תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

have undergone in their mental development and moral growth. But this we say for Macaulay, tbat he never idolized either antiquity or prejudice, and that his great knowledge of life, public and private, made him a far better judge of what to reject or accept than the Chelsea sage, who has lived in retirement and obscurity, one may say, all his days. There can be no doubt, however, that Macaulay ransacked history for precedents to illustrate any subject which came under his consideration. But although he did this, which was no fault, he took a broad common-sense view of every question, in addition to that suggested by or implied in his historical references.

Macaulay appeared on the literary horizon as an essayist-the prodigy of these days of literature. After contributing to Knight's Quarterly, he burst upon the literati of the time with bis“ Milton, and astonished the whole republic of letters by the ability with which be treated that subject. What prodigality of learning, what clearness of illustration, what purity and antithetical power of language, did he bring to bear on that unrivalled essay! With what pleasure did we read it over and over again! It established his fame; it showed that he was a man of genius, a man of great intellect, a perfect thesaurus of all qualities that combine to ennoble man. He ranked side by side with the witty Sydney Smith, the critical Jeffrey, the great-minded Brougham. Let us take a few quotations to illustrate our subject, and the following extracts from his essay on “ Milton” will suffice ::

“We hear of the magical influence of poetry, The expression in general means nothing, but applied to the writings of Milton it is most appropriate. Its merit lies less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem at first sight to be no more in his words than in other words. But they are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced than the past is present, and the distant vear. New forms of beauty start at once into existence, and all the burial-places of the memory give up their dead. Change the structure of the sentence, substitute one synonyme for another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power." And again he remarks“That scarcely any passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known or more frequently repeated than those which are little more than muster rolls of names. They are not always more appropriate or more melodious than other names; but they are charmed names. Every one of them is the first link in a long chain of associated ideae. Like the dwelling. place of our infancy revisited in manhood, like a song of our country heard in a strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly independent of their intrinsic value. One transports us back to a remote period of history. Another places as among the novel scenes and manners of a distant region. A third evokes all the dear classical recollections of childhood, the schoolroom, the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the prize. A fourth brings before us the splendid phantoms of chivalrous romance, the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint devices, the haunted forests, the

enchanted gardens, the achievements of enamoured knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses."

These are only average specimens of the beauty and power of Macaulay's essays—so neat, so chaste, so concise, and so pleasing. In vain do we look for such finished English composition in the writings of Carlyle.

We admit that originality of thought is highly necessary in a great writer; but although one's vision of thought be deep and profound, either intuitively or experimentally, unless it be clothed in elegance of diction and purity of style, the palm of writing well cannot be yielded. However, a great deal of doubtful lustre hinges around what is called originality of thought. No doubt the phrase is awe-inspiring, but who has ever been able to tell what it means? Is it carving and inventing out of the mind rare thoughts, marvellous ideas? If so, what is its highest standard, or what its highest criterion ? Carlyle is said to be a great thinker, and Macaulay only an eminent expositor. We maintain, however, that Macaulay is a great thinker, as no one can be an able expounder without being at the same time a good thinker. The one is inseparable from the other. It may be asked, From what source has Carlyle got all his wonderful thinking-his bomb-shell flashes of thoughtWe unhesitatingly answer that it is by reading his own mind, by being an expositor of his own faculties, what he thinks and believes. Macaulay is a great deal more: he expounds what his own mind contains as well as he arranges the thoughts, ideas, and sentiments of others. He has as comprehen. sive and grasping a mind as Carlyle, for he gives fuller and greater credit to the opinions of others, and is able to make their thoughts more attractive than the authors could have done themselves. Carlyle's mind is like a room in confusion-table, sofa, chairs, thrown topsy-turvy, and all in sad disorder. Macaulay is dif. ferent; he has everything in its proper place, stately, beautiful, handsome, and arranged according to the various objects for which the different articles were designed.

The public in their literary criticisms have many faults to overcome. 'If a man speaks in a fluent manner, he is pronounced superficial. If he stammers, people generally believe that he thinks more than he can utter. So it is with writers. If a man writes with great precision and distinctness, so as to be understood by all readers, then it is asserted that he is not a thinker. On the contrary, if he be rather obscure and prosy, so as not to be easily understood, the verdict will be that he is thoughtful. So it is, so it has been, and so, we are afraid, it will continue to be. But clearness, we maintain, is the chief element in forming a great writer, and on this ground we maintain also that Macaulay is greater than Carlyle. The highest qualification that a writer can attain is that he make himself intelligible. If a person does not understand all that is contained in a book, how can he maintain that it is ably written, or that its author is a great writer P To

suppose the contrary is absurd. For a clear and graphic description, of originality, simplicity, and vigour, let us just take Macaulay on the Puritans:

“The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknowledging in general terms an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too minute. To know Him, to serve Him, to enjoy Him, was with them the great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscuring Teil, they aspired to gaze full on His intolerable brightness, and to commune with Him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from Him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognised no title to superiority but His favour; and, confident of that favour, they despised all the accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the register of heralds, they were recorded in the book of life. If their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade away. On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked down with contempt; for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious and terrible importance belonged, on whose slightest action the spirits of light and darkness looked with anxious interest, who had been destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away.' Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes had been ordained to his account. For his sake empires had risen, and flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed His will by the pen of the evangelist and the harp of the prophet. He had been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony, by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that the rocks had been rent, that the dead had risen, that all Nature had shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God.”

That description of the Puritans is unsurpassed. Such a hightoned and well-tuned enthusiasm pervades it as to make it particularly striking to the mind of any intelligent reader. There is also an extract which we shall quote from his “Review of Ranke's History of the Popes :"

“There is not, and there never was, on this earth a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that church joins together the two great ages of human

civilization. No other institution is lest standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine, and still confronting hostile kings, with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast centuries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which, a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."

Specimens such as these testify to the greatness of the writer. Although rich in rhetorical embellishment, no captious critic can cavil at an unnecessary number of words. There is no verbiage: the words are only used for conveying a distinct idea. Besides, this is quite consistent with the charming novelty, the extreme freshness, and the expressive mode of reasoning with which the whole is compacted. No wonder, then, that Macaulay's writings impress the mind with a sense of their merit. They kindle enthu. siasm in the breast of the reader ; a feeling of intense pleasure and admiration rushes across the mind, and the intellect is fascinated with the literary feast. A gleam of the holiest and most lasting jcy flashes over our faculties; the fire of literary inspirations, as it were, glows and burns with matchless brilliancy, as the whole mind revels in the delight given by the illustrious Macaulay. The power whic!i Macaulay exercises over the soul clearly shows that he is a great writer, of which this power must be considered as a very important element. When we read a few pages of Macaulay's productions, do we get wearied or wish that we were done The

perusal of his works brings no weariness or irksomeness; the only fear looked at is that we are getting too near the end of what we are reading. Macaulay certainly gives pleasure; and a great writer must please as well as instruct. Sound teaching, no doubt, produces profit; and every body knows that in the ordinary sense pleasure is sure to follow what is profitable, just as sure as that cause is foilowed by effect in the physical world.

There is another quality which must be taken into consideration that has something to do with good writing, and that is usefulness. There may be some vagueness about the import of this word; but the meaning is quite clear to our mind. It is no more or less than that the services which any object renders for good are valuable, whether appreciated or not. It is well known that many useful things which are very common are not thought valuable. But this we know, that after a little reflection anything of advantage to ourselves will be estimated at its proper value. Besides, a thing can only be valuable and useful when it can be realized, that is, tested and experienced. That which is plausible and probable without being practically carried out can be of no benefit. Inventions, without putting them to some purpose, will be of no utility. Suggestiveness, without some realizing equivalent, can establish no foundation upon which any system will stand. So it is with Macaulay and Carlyle. The former discourses upon no subject except what he has realized and experienced ; the latter, on what may or may not be on the conditions of man, of which no definite knowledge is given. The one wrote what he believed would be useful, the other what suited his own whimsical fancy. Ycu can ascertain the end the one has in view, but that of the other is obscure and vague. It may be said by some that they both searched for and investigated facts to ascertain truth. But what may be true to one man may be untrue to another. In like manner, Macaulay never wrote unless he knew that which he wrote about was thoroughly true-he was practically truthful. On the other hand, Carlyle has written much of what may be probably true, but of which there is no sufficient evidence to place it beyond doubt. Of course we do not mean Carlyle's historical works, as the opposite side has not extracted much from them. Macaulay's choice appears to us, therefore, the more preferable.

Carlyle's “ French Revolution" has been founded on by H. K. as being one of the rarest and grandest historical works ever published. It may be what people call a splendid poem--a wonderful epic ; but by a history we think is meant that a description of a particular event or events is given, so that when it is read one can tell what they have been reading about. Suppose that no one had ever read or heard anything about the French revolution; we ask, could any one give an explanation or detailed narrative of the French revolution from his work? We unhesitatingly aver that they could not. It is evident to all who read his "French Revolution,” that without a previous knowledge of the subject we could form no

« הקודםהמשך »