« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
age and uprightness he refused all that he dictated, hardly re-read his favor, accepting nothing but time, set writing, and readily fell into a pasty and to work on the very day, wrote untiring-emphatic style,-a style very common iv, in four years paid seventy thousand in the present times, and which we read pounds, exhausted his brain so as to day after day in prospectuses and news become paralytic, and to perish in the papers. What is worse, he is terribly attempt. Neither in his conduct nor long and diffuse; his conversations and his literature did his feudal tastes suc- descriptions are interminable; he is ceed, and his manorial splendor was determined, at all events, to fill three as fragile as his Gothic imaginations. volumes. But he has given to Scot He had relied on imitation, and we live land a citizenship of literature—I mean by truth only; his glory is to be found to the whole of Scotland: scenery, elsewhere; there was something solid monuments, houses, cottages, characin his mind as well as in his writings. ters of every age and condition, from Beneath the lover of the middle age we the baron to the fisherman, from the find, first the "pawky" Scotchman, an advocate to the beggar, from the lady attentive observer, whose sharpness to the fishwife. When we mention became more intense by his familiarity merely his name they crowd forward; with law; a good-natured man, easy who does not see them coming from and cheerful, as beseems the national every niche of memory? The Baron character, so different from the English. of Bradwardine, Dominie Sampson, One of his walking companions (Short- Meg Merrilies, the antiquary, Edie reed) said: "Eh me, sic an endless Ochiltree, Jeanie Deans and her father, fund o' humour and drollery as he had-innkeepers, shopkeepers, old wives, wi' him! Never ten yards but we were either laughing or roaring and singing. Wherever we stopped, how brawlie he suited himsel' to everybody! He aye did as the lave did; never made himsel' the great man, or took ony airs in the company." Grown older and graver, he was none the less amiable, the most agreeable of hosts, so that one of his guests, a farmer, I think, said to his wife, when home, after having been at Abbotsford," Aifie, my woman, I'm ready for my bed . . . I wish I could sleep for a towmont, for there's only ae thing in this warld worth living for, and that's the Abbotsford hunt!"†
In addition to a mind of this kind, he had all-discerning eyes, an all-retentive memory, a ceaseless studiousness which comprehended the whole of Scotland, and all classes of people; and we see his true talent arise, so agreeable, so abundant and so easy, made up of minute observation and gentle raillery, recalling at once Teniers and Addison. Doubtless he wrote badly, at times in the worst possible manner: ‡ it is clear
Lockhart's Life, i. ch. vii. 269. ↑ Ibid. vi. ch. xlix. 252.
See the opening of Ivanhoe: "Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his return from his long captivity had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his despairing subjects, who were in the
an entire people. What Scotch features
meantime subjected to every species of subor
garity, and the hundred thousand ridiculous habits people always contract in a narrow sphere of life. A barber, in The Antiquary, moves heaven and earth about his wigs; if the French Revolution taker root everywhere, it was because the magistrates gave up this ornament. He cries out in a lamentable v.nce: "Haud a care, haud a care, Monk barns! God's sake, haud a care! -Sir Arthur's drowned already, and an ye fa' over the cleugh too, there will be bit ae wig left in the parish, and that's the minister's." * Mark how the author s niles, and without malice: the barber's candid selfishness is the effect of the man's calling, and does not repel Walter Scott is never bitter; he loves men from the bottom of his heart, excuses or tolerates them; does not chastise vices, but unmasks them, and that not rudely. His greatest pleasure is to pursue at length, not indeed a vice, but a hobby; the mania for odds and ends in an antiquary, the archæological vanity of the Baron of Bradwardine, the aristocratic drivel of the Dowager Lady Bellenden,-that is, the amusing exaggeration of an allowable taste; and this without anger, because, on the whole, these ridiculous people are estimable, and even generous. Even in rogues like Dirk Hatteraick, in cutthroats like Bothwell, he allows some goodness. In no one, not even in Major Dalgetty, a professional murderer, a result of the thirty years' war, is the odious unveiled by the ridiculous. In this critical refinement and this benevolent philosophy, he resembles Addison.
He resembles him again by the purity and endurance of his moral principles. His amanuensis, Mr. Laidlaw, told him that he was doing great ged by his attractive and noble tales, and that young people would no longer wish to Look in the literary rubbish of the cirtilating libraries. When Walter Scott heard this, his eyes filled with tears: "On his deathbed he said to his sonin-law: Lockhart, I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man-be virtuous, be religious -be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come
Sir Walter Scott's Works, 48 vols., 1829; The Antiquary, ch. viii.
| to lie here.'"* This was almost his last word. By this fundamental honesty and this broad humanity, he was the Homer of modern citizen life. Around and after him, the novel of manners, separated from the historical romance, has produced a whole literature, and preserved the character which he stamped upon it. Miss Austen, Miss Bronté, Mrs. Gaskell, George Eliot, Bulwer Thackeray, Dickens, and many others paint, especially or entirely in his style contemporary life, as it is, unembellish ed, in all ranks, often amongst the peo ple, more frequently still amongst the middle class. And the causes which made the historical novel come to naught, in Scott and others, made the novel of manners, by the same authors, succeed. These men were too minute copyists and too decided moralists, incapable of the great divinations and the wide sympathies which unlock the door of his tory; their imagination was too literal, and their judgment too unwavering. It is precisely by these faculties that they created a new species of novel, which multiplies to this day in thousands of offshoots, with such abundance, that men of talent in this branch of literature may be counted by hundreds, and that we can only compare them, for their original and national spirit, to the great age of Dutch painting. Realistic and moral, these are their two features. They are far removed from the great imagination which creates and transforms, as it appeared in the Renaissance or in the seventeenth century, in the heroic or noble ages. They renounce free invention; they narrow themselves to scrupulous exactness; they paint with infinite detail costumes and places, altering nothing; they mark little shades of language; they are not disgusted by vulgarities or platitudes. Their information is authentic and precise. In short, they write like citizens for fellow-citizens, that is, for well-ordered people, members of a profession, whose imagination does not soar high and sees things through a magnifying glass, unable to relish any thing in the way of a picture except interiors and makebelieves. Ask a cook which picture she prefers in the Museum, and she wil point to a kitchen, in which the stew * Lockhart's Life, x. 217.
pantheistic, and mystic, wrote in Far the epic of the age and the history of the human mind. Need I say that in Schiller, Heine, Beethoven, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, and de Musset; the poet, in his individual person, always speaks the words of the universal man? The characters which they have created from Faust to Ruy Blas, only served them to exhibit some grand metaphys
pans are so well painted that a man is tempted to put soup and bread in them. Yet beyond this inclination, which is now European, Englishmen have a special craving, which with them is national and dates from the preceding century; they desire that the novel, like all other things, should contribute to their great work, the amelioration of man and society. They ask from it the glorification of virtue, and the chastise-ical and social idea; and twenty times ment of vice. They send it into all the corners of civil society, and all the events of private history, in search of examples and expedients, to learn thence the means of remedying abuses, succoring miseries, avoiding temptations. They make of it an instrument of inquiry, education, and morality. A singular work, which has not its equal in all history, because in all history there has been no society like it, and which-of moderate attraction for lovers of the beautiful, admirable to lovers of the useful-offers, in the countless variety of its painting, and the invariable stability of its spirit, the picture of the only democracy which knows how to restrain, govern, and reform itself.
Side by side with this development tnere was another, and with history philosophy entered into literature, in order to widen and modify it. It was manifest throughout, on the threshold as in the centre. On the threshold it had planted æsthetics: every poet, becoming theoretic, defined before producing the beautiful, laid down principles in his preface, and originated only after a preconceived system. But the ascendency of metaphysics was much more visible yet in the middle of the work than on its threshold; for not only did it prescribe the form of poetry, but it furnished it with its elements. What is man, and what has he come into the world to do? What is this far-off greatness to which he aspires? Is there a haven which he may reach, and a hidden hand to conduct him thither? These are the questions which poets, transformed into thinkers, agreed to agitate; and Goethe, here as elsewhere the father and promoter of all lofty modern ideas, at once skeptical,
this too great idea, bursting its narrow envelope, broke out beyond all human likelihood and all poetic form, to dis play itself to the eyes of the spectators Such was the domination of the philos. ophical spirit that, after doing violence to literature, or rendering it rigid, it imposed on music humanitarian ideas, inflicted on painting symbolical designs, penetrated current speech, and marred style by an overflow of abstractions and formulas, from which all our efforts now fail to liberate us. As an overstrong child, which at its birth injures its mother, so it has contorted the noble forms which had endeavored to contain it, and dragged literature through an agony of struggles and sufferings.
This philosophical spirit was not born in England, and from Germany to England the passage was very long. For a considerable time it appeared dangerous or ridiculous. One of the reviews stated even, that Germany was a large country peopled by hussars and classical scholars; that if folks go there, they will see at Heidelberg a very large tun, and could feast on excellent Rhine wine and Westphalian ham, but that their authors were very heavy and awkward, and that a senti mental German resembles a tail and stout butcher crying over a killed calf. If at length German literature found entrance, first by the attraction of ex travagant dramas and fantastic ballads, then by the sympathy of the two nations, which, allied against French policy and civilization, acknowledged their cousinship in speech, religion, and blood, German metaphysics did not enter, unable to overturn the barrier which a positive mind and a national religion opposed to it. It tried to pass, with Coleridge for instance, a philosophical theologian and dreamy poet, who toiled to widen conventional dogma, and
who, at the close of his life, having re- | come a sort of oracle, endeavored, in the pale of the Church, to unfold and unveil before a few faithful disciples the Christianity of the future. It did not make head; the English mind was too positive, the theologians too enslaved. It was constrained to transform itself and become Anglican, or to deform itself and become revolutionary; and to produce a Wordsworth, a Byron, a Shelley, instead of a Schiller and Goethe.
The first, Wordsworth, a new Cowper, with less talent and more ideas than the other, was essentially a man of inner feelings, that is, engrossed by the concerns of the soul. Such, men ask what they have come to do in this world, and why life has been given to them; if they are right or wrong, and if the secret movements of their heart are conformable to the supreme law, without taking into account the visible causes of their conduct. Such, for men of this kind, is the master conception which renders them serious, meditative, and as a rule gloomy.* They live with eyes turned inwards, not to mark and classify their ideas, like physiologists, but as moralists, to approve or blame their feelings. Thus understood, life becomes a grave business, of uncertain issue, on which we must incessantly and scrupulously reflect. Thus understood, the world changes its aspect; it is no longer a machine of wheels, working into each other, as the philosopher says, nor a splendid blooming plant, as the artist feels, it is the work of a moral being, displayed as a spectacle to moral beings.
ancholy calm, so suited to nourish moral life. There is nothing which does not recall him to his duty and admonish him of his origin. Near or far like a great mountain in a landscape, his philosophy will appear behind all his ideas and images. If he is restless, impassioned, sick with scruples, it wiil appear to him amidst storm and lightning, as it did to the genuine Puritans, to Cowper, Pascal, Carlyle. It wil appear to him in a grayish kind of fog, imposing and calm, if he enjoys, like Wordsworth, a calm mind and a quiet life. Wordsworth was a wise and happy man, a thinker and a dreamer, who read and walked. He was from the first in tolerably easy circumstances, and had a small fortune. Happily married, amidst the favors of govern ment and the respect of the public, he lived peacefully on the margin of a beautiful lake, in sight of noble mountains, in the pleasant retirement of an elegant house, amidst the admiration and attentions of distinguished and chosen friends, engrossed by contemplations which no storm came to distract, and by poetry which was pro duced without any hindrance. In this deep calm he listens to his own thoughts; the peace was so great, within him and around him, that he could perceive the imperceptible. "To me, the meanest flower that blows, can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears." He saw a grandeur, a beauty, a teaching in the trivial events which weave the woof of our most commonplace days. He needed not, for the sake of emotion, either splendid sights or unusual actions. The dazzling glare of lamps, the pomp of the theatre, would have shocked him; his eyes were too delicate, accustomed to quiet and uniform_tints. He was a poet of the twilight. Moral existence in commonplace existence, such was his object-the object of his choice. His paintings are cameos with a gray ground, which have a meaning; designedly he suppresses all which might please the senses, in order to speak solely to the heart.
Figure such a man facing life and the world; he sees them, and takes part in it, apparently like any one else; but how different is he in reality! His reit thought pursues him; and when ne beholds a tree, it is to meditate on human destiny. He finds or lends sense to the least objects: a soldier narching to the sound of the drum makes him reflect on heroic sacrifice, the support of societies; a train of clouds lying heavily on the verge of a Out of this character sprang a theory, gloomy sky, endues him with that mel-his theory of art, altogether spiritual The Jansenists, the Puritans, and the istic, which, after repelling classical habits, ended by rallying Protestan
Methodists are the extremes of this class.
of imperceptible threads by which Wordsworth endeavors to bind to gether all sentiments and embrace all nature, breaks in my fingers; it is too fragile; it is a woof of woven spiderwed, spun by a metaphysical imag ination, and te: ring as soon as a hand of flesh and blood tries to touch it. Half of his pieces are childish, almost foolish; dull events described in a dull style, one platitude after another, and that on principle. All the poets in the world would not reconcile us to so much tedium. Certainly a cat play. ing with three dry leaves may furnish a philosophical reflection, and figure forth a wise man sporting with the fallen leaves of life; but eighty lines on such a subject make us yawn-much worse, smile. At this rate we will find a lesson in an old tooth-brush, which still continues in use. Doubtless, also, the ways of Providence are not to be fathomed, and a selfish and brutal artisan like Peter Bell may be converted by the beautiful conduct of an ass full of fidelity and unselfishness; but this sentimental prettiness quickly grows insipid, and the style, by its factitious simplicity, renders it still more insipid. We are not overpleased to see a grave man seriously imitate the language of nurses, and we murmur to ourselves that, with so many emotions, he must wet so many handkerchiefs. We will acknowledge, if you like, that your sentiments are interesting; yet there is no need to trot them all out before us.
sympathies, and won for him as many | love this poetry. Meanwhile the web partisans as it had raised enemies. Since the only important thing is moral life, let us devote ourselves solely to nourishing it. The reader must be moved, genuinely, with profit to his soul; the rest is indifferent: let us, then, show him objects moving in themselves, without dreaming of clothing them in a beautiful style. Let us strip ourselves of conventional language and poetic diction. Let us neglect noble words, scholastic and courtly epithets, and all the pomp of factitious splendor, which the classical writers thought themselves bound to assume, and justified in imposing. In poetry, as elsewhere, the grand question is, not ornament, but truth. Let us leave show, and seek effect. Let us speak in a bare style, as like as possible to prose, to ordinary conversation, even to rustic conversation, and let us choose our subjects at hand, in humble life. Let us take for our characters an idiot boy, a shivering old peasant woman, a hawker, a servant stopping in the street. It is the truth of sentiment, not the dignity of the folks, which makes the beauty of a subject; it is the truth of sentiment, not dignity of the words, which makes the beauty of poetry. What matters that it is a villager who weeps, if these tears enable me to see the maternal sentiment? What matters that my verse is a line of rhymed prose, if this line displays a noble emotion? Men read that they may carry away emotion, not phrases; they come to us to look for moral culture, not pretty ways of speaking. And thereupon Wordsworth, classifying his poems according to the different faculties of men and the different ages of life, undertakes to lead us through all compartments and degrees of inner education, to the convictions and sentiments which he has himself attained. All this is very well, but on condition that the reader is in Wordsworth's position; that is, essentially a philosophical moralist, and an excessively sensitive man. When I shall have emptied my head of all worldly thoughts, and looked up at the clouds for ten years to refine my soul, I shall
* See the preface of his second edition of Lyrical Ballads.
We imagine we hear him say: "Yesterday I read Walton's Complete Angler; let us write a sonnet about it On Easter Sunday I was in a valley in Westmoreland; another sonnet. Two days ago I put too many questions to my little boy and caused him to tell a lie; a poem. I am going to travel on the Continent and through Scotland; poems about all the incidents, monu ments, adventures of the journey."
You must consider your emotions very precious, that you put them all under glass! There are only three or four events in each of our lives worthy of being related; our powerful sensa
* Peter Bell; The White Doe; The Kitten and Falling Leaves, etc.