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well-merited retort—are frequently destitute of any solid foundation : we have been in the habit of calling you a nation of soldiers.'
M. Taine, the last Frenchman of eminence who has written fully and freely on England, has evidently struggled hard to shake off the common weaknesses of his countrymen ; and if not quite so successful as could be wished in this respect, he has produced a curious and interesting book—a book, however, in which just views and sterling truths are rather indicated than developed, whilst the most valuable trains of thought are not unfrequently suggested by the paradoxes.
His method—for he insists that it is not a system -is one among many proofs of the irresistible force with which speculative minds of the higher order are tempted into theorising. Bentham contended that the credibility of witnesses was reducible to a science. Sieyès, in a moment of expansion, exclaimed to Dumont, • La politique est une science que je crois avoir achevée.' If Mrs. Trollope heard aright, Prince Metternich said to her, “I believe that the science of government might be reduced to principles, as certain as those of chemistry, if men, instead of theorising, would only take the trouble patiently to observe the uniform results of similar combinations of circumstances.'1 And what are they to do next but theorise ?
Just so, M. Taine. His royal road for arriving at the essences, the elemental truths, the final causes, the connecting links, of all things, is (to use his own words) “wholly comprised in this remark, that moral matters, like physical things, have dependencies and conditions.' Take an individual writer, poet, novelist, or historian, and carefully study his works. They will all be found marked by a certain disposition of mind or soul, a certain array of likes and dislikes, of faculties and
16 Vienna and the Austrians,' vol. ii. p. 11.
failings-in short, a certain psychological state, which is that of the author.' Then pass in review his life, his philosophy, his ethical and ästhetical code, i.e. his general views about the good and the beautiful, and you will find that they all depend upon one another; 'you will be able to prove logically that a particular quality, violence or sobriety of imagination, oratorical or lyrical aptitude, ascertained as regards one point, must extend its ascendency over the rest.' What is. true of the individual, is true of a nation and an age : the age of Louis XIV., for example. Religion, art, philosophy—the family and the State—industry, commerce, and agriculture—have all some common principle, element, or ingredient, and might all be traced to the same moral and intellectual bent or tendency.
Between an elm of Versailles, a philosophical and religious argument of Malebranche, one of Boileau's maxims in versification, one of Colbert's laws of hypothec, an ante-room compliment at Marly, a sentence of Bossuet on the royalty of God, the distance appears infinite and impassable. There is no apparent connection. The facts are so dissimilar that at first sight they are pronounced to be what they appear, that is to say, isolated and separated. But the facts communicate between themselves by the definitions of the groups in which they are comprised, like the waters in a basin by the summit of the heights whence they flow.
All this sounds very ingenious and very eloquent, but we do not see what good can be fairly expected to come of it, unless, as suggested by Mr. Rae, it should induce a nicer observation and more careful estimate of facts. What Condillac said of rules is applicable to M. Taine's method or system : like the parapet of a . bridge, it may hinder a person from falling into the river, but will not help him on his way. Indeed, it is more likely to lure him out of it in will-o'-the-wisp fashion and land him in a slough ; for the odds are that he will draw on his imagination for his dependencies and conditions : that the facts will be made to fit
the theory, instead of the theory being based upon the facts : that he will take for granted the connecting link or family likeness between the sermon and the compliment, the religious argument, the maxim of versiñcation, and the elms.
It will be seen, as we proceed, that M. Taine attributes many points of national character, good, bad and indifferent, to the same cause as the exuberant growth and rich foliage of our trees : that he accounts on the same principle for the large feet of our women and the intemperance of our men. But for a Frenchman with a theory, he is a miracle of impartiality, acuteness, and good sense ; and we may say of the English life depicted in his pages, what the merryman in the Prologue to · Faust' says of human life : Every one lives it ; to not many is it known; and, seize it where you will, it is interesting.' We may take up M. Taine at any stage of his progress, or we may begin with him at the beginning ; steam with him up the Thames, and arrive with him on a cold foggy morning at London Bridge.
Sir Walter Scott states incidentally, in one of his novels, that much of the knowledge of life and character displayed in them was owing to his habit of talking freely with fellow-travellers, whether he had any previous acquaintance with them or not. M. Taine has the same habit. The first conversation he notes down is with an Englishman of the middle class,
son of a merchant, I should suppose; he does not know French, German, or Italian ; he is not altogether a gentleman—twenty-five years of age ; sneering, decided, incisive face ;—he has made for his amusement and instruction a trip lasting twelve months, and is returning from India and from Australia.' He is from Liverpool ; and after laying down authoritatively that a family that does not keep a carriage may live comfortably there upon three or four hundred a year, goes on to say that • one must marry, that is a matter of
course;' and that he hopes to be married within a year or two; adding, with commendable caution-It is better, however, to remain a bachelor, if one does not meet the person with whom one desires to pass one's whole life;' but'-plucking up spirit— one always meets with her; the only thing is not to let the chance slip.' A dowry he declares to be unnecessary: 'It is natural and even pleasant to undertake the charge of a portionless wife and of a family.' Moral : • It is clear to me (loquitur M. Taine) that their happiness (the happiness of Englishmen) consists in being at home at six in the evening with a pleasing attached wife, having four or five children on their knees, and respectful domestics. And by no means a bad notion of happiness either ; but the deduction from such slender premises reminds us of our friend at Knebworth founding conclusions on the river and the pond.
Other figures in the boat. Two young couples who remain on deck covered with wrappings under umbrellas. A long downpour has begun; they remain seated; in the end they were drenched like ducks. This was in order that husband and wife should not be separated by going below to the cabins.
Another young wife suffered much from sea-sickness; her husband, who had the look of a merchant's clerk, took her in his arms, supported her, tried to read to her, tended her with a freedom and expression of infinite tenderness.
“Two young girls of fifteen and sixteen, who speak German and French exceedingly well and without accent, large · restless eyes, large white teeth ; they chatter and laugh with perfect unconstraint, with admirable petulance of friendly gaiety; not the slightest trace of coquetry, none of our nice little tricks which have been learned and done on purpose; they never think about the on-lookers.
“A lady of forty in spectacles beside her husband, in a worn-out dress, with relics of feminine ornaments, extraordinary teeth in the style of tusks, very serious and most ludicrous; a Frenchwoman, even middle-aged, never forgets to adjust herself—to arrange her dress.
• Patience and phlegm of a tall dry Englishman, who has not moved from the seat, has taken but a single turn, who has spoken to no one, who suffices to himself. As a contrast, three Frenchmen, who put random questions, make haphazard assertions, grow impatient, gesticulate, and make puns, or something akin to them, appeared to me pleasant fellows..
We invite attention to these groups ; for they are all representative, and each of them eventually, if unconsciously, supplies the keynote to a chapter or a carefully illustrated and expanded · Note.' That they do so may be fairly cited by M. Taine in confirmation of his doctrine of dependencies; as showing that a competent observer might deduce the peculiarities and tendencies of a people from half-a-dozen examples, as surely as Professor Owen would infer the shape and habits of an animal from a bone.
The first day M. Taine passes in London, at all events the first of which he makes mention, happens to be Sunday; and he takes the Continental (we think superficial) view of our mode of observing it :
Sunday in London in the rain : the shops are shut, the streets almost deserted; the aspect is that of an immense and a well-ordered cemetery. The few passers-by, under their umbrellas, in the desert of squares and streets, have the look of uneasy spirits who have risen from their graves; it is appalling
“I had no conception of such a spectacle, which is said to be frequent in London. The rain is small, compact, pitiless; looking at it one can see no reason why it should not continue to the end of all things; one's feet churn water, there is water everywhere, filthy water impregnated with an odour of soot. A yellow, dense fog fills the air, sweeps down to the ground; at thirty paces a house, a steamboat appear as spots upon blotting-paper. After an hour's walk in the Strand especially, and in the rest of the City, one has the spleen, one meditates suicide.'
In this frame of mind he calls Somerset House a