Изображения страниц

a very

of a series of thoughts, he would be afraid to atempt assigning the steps by which his author had arrived at it. : There can be no doubt that, by such patient labour as the adopted mode of publication entirely forbade, the writer could have given, if we may so express it, more roundness and prominence to the logical fibres of his composition, and a morë unequivocal substance to some of its more attenuated components ; in short left nothing obscure but what was invincibly and necessarily so, from the profound abstraction and exquisite refinement of thought, in which Mr. C. would have extremely few equals in whatever age he had lived.

Our contracted limits will not allow more than brief notice of the several subjects on which the author's intellect and imagination have thrown their light and colours, in a inore fixed or in a momentary manner, in the course of this desultory performance. It would be fully as in-. teresting, though a more difficult task, to discriminate some of the qualities which distinguish his manner of thinking and writing : and we shall make a short attempt at this, though with no small degree of diffidence in our ability to render the more subtle characteristics palpable in description. Some of them are almost as undefinable, as the varied modifications of the air by which very susceptible organs can perceive the different state of that element as subsisting in one district and in another; alınost as undefinable, as the tinge by which the light of the rising and setting sun in spring or autumn, is recognized as of a quite different character from its morning and evening radiance in the other seasons.

And while we are making this reference to the elements and phenomena of nature, we will confess that this author, beyond any other, (Mr. Wordsworth is next,) gives us the impression, or call it the fancy, of a mind constructed to bear a certain indescribable analogy to nature—that is to the physical world, with its wide extent, its elements, its mysterious laws, its animated forms, and its variety and vicissitude of appearances. His mind lives almost habitually in a state of profound sympathy with nature, maintained through the medium of a refined illusion of génius, which informs all nature with a kind of soul and sentiment, that bring all its forms and eptities, animate and inanimate, visible and invisible, into a mystical communion with his feelings. This sympathy is, or involves, an exceedingly different feeling from that with which a strictly philosophic mind perceives and admires in nature the more definable


attributes of variety, order, beauty, and grandeur. These are acknowledged with a vivid perception ; but, in our author's powerful imagination, they become a kind of moral attributes of a half-intelligential principle, which dimly, but with mysterious attraction, discloses itself from within all matter and form. This sympathy has retained bim much more effectually in what may be called the school of nature, than is usual to men of genius who enter

much into artificial society, and so extensively study the works of men: And the influences of this school have given that form to his habits of thinking which bears so many marks of analogy to the state of surrounding physical nature.

To illustrate this we may observe, that he perpetually fa!ls on analogies between moral truth and facts in nature : in his figurative language he draws his similies and metaphors from the scenes of nature in preference to the departments of arto though these latter are also very much at his command : his ideas have much of the unlimited variety of nature; they have much also of its irregularity, being but little constrained into formal artificial method : there is in his train of thinking a great deal of what may be called colour and efflorescence, and but little of absolutely plain bare intellectual material: like, nature as to her productions, he seems as willing to bestow labour and completeness on little thoughts as on great ones; we may add, he does not shew any concern about mixing the little and great together,--sublime and remote ideas, and humble and familiar ones, being readily admitted, if they happen to come in immediate succession.

The above description of our author's sympathy with nature, and his mystical perception of something like soul and sentiment residing in all material elements and forms, will not be misunderstood to impute to him any thing like a serious adoption of the atheistical principle of Spinoza, pr of the Stoic or Piatonic dogmas about the Soul of the World.. This converse with all surrounding existence is, in the perfect consciousness of our author's mind, no more than the emancipation of that mind itself ; imparting, in its meditative enthusiasm, a character of imaginary moral being and deep significance to all objects, but leaving his understanding in the full aud solemn belief of a Supreme Intelligence, perfectly distinct from the whole universe. But there is strong reason to suspect, that certain of his poetical contemporaries renounce the idea of such a Divine Intelligence, in their fancy of the all-pervading, inexplicable something, which privileged and profoundly thoughtful spirits may perceive, and without illusion, in the light of

the sun, in clouds, in silent groves, and in the sound of winds and mountain torrents.

But we ought to have remarked, first, on some of the more easily definable of the distinguishing properties of the Friend's' intellectual and literary character. Among the foremost may be mentioned the independence and the wide reach with which he thinks. He has given attendance in all the schools of moral and metaphysical philosophy, ancient and modern, but evidently has attended there rather to debate the matter with the professors, than with submissive homage to receive their dictates. He would have been a most factious and troublesome pupil in the academy of Pythagoras. He regards all subjects and doctrines as within the rightful sphere of free examination : and the work affords evidence, that a very large number of them have actually been examined by him with extraordinary severity. Yet this freedom of thinking, supported as it is by the conscious possession of great power aird exceedingly ample and diversified knowledge, does not degenerate into arrogance; a 'high and sincere respect being uniformly shewn for the great intellectual aristocracy of both the past and present times, but especially of the past. Of the eminent writers of our own country, he evinces a higher veneration for those of the seventeenth, than those of the subsequent century, and of the present time; and professes to have been of late years more familiar with them, and to have involuntarily acquired some degree of conformity to their manner of thinking and to their style.

Another instantly apparent distinction of our author's manner of thinking, is its extreme abstractedness. Considering that many of his subjects are not of that class which, by the necessity of their nature, can be discussed in no other than a metaphysical manner, he has avoided, in a wonderful and unequalled degree, all the superficial and obvious forms of thought which they might suggest. He always carries on his investigation at a depth, and sometimes a most profound depth, below the uppermost and most accessible stratum ; and is philosophically mining among its most recondite principles of the subject, while ordinary intellectual and literary workinen, many of them barely informed of the very existence of this Spirit of the Deep, are pleasing themselves and those they draw around them, with forming to pretty shapes, or commodious uses, the materials of the surface. It may be added, with little departure from the consistency of the metaphor, that if he endeavours to make his voice heard from this region beneath, it is apt to be listened to as a sound of dubious import, like that which fails to bring articulate words from the remote recess of a cavern, or the bottom of the deep shaft of a mine. However faniiliar the truths and facts to which bis mind is directed, it constantly, and as if involuntarily strikes, if we may so speak, into the invisible and the unknown of the subject : he is seeking the most retired and abstracted form in which any being can be acknowledged and realized as having an existence, or any truth can be put in a proposition. lle torns all things into their ghosts, and summons us to walk with him in this region of shadesthis strange world of disembodied truths and entities.


He repeatedly avows, that it is less his object 10 teach truth in its most special and practical form, and in its detailed application, than to bring up into view and certainty a number of grand general principles, to become the lights, of judgement, on an endless variety of particular subjects. At least this was the proposed object of the earlier part, the first twenty or thirty numbers, of the intended series. These principles were to be brought into clearness and authority, partly by statement and argument in an abstract form, and partly by shewing them advantageously in operation, as applied to the trial and decision of several interesting questions. But the abstruseness often unavoidable in the pure intellectual enunciation of a principle, prevails also in an uncommon degree, in the present work, through the practical illustrations-even when the matter of those illustrations consists of very familiar facts. The ideas employed to explain the mode of the relation between the facts and the principle, are sometimes of such extreme tenuity as to make a reader who is anxious to comprehend, but unaccustomed to abstraction, feel as if he were deficient by nearly one whole faculty, some power of intellectual sight or tact with which he perceives the author to be endowed,--for there is something that every where compels him to give the author credit for thinking with great acut ness, even when he is labouring in vain to refine his own conceptions into any state that can place him in real communication with the author's mind. The surpassing subtlety of that mind is constantly describing the most unobvious relations, and detecting the most veiled aspects of things, and pervading their substance in quest of whatever is most Jatent in their nature. This extreme subtlety is the cavse of more than one kind of difficulty to the reader. Its nesessary consequence is that refinement of observation on which we have so prolixly remarked ; but it has another consequence, the less or greater degree of which depended on the author's choice. He has suffered it continually to

retard him in, or divert him from, the straight forward line of thought to his object. He enters on a train of argumentative observations to determine a given question. He advances, one acute thought, and another, and another: but by this time he perceives among these which we may call the primary thoughts, so many secondaries-so many bearings, distinctions, and analogies so many ideas starting sideways from the main line of thought-so many pointings towards subjects infinitely remote-that, in the attempt to seize and fix in words these secondary thoughts, he will often suspend for a good while the progress toward the intended point. Thus each thought that was to have been only one thought, and to have transmitted the reader's mind immediately forward to the next in order and in advance, becomes an exceedingly complex combination of thoughts, almost a dissertation in miniature: and thus our journey to the assigned point (if indeed we are carried so far, which is not always the case) becomes nothing less than a visit of curious inspection to every gardlen, manufactory, museum, and antiquity, situated near the road, throughout its whole length. Hence too it often happens, that the transitions are not a little perplexing. The transition directly from one primary thought, as we venture to call it, in the train to the next, might be very easy: we might see most perfectly how, in natural logic, the one was connected with the other, or led to it: but when we have to pass to this next principal thought in the train, from some divergent and remote accessory of the former principal idea, we feel that we have lost the due bearing of the preceding part of the train, by being brought in such an indirect way to the resumption of it.

The same kind of observation is applicable to the com“ parisons and metaphors with which our author illustrates and adorns his speculations. In this component of good writing, we believe he has no superior in this or any other age. His figures are original, and various, and often complexly opposite, to a degree of which we do not at present recollect any example. They are taken indifferently from any part of a prodigious sphere of knowledge, and presented with every possible advantage of rich and definite expression. In the choice of them he very justy scorns, what has been noticed as a leading point of contra distinction of the French orators and poets from ours, the fastidiousness which declines şimilies taken from things of so humble a quality as to give to the figure a character of neanness. While he can

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »