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all other English poets, and his inscription of the name of Rogers at the top of a literary pyramid of contemporary poets, and of Wordsworth, of Coleridge, and of Southey, nearly at the base, has had no influence whatever on the general judgment respecting the relative merits of these poets, though it may have called into question his own candour or acumen. Neither has Coleridge's enthusiastic admiration of the sonnets of Bowles, or Hazlitt's over-praise of those of Warton affected in the slightest degree the decisions of the public. The former are generally acknowledged to be delicate and harmonious, but querulous and feeble ; and the latter refined and thoughtful, but too intricate and pedantic. These opinions of the majority of readers, are undoubtedly more moderate and just than those of Hazlitt and Coleridge, who were influenced in this case by accidental associations. If the voice of a great poet were the voice of fame, Cowper would have bestowed immortality on the name of Hayley. Even Southey's generous praise of him in the Quarterly Review will not save him from oblivion*. It is true that there are passages in literary history which seem to prove the uncertainty of the public mind. That it exhibits occa. sional obliquities of taste, and is unduly influenced by temporary causes, is not to be denied; but these faults are neither so frequent nor so remarkable as the prejudices and caprices of indi. viduals. It is pretty clear, we think, that there has been no truly great poet respecting whose character the public has committed any serious mistake, whatever may have been the sentiments of a few individuals. It is said that the poetry of Milton was for many years neglected. In opposition to this opinion it may be asserted that he had as many readers as could have been fairly expected, considering the time he wrote and the character of his
The very beautiful though too laudatory article here alluded to, was almost refused insertion by Mr. Gifford ; and Southey has confessed that if it had been positively rejected, it would have alienated him from the Review.
poetry. It is to be remembered also that a general sense of Milton's merit might precede his popularity. In fact, he is not yet, and perhaps never will be, a popular poet; though all men acknowledge him to be a great one. Goldsmith is at this day more generally read than Milton : but those who read Goldsmith more than Milton make no mistake about the respective merits of these writers. They merely show that they prefer tenderness to sublimity, or that they can enjoy for a longer period or with greater frequency or a more congenial feeling those strokes of genius that stir the gentler emotions of the heart, than those empyreal flights of the imagination which require the strained and unflagging attention of the mind. But that Milton's genius is of a higher order than that of Goldsmith, is universally understood, and the greater popularity of the latter is no argument whatever against the public judgment. The one has a more extensive popularity, the other has a higher fame.
The lately published auto-biography of Sir Egerton Brydges would afford Mr. D'Israeli an interesting subject for an additional chapter to his Essay on the Literary Character. For the mere lovers of personal gossip and light reading the work has comparatively few attractions; for nothing can be more slight, capricious, and unsatisfactory, than the biographical anecdotes and details, and the mode in which they are recorded. It is a psychological, not a personal memoir. The author has given us his thoughts and opinions, but not his life. The only incident in his personal career that he has dwelt upon at any length, is the rejection of his claim to the right of a peerage ; and even this portion of his work is much less narrative than reflective. The cir cumstances of the case are given in a very brief space, but the effect of this disappointment on his mind and character may be traced from his first page to his last; and it is difficult to say whether his life has been most embittered by his failure in the Temple of the Muses, or in the House of Lords. The main pur
port of his autobiography is to prove that he has been unjustly treated by the nobility and the public, and that notwithstanding the opposition he has met with in both capacities, he is entitled to be recognized as a peer and a poet of a high order. He is so thoroughly blinded by pride and passion, that, like Rousseau, he thinks the whole world is in a conspiracy against him. The unfavourable decision of the Lords and the severity of the critics are alike attributed to jealousy and hatred. His disappointed ambition has excited a burning fever in his soul that the grave alone may cure. “Who can administer to a mind diseased ?" It is painful to observe the inconsistencies into which this able but unhappy man is continually betrayed by the conflict between his reason and his passions. While he expresses with a solemn earnestness his contempt for rank and fame, he unconsciously betrays how bitterly he feels the want of them; and every complaining word is steeped in the blood of a wounded heart. But though he gives vent in the plainest terms to his jealousy of the modern nobility, and styles them “insolent parvenus,” his notices of his more fortunate poetical contemporaries are always liberal and judicious. Even their popularity is accounted for in a manner that is equally just to them and to their admirers. It is only in his own particular case that his judgment fails him, when he unconsciously exaggerates the value of his own poetry, and unjustly censures the critics or the public for their hostility or indifference. He is a more daring egotist than Rousseau or Montaigne. He is sometimes, too, almost as eloquent as the former, and is always quite as rambling and irregular as the latter. • He dwells, however, less upon little personal incidents than either. His adventures are only adventures of the heart and mind, that are laid open with an unsparing hand, and all their sore places unblushingly displayed. Nothing but the most consummate vanity and the desperate energies of a repressed ambition could have led any man to put forth such a fearful revelation*. The world, however, will be a gainer by the author's boldness. A more interesting though painful picture-a more instructive lesson is rarely met with. The evil consequences of overrating our talents, and of encouraging a wild ambition and a morbid sensibility are illustrated by this unfortunate painter of his own portrait, with a force and truth that cannot fail to leave a deep impression upon every thoughtful mind.
Generally speaking, though there are many exceptions to the rule, egotism and vanity are unfavourable signs. It is the want of knowledge that makes us vain. The profoundest spirits are often the humblest. Newton compared himself to a child gathering pebbles on the sea-shore. The farther we advance, the longer appears our road; for the more we see before us,
peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise." The perusal of superior books has not the same humbling effect as the meeting with superior men. A book is a kind of abstraction, but a personal contact with our betters occasions that strong sense of inferiority which is so painful to little minds and so useful to noble ones. The anxiety which some people evince to escape from such uncongenial company, and their bitter humiliation and rest. less discontent until restored to their own little circle of admirers,
* Sir Egerton Brydges is a very reserved man in society. It is strange how easily men who are shy in private, run into a bold egotism in public. They who are much in the habit of addressing the public acquire a confidence of success, and fall into a degree of familiarity with their thousands of unseen and unknowu readers, that is quite unaccountable to those who have confined themselves to the intercourse of private life. It is like uttering impudent or foolish things in a dark room. No rebuking eye kindles a painful blush upon the speaker's cheek. The author and the public do not meet face to face. The former sends out his oracles or his egotisms from the concealment of his quiet study. The late William Hazlitt was a striking illustration of the strange contrast which a person may present between his public and his private manners.
He was a bold and egotistical author, but a shy man. In addressing the whole world, he was often daring and dogmatical ; but in a small private company, if any stran. gers were present, he could scarcely muster up sufficient courage to go through the ordinary ceremonies of social intercourse.
is an illustration of this remark. A library is not so great a check on our self-approbation, though adorned even with a Milton and a Shakspeare! In minds, indeed, duly chastened and subdued by extensive study, a work of true genius will always excite a reverent admiration ; but I am now alluding to its effects on those writers and readers who possess but a superficial knowledge of literature and life. They who are apt to talk flippantly and even to think lightly of books, are brought to their own level in the presence of living genius.
Sir Egerton Brydges had unfortunately the temperament of genius without its power, and for the want of that self-knowledge without which we cannot turn the talents and acquirements we may possess to any real advantage, he has passed a life of misery and discontent. He has inherited an ample fortune, he is the representative of one of the highest and most ancient families in the kingdom, his powers of mind and his literary accomplishments are of no ordinary character, (though immeasurably overrated by himself,) and he has had books and leisure at his command ; yet with all these means and appliances he has done but little for his fame, and still less for his happiness. If he had devoted his whole energies to some single and noble purpose, instead of dissipating his time and talents on unconnected and comparatively trifling objects, he might have won to himself a far higher name in literature than he has yet acquired. Though he has poetical feelings, he is not a poet, and has fallen into the too common mistake of confounding a mere attachment for the Muses with an actual inspiration. But he who loves poetry is not necessarily a poet, any more than a lover of music is necessarily a musician. the grand error of his literary life. It is his failure as a poet that has poisoned all his pleasures. If he could have forsworn verse, and have devoted himself exclusively to any other department of literature, he would have saved himself many bitter disappointments, and have occupied a more respectable station among his