« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
his stalke grene,
pleases, because the objects and events would please in real life by being the cause of strong excitement. If this were true, racks and tortures and stage-executions would be the height of dramatic poetry.
The account which we have given of the general reasonings contained in Mr. Hazlitt's book, renders it less necessary to enter into a minute examination of his criticisms on particular poets, or particular passages.
He gives many beautiful extracts, but his remarks will not guide the reader to a livelier sense of their beauties. Thus, when Iachimo says of Imogen, that the flame of the taper
would underpeep her lids, To see the enclosed lights' — Mr. Hazlitt admires the quaint and quaintly-expressed conceit, and calls it a passionate interpretation of the motion of the flame! The following lines from Chaucer are very pleasing :
Emelie that fayrer was to sene
I n'ot which was the finer of hem two.' But surely the beauty does not lie in the last line, though it is with this that Mr. Hazlitt is chiefly struck. "This scrupulousness,'he ob serves, about the literal preference, as if some question of matter of fact were at issue, is remarkable.'
When Mr. Hazlitt at any time deviates from his predecessors in his character of particular poets, he generally goes wrong. He, as a matter of course, bestows high praises on Pope; but they are interspersed with remarks, and modified by limitations, which degrade that illustrious genius far below the eminence which he must ever occupy.
His mind,' says our critic, was the antithesis of strength and grandeur; its power was the power of indifference. He had none of the enthusiasm of poetry; he was in poetry what the sceptic is in religion.' The sceptic is, in the commou acceptation of language, a man who has no religion: Mr. Hazlitt, therefore, if he did not write nonsense for the sake of what he thought a pretty turn upon words, must hold Pope to be no poet at all. Pope, he remarks in another place, describes the thing, and goes on describing his own descriptions, till he loses himself in verbal repetitions. This sentence is not in the least descriptive of Pope's poetry, but it is a very faithful description of Mr. Hazlitt's prose. The truth is that Pope's unpardonable fault, in the estimation of those who decry him at the present day, consists in his being very perspicuous; he is always intelligible; every line has its meaning, every idea which he communicates has its boun
daries distinctly marked; and he is supposed to want feeling, because he abounds in sense. Were some of his finest
passages to be translated into the mystical language of the modern school, the eyes of many would be opened, who are now blind to his superlative merits.
Mr. Hazlitt's criticism affords some strange instances of presumptuous assertion. • Longinus,' says he, 'preferred the Iliad to the Odyssey on account of the greater number of battles it contains. We wish he had told us where Longinus says so; for we can recollect no such passage. If he alludes to the eloquent eulogy upon Homer in the ninth section of the Treatise on the Sublime, he has totally mistaken the meaning of Longinus. The remark of the Greek critic is, *that the Iliad was written in the prime of life and genius, so that the whole body of the poem is dramatic and vehemently energetic; but that, according to the usual peculiarity of old age, the greater part of the Odyssey is devoted to narrative. This criticism has no reference to the multitude of battles; it relates merely to the dramatic character which pervades the Iliad, as contrasted with the narrative, highly poetical indeed, which occupies a great part of the Odyssey. If it were worth while to account for Mr. Hazlitt's mistake, we might perhaps find the source of it in the Latin translation of Longinus. Evaywvrov is there translated, absurdly enough, pugnar; and pugnax, either directly or through the medium of a French version, (for we believe Mr. Hazlitt to be completely ignorant of the learned languages,) has led to this misrepresentation of Longinus and of Homer.
• Prior's serious poetry, as his Alma, is as heavy, as his familiar style was light and agreeable.' Unluckily for our critic, Prior's Alma is in his lightest and most familiar style, and is the most highly finished specimen of that species of versification which our language possesses. Whether Mr. Hazlitt could form a just judgment of an author whom he has read, may be a matter of considerable doubt; but there is little risk in asserting, that he has no right to decide upon a work with which he is unacquainted, and there is no undue uncharitableness in suspecting that he who has not read Prior has not read much of our early poets.
Mr. Hazlitt asserts that Dr. Johnson condemns the versification of Paradise Lost as harsh and unequal. Johnson has devoted three papers of the Ramblert to the examination of the structure of Milton's verse, and in these has given us a most profound and elegant specimen of English metrical criticism. Let us hear his opipion out of his own mouth. • If the poetry of Milton be examined
* Της μεν Ιλιαδος γραφομενης εν ακμη πνευματος όλον το σωματιον δραματικον υπερησατο και εναγωνιον» της δε οδυσσειας το πλεον διηγηματικον, όπερ ίδιων γηπως. † Nos. LXXXVI. LXXXVIII. XC.
with regard to the pauses and flow of his verses: into each other, it will appear that he has performed all that our language would admit; and the comparison of his numbers with those who have cultivated the same manner of writing will show, that he excelled as much in the lower as in the higher parts of his art, and that his skill in harmony was not less than his invention and learning. These surely are not words of condemnation.
Upon the whole, the greater part of Mr. Hazlitt's book is either completely unintelligible, or exhibits only faint and dubious glimpses of meaning; and the little portion of it that may be understood is not of so much value, as to excite regret on account of the vacancy of thought which pervades the rest. One advantage of this style of writing is, that Mr. Hazlitt's lectures will always be new to his hearers, whether delivered at the Surrey Institution or elsewhere. They may have been read or they may have been heard before; but they are of that happy texture that leaves not a trace in the mind of either reader or hearer. Connected thought may be retained, but no effort of recollection has any power over an incoherent jumble of gaudy words.
Art. X.-1. Considerations respecting Cambridge, more parti
cularly relating to its Botanical Professorship. By Sir James Edward Smith, M.D.F.R.S. &c. President of the Linuæan
Society. London. 1818. pp. 60. 2. A Vindication of the University of Cambridge from the Reflections of Sir James Edward Smith, President of the Linnæan Society, &c. By the Rev. James Henry Monk, B. D. Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, and Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Cambridge. 2d Edition. London.
1918. pp. 95. А
CONTROVERSY between a President of the Linnæan So
ciety and a Regius Greek Professor is an occurrence of some importance in the transactions of the literary world, and minor combatants may for a space repose upon
arms; Discessere omnes medii spatiumque dedere. The contest, however, assumes a still more serious aspect, when considered as involving to a certain degree the credit and character of a learned and numerous body of men, who are vigorously, if not skilfully, assailed by one combatant, and defended, successfully, as we think, by the other.
The combat would have been even yet more important, had it been a regular and embodied charge of the whole Linnæan Society against the University. The former would then, of course, have
brought into the field their auxiliary forces, the Horticultural and Gooseberry societies, with the irregular troops, the tulip-fanciers and prize-auricula-men. And what with their • systematic arrangements’ and classifications, their patent averruncators' and pruning hooks, they would, no doubt, have formed a very imposing and formidable body, and might, perhaps, have taken by storm the botanical chair. Fortunately for Professor Monk, he has had to contend with Sir James Smith single-handed, although, to measure Sir James by the language in which he speaks of himself, he is, at least, equivalent to the rest of the Linnæan Society put together,
Unus qui multi militis instur erit. It required, assuredly, no trifling degree of self-confidence to advance a serious and vehement charge against a university, which, unquestionably, boasts amongst its members as many men of talent and integrity, as can be produced by any academical institution in Europe. We are inclined to suspect that the President of the Linnæan Society has still lurking in his breast some of those prejudices against English universities, which are observable in most persons who have gone through their academical career in Edinburgh. This is, indeed, sufficiently evident, from the affectionate earnestness with which he exhorts his Alma Mater to avoid the bigotry and intolerance, which, in spite of the Northern lights that have gradually illuminated our hemisphere, still darken the shores of Isis and of Cam.
The history of the present controversy may be related in few words. Professor Martyn has filled the botanical chair at Cambridge for more than fifty years; but for the last twenty he has enjoyed the emoluments of his office without performing any of its duties. It was to be expected, in the natural order of events, that the professorship would be vacant at a period not very remote. It had been suggested to Sir James Smith, that he might come forward upon that occasion as a candidate for the office, with great probability of success. Two objections, indeed, there were; in the first place he was not a member of the university; and, secondly, he was a dissenter; and therefore could not conscientiously subscribe to our articles of faith, without which subscription no degree could be taken. These difficulties, however, which may, in fact, be resolved into one, did not appear to be insuperable, and, accordingly, Sir James commenced operations. As it was known that more than one member of the university intended to come forward, as a candidate for the botanical chair, in the event of a vacancy, it was, at least, a piece of good generalship in Sir James to obtain a footing in the place while his competitors were kept back by mo
tives of delicacy, and to discharge, if possible, a part of the professorial functions, while he was as yet only a professor in posse. Accordingly he obtained from Mr. Martyn, a letter, dated March 14, 1818, formally requesting him to read a course of botanical lectures in the ensuing Easter Term. The vice-chancellor so far forgot bis usual love of precedent as to grant his sanction to this very unprecedented intrusion, and an advertisement was published, announcing that Sir James Edward Smith's lectures would commence on the 6th of April. Meanwhile,' says Sir James, I returned home for a fortnight, thinking of no opposition.' Opposition, however, was at work. A representation was made to the vice-chancellor by the tutors of fourteen colleges, expressing their strong objection to the appointment of any public lecturer, who was neither a member of the University nor of the Church of England. The consequences of this were, that the vice-chancellor withdrew his sanction, Sir James Smith abandoned his lectures, and published an angry pamphlet, which has been temperately, but decisively answered by Professor Monk.
The character of Sir James's publication is singular, in many respects; it is a remarkable instance of that egotism and self-importance, which an exclusive devotion to one science is so apt to generate in a man by leading him to exalt, in an undue degree, the importance of his own pursuits, and to depreciate the merit of those whose researches have been directed towards objects of a different kind. The natural consequence of this is that Sir James has treated the question, as if there were only one party whose interests and reputation were at stake; and, in behalf of that party, he has not scrupled to impute the worst of motives to his opponents, without supporting his charge by a tittle of evidence, or even the shadow of probability. His assertions are generally unguarded and incorrect; and his arguments drawn from precedent betray, to use his own words, ' an ignorance of the history and laws of the university. As a discussion of these particulars would have but little interest for the generality of our readers, we shall content ourselves with referring them to the clear and satisfactory statements of Professor Monk, and proceed to consider the more prominent features of the subject; viz. first, the comparative importance of botanical pursuits; secondly, the propriety of conferring an academical office upon a person who is both an alien to the university and a dissenter from the established church.
The distinguished attainments which have deservedly placed Sir James at the head of the Linnæan Society are too well known to need the tribute of our acknowledgment. Nor are we disposed to deny to his favourite science that degree of consideration and respect which its intrinsic importance deserves. But neither do the