תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

method of dealing with it. He is possessed of a remarkable power of sketching out a political situation, picking out the important and telling points, and throwing over everything which in any way mars the unity of the picture,-a power which is the more striking, as he has no turn for what is usually termed graphic writing: Battlepieces are not to his taste, and while he hastens over the fight on the Alma as an

heroic scramble,” he actually compresses into four or five lines that stern standing at bay on the Sutlej, which sent a thrill of anxiety through every English household. It is in such chapters as those on Lord Durham's mission to Canada, or Sir Robert Peel's dealing with Free Trade in corn, that Mr. M‘Carthy is seen at his best.

Yet, in spite of all that is good in the book, or rather, perhaps, because of what is good in it, the impression left on a thoughtful reader is disappointing. It is in no proper sense a history. It is composed of a series of sketches, hanging together so loosely that the author has forgotten to tell us anything of Sir Robert Peel's great free-trade budgets, no unimportant product of that statesman's intellect, and argues about his conversion to free trade as if the abolition of the corn-duties was everything with which he had been concerned in the matter. Such a slip as this, however, might be passed over-like that other curious mistake when Mr. M'Carthy tells us that in the constitution set up in France by Louis Napoleon there were “two political chambers elected by universal suffrage, -if he knew how to direct our attention to those currents of thought which it is the business of historians to trace out, and which form the true unity of history. There, however, he is entirely at fault. Take, for instance, his deprecatory account of Charles Kingsley

"Human capacity is limited. It is not giveu to mortal to be a great preacher, a great philosopher, a great scholar, a great poet, a great historian, a great novelist, and an indefatigable country parson. Charles Kingsley never seems to have made up his mind for which of these callings to go in especially, and being, with all his versatility, not at all manysided, but strictly one-sided and at most one-idead, the result was, that while touching success at many points he absolutely mastered it at none, since his novel Westward Ho! he never added anything substantial to his reputation. All this acknowledged, however, it must still be owned that, failing in this, that, and the other attempt, and never achieving any real and enduring success, Charles Kingsley was an influence and a man of mark in the Victorian age.” If Kingsley really was a mere seeker after success in too many directions to obtain it, it would surely be instructive to learn how it was that he became an influence. To know why a man influences an age is to learn something about the age itself. In the present case the knowledge would be of no slight importance. Kingsley's influence was owing to his being a reconciler of contending ideas. In his youth he stood up and said, “I am a parson of the Church of England, and a Chartist.”. In later years he believed intensely in both Christianity and Darwinianism. Whether we hold that the combination is possible or impossible to a logical mind, the fact that it gave him an influence is one which no historian can afford to pass over. It tells him much about the mind of England as distinguished from the mind of France which he would not otherwise know.

Mr. M'Carthy in short has written well of many things which happened in England, but he does not go deep enough to tell the history of the nation.

Captain Trotter's Warren Hastings: a Biography (W. H. Allen & Co.) gives us an excellent antidote to Macaulay's brillant but overdrawn essay. Most of the information contained in the book has appeared elsewhere in some shape or another, but Captain Trotter has rendered no slight service in presenting the case for the defence in a concise and interesting form. If it must still be called only the case for the defence, it is not because Captain Trotter either perverts the truth or passes lightly over important facts, but because he does not seem to be aware that inferences different from his own may be drawn from the facts which he honestly gives, and because he has no notion of the state of mind which would receive witho abhorrence even those facts by which he is not himself shocked.

Put in simple language the case of Hastings was the not uncommon case of a man who acts according to the ideas of one age and is judged according to the ideas of another. The generation from which he sprang hardly understood political morality as existing beyond the limits of the English nation. The generation which impeached him was that of Pitt, who negotiated the first commercial treaty, and of Burke and Fox, the advocates of the oppressed of every race and of every colour. Hastings ruled justly over all men, black and white, who were committed to his

charge. He bent the whole forces of his powerful mind to improve their condition. But beyond the frontier of his charge, morality had simply no existence for him. He did not sin against better knowledge, because he had no better knowledge. He no more understood that it was immoral to lead his troops to attack the Rohillas than a fox-hunter considers it to be immoral to cause pain to a fox. On the other hand, the service rendered by his accusers was that they enlarged the scope of morality. No doubt, as Captain Trotter does well to point out, they exaggerated his offences enormously. The sentence of acquittal by the House of Peers was fully justified. What was really wanted was to make it certain that no future GovernorGeneral should let out his soldiers for hire without caring what were the con sequences of the proceeding, and that he should not make up for the deficiency of his purse by going shares with a native prince in the proceeds of a high-handed seizure of money in the possession of that prince's mother and grandmother, whether a court of law would have decided that the money was justly the property of the two old ladies or not. But it would have been hard to punish a man severely who had done these things without the slightest notion that he was doing wrong, and who, much as he sinned, did not sin against conscience.

Capt. Trotter's book, in short, is unsatisfactory because he does not go to the root of the matter. His soul is vexed with no grave problems. The Rohilla affair gives him some slight qualms. He acknowledges that no impartal critic can look back on it with much complacency. But he lays so much stress on the deductions which are to be made from Macaulay's inaccurate narrative, that he leaves the impression that the offence was not so very bad after all.

If however, Captain Trotter gives us little help on passing a true judgment on his hero, he at least gives us in the narrative the facts on which our judgment ought to be based. The few lines which Hastings wrote to a friend on the Rohilla affair are quite enough to call for a censure which Captain Trotter shrinks from pronouncing “ Such,” explained the Governor-General, was my idea of the Company's distress at home, added to my knowledge of their wants abroad, that I should have been glad of any occasion to employ their forces, which saves so much of their pay and expenses. Captain Trotter speaks of this as "not a very lofty motive." Others will probably see in it something worse.

IV.-ESSAYS, NOVELS, POETRY, &c.

(Under the Direction of MATTHEW BROWNE.)

TWO
WO marked changes appear upon the surface of our literature during the last

few years : we may perhaps say three. One is not very important, though it

is significant,-it is that what might be called good-society pessimism has very visbly coloured much of our novel-writing. Mr. Herbert Spencer's philosophy may be split in two; a very good Christian Theist may walk off with one half, and a fighting Atheist with the other. Schopenhauer cannot be treated in the same manner, but half of him is readily translatable into a liberal cynicism tempered with epigram, which is perfectly good form; the translation has taken place; and our novels show it.

Another change lies in the fact that thongh, as we have before remarked, there is a lull in the higher speculation, there is an increase in the number of tentative books in theology and religious criticism. Two of these books have been of a high order, and have been very cautiously dealt with, nobody going on to ask the obvious question—" But why stop here in particular, when your theory is good for a much wider conclusion ?" But it remains to be seen what fate is in store, so far as reviews are concerned, for the tentative works, which go much closer up to the breach ; which are written by men who have no particular academic backers or claqueurs; which do not put forward any pretence at immediate reconciliation between this, that, and the other. It is the writing that does pretend to conciliate which is just now most sure of “the floor."

Another change, slight but real, exists in the marked increase of the tendency to personal satire or caricature. This is in part a result of the success of Mr. Mallock's * New Republic." We have of late noticed some tendency to underrate that marvellous piece of parody; but it must be remembered in its behalf that very, very few readers can catch the best points. The tide of warm “ appreciation” has run most strongly in favour of the parodies of Mr. Matthew Arnold, and especially the parodies of his poetry. Naturally, because his poetry is well known. But even here, criticism has fallen short of its mark. There are extant notices of the book, from highly intelligent pens, which have quoted Mr. Mallock's verses on pp. 67–70, and praised them very highly; but they are in fact not near so good as the sham-Jowett sermon, or the sham-Ruskin address. The "points” in the verse are obvious, and the original is the poem beginning

"A wanderer is man from his birth." None of the parodists or caricaturists in our recent novels have shown anything like the subtlety or the resource of Mr. Mallock; and, indeed, all of them have been bound to content themselves with mere swallow-flights compared with his.

Talking of parody, we may pass on to observe that when good it is a very great help towards understanding and appreciating an author. We have before us a biography of William Cobbett, but no human wit could get out of a biography five times as good one-tenth of the knowledge of the man that is to be got out of the parody in the “ Rejected Addresses.” It is an interesting and highly instructive fact, that in the fate of these very parodies we have a repetition of what we have lately seen in the fate of Mr. Mallock. The Smith caricatures of Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott have been generally if not universally pronounced the best; and the reason is obrions: the parody stares at you; it is voyant (is not that the last idle importation of the sort ?) The parody of Wordsworth by James Hogg is infinitely better. You can scarcely separate the earnest from the joke; but then the imitation, done by a poet and perhaps an underrated one), is too subtle for readers who have not quick and retentive memories. The best parodies in the “Rejected Addresses” are decidedly those on Crabbe and Southey (as the worst are those on Dr. Johnson and Lord Byron); but their merit is not readily caught. It is only a few who can be expected to enjoy

I am a blessed Glendoveer;

'Tis mine to speak, and yours to hear;" or the extraordinarily elaborate “apologies” of the preface to the sham-Crabbe poem, because only a few have Crabbe and Southey at their fingers' ends: and you can no more “cram” for enjoying a parody than for enjoying a joke. You must bring your resources with you, as the traveller to Trollhatte was invited to do. And from this may easily be inferred, by inversion, the law of excellence in parody, which is, that from a good parody it ought to be possible to reproduce the qualitiesof the writing parodied. Of course it would usually be a matter of great labour to do this, but the soundness of the rule is manifest. It by no means follows that the parodist himself is the man to illustrate its action.

To return to Peter Porcupine and the Political Register : we have looked with some care at William Cobbett, a Biography, by Edward Smith (2 vols., Sampson Low & Co.). This book is well printed on good paper ; a very characteristic portrait forms the frontispiece to the first volume ; and a list of Cobbett's publications the Appendix to the second. We thank Mr. Smith for his painstaking record, and hope that fastidious readers will not be thrown off the main scent too often by his peculiar manner, or his hard and too rapid generalizations. The character of Cobbett well deserves study; if we do not find that Mr. Edward Smith throws any new light apon it, he supplies us with useful material in a handy form; and it is so easy to underrate the value of services like his, that we will not run the

risk of doing it in this case by going one word further

than the observation that the book does not impress us as a very pleasant one, though Cobbett is in himself a most attractive subject, particularly open to agreeable illustration by side-lights of all sorts.

In the Book of English Elegies (Sampson Low & Co.) the editor, Mr. W. F. March Phillipps, has got hold of a good idea, but it was

a difficult one to work, and required very widely extended counsel. The volume is

, as it could not fail to be, a book to turn to; but we cannot say we think it successful, or nearly so. Of conrse tastes will differ in these matters: but we cannot see the logic of giving seven " elegiac” poems from Herrick and three from Cowley, while Andrew Marvell is left out, and from Milton only “ Lycidas” is taken. In Pope we have a passage from the “ Essay on Man," while the " Elegy” is omitted. In Charles Lamb, we have the "Dead Infant;" but where is "Hester" It Mrs. Hemans was to be admitted at all

, why have we only " The Graves

of a Household,” while “ Leaves have their time to

9

fall” is rejected? As to Cowper, we have one of those half-stupid " Bills of Mortality” poems; but where are The Poplars” and “The Mother's Picture "-poems both admissible under the express terms of the preface ? Henry Vaughan we miss altogether; and among sweet minor poets, James Montgomery. On the other hand, we have eighteen pages from "Blair's Grave,” and not a line from Young. Copy. right mysteries may have excluded Landor, and other (to us, unguessable) reasons may bave operated in other cases; but the editor's reason for excluding American elegiac poetry is, though founded in truth, absurdly applied-as he will surely see himself in recalling Emerson's noble poem on the death of his brother, and some of the very best—the very best-work of Bryant, Lowell, and Longfellow. In Shakspeare we have not one--not one of the so-called sonnets, while we have nine extracts from the plays. In short, we have done our best to make out some principle of selection for this book and have utterly failed. Just think of admitting * Sir Patrick Spens,” “The Twa Corbies,” * Chevy Chase,” Kirke White's "Thanatos” and Athanatos,” and excluding some of the shorter pieces of Milton, and Cowper's “Toll for the Brave!” There are four pieces from Tom Moore, and “Oh, breathe not his name is not among them: nor " At the mid hour of night" (though “Oft in the stilly night” is here). There is not a line of Keats. In short, we give it up; not having said a tenth part of what occurs to us. The first 80 pages are devoted to "mediæval and renaissance” poetry.

A very different verdict must be passed upon two collections of poetry which reach us from Messrs. Longman, Green & Co.'s house. The first is entitled A Poetry Book of Elder Poets, consisting of Songs and Sonnets, Odes and Lyrics, Selected and Arranged, with Notes, from the works of the Elder English Poets, dating from the beginning

of the fourteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century, by Amelia B. Edwards; and the second is A Poetry Book of Modern Poets, consisting of Songs and Sonnets, Odes and Lyrics, Selected, and Arranged, with Notes, from the works of the modern English and American Poets, dating from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present time, by Amelia B. Edwards. These collections are exceedingly cheap, the print is large and plain, and Miss A. B. Edwards has proceeded upon principles of selection which can be made sense of. Of course there is always room for difference of opinion in such matters, but it was not easy to go far wrong unless the editor diverged into downright eccentricity or favouritism. Mr. Tennyson is excluded (by himself or his publishers), but Mr. Matthew Arnold and Clough are here, and Mr. Buchanan has himself abridged "Meg Blane” for the purpose of this selection. As an illustration of the question of difference of taste we might record that the poet has omitted the very passages which the present writer likes best, especially that most affecting one

“Lord ! with how small a thing

Thou canst prop up the heart against the grave !" The recent modern singers (in English) are very well represented, including the American-very well, we mean, considering the care that has been taken not to trespass. There is one poem, a powerful one too, by Caroline Norton (Lady Stirling-Maxwell), which has never till now been published. As to the point of catholicity and completeness we prefer the "elder " selection, but there the task was easier, and the editor was not influenced (as we fear she has been in the other case) by the desire of making her selection as little like others as possible. The Notes we cannot launch out upon; but there, as might be expected, we feel least at one with Miss Edwards : to our fancy (we do not insist) there is too much in some directions and too little in others. If we are to explain “Lethe" and call the reader's attention to “vivacity sweetness," what are we to leave untouched? The editor will be more vexed than the reader by a few misprints such, as “maid Clytie ” for “mad Clytie," and some smaller matters in the Notes. We have made no memoranda and can give no list. These selections in poetry are to be followed by selections

or

The cheapness of these volumes, the excellence of the type, and the light strength of the binding should make them welcome friends in many a sickchamber. Should not some of the poems be indexed under more than one title? To give an instance—“ Phillida flouts me" would be looked for by ninety-nine readers out of a hundred under the letter P, but it is not to be found there. What may be called the common "mnemonic” title is always desirable. Does Miss Edwards really prefer “idol” to “viol” in the Ariel-guitar verses, or is the retention of the old reading an accident? In the “Sands of Dee” “ dark with foam" should be “ dank with fcam.” The first verse of the “ Three Fishers

in prose.

The poem

is printed as given in the Christian Socialist, not as in the “Poems.” Perhaps the editor prefers the first reading, as we do. In “ Alexander's Feast ” two lines are silently omitted—though they are conventional in form, and are retained by Mr. Palgrave, who is fastidious enough. The omission of an index of first lines is a very serious fault, especially as some of the titles are avowedly new. entitled"" The Fly," here marked anonymous, is of known authorship, but we cannot recall the name at the moment. It was, however, some such man as Thelwall, or John Day; some quaint, half-Quaker sort of man.

Here is a book of memoirs and "ana" mixed up together, which may be taken either as a volume for an idle hour or a study for the psychologist. The title is long :The Irish Bar; comprising Anecdotes, Bon-mots, and Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of Ireland, by J. Roderick O'Flanagan, Barrister-at-law, Author of "The Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England," " History of the Munster Circuit” &c. (Sampson Low & Co.). But we must not omit the dedication :-“To the Right Honourable Edward Sullivan, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, in token of admiration for his eminent abilities at the bar and on the bench, this work, relating to the profession he adorns, is most respectfully dedicated by the author.”—This is an exceedingly characteristic book. To the diligent and versatile reader it has the disadvantage of containing too much of what he has read before. But Irishmen can hardly be dull; they may be showy; too ready to make geese into swans; a little unscrupulous in qnestions of (shall we call it) veracity; not dainty in their choice of topics of wit or humour; and apt to “re-repeat" things (to use a word which we once heard from an Irish barrister of repute. But they are usually entertaining and intensely human. Mr. Roderick O'Flanagan is all this, and his anecdotes are really illustrative of Irish character. The reader will have to put up with O'Connell and the Hogan hat over again, and the fish-wife-parallelogram (or parallelopidon ?) story, and other old friends ; but he will make fresh acquaintances. That is an admirable anecdote of the judge who, being asked by a learned brother whether he had ever seen anything like the très décolletée dress of a certain lady, witness replied, “Not since I was weaned.”

It was of course inevitable that Messrs. Macmillan & Co.'s series of English Men of Letters should contain a volume on Shelley, however tired “the public” may be of the subject. In many important respects, too, Mr. John Addington Symonds was a gentleman peculiarly well fitted for the task of writing the memoir. For one thing, he was uncommitted, and, as far as we know, had taken no part in the numerous Shelley fights that have been going on since the first awakening of that fresh interest in the poet which has been conspicuous during the last twenty years. This makes us sure of a study which is in a good sense neutral, and Mr. Symonds has high critical qualifications besides. But the general result is still not satisfactory, if we have regard to the prospectus. There is not, so far as we know, an obscure sentence in the books; and yet it is certain that the hurried and half, or less than half instructed readers for whom they are intended, will find them unsatisfying. The reader who cares much about some of these authors will know nearly all that the manuals tell him (the criticism is another matter), and a great deal more than they tell him, or pretend to tell him, about the works of the authors. On the other hand, the intelligent and curious reader who wants to systematize what he has " picked up,” will feel baffled and confused.

There is one respect, indeed, in which Mr. Symonds was not superlatively well fitted for his task. His writing does not show that he has “the sense that handles daily life.” There is, on pp. 109, 110, some writing about Shelley's “gloom,” hatred of ordinary society, cheerfulness in the company of those whom he liked, * martyrdom,” and so forth, which strikes us as wholly confused. Of course, no man of Shelley's quality and activity of mind could suffer from that sort of misery which bites its finger-nails, or asks every hour“ what is the world saying of me p". But that he suffered acutely and continuously from remorse, persecution, and physical pain, is certain and abundantly clear. The witnesses contradict each other, but what then? We must cross-examine them all, gentle and simple; and when we have done that, we conclude that, barring mere form, the “ romantic persons" who "invest” Shelley with “ martyrdom" are right.

Passing, however, from topics which many will think overdone, we find Mr. Symonds’s treatment of his theme suggests another which is in the air just now. For a long while past tolerably acute persons must have noticed that, in biographies and elsewhere, moral questions have been discussed, or rather dismissed, in curiously equivocal

« הקודםהמשך »