in the seventeenth century, during which the literature of England rose to its highest pitch of grandeur, than in the previous sixteenth, in which its Knoxes, Buchanans, and Andrew Melvilles flourished; and further, that its eighteenth century was, on the whole, a quiet and tranquil time, in which even mediocrity had leisure afforded it to develope itself in its full proportions. Literature is not the proper business of Churches; but it is a means, though not an end. And it will be found that all the better Churches have been as literary as they could; and that, if at any time the literature has been defective, it has been rather their circumstances that were unpropitious, than themselves that were in fault. Their enemies have delighted to represent the case differently. Our readers must remember the famous instance in Old Mortality, so happily exposed by the elder M'Crie, in which Sir Walter, when he makes his Sergeant Bothwell a writer of verses, introduces Burley as peculiarly a verse-hater, and 'puts into his mouth that condemnation of elegant pursuits which he imputes to the whole party;' 'overlooking or suppressing the fact,' says the Doctor, 'that there was at that very time in the camp of the Covenanters a man who, besides his other accomplishments, was a poet superior to any on the opposite side.' It is equally a fact, however, and shows how thoroughly the mind of even a highly intellectual people may be prostrated by a long course of tyranny and persecution, that Scotland had properly no literature after the extinction of its old classical school in the person of Drummond of Hawthornden, until the rise of Thomson. The age in England of Milton and of Cowley, of Otway, of Waller, of Butler, of Dryden, and of Denham, was in Scotland an age without a poet vigorous enough to survive in his writings his own generation. For even the greater part of the popular version of its Psalms, our Church was indebted to the English lawyer Rous. Here and there we may find in it the remains of an earlier and more classical time: its version of the hundredth Psalm, for instance, with its quaintly-turned but stately octo-syllabic stanzas, was written nearly a hundred years earlier than most of the others, by William Keith, a Scottish contemporary of Beza and Buchanan, and one of the translators of the Geneva Bible. But we find little else that is Scotch in it; the Church to which, in the previous age, the author of the most elegant version of the Psalms ever given to the world had belonged, had now—notwithstanding the exertions of its Zachary Boyds—to import its poetry. In the following century, the Church shared in the general literature of the time. She missed, and but barely missed, having one of its greatest poets to herself—the poet Thomson—who at least carried on his studies so far with a view to her ministry, as to commence delivering his probationary discourses. We fear, however, he would have made but an indolent minister; and that, though his occasional sermons, judging from the hymn which concludes the Seasons, might have been singularly fine ones, they would have been marvellously few, and very often repeated. The greatest poet that did actually arise within the Church during the century was Thomson's contemporary, Robert Blair,—a man who was not an idle minister, and who, unlike his cousin Hugh, belonged to the evangelical side. The author of the Grave was one of the bosom friends of Colonel Gardiner, and a valued correspondent of Doddridge and Watts. Curiously enough, though the great merit of his piece has been acknowledged by critics such as Southey, it has been regarded as an imitation of the Night Thoughts of Young. 'Blair's Grave,' says Southey in his Life of Cowper, 'is the only poem I can call to mind which has been composed in imitation of the Night Thoughts;' and though Campbell himself steered clear of the error, we find it introduced in a note, as supplementary to the information regarding Blair given in his Essay on English Poetry by his editor, Mr. Cunningham. It is demonstrable, however, that the Scotchman could not have been the imitator. As shown by a letter in the Doddridge collection, which bears date more than a twelvemonth previous to that of the publication of even the first book of the Night Thoughts, Blair, after stating that his poem, then in the hands of Isaac Watts, had been offered without success to two London publishers, states further, that the greater part of it had been written previous to the year 1731, ere he had yet entered the ministry; whereas the first book of Young's poem was not published until the year 1744. Poetry such as that of Blair is never the result of imitation: its verbal happinesses are at least as great as those of the Night Thoughts themselves, and its power and earnestness considerably greater. 'The eighteenth century,' says Thomas Campbell, 'has produced few specimens of blank verse of so powerful and simple a character as that of the Grave. It is a popular poem, not merely because it is religious, but because its language and imagery are free, natural, and picturesque. The latest editor of the poets has, with singularly bad taste, noted some of the author's most nervous and expressive phrases as vulgarisms, among which he reckons that of friendship, the "solder of society." Blair may be a homely, and even a gloomy poet, in the eye of fastidious criticism; but there is a masculine and pronounced character even in his gloom and homeliness, that keeps it most distinctly apart from either dulness or vulgarity. His style pleases us like the powerful expression of a countenance without regular beauty.' Such is the judgment on Blair—destined, in all appearance, to be a final one—of a writer who was at once the most catholic of critics and the most polished of poets. There succeeded to the author of the Grave, a group of poets of the Church, of whom the Church has not been greatly in the habit of boasting. Of Home, by a curious chance the successor of Blair in his parish, little need be said. He produced one good play and five enormously bad ones; and his connection with the Church was very much an accident, and soon dissolved. Blacklock, too, was as much a curiosity as a poet; and, save for his blindness, would scarce have been very celebrated in even his own day. Nor was Ogilvie, though more favourably regarded by Johnson than most of his Scottish contemporaries, other than a mediocre poet. He is the author, however, of a very respectable paraphrase—the sixty-second—of all his works the one that promises to live longest; and we find the productions of several other poets of the Church similarly preserved, whose other writings have died. And yet the group of Scottish literati that produced our paraphrases, if looking simply to literary accomplishment—we do not demand genius—must be regarded as a very remarkable one, when we consider that the greater number of the individuals which composed it were all at one time the ministers of a single Church, and that one of the smallest. We know of no Church, either in Britain or elsewhere, that could now command such a committee as that which sat, at the bidding of the General Assembly, considerably more than sixty years ago, to prepare the 'Translations and Paraphrases.' Of the sixty-eight pieces of which the collection is composed, thirty are the work of Scottish ministers; and the groundwork of most of the others, furnished in large part by the previously existing writings of Watts and Doddridge, has been greatly improved, in at least the composition, by the emendations of Morrison and Logan. With all its faults, we know of no other collection equal to it as a whole. The meretricious stanzas of Brady and Tate are inanity itself in comparison. True, the later Blair, though always sensible, was ofttimes quite heavy enough in the pieces given to him to render—more so than in his prose; though, even when first introduced to that, Cowper could exclaim, not a little to the chagrin of those who regarded it as perfection of writing: 'Oh, the sterility of that man's fancy! if, indeed, he has any such faculty belonging to him. Dr. Blair has such a brain as Shakespeare somewhere describes, "dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage.'" But the fancy that Blair wanted, poor Logan had; and the man who too severely criticises his flowing and elegant paraphrases would do well to beware of the memories of his children. A poet whose pieces cannot be forgotten may laugh at the critics. Altogether, our 'Translations and Paraphrases' are highly creditable to the literary taste and ability of the Church during the latter half of the last century; and it serves to show how very much matters changed in this respect in about forty years, that while in the earlier period the men fitted for such work were all to be found within the pale of the Church's ministry, at a later time, when the late Principal Baird set himself, with the sanction of the General Assembly, to devise means for adding to the collection, and for revising our metrical version of the Psalms, he had to look for assistance almost exclusively to poets outside the precincts of even its membership.
And yet, even at this later time, the Church had its true poets—poets who, though, according to Wordsworth, they 'wanted the accomplishment of verse,' were of larger calibre and greater depth than their predecessors. Chalmers had already produced his Astronomical Discourses, and poor Edward Irving had begun to electrify his London audiences with the richly antique imagination and fiery fervour of his singularly vigorous orations. Stewart of Cromarty, too, though but comparatively little known, was rising, in his quiet parish church, into flights of genuine though unmeasured poetry, of an altitude to which minor poets, in their nicely rounded stanzas, never attain. Nor is the race yet extinct. Jeffrey used to remark, that he found more true feeling in the prose of Jeremy Taylor than in the works of all the second-class British poets put together; and those who would now wish to acquaint themselves with the higher and more spirit-rousing poetry of our Church, would have to seek it within earshot of the pulpits of Bruce, of Guthrie, and of James Hamilton. Still, however, it ever affords us pleasure to find it in the more conventional form of classic and harmonious verse. A Church that possesses her poets gives at least earnest in the fact that she is not falling beneath the literature of her age; and much on this account, but more, we think, from their great intrinsic merit, have we been gratified by the perusal of a volume of poems which has just issued from the press under the name of one of our younger Free Church ministers, the Rev. James D. Burns. We are greatly mistaken if Mr. Burns be not a genuine poet, skilled, as becomes a scholar and a student of classic lore, in giving to his verse the true artistic form, but not the less born to inherit the 'vision and the faculty' which cannot be acquired. Most men of great talent have their poetic age: it is very much restricted, however, to the first five years of full bodily development, also particularly then a sterner and more prosaic mood follows. But recollections of the time survive; and it is mainly through the medium of these recollections that in the colder periods the feelings and visions of the poets continue to be appreciated and felt. It was said of Thomson the poet by Samuel Johnson, that he could not look at two candles burning other than poetically. The phrase was employed in conversation by old Johnson; but it must have been the experience of young Johnson, derived from a time long gone by, that suggested it. It is characteristic of the poetic age, that objects which in later life become commonplace in the mind, are then surrounded as if by a halo of poetic feeling. The candles were, no doubt, an extreme illustration; but there is scarce any object in nature, and there are very few in art, especially if etherealized by the adjuncts of antiquity or association, that are not capable of being thus, as it were, embathed in sentiment. With the true poet, the ability of investing every object with a poetic atmosphere remains undiminished throughout life; and we find it strikingly manifested in the volume before us. In almost every line in some of the pieces we find a distinct bit of picture steeped in poetic feeling. The following piece, peculiarly appropriate to the present time, we adduce as an illustration of our meaning:—
DISCOVERY OF THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE.
'Strait of Ill Hope! thy frozen lips at last Unclose, to teach our seamen how to sift A passage where blue icebergs clash and drift, And the shore loosely rattles in the blast. We hold the secret thou hast clench'd so fast For ages,—our best blood has earned the gift.— Blood spilt, or hoarded up in patient thrift, Through sunless months in ceaseless peril passed. But what of daring Franklin? who may know The pangs that wrung that heart so proud and brave, In secret wrestling with its deadly woe, And no kind voice to reach him o'er the wave? Now he sleeps fast beneath his shroud of snow, And the cold pole-star only knows his grave.
'Alone, on some sharp cliff, I see him strain, O'er the white waste, his keen, sagacious eye, Or scan the signs of the snow-muffled sky, In hope of quick deliverance—but in vain; Then, faring to his icy tent again, To cheer his mates with a familiar smile, And talk of home and kinsfolk to beguile Slow hours which freeze the blood and numb the brain. Long let our hero's memory be enshrined In all true British hearts! He calmly stood In danger's foremost rank, nor looked behind. He did his work, not with the fever'd blood Of battle, but with hard-tried fortitude; In peril dauntless, and in death resigned.
'Despond not, Britain! Should this sacred hold Of freedom, still inviolate, be assailed, The high, unblenching spirit which prevailed In ancient days, is neither dead nor cold. Men are still in thee of heroic mould— Men whom thy grand old sea-kings would have hailed As worthy peers, invulnerably mailed, Because by Duty's sternest law controlled. Thou yet wilt rise and send abroad thy voice Among the nations battling for the right, In the unrusted armour of thy youth; And the oppressed shall hear it and rejoice: For on thy side is the resistless might Of Freedom, Justice, and Eternal Truth!'
This is surely genuine poetry both in form and matter; as just in its thinking as it is vivid in its imagery and classic in its language. The vein of strong sense which runs through all the poetry of Mr. Burns, and imparts to it solidity and coherency, is, we think, not less admirable than the poetry itself, and is, we are sure, quite as little common. Let the reader mark how freely the thoughts arise in the following very exquisite little piece, written in Madeira, and suggested by the distant view of the neighbouring island of Porto Santo, one of the first colonized by the Portuguese adventurers of the fifteenth century. Columbus married a daughter of Bartolomeo Perestrillo, the first governor of the island, and after his marriage lived in it for some time with his father-in-law. And on this foundation Mr. Burns founds his poem:—
PORTO SANTO, AS SEEN FROM THE NORTH OF MADEIRA.
'Glance northward through the haze, and mark That shadowy island floating dark Amidst the seas serene: It seems some fair enchanted isle, Like that which saw Miranda's smile When Ariel sang unseen.
'Oh happy, after all their fears, Were those old Lusian mariners Who hailed that land the first, Upon whose seared and aching eyes, With an enrapturing surprise, Its bloom of verdure burst.
'Their anchor in a creek, shell-paven, They dropped,—and hence "The Holy Haven" They named the welcome land: The breezes strained their masts no more, And all around the sunny shore Was summer, laughing bland.
'They wandered on through green arcade Where fruits were hanging in the shades, And blossoms clustering fair; Strange gorgeous insects shimmered And from the brakes sweet minstrelsy Entranced the woodland air.
'Years passed, and to the island came A mariner of unknown name, And grave Castilian speech: The spirit of a great emprise Aroused him, and with flashing eyes He paced the pebbled beach.
'What time the sun was sinking slow, And twilight spread a rosy glow Around its single star, His eye the western sea's expanse Would search, creating by its glance Some cloudy land afar.
'He saw it when translucent even Shed mystic light o'er earth and heaven, Dim shadowed on the deep; His fancy tinged each passing cloud With the fine phantom, and he bowed Before it in his sleep.
'He hears grey-bearded sailors tell How the discoveries befell That glorify their time; "And forth I go, my friends," he cries, "To a severer enterprise Than tasked your glorious prime.
'"Time was when these green isles that stud The expanse of this familiar flood, Lived but in fancy fond. Earth's limits—think you here they are? Here has the Almighty fixed His bar, Forbidding glance beyond?
'"Each shell is murmuring on the shore, And wild sea-voices evermore Are sounding in my ear: I long to meet the eastern gale, And with a free and stretching sail Through virgin seas to steer.
'"Two galleys trim, some comrades stanch, And I with hopeful heart would launch Upon this shoreless sea. Till I have searched it through and through. And seen some far land looming blue, My heart will not play free."
'Forth fared he through the deep to rove: For months with angry winds he strove, And passions fiercer still; Until he found the long-sought land, And leaped upon the savage strand With an exulting thrill.
'The tide of life now eddies strong Through that broad wilderness, where long The eagle fearless flew; Where forests waved, fair cities rise, And science, art, and enterprise Their restless aim pursue.
'There dwells a people, at whose birth The shout of Freedom shook the earth, Whose frame through all the lands Has travelled, and before whose eyes, Bright with their glorious destinies, A proud career expands.
'I see their life by passion wrought To intense endeavour, and my thought Stoops backwards in its reach To him who, in that early time, Resolved his enterprise sublime On Porto Santo's beach.
'Methinks that solitary soul Held in its ark this radiant roll Of human hopes upfurled,— That there in germ this vigorous life Was sheathed, which now in earnest strife Is working through the world.
'Still on our way, with careworn face, Abstracted eye, and sauntering pace, May pass one such as he, Whose mind heaves with a secret force, That shall be felt along the course Of far Futurity.
'Call him not fanatic or fool, Thou Stoic of the modern school; Columbus-like, his aim Points forward with a true presage, And nations of a later age May rise to bless his name.'
There runs throughout Mr. Burns's volume a rich vein of scriptural imagery and allusion, and much oriental description—rather quiet, however, than gorgeous—that bears in its unexaggerated sobriety the impress of truth. From a weakness of chest and general delicate health, Mr. Burns has had to spend not a few of his winters abroad, under climatal influences of a more genial character than those of his own country; and hence the truthfulness of his descriptions of scenes which few of our native poets ever see, and a corresponding amount of variety in his verse. But we have exhausted our space, and have given only very meagre samples of this delightful volume, and a very inadequate judgment on its merits. But we refer our readers to the volume itself, as one well fitted to grow upon their regards; and meanwhile conclude with the following exquisite landscape,—no bad specimen of that ability of word-painting which is ever so certain a mark of the true poet:—
'Below me spread a wide and lonely beach, The ripple washing higher on the sands: A river that has come from far-off lands Is coiled behind in many a shining reach; But now it widens, and its banks are bare— It settles as it nears the moaning sea; An inward eddy checks the current free, And breathes a briny dampness through the air: Beyond, the waves' low vapours through the skies Were trailing, like a battle's broken rear; But smitten by pursuing winds, they rise, And the blue slopes of a far coast appear, With shadowy peaks on which the sunlight lies, Uplifted in aerial distance clear.
November 8, 1854.
THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA.
After the labour of years, the seventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been at length completed. It is in every respect a great work—great even as a commercial speculation. We have been assured the money expended on this edition alone would be more than sufficient to build three such monuments as that now in the course of erection in Edinburgh to the memory of Sir Walter Scott. And containing, as it does, all the more valuable matter of former editions—all that the advancing tide of knowledge has not obliterated or covered up, and which at one time must have represented in the commercial point of view a large amount of capital—it must be obvious that, great as the cost of the present edition has been, it bears merely some such relation to the accumulated cost of the whole, as that borne by the expense of partial renovations and repairs in a vast edifice to the sum originally expended on the entire erection.
It is a great work, too, regarded as a trophy of the united science and literature of Britain. Like a lofty obelisk, raised to mark the spot where some important expedition terminated, it stands as it were to indicate the line at which the march of human knowledge has now arrived. We see it rising on the extreme verge of the boundary which separates the clear and the palpable from the indistinct and the obscure. The explored province of past research, with all its many party-coloured fields, stretches out from it in long perspective on the one hand,—luminous, well-defined, rejoicing in the light. The terra incognita of future discovery lies enveloped in cloud on the other—an untried region of fogs and darkness.
The history of this publication for the last seventy years—for so slow has been its growth, that rather more than seventy years have now elapsed since its first appearance in the world of letters—would serve curiously to illustrate the literary and scientific history of Scotland during that period. The naturalist, by observing the rings of annual growth in a tree newly cut down, can not only tell what its exact bulk had been at certain determinate dates in the past—from its first existence as a tiny sapling of a single twelvemonth, till the axe had fallen on the huge circumference of perchance its hundredth ring—but he can also form from them a shrewd guess of the various characters of the seasons that have passed over it. Is the ring of wide development?—it speaks of genial warmth and kindly showers. Is it narrow and contracted?—it tells of scorching droughts or of biting cold. Now the succeeding editions of this great work narrate a somewhat similar story, in a somewhat similar manner. They speak of the growth of science and the arts during the various succeeding periods in which they appeared. The great increase, too, at certain times, in particular departments of knowledge, is curiously connected with peculiar circumstances in the history of our country. In the present edition, for instance, almost all the geography is new. The age has been peculiarly an age of exploration—a locomotive age: commerce, curiosity, the spirit of adventure, the desire of escaping from the tedium of inactive life,—these, and other motives besides, have scattered travellers by hundreds, during the period of our long European peace, over almost every country of the world. And hence so mighty an increase of knowledge in this department, that what the last age knew of the subject has been altogether overgrown. Vast additions, too, have been made to the province of mechanical contrivance: the constructive faculties of the country, stimulated apparently by the demands of commerce and the influence of competition both at home and abroad, have performed in well-nigh a single generation the work of centuries.
Even the Encyclopaedia itself, regarded in a literary point of view, is strikingly illustrative of a change which has taken place chiefly within the present century in the republic of letters.
We enjoyed a very ample opportunity of acquainting ourselves with it in its infancy. More years have passed away than we at present feel quite inclined to specify, since our attention was attracted at a very early age to an Encyclopaedia, the first we had ever seen, that formed one work of a dozen or so stored on the upper shelf of a press to which we were permitted access. It consisted of three quarto volumes sprinkled over with what seventy years ago must have been deemed very respectable copperplates, and remarkable, chiefly in the arrangement of its contents, for the inequality of the portions, if we may so speak, into which the knowledge it contained was broken up. As might be anticipated from its comparatively small size, most of the articles were exceedingly meagre. There were pages after pages in which some eight or ten lines, sometimes a single line, comprised all that the writers had deemed it necessary to communicate on the subjects on which they touched. And yet, set full in the middle of these brief sentences—these mere skeletons of information—there were complete and elaborate treatises,—whales among the minnows. Some of these extended over ten, twenty, thirty, fifty pages of the work. We remember there was an old-fashioned but not ill-written treatise on Chemistry among the number, quite bulky enough of itself to fill a small volume. There was a sensibly written treatise on Law, too; a treatise on Anatomy not quite unworthy of the Edinburgh school; a treatise on Botany, of which at this distance of time we remember little else than that it rejected the sexual system of Linnaeus, then newly promulgated; a treatise on Architecture, sufficiently incorrect, as we afterwards found, in some of its minor details, but which we still remember with the kindly feeling of the pupil for his first master; a treatise on Fortification, that at least taught us how to make model forts in sand; treatises on Arithmetic, Astronomy, Bookkeeping, Grammar, Language, Theology, Metaphysics, and a great many other treatises besides. The least interesting portion of the work was the portion devoted to Natural History: it named and numbered species and varieties, instead of describing instincts and habits, and afforded little else to the reader than lists of hard words, and lines of uninteresting numerals. But our appetite for books was keen and but ill supplied at the time, and so we read all of the work that would read,—some of it oftener than once. The character of the whole reminded us somewhat of that style of building common in some of the older ruins of the north country, in which we find layers of huge stones surrounded by strips and patches of a minute pinned work composed of splinters and fragments.
This Dictionary of the three quarto volumes was the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,—the identical work in its first beginnings, of which the seventh edition has been so recently completed. It was published in 1771—in the days of Goldsmith, and Burke, and Johnson, and David Hume—several years ere Adam Smith had given his Wealth of Nations or Robertson his History of America to the public, and ere the names of Burns or Cowper had any place in BRITISH LITERATURE.
The world has grown greatly in knowledge since that period, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica has done much more than kept pace with it in its merits of acquirement. The three volumes have swelled into twenty-one; and each of the twenty-one contains at least one-third more of matter than each of the three. The growth and proportions of a work of genius seem to be very little dependent on the period of its production. Shakespeare may be regarded as the founder of the English drama. He wrote at a time when art was rude, and science comparatively low. All agree, at least, that the subjects of Queen Victoria know a very great deal which was not known by the subjects of Queen Elizabeth. There was no gas burned in front of the Globe Theatre, nor was the distant roar of a locomotive ever heard within its dingy recesses; nor did ever adventurous aeronaut look down from his dizzy elevation of miles on its tub-like proportions, or its gay flag of motley. And yet we question whether even Mr. Wakley himself, with all his advantages, would venture to do more than assert his equality with the Swan of Avon. Homer, too, wrote in a very remote period,—so very remote and so very uncertain, that the critics have begun seriously to doubt whether the huge figure of the blind old man, as it looms through the grey obscure of ages, be in reality the figure of one poet, or of a whole school of poets rolled up into a bundle. But though men fight much more scientifically now than they did at Troy, and know much more about the taking and defending of walled towns, no poet of the present day greatly excels Homer,—no, not the Scotch schoolmaster even who wrote Wolfe's Ode, or the gentleman who sends us abstruse verses which we unluckily cannot understand, and then scolds us in perspicuous prose for not giving them a place in our columns.
Works of genius bear no reference in their bulk and proportions, if we may so speak, to the period at which they are produced; but it is far otherwise with works of science and general information: they grow with the world's growth; the tomes from which the father derived his acquaintance with facts and principles, prove all inadequate to satisfy the curiosity of the son: almost every season adds its ring to the 'tree of knowledge;' and the measuring line which girthed and registered its bulk in one age, fails to embrace it in the succeeding one. And hence one element at least in the superiority of this edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to every other edition, and every other Encyclopaedia.
It appears at the period of the world's greatest experience. But there are other very important elements, characteristic, as we have said, of a peculiarity in the literature of the age, which have tended also to this result. We have remarked that the first edition appeared in the days of Hume, Robertson, and Adam Smith. None of these men wrote for it, however.
In France the first intellects of the country were engaged on their National Encyclopaedia, and mighty was the mischief which they accomplished through its means; but works of this character in Britain were left to authors of a lower standing. Smollett once conducted a critical review; Gilbert Stuart an Edinburgh magazine; Dr. Johnson drew up parliamentary debates for two years together; Edmund Burke toiled at the pages of an Annual Register; and Goldsmith, early in his career, wrote letters for the newspapers. But, like the apothecary in Shakespeare, it was their 'poverty, not their will, that consented;' and when their fortunes brightened, these walks of obscure laboriousness were left to what were deemed their legitimate denizens—mere mediocritists and compilers. A similar feeling seems to have obtained regarding works of an encyclopaediacal character. The authors of the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica were merely respectable compilers,—we know not that any of their names would now sound familiar to the reader, with perhaps the exception of that of Smellie, an Edinburgh writer of the last century, whose philosophical essays one sometimes meets with on our bookstalls.
But among the other great changes produced by the French Revolution, there was a striking and very important change effected in our periodical literature. The old foundations of society seemed breaking up, and the true nature of that basis of opinion on which they had so long rested came to be everywhere practically understood.
Minds of the larger order found it necessary to address themselves direct to the people; and the newspaper, the review, the magazine, the pamphlet, furnished them with ready vehicles of conveyance. Archimedes, during the siege of Syracuse, had to quit the sober quiet of his study, and to mix with the armed defenders of his native city, amid the wild confusion of sallies and assaults, the rocking of beleaguered towers, the creaking of engines, and the hurtling of missiles. It was thus with some of the greatest minds of the country during the distraction and alarm of the French Revolution. Coleridge conducted a newspaper; Sir James Mackintosh wrote for one; Canning contributed to the Anti-Jacobin; Robert Hall of Leicester became a reviewer; Southey, Jeffrey, Brougham, Scott, Giffard, all men in the first rank, appeared in the character of contributors to the periodicals.
The aspect of this department of literature suddenly changed, and the influence of that change survives to this day. Even now, some of our first literary names are known chiefly in their connection with magazines and reviews. Men such as Macaulay and Sidney Smith have scarce any place as authors dissociated from the Edinburgh; and Lockhart and Wilson are most felt in the world of letters in their connection with Blackwood and the Quarterly. And this change affected more than the periodicals. Its influence extended to works of the encyclopaediacal character. The two great Encyclopaedias of Edinburgh—that which bears the name of the city, and that whose name we have placed at the head of this article—came to reckon among their contributors the first men of the kingdom, both in science and literature: they benefited as greatly by the change we describe as the periodicals themselves. The Revolution, in its reflex influence, seems to have drawn a line in the British encyclopaediacal field between the labours of mere compilers and the achievements of original authorship; and the peculiarity of plan in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to which we have already referred—that peculiarity which gives an art or science entire as a treatise, instead of breaking it down into as many separate articles as it possesses technical terms—enabled this work to avail itself to the fullest extent of the improvement. No author, however great his powers, can be profound in the compass of a few paragraphs.
Goldsmith could assert that in an essay of a page or two it is even a merit to be superficial; and few there are who possess, with Goldsmith, the pure literary ability of being superficial with good effect.
But it is not enough to say of this work that it is enriched by contributions from not a few of the ablest writers which the present century has produced. It should be added, further, that it contains some of the masterpieces of these men. No one ever excelled Sir James Mackintosh in philosophical criticism. It was peculiarly his forte. He was rather a great judge of metaphysical power than a metaphysician. And yet it is this admirable critic who decides that the exquisitely classical dissertation of Dugald Stewart, written for this Encyclopaedia, is the most magnificent of that philosopher's works; and remarks, in accounting for the fact, that the 'memorable instances of Cicero and Milton, and still more those of Dryden and Burke, seem to show that there is some natural tendency in the fire of genius to burn more brightly, or to blaze more fiercely, in the evening than in the morning of human life.' We are mistaken if Sir James's own contribution to this work does not take decidedly a first place among his productions. The present age has not produced a piece of more exquisitely polished English, or of more tasteful or more nicely discriminating criticism.
There is an occult beauty and elegance in some of his thoughts and expressions, on which it is no small luxury to repose,—lines of reflection, too, along which one must feel as well as think one's way.
What can be finer, for instance, than his remarks on the poetry of Dr. Thomas Brown, or what more thoroughly removed from commonplace? He tells us how the philosophic poet 'observed man and his wider world with the eye of a metaphysician;' that 'the dark results of such contemplations, when he reviewed them, often filled his soul with feelings which, being both grand and melancholy, were truly poetical;' that 'unfortunately, however, few readers can be touched with fellow-feeling;' for that 'he sings to few, and must be content with sometimes moving a string in the soul of the lonely visionary, who, in the daydreams of youth, has felt as well as meditated on the mysteries of nature.' The dissertation of Playfair is also pitched on the highest key to which that elegant writer ever attained. If we except the unjust and offensive estimate of the powers of Franklin, a similar judgment may be passed on the preliminary dissertation of Sir John Leslie. Jeffrey's famous theory of beauty is, of all the philosophic pieces of that accomplished writer, by far the most widely known; and Sir Walter Scott's essay on the drama is at least equal to any of the serious prose compositions of its great author. There is something peculiarly fascinating in the natural history of this edition,—a department wholly rewritten, and furnished chiefly by the singularly pleasing pen of Mr. James Wilson. It is not yet twenty years since Constable's supplement to the last edition appeared; and yet in this province, so mightily has the tide risen, that well-nigh all the old lines of classification have been obliterated or covered up. Vast additions have been also made. At no former time was there half the amount of actual observation in this field which exists in it now; and it is well that there should be so skilful a workman as Mr. Wilson to avail himself of the accumulating materials. His treatises show how very just is the estimate of his powers given to the public in Peter's Letters considerably more than twenty years ago, at a time when he was comparatively little known. But we cannot enumerate a tithe of the masterpieces of the British Encyclopaedia.
Judging from the list of contributors' names attached to the index, we must hold that Moderatism in the field of literature and science is very much at a discount. But there is no lack of data of very various kinds to force upon us this conclusion. Among our sound non-intrusionists we find the names of Lord Jeffrey, Sir David Brewster, Professor John Fleming, Professor David Welsh, Professor Anderson, Dr. Irvine, the Rev. Mr. Hetherington, the Rev. Mr. Omond, Mr. Alexander Dunlop, and Mr. Cowan; whereas of all the opposite party who record their votes in our church courts, we have succeeded in finding the name of but a single individual, Dr. John Lee.
Why has Dr. Bryce thus left the field to the fanatics? had he nothing to insert on missions? Or could not Mr. Robertson of Ellon have been great on the article Beza?
Was there no exertion demanded of them to save the credit of the Earl of Aberdeen's learned clergy? One of the main defects of omission in the work (of course we merely mention the circumstance) is the omission of the name of one very great non-intrusionist. Ethical and metaphysical philosophy are represented by Dugald Stewart and Sir James Mackintosh; mathematical and physical science by Sir David Brewster, Sir John Leslie, Playfair, and Robinson; political economy by Ricardo, M'Culloch, and Malthus; natural history by James Wilson and Dr. Fleming; Hazlitt and Haydon discourse on painting and the fine arts; Jeffrey on the beautiful; Sir Walter Scott on chivalry, the drama, and romance; the classical pen of Dr. Irvine has illustrated what may be termed the biographical history of Scotland; physiology finds a meet expounder in Dr. Roget; geology in Mr. Phillips; medical jurisprudence in Dr. Traill. But in whom does theology find an illustrator? Does our country boast in the present age of no very eminent name in this noble department of knowledge—no name known all over Scotland, Britain, Europe, Christendom—a name whom we may associate with that of Dugald Stewart in ethical, or that of Sir David Brewster in physical science? In utter ignorance of the facts, we can, as we have said, but merely refer to the omission as one which will be assuredly marked in the future, when the din and dust of our existing controversies shall be laid, and when all now engaged in them who are tall enough to catch the eye of posterity, will be seen in their genuine colours and their true proportions. The article Theology in the Encyclopaedia Britannica is written, not by Dr. Chalmers, but new-modelled from an old article by the minister of an Independent congregation in Edinburgh, Mr. Lindsay Alexander—we doubt not an able and good man, but not supereminently the one theologian of Scotland.
We mark, besides, a few faults, of commission in the work, apparently of a sub-editorial character, but which, unlike the defect just pointed out, the editor of some future edition will find little difficulty in amending. Works the production of a single mind, bear generally an individual character; works the productions of many minds, are marked rather by the character of the age to which they belong. We find occasional evidence in the Encyclopaedia that it belongs to the age of Catholic Emancipation,—an age in which the true in science was deemed a very great matter by men to whom the true in religion seemed a much less one. One at least of the minds employed on the minor articles of the work had palpably a papistical leaning.
A blaze of eulogium, which contrasts ludicrously enough with the well-toned sobriety of what we may term its staple style, is made to surround, like the halo in old paintings, some of the men who were happy enough to be distinguished assertors of the Romish Church. We would instance, as a specimen, the biographical sketches of Bossuet and the Jesuit Bourdaloue, written by the late Dr. James Browne. These, however, are but comparatively minute flaws in a work so truly great, and of such immense multiplicity. They are some of the imperfections of a work to which imperfection is inevitable, and which, after all such deductions have been made, must be recognised as by much the least faulty and most complete of its class which the world has yet seen.
April 30, 1842.
A VISION OF THE RAILROAD.
[Private.] ——, ISLE OF SKYE.
.... I know not when this may reach you. We are much shut out from the world at this dead season of the year, especially in those wilder solitudes of the island that extend their long slopes of moor to the west. The vast Atlantic spreads out before us, blackened by tempest, a solitary waste, unenlivened by a single sail, and fenced off from the land by an impassable line of breakers. Even from the elevation where I now write—for my little cottage stands high on the hill-side—I can hear the measured boom of the waves, swelling like the roar of distant artillery, above the melancholy moanings of the wind among the nearer crags, and the hoarser dash of the stream in the hollow below. We are in a state of siege: the isle is beleaguered on its rugged line of western coast, and all communication within that quarter cut off; while in the opposite direction the broken and precarious footways that wind across the hills to our more accessible eastern shores, are still drifted over in the deeper hollows of the snow of the last great storm. It was only yester-evening that my cousin Eachen, with whom I share your newspaper, succeeded in bringing me the number published early in the present month, in which you furnish your readers with a report of the great railway meeting at Glasgow.
My cousin and I live on opposite sides of the island. We met at our tryst among the hills, not half an hour, before sunset; and as each had far to walk back, and as a storm seemed brewing—for the wind had suddenly lowered, and the thick mists came creeping down the hill-sides, all dank and chill, and laden with frost-rime, that settled crisp and white on our hair—we deemed it scarce prudent to indulge in our usual long conversation together.
'You will find,' said Eachen, as he handed me the paper, 'that things are looking no better. The old Tories are going on in the old way, bitterer against the gospel than ever. They will not leave us in all Skye a minister that has ever been the means of converting a soul; and what looks as ill, our great Scotch railway, that broke the Sabbath last year, in the vain hope of making money by it, is to break it this year at a dead loss. And this for no other purpose that people can see, than just that an Edinburgh writer may advertise his business by making smart speeches about it. Depend on't, Allister, the country's fey.'
'The old way of advertising,' said I, 'before it became necessary that an elder should have at least some show of religion about him, was to get into the General Assembly, and make speeches there. If the crisis comes, we shall see the practice in full blow again. We shall see our anti-Sabbatarian gentlemen transmuted into voluble Moderate elders, talking hard for clients without subjecting themselves to the advertisement duty,—and the railway mayhap keeping its Sabbaths.'
'Keeping its Sabbaths,' replied Eachen; 'ay, but the shareholders, perhaps, have little choice in the matter. I wish you heard our catechist on that. Depend on't, Allister, the country's fey.'
'Keeping its Sabbaths? Yes,' said I, catching at his meaning, 'if we are to be visited by a permanent commercial depression—and there are many things less likely at the present time—the railway may keep its Sabbaths, and keep them as the land of Judea did of old. It would be all too easy, in a period of general distress, to touch that line of necessarily high expenditure below which it would be ruin for the returns of the undertaking to fall. Let but the invariably great outlay continue to exceed the income for any considerable time, and the railway must keep its Sabbaths.'
'Just the catechist's idea,' rejoined my cousin. 'He spoke on the subject at our last meeting. "Eachen," he said, "Eachen, the thing lies so much in the ordinary course of providence, that our blinded Sabbath-breakers, were it to happen, would recognise only disaster in it, not judgment. I see at times, with a distinctness that my father would have called the second sight, that long weary line of rail, with its Sabbath travellers of pleasure and business speeding over it, and a crowd of wretched witnesses raised, all unwittingly and unwillingly on their own parts, to testify against it, and of coming judgment, at both its ends. I see that the walks of the one great city into which it opens are blackened by shoals of unemployed artisans; and that the lanes and alleys of the other number by thousands and tens of thousands their pale and hunger-bitten operatives, that cry for work and food. They testify all too surely that judgment needs no miracle here. Let but the evil continue to grow—nay, let but one of our Scottish capitals, our great mart of commerce and trade sink into the circumstances of its manufacturing neighbour Paisley—and the railway must keep its Sabbaths. But alas! there would be no triumph for party in the case. Great, ere the evil could befall, would the sufferings of the country be, and they would be sufferings that would extend to all." What think you, Allister, of the catechist's note?'
'Almost worth throwing into English,' I said. 'But the fog still thickens, and it will be dark night ere we reach home.' And so we parted.
Dark night it was, and the storm had burst out. But it was pleasant, when I had reached my little cottage, to pile high the fire on the hearth, and to hear the blast roaring outside, and shaking the window-boards, as if some rude hand were striving to unfasten them. I lighted my little heap of moss fir on the projecting stone that serves the poor Highlander for at once lamp and candlestick, and bent me over your fourth page, to scan the Sabbath returns of a Scottish railroad. But my rugged journey and the beating of the storm had induced a degree of lassitude; the wind outside, too, had forced back the smoke, until it had filled with a drowsy, umbery atmosphere, the whole of my dingy little apartment: Mr. M'Neill seemed considerably less smart than usual, and more than ordinarily offensive, and in the middle of his speech I fell fast asleep. The scene changed, and I found myself still engaged in my late journey, coming down over the hill, just as the sun was setting red and lightless through the haze behind the dark Atlantic. The dreary prospect on which I had looked so shortly before was restored in all its features: there was the blank, leaden-coloured sea, that seemed to mix all around with the blank, leaden-coloured sky; the moors spread out around me, brown and barren, and studded with rock and stone; the fogs, as they crept downwards, were lowering the overtopping screen of hills behind to one dead level. Through the landscape, otherwise so dingy and sombre, there ran one long line of somewhat brighter hue: it was a long line of breakers tumbling against the coast far as the eye could reach, and that seemed interposed as a sort of selvage between the blank, leaden sea, and the deep, melancholy russet of the land. Through one of those changes so common in dreams, the continuous line of surf seemed, as I looked, to alter its character. It winded no longer round headland and bay, but stretched out through the centre of the landscape, straight as an extended cord, and the bright white saddened down to the fainter hue of decaying vegetation. The entire landscape underwent a change. Under the gloomy sky of a stormy evening, I could mark on the one hand the dark blue of the Pentlands, and on the other the lower slopes of Corstorphine. Arthur's Seat rose dim in the distance behind; and in front, the pastoral valley of Wester Lothian stretched away mile beyond mile, with its long rectilinear mound running through the midst,—from where I stood beside one of the massier viaducts that rose an hundred feet overhead, till where the huge bulk seemed diminished to a slender thread on the far edge of the horizon.
It seemed as if years had passed—many years. I had an indistinct recollection of scenes of terror and of suffering, of the shouts of maddened multitudes engaged in frightful warfare, of the cries of famishing women and children, of streets and lanes flooded with blood, of raging flames enwrapping whole villages in terrible ruin, of the flashing of arms and the roaring of artillery; but all was dimness and confusion. The recollection was that of a dream remembered in a dream. The solemn text was in my mind, 'Voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great;' and I now felt as if the convulsion was over, and that its ruins lay scattered around me. The railway, I said, is keeping its Sabbaths. All around was solitary, as in the wastes of Skye. The long rectilinear mound seemed shaggy with gorse and thorn, that rose against the sides, and intertwisted their prickly branches atop. The sloe-thorn, and the furze, and the bramble choked up the rails. The fox rustled in the brake; and where his track had opened up a way through the fern, I could see the red and corroded bars stretching idly across. There was a viaduct beside me: the flawed and shattered masonry had exchanged its raw hues for a crust of lichens; one of the taller piers, undermined by the stream, had drawn two of the arches along with it, and lay adown the water-course a shapeless mass of ruin, o'ermasted by flags and rushes. A huge ivy, that had taken root under a neighbouring pier, threw up its long pendulous shoots over the summit. I ascended to the top. Half-buried in furze and sloe-thorn, there rested on the rails what had once been a train of carriages; the engine ahead lay scattered in fragments, the effect of some disastrous explosion, and damp, and mould, and rottenness had done their work on the vehicles behind. Some had already fallen to pieces, so that their places could be no longer traced in the thicket that had grown up around them; others stood comparatively entire, but their bleached and shrivelled panels rattled to the wind, and the mushroom and the fungus sprouted from between their joints. The scene bore all too palpably the marks of violence and bloodshed. There was an open space in front, where the shattered fragments of the engine lay scattered; and here the rails had been torn up by violence, and there stretched across, breast-high, a rudely piled rampart of stone. A human skeleton lay atop, whitened by the winds; there was a broken pike beside it; and, stuck fast in the naked skull, which had rolled to the bottom of the rampart, the rusty fragment of a sword. The space behind resembled the floor of a charnel-house—bindwood and ground-ivy lay matted over heaps of bones; and on the top of the hugest heap of all, a skull seemed as if grinning at the sky from amid the tattered fragments of a cap of liberty. Bones lay thick around the shattered vehicles; a trail of skeletons dotted the descending bank, and stretched far into a neighbouring field; and from amid the green rankness that shot up around them, I could see soiled and tattered patches of the British scarlet. A little farther on there was another wide gap in the rails. I marked beside the ruins of a neighbouring hovel a huge pile of rusty bars, and there lay inside the fragment of an uncouth cannon marred in the casting.
I wandered on in unhappiness, oppressed by that feeling of terror and disconsolateness so peculiar to one's more frightful dreams. The country seemed everywhere a desert. The fields were roughened with tufts of furze and broom; hedgerows had shot up into lines of stunted trees, with wide gaps interposed; cottage and manor-house had alike sunk into ruins; here the windows still retained their shattered frames, and the roof-tree lay rotting amid the dank vegetation of the floor; yonder the blackness of fire had left its mark, and there remained but reddened and mouldering stone. Wild animals and doleful creatures had everywhere increased. The toad puffed out his freckled sides on hearths whose fires had been long extinguished, the fox rustled among its bushes, the masterless dog howled from the thicket, the hawk screamed shrill and sharp as it fluttered overhead. I passed what had been once the policies of a titled proprietor. The trees lay rotting and blackened among the damp grass—all except one huge giant of the forest, that, girdled by the axe half a man's height from the ground, and scorched by fire, stretched out its long dead arms towards the sky. In the midst of this wilderness of desolation lay broken masses, widely scattered, of what had been once the mansion-house. A shapeless hollow, half filled with stagnant water, occupied its immediate site; and the earth was all around torn up, as if battered with cannon. The building had too obviously owed its destruction to the irresistible force of gunpowder.
There was a parish church on the neighbouring eminence, and it, too, was roofless and a ruin. Alas! I exclaimed, as I drew aside the rank stalks of nightshade and hemlock that hedged up the breach in the wall through which I passed into the interior—alas! have the churches of Scotland also perished? The inscription of a mutilated tombstone that lay outside caught my eye, and I paused for a moment's space in the gap to peruse it. It was an old memorial of the times of the Covenant, and the legend was more than half defaced. I succeeded in deciphering merely a few half sentences—'killing-time,' 'faithful martyr,' 'bloody Prelates;' and beneath there was a fragmentary portion of the solemn text, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood?' I stepped into the interior: the scattered remains of an altar rested against the eastern gable. There was a crackling as of broken glass under my feet, and stooping down I picked up a richly-stained fragment: it bore a portion of that much-revered sign, the pelican giving her young to eat of her own flesh and blood—the sign which Puseyism and Popery equally agree in regarding as adequately expressive of their doctrine of the real presence, and which our Scottish Episcopalians have so recently adopted as the characteristic vignette of their service-book. The toad and the newt had crept over it, and it had borrowed a new tint of brilliancy from the slime of the snail. Destruction had run riot along the walls of this parish church. There were carvings chipped and mutilated, as if in sport, less apparently with the intention of defacing, than rendering them contemptible and grotesque. A huge cross of stone had been reared over the altar, and both the top and one of the arms had been struck away, and from the surviving arm there dangled a noose. The cross had been transformed into a gibbet. Nor were there darker indications wanting. In a recess set apart as a cabinet for relics, there were human bones all too fresh to belong to a remote antiquity; and in a niche under the gibbet lay the tattered remains of a surplice dabbled in blood. I stood amid the ruins, and felt a sense of fear and horror creeping over me: the air darkened under the scowl of the coming tempest and the closing night, and the wind shrieked more mournfully amid the shattered and dismantled walls.
There came another change over my dream. I found myself wandering in darkness, I knew not whither, among bushes and broken ground; there was the roar of a large stream in my ear, and the savage howl of the storm. I retain a confused, imperfect recollection of a light streaming upon broken water—of a hard struggle in a deep ford—and of at length sharing in the repose and safety of a cottage, solitary and humble almost as my own. The vision again strengthened, and I found myself seated beside a fire, and engaged with a few grave and serious men in singing the evening psalm, with which they closed for the time their services of social devotion.
'The period of trial wears fast away,' said one of the number, when all was over—a grey-haired, patriarchal-looking old man—'The period of trial is well-nigh over, the storms of our long winter are past, and we have survived them all. Patience! a little more patience, and we shall see the glorious spring-time of the world begin! The vial is at length exhausted.'
'How very simple,' said one of the others, as if giving expression rather to the reflection that the remark suggested, than speaking in reply,—'how exceedingly simple now it seems to trace to their causes the decline and fall of Britain! The ignorance and the irreligion of the land have fully avenged themselves, and have been consumed in turn in fires of their own kindling. How could even mere men of the world have missed seeing the great moral evil that lay at the root of'—
'Ay,' said a well-known voice that half mingled with my dreaming fancies, half recalled me to consciousness; 'nothing can be plainer, Donald. That lawyer-man is evidently not making his smart speeches or writing his clever circulars with an eye to the pecuniary interests of the railroad. No person can know better than he knows that the company are running their Sabbath trains at a sacrifice of some four or five thousand a year. Were there not a hundred thousand that took the pledge? and can it be held by any one that knows Scotland, that they aren't worth over-head a shilling a year to the railway? No, no; depend on't, the man is guiltless of any design of making the shareholders rich by breaking the Sabbath. He is merely supporting a desperate case in the eye of the country, and getting into all the newspapers, that people may see how clever a fellow he is. He is availing himself of the principle that makes men in our great towns go about with placards set up on poles, and with bills printed large stuck round their hats.'
Two of my nearer neighbours, who had travelled a long mile through the storm to see whether I had got my newspaper, had taken their seats beside me when I was engaged with my dream; and after reading your railway report, they were now busied in discussing the various speeches and their authors. My dream is, I am aware, quite unsuited for your columns, and yet I send it to you. There are none of its pictured calamities that lie beyond the range of possibility—nay, there are perhaps few of them that at this stage may not actually be feared; but if so, it is at least equally sure that there can be none of them that at this stage might not be averted.
THE TWO MR. CLARKS.
Among the some six or eight and twenty volumes of pamphlets which have been already produced by our Church controversy, and which bid fair to compose but a part of the whole, there is one pamphlet, in the form of a Sermon, which bears date January 1840, and two other pamphlets, in the form of Dialogues, which bear date April 1843. The Sermon and the Dialogues discuss exactly the same topics. They are written in exactly the same style. They exhibit, in the same set phrases, the same large amount of somewhat obtrusive sanctimoniousness. They are equally strong in the same confidence of representing, on their respective subjects, the true mind of Deity. They solicit the same circle of readers; they seem to have employed the same fount of types; they have emanated from the same publishers. They are liker, in short, than the twin brothers in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors; and the only material dissimilarity which we have been yet able to discover is, that whereas the Sermon is a thorough-going and uncompromising defence of our Evangelical majority in the Church, the Dialogues form an equally thorough-going and uncompromising attack upon them. This, however, compared with the numerous points of verisimilitude, the reader will, we are sure, deem but a trifle, especially when he has learned further that they represent the same mind, and have employed the same pen—that the Sermon was published by the Rev. Alexander Clark of Inverness in 1840, and the Dialogues by the Rev. Alexander Clark of Inverness in 1843.
We spent an hour at the close of twilight a few evenings ago, in running over the Sermon and the Dialogues, and in comparing them, as we went along, paragraph by paragraph, and sentence by sentence. We had before us also one of Mr. Clark's earlier publications, his Rights of Members of the Church of Scotland, and a complete collection of his anti-patronage speeches for a series of years, as recorded in The Church Patronage Reporter, with his speech 'anent lay patronage' in the General Assembly, when in 1833 he led the debate on the popular side. The publications, in all, extended over a period of fourteen years. They exhibited Mr. Clark, and what Mr. Clark had held, in 1829, in 1831, in 1832, in 1836, in 1840, and in 1843. We found that we could dip down upon him, as we went along, like a sailor taking soundings in the reaches of some inland frith or some navigable river, and ascertain by year and day the exact state of his opinions, and whether they were rising or falling at the time. And our task, if a melancholy, was certainly no uninteresting one. We succeeded in bringing to the surface, from out of the oblivion that had closed over them, many a curious, glittering, useless little thing, somewhat resembling the decayed shells and phosphoric jellies that attach themselves to the bottom of the deep-sea lead. Here we found the tale of a peroration, set as if on joints, that clattered husky and dry like the rattles of a snake; there an argument sprouting into green declamation, like a damaged ear of corn in a wet harvest; yonder a piece of delightful egotism, set full in sentiment like a miniature of Mr. Clark in a tinsel frame. What seemed most remarkable, however, in at least his earlier productions, was their ceaseless glitter of surface, if we may so speak. We found them literally sprinkled over with little bits of broken figures, as if the reverend gentleman had pounded his metaphors and comparisons in a mortar, and then dusted them over his style. It is thus, thought we, that our manufacturers of fancy wax deal by their mica. In his Rights of Members, for instance, we found in one page that 'the gross errors of Romanism had risen in successive tides, until the light of truth suffered a fearful eclipse during a long period of darkness;' and we had scarce sufficiently admired the sublime height of tides that occasion eclipses, when we were further informed, in the page immediately following, that the god of this world was mustering his multifarious hosts for the battle, hoping, amidst the waves of popular commotion, 'to blot out the name of God from the British Constitution.' Assuredly, thought we, we have the elements of no commonplace engagement here. 'Multifarious hosts,' fairly mustered, and 'battling' amid 'waves' in 'commotion' to 'blot out a name,' would be a sight worth looking at, even though, like the old shepherd in the Winter's Tale, their zeal should lack footing amid the waters. But though detained in the course of our search by the happinesses of the reverend gentleman, we felt that it was not with the genius of Mr. Clark that we had specially to do, but with his consistency.
For eleven of the fourteen years over which our materials extended, we found the Rev. Mr. Clark one of the most consistent of men. From his appearance on the platform at Aberdeen in 1829, when he besought his audience not to deem it obtrusive in a stranger that he ventured to address them, and then elicited their loud applauses by soliciting their prayers for 'one minister labouring in northern parts,' who 'aspired to no higher distinction on earth than that he should spend and be spent in the service of his dear Lord and Master,' down to 1840, when he published his sermon on the 'Present Position of the Church, and the Duty of its Members,' and urged, with the solemnity of an oath, that 'the Church of Scotland was engaged in asserting principles which the allegiance it owes to Christ would never permit it to desert,' Mr. Clark stood forward on every occasion the uncompromising champion of spiritual independence, and of the rights of the Christian people. He took his place far in the van. He was no mere half-and-half non-intrusionist,—no complaisant eulogist of the Veto,—no timid doubter that the Church in behalf of her people might possibly stretch her powers too far, and thus separate her temporalities from her cures. Nothing could be more absurd, he asserted, than to imagine such a thing. On parade day, when she stood resting on her arms in the sunshine, Mr. Clark was fugleman to his party,—not merely a front man in the front rank, but a man far in advance of the front rank. Nay, even after the collision had taken place, Mr. Clark could urge on his brethren that all that was necessary to secure them the victory was just to go a little further ahead, and deprive their refractory licentiates of their licences. We found that for eleven of the fourteen years, as we have said, Mr. Clark was uniformly consistent. But in the twelfth year the conflict became actually dangerous, and Mr. Clark all at once dropped his consistency. The great suddenness—the extreme abruptness—of the change, gave to it the effect of a trick of legerdemain. The conjurer puts a pigeon into an earthen pipkin, gives the vessel a shake, and then turns it up, and lo! out leaps the little incarcerated animal, no longer a pigeon, but a rat. It was thus with the Rev. Mr. Clark. Adversity, like Vice in the fable, took upon herself the character of a juggler, and stepping full into the middle of the Church question, began to play at cup and ball. Nothing, certainly, could be more wonderful than the transformations she effected; and the special transformation effected on the Rev. Mr. Clark surpassed in the marvellous all the others. She threw the reverend gentleman into a box, gave him a smart shake, and then flung him out again, and lo! to the astonishment of all men, what went in Mr. Clark, came out Mr. Bisset of Bourtie. In order, apparently, that so great a marvel should not be lost to the world, Mr. Clark has been at no little trouble in showing himself, both before he went in and since he came out. His pamphlet of 1840 and his pamphlets of 1843 represent him in the two states: we see him going about in them, all over the country, to the extent of their circulation, like the mendicant piper in his go-cart,—making open proclamation everywhere, 'I am the man wot changed;' and the only uncomfortable feeling one has in contemplating them as curiosities, arises solely from the air of heavy sanctity that pervades equally all their diametrically opposed doctrines, contradictory assertions, and contending views, as if Deity could declare equally for truth and error, just as truth and error chanced to be held by Mr. Clark. Of so solemn a cast are the reverend gentleman's belligerent pamphlets, that they serve to remind one of antagonist witnesses swearing point blank in one another's faces at the Old Bailey.
Such were some of the thoughts which arose in our mind when spending an hour all alone with the Rev. Mr Clark's pamphlets. We bethought us of an Eastern story about a very wicked prince who ruined the fair fame of his brother, by assuming his body just as he might his greatcoat, and then doing a world of mischief under the cover of his name and appearance. What, thought we, if this, after all, be but a trick of a similar character? Dr. Bryce has been long in Eastern parts, and knows doubtless a great deal about the occult sciences. We would not be much surprised should it turn out, that having injected himself into the framework of the Rev. Mr. Clark, he is now making the poor man appear grossly inconsistent, and both an Erastian and an Intrusionist, simply by acting through the insensate carcase. The veritable Mr. Clark may be lying in deep slumber all this while in the ghost cave of Munlochy, like one of the seven sleepers of Ephesus, or standing entranced, under the influences of fairy-land, in some bosky recess of the haunted Tomnahurich. We must just glance over these Dialogues again, and see whether we cannot detect Dr. Bryce in them.
And glance over them we did. There could be no denying that the Doctor was there, and this in a much more extreme shape than he ever yet wore in his own proper person. Dr. Bryce asserts, for instance, in his speeches and pamphlets, that the liberty for which the Church has been contending is a liberty incompatible with her place and standing as an Establishment—and there he stops; but we found him asserting in Mr. Clark's Dialogues, that it is a liberty at once so dangerous and illegal, that Voluntaries must not be permitted to enjoy it either. We saw various other points equally striking as we went along. Our attention, however, was gradually drawn to another matter. The dramatis personae to which the reader is introduced are a minister and two of his parishioners, the one a Moderate, the other a Convocationist. It is intended, of course, that the clerical gentleman should carry the argument all his own way; and we could not help admiring how, with an eye to this result, the writer had succeeded in making the parishioners so amazingly superficial in their information, and so ingeniously obtuse in their intellects. They had both been called into existence with the intention of being baffled and beaten, and made, with a wise adaptation of means to the desired end, consummate blockheads for the express purpose. 'A man is a much nobler animal than a lion,' said the woodman in the fable to the shaggy king of the forest; 'and if you but come to yonder temple with me, I will show you, in proof of the fact, the statue of a man lording it over the statue of a prostrate lion.' 'Aha!' said the shaggy king of the forest in reply, 'but was the sculptor a lion? Let us lions become sculptors, and then we will show you lions lording it over prostrate men.' In Mr. Clark's argumentative Dialogues, Mr. Clark is the sculptor. It is really refreshing, however, in these days of cold ingratitude, to see how the creatures called into existence by his pen draw round him, and sing Io Paeans in his praise. A brace of Master Slenders attend the great Justice Shallow, who has been literally the making of them; and when at his bidding they engage with him in mimic warfare, they but pelt him with roses, or sprinkle him over with eau de Cologne. 'Ah,' thought we, 'had we but the true Mr. Clark here to take a part in this fray—the Mr. Clark who published the great non-intrusion sermon, and wrote the Rights of Members, and spoke all the long anti-patronage speeches, and led the debate in the Assembly anent the rights of the people, and declared it clear as day that the Church had power to enact the Veto,—had we but him here, he would be the man to fight this battle. It would be no such child's play to grapple with him. Unaccustomed as we are to lay wagers, we would stake a hundred pounds to a groat on the true Mr. Clark!'
The twilight had fallen, the flames rose blue and languid in the grate, the deep shadows flickered heavily on the walls and ceiling; there was a drowsy influence in the hour, and a still drowsier influence in the Dialogues, and we think—for what followed could have been only a dream—we think we must have fallen asleep. At all events, the scene changed without any exertion on our part, and we found ourselves in a quiet retired spot in the vicinity of Inverness. The 'hill of the ship,' that monarch of Fairy Tomhans, rose immediately in front, gaily feathered over with larch and forest trees; and, terminating a long vista in the background, we saw Mr. Clark's West Kirk, surmounted by a vast weathercock of gilded tin. Ever and anon the bauble turned its huge side to the sun, and the reflected light went dancing far and wide athwart the landscape. Immediately beneath the weathercock there flared an immense tablet, surmounted by a leaden Fame, and bordered by a row of gongs and trumpets, which bore, in three-feet letters, that, 'in order to secure so valuable an addition to the church accommodation of the parish, the Rev. Mr. Clark had not hesitated, on his own personal risk, to guarantee the payment of three thousand pounds.' Our eyes were at first so dazzled by the blaze of the lackering—for the characters shone to the sun as if on fire—that we could see nothing else. As we gazed more attentively, however, we could perceive that every stone and slate of the building bore, like the tablet, the name of Mr. Clark. The endless repetition presented the appearance of a churchyard inscription viewed through a multiplying glass; but what most astonished us was that the Gothic heads, carved by pairs beside the labelled windows, opened wide their stony lips from time to time, and shouted aloud, in a voice somewhat resembling that of the domestic duck when she breaks out into sudden clamour in a hot, dry day, 'Clark, Clark, Clark!' We stood not a little appalled at these wonders, marvelling what was to come next, when lo! one of the thickets of the Tomhan beside us opened its interlaced and twisted branches, and out stepped the likeness of Mr. Clark, attired like a conjurer, and armed with a rod. His portly bulk was enwrapped in a voluminous scarf of changing-coloured silk, that, when it caught the light in one direction, exhibited the deep scarlet of a cardinal's mantle, and presented, when it caught it in another, the sober tinge of our Presbyterian blue. Like the cloak of Asmodeus, it was covered over with figures. In one corner we could see the General Assembly done in miniature, and Mr. Clark rising among the members like Gulliver in Lilliput, to move against the deposition of the seven ministers of Strathbogie. In another the same reverend gentleman, drawn on the same large scale, was just getting on his legs at a political dinner, to denounce his old friends and allies the Evangelicals, as wild destructives, 'engaged in urging on the fall of the Establishment, in the desperation of human pride.' Here we could see him baptizing the child of a person who, as he had fallen out of church-going habits, could get it baptized nowhere else; there examined in his presbytery for the offence with closed doors; yonder writing letters to the newspapers on the subject, to say that, if he had baptized the man's child, it was all because the man was, like himself, a good hater of forced settlements. There were a great many other vignettes besides; and the last in the series was the scene enacted at the late Inverness Presbytery, when Mr. Clark rose to congratulate his old associates, in all the stern severity of consistent virtue, on the facile and 'squeezable' character of their representative for the Assembly.
The conjurer came out into an open space, drew a circle around him, and then began to build up on the sward two little human figures about three feet high, as boys build up figures of snow at the commencement of a thaw. Harlequin performs a somewhat similar feat in one of the pantomimes. He first sets up two carrots on end, to serve for legs; balances on them the head of a large cabbage, to serve for a body; sticks on two other carrots, to serve for arms; places a round turnip between them, to serve for a head; gives the crazy erection a blow with his lath sword, and straightway off it stalks, a vegetable man. Mr. Clark had, in like manner, no sooner built up his figures, than, with a peculiarly bland air, and in tones of the softest liquidity, he whispered into the ear of the one, Be you a Convocationist, and into that of the other, Be you a Moderate; and then with his charmed rod he tapped them across the shoulders, and set them a-walking. The creatures straightway jerked up their little heads to the angle of his face, bowed like a brace of automaton dancing-masters, and after pacing round his knees for a few seconds, began Dialogue the first, in just the set terms in which we had been reading it beside our own fire not half an hour before. It seemed, for a few seconds, as if the conjurer and his creations had joined together in a trio, to celebrate the conjurer's own praises. 'Excellent clergyman!' said the Convocationist. 'Incomparable man!' exclaimed the Moderate. 'No minister like our minister!' said the two in a breath. 'Ah, gentlemen,' said the conjurer, looking modestly down, 'even my very enemies never venture to deny that.' 'You, sir,' said the Convocationist, 'bring on no occasion the Church question to the pulpit; you know better—you have more sense: we have quite as much of the Church question as is good for us through the week.' 'For you, sir,' chimed in the Moderate, 'I have long cherished the most thorough respect; but as for your old party, I dislike them more than ever.' 'I am not mercenary, gentlemen,' said the conjurer, laying his hand on his breast; 'I am not timid, I am not idle; I am a generous, diligent, dauntless, attached pastor; I give alms of all I possess—in especial to the public charities; I make long prayers,—my very best friends often urge on me that my vast labours, weekly and daily, are undermining my strength; I fast often,—I have guaranteed the payment of three thousand pounds for the West Kirk, and three-fourths of my stipend have gone this year to the liquidation of self-imposed liabilities. True, I will be eventually repaid,—that is, if my people don't leave me; but I have no other security beyond my confidence in the goodness of the cause, and the continued liberality of my countrymen.' And in this style would the reverend gentleman have continued down to the bottom of the fifth page in his first Dialogue, had it not been for a singularly portentous and terrible interruption.
The haunted Tomnahurich rose, as we have said, immediately behind us, leafy and green; and not one of its multitude of boughs trembled in the sunshine. Suddenly, however, the hill-side began to move. There was a low deep noise like distant thunder; and straightway the debris of a landslip came rolling downwards, half obliterating in its course the circle of the conjurer. Turf, and clay, and stone lay in a mingled ruin at our feet; and wriggling in the midst, like a huge blue-bottle in an old cobweb, there was a reverend gentleman dressed in black. He gathered himself up, sprung deftly to his feet, and stood fronting the conjurer. Wonderful to relate, the man in black proved to be the veritable Mr. Clark of three years ago—Mr. Clark of 1840—Mr. Clark who published the great non-intrusion discourse, who wrote the Rights of Members, who spoke the long anti-patronage speeches, who led the debate in the Assembly anent the rights of the people, and who declared it clear as day that the Church had power to enact the Veto. The conjurer started backwards like a man who receives a mortal wound: the two little figures uttered a thin scrannel shriek apiece, and then slunk out of existence. 'Avoid ye,' exclaimed the conjurer, 'Avoid ye! Conjuro te, conjuro te!' He then went on to mutter, as if by way of exorcism, in low and very rapid tones, 'I have no anxiety to refute the charge of inconsistency, which some have endeavoured to fasten on me, from detached portions of what I have written or spoken, during several years, on what may be termed Church politics. In matters not essential to salvation, increased light or advanced experience may properly produce change of sentiment in the most enlightened and conscientious Christian. For a man to assert that he is subject to no change, is to lay claim to one of the perfections——' Dialogue 1st, p. 6.
'And so you won't go out,' said the true Mr. Clark, interrupting him.
'No, sir,' replied the conjurer. 'I have maturely considered the proposed secession from the Established Church, and, without pronouncing any judgment on the motives or doings of others who may think or act differently, I deeply feel that in such a measure I could not join without manifest sin against the light of my conscience.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 4.
'Ah,' rejoined the true Mr. Clark, 'did I not say it would be so? I knew there would be found a set of recreant priests, who, for a pitiful morsel of the world's bread, would submit to be the instruments of trampling on the blood-bought rights of the Scottish people, and call themselves a Church, while departing from their allegiance to Him who is the source of all true ecclesiastical authority; but never can these constitute the Church of Scotland!'—Sermon, p. 40.
'I cannot reconcile it with the views I have long entertained of my duty to the Church and to the country,' said the conjurer, 'to secede from the National Establishment, simply because it wants what it wanted when I became one of its ministers.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 12.
'Wanted when you became one of its ministers!' exclaimed the true Mr. Clark. 'No, sir. The civil courts are now compelling obedience in cases in which they have no jurisdiction, and have levelled with the ground the independent jurisdiction of the Church,—a Church bearing in its diadem a host of martyrs, and which never hitherto submitted to the supremacy of any power, excepting that of the Son of God.'—Sermon, pp. 59-63.
'I won't go out,' reiterated the conjurer.
'Well, you have told me what you have long deemed to be your duty,' said the true Mr. Clark. 'I shall repeat to you, in turn, what I three years ago recorded as mine. "It is the duty of the Church," I said, "to maintain its position, confirmed as it is by solemn statutes and by the faith of national treaties, until that shall be overthrown by the deliberate decision of the State itself. Should such a circumstance really occur, as that the Legislature should insist that the Church holds its endowments on the express condition of its rendering to civil authority the subjection which it can consistently yield to Christ alone, there being then a plain violation of the terms on which the Church entered into alliance with the State, that alliance must be dissolved, as one which can be no longer continued, but by rendering to men what is due to God.'"—Sermon, p. 28.
'I deny entirely and in toto,' said the conjurer, 'that the present controversy involves the doctrine of the Headship.'—See 2d Dialogue.
'Admit,' said the true Mr. Clark, 'but the right of secular courts to review, and thus to confirm or annul, the proceedings of the Scottish Church in one of the most important spiritual functions, and the same power may soon be, under various pretexts, used to control all the inferior departments of its ecclesiastical procedure. Will any man say that a society thus acknowledging the supremacy of a different power from that of Christ is any longer to be regarded as a branch of the Church whose unity chiefly exists in adherence to Him as its Head?'—Sermon, p. 45.
'The claim,' said the conjurer, 'is essentially Papal.'—Dialogue 2d, p. 6.
'No,' replied the true Mr. Clark, 'not Papal, but Protestant: our confessors and martyrs chose to suffer for it the loss of all their worldly goods, and to incur the pains of death in its most appalling forms.'—Sermon, p. 45.
'Papal notwithstanding,' reiterated the conjurer. 'But it is not to be wondered at, that in the earliest stages of the Reformation, men newly come out of the Church of Rome should have been led to assert for the office-bearers of their Church the prerogatives which Romanism claimed for her own.'—Dialogue 2d, p. 7.
'What!' exclaimed the true Mr. Clark, 'is not the present contest clearly for the rights of the members of Christ,—rights manifestly recognised in His word, and involving His Headship?'—Sermon, p. 37. See also p. 31.
'Not at all,' replied the conjurer. 'The question is one of faction, and of faction only. Struggles for the victory of mere parties have been as injurious to vital godliness in the Church as the same cause has been to the true prosperity of the State.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 15.
'Faction!' exclaimed the true Mr. Clark; 'the Church of Scotland is now engaged in asserting principles which the allegiance it owes to Christ will never permit it to desert. And let it be rung in the ears of the people of Scotland, that the great reason why the asserting of the Church's spiritual jurisdiction is so clamorously condemned in certain quarters, is because it is employed to maintain the rights of the people.'—Sermon, pp. 37-39.
'To be above the authority of the law, no Church in this country can be,' said the conjurer. 'The Church courts would be able, were their principles fully recognised, to tread under foot the rights of the people as effectually as ever they resisted those of patrons.'—Dialogue 1st, pp. 14 and 16.
'Nothing can be more absurd than such insinuations,' exclaimed the true Mr. Clark. 'The Church disclaims every kind of civil authority, and simply requires that there be no interference on the part of civil rulers with its spiritual functions. How that which declines a jurisdiction in civil matters, can in any sense of the word, or in any conceivable circumstances, be injurious to civil liberty, it is impossible to conceive.'—Sermon, p. 32.
'Alas,' said the conjurer, 'if the Church by recent events has been exhibited in a lower position than Scotsmen ever saw it placed in before, this has been occasioned by the unhappy attitude of defiance of the civil tribunals in which it was unadvisedly placed, and which no body, however venerable, can be permitted to occupy with impunity in a well-governed country.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 12.
'Degradation!' indignantly exclaimed the true Mr. Clark; 'did the Church, in consequence of the findings of the civil courts, proceed to act in opposition to what it believes and has solemnly declared to be founded on the Scripture, and agreeable thereto, it would exhibit itself to the world a disgraced and degraded society, utterly fallen from the faithfulness to religious duty which marked former periods of its history.'—Sermon, p. 21.
'Clear it is,' said the conjurer, 'that the Church must not be permitted to retain with impunity her attitude of defiance to the civil tribunals. Were it otherwise, an ecclesiastical power might come to be established in this kingdom, fully able to trample uncontrolled on the most sacred rights of the nation.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 12.
'Nothing, I repeat,' said the true Mr. Clark, 'can be more absurd than the insinuation. The liberties of the Church of Scotland have been often assailed by the civil authorities of the land, but uniformly by those who were equally hostile to the civil freedom of the country. Its rights were, during one dreary period, so effectually overthrown, that none stood up to assert them but the devoted band who, in the wildest fastnesses of their country, were often compelled by the violence of military rule to water with their blood the moors, where they rendered homage to the King of Zion; while, in the sunshine of courtly favour, ecclesiastics moved, who without fear bartered, for their own sordid gain, the blood-bought liberties of the Church of God, and showed themselves as willing to subvert the civil rights of their countrymen as they had been to destroy their religious privileges.'—Sermon, p. 30.
'To be above the law,' reiterated the conjurer, 'no Church in this country can be.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 16.
'There may arise various occasions,' said the true Mr. Clark, 'on which the injunctions of man may interfere with the injunctions of God; and in every such case a Christian man must yield obedience to the authority of the highest Lord.'—Sermon, p. 22.
'Sad case that of Strathbogie!' ejaculated the conjurer.
'Very sad,' replied the true Mr. Clark. 'What is your version of it?'
'Listen,' said the conjurer. 'What has been termed the Veto Law was enacted less than ten years ago, and after lengthened legal proceedings, was declared illegal by the House of Lords, the highest judicial authority in this kingdom. For proceedings adopted in conformity to this decision, seven ministers in the Presbytery of Strathbogie were first suspended and then deposed from their ministerial offices, without any other charges laid against them than that they sought the protection of the civil courts in acting according to their decision. For refusing to obey a law which the House of Lords declared to be illegal, no minister can be lawfully deposed from his office in this country, unless we are prepared to adopt a principle which would ultimately subvert the entire authority of the law. The civil courts, simply on the ground that these ministers had been deposed for obeying the statutes of the realm, reversed the sentence, as what was beyond the lawful powers of any Church in this land, whether Voluntary or Established. And on the same principle, they interfered to prevent any from treating them as suspended or deposed.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 10.
'A most injurious representation of the case,' said the true Mr. Clark. 'Seven ministers, forming the majority of the Presbytery of Strathbogie, chose to intimate their resolution to take steps towards the settlement of Mr. Edwards as minister of Marnoch, in defiance of the opposition of almost all the parishioners, and in direct contempt of the instructions given them by the superior church courts. The civil courts in the meantime merely declared their opinion of the law, but they issued no injunction whatever, so as to give the presbytery the pretext of choosing between obeying the one or the other jurisdiction; and they violated the express injunction of the supreme church court, without being able to plead in justification that they had been compelled by the civil authority to do so. They chose to act ultroneously in violation of their duty to the Church. They had solemnly promised to obey the superior church courts, and had never come under any promise to obey in spiritual things any other authority. In proposing to take the usual steps for conferring the spiritual office of a pastor in the Church of Christ, in defiance of the injunction laid upon them by the supreme court of the Church of Scotland, they plainly violated their ordination engagements. And in actually ordaining Mr. Edwards, the whole procedure was a solemn mockery of holy things.'—Sermon, p. 26.
'After all,' said the conjurer, with a sigh, 'the agitated question is but of inferior moment.'—Dialogue 1st, p. 3.