ページの画像
PDF
ePub

critic proceed in his review, to the numerous Essays of various kinds, with which this new edition has been enriched, he will soon find himself checked in his attempt to give any account of them, which he could at all consider as either useful or entertaiping, by the very circumstance from which they derive their chief value, their prodigious number and variety. He will, indeed, soon find reason to express his gratitude to the Right Hon. Editor, for the good use he has made of the interval that passed between the two editions, in arranging them under the three heads of, I. Historical and Critical, II. Classical and Critical, and III. Miscellaneous : by which arrangement, and by the additition of a copious index, their consultation and occasional perusal of the whole work have been greatly facilitated.

But still he will find them, the new as well as the old, so miscellaneous, that a bare catalogue raisonné of their titles, would go near to filling up the space usually allotted to one of our articles. He will, indeed, "find himself dazzled by the splendour of learning, and enlivened by the brilliancy which they display; nor will his just astonishment fail to be much increased, when he considers the early period of life, at which the greater part of these pieces were written : yet he will preseutly discover, that to lay before his readers any thing like a satisfactory account of their contents, would be next to impossible; and that to enter critically into the discussion of the several points maintained or denied by the author, even in a select portion of them only, besides the vast length to which it would draw out his remarks, would require him to have before his eyes, and to read, or to have read, with close attention, hundreds or perhaps thousands of works in different languages : in a word, it would require him to possess equal or superior genius and learning to those of the great author himself.

To any such measure either of the one or of the other of those endowments, we dare make no pretension: nor if we had it, would our leisure permit us to follow up, with the requisite precision all the important and often truly entertaining inquiries, that would come before us.

But we dare promise every lover of History, Criticism, Classical Literature, a rich and varied intellectual feast from the perusal, or rather the study of the last three volumes of this new edition. The first two volumes will be read with greater ease, but no less pleasure. They contain the enlarged Memoirs of the life and writings of Mr. Gibbon, composed by Himself; and a collection of highly interesting letters from and to him, many of them indeed master-pieces of the epistolary style, and several not to be found in the quarto-edition of his miscellaneous works.

Of those letters of the Author to the noble Editor, which were

written during the American war, it is not saying too much, and it is surely saying enough, to observe that, mutatis mutandis, they must frequently remind the reader of Cicero's celebrated epistles to Atticus. Not indeed that we would proceed, in regard to the letters of our Author, the length to which Cornelius Nepos ventures, in regard to those of the great Roman Orator. That biographer gives it as his opinion, that the reader of Cicero's letters to Atticus, will not often stand in need of any more laboured work on the history of those eventful times. Neither Gibbon nor his correspondent, was in any such degree connected with the American revolution, that he could be said to be the soul of it, as was undoubtedly the case of Cicero with respect to the last changes of republican Rome. The comparison must therefore be inade with considerable latitude, and with many grains of allowance.

Among the Essays arranged under the head of Classical and Critical, we cannot refrain from specifying one article, on account of a very particular kind of disappointment which we experienced, and which is better calculated, perhaps, than any thing we could say on the subject, to shew how extremely engaging a writer Mr. Gibbon is We allude to certain remarks written in French, on the characters and writings of Sallust, Cæsar, Cornelius Nepos, and Livy. We had gone through the former three, and had proceeded so far in what relates to Livy, that our Author had completely succeeded in exciting in our breasts, a most pungent regret for the irretrievable loss of the finest and best parts of the great Roman's History; and we were just beginning to console ourselves with the hope, that Mr. G. would make us some amends for the want of Livy's eloquence on those parts of the Roman story which are lost, by his own scarcely less eloquent remarks 'on that part of the work which has been spared : when, lo! we were suddenly stopped by an Hiatus nullis lachrymis satis deflendus, or rather by a complete Cætera. desunt. Our disappointment was so great, so sudden, and so unexpected, that we were almost tempted to conjecture, that the Author had broken off where he did with design, in order to give us a lively image of his own feelings, and of those of every competent reader of Livy, when, in the midst of a deeply interesting subject, the narrative suddenly stops short, leaving the disconsolate student involved in darkness, and penetrated with profound but hopeless and unavailing regret and sorrow.

What then ? Shall"a work in five large octavo volumes, by such a writer as Edward Gibbon, Esq. be pasged over, or but slightly noticed, because it is not altogether new, or because the subjects treated of are too many for enumeration, and too intricate for minute criticism ? and must we be satisfied with inviting our readers to a perusal of the work itself, by assuring them,

critic proceed in his review, to the numerous Essays of various kinds, with which this new edition has been enriched, he will soon find himself checked in his attempt to give any account of them, which he could at all consider as either useful or entertaining, by the very circumstance from which they derive their chief value, their prodigious number and variety. He will, indeed, soon find reason to express his gratitude to the Right Hon. Editor, for the good use he has made of the interval that passed between the two editions, in arranging them under the three heads of, I. Historical and Critical, II. Classical and Critical, and III. Miscellaneous : by which arrangement, and by the additition of a copious index, their consultation and occasional perusal of the whole work have been greatly facilitated.

But still he will find them, the new as well as the old, so miscellaneous, that a bare catalogue raisonné of their titles, would go near to filling up the space usually allotted to one of our articles. He will, indeed, find himself dazzled by the splendour of learning, and enlivened by the brilliancy which they display; nor will his just astonishment fail to be much increased, when he considers the early period of life, at which the greater part of these pieces were written : yet he will preseutly discover, that to lay before his readers any thing like a satisfactory account of their contents, would be next to impossible ; and that to enter critically into the discussion of the several points maintained or denied by the author, even in a select portion of them only, besides the vast length to which it would draw out his remarks, would require him to have before his eyes, and to read, or to have read, with close attention, hundreds or perhaps thousands of works in different languages : in a word, it would require him to possess equal or superior genius and learning to those of the great author himself.

To any such measure either of the one or of the other of those endowments, we dare make no pretension : nor if we had it, would our leisure permit us to follow up, with the requisite precision all the important and often truly entertaining inquiries, that would come before us.

But we dare promise every lover of History, Criticism, or Classical Literature, a rich and varied intellectual feast from the perusal, or rather the study of the last three volumes of this new edition. The first two volumes will be read with greater ease, but no less pleasure. They contain the enlarged Memoirs of the life and writings of Mr. Gibbon, composed by Himself; and a collection of higbly interesting letters from and to him, many of them indeed master-pieces of the epistolary style, and several not to be found in the quarto-edition of his miscellaneous works.

Of those letters of the Author to the noble Editor, which were

written during the American war, it is not saying too much, and it is surely saying enough, to observe that, mutatis mutandis, they must frequently remind the reader of Cicero's celebrated epistles to Atticus. Not indeed that we would proceed, in regard to the letters of our Author, the length to which Cornelius Nepos ventures, in regard to those of the great Roman Orator. That biographer gives it as his opinion, that the reader of Cicero's letters to Atticus, will not often stand in need of any more laboured work on the history of those eventful times. Neither Gibbon nor his correspondent, was in any such degree connected with the American revolution, that he could be said to be the soul of it, as was undoubtedly the case of Cicero with respect to the last changes of republican Rome. The comparison must therefore be inade with considerable latitude, and with many grains of allowance.

Among the Essays arranged under the head of Classical and Critical, we cannot refrain from specifying one article, on account of a very particular kind of disappointment which we experienced, and which is better calculated, perhaps, than any thing we could say on the subject, to shew how extremely engaging a writer Mr. Gibbon is We allude to certain renarks written in French, on the characters and writings of Sallust, Cæsar, Cornelius Nepos, and Livy. We had gone through the former three, and had proceeded so far in what relates to Livy, that our Author had completely succeeded in exciting in our breasts, a most pungent regret for the irretrievable loss of the finest and best parts of the great Roman's History; and we were just beginning to console ourselves with the hope, that Mr. G. would make us some amends for the want of Livy's eloquence on those parts of the Roman story which are lost, by his own scarcely less eloquent remarks on that part of the work which has been spared : when, lo! we were suddenly stopped by an Hiatus nullis lachrymis satis deflendus, or rather by a complete Cætera desunt. Our disappointment was so great, so sudden, and so unexpected, that we were almost tempted to conjecture, that the Author had broken off where he did with design, in order to give us a lively image of his own feelings, and of those of every competent reader of Livy, when, in the midst of a deeply interesting subject, the narrative suddenly stops short, leaving the disconsolate student involved in darkness, and penetrated with profound but hopeless and unavailing regret and sorrow.

What then ? Shall a work in five large octavo volumes, by such a writer as Edward Gibbon, Esq. be passed over, or but slightly noticed, because it is not altogether new, or because the subjects treated of are too many for enumeration, and too intricate for minute criticism ? and must we be satisfied with inviting our readers to a perusal of the work itself, by assuring them,

as we can with truth, that they will not have to regret the time and labour bestowed upon it ? Forbid it every consideration of literary equity. No: Mr. Gibbon, as the historian of the Roman Empire, makes too conspicuous a figure, to be treated with such disrespect. If circumstances will not permit us regularly to criticise the work, we shall, we hope, make our readers full amends, while, instead of it, we essay to scrutinize the Author. Nor shall we, in proceeding thus, be losing sight of our duty as reviewers ; since we are decidedly of opinion, that the true use to be made of the miscellaneous collection now before us, is to embrace the opportunity it affords us, of throwing light upon the character of the Author of " The Decline and Fall of the “ Roman Empire."

That astonishing work has already introduced its Author to the acquaintance of every reading inhabitant of Great Britain. He is every where known as one of our three principal historians; as one, who, for genius, eloquence, and learning, will bear comparison with either of his celebrated rivals; but he is likewise unfortunately known, as resembling one of those rivals, in a part of his character which is least to his credit. He does not, indeed, even in his posthumous writings, appear, like Mr. Hume, to have proceeded in irreligion to the length of absolute Atheisin ; but it is impossible to acquit him at the very least of Scepticism. And here it is that we would place his proper delinquency; that not being able, even in his own judgement, to set aside a future state of rewards and punishments, he should still allow himself to write, or rather to sneer, in a style, which is calculated to rob his unsuspecting reader, who, conscious of his own inferiority in learning and ability, would be glad to lean with his whole weight upon so powerful an authority, of all hope or fear of an hereafter.

The remainder of this article' will therefore be chiefly taken up with remarks on the Author of the work before us, considered as the illustrious but irreligious delineator of the Roman Empire; and we shall contemplate him under the two distinct heads of Mr. Gibbon the Historian, and Mr. Gibbon the Sceptic; including, in the latter character, his propensity to indelicate allu

sio

In considering the merit of an historian's labours, we are naturally led to distinguish his Subject, his Manner, and his Style.

With respect to the Subject of his history, Mr. Gibbon will readily be allowed to have an advantage over both his competitors, in the two important points of unity and grandeur. His subject possesses in a high degree that inerit which constitutes one principal charm of history, in common with epic poetry; between which two species of writing there is indeed so close an affinity, that if with Heyne, we define the latter Narratio omni

« 前へ次へ »