Изображения страниц

motives to confirm the in upright-ers through sympathy, and it seems as ness; because they cultivate in them- if we were about to emit from our selves sense, that is common, practical chests a roar to equal their own. reason. A little fiction, a few portraits, the least amount of amusement, will suffice to adorn it. This substantial food only needs a very simple seasoning. It is not the novelty of the dishes, nor dainty cookery, but solidity and wholesomeness, which they seek. For this reason Essays are Johnson's national food. It is because they are insipid and dull for Frenchmen that they suit the taste of an Englishman. We understand now why they take for a favorite the respectable, the tiresome Dr. Samuel Johnson.


I would fain bring together all these features, see these figures; only colors and forms complete an idea; in order to know, we must see. Let us go to the picture-gallery. Hogarth, the national painter, the friend of Fielding, the contemporary of Johnson, the exact imitator of manners, will show us the outward, as these authors have shown us the inward.

We enter these great galleries of art. Painting is a noble thing! It embellishes all, even vice. On the four walls, under transparent and brilliant glass, the torsos rise, flesh palpitates, the blood's warm current circulates under the veined skin, speaking likenesses stand out in the light; it seems that the ugly, the vulgar, the odious, have disappeared from the world. I no more criticise characters; I have done with moral rules. I am no longer tempted to approve or to hate. A man here is but a smudge of color, at most a handful of muscles; I know no longer if he be a murderer.

Life, the happy, complete, overflowing display, the expansion of natural and corporal powers; this from all sides floods and rejoices our eyes. Our limbs instinctively move by contagious imitation of moverents and forms. Before these lions of Rubens, whose deep growls rise like thunder to the mouth of the cave, before these colossal writhing torsos, these snouts which grope about skulls, he animal within us quiv

What though art has degenerated even amongst Frenchmen, epigramma tists, the bepowdered abbés of the eigh teenth century, it is art still. Beauty is gone, elegance remains. These pretty arch faces, these slender waspish waists, these delicate arms buried in a nest of lace, these careless wanderings amongs thickets and warbling fountains, these gallant dreams in a lofty chamber fes tooned with garlands, all this refined and coquettish society is still charming. The artist, then as always, gathers the flower of things, and cares not for the rest.

But what was Hogarth's aim? who ever saw such a painter? Is he a painter? Others make us wish to see what they represent; he makes us wish not to see it.

Is there any thing more agreeable to paint than a drunken debauch by night? the jolly, careless faces; the rich light, drowned in shadows which flicker over rumpled garments and weighed-down bodies. With Hogarth, on the other hand, what figures! Wickedness, stupidity, all the vile poison of the vilest human passions, drops and distils from them. One is shaking on his legs as he stands, sick, whilst a hiccup half opens his belching lips; another howls hoarsely, like a wretched cur; another, with bald and broken head, patched up in places, falls forward on his chest, with the smile of a sick idiot. We turn over the leaves of Hogarth's works and the train of odious or bestial faces appears to be inexhaustible; features distorted or deformed, foreheads lumpy or puffed out with perspiring flesh, hideous grins distended by ferocious laughter one has had his nose bitten off; the next, one-eyed, square-headed, spotted over with bleeding warts, whose red face looks redde under the dazzling white wig, smokes slently, full of ran cor and spleen; another, an old man with a crutch, scarlet and bloated, his chin falling on his breast, gazes with the fixed and starting eyes of a crab. Ho garth shows the beast in man,and worse, a mad and murderous, a feeble or en raged beast. Look at this murdere: standing over the body of his butchered

mistress, with squinting eyes, distorted mouth, grinding his teeth at the thought of the blood which stains and denounces him; or this ruined gambler, who has torn off his wig and kerchief, and is crying on his knees, with closed teeth, and fist raised against heaven. Look again at this madhouse: the dirty idiot, with muddy face, filthy hair, stained claws, who thinks he is playing on the violin, and has a sheet of music for a cap; the religious madman, who writhes convulsively on his straw, with clasped hands, feeling the claws of the devil in his bowels; the naked and naggard raving lunatic whom they are chaining up, and who is tearing out his flesh with his nails. Detestable Yahoos who presume to usurp the blessed light of heaven, in what brain can you have arisen, and why did a painter sully our eyes with your picture?

It is because his eyes were English, and because the senses in England are 'barbarous. Let us leave our repugnance behind us, and look at things as Englishmen do, not from without but from within. The whole current of public thought tends here towards observation of the soul, and painting is dragged along with literature in the same course. Forget then the forms, they are but lines; the body is here only to translate the mind. This twisted nose, these pimples on a vinous cheek, these stupefied gestures of a drowsy brute, these wrinkled features, these degraded forms, only make the character, the trade, the whim, the habit stand out more clearly. The artist shows us no longer limbs and heads, but debauchery, drunkenness, brutality, hatred, despair, all the diseases and deformities of these too harsh and unbending wills, the mad menagerie of all the passions. Not that he lets them loose; this rude, dogmatic, and Christian citizen handles more vigorously than any of his brethren the heavy club of morality. He is a beef-eating policeman charged with instructing and correcting drunken pugilists. From such a man to such men

When a character is strongly marked in he living face, it may be considered as an index to the mind, to express which with any degree of justness in painting, requires the utmost efforts of a great master.-Analysis of



ceremony would be superfluous. the bottom of every cage where he im prisons a vice, he writes its name and adds the condemnation pronounced by Scripture; he displays that vice in its ugliness, buries it in its filth, drags it to its punishment, so that there is no conscience so perverted as not to ree ognize it, none so hardened as not to be horrified at it.

Let us look well, these are lessons which bear fruit. This one is against gin: on a step, in the open street, lies a drunken woman, half naked, with hanging breasts, scrofulous legs; she smiles idiotically, and her child, which she lets fall on the pavement, breaks its skull. Underneath, a pale skeleton, with closed eyes, sinks down with a glass in his hand. Round about, dissipation and frenzy drive the tattered spectres one against another. A wretch who has hung himself sways to and fro in a garret. Gravediggers are putting a naked woman into a coffin. A starveling is gnawing a bare bone side by side with a dog. By his side little girls are drinking with one another, and a young woman is making her suckling swallow gin. A madman pitchforks his child, and raises it aloft; he dances and laughs, and the mother sees it.

Another picture and lesson, this time against cruelty. A young murderer has been hung, and is being dissected. He is there, on a table, and the lecturer calmly points out with his wand the places where the students are to work. At his sign the dissectors cut the flesh and pull. One is at the feet; the second man of science, a sardonic old butcher, seizes a knife with a hand that looks as if it would do its duty, and thrusts the other hand into the entrails, which, lower down, are being taken out to be put into a bucket. The last medical student takes out the eye, and the distorted mouth seems to howl under his hand. Meanwhile a dog seizes the heart, which is trailing on the ground; thigh bones and skull boil by way of concert, in a copper; and the doctors around coolly exchange surgical jokes on the subject which, piecemeal, is passing away under their scalpeis.

Frenchmen will say that such lessons are good for barbarians, and that they only half-like these official or lay

preachers, De Foe, Hogarth, Smollett, |rect, agreeable. sensible, colorless, and Richardson, Johnson, and the rest. I narrow-minded history. This spirit.

reply that moralists are useful, and that these have changed a state of barbarism into one of civilization.


The Poets.


common to England and France, impressed its for on an infinite diversity of literary works, so that in its univer sal manifest ascendency we cannot but recognize the presence of one of those internal forces which bend and govern the course of human genius.


In no branch was it displayed more manifestly than in poetry, and at no time did it appear more clearly than in the reign of Queen Anne. The poets have just attained to the art which they had before dimly discerned. For sixty years they were approaching it; now they possess it, handle it; they use and exaggerate it. The style is at the same time finished and artificial. Let us open the first that comes to hand, Parnell or Philips, Addison or Prior, Gay or Tickell, we find a certain turn of mind, versification, language. Let us pass to a second, the same form reappears; we might say that they were imitations of one another. Let us go on to a third; the same diction, the same apostrophes, the same fashion of arranging an epithet and rounding a period. Let us turn over the whole lot; with little individual differences, they seem be all cast in the same mould; one is more epicurean, another more moral, another more biting; but a noble language, an oratorical pomp, a classical correctness, reign throughout; the substantive is accompanied by its adjective, its knight of honor; an tithesis balances its symmetrical ar chitecture; the verb, as in Lucan or Statius, is displayed, flanked on each side by a noun decorated by an epithet; we would say that it is of a uniform make, as if fabricated by a machine we forget what it wishes to mak known; we are tempted to count th measure on our fingers; we know b forehand what poetical ornaments ar to embellish it. There is a theatric dressing, contrasts, allusions, mythol gical elegance, Greek or Latin quota tions. There is a scholastic solidity, sententious maxims, philosophic com monplaces, moral developments, oratorical exactness. We might imagine Paul Louis Courier (1772-1825) says, ourselves to be before a family of lady's maid, in Louis XIV.'s time, wrote beplants; if the size, color, accessories, er than the grates of modern writers." names differ, the fundamental typ

WHEN we take in at one view the vast literary region in England, extending from the restoration of the Stuarts to the French Revolution, we perceive that all the productions, independently of the English character, bear a classical impress, and that this impress, special to this region, is met with neither in the preceding nor in the succeeding time. This dominant form of thought is imposed on all writers from Waller to Johnson, from Hobbes and Temple to Robertson and Hume: there is an art to which they all aspire; the work of a hundred and fifty years, practice and theory, inventions and imitations, examples and criticism, are employed in attaining it. They comprehend only one kind of beauty; they establish only the precepts which may produce it; they re-write, translate, and disfigure on its pattern the great works of other ages; they carry it into all the different kinds of literature, and succeed or fail in them according as it is adapted to them or not. The sway of this style is so absolute, that it is imposed on the greatest, and condemns them to impotence when they would apply it beyond its domain. The possession of this style is so universal, that it is met with in the weakest authors, and raises them to the height of talent when they apply it in its domain. * This it is which brings to perfection prose, discourse, essay, dissertation, narration, and all the productions which form part of conversation and eloquence. This it is which destroyed the old drama, debased the new, impoverished and diverted poetry, produced a cor

[ocr errors]

does not vary; the stamens are of the same number, similarly inserted around similar pistils, above leaves arranged on the same plan; a man who knows one knows all; there is a common organism and structure which involves the uniformity of the rest. If we review the whole family we will doubtless find there some characteris- | tic plant which displays the type in a clear light, whilst all around it and by degrees it alters, degenerates, and at last loses itself in the surrounding families. So here we see classical art find its centre in the neighbors of Pope, and above all in Pope himself; then, after being half effaced, mingle with foreign elements until it disappears in the poetry which succeeded it. *


ed Alcander. For eight years shut up in a little house in Windsor Forest, he read all the best critics, almost all the English, Latin, and French poets who had a reputation, Homer, the Greek poets, and a few of the great ones in the original, Tasso and Ariosto in translations, with such assiduity, that he nearly died from it. He did not search in them for passions, but style: there was never a more devoted adorer, never a more precocious master of form. Already his taste showed itself: amongst all the English poets his favor. ite was Dryden, the least inspired and the most classical. He perceived his career. He states that Mr. Walsh told him there was one way left of excelling. "We had several great poets," he said, "but we never had one great poet that was correct; and he advised me to make that my study and aim."* He followed this advice, tried his hand in translations of Ovid and Statius, and in recasting parts of old Chaucer. He appropriated all the poetic elegancies and excellences, stored them up in his memory; he arranged in his head a complete dictionary of all happy epithets, all ingenious turns of expression, all sonorous rhythms by which a poet may exalt, render precise, illuminate an idea. He was like those little musicians, infant prodigies, who, brought up at the piano, suddenly ac quire a marvellous touch, roll out scales, brilliant shakes, make the octaves vault with an agility and accuracy which drive off the stage the most fa mous performers. At seventeen, becom ing acquainted with old Wycherley, who was sixty-nine, he undertook, at his request, to correct his poems, and corrected them so well, that the other was at once charmed and mortified. Pope blotted out, added, recast, spoke frankly, and eliminated firmly "he author, in spite of himself, admired the cor rections secretly, and tried openly to make light of them, until at last, ins vanity, wounded at owing so much to so young a man, and at finding a mas ter in a scholar, ended by breakin off an intercourse by which he profited and suffered too much. For the scholar had at the outset carried the art be

In 1688, at a linen draper's in Lombard Street, London, was born a little, delicate, and sickly creature, by nature artificial, constituted beforehand for a studious existence, having no taste but for books, who from his early youth derived his whole pleasure from the contemplation of printed books. He copied the letters, and thus learned to write. He passed his infancy with them, and was a verse-maker as soon as he knew how to speak. At the age of twelve he had written a little tragedy out of the Iliad, and an Ode on Solitude. From thirteen to fifteen he composed a long epic of four thousand verses, call*The Rev. Whitwell Elwin, in his second volume of the Works of Alexander Pope, at the end of his introduction to An Essay on Man, p. 338, says: "M. Taine asserts that from the Restoration to the French Revolution, from Waller to Johnson, from Hobbes and Ten v'e to Robertson and Hume, all our literature oth prose and verse, bears the impress of ssic art. The mode, he says, culminated in the reign of Queen Anne, and Pope, he considers, was the extreme example of it. Many of the most eminent authors who flourished between the English Restoration wrote in a style far removed from that which M. Taine calls classical. . . . The verse differs like the prose, though in a less degree, and is not "of a uniform make, as if fabricated by a machine."

Neither is the substance

of the prose and verse, from the Restoration to the French Revolution, an invariable commonBense mediocrity. There is much truth in his (M. Taine's) view, that there was a growing tendency to cultivate style, and in some writers the art degenerated into the artificial." Tz.

R. Carruthers, Life of Alexander Popa ad ed. 1857, ch. i. 33.

yond any of the masters. At sixteen * his Pastorals bore witness to a correctness which no one had possessed, not even Dryden. When people observed these choice words, these exquisite arrangements of melodious syllables, this science of division and rejection, this style so fluent and pure, these graceful images rendered still more graceful by the diction, and all this artificial and many-tinted garland of flowers which Pope called pastoral, hey thought of the first eclogues of Virg. Mr. Walsh declared that it is not flattery at all to say that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age." When later they appeared in a volume, the public was dazzled. You have only displeased the critics," wrote Wycherley, "by pleasing them too well." The same year the poet of twenty-one finished his Essay on Criticism, a sort of Ars Poetica: it is the kind of poem a man might write at the end of his career, when he has handled all modes of writing and has grown grey in criticism; and in this subject, of which the treatment demands the experience of a whole literary life, he was at the first onset as ripe as Boileau.

What will this consummate musician, who begins by a treatise on harmony, make of his incomparable mechanism and his science as a teacher? It is well to feel and think before writing; a full source of living ideas and real passions is necessary to make a genuine poet, and in him, seen closely, we find that every thing, to his very person, is scanty and artificial; he was a dwarf, four feet high, contorted, hunchbacked, thin, valetudinarian, appearing, when he arrived at maturity, no longer capable of existing. He could not get up himself, a woman dressed him; he wore three pairs of stockings, drawn an one over the other, so slender were ais legs; "when he rose, he was inrested in bodice made of stiff canvas, being scarce able to hold himself erect till they were laced, and he then put

It is very doubtful whether Pope was not older than sixteen when he wrote the Pasto

rals. See, on this subject, Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, London 1871, i. 239 et passim.-Ta. † Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, i. 233. tid. 342.


on a flannel waistcoat; "* next came a sort of fur doublet, for the least thing made him shiver; and lastly, a thick linen shirt, very warm, with fine sleeves. Over all this he wore a black garment, a tye-wig, a little sword thus equipped, he went and took his place at the table of his great friend, the Earl of Oxford. He was so small, that he had to be raised on a chair of his own; so bald, that when he had no company he covered his head with a velvet cap; so punctilious and exacting, that the footmen evaded going his errands, and the Earl had to discharge several "for their resolute refusal of his messages." At dinner he ate too much; like a spoiled child, he would have highly seasoned dishes, and thus "would oppress his stomach with re pletion." When cordials were offered him, he got angry, but did not refuse them. He had all the appetite and whims of an old child, an old invalid, an old author, an old bachelor. are prepared to find him whimsical and susceptible. He often, without saying a word, and without any known cause, quitted the house of Lord Oxford, and the footmen had to go repeatedly with messages to bring him back. If Lady Mary Wortley, his former poetical divinity, were unfortunately at table, there was no dining in peace; they would not fail to contradict, peck at each other, quarrel; and one or other would leave the room. He would be sent for and would return, but he brought his hobbies back with him. He was as crafty and malignant as a nervous abortion, which he was; when he wanted any thing, he dared not ask for it plainly; with hints and contriv. ances of speech he induced people to mention it, to bring it forward, after which he would make use of it. "Thus he teased Lord Orrery till he obtained a screen. He hardly drank tea without a stratagem. Lady Bolingbroke used to say that 'he played the politician about cabbages and turnips." "+

The rest of his life is not much more noble. He wrote libels on the Duke of Chandos, Aaron Hill, Lady Mary Wortley, and then lied or equivocated

Johnson, Lives of the most eminent Eng lish Poets, 3 vols., ed. Cunningham, 1854. A Pope, iii. 96. † Ibid. A. Pope, iii. 99

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »