Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

hostility which so little succeeded in its object of casting my Father's works into general contempt and oblivion, is unworthy of present regard. But there is a little anachronism in this. I is like saying, that because a few storms or an inclement season did not ruin a nascent colony, and years afterwards the colony i in a flourishing state, it was therefore of no consequence to tl. colonist and not worth mentioning in his history. The colony lives and blooms, like the baytree by the river side, while the poor worn colonist moulders in the grave. What is literary reputation now to the author of Christabel and the Lay Sermon ?" Those works are read by many at this time with as much pleasure as if they had never been declared worse than waste paper by the E. Review; they could not be slain by arrows of criticism if they had any vitality of their own ; if they had it not, who would wish to give them a galvanized life-the only life which some productions ever have to sustain them—a mere emanation from the hot orb of party spirit? But he who wrote those works wanted a "little here below” ere he went hence and was no more seen: he wanted a little encouragement from friends, a little fair play from adversaries, a little sympathy, and a little money. That he wanted these things was at least a grievance, whether it was most the fault of others or chiefly his own. But I think it will be granted by impartial persons, that there was some fault and deficiency on this score in others; an honest argumentative review, if ever so severe, would have done my Father's works good, had the reviewer strained every nerve to convict them of absurdity. But he was reviewed in a way not to expose his errors, but to prevent people from attending to him at all; not to make him understood, but to stamp upon him a character of hopeless unintelligi. bility ; with an artful show of contempt, and a sort of ridicule, that might have been employed with equal success upon Plato or

7 My Father has observed, that an insignificant work was sometimes reviewed for the sake of attacking the author; on the other hand, the more important works of obnoxious authors were often absolutely unnoticed. Some of his own were never reviewed in any leading journal; but Chris. tabel, the Lay Sermon, and the Biographia, were caught up and violently twisted into whipcord to lash him who had written them, and drive him if possihto out of the temple.

upon Shakspeare. A searching criticism, even from a determined opponent, would have been to him like that excellent oil of reproof, concerning which the Psalmist says that it breaks not the head nor depresses it.

A few words in conclusion on Mr. Coleridge's “abuse of his contemporaries ;” for on this score he was assailed in the review of the Biographia, with a particular reference to his critique on Bertram ; though without a syllable to show that the censures il contained were unjust, or not rather a service to his contemporaries in general. This "abuse” was not, I think, of the same nature as that which he condemned in others. It was of two or three different kinds: the first, to which belong the Letters to Fox, Letters to Fletcher, strictures on Lord Grenville, character of Pitt, sketches of Buonaparte, consists in examinations of the public conduct and published opinions of eminent men under the " light of principles; not a prejudging of their acts and opinions by supposed circumstances made to cast their coloring upon the former, as stained lamps dye the radiance of the flames they inclose; but an examination of the acts and opinions themselves, and only in due subordination to the former, if at all, a notice of circumstances which may have tended to produce their peculiar character. These treatises are chiefly composed of close reasoning

& The same method of shooting at him from a distance and declining close fight is practised even now by writers of a newer school, who dispose of him en passant, in their way to other objects of attack, by settling that he was certainly a man of some genius, and had a modicum of light to dispense, going before the torch-bearers of their party with his little fancy lamp in his hand; but that he is by no means a safe or sound writer; though where, how, and why, he is unsafe and unsound, they are far too much in a hurry to state. They seem, indeed, to consider him not only unsafe, but so dangerous, that prudence requires them to keep a good way off; as if the poor old steed, though unsound and superannuated, might still give an uncomfortable kick, if you came too close to his heels.

The Character of Pitt, which I like the least of my Father's political writings, except certain passages against the same minister in his youthful Conciones ad populum, the general drift of which, however, he has shown to be strictly in consonance with all his later politics,—and in these passages it is the tone and language not the opinions that he would ever have wished to retract,-commences with an account of Mr. Pitt's education and its effect on the formation of his mind; “ he was cast," ray Father

and illustration; the censures they contain are expressed in stero and vehement, but not in coarse or bitter language ; and they burst forth from a carefully constructed argument like strong keen flames from a well heaped funeral pile. If they quiver as they stream upward—those flames of censure—it is from a meditative emotion, not from the turbulence of a spirit agitated by . personal or party rage. Could any specimen of " abuse” be extracted from his writings at all similar to that “ true history of the Anti-Jacobin poets,” referred to above, in which three men of different characters and courses of life are put into a heap and conjointly accused of every turpitude which a politician can be guilty of, the language of the E. Review respecting his “ abuse of his contemporaries” would so far not be unmerited. The strictures on that Journal in this work are also pieces of reasoning, and, when cleared from a few excrescences of personal anecdote and complaint, are not unworthy of a writer who ever strove to keep principle in view. Of the Critique of Bertram I have spoken elsewhere.

The second sort of “ abuse” that he dealt in, and which it were to be wished that all men would refrain from, consisted in pointed remarks, made in private respecting private things and persons. Some of these were as strictly true as they were ciever and rememberable ; some were just in themselves, but sounded unjust as well as unkind, when repeated unaccompanied by what should have gone along with them to take off their cdge, expressed or understood by the utterer. Some, I dare

say, were not wholly just; few men are wise or just at all hours ; my Father had fits of satirizing with a habit of praising. I

says, “ rather than grew." But this is only a subordinate part of a general survey of his character as evinced in his public conduct. There is no attempt to characterize opinions not under examination by conjectures respecting the circumstances under which they may have been formed. The Character contains also a few sentences relating to Mr. Pitt's private life ; but it should be remembered that some parts of a Priine Minister's private life, or what is private life in other cases, are necessarily before the public. My Father referred to tastes and habits of Mr. Pitt which were matters of notoriety. Still that passage is a blot in the essay, and I doubt not that, though interesting as a psychological analysis, the whole Character is too unmodified and severe.

[ocr errors]

have heard a friend of his and mine remark, that some men “ talk their gall cleverly,” while there are others, who will show their cleverness though at the expense of being, for the moment, ill-natured. My Father's sharp speeches were not mere im. provements of gall. But I do not defend them. Psychological analysis on the living individual subject is an operation that can with difficulty be kept within the bounds of Christian justice and charity; even if we have a right to cut the pound of flesh at all, how can we be sure of cutting it exactly? But most to be blamed are they who repeat these keen sayings,-treasuring up the darts which they have not the skill to forge,-and bring them to the ears of those .very persons, who are least likely to see their truth and most liable to feel their sharpness,—the persons of whom they are said.

There is a third part of this subject, respecting which I refer the reader to an apology by Mr. C. himself, placed at the end of vol. i. of the Poetical Works; I mean his fights of extravagant satire, the real object of which existed nowhere but in the Limbo of wild imagination. These extravagances of his early day, though I believe his own 'account of them to be strictly true-indeed can see the truth of it on the fuce of the productions themselves,—have given me great pain; not for the vials of wrath that have been poured forth on occasion of them; ley were filled, I well knew, mainly from another cistern ; but be.

10 It is not my Father's rash sayings, but his conscientious and well weighed ones, his warm opposition to the “anti-national ” policy, his free opinion of the philosophy of certain Northern schools,-his venturing to find fault with some of their Most Profound and Irrefragable Doctorsthat has ever excited, and still does excite, the animosity of the Northern critics against him. His politics were a reproach, his philosophy a disparagement to theirs, and the B. L. added vinegar to the bitters of the cup. What my Father said of Hume in the Lay Sermon, is styled by the E. Reviewer (who puts on the Scotch mantle for the nonce), “ mean and malignant fabrication,"

,” “a transition from cant to calumny,” “a sting, the venom of which returned into his own bosoin, to exhaust itself in a bloated passage,” &c. Supposing the anecdote untrue, of which the reviewer gives no proof (his calling it a fabrication of my Father's is a "gratuitous assertion on his own part), where was the deep malignity o ascribing to Hume at his death a sentiment undeniably consonant with the tenor of his life? The reviewer could not deny that he “ devoted his

a

cause I see in these productions, though inspired by a petulant fancy rather than by an angry heart, the one stain upon the fase of my Father's literary character. Yet though I deeply regret in regard to both, but by far the most in regard to one of them,

life to undermining the Christian religion;" why then should he rage so at the second clause of the sentence,“ expended his last breath in a blasphemous regret that he had not survived it? Was it more discreditable to wish Christianity extinct than to have deliberately endeavored to dostroy it? However if there be no authority for the anecdote reported in the Lay Serinon, a mark shall be set against it in future.

Mr. Coleridge's “ignorant petulance” on the subject of Hume's history has been amply confirmed by examiners on opposite sides in politics sivee the opinion was expressed. If that history be faulty at all, it is not superficially so but internally and radically-it is to a considerable extent virtually faithless and misleading ; no one less cool, calm, and able than Hume could have given so misleading a representation of a certain most important part of English history. Like Hobbes, because he had no eye for a spiritual law, and because man must find firm ground to rest on soinewhere, Hume rested his whole weight on human authority and kingship an earthly divine right. Every one must admire his fine talents, must like his kindly and gentle nature; but is not an Infidel writer's hand against every Christian, and must not every Christian's hand be against him,-not of course to write a word that is untrue concerning his life and actions, but to struggle with him when he strives against eternal hopes,-nay to trample on him, when, like Caiaphas in Dante's penal realm, he lies across the way—if that be the way of faith and salvation? Surely the Scotch may well afford to let Hume be judged according to his works,–I should rather say to let his works be judged according to their contents. They are not so deficient in worthies whom a Christian can approve that they must vehemently patronize the patron of despotism and infidelity. My Father did not abuse him because he was a Scotchman; he had contended warmly against Infidels in Germany, partial as he was to Germans and German writers. One thing I regret in Mr. Carlyle's admirable essay on Johnson, that deep-hearted essay!—the parallel at the end between Johnson and Hume. Oh! surely Hume should not have been set over against Johnson, who could not have looked him in the face without shuddering, and turning pale for sorrow!

Right loath should I be to consider these Boreal blasts and Scotch mista, that have so outraged and obscured the Exteesian domain, as coming from bonny Scotland at large. The man of genius—the wise and liberal critic -is always a true Briton-neither English, Irish, nor Scotch. Acer Septentrio to S. T. C.--but this is a synecdoche-part for the whole. I have necessarily been looking of late inore at the bad weather of my Father'a uterary life,-the rough gales and chilling snow-falls,-than at its call

« AnteriorContinuar »