« ForrigeFortsæt »
Mr. Fox's superior powers failed of educing these higher principles, apparently so congenial to them, we are only so far disposed to excuse him, upon any plea, as we believe great faculties to imply great temptations; and upon the plea of education in particular, only as far as we generally observe less leisure and inclination to be left in after life, in proportion to the talents spoiled by fashion or ambition, for redressing early errors, and changing the first direction.
In the mean time let us observe that characteristic traits of Mr. Wakefield also abound in these letters. His powers as a scholar and a critic have been already appreciated with so much accuracy by his kindred tribe as not to need further illustration: his fame has, doubtless, been much injured in this department through the influence of his known literary rashness and overweening self-conceit. The humiliating concessions respecting his own Silva Critica, as containing "plurima, quæ sint juveniliter temeraria, angoodiavuoa prorsus, et homine critico indigna," might have well been anticipated from the following passage in his own life.
"It always appeared to my mind not only a violation of truth, but an act of ingratitude to the Giver of every good gift,' to dissemble or disparage those qualifications which I was conscious of possessing; and I esteemed it not folly only but a fraud-to bestow on ordinary proficients in learning and virtue such commendations as were only due to the genuine possessors of those valuable acquisitions. These dispositions, unconnected or unimpaired, as best pleases the reader's taste, have accompanied me through life; these domineer in my constitution to this very hour," &c.
That they did so, we have more than one melancholy proof in the present letters. It grieves us, but for example's sake, to drag to light against our departed scholar "his frailty from its dread abode," by quoting such passages as the following: "I knew my Lucretius must make its way in time against all personal and political opposition, especially when known on the continent." Speaking of a critical nicety which Dr. Parr had in conversation deemed inadmissible, "I made no reply," says our self-compla cent critic, "but concluded it to have been unobserved by all readers but MYSELF!"*"Excuse me," says he, in another
A more innocent and interesting agreement between Mr. Wakefield's delineations of himself in his life and in these letters appears in the following passages:→→ "At college-a strange fastidiousness, for which I never could account, occasionally took a bewildering possession of my faculties. This impediment commonly recurred in the spring of the year, when I was so enamoured of rambling in the open air that not even emulation itself could chain me to my books." Vol. i. p. 87.
My appetite," says he, near ten years after, in letter 39. dated Dorchester gaol, (poor fellow!) "my appetite is apt to flag with the hilarity of the season and the tempting appearances of nature; so that I should not much object to a liberation at this time with Lord Thanet and Mr. Ferguson!"
letter, "if I appear positive; it is only in the expression, which one acquires from the study of mathematics; where, after constructing the figure, it is usual to add, I say, the triangle so and so is the triangle required!!'"
We turn from this bold avowal of a frailty, surely in Mr. Wakefield, at least, productive of most pitiable consequences, to appearances of a more engaging nature.
On hearing of an accident which had befallen Mr. Fox in taking the amusement of shooting, his humanity suddenly displays itself in the following undisguised avowal of his sentiments, in letter 23. After an elegant quotation from Cicero, he proceeds
"Am I, Sir, indecently presumptuous and free, am I guilty of a too dictatorial officiousness, in pronouncing those pleasures to misbecome a man of letters, which consist in mangling, maiming, and depriving of that invaluable and irretrievable blessing, its existence, an inoffensive pensioner on the universal bounties of the common feeder and protector of all his offspring?"
The answer of Mr. Fox is what his less tender nerves and less scrupulous conscience might have led us to expect
"That-if to kill tame animals, with whom one has a sort of acquaintance, is lawful, it is still less repugnant to one's feelings to kill wild animals; but then, to make a pastime of it-there is something to be said upon this head-I admit it to be a questionable subject; at all events, it is a very pleasant and healthy exercise !"
What a deal of trouble would this concluding "ratio sufficiens" for "questionable" practices have saved laborious casuists, and their old fashioned, purblind, limping, followers!* Mr. Wakefield is not, however, to be so put off; but rejoins on his greencoated, gaitered correspondent, "that the question of animal food has no more to do with rural sports than capital punishments with racks and tortures;" he asks if it is "philosophical and humane to leave numbers of animals to perish by pain and hunger, or to occasion the remainder of their lives to be perilous and miserable?" And as to hunting, he roundly tells Mr. Fox "that it is the most irrational and degrading spectacle in the world, and an admirable prolusion to those delectable operations which are transacting in Holland and elsewhere." Mr. Fox, in his next letter, declines the controversy, by gently throwing before him the shield of
We trust this mode of reasoning was not in Mr. Fox's purview when he refers, in letter 10. to literature-as the greatest advantage in troublous times (next to a good conscience) which one man can have over another.
"authority and precedent, rather than argument; of excuse, ra ther than of justification."
We could have wished to see Mr. Wakefield, who had evidently here the right of the argument, and was so eminently "disdainful of danger" on all occasions in maintaining that right, equally solicitous for the welfare of his correspondent on some more material points. We could have wished him, at least, as a professed christian, knowing his man, not to have referred Mr. Fox, with unqualified and unbounded praise, to his favourite Lucretius, and recommended it to his perusal, particularly the termination of the third book, (letter 5.) of which we are bold to say, the chief merit is not its being a favourable specimen of the Lucretian grandiloquentia, but its being the most calm and captivating statement of the atheist's remedies against the fear of death that, perhaps, ever was penned; this praise, of course, Mr. Fox echoes back in the same accents, and "declares the end of the third book to be perfectly in his memory, and worthy of all that Mr. Wakefield had said of it." Equally inappropriate do we think was the act of " damning with faint praise," in letter 56. the noble and immortal labours of Tertullian in the cause of christianity. And more than inappropriate, not to say profane, is the application of a scriptural test of virtue to Mr. Fox's merits, in letter 14. "I am glad I can congratulate you on escaping the inauspicious omen of the scriptures, wo! unto you when all men speak well of you.'" Measured by this test, certainly Mr. Fox and his minority will ever stand high in the records of fame; and our condemnation of Mr. Wakefield in adopting it may not be so complete from reflecting that (in the feelings of a universal charity, doubtless) he has taken abundant care that the defenders of church and state, in opposition to Mr. Fox's views, should not be wanting in that same test of their claims on the gratitude and admiration of mankind.
The general result of our perusal of this small, but, on the whole, interesting volume, as well as of our reflection on the personal qualities of the respective writers, may be summed up in a few last words. The statesman leaves on our minds the impression of a person possessed of a calm and dispassionate mind, carefully examining its own operations, weighing its opinions, suggesting with a diffidence, apparently unaffected, the results of a mature and penetrating judgment, and even in a great political measure (that of returning, after his secession, to parliament) professing to have been guided by the sentiments of others.* On the other hand, we see the self-important scholar verifying to the close of life that justly earned and too applicable epithet; equally
• Vide p. 153
vehement and authoritative in maintaining the most ancient and most novel doctrines, the most certain facts, and most questionable hypotheses; and demanding, in truth, a homage to his opinions which others might have blushed to receive unasked. How much does the glance of an unavailing regret increase our chagrin when it supposes the picture reversed!-when it imagines the former character drawing from the resources of his own great mind alone, those resolutions and plans of actions which might have made him the reformer and guide, instead of being the dupe and the tool, of a weak but domineering party; and to have seen the other throwing up those reins of proud independence, which every stage of life proved him less and less fit to hold; and under the prudent guidance of some experienced director of his course illuminating with his rays that world, which he well nigh set on fire like Phæton, by his presumptuous indiscretion.
Again, we see, with some mixture of pleasing emotion, an apparent frankness, sincerity, and warmth of feeling on the part of Mr. Wakefield, which we in vain looked for in the expressions of his correspondent. Mr. Fox, guarded, shrewd, and self-possessed, like a true man of the world, discerning the strong and weak points of the other, adapting himself to them, and evidently as contented with the easy enjoyment of a literary correspondence with his friend in gaol as with his friend at home-Mr. Fox, we must say, seems to us to have wanted, or to have worn away, many of those noble and tender sensibilities, of which the undue and unrestrained indulgence so much misled Mr. Wakefield; but which, in misleading him, made him no less an object of pity to the feeling, and regret to the reflecting, than one of caution to the wise, and of terror to the peaceful.
In both characters we see instanced the lamentable operation of false or defective principles. We see these two men, confessedly in one of the most important crises which their country had ever experienced, more intent on settling the final, and the Æolic digamma, or the precedence of Ovid and Virgil, than on those portentous events which, in public, they represented as involving every thing important to the highest interests of man. In Mr. Fox's correspondence we see little or no zeal expressed for right opinions on the constitution of that country of whose cause he was the patriotic defender; in that of Mr. Wakefield's letters we perceive as little attention to the cause of a religion of which he pro fessed himself at once the preacher and reformer. They had, evidently, much to learn on these points, each respectively of the other. Though it was the misfortune, or rather fault, of both to believe but little, yet each believed something in his peculiar province which we have reason to fear, was not admitted by the other. Mr. Fox, it is true, did not systematically scoff at revelation, (he
was too wise,) nor did Mr. Wakefield openly proclaim anarchy and regicide; he was too decent; yet had each used the opportunity he possessed for the improvement of the other, we might have been relieved from many apprehensions as to what were really the views of both; and some proofs, let us indulge the hope, might have been added, to the very few hitherto produced by their respective friends, of the social virtue of a Wakefield and the christian belief of a Fox.
Essays on the Sources of the Pleasures received from Literary Composition. (Continued from page 370. vol. 3.)
[From the Eclectic Review.]
THE sixth essay is on melancholy.
"There is (says the essayist) a wonderful propensity in the human mind to seek for pleasure among the sources of pain. We have a delight in the compositions which agitate with terror, and fondly return to the tale of sorrow. Nor are we attracted merely by the fears or calamities of others; what is more remarkable, we are pleased with the passages which raise our melancholy on our own account. Of this kind are all those passages (and there are none more popular) which give striking descriptions of the evils of life, of those evils to which we find ourselves every moment exposed." P. 175. "Horace frequently reminds us how soon the joys of this life pass away, and how soon we must part with every object of attachment; yet these are some of the verses which we are aptest to commit to memory, and fondest of repeating." P. 176.
In the first place, when the mind is depressed by misfortune, it cannot bear the images of gayety; just as the eye, when long used to darkness, shrinks from the cheerful sunshine. It takes refuge then in such poetry as is accordant to its present feelings, in descriptions, and sometimes exaggerated ones, of the miseries of life. In the next place, as the author observes, melancholy thoughts are frequently conversant with what have been our happiest hours.
"In the recollection of joys that are past, which is the kind of meJancholy that we are the fondest to indulge, the conception of these VOL. IV. New Series.