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BLACKWOOD'S

EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No XVII.

AUGUST 1818.

VOL. III.

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·EMARKS ON SCHLEGEL'S HISTORY OF ling to believe in the excellence of LITERATURE.

what belongs to ourselves; we begin

with our apparel, furniture, and houses, It seems to be received among most and extend, by degrees, the compliof the good people of the present age ment to our town, our nation, and last as an axiom not to be disputed, that of all, to our age. the period to which they have the hap We have no intention to deny, that piness to belong is, beyond all ques- in many matters of no inconsiderable tion, the most enlightened which the moment, the self-gratulations of the world has ever seen. Nothing can be present generation are well founded. more natural than the species of ratio Were there no ground for their belief, cination upon which this comfortable except in vanity, it must indeed have belief is founded. Every individu- long since given way. The fault lies al, however unskilled in the more in extending to the condition of the secret mysteries of psycology, is me- whole man that which applies in truth taphysician enough to be sensible of to one part only,--perhaps not the the gradual enlargement and improve most dignified or important part of ment of his own understanding dur- that mysterious being. The part which ing the far more considerable por- has been the scene of improvement is tion of his life: and it is quite in the indeed that to which the philosophers course of things, that individuals of the last century chiefly devoted their should reason from themselves to every attention. But it remains to be dething around them. To the man who, cided by posterity, whether their dein reviewing a few past years of his votion, or our applause, should be conlife, perceives in every direction the sidered as among the excellencies or traces of intellect strengthened and the defects of our respective periods, knowledge extended, it must needs Among the many ages which have appear at first sight a very improbable preceded ours, not a few, and these thing, that, while the individual is at too, - at least some of them,-ages to all times so actively progressive, the which we now look back with very general mind should at any time be little reverence, were, in their day, retrogressive, or even stationary. He equally self-complacent in their opinion takes it for granted that the nation, of themselves. Perhaps no times were the world, are moving at the same ever more filled with self-conceit than pace with himself, and his favourable the corrupt and trifling ones of the last opinion respecting the century in which Roman and Byzantine emperors. The he happens to be born, derives not a blindfold mill-horse has no suspicion little of its charity from the unsus in how narrow a circle he is moving, pected, but unintermitted, workings To go somewhat towards the bottom of his self-love. We are all wils of the matter, we may observe, that

the exertions of human intellect are • Lectures on the History of Literature, directed either towards the bettering Ancient and Modern ; from the German of of our earthly and corporeal existence, Frederick Schlegel. 2 vols. Edinburgh, or to something quite foreign, and, we William Blackwood; London, Baldwin, are not singular in supposing, quite &c. 1918,

superior to this. One great class of

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objects are useful, and pursued as much of the humiliating as of the means for producing tangible and vin cheering. We are more knowing than sible improvements in the external ac our fathers, but the old breed was a commodation of man; another great noble one, and it may be worth our class of objects have, in most ages of while to consider with ourselves wheththe world, attracted the zeal of the er we may not deserve the reproach of finest spirits of the earth, although the satirist-Gens pusilla, acuta. not leading to any thing so obviously Such reflections as these are not advantageous--have been pursued, in very common among the men of our a word, for their own sake alone, nation, but in the book which now lies and believed to bring with them abun- before us, and in many other works of dantly their own reward. In regard those whom Madame de Stael classes to the former class of objects, it must with its author, under the name of be admitted that the world was never ces grand penseurs Allemands," we so well off as it is now; we suspect find sufficient proof that they are by that, in regard to the second, a little no means unusual among the reflective research would have a tendency to lead men of another nation, which, in so to a very different conclusion. far at least as philosophy and art are

In respect to those branches of hu- concerned, may be entitled to fully as man exertion which are most evident- much respect as our own. Although ly ornamental, our inferiority to for- the last fifty years have produced in mer ages will not be disputed, even by Germany more great and valuable lithe warmest admirers of their own terary works than the last hundred time and of themselves. Our age pro- years among all the other nations of duces no paintings like those of Leo- Europe, even the authors of Germany nardo, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Cor- appear to be pretty free from that reggio, or even like those of Holbein. overweening self-complacency which In sculpture and architecture our po. is so visible in the writings of their verty is equally apparent. If we are French and English brethren. The better than our immediate predecessors, truth is, that all the German writers if we no longer admire or imitate the of eminence are also scholars of emiabsurdities of such men as Bernini, nence. They read before they think still we can sustain no comparison with of writing. Their reverence for others the times of antiquity; nay, in regard tempers their confidence in themselves. to one of those arts we are utterly des- They labour to improve and ador picable, when compared with those their age, but they are modest enough ages of modern Europe which we are to consider no little preparation as ne: pleased to think and talk of as utterly cessary for those who would enter updark and barbarous. Whatever excel on such a vocation. In like manner, lence we attain in sculpture is derived their books are too full of learning for from a servile imitation of the antique ; our public, in its present state ; they and in regard to architecture, we seem make allusions which our wits would to be so impressed with a sense of laugh at as obscure, and pass into dilittleness, that we have absolutely gressions which they would censure as given over attempting any thing that absurd. Nevertheless, they are worth is worthy of being called great. We the studying, and will repay the lamake no fresco paintings now-a-days, bour which they demand from those no colossal statues, no cathedrals. We who peruse them with advantage. may call this wisdom and philosophy According to the author of these if we will. We may rave about poli- lectures, the chief cause of those detical economy and chemistry, and de- fects which may be discovered in the spise, if we choose, the simple ages art and literature of the present time, which were more occupied with art is to be found in the spirit of thought than with science, with feeling than introduced by the philosophy of the with analysing; but to those who con- last century. The object of that phisider this world as a preparatory scene, losophy was revolution ; its engine and our earthly life as a school for our was derision. Its masters devoted all intellect, and' man as an immortal their talents to destroy the habitual creature, whose desires and aspirations veneration with which their country: are at all times after the infinite, the

men of France and of Europe were spectacle of this, our boasted age, may accustomed to regard the political, perhaps appear to partake at least

, as moral, and religious institutions of

their fathers. They strove to repre- gard to that great and splendid branch sent every thing beyond their own of human exertion, that he has chosen, sphere, as existing only in prejudice, in the first instance, to meet and comand held sacred only by folly. Above bat the purposes and opinions of his all things, it was their wish and pur- antagonists. It is not necessary for us pose to undermine those forms of gov- to explain by what circumstances, in ernment which are established among the late history and present condiall the descendants of the Gothic con- tion of his country, his views have querors of Europe. In order to make been more immediately turned to the these appear ridiculous, they pointed consideration of some of those subjects the shafts of their wit, not only against which his present work is most calcuthe Gothic thrones themselves, but lated to elucidate. against all the art, and literature, and The truth is, that the old contest philosophy, which had sprung up un- between the friends and the enemies der their protection. Their sole topics of empiricism, which was sufficiently of praise were found either among the violent in the days of the Platonists republican peoples of antiquity, or a- and Peripatetics of antiquity, never atmong themselves ;-the former having tained its full height and vehemence to boast, as they asserted, of the only till of late. The balance inclines true artists, and their own age of the grievously to the meaner side. Manonly true sçavants.

kind are now every where ashamed of It is with a certain mingled feeling being, what the philosophers of the last of calmness and melancholy that we age were pleased to call unphilosophical. look back, from the present situation of Even the common people begin to take affairs, to the image of those old times more pride in having some general when the external aspect of things was ideas, than in retaining that warmth harsher and ruder, but when hearts of attachment to one set of objects, were warmer than they now are, and which entirely depends, as they have faith more firm. The history of the last told, upon ignorance of that which is century, may at times provoke a con- beyond their circle.

The travelling tempt almost touching upon ridicule, regiments of books which pour in their but in general it is with feelings of a heterogeneous impressions from the very different nature indeed, that we four quarters of the heavens, level all connect the circumstances of that e- peculiarities before them, and turn the ventful period with those of our own. private enclosures of attachment and As when dark clouds are seen progres- opinion into a thorough-fare. When sively advancing over the face of a the mind is artificially supplied, by calm and lovely heaven, and the me means of books, with more sources of mory of past tempests is revived in the sentiment than are able at once harapprehension of new, it is not without moniously to keep possession of it, the an anxious and a mournful expectation speculative understanding steps in to that we see the old bands every day settle their claims, and concludes by relaxing around us, and, under the leaving the whole man in a woful state specious name of improvement, every of obliteration, which corresponds with thing which our fathers loved and ve Wordsworth’s description of a moralist. nerated borne by slow but sure de “ One to whose smooth-rubbed soul can cling grees, into the reach of that revolu No torm nor feeling, great or small, tionary current which leads to a fear- A reasoning self-sufficing thing, ful, and as yet an unexplored, abyss,

An intellectual all-in-all.” None seems to have contemplated the To trace with that boldness which tendency of this age with more concern can only be inspired by mature skilthan Frederick Schlegel. The work fulness, a map of the whole history of which we have just read is a noble ef- human literature; to show how in every fort to counteract and repel its effects, age, the action of literature upon nato arouse forgotten thoughts and des- tionality, and that of nationality upon pised feelings, and to make men be literature, have been strictly recipronational and religious once more, in cal; and thus, by past examples, to order that once more they may be warn the present generation of the great. He is quite right in believing dangers in which they have involved that, as the evil has proceeded, so themselves,-this was a great attempt, must the cure also proceed from the and we think Frederick Schlegel has influence of literature ; and it is in re accomplished it with very singular

1

success. Heinculcates, throughout the particular part, either of narrative or
necessity which there is, that literature disquisition, it has been derived
should have reference to an established. There is, for instance, at least as much
centre, namely, to religious faith, and of art, as of elegance and of feeling, in
to national history and character, the view which he gives us of the Ho-
that its main employment should be meric writings.
to nurse and strengthen our associa-
tions in relation to these objects,--and pre-eminence of which gives to the early

“ There is only one production, the high that; instead of being applied at ran- ages of the Greeks a decided superiority over dom as a stimulus to our faculties and those of every other people,—the Homeric emotions, as mere abstract human be- poems, the still astonishing works of the ings, it should bend all its powers to

Iliad and the Odyssey. These indeed are wards tútoring and forming the feel the work of a preceding age ; but it is suffi. ings of men, destined to act a part as ciently evident from the language, the con citizens of their respective communi

tents, and above all, from the spirit of these ties. In doing so, literature gains, posed within a short time (probably within

poems, that they were designed and comboth by having a determinate purpose,

a century) of the age of Solon. In his time, and by being the conservator of asso at all events, and partly by means of his ciations, which grow more and more personal exertions, they were first

. rescued valuable as they grow older. As every from the precariousness and forgetfulness of nation has its own mental character oral recitation, arranged in the order in and constitution propagated from ge- have ever since continued to be, the objects

which we see them, and rendered, as they neration to generation, no traditions or

of universal attention and regard. poetry can be so congenial to it, as those

“ Solon and his successors in the govern. which originated with itself in early ment of Athens, Pisistratus and the Pisis. ages, constituting tests of its true bias tratidæ, over and above the delight which and genius, and continuing, during the they must have derived from the composi, course of its history, to strengthen na tions themselves, were probably influenced ture itself by reacting upon the same by views of a nature purely political, to in national temperament which at first terest themselves in the preservation of the produced them. He shews that a great six hundred years before Christ, the index

Homeric poems. About this period, that is national character can only be pre- pendence of the Greeks of Asia Minor was served, by endeavouring as much as

much threatened, not indeed as yet by the possible to cherish and keep alive the

power Persia, but by that of the Lydian characteristic spirit of our ancestors; monarchs, whose kingdom was soon after and that the literature of each nation, swallowed up in the immense empire of Cye instead of embodying all kinds of hu As soon, however, as that conqueror man ideas indifferently, should aim at had overcome Crąsus, and extended his rivetting a peculiar set of impressions power over the lesser Asia, no clear-sighted proper to itself, which would have the patriot could any longer conceal from him. advantage of gaining force by every re

self the great danger which was impendent

over Greece. The greater part of the Gres iteration, and of pervading the whole cian states, indeed, seem to have remained system both of private and public life. long in their security, without foreseeing the

Nothing can, we think, be more storm which was so near them, and which beautiful than the manner which burst with such fury on their continent dur. Schlegel calls up in succession the ing the reigns of Darius and of Xerxes master-spirits of antiquity, and ex But the danger must have been soon and tracts from their merits, and sometimes thoroughly perceived by Athens, linked as from their defects, confirmation of the she was in the closest intimacy with the Asitheory which it is his purpose to de- Aourishing commerce, but also by the com

atic Greeks, not only by all the ties of a fend. The power, majesty, and en

mon origin of their Ionic race. The revival during beauty of the Greek, and the of these old songs which relate how Grecian comparative poverty of the Roman lie heroes warred with united strength against terature, are both explained upon the Asia, and laid siege to the metropolis of same principle: and yet the general Priam, occurred, at least, at a very favour. conclusions to which he would lead us able period, to nourish in the Greeks the are, throughout, so admirably blended pride of heroic feelings, and excite them to

like deeds in the cause of their indepenwith the interesting and amusing porn dence. traiture of individual men and works,

“ Whether any such event as the Trojan that however strong may be the im

war ever in reality took place, we have no pression of which we are conscious, positive means of deciding. The dynasty we cannot easily point out from what of Agamemnon and the Atreidæ, however,

rus.

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falls almost within the limits of history. open to our view in the utmost beauty and Neither is it at all unlikely that much inter- clearness, a rich, a living, and an ever movcourse subsisted at a very early period be- ing picture. The two heroic personages of tween the Greek peninsula and Asia Minor; Achilles and Ulysses, which occupy the first for the inhabitants of the two countries were places in this new state of existence, embody kindred peoples, speaking nearly the same the whole of a set of universal ideas and cha. language, and Pelops, from whom the pen racters which are to be found in almost all insula derived its name, was a native of the traditions of heroic ages, although noAsia. That the carrying away of a single where else so happily unfolded or delineated princess should have been the cause of an with so masterly a hand. Achilles, a youthuniversal and long protracted war, is, at ful hero, who, in the fulness of his victorious least, abundantly consistent with the spirit strength and beauty, exhausts all the glories of the heroic times, and forcibly recalls to of the fleeting life of man, but is doomed to our recollection a parallel period in the his an early death and a tragical destiny, is the tory of Christendom, and the chivalry of the first and the most lofty of theșe characters ; middle ages. However much of fable and and a character of the same species is to be allegory may have been , weaved into the found in numberless poems of the heroic story of Helen and Troy, that many great age, but perhaps no where, if we except recollections of the remote ages were in some

the writers of Greece, so well developed manner connected with the local situation of as in the sagas of our northern ancestors. Troy itself, is manifest from the graves of Even among the most lively nations, the heroes, the earthen tumuli which are still traditions and recollections of the heroic visible on that part of the coast. That these times are invested with a half mournful and old Greek mounds or monuments, which melancholy feeling, a spirit of sorrow, somewere, according to universal tradition,

point times elegiac, more frequently tragical ed out as the graves of Achilles and Patroc which speaks at once to our bosons from lus,-over one of which Alexander wept, the inmost soul of the poetry in which they envying the fate of the hero who had found are embodied : whether it be that the idea a Homer to celebrate him,--that these were of a long vanished age of freedom, greatin existence in the time of the poet himself ness, and heroism, stamps of necessity such is, I think, apparent from many passages of an impression on those who are accustomed the Iliad. It was reserved for the impious, to live among the narrow and limited ina or at least the foolish curiosity of our own stitutions of after times; or whether it be age, to ransack these tombs, and violate the not rather that poets have chosen to express sacred repose of the ashes and arms of he only in compositions of a certain sort and roes, which were found still to exist within in relation to certain periods, those feelings their recesses. But all these are matters of of distant reverence and self-abasement with no importance to the subject of which I am which it is natural to us at all times to reat present treating ; for although the Tro- fect on the happiness and simplicity of ages jan war had been altogether the creation of that have long passed away. In Ulysses the poet's fancy, that circumstance could we have displayed another and a less ele-, have had little influence either on the object vated form of the heroic life, but one scarcewhich Solon and Pisistratus had in view, or ly less fertile in subjects for poetry, or less on the spirit of patriotism which was excited interesting to the curiosity of posterity. This by the revival of the Homeric poems. The is the voyaging and wandering hero, whose story was at all events universally believed, experience and acuteness are equal to his and listened to, as an incident of true and valour, who is alike prepared to suffer with authentic history

patience every hardship, and to plunge with To the Greeks, accordingly, of every boldness into every adventure ; and who age, these poems possessed a near and a na thus affords the most unlimited scope for tional interest of the most lively and touch the poetical imagination, by giving the oping character, while to us their principal'at- portunity of introducing and adorning whattraction consists in the more universal charm ever of wonderful or of rare is supposed, of beautiful narration, and in the lofty re during the infancy, of geography, by the presentations which they unfold of the he. simple people of early societies, to belong to roic life. For here there prevails not any ages and places with which they are perpeculiar mode of thinking, or system of pre- sonally unacquainted. The Homeric works judices, adapted to live only within a limit are equalled, or perhaps surpassed, in awful ed period, or exclusively to celebrate the strength and depth of feeling by the poetry fame and pre-eminence of some particular of the north-in audacity, in splendour, and race ;-defects which are so apparent both in pomp, by that of the oriental nations. in the old songs of the Arabians, and in the Their peculiar excellence lies in the intui. Poems of Ossian. There breathes through, tive perception of truth, the accuracy of out these poems a freer spirit, a sensibility description, and the great clearness of unmore open, more pure, and more universal derstanding, which are united in them, in a -alive

to every feeling which can make an manner so unique, with all the simplicity impression on our nature, and extending to of childhood, and all the richness of an un. every circumstance and condition of the rivalled imagination. In them we find a great family of man. A whole world is laid mode of composition so full, that it often

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