are often haunted by a 'kakodaemon'—his own kakodaemon seems to be the spirit of self-contradiction; for after Sir Walter has been thus produced and applauded in a work on the Infirmities of Genius, as a genius without infirmity, Mr. Madden takes a sudden turn, and discovers that he was afflicted, like Cowper, Burns, and Byron, with one of ' the extreme forms of dyspepsia;' and not being able to produce any such symptoms as his former victims unhappily afforded, he sees in Sir Walter's improvements at Abbotsford, and the commercial connexion with his booksellers, evidence of ' a building mania, which compelled him to have recourse to other plausible means of increasing his income than those of literary emolument.'—vol. ii., p. £60. Mr. Madden, though he does not announce it very distinctly (indeed, what does he say distinctly ?) insinuates, at one time, that these were the causes, and at another, that they were the consequences of an 'extreme form of dyspepsia;' and then—as if to overthrow both these hypotheses, by divesting Sir Walter's case of any peculiarity—he concludes, as a general rule, that Sir Walter died neither of Abbotsford nor of dyspepsia, but of palsy, and that 'palsy is the too frequent termination of literary life,' and he enumerates fourteen other ' martyrs to literary glory,' Copernicus, Petrarch, Linnaeus, Clarendon, Rousseau, Marmontel, Richardson, Steele, Phillips, Harvey, Reid, Johnson, Porson, and Wollaston— 'a few of the many eminent names of those who have fallen victims to excessive mental application by paralysis or apoplexy.'—vol ii. p. 268. Now, without going through a course of biography, we may say that everybody (except Mr. Madden) knows that some of these did not die of either palsy or apoplexy—that the majority of them were not remarkable for excessive literary application, and that some of them were the very reverse.

But to crown all this absurdity—and such blunders on a less serious subject would be really laughable—of these fourteen untimely ' victims'—four exceeded the age of eighty, four others the scriptural limit of threescore years- and ten, four outlived sixty, and the two youngest (and the two who probably had been the least excessive in literary application), Porson and Steele, died at fifty and fifty-nine. So that, on the whole, the 'martyrs' of this silly man lived to ages greatly exceeding the average of mankind. Thus it is all through ; every alternate sentence in his work is contradicted by what precedes and follows, and both are refuted by the slightest reference to facts and common sense. We will follow Mr. Madden no further in personal details. Indeed, we doubt whether we have not already gone too far, and whether it was necessary to have said more than that the anecdotes which he has compiled of the several illustrious individuals introduced in these impudent

chapters chapters, are in themselves for the most part trivial, erroneous, and uncharitable; and, as regards Mr. Madden, they are generally misquoted, misstated, misapprehended, and misapplied.

We are, however, inclined to say a few words on a more inoffensive but equally erroneous part of Mr. Madden'a book. He has taken the trouble to construct six tables, in Which he records and contrasts the length of life in twenty writers on natural philosophy with that of twenty poets; the longevity of twenty moral philosophers with that of twenty dramatists; and so on with like numbers of jurists set against novelists and miscellaneous luriters; authors on natural and authors on revealed religion; medical writers and philologists; artists and musical composers ;—and the result of all these comparisons is summed up as follows :—

'It certainly appears from these lists that the vigour of a great intellect is favourable to longevity in every literary pursuit wherein imagination is seldom called on.'—vol. ii. p 72.

'The following is the order of longevity that is exhibited in the various lists, and the average duration of life of the most eminent men, in each pursuit:—


Madden, vol. ii. p. 83.

We admit that the general idea of these tables is ingenious, and that if judiciously executed they might be of some interest, if not of value. But even in the construction of statistical tables, we find Mr. Madden's habitual want of accuracy and discrimination. On what principle does Table I. exhibit a contrast between natural philosophers and poets? Why natural philosophers rather than jurists? Why poets rather than dramatists? What principle does he imagine he inculcates by showing in Table IV,, that twenty authors on revealed religion lived 1350 years, while twenty authors on natural religion lived only 1245—on what distinction is Franklin distinguished as a natural and Lord Bacon as a moral philosopher? Why is Leibnitz in one category and Descartes in another? Why is Dr. Johnson associated with Mrs. Radcliffe, and Mr. William Hazlitt with Sir Walter Scott? Why are Hume and Gibbon in different classes; and when Rousseau is denominated a writer on natural religion, why is Diderot

Vol. L. No. xcix. E amoral a moral philosopher? And why has Mr. Madden huddled together men of various ages and different nations, without taking care to make on the other side something of a corresponding and comparative selection? Mr. Madden professes to have constructed these tables with no bias towards the results—yet certainly these results are influenced by some very unaccountable selections and by a very arbitrary classification; for instance, Metastasio, whom he ranks as a poet, might, with at least equal propriety, have been classed as a dramatist—substitute his name and age for that of Marlow, (who has less pretensions to figure in such a list,) you change materially the pompous table of results, and the dramatists ascend two degrees in the scale of longevity. So also, if he had been pleased to omit Wesley, who was hardly an author, and to insert Rennell, who was a great one, the list of ' authors on revealed religion' would fall two degrees, and it would then appear that the dramatist's is a healthier profession than the divine's, to the utter discomfiture of Mr. Madden's theory.

Again; Table III. offers the comparisons between the writers on law and the authors of novels and miscellanies. Why do we find on one side Mr. C. Butler, by no means an eminent author —Erskine, who, as an author, was certainly one of the smallest creatures possible—and Mansfield, Romilly, Tenterden, Thurlow, and Wilmot, who were never authors at all, but the sum of whose ages is very great; and why, on the other, are the comparatively obscure names of Tickell, Thornton, and Hazlitt, whose lives amount to only one hundred and fifty-six years, admitted to the exclusion of Swift, Burke, and Horace Walpole, whose ages are two hundred and twenty-five?—why, unless to fit the results to the theory? If this table had been constructed with anything like fairness, it would have appeared that the writers of 'works of imagination' lived longer than their graver rivals—quod NON erat demonstrandum.

We have no great faith in statistical tables. We remember to have heard, that a very ingenious gentleman" who was much employed by the late Mr. Rose in preparing financial and statistical statements, was in the habit of asking, his patron with candid simplicity, 'on which side he wished to have the balance.' But when comparisons are made on such subtile distinctions as between poets and dramatists, natural and moral philosophers, and writers on revealed and on natural religion, and when the names are so arbitrarily selected and distributed as in Mr. Madden's tables, and when, above all, there is no corresponding view of the duration of ordinary life in the same periods, countries, and classes, we cannot deem such tables entitled to any serious consideration.

But even if we had tables of this description judiciously

made, made, the apparent result would not be by any means decisive of the question of longevity—for instance, there can be little doubt that the class of writers on natural science, theology, law, and ethics, would exhibit a longer duration of life than poets, dramatists, and novelists, but for reasons quite unconnected with the salubrity of one or the other line of pursuits. The exertions of the latter class belong naturally to earlier years—works of imagination are the province of youth—and many a poet has immortalized his name before thirty. But the other class of works belong essentially to a more mature age—a man in them must have long studied and practised, before he is entitled to teach. The greatest genius, whether he examines the frame of the material world, or the moral and intellectual powers of man, requires experience and a continuous course of observation and study; and important works of this class are as rarely written before thirty, as works of a vivid imagination are written after. Authors of the poetic class, therefore, may be, and in general are young —authors of the didactic class must be old; and we believe it would not be far from the truth, to say that the majority of poets leave off that ' idle trade' about the age at which the majority of scientific and ethical writers begin to attain celebrity ; and as, of a thousand human beings, about one-half die before the age of thirty, it will follow that a larger proportion of poets may be expected to die than of graver writers, who in fact seldom become such till they have already attained the middle age.

But after all, there can be, we think, little doubt that, as we have already hinted in an early part of this article, persons of a lively imagination, which is commonly called genius, may be more liable than ordinary persons to mental derangement, and of course to those species of bodily infirmities which are more peculiarly influenced by the mind. This is, no doubt, what Dryden meant in the celebrated couplet before quoted. We do not pretend to define what 'genius' is, but we think we may say, that, in its popular sense, it is generally, if not always, accompanied by, if it does not consist in, great mental sensibility, superior acuteness, and a more delicate susceptibility of impressions: such minds must be more liable to be deranged by sudden shocks, or impaired by over use, than less delicate organs. We recollect being very much struck with an observation which was made to us by the intimate connexion of one of the most illustrious men of our time, who,—after stating, in answer to our inquiry after our common friend, the wonderful activity of his mind, his acute sensibility, and the high pitch to which all his sensations were tuned, —added, ' He cannot be well; such genius is of itself a disease.'

It is by considerations of this kind, and not by narrowing the cause of all bodily and mental infirmity to dyspepsia, or

E 2 any

any other derangement of any one bodily function, that may be solved many of the cases quoted by Mr. Madden—and thousands of others with which history and society abound. We are , so • wonderfully and fearfully made'—all the parts of our organization are so closely, though so obscurely, connected, that it would be childish to deny that the stomach may affect the mind, as we know the mind does affect the stomach; but we totally disbelieve that dyspepsia can be shown to be a constant or even a frequent agent in such results as Mr. Maddeu's theory, as far as we can understand him, represents it to be. Of this we are sure, that not one of Mr. Madden's cases can be, by anything like fair medical or moral reasoning, attributed exclusively to dyspepsia, in the ordinary meaning of that word. If, indeed, to extricate himself from a difficulty which, confused as his vision is, he cannot but see, Mr. Madden chooses to call ' dimness of sight, scurvy, scrofula, hysteria, epilepsy, paralysis, apoplexy, mania in its various characters,' and all other affections of the brain, by the general name of dyspepsia, we must submit—but then we beg leave to suggest the adding to the list, gout, rheumatism, fever, cholera; and, then—dyspepsia being only the general and generic name of all diseases whatsoever— he may be right enough; and having before stated dyspepsia to be the invariable attendant on genius, he will have proved that genius and dyspepsia are the common inheritance of all the sous of Adam.

We should have added, of all the daughters too; but, strange to say, Mr. Madden, who mentions in his volumes some hundreds of writers, does .not allude to one single female—unless, indeed, the name of Radcliffe in Table III. is meant, as we guess it is, for Mrs. Radcliffe the novelist. This is odd enough. Perhaps with more than that Castilian gallantry which indignantly denied that a queen of Spain could have legs, Mr. Madden cannot permit himself to suppose that ladies can have any bodily infirmities; but in that hypothesis we fear that, in sparing them the indelicacy of dyspepsia, he would be also bound to deny them the glory of genius. It adds greatly to our admiration of the enlarged and philosophic scope of Mr. Madden's mind, that in this interesting inquiry he has only omitted one half of the human race. To be serious. Whenever the subject so maltreated by this bungler is to be judiciously examined, the female character will be an important ingredient in the consideration, and may afford some additional light in this very mysterious question. There are moral and social causes which obviously tend to contract the number of female authors—their narrower education—their domestic duties—their more limited access to general society— the different kind of personal distinction which they instinctively covet, and the different species of reward to which they aspire:— but we believe that Providence, wisely and beneficently fitting the


« ElőzőTovább »