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street, and the Champion, till the sceptre of the censorship fell into the hands of one of the greatest literary despots, Doctor Samuel Johnson. The delicacy and bonhomie which characterised the criticism of Addison and Steele, are not to be found in this stern, melancholy, and fantastic
Rendered partial by his prejudices ; suspicious, even when he judged according to his taste, because he was imbued with real literary prejudices, Johnson chiefly deserves blame for having sanctioned personalities in his criticism, by the imposing authority of his example. A romance writer of our day, Mr. Henry Mackenzie, revived, for a short time, the ingenious essays of Addison and Steele, in the Trifler and the Mirror. Neither should we pass over what a distinguished dramatic poet, Richard Cumberland, effected in the same walk. By the aid of these publications, which generally exhibit pictures of manners, rather than specific criticisms, arose a class of journals, such as the Monthly Review, exclusively occupied with literary compositions. The magazines were already invented; but criticism in these various journals mostly consisted of dry analysis; the object of which was, to exalt or humiliate an author; it was not intended to eulighten or direct the public taste, by reflections of an elevated order. Occasionally they contained heavy, or rather pedantic, dissertations, more calculated to create disgust against science, than to render it popular. However, by degrees, the readers became more fastidious, because a greater amount
of real knowledge was diffused throughout all the ranks of the social order. At that time in England, as in France, persons began (without, nevertheless, belonging to the sect of the economists) to cease despising the theories of agriculture, and commercial and manufacturing industry; the philosopher and the author were no longer separate classes. Every one pretended to initiate himself in the secrets of the arts and sciences. The merchant rendered worthy, by his wealth, of moving on the same line as princes and great noblemen, had also, like them, philosophers at his table. The maxims of state policy were as familiar to the physician as to the statesman ; the lawyer did not confine himself to the composition of briefs, but learnt to forget the barbarous jargon of the courts, in order to criticise the productions of genius in a style of appropriate purity. The universal mind was in motion; there was a general thirst for knowledge.
The great political events of 1789 had agitated individuals as well as political bodies. The peasant whom the eruption of a volcano has awakened, and who witnesses its ravages, becomes curious to know the nature and source of the lava which has inundated the plains. In 1802, the volcanic crater, burst open by revolutionary ideas, smoked still. A work, therefore, which, embracing the vast field of the sciences, the arts, politics and literature, and which promised to recall the public mind to the principles of a national philosophy, was received with universal anxiety. This is not
speaking in too pompous terms of the Edinburgh Review, the appearance of which constituted an era, and which influenced powerfully the current of the new ideas, although it did not always follow a steady course. Who were the men who thus possessed themselves of the pontificate of letters ? did the authority of names already celebrated confer on them a right of pretending to that sort of infallibility which criticism claims?
Some young men, who had just finished their studies at Edinburgh, united by the conformity of their taste, associated anonymously, in order to publish a quarterly review of remarkable works, or to supply by dissertations ex profésso what those works wanted. The Rev. Sydney Smyth conceived the first idea of it; Jeffrey, the barrister, was the editor in chief. Mr. Brougham is also considered as one of the founders; professors Leslie and Playfair co-operated actively in the scientific department, and from all parts of England, auxiliaries, not less useful, both as poets and philosophers, considered it an honour to contribute to the reputation of the enterprise. More than twelve thousand copies of each number were soon in circulation.
Whigs, as to politics, the editors of the Edinburgh Review were naturally liable to the charge of a seditious tendency. Their evident partiality, ill disguised bad faith, and inevitable contradiction, in the space of twenty years, have drawn upon them severe reprehension. Our revolution has been sometimes appreciated by them with tolerable correctness; and Buonaparte, in his solitude
at St. Helena, was astonished to find that he had been divined in some of his greatest designs by this coterie of literary men.
The decisive scepticism of Voltaire, and the soberer scepticism of Hume, form alternately the religious creed of the review. It speaks of the Scriptures with the same daring tone as it does of profane writings. King David, is no more at its bar than a lyrical Homer. The doctrines of the Gospels do not obtain a greater share of respect; Jesus Christ and Moses are to be found there confounded pele mele with Pluto, Zeno, Leibnitz, Voltaire, &c. The morality of the Scotch aristarques, is, therefore, a morality of reason and not of faith; it is the expression of a worldly wisdom, but which, traced to its last result, suffers the uneasiness of doubt to transpire, and would readily plunge into religious methodism, were it not for the last restraints of human respect. Notwithstanding the incorporation of measures which appertains to all anonymous societies, I am very far from laying the whole blame of these opinions upon all the members; it would be easy to find in near fifty volumes an abundance of professions of faith contrasted with each other.
There is still less unity discoverable in the style of this encyclopedia of criticism, redundant at once with the logic of Mackintosh, the invectives of Brougham, the pretending emphasis of Hazzlit, the elegant epigrams and the irony of Jeffrey, &c.
The desire of producing effect was calculated from the very origin to inspire these aristarques
with paradoxes of all descriptions, rash decisions and malevolent personalities. The protestations made a noise ; this was, doubtless, all that they wanted; ; for the apologies never appeared. From time to time some unfortunate authors are still summoned to appear before the capricious tribunal, which exhibits the spectacle of their punishment to the malice of the reader. There is a refinement of barbarity in the martyrdom of those poets, the conception of which is, upon occasion, adroitly caricatured, in order that the public may be pleased with the perfidious shaft with which they are lacerated.
In point of theory, the review having at first placed itself in opposition to some of the modern innovators, has remained for some time behind the general movement since 1789; but by degrees, without renouncing its peculiar prejudices, it has had the address to place itself at the head of the new school. It has
perceived that the object of criticism is not solely to amuse mediocrity and envy, by indicating faults, which cannot escape the least experienced eye; but that it was necessary also to display a superior mind, which, taking lofty and distant views, should pronounce a judgment which posterity would sanction. Genius is endowed with that prophetic vision, which discovers all the fruitful germs of an original conception, and indicates the future march of human intelligence, as soon as it is able to ascer. tain its point of departure. Criticism, so considered, takes its rank by the side of Bacon; it enlarges, as he did, the circle of science, enriches