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Oh, what is intellect? a strange, strange web-
London, July 29, 1819. I BELIEVE there are few persons who will deny that the English are as intelligent a people as any in the world: their skill in the mechanic arts—their eminence in every branch of learning—their deliberative assemblies, illustrated by such a constellation of able statesmen and men of genius—the number of great men in the varied walks of literature, jurisprudence and philosophy, who have poured from their hyperborian regions, a stream of light upon Britain and upon Europe-have been celebrated by every impartial traveller who has dwelt among them. However, Addison himself has acknowledged that his countrymen do not, in general, possess the vivid imagination, the keenness of feeling, and the enthusiastic ardour of their Gallic neighbours: they perfect what the French have invented, and they improve upon their more vivid conceptions. They are more remarkable for the exercise of their intellectual powers, than influenced by appeals to the imagination or the heart-and they are sooner moved by cold logic than by splendid bursts of oratory-convinced that
" the mind untaught
they correct their rugged mental soil by laborious cultivation. If the learning of the people, in general, be not profound, it is spread over a wide surface. The demand for literary commodities, which require neither deep eru. dition nor vigorous genius, increases the number of authors in proportion to the moderate qualifications that are necessary-Poets and politicians, essayists and novelists of all complexions and dispositions, are ready to please the palate, however refined or however filthy. Some, like Lismahago, deal out " a pack of knowledge, made up of the remains of rarities;" others, like count Fathom,“ know every language,” even Scotch! and make a livelihood, .by implanting foreign literature into English
soil. Of the poets, some are of the mystic tribe, and dash their Hippocrene with too large infusions of Lake water;-others“
full of horrors," deal in demoniacal sublimity, and seem to “ wield that infernal fire which blasts and overthrows all things," with the horrid fulminations of misanthropy and the darkest revenge; but they often dilute their strong conceptions with a floud of oppressive verbosity! -the lowest order in the tuneful choir, are those who deal in metaphysical sensibility, hobbling versification and babyish simplicity; who tell long stories of old beggar women, ragged children sitting on hedges, tenderhearted gypsies, and stuff a quarto with such adventures, all detailed with the most unmer. ciful prolixity. Of these numerous writers
some “ pillent des phrases à droite et à gauche,” and take refuge from the charge of plagiarism in utter oblivion; others aspire to the merit of originality, and as they are naturally freed from the salutary restraints by which wit is kept within due limits, they become outrageously original!
At the close of every term, the Universities let loose a shoal of travellers over this country and the continent. The humblest of these ramble over Wales or the Isle of Wight, others explore the blasted heaths and the majestic scenery of the“ Land o' Cakes,” others scramble through the Irish bogs; the favoured few” make an expedition to the continent, return home and publish their journals. There has been such a number of English idlers poured forth over the face of Europe, and they have related whatever they saw, heard or invented, with so much variety of style, that they have left nothing new to be said or sung from the Niemen to the Tiber, The trade is now overstocked with travels, tours, walks and journals, presented in every form, and suited to all humours—picturesque, sentimental, agricultural and evangelical! Many of these wanderers think that they come home well acquainted with France and Italy, if they have brought with them pictures and antiquities purchased at a high price—and take au pied de la lettre all the stories Italian wags tell them about the old age of the vases, coins and broken nosed busts which they sell. This culli
bility has been well satirized by Voltaire, in the following lines:-
" Parfait Anglais, voyageant sans dessein,
Et méprisant les saints et leurs reliques"In London, among other numberless societies, clubs, meetings, &c. there is a Travellers' Society, into which no person is admitted who has not been at least to Rome; the discussions at the meetings of these ramblers do not, (I am informed,) turn on the government, manners and institutions of the different countries they have visited—but on the battered medals, noseless heads, and bruised Priapi they have met with in Herculaneum and other places!
M. Say observes that the British taste for the Arts has been gradually corrupted, in con. sequence of their long exclusion from the classical ground of Europe; that, for this reason, their vases, candelabras and furniture have neither neatness, lightness nor elegance-that they have fallen back into a Gothic and unmeaning taste of heavy and complicated orna: ments. If a stranger walk into Westn.inster Abbey, or St. Paul's church, he will be surprised and disgusted at the costumes of the statues, most of them being clothed in Greek or Roman dresses. How ridiculous is it to represent an admiral on the quarter-deck (for instance,) his head covered with a tremendous wig, his shoulders wrapt in a Roman toga, and
his legs clotheil with a pair of breeches! The ancients did very well to wear their togas or pretextas, since they were the fashion of the day—but what has a modern to do with them? What idea can posterity have of our costume, if we leave them statues dressed à la Romaine?
The English were never much esteemed for their taste for the fine arts. In painting, they are far below the famous schools of Italy and France. To judge of their taste for this elegant accomplishment, one need only examine the exposition at the Royal Academy this year
-few of the paintings are excellent, and the walls are lined with much wretched trash, But although the British possess few works of their own, worthy of the envy of foreigners, their rapacity, (after a long exclusion from the seat of the arts) supplied the deficiency, by carrying off the works of foreign masters. The British gallery in Pall Mall contains a valuable collection of Italian, Flemish and French paintings; as no person, more than myself,
“ Admires the painter's magic skill,
And throws Italian light on English walls.”
* In the Edinburgh Review for August, 1820, there is an excellent dissertation on the question whether a taste for painting be congenial to England.