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Upon the whole, we look upon the life and writings of Dr. Franklin as affording a striking illustration of the incalculable value of a sound and well directed understanding; and of the comparative uselessness of learning and laborious accomplishments. Without the slightest pretensions to the character of a scholar or a man of science, he has extended the bounds of human knowledge on a variety of subjects, which scholars and men of science had previously investigated without suc
cess; and has only been found deficient m those studies which the learned have generally turned from in disdain. We would not be understood to say any thing in disparagement of scholarship and science; but the value of these instruments is apt to be over-rated by their possessors; and it is a wholesome mortification, to show them that the work may be done without them. We have long known that their employment does not insure its success.
The Works of Jonathan Swift, D. D.. Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin. Containing Additional Letters, Tracts, and Poems not hitherto published. With Notes, and a life of the Avthor, by Walter Scott, Esq. 19 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh: 1815.
By far the most considerable change which has taken place in the world of letters, in our day», is that by which the wits of Queen Anne's time have been gradually brought down from the supremacy which they had enjoyed, without competition, for the best part of a century. When we were at our studies, some twentv-five years ago, we can perfectly remember that every young man was set to read Pope, Swift, and Addison, as regularly as Virgil, Cicero, and Horace. All who had any tincture of letters were familiar with their writinas and their history; allusions to them abounded in all popular discourses and all ambitious conversation; and they and their contemporaries were universally acknowledged as our great models of excellence, and placed without challenge at the head of oar national literature. New books, even when allowed to have merit, were never thought of as fit to be placed in the same class, but were generally read and forgotten, and passed away like the transitory meteors of a lower sky; while the y remained in their brightness, and were supposed to shine with a fixed and unalterable glory.
All this, however, we take it, is now pretty well altered; and in so far as persons of our antiquity can judge of the training and habits of the rising generation, those celebrated writers no longer form the manual of our studious vouth, or enter necessarily into the institution of a liberal education. Their names, indeed, are still familiar to our ears; but their writings no longer solicit our habitual notice, and their subjects begin already to fade from our recollection. Their high privilieces and proud distinctions, at any rate, have evidently passed into other hands. It is no longer to them that the ambition? look up with envv, or the humble with admiration; nor is it in their pages that the pretenders to wit and eloquence now search for allusions that are sure to captivate, and illustrations that cannot be mistaken. In this decay of their reputation they have few advocates, and no imitators: and from a comparison of many observations, it веете to be clearly ascertained,
that they are declined considerably from 'the high meridian of their glory,' and may fairly be apprehended to be ' hastening to their setting.' Neither is it time alone that ha» wrought this obscuration: for the fame of Shakespeare still shines in undecaying brightness; and that of Bacon has been steadily advancing and gathering new honours durira the whole period which has witnessed the rise and decline of his less vigorous successors.
There are but two possible solutions fur phenomena of this sort. Our taste has either degenerated—or its old models have been fairly surpassed; and we have ceased to admire the writers of the last century, only because they are too good for us—or because they are not good enough. Now, we confess we are no believers in the absolute and permanent corruption of national taste; on the contrary, we think that it is, of all faculties, that which is most sure to advance and improve with time and experience; and that, with the exception of those great physical or political disasters which have given a check to civilization itself, there has always been a sensible progress in this particular; and that the general taste of every successive generation is better than that of its predecessors. There are little capricious fluctuations, no doubt, arid fits of foolish admiration or fastidiousness, which cannot be so easily accounted for: but the créât movements are all proj gressive: and though the progress consists at one time in withholding toleration from gm.«s faults, and at another in giving their high prerogative to great beauties, this altemal.on bas no tendency to obstruct the general advance; but, on the contrary, is the best ami the safest course in which it can be conducted.
Wo are of opinion, then, that the writer» who adorned the beginning of the last centurv have been eclipsed by those of our own time; and that they have no chance of ever regaining the supremacy in which they hare thus been supplanted. There is not. however, in our judgment, any thing very stupendous in this triumph of our contemporánea; Bud
the greater wonder with us, is, that it was so |r>!ig delayed, and left for them to achieve. Fur the truth is, that the writers of the former agti had not a great deal more than their judgment and industry to stand on: and were always much more remarkable for the fewness of their faults than the greatness of their beauties. Their laurels were won much more by g'x>il conduct and discipline, than by enterprising boldness or native force;—nor can il be regarded as any very great merit in those u ho had so little erf the inspiration of genius, to have steered clear of the dangers to which that inspiration is liable. Speaking generally ui ibat generation of authors, it may be said that, as poets, they had no force or greatness of fancy—no pathos, and no enthusiasm;— and. as philosophers, no comprehensiveness, depth, or originality. They are sagacious, no doubt, neat, clear, and reasonable; but for the most part cold, timid, and superficial. They never meddle with the great scenes of ¡ature, or the great passions of man; but content themselves with just and sarcastic representations of city life, and of the paltry passions and meaner vices that are bred in that lower element. Their chief care is to avoid being ridiculous in the eyes of the witty, and above all to eschew the ridicule of excessive sensibility or enthusiasm—to be at once witty and rational themselves, with as good a grace as possible; but to give their countenance to no wisdom, no fancy, and no morality, which passes the standards current in good company. Their inspiration, accordingly, is little more than a sprightly sort of pxxl sense; and they have scarcely any invention but what is subservient to the purposes of derision and satire. Little gleams "i pleasantry, and sparkles of wit, glitter through their compositions; but no glow of feeling—no blaze of imagination—no flashes 4i senius. ever irradiate their substance. They .петег pass beyond "the visible diurnal Mihi're." or deal in any thing that can either !itt us above our vulgar nature, or ennoble its ri-ahty. With these accomplishments, they may pass well enough for sensible and polite 'vn'ers.—but scarcely for men of genius; and it is cprtainly far more surprising, that persons of this description should have maintained themselves, for near a centurvvat the head of the literature of a country that had previously produced a Shakespeare, a Spenser, a Васогц and a Taylor, than that, towards the Mid of that Ion«; period, doubts should have arisen as to the legitimacy of the title by which they laid claim to that high station. Both parts of the phenomenon, however, we •îare say. had causes which better expounders wi-'ht explain to the satisfaction of all the world. We see them but imperfectly, and bave room only for an imperfect sketch of what we eee.
Onr first literature consisted of saintly leS"nds, and romances of chivalry,—thoinrh Chaucer gave it a moro national and popular character, by his- original descriptions of external nature,'and the familiarity and gaiety °i his social humour. In the time of Eliza
beth, it received a copious infusion of classical images and ideas: but it was still intrinsically romantic—serious—and even somewhat lofty and enthusiastic. Authors were then so few in number, that they were looked upon with a sort of veneration, and considered as a kind of inspired persons; at least they were not yet so numerous, as to be obliged to abuse each other, in order to obtain a share of distinction for themselves;—and they neither affected a tone of derision in their writings, nor wrote in fear of derision from others. They were filled with their subjects, and dealt with them fearlessly in their own way; and the stamp of originality, force, and freedom, is consequently upon almost all their productions. In the reign of James I., our literature, with some few exceptions, touching rather the form than the substance of its merits, appears to us to have reached the greatest perfection to which it has yet attained; though it would probably have advanced still farther in the succeeding reign, had not the great national dissensions which then arose, turned the talent and energy of the people into other channels—first, to the assertion of their civil rights, and afterwards to the discussion of their religious interests. The graces of literature suffered of course in those fierce contentions; and a deeper shade of austerity was thrown upon the intellectual character of the nation. Her genius, however, though less captivating and adorned than in the happier days which preceded, was still active, fruitful, and commanding; and the period of the civil wars, besides the mighty minds that guided the public councils, and were absorbed in public cares, produced the giant powers of Taylor, and Hobbes. and Barrow—the muse of Milton—the learning of Coke—and the ingenuity of Cowley.
The Restoration introduced a French court —under circumstances more favourable for the effectual exercise of court influence than ever before existed in England: but this of itself would not have been sufficient to account for the sudden change in our literature which ensued. It was seconded by cause» of far moro general operation. The Restoration was undoubtedly a popular act;—and, indefensible as the conduct of the army and the civil leaders was on that occasion, them can be no question that the seventies of Cromv/ell, and the extravagancies of the sectaries, had made republican professions hateful, and religious ardour ridiculous, in the eyes of a great proportion of the people. All the eminent writers of the preceding period, however, had inclined to the party that was now overthrown; and their writings had not merely been aceommodated to the character of the government under which they were produced, but.were deeply imbued with its obnoxious principles, which were those of their respective authors. When the restraint? of authority were taken off. therefore, and it became profitable, as well as popular, to discredit the fallen party, it was natural that the leading authors should affect a style of levity and derision, as most opposite to that of their op
ponents. and best calculated for the purposes they had in view. The nation, too, was now for the first time essentially divided in point of character and principle, and a much greater proportion were capable both of writing in support of their own notions, and of being inlluenced by what was written. Add to all this, that there were real and serious defects in the style and manner of the former generation: and that the grace, and brevity, and vivacity of that gayer manner which was now introduced from France, were not only good and captivating in themselves, but had then all the charms of novelty and of contrast; and it will not be difficult to understand how it came to supplant that which had been established of old in the country,—and that so suddenly, that the same generation, among whom Milton had been formed to the severe sanctity of wisdom and the noble independence of genius, lavished its loudest applauses on the obscenity and servility of such writers as Rochester and VVycherly.
This change, however, like all sudden changes, was too fierce and violent to be long maintained at the same pitch; and when the wits and profligates of King Charles had sufficiently insulted the seriousness and virtue of their predecessors, there would probably have been a revulsion towards the accustomed taste of the nation, had not the party of the innovators been reinforced by champions of more temperance and judgment. The result seemed at one time suspended on the will of Dryden—in whose individual person the genius of the Enarlish and of the French school of literature may be said to have maintained a protracted strutrgle. But the evil principle prevailed! Carried by the original bent of his genius, and his familiarity with our older models, to the cultivation of our native style, to which he might have imparted more steadiness and correctness—for in force and in sweetness it was already matchless—he was unluckily seduced by the attractions of fashion, and the dazzling of the dear wit and gay rhetoric in which it delighted, to lend his powerful aid to the new corruptions and refinements; and in fact, to prostitute his great gifts to the purposes of party rage or licentious ribaldry.
The sobriety of the succeeding reigns allayed (his fever of profanity; but no genius arose sufficiently powerful to break the spell that still withheld us from the use of our own peculiar gifts and faculties. On the contrary, it was the unfortunate ambition of the next Generation of authors, to improve and perfect the new style, rather than to return to the old one;—and it cannot be denied that they did improve it. They corrected its gross indecency—increased its precision and correctness —made its pleasantry and sarcasm more polished and elegant—and spread through the; whole of its irony, its narration, and its re- > flection, a tone of clear and condensed good sense, which recommended itself to all who had, and all who liad not any relish for higher beauties.
ТЫ» i» tho praise of Queen Anne's wits—
and to this praise they are justly entitled. This was left for them to do. and they ci:d it well. They were invited to it by the circumstances of their situation, and do not seem to have been possessed of any such bold or vigorous spirit, as either to neglect or to outgo the invitation. Coming into life immediately after the consummation of a bloodless revolution, effected much more by the cool sense, than the angry passions of the nation, they seem to have felt that they were born in an age oí reason, rather than of feeling or faucv: anil that men's minds, though considerably divided and unsettled upon many points, were in a much better temper to relish judicious argument and cutting satire, than the glow of enthusiastic passion, or the richness of a luxuriant imagination. To those accordingly they made no pretensions; but, writing with infinite good sense, and great grace and vivacity, and, above all, writing for the tir^t time in a tone that was peculiar to the upper ranks of society, and upon subjects that \\ ere almost exclusively interesting to them, they naturally figured, at least while the manner was new, as the most accomplished, fashionable, and perfect writers which the world had ever seen; and made the wild, luxuriant, and humble sweetness of our earlier authuis appear rude and untutored in the comparison. Men grew ashamed of admiring, and afraid of imitating writers of so little skill and smartness; and the opinion became general, not only that their faults were intolerable, but that even their beauties were puerile and barbarous, and unworthy the serious regard of a polite and distinguishing age.
These, and similar considerations, will go far to account for the celebrity which those authors acquired in their day; but it is not quite so easy to explain how they should have so long retained their ascendant. One cause undoubtedly was, the real excellence of their productions, in the style which they had adopted. It was hopeless to think of surpassing them in that style; and, recommended as it was, by the felicity of their execution, it required some courage to depart from it, and to recur to another, which seemed to have been so lately abandoned for its sake The age which succeeded, too, was not the age of courage or adventure. There never i was, on the whole, a quieter time than the : reigns of the two first Georges, and the grea;| er part of that which ensued. There were I two little provincial rebellions indeed, and a I fair proportion of foreign war; but there wa* nothing to stir the minds of the people at large, to rouse their passions, or excite their ; imaginations—nothing like the agitations of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, or of the civil wars in the seventeenth. They went on. accordingly, minding their old business, and reading their old books, with great patience and stupidity: And certainly there never was so remarkable a deailh of original talent—so long an iuterrenmim of native genius—as during about sixty years in the middle of the last century. The dramalic art was dead fifty years before—and poetry
seemed verging to a similar extinction. The few sparks that appeared, too, showed that the old fire was burnt out, and that the altar must hereafter be heaped with fuel of another quality. Gray, with the talents, rather of a critic than a poet—with learning, fastidiousness, and scrupulous delicacy of taste, instead of tire, tenderness, or invention—began and ended a small school, which we could scarcely have wished to become permanent, admirable in many respects as some of its productions are—being far too elaborate and artificial, either for grace or for fluency, and fitter to excite the admiration of scholars, than the delight of ordinary men. However, he had the merit of not being in any degree French, and of restoring to our poetry the dignity of seriousness, and the tone at least of force and energy. The Whartons, both as critics and as poets, were of considerable service in discrediting the high pretensions of the former race, and in bringing back to public notice the great stores and treasures of poetry which lay hid in the records of our older literature. Akenside attempted a sort of classical and philosophical rapture, which no elegance of language could easily have rendered popular, but which had merits of no vulgar order for those who could study it. Goldsmith wrote with perfect elegance and beauty, in a style of mellow tenderness and elaborate simplicity. He had the harmony of Pope without his quaintness, and his seiectness of diction without his coldness and eternal vivacity. And, lost of all; came Cowper, with a style of complete originality,—and, for the first time, made it apparent to readers of all descriptions, that Pope and Addison were no longer to be the models of English poetry.
In philosophy and prose writing in general, the case was nearly parallel. The name of Hume is by far the most considerable which occurs in the period to which we have alluded. But. though his thinking was English, his style is entirely French; and being naturally of a cold fancy, there is nothing of that eloqnenc« or richness about him, which characterizes the writings of Taylor, and Hooker, and Bacon—and continues, with less weight of matter, to please in those of Cowley and Clarendon. Warburton had great powers; and wrote with more force and freedom than the wits to whom he succeeded—but his faculties were perverted by a paltry love of paradox, and rendered useless to mankind by an unlucky choice of subjects, and the arroгапсе and'dogmatism of his temper. Adam Smith was nearly the first who made deeper ri^asoninjrs and more exact knowledge popular among us; and Junius and Johnson the first who again familiarized us with more plowing and sonorous diction—and made us K'el the lameness and poorness of the serious style of Addison and Swift.
This brings us down almost to the present times in whicli the revolution in our literature has been accelerated and confirmed by the concurrence of many causes. The agitations of the French revolution, and the discusHooe as well as the hopes and terrors to,
which it gave occasion—the genius of Edmund Burke, and some others of his land of genius—the impression of the new literature of Germany, evidently the original of our lake-school of poetry, and many innovations in our drama—the rise or revival of a more evangelical spirit, in the body of the people —and the vast extension of our political and commercial relations, which have not only familiarized all ranks of people with distant countries, and great undertakings, but have brought knowledge and enterprise home, not merely to the 'imagination, but to the actual experience of almost every individual.—All these, and several other circumstances, have so far improved or excited the character of our nation, as to have created an eifectual demand for more profound speculation, and more serious emotion than was dealt in by the writers of the former century, and which, if it has not yet produced a corresponding supply in all branches, has at least had the effect of decrying the commodities that were previously in vogue, as unsuited to the altered condition of the times.
Of those ingenious writers, whose characteristic certainly was not vigour, any more than tenderness or fancy, Swift was indisputably the most vigorous—and perhaps the least tender or fanciful. The greater part of his works being occupied with politics and personalities that have long since lost all interest, can now attract but little attention, except as memorials of the manner in which politics arid personalities were then conducted. In other parts, however, there is a vein of peculiar humour and strong satire, which will always be agreeable—and a sort of heartiness of abuse and contempt of mankind, which produces a greater sympathy and animation in the reader than the more elaborate sarcasms that have since come into fashion. Altogether his merits appear to be more unique and inimitable than those of any of his contemporaries; and as his works are connected in many parts with historical events which it must always be of importance to understand, we conceive that there are none, of which a new and careful edition is so likely to be acceptable to the public, or so worthy to engage the attention of a person qualified for the undertaking. In this respect, the projectors of the present publication must be considered as eminently fortunate—the celebrated person who has here condescended to the functions of an editor, being almost as much distinguished for the skill and learning required for that humbler office, as for the creative genius which has given such unexampled popularity to his original compositions —and uniting to the minute knowledge and patient research of the Malones and Chalmerses, a vigour of judgment and a vivacity of style to which they had no pretensions. In the exercise of these comparatively humble functions, he has acquitted himself, we think, on the present occasion, with great judgment and ability. The edition, upon the whole, is much better than that of Dryden. It is less loaded with long notes and illustrative quotatious; wl.ile i¡ furnishes all the information that can reasonably be desired, in a simple and compendious form. It contains upwards of a hundred letters, and other original pieces of Swift's never before published—and. among the rest, all that has been preserved of his correspondence with the celebrated Vanessa. Explanatory notes and remarks are supplied •with ereat diligence to all the passages over which time may have thrown any obscurity: and the critical observations that are prefixed to the more considerable productions, are, with a reasonable allowance for an editor's partiality to his author, very candid and ingenious.
The Life is not every where extremely well written, in a literary point of view; but is drawn up, in substance, with great intelligence, liberality, and good feeling. It is quite fair and moderate in politics; and perhaps rather too indulgent and tender towards individuals of all descriptions—more full, at least, of kindness and veneration for genius and social virtue, than of indignation at baseness and profligacy. Altogether, it is not much like the production of a mere man of letters, or a fastidious speculator in sentiment and morality; but exhibits throughout, and in a very pleasing form, the good sense and large toleration of a man of the world—with much of that generous allowance for the
"Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise,"
which genius too often requires, and should therefore always be most forward to show. It is impossible, however, to avoid noticing, that Mr. Scott is by far too favourable to the personal character of his author; whom we lhink.it would really be injurious to the cause of morality to allow to pas», either as a very digniiied or a very amiable person. The truth is, we think, that he was extremely ambitious, arrogant, and selfish; of a morose, vindictive, and haughty temper; and, though capable of a sort of patronizing generosity towards his dependants, and of some attachment towards those \vho had long known and Haltered him, his general demeanour, both in public and private life, appears to have been far from exemplary. Destitute of temper and magnanimity—and, we will add, of principle, in the former; and, in the latter, of tenderness, fidelity, or compassion.
The transformation of a young Whig into an old Tory—the gradual falling off of prudent men from unprofitable virtues, is. perhaps, too common an occurrence, to deserve much notice, or justify much reprobation. But Swift's desertion of hin first principles was neither gradual nor early—and was accomplished under such circumstancesas really require lobe exposed a little, and cannot weil be passed over in a fair account of his life and character. He was bred a Whig under Sir William Temple—he took the title publicly in various productions: and, during all the reign of King William, was a strenuous, and indeed an intolerant advocate of Revelation principles and Whig pretensions. His first patrons were Somers, Hortland, and Hali
fax; and, under that ministry, the member* of which he courted in private and defended in public, he received church preferment to the value of near 400Í. a year (equal at lea»t to 1200Í. at present), with the promise of still farther favours. He was dissatisfied, how ever, because his livings were not in England; and having been sent over on the atiairs of the Irish clergy in 1710, when he found the Whig ministry in a tottering condition, he temporized for a few months, till he'fea w that their downfal was inevitable; and then, without even the pretext of any public motive, but on the avowed ground of not having been sufficiently rewarded for his former services, he went over in the most violent and decided manner to the prevailing party; for whose gratification he abused his former friends and benefactors, with a degree of virulence and rancour, to which it would not be too much to apply the term of brutality; and, in the end, when the approaching death of the Queen, and their internal dissensions made his services of more importance to his newfriends, openly threatened to desert them also, and retire altogether from the scene, unless they made a suitable provision for him; and having, in this way. extorted the deanery of St. Patrick's, which he always complained of as quite inadequate to his merits, he counselled measures that must have involved the country in a civil war, for the mere chance of keeping his party in power; and, finally, on the Queen's death, retired in a elate of despicable despondency and bitterness to hie living, where he continued, to the end of Ыэ life, to libel liberty and mankind with unrelenting and pitiable rancour—to correspond with convicted traitors to the constitution they had sworn to maintain—and to lament as the worst of calamities, the dissolution of a ministry which had no merit but that of bavins promised him advancement, and of which several of the leading members immediately indemnified themselves by taking ofiice m the court of the Pretender.
As this part of his conduct is passed over a great deal too slightly by his biographer; and as nothing can be more pernicious than the notion, that the political sins of eminent i,rrsons should be forgotten in the estimate ot their merits, we must beg leave to verily the comprehensive sketch we have now given, by a few references to the documents that are to be found in the volumes before us. Of his original Whig professions, no proof will probably be required: the fact being notorious, and admitted by all his biographers. Abundant evidence, however, is furnished by his first successful jinmphlet in defence of Lord Somers. and the other Whig lords impeached in 1701 ;—by his own express declaration in another work (vol. iii. p. 240). that '• haviuc been lore conversant with the Greek and Latin authors, and therefore a lover of liberty, he was naturally inclined to be what they cail a Whig in politics:1'—by the copy of verses in which he deliberately designates himself •'a Wire, and one who wears a gown ;"—by his exulting statement to 1'isdal, whom he