The Posthumous Works of Thomas De Quincey, Vol. II (2 vols)
by Thomas De Quincey
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[39] 'Seven-gated,' both as an expression which recalls the subject of the Romance (the Seven Anti-Theban Chieftains), and as one which distinguishes this Grecian Thebes from the Egyptian Thebes; that being called Hekatompylos, or Hundred-gated. Of course some little correction will always be silently applied to the general expression, so as to meet the difference between the two generations that served at Troy and in the Argonautic expedition, and again between David and his son. If the elder generation be fixed to the year 1000, then 1000 minus 30 will express the era of the younger; if the younger be fixed to the year 1000, then 1000 plus 30 will express the era of the elder. Or, better still, 1000 may be taken as the half-way era in which both generations met; that era in which the father was yet living and active, whilst the son was already entering upon manhood; that era, for instance, at which David was still reigning, though his son Solomon had been crowned. On this plan, no correction at all will be required; 15 years on each side of the 1000 will mark the two terms within which the events and persons range; and the 1000 will be the central point of the period.

[40] Elam is the Scriptural name for Persia.

[41] 'Alala! Alala!' the war cry of Eastern armies.

[42] And for the very reason that political economy had but a small share in determining the war of the year A, it became not so much a great force as the sole force for putting an end to the war of the year D.


Some time back I published in this journal a little paper on the Californian madness—for madness I presumed it to be, and upon two grounds. First, in so far as men were tempted into a lottery under the belief that it was not a lottery; or, if it really were such, that it was a lottery without blanks. Secondly, in so far as men were tempted into a transitory speculation under the delusion that it was not transitory, but rested on some principle of permanence. We have since seen the Californian case repeated, upon a scale even of exaggerated violence, in Australia. There also, if great prizes seemed to be won in a short time, it was rashly presumed that something like an equitable distribution of these prizes took place. Supposing ten persons to have obtained L300 in a fortnight, people failed to observe that, if divided amongst the entire party of which these ten persons formed a section, the L300 would barely have yielded average wages. In one instance a very broad illustration of this occurred in the early experience of Victoria. A band of seven thousand people had worked together; whether simply in the sense of working as neighbours in the same local district, or in the commercial sense of working as partners, I do not know, nor is it material to know. The result sounded enormous, when stated in a fragmentary way with reference to particular days, and possibly in reference also to particular persons, distinguished for luck, but on taking the trouble to sum up the whole amount of labourers, of days, and of golden ounces extracted, it did not appear that the wages to each individual could have averaged quite so much as twenty shillings a week, supposing the total product to have been on that principle of participation. Very possibly it was not; and in that case the gains of some individuals may have been enormous. But a prudent man, if he quits a certainty or migrates from a distance, will compute his prospects upon this scale of averages, and assuredly not upon the accidents of exceptional luck. The instant objection will be, that such luck is not exceptional, but represents the ordinary case. Let us consider. The reports are probably much exaggerated; and something of the same machinery for systematic exaggeration is already forming itself as operated so beneficially for California. As yet, however, it is not absolutely certain that the reports themselves, taken literally, would exactly countenance the romantic impressions drawn from those reports by the public.

Until the reader has checked the accounts, or, indeed, has been enabled to check them, by balancing the amount of gain against the amount of labour applied, he cannot know but that the reports themselves would show on examination a series of unusual successes set against a series of entire failures, so as to leave a facit, after all corrections and allowances, of moderately good wages upon an equal distribution of the whole. I would remind him to propose this question: has it been asserted, even by these wild reports, with respect to any thousand men (taken as an aggregate), I do not mean to say that all have succeeded, or even that a majority have not failed decisively—that is more than I demand—but has it been asserted that they have realized so much in any week or any month as would, if divided equally amongst losers and winners, have allowed to each man anything conspicuously above the rate of ordinary wages? Of lotteries in general it has been often remarked, that if you buy a single ticket you have but a poor chance of winning, if you buy twenty tickets your chance is very much worse, and if you buy all the tickets your chance is none at all, but is exchanged for a certainty of loss. So as to the gold lottery of Australia, I suspect (and, observe, not assuming the current reports to be false, but, on the contrary, to be strictly correct for each separate case, only needing to be combined and collated as a whole) that if each separate century[43] of men emigrating to the goldfield of Mount Alexander were to make a faithful return of their aggregate winnings, that return would not prove seductive at all to our people at home, supposing these winnings to be distributed equally as amongst an incorporation of adventurers; though it has proved seductive in the case of the extraordinary success being kept apart so as to fix and fascinate the gaze into an oblivion of the counterbalancing failures.

There is, however, notoriously, a natural propensity amongst men to confide in their luck; and, as this is a wholesome propensity in the main, it may seem too harsh to describe by the name of mania even a morbid excess of it, though it ought to strike the most sanguine man, that in order to account for the possibility of any failures at all, we must suppose the main harvest of favourable chances to decay with the first month or so of occupation by any commensurate body of settlers; so that in proportion to the strength and reality of the promises to the earliest settlers, will have been the rapid exhaustion of such promises. Exactly because the district was really a choice one for those who came first, it must often be ruined for him who succeeds him.

Here, then, is a world of disappointments prepared and preparing for future emigrants. The favourite sports and chief lands of promise will by the very excess of their attractiveness have converged upon themselves the great strength of the reapers; and in very many cases the main harvest will have been housed before the new race of adventurers from Great Britain can have reached the ground. In most cases, therefore, ruin would be the instant solution of the disappointment. But in a country so teeming with promise as Australia, ruin is hardly a possible event. A hope lost is but a hope transfigured. And one is reminded of a short colloquy that took place on the field of Marengo. 'Is this battle lost?' demanded Napoleon of Desaix. 'It is,' replied Desaix; 'but, before the sun sets, there is plenty of time to win it back.' In like manner the new comers, on reaching the appointed grounds, will often have cause to say, 'Are we ruined this morning?' To which the answer will not unfrequently be, 'Yes; but this is the best place for being ruined that has yet been discovered. You have trusted to the guidance of a will-of-the-wisp; but a will-of-the-wisp has been known to lead a man by accident to a better path than that which he had lost.' There is no use, therefore, in wasting our pity upon those who may happen to suffer by the first of the two delusions which I noticed, viz., the conceit that either Australia or California offers a lottery without blanks. Blanks too probably they will draw; but what matters it, when this disappointment cannot reach them until they find themselves amidst a wilderness of supplementary hopes? One prize has been lost, but twenty others have been laid open that had never been anticipated.

Far different, on the other hand, is the second delusion—the delusion of those who mistake a transitional for a permanent prosperity, and many of whom go so far in their frenzy as to see only matter of congratulation in the very extremity of changes, which (if realized) would carry desperate ruin into our social economy. For these people there is no indemnification. I begin with this proposition—that no material extension can be given to the use of gold after great national wants are provided for, without an enormous lowering of its price: which lowering, if once effected, and exactly in proportion as it is effected, takes away from the gold-diggers all motive for producing it. The dilemma is this, and seems to me inevitable: Given a certain depreciation of gold, as, for instance, by 80 per cent., then the profits of the miners falling in that same proportion[44] (viz., by four-fifths) will leave no temptation whatever to pursue the trade of digging. But, on the other hand, such a depreciation not being given—gold being supposed to range at anything approaching to its old price—in that case no considerable extension as to the uses of gold is possible. In either case alike the motive for producing gold rapidly decays. To keep up any steady encouragement to the miners, the market for gold must be prodigiously extended. That the market may be extended, new applications of gold must be devised: the old applications would not absorb more than a very limited increase. That new applications may be devised, a prodigious lowering of the price is required. But precisely as that result is approached the extra encouragement to the miners vanishes. That drooping, the production will droop, even if nature should continue the extra supplies; and the old state of prices must restore itself.

The whole turns upon the possibility of extending the market for gold. A child must see that, if the demand for gold cannot be materially increased, it is altogether nugatory that nature should indefinitely enlarge the supply. In articles that adapt themselves to a variable scale of uses, so as to be capable of substitution for others, according to the relations of price, it is often possible enough that, in the event of any change which may lower their price, the increased demand may go on without assignable limits. For instance, when iron rises immoderately in price, timber is substituted to an indefinite extent. But, on the other hand, where the application is severely circumscribed, no fall of price will avail to extend the demand. Certain herbs, for instance, or minerals, employed for medicinal purposes, and for those only, have their supply regulated by the demand of hospitals and of private medical practitioners. That demand being once exhausted, no cheapness whatever will extend the market. Suppose the European market for leeches to be saturated; every man, suppose, is supplied; in that case, even an extra thousand cannot be sold. The purpose which leeches answer has been met. And after that nobody will take them as a gift. But in the case of gold, it is imagined that, although the market is pretty stationary whilst the price is stationary, let that price materially lower itself, and immediately the substitutions of gold for other metals, or for other decorative materials (as ivory, etc.), would begin to extend; and commensurately with such extensions the regular gold market would widen. This is the prevailing conceit. Now let us consider it.

What are the known applications of gold in the old state of circumstances, which may be supposed capable of furnishing a basis for extension in the altered circumstances? I will rapidly review them. First, a very large amount of gold more than people would imagine is annually wasted in gilding. Much of what has been applied to other purposes is continually reverting to the market; but the gold used in gilding is absolutely lost. This already makes a drain upon the gold market; but will that drain be materially larger in the event of gold falling by 50 per cent.? Apparently not. Amongst ourselves the chief subjects of gilding are books, picture-frames, and some varieties of porcelain. But none of these would be bought more extensively in consequence of gold being cheap: a man does not buy a book, for instance, simply with a view to its being gilt; the gilding follows as a contingency depending upon a previous act not modified in any degree by the price of gold. In the decoration of houses it is true that hitherto our English expenditure of gilding has been very trifling compared with that of France and Italy, and to a great extent therefore would allow of an increased use. Cornices, for instance, in rooms, and sections of panels, are rarely gilt with us; and apart from any reference to the depreciation of gold, I believe that this particular application of it is sensibly increasing at present. Of course an improvement, which has already begun, would extend itself further under a reduced price of gold; yet still, as the class of houses so decorated is somewhat aristocratic, the effect could not be very important. On the Continent it is probable that at any rate gilding will be more extensively applied to out-of-doors decoration, as for example, of domes, cupolas, balustrades, etc. But all architectural innovations are slow in travelling! And I am of opinion that five to seven thousand pounds' worth of gold would cover all the augmented expenditure of this class. It is doubtful, indeed, whether all the increase of gilding will do more than balance the total abolition of it on the panels of carriages. In the time of Louis XIV. an immense expenditure occurred in this way, and the disuse of it is owing to the superior chastity of taste amongst our English carriage-builders, who, in this particular art, have shot far ahead of continental Europe. But the main consumption of gold occurs, first, I should imagine, in watches and watch chains; secondly, in personal ornaments; and thirdly, in gold plate. Now we must remember, at starting, that what is called jewellers' gold, even when manufactured by honourable tradesmen, avowedly contains a very much smaller proportion of the pure metal than our gold coinage. Consequently an increase in the use of watches and personal ornaments, or of such trinkets as snuff-boxes, supposing it in the first year of cheapened gold to go the length of 20 per cent., would not even in that department of the gold demand enhance it by one-fifth, but perhaps by one-fourth the part of one-fifth—that is to say, by one-twentieth. The reader, I hope, understands me, for upon that depends a pretty strong presumption of the small real change that would be worked in the effective demand for gold by a great apparent change in our chief demand for gold manufactures. There can be no doubt that in watches and personal ornaments is involved our main demand upon the gold market; through these it is that we chiefly act upon the market. Now three corrections are applicable to the prima facie view of this subject.

The first of these is—that gold chains, etc., and a pompous display of rings have long ago been degraded in public estimation by the practice and opinions prevailing in aristocratic quarters. This tendency of public feeling at once amounts to a large deduction from what would otherwise be our demand.

The second of these corrections is—that, since our main action upon the gold market lies through the jewellers, and, consequently, through jewellers' gold, therefore, on allowing for the way in which jewellers alloy their gold, our real means of operating upon the gold market may be estimated perhaps at not more than one-fourth part of our apparent means.

A third important correction is this—at first sight it might seem as though the purchaser of gold articles would benefit by the whole depreciation of gold, and that the depreciation might be taken to represent exactly the amount of stimulation applied to the sale, for instance, of gold plate. But this is not so. Taking the depreciation of gold at one-half, then upon any gold article, as suppose a salver, each ounce would have sunk from 77s. to 38s. 6d. Next, rate the workmanship at 40s. the ounce, and then the total cost upon each ounce will not be (77s. + 40)/2, or in other words 58s. 6d., as a hasty calculation might have fancied, but (77s./2) + 40, that is to say, 78s. 6d. Paying heretofore L5 17s., under the new price of gold you would pay L4 within a trifle. Consequently, when those who argue for the vast extension of the gold market, rely for its possibility upon a vast preliminary depreciation of gold, they are deceiving themselves as to the nature and compass of that depreciation. The main action of the public upon the gold market must always lie through wrought and not through unwrought gold, and in this there must always be two elements of price, viz., X, the metal, and Y, the workmanship; so that the depreciation will never be = (x + y)/2 but only x/2 + y; and y, which is a very costly element, will never be bound at all, not by the smallest fraction, through any possible change in the cost of x.

This is a most important consideration; for if the price of gold could fall to nothing at all, not the less the high price of the workmanship—this separately for itself—would for ever prevent the great bulk of society from purchasing gold plate. Yet, through what other channel than this of plate is it possible for any nation to reach the gold market by any effectual action upon the price? M. Chevalier, the most influential of French practical economists, supposes the case that California might reduce the price of gold by one-half. Let us say, by way of evading fractions, that gold may settle finally at the price of forty shillings the ounce. But to what purpose would the diggers raise enormous depots of gold for which they can have no commensurate demand? As yet the true difficulty has not reached them. The tendency was frightful; but, within the short period through which the new power has yet worked, there was not range enough to bring this tendency into full play. Now, however, when new powers of the same quality, viz., in Australia, in Queen Charlotte's Island, in Owhyhee, and, lastly, on Lord Poltimore's estate in South Moulton, are in working, it seems sensibly nearer. It is a literal fact that we have yet to ascertain whether this vaunted gold will even pay for the costs of working it. Coals lying at the very mouth of a pit will be thankfully carried off by the poor man, but dig a little deeper, and it requires the capital of a rich man to raise them; and after that it requires a good deal of experience, and the trial of much mechanic artifice, to ascertain whether after all it will be worth while to raise them. To leap from the conclusion—that, because a solitary prize of 25 lb. weight may largely remunerate an emigrant to California, therefore a whole generation of emigrants will find the average profits of gold-washing, golddigging, etc., beyond those of Russia or of Borneo, is an insanity quite on a level with all the other insanities of the case. But, says the writer in the Times, the fact has justified the speculation; the result is equal to the anticipation; in practice nobody has been disappointed; everybody has succeeded; nobody complains of any delusion. We beg his pardon. There have been very distinct complaints of that nature. These have proceeded not from individuals merely, but from associations of ten or twelve, who, after working for some time, have not reaped the ordinary profits on their expenses; whereas, they were also entitled to expect high wages for their labour, in addition to extravagant profits on their outlay. Yet, suppose this to have been otherwise, what shadow of an argument can be drawn from the case of those privileged few, who entered upon a virgin harvest, applicable to the multitudes who will succeed to an inheritance of ordinary labour, tried in all quarters of the globe, and seldom indeed found to terminate in any extra advantages?


[43] 'Century of Men,'—It may be necessary to remind some readers that this expression, to which I resort for want of any better or briefer, is strictly correct. The original Latin word centuria is a collection of one hundred separate items, no matter what, whether men, horses, ideas, etc. 'A Century of Sonnets' was properly taken as the title of a book. 'A Century of Inventions' was adopted by Lord Worcester as the title of his book. And when we use the word century (as generally we do) to indicate a certain duration of time, it is allowable only on the understanding that it is an elliptical expression; the full expression is a century of years.

[44] 'In that same proportion,' but in reality the profits would fall in a much greater proportion. To illustrate this, suppose the existing price of gold in Australia to be sixty shillings an oz. I assume the price at random, as being a matter of no importance; but, in fact, I understand that at Melbourne, and other places in the province of Victoria, this really is the ruling price at present. For some little time the price was steady at fifty-seven shillings; that is, assuming the mint price in England to be seventy-seven shillings (neglecting the fraction of 10-1/2d.), and the Australian price sank by twenty shillings; which sinking, however, we are not to understand as any depreciation that had the character of permanence; it arose out of local circumstances. Subsequently the price fell as low even as forty-five shillings, where it halted, and soon ascended again to sixty shillings. Sixty shillings therefore let us postulate as the present price. Upon this sum descended the expenses of the miner. Let these, including tools, machinery, etc., be assumed at three half-crowns for each ounce of gold. Then, at a price of sixty shillings, this discount descends upon each sovereign to the amount of one half-crown, or one-eighth. But at a reduced price of thirty shillings, this discount of three half-crowns amounts to one-fourth. And, at a price of twelve shillings, it amounts to five-eighths. So that, as the gross profits descend, the nett profits descend in a still heavier proportion.


It is by a continued secretion (so to speak) of all which forces itself to the surface of national importance in the way of patriotic services that the English peerage keeps itself alive. Stop the laurelled trophies of the noble sailor or soldier pouring out his heart's blood for his country, stop the intellectual movement of the lawyer or the senatorial counsellor, and immediately the sources are suffocated through which our peerage is self-restorative. The simple truth is, how humiliating soever it may prove I care not, that whether positively by cutting off the honourable sources of addition, or negatively by cutting off the ordinary source of subtraction, the other peerages of Europe are peerages of Faineans. Pretend not to crucify for ignominy the sensual and torpid princes of the Franks; in the same boat row all the peerages that can have preserved their regular hereditary descent amongst civil feuds which ought to have wrecked them. The Spanish, the Scotch, the Walloon nobility are all of them nobilities from which their several countries would do well to cut themselves loose, so far as that is possible. How came you, my lord, we justly say to this and that man, proud of his ancient descent, to have brought down your wretched carcase to this generation, except by having shrunk from all your bloody duties, and from all the chances that beset a gallant participation in the dreadful enmities of your country? Would you make it a reproach to the Roman Fabii that 299 of that house perished in fighting for their dear motherland? And that, if a solitary Fabius survived for the rekindling of the house, it was because the restorer of his house had been an infant at the aera of his household catastrophe. And if, through such burning examples of patriotism, far remote collateral descendants entered upon the succession, was this a reproach? Was this held to vitiate or to impair the heraldic honours? A disturbance, a convulsion, that shook the house back into its primitive simplicities of standing, was that a shock to its hereditary grandeur? If it had been, there perished the efficient fountain of nobility as any national or patriotic honour; that being extinguished, it became a vile, personal distinction. For instance, like the Roman Fabii, the major part of the English nobility was destroyed in the contest (though so short a contest) of the two Roses. To restore it at all, recourse was had to every mode of healing family wounds through distant marriage connections, etc. But in the meantime, to a Spanish or a Scottish nobleman, who should have insisted upon the directness of his descent, the proper answer would have been: 'Dog! in what kennel were you lurking when such and such civil feuds were being agitated? As an honest man, as a gallant man, ten times over you ought to have died, had you felt, which the English nobility of the fifteenth century did feel, that your peerage was your summons to the field of battle and the scaffold.' For, again in later years than the fifteenth century, the English nobility—those even who, like the Scotch, had gained their family wealth by plundering the Church—in some measure washed out this original taint by standing forward as champions of what they considered (falsely or truly) national interests. The Russells, the Cavendishes, the Sidneys, even in times of universal profligacy, have held aloft the standard of their order; and no one can forget the many peers in Charles I.'s time, such as Falkland, or the Spencers (Sunderland), or the Comptons (Northampton), who felt and owned their paramount duty to lie in public self-dedication, and died therefore, and oftentimes left their inheritances a desolation. 'Thus far'—oh heavens! with what bitterness I said this, knowing it a thing undeniable by W. W. or by Sir George—you, the peerages that pretend to try conclusions with the English, you—French, German, Walloon, Spanish, Scottish—are able to do so simply because you are faineans, because in time of public danger you hid yourselves under your mammas' petticoats, whilst the glorious work of reaping a bloody harvest was being done by others.

But the English peerage also celebrates services in the Senate as well as in the field. Look for a moment at the house of Cecil. The interest in this house was national, and at the same time romantic. Two families started off—one might say simultaneously—from the same radix, for the difference in point of years was but that which naturally divided the father and the son. Both were Prime Ministers of England, rehearsing by anticipation the relations between the two William Pitts—the statesmen who guided, first, the Seven Years' War, from 1757 to 1763; and, secondly, the French Revolutionary War, from the murder of Louis XVI. in 1793 to the battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. Sir William Cecil, the father, had founded the barony of Burleigh, which subsequently was raised into the earldom of Exeter. Sir Robert Cecil, the son, whose personal merits towards James I. were more conspicuous than those of his father towards Queen Elizabeth, had leaped at once into the earldom of Salisbury. Through two centuries these distinguished houses—Exeter the elder and Salisbury the junior—had run against each other. At length the junior house ran ahead of its elder, being raised to a marquisate. But in this century the elder righted itself, rising also to a marquisate. In an ordinary case this would not have won any notice, but the historic cradle of the two houses, amongst burning feuds of Reformation and anti-Reformation policy, fiery beyond all that has ever raged amongst men, fixed the historic eye upon them. Neck and neck they ran together. Hatfield House for the family of Salisbury, Burleigh House (founded by the original Lord Burleigh) for the family of Exeter, expressed in the nineteenth century that fraternal conflict which had commenced in the sixteenth. Personal merits, if any such had varied and coloured the pretensions of this or that generation, had, in the midst of wealth and ease and dignity, withdrawn themselves from notice, except that about the splendid decennium of the Regency and the second decennium of George IV.'s reign, no lady of the Court had been so generally acceptable to the world of fashion and elegance, domestic or foreign, as the Marchioness of Salisbury, whose tragical death by fire at Hatfield House, in spite of her son's heroic exertions, was as memorable for the last generation as the similar tragedy at the Austrian Ambassador's continued to be for the Court and generation of Napoleon.[45] It is not often that two kindred houses, belonging in the Roman sense to the same gens or clan, run against each other with parity of honour and public consideration through nearly three centuries. The present representative of the Exeter house of the Cecils[46] was not individually considered a very interesting person. Or, at least, any interest that might distinguish him did not adapt itself to conversational display. His personal story was more remarkable than he was himself.


[45] Napoleon attached a superstitious importance to this event. In 1813, upon the sudden death of Moreau, whilst as yet the circumstances were entirely unknown, he fancied strangely enough that the ambassador (Prince Schwartzenberg) whose fete had given birth to the tragedy, must himself have been prefigured.

[46] 'The present representative of the Exeter Cecils' was the father of the present peer, Brownlow, 2nd Marquis; born 2nd July, 1785; succeeded 1st May, 1804, and died 16th Jan., 1867.—ED.


The sincerity of an author sometimes borrows an advantageous illustration from the repulsiveness of his theme. That a subject is dull, however unfortunately it may operate for the impression which he seeks to produce, must at least acquit him of seeking any aid to that impression from alien and meretricious attractions. Is a subject hatefully associated with recollections of bigotry, of ignorance, of ferocious stupidity, of rancour, and of all uncharitableness? In that case, the reader ought to be persuaded that nothing less than absolute consciousness—in that case he ought to know that nothing short of TRUTH (not necessarily as it is, but at least as it appears to the writer) can have availed to draw within an arena of violence and tiger-like acharnement one who, by temperament and by pressure of bodily disease, seeks only for repose. Most unwillingly I enter the ring. Mere disgust at the wicked injustice, which I have witnessed silently through the last three months, forces me into the ranks of the combatants. Mere sympathy with the ill-used gives me any motive for stirring. People have turned Christian from witnessing the torments suffered with divine heroism by Christian martyrs. And I think it not impossible that many hearts may be turned favourably towards Popery by the mere recoil of disgust from the savage insolence with which for three weeks back it has in this country been tied to a stake, and baited. The actors, or at least the leaders, in such scenes seem to forget that Popery has peculiar fascinations of her own; her errors, supposing even all to be errors which Protestantism denounces for such, lie in doctrinal points; but her merit, and her prodigious advantage over Protestantism, lies in the devotional spirit which she is able to kindle and to sustain amongst simple, docile, and confiding hearts. In mere prudence it ought to be remembered, that to love, to trust, to adore, is a far more contagious tendency amongst the poor, the wretched, and the despised, than to question, investigate, and reflect.

How, then, did this movement begin? By that, perhaps, we may learn something of its quality. Who was it that first roused this movement? The greater half of the nation, viz., all the lower classes, cannot be said to have shared in the passions of the occasion; but the educated classes, either upon a sincere impulse, or in a spirit of excessive imitation, have come forward with a perseverance, which (in a case of perils confessedly so vague) is more like a moonstruck infatuation than any other recorded in history. Until Parliament met on the 4th of February, when a Roman Catholic member of the House of Commons first attempted to give some specific account of the legal effects incident to a substitution of bishops for vicars apostolic, no man has made the very cloudiest sketch of the evils that were apprehended, or that could be apprehended, or that were in the remotest way possible. Sir Edward Sugden, indeed, came forward with a most unsatisfactory effort to show how Cardinal Wiseman might be punished, or might be restrained, supposing that he had done wrong; but not at all to show that the Cardinal had done wrong, and far less to show that, if wrong could be alleged, any evils would follow from it. Sir Edward most undoubtedly did not satisfy himself, and so little did he satisfy anybody else, that already his letter is forgotten; nor was it urged or relied upon by any one of the great meetings which succeeded it. Too painful it would be to think that Sir Edward had in this instance stepped forward sycophantically, as so many prominent people undoubtedly did, to meet and to aid a hue and cry of fanaticism simply because it had emanated from a high quarter. But what quarter? Again I ask, who was it that originated this fierce outbreak of bigotry? Much depends upon that. It was Lord John Russell, it was the First Minister of the Crown, that abused the power of his place for a purpose of desperate fanaticism; yes, and for a purpose which his whole life had been dedicated to opposing, to stigmatizing, to overthrowing. Right or wrong, he has to begin life anew. Bigotry may not be bigotry, change of position may show it under a new aspect. But still upon that, which once was called bigotry, Lord John must now take his stand. Neither will ratting a second time avail to set him right. These things do not stand under algebraical laws, as though ratting to the right hand could balance a ratting to the left, and leave the guilt = 0. On the contrary, five rattings, of which each is valued at ten, amount to fifty degrees of crime; or, perhaps, if moral computations were better understood, amount to a crime that swells by some secret geometrical progression unintelligible to man.

But now, reader, pause. Suppose that Lord John Russell, aware of some evil, some calamity or disease, impending over the established Church of England—sure of this evil, but absolutely unable to describe it by rational remarks or premonitory symptom, had cast about for a channel by which he might draw attention to the evil, and, by exposing, make an end of it. But who could have dreamed that he would have chosen the means he has chosen? What propriety was there in Lord John's addressing himself upon such a subject to the Bishop of Durham? Who is that Bishop? And what are his pretensions to public authority? He is a respectable Greek scholar; and has re-edited the Prosodiacal Lexicon of Morell—a service to Greek literature not easily overestimated, and beyond a doubt not easily executed. But in relation to the Church he is not any official organ; nor was there either decorum or good sense in addressing a letter essentially official from the moment that it was published with consent of the writer, to a person clothed with no sort of official powers or official relation to the Church of England. If Lord John should have occasion to communicate with the Bank of England, what levity, and in the proper sense of the word what impertinence, it would be to invoke the attention—not of the Governor—but of some clerk in a special department of that establishment whom Lord John might happen to know. Which of us, that wishes to bring a grievance before the authorities of the Post-Office, would address himself to his private friend that might happen to hold a respectable situation in the Money Order or in the Dead Letter Office? Of mere necessity, that he might gain for his own application an official privilege, he would address it to the Postmaster-General through the Secretary. Not being so addressed, his communication would take rank as gossip; neither meriting nor obtaining any serviceable notice. Two points are still in suspense: whether the people of England as a nation have taken any interest in the uproar caused by Lord John's letter; and secondly, whether the writer of that letter took much interest in it himself. Spite of all the noise and tumult kept up for three months by the Low-Church party, clerks and laymen, it is still a question with many vigilant lookers-on—whether the great neutral majority in the lower strata of society (five-sixths in short of what we mean by the nation) have taken any real interest in the agitation. Any real share in it, beyond all doubt, they have not taken: the movers in these meetings from first to last would not make fifteen thousand; and the inert subscribers of Petitions would not make seventy thousand. Secondly, in spite of the hysterical violence manifested by the letter of the Premier, and partly in consequence of that violence (so theatrical and foreign to Lord John's temperament), many doubt whether he himself carried any sincerity with the movement. And this doubt is strengthened by the singular indecorum of his having addressed himself to Dr. Maltby.

Counterfeit zeal is likely enough to have recoiled from its own act in the very moment of its execution. The purpose of Lord John was sufficiently answered, if he succeeded in diverting public attention from quarters in which it might prove troublesome: and to that extent was sure of succeeding by an extra-official note addressed to any bishop whatever—whether zoological like the late Bishop of Norwich, or Prosodiacal like Dr. Maltby. A storm in a slop-basin was desirable for the moment. But had the desire been profoundly sincere, and had it soared to that height which real fears for religious interests are apt to attain, then beyond all doubt the Minister would not have addressed himself to a Provincial bishop, but to the two Metropolitan bishops of Canterbury and York. They, but not an inferior prelate, represent the Church of England.

The letter therefore, had it been solemn and austere in the degree suitable to an unsimulated panic, would have taken a different direction. Gossip may be addressed to anybody. He that will listen is sought for; and not he that can co-operate. But earnest business, soaring into national buoyancy on the wings of panic, turns by instinct to the proper organs for giving it effect and instant mobility. Yet, on the other hand, if the letter really had been addressed to the Primate (as in all reason it would have been, if thoroughly in earnest), that change must have consummated the false step, diplomatically valued, which Lord John Russell has taken. Mark, reader! We are told, and so often that the very echoes of Killarney and Windermere will be permanently diseased by this endless iteration of lies, that His Holiness has been insulting us. Ancient Father of Christendom, under whose sheltering shadow once slept in peace for near a thousand years the now storm-tossed nations of Western and Central Christendom, couldst thou indeed, when turned out a houseless[47] fugitive like Lear upon a night of tempest, still retain aught of thy ancient prestige, and through the might of belief rule over those who have exiled thee?


The famous Durham Letter which excited so much controversy, and re-opened what can only be called so many old sores, was addressed by Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister, to Dr. Maltby, in November, 1850. At first it was received with great approbation, as presenting a decisive front against Papal assumption; the Pope having recently issued a Bull, dividing England into twelve Sees, and appointing Dr. Wiseman, who was made a Cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster. But some expressions in Lord John's letter, especially the expression 'unworthy sons,' applied to High Churchmen, aroused the active opposition of a class, with whom, he never had much sympathy, looking on the attitude and spirit of Drs. Pusey and Newman with unaffected dislike. Catholics, of course, and with them many moderate Roman Catholics, set up an agitation, and soon the Durham Letter was in everybody's mouth. De Quincey, of course, writes from his own peculiar philosophic point of view; and when he somewhat sarcastically alludes to the informality of addressing such a letter to the Bishop of Durham, and not to one or other of the Archbishops, he was either ignorant of, or of set purpose ignored, the exceptionally intimate relations in which Lord John had for many years stood to Dr. Maltby, such relations as might well have been accepted as explaining, if not justifying, such a departure from strict formal propriety. Lord Russell's biographer writes:

'Dr. Maltby, who in 1850 held the See of Durham, to which he had been promoted on Lord John's own recommendation in 1836, was one of Lord John's oldest and closest friends. He had been his constant correspondent for more than twenty years; he had supplied him with much information for the religious chapters of the "Affairs of Europe," and he had been his frequent counsellor on questions affecting the Church, and on the qualifications and characters of the men who were candidates for promotion in it. It was natural, therefore, to Lord John, to open his mind freely to the Bishop' (ii. 119, 120).

Lord John had added in a postscript: 'If you think it will be of any use, you have my full permission to publish this letter.'


[47] 'A houseless fugitive.' No one expression of petty malice has struck the generous as more unworthy, amongst the many insolences levelled at the Pope, than the ridicule so falsely fastened upon the mode of his escape from Rome, and upon the apparently tottering tenure of his temporal throne. His throne rocked with subterraneous heavings. True, and was his the only throne that rocked? Or which was it amongst continental thrones that did not rock? But he escaped in the disguise of a livery servant. What odious folly! In such emergencies, no disguise can be a degradation. Do we remember our own Charles II. assuming as many varieties of servile disguise as might have glorified a pantomime? Do we remember Napoleon reduced to the abject resource of entreating one of the Commissioners to whistle, by way of misleading the infuriated mob into the belief that l'empereur could not be supposed present in that carriage when such an indecency was attempted? As to the insecurity of his throne, we must consider that other thrones, and amongst them some of the first rank (as those of Turkey and Persia) redress their own weakness by means of alien strength. In the jealousies of England and France is found a bulwark against the overshadowing ambition of Russia.


Review of Kant's Essay on the Common Saying, that such and such a thing may be true in theory, but does not hold good in practice.

What was the value of Kant's essay upon this popular saying? Did it do much to clear up the confusion? Did it exterminate the vice in the language by substituting a better formula? Not at all. Immanuel Kant was, we admit, the most potent amongst all known intellects for functions of pure abstraction. But also, viewed in two separate relations: first, in relation to all practical interests (manners, legislation, government, spiritual religion); secondly, in relation to the arts of teaching, of explaining, of communicating any man's meaning where it happened to be dark or perplexed (above all, if that meaning were his own)—this same Kant was merely impotent; absolutely, and 'no mistake,' a child of darkness. Were it not that veneration and gratitude cause us to suspend harsh words with regard to such a man, who has upon the greatest question affecting our human reason almost, we might say, revealed the truth (viz., in his theory of the categories), we should describe him, and continually we are tempted to describe him as the most superhuman of recorded blockheads. Would it be credited, that at this time of day, actually in the very closing years of the eighteenth century, a man armed with some reading, but not too much study—and sixty years' profound meditation should treat it as a matter of obvious good sense that crowns and the succession to mighty empires ought to travel along the line of 'merit'; not exactly on the ground of personal beauty, or because the pretender was taller by the head than most of his subjects—no, that would be the idea of a barbarous nation. Thank God! a royal professor of Koenigsberg was above that. But on the assumption of an appropriate merit, as if, for instance, he were wiser, if he were well grounded in Transcendentalism, if he had gained a prize for 'virtue,' surely, surely, such graces ought to ensure a sceptre to their honoured professor. Especially when we consider how readily these personal qualities prove themselves to the general understanding, and how cheerfully they are always allowed by jealous and abominating competitors! Now turn from this haughty philosopher to a plain but most sensible and reflecting scholar—Isaac Casaubon. This man pretended to no philosophy, but a sincere, docile heart, much good sense, and patient observation of his own country's annals, which in the midst of belligerent papists, and very much against his own interest, had made him a good Church of England Protestant, made him also intensely attached to the doctrine of fixed succession under closer and clearer limitations than exist even in England. For a thousand years this one plain rule had been the amulet for liberating France (else so constitutionally disposed to war) from the bloodiest of intestine contests. The man's career was pretty nearly concurrent as to its two limits with that of our own Shakespeare. Both he and Shakespeare were patronized, or, at least, countenanced by James the First, and both died many years before their patron. More than two centuries by a good deal have therefore passed away since he spoke, but this is the emphatic testimony which even at that time, wanting the political experience superadded, he bore to the peace and consequently to the civilization won for his country by this divine maxim, this lex trabalis (as so powerfully Casaubon calls it) of hereditary succession, the cornerstone, the main beam, in the framework of Gallic polity. These are the words: 'Occidebant et occidebantur' (i.e., in those days of Roman Caesars) 'immanitate pari; cum in armis esset jus omne regnandi'—in the sword lay the arbitration of the title. He speaks of the horrid murderous uniformity by which the Western Empire moved through five centuries (for it commenced in murder 42 years B.C. and lasted for 477 after Christ). But why? Simply by default of any conventional rule, and the consequent necessity that men should fall back upon the title of the strongest. For that ridiculous plausibility of Kant's superscribed with Detur meliori, it should never be forgotten, is so far from having any pacific tendencies, that originally, according to the eldest of Greek fables, it was [Greek: Eris], Eris, the goddess of dissension, no peace-making divinity, who threw upon a wedding-table the fatal apple thus ominously labelled. Meliori! in that one word went to wreck the harmony of the company. But for France, for the famous kingdom of the Fleur-de-lys, for the first-born child of Christianity, always so prone by her gentry to this sword-right, Nature herself had been silenced through a long millennium by this one almighty amulet. 'Inde' (that is, from this standing appeal made to personal vanity or to ambition amongst Roman nobles)—'inde haec tam spissa principatuum mutatio: qua re nulla alia miseris populis ne dici quidem aut fingi queat perniciosior.' So often, he goes on to say, as this dreadful curse entailed upon Rome Imperial comes into my mind, so often 'Franciae patriae meae felicitatem non possim non praedicare; quae sub imperio Regum sexaginta trium (LXIII)—non dicam CLX annos' (which had been the upshot of time, the 'tottle,' upon sixty-three Imperatores) sed paullo minus CIO (one clear thousand, observe) 'et CC—rem omnibus seculis inauditam!—egit beata; fared prosperously; et egisset beatior, si sua semper bona intellexisset. Tanti est, jura regiae successionis trabali lege semel fixisse.' Aye, faithful and sagacious Casaubon! there lies the secret. In that word 'fixisse'—the having settled once and for ever, the having laid down as beams and main timbers those adamantine rules of polity which leave no opening to doubt, no licence to caprice, and no temptation to individual ambition. We are all interested, Christendom to her very depths is interested, in the well-being and progress of this glorious realm—the kingdom of the lilies, the kingdom of Charlemagne and his paladins; from the very fierceness and angry vigilance of whose constant hostility to ourselves has arisen one chief re-agent in sustaining our own concurrent advancement. Under the torpor of a German patriotism, under the languor of a sensus communis which is hardly at all developed, our own unrivalled energy would partially have gone to sleep. We are, therefore, deeply indebted to the rancorous animosity of France. And in this one article of a sound political creed we must be sensible that France, so dreadfully in arrear as to all other political wisdom, has run ahead of ourselves. For to what else was owing our ruinous war of the Two Roses than to an original demur in our courts of law whether the descendant of an elder son through the female line had a title preferable or inferior to that of a descendant in the male line from a son confessedly junior? Whether the element to the right hand of uncontested superiority balanced or did not balance that element to the left hand of undenied inferiority? How well for us English, and for the interests of our literature so cruelly barbarized within fifty years from the death of Chaucer (A.D. 1400), had we been able to intercept the murderous conflicts of Barnet, Towcester, Tewkesbury, St. Albans! How happy for Spain, had no modern line of French coxcombs (not succeeding by any claim of blood, but under the arbitrary testament of a paralytic dotard) interfered to tamper with the old Castilian rules, so that no man knew whether the Spanish custom or the French innovation really governed. The Salic law or the interested abrogation of that law were the governing principle in strict constitutional practice. To this point had the French dynasty brought matters, that no lawyer even could say on which side the line of separation lay the onus of treason. We have ultimately so far improved our law of succession by continued limitations, that now even the religion of a prince has become one amongst his indispensable qualifications. But how matters once stood, we see written in letters of blood. And yet to this state of perilous uncertainty would Kant have reduced every nation under the conceit of mending their politics. 'Orbis terrarum dominatio'—that, says Casaubon, was the prize at stake. And how was it awarded? 'In parricidii praemium cedebat.' By tendency, by usage, by natural gravitation, this Imperial dignity passed into a bounty upon murder, upon treasonable murder, upon parricidal murder. For the oath of fealty to the sacra Caesaria majestas was of awful obligation, although the previous title of the particular Caesar had been worth nothing at all. And the consequent condition of insecurity, the shadowy tenure of all social blessings, is described by Casaubon in language truly forcible.

Kant's purpose, as elsewhere we shall show, was not primarily with the maxim: that was but a secondary purpose. His direct and real object lay in one or two of the illustrative cases under the maxim. With this particular obliquity impressed upon the movement of his own essay, we can have no right to quarrel. Kant had an author's right to deal with the question as best suited his own views. But with one feature of his treatment we quarrel determinately. He speaks of this most popular (and, we venture to add, most wise and beneficial) maxim, which arms men's suspicions against all that is merely speculative, on the ground that it is continually at war with the truth of practical results, as though it were merely and blankly a vulgar error, as though sans phrase it might be dismissed for nonsense. But, because there is a casual inaccuracy in the wording of a great truth, we are not at liberty to deny that truth, to evade it, to 'ignore' it, or to confound a faulty expression with a meaning originally untenable. Professor Kant, of all men, was least entitled to plead blindness as to the substance in virtue of any vice affecting the form. No man knew better the art of translating so wise and beneficial a sentiment, though slightly disfigured by popular usage, into the appropriate philosophic terms. To this very sentiment it is, this eternal protest against the plausible and the speculative, not as a flash sentiment for a gala dinner, but as a principle of action operative from age to age in all parts of the national conduct, that England is indebted more than she is to any other known influence for her stupendous prosperity on two separate lines of progress: first, on that of commercial enterprise; secondly, on that of political improvement. At this moment there are two forces acting upon Christendom which constitute the principles of movement all over Europe: these are, the questions incident to representative government, and the mighty interests combined by commercial enterprise. Both have radiated from England as their centre. There only did the early models of either activity prosper. Through North America, as the daughter of England, these two forces have transplanted themselves to every principal region (except one) of the vast Southern American continent. Thus, to push our view no further, we behold one-half of the habitable globe henceforth yoked to the two sole forces of permanent movement for nations, since war and religious contests are but intermitting forces; and these two principles, we repeat, have grown to what we now behold chiefly through the protection of this one great maxim which throws the hopes of the world, not upon what the scheming understanding can suggest, but upon what the most faithful experiment can prove.


The 'Essay on Criticism' illustrates the same profound misconception of the principle working at the root of Didactic Poetry as operated originally to disturb the conduct of the 'Essay on Man' by its author, and to disturb the judgments upon it by its critics. This 'Essay on Criticism' no more aims at unfolding the grounds and theory of critical rules applied to poetic composition, than does the Epistola ad Pisones of Horace. But what if Horace and Pope both believed themselves the professional expounders ex cathedra of these very grounds and this very theory? No matter if they did. Nobody was less likely to understand their own purposes than themselves. Their real purposes were immanent, hidden in their poems; and from the poems they must be sought, not from the poets; who, generally, in proportion as the problem is one of analysis and evolution, for which, simply as the authors of the work, Horace and Pope were no better qualified than other people, and, as authors having that particular constitution of intellect which notoriously they had, were much worse qualified than other people. We cannot possibly allow a man to argue upon the meaning or tendency of his own book, as against the evidence of the book itself. The book is unexceptionable authority: and, as against that, the author has no locus standi. Both Horace and Pope, however little they might be aware of it, were secretly governed by the same moving principle—viz., not to teach (which was impossible for two reasons)—but to use this very impossibility, this very want of flexibility in the subject to the ostensible purpose of the writers, as the resistance of the atmosphere from which they would derive the motion of their wings. That it was impossible in a poem seriously to teach the principles of criticism, we venture to affirm on a double argument: 1st, that the teaching, if in earnest, must be polemic: and how alien from the spirit of poetry to move eternally through controversial discussions! 2ndly, that the teaching, from the very necessities of metre, must be eclectic; innumerable things must be suppressed; and how alien from the spirit of science to move by discontinuous links according to the capricious bidding of poetic decorum! Divinity itself is not more entangled in the necessities of fighting for every step in advance, and maintaining the ground by eternal preparation for hostility, than is philosophic criticism; a discipline so little matured, that at this day we possess in any language nothing but fragments and hints towards its construction. To dispute in verse has been celebrated as the accomplishment of Lucretius, of Sir John Davies, of Dryden: but then this very disputation has always been eclectic; not exhausting even the essential arguments; but playing gracefully with those only which could promise a brilliant effect. Such a mimic disputation is like a histrionic fencing match, where the object of the actor is not in good earnest to put his antagonist to the sword, but to exhibit a few elegant passes in carte and tierce, not forgetting the secondary object of displaying to advantage any diamonds and rubies that may chance to scintillate upon his sword-hand.

Had Pope, or had Horace, been requested to explain the rationale of his own poem on Criticism, it is pretty certain that each (and from the same causes) would have talked nonsense. The very gifts so rare and so exquisite by which these extraordinary men were adorned—the graceful negligence, the delicacy of tact, the impassioned abandon[48] upon subjects suited to their modes of geniality, though not absolutely or irreversibly incompatible with the sterner gifts of energetic attention and powerful abstraction, were undoubtedly not in alliance with them. The two sets of gifts did not exert a reciprocal stimulation. As well might one expect from a man, because he was a capital shot, that he should write the best essay on the theory of projectiles. Horace and Pope, therefore, would have talked so absurdly in justifying or explaining their own works, that we—naturally impatient of nonsense on the subject of criticism, as our own metier—should have said, 'Oh, dear gentlemen, stand aside for a moment, and we will right you in the eyes of posterity: at which bar, if either of you should undertake to be his own advocate, he will have a fool for his client.'

We do and must concede consideration even to the one-sided pleadings of an advocate. But it is under the secret assumption of the concurrent pleadings equally exaggerated on the adverse side. Without this counterweight, how false would be our final summation of the evidence upon most of the great state trials! Nay, even with both sides of the equation before us, how perplexing would be that summation generally, unless under the moderating guidance of a neutral and indifferent eye; the eye of the judge in the first instance, and subsequently of the upright historian—whether watching the case from the station of a contemporary, or reviewing it from his place in some later generation.

Now what we wish to observe about Criticism is, that with just the same temptation to personal partiality and even injustice in extremity, it offers a much wider latitude to the distortion of things, facts, grounds, and inferences. In fact, with the very same motives to a personal bias swerving from the equatorial truth, it makes a much wider opening for giving effect to those motives. Insincerity in short, and every mode of contradicting the truth, is far more possible under a professed devotion to a general principle than any personal expression could possibly be.

If the logic of the case be steadily examined, a definition of didactic poetry will emerge the very opposite to that popularly held: it will appear that in didactic poetry the teaching is not the power, but the resistance. It is difficult to teach even playfully or mimically in reconciliation with poetic effect: and the object is to wrestle with this difficulty. It is as when a man selects an absurd or nearly impracticable subject, his own chin,[49] suppose, for the organ of a new music: he does not select it as being naturally allied to music, but for the very opposite reason—as being eminently alien from music, that his own art will have the greater triumph in taming this reluctancy into any sort of obedience to a musical purpose. It is a wrestle with all but physical impossibility. Many arts and mechanic processes in human life present intermitting aspects of beauty, scattered amongst others that are utterly without interest of that sort. For instance, in husbandry, where many essential processes are too mean to allow of any poetic treatment or transfiguration, others are picturesque, and recommended by remembrances of childhood to most hearts. How beautiful, for instance, taken in all its variety of circumstances, the gorgeous summer, the gay noontide repast, the hiding of children in the hay, the little toy of a rake in the hands of infancy, is the hay-harvest from first to last! Such cases wear a Janus aspect, one face connecting them with gross uses of necessity, another connecting them with the gay or tender sentiments that accidents of association, or some purpose of Providence, may have thrown about them as a robe of beauty. Selecting therefore what meets his own purpose, the poet proceeds by resisting and rejecting all those parts of the subject which would tend to defeat it. But at least, it will be said, he does not resist those parts of the subject which he selects. Yes, he does; even those parts he resists utterly in their real and primary character, viz., as uses indispensable to the machinery of man's animal life; and adopts them only for a collateral beauty attached to the accidents of their evolution; a beauty oftentimes not even guessed by those who are most familiar with them as practical operations. It is as if a man, having a learned eye, should follow the track of armies—careless of the political changes which they created, or of the interests (all neutral as regarded any opinion of his) which they disturbed—but alive to every form of beauty connected with these else unmeaning hostilities—alive to the beauty of their battle-array, to the pomp of their manoeuvres, to the awning of smoke-wreaths surging above the artilleries, to the gleaming of sabres and bayonets at intervals through loopholes in these gathering smoky masses. This man would abstract from the politics and doctrines of the hostile armies, as much as the didactic poet from the doctrinal part of his theme.

From this attempt to rectify the idea of didactic poetry, it will be seen at once why Pope failed utterly and inevitably in the 'Essay on Man.' The subject was too directly and commandingly interesting to furnish any opening to that secondary and playful interest which arises from the management by art and the subjugation of an intractable theme. The ordinary interest of didactic poetry is derived from the repellent qualities of the subject, and consequently from the dexterities of the conflict with what is doubtful, indifferent, unpromising. Not only was there no resistance in the subject to the grandeur of poetry, but, on the contrary, this subject offered so much grandeur, was so pathetic and the amplitude of range so vast as to overwhelm the powers of any poet and any audience, by its exactions. That was a fault in one direction. But a different fault was—that the subject allowed no power of selection. In ordinary didactic poetry, as we have just been insisting, you sustain the interest by ignoring all the parts which will not bear a steady gaze. Whatever fascinates the eye, or agitates the heart by mimicry of life is selected and emphasized, and what is felt to be intractable or repellent is authoritatively set aside. The poet has an unlimited discretion. But on a theme so great as man he has no discretion at all. This resource is denied. You can give the truth only by giving the whole truth. In treating a common didactic theme you may neglect merely transitional parts with as much ease as benefit, because they are familiar enough to be pre-supposed, and are besides essential only in the real process, but not at all in the mimic process of description; since A and C, that in the reality could reach one another only through B, may yet be intelligible as regards their beauty without any intermediation of B. The ellipsis withdraws a deformity, and does not generally create an obscurity: either the obscurity is none at all, or is irrelevant to the real purpose of beauty, or may be treated sufficiently by a line or two of adroit explanation. But in a poem treating so vast a theme as man's relations to his own race, to his habitation the world, to God his maker, and to all the commands of the conscience, to the hopes of the believing heart, and to the eternal self-conflicts of the intellect, it is clear that the purely transitional parts, essential to the understanding of the whole, cannot be omitted or dispensed with at the beck of the fancy or the necessities of the metre and rhyme.

There is also an objection to Man (or any other theme of that grandeur) as the subject of a didactic poem, which is more subtle, and which for that reason we have reserved to the last. In the ordinary specimens of didactic poetry, the theme and its sub-divisions wear (as we have already observed) a double-faced or Janus aspect; one derived from the direct experience of life, the other from the reflex experience of it. And the very reason why one face does affect you is because the other does not. Thus a Morland farmyard, a Flemish tavern, or a clean kitchen in an unpretending house seen by ruddy firelight reflected from pewter ware, scarcely interests the eye at all in the reality; but for that very reason it does interest us all in the mimicry. The very fact of seeing an object framed as it were, insulated, suddenly relieved to the steady consciousness, which all one's life has been seen unframed, not called into relief, but depressed into the universal level of subconsciousness, awakens a pleasurable sense of surprise. But now Man is too great a subject to allow of any unrelieved aspects. What the reader sees he must see directly and without insulation, else falseness and partiality are immediately apparent.


[48] We speak here of Horace in his lyrical character, and of Pope as he revealed himself in his tender and pathetic sincerities, not in his false, counterfeit scorn. Horace, a good-natured creature, that laughed eternally in his satire, was probably sincere. Pope, a benign one, could not have been sincere in the bitter and stinging personalities of his satires. Horace seems to be personal, but is not. Neither is Juvenal; the names he employs are mere allegoric names. Draco is any bloody fellow; Favonius is any sycophant: but Pope is very different.

[49] 'His own chin,' chin-chopping, as practised in our days, was not an original invention; it was simply a restoration from the days of Queen Anne.


I take the opportunity of referring to the work of a very eloquent Frenchman, who has brought the names of Wordsworth and Shakspeare into connection, partly for the sake of pointing out an important error in the particular criticism on Wordsworth, but still more as an occasion for expressing the gratitude due to the French author for the able, anxious, and oftentimes generous justice which he has rendered to English literature. It is most gratifying to a thoughtful Englishman—that precisely from that period when the mighty drama of the French Revolution, like the Deluge, or like the early growth of Christianity, or like the Reformation, had been in operation long enough to form a new and more thoughtful generation in France, has the English literature been first studied in France, and first appreciated. Since 1810, when the generation moulded by the Revolution was beginning to come forward on the stage of national action, a continued series of able writers amongst the French—ardent, noble, profound—have laid aside their nationality in the most generous spirit for the express purpose of investigating the great English models of intellectual power, locally so near to their own native models, and virtually in such polar remoteness. Chateaubriand's intense enthusiasm for Milton, almost monomaniac in the opinion of some people, is notorious. This, however, was less astonishing: the pure marble grandeur of Milton, and his classical severity, naturally recommended themselves to the French taste, which can always understand the beauty of proportion and regular or teleologic tendencies. It was with regard to the anomalous, and to that sort of vaster harmonies which from moving upon a wider scale are apt at first sight to pass for discords, that a new taste needed to be created in France. Here Chateaubriand showed himself a Frenchman of the old leaven. Milton would always have been estimated in France. He needed only to be better known. Shakspeare was the natural stone of offence: and with regard to him Chateaubriand has shown himself eminently blind. His reference to Shakspeare's female gallery, so divine as that Pantheon really is, by way of most forcibly expressing his supposed inferiority to Racine (who strictly speaking has no female pictures at all, but merely umrisse or outlines in pencil) is the very perfection of human blindness. But many years ago the writers in Le Globe, either by direct papers on the drama or indirectly by way of references to the acting of Kean, etc., showed that even as to Shakspeare a new heart was arising in France. M. Raymond de Vericour, though necessarily called off to a more special consideration of the Miltonic poetry by the very promise of his title (Milton, et la Poesie Epique: Paris et Londres, 1838), has in various places shown a far more comprehensive sense of poetic truth than Chateaubriand. His sensibility, being originally deeper and trained to move upon a larger compass, vibrates equally under the chords of the Shakspearian music. Even he, however, has made a serious mistake as to Wordsworth in his relation to Shakspeare. At p. 420 he says: 'Wordsworth qui (de meme que Byron) sympathise pen cordialement avec Shakspeare, se prosterne cependant comme Byron devant le Paradis perdu; Milton est la grande idole de Wordsworth; il ne craint pas quelquefois de se comparer lui-meme a son geant;' (never unless in the single accident of praying for a similar audience—'fit audience let me find though few'); 'et en verite ses sonnets ont souvent le meme esprit prophetique, la meme elevation sacree que ceux de l'Homere anglais.' There cannot be graver mistakes than are here brought into one focus. Lord Byron cared little for the 'Paradise Lost,' and had studied it not at all. On the other hand, Lord Byron's pretended disparagement of Shakspeare by comparison with the meagre, hungry and bloodless Alfieri was a pure stage trick, a momentary device for expressing his Apemantus misanthropy towards the English people. It happened at the time he had made himself unpopular by the circumstances of his private life: these, with a morbid appetite for engaging public attention, he had done his best to publish and to keep before the public eye; whilst at the same time he was very angry at the particular style of comments which they provoked. There was no fixed temper of anger towards him in the public mind of England: but he believed that there was. And he took his revenge through every channel by which he fancied himself to have a chance for reaching and stinging the national pride; 1st, by ridiculing the English pretensions to higher principle and national morality; but that failing, 2ndly, by disparaging Shakspeare; 3rdly, on the same principle which led Dean Swift to found the first lunatic hospital in Ireland, viz.:

'To shew by one satiric touch No nation wanted it so much.'

Lord Byron, without any sincere opinion or care upon the subject one way or other, directed in his will—that his daughter should not marry an Englishman: this bullet, he fancied, would take effect, even though the Shakspeare bullet had failed. Now, as to Wordsworth, he values both in the highest degree. In a philosophic poem, like the 'Excursion,' he is naturally led to speak more pointedly of Milton: but his own affinities are every way more numerous and striking to Shakspeare. For this reason I have myself been led to group him with Shakspeare. In those two poets alike is seen the infinite of Painting: in AEschylus and Milton alike are seen the simplicities and stern sublimiities of Sculpture.


One fault in Wordsworth's 'Excursion' suggested by Coleridge, but luckily quite beyond all the resources of tinkering open to William Wordsworth, is—in the choice of a Pedlar as the presiding character who connects the shifting scenes and persons in the 'Excursion.' Why should not some man of more authentic station have been complimented with that place, seeing that the appointment lay altogether in Wordsworth's gift? But really now who could this have been? Garter King-at-Arms would have been a great deal too showy for a working hero. A railway-director, liable at any moment to abscond with the funds of the company, would have been viewed by all readers with far too much suspicion for the tranquillity desirable in a philosophic poem. A colonel of Horse Marines seems quite out of the question: what his proper functions may be, is still a question for the learned; but no man has supposed them to be philosophic. Yet on the other hand, argues Coleridge, would not 'any wise and beneficent old man,' without specifying his rank, have met the necessities of the case? Why, certainly, if it is our opinion that Coleridge wishes to have, we conceive that such an old gentleman, advertising in the Times as 'willing to make himself generally useful,' might have had a chance of dropping a line to William Wordsworth. But still we don't know. Beneficent old gentlemen are sometimes great scamps. Men, who give themselves the best of characters in morning papers, are watched occasionally in a disagreeable manner by the police. Itinerant philosophers are absolutely not understood in England. Intruders into private premises, even for grand missionary purposes, are constantly served with summary notices to quit. Mrs. Quickly gave a first-rate character to Simple; but for all that, Dr. Caius with too much show of reason demanded, 'Vat shall de honest young man do in my closet?' And we fear that Coleridge's beneficent old man, lecturing gratis upon things in general, would be regarded with illiberal jealousy by the female servants of any establishment, if he chose to lecture amongst the family linen. 'What shall de wise beneficent old Monsieur do amongst our washing-tubs?' We are perfectly confounded by the excessive blindness of Coleridge and nearly all other critics on this matter. 'Need the rank,' says Coleridge, 'have been at all particularized, when nothing follows which the knowledge of that rank is to explain or illustrate?' Nothing to explain or illustrate! Why, good heavens! it is only by the most distinct and positive information lodged with the constable as to who and what the vagrant was, that the leading philosopher in the 'Excursion' could possibly have saved himself over and over again from passing the night in the village 'lock-up,' and generally speaking in handcuffs, as one having too probably a design upon the village hen-roosts. In the sixth and seventh books, where the scene lies in the churchyard amongst the mountains, it is evident that the philosopher would have been arrested as a resurrection-man, had he not been known to substantial farmers as a pedlar 'with some money.' To be clothed therefore with an intelligible character and a local calling was as indispensable to the free movements of the Wanderer when out upon a philosophical spree, as a passport is to each and every traveller in France. Dr. Franklin, who was a very indifferent philosopher, but very great as a pedlar, and as cunning as Niccolo Machiavelli (which means as cunning as old Nick), was quite aware of this necessity as a tax upon travellers; and at every stage, on halting, he used to stand upright in his stirrups, crying aloud, 'Gentlemen and Ladies, here I am at your service; Benjamin Franklin by name; once (but that was in boyhood) a devil; viz., in the service of a printer; next a compositor and reader to the press; at present a master-printer. My object in this journey is—to arrest a knave who will else be off to Europe with L200 of my money in his breeches-pocket: that is my final object: my immediate one is—dinner; which, if there is no just reason against it, I beg that you will no longer interrupt.' Yet still, though it is essential to the free circulation of a philosopher that he should be known for what he is, the reader thinks that at least the philosopher might be known advantageously as regards his social standing. No, he could not. And we speak seriously. How could Coleridge and so many other critics overlook the overruling necessities of the situation? They argue as though Wordsworth had selected a pedlar under some abstract regard for his office of buying and selling: in which case undoubtedly a wholesale man would have a better chance for doing a 'large stroke of business' in philosophy than this huckstering retailer. Wordsworth however fixed on a pedlar—not for his commercial relations—but in spite of them. It was not for the essential of his calling that a pedlar was promoted to the post of central philosopher in his philosophic poem, but for an accident indirectly arising out of it. This accident lay in the natural privilege which a pedlar once had through all rural districts of common access to rich and poor, and secondly, in the leisurely nature of his intercourse. Three conditions there were for fulfilling that ministry of philosophic intercourse which Wordsworth's plan supposed. First, the philosopher must be clothed with a real character, known to the actual usages of the land, and not imaginary: else this postulate of fiction at starting would have operated with an unrealizing effect upon all that followed. Next, it must be a character that was naturally fitted to carry the bearer through a large circuit of districts and villages; else the arena would be too narrow for the large survey of life and conflict demanded: lastly, the character must be one recommending itself alike to all ranks in tracts remote from towns, and procuring an admission ready and gracious to him who supports that character. Now this supreme advantage belonged in a degree absolutely unique to the character of pedlar, or (as Wordsworth euphemistically terms it) of 'wandering merchant.' In past generations the materfamilias, the young ladies, and the visitors within their gates, were as anxious for his periodic visit as the humblest of the domestics. They received him therefore with the condescending kindness of persons in a state of joyous expectation: young hearts beat with the anticipation of velvets and brocades from Genoa, lace veils from the Netherlands, jewels and jewelled trinkets; for you are not to think that, like Autolycus, he carried only one trinket. They were sincerely kind to him, being sincerely pleased. Besides, it was politic to assume a gracious manner, since else the pedlar might take out his revenge in the price of his wares; fifteen per cent. would be the least he could reasonably clap on as a premium and solatium to himself for any extra hauteur. This gracious style of intercourse, already favourable to a tone of conversation more liberal and unreserved than would else have been conceded to a vagrant huckster, was further improved by the fact that the pedlar was also the main retailer of news. Here it was that a real advantage offered itself to any mind having that philosophic interest in human characters, struggles, and calamities, which is likely enough to arise amongst a class of men contemplating long records of chance and change through their wanderings, and so often left to their own meditations upon them by long tracts of solitude. The gossip of the neighbouring districts, whether tragic or comic, would have a natural interest from its locality. And such records would lead to illustration from other cases more remote—losing the interest of neighbourhood, but compensating that loss by their deeper intrinsic hold upon the sensibilities. Ladies of the highest rank would suffer their reserve to thaw in such interviews; besides that, before unresisting humility and inferiority too apparent even haughtiness the most intractable usually abates its fervour.

Coleridge also allows himself, for the sake of argument, not merely to assume too hastily, but to magnify too inordinately. Daniel, the poet, really was called the 'well-languaged' (p. 83, vol. ii.), but by whom? Not, as Hooker was called the 'judicious,' or Bede the 'venerable,' by whole generations; but by an individual. And as to the epithet of 'prosaic,' we greatly doubt if so much as one individual ever connected it with Daniel's name.

But the whole dispute on Poetic Diction is too deep and too broad for an occasional or parenthetic notice. It is a dispute which renews itself in every cultivated language;[50] and even, in its application to different authors within the same language, as for instance, to Milton, to Shakspeare, or to Wordsworth, it takes a special and varied aspect. Declining this, as far too ample a theme, we wish to say one word, but an urgent word and full of clamorous complaint, upon the other branch. This dispute, however, is but one of two paths upon which the Biographical Literature approaches the subject of Wordsworth: the other lies in the direct critical examination of Wordsworth's poems. As to this, we wish to utter one word, but a word full of clamorous complaint. That the criticisms of Coleridge on William Wordsworth were often false, and that they betrayed fatally the temper of one who never had sympathized heartily with the most exquisite parts of the Lyrical Ballads, might have been a record injurious only to Coleridge himself. But unhappily these perverse criticisms have proved the occasions of ruin to some admirable poems; and, as if that were not enough, have memorialized a painful feature of weakness in Wordsworth's judgment. If ever on this earth there was a man that in his prime, when saluted with contumely from all quarters, manifested a stern deafness to criticism—it was William Wordsworth. And we thought the better of him by much for this haughty defiance to groundless judgments. But the cloak, which Boreas could not tear away from the traveller's resistance, oftentimes the too genial Phoebus has filched from his amiable spirit of compliance. These criticisms of Coleridge, generally so wayward and one-sided, but sometimes desperately opposed to every mode of truth, have been the means of exposing in William Wordsworth a weakness of resistance—almost a criminal facility in surrendering his own rights—which else would never have been suspected. We will take one of the worst cases. Readers acquainted with Wordsworth as a poet, are of course acquainted with his poem (originally so fine) upon Gipseys. To a poetic mind it is inevitable—that every spectacle, embodying any remarkable quality in a remarkable excess, should be unusually impressive, and should seem to justify a poetic record. For instance, the solitary life of one[51] who should tend a lighthouse could not fail to move a very deep sympathy with his situation. Here for instance we read the ground of Wordsworth's 'Glen Almain.' Did he care for torpor again, lethargic inertia? Such a spectacle as that in the midst of a nation so morbidly energetic as our own, was calculated to strike some few chords from the harp of a poet so vigilantly keeping watch over human life.


[50] Valckenaer, in his famous 'Dissertation on the Phoenissae,' notices such a dispute as having arisen upon the diction of Euripides. The question is old and familiar as to the quality of the passion in Euripides, by comparison with that in Sophocles. But there was a separate dispute far less notorious as to the quality of the lexis.

[51] 'One,' but in the Eddystone or other principal lighthouses on our coast there are two men resident. True, but these two come upon duty by alternate watches, and generally are as profoundly separated as if living leagues apart.


(An Early Paper.)

Of late the two names of Wordsworth and Southey have been coupled chiefly in the frantic philippics of Jacobins, out of revenge for that sublime crusade which, among the intellectual powers of Europe, these two eminent men were foremost (and for a time alone) in awakening against the brutalizing tyranny of France and its chief agent, Napoleon Bonaparte: a crusade which they, to their immortal honour, unceasingly advocated—not (as others did) at a time when the Peninsular victories, the Russian campaign, and the battle of Leipsic, had broken the charm by which France fascinated the world and had made Bonaparte mean even in the eyes of the mean—but (be it remembered!) when by far the major part of this nation looked upon the cause of liberty as hopeless upon the Continent, as committed for many ages to the guardianship of England, in which (or not at all) it was to be saved as in an Ark from the universal deluge. Painful such remembrances may be to those who are now ashamed of their idolatry, it must not be forgotten that, from the year 1803 to 1808, Bonaparte was an idol to the greater part of this nation; at no time, God be thanked! an idol of love, but, to most among us, an idol of fear. The war was looked upon as essentially a defensive war: many doubted whether Bonaparte could be successfully opposed: almost all would have treated it as lunacy to say that he could be conquered. Yet, even at that period, these two eminent patriots constantly treated it as a feasible project to march an English army triumphantly into Paris. Their conversations with various friends—the dates of their own works—and the dates of some composed under influences emanating from them (as, for example, the unfinished work of Colonel Pasley of the Engineers)—are all so many vouchers for this fact. We know not whether (with the exception of some few Germans such as Arndt, for whose book Palm was shot) there was at that time in Europe another man of any eminence who shared in that Machiavellian sagacity which revealed to them, as with the power and clear insight of the prophetic spirit, the craziness of the French military despotism when to vulgar politicians it seemed strongest. For this sagacity, and for the strength of patriotism to which in part they owed it (for in all cases the moral spirit is a great illuminator of the intellect), they have reaped the most enviable reward, in the hatred of traitors and Jacobins all over the world: and in the expressions of that hatred we find their names frequently coupled. There was a time, however, when these names were coupled for other purposes: they were coupled as joint supporters of a supposed new creed in relation to their own art. Mr. Wordsworth, it is well known to men of letters, did advance a new theory upon two great questions of art: in some points it might perhaps be objected that his faith, in relation to that which he attacked, was as the Protestant faith to the Catholic—i.e., not a new one, but a restoration of the primitive one purified from its modern corruptions. Be this as it may, however, Mr. Wordsworth's exposition of his theory is beyond all comparison the subtlest and (not excepting even the best of the German essays) the most finished and masterly specimen of reasoning which has in any age or nation been called forth by any one of the fine arts. No formal attack has yet been made upon it, except by Mr. Coleridge; of whose arguments we need not say that they furnish so many centres (as it were) to a great body of metaphysical acuteness; but to our judgment they fail altogether of overthrowing Mr. Wordsworth's theory. All the other critics have shown in their casual allusions to this theory that they have not yet come to understand what is its drift or main thesis. Such being the state of their acquaintance with the theory itself, we need not be surprised to find that the accidental connection between Mr. Wordsworth and the Laureate arising out of friendship and neighbourhood should have led these blundering critics into the belief that the two poets were joint supporters of the same theory: the fact being meanwhile that in all which is peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth's theory, Mr. Southey dissents perhaps as widely and as determinately as Mr. Coleridge; dissents, that is to say, not as the numerous blockheads among the male blue-stockings who dignify their ignorance with the name of dissent—but as one man of illustrious powers dissents from what he deems after long examination the errors of another; as Leibnitz on some occasions dissented from Plato, or as the great modern philosopher of Germany occasionally dissents from Leibnitz. That which Mr. Wordsworth has in common with all great poets, Mr. Southey cannot but reverence: he has told us that he does: and, if he had not, his own originality and splendour of genius would be sufficient pledges that he did. That which is peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth's theory, Mr. Southey may disapprove: he may think that it narrows the province of the poet too much in one part—that, in another part, it impairs the instrument with which he is to work. Thus far he may disapprove; and, after all, deduct no more from the merits of Mr. Wordsworth, than he will perhaps deduct from those of Milton, for having too often allowed a Latin or Hebraic structure of language to injure the purity of his diction. To whatsoever extent, however, the disapprobation of Mr. Southey goes, certain it is (for his own practice shows it) that he does disapprove the innovations of Mr. Wordsworth's theory—very laughably illustrates the sagacity of modern English critics: they were told that Mr. Southey held and practised a certain system of innovations: so far their error was an error of misinformation: but next they turn to Mr. Southey's works, and there they fancy that they find in every line an illustration of the erroneous tenets which their misinformation had led them to expect that they should find. A more unfortunate blunder, one more confounding to the most adventurous presumption, can hardly be imagined. A system, which no man could act upon unless deliberately and with great effort and labour of composition, is supposed to be exemplified in the works of a poet who uniformly rejects it: and this ludicrous blunder arises not from any over-refinements in criticism (such, for instance, as led Warburton to find in Shakspeare what the poet himself never dreamt of), but from no more creditable cause than a misreport of some blue-stocking miss either maliciously or ignorantly palmed upon a critic whose understanding passively surrendered itself to anything however gross.

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