Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

enough; yet, how repeatedly are laxity of opinion or latitudinarianism of creed, and kindness of heart confounded !

Although Sir James possessed so great aptitude for literary composition, the intellectual exercise in which he most delighted, and in which his fine powers and varied acquisitions were exhibited with most satisfaction to himself and most gratification to others, was, conversation. “The companion of all the most distinguished men of his own time, Sheridan, Parr, Burke, Romilly; as intimately acquainted with all the great men of antiquity; with a mind replete with ancient lore and modern anecdote; equally ready on all subjects, philosophy, history, politics, personal narrative; eloquent without pomposity, learned without pedantry, gay, and even witty, without affectation; there never was a man possessed of more advantages for colloquial intercourse.' Of these fascinating displays of his moral qualities and intellectual powers, few traces, we fear, survive, except in the recollections of his friends; but some of his remarks, taken down at the time (in 1817), have been preserved by his American visiter, who was much struck with the copiousness, elegance, originality, and point of his conversation. As the journal in which they appear, is probably seen by few of our readers, we shall make room for the

* We cannot refrain from observing, that the article from which we have cited this panegyric on Sir James Mackintosh, contains one of the most flagrant instances that we have ever met with, of that spurious tolerance which levels all creeds, places the essence of virtue in the intellect, and enthrones mind upon the ruins of every religious principle. The frigid, cheerless if, with which the following sentence opens, borrowed from a pagan historian, and worthy of the negative creed of a disciple of Priestley, is a fit introduction to the impiety with which it closes, and to the prostitution of language which would seem to make a blind, sinful, erring man 'the image of the invisible God.' . If there be,-as we all believe and hope,-another and a better world, where the wise and good repose together from the troubles of this, we cannot doubt that Mackintosh is now among its favoured tenants,enjoying the communion of the high and gifted minds whom he always so much loved and admired, the Platos, the Stewarts, the Burkes, the Ciceros, -and dwelling in the nearer presence of that sublime Spirit, whose ineffable glories he has so eloquently though faintly shadowed forth in so many splendid passages of his writings.' It is but too evident, that “ to be with Christ", forms no element of this Writer's joyful anticipations of the heavenly society. Alas ! that, in the city of the Pilgrims, such sentiments as these should pass for the eloquence of piety. The Si quis piorum manibus locus,-si, ut sapientibus placet, non cum corpore exstinguuntur magnæ animæ '—of the classic Roman, affects us not more by its beauty, than by its approximation to Christian sentiment. In the American writer, the case is reversed : we are startled at the approximation to heathenism.

whole, without any apprehension that they will complain of the length to which it will extend this article.

«« Shakspeare, Milton, Locke, and Newton, are four names beyond competition superior to any that the continent can put against them.-It was a proof of singular and very graceful modesty in Gray, that, after bestowing upon Shakspeare a high eulogium in the Progress of Poetry, he did

not, when proceeding to the character of Milton, rashly decide upon their relative merit. Every half-read critic affirms at once, according to his peculiar taste or the caprice of the moment, that one or the other is the superior poet ; but when Gray comes to Milton, he only say8,—

«« Nor second he that rode sublime

Upon the seraph wings of ecstacy."
Dryden he assigns to an inferior class :-
«« Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car,

Wide o'er the fields of glory bear

Two coursers of inferior race,” &c.' • The writer observed, that the German critics call Dryden a man walking upon stilts in a marsh.-Sir James :-“Depend upon it, they do not understand the language.-Shakspeare's great superiority over other writers consists in his deep knowledge of human nature.

Châteaubriand says of him, Il a souvent des mols terribles. It has been thought by some, that those observations upon human nature which appear so profound and remarkable, may, after all, lie nearest to the surface, and be taken up most naturally by the early writers in every language; but we do not find them in Homer. Homer is the finest ballad-writer in any language. The flow and fullness of his style is beautiful; but he has nothing of the deep, piercing observation of Shakspeare."

• The writer mentioned that he had been at St. Paul's, and spoke of the statues of Johnson, Sir William Jones, and others that he had seen there. Sir James :

:-“ It is a noble editice, to be sure, and we have some great men there; but it would be too much to expect that the glory of the second temple should equal that of the first. One country is not sufficient for two such repositories as Westminster Abbey. Boswell's Life of Johnson has given a wrong impression of him in some respects. When we see four large volumes written upon a man's conversation, through a period of forty years, and his remarks alone set down, of all those made at the time, we naturally take the idea that Johnson was the central point of society for all that period. The truth is, he never was in good society; at least, in those circles where men of letters mix with the fashionable world. His brutal, intolerant manners excluded him from it, of course. He met good society, to be sure, at the Literary Club and at Sir Joshua Reynolds's.— Gibbon was asked why he did not talk more in the presence of Dr. Johnson. "Sir,' replied the historian, taking a pinch of snuff, I have no pretensions to the ability of contending with Dr. Johnson in brutality and insolence."" rós Sir William Jones was not a man of first-rate talent;- he had great

6

It may

facility of acquisition, but not a mind of the highest order. Reason and imagination are the two great intellectual faculties, and he was certainly not pre-eminent in either. His poetry is indifferent, and his other writings are agreeable, but not profound. He was, however, a most amiable and excellent man."

• Speaking of the poets of the day, Sir James observed:—“I very much doubt whether Scott will survive long. Hitherto, nothing has stood the test of time, but laboured and finished verse ; and of this, Scott has none. If I were to say which of the poets of the day is most likely to be read hereafter, I should give my opinion in favour of some of Campbell's poens. Scott, however, has a wonderful fertility and vivacity.' be proper to add, that the allusion is here exclusively to the poetry of Scott. The Waverley novels were not generally attributed to him at the time when the remark was made. Rogers's Pleasures of Memory has one good line,

• The only pleasures we can call our own.' It is remarkable that this poem is very popular. A new edition of it is printed every year. It brings the author in about 2001.

per annum, and yet its principal merit is its finished, perfect versification, which one would think the people could hardly enjoy. The subject, however, recommends itself very much to all classes of readers."

• The writer commended highly the language of Sir William Scott's opinions. Sir James :-“There is a little too much elegance for judicial dicta, and a little unfairness in always attempting to found the judgement upon the circumstances of the case, perhaps slight ones, rather than general principles. Sir William is one of the most entertaining men to be met with in society. His style is by no means so pure and classical as that of Blackstone, which is one of the finest models in the English language. Middleton and he are the two best, in their way, of the writers of their period. Middleton's Free Inquiry is an instance of great prudence and moderation in drawing conclusions respecting particular facts from general principles. His premises would have carried him much further than he has gone. There are many

fine

passages in his Life of Cicero." Sir James said, that he had received from Mr. Wortman a collection of specimens of American eloquence, and that Mr. Wortman had given it as his opinion, that the faculty of eloquence was more general in America than in England, though some individual Eng. lishmen might perhaps possess it in a higher degree. The writer remarked, that he thought our best orators but little inferior to the best orators of the present day in England; and mentioned Mr. Otis, Mr. Randolph, and Mr. Pinkney. Sir James :-" I have not seen any of Mr. Otis's speeches. I have read some of Randolph's, but the effect must depend very much on the manner. There is a good deal of vulgar finery. Malice there is, too, but that would be excusable, provided it were in good taste.

"“ Mr. Adams's Defence of the Constitution is not a first-rate work. He lays too much stress upon the examples of small and insignificant States, and looks too much at the external form of governments, which is, in general, a very indifferent criterion of their character.

His fundamental principle of securing government, by a balance of power between two houses and an executive, does not strike me as very just or important. It is a mere puerility to suppose that three branches, and no more nor less, are essential to political salvation. In this country, where there are nominally three branches, the real sovereignty resides in the House of Commons. Two branches are no doubt expedient, as far as they induce deliberation and mature judgement on the measures proposed.”.

• The writer mentioned Mr. Adams's opinion, (as expressed in a letter to Dr. Price,) that the French Revolution failed because the legislative body consisted of one branch, and not two. Sir James : “ That circumstance may have precipitated matters a little, but the degraded situation of the Tiers Etat was the principal cause of the failure. The entire separation in society between the noblesse and the professions, destroyed the respectability of the latter, and deprived them in a great degree of popular confidence. In England, eminent and successful professional men rise to an equality in importance and rank with the first nobles, take by much the larger share in the government, and bring with them to it the confidence of the people. This will for ever prevent any popular revolution in the country.—The Federalist is a well written work.

«« The remarkable private morality of the New England States, is worth attention, especially when taken in connexion with the very

moral character of the poorer people in Scotland, Holland, and Switzerland. It is rather singular, that all these countries, which are more moral than any others, are precisely those in which Calvinism is predominant,” The writer mentioned, that Boston and Cambridge had in a great measure abandoned Calvinism. Sir James:“I am rather surprised at that; but the same thing has happened in other places similarly situated. Boston, Geneva, and Edinburgh might once have been considered as the three high places of Calvinism, and the enemy is now, it seems, in full possession of them all. The fact appears to be a consequence of the principle of reaction, which operates as universally in the moral as in the physical world.-Jonathan Edwards was a man of great merit. His Treatise on the Will is a most profound and acute disquisition. The English Calvinists have produced nothing to be put in competition with it. He was one of the greatest men who have owned the authority of Calvin, and there have been a great many. Calvin himself had a very strong and acute mind.Sir Henry Vane was one of the most profound minds that ever existed ; not inferior, perhaps, to Bacon. Milton has a fine sonnet addressed to him,

“ Vane, young in years, in sage experience old." His works, which are theological, are extremely rare, and display astonishing powers. They are remarkable as containing the first direct assertion of the liberty of conscience. He was put to death in a most perfidious manner. I am proud, as a friend of liberty, and as an Englishman, of the men that resisted the tyranny of Charles I. Even when they went to excess, and put to death the king, they did it in a much more decorous manner than their imitators in France. Thomson says of them, with great justice, in his florid way,

“ First at thy call, her age of men effulged,” &c.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« ElőzőTovább »