ページの画像
PDF
ePub

controversy; and, after professing her unquali- | is that which enables him to receive the fied preference of a piece compounded of great blemishes and great beauties, compared with one free of faults, but distinguished by little excellence, proceeds very wisely to remark, that it would be still better if the great faults were corrected-and that it is but a bad species of independence which manifests itself by being occasionally offensive: and then she attacks Shakespeare, as usual, for interspersing so many puerilities and absurdities and grossiéretés with his sublime and pathetic

passages.

greatest quantity of pleasure from the greatest number of things. With regard to the author again, or artist of any other description, who pretends to bestow the pleasure, his object of course should be, to give as much, and to as many persons as possible; and especially to those who, from their rank and education, are likely to regulate the judgment of the remainder. It is his business therefore to ascertain what does please the greater part of such persons; and to fashion his productions according to the rules of taste which may be Now, there is no denying, that a poem deduced from that discovery. Now, we humwould be better without faults; and that ju- bly conceive it to be a complete and final jusdicious painters use shades only to set off tification for the whole body of the English their pictures, and not blots. But there are nation, who understand French as well as two little remarks to be made. In the first English and yet prefer Shakespeare to Racine, place, if it be true that an extreme horror at just to state, modestly and firmly, the fact of faults is usually found to exclude a variety that preference; and to declare, that their of beauties, and that a poet can scarcely ever habits and tempers, and studies and occupaattain the higher excellencies of his art, with- tions, have been such as to make them receive out some degree of that rash and headlong far greater pleasure from the more varied confidence which naturally gives rise to blem-imagery-the more flexible tone-the closer ishes and excesses, it may not be quite so imitation of nature-the more rapid succesabsurd to hold, that this temperament and sion of incident, and vehement bursts of pasdisposition, with all its hazards, deserves en- sion of the English author, than from the couragement, and to speak with indulgence unvarying majesty the elaborate argument of faults that are symptomatic of great beau--and epigrammatic poetry of the French draties. There is a primitive fertility of soil that matist. For the taste of the nation at large, naturally throws out weeds along with the we really cannot conceive that any other apolmatchless crops which it alone can bear; and ogy can be necessary; and though it might we might reasonably grudge to reduce its be very desirable that they should agree with vigour for the sake of purifying its produce. their neighbours upon this point, as well as There are certain savage virtues that can upon many others, we can scarcely imagine scarcely exist in perfection in a state of com- any upon which their disagreement could be plete civilization; and, as specimens at least, attended with less inconvenience. For the we may wish to preserve, and be allowed to authors, again, that have the misfortune not admire them, with all their exceptionable to be so much admired by the adjoining naaccompaniments. It is easy to say, that tions as by their own countrymen, we can there is no necessary connection between the only suggest, that this is a very common misfaults and the beauties of our great dramat- fortune; and that, as they wrote in the lanist; but the fact is, that since men have be- guage of their country, and will probably be come afraid of falling into his faults, no one always most read within its limits, it was not has approached to his beauties; and we have perhaps altogether unwise or unpardonable in already endeavoured, on more than one oc- them to accommodate themselves to the taste casion, to explain the grounds of this con- which was there established.

nection.

Madame de Staël has a separate chapter upon Shakespeare; in which she gives him full credit for originality, and for having been the first, and perhaps the only considerable author, who did not copy from preceding

But our second remark is, that it is not quite fair to represent the controversy as arising altogether from the excessive and undue indulgence of the English for the admitted faults of their favourite authors, and their per-models, but drew all his greater conceptions sisting to idolize Shakespeare in spite of his directly from his own feelings and observabuffooneries, extravagancies, and bombast. tions. His representations of human passions, We admit that he has those faults; and, as therefore, are incomparably more true and they are faults, that he would be better with- touching, than those of any other writer; and out them but there are many more things are presented, moreover, in a far more elemenwhich the French call faults, but which we tary and simple state, and without any of deliberately consider as beauties. And here, those circumstances of dignity or contrast we suspect, the dispute does not admit of any with which feebler artists seem to have held settlement: Because both parties, if they are it indispensable that they should be set off. really sincere in their opinion, and understand She considers him as the first writer who has the subject of discussion, may very well be ventured upon the picture of overwhelming right, and for that very reason incapable of sorrow and hopeless wretchedness;-that decoming to any agreement. We consider taste solation of the heart, which arises from the to mean merely the faculty of receiving plea- long contemplation of ruined hopes and irresure from beauty; and, so far as relates to the parable privation;-that inward anguish and person receiving that pleasure, we apprehend bitterness of soul which the public life of the it to admit of little doubt, that the best taste ancients prevented them from feeling, and

III.; for all which we shall leave it to our readers to make the best apology they can.

their stoical precepts interdicted them from disclosing. The German poets, and some succeeding English authors, have produced a Madame de Staël thinks very poorly of our prodigious effect by the use of this powerful talent for pleasantry; and is not very successinstrument; but nothing can exceed the orig-ful in her delineation of what we call humour. inal sketches of it exhibited in Lear, in Ham- The greater part of the nation, she says, lives let, in Timon of Athens, and in some parts of either in the serious occupations of business Richard and of Othello. He has likewise and politics, or in the tranquil circle of family drawn, with the hand of a master, the strug-affection. What is called society, therefore, gles of nature under the immediate contem- has scarcely any existence among them; and plation of approaching death; and that with- yet it is in that sphere of idleness and frivolity, out those supports of conscious dignity or that taste is matured, and gaiety made eleexertion with which all other. writers have gant. They are not at all trained, therefore, thought it necessary to blend or to contrast to observe the finer shades of character and their pictures of this emotion. But it is in the of ridicule in real life; and consequently neiexcitement of the two proper tragic passions ther think of delineating them in their comof pity and terror, that the force and origin- positions, nor are aware of their merit when ality of his genius are most conspicuous; pity delineated by others. We are unwilling to not only for youth and innocence, and noble- think this perfectly just; and are encouraged ness and virtue, as in Imogen and Desdemona, to suspect, that the judgment of the ingenious Brutus and Cariolanus-but for insignificant author may not be altogether without appeal persons like the Duke of Clarence, or profli- on such a subject, by observing, that she repgate and worthless ones like Cardinal Wolsey; resents the paltry flippancy and disgusting -terror, in all its forms, from the madness affectation of Sterne, as the purest specimen of Lear, and the ghost of Hamlet, up to the of true English humour; and classes the chardreams of Richard and Lady Macbeth. In acter of Falstaff along with that of Pistol, as comparing the effects of such delineations parallel instances of that vulgar caricature with the superstitious horror excited by the from which the English still condescend to mythological persons of the Greek drama, the receive amusement. It is more just, howvast superiority of the English author cannot ever, to observe, that the humour, and in fail to be apparent. Instead of supernatural general the pleasantry, of our nation, has very beings interfering with their cold and impas- frequently a sarcastic and even misanthropic sive natures, in the agitations and sufferings character, which distinguishes it from the of men, Shakespeare employs only the magic mere playfulness and constitutional gaiety of of powerful passion, and of the illusions to our French neighbours; and that we have not, which it gives birth. The phantoms and ap- for the most part, succeeded in our attempts paritions which he occasionally conjures up to imitate the graceful pleasantry and agreeto add to the terror of the scene, are in truth able trifling of that ingenious people. We but a bolder personification of those troubled develope every thing, she maintains, a great dreams, and thick coming fancies, which har- deal too laboriously; and give a harsh and row up the souls of guilt and agony; and painful colouring to those parts which the even his sorcery and incantation are but traits very nature of their style requires to be but of the credulity and superstition which so lightly touched and delicately shaded. We frequently accompany the exaltation of the never think we are heard, unless we cry out; greater passions. But perhaps the most mi- -nor understood, if we leave any thing unraculous of all his representations, are those told:-an excess of diffuseness and labour in which he has pourtrayed the wanderings which could never be endured out of our own of a disordered intellect, and especially of island. It is curious enough, indeed, to obthat species of distraction which arises from serve, that men who have nothing to do with excess of sorrow. Instead of being purely their time but to get rid of it in amusement, terrible, those scenes are, in his hands, in the are always much more impatient of any kind highest degree touching and pathetic; and of tediousness in their entertainers, than those the wildness of fancy, and richness of imagery who have but little leisure for entertainment. which they display, are even less admirable The reason is, we suppose, that familiarity than the constant, though incoherent expres- with business makes the latter habitually sion of that one sentiment of agonizing grief tolerant of tediousness; while the less enwhich had overborne all the faculties of the grossing pursuits of the former, in order to soul. retain any degree of interest, require a very rapid succession and constant variety. On the whole, we do not think Madame de Staël very correct in her notions of English gaiety; and cannot help suspecting, that she must have been in some respects unfortunate in her society, during her visit to this country.

Her estimate of our poetry, and of our works of fiction, is more unexceptionable. She does not allow us much invention, in the strictest sense of that word; and still less grace and sprightliness in works of a light and playful character: But, for glowing descriptions of

Such are the chief beauties which Madame de Staël discovers in Shakespeare; and though they are not perhaps exactly what an English reader would think of bringing most into notice, it is interesting to know what strikes an intelligent foreigner, in pieces with which we ourselves have always been familiar. The chief fault she imputes to him, besides the mixture of low buffoonery with tragic passion, are occasional tediousness and repetition-too much visible horror and bloodshed-and the personal deformity of Caliban and Richard

nature-for the pure language of the affections for profound thought and lofty sentiment, she admits, that the greater poets of England are superior to any thing else that the world has yet exhibited. Milton, Young, Thomson, Goldsmith, and Gray, seem to be her chief favourites. We do not find that Cowper, or any later author, had come to her knowledge. The best of them, however, she says, are chargeable with the national faults of exaggeration, and 'des longueurs.' She overrates the merit, we think, of our novels, when she says, that with the exception of La Nouvelle Heloise, which belongs exclusively to the genius of the singular individual who produced it, and has no relation to the character of his nation, all the novels that have succeeded in France have been undisguised imitations of the English, to whom she ascribes, without qualification, the honour of that meritorious invention.

"Les Anglais ont avancé dans les sciences philosophiques comme dans l'industrie commerciale, à l'aide de la patience et du temps. Le penchant de leurs philosophes pour les abstractions sembloit devoir les entraîner dans des systêmes qui pouvoient être contraires à la raison; mais l'esprit de calcul. qui régularise, dans leur application, les combinai sons abstraites, la moralité, qui est la plus expérimentale de toutes les idées humaines, l'intérêt du commerce, l'amour de la liberté, ont toujours ramené les philosophes Anglais à des résultats pratiques. Que d'ouvrages entrepris pour servir utilement les hommes, pour l'éducation des enfans, pour le soulagement des malheureux, pour l'économie politique, la législation criminelle, les sciences, la morale, la métaphysique! Quelle philosophie dans les conceptions! quel respect pour l'expérience dans le choix des moyens!

"C'est à la liberté qu'il faut attribuer cette émulation et cette sagesse. On pouvoit si rarement se flatter en France d'influer par ses écrits sur les institutions de son pays, qu'on ne songeoit qu'à montrer de l'esprit dans les discussions même les plus sérieuses. On poussoit jusqu'au paradoxe un système vrai dans une certaine mesure; la raison ne pouvant avoir une effet utile, on vouloit au moins que le paradoxe fût brillant. D'ailleurs sous une monarchie absolue, on pouvoit sans danger vanter, comme dans le Contrat Social. la démocratie pure; mais on n'auroit point osé approcher des idées possibles. Tout étoit jeu d'esprit en France, hors les arrêts du conseil du roi: tandis qu'en Angle

terre, chacun pouvant agir d'une manière quelconque sur les résolutions de ses représentans, l'on prend l'habitude de comparer la pensée avec l'action, et l'on s'accoutume à l'amour du bien public

par

l'espoir d'y contribuer."-Vol. ii. pp. 5-7.

The last chapter upon English literature relates to their philosophy and eloquence; and here, though the learned author seems aware of the transcendent merit of Bacon, we rather think she proves herself to be unacquainted with that of his illustrious contemporaries or immediate successors, Hooker, Taylor, and Barrow-for she places Bacon as the only luminary of our sphere in the period preceding the Usurpation, and considers the true era of British philosophy as commencing with the reign of King William. We cannot admit the accuracy of this intellectual chronology. The character of the English philosophy is to be patient, profound, and always guided by a view to utility. They have done wonders in the metaphysic of the understanding; but have not equalled De Retz, La Bruyère, or even Montaigne, in their analysis of the pas-nent assemblies, occupied from day to day, sions and dispositions. The following short and from month to month, with great quespassage is full of sagacity and talent. tions of internal legislation or foreign policy. If she had heard Fox or Pitt, however, or Burke or Windham, or Grattan, we cannot conceive that she should complain of our want of animation; and, warm as she is in her encomiums on the eloquence of Mirabeau, and some of the orators of the first revolution, she is forced to confess, that our system of eloquence is better calculated for the detection of sophistry, and the effectual enforcement of all salutary truth. We really are not aware of any other purposes which eloquence can serve in a great national assembly.

She returns again, however, to her former imputation of "longueurs," and repetitions, and excessive development; and maintains, that the greater part of English books are obscure, in consequence of their prolixity, and of the author's extreme anxiety to be perfectly understood. We suspect a part of the confusion is owing to her want of familiarity with the language. In point of fact, we know of no French writer on similar subjects so concise as Hume or Smith; and believe we might retort the charge of longueurs, in the name of the whole English nation, upon one half of the French classic authors-upon their Rollin and their Masillon-their D'Alembert-their Buffon-their Helvetius-and the whole tribe of their dramatic writers:—while as to repetitions, we are quite certain that there is no one English author who has repeated the same ideas half so often as Voltaire himself-certainly not the most tedious of the fraternity. She complains also of a want of warmth and animation in our prose writers. And it is true that Addison and Shaftesbury are cold; but the imputation only convinces us the more, that she is unacquainted with the writ ings of Jeremy Taylor, and that illustrious train of successors which has terminated, we fear, in the person of Burke. Our debates in parliament, she says, are more remarkable for their logic than their rhetoric; and have more in them of sarcasm, than of poetical figure and ornament. And no doubt it is so-and must be so-in all the discussions of perma

ture-and here we must contrive also to close Here end her remarks on our English literathis desultory account of her lucubrationsthough we have accompanied her through little more than one half of the work before us. It is impossible, however, that we can now find room to say any thing of her exposition of German or of French literature-and still less of her anticipations of the change which the establishment of a Republican government in the last of those countries is likely to produce,-or of the hints and cautions with which, in contemplation of that event, she thinks it necessary to provide her countrymen. These are perhaps the most curious parts of the work:-but we cannot enter upon them

already said, we have so far exceeded the limits to which we always wish to confine ourselves, that we do not very well know what apology to make to our readers-except merely, that we are not without hope, that the miscellaneous nature of the subject, by which we have been insensibly drawn into this great prolixity, may have carried them also along, with as moderate a share of fatigue as we have ourselves experienced. If it be otherwise we must have the candour and the gallantry to say, that we are persuaded the fault is to be imputed to us, and not to

at present; and indeed, in what we have the ingenious author upon whose work we have been employed; and that, if we had confined ourselves to a mere abstract of her lucubrations, or interspersed fewer of our own remarks with the account we have attempted to give of their substance, we might have extended this article to a still greater length, without provoking the impatience even of the more fastidious of our readers. As it is, we feel that we have done but scanty justice, either to our author or her subject-though we can now make no other amends, than by earnestly entreating our readers to study both of them for themselves.

(July, 1806.)

The Complete Works, in Philosophy, Politics, and Morals, of the late DR. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Now first collected and arranged. With Memoirs of his Early Life, written by himself.— 3 vols. 8vo. pp. 1450. Johnson, London: 1806.

NOTHING, we think, can show more clearly able and unworthy service. It is ludicrous the singular want of literary enterprise or to talk of the danger of disclosing in 1795, activity, in the United States of America, any secrets of state, with regard to the war than that no one has yet been found in that of American independence; and as to any flourishing republic, to collect and publish anecdotes or observations that might give the works of their only philosopher. It is not offence to individuals, we think it should even very creditable to the liberal curiosity always be remembered, that public funcof the English public, that there should have tionaries are the property of the public; that been no complete edition of the writings of their character belongs to history and to posDr. Franklin, till the year 1806 and we terity; and that it is equally absurd and dis should have been altogether unable to ac- creditable to think of suppressing any part of count for the imperfect and unsatisfactory the evidence by which their merits must be manner in which the task has now been per-ultimately determined. But the whole of the formed, if it had not been for a statement in works that have been suppressed, certainly the prefatory advertisement, which removes did not relate to republican politics. The all blame from the editor, to attach it to a history of the author's life, down to 1757, higher quarter. It is there stated, that re- could not well contain any matter of offence; cently after the death of the author, his and a variety of general remarks and speen. grandson, to whom the whole of his papers lations which he is understood to have left had been bequeathed, made a voyage to behind him, might have been permitted to London, for the purpose of preparing and dis- see the light, though his diplomatic revelations posing of a complete collection of all his had been forbidden. The emissary of Govpublished and unpublished writings, with ernment, however, probably took no care of memoirs of his life, brought down by himself those things. He was resolved, we suppose, to the year 1757, and continued to his death "to leave no rubs nor botches in his work; by his descendant. It was settled, that the and, to stifle the dreaded revelation, he thought work should be published in three quarto the best way was to strangle all the innocents volumes, in England, Germany, and France; in the vicinage. and a negotiation was commenced with the Imperfect as the work now before us necbooksellers, as to the terms of the purchase essarily is, we think the public is very much and publication. At this stage of the busi- indebted to its editor. It is presented in a ness, however, the proposals were suddenly cheap and unostentatious form; and though withdrawn; and nothing more has been heard it contains little that has not been already of the work, in this its fair and natural mar- printed as the composition of the author, and ket. "The proprietor, it seems, had found a does not often settle any point of disputed bidder of a different description, in some emis- authenticity in a satisfactory manner, it seems, sary of Government, whose object was to on the whole, to have been compiled with withhold the manuscripts from the world, sufficient diligence, and arranged with con not to benefit it by their publication; and siderable judgment. Few writings, indeed, they thus either passed into other hands, or require the aid of a commentator less than the person to whom they were bequeathed, re- those of Dr. Franklin; and though this editor ceived a remuneration for suppressing them." is rather too sparing of his presence, we are If this statement be correct, we have no infinitely better satisfied to be left now and hesitation in saying, that no emissary of Gov- then to our conjectures, than to be incumberernment was ever employed on a more miser-ed with the explanations, and overpowered

with the loquacity, of a more officious at- | pendent of the maxims of tutors, and the tendant. oracles of literary patrons.

The consequences of living in a refined and literary community, are nearly of the same kind with those of a regular education. There are so many critics to be satisfied-so many qualifications to be established-so many rivals to encounter, and so much derision to be hazarded, that a young man is apt to be deterred from so perilous an enterprise, and led to seek for distinction in some safer line of exertion. He is discouraged by the fame and the perfection of certain models and favourites, who are always in the mouths of his judges, and, "under them, his genius is rebuked,' and his originality repressed, till he sinks into a paltry copyist, or aims at distinction, by extravagance and affectation. In such a state of society, he feels that mediocrity has no chance of distinction: and what beginner can expect to rise at once into excellence? He imagines that mere good sense will attract no attention; and that the manner is of much more importance than the matter, in a candidate for public admiration. In his attention Dr. Franklin received no regular education; to the manner, the matter is apt to be neand he spent the greater part of his life in a glected; and, in his solicitude to please those society where there was no relish and no en- who require elegance of diction, brilliancy of couragement for literature. On an ordinary wit, or harmony of periods, he is in some danmind, these circumstances would have pro- ger of forgetting that strength of reason, and duced their usual effects, of repressing all accuracy of observation, by which he first prosorts of intellectual ambition or activity, and posed to recommend himself. His attention, perpetuating a generation of incurious me- when extended to so many collateral objects, chanics: but to an understanding like Frank-is no longer vigorous or collected;-the stream, lin's, we cannot help considering them as divided into so many channels, ceases to flow peculiarly propitious; and imagine that we either deep or strong; he becomes an unsuc can trace back to them, distinctly, almost all cessful pretender to fine writing, or is satisthe peculiarities of his intellectual charac-fied with the frivolous praise of elegance or

ter.

We do not propose to give any thing like a regular account of the papers contained in these volumes. The best of them have long been familiar to the public; and there are many which it was proper to preserve, that cannot now be made interesting to the general | reader. Dr. Franklin, however, is too great a man to be allowed to walk past, without some observation; and our readers, we are persuaded, will easily forgive us, if we yield to the temptation of making a few remarks on his character.

This self-taught American is the most rational, perhaps, of all philosophers. He never loses sight of common sense in any of his speculations; and when his philosophy does not consist entirely in its fair and vigorous application, it is always regulated and controlled by it in its application and result. No individual, perhaps, ever possessed a juster understanding; or was so seldom obstructed in the use of it, by indolence, enthusiasm, or authority.

Regular education, we think, is unfavourable to vigour or originality of understanding. Like civilization, it makes society more intelligent and agreeable; but it levels the distinctions of nature. It strengthens and assists the feeble; but it deprives the strong of his triumph, and casts down the hopes of the aspiring. It accomplishes this, not only by training up the mind in an habitual veneration for authorities, but, by leading us to bestow a disproportionate degree of attention upon studies that are only valuable as keys or instruments for the understanding, they come at last to be regarded as ultimate objects of pursuit; and the means of education are absurdly mistaken for its end. How many powerful understandings have been lost in the Dialectics of Aristotle ! And of how much good philosophy are we daily defrauded. by the preposterous error of taking a knowledge of prosody for useful learning! The mind of a man, who has escaped this training, will at least have fair play. Whatever other errors he may fall into, he will be safe at least from these infatuations: And if he thinks proper, after he grows up, to study Greek, it will probably be for some better purpose than to become critically acquainted with its dialects. His prejudices will be

vivacity.

We are disposed to ascribe so much power to these obstructions to intellectual originality, that we cannot help fancying, that if Franklin had been bred in a college, he would have contented himself with expounding the metres of Pindar, and mixing argument with his port in the common room; and that if Boston had abounded with men of letters, he would never have ventured to come forth from his printing-house; or been driven back to it, at any rate, by the sneers of the critics, after the first publication of his Essays in the Busy Body.

This will probably be thought exaggerated; but it cannot be denied, we think, that the contrary circumstances in his history had a powerful effect in determining the character of his understanding, and in producing those peculiar habits of reasoning and investigation by which his writings are distinguished. He was enco ncouraged to publish, because there was scarcely any one around him whom he could not easily excel. He wrote with great brevi ty, because he had not leisure for more voluminious compositions, and because he knew that the readers to whom he addressed himself were, for the most part, as busy as himself. For the same reason, he studied great perspicuity and simplicity of statement. His

those of a man, and not of a schoolboy; and countrymen had then no relish for fine writhis speculations and conclusions will be inde-ing, and could not easily be made to under

F

« 前へ次へ »