Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

He here manifests a spirit akin to Faulconbridge and Hotspur. There is no critic who is less tolerant of mediocrity. For half-bred reasoners, for well-meaning and bad-writing theologians, for undeveloped geniuses, for pompous pedantry, for respectable stupidity, for every variety of the tame, the frigid, and the low, he has an imperious and crushing contempt. There are many writers, also, who have a good reputation among what are termed men of taste, and whose works are, or should be, “on the shelves of every gentleman's library,” whom he treats with a cool arrogance which shocks the nerves not a little. His critical severity almost actualizes the ideal of critical damnation. There is no show of mercy in him. He carries his austerity beyond the bounds of humanity. His harshness to the captive of his criticism is a transgression of the law against cruelty to animals. Among a squad of bad writers—if the simile be allowable—he seems to exclaim with the large-boned quadruped that danced among the chickens, “Let every one take care of himself!” He is both judge and executioner; condemns the prisoner, — puts on the black cap with a stinging sneer, — hangs, quarters, and scatters his limbs to the four winds, – without any appearance of pity or remorse. He subjects the commonplace, the stupid, the narrow-minded, to every variety of critical torture; he riddles them with epigrams, he racks them with analysis, he scorches them with sarcasm; he probes their most delicate and sensitive nerves with the glittering edge of his wit; he breathes upon them the hot breath of his scorn; he crushes and grinds them in the whirling mill of his logic; over the burning marl of his critical Pandemonium he makes them walk with unsandalled feet, and views their ludicrous agonies with mocking glee. All other reviewers are babes to him. A heretic in the grasp of a holy father of the Inquisition, — a pauper who has incurred the displeasure of the parish beadle, — a butterfly in the hands of a man of science, — all have reason to be thankful that destiny has saved them from the torment which awaits the dunce who has fallen into the clutch of Macaulay. If murdered books could burst their cerements, and revisit the earth to haunt their destroyers, the sleep of Thomas Babington Macaulay would be peopled with more phantoms than the slumbers of Richard the Third. A collection of the authors from the middle and lower classes of literature, which this Nimrod of criticism, this death-angel, Azrael, of letters—has sent to their long account, would somewhat resemble the “circle in a parlor,” mentioned in Peter Bell:—

“Crammed just as they on earth were crammed:
Some sipping punch, some sipping tea,
But, as you by their faces see,
All silent — and all damned ' "

It is to be feared m" other motives than those which spring from an offended taste sometimes influence Macaulay's critical decisions. Political hostility, and the bitterness of feeling it naturally engenders, may be supposed to have edged much of the cutting sarcasm which is used so pitilessly in the wholesale condemnation of John Wilson. Croker's edition of Boswell's Johnson. The purity of the critical ermine, like that of the judicial, is often soiled by contact with politics.

There is one quality of Macaulay's nature, and that, perhaps, the best, which is deserving of lavish eulogium, —his intense love of liberty, and his hearty hatred of despotism. Few authors have written more eloquently of freedom, or paid truer and nobler homage to its advocates and martyrs; and few have opened hotter vials of wrath upon bigotry, tyranny, and all forms of legislative fraud. Tyranny is associated in his mind with all that is mean and hateful. In sweeping its pretensions from his path, in tasking every faculty of his intellect to search and shame the narrow hearts of its apologists, “his rhetoric becomes a whirlwind, and his logic, fire.” His denunciation is frequently awful, in its depth, and earnestness, and crushing force. He holds no quarter with his opponents, and wars to the knife. His consummate dialectical skill, his unbounded sway over language, his wide grasp of thought and knowledge, the full strength of his passions, and the utmost splendor of his imagination, are ever ready at the call of free principles to perform any needed service,—to unmask the specious forms of disguised despotism, to overthrow and trample under foot the injustice which has lied itself into axioms. He then becomes enthusiastic and wholly in earnest, and his eloquence, in its torrent-like rush and fierce sweep, resembles that which he has so happily described as characterizing the forensic efforts of Fox—reason penetrated, and, as it were, made red-hot with passion. In numerous passages of his articles on Milton, Church and State, Constitutional History, and Hampden; and, especially, in the review of Southey's Colloquies on Society; he reasons with all the force and fire of declamation. Imagination, fancy, sensibility, seem all fused into his understanding. His illustrations are analogies; his images are pictorial arguments; the most gorgeous trappings of his rhetoric are radiant with thought. His intellectual eye pierces instantly beneath the shows of things to the things themselves, and seems almost to behold truth in clear vision. In boldness of thought, in intellectual hardihood and daring, in vehement strength of soul, he excels most of the liberal statesmen of Europe. His essays are full of propositions which not a few honorable members of Congress would shrink from supporting, and yet there is in his writings an entire absence of all the cant and maudlin affectation of mouth-worshippers of freedom. Many passages might be selected, as indicating the liberality and clearness of his views respecting the just powers of government, and the rights of the governed. His opinions on the union of Church and State, show great comprehensiveness of thought, and extent of information. The advocates of the necessary connection between a good government and an established church are opposed with the full strength of his intellect and passions. The whole history of the Christian religion shows, he says, that “she is in far greater danger of being corrupted by the alliance of power than of being crushed by its opposition. Those who thrust temporal sovereignty upon her treat her as their prototypes treated her Author. They bow the knee and spit upon her; they cry Hail! and smite her on the cheek; they put a sceptre into her hand, but it is a fragile reed; they crown her, but it is with thorns; they cover with purple the wounds which their own hands have inflicted upon her, and inscribe magnificent titles over the cross on which they have fixed her to perish in ignominy and pain.” The imperious scorn, the bitter hatred, the unalloyed detestation, he feels for the meanness and manifold infamies which followed in the train of the “glorious restoration” of Charles II., inspire many a passage of vigorous argument, and glow and burn beneath many a sentence of splendid rhetoric. After paying an eloquent tribute to the virtue, the valor, the religious servor, of the Puritans, who wrought the first English revolution, he bursts out in a strain of indignant rebuke of the succeeding social and political enormities which paved the way to the second. “Then came those days never to be mentioned without a blush — the days of servitude without loyalty, and sensuality without love; of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices; the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds; the golden age of the coward, the bigot and the slave. The king, cringing to his rival that he might trample on his people, sank into a viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her degrading insults and more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots and the jests of buffoons regulated the measures of a government which had just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place, worship was paid to Charles and James—Belial and Moloch; and England propitiated these obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and bravest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace, till the race accursed of God and man was a second time driven forth, to wander on the face of the earth, and to be a byword and a shaking of the head to the nations.” Not less severe is he upon the literature of that period. “A deep and general taint infected the morals of the most influential classes, and spread itself through every province of letters. Poetry inflamed the passions; philosophy undermined the principles; divinity itself, inculcating an abject reverence for the court, gave additional effect to its licentious example. The excesses

« ПредишнаНапред »