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wrote in those days have a jaunty mode of pronouncing upon all conceivable topics without even affecting to have studied the subject, which is amusing in its way, and which fully explains the flimsy nature of their performance.
The authors, in fact, regarded these essays, at the time, as purely ephemeral. The success of the Review suggested republication long afterwards. The first collection of articles was, I presume, Sydney Smith's, in 1839 ; Jeffrey's and Macaulay's followed in 1843; and at that time even Macaulay thought it necessary to explain that the republication was forced upon him by the Americans. The plan of passing even the most serious books through the pages of a periodical has become so common that such modesty would now imply the emptiest affectation. The collections of Jeffrey and Sydney Smith will give a sufficient impression of the earlier numbers of the Review. The only contributors of equal reputation were Horner and Brougham. Horner, so far as one can judge, was a typical representative of those solid, indomitable Scotchmen whom one knows not whether to respect for their energy or to dread as the most intolerable of bores. He plodded through legal, metaphysical
, scientific, and literary studies like an elephant forcing his way through ೩ a jungle; and laboured as resolutely and systematically to acquire graces of style as to master the intricacies of the “ dismal science.” At an early age, and with no advantages of position, he had gained extraordinary authority in Parliament. Sydney Smith said of him that he had the Ten Commandments written on his face, and looked so virtuous that he might commit any crime with impunity. His death probably deprived us of a most exemplary statesman and first-rate Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it can hardly have been a great loss to literature.* His contributions gave some solid economical speculation to the Review, but were neither numerous nor lively. Brougham's amazing vitality wasted itself in a different way. His multifarious energy, from early boyhood to the borders of old age, would be almost incredible, if we had not the good fortune to be contemporaries of Mr. Gladstone. His share in the opening numbers
Passages from Horner's journals, given in his Memoirs, are quaint illustrations of the frame of mind generally inculcated in manuals for the use of virtuous young men. At the age of twenty-eight, he resolves one day to meditate upon various topics, distributed under nine heads, including the society to be formed in the metro polis; the characters to be studied; the scale of intimacies; the style of conversation ; the use of other men's minds in self-education; the regulation of ambition, of political sentiments, connections and conduct; the importance of “steadily systematising all plans and aims of life, and so providing against contingencies as to put happiness at least out of the reach of accident," and the cultivation of moral feelings by "dignified sentiments and pleasing associations” derived from poets, moralists, or actual life. Sydney Smith, in a very lively portrait, says that Horner was the best, kindest, simplest
, and most incorruptible of mankind; but intimates sufficiently that his impenetrability to the facetious was something almost unexampled. A jost upon an important subject was, it seems, the only affliction which his strength of principle would not enable him to bear with patience.
of the Review is another of the points upon which there is an odd conflict of testimony. * But from a very early period he was the most voluminous and, at times, the most valuable of contributors. It has been said that he once wrote a whole number, including articles upon
líthotomy and Chinese music. It is more authentic that he contributed six articles to one number, at the very crisis of his political career, and at the same period he boasts of having written a fifth of the whole Review to that time. He would sit down in a morning and write off twenty pages at a single effort. Jeffrey compares his own editorial authority to that of a feudal monarch over some independent barons. When Jeffrey gave up the Review, this " baron ” aspired to something more like domination than independence. He made the unfortunate editor's life a burden to him. He wrote voluminous letters, objurgating, entreating, boasting of past services, denouncing rival contributors, declaring that a regard for the views of any other man was base subservience to a renegade Ministry, or foolish attention to the hints of understrappers, threatening, if he was neglected, to set up a rival review, and generally hectoring, bullying, and declaiming in a manner which gives one the highest opinion of the diplomatic skill of the editor, who managed, without truckling, to avoid a breach with his tremendous contributor. Brougham indeed was not quite blind to the fact that the Review was as useful to him as he ould be to the Review, and was therefore more amenable than might have been expected, in the last resort. But he was in every relation one of those men who are nearly as much hated and dreaded by their colleagues as by the adversary—a kind of irrepressible rocket, only too easy to discharge, but whose course defied prediction.
It is, however, admitted by every one that the literary results of this portentous activity were essentially ephemeral. His writings are hopelessly commonplace in substance, and slipshod in style. His garden offers a bushel of potatoes instead of a single peach. Much of Brougham's work was up to the level necessary to give effect to the manifesto of an active politician. It was a fair exposition of the arguments common at the time; but it has nowhere that stamp of originality in thought or brilliance in expression which could confer upon it a permanent vitality.
Jeffrey and Sydney Smith deserve more respectful treatment. Macaulay speaks of his first edition with respectful enthusiasm. He says of the collected contributions that the “variety and fertility of Jeffrey's mind” seem more extraordinary than ever. Scarcely could any three
* It would appear, from one of Jeffrey's statements, that Brougham selfishly bung back till after the third number of the Review, and its “ assured success" (Horner's Memoirs, i. p. 186, and Macvey Napier's Correspondence, p. 422); from another, that Brougham, though anxious to contribute, was excluded by Sydney Smith, from prudential motives. On the other hand, Brougham in his autobiography claims (by name) seven articles in the first number, five in the second, eight in the third, and five in the fourth; in five of which he had a collaborator. His hesitation, ho says, ended before the appearance of the first number, and was due to doubts as to Jeffrey's being allowed sufficient power.
men have produced such “diversified excellence."
- When I compare him with Sydney and myself, I feel, with humility perfectly sincere, that his range is immeasurably wider than ours. And this is only as a writer. But he is not only a writer, he has been a great advocate, and he is a great judge. Take him all in all, I think him more nearly an immortal genius than any man of our time; certainly far more nearly than Brougham, much as Brougham affects the character.” Macaulay hated Brougham, and was, perhaps, a little unjust to him. But what are we to say of the writings upon which this panegyric is pronounced ?
Jeffrey's collected articles include about eighty out of two hundred reviews, nearly all contributed to the Edinburgh within its first period of twenty-five years. They fill four volumes, and are distributed under the seven heads-general literature, history, poetry, metaphysics, fiction, politics, and miscellaneous. Certainly there is versatility enough implied in such a list, and we may be sure that he has ample opportunity for displaying whatever may be in him. It is, however, easy to dismiss some of these divisions. Jeffrey knew history as an English gentleman of average cultivation knew it; that is to say, not enough to justify him in writing about it. He knew as much of metaphysics as a clever lad was likely to pick up at Edinburgh during the reign of Dugald Stewart; his essays in that kind, though they show some aptitude and abundant confidence, do not now deserve serious attention. His chief speculative performance was an essay upon beauty contributed to the Encyclopedia Britannica, of which his biographer says quaintly that it is “as sound as the subject admits of.” It is crude and meagre in substance. The principal conclusion is the rather unsatisfactory one for a professional critic that there are no particular rules about beauty, and consequently that one taste is about as good as another. Nobody, however, could be less inclined to apply this over liberal theory to questions of literary taste. There, he evidently holds, there is most decidedly a right and wrong, and everybody is very plainly in the wrong who differs from himself.
Jeffrey's chief fame-or, should we say, notoriety ?—was gained, and his merit should be tested by his success, in this department. The greatest triumph that a literary critic can win is the early recognition of genius not yet appreciated by his contemporaries. The next test of his merit is his capacity for pronouncing sound judgment upon controversies which are fully before the public; and, finally, no inconsiderable merit must be allowed to any critic who has a vigorous taste of his own—not hopelessly eccentric or silly—and expresses it with true literary force. If not a judge, he may in that case be a useful advocate.
What can we say for Jeffrey upon this understanding ? Did he ever encourage a rising genius? The sole approach to such a success is an appreciative notice of Keats, which would be the more satisfactory if poor Keats had not been previously assailed by the opposition journal. The other judgments are for the most part pronounced upon men already celebrated ; and the single phrase which has survived is the celebrated
“ This will never do," directed against Wordsworth's Excursion. Every critic is liable to blunder; but Jeffrey's blundering is amazingly systematic and comprehensive. In the last of his poetical critiques (October 1829) he sums up his critical experience. He doubts whether Mrs. Hemans, whom he is reviewing at the time, will be immortal. “ The tuneful quartos of Southey," he says, “are already little better than lumber; and the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth, and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the field of vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride.” Who survive this general decay? Not Coleridge, who is not even mentioned ; nor is Mrs. Hemans secure. The two who show least marks of decay
-of all people in the world-Rogers and Campbell! It is only to be added that this summary was republished in 1843, by which time the true proportions of the great reputations of the period were becoming more obvious to an ordinary observer. It seems almost incredible now that any sane critic should pick out Rogers and Campbell as the sole enduring relics from the age of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, and Byron.
Doubtless a critic should rather draw the moral of his own fallibility than of his superiority to Jeffrey. Criticism is a still more perishing commodity than poetry. Jeffrey was a man of unusual intelligence and quickness of feeling; and a follower in his steps should think twice before he ventures to cast the first stone. If all critics who have grossly blundered are therefore to be pronounced utterly incompetent, we should, I fear, have to condemn nearly every one who has taken up
the profession. Not only Dennis and Rymer, but Dryden, Pope, Addison, Johnson, Gray, Wordsworth, Byron, and even Coleridge, down to the last new critic in the latest and most fashionable journals, would have to be censured. Still there are blunders and blunders ; and some of Jeffrey's sins in that kind are such as it is not very easy to forgive. If he attacked great men, it has been said in his defence, he attacked those parts of their writings which were really objectionable. And, of course, nobody will deny that (for example) Wordsworth's wilful and ostentatious inversion of accepted rules presented a very tempting mark to the critic. But-to say nothing of Jeffrey's failure to discharge adeqnately the correlative duty of generous praise-it must be admitted that his ridicule seems to strike pretty much at random. He picks out Southey, cer tainly the least eminent of the so-called school of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb, as the one writer of the set whose poetry deserves serious consideration; and, besides attacking Wordsworth's faults, his occasional flatness and childishness, selects some of his finest poems (e.g. the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality) as flagrant specimens of the hopelessly absurd.
The White Doe of Rylstone may not be Wordsworth's best work; bub a man who begins a review of it by proclaiming it to be “the very worst poem ever .imprinted in a quarto volume," who follows up this remark by unmixed and indiscriminating abuse, and who publishes the review twenty-eight years later as expressing his mature convictions, is certainly proclaiming his own gross incompetence. Or, again, Jeffrey writes about Wilhelm Meister (in 1824), knowing its high reputation in Germany, and finds in it nothing but a text for a dissertation
the amazing eccentricity of national taste which can admire "sheer nonsense," and at length proclaims himself tired of extracting "so much trash." There is a kind of indecency, a wanton disregard of the general consensus of opinion in such treatment of a contemporary classic (then just translated by Mr. Carlyle, and so brought within Jeffrey's sphere) which one would hope to be now impossible. It is true that Jeffrey relents a little at the end, admits that Goethe has "great talent,” and would like to withdraw some of his censure. Whilst, therefore, he regards it as an instance of that diversity of national taste which makes a writer idolized in one country who would not be tolerated in another, he would hold it out rather as an object of wonder than contempt. Though the greater part “would not be endured, and, indeed, could not have been written in England,” there are many passages of which any country might naturally be proud. Truly this is an illustration of Jeffrey's fundamental principle that taste has no laws, and is a matter of accidental caprice.
It may be said that better critics have erred with equal recklessness. De Quincey, who could be an admirable critic where his indolent prejudices were not concerned, is even more dead to the merits of Goethe, Byron's critical remarks are generally worth reading, in spite of his wilful eccentricity; and he spoke of Wordsworth and Southey still more brutally than Jeffrey, and admired Rogers as unreasonably. In such cases we may admit the principle already suggested, that even the most reckless criticism has a kind of value when it implies a genuine (even though a mistaken) taste. So long as a man says sincerely what he thinks, he tells us something worth knowing.
Unluckily this is just where Jeffrey is apt to fail; though he affects to be a dictator, he is really a follower of the fashion. He could put up with Rogers' flattest "correctness,” Moore's most intolerable tinsel, and even Southey's most ponderous epic poetry, because admiration was respectable. He could endorse, though rather coldly, the general verdict in Scott's favour, only guarding his dignity by some not too judicious criticism ; preferring, for example, the sham romantic business of the Lay to the incomparable vigour of the rough moss-troopers
Who sought the beeves that made their proth,
In Scotland and in England both terribly undignified lines, as Jeffrey thinks. So far, though his judicial