« السابقةمتابعة »
thief, a jackdaw, and died, in the odour of sanctity, the pilferer of Bacon. Have we no literary police-no pen jealous of the honour of our “immortal bard ?' Oh, for an hour with the giant Christopher North! Oh, for some swashing blows of his rhetorical cudgel to crush this fungus ! I know the pestilent vapour will pass away, and the steady glories of Will. Shakspeare blaze forth again ; but in the mean time we shiver under the passing cloud. First, a College of Monks wrote Shikspur; now it's the jurisprudist Bacon. Why not Sir Walter Raleigh ? Why not Queen Elizabeth herself? But, as I began, we won't have · Bacon !'”
THE ASSAILANTS OF GENIUS, AND THE VARIOUS METHODS
BY WHICH THEY CARRY ON THE ASSAULT.
"Ab! how the poor world is pestered with such water-flies ;
diminutives of nature.”—TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. HAPPILY, in the quaint language of Sir Thomas Browne, this is “ a fallacy that dwells not in a cloud, and needs not the sun to scatter it ;" and before proceeding to refute the same, we may glance for a moment at the two principal classes by which the reputations of the good and the gifted have been invariably assailed, as well as at the manner in which their hostility has been manifested. These classes are the over-learned, who account for everything upon theory, and the hopelessly ignorant, whose very souls shudder at every kind of mental superiority.
They are the assailants of genius, in whatever form it may develop itself; and to which of these the latest detractor of Shakespeare belongs, or whether he is to be regarded as the founder of a new school of cavillers, iny readers may decide for themselves. The former get entangled in the cobwebs which they weave from their own brains; the latter vent their rage upon everything calculated to give grace and dignity to our fallen nature.
We cannot, therefore, wonder that our most illustrious author—if not, indeed, the master-spirit of all timeshould incur their fierce resentment. Meaner intellects have at least one consolation ; if they cannot create, they may succeed in destroying. He who would build up some glorious edifice of learning and wisdom, must be possessed of great mental endowments ; industry, which no amount of toil can weary ; and patience and longsuffering, bestowed upon few out of the many millions of human beings who play their parts upon the theatre of this world; but for the work of destruction, none of these qualifications are required.
The veriest tyro can assault a time-honoured institution or bespatter with mud the noblest monument of genius. Indeed the lower the position such a detractor occupies in the intellectual scale, the better fitted will he be for the performance of his unseemly task. Dirty work requires its peculiar instrument; and none more readily assail the literary fame of others than those who have no literary reputation of their own to lose. The leveller has generally but little to boast of: he would not be so anxious to pull down and destroy, did he possess anything worthy of defence. It is the same in literature as in the commonweal : he who has possessions will carefully uphold the rights of property.
To create requires the skill of the master, but to overthrow that which other men by patient labour, unwearied diligence, and great ability, have erected, is an easier task. Thus the authors of those sublime productions of genius, which have formed the delight and wonder of successive generations, have in all ages been the subjects of the most envenomed and the vilest attacks. Nor have these attacks been confined to the works of man,—those coming directly from God, and stamped with the impress of His holiness; have been subjected to similar treatment. As the literature of a country is its most enduring possession, its productions of course come in for the principal share of the hostility of such narrow-minded despoilers. The greatest treasures of universal literature are, it will, we imagine, be admitted without dispute, the Bible, the works of Homer, and the dramas of William Shakespeare.
The assault upon the Scriptures has been waged in various ways. While some have sought to suppress them, to make them a sealed book, and thus to rob man
of his best treasure, others have endeavoured to explain them away altogether. Toland and bis imitators would account for miracles and mysteries in a perfectly natural manner; while Sir William Drummond calmly endeavoured to prove that the Hebrew Scriptures were a collection of astronomical emblems, and sought to identify the patriarchs with the twelve signs of the zodiac.*
Vain were it for us to undertake the task of exposing all the different methods in which, both in bygone and even in more modern times, the sacred writings have been assailed. One authority, incredulous in all things save his own superior ability and discernment, assures us, with a gravity ill becoming such ribaldry, that they are a collection of fables; another cannot admit that they are inspired ; while a third will point out the particular portions that are alone worthy of reception. All such reasoners lack that humility which is the faithful attendant of true wisdom : theirs is the presumption of overweening vanity, or the arrogance of ignorance as hopeless as it is profound. In fact some people seem to fancy they have a charter, liberal as the wind, to assail anything that comes in their way, no matter how sacred it may be. Yet while mercilessly severe against the productions of the great thinkers and workers of the past, they treat the pigmies of to-day with a ridiculous and totally uncalledfor leniency.
Thus almost every department of literature is crowded with shallow pretenders. True, we have noble-minded men, toiling for the benefit of their fellows, and adding lustre to our literary annals ; but these are not the popular writers of the day. Those whose names will stand out as beacons a century hence, are not most followed and
* See the “Edipus Judaicus” by Sir W. Drummond, a work at first printed for private circulation only, and therefore not published. It was very admirably dealt with in a Satire by the Rev. G. Town. send, D.D., who, adopting Sir W. Drummond's line of argument, contended that the signs of the zodiac represented the twelve Cæsars.
best remunerated now. Take down what popular author you please from the shelf, and examine his right and title to celebrity. Look narrowly into his style, weigh his sentences, break them up, parse them, dissect them : you might as well hunt for a grain of gold-dust in a cart-load of sand, as hope to find anything that will repay you for your search. The composition will not bear inspection ; the sentences will be found to consist of a strange medley of foreign terms and absurd conceits. To distort a figure, and to thrust a word into any position but the one which it might legitimately occupy, is their highest aim. A healthy, manly, nervous Shakesperian diction would be so much Greek to these word-mongers, who have stocked our vocabulary with slang terms, and introduced the jargon of the stable into the drawing-room.*
Their productions are false in form, execrable in spirit, and weak in expression. “I do not mean by expression,” to adopt the language of Coleridge, “the mere choice of words, but the whole dress, fashion, and arrangement of a thought.” If their diction be vile, the views and opinions they seek to propagate are calculated to shake the very foundations of society ; to scatter the seeds of enmity among all classes of the community. Their hand is against everything holy and good ; in their sight the most sacred institutions of the land are an abomination. They delight in caricaturing Nature, but they never strive to represent her or to interpret her oracles. They cannot sit in humble meekness at her feet, studying her form, and seeking to be illumined by her blessed light : their object is not to adorn, but to deface everything they touch.t
* Numerous proofs of these assertions may be found by any person willing to undertake the search amongst the productions of our popular authors. Specimens and illustrations of these errors shall, if leisure and opportunity permit, be given in a future work.
+ While these sheets are passing through the press, the writer's attention has been directed to some articles of great merit in the Saturday Review, exposing some of the evils to which he alludes.