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Title: Beacon Lights of History, Volume 13 - Great Writers; Dr Lord's Uncompleted Plan, Supplemented with Essays by Emerson, Macaulay, Hedge, and Mercer Adam
Author: Lord, John, 1810-1894
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Beacon Lights of History, Volume 13 - Great Writers; Dr Lord's Uncompleted Plan, Supplemented with Essays by Emerson, Macaulay, Hedge, and Mercer Adam" ***

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XIII***


LORD'S LECTURES

BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME XIII

GREAT WRITERS.

Dr Lord's Uncompleted Plan, Supplemented with Essays by
Emerson, Macaulay, Hedge, And Mercer Adam

BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,

AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE,"
ETC., ETC.



PUBLISHERS' PREFACE.


This being the last possible volume in the series of "Beacon Lights of
History" from the pen of Dr. Lord, its readers will be interested to
know that it contains all the lectures that he had completed (although
not all that he had projected) for his review of certain of the chief
Men of Letters. Lectures on other topics were found among his papers,
but none that would perfectly fit into this scheme; and it was thought
best not to attempt any collection of his material which he himself had
not deemed worthy or appropriate for use in this series, which embodies
the best of his life's work,--all of his books and his lectures that he
wished to have preserved. For instance, "The Old Roman World," enlarged
in scope and rewritten, is included in the volumes on "Old Pagan
Civilizations," "Ancient Achievements," and "Imperial Antiquity;" much
of his "Modern Europe" reappears in "Great Rulers," "Modern European
Statesmen," and "European National Leaders," etc.

The consideration of "Great Writers" was reserved by Dr. Lord for his
final task,--a task interrupted by death and left unfinished. In order
to round out and complete this volume, recourse has been had to some
other masters in literary art, whose productions are added to Dr. Lord's
final writings.

In the present volume, therefore, are included the paper on
"Shakspeare" by Emerson, reprinted from his "Representative Men" by
permission of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., the authorized publishers
of Emerson's works; the famous essay on "Milton" by Macaulay; the
principal portion--biographical and generally critical--of the article
on "Goethe," from "Hours with the German Classics," by the late Dr.
Frederic H. Hedge, by permission of Messrs. Little, Brown & Co., the
publishers of that work; and a chapter on "Tennyson: the Spirit of
Modern Poetry," by G. Mercer Adam.

A certain advantage may accrue to the reader in finding these masters
side by side for comparison and for gauging Dr. Lord's unique life-work
by recognized standards, keeping well in view the purpose no less than
the perfection of these literary performances, all of which, like those
of Dr. Lord, were aimed at setting forth the services of _selected
forces_ in the world's life.

NEW YORK, September 15, 1902.



CONTENTS.


ROUSSEAU.

SOCIALISM AND EDUCATION.

Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke
Rousseau representative of his century
Birth
Education and early career; engraver, footman
Secretary, music teacher, and writer
Meets Thérèse
His first public essay in literature
Operetta and second essay
Geneva; the Hermitage; Madame d'Épinay.
The "Nouvelle Héloïse;" Comtesse d'Houdetot
"Émile;" "The Social Contract"
Books publicly burned; author flees
England; Hume; the "Confessions"
Death, career reviewed
Character of Rousseau
Essay on the Arts and Sciences
"Origin of Human Inequalities"
"The Social Contract"
"Émile"
The "New Héloïse"
The "Confessions"
Influence of Rousseau


SIR WALTER SCOTT.

THE MODERN NOVEL.

Scott and Byron
Evanescence of literary fame
Parentage of Scott
Birth and childhood
Schooling and reading
Becomes an advocate
His friends and pleasures
Personal peculiarities
Writing of poetry; first publication
Marriage and settlement
"Scottish Minstrelsy"
"Lay of the Last Minstrel;" Ashestiel rented
The Edinburgh Review: Jeffrey, Brougham, Smith
The Ballantynes
"Marmion"
Jeffrey as a critic
Quarrels of author and publishers; Quarterly Review
Scott's poetry
Duration of poetic fame
Clerk of Sessions; Abbotsford bought
"Lord of the Isles;" "Rokeby"
Fiction; fame of great authors
"Waverley"
"Guy Mannering"
Great popularity of Scott
"The Antiquary"
"Old Mortality;" comparisons
"Rob Roy"
Scotland's debt to Scott
Prosperity; rank; correspondence
Personal habits
Life at Abbotsford
Chosen friends
Works issued in 1820-1825
Bankruptcy through failure of his publishers
Scott's noble character and action
Works issued in 1825-1831
Illness and death
Payment of his enormous debt
Vast pecuniary returns from his works


LORD BYRON.

POETIC GENIUS.

Difficulty of depicting Byron
Descent; birth; lameness
Schooling; early reading habits
College life
Temperament and character
First publication of poems
Savage criticism by Edinburgh Review
"English Bards and Scotch Reviewers"
Byron becomes a peer
Loneliness and melancholy; determines to travel
Portugal; Spain
Malta; Greece; Turkey
Profanity of language in Byron's time
"Childe Harold"
Instant fame and popularity
Consideration of the poem
Marries Miss Milbanke; separation
Genius and marriage
"The Corsair;" "Bride of Abydos"
Evil reputation; loss of public favor
Byron leaves England forever
Switzerland; the Shelleys; new poems
Degrading life in Venice
Wonderful labors amid dissipation
The Countess Guiccioli
Two sides to Byron's character
His power and fertility
Inexcusable immorality; "Don Juan"
"Manfred" and "Cain" not irreligious but dramatic
Byron not atheistical but morbid
Many noble traits and actions
Generosity and fidelity in friendship
Eulogies by Scott and Moore
Byron's interest in the Greek Revolution
Devotes himself to that cause
Raises £10,000 and embarks for Greece
Collects troops in his own pay
His latest verses
Illness from vexation and exposure
Death and burial
The verdict


THOMAS CARLYLE.

CRITICISM AND BIOGRAPHY.

Froude's Biography of Carlyle
Brief résumé of Carlyle's career
Parentage and birth
Slender education; school-teaching
Abandons clerical intentions to become a writer
"Elements of Geometry;" "Life of Schiller;" "Wilhelm Meister"
Marries Jane Welsh
Her character
Edinburgh and Craigenputtock
Essays: "German Literature"
Goethe's "Helena"
"Burns"
"Life of Heyne;" "Voltaire"
"Characteristics"
Wholesome and productive life at Craigenputtock
"Dr. Johnson"
Friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Sartor Resartus"
Carlyle removes to London
Begins "The French Revolution"
Manuscript accidentally destroyed
Habits of great authors in rewriting
Publication of the work; Carlyle's literary style
Better reception in America than in England
Carlyle begins lecturing
Popular eloquence in England
Carlyle and the Chartists
"Heroes and Hero Worship"
"Past and Present"
Carlyle becomes bitter
"Latter-Day Pamphlets"
"Life of Oliver Cromwell"
Carlyle's confounding right with might
Great merits of Carlyle as historian
Death of Mrs. Carlyle
Success of Carlyle established
"Frederick the Great"
Decline of the author's popularity
Public honors; private sorrow
Final illness and death
Carlyle's place in literature


LORD MACAULAY.

ARTISTIC HISTORICAL WRITING.

Macaulay's varied talents
Descent and parentage
Birth and youth
Education
Character; his greatness intellectual rather than moral
College career
Enters the law
His early writings; poetry; essay on Milton
Social success; contemporaries
Enters politics and Parliament
Sent to India; secretary board of education
Essays in the Reviews
Limitations as a statesman
Devotion to literature
Personal characteristics
Return to London and public office
Still writing essays; "Warren Hastings," "Clive"
Special public appreciation in America
Drops out of Parliament; begins "History of England"
Prodigious labor; extent and exactness of his knowledge
Self-criticism; brilliancy of style
Some inconsistencies
Public honors
Remarkable successes; re-enters Parliament
Illness and growing weakness
Conclusion of the History; foreign and domestic honors
Resigns seat in Parliament
Social habits
Literary tastes
Final illness and death; his fame


SHAKSPEARE; OR, THE POET.

BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON.

The debt of genius to its age and preceding time.

The era of Shakspeare favorable to dramatic entertainments.

The stage a substitute for the newspaper of his era.

The poet draws upon extant materials--the lime and mortar to his hand.

Plays which show the original rock on which his own finer stratum is
laid.

In drawing upon tradition and upon earlier plays the poet's memory is
taxed equally with his invention.

All originality is relative; every thinker is retrospective.

The world's literary treasure the result of many a one's labor;
centuries have contributed to its existence and perfection.

Shakspeare's contemporaries, correspondents, and acquaintances.

Work of the Shakspeare Society in gathering material to throw light upon
the poet's life, and to illustrate the development of the drama.

His external history meagre; Shakspeare is the only biographer of
Shakspeare.

What the sonnets and the dramas reveal of the poet's mind and character.

His unique creative power, wisdom of life, and great gifts of
imagination.

Equality of power in farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs.

Notable traits in the poet's character and disposition; his tone pure,
sovereign, and cheerful.

Despite his genius, he shares the halfness and imperfection of humanity.

A seer who saw all things to convert them into entertainments, as master
of the revels to mankind.


JOHN MILTON: POET AND PATRIOT.

BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.

His long-lost essay on Doctrines of Christianity.

As a poet, his place among the greatest masters of the art.

Unfavorable circumstances of his era, born "an age too late".

A rude era more favorable to poetry.

The poetical temperament highest in a rude state of society.

Milton distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse.

His genius gives to it an air of nobleness and freedom.

Characteristics and magical influence of Milton's poetry.

Mechanism of his language attains exquisite perfection.

"L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso," "Comus" and "Samson Agonistes"
described.

"Comus" properly more lyrical than dramatic.

Milton's preference for "Paradise Regained" over "Paradise Lost".

Contrasts between Milton and Dante.

Milton's handling of supernatural beings in his poetry.

His art of communicating his meaning through succession of associated
ideas.

Other contrasts between Milton and Dante--the mysterious and the
picturesque in their verse.

Milton's fiends wonderful creations, not metaphysical abstractions.

Moral qualities of Milton and Dante.

The Sonnets simple but majestic records of the poet's feelings.

Milton's public conduct that of a man of high spirit and powerful
intellect.

Eloquent champion of the principles of freedom.

His public conduct to be esteemed in the light of the times, and of its
great question whether the resistance of the people to Charles I. was
justifiable or criminal.

Approval of the Great Rebellion and of Milton's attitude towards it.

Eulogium on Cromwell and approval of Milton's taking office (Latin
Secretaryship) under him.

The Puritans and Royalists, or Roundheads and Cavaliers.

The battle Milton fought for freedom of the human mind.

High estimate of Milton's prose works.


JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE.

GERMANY'S GREATEST WRITER.

BY FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE.

Fills highest place among the poets and prose-writers of Germany.

Influences that made the man.

Self-discipline and educational training.

Counsellor to Duke Karl August at Weimar, where he afterwards resides.

Visits Italy; makes Schiller's acquaintance; Goethe's personal
appearance.

His unflagging industry; defence of the poet's personal character.

The "Märchen," its interpretation and the light it throws on Goethe's
political career.

Lyrist, dramatist, novelist, and mystic seer.

His drama "Götz von Berlichingen," and "Sorrows of Werther".

Popularity of his ballads; his elegies, and "Hermann und Dorothea".

"Iphigenie auf Tauris;" his stage plays "Faust" (First Part) and
"Egmont".

The prose works "Wilhelm Meister" and the "Elective Affinities".

His skill in the delineation of female character.

"Faust;" contrasts in spirit and style between the two Parts.

Import of the work, key to or analysis of the plot.


ALFRED (LORD) TENNYSON.

THE SPIRIT OF MODERN POETRY.

BY G. MERCER ADAM.

Tennyson's supreme excellence--his transcendent art.

His work the perfection of literary form; his melody exquisite.

Representative of the age's highest thought and culture.

Keen interpreter of the deep underlying spirit of his time.

Contemplative and brooding verse, full of rhythmic beauty.

The "Idylls of the King," their deep ethical motive and underlying
purpose.

His profound religious convictions and belief in the eternal verities.

Hallam Tennyson's memoir of the poet; his friends and intimates.

The poet's birth, family, and youthful characteristics

Early publishing ventures; his volume of 1842 gave him high rank.

Personal appearance, habits, and mental traits.

"In Memoriam," its noble, artistic expression of sorrow for Arthur
Hallam.

"The Princess" and its moral, in the treatment of its "Woman Question"
theme.

The metrical romance "Maud," and "The Idylls of the King," an epic of
chivalry.

"Enoch Arden," and the dramas "Harold," "Becket," and "Queen Mary".

Other dramatic compositions: "The Falcon," "The Cup," and "The Promise
of May".

The pastoral play, "The Foresters," and later collections of poems and
ballads.

The poet's high faith, and belief that "good is the final goal of ill".

His exalted place among the great literary influences of his era.

Expressive to his age of the high and hallowing Spirit of Modern
Poetry.


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

VOLUME XIII.

The Young Goethe at Frankfort   _Frontispiece_
_After the painting by Frank Kirchbach_.

Jean Jacques Rousseau
_After the painting by M. Q. de la Tour, Chantilly, France_.

Sir Walter Scott
_After the painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, R. A_.

Lord Byron
_After the painting by P. Krämer_.

François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
_After the painting by M. Q. de la Tour, Endoxe Marville
Collection, Paris_.

Thomas Carlyle
_After a photograph from life_

Thomas Babington Macaulay
_After a photograph by Maule, London_.

William Shakspeare
_After the "Chandos Portrait," National Portrait Gallery, London_.

John Milton
_After the painting by Pieter van der Plaas_.

Milton Visits the Aged Galileo
_After the painting by T. Lessi_.

Goethe
_After the painting by C. Jaeger_.

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson
_After the painting by G. F. Watts, R. A_.

Tennyson's Elaine
_After the painting by T. E. Rosenthal_.



BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.


JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU.


1712-1778.

SOCIALISM AND EDUCATION.


Two great political writers in the eighteenth century, of antagonistic
views, but both original and earnest, have materially affected the whole
science of government, and even of social life, from their day to ours,
and in their influence really belong to the nineteenth century. One was
the apostle of radicalism; the other of conservatism. The one, more than
any other single man, stimulated, though unwittingly, the French
Revolution; the other opposed that mad outburst with equal eloquence,
and caused in Europe a reaction from revolutionary principles. While one
is far better known to-day than the other, to the thoughtful both are
exponents and representatives of conflicting political and social
questions which agitate this age.

These men were Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke,--one Swiss, and
the other English. Burke I have already treated of in a former volume.
His name is no longer a power, but his influence endures in all the
grand reforms of which he was a part, and for which his generation in
England is praised; while his writings remain a treasure-house of
political and moral wisdom, sure to be drawn upon during every public
discussion of governmental principles. Rousseau, although a writer of a
hundred years ago, seems to me a fit representative of political,
social, and educational ideas in the present day, because his theories
are still potent, and even in this scientific age more widely diffused
than ever before. Not without reason, it is true, for he embodied
certain germinant ideas in a fascinating literary style; but it is hard
to understand how so weak a man could have exercised such far-reaching
influence.

Himself a genuine and passionate lover of Nature; recognizing in his
principles of conduct no duties that could conflict with personal
inclinations; born in democratic and freedom-loving Switzerland, and
early imbued through his reading of German and English writers with
ideas of liberty,--which in those conservative lands were
wholesome,--he distilled these ideas into charming literary creations
that were eagerly read by the restless minds of France and wrought in
them political frenzy. The reforms he projected grew out of his theories
of the "rights" of man, without reference to the duties that limit those
rights; and his appeal for their support to men's passions and selfish
instincts and to a sentimental philosophy, in an age of irreligion and
immorality, aroused a political tempest which he little contemplated.

In an age so infidel and brilliant as that which preceded the French
Revolution, the writings of Rousseau had a peculiar charm, and produced
a great effect even on men who despised his character and ignored his
mission. He engendered the Robespierres and Condorcets of the
Revolution,--those sentimental murderers, who under the guise of
philosophy attacked the fundamental principles of justice and destroyed
the very rights which they invoked.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born at Geneva in the year 1712, when Voltaire
was first rising into notice. He belonged to the plebeian ranks, being
the son of a watchmaker; was sickly, miserable, and morbid from a child;
was poorly educated, but a great devourer of novels (which his
father--sentimental as he--read with him), poetry, and gushing
biographies; although a little later he became, with impartial facility,
equally delighted with the sturdy Plutarch. His nature was passionate
and inconstant, his sensibilities morbidly acute, and his imagination
lively. He hated all rules, precedents, and authority. He was lazy,
listless, deceitful, and had a great craving for novelties and
excitement,--as he himself says, "feeling everything and knowing
nothing." At an early age, without money or friends, he ran away from
the engraver to whom he had been apprenticed, and after various
adventures was first kindly received by a Catholic priest in Savoy; then
by a generous and erring woman of wealth lately converted to
Catholicism; and again by the priests of a Catholic Seminary in
Sardinia, under whose tuition, and in order to advance his personal
fortunes, he abjured the religion in which he had been brought up, and
professed Catholicism. This, however, cost him no conscientious
scruples, for his religious training had been of the slimmest, and
principles he had none.

We next see Rousseau as a footman in the service of an Italian Countess,
where he was mean enough to accuse a servant girl of a theft he had
himself committed, thereby causing her ruin. Again, employed as a
footman in the service of another noble family, his extraordinary
talents were detected, and he was made secretary. But all this kindness
he returned with insolence, and again became a wanderer. In his
isolation he sought the protection of the Swiss lady who had before
befriended him, Madame de Warens. He began as her secretary, and ended
in becoming her lover. In her house he saw society and learned music.

A fit of caprice induced Rousseau to throw up this situation, and he
then taught music in Chambéry for a living, studied hard, read Voltaire,
Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Leibnitz, and Puffendorf, and evinced an
uncommon vivacity and talent for conversation, which made him a favorite
in social circles. His chief labor, however, for five years was in
inventing a system of musical notation, which led him to Lyons, and
then, in 1741, to Paris.

He was now twenty-nine years old,--a visionary man, full of schemes,
with crude opinions and unbounded self-conceit, but poor and unknown,--a
true adventurer, with many agreeable qualities, irregular habits, and
not very scrupulous morals. Favored by letters of introduction to ladies
of distinction,--for he was a favorite with ladies, who liked his
enthusiasm, freshness, elegant talk, and grand sentiments,--he succeeded
in getting his system of musical notation examined, although not
accepted, by the French Academy, and secured an appointment as
secretary in the suite of the Ambassador to Venice.

In this city Rousseau remained but a short time, being disgusted with
what he called "official insolence," which did not properly recognize
native genius. He returned to Paris as poor as when he left it, and
lived in a cheap restaurant. There he made the acquaintance of his
Thérèse, a healthy, amiable woman, but low, illiterate, unappreciative,
and coarse, the author of many of his subsequent miseries. She lived
with him till he died,--at first as his mistress and housekeeper,
although later in life he married her. She was the mother of his five
children, every one of whom he sent to a foundling hospital, justifying
his inhumanity by those sophistries and paradoxes with which his
writings abound,--even in one of his letters appealing for pity because
he "had never known the sweetness of a father's embrace." With
extraordinary self-conceit, too, he looked upon himself, all the while,
in his numerous illicit loves, as a paragon of virtue, being apparently
without any moral sense or perception of moral distinctions.

It was not till Rousseau was thirty-nine years of age that he attracted
public attention by his writings, although earlier known in literary
circles,--especially in that infidel Parisian _coterie_, where Diderot,
Grimm, D'Holbach, D'Alembert, David Hume, the Marquis de Mirabeau,
Helvetius, and other wits shined, in which circle no genius was
acknowledged and no profundity of thought was deemed possible unless
allied with those pagan ideas which Saint Augustine had exploded and
Pascal had ridiculed. Even while living among these people, Rousseau had
all the while a kind of sentimental religiosity which revolted at their
ribald scoffing, although he never protested.

He had written some fugitive pieces of music, and had attempted and
failed in several slight operettas, composing both music and words; but
the work which made Rousseau famous was his essay on a subject
propounded in 1749 by the Academy of Dijon: "Has the Progress of Science
and the Arts Contributed to Corrupt or to Purify Morals?" This was a
strange subject for a literary institution to propound, but one which
exactly fitted the genius of Rousseau. The boldness of his paradox--for
he maintained the evil effects of science and art--and the brilliancy of
his style secured readers, although the essay was crude in argument and
false in logic. In his "Confessions" he himself condemns it as the
weakest of all his works, although "full of force and fire;" and he
adds: "With whatever talent a man may be born, the art of writing is not
easily learned." It has been said that Rousseau got the idea of taking
the "off side" of this question from his literary friend Diderot, and
that his unexpected success with it was the secret of his life-long
career of opposition to all established institutions. This is
interesting, but not very authentic.

The next year, his irregular activity having been again stimulated by
learning that his essay had gained the premium at Dijon, and by the fact
of its great vogue as a published pamphlet, another performance fairly
raised Rousseau to the pinnacle of fashion; and this was an opera which
he composed, "Le Devin du Village" (The Village Sorcerer), which was
performed at Fontainebleau before the Court, and received with
unexampled enthusiasm. His profession, so far as he had any, was that of
a copyist of music, and his musical taste and facile talents had at last
brought him an uncritical recognition.

But Rousseau soon abandoned music for literature. In 1753 he wrote
another essay for the Academy of Dijon, on the "Origin of the Inequality
of Man," full of still more startling paradoxes than his first, in which
he attempted to show, with great felicity of language, the superiority
of savage life over civilization.

At the age of forty-two Rousseau revisited Protestant Geneva, abjured in
its turn the Catholic faith, and was offered the post of librarian of
the city. But he could not live out of the atmosphere of Paris; nor did
he wish to remain under the shadow of Voltaire, living in his villa near
the City Gate of Geneva, who had but little admiration for Rousseau, and
whose superior social position excited the latter's envy. Yet he
professed to hate Paris with its conventionalities and fashions, and
sought a quiet retreat where he could more leisurely pursue his studies
and enjoy Nature, which he really loved. This was provided for him by an
enthusiastic friend,--Madame d'Épinay,--in the beautiful valley of
Montmorenci, and called "The Hermitage," situated in the grounds of her
Château de la Chevrette. Here he lived with his wife and mother-in-law,
he himself enjoying the hospitalities of the Château besides,--society
of a most cultivated kind, also woods, lawns, parks, gardens,--all for
nothing; the luxuries of civilization, the glories of Nature, and the
delights of friendship combined. It was an earthly paradise, given him
by enthusiastic admirers of his genius and conversation.

In this retreat, one of the most favored which a poor author ever had,
Rousseau, ever craving some outlet for his passionate sentiments,
created an ideal object of love. He wrote imaginary letters, dwelling
with equal rapture on those he wrote and those he fancied he received
in return, and which he read to his lady friends, after his rambles in
the forests and parks, during their reunions at the supper-table. Thus
was born the "Nouvelle Héloïse,"--a novel of immense fame, in which the
characters are invested with every earthly attraction, living in
voluptuous peace, yet giving vent to those passions which consume the
unsatisfied soul. It was the forerunner of "Corinne," "The Sorrows of
Werther," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and all those sentimental romances which
amused our grandfathers and grandmothers, but which increased the
prejudice of religious people against novels. It was not until Sir
Walter Scott arose with his wholesome manliness that the embargo against
novels was removed.

The life which Rousseau lived at the Hermitage--reveries in the
forest, luxurious dinners, and sentimental friendships--led to a
passionate love-affair with the Comtesse d'Houdetot, a sister-in-law
of his patroness Madame d'Épinay,--a woman not only married,
but who had another lover besides. The result, of course, was
miserable,--jealousies, piques, humiliations, misunderstandings, and the
sundering of the ties of friendship, which led to the necessity of
another retreat: a real home the wretched man never had. This was
furnished, still in the vicinity of Montmorenci, by another aristocratic
friend, the Maréchal de Luxembourg, the fiscal agent of the Prince de
Condé. And nothing to me is stranger than that this wandering, morbid,
irritable man, without birth or fortune, the father of the wildest
revolutionary and democratic doctrines, and always hated both by the
Court and the Church, should have found his friends and warmest admirers
and patrons in the highest circles of social life. It can be explained
only by the singular fascination of his eloquence, and by the extreme
stolidity of his worshippers in appreciating his doctrines, and the
state of society to which his principles logically led.

In this second retreat Rousseau had the _entrée_ to the palace of the
Duke of Luxembourg, where he read to the friends assembled at its
banquets his new production, "Émile,"--a singular treatise on education,
not so faulty as his previous works, but still false in many of its
principles, especially in regard to religion. This book contained an
admirable and powerful impulse away from artificiality and towards
naturalness in education, which has exerted an immense influence for
good; we shall revert to it later.

A few months before the publication of "Émile," Rousseau had issued "The
Social Contract," the most revolutionary of all his works, subversive of
all precedents in politics, government, and the organization of society,
while also confounding Christianity with ecclesiasticism and attacking
its influence in the social order. All his works obtained a wide fame
before publication by reason of his habit of reading them to
enthusiastic and influential friends who made them known.

"The Social Contract," however, dangerous as it was, did not when
published arouse so much opposition as "Émile." The latter book, as we
now see, contained much that was admirable; but its freedom and
looseness in religious discussion called down the wrath of the clergy,
excited the alarm of the government, and finally compelled the author to
fly for his life to Switzerland.

Rousseau is now regarded as an enemy to Christian doctrine, even as he
was a foe to the existing institutions of society. In Geneva his books
are publicly burned. Henceforth his life is embittered by constant
persecution. He flies from canton to canton in the freest country in
Europe, obnoxious not only for his opinions but for his habits of life.
He affectedly adopts the Armenian dress, with its big fur bonnet and
long girdled caftan, among the Swiss peasantry. He is as full of
personal eccentricities as he is of intellectual crotchets. He becomes a
sort of literary vagabond, with every man's hand against him. He now
writes a series of essays, called "Letters from the Mountain," full of
bitterness and anti-Christian sentiments. So incensed by these writings
are the country people among whom he dwells that he is again forced
to fly.

David Hume, regarding him as a mild, affectionate, and persecuted man,
gives Rousseau a shelter in England. The wretched man retires to
Derbyshire, and there writes his "Confessions,"--the most interesting
and most dangerous of his books, showing a diseased and irritable mind,
and most sophistical views on the immutable principles of both morality
and religion. A victim of mistrust and jealousy, he quarrels with Hume,
who learns to despise his character, while pitying the sensitive
sufferings of one whom he calls "a man born without a skin."

Rousseau returns to France at the age of fifty-five. After various
wanderings he is permitted to settle in Paris, where he lives with great
frugality in a single room, poorly furnished,--supporting himself by
again copying music, sought still in high society, yet shy, reserved,
forlorn, bitter; occasionally making new friends, who are attracted by
the infantine simplicity of his manners and apparent amiability, but
losing them almost as soon as made by his petty jealousies and
irritability, being "equally indignant at neglect and intolerant of
attention."

Rousseau's declining health and the fear of his friends that he was on
the borders of insanity led to his last retreat, offered by a
munificent friend, at Ermenonville, near Paris, where he died at
sixty-six years of age, in 1778, as some think from poison administered
by his own hand. The revolutionary National Assembly of France in 1790
bestowed a pension of fifteen hundred francs on his worthless widow, who
had married a stable-boy soon after the death of her husband.

Such was the checkered life of Rousseau. As to his character, Lord
Brougham says that "never was so much genius before united with so much
weakness." The leading spring of his life was egotism. He never felt
himself wrong, and the sophistries he used to justify his immoralities
are both ludicrous and pitiable. His treatment of Madame de Warens, his
first benefactor, was heartless, while the abandonment of his children
was infamous. He twice changed his religion without convictions, for the
advancement of his fortunes. He pretended to be poor when he was
independent in his circumstances. He supposed himself to be without
vanity, while he was notoriously the most conceited man in France. He
quarrelled with all his friends. He made war on society itself. He
declared himself a believer in Christianity, but denied all revelation,
all miracles, all inspiration, all supernaturalism, and everything he
could not reconcile with his reason. His bitterest enemies were the
atheists themselves, who regarded him as a hypocrite, since he professed
to believe in what he undermined. The hostility of the Church was
excited against him, not because he directly assailed Christianity, but
because he denied all its declarations and sapped its authority.

Rousseau was, however, a sentimentalist rather than a rationalist, an
artist rather than a philosopher. He was not a learned man, but a bold
thinker. He would root out all distinctions in society, because they
could not be reconciled with his sense of justice. He preached a gospel
of human rights, based not on Christianity but on instinct. He was full
of impracticable theories. He would have no war, no suffering, no
hardship, no bondage, no fear, and even no labor, since these were
evils, and, according to his notions of moral government, unnecessary.
But in all his grand theories he ignored the settled laws of
Providence,--even those of that "Nature" he so fervently
worshipped,--all that is decreed concerning man or woman, all that is
stern and real in existence; and while he uttered such sophistries, he
excited discontent with the inevitable condition of man, he loosened
family ties, he relaxed wholesome restraints, he infused an intense
hatred of all conditions subject to necessary toil.

The life of this embittered philanthropist was as great a contradiction
as were his writings. This benevolent man sends his own children to a
foundling hospital. This independent man lives for years on the bounty
of an erring woman, whom at last he exposes and deserts. This
high-minded idealizer of friendship quarrels with every man who seeks to
extricate him from the consequences of his own imprudence. This
affectionate lover refuses a seat at his table to the woman with whom he
lives and who is the mother of his children. This proud republican
accepts a pension from King George III., and lives in the houses of
aristocratic admirers without payment. This religious teacher rarely
goes to church, or respects the outward observances of the Christianity
he affects. This moral theorizer, on his own confession, steals and lies
and cheats. This modest innocent corrupts almost every woman who listens
to his eloquence. This lofty thinker consumes his time in frivolity and
senseless quarrels. This patriot makes war on the institutions of his
country and even of civilized life. This humble man turns his back on
every one who will not do him reverence.

Such was this precursor of revolutions, this agitator, this hypocrite,
this egotist, this lying prophet,--a man admired and despised, brilliant
but indefinite, original but not true, acute but not wise; logical, but
reasoning on false premises; advancing some great truths, but spoiling
their legitimate effect by sophistries and falsehoods.

Why, then, discuss the ideas and influence of so despicable a creature?
Because, sophistical as they were, those ideas contained truths of
tremendous germinant power; because in the rank soil of his times they
produced a vast crop of bitter, poisonous fruit, while in the more open,
better aërated soil of this century they have borne and have yet to bear
a fruitage of universal benefit. God's ways seem mysterious; it is for
men patiently to study, understand, and utilize them.

Let us turn to the more definite consideration of the writings which
have given this author so brilliant a fame. I omit any review of his
operas and his system of musical notation, as not bearing on the
opinions of society.

The first work, as I have said, which brought Rousseau into notice was
the treatise for the Academy of Dijon, as to whether the arts and
sciences have contributed to corrupt or to purify morals. Rousseau
followed the bent of his genius, in maintaining that they have done more
harm than good; and he was so fresh and original and brilliant that he
gained the prize. This little work contains the germ of all his
subsequent theories, especially that in which he magnifies the state of
nature over civilization,--an amazing paradox, which, however, appealed
to society when men were wearied with the very pleasures for which
they lived.

Rousseau's cant about the virtues engendered by ignorance, idleness, and
barbarism is repulsive to every sound mind, Civilization may present
greater temptations than a state of nature, but these are inseparable
from any growth, and can be overcome by the valorous mind. Who but a
madman would sweep away civilization with its factitious and remediable
evils for barbarism with its untutored impulses and animal life? Here
Rousseau makes war upon society, upon all that is glorious in the
advance of intellect and the growth of morality,--upon the reason and
aspirations of mankind. Can inexperience be a better guide than
experience, when it encounters crime and folly? Yet, on the other hand,
a plea for greater simplicity of life, a larger study of Nature, and a
freer enjoyment of its refreshing contrasts to the hot-house life of
cities, is one of the most reasonable and healthful impulses of our
own day.

What can be more absurd, although bold and striking, than Rousseau's
essay on the "Origin of Human Inequalities"! In this he pushes out the
doctrine of personal liberty to its utmost logical sequence, so as to do
away with government itself, and with all regulation for the common
good. We do not quarrel with his abstract propositions in respect to
political equality; but his deductions strike a blow at civilization,
since he maintains that inequalities of human condition are the source
of all political and social evils, while Christianity, confirmed by
common-sense, teaches that the source of social evils is in the selfish
nature of man rather than in his outward condition. And further, if it
were possible to destroy the inequalities of life, they would soon again
return, even with the most boundless liberty. Here common-sense is
sacrificed to a captivating theory, and all the experiences of the world
are ignored.

This shows the folly of projecting any abstract theory, however true, to
its remote and logical sequence. In the attempt we are almost certain to
be landed in absurdity, so complicated are the relations of life,
especially in governmental and political science. What doctrine of civil
or political economy would be applicable in all ages and all countries
and all conditions? Like the ascertained laws of science, or the great
and accepted truths of the Bible, political axioms are to be considered
in their relation with other truths equally accepted, or men are soon
brought into a labyrinth of difficulties, and the strongest intellect is
perplexed.

And especially will this be the case when a theory under consideration
is not a truth but an assumption. That was the trouble with Rousseau.
His theories, disdainful of experience, however logically treated,
became in their remotest sequence and application insulting to the human
understanding, because they were often not only assumptions, but
assumptions of what was not true, although very specious and flattering
to certain classes.

Rousseau confounded the great truth of the justice of moral and
political equality with the absurd and unnatural demand for social and
material equality. The great modern cry for equal opportunity for all is
sound and Christian; but any attempt to guarantee individual success in
using opportunity, to insure the lame and the lazy an equal rank in the
race, must end in confusion and distraction.

The evil of Rousseau's crude theories or false assumptions was
practically seen in the acceptance of their logical conclusions, which
led to anarchy, murder, pillage, and outrageous excess. The great danger
attending his theories is that they are generally half-truths,--truth
and falsehood blended. His writings are sophistical. It is difficult to
separate the truth from the error, by reason of the marvellous felicity
of his language. I do not underrate his genius or his style. He was
doubtless an original thinker and a most brilliant and artistic writer;
and by so much did he confuse people, even by the speciousness of his
logic. There is nothing indefinite in what he advances. He is not a poet
dealing in mysticisms, but a rhetorical philosopher, propounding
startling theories, partly true and partly false, which he logically
enforces with matchless eloquence.

Probably the most influential of Rousseau's writings was "The Social
Contract,"--the great textbook of the Revolution. In this famous
treatise he advanced some important ideas which undoubtedly are based on
ultimate truth, such as that the people are the source of power, that
might does not make right, that slavery is an aggression on human
rights; but with these ideal truths he combines the assertion that
government is a contract between the governor and the governed. In a
perfect state of society this may be the ideal; but society is not and
never has been perfect, and certainly in all the early ages of the world
governments were imposed upon people by the strong hand, irrespective of
their will and wishes,--and these were the only governments which were
fit and useful in that elder day. Governments, as a plain matter of
fact, have generally arisen from circumstances and relations with which
the people have had little to do. The Oriental monarchies were the
gradual outgrowth of patriarchal tradition and successful military
leadership, and in regard to them the people were never consulted at
all. The Roman Empire was ruled without the consent of the governed.
Feudal monarchies in Europe were based on the divine rights of kings.
There was no state in Europe where a compact or social contract had been
made or implied. Even later, when the French elected Napoleon, they
chose a monarch because they feared anarchy, without making any
stipulation. There were no contracting parties.

The error of Rousseau was in assuming a social contract as a fact, and
then reasoning upon the assumption. His premises are wrong, or at least
they are nothing more than statements of what abstractly might be made
to follow from the assumption that the people actually are the source of
power,--a condition most desirable and in the last analysis correct,
since even military despots use the power of the people in order to
oppress the people, but which is practically true only in certain
states. Yet, after all, when brought under the domain of law by the
sturdy sense and utilitarian sagacity of the Anglo-Saxon race,
Rousseau's doctrine of the sovereignty of the people is the great
political motor of this century, in republics and monarchies alike.

Again, Rousseau maintains that, whatever acquisitions an individual or
a society may make, the right to this property must be always
subordinate to the right which the community at large has over the
possessions of all. Here is the germ of much of our present-day
socialism. Whatever element of truth there may be in the theory that
would regard land and capital, the means of production, as the joint
possession of all the members of the community,--the basic doctrine of
socialism,--any forcible attempt to distribute present results of
individual production and accumulation would be unjust and dangerous to
the last degree. In the case of the furious carrying out of this
doctrine by the crazed French revolutionists, it led to outrageous
confiscation, on the ground that all property belonged to the state, and
therefore the representatives of the nation could do what they pleased
with it. This shallow sophistry was accepted by the French National
Convention when it swept away estates of nobles and clergy, not on the
tenable ground that the owners were public enemies, but on the baseless
pretext that their property belonged to the nation.

From this sophistry about the rights of property, Rousseau advanced
another of still worse tendency, which was that the general will is
always in the right and constantly tends to the public good. The theory
is inconsistent with itself. Light and truth do not come from the
universal reason, but from the thoughts of great men stimulated into
growth among the people. The teachers of the world belong to a small
class. Society is in need of constant reforms, which are not suggested
by the mass, but by a few philosophers or reformers,--the wise men who
save cities.

Rousseau further says that a whole people can never become corrupted,--a
most barefaced assertion. Have not all nations suffered periods of
corruption? This notion, that the whole people cannot err, opens the
door for any license. It logically leads to that other idea, of the
native majesty of man and the perfectibility of society, which this
sophist boldly accepted. Rousseau thought that if society were released
from all law and all restraint, the good impulses and good sense of the
majority would produce a higher state of virtue and wisdom than what he
saw around him, since majorities could do no wrong and the universal
reason could not err. In this absurdity lay the fundamental principle of
the French Revolution, so far as it was produced by the writings of
philosophers. This doctrine was eagerly seized upon by the French
people, maddened by generations of oppression, poverty, and degradation,
because it appealed to the pride and vanity of the masses, at that time
congregated bodies of ignorance and wickedness.

Rousseau had an unbounded trust in human nature,--that it is good and
wise, and will do the best thing if left to itself. But can anything be
more antagonistic to all the history of the race? I doubt if Rousseau
had any profound knowledge, or even really extensive reading. He was a
dreamer, a theorist, a sentimentalist. He was the arch-priest of all
sensationalism in the guise of logic. What more acceptable to the vile
people of his age than the theory that in their collective capacity they
could not err, that the universal reason was divine? What more logical
than its culmination in that outrageous indecency, the worship of Reason
in the person of a prostitute!

Again, Rousseau's notion of the limitations of law and the prerogative
of the people, carried out, would lead to the utter subversion of
central authority, and reduce nations to an absolute democracy of small
communities. They would divide and subdivide until society was resolved
into its original elements. This idea existed among the early Greek
states, when a state rarely comprised more than a single city or town or
village, such as might be found among the tribes of North American
Indians. The great political question in Ancient Greece was the autonomy
of cities, which kept the whole land in constant wars and dissensions
and quarrels and jealousies, and prevented that centralization of power
which would have made Greece unconquerable and the mistress of the
world. Our wholesome American system of autonomy in local affairs, with
a common authority in matters affecting the general good, is organized
liberty. But the ancient and outgrown idea of unregulated autonomy was
revived by Rousseau; and though it could not be carried out by the
French Revolutionists who accepted nearly all his theories, it led to
the disintegration of France, and the multiplication of offices fatal to
a healthy central power. Napoleon broke up all this in his centralized
despotism, even if, to keep the Revolutionary sympathy, he retained the
Departments which were substituted for the ancient Provinces.

The extreme spirit of democratic liberty which is the characteristic of
Rousseau's political philosophy led to the advocacy of the wildest
doctrines of equality. He would prevent the accumulation of wealth, so
that, to use his words, "no one citizen should be rich enough to buy
another, and no one so poor as to be obliged to sell himself." He would
have neither rich people nor beggars. What could flow from such
doctrines but discontent and unreasonable expectations among the poor,
and a general fear and sense of insecurity among the rich? This "state
of nature," moreover, in his view, could be reached only by going
backward and destroying all civilization,--and it was civilization which
he ever decried,--a very pleasant doctrine to vagabonds, but likely to
be treated with derisive mockery by all those who have something
to conserve.

Another and most dangerous principle which was advocated in the "Social
Contract" was that religion has nothing to do with the affairs of civil
and political life; that religious obligations do not bind a citizen;
that Christianity, in fact, ignores all the great relations of man in
society. This is distinct from the Puritan doctrine of the separation of
the Church from the State, by which is simply meant that priests ought
not to interfere in matters purely political, nor the government meddle
with religious affairs,--a prime doctrine in a free State. But no body
of men were ever more ardent defenders of the doctrine that all
religious ideas ought to bear on the social and political fabric than
the Puritans, They would break up slavery, if it derogated from the
doctrine of the common brotherhood of man as declared by Christ; they
would use their influence as Christians to root out all evil
institutions and laws, and bring the sublime truths of the Master to
bear on all the relations of life,--on citizens at the ballot-box, at
the helm of power, and in legislative bodies. Christianity was to them
the supreme law, with which all human laws must harmonize. But Rousseau
would throw out Christianity altogether, as foreign to the duties and
relations of both citizens and rulers, pretending that it ignored all
connection with mundane affairs and had reference only to the salvation
of the soul,--as if all Christ's teachings were not regulative of the
springs of conduct between man and man, as indicative of the relations
between man and God! Like Voltaire, Rousseau had the excuse of a corrupt
ecclesiasticism to be broken into; but the Church and Christianity are
two different things. This he did not see. No one was more impatient of
all restraints than Rousseau; yet he maintained that men, if calling
themselves Christians, must submit to every wrong and injustice, looking
for a remedy in the future world,--thus pouring contempt on those who
had no right, according to his view of their system, to complain of
injustice or strive to rise above temporal evils. Christianity, he said,
inculcates servitude and dependence; its spirit is favorable to tyrants;
true Christians are formed to be slaves, and they know it, and never
trouble themselves about conspiracies and insurrections, since this
transitory world has no value in their eyes. He denied that Christians
could be good soldiers,--a falsehood rebuked for us by the wars of the
Reformation, by the troops of Cromwell and Gustavus Adolphus, by our
American soldiers in the late Civil War. Thus he would throw away the
greatest stimulus to heroism,--even the consciousness of duty, and
devotion to great truths and interests.

I cannot follow out the political ideas of Rousseau in his various other
treatises, in which he prepared the way for revolution and for the
excesses of the Reign of Terror. The truth is, Rousseau's feelings were
vastly superior to his thinking. Whatever of good is to result from his
influence will arise out of the impulse he gave toward the search for
ideals that should embrace the many as well as the few in their
benefits; when he himself attempted to apply this impulse to philosophic
political thought, his unregulated mind went all astray.

Let us now turn to consider a moment his doctrines pertaining to
education, as brought out in his greatest and most unexceptionable work,
his "Émile."

In this remarkable book everything pertaining to human life appears to
be discussed. The duties of parents, child-management, punishments,
perception and the beginning of thinking; toys, games, catechisms, all
passions and sentiments, religion, friendship, love, jealousy, pity; the
means of happiness, the pleasures and profits of travel, the principles
of virtue, of justice and liberty; language, books; the nature of man
and of woman, the arts of conventional life, politeness, riches,
poverty, society, marriage,--on all these and other questions he
discourses with great sagacity and good sense, and with unrivalled
beauty of expression, often rising to great eloquence, never dull or
uninstructive, aiming to present virtue and vice in their true colors,
inspiring exalted sentiments, and presenting happiness in simple
pleasures and natural life.

This treatise is both full and original. The author supposes an
imaginary pupil, named Émile, and he himself, intrusted with the care of
the boy's education, attends him from his cradle to his manhood, assists
him with the necessary directions for his general improvement, and
finally introduces him to an amiable and unsophisticated girl, whose
love he wins by his virtues and whom he honorably marries; so that,
although a treatise, the work is invested with the fascination of
a novel.

In reading this book, which made so great a noise in Europe, with so
much that is admirable I find but little to criticise, except three
things, which mar its beauty and make it both dangerous and false, in
which the unsoundness of Rousseau's mind and character--the strange
paradoxes of his life in mixing up good with evil--are brought out, and
that so forcibly that the author was hunted and persecuted from one part
of Europe to another on account of it.

The first is that he makes all natural impulses generous and virtuous,
and man, therefore, naturally good instead of perverse,--thus throwing
not only Christianity but experience entirely aside, and laying down
maxims which, logically carried out, would make society perfect if only
Nature were always consulted. This doctrine indirectly makes all the
treasures of human experience useless, and untutored impulse the guide
of life. It would break the restraints which civilization and a
knowledge of life impose, and reduce man to a primitive state. In the
advocacy of this subtle falsehood, Rousseau pours contempt on all the
teachings of mankind,--on all schools and colleges, on all
conventionalities and social laws, yea, on learning itself. He always
stigmatizes scholars as pedants.

Secondly, he would reduce woman to insignificance, having her rule by
arts and small devices; making her the inferior of man, on whom she is
dependent and to whose caprice she is bound to submit,--a sort of toy or
slave, engrossed only with domestic duties, like the woman of antiquity.
He would give new rights and liberties to man, but none to woman as
man's equal,--thus keeping her in a dependence utterly irreconcilable
with the bold freedom which he otherwise advocates. The dangerous
tendency of his writings is somewhat checked, however, by the
everlasting hostility with which women of character and force of
will--such as they call "strong-minded"--will ever pursue him. He will
be no oracle to them.

But a still more marked defect weakens "Émile" as one of the guide-books
of the world, great as are its varied excellencies. The author
undermines all faith in Christianity as a revelation, or as a means of
man's communion with the Divine, for guidance, consolation, or
inspiration. Nor does he support one of his moral or religious doctrines
by an appeal to the Sacred Scriptures, which have been so deep a well of
moral and spiritual wisdom for so many races of men. Practically, he is
infidel and pagan, although he professes to admire some of the moral
truths which he never applies to his system. He is a pure Theist or
Deist, recognizing, like the old Greeks, no religion but that of Nature,
and valuing no attainments but such as are suggested by Nature and
Reason, which are the gods he worships from first to last in all his
writings. The Confession of Faith by the Savoyard Vicar introduced into
the fourth of the six "Books" of this work, which, having nothing to do
with his main object, he unnecessarily drags in, is an artful and
specious onslaught on all doctrines and facts revealed in the Bible,--on
all miracles, all prophecies, and all supernatural revelation,--thus
attacking Christianity in its most vital points, and making it of no
more authority than Buddhism or Mohammedanism. Faith is utterly
extinguished. A cold reason is all that he would leave to man,--no
consolation but what the mind can arrive at unaided, no knowledge but
what can be reached by original scientific investigation. He destroys
not only all faith but all authority, by a low appeal to prejudices, and
by vulgar wit such as the infidels of a former age used in their
heartless and flippant controversies. I am not surprised at the
hostility displayed even in France against him by both Catholics and
Protestants. When he advocated his rights of man, from which Thomas
Paine and Jefferson himself drew their maxims, he appealed to the
self-love of the great mass of men ground down by feudal injustices and
inequalities,--to the sense of justice, sophistically it is true, but in
a way which commanded the respect of the intellect. When he assailed
Christianity in its innermost fortresses, while professing to be a
Christian, he incurred the indignation of all Christians and the
contempt of all infidels,--for he added hypocrisy to scepticism, which
they did not. Diderot, D'Alembert, and others were bold unbelievers, and
did not veil their hostilities under a weak disguise. I have never read
a writer who in spirit was more essentially pagan than Rousseau, or who
wrote maxims more entirely antagonistic to Christianity.

Aside from these great falsities,--the perfection of natural impulse,
the inferiority of woman, and the worthlessness of Christianity,--as
inculcated in this book, "Émile" must certainly be ranked among the
great classics of educational literature. With these expurgated it
confirms the admirable methods inspired by its unmethodical suggestions.
Noting the oppressiveness of the usual order of education through books
and apparatus, he scorns all tradition, and cries, "Let the child learn
direct from Nature!" Himself sensitive and humane, having suffered as a
child from the tyranny of adults, he demands the tenderest care and
sympathy for children, a patient study of their characteristics, a
gentle, progressive leading of them to discover for themselves rather
than a cramming of them with facts. The first moral education should be
negative,--no preaching of virtue and truth, but shielding from vice and
error. He says: "Take the very reverse of the current practice, and you
will almost always do right." This spirit, indeed, is the key to his
entire plan. His ideas were those of the nineteenth, not the eighteenth
century. Free play to childish vitality; punishment the natural
inconvenience consequent on wrong-doing; the incitement of the desire to
learn; the training of sense-activity rather than reflection, in early
years; the acquirement of the power to learn rather than the
acquisition of learning,--in short, the natural and scientifically
progressive rather than the bookish and analytically literary method was
the end and aim of "Émile."

Actually, this book accomplished little in its own time, chiefly because
of its attack on established religion. Influentially, it reappeared in
Pestalozzi, the first practical reformer of methods; in Froebel, the
inventor of the Kindergarten; in Spencer, the great systematizer of the
philosophy of development; and through these its spirit pervades the
whole world of education at the present time.

In Rousseau's "New Héloïse" there are the same contradictions, the same
paradoxes, the same unsoundness as in his other works, but it is more
eloquent than any. It is a novel in which he paints all the aspirations
of the soul, all its unrest, all its indefinite longings, its raptures,
and its despair; in which he unfetters the imagination and sanctifies
every impulse, not only of affection, but of passion. This novel was the
pioneer of the sentimental romances which rapidly followed in France and
England and Germany,--worse than our sensational literature, since the
author veiled his immoralities by painting the transports of passion
under the guise of love, which ever has its seat in the affections and
is sustained only by respect. Here Rousseau was a disguised seducer, a
poisoner of the moral sentiments, a foe to what is most sacred; and he
was the more dangerous from his irresistible eloquence. His sophistries
in regard to political and social rights may be met by reason, but not
his attacks on the heart, with his imaginary sorrows and joys, his
painting of raptures which can never be found. Here he undermines virtue
as he had undermined truth and law. Here reprobation must become
unqualified, and he appears one of the very worst men who ever exercised
a commanding influence on a wicked and perverse generation.

And this view of the man is rather confirmed by his own
"Confessions,"--a singularly attractive book, yet from which, after the
perusal of the long catalogue of his sorrows, joys, humiliations,
triumphs, ecstasies and miseries, glories and shame, one rises with
great disappointment, since no great truths, useful lessons, or even
ennobling sentiments are impressed upon the mind to make us wiser or
better. The "Confessions" are only a revelation of that sensibility,
excessive and morbid, which reminds us of Byron and his misanthropic
poetry,--showing a man defiant, proud, vain, unreasonable, unsatisfied,
supremely worldly and egotistic. The first six Books are mere annals of
sentimental debauchery; the last six, a kind of thermometer of
friendship, containing an accurate account of kisses given and
received, with slights, huffs, visits, quarrels, suspicions, and
jealousies, interspersed with grand sentiments and profound views of
life and human nature, yet all illustrative of the utter vanity of
earth, and the failure of all mortal pleasures to satisfy the cravings
of an immortal mind. The "Confessions" remind us of "Manfred" and
"Ecclesiastes" blended,--exceedingly readable, and often
unexceptionable, where virtue is commended and vice portrayed in its
true light, but on the whole a book which no unsophisticated or
inexperienced person can read without the consciousness of receiving a
moral taint; a book in no respect leading to repose or lofty
contemplation, or to submission to the evils of life, which it
catalogues with amazing detail; a book not even conducive to innocent
entertainment. It is the revelation of the inner life of a sensualist,
an egotist, and a hypocrite, with a maudlin although genuine admiration
for Nature and virtue and friendship and love. And the book reveals one
of the most miserable and dissatisfied men that ever walked the earth,
seeking peace in solitude and virtue, while yielding to unrestrained
impulses; a man of morbid sensibility, ever yearning for happiness and
pursuing it by impossible and impracticable paths. No sadder
autobiography has ever been written. It is a lame and impotent attempt
at self-justification, revealing on every page the writer's distrust of
the virtues which he exalts, and of man whose reason and majesty he
deifies,--even of the friendships in which he sought consolation, and of
the retirements where he hoped for rest.

The book reveals the man. The writer has no hope or repose or faith.
Nothing pleases him long, and he is driven by his wild and undisciplined
nature from one retreat to another, by persecution more fancied than
real, until he dies, not without suspicion of having taken his own life.

Such was Rousseau: the greatest literary genius of his age, the apostle
of the reforms which were attempted in the French Revolution, and of
ideas which still have a wondrous power,--some of which are grand and
true, but more of which are sophistical, false, and dangerous. His
theories are all plausible; and all are enforced with matchless
eloquence of style, but not with eloquence of thought or true feeling,
like the soaring flights of Pascal,--in every respect his superior in
genius, because more profound and lofty. Rousseau's writings, like his
life, are one vast contradiction, the blending of truth with error,--the
truth valuable even when commonplace, the error subtle and
dangerous,--so that his general influence must be considered bad
wherever man is weak or credulous or inexperienced or perverse. I wish
I could speak better of a man whom so many honestly admire, and whose
influence has been so marked during the last hundred years, and will be
equally great for a hundred years to come; a man from whom Madame de
Staël, Jefferson, and Lamartine drew so much of their inspiration, whose
ideas about childhood have so helpfully transformed the educational
methods of our own time. But I must speak my honest conviction, from the
light I have, at the same time hoping that fuller light may justify more
leniency to one of the great oracles whose doctrines are still cherished
by many of the guides of modern thought.



SIR WALTER SCOTT.


1771-1832.

THE MODERN NOVEL.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the two most prominent
figures in English literature were Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. They
are still read and admired, especially Scott; but it is not easy to
understand the enormous popularity of these two men in their own day.
Their busts or pictures were in every cultivated family and in almost
every shop-window. Everybody was familiar with the lineaments of their
countenances, and even with every peculiarity of their dress. Who did
not know the shape of the Byronic collar and the rough, plaided form of
"the Wizard of the North"? Who could not repeat the most famous passages
in the writings of these two authors?

Is it so now? If not, what a commentary might be written on human fame!
How transitory are the judgments of men in regard to every one whom
fashion stamps! The verdict of critics is that only some half-dozen
authors are now read with the interest and glow which their works called
out a hundred years ago. Even the novels of Sir Walter, although to be
found in every library, kindle but little enthusiasm compared with that
excited by the masterpieces of Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, and of
the favorites of the passing day. Why is this? Will these later lights
also cease to burn? Will they too pass away? Is this age so much
advanced that what pleased our grandfathers and grandmothers has no
charm for us, but is often "flat, stale, and unprofitable,"--at least,
decidedly uninteresting?

I am inclined to the opinion that only a very small part of any man's
writings is really immortal. Take out the "Elegy in a Country
Churchyard," and how much is left of Gray for other generations to
admire? And so of Goldsmith: besides the "Vicar of Wakefield" and the
"Deserted Village," there is little in his writings that is likely to
prove immortal. Johnson wrote but little poetry that is now generally
valued. Certainly his dictionary, his greatest work, is not immortal,
and is scarcely a standard. Indeed, we have outgrown nearly everything
which was prized so highly a century ago, not only in poetry and
fiction, but in philosophy, theology, and science. Perhaps that is least
permanent which once was regarded as most certain.

If, then, the poetry and novels of Sir Walter Scott are not so much
read or admired as they once were, we only say that he is no exception
to the rule. I have in mind but two authors in the whole range of
English literature that are read and prized as much to-day as they were
two hundred years ago. And if this is true, what shall we say of
rhetoricians like Macaulay, of critics like Carlyle, of theologians like
Jonathan Edwards, of historians like Hume and Guizot, and of many other
great men of whom it has been the fashion to say that their works are
lasting as the language in which they were written? Some few books will
doubtless live, but, alas, how few! Where now are the eight hundred
thousand in the Alexandrian library, which Ptolemy collected with so
great care,--what, even, their titles? Where are the writings of Varro,
said to have been the most learned man of all antiquity?

I make these introductory remarks to show how shallow is the criticism
passed upon a novelist or poet like Scott, in that he is not now so
popular or so much read as he was in his own day. It is the fate of most
great writers,--the Augustines, the Voltaires, the Bayles of the world.
It is enough to say that they were lauded and valued in their time,
since this is about all we can say of most of the works supposed to be
immortal. But when we remember the enthusiasm with which the novels of
Scott were at first received, the great sums of money which were paid
for them, and the honors he received from them, he may well claim a
renown and a popularity such as no other literary man ever enjoyed. His
eyes beheld the glory of a great name; his ears rang with the plaudits
of idolaters; he had the consciousness of doing good work, universally
acknowledged and gratefully remembered. Scarcely any other novelist ever
created so much healthy pleasure combined with so much sound
instruction. And, further, he left behind him a reproachless name,
having fewer personal defects than any literary man of his time, being
everywhere beloved, esteemed, and almost worshipped; whom distant
travellers came to see,--sure of kind and gracious treatment; a hero in
their eyes to the last, with no drawbacks such as marred the fame of
Byron or of Burns. That so great a genius as Scott is fading in the
minds of this generation may be not without comfort to those honest and
hard-working men in every walk of human life who can say: We too were
useful in our day, and had our share of honors and rewards,--all perhaps
that we deserved, or even more. What if we are forgotten, as most men
are destined to be? To live in the mouths of men is not the greatest
thing or the best. "Act well your part, there all the honor lies," for
life after all is a drama or a stage. The supremest happiness is not in
being praised; it is in the consciousness of doing right and being
possessed with the power of goodness.

When, however, a man has been seated on such a lofty pinnacle as was Sir
Walter Scott, we wish to know something of his personal traits, and the
steps by which he advanced to fame. Was he overrated, as most famous men
have been? What is the niche he will probably occupy in the temple of
literary fame? What are the characteristics of his productions? What
gave him his prodigious and extraordinary popularity? Was he a born
genius, like Byron and Burns, or was he merely a most industrious
worker, aided by fortunate circumstances and the caprices of fashion?
What were the intellectual forces of his day, and how did he come to be
counted among them?

All these points it is difficult to answer satisfactorily, but some
light may be shed upon them. The bulky volumes of Lockhart's Biography
constitute a mine of information about Scott, but are now heavy reading,
without much vivacity,--affording a strong contrast to Boswell's Life of
Johnson, which concealed nothing that we would like to know. A
son-in-law is not likely to be a dispassionate biographer, especially
when family pride and interests restrain him. On the other hand, it is
not wise for a biographer to be too candid, and belittle his hero by the
enumeration of foibles not consistent with the general tenor of the
man's life. Lockhart's knowledge of his subject and his literary skill
have given us much; and, with Scott's own letters and the critical
notice of his contemporaries, both the man and his works may be fairly
estimated.

Most biographers aim to make the birth and parentage of their heroes as
respectable as possible. Of authors who are "nobly born" there are very
few; most English and Scotch literary men are descended from ancestors
of the middle class,--lawyers, clergymen, physicians, small landed
proprietors, merchants, and so on,--who were able to give their sons an
education in the universities. Sir Walter Scott traced his descent to an
ancient Scottish chief. His grandfather, Robert Scott, was bred to the
sea, but, being ship-wrecked near Dundee, he became a farmer, and was
active in the cattle-trade. Scott's father was a Writer to the Signet in
Edinburgh,--what would be called in England a solicitor,--a thriving,
respectable man, having a large and lucrative legal practice, and being
highly esteemed for his industry and integrity; a zealous Presbyterian,
formal and precise in manner, strict in the observance of the Sabbath,
and of all that he considered to be right. His wife, Anne Rutherford,
was the daughter of a professor of medicine in the University of
Edinburgh,--a lady of rather better education than the average of her
time; a mother whom Sir Walter remembered with great tenderness, and to
whose ample memory and power of graphic description he owed much of his
own skill in reproducing the past. Twelve children were the offspring of
this marriage, although only five survived very early youth.

Walter, the ninth child, was born on the 15th of August, 1771, and when
quite young, in consequence of a fever, lost for a time the use of his
right leg. By the advice of his grandfather, Dr. Rutherford, he was sent
into the country for his health. As his lameness continued, he was, at
the age of four, removed to Bath, going to London by sea. Bath was then
a noted resort, and its waters were supposed to cure everything. Here
little Walter remained a year under the care of his aunt, when he
returned to Edinburgh, to his father's house in George Square, which was
his residence until his marriage, with occasional visits to the county
seat of his maternal grandfather. He completely regained his health,
although he was always lame.

From the autobiography which Scott began but did not complete, it would
appear that his lameness and solitary habits were favorable to reading;
that even as a child he was greatly excited by tales and poems of
adventure; and that as a youth he devoured everything he could find
pertaining to early Scottish poetry and romance, of which he was
passionately fond. He was also peculiarly susceptible to the beauties of
Scottish scenery, being thus led to enjoy the country and its sports at
a much earlier age than is common with boys,--which love was never lost,
but grew with his advancing years. Among his fellows he was a hearty
player, a forward fighter in boyish "bickers," and a teller of tales
that delighted his comrades. He was sweet-tempered, merry, generous, and
well-beloved, yet peremptory and pertinacious in pursuit of his
own ideas.

In 1779, Walter was sent to the High School in Edinburgh; but his
progress here was by no means remarkable, although he laid a good
foundation for the acquisition of the Latin language. He also had a
tutor at home, and from him learned the rudiments of French. With a head
all on fire for chivalry and Scottish ballads, he admired the old Tory
cavaliers and hated the Roundheads and Presbyterians. In three years he
had become fairly familiar with Caesar, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Horace,
and Terence. He also distinguished himself by making Latin verses. From
the High School he entered the University of Edinburgh, very well
grounded in French and Latin. For Greek and mathematics he had an
aversion, but made up for this deficiency by considerable acquisitions
in English literature. He was delighted with both Ossian and Spenser,
and could repeat the "Faërie Queene" by heart. His memory, like that of
Macaulay, was remarkable. What delighted him more than Spenser were
Hoole's translations of Tasso and Ariosto (later he learned Italian, and
read these in the original), and Percy's "Reliques of Ancient Poetry."
At college he also read the best novels of the day, especially the works
of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett. He made respectable progress in
philosophy under the teaching of the celebrated Dugald Stewart and
Professor Bruce, and in history under Lord Woodhouselee. On the whole,
he was not a remarkable boy, except for his notable memory (which,
however, kept only what pleased him), and his very decided bent toward
the poetic and chivalric in history, life, and literature.

Walter was trained by his father to the law, and on leaving college he
served the ordinary apprenticeship of five years in his father's office
and attendance upon the law classes in the University; but the drudgery
of the law was irksome to him. When the time came to select his
profession, as a Writer to the Signet or an advocate, he preferred the
latter; although success here was more uncertain than as a solicitor. Up
to the time of his admission to the bar he had read an enormous number
of books, in a desultory way, and made many friends, some of whom
afterwards became distinguished. His greatest pleasures were in long
walks in the country with chosen companions. His love of Nature amounted
to a passion, and in his long rambles he acquired not only vigorous
health, but the capacity of undergoing great fatigue.

Scott's autobiography closes with his admission to the bar. From his own
account his early career had not been particularly promising, although
he was neither idle nor immoral. He was fond of convivial pleasures, but
ever had uncommon self-control. All his instructors were gentlemanly,
and he had access to the best society in Edinburgh, when that city was
noted for its number of distinguished men in literature and in the
different professions. His most intimate friends were John Irving, Sir
Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Dalhousie, and Adam Ferguson, with whom
he made excursions to the Highlands, and to ruined castles and abbeys of
historic interest,--following with tireless search the new trail of an
old Border ballad, or taking a thirty-mile walk to clear up some local
legend of battle, foray, or historic event. In all these antiquarian
raids the young fellows mingled freely with the people, and tramped the
counties round about in most hilarious mood, by no means escaping the
habits of the day in tavern sprees and drinking-bouts,--although Scott's
companions testify to his temperate indulgence.

The young lawyer was, indeed, unwittingly preparing for his mission to
paint Scottish scenery so vividly, and Scottish character so charmingly,
that he may almost be said to have created a new country which
succeeding generations delight to visit. No man was ever a greater
benefactor to Scotland, whose glories and beauties he was the first to
reveal, showing how the most thrifty, practical, and parsimonious people
may be at the same time the most poetic. Here Burns and he go hand in
hand, although as a poet Scott declared that he was not to be named in
the same day with the most unfortunate man of genius that his country
and his century produced. How singular that in all worldly matters the
greater genius should have been a failure, while he, who as a born poet
was the lesser light, should have been the greatest popular success of
which Scotland can boast! And yet there is something almost as pathetic
and tragical in the career of the man who worked himself to death, as in
that of the man who drank himself to death. The most supremely fortunate
writer of his day came to a mournful end, notwithstanding his
unparalleled honors and his magnificent rewards.

At the time Scott was admitted to the bar he was not, of course, aware
of his great original creative powers, nor could he have had very
sanguine expectations of a brilliant career. The profession he had
chosen was not congenial with his habits or his genius, and hence as a
lawyer he was not a success. And yet he was not a failure, for he had
the respect of some of the finest minds in Edinburgh, and at once gained
as an advocate enough to support himself respectably among aristocratic
people,--aided no doubt by his father who, as a prosperous Writer to the
Signet, threw business into his hands. Amid his practice at the courts
he found time to visit some of the most interesting spots in Scotland,
and he had money enough to gratify his tastes. He was a thriving rather
than a prosperous lawyer; that is to say, he earned his living.

But Scott was too much absorbed in literary studies and in writing
ballads, to give to his numerous friends the hope of a distinguished
legal career. No man can serve two masters. "His heart" was "in the
Highlands a-chasing the deer," or ransacking distant villages for
antiquarian lore, or collecting ancient Scottish minstrelsy, or visiting
moss-covered and ivy-clad ruins, famous before John Knox swept
monasteries and nunneries away as cages of unclean birds; but most of
all was he interested in the feuds between the Lowland and Highland
chieftains, and in the contest between Roundheads and Cavaliers when
Scotland lost her political independence. He did, however, find much in
Scotch law to enrich his mind, with entanglements and antiquarian
records, as well as the humors and tragedies of the courts; and of this
his writings show many traces.

No young lawyer ever had more efficient friends than Walter Scott. And
richly he deserved them, for he was generous, companionable, loyal, a
brilliant story-teller, a good hunter and sportsman, bright, cheerful,
and witty, doubtless one of the most interesting young men in his
beautiful city; modest, too, and unpretentious, yet proud, claiming
nothing that nothing might be denied him, a favorite in the most select
circles. His most striking peculiarity was his good sense, keeping him
from all exaggerations, which were always offensive to him. He was a
Tory, indeed; but no aristocrat ever had a more genial humanity, taking
pleasure in any society where he could learn anything. His appetite was
so healthy, from his rural sports and pedestrian feats, that he could
dine equally well on a broiled haddock or a saddle of venison, although
from the minuteness of his descriptions of Scottish banquets one might
infer that he had great appreciation of the pleasures of the table.

It is not easy to tell when Scott began to write poetry, but probably
when he was quite young. He wrote for the pleasure of it, without any
idea of devoting his life to literature. Writing ballads was the solace
of his leisure hours. His acquaintance with Francis, Lord Jeffrey began
in 1791, at a club, where he read an essay on ballads which so much
interested the future critic that he sought an introduction to its
author, and the acquaintance thus begun between these two young men,
both of whom unconsciously stood on the threshold of great careers,
ripened into friendship. This happened before Scott was called to the
bar in 1792. It was two years afterwards that he produced a poem which
took by surprise a literary friend, Miss Cranstoun, and caused her to
exclaim, "Upon my word, Walter Scott is going to turn out a poet,
something of a cross between Burns and Gray!"

In 1795 Scott was appointed one of the Curators of the Advocates'
Library,--a compliment bestowed only on those members of the bar known
to have a zeal in literary affairs; but I do not read that he published
anything until 1796, when appeared his translation from the German of
Bürger's ballads, "The Wild Huntsman" and "Lenore." This called out high
commendation from Dugald Stewart, the famous professor of moral
philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and from other men of note,
but obtained no recognition in England.

It was during one of his rambles with his friend Ferguson to the English
Lakes in 1797 that Scott met Miss Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, or
Charpentier, a young French lady of notable beauty and lovely character.
She had an income of about £200 a year, which, added to his earnings as
an advocate, then about £150, encouraged him to offer to her his hand.
For a young couple just starting in life £350 was an independence. The
engagement met with no opposition from the lady's family; and in
December of 1797 Scott was married, and took a modest house in Castle
Street, being then twenty-six years of age. The marriage turned out to
be a happy one, although _convenance_ had something to do with it.

Of course, so healthy and romantic a nature as Scott's had not passed
through the susceptible time of youth without a love affair. From so
small a circumstance as the lending of his umbrella to a young lady
(Margaret, the beautiful daughter of Sir John Belches) he enjoyed five
years of affection and of what seems to have been a reasonable hope,
which, however, was finally ended by the young lady's marrying Mr.
William Forbes, a well-to-do banker, and later one of Scott's best
friends. "Three years of dreaming and two years of waking," Scott calls
it in one of his diaries, thirty years later; and his own marriage
followed within a year after that of his lost love.

With an income sufficient only for the necessities of life, as a married
man in society Scott had not much to spare for expensive dinners,
although given to hospitality. What money he could save was spent for
books and travel. At twenty-six, he had visited what was most
interesting in Scotland, either in scenery or historical associations,
and some parts of England, especially the Cumberland Lakes. He took a
cottage at Lasswade, near Edinburgh, and began there the fascinating
pursuit of tree-planting and "place"-making. His vacations when the
Courts were not in session were spent in excursions to mountain scenery
and those retired villages where he could pick up antiquarian lore,
particularly old Border ballads, heroic traditions of the times of
chivalry, and of the conflicts of Scottish chieftains. Concerning these
no man in Scotland knew so much as he, his knowledge furnishing the
foundation alike of his lays and his romances. His enthusiasm for these
scenic and historic interests was unquenchable,--a source of perpetual
enjoyment, which made him a most acceptable visitor wherever he chose to
go, both among antiquaries and literary men, and ladies of rank
and fashion.

In March, 1799, Mr. and Mrs. Scott visited London, where they were
introduced to many distinguished literary men. On their return to
Edinburgh, the office of sheriff depute of Selkirkshire having become
vacant, worth £300 a year, Scott received the appointment, which
increased his income to about £700. Although his labors were light, the
office entailed the necessity of living in that county a few months in
each year. It was a pastoral, quiet, peaceful part of the country,
belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, his friend and patron. His published
translation in this year of Goethe's "Goetz of Berlichingen" added to
his growing reputation, and led him on towards his career.

With a secure and settled income, Scott now meditated a literary life. A
hundred years ago such a life was impossible without independent means,
if a man would mingle in society and live conventionally, and what was
called respectably. Even Burns had to accept a public office, although
it was a humble one, and far from lucrative; but it gave him what poetry
could not,--his daily bread. Hogg, peasant-poet of the Ettrick forest,
was supported in all his earlier years by tending sheep and borrowing
money from his friends.

The first genuine literary adventure of Scott was his collection of a
"Scottish Minstrelsy," printed for him by James Ballantyne, a former
schoolfellow, who had been encouraged by Scott to open a shop in
Edinburgh. The preparation of this labor of love occupied the editor a
year, assisted by John Leyden, a man of great promise, who died in India
in 1811, having made a mark as an Orientalist. About this time began
Scott's memorable friendship with George Ellis, the most discriminating
and useful of all his literary friends. In the same year he made the
acquaintance of Thomas Campbell, the poet, who had already achieved fame
by his "Pleasures of Hope."

It was in 1802 that the first and second volumes of the "Minstrelsy"
appeared, in an edition of eight hundred copies, Scott's share of the
profits amounting to £78 10 _s_., which did not pay him for the actual
expenditure in the collection of his materials. The historical notes
with which he elucidated the value of the ancient ballads, and the
freshness and vigor of those which he himself wrote for the collection,
secured warm commendations from Ellis, Ritson, and other friends, and
the whole edition was sold; yet the work did not bring him wide fame.
The third and last volume was issued in 1803.

The work is full of Scott's best characteristics,--wide historical
knowledge, wonderful industry, humor, pathos, and a sympathetic
understanding of life--that of the peasant as well as the knight--such
as seizes the imagination. Lockhart quotes a passage of Scott's own
self-criticism: "I am sensible that if there be anything good about my
poetry, or prose either, it is _a hurried frankness of composition_,
which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active
dispositions." His ability to "toil terribly" in accumulating choice
material, and then, fusing it in his own spirit, to throw it forth among
men with this "hurried frankness" that stirs the blood, was the secret
of his power.

Scott did not become famous, however, until his first original poem
appeared,--"The Lay of the Last Minstrel," printed by Ballantyne in
1805, and published by Longman of London, and Constable of Edinburgh. It
was a great success; nearly fifty thousand copies were sold in Great
Britain alone by 1830. For the first edition of seven hundred and fifty
copies quarto, Scott received £169 6 s., and then sold the copyright
for £500.

In the meantime, a rich uncle died without children, and Scott's share
of the property enabled him, in 1804, to rent from his cousin,
Major-General Sir James Russell, the pretty property called
Ashestiel,--a cottage and farm on the banks of the Tweed, altogether a
beautiful place, where he lived when discharging his duties of sheriff
of Selkirkshire. He has celebrated the charms of Ashestiel in the canto
introduction to "Marmion." His income at this time amounted to about
£1000 a year, which gave him a position among the squires of the
neighborhood, complete independence, and leisure to cultivate his taste.
His fortune was now made: with poetic fame besides, and powerful
friends, he was a man every way to be envied.

"The Lay of the Last Minstrel" placed Scott among the three great poets
of Scotland, for originality and beauty of rhyme. It is not marked by
pathos or by philosophical reflections. It is a purely descriptive poem
of great vivacity and vividness, easy to read, and true to nature. It is
a tale of chivalry, and is to poetry what Froissart's "Chronicles" are
to history. Nothing exactly like it had before appeared in English
literature. It appealed to all people of romantic tastes, and was
reproachless from a moral point of view. It was a book for a lady's
bower, full of chivalric sentiments and stirring incidents, and of
unflagging interest from beginning to end,--partly warlike and partly
monastic, describing the adventures of knights and monks. It deals with
wizards, harpers, dwarfs, priests, warriors, and noble dames. It sings
of love and wassailings, of gentle ladies' tears, of castles and festal
halls, of pennons and lances,--

     "Of ancient deeds, so long forgot,
      Of feuds whose memory was not,
      Of forests now laid waste and bare,
      Of towers which harbor now the hare."

In "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" there is at least one immortal stanza
which would redeem the poem even if otherwise mediocre. How few poets
can claim as much as this! Very few poems live except for some splendid
passages which cannot be forgotten, and which give fame. I know of
nothing, even in Burns, finer than the following lines:--

     "Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
      Who never to himself hath said,
        This is my own, my native land!
      Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
      As home his footsteps he hath turned
        From wandering on a foreign strand?
      If such there breathe, go, mark him well!
      For him no minstrel raptures swell;
      High though his titles, proud his name,
      Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,--
      Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
      The wretch, concentred all in self,
      Living shall forfeit fair renown,
      And, doubly dying, shall go down
      To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
      Unwept, unhonored, and unsung."

The favor with which "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" was received,
greater than that of any narrative poem of equal length which had
appeared for two generations, even since Dryden's day, naturally brought
great commendation from Jeffrey, the keenest critic of the age, in the
famous magazine of which he was the editor. The Edinburgh Review had
been started only in 1802 by three young men of genius,--Jeffrey,
Brougham, and Sydney Smith,--and had already attained great popularity,
but not such marvellous influence as it wielded ten years afterwards,
when nine thousand copies were published every three months, and at
such a price as gave to its contributors a splendid remuneration, and to
its editors absolute critical independence. The only objection to this
powerful periodical was the severity of its criticisms, which often also
were unjust. It seemed to be the intent of the reviewers to demolish
everything that was not of extraordinary merit. Fierce attacks are not
criticism. The articles in the Edinburgh Review were of a different sort
from the polished and candid literary dissections which made Ste.-Beuve
so justly celebrated. In the beginning of the century, however, these
savage attacks were all the fashion and to be expected; yet they stung
authors almost to madness, as in the case of the review of Byron's early
poetry. Literary courtesy did not exist. Justice gave place generally to
ridicule or sarcasm. The Edinburgh Review was a terror to all
pretenders, and often to men of real merit. But it was published when
most judges were cruel and severe, even in the halls of justice.

The friendship between Scott and Jeffrey had been very close for ten
years before the inception of the Edinburgh Review; and although Scott
was (perhaps growing out of his love for antiquarian researches and
admiration of the things that had been) an inveterate conservative and
Tory, while the new Review was slashingly liberal and progressive, he
was drawn in by friendship and literary interest to be a frequent
contributor during its first three or four years. The politics of the
Edinburgh Review, however, and the establishment in 1808 of the
conservative Quarterly Review, caused a gradual cessation of this
literary connection, without marring the friendly relations between
the two men.

About this time began Scott's friendship with Wordsworth, for whom he
had great respect. Indeed, his modesty led him to prefer everybody's
good poetry to his own. He felt himself inferior not only to Burns, but
also to Wordsworth and Campbell and Coleridge and Byron,--as in many
respects he undoubtedly was; but it requires in an author discernment
and humility of a rare kind, to make him capable of such a
discrimination.

More important to him than any literary friendship was his partnership
with James Ballantyne, the printer, whom he had known from his youth.
This in the end proved unfortunate, and nearly ruined him; for
Ballantyne, though an accomplished man and a fine printer, as well as
enterprising and sensible, was not a safe business man, being
over-sanguine. For a time, however, this partnership, which was kept
secret, was an advantage to both parties, although Scott embarked in the
enterprise his whole available capital, about £5000. In connection with
the publishing business, soon added to the printing, with James
Ballantyne's brother John as figure-head of the concern,--a talented but
dissipated and reckless "good fellow," with no more head for business
than either James Ballantyne or Scott,--the association bound Scott hand
and foot for twenty years, and prompted him to adventurous undertakings.
But it must be said that the Ballantynes always deferred to him, having
for him a sentiment little short of veneration. One of the first results
of this partnership was an eighteen-volume edition of Dryden's poems,
with a Life, which must have been to Scott little more than drudgery. He
was well paid for his work, although it added but little to his fame,
except for intelligent literary industry.

Before the Dryden, however, in the same year, 1808, appeared the poem of
"Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field," which was received by the public
with great avidity, and unbounded delight. Jeffrey wrote a chilling
review, for which Scott with difficulty forgave him, since with all his
humility and amiability he could not bear unfriendly or severe
criticism.

In a letter to Joanna Baillie, Scott makes some very sensible remarks as
to the incapability of such a man as Jeffrey appreciating a work of the
imagination, distinguished as he was:--

"I really have often told him that I think he wants the taste for
poetry which is essentially necessary to enjoy, and of course to
criticize with justice. He is learned with the most learned in its
canons and laws, skilled in its modulations, and an excellent judge of
the justice of the sentiments which it conveys; but he wants that
enthusiastic feeling which, like sunshine upon a landscape, lights up
every beauty, and palliates if it cannot hide every defect. To offer a
poem of imagination to a man whose whole life and study have been to
acquire a stoical indifference towards enthusiasm of every kind, would
be the last, as it would surely be the silliest, action of my life."

As stated above, it was about this time that Scott broke off his
connection with the Edinburgh Review. Perhaps that was what Jeffrey
wished, since the Review became thenceforth more intensely partisan, and
Scott's Toryism was not what was wanted.

It is fair to add that in 1810 Jeffrey sent Scott advance proofs of his
critique on "The Lady of the Lake," with a frank and friendly letter in
which he says:--

"I am now sensible that there were needless asperities in my review of
'Marmion,' and from the hurry in which I have been forced to write, I
dare say there may be some here also.... I am sincerely proud both of
your genius and of your glory, and I value your friendship more highly
than most either of my literary or political opinions."

Southey, Ellis, and Wordsworth, Erskine, Heber, and other friends wrote
congratulatory letters about "Marmion," with slight allusions to minor
blemishes. Lockhart thought that it was on the whole the greatest of
Scott's poems, in strength and boldness. Most critics regarded the long
introduction to each canto as a defect, since it broke the continuity of
the narrative; but it may at least be said that these preludes give an
interesting insight into the author's moods and views. The opinions of
literary men of course differ as to the relative excellence of the
different poems. "Marmion" certainly had great merit, and added to the
fame of the author. There is here more variety of metre than in his
other poems, and also some passages of such beauty as to make the poem
immortal,--like the death of Marmion, and those familiar lines in
reference to Clara's constancy:--

     "O woman! in our hours of ease,
      Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
      And variable as the shade
      By the light, quivering aspen made,--
      When pain and anguish wring the brow,
      A ministering angel thou."

The sale of "Marmion" ultimately reached fifty thousand copies in Great
Britain. The poem was originally published in a luxurious quarto at
thirty-one and a-half shillings. Besides one thousand guineas in
advance, half the profits went to Scott, and must have reached several
thousand pounds,--a great sale, when we remember that it was confined to
libraries and people of wealth. In America, the poem was sold for two or
three shillings,--less than one-tenth of what it cost the English
reader. A successful poem or novel in England is more remunerative to
the author, from the high price at which it is published, than in the
United States, where prices are lower and royalties rarely exceed ten
per cent. It must be borne in mind, however, that in England editions
are ordinarily very small, sometimes consisting of not more than two
hundred and fifty copies. The first edition of "Marmion" was only of two
thousand copies. The largest edition published was in 1811, of five
thousand copies octavo; but even this did not circulate largely among
the people. The popularity of Scott in England was confined chiefly to
the upper classes, at least until the copyright of his books had
expired. The booksellers were not slow in availing themselves of Scott's
popularity. They employed him to edit an edition of Swift for £1500, and
tried to induce him to edit a general edition of English poets. That
scheme was abandoned in consequence of a disagreement between Scott and
Murray, the London publisher, as to the selection of poets.

I think the quarrels of authors eighty or one hundred years ago with
their publishers were more frequent than they are in these times. We
read of a long alienation between Scott and Constable, the publisher,
who enjoyed a sort of monopoly of the poet's contributions to
literature. Constable soon after found a great rival in Murray, who was
at this time an obscure London bookseller in Fleet Street. Both these
great publishers were remarkable for sagacity, and were bold in their
ventures. The foundation of Constable's wealth was laid when he was
publishing the Edinburgh Review. In 1809, Murray started the Quarterly
Review, its great political rival, with the aid of Scott, who wrote many
of its most valuable articles; and William Gilford, satirist and critic,
became its first editor. Growing out of the quarrel between Scott and
Constable was the establishment of John Ballantyne & Co. as publishers
and booksellers in Edinburgh.

Shortly after the establishment of the Quarterly Review as a Tory
journal, Scott began his third great poem, "The Lady of the Lake," which
was published in 1810, in all the majesty of a quarto, at the price of
two guineas a copy. He received for it two thousand guineas. The first
edition of two thousand copies disappeared at once, and was followed the
same year by four octavo editions. In a few months the sale reached
twenty thousand copies. The poem received great commendation both from
the Quarterly and the Edinburgh Review.

Mr. Ellis, in his article in the Quarterly, thus wrote:

"There is nothing in Scott of the severe majesty of Milton, or of the
terse composition of Pope, or the elaborate elegance of Campbell, or the
flowing and redundant diction of Southey; but there is a medley of
bright images, and a diction tinged successively with the careless
richness of Shakespeare, the antique simplicity of the old romances, the
homeliness of vulgar ballads, and the sentimental glitter of the most
modern poetry,--passing from the borders of the ludicrous to the
sublime, alternately minute and energetic, sometimes artificial, and
frequently negligent, but always full of spirit and vivacity, abounding
in images that are striking at first sight to minds of every contexture,
and never expressing a sentiment which it can cost the most ordinary
reader any exertion to comprehend."

This seems to me to be a fair criticism, although the lucidity of
Scott's poetry is not that which is most admired by modern critics.
Fashion in these times delights in what is obscure and difficult to be
understood, as if depth and profundity must necessarily be
unintelligible to ordinary readers. In Scott's time, however, the
fashion was different, and the popularity of his poems became almost
universal. However, there are the same fire, vivacity, and brilliant
coloring in all three of these masterpieces, as they were regarded two
generations ago, reminding one of the witchery of Ariosto; yet there is
no great variety in these poems such as we find in Byron, no great force
of passion or depth of sentiment, but a sort of harmonious rhythm,--more
highly prized in the earlier part of the century than in the latter,
since Wordsworth and Tennyson have made us familiar with what is deeper
and richer, as well as more artistic, in language and versification. But
no one has denied Scott's originality and high merits, in contrast with
the pompous tameness and conventionality of the poetry which arose when
Johnson was the oracle of literary circles, and which still held the
stage in Scott's day.

Even Scott's admirers, however, like Canning and Ellis, did not hesitate
to say that they would like something different from anything he had
already written. But this was not to be; and perhaps the reason why he
soon after gave up writing poetry was the conviction that his genius as
a poet did not lie in variety and richness, either of style or matter.
His great fame was earned by his novels.

One thing greatly surprises me: Scott regarded Joanna Baillie as the
greatest poetical genius of that day, and be derived more pleasure from
reading Johnson's "London" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes" than from
any other poetical composition. Indeed, there is nothing more
remarkable in literary history than Scott's admiration of poetry
inferior to his own, and his extraordinary modesty in the estimate of
his own productions. Most poets are known for their morbid vanity, their
self-consciousness, their feeling of superiority, and their depreciation
of superior excellence; but Scott had eminently a healthy mind, as he
had a healthy body, and shrank from exaggeration as he did from
vulgarity in all its forms. It is probable that his own estimate of his
poetry was nearer the truth than that of his admirers, who were
naturally inclined to be partial.

There has been so much poetry written since "The Lady of the Lake" was
published,--not only by celebrated poets like Wordsworth, Southey,
Moore, Byron, Campbell, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow,
Lowell, Whittier, Bryant, but also by many minor authors,--that the
standard is now much higher than it was in the early part of the
century. Much of that which then was regarded as very fine is now smiled
at by the critics, and neglected by cultivated readers generally; and
Scott has not escaped unfavorable criticism.

It has been my object to present the subject of this Lecture
historically rather than critically,--to show the extraordinary
popularity of Scott as a poet among his contemporaries, rather than to
estimate his merit at the present time. I confess that most of
"Marmion," as also of the "Lady of the Lake," is tame to me, and
deficient in high poetic genius. Doubtless we are all influenced by the
standards of our own time, and the advances making in literature as well
as in science and art. Yet this change in the opinions of critics does
not apply to Byron's "Childe Harold," which is as much, if not as
widely, admired now as when it was first published. We think as highly
too of "The Deserted Village," the "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," and
the "Cotter's Saturday Night," as our fathers did. And men now think
much more highly of the merits of Shakspeare than they have at any
period since he lived; so that after all there is an element in true
poetry which does not lose by time. In another hundred years, the
verdicts of critics as to the greater part of the poems of Tennyson,
Wordsworth, Browning, and Longfellow, may be very different from what
they now are, while some of their lyrics may be, as they are now,
pronounced immortal.

Poetry is both an inspiration and an art. The greater part of that which
is now produced is made, not born. Those daintily musical and elaborate
measures which are now the fashion, because they claim novelty, or
reproduce the quaintness of an art so old as to be practically new,
perhaps will soon again be forgotten or derided. What is simple,
natural, appealing to the heart rather than to the head, may last when
more pretentious poetry shall have passed away. Neither criticism nor
contemporary popularity can decide such questions.

Scott himself seemed to take a true view. In a letter to Miss Seward, he
said:--

"The immortality of poetry is not so firm a point in my creed as the
immortality of the soul."

                  'I've lived too long,
     And seen the death of much immortal song.'

"Nay, those that have really attained their literary immortality have
gained it under very hard conditions. To some it has not attached till
after death. To others it has been the means of lauding personal vices
and follies which had otherwise been unremembered in their epitaphs; and
all enjoy the same immortality under a condition similar to that of
Noureddin in an Eastern tale. Noureddin, you remember, was to enjoy the
gift of immortality, but with this qualification,--that he was subjected
to long naps of forty, fifty, or a hundred years at a time. Even so
Homer and Virgil slumbered through whole centuries. Shakspeare himself
enjoyed undisturbed sleep from the age of Charles I., until Garrick
waked him. Dryden's fame has nodded; that of Pope begins to be drowsy;
Chaucer is as sound as a top, and Spenser is snoring in the midst of his
commentators. Milton, indeed, is quite awake; but, observe, he was at
his very outset refreshed with a nap of half-a-century; and in the midst
of all this we sons of degeneracy talk of immortality! Let me please my
own generation, and let those who come after us judge of their facts and
my performances as they please; the anticipation of their neglect or
censure will affect me very little."

In 1812 the poet-lawyer was rewarded with the salary of a place whose
duties he had for some years performed without pay,--that of Clerk of
Sessions, worth £800 per annum. Thus having now about £1500 as an
income, independently of his earnings by the pen, Scott gave up his
practice as an advocate, and devoted himself entirely to literature. At
the same time he bought a farm of somewhat more than a hundred acres on
the banks of the beautiful Tweed, about five miles from Ashestiel, and
leaving to its owners the pretty place in which he had for six years
enjoyed life and work, he removed to the cottage at Abbotsford,--for
thus he named his new purchase, in memory of the abbots of Melrose, who
formerly owned all the region, and the ruins of whose lovely abbey stood
not far away. Of the £4000 for this purchase half was borrowed from his
brother, and the other half on the pledge of the profits of a poem that
was projected but not written,--"Rokeby."

Scott ought to have been content with Ashestiel; or, since every man
wishes to own his home, he should have been satisfied with the
comfortable cottage which he built at Abbotsford, and the modest
improvements that his love for trees and shrubs enabled him to make.
But his aspirations led him into serious difficulties. With all his
sagacity and good sense, Scott never seemed to know when he was well
off. It was a fatal mistake both for his fame and happiness to attempt
to compete with those who are called great in England and
Scotland,--that is, peers and vast landed proprietors. He was not alone
in this error, for it has generally been the ambition of fortunate
authors to acquire social as well as literary distinction,--thus paying
tribute to riches, and virtually abdicating their own true position,
which is higher than any that rank or wealth can give. It has too
frequently been the misfortune of literary genius to bow down to vulgar
idols; and the worldly sentiments which this idolatry involves are seen
in almost every fashionable novel which has appeared for a hundred
years. In no country is this melancholy social slavery more usual than
in England, with all its political freedom, although there are noble
exceptions. The only great flaw in Scott's character was this homage to
rank and wealth.

On the other hand, rank and wealth also paid homage to him as a man of
genius; both Scotland and England received him into the most select
circles, not only of their literary and political, but of their
fashionable, life.

In 1811 Scott published "The Lord of the Isles," and in 1813, "Rokeby,"
neither of which was remarkable for either literary or commercial
success, although both were well received. In 1814 he edited a
nineteen-volume edition of Dean Swift's works, with a Life, and in the
same year began--almost by accident--the real work of his own career, in
"Waverley."

If public opinion is far different to-day from what it was in Scott's
time in reference to his poetry, we observe the same change in regard to
the source of his widest fame, his novels,--but not to so marked a
degree, for it was in fiction that Scott's great gifts had their full
fruition. Many a fine intellect still delights in his novels, though
cultivated readers and critics differ as to their comparative merits. No
two persons will unite in their opinions as to the three of those
productions which they like most or least. It is so with all famous
novels. Then, too, what man of seventy will agree with a man of thirty
as to the comparative merits of Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope,
George Eliot, Eugene Sue, Victor Hugo, Balzac, George Sand? How few read
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," compared with the multitudes who read that most
powerful and popular book forty years ago? How changing, if not
transient, is the fame of the novelist as well as of the poet! With
reference to him even the same generation changes its tastes. What
filled us with delight as young men or women of twenty, is at fifty
spurned with contempt or thrown aside with indifference. No books ever
filled my mind and soul with the delight I had when, at twelve years of
age, I read "The Children of the Abbey" and "Thaddeus of Warsaw," What
man of eighty can forget the enthusiasm with which he read "Old
Mortality" or "Ivanhoe" when he was in college?

Perhaps one test of a great book is the pleasure derived from reading it
over and over again,--as we read "Don Quixote," or the dramas of
Shakspeare, of whose infinite variety we never tire. Measured by this
test, the novels of Sir Walter Scott are among the foremost works of
fiction which have appeared in our world. They will not all retain their
popularity from generation to generation, like "Don Quixote" or "The
Pilgrim's Progress" or "The Vicar of Wakefield;" but these are single
productions of their authors, while not a few of Scott's many novels are
certainly still read by cultivated people,--if not with the same
interest they excited when first published, yet with profit and
admiration. They have some excellencies which are immortal,--elevation
of sentiment, chivalrous regard for women, fascination of narrative
(after one has waded through the learned historical introductory
chapters), the absence of exaggeration, the vast variety of characters
introduced and vividly maintained, and above all the freshness and
originality of description, both of Nature and of man. Among the
severest and most bigoted of New England Puritans, none could find
anything corrupting or demoralizing in his romances; whereas Byron and
Bulwer were never mentioned without a shudder, and even Shakspeare was
locked up in book-cases as unfit for young people to read, and not
particularly creditable for anybody to own. The unfavorable comments
which the most orthodox ever made upon Scott were as to the
repulsiveness of the old Covenanters, as he described them, and his
sneers at Puritan perfections. Scott, however, had contempt, not for the
Puritans, but for many of their peculiarities,--especially for their
cant when it degenerated into hypocrisy.

One thing is certain, that no works of fiction have had such universal
popularity both in England and America for so long a period as the
Waverley Novels. Scott reigned as the undisputed monarch of the realm of
fiction and romance for twenty-five years. He gave undiminished
entertainment to an entire generation--and not that merely, but
instruction--in his historical novels, although his views were not
always correct,--as whose ever are? He who could charm millions of
readers, learned and unlearned, for a quarter of a century must have
possessed remarkable genius. Indeed, he was not only the central figure
in English literature for a generation, but he was regarded as
peculiarly original. Another style of novels may obtain more passing
favor with modern readers, but Scott was justly famous; his works are
to-day in every library, and form a delightful part of the education of
every youth and maiden who cares to read at all; and he will as a
novelist probably live after some who are now prime favorites will be
utterly forgotten or ignored.

About 1830 Bulwer was in his early successes; about 1840 Dickens was the
rage of his day; about 1850 Thackeray had taken his high grade; and it
was about 1860 that George Eliot's power appeared. These still retain
their own peculiar lines of popularity,--Bulwer with the romantic few,
Thackeray with the appreciative intelligent, George Eliot with a still
wider clientage, and Dickens with everybody, on account of his appeal to
the universal sentiments of comedy and pathos. Scott's influence,
somewhat checked during the growth of these reputations and the
succession of fertile and accomplished writers on both sides of the
Atlantic,--including the introspective analysts of the past fifteen
years,--has within a decade been rising again, and has lately burst
forth in a new group of historical romancers who seem to have "harked
back" from the subjective fad of our day to Scott's healthy, adventurous
objectivity. Not only so, but new editions of the Waverley Novels are
coming one by one from the shrewd publishers who keep track of the
popular taste, one of the most attractive being issued in Edinburgh at
half-a-crown a volume.

The first of Scott's remarkable series of novels, "Waverley," published
in 1814 when the author was forty-three years of age and at the height
of his fame as a poet, took the fashionable and literary world by storm.
The novel had been partly written for several years, but was laid aside,
as his edition of Swift and his essays for the supplement of the
"Encyclopaedia Britannica," and other prose writings, employed all the
time he had to spare.

This hack-work was done by Scott without enthusiasm, to earn money for
his investment in real estate, and is not of transcendent merit.
Obscurer men than he had performed such literary drudgery with more
ability, but no writer was ever more industrious. The amount of work
which he accomplished at this period was prodigious, especially when we
remember that his duties as sheriff and clerk of Sessions occupied eight
months of the year. He was more familiar with the literary history of
Queen Anne's reign than any subsequent historian, if we except Macaulay,
whose brilliant career had not yet begun. He took, of course, a
different view of Swift from the writers of the Edinburgh Review, and
was probably too favorable in his description of the personal character
of the Dean of St. Patrick's, who is now generally regarded as
"inordinately ambitious, arrogant, and selfish; of a morose, vindictive,
and haughty temper, utterly destitute of generosity and magnanimity, as
well as of tenderness, fidelity, and compassion." Lord Jeffrey, in his
Review, attacked Swift's moral character with such consummate ability as
to check materially the popularity of his writings, which are
universally admitted to be full of genius. His superb intellect and his
morality present a sad contrast,--as in the cases of Bacon, Burns, and
Byron,--which Scott, on account of the force of his Tory prejudices, did
not sufficiently point out.

But as to the novel, when it suddenly appeared, it is not surprising
that "Waverley" should at once have attained an unexampled popularity
when we consider the mediocrity of all works of fiction at that time, if
we except the Irish tales of Maria Edgeworth. Scott received from
Constable £1000 for this romance, then deemed a very liberal
remuneration for what cost him but a few months' work. The second and
third volumes were written in one month. He wrote with remarkable
rapidity when his mind was full of the subject; and his previous studies
as an antiquary and as a collector of Scottish poetry and legends fitted
him for his work, which was in no sense a task, but a most
lively pleasure.

It is not known why Scott published this strikingly original work
anonymously; perhaps it was because of his unusual modesty, and the fear
that he might lose the popularity he had already enjoyed as a poet. But
it immediately placed him on a higher literary elevation, since it was
generally suspected that he was the author. He could not altogether
disguise himself from the keen eyes of Jeffrey and other critics.

The book was received as a revelation. The first volume is not
particularly interesting, but the story continually increases in
interest to its close. It is not a dissection of the human heart; it is
not even much of a love-story, but a most vivid narrative, without
startling situations or adventures. Its great charm is its quiet
humor,--not strained into witty expressions which provoke laughter, but
a sort of amiable delineation of the character of a born gentleman, with
his weaknesses and prejudices, all leaning to virtue's side. It is a
description of manners peculiar to the Scottish gentry in the middle of
the eighteenth century, especially among the Jacobite families then
passing away.

Of course the popularity of this novel, at that time, was chiefly
confined to the upper classes. In the first place the people could not
afford to pay the price of the book; and, secondly, it was outside their
sympathies and knowledge. Indeed, I doubt if any commonplace person,
without culture or extended knowledge, can enjoy so refined a work, with
so many learned allusions, and such exquisite humor, which appeals to a
knowledge of the world in its higher aspects. It is one of the last
books that an ignorant young lady brought up on the trash of ordinary
fiction would relish or comprehend. Whoever turns uninterested from
"Waverley" is probably unable to see its excellencies or enjoy its
peculiar charms. It is not a book for a modern school-boy or
school-girl, but for a man or woman in the highest maturity of mind,
with a poetic or imaginative nature, and with a leaning perhaps to
aristocratic sentiments. It is a rebuke to vulgarity and ignorance,
which the minute and exaggerated descriptions of low life in the pages
of Dickens certainly are not.

In February, 1815, "Guy Mannering" was published, the second in the
series of the Waverley Novels, and was received by the intelligent
reading classes with even more _éclat_ than "Waverley," to which it is
superior in many respects. It plunges at once _in medias res_, without
the long and labored introductory chapters of its predecessor. It is
interesting from first to last, and is an elaborate and well-told tale,
written _con amore_, when Scott was in the maturity of his powers. It is
full of incident and is delightful in humor. Its chief excellence is in
the loftiness of its sentiments,--being one of the healthiest and
wholesomest novels ever written, appealing to the heart as well as to
the intellect, to be read over and over again, like "The Vicar of
Wakefield," without weariness. It may be too aristocratic in its tone to
please everybody, but it portrays the sentiments of its age in reference
to squires and Scottish lairds, who were more distinguished for
uprightness and manly duties than for brains and culture.

The fascination with which Scott always depicts the virtues of
hospitality and trust in humanity makes a strong impression on the
imagination. His heroes and heroines are not remarkable for genius, but
shine in the higher glories of domestic affection and fidelity to
trusts. Two characters in particular are original creations,--"Dominie
Sampson" and "Meg Merrilies," whom no reader can forget,--the one,
ludicrous for his simplicity; and the other a gypsy woman, weird and
strange, more like a witch than a sibyl, but intensely human, and
capable of the strongest attachment for those she loved.

"The easy and transparent flow of the style of this novel; its beautiful
simplicity; the wild magnificence of its sketches of scenery; the rapid
and ever brightening interest of the narrative; the unaffected kindness
of feeling; the manly purity of thought, everywhere mingled with a
gentle humor and homely sagacity,--but, above all, the rich variety and
skilful contrast of character and manners, at once fresh in fiction, and
stamped with the unforgeable seal of truth and nature, spoke to every
heart and mind; and the few murmurs of pedantic criticism were lost in
the voice of general delight which never fails to welcome the invention
that introduces to the sympathy of the imagination a new group of
immortal realities."

Scott received about £2000 for this favorite romance,--one entirely new
in the realm of fiction,--which enabled him to pay off his most pressing
debts, and indulge his taste for travel. He visited the Field of
Waterloo, and became a social lion in both Paris and London. The Prince
of Wales sent him a magnificent snuff-box set with diamonds, and
entertained him with admiring cordiality at Carlton House,--for his
authorship of "Waverley" was more than surmised, while his fame as a
poet was second only to that of Byron. Then (in the spring of 1815) took
place the first meeting of these two great bards, and their successive
interviews were graced with mutual compliments. Scott did not think that
Byron's reading was extensive either in poetry or history, in which
opinion the industrious Scottish bard was mistaken; but he did justice
ta Byron's transcendent genius, and with more charity than severity
mourned over his departure from virtue. After a series of brilliant
banquets at the houses of the great, both of rank and of fame, Scott
returned to his native land to renew his varied and exhausting labors,
having furnished his publishers with a volume of letters on the subjects
which most interested him during his short tour. Everything he touched
now brought him gold.

"Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk," as he called this volume concerning
his tour, was well received, but not with the enthusiasm which marked
the publication of "Guy Mannering;" indeed, it had no special claim to
distinction. "The Antiquary" followed in May of the next year, and
though it lacked the romance of "Waverley" and the adventure of "Guy
Mannering," it had even a larger sale. Scott himself regarded it as
superior to both; but an author is not always the best judge of his own
productions, and we do not accept his criticism. It probably cost him
more labor; but it is an exhibition of his erudition rather than a
revelation of himself or of Nature. It is certainly very learned; but
learning does not make a book popular, nor is a work of fiction the
place for a display of learning. If "The Antiquary" were published in
these times, it would be pronounced pedantic. Readers are apt to skip
names and learned allusions and scraps of Latin. As a story I think it
inferior to "Guy Mannering," although it has great merits,--"a kind of
simple, unsought charm,"--and is a transcript of actual Scottish life.
It had a great success; Scott says in a letter to his friend Terry: "It
is at press again, six thousand having been sold in six days." Before
the novel was finished, the author had already projected his "Tales of
My Landlord."

Scott was now at the flood-tide of his creative power, and his industry
was as remarkable as his genius. There was but little doubt in the
public mind as to the paternity of the Waverley Novels, and whatever
Scott wrote was sure to have a large sale; so that every publisher of
note was eager to have a hand in bringing his productions before the
public. In 1816 appeared the "Edinburgh Annual Register," containing
Scott's sketch of the year 1814, which, though very good, showed that
the author was less happy in history than in fiction.

The first series of "Tales of My Landlord" was published by Murray, and
not by Constable, who had brought out Scott's other works, and the book
was received with unbounded enthusiasm. Many critics place "Old
Mortality" in the highest niche of merit and fame. Frere of the
Quarterly Review, Hallam, Boswell, Lamb, Lord Holland, all agreed that
it surpassed his other novels. Bishop Heber said, "There are only two
men in the world,--Walter Scott and Lord Byron." Lockhart regarded "Old
Mortality" as the "Marmion" of Scott's novels; but the painting of the
Covenanters gave offence to the more rigid of the Presbyterians. For
myself, I have doubt as to the correctness of their criticisms. "Old
Mortality," in contrast with the previous novels of Scott, has a place
similar to the later productions of George Eliot as compared with her
earlier ones. It is not so vivid a sketch of Scotch life as is given in
"Guy Mannering." Like "The Antiquary," it is bookish rather than
natural. From a literary point of view, it is more artistic than "Guy
Mannering," and more learned. "The canvas is a broader one." Its
characters are portrayed with great skill and power, but they lack the
freshness which comes from actual contact with the people described, and
with whom Scott was familiar as a youth in the course of his wanderings.
It is more historical than realistic. In short, "Old Mortality" is
another creation of its author's brain rather than a painting of real
life. But it is justly famous, for it was the precursor of those
brilliant historical romances from which so much is learned of great men
already known to students. It was a new departure in literature.

Before Scott arose, historical novels were comparatively unknown. He
made romance instructive, rather than merely amusing, and added the
charm of life to the dry annals of the past. Cervantes does not portray
a single great character known in Spanish history in his "Don Quixote,"
but he paints life as he has seen it. So does Goldsmith. So does George
Eliot in "Silas Marner." She presents life, indeed, in "Romola,"--not,
however, as she had personally observed it, but as drawn from books,
recreating the atmosphere of a long gone time by the power of
imagination.

The earlier works of Scott are drawn from memory and personal feeling,
rather than from the knowledge he had gained by study. Of "Old
Mortality" he writes to Lady Louisa Stuart: "I am complete master of the
whole history of these strange times, both of persecutors and
persecuted; so I trust I have come decently off."

The divisional grouping of these earlier novels by Scott himself is
interesting. In the "Advertisement" to "The Antiquary" he says: "The
present work completes a series of fictitious narratives, intended to
illustrate the manners of Scotland at three different periods. WAVERLEY
embraced the age of our fathers [''Tis Sixty Years Since'], GUY
MANNERING that of our own youth, and THE ANTIQUARY refers to the last
ten years of the eighteenth century." The dedication of "Tales of My
Landlord" describes them as "tales illustrative of ancient Scottish
manners, and of the traditions of their [his countrymen's] respective
districts." They were--_First Series_: "The Black Dwarf" and "Old
Mortality;" _Second Series:_ "The Heart of Mid-Lothian;" _Third Series:_
"The Bride of Lammermoor" and "A Legend of Montrose;" _Fourth Series:_
"Count Robert of Paris" and "Castle Dangerous." These all (except the
fourth series, in 1832) appeared in the six years from 1814 to 1820, and
besides these, "Rob Roy," "Ivanhoe," and "The Monastery."

With the publication of "Old Mortality" in 1816, then, Scott introduced
the first of his historical novels, which had great fascination for
students. Who ever painted the old Cameronian with more felicity? Who
ever described the peculiarities of the Scottish Calvinists during the
reign of the last of the Stuarts with more truthfulness,--their
severity, their strict and Judaical observance of the Sabbath, their
hostility to popular amusements, their rigid and legal morality, their
love of theological dogmas, their inflexible prejudices, their lofty
aspirations? Where shall we find in literature a sterner fanatical
Puritan than John Balfour of Burley, or a fiercer royalist than Graham
of Claverhouse? As a love-story this novel is not remarkable. It is not
in the description of passionate love that Scott anywhere excels. His
heroines, with two or three exceptions, would be called rather tame by
the modern reader, although they win respect for their domestic virtues
and sterling elements of character. His favorite heroes are either
Englishmen of good family, or Scotchmen educated in England,--gallant,
cultivated, and reproachless, but without any striking originality or
intellectual force.

"Rob Roy" was published in the latter part of 1817, and was received by
the public with the same unabated enthusiasm which marked the appearance
of "Guy Mannering" and the other romances. An edition of ten thousand
was disposed of in two weeks, and the subsequent sale amounted to forty
thousand more. The scene of this story is laid in the Highlands of
Scotland, with an English hero and a Scottish heroine; and in this
fascinating work the political history of the times (forty years earlier
than the period of "Waverley") is portrayed with great impartiality. It
is a description of the first Jacobite rising against George I. in the
year 1715. In this novel one of the greatest of Scott's creations
appears in the heroine, Diana Vernon,--rather wild and masculine, but
interesting from her courage and virtue. The character of Baillie Jarvie
is equally original and more amusing.

The general effect of "Rob Roy," as well as of "Waverley" and "Old
Mortality," was to make the Scottish Highlanders and Jacobites
interesting to English readers of opposite views and feelings, without
arousing hostility to the reigning royal family. The Highlanders a
hundred years ago were viewed by the English with sentiments nearly
similar to those with which the Puritan settlers of New England looked
upon the Indians,--at any rate, as freebooters, robbers, and murderers,
who were dangerous to civilization; and the severities of the English
government toward these lawless clans, both as outlaws and as foes of
the Hanoverian succession, were generally condoned by public opinion.
Scott succeeded in producing a better feeling among both the conquerors
and the conquered. He modified general sentiment by his impartial and
liberal views, and allayed prejudices. The Highlanders thenceforth were
regarded as a body of men with many interesting traits, and capable of
becoming good subjects of the Crown; while their own hatred and contempt
of the Lowland Saxon were softened by the many generous and romantic
incidents of these tales. Two hitherto hostile races were drawn into
neighborly sympathy. Travellers visited the beautiful Highland retreats,
and returned with enthusiastic impressions of the country. To no other
man does Scotland owe so great a debt of gratitude as to Walter Scott,
not only for his poetry and novels, but for showing the admirable traits
of a barren country and a fierce population, and contributing to bring
them within the realm of civilization. A century or two ago the
Highlands of Scotland were peopled by a race in a state of perpetual
conflict with civilization, averse to labor, gaining (except such of
them as were enrolled in the English Army) a precarious support by
plunder, black-mailing, smuggling, and other illegal pursuits. Now they
compose a body of hard-working, intelligent, and law-abiding laborers,
cultivating farms, raising cattle and sheep, and pursuing the various
branches of industry which lead to independence, if not to wealth. The
traveller among the Highlanders feels as secure and is made as
comfortable as in any part of the island; while revelations of their
shrewd intelligence and unsuspected wit, in the stories of Barrie and
Crockett, show what a century of Calvinistic theology--as the chief
mental stimulant--has done in developing blossoms from that
thistle-like stock.

Scott had now all the fame and worldly prosperity which any literary man
could attain to,--for his authorship of the novels, although
unacknowledged, was more and more generally believed, and after 1821 not
denied. He lived above the atmosphere of envy, honored by all classes of
people, surrounded with admiring friends and visitors. He had an income
of at least £10,000 a year. Wherever he journeyed he was treated with
the greatest distinction. In London he was cordially received as a
distinguished guest in any circle he chose. The highest nobles paid
homage to him. The King made him a baronet,--the first purely literary
man in England to receive that honor. He now became ambitious to
increase his lands; and the hundred acres of farm at Abbotsford were
enlarged by new purchases, picturesquely planted with trees and
shrubberies, while "the cottage grew to a mansion, and the mansion to a
castle," with its twelve hundred surrounding acres, cultivated and made
beautiful.

Scott's correspondence with famous people was immense, besides his other
labors as farmer, lawyer, and author. Few persons of rank or fame
visited Edinburgh without paying their respects to its most eminent
citizen. His country house was invaded by tourists. He was on terms of
intimacy with some of the proudest nobles of Scotland. His various works
were the daily food not only of his countrymen, but of all educated
Europe. "Station, power, wealth, beauty, and genius strove with each
other in every demonstration of respect and worship."

And yet in the midst of this homage and increasing prosperity, one of
the most fortunate of human beings, Scott's head was not turned. His
habitual modesty preserved his moral health amid all sorts of
temptation. He never lost his intellectual balance. He assumed no airs
of superiority. His manners were simple and unpretending to the last. He
praised all literary productions except his own. His life in Edinburgh
was plain, though hospitable and free; and he seemed to care for few
luxuries aside from books, of which life made a large collection. The
furniture of his houses in Edinburgh and at Abbotsford was neither showy
nor luxurious. He was extraordinarily fond of dogs and all domestic
animals, who--sympathetic creatures as they are--unerringly sought him
out and lavished affection upon him.

When Scott lived in Castle Street he was not regarded by Edinburgh
society as particularly brilliant in conversation, since he never
aspired to lead by learned disquisitions. He told stories well, with
great humor and pleasantry, to amuse rather than to instruct. His talk
was almost homely. The most noticeable thing about it was common-sense.
Lord Cockburn said of him that "his sense was more wonderful than his
genius." He did not blaze like Macaulay or Mackintosh at the
dinner-table, nor absorb conversation like Coleridge and Sydney Smith.
"He disliked," says Lockhart, "mere disquisitions in Edinburgh and
prepared impromptus in London." A _doctrinaire_ in society was to him an
abomination. Hence, until his fame was established by the admiration of
the world, Edinburgh professors did not see his greatness. To them he
seemed commonplace, but not to such men as Hallam or Moore or Rogers or
Croker or Canning.

Notwithstanding Scott gave great dinners occasionally, they appear to
have been a bore to him, and he very rarely went out to evening
entertainments, although at public dinners his wit and sense made him a
favorite chairman. He retired early at night and rose early in the
morning, and his severest labors were before breakfast,--his principal
meal. He always dined at home on Sunday, with a few intimate friends,
and his dinner was substantial and plain. He drank very little wine, and
preferred a glass of whiskey-toddy to champagne or port. He could not
distinguish between madeira and sherry. He was neither an epicure nor
a gourmand.

After Scott had become world-famous, his happiest hours were spent in
enlarging and adorning his land at Abbotsford, and in erecting and
embellishing his baronial castle. In this his gains were more than
absorbed. He loved that castle more than any of his intellectual
creations, and it was not completed until nearly all his novels were
written. Without personal extravagance, he was lavish in the sums he
spent on Abbotsford. Here he delighted to entertain his distinguished
visitors, of whom no one was more welcome than Washington Irving, whom
he liked for his modesty and quiet humor and unpretending manners.
Lockhart writes: "It would hardly, I believe, be too much to affirm that
Sir Walter Scott entertained under his roof, in the course of the seven
or eight brilliant seasons when his prosperity was at its height, as
many persons of distinction in rank, in politics, in art, in literature,
and in science, as the most princely nobleman of his age ever did in the
like space of time."

One more unconscious, apparently, of his great powers has been rarely
seen among literary men, especially in England and France,--affording a
striking contrast in this respect to Dryden, Pope, Voltaire, Byron,
Bulwer, Macaulay, Carlyle, Hugo, Dumas, and even Tennyson. Great lawyers
and great statesmen are rarely so egotistical and conceited as poets,
novelists, artists, and preachers. Scott made no pretensions which were
offensive, or which could be controverted. His greatest aspiration seems
to have been to be a respectable landed proprietor, and to found a
family. An English country gentleman was his beau-ideal of happiness and
contentment. Perhaps this was a weakness; but it was certainly a
harmless and amiable one, and not so offensive as intellectual pride.
Scott indeed, while without vanity, had pride; but it was of a lofty
kind, disdaining meanness and cowardice as worse even than
transgressions which have their origin in unregulated passions.

From the numerous expletives which abound in Scott's letters, such as
are not now considered in good taste among gentlemen, I infer that like
most gentlemen of his social standing in those times he was in the habit
of using, when highly excited or irritated, what is called profane
language. After he had once given vent to his feelings, however, he was
amiable and forgiving enough for a Christian sage, who never harbored
malice or revenge. He had great respect for the military
profession,--probably because it was the great prop and defence of
government and established institutions, for he was the most
conservative of aristocrats. And yet his aristocratic turn of mind never
conflicted with his humane disposition,--never made him a snob. He
abhorred all vulgarity. He admired genius and virtue in whatever garb
they appeared. He was as kind to his servants, and to poor and
unfortunate people, as he was to his equals in society, being eminently
big-hearted. It was only fools, who made great pretensions, that he
despised and treated with contempt.

No doubt Scott was bored by the numerous visitors, whether invited or
uninvited, who came from all parts of Great Britain, from America, and
even from continental Europe, to do homage to his genius, or to gratify
their curiosity. Sometimes as many as thirty guests sat down to his
banqueting-table at once. He entertained in baronial style, but without
ostentation or prodigality, and on old-fashioned dishes. He did not
like French cooking, and his simple taste in the matters of beverage we
have already noted. The people to whom he was most attentive were the
representatives of ancient families, whether rich or poor.

Scott was very kind to literary men in misfortune, and his chosen
friends were authors of eminence,--like Miss Edgeworth, Joanna Baillie,
Thomas Moore, Crabbe, Southey, Wordsworth, Sir Humphry Davy, Dr.
Wollaston the chemist, Henry Mackenzie, etc. He was very intimate with
the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Montagu, and other noblemen. He was visited
by dukes and princes, as well as by ladies of rank and fame. George IV.
sent him valuable presents, and showed him every mark of high
consideration. Cambridge and Oxford tendered to him honorary degrees.
Wherever he travelled, he was received with honor and distinction and
flatteries. But he did not like flatteries; and this was one reason why
he did not openly acknowledge his authorship of his novels, until all
doubt was removed by the masterly papers of John Leycester Adolphus
in 1821.

Scott's correspondence must have been enormous, for his postage bills
amounted to £150 per annum, besides the aid he received from franks,
which with his natural economy he made no scruple in liberally using.
Perhaps his most confidential letters were, like Byron's, written to his
publishers and printers, though many such were addressed to his
son-in-law Lockhart, and to his dearest friend William Erskine. But he
had also some admirable women friends, with whom he corresponded freely.
Some of the choicest of his recently-published Letters are to Lady
Abercorn, who was an intimate and helpful friend; to Miss Anna Seward, a
literary confidant of many years; to Lady Louisa Stuart, daughter of the
Earl of Bute, and granddaughter of Mary Wortley Montagu, one of the few
who knew from the first of his "Waverley" authorship; and to Mrs. John
Hughes, an early and most affectionate friend, whose grandson, Thomas
Hughes, has made famous the commonplace name of "Tom Brown" in our
own day.

Scott's letters show the man,--frank, cordial, manly, tender, generous,
finding humor in difficulties, pleasure in toil, satisfaction in
success, a proud courage in adversity, and the purest happiness in the
affection of his friends.

How Scott found time for so much work is a mystery,--writing nearly
three novels a year, besides other literary labors, attending to his
duties in the Courts, overlooking the building of Abbotsford and the
cultivation of his twelve hundred acres, and entertaining more guests
than Voltaire did at Ferney. He was too much absorbed by his legal
duties and his literary labors to be much of a traveller; yet he was a
frequent visitor to London, saw something of Paris, journeyed through
Ireland, was familiar with the Lake region in England, and penetrated to
every interesting place in Scotland. He did not like London, and took
little pleasure in the ovations he received from people of rank and
fashion. As a literary lion at the tables of "the great," he
disappointed many of his admirers, since he made no effort to shine. It
was only in his modest den in Castle Street, or in rambles in the
country or at Abbotsford, that he felt himself at home, and appeared to
the most advantage.

It would be pleasant to leave this genuinely great man in the full flush
of health, creative power, inward delight and outward prosperity; but
that were to leave unwritten the finest and noblest part of his life. It
is to the misfortunes which came upon him that we owe both a large part
of his splendid achievements in literature and our knowledge of the most
admirable characteristics of the man.

My running record of his novels last mentioned "The Monastery," issued
in 1820, in the same year with perhaps the prime favorite of all his
works, "Ivanhoe," the romantic tale of England in the crusading age of
Richard the Lion-Hearted. In 1821 he put forth the fascinating
Elizabethan tale of "Kenilworth." In 1822 came "The Pirate" (the tale of
sea and shore that inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write "The Pilot"
and his other sea-stories) and "The Fortunes of Nigel;" in 1823,
"Peveril of the Peak" and "Quentin Durward," both among his best; in
1824, "St. Ronan's Well" and "Redgauntlet;" and in 1825, two more Tales
of the Crusaders,--"The Betrothed" and "The Talisman," the latter
probably sharing with "Ivanhoe" the greatest popularity.

In the winter of 1825-1826, a widespread area of commercial distress
resulted in the downfall of many firms; and among others to succumb were
Hurst & Robinson, publishers, whose failure precipitated that of
Constable & Co., Scott's publishers, and of the Ballantynes his
printers, with whom he was a secret partner, who were largely indebted
to the Constables and so to the creditors of that house. The crash came
January 16, 1826, and Scott found himself in debt to the amount of about
£147,000,--or nearly $735,000.

Such a vast misfortune, overwhelming a man at the age of fifty-five,
might well crush out all life and hope and send him into helpless
bankruptcy, with the poor consolation that, though legally responsible,
he was not morally bound to pay other people's debts. But Scott's own
sanguine carelessness had been partly to blame for the Ballantyne
failure; and he faced the billow as it suddenly appeared, bowed to it in
grief but not in shame, and, while not pretending to any stoicism,
instantly resolved to devote the remainder of his life to the repayment
of the creditors.

The solid substance of manliness, honor, and cheerful courage in his
character; the genuine piety with which he accepted the "dispensation,"
and wrote "Blessed be the name of the Lord;" the unexampled steadiness
with which he comforted his wife and daughters while girding himself to
the daily work of intellectual production amidst his many distresses;
the sweetness of heart with which he acknowledged the sympathy and
declined the offers of help that poured in upon him from every side (one
poor music teacher offering his little savings of £600, and an anonymous
admirer urging upon him a loan of £30,000),--all this is the beauty that
lighted up the black cloud of Scott's adversity. His efforts were
finally successful, although at the cost of his bodily existence.
Lockhart says: "He paid the penalty of health and life, but he saved his
honor and his self-respect.

     "'The glory dies not, and the grief is past.'"

"Woodstock," then about half-done, was completed in sixty-nine days, and
issued in March, 1826, bringing in about $41,000 to his creditors. His
"Life of Napoleon," published in June, 1827, produced $90,000. In 1827,
also, Scott issued "Chronicles of the Canongate," First Series (several
minor stories), and the First Series of "Tales of a Grandfather;" in
1828, "The Fair Maid of Perth" (Second Series of the "Chronicles"), and
more "Tales of a Grandfather;" in 1829, "Anne of Geierstein," more
"Tales of a Grandfather," the first volume of a "History of Scotland,"
and a collective edition of the Waverley Novels in forty-eight volumes,
with new Introductions, Notes, and careful corrections and improvements
of the text throughout,--in itself an immense labor; in 1830, more
"Tales of a Grandfather," a three volume "History of France," and Volume
II. of the "History of Scotland;" in 1831, and finally, a Fourth Series
of "Tales of My Landlord," including "Count Robert of Paris" and "Castle
Dangerous."

This completes the list of Scott's greater productions; but it should be
remembered that during all the years of his creative work he was
incessantly doing critical and historical writing,--producing numerous
reviews, essays, ballads; introductions to divers works; biographical
sketches for Ballantyne's "Novelist's Library,"--the works of fifteen
celebrated English writers of fiction, Fielding, Smollett, etc.; letters
and pamphlets; dramas; even a few religious discourses; and his very
extensive and interesting private correspondence. He was such a marvel
of productive brain-power as has seldom, if ever, been known
to humanity.

The illness and death of Scott's beloved wife, but four short months
after his commercial disaster, was a profound grief to him; and under
the exhausting pressure of incessant work during the five years
following, his bodily power began to fail,--so that in October, 1831,
after a paralytic shock, he stopped all literary labor and went to Italy
for recuperation. The following June he returned to London, weaker in
both mind and body; was taken to Abbotsford in July; and on the 21st
September, 1832, with his children about him, the kindly, manly, brave,
and tender spirit passed away.

At the time of his death Sir Walter had reduced his great indebtedness
to $270,000. A life insurance of $110,000, $10,000 in the hands of his
trustees, and $150,000 advanced by Robert Cadell, an Edinburgh
bookseller, on the copyrights of Scott's works, cleared away the last
remnant of the debt; and within twenty years Cadell had reimbursed
himself, and made a handsome profit for his own account and that of the
family of Sir Walter.

The moneyed details of Scott's literary life have been made a part of
this brief sketch, both because his phenomenal fecundity and popularity
offer a convenient measure of his power, and because the fiscal
misfortune of his later life revealed a simple grandeur of character
even more admirable than his mental force. "Scott ruined!" exclaimed the
Earl of Dudley when he heard of the trouble. "The author of Waverley
ruined! Good God! let every man to whom he has given months of delight
give him a sixpence, and he will rise to-morrow morning richer than
Rothschild!" But the sturdy Scotchman accepted no dole; he set himself
to work out his own salvation. William Howitt, in his "Homes and Haunts
of Eminent British Poets," estimated that Scott's works had produced as
profits to the author or his trustees at least £500,000,--nearly
$2,500,000: this in 1847, over fifty years ago, and only forty-five
years from Scott's first original publication. Add the results of the
past fifty years, and, remembering that this gives but the profits,
conceive the immense sums that have been freely paid by the intelligent
British public for their enjoyment of this great author's writings.
Then, besides all this, recall the myriad volumes of Scott sold in
America, which paid no profit to the author or his heirs. There is
no parallel.

Voltaire's renown and monetary rewards, as the master-writer of the
eighteenth century, offer the only case in modern times that approaches
Scott's success; yet Voltaire's vast wealth was largely the result of
successful speculation. As a purely popular author, whose wholesome
fancy, great heart, and tireless industry, has delighted millions of his
fellow-men, Scott stands alone; while, as a man, he holds the affection
and respect of the world. Even though it be that the fashion of his
workmanship passeth away, wonder not, lament not. With Mithridates he
could say, "I have lived." What great man can say more?



LORD BYRON.


1788-1824.

POETIC GENIUS.

It is extremely difficult to depict Lord Byron, and even presumptuous to
attempt it. This is not only because he is a familiar subject, the
triumphs and sorrows of whose career have been often portrayed, but also
because he presents so many contradictions in his life and
character,--lofty yet degraded, earnest yet frivolous, an impersonation
of noble deeds and sentiments, and also of almost every frailty which
Christianity and humanity alike condemn. No great man has been more
extravagantly admired, and none more bitterly assailed; but generally he
is regarded as a fallen star,--a man with splendid gifts which he
wasted, for whom pity is the predominant sentiment in broad and generous
minds. With all his faults, the English-speaking people are proud of him
as one of the greatest lights in our literature; and in view of the
brilliancy of his literary career his own nation in particular does not
like to have his defects and vices dwelt upon. It blushes and condones.
It would fain blot out his life and much of his poetry if, without them,
it could preserve the best and grandest of his writings,--that
ill-disguised autobiography which goes by the name of "Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage," in which he soars to loftier flights than any English poet
from Milton to his own time. Like Shakespeare, like Dryden, like Pope,
like Burns, he was a born poet; while most of the other poets, however
eminent and excellent, were simply made,--made by study and labor on a
basis of talent, rather than exalted by native genius as he was,
speaking out what he could not help, and revelling in the richness of
unconscious gifts, whether for good or evil.

Byron was a man with qualities so generous, yet so wild, that Lamartine
was in doubt whether to call him angel or devil. But, whether angel or
devil, his life is the saddest and most interesting among all the men of
letters in the nineteenth century.

Of course, most of our material comes from his Life and Letters, as
edited by his friend and brother-poet, Thomas Moore. This biographer, I
think, has been unwisely candid in the delineation of Byron's character,
making revelations that would better have remained in doubt, and on
which friendship at least should have prompted him to a
discreet silence.

Lord Byron was descended from the Byrons of Normandy who accompanied
William the Conqueror in his invasion of England, of which illustrious
lineage the poet was prouder than of his poetry. In the reign of Henry
VIII., on the dissolution of the monasteries, a Byron came into
possession of the old mediaeval abbey of Newstead. In the reign of James
I., Sir John Byron was made a knight of the Order of the Bath. In 1784
the father of the poet, a dissipated captain of the Guards, being in
embarrassed circumstances, married a rich Scotch heiress of the name of
Gordon. Handsome and reckless, "Mad Jack Byron" speedily spent his
wife's fortune; and when he died, his widow, being reduced to a pittance
of £150 a year, retired to Scotland to live, with her infant son who had
been born in London. She was plain Mrs. Byron, widow of a "younger son,"
with but little expectation of future rank. She was a woman of caprices
and eccentricities, and not at all fitted to superintend the education
of her wayward boy.

Hence the childhood and youth of Byron were sad and unfortunate. His
temper was violent and passionate. A malformation of his foot made him
peculiarly sensitive, and the unwise treatment of his mother, fond and
harsh by turns, destroyed maternal authority. At five years of age, he
was sent to a day-school in Aberdeen, where he made but slim
attainments. Though excitable and ill-disciplined, he is said to have
been affectionate and generous, and perfectly fearless. A fit of
sickness rendered his removal from this school necessary, and he was
sent to a summer resort among the Highlands. His early impressions were
therefore favorable to the development of the imagination, coming as
they did from mountains and valleys, rivulets and lakes, near the
sources of the Dee. At the age of eight, he wrote verses and fell in
love, like Dante at the age of nine.

On the death of the grandson of the old Lord Byron in 1794, this
unpromising youth became the heir-apparent to the barony. Nor did he
have to wait long; for soon after, his grand-uncle died, and the young
Byron, whose mother was struggling with poverty, became a ward of
Chancery; and the Earl of Carlisle--one of the richest and most powerful
noblemen of the realm, a nephew by marriage of the deceased peer--was
appointed his guardian. This cold, formal, and politic nobleman took but
little interest in his ward, leaving him to the mismanagement of his
mother, who, with her boy, at the age of ten, now removed to Newstead,
the seat of his ancestors,--the government, meanwhile, for some reason
which is not explained, having conferred on her a pension of £300
a year.

One of the first things that Mrs. Byron did on her removal to Newstead
was to intrust her son to the care of a quack in Nottingham, in order to
cure him of his lameness. As the doctor was not successful, the boy was
removed to London with the double purpose of effecting a cure under an
eminent surgeon, and of educating him according to his rank; for his
education thus far had been sadly neglected, although it would appear
that he was an omnivorous reader in a desultory kind of way. The
lameness was never cured, and through life was a subject of bitter
sensitiveness on his part. Dr. Glennie of Dulwich, to whose instruction
he was now confided, found him hard to manage, because of his own
undisciplined nature and the perpetual interference of his mother. His
progress was so slow in Latin and Greek that at the end of two years, in
1801, he was removed to Harrow,--one of the great public schools of
England, of which Dr. Drury was head-master. For a year or two, owing to
that constitutional shyness which is so often mistaken for pride, young
Byron made but few friendships, although he had for school-fellows many
who were afterwards distinguished, including Sir Robert Peel. Before he
left this school for Cambridge, however, he had made many friends whom
he never forgot, being of a very generous and loving disposition. I
think that those years at Harrow were the happiest he ever knew, for he
was under a strict discipline, and was too young to indulge in those
dissipations which were the bane of his subsequent life. But he was not
distinguished as a scholar, in the ordinary sense, although in his
school-boy days he wrote some poetry remarkable for his years, and read
a great many books. He read in bed, read when no one else read, read
while eating, read all sorts of books, and was capable of great sudden
exertions, but not of continuous drudgeries, which he always abhorred.
In the year 1803, when a youth of fifteen, he formed a strong attachment
for a Miss Chaworth, two years his senior, who, looking upon him as a
mere schoolboy, treated him cavalierly, and made some slighting allusion
to "that lame boy." This treatment both saddened and embittered him.
When he left school for college he had the reputation of being an idle
and a wilful boy, with a very imperfect knowledge of Latin and Greek.

Young Byron entered Trinity College in 1805, poorly prepared, and was
never distinguished there for those attainments which win the respect of
tutors and professors. He wasted his time, and gave himself up to
pleasures,--riding, boating, bathing, and social hilarities,--yet
reading more than anybody imagined, and writing poetry, for which he had
an extraordinary facility, yet not contending for college prizes. His
intimate friends were few, but to his chosen circle he was faithful and
affectionate. No one at this time would have predicted his future
eminence. A more unpromising youth did not exist within the walls of his
college. He had a most unfortunate temper, which would have made him
unhappy under any circumstances in which he could be placed. This
temper, which he inherited from his mother--passionate, fitful, defiant,
restless, wayward, melancholy--inclined him naturally to solitude, and
often isolated him even from his friends and companions. He brooded upon
supposed wrongs, and created in his soul strong likes and dislikes. What
is worse, he took no pains to control this temperament; and at last it
mastered him, drove him into every kind of folly and rashness, and made
him appear worse than he really was.

This inborn tendency to moodiness, pride, and recklessness should be
considered in our estimate of Byron, and should modify any harshness of
judgment in regard to his character, which, in some other respects, was
interesting and noble. He was not at all envious, but frank,
warm-hearted, and true to those he loved, who were, however, very few.
If he had learned self-control, and had not been spoiled by his mother,
his career might have been far different from what it was, and would
have sustained the admiration which his brilliant genius called out
from both high and low.

As it was, Byron left college with dangerous habits, with no reputation
for scholarship, with but few friends, and an uncertain future. His
bright and witty bursts of poetry, wonderful as the youthful effusions
of Dryden and Pope, had made him known to a small circle, but had not
brought fame, for which his soul passionately thirsted from first to
last. For a nobleman he was poor and embarrassed, and his youthful
extravagances had tied up his inherited estate. He was cast upon the
world like a ship without a rudder and without ballast. He was aspiring
indeed, but without a plan, tired out and disgusted before he was
twenty-one, having prematurely exhausted the ordinary pleasures of life,
and being already inclined to that downward path which leadeth to
destruction. This was especially marked in his relations with women,
whom generally he flattered, despised, and deserted, as the amusements
of an idle hour, and yet whose society he could not do without in the
ardor of his impulsive and ungoverned affections. In that early career
of unbridled desire for excitement and pleasure, nowhere do we see a
sense of duty, a respect for the opinions of the good, a reverence for
religious institutions, or self-restraint of any kind; but these defects
were partly covered over by his many virtues and his exalted rank.

Thus far Byron was comparatively unknown. Not yet was he even a
favorite in society, beautiful and brilliant as he was; for he had few
friends, not much money, and many enemies, whom he made by his scorn and
defiance,--a born aristocrat, without having penetrated those exclusive
circles to which his birth entitled him. He was always quarrelling with
his mother, and was treated with indifference by his guardian. He was
shunned by those who adhered to the conventionalities of life, and was
pursued by bailiffs and creditors,--since his ancestral estates, small
for his rank, were encumbered and mortgaged, and Newstead Abbey itself
was in a state of dilapidation.

Within a year from leaving Cambridge, in 1807, Byron published a volume
of his juvenile poems; and although they were remarkable for a young man
of twenty, they were not of sufficient merit to attract the attention of
the public. At this time he was abstemious in eating, wishing to reduce
a tendency to corpulence. He could practise self-denial if it were to
make his person attractive, especially to ladies. Nor was he idle. His
reading, if desultory, was vast; and from the list of books which his
biographer has noted it would seem that Macaulay never read more than
Byron in a given time,--all the noted historians of England, Germany,
Rome, and Greece, with innumerable biographies, miscellanies, and even
divinity, the raw material which he afterwards worked into his poems.
How he found time to devour so many solid books is to me a mystery.
These were not merely European works, but Asiatic also. He was not a
critical scholar, but he certainly had a passing familiarity with almost
everything in literature worth knowing, which he subsequently utilized,
as seen in his "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." A college reputation was
nothing to him, any more than it was to Swift, Goldsmith, Churchill,
Gibbon, and many other famous men of letters, who left on record their
dislike of the English system of education. Among these were even such
men as Addison, Cowper, Milton, and Dryden, who were scholars, but who
alike felt that college honors and native genius did not go hand in
hand,--which might almost be regarded as the rule, but for a few
remarkable exceptions, like Sir Robert Peel and Gladstone. And yet it
would be unwise to decry college honors, since not one in a hundred of
those who obtain them by their industry, aptness, and force of will can
lay claim to what is called genius,--the rarest of all gifts. Moreover,
how impossible it is for college professors to detect in students, with
whom they are imperfectly acquainted, extraordinary faculties, more
especially if the young men are apparently idle and negligent, and
contemptuous of the college curriculum.

It was a bitter pill for Lord Byron when his juvenile poems, called
"Hours of Idleness," were so severely attacked by the Edinburgh Review.
They might have escaped the searching eyes of the critics had the author
not been a lord. At that time the great Reviews had just been started;
and it was the especial object of the Edinburgh Review to handle authors
roughly,--to condemn and not to praise. Criticism was not then a
science, as it became fifty years later, in the hands of Sainte-Beuve,
who endeavored to review every production fairly and justly. There was
nothing like justice entering into the head of Jeffrey or Sydney Smith
or Brougham, or later on of Macaulay, whose articles were often written
for political party effect. Critics, from the time of Swift down to the
middle of the century, aimed to demolish enemies, and to make party
capital; hence, as a general thing, their articles were not criticisms
at all, but attacks. And as even an Achilles was vulnerable in his heel,
so most intellectual giants have some weak point for the shafts of
malice to penetrate. Yet it is the weaknesses of great men that people
like to quote.

If Byron was humiliated, enraged, and embittered by the severity of the
Edinburgh Review, he was not crushed. He rallied, collected his
unsuspected strength, and shattered his opponents by one of the
wittiest, most brilliant, and most unscrupulous satires in our
literature, which he called "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." At the
height of his fame he regretted and suppressed this youthful production
of malice and bitterness. Yet it was the beginning of his great career,
both as to a consciousness of his own powers and in attracting the
public attention. It was doubtless unwise, since he attacked many who
were afterwards his friends, and since he sowed the seeds of hatred
among those who might otherwise have been his admirers or apologists. He
had to learn the truth that "with what measure ye mete it shall be
measured to you again." The creators of public opinion in reference to
Byron have not been women of fashion, or men of the world, but literary
lions themselves,--like Thackeray, who detested him, and the whole
school of pharisaic ecclesiastical dignitaries, who abhorred in him
sentiments which they condoned in Fielding, in Burns, in Rousseau, and
in Voltaire.

Before his bitter satire was published, however, Byron took his seat in
the House of Lords, not knowing any peer sufficiently to be introduced
by him. His guardian, Lord Carlisle, treated him very shabbily, refusing
to furnish to the Lord Chancellor some important information, of a
technical kind, which refusal delayed the ceremony for several weeks,
until the necessary papers could be procured from Cornwall relating to
the marriage of one of his ancestors. Unfriended and alone, Byron sat on
the scarlet benches of the House of Lords until he was formally admitted
as a peer. But when the Lord Chancellor left the woolsack to
congratulate him, and with a smiling face extended his hand, the
embittered young peer bowed coldly and stiffly, and simply held out two
or three of his fingers,--an act of impudence for which there was
no excuse.

It is difficult to understand why Lord Byron should have had so few
friends or even acquaintances at that time among people of his rank. At
twenty-one, he was a lonely and solitary man, mortified by the attack of
the Edinburgh Review, exasperated by injustice, morose even to
misanthropy, and decidedly sceptical in his religious opinions. Newstead
Abbey was a burden to him, since he could not keep it up. He owed
£10,000. He had no domestic ties, except to a mother with whom he could
not live. His poetry had not brought him fame, for which of all things
he most ardently thirsted. His love affairs were unfortunate, and tinged
his soul with sadness and melancholy. Nor had fashion as yet marked him
for her own. He craved excitement, and society to him was dull and
conventional.

It is not surprising that under these circumstances Byron made up his
mind to travel: he did not much care whither, provided he had new
experiences. "The grand tour" which educated young men of leisure and
fortune took in that day had no charm for him, since he wished to avoid
rather than to seek society in those cities which the English
frequented. He did not care to see the literary lions of France or
Germany or Italy, for though a nobleman, he was too young and
unimportant to be much noticed, and he was too shy and too proud to make
advances which might be rebuffed, wounding his _amour propre._

He set out on his pilgrimage the latter part of June, 1809, in a ship
bound for Lisbon, with a small suite of servants. Going to a land where
Nature was most enchanting, he was sufficiently enthusiastic over the
hills and vales and villages of Portugal. As for comfort, he expected
little, and found less; but to this he was indifferent so long as he
could swim in the Tagus, and ride on a mule, and procure eggs and wine.
He was delighted with Cadiz, to him a Cythera, with its beautiful but
uneducated women, where the wives of peasants were on a par with the
wives of dukes in cultivation, and where the minds of both had but one
idea,--that of intrigue. He hastily travelled through Spain on
horseback, in August, reaching Gibraltar, from which he embarked for
Malta and the East.

It was Greece and Turkey that Byron most wished to see and know; and,
favored by introductions, he was cordially received by governors and
pashas. At Athens, and other classical spots, he lingered enchanted, yet
suppressing his enthusiasm in the contempt he had for the affected
raptures of ordinary travellers. It was not the country alone, with its
classical associations, which interested him, but also its maidens, with
their dark hair and eyes, whom he idealized almost into goddesses.
Everything he saw was picturesque, unique, and fascinating. The days and
weeks flew rapidly away in dreamy enchantment.

After nearly three months at Athens, Byron embarked for Smyrna, and
explored the ruins of the old Ionian cities, thence proceeding to
Constantinople, with a view of visiting Persia and the farther East. In
a letter to Mr. Henry Drury, he says:--

"I have left my home, and seen part of Africa and Asia, and a tolerable
portion of Europe. I have been with generals and admirals, princes and
pashas, governors and ungovernables. Albania, indeed, I have seen more
than any Englishman, except Mr. Leake,--a country rarely visited, from
the savage character of the natives, but abounding more in natural
beauties than the classical regions of Greece."

A glimpse of Byron's inner life at this time is caught in the following
extract from a letter to another friend:

"I have now been nearly a year abroad, and hope you will find me an
altered personage,--I do not mean in body, but in manners; for I begin
to find out that nothing but virtue will do in this d--d world. I am
tolerably sick of vice, which I have tried in its agreeable varieties,
and mean on my return to cut all my dissolute acquaintance, leave off
wine and carnal company, and betake myself to politics and decorum."

One thing we notice in most of the familiar letters of Byron,--that he
makes frequent use of a vulgar expletive. But when I remember that the
Prince of Wales, the Lord Chancellor, the judges, the lawyers, the
ministers of the Crown, and many other distinguished people were
accustomed to use the same expression, I would fain hope that it was not
meant for profanity, but was a sort of fashionable slang intended only
to be emphatic. Fifty years have seen a great improvement in the use of
language, and the vulgarism which then appeared to be of slight
importance is now regarded, almost universally with gentlemen, to be at
least in very bad taste. How far Byron transgressed beyond the frequent
use of this expletive, does not appear either in his letters or in his
biography; yet from his irreverent nature, and the society with which he
was associated, it is more than probable that in him profanity was
added to the other vices of his times.

Especially did he indulge in drinking to excess in all convivial
gatherings. It was seldom that gentlemen sat down to a banquet without
each despatching two or three bottles of wine in the course of an
evening. No wonder that gout was the pervading disease among county
squires, and even among authors and statesman. Morality was not one of
the features of English society one hundred years ago, except as it
consisted in a scrupulous regard for domesticity, truth, and honor, and
abhorrence of meanness and hypocrisy.

It would be difficult to point out any defects and excesses of which
Byron was guilty at this period beyond what were common to other
fashionable young men of rank and leisure, except a spirit of religious
scepticism and impiety, and a wanton and inexcusable recklessness in
regard to women, which made him a slave to his passions. The first
alienated him, so far as he was known, from the higher respectable
classes, who generally were punctilious in the outward observances of
religion; and the second made him abhorred by the virtuous middle class,
who never condoned his transgressions in this respect. But at this time
his character was not generally known. It was not until he was seated on
the pinnacle of fame that public curiosity penetrated the scandals of
his private life. He was known only as a young nobleman in quest of the
excitements of foreign travel, and his letters of introduction procured
him all the society he craved. Not yet had he expressed bitterness and
wrath against the country which gave him birth; he simply found England
dull, and craved adventures in foreign lands as unlike England as he
could find. The East stimulated his imagination, and revived his
classical associations. He saw the Orient only as an enthusiastic poet
would see it, and as Lamartine saw Jerusalem. But Byron was more curious
about the pagan cities of antiquity than concerning the places
consecrated by the sufferings of our Lord. He cared more to swim across
the Hellespont with Leander than to wander over the sacred hills of
Judaea; to idealize a beautiful peasant girl among the ruins of Greece,
than converse with the monks of Palestine in their gloomy retreats.

The result of Byron's travels was seen in the first two cantos of
"Childe Harold," showing alike the fertility of his mind and the
aspirations of a lofty genius. These were published in 1812, soon after
his return to England, at the age of twenty-four. They took England by
storm, creating both surprise and admiration. Public curiosity and
enthusiasm for the young poet, who had mounted to the front ranks of
literature at a single leap, was unbounded and universal. As he himself
wrote: "I awoke one morning and found myself famous."

Young Byron was now sought, courted, and adored, especially by ladies of
the highest rank. Everybody was desirous to catch even a glimpse of the
greatest poet that had appeared since Pope and Dryden; any palace or
drawing-room he desired to enter was open to him. He was surfeited with
roses and praises and incense. He alone took precedence over Scott and
Coleridge and Moore and Campbell. For a time his pre-eminence in
literature was generally conceded. He was the foremost man of letters of
his day, and the greatest popular idol. His rank added to his _éclat_,
since not many noblemen were distinguished for genius or literary
excellence. His singular beauty of face and person, despite his slight
lameness, attracted the admiring gaze of women. What Abélard was in the
schools of philosophy, Byron was in the drawing-rooms of London. People
forgot his antecedents, so far as they were known, in the intoxication
of universal admiration and unbounded worship of genius. No poet in
English history was ever seated on a prouder throne, and no heathen
deity was ever more indifferent than he to the incense of idolaters.

Far be it from me to attempt an analysis of the merits of the poem with
which the fame of Byron will be forever identified. Its great merits
are universally conceded; and while it has defects,--great inequalities
in both style and matter; some stanzas supernal in beauty, and others
only mediocre,--on the whole, the poem is extraordinary. Byron adopted
the Spenserian measure,--perhaps the most difficult of all measures,
hard even to read aloud,--in which blank verse seems to blend with
rhyme. It might be either to the ear, though to the eye it is elaborate
rhyme,--such as would severely task a made poet, but which this born
poet seems to have thrown off without labor. The leading peculiarity of
the poem is description,--of men and places; of the sea, the mountain,
and the river; of Nature in her loveliness and mysteries; of cities and
battle-fields consecrated by the heroism of brave and gifted men, in
Greece, in Rome, in mediaeval Europe,--with swift passing glances at
salient points in history, showing extensive reading and deep
meditation.

As to the spirit of "Childe Harold," it is not satirical; it is more
pensive than bitter, and reveals the loneliness and sorrows of an
unsatisfied soul,--the unrest of a pilgrim in search for something new.
It seeks to penetrate the secrets of struggling humanity, at war often
with those certitudes which are the consolation of our inner life. It
everywhere recognizes the soul as that which gives greatest dignity to
man. It invokes love as the noblest joy of life. The poem is one of the
most ideal of human productions, soaring beyond what is material and
transient. It is not religious, not reverential, not Christian, like the
"Divine Comedy" and the "Paradise Lost;" and yet it is lofty, aspiring,
exulting in what is greatest in deed or song, destined to immortality of
fame and admiration. It is a confession, indirectly, of the follies and
shortcomings of the author, and of their retribution, but complains
not of the Nemesis that avenges everything. It is sensitive of
wrongs and injustices and misrepresentations, but does not hurl
anathemas,--speaking in sorrow rather than in anger, except in regard to
hypocrisies and shams and lies, when its scorn is intense and terrible.

The whole poem is brilliant and original, but does not flash like fire
in a dark night. It was written with the heart's blood, and is as
earnest as it is penetrating. It does not ascend to the higher mysteries
forever veiled from mortal eye, nor descend to the deepest depths of
hatred and despair, but confines itself to those passions which have
marked gifted mortals, and those questionings in which all thoughtful
minds have ever delighted. It does not make revelations like "Hamlet" or
"Macbeth;" it does not explore secrets hidden forever from ordinary
minds, like "Faust;" but it muses and meditates on what Fate and Time
have brought to pass,--such events as have been revealed in history. It
invokes the neglected but impressive monuments of antiquity to tell the
tales of glory and of shame. In moral wisdom it is vastly inferior to
Shakspeare, and it is not rich in those wise and striking lines which
pass into the proverbs of the world; but it has the glow of a poetic
soul, longing for fame, craving love, and not unmindful of immortality.
Its most beautiful stanzas are full of tenderness and sadness for lost
or unrequited affections; of reproachless sorrow for broken friendships,
in which the soul would fain have lived but for inconsistencies and
contradictions which made true and permanent love impossible. The poem
paints a paradise lost, rather than a paradise regained. I wonder at its
popularity, for it seems to me too deep and learned for popular
appreciation, except in those stanzas where pathos or enthusiasm,
expressed in matchless language, appeal to the heart and soul.

Of all modern poets, Byron is the most human and outspoken, daring to
say what many would fear or blush to meditate upon. He fearlessly
reveals the infirmities and audacities of a double and mysterious
nature, made up of dust and deity, now grovelling in the mire, then
borne aloft to the skies,--the football of the eternal powers of good
and evil, enslaved and yet to be emancipated, as we may hope, in the
last and final struggle, when the soul is rescued by Omnipotence.

I have alluded to the triumphs of Byron on the publication of "Childe
Harold,"--but his joys were more than balanced by his sorrows. His
mother died suddenly without seeing him. His dearest friend Mathews was
drowned. He was hampered by creditors. He made no mark in the House of
Lords, and was sick of what he called "parliamentary mummeries." His
habits became more and more dissipated among the boon companions who
courted his society. His reputation after a while began to wane, for
people became ashamed of their enthusiasm. Some critics disparaged his
poetry, and conventional circles were shocked by his morals. Three years
of London life told on his constitution, and he was completely
disenchanted. He sought retirement and solitude, for not even the most
brilliant society satisfied him. He wearied of such a woman and admirer
as Madame de Staël. He went to Holland House--that resort of all the
eminent ones of the time--as seldom as he could. He buried himself with
a few intimate friends, chiefly poets, among whom were Moore and Rogers.
He saw and liked Sir Walter Scott, but did not push his acquaintance to
intimacy. The larger part of his letters were written to Murray, the
publisher, who treated him generously; but Byron gave away his literary
gains to personal friends in need. He seemed to scorn copyrights for
support. He would write only for fame.

At the age of twenty-seven, in January, 1815, Byron married Miss
Milbanke,--a lady whom he did not love, but to whom he was attracted by
her supposed wealth, which would patch up his own fortunes. He had great
respect for this lady and some friendship; but with all her virtues and
attainments she was cold, conventional, and exacting. A mystery shrouds
this unfortunate affair, which has never been fully revealed. The upshot
was that, to Byron's inexpressible humiliation, in less than a year she
left him, never to return. No reasons were given. It was enough that
both parties were unhappy, and had cause to be; and both kept silence.

But the voice of rumor and scandal was not silent. All the failings of
Byron were now exaggerated and dwelt upon by those who envied him, and
by those who hated him,--for his enemies were more numerous than his
friends. Those whom he had snubbed or ridiculed or insulted now openly
turned against him. The conventional public had a rare subject for their
abuse or indignation. Proper people, religious people, and commonplace
people, joined in the cry against a man with whom a virtuous woman could
not live. Indeed, no woman could have lived happily with Byron; and
very few were the women with whom he could have lived happily, by reason
of that irritability and unrest which is so common with genius. The
habits of abstraction and contemplation which absorbed much of his time
at home were not easily understood by an ordinary woman, to whom social
life is necessary.

Byron lived much in his library, which was his solitary luxury. In the
revelry of the imagination his heart became cold. "To follow poetry,"
says Pope, "one must leave father and mother, and cleave to it
alone,"--as Dante and Petrarch and Milton did. Not even Byron's intense
craving for affection could be satisfied when he was dwelling on the
ideals which his imagination created, and which scarcely friendship
could satisfy. Even so good a man as Carlyle lived among his books
rather than in the society of his wife, whom he really loved, and whose
virtues and attainments he appreciated and admired. An affectionate
woman runs a great risk in marrying an absorbed and preoccupied man of
genius, even if his character be reproachless. Unfortunately, the
character of Byron was anything but reproachless, and no one knew this
better than his wife, which knowledge doubtless alienated what little
affection she had for him. He seems to have sought low company even
after his marriage, and Lady Byron has intimated that she did not think
him altogether sane. Living with him as his wife was insupportable; but
though she separated from him, she did not seek a divorce.

Byron would not have married at all if he had consulted his happiness,
and still more his fame. "In reviewing the great names of philosophy and
science, we shall find that those who have most distinguished themselves
have virtually admitted their own unfitness for the marriage tie by
remaining in celibacy,--Newton, Gassendi, Galileo, Descartes, Bayle,
Locke, Leibnitz, Boyle, Hume, Gibbon, Macaulay, and a host of others."

The scandal which Byron's separation from his wife created, and his
known and open profligacy, at last shut him out from the society of
which he had been so bright an ornament. It is a peculiarity of the
English people, which redounds to their honor, to exclude from public
approbation any man, however gifted or famous, who has outraged the
moral sense by open and ill-disguised violation of the laws of morality.
The cases of Dilke and Parnell in our own day are illustrations known to
all. What in France or Italy is condoned, is never pardoned or forgotten
in England. Not even a Voltaire, a Rousseau, or a Mirabeau, had they
lived in England, could have been accepted by English society,--much
less a man who scorned and ridiculed it. Even Byron--for a few years
the pet, the idol, and the glory of the country--was not too high to
fall. To quote one of his own stanzas,--

     "He who ascends to mountain-tops shall find
      The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
      He who surpasses or subdues mankind
      Must look down on the hate of those below.
      Though high above the sun of glory glow,
      And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
      Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
      Contending tempests on his naked head."

Embarrassed in his circumstances; filled with disgust, mortification,
and shame; excluded from the proudest circles,--Byron now resolved to
leave England forever, and bury himself in such foreign lands as were
most congenial to his tastes and habits. But for his immorality he might
still have shined at an exalted height; for he had not yet written
anything which shocked the practical English mind. The worst he had
written was bitter satire, yet not more bitter than that of Swift or
Pope. No defiance, no blasphemous sentiments, or what seemed to many to
be such, had yet escaped him. His "Corsair" and his "Bride of Abydos"
appeared soon after the "Childe Harold," and added to his fame by their
exquisite melody of rhyme and sentimental admiration for Oriental
life,--though even these were tinged with that _abandon_ which
afterwards made his latter poems a scandal and reproach. "The
disappointment of youthful passion, the lassitude and remorse of
premature excess, the lone friendlessness of his life," and, I may add,
the reproaches of society, induced him to fly from the scene of his
brilliant successes, filled with blended sentiments of scorn, hatred,
defiance, and despair.

In the Spring of 1816, at the age of twenty-eight, Byron left England
forever,--a voluntary exile on the face of the earth, saddened,
embittered, and disappointed. It was to Italy that he turned his steps,
passing through Brussels and Flanders, lingering on the Rhine, enamored
with its ruined castles, still more with Nature, and making a long stay
in Switzerland. Here he visited the Castle of Chillon, all the spots
made memorable by the abodes of Rousseau, Gibbon, and Madame de Staël,
and all the most interesting scenery of the Bernese Alps,--Lake Leman,
Interlaken, Thun, the Jungfrau, the glaciers, Brientz, Chamouni, Berne,
and on to Geneva, where he made the acquaintance of Shelley and his
wife. The Shelleys he found most congenial, and stayed with them some
time. While in the neighborhood of Geneva he produced the third canto of
"Childe Harold," "The Prisoner of Chillon," "A Dream," and other things.
In October, he passed on to Milan, Verona, and Venice; and in this
latter city he took up his residence.

Oh that we could blot out Byron's life in Venice, made up of love
adventures and dissipation and utter abandonment to those pleasures that
appealed to his lower nature, as if he were possessed by a demon,
utterly reckless of his health, his character, and his fame! Venice was
then the most immoral city in Italy, given over to idleness and
pleasure. It was here that Byron's contempt for woman became fixed,
seeing only her weaknesses and follies; and it was this contempt of
woman which intensified the abhorrence in which his character was
generally held, in the most respectable circles in England. Even in
distant Venice his baleful light was not under a bushel, and the
scandals of his life extended far and wide,--especially that in
reference to Margherita Cogni, an illiterate virago who could neither
read nor write, and whom he was finally compelled to discard on account
of the violence of her temper, after living with her in the most
open manner.

And yet, in all this degradation, he was not idle. How could so prolific
a writer be idle! Byron did not ordinarily rise till two o'clock in the
afternoon, and spent the interval between his breakfast and dinner in
riding on the Lido,--one of those long narrow islands which lie between
the Adriatic and the Lagoon, in the midst of which Venice is built, on
the islets arising from its shallow waters. Yet he found time to begin
his "Don Juan," besides writing the "Lament of Tasso," the tragedy of
"Manfred," and an Armenian grammar, all which appeared in 1817; in 1818,
"Beppo," and in 1819, "Mazeppa." He also made a flying trip to Florence
and Rome, and some of the finest stanzas of "Childe Harold" are
descriptions of the classic ruins and the masterpieces of Grecian and
mediaeval art,--the beauties and the associations of Italy's
great cities.

       "I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs;
        A palace and a prison on each hand:
        I saw from out the wave her structures rise
        As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand!
        A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
        Around me, and a dying glory smiles
        O'er the far times, when many a subject land
        Looked to the wingèd Lion's marble piles,
      Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!"

Byron's correspondence was small, being chiefly confined to his
publisher, to Moore, and to a few intimate friends. These letters are
interesting because of their frankness and wit, although they are not
models of fine writing. Indeed, I do not know where to find any
specimens of masterly prose in all his compositions. He was simply a
poet, facile in every form of measure from Spenser to Campbell. No
remarkable prose writings appeared in England at all, at that time,
until Sir Walter Scott's novels were written, and until Macaulay,
Carlyle, and Lamb wrote their inimitable essays. Nothing is more heavy
and unartistic than Moore's "Life of Byron;" there is hardly a brilliant
paragraph in it,--and yet Moore is one of the most musical and melodious
of all the English poets. Milton, indeed, was equally great in prose and
verse, but very few men have been distinguished as prose writers and
poets at the same time. Sir Walter Scott and Southey are the most
remarkable exceptions. I think that Macaulay could have been
distinguished as a poet, if he had so pleased; but he would have been a
literary poet like Wordsworth or Tennyson or Coleridge,--not a man who
sings out of his soul because he cannot help it, like Byron or Burns, or
like Whittier among our American poets.

It was not until 1819, when Byron had been three years in Venice, that
he fell in love with the Countess Guiccioli, the wife of one of the
richest nobles of Italy,--young, beautiful, and interesting. This love
seems to have been disinterested and lasting; and while it was a
violation of all the rules of morality, and would not have been allowed
in any other country than Italy, it did not further degrade him. It was
pretty much such a love as Voltaire had for Madame de Châtelet; and with
it he was at last content. There is no evidence that Byron ever afterward
loved any other woman; and what is very singular about the affair
is that it was condoned by the husband, until it became a scandal
even in Italy.

The countess was taken ill on her way to Ravenna, and thither Byron
followed her, and lived in the same palace with her,--the palace of her
husband, who courted the poet's society, and who afterward left his
young countess to free intercourse with Byron at Bologna,--not without a
compensation in revenue, which was more disgraceful than the amour
itself. About this time Byron would probably have returned to England
but for the enchantment which enslaved him. He could not part from the
countess, nor she from him.

The Pope pronounced the separation of the count from his wife, and she
returned to her father's house on a pittance of £200 a year. She
sacrificed everything for the young English poet,--her splendid home,
her relatives, her honor, and her pride. Never was there a sadder
episode in the life of a man of letters. If Byron had married such a
woman in his early life, how different might have been his history! With
such a love as she inspired, had he been faithful to it, he might have
lived in radiant happiness, the idol and the pride of all admirers of
genius wherever the English language is spoken, seated on a throne
which kings might envy. So much have circumstances to do with human
destinies! Since Abélard, never was there a man more capable of a
genuine fervid love than Byron; and yet he threw himself away. He was
his own worst enemy, and all from an ill-regulated nature which he
inherited both from his father and his mother, with no Mentor to whom he
would listen. And thus his star sunk down in the eternal shades,--a
fallen Lucifer expelled from bliss.

I would not condone the waywardness and vices of Byron, or weaken the
eternal distinctions between right and wrong. The impression I wish to
convey is that there were two very distinctly marked sides to his
character; that his conduct was not without palliations, in view of his
surroundings, the force of his temptations, and his wayward nature,
uncurbed by parental care or early training, indeed rather goaded on by
the unfortunate conditions of his youth to find consolation in doing as
he liked, without regard to duty or the opinions of society. Born with
the keenest sensibilities, with emotive powers of tremendous sweep and
force; neglected, crossed, mortified, with no wise guidance,--he was
driven in upon himself, and developed an intense self-will, which would
endure no control. Unhappy will be the future of that man, however
amiable, affectionate, and generous, who, whether from neglect in
youth, like Byron, or from sheer wilfulness in manhood, determines to
act as the mood takes him, because he has freedom of will, without
regard to the social restraints imposed upon conscience by the unwritten
law, which pursues him wherever he goes, even should he fly to the
uttermost parts of the earth. No one can escape from moral
accountability, whether in a seductive paradise, or in a dungeon, or in
a desert. The only stability, for society must be in the character of
its individual members. Before pleasure comes duty,--to family, to
friends, to country, to self, and to the Maker.

This sense of moral accountability Byron seems never to have had, in
regard to anybody or anything, his self-indulgence culminating in an
egotism melancholy to behold. He would go where he pleased, say what he
pleased, write as he pleased, do what he pleased, without any
constraint, whether in opposition or not to the customs and rules of
society, his own welfare, or the laws of God. It was moral madness
pursuing him to destruction,--the logical and necessary sequence of
unrestrained self-will, sometimes assuming the form of angelic
loveliness and inspiration in the eyes of his idolaters. No counsellor
guided him wiser than Moore or Shelley. Even the worldly advice of
Rogers and Madame de Staël was thrown away, whenever they presumed to
counsel him. Nobody could influence him. His abandonment to fitful
labors or pleasures was alike his glory and his shame. After a day of
frivolity he would consume the midnight hours in the intensest studies,
stimulated by gin, to awake in the morning in lassitude or pain,--for
work he must, as well as play. The consequence of this burning the
candle at both ends was failing health and diminished energies, until
his short race was run. He had produced more poetry at thirty-four years
of age than any other English poet at the age of fifty,--some of almost
transcendent merit, but more of questionable worth, though not of
questionable power. Aside from the "Childe Harold," the "Hebrew
Melodies," the "Prisoner of Chillon," and perhaps the "Corsair," the
"Bride of Abydos," "Lara," and the "Siege of Corinth," the rest,
excepting minor poems, however beautiful in measure and grand in
thought, give a shock to the religious or to the moral sentiments.
"Cain" and "Manfred" are regarded as almost blasphemous, though probably
not so meant to be by the poet, in view of the stirring questions of
Grecian tragedy; while the longest of his poems, "Don Juan," is an
insult to womanhood and a disgrace to genius; for although containing
some of the most exquisite touches of description and finest flights of
poetic feeling, its theme is along the lowest level of human passion.

Whatever Byron wrote was unhesitatingly published and read, whether
good or evil, whatever were those follies and defiances which excluded
him from the best society; and it is a matter of surprise to me that any
noted and wealthy publisher could be found, in respectable and
conventional England, venal enough to publish perhaps the most
corrupting poem in our language,--worse than anything which Boccaccio
wrote for his Italian readers, or anything which plain-spoken Fielding
and the dramatists of the reign of Charles II. ever allowed to go into
print; for though they were coarser in their language, they were not so
seductive in their spirit, and did not poison the soul like "Don Juan,"
the very name of which has become a synonym for extreme depravity. That
abominable poem was read because Lord Byron wrote it, and because its
immorality was slightly veiled by the beauty of the language, even when
a copy could not be found on the table of any respectable drawing-room,
and the name of the author was seldom mentioned except with stern and
honest censure. It is perhaps fair to quote Murray's own words, throwing
the responsibility on the public: "They talked of his immoral writings;
but there is a whole row of sermons glued to my shelf. I hate the sight
of them. Why don't they buy those?" A fair enough retort; and yet, like
the newspaper purveyors of the records of vice in our own day, the
publisher was responsible for making the vile stuff accessible, and thus
debasing the public taste.

How different was Byron's painting of Spanish life from that of the
immortal Cervantes, whom Lowell places among the five master geniuses of
the world! In "Don Quixote" there is not a sentence which does not exalt
woman, or which degrades man. A lofty ideal of purity and chivalrous
honor permeates every page, even in the most ludicrous scenes. The whole
work blazes with wit, and with the wisdom of a proverbial philosophy,
uttered by the ignorant squire of a fanatical and bewildered knight; but
amidst the practical jokes and follies of all the characters in that
marvellous work of fiction, we see also a moral beauty, idealized of
course, such as was rivalled only in Spanish art in the Madonnas of
Murillo. I believe that in the imaginary sketches of Spanish life as
portrayed by Byron, slanders and lies deface the poem from beginning to
end. Who is the best authority for truthfulness in the description of
Spanish people, Cervantes or Byron? The spiritual loftiness portrayed in
the lives of Spanish heroes and heroines, mixed up as it was with the
most ludicrous pictures of common life, has made the Spaniard's work of
fiction one of the most treasured and enduring monuments of human fame;
whereas the insulting innuendoes of the English poet have gone far to
rob him of the glory which he had justly won in his earlier productions,
and to make his name a doubt. If, in the course of generations yet to
come, the evil which Byron did by that one poem alone shall be forgotten
in the services he rendered to our literature by other works, which
cannot die, then he may some day be received into the Pantheon of the
benefactors of mind.

I would speak with less vehemence in reference to those poems which are
generally supposed to be permeated with defiance, scorn, and
misanthropy. In "Manfred" and "Cain," it was with Byron a work of art to
describe the utterances of impious spirits against the sovereign rule of
God. Had he not fallen from high estate as an interpreter of the soul,
the critics might have seen here nothing more to condemn than in some of
the Grecian tragedies, many passages in the "Paradise Lost," and in the
general spirit of "Faust." It is no proof that he was a blasphemer in
his heart because he painted blasphemy. To describe a wanderer on the
face of the earth, driven hither and thither by pursuing vengeance as
the first recorded murderer, the poet was obliged by all the rules of
art to put such sentiments into his mouth as accorded with his
unrepented crime and his dreadful agonies of mind and soul. Where is the
proof that they were _his own_ agonies, remorse, despair? Surely, we may
pardon in Byron what we excuse in Goethe in the delineation of unique
characters,--the great creations which belong to the realm of the
imagination alone. The imputation that the sayings of his fallen fiends
were the cherished sentiments of the poet himself, may have been one
cause of his contempt for the average intelligence of his countrymen,
and for their inveterate and incurable prejudices. Nothing in Dante is
more intense and concentrated in language than the malediction of Eve
upon her fratricidal son:--

     "May the grass wither from thy feet! the woods
      Deny thee shelter! earth a home! the dust
      A gravel the Sun his light! and Heaven her God!"

Yet the reader feels the naturalness of this bitter cursing of her own
son by the frenzied mother. How could a great artist like Byron put
sentiments into the mouth of Cain such as would be harmless in the
essays of a country parson? If he painted Lucifer, he must make him
speak like Lucifer, not like a theological professor. Nothing could be
more ungenerous and narrow than to abuse Byron for a dramatic poem in
which some of his characters were fiends rather than men. We have no
more right to say that he was an infidel because Cain or Lucifer
blasphemed, than to say that Goethe was an atheist because
Mephistopheles denied God.

If Byron had avowed atheistical opinions in letters or conversations,
that would be another thing; but there is no evidence that he did, and
much to the contrary. A few months before he died he was visited by a
pious crank, who out of curiosity or Christian zeal sought to know his
theological views. Byron treated him with the greatest courtesy, and
freely communicated his opinions on religious subjects,--from which it
would appear that he differed from church people generally only on the
matter of eternal punishment, which he did not believe was consistent
with infinite love or infinite justice. Perhaps it would have been wiser
if he had not written "Cain" at all, considering how many readers there
are without brains, and how large was the class predisposed to judge him
harshly in everything. No doubt he was irreligious and sceptical, but it
does not follow from this that he was atheistical or blasphemous.

There is doubtless a misanthropic vein in all Byron's later poetry which
is not wholesome for many people to read,--especially in "Manfred," one
of the bitterest of his productions by reason of sorrows and
disappointments and misrepresentations. It was Byron's misfortune to
appear worse than he really was, owing to his unconcealed contempt for
the opinions of mankind. Yet he could not complain that he reaped what
he had not sown. Some of his biographers thought him to be at this time
even morbidly desirous of a bad reputation,--going so far as to write
paragraphs against himself in foreign journals, and being filled with
glee at the joke, when they were republished in English newspapers. He
despised and defied all conventionalities, and conventional England
dropped him from her list of favorites.

The life of Byron, strange to say, was less exposed to scandal after he
made the acquaintance of the countess who enslaved him, and who was also
enslaved in turn. His heart now opened to many noble sentiments. He
returned, in a degree, to society, and gave dinners and suppers. He
associated with many distinguished patriots and men of genius. He had a
strong sympathy with the Italians in their struggle for freedom. One
quarter of his income he devoted to charities. He was regular in his
athletic exercises, and could swim four hours at a time; he was always
proud of swimming across the Hellespont. He was devoted to his natural
daughter, and educated her in a Catholic school. He studied more
severely all works of art, though his admiration for art was never so
great as it was for Nature. The glories and wonders of Nature inspired
him with perpetual joys. There is nothing finer in all his poetry than
the following stanza:--

     "Ye stars! which are the poetry of Heaven,
      If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
      Of men and empires,--'t is to be forgiven
      That in our aspirations to be great
      Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state,
      And claim a kindred with you; for ye are
      A beauty and a mystery, and create
      In us such love and reverence from afar,
  That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves a star."

There never was a time when Byron did not seek out beautiful retreats in
Nature as the source of his highest happiness. Hence, solitude was
nothing to him when he could commune with the works of God. His
biographer declares that in 1821 "he was greatly improved in every
respect,--in genius, in temper, in moral views, in health and happiness.
He has had mischievous passions, but these he seems to have subdued." He
was always temperate in his diet, living chiefly on fish and vegetables;
and if he drank more wine and spirits than was good for him, it was to
rally his exhausted energies. His powers of production were never
greater than at this period, but his literary labors were slowly wearing
him out. He could not live without work, while pleasure palled upon him.
In a letter to a stranger who sought to convert him, he showed anything
but anger or contempt. "Do me," says he, "the justice to suppose, that
_Video meliora proboque_, however the _deteriora sequor_ may have been
applied to my conduct." Writing to Murray in 1822, he says: "It is not
impossible that I may have three or four cantos of 'Don Juan' ready by
autumn, as I obtained a permission from my dictatress [the Countess
Guiccioli] to continue it,--provided always it was to be more guarded
and decorous in the continuation than in the commencement." Alas, he
could not undo the mischief he had done!

About this time Byron received a visit from Lord Clare, his earliest
friend at Cambridge, to whom through life he was devotedly attached,--a
friendship which afforded exceeding delight. He never forgot his few
friends, although he railed at his enemies. He was ungenerously treated
by Leigh Hunt, to whom he rendered every kindness. He says,--

"I have done all I could for him since he came here [Genoa], but it is
all most useless. His wife is ill, his six children far from tractable,
and in worldly affairs he himself is a child. The death of Shelley left
them totally aground; and I could not see them in such a state without
using the common feelings of humanity, and what means were in my power,
to set them afloat again.... As to any community of feeling, thought, or
opinion between him and me there is little or none; but I think him a
good-principled man, and must do as I would be done by."

Toward Shelley, Byron entertained the greatest respect and affection for
his suavity, gentleness, and good breeding; and Shelley's accidental
death was a great shock to him. Among his other intimate acquaintances
in Italy were Lord and Lady Blessington, with whom he kept up a pleasant
correspondence. The most plaintive, sad, and generous of all his letters
was the one he wrote to Lady Byron from Pisa, in 1821, in acknowledgment
of the receipt of a tress of his daughter Ada's hair:--

"The time which has elapsed since our separation has been considerably
more than the whole brief period of our union and of our prior
acquaintance. We both made a bitter mistake; but now it is over, and
irrecoverably so.... But this very impossibility of reunion seems to me
at least a reason why on all the few points of discussion which can
arise between us, we should preserve the courtesies of life, and as much
of its kindness as people who are never to meet may preserve more easily
than nearer connections.... I assure you I bear you now no resentment
whatever. Whether the offence has been solely on my side, or reciprocal,
or on yours chiefly, I have ceased to reflect upon any but two
things,--that you are the mother of my child, and that we shall never
meet again."

At this period, about a year before Byron's death, Moore thus writes:--

"To the world, and more especially England, he presented himself in no
other aspect than that of a stern, haughty misanthrope, self-banished
from the society of men, and most of all from that of Englishmen. The
more beautiful and genial inspirations of his muse were looked upon but
as lucid intervals between the paroxysms of an inherent malignancy of
nature. But how totally all this differed from the Byron of the social
hour, they who lived in familiar intercourse with him may be safely left
to tell. As it was, no English gentleman ever approached him with the
common forms of introduction, that did not come away at once surprised
and charmed by the kind courtesy of his manners, the unpretending play
of his conversation, and on nearer intercourse the frank, youthful
spirits, to the flow of which he gave way with such zest as to produce
the impression that gaiety was after all the true bent of his
disposition."

Scott, writing of him after his death, says,--

"In talents he was unequalled; and his faults were those rather of a
bizarre temper, arising from an eager and irritable nervous habit, than
any depravity of disposition. He was devoid of selfishness, which I take
to be the basest ingredient in the human composition. He was generous,
humane, and noble-minded, when passion did not blind him."

About this time, 1823, the great struggle of the Greeks to shake off the
Ottoman yoke was in progress. I have already in another volume[1]
attempted to give the facts in relation to that memorable movement.
Christendom sympathized with the gallant but apparently hopeless
struggle of a weak nation to secure its independence, both from a
sentiment of admiration for the freedom of ancient Greece in the period
of its highest glories, and from the love of liberty which animated the
liberal classes amid the political convulsions of the day. But the
governments of Europe were loath to complicate the difficulties which
existed between nations in that stormy period, and dared not extend any
open aid to struggling Greece, beyond giving their moral aid to the
Greek cause, lest it should embroil Europe in war, of which she was
weary. Less than ten years had elapsed since Europe had combined to
dethrone Napoleon, and some of her leading powers, like Austria and
Russia, had a detestation of popular insurrections.

In this complicated state of political affairs, when any indiscretion on
the part of friendly governments might kindle anew the flames of war,
Lord Byron was living in Genoa, taking such an interest in the Greek
struggle that he abandoned poetry for politics. He had always
sympathized with enslaved nations struggling for independence, and was
driven from Ravenna on account of his alliance with the revolutionary
Society of the Carbonari. A new passion now seized him. He entered heart
and soul into the struggles of the Greeks. Their cause absorbed him. He
would aid them to the full extent of his means, with money and arms, as
a private individual. He would be a political or military hero,--a man
of action, not of literary leisure.

Every lover of liberty must respect Byron's noble aspirations to assist
the Greeks. It was a new field for him, but one in which he might
retrieve his reputation,--for it must be borne in mind that his ruling
passion was fame, and that he had gained all he could expect by his
literary productions. Whether loved or hated, admired or censured, his
poetry had placed him in the front rank of literary geniuses throughout
the world. As a poet his immortality was secured. In literary efforts he
had also probably exhausted himself; he could write nothing more which
would add to his fame, unless he took a long rest and recreation. He was
wearied of making poetry; but by plunging into a sea of fresh
adventures, and by giving a new direction to his powers, he might be
sufficiently renovated, in the course of time, to write something
grander and nobler than even "Childe Harold" or "Cain."

Lord Byron at this time was only thirty-five years old, a period when
most men begin their best work. His constitution, it is true, was
impaired, but he was still full of life and enterprise. He could ride or
swim as well as he ever could. The call of a gallant people summoned him
to arms, and of all nations he most loved the Greeks. He was an
enthusiast in their cause; he believed that the day of their deliverance
was at hand. So he made up his mind to consecrate his remaining energies
to effect their independence. He opened a correspondence with the Greek
committee in London. He selected a party, including a physician, to sail
with him from Geneva. He raised a sum of about £10,000, and on the 13th
of July, 1823, embarked with his small party and eight servants, on
board the "Hercules" for Greece.

After a short delay at Leghorn the poet reached Cephalonia on the 24th
of July. He was enthusiastically received by the Greeks of Argostoli,
the principal port, but deemed it prudent to remain there until he could
get further intelligence from Corfu and Missolonghi,--visiting, in the
interval, some of the neighboring islands consecrated by the muse
of Homer.

The dissensions among the Greek leaders greatly embarrassed Byron, but
did not destroy his ardor. He saw that the people were degenerate,
faithless, and stained with atrocities as disgraceful as those of the
Turks themselves. He dared not commit himself to any one of the
struggling, envious parties which rallied round their respective
chieftains. He lingered for six weeks in Cephalonia without the ordinary
comforts of life, yet, against all his habits, rising at an early hour
and attending to business, negotiating bills, and corresponding with the
government, so far as there was a recognized central power.

At last, after the fall of Corinth, taken from the Turks, and the
arrival at Missolonghi of Prince Mavrocordato, the only leader of the
Greeks worthy of the name of statesman, Byron sailed for that city, then
invested by a Turkish fleet, and narrowly escaped capture. Here he did
all he could to produce union among the chieftains, and took into his
pay five hundred Suliotes, acting as their leader. He meditated an
attack on Lepanto, which commanded the navigation of the Gulf of
Corinth, and received from the government a commission for that
enterprise; but dissensions among his men, and intrigues between rival
generals, prevented the execution of his project.

It was in Missolonghi, Jan. 22, 1824, that, with the memorandum, "On
this day I completed my thirty-sixth year," Byron wrote his latest
verses, most pathetically regretting his youth and his unfortunate life,
but arousing himself to find in a noble cause a glorious death:--

     "The fire that in my bosom preys
        Is like to some volcanic isle;
      No torch is kindled at its blaze,--
                    A funeral pile."

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Awake!--not Greece: she is awake!--
        Awake, my spirit! think through whom
      Thy life-blood tastes its parent lake,
                        And then strike home!"

       *       *       *       *       *

     "Seek out--less often sought than found--
        A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
      Then look around, and choose thy ground,
                        And take thy rest!"

Vexations, disappointments, and exposure to the rains of February so
wrought upon Byron's eager spirit and weakened body that he was attacked
by convulsive fits. The physicians, in accordance with the custom of
that time, bled their patient several times, against the protest of
Byron himself, which reduced him to extreme weakness. He rallied from
the attack for a time, and devoted himself to the affairs of Greece,
hoping for the restoration of his health when spring should come. He
spent in three months thirty thousand dollars for the cause into which
he had so cordially entered. In April he took another cold from severe
exposure, and fever set in,--to relieve which bleeding was again
resorted to, and often repeated. He was now confined to his room, which
he never afterwards left. He at last realized that he was dying, and
sent incoherent messages to his sister, to his daughter, and to a few
intimate friends. The end came on the 19th of April. The Greek
government rendered all the honor possible to the illustrious dead. His
remains were transferred to England. He was not buried in Westminster
Abbey, however, but in the church of Hucknal, near Newstead, where a
tablet was erected to his memory by his sister, the Hon. Augusta
Maria Leigh.

     "So Harold ends in Greece, his pilgrimage
      There fitly ending,--in that land renowned,
      Whose mighty genius lives in Glory's page,
      He on the Muses' consecrated ground
      Sinking to rest, while his young brows are bound
      With their unfading wreath! To bands of mirth
      No more in Tempe let the pipe resound!
      Harold, I follow to thy place of birth
    The slow hearse,--and thy last sad pilgrimage on earth."

I can add but little to what I have already said in reference to Byron,
either as to his character or his poetry. The Edinburgh Review, which in
Brougham's article on his early poems had stung him into satire and
aroused him to a sense of his own powers, in later years by Jeffrey's
hand gave a most appreciative account of his poems, while mourning over
his morbid gloom: "'Words that breathe and thoughts that burn' are not
merely the ornaments but the common staple of his poetry; and he is not
inspired or impressive only in some happy passages, but through the
whole body and tissue of his composition." The keen insight and
exceptional intellect of the philosopher-poet Goethe recognized in him
"the greatest talent of our century." His marvellous poetic genius was
universally acknowledged in his own day; and more than that, so human
was it that it attracted the sympathies of all civilized nations, and,
as Lamartine said, "made English literature known throughout Europe."
Byron's poetry was politically influential also, by reason of its
liberty-loving spirit,--arousing Italy, inspiring the young
revolutionists of Germany, and awaking a generous sympathy for Greece.
Without the consciousness of any "mission" beyond the expression of his
own ebullient nature, this poet contributed no mean impulse to the
general emancipation of spirit which has signalized the
nineteenth century.

Two generations have passed away since Byron's mortal remains were
committed to the dust, and the verdict of his country has not since
materially changed,--admiration for his genius _alone_. The light of
lesser stars than he shines with brighter radiance. What the enlightened
verdict of mankind may be two generations hence, no living mortal can
tell. The worshippers of intellect may attempt to reverse or modify the
judgment already passed, but the impressive truth remains that no man,
however great his genius, will be permanently judged aside from
character. When Lord Bacon left his name and memory to men's charitable
judgments and the next age, he probably had in view his invaluable
legacy to mankind of earnest searchings after truth, which made him one
of the greatest of human benefactors. How far the poetry of Byron has
proved a blessing to the world must be left to an abler critic than I
lay claim to be. In him the good and evil went hand in hand in the
eternal warfare which ancient Persian sages saw between the powers of
light and darkness in every human soul,--a consciousness of which
warfare made Byron himself in his saddest hours wish he had never
lived at all.

If we could, in his life and in his works, separate the evil from the
good, and let only the good remain,--then his services to literature
could hardly be exaggerated, and he would be honored as the greatest
English poet, so far as native genius goes, after Shakespeare
and Milton.



THOMAS CARLYLE.


1795-1881.

CRITICISM AND BIOGRAPHY.

The now famous biography of Thomas Carlyle, by Mr. Froude, shed a new
light on the eccentric Scotch essayist, and in some respects changed the
impressions produced by his own "Reminiscences" and the Letters of his
wife. It is with the aid of those two brilliant and interesting volumes
on Carlyle's "Earlier Life" and "Life in London," issued about two years
after the death of their distinguished subject, that I have rewritten my
own view of one of the most remarkable men of the nineteenth century.

Of the men of genius who have produced a great effect on their own time,
there is no one concerning whom such fluctuating opinions have prevailed
within forty years as in regard to Carlyle. His old admirers became his
detractors, and those who first disliked him became his friends. When
his earlier works appeared they attracted but little general notice,
though there were many who saw in him a new light, or a new power to
brush away cobwebs and shams, and to exalt the spiritual and eternal in
man over all materialistic theories and worldly conventionalities.

Carlyle's "Miscellanies"--essays published first in the leading Reviews,
when he lived in his moorland retreat--created enthusiasm among young
students and genuine thinkers of every creed. Lord Jeffrey detected the
new genius and gave him a lift. Carlyle's "French Revolution" took the
world by surprise, and established his fame. His "Oliver Cromwell"
modified and perhaps changed the opinions of English and American people
respecting the Great Protector. It was then that his popularity was
greatest, and that the eccentric genius of Cheyne Row, so long
struggling with poverty, was assured of a competence, and was received
in some of the proudest families of the kingdom as a teacher and a sage.
Thus far he was an optimist, taking cheerful views of human life, and
encouraging those who had noble aspirations.

But for some unaccountable reason, whether from discontent or dyspepsia
or disappointment, or disgust with this world, Carlyle gradually became
a pessimist, and attacked all forms of philanthropy, thus alienating
those who had been his warmest supporters. He grew more bitter and
morose, until at last he howled almost like a madman, and was steeped
in cynicism and gloom. He put forth the doctrine that might was right,
and that thrones belong to the strongest. He saw no reliance in
governments save upon physical force, and expressed the most boundless
contempt for all institutions established by the people. Then he wrote
his "Frederic the Great,"--his most ambitious and elaborate production,
received as an authority from its marvellous historical accuracy, but
not so generally read as his "French Revolution," and not, like his
"Cromwell," changing the opinions of mankind.

Soon after this the death of his wife plunged him into renewed gloom,
from which he never emerged; and he virtually retired from the world,
and was lost sight of by the younger generation, until his
"Reminiscences" appeared, injudiciously published at his request by his
friend and pupil Froude, in which his scorn and contempt for everybody
and everything turned the current of public opinion strongly against
him. This was still further increased when the Letters of his
wife appeared.

Carlyle's bitterest assailants were now agnostics of every shade and
degree, especially of the humanitarian school,--that to which Mill and
George Eliot belonged. It was seen that this reviler of hypocrisy and
shams, this disbeliever in miracles and in mechanisms to save society,
was after all a believer in God Almighty and in immortality; a stern
advocate of justice and duty, appealing to the conscience of mankind; a
man who detested Comte the positivist as much as he despised Mill the
agnostic, and who exalted the old religion of his fathers, stripped of
supernaturalism, as the only hope of the world. The biography by Froude,
while it does not conceal the atrabilious temperament of Carlyle, his
bad temper, his intense egotism, his irritability, his overweening
pride, his scorn, his profound loneliness and sorrow, and the deep gloom
into which he finally settled, made clear at the same time his honest
and tender nature, his noble independence, his heroic struggles with
poverty of which he never complained, his generous charities, his
conscientiousness and allegiance to duty, his constant labors amid
disease and excessive nervousness, and his profound and unvarying love
for his wife, although he was deficient in those small attentions and
demonstrations of affection which are so much prized by women. If it be
asked whether he was happy in his domestic relations, I would say that
he was as much so as such a man could be. But it was a physical and
moral impossibility that with his ailments and temper he _could_ be
happy. He was not sent into this world to be happy, but to do a work
which only such a man as he could do.

So displeasing, however, were the personal peculiarities of Carlyle
that the man can never be popular. This hyperborean literary giant,
speaking a Babylonian dialect, smiting remorselessly all pretenders and
quacks, and even honest fools, was himself personally a bundle of
contradictions, fierce and sad by turns. He was a compound of Diogenes,
Jeremiah, and Dr. Johnson: like the Grecian cynic in his contempt and
scorn, like the Jewish prophet in his melancholy lamentations, like the
English moralist in his grim humor and overbearing dogmatism.

It is unfortunate that we know so much of the man. Better would it be
for his fame if we knew nothing at all of his habits and peculiarities.
In our blended admiration and contempt, our minds are diverted from the
lasting literary legacy he has left, which, after all, is the chief
thing that concerns us. The mortal man is dead, but his works live. The
biography of a great man is interesting, but his thoughts go coursing
round the world, penetrating even the distant ages, modifying systems
and institutions. What a mighty power is law! Yet how little do we know
or care, comparatively, for lawgivers!

Thomas Carlyle was born in the year 1795, of humble parentage, in an
obscure Scotch village. His father was a stone-mason, much respected for
doing good work, and for his virtue and intelligence,--a rough, rugged
man who appreciated the value of education. Although kind-hearted and
religious, it would seem that he was as hard and undemonstrative as an
old-fashioned Puritan farmer,--one of those men who never kiss their
children, or even their wives, before people. His mother also was
sagacious and religious, and marked by great individuality of character.
For these stern parents Carlyle ever cherished the profoundest respect
and affection, regularly visiting them once a year wherever he might be,
writing to them frequently, and yielding as much to their influence as
to that of anybody.

At the age of fourteen the boy was sent to the University of Edinburgh,
with but little money in his pocket, and forced to practise the most
rigid economy. He did not make a distinguished mark at college, nor did
he cultivate many friendships. He was reserved, shy, awkward, and proud.
After leaving college he became a school-teacher, with no aptness and
much disdain for his calling. It was then that he formed the
acquaintance of Edward Irving, which ripened into the warmest friendship
of his life. He was much indebted to this celebrated preacher for the
intellectual impulse received from him. Irving was at the head of a
school at Kirkcaldy, and Carlyle became his assistant. Both these young
men were ambitious, and aspired to pre-eminence. Like Napoleon at the
military school of Brienne, they would not have been contented with
anything less, because they were conscious of their gifts; and both
attained their end. Irving became the greatest preacher of his day, and
Carlyle the greatest writer; but Carlyle had the most self-sustained
greatness. Irving was led by the demon of popularity into extravagances
of utterance which destroyed his influence. Carlyle, on the other hand,
never courted popularity; but becoming bitter and cynical in the rugged
road he climbed to fame, he too lost many of his admirers.

In ceasing to be a country schoolmaster, Carlyle did not abandon
teaching. He removed to Edinburgh for the study of divinity, and
supported himself by giving lessons. He had been destined by his parents
to be a minister of the Kirk of Scotland; but at the age of twenty-three
he entered upon a severe self-examination to decide whether he honestly
believed and could preach its doctrines. Weeks of intense struggle freed
him from the intellectual bonds of the kirk, but fastened upon him the
chronic disorder of his stomach which embittered his life, and in later
years distorted his vision of the world about him. At the recommendation
of his friend Irving, then preacher at Hatton Gardens, Carlyle now
became private tutor to the son of Mr. Charles Buller, an Anglo-Indian
merchant, on a salary of £200; and the tutor had the satisfaction of
seeing his pupil's political advancement as a member of the House of
Commons and one of the most promising men in England.

About this time Carlyle, who had been industriously studying German and
French, published a translation of Legendre's "Elements of Geometry;"
and in 1824 brought out a "Life of Schiller," a work that he never
thought much of, but which was a very respectable performance. In fact,
he never thought much of any of his works: they were always behind his
ideal. He wrote slowly, and took great pains to be accurate; and in this
respect he reminds us of George Eliot. Carlyle had no faith in rapid
writing of any sort, any more than Daniel Webster had in extempore
speaking. After he had become a master of composition, it took him
thirteen years of steady work to write "Frederick the Great,"--about the
same length of time it took Macaulay to write the history of fifteen
years of England's life, whereas Gibbon wrote the whole of his
voluminous and exhaustive "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire" in twenty years.

"Schiller" being finished, Carlyle was now launched upon his life-work
as "a writer of books." He translated Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister," for
which he received £180. I do not see the transcendent excellence of
this novel, except in its original and forcible criticism, and its
undercurrent of philosophy; but it is nevertheless famous. These two
works gave Carlyle some literary reputation among scholars, but not
much fame.

Although Carlyle was thus fairly embarked on a literary career, the
"trade" of literature he always regarded as a poor one, and never
encouraged a young man to pursue it as a profession unless forced into
it by his own irresistible impulses. Its nobility he ranked very high,
but not its remunerativeness. He regarded it as a luxury for the rich
and leisurely, but a very thorny and discouraging path for a poor man.
How few have ever got a living by it, unless allied with other
callings,--as a managing clerk, or professor, or lecturer, or editor!
The finest productions of Emerson were originally delivered as lectures.
Novelists and dramatists, I think, are the only class, who, without
doing anything else, have earned a comfortable support by their
writings. Historians have, with very few exceptions, been independent in
their circumstances.

In the year 1826, at the age of thirty-one, Carlyle married Jane Welsh,
the only child of a deceased physician of Haddington, who had some
little property in expectancy from the profits of a farm in the
moorlands of Scotland. She was beautiful, intellectual, and nervously
intense. She had been a pupil of Edward Irving, who had introduced his
friend Carlyle to her. On the whole, it was a fortunate marriage for
Carlyle, although it would have been impossible for him to have or to
give happiness in constant and intimate companionship with any woman. He
was very fond of his wife, but in an undemonstrative sort of
way,--except in his letters to her, which are genuine love-letters,
tender and considerate. As in the case of most superior women, clouds at
times gathered over her, which her husband did not or could not
dissipate. But she was very proud of him, and faithful to him, and
careful of his interest and fame. Nor is there evidence from her
letters, or from the late biography which Froude has written, that she
was, on the whole, unhappy. She was very frank, very sharp with her
tongue, and sometimes did not spare her husband. She had a good deal to
put up with from his irritable temper; but she also was irritable,
nervous, and sickly, although in her loyalty she rarely complained,
while she had many privations to endure,--for Carlyle until he was
nearly fifty was a poor man. During the first two years of their
residence in London they were obliged to live on £100 a year. He was
never in even moderately easy circumstances until after his "Oliver
Cromwell" was published.

After his marriage, Carlyle lived eighteen months near Edinburgh; but
there was no opening for him in the exclusive society there. His merits
were not then recognized as a man of genius in that cultivated capital,
as it pre-eminently was at that time; but he made the acquaintance of
Jeffrey, who acknowledged his merit, admired his wife, and continued to
be as good a friend as that worldly but accomplished man could be to one
so far beneath him in social rank.

The next seven years of Carlyle's life were spent at the Scotch moorland
farm of Craigenputtock, belonging to his wife's mother, which must have
contributed to his support. How any brilliant woman, fond of society as
Mrs. Carlyle was, could have lived contentedly in that dreary solitude,
fifteen miles from any visiting neighbor or town, is a mystery. She had
been delicately reared, and the hard life wore upon her health. Yet it
was here that the young couple established themselves, and here that
some of the young author's best works were written,--as the
"Miscellanies" and "Sartor Resartus." From here it was that he sent
forth those magnificent articles on Heyne, Goethe, Novalis, Voltaire,
Burns, and Johnson, which, published in the Edinburgh and other Reviews,
attracted the attention of the reading world, and excited boundless
admiration among students.

The earlier of these remarkable productions, like those on Burns and
Jean Paul Richter, were free from those eccentricities of style which
Carlyle persisted in retaining with amazing pertinacity as he advanced
in life,--except, again, in his letters to his wife, which are models of
clear writing.

The essay on "German Literature" appeared in the same year, 1827,--a
longer and more valuable article, a blended defence and eulogium of a
_terra incognita_, somewhat similar in spirit to that of Madame de
Staël's revelations twenty years before, and in which the writer shows
great admiration of German poetry and criticism. Perhaps no Englishman,
with the possible exceptions of Julius Hare and Coleridge,--the latter
then a broken-down old man,--had at that time so profound an
acquaintance as Carlyle with German literature, which was his food and
life during the seven years' retirement on his moorland farm. This essay
also was comparatively free from the involved, grotesque, but vivid
style of his later works; and it was religious in its tone. "It is
mournful," writes he, "to see so many noble, tender, and aspiring minds
deserted of that light which once guided all such; mourning in the
darkness because there is no home for the soul; or, what is worse,
pitching tents among the ashes, and kindling weak, earthly lamps which
we are to take for stars. But this darkness is very transitory. These
ashes are the soil of future herbage and richer harvests. Religion
dwells in the soul of man, and is as eternal as the being of man."

In this extract we see the optimism which runs through Carlyle's earlier
writings,--the faith in creation which is to succeed destruction, the
immortal hopes which sustain the soul. He believed in the God of
Abraham, and was as far from being a scoffer as the heavens are higher
than the earth. He had renounced historical Christianity, but he adhered
to its essential spirit.

The next article which Carlyle published seems to have been on Werner,
followed the same year, 1828, by one on Goethe's "Helena,"--a
continuation of his "Faust." This transcendent work of German art, which
should be studied rather than read, is commented on by the reviewer with
boundless admiration. If there was one human being whom Carlyle
worshipped it was the dictator of German literature, who reigned at
Weimar as Voltaire had reigned at Ferney. If he was not the first to
introduce the writings of Goethe into England, he was the great German's
warmest admirer. If Goethe had faults, they were to Carlyle the faults
of a god, and he exalted him as the greatest light of modern times,--a
new force in the world, a new fire in the soul, who inaugurated a new
era in literature which went to the heart of cultivated Europe, weary of
the doubts and denials that Voltaire had made fashionable. It seemed to
Carlyle that Goethe entered into the sorrows, the solemn questionings
and affirmations of the soul, seeking emancipation from dogmas and
denials alike, and, in the spirit of Plato, resting on the certitudes of
a higher life,--calm, self-poised, many-sided, having subdued passion as
he had outgrown cant; full of benignity, free from sarcasm; a man of
mighty and deep experiences, with knowledge of himself, of the world,
and the whole realm of literature; a great artist as well as a great
genius, seated on the throne of letters, not to scatter thunderbolts,
but to instruct the present and future generations.

The next great essay which Carlyle published, this time in the Edinburgh
Review, was on Burns,--a hackneyed subject, yet treated with masterly
ability. This article, in some respects his best, entirely free from
mannerisms and affectation of style, is just in its criticism, glowing
with eloquence, and full of sympathy with the infirmities of a great
poet, showing a remarkable insight into what is noblest and truest. This
essay is likely to live for style alone, aside from its various other
merits. It is complete, exhaustive, brilliant, such as only a Scotchman
could have written who was familiar with the laborious lives of the
peasantry, living in the realm of art and truth, careless of outward
circumstances and trappings, and exalting only what is immortal and
lofty. While Carlyle sees in Goethe the impersonation of human
wisdom,--in every aspect a success, outwardly and inwardly, serene and
potent as an Olympian deity,--he sees in Burns a highly gifted genius
also, but yet a wreck and a failure; a man broken down by the force of
that degrading habit which unfortunately and peculiarly and even
mysteriously robs a man of all dignity, all honor, and all sense of
shame. Amid the misfortunes, the mistakes, and the degradations of the
born poet, whom he alike admires and pities and mildly blames, he sees
also the noble elements of the poet's gifted soul, and loves him,
especially for his sincerity, which next to labor he uniformly praises.
It was the truthfulness he saw in Burns which constrained Carlyle's
affection,--the poet's sympathy and humanity, speaking out of his heart
in unconscious earnestness and plaintive melody; sad and sorrowful, of
course, since his life was an unsuccessful battle with himself, but free
from egotism, and full of a love which no misery could crush,--so unlike
that other greatest poet of our century, "whose exemplar was Satan, the
hero of his poetry and the model of his life." In this most beautiful
and finished essay Carlyle paints the man in his true colors,--sinning
and sinned against, courageous while yielding, poor but proud, scornful
yet affectionate; singing in matchless lyrics the sentiments of the
people from whom he sprung and among whom he died, which lyrics, though
but fragments indeed, are precious and imperishable.

In the same year appeared the Life of Heyne,--the great German scholar,
pushing his way from the depths of poverty and obscurity, by force of
patient industry and genius, to a proud position and a national fame.
"Let no unfriended son of genius despair," exclaims Carlyle. "If he have
the will, the power will not be denied him. Like the acorn, carelessly
cast abroad in the wilderness, yet it rises to be an oak; on the wild
soil it nourishes itself; it defies the tempest, and lives for a
thousand years." The whole outward life of Carlyle himself, like that of
Heyne, was an example of heroism amid difficulties, and hope amid
the storms.

The next noticeable article which Carlyle published was on Voltaire, and
appeared in the Quarterly Review in 1829. It would appear that he hoped
to find in this great oracle and guide of the eighteenth century
something to admire and praise commensurate with his great fame. But
vainly. Voltaire, though fortunate beyond example in literary history,
versatile, laborious, brilliant in style,--poet, satirist, historian,
and essayist,--seemed to Carlyle to be superficial, irreligious, and
egotistical. The critic ascribes his power to ridicule,--a Lucian, who
destroyed but did not reconstruct; worldly, material, sceptical,
defiant, utterly lacking that earnestness without which nothing
permanently great can be effected. Carlyle says:--

"Voltaire read history, not with the eye of a devout seer, or even
critic, but through a pair of mere anti-Catholic spectacles. It is not a
mighty drama, enacted on the theatre of infinitude, with suns for lamps
and eternity as a background, whose author is God and whose purport
leads to the throne of God, but a poor, wearisome debating-club dispute,
spun through ten centuries, between the Encyclopédie and the Sorbonne."

Carlyle's essays for the next two years, chiefly on German literature,
which he admired and sought to introduce to his countrymen, were
published in various Reviews. I can only allude to one on Richter, whose
whimsicality of style he unconsciously copied, and whose original ideas
he made his own. In this essay Carlyle introduced to the English people
a great German, but a grotesque, whose writings will probably never be
read much out of Germany, excellent as they are, on account of the
"jarring combination of parentheses, dashes, hyphens, figures without
limit, one tissue of metaphors and similes, interlaced with epigrammatic
bursts and sardonic turns,--a heterogeneous, unparalleled imbroglio of
perplexity and extravagance." There was another, on Schiller, not an
idol to Carlyle as Goethe was, yet a great poet and a true man, with
deep insight and intense earnestness. "His works," said Carlyle, "and
the memory of what he was, will arise afar off, like a towering landmark
in the solitude of the past, when distance shall have dwarfed into
invisibility many lesser people that once encompassed him, and hid them
forever from the near beholder."

Thus far Carlyle had confined himself to biography and essays on German
literature, in which his extraordinary insight is seen; but now he
enters another field, and writes a strictly original essay, called
"Characteristics," published in the Edinburgh Review in the prolific
year of 1831, in which essay we see the germs of his philosophy. The
article is hard to read, and is disfigured by obscurities which leave a
doubt on the mind of the reader as to whether the author understood the
subject about which he was writing,--for Carlyle was not a philosopher,
but a painter and prose-poet. There is no stream of logic running
consistently through his writings. In "Characteristics" he seems to have
had merely glimpses of great truths which he could not clearly express,
and which won him the reputation of being a German transcendentalist.
Its leading idea is the commonplace one of the progress of society,
which no sane and Christian man has ever seriously questioned,--not an
uninterrupted progress, but a general advance, brought about by
Christian ideas. Any other view of progress is dreary and discouraging;
nor is this inconsistent with great catastrophes and national
backslidings, with the fall of empires, and French Revolutions.

We note at this time in Carlyle's writings, on the whole, a cheerful
view of human life in spite of sorrows, hardships, and disappointments,
which are made by Divine Providence to act as healthy discipline. We see
nothing of the angry pessimism of his later writings. Those years at
Craigenputtock were healthy and wholesome; he labored in hope, and had
great intellectual and artistic enjoyment, which reconciled him to
solitude,--the chief evil with which he had to contend, after dyspepsia.
His habits were frugal, but poverty did not stare him in the face, since
he had the income of the farm. It does not appear that the deep gloom
which subsequently came over his soul oppressed him in his moorland
retreat. He did not sympathize with any religion of denials, but felt
that out of the jargon of false and pretentious philosophies would come
at last a positive belief which would once more enthrone God in
the world.

After writing another characteristic article, on Biography, he furnished
for Fraser's Magazine one of the finest biographical portraits ever
painted,--that of Dr. Johnson, in which that cyclopean worker stands
out, with even more distinctness than in Boswell's "Life," as one of the
most honest, earnest, patient laborers in the whole field of literature.
Carlyle makes us almost love this man, in spite of his awkwardness,
dogmatism, and petulance. Johnson in his day was an acknowledged
dictator on all literary questions, surrounded by admirers of the
highest gifts, who did homage to his learning,--a man of more striking
individuality than any other celebrity in England, and a man of intense
religious convictions in an age of religious indifference. We now wonder
why this struggling, poorly paid, and disagreeable man of letters should
have had such an ascendency over men superior to himself in learning,
genius, and culture, as Burke and Gibbon doubtless were. Even Goldsmith,
whom he snubbed and loved, is now more popular than he. It was the
heroism of his character which Carlyle so much admired and so vividly
described,--contending with so many difficulties, yet surmounting them
all by his persistent industry and noble aspirations; never losing faith
in himself or his Maker, never servilely bowing down to rank and wealth,
as others did, and maintaining his self-respect in whatever condition he
was placed. In this delightful biography we are made to see the
superiority of character to genius, and the dignity of labor when
idleness was the coveted desire of most fortunate men, as well as the
almost universal vice of the magnates of the land. Labor, to the mind of
Johnson as well as to that of Carlyle, is not only honorable, but is a
necessity which Nature imposes as the condition of happiness and
usefulness. Nor does Carlyle sneer at the wedded life of Johnson, made
up of "drizzle and dry weather," but reverences his fidelity to his best
friend, uninteresting as she was to the world, and his plaintive and
touching grief when she passed away.

Carlyle in this essay exalts a life of letters, however poorly paid
(which Pope in his "Dunciad" did so much to depreciate), showing how it
contributes to the elevation of a nation, and to those lofty pleasures
which no wealth can purchase. But it is the moral dignity of Johnson
which the essay makes to shine most conspicuously in his character,
supported as he was by the truths of religion, in which under all
circumstances he proudly glories, and without which he must have made
shipwreck of himself amid so many discouragements, maladies, and
embarrassments,--for his greatest labors were made with poverty,
distress, and obscurity for his companions,--until at last, victorious
over every external evil and vile temptation, he emerged into the realm
of peace and light, and became an oracle and a sage wherever he chose
to go.

Johnson was the greatest master of conversation in his day, whose
detached sayings are still quoted more often than his most elaborate
periods. I apprehend that there was a great contrast between Johnson's
writings and his conversation. While the former are Ciceronian, his talk
was epigrammatic, terse, and direct; and its charm and power were in his
pointed and vehement Saxon style. Had he talked as he wrote, he would
have been wearisome and pedantic. Still, like Coleridge and Robert Hall,
he preached rather than conversed, thinking what he himself should say
rather than paying attention to what others said, except to combat and
rebuke them,--a discourser, as Macaulay was; not one to suggest
interchange of ideas, as Addison did. But neither power of conversation
nor learning would have made Johnson a literary dictator. His power was
in the force of his character, his earnestness, and sincerity, even more
than in his genius.

I will not dwell on the other Review articles which Carlyle wrote in his
isolated retreat, since published as "Miscellanies," on which his fame
in no small degree rests,--even as the essays of Macaulay may be read
when his more elaborate History will lie neglected on the shelves of
libraries. Carlyle put his soul into these miscellanies, and the labor
and enjoyment of writing made him partially forget his ailments. I look
upon those years at Craigenputtock as the brightest and healthiest of
his life, removed as he was from the sight of levities and follies which
tormented his soul and irritated his temper.

Carlyle contrived to save about £200 from his literary earnings, so
frugal was his life and so free from temptations. His recreation was in
wandering on foot or horseback over the silent moors and unending hills,
watered by nameless rills and shadowed by mists and vapors. His life was
solitary, but not more so than that of Moses amid the deserts of
Midian,--isolation, indeed, but in which the highest wisdom is matured.
Into this retreat Emerson penetrated, a young man, with boundless
enthusiasm for his teacher,--for Carlyle was a teacher to him as to
hundreds of others in this country. Carlyle never had a truer and better
friend than Emerson, who opened to him the great reward of recognition
in distant America while yet his own land refused to take knowledge of
him; and this friendship continued to the end, an honor to both,--for
Carlyle never saw in Emerson's writings the genius and wisdom which his
American friend admired in the Scottish sage. Nor were their opinions so
harmonious as some suppose. Emerson despised Calvinism, and had no
definite opinions on any theological subject; Carlyle was a Calvinist
without the theology of Calvinism, if that be possible. He did not,
indeed, believe in historical Christianity, but he had the profoundest
convictions of an overruling God, reigning in justice, and making the
wrath of man to praise Him. Carlyle, too, despised everything visionary
and indefinite, and had more respect for what is brought about by
revolution than by evolution. But of all things he held in profoundest
abhorrence the dreary theories of materialists and political economists.
It was the spirit and not the body which stood out in his eyes as of
most importance; it was the manly virtues which he reverenced in man,
not his clothes and surroundings. And it was on this lofty spiritual
plane that Carlyle and Emerson stood in complete harmony together.

I cannot quit this part of Carlyle's life without mention of what I
conceive to be his most original and remarkable production,--"Sartor
Resartus,"--The Stitcher Restitched: or, The Tailor Done Over,--the
title of an old Scotch song. It is a quaintly conceived reproduction of
the work of an imaginary German professor on "The Philosophy of
Clothes,"--under which external figure he includes all institutions,
customs, beliefs, in which humanity has draped itself, as distinguished
from the inner reality of man himself. "The beginning of all Wisdom," he
says, "is to look fixedly on Clothes, or even with armed eyesight, till
they become _transparent_." And thus, in grotesque fashion, with amazing
vigor he ranges the universe in search of the Real. In one of his
letters to Emerson, Carlyle, discussing a project of lecturing in
America, takes on his sartorial professor's name, and writes: "Could any
one but appoint me Lecturing Professor of Teufelsdröckh's
Science,--'Things in General'!" This work was written in his remote
solitude, yet not published for years after it was finished,--and for
the best of reasons, because with all his literary repute Carlyle could
not find a publisher. The "Sartor" was not appreciated; and Carlyle,
knowing its value, locked it up in his drawer, and waited for his time.

The "Sartor Resartus" is a sort of prose poem, written with the heart's
blood, vivid as fire in a dark night; a Dantean production; a revelation
probably of the author's own struggles and experiences from the dark
gulf of the "Everlasting Nay" to the clear and serene heights of the
"Everlasting Yea." To me the book is full of consolation and
encouragement,--a battle of the spirit with infernal doubts, a victory
over despair, over all external evils and all spiritual foes. It is also
a bold and grotesque but scorching sarcasm of the conventionalities and
hypocrisies of society, and a savage thrust at those quackeries which
seem to reign in this world in spite of their falsity and shallowness.
It is not, I grant, easy to read. It is full of conceits and
affectations of style,--a puzzle to some, a rebuke to others. "Every
page of this unique collection of confessions and meditations, of
passionate invective and solemn reflection," is stamped with the seal of
genius, and yet was the last of Carlyle's writings to be appreciated. I
believe that this is the ordinary fate of truly original works, those
that are destined to live the longest, especially if they burn no
incense to the idols of prevailing worship, and be characterized by a
style which, to say the least, is extraordinary. Flashy, brilliant,
witty, yet superficial pictures of external life which everybody has
seen and knows, are the soonest to find admirers; but a revelation of
what is not seen, this is the work of seers and prophets whose ordinary
destiny has been anything other than to wear soft raiment and sit in
king's palaces. The "Sartor" was at last, in 1833-1834, printed in
Fraser's Magazine, meeting no appreciation in England, but very
enthusiastically received by Emerson, Channing, Ripley, and a group of
advanced thinkers in New England, through whose efforts it was published
here in book form. And so, in spite of timid London publishers, it
drifted back to London and a slow-growing fame. In our time, sixty years
later, it sells by scores of thousands annually, in cheap and in
luxurious editions, throughout the English-speaking world.

In respect of early recognition and popularity, Carlyle differs from his
great contemporary Macaulay, who was so immediately and so magnificently
rewarded, and yet received no more than his due as the finest prose
writer of his day. Macaulay's Essays are generally word-pictures of
remarkable men and remarkable events, but of men of action rather than
of quiet meditation. His heroes are such men as Clive and Hastings and
Pitt, not such men as Pascal or Augustine or Leibnitz or Goethe. But
Carlyle in his heroes paints the struggling soul in its deepest
aspirations, and the truths evolved by profound meditations. These are
not such as gain instant popular acceptance; yet they are the
longer-lived.

The time came at last for Carlyle to leave his retirement among moors
and hills, and in 1831 he directed his steps to London, spending the
winter with his wife in the great centre of English life and thought,
and being well received; so that in 1834 he removed permanently to the
metropolis. But he was scarcely less buried at his modest house in
Chelsea than he had been on his farm, for he came to London with only
£200, and was obliged to practise the most rigid economy. For two years
he labored in his London workshop without earning a shilling, and with
a limited acquaintance. Not yet was his society sought by the great
world which he mocked and despised. He fortunately had the genial and
agreeable Leigh Hunt for a neighbor, and Edward Irving for his friend.
He was known to the critics by his writings, but his circle of personal
friends was small. He was more or less intimate with John Stuart Mill,
Charles Austin, Sir William Molesworth, and the advanced section of the
philosophical radicals,--the very class of men from whom he afterwards
was most estranged. None of these men forwarded his fortunes; but they
lent him books, and helped him at the libraries, for no carpenter can
work without tools.

The work to which Carlyle now devoted himself was a history of the
French Revolution, the principal characters of which he had already
studied and written about. It was a subject adapted to his genius for
dramatic writing, and for the presentation of his views as to
retribution. His whole theology, according to Froude, was underlaid by
the belief in punishment for sin, which was impressed upon his mind by
his God-fearing parents, and was one of his firmest convictions. The
French were to his mind the greatest sinners among Christian nations,
and therefore were to reap a fearful penalty. To paint in a new and
impressive form the inevitable calamities attendant on violated law and
justice, was the aspiration of Carlyle. He had money enough to last him
with economy for two years. In this time he hoped to complete his work.
The possibility was due to the intelligent thrift of his wife.
Commenting on one of her letters describing their snug little house,
he writes:--

"From birth upwards she had lived in opulence; and now, for my sake, had
become poor,--so nobly poor. Truly, her pretty little brag [in this
letter] was well founded. No such house, for beautiful thrift, quiet,
spontaneous, nay, as it were, unconscious--minimum of money reconciled
to human comfort and human dignity--have I anywhere looked upon."

He devoted himself to his task with intense interest, and was completely
preoccupied.

In the winter of 1835, after a year of general study, collection of
material and writing, and at last "by dint of continual endeavor for
many weary weeks," the first volume was completed and submitted to his
friend Mill. The valuable manuscript was accidentally and ignorantly
destroyed by a servant, and Mill was in despair. Carlyle bore the loss
like a hero. He did not chide or repine. If his spirit sunk within him,
it was when he was alone in his library or in the society of his
sympathizing wife. He generously writes to Emerson,--

"I could not complain, or the poor man would have shot himself: we had
to gather ourselves together, and show a smooth front to it,--which
happily, though difficult, was not impossible to do. I began again at
the beginning, to such a wretched, paralyzing torpedo of a task as my
hand never found to do."

Mill made all the reparation possible. He gave his friend £200, but
Carlyle would accept only £100. Few men could have rewritten with any
heart that first volume: it would be almost impossible to revive
sufficient interest; the precious inspiration would have been wanting.
Yet Carlyle manfully accomplished his task, and I am inclined to think
that the second writing was better than the first; that he probably left
out what was unessential, and made a more condensed narrative,--a more
complete picture, for his memory was singularly retentive. I do not
believe that any man can do his best at the first heat. See how the
great poets revise and rewrite. Brougham rewrote his celebrated
peroration on the trial of Queen Caroline seventeen times. Carlyle had
to rewrite his book, but his materials remained; his great pictures were
all in his mind. In this second writing there may have been less
emotion,--less fire in his descriptions; but there was fire enough, for
his vivacity was excessive. Even _his_ work could be pruned, not by
others, but by himself. "The household at Chelsea was never closer drawn
together than in those times of trial." Carlyle lost time and spirits,
but he could afford the loss. The entire work was delayed, but was done
at last. The final sentence of Vol. III. was written at ten o'clock on a
damp evening, January 14, 1837.

This great work, the most ambitious and famous of all Carlyle's
writings, and in many respects his best, was not received by the public
with the enthusiam it ought to have awakened. It was not appreciated by
the people at large. "Ordinary readers were not enraptured by the Iliad
swiftness and vividness of the narrative, its sustained passion, the
flow of poetry, the touches of grandeur and tenderness, and the masterly
touches by which he made the great actors stand out in their
individuality." It seemed to many to be extravagant, exaggerated, at war
with all the "feudalities of literature." Partisans of all kinds were
offended. The style was startlingly broken, almost savage in strength,
vivid and distinct as lightning. Doubtless the man himself had grown
away from the quieter moods of his earlier essays. Froude quotes this
from Carlyle's journal: "The poor people seem to think a style can be
put off or on, not like a skin but like a coat. Is not a skin verily a
product and close kinsfellow of all that lies under it, exact type of
the nature of the beast, not to be plucked off without flaying and
death? The Public is an old woman. Let her maunder and mumble."

But the extraordinary merits of the book made a great impression on the
cultivated intellects of England,--such men as Jeffrey, Macaulay,
Southey, Hallam, Brougham, Thackeray, Dickens,--who saw and admitted
that a great genius had arisen, whether they agreed with his views or
not. In America, we may be proud to say, the work created general
enthusiasm, and its republication through Emerson's efforts brought some
money as well as larger fame to its author. Of the first moneys that
Emerson sent Carlyle as fruits of this adventure, the dyspeptic
Scotchman wrote that he was "half-resolved to buy myself a sharp little
nag with twenty of these trans-Atlantic pounds, and ride him till the
other thirty be eaten. I will call the creature 'Yankee.' ... My kind
friends!" And _Yankee_ was duly bought and ridden.

Carlyle still remained in straitened circumstances, although his
reputation was now established. In order to assist him in his great
necessities his friends got up lectures for him, which were attended by
the _élite_ of London. He gave several courses in successive years
during the London season, which brought him more money than his writings
at that time, gave him personal _éclat_, and added largely to his circle
of admirers. His second course of twelve lectures brought him £300,--a
year's harvest, and a large sum for lectures in England, where the
literary institutions rarely paid over £5 for a single lecture. Even in
later times the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, which commanded the
finest talent, paid only £10 to such men as Froude and the archbishop
of York.

But lecturing, to many men an agreeable excitement, seems to have been
very unpleasant to Carlyle,--even repulsive. Though the lectures brought
both money and fame, he abominated the delivery of them. They broke his
rest, destroyed his peace of mind, and depressed his spirits. Nothing
but direst necessity reconciled him to the disagreeable task. He never
took any satisfaction or pride in his success in this field; nor was his
success probably legitimate. People went to see him as a new literary
lion,--to hear him roar, not to be edified. He had no peculiar
qualification for public speaking, and he affected to despise it. Very
few English men of letters have had this gift. Indeed, popular eloquence
is at a discount among the cultivated classes in England. They prefer to
read at their leisure. Popular eloquence best thrives in democracies, as
in that of ancient Athens; aristocrats disdain it, and fear it. In their
contempt for it they even affect hesitation and stammering, not only
when called upon to speak in public, but also in social converse, until
the halting style has come to be known among Americans as "very
English." In absolute monarchies eloquence is rare except in the pulpit
or at the bar. Cicero would have had no field, and would not probably
have been endured, in the reign of Nero; yet Bossuet and Bourdaloue were
the delight of Louis XIV. What would that monarch have said to the
speeches of Mirabeau?

After the publication in 1837 of the "French Revolution,"--that "roaring
conflagration of anarchies," that series of graphic pictures rather than
a history or even a criticism,--it was some time before Carlyle could
settle down upon another great work. He delivered lectures, wrote tracts
and essays, gave vent to his humors, and nursed his ailments. He was now
famous,--a man whom everybody wished to see and know, especially
Americans when they came to London, but whom he generally snubbed (as he
did me) and pronounced them bores. It was at this time that he made the
acquaintance of Monckton Milnes, afterward Lord Houghton, who invited
him to breakfast, where he met other notabilities,--among them Bunsen
the Prussian Ambassador at London; Lord Mahon the historian; and Mr.
Baring, afterward Lord Ashburton, the warmest and the truest of his
friends, who extended to him the most generous hospitalities.

Carlyle was now in what is called "high society," and was "taking life
easy,"--writing but little, yet reading much, especially about Oliver
Cromwell, whose Life he thought of writing. His lectures at this period
were more successful than ever, attended by great and fashionable
people; and from them his chief income was derived.

While collecting materials for his Life of Cromwell, Carlyle became
deeply interested in the movements of the Chartists, composed chiefly of
working-men with socialistic tendencies. He was called a "radical,"--and
he did believe in a radical reform of men's lives, especially of the
upper classes who showed but little sympathy for the poor. He was not
satisfied with the Whigs, who believed that the Reform Bill would usher
in a political millennium. He had more sympathy with the "conservative"
Tories than the "liberal" Whigs; but his opinions were not acceptable to
either of the great political parties. They alike distrusted him. Even
Mill had a year before declined an article on the working classes for
his Review, the Westminster. Carlyle took it to Lockhart of the
Quarterly, but Lockhart was afraid to publish it. Mill, then about to
leave the Westminster, wished to insert it as a final shout; but Carlyle
declined, and in 1839 expanded his article into a book called
"Chartism," which was rapidly sold and loudly noticed. It gave but
little satisfaction, however. It offended the conservatives by exposing
sores that could not be healed, while on the other hand the radicals did
not wish to be told that men were far from being equal,--that in fact
they were very unequal; and that society could not be advanced by
debating clubs or economical theories, but only by gifted individuals as
instruments of Divine Providence, guiding mankind by their
superior wisdom.

These views were expanded in a new course of lectures, on "Heroes and
Hero Worship," and subsequently printed,--the most able and suggestive
of all Carlyle's lectures, delivered in the spring of 1840 with great
_éclat_. He never appeared on the platform again. Lecturing, as we have
said, was not to his taste; he preferred to earn his living by his pen,
and his writings had now begun to yield a comfortable support. He
received on account of them £400 from America alone, thanks to the
influence of his friend Emerson.

Carlyle now began to weary of the distraction of London life, and pined
for the country. But his wife would not hear a word about it; she had
had enough of the country, at Craigenputtock. Meanwhile preparations for
the Life of Cromwell went on slowly, varied by visits to his relatives
in Scotland, travels on the Continent, and interviews with distinguished
men. His mind at this period (1842) was most occupied with the sad
condition of the English people,--everywhere riots, disturbances,
physical suffering and abject poverty among the masses, for the Corn
Laws had not then been repealed; and to Carlyle's vision there was a
most melancholy prospect ahead,--not revolution, but universal
degradation, and the reign of injustice. This sad condition of the
people was contrasted in his mind with what it had been centuries
before, as it appeared from an old book which he happened to read,
Jocelin's Chronicles, which painted English life in the twelfth century.
He fancied that the world was going on from bad to worse; and in this
gloomy state of mind he wrote his "Past and Present," which appeared in
1843, and created a storm of anger as well as admiration. It was a sort
of protest against the political systems of economy then so popular.
Lockhart said of it that he could accept none of his friend's inferences
except one,--"that we were all wrong, and were all like to be damned."

Gloomy and satirical as the book was, it made a great impression on the
thinkers of the day, while it did not add to the author's popularity. It
seemed as if he were a prophet of wrath,--an Ishmaelite whose hand was
against everybody. He offended all political parties,--"the Tories by
his radicalism, and the Radicals by his scorn of their formulas; the
High Churchman by his Protestantism, and the Low Churchman by evident
unorthodoxy." Yet all parties and sects admitted that much that he said
was true, while at the same time they had no sympathy with his
fierce ravings.

For ten years after the publication of the "French Revolution" Carlyle
assumed the functions of a prophet, hurling anathemas and pronouncing
woes. To his mind everything was alike disjointed or false or
pretentious, in view of which he uttered groans and hisses and
maledictions. The very name of a society designed to ameliorate evils
seemed to put him into a passion. Every reformer appeared to him to be a
blind teacher of the blind. Exeter Hall, then the scene of every variety
of social and religious and political discussion, was to him a veritable
pandemonium. Everybody at that period of agitation and reform was giving
lectures, and everybody went to hear them; and Carlyle ridiculed them
all alike as pedlers of nostrums to heal diseases which were incurable.
He lived in an atmosphere of disdain. "The English people," said he,
"number some thirty millions,--mostly fools." His friends expostulated
with him for giving utterance to such bitter expressions, and for
holding such gloomy views. John Mill was mortally offended, and walked
no more with him. De Quincey said, "You have made a new hole in your
society kettle: how do you propose to mend it?"

Yet all this while Carlyle had not lost faith in Providence, as it
might seem, but felt that God would inflict calamities on peoples for
their sins. He resembled Savonarola more than he did Voltaire. What
seemed to some to be mockeries were really the earnest protests of his
soul against universal corruption, to be followed by downward courses
and retribution. His mind was morbid from intense reflection on certain
evils, and from his physical ailments. He doubtless grieved and
alienated his best friends by his diatribes against popular education
and free institutions. He even appeared to lean to despotism and the
rule of tyrants, provided only they were strong.

Thus Carlyle destroyed his influence, even while he moved the mind to
reflection. It was seen and felt that he had no sympathy with many
movements designed to benefit society, and that he cherished utter scorn
for many active philanthropists. In his bitterness, wrath, and disdain
he became himself intolerant. In some of his wild utterances he brought
upon himself almost universal reproach, as when he said, "I never
thought the rights of negroes worth much discussing, nor the rights of
man in any form,"--a sentiment which militated against his whole
philosophy. In this strange and unhappy mood of mind, the "Latter Day
Pamphlets," "Past and Present," and other essays were written, which
undermined the reverence in which he had been held. These were the
blots on his great career, which may be traced to sickness and a
disordered mind.

In fact, Carlyle cannot be called a sound writer at any period. He
contradicts himself. He is a great painter, a prose-poet, a
satirist,--not a philosopher; perhaps the most suggestive writer of the
nineteenth century, often giving utterance to the grandest thoughts, yet
not a safe guide at all times, since he is inconsistent and full of
exaggerations.

The morbid and unhealthy tone of Carlyle's mind at this period may be
seen by an extract from one of his letters to Sterling:--

"I see almost nobody. I avoid sight, rather, and study to consume my own
smoke. I wish you would build me, among your buildings, some small
Prophet Chamber, fifteen feet square, with a flue for smoking, sacred
from all noises of dogs, cocks, and piano-fortes, engaging some dumb old
woman to light a fire for me daily, and boil some kind of a kettle."

Thus quaintly he expressed his desire for uninterrupted solitude, where
he could work to advantage.

He was then engaged on Cromwell, and the few persons with whom he
exchanged letters show how retired was his life. His friends were also
few, although he could have met as many persons as pleased him. He was
too much absorbed with work to be what is called a society man; but
what society he did see was of the best.

At last Carlyle's task on the "Life of Oliver Cromwell" was finished in
August, 1845, when he was fifty years of age. It was the greatest
contribution to English history; Mr. Froude thinks, which has been made
in the present century. "Carlyle was the first to make Cromwell and his
age intelligible to mankind." Indeed, he reversed the opinions of
mankind respecting that remarkable man, which was a great
accomplishment. No one doubts the genuineness of the portrait. Cromwell
was almost universally supposed, fifty years ago, to be a hypocrite as
well as a usurper. In Carlyle's hands he stands out visionary, perhaps,
but yet practical, sincere, earnest, God-fearing,--a patriot devoted to
the good of his country. Carlyle rescued a great historical personage
from the accumulated slanders of two centuries, and did his work so well
that no hostile criticisms have modified his verdict. He has painted a
picture which is immortal. The insight, the sagacity, the ability, and
the statesmanship of Cromwell are impressed upon the minds of all
readers. That England never had a greater or more enlightened ruler,
everybody is now forced to admit,--and not merely a patriotic but a
Christian ruler, who regarded himself simply as the instrument of
Providence.

People still differ as to the cause in which Cromwell embarked, and few
defend the means he used to accomplish his ends. He does not stand out
as a perfect man; he made mistakes, and committed political crimes which
can be defended only on grounds of expediency. But his private life was
above reproach, and he died in the triumph of Christian faith, after
having raised his country to a higher pitch of glory than had been seen
since the days of Queen Elizabeth.

The faults of the biographer centre in confounding right with might; and
this conspicuously false doctrine is the leading defect of the
philosophy of Carlyle, runs through all his writings, and makes him an
unsound teacher. If this doctrine be true, then all the usurpers of the
world from Caesar to Napoleon can be justified. If this be true, then an
irresistible imperialism becomes the best government for mankind. It is
but fair to say that Carlyle himself denied this inference. Writing of
Lecky's having charged him with believing in the divine right of
strength, he says:--

"With respect to that poor heresy of might being the symbol of right 'to
a certain great and venerable author,' I shall have to tell Lecky one
day that quite the converse or _re_verse is the great and venerable
author's real opinion,--namely, that right is the eternal symbol of
might; ... in fact, he probably never met with a son of Adam more
contemptuous of might except when it rests on the above origin."

Yet the impression of all his strongest work is the other way.

Certain other kindred doctrines may be inferentially drawn from
Carlyle's defence of Cromwell; namely, that a popular assembly is
incapable of guiding successfully the destinies of a nation; that behind
all constitutions lies an ultimate law of force; that majorities, as
such, have no more right to rule than kings and nobles; that the
strongest are the best, and the best are the strongest; that the right
to rule lies with those who are right in mind and heart, as he supposed
Cromwell to be, and who can execute their convictions. Such teachings,
it need not be shown, are at war with the whole progress of modern
society and the enlightened opinion of mankind.

The great merit of Carlyle's History is in the clearness and vividness
with which he paints his hero and the exposure of the injustice with
which he has been treated by historians. It is an able vindication of
Cromwell's character. But the deductions drawn from his philosophy lead
to absurdity, and are an insult to the understanding of the world.

It was about this time, on the conclusion of the "Cromwell," when he was
on the summit of his literary fame, and the world began to shower its
favors upon him, that Carlyle's days were saddened by a domestic trouble
which gave him inexpressible solicitude and grief. His wife, with whom
he had lived happily for so many years, was exceedingly disturbed on
account of his intimate friendship with Lady Ashburton. Nothing can be
more plaintive and sadly beautiful than the letters he wrote to her on
the occasion of her starting off in a fit of spleen, after a stormy
scene, to visit friends at a distance; and what is singular is that we
do not find in those letters, when his soul was moved to its very
depths, any of his peculiarities of style. They are remarkably simple as
well as serious.

Carlyle's friendship for one of the most brilliant and cultivated women
of England, which the breath of scandal never for a moment assailed, was
reasonable and natural, and was a great comfort to him. He persisted in
enjoying it, knowing that his wife disliked it. In this matter, which
was a cloud upon his married life, and saddened the family hearth for
years, Mrs. Carlyle was doubtless exacting and unreasonable; though some
men would have yielded the point for the sake of a faithful wife,--or
even for peace. There are those who think that Carlyle was selfish in
keeping up an intercourse which was hateful to his wife; but the
Ashburtons were the best friends that Carlyle ever had, after he became
famous,--and in their various country seats he enjoyed a hospitality
rarely extended to poor literary men. There he met in enjoyable and
helpful intercourse, when he could not have seen them in his own house,
some of the most distinguished men of the day,--men of rank and
influence as well as those of literary fame.

Until this intimacy with the Ashburtons, no domestic disturbances of
note had taken place in the Carlyle household. The wife may occasionally
have been sad and lonely when her husband was preoccupied with his
studies; but this she ought to have anticipated in marrying a literary
man whose only support was from his pen. Carlyle, too, was an inveterate
smoker, and she detested tobacco, so that he did not spend as much time
in the parlor as he did in his library, where he could smoke to his
heart's content. On the whole, however, their letters show genuine
mutual affection, and as much connubial happiness as is common to most
men and women, with far more of intimate intellectual and spiritual
congeniality. Carlyle, certainly, in all his letters, ever speaks of his
wife with admiration and gratitude. He regarded her as not only the most
talented woman that he had ever known, but as the one without whom he
was miserable. They were the best of comrades and companions from first
to last, when at home together.

For a considerable period after the publication of the Life of Cromwell,
Carlyle was apparently idle. He wrote for several years nothing of note
except his "Latter Day Pamphlets" (1850), and a Life of his friend John
Sterling (1851), to whom he was tenderly attached. It would seem that he
was now in easy circumstances, although he retained to the end his
economical habits. He amused himself with travelling, and with frequent
visits to distinguished people in the country. If not a society man, he
was much sought; he dined often at the tables of the great, and
personally knew almost every man of note in London. He sturdily took his
place among distinguished men,--the intellectual peer of the greatest.
He often met Macaulay, but was not intimate with him. I doubt if they
even exchanged visits. The reason for this may have been that they were
not congenial to each other in anything, and that the social position of
Macaulay was immeasurably higher than Carlyle's. It would be hard to say
which was the greater man.

It was not until 1852 or 1853, when Carlyle was fifty-eight, that he
seriously set himself to write his Life of Frederic II., his last great
work, on which he perseveringly labored for thirteen years. It is an
exhaustive history of the Prussian hero, and is regarded in Germany as
the standard work on that great monarch and general. The first volume
came out in 1858, and the last in 1865. It is a marvel of industry and
accuracy,--the most elaborate of all his works, but probably the least
read because of its enormous length and scholastic pedantries. It might
be said to bear the same relation to his "French Revolution" that
"Romola" does to "Adam Bede." In this book Carlyle made no new
revelations, as he did in his Life of Cromwell. He did not change
essentially the opinion of mankind. Frederick the Great, in his hands,
still stands out as an unscrupulous public enemy,--a robber and a
tyrant. His crimes are only partially redeemed by his heroism,
especially when Europe was in arms against him. There is the same defect
in this great work that there is in the Life of Cromwell,--the
inculcation of the doctrine that might makes right; that we may do evil
that good may come,--thus putting expediency above eternal justice, and
palliating crimes because of their success. It is difficult to account
for Carlyle's decline in moral perceptions, when we consider that his
personal life was so far above reproach.

Although the Life of Frederick is a work of transcendent industry, it
did not add to Carlyle's popularity, which had been undermined by his
bitter attacks on society in his various pamphlets. At this period he
was still looked up to with reverence as a great intellectual giant; but
that love for him which had been felt by those who were aroused to
honest thinking by his earlier writings had passed away. A new
generation looked upon him as an embittered and surly old man. His
services were not forgotten, but he was no longer a favorite,--no longer
an inspiring guide. His writings continued to stimulate thought, but
were no longer regarded as sound. Commonplace people never did like him,
probably because they never understood him. His admirers were among the
young, the enthusiastic, the hopeful, the inquiring; and when their
veneration passed away, there were few left to uphold his real greatness
and noble character. One might suppose that Carlyle would have been
unhappy to alienate so many persons, especially old admirers. In fact, I
apprehend that he cared little for anybody's admiration or flattery. He
lived in an atmosphere so infinitely above small and envious and
detracting people that he was practically independent of human
sympathies. Had he been doomed to live with commonplace persons, he
might have sought to conciliate them; but he really lived in another
sphere,--not perhaps higher than theirs, but eternally distinct,--in the
sphere of abstract truth. To him most people were either babblers or
bores. What did he care for their envious shafts, or even for their
honest disapprobation!

Hence, the last days of this great man were not his best days, although
he was not without honor. He was made Lord Rector of the University of
Edinburgh, and delivered a fine address on the occasion; and later,
Disraeli, when prime minister, offered him knighthood, with the Grand
Cross of the Order of the Bath and a pension, which he declined. The
author of the "Sartor Resartus" did not care for titles. He preferred to
remain simply Thomas Carlyle.

While Carlyle was in the midst of honors in Edinburgh, his wife, who had
long been in poor health, suddenly died, April 21, 1866. This affliction
was a terrible blow to Carlyle, from which he never recovered. It filled
out his measure of sorrow, deep and sad, and hard to be borne. His
letters after this are full of pathos and plaintive sadness. He could
not get resigned to his loss, for his wife had been more and more his
staff and companion as years had advanced. The Queen sent her sympathy,
but nothing could console him. He was then seventy-one years old, and
his work was done. His remaining years were those of loneliness and
sorrow and suffering. He visited friends, but they amused him not. He
wrote reminiscences, but his isolation remained. He sought out
charities when he himself was the object of compassion,--a sad old man
who could not sleep. He tried to interest himself in politics, but time
hung heavy on his hands. He read much and thought more, but assumed no
fresh literary work. He had enough to do to correct proof-sheets of new
editions of his works. His fiercest protests were now against atheism in
its varied forms. In 1870, Mr. Erskine, his last Scotch friend, died. In
1873 he writes: "More and more dreary, barren, base, and ugly seem to me
all the aspects of this poor, diminishing quack-world,--fallen openly
anarchic, doomed to a death which one can wish to be speedy."

Poor old man! He has survived his friends, his pleasures, his labors,
almost his fame; he is sick, and weary of life, which to him has become
a blank. Pity it is, he could not have died when "Cromwell" was
completed. He drags on his forlorn life, without wife or children, and
with only a few friends, in disease and ennui and discontent, almost
alone, until he is eighty-five.

     "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
      Creeps on this petty pace from day to day
      To the last syllable of recorded time;
      And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
      The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
      Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
      That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
      And then is heard no more. It is a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
      Signifying nothing."

The relief came at last. It was on a cold day in February, 1881, that
Lecky, Froude, and Tyndall, alone of his London friends, accompanied his
mortal remains to Ecclefechan, where he was buried by the graves of his
father and mother. He might have rested in the vaults of Westminster;
but he chose to lie in a humble churchyard, near where he was born.

"In future years," says his able and interesting biographer, "Scotland
will have raised a monument over his remains; but no monument is needed
for one who has made an eternal memorial for himself in the hearts of
all to whom truth is the dearest possession.

"'For, giving his soul to the common cause, he won for himself a wreath
which will not fade, and a tomb the most honorable,--not where his dust
is decaying, but where his glory lives in everlasting remembrance. For
of illustrious men all the earth is the sepulchre; and it is not the
inscribed column in their own land which is the record of their virtues,
but the unwritten memories of them in the hearts and minds of all
mankind.'" [1]

[Footnote 1: Quoted by Froude from the Funeral Oration of Pericles in
honor of the Athenians slain during the first summer of the
Peloponnesian War, as given by Thucydides,--"their," "they," etc. being
changed to "his," "he," etc.]

Thomas Carlyle will always have an honorable place among the great men
of his time. He was pre-eminently a profound thinker, a severe critic, a
great word-painter,--a man of uncommon original gifts, who aroused and
instructed his generation. In the literal sense, he was neither
philosopher nor poet nor statesman, but a man of genius, who cast his
searching and fearless glance into all creeds, systems, and public
movements, denouncing hypocrisies, shams, and lies with such power that
he lost friends almost as fast as he made them,--without, however,
losing the respect and admiration of his literary rivals, or of the
ablest and best men both in England and America. Although no believer in
the scientific philosophies of our time, he was a great breaker of
ground for them, having been a pioneer in the cause of honest thinking
and plain speaking. His passion for truth, and courage in declaring his
own vision of it, were potent for spiritual liberty. He stands as one of
the earliest and stoutest champions of that revolt against authority in
religious, intellectual, and social matters which has chiefly marked the
Nineteenth Century.



LORD MACAULAY.


1800-1859.

ARTISTIC HISTORICAL WRITING.

Among the eminent men of letters of the present century, Thomas
Babington Macaulay takes a very high position. In original genius he was
inferior to Carlyle, but was greater in learning, in judgment, and
especially in felicity of style. He was an historical artist of the
foremost rank, the like of whom has not appeared since Voltaire; and he
was, moreover, no mean poet, and might have been distinguished as such,
had poetry been his highest pleasure and ambition. The same may be said
of him as a political orator. Very few men in the House of Commons ever
surpassed him in the power of making an eloquent speech. He was too
impetuous and dogmatic to be a great debater, like Fox or Pitt or Peel
or Gladstone; but he might have reached a more exalted and influential
position as a statesman had he confined his remarkable talents
to politics.

But letters were the passion of Macaulay, from his youth up; and his
remarkably tenacious memory--abnormal, as it seems to me--enabled him to
bring his vast store of facts to support plausibly any position he chose
to take. At fifty years of age, he had probably read more books than any
man in Europe since Gibbon and Niebuhr; he literally devoured everything
he could put his hands upon, without cramming for a special
object,--especially the Greek and Latin Classics, which he read over and
over again, not so much for knowledge as for the pleasure it gave him as
a literary critic and a student of artistic excellence.

Macaulay was of Scotch descent, like so many eminent historians, poets,
critics, and statesmen who adorned the early and middle part of the
nineteenth century,--Scott, Burns, Carlyle, Jeffrey, Dundas, Playfair,
Wilson, Napier, Mackintosh, Robertson, Alison; a group of geniuses that
lived in Edinburgh, and made its society famous,--to say nothing of
great divines and philosophers like Chalmers and Stewart and Hamilton.
Macaulay belonged to a good family, the most distinguished members of
which were clergymen,--with the exception of his uncle, General
Macaulay, who made a fortune in India; and his father, the celebrated
merchant and philanthropist, Zachary Macaulay, who did more than any
other man, Wilberforce excepted, to do away with the slave-trade, and
to abolish slavery in the West India Islands.

Zachary Macaulay was the most modest and religious of men, and after an
eventful life in Africa as governor of the colony of Sierra Leone,
settled in Clapham, near London, with a handsome fortune. He belonged to
that famous evangelical set who made Clapham famous, and whose
extraordinary piety and philanthropy are commemorated by Sir James
Stephen in one of his most interesting essays. They resembled in
peculiarities the early Quakers and primitive Methodists, and though
very narrow were much respected for their unostentatious benevolence,
blended with public spirit.

Macaulay was born at Rothley Temple, in Leicestershire, Oct. 25, 1800,
but it was at Clapham that his boyhood was chiefly spent. His precocity
startled every one who visited his father's hospitable home. At the age
of three he would lie at full length on the carpet eagerly reading. He
was never seen without an open book in his hands, even during his walks.
He cared nothing for the sports of his companions. He could neither
ride, nor drive, nor swim, nor row a boat, nor play a game of tennis or
foot-ball. He cared only for books of all sorts, which he seized upon
with inextinguishable curiosity, and stored their contents in his
memory. When a boy, he had learned the "Paradise Lost" by heart. He did
not care to go to school, because it interrupted his reading. Hannah
More, a frequent visitor at Clapham and a warm friend of the family,
gazed upon him with amazement, but was too wise and conscientious to
spoil him by her commendations. At eight years of age he also had great
facility in making verses, which were more than tolerable.

Zachary Macaulay objected to his son being educated in one of the great
schools in England, like Westminster and Harrow, and he was therefore
sent to a private school kept by an evangelical divine who had been a
fellow at Cambridge,--a good scholar, but narrow in his theological
views. Indeed, Macaulay got enough of Calvinism before he went to
college, and was so unwisely crammed with it at home and at school, that
through life he had a repugnance to the evangelical doctrines of the Low
Church, with which, much to the grief of his father, he associated cant,
always his especial abhorrence and disgust. While Macaulay venerated his
father, he had little sympathy with his views, and never loved him as he
did his own sisters. He did his filial duty, and that was
all,--contributed largely to his father's support in later life, treated
him with profound respect, but was never drawn to him in affectionate
frankness and confidence.

It cannot be disguised that Macaulay was worldly in his turn of mind,
intensely practical, and ambitious of distinction as soon as he became
conscious of his great powers, although in his school-days he was very
modest and retiring. He was not religiously inclined, nor at all
spiritually minded. An omnivorous reader seldom is narrow, and seldom is
profound. Macaulay was no exception. He admired Pascal, but only for his
exquisite style and his trenchant irony. He saw little in Augustine
except his vast acquaintance with Latin authors. He carefully avoided
writing on the Schoolmen, or Calvin, or the great divines of the
seventeenth century. Bunyan he admired for his genius and perspicuous
style rather than for his sentiments. Even his famous article on Bacon
is deficient in spiritual insight; it is a description of the man rather
than a dissertation on his philosophy. Macaulay's greatness was
intellectual rather than moral; and his mental power was that of the
scholar and the rhetorical artist rather than the thinker. In his
masterly way of arraying facts he has never been surpassed; and in this
he was so skilful that it mattered little which side he took. Like
Daniel Webster, he could make any side appear plausible. Doubtless in
the law he might have become a great advocate, had he not preferred
literary composition instead. Had he lived in the times of the Grecian
Sophists, he might have baffled Socrates,--not by his logic, but by his
learning and his aptness of illustration.

Macaulay entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1818, being a healthy,
robust young man of eighteen, after five years' training in Greek and
Latin, having the eldest son of Wilberforce for a school companion.
Among his contemporaries and friends at Cambridge were Charles Austin,
Praed, Derwent Coleridge, Hyde Villiers, and Romilly; but I infer from
his Life by Trevelyan that his circle of intimate friends was not so
large as it would have been had he been fitted for college at
Westminster or Eton. Nor at this time were his pecuniary circumstances
encouraging. After he had obtained his first degree he supported
himself, while studying for a fellowship, by taking a couple of pupils
for £100 a year. Eventually he gained a fellowship worth £300 a year,
which was his main support for seven years, until he obtained a
government office in London. He probably would have found it easier to
get a fellowship at Oxford than at Cambridge, since mathematics were
uncongenial to him, his forte being languages. He was most distinguished
at college for English composition and Latin declamation. In 1819 he
wrote a poem, "Pompeii," which gained him the chancellor's medal,--a
distinction won again in 1821 by a poem on "Evening," while the same
year gave him the Craven scholarship for his classical attainments. He
took his bachelor's degree in 1822, and was made a fellow of Trinity
College. He did not obtain his fellowship, however, until his third
trial, being no favorite with those who had prizes and honors to bestow,
because of his neglect of science and mathematics.

As a profession, Macaulay made choice of the law, being called to the
bar in 1826, and at Leeds joined the Northern Circuit, of which Brougham
was the leading star. But the law was not his delight. He did not like
its technicalities. He spent most of his time in his chambers in
literary composition, or in the galleries of the House of Commons
listening to the debates. He never applied himself seriously to anything
which "went against the grain." At Court he got no briefs, but his
fellowship enabled him to live by practising economy. He also wrote
occasional essays--excellent but not remarkable--for Knight's Quarterly
Magazine. It was in this periodical, too, that his early poems were
published; but he did not devote much time to this field of letters,
although, as we have said, he might undoubtedly have succeeded in it.
His poetry, if he had never written anything else, would not be
considered much inferior to that of Sir Walter Scott, being full of life
and action, and, like most everything else he did, winning him applause.
Years later he felt the risk of publishing his "Lays of Ancient Rome;"
but as he knew what he could do and what he could not do, or rather what
would be popular, he was not disappointed. The poems were well
received, for they were eminently picturesque and vital, as well as
strong, masculine, and unadorned; the rhyme and metre were also
felicitous. He had no obscurities, and the spirit of his Lays was
patriotic and ardent, showing his love of liberty. I think his "Battle
of Ivry" is equal to anything that Scott wrote. Yet Macaulay is not
regarded by the critics as a true poet; that is, he did not write poetry
because he must, like Burns and Byron. His poetry was not spontaneous;
it was a manufactured article,--very good of its kind, but not such as
to have given him the fame which his prose writings made for him.

It was not, however, until his article on Milton appeared in the
Edinburgh Review in 1825, that Macaulay's great career began. Like
Byron, he woke up one morning to find himself famous. Everybody read and
admired an essay the style of which was new and striking. "Where did you
pick up that style?" wrote Jeffrey to the briefless barrister. It
transcended in brilliancy anything which had yet appeared in the
Edinburgh or Quarterly. Brougham became envious, and treated the rising
light with no magnanimity or admiration.

Of course, the author of such an uncommon article as that on Milton, the
praise of which was in everybody's mouth, had invitations to dinner from
distinguished people; and these were most eagerly accepted. Macaulay
rapidly became a social favorite, sought for his brilliant conversation,
which was as remarkable for a young man of twenty-six as were his
writings in the foremost literary journal of the world. He was not
handsome, and was carelessly dressed; but he had a massive head, and
rugged yet benevolent features, which lighted up with peculiar animation
when he was excited. One of the first persons of note to welcome him to
her table was Lady Holland, an accomplished but eccentric and
plain-spoken woman, who seems to have greatly admired him. He was a
frequent guest at Holland House, where for nearly half-a-century the
courtly and distinguished Lord Holland and his wife entertained the most
eminent men and women of the time. This gratified young Macaulay's
inordinate social ambition. He scarcely mentions in his letters at this
time any but peers and peeresses.

And yet he did not court the society of those he did not respect. He was
not a parasite or a flatterer even of the great, but met them apparently
on equal terms, as a monarch of the mind. He was at home in any circle
that was not ignorant or frivolous. He was more easy than genial, for
his prejudices or intellectual pride made him unkind to persons of
mediocrity. It was a bold thing to cross his path, for he came down
like an avalanche on those who opposed him, not so much in anger as in
contempt. I do not find that his circle of literary friends was large or
intimate. He seldom alludes to Carlyle or Bulwer or Thackeray or
Dickens. He has more to say of Rogers and Lord Jeffrey, and other pets
of aristocratic circles,--those who were conventionally favored, like
Sydney Smith; or those who gave banquets to people of fashion, like Lord
Lansdowne. These were the people he loved best to associate with, who
listened to his rhetoric with rapt admiration, who did not pique his
vanity, and who had something to give to him,--position and _éclat_.

Macaulay was not a vain man, nor even egotistical; but he had a
tremendous self-consciousness, which annoyed his equals in literary
fame, and repelled such a giant as Brougham, who had no idea of sharing
his throne with any one,--being more overbearing even than Macaulay, but
more human. This new rival in the Edinburgh Review, of which for a long
time Brougham had been dictator, was, much to Jeffrey's annoyance, not
convivial. He did not drink two bottles at a sitting, but guarded his
health and preserved his simple habits. Though he speaks with gusto of
Lord Holland's turtle and turbot and venison and grouse, he was content
when alone with a mutton-chop and a few glasses of sherry, or the
October ale of Cambridge, which was a part of his perquisites as
Fellow. He was very exclusive, in view of the fact that he was a poor
man, without aristocratic antecedents or many powerful friends. Outside
the class of rank and fashion, his friends seem to have been leading
politicians of the Liberal school, the stanch Whigs who passed the
Reform Bill, to whom he was true. To his credit, his happiest hours were
spent with his sisters in the quiet seclusion of his father's modest
home. All his best letters were to them; and in these he detailed his
intercourse with the great, and the splendor of their banquets
and balls.

Macaulay's rise, after he had written his famous article on Milton, was
rapid. The article itself, striking as it is, must be confessed to be
disappointing in so far as it attempted to criticise the "Paradise Lost"
and Milton's other poems. Macaulay's genius was historical, not
critical; and the essay is notable rather for its review of the times of
Charles I. and Archbishop Laud, of the Puritans and the Royalists, than
for its literary flavor, except as a brilliant piece of composition. It
was, however, the picturesque style of the new writer which was the
chief attraction, and the fact that the essay came from so young a man.
Macaulay followed the Milton essay with others on Macchiavelli, Dryden,
Hallam's "Constitutional History," and on history in general, which
displayed to great advantage his unusual learning, his keen historic
instinct, and his splendor of style. He became the most popular
contributor to the Edinburgh Review, which was beginning to be dull and
heavy; and this kept him before the eyes of politicians and
professional men.

Macaulay's ambition was now divided between literature and politics. His
first appearance as a public speaker was at an annual anti-slavery
convention in London, in 1826, when he made a marked impression. He
eagerly embraced the offer of a seat in the House of Commons, which was
secured to him in 1830; and as soon as he entered Parliament he began to
make speeches, which were carefully composed and probably committed to
memory. At a single bound he became one of the leading orators of that
renowned assembly. Some of his orations were masterpieces of argument
and rhetoric in favor of reform, and of all liberal movements in
philanthropy and education. In the opinion of eminent statesmen he was
the most "rising" member of the House, and sure to become a leader among
the Whigs. But he was poor, having only about £500 a year--the proceeds
of his fellowship and his literary productions--to support his dignity
as a legislator and meet the calls of society; so that in 1833 he was
rewarded with an office in the Board of Control, which regulated the
affairs of India; this doubled his income, and made him independent.
But he wanted an office in which he could lay up money for future
contingencies. Therefore, in 1834, he gladly resigned his seat in
Parliament and accepted the situation of a member of the Supreme Council
of India, on a salary of £10,000 a year, £7000 of which he continued to
save yearly; so that at the end of four years, when he returned to
England, he had become a rich man, or at least independent, with leisure
to do whatever he pleased.

In India, as chairman of the Board of Education, as legal adviser of the
Council, and in drafting a code of penal laws for that part of the
Empire, he was very useful,--although as a matter of fact the new code
was too theoretically fine to be practical, and was never put in force.
His personal good sense was equal to his industry and his talents, and
he preserved his health by strict habits of temperance. Even in that
tropical country he presented a strong contrast to the sallow, bilious
officials with whom he was surrounded, and in due time returned to
England in perfect health, one of the most robust of men, capable of
indefinite work, which never seemed to weary him.

But in Calcutta, as in London, he employed his leisure hours in writing
for the Edinburgh Review, and gave an immense impulse to its sale, for
which he was amply rewarded. Brougham complained to Jeffrey that his
essays took up too much space in the Review, but the politic editor knew
what was for its interest and popularity. Macaulay's long articles of
sometimes over a hundred pages were received without a murmur; and every
article he wrote added to his fame, since he always did his best. His
essays in 1830 on Southey and Montgomery, and one in 1831 on Croker's
edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, were fierce, scathing onslaughts,
even cruel and crushing,--revealing Macaulay's tremendous powers of
invective and remorseless criticism, but reflecting little credit on his
disposition or his judgment. His Hampden (1831) and his Burleigh (1832)
remain among his finest and most inspiring historical paintings. His
first essay on Lord Chatham (1834) is a notable piece of
characterization; the one on Sir James Mackintosh (1835) is a most acute
and brilliant historical criticism; the one on Lord Bacon (1837) is
striking and has become famous, but shows Macaulay's deficiency in
philosophic thought, besides being sophistical in spirit; and the
article on Sir William Temple (1837)--really a history of England during
the reign of William III.--is thoroughly fine.

Macaulay's residence in India, so far as political ambition was
concerned, may have been a mistake. It withdrew him from an arena in
which he could have risen to great distinction and influence as a
parliamentary orator. He might have been a second Fox, whom he resembled
in the impetuosity of his rhetoric, if he had also possessed Fox's
talents as a debater. Yet he was not a born leader of men. As a
parliamentary orator he was simply a speech-maker, like the Unitarian
minister Fox, or that still abler man the Quaker Bright, both of whom
were great rhetoricians. It is probable that he himself understood his
true sphere, which was that of a literary man,--an historical critic,
appealing to intelligent people rather than to learned pedants in the
universities. His service in India enabled him to write for the
remainder of his life with an untrammelled pen, and to live in comfort
and ease, enjoying the _otium cum dignitate_, to which he attached
supreme importance,--so different from Carlyle, who toiled in poverty at
Chelsea to declare truth for truth's sake, grumbling, yet lofty in his
meditations, the depth of which Macaulay was incapable of appreciating.

It is, then, as a man of letters rather than as a politician that our
author merits his exalted fame. Respectable as a member of the House of
Commons, or as a jurist in India in compiling a code of laws, yet
neither as a statesman nor as a jurist was he in his right place. The
leaders of his party may have admired and praised his oratory, but they
wanted something more practical than orations,--they wanted the control
of men; and so, too, the government demanded a code which would exact
the esteem of lawyers and meet the wants of India rather than a
composition which would read well. But as an historical critic and a
luminous writer, Macaulay had no superior,--a fact which no one knew
better than himself.

In 1838, on his return from India,--where he had regarded himself as in
honorable exile,--Macaulay had accumulated a fortune of £30,000, to him
more than a competency. This, added to the legacy of £10,000 which he
had received from his uncle, General Macaulay, secured to him
independence and leisure to pursue his literary work, which was
paramount to every other consideration. If both from pleasure and
ambition there ever was a man devoted heart and soul and body to a
literary career, it was Macaulay. Nor would he now accept any political
office which seriously interfered with the passion of his life. Still
less would he waste his time at the dinner parties of the great, no
longer to him a novelty. He was eminently social by nature, and fond of
talk and controversy, with a superb physique capable of digesting the
richest dishes, and of enduring the fatigues and ceremonies of
fashionable life; but even the pleasures of the banquet and of
cultivated society, to many a mere relaxation, were sacrificed to his
fondness for books,--to him the greatest and truest companionship,
especially when they introduced him to the life and manners of by-gone
ages, and to communion with the master-minds of the world.

For relaxation, Macaulay preferred to take long walks; lounge around the
book-stalls; visit the sights of London with his nieces; invite his
intimate friends to simple dinners at The Albany; amuse himself with
trifles, especially in company with those he loved best, in the domestic
circle of his relatives, whom he treated ever with the most familiar and
affectionate sympathy,--so that while they loved and revered him, they
had no idea that "Uncle Tom" was a great man. His most interesting
letters were to his sisters and nieces, whose amusement and welfare he
had constantly in view, and who were more to him than all the world
besides. Indeed, he did not write many letters except to his relatives,
his publishers, and his intimate friends, who were few, considering the
number of persons he was obliged to meet. He was a thoroughly domestic
man, although he never married or wished to marry.

It surprises me that Macaulay's intercourse with eminent authors was so
constrained. He saw very little of them; but while he did not avoid
talking with them when thrown among them, and keeping up the courtesies
of life even with those he thoroughly disliked, I cannot see any
evidence that he sought the society of those who were regarded as his
equals in genius. He liked Milman and Mackintosh and Napier and Jeffrey
and Rogers, and a few others; but his intimate intercourse was confined
chiefly to these and to his family.

Macaulay's fame, however, was substantially founded and built. Sydney
Smith's witty characterization of him is worth recalling:--

"I always prophesied his greatness from the first moment I saw him, then
a very young and unknown man on the Northern Circuit. There are no
limits to his knowledge, on small subjects as well as great; he is like
a book in breeches.

"Yes, I agree, he is certainly more agreeable since his return from
India. His enemies might have said before (though _I_ never did so) that
he talked rather too much; but now he has occasional flashes of silence
that make his conversation perfectly delightful. But what is far better
and more important than all this is, that I believe Macaulay to be
incorruptible. You might lay ribbons, stars, garters, wealth, title,
before him in vain. He has an honest, genuine love of his country; and
the world could not bribe him to neglect her interests."

Macaulay now devoted several weeks of every year to travel, visiting
different parts of England and the Continent as the mood took him. In
the autumn of 1838 he visited Italy, it would seem for the first time,
and was, of course, enchanted. He appreciated natural scenery, but was
not enthusiastic over it; nor did it make a very deep impression on him
except for the moment. He loved best to visit cities and places
consecrated by classical associations.

While at Rome, Macaulay received from Lord Melbourne the offer of the
office of Judge Advocate; but he unhesitatingly declined it. The salary
of £2500 was nothing to a scholar who already had a comfortable
independence; and the duties the situation imposed were not only
uncongenial, but would interfere with his literary labors.

In February, 1839, he returned to London; and now the pressure on him by
his political friends to re-enter public life was greater than he could
resist. He was elected to Parliament as one of the members from
Edinburgh, and gave his usual support to his party. In September he
became War Secretary, with a seat in the Whig Cabinet under Lord
Melbourne. Consequently he suspended for a while his literary tasks,
conducting the business of his department with commendable industry, but
without enthusiasm. In the session of 1840 and 1841, during the angry
discussions pertaining to the registration of votes in Ireland, he gave
proof of having profited by the severe legal training he had received
from his labors in India. During these years he found time to write a
few reviews, the one on Lord Olive being the most prominent.

The great subject of political agitation at this period was the repeal
of the Corn Laws. The Whig leaders had lost the earnestness which had
marked their grand efforts when they carried the Reform Bill of 1832,
and were more indifferent to further reforms than suited their
constituents; so that, at a dangerous financial crisis in 1841, the
direction of public affairs fell into the hands of the Tories, under Sir
Robert Peel. This great man not only rescued the nation from its fiscal
embarrassments, but having been convinced by the arguments of Cobden of
the necessity of repealing the Corn Laws, he carried through that great
reform, to the disgust of his party and to his own undying fame. I have
treated of this period more at large in another volume of this
series.[2]

[Footnote 2: Beacon Lights of History: European Leaders.]

Macaulay was not much moved by the fall of the ministry to which he
belonged, and gladly resumed his literary labors,--the first fruits of
his leisure being an essay on Warren Hastings, a companion piece to the
one on Clive.

These East Indian essays constitute the most picturesque and graphic
account of British conquests in that ancient land that has been given
to the public. Macaulay's intimate knowledge of the ground, and his
literary resources, enabled him to picture the dazzling successes of
Clive and Hastings; so that the careers of those superb military
chieftains and commercial robber-statesmen, in securing for their
country the control of a distant province larger than France, and in
enriching the British Empire and themselves beyond all precedent in
conquest, stand splendidly portrayed forever.

Macaulay had now taken apartments in The Albany, on the second floor, to
which he removed his large library, and in which he comfortably lived
for fifteen years. His article on Warren Hastings was followed by that
on Frederic the Great. His numerous articles in the Edinburgh Review had
now become so popular that there was a great demand for them in a
separate form. Curiously enough, as in the case of Carlyle, it was in
America that the public appreciation of these essays first took the form
of book publication; and Macaulay's "Miscellanies" were published in
Boston in 1840, and in Philadelphia in 1842. As these volumes began to
go to England, for Macaulay's own protection they were republished by
Longman, revised by the author, in 1843, and obtained an immediate and
immense sale,--reaching one hundred and twenty thousand copies in
England,--which added to the fame and income of Macaulay. But he was
never satisfied with the finish of his own productions; the only thing
which seemed to comfort him was that the last essays were better than
the first. In addition to his labors for the Edinburgh, was the
publication of a volume of his poems in 1842, which was also
enthusiastically received by his admirers. His last notable essays were
a chivalrous article on Madame D'Arblay (January, 1843); an entirely
charming account of Addison and the wits of Queen Anne's reign (July,
1843); an interesting review of the Memoirs of Barère, the French
revolutionist and writer (April, 1844); and finally a second article on
Lord Chatham (October, 1844), which is considered finer than the first
one written twenty years earlier. More and more, however, the project of
writing a History of England had taken possession of him, and he began
now to forego all other literary occupation, and to devote all his
leisure time to that great work.

During much of the time that Macaulay had continued writing his reviews,
at the rate of about two in a year, he was an active member of
Parliament, frequently addressing the House of Commons, and earning the
gratitude of the country by his liberal and enlightened
views,--especially those in reference to the right of Unitarians to
their chapels, to the enlarged money-grant given to the Irish Roman
Catholic Maynooth College, and to the extension of copyrights. He
rarely spoke without careful preparation. His speeches were forcible and
fine. In the higher field of debate, however, as we have already
intimated, he was not successful. In 1845 Sir Robert Peel retired, the
Whigs again coming into power; and in 1846 Macaulay accepted the office
of Paymaster of the Forces, because its duties were comparatively light
and would not much interfere with his literary labors, while it added
£2000 a year to his income. During the session of 1846 and 1847, while
still in Parliament, he spoke only five times, although the House was
ever ready to listen to him.

In the year 1847 the disruption of the Scotch Church was effected, and
in the bitterness engendered by that movement Macaulay lost his
popularity with his Edinburgh constituents. He seemed indifferent to
their affairs; he answered their letters irregularly and with almost
contemptuous brevity. He had no sympathy with the radicals who at that
time controlled a large number of votes, and he refused to contribute
towards electioneering expenses. Above all, he was absorbed in his
History, and had lost much of his interest in politics. In consequence
he failed to be re-elected, and not unwillingly retired to private life.

Macaulay now concentrated all his energies on the History, which
occupied his thoughts, his studies, and his pen for the most part during
the remainder of his life. The first two volumes were published in the
latter part of 1848; and the sale was immense, surpassing that of any
historical work in the history of literature, and coming near to the
sale of the novels of Sir Walter Scott. The popularity of the work was
not confined to scholars and statesmen and critics, but it was equally
admired by ordinary readers; and not in England and Scotland alone, but
in the United States, in France, in Holland, in Germany, and other
countries.

The labor expended on these books was prodigious. The author visited in
person nearly all the localities in England and Ireland where the events
he narrated took place. He ransacked the archives of most of the
governments of Europe, and all the libraries to which he could gain
access, public and private. He worked twelve hours a day, and yet
produced on an average only two printed pages daily,--so careful was he
in verifying his facts and in arranging his materials, writing and
rewriting until no further improvement could be made.

This book was not merely the result of his researches for the last
fifteen years of his life, but of his general reading for nearly fifty
years, when everything he read he remembered. Says Thackeray, "He reads
twenty books to write a sentence; he travels one hundred miles to make a
line of description." The extent and exactness of his knowledge were not
only marvellous, but almost incredible. Mr. Buckle declared that
Macaulay was perfectly accurate in all the facts which Buckle had
himself investigated to write his "History of Civilization;" and so
particular was he in the selection of words that he never allowed a
sentence to pass muster until it was as good as he could make it. "He
thought little of reconstructing a paragraph," says his biographer, "for
the sake of one happy illustration." He submitted to the most tiresome
mechanical drudgery in the correction of his proof-sheets. The clearness
of his thought amid the profusion of his knowledge was represented in
his writing by a remarkable conciseness of expression. His short,
vigorous sentences are compact with details of fact, yet rich with
color. His terseness has been compared to that of Tacitus. His power of
condensation, aptness of phrase and epithet, and indomitable industry
made him a master of rhetorical effect, in the use of his multifarious
learning for the illustration of his themes.

As soon as his last proof-sheet had been despatched to the printers,
Macaulay at once fell to reading a series of historians from Herodotus
downward, to measure his writings with theirs. Thucydides especially
utterly destroyed all the conceit which naturally would arise from his
unbounded popularity, as expressed in every social and literary circle,
as well as in the Reviews. Like Michael Angelo, this Englishman was
never satisfied with his own productions; and the only comfort he took
in the impossibility of realizing his ideal was in the comparison he
made of his own works with similar ones by contemporary authors. Then he
was content; and then only appeared in his letters and diary that
good-natured, self-satisfied feeling which arose from the consciousness
that he was one of the most fortunate authors who had ever lived. There
was nothing cynical in his sense of superiority, but an amiable
self-assertion and self-confidence that only made men smile,--as when
Lord Palmerston remarked that "he wished he was as certain of any one
thing as Tom Macaulay was of everything." This self-confidence rarely
provoked opposition, except when he was positive as to things outside
his sphere. He wrote and talked sensibly and luminously on financial and
social questions, on art, on poetry and the drama, on philosophy and
theology; but on these subjects he was not an authority with
specialists. In other words, he did not, so to speak, know everything
profoundly, but only superficially; yet in history, especially English
history, he was profound in analysis as well as brilliant in the
narration of facts, even when there was disagreement between himself and
others as to inductions he drew from those facts,--inductions colored by
his strong prejudices and aristocratic surroundings.

Macaulay was not always consistent with his own theories, however. For
instance, he was a firm believer in the progress of society and of
civilization. He saw the enormous gulf between the ninth and the
nineteenth centuries, and the unmistakable advance which, since the
times of Hildebrand, the world had made in knowledge, in the arts, in
liberty, and in the comforts of life, although the tide of progress had
its ebb and flow in different ages and countries. Yet when he cast his
eye on America, where perhaps the greatest progress had been made in the
world's history within fifty years, he saw nothing but melancholy signs
of anarchy and decay,--signs portending the collapse of liberty and the
triumph of ignorance and crime. Thus he writes in 1857 to an American
correspondent:--

"As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land,
your laboring population will be far more at ease than the laboring
population of the Old World; but the time will come when wages will be
as low, and will fluctuate as much, with you as with us. Then your
institutions will fairly be brought to the test. Distress everywhere
makes the laborer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen
with eagerness to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous
iniquity that one man should have a million, while another cannot get a
full meal. In bad years there is plenty of grumbling here, and sometimes
a little rioting; but it matters little, for here the sufferers are not
the rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a class deeply
interested in the security of property and the maintenance of order;
accordingly the malcontents are restrained. But with you the majority is
the government, and has the rich, who are always in a minority,
absolutely at its mercy. The day will come when the multitude of people,
none of whom has had more than a half a breakfast, or expects to have
more than a half a dinner, will choose a legislature. Is it possible to
doubt what sort of legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a
statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict
observance of the public faith; and on the other a demagogue ranting
about the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody
should be permitted to drink champagne and ride in a carriage, while
thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries: which of the two
candidates is likely to be preferred by a working-man who hears his
children cry for more bread? There will be, I fear, spoliation. The
spoliation will increase the distress; the distress will produce fresh
spoliation. There is nothing to stop you; your Constitution is all sail
and no anchor. Either civilization or liberty will perish. Either some
Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong
hand, or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by
barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in
the fifth."

I do not deny that there is great force in Macaulay's reasoning and
prophecy. History points to decline and ruin when public virtue has fled
and government is in the hands of demagogues; for their reign has ever
been succeeded by military usurpers who have preserved civilization
indeed, but at the expense of liberty. Yet this reasoning applies not
only to America but to England as well,--especially since, by the Reform
Bill and subsequent enactments of Parliament, she has opened the gates
to an increase of suffrage, which now threatens to become universal. The
enfranchisement of the people--the enlarged powers of the individual
under the protection and control of the commonwealth--is the Anglo-Saxon
contribution to progress. It is dangerous. So is all power until its use
is learned. But there is no backward step possible; the tremendous
experiment must go forward, for England and America alike.

Macaulay himself was one of the most prominent of English statesmen and
orators, in 1830, 1831, and 1832, to advocate the extension of the right
of suffrage and the increase of popular liberties. All his writings are
on the side of liberty in England; and all are in opposition to the
Toryism which was so triumphant during the reign of George III. Why did
he have faith in the English people of England, and yet show so little
in the English people of America? He believed in political and social
progress for his own countrymen; why should he doubt the utility of the
same in other countries? If vandalism is to be the fate of America,
where education, the only truly conservative element, is more diffused
than in England, why should it not equally triumph in that country when
the masses have gained political power, as they surely will at some
time, and even speedily, if the policy inaugurated by Gladstone is to
triumph? For England Macaulay had unbounded hope, because he believed in
progress,--in liberty, in education, in the civilizing influence of
machinery, in the increasing comforts of life through the constant
increase of wealth among the middle classes, and especially through the
power of Christianity, in spite of the dissensions of sects, the attacks
of crude philosophers, socialists, anarchists, scientists, and atheists,
from one end of Christendom to the other. Why should he not have equal
faith in American civilization, which, in spite of wars and strikes and
commercial distresses and political corruption, has yet made a marked
progress from the time of Jefferson, the apostle of equality, down to
our day,--as seen especially in the multiplication of schools and
colleges, in an untrammelled and watchful press, and in the active
benevolence of the rich in the foundation of every kind of institution
to relieve misery and want? The truth is that he, in common with most
educated Englishmen of his day,--and of too many even of our own
day,--cherished a silent contempt for Americans, for their literature
and their institutions; and hence he was not only inconsistent in the
principles which he advocated, but showed that he was not emancipated,
with all his learning, from prejudices of which he ought to have
been ashamed.

As time made inroads on Macaulay's strong constitution, he gave up both
politics and society in the absorbing interest which he took in his
History, confining himself to his library, and sometimes allowing months
to pass without accepting any invitation whatever to a social gathering.
No man was ever more disenchanted with society. He begrudged his time
even when tempted by the calls of friendship. When visitors penetrated
to his den, he bowed them out with ironical politeness. He had no favors
to ask from friends or foes, for he declined political office, and was
as independent as wealth or fame could make him. In 1849 he was made
Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, and the acclamations following
his address were prodigious. Lord John Russell gave to Macaulay's
brother John a living worth £1100. Macaulay himself was offered the
professorship of History at Cambridge. In one year he received for the
first edition of his third and fourth volumes of the History, published
in 1855, £20,000 in a single check from Longman. At the age of
forty-nine, he writes in his diary: "I have no cause for
complaint,--tolerable health, competence, liberty, leisure, dear
relatives and friends, and a very great literary reputation."

With all this prosperity, Macaulay now naturally set up his carriage. He
dined often with the Queen, and was a great man, according to English
notions, more even from his wealth and social position than from his
success in letters. Lord John Russell pressed him to accept a seat in
his cabinet, but "I told him," Macaulay writes, "that I should be of no
use,--that I was not a debater; that it was too late to become one; that
my temper, taste, and literary habits alike prevented." He was, however,
induced to become again a member of Parliament, and in 1852 was elected
once more for Edinburgh, which had repented of its rejection of him in
1847. But he insisted on perfect independence to vote as he pleased. He
regarded this re-entrance into public life as a great personal
sacrifice, since it might postpone the appearance of his next two
volumes of the History. His election, however, was received with great
acclamation. Even Professor Wilson, the most conservative of Scotch
Tories, voted for him. It was not a party victory, but purely a
personal triumph.

A serious illness now follows,--a weakness of the heart, from the
effects of which Macaulay died a few years afterwards. He retires to
Clifton, and gives himself up to getting well, visiting Barley Wood, and
driving in his private carriage among the most interesting scenery in
the west of England. But he was never perfectly well again, although he
continued to work on his History. His intimate friends saw the change in
him with sadness, but he himself was serene and uncomplaining. Although
he suffered from an oppression of the chest, he still on great occasions
addressed the House. His mind was clear, but his voice was faint. The
last speech he made was in behalf of the independence of the Scottish
Church. The strain of the House of Commons proved to be too great for
his now enfeebled constitution. "Nor could he conceal from himself and
his friends," says Trevelyan, "that it was a grievous waste, while the
reign of Anne still remained unwritten, for him to consume his scanty
stock of vigor in the tedious and exhaustive routine of political
existence; waiting whole evenings for the vote, and then ... trudging
home at three in the morning through the slush of a February thaw." He
therefore spared himself as a member of Parliament, and carefully
husbanded his powers in order to work upon his book. He gave himself
more time for his annual vacation, yet would write when he could on the
subjects which engrossed his life. His labors were too severe for his
strength, but he worked on, and even harder and harder.

At length on the 25th of November, 1855, Macaulay sent to the printer
the last twenty pages of his History, and an edition of twenty-five
thousand was ordered. Within a generation one hundred and forty thousand
copies of the work were sold in the United Kingdom alone. Six rival
translators were engaged in turning it into German; and it was published
in the Polish, the Danish, the Swedish, the Italian, the French, the
Dutch, the Spanish, the Hungarian, the Russian, and the Bohemian
languages, to say nothing of its immense circulation in the United
States. Such extraordinary literary popularity was accompanied by great
honors. In 1857 Macaulay was created a British Peer and elected Lord
High Steward of the borough of Cambridge. The academies of Utrecht,
Munich, and Turin elected him to honorary membership. The King of
Prussia made him a member of the Order of Merit. Oxford conferred on him
the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, and he was elected president of the
Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh. He could have little more in the
way of academic and governmental honors.

The failing health of Macaulay now compelled him to resign his seat in
the House of Commons. It was also thought desirable for him to vacate
his apartments at The Albany, which he had occupied for fifteen years,
that he might be more retired and perhaps more comfortable. His
friends, at the suggestion of Dean Milman, selected a house in
Kensington, the rooms of which were small, except the library, which
opened upon a beautiful lawn, adorned with flowers and shrubs; it was
called Holly Lodge, and was very secluded and attractive. Here his
latter days were spent, in the society of his nieces and a few devoted
friends, and in dispensing simple hospitalities. His favorite form of
entertainment was the breakfast, at which his guests would linger till
twelve, enchanted by his conversation, for his mind showed no signs
of decay.

From this charming retreat Lord Macaulay very seldom appeared in London
society. Years passed without his even accepting invitations. An
occasional night at a friend's house in the country, one or two nights
at Windsor Castle, and one or two visits to Lord Stanhope's seat in Kent
in order to consult his magnificent library, were the only visits which
Macaulay made in the course of the year. He always had a dislike of
visiting in private houses, much preferring hotels, where he could be
free from conventional life.

Macaulay was always careful in his expenditures, wasting nothing that he
might enjoy the pleasure of charity,--for he gave liberally, especially
to needy and unfortunate men of letters. Once he gave £100 to a total
stranger who implored his aid. In his household he was revered, for he
was the kindest and most considerate of masters, while his relatives
absolutely worshipped him. At home he made no claim to the privileges of
genius; he had few eccentricities; he never interfered with the
pleasures of others; he never obtruded his advice, or demanded that his
own views or tastes should be consulted; he was especially careful not
to wound the feelings of those with whom he lived. Children were his
delight and solace. Over them he seemed to have unbounded influence. He
would spend the half of a busy day in playing with them, and in
inventing new games for their diversion. One of his pleasures was to
take them to see the sights of London. His sympathies were quick and
generous; although apparently so cynical in his opinions of books, he
was always affected at any touches of pathos, even to tears.

It was hard for Macaulay to realize that the time had come when he must
leave untold that portion of English history with which he was more
familiar than any other living man; but he submitted to the inevitable
without repining. He had done what he could. Even when he was compelled
to give up his daily task, his love of reading remained; a book was his
solace to the last. He had no extensive acquaintance with the works of
some of the best writers of his own generation, preferring the classic
authors of antiquity, and of England in the time of Anne. He did not
relish Coleridge or Carlyle or Buckle or Ruskin, or indeed any writer
who seemed to strain after originality of style, in defiance of the old
and conservative canons. He preferred Miss Austen to Dickens. He felt
that he owed a great debt to the master-minds of by-gone ages, who
reached perfection of style, so far as it can be attained. Even the
English writers of the reign of Anne, to his mind, have never been
surpassed. His admiration for Addison was unbounded. Dryden and Pope to
him were greater poets than any who have succeeded them. Such a poet as
Tennyson or Wordsworth he pretended he did not understand. He wanted
transparent clearness of expression. Browning would have been to him an
abomination. He despised the poetry of his own age, with its involved
sentences, its obscurity, and its strange metres. His own poetry was as
direct as Homer, as simple as Chaucer, and as graphic as Scott.

In 1859, Macaulay contrived to visit once more the English lakes and the
western highlands, where he was received with great veneration, being
recognized everywhere on steamers and railway stations. But his
cheerfulness had now departed, although he made an effort to be
agreeable. In December of this year he ceased writing in his diary. The
physicians pretended to think that he was better, but fainting fits set
in. On Christmas he said but little, and was constantly dropping to
sleep. His relatives did not seem to think that he was in immediate
danger, but the end was near. He died without pain, and was buried in
Westminster Abbey on the 9th of January, 1860, having for pall-bearers
the most illustrious men in England. He rests in the Poet's Corner, amid
the tombs of Johnson and Garrick, Handel and Goldsmith, Gay and Addison,
leaving behind him an immortal fame.

And what is this fame? It is not that of a philosophical historian like
Guizot, for his History is not marked by profound generalizations, or
even thoughtful reflections. He was not a judicial historian like
Hallam, seeking to present the truth alone; for he was a partisan, full
of party prejudices. Nor was he an historian like Ranke, raking out the
hidden facts of a remote period, and unveiling the astute diplomacy of
past ages. Macaulay was a great historical painter of the realistic
school, whose pictures have never been surpassed, or even equalled, for
vividness and interest. In this class of historians he stands out alone
and peerless, the most exciting and the most interesting of all the
historians who have depicted the manners, the events, and the characters
of a former age,--never by any accident dull, but fatiguing, if at all,
only by his wealth of illustration and the over-brilliancy of his
coloring. He is the Titian of word-painting, and as such will live like
that immortal colorist. Critics may say what they please about his
rhetoric, about his partial statements, about his want of insight into
deep philosophical questions; but as a painter who made his figures
stand out on the historical canvas with unique vividness, Macaulay
cannot fail to be regarded, as long as the English language is spoken or
written, as one of the great masters of literary composition. This was
the verdict pronounced by the English nation at large; and its great
political and literary leaders expressed and confirmed it, when they
gave him fortune and fame, elevated him to the peerage, bestowed on him
stars and titles, and buried him with august solemnity among those
illustrious men who gave to England its power and glory.



SHAKSPEARE; OR, THE POET.[3]


1564-1616.

BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON.

Great men are more distinguished by range and extent than by
originality. If we require the originality which consists in weaving,
like a spider, their web from their own bowels; in finding clay and
making bricks and building the house; no great men are original. Nor
does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other men. The hero
is in the press of knights and the thick of events; and seeing what men
want and sharing their desire, he adds the needful length of sight and
of arm to come at the desired point. The greatest genius is the most
indebted man. A poet is no rattle-brain, saying what comes uppermost,
and, because he says everything, saying at last something good; but a
heart in unison with his time and country. There is nothing whimsical
and fantastic in his production, but sweet and sad earnest, freighted
with the weightiest convictions and pointed with the most determined
aim which any man or class knows of in his times.

[Footnote 3: Reprinted from "Representative Men," by permission of
Messrs. HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN, AND CO., publishers of Emerson's works.]

The Genius of our life is jealous of individuals, and will not have any
individual great, except through the general. There is no choice to
genius. A great man does not wake up on some fine morning and say, 'I am
full of life, I will go to sea and find an Antarctic continent: to-day I
will square the circle: I will ransack botany and find a new food for
man: I have a new architecture in my mind: I foresee a new mechanic
power:' no, but he finds himself in the river of the thoughts and
events, forced onward by the ideas and necessities of his
contemporaries. He stands where all the eyes of men look one way, and
their hands all point in the direction in which he should go. The Church
has reared him amidst rites and pomps, and he carries out the advice
which her music gave him, and builds a cathedral needed by her chants
and processions. He finds a war raging: it educates him, by trumpet, in
barracks, and he betters the instruction. He finds two counties groping
to bring coal, or flour, or fish, from the place of production to the
place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. Every master has found
his materials collected, and his power lay in his sympathy with his
people and in his love of the materials he wrought in. What an economy
of power! and what a compensation for the shortness of life! All is
done to his hand. The world has brought him thus far on his way. The
human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows,
and bridged the rivers. Men, nations, poets, artisans, women, all have
worked for him, and he enters into their labors. Choose any other thing,
out of the line of tendency, out of the national feeling and history,
and he would have all to do for himself: his powers would be expended in
the first preparations. Great genial power, one would almost say,
consists in not being original at all; in being altogether receptive, in
letting the world do all, and suffering the spirit of the hour to pass
unobstructed through the mind.

Shakspeare's youth fell in a time when the English people were
importunate for dramatic entertainments. The court took offence easily
at political allusions and attempted to suppress them. The Puritans, a
growing and energetic party, and the religious among the Anglican
church, would suppress them. But the people wanted them. Inn-yards,
houses without roofs, and extemporaneous enclosures at country fairs
were the ready theatres of strolling players. The people had tasted this
new joy; and, as we could not hope to suppress newspapers now,--no, not
by the strongest party,--neither then could king, prelate, or puritan,
alone or united, suppress an organ which was ballad, epic, newspaper,
caucus, lecture, Punch and library, at the same time. Probably king,
prelate, and puritan all found their own account in it. It had become,
by all causes, a national interest,--by no means conspicuous, so that
some great scholar would have thought of treating it in an English
history,--but not a whit less considerable because it was cheap and of
no account, like a baker's-shop. The best proof of its vitality is the
crowd of writers which suddenly broke into this field: Kyd, Marlow,
Greene, Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Heywood, Middleton, Peele,
Ford, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher.

The secure possession, by the stage, of the public mind, is of the first
importance to the poet who works for it. He loses no time in idle
experiments. Here is audience and expectation prepared. In the case of
Shakspeare there is much more. At the time when he left Stratford and
went up to London, a great body of stage-plays of all dates and writers
existed in manuscript and were in turn produced on the boards. Here is
the Tale of Troy, which the audience will bear hearing some part of,
every week; the Death of Julius Caesar, and other stories out of
Plutarch, which they never tire of; a shelf full of English history,
from the chronicles of Brut and Arthur down to the royal Henries, which
men hear eagerly; and a string of doleful tragedies, merry Italian
tales, and Spanish voyages, which all the London 'prentices know. All
the mass has been treated, with more or less skill, by every playwright,
and the prompter has the soiled and tattered manuscripts. It is now no
longer possible to say who wrote them first. They have been the property
of the Theatre so long, and so many rising geniuses have enlarged or
altered them, inserting a speech or a whole scene, or adding a song,
that no man can any longer claim copyright in this work of numbers.
Happily, no man wishes to. They are not yet desired in that way. We have
few readers, many spectators and hearers. They had best lie where
they are.

Shakspeare, in common with his comrades, esteemed the mass of old plays
waste stock, in which any experiment could be freely tried. Had the
_prestige_ which hedges about a modern tragedy existed, nothing could
have been done. The rude warm blood of the living England circulated in
the play, as in street-ballads, and gave body which he wanted to his
airy and majestic fancy. The poet needs a ground in popular tradition on
which he may work, and which, again, may restrain his art within the due
temperance. It holds him to the people, supplies a foundation for his
edifice, and in furnishing so much work done to his hand, leaves him at
leisure and in full strength for the audacities of his imagination. In
short, the poet owes to his legend what sculpture owed to the temple.
Sculpture in Egypt and in Greece grew up in subordination to
architecture. It was the ornament of the temple wall: at first a rude
relief carved on pediments, then the relief became bolder and a head or
arm was projected from the wall; the groups being still arranged with
reference to the building, which serves also as a frame to hold the
figures; and when at last the greatest freedom of style and treatment
was reached, the prevailing genius of architecture still enforced a
certain calmness and continence in the statue. As soon as the statue was
begun for itself, and with no reference to the temple or palace, the art
began to decline: freak, extravagance, and exhibition took the place of
the old temperance. This balance-wheel, which the sculptor found in
architecture, the perilous irritability of poetic talent found in the
accumulated dramatic materials to which the people were already wonted,
and which had a certain excellence which no single genius, however
extraordinary, could hope to create.

In point of fact it appears that Shakspeare did owe debts in all
directions, and was able to use whatever he found, and the amount of
indebtedness may be inferred from Malone's laborious computations in
regard to the First, Second, and Third parts of Henry VI., in which,
"out of 6,043 lines, 1,771 were written by some author preceding
Shakspeare, 2,373 by him, on the foundations laid by his predecessors,
and 1,899 were entirely his own." And the proceeding investigation
hardly leaves a single drama of his absolute invention. Malone's
sentence is an important piece of external history. In Henry VIII. I
think I see plainly the cropping out of the original rock on which his
own finer stratum was laid. The first play was written by a superior,
thoughtful man, with a vicious ear. I can mark his lines, and know well
their cadence. See Wolsey's soliloquy, and the following scene with
Cromwell, where, instead of the metre of Shakspeare, whose secret is
that the thought constructs the tune, so that reading for the sense will
best bring out the rhythm,--here the lines are constructed on a given
tune, and the verse has even a trace of pulpit eloquence. But the play
contains through all its length unmistakable traits of Shakspeare's
hand, and some passages, as the account of the coronation, are like
autographs. What is odd, the compliment to Queen Elizabeth is in the
bad rhythm.

Shakespeare knew that tradition supplies a better fable than any
invention can. If he lost any credit of design, he augmented his
resources; and, at that day, our petulant demand for originality was not
so much pressed. There was no literature for the million. The universal
reading, the cheap press, were unknown. A great poet who appears in
illiterate times, absorbs into his sphere all the light which is
anywhere radiating. Every intellectual jewel, every flower of sentiment
it is his fine office to bring to his people; and he comes to value his
memory equally with his invention. He is therefore little solicitous
whence his thoughts have been derived; whether through translation,
whether through tradition, whether by travel in distant countries,
whether by inspiration; from whatever source, they are equally welcome
to his uncritical audience. Nay, he borrows very near home. Other men
say wise things as well as he; only they say a good many foolish things,
and do not know when they have spoken wisely. He knows the sparkle of
the true stone, and puts it in high place, wherever he finds it. Such is
the happy position of Homer perhaps; of Chaucer, of Saadi. They felt
that all wit was their wit. And they are librarians and
historiographers, as well as poets. Each romancer was heir and dispenser
of all the hundred tales of the world,--

     "Presenting Thebes' and Pelops' line
      And the tale of Troy divine."

The influence of Chaucer is conspicuous in all our early literature; and
more recently not only Pope and Dryden have been beholden to him, but,
in the whole society of English writers, a large unacknowledged debt is
easily traced. One is charmed with the opulence which feeds so many
pensioners. But Chaucer is a huge borrower. Chaucer, it seems, drew
continually, through Lydgate and Caxton, from Guido di Colonna, whose
Latin romance of the Trojan war was in turn a compilation from Bares
Phrygius, Ovid and Statius. Then Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the Provençal
poets are his benefactors; the Romaunt of the Rose is only judicious
translation from William of Lorris and John of Meung; Troilus and
Creseide, from Lollius of Urbino; The Cock and the Fox, from the _Lais_
of Marie; The House of Fame, from the French or Italian; and poor Gower
he uses as if he were only a brick-kiln or stone-quarry out of which to
build his house. He steals by this apology,--that what he takes has no
worth where he finds it and the greatest where he leaves it. It has come
to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man having once
shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to
steal from the writings of others at discretion. Thought is the property
of him who can entertain it and of him who can adequately place it. A
certain awkwardness marks the use of borrowed thoughts; but as soon as
we have learned what to do with them they become our own.

Thus all originality is relative. Every thinker is retrospective. The
learned member of the legislature, at Westminster or at Washington,
speaks and votes for thousands. Show us the constituency, and the now
invisible channels by which the senator is made aware of their wishes;
the crowd of practical and knowing men, who, by correspondence or
conversation, are feeding him with evidence, anecdotes, and estimates,
and it will bereave his fine attitudes and resistance of something of
their impressiveness. As Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Webster vote, so Locke
and Rousseau think, for thousands; and so there were fountains all
around Homer, Manu, Saadi, or Milton, from which they drew; friends,
lovers, books, traditions, proverbs,--all perished--which, if seen,
would go to reduce the wonder. Did the bard speak with authority? Did he
feel himself overmatched by any companion? The appeal is to the
consciousness of the writer. Is there at last in his breast a Delphi
whereof to ask concerning any thought or thing, whether it be verily so,
yea or nay? and to have answer, and to rely on that? All the debts which
such a man could contract to other wit would never disturb his
consciousness of originality; for the ministrations of books and of
other minds are a whiff of smoke to that most private reality with which
he has conversed.

It is easy to see that what is best written or done by genius in the
world, was no man's work, but came by wide social labor, when a thousand
wrought like one, sharing the same impulse. Our English Bible is a
wonderful specimen of the strength and music of the English language.
But it was not made by one man, or at one time; but centuries and
churches brought it to perfection. There never was a time when there was
not some translation existing. The Liturgy, admired for its energy and
pathos, is an anthology of the piety of ages and nations, a translation
of the prayers and forms of the Catholic church,--these collected, too,
in long periods, from the prayers and meditations of every saint and
sacred writer all over the world. Grotius makes the like remark in
respect to the Lord's Prayer, that the single clauses of which it is
composed were already in use in the time of Christ, in the Rabbinical
forms. He picked out the grains of gold. The nervous language of the
Common Law, the impressive forms of our courts and the precision and
substantial truth of the legal distinctions, are the contribution of all
the sharp-sighted, strong-minded men who have lived in the countries
where these laws govern. The translation of Plutarch gets its excellence
by being translation on translation. There never was a time when there
was none. All the truly idiomatic and national phrases are kept, and all
others successively picked out and thrown away. Something like the same
process had gone on, long before, with the originals of these books. The
world takes liberties with world-books. Vedas, Aesop's Fables, Pilpay,
Arabian Nights, Cid, Iliad, Robin Hood, Scottish Minstrelsy, are not the
work of single men. In the composition of such works the time thinks,
the market thinks, the mason, the carpenter, the merchant, the farmer,
the fop, all think for us. Every book supplies its time with one good
word; every municipal law, every trade, every folly of the day; and the
generic catholic genius who is not afraid or ashamed to owe his
originality to the originality of all, stands with the next age as the
recorder and embodiment of his own.

We have to thank the researches of antiquaries, and the Shakspeare
Society, for ascertaining the steps of the English drama, from the
Mysteries celebrated in churches and by churchmen, and the final
detachment from the church, and the completion of secular plays, from
Ferrex and Porrex, and Gammer Gurton's Needle, down to the possession of
the stage by the very pieces which Shakspeare altered, remodelled, and
finally made his own. Elated with success and piqued by the growing
interest of the problem, they have left no bookstall unsearched, no
chest in a garret unopened, no file of old yellow accounts to decompose
in damp and worms, so keen was the hope to discover whether the boy
Shakspeare poached or not, whether he held horses at the theatre door,
whether he kept school, and why he left in his will only his second-best
bed to Anne Hathaway, his wife.

There is something touching in the madness with which the passing age
mischooses the object on which all candles shine and all eyes are
turned; the care with which it registers every trifle touching Queen
Elizabeth and King James, and the Essexes, Leicesters, Burleighs, and
Buckinghams; and lets pass without a single valuable note the founder of
another dynasty, which alone will cause the Tudor dynasty to be
remembered,--the man who carries the Saxon race in him by the
inspiration which feeds him, and on whose thoughts the foremost people
of the world are now for some ages to be nourished, and minds to receive
this and not another bias. A popular player;--nobody suspected he was
the poet of the human race; and the secret was kept as faithfully from
poets and intellectual men as from courtiers and frivolous people.
Bacon, who took the inventory of the human understanding for his times,
never mentioned his name. Ben Jonson, though we have strained his few
words of regard and panegyric, had no suspicion of the elastic fame
whose first vibrations he was attempting. He no doubt thought the praise
he has conceded to him generous, and esteemed himself, out of all
question, the better poet of the two.

If it need wit to know wit, according to the proverb, Shakspeare's time
should be capable of recognizing it. Sir Henry Wotton was born four
years after Shakspeare, and died twenty-three years after him; and I
find, among his correspondents and acquaintances, the following persons:
Theodore Beza, Isaac Casaubon, Sir Philip Sidney, the Earl of Essex,
Lord Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Milton, Sir Henry Vane, Isaac
Walton, Dr. Donne, Abraham Cowley, Bellarmine, Charles Cotton, John
Pym, John Hales, Kepler, Vieta, Albericus Gentilis, Paul Sarpi,
Arminius; with all of whom exists some token of his having communicated,
without enumerating many others whom doubtless he saw,--Shakspeare,
Spenser, Jonson, Beaumont, Massinger, the two Herberts, Marlow, Chapman
and the rest. Since the constellation of great men who appeared in
Greece in the time of Pericles, there was never any such society;--yet
their genius failed them to find out the best head in the universe. Our
poet's mask was impenetrable. You cannot see the mountain near. It took
a century to make it suspected; and not until two centuries had passed,
after his death, did any criticism which we think adequate begin to
appear. It was not possible to write the history of Shakspeare till now;
for he is the father of German literature: it was with the introduction
of Shakspeare into German, by Lessing, and the translation of his works
by Wieland and Schlegel, that the rapid burst of German literature was
most intimately connected. It was not until the nineteenth century,
whose speculative genius is a sort of living Hamlet, that the tragedy of
Hamlet could find such wondering readers. Now, literature, philosophy,
and thought, are Shakspearized. His mind is the horizon beyond which, at
present, we do not see. Our ears are educated to music by his rhythm.
Coleridge and Goethe are the only critics who have expressed our
convictions with any adequate fidelity: but there is in all cultivated
minds a silent appreciation of his superlative power and beauty, which,
like Christianity, qualifies the period.

The Shakspeare Society have inquired in all directions, advertised the
missing facts, offered money for any information that will lead to
proof,--and with what result? Beside some important illustration of the
history of the English stage, to which I have adverted, they have
gleaned a few facts touching the property, and dealings in regard to
property, of the poet. It appears that from year to year he owned a
larger share in the Blackfriars' Theatre: its wardrobe and other
appurtenances were his: that he bought an estate in his native village
with his earnings as writer and shareholder; that he lived in the best
house in Stratford; was intrusted by his neighbors with their
commissions in London, as of borrowing money, and the like; that he was
a veritable farmer. About the time when he was writing Macbeth, he sues
Philip Rogers, in the Borough-court of Stratford, for thirty-five
shillings, ten pence, for corn delivered to him at different times; and
in all respects appears as a good husband, with no reputation for
eccentricity or excess. He was a good-natured sort of man, an actor and
shareholder in the theatre, not in any striking manner distinguished
from other actors and managers. I admit the importance of this
information. It was well worth the pains that have been taken to
procure it.

But whatever scraps of information concerning his condition these
researches may have rescued, they can shed no light upon that infinite
invention which is the concealed magnet of his attraction for us. We are
very clumsy writers of history. We tell the chronicle of parentage,
birth, birthplace, schooling, schoolmates, earning of money, marriage,
publication of books, celebrity, death; and when we have come to an end
of this gossip no ray of relation appears between it and the
goddess-born; and it seems as if, had we dipped at random into the
"Modern Plutarch," and read any other life there, it would have fitted
the poems as well. It is the essence of poetry to spring, like the
rainbow daughter of Wonder, from the invisible, to abolish the past and
refuse all history. Malone, Warburton, Dyce, and Collier, have wasted
their oil. The famed theatres, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, the Park, and
Tremont have vainly assisted. Betterton, Garrick, Kemble, Kean, and
Macready dedicate their lives to this genius; him they crown, elucidate,
obey, and express. The genius knows them not. The recitation begins; one
golden word leaps out immortal from all this painted pedantry and
sweetly torments us with invitations to its own inaccessible homes. I
remember I went once to see the Hamlet of a famed performer, the pride
of the English stage; and all I then heard and all I now remember of the
tragedian was that in which the tragedian had no part; simply Hamlet's
question to the ghost:--

                             "What may this mean,
     That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
     Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon?"

That imagination which dilates the closet he writes in to the world's
dimension, crowds it with agents in rank and order, as quickly reduces
the big reality to be the glimpses of the moon. These tricks of his
magic spoil for us the illusions of the green-room. Can any biography
shed light on the localities into which the Midsummer Night's Dream
admits me? Did Shakspeare confide to any notary or parish recorder,
sacristan, or surrogate in Stratford, the genesis of that delicate
creation? The forest of Arden, the nimble air of Scone Castle, the
moonlight of Portia's villa, "the antres vast and desarts idle" of
Othello's captivity,--where is the third cousin, or grand-nephew, the
chancellor's file of accounts, or private letter, that has kept one word
of those transcendent secrets? In fine, in this drama, as in all great
works of art,--in the Cyclopaean architecture of Egypt and India, in the
Phidian sculpture, the Gothic minsters, the Italian painting, the
Ballads of Spain and Scotland,--the Genius draws up the ladder after
him, when the creative age goes up to heaven, and gives way to a new
age, which sees the works and asks in vain for a history.

Shakspeare is the only biographer of Shakspeare; and even he can tell
nothing, except to the Shakspeare in us,--that is, to our most
apprehensive and sympathetic hour. He cannot step from off his tripod
and give us anecdotes of his inspirations. Read the antique documents
extricated, analysed and compared by the assiduous Dyce and Collier; and
now read one of these skyey sentences,--aerolites,--which seem to have
fallen out of heaven, and which not your experience but the man within
the breast has accepted as words of fate, and tell me if they match--if
the former account in any manner for the latter; or which gives the most
historical insight into the man.

Hence, though our external history is so meagre, yet, with Shakspeare
for biographer, instead of Aubrey and Rowe, we have really the
information which is material; that which describes character and
fortune; that which, if we were about to meet the man and deal with him,
would most import us to know. We have his recorded convictions on those
questions which knock for answer at every heart,--on life and death, on
love, on wealth and poverty, on the prizes of life and the ways whereby
we come at them; on the characters of men, and the influences, occult
and open, which affect their fortunes; and on those mysterious and
demoniacal powers which defy our science and which yet interweave their
malice and their gift in our brightest hours. Who ever read the volume
of the Sonnets without finding that the poet had there revealed, under
masks that are no masks to the intelligent, the lore of friendship and
of love; the confusion of sentiments in the most susceptible, and, at
the same time, the most intellectual of men? What trait of his private
mind has he hidden in his dramas? One can discern, in his ample pictures
of the gentleman and the king, what forms and humanities pleased him;
his delight in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful
giving. Let Timon, let Warwick, let Antonio the merchant answer for his
great heart. So far from Shakspeare's being the least known, he is the
one person, in all modern history, known to us. What point of morals, of
manners, of economy, of philosophy, of religion, of taste, of the
conduct of life, has he not settled? What mystery has he not signified
his knowledge of? What office, or function, or district of man's work
has he not remembered? What king has he not taught state, as Talma
taught Napoleon? What maiden has not found him finer than her delicacy?
What lover has he not outloved? What sage has he not outseen? What
gentleman has he not instructed in the rudeness of his behavior?

Some able and appreciating critics think no criticism on Shakspeare
valuable that does not rest purely on the dramatic merit; that he is
falsely judged as poet and philosopher. I think as highly as these
critics of his dramatic merit, but still think it secondary. He was a
full man, who liked to talk; a brain exhaling thoughts and images,
which, seeking vent, found the drama next at hand. Had he been less, we
should have had to consider how well he filled his place, how good a
dramatist he was,--and he is the best in the world. But it turns out
that what he has to say is of that weight as to withdraw some attention
from the vehicle; and he is like some saint whose history is to be
rendered into all languages, into verse and prose, into songs and
pictures, and cut up into proverbs; so that the occasion which gave the
saint's meaning the form of a conversation, or of a prayer, or of a code
of laws, is immaterial compared with the universality of its
application. So it fares with the wise Shakspeare and his book of life.
He wrote the airs for all our modern music; he wrote the text of modern
life; the text of manners; he drew the man of England and Europe, the
father of the man in America; he drew the man, and described the day,
and what is done in it; he read the hearts of men and women, their
probity, and their second thought and wiles; the wiles of innocence, and
the transitions by which virtues and vices slide into their contraries;
he could divide the mother's part from the father's part in the face of
the child, or draw the fine demarcations of freedom and of fate; he
knew the laws of repression which make the police of nature; and all the
sweets and all the terrors of human lot lay in his mind as truly but as
softly as the landscape lies on the eye. And the importance of this
wisdom of life sinks the form, as of Drama or Epic, out of notice. 'T is
like making a question concerning the paper on which a king's message
is written.

Shakspeare is as much out of the category of eminent authors, as he is
out of the crowd. He is inconceivably wise; the others, conceivably. A
good reader can, in a sort, nestle into Plato's brain and think from
thence; but not into Shakspeare's. We are still out of doors. For
executive faculty, for creation, Shakspeare is unique. No man can
imagine it better. He was the farthest reach of subtlety compatible with
an individual self,--the subtilest of authors, and only just within the
possibility of authorship. With this wisdom of life is the equal
endowment of imaginative and of lyric power. He clothed the creatures of
his legend with form and sentiments as if they were people who had lived
under his roof; and few real men have left such distinct characters as
these fictions. And they spoke in language as sweet as it was fit. Yet
his talents never seduced him into an ostentation, nor did he harp on
one string. An omnipresent humanity co-ordinates all his faculties. Give
a man of talents a story to tell, and his partiality will presently
appear. He has certain observations, opinions, topics, which have some
accidental prominence, and which he disposes all to exhibit. He crams
this part and starves that other part, consulting not the fitness of the
thing, but his fitness and strength. But Shakspeare has no peculiarity,
no importunate topic; but all is duly given; no veins, no curiosities;
no cow-painter, no bird-fancier, no mannerist is he; he has no
discoverable egotism: the great he tells greatly; the small,
subordinately. He is wise without emphasis or assertion; he is strong,
as nature is strong, who lifts the land into mountain slopes without
effort and by the same rule as she floats a bubble in the air, and likes
as well to do the one as the other. This makes that equality of power in
farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs; a merit so incessant that
each reader is incredulous of the perception of other readers.

This power of expression, or of transferring the inmost truth of things
into music and verse, makes him the type of the poet and has added a new
problem to metaphysics. This is that which throws him into natural
history, as a main production of the globe, and as announcing new eras
and ameliorations. Things were mirrored in his poetry without loss or
blur: he could paint the fine with precision, the great with compass,
the tragic and the comic indifferently and without any distortion or
favor. He carried his powerful execution into minute details, to a hair
point, finishes an eyelash or a dimple as firmly as he draws a mountain;
and yet these, like nature's, will bear the scrutiny of the solar
microscope.

In short, he is the chief example to prove that more or less of
production, more or fewer pictures, is a thing indifferent. He had the
power to make one picture. Daguerre learned how to let one flower etch
its image on his plate of iodine, and then proceeds at leisure to etch a
million. There are always objects; but there was never representation.
Here is perfect representation, at last; and now let the world of
figures sit for their portraits. No recipe can be given for the making
of a Shakspeare; but the possibility of the translation of things into
song is demonstrated.

His lyric power lies in the genius of the piece. The sonnets, though
their excellence is lost in the splendor of the dramas, are as
inimitable as they; and it is not a merit of lines, but a total merit of
the piece; like the tone of voice of some incomparable person, so is
this a speech of poetic beings, and any clause as unproducible now as a
whole poem.

Though the speeches in the plays, and single lines, have a beauty which
tempts the ear to pause on them for their euphuism, yet the sentence is
so loaded with meaning and so linked with its foregoers and followers,
that the logician is satisfied. His means are as admirable as his ends;
every subordinate invention, by which he helps himself to connect some
irreconcilable opposites, is a poem too. He is not reduced to dismount
and walk because his horses are running off with him in some distant
direction: he always rides.

The finest poetry was first experience; but the thought has suffered a
transformation since it was an experience. Cultivated men often attain a
good degree of skill in writing verses; but it is easy to read, through
their poems, their personal history: any one acquainted with the parties
can name every figure; this is Andrew and that is Rachel. The sense thus
remains prosaic. It is a caterpillar with wings, and not yet a
butterfly. In the poet's mind the fact has gone quite over into the new
element of thought, and has lost all that is exuvial. This generosity
abides with Shakspeare. We say, from the truth and closeness of his
pictures, that he knows the lesson by heart. Yet there is not a trace
of egotism.

One more royal trait properly belongs to the poet. I mean his
cheerfulness, without which no man can be a poet,--for beauty is his
aim. He loves virtue, not for its obligation but for its grace: he
delights in the world, in man, in woman, for the lovely light that
sparkles from them. Beauty, the spirit of joy and hilarity, he sheds
over the universe. Epicurus relates that poetry hath such charms that a
lover might forsake his mistress to partake of them. And the true bards
have been noted for their firm and cheerful temper. Homer lies in
sunshine; Chaucer is glad and erect; and Saadi says, "It was rumored
abroad that I was penitent; but what had I to do with repentance?" Not
less sovereign and cheerful,--much more sovereign and cheerful, is the
tone of Shakspeare. His name suggests joy and emancipation to the heart
of men. If he should appear in any company of human souls, who would not
march in his troop? He touches nothing that does not borrow health and
longevity from his festal style.

And now, how stands the account of man with this bard and benefactor,
when, in solitude, shutting our ears to the reverberations of his fame,
we seek to strike the balance? Solitude has austere lessons; it can
teach us to spare both heroes and poets; and it weighs Shakspeare also,
and finds him to share the halfness and imperfection of humanity.

Shakspeare, Homer, Dante, Chaucer, saw the splendor of meaning that
plays over the visible world; knew that a tree had another use than for
apples, and corn another than for meal, and the ball of the earth, than
for tillage and roads: that these things bore a second and finer harvest
to the mind, being emblems of its thoughts, and conveying in all their
natural history a certain mute commentary on human life. Shakspeare
employed them as colors to compose his picture. He rested in their
beauty; and never took the step which seemed inevitable to such genius,
namely, to explore the virtue which resides in these symbols and imparts
this power:--what is that which they themselves say? He converted the
elements which waited on his command, into entertainments. He was master
of the revels to mankind. Is it not as if one should have, through
majestic powers of science, the comets given into his hand, or the
planets and their moons, and should draw them from their orbits to glare
with the municipal fireworks on a holiday night, and advertise in all
towns, "Very superior pyrotechny this evening"? Are the agents of
nature, and the power to understand them, worth no more than a street
serenade, or the breath of a cigar? One remembers again the trumpet-text
in the Koran,--"The heavens and the earth and all that is between them,
think ye we have created them in jest?" As long as the question is of
talent and mental power, the world of men has not his equal to show. But
when the question is, to life and its materials and its auxiliaries, how
does it profit me? What does it signify? It is but a Twelfth Night, or
Midsummer Night's Dream, or Winter Evening's Tale: what signifies
another picture more or less? The Egyptian verdict of the Shakspeare
Societies comes to mind; that he was a jovial actor and manager. I
cannot marry this fact to his verse. Other admirable men have led lives
in some sort of keeping with their thought; but this man, in wide
contrast. Had he been less, had he reached only the common measure of
great authors, of Bacon, Milton, Tasso, Cervantes, we might leave the
fact in the twilight of human fate: but that this man of men, he who
gave to the science of mind a new and larger subject than had ever
existed, and planted the standard of humanity some furlongs forward into
Chaos,--that he should not be wise for himself;--it must even go into
the world's history that the best poet led an obscure and profane life,
using his genius for the public amusement.

Well, other men, priest and prophet, Israelite, German and Swede, beheld
the same objects: they also saw through them that which was contained.
And to what purpose? The beauty straightway vanished; they read
commandments, all-excluding mountainous duty; an obligation, a sadness,
as of piled mountains, fell on them, and life became ghastly, joyless, a
pilgrim's progress, a probation, beleaguered round with doleful
histories of Adam's fall and curse behind us; with doomsdays and
purgatorial and penal fires before us; and the heart of the seer and the
heart of the listener sank in them.

It must be conceded that these are half-views of half-men. The world
still wants its poet-priest, a reconciler, who shall not trifle, with
Shakspeare the player, nor shall grope in graves, with Swedenborg the
mourner; but who shall see, speak, and act, with equal inspiration. For
knowledge will brighten the sunshine; right is more beautiful than
private affection; and love is compatible with universal wisdom.



JOHN MILTON: POET AND PATRIOT.[4]


1608-1674.

BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.

Toward the close of the year 1823, Mr. Lemon, deputy keeper of the
state-papers, in the course of his researches among the presses of his
office, met with a large Latin manuscript. With it were found corrected
copies of the foreign despatches written by Milton while he filled the
office of secretary, and several papers relating to the Popish Trials
and the Rye-house Plot. The whole was wrapped up in an envelope,
subscribed _To Mr. Skinner, Merchant_. On examination, the large
manuscript proved to be the long lost essay on the doctrines of
Christianity, which, according to Wood and Toland, Milton finished after
the Restoration, and deposited with Cyriac Skinner. Skinner, it is well
known, held the same political opinions with his illustrious friend. It
is therefore probable, as Mr. Lemon conjectures, that he may have fallen
under the suspicions of the Government during that persecution of the
Whigs which followed the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, and that,
in consequence of a general seizure of his papers, this work may have
been brought to the office in which it has been found. But whatever the
adventures of the manuscript may have been, no doubt can exist that it
is a genuine relic of the great poet....

[Footnote 4: _Joannis Miltoni, Angli, de Doctrinâ Christianâ libri duo
posthumi_. A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, compiled from the Holy
Scriptures alone. By JOHN MILTON, translated from the Original by
Charles R. Sumner, M.A., etc., etc.: 1825. From the _Edinburgh Review_,
August, 1825; slightly abridged.]

The book itself will not add much to the fame of Milton.... Were it far
more orthodox or far more heretical than it is, it would not much edify
or corrupt the present generation. The men of our time are not to be
converted or perverted by quartos. A few more days, and this essay will
follow the _Defensio Populi_ to the dust and silence of the upper shelf.
The name of its author, and the remarkable circumstances attending its
publication, will secure to it a certain degree of attention. For a
month or two it will occupy a few minutes of chat in every drawing-room,
and a few columns in every magazine; and it will then, to borrow the
elegant language of the play-bills, be withdrawn, to make room for the
forthcoming novelties.

We wish, however, to avail ourselves of the interest, transient as it
may be, which this work has excited. The dexterous Capuchins never
choose to preach on the life and miracles of a saint till they have
awakened the devotional feelings of their auditors by exhibiting some
relic of him--a thread of his garment, a lock of his hair, or a drop of
his blood. On the same principle, we intend to take advantage of the
late interesting discovery, and, while this memorial of a great and good
man is still in the hands of all, to say something of his moral and
intellectual qualities. Nor, we are convinced, will the severest of our
readers blame us if, on an occasion like the present, we turn for a
short time from the topics of the day to commemorate, in all love and
reverence, the genius and virtues of John Milton, the poet, the
statesman, the philosopher, the glory of English literature, the
champion and the martyr of English liberty.

It is by his poetry that Milton is best known; and it is of his poetry
that we wish first to speak. By the general suffrage of the civilized
world, his place has been assigned among the greatest masters of the
art. His detractors, however, though outvoted, have not been silenced.
There are many critics, and some of great name, who contrive in the same
breath to extol the poems and to decry the poet. The works, they
acknowledge, considered in themselves, may be classed among the noblest
productions of the human mind. But they will not allow the author to
rank with those great men who, born in the infancy of civilization,
supplied, by their own powers, the want of instruction, and, though
destitute of models themselves, bequeathed to posterity models which
defy imitation. Milton, it is said, inherited what his predecessors
created; he lived in an enlightened age; he received a finished
education; and we must therefore, if we would form a just estimate of
his powers, make large deductions in consideration of these advantages.

We venture to say, on the contrary, paradoxical as the remark may
appear, that no poet has ever had to struggle with more unfavorable
circumstances than Milton. He doubted, as he has himself owned, whether
he had not been born "an age too late." For this notion Johnson has
thought fit to make him the butt of much clumsy ridicule. The poet, we
believe, understood the nature of his art better than the critic. He
knew that his poetical genius derived no advantage from the civilization
which surrounded him, or from the learning which he had acquired; and he
looked back with something like regret to the ruder age of simple words
and vivid impressions.

We think that, as civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily
declines. Therefore, though we fervently admire those great works of
imagination which have appeared in dark ages, we do not admire them the
more because they have appeared in dark ages. On the contrary, we hold
that the most wonderful and splendid proof of genius is a great poem
produced in a civilized age. We cannot understand why those who believe
in that most orthodox article of literary faith, that the earliest
poets are generally the best, should wonder at the rule as if it were
the exception. Surely the uniformity of the phenomenon indicates a
corresponding uniformity in the cause.

The fact is, that common observers reason from the progress of the
experimental sciences to that of the imitative arts. The improvement of
the former is gradual and slow. Ages are spent in collecting materials,
ages more in separating and combining them. Even when a system has been
formed, there is still something to add, to alter, or to reject. Every
generation enjoys the use of a vast hoard bequeathed to it by antiquity,
and transmits that hoard, augmented by fresh acquisitions, to future
ages. In these pursuits, therefore, the first speculators lie under
great disadvantages, and, even when they fail, are entitled to praise.
Their pupils, with far inferior intellectual powers, speedily surpass
them in actual attainments. Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcet's little
dialogues on political economy could teach Montague or Walpole many
lessons in finance. Any intelligent man may now, by resolutely applying
himself for a few years to mathematics, learn more than the great Newton
knew after half a century of study and meditation.

But it is not thus with music, with painting, or with sculpture. Still
less is it thus with poetry. The progress of refinement rarely supplies
these arts with better objects of imitation. It may indeed improve the
instruments which are necessary to the mechanical operations of the
musician, the sculptor, and the painter. But language, the machine of
the poet, is best fitted for his purpose in its rudest state. Nations,
like individuals, first perceive, and then abstract. They advance from
particular images to general terms. Hence the vocabulary of an
enlightened society is philosophical, that of a half-civilized people
is poetical.

This change in the language of men is partly the cause and partly the
effect of a corresponding change in the nature of their intellectual
operations, of a change by which science gains and poetry loses.
Generalization is necessary to the advancement of knowledge; but
particularity is indispensable to the creations of the imagination. In
proportion as men know more and think more, they look less at
individuals and more at classes. They therefore make better theories and
worse poems. They give us vague phrases instead of images, and
personified qualities instead of men. They may be better able to analyze
human nature than their predecessors. But analysis is not the business
of the poet. His office is to portray, not to dissect. He may believe in
a moral sense, like Shaftesbury; he may refer all human actions to
self-interest, like Helvetius; or he may never think about the matter at
all. His creed on such subjects will no more influence his poetry,
properly so called, than the notions which a painter may have conceived
respecting the lachrymal glands, or the circulation of the blood, will
affect the tears of his Niobe, or the blushes of his Aurora. If
Shakespeare had written a book on the motives of human actions, it is by
no means certain that it would have been a good one. It is extremely
improbable that it would have contained half so much able reasoning on
the subject as is to be found in the Fable of the Bees. But could
Mandeville have created an Iago? Well as he knew how to resolve
characters into their elements, would he have been able to combine those
elements in such a manner as to make up a man--a real, living,
individual man?

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a
certain unsoundness of mind, if anything which gives so much pleasure
ought to be called unsoundness. By poetry we mean not all writing in
verse, nor even all good writing in verse. Our definition excludes many
metrical compositions which, on other grounds, deserve the highest
praise. By poetry we mean the art of employing words in such a manner as
to produce an illusion on the imagination, the art of doing by means of
words what the painter does by means of colors. Thus the greatest of
poets has described it, in lines universally admired for the vigor and
felicity of their diction, and still more valuable on account of the
just notion which they convey of the art in which he excelled:--

                   "As imagination bodies forth
     The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
     Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
     A local habitation and a name."

These are the fruits of the "fine frenzy" which he ascribes to the
poet--a fine frenzy, doubtless, but still a frenzy. Truth, indeed, is
essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness. The reasonings are
just; but the premises are false. After the first suppositions have been
made, everything ought to be consistent; but those first suppositions
require a degree of credulity which almost amounts to a partial and
temporary derangement of the intellect. Hence of all people children are
the most imaginative. They abandon themselves without reserve to every
illusion. Every image which is strongly presented to their mental eye
produces on them the effect of reality. No man, whatever his sensibility
may be, is ever affected by Hamlet or Lear as a little girl is affected
by the story of poor Red Riding-hood. She knows that it is all false,
that wolves cannot speak, that there are no wolves in England. Yet, in
spite of her knowledge, she believes; she weeps; she trembles; she dares
not go into a dark room lest she should feel the teeth of the monster
at her throat. Such is the despotism of the imagination over
uncultivated minds.

In a rude state of society, men are children with a greater variety of
ideas. It is therefore in such a state of society that we may expect to
find the poetical temperament in its highest perfection. In an
enlightened age there will be much intelligence, much science, much
philosophy, abundance of just classification and subtle analysis,
abundance of wit and eloquence, abundance of verses, and even of good
ones; but little poetry. Men will judge and compare; but they will not
create. They will talk about the old poets, and comment on them, and to
a certain degree enjoy them. But they will scarcely be able to conceive
the effect which poetry produced on their ruder ancestors, the agony,
the ecstasy, the plenitude of belief. The Greek rhapsodists, according
to Plato, could scarce recite Homer without falling into convulsions.
The Mohawk hardly feels the scalping-knife while he shouts his
death-song. The power which the ancient bards of Wales and Germany
exercised over their auditors seems to modern readers almost miraculous.
Such feelings are very rare in a civilized community, and most rare
among those who participate most in its improvements. They linger
longest among the peasantry.

Poetry produces an illusion on the eye of the mind, as a magic lantern
produces an illusion on the eye of the body. And, as the magic lantern
acts best in a dark room, poetry effects its purpose most completely in
a dark age. As the light of knowledge breaks in upon its exhibitions, as
the outlines of certainty become more and more definite, and the shades
of probability more and more distinct, the hues and lineaments of the
phantoms which the poet calls up grow fainter and fainter. We cannot
unite the incompatible advantages of reality and deception, the clear
discernment of truth and the exquisite enjoyment of fiction.

He who, in an enlightened and literary society, aspires to be a great
poet, must first become a little child. He must take to pieces the whole
web of his mind. He must unlearn much of that knowledge which has,
perhaps, constituted hitherto his chief title to superiority. His very
talents will be a hinderance to him. His difficulties will be
proportioned to his proficiency in the pursuits which are fashionable
among his contemporaries; and that proficiency will in general be
proportioned to the vigor and activity of his mind. And it is well if,
after all his sacrifices and exertions, his works do not resemble a
lisping man or a modern ruin. We have seen in our own time great
talents, intense labor, and long meditation employed in this struggle
against the spirit of the age, and employed, we will not say absolutely
in vain, but with dubious success and feeble applause.

If these reasonings be just, no poet has ever triumphed over greater
difficulties than Milton. He received a learned education: he was a
profound and elegant classical scholar: he had studied all the mysteries
of rabbinical literature: he was intimately acquainted with every
language in modern Europe from which either pleasure or information was
then to be derived. He was perhaps the only poet of later times who has
been distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse. The genius of
Petrarch was scarcely of the first order; and his poems in the ancient
language, though much praised by those who have never read them, are
wretched compositions. Cowley, with all his admirable wit and ingenuity,
had little imagination: nor, indeed, do we think his classical diction
comparable to that of Milton. The authority of Johnson is against us on
this point. But Johnson had studied the bad writers of the Middle Ages
till he had become utterly insensible to the Augustan elegance, and was
as ill-qualified to judge between two Latin styles as an habitual
drunkard to set up for a wine-taster.

Versification in a dead language is an exotic, a far-fetched, costly,
sickly imitation of that which elsewhere may be found in healthful and
spontaneous perfection. The soils on which this rarity flourishes are in
general as ill-suited to the production of vigorous native poetry as the
flower-pots of a hot-house to the growth of oaks. That the author of
the Paradise Lost should have written the epistle to Manso was truly
wonderful. Never before were such marked originality and such exquisite
mimicry found together. Indeed, in all the Latin poems of Milton the
artificial manner indispensable to such works is admirably preserved,
while, at the same time, his genius gives to them a peculiar charm, an
air of nobleness and freedom, which distinguishes them from all other
writings of the same class. They remind us of the amusements of those
angelic warriors who composed the cohort of Gabriel:--

     "About him exercised heroic games
      The unarmed youth of heaven. But o'er their heads
      Celestial armory, shield, helm, and spear,
      Hung high, with diamond flaming and with gold."

We cannot look upon the sportive exercises for which the genius of
Milton ungirds itself without catching a glimpse of the gorgeous and
terrible panoply which it is accustomed to wear. The strength of his
imagination triumphed over every obstacle. So intense and ardent was the
fire of his mind, that it not only was not suffocated beneath the weight
of fuel, but penetrated the whole superincumbent mass with its own heat
and radiance.

It is not our intention to attempt anything like a complete examination
of the poetry of Milton. The public has long been agreed as to the
merit of the most remarkable passages, the incomparable harmony of the
numbers, and the excellence of that style which no rival has been able
to equal and no parodist to degrade; which displays in their highest
perfection the idiomatic powers of the English tongue, and to which
every ancient and every modern language has contributed something of
grace, of energy, or of music. In the vast field of criticism on which
we are entering, innumerable reapers have already put their sickles. Yet
the harvest is so abundant that the negligent search of a straggling
gleaner may be rewarded with a sheaf.

The most striking characteristic of the poetry of Milton is the extreme
remoteness of the associations by means of which it acts on the reader.
Its effect is produced, not so much by what it expresses, as by what it
suggests; not so much by the ideas which it directly conveys, as by
other ideas which are connected with them. He electrifies the mind
through conductors. The most unimaginative man must understand the
Iliad. Homer gives him no choice, and requires from him no exertion, but
takes the whole upon himself, and sets the images in so clear a light
that it is impossible to be blind to them. The works of Milton cannot be
comprehended or enjoyed unless the mind of the reader co-operate with
that of the writer. He does not paint a finished picture, or play for a
mere passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the
outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects his hearer to make out
the melody.

We often hear of the magical influence of poetry. The expression in
general means nothing; but, applied to the writings of Milton, it is
most appropriate. His poetry acts like an incantation. Its merit lies
less in its obvious meaning than in its occult power. There would seem,
at first sight, to be no more in his words than in other words. But they
are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced, than the past
is present and the distant near. New forms of beauty start at once into
existence, and all the burial-places of the memory give up their dead.
Change the structure of the sentence; substitute one synonyme for
another, and the whole effect is destroyed. The spell loses its power;
and he who should then hope to conjure with it would find himself as
much mistaken as Cassim in the Arabian tale, when he stood crying "Open
Wheat," "Open Barley," to the door that obeyed no sound but "Open
Sesame." The miserable failure of Dryden in his attempt to translate
into his own diction some parts of the Paradise Lost is a remarkable
instance of this.

In support of these observations, we may remark that scarcely any
passages in the poems of Milton are more generally known or more
frequently repeated than those which are little more than muster-rolls
of names. They are not always more appropriate or more melodious than
other names. But they are charmed names. Every one of them is the first
link in a long chain of associated ideas. Like the dwelling-place of our
infancy revisited in manhood, like the song of our country heard in a
strange land, they produce upon us an effect wholly independent of their
intrinsic value. One transports us back to a remote period of history.
Another places us among the novel scenes and manners of a distant
region. A third evokes all the dear classical recollections of
childhood, the school-room, the dog-eared Virgil, the holiday, and the
prize. A fourth brings before us the splendid phantoms of chivalrous
romance, the trophied lists, the embroidered housings, the quaint
devices, the haunted forests, the enchanted gardens, the achievements of
enamoured knights, and the smiles of rescued princesses.

In none of the works of Milton is his peculiar manner more happily
displayed than in the Allegro and the Penseroso. It is impossible to
conceive that the mechanism of language can be brought to a more
exquisite degree of perfection. These poems differ from others as ottar
of roses differs from ordinary rose-water, the close-packed essence from
the thin, diluted mixture. They are, indeed, not so much poems as
collections of hints, from each of which the reader is to make out a
poem for himself. Every epithet is a text for a stanza.

The Comus and the Samson Agonistes are works which, though of very
different merit, offer some marked points of resemblance. Both are lyric
poems in the form of plays. There are perhaps no two kinds of
composition so essentially dissimilar as the drama and the ode. The
business of the dramatist is to keep himself out of sight, and to let
nothing appear but his characters. As soon as he attracts notice to his
personal feelings, the illusion is broken. The effect is as unpleasant
as that which is produced on the stage by the voice of a prompter or the
entrance of a scene-shifter. Hence it was that the tragedies of Byron
were his least successful performances. They resemble those pasteboard
pictures invented by the friend of children, Mr. Newbery, in which a
single movable head goes round twenty different bodies, so that the same
face looks out upon us successively, from the uniform of a hussar, the
furs of a judge, and the rags of a beggar. In all the characters,
patriots and tyrants, haters and lovers, the frown and sneer of Harold
were discernible in an instant. But this species of egotism, though
fatal to the drama, is the inspiration of the ode. It is the part of the
lyric poet to abandon himself, without reserve, to his own emotions.

Between these hostile elements many great men have endeavored to effect
an amalgamation, but never with complete success. The Greek drama, on
the model of which the Samson was written, sprang from the ode. The
dialogue was ingrafted on the chorus, and naturally partook of its
character. The genius of the greatest of the Athenian dramatists
co-operated with the circumstances under which tragedy made its first
appearance. Aeschylus was, head and heart, a lyric poet. In his time,
the Greeks had far more intercourse with the East than in the days of
Homer; and they had not yet acquired that immense superiority in war, in
science, and in the arts, which, in the following generation, led them
to treat the Asiatics with contempt. From the narrative of Herodotus it
should seem that they still looked up, with the veneration of disciples,
to Egypt and Assyria. At this period, accordingly, it was natural that
the literature of Greece should be tinctured with the Oriental style.
And that style, we think, is discernible in the works of Pindar and
Aeschylus. The latter often reminds us of the Hebrew writers. The Book
of Job, indeed, in conduct and diction, bears a considerable resemblance
to some of his dramas. Considered as plays, his works are absurd;
considered as choruses they are above all praise. If, for instance, we
examine the address of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon on his return, or the
description of the seven Argive chiefs, by the principles of dramatic
writing, we shall instantly condemn them as monstrous. But if we forget
the characters, and think only of the poetry, we shall admit that it
has never been surpassed in energy and magnificence. Sophocles made the
Greek drama as dramatic as was consistent with its original form. His
portraits of men have a sort of similarity; but it is the similarity,
not of a painting, but of a bass-relief. It suggests a resemblance; but
it does not produce an illusion. Euripides attempted to carry the reform
further. But it was a task far beyond his powers, perhaps beyond any
powers. Instead of correcting what was bad, he destroyed what was
excellent. He substituted crutches for stilts, bad sermons for
good odes.

Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides highly, much more highly
than, in our opinion, Euripides deserved. Indeed, the caresses which
this partiality leads our countryman to bestow on "sad Electra's poet"
sometimes remind us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the
long ears of Bottom. At all events, there can be no doubt that this
veneration for the Athenian, whether just or not, was injurious to the
Samson Agonistes. Had Milton taken Aeschylus for his model, he would
have given himself up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely
all the treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those
dramatic properties which the nature of the work rendered it impossible
to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in their own nature
inconsistent he has failed, as every one else must have failed. We
cannot identify ourselves with the characters, as in a good play. We
cannot identify ourselves with the poet, as in a good ode. The
conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an alkali mixed, neutralize
each other. We are by no means insensible to the merits of this
celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the style, the graceful and
pathetic solemnity of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric
melody which gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But we
think it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius
of Milton.

The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the Samson is
framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is certainly the noblest
performance of the kind which exists in any language. It is as far
superior to The Faithful Shepherdess, as The Faithful Shepherdess is to
the Aminta, or the Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton
that he had here no Euripides to mislead him. He understood and loved
the literature of modern Italy. But he did not feel for it the same
veneration which he entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman
poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The
faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors were of a kind to which
his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain style,
sometimes even to a bald style; but false brilliancy was his utter
aversion. His muse had no objection to a russet attire; but she turned
with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry and as paltry as the
rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears are
of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing
the severest test of the crucible.

Milton attended in the Comus to the distinction which he afterward
neglected in the Samson. He made his Masque what it ought to be,
essentially lyrical, and dramatic only in semblance. He has not
attempted a fruitless struggle against a defect inherent in the nature
of that species of composition; and he has therefore succeeded, wherever
success was not impossible. The speeches must be read as majestic
soliloquies; and he who so reads them will be enraptured with their
eloquence, their sublimity, and their music. The interruptions of the
dialogue, however, impose a constraint upon the writer, and break the
illusion of the reader. The finest passages are those which are lyric in
form as well as in spirit. "I should much commend," says the excellent
Sir Henry Wotton in a letter to Milton, "the tragical part if the
lyrical did not ravish me with a certain Dorique delicacy in your songs
and odes, whereunto, I must plainly confess to you, I have seen yet
nothing parallel in our language." The criticism was just. It is when
Milton escapes from the shackles of the dialogue, when he is discharged
from the labor of uniting two incongruous styles, when he is at liberty
to indulge his choral raptures without reserve, that he rises even
above himself. Then, like his own good Genius bursting from the earthly
form and weeds of Thyrsis, he stands forth in celestial freedom and
beauty; he seems to cry exultingly,

     "Now my task is smoothly done,
      I can fly or I can run,"

to skim the earth, to soar above the clouds, to bathe in the Elysian dew
of the rainbow, and to inhale the balmy smells of nard and cassia, which
the musky winds of the zephyr scatter through the cedared alleys of the
Hesperides.

There are several of the minor poems of Milton on which we would
willingly make a few remarks. Still more willingly would we enter into a
detailed examination of that admirable poem, the Paradise Regained,
which, strangely enough, is scarcely ever mentioned except as an
instance of the blindness of the parental affection which men of letters
bear toward the offspring of their intellects. That Milton was mistaken
in preferring this work, excellent as it is, to the Paradise Lost, we
readily admit. But we are sure that the superiority of the Paradise Lost
to the Paradise Regained is not more decided than the superiority of the
Paradise Regained to every poem which has since made its appearance. Our
limits, however, prevent us from discussing the point at length. We
hasten on to that extraordinary production which the general suffrage of
critics has placed in the highest class of human compositions.

The only poem of modern times which can be compared with the Paradise
Lost is the Divine Comedy. The subject of Milton, in some points,
resembled that of Dante; but he has treated it in a widely different
manner. We cannot, we think, better illustrate our opinion respecting
our own great poet than by contrasting him with the father of Tuscan
literature.

The poetry of Milton differs from that of Dante as the hieroglyphics of
Egypt differed from the picture-writing of Mexico. The images which
Dante employs speak for themselves; they stand simply for what they are.
Those of Milton have a signification which is often discernible only to
the initiated. Their value depends less on what they directly represent
than on what they remotely suggest. However strange, however grotesque,
may be the appearance which Dante undertakes to describe, he never
shrinks from describing it. He gives us the shape, the color, the sound,
the smell, the taste; he counts the numbers; he measures the size. His
similes are the illustrations of a traveller. Unlike those of other
poets, and especially of Milton, they are introduced in a plain,
business-like manner; not for the sake of any beauty in the objects from
which they are drawn; not for the sake of any ornament which they may
impart to the poem; but simply in order to make the meaning of the
writer as clear to the reader as it is to himself. The ruins of the
precipice which led from the sixth to the seventh circle of hell were
like those of the rock which fell into the Adige on the south of Trent.
The cataract of Phlegethon was like that of Aqua Cheta at the Monastery
of St. Benedict. The place where the heretics were confined in burning
tombs resembled the vast cemetery of Arles.

Now let us compare with the exact details of Dante the dim intimations
of Milton. We will cite a few examples. The English poet has never
thought of taking the measure of Satan. He gives us merely a vague idea
of vast bulk. In one passage the fiend lies stretched out huge in
length, floating many a rood, equal in size to the earth-born enemies of
Jove, or to the sea-monster which the mariner mistakes for an island.
When he addresses himself to battle against the guardian angels he
stands like Teneriffe or Atlas: his stature reaches the sky. Contrast
with these descriptions the lines in which Dante has described the
gigantic spectre of Nimrod. "His face seemed to me as long and as broad
as the ball of St. Peter's at Rome; and his other limbs were in
proportion; so that the bank, which concealed him from the waist
downwards, nevertheless showed so much of him that three tall Germans
would in vain have attempted to reach to his hair." We are sensible
that we do no justice to the admirable style of the Florentine poet. But
Mr. Cary's translation is not at hand; and our version, however rude, is
sufficient to illustrate our meaning.

Once more, compare the lazar-house in the eleventh book of the Paradise
Lost with the last ward of Malebolge in Dante. Milton avoids the
loathsome details, and takes refuge in indistinct but solemn and
tremendous imagery--Despair hurrying from couch to couch to mock the
wretches with his attendance, Death shaking his dart over them, but, in
spite of supplications, delaying to strike. What says Dante? "There was
such a moan there as there would be if all the sick who, between July
and September, are in the hospitals of Valdichiana, and of the Tuscan
swamps, and of Sardinia, were in one pit together; and such a stench was
issuing forth as is wont to issue from decayed limbs."

We will not take upon ourselves the invidious office of settling
precedency between two such writers. Each in his own department is
incomparable; and each, we may remark, has wisely, or fortunately, taken
a subject adapted to exhibit his peculiar talent to the greatest
advantage. The Divine Comedy is a personal narrative. Dante is the
eye-witness and ear-witness of that which he relates. He is the very man
who has heard the tormented spirits crying out for the second death,
who has read the dusky characters on the portal within which there is no
hope, who has hidden his face from the terrors of the Gorgon, who has
fled from the hooks and the seething pitch of Barbariccia and
Draghignazzo. His own hands have grasped the shaggy sides of Lucifer.
His own feet have climbed the mountain of expiation. His own brow has
been marked by the purifying angel. The reader would throw aside such a
tale in incredulous disgust, unless it were told with the strongest air
of veracity, with a sobriety even in its horrors, with the greatest
precision and multiplicity in its details. The narrative of Milton in
this respect differs from that of Dante as the adventures of Amadis
differ from those of Gulliver. The author of Amadis would have made his
book ridiculous if he had introduced those minute particulars which give
such a charm to the work of Swift, the nautical observations, the
affected delicacy about names, the official documents transcribed at
full length, and all the unmeaning gossip and scandal of the court,
springing out of nothing, and tending to nothing. We are not shocked at
being told that a man who lived, nobody knows when, saw many very
strange sights, and we can easily abandon ourselves to the illusion of
the romance. But when Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon, resident at Rotherhithe,
tells us of pigmies and giants, flying islands, and philosophizing
horses, nothing but such circumstantial touches could produce for a
single moment a deception on the imagination.

Of all the poets who have introduced into their works the agency of
supernatural beings, Milton has succeeded best. Here Dante decidedly
yields to him; and as this is a point on which many rash and
ill-considered judgments have been pronounced, we feel inclined to dwell
on it a little longer. The most fatal error which a poet can possibly
commit in the management of his machinery is that of attempting to
philosophize too much. Milton has been often censured for ascribing to
spirits many functions of which spirits must be incapable. But these
objections, though sanctioned by eminent names, originate, we venture to
say, in profound ignorance of the art of poetry.

What is spirit? What are our own minds, the portion of spirit with which
we are best acquainted? We observe certain phenomena. We cannot explain
them into material causes. We therefore infer that there exists
something which is not material. But of this something we have no idea.
We can define it only by negatives. We can reason about it only by
symbols. We use the word, but we have no image of the thing; and the
business of poetry is with images, and not with words. The poet uses
words, indeed; but they are merely the instruments of his art, not its
objects. They are the materials which he is to dispose in such a manner
as to present a picture to the mental eye. And if they are not so
disposed, they are no more entitled to be called poetry than a bale of
canvas and a box of colors to be called a painting.

Logicians may reason about abstractions. But the great mass of men must
have images. The strong tendency of the multitude in all ages and
nations to idolatry can be explained on no other principle. The first
inhabitants of Greece, there is reason to believe, worshipped one
invisible Deity. But the necessity of having something more definite to
adore produced, in a few centuries, the innumerable crowd of gods and
goddesses. In like manner the ancient Persians thought it impious to
exhibit the creator under a human form. Yet even these transferred to
the sun the worship which, in speculation, they considered due only to
the Supreme Mind. The history of the Jews is the record of a continued
struggle between pure Theism, supported by the most terrible sanctions,
and the strangely fascinating desire of having some visible and tangible
object of adoration. Perhaps none of the secondary causes which Gibbon
has assigned for the rapidity with which Christianity spread over the
world, while Judaism scarcely ever acquired a proselyte, operated more
powerfully than this feeling. God, the uncreated, the incomprehensible,
the invisible, attracted few worshippers. A philosopher might admire so
noble a conception; but the crowd turned away in disgust from words
which presented no image to their minds. It was before Deity embodied in
a human form, walking among men, partaking of their infirmities, leaning
on their bosoms, weeping over their graves, slumbering in the manger,
bleeding on the cross, that the prejudices of the Synagogue, and the
doubts of the Academy, and the pride of the Portico, and the fasces of
the Lictor, and the swords of thirty legions, were humbled in the dust.
Soon after Christianity had achieved its triumph, the principle which
had assisted it began to corrupt it. It became a new paganism. Patron
saints assumed the offices of household gods. St. George took the place
of Mars. St. Elmo consoled the mariner for the loss of Castor and
Pollux. The Virgin Mother and Cecilia succeeded to Venus and Muses. The
fascination of sex and loveliness was again joined to that of celestial
dignity; and the homage of chivalry was blended with that of religion.
Reformers have often made a stand against these feelings; but never with
more than apparent and partial success. The men who demolished the
images in cathedrals have not always been able to demolish those which
were enshrined in their minds. It would not be difficult to show that in
politics the same rule holds good. Doctrines, we are afraid, must
generally be embodied before they can excite a strong public feeling.
The multitude is more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or
the most insignificant name, than for the most important principle.

From these considerations, we infer that no poet who should affect that
metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton has been blamed would
escape a disgraceful failure. Still, however, there was another extreme
which, though far less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The
imaginations of men are in a great measure under the control of their
opinions. The most exquisite art of poetical coloring can produce no
illusion when it is employed to represent that which is at once
perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Milton wrote in an age of
philosophers and theologians. It was necessary, therefore, for him to
abstain from giving such a shock to their understandings as might break
the charm which it was his object to throw over their imaginations. This
is the real explanation of the indistinctness and inconsistency with
which he has often been reproached. Dr. Johnson acknowledges that it was
absolutely necessary that the spirit should be clothed with material
forms. "But," says he, "the poet should have secured the consistency of
his system by keeping immateriality out of sight, and seducing the
reader to drop it from his thoughts." This is easily said; but what if
Milton could not seduce his readers to drop immateriality from their
thoughts? What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a possession
of the minds of men as to leave no room even for the half-belief which
poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been the case. It was
impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the material or the
immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on the debatable ground.
He left the whole in ambiguity. He has doubtless, by so doing, laid
himself open to the charge of inconsistency. But, though philosophically
in the wrong, we cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right.
This task, which almost any other writer would have found impracticable,
was easy to him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating
his meaning circuitously through a long succession of associated ideas,
and of intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those
incongruities which he could not avoid.

Poetry which relates to the beings of another world ought to be at once
mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante is
picturesque, indeed, beyond any that ever was written. Its effect
approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel. But it is
picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. This is a fault on the
right side, a fault inseparable from the plan of Dante's poem, which, as
we have already observed, rendered the utmost accuracy of description
necessary. Still it is a fault. The supernatural agents excite an
interest; but it is not the interest which is proper to supernatural
agents. We feel that we could talk to the ghosts and demons without any
emotion of unearthly awe. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper,
and eat heartily in their company. Dante's angels are good men with
wings. His devils are spiteful, ugly executioners. His dead men are
merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between
the poet and Farinata is justly celebrated. Still, Farinata in the
burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would have been at an
_auto-da-fé_. Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of
Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it but a lovely woman chiding, with
sweet, austere composure, the lover for whose affection she is grateful,
but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its
charm would suit the streets of Florence as well as the summit of the
Mount of Purgatory.

The spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other writers. His
fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They are not
metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They are not ugly
beasts. They have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw-fum of Tasso
and Klopstock. They have just enough in common with human nature to be
intelligible to human beings. Their characters are, like their forms,
marked by a certain dim resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to
gigantic dimensions, and veiled in mysterious gloom.

Perhaps the gods and demons of Aeschylus may best bear a comparison with
the angels and devils of Milton. The style of the Athenian had, as we
have remarked, something of the Oriental character; and the same
peculiarity may be traced in his mythology. It has nothing of the
amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of
Greece. All is rugged, barbaric, and colossal. The legends of Aeschylus
seem to harmonize less with the fragrant groves and graceful porticos in
which his countrymen paid their vows to the God of Light and Goddess of
Desire than with those huge and grotesque labyrinths of eternal granite
in which Egypt enshrined her mystic Osiris, or in which Hindostan still
bows down to her seven-headed idols. His favorite gods are those of the
elder generation, the sons of heaven and earth, compared with whom
Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart, the gigantic Titans, and
the inexorable Furies. Foremost among his creations of this class
stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend of man, the
sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. Prometheus bears undoubtedly a
considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In both we find the
same impatience of control, the same ferocity, the same unconquerable
pride. In both characters also are mingled, though in very different
proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is
hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy
posture; he is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution
seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses that he holds the
fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour of his release will
surely come. But Satan is a creature of another sphere. The might of his
intellectual nature is victorious over the extremity of pain. Amidst
agonies which cannot be conceived without horror, he deliberates,
resolves, and even exults. Against the sword of Michael, against the
thunder of Jehovah, against the flaming lake, and the marl burning with
solid fire, against the prospect of an eternity of unintermitted misery,
his spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own innate energies,
requiring no support from anything external, nor even from hope itself.

To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting to
draw between Milton and Dante, we would add that the poetry of these
great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their
moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their
idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have nothing in common with those
modern beggars for fame who extort a pittance from the compassion of the
inexperienced by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet
it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more
completely, though undesignedly, colored by their personal feelings.

The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness of
spirit; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of the
Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride
struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply
and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic
caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time can be judged,
the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love
nor glory, neither the conflicts of earth nor the hope of heaven, could
dispel it. It turned every consolation and every pleasure into its own
nature. It resembled that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense
bitterness is said to have been perceptible even in its honey. His mind
was, in the noble language of the Hebrew poet, "a land of darkness, as
darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness." The gloom of his
character discolors all the passions of men, and all the face of nature,
and tinges with its own livid hue the flowers of Paradise and the
glories of the eternal throne. All the portraits of him are singularly
characteristic. No person can look on the features, noble even to
ruggedness--the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard and woful stare
of the eye the sullen and contemptuous curve of the lip--and doubt that
they belong to a man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.

Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had
been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and
his sight, the comforts of his home, and the prosperity of his party. Of
the great men by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into
life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried
into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some
were pining in dungeons; and some had poured forth their blood on
scaffolds. Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient talent
to clothe the thoughts of a pander in the style of a bellman, were now
the favorite writers of the Sovereign and of the public. It was a
loathsome herd, which could be compared to nothing so fitly as to the
rabble of Comus, grotesque monsters, half bestial, half human, dropping
with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene dances. Amidst
these that fair Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque,
lofty, spotless, and serene, to be chattered at, and pointed at, and
grinned at, by the whole rout of Satyrs and Goblins. If ever despondency
and asperity could be excused in any man, they might have been excused
in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every calamity.
Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic
afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription,
nor neglect had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience. His
spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable.
His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no
sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was when, on the
eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of
health and manly beauty, loaded with literary distinctions, and glowing
with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be when, after having
experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor,
sightless, and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die.

Hence it was that, though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of life
when images of beauty and tenderness are in general beginning to fade,
even from those minds in which they have not been effaced by anxiety and
disappointment, he adorned it with all that is most lovely and
delightful in the physical and in the moral world. Neither Theocritus
nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthful sense of the pleasantness of
external objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst sunbeams and
flowers, the songs of nightingales, the juice of summer fruits, and the
coolness of shady fountains. His conception of love unites all the
voluptuousness of the Oriental harem, and all the gallantry of the
chivalric tournament with all the pure and quiet affection of an English
fireside. His poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine scenery. Nooks
and dells, beautiful as fairyland, are embosomed in its most rugged and
gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge
of the avalanche.

Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all
his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. Those
remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics who have not
understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none
of the ingenuity of Filicaja in the thought, none of the hard and
brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style. They are simple but majestic
records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the
public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an expected attack
upon the city, a momentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest
thrown out against one of his books, a dream which for a short time
restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed
forever, led him to musings, which, without effort, shaped themselves
into verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style which
characterize these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or
perhaps still more of the Collects of the English Liturgy. The noble
poem on the massacres of Piedmont is strictly a collect in verse.

The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which
gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost
without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to
which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would, indeed, be
scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences as to the character of a
writer from passages directly egotistical. But the qualities which we
have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in those
parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are
distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and
poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness.

His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of spirit
so high and of an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of the most
memorable eras in the history of mankind, at the very crisis of the
great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes, liberty and despotism,
reason and prejudice. That great battle was fought for no single
generation, for no single land. The destinies of the human race were
staked on the same cast with the freedom of the English people. Then
were first proclaimed those mighty principles which have since worked
their way into the depths of the American forests, which have roused
Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and
which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an
unquenchable fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and loosed the knees
of the oppressors with an unwonted fear.

Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence, Milton
was the most devoted and eloquent literary champion. We need not say how
much we admire his public conduct. But we cannot disguise from ourselves
that a large portion of his countrymen still think it unjustifiable. The
civil war, indeed, has been more discussed, and is less understood, than
any event in English history. The friends of liberty labored under the
disadvantage of which the lion in the fable complained so bitterly.
Though they were the conquerors, their enemies were the painters. As a
body, the Roundheads had done their utmost to decry and ruin
literature; and literature was even with them, as, in the long run, it
always is with its enemies. The best book on their side of the question
is the charming narrative of Mrs. Hutchinson. May's History of the
Parliament is good; but it breaks off at the most interesting crisis of
the struggle. The performance of Ludlow is foolish and violent; and most
of the later writers who have espoused the same cause--Oldmixon, for
instance, and Catherine Macaulay--have, to say the least, been more
distinguished by zeal than either by candor or by skill. On the other
side are the most authoritative and the most popular historical works in
our language, that of Clarendon, and that of Hume. The former is not
only ably written and full of valuable information, but has also an air
of dignity and sincerity which makes even the prejudices and errors with
which it abounds respectable. Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the
great mass of the reading public are still contented to take their
opinions, hated religion so much that he hated liberty for having been
allied with religion, and has pleaded the cause of tyranny with the
dexterity of an advocate while affecting the impartiality of a judge.

The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned according as
the resistance of the people to Charles the First shall appear to be
justifiable or criminal....

Every man who approves of the Revolution of 1688 [which dethroned James
II., son of Charles I., on the ground that he "had broken the
fundamental laws of the kingdom," and enthroned William of Orange in his
stead], must hold that the breach of fundamental laws on the part of the
sovereign justifies resistance. The question, then, is this: Had Charles
the First broken the fundamental laws of England?

No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not
merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents,
but to the narratives of the warmest Royalists, and to the confessions
of the king himself. If there be any truth in any historian of any
party who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles,
from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a
continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud the
Revolution and condemn the Rebellion mention one act of James the Second
to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let
them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of Right,
presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which Charles is not
acknowledged to have violated. He had, according to the testimony of his
own friends, usurped the functions of the legislature, raised taxes
without the consent of Parliament, and quartered troops on the people in
the most illegal and vexatious manner. Not a single session of
Parliament had passed without some unconstitutional attack on the
freedom of debate; the right of petition was grossly violated; arbitrary
judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarranted imprisonments were
grievances of daily occurrence. If these things do not justify
resistance, the Revolution was treason; if they do, the Great Rebellion
was laudable.

But, it is said, why not adopt milder measures? Why, after the king had
consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive
prerogatives, did the Parliament continue to rise in their demands at
the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up.
The Star-chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the
frequent convocation and secure deliberation of parliaments. Why not
pursue an end confessedly good by peaceable and regular means? We recur
again to the analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the
throne? Why was he not retained upon conditions? He too had offered to
call a free parliament, and to submit to its decision all the matters in
dispute. Yet we are in the habit of praising our forefathers, who
preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers,
twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a
national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved
tyrant. The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is entitled
to the same praise. They could not trust the king. He had, no doubt,
passed salutary laws; but what assurance was there that he would not
break them? He had renounced oppressive prerogatives; but where was the
security that he would not resume them? The nation had to deal with a
man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke promises with equal
facility, a man whose honor had been a hundred times pawned, and
never redeemed.

Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground than
the Convention of 1688. No action of James can be compared to the
conduct of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. The Lords and
Commons present him with a bill in which the constitutional limits of
his power are marked out. He hesitates; he evades; at last he bargains
to give his assent for five subsidies. The bill receives his solemn
assent; the subsidies are voted; but no sooner is the tyrant relieved
than he returns at once to all the arbitrary measures which he had bound
himself to abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very act which
he had been paid to pass.

For more than ten years the people had seen the rights which were theirs
by a double claim, by immemorial inheritance and by recent purchase,
infringed by the perfidious king who had recognized them. At length
circumstances compelled Charles to summon another Parliament; another
chance was given to our fathers: were they to throw it away as they had
thrown away the former? Were they again to be cozened by _le Roi le
veut_? Were they again to advance their money on pledges which had been
forfeited over and over again? Were they to lay a second Petition of
Right at the foot of the throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange
for another unmeaning ceremony, and then to take their departure, till,
after ten years more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again
require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury? They were compelled
to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think
that they chose wisely and nobly.

The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors
against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline all
controversy about the facts, and content themselves with calling
testimony to character. He had so many private virtues! And had James
the Second no private virtues? Was Oliver Cromwell, his bitterest
enemies themselves being judges, destitute of private virtues? And what,
after all, are the virtues ascribed to Charles? A religious zeal, not
more sincere than that of his son, and fully as weak and narrow-minded,
and a few of the ordinary household decencies which half the tombstones
in England claim for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A good
husband! Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution,
tyranny, and falsehood!

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are told
that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up his
people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and
hard-hearted of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his little
son on his knee and kissed him! We censure him for having violated the
articles of the Petition of Right, after having, for good and valuable
consideration, promised to observe them; and we are informed that he
was accustomed to hear prayers at six o'clock in the morning! It is to
such considerations as these, together with his Vandyke dress, his
handsome face, and his peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe,
most of his popularity with the present generation.

For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common phrase, a
good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a good man and an
unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous friend. We cannot, in
estimating the character of an individual, leave out of our
consideration his conduct in the most important of all human relations;
and if in that relation we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and
deceitful, we shall take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of
all his temperance at table, and all his regularity at chapel.

We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on which
the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he governed
his people ill, he at least governed them after the example of his
predecessors. If he violated their privileges, it was because their
privileges had not been accurately defined. No act of oppression has
ever been imputed to him which has not a parallel in the annals of the
Tudors. This point Hume has labored, with an art which is as
discreditable in a historical work as it would be admirable in a
forensic address. The answer is short, clear, and decisive. Charles had
assented to the Petition of Right. He had renounced the oppressive
powers said to have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had
renounced them for money. He was not entitled to set up his antiquated
claims against his own recent release.

These arguments are so obvious that it may seem superfluous to dwell
upon them. But those who have observed how much the events of that time
are misrepresented and misunderstood will not blame us for stating the
case simply. It is a case of which the simplest statement is the
strongest.

The enemies of the Parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take issue on
the great points of the question. They content themselves with exposing
some of the crimes and follies to which public commotions necessarily
give birth. They bewail the unmerited fate of Strafford. They execrate
the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the Scriptural names of
the preachers. Major-generals fleecing their districts; soldiers
revelling on the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by the
public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides and
hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful windows
of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through the market-place;
Fifth-monarchy-men shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecturing from the
tops of tubs on the fate of Agag; all these, they tell us, were the
offspring of the Great Rebellion.

Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These charges,
were they infinitely more important, would not alter our opinion of an
event which alone has made us to differ from the slaves who crouch
beneath despotic sceptres. Many evils, no doubt, were produced by the
civil war. They were the price of our liberty. Has the acquisition been
worth the sacrifice? It is the nature of the devil of tyranny to tear
and rend the body which he leaves. Are the miseries of continued
possession less horrible than the struggles of the tremendous exorcism?

If it were possible that a people brought up under an intolerant and
arbitrary system could subvert that system without acts of cruelty and
folly, half the objections to despotic power would be removed. We
should, in that case, be compelled to acknowledge that it at least
produces no pernicious effects on the intellectual and moral character
of a nation. We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But
the more violent the outrages, the more assured we feel that a
revolution was necessary. The violence of these outrages will always be
proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the
ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned to the
oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to
live. Thus it was in our civil war. The heads of the Church and State
reaped only that which they had sown. The Government had prohibited free
discussion; it had done its best to keep the people unacquainted with
their duties and their rights. The retribution was just and natural. If
our rulers suffered from popular ignorance, it was because they had
themselves taken away the key of knowledge. If they were assailed with
blind fury, it was because they had exacted an equally blind submission.

It is the character of such revolutions that we always see the worst of
them at first. Till men have been some time free, they know not how to
use their freedom. The natives of wine countries are generally sober. In
climates where wine is a rarity intemperance abounds. A newly liberated
people may be compared to a Northern army encamped on the Rhine or the
Xeres. It is said that when soldiers in such a situation find themselves
able to indulge without restraint in such a rare and expensive luxury,
nothing is to be seen but intoxication. Soon, however, plenty teaches
discretion; and, after wine has been for a few months their daily fare,
they become more temperate than they had ever been in their own country.
In the same manner, the final and permanent fruits of liberty are
wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious
crimes, conflicting errors, scepticism on points the most clear,
dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that
its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the
half-finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling
bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole
appearance; and then ask in scorn where the promised splendor and
comfort is to be found. If such miserable sophisms were to prevail,
there would never be a good house or a good government in the world.

Ariosto tells a pretty story of a fairy, who, by some mysterious law of
her nature, was condemned to appear at certain seasons in the form of a
foul and poisonous snake. Those who injured her during the period of her
disguise were forever excluded from participation in the blessings which
she bestowed. But to those who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied
and protected her, she afterwards revealed herself in the beautiful and
celestial form which was natural to her, accompanied their steps,
granted all their wishes, filled their houses with wealth, made them
happy in love and victorious in war. Such a spirit is Liberty. At times
she takes the form of a hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she
stings. But woe to those who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And
happy are those who, having dared to receive her in her degraded and
frightful shape, shall at length be rewarded by her in the time of her
beauty and her glory!

There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom
produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his
cell he cannot bear the light of day; he is unable to discriminate
colors or recognize faces. But the remedy is, not to remand him into his
dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of truth
and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become
half-blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and they will
soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason. The extreme
violence of opinions subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The
scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce; and
at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos.

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a
self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are
fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old
story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to
swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in
slavery, they may indeed wait forever.

Therefore it is that we decidedly approve of the conduct of Milton and
the other wise and good men who, in spite of much that was ridiculous
and hateful in the conduct of their associates, stood by the cause of
public liberty. We are not aware that the poet has been charged with
personal participation in any of the blamable excesses of that time. The
favorite topic of his enemies is the line of conduct which he pursued
with regard to the execution of the King. Of that celebrated proceeding
we by no means approve. Still, we must say, in justice to the many
eminent persons who, concurred in it, and in justice, more particularly,
to the eminent person who defended it, that nothing can be more absurd
than the imputations which, for the last hundred and sixty years, it has
been the fashion to cast upon the Regicides....

We disapprove, we repeat, of the execution of Charles; not because the
constitution exempts the king from responsibility, for we know that all
such maxims, however excellent, have their exceptions; nor because we
feel any peculiar interest in his character, for we think that his
sentence describes him with perfect justice as "a tyrant, a traitor, a
murderer, and a public enemy;" but because we are convinced that the
measure was most injurious to the cause of freedom. He whom it removed
was a captive and a hostage: his heir, to whom the allegiance of every
Royalist was instantly transferred, was at large. The Presbyterians
could never have been perfectly reconciled to the father: they had no
such rooted enmity to the son. The great body of the people, also,
contemplated that proceeding with feelings which, however unreasonable,
no government could safely venture to outrage.

But though we think the conduct of the Regicides blamable, that of
Milton appears to us in a very different light. The deed was done. It
could not be undone. The evil was incurred; and the object was to render
it as small as possible. We censure the chiefs of the army for not
yielding to the popular opinion; but we cannot censure Milton for
wishing to change that opinion. The very feeling which would have
restrained us from committing the act would have led us, after it had
been committed, to defend it against the ravings of servility and
superstition. For the sake of public liberty, we wish that the thing had
not been done, while the people disapproved of it. But, for the sake of
public liberty, we should also have wished the people to approve of it
when it was done....

We wish to add a few words relative to another subject on which the
enemies of Milton delight to dwell,--his conduct during the
administration of the Protector. That an enthusiastic votary of liberty
should accept office under a military usurper seems, no doubt, at first
sight, extraordinary. But all the circumstances in which the country was
then placed were extraordinary. The ambition of Oliver was of no vulgar
kind. He never seems to have coveted despotic power. He at first fought
sincerely and manfully for the Parliament, and never deserted it till
it had deserted its duty. If he dissolved it by force, it was not till
he found that the few members who remained after so many deaths,
secessions, and expulsions, were desirous to appropriate to themselves a
power which they held only in trust, and to inflict upon England the
curse of a Venetian oligarchy. But even when thus placed by violence at
the head of affairs, he did not assume unlimited power. He gave the
country a constitution far more perfect than any which had at that time
been known in the world. He reformed the representative system in a
manner which has extorted praise even from Lord Clarendon. For himself
he demanded indeed the first place in the commonwealth; but with powers
scarcely so great as those of a Dutch stadtholder, or an American
president. He gave the Parliament a voice in the appointment of
ministers, and left to it the whole legislative authority, not even
reserving to himself a veto on its enactments; and he did not require
that the chief magistracy should be hereditary in his family. Thus far,
we think, if the circumstances of the time and the opportunities which
he had of aggrandizing himself be fairly considered, he will not lose by
comparison with Washington or Bolivar. Had his moderation been met by
corresponding moderation, there is no reason to think that he would have
overstepped the line which he had traced for himself. But when he found
that his parliaments questioned the authority under which they met, and
that he was in danger of being deprived of the restricted power which
was absolutely necessary to his personal safety, then, it must be
acknowledged, he adopted a more arbitrary policy.

Yet, though we believe that the intentions of Cromwell were at first
honest, though we believe that he was driven from the noble course which
he had marked out for himself by the almost irresistible force of
circumstances, though we admire, in common with all men of all parties,
the ability and energy of his splendid administration, we are not
pleading for arbitrary and lawless power, even in his hands. We know
that a good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot. But
we suspect that, at the time of which we speak, the violence of
religious and political enmities rendered a stable and happy settlement
next to impossible. The choice lay, not between Cromwell and liberty,
but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well, no man can
doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of
the thirty years which succeeded it, the darkest and most disgraceful in
the English annals. Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an
irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system. Never before
had religious liberty and the freedom of discussion been enjoyed in a
greater degree. Never had the national honor been better upheld abroad,
or the seat of justice better filled at home. And it was rarely that any
opposition which stopped short of open rebellion provoked the resentment
of the liberal and magnanimous usurper. The institutions which he had
established, as set down in the Instrument of Government, and the Humble
Petition and Advice, were excellent. His practice, it is true, too often
departed from the theory of these institutions. But had he lived a few
years longer, it is probable that his institutions would have survived
him, and that his arbitrary practice would have died with him. His power
had not been consecrated by ancient prejudices. It was upheld only by
his great personal qualities. Little, therefore, was to be dreaded from
a second protector, unless he were also a second Oliver Cromwell. The
events which followed his decease are the most complete vindication of
those who exerted themselves to uphold his authority. His death
dissolved the whole frame of society. The army rose against the
Parliament, the different corps of the army against each other. Sect
raved against sect. Party plotted against party. The Presbyterians, in
their eagerness to be revenged on the Independents, sacrificed their own
liberty, and deserted all their old principles. Without casting one
glance on the past, or requiring one stipulation for the future, they
threw down their freedom at the feet of the most frivolous and heartless
of tyrants.

Then came those days, never to be recalled without a blush, the days of
servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish
talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow
minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King
cringed to his rival that he might trample on his people, sank into a
viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her degrading
insults and her more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots and the
jests of buffoons regulated the policy of the State. The government had
just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute.
The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and
the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place,
worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch; and England
propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and
bravest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace,
till the race accursed of God and man was a second time driven forth, to
wander on the face of the earth, and to be a by-word and a shaking of
the head to the nations.

Most of the remarks which we have hitherto made on the public character
of Milton apply to him only as one of a large body. We shall proceed to
notice some of the peculiarities which distinguished him from his
contemporaries. And, for that purpose, it is necessary to take a short
survey of the parties into which the political world was at that time
divided. We must premise that our observations are intended to apply
only to those who adhered, from a sincere preference, to one or to the
other side. In days of public commotion, every faction, like an Oriental
army, is attended by a crowd of camp-followers, a useless and heartless
rabble, who prowl round its line of march in the hope of picking up
something under its protection, but desert it in the day of battle, and
often join to exterminate it after a defeat. England, at the time of
which we are treating, abounded with fickle and selfish politicians, who
transferred their support to every government as it rose; who kissed the
hand of the king in 1640, and spat in his face in 1649; who shouted with
equal glee when Cromwell was inaugurated at Westminster Hall and when he
was dug up to be hanged at Tyburn; who dined on calves' heads, or stuck
up oak-branches, as circumstances altered, without the slightest shame
or repugnance. These we leave out of the account. We take our estimate
of parties from those who really deserve to be called partisans.

We would speak first of the Puritans, the most remarkable body of men,
perhaps, which the world has ever produced. The odious and ridiculous
parts of their character lie on the surface. He that runs may read them;
nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious observers to point
them out. For many years after the Restoration they were the theme of
unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost
licentiousness of the press and of the stage, at the time when the press
and the stage were most licentious. They were not men of letters; they
were, as a body, unpopular; they could not defend themselves; and the
public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore
abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists and
dramatists. The ostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour
aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their long graces, their
Hebrew names, the Scriptural phrases which they introduced on every
occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of polite
amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is not from
the laughers alone that the philosophy of history is to be learned. And
he who approaches this subject should carefully guard against the
influence of that potent ridicule which has already misled so many
excellent writers.

     "Ecco il fonte del riso, ed ecco il rio
        Che mortali perigli in se contiene:
      Hor qui tener a fren nostro desio,
        Ed esser cauti molto a noi conviene."

Those who roused the people to resistance; who directed their measures
through a long series of eventful years; who formed, out of the most
unpromising materials, the finest army that Europe had ever seen; who
trampled down King, Church, and Aristocracy; who, in the short intervals
of domestic sedition and rebellion, made the name of England terrible to
every nation on the face of the earth--were no vulgar fanatics. Most of
their absurdities were mere external badges, like the signs of
freemasonry or the dresses of friars. We regret that these badges were
not more attractive. We regret that a body to whose courage and talents
mankind has owed inestimable obligations had not the lofty elegance
which distinguished some of the adherents of Charles the First, or the
easy good-breeding for which the court of Charles the Second was
celebrated. But, if we must make our choice, we shall, like Bassanio in
the play, turn from the specious caskets which contain only the Death's
head and the Fool's head, and fix on the plain leaden chest which
conceals the treasure.

The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from
the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not
content with acknowledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence,
they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being for
whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too
minute. To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the
great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious
homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul.
Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an
obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on his intolerable brightness,
and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt
for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and
the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish when compared with the boundless
interval which separated the whole race from him on whom their own eyes
were constantly fixed. They recognized no title to superiority but his
favor; and, confident of that favor, they despised all the
accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were
unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply
read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the
registers of heralds, they were recorded in the Book of Life. If their
steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of
ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not
made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade
away. On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked
down with contempt; for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious
treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right
of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier
hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious
and terrible importance belonged; on whose slightest action the spirits
of light and darkness looked with anxious interest; who had been
destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity
which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away.
Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes had
been ordained on his account. For his sake empires had risen, and
flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his
will by the pen of the evangelist and the harp of the prophet. He had
been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe. He
had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony by the blood of no
earthly sacrifice. It was for him that the sun had been darkened, that
the rocks had been rent, that the dead had risen, that all nature had
shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God.

Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men, the one all
self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion, the other proud, calm,
inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his
Maker; but he set his foot on the neck of his king. In his devotional
retirement, he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was
half maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the lyres of
angels or the tempting whispers of fiends. He caught a gleam of the
Beatific Vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting fire. Like
Vane, he thought himself intrusted with the sceptre of the millennial
year. Like Fleetwood, he cried in the bitterness of his soul that God
had hid his face from him. But when he took his seat in the council, or
girt on his sword for war, these tempestuous workings of the soul had
left no perceptible trace behind them. People who saw nothing of the
godly but their uncouth visages, and heard nothing from them but their
groans and their whining hymns, might laugh at them. But those had
little reason to laugh who encountered them in the hall of debate or on
the field of battle. These fanatics brought to civil and military
affairs a coolness of judgment and an immutability of purpose which some
writers have thought inconsistent with their religious zeal, but which
were in fact the necessary effects of it. The intensity of their
feelings on one subject made them tranquil on every other. One
overpowering sentiment had subjected to itself pity and hatred, ambition
and fear. Death had lost its terrors and pleasure its charms. They had
their smiles and their tears, their raptures and their sorrows, but not
for the things of this world. Enthusiasm had made them stoics, had
cleared their minds from every vulgar passion and prejudice, and raised
them above the influence of danger and of corruption. It sometimes might
lead them to pursue unwise ends, but never to choose unwise means. They
went through the world, like Sir Artegal's iron man Talus with his
flail, crushing and trampling down oppressors, mingling with human
beings, but having neither part nor lot in human infirmities; insensible
to fatigue, to pleasure, and to pain; not to be pierced by any weapon,
not to be withstood by any barrier.

Such we believe to have been the character of the Puritans. We perceive
the absurdity of their manners. We dislike the sullen gloom of their
domestic habits. We acknowledge that the tone of their minds was often
injured by straining after things too high for mortal reach; and we know
that, in spite of their hatred of popery, they too often fell into the
worst vices of that bad system, intolerance and extravagant austerity,
that they had their anchorites and their crusades, their Dunstans and
their De Montforts, their Dominics and their Escobars. Yet, when all
circumstances are taken into consideration, we do not hesitate to
pronounce them a brave, a wise, an honest, and a useful body.

The Puritans espoused the cause of civil liberty mainly because it was
the cause of religion. There was another party, by no means numerous,
but distinguished by learning and ability, which acted with them on very
different principles. We speak of those whom Cromwell was accustomed to
call the Heathens, men who were, in the phraseology of that time,
doubting Thomases or careless Gallios with regard to religious
subjects, but passionate worshippers of freedom. Heated by the study of
ancient literature, they set up their country as their idol, and
proposed to themselves the heroes of Plutarch as their examples. They
seem to have borne some resemblance to the Brissotines of the French
Revolution. But it is not very easy to draw the line of distinction
between them and their devout associates, whose tone and manner they
sometimes found it convenient to affect, and sometimes, it is probable,
imperceptibly adopted.

We now come to the Royalists. We shall attempt to speak of them, as we
have spoken of their antagonists, with perfect candor. We shall not
charge upon a whole party the profligacy and baseness of the horse-boys,
gamblers, and bravoes, whom the hope of license and plunder attracted
from the dens of Whitefriars to the standard of Charles, and who
disgraced their associates by excesses which, under the stricter
discipline of the Parliamentary armies, were never tolerated. We will
select a more favorable specimen. Thinking as we do that the cause of
the king was the cause of bigotry and tyranny, we yet cannot refrain
from looking with complacency on the character of the honest old
Cavaliers. We feel a national pride in comparing them with the
instruments which the despots of other countries are compelled to
employ, with the mutes who throng their antechambers, and the
Janizaries who mount guard at their gates. Our Royalist countrymen were
not heartless, dangling courtiers, bowing at every step, and simpering
at every word. They were not mere machines for destruction, dressed up
in uniforms, caned into skill, intoxicated into valor, defending without
love, destroying without hatred. There was a freedom in their
subserviency, a nobleness in their very degradation. The sentiment of
individual independence was strong within them. They were indeed misled,
but by no base or selfish motive. Compassion and romantic honor, the
prejudices of childhood, and the venerable names of history, threw over
them a spell potent as that of Duessa; and, like the Red Cross Knight,
they thought that they were doing battle for an injured beauty, while
they defended a false and loathsome sorceress. In truth, they scarcely
entered at all into the merits of the political question. It was not for
a treacherous king or an intolerant church that they fought, but for the
old banner which had waved in so many battles over the heads of their
fathers, and for the altars at which they had received the hands of
their brides. Though nothing could be more erroneous than their
political opinions, they possessed, in a far greater degree than their
adversaries, those qualities which are the grace of private life. With
many of the vices of the Round Table, they had also many of its virtues,
courtesy, generosity, veracity, tenderness, and respect for women. They
had far more both of profound and of polite learning than the Puritans.
Their manners were more engaging, their tempers more amiable, their
tastes more elegant, and their households more cheerful.

Milton did not strictly belong to any of the classes which we have
described. He was not a Puritan. He was not a freethinker. He was not a
Royalist. In his character the noblest qualities of every party were
combined in harmonious union. From the Parliament and from the court,
from the conventicle and from the Gothic cloister, from the gloomy and
sepulchral circles of the Roundheads, and from the Christmas revel of
the hospitable Cavalier, his nature selected and drew to itself whatever
was great and good, while it rejected all the base and pernicious
ingredients by which those finer elements were defiled. Like the
Puritans, he lived

     "As ever in his great taskmaster's eye."

Like them, he kept his mind continually fixed on the Almighty Judge and
an eternal reward. And hence he acquired their contempt of external
circumstances, their fortitude, their tranquillity, their inflexible
resolution. But not the coolest sceptic or the most profane scoffer was
more perfectly free from the contagion of their frantic delusions, their
savage manners, their ludicrous jargon, their scorn of science, and
their aversion to pleasure. Hating tyranny with a perfect hatred, he had
nevertheless all the estimable and ornamental qualities which were
almost entirely monopolized by the party of the tyrant. There was none
who had a stronger sense of the value of literature, a finer relish for
every elegant amusement, or a more chivalrous delicacy of honor and
love. Though his opinions were democratic, his tastes and his
associations were such as best harmonize with monarchy and aristocracy.
He was under the influence of all the feelings by which the gallant
Cavaliers were misled. But of those feelings he was the master, and not
the slave. Like the hero of Homer, he enjoyed all the pleasures of
fascination; but he was not fascinated. He listened to the song of the
Sirens; yet he glided by without being seduced to their fatal shore. He
tasted the cup of Circe; but he bore about him a sure antidote against
the effects of its bewitching sweetness. The illusions which captivated
his imagination never impaired his reasoning powers. The statesman was
proof against the splendor, the solemnity, and the romance which
enchanted the poet. Any person who will contrast the sentiments
expressed in his treatises on Prelacy with the exquisite lines on
ecclesiastical architecture and music in the Penseroso, which was
published about the same time, will understand our meaning. This is an
inconsistency which, more than anything else, raises his character in
our estimation, because it shows how many private tastes and feelings he
sacrificed, in order to do what he considered his duty to mankind. It is
the very struggle of the noble Othello. His heart relents; but his hand
is firm. He does naught in hate, but all in honor. He kisses the
beautiful deceiver before he destroys her.

That from which the public character of Milton derives its great and
peculiar splendor still remains to be mentioned. If he exerted himself
to overthrow a forsworn king and a persecuting hierarchy, he exerted
himself in conjunction with others. But the glory of the battle which he
fought for the species of freedom which is the most valuable, and which
was then the least understood, the freedom of the human mind, is all his
own. Thousands and tens of thousands among his contemporaries raised
their voices against ship-money and the Star-chamber. But there were few
indeed who discerned the more fearful evils of moral and intellectual
slavery, and the benefits which would result from liberty of the press
and the unfettered exercise of private judgment. These were the objects
which Milton justly conceived to be the most important. He was desirous
that the people should think for themselves as well as tax themselves,
and should be emancipated from the dominion of prejudice as well as from
that of Charles. He knew that those who, with the best intentions,
overlooked these schemes of reform, and contented themselves with
pulling down the King and imprisoning the malignants, acted like the
heedless brothers in his own poem, who, in their eagerness to disperse
the train of the sorcerer, neglected the means of liberating the
captive. They thought only of conquering when they should have thought
of disenchanting.

     "Oh, ye mistook! Ye should have snatched his wand
      And bound him fast. Without the rod reversed,
      And backward mutters of dissevering power,
      We cannot free the lady that sits here
      Bound in strong fetters fixed and motionless."

To reverse the rod, to spell the charm backward, to break the ties which
bound a stupefied people to the seat of enchantment, was the noble aim
of Milton. To this all his public conduct was directed. For this he
joined the Presbyterians; for this he forsook them. He fought their
perilous battle; but he turned away with disdain from their insolent
triumph. He saw that they, like those whom they had vanquished, were
hostile to the liberty of thought. He therefore joined the Independents,
and called upon Cromwell to break the secular chain, and to save free
conscience from the paw of the Presbyterian wolf. With a view to the
same great object, he attacked the licensing system, in that sublime
treatise which every statesman should wear as a sign upon his hand and
as frontlets between his eyes. His attacks were, in general, directed
less against particular abuses than against those deeply-seated errors
on which almost all abuses are founded, the servile worship of eminent
men and the irrational dread of innovation.

That he might shake the foundations of these debasing sentiments more
effectually, he always selected for himself the boldest literary
services. He never came up in the rear, when the outworks had been
carried and the breach entered. He pressed into the forlorn hope. At the
beginning of the changes, he wrote with incomparable energy and
eloquence against the bishops. But when his opinion seemed likely to
prevail, he passed on to other subjects, and abandoned prelacy to the
crowd of writers who now hastened to insult a falling party. There is no
more hazardous enterprise than that of bearing the torch of truth into
those dark and infected recesses in which no light has ever shone. But
it was the choice and the pleasure of Milton to penetrate the noisome
vapors, and to brave the terrible explosion. Those who most disapprove
of his opinions must respect the hardihood with which he maintained
them. He, in general, left to others the credit of expounding and
defending the popular parts of his religious and political creed. He
took his own stand upon those which the great body of his countrymen
reprobated as criminal, or derided as paradoxical. He stood up for
divorce and regicide. He attacked the prevailing systems of education.
His radiant and beneficent career resembled that of the god of light and
fertility.

     "Nitor in adversum; nec me, qui caetera, vincit
      Impetus, et rapido contrarius evehor orbi."

It is to be regretted that the prose writings of Milton should, in our
time, be so little read. As compositions, they deserve the attention of
every man who wishes to become acquainted with the full power of the
English language. They abound with passages compared with which the
finest declamations of Burke sink into insignificance. They are a
perfect field of cloth of gold. The style is stiff with gorgeous
embroidery. Not even in the earlier books of the Paradise Lost has the
great poet ever risen higher than in those parts of his controversial
works in which his feelings, excited by conflict, find a vent in bursts
of devotional and lyrical rapture. It is, to borrow his own majestic
language, "a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies."

We had intended to look more closely at these performances, to analyze
the peculiarities of the diction, to dwell at some length on the sublime
wisdom of the Areopagitica and the nervous rhetoric of the Iconoclast
and to point out some of those magnificent passages which occur in the
Treatise of Reformation, and the Animadversions on the Remonstrant. But
the length to which our remarks have already extended renders this
impossible.

We must conclude. And yet we can scarcely tear ourselves away from the
subject. The days immediately following the publication of this relic of
Milton appear to be peculiarly set apart, and consecrated to his memory.
And we shall scarcely be censured if, on this his festival, we be found
lingering near his shrine, how worthless soever may be the offering
which we bring to it. While this book lies on our table, we seem to be
contemporaries of the writer. We are transported a hundred and fifty
years back. We can almost fancy that we are visiting him in his small
lodging; that we see him sitting at the old organ beneath the faded
green hangings; that we can catch the quick twinkle of his eyes, rolling
in vain to find the day; that we are reading in the lines of his noble
countenance the proud and mournful history of his glory and his
affliction. We imagine to ourselves the breathless silence in which we
should listen to his slightest word, the passionate veneration with
which we should kneel to kiss his hand and weep upon it, the earnestness
with which we should endeavor to console him, if indeed such a spirit
could need consolation, for the neglect of an age unworthy of his
talents and his virtues, the eagerness with which we should contest
with his daughters, or with his Quaker friend Elwood, the privilege of
reading Homer to him, or of taking down the immortal accents which
flowed from his lips.

These are perhaps foolish feelings. Yet we cannot be ashamed of them;
nor shall we be sorry if what we have written shall in any degree excite
them in other minds. We are not much in the habit of idolizing either
the living or the dead. And we think that there is no more certain
indication of a weak and ill-regulated intellect than that propensity
which, for want of a better name, we will venture to christen
Boswellism. But there are a few characters which have stood the closest
scrutiny and the severest tests, which have been tried in the furnace
and have proved pure, which have been weighed in the balance and have
not been found wanting, which have been declared sterling by the general
consent of mankind, and which are visibly stamped with the image and
superscription of the Most High. These great men we trust that we know
how to prize; and of these was Milton. The sight of his books, the sound
of his name, are pleasant to us. His thoughts resemble those celestial
fruits and flowers which the Virgin Martyr of Massinger sent down from
the gardens of Paradise to the earth, and which were distinguished from
the productions of other soils, not only by superior bloom and
sweetness, but by miraculous efficacy to invigorate and to heal. They
are powerful, not only to delight, but to elevate and purify. Nor do we
envy the man who can study either the life or the writings of the great
poet and patriot without aspiring to emulate, not indeed the sublime
works with which his genius has enriched our literature, but the zeal
with which he labored for the public good, the fortitude with which he
endured every private calamity, the lofty disdain with which he looked
down on temptations and dangers, the deadly hatred which he bore to
bigots and tyrants, and the faith which he so sternly kept with his
country and with his fame.



JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE.[5]


1749-1832.

GERMANY'S GREATEST WRITER.

BY FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE.


I. THE MAN.

Genius of the supreme order presupposes a nature of equal scope as the
prime condition of its being. The Gardens of Adonis require little
earth, but the oak will not flourish in a tub; and the wine of Tokay is
the product of no green-house, nor gotten of sour grapes. Given a
genuine great poet, you will find a greater man behind, in whom, among
others, these virtues predominate,--courage, generosity, truth.

[Footnote 5: From "Hours with the German Classics," by FREDERIC HENRY
HEDGE (copyright by him in 1886). With permission of Messrs. LITTLE,
BROWN, & CO., Publishers, Boston, Mass.]

Pre-eminent among the poets of the modern world stands Goethe, chief of
his own generation, challenging comparison with the greatest of all
time. His literary activity embraces a span of nigh seventy years in a
life of more than fourscore, beginning, significantly enough, with a
poem on "Christ's Descent into Hell" (his earliest extant composition),
and ending with Faust's--that is, Man's--ascent into heaven. The rank
of a writer--his spiritual import to human kind--may be inferred from
the number and worth of the writings of which he has furnished the topic
and occasion. "When kings build," says Schiller, speaking of Kant's
commentators, "the draymen have plenty to do." Dante and Shakspeare have
created whole libraries through the interest inspired by their writings.
The Goethe-literature, so-called,--though scarce fifty years have
elapsed since the poet's death,--already numbers its hundreds
of volumes.

I note in this man, first of all, as a literary phenomenon, the
unexampled fact of supreme excellence in several quite distinct
provinces of literary action. Had we only his minor poems, he would rank
as the first of lyrists. Had he written only "Faust," he would be the
first of philosophic poets. Had he written only "Hermann and Dorothea,"
the sweetest idyllist; if only the "Märchen," the subtlest of
allegorists. Had he written never a verse, but only prose, he would hold
the highest place among the prose-writers of Germany. And lastly, had he
written only on scientific subjects, in that line also--in the field of
science--he would be, as he is, an acknowledged leader.

Noticeable in him also is the combination of extraordinary genius with
extraordinary fortune. A magnificent person, a sound physique, inherited
wealth, high social position, official dignity, with eighty-three years
of earthly existence, compose the framework of this illustrious life.

Behind the author, behind the poet, behind the world-renowned genius, a
not unreasonable curiosity seeks the original man, the human individual,
as he walked among men, his manner of being, his characteristics, as
shown in the converse of life. In what soil grew the flowers and ripened
the fruits which have been the delight and the aliment of nations? In
proportion, of course, to the eminence attained by a writer,--in
proportion to the worth of his works, to their hold on the world,--is
the interest felt in his personality and behavior, in the incidents of
his life. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the person is not always
proportioned to the lustre of the name. Of the two great poets to whom
the world's unrepealable verdict has assigned the foremost place in
their several kinds, we know in one case absolutely nothing, and next to
nothing in the other. To the question, Who sung the wrath of Achilles
and the wanderings of the much-versed Odysseus? tradition answers with a
name to which no faintest shadow of a person corresponds. To the
question, Who composed "Hamlet" and "Othello"? history answers with a
person so indistinct that recent speculation has dared to question the
agency of Shakspeare in those creations. What would not the old
scholiasts have given for satisfactory proofs of the existence of a
Homer identical with the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey? What
would not the Shakspeare clubs give for one more authentic anecdote of
the world's great dramatist?

Of Goethe we know more--I mean of his externals--than of any other
writer of equal note. This is due in part to his wide relations,
official and other, with his contemporaries; to his large correspondence
with people of note, of which the documents have been preserved by the
parties addressed; to the interest felt in him by curious observers
living in the day of his greatness. It is due in part also to the fact
that, unlike the greatest of his predecessors, he flourished in an
all-communicating, all-recording age; and partly it is due to
autobiographical notices, embracing important portions of his history.

Two seemingly opposite factors--limiting and qualifying the one the
other--determined the course and topics of his life. One was the aim
which he proposed to himself as the governing principle and purpose of
his being,--to perfect himself, to make the most of the nature which God
had given him; the other was a constitutional tendency to come out of
himself, to lose himself in objects, especially in natural objects, so
that in the study of nature--to which he devoted a large part of his
life--he seems not so much a scientific observer as a chosen confidant,
to whom the discerning Mother revealed her secrets.

In no greatest genius are all its talents self-derived. Countless
influences mould our intellect and mould our heart. One of these, and
often one of the most potent, is heredity. Consciously or unconsciously,
for good or for evil, physically and mentally, the father and mother are
in the child, as indeed all his ancestors are in every man.

Of Goethe's father we know only what the son himself has told us in his
memoirs. A man of austere presence, from whom Goethe, as he tells us,
inherited his bodily stature and his serious treatment of life,--

     "Vom Vater hab ich die Statur,
      Des Lebens ernstes führen."

By profession a lawyer, but without practice, living in grim seclusion
amid his books and collections; a man of solid acquirements and large
culture, who had travelled in Italy and first awakened in Wolfgang the
longing for that land; a man of ample means, inhabiting a stately
mansion. For the rest, a stiff, narrow-minded, fussy pedant, with small
toleration for any methods or aims but his own; who, while he
appreciated the superior gifts of his son, was obstinately bent on
guiding them in strict professional grooves, and teased him with the
friction of opposing wills.

The opposite, in most respects, of this stately and pedantic worthy was
the Frau Räthin, his youthful wife, young enough to have been his
daughter,--a jocund, exuberant nature, a woman to be loved; one who
blessed society with her presence, and possessed uncommon gifts of
discourse. She was but eighteen when Wolfgang was born,--a companion to
him and his sister Cornelia; one in whom they were sure to find sympathy
and ready indulgence. Goethe was indebted to her, as he tells us, for
his joyous spirit and his narrative talent,--

     "Von Mütterchen die Frohnatur
      Und Lust zu fabuliren."

Outside of the poet's household, the most important figure in the circle
of his childish acquaintance was his mother's father, from whom he had
his name, Johann Wolfgang Textor, the _Schultheiss_, or chief
magistrate, of the city. From him Goethe seems to have inherited the
superstition of which some curious examples are recorded in his life. He
shared with Napoleon and other remarkable men, says Von Müller, the
conceit that little mischances are prophetic of greater evils. On a
journey to Baden-Baden with a friend, his carriage was upset and his
companion slightly injured. He thought it a bad omen, and instead of
proceeding to Baden-Baden chose another watering-place for his summer
resort. If in his almanac there happened to be a blot on any date, he
feared to undertake anything important on the day so marked. He had
noted certain fatal days; one of these was the 22d of March. On that day
he had lost a valued friend; on that day the theatre to which he had
devoted so much time and labor was burned; and on that day, curiously
enough, he died. He believed in oracles; and as Rousseau threw stones at
a tree to learn whether or no he was to be saved (the hitting or not
hitting the tree was to be the sign), so Goethe tossed a valuable
pocket-knife into the river Lahn to ascertain whether he would succeed
as a painter. If behind the bushes which bordered the stream, he saw the
knife plunge, it should signify success; if not, he would take it as an
omen of failure. Rousseau was careful, he tells us, to choose a stout
tree, and to stand very near. Goethe, more honest with himself, adopted
no such precaution; the plunge of the knife was not seen, and the
painter's career was abandoned.

Wordsworth's saying, "the child is the father of the man,"--a saying
which owes its vitality more to its form than its substance,--is not
always verified, or its truth is not always apparent in the lives of
distinguished men. I find not much in Goethe the child prophetic of
Goethe the man. But the singer and the seeker, the two main tendencies
of his being, are already apparent in early life. Of moral traits, the
most conspicuous in the child is a power of self-control,--a moral
heroism, which secured to him in after life a natural leadership
unattainable by mere intellectual supremacy. An instance of this
self-control is recorded among the anecdotes of his boyhood. At one of
the lessons which he shared with other boys, the teacher failed to
appear. The young people awaited his coming for a while, but toward the
close of the hour most of them departed, leaving behind three who were
especially hostile to Goethe. "These," he says, "thought to torment, to
mortify, and to drive me away. They left me a moment, and returned with
rods taken from a broom which they had cut to pieces. I perceived their
intention, and, supposing the expiration of the hour to be near, I
immediately determined to make no resistance until the clock should
strike. Unmercifully, thereupon, they began to scourge in the cruellest
manner my legs and calves. I did not stir, but soon felt that I had
miscalculated the time, and that such pain greatly lengthens the
minutes." When the hour expired, his superior activity enabled him to
master all three, and to pin them to the ground.

In later years the same zeal of self-discipline which prompted the child
to exercise himself in bearing pain, impelled the man to resist and
overcome constitutional weaknesses by force of will. A student of
architecture, he conquered a tendency to giddiness by standing on
pinnacles and walking on narrow rafters over perilous abysses. In like
manner he overcame the ghostly terrors instilled in the nursery, by
midnight visits to churchyards and uncanny places.

To real peril, to fear of death, he seems to have had that native
insensibility so notable always in men of genius, in whom the conviction
of a higher destiny begets the feeling of a charmed life,--such as
Plutarch records of the first Caesar in peril of shipwreck on the river
Anio. In the French campaign (1793), in which Goethe accompanied the
Duke of Weimar against the armies of the Republic, a sudden impulse of
scientific curiosity prompted him, in spite of warnings and
remonstrances, to experiment on what is called the "cannon-fever." For
this purpose he rode to a place in which he was exposed to a cross-fire
of the two armies, and coolly watched the sensations experienced in that
place of peril.

Command of himself, acquired by long and systematic discipline, gave him
that command over others which he exercised in several memorable
instances. Coming from a ball one night,--a young man fresh from the
University,--he saw that a fire had broken out in the Judengasse, and
that people were standing about helpless and confused without a leader;
he immediately jumped from his carriage, and, full dressed as he was, in
silk stockings and pumps, organized on the spot a fire-brigade, which
averted a dangerous conflagration. On another occasion, voyaging in the
Mediterranean, he quelled a mutiny on board an Italian ship, when
captain and mates were powerless, and the vessel drifting on the rocks,
by commanding sailors and passengers to fall on their knees and pray to
the Virgin,--adopting the idiom of their religion as well as their
speech, of which he was a master.

As a student, first at Leipsic, then at Strasburg, including the years
from 1766 to 1771, he seems not to have been a very diligent attendant
on the lectures in either university, and to have profited little by
professional instruction. In compliance with the wishes of his father,
who intended him for a jurist, he gave some time to the study of the
law; but on the whole the principal gain of those years was derived from
intercourse with distinguished intellectual men and women, whose
acquaintance he cultivated, and the large opportunities of social life.

In Strasburg occurred the famous love-passage with Friederike Brion,
which terminated so unhappily at the time, and so fortunately in the
end, for both.

Goethe has been blamed for not marrying Friederike. His real blame
consists in the heedlessness with which, in the beginning of their
acquaintance, he surrendered himself to the charm of her presence,
thereby engaging her affection without a thought of the consequences to
either. Besides the disillusion, which showed him, when he came fairly
to face the question, that he did not love her sufficiently to justify
marriage, there were circumstances--material, economical--which made it
practically impossible. Her suffering in the separation, great as it
was,--so great indeed as to cause a dangerous attack of bodily
disease,--could not outweigh the pangs which he endured in his penitent
contemplation of the consequences of his folly.

The next five years were spent partly in Frankfort and partly in
Wetzlar, partly in the forced exercise of his profession, but chiefly in
literary labors and the use of the pencil, which for a time disputed
with the pen the devotion of the poet-artist. They may be regarded as
perhaps the most fruitful, certainly the most growing, years of his
life. They gave birth to "Götz von Berlichingen" and the "Sorrows of
Werther," to the first inception of "Faust," and to many of his sweetest
lyrics. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of
Charlotte Buff, the heroine of the "Sorrows of Werther," from whom he
finally tore himself away, leaving Wetzlar when he discovered that their
growing interest in each other was endangering her relation with
Kestner, her betrothed. In those years, also, he formed a matrimonial
engagement with Elizabeth Schönemann (Lili), the rupture of which, I
must think, was a real misfortune for the poet. It came about by no
fault of his. Her family had from the first opposed themselves to the
match on the ground of social disparity. For even in mercantile
Frankfort rank was strongly marked; and the Goethes, though respectable
people, were beneath the Schönemanns in the social scale. Goethe's
genius went for nothing with Madame Schönemann; she wanted for her
daughter an aristocratic husband, not a literary one,--one who had
wealth in possession, and not merely, as Goethe had, in prospect. How
far Lili was influenced by her mother's and brother's representations it
is impossible to say; however, she showed herself capricious, was
sometimes cold, or seemed so to him, while favoring the advances of
others. Goethe was convinced that she did not entertain for him that
devoted love without which he felt that their union could not be a happy
one. They separated; but on her death-bed she confessed to a friend that
all she was, intellectually and morally, she owed to him.

In 1775 our poet was invited by the young Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl
August,--whose acquaintance he had made at Frankfort and at Mentz, his
junior by two or three years,--to establish himself in civil service at
the Grand-Ducal Court. The father, who had other views for his son, and
was not much inclined to trust in princes, objected; many wondered, some
blamed. Goethe himself appears to have wavered with painful indecision,
and at last to have followed a mysterious impulse rather than a clear
conviction or deliberate choice. His Heidelberg friend and hostess
sought still to detain him, when the last express from Weimar drove up
to the door. To her he replied in the words of his own Egmont:--

"Say no more! Goaded by invisible spirits, the sun-steeds of time run
away with the light chariot of our destiny; there is nothing for it but
to keep our courage, hold tight the reins, and guide the wheels now
right, now left, avoiding a stone here, a fall there. Whither away? Who
knows? Scarcely one remembers whence he came."

It does not appear that he ever repented this most decisive step of his
life-journey, nor does there appear to have been any reason why he
should. A position, an office of some kind, he needs must have. Even
now, the life of a writer by profession, with no function but that of
literary composition, is seldom a prosperous one; in Goethe's day, when
literature was far less remunerative than it is in ours, it was seldom
practicable. Unless he had chosen to be maintained by his father, some
employment besides that of book-making was an imperative necessity. The
alternative of that which was offered--the one his father would have
chosen--was that of a plodding jurist in a country where forensic
pleading was unknown, and where the lawyer's profession offered no scope
for any of the higher talents with which Goethe was endowed. On the
whole, it was a happy chance that called him to the little capital of
the little Grand-Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. If the State was one of petty
dimensions (a kind of pocket-kingdom, like so many of the
principalities of Germany), it nevertheless included some of the fairest
localities, and one at least of the most memorable in Europe,--the
Wartburg, where Luther translated the Bible, where Saint Elizabeth
dispensed the blessings of her life, where the Minnesingers are said to
have held their poetic tournament,--

     "Heinrich von Ofterdingen,
      Wolfram von Eschenbach."

It included also the University of Jena, which at that time numbered
some of the foremost men of Germany among its professors. It was a
miniature State and a miniature town; one wonders that Goethe, who would
have shone the foremost star in Berlin or Vienna, could content himself
with so narrow a field. But Vienna and Berlin did not call him until it
was too late,--until patronage was needless; and Weimar did. A miniature
State,--but so much the greater his power and freedom and the
opportunity of beneficent action.

No prince was ever more concerned to promote in every way the welfare of
his subjects than Karl August; and in all his works undertaken for this
purpose, Goethe was his foremost counsellor and aid. The most important
were either suggested by him or executed under his direction. Had he
never written a poem, or given to the world a single literary
composition, he would still have led, as a Weimar official, a useful and
beneficent life. But the knowledge of the world and of business, the
social and other experience gained in this way, was precisely the
training which he needed,--and which every poet needs,--for the
broadening and deepening and perfection of his art. Friedrich von
Müller, in his valuable treatise of "Goethe as a Man of Affairs," tells
us how he traversed every portion of the country to learn what advantage
might be taken of topographical peculiarities, what provision made for
local necessities. "Everywhere--on hilltops crowned with primeval
forests, in the depths of gorges and shafts--Nature met her favorite
with friendly advances, and revealed to him many a desired secret."
Whatever was privately gained in this way was applied to public uses. He
endeavored to infuse new life into the mining business, and to make
himself familiar with all its technical requirements. For that end he
revived his chemical experiments. New roads were built, hydraulic
operations were conducted on more scientific principles, fertile meadows
were won from the river Saale by systematic drainage, and in many a
struggle with Nature an intelligently persistent will obtained
the victory.

Nor was it with material obstacles only that the poet-minister had to
contend. In the exercise of the powers intrusted to him he often
encountered the fierce opposition of party interest and stubborn
prejudice, and was sometimes driven to heroic and despotic measures in
order to accomplish a desired result,--as when he foiled the
machinations of the Jena professors in his determination to save the
University library, and when, in spite of the opposition of the leading
burghers, he demolished the city wall.

In 1786 Goethe was enabled to realize his cherished dream of a journey
to Italy. There he spent a year and a half in the diligent study and
admiring enjoyment of the treasures of art which made that country then,
even more than now, the mark and desire of the civilized world. He came
back an altered man. Intellectually and morally he had made in that
brief space, under new influences, a prodigious stride. His sudden
advance while they had remained stationary separated him from his
contemporaries. The old associations of the Weimar world, which still
revolved its little round, the much-enlightened traveller had outgrown.
People thought him cold and reserved. It was only that the gay,
impulsive youth had ripened into an earnest, sedate man. He found
Germany jubilant over Schiller's "Robbers" and other writings
representative of the "storm-and-stress" school, which his maturity had
left far behind, his own contributions to which he had come to hate.
Schiller, who first made his acquaintance at this time, writes
to Körner:--

"I doubt that we shall ever become intimate. Much that to me is still of
great interest he has already outlived. He is so far beyond me, not so
much in years as in experience and culture, that we can never come
together in one course."

How greatly Schiller erred in the supposition that they never could
become intimate, how close the intimacy which grew up between them, what
harmony of sentiment, how friendly and mutually helpful their
co-operation, is sufficiently notorious.

But such was the first aspect which Goethe presented to strangers at
this period of his life; he rather repelled than attracted, until nearer
acquaintance learned rightly to interpret the man, and intellectual or
moral affinity bridged the chasm which seemed to divide him from his
kind. In part, too, the distance and reserve of which people complained
was a necessary measure of self-defence against the disturbing
importunities of social life. "From Rome," says Friedrich von Müller,
"from the midst of the richest and grandest life, dates the stern maxim
of 'Renunciation' which governed his subsequent being and doing, and
which furnished his only guarantee of mental equipoise and peace."

His literary works hitherto had been spasmodic and lawless effusions,
the escapes of a gushing, turbulent youth. In Rome he had learned the
sacred significance of art. The consciousness of his true vocation had
been awakened in him; and to that, on the eve of his fortieth year, he
thenceforth solemnly devoted the remainder of his life. He obtained
release from the more onerous of his official engagements, retaining
only such functions as accorded with his proper calling as a man of
letters and of science. He renounced his daily intercourse with Frau von
Stein, though still retaining and manifesting his unabated friendship
for the woman to whom in former years he had devoted so large a portion
of his time, and employed himself in giving forth those immortal words
which have settled forever his place among the stars of first magnitude
in the intellectual world.

Noticeable and often noted was the charm and (when arrived to maturity)
the grand effect of his personal presence. Physical beauty is not the
stated accompaniment, nor even the presumable adjunct, of intellectual
greatness. In Goethe, as perhaps in no other, the two were combined. A
wondrous presence!--on this point the voices are one and the witnesses
many. "Goethe was with us," so writes Heinse to one of his friends; "a
beautiful youth of twenty-five, full of genius and force from the crown
of his head to the sole of his foot; a heart full of feeling, a spirit
full of fire, who with eagle wings _ruit immensus ore profundo_." Jacobi
writes: "The more I think of it, the more impossible it seems to me to
communicate to any one who has not seen Goethe any conception of this
extraordinary creature of God." Lavater says: "Unspeakably sweet, an
indescribable appearance, the most terrible and lovable of men."
Hufeland, the chief medical celebrity of Germany, describes his
appearance in early manhood: "Never shall I forget the impression which
he made as 'Orestes' in Greek costume. You thought you beheld an Apollo.
Never was seen in any man such union of physical and spiritual
perfection and beauty as at that time in Goethe." More remarkable still
is the testimony of Wieland, who had reason to be offended, having been
before their acquaintance the subject of Goethe's sharp satire. But
immediately at their first meeting, sitting at table "by the side," he
says, "of this glorious youth, I was radically cured of all my
vexation.... Since this morning," he wrote to Jacobi, "my soul is as
full of Goethe as a dewdrop is of the morning sun." And to Zimmermann:
"He is in every respect the greatest, best, most splendid human being
that ever God created." Goethe was then twenty-six. Henry Crabbe
Robinson, who saw him at the age of fifty-two, reports him one of the
most "oppressively handsome" men he had ever seen, and speaks
particularly as all who have described him speak, of his wonderfully
brilliant eyes. Those eyes, we are told, had lost nothing of their
lustre, nor his head its natural covering, at the age of eighty.

Among the heroic qualities notable in Goethe, I reckon his faithful and
unflagging industry. Here was a man who took pains with himself,--_liess
sich's sauer werden,_--and made the most of himself. He speaks of
wasting, while a student in Leipsic, "the beautiful time;" and certainly
neither at Leipsic nor afterward at Strasburg did he toil as his Wagner
in "Faust" would have done. But he was always learning. In the
lecture-room or out of it, with pen and books or gay companions, he was
taking in, to give forth again in dramatic or philosophic form the world
of his experience.

A frolicsome youth may leave something to regret in the way of time
misspent; but Goethe the man was no dawdler, no easy-going Epicurean. On
the whole, he made the most of himself, and stands before the world a
notable instance of a complete life. He would do the work which was
given him to do. He would not die till the second part of "Faust" was
brought to its predetermined close. By sheer force of will he lived till
that work was done. Smitten at fourscore by the death of his son, and by
deaths all around, he kept to his task. "The idea of duty alone sustains
me; the spirit is willing, the flesh must." When "Faust" was finished,
the strain relaxed. "My remaining days," he said, "I may consider a free
gift; it matters little what I do now, or whether I do anything." And
six months later he died.

A complete life! A life of strenuous toil! At home and abroad,--in
Italy and Sicily, at Ilmenau and Carlsbad, as in his study at
Weimar,--with eye or pen or speech, he was always at work. A man of
rigid habits; no lolling or lounging. "He showed me," says Eckermann,
"an elegant easy-chair which he had bought to-day at auction. 'But,'
said he, 'I shall never or rarely use it; all indolent habits are
against my nature. You see in my chamber no sofa; I sit always in my old
wooden chair, and never, till a few weeks ago, have permitted even a
leaning place for my head to be added. If surrounded by tasteful
furniture, my thoughts are arrested; I am placed in an agreeable but
passive state. Unless we are accustomed to them from early youth,
splendid chambers and elegant furniture had better be left to people
without thoughts.'" This in his eighty-second year!

A widely diffused prejudice regarding the personal character of Goethe
refuses to credit him with any moral worth accordant with his bodily and
mental gifts. It figures him a libertine,--heartless, loveless, bad. I
do not envy the mental condition of those who can rest in the belief
that a really great poet can be a bad man. Be assured that the fruits of
genius have never grown, and will never grow, in such a soil. Of all
great poets Byron might seem at first glance to constitute an exception
to this--I venture to call it--law of Nature. Yet hear what Walter
Scott, a sufficient judge, said of Byron:--

"The errors of Lord Byron arose neither from depravity of heart--for
nature had not committed the anomaly of uniting to such extraordinary
talents an imperfect moral sense--nor from feelings dead to the
admiration of virtue. No man had ever a kinder heart for sympathy, or a
more open hand for the relief of distress; and no mind was ever more
formed for enthusiastic admiration of noble actions."

The case of Goethe requires no appeal to general principles. It only
requires that the charges against him be fairly investigated; that he be
tried by documentary evidence, and by the testimony of competent
witnesses. The mistake is made of confusing breaches of conventional
decorum with essential depravity.

That Goethe was faulty in many ways may be freely conceded. But surely
there is a wide difference between not being faultless and being
definitely bad. To call a man bad is to say that the evil in him
preponderates over the good. In the case of Goethe the balance was
greatly the other way. It has been said that he abused the confidence
reposed in him by women; that he encouraged affection which he did not
reciprocate for artistic purposes. The charge is utterly groundless; and
in the case of Bettine has been refuted by irrefragable proof. To say
that he was wanting in love, heartless, cold, is ridiculously false. Yet
the charge is constantly reiterated in the face of facts,--reiterated
with undoubting assurance and a certain complacency which seems to say,
"Thank God! we are not as this man was." There is a satisfaction which
some people feel in _spotting_ their man,--Burns drank; Coleridge took
opium; Byron was a rake; Goethe was cold: by these marks we know them.
The poet found it necessary, as I have said, in later years, under
social pressure, for the sake of the work which was given him to do, to
fortify himself with a mail of reserve. And this, indeed, contrasted
strangely with his former _abandon_, and with the customary gush of
German sentimentality. It was common then for Germans who had known each
other by report, and were mutually attracted, when first they met, to
fall on each other's necks and kiss and weep. Goethe, as a young man,
had indulged such fervors; but in old age he had lost this effusiveness,
or saw fit to restrain himself outwardly, while his kindly nature still
glowed with its pristine fires. He wrote to Frau von Stein, "I may truly
say that my innermost condition does not correspond to my outward
behavior." Hence the charge of coldness. Say that Mount Aetna is cold:
do we not see the snow on its sides?

But he was unpatriotic; he occupied himself with poetry, and did not cry
out while his country was in the death-throes--so it seemed--of the
struggle with France! But what should he have done? What _could_ he
have done? What would his single arm or declamation have availed? No man
more than Goethe longed for the rehabilitation of Germany. In his own
way he wrought for that end; he could work effectually in no other. That
enigmatical composition,--the "Märchen,"--according to the latest
interpretation, indicates how, in Goethe's view, that end was to be
accomplished. To one who considers the relation of ideas to events, it
will not seem extravagant when I say that to Goethe, more than to any
one individual, Germany is indebted for her emancipation, independence,
and present political regeneration.[6]

[Footnote 6: (The following interpretation of the "Märchen" is condensed
from a later portion of this essay, and used here as a foot-note for the
light it throws upon Goethe's political career.)

In the summer of 1795 Goethe composed for Schiller's new magazine, "Die
Horen," a prose poem known in German literature as _Das Märchen,_--"
_The_ Tale;" as if it were the only one, or the one which more than
another deserves that appellation....

Goethe gave this essay to the public as a riddle which would probably be
unintelligible at the time, but which might perhaps find an interpreter
after many days, when the hints contained in it should be verified.
Since its first appearance commentators have exercised their ingenuity
upon it, perceiving it to be allegorical, but until recently without
success.... I follow Dr. Herman's Baumgart's lead in the exposition
which I now offer.

"The Tale" is a prophetic vision of the destinies of Germany,--an
allegorical foreshowing at the close of the eighteenth century of what
Germany was yet to become, and has in great part already become. A
position is predicted for her like that which she occupied from the time
of Charles the Great to the time of Charles V.,--a period during which
the Holy Roman Empire of Germany was the leading secular power in
Western Europe. That time had gone by. Since the middle of the sixteenth
century Germany had declined, and at the date of this writing (1795) had
nearly reached her darkest day. Disintegrated, torn by conflicting
interests, pecked by petty rival princes, despairing of her own future,
it seemed impossible that she should ever again become a power among the
nations. Goethe felt this; he felt it as profoundly as any German of his
day ... and he characteristically went into himself and studied the
situation. The result was this wonderful composition,--"Das Märchen." He
perceived that Germany must die to be born again. She did die, and is
born again. He had the sagacity to foresee the dissolution of the Holy
Roman Empire,--an event which took place eleven years later, in 1806.
The Empire is figured by the composite statue of the fourth King in the
subterranean Temple, which crumbles to pieces when that Temple,
representing Germany's past, emerges and stands above ground by the
River. The resurrection of the Temple and its stand by the River is the
_dénouement_ of the Tale. And that signifies, allegorically, the
rehabilitation of Germany.]

It is true, his writings contain no declamations against tyrants, and
no tirades in favor of liberty. He believed that oppression existed only
through ignorance and blindness, and these he was all his life long
seeking to remove. He believed that true liberty is attainable only
through mental illumination, and that he was all his life long seeking
to promote.

He was no agitator, no revolutionist; he had no faith in violent
measures. Human welfare, he judged, is not to be advanced in that way;
is less dependent on forms of polity than on the life within. But if the
test of patriotism is the service rendered to one's country, who more
patriotic than he? Lucky for us and the world that he persisted to serve
her in his own way, and not as the agitators claimed that he should. It
was clear to him then, and must be clear to us now, that he could not
have been what they demanded, and at the same time have given to his
country and the world what he did.

As a courtier and favorite of Fortune, it was inevitable that Goethe
should have enemies. They have done what they could to blacken his name;
and to this day the shadow they have cast upon it in part remains. But
of this be sure, that no selfish, loveless egoist could have had and
retained such friends. The man whom the saintly Fraulein von Klettenberg
chose for her friend, whom clear-sighted, stern-judging Herder declared
that he loved as he did his own soul; the man whose thoughtful kindness
is celebrated by Herder's incomparable wife, whom Karl August and the
Duchess Luise cherished as a brother; the man whom children everywhere
welcomed as their ready playfellow and sure ally, of whom pious Jung
Stilling lamented that admirers of Goethe's genius knew so little of the
goodness of his heart,--can this have been a bad man, heartless, cold?

II. THE WRITER.

I have said that to Goethe, above all writers, belongs the distinction
of having excelled, not experimented merely,--that, others have also
done,--but excelled in many distinct kinds. To the lyrist he added the
dramatist, to the dramatist the novelist, to the novelist the mystic
seer, and to all these the naturalist and scientific discoverer. The
history of literature exhibits no other instance in which a great poet
has supplemented his proper orbit with so wide an epicyle.

In poetry, as in science, the ground of his activity was a passionate
love of Nature, which dates from his boyhood. At the age of fifteen,
recovering from a sickness caused by disappointment in a boyish affair
of the heart, he betook himself with his sketch-book to the woods. "In
the farthest depth of the forest," he says, "I sought out a solemn spot,
where ancient oaks and beeches formed a shady retreat. A slight
declivity of the soil made the merit of the ancient boles more
conspicuous. This space was inclosed by a thicket of bushes, between
which peeped moss-covered rocks, mighty and venerable, affording a rapid
fall to an affluent brook."

The sketches made of these objects at that early age could have had no
artistic value, although the methodical father was careful to mount and
preserve them. But what the pencil, had it been the pencil of the
greatest master, could never glean from scenes like these, what art
could never grasp, what words can never formulate, the heart of the boy
then imbibed, assimilated, resolved in his innermost being. There awoke
in him then those mysterious feelings, those unutterable yearnings, that
pensive joy in the contemplation of Nature, which leavened all his
subsequent life, and the influence of which is so perceptible in his
poetry, especially in his lyrics....

The first literary venture by which Goethe became widely known was "Götz
von Berlichingen," a dramatic picture of the sixteenth century, in which
the principal figure is a predatory noble of that name. A dramatic
picture, but not in any true sense a play, it owed its popularity at the
time partly to the truth of its portraitures, partly to its choice of a
native subject and the truly German feeling which pervades it. It was a
new departure in German literature, and perplexed the critics as much as
it delighted the general public. It anticipated by a quarter of a
century what is technically called the Romantic School.

"Götz von Berlichingen" was soon followed by the "Sorrows of
Werther,"--one of those books which, on their first appearance have
taken the world by storm, and of which Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
is the latest example. It is a curious circumstance that a great poet
should have won his first laurels by prose composition. Sir Walter Scott
eclipsed the splendor of his poems by the popularity of the Waverley
novels. Goethe eclipsed the world-wide popularity of his "Werther" by
the splendor of his poems.

Of one who was great in so many kinds, it may seem difficult to decide
in what department he most excelled. Without undertaking to measure and
compare what is incommensurable, I hold that Goethe's genius is
essentially lyrical. Whatever else may be claimed for him, he is, first
of all, and chiefly, a singer. Deepest in his nature, the most innate of
all his faculties, was the faculty of song, of rhythmical utterance. The
first to manifest itself in childhood, it was still active at the age of
fourscore. The lyrical portions of the second part of "Faust," some of
which were written a short time before his death, are as spirited, the
versification as easy, the rhythm as perfect, as the songs of his youth.

As a lyrist he is unsurpassed, I venture to say unequalled, if we take
into view the whole wide range of his performance in this kind,--from
the ballads, the best-known of his smaller poems, and those light
fugitive pieces, those bursts of song which came to him without effort,
and with such a rush that in order to arrest and preserve them he
seized, as he tells us, the first scrap of paper that came to hand and
wrote upon it diagonally, if it happened so to lie on his table, lest,
through the delay of selecting and placing, the inspiration should be
checked and the poem evaporate,--from these to such stately compositions
as the "Zueignung," or dedication of his poems, the "Weltseele" and the
"Orphic Sayings,"--in short, from poetry that writes itself, that
springs spontaneously in the mind, to poetry that is written with
elaborate art. There is this distinction, and it is one of the most
marked in lyric verse. Compare in English poetry, by way of
illustration, the snatches of song in Shakspeare's plays with
Shakspeare's sonnets; compare Burns with Gray; compare Jean Ingelow
with Browning.

Goethe's ballads have an undying popularity; they have been translated,
and most of them are familiar to English readers....

In the Elegies written after his return from Italy, the author figures
as a classic poet inspired by the Latin Muse. The choicest of these
elegies--the "Alexis and Dora"--is not so much an imitation of the
ancients as it is the manifestation of a side of the poet's nature which
he had in common with the ancients. He wrote as a Greek or Roman might
write, because he felt his subject as a Greek or Roman might feel it.

"Hermann und Dorothea," which Schiller pronounced
the acme not only of Goethean but of all modern art,
was written professedly as an attempt in the Homeric[7]
style, motived by Wolf's "Prolegomena" and Voss's
"Luise." It is Homeric only in its circumstantiality,
in the repetition of the same epithets applied to the
same persons, and in the Greek realism of Goethe's
nature. The theme is very un-Homeric; it is thoroughly
modern and German,--
     "Germans themselves I present, to the humbler dwelling I lead you,
      Where with Nature as guide man is natural still." [8]

[Footnote 7: "Doch Homeride zu sein, auch noch als letzter, ist schön."]

[Footnote 8: From the Elegy entitled "Hermann und Dorothea."]

This exquisite poem has been translated into English hexameters with
great fidelity by Miss Ellen Frothingham.

"Iphigenie auf Tauris" handles a Greek theme, exhibits Greek characters,
and was hailed on its first appearance as a genuine echo of the Greek
drama. Mr. Lewes denies it that character; and certainly it is not
Greek, but Christian, in sentiment. It differs from the extant drama of
Euripides, who treats the same subject, in the Christian feeling which
determines its _dénouement_....

A large portion of Goethe's productions have taken the dramatic form;
yet he cannot be said, theatrically speaking, to have been, like
Schiller, a successful dramatist. His plays, with the exception of
"Egmont" and the First Part of "Faust," have not commanded the stage;
they form no part, I believe, of the stock of any German theatre. The
characterizations are striking, but the positions are not dramatic.
Single scenes in some of them are exceptions,--like that in "Egmont,"
where Clara endeavors to rouse her fellow-citizens to the rescue of the
Count, while Brackenburg seeks to restrain her, and several of the
scenes in the First Part of "Faust." But, on the whole, the interest of
Goethe's dramas is psychological rather than scenic. Especially is this
the case with "Tasso," one of the author's noblest works, where the
characters are not so much actors as metaphysical portraitures.
Schiller, in his plays, had always the stage in view. Goethe, on the
contrary, wrote for readers, or cultivated, reflective hearers, not
spectators.....

When I say, then, that Goethe, compared with Schiller, failed of
dramatic success, I mean that his talent did not lie in the line of
plays adapted to the stage as it is; or if the talent was not wanting,
his taste did not incline to such performance. He was no playwright.

But there is another and higher sense of the word _dramatic_, where
Goethe is supreme,--the sense in which Dante's great poem is called
_Commedia_, a play. There is a drama whose scope is beyond the compass
of any earthly stage,--a drama not for theatre-goers, to be seen on the
boards, but for intellectual contemplation of men and angels. Such a
drama is "Faust," of which I shall speak hereafter.

Of Goethe's prose works,--I mean works of prose fiction,--the most
considerable are two philosophical novels, "Wilhelm Meister" and the
"Elective Affinities."

In the first of these the various and complex motives which have shaped
the composition may be comprehended in the one word _education_,--the
education of life for the business of life. The main thread of the
narrative traces through a labyrinth of loosely connected scenes and
events the growth of the hero's character,--a progressive training by
various influences, passional, intellectual, social, moral, and
religious. These are represented by the _personnel_ of the story. In
accordance with this design, the hero himself, if so he may be called,
has no pronounced traits, is more negative than positive, but is brought
into contact with many very positive characters. His life is the stage
on which these characters perform. A ground is thus provided for the
numerous portraits of which the author's large experience furnished the
originals, and for lessons of practical wisdom derived from his close
observation of men and things and his lifelong reflection thereon.

"Wilhelm Meister," if not the most artistic, is the most instructive,
and in that view, next to "Faust," the most important, of Goethe's
works. In it he has embodied his philosophy of life,--a philosophy far
enough removed from the epicurean views which ignorance has ascribed to
him,--a philosophy which is best described by the term _ascetic_. Its
keynote is Renunciation. "With renunciation begins the true life," was
the author's favorite maxim; and the second part of "Wilhelm
Meister"--the _Wanderjahre_--bears the collateral title _Die
Entsagenden_; that is, the "Renouncing" or the "Self-denying." The
characters that figure in this second part--most of whom have had their
training in the first--form a society whose principle of union is
self-renunciation and a life of beneficent activity....

The most fascinating character in "Wilhelm Meister"--the wonder and
delight of the reader--is Mignon, the child-woman,--a pure creation of
Goethe's genius, without a prototype in literature. Readers of Scott
will remember Fenella, the elfish maiden in "Peveril of the Peak." Scott
says in his Preface to that novel: "The character of Fenella, which from
its peculiarity made a favorable impression on the public, was far from
being original. The fine sketch of Mignon in Wilhelm Meister's
_Lehrjahre_--a celebrated work from the pen of Goethe--gave the idea of
such a being. But the copy will be found to be greatly different from my
great prototype; nor can I be accused of borrowing anything save the
general idea."

As I remember Fenella, the resemblance to Mignon is merely superficial.
A certain weirdness is all they have in common. The intensity of the
inner life, the unspeakable longing, the cry of the unsatisfied heart,
the devout aspiration, the presentiment of the heavenly life which
characterize Mignon are peculiar to her; they constitute her
individuality. Wilhelm has found her a kidnapped child attached to a
strolling circus company, and has rescued her from the cruel hands of
the manager. Thenceforth she clings to him with a passionate devotion,
in which gratitude for her deliverance, filial affection, and the love
of a maiden for her hero are strangely blended. Afflicted with a disease
of the heart, she is subject to terrible convulsions, which increase the
tenderness of her protector for the doomed child. After one of these
attacks, in which she had been suffering frightful pain, we read:--

"He held her fast. She wept; and no tongue can express the force of
those tears. Her long hair had become unfastened and hung loose over her
shoulders. Her whole being seemed to be melting away.... At last she
raised herself up. A mild cheerfulness gleamed from her face. 'My
father!' she cried, 'you will not leave me! You will be my father! I
will be your child.' Softly, before the door, a harp began to sound. The
old Harper was bringing his heartiest songs as an evening sacrifice to
his friend."

Then bursts on the reader that world-famed song, in which the soul of
Mignon, with its unconquerable yearnings, is forever embalmed,--"Kennst
du das Land":--

     "Know'st thou the land that bears the citron's bloom?
      The golden orange glows 'mid verdant gloom,
      A gentle wind from heaven's deep azure blows,
      The myrtle low, and high the laurel grows,--
      Know'st thou the land?[9]
                            Oh, there! oh, there!
      Would I with thee, my best beloved, repair." ...

[Footnote 9: Literally, "Know'st thou it well?" But the word "well," in
this case, does not answer to the German _wohl_.]

The "Elective Affinities" has been strangely misinterpreted as having
an immoral tendency, as encouraging conjugal infidelity, and approving
"free love." That any one who has read the work with attention to the
end could so misjudge it seems incredible. Precisely the reverse of
this, its aim is to enforce the sanctity of the nuptial bond by showing
the tragic consequences resulting from its violation, though only in
thought and feeling....

Here, a word concerning one merit of Goethe which seems to me not to
have been sufficiently appreciated by even his admirers,--his loving
skill in the delineation of female character; the commanding place he
assigns to woman in his writings; his full recognition of the importance
of feminine influence in human destiny. The prophetic utterance, which
forms the conclusion of "Faust,"--"The ever womanly draws us on,"--is
the summing up of Goethe's own experience of life. Few men had ever such
wide opportunities of acquaintance with women. If, on the one hand, his
loves had revealed to him the passional side of feminine nature, he had
enjoyed, on the other, the friendship of some of the purest and noblest
of womankind. Conspicuous among these are Fräulein von Klettenberg and
the Duchess Luise, whom no one, says Lewes, ever speaks of but in terms
of veneration. No poet but Shakspeare, and scarcely Shakspeare, has set
before the world so rich a gallery of female portraits. They range from
the lowest to the highest,--from the wanton to the saint; they are drawn
in firm lines, and limned in imperishable colors, ... each bearing the
stamp of her own individuality, and each confessing a master's hand.
These may be considered as representing different phases of the poet's
experience,--different _stadia_ in his view of life. "The ever womanly
draws us on." So Goethe, of all men most susceptible of feminine
influence, was led by it from weakness to strength, from dissipation to
concentration, from doubt to clearness, from tumult to repose, from the
earthly to the heavenly.

     "FAUST."

Goethe appears to have derived his knowledge of the Faust legend partly
from the work of Widmann, published in 1599,[10] partly from another
more modern in its form, which appeared in 1728, and partly from the
puppet plays exhibited in Frankfort and other cities of Germany, of
which that legend was then a favorite theme. He was not the only writer
of that day who made use of it. Some thirty of his contemporaries had
produced their "Fausts" during the interval which elapsed between the
inception and publication of his great work. Oblivion overtook them all,
with the exception of Lessing's, of which a few fragments are left; the
manuscript of the complete work was unaccountably lost on its way to the
publisher, between Dresden and Leipsic.

[Footnote 10: The earlier work of Spiess (1588) was translated into
English and furnished Marlowe with the subject-matter of his "Dr.
Faustus."]

The composition of "Faust," as we learn from Goethe's biography,
proceeded spasmodically, with many and long interruptions between the
inception and conclusion. Projected in 1769 at the age of twenty, it was
not completed till the year 1831, at the age of eighty-two....

But the effect of the long arrest, which after Goethe's removal to
Weimar delayed the completion of the "Faust," is most apparent in the
wide gulf which separates, as to character and style, the Second Part
from the First. So great, indeed, is the distance between the two that,
without external historical proofs of identity, it would seem from
internal evidence altogether improbable, in spite of the slender thread
of the fable which connects them, that both poems were the work of one
and the same author. And really the author was not the same. The change
which had come over Goethe on his return from Italy had gone down to the
very springs of his intellectual life. The fervor and the rush, the
sparkle and foam of his early productions, had been replaced by the
stately calm and the luminous breadth of view that is born of
experience. The torrent of the mountains had become the river of the
plain; romantic impetuosity had changed to classic repose. He could
still, by occasional efforts of the will, cast himself back into the old
moods, resume the old thread, and so complete the first "Faust." But we
may confidently assert that he could not, after the age of forty, have
originated the poem, any more than before his Italian tour he could have
written the second "Faust," purporting to be a continuation of the
first. The difference in spirit and style is enormous.

As to the question which of the two is the greater production, it is
like asking which is the greater, Dante's "Commedia" or Shakspeare's
"Macbeth"? They are incommensurable. As to which is the more generally
interesting, no question can arise. There are thousands who enjoy and
admire the First Part to one who even reads the Second. The interest of
the former is poetic and thoroughly human; the interest of the other is
partly poetic, but mostly philosophic and scientific....

The symbolical character of "Faust" is assumed by all the critics, and
in part confessed by the author himself. Besides the general symbolism
pervading and motiving the whole,--a symbolism of human destiny,--and
here and there a shadowing forth of the poet's private experience, there
are special allusions--local, personal, enigmatic conceits--which have
furnished topics of learned discussion and taxed the ingenuity of
numerous commentators. We need not trouble ourselves with these
subtleties. But little exegesis is needed for a right comprehension of
the true and substantial import of the work.

The key to the plot is given in the Prologue in Heaven. The devil, in
the character of Mephistopheles, asks permission to tempt Faust; he
boasts his ability to get entire possession of his soul and drag him
down to hell. The Lord grants the permission, and prophesies the failure
of the attempt:--

"Be it allowed! Draw this spirit from its Source if you can lay hold of
him; bear him with you on your downward path, and stand ashamed when you
are forced to confess that a good man in his dark strivings has a
consciousness of the right way."

Here we have a hint of the author's design. He does not intend that the
devil shall succeed; he does not mean to adopt the conclusion of the
legend and send Faust to hell. He had the penetration to see, and he
meant to show, that the notion implied in the old popular superstition
of selling one's soul to the devil--the notion that evil can obtain the
entire and final possession of the soul--is a fallacy; that the soul is
not man's to dispose of, and cannot be so traded away. We are the
soul's, not the soul ours. Evil is self-limited; the good in man must
finally prevail. So long as he strives he is not lost; Heaven will come
to the aid of his better nature. This is the doctrine, the philosophy,
of "Faust." In the First Part, stung by disappointment in his search of
knowledge, by failure to lay hold of the superhuman, and urged on by his
baser propensities personified in Mephistopheles, Faust abandons himself
to sensual pleasure,--seduces innocence, burdens his soul with heavy
guilt, and seems to be entirely given over to evil. This Part ends with
Mephistopheles' imperious call,--"Her zu mir,"--as if secure of his
victim. Before the appearance of the Second Part, the reader was at
liberty to accept that conclusion. But in the Second Part Faust
gradually wakes from the intoxication of passion, outgrows the dominion
of appetite, plans great and useful works, whereby Mephistopheles loses
more and more his hold of him; and after his death is baffled in his
attempt to appropriate Faust's immortal part, to which the heavenly
Powers assert their right....

The character of Margaret is unique; its duplicate is not to be found in
all the picture galleries of fiction. Shakspeare, in the wide range of
his feminine _personnel_, has no portrait like this. A girl of low birth
and vulgar circumstance, imbued with the ideas and habits of her class,
speaking the language of that class from which she never for a moment
deviates into finer phrase, takes on, through the magic handling of the
poet, an ideal beauty. Externally common and prosaic in all her ways,
she is yet thoroughly poetic, transfigured in our conception by her
perfect love. To that love, unreasoning, unsuspecting,--to the excess of
that which in itself is no fault, but beautiful and good,--her fall and
ruin are due. Her story is the tragedy of her sex in all time. As
Schlegel said of the "Prometheus Bound,"--"It is not a single tragedy,
but tragedy itself." ...

[The First Part ends with the prison scene, where poor Margaret,
escaping by death, ascends to heaven, while Mephistopheles, shouting an
imperious "Hither to me!" disappears with Faust.] The reader is allowed
to suppose--and most readers did suppose--that the author meant it
should be inferred that the devil had secured his victim, and that
Faust, according to the legend, had paid the forfeit of his soul to the
powers of hell.

But Faust reappears in a new poem,--the Second Part. He is there
introduced sleeping, as if burying in torpor the lusts and crimes and
sorrows of his past career. Pitying spirits are about him, to heal his
woes and promote his return to a better life....

[At the end of his hundred years of earthly life,] Mephistopheles ...
fails to secure the immortal part of Faust, which the angels appropriate
and bear aloft:

     "This member of the upper spheres
      We rescue from the devil;
      For whoso strives and perseveres
      May be redeemed from evil."

The last two lines may be supposed to contain the author's justification
of Mephistopheles' defeat and Faust's salvation. Though a man surrender
himself to evil, if there is that in him which evil cannot satisfy, an
impulse by which he outgrows the gratifications of vice, extends his
horizon and lifts his desires, pursues an onward course until he learns
to place his aims outside of himself, and to seek satisfaction in works
of public utility,--he is beyond the power of Satan: he may be redeemed
from evil.

One could wish, indeed, that more decisive marks of moral development
had been exhibited in the latter stages of Faust's career. But here
comes in the Christian doctrine of Grace, which Goethe applies to the
problem of man's destiny. Faust is represented as saved by no merit of
his own, but by the interest which Heaven has in every soul in which
there is the possibility of a heavenly life.

And so the new-born ascending spirit is committed by the Mater gloriosa
to the tutelage of Gretchen [Margaret],--_una poenitentium,_--now
purified from all the stains of her earthly life, to whom is given the
injunction:--

     "Lift thyself up to higher spheres!
      When he divines, he'll follow thee."

And the Mystic Choir chants the epilogue which embodies the moral of
the play:--

     "All that is perishing
        Types the ideal;
      Dream of our cherishing
        Thus becomes real.
      Superhumanly
        Here it is done;
      The ever womanly
        Draweth us on."



ALFRED (LORD) TENNYSON.


1809-1892.

THE SPIRIT OF MODERN POETRY.

BY G. MERCER ADAM.

Of Tennyson what can one write freshly to-day that will not seem but an
echo of what has been said or written of England's noble singer who, on
the death of Wordsworth, now over half a century ago, assumed the
official bays of the English laureateship? Personal homage, of course,
one can pay to the illustrious name, so dear to the heart of the
English-speaking race; but how freshly or vitally can any writer now
speak of that magnificent body of his verse which is the glory of his
age, of the nobility and knightly virtues of its author's character, of
the splendor of his genius, or of the breadth of intellectual and
spiritual interests which was so signally manifested in all that
Tennyson thought and wrote? Among the "Beacon Lights" in the present
series of volumes the Laureate of the age has not hitherto been
included, and to fill the gap the writer of this sketch has ventured,
not, of course, to say all that might be said of the great poet, but
modestly to deal with the man and his art, so that neither his era nor
his work shall go unchronicled or fail of some recognition, however
inadequate, in these pages.

Tennyson's supreme excellence, it is admitted, lies not so much in his
themes as in his transcendent art. It is this that has given him his
hold upon a cultured age and won for him immortality. His work is the
perfection of literary form, and, in his lyrical pieces especially, his
melody is exquisite. Not less masterly is his power of construction,
while his sensibility to beauty is phenomenal. His secluded life brought
him close to nature's heart and made him familiar with her every voice
and mood. In interpreting these, much of the charm lies in the fidelity
of his descriptions and in the surpassing beauty of the word-painting.
In the Shakespearian sense he lacked the dramatic faculty, and he had
but slender gifts of invention and creation. But broad, if not always
strong, was his intelligence, and keen his interest in the problems of
the time. Though living apart from the world, he was yet of it; and in
many of his poems may be traced not only the doings, but the thought and
tendencies, of his age. His Christianity, though undogmatic, was real
and pervasive, and his love for nature was a devotion. In national
affairs, as befitted the official singer of his country (witness his
fine 'Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington'), he showed himself
the historic as well as the modern Englishman, and great was his
reverence for law and freedom. Attractive also, if at times somewhat
commonplace, is the quiet domestic sphere which Tennyson has hallowed in
the many modern idylls which depict the joys and sorrows of humble life.
No trait in the poet's many-sided character is more beautiful than the
sympathy he has manifested in these poems with the world's toilers;
while nothing could well be more touching than the pathos with which he
invests their simple annals.

Typical of the Victorian age in which he lived, Tennyson is also
representative of its highest thought and culture. This is seen not only
in the thought of his verse, but in its splendid forms, and especially
in the technical equipment of the poet. In his dialogues there is much
movement and action, and he had consummate skill in the handling of
metres. Few poets have approached him in the successful writing of blank
verse, which has a delightful cadence as well as calm strength. Above
all his gifts, he was an artist in words, his ear being most sensitively
attuned and his taste pure and refined for the delicate artistry of the
poet's work. In this respect he is a matchless literary workman. Besides
the music of his verse, his thought is ever high, and in his serious
moods consecrated to noble and reverent purposes. In the midst of the
negations and convulsive movements of his day his spirit is always
serene, and his thought, while at times dreamily melancholy, is
conserving and full of faith's highest assurance. His sympathy with his
fellow-man was keen and wide-souled; and though he stood aloof from the
conflict and struggle of his day, he was far from indifferent to its
movements, and with high purpose strove if not to direct at least to
reflect them. This was specially characteristic of the man, and in the
conflict with doubt no poet has more keenly interpreted the mental
struggles of the thoughtful soul and the deep underlying spirit of his
time, or more beneficently given the age an assured ground of faith
while conserving its highest and dearest hopes. Happily, too, unlike
many poets, his own character was lofty and blameless, and hence his
message comes with more consistency, as well as with a higher
inspiration and power. Nor is the message the less impressive for the
note of honest doubt which finds utterance in many a poem, or for the
intimation of a creed that is at once liberal and conservative. With the
evidences before the reader that the poet himself had had his own
soul-wrestlings and periods of mental conflict, his counsellings of
courage and faith are all the more effective, as they are in unison with
his belief in the upward progress of the race, and his unshaken trust in
a higher Power.

Lacking in intensity of passion and dramatic force, Tennyson here again
is but typical of his era, to him one of reposeful content and calm,
reasoning progress. Of permanent, lasting value much of his verse
undoubtedly is, but not all of it will escape the indifference of
posterity or the measuring-rod and censure, it may be, of the future
critic. He had not the stirring strains or the careless rapture of other
and earlier poets of the motherland,--his characteristic is more
contemplative and brooding,--yet his range is unusually comprehensive
and his power varied and sustained, as well as marked by the highest
qualities of rhythmic beauty. In the idyll, where he specially shines,
we have much that is lovely and limpid, with abounding instances of that
felicitous word-painting for which he was noted. This is especially seen
in the simple pastoral idylls, such as 'Dora,' 'The May Queen,' and 'The
Miller's Daughter,' or in those tender lyrics such as 'Mariana,' 'Sir
Galahad,' 'The Dying Swan,' and 'The Talking Oak.' In the ballads and
songs, how felicitous again is the poet's work, and how rich yet
mellifluous is the strain! Had Tennyson written nothing else but these,
with the verse included in the volumes issued by him in 1832 and 1842,
how high would he have been placed in the choir of song, and how supreme
should we have deemed his art! In "The Princess" alone there are songs
that would have made any poet's reputation, while for music and color,
and especially for perfection of poetic workmanship, they are almost
matchless in their beauty.

Fortunately, however, the poet was to give us much even beyond these
surpassingly beautiful things, and make a more unique and distinctive
contribution to the verse of his era. In the years that followed the
production of his early writings the poet matures in thought as his art
ripens and reaches still higher qualities of craftsmanship. Recluse as
he was, he moreover had his experiences of life and drank deeply of
sorrow's cup, as we see in "In Memoriam,"--that noble tribute to his
youthful friend, Arthur Hallam, with its grand hymnal qualities and
powerful and reverent lessons for an age shifting in its beliefs and
unconfirmed in its faith. In later work from his pen we also see the
Laureate--for he has now received official recognition from his
nation--in his relations to the culture as well as to the thought of his
time, keeping pace with the age in all its complex engrossments and
problems. This is shown in much and varied work turned out with its
author's loving interest in the poetic art, and with characteristic
delicacy and finish. The most important labor of this later time
includes "The Princess," "Maud and Other Poems," "Enoch Arden," the
dramas "Becket," "Queen Mary," and "Harold," "Tiresias," "Demeter," "The
Foresters," but above all, and most notably, that grand epic of King
Arthur's time,--"The Idylls of the King." In the latter, the most
characteristic, and perhaps the most permanent, of Tennyson's work, the
poet manifests his historic sense and love for England's legendary past,
and achieves his design not only to glorify it, but to imbue it with a
deep ethical motive and underlying purpose, the expression of his own
chivalrous, knightly soul and strenuous, thoughtful, and blameless life.
In these splendid tales of knight-errantry we have the full flower of
the poet's genius, narrated in the true romantic spirit, but with an
ideality and imagination quite Tennysonian, and with a spiritualistic
touch in harmony with "the voice of the age" that reminds us that,--

     "Our little systems have their day;
        They have their day and cease to be:
        They are but broken lights of thee,
      And thou, O Lord, art more than they."

It is with such themes and speculations that Tennyson has powerfully and
impressively influenced his age. Beyond and above the mere artistry of
the poet, we recognize his interest in man's higher, spiritual being,
his love for nature, and awe in contemplating the heights and depths of
infinite time and space, ever looking upward and inward at the mysteries
of the world behind the phenomena of sense. It is difficult, in set
theological terms, to define the poet's creed, though we know that he
was won by the Broad Church teaching of his friends, Frederick Robertson
and Denison Maurice, and had himself many a battle to fight with honest
doubts until--as his 'Crossing the Bar' shows us--he finally conquered
and laid them. But while there is an absence of definite doctrine in his
work there is no question about his religious convictions or of his
belief in the eternal verities, the immanence of God in man and the
universe. Throughout his poems he assumes the existence of a great
Spirit and recognizes that our souls are a part of Him, however Faith at
times seems to veil her face from the poet, and all appears a mystery,
though a mystery presided over by infinite Power and Love. The great
problems of metaphysics and of man's origin and destiny, we are told,
occupied much of his thought, and he dwelt upon them with eager, intense
interest, and touched upon them with great candor, earnestness, and
truthfulness. No sophistry could shake his belief in man's immortality,
for without belief in this doctrine the human race, he was convinced,
had not incentive enough to virtue, while all man's inspirations were
otherwise meaningless. For the doctrine of Evolution, in its
materialistic aspect, he had nothing but scorn, though he accepted it in
the more spiritual guise with which Russel Wallace propounded it. If we
come from the brutes we are nevertheless linked with the Divine, he
believed, and it was the Divine in man that was to conquer the brute
within him, and, in the upward struggle, work out salvation. So, in the
realm of physical science, on the principles of which, as Huxley tells
us, he had a great grasp, the poet, while appalled by the mystery,
accepts and indeed rejoices in its truths, though he cannot acquiesce in
a godless world or in the denial of a life to come, in which the race,
through infinite love, shall be brought into union with God.

But leaving here Tennyson's speculations and beliefs,--a most
interesting part of the poet's analytical and reflective character,--let
us look for a little at the man personally, and record briefly the chief
incidents in his quiet though ideal home-life. To those who know the
Memoir by his son, Hallam Tennyson,--a memoir that while paying honor to
filial reverence and devotion is at the same time and in all respects
most worthy of its high theme,--the events in the poet's life will
hardly need dwelling upon, though they throw much light on, and impart
the distinction of a high dignity to, the Laureate's work. The life
Hallam Tennyson describes was, we know, not lived in the public eye, and
was wholly without sensational elements or any of the vapid interests
which usually attach to a man whose name is, in a special sense, public
property, and about whom the world was eagerly, and often officiously,
curious. The life the poet lived, in a popular sense, lacked all that
usually attracts the masses, for he was personally little known to his
generation, rarely seen among large gatherings of the people, and, great
Englishman as he was, was almost a stranger, in his later years at
least, in the English metropolis, or, if we except the seats of the
universities, in any of the chief towns of the kingdom. And yet, in
another and a higher sense, the century has hardly known among its many
intellectual forces one that has been more influential in its effect
upon literary art, or in certain directions has more potently influenced
the ideals and more profoundly given expression to the ethical and
philosophic thought of the time. Secluded as his life was, it was one
not of obscurity or of mere asceticism; on the contrary, it was rich in
all the elements that make for a great reputation, and ever devoted to
strenuous, elevating purpose, and to an ideal poetic career.

So far as his tastes and opportunity offered, Tennyson's life, moreover,
was enriched by many wise and noble friendships, and by intimacy with
not a few of the best and most thoughtful minds of his age. It was
spent, we rejoice to think also, in unceasing toil in and for his high
art, with a resulting productiveness which proved the extent and varied
range of his labors as well as the mastery of his craft.

Until the appearance of the biography referred to, we had known the
Laureate almost wholly through his books. Now, thanks to the
authoritative record of his accomplished surviving son, we know the poet
as he lived, and feel that behind his writings there is a personality of
the most interesting and impressive kind. It is a personality such as
consorts with the opinions which most thoughtful readers of Tennyson's
writings must have had of one of the greatest and serenest minds of the
age,--a poet who, aside from the splendor of his workmanship and the
beauty and melody of his verse, has greatly enriched the poetic
literature of the century, and has, we feel, given profound thought to
the intellectual problems and spiritual aspirations of his era. Nor does
the Memoir, as a revelation of the poet's intellectual and personal
life, fall away, on any page of it, from the high plane on which it has
been prepared and written. There is no undue invasion, which a son's
pride might be apt to make, of domestic privacy, and no dealing with
irrelevant topics or elaboration of those set forth with becoming
modesty and restraint; far less is there the discussion of any subject,
for a trivial or vain purpose. Throughout the work we meet with no
unnecessary lifting of veils or treatment of themes merely to satisfy
morbid curiosity. Everywhere there is the evidence of sound judgment,
unimpeachable taste, and a wholesome sanity. This is especially the case
in the frank revelation of the poet's views on religion and his attitude
towards scientific and theological thought, to which we have ourselves
referred. In this respect, a large debt is due to the biographer for
setting before the reader, not only the high ethical purpose which
Tennyson had in view in selecting the themes of his poems and in the
mode of handling them, but, as we have said, in showing us what beyond
peradventure were his religious opinions, and, despite a certain
curtaining of gloom, how profoundly he was influenced by faith in the
Divine life. Nor is the least interest in the Memoir to be found in the
light the biographer throws on the poet's writings as a whole--how they
were conceived and elaborated, and on the often hidden meaning that
underlies some of the most thoughtful verse. This, to students of the
Laureate's writings, is of high value, in addition to the service
rendered by the biographer in tracing in his father's poetic work the
influences which fashioned it and the pains he took to give it its
marvellous beauty and artistic finish of expression.

It is this instructive as well as skilled and dignified treatment, with
the vast literary and deep personal interest in the life, that will
commend the Memoir to all who are proud of the Laureate's fame, and
wished to have nothing written that was unworthy of either the poet or
the man, or that would in the least detract from his laurels. Nor does
the restraint which the biographer imposes upon himself conceal from us
the man in his human aspects, or lead him to set before the reader an
imaginary, rather than a veritable and real, portraiture. We have a
picture, it is true, of an almost ideal domestic life, and of a man of
rare gifts and fine culture, whose work and career have been and are the
pride and glory of the English-speaking race. But we have also the story
of an author not free from human weaknesses, and though endowed with
manifold and great gifts, yet who had to labor long and earnestly to
perfect himself in his art, and in his early years had much
discouragement and not a little adversity to contend with. With all the
toil and stress his early years had known, when success came to the poet
no one was less unspoiled by it; and when sunshine fell upon and gilded
his life, maturing years brought him serenity, happiness, and, at
length, peace.

Alfred Tennyson was born at his father's rectory, Somersby,
Lincolnshire, August 6,1809. He was the fourth of twelve children, seven
of whom were sons, two of them, Frederick and Charles, being endowed,
like Alfred, with poetic gifts. The poet's mother, a woman of sweet and
tender disposition, had much to do in moulding the future Laureate's
character; while from his father, a man of fine culture, he received not
only much of his education, but his bent towards a recluse, bookish
career. Alfred was from his earliest days a retired, shy child, fond of
reading and given to rhyming, and with a characteristic love of nature
and of quiet rural life. Later on he had a passion for the sea-coast,
and for those scenes of storm and stress about the seagirt shores of old
England which he was so feelingly and with such poetic beauty to depict
in "Sea Dreams," and in those incomparable songs, embodiments at once of
sorrow and of faith, 'Break, break, break,' and 'Crossing the Bar.'
Besides the education he received from his scholarly father, and at a
school at Louth for four years, young Tennyson spent some years at
Trinity College, Cambridge, where, though he did not take a degree, he
won in 1829 the Chancellor's medal for the best English poem of the
year, the subject of which was 'Timbuctoo.' At college he had the good
fortune to number among his friends several men who later in life were,
like himself, to rise to eminence,--such as Henry Alford (afterwards
Dean of Canterbury), R.C. Trench (later Archbishop of Dublin), C.
Merivale (historian and Dean of Ely), Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton),
James Spedding (editor of Lord Bacon's Works), Macaulay, Thackeray, and,
most endeared of all, Arthur Henry Hallam, son of the historian, whose
memory Tennyson has immortalized in "In Memoriam." With him at college
was also his brother Charles, one year his senior, with whom he
collaborated in the collection of verse, issued in 1827, under the title
of "Poems by Two Brothers." In 1830, Tennyson made a journey to the
Pyrenees with Arthur Hallam, who was engaged to the poet's sister
Emilia, and in the same year he published an independent volume,
entitled "Poems chiefly Lyrical." In this, his first venture alone in
poetry, and in another issued in 1832, Tennyson was to manifest to the
world his poetic powers and art, for they contained, besides much
rhythmical and contemplative verse, such poems as 'Mariana,' 'Claribel;
'Lilian,' 'Lady Clare,' 'The Lotus Eaters,' 'A Dream of Pair Women,'
'The May Queen,' and 'The Miller's Daughter,' In spite of the great
promise bodied forth in these works, the volumes were subject to not a
little unfavorable criticism, which stayed his further publishing for a
period of ten years, though not the furtherance of his creative work,
nor his enthusiastic efforts towards increasing the perfection of
his art.

It was not until 1842 that the poet again appeared in print, this time
with a volume to which he appended his name, "Poems by Alfred Tennyson,"
and which gave him high rank among the acknowledged singers of his
day,--Wordsworth, Southey, Landor, Campbell, Rogers, and Leigh Hunt, in
England; and in the New World, Longfellow, Bryant, Lowell, Whittier, and
Emerson. The poet-contemporaries of his youth--Byron, Scott, Coleridge,
Shelley, and Keats--had by this time all died, and in 1843 Southey died,
when Wordsworth, whom Tennyson reverenced, became Poet Laureate. The
gap occasioned by the death of these early English poets of the century
was now to be filled in large measure by Tennyson, though among the
writers of song to arise were the Brownings, Rossetti, Matthew Arnold,
and Swinburne. Critical appreciation of the volume of 1842 was happily
encouraging to the poet; indeed, it was most gratifying, for its many
remarkable beauties were now justly and adequately appraised,
particularly such fine new themes as the volume contained--'Ulysses,'
'Godiva,' 'The Two Voices,' 'The Talking Oak,' 'Oenone,' 'Locksley
Hall,' 'The Vision of Sin,' and 'Morte D'Arthur,' the germ of the future
"Idylls of the King." Nor on this side the Atlantic did the new volume
lack substantial recognition, and from such competent critics as Emerson
and Hawthorne; while among his English contemporaries Tennyson became,
if we except for the time Wordsworth, the acknowledged head of English
song. At this period the poet resided in London or its neighborhood, his
family home in Lincolnshire having been broken up in 1837, six years
after the death of his father. Here, in spite of the secluded life he
led, he became a notable figure in literary circles, and greatly
increased the range of his friends, correspondents, and admirers. Among
the latter were the Carlyles, Thomas and his clever wife Jane being
especially drawn to the poet, and to them we owe interesting sketches
of the personal appearance of Tennyson at this time. Mrs. Carlyle, in
one of her delightful letters gossiping about Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton,
and Tennyson, esteems the latter "the greatest genius of the three,"
adding that "besides, he is a very handsome man, and a noble-hearted
one, with something of the gypsy in his appearance, which for me is
perfectly charming." This is the historian, her husband's, piece of
portraiture: "A fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored,
shaggy-headed man, dusty, smoky, free-and-easy; who swims, outwardly and
inwardly, with great composure in an articulate element as of tranquil
chaos and tobacco smoke; great now and then when he does emerge; a most
restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man." Another portrait we have from
the Chelsea philosopher and scorner of shams which describes the poet
very humanly as "one of the finest-looking men in the world, with a
great shock of rough, dusky, dark hair; bright, laughing, hazel eyes;
massive, aquiline face, most massive, yet most delicate; of sallow-brown
complexion, almost Indian looking; clothes cynically loose,
free-and-easy; smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical, metallic,
fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between;
speech and speculation free and plenteous. I do not meet in these late
decades such company over a pipe! We shall see what he will grow to."
Besides the Carlyles and other notable contemporaries, Tennyson numbered
at this time among his intimates John Sterling, whose life was written
by the author of "Sartor Resartus," James Spedding, Bacon's editor, who
wrote a fine critique of the 1842 volume of poems for the Edinburgh
Review, Aubrey De Vere, Edmund Lushington, A.P. Stanley (afterwards
Dean of Westminster), and Edward Fitzgerald, the future translator of
the "Rubaiyat," or Quatrains of the Persian Poet, Omar Khayyam. These
were all enthusiastic admirers of Tennyson's work and art, and his close
personal friends, who have left on record many interesting sketches of
the poet in their published writings, or in letters to him, and
especially in reminiscences furnished for the Memoir by the poet's son.

Nine years before the appearance of the 1842 volume of Tennyson's verse
the poet's bosom friend, Arthur Hallam, died at an immature age at
Vienna, and his death was the subject of much brooding in noble, elegiac
verse, written, as was Milton's 'Lycidas,' to commemorate the loss of
one very dear to the poet. In "In Memoriam," as all know, Tennyson
sought to assuage his grief and give fine, artistic expression to his
profound sorrow at the loss of his companion and friend; but the work is
more than a labored monument of woe, since it enshrines reflections of
the most exalted and inspiring character on the eternally momentous
themes of life, death, and immortality. The work was published in 1850,
and it at once challenged the admiration of the world for the perfection
of its art, no less than for its high contemplative beauty. This was the
year when Wordsworth passed to the grave, and Tennyson, in his room, was
given the English laureateship. In this year, also, we find him happily
married to Emily S. Sellwood, a lady of Berks, to whom the poet had been
engaged since 1837. With his bride he took up house at Twickenham, near
London, where his son, Hallam Tennyson, was born in 1852. In the
following year he removed to Farringford, on the Isle of Wight, which
was to be his home for forty years, and where, as his son tells us, some
of his best-known works were written. Here, in 1854, his second son,
Lionel, was born, whose young life of promise was terminated by jungle
fever thirty-two years later on a return voyage from India,--all that
was mortal of him finding repose in the depths of the Red Sea. To
complete the chief incidents in the poet's personal career, we may here
record that while Tennyson acquired another home at Aldworth,
Surrey,--where he died Oct. 6, 1892, followed some four years later by
his wife,--his happiest days were spent at Farringford, the pilgrimage
place of many eminent worshippers of the poet's muse, where was
dispensed an unostentatious but open-handed and genial British
hospitality. It should be added that, besides the perquisites which
attach to the office of the Poet Laureate, Tennyson was given from 1845
a pension of £200 ($1000) and that, while in 1865 he refused a
baronetcy, in 1884 he accepted a peerage, and had the honor of burial
(Oct. 12, 1892) in Westminster Abbey.

We now revert to the poet's early, or, rather, to his middle-age,
creative years, and to a resume of his principal writings, with a brief,
running comment on his message and art. In 1847, three years before he
became Laureate, he published "The Princess," a charming narrative poem
in blank verse, which, though it abounds in fine descriptions and has an
obvious moral in the treatment of the theme,--the woman question of
today,--is inherently lacking in unity and strength, as well as weak in
the depicting of the characters. In later editions the poem was amended
in several faulty respects, and was especially enriched by the insertion
between the cantos of many lovely and now familiar songs, which serve
not only to bind together the whole structure of the poem, but to
enhance and enforce its high moral meaning. Any analysis of "The
Princess" is here deemed unnecessary, since it must not only be familiar
to most readers of the poet's works, but familiar also in the varied
annotated editions of such editors as Rolfe, Woodberry, and Wilson
Farrand. Familiar, it is believed, also, that it will be to Tennysonian
students in the "Study of the Princess," with critical and explanatory
notes by Dr. S.E. Dawson, of Montreal (now of Ottawa, Canada),--an able
commentary which received the approval of Lord Tennyson himself, and
elicited from him a highly interesting letter to the author on points in
the poem either misunderstood or not discerningly apprehended by other
critics and reviewers. The purport of the poem, it may be said, however,
is to frown upon revolutionary attempts to alter the position of women,
of scholastically be-gowned and college-capped dames, who would seek by
other than nature's ways to put the sex upon an equality with man, while
repressing their own individuality, doing violence to their maternal
instincts, and trampling upon their "gracious household ways." In the
handling of the "medley" Tennyson brings into exercise not only his
far-seeing powers, which were greatly in advance of his time, but his
gifts of raillery and humor, especially in the early divisions of the
poem, as well as his high, serious motives in the moral lessons to which
he points in the later cantos, where he aims at the elevation of women
in correspondence with the diversity of their natures, for, as he
himself says, "Woman is not undeveloped man, but diverse." His ideal of
perfect womanhood he would attain through the awakening power of the
affections and the transforming power of love, rather than by ignoring
the difference of physique, founding women's universities, and becoming
blue-stockinged high priestesses of learning. Of the medley of
characters in the poem, poet-princes in disguise at the college,
violet-hooded lady principals,

     "With prudes for proctors, dowagers for deans,
      And sweet girl-graduates in their golden hair,"

it is Lady Psyche's child that is the true, effective heroine of the
story, as Dr. Dawson aptly points out. "Ridiculous in the lecture room,
the babe in the poem, as in the songs, is made the central point upon
which the plot turns, for the unconscious child is the concrete
embodiment of Nature herself, clearing away all merely intellectual
theories by her silent influence." This is the explanation, then, of the
appearance of the babe--symbol of the power and tenderness of Nature--in
critical passages of the poem, as well as in the unsurpassably beautiful
intercalary songs, for it is the child that enables the poet to soften
the Princess's nature toward the Prince, and to effect the
reconciliation between the Princess and Lady Psyche, while imparting
beauty as well as high meaning in the recital of the incidents and
development of the tale.

"In Memoriam," as we have stated, appeared in 1850, and was unique in
its appeal to the mind of the era as a stately meditative poem on a
single theme,--the death of the poet's friend, Arthur Hallam. The
English language, if we except Milton's 'Lycidas' and 'Hymn to the
Nativity,' and Wordsworth's grand 'Ode on Intimations of Immortality,'
has no poem so noble or so faultless in its art as this magnificent
series of detached elegies. The high thought, philosophic reflection,
and passionate religious sentiment that mark the whole work, added to
the exquisiteness of the versification, place it wellnigh supreme in the
literature of elegiac poetry. Its grave, majestic hymnal measure adds to
its solemn beauty and stateliness, while the varied phases of
spiritualized thought and emotional grief which find expression in the
poem seem to elevate it in its harmonies to the rank of a profound
psalm-chant from the choir of heaven. In the sumptuously embellished
edition of the elegy, embodying Mr. Harry Fenn's drawings, with a
sympathetic preface by the Rev. Dr. Henry Van Dyke, there is a brief but
luminous analysis of the nine divisions of the poem, or commentary on
the great classic. To those who desire to read the great elegy
understandingly, the value of Dr. Van Dyke's work is earnestly
commended, since without this commentary, or such as are to be obtained
in other critical sources, there is much of poetic beauty, of
sorrow-brooding thought, and especially of emotional reflection on life,
death, and immortality, in the hundred and thirty lyrics of which the
poem consists, which will be lost to even the thoughtful reader. The
poem, as a critic truthfully observes, has done much "to express and to
consolidate all that is best in the life of England, its domestic
affection, its patriotic feeling, its healthful morality, its rational
and earnest religion."

The sentimental metrical romance "Maud" appeared in 1855 (the year of
the Crimean War), with some additional poems, including 'The Charge of
the Light Brigade,' written after Raglan's repulse of the Russians at
Balaclava, and the fine 'Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.'
The lyrical love-drama, "Maud," we are told, was one of Tennyson's
favorite productions, of which he was wont to read parts to his guests.
As the poet has himself said of the monodrama, "it is a little Hamlet,"
"the history of a morbid poetic soul, under the blighting influence of a
recklessly speculative age. He is the heir of madness, an egotist with
the makings of a cynic, raised to sanity by a pure and holy love which
elevates his whole nature, passing from the heights of triumph to the
lowest depths of misery, driven into madness by the loss of her whom he
has loved, and when he has at length passed through the fiery furnace,
and has recovered his reason, giving himself up to work for the good of
mankind through the unselfishness born of his great passion." The poem,
when it appeared, was reviled by some critics as an allegory of the war
with Russia, and they did its author the injustice of supposing that he
lauded war for war's sake, instead of, as is the case, applauding war
only in defence of liberty. Apart from this misunderstanding, due to
abhorrence of the war-frenzy of the period, the poem has outlived the
mistaken objections to it when it appeared, and is now admired in its
vindicated light, and especially for the rich and copious beauty
manifest throughout the work, and for the magnificent lyric art with
which it is composed.

We now come to Tennyson's masterpiece, the "Idylls of the King," an epic
of chivalry, interpreted as personifying in its various characters the
soul at war with the senses. These appeared during the years 1859 and
1872. Each of the Idylls, which has a connecting thread binding it to
its fellow-allegory, takes its plot or fable from the legendary lore
that has clustered round the name of Arthur, mythical King of the
Britons about the era of the first invasion by the English. Out of the
mass of material which was gathered by Sir Thomas Malory for his prose
history of Arthur and his Knights, Tennyson takes the chief incidents
and noblest heroic traits of character in the legends and blends them in
a fashion of his own, steeping them in an atmosphere which his
imagination creates, and lighting up all with a passion and glory of
knightly adventure, as well as with a chasteness, purity, and high
fervor of ethical thought, that must perpetuate the romance, as he has
given it us, unto all time. The sections of the work as it now stands,
in addition to its introductory dedication to the late Prince Consort,
and the closing poem to the late Queen Victoria, are as follows: 'The
Coming of Arthur,' which relates the mystery of the birth of the King,
his marriage to Guinevere, daughter of Leodogran, King of Cameliard, and
the wonders attending his crowning and establishment on the throne; next
comes 'Gareth and Lynette,' a tale of love and scorn, and of the
conflict between a false pride and a true ambition; to this is appended
'The Marriage of Geraint,' of Arthur's court, and a member of the great
order of the Round Table. Next follows 'Geraint and Enid,'--Enid, the
gentle and timid, whom Geraint had married after wooing the haughty
Lynette,--a tale of pure and loyal womanhood, darkened for awhile by the
clouds of jealousy and suspicion, yet closing happily long after the
"spiteful whispers" had died down, and Geraint, assured of Enid's
fealty, had ruled his kingdom well and gone forth to "crown a happy life
with a fair death" against the heathen of the Northern Sea, "fighting
for the blameless King." The next Idyll relates how the venerable
magician Merlin succumbs to the thrall of the wily harlot Vivien, decked
in her rare robe of samite, and yields to her the charm which was his
secret. 'Lancelot and Elaine' follows with its conflict between the
virgin innocence of Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, and the guilty
passion of the noble though erring Lancelot. To this, in order, succeeds
'The Holy Grail,' telling of the vain quest of Arthur's Knights for the
sacred relic. Despite its mystic character, this is admittedly one of
the finest of the series of Idylls, and rich in its spiritual
teaching,--that the heavenly vision is to be seen only by the eyes of
purity and grace. 'Pelleas and Ettarre' is a tale of dole, showing the
evil at work at the court, and the wrecking effect of another woman's
perfidy. 'The Last Tournament' has for its hero the court fool, who,
amid the treason of Arthur's knights, is firm in his loyal allegiance to
the King. In contrast to him is Sir Tristram, who, despite his prowess,
in jousts on the tilting-field, is "one to whom faith is foolishness,
and the higher life an idle delusion." The climax is reached in
'Guinevere,' whom, in spite of her faithlessness and guilty intrigue
with Lancelot, Arthur, with his great high soul, pityingly loves and
forgives. The end comes with the sad though shadowy 'Passing of Arthur,'
the royal barge mysteriously carrying him out into the beyond, whence
issue sounds of hail and greeting to the victor-hero

     "----as if some fair city were one voice
     Around a king returning from his wars."

In 1864 Tennyson published "Enoch Arden," an idyll of the hearth,
depicting a pathetic incident in a seafarer's career, of much simple
idyllic beauty. The poem has some fine descriptive passages, and many
examples of the poet's rich word-painting in treating of the splendid
tropic scenery among which the mariner is for the time cast. The volume
contained also some minor pieces, including the dialect poem, 'The
Northern Farmer,' with its humorous rendering of yokel speech. This was
followed (1875-84) by three dramas on English historical themes, which,
as the poet had not, as we have already hinted, the gifts of a
Shakespeare, were somewhat unsuccessful, though written, despite
Tennyson's advanced years, with much fine force and vividness of
character delineation. These dramas (to enumerate them in their historic
order) were "Harold," "Becket," and "Queen Mary." "Becket" is the best
and most ambitious of them, though not, as "Queen Mary" is, a play
designed for the stage. It is a vigorous Englishman's closet study of a
prolonged and bitter struggle--the conflict in Henry II.'s time between
the church and the crown--as exhibited in the person and dominant
ecclesiastical attitude of the audacious prelate who met his tragic end
by Canterbury's altar. "Harold" strikingly realizes to the modern reader
the stirring activities of a strenuous time,--that of the English
conquest by Norman William, opposed to the death by Harold at Senlac in
1066. The drama is as rich in character as it is swift and energetic in
action. "Queen Mary" deals with the religious and political dissensions
(the struggle between the Papacy and the Reformation) of Mary Tudor's
era, with her love for and marriage with Philip of Spain, and her
hopeless yearning for an heir to the double crown of England and Spain.
An important and prized addition to our English literature the drama
undoubtedly is, but it is not more than a careful, accurate, and
elaborate historical study. It lacks, both in spirit and movement, the
characteristics of the Shakespearian drama. Its characters, however, are
vividly brought out, and its situations are often picturesque and
telling. The personages, moreover, are wanting in the play of creative
effect, and the incidents lack the stir of inventive resource. Further,
though the story of Mary's life is essentially dramatic, and the
incidents of her reign are tragic in the extreme, the poet does not seem
to have extracted from either that which goes to the making of a great
drama. This evidently is the result of following too faithfully the
events of history and the records of the time, as well as, in some
degree, from want of sympathy, which Tennyson could not impart, with the
leading characters and their actions. Still, much is made of the
materials; and though the personages and incidents appear in the
narrative in the neutral tints of history, yet the period is made to
reappear with a freshness and distinctness which, while it satisfies the
scholar, gives a true charm to every lover of the drama. Again and
again, as we read, are we reminded of the Laureate's rare poetical fancy
and fine literary instinct, and the dialogues contain many passages of
striking thought and noble utterance. But the work is overcast by the
great gloom of its central figure,--the gloom of bigotry, passion,
jealousy, disappointment, and despair which ever environs the miserable
Queen; and much though the poet has striven to brighten the picture and
awaken sympathy for the weakness of the woman, who, royal mistress
though she was, could not command her love to be requited, the poetic
measure of his lines roughens and hardens to the close, when the curtain
falls on what is felt to be a tragic and unlovely life.

We can only briefly refer to the other _dramatis personae_ introduced to
us, who are among the notable historical characters that figure during
Mary Tudor's reign. They are those who take part in the incidents,
religious, civil, and political, of the period, and are, for the most
part, both in speech and bearing, the portraits familiar to us in Mr.
Froude's history. Of these the most pleasing is the Princess Elizabeth,
whose portrait is drawn with masterly skill, and engages our interest as
the fortunes of its original oscillates "'Twixt Axe and Crown":--

                    "A Tudor
     Schooled by the shadow of death, a Boleyn too
     Glancing across the Tudor."

But, aside from the interest in the safety of her person, which is in
constant jeopardy from the jealousy of her half-sister, Elizabeth wins
upon the reader by her modest, maidenly bearing, her frankness of
manner, and by a playfulness of disposition which readily adapts itself
to the restraints which the Queen is ever placing upon her person, and
which endears her to the people, who, could the hated Mary be got rid
of, would fain become her subjects. The civil strife of the period
furnishes material for some powerful passages, which are wrought up with
excellent effect, and in this connection Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Thomas
Stafford, the Earl of Devon, Sir William Cecil, and other historical
personages appear upon the stage. The other incidents introduced are
those which attach themselves to the religious persecutions of the time,
and which brought Cranmer to the stake, and give play to the papal
intrigues of Pole, Gardiner, and the emissaries of the Spanish court.
The second and third scenes in the fourth act devoted to Cranmer, which
detail his martyrdom, are hardly so satisfactory as we think they might
have been, though the poet here again follows closely the historical
accounts. The scenes, however, give occasion for the introduction of a
couple of local gossips whose provincial dialect and keen interest in
the national and religious policy of the time, here as in occasional
street scenes, are cleverly portrayed. This sapient reflection in the
mouth of one of these gossips, Tib, is a specimen at hand:--

"A-burnin' and a-burnin', and a-making o' volk madder and madder; but
tek thou my word vor't, Joan,--and I bean't wrong not twice i' ten
year,--the burnin' o' the owld archbishop 'ill burn the Pwoap out o'
this 'ere land for iver and iver."

Philip we have not spoken of; but he fills such a hateful niche in the
historical gallery of the time, and the poet introduces him but to act
his pitiful role, that we pass him by, though many of the grandest
passages in the drama are those which give expression to Mary's
passionate love for him, and her longing desire for an issue of their
marriage, which afterwards culminates in her madness and death.

We have to speak of but one other character in the drama, whose death,
it has been said, was sufficient to honor and to dishonor an age. The
beautiful Lady Jane Grey appears for a little among the shadows of the
poem, and moves to her tragic fate.

     "Seventeen,--a rose of grace!
      Girl never breathed to rival such a rose!
      Rose never blew that equalled such a bud."

A few songs of genuine Tennysonian harmony, pitched in the keys that
most fittingly suit the singer's mood, are interspersed through the
drama, and serve to relieve the narratives of their gloom and plaint.
Their presence, we cannot help thinking, recalls work better done, and
more within the limitations of the poet's genius, than this drama of
"Queen Mary." As a dramatic representation the drama had the advantage
of being produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London, with all the historic
art and sumptuous stage-setting with which Sir Henry Irving could well
give it,--Irving himself personating Philip, while Miss Bateman took the
part of Queen Mary. "Becket," we should here add, was also given on the
stage, and with much dramatic effectiveness, by Irving,--over fifty
performances of it being called for. None of the dramas, however, as we
have said, was a success, though each has its merit, while all are
distinguished by many passages of noble and strenuous thought.

Other dramatic compositions the poet attempted, though of minor
importance to the trilogy just spoken of. These were "The Falcon," the
groundwork of which is to be found in "The Decameron;" "The Cup," a
tragedy, rich in action, with an incisive dialogue, borrowed from
Plutarch. The former was staged by Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, and had a run of
sixty-seven nights; the latter also was staged with liberal
magnificence, by Irving, and met with considerable success. "The Promise
of May" is another play which was staged, in 1882, by Mrs. Bernard
Beere, but met with failure by the critics, owing, in some degree, to
its supposed caricature of modern agnostics, and to the repellent
portrayal of one of the characters in the piece, the sensualist, Philip
Edgar. Later, in (1892) appeared "The Foresters," a pretty pastoral
play, on the theme of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, which was produced on
the boards in New York by Mr. Daly and his company, with a charming
woodland setting. The later publications of the Laureate, in his own
distinctive field of verse, embrace "The Lover's Tale" (1879), "Ballads
and other Poems" (1880), "Tiresias and Other Poems" (1885), "Locksley
Hall Sixty Years After" (1886), "Demeter and Other Poems" (1889), and
"The Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems," in the year of
the Poet's death (1892). In these various volumes there is much
admirable work and many tuneful lyrics in the old charming, lilting
strain, with not a few serious, thoughtful, stately pieces of verse,
"the after-glow," as Stedman phrases it, "of a still radiant genius....
His after-song," continues this fine critic, "does not wreak itself upon
the master passions of love and ambition, and hence fastens less
strongly on the thoughts of the young; nor does it come with the unused
rhythm, the fresh and novel cadence, that stamped the now hackneyed
measure with a lyric's name. Yet, as to its art and imagery, the same
effects are there, differing only in a more vigorous method, an
intentional roughness, from the individual early verse. The new burthen
is termed pessimistic, but for all its impatient summary of ills, it
ends with a cry of faith."

We must now hasten to a close, delightful as it would be to linger over
so attractive a theme, and to dwell upon the personality of one who so
uniquely represents the mind, as he has so remarkably influenced the
thought, of his age. But considering the length of the present paper,
this cannot be. Happily, however, the fruitage is ever with us of the
poet's full fourscore years of splendid achievement with the hallowing
memory of a forceful, opulent, and blameless life. To few men of the
past century can the reflecting mind of a coming time more interestingly
or more instructively turn than to this profound thinker and mighty
musical singer, steeped as he was in the varied culture of the ages,
endowed with great prophetic powers, with phenomenal gifts of poetic
expression, and with a soul so attuned to the harmonies of heaven as to
make him at once the counsellor and the inspiring teacher of his time.
Who, in comparison with him, has so felt the subtle charm, or so
interpreted to us the infinite beauty, of the world in which we live, or
more impressively deepened in the mind and conscience of the age belief
in the verities of religion, while quelling its doubts and quickening
its highest hopes and faith? "Tennyson was a passionate believer in the
immortal life; this was so real to him that he had no patience with
scepticism on the subject. To question it in his presence was to bring
upon one's head a torrent of denunciation and wrath. His great soul was
intuitively conscious of spiritual realities, and he could not
understand how little soulless microbes of men and women were destitute
of his deep perception. Prayer was to him a living fact and power, and
some of his words about it are among the noblest ever written. When some
one asked him about Christ, he pointed to a flower and said, 'What the
sun is to that flower, Christ is to my soul.'"

Apart as he stood from the tumult and the frivolities of his age, he was
yet of it, and sensibly and beneficently influenced it for its higher
and nobler weal. In politics, as we know, he was a liberal
conservative,--a conserver of what was best in the present and the past,
and an advancer of all that tended to true and harmonious progress. His
knowledge of men and things was wide and deep; in the philosophic
thought and even in the science of his time he was deeply read; while he
was lovingly interested in all nature, and especially in the common
people, whom he often wrote of and touchingly depicted in their humble
ways of toil as well as of joy and sorrow. Above all, he was a man of
high and real faith, who believed that "good" was "the final goal of
ill;" and in "the dumb hour clothed in black" that at last came to him,
as it comes to all, he confidingly put his trust in Loving Omnipotence
and reverently and beautifully expressed the hope of seeing the guiding
Pilot of his life when, with the outflow of its river-current into the
ocean of the Divine Unseen, he crossed the bar. For humanity's sake and
the weal of the world in a coming time this was his joyous cry:--

      "Ring in the nobler modes of life,
     With sweeter manners, purer laws.

       *        *        *        *        *

     "Ring in the love of truth and right,
     Ring in the common love of good.

       *        *        *        *        *

     "Ring in the valiant man and free,
     The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
     Ring out the darkness of the land,
     Ring in the Christ that is to be!"

What our formative, high-wrought English literature has suffered in
Tennyson's passing from the age on which he has shed so much glory those
can best say who are of his era, and have been intimate, as each
appeared, with every successive issue of his works. To the latter, as to
all thoughtful students of his writings, his has been the supreme
interpreting voice of the past century, while his influence on the
literary thought of his time has been of the highest and most potent
kind. Especially influential has Tennyson been in carrying forward, with
new impulses and inspiration, the poetic traditions of that grand old
motherland of English song to which our own poets in the New World, as
well as the younger bards of the British Isles, owe so much. If we
except the Laureate, there have been few who have worn the singing robe
of the poet who, in these later years at least, have spoken so
impressively to cultured minds on either side of the ocean, or have more
effectively expressed to his age the high and hallowing spirit of modern
poetry. It is this that has given the Laureate his exalted place among
the great literary influences of the century, and made him the one
indubitable representative of English song, with all its tuneful music
and rare and delicate art. To a few of the great choir of singers of the
past Tennyson admittedly owed something, both in tradition and in
art,--for each new impulse has caught and embodied not a little of the
spirit and temper, as well as the culture and inspiration, of the
old,--but his it was to impart new and fresher thought and a wider range
of harmony and emotion than had been reached by almost any of his
predecessors, and to speak to the mind and soul of his time as none
other has spoken or could well speak. From the era of Shakespeare and
Milton and their chief successors, it is to Tennyson's honor and fame
that he has given continuity as well as high perfection to the great
coursing stream of noble British verse.

AUTHORITIES.

Brooke, Stopford A. Tennyson: his Art and Relation to Modern Life.

Van Dyke, Henry. The Poetry of Tennyson.
Bayne, Peter. Tennyson and his Teachers.
Brimley, George. Essays on Tennyson.
Tainsh, Ed. C. Study of the Works of Tennyson.
Waugh, Arthur. Tennyson: A Study of his Life and Work.
Stedman, E. C. Victorian Poets.
Buchanan, R. Master Spirits.
Forman. Our Living Poets.
Dowden, Ed. Tennyson and Browning.
Tennyson, Hallam. Memoir of the Poet (by his Son).
Kingsley, C. Miscellanies.

Thackeray-Ritchie, Anne. Records of Tennyson and Others.
Robertson, F. W. In Memoriam.
Dawson, Dr. S. E. Study of the Princess, annotated.
Genung, J. F. In Memoriam, its Purpose and Structure.
Woodberry, G. E. The Princess, with Notes and Introduction.
Farrand, Wilson. The Princess, with Notes and Introduction.
Gatty, Alfred. Key to In Memoriam.
Harrison, Frederic. Tennyson, Ruskin, and Mill.





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