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A WISH having been expressed by the publishers of this work to have a collection of my Miscellaneous Essays, published at different times and in different periodical works in Great Britain, made for reprints in America, and selected and arranged by myself, I have willingly assented to so flattering a proposal. I have endeavoured in making the selection to choose such as discuss subjects possessing, as far as possible, a general and durable interest; and to admit those only, relating to matters of social contest or national policy in Great Britain, which are likely, from the importance of the questions involved in them, to excite some interest as contemporary compositions among future generations of men. And I should be ungrateful if, in making my first appearance before the American public, and in a work hitherto published in a collected form only in this country, I did not make my warmest acknowledgments for the liberal spirit in which they have received my writings, and the indulgence they have manifested towards their imperfections; and express at the same time the pride which I feel, as an English author, at the vast and boundless field for British literary exertion which is afforded by the extension of the Anglo-Saxon race on the other side of the Atlantic. If there is any wish I entertain more cordially than another, it is that this strong though unseen mental bond may unite the British family in every part of the world, and cause them all to feel as brothers, even when the time arrives, as arrive it will, that they have obtained the dominion of half the globe.
ALISON’S ESSAY S.
[BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, MARCH, 1832.]
Ir is one of the worst effects of the vehe- Without acquiescing in the justice of this mence of faction, which has recently agitated observation in all its parts, and strenuously the nation, that it tends to withdraw the atten- asserting for the age of Scott and Byron a tion altogether from works of permanent lite- decided superiority over any other in British rary merit, and by presenting nothing to the history since the days of Shakspeare and Milmind but a constant succession of party dis- ton, at least in poetry and romance, we must cussions, both to disqualify it for enjoying the admit that the observation, in many departsober pleasure of rational information, and ments of literature, is but too well founded. render the great works which are calculated No one will'accuse us of undue partiality for to delight and improve the species known only the French Revolution, a convulsion whose to a limited class of readers. The conceit and principles we have so long and so vigorously prejudice of a large portion of the public, in- opposed, and whose horrors we have encrease just in proportion to the diminution of deavoured, sedulously, though inadequately, to their real information. By incessantly studying impress upon our readers. It is therefore journals where the advantage of the spread with a firm conviction of impartiality, and a of knowledge is sedulously inculcated, they consciousness of yielding only to the tone of imagine that they have attained that know- truth, that we are obliged to confess, that ledge, because they have read these journals, in historical and political compositions the and by constantly abusing those whom they French of our age are greatly superior to the stigmatize as offering the light of truth, they writers of this country. We are not insensible come to forget that none oppose it so effectually to the merits of our modern English historians. as those who substitute for its steady ray the We fully appreciate the learned research of lurid flame of democratic flattery.
Turner, the acute and valuable narrative of It is, therefore, with sincere and heartfelt joy, Lingard, the elegant language and antiquarian that we turn from the turbid and impassioned industry of Tytler, the vigour and originality stream of political discussion, to the pure foun- of M-Crie, and the philosophic wisdom of tains of literary 'genius; from the vehemence Mackintosh. But still we feel the justice of the of party strife to the calmness of philosophic French observation, that there is something investigation; from works of ephemeral cele- "English" in all their ideas. Their thoughts brity to the productions of immortal genius. seem formed on the even tenor of political When we consider the vast number of these events prior to 1789: and in reading their which have issued from the European press works we can hardly persuade ourselves that during the last fifteen years, and the small they have been ushered into the world since extent to which they are as yet known to the the French Revolution advanced a thousand British public, we are struck with astonish- years the materials of political investigation. inent; and confirmed in the opinion, that those Chateaubriand is universally allowed by who are loudest in praise of the spread of in the French, of all parties, to be their first writer. formation, are not unfrequently those who His merits, however, are but little understood possess least of it for any useful purpose. in this country. He is known as once a minis.
It has long been a settled opinion in France, ter of Louis XVIII., and ambassador of that that the seams of English literature are wrought monarch in London, as the writer of many out; that while we imagine we are advancing, celebrated political pamphlets, and the victim, we are in fact only moving round in a circle, since the Revolution of 1830, if his noble and and that it is in vain to expect any thing new ill-requited devotion to that unfortunate family. on human affairs from a writer under the Few are aware that he is, without one single English constitution. This they ascribe to the exception, the most eloquent'writer of the prewant of the bouleversement of ideas, and the ex- sent age; that independent of politics, he has trication of original thought, which a revolu- produced many works on morals, religion, and tion produces; and they coolly calculate on the history, destined for lasting endurance; that catastrophe which is to overturn the English his writings combine the strongest love of government, as likely to open' new veins of rational freedom, with the warmest inspiration thought among its inhabitants, and pour new of Christian devotion; that he is, as it were, streams of eloquence into its writers.
the link between the feudal and the revo)n