« ElőzőTovább »
chose to alter some words to suit the subject in hand; and behold, Mr. Madden, thinking proper to use the same quotation (Burton having kindly supplied him with a translation), copies, still without notice or acknowledgment, Burton's cento instead of Virgil's original! In short, we really have never seen so flagrant a case of plagiarism, presumption, and ignorance, as Mr. Madden's pretence to classical learning; there is scarcely a quotation in the whole work that does not betray Mr. Madden's total ignorance of the book whence it was extracted, and even of the very elements of the language in which it is written. Now a man may be a very amusing traveller, a tolerable surgeon, and even a good reasoner, without being a profound classical scholar; but he who can indulge m the poor vanity of dressing himself in borrowed feathers and making a pompous ' etalage' of what does not belong to him, is not, we presume to think, the fittest examiner of the delicate sensibilities of genius, or the safest guide in a theory of nice moral feelings and high intellectual dignity.
The main body of the work proceeds—keeping the promise of the title-page—in a style of vague, inconsistent, and often contradictory trivialities, which we sometimes do not comprehend— often cannot reconcile with the preceding or following sentences -—and never can reduce into any general and satisfactory course of statement or reasoning.
It is in his preliminary chapter that we naturally seek the object of his work. We look, and see nothing—but detached commonplaces, which, without acumen or consideration, are laid down as axioms, on which it seems intended to erect a superstructure, but which, we find in the progress of the work, are quite incapable of carrying even their own weight. Mr. Madden begins by observing that—
'it is generally admitted that literary men are an irritable race, subject to many infirmities both of mind and body; that worldly prosperity and domestic happiness are not very often the result of their pursuits. Eccentricity is the "badge of all their tribe," and so many errors accompany their career, that fame and frailty would almost seem to be inseparable companions.'—vol. i., p. 1,2.
Now here, at the very outset and foundation of his whole system, he advances an assertion which, however popular it may be, requires, before it can be admitted, many explanations and qualifications; the total omission of which renders Mr. Madden's fitness for nice moral disquisitions very problematical. Authors no doubt have been very generally reproached with irritability, and many of them with eccentricity; but are authors, as Mr. Madden seems to think, the only class of men that are irritable and eccentric? are they even so in a greater proportion than
their their fellows? That Mr. Madden does not trouble himself to inquire—he takes it for granted, and proceeds to erect his work on this unexamined foundation. Now we, on the contrary, believe that some of the greatest—the very greatest—geniuses that the world has ever produced, have had no eccentricities; and though they may have had a livelier sensibility than ordinary men (which is, in fact, one of the essentials of what is called genius) they were not peculiarly irritable, in Mr. Maddeu's popular use of the term. But even if a larger proportion of literary men should appear to have had infirmities of temper, the fact might be explained, and in a considerable degree accounted for, by a consideration which, though very obvious, does not seem to have recurred to Mr. Madden. They are a comparatively small class —they stand more prominently before the public—they are better known and more noted—they are objects of general curiosity while they live, of critical biography when they die; and when they happen to have had any peculiarity, it is sure to be not merely observed, but exaggerated. How many thousands—millions—of men and women have been irregular in mind and conduct for every one of that small and, as Mr. Madden thinks, unfortunate class, which can claim the distinction of literary genius? We hear—in the'same kind of shallow talk—of the vices and follies of the Great, because they are observed by all eyes and recorded by all pens; but we very much doubt whether the number of the wicked and foolish in the higher ranks be not infinitely smaller in proportion, than amongst the more unnoticed herd of mankind. Gray, though only a poet, has touched this, in his beautiful ' Elegy in a Country Church-yard,' with more philosophical discrimination than the author of this elaborate treatise. We do not pretend to deny that there may be some foundation for Dryden's celebrated dictum— 'Great wit is sure to madness near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide;' and we shall by and by have occasion to touch on that interesting subject; here we are only observing in how very vague and inconsiderate a way Mr. Madden has set about his work.
His next position is the repetition of another commonplace, yet by no means accurate, observation :—
'It is the unfortunate tendency of literary habits to enamour the studious of the seclusion of the closet, and to render them more conversant with the philosophy and erudition of by-gone times, than with the sentiments and feelings of their fellow-men. Their knowledge of the world is, in a great measure, derived from books, not from an acquaintance with its active duties; and the consequence is, that when they venture into its busy haunts, they bring with them a spirit of uncompromising independence, which arrays itself at once
against every prejudice they have to encounter; such a spirit is but ill calculated to disarm the hostility of any casual opponent, or, in the circle where it is exhibited, "to buy golden opinions " of any " sorts of people." '—vol. i., p. 2, 3.
Now, certainly, never was there a more unlucky introduction to what follows thau this is; for the literary men to whose lives Mr. Madden dedicates three-fourths of his volumes (viz., 400 pages out of 580) are Pope, Johnson, Burns, Cowper, Byron, and Scott. Now five of these were any thing but recluses— they mixed largely, in some instances too largely, with general society, and indulged freely, some of them too freely, in the gaieties of the world; and the sixth, Cowper, was not made a recluse by his literary habits, but, on the contrary, sought—and sought late—in the diversion of literature, an alleviation of the seclusion to which he had been long before doomed by other causes. So that all Mr. Madden's examples happen, ridiculously enough, to contradict, in a very striking manner, the assertion by which he introduces them.
But as he proceeds, he plunges into still deeper inconsistency. He is very severe on the-biographers of literary men :—
'We find that its ashes are hardly cold, before its frailties are raked up from the tomb and baited at the ring of biography, till the public taste is satiated with the sport.'—vol. i., p. 4, 5.
'But when biography is made the vehicle, not only of private scandal but of that minor malignity of truth, which holds, as it were, a magnifying mirror to every naked imperfection of humanity, which possibly had never been discovered had no friendship been violated, no confidence been abused, and no errors exaggerated by the medium through which they have been viewed, it ceases to be a legitimate inquiry into private character or public conduct, and no infamy is comparable to that of magnifying the faults, or libelling the fame of the illustrious dead.' . . . . 'In a word, that species of biography which is written for contemporaries, and not for posterity, is worse than worthless. It would be well for the memory of many recent authors if their injudicious friends had made a simple obituary serve the purpose of a history.'—pp- 10, 11.
Now would any one believe from this indignant exordium that three-fourths of Mr. Madden's own book consist of ' the rakings up of all the frailties,' of all ' the private scandal,' of all 'the magnifying of imperfections' with which Pope, Johnson, Burns, Cowper, and Byron have been ' baited in the ring of biography,' and that Mr. Madden has himself supplied as many of such details concerning Sir Walter Scott as he could collect, even to the violation (in so recent a case) of all feeling and decency, by copying loose newspaper tattle about the post mortem appearances of his brain!! In short, Mr. Madden's philosophical treatise is little else than a repetition and amplification of the very small and dirty gossip which he so severely censures, and which he applies to the most offensive and uncharitable purposes.
But our readers will begin to ask, what is Mr. Madden's object? by what theory does he ally genius and infirmity? and to what practical conclusion does he tend? We are obliged to answer —we cannot tell! All is vague, obscure, contradictory; as far as the work has any thing like a fixed object or pervading principle, they are, we suppose, to be found in the summing up of the introductory chapter:—
'In a word, if the literary man consume his strength and spirit in his study, forego all necessary exercise, keep his mind continually on the stretch, and even, at his meals, deprive the digestive organs of that nervous energy which is then essential to their healthy action; if the proteiform symptoms of dyspepsia at last make their appearance, and the innumerable anomalous sufferings which, under the name of nervous and stomachic ailments, derange the viscera, and rack the joints of the invalid; if by constant application the blood is continually determined to the brain, and the calibre of the vessels enlarged to the extent of causing pressure or effusion in that vital organ; in any case, if the mischief there is allowed to proceed slowly and steadily, perhaps for years, (as in the case of Swift,) giving rise to a long train of nervous miseries—to hypochondria in its gloomiest form, or mania in its wildest mood, or paralysis in the expressionless aspect of fatuity, (that frequent termination of the literary career;)— who can deny that the sufferer has, in a great measure, drawn the evil on himself, but who will not admit that his infirmities of mind and body are entitled to indulgence and compassion?'—vol. i,, pp. IS, 19.
But whatever of principle or theory this passage may announce, the whole of the subsequent chapters are exclusively employed in contradicting. We have already noticed, that the six writers whom he has taken as his examples were not men who wasted at once the material and the intellectual lamp in study; nor does it appear that in any one of those cases can ' the proteijbrm symptoms of dyspepsia' account for any of the imputed errors and eccentricities. We suppose that Mr. Madden can hardly venture to attribute their genius to habitual indigestion, yet he seems to entertain some such notion; for if genius and infirmity be inseparable, and that infirmity is produced by dyspepsia, it follows, that genius is produced by dyspepsia—a conclusion somewhat at variance with our old friend Dryden's partiality for stewed prunes; and certainly with the mass of contradictory details which Mr. Madden produces in support of it.
Perhaps we should stop here; and our readers may complain of our occupying any more of their attention with a work so unworthy worthy of any serious notice; but the intrinsic interest of the subject which Mr. Madden so mismanages, and the fame of the great men whose characters he so rashly undertakes to handle, induce us to proceed a little farther.
Of Pope, Mr. Madden begins by undertaking a defence against the observations of Mr. Bowles, whom he censures very severely for his alleged depreciation of the bard's moral and poetical character; and then he proceeds with the most astonishing thought lessness (another word would suit the case better—but we refrain) to collect from every scattered expression and every loose observation of all Pope's biographers, a combination of bad qualities of which Mr. Bowles' picture gives but a very faint idea. 'Pope,' says this candid defender of his fame, 'was irascible, capricious, peevish, and resentful;' 'wanton in his attacks;' ' unjust in his censures ;' 'delighting in artifice ;' ' with a cunning that descended to petty parsimony;' and his ' unjustifiable satire' was marked with 'petulance, personality, and malignity:' but Mr. Madden seems to think that he clears the man from the stain of such bad qualities by laying the whole blame on dyspepsia; which he traces to ' an affection of the spine contracted in infancybut here, unluckily, there occurs a slight hitch in the evidence. The biographers, who relate the various instances of all the before-mentioned bad qualities, do not, unfortunately for the theory,' allude to his having suffered from indigestion.' This would have staggered an ordinary reasoner; but Mr. Madden makes very light of it, and solves the difficulty by adding, that ' it is possible that Pope himself might not have been aware of the nature of the anomalous symptoms of dyspepsia, which mimic the. form of every other malady:' from this he naturally comes to the conclusion, that all Pope's infirmities, bodily and mental—' giddiness' and ' petulance'—' languor' and 'irascibility'—' dejection' and 'revenge'—' headache' and ' artifice'—' palpitation of the heart' and 'parsimony of paper'— 'dimness of sight' and ' the stinting his guests to a pint of wine' —all these enormities are characteristic symptoms of dyspepsia! Now all this may be very true, but still it does not explain the connexion between indigestion and genius—between dyspepsia and ' The Rape of the Lock.'
Next comes the anatomy of Dr. Johnson, 'whose life,' as Mr. Croker, in the introduction to his edition of Boswell, observes, ' is a most curious chapter in the history of man,' and which assuredly affords a most remarkable combination of genius and infirmity. Clumsy as Mr. Madden's processes are, we really expected that in so clear a case he might be able to explain the drift and object of his work: but, alas! poor Mr. Madden is still more bewildered by Johnson than by Pope. In Pope's case the