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Publication, in order that the result may be commensurate with the growing spirit of the age, which demands, in a Magazine, not only articles connected with criticism and other portions of the belles-lettres, but whatever can amuse, instruct, and refine; narratives of life and adventure
-illustrations of personal character—anecdotes—the appy sallies of humour-and the loftier exercise of imagination.
The Proprietor has accordingly taken measures to secure, by a concentration of minds suited to every department of the work, all that the public can possibly desire--all that is requisite to render the Publication deserving of the continued support of the different classes of the community, to whom this species of literature is at once a necessity and a luxury; and it will be the aim of those who have the honour of conducting it, to raise its character to a yet higher point than it has hitherto attained. :
ON THE ANONYMOUS IN PERIODICALS,
WHETHER it be from the obtuseness of our understanding or the inveteracy of our prejudice, we confess we are not yet converts to Mr. Bulwer's arguments * against preserving the anonymous in periodicals. It appears to us that he confounds the abuses of the thing with the thing itself, and that, after his admissions, his objections may be easily neutralized, if not refuted. We think that the anonymous, as it more especially regards periodical criticism, ought to be the rule, and affixing the name of the writer to any particular article the exception ;-nay, we advance a step farther, and, notwithstanding recent and splendid examples to the contrary, we maintain that the editorial function itself should be sustained anonymously,--at least, that the name of the editor, if known at all, should be rather understood than avowed; and though at present we cannot enter into the question at large, we shall assign a few reasons in support of the views we entertain upon the subject.
Of course, when we speak of periodical criticism, we must be understood to mean those reviews and literary notices which regard books, and not men, --which point out fairly and fearlessly the excellencies and faults of writers, the good or evil principles, the nature and tendency of
, England and the English. By Edward Lytton Bulwer, Esq. M.P., Author of “ Pelham," " Devereux," and "Eugene Aram.” 2 vols. London. . . . .
their works,—without meddling with their private history, or referring to them in any other light than as they are exhibited in their productions; and thus our attention is confined wholly to “the advantage of the anonymous in literary criticism ;” and to that advantage chiefly as it affects the public. Far be it from us to advocate positive deception under any of its forms; but there are illusions which are entirely exempt from mischievous intention,- which are allied to good rather than to evil,—which are “ shadows of beauty and shadows of power." One of these happily pervades the public mind on the subject of periodical criticism. Our leading reviews are supposed to be the united efforts of some of the greatest names in our literature; hence the influence they exert over the opinions, tastes, and pursuits of so large à portion of our countrymen. We may ask-would they be better conducted, or would the articles be better written, if Mr. Bulwer's suggestion were adopted ? With the anonymous, too, the illusion would vanish. Criticism, by unveiling its mysteries, would sacrifice its power over others, and would itself degenerate into feebleness; the decisions of the imaginary areopagus would be exchanged for the unsupported nothings of individual opinion; all the jealousies and enmities, the partialities and sycophancies, which are now concealed behind “the curtain of periodical criticism,” would then be revealed to the public eye; the literary profession would become odious and contemptible; authors would flatter critics,-critics would return the compliment with interest; or the bitterness of malice between contending rivals, which now flows in an under-current, and which is scarcely known to exist but to the parties themselves, would then rise up to the surface, and become the object of universal disgust. Mr. Bulwer maintains that “nearly all criticism at this day is the public effect of private acquaintance.” We scarcely know how to reconcile his assertion with what he says in the very next page. It is an odd acquaintanceship which gives such proofs of affection. "Were a sudden revelation of the mysteries of the craft now to be made, what, oh! what would be the råge, the astonishment of the public! What men of straw in the rostra, pronouncing fiats on the immortal writings of the age! what guessers at the difference between a straight line and a curve, deciding upon the highest questions of art! what stop-watch gazers lecturing on the drama! what disappointed novelists, writhing poets, saleless historians, senseless essayists, wreaking their wrath on a lucky rival! What Damons heaping impartial eulogia on their scribbling Pythias! what presumption! what falsehood! what ignorance! what deceit! what malice in censure! what dishonesty in praise! Such a revelation would be worthy a Quevedo to describe !” We humbly conceive that it is better for the public to be without such a revelation, because, in our opinion, it would be extremely partial and unjust. For
even Mr. Bulwer, in another part of his second volume, tells us that the - reason we have no great works, though we abound in great writers, is that they have devoted so much of their talents to periodical miscellanies,--and chiefly, as it appears, to periodical criticism. “It is in these
journals,” he observes, “that the most eminent of our recent men of · letters have chiefly obtained their renown. It is here that we find the · sparkling and sarcastic Jeffrey; the incomparable humour and transpa
rent logic of Sydney Smith; the rich and glowing criticism of Wilson, - the nervous vigour and brilliant imagination of Macaulay (who, if he had not been among the greatest of English orators, would have been among the most commanding of English authors); it is in periodicals (that is, in reviews) that many of the most beautiful evidences of Southey's rich taste and antique stateliness of mind are to be sought.”' The whole case therefore is not so bad as Mr. Bulwer's first enunciation might lead us to apprehend; and perhaps the public will suffer no very serious inconvenience if they be left to imagine, when they are dissatisfied with a critical article, that it is the production of some insignificant underling of the craft: and when they are instructed and delighted, that they are receiving the lessons of wisdom and the decisions of taste from the first savans of the age. Why dissolve the illusion ? for, after all, talent will find its own level, whether with or without a name. Anonymous opinion on literary subjects, unsupported .by the requisite qualifications which entitle it to respect, goes for very - little with the thinking part of the commurity, and a responsible name would add nothing to its weight or importance. A well-written article will make its own way on the strength of its intrinsic valué, as “ good wine needs no bush ;" while the fact of the writer being unknown will i be so far an adyantage, that every reader who admires it will ascribe it to his favourite author. Thus, to one it will come recommended with all the interest attached to the genius of Campbell, while another will imagine himself to be charmed with the wit of Bulwer or the eloquence of Macaulay. . We question whether the great writers, whose names Mr. Bulwer thus associates with our periodical criticism, would have attained that renown which it has conferred upon them, if they had been compelled to affix their signatures to their respective contributions. Had this been the case, we are persuaded that the works in which those contributions - appeared would have materially suffered, both in circulation and influ.ence. The anonymous threw them just so far into the distance as to
render them a constellation, each contributing to the splendour of each, forming to appearance one grand luminary in the literary heavens. Though anonymous, they were not unknown;—there were those who could discern and call them all by their names; there was enough of mystery and revelation to awaken curiosity and to satisfy inquiry. This has-long been the charm of our periodical literature, and we wish not to have the illusion 'destroyed. *But were it practicable to abolish the anonymous in this department of letters, what benefit would it confer upon the public? and what would be its effect upon the literary profession?
We should no longer have articles, but treatises. This is an abuse to which the present system has lent considerable aid. Our best writers, aware that their connexion with any given review is no secret, have been ambitious of establishing their own fame, and often at the expense of the works which have furnished them with their materials, and which they have scarcely deigned to notice. Thus, the true end of criticism is defeated, and great injustice is done to authors and to the public. If this has been the result of partially withdrawing the veil between the critic and his readers, would not its entire removal increase the evil a thousand fold ? But the worst consequence to be apprehended from such a change would be the establishment of a critical oligarchy. Publishers must then purchase names as well as articles; names would be the strongest reasons-none but authors of a commanding reputation would be privileged to exercise the functions of a reviewer, and a few therefore would soon usurp the entire censorship of the press. On the literary profession the change contemplated would produce the most injurious effects; we have already hinted at a few. Authors reviewing authors (as such) must place themselves in no very enviable relative position. Where their literary importance is nearly equal, they will fear and flatter each other; and where there is in this respect any very marked disparity, there will be creeping obsequiousness on the one hand, and an ill-suppressed insolence, or a condescending air of patronage on the other. The anonymous system, as far as the public and the profession are concerned, is certainly not liable to abuses of this kind. The tone of criticism, which is that of a judge, and not of an advocate, is likewise ill suited to the courtesy and modesty with which one individual writer ought to treat the works of a contemporary. The anonymous, and the mysteriousness attached to the plural unit We, seem best adapted to the chair of criticism. The individual is merged in the court which he represents, and he speaks not in his own name, but ex cathedrâ. Who does not feel conscious of this when he takes up the judgments which are pronounced in our monthly and quarterly periodicals ? the decisions are oracular. What a totally different air would they assume, and how soon would they dwindle into the insignificance of mere individual opinion, if the name of the writer of each article were appended at the end!
The worst abuses of the anonymous may, according to Mr. Bulwer's own showing, be corrected without resorting to the very questionable expedient which he recommends. The authors of these abuses are as well known to those who have the power of exposing and punishing them, as they would be if their names and offences were published in the “ Hue and Cry, or the Rogues' Gazette.” The anonymous does not screen a libeller from detection and chastisement. A name with all the responsibility attached to it is no security against the coarsest violations of the decencies of society,
We shall treat very briefly the delicate point of anonymous editorship; we are convinced that this, too, has advantages, which its opposite cannot counterbalance. If a name is to give importance to editorial dignity, it must, of course, be one of considerable note. The individual so ostensibly sustaining an office that, if well discharged, must employ the greatest portion of his time, must nevertheless feel that he has to take care of his reputation as an author, advance his fortunes, and attend to the public and private avocations which his celebrity has opened to him. These exhaust his energies. He thinks occasionally of his duties as an editor -procrastinates—to-morrow will give more leisure—an unexpected and indispensable engagement consumes the morrow—the month advancesthe day of publication presses upon him with alarming celerity-he is totally unprepared-he sits down to write ; but he must produce something worthy of his fame-something that will justify the high expectations of the public. In this he either fails or succeeds according as he is in or out of the vein. In fact, a great name does little in advancing the real and substantial interests of a periodical. The anonymous might, in this view, therefore, be preferred.
We have devoted so much space to the consideration of a point on which Mr. Bulwer lays considerable stress, and which forms an appropriate introduction to the first Number of a work which is no longer under his auspices, and which will now be conducted in opposition to one of his favourite principles, that we must defer till our next Number à separate examination of the entire performance which illustrates his genius, develops his resources, and exhibits him as one of the first writers of the age--ịn the meantime, heartily wishing him success in the high career of social improvement which he has marked out for himself and his illustrious compatriots.