The Spirit of the Age
William Hazlitt

Part 3 out of 4

It is no wonder that this sort of friendly intellectual gladiatorship is
Sir James's greatest pleasure, for it is his peculiar _forte_. He has
not many equals, and scarcely any superior in it. He is too indolent for
an author; too unimpassioned for an orator: but in society he is just
vain enough to be pleased with immediate attention, good-humoured
enough to listen with patience to others, with great coolness and
self-possession, fluent, communicative, and with a manner equally free
from violence and insipidity. Few subjects can be started, on which he
is not qualified to appear to advantage as the gentleman and scholar. If
there is some tinge of pedantry, it is carried off by great affability
of address and variety of amusing and interesting topics. There is
scarce an author that he has not read; a period of history that he is
not conversant with; a celebrated name of which he has not a number of
anecdotes to relate; an intricate question that he is not prepared
to enter upon in a popular or scientific manner. If an opinion in an
abstruse metaphysical author is referred to, he is probably able to
repeat the passage by heart, can tell the side of the page on which it
is to be met with, can trace it back through various descents to Locke,
Hobbes, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, to a place in some obscure folio of
the School-men or a note in one of the commentators on Aristotle or
Plato, and thus give you in a few moments' space, and without any effort
or previous notice, a chronological table of the progress of the human
mind in that particular branch of inquiry. There is something, we think,
perfectly admirable and delightful in an exhibition of this kind, and
which is equally creditable to the speaker and gratifying to the hearer.
But this kind of talent was of no use in India: the intellectual wares,
of which the Chief Judge delighted to make a display, were in no request
there. He languished after the friends and the society he had left
behind; and wrote over incessantly for books from England. One that was
sent him at this time was an _Essay on the Principles of Human Action_;
and the way in which he spoke of that dry, tough, metaphysical
_choke-pear_, shewed the dearth of intellectual intercourse in which he
lived, and the craving in his mind after those studies which had once
been his pride, and to which he still turned for consolation in his
remote solitude.--Perhaps to another, the novelty of the scene, the
differences of mind and manners might have atoned for a want of social
and literary _agremens_: but Sir James is one of those who see nature
through the spectacles of books. He might like to read an account of
India; but India itself with its burning, shining face would be a mere
blank, an endless waste to him. To persons of this class of mind things
must be translated into words, visible images into abstract propositions
to meet their refined apprehensions, and they have no more to say to a
matter-of-fact staring them in the face without a label in its mouth,
than they would to a hippopotamus!--We may add, before we quit this
point, that we cannot conceive of any two persons more different in
colloquial talents, in which they both excel, than Sir James Mackintosh
and Mr. Coleridge. They have nearly an equal range of reading and of
topics of conversation: but in the mind of the one we see nothing but
_fixtures_, in the other every thing is fluid. The ideas of the one
are as formal and tangible, as those of the other are shadowy and
evanescent. Sir James Mackintosh walks over the ground, Mr. Coleridge is
always flying off from it. The first knows all that has been said upon
a subject; the last has something to say that was never said before. If
the one deals too much in learned _common-places_, the other teems with
idle fancies. The one has a good deal of the _caput mortuum_ of genius,
the other is all volatile salt. The conversation of Sir James Mackintosh
has the effect of reading a well-written book, that of his friend
is like hearing a bewildered dream. The one is an Encyclopedia of
knowledge, the other is a succession of _Sybilline Leaves_!

As an author, Sir James Mackintosh may claim the foremost rank among
those who pride themselves on artificial ornaments and acquired
learning, or who write what may be termed a _composite_ style. His
_Vindciae Gallicae_ is a work of great labour, great ingenuity, great
brilliancy, and great vigour. It is a little too antithetical in the
structure of its periods, too dogmatical in the announcement of its
opinions. Sir James has, we believe, rejected something of the
_false brilliant_ of the one, as he has retracted some of the abrupt
extravagance of the other. We apprehend, however, that our author is not
one of those who draw from their own resources and accumulated feelings,
or who improve with age. He belongs to a class (common in Scotland
and elsewhere) who get up school-exercises on any given subject in
a masterly manner at twenty, and who at forty are either where they
were--or retrograde, if they are men of sense and modesty. The reason
is, their vanity is weaned, after the first hey-day and animal spirits
of youth are flown, from making an affected display of knowledge, which,
however useful, is not their own, and may be much more simply stated;
they are tired of repeating the same arguments over and over again,
after having exhausted and rung the changes on their whole stock for a
number of times. Sir James Mackintosh is understood to be a writer in
the Edinburgh Review; and the articles attributed to him there are full
of matter of great pith and moment. But they want the trim, pointed
expression, the ambitious ornaments, the ostentatious display and rapid
volubility of his early productions. We have heard it objected to his
later compositions, that his style is good as far as single words and
phrases are concerned, but that his sentences are clumsy and disjointed,
and that these make up still more awkward and sprawling paragraphs. This
is a nice criticism, and we cannot speak to its truth: but if the fact
be so, we think we can account for it from the texture and obvious
process of the author's mind. All his ideas may be said to be given
preconceptions. They do not arise, as it were, out of the subject, or
out of one another at the moment, and therefore do not flow naturally
and gracefully from one another. They have been laid down beforehand in
a sort of formal division or frame-work of the understanding; and the
connexion between the premises and the conclusion, between one branch
of a subject and another, is made out in a bungling and unsatisfactory
manner. There is no principle of fusion in the work: he strikes after
the iron is cold, and there is a want of malleability in the style. Sir
James is at present said to be engaged in writing a _History of England_
after the downfall of the house of Stuart. May it be worthy of the
talents of the author, and of the principles of the period it is
intended to illustrate!

[Footnote A: The late Rev. Joseph Fawcett, of Walthamstow.]

[Footnote B: At the time when the _Vindiciae Gallicae_ first made its
appearance, as a reply to the _Reflections on the French Revolution_, it
was cried up by the partisans of the new school, as a work superior in
the charms of composition to its redoubted rival: in acuteness, depth,
and soundness of reasoning, of course there was supposed to be no

* * * * *


Mr. Wordsworth's genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age.
Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been
heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the hebetude
of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him "lowliness
is young ambition's ladder:" but he finds it a toil to climb in this way
the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the
ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has "no figures nor
no fantasies, which busy _passion_ draws in the brains of men:" neither
the gorgeous machinery of mythologic lore, nor the splendid colours of
poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths.
He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human
heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all
its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands; and at the
same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his
eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow
from the wounded breast, this is the living colouring with which he
paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with
the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs
and "skyey influences," this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes
the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract
conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new
system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as any one
could. "_Nihil humani a me alienum puto_"--is the motto of his works. He
thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: every
thing that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute
essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and
spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition
(and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the
artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion
and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried
along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes
of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical
experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot
explain its character at all) is a levelling one. It proceeds on a
principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same
standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its
own resources, and disdains external shew and relief. It takes the
commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always
interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the
ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the
unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the
_Lyrical Ballads_. Fools have laughed at, wise men scarcely understand
them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang
thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to
his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound,
according to the gravity and the aspiring pretensions of his mind. His
popular, inartificial style gets rid (at a blow) of all the trappings
of verse, of all the high places of poetry: "the cloud-capt towers, the
solemn temples, the gorgeous palaces," are swept to the ground, and
"like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind."
All the traditions of learning, all the superstitions of age, are
obliterated and effaced. We begin _de novo_, on a _tabula rasa_ of
poetry. The purple pall, the nodding plume of tragedy are exploded as
mere pantomime and trick, to return to the simplicity of truth and
nature. Kings, queens, priests, nobles, the altar and the throne, the
distinctions of rank, birth, wealth, power, "the judge's robe, the
marshall's truncheon, the ceremony that to great ones 'longs," are not
to be found here. The author tramples on the pride of art with greater
pride. The Ode and Epode, the Strophe and the Antistrophe, he laughs to
scorn. The harp of Homer, the trump of Pindar and of Alcaeus are still.
The decencies of costume, the decorations of vanity are stripped off
without mercy as barbarous, idle, and Gothic. The jewels in the crisped
hair, the diadem on the polished brow are thought meretricious,
theatrical, vulgar; and nothing contents his fastidious taste beyond
a simple garland of flowers. Neither does he avail himself of the
advantages which nature or accident holds out to him. He chooses to have
his subject a foil to his invention, to owe nothing but to himself. He
gathers manna in the wilderness, he strikes the barren rock for the
gushing moisture. He elevates the mean by the strength of his own
aspirations; he clothes the naked with beauty and grandeur from the
store of his own recollections. No cypress-grove loads his verse with
perfumes: but his imagination lends a sense of joy

"To the bare trees and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field."

No storm, no shipwreck startles us by its horrors: but the rainbow lifts
its head in the cloud, and the breeze sighs through the withered fern.
No sad vicissitude of fate, no overwhelming catastrophe in nature
deforms his page: but the dew-drop glitters on the bending flower, the
tear collects in the glistening eye.

"Beneath the hills, along the flowery vales,
The generations are prepared; the pangs,
The internal pangs are ready; the dread strife
Of poor humanity's afflicted will,
Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny."

As the lark ascends from its low bed on fluttering wing, and salutes the
morning skies; so Mr. Wordsworth's unpretending Muse, in russet guise,
scales the summits of reflection, while it makes the round earth its
footstool, and its home!

Possibly a good deal of this may be regarded as the effect of
disappointed views and an inverted ambition. Prevented by native pride
and indolence from climbing the ascent of learning or greatness, taught
by political opinions to say to the vain pomp and glory of the world, "I
hate ye," seeing the path of classical and artificial poetry blocked up
by the cumbrous ornaments of style and turgid _common-places_, so
that nothing more could be achieved in that direction but by the most
ridiculous bombast or the tamest servility; he has turned back partly
from the bias of his mind, partly perhaps from a judicious policy--has
struck into the sequestered vale of humble life, sought out the Muse
among sheep-cotes and hamlets and the peasant's mountain-haunts, has
discarded all the tinsel pageantry of verse, and endeavoured (not in
vain) to aggrandise the trivial and add the charm of novelty to the
familiar. No one has shewn the same imagination in raising trifles into
importance: no one has displayed the same pathos in treating of the
simplest feelings of the heart. Reserved, yet haughty, having no unruly
or violent passions, (or those passions having been early suppressed,)
Mr. Wordsworth has passed his life in solitary musing, or in daily
converse with the face of nature. He exemplifies in an eminent degree
the power of _association_; for his poetry has no other source or
character. He has dwelt among pastoral scenes, till each object has
become connected with a thousand feelings, a link in the chain of
thought, a fibre of his own heart. Every one is by habit and familiarity
strongly attached to the place of his birth, or to objects that recal
the most pleasing and eventful circumstances of his life. But to the
author of the _Lyrical Ballads_, nature is a kind of home; and he may be
said to take a personal interest in the universe. There is no image so
insignificant that it has not in some mood or other found the way into
his heart: no sound that does not awaken the memory of other years.--

"To him the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

The daisy looks up to him with sparkling eye as an old acquaintance:
the cuckoo haunts him with sounds of early youth not to be expressed: a
linnet's nest startles him with boyish delight: an old withered thorn is
weighed down with a heap of recollections: a grey cloak, seen on some
wild moor, torn by the wind, or drenched in the rain, afterwards becomes
an object of imagination to him: even the lichens on the rock have a
life and being in his thoughts. He has described all these objects in a
way and with an intensity of feeling that no one else had done before
him, and has given a new view or aspect of nature. He is in this sense
the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the
least be spared: for they have no substitute elsewhere. The vulgar do
not read them, the learned, who see all things through books, do not
understand them, the great despise, the fashionable may ridicule them:
but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the
retired and lonely student of nature, which can never die. Persons
of this class will still continue to feel what he has felt: he has
expressed what they might in vain wish to express, except with
glistening eye and faultering tongue! There is a lofty philosophic tone,
a thoughtful humanity, infused into his pastoral vein. Remote from the
passions and events of the great world, he has communicated interest and
dignity to the primal movements of the heart of man, and ingrafted his
own conscious reflections on the casual thoughts of hinds and shepherds.
Nursed amidst the grandeur of mountain scenery, he has stooped to have
a nearer view of the daisy under his feet, or plucked a branch of
white-thorn from the spray: but in describing it, his mind seems imbued
with the majesty and solemnity of the objects around him--the tall rock
lifts its head in the erectness of his spirit; the cataract roars in the
sound of his verse; and in its dim and mysterious meaning, the mists
seem to gather in the hollows of Helvellyn, and the forked Skiddaw
hovers in the distance. There is little mention of mountainous scenery
in Mr. Wordsworth's poetry; but by internal evidence one might be almost
sure that it was written in a mountainous country, from its bareness,
its simplicity, its loftiness and its depth!

His later philosophic productions have a somewhat different character.
They are a departure from, a dereliction of his first principles. They
are classical and courtly. They are polished in style, without being
gaudy; dignified in subject, without affectation. They seem to have
been composed not in a cottage at Grasmere, but among the half-inspired
groves and stately recollections of Cole-Orton. We might allude in
particular, for examples of what we mean, to the lines on a Picture by
Claude Lorraine, and to the exquisite poem, entitled _Laodamia_. The
last of these breathes the pure spirit of the finest fragments of
antiquity--the sweetness, the gravity, the strength, the beauty and the
langour of death--

"Calm contemplation and majestic pains."

Its glossy brilliancy arises from the perfection of the finishing, like
that of careful sculpture, not from gaudy colouring--the texture of the
thoughts has the smoothness and solidity of marble. It is a poem that
might be read aloud in Elysium, and the spirits of departed heroes and
sages would gather round to listen to it! Mr. Wordsworth's philosophic
poetry, with a less glowing aspect and less tumult in the veins than
Lord Byron's on similar occasions, bends a calmer and keener eye
on mortality; the impression, if less vivid, is more pleasing and
permanent; and we confess it (perhaps it is a want of taste and proper
feeling) that there are lines and poems of our author's, that we think
of ten times for once that we recur to any of Lord Byron's. Or if there
are any of the latter's writings, that we can dwell upon in the same
way, that is, as lasting and heart-felt sentiments, it is when laying
aside his usual pomp and pretension, he descends with Mr. Wordsworth to
the common ground of a disinterested humanity. It may be considered
as characteristic of our poet's writings, that they either make no
impression on the mind at all, seem mere _nonsense-verses_, or that they
leave a mark behind them that never wears out. They either

"Fall blunted from the indurated breast"--

without any perceptible result, or they absorb it like a passion. To
one class of readers he appears sublime, to another (and we fear the
largest) ridiculous. He has probably realised Milton's wish,--"and fit
audience found, though few:" but we suspect he is not reconciled to the
alternative. There are delightful passages in the EXCURSION, both of
natural description and of inspired reflection (passages of the latter
kind that in the sound of the thoughts and of the swelling language
resemble heavenly symphonies, mournful _requiems_ over the grave of
human hopes); but we must add, in justice and in sincerity, that we
think it impossible that this work should ever become popular, even in
the same degree as the _Lyrical Ballads_. It affects a system without
having any intelligible clue to one; and instead of unfolding a
principle in various and striking lights, repeats the same conclusions
till they become flat and insipid. Mr. Wordsworth's mind is obtuse,
except as it is the organ and the receptacle of accumulated feelings:
it is not analytic, but synthetic; it is reflecting, rather than
theoretical. The EXCURSION, we believe, fell stillborn from the press.
There was something abortive, and clumsy, and ill-judged in the attempt.
It was long and laboured. The personages, for the most part, were low,
the fare rustic: the plan raised expectations which were not fulfilled,
and the effect was like being ushered into a stately hall and invited
to sit down to a splendid banquet in the company of clowns, and with
nothing but successive courses of apple-dumplings served up. It was not
even _toujours perdrix_!

Mr. Wordsworth, in his person, is above the middle size, with marked
features, and an air somewhat stately and Quixotic. He reminds one of
some of Holbein's heads, grave, saturnine, with a slight indication of
sly humour, kept under by the manners of the age or by the pretensions
of the person. He has a peculiar sweetness in his smile, and great depth
and manliness and a rugged harmony, in the tones of his voice. His
manner of reading his own poetry is particularly imposing; and in his
favourite passages his eye beams with preternatural lustre, and the
meaning labours slowly up from his swelling breast. No one who has seen
him at these moments could go away with an impression that he was a "man
of no mark or likelihood." Perhaps the comment of his face and voice is
necessary to convey a full idea of his poetry. His language may not be
intelligible, but his manner is not to be mistaken. It is clear that
he is either mad or inspired. In company, even in a _tete-a-tete_, Mr.
Wordsworth is often silent, indolent, and reserved. If he is become
verbose and oracular of late years, he was not so in his better days.
He threw out a bold or an indifferent remark without either effort or
pretension, and relapsed into musing again. He shone most (because he
seemed most roused and animated) in reciting his own poetry, or in
talking about it. He sometimes gave striking views of his feelings and
trains of association in composing certain passages; or if one did
not always understand his distinctions, still there was no want of
interest--there was a latent meaning worth inquiring into, like a vein
of ore that one Cannot exactly hit upon at the moment, but of which
there are sure indications. His standard of poetry is high and severe,
almost to exclusiveness. He admits of nothing below, scarcely of any
thing above himself. It is fine to hear him talk of the way in which
certain subjects should have been treated by eminent poets, according to
his notions of the art. Thus he finds fault with Dryden's description of
Bacchus in the _Alexander's Feast_, as if he were a mere good-looking
youth, or boon companion--

"Flushed with a purple grace,
He shews his honest face"--

instead of representing the God returning from the conquest of India,
crowned with vine-leaves, and drawn by panthers, and followed by troops
of satyrs, of wild men and animals that he had tamed. You would thank,
in hearing him speak on this subject, that you saw Titian's picture of
the meeting of _Bacchus and Ariadne_--so classic were his conceptions,
so glowing his style. Milton is his great idol, and he sometimes dares
to compare himself with him. His Sonnets, indeed, have something of the
same high-raised tone and prophetic spirit. Chaucer is another prime
favourite of his, and he has been at the pains to modernise some of the
Canterbury Tales. Those persons who look upon Mr. Wordsworth as a merely
puerile writer, must be rather at a loss to account for his strong
predilection for such geniuses as Dante and Michael Angelo. We do not
think our author has any very cordial sympathy with Shakespear. How
should he? Shakespear was the least of an egotist of any body in the
world. He does not much relish the variety and scope of dramatic
composition. "He hates those interlocutions between Lucius and Caius."
Yet Mr. Wordsworth himself wrote a tragedy when he was young; and we
have heard the following energetic lines quoted from it, as put into the
mouth of a person smit with remorse for some rash crime:

----"Action is momentary,
The motion of a muscle this way or that;
Suffering is long, obscure, and infinite!"

Perhaps for want of light and shade, and the unshackled spirit of the
drama, this performance was never brought forward. Our critic has a
great dislike to Gray, and a fondness for Thomson and Collins. It is
mortifying to hear him speak of Pope and Dryden, whom, because they have
been supposed to have all the possible excellences of poetry, he will
allow to have none. Nothing, however, can be fairer, or more amusing,
than the way in which he sometimes exposes the unmeaning verbiage of
modern poetry. Thus, in the beginning of Dr. Johnson's _Vanity of Human

"Let observation with extensive view
Survey mankind from China to Peru"--

he says there is a total want of imagination accompanying the words,
the same idea is repeated three times under the disguise of a different
phraseology: it comes to this--"let _observation_, with extensive
_observation, observe_ mankind;" or take away the first line, and the

"Survey mankind from China to Peru,"

literally conveys the whole. Mr. Wordsworth is, we must say, a perfect
Drawcansir as to prose writers. He complains of the dry reasoners and
matter-of-fact people for their want of _passion_; and he is jealous of
the rhetorical declaimers and rhapsodists as trenching on the province
of poetry. He condemns all French writers (as well of poetry as prose)
in the lump. His list in this way is indeed small. He approves of
Walton's Angler, Paley, and some other writers of an inoffensive modesty
of pretension. He also likes books of voyages and travels, and Robinson
Crusoe. In art, he greatly esteems Bewick's wood-cuts, and Waterloo's
sylvan etchings. But he sometimes takes a higher tone, and gives his
mind fair play. We have known him enlarge with a noble intelligence and
enthusiasm on Nicolas Poussin's fine landscape-compositions, pointing
out the unity of design that pervades them, the superintending mind,
the imaginative principle that brings all to bear on the same end;
and declaring he would not give a rush for any landscape that did not
express the time of day, the climate, the period of the world it was
meant to illustrate, or had not this character of _wholeness_ in it. His
eye also does justice to Rembrandt's fine and masterly effects. In the
way in which that artist works something out of nothing, and transforms
the stump of a tree, a common figure into an _ideal_ object, by the
gorgeous light and shade thrown upon it, he perceives an analogy to his
own mode of investing the minute details of nature with an atmosphere
of sentiment; and in pronouncing Rembrandt to be a man of genius, feels
that he strengthens his own claim to the title. It has been said of
Mr. Wordsworth, that "he hates conchology, that he hates the Venus of
Medicis." But these, we hope, are mere epigrams and _jeux-d'esprit_, as
far from truth as they are free from malice; a sort of running satire or
critical clenches--

"Where one for sense and one for rhyme
Is quite sufficient at one time."

We think, however, that if Mr. Wordsworth had been a more liberal and
candid critic, he would have been a more sterling writer. If a greater
number of sources of pleasure had been open to him, he would have
communicated pleasure to the world more frequently. Had he been less
fastidious in pronouncing sentence on the works of others, his own would
have been received more favourably, and treated more leniently.
The current of his feelings is deep, but narrow; the range of his
understanding is lofty and aspiring rather than discursive. The force,
the originality, the absolute truth and identity with which he feels
some things, makes him indifferent to so many others. The simplicity and
enthusiasm of his feelings, with respect to nature, renders him bigotted
and intolerant in his judgments of men and things. But it happens to
him, as to others, that his strength lies in his weakness; and perhaps
we have no right to complain. We might get rid of the cynic and the
egotist, and find in his stead a common-place man. We should "take the
good the Gods provide us:" a fine and original vein of poetry is not
one of their most contemptible gifts, and the rest is scarcely worth
thinking of, except as it may be a mortification to those who expect
perfection from human nature; or who have been idle enough at some
period of their lives, to deify men of genius as possessing claims above
it. But this is a chord that jars, and we shall not dwell upon it.

Lord Byron we have called, according to the old proverb, "the spoiled
child of fortune:" Mr. Wordsworth might plead, in mitigation of some
peculiarities, that he is "the spoiled child of disappointment." We are
convinced, if he had been early a popular poet, he would have borne his
honours meekly, and would have been a person of great _bonhommie_ and
frankness of disposition. But the sense of injustice and of undeserved
ridicule sours the temper and narrows the views. To have produced works
of genius, and to find them neglected or treated with scorn, is one of
the heaviest trials of human patience. We exaggerate our own merits when
they are denied by others, and are apt to grudge and cavil at every
particle of praise bestowed on those to whom we feel a conscious
superiority. In mere self-defence we turn against the world, when it
turns against us; brood over the undeserved slights we receive; and thus
the genial current of the soul is stopped, or vents itself in effusions
of petulance and self-conceit. Mr. Wordsworth has thought too much of
contemporary critics and criticism; and less than he ought of the award
of posterity, and of the opinion, we do not say of private friends, but
of those who were made so by their admiration of his genius. He did not
court popularity by a conformity to established models, and he ought
not to have been surprised that his originality was not understood as a
matter of course. He has _gnawed too much on the bridle_; and has often
thrown out crusts to the critics, in mere defiance or as a point of
honour when he was challenged, which otherwise his own good sense would
have withheld. We suspect that Mr. Wordsworth's feelings are a little
morbid in this respect, or that he resents censure more than he is
gratified by praise. Otherwise, the tide has turned much in his favour
of late years--he has a large body of determined partisans--and is at
present sufficiently in request with the public to save or relieve him
from the last necessity to which a man of genius can be reduced--that
of becoming the God of his own idolatry!

* * * * *


Mr. Malthus may be considered as one of those rare and fortunate writers
who have attained a _scientific_ reputation in questions of moral and
political philosophy. His name undoubtedly stands very high in the
present age, and will in all probability go down to posterity with more
or less of renown or obloquy. It was said by a person well qualified
to judge both from strength and candour of mind, that "it would take
a thousand years at least to answer his work on Population." He has
certainly thrown a new light on that question, and changed the aspect of
political economy in a decided and material point of view--whether he
has not also endeavoured to spread a gloom over the hopes and more
sanguine speculations of man, and to cast a slur upon the face of
nature, is another question. There is this to be said for Mr. Malthus,
that in speaking of him, one knows what one is talking about. He is
something beyond a mere name--one has not to _beat the bush_ about his
talents, his attainments, his vast reputation, and leave off without
knowing what it all amounts to--he is not one of those great men, who
set themselves off and strut and fret an hour upon the stage, during a
day-dream of popularity, with the ornaments and jewels borrowed from the
common stock, to which nothing but their vanity and presumption gives
them the least individual claim--he has dug into the mine of truth, and
brought up ore mixed with dross! In weighing his merits we come at once
to the question of what he has done or failed to do. It is a specific
claim that he sets up. When we speak of Mr. Malthus, we mean the _Essay
on Population_; and when we mention the Essay on Population, we mean
a distinct leading proposition, that stands out intelligibly from all
trashy pretence, and is a ground on which to fix the levers that may
move the world, backwards or forwards. He has not left opinion where
he found it; he has advanced or given it a wrong bias, or thrown a
stumbling-block in its way. In a word, his name is not stuck, like so
many others, in the firmament of reputation, nobody knows why, inscribed
in great letters, and with a transparency of TALENTS, GENIUS, LEARNING
blazing round it--it is tantamount to an idea, it is identified with
a principle, it means that _the population cannot go on perpetually
increasing without pressing on the limits of the means of subsistence,
and that a check of some kind or other must, sooner or later, be opposed
to it_. This is the essence of the doctrine which Mr. Malthus has been
the first to bring into general notice, and as we think, to establish
beyond the fear of contradiction. Admitting then as we do the prominence
and the value of his claims to public attention, it yet remains a
question, how far those claims are (as to the talent displayed in them)
strictly original; how far (as to the logical accuracy with which he has
treated the subject) he has introduced foreign and doubtful matter
into it; and how far (as to the spirit in which he has conducted his
inquiries, and applied a general principle to particular objects) he has
only drawn fair and inevitable conclusions from it, or endeavoured to
tamper with and wrest it to sinister and servile purposes. A writer who
shrinks from following up a well-founded principle into its untoward
consequences from timidity or false delicacy, is not worthy of the
name of a philosopher: a writer who assumes the garb of candour and an
inflexible love of truth to garble and pervert it, to crouch to power
and pander to prejudice, deserves a worse title than that of a sophist!

Mr. Malthus's first octavo volume on this subject (published in the year
1798) was intended as an answer to Mr. Godwin's _Enquiry concerning
Political Justice_. It was well got up for the purpose, and had an
immediate effect. It was what in the language of the ring is called _a
facer_. It made Mr. Godwin and the other advocates of Modern Philosophy
look about them. It may be almost doubted whether Mr. Malthus was in the
first instance serious in many things that he threw out, or whether he
did not hazard the whole as an amusing and extreme paradox, which might
puzzle the reader as it had done himself in an idle moment, but to which
no practical consequence whatever could attach. This state of mind would
probably continue till the irritation of enemies and the encouragement
of friends convinced him that what he had at first exhibited as an idle
fancy was in fact a very valuable discovery, or "like the toad ugly and
venomous, had yet a precious jewel in its head." Such a supposition
would at least account for some things in the original Essay, which
scarcely any writer would venture upon, except as professed exercises of
ingenuity, and which have been since in part retracted. But a wrong
bias was thus given, and the author's theory was thus rendered warped,
disjointed, and sophistical from the very outset.

Nothing could in fact be more illogical (not to say absurd) than the
whole of Mr. Malthus's reasoning applied as an answer (_par excellence_)
to Mr. Godwin's book, or to the theories of other Utopian philosophers.
Mr. Godwin was not singular, but was kept in countenance by many
authorities, both ancient and modern, in supposing a state of society
possible in which the passions and wills of individuals would be
conformed to the general good, in which the knowledge of the best means
of promoting human welfare and the desire of contributing to it
would banish vice and misery from the world, and in which, the
stumbling-blocks of ignorance, of selfishness, and the indulgence of
gross appetite being removed, all things would move on by the mere
impulse of wisdom and virtue, to still higher and higher degrees of
perfection and happiness. Compared with the lamentable and gross
deficiencies of existing institutions, such a view of futurity as barely
possible could not fail to allure the gaze and tempt the aspiring
thoughts of the philanthropist and the philosopher: the hopes and the
imaginations of speculative men could not but rush forward into this
ideal world as into a _vacuum_ of good; and from "the mighty stream of
tendency" (as Mr. Wordsworth in the cant of the day calls it,) there was
danger that the proud monuments of time-hallowed institutions, that the
strong-holds of power and corruption, that "the Corinthian capitals of
polished society," with the base and pediments, might be overthrown
and swept away as by a hurricane. There were not wanting persons whose
ignorance, whose fears, whose pride, or whose prejudices contemplated
such an alternative with horror; and who would naturally feel no small
obligation to the man who should relieve their apprehensions from the
stunning roar of this mighty change of opinion that thundered at a
distance, and should be able, by some logical apparatus or unexpected
turn of the argument, to prevent the vessel of the state from being
hurried forward with the progress of improvement, and dashed in pieces
down the tremendous precipice of human perfectibility. Then comes Mr.
Malthus forward with the geometrical and arithmetical ratios in his
hands, and holds them out to his affrighted contemporaries as the only
means of salvation. "For" (so argued the author of the Essay) "let the
principles of Mr. Godwin's Enquiry and of other similar works be carried
literally and completely into effect; let every corruption and abuse of
power be entirely got rid of; let virtue, knowledge, and civilization
be advanced to the greatest height that these visionary reformers would
suppose; let the passions and appetites be subjected to the utmost
control of reason and influence of public opinion: grant them, in
a word, all that they ask, and the more completely their views are
realized, the sooner will they be overthrown again, and the more
inevitable and fatal will be the catastrophe. For the principle of
population will still prevail, and from the comfort, ease, and plenty
that will abound, will receive an increasing force and _impetus_; the
number of mouths to be fed will have no limit, but the food that is to
supply them cannot keep pace with the demand for it; we must come to a
stop somewhere, even though each square yard, by extreme improvements in
cultivation, could maintain its man: in this state of things there
will be no remedy, the wholesome checks of vice and misery (which have
hitherto kept this principle within bounds) will have been done away;
the voice of reason will be unheard; the passions only will bear
sway; famine, distress, havoc, and dismay will spread around; hatred,
violence, war, and bloodshed will be the infallible consequence, and
from the pinnacle of happiness, peace, refinement, and social advantage,
we shall be hurled once more into a profounder abyss of misery, want,
and barbarism than ever, by the sole operation of the principle of
population!"--Such is a brief abstract of the argument of the Essay.
Can any thing be less conclusive, a more complete fallacy and _petitio
principii_? Mr. Malthus concedes, he assumes a state of perfectibility,
such as his opponents imagined, in which the general good is to obtain
the entire mastery of individual interests, and reason of gross
appetites and passions; and then he argues that such a perfect structure
of society will fall by its own weight, or rather be undermined by the
principle of population, because in the highest possible state of the
subjugation of the passions to reason, they will be absolutely lawless
and unchecked, and because as men become enlightened, quick sighted
and public-spirited, they will shew themselves utterly blind to the
consequences of their actions, utterly indifferent to their own
well-being and that of all succeeding generations, whose fate is placed
in their hands. This we conceive to be the boldest paralogism that ever
was offered to the world, or palmed upon willing credulity. Against
whatever other scheme of reform this objection might be valid, the
one it was brought expressly to overturn was impregnable against it,
invulnerable to its slightest graze. Say that the Utopian reasoners are
visionaries, unfounded; that the state of virtue and knowledge they
suppose, in which reason shall have become all-in-all, can never take
place, that it is inconsistent with the nature of man and with all
experience, well and good--but to say that society will have attained
this high and "palmy state," that reason will have become the master-
key to all our motives, and that when arrived at its greatest power it
will cease to act at all, but will fall down dead, inert, and senseless
before the principle of population, is an opinion which one would
think few people would choose to advance or assent to, without strong
inducements for maintaining or believing it.

The fact, however, is, that Mr. Malthus found this argument entire (the
principle and the application of it) in an obscure and almost forgotten
work published about the middle of the last century, entitled _Various
Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence_, by a Scotch gentleman
of the name of Wallace. The chapter in this work on the Principle
of Population, considered as a bar to all ultimate views of human
improvement, was probably written to amuse an idle hour, or read as a
paper to exercise the wits of some literary society in the Northern
capital, and no farther responsibility or importance annexed to it. Mr.
Malthus, by adopting and setting his name to it, has given it sufficient
currency and effect. It sometimes happens that one writer is the first
to discover a certain principle or lay down a given observation, and
that another makes an application of, or draws a remote or an immediate
inference from it, totally unforeseen by the first, and from which, in
all probability, he might have widely dissented. But this is not so
in the present instance. Mr. Malthus has borrowed (perhaps without
consciousness, at any rate without acknowledgment) both the preliminary
statement, that the increase in the supply of food "from a limited
earth and a limited fertility" must have an end, while the tendency to
increase in the principle of population has none, without some external
and forcible restraint on it, and the subsequent use made of this
statement as an insuperable bar to all schemes of Utopian or progressive
improvement--both these he has borrowed (whole) from Wallace, with all
their imperfections on their heads, and has added more and greater
ones to them out of his own store. In order to produce something of a
startling and dramatic effect, he has strained a point or two. In order
to quell and frighten away the bugbear of Modern Philosophy, he was
obliged to make a sort of monster of the principle of population, which
was brought into the field against it, and which was to swallow it up
quick. No half-measures, no middle course of reasoning would do. With a
view to meet the highest possible power of reason in the new order of
things, Mr. Malthus saw the necessity of giving the greatest possible
physical weight to the antagonist principle, and he accordingly lays
it down that its operation is mechanical and irresistible. He premises
these two propositions as the basis of all his reasoning, 1. _That food
is necessary to man_; 2. _That the desire to propagate the species is an
equally indispensable law of our existence_:--thus making it appear
that these two wants or impulses are equal and coordinate principles
of action. If this double statement had been true, the whole scope and
structure of his reasoning (as hostile to human hopes and sanguine
speculations) would have been irrefragable; but as it is not true, the
whole (in that view) falls to the ground. According to Mr. Malthus's
octavo edition, the sexual passion is as necessary to be gratified as
the appetite of hunger, and a man can no more exist without propagating
his species than he can live without eating. Were it so, neither of
these passions would admit of any excuses, any delay, any restraint from
reason or foresight; and the only checks to the principle of population
must be vice and misery. The argument would be triumphant and complete.
But there is no analogy, no parity in the two cases, such as our author
here assumes. No man can live for any length of time without food; many
persons live all their lives without gratifying the other sense.
The longer the craving after food is unsatisfied, the more violent,
imperious, and uncontroulable the desire becomes; whereas the longer the
gratification of the sexual passion is resisted, the greater force does
habit and resolution acquire over it; and, generally speaking, it is
a well-known fact, attested by all observation and history, that this
latter passion is subject more or less to controul from personal
feelings and character, from public opinions and the institutions of
society, so as to lead either to a lawful and regulated indulgence, or
to partial or total abstinence, according to the dictates of _moral
restraint_, which latter check to the inordinate excesses and unheard-of
consequences of the principle of population, our author, having no
longer an extreme case to make out, admits and is willing to patronize
in addition to the two former and exclusive ones of _vice and misery_,
in the second and remaining editions of his work. Mr. Malthus has shewn
some awkwardness or even reluctance in softening down the harshness of
his first peremptory decision. He sometimes grants his grand exception
cordially, proceeds to argue stoutly, and to try conclusions upon it;
at other times he seems disposed to cavil about or retract it:--"the
influence of moral restraint is very inconsiderable, or none at all." It
is indeed difficult (more particularly for so formal and nice a reasoner
as Mr. Malthus) to piece such contradictions plausibly or gracefully
together. We wonder how _he_ manages it--how _any one_ should attempt
it! The whole question, the _gist_ of the argument of his early volume
turned upon this, "Whether vice and misery were the _only_ actual or
possible checks to the principle of population?" He then said they were,
and farewell to building castles in the air: he now says that _moral
restraint_ is to be coupled with these, and that its influence depends
greatly on the state of laws and manners--and Utopia stands where
it did, a great way off indeed, but not turned _topsy-turvy_ by our
magician's wand! Should we ever arrive there, that is, attain to a state
of _perfect moral restraint_, we shall not be driven headlong back into
Epicurus's stye for want of the only possible checks to population,
_vice and misery_; and in proportion as we advance that way, that is, as
the influence of moral restraint is extended, the necessity for vice and
misery will be diminished, instead of being increased according to the
first alarm given by the Essay. Again, the advance of civilization and
of population in consequence with the same degree of moral restraint (as
there exists in England at this present time, for instance) is a good,
and not an evil--but this does not appear from the Essay. The Essay
shews that population is not (as had been sometimes taken for granted)
an abstract and unqualified good; but it led many persons to suppose
that it was an abstract and unqualified evil, to be checked only by vice
and misery, and producing, according to its encouragement a greater
quantity of vice and misery; and this error the author has not been
at sufficient pains to do away. Another thing, in which Mr. Malthus
attempted to _clench_ Wallace's argument, was in giving to the
disproportionate power of increase in the principle of population
and the supply of food a mathematical form, or reducing it to the
arithmetical and geometrical ratios, in which we believe Mr. Malthus is
now generally admitted, even by his friends and admirers, to have been
wrong. There is evidently no inherent difference in the principle of
increase in food or population; since a grain of corn, for example, will
propagate and multiply itself much faster even than the human species.
A bushel of wheat will sow a field; that field will furnish seed for
twenty others. So that the limit to the means of subsistence is only the
want of room to raise it in, or, as Wallace expresses it, "a limited
fertility and a limited earth." Up to the point where the earth or any
given country is fully occupied or cultivated, the means of subsistence
naturally increase in a geometrical ratio, and will more than keep pace
with the natural and unrestrained progress of population; and beyond
that point, they do not go on increasing even in Mr. Malthus's
arithmetical ratio, but are stationary or nearly so. So far, then, is
this proportion from being universally and mathematically true, that
in no part of the world or state of society does it hold good. But our
theorist, by laying down this double ratio as a law of nature, gains
this advantage, that at all times it seems as if, whether in new or
old-peopled countries, in fertile or barren soils, the population was
pressing hard on the means of subsistence; and again, it seems as if the
evil increased with the progress of improvement and civilization; for if
you cast your eye at the scale which is supposed to be calculated upon
true and infallible _data_, you find that when the population is at
8, the means of subsistence are at 4; so that here there is only a
_deficit_ of one half; but when it is at 32, they have only got to 6, so
that here there is a difference of 26 in 32, and so on in proportion;
the farther we proceed, the more enormous is the mass of vice and
misery we must undergo, as a consequence of the natural excess of the
population over the means of subsistence and as a salutary check to its
farther desolating progress. The mathematical Table, placed at the front
of the Essay, therefore leads to a secret suspicion or a bare-faced
assumption, that we ought in mere kindness and compassion to give every
sort of indirect and under-hand encouragement (to say the least) to the
providential checks of vice and misery; as the sooner we arrest this
formidable and paramount evil in its course, the less opportunity we
leave it of doing incalculable mischief. Accordingly, whenever there is
the least talk of colonizing new countries, of extending the population,
or adding to social comforts and improvements, Mr. Malthus conjures up
his double ratios, and insists on the alarming results of advancing
them a single step forward in the series. By the same rule, it would
be better to return at once to a state of barbarism; and to take the
benefit of acorns and scuttle-fish, as a security against the luxuries
and wants of civilized life. But it is not our ingenious author's wish
to hint at or recommend any alterations in existing institutions; and he
is therefore silent on that unpalatable part of the subject and natural
inference from his principles.

Mr. Malthus's "gospel is preached to the poor." He lectures them on
economy, on morality, the regulation of their passions (which, he says,
at other times, are amenable to no restraint) and on the ungracious
topic, that "the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, have doomed
them and their families to starve for want of a right to the smallest
portion of food beyond what their labour will supply, or some charitable
hand may hold out in compassion." This is illiberal, and it is not
philosophical. The laws of nature or of God, to which the author
appeals, are no other than a limited fertility and a limited earth.
Within those bounds, the rest is regulated by the laws of man. The
division of the produce of the soil, the price of labour, the relief
afforded to the poor, are matters of human arrangement: while any
charitable hand can extend relief, it is a proof that the means of
subsistence are not exhausted in themselves, that "the tables are not
full!" Mr. Malthus says that the laws of nature, which are the laws of
God, have rendered that relief physically impossible; and yet he would
abrogate the poor-laws by an act of the legislature, in order to take
away that _impossible_ relief, which the laws of God deny, and which the
laws of man _actually_ afford. We cannot think that this view of his
subject, which is prominent and dwelt on at great length and with much
pertinacity, is dictated either by rigid logic or melting charity! A
labouring man is not allowed to knock down a hare or a partridge that
spoils his garden: a country-squire keeps a pack of hounds: a lady of
quality rides out with a footman behind her, on two sleek, well-fed
horses. We have not a word to say against all this as exemplifying the
spirit of the English Constitution, as a part of the law of the land, or
as an artful distribution of light and shade in the social picture; but
if any one insists at the same time that "the laws of nature, which are
the laws of God, have doomed the poor and their families to starve,"
because the principle of population has encroached upon and swallowed up
the means of subsistence, so that not a mouthful of food is left _by the
grinding law of necessity_ for the poor, we beg leave to deny both fact
and inference--and we put it to Mr. Malthus whether we are not, in
strictness, justified in doing so?

We have, perhaps, said enough to explain our feeling on the subject of
Mr. Malthus's merits and defects. We think he had the opportunity and
the means in his hands of producing a great work on the principle of
population; but we believe he has let it slip from his having an eye to
other things besides that broad and unexplored question. He wished not
merely to advance to the discovery of certain great and valuable truths,
but at the same time to overthrow certain unfashionable paradoxes by
exaggerated statements--to curry favour with existing prejudices and
interests by garbled representations. He has, in a word, as it appears
to us on a candid retrospect and without any feelings of controversial
asperity rankling in our minds, sunk the philosopher and the friend of
his species (a character to which he might have aspired) in the sophist
and party-writer. The period at which Mr. Malthus came forward teemed
with answers to Modern Philosophy, with antidotes to liberty and
humanity, with abusive Histories of the Greek and Roman republics, with
fulsome panegyrics on the Roman Emperors (at the very time when we were
reviling Buonaparte for his strides to universal empire) with the slime
and offal of desperate servility--and we cannot but consider the
Essay as one of the poisonous ingredients thrown into the cauldron of
Legitimacy "to make it thick and slab." Our author has, indeed, so
far done service to the cause of truth, that he has counteracted
many capital errors formerly prevailing as to the universal and
indiscriminate encouragement of population under all circumstances; but
he has countenanced opposite errors, which if adopted in theory and
practice would be even more mischievous, and has left it to future
philosophers to follow up the principle, that some check must be
provided for the unrestrained progress of population, into a set of
wiser and more humane consequences. Mr. Godwin has lately attempted an
answer to the Essay (thus giving Mr. Malthus a _Roland for his Oliver_)
but we think he has judged ill in endeavouring to invalidate the
principle, instead of confining himself to point out the misapplication
of it. There is one argument introduced in this Reply, which will,
perhaps, amuse the reader as a sort of metaphysical puzzle.

"It has sometimes occurred to me whether Mr. Malthus did not catch the
first hint of his geometrical ratio from a curious passage of Judge
Blackstone, on consanguinity, which is as follows:--

"The doctrine of lineal consanguinity is sufficiently plain and obvious;
but it is at the first view astonishing to consider the number of lineal
ancestors which every man has within no very great number of degrees:
and so many different bloods is a man said to contain in his veins, as
he hath lineal ancestors. Of these he hath two in the first ascending
degree, his own parents; he hath four in the second, the parents of his
father and the parents of his mother; he hath eight in the third, the
parents of his two grandfathers and two grandmothers; and by the same
rule of progression, he hath an hundred and twenty-eight in the seventh;
a thousand and twenty-four in the tenth; and at the twentieth degree, or
the distance of twenty generations, every man hath above a million of
ancestors, as common arithmetic will demonstrate.

"This will seem surprising to those who are unacquainted with the
increasing power of progressive numbers; but is palpably evident from
the following table of a geometrical progression, in which the first
term is 2, and the denominator also 2; or, to speak more intelligibly,
it is evident, for that each of us has two ancestors in the first
degree; the number of which is doubled at every remove, because each of
our ancestors had also two ancestors of his own.

_Lineal Degrees._ _Number of Ancestors_.

1 .. .. .. 2
2 .. .. .. 4
3 .. .. .. 8
4 .. .. .. 16
5 .. .. .. 32
6 .. .. .. 64
7 .. .. .. 128
8 .. .. .. 256
9 .. .. .. 512
10 .. .. .. 1024
11 .. .. .. 2048
12 .. .. .. 4096
13 .. .. .. 8192
14 .. .. .. 16,384
15 .. .. .. 32,768
16 .. .. .. 65,536
17 .. .. .. 131,072
18 .. .. .. 262,144
19 .. .. .. 524,288
20 .. .. .. 1,048,576

"This argument, however," (proceeds Mr. Godwin) "from Judge Blackstone
of a geometrical progression would much more naturally apply to
Montesquieu's hypothesis of the depopulation of the world, and prove
that the human species is hastening fast to extinction, than to the
purpose for which Mr. Malthus has employed it. An ingenious sophism
might be raised upon it, to shew that the race of mankind will
ultimately terminate in unity. Mr. Malthus, indeed, should have
reflected, that it is much more certain that every man has had ancestors
than that he will have posterity, and that it is still more doubtful,
whether he will have posterity to twenty or to an indefinite number of

Mr. Malthus's style is correct and elegant; his tone of controversy mild
and gentlemanly; and the care with which he has brought his facts and
documents together, deserves the highest praise. He has lately quitted
his favourite subject of population, and broke a lance with Mr. Ricardo
on the question of rent and value. The partisans of Mr. Ricardo, who are
also the admirers of Mr. Malthus, say that the usual sagacity of the
latter has here failed him, and that he has shewn himself to be a very
illogical writer. To have said this of him formerly on another ground,
was accounted a heresy and a piece of presumption not easily to be
forgiven. Indeed Mr. Malthus has always been a sort of "darling in the
public eye," whom it was unsafe to meddle with. He has contrived to
make himself as many friends by his attacks on the schemes of _Human
Perfectibility_ and on the _Poor-Laws_, as Mandeville formerly procured
enemies by his attacks on _Human Perfections_ and on _Charity-Schools_;
and among other instances that we might mention, _Plug_ Pulteney, the
celebrated miser, of whom Mr. Burke said on his having a large
estate left him, "that now it was to be hoped he would _set up a
pocket-handkerchief_," was so enamoured with the saving schemes and
humane economy of the Essay, that he desired a friend to find out the
author and offer him a church living! This liberal intention was (by
design or accident) unhappily frustrated.

* * * * *


Mr. Gifford was originally bred to some handicraft: he afterwards
contrived to learn Latin, and was for some time an usher in a school,
till he became a tutor in a nobleman's family. The low-bred, self-taught
man, the pedant, and the dependant on the great contribute to form the
Editor of the _Quarterly Review_. He is admirably qualified for this
situation, which he has held for some years, by a happy combination of
defects, natural and acquired; and in the event of his death, it will be
difficult to provide him a suitable successor.

Mr. Gifford has no pretensions to be thought a man of genius, of taste,
or even of general knowledge. He merely understands the mechanical and
instrumental part of learning. He is a critic of the last age, when
the different editions of an author, or the dates of his several
performances were all that occupied the inquiries of a profound scholar,
and the spirit of the writer or the beauties of his style were left to
shift for themselves, or exercise the fancy of the light and superficial
reader. In studying an old author, he has no notion of any thing beyond
adjusting a point, proposing a different reading, or correcting, by the
collation of various copies, an error of the press. In appreciating a
modern one, if it is an enemy, the first thing he thinks of is to charge
him with bad grammar--he scans his sentences instead of weighing his
sense; or if it is a friend, the highest compliment he conceives it
possible to pay him is, that his thoughts and expressions are moulded
on some hackneyed model. His standard of _ideal_ perfection is what he
himself now is, a person of _mediocre_ literary attainments: his utmost
contempt is shewn by reducing any one to what he himself once was, a
person without the ordinary advantages of education and learning. It is
accordingly assumed, with much complacency in his critical pages, that
Tory writers are classical and courtly as a matter of course; as it is
a standing jest and evident truism, that Whigs and Reformers must be
persons of low birth and breeding--imputations from one of which he
himself has narrowly escaped, and both of which he holds in suitable
abhorrence. He stands over a contemporary performance with all the
self-conceit and self-importance of a country schoolmaster, tries it by
technical rules, affects not to understand the meaning, examines the
hand-writing, the spelling, shrugs up his shoulders and chuckles over a
slip of the pen, and keeps a sharp look-out for a false concord and--a
flogging. There is nothing liberal, nothing humane in his style of
judging: it is altogether petty, captious, and literal. The Editor's
political subserviency adds the last finishing to his ridiculous
pedantry and vanity. He has all his life been a follower in the train
of wealth and power--strives to back his pretensions on Parnassus by a
place at court, and to gild his reputation as a man of letters by the
smile of greatness. He thinks his works are stamped with additional
value by having his name in the _Red-Book_. He looks up to the
distinctions of rank and station as he does to those of learning, with
the gross and overweening adulation of his early origin. All his notions
are low, upstart, servile. He thinks it the highest honour to a poet to
be patronised by a peer or by some dowager of quality. He is prouder
of a court-livery than of a laurel-wreath; and is only sure of having
established his claims to respectability by having sacrificed those of
independence. He is a retainer to the Muses; a door-keeper to learning;
a lacquey in the state. He believes that modern literature should wear
the fetters of classical antiquity; that truth is to be weighed in the
scales of opinion and prejudice; that power is equivalent to right; that
genius is dependent on rules; that taste and refinement of language
consist in _word-catching_. Many persons suppose that Mr. Gifford knows
better than he pretends; and that he is shrewd, artful, and designing.
But perhaps it may be nearer the mark to suppose that his dulness is
guarantee for his sincerity; or that before he is the tool of the
profligacy of others, he is the dupe of his own jaundiced feelings, and
narrow, hoodwinked perceptions.

"Destroy his fib or sophistry: in vain--
The creature's at his dirty work again!"

But this is less from choice or perversity, than because he cannot help
it and can do nothing else. He damns a beautiful expression less out
of spite than because he really does not understand it: any novelty of
thought or sentiment gives him a shock from which he cannot recover
for some time, and he naturally takes his revenge for the alarm and
uneasiness occasioned him, without referring to venal or party motives.
He garbles an author's meaning, not so much wilfully, as because it is a
pain to him to enlarge his microscopic view to take in the context, when
a particular sentence or passage has struck him as quaint and out of the
way: he fly-blows an author's style, and picks out detached words and
phrases for cynical reprobation, simply because he feels himself at
home, or takes a pride and pleasure in this sort of petty warfare. He is
tetchy and impatient of contradiction; sore with wounded pride; angry
at obvious faults, more angry at unforeseen beauties. He has the
_chalk-stones_ in his understanding, and from being used to long
confinement, cannot bear the slightest jostling or irregularity of
motion. He may call out with the fellow in the _Tempest_--"I am not
Stephano, but a cramp!" He would go back to the standard of opinions,
style, the faded ornaments, and insipid formalities that came into
fashion about forty years ago. Flashes of thought, flights of fancy,
idiomatic expressions, he sets down among the signs of the times--the
extraordinary occurrences of the age we live in. They are marks of a
restless and revolutionary spirit: they disturb his composure of mind,
and threaten (by implication) the safety of the state. His slow,
snail-paced, bed-rid habits of reasoning cannot keep up with the
whirling, eccentric motion, the rapid, perhaps extravagant combinations
of modern literature. He has long been stationary himself, and is
determined that others shall remain so. The hazarding a paradox is like
letting off a pistol close to his ear: he is alarmed and offended. The
using an elliptical mode of expression (such as he did not use to find
in Guides to the English Tongue) jars him like coming suddenly to a
step in a flight of stairs that you were not aware of. He _pishes_ and
_pshaws_ at all this, exercises a sort of interjectional criticism on
what excites his spleen, his envy, or his wonder, and hurls his meagre
anathemas _ex cathedra_ at all those writers who are indifferent alike
to his precepts and his example!

Mr. Gifford, in short, is possessed of that sort of learning which is
likely to result from an over-anxious desire to supply the want of the
first rudiments of education; that sort of wit, which is the offspring
of ill-humour or bodily pain; that sort of sense, which arises from a
spirit of contradiction and a disposition to cavil at and dispute
the opinions of others; and that sort of reputation, which is the
consequence of bowing to established authority and ministerial
influence. He dedicates to some great man, and receives his compliments
in return. He appeals to some great name, and the Under-graduates of the
two Universities look up to him as an oracle of wisdom. He throws the
weight of his verbal criticism and puny discoveries in _black-letter_
reading into the gap, that is supposed to be making in the Constitution
by Whigs and Radicals, whom he qualifies without mercy as dunces and
miscreants; and so entitles himself to the protection of Church and
State. The character of his mind is an utter want of independence and
magnanimity in all that he attempts. He cannot go alone, he must have
crutches, a go-cart and trammels, or he is timid, fretful, and helpless
as a child. He cannot conceive of any thing different from what he finds
it, and hates those who pretend to a greater reach of intellect
or boldness of spirit than himself. He inclines, by a natural and
deliberate bias, to the traditional in laws and government; to
the orthodox in religion; to the safe in opinion; to the trite in
imagination; to the technical in style; to whatever implies a surrender
of individual judgment into the hands of authority, and a subjection of
individual feeling to mechanic rules. If he finds any one flying in the
face of these, or straggling from the beaten path, he thinks he has them
at a notable disadvantage, and falls foul of them without loss of time,
partly to soothe his own sense of mortified self-consequence, and as an
edifying spectacle to his legitimate friends. He takes none but unfair
advantages. He _twits_ his adversaries (that is, those who are not
in the leading-strings of his school or party) with some personal or
accidental defect. If a writer has been punished for a political libel,
he is sure to hear of it in a literary criticism. If a lady goes on
crutches and is out of favour at court, she is reminded of it in Mr.
Gilford's manly satire. He sneers at people of low birth or who have
not had a college-education, partly to hide his own want of certain
advantages, partly as well-timed flattery to those who possess them. He
has a right to laugh at poor, unfriended, untitled genius from wearing
the livery of rank and letters, as footmen behind a coronet-coach laugh
at the rabble. He keeps good company, and forgets himself. He stands at
the door of Mr. Murray's shop, and will not let any body pass but the
well-dressed mob, or some followers of the court. To edge into the
_Quarterly_ Temple of Fame the candidate must have a diploma from the
Universities, a passport from the Treasury. Otherwise, it is a breach of
etiquette to let him pass, an insult to the better sort who aspire to
the love of letters--and may chance to drop in to the _Feast of the
Poets_. Or, if he cannot manage it thus, or get rid of the claim on the
bare ground of poverty or want of school-learning, he _trumps_ up an
excuse for the occasion, such as that "a man was confined in Newgate a
short time before"--it is not a _lie_ on the part of the critic, it is
only an amiable subserviency to the will of his betters, like that of
a menial who is ordered to deny his master, a sense of propriety, a
knowledge of the world, a poetical and moral license. Such fellows
(such is his cue from his employers) should at any rate be kept out of
privileged places: persons who have been convicted of prose-libels ought
not to be suffered to write poetry--if the fact was not exactly as it
was stated, it was something of the kind, or it _ought_ to have been
so, the assertion was a pious fraud,--the public, the court, the prince
himself might read the work, but for this mark of opprobrium set upon
it--it was not to be endured that an insolent plebeian should aspire to
elegance, taste, fancy--it was throwing down the barriers which ought
to separate the higher and the lower classes, the loyal and the
disloyal--the paraphrase of the story of Dante was therefore to perform
quarantine, it was to seem not yet recovered from the gaol infection,
there was to be a taint upon it, as there was none in it--and all this
was performed by a single slip of Mr. Gifford's pen! We would willingly
believe (if we could) that in this case there was as much weakness and
prejudice as there was malice and cunning.--Again, we do not think it
possible that under any circumstances the writer of the _Verses to Anna_
could enter into the spirit or delicacy of Mr. Keats's poetry. The fate
of the latter somewhat resembled that of

--"a bud bit by an envious worm,
Ere it could spread its sweet leaves to the air,
Or dedicate its beauty to the sun."

Mr. Keats's ostensible crime was that he had been praised in the
_Examiner Newspaper_: a greater and more unpardonable offence probably
was, that he was a true poet, with all the errors and beauties of
youthful genius to answer for. Mr. Gifford was as insensible to the one
as he was inexorable to the other. Let the reader judge from the two
subjoined specimens how far the one writer could ever, without a
presumption equalled only by a want of self-knowledge, set himself in
judgment on the other.

"Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke in pallid moonshine died:
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air and visions wide:
No utter'd syllable, or woe betide!
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her heart in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

"A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imag'ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.

"Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for Heaven's grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a Saint:
She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven:--Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

"Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

"Soon trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress'd
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day:
Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain;
Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again."

With the rich beauties and the dim obscurities of lines like these, let
us contrast the Verses addressed _To a Tuft of early Violets_ by the
fastidious author of the Baviad and Maeviad.--

"Sweet flowers! that from your humble beds
Thus prematurely dare to rise,
And trust your unprotected heads
To cold Aquarius' watery skies.

"Retire, retire! _These_ tepid airs
Are not the genial brood of May;
_That_ sun with light malignant glares,
And flatters only to betray.

"Stern Winter's reign is not yet past--
Lo! while your buds prepare to blow,
On icy pinions comes the blast,
And nips your root, and lays you low.

"Alas, for such ungentle doom!
But I will shield you; and supply
A kindlier soil on which to bloom,
A nobler bed on which to die.

"Come then--'ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.

"Ye droop, fond flowers! But did ye know
What worth, what goodness there reside,
Your cups with liveliest tints would glow;
And spread their leaves with conscious pride.

"For there has liberal Nature joined
Her riches to the stores of Art,
And added to the vigorous mind
The soft, the sympathising heart.

"Come, then--'ere yet the morning ray
Has drunk the dew that gems your crest,
And drawn your balmiest sweets away;
O come and grace my Anna's breast.

"O! I should think--_that fragrant bed_
_Might I but hope with you to share_--[A]
Years of anxiety repaid
By one short hour of transport there.

"More blest than me, thus shall ye live
Your little day; and when ye die,
Sweet flowers! the grateful Muse shall give
A verse; the sorrowing maid, a sigh.

"While I alas! no distant date,
Mix with the dust from whence I came,
Without a friend to weep my fate,
Without a stone to tell my name."

We subjoin one more specimen of these "wild strains"[B] said to be
"_Written two years after the preceding_." ECCE ITERUM CRISPINUS.

"I wish I was where Anna lies;
For I am sick of lingering here,
And every hour Affection cries,
Go, and partake her humble bier.

"I wish I could! for when she died
I lost my all; and life has prov'd
Since that sad hour a dreary void,
A waste unlovely and unlov'd.

"But who, when I am turn'd to clay,
Shall duly to her grave repair,
And pluck the ragged moss away,
And weeds that have "no business there?"

"And who, with pious hand, shall bring
The flowers she cherish'd, snow-drops cold,
And violets that unheeded spring,
To scatter o'er her hallow'd mould?

"And who, while Memory loves to dwell
Upon her name for ever dear,
Shall feel his heart with passion swell,
And pour the bitter, bitter tear?

"I did it; and would fate allow,
Should visit still, should still deplore--
But health and strength have left me now,
But I, alas! can weep no more.

"Take then, sweet maid! this simple strain,
The last I offer at thy shrine;
Thy grave must then undeck'd remain,
And all thy memory fade with mine.

"And can thy soft persuasive look,
That voice that might with music vie,
Thy air that every gazer took,
Thy matchless eloquence of eye,

"Thy spirits, frolicsome as good,
Thy courage, by no ills dismay'd,
Thy patience, by no wrongs subdued,
Thy gay good-humour--can they "fade?"

"Perhaps--but sorrow dims my eye:
Cold turf, which I no more must view,
Dear name, which I no more must sigh,
A long, a last, a sad adieu!"

It may be said in extenuation of the low, mechanic vein of these
impoverished lines, that they were written at an early age--they were
the inspired production of a youthful lover! Mr. Gifford was thirty when
he wrote them, Mr. Keats died when he was scarce twenty! Farther it may
be said, that Mr. Gifford hazarded his first poetical attempts under all
the disadvantages of a neglected education: but the same circumstance,
together with a few unpruned redundancies of fancy and quaintnesses of
expression, was made the plea on which Mr. Keats was hooted out of the
world, and his fine talents and wounded sensibilities consigned to an
early grave. In short, the treatment of this heedless candidate for
poetical fame might serve as a warning, and was intended to serve as a
warning to all unfledged tyros, how they venture upon any such doubtful
experiments, except under the auspices of some lord of the bedchamber or
Government Aristarchus, and how they imprudently associate themselves
with men of mere popular talent or independence of feeling!--It is the
same in prose works. The Editor scorns to enter the lists of argument
with any proscribed writer of the opposite party. He does not refute,
but denounces him. He makes no concessions to an adversary, lest they
should in some way be turned against him. He only feels himself safe in
the fancied insignificance of others: he only feels himself superior
to those whom he stigmatizes as the lowest of mankind. All persons are
without common-sense and honesty who do not believe implicitly (with
him) in the immaculateness of Ministers and the divine origin of Kings.
Thus he informed the world that the author of TABLE-TALK was a person
who could not write a sentence of common English and could hardly spell
his own name, because he was not a friend to the restoration of the
Bourbons, and had the assurance to write _Characters of Shakespears
Plays_ in a style of criticism somewhat different from Mr. Gifford's. He
charged this writer with imposing on the public by a flowery style; and
when the latter ventured to refer to a work of his, called _An Essay on
the Principles of Human Action_, which has not a single ornament in it,
as a specimen of his original studies and the proper bias of his mind,
the learned critic, with a shrug of great self-satisfaction, said, "It
was amusing to see this person, sitting like one of Brouwer's Dutch
boors over his gin and tobacco-pipes, and fancying himself a Leibnitz!"
The question was, whether the subject of Mr. Gifford's censure had ever
written such a work or not; for if he had, he had amused himself with
something besides gin and tobacco-pipes. But our Editor, by virtue
of the situation he holds, is superior to facts or arguments: he is
accountable neither to the public nor to authors for what he says of
them, but owes it to his employers to prejudice the work and vilify the
writer, if the latter is not avowedly ready to range himself on the
stronger side.--The _Quarterly Review_, besides the political _tirades_
and denunciations of suspected writers, intended for the guidance of the
heads of families, is filled up with accounts of books of Voyages
and Travels for the amusement of the younger branches. The poetical
department is almost a sinecure, consisting of mere summary decisions
and a list of quotations. Mr. Croker is understood to contribute the
St. Helena articles and the liberality, Mr. Canning the practical good
sense, Mr. D'Israeli the good-nature, Mr. Jacob the modesty, Mr. Southey
the consistency, and the Editor himself the chivalrous spirit and the
attacks on Lady Morgan. It is a double crime, and excites a double
portion of spleen in the Editor, when female writers are not advocates
of passive obedience and non-resistance. This Journal, then, is a
depository for every species of political sophistry and personal
calumny. There is no abuse or corruption that does not there find a
jesuitical palliation or a bare-faced vindication. There we meet the
slime of hypocrisy, the varnish of courts, the cant of pedantry, the
cobwebs of the law, the iron hand of power. Its object is as mischievous
as the means by which it is pursued are odious. The intention is to
poison the sources of public opinion and of individual fame--to pervert
literature, from being the natural ally of freedom and humanity, into an
engine of priestcraft and despotism, and to undermine the spirit of the
English Constitution and the independence of the English character.
The Editor and his friends systematically explode every principle of
liberty, laugh patriotism and public spirit to scorn, resent every
pretence to integrity as a piece of singularity or insolence, and strike
at the root of all free inquiry or discussion, by running down every
writer as a vile scribbler and a bad member of society, who is not
a hireling and a slave. No means are stuck at in accomplishing this
laudable end. Strong in patronage, they trample on truth, justice, and
decency. They claim the privilege of court-favourites. They keep as
little faith with the public, as with their opponents. No statement in
the _Quarterly Review_ is to be trusted: there is no fact that is not
misrepresented in it, no quotation that is not garbled, no character
that is not slandered, if it can answer the purposes of a party to do
so. The weight of power, of wealth, of rank is thrown into the scale,
gives its impulse to the machine; and the whole is under the guidance of
Mr. Gifford's instinctive genius--of the inborn hatred of servility for
independence, of dulness for talent, of cunning and impudence for truth
and honesty. It costs him no effort to execute his disreputable task--in
being the tool of a crooked policy, he but labours in his natural
vocation. He patches up a rotten system as he would supply the chasms in
a worm-eaten manuscript, from a grovelling incapacity to do any thing
better; thinks that if a single iota in the claims of prerogative and
power were lost, the whole fabric of society would fall upon his
head and crush him; and calculates that his best chance for literary
reputation is by _black-balling_ one half of the competitors as
Jacobins and levellers, and securing the suffrages of the other half in
his favour as a loyal subject and trusty partisan!

Mr. Gifford, as a satirist, is violent and abrupt. He takes obvious or
physical defects, and dwells upon them with much labour and harshness of
invective, but with very little wit or spirit. He expresses a great deal
of anger and contempt, but you cannot tell very well why--except that he
seems to be sore and out of humour. His satire is mere peevishness and
spleen, or something worse--personal antipathy and rancour. We are in
quite as much pain for the writer, as for the object of his resentment.
His address to Peter Pindar is laughable from its outrageousness. He
denounces him as a wretch hateful to God and man, for some of the most
harmless and amusing trifles that ever were written--and the very good-
humour and pleasantry of which, we suspect, constituted their offence in
the eyes of this Drawcansir.--His attacks on Mrs. Robinson were unmanly,
and even those on Mr. Merry and the Della-Cruscan School were much
more ferocious than the occasion warranted. A little affectation and
quaintness of style did not merit such severity of castigation.[C] As a
translator, Mr. Gifford's version of the Roman satirist is the baldest,
and, in parts, the most offensive of all others. We do not know why
he attempted it, unless he had got it in his head that he should thus
follow in the steps of Dryden, as he had already done in those of Pope
in the Baviad and Maeviad. As an editor of old authors, Mr. Gifford is
entitled to considerable praise for the pains he has taken in revising
the text, and for some improvements he has introduced into it. He had
better have spared the notes, in which, though he has detected the
blunders of previous commentators, he has exposed his own ill-temper and
narrowness of feeling more. As a critic, he has thrown no light on the
character and spirit of his authors. He has shewn no striking power of
analysis nor of original illustration, though he has chosen to exercise
his pen on writers most congenial to his own turn of mind, from their
dry and caustic vein; Massinger, and Ben Jonson. What he will make of
Marlowe, it is difficult to guess. He has none of "the fiery quality"
of the poet. Mr. Gifford does not take for his motto on these
occasions--_Spiritus precipitandus est!_--His most successful efforts in
this way are barely respectable. In general, his observations are petty,
ill-concocted, and discover as little _tact_, as they do a habit of
connected reasoning. Thus, for instance, in attempting to add the name
of Massinger to the list of Catholic poets, our minute critic insists
on the profusion of crucifixes, glories, angelic visions, garlands of
roses, and clouds of incense scattered through the _Virgin-Martyr,_ as
evidence of the theological sentiments meant to be inculcated by the
play, when the least reflection might have taught him, that they proved
nothing but the author's poetical conception of the character and
_costume_ of his subject. A writer might, with the same sinister,
short-sighted shrewdness, be accused of Heathenism for talking of Flora
and Ceres in a poem on the Seasons! What are produced as the exclusive
badges and occult proofs of Catholic bigotry, are nothing but the
adventitious ornaments and external symbols, the gross and sensible
language, in a word, the _poetry_ of Christianity in general. What
indeed shews the frivolousness of the whole inference is that Deckar,
who is asserted by our critic to have contributed some of the most
passionate and fantastic of these devotional scenes, is not even
suspected of a leaning to Popery. In like manner, he excuses Massinger
for the grossness of one of his plots (that of the _Unnatural Combat_)
by saying that it was supposed to take place before the Christian era;
by this shallow common-place persuading himself, or fancying he could
persuade others, that the crime in question (which yet on the very face
of the story is made the ground of a tragic catastrophe) was first made
_statutory_ by the Christian religion.

The foregoing is a harsh criticism, and may be thought illiberal. But as
Mr. Gifford assumes a right to say what he pleases of others--they may
be allowed to speak the truth of him!

[Footnote A: What an awkward bed-fellow for a tuft of violets!]

[Footnote B:

"How oft, O Dart! what time the faithful pair
Walk'd forth, the fragrant hour of eve to share,
On thy romantic banks, have my _wild strains_
(Not yet forgot amidst my native plains)
While thou hast sweetly gurgled down the vale.
Filled up the pause of love's delightful tale!
While, ever as she read, the conscious maid,
By faultering voice and downcast looks betray'd,
Would blushing on her lover's neck recline,
And with her finger--point the tenderest line!"

_Maeviad_, pp. 194, 202.

Yet the author assures us just before, that in these "wild strains" "all
was plain."

"Even then (admire, John Bell! my simple ways)
No heaven and hell danced madly through my lays,
No oaths, no execrations; _all was plain_;
Yet trust me, while thy ever jingling train
Chime their sonorous woes with frigid art,
And shock the reason and revolt the heart;
My hopes and fears, in nature's language drest,
Awakened love in many a gentle breast."

_Ibid._ v. 185-92.

If any one else had composed these "wild strains," in which "all is
plain," Mr. Gifford would have accused them of three things, "1.
Downright nonsense. 2. Downright frigidity. 3. Downright doggrel;" and
proceeded to anatomise them very cordially in his way. As it is, he is
thrilled with a very pleasing horror at his former scenes of tenderness,
and "gasps at the recollection" _of watery Aquarius_! _he! jam satis
est!_ "Why rack a grub--a butterfly upon a wheel?"]

[Footnote C: Mr. Merry was even with our author in personality of abuse.
See his Lines on the Story of the Ape that was given in charge to the

* * * * *


The _Quarterly Review_ arose out of the _Edinburgh_, not as a corollary,
but in contradiction to it. An article had appeared in the latter on Don
Pedro Cevallos, which stung the Tories to the quick by the free way in
which it spoke of men and things, and something must be done to check
these _escapades_ of the _Edinburgh_. It was not to be endured that the
truth should _out_ in this manner, even occasionally and half in jest. A
startling shock was thus given to established prejudices, the mask was
taken off from grave hypocrisy, and the most serious consequences were
to be apprehended. The persons who wrote in this Review seemed "to have
their hands full of truths", and now and then, in a fit of spleen or
gaiety, let some of them fly; and while this practice continued, it was
impossible to say that the Monarchy or the Hierarchy was safe. Some of
the arrows glanced, others might stick, and in the end prove fatal. It
was not the principles of the _Edinburgh Review_, but the spirit that
was looked at with jealousy and alarm. The principles were by no means
decidedly hostile to existing institutions: but the spirit was that of
fair and free discussion; a field was open to argument and wit; every
question was tried upon its own ostensible merits, and there was no foul
play. The tone was that of a studied impartiality (which many called
_trimming_) or of a sceptical indifference. This tone of impartiality
and indifference, however, did not at all suit those who profited or
existed by abuses, who breathed the very air of corruption. They know
well enough that "those who are not _for_ them are _against_ them."
They wanted a publication impervious alike to truth and candour; that,
hood-winked itself, should lead public opinion blindfold; that should
stick at nothing to serve the turn of a party; that should be the
exclusive organ of prejudice, the sordid tool of power; that should go
the whole length of want of principle in palliating every dishonest
measure, of want of decency in defaming every honest man; that should
prejudge every question, traduce every opponent; that should give no
quarter to fair inquiry or liberal sentiment; that should be "ugly
all over with hypocrisy", and present one foul blotch of servility,
intolerance, falsehood, spite, and ill-manners. The _Quarterly Review_
was accordingly set up.

"Sithence no fairy lights, no quickning ray,
Nor stir of pulse, nor object to entice
Abroad the spirits; but the cloister'd heart
Sits squat at home, like Pagod in a niche

This event was accordingly hailed (and the omen has been fulfilled!) as
a great relief to all those of his Majesty's subjects who are firmly
convinced that the only way to have things remain exactly as they are is
to put a stop to all inquiries whether they are right or wrong, and that
if you cannot answer a man's arguments, you may at least try to take
away his character.

We do not implicitly bow to the political opinions, nor to the critical
decisions of the _Edinburgh Review_; but we must do justice to the
talent with which they are supported, and to the tone of manly
explicitness in which they are delivered.[A] They are eminently
characteristic of the Spirit of the Age; as it is the express object of
the _Quarterly Review_ to discountenance and extinguish that spirit,
both in theory and practice. The _Edinburgh Review_ stands upon
the ground of opinion; it asserts the supremacy of intellect: the
pre-eminence it claims is from an acknowledged superiority of talent and
information and literary attainment, and it does not build one tittle
of its influence on ignorance, or prejudice, or authority, or personal
malevolence. It takes up a question, and argues it _pro_ and _con_ with
great knowledge and boldness and skill; it points out an absurdity, and
runs it down, fairly, and according to the evidence adduced. In the
former case, its conclusions may be wrong, there may be a bias in the
mind of the writer, but he states the arguments and circumstances on
both sides, from which a judgment is to be formed--it is not his cue,
he has neither the effrontery nor the meanness to falsify facts or to
suppress objections. In the latter case, or where a vein of sarcasm or
irony is resorted to, the ridicule is not barbed by some allusion (false
or true) to private history; the object of it has brought the infliction
on himself by some literary folly or political delinquency which is
referred to as the understood and justifiable provocation, instead
of being held up to scorn as a knave for not being a tool, or as a
blockhead for thinking for himself. In the _Edinburgh Review_ the
talents of those on the opposite side are always extolled _pleno
ore_--in the _Quarterly Review_ they are denied altogether, and the
justice that is in this way withheld from them is compensated by a
proportionable supply of personal abuse. A man of genius who is a lord,
and who publishes with Mr. Murray, may now and then stand as good a
chance as a lord who is not a man of genius and who publishes with
Messrs. Longman: but that is the utmost extent of the impartiality of
the _Quarterly_. From its account you would take Lord Byron and Mr.
Stuart Rose for two very pretty poets; but Mr. Moore's Magdalen Muse is
sent to Bridewell without mercy, to beat hemp in silk-stockings. In
the _Quarterly_ nothing is regarded but the political creed or external
circumstances of a writer: in the _Edinburgh_ nothing is ever adverted
to but his literary merits. Or if there is a bias of any kind, it arises
from an affectation of magnanimity and candour in giving heaped measure
to those on the aristocratic side in politics, and in being critically
severe on others. Thus Sir Walter Scott is lauded to the skies for his
romantic powers, without any allusion to his political demerits (as if
this would be compromising the dignity of genius and of criticism by the
introduction of party-spirit)--while Lord Byron is called to a grave
moral reckoning. There is, however, little of the cant of morality in
the _Edinburgh Review_--and it is quite free from that of religion. It
keeps to its province, which is that of criticism--or to the discussion
of debateable topics, and acquits itself in both with force and spirit.
This is the natural consequence of the composition of the two Reviews.
The one appeals with confidence to its own intellectual resources, to
the variety of its topics, to its very character and existence as a
literary journal, which depend on its setting up no pretensions but
those which it can make good by the talent and ingenuity it can bring to
bear upon them--it therefore meets every question, whether of a lighter
or a graver cast, on its own grounds; the other _blinks_ every question,
for it has no confidence but in _the powers that be_--shuts itself up in
the impregnable fastnesses of authority, or makes some paltry, cowardly
attack (under cover of anonymous criticism) on individuals, or dispenses
its award of merit entirely according to the rank or party of the
writer. The faults of the _Edinburgh Review_ arise out of the very
consciousness of critical and logical power. In political questions it
relies too little on the broad basis of liberty and humanity, enters too
much into mere dry formalities, deals too often in _moot-points_, and
descends too readily to a sort of special-pleading in defence of _home_
truths and natural feelings: in matters of taste and criticism, its tone
is sometimes apt to be supercilious and _cavalier_ from its habitual
faculty of analysing defects and beauties according to given principles,
from its quickness in deciding, from its facility in illustrating its
views. In this latter department it has been guilty of some capital
oversights. The chief was in its treatment of the _Lyrical Ballads_ at
their first appearance--not in its ridicule of their puerilities, but in
its denial of their beauties, because they were included in no school,
because they were reducible to no previous standard or theory of
poetical excellence. For this, however, considerable reparation has been
made by the prompt and liberal spirit that has been shewn in bringing
forward other examples of poetical genius. Its capital sin, in a
doctrinal point of view, has been (we shrewdly suspect) in the uniform
and unqualified encouragement it has bestowed on Mr. Malthus's system.
We do not mean that the _Edinburgh Review_ was to join in the general
_hue and cry_ that was raised against this writer; but while it asserted
the soundness of many of his arguments, and yielded its assent to the
truths he has divulged, it need not have screened his errors. On this
subject alone we think the _Quarterly_ has the advantage of it. But as
the _Quarterly Review_ is a mere mass and tissue of prejudices on
all subjects, it is the foible of the _Edinburgh Review_ to affect a
somewhat fastidious air of superiority over prejudices of all kinds, and
a determination not to indulge in any of the amiable weaknesses of our
nature, except as it can give a reason for the faith that is in it.
Luckily, it is seldom reduced to this alternative: "reasons" are with it
"as plenty as blackberries!"

Mr. Jeffrey is the Editor of the _Edinburgh Review,_ and is understood
to have contributed nearly a fourth part of the articles from its
commencement. No man is better qualified for this situation; nor indeed
so much so. He is certainly a person in advance of the age, and yet
perfectly fitted both from knowledge and habits of mind to put a curb
upon its rash and headlong spirit. He is thoroughly acquainted with the
progress and pretensions of modern literature and philosophy; and to
this he adds the natural acuteness and discrimination of the logician
with the habitual caution and coolness of his profession. If the
_Edinburgh Review_ may be considered as the organ of or at all pledged
to a party, that party is at least a respectable one, and is placed in
the middle between two extremes. The Editor is bound to lend a patient
hearing to the most paradoxical opinions and extravagant theories which
have resulted in our times from the "infinite agitation of wit", but
he is disposed to qualify them by a number of practical objections,
of speculative doubts, of checks and drawbacks, arising out of actual
circumstances and prevailing opinions, or the frailties of human nature.
He has a great range of knowledge, an incessant activity of mind; but
the suspension of his judgment, the well-balanced moderation of his
sentiments, is the consequence of the very discursiveness of his reason.
What may be considered as _a commonplace_ conclusion is often the result
of a comprehensive view of all the circumstances of a case. Paradox,
violence, nay even originality of conception is not seldom owing to our
dwelling long and pertinaciously on some one part of a subject, instead
of attending to the whole. Mr. Jeffrey is neither a bigot nor an
enthusiast. He is not the dupe of the prejudices of others, nor of his
own. He is not wedded to any dogma, he is not long the sport of any
whim; before he can settle in any fond or fantastic opinion, another
starts up to match it, like beads on sparkling wine. A too restless
display of talent, a too undisguised statement of all that can be said
for and against a question, is perhaps the great fault that is to be
attributed to him. Where there is so much power and prejudice to contend
with in the opposite scale, it may be thought that the balance of truth
can hardly be held with a slack or an even hand; and that the infusion
of a little more visionary speculation, of a little more popular
indignation into the great Whig Review would be an advantage both to
itself and to the cause of freedom. Much of this effect is chargeable
less on an Epicurean levity of feeling or on party-trammels, than on
real sanguineness of disposition, and a certain fineness of professional
tact. Our sprightly Scotchman is not of a desponding and gloomy turn of
mind. He argues well for the future hopes of mankind from the smallest
beginnings, watches the slow, gradual, reluctant growth of liberal
views, and smiling sees the aloe of Reform blossom at the end of a
hundred years; while the habitual subtlety of his mind makes him
perceive decided advantages where vulgar ignorance or passion sees only
doubts and difficulty; and a flaw in an adversary's argument stands him
instead of the shout of a mob, the votes of a majority, or the fate of
a pitched battle. The Editor is satisfied with his own conclusions, and
does not make himself uneasy about the fate of mankind. The issue, he
thinks, will verify his moderate and well-founded expectations.--We
believe also that late events have given a more decided turn to Mr.
Jeffrey's mind, and that he feels that as in the struggle between
liberty and slavery, the views of the one party have been laid bare with
their success, so the exertions on the other side should become more
strenuous, and a more positive stand be made against the avowed and
appalling encroachments of priestcraft and arbitrary power.

The characteristics of Mr. Jeffrey's general style as a writer
correspond, we think, with what we have here stated as the
characteristics of his mind. He is a master of the foils; he makes an
exulting display of the dazzling fence of wit and argument. His strength
consists in great range of knowledge, an equal familiarity with the
principles and the details of a subject, and in a glancing brilliancy
and rapidity of style. Indeed, we doubt whether the brilliancy of his
manner does not resolve itself into the rapidity, the variety and
aptness of his illustrations. His pen is never at a loss, never stands
still; and would dazzle for this reason alone, like an eye that is ever
in motion. Mr. Jeffrey is far from a flowery or affected writer; he has
few tropes or figures, still less any odd startling thoughts or quaint
innovations in expression:--but he has a constant supply of ingenious
solutions and pertinent examples; he never proses, never grows dull,
never wears an argument to tatters; and by the number, the liveliness
and facility of his transitions, keeps up that appearance of vivacity,
of novel and sparkling effect, for which others are too often indebted
to singularity of combination or tinsel ornaments.

It may be discovered, by a nice observer, that Mr. Jeffrey's style of
composition is that of a person accustomed to public speaking. There is
no pause, no meagreness, no inanimateness, but a flow, a redundance and
volubility like that of a stream or of a rolling-stone. The language is
more copious than select, and sometimes two or three words perform the
office of one. This copiousness and facility is perhaps an advantage
in _extempore_ speaking, where no stop or break is allowed in the
discourse, and where any word or any number of words almost is better
than coming to a dead stand; but in written compositions it gives an
air of either too much carelessness or too much labour. Mr. Jeffrey's
excellence, as a public speaker, has betrayed him into this peculiarity.
He makes fewer _blots_ in addressing an audience than any one we
remember to have heard. There is not a hair's-breadth space between any
two of his words, nor is there a single expression either ill-chosen or
out of its place. He speaks without stopping to take breath, with ease,
with point, with elegance, and without "spinning the thread of his
verbosity finer than the staple of his argument." He may be said to
weave words into any shapes he pleases for use or ornament, as the
glass-blower moulds the vitreous fluid with his breath; and his
sentences shine like glass from their polished smoothness, and are
equally transparent. His style of eloquence, indeed, is remarkable for
neatness, for correctness, and epigrammatic point; and he has applied
this as a standard to his written compositions, where the very same
degree of correctness and precision produces, from the contrast between
writing and speaking, an agreeable diffuseness, freedom, and animation.
Whenever the Scotch advocate has appeared at the bar of the English
House of Lords, he has been admired by those who were in the habit of
attending to speeches there, as having the greatest fluency of language
and the greatest subtlety of distinction of any one of the profession.
The law-reporters were as little able to follow him from the extreme
rapidity of his utterance as from the tenuity and evanescent nature of
his reasoning.

Mr. Jeffrey's conversation is equally lively, various, and instructive.
There is no subject on which he is not _au fait_: no company in which he
is not ready to scatter his pearls for sport. Whether it be politics, or
poetry, or science, or anecdote, or wit, or raillery, he takes up his
cue without effort, without preparation, and appears equally incapable
of tiring himself or his hearers. His only difficulty seems to be not
to speak, but to be silent. There is a constitutional buoyancy and
elasticity of mind about him that cannot subside into repose, much less
sink into dulness. There may be more original talkers, persons who
occasionally surprise or interest you more; few, if any, with a more
uninterrupted flow of cheerfulness and animal spirits, with a greater
fund of information, and with fewer specimens of the _bathos_ in their
conversation. He is never absurd, nor has he any favourite points
which he is always bringing forward. It cannot be denied that there is
something bordering on petulance of manner, but it is of that least
offensive kind which may be accounted for from merit and from success,
and implies no exclusive pretensions nor the least particle of ill-will
to others. On the contrary, Mr. Jeffrey is profuse of his encomiums and
admiration of others, but still with a certain reservation of a right
to differ or to blame. He cannot rest on one side of a question: he is
obliged by a mercurial habit and disposition to vary his point of view.
If he is ever tedious, it is from an excess of liveliness: he oppresses
from a sense of airy lightness. He is always setting out on a fresh
scent: there are always _relays_ of topics; the harness is put to, and
he rattles away as delightfully and as briskly as ever. New causes are
called; he holds a brief in his hand for every possible question.
This is a fault. Mr. Jeffrey is not obtrusive, is not impatient of
opposition, is not unwilling to be interrupted; but what is said by
another, seems to make no impression on him; he is bound to dispute, to
answer it, as if he was in Court, or as if it were in a paltry Debating
Society, where young beginners were trying their hands. This is not to
maintain a character, or for want of good-nature--it is a thoughtless
habit. He cannot help cross-examining a witness, or stating the
adverse view of the question. He listens not to judge, but to reply.
In consequence of this, you can as little tell the impression your
observations make on him as what weight to assign to his. Mr. Jeffrey
shines in mixed company; he is not good in a _tete-a-tete_. You can only
shew your wisdom or your wit in general society: but in private your
follies or your weaknesses are not the least interesting topics; and our
critic has neither any of his own to confess, nor does he take delight
in hearing those of others. Indeed in Scotland generally, the display of
personal character, the indulging your whims and humours in the presence
of a friend, is not much encouraged--every one there is looked upon in
the light of a machine or a collection of topics. They turn you round
like a cylinder to see what use they can make of you, and drag you into
a dispute with as little ceremony as they would drag out an article from
an Encyclopedia. They criticise every thing, analyse every thing, argue
upon every thing, dogmatise upon every thing; and the bundle of your
habits, feelings, humours, follies and pursuits is regarded by them no
more than a bundle of old clothes. They stop you in a sentiment by a
question or a stare, and cut you short in a narrative by the time of
night. The accomplished and ingenious person of whom we speak, has been
a little infected by the tone of his countrymen--he is too didactic,
too pugnacious, too full of electrical shocks, too much like a voltaic
battery, and reposes too little on his own excellent good sense, his
own love of ease, his cordial frankness of disposition and unaffected
candour. He ought to have belonged to us!

The severest of critics (as he has been sometimes termed) is the
best-natured of men. Whatever there may be of wavering or indecision in
Mr. Jeffrey's reasoning, or of harshness in his critical decisions, in
his disposition there is nothing but simplicity and kindness. He is a
person that no one knows without esteeming, and who both in his public
connections and private friendships, shews the same manly uprightness
and unbiassed independence of spirit. At a distance, in his writings, or
even in his manner, there may be something to excite a little uneasiness
and apprehension: in his conduct there is nothing to except against.
He is a person of strict integrity himself, without pretence or
affectation; and knows how to respect this quality in others, without
prudery or intolerance. He can censure a friend or a stranger, and serve
him effectually at the same time. He expresses his disapprobation, but
not as an excuse for closing up the avenues of his liberality. He is a
Scotchman without one particle of hypocrisy, of cant, of servility, or
selfishness in his composition. He has not been spoiled by fortune--has
not been tempted by power--is firm without violence, friendly without
weakness--a critic and even-tempered, a casuist and an honest man--and
amidst the toils of his profession and the distractions of the world,
retains the gaiety, the unpretending carelessness and simplicity of
youth. Mr. Jeffrey in his person is slight, with a countenance of much
expression, and a voice of great flexibility and acuteness of tone.

[Footnote A: The style of philosophical criticism, which has been the
boast of the Edinburgh Review, was first introduced into the Monthly
Review about the year 1796, in a series of articles by Mr. William
Taylor, of Norwich.]

* * * * *


There is a class of eloquence which has been described and particularly
insisted on, under the style and title of _Irish Eloquence_: there is
another class which it is not absolutely unfair to oppose to this, and
that is the Scotch. The first of these is entirely the offspring of
_impulse_: the last of _mechanism_. The one is as full of fancy as it is
bare of facts: the other excludes all fancy, and is weighed down with
facts. The one is all fire, the other all ice: the one nothing but
enthusiasm, extravagance, eccentricity; the other nothing but logical
deductions, and the most approved postulates. The one without scruple,
nay, with reckless zeal, throws the reins loose on the neck of the
imagination: the other pulls up with a curbbridle, and starts at every
casual object it meets in the way as a bug-bear. The genius of Irish
oratory stands forth in the naked majesty of untutored nature, its eye
glancing wildly round on all objects, its tongue darting forked fire:
the genius of Scottish eloquence is armed in all the panoply of the
schools; its drawling, ambiguous dialect seconds its circumspect
dialectics; from behind the vizor that guards its mouth and shadows
its pent-up brows, it sees no visions but its own set purpose, its own
_data_, and its own dogmas. It "has no figures, nor no fantasies," but
"those which busy care draws in the brains of men," or which set off its
own superior acquirements and wisdom. It scorns to "tread the primrose
path of dalliance"--it shrinks back from it as from a precipice, and
keeps in the iron rail-way of the understanding. Irish oratory, on the
contrary, is a sort of aeronaut: it is always going up in a balloon, and
breaking its neck, or coming down in the parachute. It is filled
full with gaseous matter, with whim and fancy, with alliteration and
antithesis, with heated passion and bloated metaphors, that burst the
slender, silken covering of sense; and the airy pageant, that glittered
in empty space and rose in all the bliss of ignorance, flutters and
sinks down to its native bogs! If the Irish orator riots in a studied
neglect of his subject and a natural confusion of ideas, playing with
words, ranging them into all sorts of fantastic combinations, because in
the unlettered void or chaos of his mind there is no obstacle to their
coalescing into any shapes they please, it must be confessed that the
eloquence of the Scotch is encumbered with an excess of knowledge, that
it cannot get on for a crowd of difficulties, that it staggers under
a load of topics, that it is so environed in the forms of logic and
rhetoric as to be equally precluded from originality or absurdity, from
beauty or deformity:--the plea of humanity is lost by going through the
process of law, the firm and manly tone of principle is exchanged for
the wavering and pitiful cant of policy, the living bursts of passion
are reduced to a defunct _common-place_, and all true imagination
is buried under the dust and rubbish of learned models and imposing
authorities. If the one is a bodiless phantom, the other is a lifeless
skeleton: if the one in its feverish and hectic extravagance resembles a
sick man's dream, the other is akin to the sleep of death--cold, stiff,
unfeeling, monumental! Upon the whole, we despair less of the first than
of the last, for the principle of life and motion is, after all, the
primary condition of all genius. The luxuriant wildness of the one may
be disciplined, and its excesses sobered down into reason; but the dry
and rigid formality of the other can never burst the shell or husk of
oratory. It is true that the one is disfigured by the puerilities and
affectation of a Phillips; but then it is redeemed by the manly sense
and fervour of a Plunket, the impassioned appeals and flashes of wit of
a Curran, and by the golden tide of wisdom, eloquence, and fancy, that
flowed from the lips of a Burke. In the other, we do not sink so low in
the negative series; but we get no higher in the ascending scale than
a Mackintosh or a Brougham.[A] It may be suggested that the late Lord
Erskine enjoyed a higher reputation as an orator than either of these:
but he owed it to a dashing and graceful manner, to presence of mind,
and to great animation in delivering his sentiments. Stripped of these
outward and personal advantages, the matter of his speeches, like that
of his writings, is nothing, or perfectly inert and dead. Mr. Brougham
is from the North of England, but he was educated in Edinburgh, and
represents that school of politics and political economy in the House.
He differs from Sir James Mackintosh in this, that he deals less in
abstract principles, and more in individual details. He makes less use
of general topics, and more of immediate facts. Sir James is better
acquainted with the balance of an argument in old authors; Mr. Brougham
with the balance of power in Europe. If the first is better versed in
the progress of history, no man excels the last in a knowledge of the
course of exchange. He is apprised of the exact state of our exports and
imports, and scarce a ship clears out its cargo at Liverpool or
Hull, but he has notice of the bill of lading. Our colonial policy,
prison-discipline, the state of the Hulks, agricultural distress,
commerce and manufactures, the Bullion question, the Catholic question,
the Bourbons or the Inquisition, "domestic treason, foreign levy,"
nothing can come amiss to him--he is at home in the crooked mazes of
rotten boroughs, is not baffled by Scotch law, and can follow the
meaning of one of Mr. Canning's speeches. With so many resources, with
such variety and solidity of information, Mr. Brougham is rather a
powerful and alarming, than an effectual debater. In so many details
(which he himself goes through with unwearied and unshrinking
resolution) the spirit of the question is lost to others who have not
the same voluntary power of attention or the same interest in hearing
that he has in speaking; the original impulse that urged him forward is
forgotten in so wide a field, in so interminable a career. If he can,
others _cannot_ carry all he knows in their heads at the same time; a
rope of circumstantial evidence does not hold well together, nor drag
the unwilling mind along with it (the willing mind hurries on before it,


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