« السابقةمتابعة »
which the former reached hold of a pistol from his dressing-table.
Oh, for God sake, Tom ! ” gasped out the younger, snatching aside the window-blind, as his brother, still bewildered with recent sleep, held him at arm's-length. He said he never should forget the expression of his brother's face in the moonlight, as the fierce glare of hostility changed into recognition, and he let fall his weapon on the floor. Neither of the two could speak for some time, but the first words the elder brother said were “John! you stood nearer this night to making me your murderer than tongue can tell. If that pistol had been primed, man, I'd never speak to you again, I think. Never while you live play a second trick like that to me! ” Many a practical joke has had a worse ending ; but the narrator confessed he never passed such another moment of emotion—not fear at all, but the throng of a thousand lightning horrors -as that in which he saw his brother's eye, just opened from sleep, meet him like those of a mortal foe, and by his own thoughtless freak.
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF OLIVER GOLDSMITH. A Biography: in
Four Books. By John FORSTER, author of “Lives of Statesmen of the
Commonwealth. 8vo. Bradbury & Evans. COMPELLED to peruse numerous biographies compiled rather than written, it has often been the subject of our hope that some writer with original powers, a lively fancy, and above all, a dramatic genius, might be induced to cultivate this branch of literature. We read the Lives, as they are termed, of men, and retain only remembrances of battles and treaties, negotiations or intrigues ; if literary men, of the success of their publications, their bargains with booksellers, and their introduction to patrons. Indeed, it has been a stereotyped phrase from Rowe downwards, that there is nothing to tell of literary men beyond their place of birth, list of publications, and time of death. Matters, probably for this reason, made the subject of most tedious discussions, and swelled into an absurd importance. This treatment of literary genius is of a piece with the conduct awarded to them on all occasions. To the regular student and common-sense men of the world, they are a kind of “lusus naturæ,” and how they produce their works is as great a mystery as their individual existence. Indeed, we have heard it said, and that by some who had a right to rank amongst them, that this mystery was desirable, and that to know their works is sufficient.
To some extent this may be true. If we are only to have a few isolated actions, or a few doubtful and unimportant facts palmed off by glozing phraseology, and a loose chronology, as that involved and intricate mass of emotion and thought—the life of a man ; then, let us take the utterances in an author's works as his existence, and leave the fleshly frivolities to return to the dust from which they sprang. But more than this may be done; and more than this the heart as well as the intellect desires; and we have works in our own, and more especially in the French and German, which contain fair portraits of men. The impertinence of Boswell has preserved to us one man with a “taxidermistical” fidelity unequalled ; and which, by the aid of other helps, probably brings us as near to a truthful judgment as one human being can have of another. To give, however, a whole-length portrait of a life, with all the minuteness of a Mieris, and the strength and breadth of a Titian, is a task almost unattempted. To do for biography what has been aimed at (and, we think, successfully,) for history, by Thierry, and Michelet, and 'Lamartine, and in our country by Carlyle : to raise up a view of past transactions, and infuse into the dry bones of chartularies and the catalogues of defunct proceedings a true vitality : to animate, with the powers of the poet and the dramatist the mere lifeless facts collected by what is termed history: to adhere, with a glowing fancy and inspired imagination, to the cold circamscription of the rigid fossils that remain to tell of the past: and to extract truth from ashes, and pictures from relics, is a triumph of genius only hoped for in modern times. To do this for biography has been felt to be more particularly desirable. Such an exposition of individual humanity would be more interesting, perhaps more serviceable, than of concrete humanity.
Every writer of judgment, every mind of taste, and every lover of truth, has continually present to him the inexorable nature of time. How little escapes : how fastly into his abyss-like wallet all things are thrown : how everything withers and receives the taint that is left by his noxious steps. It seems, when, contemplated closely, an impossible effort to wring anything in a perfect state from his ruthless grasp; but the immortal mind struggles with him, and, in spite, preserves something. Art alone wages successful war with him; and Art-potent in literature as in marble - will still preserve some lineaments of the departed great. How dimly, with how much distortion, with what imperfection, mere events are stated, daily experience shows us ; and the comparison of any description, with any reality, will tell us how little we can rely on such narrative. Art alone, then, can give a resurrection to the departed, and reproduce the extended idea that
It is not the collecting but the distillation of the facts that gives them force. It is not the mere recombination of them into a coherent appearance that renders them valuable, but the reuniting the fragments into a whole, which shall be in accordance with the few notes that remain of the intricate score that was once a harmony. The patient investigation, the large acquirements, the
once was a man.
intimate knowledge of the surrounding facts, the capacity to appreciate every allusion, the fancy to illustrate, the imagination to combine such materials, and perhaps more than all, the skill to express to the general comprehension, in clear language, the compound image thus raised, are qualities not likely to frequently meet in one individual. Such would be the Shakspeare of Biography. To say that the author of this delightful volume had perfectly accomplished this would be to say too much ; but he has gone far towards it. He has fully felt what Biography might be: he has all the accomplishments and much of the nice delicacy of judgment requisite for his great undertaking. We say great, because we feel convinced at every page that he is working with the fervour of an artist to establish a great model : he is advancing on the mighty but rude efforts of a Titan of literature ; and, disgusted with the “flimsy insufficiencies” of the Carlo Marattis, is more inclined to follow the grandeur of the Michael Angelo of letters, and endeavours to unite the graces of one school with the forces of another. The author of “ The French Revolution
The Protector has done more than any man of our time to expose the impostures of history-to show how its professors bridge over with words impassable chasms, and connect, with flimsiest fragments, the remnants that are left. In his History of Cromwell he proceeds with most reverent step-he pauses on the brink of each fissure that suspends the plain path of his narrative. He tells you when he is quite off the scent, and keeps up no yelping babble to make a pretence that the clue is still there. He thus shows how fragmentary must be the narrative of a great one's story. He is, however, quick of scent and sharp of sight; and the merest morsel over which the mind of his great game has passed is a revealment. He does this in utterances convenient to himself, glowing from his fancy; but not convenient to the lazy thinker, who will not trouble himself to go from his old associations. The author of the present volume has not studied this noble writer without profiting greatly by his theory and a little by his phraseology. He has much of his vigour and none of his violence; and may be compared to an athlete who has acquired the graces of dancing. The consequence of all this is, that we have a great unity of interest. His one great aim is to carve out the "true effigy " of his subject. This is his great cardinal aim, and this he accomplishes happily, and, on the whole, very successfully. We are not quite sure that a man of far inferior capacities and acquirements might not have given a more striking likeness—more striking, perhaps, because less perfect; as we frequently gain our ideas more correctly from happy suggestions than elaborate descriptions. We do not think the Goldsmith of the Club was at all the Goldsmith of the Islington pot-house; and he is represented too much in the society of those who rather depressed than developed his general nature. The true benevolence of Johnson, doubtless, commanded the warmest affections of Goldsmith ; but he had a delicacy of sensibility, and a disregard of conventionalities, together with an unbounded flux of animal spirits, bred of a love of admiration and
fullness of heart and mind that sought less rigid companions. He was not so much a scholar as a genius : his aim was to be popular, and gratify his intense sensibility by its utterance. It is a great mistake, made by many writers, that if man forsake the society of the acknowledged great, that he falls into an utter blankness of existence, or into worse a vicious companionship. But all genius does not show itself in books; and wits and sages are to be found, known but to a few, and too genuine to seek other manifestation than their own spontaneous utterances, and of too limited a sphere to be recorded. The brightest flashes of many a wit have fulfilled their function when they have set the table in a roar : and there are Parson Adamses and Primroses out of select clubs or literary parties. The greatest discovery that could be made would be a diary during his long secessions from “the Club;" or even one of Mrs. Fleming's, his landlady, telling of his doings. Peradventure we should see then a much more joyous, a much brighter man, than he appears when amongst the prudent Reynoldses, the worldly Garricks, the stiff Percys, and the arrogant Hawkinses and Boswells. Above all things is apparent the extreme coarseness that could ever condescend to make a butt of Goldsmith. The good--the great-Johnson never did. He, too, had known poverty-squalid poverty-though not so long, or perhaps so intensely, as Goldsmith. Oliver was poor, ugly, and had no artificial manners ; but he had the highest sense of the dignity and worth of the human soul and mind, and could not bear to be thought or made ridiculous. His humour, as it appears in his writings and comedies, is broad, and almost burlesque. It had none of the vigour or venom of witty repartee. No wonder then that though he saw and esteemed great goodness, great talents, in such men, that he was more at home in less pretentious society, and where a more genuine tribute was paid to his nobility of nature and his gay lively fancy. We would rather have spent an evening with him at his Wednesday's than at his Bigwig Club.
The end and object of this book, after all, we take to be, to erect a frame-work for the introduction of much observation of literary life, and collected knowledge of the last age. And viewed in this light, it becomes a more important work than a mere biography; though, as we have already said, the artistic treatment of the biography is excellent. It contains, however, several other portraits on a smaller scale, and we have the miniatures of all the important literary men connected with Goldsmith, with occasional groups and some picturesque interiors, such as the celebrated Literary Club, the dinners at Sir Joshua's, and the assemblies at the Royal Academies. We cannot give a better sample of the graphic style which predominates throughout the work.
SIR JOSHUA'S DINNERS. « Well, Sir Joshua,' said lawyer Dunning, on arriving first at one of these parties, and who have you got to dine with you to day? The last time I dined in your house the company was of such a sort, that by—I believe all the rest of the world enjoyed peace for that afternoon.' But though vehemence and disputation will at times usurp quieter enjoyments, where men of genius and strong character are assembled, the evidence that has survived of these celebrated meetings in no respect impairs their indestructible interest. They were the first great example that had been given in this country, of a cordial intercourse between persons of distinguished pretensions of all kinds ; poets, physicians, lawyers, deans, historians, actors, temporal and spiritual peers, house of commons men, men of science, men of letters, painters, philosophers, and lovers of the arts ; meeting on a ground of hearty ease, good humour, and pleasantry, which exalts my respect for the memory of Reynolds. It was no prim fine table he set them down to. There was little order or arrangement; there was more abundance than elegance ; and a happy freedom thrust conventionalism aside. Often was the dinner board, prepared for seven or eight, required to accommodate itself to fifteen or sixteen ; for often, on the very eve of dinner, would Sir Joshua tempt afternoon visitors with intimation that Johnson, or Garrick, or Goldsmith was to dine there. Nor was the want of seats the only difficulty. A want of knives and forks, of plates and glasses, as often succeeded. In something of the same style too, was the attendance ; the kitchen had to keep pace with the visitors ; and it was easy to know the guests best acquainted with the house, by their never failing to call instantly for beer, bread, or wine, that they might get them before the first course was over, and the worst confusion began. Once was Sir Joshua prevailed upon to furnish his table with dinner glasses and decanters, and some saving of time they proved ; yet as they were demolished in the course of service, he could never be persuaded to replace them. * But these trifling embarrassments, added Mr. Courtenay, describing them to Sir James Macintosh, only served to enhance the hilarity and singular pleasure of the entertainment. It was not the wine, dishes, and cookery, not the fish and venison, that were talked of or recommended ; those social hours, that irregular convivial talk, had matter of higher relish, and fare more eagerly enjoyed. And amid ali the animated bustle of his guests, the host sat perfectly composed ; always attentive to what was said, never minding what was eat or drank, and leaving every one at perfect liberty to scramble for himself. Though so severe a deafness had resulted from cold caught on the continent in early life, as to compel the use of a trumpet, Reynolds profited by its use to hear or not to hear, or as he pleased to enjoy the privileges of both, and keep his own equanimity undisturbed. He is the same all the year round, exclaimed Johnson, with honest envy. “In illness and in pain, he is still the same. Sir, he is the most invulnerable man I know, the man with whom, if you should quarrel, you will find the most difficulty how to abuse.' Nor was this praise obtained by preference of any, but by cordial respect to all; for in Reynolds there was as little of the sycophant as the tyrant. However high the rank of the guests invited, he waited for none.
His dinners were served always precisely at five o'clock. His was not the fashionable ill breeding, says Mr. Courtenay, which could wait an hour for two or three persons of title, and put the rest of the company out of humour by the invidious distinction.” But it would be endless to extract the similar lively descriptions or the still more valuable brief but pregnant dissertations that arise gracefully and effectively out of the narrative. Here is one which shows how constant is the writer's mind to the chief duty of literature, the