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meet the advances of other churches. The question, however, is not to be evaded, whether every sect, by the legal attachment of its peculiarities to its property, does not in some degree sanction them in this? Is there not here an effort to perpetuate and immortalize separations and differences ? Nay, supposing a particular sect to be in every point the exact image of the apostolic model, does it not, by the act referred to, sanction that in other churches, (by supposition wrong,) which will for ever prevent their becoming right, by for ever depriving them of the liberty to listen to, and to copy from, itself? What is the use of controversy under such circumstances ? If controversy does not aim at the conviction of adversaries, and action corresponding to that conviction, what does it aim at? But if each party, before they begin, are to take measures to prevent their acting, in spite of the convictions which discussion may produce, where shall we find words adequately to describe conduct like this? When, O when, on this system, can Christians come to see 'eye to eye? When can schisms and dissensions cease? How shall roots of bitterness be removed? At what era, without a miracle, or without convulsions in civil society, will the church be one, -one alike by Truth and Love?
Art. V. Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Great Britain.
3 vols. Lardner's Cyclopædia. Lives of the English Poets. In two volumes. Vol. I., 8vo. By
Robert Bell, Esq. Lardner's Cyclopædia.
been carried on for ten years, and with a spirit which, it may be truly said, is unprecedented in so extensive a series. It is not to be supposed, of course, that every link in so long a chain is of equal strength; or that the whole edifice is constructed of the same precious or durable materials. But if there be an interstice here and there filled up by rubbish -- by a work of inferior merit, it is generally where the subject itself is of inferior interest, or one in which the beauties of literary composition are little looked for. The only striking exception is in the three volumes at the head of this article; and if the whole Cyclopædia be compared to Nebuchadnezzar's image, the head of which was gold and the feet clay, these volumes are undoubtedly the clay.
A work of such vast magnitude and of such high merits; a work of which the best volumes are equal to any thing this age has produced, and of which scarcely any will not repay
a work which includes Sir John Herschel's Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,' and his treatise on
Astronomy ;' Connop Thirlwall's History of Greece;' Swainson's 'Preliminary Discourse to the Study of Natural History ;' Professor Phillip's 'Geology;' and ' Histories and Biographies,' by Scott, Mackintosh, Southey, Moore, Montgomery, and other writers scarcely less eminent, can afford to have it said that it contains two or three worthless volumes. And yet we should be sorry to say as much as this even of the three which stand at the head of this article. They contain a mélange of curious and amusing matter, the result at all events of considerable research, brought into a small compass and cheap form. We do not therefore pronounce them to be absolutely devoid of interest ; but we do say, that in their general plan, in the utter want of a comprehensive and discriminating criticism, of judgment in the selection and distribution of matter, and of every charm of manner or of style, they are totally unworthy of the magnificent subject
, “the eminent literary and scientific men of Great Britain.'
It is, in fact, the claims of the subject which make us feel so strongly the poverty of execution. Literary biography,' says Johnson, is more interesting to us than any other species of literature.' This is true of literary biography in general
, but it is peculiarly true of the lives of eminent literary men of our own country. It might be expected, therefore, that the execution of these volumes would be entrusted to the most eminent living writers. This would seem proper, we consider the celebrated writers that had already treated many of the same lives, or the celebrated names enlisted in the other biographical portions of the Cyclopædia itself
. If Dr, Southey has been employed to write the lives of Nelson and Blake, one would have thought that a writer at least equally eminent would have been selected to write the lives of Shakespear and Milton. It is stated in the second volume, that the contents of the three are not all by the same writers; but whosoever the writers, they are little fitted for this department of literature.
The first thing that strikes us in looking over the three volumes is the singular want of all consistent plan. As the subject is the lives of eminent literary and scientific men,' and as the Cyclopædia cannot be made, like Chalmers' Biographical Dictionary, a repository of all names that have made any noise in the world, however insignificant, it would of course appear reasonable that none but the most eminent should be selected. the names should be very choice, would seem necessary only that something like justice might be done them. The space is too narrow to admit the vulgar crowd. Instead of this, when we proceed to open these volumes, we not only find the oddest jumble of all sorts of departments and eras of literature, but the
oddest selection of names in each; some of them being among the most celebrated, and some among the most insignificant in our literary history. Moreover, it goes back to such remote periods, and includes names comparatively so obscure, that to complete the lives of eminent literary and scientific men’ on the same scale, would require not less than a hundred volumes, A third of the first volume is taken up with the lives of St. Columba and Alfred the Great. Whatever may be said of the former, the latter surely might have been included in a more suitable class than the literary and scientific men of England; not that his attainments were not extraordinary for his age, but because literature is, after all, the least impressive aspect under which this wonderful prince can be contemplated. As a king, a statesman, and a warrior, he completely throws his literary pretensions into the shade. To include him among our eminent literary and scientific men, is just as wise as it would be to include the chancellor Thurlow among the poets, because he wrote execrable verses; or Walter Scott among the dramatists, because he wrote an indifferent play. These evidently fall under another category. Accordingly, (singular inconsistency!) the writer of the Life of Alfred, which is written in a strange spirit of pedantry, labors to depreciate Alfred's attainments, and to show that his literary merits have been unduly exalted. Doubtless it has been so; — there has been a natural disposition to invest this extraordinary character with every conceivable excellence, and with each excellence in the highest degree: so much has he ever been the object of veneration and love to his countrymen. Our author has indubitably succeeded in showing, with a very unnecessary display of authority and citation, that Alfred was not very critically versed in Latin; that he was no Bentley ; that he was far from always interpreting Boethius correctly; that he was not quite clear on the subject of predestination, and so forth. The proper answer to all this is, that the principal aspect of Alfred's character is that of a wonderful genius in a rude age, when accuracy and extent of knowledge are out of the question. It was in active and practical life that he most shone ; it was as a king, a statesman, a legislator ; and even in all these capacities it is not so much what he effected as compared with what might be expected of men of a more favored era, but what he did, surrounded by such difficulties and with such little means, that principally impresses us with the grandeur and sublimity of his character. In this point of view,even his knowledge and attainments were most wonderful. He who in so dark an age, and amidst such constant demands on his time and energies, could acquire and write so much, must have possessed an activity and fertility of intellect which render it in the highest degree unworthy to measure even his literary merits (though these, as we have said, were less prominent than many others) by the line and rule of a pedantic criticism. Unquestionably, however, it is somewhat a novel thing to write the life of Alfred as one of the eminent * literary and scientific men of Great Britain,' and then laboriously to prove that he had no pretensions to the title !*
It is but justice to add, that the lives of St. Columba and of Alfred are professedly written, partly with a view of giving a sketch of the state of literature in their respective ages. And if this plan had been pursued; if the most prominent literary and scientific names of the successive eras had been selected for a similar purpose, the plan would have been consistent, and perhaps better adapted to the very narrow limits of a biographical series like the present, than any other which could have been adopted. But when we get a little further, we find not the slightest traces of any such plan. After the life of Chaucer, we have the life of John Heywood, and the early dramatists, who seem to put every other object professedly contemplated, out of the head of the compiler or compilers; for, with the exception of a short life of Spenser, the rest of the first volume, and the whole of the remaining two volumes, are taken up with the lives of the dramatists down to the present time; that series beginning with St. Columba and Alfred the Great! Even here, however, some of the names which have been selected are not only so obscure as to be utterly unfit for a necessarily brief work on the 'eminent
* We must confess that this writer does not speak of Alfred in other respects in a tone that altogether pleases us. He says that, “ great and good as he was, le bas been prodigiously overrated. That, both as a man and a sovereign, he had many grievous defects, until affliction chastened him, can no longer be disputed. That he did not introduce into the administration of justice, and the internal economy of his kingdom, many of the improvements formerly ascribed to him, is equally certain. That his literary attainments do not merit the praises which have hitherto been passed on them, is, we think, no less indubitable.' Now we freely admit that Alfred had not all the learning which has sometimes been attributed to him ; that some of the legislative improvements ascribed to him have been so ascribed without any good foundation ; still we think we have sufficient reason to demur to the expression, that he has been prodigiously overrated.' If the generality have given him cre lit for greater knowledge and wisdom than he possessed, it is also certain that the generality have been grossly incapable of estimating the difficulties under which he acquired all that he did possess. For ourselves we must say, that, when considered in this point of view, we do not think it possible that he should be prodigiously overrated. When we reflect that he was born almost in the midnight of the dark ages; that his kingdom was an inheritance of as much ignorance, barbarism, and misery as ever descended to a prince; that he was engaged in almost an incessant struggle with foreign invaders; that his education, such as it was, began very latenever having been taught to read till he was twelve, nor a word of Latin till he was thirty ; that lie was the prey throughout life of a most painful and harassing disease ;-when we reflect upon all this, and consider how much he achieved ; that he fought it out with the Danes, till he completely expelled or subdued them; that he partially reclaimed his people from barbarism ; that he certainly enacted many salutary and enlightened laws; that he had the far-sightedness to see, in a dark age, that every thing depended upon the diffusion of knowledge, and became himself a most liberal patron of learning ; that he healed the dreadful distractions of his time, and introduced a greater measure of order and security than his kingdom hadever before enjoyed, -we confess we doubt whether it is possible prodigiously to overrate him ;' and whether such a combination of activity and vigor of intellect, practical wisdom and indomitable resolution, was ever witnessed before in the history of mankind.
literary and scientific men of Great Britain,' but would scarcely be worthy of a place even in a professed history of the drama itself, unless that history were very extensive. Who ever heard before of classing Mrs. Aphara Behn, Elkanah Settle, (!) Sedley, Etherege, or Tate, (!) with the eminently literary and scientific persons of Great Britain.
If we examine the individual biographies, even though written by different hands, we find for the most part the same lack of judgment in the arrangement and distribution of matter, as in the general plan. While there is a good deal of curious matter collected, there has been great haste and negligence in putting it together, as well as a fault, for which no diligence in research, or even felicity of narration, could make amends-we mean a want of sound and discriminating criticism. The criticisms are, for the most part, of the most common-place and slip-slop character.
We take it that the chief excellence of brief sketches, such as these, must necessarily be as follows :--a rapid sketch of the biography of each writer, a comprehensive view of his genius and character, and a critical estimate of his writings. All minute details, all discussions as to disputed facts, unless they are of prime importance, have place only in works of a larger nature. Now in these lives,' we often find half a
with reasons why a man must be supposed to be born this year rather than in that, or in settling the claims of two rival places for the honor of his birth. Equally disproportionate space is given to other matters of little importance. All this is out of place in such a work; all that we expect are the results of previous and more lengthened investigation, leaving points that have not been decided still undecided, unless they be of great consequence. Sometimes, as though space were of no moment, we have repetitions of the same fact. Thus in the life of Davenant, p. 105, the writer says, ' that in 1650, Davenant published, in Paris, a letter from himselt to his philosophical friend Hobbes, and Hobbes' reply, which were meant to serve as an introduction to Gondibert,
P. 121, having apparently forgotten all about it, he tells us,--that in * 1650, he published a letter to his friend Hobbes the philoso'pher, at that time tutor to the Earl of Cavendish, and a letter