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“No attempt has been made to remodel any of the pieces which are contained in these volumes. Even the criticism on Milton, which was written when the author was fresh from college, and which contains scarcely a paragraph such as his matured judgment approves, still remains overloaded with gaudy and ungraceful ornament.” Surely half an hour's honest labor would have removed most of these eyesores, or counselled the rejection of the whole article. The chiefest triumphs of Macaulay's critical art are his essays on Warren Hastings, Bacon, and Boswell's Johnson; the former is a model of biography; the man stands out from the canvas with all the necessary associations hanging to him of the great events in which he was so conspicuous an actor, and yet no prolixity or tedious enumeration of public events. It is, however, in the masterly essay on Bacon that for the first time we have an idea presented to the mind of that wonderful man, the Shakspere of science and learning—all is harmonious; it is too well known to need any extracts to justify our praise. The next publication of Mr. Macaulay's, his “Lays of Ancient Rome;” was a singular attempt to vivify decayed life, and though unsuccessful, yet it was an interesting failure; a modern may get a better idea of old Roman manners and habits of thought from this book than from all the histories in the world. It is certainly a half resuscitation of a mummy. We shall pass over this work to come to his last and greatest labor, his History of England—as this is the most matured of his productions, we shall endeavor to illustrate his style and peculiarities of mind from this valuable treasury of fact and thought. There are many writers who display as much understanding; more who show greater research; others have more humor, but we venture to say there is no writer of modern times who combines the necessary quantity of these various faculties in so harmonious a manner: added to this, he has considerable logical acuteness" a fine taste, and over all, his prose is the very finest of modern times we have read. No writer of the day has the same power of divesting subjects of their difficulties and obscurities, and placing the naked question before you stripped of its adventitious garments. How frequently, on the other hand, has he thrown a robe of beauty and interest round an unpromising and prosaic matter of either history, finance, or legislation. But the very qualities which render him an admirable critic where the judgment is brought into superior play, such as on subjects of history, philosophy, finance and politics, altogether incapacitate him for the highest office of the critic ; we mean the setting forth the beauty and the mystery of poetry. All must be tangible, logical, or matter of fact, and he will then cement these uninviting masses into a fine eloquent system; but trust him with a . Keat's, a Coleridge, or a Shelley, and his deficiency of imagination, or want of power to appreciate it, is most striking. The ancient ballads just referred to are damning facts against his having either the spirit of the poet, or the power of feeling its presence. Yet there are passages in his writings so fine, so rhetorical, so like the prose part of a Childe Harold, that we feel half to doubt the truth that stares us in the face whenever we read a critique of Mr. Macaulay's on the loftier kind of poetry. We use the word loftier advisedly, because no man is better able to appreciate Dryden or Pope, Crabbe, Scott and Rogers, or those poets where artifice logic and close reasoning abound: where eloquent special pleading, and glowing declamation reign, instead of the truth and the faculty divine; these writers we feel cannot desire a more liberal or sagacious exponent: but when he approaches the tender exuberance of Keats, the daring subtilty and metaphysical brilliancy of Shelley, and the supernatural chaunts of Coleridge, then he endeavors to show to the world that they address a faculty not in the sparkling essayes and eloquent historian. It may seem ungracious to dwell upon a deficiency of mind,
* but our critics must submit to be told that they should not meddle with matters above them. They treat all alike; they test the racer by the pack horse, and deny merit to an Eclipse or a Cymba, because it is not like a brewer's drayhorse. We shall now proceed to illustrate Mr. Macaulay's mind, by extracts from his last, and greatest work, requesting in return that when he sits in judgment. on any poet, he will extend a like generosity to him.
Our readers must not suppose, because we commence our quo
tations with the first paragraph of his history, that we are going to reprint it all. The following passage is so characteristic that we give it entire. It reminds us of the simplicity of Herodotus' opening sentence.
“I propose to write the history of England from the accession of king James II, down to a time which is within the memory of men still living.
“I shall recount the errors which, in a few months, alienated a legal gentry and priesthood from the House of Stuart. I shall trace the course of that revolution which terminated the long struggle between our sovereigns and their parliament, and bound up together the rights of the people and the title of the reigning dynasty. I shall relate how the new settlement was, during many troubled' years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how under that settlement the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known ; how from the auspicious union of order and freedom sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among the European powers. How her opulence and her martial glory grew together; how by wise and resolute good faith, was gradually established a public credit fruitful of marvels which to the statesmen of any former age would have seemed incredible; how a gigantic commerce gave birth to a maritime power compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance; how Scotland, after ages of enmity, was at length united to England, not merely by legal bonds, but by the indissoluble ties of interest and affection. How in America the British colonies rapidly became far mightier and wealthier, than the realms which Cortez and Pizarro had added to the dominions of Charles W: How in Asia British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid, and more durable than that of Alexander.
How clearly a fine writer sketches roughly before he begins the plan of his work, without in any way anticipating the interest or weakening the effort.
As a contrast to the simplicity of the foregoing passage, we transcribe the death of Charles II.
“His palace had seldom presented a gayer or more scandalous appearance than on the evening of Sunday the 1st of February, 1685. Some grave persons who had gone thither, after the fashion of the times, to pay their duty to their sovereign, and who had expected on such a day his court would wear a decent aspect, were struck with astonishment and horror. The great gallery of Whitehall, an admirable relic of the magnificence of the Tudors, was crowded with revellers and gamblers. The king sat there chatting and toying with three women, whose charms were the boast, and whose vices were the disgrace, of three nations.
“Barbara Palmer, duchess of Cleveland, was there, no longer young, but still retaining some traces of that superb and voluptuous loveliness which twenty years before overcame the hearts of all men. There too was the duchess of Portsmouth, whose soft and infantine features were lighted up with the vivacity of France. Hortensia Mancini, duchess of Mazarin, and niece of the great Cardinal, completed the group. She had been early removed from *her native Italy, to the court where her uncle was supreme. His power and her attractions had drawn a crowd of illustrious suitars round her. Charles himself, during his exile, had sought her hand in vain. No gift of virtue or fortune seemed to be wanting to her. Her face was beautiful with the rich beauty of the South; her understanding was quick, her manners graceful, her rank exalted, her possessions immense, but her ungovernable passions had
turned all these blessings into curses. # # * 3: * # * “While Charles flirted with his three sultanas, Hortensius' French page warbled some amorous verses.
“A party of twenty courtiers was seated at cards round a large table on which gold was heaped in mountains. Even then the king had complained that he did not feel quite well. He had no appetite for his supper; his rest that night was broken, but on the following morning he rose, as usual, early.
* * # # # # # *
“Scarcely had Charles risen from his bed, when his attendants perceived that his utterance was indistinct, and that his thoughts seemed to be wandering.
“Several men of rank had, as usual, assembled to see their sovereign shaved and dressed.
“He made an effort to converse with them in his usual gay style, but his ghastly look surprised and alarmed them. Soon his face grew black; his eyes turned in his head; he uttered a cry, staggered and fell into the arms of Thomas Lord Bruce, eldest son of the Earl of Ailesbury. A physician who had charge of the royal retorts and crucibles, happened to be present. He had no lancet, but he opened a vein with a penknife. The blood flowed freely, but the king was still insensible.
“He was laid on his bed, where, during a short time, the duchess of Portsmouth hung over him with the familiarity of a wife. But the alarm had been
given. The queen and the Duchess of York were hastening to the room. The favorite concubine was forced to retire to her own apartments. Those apartments had been thrice pulled down, and thrice rebuilt by her lover to gratify her caprice. The very furniture of the chimney was massive silver. Several fine paintings, which properly belonged to the queen, had been transferred to the dwelling of the mistress. The sideboards were piled with richly wrought plate. In the niches stood cabinets, the master-pieces of Japanese art. On the hangings, fresh from the looms of Paris, were depicted, in tints which no English tapestry could rival, birds of gorgeous plumage, landscapes and hunting matches. In the midst of this splendor, purchased by guilt and shame, the unhappy woman gave herself up to an agony of grief, which, to do her justice, was not wholly selfish. * # * # # * # *
“The patient was bled largely. Hot iron was applied to his head; a loathsome, volatile salt, extracted from human skulls, was forced into his mouth. He recovered his senses, but he was evidently in a situation of extreme danger.
“The queen was for a time assiduous in her attendance,
# * * # # # + #
“On the morning of Thursday the London Gazette announced that his majesty was going on well, and was thought by the physicians to be out of danger # * # but in the evening it was known that a relapse had taken place.
“The king was in great pain, and complained that he felt as if a fire were burning within him; yet he bore up with a fortitude which did not seem to belong to his selfish and luxurious nature. The sight of his misery affected his wife so much that she fainted, and was carried senseless to her chamber. The prelates who were in waiting had from the first exhorted him to prepare for his end. They now thought it their duty to address him in a still more urgent manner. William Sancroft, an honest and pious, though narrow-minded man, used great freedom. “It is time,’ said he, “to speak out, for sure you are about to appear before a judge who is no respecter of persons.”
“Charles, however, was unmoved. He made no objection, indeed, when the service for the visitation of the sick was read, but nothing could induce him to take the Eucharist from the hands of the bishops. A table with bread and