« 前へ次へ »
structing: at least it does not stand in need of painful research and preparation; and may be effected, in general, by a little vivacity of manner, and a dexterous morigeration, as lord Bacon calls it, to the humours and frailties of men. Your responsibility, too, is thereby much lessened. Justice and candour can only be required of you so far as they coincide with this main principle; and a little experience will convince you, that these are not the happiest means of accomplishing your purpose. It has been idly said, that a reviewer acts in a judicial capacity, and that his conduct should be regulated by the same rules by which the judge of a civil court is governed; that he should rid himself of every bias; be patient, cautious, sedate, and rigidly impartial; that he should not seek to show off himself; and should check every disposition to enter into the case as a partisan. Such is the language of superficial thinkers; but, in reality, there is no analogy between the two cases. A judge is promoted to that office by the authority of the state: a reviewer by his own. The former is independent of control, and may, therefore, freely follow the dictates of his own conscience: the latter depends for his very bread upon the breath of publick opinion. The great law of self-preservation, therefore, points out to him a different line of action. Besides, as I have already observed, if he ceases to please, he is no longer read, and, consequently, is no longer useful. In a court of justice, too, the part of amusing the bystanders rests with the counsel. In the case of criticism, if the reviewer himself does not undertake it, who will Instead of vainly aspiring, therefore, to the gravity of a magistrate, I would advise him, when he sits down to write, to place himself in the imaginary situation of a cross-examining pleader He may comment, in a vein of agreeable irony, upon the profession, the manner of life, the look, dress,
or even the name, of the witness he is examining. When he has raised a contemptuous opinion of him in the minds of the court, he may proceed to draw answers from him, capable of a ludicrous turn, and he may carve and garble these to his own liking. This mode of proceeding you will find most practicable in poetry, where the boldness of the image, or the delicacy of thought, for which the reader’s mind was prepared in the original, will easily be made to appear extravagant or affected, if judiciously singled out, and detached from the group to which it belongs. Again, since much depends upon the rhythm and the terseness of expression, both of which are sometimes destroyed by dropping a single word, or transposing a phrase, I have known much advantage arise from not quoting in the form of a literal extract, but giving a brief summary, in prose, of the contents of a poetical passage; and interlarding your own language with occasional phrases of the poem, marked with inverted commas.— These, and a thousand other little expedients, by which the arts of quizzing and banter flourish, practice will soon teach you. If it should be necessary to transcribe a dull passage, not very fertile in topicks of humour and raillery, you may introduce it as “a favourable specimen of the author’s manner.” Few people are aware of the powerful effects of what is philosophically termed association. Without any positive violation of truth, the whole dignity of a passage may be undermined by contriving to raise some vulgar and ridiculous notions in the mind of the reader; and language teems with examples of words by which the same idea is expressed, with the difference only that one excites a feeling of respect, the other of contempt. Thus, you may call a fit of melancholy “the sulks,” resentment “a pet,” a steed “a nag,” a feast “a junketing,” sorrow and affliction “whining and blubbering.” By transferring the terms peculiar to one state of society, to analogous situations and characters in another, the same object is attained: a drill-serjeant, or a cat and nine tails, in the Trojan war; a Lesbos smack, put into the Piraeus; the penny-post of Jerusalem; and other combinations of the like nature, which, when you have a little indulged that vein of thought, will readily suggest themselves, never fail to raise a smile, if not immediately at the expense of the author, yet entirely destructive of that frame of mind which his poem requires, in order to be relished. I have dwelt the longer on this branch of literature, because you are chiefly to look here for materials of fun and irony. Voyages and travels, indeed, are no barren ground, and you must seldom let a number of your review go abroad without an article of this description. The charm of this species of writing, so universally felt, arises, chiefly, from its uniting narrative with information. The interest we take in the story, can only be kept alive by minute incident and occasional detail, which puts us in possession of the traveller’s feelings, his hopes, his fears, his disappointments, and his pleasures. At the same time, the thirst for knowledge and love of novelty is gratified, by continual information respecting the people and countries he visits. If you wish, therefore, to run down the book, you have only to play off these two parts against each other. When the writer’s object is to satisfy the first inclination, you are to thank him for communicating to the world such valuable facts as whether he lost his way in the night, or sprained his ancle, or had no appetite to his dinner. If he is busied about describing the mineralogy, natural history, agriculture, trade, &c. of a country, you may mention a hundred books from which the same information may
sickly taste for a smattering about every thing, which distinguishes the present age. In works of science and recondite learning, the task you have undertaken, will not be so difficult as you may imagine. Tables of contents and indexes are blessed helps in the hands of a reviewer; but, more than all, the preface is the field from which his richest harvest is to be gathered. In the preface the author usually gives a summary of what has been written on the same subject before; he acknowledges the assistance he has received from different sources, and the reasons of his dissent from former writers; he confesses that certain parts have been less attentively considered than others, and that information has come to his hands too late to be made use of; he points out many things in the composition of his work which he thinks may provoke animadversion, and endeavours to defend or to palliate his own practice. Here, then, is a fund of wealth for the reviewer, lying upon the very surface. If he knows anything of his business, he will turn all these materials against the author; carefully suppressing the source of his information, and as if drawing from the stores of his own mind, long ago laid up for this very purpose. If the author’s inferences are correct, a great point is gained; for by consulting a few passages of the original works, it will be easy to discuss the subject with the air of having a previous knowledge of the whole. Your chief vantage ground is, that you may fasten upon any position in the book you are reviewing, and treat it as principal and essential, when, perhaps, it is of little weight in the main argument; but, by allotting a large share of your criticism to it, the reader will naturally be led to
give it a proportionate importance, and to consider the merit of the treatise at issue upon that single question. If any body complains that the greater and more valuable parts remain unnoticed, your answer is, that it is impossible to pay attention to all; and that your duty is rather to prevent the propagation of errour, than to lavish praises upon that, which, if really excellent, will work its way in the world without your help. Indeed, if the plan of your review admits of selection, you had better not meddle with works of deep research and original speculation; such as have already attracted much notice, and cannot be treated superficially without fear of being found out. The time required for making yourself thoroughly master of the subject is so great, that you may depend upon it, they will never pay for the reviewing. They are, generally, the fruit of long study, and of talents concentrated in the steady pursuit of one object. It is not likely, therefore, that you can throw much new light on a question of this nature, or even plausibly combat the author’s positions in the course of a few hours, which is all you can well afford to devote to them. And, without accomplishing one or other of these points, your review will gain no celebrity, and, of course, no good will be done. Enough has been said, to give you some insight into the facilities with which your new employment abounds. I will only mention one more, because of its extensive and almost universal application to all branches of literature; the topick, I mean, which, by the old rhetoricians, was called ###yavriar: that is, when a work excels in one quality, you may blame it for not having the opposite. For instance, if the biographical sketch of a literary character is minute, and full of anecdote, you may enlarge on the advantages of philosophical reflection, and the superiour mind required to give a judicious analysis of the opinions and works of Vol. IV. 2 M \,
deceased authors. On the contrary, if the latter method is pursued by the biographer, you can, with equal ease, extol the lively colouring, and truth, and interest, of exact delineation and detail. This topick, you will perceive, enters into style as well as matter. Where many virtues might be ramed which are incompatible, and whichever the author has preferred, it will be the signal for you to launch forth on the praises of its opposite, and continually to hold up that to your reader as the model of excellence in this species of writing. You will, perhaps, wonder why all my instructions are pointed towards the censure, and not the praise of books; but many reasons might be given why it should be so. The chief are, that this part is both easier, and will sell better. Let us hear the words of Mr. Burke on a subject not very dissimilar. “In such cases,” says he, “the writer has a certain fire and alacrity inspired into him, by a consciousness, that, let it fare how it will with the subject, his ingenuity will be sure of applause; and this alacrity becomes much greater, if he acts upon the offensive, by the impetuosity that always accompanies an attack, and the unfortunate propensity which mankind have to the finding and exaggerating faults— Pref. Vindic. Nat. Soc. p. 6. You will perceive that I have, on no occasion, sanctioned the baser motives of private pique, envy, revenge, and love of detraction; at least I have not recommended harsh treatment upon any of these grounds. I have argued simply on the abstract, morai principle which a reviewer, should ever have present to his mind. But if any of these motives insinuate themselves as secondary springs of action, I would not condemn them: they may come in aid of the grand leading principle, and powerfully second its operation. But it is time to close these tedious precepts, and to furnish you with what speaks plainer than any precept, a specimen of the art itself, in which several of them are embodied. It is hastily done; but it exemplifies, well enough, what I have said of the poetical department, and exhibits most of those qualities which disappointed authors are fond of railing at, under the name of flippancy, arrogance, conceit, misrepresentation, and malevolence: reproaches which you will only regard as so many acknowledgments of success in your undertaking, and infallible tests of an established fame, and rapidly increasing circulation.
SPECIMEN OF REVIEWING. L'Allegio, a Poem. By John Milton. No Printer's name.
IT has become a practice, of late, with a certain description of people who have no visible means of subsistence, to string together a few trite images of rural scenery, interspersed with vulgarisms in dialect, and traits of vulgar manners; to dress up these materials in a sing-song jingle, and to offer them for sale as a poem. According to the most approved recipes, something about the heathen gods and goddesses, and the schoolboy topicks of Styx, and Cerberus, and Elysium, is occasionally thrown in, and the composition is complete. The stock in trade of these adventurers is, in general, scanty enough, and their art, therefore, consists in disposing it to the best advantage. But if such be the aim of the writer, it is the critick’s business to detect an döefeat the impostule; to warn the publick against the purchase of shop-worn goods, and tinsel wares; to protect the fair trader, by exposing the tricks of needy quacks and mountebanks; and to chastise that forward and noisy importunity, with which they present themselves to the publick notice.
How far Mr. Milton is amenable to this discipline, will best appear from a brief analysis of the poem before us. In the very opening he
assumes a tone of authority, which might better suit some veteran bard than a raw candidate for the Delphick bays; for, before he proceeds to the regular process of invocation, he clears the way by driving from his presence, with sundry hard names and bitter reproaches on her father, mother, and all the family, a venerable personage, whose age at least, and staid, matron-like appearance, might have entitled her to more civil language.
Hence, loathed Melancholy;
There is no giving rules, however' in these matters, without a knowledge of the case. Perhaps the old lady had been frequently warned off before, and provoked this violence by continuing still to lurk about the poet's dwelling. And, to say the truth, the reader will have but too good reason to remark, before he gets through the poem, that it is one thing to tell the spirit of Dulness to depart, and another to get rid of her in reality. Like Glendower's spirits, any one may order them away: “But will they go when you do order them f*
But let us suppose, for a moment, that the Parnassian decree is obeyed; and, according to the letter of the order, which is as precise and wordy as if Justice Shallow himself had drawn it, that the obnoxious female is sent back to the place of her birth,
“’Mongst horrid shapes, shrieks, sights,” &c. at which we beg our fair readers not to be alarmed, for we can assure them they are only words of course in all poetical instruments of this nature; and mean no more than the “force and arms,” and “ instigation of the devil,” in a common indictment. This nuisance, then, being abated, we are left at liberty to contemplate a character of a different complexion, “buxom, blithe, and debonair;” one who, although evideitly a great favourite of the poet's, and, therefore, to be received with due courtesy, is notwithstanding, all introduced under the suspicious description of an alias.
In heaven yelep’d Euphrosyne, And by men, heart-easing Mirth.
Judging indeed from the light and easy deportment of this gay nymph, one might guess there were good reasons for a change of name as she changed her residence. But of all vices, there is none we abhor more than that of slanderous insinuation. We shall therefore confine our moral strictures to the nymph’s mother, in whose defence the poet has little to say himself. Here too, as in the case of the name, there is some doubt; for the uncertainty of descent on the father's side having become trite to a proverb, the author, scorning that beaten track, his left us to choose between two mothers for his favourite: and without much to guide our choice; for, whichever we fix upon, it is plain she was no better then she should be. As he seems, however, himself inclined to the latter of the two, we will even suppose it so to be.
Or whether (as some sages sing)
Some dull people might imagine, that the wind was more like the breath of spring than spring the breath of the wind; but we are more disposed to question the author's ethicks than his physicks, and accordingly cannot dismiss these May gambols without some observations.
In the first place, Mr. M. seems to have higher notions of the antiquity of the Maypole than we have been accustomed to attach to it. Or, perhaps, he thought to shelter the equi
vocal nature of this affair under that sanction. To us, however, who can hardly subscribe to the doctrine that “ vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness, ’’ neither the remoteness of time, nor the gayety of the season, furnishes a sufficient palliation. “Violets blue,” and “freshblown roses,” are, to be sure, more agreeable objects of the imagination than a gin-shop in Wapping, or a booth in Bartholomew-fair; but in point of morality, these are distinctions without a difference: or, it may be, the cultivation of mind which teaches us to reject and nauseate these latter objects, aggravates the case, if our improvement in taste be not accompanied by a proportionate improvement of morals If the reader can reconcile himself to this latitude of principle, the anachronism will not long stand in his way. Much, indeed, may be said in favour of this union of ancient mythology with modern notions and manners. It is a sort of chronological metaphor—an artificial analogy, by which ideas, widely remote and heterogeneous, are brought into contact, and the mind is delighted by this unexpected assemblage, as it is by the combinations of figurative. language. Thus in that elegant interlude, which the pen of Ben Jonson has transmitted to us, of the Loves of Hero and Leander:
Gentles, that no longer your expectations, may wander,
Behold our chief actor, amorous Leander,
With a great deal of cloth, lapp'd about him like a scarf,
For he yet serves his father, a dier in Puddle Wharf;
Which place we'll make bold with, to call it our Abydus,
As the Bank-side is our Sestos, and let it not be denied us.
And far be it from us to deny the use of so reasonable a liberty; especially if the request be backed (as it is in the case of Mr. M.) by the crawing and imperious necessities of