Зображення сторінки

ceptions, and luckily will never be downright, and rational man. They acquired by mankind at large. Schol. are not in a sound state of mind, any ars, owing to the effeminacy of their more than those sons of corruption, habits, perceive many things too who, for these thirty years, have been strongly, and feel other things too putting the vilest misconstructions weakly. They do not possess the upon every thing which I have writelements of human nature in the av ten, and who continue to do so, alerage proportion, and therefore are though they have been again and little to be trusted, I think, in judg- again exposed and detected, and a ing of poetry and popular literature, thousand and a thousand times overwhich is by no means addressed ex laid with argument and fact, and clusively to the understanding and tracked home to the innermost den of imagination, but to the whole aggre- hireling malignity. gate mass of faculties, sentiments, and Taste relates chiefly to fineness and propensities, which go to make up hu- propriety of arrangement. Now, I say, man nature—a great part of which, (and so says every

vigorous mind) give as I said before, is often imperfect in me a sufficient supply of materials such studious people. I would be ready to as Shakspeare pours forth, and I do not bet any money, if the thing were cap care so much about the general design, able of being ascertained, that a com or the observance of proprieties, which mon shopkeeper in London has more for the most part afford but a feeble feeling of the manly and energetic and trivial pleasure-a pleasure perpassages of Shakspeare, than most of ceived coldly by the judgment, and those feeble young lads whom a milk- not a powerful throb of passion comsop constitution has led to addict municated to the heart, or an enliven, themselves to the belles lettres. The ing impulse given to the reflective language of Shakspeare is like the powers. If this preference were not sound of trumpet, and speaks to men just, how should it happen that men of full bloods and masculine tempera- of sense derive so much gratification ments; and it is not easy to conceive from the perusal of Shakspeare's writhow a young consumptive clergyman, ings, which, all the world admits, are perspiring at the nose, with scarcely a chaos, and nothing but a chaos, of any brawn upon his legs, should ever thoughts, observations, and pictures. be able to crush into the pit of the In making this remark, however, I theatre upon a full night, or enter in- must not fail to allow that Shakspeare to the real spirit of Shakspeare after exhibits the utmost coherence in the he got there.

delineation of human character. This I therefore think it extremely un is the highest kind of coherence ; and fortunate, that the respect which man it is the only kind which he possesses. kind feel for intellect and erudition, But the very licenses he takes enable should enable literary persons to as

him to fill his pages with a greater sure the authority which they do as- variety of remarks, images, and mens sume in matters of taste. For all tal food, of every sort. the intellect and acuteness in the Upon looking over what I have world will only enable a person to de- written, I begin to think that I have cide upon the skill and conduct ex- gone a little too far, and have adhibited in a piece, and upon the neat vanced some things savouring of paraness of the arrangement of the ideas dox. But let not the malignant recontained in it, but never upon its joice. My propositions will be found general potency as an appeal to human true in all their bearings, true in every nature. The best ratification of a good item, if they are properly explained. work, is when human nature makes The sources of pleasure in a literary the proper responses to it. As for the production are so complicated, that it responses of critics, they put one in is not easy to insist much upon the mind of the Aldermen of Braywick. advantages of one, without saying “Be not wise beyond what is written,” something in prejudice of another. says the Scripture; but in no work do The fact is, that they are not always critics perceive distinctly what is writ- compatible, and that, like the faculties ten. They always see something more they address, they sometimes pull difor something else. I say they know ferent ways. Tenderness and enthunot how the thing looks to a plain, siasm, for instance, incline to dwell

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

perseveringly upon the same thoughts, which form so great a part of what is or, at least, upon thoughts so much called fine taste. At least, the perakin to each other, as to cherish and ception of these things does not afford prolong the same sentiment. The un an excitement sufficiently great to fill derstanding, on the other hand, is the minds of Englishmen, who, after often gratified by the juxtaposition all, and I do not say it contemptua and comparison of ideas, which are ously) are but obtuse cubs in many calculated to produce very different things; and I think, therefore, that sentiments; and the faculty of ridi our literature should not make too cule delights in ideas which bear an many appeals to a delicate and quick express contradiction to each other. perception of coherences, but grapple Now we see that different authors with our passions, imaginations, and have entertained very different opi- intellects,-foggy, robust, and confusnions concerning the possibility of re ed as they are. The Frenchmen have conciling these jarring interests in the far more quicksightedness in these same composition. Shakspeare, in matters. They are speedily able to keeping the mind always fuũ, is cer- detect irregularity and unsuitableness tainly sometimes apt to garble impres- wherever it exists; and, on the other sions and feelings, so rapidly does he hand, their minds are highly gratified shift the intellectual scene. These by the observance of fitness and demixed masses of thought bear a close corum, as one may easily perceive in resemblance to what really takes place the construction of their tragedies. in the human mind; and when viewed The ancient Greeks (although very in the light of imitations, they are ex- different people from the French) procellent. I will, at the same time, bably resembled them in quicksighthowever, admit, that poetry is not edness, to which they added strong altogether an imitative art. It is also and lofty feelings ; but their plays a selective and perfectionating art;

are no models for us, who are not and, by picking out of the general what is called classical in our habits chaos a number of thoughts which of thinking, but plain Englishmen, have the same character and colour, is just as we should be. I remember, often able to produce more sustained on coming home from America, when and continuous impressions than those I landed at Portsmouth, the first which occur in nature. But what I thing that met my eye was the sign mean to point out is the radical differ- of the Tankard and Cross Cudgels, ence between substance and conduct which immediately struck me as an or arrangement. It seems to be a con- happy emblem of the nature of my clusion warranted by the whole history countrymen. of poetry, that those writers who aim I recollect of seeing lately, in the at too high a degree of purity and pro- Edinburgh Review, a discourse upon priety, generally fall into a correspond- literary compositions, in which it was ing poverty of materials; and for my said, that a perfect performance should part, I confess myself to be, on the have but one beauty, and should not whole, an advocate for the full and be crowded with too many incidental substantial style of composition, as strokes of genius; in short, that it being the one best adapted to the ap- should resemble, in purity and simpetites of a vigorous mind.

plicity, a Greek temple. But there is There is another reason for this a material difference between a poem preference. Nations vary in their and a visible object like a Greek tem characters; there is a difference of ple. A temple can afford to be plain mental constitution to be observed and meagre in its details, because we among them; and their literature see the whole at once, and, in conshould be adapted, not to the out- templating the general design, find no landish and bookish tastes of scholars, dearth of mental occupation ; since, in who, by too much reading, come to fact, it exhibits as many parts, and as belong to no country, but to the indi- many beautiful relations of parts, as genous habits peculiar to each nation. can be attended to without confusion. Now I do not think that Englishmen, But the conceptions and impressions generally speaking, are remarkable for we derive from a poem are successive & quick perception of those exactitudes, and multifarious; and I am thoneatnesses, and skilful adaptations, roughly convinced, that nine persons

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

out of ten, after having read a poem the most insignificant of their 0710or play, have scarcely any notion nents, and almost persuade theorieksts, whether the general design has been that those Germans who are stissatiswell conducted or not. Most readers fied with the state of aff irs in their go forward blindly, and have not suf- country, resemble the vulgur, illit rate, ficient comprehension of mind to per- and de-picable crew who are the preceive the relation of one scene or inci- sent advocates ot' reform in Luand. dent to another. They must therefore If ever Britain needs a reform, I hope be furnished with temporary excite- in God she will not listen to the adments for the faculties, as they pro- vice of such men as recomm:nd it to ceed. Every person has seen a boy her now. But it argues the most deusing the same stratagem to make a plorable ignorance on the part of any goose or other wild animal follow Englishman to suppose, that the dishim. He takes a handful of pease, contented party in Germany bears any we shall suppose, and drops them one resemblance to that nest of croakers by one to the greedy bird, which is with which London is infesteil. We thus led on, step after step, to the once needed a revolution, and we had place to which he means to conduct it. it: it was brought about by such men But the continued fulness of ideas, in as Ilampden, Sidney, Fairfax, and a book, is a very different thing from Milton. " Germany needs a revolution the vile affection of saying fine things now; and she is likely to obtain the at every turn, which is the mere rest- accomplishment of her wishes by lessness of pretension, and not a proof means of men who are not unworthy either of' fecundity or of compilatory of being named with those illustrious judgment.

Englishmen,-or who at least would scorn to be considered as having any sympathy, either of opinions or of wishes, with your paltry rabble of

Hunts, Hones, and Waithmans. EngLETTERS ON THE PRESENT STATE

land is fallen indeed, if she, whose

ministers are subject to the inspection LETTER I.

of an enlightened senate, and who Dusselsdorf, April 1, 1818.

possesses, in all her provinces, abun

dance of honourable, high-minded, MY DEAR FRIEND,

and patriotic gentlemen,-is to be Your letter has indeed astonished me. schooled into political wisdom by the The questions you ask, and the lan- noisy ravings of ambitious and designguage of such English newspapers as ing shopkeepers. With what conI have lately met with, convince me tempt would those lofty, devout, and that, amused and occupied with do- heroic spirits, that opposed the cause mestic trifles, the nation remains in a of Charles, look down upon the venostate of utter ignorance concerning mous and unprincipled plebeians who many things that should at present presume to call themselves their sucrivet the attention of all European pol- cessors. With what disgust would iticians. The Whigs and the Tories are, one of them contemplate the impure I doubt not, alike to blame. The for- and senseless orgies of the Common mer know nothing about the thoughts, Council room or of Moorfields. Be feelings, sufferings, and intentions, of satisfied, that Germany does not covet the Germans; and the latter are afraid or dread any such outrageous and ato promote any discussion about these bominable manifestations of democrathings, from a mistaken view of their cy. It is indeed well that it should own interests,-- from fears that have, I be so; for ours is the only country in am persuarled, their foundation in any the world wherein they can be both thing but the truth. One small party despised and tolerated. among you say, that they hope Gera However wo may differ in opinion many is on the eve of a revolution, about its causes, or whatever may and insinuate that England is, or be our hopes or our fears with reought to be, in a similar condition. spect to its probable effects, the exThe adherents of the ministry suffer istence of a grcat ferment in the theinselves to be too much wrought national mind of the Germans, is, upon by the foolish babbling of these at this moment, a fact which none


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

will be inclined to call in ques- there might indeed be great reason for
tion, who either have lately visited wonder ;-the same that there was of
their country, or are familiar with the old, when the traveller contemplated
present complexion of their popular the strange spectacle of Greeks, who
literature. i have travelled upon the had Homer and Demosthenes in their
Rhine, the Elbe, and the Danube.--I hands, submitting, without resistance,
have conversed with the subject of to the oppressions of a Roman prætor ;
empire, republic, and principality, or who saw, somewhat later, the Roa
with Austrian nobles, Hamburgh mer mans themselves, nourished as they
chants, and Saxon professors,--and I were in their youth by the noble en
have had no difficulty in perceiving, thusiasm of their Sallust and their
that, by every German capable of Tacitus, bowed down, with scarcely
thinking upon political events, the one self-reproaching murmur, beneath
present situation of his country is the deadening tyranny of their mili-
viewed as one into which all the ele- tary Cæsars :-the same, or very near-
ments of future agitation are abun- ly the same, reason for wonder, which
dantly infused. To one who is accus- perhaps at some distant, some very
tomed to the calm and unexpecting distant day, the inhabitant of some
demeanour of Englishmen, it appears free and happy land beyond the Ata
quite evident that some great commo- lantic may feel, should he come to sur-
tion is at hand. The symptoms of vey England out of a love for departed
the future crisis are not indeed violent glory, and find them slaves that speak
and convulsive: that would ill accord the language of Milton.
with the habits and constitution of The triumph of human intellect over
those in whose persons they are mani- the sway of despotism was never made
fested. We see no madmen dancing more manifest than it has been within
with red caps,—we hear no Marseilles the last fifty years among the Germans.
hymns chanted in the public gar- Their princes bound them allover with
dens, --we read of no princes insulted, in the small links of a pervading and
nor chateaux pillaged;

but he is blind lethargic chain: they left only one om who cannot discover hints to the full pening free, and that has been suffia as unequivocal as these of some ap- cient. They burdened them with improaching struggle; and they who are posts, privileges, and oppressions--but acquainted with the character of the they permitted them to read and to Germans (whether that acquaintance write; and although over literature has been gained from themselves or too they have successfully attempted from their books), will readily ac to establish some control, that which knowledge, that with them the note they left free has been enough to work of preparation” is not the less ominous the future enlargement of all thát ever because it is low.

was enslaved. They permitted their No one who knows any thing of people to rear up a national poetry the present state of Germany, who to embalm, in imperishable materials, is aware, that in that country, ruled the faded recollections of ancient glory as it almost every where is by a set of and independence. After Locke and arbitrary despots, there prevails, upon Milton had been naturalized, and every subject but one, the utmost pos- Millar and Schiller had arisen, the sible liberty of thought and writing, progress of the public mind was a --no one who is acquainted with the thing no longer within the control of simple fact, that (if we except politics) external power. The giant of literae the Germans are in truth very much ture had touched the soil, and, like the same sort of people with the Eng- Antæus, he was irresistible. lish,--that their ancestry is the same, Frederick the Great employed all --that their ancient institutions, their the weapons of contemptuous ridicule religious habits, and, above all, the against the rising literature of his tone and complexion of their litera- country, with a zeal and a perseverture, bear the strongest resemblance ance which might almost induce one to ours,--that their favourite authors to suspect that he had foreseen the naare, in truth, the intellectual children ture of its future progress, and anticiof our own ;-no one who knows this, pated, among some other of its corisecan be surprised with the general fact, quences, the present perplexities of that the Germans are present a dis- his successor. It was reserved for contented people. Were it otherwise, after years to discover, that he might VOL. III.


[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]


perhaps have acted wisely, both for his obstructed by thorns and brambles, did own fame and for the safety of his spring up, and the crop, if not abundant, children, had he been less munificent was at least a crop. Year after year in his patronage of French encyclopæ the grain shed itself around, and the diasts, and devoted the pensions he harvest grew. The Germans opposed squandered on Maupertuis and Di- indeed the tyrannies of Bonaparte, but derot, to sustain the neglected man- they began to know and feel that hood of Klopstock, or the rising genius foreign oppressions (however necesof Wieland and Goethe. The nobles sary it might be to throw these off of Germany may live to rue the day first), were not the only oppressions ; that they ever insulted their country and it became the universal belief by banishing her language. In the throughout the country, that as soon days of Frederick, German literature

as no danger should remain from wanted patronage, and in vain expecte abroad, there was much to be seen to ed it from his hands. It has since at home. The excess of cruelty to grown and thriven without any royal which they were subjected during the assistance, and is likely to repay, with ten years which elapsed after the terrible vengeance, upon the monarchs French despotism

was established of the present age, the injury it re over their country, filled them with ceived from the hostility or coldness an enthusiasm for liberty, far more of those of the last. Whatever faults settled, and far more universal, than may be found with the great authors that which had been kindled within of Germany, since the days of Klop- their breasts by the distant spectacle stock they have been uniformly free of the infant Revolution. Long faof that indifference of external events, miliarity had rendered them less senwhich gave an air so tame and ener sible to the inflictions of their native getic to all the works of their prede- princes, but the tyranny of Napoleon

No literature ever made such shewed itself in new forms of outrage, rapid strides to perfection as that of and roused unmingled aversion. They Germany has done within the last fif were well prepared for an eruption ty years: it is equally certain, that no long before the actual moment of opliterature of any country, even of portunity arrived. Greece, Spain, or England,

leisure to speculate upon the true namore thoroughly imbued and animated ture of those causes, which had subwith the spirit of nationality, jected a people so numerous, and natu

How far this national literature, rally so powerful, as they knew themeven if left entirely to itself, might selves to be, to insults thus atrocious have in time succeeded in breaking and intolerable. The petty tricks, the bonds of Germany--this is a ques- ambitions, and jealousies, of their tion to whích, but for some late events, sovereigns; the disunion of their great it might have been in the power of country; the absurd privileges of the our children to supply an answer. nobility ;-all these things appeared But the French Revolution produced to them in quite a new point of view. a convulsive effect over the whole of Necessity was once more the mother cultivated Europe, and imparted a of wisdom; every strong place in the more than natural velocity of action to midst of Germany was in the hands the awakening national spirit of the of the French, and most of the petty Germans. The horrible enormities of princes were, by every tie of inclinathose bloody demagogues into whose tion and intent, their allies; but one hands the work of the Revolution fell, sentiment had become diffused in ungave rise, indeed, to no inconsiderable extinguishable zeal throughout all the reaction. The calm and rational Ger- population of that part of Germany, mans were disgusted with the pro- which has long given its form and spect of procuring even good to them- pressure to the general intellect of the selves at such a price; and with cor nation. The conduct of Napoleon diality assisted their feeble and trem- shewed that he perceived the danger bling sovereigns in their endeavours long before the explosion took place ; to suppress the progress of the treach- but he was far too proud and confiderous contagion. By degrees, how, ent to adopt any of those measures ever, there is no doubt that the seed by which alone it must have been preof liberal sentiment, even although it vented. To no prince who ever abushad been scattered by the way side, and ed the kindness of his early destiny,

They had full

was ever

« НазадПродовжити »