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account, and which no philosophy can remove. And in a higher Presence than that of human intellect or its results we render thanks for a gracious system which can enlighten and comfort simple hearts which could make nothing of metaphysics. In the true philosophy, the grand Positivism of Christianity, there is rest at last; and rest within the reach of all.
UTHORS, moral and political, have of late years been recognising the fact, that abstract truths become much more generally attractive when something of human interest is added to them. Most people feel as if thoughts and opinions gain a more substantial being, and lose their ghost-like intangibility, when we know something of the character and history of the man who entertained them, and something of the outward scenery amid which he entertained them. Very many persons feel as if, in passing from fact, or what purports to be fact, to principle, they were exchanging the firm footing of solid land for the yielding and impalpable air; and a framework of scenes and persons is like a wing to buoy them up in traversing that unaccustomed medium. And there are few indeed to whom a peculiar interest does not result when views and opinions, instead of standing nakedly on the printed page, are stated and discussed in friendly council by individual men, seated upon a real grassy slope, canopied by substantial trees, and commanding a prospect of real hills, and streams, and valleys. It is not entirely true that argument has its weight and force in itself, quite apart from its author. In the matter of practical effect, on actual human beings, a good deal depends on the lips it comes from. The author of Thorndale has recognised and acted upon this principle. Mr. William Smith is a philosopher and a poet; and whoever sits down to read his new book as an ordinary work of fiction, to be hurried through for its plot-interest, will probably not turn many pages before closing the volume. The great purpose of the work is to set out a variety of opinions upon several matters which concern the highest interests of the individual man and of the human race; but, instead of presenting them in naked abstractness, Mr. Smith has set them in a slight story, and given them as the tenets or the fancies of different men, whose characters are so drawn that these tenets and fancies appear to be just their natural culmination and result. If we were disposed to be hypercritical, we might say that the different characters sketched by Mr. Smith are too plainly built up to serve as the substrata of the opinions which they express. There is hardly allowance enough made for the waywardness and inconsistency of human conclusion and action. Given any one of Mr. Smith’s men in certain circumstances, and we are only too sure of what he will do or say. The Utopian is always hopeful; the desponding philosopher is never brightened up by a ray of hope. But G
* Thorndale; or, the Conflict of Opinions. By William Smith. Edinburgh: 185%.
this, it is obvious, is a result arrived at upon system ; for we shall find abundant proof in the volume that Mr. Smith has read deeply and accurately into human nature, in all its weaknesses, fancies, hopes, and fears. It is long since we have met with a more remarkable or worthy book. Mr. Smith is always thoughtful and suggestive: he has been entirely successful in carrying out his wish to produce a volume in reading which a thoughtful man will often pause with his finger between the leaves, and muse upon what he has read. We judge that the book must have been written slowly, and at intervals, from its affluence of beautiful thought. No mind could have turned off such material with the equable flow of a stream. We know few works in which there may be found so many fine thoughts, light-bringing illustrations, and happy turns of expres– sion, to invite the reader's pencil. A delicate refinement, a simple and pathetic eloquence, a kindly sympathy with all sentient things, are everywhere apparent: but the construction of the book, in which the most opposite opinions are expressed by the different characters, without the least editorial comment, approval or disapproval, renders it difficult to judge what are truly the opinions of the author himself. Mr. Smith's English style is of classic beauty: nothing can surpass the delicate grace and finish of many passages of description and reflection; and although it was of course impossible, and indeed not desirable, that equal pains should be bestowed upon the melody of all the pages of the book, still the language is never slovenly; the hand of the tasteful scholar is everywhere. Nor
should we fail to remark the author's versatility of power. Everything he does is done with equal ease and felicity,+description of external nature, analysis of feeling and motive, close logic, large views of men and things. There is not the gentle and graceful humour of Mr. Helps: the book is serious throughout, with no infusion of playfulness. The author evidently thinks that in this world there is not much to smile at, unless it be at everything. Let us remark that in this volume the characters come and go as in real life. There is nothing of the novel’s artificial working up of interest, deepening to the close. Mr. Smith may say of his book, as Mr. Bailey of his grand but unequal poem—
It has a plan, but no plot:-Life has none.
But Mr. Smith's men, after all, are not such as one commonly meets. They are all greatly occupied, and for the most part perplexed and distressed, about speculative and social difficulties. Now in ordinary life such distresses are little felt. Are we wrong in saying that they are never felt at all, except in idleness—or by minds far above the average of the race How little are the perplexities of speculation to the busy man, anxious and toiling to find the means of maintaining his wife and children, of paying his Christmas bills, and generally of making the ends meet at the close of the year ! That, whether we admit the fact or deny it, is, with the great majority even of cultivated men, the practical problem of life. And indeed it is sad to
think how, long before middle age, in many a man