Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

uttered.” Their subjects are well known. We have in them the thoughts of Bacon on a considerable range of matters, briefly expressed, most of them not occupying more than a page or two. They may have been written, many of them, at a short sitting, though they manifestly give us the results of mature and protracted thought. And here and there occur those pregnant, suggestive sentences which Archbishop Whately has taken as texts for his own observations. The Archbishop reminds us in his Preface, by way of guarding himself from the imputation of presumption in adding to what Bacon has said on many subjects, that the word * Essay,’ which has now come to signify a full and careful treatise on a subject, was in Bacon’s days more correctly understood as meaning a slight sketch to be filled up and followed out; a something to set the reader a-thinking: and the Annotations, which form by a great deal the larger part of the book, contain the reflections and remarks which have been suggested to the Archbishop in his reading of the Essays. The Annotations are of all degrees, from a sentence or two of inference or illustration, to a pretty full discourse on some topic more or less directly suggested by Bacon. The writer frequently presses opinions which he has elsewhere maintained, and gives many extracts from his own published works. We also find several quotations from other authors, selected (we need not say) with great judgment; and showing us incidentally how wide is the Archbishop's reading, and how completely he keeps up with whatever is valuable in even the lighter literature of the day. In that portion of this volume which is properly Dr. Whately's own, we have the acute observations of a writer who knows both books and men; of a keen observer; a thinker almost always sound amid extraordinary independence and originality; a master of a style so beautifully lucid alike in thought and expression, that we hardly feel, as we follow in the track, how difficult it would be to tread that path without the direction of a guide so able and so sympathetic. The characteristics of Archbishop Whately are very marked ; and his negative characteristics not less so than his positive. No thoughtful man can become acquainted with his writings, without being struck quite as much by what this distinguished prelate is not, as by what he is. Indeed, what the Archbishop of Dublin is not, is perhaps the thing which at first impresses us most deeply. We discover in his works the productions of a mind which can apply itself to the most diverse subjects, and give forth the soundest and shrewdest sense on all, expressed in the most felicitous forms. We cannot but remark his vast information; and his ripe wisdom, moral, social, and political. But, after all, the thing that strikes us most is, how thoroughly different Archbishop Whately is from most people's idea of an archbishop. We associate with so elevated a dignitary a certain ponderousness of mind: we assume that his intellect must be a machine which by its weight and power is rather unfitted for light work: and we are taken by surprise when we find a prelate so dignified combining with the graver strength of understanding a liveliness, pith, and point, a versatility, wit, and playfulness, which without taking an atom from that respect which is due to his high position, yet put us at our ease in his presence, and fit him for the attractive discussion of almost every topic which can interest the scholar and the gentleman. The general idea of an archbishop is of something eminently respectable: perhaps rather dull and prosy ; never startling us in any way by thought or style;—looking at all the world through his own medium, and from his own elevated point of view;-and above all, an intensely safe man. The very reverse of all this is Archbishop Whately. Never, indeed, does he say anything inconsistent with his dignified position: but his works show him to us (and we know him by his works alone) as the independent thinker, often thinking very differently from the majority of men, the thorough man of the world, in the true sense of that phrase, perfectly versant in the ways of living men, from the tricks of the petty tradesman up to the diplomacies of cabinets and the social ethics of exclusive circles, at home in the literature of the hour no less than in the weightier letters of philosophy, theology, and politics, the master of eloquent logic, from the heavy artillery which demolishes a stronghold of error or scepticism, to the light touch that unravels a paradox or puts a troublesome simpleton in his right place, —the master of wit, from the half-playful breath which shows up a little social folly, to the scathing sarcasm which turns the laugh against the scoffer, and which shows the would-be wise as the most arrant of fools. As for Archbishop Whately's positive characteristics, we believe that most of his intelligent readers will agree with us when we place foremost among these his acuteness and independence of thought. The latter of these qualities he possesses almost in excess. We believe that to the Archbishop of Dublin the fact that any opinion is very generally entertained, so far from being a recommendation, is rather a reason for regarding it with suspicion. It is amusing how regularly we find it occurring in the prefaces to his works, that one reason for the publication of each is his belief that erroneous views are commonly entertained as to the subject of it. And when we consider how most men receive their opinions upon all subjects ready-made, we cannot appreciate too highly one who, in the emphatic sense of the phrase, thinks for himself. It is right to add that there is hardly an instance in which so much originality of thought can be found in conjunction with so much justice and sobriety of thought. In Archbishop Whately's writings we have independence without the least trace of wrongheadedness. His views, especially in his Lectures on a Future State, on Good and Evil Angels, and on the Characters of the Apostles, are often startling at the first glance, because very different from those to which we have grown accustomed: but he generally succeeds in convincing us that his opinion is the sound and natural one; and where he fails to carry our conviction along with him, he leaves us persuaded of his good faith, and sensible that much may be said on his part. Another striking characteristic of Archbishop Whately is, his extraordinary power of illustrating moral truths and principles by analogies to external nature. Not even Abraham Tucker possessed this power in so eminent a degree : and the Archbishop's illustrations are always free from that grossness and vulgarity which often deform those of Tucker, who (as he himself tells us) did not scruple to take a figure from the kitchen or the stable if it could make his meaning plainer. We cannot call to mind any English author who employs imagery in such a profuse degree ; yet without the faintest suspicion of that nerveless and aimless accumulation of figures and comparisons which constitutes what is vulgarly termed floweriness of style. We have no fine things put in for mere fine-writing's sake. Dr. Whately’s illustrations are not only invariably apt and striking: they really illustrate his point, they throw light upon it, and make it plainer than it was before. They are hardly ever, long drawn out; consisting very frequently in a happy analogy suggested in one clause of a sentence,—the writer being anxious to make that step in his reasoning clear, yet too much bent upon the ultimate conclusion he is aiming at to linger upon that step longer than is necessary to make it so. To these literary qualifications we add, that Archbishop Whately’s information, though evidently reaching over a vast field, is yet minutely accurate in the smallest details; and without the least tinge of pedantry, the fine scholarship of the writer often shines through his work. It is almost superfluous to allude to the invariable clearness, point, and felicity of the Archbishop's English style, which often warms into elo

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »