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The praise of Shakspeare, which was a favourite passage with the author because he thought it had the merit of being original where novelty was hardly possible, is an instance of the defect. The picture of Nature presenting the pencil and keys to the child, and of his smiling at her awful face, is grotesque in proportion to the vividness with which it is realised, and is not redeemed by any ingenuity in the conception. The representation, too, of the mighty mother as wearing a terrible countenance, is peculiarly inapplicable to the universal genius of Shakspeare, whose comic powers are not inferior to his tragic. In the lines which follow on Milton, the ascribing his blindness to his contemplation of the dazzling glories of heaven, which he only viewed in imagination, is certainly a conceit, but there is a grandeur in the passage which even this blemish, serious as it is, could not destroy.
If Gray had been more sparing of his metaphors they would have gained in effect, and we should have had less of that obscurity, which it is idle to defend, and which, in "The Progress of Poetry,' is entirely produced by the resolution to tell everything in the high figurative style. He frequently fails to preserve consistency in his images. Dr. Akenside remarked that the keys in the panegyric on Shakspeare, which are employed at first to unlock a gate, are made at the end 'to ope a source.'
Dr. Johnson has exposed some similar slips, and throughout Gray's poems there is often a want of coherence between the parts of a sentence, either of grammar or of sense. The fault arose from his mode of composition. Instead of putting down his thoughts as they sprung up in his mind, he polished every line as he proceeded, and in the repeated changes of expression, a later verse, which was correct in the first conception, came to harmonize imperfectly with what went before. In the management of his metre Gray has no superior. His
was exquisite, and the few harsh lines, and very harsh they are, which are to be found in his poetry, were evidently left because he preferred to sacrifice the melody to the expression. The greatness of his reputation, contrasted with the small extent of the compositions upon which it is built, is the strongest proof of their singular excellence. Whether the slow and mosaic workmanship of Gray was an indication of genius, has often been questioned, but none except the few, who were jealous of his popularity, have ever hesitated to admit that his happiest poetry must be classed among the most perfect in the world.
Art. II. — Cosmos. Sketch of a Physical Description of the
Universe. By Alexander Von Humboldt. Vols. ii. and iii. Translated under the superintendence of Lieut.-Col. Edward
Sabine, R.A., V.P., and Treas. R.S. London, 1850-51-52. SINCE we reviewed the first volume of this work in 1846,
Baron von Humboldt, laden with years and well-earned honours, has published two additional volumes. We feel it incumbent upon us to bring the work, thus enlarged (though still wanting a volume for its completion), again before the notice of our readers. This we do, as well from regard to the high eminence of its author, as because it forms an exposition of the general state of physical science, brought yet nearer to our own day, by a philosopher of large views, and knowledge matured by a long life of active observation-one equally capable of generalizing what has been already done, and of casting a philosophic eye upon the future-over that ocean of undiscovered truth' which still spreads out widely before us.
In our former article on the Cosmos' we gave such an outline of the life of Humboldt, and of his career as a traveller and naturalist, as might suffice to show some of his qualifications for the work he has here undertaken. That which is peculiar to the man is the singular extent and diversity of knowledge which he brings to every subject of inquiry. We cannot name any traveller equally gifted with this large comprehension, which was possessed and put into exercise at the very outset of life. A striking example of his copiousness of research occurs in the earliest part of the personal narrative of his travels. Approaching the Canary Isles, the first point at which he touches on his passage to America, he enters into a long discussion on the currents and winds of the Atlantic, that great valley of waters dividing the Old from the New World. The sight of the stupendous Peak of Teneriffe leads him to a dissertation on those various conditions of figure of the earth, figure of the object, refraction, &c., which determine the visibility of objects at different distances. Six days at Teneriffe, including an ascent of the Peak, furnish materials for half a volume; in which are blended geology, botany, zoology, the theories of volcanic phenomena, questions as to the temperature and chemical composition of the air at different heights, the history of the Canaries, disquisitions on their discovery by the ancients, and on the origin and language of the Guanches, their earliest known population. Many of these topics have been enlarged or corrected by later research; but, as handled by Humboldt at this period, they well mark his early vigour and aptitude for such inquiries. VOL, XCIV. NO. CLXXXVII.
Regarding him as a writer merely, this exuberance of knowledge, and his nimia diligentia of illustration, almost pass into a fault, if we might apply the term to qualities thus valuable and rare. Digressions may readily be excused where they bring fresh life and vigour to the subject, and suggest new relations to the mind. But, even under this view, we are compelled to consider the tendency in Humboldt's case to be one of excess; and we notice it the rather from finding various proofs of the same discursive method in the work before us; in which the topics, from their vastness and variety, require constant compression, and a rigid adherence to that proportion of parts which is essential to the unity of the whole. Where the Universe, which we must receive as the proper rendering of Cosmos, is the object placed before us, we have some right to expect that the grandeur of the design should be sustained in the execution.
In our former article we made some remarks on this subject; commenting upon a certain vagueness which pervades the whole conception of the work; and a tendency to repetition and digression, injurious more or less to the harmony of the scheme. These comments we are compelled to consider as fully confirmed and justified by the volumes now before us. In adopting the title of Cosmos, M. Humboldt has exposed himself to perplexities which pursue him through every part of his work. He is haunted, one may fairly say, by a spectre of his own creation. He has invoked a vast and vague name, which sometimes he seeks to curb and limit by definitions, at other times to enlarge and exalt. At the risk of appearing presumptuous we must express our doubt whether he has ever entirely defined the term of Cosmos to his own mind. A grand and spacious idea was before him ; congenial to the temperament of German thought, and according well with his own vast and various knowledge, and his desire to concentrate the labours of a life in one great closing work. He sought to mark by the name the magnitude of the conception. But the conception itself is beyond the power of adequate fulfilment, even by one possessing the resources of our author. The Universe, as expressing all the material phenomena of nature (and we shall see presently that Humboldt has superadded other topics having relation to the human faculties and progress), is too vast a theme for a single man or a single work. Treated upon one plan, it becomes a vague and almost metaphysical abstraction —upon the opposite plan, an embodiment of facts and details so various and endless as utterly to set at nought all present power of compression or scientific arrangement. The expression of Seneca, designating his idea of the Divinity of the Universe,' quod rides totum et quod non vides totum,' has, in some points, close re
lation to our author's conception of the Cosmos; which is here and there denoted in terms savouring more of the school of Fichte and Schelling than of the sober severity of modern science. We presume it likely that Humboldt had before him the idea, if not the words, of Ď'Alembert,— L'Univers, pour qui saurait l'embrasser d'un seul point de vue, ne serait qu'un fait unique, et une grande vérité'-a phrase admissible in no other sense than in so far as it indicates that unity of creation, and of the Divine power, which, while establishing mutual relations among the most remote bodies of the universe, through light, gravitation, and possibly other elementary forces,-has equally designed the most subtle atomical relations of matter, and those exquisite organic textures, which minister to the functions of life in its numberless forms on our own globe.*
The difficulties and incongruities resulting from this struggle between the abstractions of a name, and the real genius and scientific acquirements of the author, are apparent, as will presently be noticed, in the methods and construction of the work; and also in the frequent recurrence of M. Humboldt to definitions of his plan, and explanations of the idea of the Cosmos; seemingly quite as much to satisfy and guide his own mind, as to direct the intelligence of his readers. Largely though this matter is treated in the Introduction to the first volume, we find a recurrence to it preceding the chapters entitled 'Epochs in the History of the Physical Contemplation of the Universe. Even to the third volume there is prefixed a new Introduction; in which, while reciting the purport of the former volumes, and the objects still before him, he makes, we think, a distinct admission that the scheme is too large for a single hand; and anticipates, rather by apology than vindication, some of the objections we have ourselves urged to the conception of the work. We insert one or two passages from this Introduction; the purport of which, had it struck him with the same force and clearness when he began the first volume, would probably have modified the scheme of the whole work :
• It remains for the third and last volumes of my work to supply * The conceptions of Goethe, as embodied in his strenuous verse, were doubtless also present to our author's mind in forming the scheme of the Cosmos :
• Und hier schliesst die Natur den Ring der ewigen Kräfte,
Und das Ganze belebt, so wie das Einzelne sey.' The Traité du Monde of Descartes, and the Cosmotheoros of Huyghens, may occur here to some of our readers. But the first work was never published entire; the second was little worthy of the name of Huyghens; and neither of them could suggest anything to the mind of Humboldt, so well exercised in the sounder science of the present day.
some of the deficiencies of the earlier ones, and to put forward those results of observations which form the principal basis of present scientific opinion. The unexpected favour with which my undertaking has been received makes me doubly feel the need of expressing myself once more, as distinctly as possible, in reference to the fundamental idea of the entire work; and respecting requirements which I have never even attempted to fulfil, because to my individual view of our experimental knowledge they could never have been contemplated by me.
• The establishment of a science of Nature from the laws of gravity up to the formative impulse in animated bodies, as one organic whole, is no doubt a brilliant problem, and one worthy of the human intellect; but the imperfect state of so many parts of our knowledge places insuperable difficulties in the way of its solution. What is perceived is far from exhausting what is perceivable. If, to recall only the progress of the time nearest our own, we compare the imperfect knowledge of nature possessed by Gilbert, Robert Boyle, and Hales with the present, and if we remember that the rate of progress is a rapidly increasing one, we may have some idea of the periodical endless transformations which still await all the physical sciences,' &c.
We find further evidence that the conception of Humboldt is shadowy and undefined in the peculiar phraseology which pervades the Cosmos-less at variance indeed with German than with English habitudes of thought and language; but, under any view of it, much more vague and mystical than befits a scientific treatise of our own time. We might illustrate our meaning by quoting such expressions as domain of the Cosmos,' science of the Cosmos,' recognition of the Cosmos,' ' history of Cosmical contemplation, Cosmical space,' Cosmical life, and many others of like kind occurring in these volumes, which the translator rightly renders to us as he found them; but which, we think, might be profitably exchanged for terms of more common and intelligible
We have yet another proof of the difficulties with which Humboldt has encumbered himself, in the mass of notes appended to these volumes. In positive bulk of matter they are almost equal to the text; and though far from affirming of them what Gray said of notes in general, that they are 'signs of weakness or obscurity, yet we are continually led to ask on what principle the matter they contain is detached from the body of the work. Much that we find here has more value and originality than the text to which it is related; and there are various details and digressions in the latter which might well admit of being transferred to the notes. Whatever the reasons for the actual distribution, the practical result is that these notes, so embodied as a separate part of each volume, are wholly neglected by nine out