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monologues, as De Staël called them, blamed his lawless expenditure of talent and genius in his protracted management of "Blackwood," but at the same time exclaimed :* "How can I wish that Wilson should cease to write what so often soothes and suspends my bodily miseries, and my mental conflicts!" How indeed? With such cordiality in his chuckle, such glee in his eccentricities, such genius in his vagaries, such method in his madness, who coull frown on the extravaganzas of North any more than utter grave strictures on the " All Fool's Day" of Charles Lamb? It was all so genial that you forgenial that you for gave everything and forgot nothing. And then his eloquence was truly as "the rush of mighty waters"
"How the exulting thoughts,
One of his " Cockney" victims, upon whose shoulders he had laid the crutch with more bone-crushing (beinbrechend) emphasis than any other man's, eulogizes his prose as a rich territory of exuberance congenial with Keats's poetry—a forest tempest-tossed indeed, com'pared with those still valleys and enchanted gardens, but set in the same region of the remote, the luxuriant, the mythologicalgoverned by a more wilful and scornful spirit, but such as hates only from an inverted spirit of loving, impatient of want of sympathy. Well might poor Hartley Coleridge call Christopher North the happiest speaking mask since Father Shandy and Uncle Toby were silent; "for Elia," he adds, "is Charles
*Table-Talk, vol. ii.
How characteristic these writings were of the man may be illustrated by a letter of Mrs. Grant of Laggan, who, after calling Wilson "the most provoking creature imaginable," proceeds to say: "He is young, handsome, wealthy, witty; has great learning, exuberant spirits, a wife and children that he dotes on, and no vice that I know, but on the contrary, virtuous principles and feelings. Yet his wonderful eccentricity would put anybody but his wife wild. She, I am convinced, was actually made on purpose for her husband, and has that kind of indescribable controlling influence over him that Catherine is said to have had over that wonderful savage the Czar Peter."-Memoirs and Correspond ence of Mrs. Grant of Laggan.
Sydney Yendys: "The Roman." Scene vi.
In his introduction to Massinger. Elsewhere Hartley Coleridge writes:-"Wilson is the best critic that Scotland has produced; nay, that is say ing too little. When at his best, he is almost the best that Britain has produced."-Essays, ii.
himself." The unique style of Wilson's criticisms is hardly conceivable by those amongst us who are ignorant of his mother-tongue: we have nothing I can point to by way of parallel, harldly even of resemblance. He has the wit and searching intellect of Lessing: the facile analysis of Brockhaus; the philosophic tendency of the younger Schlegel; the discriminative faculty of the elder; Herder's catholic sympathies; Tieck's lively enthusiasm; much of Heine's withering sarcasm; and the dashing vigor of Menzel : together with a nescio quid which harmonizes their discords; a something that separates him from their conventionalisms, and makes him like "a star that dwells apart:" a comet if you will--but glorious in its vagrancybrilliant with a light that never was on sea or shore of the orbis veteribus notus. nature endowed with what Tennyson ascribes to the dead friend he memorializes so fondly:
"Heart-affluence in discursive talk
From household fountains never dry; The critic clearness of an eye That saw through all the Muses' walk.'*
With all his partisanship and consummate irony, he is justly praised for tolerance, and for the fine spirit of frankness and generous good-will which animates many of his reviews of political and literary foes; for, as Justice Talfourd observes, notwithstanding his own decided opinions, he has a compass of mind large enough to embrace all others which have noble alliances within its range. Seldom, if ever in fact, was so sound and warm a heart allied to so clear a head. If our Gutzkow is not more trenchant in his satire and scorn, neither is our Jean Paul more gentle, more meltingly tender, more winning and The Rewomanly in his gushing pathos. creations of Christopher North" collect some of his choicest miscellanea; but why does he not make a selection also from that glorious repository of eccentric, self-willed, ebullient genius, the "Nights at Ambrose's?" Nowhere else does he appear to such advantage. He there riots in prodigality of intellectual
+"Life and letters of Charles Lamb." Lamb and Wilson met once only. Talfourd tells us they walked out from Ensfield (Lamb's residence) together, and strolled happily a long summer day; not omitting, however, a call for a refreshing draught, Lamb called for a pot of ale or porter-half of which would have been his own usual allowance; and was deligthed to hear the Professor, on the appearance of the foaming tankard, say reproachfully to the waiter, "And one for me!"
and imaginative wealth. He deluges you, with good things, and swells the flood with your own tears, now of sorrow and now of mirth. He hurries you from sublimity to burlesque; from homily to jeu d'esprit; from grave disquisition to obstreperous fun feasting you alternately with the items in Polonius's bill of fare-tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral: Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light. The "Noctes" show a dramatic power one could not have surmised from the conduct of his poetry. An intelligent English critic remarks, that, barring an occasional irregularity of plot, they are perfect specimens of comedy.* If any fellow-countryman among my readers (ex hypothese) are strangers to the English language, let him for once believe the assurance of an Anglo-maniac, that the language is worth learning if--for Wilson has long been regarded with
only to read the "Noctes Ambrosianæ." Robert Hall, aged and agonized by disease, betook himself-prostrate on the sofa-to the study of Italian, that he might read Dante. Youthful Germans, hale, hearty, and aspiring, take example by the Baptist preacher. O the aurora borealis of those "Noctes," dark with excessive bright! May their sha-dow never be less!
* Indeed, I know not any comedy in which actual conversation is so naturally imitated, without ever stiffening into debate or amaba an oratory, or slipping into morning-call twaddle.-Hartley Coleridge.
NOTE. Since this paper was written, the merits of Professor Wilson have been recognized by his country, in the form of a handsome pension conferred by the government: but we deeply lament to add that still more recently the "old man eloquent" has been stricken by severe illness, and is for the present confined to his chamber, and the care of his attached family. In Scotland, as the one event was a matter of universal gratification
pride as the chief and representative of his country's literature--so will the other event be everywhere felt as a grievous, though we would hope temporary, misfortune.-ED.
THE three greatest literary men of England during the eighteenth century, Hume, Johnson, and Burke, were all in France a few years before the assembling of the States General. They were all men of great observation; they were all men of great ability; they had all thought deeply on the great questions of their age; they had all good, brave, honest hearts, and were sincerely devoted to what they believed to be the truth. It is therefore very curious to know what were their different impressions of French society, and how far they could read the signs of the great revolution that was approaching.
Of the triumvirate, Hume was the most attached to France, and had the greatest admiration of French literature; it is but the
bare truth to say, that of the three he had the least idea of any French Revolution. He saw nothing but devotion to the monarch, and the fascinations of the society in the capital. To him France was still the France of Louis the Fourteenth. He called the society of London "barbarous," and was de lighted with all he saw at Paris. Before he went abroad as secretary to Lord Hertford, he was a plain, straightforward Scotchman. But Burke always said that the charming syrens of the literary drawing-rooms had vanquished even a philosopher, and that Hume returned to England a literary coxcomb. He seems, indeed, to have written his History with the express intention of pleasing the French wits; it abounds in sneers at the English people for making so
aware of its existence. When asked by Boswell to give him an account of his travels he said, that he had "seen all the visibilities of Paris," and the greatest person of his acquaintance was "Colonel Drumgold, a very high man, Sir, the head of the Ecole Militaire, a most complete character." But with all his English prejudices, Johnson seems to have observed more than Hume, whose French partialities were quite as decided; for the author of Taxation no Tyranny at least declared that "the great in France live very magnificently, but the rest very miserably. There is no happy middle state, as in England."
much noise about their liberties, and in compliments to " the gallant nation, so famous for its loyalty." The loyalty of France is Hume's constant theme; and he loves to contrast it with the turbulence of England. So much for philosophy. Of all the brilliant men who met together at the Turk's Head, Johnson seems to have had the greatest esteem for Burke. In politics, indeed, they were directly opposed to each other; they had even entered the lists under different banners. Johnson can scarcely be called a politician; he knew little of political philosophy. Much as he disliked Bolingbroke's religious opinions, his politics were very much the politics of St. John. He did not highly distinguish himself as a dramatic writer; but he never appears to so little advantage as in his political pamphlets. He seems to have thought everything fair, dog-sight that presented itself to the gaze of a matic assertion, scurrilous abuse; for these are the only weapons that the great moralist condescends to use. It is painful to contrast the tone of his pamphlet called Taxation no Tyranny, with that of Burke's two published speeches on America. Machiavelli never wrote anything more decidedly immoral than many passages in the political writings of the high-principled Samuel Johnson.
The autumn after he had published this Taxation no Tyranny, his strange figure appeared in the streets of Paris. He was accompanied by the Thrales. As Mr. Thrale was a brewer, he naturally sought the society of other brewers; and thus Johnson and Santerre met in the same room, and had a friendly conversation about brewing. The moralist was very careful to note in his diary that Santerre used the same quantity of malt as Mr. Thrale, and that though he paid very little duty, sold his beer at the same price. Johnson also observed that the moat of the Bastille was dry; some years afterwards it was still drier. The party rambled about Versailles, and viewed the palace and the menagerie. Samuel took particular care to look at the cygnets, the gulls, the black stags, the rhinoceroses with their horns broken, the young elephants with their tusks just appearing, the brown bears putting out their paws, the camels with one bunch, the dromedaries with two bunches, the pelicans catching fish; and he expresses his regret that he could not have a good look at the tigers; but in all his diary there is not a single thought about the literary men of Paris. That brilliant galaxy of talent to him was nothing; he scarcely seems to have been
It was in 1773, and again in the following year, that Burke crossed over to the continent. He could not have gone to France at a more remarkable time. It was, indeed, a strange
thinking being. Everything that could dazzle the eye and deceive the judgment was displayed. A hectic flush of loveliness disguised the ravages of the deadly disease that was preying upon the body of the state. Never had literature more devoted worshippers; never was the position of the literary man more exalted: all Paris was at his feet. A golden age was about to come upon the earth. Glorious philosophy would be more powerful than the monarch's sceptre; and false priests would no longer hoodwink the reason of mankind. But there were still some less pleasing phenomena preceding the good time that was drawing near. The old king was not dead; he and his mistresses still encumbered the ground: Louis XV, did not wish to die. The monarchy that had lasted for so many centuries, he hoped would still last out his time; and Louis XV. prayed that himself and France might live yet for many years. In the dark alleys, wretchedness and misery fretted and pined; the squalid thousands were without bread, and almost without hope. Yet to the accomplished readers of the Encyclopædia, very little occur red to discourage their most sanguine dreams. Marie Antoinette was happy and gay; and Burke was received everywhere with adulation and smiles. But he had little sympathy with the philosophers; some of them learnt, to their utter astonishment, that during the next session of Parliament, he called them "atheistical conspirators," who ought to be carefully watched by all governments. He observed with great care the nobility and the priesthood, and many circumstances occurred to make him look anxiously for the commencement of the new reign.
Such were the different conclusions to which Hume, Johnson, and Burke had arrived. Hume died shortly afterwards, and died as he had lived. He had lived contentedly in a delusion, and died contentedly in a delusion. Johnson, also, was taken away from the evils that were to come; his death was earnest as his life had been earnest. Burke alone lived to see the great moral explosion at which all the world turned pale. But he also left the earth before the faintest glimmering of a better day was seen through the black clouds that lowered over Europe.
Although Burke did not live to see the catastrophe of the great French drama that he watched with so much interest, he saw the United States become great and powerful, and, contrary to the prophecies of many people, fully capable of maintaining their independence against all enemies. The truth of the great political philosopher's ideas became, thanks to the wisdom and abilities of his Majesty's ministers, very soon a matter of no doubt.
The brilliant success with which Mr. Pitt had conducted the last great war, had turned the heads of the English people. The ministers appear to have thought that victory was sure to accompany the English arms. The delusion was soon dispelled. Session followed session, campaign succeeded campaign, and America was still unsubdued. Many who had applauded all the rash measures which had driven the colonists to rebellion, began to awaken from their dream. The opposition gathered strength. The outcry about the expenditure began to be very loud. Ireland assumed a most menacing attitude. The sails of a hostile fleet were seen from the English shores. Then for the first time was heard the cry for reform. It was little heeded by the ministers, and little understood by gentlemen of the opposition. As usual, the great interests of the state were all threatened by this spirit. At this time, with the profound sagacity that always distinguished him, Burke first brought for ward his plan of economy, and on the 4th of February, 1780, delivered his great speech on economical reform.
Many critics have considered this oration as the most wonderful of all his displays of eloquence. None of his speeches ever showed more of the high statesman-like intellect of its author. He is here not treating of America, of India, or of France; the speech is devoted to the internal government of the country, and shows how skilfully theory and practice
VOL. XXV. NO. II.
are combined. It ought to be studied night and day by those who profess to sneer at all eloquence and imagination, and assume to themselves the exclusive title of "practical
Since Burke's death, 'all statesmen have professed themselves economists; and it is very instructive to see what their notions were on this important subject. The spirit of this speech is directly contrary to the maxims that are adopted by a very popular
school of reformers. These fashionable doctrines are all built upon the principle that it is best to economize by detail: the army and navy estimates are objected to, and a few hundred pounds less than the sum of the ministers is proposed. This is considered economy. Such were not Burke's ideas. Never was he more ready to inculcate any truth, than that there is a great and essential difference between the revenue of a powerful government, and the receipts of a private individual; between the affairs of a great empire, and those of a little countinghouse. "Elevate your minds," he was ever exclaiming, "to the importance of that trust to which the order of Providence has called you." He pointed out clearly that the income of a great nation must be subject to many fluctuations, which never could disturb the yearly fortune of a single person, and that it was often necessary to expend the public money that private property might be secured. A merchant would of course look only to the present. To him whatever made him wealthy must be the first object of his care. His ships went out to all quarters of the globe, the creditor side of his ledger was a delightful spectacle, his name was of great weight on the exchange. What could a merchant desire more?
But the statesman's eyes cannot always be fixed on the fleeting panorama of the hour. Society is something more than a multitude of units, connected together by the chain of profit and loss. The statesman must therefore have long views. He is the inheritor of an entailed estate, handed down through. countless ages, from generation to generation; and he is to transmit it unimpaired and unfettered to the countless ages that are yet to come after him, as wave after wave of humanity strikes against the shores of the world, and then again sinks into the great ocean of the past. Thus the state is fearfully and wonderfully made. As of the coral reef, life has arisen from death; the firesides of the present generation are situated on the graves of their fathers, and the hearths of our chil
dren may be held on our tombs. Men are not, however, entirely forgotten: the laws of the land are their monuments, and ought to be engraved on the hearts of their children. Thus society is composed of life and death, of old age, matured manhood, youth, and infancy, of the past, the present, and the future. All is linked together by a sacred bond. Society therefore becomes indeed a contract; but it is a contract between those who have been before, those who now are, and those who are yet to be; between the grave, the altar, and the cradle. Individuals then become as nothing in the great commonwealth of ages.
These, if we understand what Burke has said, were his notions of society. From these it followed that even in his professed economical plan, he considered economy as merely of secondary importance.
It has been said that Burke's province was history, and that had he devoted himself to that branch of literature, he would have been the greatest historian that ever lived. It might be so; but we very much doubt it. His sketches of his contemporaries are certainly most admirable; but they do not seem to us to be drawn in the manner of a historian. They are perfectly well adapted to the place in which we find them; they illustrate very finely his political philosophy. But the only avowed historical work that he did write, the Abridgment of English History, is assuredly not one of his most valuable compositions.
We are far from thinking, with Mr. Carlyle, that a great poet may be a great anything; for all the history of genius shows that the very yearning after one species of excellence prevents any high excellence of another kind. Genius is, perhaps, not such a mechanical thing, such a creature of circumstances, as, were this doctrine correct, it certainly would be.
Lord North praised the bills, and then defeated them; but it was only a momentary defeat. The hours of the ministry were numbered. Even their stanchest supporters began to waver, and in the January of 1782, But there is nothing, perhaps, more lathey at length resigned. High-sounding as mentable, than the struggles of misplaced had been all their manifestoes, nothing could genius: circumstances contending against be more humiliating than their downfall. nature; the high-mettled race-horse dragThey had doubled the national debt, invaded ging a coal-cart. Yet it is no easy thing for the liberties of the subject, thrown away such a man to be quite chained down to the thirteen colonies, and left England full of drudgery of the world; the spirit is not misery, doubt, discord, darkness, and ruin. easily confined by the bars of a prison; if it They seem at length to have died of utter be true that the blood of the martyrs is the inanition; they had done all the harm they seed of the church, still more is it true that, possibly could do to their country, and re- from the tomb of a heart-broken great man, signed when their powers of destruction were a celestial light arises, and illuminates the exhausted. They retired; and none cried, world. But, perhaps, it is not when the "God bless them." Even Dr. Johnson, who horizon is blackest, when he is most unforcalled them his political friends, who had tunate, that he is the most to be pitied. written Taxation no Tyranny, and who The darkest hour of the night is nearest the hated the name of America during the war, dawn; but it is through the morning mists shook his head, and whispered confidentially that the precipices, the mountains, the torto Boswell, that matters were not as they rents, and all natural objects, appear most ought to be; and on the 20th of January, terrible. It is then that a tree becomes a when the resignation of his friends was an- spectre, a peaceful valley a yawning chasm, nounced, returned thanks to Heaven as he and the rattling of carriage-wheels the rumprayed with Black Frank, and afterwards de- bling of an earthquake. Total darkness may | clared that "such a bunch of imbecility never be, therefore, better than partial light. It is disgraced a nation." The ghost of Gren- not pleasant to observe the noble spirit, that ville alone might regret these misfortunes, has laughed at poverty, misfortune, and as it fled weeping to the shades below. neglect, pining when the hour of a deceitful prosperity is over-clouded. Thus it was with Burke. Johnson said that, of all the men he had ever known, Burke seemed to be the most equable in his spirits, that he appeared always cheerful, good-humored, and contented. But a very interesting letter to Lord Rockingham, in 1774, just before the general election of that year, still remains as
The new administration under the Marquis of Rockingham was then formed; and Burke was made a Right Honorable, and Paymaster of the Forces. His beloved bills on Economical Reform were brought in with all the authority of government, and after receiving some very important curtailments, became part of the law of the land.