Literary and General Lectures and Essays
Charles Kingsley

Part 3 out of 5

verse not only indicates culture, but is a culture in itself of a
very high order. It teaches the writer to think tersely and
definitely; it evokes in him the humanising sense of grace and
melody, not merely by enticing him to study good models, but by the
very act of composition. It gives him a vent for sorrows, doubts,
and aspirations, which might otherwise fret and canker within,
breeding, as they too often do in the utterly dumb English peasant,
self-devouring meditation, dogged melancholy, and fierce fanaticism.
And if the effect of verse-writing had stopped there, all had been
well; but bad models have had their effect, as well as good ones, on
the half-tutored taste of the working men, and engendered in them but
too often a fondness for frothy magniloquence and ferocious raving,
neither morally nor aesthetically profitable to themselves or their
readers. There are excuses for the fault; the young of all ranks
naturally enough mistake noise for awfulness, and violence for
strength; and there is generally but too much, in the biographies of
these working poets, to explain, if not to excuse, a vein of
bitterness, which they certainly did not learn from their master,
Burns. The two poets who have done them most harm, in teaching the
evil trick of cursing and swearing, are Shelley and the Corn-Law
Rhymer; and one can well imagine how seducing two such models must
be, to men struggling to utter their own complaints. Of Shelley this
is not the place to speak. But of the Corn-Law Rhymer we may say
here, that howsoever he may have been indebted to Burns's example for
the notion of writing at all, he has profited very little by Burns's
own poems. Instead of the genial loving tone of the great Scotchman,
we find in Elliott a tone of deliberate savageness, all the more
ugly, because evidently intentional. He tries to curse; "he
delights"--may we be forgiven if we misjudge the man--"in cursing;"
he makes a science of it; he defiles, of malice prepense, the
loveliest and sweetest thoughts and scenes (and he can be most sweet)
by giving some sudden sickening revulsion to his reader's feelings;
and he does it generally with a power which makes it at once as
painful to the calmer reader as alluring to those who are struggling
with the same temptations as the poet. Now and then, his trick drags
him down into sheer fustian and bombast; but not always. There is a
terrible Dantean vividness of imagination about him, perhaps
unequalled in England, in his generation. His poems are like his
countenance, coarse and ungoverned, yet with an intensity of eye, a
rugged massiveness of feature, which would be grand but for the
seeming deficiency of love and of humour--love's twin and inseparable
brother. Therefore it is, that although single passages may be found
in his writings, of which Milton himself need not have been ashamed,
his efforts at dramatic poetry are utter failures, dark, monstrous,
unrelieved by any really human vein of feeling or character. As in
feature, so in mind, he has not even the delicate and graceful
organisation which made up in Milton for the want of tenderness, and
so enabled him to write, if not a drama, yet still the sweetest of
masques and idyls.

Rather belonging to the same school than to that of Burns, though
never degrading itself by Elliott's ferocity, is that extraordinary
poem, "The Purgatory of Suicides," by Thomas Cooper. As he is still
in the prime of life, and capable of doing more and better than he
yet has done, we will not comment on it as freely as we have on
Elliott, except to regret a similar want of softness and sweetness,
and also of a clearness and logical connection of thought, in which
Elliott seldom fails, except when cursing. The imagination is hardly
as vivid as Elliott's, though the fancy and invention, the polish of
the style, and the indications of profound thought on all subjects
within the poet's reach, are superior in every way to those of the
Corn-Law Rhymer; and when we consider that the man who wrote it had
to gather his huge store of classic and historic anecdote while
earning his living, first as a shoemaker, and then as a Wesleyan
country preacher, we can only praise and excuse, and hope that the
day may come when talents of so high an order will find some
healthier channel for their energies than that in which they now are

Our readers may wonder at not seeing the Ettrick Shepherd's poems
among the list at the head of the article. It seems to us, however,
that we have done right in omitting them. Doubtless, he too was
awakened into song by the example of Burns; but he seems to us to owe
little to his great predecessor, beyond the general consciousness
that there was a virgin field of poetry in Scotch scenery, manners,
and legends--a debt which Walter Scott himself probably owed to the
Ayrshire peasant just as much as Hogg did. Indeed, we perhaps are
right in saying, that had Burns not lived, neither Wilson, Galt,
Allan Cunningham, or the crowd of lesser writers who have found
material for their fancy in Scotch peculiarities, would have written,
as they have. The three first names, Wilson's above all, must have
been in any case distinguished; yet it is surely no derogation to
some of the most exquisite rural sketches in "Christopher North's
Recreations," to claim them as the intellectual foster-children of
"The Cottar's Saturday Night." In this respect, certainly, the
Ettrick Shepherd has a place in Burns's school, and, in our own
opinion, one which has been very much overrated. But the deeper
elements of Burns's mind, those which have especially endeared him to
the working man, reappear very little, or not at all, in Hogg. He
left his class too much below him; became too much of the mere
aesthetic prodigy, and member of a literary clique; frittered away
his great talents in brilliant talk and insincere Jacobite songs,
and, in fine, worked no deliverance on the earth. It is sad to have
to say this: but we had it forced upon us painfully enough a few
days ago, when re-reading "Kilmeny." There may be beautiful passages
in it; but it is not coherent, not natural, not honest. It is
throughout an affectation of the Manichaean sentimental-sublime,
which God never yet put into the heart of any brawny, long-headed,
practical Borderer, and which he therefore probably put into his own
head, or, as we call it, affected, for the time being; a method of
poetry writing which comes forth out of nothing, and into nothing
must return.

This is unfortunate, perhaps, for the world; for we question whether
a man of talents in anywise to be compared with those of the Ettrick
Shepherd has followed in the footsteps of Burns. Poor Tannahill,
whose sad story is but too well known, perished early, at the age of
thirty-six, leaving behind him a good many pretty love-songs of no
great intrinsic value, if the specimens of them given in Mr.
Whitelaw's collection are to be accepted as the best. Like all
Burns's successors, including even Walter Scott and Hogg, we have but
to compare him with his original to see how altogether unrivalled on
his own ground the Ayrshire farmer was. In one feature only
Tannahill's poems, and those later than him, except where
pedantically archaist, like many of Motherwell's, are an improvement
on Burns: namely, in the more easy and complete interfusion of the
two dialects, the Norse Scotch and the Romanesque English, which
Allan Ramsay attempted in vain to unite; while Burns, though not
succeeding by any means perfectly, welded them together into
something of continuity and harmony--thus doing for the language of
his own country very much what Chaucer did for that of England--a
happy union, in the opinion of those who, as we do, look on the
vernacular Norse Scotch as no barbaric dialect, but as an independent
tongue, possessing a copiousness, melody, terseness, and
picturesqueness which makes it, both in prose and verse, a far better
vehicle than the popular English for many forms of thought.

Perhaps the young peasant who most expressly stands out as the pupil
and successor of Burns, is Robert Nicoll. He is a lesser poet,
doubtless, than his master, and a lesser man, if the size and number
of his capabilities be looked at; but he is a greater man, in that,
from the beginning to the end of his career, he seems to have kept
that very wholeness of heart and head which poor Burns lost.
Nicoll's story is, mutatis mutandis, that of the Bethunes, and many a
noble young Scotsman more. Parents holding a farm between Perth and
Dunkeld, they and theirs before them for generations inhabitants of
the neighbourhood, "decent, honest, God-fearing people." The farm is
lost by reverses, and manfully Robert Nicoll's father becomes a day-
labourer on the fields which he lately rented: and there begins, for
the boy, from his earliest recollections, a life of steady sturdy
drudgery. But they must have been grand old folk, these parents, and
in no wise addicted to wringing their hands over "the great might-
have-been." Like true Scots Bible lovers, they do believe in a God,
and in a will of God, underlying, absolute, loving, and believe that
the might-have-been ought not to have been, simply because it has not
been; and so they put their shoulders to the new collar patiently,
cheerfully, hopefully, and teach the boys to do the same. The mother
especially, as so many great men's mothers do, stands out large and
heroic, from the time when, the farm being gone, she, "the ardent
book-woman," finds her time too precious to be spent in reading, and
sets little Robert to read to her as she works--what a picture!--to
the last sad day, when, wanting money to come up to Leeds to see her
dying darling, she "shore for the siller," rather than borrow it.
And her son's life is like her own--a most pure, joyous, valiant
little epic. Robert does not even take to work as something beyond
himself, uninteresting and painful, which, however, must be done
courageously: he lives in it, enjoys it as his proper element, one
which is no more a burden and an exertion to him than the rush of the
strid is to the trout who plays and feels in it day and night,
unconscious of the amount of muscular strength which he puts forth in
merely keeping his place in the stream. Whether carrying
"Kenilworth" in his plaid to the woods, to read while herding, or
selling currants and whisky as the Perth storekeeper's apprentice, or
keeping his little circulating library in Dundee, tormenting his pure
heart with the thought of the twenty pounds which his mother has
borrowed wherewith to start him, or editing The Leeds Times, or lying
on his early deathbed, just as life seems to be opening clear and
broad before him, he

Bates not a jot of heart or hope,

but steers right onward, singing over his work, without bluster or
self-gratulation, for very joy at having work to do. There is a keen
practical insight about him, rarely combined, in these days, with his
single-minded determination to do good in his generation. His eye is
single, and his whole body full of light.

It would indeed (writes the grocer's boy, encouraging his despondent
and somewhat Werterean friend) be hangman's work to write articles
one day to be forgotten to-morrow, if that were all; but you forget
the comfort--the repayment. If one prejudice is overthrown, one
error rendered untenable; if but one step in advance be the
consequence of your articles and mine--the consequences of the labour
of all true men--are we not deeply repaid?

Or again, in a right noble letter to his noble mother:

That money of R.'s hangs like a millstone about my neck. If I had
paid it, I would never borrow again from mortal man. But do not
mistake me, mother; I am not one of those men who faint and falter in
the great battle of life. God has given me too strong a heart for
that. I look upon earth as a place where every man is set to
struggle and to work, that he may be made humble and pure-hearted,
and fit for that better land for which earth is a preparation--to
which earth is the gate . . . If men would but consider how little of
real evil there is in all the ills of which they are so much afraid--
poverty included--there would be more virtue and happiness, and less
world and Mammon-worship on earth than is. I think, mother, that to
me has been given talent; and if so, that talent was given to make it
useful to man.

And yet there is a quiet self-respect about him withal:

In my short course through life (says he in confidence to a friend at
one-and-twenty), I have never feared an enemy, or failed a friend;
and I live in the hope I never shall. For the rest, I have written
my heart in my poems; and rude and unfinished and hasty as they are,
it can be read there.


From seven years of age to this very hour, I have been dependent only
on my own head and hands for everything--for very bread. Long years
ago--ay, even in childhood--adversity made me think, and feel, and
suffer; and would pride allow me, I could tell the world many a deep
tragedy enacted in the heart of a poor, forgotten, uncared-for boy .
. . But I thank God, that though I felt and suffered, the scathing
blast neither blunted my perceptions of natural and moral beauty,
nor, by withering the affections of my heart, made me a selfish man.
Often when I look back I wonder how I bore the burden--how I did not
end the evil day at once and for ever.

Such, is the man, in his normal state; and as was to be expected,
God's blessing rests on him. Whatever he sets his hand to succeeds.
Within a few weeks of his taking the editorship of The Leeds Times
its circulation begins to rise rapidly, as was to be expected with an
honest man to guide it. For Nicoll's political creed, though perhaps
neither very deep nor wide, lies clear and single before him, as
everything else which he does. He believes naturally enough in
ultra-Radicalism according to the fashions of the Reform Bill era.
That is the right thing; and for that he will work day and night,
body and soul, and if needs be, die. There, in the editor's den at
Leeds, he "begins to see the truth of what you told me about the
world's unworthiness; but stop a little. I am not sad as yet. . . .
If I am hindered from feeling the soul of poetry among woods and
fields, I yet trust I am struggling for something worth prizing--
something of which I am not ashamed, and need not be. If there be
aught on earth worth aspiring to, it is the lot of him who is enabled
to do something for his miserable and suffering fellow-men; and this
you and I will try to do at least."

His friend is put to work a ministerial paper, with orders "not to be
rash, but to elevate the population gradually;" and finding those
orders to imply a considerable leaning towards the By-ends, Lukewarm,
and Facing-both-ways school, kicks over the traces, wisely, in
Nicoll's eyes, and breaks loose.

Keep up your spirits (says honest Nicoll). You are higher at this
moment in my estimation, in your own, and that of every honest man,
than you ever were before. Tait's advice was just such as I should
have expected of him; honest as honesty itself. You must never again
accept a paper but where you can tell the whole truth without fear or
favour. . . . . Tell E. (the broken-loose editor's lady-love), from
me to estimate as she ought the nobility and determination of the man
who has dared to act as you have done. Prudent men will say that you
are hasty: but you have done right, whatever may be the

This is the spirit of Robert Nicoll; the spirit which is the fruit of
early purity and self-restraint, of living "on bread-and-cheese and
water," that he may buy books; of walking out to the Inch of Perth at
four o'clock on summer mornings, to write and read in peace before he
returns to the currants and the whisky. The nervous simplicity of
the man come out, in the very nervous simplicity of the prose he
writes; and though there be nothing very new or elevated in it, or
indeed in his poems themselves, we call on our readers to admire a
phenomenon so rare, in the "upper classes" at least, in these days,
and taking a lesson from the peasant's son, rejoice with us that "a
man is born into the world."

For Nicoll, as few do, practises what he preaches. It seems to him,
once on a time, right and necessary that Sir William Molesworth
should be returned for Leeds; and Nicoll having so determined,
"throws himself, body and soul, into the contest, with such ardour,
that his wife afterwards said (and we can well believe it) that if
Sir William had failed, Robert would have died on the instant!"--why
not? Having once made up his mind that that was the just and right
thing, the thing which was absolutely good for Leeds, and the human
beings who lived in it, was it not a thing to die for, even if it had
been but the election of a new beadle? The advanced sentry is set to
guard some obscure worthless dike-end--obscure and worthless in
itself, but to him a centre of infinite duty. True, the fate of the
camp does not depend on its being taken; if the enemy round it, there
are plenty behind to blow them out again. But that is no reason
whatsoever why he, before any odds, should throw his musket over his
shoulder, and retreat gracefully to the lines. He was set there to
stand by that, whether dike-end or representation of Leeds; that is
the right thing for him; and for that right he will fight, and if he
be killed, die. So have all brave men felt, and so have all brave
deeds been done, since man walked the earth. It is because that
spirit, the spirit of faith, has died out among us, that so few brave
deeds are done now, except on battle-fields and in hovels, whereof
none but God and the angels know.

So the man prospers. Several years of honourable and self-
restraining love bring him a wife, beautiful, loving, worshipping his
talents; a help meet for him, such as God will send at times to those
whom he loves. Kind men meet and love and help him--"The Johnstones,
Mr. Tait, William and Mary Howitt;" Sir William Molesworth, hearing
of his last illness, sends him unsolicited fifty pounds, which, as we
understand it, Nicoll accepts without foolish bluster about
independence. Why not?--man should help man, and be helped by him.
Would he not have done as much for Sir William? Nothing to us proves
Nicoll's heart-wholeness more than the way in which he talks of his
benefactors, in a tone of simple gratitude and affection, without
fawning and without vapouring. The man has too much self-respect to
consider himself lowered by accepting a favour.

But he must go after all. The editor's den at Leeds is not the place
for lungs bred on Perthshire breezes; and work rises before him,
huger and heavier as he goes on, till he drops under the ever-
increasing load. He will not believe it at first. In sweet
childlike playful letters, he tells his mother that it is nothing.
It has done him good--"opened the grave before his eyes, and taught
him to think of death." "He trusts that he has not borne this, and
suffered, and thought in vain." This too, he hopes, is to be a fresh
lesson-page of experience for his work. Alas! a few months more of
bitter suffering, and of generous kindness and love from all around
him--and it is over with him at the age of twenty-three. Shall we
regret him?--shall we not rather believe that God knew best; and
considering the unhealthy moral atmosphere of the second-class press,
and the strange confused ways into which old ultra-Radicalism,
finding itself too narrow for the new problems of the day, has
stumbled and floundered during the last fifteen years, believe that
he might have been a worse man had he been a longer-lived one, and
thank heaven that "the righteous is taken away from the evil to

As it is, he ends as he began. The first poem in his book is "The
Ha' Bible;" and the last, written a few days before his death, is
still the death-song of a man--without fear, without repining,
without boasting, blessing and loving the earth which he leaves, yet
with a clear joyful eye upwards and outwards and homewards. And so
ends his little epic, as we called it. May Scotland see many such

The actual poetic value of his verses is not first-rate by any means.
He is far inferior to Burns in range of subject, as he is in humour
and pathos. Indeed, there is very little of these latter qualities
in him anywhere--rather playfulness, flashes of childlike fun, as in
"The Provost," and "Bonnie Bessie Lee." But he has attained a
mastery over English, a simplicity and quiet which Burns never did;
and also, we need not say, a moral purity. His "Poems illustrative
of the Scotch peasantry" are charming throughout--alive and bright
with touches of real humanity, and sympathy with characters
apparently antipodal to his own.

His more earnest poems are somewhat tainted with that cardinal fault
of his school, of which he steered so clear in prose--fine words; yet
he never, like the Corn-Law Rhymer, falls a cursing. He is evidently
not a good hater even of "priests and kings, and aristocrats, and
superstition;" or perhaps he worked all that froth safely over and
off in debating-club speeches and leading articles, and left us, in
these poems, the genuine metheglin of his inner heart, sweet, clear,
and strong; for there is no form of lovable or right thing which this
man has come across, which he does not seem to have appreciated.
Besides pure love and the beauties of nature--those on which every
man of poetic power, and a great many of none, as a matter of course,
have a word to say--he can feel for and with the drunken beggar, and
the warriors of the ruined manor-house, and the monks of the abbey,
and the old mailed Normans with their "priest with cross and counted
beads in the little Saxon chapel"--things which a Radical editor
might have been excused for passing by with a sneer.

His verses to his wife are a delicious little glimpse of Eden; and
his "People's Anthem" rises into somewhat of true grandeur by virtue
of simplicity:

Lord, from Thy blessed throne,
Sorrow look down upon!
God save the Poor!
Teach them true liberty--
Make them from tyrants free--
Let their homes happy be!
God save the Poor!

The arms of wicked men
Do Thou with might restrain--
God save the Poor!
Raise Thou their lowliness--
Succour Thou their distress--
Thou whom the meanest bless!
God save the Poor!

Give them stanch honesty--
Let their pride manly be--
God save the Poor!
Help them to hold the right;
Give them both truth and might,
Lord of all LIFE and LIGHT!
God save the Poor!

And so we leave Robert Nicoll, with the parting remark, that if the
"Poems illustrative of the feelings of the intelligent and religious
among the working-classes of Scotland" be fair samples of that which
they profess to be, Scotland may thank God, that in spite of
temporary manufacturing rot-heaps, she is still whole at heart; and
that the influence of her great peasant poet, though it may seem at
first likely to be adverse to Christianity, has helped, as we have
already hinted, to purify and not to taint; to destroy the fungus,
but not to touch the heart, of the grand old Covenant-kirk life-tree.

Still sweeter, and, alas! still sadder, is the story of the two
Bethunes. If Nicoll's life, as we have said, be a solitary melody,
and short though triumphant strain of work-music, theirs is a harmony
and true concert of fellow-joys, fellow-sorrows, fellow-drudgery,
fellow-authorship, mutual throughout, lovely in their joint-life, and
in their deaths not far divided. Alexander survives his brother John
only long enough to write his "Memoirs," and then follows; and we
have his story given us by Mr. M'Combie, in a simple unassuming
little volume--not to be read without many thoughts, perhaps not
rightly without tears. Mr. M'Combie has been wise enough not to
attempt panegyric. He is all but prolix in details, filling up some
half of his volume with letters of preternatural length from
Alexander to his publishers and critics, and from the said publishers
and critics to Alexander, altogether of an unromantic and business-
like cast, but entirely successful in doing that which a book should
do--namely, in showing the world that here was a man of like passions
with ourselves, who bore from boyhood to the grave hunger, cold, wet,
rags, brutalising and health-destroying toil, and all the storms of
the world, the flesh, and the devil, and conquered them every one.

Alexander is set at fourteen to throw earth out of a ditch so deep,
that it requires the full strength of a grown man, and loses flesh
and health under the exertion; he is twice blown up with his own
blast in quarrying, and left for dead, recovers slowly, maimed and
scarred, with the loss of an eye. John, when not thirteen, is set to
stone-breaking on the roads during intense cold, and has to keep
himself from being frostbitten and heart-broken by monkey gambols;
takes to the weaving trade, and having helped his family by the most
desperate economy to save ten pounds wherewith to buy looms, begins
to work them, with his brother as an apprentice, and finds the whole
outlay rendered useless the very same year by the failures of 1825-
26. So the two return to day-labour at fourteenpence a-day. John,
in a struggle to do task-work honestly, over-exerts himself, and
ruins his digestion for life. Next year he is set in November to
clean out a watercourse knee-deep in water; then to take marl from a
pit; and then to drain standing water off a swamp during an intense
December frost; and finds himself laid down with a three months'
cough, and all but sleepless illness, laying the foundation of the
consumption which destroyed him. But the two brothers will not give
in. Poetry they will write; and they write it to the best of their
powers, on scraps of paper, after the drudgery of the day, in a cabin
pervious to every shower, teaching themselves the right spelling of
the words from some "Christian Remembrancer" or other--apparently not
our meek and unbiassed contemporary of that name; and all this
without neglecting their work a day or even an hour, when the weather
permitted--the "only thing which tempted them to fret," being--hear
it, readers, and perpend!--"the being kept at home by rain and snow."
Then an additional malady (apparently some calculous one) comes on
John, and stops by him for the six remaining years of his life. Yet
between 1826 and 1832, John had saved fourteen pounds out of his
miserable earnings, to be expended to the last farthing on his
brother's recovery from the second quarry accident. Surely the devil
is trying hard to spoil these men. But no. They are made perfect by
sufferings. In the house with one long narrow room, and a small
vacant space at the end of it, lighted by a single pane of glass,
they write and write untiring, during the long summer evenings,
poetry, "Tales of the Scottish Peasant Life," which at last bring
them in somewhat; and a work on practical economy, which is bepraised
and corrected by kind critics in Edinburgh, and at last published--
without a sale. Perhaps one cause of its failure might be found in
those very corrections. There were too many violent political
allusions in it, complains their good Mentor of Edinburgh; and
persuades them, seemingly the most meek and teachable of heroes, to
omit them; though Alexander, while submitting, pleads fairly enough
for retaining them, in a passage which we will give, as a specimen of
the sort of English possible to be acquired by a Scotch day-labourer,
self-educated, all but the rudiments of reading and writing, and a
few lectures on popular poetry from "a young student of Aberdeen,"
now the Rev. Mr. Adamson, who must look back on the friendship which
he bore these two young men as one of the noblest pages in his life.

Talk to the many of religion, and they will put on a long face,
confess that it is a thing of the greatest importance to all--and go
away and forget the whole. Talk to them of education; they will
readily acknowledge that it's "a braw thing to be weel learned," and
begin a lamentation, which is only shorter than the lamentations of
Jeremiah because they cannot make it as long, on the ignorance of the
age in which they live; but they neither stir hand nor foot in the
matter. But speak to them of politics, and their excited
countenances and kindling eye show in a moment how deeply they are
interested. Politics are therefore an important feature, and an
almost indispensable element in such a work as mine. Had it
consisted solely of exhortations to industry and rules of economy, it
would have been dismissed with an "Ou ay, it's braw for him to crack
that way: but if he were whaur we are, 'deed he wad just hae to do
as we do." But by mixing up the science with politics, and giving it
an occasional political impetus, a different result may be reasonably
expected. In these days no man can be considered a patriot or friend
of the poor, who is not also a politician.

It is amusing, by-the-bye, to see how the world changes its codes of
respectability, and how, what is anathema in one generation, becomes
trite orthodoxy in the next. The political sins in the work were,
that "my brother had attacked the corn-laws with some severity; and I
have attempted to level a battery against that sort of servile homage
which the poor pay to the rich!"

There is no use pursuing the story much farther. They again save a
little money, and need it; for the estate on which they have lived
from childhood changing hands, they are, with their aged father,
expelled from the dear old dog-kennel to find house-room where they
can. Why not?--"it was not in the bond." The house did not belong
to them; nothing of it, at least, which could be specified in any
known lease. True, there may have been associations: but what
associations can men be expected to cultivate on fourteenpence a-day?
So they must forth, with their two aged parents, and build with their
own hands a new house elsewhere, having saved some thirty pounds from
the sale of their writings. The house, as we understand, stands to
this day--hereafter to become a sort of artisan's caaba and pilgrim's
station, only second to Burns's grave. That, at least, it will
become, whenever the meaning of the words "worth" and "worship" shall
become rightly understood among us.

For what are these men, if they are not heroes and saints? Not of
the Popish sort, abject and effeminate, but of the true, human,
evangelic sort, masculine and grand--like the figures in Raffaelle's
Cartoons compared with those of Fra Bartolomeo. Not from
superstition, not from selfish prudence, but from devotion to their
aged parents, and the righteous dread of dependence, they die
voluntary celibates, although their writings show that they, too,
could have loved as nobly as they did all other things. The extreme
of endurance, self-restraint, of "conquest of the flesh," outward as
well as inward, is the life-long lot of these men; and they go
through it. They have their share of injustice, tyranny,
disappointment; one by one each bright boy's dream of success and
renown is scourged out of their minds, and sternly and lovingly their
Father in heaven teaches them the lesson of all lessons. By what
hours of misery and blank despair that faith was purchased, we can
only guess; the simple strong men give us the result, but never dream
of sitting down and analysing the process for the world's amusement
or their own glorification. We question, indeed, whether they could
have told us; whether the mere fact of a man's being able to dissect
himself, in public or in private, is not proof-patent that he is no
man, but only a shell of a man, with works inside, which can of
course be exhibited and taken to pieces--a rather more difficult
matter with flesh and blood. If we believe that God is educating,
the when, the where, and the how are not only unimportant, but,
considering who is the teacher, unfathomable to us, and it is enough
to be able to believe with John Bethune that the Lord of all things
is influencing us through all things; whether sacraments, or
sabbaths, or sun-gleams, or showers--all things are ours, for all are
His, and we are His, and He is ours--and for the rest, to say with
the same John Bethune:

Oh God of glory! thou hast treasured up
For me my little portion of distress;
But with each draught--in every bitter cup
Thy hand hath mixed, to make its soreness less,
Some cordial drop, for which thy name I bless,
And offer up my mite of thankfulness.
Thou hast chastised my frame with dire disease,
Long, obdurate, and painful; and thy hand
Hath wrung cold sweat-drops from my brow; for these
I thank thee too. Though pangs at thy command
Have compassed me about, still, with the blow,
Patience sustained my soul amid its woe.

Of the actual literary merit of these men's writings there is less to
be said. However extraordinary, considering the circumstances under
which they were written, may be the polish and melody of John's
verse, or the genuine spiritual health, deep death-and-devil-defying
earnestness, and shrewd practical wisdom, which shines through all
that either brother writes, they do not possess any of that fertile
originality, which alone would have enabled them, as it did Burns, to
compete with the literary savants, who, though for the most part of
inferior genius, have the help of information and appliances, from
which they were shut out. Judging them, as the true critic, like the
true moralist, is bound to do, "according to what they had, not
according to what they had not," they are men who, with average
advantages, might have been famous in their day. God thought it
better for them to "hide them in his tabernacle from the strife of
tongues;" and--seldom believed truism--He knows best. Alexander
shall not, according to his early dreams, "earn nine hundred pounds
by writing a book, like Burns," even though his ideal method of
spending be to buy all the boys in the parish "new shoes with iron
tackets and heels," and send them home with shillings for their
mothers, and feed their fathers on wheat bread and milk, with tea and
bannocks for Sabbath-days, and build a house for the poor old toil-
stiffened man whom he once saw draining the hill field, "with a yard
full of gooseberries, and an apple-tree!"--not that, nor even, as the
world judges, better than that, shall he be allowed to do. The poor,
for whom he writes his "Practical Economy," shall not even care to
read it; and he shall go down to the grave a failure and a lost thing
in the eyes of men: but not in the eyes of grand God-fearing old
Alison Christie, his mother, as he brings her, scrap by scrap, the
proofs of their dead idol's poems, which she has prayed to be spared
just to see once in print, and, when the last half-sheet is read,
loses her sight for ever--not in her eyes, nor in those of God who
saw him, in the cold winter mornings, wearing John's clothes, to warm
them for the dying man before he got up.

His grief at his brother's death is inconsolable. He feels for the
first time in his life, what a lot is his--for he feels for the first
time that--

Parent and friend and brother gone,
I stand upon the earth alone.

Four years he lingers; friends begin to arise from one quarter and
another, but he, not altogether wisely or well, refuses all pecuniary
help. At last Mr. Hugh Miller recommends him to be editor of a
projected "Non-Intrusion" paper in Dumfries, with a salary, to him
boundless, of 100l. a-year. Too late! The iron has entered too
deeply into his soul; in a few weeks more he is lying in his
brother's grave--"Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their
deaths not divided."

"William Thom of Inverury" is a poet altogether of the same school.
His "Rhymes and Recollections of a Handloom Weaver" are superior to
those of either Nicoll or the Bethunes, the little love-songs in the
volume reminding us of Burns's best manner, and the two languages in
which he writes being better amalgamated, as it seems to us, than in
any Scotch songwriter. Moreover, there is a terseness, strength, and
grace about some of these little songs, which would put to shame many
a volume of vague and windy verse, which the press sees yearly sent
forth by men, who, instead of working at the loom, have been pampered
from their childhood with all the means and appliances of good taste
and classic cultivation. We have room only for one specimen of his
verse, not the most highly finished, but of a beauty which can speak
for itself.


The morning breaks bonny o'er mountain and stream,
An' troubles the hallowed breath of my dream.
The gowd light of morning is sweet to the e'e,
But ghost-gathering midnight, thou'rt dearer to me.
The dull common world then sinks from my sight,
And fairer creations arise to the night;
When drowsy oppression has sleep-sealed my e'e,
Then bright are the visions awakened to me!

Oh, come, spirit-mother! discourse of the hours
My young bosom beat all its beating to yours,
When heart-woven wishes in soft counsel fell
On ears--how unheedful, proved sorrow might tell!
That deathless affection nae sorrow could break;
When all else forsook me, ye would na forsake;
Then come, oh my mother! come often to me,
An' soon an' for ever I'll come unto thee!

An' then, shrouded loveliness! soul-winning Jean,
How cold was thy hand on my bosom yestreen!
'Twas kind--for the love that your e'e kindled there
Will burn, ay an' burn, till that breast beat nae mair--
Our bairnies sleep round me, oh bless ye their sleep!
Your ain dark-eyed Willie will wauken and weep!
But blythe through his weepin', he'll tell me how you,
His heaven-hamed mammie, was dauting his brow.

Though dark be our dwellin', our happin' tho' bare,
And night closes round us in cauldness and care,
Affection will warm us--and bright are the beams
That halo our hame in yon dear land o' dreams:
Then weel may I welcome the night's deathly reign,
Wi' souls of the dearest I mingle me then;
The gowd light of morning is lightless to me,
But, oh for the night with its ghost revelrie!

But even more interesting than the poems themselves, is the
autobiographical account prefixed, with its vivid sketches of factory
life in Aberdeen, of the old regime of 1770; when "four days did the
weaver's work--Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, were of course jubilee. Lawn
frills gorged (?) freely from under the wrists of his fine blue gilt-
buttoned coat. He dusted his head with white flour on Sunday,
smirked and wore a cane; walked in clean slippers on Monday; Tuesday
heard him talk war bravado, quote Volney, and get drunk: weaving
commenced gradually on Wednesday. Then were little children pirn-
fillers, and such were taught to steal warily past the gate-keeper,
concealing the bottle. These wee smugglers had a drop for their
services, over and above their chances of profiting by the elegant
and edifying discussions uttered in their hearing. Infidelity was
then getting fashionable." But by the time Thom enters on his
seventeen years' weaving, in 1814, the Nemesis has come. "Wages are
six shillings a-week where they had been forty; but the weaver of
forty shillings, with money instead of wit, had bequeathed his vices
to the weaver of six shillings, with wit instead of money." The
introduction of machinery works evil rather than good, on account of
the reckless way in which it is used, and the reckless material which
it uses. "Vacancies in the factory, daily made, were daily filled by
male and female workers; often queer enough people, and from all
parts--none too coarse for using. The pickpocket, trained to the
loom six months in Bridewell, came forth a journeyman weaver; and his
precious experiences were infused into the common moral puddle, and
in due time did their work." No wonder that "the distinctive
character of all sunk away. Man became less manly--woman unlovely
and rude." No wonder that the factory, like too many more, though a
thriving concern to its owners, becomes "a prime nursery of vice and
sorrow." "Virtue perished utterly within its walls, and was dreamed
of no more; or, if remembered at all, only in a deep and woful sense
of self-debasement--a struggling to forget, where it was hopeless to
obtain." But to us, almost the most interesting passage in his book,
and certainly the one which bears most directly on the general
purpose of this article, is one in which he speaks of the effects of
song on himself and his fellow factory-workers.

Moore was doing all he could for love-sick boys and girls, yet they
had never enough! Nearer and dearer to hearts like ours was the
Ettrick Shepherd, then in his full tide of song and story; but nearer
and dearer still than he, or any living songster, was our ill-fated
fellow-craftsman Tannahill. Poor weaver chiel! what we owe to you!--
your "Braes of Balquidder," and "Yon Burnside," and "Gloomy Winter,"
and the "Minstrel's" wailing ditty, and the noble "Gleneiffer." Oh!
how they did ring above the rattle of a thousand shuttles! Let me
again proclaim the debt which we owe to these song spirits, as they
walked in melody from loom to loom, ministering to the low-hearted;
and when the breast was filled with everything but hope and
happiness, let only break out the healthy and vigorous chorus, "A
man's a man for a' that," and the fagged weaver brightens up . . .
Who dare measure the restraining influences of these very songs? To
us they were all instead of sermons. Had one of us been bold enough
to enter a church, he must have been ejected for the sake of decency.
His forlorn and curiously patched habiliments would have contested
the point of attraction with the ordinary eloquence of that period.
Church bells rang not for us. Poets were indeed our priests: but
for those, the last relic of moral existence would have passed away.
Song was the dewdrop which gathered during the long dark night of
despondency, and was sure to glitter in the very first blink of the
sun. You might have seen "Auld Robin Gray" wet the eyes that could
be tearless amid cold and hunger, and weariness and pain. Surely,
surely, then there was to that heart one passage left.

Making all allowance for natural and pardonable high-colouring, we
recommend this most weighty and significant passage to the attention
of all readers, and draw an argumentum a fortiori, from the high
estimation in which Thom holds those very songs of Tannahill's, of
which we just now spoke somewhat depreciatingly, for the extreme
importance which we attach to popular poetry, as an agent of
incalculable power in moulding the minds of nations.

The popular poetry of Germany has held that great nation together,
united and heart-whole for centuries, in spite of every disadvantage
of internal division, and the bad influence of foreign taste; and the
greatest of their poets have not thought it beneath them to add their
contributions, and their very best, to the common treasure, meant not
only for the luxurious and learned, but for the workman and the child
at school. In Great Britain, on the contrary, the people have been
left to form their own tastes, and choose their own modes of
utterance, with great results, both for good and evil; and there has
sprung up before the new impulse which Burns gave to popular poetry,
a considerable literature--considerable not only from, its truth and
real artistic merit, but far more so from its being addressed
principally to the working classes. Even more important is this
people's literature question, in our eyes, than the more palpable
factors of the education question, about which we now hear such ado.
It does seem to us, that to take every possible precaution about the
spiritual truth which children are taught in school, and then leave
to chance the more impressive and abiding teaching which popular
literature, songs especially, give them out of doors, is as great a
niaiserie as that of the Tractarians who insisted on getting into the
pulpit in their surplices, as a sign that the clergy only had the
right of preaching to the people, while they forgot that, by means of
a free press (of the licence of which they, too, were not slack to
avail themselves), every penny-a-liner was preaching to the people
daily, and would do so, maugre their surplices, to the end of time.
The man who makes the people's songs is a true popular preacher.
Whatsoever, true or false, he sends forth, will not be carried home,
as a sermon often is, merely in heads, to be forgotten before the
week is out: it will ring in the ears, and cling round the
imagination, and follow the pupil to the workshop, and the tavern,
and the fireside; even to the deathbed, such power is in the magic of
rhyme. The emigrant, deep in Australian forests, may take down
Chalmers's sermons on Sabbath evenings from the scanty shelf: but
the songs of Burns have been haunting his lips, and cheering his
heart, and moulding him, unconsciously to himself, in clearing and in
pasture all the weary week. True, if he be what a Scotchman should
be, more than one old Hebrew psalm has brought its message to him
during these week-days; but there are feelings of his nature on which
those psalms, not from defect, but from their very purpose, do not
touch: how is he to express them, but in the songs which echo them?
These will keep alive, and intensify in him, and in the children who
learn them from his lips, all which is like themselves. Is it, we
ask again, to be left to chance what sort of songs these shall be?

As for poetry written for the working classes by the upper, such
attempts at it as we yet have seen, may be considered nil. The upper
must learn to know more of the lower, and to make the lower know more
of them--a frankness of which we honestly believe they will never
have to repent. Moreover, they must read Burns a little more, and
cavaliers and Jacobites a little less. As it is, their efforts have
been as yet exactly in that direction which would most safely secure
the blessings of undisturbed obscurity. Whether "secular" or
"spiritual," they have thought proper to adopt a certain Tommy-good-
child tone, which, whether to Glasgow artisans or Dorsetshire
labourers, or indeed for any human being who is "grinding among the
iron facts of life," is, to say the least, nauseous; and the only use
of their poematicula has been to demonstrate practically the
existence of a great and fearful gulf between those who have, and
those who have not, in thought as well as in purse, which must be, in
the former article at least, bridged over as soon as possible, if we
are to remain one people much longer. The attempts at verse for
children are somewhat more successful--a certain little "Moral Songs"
especially, said to emanate from the Tractarian School, yet full of a
health, spirit, and wild sweetness, which makes its authoress, in our
eyes, "wiser than her teachers." But this is our way. We are too
apt to be afraid of the men, and take to the children as our pis-
aller, covering our despair of dealing with the majority, the adult
population, in a pompous display of machinery for influencing that
very small fraction, the children. "Oh, but the destinies of the
empire depend on the rising generation!" Who has told us so?--how do
we know that they do not depend on the risen generation? Who are
likely to do more work during our lifetime, for good and evil,--those
who are now between fifteen and five-and-forty, or those who are
between five and fifteen? Yet for those former, the many, and the
working, and the powerful, all we seem to be inclined to do is to
parody Scripture, and say: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust
still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still."

Not that we ask any one to sit down, and, out of mere benevolence, to
write songs for the people. Wooden out of a wooden birthplace, would
such go forth, to feed fires, not spirits. But if any man shall read
these pages, to whom God has given a truly poetic temperament, a
gallant heart, a melodious ear, a quick and sympathetic eye for all
forms of human joy, and sorrow, and humour, and grandeur; an insight
which can discern the outlines of the butterfly, when clothed in the
roughest and most rugged chrysalis-hide; if the teachers of his heart
and purposes, and not merely of his taste and sentiments, have been
the great songs of his own and of every land and age; if he can see
in the divine poetry of David and Solomon, of Isaiah and Jeremiah,
and, above all, in the parables of Him who spake as never man spake,
the models and elemental laws of a people's poetry, alike according
to the will of God and the heart of man; if he can welcome gallantly
and hopefully the future, and yet know that it must be, unless it
would be a monster and a machine, the loving and obedient child of
the past; if he can speak of the subjects which alone will interest
the many, on love, marriage, the sorrows of the poor, their hopes,
political and social, their wrongs, as well as their sins and duties;
and that with a fervour and passion akin to the spirit of Burns and
Elliott, yet with more calmness, more purity, more wisdom, and
therefore with more hope, as one who stands upon a vantage-ground of
education and culture, sympathising none the less with those who
struggle behind him in the valley of the shadow of death, yet seeing
from the mountain peaks the coming dawn, invisible as yet to them:
then let that man think it no fall, but rather a noble rise, to leave
awhile the barren glacier ranges of pure art, for the fertile gardens
of practical and popular song, and write for the many, and with the
many, in words such as they can understand; remembering that that
which is simplest is always deepest; that the many contain in
themselves the few; and that when he speaks to the wanderer and the
drudge, he speaks to the elemental and primeval man, and in him
speaks to all who have risen out of him. Let him try, undiscouraged
by inevitable failures; and if at last he succeeds in giving vent to
one song which will cheer hard-worn hearts at the loom and the forge,
or wake one pauper's heart with the hope that his children are
destined not to die as he died, or recall, amid Canadian forests or
Australian sheep-walks, one thrill of love for the old country, her
liberties, and her laws, and her religion, to the settler's heart--
let that man know that he has earned a higher place among the spirits
of the wise and good, by doing, in spite of the unpleasantness of
self-denial, the duty which lay nearest him, than if he had out-
rivalled Goethe on his own classic ground, and made all the
cultivated and the comfortable of the earth desert, for the exquisite
creations of his fancy, Faust, and Tasso, and Iphigenie.


Much attention has been excited this year by the alleged fulfilment
of a prophecy that the Papal power was to receive its death-blow--in
temporal matters, at least--during the past year 1848. For
ourselves, we have no more faith in Mr. Fleming, the obsolete author,
who has so suddenly revived in the public esteem, than we have in
many other interpreters of prophecy. Their shallow and bigoted views
of past history are enough to damp our faith in their discernment of
the future. It does seem that people ought to understand what has
been, before they predict what will be. History is "the track of
God's footsteps through time;" it is in His dealings with our
forefathers that we may expect to find the laws by which He will deal
with us. Not that Mr. Fleming's conjecture must be false; among a
thousand guesses there ought surely to be one right one. And it is
almost impossible for earnest men to bend their whole minds, however
clumsily, to one branch of study without arriving at some truth or
other. The interpreters of prophecy therefore, like all other
interpreters, have our best wishes, though not our sanguine hopes.
But, in the meantime, there are surely signs of the approaching ruin
of Popery, more certain than any speculations on the mystic numbers
of the Revelation. We should point to recent books--not to books
which merely expose Rome, that has been done long ago, usque ad
nauseam--but to books which do her justice: to Mr. Maitland's "Dark
Ages;" Lord Lindsay's "Christian Art;" and last, but not least, to
the very charming work of Mrs. Jameson, whose title heads this
review. In them, and in a host of similar works in Germany, which
Dr. Wiseman's party hail as signs of coming triumph, we fancy we see
the death-warrant of Romanism; because they prove that Rome has
nearly done her work--that the Protestants are learning the lesson
for the sake of which Providence has so long borne with that
monstrous system. When Popery has no more truth to teach us, but not
till then, will it vanish away into its native night.

We entreat Protestant readers not to be alarmed at us. We have not
the slightest tendency toward the stimulants of Popery, either in
their Roman unmixed state, or in their diluted Oxford form. We are,
with all humility, more Protestant than Protestantism itself; our
fastidious nostril, more sensitive of Jesuits than even those of the
author of "Hawkstone," has led us at moments to fancy that we scent
indulgences in Conduit-street Chapel, and discern inquisitors in
Exeter Hall itself. Seriously, none believe more firmly than
ourselves that the cause of Protestantism is the cause of liberty, of
civilisation, of truth; the cause of man and God. And because we
think Mrs. Jameson's book especially Protestant, both in manner and
intention, and likely to do service to the good cause, we are setting
to work herein to praise and recommend it. For the time, we think,
for calling Popery ill names is past; though to abstain is certainly
sometimes a sore restraint for English spirits, as Mrs. Jameson
herself, we suspect, has found; but Romanism has been exposed and
refuted triumphantly, every month for centuries, and yet the Romish
nations are not converted; and too many English families of late have
found, by sad experience, that such arguments as are in vogue are
powerless to dissuade the young from rushing headlong into the very
superstitions which they have been taught from their childhood to
deride. The truth is, Protestantism may well cry: "Save me from my
friends!" We have attacked Rome too often on shallow grounds, and
finding our arguments weak, have found it necessary to overstate
them. We have got angry, and caught up the first weapon which came
to hand, and have only cut our own fingers. We have very nearly
burnt the Church of England over our heads, in our hurry to make a
bonfire of the Pope. We have been too proud to make ourselves
acquainted with the very tenets which we exposed, and have made a
merit of reading no Popish books but such as we were sure would give
us a handle for attack, and not even them without the precaution of
getting into a safe passion beforehand. We have dealt in
exaggerations, in special pleadings, in vile and reckless imputations
of motive, in suppressions of all palliating facts. We have outraged
the common feelings of humanity by remaining blind to the virtues of
noble and holy men because they were Papists, as if a good deed was
not good in Italy as well as in England. We have talked as if God
had doomed to hopeless vileness in this world and reprobation in the
next millions of Christian people, simply because they were born of
Romish and not of Protestant fathers. And we have our reward; we
have fared like the old woman who would not tell the children what a
well was for fear they should fall into one. We see educated and
pious Englishmen joining the Romish communion simply from ignorance
of Rome, and have no talisman wherewith to disenchant them. Our
medicines produce no effect on them, and all we can do is, like
quacks, to increase the dose. Of course, if ten boxes of Morison's
pills have killed a man, it only proves that--he ought to have taken
twelve of them. We are jesting, but, as an Ulster Orangeman would
say, "it is in good Protestant earnest."

In the meantime some of the deepest cravings of the human heart have
been left utterly unsatisfied. And be it remembered, that such
universal cravings are more than fancies; they are indications of
deep spiritual wants, which, unless we supply them with the good food
which God has made for them, will supply themselves with poison--
indications of spiritual faculties, which it is as wicked to stunt or
distort by mis-education as it is to maim our own limbs or stupefy
our understanding. Our humanity is an awful and divine gift; our
business is to educate it throughout--God alone must judge which part
of it shall preponderate over the rest. But in the last generation--
and, alas! in this also--little or no proper care has been taken of
the love for all which is romantic, marvellous, heroic, which exists
in every ingenuous child. Schoolboys, indeed, might, if they chose,
in play-hours, gloat over the "Seven Champions of Christendom," or
Lempriere's gods and goddesses; girls might, perhaps, be allowed to
devour by stealth a few fairy tales, or the "Arabian Nights;" but it
was only by connivance that their longings were satisfied from the
scraps of Moslemism, Paganism--anywhere but from Christianity.
Protestantism had nothing to do with the imagination--in fact, it was
a question whether reasonable people had any; whether the devil was
not the original maker of that troublesome faculty in man, woman, and
child. Poetry itself was, with most parents, a dram, to be given,
like Dalby's Carminative, as a pis-aller, when children could not
possibly be kept quiet by Miss Edgeworth or Mrs. Mangnall. Then, as
the children grew up, and began to know something of history and art,
two still higher cravings began to seize on many of them, if they
were at all of deep and earnest character: a desire to associate
with religion their new love for the beautiful, and a reverence for
antiquity; a wish to find some bond of union between themselves and
the fifteen centuries of Christianity which elapsed before the
Reformation. They applied to Protestant teachers and Protestant
books, and received too often the answer that the Gospel had nothing
to do with art--art was either Pagan or Popish; and as for the
centuries before the Reformation, they and all in them belonged
utterly to darkness and the pit. As for the heroes of early
Christianity, they were madmen or humbugs; their legends, devilish
and filthy puerilities. They went to the artists and literary men,
and received the same answer. The medieval writers were fools.
Classical art was the only art; all painters before the age of
Raphael superstitious bunglers. To be sure, as Fuseli said,
Christianity had helped art a little; but then it was the
Christianity of Julio and Leone--in short, of the worst age of

These falsehoods have worked out their own punishment. The young are
examining for themselves, and finding that we have deceived them, a
revulsion in their feelings has taken place, similar to that which
took place in Germany some half-century ago. They are reading the
histories of the Middle Ages, and if we call them barbarous--they
will grant it, and then quote instances of individual heroism and
piety, which they defy us or any honest man not to admire. They are
reading the old legends, and when we call them superstitious--they
grant it, and then produce passages in which the highest doctrines of
Christianity are embodied in the most pathetic and noble stories.
They are looking for themselves at the ante-Raphaellic artists, and
when we tell them that Fra Angelico's pictures are weak, affected,
ill-drawn, ill-coloured--they grant it, and then ask us if we can
deny the sweetness, the purity, the rapt devotion, the saintly
virtue, which shines forth from his faces. They ask us how beautiful
and holy words or figures can be inspired by an evil spirit. They
ask us why they are to deny the excellence of tales and pictures
which make men more pure and humble, more earnest and noble. They
tell us truly that all beauty is God's stamp, and that all beauty
ought to be consecrated to his service. And then they ask us: "If
Protestantism denies that she can consecrate the beautiful, how can
you wonder if we love the Romanism which can? You say that Popery
created these glorious schools of art; how can you wonder if, like
Overbeck, "we take the faith for the sake of the art which it

To all which, be it true or false (and it is both), are we to answer
merely by shutting our eyes and ears tight, and yelling "No Popery!"
or are we to say boldly to them: "We confess ourselves in fault; we
sympathise with your longings; we confess that Protestantism has not
satisfied them; but we assert that the only cause is, that
Protestantism has not been true to herself; that Art, like every
other product of the free human spirit, is her domain and not
Popery's; that these legends, these pictures, are beautiful just in
as far as they contain in them the germs of those eternal truths
about man, nature, and God, which the Reformation delivered from
bondage; that you can admire them, and yet remain thorough
Protestants; and more, that unless you do remain Protestants, you
will never enter into their full beauty and significance, because you
will lose sight of those very facts and ideas from which they derive
all their healthy power over you"?

These thoughts are not our own; they are uttered all over England,
thank God! just now, by many voices and in many forms; if they had
been boldly spoken during the last fifteen years, many a noble
spirit, we believe, might have remained in the Church of its fathers
which has now taken refuge in Romanism from the fruits of mis-
education. One great reason why Romanism has been suffered to drag
on its existence is, we humbly think, that it might force us at last
to say this: We have been long learning the lesson; till we have
learnt it thoroughly Romanism will exist, and we shall never be safe
from its allurements.

These thoughts may help to explain our opening sentences, as well as
the extreme pleasure with which we hail the appearance of Mrs.
Jameson's work.

The authoress has been struck, during her examination of the works of
Christian artists, with the extreme ignorance which prevails in
England on the subjects which they portray.

We have had (she says, in an introduction, every word of which we
recommend as replete with the truest Christian philosophy)--

Inquiries into the Principles of Taste, treatises on the Sublime and
Beautiful, Anecdotes of Painting, and we abound in antiquarian essays
on disputed pictures and mutilated statues; but up to a late period
any inquiry into the true spirit and significance of works of art, as
connected with the history of religion and civilisation, would have
appeared ridiculous or, perhaps, dangerous. We should have had
another cry of "No Popery!" and Acts of Parliament prohibiting the
importation of saints and Madonnas.--P. xxi.

And what should we have gained by it, but more ignorance of the
excuses for Popery, and, therefore, of its real dangers? If
Protestantism be the truth, knowledge of whatsoever kind can only
further it. We have found it so in the case of classical literature.
Why should we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel? Our boys have
not taken to worshipping Jupiter and Juno by reading about them. We
never feared that they would. We knew that we should not make them
pagans by teaching them justly to admire the poetry, the philosophy,
the personal virtues of pagans. And, in fact, the few who since the
revival of letters have deserted Christianity for what they called
philosophic heathenism, have in almost every case sympathised, not
with the excellences, but with the worst vices of the Greek and
Roman. They have been men like Leo X. or the Medici, who, ready to
be profligates under any religion, found in heathenism only an excuse
for their darling sins. The same will be the fruits of a real
understanding of the medieval religion. It will only endanger those
who carried already the danger in themselves, and would have fallen
into some other snare if this had been away. Why should we fancy
that Protestantism, like the Romanism which it opposes, is a plant
that will not bear the light, and can only be protected at the
expense of the knowledge of facts? Why will we forgot the great
spiritual law which Mrs. Jameson and others in these days are fully
recognising, that "we cannot safely combat the errors of any man or
system without first giving them full credit for whatever excellences
they may retain"? Such a course is the true fruit of that free
spirit of Protestantism which ought to delight in recognising good to
whatever party it may belong; which asserts that every good gift and
perfect gift comes directly from above, and not through the channel
of particular formularies or priesthoods; which, because it loves
faith and virtue, for their own sakes, and not as mere parts of a
"Catholic system," can recognise them and delight in them wherever it
finds them.

Upon these creations of ancient art (as Mrs. Jameson says) we cannot
look as those did for whom they were created; we cannot annihilate
the centuries which lie between us and them; we cannot in simplicity
of heart, forget the artist in the image he has placed before us, nor
supply what may be deficient in his work through a reverentially
excited fancy. We are critical, not credulous. We no longer accept
this polytheistic form of Christianity; and there is little danger, I
suppose, of our falling again into the strange excesses of
superstition to which it led. But if I have not much sympathy with
modern imitations of medieval art, still less can I sympathise with
that narrow puritanical jealousy which holds the monuments of a real
and earnest faith in contempt: all that God has permitted to exist
once in the past should be considered as the possession of the
present; sacred for example or warning, and held as the foundation on
which to build up what is better and purer.--Introd. p. xx.

Mrs. Jameson here speaks in the name of a large and rapidly-
increasing class. The craving for religious art, of which we spoke
above, is spreading far and wide; even in dissenting chapels we see
occasional attempts at architectural splendour, which would have been
considered twenty years ago heretical or idolatrous. And yet with
all this there is, as Mrs. Jameson says, a curious ignorance with
regard to the subject of medieval art, even though it has now become
a reigning fashion among us.

We have learned, perhaps, after running through half the galleries
and churches in Europe, to distinguish a few of the attributes and
characteristic figures which meet us at every turn, yet without any
clear idea of their meaning, derivation, or relative propriety. The
palm of victory, we know, designates the martyr, triumphant in death.
We so far emulate the critical sagacity of the gardener in "Zeluco,"
that we have learned to distinguish St. Laurence by his gridiron, and
St. Catherine by her wheel. We are not at a loss to recognise the
Magdalene's "loose hair and lifted eye," even when without her skull
and her vase of ointment. We learn to know St. Francis by his brown
habit, and shaven crown, and wasted ardent features; but how do we
distinguish him from St. Anthony, or St. Dominick? As for St. George
and the Dragon--from the St. George of the Louvre--Raphael's--who
sits his horse with the elegant tranquillity of one assured of
celestial aid, down to him "who swings on a sign-post at mine
hostess's door"--he is our familiar acquaintance. But who is that
lovely being in the first blush of youth, who, bearing aloft the
symbolic cross, stands with one foot on the vanquished dragon? "That
is a copy after Raphael." And who is that majestic creature holding
her palm-branch, while the unicorn crouches at her feet? "That is
the famous Moretto at Vienna." Are we satisfied? Not in the least!
but we try to look wiser and pass on.

In the old times, the painters of these legendary scenes and subjects
could always reckon securely on certain associations and certain
sympathies in the minds of the spectators. We have outgrown these
associations, we repudiate these sympathies. We have taken these
works from their consecrated localities, in which they once held each
their dedicated place, and we have hung them in our drawing-rooms and
our dressing-rooms, over our pianos and our sideboards, and now what
do they say to us? That Magdalene weeping amid her hair, who once
spoke comfort to the soul of the fallen sinner,--that Sebastian,
arrow-pierced, whose upward ardent glance, spoke of courage and hope
to the tyrant-ridden serf--that poor tortured slave to whose aid St.
Mark comes sweeping down from above--can they speak to us of nothing
save flowing lines, and correct drawing, and gorgeous colour? Must
we be told that one is a Titian, the other a Guido, the third a
Tintoret, before we dare to melt into compassion or admiration? or
the moment we refer to their ancient religious signification and
influence, must it be with disdain or with pity? This, as it appears
to me, is to take not a rational, but rather a most irrational, as
well as a most irreverent, view of the question: it is to confine
the pleasure and improvement to be derived from works of art within
very narrow bounds; it is to seal up a fountain of the richest
poetry, and to shut out a thousand ennobling and inspiring thoughts.
Happily there is a growing appreciation of these larger principles of
criticism as applied to the study of art. People look at the
pictures which hang round their walls, and have an awakening
suspicion that there is more in them than meets the eye--more than
mere connoisseurship can interpret; and that they have another, a
deeper significance than has been dreamed of by picture dealers and
picture collectors, or even picture critics.--Introd. xxiii.

On these grounds Mrs. Jameson treats of the Poetry of Sacred and
Legendary Art. Her first volume contains a general sketch of the
legends connected with angels, with the scriptural personages, and
the primitive fathers. Her second, the histories of most of "those
sainted personages who lived, or are supposed to have lived, in the
first ages of Christianity, and whose real history, founded on fact
or tradition, has been so disfigured by poetical embroidery that they
have in some sort the air of ideal beings." Each story is followed
by a series of short but brilliant criticisms on those pictures in
which the story has been embodied by painters of various schools and
periods, and illustrated by numerous spirited etchings and woodcuts,
which add greatly to the value and intelligibility of the work. A
future volume is promised which shall contain the "legends of the
monastic orders, and the history of the Franciscans and the
Dominicans, considered merely in their connection with the revival
and the development of the fine arts in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries"--a work which, if it equal the one before us, will
doubtless be hailed by those conversant with that wonderful phase of
human history as a valuable addition to our psychologic and aesthetic

We ought to petition, also, for a volume which should contain the
life of the Saviour, and the legends of the Virgin Mary; though this
latter subject, we are afraid, will be too difficult for even Mrs.
Jameson's tact and delicacy to make tolerable to English readers, so
thoroughly has the Virgin Mary, as especial patroness of purity, been
intermixed in her legends with every form of prudish and prurient
foulmindedness. {199}

The authoress has wisely abstained from all controversial matters.
In her preface she begs that it may be clearly understood, "that she
has taken throughout the aesthetic and not the religious view of
these productions of art; which, in as far as they are informed with
a true and earnest feeling, and steeped in that beauty which emanates
from Genius inspired by Faith, may cease to be religion, but cannot
cease to be poetry; and as poetry only," she says, "I have considered
them." In a word, Mrs. Jameson has done for them what schoolmasters
and schoolboys, bishops and Royal Academicians, have been doing for
centuries, by Greek plays and Greek statues, without having incurred,
as we said above, the slightest suspicion of wanting to worship
heathen gods and goddesses.

Not that she views these stories with the cold unbelieving eye of a
Goethe, merely as studies of "artistic effect;" she often
transgresses her rule of impartiality, and just where we should wish
her to do so. Her geniality cannot avoid an occasional burst of
feeling, such as concludes her notice of the stories about the
Magdalene and the other "beatified penitents."

Poets have sung, and moralists and sages have taught, that for the
frail woman there was nothing left but to die; or if more remained
for her to suffer, there was at least nothing left for her to be or
do--no choice between sackcloth and ashes and the livery of sin. The
beatified penitents of the early Christian Church spoke another
lesson--spoke divinely of hope for the fallen, hope without self-
abasement or defiance. We, in these days, acknowledge no such
saints; we have even done our best to dethrone Mary Magdalene; but we
have martyrs--"by the pang without the palm"--and one, at least,
among these who has not died without lifting up a voice of eloquent
and solemn warning; who has borne her palm on earth, and whose starry
crown may be seen on high even now amid the constellations of
Genius.--Vol. ii. p. 386.

To whom the authoress may allude in this touching passage our
simplicity cannot guess in the least. We may, therefore, without the
suspicion of partiality, say to the noble spirit of purity,
compassion, and true liberality which breathes throughout this whole
chapter, "Go on and conquer."

Nor again can Mrs. Jameson's English honesty avoid an occasional slip
of delicate sarcasm; for instance, in the story of St. Filomena, a
brand-new saint, whose discovery at Rome, in 1802, produced there an
excitement which we should suspect was very much wanted, which we
recommend to all our readers as an instance of the state into which
the virtues of honesty and common sense seem to have fallen in the
Eternal City--of humbugs.

No doubt there are many such cases of imposture among the list of
saints and martyrs; yet, granting all which have been exposed, and
more, there still remains a list of authentic stories, sadder and
stranger than any romance of man's invention, to read which without
deep sympathy and admiration our hearts must be callous or bigoted
indeed. As Mrs. Jameson herself well says (vol. ii. p. 137):

When in the daily service of our Church we repeat these words of the
sublime hymn ("The noble army of martyrs praise Thee!"), I wonder
sometimes whether it be with a full appreciation of their meaning?
whether we do really reflect on all that this noble army of martyrs
has conquered for us? Did they indeed glorify God through their
courage, and seal their faith in their Redeemer with their blood?
And if it be so, how is it that we Christians have learned to look
coldly upon the effigies of those who sowed the seed of the harvest
which we have reaped?--Sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum! We may
admit that the reverence paid to them in former days was unreasonable
and excessive; that credulity and ignorance have in many instances
falsified the actions imputed to them; that enthusiasm has magnified
their numbers beyond all belief; that when the communion with martyrs
was associated with the presence of their material remains, the
passion for relics led to a thousand abuses, and the belief in their
intercession to a thousand superstitions. But why, in uprooting the
false, uproot also the beautiful and the true?

Thoroughly and practically convinced as we are of the truth of these
words, it gave us some pain when, in the work of a very worthy
person, "The Church in the Catacombs," by Dr. Maitland (not the
author of "The Dark Ages"), we found, as far as we could perceive, a
wish "to advance the Protestant cause," by throwing general doubt on
the old martyrologies and their monuments in the Roman catacombs. If
we shall have judged hastily, we shall be ready to apologise. None,
as we have said before, more firmly believe that the Protestant cause
is the good cause; none are more reverentially inclined toward all
honest critical investigations, more anxious to see all truth, the
Bible itself, sifted and tested in every possible method; but we must
protest against what certainly seems too contemptuous a rejection of
a mass of historic evidence hitherto undoubted, except by the school
of Voltaire; and of the hasty denial of the meaning of Christian and
martyrologic symbols, as well known to antiquaries as Stonehenge or
Magna Charta.

At the same time, Dr. Maitland's book seems the work of a righteous
and earnest man, and it is not its object, but its method, of which
we complain. The whole question of martyrology, a far more important
one than historians generally fancy, requires a thorough
investigation, critical and historical; it has to be done, and
especially just now. The Germans, the civil engineers of the
intellectual world, ought to do it for us, and no doubt will. But
those who undertake it must bring to the work, not only impartiality,
but enthusiasm; it is the spirit only, after all, which can quicken
the eye, which can free the understanding from the idols of laziness,
prejudice, and hasty induction. To talk philosophically of such
matters a man must love them; he must set to work with a Christian
sympathy, and a manly admiration for those old spiritual heroes to
whose virtue and endurance Europe owes it that she is not now a den
of heathen savages. He must be ready to assume everything about them
to be true which is neither absurd, immoral, nor unsupported by the
same amount of evidence which he would require for any other historic
fact. And, just because this very tone of mind--enthusiastic but not
idolatrous, discriminating but not captious--runs through Mrs.
Jameson's work, we hail it with especial pleasure, as a fresh move in
a truly philosophic and Christian direction. Indeed, for that branch
of the subject which she has taken in hand, not the history, but the
poetry of legends and of the art which they awakened, she derives a
peculiar fitness, not merely from her own literary talents and
acquaintance with continental art, but also from the very fact of her
being an English wife and mother. Women ought, perhaps, always to
make the best critics--at once more quicksighted, more tasteful, more
sympathetic than ourselves, whose proper business is creation.
Perhaps in Utopia they will take the reviewer's business entirely off
our hands, as they are said to be doing already, by-the-bye, in one
leading periodical. But of all critics an English matron ought to be
the best--open as she should be, by her womanhood, to all tender and
admiring sympathies, accustomed by her Protestant education to
unsullied purity of thought, and inheriting from her race, not only
freedom of mind and reverence for antiquity, but the far higher
birthright of English honesty.

And such a genial and honest spirit, we think, runs through this

Another difficult task, perhaps the most difficult of all, the
authoress has well performed. We mean the handling of stories whose
facts she partly or wholly disbelieves, while she admires and loves
their spirit and moral; or doctrines, to pronounce on whose truth or
falsehood is beyond her subject. This difficulty Mr. Newman, in the
"Lives of the English Saints," edited and partly written by him,
turned with wonderful astuteness to the advantage of Romanism; but
others, more honest, have not been so victorious. Witness the
painfully uncertain impression left by some parts of one or two of
those masterly articles on Romish heroes which appeared in the
"Quarterly Review;" an uncertainty which we have the fullest reason
to believe was most foreign to the reviewer's mind and conscience.
Even Mr. Macaulay's brilliant history here and there falls into the
same snare. No one but those who have tried it can be aware of the
extreme difficulty of preventing the dramatic historian from
degenerating into an apologist or heating into a sneerer; or
understand the ease with which an earnest author, in a case like the
present, becomes frantically reckless, under the certainty that, say
what he will, he will be called a Jesuit by the Protestants, an
Infidel by the Papists, a Pantheist by the Ultra-High-Church, and a
Rogue by all three.

Now, we certainly shall not say that Mrs. Jameson is greater than the
writers just mentioned; but we must say, that female tact and deep
devotional feeling cut the Gordian knot which has puzzled more
cunning heads. Not that Mrs. Jameson is faultless; we want something
yet, in the telling of a Christian fairy-tale, and know not what we
want: but never were legends narrated with more discernment and
simplicity than these.

As an instance, take the legend of St. Dorothea (vol. ii. p. 184),
which is especially one of those stories of "sainted personages who,"
as Mrs. Jameson says, "lived, or are supposed to have lived, in the
first ages of Christianity: and whose real history, founded on fact
or tradition, has been so disguised by poetical embroidery, that they
have in some sort the air of ideal beings;" and which may, therefore,
be taken as a complete test of the authoress's tact and honesty:

In the province of Cappadocia and in the city of Caesarea, dwelt a
noble virgin, whose name was Dorothea. In the whole city there was
none to be compared to her in beauty and grace of person. She was a
Christian, and served God day and night with prayers, with fasting,
and with alms.

The governor of the city, by name Sapritius (or Fabricius), was a
very terrible persecutor of the Christians, and hearing of the
maiden, and of her great beauty, he ordered her to be brought before
him. She came, with her mantle folded on her bosom, and her eyes
meekly cast down. The governor asked "Who art thou?" and she
replied: "I am Dorothea, a virgin, and a servant of Jesus Christ."
He said: "Thou must serve our gods, or die." She answered mildly:
"Be it so; the sooner shall I stand in the presence of Him whom I
most desire to behold." Then the governor asked her: "Whom meanest
thou?" She replied: "I mean the Son of God, Christ, mine espoused!
his dwelling is paradise; by his side are joys eternal; and in his
garden grow celestial fruits and roses that never fade." Then
Sapritius, overcome by her eloquence and beauty, ordered her to be
carried back to her dungeon. And he sent to her two sisters, whose
names were Calista and Christeta, who had once been Christians, but
who, from terror of the torments with which they were threatened, had
renounced their faith in Christ. To these women the governor
promised large rewards if they would induce Dorothea to follow their
evil example; and they, nothing doubting of success, boldly undertook
the task. The result, however, was far different; for Dorothea, full
of courage and constancy, reproved them, as one having authority, and
drew such a picture of the joys they had forfeited through their
falsehood and cowardice, that they fell at her feet, saying: "O
blessed Dorothea, pray for us, that, through thy intercession, our
sins may be forgiven and our penitence accepted!" And she did so.
And when they had left the dungeon they proclaimed aloud that they
were servants of Christ.

Then the governor, furious, commanded that they should be burned, and
that Dorothea should witness their torments. And she stood by,
bravely encouraging them, and saying: "O my sisters, fear not!
suffer to the end! for these transient pangs shall be followed by the
joys of eternal life!" Thus they died: and Dorothea herself was
condemned to be tortured cruelly, and then beheaded. The first part
of her sentence she endured with invincible fortitude. She was then
led forth to death; and, as she went, a young man, a lawyer of the
city named Theophilus, who had been present when she was first
brought before the governor, called to her mockingly: "Ha! fair
maiden, goest thou to join thy bridegroom? Send me, I pray thee, of
the fruits and flowers of that same garden of which thou hast spoken:
I would fain taste of them!" And Dorothea looking on him inclined
her head with a gentle smile, and said: "Thy request, O Theophilus,
is granted!" Whereat he laughed aloud with his companions; but she
went on cheerfully to death.

When she came to the place of execution, she knelt down and prayed;
and suddenly appeared at her side a beautiful boy, with hair bright
as sunbeams:

A smooth-faced glorious thing,
With thousand blessings dancing in his eyes.

In his hand he held a basket containing three apples, and three
fresh-gathered and fragrant roses. She said to him; "Carry these to
Theophilus; say that Dorothea hath sent them, and that I go before
him to the garden whence they came, and await him there." With these
words she bent her neck, and received the death-stroke.

Meantime the angel (for it was an angel) went to seek Theophilus, and
found him still laughing in merry mood over the idea of the promised
gift. The angel placed before him the basket of celestial fruit and
flowers, saying: "Dorothea sends thee this," and vanished. What
words can express the wonder of Theophilus? Struck by the prodigy
operated in his favour, his heart melted within him; he tasted of the
celestial fruit, and a new life was his; he proclaimed himself a
servant of Christ, and, following the example of Dorothea, suffered
with like constancy in the cause of truth, and obtained the crown of

We have chosen this legend just because it is in itself as
superstitious and fantastic as any in the book. We happen to hold
the dream of "The Spiritual Marriage," as there set forth, in
especial abhorrence, and we have no doubt Mrs. Jameson does so also.
We are well aware of the pernicious effect which this doctrine has
exercised on matrimonial purity among the southern nations; that by
making chastity synonymous with celibacy, it degraded married
faithfulness into a restriction which there were penalties for
breaking, but no rewards for keeping. We see clearly enough the
cowardice, the shortsightedness, of fancying that man can insure the
safety of his soul by fleeing from the world--in plain English,
deserting the post to which God has called him, like the monks and
nuns of old. We believe that the numbers of the early martyrs have
been exaggerated. We believe that they were like ourselves,
imperfect and inconsistent human beings; that, on the showing of the
legends and fathers themselves, their testimony for the truth was too
often impaired by superstition, fanaticism, or passion. But granting
all this, we must still say, in the words of one who cannot be
suspected of Romanising--the great Dr. Arnold--

Divide the sum total of reported martyrs by twenty; by fifty, if you
will; after all, you have a number of persons of all ages and sexes
suffering cruel torments and deaths for conscience' sake, and for
Christ's; and by their sufferings, manifestly with God's blessing,
insuring the triumph of Christ's Gospel. Neither do I think that we
consider the excellence of this martyr spirit half enough.

Indeed we do not. Let all the abatements mentioned above, and more,
be granted; yet, even then, when we remember that the world from
which Jerome or Anthony fled was even worse than that denounced by
Juvenal and Persius--that the nuptials which, as legends say, were
often offered the virgin martyrs as alternatives for death, were such
as employed the foul pens of Petronius and Martial--that the tyrants
whom they spurned were such as live in the pages of Suetonius, and
the Augustae Historiae Scriptores--that the gods whom they were
commanded to worship, the rites in which they were to join, were
those over which Ovid and Apuleius had gloated, which Lucian had held
up to the contempt of heathendom itself--that the tortures which they
preferred to apostacy and to foul crimes were, by the confessions of
the heathens themselves, too horrible for pen to tell--it does raise
a flush of indignation to hear some sleek bigot-sceptic, bred up in
the safety and luxury of modern England, among Habeas Corpus Acts and
endowed churches, trying from his warm fireside to sneer away the
awful responsibilities and the heroic fortitude of valiant men and
tender girls, to whose piety and courage he owes the very
enlightenment, the very civilisation, of which he boasts.

It is an error, doubtless, and a fearful one, to worship even such as
them. But the error, when it arose, was at worst the caricature of a
blessed truth. Even for the sinful, surely it was better to admire
holiness than to worship their own sin. Shame on those who, calling
themselves Christians, repine that a Cecilia or a Magdalen replaced
an Isis and a Venus; or who can fancy that they are serving
Protestantism by tracing malevolent likenesses between even the
idolatry of a saint and the idolatry of a devil! True, there was
idolatry in both, as gross in one as the other. And what wonder?
What wonder if, amid a world of courtesans, the nun was worshipped?
At least God allowed it; and will man be wiser than God? "The times
of that ignorance He winked at." The lie that was in it He did not
interfere to punish. He did more; He let it work out, as all lies
will, their own punishment. We may see that in the miserable century
which preceded the glorious Reformation; we may see it in the present
state of Spain and Italy. The crust of lies, we say, punished
itself; to the germ of truth within it we partly owe that we are
Christian men this day.

But granting, or rather boldly asserting all this, and smiling as
much as we choose at the tale of St. Dorothea's celestial basket, is
it not absolutely, and in spite of all, an exquisite story? Is it
likely to make people better or worse? We might believe the whole of
it, and yet we need not, therefore, turn idolaters and worship sweet
Dorothea for a goddess. But if, as we trust in God is the case, we
are too wise to believe it all--if even we see no reason (and there
is not much) for believing one single word of it--yet still we ask,
Is it not an exquisite story? Is there not heroism in it greater
than of all the Ajaxes and Achilles who ever blustered on this earth?
Is there not power greater than of kings--God's strength made perfect
in woman's weakness? Tender forgiveness, the Saviour's own likeness;
glimpses, brilliant and true at the core, however distorted and
miscoloured, of that spiritual world where the wicked cease from
troubling, where the meek alone shall inherit the earth, where, as
Protestants too believe, all that is spotless and beautiful in nature
as well as in man shall bloom for ever perfect?

It is especially in her descriptions of paintings that Mrs. Jameson's
great talents are displayed. Nowhere do we recollect criticisms more
genial, brilliant, picturesque than those which are scattered through
these pages. Often they have deeper merits, and descend to those
fundamental laws of beauty and of religion by which all Christian art
must ultimately be tested. Mrs. Jameson has certainly a powerful
inductive faculty; she comprehends at once the idea {210} and central
law of a work of art, and sketches it in a few vivid and masterly
touches; and really, to use a hack quotation honestly for once, "in
thoughts which breathe, and words which burn." As an instance, we
must be allowed to quote at length this charming passage on angel
paintings, so valuable does it seem not only as information, but as a
specimen of what criticism should be:

On the revival of art, we find the Byzantine idea of angels
everywhere prevailing. The angels in Cimabue's famous "Virgin and
Child enthroned" are grand creatures, rather stern, but this arose, I
think, from his inability to express beauty. The colossal angels at
Assisi, solemn sceptred kingly forms, all alike in action and
attitude, appeared to me magnificent.

In the angels of Giotto we see the commencement of a softer grace and
a purer taste, further developed by some of his scholars. Benozzo
Gozzoli and Orcagna have left in the Campo Santo examples of the most
graceful and fanciful treatment. Of Benozzo's angels in the Ricardi
Palace I have spoken at length. His master, Angelico (worthy the
name!), never reached the same power of expressing the rapturous
rejoicing of celestial beings, but his conception of the angelic
nature remains unapproached, unapproachable: it is only his, for it
was the gentle, passionless, refined nature of the recluse which
stamped itself there. Angelico's angels are unearthly, not so much
in form as in sentiment; and superhuman, not in power but in purity.
In other hands, any imitation of his soft ethereal grace would become
feeble and insipid. With their long robes falling round their feet,
and drooping many-coloured wings, they seem not to fly or to walk,
but to float along, "smooth sliding without step." Blessed blessed
creatures! love us, only love us! for we dare not task your soft
serene beatitude, by asking you to help us!

There is more sympathy with humanity in Francia's angels: they look
as if they could weep as well as love and sing.

* * * * *

Correggio's angels are grand and lovely, but they are like children
enlarged and sublimated, not like spirits taking the form of
children; where they smile it is truly--as Annibal Caracci expresses
it--con una naturalezza et simplicita che innamora e sforza a ridere
con loro: but the smile in many of Correggio's angel heads has
something sublime and spiritual, as well as simple and natural.

And Titian's angels impress me in a similar manner--I mean those in
the glorious "Assumption" at Venice--with their childish forms and
features, but an expression caught from beholding the face of "our
Father that is in heaven:" it is glorified in fancy. I remember
standing before this picture, contemplating those lovely spirits, one
after another, until a thrill came over me like that which I felt
when Mendelssohn played the organ--I became music while I listened.
The face of one of those angels is to the face of a child just what
that of the Virgin in the same picture is compared with the fairest
of the daughters of earth: it is not here superiority of beauty, but
mind, and music, and love kneaded, as it were, into form and colour.

But Raphael, excelling in all things, is here excellent above all;
his angels combine in a higher degree than any other, the various
faculties and attributes in which the fancy loves to clothe these
pure, immortal, beatified creatures. The angels of Giotti, of
Benozzo, of Fiesole, are, if not female, feminine; those of Filippo
Lippi and of Andrea, masculine; but you cannot say of those of
Raphael, that they are masculine or feminine. The idea of sex is
wholly lost in the blending of power, intelligence, and grace. In
his early pictures, grace is the predominant characteristic, as in
the dancing and singing angels in his "Coronation of the Virgin." In
his later pictures the sentiment in his ministering angels is more
spiritual, more dignified. As a perfect example of grand and
poetical feeling, I may cite the angels as "Regents of the Planets,"
in the Capella Chigiana. The cupola represents in a circle the
creation of the solar system, according to the theological and
astronomical (or rather astrological) notions which then prevailed--a
hundred years before "the starry Galileo and his woes." In the
centre is the Creator; around, in eight compartments, we have, first,
the angel of the celestial sphere, who seems to be listening to the
divine mandate: "Let there be light in the firmament of heaven;"
then follow in their order, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter, and Saturn. The name of each planet is expressed by its
mythological representative; the Sun by Apollo, the Moon by Diana:
and over each presides a grand colossal-winged spirit, seated or
reclining on a portion of the zodiac as on a throne. I have selected
two angels to give an idea of this peculiar and poetical treatment.
The union of the theological and the mythological attributes is in
the classical taste of the time, and quite Miltonic. In Raphael's
child-angels, the expression of power and intelligence, as well as
innocence, is quite wonderful; for instance, look at the two angel-
boys, in the Dresden Madonna di San Sisto, and the angels, or
celestial genii, who bear along the Almighty when he appears to Noah.
No one has expressed like Raphael the action of flight, except
perhaps Rembrandt. The angel who descends to crown Santa Felicita
cleaves the air with the action of a swallow: and the angel in
Rembrandt's Tobit soars like a lark with upward motion, spurning the

Michael Angelo rarely gave wings to his angels; I scarcely recollect
an instance, except the angel in the "Annunciation:" and his
exaggerated human forms, his colossal creatures, in which the idea of
power is conveyed through attitude and muscular action, are, to my
taste, worse than unpleasing. My admiration for this wonderful man
is so profound that I can afford to say this. His angels are
superhuman, but hardly angelic: and while in Raphael's angels we do
not feel the want of wings, we feel while looking at those of Michael
Angelo that not even the "sail-broad vans" with which Satan laboured,
through the surging abyss of chaos could suffice to lift those
Titanic forms from earth, and sustain them in mid-air. The group of
angels over the "Last Judgment," flinging their mighty limbs about,
and those that surround the descending figure of Christ in the
"Conversion of St. Paul," may be referred to here as characteristic
examples. The angels, blowing their trumpets, puff and strain like
so many troopers. Surely this is not angelic: there may be power--
great, imaginative, and artistic power--exhibited in the conception
of form, but in the beings themselves there is more of effort than of
power: serenity, tranquillity, beatitude, ethereal purity, spiritual
grace, are out of the question.

In this passage we may remark an excellence in Mrs. Jameson's mode of
thought which has become lately somewhat rare. We mean a freedom
from that bigoted and fantastic habit of mind which leads nowadays
the worshippers of high art to exalt the early schools to the
disadvantage of all others, and to talk as if Christian painting had
expired with Perugino. We were much struck with our authoress's
power of finding spiritual truth and beauty in Titian's "Assumption,"
one of the very pictures in which the "high-art" party are wont to
see nothing but "coarseness" and "earthliness" of conception. She,
having, we suppose, a more acute as well as a more healthy eye for
the beautiful and the spiritual, and therefore able to perceive its
slightest traces wherever they exist, sees in those "earthly" faces
of the great masters, "an expression caught from beholding the face
of our Father that is in heaven." The face of one of those "angels,"
she continues, "is to the face of a child just what that of the
Virgin in the same picture is compared with the fairest of the
daughters of earth: it is not here superiority of beauty, but mind,
and music, and love, kneaded, as it were, into form and colour."

Mrs. Jameson acknowledges her great obligations to M. Rio; and all
students of art must be thankful to him for the taste, learning, and
earnest religious feeling which he has expended on the history of the
earlier schools of painting. An honest man, doubtless, he is; but it
does not follow, alas! in this piecemeal world, that he should write
an honest book. And his bigotry stands in painful contrast to the
genial and comprehensive spirit by which Mrs. Jameson seems able to
appreciate the specific beauties of all schools and masters. M.
Rio's theory (and he is the spokesman of a large party) is, unless we
much misjudge him, this--that the ante-Raphaelic is the only
Christian art; and that all the excellences of these early painters
came from their Romanism; all their faults from his two great
bugbears--Byzantinism and Paganism. In his eyes, the Byzantine idea
of art was Manichean; in which we fully coincide, but add, that the
idea of the early Italian painters was almost equally so: and that
almost all in them that was not Manichean they owe not to their
Romanism or their asceticism, but to their healthy layman's common
sense, and to the influence of that very classical art which they are
said to have been pious enough to despise. Bigoted and ascetic
Romanists have been, in all ages, in a hurry to call people
Manicheans, all the more fiercely because their own consciences must
have hinted to them that they were somewhat Manichean themselves.
When a man suspects his own honesty, he is, of course, inclined to
prove himself blameless by shouting the loudest against the
dishonesty of others. Now M. Rio sees clearly and philosophically
enough what is the root of Manicheanism--the denial that that which
is natural, beautiful, human, belongs to God. He imputes it justly
to those Byzantine artists who fancied it carnal to attribute beauty
to the Saviour or to the Virgin Mary, and tried to prove their own
spirituality by representing their sacred personages in the extreme
of ugliness and emaciation, though some of the specimens of their
painting which Mrs. Jameson gives proves that this abhorrence of
beauty was not so universal as M. Rio would have us believe. We
agree with him that this absurdity was learned from them by earlier
and semi-barbarous Italian artists, that these latter rapidly escaped
from it, and began rightly to embody their conceptions in beautiful
forms; and yet we must urge against them, too, the charge of
Manicheanism, and of a spiritual eclecticism also, far deeper and
more pernicious than the mere outward eclecticism of manner which has
drawn down hard names on the school of the Caracci.

For an eclectic, if it mean, anything, means this--one who, in any
branch of art or science, refuses to acknowledge Bacon's great law,
"that nature is only conquered by obeying her;" who will not take a
full and reverent view of the whole mass of facts with which he has
to deal, and from them deducing the fundamental laws of his subject,
obey them whithersoever they may lead; but who picks and chooses out
of them just so many as may be pleasant to his private taste, and
then constructs a partial system which differs from the essential
ideas of nature, in proportion to the number of facts which he has
determined to discard. And such a course was pursued in the art by
the ascetic painters between the time of Giotto and Raphael. Their
idea of beauty was a partial and a Manichean one; in their adoration
for a fictitious "angelic nature," made up from all which is negative
in humanity, they were prone to despise all by which man is brought
in contact with this earth--the beauties of sex, of strength, of
activity, of grandeur of form; all, that is, in which Greek art
excels: their ideal of beauty was altogether effeminate. They
prudishly despised the anatomic study of the human figure, of
landscape and chiaroscuro. Spiritual expression with them was
everything; but it was only the expression of the passive spiritual
faculties of innocence, devotion, meekness, resignation--all good,
but not the whole of humanity. Not that they could be quite
consistent in their theory. They were forced to paint their very
angels as human beings; and a standard of human beauty they had to
find somewhere; and they found one, strange to say, exactly like that
of the old Pagan statues (wings and all--for the wings of Christian
angels are copied exactly from those of Greek Genii), and only
differing in that ascetic and emasculate tone, which was peculiar to
themselves. Here is a dilemma which the worshippers of high art have
slurred over. Where did Angelico de Fiesole get the idea of beauty
which dictated his exquisite angels? We shall not, I suppose, agree
with those who attribute it to direct inspiration, and speak of it as
the reward of the prayer and fasting by which the good monk used to
prepare himself for painting. Must we then confess that he borrowed
his beauties from the faces of the prettiest nuns with whom he was
acquainted? That would be sad naturalism; and sad eclecticism too,
considering that he must have seen among his Italian sisters a great
many beauties of a very different type from that which he has chosen
to copy; though, we suppose, of God's making equally with that of his
favourites. Or did he, in spite of himself, steal a side-glance now
and then at some of the unrivalled antique statues of his country,
and copy on the sly any feature or proportion in them which was
emasculate enough to be worked into his pictures? That, too, is
likely enough; nay, it is certain. We are perfectly astonished how
any draughtsman, at least how such a critic as M. Rio, can look at
the early Italian painters without tracing everywhere in them the
classic touch, the peculiar tendency to mathematic curves in the
outlines, which is the distinctive peculiarity of Greek art. Is not
Giotto, the father of Italian art, full of it in every line? Is not
Perugino? Is not the angel of Lorenzo Credi in Mrs. Jameson's
woodcut? Is not Francia, except just where he is stiff, and soft,
and clumsy? Is not Fra Angelico himself? Is it not just the absence
of this Greek tendency to mathematical forms in the German painters
before Albert Durer, which makes the specific difference, evident to
every boy, between the drawing of the Teutonic and Italian schools?

But if so, what becomes of the theory which calls Pagan art by all
manner of hard names? which dates the downfall of Christian art from
the moment when painters first lent an eye to its pernicious
seductions? How can those escape the charge of eclecticism, who,
without going to the root-idea of Greek art, filched from its outside
just as much as suited their purpose? And how, lastly, can M. Rio's
school of critics escape the charge of Manichean contempt for God's
world and man, not as ascetics have fancied him, but as God has made
him, when they think it a sufficient condemnation of a picture to
call it naturalistic; when they talk and act about art as if the
domain of the beautiful were the devil's kingdom, from which some few
species of form and elements were to be stolen by Christian painters,
and twisted from their original evil destination into the service of

On the other hand, we owe much to those early ascetic painters; their
works are a possession for ever. No future school of religious art
will be able to rise to eminence without taking full cognisance of
them, and learning from them their secret. They taught artists, and
priests, and laymen too, that beauty is only worthy of admiration
when it is the outward sacrament of the beauty of the soul within;
they helped to deliver men from that idolatry to merely animal
strength and loveliness into which they were in danger of falling in
ferocious ages, and among the relics of Roman luxury; they asserted
the superiority of the spirit over the flesh; according to their
light, they were faithful preachers of the great Christian truth,
that devoted faith, and not fierce self-will, is man's glory. Well
did their pictures tell to brutal peasant, and to still more brutal
warrior, that God's might was best shown forth, not in the
elephantine pride of a Hercules, or the Titanic struggles of a
Laocoon, but in the weakness of martyred women, and of warriors who
were content meekly to endure shame and death, for the sake of Him
who conquered by sufferings, and bore all human weaknesses; who "was
led as a lamb to the slaughter, and, like a sheep dumb before the
shearer, opened not his mouth."

We must conclude with a few words on one point on which we differ
somewhat from Mrs. Jameson--the allegoric origin of certain legendary
stories. She calls the story of the fiend, under the form of a
dragon, devouring St. Margaret, and then bursting at the sign of the
cross while the saint escaped unhurt, "another form of the familiar
allegory--the power of Sin overcome by the power of the Cross."

And again, vol. ii. p. 4:

The legend of St. George came to us from the East; where, under
various forms, as Apollo and the Python, as Bellerophon and the
Chimaera, as Perseus and the Sea-monster, we see perpetually
recurring the mythic allegory by which was figured the conquest
achieved by beneficent Power over the tyranny of Wickedness, and
which reappears in Christian art in the legends of St. Michael and
half a hundred other saints.

To us these stories seem to have had by no means an allegorical, but
rather a strictly historic foundation; and our reasons for this
opinion may possibly interest some readers.

Allegory, strictly so called, is the offspring of an advanced, and
not of a semi-barbarous state of society. Its home is in the East--
not the East of barbarous Pontine countries peopled by men of our own
race, where the legend of St. George is allowed to have sprung up,
but of the civilised, metaphysical, dark-haired races of Egypt,
Syria, and Hindostan. The "objectivity" of the Gothic mind has never
had any sympathy with it. The Teutonic races, like the earlier
Greeks, before they were tinctured with Eastern thought, had always
wanted historic facts, dates, names, and places. They even found it
necessary to import their saints; to locate Mary Magdalene at
Marseilles, Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, the three Magi at
Cologne, before they could thoroughly love or understand them.
Englishmen especially cannot write allegories. John Bunyan alone
succeeded tolerably, but only because his characters and language
were such as he had encountered daily at every fireside and in. every
meeting-house. But Spenser wandered perpetually away, or rather,
rose up from his plan into mere dramatic narrative. His work and
other English allegories, are hardly allegoric at all, but rather
symbolic; spiritual laws in them are not expressed by arbitrary
ciphers, but embodied in imaginary examples, sufficiently startling
or simple to form a plain key to other and deeper instances of the
same law. They are analogous to those symbolic devotional pictures
in which the Madonna and saints of all ages are grouped together with
the painter's own contemporaries--no allegories at all, but the plain
embodiment of a fact in which the artist believed; not only "the
communion of all saints," but also their habit of assisting, often in
visible form, the Christians of his own time.

These distinctions may seem over-subtle, but our meaning will surely
be plain to anyone who will compare "The Faerie Queen," or the legend
of St. George, with the Gnostic or Hindoo reveries, and the fantastic
and truly Eastern interpretation of Scripture, which the European
monks borrowed from Egypt. Our opinion is, that in the old legends
the moral did not create the story, but the story the moral; and that
the story had generally a nucleus of fact within all its distortions
and exaggerations. This holds good of the Odinic and Grecian myths;
all are now more or less inclined to believe that the deities of
Zeus's or Odin's dynasties were real conquerors or civilisers of
flesh and blood, like the Manco Capac of the Peruvians, and that it
was around records of their real victories over barbarous aborigines,
and over the brute powers of nature, that extravagant myths grew up,
till more civilised generations began to say: "These tales must have
some meaning--they must be either allegories or nonsense;" and then
fancied that in the remaining thread of fact they found a clue to the
mystic sense of the whole.

Such, we suspect, has been the history of St. George and the Dragon,
as well as of Apollo and the Python. It is very hard to have to give
up the dear old dragon who haunted our nursery dreams, especially
when there is no reason for it. We have no patience with antiquaries
who tell us that the dragons who guarded princesses were merely "the
winding walls or moats of their castles." What use then, pray, was
there in the famous nether garment with which Regnar Lodbrog (shaggy-
trousers) choked the dragon who guarded his lady-love? And Regnar
was a real piece of flesh and blood, as King AElla and our Saxon
forefathers found to their cost; his awful death-dirge, and the
effect which it produced, are well known to historians. We cannot
give up Regnar's trousers, for we suspect the key to the whole
dragon-question is in the pocket of them.

Seriously, Why should not those dragons have been simply what the
Greek word dragon means--what the earliest romances, the Norse myths,
and the superstitions of the peasantry in many parts of England to
this day assert them to have been--"mighty worms," huge snakes? All
will agree that the Python, the representative in the old world of
the Boa-constrictor of the new, lingered in the Homeric age, if not
later, both in Greece and in Italy. It existed on the opposite coast
of Africa (where it is now extinct) in the time of Regulus; we
believe, from the traditions of all nations, that it existed to a far
later date in more remote and barbarous parts of Europe. There is
every reason to suppose that it still lingered in England after the
invasion of the Cymri--say not earlier than B.C. 600--for it was
among them an object of worship; and we question whether they would
have been likely to have adored a foreign animal, and, as at Abury,
built enormous temples in imitation of its windings, and called them
by its name.

The only answer to these traditions has as yet been, that no reptile
of that bulk is known in cold climates. Yet the Python still lingers
in the Hungarian marshes. A few years ago a huge snake, as large as
the Pythons of Hindostan, spread havoc among the flocks and terror
among the peasantry. Had it been Ariosto's "Orc," an a priori
argument from science would have had weight. A marsupiate sea-
monster is horribly unorthodox; and the dragon, too, has doubtless
been made a monster of, but most unjustly: his legs have been
patched on by crocodile-slaying crusaders, while his wings--where did
they come from? From the traditions of "flying serpents," which have
so strangely haunted the deserts of Upper Egypt from the time of the
old Hebrew prophets, and which may not, after all, be such lies as
folk fancy. How scientific prigs shook with laughter at the notion
of a flying dragon! till one day geology revealed to them, in the
Pterodactylus, that a real flying dragon, on the model of Carlo
Crivelli's in Mrs. Jameson's book, with wings before and legs behind,
only more monstrous than that, and than all the dreams of Seba and
Aldrovandus (though some of theirs, to be sure, have seven heads),
got its living once on a time in this very island of England! But
such is the way of this wise world! When Le Vaillant, in the last
century, assured the Parisians that he had shot a giraffe at the
Cape, he was politely informed that the giraffe was fabulous,
extinct--in short, that he lied; and now, behold! the respectable old
unicorn (and good Tories ought to rejoice to hear it) has been
discovered at last by a German naturalist, Von Muller, in Abyssinia,
just where our fathers told us to look for it! And why should we not
find the flying serpent too? The interior of Africa is as yet an
unknown world of wonders; and we may yet discover there, for aught we
know, the descendants of the very satyr who chatted with St. Anthony.

No doubt the discovery of huge fossil animals, as Mrs. Jameson says,
on the high authority of Professor Owen, may have modified our
ancestors' notions of dragons: but in the old serpent worship we
believe the real explanation of these stories is to be found. There
is no doubt that human victims, and even young maidens, were offered
to these snake-gods; even the sunny mythology of Greece retains
horrible traces of such customs, which lingered in Arcadia, the
mountain fastness of the old and conquered race. Similar cruelties
existed among the Mexicans; and there are but too many traces of it
throughout the history of heathendom.

The same superstition may, as the legends assert, have lingered on,
or been at least revived during the later ages of the empire, in
remote provinces, left in their primeval barbarism, at the same time
that they were brutalised by the fiendish exhibitions of the Circus,
which the Roman governors found it their interest to introduce
everywhere. Thus the serpent became naturally regarded as the
manifestation of the evil spirit by Christians as well as by the old
Hebrews; thus, also, it became the presiding genius of the malaria
and fever which arose from the fens haunted by it--a superstition
which gave rise to the theory that the tales of Hercules and the
Hydra, Apollo and the mud-Python, St. George and the Dragon, were
sanitary-reform allegories, and the monsters whose poisonous breath
destroyed cattle and young maidens only typhus and consumption. We
see no reason why early Christian heroes should not have actually met
with such snake-gods, and felt themselves bound, like Southey's
Madoc, or Daniel in the old rabbinical story, whose truth has never
been disproved, to destroy the monsters at all risk. We see no


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