Our readers know that there was a Dr. John Eachard who wrote a celebrated work on the "Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy." They also know that there was a Dr. Lawrence Echard who wrote both a History of England, and a History of the Revolution. Both of these were remarkable men; but we almost doubt whether Mr. Macaulay, who quotes the works of each, does not confound their persons, for he refers to them both by the common (as it may once have been) name of Eachard, and at least twenty times by the wrong name. This, we admit, is a small matter; but what will some Edinburgh Reviewer (temp. Albert V) say if he finds a writer confounding Catherine and Thomas Macaulay as "the celebrated author of the great Whig History of England"—a confusion hardly worse than that of the two Eachards—for Catherine, though now forgotten by an ungrateful public, made quite as much noise in her day as Thomas does in ours.
But we are sorry to say we have a heavier complaint against Mr. Macaulay. We accuse him of a habitual and really injurious perversion of his authorities. This unfortunate indulgence, in whatever juvenile levity it may have originated, and through whatever steps it may have grown into an unconscious habit, seems to us to pervade the whole work— from Alpha to Omega—from Procopius to Mackintosh—and it is on that very account the more difficult to bring to the distinct conception of our readers. Individual instances can be, and shall be, produced; but how can we extract and exhibit the minute particles that colour every thread of the texture?—how extract the impalpable atoms that have fermented the whole brewing? We must do as Dr. Faraday does at the Institution when he exhibits in miniature the larger processes of Nature. We will suppose, then—taking a simple phrase as the fairest for the experiment—that Mr. Macaulay found Barillon saying in French, "le drole m'a fait peur," or Burnet saying in English, "the fellow frightened me." We should be pretty sure not to find the same words in Mr. Macaulay. He would pause—he would first consider whether "the fellow" spoken of was a Whig or a Tory. If a Whig, the thing would be treated as a joke, and Mr. Macaulay would transmute it playfully into "the rogue startled me"; but if a Tory, it would take a deeper dye, and we should find "the villain assaulted me"; and in either case we should have a grave reference to
Jan. 31, "Barillon,———— 1686"; or, "Burnet, i. 907." Feb. 1,
If our reader will keep this formula in his mind, he will find it a fair exponent of Mr. Macaulay's modus operandi....
We shall now proceed to more general topics. We decline, as we set out by saying, to treat this "New Atalantis" as a serious history, and therefore we shall not trouble our readers with matters of such remote interest as the errors and anachronisms with which the chapter that affects to tell our earlier history abounds. Our readers would take no great interest in a discussion whether Hengist was as fabulous as Hercules, Alaric a Christian born, and "the fair chapels of New College and St. George" at Windsor of the same date. But there is one subject in that chapter on which we cannot refrain from saying a few words—THE CHURCH.
We decline to draw any inferences from this work as to Mr. Macaulay's own religious opinions; but it is our duty to say—and we trust we may do so without offence—that Mr. Macaulay's mode of dealing with the general principle of Church government, and the doctrine, discipline, and influence of the Church of England, cannot fail to give serious pain, and sometimes to excite a stronger feeling than pain, in the mind of every friend to that Church, whether in its spiritual or corporate character.
He starts with a notion that the fittest engine to redeem England from the mischiefs and mistakes of oligarchical feudalism was to be found in the imposing machinery and deception of the Roman Church; overlooking the great truth that it was not the Romish Church, but the genius of Christianity, working its vast but silent change, which was really guiding on the chariot of civilization; but in this broad principle there was not enough of the picturesqueness of detail to captivate his mind. It would not suit him to distinguish between the Church of Christ and the web of corruptions that had grown about her, but could not effectually arrest the benignant influence inherent in her mainspring. He therefore leads his readers to infer that Christianity came first to Britain with St. Austin, and for aught that Mr. Macaulay condescends to inform us, the existence of a prior Anglo-Saxon Church was a monkish fiction. The many unhappy circumstances of the position taken up by the Romish Church in its struggles for power—some of them unavoidable, it may be, if such a battle were to be fought—are actually displayed as so many blessings, attainable only by a system which the historian himself condemns elsewhere as baneful and untrue. He maintains these strange paradoxes and contradictions with a pertinacity quite surprising. He doubts whether a true form of Christianity would have answered the purposes of liberty and civilization half so well as the acknowledged duplicities of the Church of Rome.
It may perhaps be doubted whether a purer religion might not have been found a less efficient agent.—i. 23.
There is a point in the life both of an individual and a society at which submission and faith, such as at a later period would be justly called servility and credulity, are useful qualities.—i. 47.
These are specimens of the often exposed fallacies in which he delights to indulge. Place right and wrong in a state of uncertainty by reflected lights, and you may fill up your picture as you like. And such for ever is Mr. Macaulay's principle of art. It is not the elimination of error that he seeks for, but an artistic balance of conflicting forces. And this he pursues throughout: deposing the dignity of the historian for the clever antithesis of the pamphleteer. At last, on this great and important point of religious history—a point which more than any other influences every epoch of English progress, he arrives at this pregnant and illustrative conclusion—
It is difficult to say whether England owes more to the Roman Catholic religion or to the Reformation.—i. 49.
England owes nothing to "the Roman Catholic religion." She owes everything to CHRISTIANITY, which Romanism injured and hampered but could not destroy, and which the Reformation freed at least from the worst of those impure and impeding excrescences.
With regard to his treatment of the Reformation, and especially of the Church of England, it is very difficult to give our readers an adequate idea. Throughout a system of depreciation—we had almost said insult—is carried on: sneers, sarcasms, injurious comparisons, sly misrepresentations, are all adroitly mingled throughout the narrative, so as to produce an unfavourable impression, which the author has not the frankness to attempt directly. Even when obliged to approach the subject openly, it is curious to observe how, under a slight veil of impartiality, imputations are raised and calumnies accredited. For instance, early in the first volume he gives us his view of the English Reformation, as a kind of middle term, emerging out of the antagonist struggles of the Catholics and Calvinists: and it is impossible not to see that, between the three parties, he awards to the Catholics the merit of unity and consistency; to the Calvinists, of reason and independence; to the Anglicans, the lowest motives of expediency and compromise. To enforce this last topic he relies on the inconsistencies, some real and some imaginary, imputed to Cranmer, whose notions of worldly expedience he chooses to represent as the source of the Anglican Church....
Every one of the circumstances on which we may presume that Mr. Macaulay would rely as justifying these charges has been long since, to more candid judgments, either disproved, explained, or excused, and in truth whatever blame can be justly attributed to any of them, belongs mainly, if not exclusively, to those whose violence and injustice drove a naturally upright and most conscientious man into the shifts and stratagems of self-defence. With the greatest fault and the only crime that Charles in his whole life committed Mr. Macaulay does not reproach him—the consent to the execution of Lord Strafford—that indeed, as he himself penitentially confessed, was a deadly weight on his conscience, and is an indelible stain on his character; but even that guilt and shame belongs in a still greater degree to Mr. Macaulay's patriot heroes.
This leads us to the conclusive plea which we enter to Mr. Macaulay's indictment, namely—that all those acts alleged as the excuses of rebellion and regicide occurred after the rebellion had broken out, and were at worst only devices of the unhappy King to escape from the regicide which he early foresaw. It was really the old story of the wolf and the lamb. It was far down the stream of rebellion that these acts of supposed perfidy on the part of Charles could be said to have troubled it.
But while he thus deals with the lamb, let us see how he treats the wolf. We have neither space nor taste for groping through the long and dark labyrinth of Cromwell's proverbial duplicity and audacious apostacy: we shall content ourselves with two facts, which, though stated in the gentlest way by Mr. Macaulay, will abundantly justify the opinion which all mankind, except a few republican zealots, hold of that man's sincerity, of whose abilities, wonderful as they were, the most remarkable, and perhaps the most serviceable to his fortunes, was his hypocrisy; so much so, that South—a most acute observer of mankind, and who had been educated under the Commonwealth and Protectorate—in his sermon on "Worldly Wisdom," adduces Cromwell as an instance of "habitual dissimulation and imposture." Oliver, Mr. Macaulay tells us, modelled his army on the principle of composing it of men fearing God, and zealous for public liberty, and in the very next page he is forced to confess that
thirteen years followed in which for the first and the last time the civil power of our country was subjected to military dictation.—i. 120.
Oliver had made his choice. He had kept the hearts of his soldiers, but he had broken with every other class of his fellow citizens.—i. 129.
That is, he had broken through all the promises, pledges, and specious pretences by which he had deceived and enslaved the nation, which Mr. Macaulay calls with such opportune naivete, his fellow citizens! Then follows, not a censure of this faithless usurpation, but many laboured apologies, and even defences of it, and a long series of laudatory epithets, some of which are worth collecting as a rare contrast to Mr. Macaulay's usual style, and particularly to the abuse of Charles, which we have just exhibited.
His genius and resolution made him more absolute master of his country than any of her legitimate Kings had been.—i. 129.
He having cut off the legitimate King's head on a pretence that Charles had wished to make himself absolutely master of the country.
Everything yielded to the vigour and ability of Cromwell.—i. 130.
The Government, though in the form of a Republic, was in truth a despotism, moderated only by the wisdom, the sober-mindedness, and the magnanimity of the despot.—i. 137.
With a vast deal more of the same tone.
But Mr. Macaulay particularly expatiates on the influence that Cromwell exercised over foreign states: and there is hardly any topic to which he recurs with more pleasure, or, as we think, with less sagacity, than the terror with which Cromwell and the contempt with which the Stuarts inspired the nations of Europe. He somewhat exaggerates the extent of this feeling, and greatly misstates or mistakes the cause; and as this subject is in the present state of the world of more importance than any others in the work, we hope we may be excused for some observations tending to a sounder opinion on that subject.
It was not, as Mr. Macaulay everywhere insists, the personal abilities and genius of Cromwell that exclusively, or even in the first degree, carried his foreign influence higher than that of the Stuarts. The internal struggles that distracted and consumed the strength of these islands throughout their reigns necessarily rendered us little formidable to our neighbours; and it is with no good grace that a Whig historian stigmatises that result as shameful; for, without discussing whether it was justifiable or not, the fact is certain, that it was opposition of the Whigs—often in rebellion and always in faction against the Government—which disturbed all progress at home and paralysed every effort abroad. We are not, we say, now discussing whether that opposition was not justifiable and may not have been ultimately advantageous in several constitutional points; we think it decidedly was: but at present all we mean to do is to show that it had a great share in producing on our foreign influence the lowering effects of which Mr. Macaulay complains.
And there is still another consideration which escapes Mr. Macaulay in his estimate of such usurpers as Cromwell and Buonaparte. A usurper is always more terrible both at home and abroad than a legitimate sovereign: first, the usurper is likely to be (and in these two cases was) a man of superior genius and military glory, wielding the irresistible power of the sword; but there is still stronger contrast— legitimate Governments are bound—at home by laws—abroad by treaties, family ties, and international interests; they acknowledge the law of nations, and are limited, even in hostilities, by many restraints and bounds. The despotic usurpers had no fetters of either sort—they had no opposition at home, and no scruples abroad. Law, treaties, rights, and the like, had been already broken through like cobwebs, and kings naturally humbled themselves before a vigour that had dethroned and murdered kings, and foreign nations trembled at a power that had subdued in their own fields and cities the pride of England and the gallantry of France! To contrast Cromwell and Charles II, Napoleon and Louis XVIII, is sheer nonsense and mere verbiage—it is as if one should compare the house-dog and the wolf, and argue that the terror inspired by the latter was very much to his honour. All this is such a mystery to Mr. Macaulay that he wanders into two theories so whimsical, that we hesitate between passing them by as absurdities, or producing them for amusement; we adopt the latter. One is that Cromwell could have no interest and therefore no personal share in the death of Charles. "Whatever Cromwell was," says Mr. Macaulay, "he was no fool; and he must have known that Charles I was obviously a less difficulty in his way than Charles II." Cromwell, we retain the phrase, "was no fool," and he thought and found that Charles II, was, as far as he was concerned, no difficulty at all. The real truth was, that the revolutionary party in England in 1648, like that in France in 1792, was but a rope of sand which nothing could cement and consolidate but the blood of the Kings—that was a common crime and a common and indissoluble tie which gave all their consistency and force to both revolutions—a stroke of original sagacity in Cromwell and of imitative dexterity in Robespierre. If Mr. Macaulay admits, as he subsequently does (i. 129), that the regicide was "a sacrament of blood," by which the party became irrevocably bound to each other and separated from the rest of the nation, how can he pretend that Cromwell derived no advantage from it? In fact, his admiration—we had almost said fanaticism—for Cromwell betrays him throughout into the blindest inconsistencies.
The second vision of Mr. Macaulay is, if possible, still more absurd. He imagines a Cromwell dynasty! If it had not been for Monk and his army, the rest of the nation would have been loyal to the son of the illustrious Oliver.
Had the Protector and the Parliament been suffered to proceed undisturbed, there can be little doubt that an order of things similar to that which was afterwards established under the House of Hanover, would have been established under the house of Cromwell.—i. 142.
And yet in a page or two Mr. Macaulay is found making an admission— made, indeed, with the object of disparaging Monk and the royalists—but which gives to his theory of a Cromwellian dynasty the most conclusive refutation.
It was probably not till Monk had been some days in the capital that he made up his mind. The cry of the whole people was for a free parliament; and there could be no doubt that a parliament really free would instantly restore the exiled family.—i. 147.
All this hypothesis of a Cromwellian dynasty looks like sheer nonsense; but we have no doubt it has a meaning, and we request our readers not to be diverted by the almost ludicrous partiality and absurdity of Mr. Macaulay's speculations from an appreciation of the deep hostility to the monarchy from which they arise. They are like bubbles on the surface of a dark pool, which indicate there is something rotten below.
We should if we had time have many other complaints to make of the details of this chapter, which are deeply coloured with all Mr. Macaulay's prejudices and passions. He is, we may almost say of course, violent and unjust against Strafford and Clarendon; and the most prominent touch of candour that we can find in this period of his history is, that he slurs over the murder of Laud in an abscure half-line (i. 119) as if he were—as we hope he really is—ashamed of it.
We now arrive at what we have heard called the celebrated third chapter —celebrated it deserves to be, and we hope our humble observations may add something to its celebrity. There is no feature of Mr. Macaulay's book on which, we believe, he more prides himself, and which has been in truth more popular with his readers, than the descriptions which he introduces of the residences, habits, and manners of our ancestors. They are, provided you do not look below the surface, as entertaining as Pepys or Pennant, or any of the many scrap-book histories which have been recently fabricated from those old materials; but when we come to examine them, we find that in these cases, as everywhere else, Mr. Macaulay's propensity to caricature and exaggerate leads him not merely to disfigure circumstances, but totally to forget the principle on which such episodes are admissible into regular history—namely, the illustration of the story. They should be, as it were, woven into the narrative, and not, as Mr. Macaulay generally treats them, stitched on like patches. This latter observation does not of course apply to the collecting a body of miscellaneous facts into a separate chapter, as Hume and others have done; but Mr. Macaulay's chapter, besides, as we shall show, the prevailing inaccuracy of its details, has one general and essential defect specially its own.
The moment Mr. Macaulay has selected for suspending his narrative to take a view of the surface and society of England is the death of Charles II. Now we think no worse point of time could have been chosen for tracing the obscure but very certain connection between political events and the manners of a people. The restoration, for instance, was an era in manners as well as in politics—so was in a fainter degree the Revolution—either, or both, of those periods would have afforded a natural position for contemplating a going and a coming order of things; but we believe that there are no two periods in our annals which were so identical in morals and politics—so undistinguishable, in short, in any national view—as the latter years of Charles and the earlier years of James. Here then is an objection in limine to this famous chapter—and not in limine only, but in substance; for in fact the period he has chosen would not have furnished out the chapter, four-fifths of which belong to a date later than that which he professes to treat of. In short, the chapter is like an old curiosity-shop, into which—no matter whether it happens to stand in Charles Street, William Street, or George Street—the knick-knacks of a couple of centuries are promiscuously jumbled. What does it signify, in a history of the reign of Charles II, that a writer, "sixty years after the Revolution" (i. 347), says that in the lodging-houses at Bath "the hearth-slabs" were "freestone, not marble"—that "the best apartments were hung with coarse woollen stuff, and furnished with rush-bottomed chairs"?—nay, that he should have the personal good taste to lament that in those Boeotian days "not a wainscot was painted" (348); and yet this twaddle of the reign of George II, patched into the times of Charles II, is the appropriate occasion which he takes to panegyrise this new mode of elucidating history?—...
It is a curious and, to persons of our opinions, not unsatisfactory circumstance, that, though Mr. Macaulay almost invariably applies the term Tory in an opprobrious or contemptuous sense, yet so great is the power of truth in surmounting the fantastical forms and colours laid over it by this brilliant badigeonneur, that on the whole no one, we believe, can rise from the work without a conviction that the Tories (whatever may be said of their prejudices) were the honestest and most conscientious of the whole dramatis personae; and it is this fact that in several instances and circumstances imprints, as it were by force, upon Mr. Macaulay's pages an air of impartiality and candour very discordant from their general spirit.
We are now arrived at the fourth chapter—really the first, strictly speaking, of Mr. Macaulay's history—the accession of James II, where also Sir James Mackintosh's history commences. And here we have to open to our readers the most extraordinary instance of parallelism between two writers, unacknowledged by the later one, which we have ever seen. Sir James Mackintosh left behind him a history of the Revolution, which was published in 1834, three years after his death, in quarto: it comes down to the Orange invasion, and, though it apparently had not received the author's last corrections, and was clumsily edited, and tagged with a continuation by a less able hand, the work is altogether (bating not a little ultra-Whiggery) very creditable to Mackintosh's diligence, taste, and power of writing; it is indeed, we think, his best and most important work, and that by which he will be most favourably known to posterity. From that work Mr. Macaulay has borrowed largely—prodigally— helped himself with both hands—not merely without acknowledging his obligation, but without so much as alluding to the existence of any such work. Nay—though this we are sure was never designed—he inserts a note full of kindness and respect to Sir James Mackintosh, which would naturally lead an uninformed reader to conclude that Sir James Mackintosh, though he had meditated such a work, had never even begun writing it. On the 391st page of Mr. Macaulay's first volume, at the mention of the old news-letters which preceded our modern newspapers, Mr. Macaulay says, that "they form a valuable part of the literary treasures collected by the late Sir James Mackintosh"; and to this he adds the following foot-note:
I take this opportunity of expressing my warm gratitude to the family of my dear and honoured friend Sir James Mackintosh, for confiding to me the materials collected by him at a time when he meditated a work similar to that which I have undertaken. I have never seen, and I do not believe that there anywhere exists, within the same compass, so noble a collection of extracts from public and private archives. The judgment with which Sir James, in great masses of the rudest ore of history, selected what was valuable and rejected what was worthless, can be fully appreciated only by one who has toiled after him in the same mine.—i. 391.
Could any one imagine from this that Mackintosh had not only meditated a work, but actually written, and that his friends had published, a large closely printed quarto volume, on the same subject, from the same materials, and sometimes in the very same words as Mr. Macaulay's?
The coincidence—the identity, we might almost say—of the two works is so great, that, while we have been comparing them, we have often been hardly able to distinguish which was which. We rest little on the similiarity of facts, for the facts were ready made for both; and Mr. Macaulay tells us that he worked from Mackintosh's materials; there would, therefore, even if he had never seen Mackintosh's work, be a community of topics and authorities; but, seeing as we do in every page that he was writing with Mackintosh's volume before his eyes, we cannot account for his utter silence about it....
Having thus shown Mr. Macaulay's mode of dealing with what forms the chief and most characteristic feature of his book—its anecdotical gossip—we shall now endeavour to exhibit the deceptive style in which he treats the larger historical facts: in truth the style is the same—a general and unhesitating sacrifice of accuracy and reality to picturesque effect and party prejudices. He treats historical personages as the painter does his layman—a supple figure which he models into what he thinks the most striking attitude, and dresses up with the gaudiest colours and most fantastical draperies.
It is very difficult to condense into any manageable space the proofs of a general system of accumulating and aggravating all that was ever, whether truly or falsely, reproached to the Tories, and alleviating towards the Whigs the charges which he cannot venture to deny or even to question. The mode in which this is managed so as to keep up some show of impartiality is very dexterous. The reproach, well or ill founded, which he thinks most likely to damage the character of any one he dislikes, is repeated over and over again in hope that the iteration will at last be taken for proof, such as the perfidy of Charles I, the profligacy and selfishness of Charles II, the cold and cruel stupidity of James, the baseness of Churchill, the indecent violence of Rochester, the contemptible subserviency of his brother, Clarendon, and so on through a whole dictionary of abuse on every one whom he takes or mistakes for a Tory, and on a few Whigs whom for some special reasons of his own he treats like Tories. On the other hand, when he finds himself reluctantly forced to acknowledge even the greatest enormity of the Whigs—corruption—treason—murder he finds much gentler terms for the facts; selects a scapegoat, some subaltern villain, or some one whom history has already gibbeted, "to bear upon him all their iniquities," and that painful sacrifice once made, he avoids with tender care a recurrence to so disagreeable a subject....
After so much political detail it will be some kind of diversion to our readers to examine Mr. Macaulay's most elaborate strategic and topographical effort, worked up with all the combined zeal and skill of an ex-Secretary-at-War and a pictorial historian—a copious description of the battle of Sedgemoor. Mr. Macaulay seems to have visited Bridgwater with a zeal worthy of a better result: for it has produced a description of the surrounding country as pompous and detailed as if it had been the scene of some grand strategic operations—a parade not merely unnecessary, but absurd, for the so-called battle was but a bungling skirmish. Monmouth had intended to surprise the King's troops in their quarters by a midnight attack, but was stopped by a wide and deep trench, of which he was not apprised, called Bussex Rhine, behind which the King's army lay. "The trenches which drain the moor are," Mr. Macaulay adds, "in that country called rhines." On each side of this ditch the parties stood firing at each other in the dark. Lord Grey and the cavalry ran away without striking a blow; Monmouth followed them, too, soon; for some time the foot stood with a degree of courage and steadiness surprising in such raw and half-armed levies; at last the King's cavalry got round their flank, and they too ran: the King's foot then crossed the ditch with little or no resistance, and slaughtered, with small loss on their own side, a considerable number of the fugitives, the rest escaping back to Bridgwater. Our readers will judge whether such a skirmish required a long preliminary description of the surrounding country. Mr. Macaulay might just as usefully have described the plain of Troy. Indeed at the close of his long topographical and etymological narrative Mr. Macaulay has the tardy candour to confess that—
little is now to be learned by visiting the field of battle, for the face of the country has been greatly changed, and the old Bussex Rhine, on the banks of which the great struggle took place, has long disappeared.
This is droll. After spending a deal of space and fine writing in describing the present prospect, he concludes by telling us candidly it is all of no use, for the whole scene has changed. This is like Walpole's story of the French lady who asked for her lover's picture; and when he demurred observing that, if her husband were to see it, it might betray their secret—"O dear, no," she said—just like Mr. Macaulay—"I will have the picture, but it need not be like!"
But even as to the change, we again doubt Mr. Macaulay's accuracy. The word Rhine in Somersetshire, as perhaps—parva componere magnis—in the great German river, means running water, and we therefore think it very unlikely that a running stream should have disappeared; but we also find in the Ordnance Survey of Somersetshire, made in our own time, the course and name of Bussck's Rhine distinctly laid down in front of Weston, where it probably ran in Monmouth's day; and we are further informed, in return to some inquiries that we have caused to be made, that the Rhine is now, in 1849, as visible and well known as ever it was.
But this grand piece of the military topography of a battlefield where there was no battle must have its picturesque and pathetic episode, and Mr. Macaulay finds one well suited to such a novel. When Monmouth had made up his mind to attempt to surprise the royal army, Mr. Macaulay is willing (for a purpose which we shall see presently) to persuade himself that the Duke let the whole town into his secret:—
That an attack was to be made under cover of the night was no secret in Bridgwater. The town was full of women, who had repaired thither by hundreds from the surrounding region to see their husbands, sons, lovers, and brothers once more. There were many sad partings that day; and many parted never to meet again. The report of the intended attack came to the ears of a young girl who was zealous for the king. Though of modest character, she had the courage to resolve that she would herself bear the intelligence to Feversham. She stole out of Bridgwater, and made her way to the royal camp. But that camp was not a place where female innocence could be safe. Even the officers, despising alike the irregular force to which they were opposed, and the negligent general who commanded them, had indulged largely in wine, and were ready for any excess of licentiousness and cruelty. One of them seized the unhappy maiden, refused to listen to her errand, and brutally outraged her. She fled in agonies of rage and shame, leaving the wicked army to its doom.—i. 606, 7.
—the doom of the wicked army, be it noted en passant, being a complete victory. Mr. Macaulay cites Kennett for this story, and adds that he is "forced to believe the story to be true, because Kennett declares that it was communicated to him in the year 1718 by a brave officer who had fought at Sedgemoor, and had himself seen the poor girl depart in an agony of distress,"—ib.
We shall not dwell on the value of an anonymous story told three-and-thirty years after the Battle of Sedgemoor. The tale is sufficiently refuted by notorious facts and dates, and indeed by its internal absurdity. We know from the clear and indisputable evidence of Wade, who commanded Monmouth's infantry, all the proceedings of that day. Monmouth no doubt intended to move that night, and made open preparation for it, and the partings so pathetically described may have, therefore, taken place, and the rather because the intended movement was to leave that part of the country altogether—not to meet the King's troops, but to endeavour to escape them by a forced march across the Avon and into Gloucestershire. So far might have been known. But about three o'clock that afternoon Monmouth received intelligence by a spy that the King's troops had advanced to Sedgemoor, but had taken their positions so injudiciously, that there seemed a possibility of surprising them in a night attack. On this Monmouth assembled a council of war, which agreed that, instead of retreating that night towards the Avon as they had intended, they should advance and attack, provided the spy, who was to be sent out to a new reconnoissance, should report that the troops were not intrenched. We may be sure that—as the news only arrived at three in the afternoon—the assembling the council of war—the deliberation— the sending back the spy—his return and another deliberation—must have protracted the final decision to so late an hour that evening, that it is utterly impossible that the change of the design of a march northward to that of an "attack to be made under cover of the night," could have been that morning no secret in Bridgwater. But our readers see it was necessary for Mr. Macaulay to raise this fable, in order to account for the poor girl's knowing so important a secret. So far we have argued the case on Mr. Macaulay's own showing, which, we confess, was very incautious on our part; but on turning to his authority we find, as usual, a story essentially different. Kennett says—
A brave Captain in the Horse Guards, now living (1718), was in the action at Sedgemoor, and gave me the account of it:—That on Sunday morning, July 5, a young woman came from Monmouth's quarters to give notice of his design to surprise the King's camp that night; but this young woman being carried to a chief officer in a neighbouring village, she was led upstairs and debauched by him, and, coming down in a great fright and disorder (as he himself saw her), she went back, and her message was not told.—Kennett, in. 432.
This knocks the whole story on the head. Kennett was not aware (Wade's narrative not being published when he wrote) that the King's troops did not come in sight of Sedgemoor till about three o'clock P.M. of that Sunday on the early morning of which he places the girl's visit to the camp, and it was not till late that same evening that Monmouth changed his original determination, and formed the sudden resolution with which, to support Kennett's story, the whole town must have been acquainted at least twelve hours before. These are considerations which ought not to have escaped a philosophical historian who had the advantage, which Kennett had not, of knowing the exact time when these details occurred....
We must here conclude. We have exhausted our time and our space, but not our topics. We have selected such of the more prominent defects and errors of Mr. Macaulay as were manageable within our limits; but numerous as they are, we beg that they may be considered as specimens only of the infinitely larger assortment that the volumes would afford, and be read not merely as individual instances, but as indications of the general style of the work, and the prevailing animus of the writer. We have chiefly directed our attention to points of mere historical inaccuracy and infidelity; but they are combined with a greater admixture of other—we know not whether to call them literary or moral—defects, than the insulated passages sufficiently exhibit. These faults, as we think them, but which may to some readers be the prime fascinations of the work, abound on its surface. And their very number and their superficial prominence constitute a main charge against the author, and prove, we think, his mind to be unfitted for the severity of historical inquiry. He takes much pains to parade—perhaps he really believes in—his impartiality, with what justice we appeal to the foregoing pages; but he is guilty of a prejudice as injurious in its consequences to truth as any political bias. He abhors whatever is not in itself picturesque, while he clings with the tenacity of a Novelist to the piquant and the startling. Whether it be the boudoir of a strumpet or the death-bed of a monarch—the strong character of a statesman-warrior abounding in contrasts and rich in mystery, or the personal history of a judge trained in the Old Bailey to vulgarize and ensanguine the King's Bench—he luxuriates with a vigour and variety of language and illustration which renders his "History" an attractive and absorbing story-book. And so spontaneously redundant are these errors— so inwoven in the very texture of Mr. Macaulay's mind—that he seems never able to escape from them. Even after the reader is led to believe that all that can be said either of praise or vituperation as to character, of voluptuous description and minute delineation as to fact and circumstance, has been passed in review before him—when a new subject, indeed, seems to have been started—all at once the old theme is renewed, and the old ideas are redressed in all the affluent imagery and profuse eloquence of which Mr. Macaulay is so eminent a master. Now of the fancy and fashion of this we should not complain—quite the contrary—in a professed novel: there is a theatre in which it would be exquisitely appropriate and attractive; but the Temple of History is not the floor for a morris-dance—the Muse Clio is not to be worshipped in the halls of Terpsichore. We protest against this species of carnival history; no more like the reality than the Eglintoun Tournament or the Costume Quadrilles of Buckingham Palace; and we deplore the squandering of so much melodramatic talent on a subject which we have hitherto reverenced as the figure of Truth arrayed in the simple argments [Transcriber's note: sic] of Philosophy. We are ready to admit an hundred times over Mr. Macaulay's literary powers—brilliant even under the affectation with which he too frequently disfigures them. He is a great painter, but a suspicious narrator; a grand proficient in the picturesque, but a very poor professor of the historic. These volumes have been, and his future volumes as they appear will be, devoured with the same eagerness that Oliver Twist or Vanity Fair excite—with the same quality of zest, though perhaps with a higher degree of it;—but his pages will seldom, we think, receive a second perusal—and the work, we apprehend, will hardly find a permanent place on the historic shelf— nor ever assuredly, if continued in the spirit of the first two volumes, be quoted as authority on any question or point of the History of England.
LOCKHART ON THE AUTHOR OF "VATHEK"
[From The Quarterly Review, June, 1834]
 "Italy: with sketches of Spain and Portugal. In a series of letters written during a residence in these Countries." By William Beckford, Esq., author of Vathek. London, 1834.
Vathek is, indeed, without reference to the time of life [before he had closed his twentieth year] when the author penned it, a very remarkable performance; but, like most of the works of the great poet (Byron) who has eloquently praised it, it is stained with poison-spots—its inspiration is too often such as might have been inhaled in the "Hall of Eblis." We do not allude so much to its audacious licentiousness, as to the diabolical levity of its contempt for mankind. The boy-author appears to have already rubbed all the bloom off his heart; and, in the midst of his dazzling genius, one trembles to think that a stripling of years so tender should have attained the cool cynicism of a Candide. How different is the effect of that Eastern tale of our own days, which Lord Byron ought not to have forgotten when he was criticising his favourite romance. How perfectly does Thalaba realize the ideal demanded in the Welsh Triad, of "fulness of erudition, simplicity of language, and purity of manners." But the critic was repelled by the purity of that delicious creation, more than attracted by the erudition which he must have respected, and the diction which he could not but admire—
The low sweet voice so musical, That with such deep and undefined delight Fills the surrender'd soul.
It has long been known that Mr. Beckford prepared, shortly after the publication of his Vathek, some other tales in the same vein—the histories, it is supposed, of the princes in his "Hall of Eblis." A rumour had also prevailed, that the author drew up, early in life, some account of his travels in various parts of the world; nay, that he had printed a few copies of this account, and that its private perusal had been eminently serviceable to more than one of the most popular poets of the present age. But these were only vague reports; and Mr. Beckford, after achieving, on the verge of manhood, a literary reputation, which, however brilliant, could not satisfy the natural ambition of such an intellect—seemed, for more than fifty years, to have wholly withdrawn himself from the only field of his permanent distinction. The world heard enough of his gorgeous palace at Cintra (described in Childe Harold), afterwards of the unsubstantial pageant of his splendour at Fonthill, and latterly of his architectural caprices at Bath. But his literary name seemed to have belonged to another age; and, perhaps, in this point of view, it may not have been unnatural for Lord Byron, when comparing Vathek with other Eastern tales, to think rather of Zadig and Rasselas, than
Of Thalaba—the wild and wondrous song.
The preface to the present volumes informs us that they include a reprint of the book of travels, of which a small private edition passed through the press forty years ago, and of the existence of which—though many of our readers must have heard some hints—few could have had any knowledge. Mr. Beckford has at length been induced to publish his letters, in order to vindicate his own original claim to certain thoughts, images, and expressions, which had been adopted by other authors whom he had from time to time received beneath his roof, and indulged with a perusal of his secret lucubrations. The mere fact that such a work has lain for near half-a-century, printed but unpublished, would be enough to stamp the author's personal character as not less extraordinary than his genius. It is, indeed, sufficiently obvious that Mr. Rogers had read it before he wrote his "Italy "—a poem, however, which possesses so many exquisite beauties entirely its own, that it may easily afford to drop the honour of some, perhaps unconsciously, appropriated ones; and we are also satisfied that this book had passed through Mr. Moore's hands before he gave us his light and graceful "Rhymes on the Road," though the traces of his imitation are rarer than those which must strike everyone who is familiar with the "Italy." We are not so sure as to Lord Byron; but, although we have not been able to lay our finger on any one passage in which he has evidently followed Mr. Beckford's vein, it will certainly rather surprise us should it hereafter be made manifest that he had not seen, or at least heard an account of, this performance, before he conceived the general plan of his "Childe Harold." Mr. Beckford's book is entirely unlike any book of travel in prose that exists in any European language; and if we could fancy Lord Byron to have written the "Harold" in the measure of "Don Juan," and to have availed himself of the facilities which the ottima rima affords for intermingling high poetry with merriment of all sorts, and especially with sarcastic sketches of living manners, we believe the result would have been a work more nearly akin to that now before us than any other in the library.
Mr. Beckford, like "Harold," passes through various regions of the world, and, disdaining to follow the guide-book, presents his reader with a series of detached, or very slenderly connected sketches of the scenes that had made the deepest impression upon himself. He, when it suits him, puts the passage of the Alps into a parenthesis. On one occasion, he really treats Rome as if it had been nothing more than a post station on the road from Florence to Naples; but, again, if the scenery and people take his fancy, "he has a royal reluctance to move on, as his own hero showed when his eye glanced on the grands caracteres rouges, traces par la main de Carathis?... Qui me donnera des loix?— s'ecria le Caliphe."
"England's wealthiest son" performs his travels, of course, in a style of great external splendour.
Conspictuus longe cunctisque notabilis intrat—
Courts and palaces, as well as convents and churches, and galleries of all sorts, fly open at his approach: he is caressed in every capital—he is fete in every chateau. But though he appears amidst such accompaniments with all the airiness of a Juan, he has a thread of the blackest of Harold in his texture; and every now and then seems willing to draw a veil between him and the world of vanities. He is a poet, and a great one too, though we know not that he ever wrote a line of verse. His rapture amidst the sublime scenery of mountains and forests—in the Tyrol especially, and in Spain—is that of a spirit cast originally in one of nature's finest moulds; and he fixes it in language which can scarcely be praised beyond its deserts—simple, massive, nervous, apparently little laboured, yet revealing, in its effect, the perfection of art. Some immortal passages in Gray's letters and Byron's diaries, are the only things, in our tongue, that seem to us to come near the profound melancholy, blended with a picturesqueness of description at once true and startling, of many of these extraordinary pages. Nor is his sense for the highest beauty of art less exquisite. He seems to describe classical architecture, and the pictures of the great Italian schools, with a most passionate feeling of the grand, and with an inimitable grace of expression. On the other hand, he betrays, in a thousand places, a settled voluptuousness of temperament, and a capricious recklessness of self-indulgence, which will lead the world to identify him henceforth with his Vathek, as inextricably as it has long since connected Harold with the poet that drew him; and then, that there may be no limit to the inconsistencies of such a strange genius, this spirit, at once so capable of the noblest enthusiasm, and so dashed with the gloom of over-pampered luxury, can stoop to chairs and china, ever and anon, with the zeal of an auctioneer—revel in the design of a clock or a candlestick, and be as ecstatic about a fiddler or a soprano as the fools in Hogarth's concert. On such occasions he reminds us, and will, we think, remind everyone, of the Lord of Strawberry Hill. But even here all we have is on a grander scale. The oriental prodigality of his magnificence shines out even in trifles. He buys a library where the other would have cheapened a missal. He is at least a male Horace Walpole; as superior to the "silken Baron," as Fonthill, with its York-like tower embosomed among hoary forests, was to that silly band-box which may still be admired on the road to Twickenham ...
We have no discussions of any consequence in these volumes: even the ultra-aristocratical opinions and feelings of the author—who is, we presume, a Whig—are rather hinted than avowed. From a thousand passing sneers, we may doubt whether he has any religion at all; but still he may be only thinking of the outward and visible absurdities of popery—therefore we have hardly a pretext for treating these matters seriously. In short, this is meant to be, as he says in his preface, nothing but a "book of light reading"; and though no one can read it without having many grave enough feelings roused and agitated within him, there are really no passages to provoke or justify any detailed criticism either as to morals or politics ...
We risk nothing in predicting that Mr. Beckford's Travels will henceforth be classed among the most elegant productions of modern literature: they will be forthwith translated into every language of the Continent—and will keep his name alive, centuries after all the brass and marble he ever piled together have ceased to vibrate with the echoes of Modenhas.
[From The Quarterly Review, August, 1834]
The Poetical Works of S.T. Coleridge. 3 vols. 12mo. London, 1834.
Let us be indulged, in the mean time, in this opportunity of making a few remarks on the genius of the extraordinary man whose poems, now for the first time completely collected, are named at the head of this article. The larger part of this publication is, of course, of old date, and the author still lives; yet, besides the considerable amount of new matter in this edition, which might of itself, in the present dearth of anything eminently original in verse, justify our notice, we think the great, and yet somewhat hazy, celebrity of Coleridge, and the ill-understood character of his poetry, will be, in the opinion of a majority of our readers, more than an excuse for a few elucidatory remarks upon the subject. Idolized by many, and used without scruple by more, the poet of "Christabel" and the "Ancient Mariner" is but little truly known in that common literary world, which, without the prerogative of conferring fame hereafter, can most surely give or prevent popularity for the present. In that circle he commonly passes for a man of genius, who has written some very beautiful verses, but whose original powers, whatever they were, have been long since lost or confounded in the pursuit of metaphysic dreams. We ourselves venture to think very differently of Mr. Coleridge, both as a poet and a philosopher, although we are well enough aware that nothing which we can say will, as matters now stand, much advance his chance of becoming a fashionable author. Indeed, as we rather believe, we should earn small thanks from him for our happiest exertions in such a cause; for certainly, of all the men of letters whom it has been our fortune to know, we never met any one who was so utterly regardless of the reputation of the mere author as Mr. Coleridge—one so lavish and indiscriminate in the exhibition of his own intellectual wealth before any and every person, no matter who—one so reckless who might reap where he had most prodigally sown and watered. "God knows,"—as we once heard him exclaim upon the subject of his unpublished system of philosophy,—"God knows, I have no author's vanity about it. I should be absolutely glad if I could hear that the thing had been done before me." It is somewhere told of Virgil, that he took more pleasure in the good verses of Varius and Horace than in his own. We would not answer for that; but the story has always occurred to us, when we have seen Mr. Coleridge criticising and amending the work of a contemporary author with much more zeal and hilarity than we ever perceived him to display about anything of his own.
Perhaps our readers may have heard repeated a saying of Mr. Wordsworth, that many men of this age had done wonderful things, as Davy, Scott, Cuvier, &c.; but that Coleridge was the only wonderful man he ever knew. Something, of course, must be allowed in this as in all other such cases for the antithesis; but we believe the fact really to be, that the greater part of those who have occasionally visited Mr. Coleridge have left him with a feeling akin to the judgment indicated in the above remark. They admire the man more than his works, or they forget the works in the absorbing impression made by the living author. And no wonder. Those who remember him in his more vigorous days can bear witness to the peculiarity and transcendant power of his conversational eloquence. It was unlike anything that could be heard elsewhere; the kind was different, the degree was different, the manner was different. The boundless range of scientific knowledge, the brilliancy and exquisite nicety of illustration, the deep and ready reasoning, the strangeness and immensity of bookish lore—were not all; the dramatic story, the joke, the pun, the festivity, must be added—and with these the clerical-looking dress, the thick waving silver hair, the youthful-coloured cheek, the indefinable mouth and lips, the quick yet steady and penetrating greenish grey eye, the slow and continuous enunciation, and the everlasting music of his tones,—all went to make up the image and constitute the living presence of the man. He is now no longer young, and bodily infirmities, we regret to know, have pressed heavily upon him. His natural force is indeed abated; but his eye is not dim, neither is his mind yet enfeebled. "O youth!" he says in one of the most exquisitely finished of his later poems—
O youth! for years so many and sweet, 'Tis known that thou and I were one, I'll think it but a fond conceit— It cannot be that thou art gone! Thy vesper bell hath not yet tolled:— And thou wert aye a masker bold! What strange disguise hast now put on, To make believe that thou art gone? I see these locks in silvery slips, This drooping gait, this altered size;— But springtide blossoms on thy lips, And tears take sunshine from thine eyes! Life is but thought: so think I will That Youth and I are house-mates still.
Mr. Coleridge's conversation, it is true, has not now all the brilliant versatility of his former years; yet we know not whether the contrast between his bodily weakness and his mental power does not leave a deeper and more solemnly affecting impression, than his most triumphant displays in youth could ever have done. To see the pain-stricken countenance relax, and the contracted frame dilate under the kindling of intellectual fire alone—to watch the infirmities of the flesh shrinking out of sight, or glorified and transfigured in the brightness of the awakening spirit—is an awful object of contemplation; and in no other person did we ever witness such a distinction,—nay, alienation of mind from body,—such a mastery of the purely intellectual over the purely corporeal, as in the instance of this remarkable man. Even now his conversation is characterized by all the essentials of its former excellence; there is the same individuality, the same unexpectedness, the same universal grasp; nothing is too high, nothing too low for it: it glances from earth to heaven, from heaven to earth, with a speed and a splendour, an ease and a power, which almost seem inspired: yet its universality is not of the same kind with the superficial ranging of the clever talkers whose criticism and whose information are called forth by, and spent upon, the particular topics in hand. No; in this more, perhaps, than in anything else is Mr. Coleridge's discourse distinguished: that it springs from an inner centre, and illustrates by light from the soul. His thoughts are, if we may so say, as the radii of a circle, the centre of which may be in the petals of a rose, and the circumference as wide as the boundary of things visible and invisible. In this it was that we always thought another eminent light of our time, recently lost to us, an exact contrast to Mr. Coleridge as to quality and style of conversation. You could not in all London or England hear a more fluent, a more brilliant, a more exquisitely elegant converser than Sir James Mackintosh; nor could you ever find him unprovided. But, somehow or other, it always seemed as if all the sharp and brilliant things he said were poured out of so many vials filled and labelled for the particular occasion; it struck us, to use a figure, as if his mind were an ample and well-arranged hortus siccus, from which you might have specimens of every kind of plant, but all of them cut and dried for store. You rarely saw nature working at the very moment in him. With Coleridge it was and still is otherwise. He may be slower, more rambling, less pertinent; he may not strike at the instant as so eloquent; but then, what he brings forth is fresh coined; his flowers are newly gathered, they are wet with dew, and, if you please, you may almost see them growing in the rich garden of his mind. The projection is visible; the enchantment is done before your eyes. To listen to Mackintosh was to inhale perfume; it pleased, but did not satisfy. The effect of an hour with Coleridge is to set you thinking; his words haunt you for a week afterwards; they are spells, brightenings, revelations. In short, it is, if we may venture to draw so bold a line, the whole difference between talent and genius.
A very experienced short-hand writer was employed to take down Mr. Coleridge's lectures on Shakespeare, but the manuscript was almost entirely unintelligible. Yet the lecturer was, as he always is, slow and measured. The writer—we have some notion it was no worse an artist than Mr. Gurney himself—gave this account of the difficulty: that with regard to every other speaker whom he had ever heard, however rapid or involved, he could almost always, by long experience in his art, guess the form of the latter part, or apodosis, of the sentence by the form of the beginning; but that the conclusion of every one of Coleridge's sentences was a surprise upon him. He was obliged to listen to the last word. Yet this unexpectedness, as we termed it before, is not the effect of quaintness or confusion of construction; so far from it, that we believe foreigners of different nations, especially Germans and Italians, have often borne very remarkable testimony to the grammatical purity and simplicity of his language, and have declared that they generally understood what he said much better than the sustained conversation of any other Englishman whom they had met. It is the uncommonness of the thoughts or the image which prevents your anticipating the end.
We owe, perhaps, an apology to our readers for the length of the preceding remarks; but the fact is, so very much of the intellectual life and influence of Mr. Coleridge has consisted in the oral communication of his opinions, that no sketch could be reasonably complete without a distinct notice of the peculiar character of his powers in this particular. We believe it has not been the lot of any other literary man in England, since Dr. Johnson, to command the devoted admiration and steady zeal of so many and such widely differing disciples—some of them having become, and others being likely to become, fresh and independent sources of light and moral action in themselves upon the principles of their common master. One half of these affectionate disciples have learned their lessons of philosophy from the teacher's mouth. He has been to them as an old oracle of the Academy or Lyceum. The fulness, the inwardness, the ultimate scope of his doctrines has never yet been published in print, and if disclosed, it has been from time to time in the higher moments of conversation, when occasion, and mood, and person begot an exalted crisis. More than once has Mr. Coleridge said, that with pen in hand, he felt a thousand checks and difficulties in the expression of his meaning; but that—authorship aside—he never found the smallest hitch or impediment in the fullest utterance of his most subtle fancies by word of mouth. His abstrusest thoughts became rhythmical and clear when chaunted to their own music. But let us proceed now to the publication before us.
This is the first complete collection of the poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The addition to the last edition is not less than a fourth of the whole, and the greatest part of this matter has never been printed before. It consists of many juvenile pieces, a few of the productions of the poet's middle life, and more of his later years. With regard to the additions of the first class, we should not be surprised to hear friendly doubts expressed as to the judgment shown in their publication. We ourselves think otherwise; and we are very glad to have had an opportunity of perusing them. There may be nothing in these earlier pieces upon which a poet's reputation could be built; yet they are interesting now as measuring the boyish powers of a great author. We never read any juvenile poems that so distinctly foretokened the character of all that the poet has since done; in particular, the very earliest and loosest of these little pieces indicate that unintermitting thoughtfulness, and that fine ear for verbal harmony in which we must venture to think that not one of our modern poets approaches to Coleridge.
* * * * *
We, of course, cite these lines for little besides their luxurious smoothness; and it is very observable, that although the indications of the more strictly intellectual qualities of a great poet are very often extremely faint, as in Byron's case, in early youth,—it is universally otherwise with regard to high excellence in versification considered apart and by itself. Like the ear for music, the sense of metrical melody is always a natural gift; both indeed are evidently connected with the physical arrangement of the organs, and never to be acquired by any effort of art. When possessed, they by no means necessarily lead on to the achievement of consummate harmony in music or in verse; and yet consummate harmony in either has never been found where the natural gift has not made itself conspicuous long before. Spenser's Hymns, and Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," and "Rape of Lucrece," are striking instances of the overbalance of mere sweetness of sound. Even "Comus" is what we should, in this sense, call luxurious; and all four gratify the outward ear much more than that inner and severer sense which is associated with the reason, and requires a meaning even in the very music for its full satisfaction. Compare the versification of the youthful pieces mentioned above with that of the maturer works of those great poets, and you will recognize how possible it is for verses to be exquisitely melodious, and yet to fall far short of that exalted excellence of numbers of which language is in itself capable. You will feel the simple truth, that melody is a part only of harmony. Those early flashes were indeed auspicious tokens of the coming glory, and involved some of the conditions and elements of its existence; but the rhythm of the "Faerie Queene" and of "Paradise Lost" was also the fruit of a distinct effort of uncommon care and skill. The endless variety of the pauses in the versification of these poems could not have been the work of chance, and the adaptation of words with reference to their asperity, or smoothness, or strength, is equally refined and scientific. Unless we make a partial exception of the "Castle of Indolence," we do not remember a single instance of the reproduction of the exact rhythm of the Spenserian stanza, especially of the concluding line. The precise Miltonic movement in blank verse has never, to our knowledge, been caught by any later poet. It is Mr. Coleridge's own strong remark, that you might as well think of pushing a brick out of a wall with your forefinger, as attempt to remove a word out of the finished passages in Shakespeare or Milton. The motion or transposition will alter the thought, or the feeling, or at least the tone. They are as pieces of Mosaic work, from which you cannot strike the smallest block without making a hole in the picture.
And so it is—in due proportion—with Coleridge's best poems. They are distinguished in a remarkable degree by the perfection of their rhythm and metrical arrangement. The labour bestowed upon this point must have been very great; the tone and quantity of words seem weighed in scales of gold. It will, no doubt, be considered ridiculous by the Fannii and Fanniae of our day to talk of varying the trochee with the iambus, or of resolving either into the tribrach. Yet it is evident to us that these, and even minuter points of accentual scansion, have been regarded by Mr. Coleridge as worthy of study and observation. We do not, of course, mean that rules of this kind were always in his mind while composing, any more than that an expert disputant is always thinking of the distinctions of mood and figure, whilst arguing; but we certainly believe that Mr. Coleridge has almost from the commencement of his poetic life looked upon versification as constituting in and by itself a much more important branch of the art poetic than most of his eminent contemporaries appear to have done. And this more careful study shows itself in him in no technical peculiarities or fantastic whims, against which the genius of our language revolts; but in a more exact adaptation of the movement to the feeling, and in a finer selection of particular words with reference to their local fitness for sense and sound. Some of his poems are complete models of versification, exquisitely easy to all appearance, and subservient to the meaning, and yet so subtle in the links and transitions of the parts as to make it impossible to produce the same effect merely by imitating the syllabic metre as it stands on the surface. The secret of the sweetness lies within, and is involved in the feeling. It is this remarkable power of making his verse musical that gives a peculiar character to Mr. Coleridge's lyric poems. In some of the smaller pieces, as the conclusion of the "Kubla Khan," for example, not only the lines by themselves are musical, but the whole passage sounds all at once as an outburst or crash of harps in the still air of autumn. The verses seem as if played to the ear upon some unseen instrument. And the poet's manner of reciting verse is similar. It is not rhetorical, but musical: so very near recitative, that for any one else to attempt it would be ridiculous; and yet it is perfectly miraculous with what exquisite searching he elicits and makes sensible every particle of the meaning, not leaving a shadow of a shade of the feeling, the mood, the degree, untouched. We doubt if a finer rhapsode ever recited at the Panathenaic festival; and the yet unforgotten Doric of his native Devon is not altogether without a mellowing effect in his utterance of Greek. He would repeat the
[Greek: autar Achilleus dakrusas, etaron aphar ezeto. k. t. l.]
with such an interpreting accompaniment of look, and tone and gesture, that we believe any commonly-educated person might understand the import of the passage without knowing alpha from omega. A chapter of Isaiah from his mouth involves the listener in an act of exalted devotion. We have mentioned this, to show how the whole man is made up of music; and yet Mr. Coleridge has no ear for music, as it is technically called. Master as he is of the intellectual recitative, he could not sing an air to save his life. But his delight in music is intense and unweariable, and he can detect good from bad with unerring discrimination. Poor Naldi, whom most of us remember, and all who remember must respect, said to our poet once at a concert—"That he did not seem much interested with a piece of Rossini's which had just been performed." Coleridge answered, "It sounded to me exactly like nonsense verses. But this thing of Beethoven's that they have begun—stop, let us listen to this, I beg!" ...
The minute study of the laws and properties of metre is observable in almost every piece in these volumes. Every kind of lyric measure, rhymed and unrhymed, is attempted with success; and we doubt whether, upon the whole, there are many specimens of the heroic couplet or blank verse superior in construction to what Mr. Coleridge has given us. We mention this the rather, because it was at one time, although that time is past, the fashion to say that the Lake school—as two or three poets, essentially unlike to each other, were foolishly called—had abandoned the old and established measures of the English poetry for new conceits of their own. There was no truth in that charge; but we will say this, that, notwithstanding the prevalent opinion to the contrary, we are not sure, after perusing some passages in Mr. Southey's "Vision of Judgment," and the entire "Hymn to the Earth," in hexameters, in the second of the volumes now before us, that the question of the total inadmissibility of that measure in English verse can be considered as finally settled; the true point not being whether such lines are as good as, or even like, the Homeric or Virgilian models, but whether they are not in themselves a pleasing variety, and on that account alone, if for nothing else, not to be rejected as wholly barbarous ...
We should not have dwelt so long upon this point of versification, unless we had conceived it to be one distinguishing excellence of Mr. Coleridge's poetry, and very closely connected with another, namely, fulness and individuality of thought. It seems to be a fact, although we do not pretend to explain it, that condensation of meaning is generally found in poetry of a high import in proportion to perfection in metrical harmony. Petrarch, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton are obvious instances. Goethe and Coleridge are almost equally so. Indeed, whether in verse, or prose, or conversation, Mr. Coleridge's mind may be fitly characterized as an energetic mind—a mind always at work, always in a course of reasoning. He cares little for anything, merely because it was or is; it must be referred, or be capable of being referred, to some law or principle, in order to attract his attention. This is not from ignorance of the facts of natural history or science. His written and published works alone sufficiently show how constantly and accurately he has been in the habit of noting all the phenomena of the material world around us; and the great philosophical system now at length in preparation for the press demonstrates, we are told, his masterly acquaintance with almost all the sciences, and with not a few of the higher and more genial of the arts. Yet his vast acquirements of this sort are never put forward by or for themselves; it is in his apt and novel illustrations, his indications of analogies, his explanation of anomalies, that he enables the hearer or reader to get a glimpse of the extent of his practical knowledge. He is always reasoning out from an inner point, and it is the inner point, the principle, the law which he labours to bring forward into light. If he can convince you or himself of the principle a priori, he generally leaves the facts to take care of themselves. He leads us into the laboratories of art or nature as a showman guides you through a caravan crusted with spar and stalactites, all cold, and dim, and motionless, till he lifts his torch aloft, and on a sudden you gaze in admiration on walls and roof of flaming crystals and stars of eternal diamond.
All this, whether for praise or for blame, is perceptible enough in Mr. Coleridge's verse, but perceptible, of course, in such degree and mode as the law of poetry in general, and the nature of the specific poem in particular, may require. But the main result from this frame and habit of his mind is very distinctly traceable in the uniform subjectivity of almost all his works. He does not belong to that grand division of poetry and poets which corresponds with painting and painters; or which Pindar and Dante are the chief;—those masters of the picturesque, who, by a felicity inborn, view and present everything in the completeness of actual objectivity—and who have a class derived from and congenial with them, presenting few pictures indeed, but always full of picturesque matter; of which secondary class Spenser and Southey may be mentioned as eminent instances. To neither of these does Mr. Coleridge belong; in his "Christabel," there certainly are several distinct pictures of great beauty; but he, as a poet, clearly comes within the other division which answers to music and the musician, in which you have a magnificent mirage of words with the subjective associations of the poet curling, and twisting, and creeping round, and through, and above every part of it. This is the class to which Milton belongs, in whose poems we have heard Mr. Coleridge say that he remembered but two proper pictures—Adam bending over the sleeping Eve at the beginning of the fifth book of the "Paradise Lost," and Delilah approaching Samson towards the end of the "Agonistes." But when we point out the intense personal feeling, the self-projection, as it were, which characterizes Mr. Coleridge's poems, we mean that such feeling is the soul and spirit, not the whole body and form, of his poetry. For surely no one has ever more earnestly and constantly borne in mind the maxim of Milton, that poetry ought to be simple, sensuous, and impassioned. The poems in these volumes are no authority for that dreamy, half-swooning style of verse which was criticized by Lord Byron (in language too strong for print) as the fatal sin of Mr. John Keats, and which, unless abjured betimes, must prove fatal to several younger aspirants—male and female— who for the moment enjoy some popularity. The poetry before us is distinct and clear, and accurate in its imagery; but the imagery is rarely or never exhibited for description's sake alone; it is rarely or never exclusively objective; that is to say, put forward as a spectacle, a picture on which the mind's eye is to rest and terminate. You may if your sight is short, or your imagination cold, regard the imagery in itself and go no farther; but the poet's intention is that you should feel and imagine a great deal more than you see. His aim is to awaken in the reader the same mood of mind, the same cast of imagination and fancy whence issued the associations which animate and enlighten his pictures. You must think with him, must sympathize with him, must suffer yourself to be lifted out of your own school of opinion or faith, and fall back upon your own consciousness, an unsophisticated man. If you decline this, non tibi spirat. From his earliest youth to this day, Mr. Coleridge's poetry has been a faithful mirror reflecting the images of his mind. Hence he is so original, so individual. With a little trouble, the zealous reader of the "Biographia Literaria" may trace in these volumes the whole course of mental struggle and self-evolvement narrated in that odd but interesting work; but he will see the track marked in light; the notions become images, the images glorified, and not unfrequently the abstruse position stamped clearer by the poet than by the psychologist. No student of Coleridge's philosophy can fully understand it without a perusal of the illumining, and if we may so say, popularizing commentary of his poetry. It is the Greek put into the vulgar tongue. And we must say, it is somewhat strange to hear any one condemn those philosophical principles as altogether unintelligible, which are inextricably interwoven in every page of a volume of poetry which he professes to admire....
To this habit of intellectual introversion we are very much inclined to attribute Mr. Coleridge's never having seriously undertaken a great heroic poem. The "Paradise Lost" may be thought to stand in the way of our laying down any general rule on the subject; yet that poem is as peculiar as Milton himself, and does not materially affect our opinion, that the pure epic can hardly be achieved by the poet in whose mind the reflecting turn greatly predominates. The extent of the action in such a poem requires a free and fluent stream of narrative verse; description, purely objective, must fill a large space in it, and its permanent success depends on a rapidity, or at least a liveliness, of movement which is scarcely compatible with much of what Bacon calls inwardness of meaning. The reader's attention could not be preserved; his journey being long, he expects his road to be smooth and unembarrassed. The condensed passion of the ode is out of place in heroic song. Few persons will dispute that the two great Homeric poems are the most delightful of epics; they may not have the sublimity of the "Paradise Lost," nor the picturesqueness of the "Divine Comedy," nor the etherial brilliancy of the "Orlando"; but, dead as they are in language, metre, accent,—obsolete in religion, manners, costume, and country,— they nevertheless even now please all those who can read them beyond all other narrative poems. There is a salt in them which keeps them sweet and incorruptible throughout every change. They are the most popular of all the remains of ancient genius, and translations of them for the twentieth time are amongst the very latest productions of our contemporary literature. From beginning to end, these marvellous poems are exclusively objective; everything is in them, except the poet himself. It is not to Vico or Wolfe that we refer, when we say that Homer is vox et praeterea nihil; as musical as the nightingale, and as invisible....
The "Remorse" and "Zapolya" strikingly illustrate the predominance of the meditative, pausing habit of Mr. Coleridge's mind. The first of these beautiful dramas was acted with success, although worse acting was never seen. Indeed, Kelly's sweet music was the only part of the theatrical apparatus in any respect worthy of the play. The late Mr. Kean made some progress in the study of Ordonio, with a view of reproducing the piece; and we think that Mr. Macready, either as Ordonio or Alvar, might, with some attention to music, costume, and scenery, make the representation attractive even in the present day. But in truth, taken absolutely and in itself, the "Remorse" is more fitted for the study than the stage; its character is romantic and pastoral in a high degree, and there is a profusion of poetry in the minor parts, the effect of which could never be preserved in the common routine of representation. What this play wants is dramatic movement; there is energetic dialogue and a crisis of great interest, but the action does not sufficiently grow on the stage itself. Perhaps, also, the purpose of Alvar to waken remorse in Ordonio's mind is put forward too prominently, and has too much the look of a mere moral experiment to be probable under the circumstances in which the brothers stand to each other. Nevertheless, there is a calmness as well as superiority of intellect in Alvar which seem to justify, in some measure, the sort of attempt on his part, which, in fact, constitutes the theme of the play; and it must be admitted that the whole underplot of Isidore and Alhadra is lively and affecting in the highest degree. We particularly refer to the last scene between Ordonio and Isidore in the cavern, which we think genuine Shakespeare; and Alhadra's narrative of her discovery of her husband's murder is not surpassed in truth and force by anything of the kind that we know....
We have not yet referred to the "Ancient Mariner," "Christabel," the "Odes on France," and the "Departing Year," or the "Love Poems." All these are well known by those who know no other parts of Coleridge's poetry, and the length of our preceding remarks compels us to be brief in our notice. Mrs. Barbauld, meaning to be complimentary, told our poet, that she thought the "Ancient Mariner" very beautiful, but that it had the fault of containing no moral. "Nay, madam," replied the poet, "if I may be permitted to say so, the only fault in the poem is that there is too much In a work of such pure imagination I ought not to have stopped to give reasons for things, or inculcate humanity to beasts. 'The Arabian Nights' might have taught me better." They might— the tale of the merchant's son who puts out the eyes of a genii by flinging his date-shells down a well, and is therefore ordered to prepare for death—might have taught this law of imagination; but the fault is small indeed; and the "Ancient Mariner" is, and will ever be, one of the most perfect pieces of imaginative poetry, not only in our language, but in the literature of all Europe. We have, certainly, sometimes doubted whether the miraculous destruction of the vessel in the presence of the pilot and hermit, was not an error, in respect of its bringing the purely preternatural into too close contact with the actual frame-work of the poem. The only link between those scenes of out-of-the-world wonders, and the wedding guest, should, we rather suspect, have been the blasted, unknown being himself who described them. There should have been no other witnesses of the truth of any part of the tale, but the "Ancient Mariner" himself. This is by the way: but take the work altogether, there is nothing else like it; it is a poem by itself; between it and other compositions, in pari materia, there is a chasm which you cannot overpass; the sensitive reader feels himself insulated, and a sea of wonder and mystery flows round him as round the spell-stricken ship itself. It was a sad mistake in the ablest artist— Mr. Scott, we believe—who in his engravings has made the ancient mariner an old decrepit man. That is not the true image; no! he should have been a growthless, decayless being, impassive to time or season, a silent cloud—the wandering Jew. The curse of the dead men's eyes should not have passed away. But this was, perhaps, too much for any pencil, even if the artist had fully entered into the poet's idea. Indeed, it is no subject for painting. The "Ancient Mariner" displays Mr. Coleridge's peculiar mastery over the wild and preternatural in a brilliant manner; but in his next poem, "Christabel," the exercise of his power in this line is still more skilful and singular. The thing attempted in "Christabel" is the most difficult of execution in the whole field of romance—witchery by daylight; and the success is complete. Geraldine, so far as she goes, is perfect. She is sui generis. The reader feels the same terror and perplexity that Christabel in vain struggles to express, and the same spell that fascinates her eyes. Who and what is Geraldine—whence come, whither going, and what designing? What did the poet mean to make of her? What could he have made of her? Could he have gone on much farther without having had recourse to some of the ordinary shifts of witch tales? Was she really the daughter of Roland de Vaux, and would the friends have met again and embraced?...
We are not amongst those who wish to have "Christabel" finished. It cannot be finished. The poet has spun all he could without snapping. The theme is too fine and subtle to bear much extension. It is better as it is, imperfect as a story, but complete as an exquisite production of the imagination, differing in form and colour from the "Ancient Mariner," yet differing in effect from it only so as the same powerful faculty is directed to the feudal or the mundane phases of the preternatural....
It has been impossible to express, in the few pages to which we are necessarily limited, even a brief opinion upon all those pieces which might seem to call for notice in an estimate of this author's poetical genius. We know no writer of modern times whom it would not be easier to characterize in one page than Coleridge in two. The volumes before us contain so many integral efforts of imagination, that a distinct notice of each is indispensable, if we would form a just conclusion upon the total powers of the man. Wordsworth, Scott, Moore, Byron, Southey, are incomparably more uniform in the direction of their poetic mind. But if you look over these volumes for indications of their author's poetic powers, you find him appearing in at least half a dozen shapes, so different from each other, that it is in vain to attempt to mass them together. It cannot indeed be said, that he has ever composed what is popularly termed a great poem; but he is great in several lines, and the union of such powers is an essential term in a fair estimate of his genius. The romantic witchery of the "Christabel," and "Ancient Mariner," the subtle passion of the love-strains, the lyrical splendour of the three great odes, the affectionate dignity, thoughtfulness, and delicacy of the blank verse poems—especially the "Lover's Resolution," "Frost at Midnight," and that most noble and interesting "Address to Mr. Wordsworth"—the dramas, the satires, the epigrams—these are so distinct and so whole in themselves, that they might seem to proceed from different authors, were it not for that same individualizing power, that "shaping spirit of imagination" which more or less sensibly runs through them all. It is the predominance of this power, which, in our judgment, constitutes the essential difference between Coleridge and any other of his great contemporaries. He is the most imaginative of the English poets since Milton. Whatever he writes, be it on the most trivial subject, be it in the most simple strain, his imagination, in spite of himself, affects it. There never was a better illustrator of the dogma of the Schoolmen—in omnem actum intellectualem imaginatio influit. We believe we might affirm, that throughout all the mature original poems in these volumes, there is not one image, the expression of which does not, in a greater or less degree, individualize it and appropriate it to the poet's feelings. Tear the passage out of its place, and nail it down at the head of a chapter of a modern novel, and it will be like hanging up in a London exhibition-room a picture painted for the dim light of a cathedral. Sometimes a single word—an epithet—has the effect to the reader of a Claude Lorraine glass; it tints without obscuring or disguising the object. The poet has the same power in conversation. We remember him once settling an elaborate discussion carried on in his presence, upon the respective sublimity of Shakespeare and Schiller in Othello and the Robbers, by saying, "Both are sublime; only Schiller's is the material sublime— that's all!" All to be sure; but more than enough to show the whole difference. And upon another occasion, where the doctrine of the Sacramentaries and the Roman Catholics on the subject of the Eucharist was in question, the poet said, "They are both equally wrong; the first have volatilized the Eucharist into a metaphor—the last have condensed it into an idol." Such utterance as this flashes light; it supersedes all argument—it abolishes proof by proving itself.
We speak of Coleridge, then, as the poet of imagination; and we add, that he is likewise the poet of thought and verbal harmony. That his thoughts are sometimes hard and sometimes even obscure, we think must be admitted; it is an obscurity of which all very subtle thinkers are occasionally guilty, either by attempting to express evanescent feelings for which human language is an inadequate vehicle, or by expressing, however adequately, thoughts and distinctions to which the common reader is unused. As to the first kind of obscurity, the words serving only as hieroglyphics to denote a once existing state of mind in the poet, but not logically inferring what that state was, the reader can only guess for himself by the context, whether he ever has or not experienced in himself a corresponding feeling; and, therefore, undoubtedly this is an obscurity which strict criticism cannot but condemn. But, if an author be obscure, merely because this or that reader is unaccustomed to the mode or direction of thinking in which such author's genius makes him take delight—such a writer must indeed bear the consequence as to immediate popularity; but he cannot help the consequence, and if he be worth anything for posterity, he will disregard it. In this sense almost every great writer, whose natural bent has been to turn the mind upon itself, is—must be—obscure; for no writer, with such a direction of intellect, will be great, unless he is individual and original; and if he is individual and original, then he must, in most cases, himself make the readers who shall be competent to sympathize with him.
The English flatter themselves by a pretence that Shakespeare and Milton are popular in England. It is good taste, indeed, to wish to have it believed that those poets are popular. Their names are so; but if it be said that the works of Shakespeare and Milton are popular—that is, liked and studied—amongst the wide circle whom it is now the fashion to talk of as enlightened, we are obliged to express our doubts whether a grosser delusion was ever promulgated. Not a play of Shakespeare's can be ventured on the London stage without mutilation—and without the most revolting balderdash foisted into the rents made by managers in his divine dramas; nay, it is only some three or four of his pieces that can be borne at all by our all-intelligent public, unless the burthen be lightened by dancing, singing, or processioning. This for the stage. But is it otherwise with "the reading public"? We believe it is worse; we think, verily, that the apprentice or his master who sits out Othello or Richard at the theatres, does get a sort of glimpse, a touch, an atmosphere of intellectual grandeur; but he could not keep himself awake during the perusal of that which he admires—or fancies he admires—in scenic representation. As to understanding Shakespeare—as to entering into all Shakespeare's thoughts and feelings—as to seeing the idea of Hamlet, or Lear, or Othello, as Shakespeare saw it—this we believe falls, and can only fall, to the lot of the really cultivated few, and of those who may have so much of the temperament of genius in themselves, as to comprehend and sympathize with the criticism of men of genius. Shakespeare is now popular by name, because, in the first place, great men, more on a level with the rest of mankind, have said that he is admirable, and also because, in the absolute universality of his genius, he has presented points to all. Every man, woman, and child, may pick at least one flower from his garden, the name and scent of which are familiar. To all which must of course be added, the effect of theatrical representation, be that representation what it may. There are tens of thousands of persons in this country whose only acquaintance with Shakespeare, such as it is, is through the stage.