Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

ich begressing

importa cop

casily reach, if he pleases, as far into remoteness and magnificence as the aphelion of a comet, for an object of illustrative comparison, he is not afraid to turn to literary account in the next paragraph, even a thing of so little dignity as those. fastenings of garments called hooks and eyes. But the fault we venture to charge is, analogously to what we have said of the more austerely intellectual parts of the composition, the frequent extension of a figure into a multiformity which beguiles both the author and the reader from the direct and pressing pursuit of the main object. When the object is grave and important truth, the beauties of imagery, when introduced with a copiousness greatly beyond the strictest necessities of explanation, should be so managed as to be like flowery horders of a road: the way may have on each side every variety of beauty, every charm of shape, and hue and scent, to regale the traveller: but, it should still be absolutely a road-going right 011---with defined and near limits--and not widening out into a spacious and intricate wilderness of these beauties, where the man that was to travel is seduced to wander. When an apt figure occurs to our author, his imagination (which has received with wonderful accuracy, and retained with wonderful fidelity, all the ascertainable points of appearance and quality of almost all objects,) instantaneously expands, and finishes this figure, within his own mind, into a complete object or scene, with all its absolute and relative distinctions and cireumá stances; and his intellectual subtlety suddenly perceives, besides its principal and most obvious analogy with the abstract 'truth he is stating, various other more refined and minute analogies and appositenesses, which are more gratifying to his own mind than the leading analogy, partly from the consideration that only a very acute perception would have discerned them, and partly because a double intellectual luckiness is more, unusual than a single one. Now, we have mentioned the complexity of appositeness, the several-fold relation between the figure and the truth to which it is brought as correspondent, as one of the excellencies, of our author's figures : and we have done so, because none but a writer of great genius will very frequently fall on such figures--and because a very specific rather than a merely general relation, an interior and essential rather than a superficial and circumstantial analogy, between the subject and the corresponding figure, is a great excellence as exhibiting the laws of reason prevalent through the operations of imagination; and it would often be found that the specific and pointed appropriateness of the comparison consists in its containing a double analogy. But when a

time, 'cas not com pleased mely recone numberuch beyond

subtle intelligence, perceiving something much beyond this duplicity of relation, introduces a number of perhaps real and exquisite, but extremely recondite correspondences, the reader, though pleased with the sagacious perception, so long as not confused by the complexity, is, at the same time, certainly diverted from the leading purpose of the discourse.

It is not alone in the detection of refined analogies that our author too much amplifies bis figurative illustrations. He does it sometimes in the way of merely perfecting, for the sake of its own completeness, the representation of the thing which furnishes the figure, which is often donc equally with philosophical accuracy and poetic beauty. But ihus extended into particularity, the illustration exhibits a number of colours, and combinations, and branchings of imagery, neither needful nor useful to the main intellectual purpose. Our anthor is therefore sometimes like a man, who, in a work that requires the use of wood, but requires it only in the plain bare form of straight-shaped poles and stakes, should insist that it shall be living wood, retaining all its twigs leaves and blossoms. Or, if we might compare the series of ideas in a composition to a military line, we should say that many of our author's images, and of even his niore abstracted conceptions, are supernumerarily attended by so many related, but secondary and subordinate ideas, that the array of thought bears some resemblance to what that military line would be, if many of the men, veritable and brave soldiers all the while, stood in the ranks surrounded with their wives and children.

Of the properties which we have attempted, we sincerely acknowledge very inadequately, to discriminate and describe as characteristic of our author's mode of writing, the result is-that readers of ordinary, though tolerably cultivated faculties, feel a certain deficiency of the effective force which they believe such an extraordinary course of thinking ought to have on their minds. They feel, decisively, that they are under the tuition of a most uncommonly powerful and far-seeing spirit, that penetrates into the essences of things, and can also strongly define their forms and even their shadows--and that is quite in earnest to communicate, while they are equally in earnest to obtain, the most important principles which such a mind has deduced from a severe examination of a vast variety of facts and books. Aód yet there is some kind of haze in the medium through which this spirit transmits its light, or, there is some vexatious dimness in the mental faculty of seeing :

and "tary like the secon

so that looking back from the end of an essay, or of the volume, they really do not feel themselves in possession of any thing like the full value of as much ingenious, and sagacious, and richly illustrated thinking as ever, probably, was contained in the same proportion of writing.

We would not set down much of the difficulty of com. prehending, so much coinplained of, to the language, so far as it is distinguishable from the thought ; with the exception of here and there a scholastic phrase, and a certain degree of peculiarity in the use of one or two termsespecially, reason, which he uses in a sense in which he endeavours to explain and prove, that all men are in equall; full possession of the faculty which it denominates. Excepting so far as a slight tinge of antiqueness indicates the influence of our older writers, especially Milton and Bacon, on the complexion of our author's language, it is of a construction original in the greatest possible degree. That it could not well be otherwise may easily be supposed, when, premising, as we have done, the originality of the author's manner of thinking, we observe that the diction is in a most extraordinary degree conformed to the thought. It lies, if we may so speak, close to the mental surface, with all its irregularities, throughout. It is therefore perpetually varying, in perfect flexibility and obsequiousiiess to the ideas; and, without any rhetorical regulation of its changes, or apparent design, or consciousness in the writer, is in succession popular and scientific, familiar and magnificent, secular and theological, plain and poetical. It has none of the phrases or combinations of oratorical common-place: it has no settled and favourite appropriations of certain adjectives to certain substantives: its manner of expressing an idea once, gives the reader no guess how the same idea will be expressed when it comes modified by a different combination. The writer considers the whole congregation of words, constituting our language, as something so perfectly and independently his own, that he may make any kind of use of any part of it that his thinking requires. Almost every page therefore, presents unusual combinations of words, that appear not so much made for the thought as made by it, and often give, if we may so express it, the very colour, as well as the substantial form, of the idea. There is no settled construction or cadence of the sentences; no two, perhaps, of about the same length being constructed in the same manner. From the complexity and extended combination of the thought, they are generally long, which the author something less than half-apologizes for, and therefore some. thing more than half defends. We will quote what he says on this point.

Doubtless, too, I have in some measure injured my style, in respect to its facility and popularity, from having almost confined my reading, of late years, to the works of the ancients and those of the elder writers in the modern languages. We insensibly admire what we habitually imitate; and an aversion to the epigrammatic unconnected periods of the fashionable Anglo-Gallican taste, has too often made me willing to forget, that the stately march and difficult evolutions, which characterize the eloquence of Hooker, Bacon, Milton, and Jeremy Taylor, are, notwithstanding their intrinsic excellence, still less suited to a periodical essay. This fault I am now endeavouring to correct, though I can never so far sacrifice my judgement to the desire of being immediately popular, as to cast my sentences in the French moulds, or affect a style which an ancient critic would have deemed purposely invented for persons troubled with asthma to read,

and for those to comprehend who labour under the more pitiable - asthma of a short-witted intellect. It cannot but be injurious to the human mind never to be called into effort ; and the habit of receiving pleasure without any exercise of thought, by the mere excitement of curiosity and sensibility, may be justly ranked among the worst effects of novel-reading. It is true, that these short and unconnected sentences are easily and instantly understood : but it is equally true, that, wanting all the cement of thought as well as of style, all the connections, and (if you will forgive so trivial a metaphor) all the hooks-and-eyes of the memory, they are as easily forgotten; or rather, it is scarcely possible they should be remembered. Nor is it less true that those who confine their reading to such books, dwarf their own faculties, and finally reduce their understandings to a deplorable imbecility.' p. 166

He might, in contradiction to 'the vulgar notion that long sentences necessarily shew the author guilty of what is termed diffuseness, have added, that length of sentences furnishes a capital mean of being concise; that, in fact, whoever is determined on the greatest possible parsi:nony of words, must write in long sentences, if there is any thing like combination in his thoughts. For, in a long sentence, -several indispensable conditionalties, collateral notices, and qualifying or connecting circumstances, may be expressed by short members of the sentence, which must else be put in so many separate sentences; thus making two pages of short sentences to express, and in a much less connecied manner, what one well-constructed long sentence wouid have expressed in half a page :~and yet an unthinking reader might. very possibly cite these two pages as a specimen of concise writing, and such a half page as a sample of diffuseness.

We had intended to make a few renarks on the several essays in this volume, considered as to their subjects; and

on the most prominent of the principles endeavoured to. be illustrated and established. But we have dwelt so long on the more general qualities of its intellectual and }iterary character, that our readers will very willingly excuse us from prolonging a course of observations, in which we'. have by no means succeeded to our wish in the attempt to convey a general idea of the most extraordinary production that has, at any time, come under our official notice. We confess, too, that we should feel no small degree of diffidence in undertaking any thing like an analysis of disquisitions so abstruse, so little reduced to the formal arrangement of system, so interrupted and unfinished, and so often diverging to a great distance from the leading direction.

The subjects largely discussed are few. Among them are, the duty and laws of communicating truth, including the liberty of the press ; the theories of the several most celebrated political philosophers, or schools of pbilosophers; errors of party spirit ; vulgar errors respecting taxation; the law of nations; Paley's doctrine of general consequences as the foundation of the criterion of morality; sketches of Sir Alexander Ball; the proper discipline for rising, in point of intellectual freedom and vigour, above the gi eral state of the age; and several other topics of less comprehensive denomination. But no adequate guess can be made, from these denominations, at the variety and latitude of the inquiries and observations. There is not a great deal expressly on the subject of religion; the intended statement of the author's general views of it having been delayed till the work prematurely closed; but there are many occasional references in a spirit of great seriousness. He asserts the radical depravity, to a very great extent, of human nature, though in forms of language most widely different, to be sure, from that of orthodox sermons and bodies of divinity. As the basis, however, of some of his principles of moral philosophy, he claims a certain profound and half mystical reverence for the mental and moral essence and organization of man, which we find it somewhat difficult to render. He is a most zealous assertor of free-agency. In one place the word Methodism is used exactly in the way in which it is employed by those whom the author knows to be fools, profligates, or bigots. He is perfectly apprized, how much of intelligent belief and ardent piety is comprehended within the tenets and the state of the affections, to which this term of opprobrium is generally applied ; and we were astonished therefore to see him so far consenting to adopt what he knew to be the lingo of irreligion.

« ElőzőTovább »