« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Fru Krohn, her dead mother's friend, who wishes to marry her to her favourite younger son, Halfdan. Unluckily Halfdan has his own ideas of happiness, and is under a tacit pledge to a worthless little coquette whom he has met in Hamburg. When his eyes open to the facts, that Blanca Nordstedt is 'unworthy of him, and that he has been living “at the side of his greatest happiness without knowing it,” a new difficulty arises. Ragna's father, Consul Hjelm, has been guilty, some years ago, of gross fraud, and is in the power of an unworthy clerk, who now threatens disclosure and ruin, if he be not allowed to marry Ragna, and taken into partnership Fortunately the consul is persuaded to retire from Norway, and dies by a last flash of right feeling a day before the vindictive clerk has tracked him, and just as his longer existence might be inconvenient to the two lovers. The story, such as it is, is well and gracefully told, and the probabilities of life are, on the whole, less violated than they might be in a book which seems intended to vindicate the Divine government in the world, every one flourishing or failing in exact proportion to his deserts or demerits. The author, who beyond all question is a lady, has evidently modelled herself on the English school of composition, and almost against her own will, for she protests against the Anglomania prevalent in Norway, is English to the core in her sentiments. The introduction of a purse-proud Mr. Arnott, an "unattractive young Englishman, with his fair hair and red whiskers, his goodnatured but meaningless face, and stiff bearing,” who carries a heroic Pole about with him as interpreter, and monopolises all the attention of the company, will pretty well give the reasons and the measure of the author's dislike to us. But if she objects to see her country overshadowed, and revolts from the affectation of foreign manners, she makes ample amends by her partiality for the literature of the island to which foreign Protestants look up in their own despite as a Catholic looks to Rome. She thinks of the rival claims of Scott and Balzac as English mothers think. It is in keeping with all this that household purity is assumed throughout the story as existing and inviolable. Ragna and her lover ride out together freely without escort, and it is spoken of as a hardship that he is not able to accompany a journey of several days' duration to the North. How long this simplicity will be possible is another question. The "Merchant's Daughter” is full of complaints against the love of material comfort and the passion for wealth, which testify to the progress of a commercial civilisation in Christiania. "The little city will lose much of its comparative innocence when its character as a Norse capital is finally lost in its position as a cosmopolitan harbour.
In pointing out these samples of Scandinavian literature, we have not aimed at giving any idea of its extent or real value. The limits of a Review article forbid any such ambition, and we have purposely refrained from alluding even to living authors of celebrity whose works did not come within the
scope criticism. What we have tried to show is, that these countries have an individuality of their own too distinct from the German to admit of being absorbed into it, too like our own not to command sympathy. At present every river in Norway that is at all worth fishing is farmed by an Englishman, and the valleys are beginning to be studded with English villas. The newspapers, which are comparatively indifferent to foreign politics, take the little they communicate from the Times, and translate articles from weekly papers like the Spectator and the Examiner. The “day-books" of posting-stations on the main roads show an enormous proportion of nanes from the British isles. All these are elements of power which we surely may do well to cultivate. A few days' study of one of the easiest languages in Europe, a little consideration for national habits, would give half the English who travel in the North a feeling of citizenship, and enable them to bring back other memories than the mere wealth of unimagined landscape can excite. Every people, no doubt, has its peculiar charm to the appreciative student, but it is not always easy to do justice to uncongenial virtues and graces. In this respect Englishmen who travel in the Scandinavian kingdoms are on special vantageground. They may miss much that is pleasant in other countries,-French courtesy and Russian hospitality,—but they will never be able to forget that the people round them belong to the stock which of all others is preeminent for what we call distinctively-manhood.
ART. VIII.-THE FLAVIAN CÆSARS. A History of the Romans under the Empire. By Charles Merivale,
B.D. Vols. VI. and VII. London, 1858-62. The History of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to the Death
of Marcus Antoninus. By the late Rev. Robert Lynam, M.A. Edited by the Rev. John T. White, M.A. Two volumes. London,
1850. We are sorry that Mr. Merivale has determined to bring his work to an end at a point earlier than that which he originally fixed upon. His first intention was to carry on his history
to the time of Constantine; he has now ended with the death of Marcus Aurelius. Each of these points makes a good ending, because each marks the termination of a distinct period in the annals of the Empire. We should have preferred the later date, partly because it marks the completion of a still more marked change than the other, partly because it would have given us the advantage of Mr. Merivale's companionship over a longer space. By leaving off where he has left off, Mr. Merivale indeed avoids any appearance of rivalry with Gibbon. He now leaves off where Gibbon begins, and the two may be read as a consecutive history. But we do not think that Mr. Merivale, or any scholar of Mr. Merivale's powers, need be frightened off any portion of the wide field between Commodus and the last Constantine, simply through dread of apparent rivalry with Gibbon. That Gibbon should ever be displaced seems impossible. That wonderful man monopolised, so to speak, the historic genius and the historic learning of a whole generation, and left little indeed of either for any of his contemporaries. He remains the one historian of the eighteenth century whom modern research has neither set aside nor threatened to set aside. It is possible to correct and improve in detail from the stores which have been opened since Gibbon's time; it is possible to rewrite large portions of his story from other, and often truer and more wholesome, points of view. But the work of Gibbon, as a whole, as the encyclopædic history of thirteen hundred years, as the grandest of historical designs, carried out alike with marvellous power and with marvellous accuracy, must ever keep its place. Whatever else is read, Gibbon must be read too. But, for that very reason, the scholar who reproduces any particular portion of Gibbon's history, Dean Milman or Mr. Finlay,—we wish we could add Mr. Merivale, - does not really enter into any competition with his great predecessor. The two things are different in kind, and each may be equally excellent in its own way. It does not occur to us to compare the man who deals with the whole of a vast subject with the man who deals—necessarily at far greater detail-with one particular part of it. And, after all, we hardly feel that we have reached Gibbon's proper and distinctive field, till we have reached a later period than that which he and Mr. Merivale would have had in common. Gibbon is preëminently the historian of the transition from the Roman world to the world of modern Europe. But that transition can hardly be said to have visibly begun till we reach the period which Mr. Merivale originally set before him as the goal of his labours.
Still, as it is, Mr. Merivale has the advantage of occupying, absolutely without a rival in his own tongue, the period of history which he has chosen for himself. It is only in his opening volumes that he comes into competition with Arnold, and there only with Arnold, before he had reached the maturity of his powers. The history of the Emperors he has wholly to himself. The two volumes of Mr. Lynam seem to have fallen dead from the press. We do not remember to have ever seen them quoted. From such a glance as we have given to them, we do not wonder at their fate. The narrative seems to have been carefully put together from the original writers, but there is no sign of power of any kind; the style is weak, and the writer indulges in a vein of sermonising comment which is almost as offensive in one way as the flippant irreligion of Gibbon is in another. One cannot restrain a smile when we read that Mr. Lynam's intention was to fill up the interval between Hooke and Gibbon, and that both he and his editor—the latter writing as lately as 1850— looked upon Hooke and Gibbon alike as equally entitled to the name of “ great historians." In short, the only use to which Mr. Lynam's history could be put was already supplied by the less pretentious and therefore more valuable sketch of Mr. Keightley.
But if Mr. Merivale has the advantage of thus practically standing alone, it must not be thought that he owes his vantage-ground solely to the absence of competition. His history is a great work in itself, and it must be a very great work indeed which can surpass it in its own province. Our general opinion of Mr. Merivale we have already given when speaking of his smaller work, The Fall of the Roman Republic.* In these days of licensed blundering, when a Dean" cannot construe Latin, and a Professor cannot construe Greek, it is delightful indeed to come across the sound and finished scholarship, the unwearied and unfailing accuracy, of Mr. Merivale. It is something to have, for once, a modern writer whom one can trust, and whose margin one has not to crowd with corrections of his mistakes. On some points we hold that Mr. Merivale's views are open to dispute ; but it is always his views, never his statements. With Mr. Merivale we may often have to controvert opinions which are fair matters of controversy, but never to correct blunders, never to point out misrepresentations. We have somewhat of a battle to fight with him, as being in some sort an advocate of imperialism ; but it is all fair fighting with a fair and moderate advocate. Compared with Arnold's glorious third volume, Mr. Merivale's narrative seems heavy, and his style is cumbered with needless Latinisms, savouring, sometimes of English newspapers, sometimes of French historians and politicians. Still he always writes with weight and clearness, often with real vigour and eloquence. That he is lacking in the moral grandeur of Arnold, his burning zeal for right, his unquenchable hatred of wrong, is almost implied in the choice of his subject and the aspect in which he views it. But the gift of rising to the dignity of a prophet without falling into the formal tediousness of a preacher, is something which Arnold had almost wholly to himself. And even that gift had its disadvantages.
* National Review, January 1862, s. 41.
Arnold could have written the history of the Empire only in the spirit of a partisan. Arnold was never unfair, but the very keenness of his moral sense sometimes made him unjust. He was too apt to judge men by an unattainable standard. Mr. Merivale's calmer temper has some advantages. If he does not smite down sin like Arnold, he lets us more clearly see the extenuating circumstances and temptations of the sinner. He has, as we think, somewhat of a love of paradox, but it is kept fairly in check by a really sound and critical judgment. While we cannot help setting down Mr. Merivale as, in some degree, an apologist of imperial tyranny, we are never sorry to see any cause in the hands of an apologist so competent and so candid. Indeed, when we compare his history with the fanatical advocacy of Mr. Congreve, we feel hardly justified in calling him an apologist at all.
We said that both the conclusion at first intended by Mr. Merivale and that at which he has actually laid down his pen, each marked the close of a distinct period in the Imperial history. The history of the "Roman Empire is the history of two tendencies, working side by side, and greatly influencing one another. The one is the gradual change from the commonwealth to the avowed monarchy; the other is the gradual extension of the name and character of Romans over the inhabitants of the whole empire. Of the former we see the beginnings for some time before the usurpation of either Cæsar; of the latter we may trace the beginnings up to the very foundation of the Roman city. The age of Constantine, the point originally chosen by Mr. Merivale, marks the final and complete triumph of both these tendencies; it is also marked by the first appearance, as really visible and dominant influences, of the two great elements of modern life: the Christian and the Teutonic element. The mere beginnings of both are of course far earlier, but it was in the third century that they began directly and visibly to influence the course of Roman affairs. When the Christian Emperor reigns at Constantinople, when all purely pagan and