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former of these practices, and we need fear nothing for our mother tongue, while a general regard is paid to the precept expressed in the following couplet.
'Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Art. VIII.—Oeuvres inedites de Madame la Baronne de Stael, publiees par son Jils. 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, Strasbourg et Londres. 1821.
The celebrated Rembrandt, one of the principal ornaments of the Flemish school of painting, did not enjoy, in his lifetime, all the reputation which has since been attached to his name. Fame and fortune are capricious; and Rembrandt, in the pride of genius, neglected the courtly arts, that are sometimes necessary to obtain the favor of these charming divinities. He found himself, accordingly, with all his merit, in very imminent danger of starving: and in order to enhance the value of his pictures, and anticipate some of the advantages of a high posthumous reputation, he retired from public view, and circulated a report of his own death. No sooner was this sad event made known, than the hundred tongues of fame were immediately vocal in loud commendation of the departed painter: and what was more to his purpose, his pictures rose instantaneously in value, and were bought up with a sort of fury. After reaping this golden harvest, and disposing of all the pictures he had on hand, the artist returned to life, and resumed his labors with new alacrity, and increased contempt for the good sense and taste of the public. This anecdote has been wrought up by a French writer into a little comedy; and in order to give it the additional interest of a seasoning of gallantry, the painter's wife is represented as a second Penelope, besieged, like the queen of Ithaca, in consequence of the supposed death of her husband, by innumerable suitors. She is described, however, as not possessing quite the constancy of that ' illustrious personage,' and as not being wholly disinclined to anticipate also, in her own way, some of the advantages, that might be expected to result from her husband's actual decease, so that the poor painter has more reasons than one for making haste to return to life.
This little anecdote, true or false, serves to illustrate pleasantly enough the value of fame, and the uncertainty there is, whether the judgments of contemporaries will be annulled or confirmed by posterity. No writer of our own times has enjoyed, upon the whole, so extensive a reputation as Madame de Stael obtained in the latter part of her literary career. The productions of some others have been read with more pleasure, in smaller circles, or rated higher by a few judges who were able to appreciate them; but taking into view the extent of the public to which she addressed herself, as well as her success in obtaining its favor, it would be difficult to find a name that can come in competition with hers, since the time lof Voltaire and Rousseau. Or if this should be contested, it will readily be granted by all, that she was one of the most popular writers of her time. Notwithstanding this, she had critics and very severe ones; nor has her death wholly silenced them, as it did those of the Flemish artist. We have seen but a few days since, in a German work of great merit, a solemn anathema against bad writers of various kinds, in which, among other denunciations equally severe, all Sapphos, Aspasias, and Corinnas, are sent, without ceremony, to the madhouse. This judgment savors too strongly in its rudeness as well as its severity, of the soil, and we imagine will not be confirmed, even by such critics in other countries as are less partial to the daughter of Necker. In fact, if we are rightly informed, although Madame de Stael was received with great attention in the higher circles of German society, the scholars of that country, who wield the sceptre of criticism, have never looked upon her with an eye of favor. Her learning appeared to them scanty and superficial, and quite insufficient to justify her in giving her opinions so freely as she did on large and difficult questions. Accustomed themselves to push their inquiries with an expense of much time and unwearied labor into the minutest details of fact, they are unwilling to acknowledge that these toils are unnecessary for the purpose of arriving at just conclusions: and that it is possible to reason correctly upon general subjects, by means of observations made exclusively on large masses and leading points. By French critics, on the contrary, Madame de Stael has been reproached with affecting too much the German taste, with indulging in vague and obscure modes of expression, with deviating irom the pure and lucid perspicuity that distinguishes the best French writers, and adopting the manner they call romantic, without precisely knowing themselves what they mean by this term. These objections refer to the style of her works, but the substance of them has also been freely handled. The moral in some has been regarded as loose, and in all as bordering on extravagance and mysticism. Her political philosophy has dissatisfied the zealots of every party. The republicans dislike her passion for • historical names,' and the royalists her zeal for liberal institutions. Some quarrel with her hatred for Bonaparte and others with her passion for the British government. Meanwhile, these objections, in most of which there is a greater or less degree of foundation, did not prevent her reputation from extending itself regularly and rapidly up to the time of her death. Her name and merit were comparatively little known till the publication of Corinna. This work diffused her fame far and wide; and her subsequent more serious productions established it on solid foundations. Instead of outliving her reputation like some authors, and degenerating from the excellence of her earlier efforts, each book that she published was regularly more valuable than the one preceding, and her great posthumous work on the French revolution far excelled any she had previously written, and gave the last finish to her literary character.
It may be supposed by some, that the elevated social position of Madame de Stael, her rank, wealth, and titles, contributed something to her literary success; but this idea is not very plausible. Other ministers have had daughters besides M. Neoker, and there have been baronesses of higher standing in the rolls of heraldry, and perhaps of larger fortunes, though hers was very great, whose names are never seen in a critical review. In fact, whatever could be done for Madame de Stael by the advantages of her birth and fortune, was effected at a very early period of her life, and we have seen that her reputation was principally the fruit of her later labors, performed at a time when she was persecuted, in exile, and comparatively poor. The remark of Pope, upon the great influence of high social standing in sanctifying dullness, like many others of his satirical sallies, has very little foundation. The rarity of great merit, whether in the loftiest or the lowest ranks of society, makes us perceive it, when it really exists. there, with increased satisfaction: but if the public is disposed to be indulgent in either case, it seems to be rather to the efforts of indigent, than of wealthy or dignified mediocrity. The Bloomfields obtained a sort of distinction by poems, which, had they been written by men of education, would have sunk without notice into forgetfulness. Hogg, and even Burns have been a good deal overrated, on account of the interest excited by their humble origin and small advantages; while on the other hand the dunces have been uniformly more severely handled by critics and the public, in proportion to their rank and fortune. Lord Thurlow found no protection for affectation and nonsense in his own title, or the merit of his father; and the earl of Carlisle's coronet did not secure him from the most unmerciful castigation by his own nephew, lord Byron,—more severe, perhaps, than mere unoffending dulness really deserved. Byron himself received for his hours of idleness a critical lashing, which did not seem to be inflicted with the less relish because it fell on patrician shoulders. In short, we apprehend that notwithstanding the efforts lately made in Europe to give the greatest possible prevalence to the doctrine of legitimacy, it has not yet obtained sway in literature, and if all the other governments in the world should assume a monarchical form, except the United States, we shall still have the republic of letters to keep us in countenance. ( The principal merit of Madame de Stael's compositions is 'the poetical coloring of the language. Without having, perhaps, the best possible taste in style, she succeeds to a considerable extent in what she attempts. She is not satisfied with a merely natural and perspicuous expression of tnought, which is, after all, the perfection of art, but aims assiduously and constantly at effect and brilliancy. She deals willingly in large and majestic forms of expression; and this manner, however imposing when perfectly successful, borders too nearly on stiffness and affectation to be employed without considerable hazard. But Madame de Stael has avoided on the whole, with great skill and success, the principal faults into which her peculiar taste was likely to lead her; and her language, though rich and elevated, is in general very flowing and easy. She has also throughout great spirit and vivacity. Her imagination enlivens every thing it touches; and in the several departments of literature which she has attempted, such as historical and fictitious narrative, description of art and nature, the analysis of sentiment, and abstract speculation on various branches of philosophy, she possesses the art of giving her compositions a high degree of interest. This is the true secret of literary success. An attractive style is not so much the clothing of thought, as the conductor of it. Without the intervention of this medium the communication is not formed between the minds of the writer and the public. His merit, whatever it is, cannot be felt or appreciated, because it is not known. We live by style, was an apophthegm of Voltaire, who had thoroughly studied his profession. To know how to write is indeed of necessity the first qualification of a good writer; and a mind, however rich in thought and feeling, can no more impart its treasures to the world, in the form of written composition, without possessing naturally, or acquiring by the necessary labor and study the arts of language, than it can pour them out upon canvass without initiating itself into the mysteries of painting. This remark may appear trite, but if it were as familiar in practice as it is in theory, the world would be spared at least ninety-nine out of a hundred of the books that are published.
But Madame de Stael, though possessed of a poetical mind, was not a poet. She had neither the perfection of style nor the force of imagination, both of which are required for this art. This is proved by the failure of all her attempts at poetry. Her essays in verse were wholly unsuccessful, and she was herself so conscious of it, that she did not publish them during her life. They now appear in the collection of her posthumous works; but whether the editor has shown his judgment in the publication of them is perhaps a question. They certainly add nothing to the reputation of Madame de Stael as a writer; but as her acquired fame does not rest in any degree upon these pieces, their inferiority can, of course, do her no injury; and it is agreeable, as a mere matter of curiosity, to see the attempts in verse of a person who has obtained so much celebrity in other walks of literature. These essays consist principally of two tragedies, which were among the very first of her compositions, and which are wholly destitute of any kind of merit. They have all the coldness and stiffness of the French school, without any of its high finish and elegance. There is no example in fact of a good poem of this importance, written at the age of seventeen or eighteen, when these were produced; and it is not impossible that the talent of Madame de Stael might have been brought by the necessary labor New Series, No. 9. 14