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wrote over incessantly for books from England. One that was sent him at this time was an Essay on the Principles of Human Action; and the way in which he spoke of that dry, tough, metaphysical choke-pear, shewed the dearth of intellectual intercourse in which he lived, and the craving in his mind after those studies which had once been his pride, and to which he still turned for consolation in his remote solitude.—Perhaps to another, the novelty of the scene, the differences of mind and manners might have atoned for a want of social and literary agrèmens : but Sir James is one of those who see nature through the spectacles of books. He might like to read an account of India; but India itself with its burning, shining face would be a mere blank, an endless waste to him. To persons of this class of mind things must be translated into words, visible images into abstract propositions to meet their refined apprehensions, and they have no more to say to a matter-of-fact staring them in the face without a label in its mouth, than they would to a hippopotamus !We may add, before we quit this point, that we cannot conceive of any two persons more different in colloquial talents, in which they both excel, than Sir James Mackintosh and Mr. Coleridge. They have nearly
an equal range of reading and of topics of conversation : but in the mind of the one we see nothing but fixtures, in the other every thing is fluid. The ideas of the one are as formal and tangible, as those of the other are shadowy and evanescent. Sir James Mackintosh walks over the ground; Mr. Coleridge is always flying off from it. The first knows all that has been said upon a subject; the last has something to say that was never said before. If the cne deals too much in learned common-places, the other teems with idle fancies. The one has a good deal of the caput mortuum of genius, the other is all volatile salt. The conversation of Sir James Mackintosh has the effect of reading a well-written book, that of his friend is like hearing a bewildered dream. The one is an Encyclopedia of knowledge, the other is a succession of Sybilline Leaves !
As an author, Sir James Mackintosh may claim the foremost rank among those who pride themselves on artificial ornaments and acquired learning, or who write what may be termed a composite style. His Vindiciæ Gallica is a work of great labour, great ingenuity, great brilliancy, and great vigour. It is a little too antithetical in the structure of its periods, too dogmatical in the announcement of its
opinions. Sir James has, we believe, rejected something of the false brilliant of the one, as he has retracted some of the abrupt extravagance of the other. We apprehend, however, that our author is not one of those who draw from their own resources and accumulated feelings, or who improve with age. He belongs to a class (common in Scotland and elsewhere) who get up school-exercises on any given subject in a masterly manner at twenty, and who at forty are either where they wereor retrograde, if they are men of sense and modesty. The reason is, their vanity is weaned, after the first hey-day and animal spirits of youth are flown, from making an affected display of knowledge, which, however useful, is not their own, and may be much more simply stated; they are tired of repeating the same arguments over and over again, after having exhausted and rung the changes on their whole stock for a number of times. Sir James Mackintosh is understood to be a writer in the Edinburgh Review; and the articles attributed to him there are full of matter of great pith and moment. But they want the trim, pointed expression, the ambitious ornaments, the ostentatious display and rapid volubility of his early productions. We have heard it objected to his later
compositions, that his style is good as far as single words and phrases are concerned, but that his sentences are clumsy and disjointed, and that these make up still more awkward and sprawling paragraphs. This is a nice criticism, and we cannot speak to its truth : but if the fact be so, we think we can account for it from the texture and obvious process of the author's mind. All his ideas may be said to be given preconceptions. They do not arise, as it were, out of the subject, or out of one another at the moment, and therefore do not flow naturally and gracefully from one another. They have been laid down beforehand in a sort of formal division or frame-work of the understanding; and the connexion between the premises and the conclusion, between one branch of a subject and another, is made out in a bungling and unsatisfactory manner. There is no principle of fusion in the work: he strikes after the iron is cold, and there is a want of malleability in the style. Sir James is at present said to be engaged in writing a History of England after the downfall of the house of Stuart. May it be worthy of the talents of the author, and of the principles of the period it is intended to illustrate !