Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

price, we only mean that an ounce of silver bears a greater or a less ratio in value to an ounce of gold, than it did at the time when the standard of our coin was fixed.

The price of gold, then, means its price in silver, and the price of silver means its price in gold. It is easy to see what confusion in our ideas this reciprocation must produce. It is a strange ambiguity which is never reflected upon. We do not recollect that we have seen it adverted to in any treatise upon the subject. But numberless are the conclusions which are drawn from reasonings founded upon the variations, as they are called, in the price of bullion; and endless is the train of error into which speculators have thus been led.

We are extremely sorry that Lord Liverpool has not pursued this line of investigation, which would have given him an opportunity of detecting and exposing so many of the errors which are entertained on the subject of money. It appears, however, to have entirely escaped him; and he has contented himself with the easier and more superficial task of appealing to authorities, and to some historical facts, chiefly the use ot Bank money which has been adopted in some countries, but for purposes very distinct from that of establishing one standard coin.

(To be concluded in the next Number J

Art. IV. Lectures on the Truly Eminent English Poets. By Percival Stockdale. 2 vols 8vo. pp. 618, 656. Price 11. Is. Longman and Co., W. Clarke. 1807.

AN apprehension of not receiving quite so much instruction as a very large work ought to convey, was excited in our minds, we will acknowledge, by the title of these volumes. We could not see the promise of intellectual precision, in the attempt-to qualify the epithet, specifying the class of poets, with an adverb which confuses the meaning; still less when this adverb is put as the prominent and distinctive term of the designation. The reader knows that etch of the English poets is either eminent or not so, and asks what inconceivable class of eminent poets it can be, from which the. truly eminent are to be distinguished. The preface indeed explains, that this word was inserted, because Dr. Johnson has introduced among the eminent poets some names which had no just cluim to be there. But besides that the title of any large work, professing to be of an important and permanent quality, should have in itself a perfect meaning exclusive of any tacit reference to other books, it seems obvious to remark, that Dr. Johnson's placing the lives of several very inferior poets among those ■f the eminent ones, has in no degree rendered those inferior poets eminent; and therefore there needs no double array of distinctive words to inclose the elevated ground occupied by the great poets, and guard it from unhallowed intrusion.

It is one of the chief objects of this work, to follow the track of Johnson through the writings, and through parts of the history, of several of our great poets, in order to rectify some of the wrongs which we all acknowledge to have been done by our celebrated biographer. This was surely a meritorious design; for there are parts of the Lives of the Poets which every lover of literary or moral justice would be glad to see stamped with an indelihle brand of reprobation, with a disgrace so signal and conspicuous, as to be a perpetual warning against the perversion of criticism and private history by political and religious bigotry and personal spleen. He would wish the work of the formidable ' critic to bear, like the wolf of Romulus in the capitol, some lasting marks of the effect of lightning. But the difficulty of inflicting such effectual retribution on Johnson as to rescue the victims of his injustice, is too forcibly proved to us even by our own feelings. There has been a great deal of sensible and incontrovertible writing in defence of Milton ^ind Gray, and our judgements are perfectly convinced that the one was a much more amiable man, and the other a much greater poet, than Johnson has represented; yet in spite of this conviction, it is always Johnson's moral picture of .Milton, and Johnson's estimate of the poetry of Gray, that are the first to recur to our minds when the names are introduced. The energy of the writing has reduced us to a certain degree of the same kind of subjection, as that which Milton himself has imposed on our imagination with regard to Satan and our first parents, of whom we may strive in vain to form ideas materially different from those which have been fixed in our minds from reading Paradise Lost. And therefore, while we have often wished to sec the great literary tyrant deposed, we are afraid that, something more is requisite for the atchieveinent, than merely to convince the people of his injustice; it is necessary to display something like a rival vigour of talent, an eloquence adapted, to command by its energy, separately from the justice of its object, a power which shall appear formed on purpose to crush or to baffle giants and monsters. There was no chance for invading the den of Cacus, till Hercules arrived, nor for the deliverance of the Greeks from that of the Cyclops, but through the agency of Ulysses.

There could not be a more zealous vindicator of injured poets against the iniquity of criticism, than the present writer. He will obtain full credit for courage and sincere enthusiasm in the cause, for more than ordinary resources, of some kind, displayed in-extending the warfare over so vast a field of paper, and perhaps for a generous and liberal motive to the hostility. Nevertheless we think it will end, as the other quarrels-of Europe were till lately accustomed to end, in the status quo ante odium. Each of the poets will hold exactly the same place in the public and in each reader's estimation as before. Indeed our author's opinions of them do not materially differ from those which are generally entertained already, excepting his strange idolatry of Chattcrton. It was perfectly well understood before, that Spenser had wrought a rich imagination into perplexing labyrinths of allegory; that Milton advanced into regions of which every other poet had stopped and trembled at the dark confines, and of which the inhabitants might almost have mistaken him, as to his intellectual grandeur, for one of themselves; that Shakespeare could make all sorts of human creatures with far less trouble than by the method ascribed to Deucalion and Pyrrha, of tossing pebbles over their heads;, that Dry den performed wonders of diversified excellence both in poetry and prose, under what are called the frowns of fortune ; that the works of Pope are the perfection of beauty in literature; and so of the rest. It was not necessary for this to be repeated at such length, unless for the sake of some bright and original illustration, or with the developement of some new characteristic in the genius and works of each of our well-known poets. But no man who has read and admired them, will read them the next time with any new perceptions derived from the work before us; nor will the gall which Johnson may have sprinkled on their writings, or on the features of their character, be at all removed by this long process of critical lustration.

From the beginning of this work to the end, there is a total renunciation of all method and regularity; it exceeds all former examples of literary rambling. The author seems to go through his subject by a succession of purely casual motions, just as we used, when we were boys, to go through a wood picking nuts, where our turning to the right, or the left, or going forward or backward, was determined, at each step, by what happened to pop on our sight at the moment. He will go on perhaps one or two pages with tolerable propriety after some particular topic; this topic vanishes in turning the corner of some unlucky sentence ; another starti up, and is eagerly pursued about the same length, when this also slides out of sight, and leaves the pursuer to chase any thing that happens to present itself next. He will begin perhaps with a flaming eulogium of a favourite poet; at the tenth or twelfth sentence, the name of Johnson may chance to come across him; this is sure to send him off in a violent invective against the bigotry, the spleen, the prejudice, the want of taste, and the itliberality of the great critic; quickly the impulse takes a turn, and shoots him away from Johnson to strike impetuously against the stupidity of the age, and perhaps the flimsy works of its poets; through these he dashes in a moment, and is gone, almost before we can»cry out for mercy for them, to attack booksellers, antiquarians, metaphysicians, priests, courts, tasteless ministers of state, and proud mean-spirited patrons; it is never long, however, before he reverts to himself, with new avowals of independence of judgement, of ardour for truth, and worship of genius, and with very equivocal expressions of a humble estimate of his powers to do justice to his undertaking. For fifty pages together there shall be no sign of progress, but the advancing figures at the top. We are kept in a most violent motion but cannot get on. An active boisterons kind of diction whirls the very same sentiments, praises, and invectives, in an everlasting eddy. Kach eminent poet in the train is overwhelmed with a profuse repetition of the same epithets of magnificence, which are rather flung at him than applied to him. The gentle bards are actually pelted with praise; the favours of their eulogist are sent from a cross-bow, and impinge on the revered personages with such a vengeance as to cause an echo through the whole temple of the muses. The impassioned violence of the author's manner, and his incomparably strange phraseology, prevent the continual recurrence of the same forms of undiscriminating applause and condemnation from acquiring exactly the appearance of common place. It is perceived indeed to be his common-' place ; but it is so different from that of other writers, that it maintains a cast of novelty for a considerable time, and leads us further than we should have been induced to go, if the same endless repetition of sentiments so defective in intellectual force had invited us in ordinary language.

A certain expression of ingenuousness and sensibility in the author's character, makes us resist, as long as we can, the conviction that this turbulence of the language does not arise from a vigorous intellectual operation, agitating the composition by a. rapid succession of new forms of energetic thought, but from an impetuosity of temperament, rendered still more vehement by a continual recurrence of the mind, in its desultory course, to the same ideas. When this conviction can no longer be escaped, we do wonder to observe with how small a portion of effectual thinking it is possible to write many hundred pages.

A constant extravagance of expression, is the most obvious feature of the performance. The author never thinks of using the sober established diction of simple criticism; his feelings are always in an ebullition, and running- over with a fire and steam that drive off all other critics and admirers of poetry, who are virtually reproached with being as cold as arctic fishes. For epithets and enthusiasm, Longinus was a Scotch metaphysician in comparison, tie has just the language of a person ".ho has seen something marvellous for the first time, and is telling it to persons who have never seen it at all; the language in which the first adventurers to India mightbe supposed to tell, at their return, of-elephants, and palaces, and Moguls, and temples, and idols of massy gold, and to tell it all over again with an impossibility of making themselves tired. The word " glorious" is applied to the poets and their verses, in a manner, and with a frequency, which would have irritated every man of those poets, if they could have heard this critic, into a resolution never to employ that word again. "Illustrious," and " immortal," would have been in danger of the same exclusion. The application to writers and their works, of terms appropriate to celestial subjects and beings, involves a prefaneuess, in which we wonder what literary advantage an author can see to reconcile him to the guilt. Shakespeare is here " divine," Milton is " divine," Dryden js " divine," Pope is " divine," Ohatterton is "divine," and probably several others of the poets; and how ninth more dops> any body know about them from such a description? What is the use of being told of a " divine genius," a "divine soul," a "divine poem," or of writing or of reading that Dryden beheld in Shakespeare, " his divine master?"* 'What is to be learnt from this extravagance, except that the author has never accustomed himself to a discriminative estimate of the works that he admires, and that he has found out there is room enough in terms of vastness to hide the want oi' terms of precision?

We shall not be required to give any regular account of the successive lectures, or of any one of them. The number is twenty, and the poets forming their subjects are Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Young,' Thomson, Chatterton, and Gray. We were more pleased with the vindication of Milton, against the illiberality of Johnson, than aiiy other part. And the supremacy of Milton's genius and performance gives a better grace to the lecturer's extravagant language, than it could receive from any other of his subjects. We will extract some paragraphs in his best manner.'

* Rousseau also is "diyine" and " glorious." We are even told of "the.glorious Fielding."

« ПредишнаНапред »