Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

cases we can extend but little aid. Each must fight for himself. So did Coleridge, and so did De Quincey. We can only sympathize with their agonies, admire their triumphs, or deplore their loss.

But when we turn from the opium-eater as a man to the opium-eater as an author, we are justified in pursuing a far different course. In judging of the merits of De Quincey as a writer, we must ever bear in mind the influence which opium may have had upon his intellect, his fancy, and his productions. This key will unlock for us the secret of many of the discrepancies of his genius. De Quincey's brilliant, but lengthy and uncertain paragraphs, though offset by occasional well-cut lines of logic and satire, exhibit the painful vacillations of his life.

If any man ever had such dreams as De Quincey, certainly no one has possessed the faculty of reproducing them on paper. This is a talent we must regard as peculiar to him alone; and it is one of the most singular and wonderful features of his kaleidoscopic mind.

Let not the inexperienced imagine, however, that it is opium, independent of the mental power of the subject, which, “ from the anarchy of dreaming sleep,” can call into being that awful, though magnificent, train of imagery which distinguishes the English opium-eater; nor even that, had they such splendid auguries, it would be easy to commit them to paper. Most men's sleeping partake of the bias of their waking thoughts; many would “ dream dreams” sensual and devilish.

De Quincey thinks that Homer, and the dramatist Shadwell, among authors, were acquainted with, and perhaps employed, opium as a stimulant to the imagination. He also tells us, – on what authority we know not, — that Dryden and Fuseli were in the habit of eating raw meat to dream on. We fancy it might be as efficacious as the school-girl's recipe of weddingcake. It is notorious that opium-eating is somewhat in vogue among professional and literary men, to raise the fancy or intellect to the level of great efforts.

Tennyson has much of the dreaminess of De Quincey, though we would not ascribe it to the same cause. His

“ Lotos-Eaters” is peculiarly applicable to the present subject.

“ In the afternoon they came unto a land,

In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon ;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.

“ A land where all things always seemed the same!

And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,

The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
“ Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far, far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seemed, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

“How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!

To hear each other's whispered speech;
Eating the Lotos, day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender-curving lines of creamy spray:
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly

To the influence of mild-minded melancholy." With all his physical infirmities, De Quincey walked miles bareheaded among the mountains and lakes near Grasmere; and, we are told, took very regular exercise, even at an advanced age. He was both manly and brave. And he resented a libellous attack upon himself with dignity and spirit.

De Quincey possessed that rare talent of being a good talker. Coleridge and Johnson were argumentative, arrogant, and, to some degree, egotistical. The opium-eater is said to have been most charming in a sustained conversation ; bringing all his peculiar powers to bear with almost equal facility upon any subject, and, while impressing by his logic and learning, delighting with his brilliancy of imagination and fluency of speech. In religious belief he was a firm Churchman, whose wide reading and liberal culture served to quicken his faith rather than to awaken scepticism.

He wrote hastily, both from a certain nervous irritability, which all writers feel when thought outstrips the mechanical power of committing it to paper, — and also to meet the unyielding requisitions of the Reviews. Many of his essays, he says, were written away from libraries, or any accessible books. No stronger proof could be needed of the extent of his reading and the tenacity of his memory. It would be difficult, also, to find any other author who embraced so wide a variety of topics, and treated them with such uniform ability.

While his works will readily bear the test of time, they are to be judged, in some measure, by the standard of the age in which he lived. De Quincey was brought up in what we shall term the Ideal period of English literature; a time when matter is more thought of than manner, — ideas, than their expression. A time, too, when the tendency is to refine our general notions in accordance with some fancied spiritual direction. Not only would this general tendency affect any author, but the opium-eater was intimate with the gigantic, but vague Coleridge; and with Wordsworth, essentially an ideal poet. Add to this his familiarity with German literature, and the influence of opium, and we have a sufficient explanation of De Quincey's inclination for the spiritual and ästhetic, rather than practical every-day life ; and of his tendency to fall into modes of expression sometimes rambling and incoherent. While we laud his genius, we are not blind to his faults. Though he never twaddles, nor becomes so far involved in mysticism as to be transcendental, yet his logical acumen does not always prevent him from wandering from the point, straying into weary parentheses, and losing his reader's attention in labyrinthine foot-notes, which would better form an excursus by themselves. To his honor be it spoken, however, that he has not also drifted into the exaggerated sentimentalism of the Continental schools, but has preserved so healthy a tone both in æsthetics and in religion.

His fanciful thoughts are meteoric, and unlike anything seen before or since; and they attract the gaze, like the comet, by their brilliancy, singularity, and erratic course.

De Quincey addresses the intellect through the medium of scholastic, but pure language. His diction is ornate, but not laborious, learned, but not pedantic. At the same time, he uses many idiomatic expressions. Familiar with the Greek of Aristophanes as with that of the tragic writers, he can employ the slang of the classics as well as that of the street. Hellenisms, rich in meaning, crop out among the strata of his native tongue. He draws from every source, and coerces the thousand foreign springs which have fed the great stream of the English language, to illustrate his meaning and obey his will.

His language is like the prism, breaking up single rays of ideas into their primitive elements, multiplying and coloring them until they dazzle with their new variety of hue and form. His thoughts run off into so many single arias of expression, that the common reader loses many of them before they reunite in the choral chord of the concluding symphony.

He excels in broad, far-sighted generalizations, which, like the revelations of the telescope, though sublime, are often indistinct and nebulous; affording glimpses of potential worlds, rather than defining clearly the objects in its field of vision.

How shall we speak of the more impassioned and wonderful portions of De Quincey's writings, which are contained in the “Confessions” and the “ Suspiria de Profundis " ? Here is an exaltation of imagination, a tropical exuberance of fancy, a pomp and majesty of diction, which defy description.

Near the Campo Santo of Pisa, — which has ever been deemed of peculiar sanctity, since its earth was brought from the Holy Land, — stands that celebrated Campanile, whose apparent insecurity and aerial aspect have made it the wonder of all times, and the single seeming exception to the laws of gravity and architecture. Time, which has reassured the observer as to the chances of its falling, has yearly rendered it more uncertain whether its peculiar inclination was originally the result of accident or design. And the eye, satiated with all the common lines of column, dome, or spire in other edifices, is struck as with a new beauty in the unique position of the “ leaning tower.”

So De Quincey, ornate with learning, but bowed by suffering, stands among other authors peculiar and alone. When the first feeling of fear for his fate is over, we almost wonder, as we admire him, whether the terrible bent which opium has given to his genius is really due to his habits, or to the influences of his singular mind; and we hesitate long before we admit that we do not like him better as he is, than if he were straight like other men.

ART. V. – MODERN ROMANISM AND MODERN PROTES

TANTISM.

Protestantism and Catholicity compared in their Effects on the Civiliza

tion of Europe. By the Rev. J. BALMEZ. Translated from the French Version by C. J. HANFORD, and R. KERSHAW. London: James Burns. 1849.

WE quote the title of a work classic in its way, and deserving not only of the study of theologians, but to take its place on the shelves of general scholars and historical students, beside the works of Guizot and Hallam. The historical periods which it sketches, and the social revolutions of which it treats, deserve a more broad and impartial study than is usually given to them, or than can be given by the knowledge of Protestant books alone. It is the interest both of philosophy and morals, as well as of scientific theology, that a voice in the discussion should be had by that Church which claims to be the only and complete representative of the great Catholic power of the Middle Age. And a book written like this of Abbé Balmez, expressly to guard and forewarn the strongholds of modern Romanism from the encroachment of dissent, has a particular claim on us for attentive study and fair appreciation.

A large portion of this work, it is needless to say, consists of the stereotype and ex parte statements of Romanists respecting the Protestant movement of the sixteenth and seven

« ElőzőTovább »