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Title: Winterslow - Essays and Characters Written There
Author: Hazlitt, William, 1778-1830
Language: English
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  The World's Classics





_These Essays were first published collectively in the year
1839. In 'The World's Classics' they were first published in

Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable

The World's Classics

  JANE EYRE. By Charlotte Brontë. [_Second Impression._

  THE ESSAYS OF ELIA. By Charles Lamb. [_Second Impression._


  THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD. By Oliver Goldsmith.

  TABLE-TALK: Essays on Men and Manners. By William Hazlitt.
    [_Second Impression._

  ESSAYS. By Ralph Waldo Emerson. [_Second Impression._


  OLIVER TWIST. By Charles Dickens.

  THE INGOLDSBY LEGENDS. By Thomas Ingoldsby. [_Second


  ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. By Charles Darwin. [_Second


  ENGLISH SONGS AND BALLADS. Selected by T. W. H. Crosland.

  SHIRLEY. By Charlotte Brontë.

  SKETCHES AND ESSAYS. By William Hazlitt.


  ROBINSON CRUSOE. By Daniel Defoe.

  HOMER'S ILIAD. Translated by Alexander Pope.

  SARTOR RESARTUS. By Thomas Carlyle.

  GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. By Jonathan Swift.





  WINTERSLOW. By William Hazlitt.

  THE SCARLET LETTER. By Nathaniel Hawthorne.

  LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME. By Lord Macaulay.

  HENRY ESMOND. By W. M. Thackeray.

  IVANHOE. By Sir Walter Scott.

  _Other volumes in preparation._

  Pott 8vo. Cloth, 1s. net. Leather, 2s. net.


Winterslow is a village of Wiltshire, between Salisbury and Andover,
where my father, during a considerable portion of his life, spent
several months of each year, latterly, at an ancient inn on the Great
Western Road, called Winterslow Hut. One of his chief attractions
hither were the noble woods of Tytherleigh or Tudorleigh, round Norman
Court, the seat of Mr. Baring Wall, M.P., whose proffered kindness to
my father, on a critical occasion, was thoroughly appreciated by the
very sensitiveness which declined its acceptance, and will always be
gratefully remembered by myself. Another feature was Clarendon
Wood--whence the noble family of Clarendon derived their title--famous
besides for the Constitutions signed in the palace which once rose
proudly amongst its stately trees, but of which scarce a vestige
remains. In another direction, within easy distance, gloams
Stonehenge, visited by my father, less perhaps for its historical
associations than for its appeal to the imagination, the upright
stones seeming in the dim twilight, or in the drizzling mist, almost
continuous in the locality, so many spectre-Druids, moaning over the
past, and over their brethren prostrate about them. At no great
distance, in another direction, are the fine pictures of Lord Radnor,
and somewhat further, those of Wilton House. But the chief happiness
was the thorough quiet of the place, the sole interruption of which
was the passage, to and fro, of the London mails. The Hut stands in a
valley, equidistant about a mile from two tolerably high hills, at the
summit of which, on their approach either way, the guards used to blow
forth their admonition to the hostler. The sound, coming through the
clear, pure air, was another agreeable feature in the day,
reminiscentiary of the great city that my father so loved and so
loathed. In olden times, when we lived in the village itself--a mile
up the hill opposite--behind the Hut, Salisbury Plain stretches away
mile after mile of open space--the reminiscence of the metropolis
would be, from time to time, furnished in the pleasantest of ways by
the presence of some London friends; among these, dearly loved and
honoured there, as everywhere else, Charles and Mary Lamb paid us
frequent visits, rambling about all the time, thorough Londoners in a
thoroughly country place, delighted and wondering and wondered at. For
such reasons, and for the other reason, which I mention incidentally,
that Winterslow is my own native place, I have given its name to this
collection of 'Essays and Characters written there'; as, indeed,
practically were very many of his works, for it was there that most of
his thinking was done.

                                            William Hazlitt.

    Chelsea, _Jan. 1850_.


       I. MY FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH POETS                 1


     III. ON PARTY SPIRIT                                 40


       V. ON PUBLIC OPINION                               53

      VI. ON PERSONAL IDENTITY                            67

     VII. MIND AND MOTIVE                                 82

    VIII. ON MEANS AND ENDS                               97

      IX. MATTER AND MANNER                              108

       X. ON CONSISTENCY OF OPINION                      115

            CRIMINAL LEGISLATION                         130

     XII. ON THE CHARACTER OF BURKE                      155

    XIII. ON THE CHARACTER OF FOX                        173

     XIV. ON THE CHARACTER OF MR. PITT                   185

      XV. ON THE CHARACTER OF LORD CHATHAM               191

     XVI. BELIEF, WHETHER VOLUNTARY?                     196

    XVII. A FAREWELL TO ESSAY-WRITING                    205




My father was a Dissenting Minister, at Wem, in Shropshire; and in the
year 1798 (the figures that compose the date are to me like the
'dreaded name of Demogorgon') Mr. Coleridge came to Shrewsbury, to
succeed Mr. Rowe in the spiritual charge of a Unitarian Congregation
there. He did not come till late on the Saturday afternoon before he
was to preach; and Mr. Rowe, who himself went down to the coach, in a
state of anxiety and expectation, to look for the arrival of his
successor, could find no one at all answering the description but a
round-faced man, in a short black coat (like a shooting-jacket) which
hardly seemed to have been made for him, but who seemed to be talking
at a great rate to his fellow passengers. Mr. Rowe had scarce returned
to give an account of his disappointment when the round-faced man in
black entered, and dissipated all doubts on the subject by beginning
to talk. He did not cease while he stayed; nor has he since, that I
know of. He held the good town of Shrewsbury in delightful suspense
for three weeks that he remained there, 'fluttering the _proud
Salopians_, like an eagle in a dove-cote'; and the Welch mountains
that skirt the horizon with their tempestuous confusion, agree to have
heard no such mystic sounds since the days of

    'High-born Hoel's harp or soft Llewellyn's lay.'

As we passed along between Wem and Shrewsbury, and I eyed their blue
tops seen through the wintry branches, or the red rustling leaves of
the sturdy oak-trees by the road-side, a sound was in my ears as of a
Syren's song; I was stunned, startled with it, as from deep sleep; but
I had no notion then that I should ever be able to express my
admiration to others in motley imagery or quaint allusion, till the
light of his genius shone into my soul, like the sun's rays glittering
in the puddles of the road. I was at that time dumb, inarticulate,
helpless, like a worm by the way-side, crushed, bleeding, lifeless;
but now, bursting the deadly bands that bound them,

    'With Styx nine times round them,'

my ideas float on winged words, and as they expand their plumes, catch
the golden light of other years. My soul has indeed remained in its
original bondage, dark, obscure, with longings infinite and
unsatisfied; my heart, shut up in the prison-house of this rude clay,
has never found, nor will it ever find, a heart to speak to; but that
my understanding also did not remain dumb and brutish, or at length
found a language to express itself, I owe to Coleridge. But this is
not to my purpose.

My father lived ten miles from Shrewsbury, and was in the habit of
exchanging visits with Mr. Rowe, and with Mr. Jenkins of Whitchurch
(nine miles farther on), according to the custom of Dissenting
Ministers in each other's neighbourhood. A line of communication is
thus established, by which the flame of civil and religious liberty is
kept alive, and nourishes its smouldering fire unquenchable, like the
fires in the _Agamemnon_ of Æschylus, placed at different stations,
that waited for ten long years to announce with their blazing pyramids
the destruction of Troy. Coleridge had agreed to come over and see my
father, according to the courtesy of the country, as Mr. Rowe's
probable successor; but in the meantime, I had gone to hear him preach
the Sunday after his arrival. A poet and a philosopher getting up
into a Unitarian pulpit to preach the gospel, was a romance in these
degenerate days, a sort of revival of the primitive spirit of
Christianity, which was not to be resisted.

It was in January of 1798, that I rose one morning before daylight, to
walk ten miles in the mud, to hear this celebrated person preach.
Never, the longest day I have to live, shall I have such another walk
as this cold, raw, comfortless one, in the winter of the year 1798.
_Il y a des impressions que ni le tems ni les circonstances peuvent
effacer. Dussé-je vivre des siècles entiers, le doux tems de ma
jeunesse ne peut renaître pour moi, ni s'effacer jamais dans ma
mémoire._ When I got there, the organ was playing the 100th Psalm, and
when it was done, Mr. Coleridge rose and gave out his text, 'And he
went up into the mountain to pray, HIMSELF, ALONE.' As he gave out
this text, his voice 'rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,'
and when he came to the two last words, which he pronounced loud,
deep, and distinct, it seemed to me, who was then young, as if the
sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that
prayer might have floated in solemn silence through the universe. The
idea of St. John came into my mind, 'of one crying in the wilderness,
who had his loins girt about, and whose food was locusts and wild
honey.' The preacher then launched into his subject, like an eagle
dallying with the wind. The sermon was upon peace and war; upon church
and state--not their alliance but their separation--on the spirit of
the world and the spirit of Christianity, not as the same, but as
opposed to one another. He talked of those who had 'inscribed the
cross of Christ on banners dripping with human gore.' He made a
poetical and pastoral excursion--and to show the fatal effects of war,
drew a striking contrast between the simple shepherd-boy, driving his
team afield, or sitting under the hawthorn, piping to his flock, 'as
though he should never be old.' and the same poor country lad,
crimped, kidnapped, brought into town, made drunk at an alehouse,
turned into a wretched drummer-boy, with his hair sticking on end with
powder and pomatum, a long cue at his back, and tricked out in the
loathsome finery of the profession of blood:

    'Such were the notes our once-loved poet sung.'

And for myself, I could not have been more delighted if I had heard
the music of the spheres. Poetry and Philosophy had met together.
Truth and Genius had embraced, under the eye and with the sanction of
Religion. This was even beyond my hopes. I returned home well
satisfied. The sun that was still labouring pale and wan through the
sky, obscured by thick mists, seemed an emblem of the _good cause_;
and the cold dank drops of dew, that hung half melted on the beard of
the thistle, had something genial and refreshing in them; for there
was a spirit of hope and youth in all nature, that turned everything
into good. The face of nature had not then the brand of JUS DIVINUM on

    'Like to that sanguine flower inscrib'd with woe.'

On the Tuesday following, the half-inspired speaker came. I was called
down into the room where he was, and went half-hoping, half-afraid. He
received me very graciously, and I listened for a long time without
uttering a word. I did not suffer in his opinion by my silence. 'For
those two hours,' he afterwards was pleased to say, 'he was conversing
with William Hazlitt's forehead!' His appearance was different from
what I had anticipated from seeing him before. At a distance, and in
the dim light of the chapel, there was to me a strange wildness in his
aspect, a dusky obscurity, and I thought him pitted with the
small-pox. His complexion was at that time clear, and even bright--

    'As are the children of yon azure sheen.'

His forehead was broad and high, light as if built of ivory, with
large projecting eyebrows, and his eyes rolling beneath them, like a
sea with darkened lustre. 'A certain tender bloom his face
o'erspread,' a purple tinge as we see it in the pale thoughtful
complexions of the Spanish portrait-painters, Murillo and Valasquez.
His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, eloquent; his chin
good-humoured and round; but his nose, the rudder of the face, the
index of the will, was small, feeble, nothing--like what he has done.
It might seem that the genius of his face as from a height surveyed
and projected him (with sufficient capacity and huge aspiration) into
the world unknown of thought and imagination, with nothing to support
or guide his veering purpose, as if Columbus had launched his
adventurous course for the New World in a scallop, without oars or
compass. So, at least, I comment on it after the event. Coleridge, in
his person, was rather above the common size, inclining to the
corpulent, or like Lord Hamlet, 'somewhat fat and pursy.' His hair
(now, alas! grey) was then black and glossy as the raven's, and fell
in smooth masses over his forehead. This long pendulous hair is
peculiar to enthusiasts, to those whose minds tend heavenward; and is
traditionally inseparable (though of a different colour) from the
pictures of Christ. It ought to belong, as a character, to all who
preach _Christ crucified_, and Coleridge was at that time one of

It was curious to observe the contrast between him and my father, who
was a veteran in the cause, and then declining into the vale of years.
He had been a poor Irish lad, carefully brought up by his parents, and
sent to the University of Glasgow (where he studied under Adam Smith)
to prepare him for his future destination. It was his mother's
proudest wish to see her son a Dissenting Minister. So, if we look
back to past generations (as far as eye can reach), we see the same
hopes, fears, wishes, followed by the same disappointments, throbbing
in the human heart; and so we may see them (if we look forward) rising
up for ever, and disappearing, like vapourish bubbles, in the human
breast! After being tossed about from congregation to congregation in
the heats of the Unitarian controversy, and squabbles about the
American war, he had been relegated to an obscure village, where he
was to spend the last thirty years of his life, far from the only
converse that he loved, the talk about disputed texts of Scripture,
and the cause of civil and religious liberty. Here he passed his days,
repining, but resigned, in the study of the Bible, and the perusal of
the Commentators--huge folios, not easily got through, one of which
would outlast a winter! Why did he pore on these from morn to night
(with the exception of a walk in the fields or a turn in the garden to
gather broccoli-plants or kidney beans of his own rearing, with no
small degree of pride and pleasure)? Here were 'no figures nor no
fantasies'--neither poetry nor philosophy--nothing to dazzle, nothing
to excite modern curiosity; but to his lack-lustre eyes there appeared
within the pages of the ponderous, unwieldy, neglected tomes, the
sacred name of JEHOVAH in Hebrew capitals: pressed down by the weight
of the style, worn to the last fading thinness of the understanding,
there were glimpses, glimmering notions of the patriarchal wanderings,
with palm-trees hovering in the horizon, and processions of camels at
the distance of three thousand years; there was Moses with the Burning
Bush, the number of the Twelve Tribes, types, shadows, glosses on the
law and the prophets; there were discussions (dull enough) on the age
of Methuselah, a mighty speculation! there were outlines, rude guesses
at the shape of Noah's Ark and of the riches of Solomon's Temple;
questions as to the date of the creation, predictions of the end of
all things; the great lapses of time, the strange mutations of the
globe were unfolded with the voluminous leaf, as it turned over; and
though the soul might slumber with an hieroglyphic veil of inscrutable
mysteries drawn over it, yet it was in a slumber ill-exchanged for all
the sharpened realities of sense, wit, fancy, or reason. My father's
life was comparatively a dream; but it was a dream of infinity and
eternity, of death, the resurrection, and a judgment to come!

No two individuals were ever more unlike than were the host and his
guest. A poet was to my father a sort of nondescript; yet whatever
added grace to the Unitarian cause was to him welcome. He could hardly
have been more surprised or pleased, if our visitor had worn wings.
Indeed, his thoughts had wings: and as the silken sounds rustled round
our little wainscoted parlour, my father threw back his spectacles
over his forehead, his white hairs mixing with its sanguine hue; and a
smile of delight beamed across his rugged, cordial face, to think that
Truth had found a new ally in Fancy![1] Besides, Coleridge seemed to
take considerable notice of me, and that of itself was enough. He
talked very familiarly, but agreeably, and glanced over a variety of
subjects. At dinner-time he grew more animated, and dilated in a very
edifying manner on Mary Wolstonecraft and Mackintosh. The last, he
said, he considered (on my father's speaking of his _Vindiciæ Gallicæ_
as a capital performance) as a clever, scholastic man--a master of the
topics--or, as the ready warehouseman of letters, who knew exactly
where to lay his hand on what he wanted, though the goods were not his
own. He thought him no match for Burke, either in style or matter.
Burke was a metaphysician, Mackintosh a mere logician. Burke was an
orator (almost a poet) who reasoned in figures, because he had an eye
for nature: Mackintosh, on the other hand, was a rhetorician, who had
only an eye to commonplaces. On this I ventured to say that I had
always entertained a great opinion of Burke, and that (as far as I
could find) the speaking of him with contempt might be made the test
of a vulgar, democratical mind. This was the first observation I ever
made to Coleridge, and he said it was a very just and striking one. I
remember the leg of Welsh mutton and the turnips on the table that day
had the finest flavour imaginable. Coleridge added that Mackintosh and
Tom Wedgwood (of whom, however, he spoke highly) had expressed a very
indifferent opinion of his friend Mr. Wordsworth, on which he remarked
to them--'He strides on so far before you, that he dwindles in the
distance!' Godwin had once boasted to him of having carried on an
argument with Mackintosh for three hours with dubious success;
Coleridge told him--'If there had been a man of genius in the room he
would have settled the question in five minutes.' He asked me if I had
ever seen Mary Wolstonecraft, and I said, I had once for a few
moments, and that she seemed to me to turn off Godwin's objections to
something she advanced with quite a playful, easy air. He replied,
that 'this was only one instance of the ascendency which people of
imagination exercised over those of mere intellect.' He did not rate
Godwin very high[2] (this was caprice or prejudice, real or affected),
but he had a great idea of Mrs. Wolstonecraft's powers of
conversation; none at all of her talent for bookmaking. We talked a
little about Holcroft. He had been asked if he was not much struck
_with_ him, and he said, he thought himself in more danger of being
struck _by_ him. I complained that he would not let me get on at all,
for he required a definition of every the commonest word, exclaiming,
'What do you mean by a _sensation_, Sir? What do you mean by an
_idea_?' This, Coleridge said, was barricadoing the road to truth; it
was setting up a turnpike-gate at every step we took. I forget a great
number of things, many more than I remember; but the day passed off
pleasantly, and the next morning Mr. Coleridge was to return to
Shrewsbury. When I came down to breakfast, I found that he had just
received a letter from his friend, T. Wedgwood, making him an offer of
150_l._ a year if he chose to waive his present pursuit, and devote
himself entirely to the study of poetry and philosophy. Coleridge
seemed to make up his mind to close with this proposal in the act of
tying on one of his shoes. It threw an additional damp on his
departure. It took the wayward enthusiast quite from us to cast him
into Deva's winding vales, or by the shores of old romance. Instead of
living at ten miles' distance, of being the pastor of a Dissenting
congregation at Shrewsbury, he was henceforth to inhabit the Hill of
Parnassus, to be a Shepherd on the Delectable Mountains. Alas! I knew
not the way thither, and felt very little gratitude for Mr. Wedgwood's
bounty. I was presently relieved from this dilemma; for Mr. Coleridge,
asking for a pen and ink, and going to a table to write something on a
bit of card, advanced towards me with undulating step, and giving me
the precious document, said that that was his address, _Mr. Coleridge,
Nether-Stowey, Somersetshire_; and that he should be glad to see me
there in a few weeks' time, and, if I chose, would come half-way to
meet me. I was not less surprised than the shepherd-boy (this simile
is to be found in _Cassandra_), when he sees a thunderbolt fall close
at his feet. I stammered out my acknowledgments and acceptance of this
offer (I thought Mr. Wedgwood's annuity a trifle to it) as well as I
could; and this mighty business being settled, the poet preacher took
leave, and I accompanied him six miles on the road. It was a fine
morning in the middle of winter, and he talked the whole way. The
scholar in Chaucer is described as going

    ----'Sounding on his way.'

So Coleridge went on his. In digressing, in dilating, in passing from
subject to subject, he appeared to me to float in air, to slide on
ice. He told me in confidence (going along) that he should have
preached two sermons before he accepted the situation at Shrewsbury,
one on Infant Baptism, the other on the Lord's Supper, showing that he
could not administer either, which would have effectually disqualified
him for the object in view. I observed that he continually crossed me
on the way by shifting from one side of the footpath to the other.
This struck me as an odd movement; but I did not at that time connect
it with any instability of purpose or involuntary change of principle,
as I have done since. He seemed unable to keep on in a straight line.
He spoke slightingly of Hume (whose _Essay on Miracles_ he said was
stolen from an objection started in one of South's sermons--_Credat
Judæus Appella!_) I was not very much pleased at this account of Hume,
for I had just been reading, with infinite relish, that completest of
all metaphysical _chokepears_, his _Treatise on Human Nature_, to
which the _Essays_ in point of scholastic subtility and close
reasoning, are mere elegant trifling, light summer reading. Coleridge
even denied the excellence of Hume's general style, which I think
betrayed a want of taste or candour. He however made me amends by the
manner in which he spoke of Berkeley. He dwelt particularly on his
_Essay on Vision_ as a masterpiece of analytical reasoning. So it
undoubtedly is. He was exceedingly angry with Dr. Johnson for striking
the stone with his foot, in allusion to this author's _Theory of
Matter and Spirit_, and saying, 'Thus I confute him, Sir.' Coleridge
drew a parallel (I don't know how he brought about the connection)
between Bishop Berkeley and Tom Paine. He said the one was an instance
of a subtle, the other of an acute mind, than which no two things
could be more distinct. The one was a shop-boy's quality, the other
the characteristic of a philosopher. He considered Bishop Butler as a
true philosopher, a profound and conscientious thinker, a genuine
reader of nature and his own mind. He did not speak of his _Analogy_,
but of his _Sermons at the Rolls' Chapel_, of which I had never heard.
Coleridge somehow always contrived to prefer the _unknown_ to the
_known_. In this instance he was right. The _Analogy_ is a tissue of
sophistry, of wire-drawn, theological special-pleading; the _Sermons_
(with the preface to them) are in a fine vein of deep, matured
reflection, a candid appeal to our observation of human nature,
without pedantry and without bias. I told Coleridge I had written a
few remarks, and was sometimes foolish enough to believe that I had
made a discovery on the same subject (the _Natural disinterestedness
of the Human Mind_)--and I tried to explain my view of it to
Coleridge, who listened with great willingness, but I did not succeed
in making myself understood. I sat down to the task shortly afterwards
for the twentieth time, got new pens and paper, determined to make
clear work of it, wrote a few meagre sentences in the skeleton style
of a mathematical demonstration, stopped half-way down the second
page; and, after trying in vain to pump up any words, images, notions,
apprehensions, facts, or observations, from that gulf of abstraction
in which I had plunged myself for four or five years preceding, gave
up the attempt as labour in vain, and shed tears of helpless
despondency on the blank, unfinished paper. I can write fast enough
now. Am I better than I was then? Oh no! One truth discovered, one
pang of regret at not being able to express it, is better than all the
fluency and flippancy in the world. Would that I could go back to what
I then was! Why can we not revive past times as we can revisit old
places? If I had the quaint Muse of Sir Philip Sidney to assist me, I
would write a _Sonnet to the Road between Wem and Shrewsbury_, and
immortalise every step of it by some fond enigmatical conceit. I would
swear that the very milestones had ears, and that Harmer hill stooped
with all its pines, to listen to a poet, as he passed! I remember but
one other topic of discourse in this walk. He mentioned Paley,
praised the naturalness and clearness of his style, but condemned his
sentiments, thought him a mere time-serving casuist, and said that
'the fact of his work on Moral and Political Philosophy being made a
text-book in our Universities was a disgrace to the national
character.' We parted at the six-mile stone; and I returned homeward,
pensive, but much pleased. I had met with unexpected notice from a
person whom I believed to have been prejudiced against me. 'Kind and
affable to me had been his condescension, and should be honoured ever
with suitable regard.' He was the first poet I had known, and he
certainly answered to that inspired name. I had heard a great deal of
his powers of conversation and was not disappointed. In fact, I never
met with anything at all like them, either before or since. I could
easily credit the accounts which were circulated of his holding forth
to a large party of ladies and gentlemen, an evening or two before, on
the Berkeleian Theory, when he made the whole material universe look
like a transparency of fine words; and another story (which I believe
he has somewhere told himself) of his being asked to a party at
Birmingham, of his smoking tobacco and going to sleep after dinner on
a sofa, where the company found him, to their no small surprise, which
was increased to wonder when he started up of a sudden, and rubbing
his eyes, looked about him, and launched into a three hours'
description of the third heaven, of which he had had a dream, very
different from Mr. Southey's _Vision of Judgment_, and also from that
other _Vision of Judgment_, which Mr. Murray, the Secretary of the
Bridge-street Junta, took into his especial keeping.

On my way back I had a sound in my ears--it was the voice of Fancy; I
had a light before me--it was the face of Poetry. The one still
lingers there, the other has not quitted my side! Coleridge, in truth,
met me half-way on the ground of philosophy, or I should not have been
won over to his imaginative creed. I had an uneasy, pleasurable
sensation all the time, till I was to visit him. During those months
the chill breath of winter gave me a welcoming; the vernal air was
balm and inspiration to me. The golden sunsets, the silver star of
evening, lighted me on my way to new hopes and prospects. _I was to
visit Coleridge in the spring._ This circumstance was never absent
from my thoughts, and mingled with all my feelings. I wrote to him at
the time proposed, and received an answer postponing my intended visit
for a week or two, but very cordially urging me to complete my promise
then. This delay did not damp, but rather increased my ardour. In the
meantime, I went to Llangollen Vale, by way of initiating myself in
the mysteries of natural scenery; and I must say I was enchanted with
it. I had been reading Coleridge's description of England in his fine
_Ode on the Departing Year_, and I applied it, _con amore_, to the
objects before me. That valley was to me (in a manner) the cradle of a
new existence: in the river that winds through it, my spirit was
baptized in the waters of Helicon!

I returned home, and soon after set out on my journey with unworn
heart, and untired feet. My way lay through Worcester and Gloucester,
and by Upton, where I thought of Tom Jones and the adventure of the
muff. I remember getting completely wet through one day, and stopping
at an inn (I think it was at Tewkesbury) where I sat up all night to
read _Paul and Virginia_. Sweet were the showers in early youth that
drenched my body, and sweet the drops of pity that fell upon the books
I read! I recollect a remark of Coleridge's upon this very book that
nothing could show the gross indelicacy of French manners and the
entire corruption of their imagination more strongly than the
behaviour of the heroine in the last fatal scene, who turns away from
a person on board the sinking vessel, that offers to save her life,
because he has thrown off his clothes to assist him in swimming. Was
this a time to think of such a circumstance? I once hinted to
Wordsworth, as we were sailing in his boat on Grasmere lake, that I
thought he had borrowed the idea of his _Poems on the Naming of
Places_ from the local inscriptions of the same kind in _Paul and
Virginia_. He did not own the obligation, and stated some distinction
without a difference in defence of his claim to originality. Any, the
slightest variation, would be sufficient for this purpose in his mind;
for whatever _he_ added or altered would inevitably be worth all that
any one else had done, and contain the marrow of the sentiment. I was
still two days before the time fixed for my arrival, for I had taken
care to set out early enough. I stopped these two days at Bridgewater;
and when I was tired of sauntering on the banks of its muddy river,
returned to the inn and read _Camilla_. So have I loitered my life
away, reading books, looking at pictures, going to plays, hearing,
thinking, writing on what pleased me best. I have wanted only one
thing to make me happy; but wanting that have wanted everything!

I arrived, and was well received. The country about Nether Stowey is
beautiful, green and hilly, and near the sea-shore. I saw it but the
other day, after an interval of twenty years, from a hill near
Taunton. How was the map of my life spread out before me, as the map
of the country lay at my feet! In the afternoon, Coleridge took me
over to All-Foxden, a romantic old family mansion of the St. Aubins,
where Wordsworth lived. It was then in the possession of a friend of
the poet's, who gave him the free use of it. Somehow, that period (the
time just after the French Revolution) was not a time when _nothing
was given for nothing_. The mind opened and a softness might be
perceived coming over the heart of individuals, beneath 'the scales
that fence' our self-interest. Wordsworth himself was from home, but
his sister kept house, and set before us a frugal repast; and we had
free access to her brother's poems, the _Lyrical Ballads_, which were
still in manuscript, or in the form of _Sybilline Leaves_. I dipped
into a few of these with great satisfaction, and with the faith of a
novice. I slept that night in an old room with blue hangings, and
covered with the round-faced family portraits of the age of George I.
and II., and from the wooded declivity of the adjoining park that
overlooked my window, at the dawn of day, could

    ----'hear the loud stag speak.'

In the outset of life (and particularly at this time I felt it so) our
imagination has a body to it. We are in a state between sleeping and
waking, and have indistinct but glorious glimpses of strange shapes,
and there is always something to come better than what we see. As in
our dreams the fulness of the blood gives warmth and reality to the
coinage of the brain, so in youth our ideas are clothed, and fed, and
pampered with our good spirits; we breathe thick with thoughtless
happiness, the weight of future years presses on the strong pulses of
the heart, and we repose with undisturbed faith in truth and good. As
we advance, we exhaust our fund of enjoyment and of hope. We are no
longer wrapped in _lamb's-wool_, lulled in Elysium. As we taste the
pleasures of life, their spirit evaporates, the sense palls; and
nothing is left but the phantoms, the lifeless shadows of what _has

That morning, as soon as breakfast was over, we strolled out into the
park, and seating ourselves on the trunk of an old ash-tree that
stretched along the ground, Coleridge read aloud with a sonorous and
musical voice, the ballad of _Betty Foy_. I was not critically or
sceptically inclined. I saw touches of truth and nature, and took the
rest for granted. But in the _Thorn_, the _Mad Mother_, and the
_Complaint of a Poor Indian Woman_, I felt that deeper power and
pathos which have been since acknowledged,

    'In spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,'

as the characteristics of this author; and the sense of a new style
and a new spirit in poetry came over me. It had to me something of the
effect that arises from the turning up of the fresh soil, or of the
first welcome breath of Spring:

    'While yet the trembling year is unconfirmed.'

Coleridge and myself walked back to Stowey that evening, and his voice
sounded high

    'Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
    Fix'd fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,'

as we passed through echoing grove, by fairy stream or waterfall,
gleaming in the summer moonlight! He lamented that Wordsworth was not
prone enough to believe in the traditional superstitions of the place,
and that there was a something corporeal, a _matter-of-fact-ness_, a
clinging to the palpable, or often to the petty, in his poetry, in
consequence. His genius was not a spirit that descended to him through
the air; it sprung out of the ground like a flower, or unfolded itself
from a green spray, on which the goldfinch sang. He said, however (if
I remember right), that this objection must be confined to his
descriptive pieces, that his philosophic poetry had a grand and
comprehensive spirit in it, so that his soul seemed to inhabit the
universe like a palace, and to discover truth by intuition, rather
than by deduction. The next day Wordsworth arrived from Bristol at
Coleridge's cottage. I think I see him now. He answered in some degree
to his friend's description of him, but was more gaunt and Don
Quixote-like. He was quaintly dressed (according to the _costume_ of
that unconstrained period) in a brown fustian jacket and striped
pantaloons. There was something of a roll, a lounge in his gait, not
unlike his own _Peter Bell_. There was a severe, worn pressure of
thought about his temples, a fire in his eye (as if he saw something
in objects more than the outward appearance), an intense, high,
narrow forehead, a Roman nose, cheeks furrowed by strong purpose and
feeling, and a convulsive inclination to laughter about the mouth, a
good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest
of his face. Chantrey's bust wants the marking traits; but he was
teased into making it regular and heavy: Haydon's head of him,
introduced into the _Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem_, is the most
like his drooping weight of thought and expression. He sat down and
talked very naturally and freely, with a mixture of clear, gushing
accents in his voice, a deep guttural intonation, and a strong
tincture of the northern _burr_, like the crust on wine. He instantly
began to make havoc of the half of a Cheshire cheese on the table, and
said, triumphantly, that 'his marriage with experience had not been so
productive as Mr. Southey's in teaching him a knowledge of the good
things of this life.' He had been to see the _Castle Spectre_ by Monk
Lewis, while at Bristol, and described it very well. He said 'it
fitted the taste of the audience like a glove.' This _ad captandum_
merit was however by no means a recommendation of it, according to the
severe principles of the new school, which reject rather than court
popular effect. Wordsworth, looking out of the low, latticed window,
said, 'How beautifully the sun sets on that yellow bank!' I thought
within myself, 'With what eyes these poets see nature!' and ever
after, when I saw the sun-set stream upon the objects facing it,
conceived I had made a discovery, or thanked Mr. Wordsworth for having
made one for me! We went over to All-Foxden again the day following,
and Wordsworth read us the story of _Peter Bell_ in the open air; and
the comment upon it by his face and voice was very different from that
of some later critics! Whatever might be thought of the poem, 'his
face was as a book where men might read strange matters,' and he
announced the fate of his hero in prophetic tones. There is a _chaunt_
in the recitation both of Coleridge and Wordsworth, which acts as a
spell upon the hearer, and disarms the judgment. Perhaps they have
deceived themselves by making habitual use of this ambiguous
accompaniment. Coleridge's manner is more full, animated, and varied;
Wordsworth's more equable, sustained, and internal. The one might be
termed more _dramatic_, the other more _lyrical_. Coleridge has told
me that he himself liked to compose in walking over uneven ground, or
breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood; whereas
Wordsworth always wrote (if he could) walking up and down a straight
gravel walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his verse met
with no collateral interruption. Returning that same evening, I got
into a metaphysical argument with Wordsworth, while Coleridge was
explaining the different notes of the nightingale to his sister, in
which we neither of us succeeded in making ourselves perfectly clear
and intelligible. Thus I passed three weeks at Nether Stowey and in
the neighbourhood, generally devoting the afternoons to a delightful
chat in an arbour made of bark by the poet's friend Tom Poole, sitting
under two fine elm-trees, and listening to the bees humming round us,
while we quaffed our _flip_. It was agreed, among other things, that
we should make a jaunt down the Bristol Channel, as far as Linton. We
set off together on foot, Coleridge, John Chester, and I. This Chester
was a native of Nether Stowey, one of those who were attracted to
Coleridge's discourse as flies are to honey, or bees in swarming-time
to the sound of a brass pan. He 'followed in the chase like a dog who
hunts, not like one that made up the cry.' He had on a brown cloth
coat, boots, and corduroy breeches, was low in stature, bow-legged,
had a drag in his walk like a drover, which he assisted by a hazel
switch, and kept on a sort of trot by the side of Coleridge, like a
running footman by a state coach, that he might not lose a syllable or
sound that fell from Coleridge's lips. He told me his private
opinion, that Coleridge was a wonderful man. He scarcely opened his
lips, much less offered an opinion the whole way: yet of the three,
had I to choose during that journey, I would be John Chester. He
afterwards followed Coleridge into Germany, where the Kantean
philosophers were puzzled how to bring him under any of their
categories. When he sat down at table with his idol, John's felicity
was complete; Sir Walter Scott's, or Mr. Blackwood's, when they sat
down at the same table with the King, was not more so. We passed
Dunster on our right, a small town between the brow of a hill and the
sea. I remember eyeing it wistfully as it lay below us: contrasted
with the woody scene around, it looked as clear, as pure, as
_embrowned_ and ideal as any landscape I have seen since, of Gaspar
Poussin's or Domenichino's. We had a long day's march (our feet kept
time to the echoes of Coleridge's tongue) through Minehead and by the
Blue Anchor, and on to Linton, which we did not reach till near
midnight, and where we had some difficulty in making a lodgment. We,
however, knocked the people of the house up at last, and we were
repaid for our apprehensions and fatigue by some excellent rashers of
fried bacon and eggs. The view in coming along had been splendid. We
walked for miles and miles on dark brown heaths overlooking the
Channel, with the Welsh hills beyond, and at times descended into
little sheltered valleys close by the sea-side, with a smuggler's face
scowling by us, and then had to ascend conical hills with a path
winding up through a coppice to a barren top, like a monk's shaven
crown, from one of which I pointed out to Coleridge's notice the bare
masts of a vessel on the very edge of the horizon, and within the
red-orbed disk of the setting sun, like his own spectre-ship in the
_Ancient Mariner_. At Linton the character of the sea-coast becomes
more marked and rugged. There is a place called the _Valley of Rocks_
(I suspect this was only the poetical name for it), bedded among
precipices overhanging the sea, with rocky caverns beneath, into
which the waves dash, and where the sea-gull for ever wheels its
screaming flight. On the tops of these are huge stones thrown
transverse, as if an earthquake had tossed them there, and behind
these is a fretwork of perpendicular rocks, something like the
_Giant's Causeway_. A thunder-storm came on while we were at the inn,
and Coleridge was running out bare-headed to enjoy the commotion of
the elements in the _Valley of Rocks_, but as if in spite, the clouds
only muttered a few angry sounds, and let fall a few refreshing drops.
Coleridge told me that he and Wordsworth were to have made this place
the scene of a prose-tale, which was to have been in the manner of,
but far superior to, the _Death of Abel_, but they had relinquished
the design. In the morning of the second day, we breakfasted
luxuriously in an old-fashioned parlour on tea, toast, eggs, and
honey, in the very sight of the bee-hives from which it had been
taken, and a garden full of thyme and wild flowers that had produced
it. On this occasion Coleridge spoke of Virgil's _Georgics_, but not
well. I do not think he had much feeling for the classical or
elegant.[3] It was in this room that we found a little worn-out copy
of the _Seasons_, lying in a window-seat, on which Coleridge
exclaimed, '_That_ is true fame!' He said Thomson was a great poet,
rather than a good one; his style was as meretricious as his thoughts
were natural. He spoke of Cowper as the best modern poet. He said the
_Lyrical Ballads_ were an experiment about to be tried by him and
Wordsworth, to see how far the public taste would endure poetry
written in a more natural and simple style than had hitherto been
attempted; totally discarding the artifices of poetical diction, and
making use only of such words as had probably been common in the most
ordinary language since the days of Henry II. Some comparison was
introduced between Shakspeare and Milton. He said 'he hardly knew
which to prefer. Shakspeare appeared to him a mere stripling in the
art; he was as tall and as strong, with infinitely more activity than
Milton, but he never appeared to have come to man's estate; or if he
had, he would not have been a man, but a monster.' He spoke with
contempt of Gray, and with intolerance of Pope. He did not like the
versification of the latter. He observed that 'the ears of these
couplet-writers might be charged with having short memories, that
could not retain the harmony of whole passages.' He thought little of
Junius as a writer; he had a dislike of Dr. Johnson; and a much higher
opinion of Burke as an orator and politician, than of Fox or Pitt. He,
however, thought him very inferior in richness of style and imagery to
some of our elder prose-writers, particularly Jeremy Taylor. He liked
Richardson, but not Fielding; nor could I get him to enter into the
merits of _Caleb Williams_. In short, he was profound and
discriminating with respect to those authors whom he liked, and where
he gave his judgment fair play; capricious, perverse, and prejudiced
in his antipathies and distastes. We loitered on the 'ribbed
sea-sands,' in such talk as this a whole morning, and, I recollect,
met with a curious seaweed, of which John Chester told us the country
name! A fisherman gave Coleridge an account of a boy that had been
drowned the day before, and that they had tried to save him at the
risk of their own lives. He said 'he did not know how it was that they
ventured, but, Sir, we have a _nature_ towards one another.' This
expression, Coleridge remarked to me, was a fine illustration of that
theory of disinterestedness which I (in common with Butler) had
adopted. I broached to him an argument of mine to prove that
_likeness_ was not mere association of ideas. I said that the mark in
the sand put one in mind of a man's foot, not because it was part of a
former impression of a man's foot (for it was quite new), but because
it was like the shape of a man's foot. He assented to the justness of
this distinction (which I have explained at length elsewhere, for the
benefit of the curious) and John Chester listened; not from any
interest in the subject, but because he was astonished that I should
be able to suggest anything to Coleridge that he did not already know.
We returned on the third morning, and Coleridge remarked the silent
cottage-smoke curling up the valleys where, a few evenings before, we
had seen the lights gleaming through the dark.

In a day or two after we arrived at Stowey, we set out, I on my return
home, and he for Germany. It was a Sunday morning, and he was to
preach that day for Dr. Toulmin of Taunton. I asked him if he had
prepared anything for the occasion? He said he had not even thought of
the text, but should as soon as we parted. I did not go to hear
him--this was a fault--but we met in the evening at Bridgewater. The
next day we had a long day's walk to Bristol, and sat down, I
recollect, by a well-side on the road, to cool ourselves and satisfy
our thirst, when Coleridge repeated to me some descriptive lines of
his tragedy of _Remorse_; which I must say became his mouth and that
occasion better than they, some years after, did Mr. Elliston's and
the Drury-lane boards--

    'Oh memory! shield me from the world's poor strife,
    And give those scenes thine everlasting life.'

I saw no more of him for a year or two, during which period he had
been wandering in the Hartz Forest, in Germany; and his return was
cometary, meteorous, unlike his setting out. It was not till some time
after that I knew his friends Lamb and Southey. The last always
appears to me (as I first saw him) with a commonplace book under his
arm, and the first with a _bon-mot_ in his mouth. It was at Godwin's
that I met him with Holcroft and Coleridge, where they were disputing
fiercely which was the best--_Man as he was, or man as he is to be_.
'Give me,' says Lamb, 'man as he is _not_ to be.' This saying was the
beginning of a friendship between us, which I believe still continues.
Enough of this for the present.

    'But there is matter for another rhyme,
    And I to this may add a second tale.'


[1] My father was one of those who mistook his talent, after all. He
used to be very much dissatisfied that I preferred his _Letters_ to
his _Sermons_. The last were forced and dry; the first came naturally
from him. For ease, half-plays on words, and a supine, monkish,
indolent pleasantry, I have never seen them equalled.

[2] He complained in particular of the presumption of his attempting
to establish the future immortality of man, 'without' (as he said)
'knowing what Death was or what Life was'--and the tone in which he
pronounced these two words seemed to convey a complete image of both.

[3] He had no idea of pictures, of Claude or Raphael, and at this time
I had as little as he. He sometimes gives a striking account at
present of the Cartoons at Pisa by Buffamalco and others; of one in
particular, where Death is seen in the air brandishing his scythe, and
the great and mighty of the earth shudder at his approach, while the
beggars and the wretched kneel to him as their deliverer. He would, of
course, understand so broad and fine a moral as this at any time.



    'Come like shadows--so depart.'

Lamb it was, I think, who suggested this subject, as well as the
defence of Guy Faux, which I urged him to execute. As, however, he
would undertake neither, I suppose I must do both, a task for which he
would have been much fitter, no less from the temerity than the
felicity of his pen--

    'Never so sure our rapture to create
    As when it touch'd the brink of all we hate.'

Compared with him, I shall, I fear, make but a commonplace piece of
business of it; but I should be loth the idea was entirely lost, and
besides I may avail myself of some hints of his in the progress of it.
I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of other
people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far into paradox
or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow farther than I like,
or than seems fair and reasonable.

On the question being started, Ayrton said, 'I suppose the two first
persons you would choose to see would be the two greatest names in
English literature, Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Locke?' In this Ayrton,
as usual, reckoned without his host. Every one burst out a laughing at
the expression of Lamb's face, in which impatience was restrained by
courtesy. 'Yes, the greatest names,' he stammered out hastily, 'but
they were not persons--not persons.'--'Not persons?' said Ayrton,
looking wise and foolish at the same time, afraid his triumph might be
premature. 'That is,' rejoined Lamb, 'not characters, you know. By Mr.
Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, you mean the _Essay on the Human
Understanding_, and the _Principia_, which we have to this day. Beyond
their contents there is nothing personally interesting in the men. But
what we want to see any one _bodily_ for, is when there is something
peculiar, striking in the individuals, more than we can learn from
their writings, and yet are curious to know. I dare say Locke and
Newton were very like Kneller's portraits of them. But who could paint
Shakspeare?'--'Ay,' retorted Ayrton, 'there it is; then I suppose you
would prefer seeing him and Milton instead?'--'No,' said Lamb,
'neither. I have seen so much of Shakspeare on the stage and on
bookstalls, in frontispieces and on mantel-pieces, that I am quite
tired of the everlasting repetition: and as to Milton's face, the
impressions that have come down to us of it I do not like; it is too
starched and puritanical; and I should be afraid of losing some of the
manna of his poetry in the leaven of his countenance and the
precisian's band and gown.'--'I shall guess no more,' said Ayrton.
'Who is it, then, you would like to see "in his habit as he lived," if
you had your choice of the whole range of English literature?' Lamb
then named Sir Thomas Browne and Fulke Greville, the friend of Sir
Philip Sidney, as the two worthies whom he should feel the greatest
pleasure to encounter on the floor of his apartment in their nightgown
and slippers, and to exchange friendly greeting with them. At this
Ayrton laughed outright, and conceived Lamb was jesting with him; but
as no one followed his example, he thought there might be something in
it, and waited for an explanation in a state of whimsical suspense.
Lamb then (as well as I can remember a conversation that passed twenty
years ago--how time slips!) went on as follows. 'The reason why I
pitch upon these two authors is, that their writings are riddles, and
they themselves the most mysterious of personages. They resemble the
soothsayers of old, who dealt in dark hints and doubtful oracles; and
I should like to ask them the meaning of what no mortal but
themselves, I should suppose, can fathom. There is Dr. Johnson: I have
no curiosity, no strange uncertainty about him; he and Boswell
together have pretty well let me into the secret of what passed
through his mind. He and other writers like him are sufficiently
explicit: my friends whose repose I should be tempted to disturb (were
it in my power), are implicit, inextricable, inscrutable.

'When I look at that obscure but gorgeous prose composition the
_Urn-burial_, I seem to myself to look into a deep abyss, at the
bottom of which are hid pearls and rich treasure; or it is like a
stately labyrinth of doubt and withering speculation, and I would
invoke the spirit of the author to lead me through it. Besides, who
would not be curious to see the lineaments of a man who, having
himself been twice married, wished that mankind were propagated like
trees! As to Fulke Greville, he is like nothing but one of his own
"Prologues spoken by the ghost of an old king of Ormus," a truly
formidable and inviting personage: his style is apocalyptical,
cabalistical, a knot worthy of such an apparition to untie; and for
the unravelling a passage or two, I would stand the brunt of an
encounter with so portentous a commentator!'--'I am afraid, in that
case,' said Ayrton, 'that if the mystery were once cleared up, the
merit might be lost'; and turning to me, whispered a friendly
apprehension, that while Lamb continued to admire these old crabbed
authors, he would never become a popular writer. Dr. Donne was
mentioned as a writer of the same period, with a very interesting
countenance, whose history was singular, and whose meaning was often
quite as _uncomeatable_, without a personal citation from the dead, as
that of any of his contemporaries. The volume was produced; and while
some one was expatiating on the exquisite simplicity and beauty of the
portrait prefixed to the old edition, Ayrton got hold of the poetry,
and exclaiming 'What have we here?' read the following:

    'Here lies a She-Sun and a He-Moon there--
    She gives the best light to his sphear,
    Or each is both, and all, and so
    They unto one another nothing owe.'

There was no resisting this, till Lamb, seizing the volume, turned to
the beautiful _Lines to his Mistress_, dissuading her from
accompanying him abroad, and read them with suffused features and a
faltering tongue:

    'By our first strange and fatal interview,
    By all desires which thereof did ensue,
    By our long starving hopes, by that remorse
    Which my words' masculine perswasive force
    Begot in thee, and by the memory
    Of hurts, which spies and rivals threatned me,
    I calmely beg. But by thy father's wrath,
    By all paines which want and divorcement hath,
    I conjure thee; and all the oathes which I
    And thou have sworne to seale joynt constancy
    Here I unsweare, and overswear them thus--
    Thou shalt not love by wayes so dangerous.
    Temper, O fair love! love's impetuous rage,
    Be my true mistris still, not my faign'd Page;
    I'll goe, and, by thy kinde leave, leave behinde
    Thee! onely worthy to nurse in my minde.
    Thirst to come backe; O, if thou die before,
    My soule, from other lands to thee shall soare.
    Thy (else almighty) beauty cannot move
    Rage from the seas, nor thy love teach them love.
    Nor tame wild Boreas' harshnesse; thou hast reade
    How roughly hee in pieces shivered
    Fair Orithea, whom he swore he lov'd.
    Fall ill or good, 'tis madnesse to have prov'd
    Dangers unurg'd: Feed on this flattery,
    That absent lovers one in th' other be.
    Dissemble nothing, not a boy; nor change
    Thy bodie's habite, nor minde; be not strange
    To thyeselfe onely. All will spie in thy face
    A blushing, womanly, discovering grace.
    Richly-cloath'd apes are call'd apes, and as soone
    Eclips'd as bright, we call the moone the moon.
    Men of France, changeable camelions,
    Spittles of diseases, shops of fashions,
    Love's fuellers, and the rightest company
    Of players, which upon the world's stage be,
    Will quickly know thee ...
    O stay here! for for thee
    England is onely a worthy gallerie,
    To walke in expectation; till from thence
    Our greatest King call thee to his presence.
    When I am gone, dreame me some happinesse,
    Nor let thy lookes our long-hid love confesse,
    Nor praise, nor dispraise me; nor blesse, nor curse
    Openly love's force, nor in bed fright thy nurse
    With midnight's startings, crying out, Oh, oh,
    Nurse, oh, my love is slaine, I saw him goe
    O'er the white Alpes alone; I saw him, I,
    Assail'd, fight, taken, stabb'd, bleed, fall, and die.
    Augure me better chance, except dread Jove
    Thinke it enough for me to have had thy love.'

Some one then inquired of Lamb if we could not see from the window the
Temple walk in which Chaucer used to take his exercise; and on his
name being put to the vote, I was pleased to find that there was a
general sensation in his favour in all but Ayrton, who said something
about the ruggedness of the metre, and even objected to the quaintness
of the orthography. I was vexed at this superficial gloss,
pertinaciously reducing everything to its own trite level, and asked
'if he did not think it would be worth while to scan the eye that had
first greeted the Muse in that dim twilight and early dawn of English
literature; to see the head round which the visions of fancy must have
played like gleams of inspiration or a sudden glory; to watch those
lips that "lisped in numbers, for the numbers came"--as by a miracle,
or as if the dumb should speak? Nor was it alone that he had been the
first to tune his native tongue (however imperfectly to modern ears);
but he was himself a noble, manly character, standing before his age
and striving to advance it; a pleasant humourist withal, who has not
only handed down to us the living manners of his time, but had, no
doubt, store of curious and quaint devices, and would make as hearty a
companion as mine Host of the Tabard. His interview with Petrarch is
fraught with interest. Yet I would rather have seen Chaucer in company
with the author of the _Decameron_, and have heard them exchange their
best stories together--the _Squire's Tale_ against the Story of the
_Falcon_, the _Wife of Bath's Prologue_ against the _Adventures of
Friar Albert_. How fine to see the high mysterious brow which learning
then wore, relieved by the gay, familiar tone of men of the world, and
by the courtesies of genius! Surely, the thoughts and feelings which
passed through the minds of these great revivers of learning, these
Cadmuses who sowed the teeth of letters, must have stamped an
expression on their features as different from the moderns as their
books, and well worth the perusal. Dante,' I continued, 'is as
interesting a person as his own Ugolino, one whose lineaments
curiosity would as eagerly devour in order to penetrate his spirit,
and the only one of the Italian poets I should care much to see. There
is a fine portrait of Ariosto by no less a hand than Titian's; light,
Moorish, spirited, but not answering our idea. The same artist's large
colossal profile of Peter Aretine is the only likeness of the kind
that has the effect of conversing with "the mighty dead"; and this is
truly spectral, ghastly, necromantic.' Lamb put it to me if I should
like to see Spenser as well as Chaucer; and I answered, without
hesitation, 'No; for that his beauties were ideal, visionary, not
palpable or personal, and therefore connected with less curiosity
about the man. His poetry was the essence of romance, a very halo
round the bright orb of fancy; and the bringing in the individual
might dissolve the charm. No tones of voice could come up to the
mellifluous cadence of his verse; no form but of a winged angel could
vie with the airy shapes he has described. He was (to my apprehension)
rather a "creature of the element, that lived in the rainbow and
played in the plighted clouds," than an ordinary mortal. Or if he did
appear, I should wish it to be as a mere vision, like one of his own
pageants, and that he should pass by unquestioned like a dream or

    ----"_That_ was Arion crown'd:
    So went he playing on the wat'ry plain."'

Captain Burney muttered something about Columbus, and Martin Burney
hinted at the Wandering Jew; but the last was set aside as spurious,
and the first made over to the New World.

'I should like,' said Mrs. Reynolds, 'to have seen Pope talk with
Patty Blount; and I _have_ seen Goldsmith.' Every one turned round to
look at Mrs. Reynolds, as if by so doing they could get a sight at

'Where,' asked a harsh, croaking voice, 'was Dr. Johnson in the years
1745-6? He did not write anything that we know of, nor is there any
account of him in Boswell during those two years. Was he in Scotland
with the Pretender? He seems to have passed through the scenes in the
Highlands in company with Boswell, many years after, "with lack-lustre
eye," yet as if they were familiar to him, or associated in his mind
with interests that he durst not explain. If so, it would be an
additional reason for my liking him; and I would give something to
have seen him seated in the tent with the youthful Majesty of Britain,
and penning the Proclamation to all true subjects and adherents of the
legitimate Government.'

'I thought,' said Ayrton, turning short round upon Lamb, 'that you of
the Lake School did not like Pope?'--'Not like Pope! My dear sir, you
must be under a mistake--I can read him over and over for
ever!'--'Why, certainly, the _Essay on Man_ must be allowed to be a
masterpiece.'--'It may be so, but I seldom look into it.'--'Oh! then
it's his Satires you admire?'--'No, not his Satires, but his friendly
Epistles and his compliments.'--'Compliments! I did not know he ever
made any.'--'The finest,' said Lamb, 'that were ever paid by the wit
of man. Each of them is worth an estate for life--nay, is an
immortality. There is that superb one to Lord Cornbury:

    "Despise low joys, low gains;
    Disdain whatever Cornbury disdains;
    Be virtuous, and be happy for your pains."

Was there ever more artful insinuation of idolatrous praise? And then
that noble apotheosis of his friend Lord Mansfield (however little
deserved), when, speaking of the House of Lords, he adds:

    "Conspicuous scene! another yet is nigh,
    (More silent far) where kings and poets lie;
    Where Murray (long enough his country's pride)
    Shall be no more than Tully or than Hyde."

And with what a fine turn of indignant flattery he addresses Lord

    "Why rail they then, if but one wreath of mine,
    Oh! all accomplish'd St. John, deck thy shrine?"

Or turn,' continued Lamb, with a slight hectic on his cheek and his
eye glistening, 'to his list of early friends:

    "But why then publish? Granville the polite,
    And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write;
    Well-natured Garth inflamed with early praise,
    And Congreve loved, and Swift endured my lays;
    The courtly Talbot, Somers, Sheffield read,
    Ev'n mitred Rochester would nod the head;
    And St. John's self (great Dryden's friend before)
    Received with open arms one poet more.
    Happy my studies, if by these approved!
    Happier their author, if by these beloved!
    From these the world will judge of men and books,
    Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks."'

Here his voice totally failed him, and throwing down the book, he
said, 'Do you think I would not wish to have been friends with such a
man as this?'

'What say you to Dryden?'--'He rather made a show of himself, and
courted popularity in that lowest temple of fame, a coffee-shop, so as
in some measure to vulgarise one's idea of him. Pope, on the
contrary, reached the very _beau ideal_ of what a poet's life should
be; and his fame while living seemed to be an emanation from that
which was to circle his name after death. He was so far enviable (and
one would feel proud to have witnessed the rare spectacle in him) that
he was almost the only poet and man of genius who met with his reward
on this side of the tomb, who realised in friends, fortune, the esteem
of the world, the most sanguine hopes of a youthful ambition, and who
found that sort of patronage from the great during his lifetime which
they would be thought anxious to bestow upon him after his death. Read
Gay's verses to him on his supposed return from Greece, after his
translation of Homer was finished, and say if you would not gladly
join the bright procession that welcomed him home, or see it once more
land at Whitehall stairs.'--'Still,' said Mrs. Reynolds, 'I would
rather have seen him talking with Patty Blount, or riding by in a
coronet-coach with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu!'

Erasmus Phillips, who was deep in a game of piquet at the other end of
the room, whispered to Martin Burney to ask if Junius would not be a
fit person to invoke from the dead. 'Yes,' said Lamb, 'provided he
would agree to lay aside his mask.'

We were now at a stand for a short time, when Fielding was mentioned
as a candidate; only one, however, seconded the proposition.
'Richardson?'--'By all means, but only to look at him through the
glass door of his back shop, hard at work upon one of his novels (the
most extraordinary contrast that ever was presented between an author
and his works); not to let him come behind his counter, lest he should
want you to turn customer, or to go upstairs with him, lest he should
offer to read the first manuscript of Sir Charles Grandison, which was
originally written in eight-and-twenty volumes octavo, or get out the
letters of his female correspondents, to prove that Joseph Andrews was

There was but one statesman in the whole of English history that any
one expressed the least desire to see--Oliver Cromwell, with his fine,
frank, rough, pimply face, and wily policy; and one enthusiast, John
Bunyan, the immortal author of the _Pilgrim's Progress_. It seemed
that if he came into the room, dreams would follow him, and that each
person would nod under his golden cloud, 'nigh-sphered in heaven,' a
canopy as strange and stately as any in Homer.

Of all persons near our own time, Garrick's name was received with the
greatest enthusiasm, who was proposed by Barron Field. He presently
superseded both Hogarth and Handel, who had been talked of, but then
it was on condition that he should act in tragedy and comedy, in the
play and the farce, _Lear_ and _Wildair_ and _Abel Drugger_. What a
_sight for sore eyes_ that would be! Who would not part with a year's
income at least, almost with a year of his natural life, to be present
at it? Besides, as he could not act alone, and recitations are
unsatisfactory things, what a troop he must bring with him--the
silver-tongued Barry, and Quin, and Shuter and Weston, and Mrs. Clive
and Mrs. Pritchard, of whom I have heard my father speak as so great a
favourite when he was young. This would indeed be a revival of the
dead, the restoring of art; and so much the more desirable, as such is
the lurking scepticism mingled with our overstrained admiration of
past excellence, that though we have the speeches of Burke, the
portraits of Reynolds, the writings of Goldsmith, and the conversation
of Johnson, to show what people could do at that period, and to
confirm the universal testimony to the merits of Garrick; yet, as it
was before our time, we have our misgivings, as if he was probably,
after all, little better than a Bartlemy-fair actor, dressed out to
play _Macbeth_ in a scarlet coat and laced cocked-hat. For one, I
should like to have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears.
Certainly, by all accounts, if any one was ever moved by the true
histrionic _æstus_, it was Garrick. When he followed the Ghost in
_Hamlet_, he did not drop the sword, as most actors do, behind the
scenes, but kept the point raised the whole way round, so fully was he
possessed with the idea, or so anxious not to lose sight of his part
for a moment. Once at a splendid dinner-party at Lord ----'s, they
suddenly missed Garrick, and could not imagine what was become of him,
till they were drawn to the window by the convulsive screams and peals
of laughter of a young negro boy, who was rolling on the ground in an
ecstasy of delight to see Garrick mimicking a turkey-cock in the
court-yard, with his coat-tail stuck out behind, and in a seeming
flutter of feathered rage and pride. Of our party only two persons
present had seen the British Roscius; and they seemed as willing as
the rest to renew their acquaintance with their old favourite.

We were interrupted in the hey-day and mid-career of this fanciful
speculation, by a grumbler in a corner, who declared it was a shame to
make all this rout about a mere player and farce-writer, to the
neglect and exclusion of the fine old dramatists, the contemporaries
and rivals of Shakspeare. Lamb said he had anticipated this objection
when he had named the author of _Mustapha_ and _Alaham_; and, out of
caprice, insisted upon keeping him to represent the set, in preference
to the wild, hare-brained enthusiast, Kit Marlowe; to the sexton of
St. Ann's, Webster, with his melancholy yew-trees and death's-heads;
to Decker, who was but a garrulous proser; to the voluminous Heywood;
and even to Beaumont and Fletcher, whom we might offend by
complimenting the wrong author on their joint productions. Lord
Brooke, on the contrary, stood quite by himself, or, in Cowley's
words, was 'a vast species alone.' Some one hinted at the circumstance
of his being a lord, which rather startled Lamb, but he said a _ghost_
would perhaps dispense with strict etiquette, on being regularly
addressed by his title. Ben Jonson divided our suffrages pretty
equally. Some were afraid he would begin to traduce Shakspeare, who
was not present to defend himself. 'If he grows disagreeable,' it was
whispered aloud, 'there is Godwin can match him.' At length, his
romantic visit to Drummond of Hawthornden was mentioned, and turned
the scale in his favour.

Lamb inquired if there was any one that was hanged that I would choose
to mention? And I answered, Eugene Aram. The name of the 'Admirable
Chrichton' was suddenly started as a splendid example of _waste_
talents, so different from the generality of his countrymen. This
choice was mightily approved by a North-Briton present, who declared
himself descended from that prodigy of learning and accomplishment,
and said he had family plate in his possession as vouchers for the
fact, with the initials A. C.--_Admirable Chrichton!_ Hunt laughed, or
rather roared, as heartily at this as I should think he has done for
many years.

The last named Mitre-courtier[4] then wished to know whether there
were any metaphysicians to whom one might be tempted to apply the
wizard spell? I replied, there were only six in modern times deserving
the name--Hobbes, Berkeley, Butler, Hartley, Hume, Leibnitz; and
perhaps Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts man.[5] As to the French,
who talked fluently of having _created_ this science, there was not a
tittle in any of their writings that was not to be found literally in
the authors I had mentioned. [Horne Tooke, who might have a claim to
come in under the head of Grammar, was still living.] None of these
names seemed to excite much interest, and I did not plead for the
re-appearance of those who might be thought best fitted by the
abstracted nature of their studies for the present spiritual and
disembodied state, and who, even while on this living stage, were
nearly divested of common flesh and blood. As Ayrton, with an uneasy,
fidgety face, was about to put some question about Mr. Locke and
Dugald Stewart, he was prevented by Martin Burney, who observed, 'If
J---- was here, he would undoubtedly be for having up those profound
and redoubted socialists, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.' I said this
might be fair enough in him who had read, or fancied he had read, the
original works, but I did not see how we could have any right to call
up these authors to give an account of themselves in person, till we
had looked into their writings.

By this time it should seem that some rumour of our whimsical
deliberation had got wind, and had disturbed the _irritable genus_, in
their shadowy abodes, for we received messages from several candidates
that we had just been thinking of. Gray declined our invitation,
though he had not yet been asked: Gay offered to come, and bring in
his hand the Duchess of Bolton, the original Polly: Steele and Addison
left their cards as Captain Sentry and Sir Roger de Coverley: Swift
came in and sat down without speaking a word, and quitted the room as
abruptly: Otway and Chatterton were seen lingering on the opposite
side of the Styx, but could not muster enough between them to pay
Charon his fare: Thomson fell asleep in the boat, and was rowed back
again; and Burns sent a low fellow, one John Barleycorn, an old
companion of his, who had conducted him to the other world, to say
that he had during his lifetime been drawn out of his retirement as a
show, only to be made an exciseman of, and that he would rather
remain where he was. He desired, however, to shake hands by his
representative--the hand, thus held out, was in a burning fever, and
shook prodigiously.

The room was hung round with several portraits of eminent painters.
While we were debating whether we should demand speech with these
masters of mute eloquence, whose features were so familiar to us, it
seemed that all at once they glided from their frames, and seated
themselves at some little distance from us. There was Leonardo, with
his majestic beard and watchful eye, having a bust of Archimedes
before him; next him was Raphael's graceful head turned round to the
Fornarina; and on his other side was Lucretia Borgia, with calm,
golden locks; Michael Angelo had placed the model of St. Peter's on
the table before him; Correggio had an angel at his side; Titian was
seated with his mistress between himself and Giorgione; Guido was
accompanied by his own Aurora, who took a dice-box from him; Claude
held a mirror in his hand; Rubens patted a beautiful panther (led in
by a satyr) on the head; Vandyke appeared as his own Paris, and
Rembrandt was hid under firs, gold chains, and jewels, which Sir
Joshua eyed closely, holding his hand so as to shade his forehead. Not
a word was spoken; and as we rose to do them homage, they still
presented the same surface to the view. Not being _bonâ-fide_
representations of living people, we got rid of the splendid
apparitions by signs and dumb show. As soon as they had melted into
thin air, there was a loud noise at the outer door, and we found it
was Giotto, Cimabue, and Ghirlandaio, who had been raised from the
dead by their earnest desire to see their illustrious successors--

            'Whose names on earth
    In Fame's eternal records live for aye!'

Finding them gone, they had no ambition to be seen after them, and
mournfully withdrew. 'Egad!' said Lamb, 'these are the very fellows I
should like to have had some talk with, to know how they could see to
paint when all was dark around them.'

'But shall we have nothing to say,' interrogated G. J----, 'to the
_Legend of Good Women_?'--'Name, name, Mr. J----,' cried Hunt in a
boisterous tone of friendly exultation, 'name as many as you please,
without reserve or fear of molestation!' J---- was perplexed between
so many amiable recollections, that the name of the lady of his choice
expired in a pensive whiff of his pipe; and Lamb impatiently declared
for the Duchess of Newcastle. Mrs. Hutchinson was no sooner mentioned,
than she carried the day from the Duchess. We were the less solicitous
on this subject of filling up the posthumous lists of Good Women, as
there was already one in the room as good, as sensible, and in all
respects as exemplary, as the best of them could be for their lives!
'I should like vastly to have seen Ninon de l'Enclos,' said that
incomparable person; and this immediately put us in mind that we had
neglected to pay honour due to our friends on the other side of the
Channel: Voltaire, the patriarch of levity, and Rousseau, the father
of sentiment; Montaigne and Rabelais (great in wisdom and in wit);
Molière and that illustrious group that are collected round him (in
the print of that subject) to hear him read his comedy of the
_Tartuffe_ at the house of Ninon; Racine, La Fontaine, Rochefoucalt,
St. Evremont, etc.

'There is one person,' said a shrill, querulous voice, 'I would rather
see than all these--Don Quixote!'

'Come, come!' said Hunt; 'I thought we should have no heroes, real or
fabulous. What say you, Mr. Lamb? Are you for eking out your shadowy
list with such names as Alexander, Julius Cæsar, Tamerlane, or Ghengis
Khan?'--'Excuse me,' said Lamb; 'on the subject of characters in
active life, plotters and disturbers of the world, I have a crotchet
of my own, which I beg leave to reserve.'--'No, no! come, out with
your worthies!'--'What do you think of Guy Fawkes and Judas
Iscariot?' Hunt turned an eye upon him like a wild Indian, but cordial
and full of smothered glee. 'Your most exquisite reason!' was echoed
on all sides; and Ayrton thought that Lamb had now fairly entangled
himself. 'Why I cannot but think,' retorted he of the wistful
countenance, 'that Guy Fawkes, that poor, fluttering annual scarecrow
of straw and rags, is an ill-used gentleman. I would give something to
see him sitting pale and emaciated, surrounded by his matches and his
barrels of gunpowder, and expecting the moment that was to transport
him to Paradise for his heroic self-devotion; but if I say any more,
there is that fellow Godwin will make something of it. And as to Judas
Iscariot, my reason is different. I would fain see the face of him
who, having dipped his hand in the same dish with the Son of Man,
could afterwards betray him. I have no conception of such a thing; nor
have I ever seen any picture (not even Leonardo's very fine one) that
gave me the least idea of it.'--'You have said enough, Mr. Lamb, to
justify your choice.'

'Oh! ever right, Menenius--ever right!'

'There is only one other person I can ever think of after this,'
continued Lamb; but without mentioning a name that once put on a
semblance of mortality. 'If Shakspeare was to come into the room, we
should all rise up to meet him; but if that person was to come into
it, we should all fall down and try to kiss the hem of his garment!'

As a lady present seemed now to get uneasy at the turn the
conversation had taken, we rose up to go. The morning broke with that
dim, dubious light by which Giotto, Cimabue, and Ghirlandaio must have
seen to paint their earliest works; and we parted to meet again and
renew similar topics at night, the next night, and the night after
that, till that night overspread Europe which saw no dawn. The same
event, in truth, broke up our little Congress that broke up the great
one. But that was to meet again: our deliberations have never been


[4] Lamb at this time occupied chambers in Mitre-court, Temple.

[5] Bacon is not included in this list, nor do I know where he should
come in. It is not easy to make room for him and his reputation
together. This great and celebrated man in some of his works
recommends it to pour a bottle of claret into the ground of a morning,
and to stand over it, inhaling the perfumes. So he sometimes enriched
the dry and barren soil of speculation with the fine aromatic spirit
of his genius. His _Essays_ and his _Advancement of Learning_ are
works of vast depth and scope of observation. The last, though it
contains no positive discoveries, is a noble chart of the human
intellect, and a guide to all future inquirers.



Party spirit is one of the _profoundnesses of Satan_, or, in modern
language, one of the dexterous _equivoques_ and contrivances of our
self-love, to prove that we, and those who agree with us, combine all
that is excellent and praiseworthy in our own persons (as in a
ring-fence), and that all the vices and deformity of human nature take
refuge with those who differ from us. It is extending and fortifying
the principle of the _amour-propre_, by calling to its aid the _esprit
de corps_, and screening and surrounding our favourite propensities
and obstinate caprices in the hollow squares or dense phalanxes of
sects and parties. This is a happy mode of pampering our
self-complacency, and persuading ourselves that we, and those that
side with us, are 'the salt of the earth'; of giving vent to the
morbid humours of our pride, envy, hatred, malice, and all
uncharitableness, those natural secretions of the human heart, under
the pretext of self-defence, the public safety, or a voice from
heaven, as it may happen; and of heaping every excellence into one
scale, and throwing all the obloquy and contempt into the other, in
virtue of a nickname, a watchword of party, a badge, the colour of a
ribbon, the cut of a dress. We thus desolate the globe, or tear a
country in pieces, to show that we are the only people fit to live in
it; and fancy ourselves angels, while we are playing the devil. In
this manner the Huron devours the Iroquois, because he is an Iroquois;
and the Iroquois the Huron, for a similar reason: neither suspects
that he does it because he himself is a savage, and no better than a
wild beast; and is convinced in his own breast that the difference of
man and tribe makes a total difference in the case. The Papist
persecutes the Protestant, the Protestant persecutes the Papist in his
turn; and each fancies that he has a plenary right to do so, while he
keeps in view only the offensive epithet which 'cuts the common link
of brotherhood between them.' The Church of England ill-treated the
Dissenters, and the Dissenters, when they had the opportunity, did not
spare the Church of England. The Whig calls the Tory a knave, the Tory
compliments the Whig with the same title, and each thinks the abuse
sticks to the party-name, and has nothing to do with himself or the
generic name of _man_. On the contrary, it cuts both ways; but while
the Whigs say 'The Tory is a knave, because he is a Tory,' this is as
much as to say, 'I cannot be a knave, because I am a Whig'; and by
exaggerating the profligacy of his opponent, he imagines he is laying
the sure foundation, and raising the lofty superstructure, of his own
praises. But if he says, which is the truth, 'The Tory is not a
rascal, because he is a Tory, but because human nature in power, and
with the temptation, is a rascal,' then this would imply that the
seeds of depravity are sown in his own bosom, and might shoot out into
full growth and luxuriance if he got into place, and this he does not
wish to develop till he _does_ get into place.

We may be intolerant even in advocating the cause of toleration, and
so bent on making proselytes to freethinking as to allow no one to
think freely but ourselves. The most boundless liberality in
appearance may amount in reality to the most monstrous ostracism of
opinion--not condemning this or that tenet, or standing up for this or
that sect or party, but in a supercilious superiority to all sects and
parties alike, and proscribing in one sweeping clause, all arts,
sciences, opinions, and pursuits but our own. Till the time of Locke
and Toland a general toleration was never dreamt of: it was thought
right on all hands to punish and discountenance heretics and
schismatics, but each party alternately claimed to be true Christians
and Orthodox believers. Daniel De Foe, who spent his whole life, and
wasted his strength, in asserting the right of the Dissenters to a
Toleration (and got nothing for his pains but the pillory), was
scandalised at the proposal of the general principle, and was equally
strenuous in excluding Quakers, Anabaptists, Socinians, Sceptics, and
all who did not agree in the _essentials_ of Christianity--that is,
who did not agree with him--from the benefit of such an indulgence to
tender consciences. We wonder at the cruelties formerly practised upon
the Jews: is there anything wonderful in it? They were at that time
the only people to make a butt and a bugbear of, to set up as a mark
of indignity, and as a foil to our self-love, for the _feræ naturæ_
principle that is within us, and always craving its prey to run down,
to worry and make sport of at discretion, and without mercy--the
unvarying uniformity and implicit faith of the Catholic Church had
imposed silence, and put a curb on our jarring dissensions,
heartburnings, and ill-blood, so that we had no pretence for
quarrelling among ourselves for the glory of God or the salvation of
men:--a JORDANUS BRUNO, an Atheist or sorcerer, once in a way, would
hardly suffice to stay the stomach of our theological rancour; we
therefore fell with might and main upon the Jews as a _forlorn hope_
in this dearth of objects of spite or zeal; or when the whole of
Europe was reconciled to the bosom of holy Mother Church, went to the
Holy Land in search of a difference of opinion, and a ground of mortal
offence: but no sooner was there a division of the Christian World,
than Papist fell on Protestants or Schismatics, and Schismatics upon
one another, with the same loving fury as they had before fallen upon
Turks and Jews. The disposition is always there, like a muzzled
mastiff; the pretext only is wanting; and this is furnished by a name,
which, as soon as it is affixed to different sects or parties, gives
us a licence, we think, to let loose upon them all our malevolence,
domineering humour, love of power, and wanton mischief, as if they
were of different species. The sentiment of the pious English Bishop
was good, who, on seeing a criminal led to execution, exclaimed,
'There goes my wicked self!'

If we look at common patriotism, it will furnish an illustration of
party spirit. One would think by an Englishman's hatred of the French,
and his readiness to die fighting with and for his countrymen, that
all the nation were united as one man, in heart and hand--and so they
are in war-time and as an exercise of their loyalty and courage: but
let the crisis be over, and they cool wonderfully; begin to feel the
distinctions of English, Irish, and Scotch; fall out among themselves
upon some minor distinction; the same hand that was eager to shed the
blood of a Frenchman, will not give a crust of bread or a cup of cold
water to a fellow countryman in distress; and the heroes who defended
the 'wooden walls of old England' are left to expose their wounds and
crippled limbs to gain a pittance from the passengers, or to perish of
hunger, cold, and neglect, in our highways. Such is the effect of our
boasted nationality: it is active, fierce in doing mischief; dormantly
lukewarm in doing good. We may also see why the greatest stress is
laid on trifles in religion, and why the most violent animosities
arise out of the smallest differences, either in this or in politics.

In the first place, it would never do to establish our superiority
over others by the acquisition of greater virtues, or by discarding
our vices; but it is charming to do this by merely repeating a
different formula of prayer, turning to the east instead of the west.
He should fight boldly for such a distinction, who is persuaded it
will furnish him a passport to the other world, and entitle him to
look down on the rest of his fellows as _given over to perdition_.
Secondly, we often hate those most with whom we have only a slight
shade of difference, whether in politics or religion; because as the
whole is a contest for precedence and infallibility, we find it more
difficult to draw the line of distinction where so many points are
conceded, and are staggered in our conviction by the arguments of
those whom we cannot despise as totally and incorrigibly in the wrong.
The High Church party in Queen Anne's time were disposed to sacrifice
the Low Church and Dissenters to the Papists, because they were more
galled by their arguments and disconcerted with their pretensions. In
private life the reverse of the foregoing holds good: that is, trades
and professions present a direct contrast to sects and parties. A
conformity in sentiment strengthens our party and opinion, but those
who have a similarity of pursuit, are rivals in interest; and hence
the old maxim, that _two of a trade can never agree_.




No young man believes he shall ever die. It was a saying of my
brother's, and a fine one. There is a feeling of Eternity in youth
which makes us amends for everything. To be young is to be as one of
the Immortals. One half of time indeed is spent--the other half
remains in store for us with all its countless treasures, for there is
no line drawn, and we see no limit to our hopes and wishes. We make
the coming age our own--

    'The vast, the unbounded prospect lies before us.'

Death, old age, are words without a meaning, a dream, a fiction, with
which we have nothing to do. Others may have undergone, or may still
undergo them--we 'bear a charmed life,' which laughs to scorn all such
idle fancies. As, in setting out on a delightful journey, we strain
our eager sight forward,

    'Bidding the lovely scenes at distance hail,'

and see no end to prospect after prospect, new objects presenting
themselves as we advance, so in the outset of life we see no end to
our desires nor to the opportunities of gratifying them. We have as
yet found no obstacle, no disposition to flag, and it seems that we
can go on so for ever. We look round in a new world, full of life and
motion, and ceaseless progress, and feel in ourselves all the vigour
and spirit to keep pace with it, and do not foresee from any present
signs how we shall be left behind in the race, decline into old age,
and drop into the grave. It is the simplicity and, as it were,
abstractedness of our feelings in youth that (so to speak) identifies
us with nature and (our experience being weak and our passions strong)
makes us fancy ourselves immortal like it. Our short-lived connection
with being, we fondly flatter ourselves, is an indissoluble and
lasting union. As infants smile and sleep, we are rocked in the cradle
of our desires, and hushed into fancied security by the roar of the
universe around us--we quaff the cup of life with eager thirst without
draining it, and joy and hope seem ever mantling to the brim--objects
press around us, filling the mind with their magnitude and with the
throng of desires that wait upon them, so that there is no room for
the thoughts of death. We are too much dazzled by the gorgeousness and
novelty of the bright waking dream about us to discern the dim shadow
lingering for us in the distance. Nor would the hold that life has
taken of us permit us to detach our thoughts that way, even if we
could. We are too much absorbed in present objects and pursuits. While
the spirit of youth remains unimpaired, ere 'the wine of life is
drunk,' we are like people intoxicated or in a fever, who are hurried
away by the violence of their own sensations: it is only as present
objects begin to pall upon the sense, as we have been disappointed in
our favourite pursuits, cut off from our closest ties, that we by
degrees become weaned from the world, that passion loosens its hold
upon futurity, and that we begin to contemplate as in a glass darkly
the possibility of parting with it for good. Till then, the example of
others has no effect upon us. Casualties we avoid; the slow approaches
of age we play at _hide and seek_ with. Like the foolish fat scullion
in Sterne, who hears that Master Bobby is dead, our only reflection
is, 'So am not I!' The idea of death, instead of staggering our
confidence, only seems to strengthen and enhance our sense of the
possession and enjoyment of life. Others may fall around us like
leaves, or be mowed down by the scythe of Time like grass: these are
but metaphors to the unreflecting, buoyant ears and overweening
presumption of youth. It is not till we see the flowers of Love, Hope,
and Joy withering around us, that we give up the flattering delusions
that before led us on, and that the emptiness and dreariness of the
prospect before us reconciles us hypothetically to the silence of the

Life is indeed a strange gift, and its privileges are most mysterious.
No wonder when it is first granted to us, that our gratitude, our
admiration, and our delight should prevent us from reflecting on our
own nothingness, or from thinking it will ever be recalled. Our first
and strongest impressions are borrowed from the mighty scene that is
opened to us, and we unconsciously transfer its durability as well as
its splendour to ourselves. So newly found, we cannot think of parting
with it yet, or at least put off that consideration _sine die_. Like a
rustic at a fair, we are full of amazement and rapture, and have no
thought of going home, or that it will soon be night. We know our
existence only by ourselves, and confound our knowledge with the
objects of it. We and Nature are therefore one. Otherwise the
illusion, the 'feast of reason and the flow of soul,' to which we are
invited, is a mockery and a cruel insult. We do not go from a play
till the last act is ended, and the lights are about to be
extinguished. But the fairy face of Nature still shines on: shall we
be called away before the curtain falls, or ere we have scarce had a
glimpse of what is going on? Like children, our step-mother Nature
holds us up to see the raree-show of the universe, and then, as if we
were a burden to her to support, lets us fall down again. Yet what
brave sublunary things does not this pageant present, like a ball or
_fête_ of the universe!

To see the golden sun, the azure sky, the outstretched ocean; to walk
upon the green earth, and be lord of a thousand creatures; to look
down yawning precipices or over distant sunny vales; to see the world
spread out under one's feet on a map; to bring the stars near; to view
the smallest insects through a microscope; to read history, and
consider the revolutions of empire and the successions of generations;
to hear of the glory of Tyre, of Sidon, of Babylon, and of Susa, and
to say all these were before me and are now nothing; to say I exist in
such a point of time, and in such a point of space; to be a spectator
and a part of its ever-moving scene; to witness the change of season,
of spring and autumn, of winter and summer; to feel hot and cold,
pleasure and pain, beauty and deformity, right and wrong; to be
sensible to the accidents of nature; to consider the mighty world of
eye and ear; to listen to the stock-dove's notes amid the forest deep;
to journey over moor and mountain; to hear the midnight sainted choir;
to visit lighted halls, or the cathedral's gloom, or sit in crowded
theatres and see life itself mocked; to study the works of art and
refine the sense of beauty to agony; to worship fame, and to dream of
immortality; to look upon the Vatican, and to read Shakspeare; to
gather up the wisdom of the ancients, and to pry into the future; to
listen to the trump of war, the shout of victory; to question history
as to the movements of the human heart; to seek for truth; to plead
the cause of humanity; to overlook the world as if time and nature
poured their treasures at our feet--to be and to do all this, and then
in a moment to be nothing--to have it all snatched from us as by a
juggler's trick, or a phantasmagoria! There is something in this
transition from all to nothing that shocks us and damps the enthusiasm
of youth new flushed with hope and pleasure, and we cast the
comfortless thought as far from us as we can. In the first enjoyment
of the state of life we discard the fear of debts and duns, and never
think of the final payment of our great debt to Nature. Art we know is
long; life, we flatter ourselves, should be so too. We see no end of
the difficulties and delays we have to encounter: perfection is slow
of attainment, and we must have time to accomplish it in. The fame of
the great names we look up to is immortal: and shall not we who
contemplate it imbibe a portion of ethereal fire, the _divinæ
particula auræ_, which nothing can extinguish? A wrinkle in Rembrandt
or in Nature takes whole days to resolve itself into its component
parts, its softenings and its sharpnesses; we refine upon our
perfections, and unfold the intricacies of nature. What a prospect for
the future! What a task have we not begun! And shall we be arrested in
the middle of it? We do not count our time thus employed lost, or our
pains thrown away; we do not flag or grow tired, but gain new vigour
at our endless task. Shall Time, then, grudge us to finish what we
have begun, and have formed a compact with Nature to do? Why not fill
up the blank that is left us in this manner? I have looked for hours
at a Rembrandt without being conscious of the flight of time, but with
ever new wonder and delight, have thought that not only my own but
another existence I could pass in the same manner. This rarefied,
refined existence seemed to have no end, nor stint, nor principle of
decay in it. The print would remain long after I who looked on it had
become the prey of worms. The thing seems in itself out of all reason:
health, strength, appetite are opposed to the idea of death, and we
are not ready to credit it till we have found our illusions vanished,
and our hopes grown cold. Objects in youth, from novelty, etc., are
stamped upon the brain with such force and integrity that one thinks
nothing can remove or obliterate them. They are riveted there, and
appear to us as an element of our nature. It must be a mere violence
that destroys them, not a natural decay. In the very strength of this
persuasion we seem to enjoy an age by anticipation. We melt down years
into a single moment of intense sympathy, and by anticipating the
fruits defy the ravages of time. If, then, a single moment of our
lives is worth years, shall we set any limits to its total value and
extent? Again, does it not happen that so secure do we think
ourselves of an indefinite period of existence, that at times, when
left to ourselves, and impatient of novelty, we feel annoyed at what
seems to us the slow and creeping progress of time, and argue that if
it always moves at this tedious snail's pace it will never come to an
end? How ready are we to sacrifice any space of time which separates
us from a favourite object, little thinking that before long we shall
find it move too fast.

For my part, I started in life with the French Revolution, and I have
lived, alas! to see the end of it. But I did not foresee this result.
My sun arose with the first dawn of liberty, and I did not think how
soon both must set. The new impulse to ardour given to men's minds
imparted a congenial warmth and glow to mine; we were strong to run a
race together, and I little dreamed that long before mine was set, the
sun of liberty would turn to blood, or set once more in the night of
despotism. Since then, I confess, I have no longer felt myself young,
for with that my hopes fell.

I have since turned my thoughts to gathering up some of the fragments
of my early recollections, and putting them into a form to which I
might occasionally revert. The future was barred to my progress, and I
turned for consolation and encouragement to the past. It is thus that,
while we find our personal and substantial identity vanishing from us,
we strive to gain a reflected and vicarious one in our thoughts: we do
not like to perish wholly, and wish to bequeath our names, at least,
to posterity. As long as we can make our cherished thoughts and
nearest interests live in the minds of others, we do not appear to
have retired altogether from the stage. We still occupy the breasts of
others, and exert an influence and power over them, and it is only our
bodies that are reduced to dust and powder. Our favourite speculations
still find encouragement, and we make as great a figure in the eye of
the world, or perhaps a greater, than in our lifetime. The demands of
our self-love are thus satisfied, and these are the most imperious and
unremitting. Besides, if by our intellectual superiority we survive
ourselves in this world, by our virtues and faith we may attain an
interest in another, and a higher state of being, and may thus be
recipients at the same time of men and of angels.

    'E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
    E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.'

As we grow old, our sense of the value of time becomes vivid. Nothing
else, indeed, seems of any consequence. We can never cease wondering
that that which has ever been should cease to be. We find many things
remain the same: why then should there be change in us. This adds a
convulsive grasp of whatever is, a sense of a fallacious hollowness in
all we see. Instead of the full, pulpy feeling of youth tasting
existence and every object in it, all is flat and vapid,--a whited
sepulchre, fair without but full of ravening and all uncleanness
within. The world is a witch that puts us off with false shows and
appearances. The simplicity of youth, the confiding expectation, the
boundless raptures, are gone: we only think of getting out of it as
well as we can, and without any great mischance or annoyance. The
flush of illusion, even the complacent retrospect of past joys and
hopes, is over: if we can slip out of life without indignity, can
escape with little bodily infirmity, and frame our minds to the calm
and respectable composure of _still-life_ before we return to physical
nothingness, it is as much as we can expect. We do not die wholly at
our deaths: we have mouldered away gradually long before. Faculty
after faculty, interest after interest, attachment after attachment
disappear: we are torn from ourselves while living, year after year
sees us no longer the same, and death only consigns the last fragment
of what we were to the grave. That we should wear out by slow stages,
and dwindle at last into nothing, is not wonderful, when even in our
prime our strongest impressions leave little trace but for the moment,
and we are the creatures of petty circumstance. How little effect is
made on us in our best days by the books we have read, the scenes we
have witnessed, the sensations we have gone through! Think only of the
feelings we experience in reading a fine romance (one of Sir Walter's,
for instance); what beauty, what sublimity, what interest, what
heart-rending emotions! You would suppose the feelings you then
experienced would last for ever, or subdue the mind to their own
harmony and tone: while we are reading it seems as if nothing could
ever put us out of our way, or trouble us:--the first splash of mud
that we get on entering the street, the first twopence we are cheated
out of, the feeling vanishes clean out of our minds, and we become the
prey of petty and annoying circumstance. The mind soars to the lofty:
it is at home in the grovelling, the disagreeable, and the little. And
yet we wonder that age should be feeble and querulous,--that the
freshness of youth should fade away. Both worlds would hardly satisfy
the extravagance of our desires and of our presumption.



    'Scared at the sound itself has made.'

Once asking a friend why he did not bring forward an explanation of a
circumstance, in which his conduct had been called in question, he
said, 'His friends were satisfied on the subject, and he cared very
little about the opinion of the world.' I made answer that I did not
consider this a good ground to rest his defence upon, for that a man's
friends seldom thought better of him than the world did. I see no
reason to alter this opinion. Our friends, indeed, are more apt than a
mere stranger to join in with, or be silent under any imputation
thrown out against us, because they are apprehensive they may be
indirectly implicated in it, and they are bound to betray us to save
their own credit. To judge of our jealousy, our sensibility, our high
notions of responsibility, on this score, only consider if a single
individual lets fall a solitary remark implying a doubt of the wit,
the sense, the courage of a friend--how it staggers us--how it makes
us shake with fear--how it makes us call up all our eloquence and airs
of self-consequence in his defence, lest our partiality should be
supposed to have blinded our perceptions, and we should be regarded as
the dupes of a mistaken admiration. We already begin to meditate an
escape from a losing cause, and try to find out some other fault in
the character under discussion, to show that we are not behind-hand
(if the truth must be spoken) in sagacity, and a sense of the
ridiculous. If, then, this is the case with the first flaw, the first
doubt, the first speck that dims the sun of friendship, so that we are
ready to turn our backs on our sworn attachments and well-known
professions the instant we have not all the world with us, what must
it be when we have all the world against us; when our friend, instead
of a single stain, is covered with mud from head to foot; how shall we
expect our feeble voices not to be drowned in the general clamour? how
shall we dare to oppose our partial and mis-timed suffrages to the
just indignation of the public? Or if it should not amount to this,
how shall we answer the silence and contempt with which his name is
received. How shall we animate the great mass of indifference or
distrust with our private enthusiasm? how defeat the involuntary
smile, or the suppressed sneer, with the burst of generous feeling and
the glow of honest conviction? It is a thing not to be thought of,
unless we would enter into a crusade against prejudice and malignity,
devote ourselves as martyrs to friendship, raise a controversy in
every company we go into, quarrel with every person we meet, and after
making ourselves and every one else uncomfortable, leave off, not by
clearing our friend's reputation, but by involving our own pretensions
to decency and common sense. People will not fail to observe that a
man may have his reasons for his faults or vices; but that for another
to volunteer a defence of them, is without excuse. It is, in fact, an
attempt to deprive them of the great and only benefit they derive from
the supposed errors of their neighbours and contemporaries--the
pleasure of backbiting and railing at them, which they call _seeing
justice done_. It is not a single breath of rumour or opinion; but the
whole atmosphere is infected with a sort of aguish taint of anger and
suspicion, that relaxes the nerves of fidelity, and makes our most
sanguine resolutions sicken and turn pale; and he who is proof against
it, must either be armed with a love of truth, or a contempt for
mankind, which places him out of the reach of ordinary rules and
calculations. For myself, I do not shrink from defending a cause or a
friend _under a cloud_; though in neither case will cheap or common
efforts suffice. But, in the first, you merely stand up for your own
judgment and principles against fashion and prejudice, and thus assume
a sort of manly and heroic attitude of defiance: in the last (which
makes it a matter of greater nicety and nervous sensibility), you
sneak behind another to throw your gauntlet at the whole world, and it
requires a double stock of stoical firmness not to be laughed out of
your boasted zeal and independence as a romantic and _amiable

There is nothing in which all the world agree but in running down some
obnoxious individual. It may be supposed that this is not for nothing,
and that they have good reasons for what they do. On the contrary, I
will undertake to say, that so far from there being invariably just
grounds for such an universal outcry, the universality of the outcry
is often the only ground of the opinion; and that it is purposely
raised upon this principle, that all other proof or evidence against
the person meant to be run down is wanting. Nay, further, it may
happen, that while the clamour is at the loudest; while you hear it
from all quarters; while it blows a perfect hurricane; while 'the
world rings with the vain stir'--not one of those who are most eager
in hearing and echoing knows what it is about, or is not fully
persuaded that the charge is equally false, malicious, and absurd. It
is like the wind, that 'no man knoweth whence it cometh, or whither it
goeth.' It is _vox et præterea nihil_. What, then, is it that gives it
its confident circulation and its irresistible force. It is the
loudness of the organ with which it is pronounced, the stentorian
lungs of the multitude; the number of voices that take it up and
repeat it, because others have done so; the rapid flight and the
impalpable nature of common fame, that makes it a desperate
undertaking for any individual to inquire into or arrest the mischief
that, in the deafening buzz or loosened roar of laughter or
indignation, renders it impossible for the still small voice of reason
to be heard, and leaves no other course to honesty or prudence than to
fall flat on the face before it, as before the pestilential blast of
the desert, and wait till it has passed over. Thus every one joins in
asserting, propagating, and in outwardly approving what every one, in
his private and unbiassed judgment, believes and knows to be
scandalous and untrue. For every one in such circumstances keeps his
own opinion to himself, and only attends to or acts upon that which he
conceives to be the opinion of every one but himself. So that public
opinion is not seldom a farce, equal to any acted upon the stage. Not
only is it spurious and hollow in the way that Mr. Locke points out,
by one man's taking up at second hand the opinion of another, but
worse than this, one man takes up what he believes another _will_
think, and which the latter professes only because he believes it held
by the first! All, therefore, that is necessary to control public
opinion, is to gain possession of some organ loud and lofty enough to
make yourself heard, that has power and interest on its side; and
then, no sooner do you blow a blast in this trump of _ill-fame_, like
the horn hung up on an old castle-wall, than you are answered, echoed,
and accredited on all sides: the gates are thrown open to receive you,
and you are admitted into the very heart of the fortress of public
opinion, and can assail from the ramparts with every engine of abuse,
and with privileged impunity, all those who may come forward to
vindicate the truth, or to rescue their good name from the
unprincipled keeping of authority, servility, sophistry, and venal
falsehood! The only thing wanted is to give an alarm--to excite a
panic in the public mind of being left _in the lurch_, and the rabble
(whether in the ranks of literature or war) will throw away their
arms, and surrender at discretion to any bully or impostor who, for a
_consideration_, shall choose to try the experiment upon them!

What I have here described is the effect even upon the candid and
well-disposed: what must it be to the malicious and idle, who are
eager to believe all the ill they can hear of every one; or to the
prejudiced and interested, who are determined to credit all the ill
they hear against those who are not of their own side? To these last
it is only requisite to be understood that the butt of ridicule or
slander is of an opposite party, and they presently give you _carte
blanche_ to say what you please of him. Do they know that it is true?
No; but they believe what all the world says, till they have evidence
to the contrary. Do you prove that it is false? They dare say, that if
not that something worse remains behind; and they retain the same
opinion as before, for the honour of their party. They hire some one
to pelt you with mud, and then affect to avoid you in the street as a
dirty fellow. They are told that you have a hump on your back, and
then wonder at your assurance or want of complaisance in walking into
a room where they are, without it. Instead of apologising for the
mistake, and, from finding one aspersion false, doubting all the rest,
they are only the more confirmed in the remainder from being deprived
of one handle against you, and resent their disappointment, instead of
being ashamed of their credulity. People talk of the bigotry of the
Catholics, and treat with contempt the absurd claim of the Popes to
infallibility--I think with little right to do so. Walk into a church
in Paris, you are struck with a number of idle forms and ceremonies,
the chanting of the service in Latin, the shifting of the surplices,
the sprinkling of holy water, the painted windows 'casting a dim
religious light,' the wax tapers, the pealing organ: the common people
seem attentive and devout, and to put entire faith in all this--Why?
Because they imagine others to do so; they see and hear certain signs
and supposed evidences of it, and it amuses and fills up the void of
the mind, the love of the mysterious and wonderful, to lend their
assent to it. They have assuredly, in general, no better reason--all
our Protestant divines will tell you so. Well, step out of the church
of St. Roche, and drop into an English reading-room hard by: what are
you the better? You see a dozen or score of your countrymen with their
faces fixed, and their eyes glued to a newspaper, a magazine, a
review--reading, swallowing, profoundly ruminating on the lie, the
cant, the sophism of the day! Why? It saves them the trouble of
thinking; it gratifies their ill-humour, and keeps off _ennui_! Does a
gleam of doubt, an air of ridicule, or a glance of impatience pass
across their features at the shallow and monstrous things they find?
No, it is all passive faith and dull security; they cannot take their
eyes from the page, they cannot live without it. They believe in their
adopted oracle (you see it in their faces) as implicitly as in Sir
John Barleycorn, as in a sirloin of beef, as in quarter-day--as they
hope to receive their rents, or to see Old England again! Are not the
Popes, the Fathers, the Councils, as good as their oracles and
champions? They know the paper before them to be a hoax, but do they
believe in the ribaldry, the calumny, the less on that account? They
believe the more in it, because it is got up solely and expressly to
serve a cause that needs such support--and they swear by whatever is
devoted to this object.

The greater the profligacy, the effrontery, the servility, the greater
the faith. Strange! That the British public, whether at home or
abroad, should shake their heads at the Lady of Loretto, and repose
deliciously on Mr. Theodore Hook. It may well be thought that the
enlightened part of the British public, persons of family and
fortunes, who have had a college education, and received the benefit
of foreign travel, see through the quackery, which they encourage for
a political purpose, without being themselves the dupes of it. This
scarcely mends the matter. Suppose an individual, of whom it has been
repeatedly asserted that he has warts on his nose, were to enter the
reading-room aforesaid, is there a single red-faced country squire who
would not be surprised at not finding this story true, would not
persuade himself five minutes after that he could not have seen
correctly, or that some art had been used to conceal the defects, or
would be led to doubt, from this instance, the general candour and
veracity of his oracle? He would disbelieve his own senses rather.
Seeing is believing, it is said: lying is believing, I say. We do not
even see with our own eyes, but must 'wink and shut our apprehension
up,' that we may be able to agree to the report of others, as a piece
of good manners and a point of established etiquette. Besides, the
supposed deformity answered his wishes, the abuse fed fat the ancient
grudge he owed some presumptuous scribbler, for not agreeing in a
number of points with his betters; it gave him a personal advantage
over a man he did not like--and who will give up what tends to
strengthen his aversion for another? To Tory prejudice, dire as it
is--to English imagination, morbid as it is, a nickname, a ludicrous
epithet, a malignant falsehood, when it has been once propagated and
taken to the bosom as a welcome consolation, becomes a precious
property, a vested right; and people would as soon give up a sinecure,
or a share in a close borough, as this sort of plenary indulgence to
speak and think with contempt of those who would abolish the one, or
throw open the other. Party-spirit is the best reason in the world for
personal antipathy and vulgar abuse.

'But, do you not think, Sir' (some dialectician may ask), 'that belief
is involuntary, and that we judge in all cases according to the
precise degree of evidence and the positive facts before us?'

No, Sir.

'You believe, then, in the doctrine of philosophical free-will?'

Indeed, Sir, I do not.

'How then, Sir, am I to understand so unaccountable a diversity of
opinion from the most approved writers on the philosophy of the human

May I ask, my dear Sir, did you ever read Mr. Wordsworth's poem of

'I cannot charge my memory with the fact.'

Well, Sir, this Michael is an old shepherd, who has a son who goes to
sea, and who turns out a great reprobate, by all the accounts received
of him. Before he went, however, the father took the boy with him into
a mountain-glen, and made him lay the first stone of a sheep-fold,
which was to be a covenant and a remembrance between them if anything
ill happened. For years after, the old man used to go and work at the

                  'Among the rocks
    He went, and still look'd up upon the sun,
    And listen'd to the wind,'

and sat by the half-finished work, expecting the lad's return, or
hoping to hear some better tidings of him. Was this hope founded on
reason--or was it not owing to the strength of affection, which in
spite of everything could not relinquish its hold of a favourite
object, indeed the only one that bound it to existence?

Not being able to make my dialectician answer kindly to
interrogatories, I must get on without him. In matters of absolute
demonstration and speculative indifferences, I grant, that belief is
involuntary, and the proof not to be resisted; but then, in such
matters, there is no difference of opinion, or the difference is
adjusted amicably and rationally. Hobbes is of opinion, that if their
passions or interests could be implicated in the question, men would
deny stoutly that the three angles of a right-angled triangle are
equal to two right ones: and the disputes in religion look something
like it. I only contend, however, that in all cases not of this
peremptory and determinate cast, and where disputes commonly arise,
inclination, habit, and example have a powerful share in throwing in
the casting-weight to our opinions, and that he who is only tolerably
free from these, and not their regular dupe or slave, is indeed 'a man
of ten thousand.' Take, for instance, the example of a Catholic
clergyman in a Popish country: it will generally be found that he
lives and dies in the faith in which he was brought up, as the
Protestant clergyman does in his--shall we say that the necessity of
gaining a livelihood, or the prospect of preferment, that the early
bias given to his mind by education and study, the pride of victory,
the shame of defeat, the example and encouragement of all about him,
the respect and love of his flock, the flattering notice of the great,
have no effect in giving consistency to his opinions and carrying them
through to the last? Yet, who will suppose that in either case this
apparent uniformity is mere hypocrisy, or that the intellects of the
two classes of divines are naturally adapted to the arguments in
favour of the two religions they have occasion to profess? No; but the
understanding takes a tincture from outward impulses and
circumstances, and is led to dwell on those suggestions which favour,
and to blind itself to the objections which impugn, the side to which
it previously and morally inclines. Again, even in those who oppose
established opinions, and form the little, firm, formidable phalanx of
dissent, have not early instruction, spiritual pride, the love of
contradiction, a resistance to usurped authority, as much to do with
keeping up the war of sects and schisms as the abstract love of truth
or conviction of the understanding? Does not persecution fan the flame
in such fiery tempers, and does it not expire, or grow lukewarm, with
indulgence and neglect? I have a sneaking kindness for a Popish
priest in this country; and to a Catholic peer I would willingly bow
in passing. What are national antipathies, individual attachments, but
so many expressions of the _moral_ principle in forming our opinions?
All our opinions become grounds on which we act, and build our
expectations of good or ill; and this good or ill mixed up with them
is soon changed into the ruling principle which modifies or violently
supersedes the original cool determination of the reason and senses.
The will, when it once gets a footing, turns the sober judgment out of
doors. If we form an attachment to any one, are we not slow in giving
it up? Or, if our suspicions are once excited, are we not equally rash
and violent in believing the worst? Othello characterises himself as

    ----'That loved not wisely, but too well;
    Of one not easily jealous--but, being wrought,
    Perplex'd in the extreme.'

And this answers to the movements and irregularities of passion and
opinion which take place in human nature. If we wish a thing we are
disposed to believe it: if we have been accustomed to believe it, we
are the more obstinate in defending it on that account: if all the
world differ from us in any question of moment, we are ashamed to own
it; or are hurried by peevishness and irritation into extravagance and
paradox. The weight of example presses upon us (whether we feel it or
not) like the law of gravitation. He who sustains his opinion by the
strength of conviction and evidence alone, unmoved by ridicule,
neglect, obloquy, or privation, shows no less resolution than the
Hindoo who makes and keeps a vow to hold his right arm in the air till
it grows rigid and callous.

To have all the world against us is trying to a man's temper and
philosophy. It unhinges even our opinion of our own motives and
intentions. It is like striking the actual world from under our feet:
the void that is left, the death-like pause, the chilling suspense, is
fearful. The growth of an opinion is like the growth of a limb; it
receives its actual support and nourishment from the general body of
the opinions, feelings, and practice of the world; without that, it
soon withers, festers, and becomes useless. To what purpose write a
good book, if it is sure to be pronounced a bad one, even before it is
read? If our thoughts are to be blown stifling back upon ourselves,
why utter them at all? It is only exposing what we love most to
contumely and insult, and thus depriving ourselves of our own relish
and satisfaction in them. Language is only made to communicate our
sentiments, and if we can find no one to receive them, we are reduced
to the silence of dumbness, we live but in the solitude of a dungeon.
If we do not vindicate our opinions, we seem poor creatures who have
no right to them; if we speak out, we are involved in continual brawls
and controversy. If we contemn what others admire, we make ourselves
odious; if we admire what they despise, we are equally ridiculous. We
have not the applause of the world nor the support of a party; we can
neither enjoy the freedom of social intercourse, nor the calm of
privacy. With our respect for others, we lose confidence in ourselves:
everything seems to be a subject of litigation--to want proof or
confirmation; we doubt, by degrees, whether we stand on our head or
our heels--whether we know our right hand from our left. If I am
assured that I never wrote a sentence of common English in my life,
how can I know that this is not the case? If I am told at one time
that my writings are as heavy as lead, and at another, that they are
more light and flimsy than the gossamer--what resource have I but to
choose between the two? I could say, if this were the place, what
those writings are.--'Make it the place, and never stand upon

They are not, then, so properly the works of an author by profession,
as the thoughts of a metaphysician expressed by a painter. They are
subtle and difficult problems translated into hieroglyphics. I
thought for several years on the hardest subjects, on Fate, Free-will,
Foreknowledge absolute, without ever making use of words or images at
all, and that has made them come in such throngs and confused heaps
when I burst from that void of abstraction. In proportion to the
tenuity to which my ideas had been drawn, and my abstinence from
ornament and sensible objects, was the tenaciousness with which actual
circumstances and picturesque imagery laid hold of my mind, when I
turned my attention to them, or had to look round for illustrations.
Till I began to paint, or till I became acquainted with the author of
_The Ancient Mariner_, I could neither write nor speak. He encouraged
me to write a book, which I did according to the original bent of my
mind, making it as dry and meagre as I could, so that it fell
still-born from the press, and none of those who abuse me for a
shallow _catch-penny_ writer have so much as heard of it. Yet, let me
say, that work contains an important metaphysical discovery, supported
by a continuous and severe train of reasoning, nearly as subtle and
original as anything in Hume or Berkeley. I am not accustomed to speak
of myself in this manner, but impudence may provoke modesty to justify
itself. Finding this method did not answer, I despaired for a time;
but some trifle I wrote in the _Morning Chronicle_, meeting the
approbation of the editor and the town, I resolved to turn over a new
leaf--to take the public at its word, to muster all the tropes and
figures I could lay hands on, and, though I am a plain man, never to
appear abroad but in an embroidered dress. Still, old habits will
prevail; and I hardly ever set about a paragraph or a criticism, but
there was an undercurrent of thought, or some generic distinction on
which the whole turned. Having got my clue, I had no difficulty in
stringing pearls upon it; and the more recondite the point, the more I
laboured to bring it out and set it off by a variety of ornaments and
allusions. This puzzled the scribes whose business it was to crush me.
They could not see the meaning: they would not see the colouring, for
it hurt their eyes. One cried out, it was dull; another, that it was
too fine by half: my friends took up this last alternative as the most
favourable; and since then it has been agreed that I am a florid
writer, somewhat flighty and paradoxical. Yet, when I wished to
unburthen my mind in the _Edinburgh_ by an article on English
metaphysics, the editor, who echoes this _florid_ charge, said he
preferred what I wrote for effect, and was afraid of its being thought
heavy! I have accounted for the flowers; the paradoxes may be
accounted for in the same way. All abstract reasoning is in extremes,
or only takes up one view of a question, or what is called the
principle of the thing; and if you want to give this popularity and
effect, you are in danger of running into extravagance and hyperbole.
I have had to bring out some obscure distinction, or to combat some
strong prejudice, and in doing this with all my might, may have often
overshot the mark. It was easy to correct the excess of truth
afterwards. I have been accused of inconsistency, for writing an
essay, for instance, on the _Advantages of Pedantry_, and another on
the _Ignorance of the Learned_, as if ignorance had not its comforts
as well as knowledge. The personalities I have fallen into have never
been gratuitous. If I have sacrificed my friends, it has always been
to a theory. I have been found fault with for repeating myself, and
for a narrow range of ideas. To a want of general reading, I plead
guilty, and am sorry for it; but perhaps if I had read more, I might
have thought less. As to my barrenness of invention, I have at least
glanced over a number of subjects--painting, poetry, prose, plays,
politics, parliamentary speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men, and
things. There is some point, some fancy, some feeling, some taste,
shown in treating of these. Which of my conclusions has been reversed?
Is it what I said ten years ago of the Bourbons which raised the
war-whoop against me? Surely all the world are of that opinion now. I
have, then, given proofs of some talent, and of more honesty: if
there is haste or want of method, there is no commonplace, nor a line
that licks the dust; and if I do not appear to more advantage, I at
least appear such as I am. If the Editor of the _Atlas_ will do me the
favour to look over my _Essay on the Principles of Human Action_, will
dip into any essay I ever wrote, and will take a sponge and clear the
dust from the face of my _Old Woman_, I hope he will, upon second
thoughts, acquit me of an absolute dearth of resources and want of
versatility in the direction of my studies.



[6] The only friends whom we defend with zeal and obstinacy are our
relations. They seem part of ourselves. For our other friends we are
only answerable, so long as we countenance them; and therefore cut the
connection as soon as possible. But who ever willingly gave up the
good dispositions of a child or the honour of a parent?



    'Ha! here's three of us are sophisticated.'--Lear.

'If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes!' said the Macedonian
hero; and the cynic might have retorted the compliment upon the prince
by saying, that, 'were he not Diogenes, he would be Alexander!' This
is the universal exception, the invariable reservation that our
self-love makes, the utmost point at which our admiration or envy ever
arrives--to wish, if we were not ourselves, to be some other
individual. No one ever wishes to be another, _instead_ of himself. We
may feel a desire to change places with others--to have one man's
fortune--another's health or strength--his wit or learning, or
accomplishments of various kinds--

    'Wishing to be like one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope';

but we would still be ourselves, to possess and enjoy all these, or we
would not give a doit for them. But, on this supposition, what in
truth should we be the better for them? It is not we, but another,
that would reap the benefit; and what do we care about that other? In
that case, the present owner might as well continue to enjoy them.
_We_ should not be gainers by the change. If the meanest beggar who
crouches at a palace gate, and looks up with awe and suppliant fear to
the proud inmate as he passes, could be put in possession of all the
finery, the pomp, the luxury, and wealth that he sees and envies, on
the sole condition of getting rid, together with his rags and misery,
of all recollection that there ever was such a wretch as himself, he
would reject the proffered boon with scorn. He might be glad to change
situations; but he would insist on keeping his own thoughts, to
_compare notes_, and point the transition by the force of contrast. He
would not, on any account, forego his self-congratulation on the
unexpected accession of good fortune, and his escape from past
suffering. All that excites his cupidity, his envy, his repining or
despair, is the alternative of some great good to himself; and if, in
order to attain that object, he is to part with his own existence to
take that of another, he can feel no farther interest in it. This is
the language both of passion and reason.

Here lies 'the rub that makes calamity of so long life': for it is not
barely the apprehension of the ills that 'in that sleep of death may
come,' but also our ignorance and indifference to the promised good,
that produces our repugnance and backwardness to quit the present
scene. No man, if he had his choice, would be the angel Gabriel
to-morrow! What is the angel Gabriel to him but a splendid vision? He
might as well have an ambition to be turned into a bright cloud, or a
particular star. The interpretation of which is, he can have no
sympathy with the angel Gabriel. Before he can be transformed into so
bright and ethereal an essence, he must necessarily 'put off this
mortal coil'--be divested of all his old habits, passions, thoughts,
and feelings--to be endowed with other attributes, lofty and beatific,
of which he has no notion; and, therefore, he would rather remain a
little longer in this mansion of clay, which, with all its flaws,
inconveniences, and perplexities, contains all that he has any real
knowledge of, or any affection for. When, indeed, he is about to quit
it in spite of himself and has no other chance left to escape the
darkness of the tomb he may then have no objection (making a virtue of
necessity) to put on angel's wings, to have radiant locks, to wear a
wreath of amaranth, and thus to masquerade it in the skies.

It is an instance of the truthful beauty of the ancient mythology,
that the various transmutations it recounts are never voluntary, or of
favourable omen, but are interposed as a timely release to those who,
driven on by fate, and urged to the last extremity of fear or anguish,
are turned into a flower, a plant, an animal, a star, a precious
stone, or into some object that may inspire pity or mitigate our
regret for their misfortunes. Narcissus was transformed into a flower;
Daphne into a laurel; Arethusa into a fountain (by the favour of the
gods)--but not till no other remedy was left for their despair. It is
a sort of smiling cheat upon death, and graceful compromise with
annihilation. It is better to exist by proxy, in some softened type
and soothing allegory, than not at all--to breathe in a flower or
shine in a constellation, than to be utterly forgot; but no one would
change his natural condition (if he could help it) for that of a bird,
an insect, a beast, or a fish, however delightful their mode of
existence, or however enviable he might deem their lot compared to his
own. Their thoughts are not our thoughts--their happiness is not our
happiness; nor can we enter into it, except with a passing smile of
approbation, or as a refinement of fancy. As the poet sings:

    'What more felicity can fall to creature
      Than to enjoy delight with liberty,
    And to be lord of all the works of nature?
      To reign in the air from earth to highest sky;
    To feed on flowers and weeds of glorious feature;
      To taste whatever thing doth please the eye?--
    Who rests not pleased with such happiness,
    Well worthy he to taste of wretchedness!'

This is gorgeous description and fine declamation: yet who would be
found to act upon it, even in the forming of a wish; or would not
rather be the thrall of wretchedness, than launch out (by the aid of
some magic spell) into all the delights of such a butterfly state of
existence? The French (if any people can) may be said to enjoy this
airy, heedless gaiety and unalloyed exuberance of satisfaction: yet
what Englishman would deliberately change with them? We would sooner
be miserable after our own fashion than happy after theirs. It is not
happiness, then, in the abstract, which we seek, that can be addressed

    'That something still that prompts th' eternal sigh,
    For which we wish to live or dare to die,'

but a happiness suited to our tastes and faculties--that has become a
part of ourselves, by habit and enjoyment--that is endeared to us by a
thousand recollections, privations, and sufferings. No one, then,
would willingly change his country or his kind for the most plausible
pretences held out to him. The most humiliating punishment inflicted
in ancient fable is the change of sex: not that it was any degradation
in itself--but that it must occasion a total derangement of the moral
economy and confusion of the sense of personal propriety. The thing is
said to have happened _au sens contraire_, in our time. The story is
to be met with in 'very choice Italian'; and Lord D---- tells it in
very plain English!

We may often find ourselves envying the possessions of others, and
sometimes inadvertently indulging a wish to change places with them
altogether; but our self-love soon discovers some excuse to be off the
bargain we were ready to strike, and retracts 'vows made in haste, as
violent and void.' We might make up our minds to the alteration in
every other particular; but, when it comes to the point, there is sure
to be some trait or feature of character in the object of our
admiration to which we cannot reconcile ourselves--some favourite
quality or darling foible of our own, with which we can by no means
resolve to part. The more enviable the situation of another, the more
entirely to our taste, the more reluctant we are to leave any part of
ourselves behind that would be so fully capable of appreciating all
the exquisiteness of its new situation, or not to enter into the
possession of such an imaginary reversion of good fortune with all our
previous inclinations and sentiments. The outward circumstances were
fine: they only wanted a _soul_ to enjoy them, and that soul is ours
(as the costly ring wants the peerless jewel to perfect and set it
off). The humble prayer and petition to sneak into visionary felicity
by personal adoption, or the surrender of our own personal
pretentions, always ends in a daring project of usurpation, and a
determination to expel the actual proprietor, and supply his place so
much more worthily with our own identity--not bating a single jot of
it. Thus, in passing through a fine collection of pictures, who has
not envied the privilege of visiting it every day, and wished to be
the owner? But the rising sigh is soon checked, and 'the native hue of
emulation is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,' when we
come to ask ourselves, not merely whether the owner has any taste at
all for these splendid works, and does not look upon them as so much
expensive furniture, like his chairs and tables--but whether he has
the same precise (and only true) taste that we have--whether he has
the very same favourites that we have--whether he may not be so blind
as to prefer a Vandyke to a Titian, a Ruysdael to a Claude; nay,
whether he may not have other pursuits and avocations that draw off
his attention from the sole objects of our idolatry, and which seem to
us mere impertinences and waste of time? In that case, we at once lose
all patience, and exclaim indignantly, 'Give us back our taste, and
keep your pictures!' It is not we who should envy them the possession
of the treasure, but they who should envy us the true and exclusive
enjoyment of it. A similar train of feeling seems to have dictated
Warton's spirited _Sonnet on visiting Wilton House_:

    'From Pembroke's princely dome, where mimic art
    Decks with a magic hand the dazzling bowers,
    Its living hues where the warm pencil pours,
    And breathing forms from the rude marble start,
    How to life's humbler scene can I depart?
    My breast all glowing from those gorgeous towers,
    In my low cell how cheat the sullen hours?
    Vain the complaint! For fancy can impart
    (To fate superior and to fortune's power)
    Whate'er adorns the stately storied-hall:
    She, 'mid the dungeon's solitary gloom,
    Can dress the Graces in their attic-pall;
    Did the green landscape's vernal beauty bloom;
    And in bright trophies clothe the twilight wall.'

One sometimes passes by a gentleman's park, an old family-seat, with
its moss-grown, ruinous paling, its 'glades mild-opening to the genial
day,' or embrowned with forest-trees. Here one would be glad to spend
one's life, 'shut up in measureless content,' and to grow old beneath
ancestral oaks, instead of gaining a precarious, irksome, and despised
livelihood, by indulging romantic sentiments, and writing disjointed
descriptions of them. The thought has scarcely risen to the lips, when
we learn that the owner of so blissful a seclusion is a thoroughbred
fox-hunter, a preserver of the game, a brawling electioneerer, a Tory
member of parliament, a 'No-Popery' man!--'I'd sooner be a dog, and
bay the moon!' Who would be Sir Thomas Lethbridge for his title and
estate? asks one man. But would not almost any one wish to be Sir
Francis Burdett, the man of the people, the idol of the electors of
Westminster? says another. I can only answer for myself. Respectable
and honest as he is, there is something in his white boots, and white
breeches, and white coat, and white hair, and white hat, and red face,
that I cannot, by any effort of candour, confound my personal identity
with! If Mr. ---- can prevail on Sir Francis to exchange, let him do
so by all means. Perhaps they might contrive to _club_ a soul between
them! Could I have had my will, I should have been born a lord: but
one would not be a booby lord neither. I am haunted by an odd fancy of
driving down the Great North Road in a chaise and four, about fifty
years ago, and coming to the inn at Ferry-bridge with outriders,
white favours, and a coronet on the panels; and then, too, I choose
my companion in the coach. Really there is a witchcraft in all this
that makes it necessary to turn away from it, lest, in the conflict
between imagination and impossibility, I should grow feverish and
light-headed! But, on the other hand, if one was a born lord, should
one have the same idea (that every one else has) of _a peeress in her
own right_? Is not distance, giddy elevation, mysterious awe, an
impassable gulf, necessary to form this idea in the mind, that fine
ligament of 'ethereal braid, sky-woven,' that lets down heaven upon
earth, fair as enchantment, soft as Berenice's hair, bright and
garlanded like Ariadne's crown; and is it not better to have had this
idea all through life--to have caught but glimpses of it, to have
known it but in a dream--than to have been born a lord ten times over,
with twenty pampered menials at one's beck, and twenty descents to
boast of? It is the envy of certain privileges, the sharp privations
we have undergone, the cutting neglect we have met with from the want
of birth or title that gives its zest to the distinction: the thing
itself may be indifferent or contemptible enough. It is the _becoming_
a lord that is to be desired; but he who becomes a lord in reality may
be an upstart--a mere pretender, without the sterling essence; so that
all that is of any worth in this supposed transition is purely
imaginary and impossible.[7] Kings are so accustomed to look down on
all the rest of the world, that they consider the condition of
mortality as vile and intolerable, if stripped of royal state, and cry
out in the bitterness of their despair, 'Give me a crown, or a tomb!'
It should seem from this as if all mankind would change with the
first crowned head that could propose the alternative, or that it
would be only the presumption of the supposition, or a sense of their
own unworthiness, that would deter them. Perhaps there is not a single
throne that, if it was to be filled by this sort of voluntary
metempsychosis, would not remain empty. Many would, no doubt, be glad
to 'monarchise, be feared, and kill with looks' in their own persons
and after their own fashion: but who would be the _double_ of those
shadows of a shade--those 'tenth transmitters of a foolish
face'--Charles X. and Ferdinand VII.? If monarchs have little sympathy
with mankind, mankind have even less with monarchs. They are merely to
us a sort of state-puppets, or royal wax-work, which we may gaze at
with superstitious wonder, but have no wish to become; and he who
should meditate such a change must not only feel by anticipation an
utter contempt for the _slough_ of humanity which he is prepared to
cast, but must feel an absolute void and want of attraction in those
lofty and incomprehensible sentiments which are to supply its place.
With respect to actual royalty, the spell is in a great measure
broken. But, among ancient monarchs, there is no one, I think, who
envies Darius or Xerxes. One has a different feeling with respect to
Alexander or Pyrrhus; but this is because they were great men as well
as great kings, and the soul is up in arms at the mention of their
names as at the sound of a trumpet. But as to all the rest--those 'in
the catalogue who go for kings'--the praying, eating, drinking,
dressing monarchs of the earth, in time past or present--one would as
soon think of wishing to personate the Golden Calf, or to turn out
with Nebuchadnezzar to graze, as to be transformed into one of that
'swinish multitude.' There is no point of affinity. The extrinsic
circumstances are imposing; but, within, there is nothing but morbid
humours and proud flesh! Some persons might vote for Charlemagne; and
there are others who would have no objection to be the modern
Charlemagne, with all he inflicted and suffered, even after the
necromantic field of Waterloo, and the bloody wreath on the vacant
brow of the conqueror, and that fell jailer, set over him by a craven
foe, that 'glared round his soul, and mocked his closing eyelids!'

It has been remarked, that could we at pleasure change our situation
in life, more persons would be found anxious to descend than to ascend
in the scale of society. One reason may be, that we have it more in
our power to do so; and this encourages the thought, and makes it
familiar to us. A second is, that we naturally wish to throw off the
cares of state, of fortune or business, that oppress us, and to seek
repose before we find it in the grave. A third reason is, that, as we
descend to common life, the pleasures are simple, natural, such as all
can enter into, and therefore excite a general interest, and combine
all suffrages. Of the different occupations of life, none is beheld
with a more pleasing emotion, or less aversion to a change for our
own, than that of a shepherd tending his flock: the pastoral ages have
been the envy and the theme of all succeeding ones; and a beggar with
his crutch is more closely allied than the monarch and his crown to
the associations of mirth and heart's-ease. On the other hand, it must
be admitted that our pride is too apt to prefer grandeur to happiness;
and that our passions make us envy great vices oftener than great

The world show their sense in nothing more than in a distrust and
aversion to those changes of situation which only tend to make the
successful candidates ridiculous, and which do not carry along with
them a mind adequate to the circumstances. The common people, in this
respect, are more shrewd and judicious than their superiors, from
feeling their own awkwardness and incapacity, and often decline, with
an instinctive modesty, the troublesome honours intended for them.
They do not overlook their original defects so readily as others
overlook their acquired advantages. It is not wonderful, therefore,
that opera-singers and dancers refuse or only _condescend_ as it
were, to accept lords, though the latter are too often fascinated by
them. The fair performer knows (better than her unsuspecting admirer)
how little connection there is between the dazzling figure she makes
on the stage and that which she may make in private life, and is in no
hurry to convert 'the drawing-room into a Green-room.' The nobleman
(supposing him not to be very wise) is astonished at the miraculous
powers of art in

    'The fair, the chaste, the inexpressive _she_';

and thinks such a paragon must easily conform to the routine of
manners and society which every trifling woman of quality of his
acquaintance, from sixteen to sixty, goes through without effort. This
is a hasty or a wilful conclusion. Things of habit only come by habit,
and inspiration here avails nothing. A man of fortune who marries an
actress for her fine performance of tragedy, has been well compared to
the person who bought Punch. The lady is not unfrequently aware of the
inconsequentiality, and unwilling to be put on the shelf, and hid in
the nursery of some musty country mansion. Servant girls, of any sense
and spirit, treat their masters (who make serious love to them) with
suitable contempt. What is it but a proposal to drag an unmeaning
trollop at his heels through life, to her own annoyance and the
ridicule of all his friends? No woman, I suspect, ever forgave a man
who raised her from a low condition in life (it is a perpetual
obligation and reproach); though I believe, men often feel the most
disinterested regard for women under such circumstances. Sancho Panza
discovered no less folly in his eagerness to enter upon his new
government, than wisdom in quitting it as fast as possible. Why will
Mr. Cobbett persist in getting into Parliament? He would find himself
no longer the same man. What member of Parliament, I should like to
know, could write his _Register_? As a popular partisan, he may (for
aught I can say) be a match for the whole Honourable House; but, by
obtaining a seat in St. Stephen's Chapel, he would only be equal to a
576th part of it. It was surely a puerile ambition in Mr. Addington to
succeed Mr. Pitt as prime minister. The situation was only a foil to
his imbecility. Gipsies have a fine faculty of evasion; catch them who
can in the same place or story twice! Take them; teach them the
comforts of civilisation; confine them in warm rooms, with thick
carpets and down beds; and they will fly out of the window--like the
bird, described by Chaucer, out of its golden cage. I maintain that
there is no common language or medium of understanding between people
of education and without it--between those who judge of things from
books or from their senses. Ignorance has so far the advantage over
learning; for it can make an appeal to you from what you know; but you
cannot react upon it through that which it is a perfect stranger to.
Ignorance is, therefore, power. This is what foiled Buonaparte in
Spain and Russia. The people can only be gained over by informing
them, though they may be enslaved by fraud or force. 'What is it,
then, he does like?'--'Good victuals and drink!' As if you had these
not too; but because he has them not, he thinks of nothing else, and
laughs at you and your refinements, supposing you live upon air. To
those who are deprived of every other advantage, even nature is a
_book sealed_. I have made this capital mistake all my life, in
imagining that those objects which lay open to all, and excited an
interest merely from the _idea_ of them, spoke a common language to
all; and that nature was a kind of universal home, where ages, sexes,
classes meet. Not so. The vital air, the sky, the woods, the
streams--all these go for nothing, except with a favoured few. The
poor are taken up with their bodily wants--the rich, with external
acquisitions: the one, with the sense of property--the other, of its
privation. Both have the same distaste for _sentiment_. The _genteel_
are the slaves of appearances--the vulgar, of necessity; and neither
has the smallest regard to worth, refinement, generosity. All savages
are irreclaimable. I can understand the Irish character better than
the Scotch. I hate the formal crust of circumstances and the mechanism
of society. I have been recommended, indeed, to settle down into some
respectable profession for life:

    'Ah! why so soon the blossom tear?'

I am 'in no haste to be venerable!'

In thinking of those one might wish to have been, many people will
exclaim, 'Surely, you would like to have been Shakspeare?' Would
Garrick have consented to the change? No, nor should he; for the
applause which he received, and on which he lived, was more adapted to
his genius and taste. If Garrick had agreed to be Shakspeare, he would
have made it a previous condition that he was to be a better player.
He would have insisted on taking some higher part than _Polonius_ or
the _Gravedigger_. Ben Jonson and his companions at the Mermaid would
not have known their old friend Will in his new disguise. The modern
Roscius would have scouted the halting player. He would have shrunk
from the parts of the inspired poet. If others are unlike us, we feel
it as a presumption and an impertinence to usurp their place; if they
are like us, it seems a work of supererogation. We are not to be
cozened out of our existence for nothing. It has been ingeniously
urged, as an objection to having been Milton, that 'then we should not
have had the pleasure of reading _Paradise Lost_.' Perhaps I should
incline to draw lots with Pope, but that he was deformed, and did not
sufficiently relish Milton and Shakspeare. As it is, we can enjoy his
verses and theirs too. Why, having these, need we ever be dissatisfied
with ourselves? Goldsmith is a person whom I considerably affect
notwithstanding his blunders and his misfortunes. The author of the
_Vicar of Wakefield_, and of _Retaliation_, is one whose temper must
have had something eminently amiable, delightful, gay, and happy in

    'A certain tender bloom his fame o'erspreads.'

But then I could never make up my mind to his preferring Rowe and
Dryden to the worthies of the Elizabethan age; nor could I, in like
manner, forgive Sir Joshua--whom I number among those whose existence
was marked with a _white stone_, and on whose tomb might be inscribed
'Thrice Fortunate!'--his treating Nicholas Poussin with contempt.
Differences in matters of taste and opinion are points of
honour--'stuff o' the conscience'--stumbling-blocks not to be got
over. Others, we easily grant, may have more wit, learning,
imagination, riches, strength, beauty, which we should be glad to
borrow of them; but that they have sounder or better views of things,
or that we should act wisely in changing in this respect, is what we
can by no means persuade ourselves. We may not be the lucky possessors
of what is best or most desirable; but our notion of what is best and
most desirable we will give up to no man by choice or compulsion; and
unless others (the greatest wits or brightest geniuses) can come into
our way of thinking, we must humbly beg leave to remain as we are. A
Calvinistic preacher would not relinquish a single point of faith to
be the Pope of Rome; nor would a strict Unitarian acknowledge the
mystery of the Holy Trinity to have painted Raphael's _Assembly of the
Just_. In the range of _ideal_ excellence, we are distracted by
variety and repelled by differences: the imagination is fickle and
fastidious, and requires a combination of all possible qualifications,
which never met. Habit alone is blind and tenacious of the most homely
advantages; and after running the tempting round of nature, fame and
fortune, we wrap ourselves up in our familiar recollections and humble
pretensions--as the lark, after long fluttering on sunny wing, sinks
into its lowly bed!

We can have no very importunate craving, nor very great confidence,
in wishing to change characters, except with those with whom we are
intimately acquainted by their works; and having these by us (which is
all we know or covet in them), what would we have more? We can have
_no more of a cat than her skin_; nor of an author than his brains. By
becoming Shakspeare in reality we cut ourselves out of reading Milton,
Pope, Dryden, and a thousand more--all of whom we have in our
possession, enjoy, and _are_, by turns, in the best part of them,
their thoughts, without any metamorphosis or miracle at all. What a
microcosm is ours! What a Proteus is the human mind! All that we know,
think of, or can admire, in a manner becomes ourselves. We are not
(the meanest of us) a volume, but a whole library! In this calculation
of problematical contingencies, the lapse of time makes no difference.
One would as soon have been Raphael as any modern artist. Twenty,
thirty, or forty years of elegant enjoyment and lofty feeling were as
great a luxury in the fifteenth as in the nineteenth century. But
Raphael did not live to see Claude, nor Titian Rembrandt. Those who
found arts and sciences are not witnesses of their accumulated results
and benefits; nor, in general, do they reap the meed of praise which
is their due. We who come after in some 'laggard age' have more
enjoyment of their fame than they had. Who would have missed the sight
of the Louvre in all its glory to have been one of those whose works
enriched it? Would it not have been giving a certain good for an
uncertain advantage? No: I am as sure (if it is not presumption to say
so) of what passed through Raphael's mind as of what passes through my
own; and I know the difference between seeing (though even that is a
rare privilege) and producing such perfection. At one time I was so
devoted to Rembrandt, that I think if the Prince of Darkness had made
me the offer in some rash mood, I should have been tempted to close
with it, and should have become (in happy hour, and in downright
earnest) the great master of light and shade!

I have run myself out of my materials for this Essay, and want a
well-turned sentence or two to conclude with; like Benvenuto Cellini,
who complains that, with all the brass, tin, iron, and lead he could
muster in the house, his statue of Perseus was left imperfect, with a
dent in the heel of it. Once more, then--I believe there is one
character that all the world would like to change with--which is that
of a favoured rival. Even hatred gives way to envy. We would be
anything--a toad in a dungeon--to live upon her smile, which is our
all of earthly hope and happiness; nor can we, in our infatuation,
conceive that there is any difference of feeling on the subject, or
that the pressure of her hand is not in itself divine, making those to
whom such bliss is deigned like the Immortal Gods!



[7] When Lord Byron was cut by the great, on account of his quarrel
with his wife, he stood leaning on a marble slab at the entrance of a
room, while troops of duchesses and countesses passed out. One little,
pert, red-haired girl staid a few paces behind the rest; and, as she
passed him, said with a nod, 'Aye, you should have married me, and
then all this wouldn't have happened to you!'



    'The web of our lives is of a mingled yarn.'

'Anthony Codrus Urceus, a most learned and unfortunate Italian, born
1446, was a striking instance' (says his biographer) 'of the miseries
men bring upon themselves by setting their affections unreasonably on
trifles. This learned man lived at Forli, and had an apartment in the
palace. His room was so very dark, that he was forced to use a candle
in the day time; and one day, going abroad without putting it out, his
library was set on fire, and some papers which he had prepared for the
press were burned. The instant he was informed of this ill news, he
was affected even to madness. He ran furiously to the palace, and,
stopping at the door of his apartment, he cried aloud, "Christ Jesus!
what mighty crime have I committed? whom of your followers have I ever
injured, that you thus rage with inexpiable hatred against me?" Then
turning himself to an image of the Virgin Mary near at hand, "Virgin"
(says he) "hear what I have to say, for I speak in earnest, and with a
composed spirit. If I shall happen to address you in my dying moments,
I humbly entreat you not to hear me, nor receive me into heaven, for I
am determined to spend all eternity in hell." Those who heard these
blasphemous expressions endeavoured to comfort him, but all to no
purpose; for the society of mankind being no longer supportable to
him, he left the city, and retired, like a savage, to the deep
solitude of a wood. Some say that he was murdered there by ruffians;
others that he died at Bologna, in 1500, after much contrition and

Almost every one may here read the history of his own life. There is
scarcely a moment in which we are not in some degree guilty of the
same kind of absurdity, which was here carried to such a singular
excess. We waste our regrets on what cannot be recalled, or fix our
desires on what we know cannot be attained. Every hour is the slave of
the last; and we are seldom masters either of our thoughts or of our
actions. We are the creatures of imagination, passion, and self-will,
more than of reason or self-interest. Rousseau, in his _Emilius_,
proposed to educate a perfectly reasonable man, who was to have
passions and affections like other men, but with an absolute control
over them. He was to love and to be wise. This is a contradiction in
terms. Even in the common transactions and daily intercourse of life,
we are governed by whim, caprice, prejudice, or accident. The falling
of a tea-cup puts us out of temper for the day; and a quarrel that
commenced about the pattern of a gown may end only with our lives.

                'Friends now fast sworn,
    On a dissension of a doit, break out
    To bitterest enmity. So fellest foes,
    Whose passions and whose plots have broke their sleep,
    To take the one the other, by some chance,
    Some trick not worth an egg, shall grow dear friends,
    And interjoin their issues.'

We are little better than humoured children to the last, and play a
mischievous game at cross purposes with our own happiness and that of

We have given the above story as a striking contradiction to the
prevailing doctrine of modern systems of morals and metaphysics, that
man is purely a sensual and selfish animal, governed solely by a
regard either to his immediate gratification or future interest. This
doctrine we mean to oppose with all our might, whenever we meet with
it. We are, however, less disposed to quarrel with it, as it is
opposed to reason and philosophy, than as it interferes with common
sense and observation. If the absurdity in question had been confined
to the schools, we should not have gone out of our way to meddle with
it: but it has gone abroad in the world, has crept into ladies'
boudoirs, is entered in the commonplace book of beaux, is in the mouth
of the learned and ignorant, and forms a part of popular opinion. It
is perpetually applied as a false measure to the characters and
conduct of men in the common affairs of the world, and it is therefore
our business to rectify it, if we can. In fact, whoever sets out on
the idea of reducing all our motives and actions to a simple
principle, must either take a very narrow and superficial view of
human nature, or make a very perverse use of his understanding in
reasoning on what he sees. The frame of our minds, like that of his
body, is exceedingly complicated. Besides mere sensibility to pleasure
and pain, there are other original independent principles, necessarily
interwoven with the nature of man as an active and intelligent being,
and which, blended together in different proportions, give their form
and colour to our lives. Without some other essential faculties, such
as will, imagination, etc., to give effect and direction to our
physical sensibility, this faculty could be of no possible use or
influence; and with those other faculties joined to it, this pretended
instinct of self-love will be subject to be everlastingly modified and
controlled by those faculties, both in what regards our own good and
that of others; that is, must itself become in a great measure
dependent on the very instruments it uses. The two most predominant
principles in the mind, besides sensibility and self-interest, are
imagination and self-will, or (in general) the love of strong
excitement, both in thought and action. To these sources may be traced
the various passions, pursuits, habits, affections, follies and
caprices, virtues and vices of mankind. We shall confine ourselves,
in the present article, to give some account of the influence
exercised by the imagination over the feelings. To an intellectual
being, it cannot be altogether arbitrary what ideas it shall have,
whether pleasurable or painful. Our ideas do not originate in our love
of pleasure, and they cannot, therefore, depend absolutely upon it.
They have another principle. If the imagination were 'the servile
slave' of our self-love, if our ideas were emanations of our sensitive
nature, encouraged if agreeable, and excluded the instant they became
otherwise, or encroached on the former principle, then there might be
a tolerable pretence for the epicurean philosophy which is here spoken
of. But for any such entire and mechanical subserviency of the
operations of the one principle to the dictates of the other, there is
not the slightest foundation in reality. The attention which the mind
gives to its ideas is not always owing to the gratification derived
from them, but to the strength and truth of the impressions
themselves, _i.e._ to their involuntary power over the mind. This
observation will account for a very general principle in the mind,
which cannot, we conceive, be satisfactorily explained in any other
way, we mean _the power of fascination_. Every one has heard the story
of the girl who, being left alone by her companions, in order to
frighten her, in a room with a dead body, at first attempted to get
out, and shrieked violently for assistance, but finding herself shut
in, ran and embraced the corpse, and was found senseless in its arms.

It is said that in such cases there is a desperate effort made to get
rid of the dread by converting it into the reality. There may be some
truth in this account, but we do not think it contains the whole
truth. The event produced in the present instance does not bear out
the conclusion. The progress of the passion does not seem to have been
that of diminishing or removing the terror by coming in contact with
the object, but of carrying this terror to its height from an intense
and irresistible impulse overcoming every other feeling.

It is a well-known fact that few persons can stand safely on the edge
of a precipice, or walk along the parapet wall of a house, without
being in danger of throwing themselves down; not, we presume, from a
principle of self-preservation; but in consequence of a strong idea
having taken possession of the mind from which it cannot well escape,
which absorbs every other consideration, and confounds and overrules
all self-regards. The impulse cannot in this case be resolved into a
desire to remove the uneasiness of fear, for the only danger arises
from the fear. We have been told by a person not at all given to
exaggeration, that he once felt a strong propensity to throw himself
into a cauldron of boiling lead, into which he was looking. These are
what Shakspeare calls 'the toys of desperation.' People sometimes
marry, and even fall in love on this principle--that is, through mere
apprehension, or what is called a fatality. In like manner, we find
instances of persons who are, as it were, naturally delighted with
whatever is disagreeable--who catch all sorts of unbecoming tones and
gestures--who always say what they should not, and what they do not
mean to say--in whom intemperance of imagination and incontinence of
tongue are a disease, and who are governed by an almost infallible
instinct of absurdity.

The love of imitation has the same general source. We dispute for ever
about Hogarth, and the question can never be decided according to the
common ideas on the subject of taste. His pictures appeal to the love
of truth, not to the sense of beauty: but the one is as much an
essential principle of our nature as the other. They fill up the void
of the mind; they present an everlasting succession and variety of
ideas. There is a fine observation somewhere made by Aristotle, that
the mind has a natural appetite of curiosity or desire to know; and
most of that knowledge which comes in by the eye, for this presents
us with the greatest variety of differences. Hogarth is relished only
by persons of a certain strength of mind and penetration into
character; for the subjects in themselves are not pleasing, and this
objection is only redeemed by the exercise and activity which they
give to the understanding. The great difference between what is meant
by a severe and an effeminate taste or style, depends on the
distinction here made.

Our teasing ourselves to recollect the names of places or persons we
have forgotten, the love of riddles and of abstruse philosophy, are
all illustrations of the same general principle of curiosity, or the
love of intellectual excitement. Again, our impatience to be delivered
of a secret that we know; the necessity which lovers have for
confidants, auricular confession, and the declarations so commonly
made by criminals of their guilt, are effects of the involuntary power
exerted by the imagination over the feelings. Nothing can be more
untrue, than that the whole course of our ideas, passions, and
pursuits, is regulated by a regard to self-interest. Our attachment to
certain objects is much oftener in proportion to the strength of the
impression they make on us, to their power of riveting and fixing the
attention, than to the gratification we derive from them. We are,
perhaps, more apt to dwell upon circumstances that excite disgust and
shock our feelings, than on those of an agreeable nature. This, at
least, is the case where this disposition is particularly strong, as
in people of nervous feelings and morbid habits of thinking. Thus the
mind is often haunted with painful images and recollections, from the
hold they have taken of the imagination. We cannot shake them off,
though we strive to do it: nay, we even court their company; we will
not part with them out of our presence; we strain our aching sight
after them; we anxiously recall every feature, and contemplate them in
all their aggravated colours. There are a thousand passions and
fancies that thwart our purposes, and disturb our repose. Grief and
fear are almost as welcome inmates of the breast as hope or joy, and
more obstinately cherished. We return to the objects which have
excited them, we brood over them, they become almost inseparable from
the mind, necessary to it; they assimilate all objects to the gloom of
our own thoughts, and make the will a party against itself. This is
one chief source of most of the passions that prey like vultures on
the heart, and embitter human life. We hear moralists and divines
perpetually exclaiming, with mingled indignation and surprise, at the
folly of mankind in obstinately persisting in these tormenting and
violent passions, such as envy, revenge, sullenness, despair, etc.
This is to them a mystery; and it will always remain an inexplicable
one, while the love of happiness is considered as the only spring of
human conduct and desires.[8]

The love of power or action is another independent principle of the
human mind, in the different degrees in which it exists, and which are
not by any means in exact proportion to its physical sensibility. It
seems evidently absurd to suppose that sensibility to pleasure or pain
is the only principle of action. It is almost too obvious to remark,
that sensibility alone, without an active principle in the mind, could
never produce action. The soul might lie dissolved in pleasure, or be
agonised with woe; but the impulses of feeling, in order to excite
passion, desire, or will, must be first communicated to some other
faculty. There must be a principle, a fund of activity somewhere, by
and through which our sensibility operates; and that this active
principle owes all its force, its precise degree of direction, to the
sensitive faculty, is neither self-evident nor true. Strength of will
is not always nor generally in proportion to strength of feeling.
There are different degrees of activity, as of sensibility, in the
mind; and our passions, characters, and pursuits, often depend no less
upon the one than on the other. We continually make a distinction in
common discourse between sensibility and irritability, between passion
and feeling, between the nerves and muscles; and we find that the most
voluptuous people are in general the most indolent. Every one who has
looked closely into human nature must have observed persons who are
naturally and habitually restless in the extreme, but without any
extraordinary susceptibility to pleasure or pain, always making or
finding excuses to do something--whose actions constantly outrun the
occasion, and who are eager in the pursuit of the greatest
trifles--whose impatience of the smallest repose keeps them always
employed about nothing--and whose whole lives are a continued work of
supererogation. There are others, again, who seem born to act from a
spirit of contradiction only, that is, who are ready to act not only
without a reason, but against it--who are ever at cross-purposes with
themselves and others--who are not satisfied unless they are doing two
opposite things at a time--who contradict what you say, and if you
assent to them, contradict what they have said--who regularly leave
the pursuit in which they are successful to engage in some other in
which they have no chance of success--who make a point of encountering
difficulties and aiming at impossibilities, that there may be no end
of their exhaustless task: while there is a third class whose _vis
inertiæ_ scarcely any motives can overcome--who are devoured by their
feelings, and the slaves of their passions, but who can take no pains
and use no means to gratify them--who, if roused to action by any
unforeseen accident, require a continued stimulus to urge them on--who
fluctuate between desire and want of resolution--whose brightest
projects burst like a bubble as soon as formed--who yield to every
obstacle--who almost sink under the weight of the atmosphere--who
cannot brush aside a cobweb in their path, and are stopped by an
insect's wing. Indolence is want of will--the absence or defect of the
active principle--a repugnance to motion; and whoever has been much
tormented with this passion, must, we are sure, have felt that the
inclination to indulge it is something very distinct from the love of
pleasure or actual enjoyment. Ambition is the reverse of indolence,
and is the love of power or action in great things. Avarice, also, as
it relates to the acquisition of riches, is, in a great measure, an
active and enterprising feeling; nor does the hoarding of wealth,
after it is acquired, seem to have much connection with the love of
pleasure. What is called niggardliness, very often, we are convinced
from particular instances that we have known, arises less from a
selfish principle than from a love of contrivance--from the study of
economy as an art, for want of a better--from a pride in making the
most of a little, and in not exceeding a certain expense previously
determined upon; all which is wilfulness, and is perfectly consistent,
as it is frequently found united, with the utmost lavish expenditure
and the utmost disregard for money on other occasions. A miser may, in
general, be looked upon as a particular species of _virtuoso_. The
constant desire in the rich to leave wealth in large masses, by
aggrandising some branch of their families, or sometimes in such a
manner as to accumulate for centuries, shows that the imagination has
a considerable share in this passion. Intemperance, debauchery,
gluttony, and other vices of that kind, may be attributed to an excess
of sensuality or gross sensibility; though, even here, we think it
evident that habits of intoxication are produced quite as much by the
strength as by the agreeableness of the excitement; and with respect
to some other vicious habits, curiosity makes many more votaries than
inclination. The love of truth, when it predominates, produces
inquisitive characters, the whole tribe of gossips, tale-bearers,
harmless busybodies, your blunt honest creatures, who never conceal
what they think, and who are the more sure to tell it you the less you
want to hear it--and now and then a philosopher.

Our passions in general are to be traced more immediately to the
active part of our nature, to the love of power, or to strength of
will. Such are all those which arise out of the difficulty of
accomplishment, which become more intense from the efforts made to
attain the object, and which derive their strength from opposition.
Mr. Hobbes says well on this subject:

'But for an utmost end, in which the ancient philosophers placed
felicity, and disputed much concerning the way thereto, there is no
such thing in this world, nor way to it, more than to Utopia; for
while we live, we have desires, and desire presupposeth a further end.
Seeing all delight is appetite, and desire of something further, there
can be no contentment but in proceeding, and therefore we are not to
marvel, when we see that as men attain to more riches, honour, or
other power, so their appetite continually groweth more and more; and
when they are come to the utmost degree of some kind of power they
pursue some other, as long as in any kind they think themselves behind
any other. Of those, therefore, that have attained the highest degree
of honour and riches, some have affected mastery, in some art, as Nero
in music and poetry, Commodus in the art of a gladiator; and such as
affect not some such thing, must find diversion and recreation of
their thoughts in the contention either of play or business, and men
justly complain as of a great grief that they know not what to do.
Felicity, therefore, by which we mean continual delight, consists not
in having prospered, but in prospering.'

This account of human nature, true as it is, would be a mere romance,
if physical sensibility were the only faculty essential to man, that
is, if we were the slaves of voluptuous indolence. But our desires are
kindled by their own heat, the will is urged on by a restless impulse,
and without action, enjoyment becomes insipid. The passions of men are
not in proportion only to their sensibility, or to the desirableness
of the object, but to the violence and irritability of their tempers,
and the obstacles to their success. Thus an object to which we were
almost indifferent while we thought it in our power, often excites the
most ardent pursuit or the most painful regret, as soon as it is
placed out of our reach. How eloquently is the contradiction between
our desires and our success described in _Don Quixote_, where it is
said of the lover, that 'he courted a statue, hunted the wind, cried
aloud to the desert!'

The necessity of action to the mind, and the keen edge it gives to our
desires, is shown in the different value we set on past and future
objects. It is commonly, and we might almost say universally,
supposed, that there is an essential difference in the two cases. In
this instance, however, the strength of our passions has converted an
evident absurdity into one of the most inveterate prejudices of the
human mind. That the future is really or in itself of more consequence
than the past, is what we can neither assent to nor even conceive. It
is true, the past has ceased to be, and is no longer anything, except
to the mind; but the future is still to come, and has an existence in
the mind only. The one is at an end, the other has not even had a
beginning; both are purely ideal: so that this argument would prove
that the present only is of any real value, and that both past and
future objects are equally indifferent, alike nothing. Indeed, the
future is, if possible, more imaginary than the past; for the past may
in some sense be said to exist in its consequences; it acts still; it
is present to us in its effects; the mouldering ruins and broken
fragments still remain; but of the future there is no trace. What a
blank does the history of the world for the next six thousand years
present to the mind, compared with that of the last? All that strikes
the imagination, or excites any interest in the mighty scene is _what
has been_. Neither in reality, then, nor as a subject of general
contemplation, has the future any advantage over the past; but with
respect to our own passions and pursuits it has. We regret the
pleasures we have enjoyed, and eagerly anticipate those which are to
come; we dwell with satisfaction on the evils from which we have
escaped, and dread future pain. The good that is past is like money
that is spent, which is of no use, and about which we give no further
concern. The good we expect is like a store yet untouched, in the
enjoyment of which we promise ourselves infinite gratification. What
has happened to us we think of no consequence--what is to happen to
us, of the greatest. Why so? Because the one is in our power, and the
other not; because the efforts of the will to bring an object to pass
or to avert it, strengthen our attachment to or our aversion from that
object; because the habitual pursuit of any purpose redoubles the
ardour of our pursuit, and converts the speculative and indolent
interest we should otherwise take in it into real passion. Our
regrets, anxiety, and wishes, are thrown away upon the past, but we
encourage our disposition to exaggerate the importance of the future,
as of the utmost use in aiding our resolutions and stimulating our

It in some measure confirms this theory, that men attach more or less
importance to past and future events, according as they are more or
else engaged in action and the busy scenes of life. Those who have a
fortune to make, or are in pursuit of rank and power, are regardless
of the past, for it does not contribute to their views: those who have
nothing to do but to think, take nearly the same interest in the past
as in the future. The contemplation of the one is as delightful and
real as of the other. The season of hope comes to an end, but the
remembrance of it is left. The past still lives in the memory of
those who have leisure to look back upon the way that they have trod,
and can from it 'catch glimpses that may make them less forlorn.' The
turbulence of action and uneasiness of desire _must_ dwell upon the
future; it is only amidst the innocence of shepherds, in the
simplicity of the pastoral ages, that a tomb was found with this
inscription--'I ALSO WAS AN ARCADIAN!'

We feel that some apology is necessary for having thus plunged our
readers all at once into the middle of metaphysics. If it should be
asked what use such studies are of, we might answer with Hume,
_perhaps of none, except that there are certain persons who find more
entertainment in them than in any other_. An account of this matter,
with which we were amused ourselves, and which may therefore amuse
others, we met with some time ago in a metaphysical allegory, which
begins in this manner:

'In the depth of a forest, in the kingdom of Indostan, lived a monkey,
who, before his last step of transmigration, had occupied a human
tenement. He had been a Bramin, skilful in theology, and in all
abstruse learning. He was wont to hold in admiration the ways of
nature, and delighted to penetrate the mysteries in which she was
enrobed; but in pursuing the footsteps of philosophy, he wandered too
far from the abode of the social Virtues. In order to pursue his
studies, he had retired to a cave on the banks of the Jumna. There he
forgot society, and neglected ablution; and therefore his soul was
degraded to a condition below humanity. So inveterate were the habits
which he had contracted in his human state, that his spirit was still
influenced by his passion for abstruse study. He sojourned in this
wood from youth to age, regardless of everything, _save cocoa-nuts and
metaphysics_.' For our own part, we should be content to pass our time
much in the same manner as this learned savage, if we could only find
a substitute for his cocoa-nuts! We do not, however, wish to recommend
the same pursuit to others, nor to dissuade them from it. It has its
pleasures and its pains--its successes and its disappointments. It is
neither quite so sublime nor quite so uninteresting as it is sometimes
represented. The worst is, that much thought on difficult subjects
tends, after a certain time, to destroy the natural gaiety and dancing
of the spirits; it deadens the elastic force of the mind, weighs upon
the heart, and makes us insensible to the common enjoyments and
pursuits of life.

    'Sithence no fairy lights, no quick'ning ray,
    Nor stir of pulse, nor objects to entice
    Abroad the spirits; but the cloyster'd heart
    Sits squat at home, like pagod in a niche

Metaphysical reasoning is also one branch of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil. The study of man, however, does, perhaps, less harm
than a knowledge of the world, though it must be owned that the
practical knowledge of vice and misery makes a stronger impression on
the mind, when it has imbibed a habit of abstract reasoning. Evil thus
becomes embodied in a general principle, and shows its harpy form in
all things. It is a fatal, inevitable necessity hanging over us. It
follows us wherever we go: if we fly into the uttermost parts of the
earth, it is there: whether we turn to the right or the left, we
cannot escape from it. This, it is true, is the disease of philosophy;
but it is one to which it is liable in minds of a certain cast, after
the first ardour of expectation has been disabused by experience, and
the finer feelings have received an irrecoverable shock from the
jarring of the world.

Happy are they who live in the dream of their own existence, and see
all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and
hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar,
and into whom the spirit of the world has not entered! They have not
been 'hurt by the archers,' nor has the iron entered their souls. They
live in the midst of arrows and of death, unconscious of harm. The
evil things come not nigh them. The shafts of ridicule pass unheeded
by, and malice loses its sting. The example of vice does not rankle in
their breasts, like the poisoned shirt of Nessus. Evil impressions
fall off from them like drops of water. The yoke of life is to them
light and supportable. The world has no hold on them. They are in it,
not of it; and a dream and a glory is ever around them!



[8] As a contrast to the story at the beginning of this article, it
will be not amiss to mention that of Sir Isaac Newton, on a somewhat
similar occasion. He had prepared some papers for the press with great
care and study, but happening to leave a lighted candle on the table
with them, his dog Diamond overturned the candle, and the labour of
several years was destroyed. This great man, on seeing what was done,
only shook his head, and said with a smile, 'Ah, Diamond, you don't
know what mischief you have done!'



It is impossible to have things done without doing them. This seems a
truism; and yet what is more common than to suppose that we shall find
things done, merely by wishing it? To put the will for the deed is as
usual in practice as it is contrary to common sense. There is, in
fact, no absurdity, no contradiction, of which the will is not
capable. This is, I think, more remarkable in the English than in any
other people, in whom (to judge by what I discover in myself) the will
bears great and disproportioned sway. We will a thing: we contemplate
the end intensely, and think it done, neglecting the necessary means
to accomplish it. The strong tendency of the mind towards it, the
internal effort it makes to give being to the object of its idolatry,
seems an adequate cause to produce the effect, and in a manner
identified with it. This is more particularly the case in what relates
to the _fine arts_, and will account for some phenomena of the
national character. The English school is distinguished by what are
called _ébauches_, rude, violent attempts at effect, and a total
inattention to the details or delicacy of finishing. Now this, I
think, proceeds, not exactly from grossness of perception, but from
the wilfulness of our character; our desire to have things our own
way, without any trouble or distraction of purpose. An object strikes
us: we see and feel the whole effect. We wish to produce a likeness of
it; but we want to transfer this impression to the canvas as it is
conveyed to us, simultaneously and intuitively, that is, to stamp it
there at a blow, or otherwise we turn away with impatience and
disgust, as if the means were an obstacle to the end, and every
attention to the mechanical part of art were a deviation from our
original purpose. We thus degenerate, after repeated failures, into a
slovenly style of art; and that which was at first an undisciplined
and irregular impulse becomes a habit, and then a theory. It seems
strange that the love of the end should produce aversion to the
means--but so it is; neither is it altogether unnatural. That which we
are struck with, which we are enamoured of, is the general appearance
and result; and it would certainly be most desirable to produce the
effect in the same manner by a mere word or wish, if it were possible,
without entering into any mechanical drudgery or minuteness of detail
or dexterity of execution, which though they are essential and
component parts of the work do not enter into our thoughts, and form
no part of our contemplation. We may find it necessary, on a cool
calculation to go through and learn these, but in so doing we only
submit to necessity, and they are still a diversion to and a
suspension of our purpose for the time, at least, unless practice
gives that facility which almost identifies the two together, or makes
the process an unconscious one. The end thus devours up the means, or
our eagerness for the one, where it is strong and unchecked, is in
proportion to our impatience of the other. We view an object at a
distance that excites an inclination to visit it, which we do after
many tedious steps and intricate ways; but if we could fly, we should
never walk. The mind, however, has wings, though the body has not, and
it is this that produces the contradiction in question. The first and
strongest impulse of the mind is to produce any work at once and by
the most energetic means; but as this cannot always be done, we should
not neglect other more mechanical ones, but that delusions of passion
overrule the convictions of the understanding, and what we strongly
wish we fancy to be possible and true. We are full of the effect we
intend to produce, and imagine we have produced it, in spite of the
evidence of our senses, and the suggestions of our friends. In fact,
after a number of fruitless efforts and violent throes to produce an
effect which we passionately long for, it seems all injustice not to
have produced it; if we have not commanded success, we have done more,
we have deserved it; we have copied nature or Titian in the spirit in
which they ought to be copied, and we see them before us in our mind's
eye; there is the look, the expression, the something or other which
we chiefly aim at, and thus we persist and make fifty excuses to
deceive ourselves and confirm our errors; or if the light breaks upon
us through all the disguises of sophistry and self-love, it is so
painful that we shut our eyes to it; the greater the mortification the
more violent the effort to throw it off; and thus we stick to our
determination, and end where we began. What makes me think that this
is the process of our minds, and not merely rusticity or want of
apprehension, is, that you will see an English artist admiring and
thrown into raptures by the tucker of Titian's mistress, made up of an
infinite number of little folds, but if he attempts to copy it, he
proceeds to omit all these details, and dash it off by a single smear
of his brush. This is not ignorance, or even laziness, but what is
called jumping at a conclusion. It is, in a word, all overweening
purpose. He sees the details, the varieties, and their effects, and he
admires them; but he sees them with a glance of his eye, and as a
wilful man must have his way, he would reproduce them by a single dash
of the pencil. The mixing his colours, the putting in and out, the
giving his attention to a minute break, or softening in the particular
lights and shades, is a mechanical and everlasting operation, very
different from the delight he feels in contemplating the effect of all
this when properly and finely done. Such details are foreign to his
refined taste, and some doubts arise in his mind in the midst of his
gratitude and his raptures, as to how Titian could resolve upon the
drudgery of going through them, and whether it was not done by extreme
facility of hand, and a sort of trick, abridging the mechanical
labour. No one wrote or talked more enthusiastically about Titian's
harmony of colouring than the late Mr. Barry, yet his own colouring
was dead and dry; and if he had copied a Titian, he would have made it
a mere splash, leaving out all that caused his wonder or admiration,
after his English, or rather Irish fashion. We not only grudge the
labour of beginning, but we give up, for the same reason, when we are
near touching the goal of success; and to save a few last touches,
leave a work unfinished, and an object unattained. The immediate
process, the daily gradual improvement, the completion of parts giving
us no pleasure, we strain at the whole result; we wish to have it
done, and in our anxiety to have it off our hands, say it will do, and
lose the benefit of all our labour by grudging a little pains, and not
commanding a little patience. In a day or two, suppose a copy of a
fine Titian would be as complete as we could make it: the prospect of
this so enchants us that we skip the intermediate days, see no great
use in going on with it, fancy that we may spoil it, and in order to
have the job done, take it home with us, when we immediately see our
error, and spend the rest of our lives in repenting that we did not
finish it properly at the time. We see the whole nature of a picture
at once; we only do a part: _Hinc illæ lachrymæ_. A French artist, on
the contrary, has none of this uneasy, anxious feeling; of this desire
to grasp the whole of his subject, and anticipate his good fortune at
a blow; of this massing and concentrating principle. He takes the
thing more easily and rationally. Suppose he undertakes to copy a
picture, he looks at it and copies it bit by bit. He does not set off
headlong without knowing where he is going, or plunge into all sorts
of difficulties and absurdities, from impatience to begin and
thinking that 'no sooner said than done'; but takes time to consider,
lays his plans, gets in his outline and his distances, and lays a
foundation before he attempts a superstructure which he may have to
pull to pieces again. He looks before he leaps, which is contrary to
the true blindfold English principle; and I should think that we had
invented this proverb from seeing so many fatal examples of the
neglect of it. He does not make the picture all black or all white,
because one part of it is so, and because he cannot alter an idea he
has once got into his head, and must always run into extremes, but
varies from green to red, from orange tawney to yellow, from grey to
brown, according as they vary in the original: he sees no
inconsistency or forfeiture of a principle in this, but a great deal
of right reason, and indeed an absolute necessity, if he wishes to
succeed in what he is about. This is the last thing an Englishman
thinks of: he only wants to have his own way, though it ends in defeat
and ruin: he sets about a thing which he had little prospect of
accomplishing, and if he finds he can do it, gives it over and leaves
the matter short of success, which is too agreeable an idea for him to
indulge in. The French artist proceeds bit by bit. He takes one part,
a hand, a piece of drapery, a part of the background, and finishes it
carefully; then another, and so on to the end. He does not, from a
childish impatience, when he is near the conclusion, destroy the
effect of the whole by leaving some one part eminently defective, nor
fly from what he is about to something else that catches his eye,
neglecting the one and spoiling the other. He is constrained by
mastery, by the mastery of common sense and pleasurable feeling. He is
in no hurry to finish, for he has a satisfaction in the work, and
touches and retouches, perhaps a single head, day after day and week
after week, without repining, uneasiness, or apparent progress. The
very lightness and indifference of his feelings renders him patient
and laborious: an Englishman, whatever he is about or undertakes is
as if he was carrying a heavy load that oppresses both his body and
mind, and which he is anxious to throw down. A Frenchman's hopes or
fears are not excited to that pitch of intolerable agony that compels
him, in mere compassion to himself to bring the question to a speedy
issue, even to the loss of his object; he is calm, easy, and
indifferent, and can take his time and make the most of his advantages
with impunity. Pleased with himself, he is pleased with whatever
occupies his attention nearly alike. It is the same to him whether he
paints an angel or a joint-stool; it is the same to him whether it is
landscape or history; it is he who paints it, that is sufficient.
Nothing puts him out of conceit with his work, for nothing puts him
out of conceit with himself. This self-complacency produces admirable
patience and docility in certain particulars, besides charity and
toleration towards others. I remember a ludicrous instance of this
deliberate process, in a young French artist who was copying the
_Titian's Mistress_, in the Louvre, some twenty years ago. After
getting it in chalk-lines, one would think he would have been
attracted to the face, that heaven of beauty which makes a sunshine in
the shady place, or to some part of the poetry of the picture; instead
of which he began to finish a square he had marked out in the
right-hand corner of the picture. He set to work like a cabinetmaker
or an engraver, and seemed to have no sympathy with the soul of the
picture. Indeed, to a Frenchman there is no distinction between the
great and little, the pleasurable and the painful; the utmost he
arrives at a conception of is the indifferent and the light. Another
young man, at the time I speak of, was for eleven weeks (I think it
was) daily employed in making a blacklead pencil drawing of a small
Leonardo; he sat cross-legged on a rail to do it, kept his hat on,
rose up, went to the fire to warm himself, talked constantly of the
excellence of the different masters--Titian for colour, Raphael for
expression, Poussin for composition--all being alike to him, provided
there was a word to express it, for all he thought about was his own
harangue; and, having consulted some friend on his progress, he
returned to 'perfectionate,' as he called it, his copy. This would
drive an Englishman mad or stupid. The perseverance and the
indifference, the labour without impulse, the attention to the parts
in succession, and disregard of the whole together, are to him
absolutely inconceivable. A Frenchman only exists in his present
sensations, and provided he is left free to these as they arise, he
cares about nothing farther, looking neither backward nor forward.
With all this affectation and artifice, there is on this account a
kind of simplicity and nature about them, after all. They lend
themselves to the impression before them with good humour and good
will, making it neither better nor worse than it is. The English
overdo or underdo everything, and are either drunk or in despair. I do
not speak of all Frenchmen or of all Englishmen, but of the most
characteristic specimens of each class. The extreme slowness and
methodical regularity of the French has arisen out of this
indifference, and even frivolity (their usually-supposed natural
character), for owing to it their laborious minuteness costs them
nothing; they have no strong impulses or ardent longings that urge
them to the violation of rules, or hurry them away with a subject and
with the interest belonging to it. Everything is matter of
calculation, and measured beforehand, in order to assist their
fluttering and their feebleness. When they get beyond the literal and
the formal, and attempt the impressive and the grand, as in David's
and Girardot's pictures, defend us from sublimity heaped on insipidity
and petit-maîtreism. You see a Frenchman in the Louvre copying the
finest pictures, standing on one leg, with his hat on; or after
copying a Raphael, thinking David much finer, more truly one of
themselves, more a combination of the Greek sculptor and the French
posture-master. Even if a French artist fails, he is not
disconcerted; there is something else he excels in: if he cannot
paint, he can dance! If an Englishman, save the mark! fails in
anything, he thinks he can do nothing; enraged at the mention of his
ability to do anything else, and at any consolation offered to him, he
banishes all other thought but of his disappointment, and discarding
hope from his breast, neither eats nor sleeps (it is well if he does
not cut his throat), will not attend to any other thing in which he
before took an interest and pride, and is in despair till he recovers
his good opinion of himself in the point in which he has been
disgraced, though, from his very anxiety and disorder of mind, he is
incapacitated from applying to the only means of doing so, as much as
if he were drunk with liquor, instead of with pride and passion. The
character I have here drawn of an Englishman I am clear about, for it
is the character of myself, and, I am sorry to add, no exaggerated
one. As my object is to paint the varieties of human nature, and as I
can have it best from myself, I will confess a weakness. I lately
tried to copy a Titian (after many years' want of practice), in order
to give a friend in England some idea of the picture. I floundered on
for several days, but failed, as might be expected. My sky became
overcast. Everything seemed of the colour of the paint I used. Nature
was one great daub. I had no feeling left but a sense of want of
power, and of an abortive struggle to do what I could not do. I was
ashamed of being seen to look at the picture with admiration, as if I
had no right to do so. I was ashamed even to have written or spoken
about the picture or about art at all: it seemed a piece of
presumption or affectation in me, whose whole notions and refinements
on the subject ended in an inexcusable daub. Why did I think of
attempting such a thing heedlessly, of exposing my presumption and
incapacity? It was blotting from my memory, covering with a dark veil,
all that I remembered of those pictures formerly, my hopes when young,
my regrets since; it was wresting from me one of the consolations of
my life and of my declining years. I was even afraid to walk out by
the barrier of Neuilly, or to recall to memory that I had ever seen
the picture; all was turned to bitterness and gall: to feel anything
but a sense of my own helplessness and absurdity seemed a want of
sincerity, a mockery and a piece of injustice. The only comfort I had
was in the excess of pain I felt; this was at least some distinction:
I was not insensible on that side. No Frenchman, I thought, would
regret the not copying a Titian so much as I did, or so far show the
same value for it. Besides, I had copied this identical picture very
well formerly. If ever I got out of this scrape, I had received a
lesson, at least, not to run the same risk of gratuitous vexation
again, or even to attempt what was uncertain and unnecessary.

It is the same in love and in literature. A man makes love without
thinking of the chances of success, his own disabilities, or the
character of his mistress; that is, without connecting means with
ends, and consulting only his own will and passion. The author sets
about writing history, with the full intention of rendering all
documents, dates, and facts secondary to his own opinion and will. In
business it is not altogether the same; for interest acts obviously as
a counterpoise to caprice and will, and is the moving principle; nor
is it so in war, for then the spirit of contradiction does everything,
and an Englishman will go to the devil rather than give up to any
odds. Courage is pure will without regard to consequences, and this
the English have in perfection. Again, poetry is our element, for the
essence of poetry is will and passion. The French poetry is detail and
verbiage. I have thus shown why the English fail, as a people, in the
Fine Arts, namely, because with them the end absorbs the means. I have
mentioned Barry as an individual instance. No man spoke or wrote with
more _gusto_ about painting, and yet no one painted with less. His
pictures were dry and coarse, and wanted all that his description of
those of others contained. For instance, he speaks of the dull, dead,
watery look in the Medusa's head of Leonardo, which conveys a perfect
idea of it: if he had copied it, you would never have suspected
anything of the kind. Again, he has, I believe, somewhere spoken of
the uneasy effect of the tucker of the _Titian's Mistress_, bursting
with the full treasures it contains. What a daub he would have made of
it! He is like a person admiring the grace of a fine rope-dancer;
placed on the rope himself his head turns, and he falls: or like a man
admiring fine horsemanship; set him upon a horse, and he tumbles over
on the other side. Why was this? His mind was essentially ardent and
discursive, not sensitive or observing; and though the immediate
object acted as a stimulus to his imagination, it was only as it does
to a poet's, that is, as a link in the chain of association, as
suggesting other strong feelings and ideas, and not for its intrinsic
beauty or hidden details. He had not the painter's eye though he had
the painter's knowledge. There is as great a difference in this
respect as between the telescope and microscope. People in general see
objects only to distinguish them in practice and by name; to know that
a hat is a hat, that a chair is not a table, that John is not William;
and there are painters (particularly of history) in England who look
no farther. They cannot finish anything, or go over a head twice; the
first view is all they would arrive at; nor can they reduce their
impressions to their component parts without losing the spirit. The
effect of this is grossness and want of force; for in reality the
component parts cannot be separated from the whole. Such people have
no pleasure in the exercise of their art as such: it is all to
astonish or to get money that they follow it; or if they are thrown
out of it, they regret it only as a bankrupt does a business which was
a livelihood to him. Barry did not live, like Titian, in the taste of
colours; they were not a _pabulum_ to his sense; he did not hold
green, blue, red, and yellow as the precious darlings of his eye.
They did not therefore sink into his mind, or nourish and enrich it
with the sense of beauty, though he knew enough of them to furnish
hints and topics of discourse. If he had had the most beautiful object
in nature before him in his painting-room in the Adelphi, he would
have neglected it, after a moment's burst of admiration, to talk of
his last composition, or to scrawl some new and vast design. Art was
nothing to him, or if anything, merely a stalking-horse to his
ambition and display of intellectual power in general; and therefore
he neglected it to daub huge allegories, or cabal with the Academy,
where the violence of his will or the extent of his views found ample
scope. As a painter he was valuable merely as a draughtsman, in that
part of the art which may be reduced to lines and precepts, or
positive measurement. There is neither colour, nor expression, nor
delicacy, nor beauty, in his works.




Nothing can frequently be more striking than the difference of style
or manner, where the _matter_ remains the same, as in paraphrases and
translations. The most remarkable example which occurs to us is in the
beginning of the _Flower and Leaf_, by Chaucer, and in the
modernisation of the same passage by Dryden. We shall give an extract
from both, that the reader may judge for himself. The original runs

    'And I that all this pleasaunt sight _ay_ sie,
    Thought sodainly I felt_e_ so sweet an aire
    _Con_ of the eglentere, that certainely
    There is no heart, I deme, in such dispaire,
    Ne with _no_ thought_e_s froward and contraire
    So overlaid, but it should_e_ soone have bote,
    If it had ones felt this savour sote.

    And as I stood and cast aside mine eie,
    I was of ware the fairest medler tree,
    That ever yet in all my life I sie,
    As full of blossomes as it might_e_ be;
    Therein a goldfinch leaping pretil_e_
    Fro bough to bough; and, as him list, _gan_ eete
    Of bud_de_s here and there and floures sweet_e_.

    And to the herber side _ther_ was joyning_e_
    This faire tree, of which I have you told;
    And at the last the brid began to sing_e_,
    When he had eaten what he eat_e_ wold_e_,
    So passing sweetly, that by manifold_e_,
    It was more pleasaunt than I coud_e_ devise.
    And when his song was ended in this wise,

    The nightingale with so mery a note
    Answered him, that all the wood_e_ rong
    So sodainly, that, as it were a sote,
    I stood astonied; so was I with the song
    Thorow ravished, that till late and longe,
    Ne wist I in what place I was, ne where;
    And ay, me thought_e_, she song even by mine ere.

    Wherefore about I waited busily,
    On every side, if _that_ I her might_e_ see;
    And, at the last, I gan full well aspie
    Where she sat in a fresh grene laurer tree,
    On the further side, even right by me,
    That gave so passing a delicious smell,
    According to the eglentere full well.

    Whereof I had_de_ so inly great pleasure,
    That, as me thought, I surely ravished was
    Into Paradice, where _as_ my desire
    Was for to be, and no ferther to passe
    As for that day; and on the sote grasse
    I sat me downe; for, as for mine entent,
    The bird_de_s song was more convenient,

    And more pleasaunt to me by many fold,
    Than meat or drinke, or any other thing.
    Thereto the herber was so fresh and cold,
    The wholesome savours eke so comforting
    That, as I demed_e_, sith the beginning
    Of th_ilke_ world was never seene or than
    So pleasaunt a ground of none earthly man.

    And as I sat, the bird_de_s harkening thus,
    Me thought_e_ that I heard_e_ voices sodainly,
    The most sweetest and most delicious
    That ever any wight, I trow truly,
    Heard in _here_ life; for _sothe_ the armony
    And sweet accord was in so good musike,
    That the voices to angels most was like.'

In this passage the poet has let loose the very soul of pleasure.
There is a spirit of enjoyment in it, of which there seems no end. It
is the intense delight which accompanies the description of every
object, the fund of natural sensibility which it displays, which
constitutes its whole essence and beauty. Now this is shown chiefly in
the manner in which the different objects are anticipated, and the
eager welcome which is given to them; in his repeating and varying the
circumstances with a restless delight; in his quitting the subject for
a moment, and then returning to it again, as if he could never have
his fill of enjoyment. There is little of this in Dryden's paraphrase.
The same ideas are introduced, but not in the same manner, nor with
the same spirit. The imagination of the poet is not borne along with
the tide of pleasure--the verse is not poured out, like the natural
strains it describes, from pure delight, but according to rule and
measure. Instead of being absorbed in his subject, he is dissatisfied
with it, tries to give an air of dignity to it by factitious
ornaments, to amuse the reader by ingenious allusions, and divert his
attention from the progress of the story by the artifices of the

    'The painted birds, companions of the spring,
    Hopping from spray to spray, were heard to sing.
    Both eyes and ears receiv'd a like delight,
    Enchanting music, and a charming sight.
    On Philomel I fix'd my whole desire;
    And listen'd for the queen of all the quire;
    Fain would I hear her heavenly voice to sing;
    And wanted yet an omen to the spring.
      Thus as I mus'd I cast aside my eye,
    And saw a medlar-tree was planted nigh.
    The spreading branches made a goodly show,
    And full of opening blooms was every bough:
    A goldfinch there I saw with gawdy pride
    Of painted plumes, that hopp'd from side to side,
    Still pecking as she pass'd; and still she drew
    The sweets from every flower and suck'd the dew:
    Suffic'd at length, she warbled in her throat,
    And tun'd her voice to many a merry note,
    But indistinct, and neither sweet nor clear,
    Yet such as sooth'd my soul, and pleas'd my ear.
      Her short performance was no sooner tried,
    When she I sought, the nightingale, replied:
    So sweet, so shrill, so variously she sung,
    That the grove echoed, and the valleys rung:
    And I so ravish'd with her heavenly note,
    I stood entranced, and had no room for thought.
    But all o'erpower'd with ecstasy of bliss,
    Was in a pleasing dream of paradise;
    At length I wak'd, and looking round the bower,
    Search'd every tree, and pry'd on every flower,
    If any where by chance I might espy
    The rural poet of the melody:
    For still methought she sung not far away:
    At last I found her on a laurel spray.
    Close by my side she sat, and fair in sight,
    Full in a line, against her opposite;
    Where stood with eglantine the laurel twin'd;
    And both their native sweets were well conjoin'd.
      On the green bank I sat, and listen'd long
    (Sitting was more convenient for the song);
    Nor till her lay was ended could I move,
    But wish'd to dwell for ever in the grove.
    Only methought the time too swiftly pass'd,
    And every note I fear'd would be the last.
    My sight, and smell and hearing were employ'd,
    And all three senses in full gust enjoy'd.
    And what alone did all the rest surpass
    The sweet possession of the fairy place;
    Single, and conscious to myself alone
    Of pleasures to the excluded world unknown:
    Pleasures which no where else were to be found,
    And all Elysium in a spot of ground.
      Thus while I sat intent to see and hear,
    And drew perfumes of more than vital air,
    All suddenly I heard the approaching sound
    Of vocal music on the enchanted ground:
    A host of saints it seem'd, so full the quire;
    As if the bless'd above did all conspire
    To join their voices, and neglect the lyre.'

Compared with Chaucer, Dryden and the rest of that school were merely
_verbal poets_. They had a great deal of wit, sense, and fancy; they
only wanted truth and depth of feeling. But I shall have to say more
on this subject, when I come to consider the old question which I have
got marked down in my list, whether Pope was a poet.

Lord Chesterfield's character of the Duke of Marlborough is a good
illustration of his general theory. He says, 'Of all the men I ever
knew in my life (and I knew him extremely well) the late Duke of
Marlborough possessed the graces in the highest degree, not to say
engrossed them; for I will venture (contrary to the custom of profound
historians, who always assign deep causes for great events) to ascribe
the better half of the Duke of Marlborough's greatness and riches to
those graces. He was eminently illiterate: wrote bad English, and
spelt it worse. He had no share of what is commonly called parts; that
is, no brightness, nothing shining in his genius. He had, most
undoubtedly, an excellent good plain understanding, with sound
judgment. But these alone would probably have raised him but something
higher than they found him, which was page to King James II.'s Queen.
There the graces protected and promoted him; for while he was Ensign
of the Guards, the Duchess of Cleveland, then favourite mistress of
Charles II., struck by these very graces, gave him five thousand
pounds; with which he immediately bought an annuity of five hundred
pounds a year, which was the foundation of his subsequent fortune. His
figure was beautiful, but his manner was irresistible by either man or
woman. It was by this engaging, graceful manner, that he was enabled
during all his wars to connect the various and jarring powers of the
grand alliance, and to carry them on to the main object of the war,
notwithstanding their private and separate views, jealousies, and
wrongheadedness. Whatever court he went to (and he was often obliged
to go himself to some resty and refractory ones) he as constantly
prevailed, and brought them into his measures.'

Grace in women has often more effect than beauty. We sometimes see a
certain fine self-possession, an habitual voluptuousness of character,
which reposes on its own sensations, and derives pleasure from all
around it, that is more irresistible than any other attraction. There
is an air of languid enjoyment in such persons, 'in their eyes, in
their arms, and their hands, and their face,' which robs us of
ourselves, and draws us by a secret sympathy towards them. Their
minds are a shrine where pleasure reposes. Their smile diffuses a
sensation like the breath of spring. Petrarch's description of Laura
answers exactly to this character, which is indeed the Italian
character. Titian's pictures are full of it; they seem sustained by
sentiment, or as if the persons whom he painted sat to music. There is
one in the Louvre (or there was) which had the most of this expression
I ever remember. It did not look downward; 'it looked forward beyond
this world.' It was a look that never passed away, but remained
unalterable as the deep sentiment which gave birth to it. It is the
same constitutional character (together with infinite activity of
mind) which has enabled the greatest man in modern history to bear his
reverses of fortune with gay magnanimity, and to submit to the loss of
the empire of the world with as little discomposure as if he had been
playing a game at chess.

After all, I would not be understood to say that manner is
everything.[9] Nor would I put Euclid or Sir Isaac Newton on a level
with the first _petit-maître_ we might happen to meet. I consider
_Æsop's Fables_ to have been a greater work of genius than Fontaine's
translation of them; though I am not sure that I should not prefer
Fontaine, for his style only, to Gay, who has shown a great deal of
original invention. The elegant manners of people of fashion have been
objected to me, to show the frivolity of external accomplishments, and
the facility with which they are acquired. As to the last point, I
demur. There are no class of people who lead so laborious a life, or
who take more pains to cultivate their minds as well as persons, than
people of fashion. A young lady of quality who has to devote so many
hours a day to music, so many to dancing, so many to drawing, so many
to French, Italian, etc., certainly does not pass her time in idleness:
and these accomplishments are afterwards called into action by every
kind of external or mental stimulus, by the excitements of pleasure,
vanity, and interest. A Ministerial or Opposition Lord goes through
more drudgery than half-a-dozen literary hacks; nor does a reviewer by
profession read half the same number of publications as a modern fine
lady is obliged to labour through. I confess, however, I am not a
competent judge of the degree of elegance or refinement implied in the
general tone of fashionable manners. The successful experiment made by
_Peregrine Pickle_, in introducing his strolling mistress into genteel
company, does not redound greatly to their credit.



[9] Sheer impudence answers almost the same purpose. 'Those
impenetrable whiskers have confronted flames.' Many persons, by
looking big and talking loud, make their way through the world without
any one good quality. I have here said nothing of mere personal
qualifications, which are another set-off against sterling merit.
Fielding was of opinion that 'the more solid pretensions of virtue and
understanding vanish before perfect beauty.' 'A certain lady of a
manor' (says _Don Quixote_ in defence of his attachment to _Dulcinea_,
which, however, was quite of the Platonic kind), 'had cast the eyes of
affection on a certain squat, brawny lay brother of a neighbouring
monastery, to whom she was lavish of her favours. The head of the
order remonstrated with her on this preference shown to one whom he
represented as a very low, ignorant fellow, and set forth the superior
pretensions of himself, and his more learned brethren. The lady having
heard him to an end, made answer: All that you have said may be very
true; but know that in those points which I admire, Brother Chrysostom
is as great a philosopher, nay greater, than Aristotle himself!' So
the _Wife of Bath_:

    'To chirche was myn housbond brought on morwe
    With neighebors that for him made sorwe,
    And Jankyn oure clerk was oon of tho.
    As help me God, whan that I saugh him go
    After the beere, methought he had a paire
    Of legges and of feet so clene and faire,
    That al myn hert I yaf unto his hold.'

'All which, though we most potently believe, yet we hold it not
honesty to have it thus set down.'



                      '----Servetur ad imum
    Qualis ab inceptu processerit, et sibi constet.'

Many people boast of being masters in their own house. I pretend to be
master of my own mind. I should be sorry to have an ejectment served
upon me for any notions I may choose to entertain there. Within that
little circle I would fain be an absolute monarch. I do not profess
the spirit of martyrdom; I have no ambition to march to the stake, or
up to a masked battery, in defence of an hypothesis: I do not court
the rack: I do not wish to be flayed alive for affirming that two and
two make four, or any other intricate proposition: I am shy of bodily
pains and penalties, which some are fond of--imprisonment, fine,
banishment, confiscation of goods: but if I do not prefer the
independence of my mind to that of my body, I at least prefer it to
everything else. I would avoid the arm of power, as I would escape
from the fangs of a wild beast: but as to the opinion of the world, I
see nothing formidable in it. 'It is the eye of childhood that fears a
painted devil.' I am not to be browbeat or wheedled out of any of my
settled convictions. Opinion to opinion, I will face any man.
Prejudice, fashion, the cant of the moment, go for nothing; and as for
the reason of the thing, it can only be supposed to rest with me or
another, in proportion to the pains we have taken to ascertain it.
Where the pursuit of truth has been the habitual study of any man's
life, the love of truth will be his ruling passion. 'Where the
treasure is, there the heart is also.' Every one is most tenacious of
that to which he owes his distinction from others. Kings love power,
misers gold, women flattery, poets reputation--and philosophers truth,
when they can find it. They are right in cherishing the only privilege
they inherit. If 'to be wise were to be obstinate,' I might set up for
as great a philosopher as the best of them; for some of my conclusions
are as fixed and as incorrigible to proof as need be. I am attached to
them in consequence of the pains, and anxiety, and the waste of time
they have cost me. In fact, I should not well know what to do without
them at this time of day; nor how to get others to supply their place.
I would quarrel with the best friend I have sooner than acknowledge
the absolute right of the Bourbons. I see Mr. Northcote seldomer than
I did, because I cannot agree with him about the _Catalogue Raisonné_.
I remember once saying to this gentleman, a great while ago, that I
did not seem to have altered any of my ideas since I was sixteen years
old. 'Why then,' said he, 'you are no wiser now than you were then!' I
might make the same confession, and the same retort would apply still.
Coleridge used to tell me, that this pertinacity was owing to a want
of sympathy with others. What he calls _sympathising with others_ is
their admiring him; and it must be admitted that he varies his battery
pretty often, in order to accommodate himself to this sort of mutual
understanding. But I do not agree in what he says of me. On the other
hand, I think that it is my sympathising _beforehand_ with the
different views and feelings that may be entertained on a subject,
that prevents me retracting my judgment, and flinging myself into the
contrary extreme _afterwards_. If you proscribe all opinion opposite
to your own, and impertinently exclude all the evidence that does not
make for you, it stares you in the face with double force when it
breaks in unexpectedly upon you, or if at any subsequent period it
happens to suit your interest or convenience to listen to objections
which vanity or prudence had hitherto overlooked. But if you are aware
from the first suggestion of a subject, either by subtlety, or tact,
or close attention, of the full force of what others possibly feel and
think of it, you are not exposed to the same vacillation of opinion.
The number of grains and scruples, of doubts and difficulties, thrown
into the scale while the balance is yet undecided, add to the weight
and steadiness of the determination. He who anticipates his opponent's
arguments, confirms while he corrects his own reasonings. When a
question has been carefully examined in all its bearings, and a
principle is once established, it is not liable to be overthrown by
any new facts which have been arbitrarily and petulantly set aside,
nor by every wind of idle doctrine rushing into the interstices of a
hollow speculation, shattering it in pieces, and leaving it a mockery
and a bye-word; like those tall, gawky, staring, pyramidal erections
which are seen scattered over different parts of the country, and are
called the _Follies_ of different gentlemen! A man may be confident in
maintaining a side, as he has been cautious in choosing it. If after
making up his mind strongly in one way, to the best of his capacity
and judgment, he feels himself inclined to a very violent revulsion of
sentiment, he may generally rest assured that the change is in himself
and his motives, not in the reason of things.

I cannot say that, from my own experience, I have found that the
persons most remarkable for sudden and violent changes of principle
have been cast in the softest or most susceptible mould. All their
notions have been exclusive, bigoted, and intolerant. Their want of
consistency and moderation has been in exact proportion to their want
of candour and comprehensiveness of mind. Instead of being the
creatures of sympathy, open to conviction, unwilling to give offence
by the smallest difference of sentiment, they have (for the most part)
been made up of mere antipathies--a very repulsive sort of
personages--at odds with themselves, and with everybody else. The
slenderness of their pretensions to philosophical inquiry has been
accompanied with the most presumptuous dogmatism. They have been
persons of that narrowness of view and headstrong self-sufficiency of
purpose, that they could see only one side of a question at a time,
and whichever they pleased. There is a story somewhere in _Don
Quixote_, of two champions coming to a shield hung up against a tree
with an inscription written on each side of it. Each of them
maintained, that the words were what was written on the side next him,
and never dreamt, till the fray was over, that they might be different
on the opposite side of the shield. It would have been a little more
extraordinary if the combatants had changed sides in the heat of the
scuffle, and stoutly denied that there were any such words on the
opposite side as they had before been bent on sacrificing their lives
to prove were the only ones it contained. Yet such is the very
situation of some of our modern polemics. They have been of all sides
of the question, and yet they cannot conceive how an honest man can be
of any but one--that which they hold at present. It seems that they
are afraid to look their old opinions in the face, lest they should be
fascinated by them once more. They banish all doubts of their own
sincerity by inveighing against the motives of their antagonists.
There is no salvation out of the pale of their strange inconsistency.
They reduce common sense and probity to the straitest possible
limits--the breasts of themselves and their patrons. They are like
people out at sea on a very narrow plank, who try to push everybody
else off. Is it that they have so little faith in the course to which
they have become such staunch converts, as to suppose that, should
they allow a grain of sense to their old allies and new antagonists,
they will have more than they? Is it that they have so little
consciousness of their own disinterestedness, that they feel, if they
allow a particle of honesty to those who now differ with them, they
will have more than they? Those opinions must needs be of a very
fragile texture which will not stand the shock of the least
acknowledged opposition, and which lay claim to respectability by
stigmatising all who do not hold them as 'sots, and knaves, and
cowards.' There is a want of well-balanced feeling in every such
instance of extravagant versatility; a something crude, unripe, and
harsh, that does not hit a judicious palate, but sets the teeth on
edge to think of. 'I had rather hear my mother's cat mew, or a wheel
grate on the axletree, than one of these same metre-ballad-mongers'
chaunt his incondite, retrograde lays, without rhyme and without

The principles and professions change: the man remains the same. There
is the same spirit at the bottom of all this pragmatical fickleness
and virulence, whether it runs into one extreme or another: to wit, a
confinement of view, a jealousy of others, an impatience of
contradiction, a want of liberality in construing the motives of
others, either from monkish pedantry, or a conceited overweening
reference of everything to our own fancies and feelings. There is
something to be said, indeed, for the nature of the political
machinery, for the whirling motion of the revolutionary wheel which
has of late wrenched men's understandings almost asunder, and 'amazed
the very faculties of eyes and ears'; but still this is hardly a
sufficient reason, why the adept in the old as well as the new school
should take such a prodigious latitude himself, while at the same time
he makes so little allowance for others. His whole creed need not be
turned topsy-turvy, from the top to the bottom, even in times like
these. He need not, in the rage of party spirit, discard the proper
attributes of humanity, the common dictates of reason. He need not
outrage every former feeling, nor trample on every customary decency,
in his zeal for reform, or in his greater zeal against it. If his
mind, like his body, has undergone a total change of essence, and
purged off the taint of all its early opinions, he need not carry
about with him, or be haunted in the persons of others with, the
phantoms of his altered principles to loathe and execrate them. He
need not (as it were) pass an act of attainder on all his thoughts,
hopes, wishes, from youth upwards, to offer them at the shrine of
matured servility: he need not become one vile antithesis, a living
and ignominious satire on himself.

A gentleman went to live, some years ago, in a remote part of the
country, and as he did not wish to affect singularity, he used to have
two candles on his table of an evening. A romantic acquaintance of his
in the neighbourhood, smit with the love of simplicity and equality,
used to come in, and without ceremony snuff one of them out, saying,
it was a shame to indulge in such extravagance, while many poor
cottagers had not even a rushlight to see to do their evening's work
by. This might be about the year 1802, and was passed over as among
the ordinary occurrences of the day. In 1816 (oh! fearful lapse of
time, pregnant with strange mutability) the same enthusiastic lover of
economy, and hater of luxury, asked his thoughtless friend to dine
with him in company with a certain lord, and to lend him his
manservant to wait at table; and just before they were sitting down to
dinner, he heard him say to the servant in a sonorous whisper--'and be
sure you don't forget to have six candles on the table!' Extremes
meet. The event here was as true to itself as the oscillation of the
pendulum. My informant, who understands moral equations, had looked
for this reaction, and noted it down as characteristic. The
impertinence in the first instance was the cue to the ostentatious
servility in the second. The one was the fulfilment of the other, like
the type and anti-type of a prophecy. No--the keeping of the character
at the end of fourteen years was as unique as the keeping of the
thought to the end of the fourteen lines of a sonnet! Would it sound
strange if I were to whisper it in the reader's ear, that it was the
same person who was thus anxious to see six candles on the table to
receive a lord, who once (in ages past) said to me, that 'he saw
nothing to admire in the eloquence of such men as Mansfield and
Chatham; and what did it all end in, but their being made lords?' It
is better to be a lord than a lacquey to a lord! So we see that the
swelling pride and preposterous self-opinion which exalts itself above
the mightiest, looking down upon and braving the boasted pretensions
of the highest rank and the most brilliant talents as nothing,
compared with its own conscious powers and silent unmoved
self-respect, grovels and licks the dust before titled wealth, like a
lacquered slave, the moment it can get wages and a livery! Would
Milton or Marvel have done this?

Mr. Coleridge, indeed, sets down this outrageous want of keeping to an
excess of sympathy, and there is, after all, some truth in his
suggestion. There is a craving after the approbation and concurrence
of others natural to the mind of man. It is difficult to sustain the
weight of an opinion singly for any length of way. The intellect
languishes without cordial encouragement and support. It exhausts both
strength and patience to be always striving against the stream.
_Contra audentior ito_ is the motto but of few. Public opinion is
always pressing upon the mind, and, like the air we breathe, acts
unseen, unfelt. It supplies the living current of our thoughts, and
infects without our knowledge. It taints the blood, and is taken into
the smallest pores. The most sanguine constitutions are, perhaps, the
most exposed to its influence. But public opinion has its source in
power, in popular prejudice, and is not always in accord with right
reason, or a high and abstracted imagination. Which path to follow
where the two roads part? The heroic and romantic resolution prevails
at first in high and heroic tempers. They think to scale the heights
of truth and virtue at once with him 'whose genius had angelic wings,
and fed on manna,'--but after a time find themselves baffled, toiling
on in an uphill road, without friends, in a cold neighbourhood,
without aid or prospect of success. The poet

    'Like a worm goes by the way.'

He hears murmurs loud or suppressed, meets blank looks or scowling
faces, is exposed to the pelting of the pitiless press, and is stunned
by the shout of the mob, that gather round him to see what sort of a
creature a poet and a philosopher is. What is there to make him proof
against all this? A strength of understanding steeled against
temptation, and a dear love of truth that smiles opinion to scorn.
These he perhaps has not. A lord passes in his coach. Might he not get
up, and ride out of the reach of the rabble-rout? He is invited to
stop dinner. If he stays he might insinuate some wholesome truths. He
drinks in rank poison--flattery! He recites some verses to the ladies,
who smile delicious praise, and thank him through their tears. The
master of the house suggests a happy allusion in the turn of an
expression. 'There's sympathy.' This is better than the company he
lately left. Pictures, statues meet his raptured eye. Our Ulysses
finds himself in the gardens of Alcinous: our truant is fairly caught.
He wanders through enchanted ground. Groves, classic groves, nod unto
him, and he hears 'ancestral voices' hailing him as brother bard! He
sleeps, dreams, and wakes cured of his thriftless prejudices and
morose philanthropy. He likes this courtly and popular sympathy
better. 'He looks up with awe to kings; with honour to nobility; with
reverence to magistrates,' etc. He no longer breathes the air of
heaven and his own thoughts, but is steeped in that of palaces and
courts, and finds it agree better with his constitutional temperament.
Oh! how sympathy alters a man from what he was!

    'I've heard of hearts unkind,
    Kind deeds with cold returning;
    Alas! the gratitude of man
    Has oftener set me mourning.'

A spirit of contradiction, a wish to monopolise all wisdom, will not
account for uniform consistency, for it is sure to defeat and turn
against itself. It is 'everything by turns, and nothing long.' It is
warped and crooked. It cannot bear the least opposition, and sooner
than acquiesce in what others approve it will change sides in a day.
It is offended at every resistance to its captious, domineering
humour, and will quarrel for straws with its best friends. A person
under the guidance of this demon, if every whimsy or occult discovery
of his own is not received with acclamation by one party, will wreak
his spite by deserting to the other, and carry all his talent for
disputation with him, sharpened by rage and disappointment. A man, to
be steady in a cause, should be more attached to the truth than to the
acquiescence of his fellow citizens.

I can hardly consider Mr. Coleridge a deserter from the cause he first
espoused, unless one could tell what cause he ever heartily espoused,
or what party he ever belonged to, in downright earnest. He has not
been inconsistent with himself at different times, but at all times.
He is a sophist, a casuist, a rhetorician, what you please, and might
have argued or declaimed to the end of his breath on one side of a
question or another, but he never was a pragmatical fellow. He lived
in a round of contradictions, and never came to a settled point. His
fancy gave the cue to his judgment, and his vanity set his invention
afloat in whatever direction he could find most scope for it, or most
_sympathy_, that is, admiration. His Life and Opinions might naturally
receive the title of one of Hume's Essays--_A Sceptical Solution of
Sceptical Doubts_. To be sure, his _Watchman_ and his _Friend_ breathe
a somewhat different tone on subjects of a particular description,
both of them apparently pretty high-raised, but whoever will be at the
pains to examine them closely, will find them to be _voluntaries_,
fugues, solemn capriccios, not set compositions with any malice
prepense in them, or much practical meaning. I believe some of his
friends, who were indebted to him for the suggestion of plausible
reasons for conformity, and an opening to a more qualified view of the
letter of their paradoxical principles, have lately disgusted him by
the virulence and extravagance to which they have carried hints, of
which he never suspected that they would make the least possible use.
But if Mr. Coleridge is satisfied with the wandering Moods of his
Mind, perhaps this is no reason that others may not reap the solid
benefit. He himself is like the idle seaweed on the ocean, tossed from
shore to shore: they are like barnacles fastened to the vessel of
state, rotting its goodly timbers!

There are some persons who are of too fastidious a turn of mind to
like anything long, or to assent twice to the same opinion. ----
always sets himself to prop the falling cause, to nurse the rickety
bantling. He takes the part which he thinks in most need of his
support, not so much out of magnanimity, as to prevent too great a
degree of presumption or self-complacency on the triumphant side.
'Though truth be truth, yet he contrives to throw such changes of
vexation on it as it may lose some colour.' I have been delighted to
hear him expatiate with the most natural and affecting simplicity on a
favourite passage or picture, and all the while afraid of agreeing
with him, lest he should instantly turn round and unsay all that he
had said, for fear of my going away with too good an opinion of my own
taste, or too great an admiration of my idol--and his own. I dare not
ask his opinion twice, if I have got a favourable sentence once, lest
he should belie his own sentiments to stagger mine. I have heard him
talk divinely (like one inspired) of Boccaccio, and the story of the
Pot of Basil, describing 'how it grew, and it grew, and it grew,' till
you saw it spread its tender leaves in the light of his eye, and wave
in the tremulous sound of his voice; and yet if you asked him about it
another time, he would, perhaps, affect to think little of it, or to
have forgotten the circumstance. His enthusiasm is fickle and
treacherous. The instant he finds it shared in common, he backs out of
it. His enmity is equally refined, but hardly so unsocial. His
exquisitely-turned invectives display all the beauty of scorn, and
impart elegance to vulgarity. He sometimes finds out minute
excellences, and cries up one thing to put you out of conceit with
another. If you want him to praise Sir Joshua _con amore_, in his best
manner, you should begin with saying something about Titian--if you
seem an idoliser of Sir Joshua, he will immediately turn off the
discourse, gliding like the serpent before Eve, wary and beautiful, to
the graces of Sir Peter Lely, or ask if you saw a Vandyke the other
day, which he does not think Sir Joshua could stand near. But find
fault with the Lake Poets, and mention some pretended patron of rising
genius, and you need not fear but he will join in with you and go all
lengths that you can wish him. You may calculate upon him there.
'Pride elevates, and joy brightens his face.' And, indeed, so eloquent
is he, and so beautiful in his eloquence, that I myself, with all my
freedom from gall and bitterness, could listen to him untired, and
without knowing how the time went, losing and neglecting many a meal
and hour,

            ----'From morn to noon,
    From noon to dewy eve, a summer's day.'

When I cease to hear him quite, other tongues, turned to what accents
they may of praise or blame, would sound dull, ungrateful, out of
tune, and harsh, in the comparison.

An overstrained enthusiasm produces a capriciousness in taste, as well
as too much indifference. A person who sets no bounds to his
admiration takes a surfeit of his favourites. He overdoes the thing.
He gets sick of his own everlasting praises, and affected raptures.
His preferences are a great deal too violent to last. He wears out an
author in a week, that might last him a year, or his life, by the
eagerness with which he devours him. Every such favourite is in his
turn the greatest writer in the world. Compared with the lord of the
ascendent for the time being, Shakspeare is commonplace, and Milton a
pedant, a little insipid or so. Some of these prodigies require to be
dragged out of their lurking-places, and cried up to the top of the
compass; their traits are subtle, and must be violently obtruded on
the sight. But the effort of exaggerated praise, though it may stagger
others, tires the maker, and we hear of them no more after a while.
Others take their turns, are swallowed whole, undigested, ravenously,
and disappear in the same manner. Good authors share the fate of bad,
and a library in a few years is nearly dismantled. It is a pity thus
to outlive our admiration, and exhaust our relish of what is
excellent. Actors and actresses are disposed of in the same conclusive
peremptory way: some of them are talked of for months, nay, years;
then it is almost an offence to mention them. Friends, acquaintance,
go the same road: are now asked to come six days in the week, then
warned against coming the seventh. The smallest faults are soon
magnified in those we think too highly of: but where shall we find
perfection? If we will put up with nothing short of that, we shall
have neither pictures, books, nor friends left--we shall have nothing
but our own absurdities to keep company with! 'In all things a regular
and moderate indulgence is the best security for a lasting enjoyment.'

There are numbers who judge by the event, and change with fortune.
They extol the hero of the day, and join the prevailing clamour,
whatever it is; so that the fluctuating state of public opinion
regulates their feverish, restless enthusiasm, like a thermometer.
They blow hot or cold, according as the wind sets favourably or
otherwise. With such people the only infallible test of merit is
success; and no arguments are true that have not a large or powerful
majority on their side. They go by appearances. Their vanity, not the
truth, is their ruling object. They are not the last to quit a
falling cause, and they are the first to hail the rising sun. Their
minds want sincerity, modesty, and keeping. With them--

      ----'To have done is to hang
    Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
    In monumental mockery.'

They still, 'with one consent, praise new-born gauds,' and Fame, as
they construe it, is

      ----'Like a fashionable host,
    That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand;
    And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly,
    Grasps the in comer. Welcome ever smiles,
    And Farewell goes out sighing.'

Such servile flatterers made an idol of Buonaparte while fortune
smiled upon him, but when it left him, they removed him from his
pedestal in the cabinet of their vanity, as we take down the picture
of a relation that has died without naming us in his will. The opinion
of such triflers is worth nothing; it is merely an echo. We do not
want to be told the event of a question, but the rights of it. Truth
is in their theory nothing but 'noise and inexplicable dumb show.'
They are the heralds, outriders, and trumpeters in the procession of
fame; are more loud and boisterous than the rest, and give themselves
great airs, as the avowed patrons and admirers of genius and merit. As
there are many who change their sentiments with circumstances (as they
decided lawsuits in Rabelais with the dice), so there are others who
change them with their acquaintance. 'Tell me your company, and I'll
tell you your opinions,' might be said to many a man who piques
himself on a select and superior view of things, distinct from the
vulgar. Individuals of this class are quick and versatile, but they
are not beforehand with opinion. They catch it, when it is pointed out
to them, and take it at the rebound, instead of giving the first
impulse. Their minds are a light, luxuriant soil, into which thoughts
are easily transplanted, and shoot up with uncommon sprightliness and
vigour. They wear the dress of other people's minds very gracefully
and unconsciously. They tell you your own opinion, or very gravely
repeat an observation you have made to them about half a year
afterwards. They let you into the delicacies and luxuries of Spenser
with great disinterestedness, in return for your having introduced
that author to their notice. They prefer West to Raphael, Stothard to
Rubens, till they are told better. Still they are acute in the main,
and good judges in their way. By trying to improve their tastes, and
reform their notions according to an ideal standard, they perhaps
spoil and muddle their native faculties, rather than do them any good.
Their first manner is their best, because it is the most natural. It
is well not to go out of ourselves, and to be contented to take up
with what we are, for better for worse. We can neither beg, borrow,
nor steal characteristic excellences. Some views and modes of thinking
suit certain minds, as certain colours suit certain complexions. We
may part with very shining and very useful qualities, without getting
better ones to supply them. Mocking is catching, only in regard to
defects. Mimicry is always dangerous.

It is not necessary to change our road in order to advance on our
journey. We should cultivate the spot of ground we possess, to the
utmost of our power, though it may be circumscribed and comparatively
barren. _A rolling stone gathers no moss._ People may collect all the
wisdom they will ever attain, quite as well by staying at home as by
travelling abroad. There is no use in shifting from place to place,
from side to side, or from subject to subject. You have always to
begin again, and never finish any course of study or observation. By
adhering to the same principles you do not become stationary. You
enlarge, correct, and consolidate your reasonings, without
contradicting and shuffling about in your conclusions. If truth
consisted in hasty assumptions and petulant contradictions, there
might be some ground for this whiffling and violent inconsistency. But
the face of truth, like that of nature, is different and the same.
The first outline of an opinion, and the general tone of thinking, may
be sound and correct, though we may spend any quantity of time and
pains in working up and uniting the parts at subsequent sittings. If
we have misconceived the character of the countenance altogether at
first, no alterations will bring it right afterwards. Those who
mistake white for black in the first instance, may as well mistake
black for white when they reverse their canvas. I do not see what
security they can have in their present opinions, who build their
pretensions to wisdom on the total folly, rashness, and extravagance
(to say no worse) of their former ones. The perspective may change
with years and experience: we may see certain things nearer, and
others more remote; but the great masses and landmarks will remain,
though thrown into shadow and tinged by the intervening atmosphere: so
the laws of the understanding, the truth of nature, will remain, and
cannot be thrown into utter confusion and perplexity by our blunders
or caprice, like the objects in Hogarth's _Rules of Perspective_,
where everything is turned upside down, or thrust out of its
well-known place. I cannot understand how our political Harlequins
feel after all their summersaults and metamorphoses. They can hardly,
I should think, look at themselves in the glass, or walk across the
room without stumbling. This at least would be the case if they had
the least reflection or self-knowledge. But they judge from pique and
vanity solely. There should be a certain decorum in life, as in a
picture, without which it is neither useful nor agreeable. If my
opinions are not right, at any rate they are the best I have been able
to form, and better than any others I could take up at random, or out
of perversity, now. Contrary opinions vitiate one another, and destroy
the simplicity and clearness of the mind: nothing is good that has not
a beginning, a middle, and an end; and I would wish my thoughts to be

    'Linked each to each by natural piety.'




When I was about fourteen (as long ago as the year 1792), in
consequence of a dispute, one day after coming out of meeting, between
my father and an old lady of the congregation, respecting the repeal
of the Corporation and Test Acts and the limits of religious
toleration, I set about forming in my head (the first time I ever
attempted to think) the following system of political rights and
general jurisprudence.

It was this circumstance that decided the fate of my future life; or
rather, I would say it was from an original bias or craving to be
satisfied of the reason of things, that I seized hold of this
accidental opportunity to indulge in its uneasy and unconscious
determination. Mr. Currie, my old tutor at Hackney, may still have the
rough draught of this speculation, which I gave him with tears in my
eyes, and which he good-naturedly accepted in lieu of the customary
_themes_, and as a proof that I was no idler, but that my inability to
produce a line on the ordinary school topics arose from my being
involved in more difficult and abstruse matters. He must smile at the
so oft-repeated charge against me of florid flippancy and tinsel. If
from those briars I have since plucked roses, what labour has it not
cost me? The Test and Corporation Acts were repealed the other day.
How would my father have rejoiced if this had happened in his time,
and in concert with his old friends Dr. Price, Dr. Priestly, and
others! but now that there is no one to care about it, they give as a
boon to indifference what they so long refused to justice, and thus
ascribed by some to the liberality of the age! Spirit of
contradiction! when wilt thou cease to rule over sublunary affairs, as
the moon governs the tides? Not till the unexpected stroke of a comet
throws up a new breed of men and animals from the bowels of the earth;
nor then neither, since it is included in the very idea of all life,
power, and motion. _For_ and _against_ are inseparable terms. But not
to wander any farther from the point--

I began with trying to define what a _right_ meant; and this I settled
with myself was not simply that which is good or useful in itself, but
that which is thought so by the individual, and which has the sanction
of his will as such. 1. Because the determining what is good in itself
is an endless question. 2. Because one person's having a right to any
good, and another being made the judge of it, leaves him without any
security for its being exercised to his advantage, whereas self-love
is a natural guarantee for our self-interest. 3. A thing being willed
is the most absolute moral reason for its existence: that a thing is
good in itself is no reason whatever why it should exist, till the
will clothes it with a power to act as a motive; and there is
certainly nothing to prevent this will from taking effect (no law or
admitted plea above it) but another will opposed to it, and which
forms a right on the same principle. A good is only so far a right,
inasmuch as it virtually determines the will; for a _right_ meant that
which contains within itself, and as respects the bosom in which it is
lodged, a cogent and unanswerable reason why it should exist. Suppose
I have a violent aversion to one thing and as strong an attachment to
something else, and that there is no other being in the world but
myself, shall I not have a self-evident right, full title, liberty, to
pursue the one and avoid the other? That is to say, in other words,
there can be no authority to interpose between the strong natural
tendency of the will and its desired effect, but the will of another.
It may be replied that reason, that affection, may interpose between
the will and the act; but there are motives that influence the conduct
by first altering the will; and the point at issue is, that these
being away, what other principle or lever is there always left to
appeal to, before we come to blows? Now, such a principle is to be
found in self-interest; and such a barrier against the violent will is
erected by the limits which this principle necessarily sets to itself
in the claims of different individuals. Thus, then, a right is not
that which is right in itself, or best for the whole, or even for the
individual, but that which is good in his own eyes, and according to
his own will; and to which, among a number of equally selfish and
self-willed beings, he can lay claim, allowing the same latitude and
allowance to others. Political justice is that which assigns the
limits of these individual rights in society, or it is the adjustment
of force against force, of will against will, to prevent worse
consequences. In the savage state there is nothing but an appeal to
brute force, or the right of the strongest; Politics lays down a rule
to curb and measure out the wills of individuals in equal portions;
Morals has a higher standard still, and ought never to appeal to force
in any case whatever. Hence I always found something wanting in Mr.
Godwin's _Enquiry concerning Political Justice_ (which I read soon
after with great avidity, and hoped, from its title and its vast
reputation, to get entire satisfaction from it), for he makes no
distinction between political justice, which implies an appeal to
force, and moral justice, which implies only an appeal to reason. It
is surely a distinct question, what you can persuade people to do by
argument and fair discussion, and what you may lawfully compel them to
do, when reason and remonstrance fail. But in Mr. Godwin's system the
'omnipotence of reason' supersedes the use of law and government,
merges the imperfection of the means in the grandeur of the end, and
leaves but one class of ideas or motives, the highest and the least
attainable possible. So promises and oaths are said to be of no more
value than common breath; nor would they, if every word we uttered was
infallible and oracular, as if delivered from a Tripod. But this is
pragmatical, and putting an imaginary for a real state of things.
Again, right and duties, according to Mr. Godwin, are reciprocal. I
could not comprehend this without an arbitrary definition that took
away the meaning. In my sense, a man might have a right, a
discriminating power, to do something, which others could not deprive
him of, without a manifest infraction of certain rules laid down for
the peace and order of society, but which it might be his duty to
waive upon good reasons shown; rights are seconded by force, duties
are things of choice. This is the import of the words in common
speech: why then pass over this distinction in a work confessedly
rhetorical as well as logical, that is, which laid an equal stress on
sound and sense? Right, therefore, has a personal or selfish
reference, as it is founded on the law which determines a man's
actions in regard to his own being and well-being; and political
justice is that which assigns the limits of these individual rights on
their compatibility or incompatibility with each other in society.
Right, in a word, is the duty which each man owes to himself; or it is
that portion of the general good of which (as being principally
interested) he is made the special judge, and which is put under his
immediate keeping.

The next question I asked myself was, what is law and the real and
necessary ground of civil government? The answer to this is found in
the former statement. _Law_ is something to abridge, or, more properly
speaking, to ascertain, the bounds of the original right, and to
coerce the will of individuals in the community. Whence, then, has the
community such a right? It can only arise in self-defence, or from the
necessity of maintaining the equal rights of every one, and of
opposing force to force in case of any violent and unwarrantable
infringement of them. Society consists of a given number of
individuals; and the aggregate right of government is only the
consequence of these inherent rights, balancing and neutralising one
another. How those who deny natural rights get at any sort of right,
divine or human, I am at a loss to discover; for whatever exists in
combination, exists beforehand in an elementary state. The world is
composed of atoms, and a machine cannot be made without materials.
First, then, it follows that law or government is not the mere
creature of a social compact, since each person has a certain right
which he is bound to defend against another without asking that
other's leave, or else the right would always be at the mercy of
whoever chose to invade it. There would be a right to do wrong, but
none to resist it. Thus I have a natural right to defend my life
against a murderer, without any mutual compact between us; hence
society has an aggregate right of the same kind, and to make a law to
that effect, forbidding and punishing murder. If there be no such
immediate value and attachment to life felt by the individual, and a
consequent justifiable determination to defend it, then the formal
pretension of society to vindicate a right, which, according to this
reasoning, has no existence in itself, must be founded on air, on a
word, or a lawyer's _ipse dixit_. Secondly, society, or government, as
such, has no right to trench upon the liberty or rights of the
individuals its members, except as these last are, as it were,
forfeited by interfering with and destroying one another, like
opposite mechanical forces or quantities in arithmetic. Put the basis
that each man's will is a sovereign law to itself: this can only hold
in society as long as he does not meddle with others; but so long as
he does not do this, the first principle retains its force, for there
is no other principle to impeach or overrule it. The will of society
is not a sufficient plea; since this is, or ought to be, made up of
the wills or rights of the individuals composing it, which by the
supposition remain entire, and consequently without power to act. The
good of society is not a sufficient plea, for individuals are only
bound (on compulsion) not to do it harm, or to be barely just:
benevolence and virtue are voluntary qualities. For instance, if two
persons are obliged to do all that is possible for the good of both,
this must either be settled voluntarily between them, and then it is
friendship, and not force; or if this is not the case, it is plain
that one must be the slave, and lie at the caprice and mercy of the
other: it will be one will forcibly regulating two bodies. But if each
is left master of his own person and actions, with only the implied
proviso of not encroaching on those of the other, then both may
continue free and independent, and contented in their several spheres.
One individual has no right to interfere with the employment of my
muscular powers, or to put violence on my person, to force me to
contribute to the most laudable undertaking if I do not approve of it,
any more than I have to force him to assist me in the direct contrary:
if one has not, ten have not, nor a million, any such arbitrary right
over me. What one can be _made_ to do for a million is very trifling:
what a million may do by being left free in all that merely concerns
themselves, and not subject to the perpetual caprice and insolence of
authority, and pretext of the public good, is a very different
calculation. By giving up the principle of political independence, it
is not the million that will govern the one, but the one that will in
time give law to the million. There are some things that cannot be
free in natural society, and against which there is a natural law; for
instance, no one can be allowed to knock out another's brains or to
fetter his limbs with impunity. And government is bound to prevent the
same violations of liberty and justice. The question is, whether it
would not be possible for a government to exist, and for a system of
laws to be framed, that confined itself to the punishment of such
offences, and left all the rest (except the suppression of force by
force) optional or matter of mutual compact. What are a man's natural
rights? Those, the infringement of which cannot on any supposition go
unpunished: by leaving all but cases of necessity to choice and
reason, much would be perhaps gained, and nothing lost.

COROLLARY 1. It results from the foregoing statement, that there is
nothing naturally to restrain or oppose the will of one man, but the
will of another meeting it. Thus, in a desert island, it is evident
that my will and rights would be absolute and unlimited, and I might
say with Robinson Crusoe, 'I am monarch of all I survey.'

COROLLARY 2. It is coming into society that circumscribes my will and
rights, by establishing equal and mutual rights, instead of the
original uncircumscribed ones. They are still 'founded as the rock,'
though not so broad and general as the casing air, for the only thing
that limits them is the solidity of another right, no better than my
own, and, like stones in a building, or a mosaic pavement, each
remains not the less firmly riveted to its place, though it cannot
encroach upon the next to it. I do not belong to the state, nor am I a
nonentity in it, but I am one part of it, and independent in it, for
that very reason that every one in it is independent of me. Equality,
instead of being destroyed by society, results from and is improved by
it; for in politics, as in physics, the action and reaction are the
same: the right of resistance on their part implies the right of
self-defence on mine. In a theatre, each person has a right to his own
seat, by the supposition that he has no right to intrude into any one
else's. They are convertible propositions. Away, then, with the notion
that liberty and equality are inconsistent. But here is the artifice:
by merging the rights and independence of the individual in the
fictitious order of society, those rights become arbitrary,
capricious, equivocal, removable at the pleasure of the state or
ruling power; there is nothing substantial or durable implied in them:
if each has no positive claim, naturally, those of all taken together
can mount up to nothing; right and justice are mere blanks to be
filled up with arbitrary will, and the people have thenceforward no
defence against the government. On the other hand, suppose these
rights to be not empty names or artificial arrangements, but original
and inherent like solid atoms, then it is not in the power of
government to annihilate one of them, whatever may be the confusion
arising from their struggle for mastery, or before they can settle
into order and harmony. Mr. Burke talks of the reflections and
refractions of the rays of light as altering their primary essence and
direction. But if there were no original rays of light, there could be
neither refraction, nor reflections. Why, then, does he try by cloudy
sophistry to blot the sun out of heaven? One body impinges against and
impedes another in the fall, but it could not do this, but for the
principle of gravity. The author of the _Sublime and Beautiful_ would
have a single atom outweigh the great globe itself; or all empty
title, a bloated privilege, or a grievous wrong overturn the entire
mass of truth and justice. The question between the author and his
opponents appears to be simply this: whether politics, or the general
good, is all affair of reason or imagination! and this seems decided
by another consideration, viz. that Imagination is the judge of
individual things, and Reason of generals. Hence the great importance
of the principle of universal suffrage; for if the vote and choice of
a single individual goes for nothing, so, by parity of reasoning, may
that of all the rest of the community: but if the choice of every man
in the community is held sacred, then what must be the weight and
value of the whole.

Many persons object that by this means property is not represented,
and so, to avoid that, they would have nothing but property
represented, at the same time that they pretend that if the elective
franchise were thrown open to the poor, they would be wholly at the
command of the rich, to the prejudice and exclusion of the middle and
independent classes of society. Property always has a natural
influence and authority: it is only people without property that have
no natural protection, and require every artificial and legal one.
_Those that have much, shall have more; and those that have little,
shall have less._ This proverb is no less true in public than in
private life. The _better orders_ (as they are called, and who, in
virtue of this title, would assume a monopoly in the direction of
state affairs) are merely and in plain English those who are _better
off_ than others; and as they get the wished-for monopoly into their
hands, others will uniformly be _worse off_, and will sink lower and
lower in the scale; so that it is essentially requisite to extend the
elective franchise in order to counteract the excess of the great and
increasing goodness of the better orders to themselves. I see no
reason to suppose that in any case popular feeling (if free course
were given to it) would bear down public opinion. Literature is at
present pretty nearly on the footing of universal suffrage, yet the
public defer sufficiently to the critics; and when no party bias
interferes, and the government do not make a point of running a writer
down, the verdict is tolerably fair and just. I do not say that the
result might not be equally satisfactory, when literature was
patronised more immediately by the great; but then lords and ladies
had no interest in praising a bad piece and condemning a good one. If
they could have laid a tax on the town for not going to it, they would
have run a bad play forty nights together, or the whole year round,
without scruple. As things stand, the worse the law, the better for
the lawmakers: it takes everything from others to give to _them_. It
is common to insist on universal suffrage and the ballot together. But
if the first were allowed, the second would be unnecessary. The ballot
is only useful as a screen from arbitrary power. There is nothing
manly or independent to recommend it.

COROLLARY 3. If I was out at sea in a boat with a _jure divino_
monarch, and he wanted to throw me overboard, I would not let him. No
gentleman would ask such a thing, no freeman would submit to it. Has
he, then, a right to dispose of the lives and liberties of thirty
millions of men? Or have they more right than I have to resist his
demands? They have thirty millions of times that right, if they had a
particle of the same spirit that I have. It is not the individual,
then, whom in this case I fear (to me 'there's _no_ divinity doth
hedge a king'), but thirty millions of his subjects that call me to
account in his name, and who are of a most approved and indisputable
loyalty, and who have both the right and power. The power rests with
the multitude, but let them beware how the exercise of it turns
against their own rights! It is not the idol but the worshippers that
are to be dreaded, and who, by degrading one of their fellows, render
themselves liable to be branded with the same indignities.

COROLLARY 4. No one can be born a slave; for my limbs are my own, and
the power and the will to use them are anterior to all laws, and
independent of the control of every other person. No one acquires a
right over another but that other acquires some reciprocal right over
him; therefore the relation of master and slave is a contradiction in
political logic. Hence, also, it follows that combinations among
labourers for the rise of wages are always just and lawful, as much as
those among master manufacturers to keep them down. A man's labour is
his own, at least as much as another's goods; and he may starve if he
pleases, but he may refuse to work except on his own terms. The right
of property is reducible to this simple principle, that one man has
not a right to the produce of another's labour, but each man has a
right to the benefit of his own exertions and the use of his natural
and inalienable powers, unless for a supposed equivalent and by mutual
consent. Personal liberty and property therefore rest upon the same
foundation. I am glad to see that Mr. Macculloch, in his _Essay on
Wages_, admits the right of combination among journeymen and others. I
laboured this point hard, and, I think, satisfactorily, a good while
ago, in my _Reply to Mr. Malthus_. 'Throw your bread upon the waters,
and after many days you shall find it again.'

There are four things that a man may especially call his own. 1. His
person. 2. His actions. 3. His property. 4. His opinions. Let us see
how each of these claims unavoidably circumscribes and modifies those
of others, on the principle of abstract equity and necessity and
independence above laid down.

FIRST, AS TO THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS. My intention is to show that the
right of society to make laws to coerce the will of others, is
founded on the necessity of repelling the wanton encroachment of
that will on their rights; that is, strictly on the right of
self-defence or resistance to aggression. Society comes forward and
says, 'Let us alone, and we will let you alone, otherwise we must
see which is strongest'; its object is not to patronise or advise
individuals for their good, and against their will, but to protect
itself: meddling with others forcibly on any other plea or for any
other purpose is impertinence. But equal rights destroy one another;
nor can there be a right to impossible or impracticable things. Let
A, B, C, D, etc., be different component parts of any society, each
claiming to be the centre and master of a certain sphere of activity
and self-determination: as long as each keeps within his own line of
demarcation there is no harm done, nor any penalty incurred--it is
only the superfluous and overbearing will of particular persons that
must be restrained or lopped off by the axe of the law. Let A be the
culprit: B, C, D, etc., or the rest of the community, are plaintiffs
against A, and wish to prevent his taking any unfair or unwarranted
advantage over them. They set up no pretence to dictate or domineer
over him, but merely to hinder his dictating to and domineering over
them; and in this, having both might and right on their side, they
have no difficulty in putting it in execution. Every man's
independence and discretionary power over what peculiarly and
exclusively concerns himself, is his _castle_ (whether round,
square, or, according to Mr. Owen's new map of improvements, in the
form of a parallelogram). As long as he keeps within this, he is
safe--society has no hold of him: it is when he quits it to attack
his neighbours that they resort to reprisals, and make short work of
the interloper. It is, however, time to endeavour to point out in
what this natural division of right, and separate advantage
consists. In the first place, A, B, C, D have the common and natural
rights of persons, in so far that none of these has a right to offer
violence to, or cause bodily pain or injury to any of the others.
Sophists laugh at natural rights: they might as well deny that we
have natural persons; for while the last distinction holds true and
good by the constitution of things, certain consequences must and
will follow from it--'while this machine is to us Hamlet,' etc. For
instance, I should like to know whether Mr. Burke, with his _Sublime
and Beautiful_ fancies, would deny that each person has a particular
body and senses belonging to him, so that he feels a peculiar and
natural interest in whatever affects these more than another can,
and whether such a peculiar and paramount interest does not imply a
direct and unavoidable right in maintaining this circle of
individuality inviolate. To argue otherwise is to assert that
indifference, or that which does not feel either the good or the
ill, is as capable a judge and zealous a discriminator of right and
wrong as that which does. The right, then, is coeval and co-extended
with the interest, not a product of convention, but inseparable from
the order of the universe; the doctrine itself is natural and solid;
it is the contrary fallacy that is made of air and words. Mr. Burke,
in such a question, was like a man out at sea in a haze, and could
never tell the difference between land and clouds. If another break
my arm by violence, this will not certainly give him additional
health or strength; if he stun me by a blow or inflict torture on my
limbs, it is I who feel the pain, and not he; and it is hard if I,
who am the sufferer, am not allowed to be the judge. That another
should pretend to deprive me of it, or pretend to judge for me, and
set up his will against mine, in what concerns this portion of my
existence--where I have all at stake and he nothing--is not merely
injustice, but impudence. The circle of personal security and right,
then, is not an imaginary and arbitrary line fixed by law and the
will of the prince, or the scaly finger of Mr. Hobbes's _Leviathan_,
but is real and inherent in the nature of things, and itself the
foundation of law and justice. 'Hands off is fair play'--according
to the old adage. One, therefore, has not a right to lay violent
hands on another, or to infringe on the sphere of his personal
identity; one must not run foul of another, or he is liable to be
repelled and punished for the offence. If you meet an Englishman
suddenly in the street, he will run up against you sooner than get
out of your way, which last he thinks a compromise of his dignity
and a relinquishment of his purpose, though he expects you to get
out of his. A Frenchman in the same circumstances will come up close
to you, and try to walk over you, as if there was no one in his way;
but if you take no notice of him, he will step on one side, and make
you a low bow. The one is a fellow of stubborn will, the other a
_petit-maître_. An Englishman at a play mounts upon a bench, and
refuses to get down at the request of another, who threatens to call
him to account the next day. 'Yes,' is the answer of the first, 'if
your master will let you!' His abuse of liberty, he thinks, is
justified by the other's want of it. All an Englishman's ideas are
modifications of his will; which shows, in one way, that right is
founded on will, since the English are at once the freest and most
wilful of all people. If you meet another on the ridge of a
precipice, are you to throw each other down? Certainly not. You are
to pass as well as you can. 'Give and take,' is the rule of natural
right, where the right is not all on one side and cannot be claimed
entire. Equal weights and scales produce a balance, as much as
where the scales are empty: so it does not follow (as our votaries
of absolute power would insinuate) that one man's right is nothing
because another's is something. But suppose there is not time to
pass, and one or other must perish, in the case just mentioned, then
each must do the best for himself that he can, and the instinct of
self-preservation prevails over everything else. In the streets of
London, the passengers take the right hand of one another and the
wall alternately; he who should not conform to this rule would be
guilty of a breach of the peace. But if a house were falling, or a
mad ox driven furiously by, the rule would be, of course, suspended,
because the case would be out of the ordinary. Yet I think I can
conceive, and have even known, persons capable of carrying the point
of gallantry in political right to such a pitch as to refuse to take
a precedence which did not belong to them in the most perilous
circumstances, just as a soldier may waive a right to quit his post,
and takes his turn in battle. The actual collision or case of
personal assault and battery, is, then, clearly prohibited, inasmuch
as each person's body is clearly defined: but how if A use other
means of annoyance against B, such as a sword or poison, or resort
to what causes other painful sensations besides tangible ones, for
instance, certain disagreeable sounds and smells? Or, if these are
included as a violation of personal rights, then how draw the line
between them and the employing certain offensive words and gestures
or uttering opinions which I disapprove? This is a puzzler for the
dogmatic school; but they solve the whole difficulty by an
assumption of _utility_, which is as much as to tell a person that
the way to any place to which he asks a direction is 'to follow his
nose.' We want to know by given marks and rules what is best and
useful; and they assure us very wisely, that this is infallibly and
clearly determined by what is best and useful. Let us try something
else. It seems no less necessary to erect certain little
_fortalices_, with palisades and outworks about them, for RIGHT to
establish and maintain itself in, than as landmarks to guide us
across the wide waste of UTILITY. If a person runs a sword through
me, or administers poison, or procures it to be administered, the
effect, the pain, disease or death is the same, and I have the same
right to prevent it, on the principle that I am the sufferer; that
the injury is offered to me, and he is no gainer by it, except for
mere malice or caprice, and I therefore remain master and judge of
my own remedy, as in the former case; the principle and definition
of right being to secure to each individual the determination and
protection of that portion of sensation in which he has the
greatest, if not a sole interest, and, as it were, identity with it.
Again, as to what are called _nuisances_, to wit offensive smells,
sounds, etc., it is more difficult to determine, on the ground that
_one man's meat is another man's poison_. I remember a case occurred
in the neighbourhood where I was, and at the time I was trying my
best at this question, which puzzled me a good deal. A rector of a
little town in Shropshire, who was at variance with all his
parishioners, had conceived a particular spite to a lawyer who lived
next door to him, and as a means of annoying him, used to get
together all sorts of rubbish, weeds, and unsavoury materials, and
set them on fire, so that the smoke should blow over into his
neighbour's garden; whenever the wind set in that direction, he
said, as a signal to his gardener, 'It's a fine Wicksteed wind
to-day'; and the operation commenced. Was this an action of assault
and battery, or not? I think it was, for this reason, that the
offence was unequivocal, and that the only motive for the proceeding
was the giving this offence. The assailant would not like to be
served so himself. Mr. Bentham would say, the malice of the motive
was a set-off to the injury. I shall leave that _prima philosophia_
consideration out of the question. A man who knocks out another's
brains with a bludgeon may say it pleases him to do so; but will it
please him to have the compliment returned? If he still persists, in
spite of this punishment, there is no preventing him; but if not,
then it is a proof that he thinks the pleasure less than the pain to
himself, and consequently to another in the scales of justice. The
_lex talionis_ is an excellent test. Suppose a third person (the
physician of the place) had said, 'It is a fine Egerton wind
to-day,' our rector would have been non-plussed; for he would have
found that, as he suffered all the hardship, he had the right to
complain of and to resist an action of another, the consequences of
which affected principally himself. Now mark: if he had himself had
any advantage to derive from the action, which he could not obtain
in any other way, then he would feel that his neighbour also had the
same plea and right to follow his own course (still this might be a
doubtful point); but in the other case it would be sheer malice and
wanton interference; that is, not the exercise of a right, but the
invasion of another's comfort and independence. Has a person, then,
a right to play on the horn or on a flute, on the same staircase? I
say, yes; because it is for his own improvement and pleasure, and
not to annoy another; and because, accordingly, every one in his own
case would wish to reserve this or a similar privilege to himself. I
do not think a person has a right to beat a drum under one's window,
because this is altogether disagreeable, and if there is an
extraordinary motive for it, then it is fit that the person should
be put to some little inconvenience in removing his sphere of
liberty of action to a reasonable distance. A tallow-chandler's shop
or a steam-engine is a nuisance in a town, and ought to be removed
into the suburbs; but they are to be tolerated where they are least
inconvenient, because they are necessary somewhere, and there is no
remedying the inconvenience. The right to protest against and to
prohibit them rests with the suffering party; but because this point
of the greatest interest is less clear in some cases than in others,
it does not follow that there is no right or principle of justice
in the case. 3. As to matters of contempt and the expression of
opinion, I think these do not fall under the head of force, and are
not, on that ground, subjects of coercion and law. For example, if a
person inflicts a sensation upon me by material means, whether
tangible or otherwise, I cannot help that sensation; I am so far the
slave of that other, and have no means of resisting him but by
force, which I would define to be material agency. But if another
proposes an opinion to me, I am not bound to be of this opinion; my
judgment and will is left free, and therefore I have no right to
resort to force to recover a liberty which I have not lost. If I do
this to prevent that other from pressing that opinion, it is I who
invade his liberty, without warrant, because without necessity. It
may be urged that material agency, or force, is used in the adoption
of sounds or letters of the alphabet, which I cannot help seeing or
hearing. But the injury is not here, but in the moral and artificial
inference, which I am at liberty to admit or reject, according to
the evidence. There is no force but argument in the case, and it is
reason, not the will of another, that gives the law. Further, the
opinion expressed, generally concerns not one individual, but the
general interest; and of that my approbation or disapprobation is
not a commensurate or the sole judge. I am judge of my own
interests, because it is my affair, and no one's else; but by the
same rule, I am not judge, nor have I a _veto_ on that which appeals
to all the world, merely because I have a prejudice or fancy against
it. But suppose another expresses by signs or words a contempt for
me? _Answer._ I do not know that he is bound to have a respect for
me. Opinion is free; for if I wish him to have that respect, then he
must be left free to judge for himself, and consequently to arrive
at and to express the contrary opinion, or otherwise the verdict and
testimony I aim at could not be obtained; just as players must
consent to be hissed if they expect to be applauded. Opinion cannot
be forced, for it is not grounded on force, but on evidence and
reason, and therefore these last are the proper instruments to
control that opinion, and to make it favourable to what we wish, or
hostile to what we disapprove. In what relates to action, the will
of another is force, or the determining power: in what relates to
opinion, the mere will or _ipse dixit_ of another is of no avail but
as it gains over other opinions to its side, and therefore neither
needs nor admits of force as a counteracting means to be used
against it. But in the case of calumny or indecency: 1. I would say
that it is the suppression of truth that gives falsehood its worst
edge. What transpires (however maliciously or secretly) in spite of
the law, is taken for gospel, and as it is impossible to prevent
calumny, so it is impossible to counteract it on the present system,
or while every attempt to answer it is attributed to the people's
not daring to speak the truth. If any single fact or accident peeps
out, the whole character, having this legal screen before it, is
supposed to be of a piece; and the world, defrauded of the means of
coming to their own conclusion, naturally infer the worst. Hence the
saying, that reputation once gone never returns. If, however, we
grant the general licence or liberty of the press, in a scheme where
publicity is the great object, it seems a manifest _contre-sens_
that the author should be the only thing screened or kept a secret:
either, therefore, an anonymous libeller would be heard with
contempt, or if he signed his name thus --, or thus -- --, it would
be equivalent to being branded publicly as a calumniator, or marked
with the T. F. (_travail forcé_) or the broad R. (rogue) on his
back. These are thought sufficient punishments, and yet they rest on
opinion without stripes or labour. As to indecency, in proportion as
it is flagrant is the shock and resentment against it; and as vanity
is the source of indecency, so the universal discountenance and
shame is its most effectual antidote. If it is public, it produces
immediate reprisals from public opinion which no brow can stand;
and if secret, it had better be left so. No one can then say it is
obtruded on him; and if he will go in search of it, it seems odd he
should call upon the law to frustrate the object of his pursuit.
Further, at the worst, society has its remedy in its own hands
whenever its moral sense is outraged, that is, it may send to
Coventry, or excommunicate like the church of old; for though it may
have no right to prosecute, it is not bound to protect or patronise,
unless by voluntary consent of all parties concerned. Secondly, as
to rights of action, or personal liberty. These have no limit but
the rights of persons or property aforesaid, or to be hereafter
named. They are the channels in which the others run without injury
and without impediment, as a river within its banks. Every one has a
right to use his natural powers in the way most agreeable to
himself, and which he deems most conducive to his own advantage,
provided he does not interfere with the corresponding rights and
liberties of others. He has no right to coerce them by a decision of
his individual will, and as long as he abstains from this he has no
right to be coerced by an expression of the aggregate will, that is,
by law. The law is the emanation of the aggregate will, and this
will receives its warrant to act only from the forcible pressure
from without, and its indispensable resistance to it. Let us see how
this will operate to the pruning and curtailment of law. The rage of
legislation is the first vice of society; it ends by limiting it to
as few things as possible. 1. There can, according to the principle
here imperfectly sketched, be no laws for the enforcement of morals;
because morals have to do with the will and affections, and the law
only puts a restraint on these. Every one is politically constituted
the judge of what is best for himself; it is only when he encroaches
on others that he can be called to account. He has no right to say
to others, You shall do as I do: how then should they have a right
to say to him, You shall do as we do? Mere numbers do not convey
the right, for the law addresses not one, but the whole community.
For example, there cannot rightly be a law to set a man in the
stocks for getting drunk. It injures his health, you say. That is
his concern, and not mine. But it is detrimental to his affairs: if
so, he suffers most by it. But it is ruinous to his wife and family:
he is their natural and legal guardian. But they are thrown upon the
parish: the parish need not take the burden upon itself, unless it
chooses or has agreed to do so. If a man is not kind to or fond of
his wife I see no law to make him. If he beats her, or threatens her
life, she as clearly has a right to call in the aid of a constable
or justice of peace. I do not see, in like manner, how there can be
law against gambling (against cheating there may), nor against
usury. A man gives twenty, forty, a hundred per cent. with his eyes
open, but would he do it if strong necessity did not impel him?
Certainly no man would give double if he could get the same
advantage for half. There are circumstances in which a rope to save
me from drowning, or a draught of water, would be worth all I have.
In like manner, lotteries are fair things; for the loss is
inconsiderable, and the advantage may be incalculable. I do not
believe the poor put into them, but the reduced rich, the
_shabby-genteel_. Players were formerly prohibited as a nuisance,
and fortune-tellers still are liable to the Vagrant Act, which the
parson of the parish duly enforces, in his zeal to prevent cheating
and imposture, while he himself has his two livings, and carries off
a tenth of the produce of the soil. Rape is an offence clearly
punishable by law; but I would not say that simple incontinence is
so. I will give one more example, which, though quaint, may explain
the distinction I aim at. A man may commit suicide if he pleases,
without being responsible to any one. He may quit the world as he
would quit the country where he was born. But if any person were to
fling himself from the gallery into the pit of a playhouse, so as to
endanger the lives of others, if he did not succeed in killing
himself, he would render himself liable to punishment for the
attempt, if it were to be supposed that a person so desperately
situated would care about consequences. Duelling is lawful on the
same principle, where every precaution is taken to show that the act
is voluntary and fair on both sides. I might give other instances,
but these will suffice. 2. There should be a perfect toleration in
matters of religion. In what relates to the salvation of a man's
soul, he is infinitely more concerned than I can be; and to pretend
to dictate to him in this particular is an infinite piece of
impertinence and presumption. But if a man has no religion at all?
That does not hinder me from having any. If he stood at the church
door and would not let me enter, I should have a right to push him
aside; but if he lets me pass by without interruption, I have no
right to turn back and drag him in after me. He might as well force
me to have no religion as I force him to have one, or burn me at a
stake for believing what he does not. Opinion, 'like the wild goose,
flies unclaimed of any man': heaven is like 'the marble air,
accessible to all'; and therefore there is no occasion to trip up
one another's heels on the road, or to erect a turnpike gate to
collect large sums from the passengers. How have I a right to make
another pay for the saving of my soul, or to assist me in damning
his? There should be no secular interference in sacred things; no
laws to suppress or establish any church or sect in religion, no
religious persecutions, tests, or disqualifications; the different
sects should be left to inveigh and hate each other as much as they
please; but without the love of exclusive domination and spiritual
power there would be little temptation to bigotry and intolerance.

3. AS TO THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY. It is of no use a man's being left to
enjoy security, or to exercise his freedom of action, unless he has a
right to appropriate certain other things necessary to his comfort and
subsistence to his own use. In a state of nature, or rather of
solitary independence, he has a right to all he can lay his hands on:
what then limits this right? Its being inconsistent with the same
right in others. This strikes a mathematical or logical balance
between two extreme and equal pretensions. As there is not a natural
and indissoluble connection between the individual and his property,
or those outward objects of which he may have need (they being
detached, unlimited, and transferable), as there is between the
individual and his person, either as an organ of sensation or action,
it is necessary, in order to prevent endless debate and quarrels, to
fix upon some other criterion or common ground of preference. Animals,
or savages, have no idea of any other right than that of the
strongest, and seize on all they can get by force, without any regard
to justice or an equal claim. 1. One mode of settling the point is to
divide the spoil. That is allowing an equal advantage to both. Thus
boys, when they unexpectedly find anything, are accustomed to cry
'_Halves!_' But this is liable to other difficulties, and applies only
to the case of joint finding. 2. Priority of possession is a fair way
of deciding the right of property; first, on the mere principle of a
lottery, or the old saying, '_First come, first served_'; secondly,
because the expectation having been excited, and the will more set
upon it, this constitutes a powerful reason for not violently forcing
it to let go its hold. The greater strength of volition is, we have
seen, one foundation of right; for supposing a person to be absolutely
indifferent to anything, he could properly set up no claim to it. 3.
Labour, or the having produced a thing or fitted it for use by
previous exertion, gives this right, chiefly, indeed, for moral and
final causes; because if one enjoyed what another had produced, there
would be nothing but idleness and rapacity; but also in the sense we
are inquiring into, because on a merely selfish ground the labour
undergone, or the time lost, is entitled to an equivalent _cæteris
manentibus_. 4. If another, voluntarily, or for a consideration,
resigns to me his right in anything, it to all intents and purposes
becomes mine. This accounts not only for gifts, the transfer of
property by bargains, etc., but for legacies, and the transmission of
property in families or otherwise. It is hard to make a law to
circumscribe this right of disposing of what we have as we please; yet
the boasted law of primogeniture, which is professedly the bulwark and
guardian of property, is in direct violation of this principle. 5, and
lastly. Where a thing is common, and there is enough for all, and no
one contributes to it, as air or water, there can be no property in
it. The proximity to a herring-fishery, or the having been the first
to establish a particular traffic in such commodities, may perhaps
give this right by aggravating our will, as having a nearer or longer
power over them; but the rule is the other way. It is on the same
principle that poaching is a kind of honest thieving, for that which
costs no trouble and is confined to no limits seems to belong to no
one exclusively (why else do poachers or country people seize on this
kind of property with the least reluctance, but that it is the least
like stealing?); and as the game laws and the tenaciousness of the
rights to that which has least the character of property, as most a
point of honour, produced a revolution in one country, so they are not
unlikely to produce it in another. The object and principle of the
laws of property, then, is this: 1. To supply individuals and the
community with what they need. 2. To secure an equal share to each
individual, other circumstances being the same. 3. To keep the peace
and promote industry and plenty, by proportioning each man's share to
his own exertions, or to the good-will and discretion of others. The
intention, then, being that no individual should rob another, or be
starved but by his refusing to work (the earth and its produce being
the natural estate of the community, subject to these regulations of
individual right and public welfare), the question is, whether any
individual can have a right to rob or starve the whole community: or
if the necessary discretion left in the application of the principle
has led to a state of things subversive of the principle itself, and
destructive to the welfare and existence of the state, whether the end
being defeated, the law does not fall to the ground, or require either
a powerful corrective or a total reconstruction. The end is superior
to the means, and the use of a thing does not justify its abuse. If a
clock is quite out of order and always goes wrong, it is no argument
to say it was set right at first and on true mechanical principles,
and therefore it must go on as it has done, according to all the rules
of art; on the contrary, it is taken to pieces, repaired, and the
whole restored to the original state, or, if this is impossible, a new
one is made. So society, when out of order, which it is whenever the
interests of the many are regularly and outrageously sacrificed to
those of the few, must be repaired, and either a reform or a
revolution cleanse its corruptions and renew its elasticity. People
talk of the poor laws as a grievance. Either they or a national
bankruptcy, or a revolution, are necessary. The labouring population
have not doubled in the last forty years; there are still no more than
are necessary to do the work in husbandry, etc., that is indispensably
required; but the wages of a labouring man are no higher than they
were forty years ago, and the price of food and necessaries is at
least double what it was then, owing to taxes, grants, monopolies, and
immense fortunes gathered during the war by the richer or more
prosperous classes, who have not ceased to propagate in the
geometrical ratio, though the poor have not done it, and the
maintaining of whose younger and increasing branches in becoming
splendour and affluence presses with double weight on the poor and
labouring classes. The greater part of a community ought not to be
paupers or starving; and when a government by obstinacy and madness
has reduced them to that state, it must either take wise and effectual
measures to relieve them from it, or pay the forfeit of its own
wickedness and folly.

It seems, then, that a system of just and useful laws may be
constructed nearly, if not wholly, on the principle of the right of
self-defence, or the security for person, liberty, and property. There
are exceptions, such, for instance, as in the case of children,
idiots, and insane persons. These common-sense dictates for a general
principle can only hold good where the general conditions are complied
with. There are also mixed cases, partaking of civil and moral
justice. Is a man bound to support his children? Not in strict
political right; but he may be compelled to forego all the benefits of
civil society, if he does not fulfil an engagement which, according to
the feelings and principles of that society, he has undertaken. So in
respect to marriage. It is a voluntary contract, and the violation of
it is punishable on the same plea of sympathy and custom. Government
is not necessarily founded on common consent, but on the right which
society has to defend itself against all aggression. But am I bound to
pay or support the government for defending the society against any
violence or injustice? No: but then they may withdraw the protection
of the law from me if I refuse, and it is on this ground that the
contributions of each individual to the maintenance of the state are
demanded. Laws are, or ought to be, founded on the supposed infraction
of individual rights. If these rights, and the best means of
maintaining them, are always clear, and there could be no injustice or
abuse of power on the part of the government, every government might
be its own lawgiver: but as neither of these is the case, it is
necessary to recur to the general voice for settling the boundaries of
right and wrong, and even more for preventing the government, under
pretence of the general peace and safety, from subjecting the whole
liberties, rights, and resources of the community to its own advantage
and sole will.




There is no single speech of Mr. Burke which can convey a satisfactory
idea of his powers of mind: to do him justice, it would be necessary
to quote all his works; the only specimen of Burke is, _all that he
wrote_. With respect to most other speakers, a specimen is generally
enough, or more than enough. When you are acquainted with their
manner, and see what proficiency they have made in the mechanical
exercise of their profession, with what facility they can borrow a
simile, or round a period, how dexterously they can argue, and object,
and rejoin, you are satisfied; there is no other difference in their
speeches than what arises from the difference of the subjects. But
this was not the case with Burke. He brought his subjects along with
him; he drew his materials from himself. The only limits which
circumscribed his variety were the stores of his own mind. His stock
of ideas did not consist of a few meagre facts, meagrely stated, of
half-a-dozen commonplaces tortured into a thousand different ways; but
his mine of wealth was a profound understanding, inexhaustible as the
human heart, and various as the sources of human nature. He therefore
enriched every subject to which he applied himself, and new subjects
were only the occasions of calling forth fresh powers of mind which
had not been before exerted. It would therefore be in vain to look for
the proof of his powers in any one of his speeches or writings: they
all contain some additional proof of power. In speaking of Burke,
then, I shall speak of the whole compass and circuit of his mind--not
of that small part or section of him which I have been able to give:
to do otherwise would be like the story of the man who put the brick
in his pocket, thinking to show it as the model of a house. I have
been able to manage pretty well with respect to all my other speakers,
and curtailed them down without remorse. It was easy to reduce them
within certain limits, to fix their spirit, and condense their
variety; by having a certain quantity given, you might infer all the
rest; it was only the same thing over again. But who can bind Proteus,
or confine the roving flight of genius?

Burke's writings are better than his speeches, and indeed his speeches
are writings. But he seemed to feel himself more at ease, to have a
fuller possession of his faculties in addressing the public, than in
addressing the House of Commons. Burke was _raised_ into public life;
and he seems to have been prouder of this new dignity than became so
great a man. For this reason, most of his speeches have a sort of
parliamentary preamble to them: he seems fond of coquetting with the
House of Commons, and is perpetually calling the Speaker out to dance
a minuet with him before he begins. There is also something like an
attempt to stimulate the superficial dulness of his hearers by
exciting their surprise, by running into extravagance: and he
sometimes demeans himself by condescending to what may be considered
as bordering too much upon buffoonery, for the amusement of the
company. Those lines of Milton were admirably applied to him by some
one--'The elephant to make them sport wreathed his proboscis lithe.'
The truth is, that he was out of his place in the House of Commons; he
was eminently qualified to shine as a man of genius, as the instructor
of mankind, as the brightest luminary of his age; but he had nothing
in common with that motley crew of knights, citizens, and burgesses.
He could not be said to be 'native and endued unto that element.' He
was above it; and never appeared like himself, but when, forgetful of
the idle clamours of party, and of the little views of little men, he
applied to his country and the enlightened judgment of mankind.

I am not going to make an idle panegyric on Burke (he has no need of
it); but I cannot help looking upon him as the chief boast and
ornament of the English House of Commons. What has been said of him
is, I think, strictly true, that 'he was the most eloquent man of his
time: his wisdom was greater than his eloquence.' The only public man
that in my opinion can be put in any competition with him, is Lord
Chatham; and he moved in a sphere so very remote, that it is almost
impossible to compare them. But though it would perhaps be difficult
to determine which of them excelled most in his particular way, there
is nothing in the world more easy than to point out in what their
peculiar excellences consisted. They were in every respect the reverse
of each other. Chatham's eloquence was popular: his wisdom was
altogether plain and practical. Burke's eloquence was that of the
poet; of the man of high and unbounded fancy: his wisdom was profound
and contemplative. Chatham's eloquence was calculated to make men
_act_: Burke's was calculated to make them _think_. Chatham could have
roused the fury of a multitude, and wielded their physical energy as
he pleased: Burke's eloquence carried conviction into the mind of the
retired and lonely student, opened the recesses of the human breast,
and lighted up the face of nature around him. Chatham supplied his
hearers with motives to immediate action: Burke furnished them with
_reasons_ for action which might have little effect upon them at the
time, but for which they would be the wiser and better all their lives
after. In research, in originality, in variety of knowledge, in
richness of invention, in depth and comprehension of mind, Burke had
as much the advantage of Lord Chatham as he was excelled by him in
plain common sense, in strong feeling, in steadiness of purpose, in
vehemence, in warmth, in enthusiasm, and energy of mind. Burke was
the man of genius, of fine sense, and subtle reasoning; Chatham was a
man of clear understanding, of strong sense, and violent passions.
Burke's mind was satisfied with speculation: Chatham's was essentially
_active_; it could not rest without an object. The power which
governed Burke's mind was his Imagination; that which gave its
_impetus_ to Chatham was Will. The one was almost the creature of pure
intellect, the other of physical temperament.

There are two very different ends which a man of genius may propose to
himself, either in writing or speaking, and which will accordingly
give birth to very different styles. He can have but one of these two
objects; either to enrich or strengthen the mind; either to furnish us
with new ideas, to lead the mind into new trains of thought, to which
it was before unused, and which it was incapable of striking out for
itself; or else to collect and embody what we already knew, to rivet
our old impressions more deeply; to make what was before plain still
plainer, and to give to that which was familiar all the effect of
novelty. In the one case we receive an accession to the stock of our
ideas; in the other, an additional degree of life and energy is
infused into them: our thoughts continue to flow in the same channels,
but their pulse is quickened and invigorated. I do not know how to
distinguish these different styles better than by calling them
severally the inventive and refined, or the impressive and vigorous
styles. It is only the subject-matter of eloquence, however, which is
allowed to be remote or obscure. The things themselves may be subtle
and recondite, but they must be dragged out of their obscurity and
brought struggling to the light; they must be rendered plain and
palpable (as far as it is in the wit of man to do so), or they are no
longer eloquence. That which by its natural impenetrability, and in
spite of every effort, remains dark and difficult, which is impervious
to every ray, on which the imagination can shed no lustre, which can
be clothed with no beauty, is not a subject for the orator or poet. At
the same time it cannot be expected that abstract truths or profound
observations should ever be placed in the same strong and dazzling
points of view as natural objects and mere matters of fact. It is
enough if they receive a reflex and borrowed lustre, like that which
cheers the first dawn of morning, where the effect of surprise and
novelty gilds every object, and the joy of beholding another world
gradually emerging out of the gloom of night, 'a new creation rescued
from his reign,' fills the mind with a sober rapture. Philosophical
eloquence is in writing what _chiaro-scuro_ is in painting; he would
be a fool who should object that the colours in the shaded part of a
picture were not so bright as those on the opposite side; the eye of
the connoisseur receives an equal delight from both, balancing the
want of brilliancy and effect with the greater delicacy of the tints,
and difficulty of the execution. In judging of Burke, therefore, we
are to consider, first, the style of eloquence which he adopted, and,
secondly, the effects which he produced with it. If he did not produce
the same effects on vulgar minds as some others have done, it was not
for want of power, but from the turn and direction of his mind.[10] It
was because his subjects, his ideas, his arguments, were less vulgar.
The question is not whether he brought certain truths equally home to
us, but how much nearer he brought them than they were before. In my
opinion, he united the two extremes of refinement and strength in a
higher degree than any other writer whatever.

The subtlety of his mind was undoubtedly that which rendered Burke a
less popular writer and speaker than he otherwise would have been. It
weakened the impression of his observations upon others, but I cannot
admit that it weakened the observations themselves; that it took
anything from their real weight or solidity. Coarse minds think all
that is subtle, futile: that because it is not gross and obvious and
palpable to the senses, it is therefore light and frivolous, and of no
importance in the real affairs of life; thus making their own confined
understandings the measure of truth, and supposing that whatever they
do not distinctly perceive, is nothing. Seneca, who was not one of the
vulgar, also says, that subtle truths are those which have the least
substance in them, and consequently approach nearest to nonentity. But
for my own part I cannot help thinking that the most important truths
must be the most refined and subtle; for that very reason, that they
must comprehend a great number of particulars, and instead of
referring to any distinct or positive fact, must point out the
combined effects of an extensive chain of causes, operating gradually,
remotely, and collectively, and therefore imperceptibly. General
principles are not the less true or important because from their
nature they elude immediate observation; they are like the air, which
is not the less necessary because we neither see nor feel it, or like
that secret influence which binds the world together, and holds the
planets in their orbits. The very same persons who are the most
forward to laugh at all systematic reasoning as idle and impertinent,
you will the next moment hear exclaiming bitterly against the baleful
effects of new-fangled systems of philosophy, or gravely descanting on
the immense importance of instilling sound principles of morality into
the mind. It would not be a bold conjecture, but an obvious truism, to
say, that all the great changes which have been brought about in the
mortal world, either for the better or worse, have been introduced,
not by the bare statement of facts, which are things already known,
and which must always operate nearly in the same manner, but by the
development of certain opinions and abstract principles of reasoning
on life and manners, or the origin of society and man's nature in
general, which being obscure and uncertain, vary from time to time,
and produce corresponding changes in the human mind. They are the
wholesome dew and rain, or the mildew and pestilence that silently
destroy. To this principle of generalisation all wise lawgivers, and
the systems of philosophers, owe their influence.

It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one
belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a
great man. Of all the persons of this description that I have ever
known, I never met with above one or two who would make this
concession; whether it was that party feelings ran too high to admit
of any real candour, or whether it was owing to an essential vulgarity
in their habits of thinking, they all seemed to be of opinion that he
was a wild enthusiast, or a hollow sophist, who was to be answered by
bits of facts, by smart logic, by shrewd questions, and idle songs.
They looked upon him as a man of disordered intellects, because he
reasoned in a style to which they had not been used, and which
confounded their dim perceptions. If you said that though you differed
with him in sentiment, yet you thought him an admirable reasoner, and
a close observer of human nature, you were answered with a loud laugh,
and some hackneyed quotation. 'Alas! Leviathan was not so tamed!' They
did not know whom they had to contend with. The corner-stone, which
the builders rejected, became the head-corner, though to the Jews a
stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; for, indeed, I cannot
discover that he was much better understood by those of his own party,
if we may judge from the little affinity there is between his mode of
reasoning and theirs. The simple clue to all his reasonings on
politics is, I think, as follows. He did not agree with some writers
that that mode of government is necessarily the best which is the
cheapest. He saw in the construction of society other principles at
work, and other capacities of fulfilling the desires, and perfecting
the nature of man, besides those of securing the equal enjoyment of
the means of animal life, and doing this at as little expense as
possible. He thought that the wants and happiness of men were not to
be provided for, as we provide for those of a herd of cattle, merely
by attending to their physical necessities. He thought more nobly of
his fellows. He knew that man had affections and passions and powers
of imagination, as well as hunger and thirst, and the sense of heat
and cold. He took his idea of political society from the pattern of
private life, wishing, as he himself expresses it, to incorporate the
domestic charities with the orders of the state, and to blend them
together. He strove to establish an analogy between the compact that
binds together the community at large, and that which binds together
the several families that compose it. He knew that the rules that form
the basis of private morality are not founded in reason, that is, in
the abstract properties of those things which are the subjects of
them, but in the nature of man, and his capacity of being affected by
certain things from habit, from imagination, and sentiment, as well as
from reason.

Thus, the reason why a man ought to be attached to his wife and
children is not, surely, that they are better than others (for in this
case every one else ought to be of the same opinion), but because he
must be chiefly interested in those things which are nearest to him,
and with which he is best acquainted, since his understanding cannot
reach equally to everything; because he must be most attached to those
objects which he has known the longest, and which by their situation
have actually affected him the most, not those which in themselves are
the most affecting whether they have ever made any impression on him
or no; that is, because he is by his nature the creature of habit and
feeling, and because it is reasonable that he should act in conformity
to his nature. Burke was so far right in saying that it is no
objection to an institution that it is founded in _prejudice_, but the
contrary, if that prejudice is natural and right; that is, if it
arises from those circumstances which are properly subjects of feeling
and association, not from any defect or perversion of the
understanding in those things which fall strictly under its
jurisdiction. On this profound maxim he took his stand. Thus he
contended, that the prejudice in favour of nobility was natural and
proper, and fit to be encouraged by the positive institutions of
society: not on account of the real or personal merit of the
individuals, but because such an institution has a tendency to enlarge
and raise the mind, to keep alive the memory of past greatness, to
connect the different ages of the world together, to carry back the
imagination over a long tract of time, and feed it with the
contemplation of remote events: because it is natural to think highly
of that which inspires us with high thoughts, which has been connected
for many generations with splendour, and affluence, and dignity, and
power, and privilege. He also conceived, that by transferring the
respect from the person to the thing, and thus rendering it steady and
permanent, the mind would be habitually formed to sentiments of
deference, attachment, and fealty, to whatever else demanded its
respect: that it would be led to fix its view on what was elevated and
lofty, and be weaned from that low and narrow jealousy which never
willingly or heartily admits of any superiority in others, and is glad
of every opportunity to bring down all excellence to a level with its
own miserable standard. Nobility did not, therefore, exist to the
prejudice of the other orders of the state, but by, and for them. The
inequality of the different orders of society did not destroy the
unity and harmony of the whole. The health and well-being of the moral
world was to be promoted by the same means as the beauty of the
natural world; by contrast, by change, by light and shade, by variety
of parts, by order and proportion. To think of reducing all mankind to
the same insipid level, seemed to him the same absurdity as to destroy
the inequalities of surface in a country, for the benefit of
agriculture and commerce. In short, he believed that the interests of
men in society should be consulted, and their several stations and
employments assigned, with a view to their nature, not as physical,
but as moral beings, so as to nourish their hopes, to lift their
imagination, to enliven their fancy, to rouse their activity, to
strengthen their virtue, and to furnish the greatest number of objects
of pursuit and means of enjoyment to beings constituted as man is,
consistently with the order and stability of the whole.

The same reasoning might be extended farther. I do not say that his
arguments are conclusive: but they are profound and _true_, as far as
they go. There may be disadvantages and abuses necessarily interwoven
with his scheme, or opposite advantages of infinitely greater value,
to be derived from another order of things and state of society. This,
however, does not invalidate either the truth or importance of Burke's
reasoning; since the advantages he points out as connected with the
mixed form of government are really and necessarily inherent in it:
since they are compatible, in the same degree, with no other; since
the principle itself on which he rests his argument (whatever we may
think of the application) is of the utmost weight and moment; and
since, on whichever side the truth lies, it is impossible to make a
fair decision without having the opposite side of the question clearly
and fully stated to us. This Burke has done in a masterly manner. He
presents to you one view or face of society. Let him who thinks he
can, give the reverse side with equal force, beauty, and clearness. It
is said, I know, that truth is _one_; but to this I cannot subscribe,
for it appears to me that truth is _many_. There are as many truths as
there are things and causes of action and contradictory principles at
work in society. In making up the account of good and evil, indeed,
the final result must be one way or the other; but the particulars on
which that result depends are infinite and various.

It will be seen from what I have said, that I am very far from
agreeing with those who think that Burke was a man without
understanding, and a merely florid writer. There are two causes which
have given rise to this calumny; namely, that narrowness of mind which
leads men to suppose that the truth lies entirely on the side of their
own opinions, and that whatever does not make for them is absurd and
irrational; secondly, a trick we have of confounding reason with
judgment, and supposing that it is merely the province of the
understanding to pronounce sentence, and not to give evidence, or
argue the case; in short, that it is a passive, not an active faculty.
Thus there are persons who never run into any extravagance, because
they are so buttressed up with the opinions of others on all sides,
that they cannot lean much to one side or the other; they are so
little moved with any kind of reasoning, that they remain at an equal
distance from every extreme, and are never very far from the truth,
because the slowness of their faculties will not suffer them to make
much progress in error. These are persons of great judgment. The
scales of the mind are pretty sure to remain even, when there is
nothing in them. In this sense of the word, Burke must be allowed to
have wanted judgment, by all those who think that he was wrong in his
conclusions. The accusation of want of judgment, in fact, only means
that you yourself are of a different opinion. But if in arriving at
one error he discovered a hundred truths, I should consider myself a
hundred times more indebted to him than if, stumbling on that which I
consider as the right side of the question, he had committed a hundred
absurdities in striving to establish his point. I speak of him now
merely as an author, or as far as I and other readers are concerned
with him; at the same time, I should not differ from any one who may
be disposed to contend that the consequences of his writings as
instruments of political power have been tremendous, fatal, such as no
exertion of wit or knowledge or genius can ever counteract or atone

Burke also gave a hold to his antagonists by mixing up sentiment and
imagery with his reasoning; so that being unused to such a sight in
the region of politics, they were deceived, and could not discern the
fruit from the flowers. Gravity is the cloak of wisdom; and those who
have nothing else think it an insult to affect the one without the
other, because it destroys the only foundation on which their
pretensions are built. The easiest part of reason is dulness; the
generality of the world are therefore concerned in discouraging any
example of unnecessary brilliancy that might tend to show that the two
things do not always go together. Burke in some measure dissolved the
spell. It was discovered, that his gold was not the less valuable for
being wrought into elegant shapes, and richly embossed with curious
figures; that the solidity of a building is not destroyed by adding to
it beauty and ornament; and that the strength of a man's understanding
is not always to be estimated in exact proportion to his want of
imagination. His understanding was not the less real, because it was
not the only faculty he possessed. He justified the description of the

    'How charming is divine philosophy!
    Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
    But musical as is Apollo's lute!'

Those who object to this union of grace and beauty with reason, are in
fact weak-sighted people, who cannot distinguish the noble and
majestic form of Truth from that of her sister Folly, if they are
dressed both alike! But there is always a difference even in the
adventitious ornaments they wear, which is sufficient to distinguish

Burke was so far from being a gaudy or flowery writer, that he was one
of the severest writers we have. His words are the most like things;
his style is the most strictly suited to the subject. He unites every
extreme and every variety of composition; the lowest and the meanest
words and descriptions with the highest. He exults in the display of
power, in showing the extent, the force, and intensity of his ideas;
he is led on by the mere impulse and vehemence of his fancy, not by
the affectation of dazzling his readers by gaudy conceits or pompous
images. He was completely carried away by his subject. He had no other
object but to produce the strongest impression on his reader, by
giving the truest, the most characteristic, the fullest, and most
forcible description of things, trusting to the power of his own mind
to mould them into grace and beauty. He did not produce a splendid
effect by setting fire to the light vapours that float in the regions
of fancy, as the chemists make fine colours with phosphorus, but by
the eagerness of his blows struck fire from the flint, and melted the
hardest substances in the furnace of his imagination. The wheels of
his imagination did not catch fire from the rottenness of the
materials, but from the rapidity of their motion. One would suppose,
to hear people talk of Burke, that his style was such as would have
suited the _Lady's Magazine_; soft, smooth, showy, tender, insipid,
full of fine words, without any meaning. The essence of the gaudy or
glittering style consists in producing a momentary effect by fine
words and images brought together, without order or connection. Burke
most frequently produced an effect by the remoteness and novelty of
his combinations, by the force of contrast, by the striking manner in
which the most opposite and unpromising materials were harmoniously
blended together; not by laying his hands on all the fine things he
could think of, but by bringing together those things which he knew
would blaze out into glorious light by their collision. The florid
style is a mixture of affectation and commonplace. Burke's was an
union of untameable vigour and originality.

Burke was not a verbose writer. If he sometimes multiplies words, it
is not for want of ideas, but because there are no words that fully
express his ideas, and he tries to do it as well as he can by
different ones. He had nothing of the _set_ or formal style, the
measured cadence, and stately phraseology of Johnson, and most of our
modern writers. This style, which is what we understand by the
_artificial_, is all in one key. It selects a certain set of words to
represent all ideas whatever, as the most dignified and elegant, and
excludes all others as low and vulgar. The words are not fitted to the
things, but the things to the words. Everything is seen through a
false medium. It is putting a mask on the face of nature, which may
indeed hide some specks and blemishes, but takes away all beauty,
delicacy, and variety. It destroys all dignity or elevation, because
nothing can be raised where all is on a level, and completely destroys
all force, expression, truth, and character, by arbitrarily
confounding the differences of things, and reducing everything to the
same insipid standard. To suppose that this stiff uniformity can add
anything to real grace or dignity, is like supposing that the human
body, in order to be perfectly graceful, should never deviate from its
upright posture. Another mischief of this method is, that it confounds
all ranks in literature. Where there is no room for variety, no
discrimination, no nicety to be shown in matching the idea with its
proper word, there can be no room for taste or elegance. A man must
easily learn the art of writing, when every sentence is to be cast in
the same mould: where he is only allowed the use of one word he cannot
choose wrong, nor will he be in much danger of making himself
ridiculous by affectation or false glitter, when, whatever subject he
treats of, he must treat of it in the same way. This indeed is to wear
golden chains for the sake of ornament.

Burke was altogether free from the pedantry which I have here
endeavoured to expose. His style was as original, as expressive, as
rich and varied, as it was possible; his combinations were as
exquisite, as playful, as happy, as unexpected, as bold and daring,
as his fancy. If anything, he ran into the opposite extreme of too
great an inequality, if truth and nature could ever be carried to an

Those who are best acquainted with the writings and speeches of Burke
will not think the praise I have here bestowed on them exaggerated.
Some proof will be found of this in the following extracts. But the
full proof must be sought in his works at large, and particularly in
the _Thoughts on the Discontents_; in his _Reflections on the French
Revolution_; in his _Letter to the Duke of Bedford_; and in the
_Regicide Peace_. The two last of these are perhaps the most
remarkable of all his writings, from the contrast they afford to each
other. The one is the most delightful exhibition of wild and brilliant
fancy that is to be found in English prose, but it is too much like a
beautiful picture painted upon gauze; it wants something to support
it: the other is without ornament, but it has all the solidity, the
weight, the gravity of a judicial record. It seems to have been
written with a certain constraint upon himself, and to show those who
said he could not _reason_, that his arguments might be stripped of
their ornaments without losing anything of their force. It is
certainly, of all his works, that in which he has shown most power of
logical deduction, and the only one in which he has made any important
use of facts. In general he certainly paid little attention to them:
they were the playthings of his mind. He saw them as he pleased, not
as they were; with the eye of the philosopher or the poet, regarding
them only in their general principle, or as they might serve to
decorate his subject. This is the natural consequence of much
imagination: things that are probable are elevated into the rank of
realities. To those who can reason on the essences of things, or who
can invent according to nature, the experimental proof is of little
value. This was the case with Burke. In the present instance, however,
he seems to have forced his mind into the service of facts; and he
succeeded completely. His comparison between our connection with
France or Algiers, and his account of the conduct of the war, are as
clear, as convincing, as forcible examples of this kind of reasoning,
as are anywhere to be met with. Indeed I do not think there is
anything in Fox (whose mind was purely historical), or in Chatham (who
attended to feelings more than facts), that will bear a comparison
with them.

Burke has been compared to Cicero--I do not know for what reason.
Their excellences are as different, and indeed as opposite, as they
can well be. Burke had not the polished elegance, the glossy neatness,
the artful regularity, the exquisite modulation of Cicero: he had a
thousand times more richness and originality of mind, more strength
and pomp of diction.

It has been well observed, that the ancients had no word that properly
expresses what we mean by the word _genius_. They perhaps had not the
thing. Their minds appear to have been too exact, too retentive, too
minute and subtle, too sensible to the external differences of things,
too passive under their impressions, to admit of those bold and rapid
combinations, those lofty flights of fancy, which, glancing from
heaven to earth, unite the most opposite extremes, and draw the
happiest illustrations from things the most remote. Their ideas were
kept too confined and distinct by the material form or vehicle in
which they were conveyed, to unite cordially together, to be melted
down in the imagination. Their metaphors are taken from things of the
same class, not from things of different classes; the general analogy,
not the individual feeling, directs them in their choice. Hence, as
Dr. Johnson observed, their similes are either repetitions of the same
idea, or so obvious and general as not to lend any additional force to
it; as when a huntress is compared to Diana, or a warrior rushing into
battle to a lion rushing on his prey. Their _forte_ was exquisite art
and perfect imitation. Witness their statues and other things of the
same kind. But they had not that high and enthusiastic fancy which
some of our own writers have shown. For the proof of this, let any one
compare Milton and Shakspeare with Homer and Sophocles, or Burke with

It may be asked whether Burke was a poet. He was so only in the general
vividness of his fancy, and in richness of invention. There may be
poetical passages in his works, but I certainly think that his writings
in general are quite distinct from poetry; and that for the reason
before given, namely, that the subject-matter of them is not poetical.
The finest part of them are illustrations or personifications of dry
abstract ideas;[11] and the union between the idea and the illustration
is not of that perfect and pleasing kind as to constitute poetry, or
indeed to be admissible, but for the effect intended to be produced by
it; that is, by every means in our power to give animation and
attraction to subjects in themselves barren of ornament, but which at
the same time are pregnant with the most important consequences, and in
which the understanding and the passions are equally interested.

I have heard it remarked by a person, to whose opinion I would sooner
submit than to a general council of critics, that the sound of Burke's
prose is not musical; that it wants cadence; and that instead of being
so lavish of his imagery as is generally supposed, he seemed to him to
be rather parsimonious in the use of it, always expanding and making
the most of his ideas. This may be true if we compare him with some of
our poets, or perhaps with some of our early prose writers, but not if
we compare him with any of our political writers or parliamentary
speakers. There are some very fine things of Lord Bolingbroke's on the
same subjects, but not equal to Burke's. As for Junius, he is at the
head of his class; but that class is not the highest. He has been
said to have more dignity than Burke. Yes--if the stalk of a giant is
less dignified than the strut of a _petit-maître_. I do not mean to
speak disrespectfully of Junius, but grandeur is not the character of
his composition; and if it is not to be found in Burke it is to be
found nowhere.



[10] For instance, he produced less effect on the mob that compose the
English House of Commons, than Chatham or Fox, or even Pitt.

[11] As in the comparison of the British Constitution to the 'proud
keep of Windsor,' etc., the most splendid passage in his works.



I shall begin with observing generally, that Mr. Fox excelled all his
contemporaries in the extent of his knowledge, in the clearness and
distinctness of his views, in quickness of apprehension, in plain
practical common sense, in the full, strong, and absolute possession
of his subject. A measure was no sooner proposed than he seemed to
have an instantaneous and intuitive perception of its various bearings
and consequences; of the manner in which it would operate on the
different classes of society, on commerce or agriculture, on our
domestic or foreign policy; of the difficulties attending its
execution; in a word, of all its practical results, and the
comparative advantages to be gained either by adopting or rejecting
it. He was intimately acquainted with the interests of the different
parts of the community, with the minute and complicated details of
political economy, with our external relations, with the views, the
resources, and the maxims of other states. He was master of all those
facts and circumstances which it was necessary to know in order to
judge fairly and determine wisely; and he knew them not loosely or
lightly, but in number, weight, and measure. He had also stored his
memory by reading and general study, and improved his understanding by
the lamp of history. He was well acquainted with the opinions and
sentiments of the best authors, with the maxims of the most profound
politicians, with the causes of the rise and fall of states, with the
general passions of men, with the characters of different nations,
and the laws and constitution of his own country. He was a man of
large, capacious, powerful, and highly cultivated intellect. No man
could know more than he knew; no man's knowledge could be more sound,
more plain and useful; no man's knowledge could lie in more connected
and tangible masses; no man could be more perfectly master of his
ideas, could reason upon them more closely, or decide upon them more
impartially. His mind was full, even to overflowing. He was so
habitually conversant with the most intricate and comprehensive trains
of thought, or such was the natural vigour and exuberance of his mind,
that he seemed to recall them without any effort. His ideas quarrelled
for utterance. So far from ever being at a loss for them, he was
obliged rather to repress and rein them in, lest they should overwhelm
and confound, instead of informing the understandings of his hearers.

If to this we add the ardour and natural impetuosity of his mind, his
quick sensibility, his eagerness in the defence of truth, and his
impatience of everything that looked like trick or artifice or
affectation, we shall be able in some measure to account for the
character of his eloquence. His thoughts came crowding in too fast for
the slow and mechanical process of speech. What he saw in an instant,
he could only express imperfectly, word by word, and sentence after
sentence. He would, if he could, 'have bared his swelling heart,' and
laid open at once the rich treasures of knowledge with which his bosom
was fraught. It is no wonder that this difference between the rapidity
of his feelings, and the formal round-about method of communicating
them, should produce some disorder in his frame; that the throng of
his ideas should try to overleap the narrow boundaries which confined
them, and tumultuously break down their prison-doors, instead of
waiting to be let out one by one, and following patiently at due
intervals and with mock dignity, like poor dependents, in the train of
words; that he should express himself in hurried sentences, in
involuntary exclamations, by vehement gestures, by sudden starts and
bursts of passion. Everything showed the agitation of his mind. His
tongue faltered, his voice became almost suffocated, and his face was
bathed in tears. He was lost in the magnitude of his subject. He
reeled and staggered under the load of feeling which oppressed him. He
rolled like the sea beaten by a tempest. Whoever, having the feelings
of a man, compared him at these times with his boasted rival--his
stiff, straight, upright figure, his gradual contortions, turning
round as if moved by a pivot, his solemn pauses, his deep tones,
'whose sound reverbed their own hollowness,' must have said, This is a
man; that is an automaton. If Fox had needed grace, he would have had
it; but it was not the character of his mind, nor would it have suited
with the style of his eloquence. It was Pitt's object to smooth over
the abruptness and intricacies of his argument by the gracefulness of
his manner, and to fix the attention of his hearers on the pomp and
sound of his words. Lord Chatham, again, strove to _command_ others;
he did not try to convince them, but to overpower their understandings
by the greater strength and vehemence of his own; to awe them by a
sense of personal superiority: and he therefore was obliged to assume
a lofty and dignified manner. It was to him they bowed, not to truth;
and whatever related to _himself_, must therefore have a tendency to
inspire respect and admiration. Indeed, he would never have attempted
to gain that ascendant over men's minds that he did, if either his
mind or body had been different from what they were; if his temper had
not urged him to control and command others, or if his personal
advantages had not enabled him to secure that kind of authority which
he coveted. But it would have been ridiculous in Fox to have affected
either the smooth plausibility, the stately gravity of the one, or the
proud domineering, imposing dignity of the other; or even if he could
have succeeded, it would only have injured the effect of his
speeches.[12] What he had to rely on was the strength, the solidity of
his ideas, his complete and thorough knowledge of his subject. It was
his business therefore to fix the attention of his hearers, not on
himself, but on his subject, to rivet it there, to hurry it on from
words to things:--the only circumstance of which they required to be
convinced with respect to himself, was the sincerity of his opinions;
and this would be best done by the earnestness of his manner, by
giving a loose to his feelings, and by showing the most perfect
forgetfulness of himself, and of what others thought of him. The
moment a man shows you either by affected words or looks or gestures,
that he is thinking of himself, and you, that he is trying either to
please or terrify you into compliance, there is an end at once to that
kind of eloquence which owes its effect to the force of truth, and to
your confidence in the sincerity of the speaker. It was, however, to
the confidence inspired by the earnestness and simplicity of his
manner, that Mr. Fox was indebted for more than half the effect of his
speeches. Some others might possess nearly as much information, as
exact a knowledge of the situation and interests of the country; but
they wanted that zeal, that animation, that enthusiasm, that deep
sense of the importance of the subject, which removes all doubt or
suspicion from the minds of the hearers, and communicates its own
warmth to every breast. We may convince by argument alone; but it is
by the interest we discover in the success of our reasonings, that we
persuade others to feel and act with us. There are two circumstances
which Fox's speeches and Lord Chatham's had in common: they are alike
distinguished by a kind of plain downright common sense, and by the
vehemence of their manner. But still there is a great difference
between them, in both these respects. Fox in his opinions was governed
by facts--Chatham was more influenced by the feelings of others
respecting those facts. Fox endeavoured to find out what the
consequences of any measure would be; Chatham attended more to what
people would think of it. Fox appealed to the practical reason of
mankind; Chatham to popular prejudice. The one repelled the
encroachments of power by supplying his hearers with arguments against
it; the other by rousing their passions and arming their resentment
against those who would rob them of their birthright. Their vehemence
and impetuosity arose also from very different feelings. In Chatham it
was pride, passion, self-will, impatience of control, a determination
to have his own way, to carry everything before him; in Fox it was
pure, good nature, a sincere love of truth, an ardent attachment to
what he conceived to be right; all anxious concern for the welfare and
liberties of mankind. Or if we suppose that ambition had taken a
strong hold of both their minds, yet their ambition was of a very
different kind: in the one it was the love of power, in the other it
was the love of fame. Nothing can be more opposite than these two
principles, both in their origin and tendency. The one originates in a
selfish, haughty, domineering spirit; the other in a social and
generous sensibility, desirous of the love and esteem of others, and
anxiously bent upon gaining merited applause. The one grasps at
immediate power by any means within its reach; the other, if it does
not square its actions by the rules of virtue, at least refers them to
a standard which comes the nearest to it--the disinterested applause
of our country, and the enlightened judgment of posterity. The love of
fame is consistent with the steadiest attachment to principle, and
indeed strengthens and supports it; whereas the love of power, where
this is the ruling passion, requires the sacrifice of principle, at
every turn, and is inconsistent even with the shadow of it. I do not
mean to say that Fox had no love of power, or Chatham no love of fame
(this would be reversing all we know of human nature), but that the
one principle predominated in the one, and the other in the other. My
reader will do me great injustice if he supposes that in attempting to
describe the characters of different speakers by contrasting their
general qualities, I mean anything beyond the _more_ or _less_: but it
is necessary to describe those qualities simply and in the abstract,
in order to make the distinction intelligible. Chatham resented any
attack made upon the cause of liberty, of which he was the avowed
champion, as an indignity offered to himself. Fox felt it as a stain
upon the honour of his country, and as an injury to the rights of his
fellow-citizens. The one was swayed by his own passions and purposes,
with very little regard to the consequences; the sensibility of the
other was roused, and his passions kindled into a generous flame, by a
real interest in whatever related to the welfare of mankind, and by an
intense and earnest contemplation of the consequences of the measures
he opposed. It was this union of the zeal of the patriot with the
enlightened knowledge of the statesman, that gave to the eloquence of
Fox its more than mortal energy; that warmed, expanded, penetrated
every bosom. He relied on the force of truth and nature alone; the
refinements of philosophy, the pomp and pageantry of the imagination
were forgotten, or seemed light and frivolous; the fate of nations,
the welfare of millions, hung suspended as he spoke; a torrent of
manly eloquence poured from his heart, bore down everything in its
course, and surprised into a momentary sense of human feeling the
breathing corpses, the wire-moved puppets, the stuffed figures, the
flexible machinery, the 'deaf and dumb things' of a court.

I find (I do not know how the reader feels) that it is difficult to
write a character of Fox without running into insipidity or
extravagance. And the reason of this is, there are no splendid
contrasts, no striking irregularities, no curious distinctions to work
upon; no 'jutting frieze, buttress, nor coigne of 'vantage,' for the
imagination to take hold of. It was a plain marble slab, inscribed in
plain legible characters, without either hieroglyphics or carving.
There was the same directness and manly simplicity in everything that
he did. The whole of his character may indeed be summed up in two
words--strength and simplicity. Fox was in the class of common men,
but he was the first in that class. Though it is easy to describe the
differences of things, nothing is more difficult than to describe
their degrees or quantities. In what I am going to say, I hope I shall
not be suspected of a design to under-rate his powers of mind, when in
fact I am only trying to ascertain their nature and direction. The
degree and extent to which he possessed them can only be known by
reading, or indeed by having heard his speeches.

His mind, as I have already said, was, I conceive, purely
_historical_; and having said this, I have I believe said all. But
perhaps it will be necessary to explain a little farther what I mean.
I mean then, that his memory was in an extraordinary degree tenacious
of facts; that they were crowded together in his mind without the
least perplexity or confusion; that there was no chain of consequences
too vast for his powers of comprehension; that the different parts and
ramifications of his subject were never so involved and intricate but
that they were easily disentangled in the clear prism of his
understanding. The basis of his wisdom was experience: he not only
knew what had happened, but by an exact knowledge of the real state of
things, he could always tell what in the common course of events would
happen in future. The force of his mind was exerted on facts: as long
as he could lean directly upon these, as long as he had the actual
objects to refer to, to steady himself by, he could analyse, he could
combine, he could compare and reason upon them, with the utmost
exactness; but he could not reason _out of_ them. He was what is
understood by a _matter-of-fact_ reasoner. He was better acquainted
with the concrete masses of things, their substantial forms and
practical connections, than with their abstract nature or general
definitions. He was a man of extensive information, of sound
knowledge, and clear understanding, rather than the acute observer or
profound thinker. He was the man of business, the accomplished
statesman, rather than the philosopher. His reasonings were, generally
speaking, calculations of certain positive results, which, the _data_
being given, must follow as matters of course, rather than unexpected
and remote truths drawn from a deep insight into human nature, and the
subtle application of general principles to particular cases. They
consisted chiefly in the detail and combination of a vast number of
items in an account, worked by the known rules of political
arithmetic; not in the discovery of bold, comprehensive, and original
theorems in the science. They were rather acts of memory, of continued
attention, of a power of bringing all his ideas to bear at once upon a
single point, than of reason or invention. He was the attentive
observer who watches the various effects and successive movements of a
machine already constructed, and can tell how to manage it while it
goes on as it has always done; but who knows little or nothing of the
principles on which it is constructed, nor how to set it right, if it
becomes disordered, except by the most common and obvious expedients.
Burke was to Fox what the geometrician is to the mechanic. Much has
been said of the 'prophetic mind' of Mr. Fox. The same epithet has
been applied to Mr. Burke, till it has become proverbial. It has, I
think, been applied without much reason to either. Fox wanted the
scientific part. Burke wanted the practical. Fox had too little
imagination, Burke had too much: that is, he was careless of facts,
and was led away by his passions to look at one side of a question
only. He had not that fine sensibility to outward impressions, that
nice _tact_ of circumstances, which is necessary to the consummate
politician. Indeed, his wisdom was more that of the legislator than of
the active statesman. They both tried their strength in the Ulysses'
bow of politicians, the French Revolution: and they were both foiled.
Fox indeed foretold the success of the French in combating with
foreign powers. But this was no more than what every friend of the
liberty of France foresaw or foretold as well as he. All those on the
same side of the question were inspired with the same sagacity on the
subject. Burke, on the other hand, seems to have been beforehand with
the public in foreboding the internal disorders that would attend the
Revolution, and its ultimate failure; but then it is at least a
question whether he did not make good his own predictions: and
certainly he saw into the causes and connection of events much more
clearly after they had happened than before. He was however
undoubtedly a profound commentator on that apocalyptical chapter in
the history of human nature, which I do not think Fox was. Whether led
to it by the events or not, he saw thoroughly into the principles that
operated to produce them; and he pointed them out to others in a
manner which could not be mistaken. I can conceive of Burke, as the
genius of the storm, perched over Paris, the centre and focus of
anarchy (so he would have us believe), hovering 'with mighty wings
outspread over the abyss, and rendering it pregnant,' watching the
passions of men gradually unfolding themselves in new situations,
penetrating those hidden motives which hurried them from one extreme
into another, arranging and analysing the principles that alternately
pervaded the vast chaotic mass, and extracting the elements of order
and the cement of social life from the decomposition of all society;
while Charles Fox in the meantime dogged the heels of the allies (all
the while calling out to them to stop) with his sutler's bag, his
muster roll, and army estimates at his back. He said, You have only
fifty thousand troops, the enemy have a hundred thousand: this place
is dismantled, it can make no resistance: your troops were beaten last
year, they must therefore be disheartened this. This is excellent
sense and sound reasoning, but I do not see what it has to do with
philosophy. But why was it necessary that Fox should be a philosopher?
Why, in the first place, Burke was a philosopher, and Fox, to keep up
with him, must be so too. In the second place, it was necessary in
order that his indiscreet admirers, who have no idea of greatness but
as it consists in certain names and pompous titles, might be able to
talk big about their patron. It is a bad compliment we pay to our idol
when we endeavour to make him out something different from himself; it
shows that we are not satisfied with what he is. I have heard it said
that he had as much imagination as Burke. To this extravagant
assertion I shall make what I conceive to be a very cautious and
moderate answer: that Burke was as superior to Fox in this respect as
Fox perhaps was to the first person you would meet in the street.
There is, in fact, hardly an instance of imagination to be met with in
any of his speeches; what there is, is of the rhetorical kind. I may,
however, be wrong. He might excel as much in profound thought, and
richness of fancy, as he did in other things; though I cannot perceive
it. However, when any one publishes a book called The Beauties of Fox,
containing the original reflections, brilliant passages, lofty
metaphors, etc., to be found in his speeches, without the detail or
connection, I shall be very ready to give the point up.

In logic Fox was inferior to Pitt--indeed, in all the formalities of
eloquence, in which the latter excelled as much as he was deficient in
the soul of substance. When I say that Pitt was superior to Fox in
logic, I mean that he excelled him in the formal division of the
subject, in always keeping it in view, as far as he chose; in being
able to detect any deviation from it in others; in the management of
his general topics; in being aware of the mood and figure in which the
argument must move, with all its nonessentials, dilemmas, and
alternatives; in never committing himself, nor ever suffering his
antagonist to occupy an inch of the plainest ground, but under cover
of a syllogism. He had more of 'the dazzling fence of argument,' as it
has been called. He was, in short, better at his weapon. But then,
unfortunately, it was only a dagger of lath that the wind could turn
aside; whereas Fox wore a good trusty blade, of solid metal, and real

I shall not trouble myself to inquire whether Fox was a man of strict
virtue and principle; or in other words, how far he was one of those
who screw themselves up to a certain pitch of ideal perfection, who,
as it were, set themselves in the stocks of morality, and make mouths
at their own situation. He was not one of that tribe, and shall not be
tried by their self-denying ordinances. But he was endowed with one of
the most excellent natures that ever fell to the lot of any of God's
creatures. It has been said, that 'an honest man's the noblest work of
God.' There is indeed a purity, a rectitude, an integrity of heart, a
freedom from every selfish bias, and sinister motive, a manly
simplicity and noble disinterestedness of feeling, which is in my
opinion to be preferred before every other gift of nature or art.
There is a greatness of soul that is superior to all the brilliancy of
the understanding. This strength of moral character, which is not only
a more valuable but a rarer quality than strength of understanding (as
we are oftener led astray by the narrowness of our feelings, than want
of knowledge), Fox possessed in the highest degree. He was superior to
every kind of jealousy, of suspicion, of malevolence; to every narrow
and sordid motive. He was perfectly above every species of duplicity,
of low art and cunning. He judged of everything in the downright
sincerity of his nature, without being able to impose upon himself by
any hollow disguise, or to lend his support to anything unfair or
dishonourable. He had an innate love of truth, of justice, of probity,
of whatever was generous or liberal. Neither his education, nor his
connections, nor his situation in life, nor the low intrigues and
virulence of party, could ever alter the simplicity of his taste, nor
the candid openness of his nature. There was an elastic force about
his heart, a freshness of social feeling, a warm glowing humanity,
which remained unimpaired to the last. He was by nature a gentleman.
By this I mean that he felt a certain deference and respect for the
person of every man; he had an unaffected frankness and benignity in
his behaviour to others, the utmost liberality in judging of their
conduct and motives. A refined humanity constitutes the character of a
gentleman. He was the true friend of his country, as far as it is
possible for a statesman to be so. But his love of his country did not
consist in his hatred of the rest of mankind. I shall conclude this
account by repeating what Burke said of him at a time when his
testimony was of the most value. 'To his great and masterly
understanding he joined the utmost possible degree of moderation: he
was of the most artless, candid, open, and benevolent disposition;
disinterested in the extreme; of a temper mild and placable, even to a
fault; and without one drop of gall in his constitution.'



[12] There is an admirable, judicious, and truly useful remark in the
preface to Spenser (not by Dr. Johnson, for he left Spenser out of his
poets, but by _one_ Upton), that the question was not whether a better
poem might not have been written on a different plan, but whether
Spenser would have written a better one on a different plan. I wish to
apply this to Fox's _ungainly_ manner. I do not mean to say, that his
manner was the best possible (for that would be to say that he was the
greatest man conceivable), but that it was the best for him.



The character of Mr. Pitt was, perhaps, one of the most singular that
ever existed. With few talents, and fewer virtues, he acquired and
preserved in one of the most trying situations, and in spite of all
opposition, the highest reputation for the possession of every moral
excellence, and as having carried the attainments of eloquence and
wisdom as far as human abilities could go. This he did (strange as it
appears) by a negation (together with the common virtues) of the common
vices of human nature, and by the complete negation of every other
talent that might interfere with the only one which he possessed in a
supreme degree, and which indeed may be made to include the appearance
of all others--an artful use of words, and a certain dexterity of
logical arrangement. In these alone his power consisted; and the defect
of all other qualities which usually constitute greatness, contributed
to the more complete success of these. Having no strong feelings, no
distinct perceptions, his mind having no link as it were, to connect it
with the world of external nature, every subject presented to him
nothing more than a _tabula rasa_, on which he was at liberty to lay
whatever colouring of language he pleased; having no general
principles, no comprehensive views of things, no moral habits of
thinking, no system of action, there was nothing to hinder him from
pursuing any particular purpose, by any means that offered; having
never any plan, he could not be convicted of inconsistency, and his own
pride and obstinacy were the only rules of his conduct. Having no
insight into human nature, no sympathy with the passions of men, or
apprehension of their real designs, he seemed perfectly insensible to
the consequences of things, and would believe nothing till it actually
happened. The fog and haze in which he saw everything communicated
itself to others; and the total indistinctness and uncertainty of his
own ideas tended to confound the perceptions of his hearers more
effectually, than the most ingenious misrepresentation could have done.
Indeed, in defending his conduct he never seemed to consider himself as
at all responsible for the success of his measures, or to suppose that
future events were in our own power; but that as the best-laid schemes
might fail, and there was no providing against all possible
contingencies, this was a sufficient excuse for our plunging at once
into any dangerous or absurd enterprise, without the least regard to
consequences. His reserved logic confined itself solely to the
_possible_ and the _impossible_; and he appeared to regard the
_probable_ and _improbable_, the only foundation of moral prudence or
political wisdom, as beneath the notice of a profound statesman; as if
the pride of the human intellect were concerned in never entrusting
itself with subjects, where it may be compelled to acknowledge its
weakness.[13] From his manner of reasoning, he seemed not to have
believed that the truth of his statements depended on the reality of
the facts, but that the things depended on the order in which he
arranged them in words: you would not suppose him to be agitating a
serious question which had real grounds to go upon, but to be
declaiming upon an imaginary thesis, proposed as an exercise in the
schools. He never set himself to examine the force of the objections
that were brought against his measures, or attempted to establish these
upon clear, solid grounds of his own; but constantly contented himself
with first gravely stating the logical form, or dilemma, to which the
question reduced itself, and then, after having declared his opinion,
proceeded to amuse his hearers by a series of rhetorical commonplaces,
connected together in grave, sonorous, and elaborately, constructed
periods, without ever showing their real application to the subject in
dispute. Thus, if any member of the Opposition disapproved of any
measure, and enforced his objections by pointing out the many evils
with which it was fraught, or the difficulties attending its execution,
his only answer was, 'That it was true there might be inconveniences
attending the measure proposed, but we were to remember, that every
expedient that could be devised might be said to be nothing more than a
choice of difficulties, and that all that human prudence could do was
to consider on which side the advantages lay; that for his part, he
conceived that the present measure was attended with more advantages
and fewer disadvantages than any other that could be adopted; that if
we were diverted from our object by every appearance of difficulty, the
wheels of government would be clogged by endless delays and imaginary
grievances; that most of the objections made to the measure appeared to
him to be trivial, others of them unfounded and improbable; or that if
a scheme free from all these objections could be proposed, it might
after all prove inefficient; while, in the meantime, a material object
remained unprovided for, or the opportunity of action was lost.' This
mode of reasoning is admirably described by Hobbes, in speaking of the
writings of some of the Schoolmen, of whom he says, that 'They had
learned the trick of imposing what they list upon their readers, and
declining the force of true reason by verbal forks: that is,
distinctions which signify nothing, but serve only to astonish the
multitude of ignorant men.' That what I have here stated comprehends
the whole force of his mind, which consisted solely in this evasive
dexterity and perplexing formality, assisted by a copiousness of words
and commonplace topics, will, I think, be evident in any one who
carefully looks over his speeches, undazzled by the reputation or
personal influence of the speaker. It will be in vain to look in them
for any of the common proofs of human genius or wisdom. He has not left
behind him a single memorable saying--not one profound maxim--one solid
observation--one forcible description--one beautiful thought--one
humorous picture--one affecting sentiment.[14] He has made no addition
whatever to the stock of human knowledge. He did not possess any one of
those faculties which contribute to the instruction and delight of
mankind--depth of understanding, imagination, sensibility, wit,
vivacity, clear and solid judgment. But it may be asked, If these
qualities are not to be found in him, where are we to look for them?
And I may be required to point out instances of them. I shall answer,
then, that he had none of the profound legislative wisdom, piercing
sagacity, or rich, impetuous, high-wrought imagination of Burke; the
manly eloquence, strong sense, exact knowledge, vehemence, and natural
simplicity of Fox: the ease, brilliancy, and acuteness of Sheridan. It
is not merely that he had not all these qualities in the degree that
they were severally possessed by his rivals, but he had not any of them
in any striking degree. His reasoning is a technical arrangement of
unmeaning commonplaces; his eloquence merely rhetorical; his style
monotonous and artificial. If he could pretend to any one excellence in
an eminent degree, it was to taste in composition. There is certainly
nothing low, nothing puerile, nothing far-fetched or abrupt in his
speeches; there is a kind of faultless regularity pervading them
throughout; but in the confined, mechanical, passive mode of eloquence
which he adopted, it seemed rather more difficult to commit errors than
to avoid them. A man who is determined never to move out of the beaten
road, cannot lose his way. However, habit, joined to the peculiar
mechanical memory which he possessed, carried this correctness to a
degree which, in an extemporaneous speaker, was almost miraculous; he
perhaps hardly ever uttered a sentence that was not perfectly regular
and connected. In this respect he not only had the advantage over his
own contemporaries, but perhaps no one that ever lived equalled him in
this singular faculty. But for this, he would always have passed for a
common man; and to this the constant sameness, and, if I may so say,
vulgarity of his ideas, must have contributed not a little, as there
was nothing to distract his mind from this one object of his
unintermitted attention; and as even in his choice of words he never
aimed at anything more than a certain general propriety, and stately
uniformity of style. His talents were exactly fitted for the situation
in which he was placed; where it was his business, not to overcome
others, but to avoid being overcome. He was able to baffle opposition,
not from strength or firmness, but from the evasive ambiguity and
impalpable nature of his resistance, which gave no hold to the rude
grasp of his opponents: no force could bind the loose phantom, and his
mind (though 'not matchless, and his pride humbled by such rebuke'),
soon rose from defeat unhurt,

    'And in its liquid texture mortal wound
    Receiv'd no more than can the fluid air.'[15]



[13] One instance may serve as an example for all the rest:--When Mr.
Fox last summer (1805) predicted the failure of the new confederacy
against France, from a consideration of the circumstances and relative
situation of both parties, that is, from an exact knowledge of the
actual state of things, Mr. Pitt contented himself with
answering--and, as in the blindness of his infatuation, he seemed to
think quite satisfactorily--'That he could not assent to the
honourable gentleman's reasoning, for that it went to this, that we
were never to attempt to mend the situation of our affairs, because in
so doing we might possibly make them worse.' No; it was not on account
of this abstract possibility in human affairs, or because we were not
absolutely sure of succeeding (for that any child might know), but
because it was in the highest degree probable, or _morally_ certain,
that the scheme would fail, and leave us in a worse situation than we
were before, that Mr. Fox disapproved of the attempt. There is in this
a degree of weakness and imbecility, a defect of understanding
bordering on idiotism, a fundamental ignorance of the first principles
of human reason and prudence, that in a great minister is utterly
astonishing, and almost incredible. Nothing could ever drive him out
of his dull forms, and naked generalities; which, as they are
susceptible neither of degree nor variation, are therefore equally
applicable to every emergency that can happen: and in the most
critical aspect of affairs, he saw nothing but the same flimsy web of
remote possibilities and metaphysical uncertainty. In his mind the
wholesome pulp of practical wisdom and salutary advice was immediately
converted into the dry chaff and husks of a miserable logic.

[14] I do remember one passage which has some meaning in it. At the
time of the Regency Bill, speaking of the proposal to take the king's
servants from him, he says, 'What must that great personage feel when
he waked from the trance of his faculties, and asked for his
attendants, if he were told that his subjects had taken advantage of
his momentary absence of mind, and stripped him of the symbols of his
personal elevation.' There is some grandeur in this. His admirers
should have it inscribed in letters of gold; for they will not find
another instance of the same kind.

[15] I will only add, that it is the property of true genius to force
the admiration even of enemies. No one was ever hated or envied for
his powers of mind, if others were convinced of their real excellence.
The jealousy and uneasiness produced in the mind by the display of
superior talents almost always arises from a suspicion that there is
some trick or deception in the case, and that we are imposed on by an
appearance of what is not really there. True warmth and vigour
communicate warmth and vigour; and we are no longer inclined to
dispute the inspiration of the oracle, when we feel the '_presens
Divus_' in our own bosoms. But when, without gaining any new light or
heat, we only find our ideas thrown into perplexity and confusion by
an art that we cannot comprehend, this is a kind of superiority which
must always be painful, and can be cordially admitted. For this reason
the extraordinary talents of Mr. Pitt were always viewed, except by
those of his own party, with a sort of jealousy, and _grudgingly_
acknowledged; while those of his rivals were admitted by all parties
in the most unreserved manner, and carried by acclamation.



Lord Chatham's genius burnt brightest at the last. The spark of
liberty, which had lain concealed and dormant, buried under the dirt
and rubbish of state intrigue and vulgar faction, now met with
congenial matter, and kindled up 'a flame of sacred vehemence' in his
breast. It burst forth with a fury and a splendour that might have
awed the world, and made kings tremble. He spoke as a man should
speak, because he felt as a man should feel, in such circumstances. He
came forward as the advocate of liberty, as the defender of the rights
of his fellow-citizens, as the enemy of tyranny, as the friend of his
country, and of mankind. He did not stand up to make a vain display of
his talents, but to discharge a duty, to maintain that cause which lay
nearest to his heart, to preserve the ark of the British constitution
from every sacrilegious touch, as the high-priest of his calling, with
a pious zeal. The feelings and the rights of Englishmen were enshrined
in his heart; and with their united force braced every nerve,
possessed every faculty, and communicated warmth and vital energy to
every part of his being. The whole man moved under this impulse. He
felt the cause of liberty as his own. He resented every injury done to
her as an injury to himself, and every attempt to defend it as an
insult upon his understanding. He did not stay to dispute about words,
about nice distinctions, about trifling forms. Be laughed at the
little attempts of little retailers of logic to entangle him in
senseless argument. He did not come there as to a debating club, or
law court, to start questions and hunt them down; to wind and unwind
the web of sophistry; to pick out the threads, and untie every knot
with scrupulous exactness; to bandy logic with every pretender to a
paradox; to examine, to sift evidence; to dissect a doubt and halve a
scruple; to weigh folly and knavery in scales together, and see on
which side the balance preponderated; to prove that liberty, truth,
virtue, and justice were good things, or that slavery and corruption
were bad things. He did not try to prove those truths which did not
require any proof, but to make others feel them with the same force
that he did; and to tear off the flimsy disguises with which the
sycophants of power attempted to cover them. The business of an orator
is not to convince, but persuade; not to inform, but to rouse the
mind; to build upon the habitual prejudices of mankind (for reason of
itself will do nothing), and to add feeling to prejudice, and action
to feeling. There is nothing new or curious or profound in Lord
Chatham's speeches. All is obvious and common; there is nothing but
what we already knew, or might have found out for ourselves. We see
nothing but the familiar everyday face of nature. We are always in
broad daylight. But then there is the same difference between our own
conceptions of things and his representation of them, as there is
between the same objects seen on a dull cloudy day or in the blaze of
sunshine. His common sense has the effect of inspiration. He
electrifies his hearers, not by the novelty of his ideas, but by their
force and intensity. He has the same ideas as other men, but he has
them in a thousand times greater clearness and strength and vividness.
Perhaps there is no man so poorly furnished with thoughts and feelings
but that if he could recollect all that he knew, and had all his ideas
at perfect command, he would be able to confound the puny arts of the
most dexterous sophist that pretended to make a dupe of his
understanding. But in the mind of Chatham, the great substantial
truths of common sense, the leading maxims of the Constitution, the
real interests and general feelings of mankind were in a manner
embodied. He comprehended the whole of his subject at a single
glance--everything was firmly riveted to its place; there was no
feebleness, no forgetfulness, no pause, no distraction; the ardour of
his mind overcame every obstacle, and he crushed the objections of his
adversaries as we crush an insect under our feet. His imagination was
of the same character with his understanding, and was under the same
guidance. Whenever he gave way to it, it 'flew an eagle flight, forth
and right on'; but it did not become enamoured of its own emotion,
wantoning in giddy circles, or 'sailing with supreme dominion through
the azure deep of air.' It never forgot its errand, but went straight
forward, like an arrow to its mark, with an unerring aim. It was his
servant, not his master.

To be a great orator does not require the highest faculties of the
human mind, but it requires the highest exertion of the common
faculties of our nature. He has no occasion to dive into the depths of
science, or to soar aloft on angels' wings. He keeps upon the surface,
he stands firm upon the ground, but his form is majestic, and his eye
sees far and near: he moves among his fellows, but he moves among them
as a giant among common men. He has no need to read the heavens, to
unfold the system of the universe, or create new worlds for the
delighted fancy to dwell in; it is enough that he see things as they
are; that he knows and feels and remembers the common circumstances
and daily transactions that are passing in the world around him. He is
not raised above others by being superior to the common interests,
prejudices, and passions of mankind, but by feeling them in a more
intense degree than they do. Force, then, is the sole characteristic
excellence of an orator; it is almost the only one that can be of any
service to him. Refinement, depth, elevation, delicacy, originality,
ingenuity, invention, are not wanted; he must appeal to the sympathies
of human nature, and whatever is not founded in these, is foreign to
his purpose. He does not create, he can only imitate or echo back the
public sentiment. His object is to call up the feelings of the human
breast; but he cannot call up what is not already there. The first
duty of an orator is to be understood by every one; but it is evident
that what all can understand, is not in itself difficult of
comprehension. He cannot add anything to the materials afforded him by
the knowledge and experience of others.

Lord Chatham, in his speeches, was neither philosopher nor poet. As to
the latter, the difference between poetry and eloquence I take to be
this: that the object of the one is to delight the imagination, that
of the other to impel the will. The one ought to enrich and feed the
mind itself with tenderness and beauty, the other furnishes it with
motives of action. The one seeks to give immediate pleasure, to make
the mind dwell with rapture on its own workings--it is to itself 'both
end and use': the other endeavours to call up such images as will
produce the strongest effect upon the mind, and makes use of the
passions only as instruments to attain a particular purpose. The poet
lulls and soothes the mind into a forgetfulness of itself, and 'laps
it in Elysium': the orator strives to awaken it to a sense of its real
interests, and to make it feel the necessity of taking the most
effectual means for securing them. The one dwells in an ideal world;
the other is only conversant with realities. Hence poetry must be more
ornamented, must be richer and fuller and more delicate, because it is
at liberty to select whatever images are naturally most beautiful, and
likely to give most pleasure; whereas the orator is confined to
particular facts, which he may adorn as well as he can, and make the
most of, but which he cannot strain beyond a certain point without
running into extravagance and affectation, and losing his end.
However, from the very nature of the case, the orator is allowed a
greater latitude, and is compelled to make use of harsher and more
abrupt combinations in the decoration of his subject; for his art is
an attempt to reconcile beauty and deformity together: on the
contrary, the materials of poetry, which are chosen at pleasure, are
in themselves beautiful, and naturally combine with whatever else is
beautiful. Grace and harmony are therefore essential to poetry,
because they naturally arise out of the subject; but whatever adds to
the effect, whatever tends to strengthen the idea or give energy to
the mind, is of the nature of eloquence. The orator is only concerned
to give a tone of masculine firmness to the will, to brace the sinews
and muscles of the mind; not to delight our nervous sensibilities, or
soften the mind into voluptuous indolence. The flowery and sentimental
style is of all others the most intolerable in a speaker.--I shall
only add on this subject, that modesty, impartiality, and candour, are
not the virtues of a public speaker. He must be confident, inflexible,
uncontrollable, overcoming all opposition by his ardour and
impetuosity. We do not _command_ others by sympathy with them, but by
power, by passion, by will. Calm inquiry, sober truth, and speculative
indifference will never carry any point. The passions are contagious;
and we cannot contend against opposite passions with nothing but naked
reason. Concessions to an enemy are clear loss; he will take advantage
of them, but make us none in return. He will magnify the weak sides of
our argument, but will be blind to whatever makes against himself. The
multitude will always be inclined to side with that party whose
passions are the most inflamed, and whose prejudices are the most
inveterate. Passion should therefore never be sacrificed to punctilio.
It should indeed be governed by prudence, but it should itself govern
and lend its impulse and direction to abstract reason. Fox was a
reasoner, Lord Chatham was an orator. Burke was both a reasoner and a
poet; and was therefore still farther removed from that conformity
with the vulgar notions and mechanical feelings of mankind, which will
always be necessary to give a man the chief sway in a popular




    'Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.'

It is an axiom in modern philosophy (among many other false ones) that
belief is absolutely involuntary, since we draw our inferences from
the premises laid before us, and cannot possibly receive any other
impression of things than that which they naturally make upon us. This
theory, that the understanding is purely passive in the reception of
truth, and that our convictions are not in the power of our will, was
probably first invented or insisted upon as a screen against religious
persecution, and as an answer to those who imputed bad motives to all
who differed from the established faith, and thought they could reform
heresy and impiety by the application of fire and the sword. No doubt,
that is not the way: for the will in that case irritates itself and
grows refractory against the doctrines thus absurdly forced upon it;
and as it has been said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the
Church. But though force and terror may not be always the surest way
to make converts, it does not follow that there may not be other means
of influencing our opinions, besides the naked and abstract evidence
for any proposition: the sun melts the resolution which the storm
could not shake. In such points as, whether an object is black or
white or whether two and two make four,[16] we may not be able to
believe as we please or to deny the evidence of our reason and
senses: but in those points on which mankind differ, or where we can
be at all in suspense as to which side we shall take, the truth is not
quite so plain or palpable; it admits of a variety of views and shades
of colouring, and it should appear that we can dwell upon whichever of
these we choose, and heighten or soften the circumstances adduced in
proof, according as passion and inclination throw their casting-weight
into the scale. Let any one, for instance, have been brought up in an
opinion, let him have remained in it all his life, let him have
attached all his notions of respectability, of the approbation of his
fellow-citizens or his own self-esteem to it, let him then first hear
it called in question, and a strong and unforeseen objection stated to
it, will not this startle and shock him as if he had seen a spectre,
and will he not struggle to resist the arguments that would unsettle
his habitual convictions, as he would resist the divorcing of soul and
body? Will he come to the consideration of the question impartially,
indifferently, and without any wrong bias, or give the painful and
revolting truth the same cordial welcome as the long-cherished and
favourite prejudice? To say that the truth or falsehood of a
proposition is the only circumstance that gains it admittance into the
mind, independently of the pleasure or pain it affords us, is itself
an assertion made in pure caprice or desperation. A person may have a
profession or employment connected with a certain belief, it may be
the means of livelihood to him, and the changing it may require
considerable sacrifices, or may leave him almost without resource (to
say nothing of mortified pride)--this will not mend the matter. The
evidence against his former opinion may be so strong (or may appear so
to him) that he may be obliged to give it up, but not without a pang
and after having tried every artifice and strained every nerve to give
the utmost weight to the arguments favouring his own side, and to make
light of and throw those against him into the background. And nine
times in ten this bias of the will and tampering with the proofs will
prevail. It is only with very vigorous or very candid minds that the
understanding exercises its just and boasted prerogative, and induces
its votaries to relinquish a profitable delusion and embrace the
dowerless truth. Even then they have the sober and discreet part of
the world, all the _bons pères de famille_, who look principally to
the main chance, against them, and they are regarded as little better
than lunatics or profligates to fling up a good salary and a provision
for themselves and families for the sake of that foolish thing, a
_Conscience_! With the herd, belief on all abstract and disputed
topics is voluntary, that is, is determined by considerations of
personal ease and convenience, in the teeth of logical analysis and
demonstration, which are set aside as mere waste of words. In short,
generally speaking, people stick to an opinion that they have long
supported and that supports them. How else shall we account for the
regular order and progression of society: for the maintenance of
certain opinions in particular professions and classes of men, as we
keep water in cisterns, till in fact they stagnate and corrupt: and
that the world and every individual in it is not 'blown about with
every wind of doctrine' and whisper of uncertainty? There is some more
solid ballast required to keep things in their established order than
the restless fluctuation of opinion and 'infinite agitation of wit.'
We find that people in Protestant countries continue Protestants, and
in Catholic countries Papists. This, it may be answered, is owing to
the ignorance of the great mass of them; but is their faith less
bigoted, because it is not founded on a regular investigation of the
proofs, and is merely an obstinate determination to believe what they
have been told and accustomed to believe? Or is it not the same with
the doctors of the church and its most learned champions, who read the
same texts, turn over the same authorities, and discuss the same
knotty points through their whole lives, only to arrive at opposite
conclusions? How few are shaken in their opinions, or have the grace
to confess it? Shall we then suppose them all impostors, and that they
keep up the farce of a system, of which they do not believe a
syllable? Far from it: there may be individual instances, but the
generality are not only sincere but bigots. Those who are unbelievers
and hypocrites scarcely know it themselves, or if a man is not quite a
knave, what pains will he not take to make a fool of his reason, that
his opinions may tally with his professions? Is there then a Papist
and a Protestant understanding--one prepared to receive the doctrine
of transubstantiation and the other to reject it? No such thing: but
in either case the ground of reason is pre-occupied by passion, habit,
example--_the scales are falsified_. Nothing can therefore be more
inconsequential than to bring the authority of great names in favour
of opinions long established and universally received. Cicero's being
a Pagan was no proof in support of the Heathen mythology, but simply
of his being born at Rome before the Christian era; though his lurking
scepticism on the subject and sneers at the augurs told against it,
for this was an acknowledgment drawn from him in spite of a prevailing
prejudice. Sir Isaac Newton and Napier of Merchiston both wrote on the
_Apocalypse_; but this is neither a ground for a speedy anticipation
of the Millennium, nor does it invalidate the doctrine of the
gravitation of the planets or the theory of logarithms. One party
would borrow the sanction of these great names in support of their
wildest and most mystical opinions; others would arraign them of folly
and weakness for having attended to such subjects at all. Neither
inference is just. It is a simple question of chronology, or of the
time when these celebrated mathematicians lived, and of the studies
and pursuits which were then chiefly in vogue. The wisest man is the
slave of opinion, except on one or two points on which he strikes out
a light for himself and holds a torch to the rest of the world. But
we are disposed to make it out that all opinions are the result of
reason, because they profess to be so; and when they are _right_, that
is, when they agree with ours, that there can be no alloy of human
frailty or perversity in them; the very strength of our prejudice
making it pass for pure reason, and leading us to attribute any
deviation from it to bad faith or some unaccountable singularity or
infatuation. _Alas, poor human nature!_ Opinion is for the most part
only a battle, in which we take part and defend the side we have
adopted, in the one case or the other, with a view to share the honour
of the spoil. Few will stand up for a losing cause, or have the
fortitude to adhere to a proscribed opinion; and when they do, it is
not always from superior strength of understanding or a disinterested
love of truth, but from obstinacy and sullenness of temper. To affirm
that we do not cultivate an acquaintance with truth as she presents
herself to us in a more or less pleasing shape, or is shabbily attired
or well-dressed, is as much as to say that we do not shut our eyes to
the light when it dazzles us, or withdraw our hands from the fire when
it scorches us.

    'Masterless passion sways us to the mood
    Of what it likes or loathes.'

Are we not averse to believe bad news relating to ourselves--forward
enough if it relates to others? If something is said reflecting on the
character of an intimate friend or near relative, how unwilling we are
to lend an ear to it, how we catch at every excuse or palliating
circumstance, and hold out against the clearest proof, while we
instantly believe any idle report against an enemy, magnify the
commonest trifles into crimes, and torture the evidence against him to
our heart's content! Do not we change our opinion of the same person,
and make him out to be _black_ or _white_ according to the terms we
happen to be on? If we have a favourite author, do we not exaggerate
his beauties and pass over his defects, and _vice versâ_? The human
mind plays the interested advocate much oftener than the upright and
inflexible judge, in the colouring and relief it gives to the facts
brought before it. We believe things not more because they are true or
probable, than because we desire, or (if the imagination once takes
that turn) because we dread them. 'Fear has more devils than vast hell
can hold.' The sanguine always hope, the gloomy always despond, from
temperament and not from forethought. Do we not disguise the plainest
facts from ourselves if they are disagreeable? Do we not flatter
ourselves with impossibilities? What girl does not look in the glass
to persuade herself she is handsome? What woman ever believes herself
old, or does not hate to be called so: though she knows the exact year
and day of her age, the more she tries to keep up the appearance of
youth to herself and others? What lover would ever acknowledge a flaw
in the character of his mistress, or would not construe her turning
her back on him into a proof of attachment? The story of _January and
May_ is pat to our purpose; for the credulity of mankind as to what
touches our inclinations has been proverbial in all ages: yet we are
told that the mind is passive in making up these wilful accounts and
is guided by nothing but the _pros_ and _cons_ of evidence. Even in
action and where we may determine by proper precaution the event of
things, instead of being compelled to shut our eyes to what we cannot
help, we still are the dupes of the feeling of the moment, and prefer
amusing ourselves with fair appearances to securing more solid
benefits by a sacrifice of Imagination and stubborn Will to Truth. The
blindness of passion to the most obvious and well-known consequences
is deplorable. There seems to be a particular fatality in this
respect. Because a thing is in our power _till_ we have committed
ourselves, we appear to dally, to trifle with, to make light of it,
and to think it will still be in our power _after_ we have committed
ourselves. Strange perversion of the reasoning faculties, which is
little short of madness, and which yet is one of the constant and
practical sophisms of human life! It is as if one should say--I am in
no danger from a tremendous machine unless I touch such a spring and
therefore I will approach it, I will play with the danger, I will
laugh at it, and at last in pure sport and wantonness of heart, from
my sense of previous security, I _will_ touch it--and _there's an
end_. While the thing remains in contemplation, we may be said to
stand safe and smiling on the brink: as soon as we proceed to action
we are drawn into the vortex of passion and hurried to our
destruction. A person taken up with some one purpose or passion is
intent only upon that: he drives out the thought of everything but its
gratification: in the pursuit of that he is blind to consequences: his
first object being attained, they all at once, and as if by magic,
rush upon his mind. The engine recoils, he is caught in his own snare.
A servant girl, for some pique, or for an angry word, determines to
poison her mistress. She knows beforehand (just as well as she does
afterwards) that it is at least a hundred chances to one she will be
hanged if she succeeds, yet this has no more effect upon her than if
she had never heard of any such matter. The only idea that occupies
her mind and hardens it against every other, is that of the affront
she has received, and the desire of revenge; she broods over it; she
meditates the mode, she is haunted with her scheme night and day; it
works like poison; it grows into a madness, and she can have no peace
till it is accomplished and _off her mind_; but the moment this is the
case, and her passion is assuaged, fear takes place of hatred, the
slightest suspicion alarms her with the certainty of her fate, from
which she before wilfully averted her thoughts; she runs wildly from
the officers before they know anything of the matter; the gallows
stares her in the face, and if none else accuses her, so full is she
of her danger and her guilt, that she probably betrays herself. She at
first would see no consequences to result from her crime but the
getting rid of a present uneasiness; she now sees the very worst. The
whole seems to depend on the turn given to the imagination, on our
immediate disposition to attend to this or that view of the subject,
the evil or the good. As long as our intention is unknown to the
world, before it breaks out into action, it seems to be deposited in
our own bosoms, to be a mere feverish dream, and to be left with all
its consequences under our imaginary control: but no sooner is it
realised and known to others, than it appears to have escaped from our
reach, we fancy the whole world are up in arms against us, and
vengeance is ready to pursue and overtake us. So in the pursuit of
pleasure, we see only that side of the question which we approve; the
disagreeable consequences (which may take place) make no part of our
intention or concern, or of the wayward exercise of our will: if they
should happen we cannot help it; they form an ugly and unwished-for
contrast to our favourite speculation: we turn our thoughts another
way, repeating the adage _Quod sic mihi ostendis incredulus odi_. It
is a good remark in _Vivian Grey_ that a bankrupt walks in the streets
the day before his name is in the Gazette with the same erect and
confident brow as ever, and only feels the mortification of his
situation after it becomes known to others. Such is the force of
sympathy, and its power to take off the edge of internal conviction!
As long we can impose upon the world, we can impose upon ourselves,
and trust to the flattering appearances, though we know them to be
false. We put off the evil day as long as we can, make a jest of it as
the certainty becomes more painful, and refuse to acknowledge the
secret to ourselves till it can no longer be kept from all the world.
In short, we believe just as little or as much as we please of those
things in which our will can be supposed to interfere; and it is only
by setting aside our own interests and inclinations on more general
questions that we stand any chance of arriving at a fair and rational
judgment. Those who have the largest hearts have the soundest
understandings; and he is the truest philosopher who can forget
himself. This is the reason why philosophers are often said to be mad,
for thinking only of the abstract truth and of none of its worldly
adjuncts--it seems like an absence of mind, or as if the devil had got
into them! If belief were not in some degree voluntary, or were
grounded entirely on strict evidence and absolute proof, every one
would be a martyr to his opinions, and we should have no power of
evading or glossing over those matter-of-fact conclusions for which
positive vouchers could be produced, however painful these conclusions
might be to our own feelings, or offensive to the prejudices of


[16] Hobbes is of opinion that men would deny this, if they had any
interest in doing so.



    'This life is best, if quiet life is best.'

Food, warmth, sleep, and a book; these are all I at present ask--the
_ultima Thule_ of my wandering desires. Do you not then wish for

                'A friend in your retreat,
    Whom you may whisper, solitude is sweet?'

Expected, well enough:--gone, still better. Such attractions are
strengthened by distance. Nor a mistress? 'Beautiful mask! I know
thee!' When I can judge of the heart from the face, of the thoughts
from the lips, I may again trust myself. Instead of these give me the
robin red-breast, pecking the crumbs at the door, or warbling on the
leafless spray, the same glancing form that has followed me wherever I
have been, and 'done its spiriting gently'; or the rich notes of the
thrush that startle the ear of winter, and seem to have drunk up the
full draught of joy from the very sense of contrast. To these I
adhere, and am faithful, for they are true to me; and, dear in
themselves, are dearer for the sake of what is departed, leading me
back (by the hand) to that dreaming world, in the innocence of which
they sat and made sweet music, waking the promise of future years, and
answered by the eager throbbings of my own breast. But now 'the
credulous hope of mutual minds is o'er,' and I turn back from the
world that has deceived me, to nature that lent it a false beauty, and
that keeps up the illusion of the past. As I quaff my libations of
tea in a morning, I love to watch the clouds sailing from the west,
and fancy that 'the spring comes slowly up this way.' In this hope,
while 'fields are dank and ways are mire,' I follow the same direction
to a neighbouring wood, where, having gained the dry, level
greensward, I can see my way for a mile before me, closed in on each
side by copse-wood, and ending in a point of light more or less
brilliant, as the day is bright or cloudy. What a walk is this to me!
I have no need of book or companion--the days, the hours, the thoughts
of my youth are at my side, and blend with the air that fans my cheek.
Here I can saunter for hours, bending my eye forward, stopping and
turning to look back, thinking to strike off into some less trodden
path, yet hesitating to quit the one I am in, afraid to snap the
brittle threads of memory. I remark the shining trunks and slender
branches of the birch trees, waving in the idle breeze; or a pheasant
springs up on whirring wing; or I recall the spot where I once found a
wood-pigeon at the foot of a tree, weltering in its gore, and think
how many seasons have flown since 'it left its little life in air.'
Dates, names, faces come back--to what purpose? Or why think of them
now? Or rather why not think of them oftener? We walk through life, as
through a narrow path, with a thin curtain drawn around it; behind are
ranged rich portraits, airy harps are strung--yet we will not stretch
forth our hands and lift aside the veil, to catch glimpses of the one,
or sweep the chords of the other. As in a theatre, when the
old-fashioned green curtain drew up, groups of figures, fantastic
dresses, laughing faces, rich banquets, stately columns, gleaming
vistas appeared beyond; so we have only at any time to 'peep through
the blanket of the past,' to possess ourselves at once of all that has
regaled our senses, that is stored up in our memory, that has struck
our fancy, that has pierced our hearts:--yet to all this we are
indifferent, insensible, and seem intent only on the present
vexation, the future disappointment. If there is a Titian hanging up
in the room with me, I scarcely regard it: how then should I be
expected to strain the mental eye so far, or to throw down, by the
magic spells of the will, the stone walls that enclose it in the
Louvre? There is one head there of which I have often thought, when
looking at it, that nothing should ever disturb me again, and I would
become the character it represents--such perfect calmness and
self-possession reigns in it! Why do I not hang all image of this in
some dusky corner of my brain, and turn all eye upon it ever and anon,
as I have need of some such talisman to calm my troubled thoughts? The
attempt is fruitless, if not natural; or, like that of the French, to
hang garlands on the grave, and to conjure back the dead by miniature
pictures of them while living! It is only some actual coincidence or
local association that tends, without violence, to 'open all the cells
where memory slept.' I can easily, by stooping over the long-sprent
grass and clay cold clod, recall the tufts of primroses, or purple
hyacinths, that formerly grew on the same spot, and cover the bushes
with leaves and singing-birds, as they were eighteen summers ago; or
prolonging my walk and hearing the sighing gale rustle through a tall,
straight wood at the end of it, call fancy that I distinguish the cry
of hounds, and the fatal group issuing from it, as in the tale of
Theodore and Honoria. A moaning gust of wind aids the belief; I look
once more to see whether the trees before me answer to the idea of the
horror-stricken grove, and an air-built city towers over their grey

    'Of all the cities in Romanian lands,
    The chief and most renown'd Ravenna stands.'[17]

I return home resolved to read the entire poem through, and, after
dinner, drawing my chair to the fire, and holding a small print close
to my eyes, launch into the full tide of Dryden's couplets (a stream
of sound), comparing his didactic and descriptive pomp with the simple
pathos and picturesque truth of Boccaccio's story, and tasting with a
pleasure, which none but all habitual reader can feel, some quaint
examples of pronunciation in this accomplished versifier.

                  'Which when Honoria view'd,
    The fresh _impulse_ her former fright renew'd.'[18]

    'And made th' _insult_, which in his grief appears,
    The means to mourn thee with my pious tears.'[19]

These trifling instances of the wavering and unsettled state of the
language give double effect to the firm and stately march of the
verse, and make me dwell with a sort of tender interest on the
difficulties and doubts of all earlier period of literature. They
pronounced words then in a manner which we should laugh at now; and
they wrote verse in a manner which we can do anything but laugh at.
The pride of a new acquisition seems to give fresh confidence to it;
to impel the rolling syllables through the moulds provided for them,
and to overflow the envious bounds of rhyme into time-honoured

What sometimes surprises me in looking back to the past, is, with the
exception already stated, to find myself so little changed in the
time. The same images and trains of thought stick by me: I have the
same tastes, likings, sentiments, and wishes that I had then. One
great ground of confidence and support has, indeed, been struck from
under my feet; but I have made it up to myself by proportionable
pertinacity of opinion. The success of the great cause, to which I had
vowed myself, was to me more than all the world: I had a strength in
its strength, a resource which I knew not of, till it failed me for
the second time.

    'Fall'n was Glenartny's stately tree!
    Oh! ne'er to see Lord Ronald more!'

It was not till I saw the axe laid to the root, that I found the full
extent of what I had to lose and suffer. But my conviction of the
right was only established by the triumph of the wrong; and my
earliest hopes will be my last regrets. One source of this
unbendingness (which some may call obstinacy), is that, though living
much alone, I have never worshipped the Echo. I see plainly enough
that black is not white, that the grass is green, that kings are not
their subjects; and, in such self-evident cases, do not think it
necessary to collate my opinions with the received prejudices. In
subtler questions, and matters that admit of doubt, as I do not impose
my opinion on others without a reason, so I will not give up mine to
them without a better reason; and a person calling me names, or giving
himself airs of authority, does not convince me of his having taken
more pains to find out the truth than I have, but the contrary. Mr.
Gifford once said, that 'while I was sitting over my gin and
tobacco-pipes, I fancied myself a Leibnitz.' He did not so much as
know that I had ever read a metaphysical book:--was I therefore, out
of complaisance or deference to him, to forget whether I had or not?
Leigh Hunt is puzzled to reconcile the shyness of my pretensions with
the inveteracy and sturdiness of my principles. I should have thought
they were nearly the same thing. Both from disposition and habit, I
can _assume_ nothing in word, look, or manner. I cannot steal a march
upon public opinion in any way. My standing upright, speaking loud,
entering a room gracefully, proves nothing; therefore I neglect these
ordinary means of recommending myself to the good graces and
admiration of strangers (and, as it appears, even of philosophers and
friends). Why? Because I have other resources, or, at least, am
absorbed in other studies and pursuits. Suppose this absorption to be
extreme, and even morbid--that I have brooded over an idea till it has
become a kind of substance in my brain, that I have reasons for a
thing which I have found out with much labour and pains, and to which
I can scarcely do justice without the utmost violence of exertion (and
that only to a few persons)--is this a reason for my playing off my
out-of-the-way notions in all companies, wearing a prim and
self-complacent air, as if I were 'the admired of all observers'? or
is it not rather an argument (together with a want of animal spirits),
why I should retire into myself, and perhaps acquire a nervous and
uneasy look, from a consciousness of the disproportion between the
interest and conviction I feel on certain subjects, and my ability to
communicate what weighs upon my own mind to others? If my ideas, which
I do not avouch, but suppose, lie below the surface, why am I to be
always attempting to dazzle superficial people with them, or smiling,
delighted, at my own want of success?

In matters of taste and feeling, one proof that my conclusions have
not been quite shallow or hasty, is the circumstance of their having
been lasting. I have the same favourite books, pictures, passages that
I ever had: I may therefore presume that they will last me my
life--nay, I may indulge a hope that my thoughts will survive me. This
continuity of impression is the only thing on which I pride myself.
Even Lamb, whose relish of certain things is as keen and earnest as
possible, takes a surfeit of admiration, and I should be afraid to ask
about his select authors or particular friends, after a lapse of ten
years. As to myself, any one knows where to have me. What I have once
made up my mind to, I abide by to the end of the chapter. One cause of
my independence of opinion is, I believe, the liberty I give to
others, or the very diffidence and distrust of making converts. I
should be an excellent man on a jury. I might say little, but should
starve 'the other eleven obstinate fellows' out. I remember Mr.
Godwin writing to Mr. Wordsworth, that 'his tragedy of _Antonio_ could
not fail of success.' It was damned past all redemption. I said to Mr.
Wordsworth that I thought this a natural consequence; for how could
any one have a dramatic turn of mind who judged entirely of others
from himself? Mr. Godwin might be convinced of the excellence of his
work; but how could he know that others would be convinced of it,
unless by supposing that they were as wise as himself, and as
infallible critics of dramatic poetry--so many Aristotles sitting in
judgment on Euripides! This shows why pride is connected with shyness
and reserve; for the really proud have not so high an opinion of the
generality as to suppose that they can understand them, or that there
is any common measure between them. So Dryden exclaims of his
opponents with bitter disdain--

    'Nor can I think what thoughts they can conceive.'

I have not sought to make partisans, still less did I dream of making
enemies; and have therefore kept my opinions myself, whether they were
currently adopted or not. To get others to come into our ways of
thinking, we must go over to theirs; and it is necessary to follow, in
order to lead. At the time I lived here formerly, I had no suspicion
that I should ever become a voluminous writer, yet I had just the same
confidence in my feelings before I had ventured to air them in public
as I have now. Neither the outcry _for_ or _against_ moves me a jot: I
do not say that the one is not more agreeable than the other.

Not far from the spot where I write, I first read Chaucer's _Flower
and Leaf_, and was charmed with that young beauty, shrouded in her
bower, and listening with ever-fresh delight to the repeated song of
the nightingale close by her--the impression of the scene, the vernal
landscape, the cool of the morning, the gushing notes of the

    'And ayen methought she sung close by mine ear,'

is as vivid as if it had been of yesterday; and nothing can persuade
me that that is not a fine poem. I do not find this impression
conveyed in Dryden's version, and therefore nothing can persuade me
that that is as fine. I used to walk out at this time with Mr. and
Miss Lamb of an evening, to look at the Claude Lorraine skies over our
heads melting from azure into purple and gold, and to gather
mushrooms, that sprung up at our feet, to throw into our hashed mutton
at supper. I was at that time an enthusiastic admirer of Claude, and
could dwell for ever on one or two of the finest prints from him hung
round my little room; the fleecy flocks, the bending trees, the
winding streams, the groves, the nodding temples, the air-wove hills,
and distant sunny vales; and tried to translate them into their lovely
living hues. People then told me that Wilson was much superior to
Claude: I did not believe them. Their pictures have since been seen
together at the British Institution, and all the world have come into
my opinion. I have not, on that account, given it up. I will not
compare our hashed mutton with Amelia's; but it put us in mind of it,
and led to a discussion, sharply seasoned and well sustained, till
midnight, the result of which appeared some years after in the
_Edinburgh Review_. Have I a better opinion of those criticisms on
that account, or should I therefore maintain them with greater
vehemence and tenaciousness? Oh no: Both rather with less, now that
they are before the public, and it is for them to make their election.

It is in looking back to such scenes that I draw my best consolation
for the future. Later impressions come and go, and serve to fill till
the intervals; but these are my standing resource, my true classics.
If I have had few real pleasures or advantages, my ideas, from their
sinewy texture, have been to me in the nature of realities; and if I
should not be able to add to the stock, I can live by husbanding the
interest. As to my speculations, there is little to admire in them but
my admiration of others; and whether they have an echo in time to
come or not, I have learned to set a grateful value on the past, and
am content to wind up the account of what is personal only to myself
and the immediate circle of objects in which I have moved, with an act
of easy oblivion,

    'And curtain-close such scene from every future view.'

Winterslow, _Feb. 20, 1828_.


[17] Dryden's _Theodore and Honoria_, princip.

[18] Dryden's _Theodore and Honoria_, princip.

[19] Dryden's _Sigismonda and Guiscardo_.

Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable

Transcriber's Note

Minor punctuation errors have been repaired.

Archaic spelling is preserved as printed.

The following typographic errors have been repaired:

    Page 35--Crichton amended to Chrichton (with reference to the
    "Cabinet of Curiosities," which also contains the story of
    Eugene Aram)--"The name of the 'Admirable Chrichton' was
    suddenly started ..."

    Page 134--lawer's amended to lawyer's--"... on a word, or a
    lawyer's _ipse dixit_."

    Page 156--stimulute amended to stimulate--"... something like
    an attempt to stimulate the superficial dulness ..."

    Page 162--on amended to no--"Burke was so far right in saying
    that it is no objection ..."

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