« ForrigeFortsæt »
the happiest lights. But his great work is the Charles V., a performance which will never be superseded, and which will be read while the English language endures. The preliminary dissertation is the best view which is any where to be found of the feudal institutions, though it might have been spared from the history; for they were almost at an end when the history commenced, and perhaps something still more important might have been substituted in a concise view of the Jus publicum Imperii. But how great and how interesting is his account of that amazing event the Reformation! He writes with all his heart; he rises with his subject; he is sublime, pathetic, yet every where rational. He is the only writer who has done justice, or who perhaps could do justice, to the exalted character of Luther. He has drawn him, and indeed all his other characters, with the pencil of a Vandyke, as striking as elegant. His America is the least valuable of his histories; but the subject was better known, and had been treated by other modern historians.
With an imagination more vigorous, and a style more highly ornamented than Dr. Robertson's; with equal industry, and more learning, Mr. Gibbon has cultivated a long, and as it was thought, a barren tract of history, connecting the ancient with the modern. I have no doubt but Montesquieu's tract," Sur la grandeur and decadence des Romains," suggested to Mr. Gibbon this grand and arduous undertaking. Having already spoken of Mr. Gibbon, it is not necessary at present to extend very far the criticism. In this great work whatever is profound in research, brilliant in display, picturesque in description, and enchanting in diction, will be found. Yet I think in luminous arrangement he is inferior to Dr. Robertson. He frequently breaks in upon his main subject by a long dissertation or episode. The 15th and 16th chapters, independant of their pernicious tendency, are too long, and perhaps the whole of his ecclesiastical details might have been curtailed. If in his style there is any fault, it is perhaps an excess of ornament, and this occasionally produces a degree of ambi
guity. But his style was characteristically his own; and we may apply to him with propriety Mr. Addison's lines on Cowley, taking wit, as it was then generally used, for genius or fancy....
"Pardon, great writer, that I dare to name
"Th' unnumber'd beauties of thy page with blame;
In my next letter I shall treat of that class of narratives which comes under the description of annals, chronicles, memoirs, biography, &c.
ANNALS...CHRONICLES....MEMOIRS....BIOGRAPHY, &c.... FROISSART....HOLINGSHEAD....STOW....CÆSAR...PRIN
CESS ANNA COMNENA..ALBERQUERQUE...LUDLOW..
TARCH..DIOGENES LAERTIUS...SUETONIUS...BAYLĖ.. DR. JOHNSON....BIOGRAPHICA BRITTANICA.
MY DEAR JOHN,
ANNALS and chronicles with us have nearly the same meaning, and denote a series of facts detailed in the order of time. The one of these words is derived from the Latin annus (a year), and the other from the Greek Xpovos (time). The former, however, was the more ancient appellation, for Tacitus entitles the earlier portion of his incomparable history annales, and the word chronicle, I do not find to have come into use till the middle ages, or rather later; for though our translators have, with some propriety, given that appellation to two of the books of the Scripture history, the title they bear in the original hardly warrants the translation. A journal or diary is a narrative divided into still smaller portions, and which marks the occurrences of every day.
This species of narrative demands a minute attention to the order of time, and that no event shall be either omitted or introduced out of its regular course. This is a form of composition calculated to cramp the genius. It is too formal to admit of eloquence, and its best commendation is fidelity. This quality indeed we must necessarily require in the arnalist; but the graces of style are less confidently expected from him than from the professed historian. In annals and chronicles there is also a more minute and copious detail than in
a history, which is a more concentrated view of the subject. Both seem better adapted to the recording of recent events than to the relation of facts long past, and therefore less immediately interesting.
After the revival of letters, the Germans seem to have more particularly applied to the writing of annals than any other of the European nations, and many valuable, though not polished works are extant among them under this title. Our learned countryman, Strype, also published annals of the Reformation, which is a work of high authority, but deficient in elegance.
If we except Froissart, whom yet we may almost account an Englishman, the title of chronicles has been, I believe, almost exclusively used by the English writers. Froissart's is a correct example of what a chronicle should be. We there find all the minuteness of description and detail, even to the delineation of the arms of the knights, who make the most conspicuous figure in his narrative. But though this style of composition may seem dry and tedious, he has contrived to make it interesting. All the heroes of the time, the King, the Black Prince, Sir Walter Manny, Sir Bertrand de Gueschlin, &c. &c. become our intimate acquaintances; we see all their domestic habits, we listen to their familiar conversation. In a studied history we see a picture; in this particular detail we see the men: all is dramatic, and the vivacity of the scene takes off from the prolixity of the detail. Mr. Hayley's character of the writer is tolerably correct....
"Yet courtesy with generous valour join'd,
"And gives his tale, though told in terms uncouth;
But you will know it better from the excellent translation by Thomas Johnnes, Esq., a gentleman who stands distinguished among his contemporaries, as the possessor of a large fortune, while he applies to literature with the industry of an author by profession. The destruction of his invaluable library by fire must be regretted by every friend to historical research, and to elegant li
Holinshead and Stow I have not read. They are accused by Cowley of prolixity....
"I more voluminous should grow, "Chiefly if I, like them should tell,
"All change of weathers that befel, "Than Holinshead or Stow."
It is however no small commendation that our incomparable Shakspeare is said to have extracted whole speeches, in his historical plays, from these authors, with very little alteration in the diction. Speed is also a chronicler of some notoriety, and it is a little remarkable, that at a period when learning was not so generally diffused as at present, both he and his predecessor Stow, should have been originally taylors.
Memoirs as the name imports, are memorandums or notes upon history, chiefly relative to facts which have fallen under the writer's own observation. They are commonly made in the order of time, and often in the form of a journal. They admit of a variety of style. They may rise to an height of elegance, or they may be loose and unstudied minutes. The former will class with laboured and artificial compositions, and will admit of any degree of polish; but in general the style should be easy and familiar. The Ancients called these compositions by the name of commentaries, and the most famous extant are those of Cæsar, containing the particulars of his wars in Gaul and Britain. A more perfect model of this kind of writing cannot be mentioned. The style is clear and simple, yet sweet and interesting. The arrangement is also luminous, the