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occupation, government, intelligence, and religion. The rules of criticism, founded upon the example of a successful author in one country, may be inapplicable to the work of an author in another country, though the work of the last may belong to the same species of composition as the work of the first. The rules of epic poetry, as deduced from the Iliad, fail, and ought to fail, when rigidly applied to Paradise Lost. The plays of Shakspeare would be condemned at a tribunal, where none but the examples of Sophocles, and Aristophanes are allowed authority. Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, and Mitford, have all deviated from the track of Herodotus and Thucydides. In oral eloquence too, Chatham and Erskine would not have risked some modes, or rather artifices of persuasion, which could find an apology in the names of Demosthenes and Cicero. The great masters in literature and oratory, have, with few exceptions, conformed themselves to man, as his intellectual and moral powers were developed in their own nation and their own age. Few have dared to give themselves to “the universal forms of beautiful nature," or to “ paint for posterity.” Seldom are men willing to climb to those higher and sublimer eminences, which a future generation may occupy. A Milton in poetry, and a Burke in eloquence, are rare examples.
As then Grecian human nature, if we may be allowed the phrase, differed much from English human nature, the rules of criticism, stated by Aristotle and Dionysius, admitting them to be correct in their application to Grecian mind, cannot be considered equally correct, when applied to English mind. This is a point of great importance in criticism. There are modes of thinking, trains of association, and states of feeling, peculiar to the inhabitants of one country, compared with those of another. It was this consideration, undoubtedly, which led the discriminating Madame De Stael to remark, that “the literature of a foreign nation cannot be perfectly comprehended.” The literature of a country professes to be an expression of the national mind, and the national heart. And just in proportion as it expresses the national mind and the national heart, it comes home to the business and bosoms of the people, that gave it birth.
It is now obvious, that the philosophical critic may often be obliged to appeal from a technical rule to the authority of human nature, considered in relation to the various circumstances by which it is effected. He must also sometimes appeal to the original impressions of truth and beauty. His opinions may be at variance with the popular taste, but the popular taste may be constrained to yield, when an audible voice speaks from the oracle of nature.
“ If we consider the works of literature," says Frederick Schlegel, “ by the principles of any universal theory of art, there is no end to the controversy which may arise with regard to the merits and defects either of an individual book, or of a whole body of literature; the great danger is, that we may, perhaps, in the course of our controversies, lose sight altogether of our own feelings, and forget the first pure impression which was made upon us.”
The name of Schlegel reminds us of a pertinent illustration of the difference between a critic according to the principles of nature, and a critic according to the rules of art. Dr. Blair must be regarded as an example of the latter; though as a critic governed chielly by technical authorities, we know of none more unexceptionable. Schlegel is professedly a philosophical critic. We will compare their observations upon Camoens's Lusiad. Dr. Blair first examines the subject,” to ascertain whiether it is “ great and interesting," like that of the ancient models. He sollows the progress of the “ action” in the poem, to see if there be any thing out of character ; and concludes that “the whole work is conducted according to the epic play." In commenting upon the “ machinery,” he justly condemns it for the most part, because of the unpardonable mixture of Paganism and Christianity. But his criticism, as a whole, clearly evinces, that, in examining the merits of the Lusiad, he had constantly in mind the technical criterion derived from the works of the ancient masters. Look now at the remarks of Schlegel. "At its commencement his poem is written in strict iinitation of the Virgilian model, a constant adherence to which, was the chief fault of all the epic poets of that age. But Camoens, like bis own Gama, soon leaves the servile coast-sailing of his predecessors, ventures into the wide expanse of ocean, and makes his triumphant progress through rich and undiscovered lands. As the mariner in the midst of the troubles and tempests of the sea, perceives, by the spicy gales, that he is approaching to his Indian haven, so over the latter cantos of the Lusiad, there is diffused the rich air and resplendent sun of the oriental skies. The language is indeed simple, and the
purpose serious; nevertheless, in coloring and fullness of fancy, Camoens here surpasses even Ariosto, whose garland he so venturously aspired to tear away. But Camoens does not confine himself to Gama and the discovery of India, or even to the sway and achievements of the Portuguese of his age; whatever of chivalrous, great, beautiful, or noble, could be gathered from the traditions of his country, has been inweaved and embodied into the web of his poem. It embraces the whole poetry of his nation : among all the heroic poets of ancient or of modern times, there has never, since Homer, been any one so intensely national, or so loved and honored by his countrymen, as Camoens. It seeins as if the national feelings of the Portuguese, excluded from every other subject of meditation by the degraded condition of their empire, had centered and reposed themselves in the person of this poet-considered by them, and worthy of being considered by us, as supplying the place of a whole troop of poets, and as being in himself a complete literature to his country.”
The difference between the complexion of this criticism and that of Blair, is too palpable to escape notice. Every one must perceive, that while Blair was contemplating the form and habiliments, Schlegel was enthusiastically inspecting and anatomizing the soul of the poem; and while Blair was satisfied with the epic plan and its general execution, Schlegel was in a sort of ecstacy in view of the masterly delineation of human nature, as diversified by the national peculiarities of the Portuguese.
Enough has been said in illustration of our remark, that a thorough knowledge of the philosophy of human nature, is an important qualification of a good critic. Refinement of taste united with this, implies an acquaintance with general history, and an experience in analyzing works of literature and eloquence. Upon these topics it would be easy to enlarge. But we pass on to the consideration of another requisite in criticism-a good temper.
It was observed by Shenstone, that “good taste and good nature, are inseparably united.” It may be, that there can be no “good taste" without “good nature;” but do not some men of good taste evidently criticise with ill nature? Let a man be out of humor from any cause, let him be vexed or irritated, and he is very far from being in a mood for candid, impartial criticism. Was Byron in a mood for such criticism,
vol. I. 38
when he wrote his “ English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers?" To what but an habitual morbidness of temperament, or perhaps it may be termed a jealous pride of literary character-a dogmatical idiosyncrasy—can be attributed many of the blistering and tormenting strictures of Johnson ?
We here see the reason why authors are frequently the very worst critics. Few there are, who are not tempted to undervalue the works of competitors, and to utter “ faint praise,” at best, even when the voice of the community is loud in reiterating the notes of panegyric. When an author takes the pen of the critic, he is liable to remember some animadversion, just or unjust, upon himself; and as
“ No man e'er feels the halter draw,
he determines to make "company” for his “misery," and wreaks his resentment upon innocence as well as guilt. An amiable temper may be turned into the gall of bitterness. Some chapters in the literary history of Addison, Pope, and many others, cannot be remembered without a mortifying sense of the weakness of our nature. Authors have so often showed themselves to great disadvantage as critics, that the example should be an effectual admonition to the whole fraternity. Envy, jealousy, chagrin, ambition, are all dangerous guides in the field of criticism. Let no man speak of a competitor, or write a review, unless he has good nature in full exercise, even when his words must be sharper than a two edged sword. Let every man “ wipe his heart," as well as his eyes, before he commences the operation. “ Honor to whom honor is due,” is a good maxim; and another maxim equally good, but more difficult in the observance, is this—" In honor, preferring one another.” When a good taste has its perfect work, it will be in love with excellence, wherever it appears. It will find a luxury of gratification in the beauties of a performance, and never be grinning a contemptuous (and contemptible) exultation at the discovery of some petty“ spot” upon a disk of brightness.
Examples are not wanting, which are worthy of the imitation of orators and writers, in respect to the proper spirit of criticism. How ingenuous the testimony of Æschines to the superiority of his great antagonist, in the celebrated conflict, respecting the golden crown " Quid si
Par nehe untimehe patheticiles
ipsum audissetis ?” How admirable Cicero's treatment of Hortensius ! Par nobile fratrum. How the “father of his country” mourned the untimely decease of his illustrious rival! His heart, to borrow the pathetic imagery of our own Ames, when bewailing the death of Hamilton, grew liquid as he wrote, and he poured it out like water. “He was my companion in glorious toil. With him it was more honorable to contend, than never to have a rival.” The transactions of modern literature can furnish no happier illustration of critical amiableness and generosity, than Coleridge's animadversions upon the poetry of Wordsworth.
The last qualification of a good critic, which we shall specify, is a pure moral sensibility. The sentiments of virtue and religion, which more or less characterize every production in literature, hold a prominent place among the legitimate objects of criticism. The purest of all beauty is moral beauty, and the purest of moral beauty is the beauty of holiness. Whatever else a critic may neglect to notice, it is a duty which he owes to his country, to the world, and to God, to scan the moral tendency of every work which passes under his review. No matter how much of genius, of originality of conception, of elegance or energy of style, there may be ; no matter how much of truth to human nature, in the delineations of character; if a work breathes not throughout a healthful spirit of moral sentiment, its deformity should be exposed. Genius cannot atone for iniquity. The popular taste may be as corrupt as that of the “ pit” of the theatre, or of perdition ; yet the man who writes for the public is responsible, not at a tribunal of depravity, but of uncompromising purity.
Tried by the standard of wholesome moral influence, how few are the works of polite literature, which are entitled to the seal of approval! It was with
4 Thoughts that lie too deep for tears,"
that we closed our first perusal of Foster's admirable “Essay on the aversion of men of taste to evangelical religion.” Who that loves genius much, but Christianity more, has not agonized at the perversion and degradation of “ talents angelbright?” How seldom can we find a “ work of taste," which has been