« ПредишнаНапред »
to find matter, or manner, which rouses him from mental torpidity, and pleases him into pupilage.
If Macaulay thus obtains popularity in quarters where it is generally denied to thinkers, and monopolized by the last new novel, he is not the less calculated to win golden opinions from readers of judgment and reflection. Behind the external show and glittering vesture of his thoughts, – beneath all his pomp of diction, aptness of illustration, splendor of imagery, and epigrammatic point and glare, — a careful eye can easily discern the movement of a powerful and cultivated intellect, as it successively appears in the well-trained logician, the discriminating critic, the comprehensive thinker, the practical and far-sighted statesman, and the student of universal knowledge. Perhaps the extent of Macaulay's range over the field of literature and science, and the boldness of his generalizations, are the most striking qualities he displays. The amount of his knowledge surprises even book-worms, memory-mongers, and other literary cormorants. It comprises all literatures, and all departments of learning and literature. It touches Scarron on one side and Plato on the other. He seems master of every subject of human interest, and of many more subjects which only he can make interesting. He can battle theologians with weapons drawn from antique armories unknown to themselves; sting pedants with his wit, and then overthrow them with a profusion of trivial and recondite learning; oppose statesmen on the practical and theoretical questions of political science; browbeat political economists on their own vantage-ground; be apparently victorious in matters of pure reason in an argument with reasoning machines; follow historians, step by step, in their most minute researches, and adduce facts and principles which they have overlooked; silence metaphysicians by a glib condensation of all theories of the mind, and convict them of ignorance out of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, or any other philosopher they may happen to deify; and perform the whole with a French lightness and ease of expression, which never before was used to convey so much vigor and reach of thought, and so large and heavy a load of information. His rapidity of manner, — at periods falling to flippancy and pertness, as well as rising to vivid and impassioned eloquence, —is calculated to deceive many into the belief that he is shallow; but no conclusion could be more incorrect; though, from the time-honored connection between learning and dulness, no conclusion is more natural. Macaulay's morbidly keen sense of the ludicrous prevents him from manifesting any of the pompous pedantry and foolish vanities of the lore-proud student, but rather sends him to the opposite extreme. His mind re-acts on all that passes into it. He possesses his knowledge, – not his knowledge him. It does not oppress his intellect in the least, but is stored away in compact parcels, ready at any time for use. It is no weltering chaos of undigested learning, stumbling into expression in bewildered and bewildering language, as is much which passes for great erudition; but it goes through the alembic of a strong understanding, — it is subjected to the scrutiny of a discriminating and weighty judgment, unshackled by authority, -it is made to glow and glitter in the rays of a vivid fancy. He tears away all that cumbrous phraseology which encases and obscures common truths, and which scares many good people into the belief that stale truisms are abstruse mysteries. He is not deluded by great names and “standard” books; his judgment is untrammelled by accredited opinions on taste, morals, government and religion; the heavy panoply of learning encumbers not the free play of his mind; he has none of the silly pride of intellect and erudition, but he seems rather to consider authors as men who are determined to make a fool of him if they can ; he haughtily disputes their opinions, and treats their unfounded pretensions with mocking scorn; and he delights to cram tomes of diluted facts into one short, sharp, antithetical sentence, and condense general principles into epigrams. Few scholars have manifested so much independence and affluence of thought, in connection with so rich and varied an amount of knowledge. As a critic of poetry and general literature, Macaulay manifests considerable depth of feeling; a fine sense of the beautiful; a quick sensibility; acuteness in discerning the recondite as well as predominating qualities of an author's mind, and setting them forth in clear, direct and pointed expression; and a comprehensive and penetrating judgment, unfettered by any rules unfounded in the nature of things. Intellectual and moral sympathy, the prominent quality of a good poetical critic, he possesses to as great a degree as could be expected, or perhaps tolerated, in an Edinburgh reviewer. He overrules or reverses, with the most philosophical coolness, many of the decisions made by Jeffrey, and other hanging judges among his predecessors; and awards justice to many whom they petulantly or basely condemned. For great authors, for the crowned kings of thought, for many poets who labor under the appellation of irregular geniuses, for statesmen of broad views and powerful energies, he can expend a large amount of sympathy, and in praise of their merits indulge in an almost unbroken strain of panegyric; but for small writers he has little sympathy, toleration, or charity. The articles on Milton, Machiavelli, Bacon, Dryden, Byron, — the incidental references to Dante, Wordsworth, Shelley, Alfieri, Burke, Coleridge, – all display an ardent love of intellectual excellence, and a liberal and catholic taste. In other essays, as those on Sir William Temple, Clive, Hastings, Hampden, Mirabeau, Frederick the Great, Macaulay shows an equal power of judging of men of action, and summing up impartially the merits and defects of their characters and lives. Before all that is great in intellect and conduct, he bends the knee in willing homage, and praises with unforced and vivid eloquence. The articles on Milton and Hampden are noble monuments to the genius and virtue of the first, and the virtue and talents of the last. Throughout both, we see a strong, hearty, earnest, sympathizing spirit, in unchecked action. The keenness of judgment, likewise, displayed in separating the bad from the good, in the intellectual and moral constitution of many of his favorites among men of action and speculation, and tracing their errors of taste and faults of conduct to their true outward or inward source, is worthy of all admiration. The sharp analysis which stops only at the truth, is used with unsparing rigor in cases where enthusiastic apology. would, in a scholar, be merely an amiable weakness. What Macaulay sees is not “distorted and refracted through a false medium of passions and prejudices,” but is discerned with clearness, and in “dry light.” He sacrifices the whole body of ancient philosophers at the shrine of Bacon; but he discriminates with unerring accuracy between Bacon the philosopher, and Bacon the politician, “Bacon seeking truth, and Bacon seeking for the seals.” He blushes for the “disingenuousness of the , most devoted worshipper of speculative truth, and the servility of the boldest champion of intellectual freedom; ” and remembers that if Bacon was the first “who treated legislation as a science, he was among the last Englishmen who used the rack; that he who first summoned philosophers to the great work of interpreting nature, was among the last Englishmen who sold justice.” “The transparent splendor of Cicero's incomparable diction,” does not blind Macaulay to the fact, that the great orator's whole life “was under the dominion of a girlish vanity and a craven fear.” His respect for Frederick's military character extends not to his rhymes, but he treats them with as much disrespect as if they had proceeded from the merest hack that ever butchered language into bathos, or diluted it into sentimentality. This absence of idol-worship in Macaulay adds much to the value of his opinions and investigations, but at times it gives a kind of heartlessness to his manner, which grates upon the sensibility. In proportion as his praise is eloquent and hearty for what is noble and great in character, his scorn is severe for what is little and mean. In the dissection he makes of Bacon's moral character, and the cool unconcern with which he lays open to view his manifold frailties, we are often led to ask with Hamlet, “Has this fellow no feeling of his business 2" In considering the lives of men of lofty endowments, we are often better pleased with the charity that covers a multitude of sins, than the stern justice which parades them in the light, and holds them up to abhorrence. - But if great men receive more justice than mercy from Macaulay, men of low intellectual stature fare worse.