. The father of the art himself, old Herodotus, vivified his text with a greater share of what we may call personal anecdote than any of his classical followers. Modern historians, as they happened to have more or less of what we may call artistic feeling, admitted more or less of this decoration into their text, but always with an eye (which Mr. Macaulay never exercises) to the appropriateness and value of the illustration. Generally, however, such matters have been thrown into notes, or, in a few instances—as by Dr. Henry and in Mr. Knight's interesting and instructive "Pictorial History"—into separate chapters. The large class of memoir-writers may also be fairly considered as anecdotical historians—and they are in fact the sources from which the novelists of the new school extract their principal characters and main incidents.
Mr. Macaulay deals with history, evidently, as we think, in imitation of the novelists—his first object being always picturesque effect—his constant endeavour to give from all the repositories of gossip that have reached us a kind of circumstantial reality to his incidents, and a sort of dramatic life to his personages. For this purpose he would not be very solicitous about contributing any substantial addition to history, strictly so called; on the contrary, indeed, he seems to have willingly taken it as he found it, adding to it such lace and trimmings as he could collect from the Monmouth-street of literature, seldom it may be safely presumed of very delicate quality. It is, as Johnson drolly said, "an old coat with a new facing—the old dog in a new doublet." The conception was bold, and—so far as availing himself, like other novelists, of the fashion of the day to produce a popular and profitable effect—the experiment has been eminently successful.
But besides the obvious incentives just noticed, Mr. Macaulay had also the stimulus of what we may compendiously call a strong party spirit. One would have thought that the Whigs might have been satisfied with their share in the historical library of the Revolution:—besides Rapin, Echard, and Jones, who, though of moderate politics in general, were stout friends to the Revolution, they have had of professed and zealous Whigs, Burnet, the foundation of all, Kennett, Oldmixon, Dalrymple, Laing, Brodie, Fox, and finally Mackintosh and his continuator, besides innumerable writers of less note, who naturally adopted the successful side; and we should not have supposed that the reader of any of those historians, and particularly the later ones, could complain that they had been too sparing of imputation, or even vituperation, to the opposite party. But not so Mr. Macaulay. The most distinctive feature on the face of his pages is personal virulence—if he has at all succeeded in throwing an air of fresh life into his characters, it is mainly due, as any impartial and collected reader will soon discover, to the simple circumstance of his hating the individuals of the opposite party as bitterly, as passionately, as if they were his own personal enemies— more so, indeed, we hope than he would a mere political antagonist of his own day. When some one suggested to the angry O'Neil that one of the Anglo-Irish families whom he was reviling as strangers had been four hundred years settled in Ireland, the Milesian replied, "I hate the churls as if they had come but yesterday." Mr. Macaulay seems largely endowed with this (as with a more enviable) species of memory, and he hates, for example, King Charles I as if he had been murdered only yesterday. Let us not be understood as wishing to abridge an historian's full liberty of censure—but he should not be a satirist, still less a libeller. We do not say nor think that Mr. Macaulay's censures were always unmerited—far from it—but they are always, we think without exception, immoderate. Nay, it would scarcely be too much to say that this massacre of character is the point on which Mr. Macaulay must chiefly rest any claims he can advance to the praise of impartiality, for while he paints everything that looks like a Tory in the blackest colours, he does not altogether spare any of the Whigs against whom he takes a spite, though he always visits them with a gentler correction. In fact, except Oliver Cromwell, King William, a few gentlemen who had the misfortune to be executed or exiled for high treason, and every dissenting minister that he has or can find occasion to notice, there are hardly any persons mentioned who are not stigmatized as knaves or fools, differing only in degrees of "turpitude" and "imbecility". Mr. Macaulay has almost realized the work that Alexander Chalmers's playful imagination had fancied, a Biographia Flagitiosa, or The Lives of Eminent Scoundrels. This is also an imitation of the Historical Novel, though rather in the track of Eugene Aram and Jack Sheppard than of Waverley or Woodstock; but what would you have? To attain the picturesque—the chief object of our artist—he adopts the ready process of dark colours and a rough brush. Nature, even at the worst, is never gloomy enough for a Spagnoletto, and Judge Jeffries himself, for the first time, excites a kind of pity when we find him (like one to whom he was nearly akin) not so black as he is painted.
From this first general view of Mr. Macaulay's Historical Novel, we now proceed to exhibit in detail some grounds for the opinion which we have ventured to express.
We premise that we are about to enter into details, because there is in fact little to question or debate about but details. We have already hinted that there is absolutely no new fact of any consequence, and, we think we can safely add, hardly a new view of any historical fact, in the whole book. Whatever there may remain questionable or debatable in the history of the period, we should have to argue with Burnet, Dalrymple, or Mackintosh, and not with Mr. Macaulay. It would, we know, have a grander air if we were to make his book the occasion of disquisitions on the rise and progress of the constitution—on the causes by which the monarchy of the Tudors passed, through the murder of Charles, to the despotism of Cromwell—how again that produced a restoration which settled none of the great moral or political questions which had generated all those agitations, and which, in return, those agitations had complicated and inflamed—and how, at last, the undefined, discordant, and antagonistic pretensions of the royal and democratical elements were reconciled by the Revolution and the Bill of Rights—and finally, whether with too much or too little violence to the principles of the ancient constitution—all these topics, we say, would, if we were so inclined, supply us, as they have supplied Mr. Macaulay, with abundant opportunities of grave tautology and commonplace; but we decline to raise sham debates on points where there is no contest. We can have little historic difference, properly so called, with one who has no historical difference on the main facts with anybody else: instead, then, of pretending to treat any great questions, either of constitutional learning or political philosophy, we shall confine ourselves to the humbler but more practical and more useful task above stated.
Our first complaint is of a comparatively small and almost mechanical, and yet very real, defect—the paucity and irregularity of his dates, and the mode in which the few that he does give are overlaid, as it were, by the text. This, though it may be very convenient to the writer, and quite indifferent to the reader, of an historical romance, is perplexing to any one who might wish to read and weigh the book as a serious history, of which dates are the guides and landmarks; and when they are visibly neglected we cannot but suspect that the historian will be found not very solicitous about strict accuracy. This negligence is carried to such an extent that, in what looks like a very copious table of contents, one of the most important events of the whole history— that, indeed, on which the Revolution finally turned—the marriage of Princess Mary to the Prince of Orange, is not noticed; nor is any date affixed to the very cursory mention of it in the text. It is rather hard to force the reader who buys this last new model history, in general so profuse of details, to recur to one of the old-fashioned ones to discover that this important event happened in the year 1675, and on the 4th of November—a day thrice over remarkable in William's history—for his birth, his marriage, and his arrival with his invading army on the coast of Devon.
Our second complaint is of one of the least important, perhaps, but most prominent defects of Mr. Macaulay's book—his Style—not merely the choice and order of words, commonly called style, but the turn of mind which prompts the choice of expressions as well as of topics. We need not repeat that Mr. Macaulay has a great facility of language, a prodigal copia verborum—that he narrates rapidly and clearly—that he paints very forcibly,—and that his readers throughout the tale are carried on, or away, by something of the sorcery which a brilliant orator exercises over his auditory. But he has also in a great degree the faults of the oratorical style. He deals much too largely in epithets—a habit exceedingly dangerous to historical truth. He habitually constructs a piece of what should be calm, dispassionate narrative, upon the model of the most passionate peroration—adhering in numberless instances to precisely the same specific formula of artifice. His diction is often inflated into fustian, and he indulges in exaggeration till it sometimes, unconsciously no doubt, amounts to falsehood. It is a common fault of those who strive at producing oratorical effects, to oscillate between commonplace and extravagance; and while studying Mr. Macaulay, one feels as if vibrating between facts that every one knows and consequences which nobody can believe. We are satisfied that whoever will take, as we have been obliged to do, the pains of sifting what Mr. Macaulay has produced from his own mind with what he has borrowed from others, will be entirely of our opinion. In truth, when, after reading a page or two of this book, we have occasion to turn to the same transaction in Burnet, Dalrymple, or Hume, we feel as if we were exchanging the glittering agility of a rope-dancer for gentlemen in the attire and attitude of society. And we must say that there is not one of those writers that does not give a clearer and more trustworthy account of all that is really historical in the period than can be collected from Mr. Macaulay's more decorated pages. We invite our readers to try Mr. Macaulay's merits as an historian by the test of comparison with his predecessors.
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Every great painter is supposed to make a larger use of one particular colour. What a monstrous bladderful of infamy Mr. Macaulay must have squeezed on his palette when he took to portrait-painting! We have no concern, except as friends to historical justice, for the characters of any of the parties thus stigmatized, nor have we room or time to discuss these, or the hundred other somewhat similar cases which the volumes present; but we have looked at the authorities cited by Mr. Macaulay, and we do not hesitate to say that, "as is his wont," he has, with the exception of Jeffries, outrageously exaggerated them.
We must next notice the way in which Mr. Macaulay refers to and uses his authorities—no trivial points in the execution of a historical work— though we shall begin with comparatively small matters. In his chapter on manners, which we may call the most remarkable in his book, one of his most frequent references is to "Chamberlayne's State of England, 1684." It is referred to at least a dozen or fourteen times in that chapter alone; but we really have some doubt whether Mr. Macaulay knew the nature of the book he so frequently quoted. Chamberlayne's work, of which the real title is "Angliae [or, after the Scotch Union, Magnae Britanniae] Notitia, or the Present State of England" [or Great Britain], was a kind of periodical publication, half history and half court-calendar. It was first published in 1669, and new editions or reprints, with new dates, were issued, not annually, we believe, but so frequently that there are between thirty and forty of them in the Museum, ending with 1755. From the way and for the purposes for which Mr. Macaulay quotes Chamberlayne, we should almost suspect that he had lighted on the volume for 1684, and, knowing of no other, considered it as a substantive work published in that year. Once indeed he cites the date of 1686, but there was, it seems, no edition of that year, and this may be an accidental error; but however that may be, our readers will smile when they hear that the two first and several following passages which Mr. Macaulay cites from Chamberlayne (i. 290 and 291), as characteristic of the days of Charles II, distinctively from more modern times, are to be found literatim in every succeeding "Chamberlayne" down to 1755—the last we have seen—were thus continually reproduced because the proprietors and editors of the table book knew they were not particularly characteristical of one year or reign more than another—and now, in 1849, might be as well quoted as characteristics of the reign of George II as of Charles II. We must add that there are references to Chamberlayne and to several weightier books (some of which we shall notice more particularly hereafter), as justifying assertions for which, on examining the said books with our best diligence, we have not been able to find a shadow of authority.