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Their conclusions are as erroneous as their style is faulty. They mutilate and mangle every subject, to raise a smile, or to create what they term a sensation. To Truth they pay no homage ; indeed, they have long since turned their backs upon her. The simple beauty of her appearance can have no attractions for those who love to feast their eyes upon frippery and finery; who prefer gaudy tinsel to solid ore.
Exactly the same kind of process is in operation upon the English stage. With one or two honourable exceptions, our most popular performers act in precisely the same style as our popular authors write. Those are most applauded who have the trick of flattering the follies of the hour; who, by their vulgarity, have won the goodwill of the vulgar. To exaggerate and distort is their vocation. Mountebanks have succeeded the Kembles, Kean, Liston, and the bright spirits of a better period. People talk of the decline of the drama, as if that were to be attributed solely to a scarcity of good dramatists. Where shall we find actors capable of interpreting the master-pieces of tragedy and comedy, in which our literature is so rich ? When the accomplished artist makes his bow to a discriminating audience, we feel assured that he will not be at a loss for something to represent.
The reader or student may always test the merits of any composition by careful analysis. Anything in literature which will not bear inspection, which cannot be weighed and examined, which may not be differently expressed, is mere verbiage. If paragraphs, sentences, and words have a meaning, that meaning may easily be seized upon and unfolded. One method in particular has been noticed in a recent number of the Athencum,* and the remarks of the critic in recommending the adoption of such a system in our educaThe reviewer's remarks are admirable, and may act as an antidote to the poison swallowed in such quantities.
* January 3, 1857.
tional establishments are so good, that we have no hesitation in quoting them :-“It was Dr. Arnold, we think, who regretted that it was not the custom in our higher schools and colleges to read some of our best English authors in the minute and careful manner universally practised in reading the Greek and Latin classics, and who expressed a belief that, if this custom were once well established, many of those benefits which result from the learning of Greek and Latin might be derived, to nearly the same extent, from vernacular studies alone. The same idea must have occurred to many. If, in our schools and colleges, pupils were made to read Shakespeare or Milton, in short passages at a time, just as Homer and Sophocles, or Virgil and Horace, are read ; if each word of the text were carefully studied, each difficult etymology traced, each unusual idiom investigated, each peculiarity in syntax or prosody inspected, each allusion explained, each beauty in thought or expression brooded over lovingly ; if, in short, every particle of every line were made to pass slowly, and perhaps three or four separate times for separate purposes, through the mind, as a good classical tutor makes his class parse Greek or Latin text, there can be no doubt that, besides other advantages, the process would serve as a logical discipline little inferior to that which is, perhaps, the main recommendation at present of classical studies. The difficulty, as Dr. Arnold felt, is to introduce such a method, and become master of it. Our very familiarity with our own language prevents us from rolling every morsel of it under our tongue in the slow and deliberate way in which we treat dead vocables ; and besides, the art of exposition, as applied to the classical authors, is one made perfect by long usage and by academic tradition.”
Ye admirers of popular authors, try, we beseech you, this experiment upon the compositions of your favourites, which you will speedily discover to consist of a grain of sense concealed in a wilderness of verbiage !
GERMAN ONSLAUGHT UPON HOMER AND SHAKESPEARE. “There are nations, it is reported, who aim their arrows and
javelins at the sun and moon on occasious of eclipse, or any other offence ; but I never heard that the sun and moon abated their course through the heavens for it, or looked more angrily when they issued forth again to shed light on their antagonists. They went onward all the while in their own serenity and clearness, through unobstructed paths, without diminution and without delay. It was only the little world below that was in
darkness.”_W. S. LANDOR. HOMER of course attracted the attention of the critical operators, and in their hands soon lost every trace of the vigour and rotundity of life. The Germans, some years since, won an unenviable notoriety for this style of criticism, which has been very ably described by a writer in a recent Quarterly Review :-“ Wolf's erudite disciples, if they can be said to have agreed on anything besides the great general articles of misbelief, seem to have instinctively concurred in an antipathy to these time-hallowed miracles of thought and word. Whenever what they call the action comes to what they consider a halt ; that is, whenever the Poet is tempted to relieve his pictures of war and tumult by some exquisite glimpse of domestic tenderness, or-heated by a self-kindled flame of which those doctors have no more notion than Cheselden's patient had of scarlet-expands into some delicious commemoration of old personal reminiscence or dear dream of romantic tradition—it is luce clarius that this is a patch. The antique manufacturing company knew their business too well to have winked at such interferences with the rubrical continuity of the patent web
they were stuck on by the sciolists, who sent in their accounts for travelling expenses, attendance at consultations, copies made, and sundries, to the treasury of Pisistratus.
“In this way they put out of court for ever, on the motion of Counsellor Hermann, or Lachmann, or some other of his understrappers, whatever has signally familiarized and brought home to us the most masculine of Homer's characters; whatever has made us sympathize with the flesh and blood, and be merciful to the frailties of others; whatever, in short, has made them living types of human nature and the despair of all the poets of 3,000 years—save one. Apply the same sort of process to that one ;-but let us be merciful-apply it only to the most learned, adroit, and artistical (in the doctor's own sense of that last word) among Homer's or Shakspeare's successors. What fortunate riddances, now, in the case of Virgil how many of his crack paragraphs are manifest panni !-think of fathering on such an expert as that such a gross interpolation as the purposeless episode of Euryalus, or such a transparent clumsiness as a piece of flattery about Marcellus! Such superfotations will not bear a touch of the scalpel.
“Or take Milton :-what a swoop of his pretty eaglets! What a world of stuffed-in abortive excrescences about Pagan mythology, mediæval romance, blindness of an ex Latin secretary of Oliver Cromwell-evil days of the Cabal—and Lely's bevies! Imagine the gravest of Christian poets mixing up Eve and Proserpine, the fall of the angels with discharges of artillery-Galaphron and his city of Albracca~Charlemagne and all his chivalry at Fontarabia. So treated, no doubt, poets may be shorn of their most troublesome beams and reduced by safe manipulation within the comprehension of the critical lens." *
The remoteness of the era in which Homer lived
* Quarterly Review, vol. 87, No. 174, p. 445.
afforded these professors an excellent opportunity for attempting to destroy him altogether. They had no sooner stowed away the glorious father of epic poetry in safety among the myths, than the keen-eyed vultures of the criticism of annihilation cast their greedy eyes upon our own sweet Shakespeare. With him they were compelled to deal in a different manner; the proofs of his having actually existed were too numerous to admit of the application to his case of this summary process of annihilation.
The man William Shakespeare had been a rather important personage in his day and generation, and what is more, had left several evidences of the part he had played, that could not be explained away ; so the extin. guisher was laid aside, and the critics grasped the tomahawk; although they could not crush out his existence, they thought they might manage to hew his reputation to pieces. So to work they went; and mighty were the results. They could not annihilate the man Shakespeare, but they might reduce the poet within reasonable dimensions. This was the expedient by which they hoped to gain their ends.
To overrate the merits of his contemporaries, and to depreciate his, was their solution of the difficulty. Zealously did they labour at this new hobby, terrible were their efforts to pull down Shakespeare, and to erect their own blocks of wood and stone in his place. They plied their oars vigorously against the stream of common sense and honest truth, imagining that, because the water flowed past them, they were making rapid advances. But the German dreamers had hit upon something like a real difficulty at last ; and they found Shakespeare possessed of a vitality which they had little suspected. They could not demolish a reputation that had taken root in every quarter of the globe; a fame which, like the air, pervaded the universe.
The sagacious writer in the Quarterly, to whom we