صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

of his best treasure, others have endeavoured to explain them away altogether. Toland and his 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.+

* 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.

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 Athenceum,* 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 co?leges, 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 !




“There are nations, it is reported, who aim their arrows and

javelins at the sun and moon on occasions 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

« السابقةمتابعة »