Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

SOUTHERN QUARTERLY REVIEW,

No. XXXII.

JANUARY, 1850.

Art. I.—The Present State Op Europe.
The Edinburgh Review, for April, 1849.
The London Quarterly Review, for April, 1849.
The Westminster Review, for April, 1849.
The Noith British Review, for May, 1849.
Blackwood's Magazine, for March, April and May, '49.

We remember, some thirty years ago, to have heard pretenders to literature, to art, to science, to political information, or to knowledge of any sort, characterized as "Readers of Reviews." It was said of them, that, instead of investigating for themselves—instead of analyzing and dissecting the subjects with which they should be acquainted— they depended on Jeffrey and Gifford to do this for them, and feasted their minds on the more delicate titbits, served np with the best skill of those accomplished masters of literary cookery. We must say, that we did not, even then, feel the justice of this reproach. We had not forgotten the anecdote of the High Dutch doctor, who challenged the world to dispute with him de omni scibile et quolVbetente; nor how he was discomfited by a question, the very terms of which were unintelligible to him. Here was a proof, that, more than three hundred years ago, no man could find time to make himself acquainted with all of the little that was then known. Indeed, the instances have been, at all times, rare, of men, who, while acquiring a thorough knowledge of any one art or science, have found leisure to acquaint themselves with anything beyond the group of sub24 Vol. xvi.—No. 32.

jects to which that of their particular study happened to belong. It has been well for the world that there have always been men inclined to such exclusive pursuit of one object. It has been well, too, for their own fames—for of such are the authors whose works survive them. And yet we suspect lhat many of these very authors, whose writings are of standard authority in their respective departments, were men whose conversation on other subjects might not be more instructive than that of a miss in her teens. Such men are made for cloisters, camlet gowns, and students' caps; but not for the busy, bustling world in which we now live. The chymist, indeed, has still his laboratory, and the astronomer his observatory; but the Pope is driven from the Vatican, and the schoolmaster is fairly whipped with his own birch, and barred out. The world is too much engaged in matters of life and death to be in a mood even to laugh at Dominie Sampson. It is on fire, and calls on every man to fall into line and hand buckets. There is a present demand for men of sense and virtue and energy, to take an active part in what is actually passing, and we can hardly spare any such for the instruction of future generations in the mechanism of the heavens, and the mysierious nature of double stars. The great strife of the day is between mind and brute force. The absorbing political question, in every country in Christendom, is, whether it shall be governed by the mind of the country, or remain subject to hereditary stupidity on the one hand, or, on the other, pass under the brutal dominion of mobs. Let the decision be in favor of either of these last, and there remains no more for mind but to go back to its cloister, if it can find one, or to be quenched and extinguished, if it cannot. But let the empire of mind be acknowledged and established, as the only legitimate government, and then comes the question: "What can wisdom devise suited to the demands of the time?" To bear his part well in the preliminary struggle, and then in the consequent discussions of right and expediency, is the great duty to which the actual condition of the world calls every intellectual man.

How shall he qualify himself for it? Shall he lock himself up with Aristotle and Plato, or prepare himself to commune with the minds of living men? Is he to reject all opportunities of acquiring superficial knowledge, lest he may know nothing as he ought 1 Is he to make his mind a receptacle for other men's thoughts, or a laboratory for new combinations of its own? Is lie to gather np the authorities of great names, to be laid away, like a dry weed in a hortus siccus, or a bone in the scrip of a relic-hunter? or shall he charge his mind with facts and opinions, no matter whose—with theories, conjectures and hypotheses, whether true or false—with arguments, sophistries and fancies—in short, with everything, whether of the nature of food or condiment—to furnish aliment, or stimulate appetite and digestion?

We would not be understood to be the advocates, or even the apologists, of superficiality; but, in the world-wide confusion that threatens to embroil the whole human race, from the Indus to the Mississippi, we would prefer the ready command of any barbarous lingua frunca, by means of which we might communicate with all with whom we may be brought in contact, to the most critical knowledge of all the dead languages which have been spoken since the dispersion of the human race. What is there in the Greek article, and the digamma, and the masoretic points, so important for us to understand, as the esoteric meaning of French "fraternity," " communism," " socialism," " the spirit of the age," "the march of mind," and other such words and phrases, which we see operating on the minds of the initiated like the sound of a trumpet. There is nothing which the enlightened part of mankind have, at this moment, so much need to find out, as "what the unenlightened would be at." To enter into their mystery—to hold communion with them, and divide the empire over their passions with those who would pound them on to mischief—hie labor, hoc opus. "Der geist der zeit ist das was ein star ken in die zeit legt," says the German reformer. "The spirit of the age is that which a master-mind impresses on the age." This is their own account of the matter; and the use of intellectual training at this day is not

"to guide the way

Through fair lyceum walks, the cool retreats
Of academies, and the ihymy vale,
Where, oft enchanted with sonatic sounds,
Ilissus pure devolves his tuneful stream
In gentler music,"

but to qualify the master-mind possessing this advantage to efface the impression made by ruder minds, and stamp its own instead.

To this end no information can be too extensive, too various, or too exact. Could we attain to the perfect knowledge of every historical and statistical fact, and familiarize our minds with all the thoughts, whether wise or unwise, which have ever passed through the mind of man, there would be nothing superfluous in our store. But is this possible 1 Ars lovga, vita brevis, is a saying, the truth of which has been acknowledged for centuries. But, when this was first said, and felt to be true, what was the utmost extent of the circle of knowledge that was supposed to be accessible to the human mind? What, then, was history? What was the space of earth which then was called the world? What was the sum total of all the matters with which it was then necessary to be acquainted. in order to be properly qualified to take an active part in the affairs of men? What is it now? What was the whole number of books which any man would think it necessary to read? What is it now? Before the late disturbances in Germany, the annual issue of new works from the press of that country was not less than ten thousand. Were these all to be read, by any one man, at the rate of thirty per day? Weie "they all to be rejected? Neither, certainly. What, then? Was it not desirable that certain men should employ themselves in the selection of those of most value, and recommend such to the notice of the public? Thus much, we believe, is admitted; but then it is insisted, that when this selection is made, none but a sciolist would content himself with such smattering of knowledge as may be collected from the account of a voluminous work compressed into thirty pa^es of a review. But what are we to do? Reviewers themselves are limited, by want of time and room. They necessarily pass by many works well deserving of notice. There are so many new publications that every body must read, that, with all the advantage of the division of labor among the corps of contributors, many of the most important are left unnoticed until the proper time for reviewing them has gone by. Yet, in the four reviews, the names of which are placed at the head of this article, largely, upwards of an hundred volumes are brought to the notice of the reader. Among them there is, perhaps, hardly one which a man, wishing to obtain a particular acquaintance with the subject of which it treats, would not feel it indispensable to read. On the other hand, there is scarcely a subject treated by any one of them, (we suppose we may except "Dog-breaking," for which see London Quarterly. art. 2,) of which a man of general information does not know something, and desire to know more. Hence, there is not an article which may not be read with profit. This will, perhaps, prove most emphatically true of those which the render may most decidedly disapprove—for it is certain that the mind is more benefitted by being provoked to think its own thoughts, than by imbibing the thoughts of others. It is well, therefore, to read all, or nearly all; and, when this is done, none but a man of absolute leisure can possiblyfind time to rend, during the quarter, more than the small number of the works reviewed belonging to that particular class of studies to which his mind is particularly devoted.

But, publications of this sort are invested with a peculiar value and interest by the circumstances of the present time. The influence of tiie Edinburgh Review upon the public mind operated too strongly in favor of the whig party, to be left unbalanced by their antagonists, the tories. These accordingly sought out a champion worthy to contend with Jeffrey, and fixed on GifTord. From that moment commenced a gigantomaetia, which weaker combatants stood still to witness, and which gave to theso two publications great political importance. The efficiency of the Review, as a weapon of party warfare, was felt by every one. It was like the introduction of gunpowder. the steam frigate, and the paixhan shot: the use of them by some, forced others to use them. Every subdivision of party must have its Review—every shade of opinion must find expression in this way. Accordingly, we have the high tory—the moderate conservative—the whig and the radical—all thus represented. Each party places its own views nnd purposes before the world in such form as suits itself, and he who would study the spirit of the age, and learn to anticipate the action of others, and to foresee events i:i their causes, is thus provided with the best means of understanding all the workings of the public mind, and acquiring that most important knowledge for the statesman—the knowledge of wh it others would be at.

This is precisely the most interesting and absorbing topic of the day, and, remote as we are from Europe, it hardly

« ElőzőTovább »