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The more laboured polish of the language of Johnson, and his nervous originality of thought, lend all the attractions of variety to his lucubrations, if they are read alternately with those of his great predecessor: but the manner of the Rambler has of late years been much more frequently the object of uniform imitation than that of the Spectator, in spite of the Rambler's well-known recommendation of an original *. All our writers, indeed, of the present day, fall more or less into the latinized style of English composition; and, besides the sameness of this stiff and dignified mode of expression, the thought is too often inadequate in strength to support the pomp and weight of words in which it is enveloped. We could wish, therefore, for some attempts at the revival, or the imitation at least, of the simple and easy writing of our favourite essayist. - We must cease, however, to wish and to distinguish, or we shall incur the charge of that very querulousness and that disposition to unfair comparison, which we commenced with censuring. We are recalled by the Ruminator.'
• The major part of these essays, (says the author,) as far as No. lxxiii., were first printed in the Censura Literària, having been commenced in the fourth volume of that work, in January 1807, and continued to the tenth and last, in June 1809. The rest are principally by the author's friend, R. P. Gillies, Esq., the author of “ Childe Alarique,” except two, for which he is indebted to the eloquent pen of a very learned writer well known to the world, the Rev. Francis Wrangham; and two others, for which he here acknowledges his obligations to his kind friend, the Rev. Montagu Pennington, whose valuable contributions he had already received in the former part : in which also he here begs leave to repeat his warm thanks for the papers furnished to him by Capel Lofft, Esq., whose reputation is too far extended to require any eulogy from the author.'
We shall present to our readers the remarks which we have made in the perusal of these volumes, as they occurred to us; conceiving it to be unnecessary, if it were possible, to adopt any more regular plan in criticizing a publication of this nature.
In an examination of “ The Lay of the last Minstrel,” the essayist observes : « The beauties of this poem are to be seen in almost every page, while its faults (for it is not wholly exempt from defects) are thinly scattered over the surface, rari nantes in gurgite vasto, neither glaring nor offensive.' It is beyond the self-controul of our risible muscles for us to read this paragraph with becoming gravity. Not only the assertion, that the faults of Mr. Scott's first considerable poem are few and slight, must (we think) amuse even that gentleman himself,
* Thus it is that the practice of men will ever have more force than their precepts.
but but still more the quotation which illustrates such a panegyric. It is precisely the same as that which was put by Fielding into the mouth of the supposed Grub-street critic on one of his burlesque tragedies: “ You have indeed a few similes, - but they are very thin-sown,- Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto."
We are not inclined (we regret to be obliged to confess it) to agree much better with the essayist in his eulogy on the picturesque powers of the author of the Farmer's Boy; an eulogy which occurs in the paper following that which we have just quoted :-- but the passage immediately subjoined contains some observations, the spirit of which we highly approve, and which are expressed with elegance:
The mind is surely the scene of action, which we are most interested in studying. When we compare its capacities with those of material power; when we know that in one minute it can perform journies and gain victories, which it would consume the whole lives of the most active travellers and the most able generals to execute, what more copious, what more important theme for delineation can we require ? It is this consideration which elevates the study of ethics among the first in the scale of human knowledge; and as long as intellect is superior to matter, it must be classed in the highest rank of philosophy. Its nice and evanescent colours, which, seeming to leave much to conjecture, give to dull faculties an opportunity to call it shadowy and unsubstantial, are the very characteristics, which stamp its value.
Never then let it be said, that the life of a person of genius affords no materials for biography, because it was passed in retirement and inaction. If there remain records of his mental occupations, if his opinions, his feelings, and the rainbow-like colours of his fancy can be remembered and properly told, they will contribute essentially to the best and most interesting departinent of human intelligence.'
We would only ask the author whether, on second thoughts, he would not have written the study of Metaphysics, for the study of Ethics, in the first paragraph ?
In the discussion on the authenticity of Ossian's Poems, in which the opinion of the essayist leans to the affirmative, (that is, as far as the existence of some originals,) we find the following narrations :
• I have been told, by a lady now deceased, of high literary reputation, that the late Sir James Macdonald, elder brother of the Chief Baron, assured her, that he could repeat, when a lad, many of the poems translated by Macpherson in their original Erse. A similar assurance I received also myself from a surgeon in the navy, a native of the isle of Mull, who told me not only that he could repeat many of those poems, but that Macpherson had not selected, or perhaps met with, some of the finest of them; in particular one which is a dialogue between Ossian and a missionary, who was preaching the
Christian religion in the Highlands, which he said was the noblest poem he had ever known.'
Now it will be manifest that these stories (and a similar one is subjoined) depend on many circumstances, which we have not the means of ascertaining, for their importance in the controversy. Who the lady that vouched for the first fact may have been, we have no right to inquire, provided that we can rely on the present author's opinion of her judgment and accuracy: but, at all events, her evidence is only the copy of a record, and as such not of the highest value. Then, we must observe, the Chief Baron's brother was a lad when he could repeat these poems; and the knowlege of a lad is made to identify them with those which Macpherson translated! The surgeon, too, only assured the essayist that he could repeat these poems; and as to what follows about their merit, that is a surgical opinion, and nothing to the purpose. The same remarks are applicable to the Highland fisherman's praise in the story that succeeds; and to his wonder that Ossian had been translated. - On the whole, wide of the fact as we think the Ruminator's remark is that the work betrays little if any imitation of those great exemplaria Græca with which the mind of every scholar must be filled,' we are inclined, although with considerable reservation as to the number and extent of the supposed originals, to admit the justice of his concluding observations: Probably in this, as in most things, the truth may lie in the middle. He' (Macpherson) i found these songs volitantes per ora virum *, defective and imperfect. He supplied those parts which were wanting, added, omitted, and filled up as he thought necessary; and has thus given a work to the world, of the merit of which no greater proof can be required, than that it has been translated into every modern language, and is admired and beautiful in them all. On this appeal to popular opinion we shall only remark; “ Interdum vulgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat."
We are sorry to find at page 85. of Vol. i., a glaring instance of the puff direct, though it was only intended for the puff oblique; and we feel the more compelled to notice this, because it is far from the only example of the offence of puffing in the Ruminator.' He allows his correspondents to say much too civil things to him: for example : « Your Bath corresponda ent alludes to your juvenile production of Mary de Clifford. I have read that elegant and affecting tale more than once with renewed pleasure,' &c. &c. That the author, however,
filled up those parts whirum * defe acpherson) ings, the truth
We rectum wiar opinionand beauslated in greater psiven
* If so, he may be said to have “ shot them flying ;" and that he possessed a famous “ long bow" is the opinion of many of the dispu. tants in this questions
should be pleased with the commendation of his friends is perfectly natural; especially as he states himself, in more than one passage of this publication, to have been severely calumniated by his enemies. A sonnet occurs on this subject, at page 100., which we forbear to transcribe; not because it contains any thing censurable in the language and versification,—for, on the contrary, we admire them both, — but because we disapprove of the public expression (at all events) of the querulous sentiments of this poem; and because, from the remarks which follow it, we are led most sincerely to caution this author against any farther indulgence in excessive feeling. Let him depend on it, (and we could cite very many sad examples of the justice of our caution,) that this indulgence must end in a morbid sensibility of mind, a feverish irritation and unmanly tenderness of nature, which are the more ruinous as they spring from principles of which we may be justly proud. They are the most melancholy abuse of virtue; and the perpetual recurrence to the misfortunes and the maladies of a Collins, a Chatterton, a Burns, &c. &c., which is but too observable throughout these pages, convinces us that our suggestion is not superfluous. At the same time, we cordially agree with the writer in his strong reprobation of those unpitying judges, who coarsely censure the errors of such highly gifted but too often unfortunate beings; and that such stern censors of their poetical brethren should reckon among them any man of real genius is painful indeed to consider:--but it is one thing to calumniate, and to tread on, the fallen,
(« Fallen, fallen, fallen from their high estate !") and another to caution them, ere they fall, against laying open their secret feelings to a world in which they must be children, indeed, to expect general sympathy. We rather take the remark of Johnson on Cowley's complaint in this kinder sense, than as the Ruminator' does in its severe interpretation. Surely when the critic says of the poem in quesion, “ this met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity," we have no right to infer that he justified the opinion of the world. He rather wishes to prevent the unfortunate from shewing their miseries to unconcerned spectators, and the example of such a man as Cowley being so treated by the public, if strongly brought before the young poet who was just ready to vent his disappointments through the improper medium of the press, might perhaps save one out of a thousand from the injudicious exposure.
In an essay on the well-known passage in the twenty-second Iliad, in which Hector says of his expected meeting with Achilles,
Όν μέν πως νυν εστίν από δρυός έδ' από πέτρης. Ko to do, the essayist records several expositions of the difficulty, and subjoins his own: but we are not satisfied with any of them, and would venture to suggest a conjectural substitution (for which we really forget whether we have any authority) of izo in each place for áto'; which will, in our judgment, make the simile as natural in expression as it is in idea. This observation will be sufficient for the scholar ; who, by merely referring to the 126th line of Iliad X'., will be able to decide on the justice of our conjecture.
At page 138. we have another sonnet, of the same plaintive nature with the last : but we shall consider our admonition as sufficient, and say no more on the subject ; excepting, indeed, what we are bound by our duty to observe, that the prevailing fault of the Ruminator is the want of variety. Of this fact the author himself seems to have been conscious: but, unfavourably for his own wider circulation, he has not acted on that consciousness.
We are presented with some extracts from Mrs. Carter's Correspondence in this Miscellany. When they were first published in the Censura Literaria, which was previously to the appearance of the “ Correspondence," they must have been objects of interest and attraction : but to reprint them now, after the publication of that work, savours of what shall we say? Book-making? We fear that it is the only appropriate term. However, they are not long; and, like almost all the rest of that vigorous writer's compositions, they eminently merit the reader's attention.
Some remarks on Imprisonment for Debt are well conceived and expressed. The quotation from Johnson was perhaps unnecessary, but its benevolence and energy excuse it; and the concluding eulogy on the supporters of the Debtor and Creditor Bill is amply deserved by the Lords Moira and Holland, We so much approve, indeed, the spirit of the last panegyric, that we shall transcribe it : :
"- Let the virtuous spirit of Lord Holland recollect that he will add new laurels, to those acquired by his honourable pursuits, by this new effort of his cultivated mind. It becomes a man like him, who adorns his station with the flowers of literary genius, thus to tread in the steps of his great uncle ! These are the most grateful offerings, which he can strew on his mighty relative's grave! I am not ashamed to say this, in defiance of the opposition I feel to his political attachments.
The "Traits in the Character of Gray the Poet are worth perusing ; and the paper On the Severity of Fashionable Critic cism'is not undeserving of the consideration of some of our conRev. JUNE, 1814. L