Abbildungen der Seite

mind. They are among the most admirable essays in the English language. Buoyant in manner as they mostly are, they have a substratum of thought. A kindly wisdom looks out of them, smiling, yet often with a gravity beneath the smile; for they are deeply and tenderly human. In early life, the southern gaiety of Hunt's animal spirits occasionally found vent in a sort of boyish friskiness, which people mistook for frivolity, though it was not really so; but after middle age this sobered down into a graver, though never a less cheerful, mood. Now gay, now humorous, now witty, now reflective, now analytical, and invariably literary, these essays pass through many lights and shades of feeling, and are at home in all. Addison had not half as much variety, and his views of life and nature had nothing like the subtlety and depth of Hunt's. Lamb had a richer humour,

, a more singular personality, a more tragic intensity of pathos; but his range was less—his sympathies were not so catholic. Leigh Hunt's criticism may never have reached the majestic and sonorous heights of Hazlitt's masterpieces; it had less of eloquence and force; but it was more reliable and more even. Its quality was exquisitely refined and delicate—the result of a natural sensibility, educated and trained by long and careful study ; but it is a mistake to suppose that its only characteristic was sympathy. No doubt, sympathy was a chief element; but not more so than judgment. Leigh Hunt has never had justice done him for the excellent sense and sanity of his mind. Where Coleridge would rave, and Hazlitt be paradoxical, and Lamb grow hysterical with emotion, or beautifully quaint with fantastic eccentricity, Hunt seemed always to preserve the balance of his faculties. With great powers of admir


ation, a strong sense of enjoyment, and an ardent disposition, he nevertheless appeared to know the exact line beyond which literary worship passes into superstition.

Like all men who are obliged to write for bread, Leigh Hunt wrote many things that do not merit reprinting. Of his numerous periodicals, he only succeeded in establishing the Examiner; and the reasons are too obvious to permit of the result being surprising. They were started with insufficient capital, and were made to depend too much on the efforts of one man. After a while, Leigh Hunt would be ill or overworked. Then came excuses that the editor could not furnish the usual amount of matter, and old articles, that had appeared years before in other periodicals, would be made to do duty for original matter, in default of a stafi of contributors to fall back upon. It is amusing sometimes to observe Hunt's excessively personal confidences with the reader under the dual shadow of the editorial “we.” His greatest undertaking in the way of periodicals was the Tatler, a daily paper of which he was the chief support, and in which he wrote literary criticisms, theatrical criticisms (penned in the small hours at the printing-office, after seeing the play), and general articles. He continued this tremendous work for nearly a year and a half, and was almost killed by the fatigue and the late hours. One of his characteristics has not been fully recognised, and that was, his great capacity for work. He had periods of enforced idleness, and, like all bookish men, he was fond of meditative ease. But his best writings were the result of very considerable labour and painstaking; of the most conscientious investigation of facts, where facts were needed; and of a complete devotion of his faculties towards the

[ocr errors]

object to be accomplished. Even when an old man, he would sometimes sit up through the greater part of the night, in order to complete work in hand. Notwithstanding his great experience, he was not (except on special occasions) a very rapid writer. He corrected, excised, reconsidered, and elaborated his productions (unless when pressed for time) with the most minute attention to details; and the habit increased on him the older he grew.

In his earlier days, the life of Leigh Hunt was a life of war; in his later days it was a life of peace, chequered with sorrows.

The courage with which, in poverty and trouble, he fought the enemies of his youth, dealing hard blows and grievous gashes, neither giving nor asking quarter, and varying his attacks from prose to verse with infinite spirit and address, is one of the gallantest things on record. In the last five-and-twenty years of his long life, however, he desired to be at peace with all men, and to help the world by sympathy rather than by antagonism. In both ways (for both are necessary) he aided the march of humanity, and, though he suffered much, he did not miss his reward. He gathered friends and admirers about him while he was yet in the flesh, and his memory is a perfume in the heart of literature.


dllarch, 1869.

*** The essays contained in the present volume are all from the Indicator, and are reprinted from the first edition of that work. They are among the best and most characteristic of their author's productions, and several (as the reader will find pointed out in their respective places) were special favourites with Lamb, Hazlitt, Keats, &c.



T is a curious and pleasant thing to consider, that a link of

[ocr errors]

of our own times to those of Shakspeare, and to Shakspeare himself. Ovid, in recording with fondness his intimacy with Propertius and Horace, regrets that he had only seen Virgil (Trist., Book IV. v. 51). But still he thinks the sight of him worth remembering. And Pope, when a child, prevailed on some friends to take him to a coffee-house which Dryden frequented, merely to look at him ; which he did, to his great satisfaction. Now, such of us as have shaken hands with a living poet, might be able, perhaps, to reckon up a series of connecting shakes to the very hand that wrote of Hamlet, and of Falstaff, and of Desdemona.

With some living poets, it is certain. There is Thomas Moore, for instance, who knew Sheridan. Sheridan knew Johnson, who was the friend of Savage, who knew Steele, who knew Pope. Pope was intimate with Congreve, and Congreve with Dryden. Dryden is said to have visited Milton. Milton is said to have known Davenant ; and to have been saved by him


from the revenge of the restored court, in return for having saved Davenant from the revenge of the Commonwealth. But if the link between Dryden and Milton, and Milton and Davenant, is somewhat apocryphal, or rather dependent on tradition (for Richardson, the painter, tells us the latter from Pope, who had it from Betterton the actor, one of Davenant's company), it may be carried at once from Dryden to Davenant, with whom he was unquestionably intimate. Davenant, then, knew Hobbes, who knew Bacon, who knew Ben Jonson, who was intimate with Beaumont and Fletcher, Chapman, Donne, Drayton, Camden, Selden, Clarendon, Sydney, Raleigh, and perhaps all the great men of Elizabeth's and James's time, the greatest of them all undoubtedly. Thus have we a link of “beamy hands" from our own times up to Shakspeare.

In this friendly genealogy we have omitted the numerous side-branches or common friendships; but of those we shall give an account by and by. It may be mentioned, however, in order not to omit Spenser, that Davenant resided some time in the family of Sir Fulke Greville Lord Brooke, the friend of Sir Philip Sydney. Spenser's intimacy with Sydney is mentioned by himself, in a letter, still extant, to Gabriel Harvey.

We will now give the authorities for our intellectual pedigree. Sheridan is mentioned in Boswell as being admitted to the celebrated club, of which Johnson, Goldsmith, and others were members. He had then, if we remember, just written his “School for Scandal,” which made him the more welcome. Of Johnson's friendship with Savage (we cannot help beginning the sentence with his favourite leading preposition), the wellknown Life is an interesting and honourable record. It is said that in the commencement of their friendship they have sometimes wandered together about London for want of a lodging ; --more likely, for Savage's want of it, and Johnson's fear of offending him by offering a share of his own. But we do not remember how this circumstance is related by Boswell.

Savage's intimacy with Steele is recorded in a pleasant aneca

« ZurückWeiter »