« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the literary history of the professors of that art and their productions, it becomes our painful duty to notice somė particulars of the misconduct of the author, and some prominent errors in the work.
It will scarcely be credited, that this view of statuary and sculpture through upwards of 250 pages, is extracted ver. batim from the Anecdotes of the Arts of England, which the same writer published sixteen years ago. We should have had no objection to his borrowing from his own sources, and making the acknowledgment in the title-page, preface, or any other conspicuous situation, but we must censure the want of ingenuity in offering to the world a stale re-publication of this kind without such notice. Those who, from their prepossession in favour of the author on account of his former undertaking, may purchase the present (which is an octavo volume at 2. 83.), will find that they obtain little more than the repetition of his earlier opinions, that may perhaps already constitute a part of their library.
But this is not the only portion which is rendered less valuable by recital; nearly forty additional pages are drawn with little variation from the Reports on the Elgin Marbles by the committee of the House of Commons, and from the contemporary pamphlets on the same subject. Thus there remains only about 100 pages of, and these not strictly, new matter, with a few indifferent etchings by an amateur, and not by a professor, as the consideration for the sum paid for this expensive work.
An inconvenience also arises from this blending of the publication of 1800 with that of 1816, which is, that the new materials not properly incorporating with the old, occasions a sort of disgusting patch-work; and as in the latter, the important discoveries which that interval has supplied could not be comprehended, many of these appear to us to have been from indifference or carelessness omitted.
On another kind of inattention we have to remark. In a book professedly on the sublimest productions of human genius, in which the work is connected with the exalted mind by which it is created, we do expect some correspondent elevation between the subject and the description of it; but in these pages, with all the advantages of re-consideration which the author possessed, we find nothing but a cold inanimate account, and he seems never to trust his sensibility, whatever may be the impulse by which the passion should be excited. The consequence is, that if his reader has Crit. Rev. Vol. IV. July, 1816. 16.
any feeling, instead of that harmony being produced between him and the writer, which is always desirable, the former is constantly in discord, and is endeavouring to atone, by his own warmth and liberality, for the frigidity and reserve with which the author is chargeable.
The chronology of a work that is to contain the history of the rise and progress of art, ought especially to be correct, as any inaccuracy of this kind must wholly defeat the leading purpose of the author: but here several anachronisms occur. Page 17 it is said, that “a principal settlement was made by a colony of the Lydians 800 years before the time of Herodotus," and the date assigned for this settlement is 1043 years prior to the Christian æra. That historian was born about the year 484, and died 413 years before that æra, involving a miscalculation of three centuries. *
But we have another mistake of the same nature that is wholly unaccountable. Speaking of Phidias, whom Mr. Dallaway places 457 years before Christ, he says that his contemporaries were the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Plato died 129 years after the period he assumes to be that of Phidias, and Aristotle 135 years subsequent to it; and thus are confounded two of the most important epochs of the art distinguished by the author, that of the Athenian statesman and that of the Macedonian hero.
But a serious objection remains yet unexplained, and it is the sentiment (expressed page 154) that a state of political freedom has no influence on the arts, that they have flourished most under the greatest tyrants, and that their success is more to be attributed to royal protection than to national liberty. This opinion is in direct opposition to that of Winkelmann and all the best writers on the subject. If Pericles were a demagogue and Alexander a tyrant, Phidias and Lysippus were born in freedom; under this glorious sunshine their talents were cherished and unfolded; and without this powerful and generous impulse, all the patronage their exalted merits secured to them, would not have produced the Lemnian Pallas or the Tarentine Jove. Our author was formerly chaplain and physician to the British Embassy at Constantinople, and he was also secretary to the Earl Marshal of England, one of the great officers of the crown who takes cognizance of matters relating to armorial honours. From such situations, with the most despotic go
* Herodotus himself, in fixing the date of the event in the time of Lycurgus, places it about 884 years before Christ.
vernment abroad, and in the most courtly office at home, he may have acquired notions of imperial favour and vassal dependence which have no concern with the spotless purity of truth in which the arts are nourished, and which will in no way promote that constitutional vigour by which their highest perfection can alone be attained.
ART. VI.--A Letter to a Friend of Robert Burns, occa
sioned by an intended Re-publication of the Account of the Life of Burns, by Dr. Currie, and the Selection made by him from his Letters. By WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.
London, for Longman and Co. 1816. 8vo. Pp. 37. Dr. Currie, the editor of the poems, and the compiler of the Life of Burns, which was published in 1800 for the be. nefit of the family of the poet, then lately deceased, has been repeatedly blamed for the manner in which he executed his task, and the object of the pamphlet which forms the subject of the present article, is through a Mr. Gray of Edinburgh, to give some advice to Mr. Gilbert Burns relative to the best mode of vindicating the memory of his brother, by the correction of the errors of his biographer, and by the omission of certain parts of Dr. Currie's publication, which Mr. Wordsworth and others contend ought never to have been printed. The chief ground of complaint against Dr. Currie is, that he has either done too much, or not done enough; if he thought it right to lay before his readers so many of the private letters of Burns, he ought to have placed them in such a series as would have shewn the connecting links of impulse, and to have accompanied them with those observations that would have placed the offences of the poet, therein with bitter remorse confessed, in a fair point of view; if the crime be detailed, at least it ought to be related with some of the incitements and allurements without which crime is never committed. Upon this point Mr. Wordsworth well remarks:
“Would a bosom friend of the author, his counsellor and confessor, have told such things, if true, as this book contains ? and who, but one possessed of the intimate knowledge which none but a bosom friend can acquire, could have been justified in making these avowals? Such a one, himself a pure spirit, having accompanied, as it were, upon wings, the pilgrim along the sorrowful road which he trod on foot; such a one, neither hurried down by its slippery descents, nor entangled among its thorns, nor perplexed by its wind
ings, nor discomfited by its founderous passages--for the instruction of others-might have delineated, almost as in a map, the
which the afflicted pilgrim had pursued till the sad close of his diversified journey. In this manner the veuerable spirit of Isaac Walton was qualified to have retraced the unsteady course of a highly-gifted man, who, in this lamentable point, and in versatility of genius, bore no unobvious resemblance to the Scottish bard; I mean his friend COTTON-+whom, notwithstanding all that the sage must have disapproved in his life, he honoured with the title of sou. Nothing like this, however, has the biographer of Burns accomplished; and, with his means of information, copious as in some respects they were, it would have been absurd to attempt it."
The conclusion therefore is, that such letters of the poet as communicate no useful information, and only gratify those who sooth their own vices by the discovery that others like them have offended, ought to have been completely ex, cluded. The soul-sick confessions of a sensitive mind can never be taken as literally true; but although Dr. Currie has certainly been censurable in this respect, we think he is not quite as much to blame as Mr. Wordsworth contends. At the time Dr. Currie's edition appeared, Burns had but recently died, and his biographer had a very difficult course to steer between personal delicacy on the one hand, and public expectation on the other. The follies and vices of the poet were generally known to those who were likely to read the work,
and it was also known that his family and friends had put into the hands of his biographer all the minutie of information which the most active industry could collect; he must unavoidably therefore give offence, or oc, casion disappointment. The case would have been very different had he been writing of an individual remembered only by his works, upon whose character and conduct no opinion had been formed, and with regard to whom the world in general would be ready to receive any impression the biographer might think warranted. To drag from the obscurity of antiquity, with the scrutinizing and malicious eye of a public detector of delinquency-to pry through the veil which the impartial hand of time has drawn over longpast errors, has been the task of the modern editors of our ancient writers. Plutarch has often been held up as a mo. del of this kind of writing, pourtraying only the noble and imitable features of the characters he paints, but even if it were so, the parallel is not fair, because all biographers haye not a choice of their subjects; the faults and follies of Burns had been bruited even by himself in print, and Dr.
Currie in his life had to encounter the charge of unkind communicativeness, or of unfair suppression.
That Dr. Currie has however gone too far we are very ready to admit; he seems to have forgotten, that when a man like Burns, of an open and generous disposition, reprobates his own vices, he is much less to be believed than if he applauded his own virtues; it does not follow, because he says it, that it must be true, or that if it be true, it is necessary to publish it. Upon the duties of a biographer in the abstract Mr. Wordsworth well and truly observes, that “ biography, though differing in some essentials from works of fiction, is nevertheless like them an art—an art, the laws of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the constitution of society. Truth is not here as in the sciences and in natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable; but only for obviously justifying purposes, moral or intellectual. He follows it by some other remarks equally just.
“Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed : let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction. De mortuis pil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept tbus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it,--and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent its being literally fulfilled—to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manners, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and something of this protection is extended to the recently dead,—who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philo. sophy enlightened by the affections does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and of the present age and future generations on the other; and to strike a balance between them.--Such a philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinct among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as indications of a vigorous state of public feeling-favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country.- Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and bardy lovers of truth; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended