Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

material difference between the reprint of al bestcriticisms of Jeffrey and the splendid essays standard book, which has already acquired a of Macaulay, which have formed a valuable fixed reputation, and the composition of a new addition to our standard literature. work of a serious and contemplative cast, es- The reason why periodical essays, how able pecially by an unknown author, and more soever, seldom succeed in acquiring a lasting particularly if it is in opposition to the general reputation, is this. It is too deeply impregcurrent of public opinion. It may safely be nated with the passions, the interests, and the predicted of such a work, that if it really con- errors of the moment. This arises from the tains new and important truths, it will be dis- same cause which Bulwer and Cousin have tasteful to the majority of readers in all classes; remarked as necessarily changing the character and that whatever fame may in future be be- of oratory in proportion to the size of the audistowed on its author, or however widely it may ence to which it is addressed. Temporary hereafter be read by the public, or command literature necessarily shares in the temporary the assent of mankind, he will be in his grave nature of the passions of which it is the mirror. before either effect takes place. Adam Smith, Every one who is accustomed to that species if we mistake not, had died before the Wealth of composition knows, that if he does not strike of Nations had got past even a second edition, at the prevailing feeling of the moment, in the certainly before its principles had made any great majority of his readers he will produce material progress in the general mind. Seve- no sort of impression, and he will very soon ral years had elapsed before a hundred copies find his contributions returned upon his hand of Mr. Hume's History were sold; and he him- by the editor. “ The great talent of Mirabeau," self has told us, that nothing but the earnest says Dumont, “consisted in this, that he inentreaties of his friends induced him, in the tuitively saw to what point in the minds of his face of such a cold and chilling reception, to audience to apply his strength, and he sent it continue his historical labours. Although, home there with the strength of a giant.”. That therefore, there exists a steady demand for is precisely the talent required in periodical standard classical works, it is by no means literature; and accordingly, every one engaged equally apparent that any thing like an ade-in it, is aware that he writes an article for a quate encouragement in the general case for magazine or review in a very different style the composition of new standard works, is to from what he does in any composition intended be found in the present state of society. Few for durable existence. If we turn to the politimen have the self-denial, like Bacon, to be- cal articles in any periodical ten or fifteen queath their reputation to the generation after years old, what a multitude of facts do we find the next, and to labour for nothing during the distorted, of theories disproved by the result, whole of their own lifetime; and the chance of anticipations which have proved fallacious, of finding persons who will do so, is much of hopes which have terminated only in disapdiminished, when society has reached that pointment? This is no reproach to the writers. period in which, by simply lowering his mode It is the necessary result of literary and philoof composition, and descending from being the sophical talent keenly and energetically applied instructor to be the amuser of men, the author to the interests of the hour. It is in the cool can obtain both profit and celebrity from a shade of retirement, and by men detached from numerous and flattering class of readers. the contests of the world, that truth in social

Nor is there the slightest ground for the and moral affairs is really to be discovered ; hope, that the strong diversion of philosophi- but how are we to look for that quality amidst cal and literary talent into the periodical litera- the necessary cravings of an excited age, seekture of the day, has only turned it into a new ing after something new in fiction, or the channel, and not diminished its amount or im- passions of a divided community finding vent paired its usefulness. If we contemplate, on politics in the periodical press? indeed, the periodical literature of the day, The great profits which now accrue to every one must be struck with astonishment authors who are lucky enough to hit upon a at the prodigious amount and versatility of popular view with the public, is another cirtalent which it displays. But how much of cumstance which tends most powerfully to that has realized itself in works of a perma- stamp this fleeting and impassioned character, nent or durable character, calculated to instruct both upon our creations of imagination and or delight future ages ? Turn to the early periodical effusions of political argument. criticisms of the Edinburgh Review, flowing, as The days are gone past when Johnson wrote they did, from the able and varied pens of in a garret in Fleet Street the sonorous periods Brougham, Jeffrey, and Sydney Smith, and see which a subsequent century have admired, how many of them will stand the test which under the name of Chatham. The vast inthirty years' subsequent experience has afford-crease of readers, particularly in the middle ed ? Few persons now read the early cri- and lower ranks, has opened sources of literary tiques in the Quarterly Review, supported as profit, and avenues to literary distinction, unthey were by the talent of Gifford, Lockhart, known in any former age. A successful article Croker, and Dudley, which affords decisive in a magazine or review brings a man into evidence of the way in which each succeeding notice in the literary world, just as effectually wave of periodical criticism buries in oblivion as a triumphant debut makes the fortune of an the last. Various attempts have been made to actress or singer. But how is this success to select from the immense mass of these periodi- be kept up? or how is this profit to be concals, such of the pieces as appeared likely to tinued ? Not certainly by turning aside from attract permanent interest; but none of them periodical literature to the cool shades of medi. have any remarkable success, if we except the l tation or retirement, but by engaging still more

deeply in the stirring bustle of the times; by constitutional usage of this mixed aristocratic catering to the craving for continued excite- and commercial realm, no distinctions of rank ment, or plunging into the stream of turbulent are ever conferred upon literary ability, how politics. If, instead of doing so, he sits." on a distinguished soever. Sir Walter Scott, indeed, hill retired," and labours for the benefit of and Sir Edward Bulwer have been made baromankind, and the instruction of posterity in a nets; but, in the first instance, it was on the future age, he will soon find the cold shoulder personal friend of George IV. that this honour of the public turned towards him. He may was conferred, not the great novelist; in the acquire immortal fame by his labours, but he second, to the literary parliamentary supportwill soon find that, unless he has a profession er, not the author of England and the English, or independent fortune, he is gradually verging that the reward was given. Both indeed were towards a neglected home the garrét. Where entirely worthy of the honour; but the honour as, if he engages in the pursuit of fiction, or would never have been bestowed on the Scotch plunges into the stream of politics, he will ere- novelist, if he had been unknown in the arislong be gratified by finding, if he has talents tocratic circles of London, and never dined adequate to the undertaking, that fame and at Carlton House; or on the English, if he had fortune pour in upon him, that his society is been a stranger to the Whig coteries of the courted, and his name celebrated, and not un- metropolis. The proof of this is decisive. frequently political patronage rewards passing Look at what we have done for our greatest talent or service with durable honours or men, who had not these adventitious aids to rewards.

court favour. We made Burns an excise of Nothing, indeed, is more certain than that ficer and Adam Smith a commissioner of cusnothing great, either in philosophy, literature, toms. or art, was ever purchased by gold; that genius The influence of this circumstance is very unfolds her treasures to disinterested votaries great; and the want of any such national hoonly; and that but one reason can be assigned nours is an additional cause of the fleeting and why such clusters of great men occasionally ephemeral character of our general literature. appear in the world, that “God Almighty,” in The soldier and the sailor are certain, if they Hallam's words, "has chosen at those times to distinguish themselves, of obtaining such recreate them.” But admitting that neither gold wards. Look at the long list of knights comnor honours can purchase genius, or unlock manders of the Bath, in both services, who were truth, the question is, to what extent they may promoted by the last brevet. Nothing can be draw aside talent, even of the highest class, from more just than conferring such distinctions on the cold and shivering pinnacles of meditation these gallant men; they compensate to them the and thought, into the rich and flowery vales of inequality of their fortunes, and stimulate them politics, amusement, or imagination. The to heroic and daring exploits. The successful point is not what they can do, but what they | lawyer often comes in the end to take prececan cause to be left undone. Doubtless there dence of every peer in the realm, and becomes are occasionally to be found men of the very the founder of a family which transmits his highest character of intellect and principle, wealth and his honours to remote generations. who, born to direct mankind, feel their destiny, The honoured names of Hardwicke, Loughboand, in defiance of all the seductions of fame or rough, Mansfield, and Eldon, have been transinterest, pursue it with invincible perseverance mitted with princely fortunes to an ennobled to the end. But such men are rare; they sel- posterity. But to literary abilities none of these dom appear more than once in a generation. higher and elevating objects of ambition are Above all, they are least likely to arise, and open. The great author can neither found a most likely to be diverted from their proper family nor acquire a title; and if he does not destiny in an age of commercial opulence and choose to degrade himself by falling in with greatness, or of strong political or social ex- the passions or frivolities of the age, it is more citement. The universal thirst for gold, the than probable that, like the Israelites of old, general experience of its necessity to confer his life will be spent in wandering in the dénot merely comfort but respectability--the faci- sert, and he will see only, in his last hour, and lity with which genius may acquire it, if it will that from afar, the promised land. And yet condescend to fall in with the temper of the what is the influence of the soldier, the lawyer, times--the utter barrenness of its efforts, if it or the statesman, compared to that which a indulges merely in the abstract pursuit of truth, great and profound writer exercises ? and what how clearly soever destined for immortality in do the monarchs, the cabinets, and the generals a future age-the distinction to be immediately of one age do, but carry into effect the princiacquired by lending its aid to the strife of parties, ples enforced by the master-spirits of the preor condescending to amuse an insatiable pub- ceding? lic-the.ong-continued neglect which is certain It is evident, therefore, that there are a varito ensue, if works likely to procure durable ety of causes, some of a positive, some of a celebrity are attempted-are so many tempta- negative kind, which are operating together to tions which assail the literary adventurer on depress the character of our literature; to chil.. his path, and which, if not resisted by the he- the aspirations of genius, or the soarings of roic sense of duty of a Thalaba, will infallibly intellect; to enlist fancy on the side of fashion, divert him from his appointed mission of pierc- and genius in the pursuit of fiction; to bind ing the Idol of Error to the heart.

down lasting intellect to passing interests, and These causes of danger to our standard lite- compel it to surrender to party what was meant rature become more pressing, when it is recol- for mankind. This is not a class interest; it lected that, by the fixed practice and apparently is an universal concern. It involver nothing .ess than the dearest interests and future fate of nations. Let us not therefore lay the flat: of the nation; for what sort of people will we tering unction to our souls, that the craving soon become, if temporary passions, interests, for the excitement of fiction, or the realities or frivolities, alone engross the talent of the of mechanical improvement, which have exempire; and the great lights of genius and in- tended so immensely among us, with the spread tellect, which might enable us to keep abreast of knowledge among the middle and working of our fortunes, become extinct among us? classes, are to prove any antidote to the decline What are we to say are likely to be the prin- of the highest class of literature amongst us. ciples of our statesmen, our legislators, or our On the contrary, they are among the most rulers, if the elevating and ennobling principles powerful causes which produce it. of former times are gradually forgotten, and Real genius and intellect of the highest chano successors to the race of giants arise to di- racter, it can never be too often repeated, works rect, purify, and elevate the public mind, amidst only for the future; it rarely produces any imthe rapidly increasing dangers which assail it, pression, or brings in any reward whatever, at in the later and more opulent stages of society? the present. Works of fiction or imagination, What are we to expect but that we are to fall indeed, such as Sir Walter Scott's or Bulwer's into the listless cravings of the Athenians, who novels, or Lord Byron's poetical romances, were constantly employed in seeing and hear- may produce an immediate impression, and ing something new; or to the deplorable destiny yet be destined for durable existence; but such of the Byzantine empire, which, amidst inces- a combination is extremely rare, and is in sant literary exertion and amusement, did not general confined entirely to works that please. produce a single work of genius for a thousand Those that instruct or improve, destined to a years? And if such mingled talent and frivo- yet longer existence, have a much slower lity should permanently lay hold of the British growth, and often do not come to maturity till mind, what can we expect but that our latter after the death of the author. end shall be like theirs, and that centuries of th. The solitary man of genius," says D’Israeli, progressive degradation and ultimate national his arranging the materials of instruction and extinction will terminate the melancholy era curiosity from every country and every age; of social regeneration on which we have just he is striking out, in the concussion of new entered.

light, a new order of ideas for his own times; It is perhaps of still more importance to ob- he possesses secrets which men hide from serve, what, though equally true, is not so gene- their contemporaries, truths they dared not rally admitted, that these causes of degradation, utter, facts they dared not discover. View him so far from being likely to be alleviated or ar- in the stillness of meditation, his eager spirit rested by the progressive extension of the taste busied over a copious page, and his eye sparkfor reading among the middle and lower classes ling with gladness. He has concluded what of society, are, unhappily, too likely to be daily his countrymen will hereafter cherish as the increased by that very circumstance. As it is legacy of genius. You see him now changed; the extension of the power of reading to the mid- and the restlessness of his soul is thrown into. dle and working classes, that has, in a great part, his very gestures! Could you listen to the produced the presentephemeral character of our vaticinator! But the next age only will quote literature, and the incessant demand for works his predictions. If he be the truly great auof excitement; so nothing appears more cer- thor, he will be best comprehended by posterity; tain, than that this tendency is likely to aug- for the result of ten years of solitary meditament with the extension of that class of readers. tion has often required a whole century to be The middle and lower orders, indeed, who are understood and to be adopted." so closely brought into contact with the real We are no enemies to the conferring the difficulties and stern realities of life, will al- honours of the crown upon the most distinways, in every popular community, cause a guished of our literary men. To many, such large part of the talent and intellect of the nation elevation would form a. most appropriate reto be directed, not merely to works of amuse- ward; to all, a legitimate object of ambition. ment, but works of utility, and having an im- But we are exceedingly jealous of the influence mediate bearing on the improvement of art, the of all such court favours upon the assertors extension of commerce, or the amelioration of of political, social, or historical truth. We the material interests of society. But these look to other countries, and we behold the labours, however useful and important, belong withering effect of such distinctions upon the to a secondary class of thought, and encourage masculine independence of thought. We reonly a second class of literary labourers. collect the titled and well-paid literature of They are the instruments of genius, not genius France, under the Emperor Napoleon, and we itself; they are the generals and colonels in the ask, what has come of all that high-sounding great army of thought, but not the commander- panegyric? We read the annals of the digniin-chief. “In the infancy of a nation,” says fied historians of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, Bacon, “ arms do prevail; in its manhood, and we sicken for the breath of a freeman. arms and learning for a short season ; in its de. We remember it was only under a Trajan that cline, commerce and the mechanical arts.” a Tacitus could pour_forth the indignation of The application of energy, talent, and industry, expiring virtue at surrounding baseness, and to material purposes, however useful or neces- we shudder to think how few Trajans are to sary those purposes may be, savours of the be found in the decline of nations, physical necessities, not the spiritual dignity of The only legitimate and safe reward of the man; and the general turning of public effort highest class of literary merit, next to the con in that direction is a symptom of the decline sciousness of discharging its mission, is to be

6 Give

found in the prolongation of the period during a merchant or lawyer would toil for fifty years, which its profits are to accrue to the family of if he knew that he could only expect an eight: the author. We at once concede that even and-twenty years' lease of his fortune? this motive, higher and more honourable than a man,” says Arthur Young, “a seven years that of present or selfish gain, will never be lease of a garden, and he will soon convert it sufficient to induce the loftiest class of genius into a wilderness: give him a freehold in an or intellect to produce any great work. It is arid desert, and he will not be long of convertan overpowering sense of public duty-an ing it into a garden.". Is it probable that the ardent inspiration after deserved immortality industry of Great Britain would continue, if the yearnings of a full mind, which must be the old Jewish system of making all estates delivered that are the real causes of such revert to the nation at the end of every fifty elevated efforts. They are given only to a years were to be introduced, or Bronterre few, because to a few only has God assigned | O'Brien's more summary mode of dividing the power of directing mankind. But, admit- every fortune at the death of the owner were ting that the divine inspiration is the fountain put in practice? Truly, we should soon beof truth-the "pure well of genius undefiled” come an ephemeral and fleeting generation in the point to be considered is, how is the wealth, as well as literature, if such maxims stream which it pours forth to be kept in its were acted upon; and “to-day let us eat and proper channel ?-how is it to be prevented drink, for to-morrow we die," would at once from becoming rapidly merged in the agitated become the order of the day. waves of human passion, or sunk in the bot- If the combined force of all these circumtomless morasses of interest or selfishness? stances be taken into consideration, it must be By giving something like perpetuity to the evident to every impartial mind, not only that rights of authorship, this can be best effected; it is not surprising that new standard literature because it is by so doing that we will most has of late years so much declined amongst effectually ally it to the purest and most ele- us, but that the only wonderful thing is, that it vated motives which, in sublunary matters, has not sunk much more than it has. The can influence mankind.

causes which produce great and sustained Look at the merchant, the lawyer, the manu- efforts in every other department of human acfacturer, at all who amass fortunes, and leave tivity, are not only withheld from the highest the colossal estates which gradually elevate class of literary or philosophical exertion, but their possessors to the ranks of the aristocracy, the persons engaged in them are perpetually and fill up in that class the chasms which for- exposed to the disturbing and detracting intune, extravagance, or the extinction of fami- fluence of the prospect of fame and fortune lies, so often produce. What are the motives being attained by condescending to cater for which animate the founders of such families the passions or wants of the moment. To the to a life of exertion, and produce the astonish- continued energy and activity of the merchant ing effects in the accumulation of wealth which or manufacturer, we offer the possession of we daily see around us? It is not the desire unbounded wealth, and the prospect of transof individual enjoyment; for, whatever his son mitting an elevated, perhaps an ennobled race may have, the father seldom knows any thing to future times. To the soldier or the sailor of wealth but of the labour by which it is we hold out a vast succession of titled rewards, created. It is not even for the distinction and, to the highest among such race of heroes, which he is to acquire during his own lifetime, hereditary peerages-the deserved reward of that the successful professional man or mer- their valour. To the indefatigable industry chant labours; for, if that were his object, it and persevering energy of the lawyer, we offer would be far more effectually and more plea- a seat on the Woolsack, precedence of every santly gained, by simply spending his wealth temporal peer in the realm, the highest tempoas fast as he made it. What, then, is the ral dignities and hereditary honours which the motive which animates him to a life of labour, state can afford. What, then, do we offer to and stimulates him through half a century to the philosopher, the poet, or the historian, to such incessant exertions? It is the hope of the leaders of thought and the rulers of nations, transmitting his fortune to his children-of to counteract the attractions of immediate or securing the independence of those most dear temporary ambition, and lead them abreast of to him ; it is the desire of founding a family—their brethren at the bar, in the field, cr the of leaving his descendants in a very different senate, to great and glorious efforts, to durable rank of life from that in which he himself and beneficent achievement? Why, we premoved, or his fathers before him. They know sent them with petty traders anxiously watchlittle of the human mind who are not aware ing the expiration of eight-and-twenty years that this desire, when it once takes hold of the of copyright, or hoping for the death of the mind, supplies the want of all other enjoy- author, if he has survived it; and ready, with ments, and that it is the secret, unobserved uplifted hands, to pounce upon the glorious cause of the greatest individual and national inheritance of his children, and realize for efforts that have ever been achieved among their own business-like skill and mercantile mankind.

capital the vast profits which had been beTo the due action of this important principle, queathed by genius to the age which followhowever, a certain degree of permanence in the ed it. enjoyment fortune acquired is indispen- It is sable. Men will never make such long-con- profits of works of imagination, unless they tinued or sustained efforts for a temporary or are of the very highest class, ever equal those passing interest. Does any man suppose that I which in the end accrue to the publishers of

banjur ment of the moderne acquirea din indispene editis a total mistake, to imagine that the

standard works of history or philosophy. The those which prompt great minds to magnanie booksellers, since Gibbon's death, are said to mous and durable efforts for the good of their have made 200,0001. of his Decline and Fall of species; for both rest upon the foundation of the Roman Empire; and hardly a year passes, all that is noble or elevated in human affairs that a new edition of his immortal work, or a denial of self, a regard to futurity, and a love of Hume's History of England, does not issue for others. from the press. The sums realized by the The tenacity with which any extension even bookselling trade from the different editions of of the term of copyright enjoyed by authors, the Wealth of Nations, would have constituted a or their assignees, is resisted by a certain porlarge inheritance to the heirs of Adam Smith. tion of the London booksellers, and those who What a princely fortune would Milton or deal in the same line, affords the most decisive Shakspeare have left to their descendants, if proof of the magnitude of the profits which any there be, if they could have bequeathed to are to be obtained by the republication, the them the exclusive right of publishing their moment the copyright has expired, of works own works, even for half a century after their that have acquired a standard reputation, and own death. Look at the classics. What count of the vast amount of literary property, the less sums have been realized by the booksellers inheritance of the great of the past age, which and publishers from the successive reprints, in is annually confiscated for the benefit of the every country of Europe, of the works of Livy, booksellers in the present. These men look Cicero, and Tacitus, since the revival of letters to the matter as a mere piece of mercantile three hundred years ago? Why, the profits speculation; their resistance is wholly founded made by the publication of any one of these upon the dread of a diminution of their profits, works would have made a princely fortune, wrung from the souls of former authors; they and founded a ducal family. So true is it that would never have put forward, with so much literary or philosophical talent of the highest anxiety as they have done; Mr. Warburton and description, so far from being unproductive of Mr. Wakley to fight their battles, if they had wealth to its possessors, is in the end produc- not had very extensive profits to defend in the tive of a far greater and more lasting source contest. The vehemence of their opposition of income than the efforts either of the lawyer, affords a measure of the magnitude of the inthe merchant, or the statesman. It has this justice which is done to authors by the present invaluable quality: it is permanent; it creates state of the law, and of the amount of enan estate which produces fruits after the author couragement to great and glorious effort, which is no more. The only reason why great for- is annually withheld by the legislature. The tunes are not made in the one way as well as struggle, in which they have hitherto proved in the other, is because the labour employed successful, is not a contest between authors on that, the highest species of human adven- and a particular section of the booksellers; it ture, is almost always unproductive in the out- is, in reality, a contest between the nation and set, and lucrative only in the end; and that the a limited section of the bookselling trade. It injustice of human laws confiscates the pro- is, in the most emphatic sense, a class against perty at the very moment when the crop is beginning a national interest. For on the one side are a to come to maturity. They know little of human few London booksellers who make colossal nature who imagine that such prospect of fortunes, by realizing, shortly after their deremote advantage would have little influence cease, the profits of departed greatness; and on literary exertion. Look at life insurances. on the other, the whole body of the people of How large a proportion of the most active and England, whose opinions and character are useful members of society, especially among necessarily formed by the highest class of its the middle and higher classes, are connected writers, and whose national destiny and future with these admirable institutions. How many fate is mainly dependent upon the spirited and virtuous and industrious men deny themselves, exalted direction of their genius. during a long life, many luxuries, and even The only argument founded upon public comforts, in order that, after their death, they considerations which is ever adduced against may bequeath an independence to their chil- these views, is founded upon the assertionit dren. Eighty thousand persons are now con- that, under the monopoly produced by the copynected with these institutions in Great Britain, right to the author, while it lasts, the price of and that number is hourly on the increase. works is seriously enhanced to the public, and Here, then, is decisive evidence of the ex- they are confined to editions of a more costly tent to which the desire of transmitting in- description, and that thus the benefit of the dependence to our children acts upon man- spread of knowledge among the middle and kind, even where it is to be won only by a life humbler classes is diminished. If this arguof continued toil and self-denial. Can there ment were well founded, it may be admitted, be the slightest doubt that the same motive, that it would afford, to a certain degree, a councombining with the desire to benefit mankind, terbalancing consideration to those which have or acquire durable fame, would soon come to been mentioned, although no temporary or operate powerfully upon the highest class of passing advantages could ever adequately intellectual effort, and that an adequate coun- compensate the evils consequent upon drying teraction would thus be provided to the nume- up the fountains of real intellectual greatness rous attractions which now impel it into tem- amongst us.

But it is evident that these appotary exertion? And observe, the motives prehensions are altogether chimerical, and that which lead to present self-denial in order to the clamour devised about the middle classes transmit an independence to posterity, by the being deprived of the benefit of getting cheap effecting life assurances, are nearly allied to l editions of works that have become standard,

« AnteriorContinuar »