« AnteriorContinuar »
turn to them in the book of peerage. However loud may be the outeries for prevented or subverted reputation, however nume. rous and impatient the complaints of merciless severity and insupportable despotism, I shall neither feel, nor utter aught but to the defence and justification of the critical machine. literary Quixote find himself provoked by its sounds and regular movements, I should admonish him with Sancho Panza, that it is no giant but a windmill; there it stands on its own place, and its own hillock, never goes out of its way to attack any one, and to none and from none either gives or asks assistance. When the public press has poured in any part of its produce between its mill-stones, it grinds it off, one man's sack the same as another, and with whatever wind may happen to be then blowing. All the two-and-thirty winds are alike its friends. Of the whole wide atmosphere it does not desire a single finger-breadth more than what is necessary for its sails to turn round in. But this space must be left free and unimpeded. Gnats, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and the whole tribe of ephemerals and insignificants, may fit in and out and between; may hum, and buzz, and jarr; may shrill their tiny pipes, and wind their puny horns, unchastised and unnoticed. But idlers and bravadoes of larger size and prouder show, must beware how they place themselves within its sweep. Much less may they presume to lay hands on the sails, the strength of which is neither greater nor less than as the wind is, which drives them round. Whomsoever the remorseless arm slings aloft, or whirls along with it in the air, he has himself alone to blame; though, when the same arm throws him from it, it will more often double than break the force of his fall.
Putting aside the too manifest and too frequent interference of national party, and even personal predilection or aversion ; and reserving for deeper feelings those worse and more criminal intrusions into the sacredness of private life, which not seldom merit legal rather than literary chastisement, the two principal objects and occasions which I find for blame and regret in the conduct of the review in question are: first, its unfaithfulness to its own announced and excellent plan, by subjecting to criti. cism works neither indecent nor immoral, vet of such trifling importance even in point of size and, according to the critic's own verdict, so devoid of all merit, as must excite in the most candid mind the suspicion, either that dislike or vindictive feel. ings were at work; or that there was a cold prudential pre-determination to increase the sale of the review by flattering the malignant passions of human nature. That I may not myself become subject to the charge, which I am bringing against others, by an accusation without proof, I refer to the article on Dr. Rennell's sermon in the very first number of the EDINBURGH Review as an illustration of my meaning. If in looking through all the succeeding volumes the reader should find this a solitary instance, I must submit to that painful forfeiture of esteem, which awaits a groundless or exaggerated charge.
The second point of objection belongs to this review only in common with all other works of periodical criticism ; at least, it applies in common to the general system of all, whatever exception there may be in favor of particular articles. Or if it altaches to THE EDINBURGH REVIEW, and to its only corrival (THE QUARTERLY), with any peculiar force, this results from the supe. riority of talent, acquirement, and information, which both have so undeniably displayed :, and which doubless deepens the regret though not the blame. . I am referring to the substitution of assertion for argument; to the frequency of arbitrary and sometimes petulant verdicts, not seldom unsupported even by a single quotation from the work condemned, which might at least have explained thr critic's meaning, if it did not prove the justice of his sentence. Even where this is not the case, the extracts are too often made without reference to any general grounds or rules from which the faultiness or inadmissibility of the qualities at. tributed may be deduced ; and without an attempt to show, that the qualities are attributable to the passage extracted. I have met with such extracts from Mr. Wordsworth's poems, annexed to such assertions, as led me to imagine, that the reviewer, hav. ing written his critique before he had read the work, had then pricked with a pin for passages, wherewith to illustrate the various branches of his preconceived opinions. By what principle of rational choice can we suppose a critic to have been directed (at least in a Christian country, and himself, we hope, a Christian)
who gives the following lines, portraying the fervor of solitary devotion excited by the magnificent display of the Almighty's works, as a proof and example of an author's tendency to dour nght rarings, and absolute unintelligibility ?
“O then what soul was his, when on the tops
Of the high mountains he beheld the sun
Can it be expected, that either the author or his admirers should be induced to pay any serious attention to decisions which prove nothing but the pitiable state of the critic's own taste and sensibility ? On opening the review, they see a favorite passage, of the force and truth of which they had an intuitive certainty in their own inward experience confirmed, if confirmation it could
? (Excursion. (Book i., P. W., vi., p. 10.) The passage now begins thus :
“ Such was the Boy—but for the growing Youth
What soul was his, when, from the naked top
Of some bold headland, he beheld, &c." Compare with this Goethe's Sunset (in the dialogue between Faust and Wagner after the scene of out-door festivity), the diction and versification of which are exquisite :
O glücklich! wer noch hoffen kann
Aus diesem Meer des Irrthums aufzutauchen, &c. The two passages, in each of which the tone of reflection is beautifully accordant with the natural image,-in Goethe's with a setting, as in that fron The Excursion, with a rising sun,-might be pendants to each other, and form such a bright pair as Mr. Turner's two pictures called The Rise and Decline of Carthage," or brighter.” Would that the hues of the material paintings were as fadeless as those of the poetry, for they too deserve to live! S. C.)
receive, by the sympathy of their most enlightened friends; some of whom, perhaps, even in the world's opinion, hold a higher in. tellectual rank than the critic himself would presume to claim. And this very passage they find selected, as the characteristic effusion of a mind deserted by reason !—as furnishing evidence that the writer was raving, or he could not have thus strung words together without sense or purpose ! No diversity of taste seems capable of explaining such a contrast in judgment.
That I had over-rated the merit of a passage or poem; that I had erred concerning the degree of its excellence, I might be easily induced to believe or apprehend. But that lines, the sense of which I had analysed and found consonant with all the best convictions of my understanding; and the imagery and dic. tion of which had collected round those convictions my noblest as well as my most delightful feelings; that I should admit such lines to be mere nonsense or lunacy, is too much for the most ingenious arguments to effect. But that such a revolution of taste should be brought about by a few broad assertions, seems little less than impossible. On the contrary, it would require an effort of charity not to dismiss the criticism with the aphorism of the wise man, in animam malevolam sapientia haud intrare polest.
What, en, if this very critic should have cited a large number of single lines, and even of long paragraphs, which he himself acknowledges to possess eminent and original beauty ? What if he himself has owned that beauties as great are scattered in abundance throughout the whole book? And yet, though under this impression, should have commenced his critique in vulgar exultation with a prophecy meant to secure its own fulfil. ment ? With a
“ This won't do !" What? if after such acknowledgments extorted from his own judgment he should proceed from charge to charge of tameness and raving; flights and fatness; and, at length, consigning the author to the house of incurables, should conclude with a strain of rudest contempt, evidently grounded in the distempered state of his own moral associations ? Suppose, too, all this done without a single leading principle established, or even announced, and without any one attempt at argumentative deduction, though the poet had pre. sented a more than usual opportunity for it, by having previously made public his own principles of judgment in poetry, and sup. ported them by a connected train of reasoning!
The office and duty of the poet is to select the most dignified as well as
“The gayest, happiest attitude of things.”3
The reverse, for, in all cases, a reverse is possible, is the appropriate business of burlesque and travesty, a predominant taste for which has always been deemed a mark of a low and degraded mind. When I was at Rome, among many other visits to the tomb of Julius II., I went thither once with a Prussian artist, a man of genius and great vivacity of feeling. As we were gazing on Michael Angelo's Moses, our conversation turned on the horns and beard of that stupendous statue; of the necessity of each to support the other; of the super-human effect of the former, and the necessity of the existence of both to give a harmony and integrity both to the image and the feeling excited by it. Con. ceive them removed, and the statue would become un-natural, without being super-natural. We called to mind the horns of the rising sun, and I repeated the noble passage from Taylor's Holy Dying. That horns were the emblem of power and sove. reignty among the Eastern nations, and are still retained as such in Abyssinia ; the Achelous of the ancient Greeks; and the pro. bable ideas and feelings, that originally suggested the mixture of the human and the brute form in the figure, by which they realized the idea of the mysterious Pan, as representing intel. ligence blended with a darker power, deeper, mightier, and more universal than the conscious intellect of man-than intelli. gence ;-all these thoughts and recollections passed in procession before our minds. My companion, who possessed more than his share of the hatred which his countrymen bore to the French, had just observed to me, “ a Frenchman, Sir! is the only animal in the human shape that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or poetry :" when, lo! two French officers of distinc.
3 [Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination, Book i., 1. 30. S.C.]