« PreviousContinue »
heir vulgar conceptions of taste and nanners constantly betrayed, shewed hat their condition was as obscure as heir names. Now and then an amaeur article, of a better kind, the efusion of college friendship to recomnend some abstruse illustration of ome unread classic, did appear among he congregation of trade articles, like a pruce divine in the crowd of Cheapide. But even in those learned essays, of which the London Reviews, in their lotage, were so proud, there was nohing that came home to men's business nd bosoms; they had all a scholastic nd unpractical character. They might have been ornamental in the ponderus tomes of Scaligerian erudition; erhaps have merited the approbation of a Dacier, or a Porson; but they either instructed the age, nor exanded the horizon of knowledge. A vork, therefore, which assumed a chaacter the reverse of the London Reviews, and which undertook to treat of things as they are, and to consider assing events and existing opinions, s affecting the comfort and condiion of the living world, could not ut, on its first appearance, be haild with preference and respect, by hat new and numerous class of read rs, whom the spreading taste for liteature, and the more generous educaion of recent times had raised in the ations;—a class, who, without any pretensions to the literary character, carried into the seats and haunts of usiness, a degree of critical acumen, f knowledge, and sometimes even of cience, which qualified them to estinate the merits of authors, while it nlarged the sphere of their profesional pursuits. Nor will the fact e disputed, that, at the time when he Edinburgh Review made its apearance, there existed, among all ranks nd orders in this country, a general tellectualization, if the expression may be used, on every subject, not ony on those which affected agriculture, manufactures and commerce, but the njoyments of taste and art; in a word, n all with which the feelings and the easoning are interested. The merchant ad become, by his wealth, qualified o associate with princes, and, by his ccomplishments, to entertain philosohers. The maxims of national polity were as familiar to the physician as to he statesman; and the lawyer judged f the productions of genius with the VOL. X.
liberality and discernment of the gentleman and connoiseur. The great political events that were so loudly resounding on all sides, had awakened a universal curiosity, the gratification of which rapidly increased the intelligence of the people, even down to the very artizans.
The inference, therefore, to be drawn from all this; from the previous susceptibility arising from the rejection of the insane dogmas of the democrats; from the state of periodical criticism in London, and from the improved intelligence and literary taste of the age, ensured to such an undertaking as the Edinburgh Review the most splendid and unprecedented success.
Having thus stated the causes and circumstances which contributed to the rise of that celebrated journal, it may now be proper to take a view of its progress; the last is more invidious, because it may be supposed to involve the necessity of estimating the talents and powers of particular individuals; but the brief limits to which this sketch is restricted, obviates that necessity in a great degree, and confines the disquisition to the general characteristics and features of the book alone.
Besides those universal motives which induced the public to receive with no ordinary welcome the first appearance of the Edinburgh Review, the work, by addressing itself to the patronage of the Whigs, at that time strong and formidable by their implied union with the democratical faction, secured at once the personal interest and applauses of a numerous and most loquacious association. Delighted with a work on their side, in which so much more talent and practical sense appeared than in any other of the kind, they were loud and vehement in their plaudits, and the genius of the writers was magnified to the skies-the Tories, too, were pleased to see a work which left at such an immeasurable distance the raving nonsense of the anarchy press; and though they disliked its anti-national principles and prejudices, they joined in regarding it as a meritorious publication, calculated in the main to assist in the restoration of those ancient feelings and venerable affections which had been so outrageously violated and broken. The consequence was immediate. The circulation of the Review rapidly exceeded the most sanguine 4 Q
hopes of the projectors, and all the honours and homages of a premature immortality were bestowed on the contributors. They were allowed a. pontifical authority in taste, a prophetical, in politics; the fates of authors and of kingdoms were alike committed to their decision and foresight and Jeffrey and Brougham became the Minos and Rhadamanthus of literature. But this prodigality of praise, this superstitious admiration, was soon discovered to be excessive. The spirit of the publication was certainly less irrational than that of its predecessors in the democratic interest, but it possessed a full measure of Jacobin antipathy against the political adversaries of the Whig party. Doubts also arose as to the soundness of many of its opinions in matters of taste, in consequence of authors, whom it consigned to derision,growing up into fame, and overshadowing, with a vast luxuriance of vigour in bough and blos
som, the stateliest of all the ancient bay-trees of literature. Events, too, began to falsify the brave arrogance of its political predictions, and the perseverance and constancy with which the Tory administration” adhered to the principles on which the war had been undertaken, seemed to partake of some nobler quality than the obstinacy and folly with which they were charged by the Whig orators and their echoes in the Review. It was also discovered that the Reviewers wrote rather of than to, the public mind; that their pages were but so many mirrors, which only reflected opinions that already existed.
But nothing so effectually arrested the progress of the Edinburgh Review, as the establishment in London of the Quarterly. The northern work had become so intolerant; success had made it so insolent, that it could no longer be endured by the moderate Tories; (c) and they longed for another,
(c) It is perhaps difficult to point out any particular cause in the conduct of the Edinburgh Review, which completed the disgust of the Tories with the intolerant party character of the work; we are, however, inclined to think. that Number XXXI., published in April, 1810, occasioned their decision. The despicable spirit in which the Review of Lord Erskine's speeches was drawn up, to say nothing of its literary incongruities, not only roused their indignation, but was viewed as something partaking of the rabia of insanity and infatuation by many, even of the most sensible Whigs themselves.-Colibet, himself, appears a gentleman when speaking of the living, compared to the manner in which the frantic reviewer speaks of the deceased Mr Pitt, and the abhorrence which the article produced at the time, was sharpened by the report that it was from the pen of one who had sneaked to earn his favour; who had not only traduced Lord Lauderdale's pamphlet, as his Lordship said, to ingratiate himself with that statesman, but was understood to have accepted from Mr Pitt himself a non-descript mission to Portugal, almost as base as that of a spy-we say almost, because it may be possible that there are secret diplomatic appointments which do not partake of such an odious character, and the one alluded to may have been one of them. The Whigs, of late, have been making a clamorous outcry against the personality of the Tory press; but since the death of Mr Fox, has any thing appeared from it reflecting on his character to compare with the following?
"Mr Frost had been a reformer too, and had even held a high office among the members of Mr Pitt's society. In this capacity, he had constant communications with that distinguished personage; and at his trial, could even produce the most cordial and r spectful letters on the interests of their " great and common cause." The canting vi sage of Harrison, or the steady virtue of Hutchison, were not more hateful to Cromwell-Danton and Brissot were not more formidable to Robespierre Sieyes is less odieus to Buonaparte-a catholic petition to Lord Castlereagh-or, to come nearer to the po the question of the abolition to the same Mr Pitt himself, after his periods had be turned on the slave traffic; than such men as Frost, Hardy, Thelwall, and Holcrof were to that convicted reformer of the Parliament. After he had once forsworn t error of his way, and said to corruption, " thou art my brother," and called power, c rather place, his God, (for he truckled too much for the sake of keeping in-he was to mean in his official propensities to deserve the name of ambitious,)—the sight of a reformer was a spectre to his eyes-he detested it as the wicked do the light-as tyrants do the history of their own times, which haunts their repose even after the conscience
conducted in the same manner, but on principles more congenial to their own; the consequence of which was, that as soon as the Quarterly appeared, it divided the interest with the Edinburgh. For some time, however, the Tories continued to read the latter, for the purpose of comparison; and also, because many of them disliked the coarse feeling which was so strongly allowed to disgrace the general ability displayed in the former. Perhaps the circulation of the Edinburgh, from the excitement of public curiosity produced by the competition, may have even continued to increase for some time after the first appearance of the Quarterly. But this did certainly not continue long; the work was less and less read, while the Quarterly was continually extending, both in character and circulation. Nevertheless, such was the general persuasion of the high degree of talent employed in the Edinburgh Review, that it would perhaps have long continued to hold a distinguished place
in public estimation. But on all sides, events began to arise which confounded and mortified its most stre nuous admirers. The whole of its political predictions were falsified, not only with respect to the war, and the changes in operation on the feelings of the world, but with regard to the views which it had taken of individual character, and of human nature, in relation to the chief actors in French affairs. The triumphs of the Peninsu lar war overwhelmed and finished its pretensions to political sagacity. Never in the history of literature was any thing so complete and perfect as the demonstration of the political insagacity of the Edinburgh Review. Its inferiority and inability with respect to the estimates of genius also, about the same time, received an equal exposure. From the publication of Childe Harold, the author of which it had so merrily ridiculed for being no poet, all confidence was lost for ever in its dicta in taste; and Jeffrey will hereafter be chiefly recollected as the Zoilus
has ceased to sting their souls. We must be pardoned for using this language--WE
KNOW OF NO EPITHET TOO HARSH FOR HIM WHO WAS PROFLIGATE ENOUGH TO THIRST FOR THE BLOOD OF HIS FORMER ASSOCIATES IN REFORM-of the very men whom his own eloquence, and the protection of his high station, had seduced into popular courses and not content with deserting them, to use the power with which he had mounted on their backs for the purpose of their destruction !"
The absurdity of this passage is almost as ridiculous as the fustian of the composition. Did Mr Pitt mount into power on the backs of Frost, Hardy, Thelwall, and Holcroft? But the nonsense is nothing to the rhodomontade that follows.
"When the wars and the taxes which we owe to the lamentable policy of this rashi statesman shall be forgotten-and the turmoils of this factious age shall live only in historical record ;-when those venal crowds shall be no more, who now subsist on the spoil of the myriads, whom he has undone the passage of this great orator's life, which will excite the most lively emotions, will be that where his apostacies are enrolled-where the case of the African slave, and of the Irish catholic, stand black in the sight; but most of all, will his heart shudder at his persecutions of the reformers and his attempt to naturalize in England a system of proscriptions, which nothing but the trial by jury and by English judges could have prevented from sinking the whole land in infamy and blood."-Ed. Review, No. XXXI. page 120.
But, after all this rant and bouncing, we would ask the Reviewer, was Mr Pitt the only persecutor of the said reformers? and did he persecute them for being reformers after his own kind, or after the Reviewer's kind?-because the Reformers may have changed their opinion of Parliamentary_reform, and because there are certain dark passages in Thelwall's Letter to Jeffrey, already quoted, which we would gladly see expounded-" You must be well aware, Mr Jeffrey," says the derided reformer and lecturer, "that YOUR FORMER HISTORY, and that of SOME OF YOUR MOST INTIMATE COLLEAGUES, can be no secret in Edinburgh ;—that you could have no public pretence for volunteering yourselves as my opponents, or as my prejudicators." Now, in the historical distance in which we are placed, we should be glad to know what is here meant, and why Mr Thelwall inquires-" By what strange and sinister motive" Mr Jeffrey was "induced to render" himself an instrument of "calumny, malignity, and injustice," against that then poor persecuted individual.
of Byron. His name may exist in
be difficult to name as many volumes in the English language which afford so few quotable passages; and perhaps there can be no better proof of the original mediocrity of the contributors, whatever may have been the merit of a few occasional articles.
In this sketch of the history of the Edinburgh Review, the circumstances in which it arose, and by which it was affected during its course, have alone been considered; and in speaking of the causes which contributed to its decline and fall, reference only has been made to matters of notoriety entirely within the knowledge of the public. To have adduced other instances of personality, of misrepresentation, or of false or unfair criticism, would have swelled the notes to an unreasonable length. Perhaps I may hereafter resume this fertile theme.
* We shall be glad to hear occasionally from VINDEX.-C.N.
A LETTER CONCERNING HAYDON'S PAINTINGS.
MR CHRISTOPHER NORTH, you have probably been hindered by that gout of which we hear so frequently, from going to see any thing out of doors, you may not intend to favour the public with any remarks on the pictures which have lately been sent by Haydon to be exhibited here. And, if you had upon any occasion viewed and considered these works of the pencil, it is most likely that you would be averse to administer to that appetite for the cant of criticism, which, when it is prevalent, is more a sign of vanity than of taste in the public. For my part, I entirely agree with those who think that painting is a "silent art," and that much talk about it tends to peryert the judgment, and make us uncertain of what we behold, or rather to supersede the sense of sight altogether; in which case every man is his own Apelles. Therefore, in addressing this letter to you, I do not mean to utter particular criticisms upon the paintings beforementioned, but to say a few words on painting in general, as a sort of communication of thought among mankind, like literature; and also to defend the credit of that kind of paint
ing which is capable of circulating popularly in this country, as other works of imagination do, and of awakening general and disinterested sympathies. Situated as painters are with us, the truth is, that they must look in the first place, to public exhibitions, for the most expectable remuneration for their labours. It is true, that the feelings of the multitude, though capable in general of sympathising with any strong expression of passion, tend naturally towards impurity and degra dation of taste. But if an artist, like a poet, seriously endeavour to express situations of human nature, which are to move and speak home to the hearts of his contemporaries, it is probable that he will at least attain to excellence in the dramatic or humanly expressive department of his art, and afterwards if the public should be found capable of recognizing higher things, the artist will of course raise his style. In England, the painters certainly never seem to enjoy any of those visions of celestial beauty and felicity which frequently came to the mental eyes of the Italian artists, The artists here may be expected to succeed most frequently in dramatic expression and in the shewing of situ
ons; nevertheless, in choosing inesting subjects for paintings, it is error in the artist to seek for other an those found in the Scriptures, ich present conceptions permanent d known to all mankind, and replete th true meaning and sentiment. mese would not be exhausted alough they were painted a thousand nes; for they might still be repeated ferently in other pieces, beyond meration. Invention in painting is ewn in the mode of treating a known Þject, and bringing out its meaning, a great actor does that of a poet. Although I have not always admired tout ensemble of Haydon's pictures, hink that he evidently shews the ening up of this kind of genius, (that o say, the power of dramatic expresn,) and that he ultimately will be eftive in it. The zeal which he has maested cannot spring from so sapless oot as the mere desire for fame or moy, but must come from the wish to k after what is generally significant 1 affecting, and to communicate it mankind. Nor ought he to be seusly blamed for using copious means draw the notice of the public; ce all these things were necessary overcoming the obstacles which must have found in his way. A nly self-confidence is not only becong, but necessary; since most Engpainters, from timidity and want of ong feeling, have resorted to a compiion, which has the merit of correct sign, but wants that natural derivan of parts which gives vitality and ity of effect, and which shews a work be the genuine and free-born offspring a single mind. Therefore, in many es it is wisest in an artist to resist ternal and inconsistent impressions, 1 to spread out whatever character 1 style he finds the root of in his ius; and those conceptions, which ing from the workings of original ught, will have a vigour like that a living and growing tree. But to s no one can attain, unless he have re confidence in his own feelings in in external impressions. Every nter, besides learning from externalobserving human beings, has a more portant knowledge of human nature himself, and his works will be acding to the elevation, or sensibility, power of gesture, which is in his n nature; and this he expresses
with more effect than what he copies from sight.
Admiring Haydon's drawings from the Elgin marbles, I think as follows concerning that kind of sculpture. External form may either express abstract quantities, which are beautiful independently of their relation to life, or it may shew the action and power of the substance which is in the form. That which is seen in the Elgin marbles is of the latter kind. The figures there are most expressive of the internal reaction of the parts, and, for that reason, beget in the spectator more feeling of power and substance than of pure quantity. Therefore, according to the ancient and true discrimination of Aristotle, they may be called beautiful or expressive xara everyɛlav, according to energy. But those other remains of Grecian statuary which are chiefly intended to affect the mind by shewing pure quantities in the limits of the figure, (from whatever position viewed,) may be called beautiful nara rexa, or according to definition. To please in painting, the great requisite is the well-ordered effect of the whole together. This strikes at first sight, if grand, with awe and astonishment, and even in any case continues always to satisfy the spectator as to the most important particulars of the complex appearance which he views. For it is a labour to view and comprehend ́even the most significant forms, if not placed in such lights as give simplicity and perspicuity to the whole. The picture of Haydon's, which is most agreeable to look upon, and best tuned in the colouring, is that of Christ kneeling in the Garden. It has been unjustly depreciated; for the figure of Judas is original, and so much the better for verging towards grimace. Since he already excels in colouring, as an imitation of nature, it is to be wished that the artist would study more to charm by colouring as a harmony, connecting all which is comprehended in a picture, and spreading from part to part. But, it must be acknowledged, that a majority of those who go to see his pictures are more capable of being affected by the sound of a cart or a drum. The feeling of harmony in colouring is like the acquisition of a new sense. I am, Mr Christopher, Yours, &c.