« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
We are unwilling to bring this article to a close, without offering some remarks upon the new edition of the Iliad by Professor Felton. This gentleman does not claim for his labors the merit of originality. His edition is a reprint of the Leipsig edition of Tauchnitz, which has the reputation in Europe of uncommon accuracy. It is designed, as he informs us, less for the critical scholar, than for the use of students in our literary institutions; and we can safely recommend it as calculated to supply a deficiency, which has been seriously felt by classical instructers. The difficulty has been heretofore, that the attention of the pupil has been too much given to words merely; he has been too little in the habit of studying the characteristic traits of the work on which he is employed, of appreciating its merits, and of entering with interest into its prevailing spirit; for it ought undoubtedly to be one of the primary objects of a liberal education, to inspire and cultivate a taste for the beautiful and true. The labors of commentators, also, have been in general expended on grammatical niceties and the comparison of various readings, to the neglect of the character and spirit of the works which they elucidate, considered as monuments of taste and genius. The object of Mr. Felton is to direct the attention of the student to the Iliad, as the noblest monument of ancient inspiration; to make him share the admiration, with which he himself regards it; to induce him, in his own language,' to read the poem, not in the spirit of a schoolboy conning a dull lesson to be " construed” and “ parsed” and forgotten when the hour of recitation is at an end, but in the delightful consciousness, that he is employing his mind upon one of the noblest monuments of the genius of man. Whatever his conclusions may be,” he proceeds,' as to the merit of particular passages, if any remarks of mine should chance to excite his attention to the real character of the poem, and to promote a habit of analytical criticism, whether his opinions agree with my own or not, the object which I have proposed to myself will be accomplished.' In the execution of his task, Mr. Felton has entirely avoided the fault, into which editors are not unapt to fall, of leaving too little for the pupil to do; and he has equally escaped the strong temptation, of making a cumbrous and unnecessary parade of learning. His notes are brief and appropriate, always in good taste, and wholly free from pedantry. He might perhaps have advantageously extended them; but, in their present form, they are well adapted to his purpose. Indeed, the execution of the work is in all respects entitled to the highest praise. Its typography is rich and beautiful, and, so far as we have examined, we have found it executed with great accuracy. The illustrations of Flaxman, with which it is adorned, are the production of an artist of uncommon taste and genius, who had spent years in studying the monuments of antiquity, and was animated with the spirit of its best days. They have been welcomed in every country, where Homer continues to be read, with an enthusiasm, which shows that he had caught and reproduced the fervid spirit, alike of the ancient artist and the bard; for painting, like poetry,.was only a different development of the same idea of the grand and beautiful. We have no hesitation in saying, that this edition of the lliad is as creditable to the American press, as it is to the taste and learning of its editor. In connexion with the other editions of the classics which have been already published, or are about to appear, it will be received with satisfaction, by the lovers of sound learning, as indicating the commencement of a new era in the classical literature of our country.
ART. IV.-Old English Romances.
LIAM J. Thoms. 3 Vols. London. 1828.
One of the most interesting and instructive walks of literature lies among the graves of the departed, for the thoughts of man have their graves like man himself, and the reverend monitor, Time, for them likewise tolls the passing bell, and performs the sad obsequies. A vast library is a vast cemetery of mind, where, in a certain sense, lie buried the ideas of those, who have gone before us. Each dusty tome is a neglected monument, whose epitaph is written in the title-page, and whose date not unfrequently records at once the birih and the death of its tenant. There the poet and the philosopher literally mingle their dust together, and the musty apostle of an obsolete creed lies side by side with the prurient ballad-singer. The learned prelate is a prey to the worm, and the wanton tale-bearer lisps his amorous conceits to the dull ear of oblivion. One might almost think, that they had implored eternal peace, and that their prayer had been answered; for no one disturbs their repose, save now and then some Old Mortality, who comes to meditate among the tombs, and to wipe away the mildew and gossamer, which cover the inscriptions.
Such, at least, has been the case till within a few years past. But the grave-yard is no longer a solitary spot. Siste Viator! and the passing footstep pauses. Nay,—the grave itself is no longer in violate. Time is again busy with his spade. The old martyrs are dug up ;- you have now dark mould, now a thigh-bone, now a skull;' and these mouldering remains are exhibited to the crowd as holy relics, whose sight and touch are to cure the deep-seated disease, which corrupts the public taste. To this we most devoutly say, amen! We believe that this is the surest way of changing that morbid habit of the mind, into which the present age has fallen, and of restoring a healthy and vigorous action.*
To speak without figure, we consider the republication of the best works of the standard old English prose writers as an enterprise of the most laudable kind. Such writers as Brown, and Taylor, and Felltham, and some others of the same school, cannot be too often, nor too studiously read. Communion with such minds as theirs is not only delightful, but invigorating to our own. Their works, or at least some favorite portions of them, should lie upon the table of every young scholar; so that when he shuts in weariness the hand-book of his daily studies, or lays down his pen, too long obedient to the over-labored mind, these eloquent men may meet him with a voice of pleasing and thoughtful conversation.
In these old writers, he will find rare models of that direct and forcible style, which has its origin in direct and forcible thinking. They speak from the fulness of their intellect. Their ideas are marshalled forth in close phalanx, and move forward shoulder to shoulder through the page; whilst our modern plunderers, who enrich themselves with the thoughts of other minds, drag along their stolen ideas, as Cacus did of old the cattle of Hercules.
The three volumes of Old English Prose Romances, which
* We take this opportunity of presenting our most cordial thanks to the Rev. Mr. Young, for the good service he has done our little republic of letters by the publication of The Library of Old English Prose Writers,' 'eight volumes of which have already appeared, and which we most sincerely hope is not to stop here. "No library should be without this work, unless it possess the voluminous ori
als from which it is drawi
lie before us, are, however, in a different vein. They do not quicken, and elevate, and instruct us by their wisdom, but they amuse us by their quaintness and simplicity, and enable us to compare the romance which delights us at the present day, with that, which flattered the popular taste some three centuries ago. Trivial as these writings are, in themselves considered, they are important documents, when taken in connexion with the history of the human mind. This is one of the many forms, in which the intellectual powers have exhibited themselves; and consequently such exhibitions of those powers should not be neglected by him, who would study the mind of man in all its phases.
It is infinitely more important for us,' says the poet and historian Schiller, 'to know a man's thoughts, than his actions; nay, it is of vastly greater importance to trace out the sources of his thoughts, than the consequences of his actions. Men have penetrated into the crater of Vesuvius, in order to investigate the causes of its fires; and why should they be less assiduous in the investigation of moral, than of physical phenomena? Why should they not examine, with equal care, the variety and power of those circumstances by which a man is surrounded, till the accumulated materials burst forth into a Aame within him?' Upon this text a volume might be written. How often do the trivial incidents of yesterday, become the serious business of to-day? How often do the fleeting day-dreams of youth become the fixed purposes of manhood? If we trace back to its fountain the mighty torrent, which fertilizes the land with its abundant stream, or sweeps it with a desolating flood, we shall find it dripping from the crevice of a rock, in the distant solitudes of the forest: so, too, the gentle feelings, that enrich and beautify the heart, and the mighty passions that sweep away all the barriers of the soul, and desolate society, may have sprung up in the shadowy recesses of the past, from a nursery song or a fireside tale. The child is not only 'father to the man,' but his schoolmaster also; and the lessons he teaches are often those we remember longest. I should have been an atheist,' said an eminent statesman, 'if it had not been for one recollection; and that was the memory of the time, when my departed mother used to take my little hands in hers, and cause me on my knees to say, Our Father, which art in Heaven.' The good principle took root in the heart of the little child, and although the tree, that grew
there from was swayed about and groaned in the storm of strong passions, yet it was not uprooted. So, too, the wonderful tales told to us in childhood haunt our imaginations even to the grave; and many feelings, and passions, and principles of action, for whose origin we look in vain among the more recent and immediate circumstances of our education, might doubtless be traced back to some tale of the times of old,
some faintly remembered tradition of the chimney-corner. The story of Old Father Redcap, coming down chimney at night, has made many a poor child so faint-hearted, that neither the jeers of his school-fellows, nor the lapse of time, nor the power of reflection, nor the lessons of reason and experience, could ever again render him courageous in the dark; while, on the other hand, many a future hero has caught the first spark of valiant enterprise from the tales he has listened to, of the wonderful exploits of Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant-killer; and many a truant sailor-boy, as he rocks in the cradle of the sea, can date his earliest longing for an adventurous life, to the moment, when he first heard, in the ardor of childish curiosity, the life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
If this be true in reference to individuals, it is true also, to a certain extent, when applied to communities. The wild and marvellous romances of the middle ages were the nursery tales told to society in its childhood. In the ghostly legends of Saints it lisped its now-I-lay me;' the amorous ditties of the Troubadours were an evening lullaby ; and the romances of chivalry were the manuals and picture-books of its school-boy days. The first exercised upon the minds of superstitious nations a salutary influence, which has not yet ceased to be felt; the second were of great use in smoothing the grim visage of the past, and in softening the feelings of society; and the power of the last still exhibits itself in the character of more than one people, too nearly allied to the faithless Galaor, of whom it is recorded, 'qu'il ne valoit rien pour filer le parfait amour.'
From considerations of this kind, the most trivial tale, that exhibits the traits of national character, or saves from oblivion a chapter of traditionary lore, is not without its value to the pbilosopher and the historian. It is the source of a thousand impulses and impressions, which have gone abroad in society, and which may so influence the minds of men, that the idle tradition shall work the overthrow of states. It matters not, whether the tale be true or false, -whether its hero have had VOL. XXXVII.- NO. 81.