Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

indeed, devoted to a party; and to a party whose opinions are not very favourable to genial views of humanity, or to deep admiration of human genius. But not all the fiery zeal of sectarianism which has sometimes blazed through its disquisitions—nor all the straight-laced nicety with which it is sometimes disposed to regard earthly enjoyments—nor all the gloom which its spirit of Calvinism sheds on the mightiest efforts of virtue-can prevent us from feeling the awestriking influences of honest principle

of hopes which are not shaken by the fluctuations of time—of faith which looks to “temples not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The Eclectic Review, indeed, in its earliest numbers, seemed resolved to oppose the spirit of its religion to the spirit of intellect and humanity, and even went to the fearful excess of heaping the vilest abuse on Shakspeare, and of hinting that his soul was mourning in the torments of hell, over the evils which his works had occasioned in the world. *

* This marvellous effusion of bigotry is contained in an article on Twiss's Index to Shakspeare in the third volume of the Review, p. 75. The Reviewer commences with the following tremendous sentence:

“ If the compiler of these volumes had been properly sensible of the value of time, and the relation which the employment of it bears to his eternal state, we should not have had to present our readers with the pitiable spectacle of a man advanced in years consuming the embers of vitality in making a complete verbal Index to the Plays of Shakspeare."

After acknowledging the genius of Shakspeare, the Reviewer observes, “ He has been called, and justly too, the .Poet of Nature.' A slight acquaintance with the religion of the Bible will show that it is of human nature in its worst shape, deformed by the basest pas. sions, and agitated by the most vicious propensities, that the poet became the priest; and the incense offered at the altar of his god. dess will spread its poisonous fumes over the hearts of his countrymen, till the memory of his works is extinct. Thousands of unhappy spirits, and thousands yet to increasc their number, will everlast. ingly look back with unutterable anguish on the nights and days in which the plays of Shakspeare ministered to their guilty delights."

-The Reviewer farther complains of the inscription on Garrick's tomb (which is absurd enough, though on far different grounds)--as “the absurd and impious epitaph upon the tablet raised to one of the miserable retailers of his impurities .!" “We commiserate,” conti.

But its conductors have since changed, or have grown wiser. Their Reviews of poetry have been, perhaps, on the whole, in the purest and the gentlest spirit of any which have been written in this age of criticism. Without resigning their doctrines, they have softened and humanized those who profess them, and have made their system of religion look smilingly, while they have striven to preserve it unspotted from the world. If occasionally they introduce their pious feelings where we regard them as misplaced, we may smile, but not in scorn.* Their zeal is better than heartless indif

nues the critic, “the heart of the man who can read the following lines without indignation :

• And till eternity, with power sublime,
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary time,
Shakspeare and Garrick, like twin stars, shall shine,
And each irradiate with a beam divine.'.

Par nobile fratrum! Your fame shall last during the empire of vice and misery, in the extension of which you have acted so great a part! We make no apology for our sentiments, unfashionable as they are. Feeling the importance of the condition of man as a moral agent, accountable not merely for the direct effects, but also for the remotest influence of his actions, while we execrate the names, we cannot but shudder at the state of those who have opened fountains of impurity at which fashion leads its successive generations greedily to drink.”Merciful Heaven!

* We will give an instance of this—with a view to exhibit the peculiarities into which exclusive feelings lead; for observation, not for derision. In a very beautiful article on Wordsworth's Excursion, the critic notices a stanza, among several, on the death of Fox, where the poet-evidently not referring to the questions of immortality and judgment, but to the deprivations sustained by the world in the loss of the objects of its admiration-exclaims,

“ A power is passing from the earth

To breathless nature's vast abyss;
But when the mighty pass away,

What is it more than this,
That man, who is from God sent forth,

Doth yet to God return ?
Such ebb and flow will ever be,

Then wherefore shall we mourn?” On which the Reviewer observes; “ The question in the last two lines needs no answer: to that in the four preceding ones we must reply distinctly, · It is appointed to inen once to die, but after this the JUDGMENT.”-Heb. ix. v. 27.

ference—their honest denunciations are not like the sneers of envy or the heartless jests which a mere desire of applause inspires. It is something to have real principle in times like these—a sense of things beyond our frail nature-even where the feeling of the eternal is saddened by too harsh and exclusive views of God, and of his children: for, as ob served by one of our old poets,

46 Unless above himself he can Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!*"

The British Critic is a highly respectable work, which does not require our praise, or offer any marks for our censure. It is, in a great measure, devoted to the interests of the church and of her ministers. It has sometimes shown a little sourness in its controversial discussions—but this is very different, indeed, from using cold sneers against unopposing authors. Its articles of criticism on poetry_if not adorned by any singular felicity of expression-have often been, of late, at once clear-sighted and gentle.

The Edinburgh Monthly Review is, on the whole, one of the ablest and fairest of the Monthly Reviews, though somewhat disproportionably filled with disquisitions on matters of state policy.

Few literary changes within the late changeful years have been more remarkable than the alteration in the style and spirit of the magazines. Time was when their modest ambition reached only to the reputation of being the “ abstracts and brief chronicles” of passing events—when they were well pleased to afford vent to the sighs of a poetical lover, or to give light fluttering for a month to an epigram on a lady's fan—when a circumstantial account of a murder, or an authentic description of a birth-day dress, or the nice development of a family receipt, communicated, in their pages, to maiden ladies of a certain age an incalculable pleasureand when the learned decyphering of an inscription on some rusty coin sufficed to give them a venerableness in the eyes of the old. If they then ever aspired to criticism, it was in mere kindness-to give a friendly greeting to the young ad

* Daniel

venturer, and afford him a taste of unmingled pleasure at the entrance of his perilous journey. Now they are full of wit, satire, and pungent remark-touching familiarly on the profoundest questions of philosophy as on the lightest varieties of manners-sometimes overthrowing a system with a joke, and destroying a reputation in the best humour in the world. One magazine-the Gentleman's—almost alone retains “the homely beauty of the good old cause,” in pristine simplicity of style. This periodical work is worthy of its title. Its very dulness is agreeable to us. It is as destitute of sprightliness and of gall as in the first of its years.

Its antiquarian disquisitions are very pleasant, giving us the feeling of sentiment without seeming to obtrude it on us, or to be designed for a display of the peculiar sensibility of their authors. We would not on any account lose the veteran Mr. Urban-though he will not, of course, suffice as a substitute for his juvenile competitors—but we heartily wish that he may go flourishing on in his green old age and honest selfcomplacency, to tell old stories, and remind us of old times, undisturbed by his gamesome and ambitious progeny !

Yet we must turn from his gentle work to gaze on the bright Aurora Borealis, the new and ever-varying Northern Light-Blackwood's Magazine. We remember no work of which so much might be truly said, both in censure and in eulogy—no work, at some times so profound, and at others so trifling—one moment so instinct with noble indignation, the next so pitifully falling into the errors it had denounced—in one page breathing the deepest and the kindliest spirit of criticism, in another condescending to give currency to the lowest calumnies. The air of young life the exuberance both of talent and of animal spirits—which this work indicates, will excuse much of that wantonness which evidently arises from the fresh spirit of hope and of joy. But there are some of its excesses which nothing can palliate, which can be attributed to nothing but malignant passions, or to the baser desire of extending its sale. Less censurable, but scarcely less productive of unpleasant results, is its practice of dragging the peculiarities, the conversation, and domestic habits of distinguished individuals into public view, to gratify a diseased curiosity at the expense of men by whom its authors have been trusted. Such a course,

if largely followed would destroy all that is private and social in life, and leave us nothing but our public existence. How must the joyous intercourses of society be chilled, and the free unbosoming of the soul be checked, by the feeling that some one is present who will put down every look and word and tone in a note-book, and exhibit them to the common gaze! If the enshading sanctities of life are to be cut away as in Peter's Letters, or in the Letters from the Lakes—its joys will speedily perish. When they can no longer nestle in privacy, they will wither. We cannot however refuse to Blackwood's contributors the praise of great boldness in throwing away the external dignities of literature, and mingling their wit and eloquence and poetry with the familiarities of life, with an ease which nothing but the consciousness of great and genuine talent could inspire or justify. Most of their jests have, we think, been carried a little too far. The town begins to sicken of their pugilistic articles; to nauseate the blended language of Olympus and St. Giles's; to long for inspiration from a purer spring than Belsher's tap; and to desire sight of Apollo and the Muses in a brighter ring than that of Moulsey-hurst. We ought not to forget the debt which we owe to this magazine for infusing something of the finest and profoundest spirit of the German writers into our criticism, and for its “ high and hearted” eulogies of the greatest, though not the most popular of our living poets.

We have thus impartially, we think, endeavoured to perform the delicate task of characterizing the principal contemporaries and rivals of the New Monthly Magazine ;-of which our due regard to the Editor's modesty forbids us to speak.

« AnteriorContinuar »