« ForrigeFortsæt »
vulgar and revolting calumnies, seems, however, to have been intimately persuaded, from the moment of his return to France, that he was treading upon half-extinguished embers, and to have been treacherously advised that the admission of the Royalists to favour would prove the spark which should rekindle the flames of rebellion. The result of such councils upon his first restoration was to enclose him in a circle formed of all the putrid glitter of revolution, which was quickly dissolved for the exemplification of new and frightful treasons. But terror or infatuation appears to have mastered his better understanding experience has lost with him its ordinary power of instruction. The same fatal empiricism has made him reiterate the experiment of alienating himself from the steadfast and persecuted friends of his house, and confiding in the treachery of a gang of adventurers, whose hearts overflow with the blackest hatred of his name and dynasty; and the natural result has been, that, after a series of giddy rotations, ominous to the stability of his throne, and of which the King himself has been the sport rather than the constitutional spring, the array of high and titled trailors round his person, rather appearing to vouchsafe to him their protection, than to win his favour by their merit or fidelity, has nerved the murderous hand of a kindred but vulgar being to perpetrate a frightful crime, of which the avowed object was the utter extinction of the Bourbon race. It was with its usual felicity that the Edinburgh Review seized such a moment to boast the partial triumph of the Revolution to assert the preferable claims of its worthies over the insulted and persecuted Royalists—and to exult in the abandonment thus far of Mr. Burke's system, to whose sound and honest advice, as deducible from his immortal works, had the restorers of the French monarchy listened, they would not assuredly have left to the world the revolting spectacle, or the contagious example, of successful crime—nor to the unhappy King of France the odious protection of insolent and menacing villany.
Art. IV. INTRODUCTION-to the Retrospective Review.--London,
February, 1820. The accumulation of books has ever been regarded with some degree of jealousy-an inundation of paper and print seems to have been thought as formidable to the ideas of men, as an inundation of water to their houses and cattle. In these latter times, the danger to be apprehended has been deemed so imminent, that various dykes or mud-banks have been established and supported, for the purpose of being interposed between the public and the threatened danger. Reviews have sprung up, as rapidly, and as well armed, [to change the metaphor,) as the fabled warriors from the teeth
sown by Cadmas, to stand in the gap in the hour of need; but it has been “whispered in the state,” that, like the same sons of the earth, these self-elected champions, neglecting the public weal, have turned their arms against each other--that having eleared a ring for themselves under the false pretext of a public cause, they have ceased to exhibit themselves in any other character than that of intellectual gladiators; with literature for an arena—the public for spectators-and weapons poisoned with party malice and personal slander.
However this may be, the “cacöethes scribendi,” or rather, scacöethes imprimendi,” is regularly set down, as a disease as urgently demanding medical aid, as a disorder of the frame, a typhus, or a dropsy. The writers of satire, ever since the times of Horace and Juvenal, have been exclaiming, that all the world were scribbling. That the number of books has been increasing -is increasing--and ought to be diminished-is the deliberate resolution even of those who esteem themselves friendly to literature. That a great book is a great evil, is stamped with the sanction of ages—it has passed into a proverb. If, however, the evil of a book is to be measured by its bulk, the mischief we shall do is small; while at the same time, the good we propose to effect, if estimated on a scale of this kind, is such as must call down upon us the approbation of all favourers of the proverb-since it is one of our objects, and indeed no small part of the design of this work, to reduce books to their natural size; a process which we apprehend will compress many a distended publication into a very insignificant tenement. Let no man weep, as the Thracians did, over the birth of a child, and cry, “ another book is born unto the world." For the space we shall empty is greater than that which we hope to fill, should even our future labours ever rival the “piled heaps" of the most favoured periodical that exists. Though some books will undoubtedly stand the test of the critical touchstone, which we propose, from time to time, to apply to the productions before us, and appear the brighter for the trial; many a well-looking and well-bound volume, will fall into ashes in our hands, as the tempting fruit does, which is said to float on the surface of the Dead Sea; while from others, ponderous and unwieldy, the essential ingredients shall be disengaged from the superfluous matter, and the deposit presented either for the amusement or instruction of our readers.
The only real evil to be apprehended from the enormous increase in the number of books, is, that it is likely to distract the attention, and dissipate the mind, by inducing the student to read many, rather than much. The alluring catalogue of attractive title-pages, unfixes the attention, and causes the eye to wander over a large surface, when it ought to be intently turned upon a small, though fertile spot. It induces a passion for reading as an end, and not as a means merely to satisfy an appetite, and not to strengthen the system, and enrich the powers of original thinking. It makes learned men, and not wise men. Hobbes, on being asked why he did not read more? answered, if I read as much as other men, I should know as little. True it is, that for the purpose of supplying the place of constant companions, of suggesting never failing subjects of reflection, and of exercising and gratifying the imagination, a few choice and venerable authors are amply sufficient. “Make,” says Bishop Watson, “Bacon then, and Locke, and why should I not add, that sweet child of nature, Shakspeare, your chief companions through life, let them be ever upon your table, and when you have an hour to spare, spend it upon them; and I will answer for their giving you entertainment and instruction as long as you live.”
The practice of these times, it is needless to say, is as unlike that here recommended, as it can well be.—Never was education so common as at present-never were books so commonly dispersed, so multifariously read. We present a spectacle of what, perhaps, was never before seen in any age, certainly neither Greek nor Roman, that of a whole nation, employing nearly all its leisure hours, froin the highest to the lowest rank, in reading—we have been truly called a Reading Public. The lively Greeks, were not a reading nation--they were a hearing and a talking people—they fed the mind, through the ear, and not through the eye; historians and poets were not so much read as heard-Homer was recited by rhapsodists-Herodotus read his history at the Olympic game-the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were at stated times the objects of sight and hearing. The philosopher who wished to enlighten his countrymen, and circulate his peculiar opinions, did not so frequently write as lecture-he established a school, and his benches were daily crowded by a people who carried on no trade --who lived on the tributes of subject nations, or on the industry of their slaves. The business of the nation was transacted in public, by means of orators, who addressed the assembled citizenseach man had his mind to make up-and thus they became fond of disputing. Their social hours were spent in the open air—in their groves, gardens, and porticoes--where they busily reviewed the operations of their generals and admirals, canvassed the merits of opposing orators, or listened to the reasoning of philosophers, upon such subjects as the soul, the creation of the universe, its duration, its formation, its sustaining causes, and the purposes of its various parts. Thus they became a thinking, talking, enlightened nation -- free of speech, brilliant in wit, restless, active, boasting, audacious, and arrogant—but they were not a reading nation. For one library, the Greeks had a hundred theatres for plays, music, spectacles-groves and academies for disputation--forums for orators and gymnasia and palæstræ, for exercise and conversation. All other languages but their own, they despised--all other nations were accounted and called barbarians. The energetic Greek, with his person perfect, and formed in the finest mould of nature -his mind filled with the noblest shapes of ideal beauty-his tongue nimble to speak the most melodious of languages, with all his faculties about him, critical, exact, and sensitive-filled with the spirit of enjoyment that proceeds from health, fine climate, free government, and a beautiful country-was raised so high above other men, that he looked with contempt and derision, upon the rugged Scythian, the enervated Persian, the depraved Egyptian, the savage and untutored Italian. Thus it was, that all bistory was uninteresting to them, but what was Greek ; that which was not Greek, was to them without the pale of civilization—and this is one main reason why the Greeks, in the time of their prosperity, (for we speak not of the Greeks in their dotage, when the last of the Greeks” had died) read so little—what related to other nations they cared not for; what related to themselves, it was their constant business to listen to. The Romans of the higher ranks paid more attention to, and depended more for their amusement upon reading than the Greeks; Homer and all the Greek authors, were their constant study. We begin to hear, in their times, of the student's solitary lamp and midnight oil—but still literature was confined to the upper ranks. Romans conquered the world without the help of books, and lost it after they knew the use of them.” The middle ages are proverbially dark—it was the torpid time for the great authors of antiquity-like bats and moles, they slept away this winter of literature, in the cold and gloomy cells of monasteries, till the dawning of better times shot revivifying light into these recesses of ignorance and superstition. The invention of paper in the eleventh, and of printing in the fifteenth century, are as cheering to the lovers of humanity, as the sea-birds and sea-weeds, signs of approaching land, are to the wearied and despairing navigator, who is darkly tracking an unknown and pathless ocean. The fertile and luxurious crop of modern literature then appeared above the earth -the richness of the soil, which had lain fallow for so long a time, during which it had only borne the rank weeds of scholastic subtlety, mingled indeed with the wild but romantic flowers of chivalrous feudality, as well as the greenness and freshness of the productions themselves, all encouraging animating hopes of an abundant harvest. Since that time, books have become a common and current coin; every city and every town has its mint—they are almost numberless. A catalogue of all the books that have been printed, would of itself fill a little library. The knowledge of
their external qualities, and the adventitious circumstances attending their formation or history, has become a science-professors devote their lives to it with an enthusiasm not unworthy of a higher calling--they have earned the name of bibliomaniacs. Vast collections of books are esteemed the pride and glory of the countries or cities fortunate enough to possess them. The Vatican boasts its millions—the Laurentian, Ambrosian, and other libraries of Italy, the Bibliotheque du Koi at Paris, the enormous collection at the British Museum, our university and college libraries, particularly the Bodleian, while they are proud monuments of the ingenuity and all-reaching, all-fathoming mind of man; yet must strike the heart of the student that enters them with despair, should he aim at attaining universal knowledge through the medium of books. Life is too short for wading through many of the sets of ten folios, such as the Opera of the old scholars used to be collected in, unlike the diminutive quartos and octavos of these book-making times,
Not two strong men th' enormous weight could raise
Such men as live in these degenerate days. Fortunately it is not necessary, though at the same time, a general acquaintance with all that has been written, with the reiguing pursuits of different ages, with the different modes and different degrees of talent, with which particular individuals and schools have followed them, are not only highly gratifying to a liberal curiosity, but essentially necessary to the accomplished scholar. No study is more interesting, and few more useful, than the history of literature, -which is, in fact, the history of the mind of man. -
Criticism, which, when able and just, is always pleasing, we shall combine with copious and characteristic extracts, analyses, and biographical accounts, so as in some measure to supply the dearth of works on the history of literature in our own language; for it is to be lamented, that except the unfinished work of Warton, and a few detached Essays, we have no regular history of English poetry—and that of the prose writers, their language, style, spirit, and character, there exists no account at all.*
11.* A deficiency as striking occurs with respect to the literature of neighbouring nations : unless from native or foreign works, we are entirely in the dark, respecting the national literature of Spain, Germany, Italy, even France, and the northern nations. Mr. Berington, indeed, has done good service to this department, by his “ Literary Hisa tory of the Middle Ages," but his subject was too extensive for the space he has allowed it to occupy, and perhaps required more research, combined with a philosophical and generalizing power of
* We must not, however, ornit to mention, that this department is eminently indebted to the elegant productions of Dr. Drake, his « Essays on Periodical Literature," and other Works.