תמונות בעמוד

from age to age, teaching all men that a God is still present in their life." And-“ In the true literary man there is ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness. He is the light of the worldthe world's priest,-guiding it like a sacred pillar of fire in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of time.” Our opponent considers this to be the most satisfactory definition that can be given ; but it is one to which we demur, as having little or no meaning. What distinct statement is given of a great writer in the references quoted? The very first sentence is defective, as it asserts that men of letters are a priesthood that teach all men that a God is present in their lives. Is this the case? Many of the greatest writers that ever lived have never taught that a God is present in the lives of men. A great writer is known by the influence that he may have had over his fellow-men, and by the way in which his works have been received by the people. But Carlyle's definition allows no latitude for those who do not teach as he defines, and on his prin. ciple Hume was a poor writer! Then as to the sacredness attached to the literary man, we may remark that there is an equal sacredness in every one who discharges his duty in the light of reason between man and man as there is in the literary man; or even as Carlyle himself has it in his "Sartor Resartus,” that there is " an ineritable, a veritable mystery in the meanest tinker that sees with eges." We need not farther refer to the quotation; it is directly opposed to all experience, the practice and science of all who live or have lived in this world.

“A great writer must also be a great thinker.” This is not the case. One may be the greatest thinker in an age, and at the same time quite unable to be such a writer as to influence his fellow-man. One with powers of composition-elegant and refined, or strong and telling, with not much thought-may be a far better and abler writer than one deeply versed in thought who cannot adequately express what he thinks.

Macaulay's literary creed was to master the subject upon which he wrote in all its aspects—to give all views having reference thereto impartially, embracing the side of truth, or the side wbich he con. ceives to be true; making his thoughts distinctly understood, adhering to the practical, showing the nobleness of a celebrated man on the one side and his faults on the other, adhering to the teachings of experience in opposition to that which bore the least sigos of the theoretical, painting the whole in clear language, using Do jarring word to tingle the ear, and embellishing with his master hand everything that flowed from his pen to meet the wants and suit the understandings of all classes alike. Carlyle, on the other hand, makes a great noise about theoretical truth, if such a form of truth can exist. He argues upon the nobleness of character, and what character is able to come to, without knowing that ultimate end more than we can know. In all his historical writings his ideas go zigzag, violating the recognised construction of the English language. No one knows what he is about when he writes, he twists, contorts, and ill-uses the Queen's English. His writings generally excite curiosity, not at the ideas contained in them, but they awaken astonishment at the pell-mell outburst of words in which the extravagant ideas, if ascertainable, are clothed,-thus rendering the whole the reverse of practically useful or fascinating.

In our view, therefore, of the elements which constitute a great writer, Macaulay has certainly the pre-eminence; for with whatever attention and consideration we may look upon the suggestive thoughts in Carlyle's works, still when we find no practical purpose in them in their relation to ourselves and to society,-we aver that Macaulay is the greater man, on account of the practical stamp which he has given to all his productions. When we can follow with ease and satisfaction to ourselves that which may be embraced in a work, we come to the conclusion that it is one which we may consider with profit, as tending to very beneficial results. But if it be written in an extravagant style, without due distinctness—in strange language without usefulness, without

gracefulness, gaining vividness by bizarre speech, and moreover being without practical end, then there can be no other alternative for us but to deem such a work one of doubtful merit. Macaulay answers the former, and Carlyle the latter description. Macaulay is different both in style and thought from Carlyle-wide as are the literary poles asunder. Macaulay is like a river flowing gracefully, yet majestically, to the ocean, nothing impeding its progress, every obstacle being carried away with noiseless yet irresistible force to the main current, and all the fleets of merchandise or war borne on its bosom with ease, grace, and dignity: Carlyle is the reverse. He is like a huge natural piece of unhewn granite-unwieldy, uncouth, without beauty or elegance. Macaulay is like the granite polished, glittering in its grandeur, pure as crystal, vivid and distinct. Macaulay is a perfect master of English speech. Carlyle's is a hastard Scoto-German style. He rolls and wallows as if he were a Caliban! H. K. lays great stress on, and of course

endorses an opinion which appeared in an article in the North British Review, which says that Carlyle entertains a

very deep disdain for the robes and trappings of antiquity and prejudice. But we are unable to reconcile this statement with Carlyle's own definition of a great writer, who, he says, is " a priest from age to age, teaching men that a God is present in their lives.” Surely he must refer to antiquity, or even to bygone years for experience. The wise man is, however, the one who takes all that he thinks worth from antiquity, and considers prejudices, either national or local, in the sense in which they may influence the subjects under their control for better or worse. If Carlyle does, as our opponent asserts on the authority quoted, spurn all antiquity and prejudice, then we maintain that his is no prudent precedent for us to adopt, as it is only by our knowledge of the past that we are able to trace the rise and progress of our species, with the different phases which nationalities bave undergone in their mental development and moral growth. But this we say for Macaulay, that 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 his “Milion," and astonished the whole republic of letters by the ability with which he 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 wear. 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 ideas. 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 us among the novel scenes and manners of a distant region. A third erokes 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 thought ? We 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 comprehensive 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, hondsome, and arranged according to the various objects for which the different articles were designed.

The public in their literary criticisms have many faults to over. come. 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 con. trary, 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 descrip. tion, 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 veil, 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

« הקודםהמשך »