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pression, as a means of success and a professional acquisition. It now appears that he carried the experiment into verse, and imitated the manner of all the English poets, evidently hoping to obtain the same facility in poetry as in prose. His good sense, however, soon induced him to abandon the former attempt; but the knowledge of versification and the machinery of this highest department of letters, thus acquired, was the basis of his subsequent criticisms, and accounts for his familiarity with the letter, and ignorance of the inward spirit, of the Muse. It is, indeed, a perfectly Scotch process, to set about a course of study and practice in order to think correctly even on subjects so identified with natural sentiment as to repudiate analysis. The romance of literature, or rather its highest function, - that of appealing to human consciousness and unfolding the mysteries of the passions and the awakened sense of beauty, -- is effectually destroyed by so cool and premeditated an application of causality to emotion. There is in it a literal mode of thought utterly destructive of illusion; the vague and inexplicable, the "terror and pity" which lift our nature above itself, and ally it with the infinite, are quite unrecognized; the oracles of humanity are rudely disrobed, the sanctities of art violated for the sake of conventional propriety; and what should be instinctively regarded as holy, precious, and apart from the familiar, is made to wear a commonplace aspect.
Jeffrey seems to have mistaken a zest for external charms for a sympathy with poetical experience. Even his essay on Beauty, in the Encyclopædia Britannica, is commended by his biographer for its graceful ingenuity, and not for sympathetic insight or profound analysis. His flippancy, however pleasant when expended on casual topics, is often intolerable as applied to men of genius. He sees that Joanna Baillie is a "nice old woman,” but faintly realizes the positive grandeur of feeling which, like a solemn atmosphere, exhales from Basil and De Montfort. He designates faults in Southey's poems, and recognizes the looming of his gorgeous fancy, as one might point out an agreeable pattern of chintz. He is very charitably disposed towards “ Tommy
. Campbell,” wonders at the “rapidity and facility" of Burns, and thinks, with his own “present fortune and influence," he could
have preserved him a long time. He is of opinion that Wordsworth, upon acquaintance, is “not the least lakish, or even in a degree poetical, but rather a hard and sensible worldly sort of a man;" and that Crabbe, “the wretch, has outrageous faults." He writes dunning letters to Horner, urging him to “do" Malthus or Sismondi, very much as a sea-captain might write to his mate to scrape a deck, or a farmer order his man to hoe a field of potatoes. He praises Dickens' " Notes” on this country, — as shallow a book of travels as ever appeared, — but does not relish the character of Micawber, one of the best creations of the author ; and he indulges in reminiscences of the New York Park and Bloomingdale, without having taken the trouble, during some months' residence in that city, to go up the Hudson.
The most creditable of his literary tastes were his admiration of Sir James Mackintosh, and his sensibility to the pathos of such characters as Little Nell and Tom Pinch. Indeed, the “gentle sobs” he confesses, and the hearty appreciation he felt towards the humane novelist, seem to indicate that, with advancing life, his nature mellowed and his sensibilities deepened. A kindness for men of genius, which led him frequently to offer them judicious advice and pecuniary aid, is one of Jeffrey's most excellent traits; and a social enterprise, which made his house the centre of intellectual companionship in Edinburgh, and induced habits of genial intercourse among his contemporaries, men of state, letters, and science, is also to be regarded as a public benefit. Nor less frankly should be acknowledged his unsullied honor, refined hospitality, habits of patient industry, and free and often brilliant conversation. But these benign and useful qualities, while they challenge respect and gratitude, and endear the memory of Jeffrey, do not give authority to his principles of literary judgment, or sanction his claim to be the expositor of the highest literature and the deepest truth.
It is difficult to realize that the amiable character depicted in these volumes is the sarne individual whose critical severity once caused such a flutter in the dovecote of authors; whose opinion was expected with almost the trepidation of a judicial sentence, and whose praise and rebuke were deemed, by so large and respectable an audience, as final tests of literary rank. Lord
Cockburn assumes, what, indeed, facts seem greatly to confirm, that his award was usually conscientious, and that he had warmly at heart the best interests of literature as he understood them. Of malice or selfish views there is scarcely any evidence; and his personal feelings, towards the very writers he most stringently condemned, appear to have been kind. There is a striking contrast between the amenities of taste, good fellowship, domesticity, and rural enjoyment, amid which he lived, and the idea of a ferocious critic so generally identified with his name. It is another and a memorable instance of the want of correspondence, in essential traits, between authorship and character. To have inspired confidence, respect, and affection, to the extent visible in his memoirs, among the most gifted and the best men of his day, is ample proof of the merit claimed in his behalf by the friend who describes his career. Yet, even admitting the conclusion drawn from these premises,
that “he was the founder of a new system of criticism, and this a higher one than had ever existed," and that “as an editor and a writer he did as much to improve his country and the world as can almost ever be done by discussion, by a single man," – there is a progressive as well as a retrospective standard, an essential as well as a comparative test, and a degree not less than an extent of insight to which such a writer is amenable, and by which alone he can be philosophically estimated. It is doubtless a most useful and desirable object of criticism to elucidate the art and discover the moral influence of literature; the censor in both these spheres is a requisite minister to social welfare ; but they do not cover the whole ground. Genius may transgress an acknowledged law of taste in obedience to a higher law of truth ; and the so-called moral of a work may be, and often is, misinterpreted by conventional rules. Comprehensive sympathies, as well as quick perception, recognition of the original, as well as knowledge of the prescriptive, are needful qualities in the critic. Loyalty to intuitive sentiment, as well as to external standards, is demanded ; and a catholic temper, which embraces with cordiality the idiosyncrasies that invariably distinguish original minds, is indispensable to their appreciation.
It is not what Lord Jeffrey “rather likes," or what “will never do" in his opinion, that disposes of those appeals to the
human soul which the truly gifted utter, and to which mankind respond; and the courteous dogmatism and the jaunty grace with which this famous reviewer sometimes pronounces upon the calibre and the mission of the priests of nature, are, therefore, not only inadmissible, but frequently impertinent. One is occasionally reminded of Charles Lamb's impatience at the literal character of the Scotch mind, and his quaint anecdotes to illustrate it, in Jeffrey's positive rule-and-compass style when discussing the productions of genuine poets. How to enjoy these benefactions is as important a lesson as how to judge them; and it is no less an evidence of discrimination deeply to feel beauties, than readily to pick flaws.
The art of philosophizing attractively upon literary and political questions of immediate interest was, indeed, excellently illustrated by Jeffrey, in those instances which did not surpass his power of insight. Where the personal feelings were not engaged, it was also an agreeable pastime to follow his destructive feats ; see him annihilate a poetaster, or insinuate away the pretensions of a book-wright. This he did in so cool a manner, and with such a gentlemanly sncer, and refinement of badinage, that it was like watching an elegant fencing-match, or capital shots in a pistol-gallery. The process and the principle, however, of this kind of reviewing were based upon that French philosophy which delights in ridicule, and ignores reverence. Accordingly, its spirit is essentially sceptical, fault-finding, narrow, and smart,
, and therefore quite inapplicable to the intuitive, the latent, delicate, and more lofty emanations of literature. Its office is to deal with talent, not genius ; with attainments, not inspiration ; with the form and rationale, not with the minute principles and divine mysteries of life. Where knowledge, tact, and wit, were available, Jeffrey shone. Ile possessed a remarkable degree of what may be called the eloquence of sense; but he lacked soul — the assimilating and revealing principle in man. His intellect needed humanizing. He looked upon an author objectively, with a scientific, not a sympathetic vision, and, therefore, as regards the highest, never came into a legitimate relation with them. He wanted that enthusiasm which, if it sometimes exaggerates merit, and is blind to defects, yet always warms the mind into an unity
of perception, and an intensity of observation, which opens new vistas of truth. Jeffrey's analytical power is not denied; but one only demurs at the extent of authority as a critic which, by virtue of it, he claimed. There is a captious tone in his reviews of poets, an unimpassioned statement, a self-possessed balancing of the scales of justice, quite too mechanical to be endured with patience. He thrusts himself arrogantly into a sphere of thought or feeling sacred to thousands, and peers about with the bold curiosity of a successful attorney. He really appreciates only knowledge, reasoning power, and the external laws of taste; and whatever appealed to instincts which were deficient in him, he pronounced either false or absurd.
A man of any real modesty or respect for others would hesitate before utterly condemning a foreign work held in universal admiration in the country of its origin; and would ascribe the fact of its not impressing him to his own iguorance of the language, or insensibility to the sentiment. Jeffrey, on the contrary, flippantly ridicules, as puerile and meaningless, the favorite fiction of the Germans, while confessedly ignorant of their language, and obviously wanting that imagination to which it appeals. Ile rails against the errors of Alfieri, Swift, and Burns, with a scornful hardihood that shows how little their genius won his sympathies, or their misfortunes touched his heart.
With a practical gauge, regulated by the intellectual tone of an Edinburgh clique, and having for its highest standard only intelligence and the laws of outward morality, he discusses the lives of such men, without a capacity to enter into their motives, to appreciate the circumstances in which they were placed, or to estimate the trials and triumphs of their natures. He ascribes Franklin's self-education to the antagonism of an unfavorable situation rather than to his own perseverance and love of knowledge; and is chiefly struck in Cowper's poetry with the ballad on the loss of the Royal George. A novel of Miss Edgeworth, in which prudence and common sense are the ideal of human character, he can heartily praise; a well-written, authentic narrative, like Irving's Life of Columbus, or a faithful and graphic biography, like the Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, he gives a very intelligent account of. But, not content with such useful labors,