Hours in a Library - New Edition, with Additions. Vol. II (of 3)
by Leslie Stephen
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

This remark suggests the common criticism, expounded with his usual brilliancy by M. Taine. Fielding, he tells us, loves nature, but he does not love it 'like the great impartial artists, Shakespeare and Goethe.' He moralises incessantly—which is wrong. Moreover, his morality appears to be very questionable. It consists in preferring instinct to reason. The hero is the man who is born generous as a dog is born affectionate. And this, says M. Taine, might be all very well were it not for a great omission. Fielding has painted nature, but nature without refinement, poetry and chivalry. He can only describe the impetuosity of the senses, not the nervous exaltation and the poetic rapture. Man is with him 'a good buffalo; and perhaps he is the hero required by a people which is itself called John Bull.' In all which there is an undoubted vein of truth. Fielding's want of refinement, for example, is one of those undeniable facts which must be taken for granted. But, without seeking to set right some other statements implied in M. Taine's judgment, it is worth while to consider a little more fully the moral aspect of Fielding's work. Much has been said upon this point by some who, with M. Taine, take Fielding for a mere 'buffalo,' and by others who, like Coleridge—a safer and more sympathetic critic—hold 'Tom Jones' to be, on the whole, a sound exposition of healthy morality.

Fielding, on the 'buffalo' view, is supposed to be simply taking one side in one of those perpetual controversies which has occupied many generations and never approaches a settlement. He prefers nature to law, instinct to reasoned action; he is on the side of Charles as against Joseph Surface; he admires the publican, and condemns the Pharisee without reserve; he loves the man who is nobody's enemy but his own, and despises the prudent person whose charity ends at his own doorstep. Such a doctrine—so absolutely stated—is rather a negation of all morality than a lax morality. If it implies a love of generous instincts, it denies that a man should have any regard for moral rules, which are needed precisely in order to control our spontaneous instincts. Virtue is amiable, but ceases to be meritorious. Nothing would be easier than to quote passages in which Fielding expressly repudiates such a theory; but, of course, a writer's morality must be judged by the conceptions embodied in his work, not by the maxims scattered through it. Nor, for the same reason, can we pay much attention to Fielding's express assertion that he is writing in the interests of virtue; for Smollett, and less scrupulous writers than Smollett, have found their account in similar protestations. Yet anybody, I think, who will compare 'Joseph Andrews' with that intentionally most moral work, 'Pamela,' will admit that Fielding's morality goes deeper than this. Fielding at least makes us love virtue, and is incapable of the solecism which Richardson commits in substantially preaching that virtue means standing out for a higher price. That Fielding's reckless heroes have a genuine sensibility to the claims of virtue, appears still more unmistakably when we compare them with the heartless fine gentlemen of the Congreve school and of his own early plays, or put the faulty Captain Booth beside such an unredeemed scamp as Peregrine Pickle.

It is clear, in short, that the aim of Fielding (whether he succeeds or not) is the very reverse of that attributed to him by M. Taine. 'Tom Jones' and 'Amelia' have, ostensibly at least, a most emphatic moral attached to them; and not only attached to them, but borne in mind and even too elaborately preached throughout. That moral is the one which Fielding had learnt in the school of his own experience. It is the moral that dissipation bears fruit in misery. The remorse, it is true, which was generated in Fielding and in his heroes was not the remorse which drives a man to a cloister, or which even seriously poisons his happiness. The offences against morality are condoned too easily, and the line between vice and virtue drawn in accordance with certain distinctions which even Parson Adams could scarcely have approved. Vice, he seems to say, is altogether objectionable only when complicated by cruelty or hypocrisy. But if Fielding's moral sense is not very delicate, it is vigorous. He hates most heartily what he sees to be wrong, though his sight might easily be improved in delicacy of discrimination. The truth is simply that Fielding accepted that moral code which the better men of the world in his time really acknowledged, as distinguished from that by which they affected to be bound. That so wide a distinction should generally exist between these codes is a matter for deep regret. That Fielding in his hatred for humbug should have condemned purity as puritanical is clearly lamentable. The confusion, however, was part of the man, and, as already noticed, shows itself in one shape or other throughout his work. But it would be unjust to condemn him upon that ground as antagonistic or indifferent to reasonable morality. His morality is at the superior antipodes from the cynicism of a Wycherley; and far superior to the prurient sentimentalism of Sterne or the hot-pressed priggishness of Richardson, or even the reckless Bohemianism of Smollett.

There is a deeper question, however, beneath this discussion. The morality of those 'great impartial artists' of whom M. Taine speaks differs from Fielding's in a more serious sense. The highest morality of a great work of art depends upon the power with which the essential beauty and ugliness of virtue and vice are exhibited by an impartial observer. The morality, for example, of Goethe and Shakespeare appears in the presentation of such characters as Iago and Mephistopheles. The insight of true genius shows us by such examples what is the true physiology of vice; what is the nature of the man who has lost all faith in virtue and all sympathy with purity and nobility of character. The artist of inferior rank tries to make us hate vice by showing that it comes to a bad end precisely because he has an adequate perception of its true nature. He can see that a drunkard generally gets into debt or incurs an attack of delirium tremens, but he does not exhibit the moral disintegration which is the underlying cause of the misfortune, and which may be equally fatal, even if it happens to evade the penalty. The distinction depends upon the power of the artist to fulfil Fielding's requirement of penetrating to the essence of the objects of his contemplation. It corresponds to the distinction in philosophy between a merely prudential system of ethics—the system of the gallows and the gaol—and the system which recognises the deeper issues perceptible to a fine moral sense.

Now, in certain matters, Fielding's morality is of the merely prudential kind. It resembles Hogarth's simple doctrine that the good apprentice will be Lord Mayor and the bad apprentice get into Newgate. So shrewd an observer was indeed well aware, and could say very forcibly,[16] that virtue in this world might sometimes lead to poverty, contempt, and imprisonment. He does not, like some novelists, assume the character of a temporal Providence, and knock his evildoers on the head at the end of the story. He shows very forcibly that the difficulties which beset poor Jones and Booth are not to be fairly called accidents, but are the difficulties to which bad conduct generally leads a man, and which are all the harder when not counterbalanced by a clear conscience. He can even describe with sympathy such a character as poor Atkinson in 'Amelia,' whose unselfish love brings him more blows than favours of fortune. But it is true that he is a good deal more sensible to what are called the prudential sanctions of virtue, at least of a certain category of virtues, than to its essential beauty. So far the want of refinement of which M. Taine speaks does, in fact, lower, and lower very materially, his moral perception. A man of true delicacy could never have dragged Tom Jones into his lowest degradation without showing more forcibly his abhorrence of his loose conduct. This is, as Colonel Newcome properly points out, the great and obvious blot upon the story, which no critics have missed, and we cannot even follow the leniency of Coleridge, who thinks that a single passage introduced to express Fielding's real judgment would have remedied the mischief. It is too obvious to be denied without sophistry that Tom, though he has many good feelings, and can preach very edifying sermons to his less scrupulous friend Nightingale, requires to be cast in a different mould. His whole character should have been strung to a higher pitch to make us feel that such degradation would not merely have required punishment to restore his self-complacency, but have left a craving for some thorough moral ablution.

Granting unreservedly all that may be urged upon this point, we may still agree with the judgment pronounced by the most congenial critics. Fielding's pages reek too strongly of tobacco; they are apt to turn delicate stomachs; but the atmosphere is, on the whole, healthy and bracing. No man can read them without prejudice and fail to recognise the fact that he has been in contact with something much higher than a 'good buffalo.' He has learnt to know a man, not merely full of animal vigour, not merely stored with various experience of men and manners, but also in the main sound and unpoisoned by the mephitic vapours which poisoned the atmosphere of his police-office. If the scorn of hypocrisy is too fully emphasised, and the sensitiveness to ugly and revolting objects too much deadened by a rough life, yet nobody could be more heartily convinced of the beauty and value of those solid domestic instincts on which human happiness must chiefly depend. Put Fielding beside the modern would-be satirists who make society—especially French society[17]—a mere sink of nastiness, or beside the more virtuous persons whose favourite affectation is simplicity, and who labour most spasmodically to be masculine, and his native vigour, his massive common-sense, his wholesome views of men and manners, stand out in solid relief. Certainly he was limited in perception, and not so elevated in tone as might be desired; but he is a fitting representative of the stalwart vigour and the intellectual shrewdness evident in the best men of his time. The English domestic life of the period was certainly far from blameless, and anything but refined; but if we have gained in some ways, we are hardly entitled to look with unqualified disdain upon the rough vigour of our beer-drinking, beef-eating ancestors.

We have felt, indeed, the limitations of Fielding's art more clearly since English fiction found a new starting-point in Scott. Scott made us sensible of many sources of interest to which Fielding was naturally blind. He showed us especially that a human being belonged to a society going through a long course of historical development, and renewed the bonds with the past which had been rudely snapped in Fielding's period. Fielding only deals, it may be roughly said, with men as members of a little family circle, whereas Scott shows them as members of a nation rich in old historical traditions, related to the past and the future, and to the external nature in which it has been developed. A wider set of forces is introduced into our conception of humanity, and the romantic element, which Fielding ignored, comes again to life. Scott, too, was a greater man than Fielding, of wider sympathy, loftier character, and, not the least, with an incomparably keener ear for the voices of the mountains, the sea, and the sky. The more Scott is studied, the higher, I believe, the opinion that we shall form of some of his powers. But in one respect Fielding is his superior. It is a kind of misnomer which classifies all Scott's books as novels. They are embodied legends and traditions, descriptions of men, and races, and epochs of history; but many of them are novels, as it were, by accident, and modern readers are often disappointed because the name suggests misleading associations. They expect to sympathise with Scott's heroes, whereas the heroes are generally dropped in from without, just to give ostensible continuity to the narrative. The apparent accessories are really the main substance. The Jacobites and not Waverley, the Borderers, not Mr. Van Beest Brown, the Covenanters, not Morton or Lord Evandale, are the real subject of Scott's best romances. Now Fielding is really a novelist in the more natural sense. We are interested, that is, by the main characters, though they are not always the most attractive in themselves. We are really absorbed by the play of their passions and the conflict of their motives, and not merely taking advantage of the company to see the surrounding scenery or phases of social life. In this sense Fielding's art is admirable, and surpassed that of all his English predecessors as of most of his successors. If the light is concentrated in a narrow focus, it is still healthy daylight. So long as we do not wish to leave his circle of ideas, we see little fault in the vigour with which he fulfils his intention. And therefore, whatever Fielding's other faults, he is beyond comparison the most faithful and profound mouthpiece of the passions and failings of a society which seems at once strangely remote and yet strangely near to us. When seeking to solve that curious problem which is discussed in one of Hazlitt's best essays—what characters one would most like to have met?—and running over the various claims of a meeting at the Mermaid with Shakespeare and Jonson, a 'neat repast of Attic taste' with Milton, a gossip at Button's with Addison and Steele, a club-dinner with Johnson and Burke, a supper with Lamb, or (certainly the least attractive) an evening at Holland House, I sometimes fancy that, after all, few things would be pleasanter than a pipe and a bowl of punch with Fielding and Hogarth. It is true that for such a purpose I provide myself in imagination with a new set of sturdy nerves, and with a digestion such as that which was once equal to the horrors of an undergraduates' 'wine party.' But, having made that trifling assumption, I fancy that there would be few places where one would hear more good motherwit, shrewder judgments of men and things, or a sounder appreciation of those homely elements of which human life is in fact chiefly composed. Common-sense in the highest degree—whether we choose to identify it or contrast it with genius—is at least one of the most enduring and valuable of qualities in literature as everywhere else; and Fielding is one of its best representatives. But perhaps one is unduly biassed by the charm of a complete escape in imagination from the thousand and one affectations which have grown up since Fielding died and we have all become so much wiser and more learned than all previous generations.


[7] Richardson wrote the first part of 'Pamela' between November 10, 1739, and January 10, 1740. 'Joseph Andrews' appeared in 1742. The first four volumes of 'Clarissa Harlowe' and 'Roderick Random' appeared in the beginning of 1748; 'Tom Jones' in 1749.

[8] See some appreciative remarks upon this in Scott's preface to the Monastery.

[9] It is rather curious that Richardson uses the same comparison to Miss Fielding. He assures her that her brother only knew the outside of a clock, whilst she knew all the finer springs and movements of its inside. See Richardson's Correspondence, ii. 105.

[10] Fielding blundered rather strangely in the celebrated Betsy Canning case, as Balzac did in the 'Affaire Peytel'; but the story is too long for repetition in this place. The trials of Miss Canning and her supposed kidnappers are amongst the most amusing in the great collection of State Trials. See vol. xix. of the 8vo edition. Fielding's defence of his own conduct in the matter is reprinted in his 'Miscellanies and Poems,' being the supplementary volume of the last collected edition of his works.

[11] They were really the property not of Fielding but of the once famous 'beau Fielding.' See Dictionary of National Biography.

[12] See Tom Jones, book xiv. chap. i.

[13] See Voyage to Lisbon (July 21) for some very good remarks upon this word, which, as he says, no two men understand in the same sense.

[14] In his interesting Life of Godwin, Mr. Paul claims for his hero (I dare say rightly) that he was the first English writer to give a 'lengthy and appreciative notice' of 'Don Quixote.' But when he infers that Godwin was also the first English writer who recognised in Cervantes a great humourist, satirist, moralist, and artist, he seems to me to overlook Fielding and others. So Warton in his essay on 'Pope' calls 'Don Quixote' the 'most original and unrivalled work of modern times.' The book must have been popular in England from its publication, as we know from the preface to Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Knight of the Burning Castle'; and numerous translations and imitations show that Cervantes was always enjoyed, if not criticised. Fielding's frequent references to 'Don Quixote' (to say nothing of his play, 'Don Quixote in England') imply an admiration fully as warm as that of Godwin. 'Don Quixote,' says Fielding, is more worthy the name of history than Mariana, and he always speaks of Cervantes in the tone of an affectionate disciple. Fielding, I will add, seems to me to have admired Shakespeare more heartily and intelligently than ninety-nine out of a hundred modern supporters of Shakespeare societies; though these gentlemen are never happier than when depreciating English eighteenth-century critics to exalt vapid German philosophising. Fielding's favourite play seems from his quotations to have been 'Othello.'

[15] Book x. chap. i.

[16] Tom Jones, book xv. chap. i.

[17] For Fielding's view of the French novels of his day see Tom Jones, book xiii. chap. ix.


Sainte-Beuve's Essay on Cowper—considered as the type of domestic poets—has recently been translated for the benefit of English readers. It is interesting to know on the highest authority what are the qualities which may recommend a writer, so strongly tinged by local prejudices, to the admiration of a different race and generation. The gulf which separates the Olney of a century back from modern Paris is wide enough to give additional value to the generous appreciation of the critic. I have not the presumption to supplement or correct any part of his judgment. It is enough to remark briefly that Cowper's immediate popularity was, as is usually the case, due in part to qualities which have little to do with his more enduring reputation. Sainte-Beuve dwells with special fondness upon his pictures of domestic and rural life. He notices, of course, the marvellous keenness of his pathetic poems; and he touches, though with some hint that national affinity is necessary to its full appreciation, upon the playful humour which immortalised John Gilpin, and lights up the poet's most charming letters. Something, perhaps, might still be said by a competent critic upon the singular charm of Cowper's best style. A poet, for example, might perhaps tell us, though a prosaic person cannot, what is the secret of the impression made by such a poem as the 'Wreck of the Royal George.' Given an ordinary newspaper paragraph about wreck or battle, turn it into the simplest possible language, do not introduce a single metaphor or figure of speech, indulge in none but the most obvious of all reflections—as, for example, that when a man is once drowned he won't win any more battles—and produce as the result a copy of verses which nobody can ever read without instantly knowing them by heart. How Cowper managed to perform such a feat, and why not one poet even in a hundred can perform it, are questions which might lead to some curious critical speculation.

The qualities, however, which charm the purely literary critic do not account for the whole of Cowper's influence. A great part of his immediate, and some part of his more enduring success, have been clearly owing to a different cause. On reading Johnson's 'Lives,' Cowper remarked, rather uncharitably, that there was scarcely one good man amongst the poets. Few poets, indeed, shared those religious views which commended him more than any literary excellence to a large class of readers. Religious poetry is generally popular out of all proportion to its aesthetic merits. Young was but a second-rate Pope in point of talent; but probably the 'Night Thoughts' have been studied by a dozen people for one who has read the 'Essay on Man' or the 'Imitations of Horace.' In our own day, nobody, I suppose, would hold that the popularity of the 'Christian Year' has been strictly proportioned to its poetical excellence; and Cowper's vein of religious meditation has recommended him to thousands who, if biassed at all, were quite unconsciously biassed by the admirable qualities which endeared him to such a critic as Sainte-Beuve. His own view was frequently and unequivocally expressed. He says over and over again—and his entire sincerity lifts him above all suspicion of the affected self-depreciation of other writers—that he looked upon his poetical work as at best innocent trifling, except so far as his poems were versified sermons. His intention was everywhere didactic—sometimes annoyingly didactic—and his highest ambition was to be a useful auxiliary to the prosaic exhortations of Doddridge, Watts, or his friend Newton. His religion, said some people, drove him mad. Even a generous critic like Mr. Stopford Brooke cannot refrain from hinting that his madness was in some part due to the detested influence of Calvinism. In fact, it may be admitted that Newton—who is half inclined to boast that he has a name for driving people mad—scarcely showed his judgment in setting a man who had already been in confinement to write hymns which at times are the embodiment of despair. But it is obviously contrary to the plainest facts to say that Cowper was driven mad by his creed. His first attack preceded his religious enthusiasm; and a gentleman who tries to hang himself because he has received a comfortable appointment for life, is in a state of mind which may be explained without reference to his theological views. It would be truer to say that when Cowper's intellect was once unhinged, he found a congenial expression for the tortures of his soul in the imagery provided by the sternest of Christian sects. But neither can this circumstance be alleged as in itself disparaging to the doctrines thus misapplied. A religious belief which does not provide language for the darkest moods of the human mind, for profound melancholy, torturing remorse and gloomy foreboding, is a religion not calculated to lay a powerful grasp upon the imaginations of mankind. Had Cowper been a Roman Catholic, the same anguish of mind might have driven him to seek relief in the recesses of some austere monastery. Had he, like Rousseau, been a theoretical optimist, he would, like Rousseau, have tortured himself with the conflict between theory and fact—between the world as it might be and the corrupt and tyrannous world as it is—and have held that all men were in a conspiracy to rob him of his peace. The chief article of Rousseau's rather hazy creed was the duty of universal philanthropy, and Rousseau fancied himself to be the object of all men's hatred. Similarly, Cowper, who held that the first duty of man was the love of God, fancied that some mysterious cause had made him the object of the irrevocable hatred of his Creator. With such fancies, reason and creeds which embody reason have nothing to do except to give shape to the instruments of self-torture. The cause of the misery is the mind diseased. You can no more raze out its rooted troubles by arguing against the reality of the phantoms which it generates than cure any other delirium by the most irrefragable logic.

Sainte-Beuve makes some remarks upon this analogy between Rousseau and Cowper. The comparison suggests some curious considerations as to the contrast and likeness of the two cases represented. Some personal differences are, of course, profound and obvious. Cowper was as indisputably the most virtuous man, as Rousseau the greatest intellectual power. Cowper's domestic life was as beautiful as Rousseau's was repulsive. Rousseau, moreover, was more decidedly a sentimentalist than Cowper, if by sentimentalism we mean that disposition which makes a luxury of grief, and delights in poring over its own morbid emotions. Cowper's tears are always wrung from him by intense anguish of soul, and never, as is occasionally the case with Rousseau, suggests that the weeper is proud of his excessive tenderness. Nevertheless, it is probably true, as Mr. Lowell says, that Cowper is the nearest congener of Rousseau in our language. The two men, of course, occupy in one respect an analogous literary position. We habitually assign to Cowper an important place—though of course a subordinate place to Rousseau—in bringing about the reaction against the eighteenth-century code of taste and morality. In each case it would generally be said that the change indicated was a return to nature and passion from the artificial coldness of the dominant school. That reaction, whatever its precise nature, took characteristically different forms in England and in France; and it is as illustrating one of the most important distinctions that I propose to say a few words upon the contrast thus exhibited.

Return to Nature! That was the war-cry which animated the Lake school in their assault upon the then established authority. Pope, as they held, had tied the hands of English poets by his jingling metres and frigid conventionalities. The muse—to make use of the old-fashioned phrase—had been rouged and bewigged, and put into high-heeled boots, till she had lost the old majestic freedom of gait and energy of action. Let us go back to our ancient school, to Milton and Shakespeare and Spenser and Chaucer, and break the ignoble fetters imported from the pseudo-classicists of France. These and similar phrases, repeated and varied in a thousand forms, have become part of the stock-in-trade of literary historians, and are put forward so fluently that we sometimes forget to ask what it is precisely that they mean. Down to Milton, it is assumed, we were natural; then we became artificial; and with the Revolution we became natural again. That a theory so generally received and so consciously adopted by the leaders of the new movement must have in it a considerable amount of truth, is not to be disputed. But it is sometimes not easy to interpret it into very plain language. The method of explaining great intellectual and social movements by the phrase 'reaction' is a very tempting one, for the simple reason that it enables us to effect a great saving of thought. The change is made to explain itself. History becomes a record of oscillations; we are always swinging backwards and forwards, pendulum fashion, from one extreme to another. The courtiers of Charles II. were too dissolute because the Puritans were too strict; Addison and Steele were respectable because Congreve and Wycherley were licentious; Wesley was zealous because the Church had become indifferent; the Revolution of 1789 was a reaction against the manners of the last century, and the Revolution in running its course set up a reaction against itself. Now it is easy enough to admit that there is some truth in this theory. Every great man who moves his race profoundly is of necessity protesting against the worst evils of the time, and it is as true as a copy-book that zeal leads to extremes, and one extreme to its opposite. A river flowing through a nearly level plain turns its concavity alternately to the east and west, and we may fairly explain each bend by the fact that the previous bend was in the opposite direction. But that does not explain why the river flows down-hill, nor show which direction tends downwards. We may account for trifling oscillations, not for the main current. Nor does it seem at first a self-evident proposition that vice, for example, necessarily generates over-strictness. A man is not always a Pharisee because his father has been a sinner. In fact, the people who talk so fluently about reaction fall back whenever it suits them upon the inverse theory. If a process happens to be continuous, the reason is as simple and satisfactory as in the opposite case. A man is dissolute, they will tell us, because his father was dissolute; just as they will tell us, in the opposite case, that he was dissolute because his father was strict. Obviously, the mere statement of a reaction is not by itself satisfactory. We want to know why there should have been a reaction; why the code of morals which satisfied one generation did not satisfy its successors; why the coming man was repelled rather than attracted; what it was that made Pope array himself in a wig instead of appreciating the noble freedom of his predecessors; and why, again, at a given period men became tired of the old wig business. When we have solved, or approximated to a solution of, that problem, we shall generally find, I suspect, that the action and reaction are generally more superficial phenomena than we suppose, and that the great processes of evolution are going on beneath the surface comparatively undisturbed by the changes which first attract our notice. Every man naturally exaggerates the share of his education due to himself. He fancies that he has made a wonderful improvement upon his father's views, perhaps by reversing the improvement made by the father on the grandfather's. He does not see, what is plain enough to a more distant generation, that in reality each generation is most closely bound to its nearest predecessors.

There is, too, a special source of ambiguity in the catchword used by the revolutionary school. They spoke of a return to nature. What, to ask once more a very troublesome question, is meant by nature? Does it mean inanimate nature? If so, is a love of nature clearly good or 'natural?' Was Wordsworth justifiable prima facie for telling us to study mountains rather than Pope for announcing that

The proper study of mankind is man?

Is it not more natural to be interested in men than in mountains? Does nature include man in his natural state? If so, what is the natural state of man? Is the savage the man of nature, or the unsophisticated peasant, or the man whose natural powers are developed to the highest pitch? Is a native of the Andaman Islands the superior of Socrates? If you admit that Socrates is superior to the savage, where do you draw the line between the natural and the artificial? If a coral reef is natural and beautiful because it is the work of insects, and a town artificial and ugly because made by man, we must reject as unnatural all the best products of the human race. If you distinguish between different works of man, the distinction becomes irrelevant, for the products to which we most object are just as natural, in any assignable sense of the word, as those which we most admire. The word natural may indeed be used as equivalent simply to beneficial or healthy; but then it loses all value as an implicit test of what is and what is not beneficial. Probably, indeed, some such sense was floating before the minds of most who have used the term. We shall generally find a vague recognition of the fact that there is a continuous series of integrating and disintegrating processes; that some charges imply a normal development of the social or individual organism leading to increased health and strength, whilst others are significant of disease and ultimate obliteration or decay of structure. Thus the artificial style of the Pope school, the appeals to the muse, the pastoral affectation, and so forth, may be called unnatural, because the philosophy of that style is the retention of obsolete symbols after all vitality has departed, and when they consequently become mere obstructions, embarrassing the free flow of emotion which they once stimulated.

But, however this may be, it is plain that the very different senses given to the word nature by different schools of thought were characteristic of profoundly different conceptions of the world and its order. There is a sense in which it may be said with perfect accuracy that the worship of nature, so far from being a fresh doctrine of the new school, was the most characteristic tenet of the school from which it dissented. All the speculative part of the English literature in the first half of the eighteenth century is a prolonged discussion as to the meaning and value of the law of nature, the religion of nature, and the state of nature. The deist controversy, which occupied every one of the keenest thinkers of the time, turned essentially upon this problem: granting that there is an ascertainable and absolutely true religion of nature, what is its relation to revealed religion? That, for example, is the question explicitly discussed in Butler's typical book, which gives the pith of the whole orthodox argument, and the same speculation suggested the theme of Pope's 'Essay on Man,' which, in its occasional strength and its many weaknesses, is perhaps the most characteristic, though far from the most valuable product of the time. The religion of nature undoubtedly meant something very different with Butler or Pope from what it would have meant with Wordsworth or Coleridge—something so different, indeed, that we might at first say that the two creeds had nothing in common but the name. But we may see from Rousseau that there was a real and intimate connection. Rousseau's philosophy, in fact, is taken bodily from the teaching of his English predecessors. His celebrated profession of faith through the lips of the Vicaire Savoyard, which delighted Voltaire and profoundly influenced the leaders of the French Revolution, is in fact the expression of a deism identical with that of Pope's essay.[18] The political theories of the Social Contract are founded upon the same base which served Locke and the English political theorists of 1688; and are applied to sanction the attempt to remodel existing societies in accordance with what they would have called the law of nature. It is again perfectly true that Rousseau drew from his theory consequences which inspired Robespierre, and would have made Locke's hair stand on end; and that Pope would have been scandalised at the too open revelation of his religious tendencies. It is also true that Rousseau's passion was of infinitely greater importance than his philosophy. But it remains true that the logical framework into which his theories were fitted came to him straight from the same school of thought which was dominant in England during the preceding period. The real change effected by Rousseau was that he breathed life into the dead bones. The English theorists, as has been admirably shown by Mr. Morley in his 'Rousseau,' acted after their national method. They accepted doctrines which, if logically developed, would have led to a radical revolution, and therefore refused to develop them logically. They remained in their favourite attitude of compromise, and declined altogether to accommodate practice to theory. Locke's political principles fairly carried out implied universal suffrage, the absolute supremacy of the popular will, and the abolition of class privileges. And yet it never seems to have occurred to him that he was even indirectly attacking that complex structure of the British Constitution, rooted in history, marked in every detail by special conditions of growth, and therefore anomalous to the last degree when tried by a priori reasoning, of which Burke's philosophical eloquence gives the best explanation and apology. Similarly, Clarke's theology is pure deism, embodied in a series of propositions worked out on the model of a mathematical text-book, and yet in his eyes perfectly consistent with an acceptance of the orthodox dogmas which repose upon traditional authority. This attitude of mind, so intelligible on this side of the Channel, was utterly abhorrent to Rousseau's logical instincts. Englishmen were content to keep their abstract theories for the closet or the lecture-room, and dropped them as soon as they were in the pulpit or in Parliament. Rousseau could give no quarter to any doctrine which could not be fitted into a symmetrical edifice of abstract reasoning. He carried into actual warfare the weapons which his English teachers had kept for purposes of mere scholastic disputation. A monarchy, an order of privileged nobility, a hierarchy claiming supernatural authority, were not logically justifiable on the accepted principles. Never mind, was the English answer, they work very well in practice; let us leave them alone. Down with them to the ground! was Rousseau's passionate retort. Realise the ideal; force practice into conformity with theory; the voice of the poor and the oppressed is crying aloud for vengeance; the divergence of the actual from the theoretical is no mere trifle to be left to the slow action of time; it means the misery of millions and the corruption of their rulers. The doctrine which had amused philosophers was to become the war-cry of the masses; the men of '89 were at no loss to translate into precepts suited for the immediate wants of the day the doctrines which found their first utterance in the glow of his voluminous eloquence; and the fall of the Bastille showed the first vibrations of the earthquake which is still shaking the soil of Europe.

It is easy, then, to give a logical meaning to Rousseau's return to nature. The whole inanimate world, so ran his philosophy, is perfect, and shows plainly the marks of the Divine workmanship. All evil really comes from man's abuse of freewill. Mountains, and forests, and seas, all objects which have not suffered from his polluting touch, are perfect and admirable. Let us fall down and worship. Man, too, himself, as he came from his Creator's hands, is perfect. His 'natural'—that is, original—impulses are all good; and in all men, in all races and regions of the earth, we find a conscience which unerringly distinguishes good from evil, and a love of his fellows which causes man to obey the dictates of his conscience. And yet the world, as we see it, is a prison or a lazar-house. Disease and starvation make life a burden, and poison the health of the coming generations; those whom fortune has placed above the masses make use of their advantages to harden their hearts, and extract means of selfish enjoyment from the sufferings of their fellow-creatures. What is the source of this heartrending discord? The abuse of men's freewill; that is, of the mysterious power which enables us to act contrary to the dictates of nature. What is the best name for the disease which it generates? Luxury and corruption—the two cant objects of denunciations which were as popular in the pre-revolutionary generation as attacks upon sensationalism and over-excitement at the present day. And what, then, is the mode of cure? The return to nature. We are to make history run backwards, to raze to its foundations the whole social and intellectual structure that has been erected by generations of corrupt and selfish men. Everything by which the civilised man differs from some theoretical pretension is tainted with a kind of original sin. Political institutions, as they exist, are conveniences for enabling the rich to rob the poor, and churches contrivances by which priests make ignorance and superstition play into the hands of selfish authority. Level all the existing order, and build up a new one on principles of pure reason; give up all the philosophical and theological dogmas, which have been the work of designing priests and bewildered speculators, and revert to that pure and simple religion which is divinely implanted in the heart of every uncorrupted human being. The Savoyard vicar, if you have any doubts, will tell you what is the true creed; and if you don't believe it, is Rousseau's rather startling corollary, you ought to be put to death.

That final touch shows the arbitrary and despotic spirit characteristic of the relentless theorist. I need not here inquire what relation may be borne by Rousseau's theories to any which could now be accepted by intelligent thinkers. It is enough to say that there would be, to put it gently, some slight difficulty in settling the details of this pure creed common to all unsophisticated minds, and in seeing what would be left when we had destroyed all institutions alloyed by sin and selfishness. The meaning, however, in this connection of his love of nature, taking the words in their mere common-sense, is in harmony with his system. The mountains, whose worship he was the first to adumbrate, if not actually to institute, were the symbols of the great natural forces free from any stain of human interference. Greed and cruelty had not stained the pure waters of his lovely lake, or dimmed the light to which his vicar points as in the early morning it grazes the edges of the mighty mountain buttresses. Whatever symbolism may be found in the Alps, suggesting emotions of awe, wonder, and softened melancholy, came unstained by the association with the vices of a complex civilisation. If poets and critics have not quite analysed the precise nature of our modern love of mountain scenery, the sentiment may at least be illustrated by a modern parallel. The most eloquent writer who, in our day, has transferred to his pages the charm of Alpine beauties, shares in many ways Rousseau's antipathy for the social order. Mr. Ruskin would explain better than anyone why the love of the sublimest scenery should be associated with a profound conviction that all things are out of joint, and that society can only be regenerated by rejecting all the achievements upon which the ordinary optimist plumes himself. After all, it is not surprising that those who are most sick of man as he is should love the regions where man seems smallest. When Swift wished to express his disgust for his race, he showed how absurd our passions appear in a creature six inches high; and the mountains make us all Liliputians. In other mouths Rousseau's sentiment, more fully interpreted, became unequivocally misanthropical. Byron, if any definite logical theory were to be fixed upon him, excluded the human race at large from his conception of nature. He loved, or talked as though he loved, the wilderness precisely because it was a wilderness; the sea because it sent men 'shivering to their gods,' and the mountains because their avalanches crush the petty works of human industry. Rousseau was less anti-social than his disciple. The mountains with him were the great barriers which kept civilisation and all its horrors at bay. They were the asylums for liberty and simplicity. There the peasant, unspoilt as yet by trinkgelds, not oppressed by the great, nor corrupted by the rich, could lead that idyllic life upon which his fancy delighted. In a passage quoted, as Sainte-Beuve notices, by Cowper, Rousseau describes, with his usual warmth of sentiment, the delightful matinee anglaise passed in sight of the Alps by the family which had learnt the charms of simplicity, and regulated its manners and the education of its children by the unsophisticated laws of nature. It is doubtless a charming picture, though the virtuous persons concerned are a little over-conscious of their virtue, and it indicates a point of coincidence between the two men. Rousseau, as Mr. Morley says, could appreciate as well as Cowper the charms of a simple and natural life. Nobody could be more eloquent on the beauty of domesticity; no one could paint better the happiness of family life, where the main occupation was the primitive labour of cultivating the ground, where no breath of unhallowed excitement penetrated from the restless turmoil of the outside world, where the mother knew her place, and kept to her placid round of womanly duties, and where the children were taught with a gentle firmness which developed every germ of reason and affection, without undue stimulus or undue repression. And yet one must doubt whether Cowper would have felt himself quite at ease in the family of the Wolmars. The circle which gathered round the hearth at Olney to listen for the horn of the approaching postman, and solaced itself with cups 'that cheer but not inebriate,'[19] would have been a little scandalised by some of the sentiments current in the Vaudois paradise, and certainly by some of the antecedents of the party assembled. Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, and even their more fashionable friend, Lady Austen, would have felt their respectable prejudices shocked by contact with the new Heloise; and the views of life taken by their teacher, the converted slaveholder, John Newton, were as opposite as possible to those of Rousseau's imaginary vicar. Indeed, Rousseau's ideal families have that stain of affectation from which Cowper is so conspicuously free. The rose-colour is laid on too thickly. They are too fond of taking credit for universal admiration of the fine feelings which invariably animate their breasts; their charitable sentiments are apt to take the form of very easy condonation of vice; and if they repudiate the world, we cannot believe that they are really unconscious of its existence. Perhaps this dash of self-consciousness was useful in recommending them to the taste of the jaded and weary society, sickening of a strange disease which it could not interpret to itself, and finding for the moment a new excitement in the charms of ancient simplicity. The real thing might have palled upon it. But Rousseau's artificial and self-conscious simplicity expressed that vague yearning and spirit of unrest which could generate a half-sensual sentimentalism, but could be repelled by genuine sentiment. Perhaps it not uncommonly happens that those who are more or less tainted with a morbid tendency can denounce it most effectually. The most effective satirist is the man who has escaped with labour and pains, and not without some grievous stains, from the slough in which others are still mired. The perfectly pure has sometimes too little sympathy with his weaker brethren to place himself at their point of view. Indeed, as we shall have occasion to remark, Cowper is an instance of a thinker too far apart from the great world to apply the lash effectually.

Rousseau's view of the world and its evils was thus coherent enough, however unsatisfactory in its basis, and was a development of, not a reaction against, the previously dominant philosophy; and, though using a different dialect and confined by different conditions, Cowper's attack upon the existing order harmonises with much of Rousseau's language. The first volume of poems, in which he had not yet discovered the secret of his own strength, is in form a continuation of the satires of the Pope school, and in substance a religious version of Rousseau's denunciations of luxury. Amongst the first symptoms of the growing feeling of uneasy discontent had been the popularity of Brown's now-forgotten 'Estimate.'

The inestimable estimate of Brown Rose like a paper kite, and charmed the town,

says Cowper; and he proceeds to show that, though Chatham's victorious administration had for a moment restored the self-respect of the country, the evils denounced by Brown were symptoms of a profound and lasting disease. The poems called the 'Progress of Error,' 'Expostulation,' 'Truth,' 'Hope,' 'Charity,' and 'Conversation,' all turn upon the same theme. Though Cowper is for brief spaces playful or simply satirical, he always falls back into his habitual vein of meditation. For the ferocious personalities of Churchill, the coarse-fibred friend of his youth, we have a sad strain of lamentation over the growing luxury and effeminacy of the age. It is a continued anticipation of the lines in the 'Task,' which seem to express his most serious and sincere conviction.

The course of human ills, from good to ill, From ill to worse, is fatal, never fails. Increase of power begets increase of wealth, Wealth luxury, and luxury excess: Excess the scrofulous and itchy plague, That seizes first the opulent, descends To the next rank contagious, and in time Taints downwards all the graduated scale Of order, from the chariot to the plough.

That is his one unvariable lesson, set in different lights, but associated more or less closely with every observation. The world is ripening or rotting; and, as with Rousseau, luxury is the most significant name of the absorbing evil. That such a view should commend itself to a mind so clouded with melancholy would not be at any time surprising, but it fell in with a widely spread conviction. Cowper had not, indeed, learnt the most effective mode of touching men's hearts. Separated by a retirement of twenty years from the world, with which he had never been very familiar, and at which he only 'peeped through the loopholes of retreat,' his satire wanted the brilliance, the quickness of illustration from actual life, which alone makes satire readable. His tone of feeling too frequently suggests that the critic represents the querulous comments of old ladies gossiping about the outside world over their tea-cups, easily scandalised by very simple things. Mrs. Unwin was an excellent old lady, and Newton a most zealous country clergyman. Probably they were intrinsically superior to the fine ladies and gentlemen who laughed at them. But a mind acclimatised to the atmosphere which they breathed inevitably lost its nervous tone. There was true masculine vigour underlying Cowper's jeremiads; but it was natural that many people should only see in him an amiable valetudinarian, not qualified for a censorship of statesmen and men of the world. The man who fights his way through London streets can't stop to lament over every splash and puddle which might shock poor Cowper's nervous sensibility.

The last poem of the series, however, 'Retirement,' showed that Cowper had a more characteristic and solacing message to mankind than a mere rehearsal of the threadbare denunciations of luxury. The 'Task' revealed his genuine power. There appeared those admirable delineations of country scenery and country thoughts which Sainte-Beuve detaches so lovingly from the mass of serious speculation in which they are embedded. What he, as a purely literary critic, passed over as comparatively uninteresting, gives the exposition of Cowper's intellectual position. The poem is in fact a political, moral, and religious disquisition interspersed with charming vignettes, which, though not obtrusively moralised, illustrate the general thesis. The poetical connoisseur may separate them from their environment, as a collector of engravings might cut out the illustrations from the now worthless letterpress. The poor author might complain that the most important moral was thus eliminated from his book. But the author is dead, and his opinions don't much matter. To understand Cowper's mind, however, we must take the now obsolete meditation with the permanently attractive pictures. To know why he so tenderly loved the slow windings of the sinuous Ouse, we must see what he thought of the great Babel beyond. It is the distant murmur of the great city that makes his little refuge so attractive. The general vein of thought which appears in every book of the poem is most characteristically expressed in the fifth, called 'A Winter Morning Walk.' Cowper strolls out at sunrise in his usual mood of tender playfulness, smiles at the vast shadow cast by the low winter sun, as he sees upon the cottage wall the

Preposterous sight! the legs without the man.

He remarks, with a passing recollection of his last sermon, that we are all shadows; but turns to note the cattle cowering behind the fences; the labourer carving the haystack; the woodman going to work, followed by his half-bred cur, and cheered by the fragrance of his short pipe. He watches the marauding sparrows, and thinks with tenderness of the fate of less audacious birds; and then pauses to examine the strange fretwork erected at the mill-dam by the capricious freaks of the frost. Art, it suggests to him, is often beaten by Nature; and his fancy goes off to the winter palace of ice erected by the Russian empress. His friend Newton makes use of the same easily allegorised object in one of his religious writings; though I know not whether the poet or the divine first turned it to account. Cowper, at any rate, is immediately diverted into a meditation on 'human grandeur and the courts of kings.' The selfishness and folly of the great give him an obvious theme for a dissertation in the true Rousseau style. He tells us how 'kings were first invented'—the ordinary theory of the time being that political—deists added religious—institutions were all somehow 'invented' by knaves to impose upon fools. 'War is a game,' he says, in the familiar phrase,

'Which were their subjects wise Kings would not play at.'

But, unluckily, their subjects are fools. In England indeed—for Cowper, by virtue of his family traditions, was in theory a sound Whig—we know how far to trust our kings; and he rises into a warmth on behalf of liberty for which he thinks it right to make a simple-minded apology in a note. The sentiment suggests a vigorous and indeed prophetic denunciation of the terrors of the Bastille, and its 'horrid towers and dungeons.'

There's not an English heart that would not leap To hear that ye were fallen at last!

Within five or six years English hearts were indeed welcoming the event thus foretold as the prospect of a new era of liberty. Liberty, says Cowper, is the one thing which makes England dear. Were that boon lost,

I would at least bewail it under skies Milder, amongst a people less austere; In scenes which, having never known me free, Would not reproach me with the loss I felt.[20]

So far Cowper was but expressing the sentiments of Rousseau, omitting, of course, Rousseau's hearty dislike for England. But liberty suggests to Cowper a different and more solemn vein of thought. There are worse dungeons, he remembers, than the Bastille, and a slavery compared with which that of the victims of French tyranny is a trifle—

There is yet a liberty unsung By poets, and by senators unpraised, Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the power Of earth and hell confederate take away.

The patriot is lower than the martyr, though more highly prized by the world; and Cowper changes his strain of patriotic fervour into a prolonged devotional comment upon the text,

He is the freeman whom the truth makes free, And all are slaves besides.

Who would have thought that we could glide so easily into so solemn a topic from looking at the quaint freaks of morning shadows? But the charm of the 'Task' is its sincerity; and in Cowper's mind the most trivial objects really are connected by subtle threads of association with the most solemn thoughts. He begins with mock heroics on the sofa, and ends with a glowing vision of the millennium. No dream of human perfectibility, but the expected advent of the true Ruler of the earth, is the relief to the palpable darkness of the existing world. The 'Winter Walk' traces the circle of thought through which his mind invariably revolves.

It would be a waste of labour to draw out in definite formula the systems adopted, from emotional sympathy, rather than from any logical speculation, by Cowper and Rousseau. Each in some degree owed his power—though Rousseau in a far higher degree than Cowper—to his profound sensitiveness to the heavy burden of the time. Each of them felt like a personal grief, and exaggerated in a distempered imagination, the weariness and the forebodings more dimly present to contemporaries. In an age when old forms of government had grown rigid and obsolete, when the stiffened crust of society was beginning to heave with new throes, when ancient faiths had left mere husks of dead formulae to cramp the minds of men, when even superficial observers were startled by vague omens of a coming crash, or expected some melodramatic regeneration of the world, it was perhaps not strange that two men, tottering on the verge of madness, should be amongst the most impressive prophets. The truth of Butler's speculation, that nations, like individuals, might go mad, was about to receive an apparent confirmation. Cowper, like Rousseau, might see the world through the distorting haze of a disordered fancy, but the world at large was itself strangely disordered, and the smouldering discontent of the inarticulate masses found an echo in their passionate utterances. Their voices were like the moan of a coming earthquake.

The difference, however, so characteristic of the two countries, is reflected by the national representatives. Nobody could be less of a revolutionist than Cowper. His whiggism was little more than a tradition. Though he felt bound to denounce kings, to talk about Hampden and Sidney, and to sympathise with Mrs. Macaulay's old-fashioned republicanism, there was not a more loyal subject of George III., or one more disposed, when he could turn his mind from his pet hares to the concerns of the empire, to lament the revolt of the American colonies. The awakening of England from the pleasant slumbers of the eighteenth century—for it seems pleasant in these more restless times—took place in a curiously sporadic and heterogeneous fashion. In France the spiritual and temporal were so intricately welded together, the interests of the State were so deeply involved in maintaining the faith of the Church, that conservatism and orthodoxy naturally went together. Philosophers rejected with equal fervour the established religious and the political creed. The new volume of passionate feeling, no longer satisfied with the ancient barriers, poured itself in both cases into the revolutionary channel. In England no such plain and simple issue existed. We had our usual system of compromises in practice, and hybrid combinations of theory. There were infidel conservatives and radical believers. The man who more than any other influenced English history during that century was John Wesley. Wesley was to the full as deeply impressed as Rousseau with the moral and social evils of the time. We may doubt whether Cowper's denunciations of luxury owed most to Rousseau's sentimental eloquence or to the matter-of-fact vigour of Wesley's 'Appeals.' Cowper's portrait of Whitefield—'Leuconomus,' as he calls him, to evade the sneers of the cultivated—and his frequent references to the despised sect of Methodists reveal the immediate source of much of his indignation. So far as those evils were caused by the intellectual and moral conditions common to Europe at large, Wesley and Rousseau might be called allies. Both of them gave satisfaction to the need for a free play of unsatisfied emotions. Their solutions of the problem were of course radically different; and Cowper only speaks the familiar language of his sect when he taunts the philosopher with his incapacity to free man from his bondage:

Spend all the powers Of rant and rhapsody in virtue's praise, Be most sublimely good, verbosely grand, And with poetic trappings grace thy prose Till it outmantle all the pride of verse;

where he was possibly, as Sainte-Beuve suggests, thinking of Rousseau, though Shaftesbury was the more frequent butt of such denunciations. The difference in the solution of the great problem of moral regeneration was facilitated by the difference of the environment. Rousseau, though he shows a sentimental tenderness for Christianity, could not be orthodox without putting himself on the side of the oppressors. Wesley, though feeling profoundly the social discords of the time, could take the side of the poor without the need of breaking in pieces a rigid system of class-privilege. The evil which he had to encounter did not present itself as tyranny oppressing helplessness, but as a general neglect of reciprocal duties verging upon license. On the whole, therefore, he took the conservative side of political questions. When the American war gave the first signal of coming troubles, the combinations of opinion were significant of the general state of mind. Wesley and Johnson denounced the rebels from the orthodox point of view with curious coincidence of language. The only man of equal intellectual calibre who took the same side unequivocally was the arch-infidel Gibbon. The then sleepy Established Church was too tolerant or too indifferent to trouble him: why should he ally himself with Puritans and enthusiasts to attack the Government which at once supported and tied its hands? On the other side, we find such lovers of the established religious order as Burke associated with free-thinkers like Tom Paine and Horne Tooke. Tooke might agree with Voltaire in private, but he could not air his opinions to a party which relied in no small measure on the political zeal of sound dissenters. Dissent, in fact, meant something like atheism combined with radicalism in France; in England it meant desire for the traditional liberties of Englishmen, combined with an often fanatical theological creed.

Cowper, brought up amidst such surroundings, had no temptation to adopt Rousseau's sweeping revolutionary fervour. His nominal whiggism was not warmed into any subversive tendency. The labourers with whose sorrows he sympathised might be ignorant, coarse, and drunken; he saw their faults too clearly to believe in Rousseau's idyllic conventionalities, and painted the truth as realistically as Crabbe: they required to be kept out of the public-house, not to be liberated from obsolete feudal disqualifications; a poacher, such as he described, was not the victim of a brutal aristocracy, but simply a commonplace variety of thief. And, on the other hand, when he denounces the laziness and selfishness of the Establishment, the luxurious bishops, the sycophantic curates, the sporting and the fiddling and the card-playing parson, he has no thought of the enmity to Christianity which such satire would have suggested to a French reformer, but is mentally contrasting the sleepiness of the bishops with the virtues of Newton or Whitefield.

'Where dwell these matchless saints?' old Curio cries. 'Even at your side, sir, and before your eyes, The favour'd few, the enthusiasts you despise.'

And whatever be thought of Cowper's general estimate of the needs of his race, it must be granted that in one respect his philosophy was more consequent than Rousseau's. Rousseau, though a deist in theory, rejected the deist conclusion, that whatever is, is right; and consequently the problem of how it can be that men, who are naturally so good, are in fact so vile, remained a difficulty, only slurred over by his fluent metaphysics about freewill. Cowper's belief in the profound corruption of human nature supplied him with a doctrine less at variance with his view of facts. He has no illusions about the man of nature. The savage, he tells us, was a drunken beast till rescued from his bondage by the zeal of the Moravian missionaries; and the poor are to be envied, not because their lives are actually much better, but because they escape the temptations and sophistries of the rich and learned.

But how should this sentiment fit in with Cowper's love of nature? In the language of his sect, nature is generally opposed to grace. It is applied to a world in which not only the human inhabitants, but the whole creation, is tainted with a mysterious evil. Why should Cowper find relief in contemplating a system in which waste and carnage play so conspicuous a part? Why, when he rescued his pet hares from the general fate of their race, did he not think of the innumerable hares who suffered not only from guns and greyhounds, but from the general annoyances incident to the struggle for existence? Would it not have been more logical if he had placed his happiness altogether in another world, where the struggles and torments of our everyday life are unknown? Indeed, though Cowper, as an orthodox Protestant, held that ascetic practices ministered simply to spiritual conceit, was he not bound to a sufficiently galling form of asceticism? His friends habitually looked askance upon all those pleasures of the intellect and the imagination which are not directly subservient to the religious emotions. They had grave doubts of the expediency of his studies of the pagan Homer. They looked with suspicion upon the slightest indulgence in social amusements. And Cowper fully shared their sentiments. A taste for music, for example, generally suggests to him a parson fiddling when he ought to be praying; and following once more the lead of Newton, he remarks upon the Handel celebration as a piece of grotesque profanity. The name of science calls up to him a pert geologist, declaring after an examination of the earth

That He who made it, and revealed its date To Moses, was mistaken in its age.

Not only is the great bulk of his poetry directly religious or devotional, but on publishing the 'Task' he assures Newton that he has admitted none but Scriptural images, and kept as closely as possible to Scriptural language. Elsewhere he quotes Swift's motto, Vive la bagatelle! as a justification of 'John Gilpin.' Fox is recorded to have said that Swift must have been fundamentally a good-natured man because he wrote so much nonsense. To me the explanation seems to be very different. Nothing is more melancholy than Swift's elaborate triflings, because they represent the efforts of a powerful intellect passing into madness under enforced inaction, to kill time by childish occupation. And the diagnosis of Cowper's case is similar. He trifles, he says, because he is reduced to it by necessity. His most ludicrous verses have been written in his saddest mood. It would be, he adds, 'but a shocking vagary' if the sailors on a ship in danger relieved themselves 'by fiddling and dancing; yet sometimes much such a part act I.' His love of country sights and pleasures is so intense because it is the most effectual relief. 'Oh!' he exclaims, 'I could spend whole days and nights in gazing upon a lovely prospect! My eyes drink the rivers as they flow.' And he adds, in his characteristic vein of thought, 'if every human being upon earth could feel as I have done for many years, there might perhaps be many miserable men among them, but not an unawakened one could be found from the Arctic to the Antarctic circle.' The earth and the sun itself are, he says, but 'baubles;' but they are the baubles which alone can distract his attention from more awful prospects. His little garden and greenhouse are playthings lent to him for a time, and soon to be left. He 'never framed a wish or formed a plan,' as he says in the 'Task,' of which the scene was not laid in the country; and when the gloomiest forebodings unhinged his mind, his love became a passion. He is like his own prisoner in the Bastille playing with spiders. All other avenues of delight are closed to him; he believes, whenever his dark hour of serious thought returns, that he is soon to be carried off to unspeakable torments; all ordinary methods of human pleasure seem to be tainted with some corrupting influence; but whilst playing with his spaniel, or watching his cucumbers, or walking with Mrs. Unwin in the fields, he can for a moment distract his mind with purely innocent pleasures. The awful background of his visions, never quite absent, though often, we may hope, far removed from actual consciousness, throws out these hours of delight into more prominent relief. The sternest of his monitors, John Newton himself, could hardly grudge this cup of cold water presented, as it were, to the lips of a man in a self-made purgatory.

This is the peculiar turn which gives so characteristic a tone to Cowper's loving portraits of scenery. He is like the Judas seen by St. Brandan on the iceberg; he is enjoying a momentary relaxation between the past of misery and the future of anticipated torment. Such a sentiment must, fortunately, be in some sense exceptional and idiosyncratic. And yet, once more, it fell in with the prevailing current of thought. Cowper agrees with Rousseau in finding that the contemplation of scenery, unpolluted by human passion, and the enjoyment of a calm domestic life is the best anodyne for a spirit wearied with the perpetual disorders of a corrupt social order. He differs from him, as we have seen, in the conviction that a deeper remedy is wanting than any mere political change; in a more profound sense of human wickedness, and, on the other hand, in a narrower estimate of the conditions of human life. His definition of Nature, to put it logically, would exclude that natural man in whose potential existence Rousseau more or less believed. The passionate love of scenery was enough to distinguish him from the poets of the preceding school, whose supposed hatred of Nature meant simply that they were thoroughly immersed in the pleasures of a society then first developed in its modern form, and not yet undermined by the approach of a new revolution. The men of Pope and Addison's time looked upon country squires as bores incapable of intellectual pleasure, and, therefore, upon country life as a topic for gentle ridicule, or more frequently as an unmitigated nuisance. Probably their estimate was a very sound one. When a true poet like Thomson really enjoyed the fresh air, his taste did not become a passion, and the scenery appeared to him as a pleasant background to his Castle of Indolence. Cowper's peculiar religious views prevented him again from anticipating the wider and more philosophical sentiment of Wordsworth. Like Pope and Wordsworth, indeed, he occasionally uses language which has a pantheistic sound. He expresses his belief that

There lives and works A soul in all things, and that soul is God.

But when Pope uses a similar phrase, it is the expression of a decaying philosophy which never had much vitality, or passed from the sphere of intellectual speculation to affect the imagination and the emotions. It is a dogma which he holds sincerely, it may be, but not firmly enough to colour his habitual sentiments. With Wordsworth, whatever its precise meaning, it is an expression of an habitual and abiding sentiment, which rises naturally to his lips whenever he abandons himself to his spontaneous impulses. With Cowper, as is the case with all Cowper's utterances, it is absolutely sincere for the time; but it is a doctrine not very easily adapted to his habitual creed, and which drops out of his mind whenever he passes from external nature to himself or his fellows. The indwelling divinity whom he recognises in every 'freckle, streak, or stain' on his favourite flowers, seems to be hopelessly removed from his own personal interests. An awful and mysterious decree has separated him for ever from the sole source of consolation.

This is not the place to hint at any judgment upon Cowper's theology, or to inquire how far a love of nature, in his sense of the words, can be logically combined with a system based upon the fundamental dogma of the corruption of man. Certainly a similar anticipation of the poetical pantheism of Wordsworth may be found in that most logical of Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards. Cowper, too, could be at no loss for scriptural precedents, when recognising the immediate voice of God in thunder and earthquakes, or in the calmer voices of the waterbrooks and the meadows. His love of nature, at any rate, is at once of a narrower and sincerer kind than that which Rousseau first made fashionable. He has no tendency to the misanthropic or cynical view which induces men of morbid or affected minds to profess a love of savage scenery simply because it is savage. Neither does he rise to the more philosophical view which sees in the seas and the mountains the most striking symbols of the great forces of the universe to which we must accommodate ourselves, and which might therefore rightfully be associated by a Wordsworth with the deepest emotions of reverential awe. Nature is to him but a collection of 'baubles,' soon to be taken away, and he seeks in its contemplation a temporary relief from anguish, not a permanent object of worship. He would dread that sentiment as a deistical form of idolatry; and he is equally far from thinking that the natural man, wherever that vague person might be found, could possibly be a desirable object of imitation. His love of nature, in short, keen as it might be, was not the reflection of any philosophical, religious, or political theory. But it was genuine enough to charm many who might regard his theological sentiments as a mere recrudescence of an obsolete form of belief. Mr. Mill tells us how Wordsworth's poetry, little as he sympathised with Wordsworth's opinions, solaced an intellect wearied with premature Greek and over-doses of Benthamism. Such a relief must have come to many readers of Cowper, who would put down his religion as rank fanaticism, and his satire as anile declamation. Men suffered even then—though Cowper was a predecessor of Miss Austen—from existing forms of 'life at high pressure.' If life was not then so overcrowded, the evils under which men were suffering appeared to be even more hopeless. The great lesson of the value of intervals of calm retreat, of silence and meditation, was already needed, if it is now still more pressing. Cowper said, substantially, Leave the world, as Rousseau said, Upset the world. The reformer, to say nothing of his greater intellectual power, naturally interested the world which he threatened more than the recluse whom it frightened. Limited within a narrower circle of ideas, and living in a society where the great issues of the time were not presented in so naked a form, Cowper's influence ran in a more confined channel. He felt the incapacity of the old order to satisfy the emotional wants of mankind, but was content to revive the old forms of belief instead of seeking a more radical remedy in some subversive or reconstructive system of thought. But the depth and sincerity of feeling which explains his marvellous intensity of pathos is sometimes a pleasant relief to the sentimentalism of his greater predecessor. Nor is it hard to understand why his passages of sweet and melancholy musing by the quiet Ouse should have come like a breath of fresh air to the jaded generation waiting for the fall of the Bastille—and of other things.


[18] Rousseau himself seems to refer to Clarke, the leader of the English rationalising school, as the best expounder of his theory, and defended Pope's Essay against the criticisms of Voltaire.

[19] A phrase by the way, which Cowper, though little given to borrowing, took straight from Berkeley's 'Siris.'

[20] Lord Tennyson suggests the same consolation in the lines ending—

Yet waft me from the harbour-mouth, Wild winds, I seek a warmer sky; And I will see before I die The palms and temples of the South.


When browsing at random in a respectable library, one is pretty sure to hit upon the early numbers of the 'Edinburgh Review,' and prompted in consequence to ask oneself the question, What are the intrinsic merits of writing which produced so great an effect upon our grandfathers? The 'Review,' we may say, has lived into a third generation. The last survivor of the original set has passed away; and there are but few relics even of that second galaxy of authors amongst whom Macaulay was the most brilliant star. One may speak, therefore, without shocking existing susceptibilities, of the 'Review' in its first period, when Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, and Brougham were the most prominent names. A man may still call himself middle-aged and yet have a distinct memory of Brougham courting, rather too eagerly, the applause of the Social Science Association; or Jeffrey, as he appeared in his kindly old age, when he could hardly have spoken sharply of a Lake poet; and even of the last outpourings of the irrepressible gaiety of Sydney Smith. But the period of their literary activity is already so distant as to have passed into the domain of history. It is the same thing to say that it already belongs in some degree to the neighbouring or overlapping domain of fiction.

There is, in fact, already a conventional history of the early 'Edinburgh Review,' repeated without hesitation in all literary histories and assumed in a thousand allusions, which becomes a little incredible when we take down the dusty old volumes, where dingy calf has replaced the original splendours of the blue and yellow, and which have inevitably lost much of their savour during more than half a century's repose. The story of the original publication has been given by the chief founders. Edinburgh, at the beginning of the century, was one of those provincial centres of intellectual activity which have an increasing difficulty in maintaining themselves against metropolitan attractions. In the last half of the eighteenth century, such philosophical activity as existed in the country seemed to have taken refuge in the northern half of the island. A set of brilliant young men, living in a society still proud of the reputation of Hume, Adam Smith, Reid, Robertson, Dugald Stewart, and other northern luminaries, might naturally be susceptible to the stimulus of literary ambition. In politics the most rampant Conservatism, rendered bitter by the recent experience of the French Revolution, exercised a sway in Scotland more undisputed and vigorous than it is now easy to understand. The younger men who inclined to Liberalism were naturally prepared to welcome an organ for the expression of their views. Accordingly a knot of clever lads (Smith was 31, Jeffrey 29, Brown 24, Horner 24, and Brougham 23) met in the third (not, as Smith afterwards said, the 'eighth or ninth') story of a house in Edinburgh and started the journal by acclamation. The first number appeared in October 1802, and produced, we are told, an 'electrical' effect. Its old humdrum rivals collapsed before it. Its science, its philosophy, its literature were equally admired. Its politics excited the wrath and dread of Tories and the exultant delight of Whigs. It was, says Cockburn, a 'pillar of fire,' a far-seen beacon, suddenly lighted in a dark place. Its able advocacy of political principles was as striking as its judicial air of criticism, unprecedented in periodical literature. To appreciate its influence, we must remember, says Sydney Smith, that in those days a number of reforms, now familiar to us all, were still regarded as startling innovations. The Catholics were not emancipated, nor the game-laws softened, nor the Court of Chancery reformed, nor the slave-trade abolished. Cruel punishment still disgraced the criminal code, libel was put down with vindictive severity, prisoners were not allowed counsel in capital cases, and many other grievances now wholly or partially redressed were still flourishing in full force.

Were they put down solely by the 'Edinburgh Review?' That, of course, would not be alleged by its most ardent admirers; though Sydney Smith certainly holds that the attacks of the 'Edinburgh' were amongst the most efficient causes of the many victories which followed. I am not concerned to dispute the statement; nor in fact do I doubt that it contains much truth. But if we look at the 'Review' simply as literary connoisseurs, and examine its volumes expecting to be edified by such critical vigour and such a plentiful outpouring of righteous indignation in burning language as might correspond to this picture of a great organ of liberal opinion, we shall, I fear, be cruelly disappointed. Let us speak the plain truth at once. Everyone who turns from the periodical literature of the present day to the original 'Edinburgh Review' will be amazed at its inferiority. It is generally dull, and, when not dull, flimsy. The vigour has departed; the fire is extinct. To some extent, of course, this is inevitable. Even the magnificent eloquence of Burke has lost some of its early gloss. We can read, comparatively unmoved, passages that would have once carried us off our legs in the exuberant torrent of passionate invective. But, making all possible allowance for the fading of all things human, I think that every reader who is frank will admit his disappointment. Here and there, of course, amusing passages illuminated by Sydney Smith's humour or Jeffrey's slashing and swaggering retain a few sparks of fire. The pertness and petulance of the youthful critics are amusing, though hardly in the way intended by themselves. But, as a rule, one may most easily characterise the contents by saying that few of the articles would have a chance of acceptance by the editor of a first-rate periodical to-day; and that the majority belong to an inferior variety of what is now called 'padding'—mere perfunctory bits of work, obviously manufactured by the critic out of the book before him.

The great political importance of the 'Edinburgh Review' belongs to a later period. When the Whigs began to revive after the long reign of Tory principles, and such questions as Roman Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform were seriously coming to the front, the 'Review' grew to be a most effective organ of the rising party. Even in earlier years, it was doubtless a matter of real moment that the ablest periodical of the day should manifest sympathies with the cause then so profoundly depressed. But in those years there is nothing of that vehement and unsparing advocacy of Whig principles which we might expect from a band of youthful enthusiasts. So far indeed was the 'Review' from unhesitating partisanship that the sound Tory Scott contributed to its pages for some years; and so late as the end of 1807 invited Southey, then developing into fiercer Toryism, as became a 'renegade' or a 'convert,' to enlist under Jeffrey. Southey, it is true, was prevented from joining by scruples shared by his correspondent, but it was not for another year that the breach became irreparable. The final offence was given by the 'famous article upon Cevallos,' which appeared in October 1808. Even at that period Scott understood some remarks of Jeffrey's as an offer to suppress the partisan tendencies of his 'Review.' Jeffrey repudiated this interpretation; but the statement is enough to show that, for six years after its birth, the 'Review' had not been conducted in such a way as to pledge itself beyond all redemption in the eyes of staunch Tories.[21]

The Cevallos article, the work in uncertain proportions of Brougham and Jeffrey, was undoubtedly calculated to give offence. It contained an eloquent expression of foreboding as to the chances of the war in Spain. The Whigs, whose policy had been opposed to the war, naturally prophesied its ill-success, and, until this period, facts had certainly not confuted their auguries. It was equally natural that their opponents should be scandalised by their apparent want of patriotism. Scott's indignation was characteristic. The 'Edinburgh Review,' he says, 'tells you coolly, "We foresee a revolution in this country as well as Mr. Cobbett;" and, to say the truth, by degrading the person of the sovereign, exalting the power of the French armies and the wisdom of their counsels, holding forth that peace (which they allow can only be purchased by the humiliating prostration of our honour) is indispensable to the very existence of this country, I think that for these two years past they have done their utmost to hasten the fulfilment of their own prophecy.' Yet, he adds, 9,000 copies are printed quarterly, 'no genteel family can pretend to be without it,' and it contains the only valuable literary criticism of the day. The antidote was to be supplied by the foundation of the 'Quarterly.' The Cevallos article, as Brougham says, 'first made the Reviewers conspicuous as Liberals.'

Jeffrey and his friends were in fact in the very difficult position of all middle parties during a period of intense national and patriotic excitement. If they attacked Perceval or Canning or Castlereagh in one direction, they were equally opposed to the rough-and-ready democracy of Cobbett or Burdett, and to the more philosophical radicalism of men like Godwin or Bentham. They were generally too young to have been infected by the original Whig sympathy for the French Revolution, or embittered by the reaction. They condemned the principles of '89 as decidedly if not as heartily as the Tories. The difference, as Sydney Smith said to his imaginary Tory, Abraham Plymley, is 'in the means, not in the end. We both love the Constitution, respect the King, and abhor the French.' Only, as the difference about the means was diametrical, Tories naturally held them to be playing into the hands of destructives, though more out of cowardice than malignity. In such a position it is not surprising if the Reviewers generally spoke in apologetic terms and with bated breath. They could protest against the dominant policy as rash and bigoted, but could not put forwards conflicting principles without guarding themselves against the imputation of favouring the common enemy. The Puritans of Radicalism set down this vacillation to a total want of fixed principle, if not to baser motives. The first volume of the 'Westminster Review' (1824) contains a characteristic assault upon the 'see-saw' system of the 'Edinburgh' by the two Mills. The 'Edinburgh' is sternly condemned for its truckling to the aristocracy, its cowardice, political immorality, and (of all things!) its sentimentalism. In after years J. S. Mill contributed to its pages himself; but the opinion of his fervid youth was that of the whole Bentham school.[22] It is plain, however, that the 'Review,' even when it had succeeded, did not absorb the activities of its contributors so exclusively as is sometimes suggested. They rapidly dispersed to enter upon different careers. Even before the first number appeared, Jeffrey complains that almost all his friends are about to emigrate to London; and the prediction was soon verified. Sydney Smith left to begin his career as a clergyman in London; Horner and Brougham almost immediately took to the English bar, with a view to pushing into public life; Allen joined Lord Holland; Charles Bell set up in a London practice; two other promising contributors took offence, and deserted the 'Review' in its infancy; and Jeffrey was left almost alone, though still a centre of attraction to the scattered group. He himself only undertook the editorship on the understanding that he might renounce it as soon as he could do without it; and always guarded himself most carefully against any appearance of deserting a legal for a literary career. Although the Edinburgh cenacle was not dissolved, its bonds were greatly loosened; the chief contributors were in no sense men who looked upon literature as a principal occupation; and Jeffrey, as much as Brougham and Horner, would have resented, as a mischievous imputation, the suggestion that his chief energies were devoted to the 'Review.' In some sense this might be an advantage. An article upon politics or philosophy is, of course, better done by a professed statesman and thinker than by a literary hack; but, on the other hand, a man who turns aside from politics or philosophy to do mere hackwork, does it worse than the professed man of letters. Work, taken up at odd hours to satisfy editorial importunity or add a few pounds to a narrow income, is apt to show the characteristic defects of all amateur performances. A very large part of the early numbers is amateurish in this objectionable sense. It is mere hand-to-mouth information, and is written, so to speak, with the left hand. A clever man has turned over the last new book of travels or poetry, or made a sudden incursion into foreign literature or into some passage of history entirely fresh to him, and has given his first impressions with an audacity which almost disarms one by its extraordinary naivete. The standard of such disquisitions was then so low that writing which would now be impossible passed muster without an objection. When, in later years, Macaulay discussed Hampden or Chatham, the book which he ostensibly reviewed was a mere pretext for producing the rich stores of a mind trained by years of previous historical study. Jeffrey wrote about Mrs. Hutchinson's 'Memoirs' and Pepys's 'Diary' as though the books had for the first time revealed to him the existence of Puritans or of courtiers under the Restoration. The author of an article upon German metaphysics at the present day would think it necessary to show that if he had not the portentous learning which Sir William Hamilton embodied in his 'Edinburgh' articles, he had at least read the book under review, and knew something of the language. The author (Thomas Brown—a man who should have known better) of a contemptuous review of Kant, in an early number of the 'Edinburgh,' makes it even ostentatiously evident that he has never read a line of the original, and that his whole knowledge is derived from what (by his own account) is a very rambling and inadequate French essay. The young gentlemen who wrote in those days have a jaunty mode of pronouncing upon all conceivable topics without even affecting to have studied the subject, which is amusing in its way, and which fully explains the flimsy nature of their performance.

The authors, in fact, regarded these essays, at the time, as purely ephemeral. The success of the 'Review' suggested republication long afterwards. The first collection of articles was, I presume, Sydney Smith's in 1839; Jeffrey's and Macaulay's followed in 1843; and at that time even Macaulay thought it necessary to explain that the republication was forced upon him by the Americans. The plan of passing even the most serious books through the pages of a periodical has become so common that such modesty would now imply the emptiest affectation. The collections of Jeffrey and Sydney Smith will give a sufficient impression of the earlier numbers of the 'Review.' The only contributors of equal reputation were Horner and Brougham. Horner, so far as one can judge, was a typical representative of those solid, indomitable Scotchmen whom one knows not whether to respect for their energy or to dread as the most intolerable of bores. He plodded through legal, metaphysical, scientific, and literary studies like an elephant forcing his way through a jungle; and laboured as resolutely and systematically to acquire graces of style as to master the intricacies of the 'dismal science.' At an early age, and with no advantages of position, he had gained extraordinary authority in Parliament. Sydney Smith said of him that he had the Ten Commandments written on his face, and looked so virtuous that he might commit any crime with impunity. His death probably deprived us of a most exemplary statesman and first-rate Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it can hardly have been a great loss to literature. Passages from Horner's journals, given in his 'Memoirs,' are quaint illustrations of the frame of mind generally inculcated in manuals for the use of virtuous young men. At the age of twenty-eight, he resolves one day to meditate upon various topics, distributed under nine heads, including the society to be frequented in the metropolis; the characters to be studied; the scale of intimacies; the style of conversation; the use of other men's minds in self-education; the regulation of ambition, of political sentiments, connections, and conduct; the importance of 'steadily systematising all plans and aims of life, and so providing against contingencies as to put happiness at least out of the reach of accident,' and the cultivation of moral feelings by 'dignified sentiments and pleasing associations' derived from poets, moralists, or actual life. Sydney Smith, in a very lively portrait, says that Horner was the best, kindest, simplest, and most incorruptible of mankind; but intimates sufficiently that his impenetrability to the facetious was something almost unexampled. A jest upon an important subject was, it seems, the only affliction which his strength of principle would not enable him to bear with patience. His contributions gave some solid economical speculation to the 'Review,' but were neither numerous nor lively. Brougham's amazing vitality wasted itself in a different way. His multifarious energy, from early boyhood to the borders of old age, would be almost incredible, if we had not the good fortune to be contemporaries of Mr. Gladstone. His share in the opening numbers of the 'Review' is another of the points upon which there is an odd conflict of testimony.[23] But from a very early period he was the most voluminous and, at times, the most valuable of contributors. It has been said that he once wrote a whole number, including articles upon lithotomy and Chinese music. It is more authentic that he contributed six articles to one number at the very crisis of his political career, and at the same period he boasts of having written a fifth of the whole 'Review' to that time. He would sit down in a morning and write off twenty pages at a single effort. Jeffrey compares his own editorial authority to that of a feudal monarch over some independent barons. When Jeffrey gave up the 'Review,' this 'baron' aspired to something more like domination than independence. He made the unfortunate editor's life a burden to him. He wrote voluminous letters, objurgating, entreating, boasting of past services, denouncing rival contributors, declaring that a regard for the views of any other man was base subservience to a renegade Ministry, or foolish attention to the hints of understrappers; threatening, if he was neglected, to set up a rival Review, and generally hectoring, bullying, and declaiming in a manner which gives one the highest opinion of the diplomatic skill of the editor, who managed, without truckling, to avoid a breach with his tremendous contributor. Brougham, indeed, was not quite blind to the fact that the 'Review' was as useful to him as he could be to the 'Review,' and was therefore more amenable than might have been expected, in the last resort. But he was in every relation one of those men who are nearly as much hated and dreaded by their colleagues as by the adversary—a kind of irrepressible rocket, only too easy to discharge, but whose course defied prediction.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse