Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Mother Bunch taught us to doubt the expediency of calling in such auxiliaries.

We have not the slightest idea that Jack the Giant Killer, or any of the volumes of the penny library, will be held cheap by our readers, but we anticipate that less respect will be paid to Hearne and Le Neve, and Spelman, and the other learned archæologists of whose researches we have availed ourselves. Yet with all due submission to the judges in this behalf, we cannot help thinking that no literary productions are treated so unfairly, as the works of the antiquary,

- in closet close ypent

Of sober face, with learned dust besprent;' whose very name is become a byeword and a reproach even amongst his literary brethren. They hunt and drive him out of the commonwealth of letters, and immolate him as a scape-goat to the devouring appetite of the scorner. Honest zeal, even in a bad cause, demands our praise : and men of sense and genius should therefore bear with the enthusiasm of men of sense and learning, although they cannot participate in their glowing feelings. It was this enthusiasm which invigorated the erudite who flourished in the era that immediately followed the restoration of letters, and which, in times nearer our own, sustained the unwearied hands of Grævius and Gronovius, and Rymer and Prynne, and Montfaucon and Muratori, whilst they accomplished their Herculean tasks. But the age of folios has gone by, like the age of chivalry, and both may be regretted by posterity. A great book has been called a great evil, and this pithy axiom has been received without much inquiry into its truth or application. It was said of Albertus Magnus, that he could have been burned in a pile composed of one set of his own voluminous works. Such an author may not deserve an apotheosis merely on account of his industry, yet it does not follow that because his pen was prolific, his productions are only worthy of the fames. In the opinion of the urchin, the Christ-cross-row is a mile too long. Larger in their growth, yet equally lazy, are those who pride themselves in dealing out the small talk of literary censure, and who mock at the author of a ponderous tome, concealing their own inaptitude for the acquisition of knowledge by affecting to despise the volume which imparts it. These idlers are followed by the closer reasoners who have read the work which they criticise, and who think it beseeming to censure the author for his deficiency in taste and judgment. This accusation, grounded upon well-sounding words, and specious phrases, generally rebounds from side to side; it is repeated in the bookseller's shop, echoed in the library, and buzzed in the drawing-room, and the multitude confirm

the

the sentence by acclamation. Taste, however, is governed by an uncertain standard; and the critic would do well to recollect that the literary character may fail on the right side, when betraying what is so often termed want of judgment. It is ungraceful to be encumbered with learning, to swelter beneath the ample folds and furred trimmings of the academnical robe, but yet this display of opulence is more creditable to the wearer, than the pitiful nakedness of the literary vagrant. Mere learning may tire, yet instruct: the conceit of ignorance will always disgust without affording instruction.

An author who directs bis energies to austere studies is apt to be voluminous. Desiring to become fully intelligible to the uninstructed, and cager, at the same time, to gratify the erudite with information hitherto unknown to them, he exhausts his subject. Hence the learned are often induced to censure him as trivial, the unlearned as obscure: and by each his comprehensive intent is unworthily contemned. Still more unreasonable are those who slight the intensity of labour, which is called for by the very nature of his subject. The mould of the garden-bed may be turned up by the spade, and watered by a lady's hand: but he who wishes to found a settlement in the forest must toil in hewing the massy trunks, and in bestowing a sevenfold ploughing on the stubborn soil.

Wit, in unthinking levity, has sometimes scourged the studious tribes with undeserved harshness. Yet still more unkind and uncharitable are the dull, the sad, the solemn, and the grave, towards the antiquary, who, if endowed with genius, yields to the seductions to which he is then peculiarly exposed. Imagination endangers the reputation of the learned. They follow the ignis fatuus over marshes and quagmires, and the trembling surface sinks beneath the steps of the giants of literature, whilst the lighter limbs of the poet, who is equally deluded by the wandering fire, enable him to spring along with ease. Ritson, attacking Warton, affords a striking example of the spiteful pleasure enjoyed by a sour, clear-headed precisian, when he detects the errors of a superior intellect. But we are not always satisfied even with the tests of sober reason as propounded by those who judge with more fairness, and who, proceeding upon decent and respectable principles of criticism, damn the ingenious theories of the historian, the mythologist, or the philologer, because they seem wild and speculative. A writer who pursues obscure and difficult inquiries, is compelled to accept the proofs afforded by circumstantial evidence. There are certain optical glasses which, when applied to the eye, collect the spots and lines dispersed on a coloured tablet into a symmetrical form : like these, his mind associates and assembles the ideas dispersed through time and space. When he appears most arbitrary in his assumptions, most fanciful in his conjectures, he is fortified by the internal consciousness, that his hypothesis is true; he feels a conviction of the truth which he cannot impart to others. In his devious course he guides himself by indications which the unpractised cannot discern. He tracks himself across the ocean by the floating weeds and the flight of the sea-fowl, and he convinces himself of the existence of the continent though his bark, may never reach its shores.

The pleasures of laborious writers arise from their labours; they are joyful and triumphant when they verify a date, or adjust a 'verse, or explain the legend of a medal, tasks of which the world is reckless; and the attention with which they regard these supposed trifles is held to indicate a puny, feeble mind; yet they only yield to a universal instinct. Whatever we discover, we make our own; whatever is our own, we love. The traveller prizes a sparry fragment which he has broken from its native cavern, above the choicest specimens which he finds in the cabinet of another. The game can only be run down by the sportsman who takes delight in the chase, and this gratification is not to be forgotten by him when he contemplates the objects which occasioned it. Hence he may sonietimes be induced to set a value on the skin of the brock, and even on the antlers of the deer, which surprizes the sober citizen, who sees nothing in these enlivening trophies save hide and horn. Vanity is the original sin of literature; but the vanity of the antiquary does not savour of egotism : he contents himself with being proud of his researches. Unveiling the deity to the worshipper, he, the hierophant, claims not the incense, and tastes no portion of the sacrifice. Ministering to no faction, desiring no reward, and contenning the praise of the multitude, he takes refuge in the studious cloister. His spirit walks in communion with the mighty dead. Shadows are his consorts, whom he attempts to grasp as bodies, because to him the vision is reality. Occasionally his tongue falters, and his words are confused, but the accuracy of his judgment or the vigour of his intellect are not therefore impaired-his transient giddiness is caused by the height wherein he soars-he looks down upon middle earth from the summit of Olympus, or the battlements of Valhalla.

ART. VI.—Select Pieces in Prose and Verse, by the late John

Bowdler, Junior, Esq. of Lincoln's Inn, Barrister at Law. Two vols. Svo. 1818. THE work before us is the monument erected by a father to 1 the memory of his son: and we approach it, therefore, with the sympathy which such sorrows require, even from strangers. We will not wantonly tear away the laurels planted there, and we

shall

Tilbe worketch of in epitapherves the

sliall grieve if, in seeking to prune their wild luxuriance, we should be thought irreverently to expose any part of the fabric which they now embosom, - The contents of the volumes are a Life, Letters, Journal, Poems, Reviews, and Essays. · The interest of the work will not, perhaps, be in any material degree increased by the sketch of the life of the author, which is prefixed to it. It is too long for an epitaph, and too short for any other memorial of the dead. Yet it deserves the praise, which, short as it is, it might easily have forfeited, of saying nothing in bad taste, or bad spirit. Its value would surely have been considerably greater, if it had been connected by some stronger tie than that of mere juxta-position with the letters which now follow it; and these, on the other hand, would have lost nothing of their interest, by being interwoven with an explanatory narrative. Mason in his life of Gray, and Hayley in his life of Cowper, have adopted this principle of making their authors relate their own lives : and though some letter-writers must be excluded by their own confession as incompetent witnesses in their own case, when they fairly avow that their epistles, like the decads of Bishop Hall, never travelled farther than from their own desks to the printing-house; no such suspicion can exist in relation to the Letters in these volumes. The earlier series, in particular, must have been written at an age, and under circumstances when the hope or the apprehension of appearing in print could have had no operation. They are the letters of a boy who had just quitted school, and are addressed to another boy whom he had left behind; and contain as satisfactory evidence of his mind and morals as criticism can reasonably demand, and display such an union of knowledge and intelligence with playfulness of inanner and affection of heart as is not often exhibited at so early an age. .

It would not be a difficult, and, therefore, not a very glorious enterprise to overthrow errors in the style, the reasoning, or the facts of a boy of eighteen ; and, accordingly, in calling the attention of our readers to the letters before us, written at that age, and, indeed, to the larger compositions of a somewhat later period, we reserve, expressly, the question of their impeccability: and, with that reservation, we have no hesitation in saying, that in expression and illustration they are at least equal, and in general reasoning, superior to the similar works of Kirke White, and other youths of genius prematurely snatched away.

In the first letter (dated in March 1801, when the writer was eighteen) he mentions incidentally an act of labour, alike new and unnecessary, which he had imposed on himself:- I have just begun to learn a law-book by heart: it contains 30,000 lines; and I VOL. XXI. NO. XLI.

hope

н

hope to get it through twice in six months; but it is most dry, and like learning so many proper naines.'-I. p. 72. It would be lamentable to think, that such a mind was so degraded, and such time so wasted, if we did not know that half the benefit of all education is the indirect attainment of a babit of applying the mind steadily to any object, and of grappling with difficulties. The habit, and not the acquirement itself, is the real prize.

"26th March, 1802. * For myself I go on much in my old routine, fagging hard at classics and harder at law : I have lately been attacking “ Trojani Belli Scriptorem,” have nearly read through eight books, and have learnt A, which is a very long one, by heart. He helps to dispel the “ tedia vitæ," and I may say as justly of the mists of this city, as Gray did of frozen regions, that “ the muse has broke the twilight gloom.” I have lately also read Juvenal, with some of Persius, two or three times, (omitting the sixth and ninth satires), and learnt about 1300 lines, which though certainly nothing to be named as real labour, yet is fair enough for the lighter hours of a stupid, illiterate quill-driver, bending over a desk in these regions of Cimmerian darkness,

Where murky mists the struggling morn disclose,

And howling watchmen lull me to repose : and I scarce hear of any thing but mortgages, releases and assumpsits. vol. i. p. 79.

1803. • It is impossible for you to conceive the labour I go through, or at least the constant succession of employment; for I believe I may say, on an average, I am employed in reading or writing nearly fourteen hours every day. I am endeavouring, among my other various occupations, to obtain a knowledge of some branches of algebra and the mathematics as introductory to mechanics, optics, navigation, natural philosophy, &c. but now as my eyes, my head, my fingers, my pens, and my patience are all gone, and the night also is going fast, I must subscribe myself, &c.’-vol. i. p. 84. i On leaving his clerkship in an attorney's office, in the city, he became the pupil of a Chancery draftsman of great eminence. In 1806 he appears, by the date of two or three of the letters, to have been on the circuit; and in 1807 he was called to the bar. In the course of these two years, a considerable alteration is perceptible in his correspondence. Before this period, his letters are stiff and somewhat too learned, being in truth such as learned boys often attempt to write. The style, though not elaborately modelled on that of Johnson, seems to have been the result of too indiscriminate an admiration of that great writer, and has a stateliness not altogether epistolary. The sentiments, ethical and religious, with which they are interspersed, though plainly flowing from a mind of great purity and very carefully trained, yet appear, like the learning, to be somewhat too much produced for the occasion. We would not be understood to insinuate for a moment, that the singular and

interesting

« НазадПродовжити »