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with whoff a work shea of art, this kind there
any feeling, instead of that harmony being produced between him and the writer, which is always desirable, the former is constantly in discord, and is endeavouring to atone, by his own warmth and liberality, for the frigidity and reserve with which the author is chargeable.
The chronology of a work that is to contain the his. tory of the rise and progress of art, ought especially to be correct, as any inaccuracy of this kind must wholly defeat the leading purpose of the author: but here several anachronisms occur. Page 17 it is said, that “a principal settlement was made by a colony of the Lydians 300 years before the time of Herodotus,” and the date assigned for this settlement is 1043 years prior to the Christian æra. That historian was born about the year 484, and died 413 years before that æra, involving a miscalculation of three centuries.* But we have another mistake of the same nature that is wholly unaccountable. Speaking of Phidias, whom Mr. Dallaway places 457 years before Christ, he says that his contemporaries were the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Plato died 129 years after the period he assumes to be that of Phidias, and Aristotle 135 years subsequent to it; and thus are confounded two of the most important epochs of the art distinguished by the author, that of the Athenian statesman and that of the Macedonian hero.
But a serious objection remains yet unexplained, and it is the sentiment (expressed page 154) that a state of political freedom has no influence on the arts, that they have flourished most under the greatest tyrants, and that their success is more to be attributed to royal protection than to national liberty. This opinion is in direct opposition to that of Winkelmann and all the best writers on the subject. If Pericles were a demagogue and Alexander a tyrant, Phidias and Lysippus were born in freedom; under this glorious sunshine their talents were cherished and unfolded; and without this powerful and generous impulse, all the patronage their exalted merits secured to them, would not have produced the Lemnian Pallas or the Tarentine Jove. Our author was formerly chaplain and physician to the British Embassy at Constantinople, and he was also secretary to the Earl Marshal of England, one of the great officers of the crown who takes cognizance of matters relating to armorial honours. From such situations, with the most despotic go
* Herodotus himself, in fixing the date of the event in the time of Lycurgus, places it about 884 years before Christ.
vernment abroad, and in the most courtly office at home, he may have acquired notions of imperial favour and vassal dependence which have no concern with the spotless purity of truth in which the arts are nourished, and which will in no way promote that constitutional vigour by which their highest perfection can alone be attained.
Apt. VI.-A Letler to a friend of Robert Burns, occa
sioned by an intended Re-publication of the Account of the Life of Burns, by Dr. Currie, and the Selection made by him from his Letters. By WILLIAM WORDS WORTH.
London, for Longman and Co. 1816. 8vo. Pp. 37. Dr. Currie, the editor of the poems, and the compiler of the Life of Burns, which was published in 1800 for the benefit of the family of the poet, then lately deceased, has been repeatedly blamed for the manner in which he executed his task, and the object of the pamphlet which forms the subject of the present article, is through a Mr. Gray of Edinburgh, to give some advice to Mr. Gilbert Burns relative to the best mode of vindicating the memory of his brother, by the correction of the errors of his biographer, and by the omission of certain parts of Dr. Currie's publication, which Mr. Wordsworth and others contend ought never to have been printed. The chief ground of complaint against Dr. Currie is, that he has either done too much, or not done enough; if he thought it right to lay before his readers so many of the private letters of Burns, he ought to have placed them in such a series as would have shewn the connecting links of impulse, and to have accompanied them with those observations that would have placed the offences of the poet, therein with bitter remorse confessed, in a fair point of view; if the crime be detailed, at least it ought to be related with some of the incitements and allurements without which crime is never committed. Upon this point Mr. Wordsworth well remarks :
“Would a bosom friend of the author, bis counsellor and confessor, have told such things, if true, as this book contains ? and who, but one possessed of the intimate knowledge which none but a bosom friend can acquire, could have been justified in making these avowals? Such a one, himself a pure spirit, having accompanied, as it were, upon wings, the pilgrim along the sorrowful road which be trod on foot; such a one, veither hurried down by its slippery descents, nor entangled among its thoros, nor perplexed by its wind
ings, nor discomfited by its founderous passages---for the instruction of others--might have delinealed, almost as in a map, the way which the afflicted pilgrim had pursued till the sad close of his diversified journey. In this manner the venerable spirit of Isaac Walton was qualified to have retraced the unsteady course of a highly-gifted man, who, in this lamentable point, and in versatility of genius, bore no unobvious resemblance to the Scottish bard; I mean his friend COTTON-whom, notwithstanding all that the save must have dis. approved in his life, he honoured with the title of son. Nothing like this, however, has the biographer of Burns accomplished; and, with his means of information, copious as in some respects they were, it would have been absurd to attempt it.”
The conclusion therefore is, that such letters of the poet as communicate no useful information, and only gratify those who sooth their own vices by the discovery that others like them have offended, ought to have been completely excluded. The soul-sick confessions of a sensitive mind can never be taken as literally true; but although Dr. Currie bas certainly been censurable in this respect, we think he is not quite as much to blame as Mr. Wordsworth contends. At the time Dr. Currie's edition appeared, Burns had but recently died, and his biographer had a very difficult course to steer between personal delicacy on the one hand, and public expectation on the other. The follies and vices of the poet were generally known to those who were likely to read the work, and it was also known that his family and friends had put into the hands of his biographer all the minutia of information which the most active industry could collect; he must unavoidably therefore give offence, or occasion disappointment. The case would have been very different bad he been writing of an individual remembered only by his works, upon whose character and conduct no opinion had been formed, and with regard to whom the world in general would be ready to receive any impression the biographer might think warranted. To drag from the obscurity of antiquity, with the scrutinizing and malicious eye of a public detector of delinquency--to pry through the veil which the impartial hand of time has drawn over longpast errors, has been the task of the modern editors of our ancient writers. Plutarch has often been held up as a model of this kind of writing, pourtraying only the noble and imitable features of the characters he paints; but even if it were so, the parallel is not fair, because all biographers have not a choice of their subjects; the faults and follies of Burns had been bruited even by himself in print, and Dr.
ouers he paints all biociles of
Currie in his life had to encounter the charge of unkind communicativeness, or of unfair suppression.
That Dr. Currie has however gone too far we are very ready to admit; he seems to have forgotten, that when a man like Burns, of an open and generous disposition, reprobates his own vices, he is much less to be believed than if he applauded his own virtues; it does not follow, because he says it, that it must be true, or that if it be true, it is necessary to publish it. Upon the duties of a biographer in the abstract Mr. Wordsworth well and truly observes, that “ biography, though differing in some essentials from works of fiction, is nevertheless like them an art-an art, the laws of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the constitution of society. Truth is not here as in the sciences and in natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable; but only for obviously jusa tifyiog purposes, moral or intellectual.” He follows it by some other remarks equally just.
“Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed : let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that be opens pot his mouth without a sufficient sanction. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept thus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it, and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent its being literally fulfilled—to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manners, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and something of this protection is extended to the recently dead, --who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philo. sophy enlightened by the affections does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and of the present age and future generations on the other; and to strike a balance between them. Such a philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinet among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as indi. caliuns of a vigorous state of public feeling-favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country.- Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and hardy lovers of truth; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended with a finer discrimination, and a more sensitive delicacy. The wise and good (and all others being lovers of licence rather than of liberty are in fact slaves) respect, as one of the noblest charac. teristics of Englishmen, that jealousy of familiar approach, which, while it contributes to the maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious guardians of rational public freedom.”
Had Dr. Currie been sensible of the truth of what is above stated, many painful letters would have been left in that obscurity for which the writer intended them; and it is singular, as the very concluding words of the biographer are that “ Burns did not foresee that his own letters were to appear in print,” that the reflection did not occur whether it were fit thus to thwart the admitted intentions of the poet, who in one of his letters seems to prophecy the manner in which his memory would be tortured, to extract the minutest offences of his life. « Often," he exclaims, “ in blasting anticipation, have I listened to some future hackney scribbler, with the heavy malice of savage stupidity, &c. ;": and other passages might be quoted, in which he for a mo. ment regrets that ingenuousness by which he laid himself open to undeserved imputations.
* It is not to be wondered that Mr. Wordsworth on this occasion should stand forward in vindication of a man of so many estimable and admirable qualities as Burns, not merely from a natural love of justice, but from a peculiar resemblance between the minds and the stiles of the two poets--we speak of the mind and state of Burns before they became infected by the society and habits into which he fell in the later years of his life. As all true poetry has the same foundation, so all true poets must have some principles in common; and the chief difference between Burns and Wordsworth is, that the former was energetic, simple, and unaffected, in all his earlier and better pieces using the common language of men in a state of excite. ment because he knew no other; and the latter because he holds it to be the very essence of his art. It is this quality that constitutes the principal charm of the productions of the Scottish bard; and as at the period to which we allude he knew of no other school, he never deviated from the rules which it prescribes. Our readers may not at first be sensible of this similarity, but if they will carefully examine the productions of Mr. Wordsworth, they will find that our opinion is borne out, not only in principle but in practice. We need only quote from the letter before us the subsequent eloquent passages to shew how well its author
he felbecame infect of the minds and there from a peso, no