ページの画像
PDF
ePub

he proposed to his readers. That a life regulated by these principles, and spent in the practice of those mild and unobtrusive virtues which “ are more felt than seen,” should have been, for the most part, a life of sorrow and dejection, is a fact on which it is painful to dwell; it is still more painful to think that the remedy for these sufferings was always at hand, not withheld, but misapplied. Reasoning å priori, one would say, that in a case like his, with a frame of body originally delicate, and impaired by disease, a nervous system fearfully disordered, and a mind cast in too fine a mould for so rough a world, the pure and consolatory religion of Christianity offered the only effectual cure; that the hopes of another life were a necessary cordial to sustain him in his passage through this. Experience has shewn the truth of this reasoning. In his better days, when his faculties had burst through the clouds by which they were so frequently obscured, he sought consolation and found it, in the mercy of his God; it is a vulgar error to suppose,

" that much religion caused his malady,” the truth rather is, that his malady perverted his religion; it poisoned the fountain of comfort at its source. One of the happiest seasons of his life was while the Task was in progress; at no time did the flame of devotion burn brighter. It guided the benighted wanderer into the paths of peace; and I would add (to shew that they who confound Christian piety with ascetic moroseness cannot plead the example of Cowper,) at no time was he more alive to the innocent pleasures, and endearing charities of life. It is delightful to contemplate his domestic scene at such moments as these; to see him in the full enjoyment of his talents, retaining, after he had passed the meridian of life, much of that playfulness and vivacity which makes its first opening so joyous, and repaying, by unremitting kindness, his obligations to that amiable friend, who had ministered to him, through all his sufferings, with a tenderness and fidelity of which woman alone is capable! The voice which had so long thundered in his ear, and marred his happiness, “ Actum est de te periisti !” was heard no more, but“ in strains as sweet as angels use, the gospel whispered peace." “I have no doubt, (said he, in a letter to one of his oldest friends) it will be seen when

my days are closed, that I served a master who would not suffer me to want any thing that was good for me. He said to Jacob, “ I will surely do thee good," and this he said not for his sake only, but for ours also, if we trust in him. This thought relieves me from the distress I should also suffer in my present circumstances, and enables me to sit down peacefully on the wreck of

my

fortune.”

51

CRUMBS OF CRITICISM.

No. III.

O piger, et duro jam durior axe, Lycota,
Qui veteres fagos, nova quam spectacula mavis
Cernere!

CALPHURNII ECLOG. VII. 4.

THE RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW.

A REVIEW of a review may perhaps be considered contrary to the etiquette observed among critics ; and from us, especially connected as we are with the Retrospective, by our mutual relation to that venerable parent whose countenance illustrates its title-page, such conduct may appear as indecorous as that of a lively damsel of sixteen criticising the air, person, and disposition of her elder and graver-eyed sister. To which we reply, that the whole system of reviewing is grounded on make-believe -a mere fiction, which we may respect or not as we think fit; and the form in question, more especially (that of avoiding all allusion to what an honourable member may have said in any

other of the critical houses,) is one of those unmeaning ceremonies to which we, like our excellent friend Kenelm Digby, Esq., have a special antipathy, and which has already been broken through more than once in letter as well as in spirit.. Besides, the Retrospective has nothing, except the form and title, in common with that species of production, which, under the name of Review has been spreading itself like a lichen over the surface of our national literature. It looks disdainfully down on contemporary things. Its concerns are with the wise and witty of old,

Quorum Flaminia tegitur Cinis atque Latina: who lived in the ages when political economy was not, when lake and cockney schools were a sound unheard, when the interior of Africa was a “ marvel and a mystery," and the Scotch novels existed only in their subjects. As to the other part of the objection, we can only give our critical word for it, that we mean to be impartial. And if, after all, some captious readers should still demur, they may console themselves with the reflection, that (like Gold smith's

story

of the Good Man) it will not hold them long; our intention being to say our little say in as few words as possible.

The Retrospective Review, then, as our readers are aware, is a miscellany dedicated exclusively to the literature of past ages. Its objects are to recal the public attention to works undeservedly neglected; to extract, from books worthless in the main, such passages as deserve preservation ; to supply analyses of others

which are valuable only for their matter, and the bulk and unnecessary tediousness of which unfits them for general perusal ; and lastly, to furnish a series of extracts from the writers of our own and other nations, with historical and critical notices of the authors, thus forming a complete history of modern literature*. The form of a review has been adopted, as most conformable to the popular taste.

Of the utility of most of the objects here proposed, few, we imagine, will entertain any doubt. That there is a vast accumulation of literary matter remaining to us from former ages, unknown, or only partially known to the general reader, and yet deserving to be so, even those whose researches (like our own) have been but partial, will agree with us; so much so, indeed, that instead of a work like the present being in danger of a speedy conclusion from the limited nature of its materials (an apprehension which we have more than once heard expressed) it would seem that the difficulty lay rather in selecting from among the multitude ; so wide is the circle which its inquiries embrace, comprehending all modern languages, all ages from the revival of literature to the close of the eighteenth century, and almost all manner of subjects;philosophy, history, antiquities, travels, poetry, the drama, and though last, not least, the biography and letters of eminent men, whether statesmen, scholars, or authors. Fifty years ago, such a position would have required a proof; at present, it may safely be assumed. Whatever else time may have failed to teach us, it has taught us the value of the past. We do not now consider ourselves as born merely for the present's sake; our minds formed, and our tastes modelled, exclusively by the things which surround us; all that has gone before, with the exception of a scanty edge of border-ground, appearing to us a strange and wild region, filled with unknown products, unfamiliar sounds, and beings with whom we have little more than a nominal affinity; and brooded over by an ungenial atmosphere which repels us at our very entrance. We are no longer content to nestle in the comfortable wrapping of common habits and prejudices. We have ventured to peep out of our shell, and put forth our feelers. We have discovered that the actions, manners, and opinions of our ancestors may be studied with some advantage; and that, however much the frame-work of their writings may differ from what custom has rendered acceptable to us, those writings contain no small portion both of profit and of rational delight, to such as are not deterred by the seeming uncouthness of their aspect from entering into familiarity with them. An antiquary is no longer, as in the

* Another object was specified in the original advertisement, that of establish.. ing a repository for bibliographical notices, and extracts from interesting manuscripts ; this; however, appears to have been in a great measure dropped.

days of Thomas Hearne, the object of popular ridicule and neglect; the old jests on the subject are nearly worn threadbare. We are rather in danger of erring on the contrary side; the industry of our scholars has sometimes been wasted on what was of little worth ; in the joy, perhaps in the vanity, of our discovery, we have occasionally set too high a value on our new found treasures, and made our old writers the objects of hyperbolical panegyric and indiscriminate imitation. Still we are disposed to welcome the change, both for the beneficial effects it is calculated to produce on the general intellect, and as a symptom of national spirit ; even as in Germany a more extended research into the literary treasures of the country, and a desire of illustrating their obscurities, have been among the manifestations of that revived patriotism which has done so much, and will hereafter do still more for that great nation. Were we writing expressly on this subject, we should qualify the above remarks with some necessary limitations ; our only object, however, was to show that the turn which public taste had taken was such as to render an undertaking like the present desirable, and to warrant its success; a success which would be otherwise unaccountable, in a work which gratifies no temporary curiosity, pampers no modern taste, and administers no stimulants to party passion. These latter observations, of course, apply only to that part of the Review which is appropriated to English literature ; but the increased interest which has lately been taken in that of foreign nations, and which may be considered as a collateral effect of the same disfranchisement from prejudice, will also find no small gratification here; though we could wish that a greater proportionate space had been allotted to this division.

The arrangement, or rather the want of arrangement in this work will appear to many readers a considerable defect, the articles being arranged promiscuously as in an ordinary review, without regard to subjects, dates, or languages. This must necessarily be productive of confusion and difficulty to such as wish to study the respective branches of literature in a regular order. It is not a sufficient answer to this objection, to say that the form of the work rendered this inevitable; its form might have been modified, so as to admit the arrangement desired. This subject, as may be supposed, has not escaped the notice of the editor. In the review of Skelton's works (vol. vi. 337) he has entered into an explanation of his reasons for adopting this plan. We give his words, and leave the reader to decide*

[ocr errors]

* There are however a few instances in which a regular chronological arrangement is observed ; as in the valuable series of papers on the ancient English drama.

“There are many cogent reasons for not pursuing the order of time in these our notices of the authors of ages gone by. One, among others, is, -that such an arrangement would lose us many a good critique ; for we should only be able to accept the offers of those who had chosen a subject suited in time as well as in subject. For our readers must not imagine that we are some par. ticular few who devote ourselves to the studies necessary for establishing and adorning a work of this kind, and who might just as well commence at the beginning as well as any where else, and thus pioneer our way through all the rubbish of antiquity, and arrive at the remarkable and the interesting by regular approaches. This mode has been recoinmended to us by more than one kind anonymous friend,

but such individuals have however mistaken the nature of our constitution. They who will cast an eye over our contents, and give but a peep into the various styles of writing, and different modes of thinking, in our volumes, will readily perceive that we are not a body organized in the most regular fashion ; and that we by no means proceed on any settled and determinate plan. A great number of our articles have been written by those who had a decided partiality for the author they were reviewing, whose beauties had long been intimately known to them, and had often, perhaps, afforded a consolation and a resource. While this circumstance may give somewhat of an enlogical character to our work, it assures a vivid feeling and relish for the subject, and very frequently a spirit in the expression, and delight in the analysis of it, which we may, with boldness, contrast to the lifelessness which the necessity of proceeding in a regular chronological series would have necessarily produced. In our literary and friendly intercourse, it is no uncommon occurrence to meet with lovers of old English books; amongst these, we almost invariably find each has some two or three favourites. The temptation of spreading the fame of a dear but antiquated, and perhaps, obscure friend ; of dwelling upon his character ; retracing the source of the pleasure he has felt in his society; and dragging into light those hidden and secret virtues, only known to himself; is generally too much for him who has a real attachment; and he, at length, yields to gracing our pages with as accurate a portrait, as his art and zeal will permit him to take. Besides, we have long tasks in the performance of our duty, which cannot fail to be attended with some portion of weariness and disgust; so that, unless we were privileged to light now and then upon a flower, though not in the beaten path, we should be inclined to throw up our labours at once."

But the true value of the work, after all, consists in its extracts. In saying this we have no intention of disparaging the original matter, which, as will be seen hereafter, is characterized by considerable (though for the most part imperfect and inaccurate) information, by general good feeling, and in one or two instances by original talent of a rather high order. This, however, is the mere outer-court of the design ; the modern gateway, by which we approach the treasury of select antiquities. To provide a regularly recurring store of salutary and refreshing food for the general mind; to replace the frivolous and pernicious excitements with which the diseased taste of the public is constantly being pampered, by a well-chosen selection of passages from works approved by time, embodying the solid sense, and information, and just feeling of the best part of our ancestors, their grand conceptions, the beauties of their poetry, and the antique riches and graces of their English, thus providing a fund of intellectual recreation which

« 前へ次へ »