[Transcriber's Notes: Text that was in italics in the original book is shown between underscore characters and text that was in small caps is shown as ALL CAPS. Footnotes from the article titles are at the end of the first paragraph of the article; all others follow the paragraph in which they are referenced. The variation in the spelling of some words is maintained from the original.]
THE UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS OF THOMAS DE QUINCEY.
WITH A PREFACE AND ANNOTATIONS BY JAMES HOGG.
IN TWO VOLUMES. VOL. I.
LONDON: SWAN SONNENSCHEIN & CO., PATERNOSTER SQUARE.
RICHARD CLAY & SONS, LIMITED,
LONDON & BUNGAY.
'The last fruit off an old tree!' This, in the words of WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, is what I have now the honour to set before the public in these hitherto 'UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS OF THOMAS DE QUINCEY.'
It was my privilege to be associated intimately with the Author some thirty to forty years ago—from the beginning of 1850 until his death in 1859. Throughout the whole period during which he was engaged in preparing for the Press his Selections Grave and Gay, I assisted in the task.
[Footnote 1: DE QUINCEY, LEIGH HUNT, and MACAULAY all died in that year.]
Of the singularly pleasant literary intercourse of that memorable time I have given some reminiscences in Harper's Magazine for this month. I may yet combine in a Volume with these some amusing, scholarly letters in my possession, and a Selection of Papers from the original sources, which I feel warranted, by the Author's own estimate, in calling De Quincey's Choice Works. Meantime, in dealing with the various Essays and Stories here gathered together, I limit myself to such notes as are necessary to point out the special circumstances under which some of the papers were written; in others the nature of the evidence I have found as to the indisputable authorship.
My special opportunities, derived from constant companionship and the continuous discussion with DE QUINCEY of matters concerning his writings, gave me the key to some of the admirable papers here reprinted. It also entitles me to say, that he would have included a number of them in his Collected Works alongside the Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths), had he lived to continue his labours.
When we find that most part of the Suspiria—perhaps the highest reach of his intellect in impassioned power—did not appear in the Selections at all, the reader will at once understand that, in the Author's own opinion, the Essays and Stories now first collected, were neither less dignified in purpose nor less finished in style than those which had passed under his hand in the fourteen volumes he nearly completed. Rather like the Suspiria, some of these papers were reserved as material upon the revision of which his energy might be fitly bestowed when health would permit.
* * * * *
The interesting papers which appeared in Tait's Magazine are all duly vouched for in that periodical. I have not touched any of the autobiographical matter which appeared in Tait,—the Author having recast that as well as the Sketches from Childhood, published in The Instructor in the 'Autobiographic Sketches' with which he opened the Selections. The Casuistry of Duelling, indeed, appeared in Tait as part of the Autobiographic Series, but, practically, it stood as an independent paper. The touching personal passage in this article reveals the misery caused by the unbridled scurrility of certain notorious publications of the last generation.
The paper on The German Language appeared in Tait in June 1836, and the Brief Appraisal of Greek Literature in December 1838 and June 1839.
* * * * *
Two long and valuable papers on Education; Plans for the Instruction of Boys in Large Numbers, which appeared in The London Magazine for April and May, 1824, were duly authenticated by the following characteristic letter from DE QUINCEY to CHRISTOPHER NORTH. It appears in Professor Wilson's Life, written by his daughter, MRS. GORDON:—
'London, Thursday, February 24th, 1825.
'MY DEAR WILSON,
'I write to you on the following occasion:—Some time ago, perhaps nearly two years ago, Mr. Hill, a lawyer, published a book on Education, detailing a plan on which his brothers had established a school at Hazlewood, in Warwickshire. This book I reviewed in the London Magazine, and in consequence received a letter of thanks from the Author, who, on my coming to London about midsummer last year, called on me. I have since become intimate with him, and, excepting that he is a sad Jacobin (as I am obliged to tell him once or twice a month), I have no one fault to find with him, for he is a very clever, amiable, good creature as ever existed; and in particular directions his abilities strike me as really very great indeed. Well, his book has just been reviewed in the last Edinburgh Review (of which some copies have been in town about a week). This service has been done him, I suppose, through some of his political friends—(for he is connected with Brougham, Lord Lansdowne, old Bentham, etc.),—but I understand by Mr. Jeffrey. Mr. Hill, in common with multitudes in this Babylon—who will not put their trust in Blackwood as in God (which, you know, he ought to do)—yet privately adores him as the Devil; and indeed publicly too, is a great proneur of Blackwood. For, in spite of his Jacobinism, he is liberal and inevitably just to real wit. His fear is—that Blackwood may come as Nemesis, and compel him to regorge any puffing and cramming which Tiff has put into his pocket, and is earnest to have a letter addressed in an influential quarter to prevent this. I alleged to him that I am not quite sure but it is an affront to a Professor to presume that he has any connection as contributor, or anything else, to any work which he does not publicly avow as his organ for communicating with the world of letters. He answers that it would be so in him,—but that an old friend may write sub rosa. I rejoin that I know not but you may have cut Blackwood—even as a subscriber—a whole lustrum ago. He rebuts, by urging a just compliment paid to you, as a supposed contributor, in the News of Literature and Fashion, but a moon or two ago. Seriously, I have told him that I know not what was the extent of your connection with Blackwood at any time; and that I conceive the labours of your Chair in the University must now leave you little leisure for any but occasional contributions, and therefore for no regular cognizance of the work as director, etc. However, as all that he wishes—is simply an interference to save him from any very severe article, and not an article in his favour, I have ventured to ask of you if you hear of any such thing, to use such influence as must naturally belong to you in your general character (whether maintaining any connection with Blackwood or not) to get it softened. On the whole, I suppose no such article is likely to appear. But to oblige Hill I make the application. He has no direct interest in the prosperity of Hazlewood; he is himself a barrister in considerable practice, and of some standing, I believe; but he takes a strong paternal interest in it, all his brothers (who are accomplished young men, I believe) being engaged in it. They have already had one shock to stand: a certain Mr. Place, a Jacobin friend of the School till just now, having taken the pet with it—and removed his sons. Now this Mr. Place, who was formerly a tailor—leather-breeches maker and habit-maker,—having made a fortune and finished his studies,—is become an immense authority as a political and reforming head with Bentham, etc., as also with the Westminster Review, in which quarter he is supposed to have the weight of nine times nine men; whence, by the way, in the "circles" of the booksellers, the Review has got the name of the Breeches Review.' ... [The writer then passes on to details of his own plans and prospects, and thus concludes.]
'I beg my kind regards to Mrs. Wilson and my young friends, whom I remember with so much interest as I last saw them at Elleray.—I am, my dear Wilson,
'Very affectionately yours,
'THOMAS DE QUINCEY.'
* * * * *
In approaching the consideration of other papers said, in various quarters (with some show of authority) to have been written by DE QUINCEY, it was necessary to act with extreme care. One was a painstaking list on the whole, but very inaccurate as regards certain contributions attributed to DE QUINCEY in Blackwood. I have had the kind aid of MESSRS. BLACKWOOD in examining the archives of Maga to settle the points in question.
I was puzzled by some papers in The London Magazine set down as DE QUINCEY'S contributions in a memorandum said to have been furnished by MESSRS. TAYLOR and HESSEY, its Publishers. The Blackwood blunders made me very sceptical. There was one story in particular—the long droll one of Mr. Schnackenberger; or, Two Masters to one Dog, about which I remained in doubt.
I had a faint recollection that one day DE QUINCEY dwelt on the merits of 'JUNO,' and owned the story when he was discussing 'bull-dogs.'
By the way, he was rather fond of 'bull-dogs,' and had some good anecdotes about them. It was a kind of pet-admiration-horror which he shared with SOUTHEY, on account of the difficulty in making a well-bred bull-dog relax his grip. Some member of the canine 'fancy' down at the Lakes had given them a so-called infallible 'tip' for making a bull-dog let go. I am sorry to say I have quite forgotten this admirable receipt. To be sure, one ought never to forget such valuable pieces of information. So I thought one day lately before the muzzling order came into force, when a bloodthirsty monster,—a big, white bull-dog, sprang suddenly at me in Cleveland Gardens. Instantly there flashed the thought—what was it that DE QUINCEY recommended? A lucky lunge which drove the ferule of my umbrella down the brute's throat fortunately created a diversion, and allowed a little more time for the study of the problem. Perhaps I will be pardoned this digression, as it affords an opportunity of recording the fact that DE QUINCEY and SOUTHEY both looked up to the bull-dog as an animal of very decided 'character.'
I was loth to abandon Mr. Schnackenberger, but unwilling to lean too much on my somewhat hazy remembrance. It seemed almost hopeless to obtain the necessary evidence. MESSRS. TAYLOR and HESSEY were long dead, and after groping about like a detective, no one could tell me what had become of the records of The London Magazine. Suddenly there came light in October last. I ascertained that a son of one of the Publishers is the ARCHDEACON of MIDDLESEX, the Venerable J. A. HESSEY, D.C.L.
I stated the case, and the worthy ARCHDEACON came most kindly and promptly to my assistance. As a boy he remembered DE QUINCEY at his father's house, and recollected very well reading Mr. Schnackenberger. He informed me, 'I was greatly interested in the [London] Magazine generally, so much so, that, at my father's request, I copied from his private list, and attached to the head of each paper the name of the Author.... This interesting set came to me at my father's death.'
DR. HESSEY had subsequently presented the series to his old pupil, MR. WILLIAM CAREW HAZLITT (by whose courtesy I have been able to examine it)—'the grandson of WILLIAM HAZLITT, who was a frequent writer in the Magazine, and an old friend of my father. I thought he would like to possess it, and that it would thus be in fitting hands. I should not have parted with it in favour of any but a man like MR. HAZLITT, who was sure to value it.'
As these valuable annotations of the ARCHDEACON ramify in various directions—touching as they do the contributions of many brilliant men of that period—it may not be amiss (as a possible help to others in the future) to add a few more decisive words by DR. HESSEY:—
'If any papers are not marked (he refers only to those volumes actually published by MESSRS. TAYLOR and HESSEY) it was because they were anonymous, or because, from some inadvertency, they were not assigned in my father's list. So far as the record goes, it may be depended upon.'
By its help I was able to fix the authorship by DE QUINCEY of (1) The Dog Story—translated from the German, (2) Moral Effects of Revolutions, (3) Prefigurations of Remote Events, (4) Abstract of Swedenborgianism by Immanuel Kant.
* * * * *
Another perplexing element was the letter written by DE QUINCEY to his uncle, COLONEL PENSON, in 1819 (PAGE'S Life, vol. i. p. 207), wherein reference is made to certain contributions to Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly Review.
The archives of Maga I find go back only as far as 1825. As to The Quarterly Review, I have MR. MURRAY'S authority for stating that DE QUINCEY never wrote a line in it. Whether any contributions were ever commissioned, paid for, and afterwards suppressed, I have been unable to ascertain. As a matter of fact, the Schiller Series referred to in the letter to COLONEL PENSON was never reviewed in The Quarterly at all.
DE QUINCEY as a Newspaper Editor forms the subject of a Chapter in PAGE'S Life. Some extracts are there given from cuttings out of The Westmorland Gazette found amongst the Author's Papers. This editorship (1818-19) was of short duration, and pursued under hostile circumstances, such as distance from the Press, &c., which soon led to DE QUINCEY'S resignation. I had hoped to add some further specimens of the newspaper work, but have not, as yet, obtained access to a file of the period. In any future edition I may be able to add this in an Appendix.
* * * * *
The Love-Charm.—In spite of the marvellous tenacity of DE QUINCEY'S memory, even as to the very words of a passage in an Author which he had, perhaps, only once read, there were blanks which confounded himself. One of these bore on his contributions to KNIGHT'S Quarterly Magazine. MR. FIELDS had been so generally careful in obtaining sufficient authority for what he published, in the original American edition, that DE QUINCEY good-humouredly gave the verdict against himself, and 'supposed he must be wrong' in thinking that some of these special papers were not from his pen. Still,—he demurred, and before including them in The Selections Grave and Gay, it was resolved to institute an inquiry. Accordingly, about 1852, I was deputed to interview MR. CHARLES KNIGHT, and request his aid. My mission was to obtain, if possible, a correct list of the various contributions to the Quarterly Magazine, including this Love-Charm.
MR. KNIGHT, MR. RAMSAY (his first lieutenant, as he called him), and myself all met at Fleet Street, where we had the archives of the old Quarterly Magazine turned up, and a list checked. I lately found this particular story also referred to circumstantially in the annexed paragraph contained in CHARLES KNIGHT'S Passages of a Working Life (THORNE'S re-issue, vol. I. chap. x. p. 339).
'DE QUINCEY had written to me in December 1824, in the belief that, as he expressed it, "many of your friends will rally about you, and urge you to some new undertaking of the same kind. If that should happen, I beg to say, that you may count upon me, as one of your men, for any extent of labour, to the best of my power, which you may choose to command." He wrote a translation of The Love-Charm of TIECK, with a notice of the Author. This is not reprinted in his Collected Works, though perhaps it is the most interesting of his translations from the German. In this spring and summer DE QUINCEY and I were in intimate companionship. It was a pleasant time of intellectual intercourse for me.'
There is no doubt The Love-Charm would have been reprinted had the Author lived to carry the Selections farther.
* * * * *
The curious little Essay On Novels,—written in a Lady's Album, had passed out of MR. DAVEY'S hands before I became aware of its existence. The facsimile, however, taken for The Archivist, by an expert like MR. NETHERCLIFT, shows that it is, unquestionably, in the handwriting of DE QUINCEY. I have been unable to trace the 'FAIR INCOGNITA' to whom it was addressed.
* * * * *
The compositions which were written for me when I edited Titan, and which I now place before the public in volume form, after the lapse of a whole generation (thirty-three years, to speak 'by the card'), demand some special comment, particularly in their relation to the Selections Grave and Gay.
Titan was a half-crown monthly Magazine, a continuation in an enlarged form of The Instructor. I had become the acting Editor of its predecessor, the New Series of The Instructor, working in concert with my Father, the proprietor. In this New Series there appeared from DE QUINCEY'S pen The Sphinx's Riddle, Judas Iscariot, the Series of Sketches from Childhood, and other notable papers.
At that time I was but a young editor—young and, perhaps, a little 'curly,' as LORD BEACONSFIELD put it. DE QUINCEY, with a truly paternal solicitude, gave me much good advice and valuable help, both in the selection of subjects for the Magazine and in the mode of handling them. The notes on The Lake Dialect, Shakspere's Text and Suetonius Unravelled, were written to me in the form of Letters, and published in Titan.
Storms in English History was a consideration of part of MR. FROUDE'S well-known book, which on its publication made a great stir in the literary world, and profoundly impressed DE QUINCEY.
How to write English was the first of a series projected for The Instructor. It never got beyond this 'Introduction,' but the fragment contains some matter well worthy of preservation.
The circumstances attending the composition of the four papers on The English in India and The English in China, I have explained at some length in the introductory notices attached to them.
And now for a confession! The 'gentle reader' may, perhaps, feel a momentary inclination to blame me when I reveal, that I rather stood in the way of some brilliant articles which were very seriously considered at this period.
DE QUINCEY was eager to write them, and I should have been glad indeed to have had them for Titan, but for a fear of allowing the Author to wander too far from the ever-present and irksome Works. Any possible escape—even through other downright hard work, from this perplexing labour was joyfully hailed by him as a hopeful chance of obtaining a prosperous holiday.
For a little I wavered under the temptation (Reader,—was it not great?)—the idea of having a little relaxation which would permit some, at least, of these well-planned papers to be written. But I was keenly alive to the danger which overtook us at last. We are daily reminded that 'art is long and life is short.' I had already saved the Works from being strangled at their birth in a legal tussle with MR. JOHN TAYLOR. My Father was at my elbow anxiously inquiring about the progress of the 'copy' for each succeeding volume. There were eager friends also, on both sides of the Atlantic, pressing resolutely for it. So—prudence prevailed, and we held as straightly on our way as the Author's uncertain health would permit.
[Footnote 2: This incident was a complicated contention, concerning the copyright of The Confessions, in which DE QUINCEY had long allowed his rights to lie dormant. It was at last happily settled in an amicable manner.]
Thus it came to pass, dear Public, that you lost some charming essays, while you gained the fourteen volumes of the Selections which the Author all but completed.
Wherefore, seeing that you may possibly expect it of me to make some use of my rare opportunities by doing whatever I can in these matters, 'before the night cometh,'—I have prepared this book—ohne hast, ohne rast.
I cannot close these few pages better than by quoting some strong, just, sympathetic words which appeared in two great reviews—one American, the other British.
The North American Review said:—
'In DE QUINCEY we are struck at once by the exquisite refinement of mind, the subtleness of association, and the extreme tenuity of the threads of thought, the gossamer filaments yet finally weaving themselves together, and thickening imperceptibly into a strong and expanded web. Mingled with this, and perhaps springing from a similar mental habit, is an occasional dreaminess both in speculation and in narrative, when the mind seems to move vaguely round in vast returning circles. The thoughts catch hold of nothing, but are heaved and tossed like masses of cloud by the wind. An incident of trivial import is turned and turned to catch the light of every possible consequence, and so magnified as to become portentous and terrible.'
* * * * *
'A barren and trivial fact, under the power of that life-giving hand, shoots out on all sides into waving branches and green leaves, and odoriferous flowers. It is not the fact that interests us, but the mind working upon it, investing it with mock-heroic dignity, or rendering it illustrative of really serious principles; or, with the true insight of genius, discovering, in that which a vulgar eye would despise, the germs of grandeur and beauty; the passions of war in the contests of the rival factions of schoolboys, the tragedy in every peasant's death-bed.'
* * * * *
'DE QUINCEY constantly amazes us by the amount and diversity of his learning. Two or three of the minor papers in the collected volumes are absolutely loaded with the life spoils of their author's scholarship, yet carry their burden as lightly as our bodies sustain the weight of the circumambient atmosphere. So perfect is his tact in finding, or rather making a place for everything, that, while inviting, he eludes the charge of pedantry.'
* * * * *
'It is scarcely to be expected that one who tries his hand at so many kinds of pencraft should always excel; yet such is the force of DE QUINCEY'S intellect, the brilliancy of his imagination, and the charm of his style, that he throws a new and peculiar interest over every subject which he discusses, while his fictitious narratives in general rivet the attention of the reader with a power not easily resisted.'
The Quarterly Review said:—
'DE QUINCEY'S style is superb, his powers of reasoning unsurpassed, his imagination is warm and brilliant, and his humour both masculine and delicate.'
The writer continues:—
'A great master of English composition, a critic of uncommon delicacy, an honest and unflinching investigator of received opinions, a philosophic inquirer—DE QUINCEY has departed from us full of years, and left no successor to his rank. The exquisite finish of his style, with the scholastic vigour of his logic, form a combination which centuries may never reproduce, but which every generation should study as one of the marvels of English Literature.'
London, February, 1890.
A BRIEF APPRAISAL OF THE GREEK LITERATURE IN ITS FOREMOST-PRETENSIONS 23
THE GERMAN LANGUAGE, AND PHILOSOPHY OF KANT 91
MORAL EFFECTS OF REVOLUTIONS 130
PREFIGURATIONS OF REMOTE EVENTS 132
MEASURE OF VALUE 134
LETTER IN REPLY TO HAZLITT CONCERNING THE MALTHUSIAN DOCTRINE OF POPULATION 141
THE SERVICES OF MR. RICARDO TO THE SCIENCE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY 154
EDUCATION, AND CASE OF APPEAL 160
ABSTRACT OF SWEDENBORGIANISM 215
SKETCH OF PROFESSOR WILSON 225
THE LAKE DIALECT 265
STORMS IN ENGLISH HISTORY 275
THE ENGLISH IN INDIA 298
ON NOVELS (WRITTEN IN A LADY'S ALBUM) 354
DE QUINCEY'S PORTRAIT 357
A BRIEF APPRAISAL OF THE GREEK LITERATURE IN ITS FOREMOST PRETENSIONS:
By way of Counsel to Adults who are hesitating as to the Propriety of Studying the Greek Language with a view to the Literature; and by way of consolation to those whom circumstances have obliged to lay aside that plan.
No question has been coming up at intervals for reconsideration more frequently than that which respects the comparative pretensions of Pagan (viz. Greek and Roman) Literature on the one side, and Modern (that is, the Literature of Christendom) on the other. Being brought uniformly before unjust tribunals—that is, tribunals corrupted and bribed by their own vanity—it is not wonderful that this great question should have been stifled and overlaid with peremptory decrees, dogmatically cutting the knot rather than skilfully untying it, as often as it has been moved afresh, and put upon the roll for a re-hearing. It is no mystery to those who are in the secret, and who can lay A and B together, why it should have happened that the most interesting of all literary questions, and the most comprehensive (for it includes most others, and some special to itself), has, in the first place, never been pleaded in a style of dignity, of philosophic precision, of feeling, or of research, proportioned to its own merits, and to the numerous 'issues' (forensically speaking) depending upon it; nor, in the second place, has ever received such an adjudication as was satisfactory even at the moment. For, be it remembered, after all, that any provisional adjudication—one growing out of the fashion or taste of a single era—could not, at any rate, be binding for a different era. A judgment which met the approbation of Spenser could hardly have satisfied Dryden; nor another which satisfied Pope, have been recognised as authentic by us of the year 1838. It is the normal or exemplary condition of the human mind, its ideal condition, not its abnormal condition, as seen in the transitory modes and fashions of its taste or its opinions, which only
'Can lay great bases for eternity,'
or give even a colourable permanence to any decision in a matter so large, so perplexed, so profound, as this great pending suit between antiquity and ourselves—between the junior men of this earth and ourselves, the seniors, as Lord Bacon reasonably calls us. Appeals will be brought ad infinitum—we ourselves shall bring appeals, to set aside any judgment that may be given, until something more is consulted than individual taste; better evidence brought forward than the result of individual reading; something higher laid down as the grounds of judgment, as the very principles of the jurisprudence which controls the court, than those vague responsa prudentum, countersigned by the great name, perhaps, of Aristotle, but still too often mere products of local convenience, of inexperience, of experience too limited and exclusively Grecian, or of absolute caprice—rules, in short, which are themselves not less truly sub judice and liable to appeal than that very appeal cause to which they are applied as decisive.
We have remarked, that it is no mystery why the decision should have gone pretty uniformly in favour of the ancients; for here is the dilemma:—A man, attempting this problem, is or is not a classical scholar. If he is, then he has already received a bias in his judgment; he is a bribed man, bribed by his vanity; and is liable to be challenged as one of the judges. If he is not, then he is but imperfectly qualified—imperfectly as respects his knowledge and powers; whilst, even as respects his will and affections, it may be alleged that he also is under a bias and a corrupt influence; his interest being no less obvious to undervalue a literature, which, as to him, is tabooed and under lock and key, than his opponent's is to put a preposterous value upon that knowledge which very probably is the one sole advantageous distinction between him and his neighbours.
We might cite an illustration from the French literary history on this very point. Every nation in turn has had its rows in this great quarrel, which is, in fact, co-extensive with the controversies upon human nature itself. The French, of course, have had theirs—solemn tournaments, single duels, casual 'turn-ups,' and regular 'stand-up' fights. The most celebrated of these was in the beginning of the last century, when, amongst others who acted as bottle-holders, umpires, &c., two champions in particular 'peeled' and fought a considerable number of rounds, mutually administering severe punishment, and both coming out of the ring disfigured: these were M. la Motte and Madame Dacier. But Motte was the favourite at first, and once he got Dacier 'into chancery,' and 'fibbed' her twice round the ropes, so that she became a truly pitiable and delightful spectacle to the connoisseurs in fibbing and bloodshed. But here lay the difference: Motte was a hard hitter; he was a clever man, and (which all clever men are not) a man of sense; but, like Shakspeare, he had no Greek. On the other hand, Dacier had nothing but Greek. A certain abbe, at that time, amused all Paris with his caricatures of this Madame Dacier, 'who,' said he, 'ought to be cooking her husband's dinner, and darning his stockings, instead of skirmishing and tilting with Grecian spears; for, be it known that, after all her not cooking and her not darning, she is as poor a scholar as her injured husband is a good one.' And there the abbe was right; witness the husband's Horace, in 9 vols., against the wife's Homer. However, this was not generally understood. The lady, it was believed, waded petticoat-deep in Greek clover; and in any Grecian field of dispute, naturally she must be in the right, as against one who barely knew his own language and a little Latin. Motte was, therefore, thought by most people to have come off second best. For, as soon as ever he opened thus—'Madame, it seems to me that, agreeably to all common sense or common decorum, the Greek poet should here'——instantly, without listening to his argument, the intrepid Amazon replied ([Greek: hypodra idousa]), 'You foolish man! you remarkably silly man!—that is because you know no better; and the reason you know no better, is because you do not understand ton d'apameibomenos as I do.' Ton d'apameibomenos fell like a hand-grenade amongst Motte's papers, and blew him up effectually in the opinion of the multitude. No matter what he might say in reply—no matter how reasonable, how unanswerable—that one spell of 'No Greek! no Greek!' availed as a talisman to the lady both for offence and defence; and refuted all syllogisms and all eloquence as effectually as the cry of A la lanterne! in the same country some fourscore years after.
So it will always be. Those who (like Madame Dacier) possess no accomplishment but Greek, will, of necessity, set a superhuman value upon that literature in all its parts, to which their own narrow skill becomes an available key. Besides that, over and above this coarse and conscious motive for overrating that which reacts with an equal and answerable overrating upon their own little philological attainments, there is another agency at work, and quite unconsciously to the subjects of that agency, in disturbing the sanity of any estimate they may make of a foreign literature. It is the habit (well known to psychologists) of transferring to anything created by our own skill, or which reflects our own skill, as if it lay causatively and objectively in the reflecting thing itself, that pleasurable power which in very truth belongs subjectively to the mind of him who surveys it, from conscious success in the exercise of his own energies. Hence it is that we see daily without surprise, young ladies hanging enamoured over the pages of an Italian author, and calling attention to trivial commonplaces, such as, clothed in plain mother English, would have been more repulsive to them than the distinctions of a theologian, or the counsels of a great-grandmother. They mistake for a pleasure yielded by the author, what is in fact the pleasure attending their own success in mastering what was lately an insuperable difficulty.
[Footnote 3: Objectively and subjectively are terms somewhat too metaphysical; but they are so indispensable to accurate thinking that we are inclined to show them some indulgence; and, the more so, in cases where the mere position and connection of the words are half sufficient to explain their application.]
It is indeed a pitiable spectacle to any man of sense and feeling, who happens to be really familiar with the golden treasures of his own ancestral literature, and a spectacle which moves alternately scorn and sorrow, to see young people squandering their time and painful study upon writers not fit to unloose the shoes' latchets of many amongst their own compatriots; making painful and remote voyages after the drossy refuse, when the pure gold lies neglected at their feet. Too often he is reminded of a case, which is still sometimes to be witnessed in London. Now and then it will happen that a lover of art, modern or antique alike, according to its excellence, will find himself honoured by an invitation from some millionnaire, or some towering grandee, to 'assist,' as the phrase is, at the opening of a case newly landed from the Tiber or the Arno, and fraught (as he is assured) with the very gems of Italian art, inter-mingled besides with many genuine antiques. He goes: the cases are solemnly disgorged; adulatory hangers on, calling themselves artists, and, at all events, so much so as to appreciate the solemn farce enacted, stand by uttering hollow applauses of my Lord's taste, and endeavouring to play upon the tinkling cymbals of spurious enthusiasm: whilst every man of real discernment perceives at a glance the mere refuse and sweeping of a third-rate studio, such as many a native artist would disdain to turn out of his hands; and antiques such as could be produced, with a month's notice, by cart-loads, in many an obscure corner of London. Yet for this rubbish has the great man taken a painful tour; compassed land and sea; paid away in exchange a king's ransom; and claims now on their behalf, the very humblest homage of artists who are taxed with the basest envy if they refuse it, and who, meantime, cannot in sincerity look upon the trumpery with other feelings than such as the potter's wheel, if (like Ezekiel's wheels) it were instinct with spirit, would entertain for the vilest of its own creations;—culinary or 'post-culinary' mugs and jugs. We, the writers of this paper, are not artists, are not connected with artists. And yet, upon the general principle of sympathy with native merit, and of disgust towards all affectation, we cannot but recall such anecdotes with scorn; and often we recollect the stories recorded by poor Benvenuto Cellini, that dissolute but brilliant vagabond, who (like our own British artists) was sometimes upbraided with the degeneracy of modern art, and, upon his humbly requesting some evidence, received, by way of practical answer, a sculptured gem or vase, perhaps with a scornful demand of—when would he be able to produce anything like that—'eh, Master Ben? Fancy we must wait a few centuries or so, before you'll be ready with the fellow of this.' And, lo! on looking into some hidden angle of the beautiful production, poor Cellini discovered his own private mark, the supposed antique having been a pure forgery of his own. Such cases remind one too forcibly of the pretty Horatian tale, where, in a contest between two men who undertake to mimic a pig's grunting, he who happens to be the favourite of the audience is applauded to the echo for his felicitous execution, and repeatedly encored, whilst the other man is hissed off the stage, and well kicked by a band of amateurs and cognoscenti, as a poor miserable copyist and impostor; but, unfortunately for the credit of his exploders, he has just time, before they have quite kicked him off, for exposing to view the real pig concealed under his cloak, which pig it was, and not himself, that had been the artist—forced by pinches into 'mimicry' of his own porcine music. Of all baffled connoisseurs, surely, these Roman pig-fanciers must have looked the most confounded. Yet there is no knowing: and we ourselves have a clever friend, but rather too given to subtilising, who contends, upon some argument not perfectly intelligible to us, that Horace was not so conclusive in his logic as he fancied; that the real pig might not have an 'ideal' or normal squeak, but a peculiar and non-representative squeak; and that, after all, the man might deserve the 'threshing' he got. Well, it may be so; but, however, the Roman audience, wrong or not, for once fancied themselves in the wrong; and we cannot but regret that our own ungenerous disparagers of native merit, and exclusive eulogisers of the dead or the alien—of those only 'quos Libitina sacravit,' or whom oceans divide from us—are not now and then open to the same palpable refutation, as they are certainly guilty of the same mean error, in prejudging the whole question, and refusing to listen even to the plain evidence of their own feelings, or, in some cases, to the voice of their own senses.
From this preface it is already abundantly clear what side we take in this dispute about modern literature and the antique. And we now propose to justify our leaning by a general review of the Pagan authors, in their elder section—that is, the Grecians. These will be enough in all conscience, for one essay; and even for them we meditate a very cursory inquest; not such as would suffice in a grand ceremonial day of battle—a justum proelium, as a Roman would call it—but in a mere perfunctory skirmish, or (if the reader objects to that word as pedantic, though, really, it is a highly-favoured word amongst ancient divines, and with many a
'philosopher, Who has read Alexander Ross over,')
why, in that case, let us indulge his fastidious taste by calling it an autoschediastic combat, to which, surely, there can be no such objection. And as the manner of the combat is autoschediastic or extemporaneous, and to meet a hurried occasion, so is the reader to understand that the object of our disputation is not the learned, but the unlearned student; and our purpose, not so much to discontent the one with his painful acquisitions, as to console the other under what, upon the old principle of omne ignotum pro magnifico, he is too apt to imagine his irreparable disadvantages. We set before us, as our especial auditor, the reasonable man of plain sense but strong feeling, who wishes to know how much he has lost, and what injury the gods did him, when, though making him, perhaps, poetical, they cut short his allowance of Latin, and, as to Greek, gave him not a jot more than a cow has in her side pocket.
[Footnote 4: In general usage, 'The antique' is a phrase limited to the expression of art; but improperly so. It is quite as legitimately used to denote the literature of ancient times, in contradistinction to the modern. As to the term classical, though generally employed as equivalent to Greek and Roman, the reader must not forget this is quite a false limitation, contradicting the very reason for applying the word in any sense to literature. For the application arose thus: The social body of Rome being divided into six classes, of which the lowest was the sixth, it followed that the highest was the first. Thence, by a natural process common to most languages, those who belonged to this highest had no number at all assigned to them. The very absence of a number, the calling them classici, implied that they belonged to the class emphatically, or par excellence. The classics meant, therefore, the grandees in social consideration; and thence by analogy in literature. But if this analogy be transferred from Rome to Greece, where it had no corresponding root in civic arrangement—then, by parity of reason, to all nations.]
Let us begin at the beginning—and that, as everybody knows, is Homer. He is, indeed, so much at the beginning that, for that very reason (if even there were no other), he is, and will be ever more, supremely interesting. Is the unlearned reader aware of his age? Upon that point there are more hypotheses than one or even two. Some there are among the chronologers who make him eleven hundred years anterior to Christ. But those who allow him least, place him more than nine—that is, about two centuries before the establishment of the Grecian Olympiads, and (which is pretty nearly the same thing as regards time) before Romulus and Remus. Such an antiquity as this, even on its own account, is a reasonable object of interest. A poet to whom the great-grandfather of old Ancus Martius (his grandfather, did we say—that is, avus?—nay, his abavus, his atavus, his tritavus) looked back as to one in a line with his remote ancestor—a poet who, if he travelled about as extensively as some have supposed him to do, or even as his own countryman Herodotus most certainly did five or six hundred years afterwards, might have conversed with the very workmen who laid the foundations of the first temple at Jerusalem—might have bent the knee before Solomon in all his glory:—Such a poet, were he no better than the worst of our own old metrical romancers, would—merely for his antiquity, merely for the sublime fact of having been coeval with the eldest of those whom the eldest of histories presents to our knowledge; coeval with the earliest kings of Judah, older than the greatest of the Judean prophets, older than the separation of the two Jewish crowns and the revolt of Israel, and, even with regard to Moses and to Joshua, not in any larger sense junior than as we ourselves are junior to Chaucer—purely and exclusively with regard to these pretensions, backed and supported by an antique form of an antique language—the most comprehensive and the most melodious in the world, would—could—should—ought to merit a filial attention; and, perhaps with those who had waggon-loads of time to spare, might plead the benefit, beyond most of those in whose favour it was enacted, of that Horatian rule—
'vos exemplaria Graeca, Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna.'
In fact, when we recollect that, in round numbers, we ourselves may be considered as two thousand years in advance of Christ, and that (by assuming less even than a mean between the different dates assigned to Homer) he stands a thousand years before Christ, we find between Homer and ourselves a gulf of three thousand years, or about one clear half of the total extent which we grant to the present duration of our planet. This in itself is so sublime a circumstance in the relations of Homer to our era, and the sense of power is so delightfully titillated to that man's feeling, who, by means of Greek, and a very moderate skill in this fine language, is able to grasp the awful span, the vast arch of which one foot rest upon 1838, and the other almost upon the war of Troy—the mighty rainbow which, like the archangel in the Revelation, plants its western limb amongst the carnage and the magnificence of Waterloo, and the other amidst the vanishing gleams and the dusty clouds of Agamemnon's rearguard—that we may pardon a little exultation to the man who can actually mutter to himself, as he rides home of a summer evening, the very words and vocal music of the old blind man at whose command
'—————the Iliad and the Odyssey Rose to the murmurs of the voiceful sea.'
But pleasures in this world fortunately are without end. And every man, after all, has many pleasures peculiar to himself—pleasures which no man shares with him, even as he is shut out from many of other men. To renounce one in particular, is no subject for sorrow, so long as many remain in that very class equal or superior. Elwood the Quaker had a luxury which none of us will ever have, in hearing the very voice and utterance of a poet quite as blind as Homer, and by many a thousand times more sublime. And yet Elwood was not perhaps much happier for that. For now, to proceed, reader—abstract from his sublime antiquity, and his being the very earliest of authors, allowance made for one or two Hebrew writers (who, being inspired, are scarcely to be viewed as human competitors), how much is there in Homer, intrinsically in Homer, stripped of his fine draperies of time and circumstance, in the naked Homer, disapparelled of the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious antiquity, to remunerate a man for his labour in acquiring Greek? Men think very differently about what will remunerate any given labour. A fool (professional fool) in Shakspeare ascertains, by a natural process of logic, that a 'remuneration' means a testern, which is just sixpence; and two remunerations, therefore, a testoon, or one shilling. But many men will consider the same service ill paid by a thousand pounds. So, of the reimbursement for learning a language. Lord Camden is said to have learned Spanish, merely to enjoy Don Quixote more racily. Cato, the elder Cato, after abusing Greek throughout his life, sat down in extreme old age to study it: and wherefore? Mr. Coleridge mentions an author, in whom, upon opening his pages with other expectations, he stumbled upon the following fragrant passage—'But from this frivolous digression upon philosophy and the fine arts, let us return to a subject too little understood or appreciated in these sceptical days—the subject of dung.' Now, that was precisely the course of thought with this old censorious Cato: So long as Greek offered, or seemed to offer, nothing but philosophy or poetry, he was clamorous against Greek; but he began to thaw and melt a little upon the charms of Greek—he 'owned the soft impeachment,' when he heard of some Grecian treatises upon beans and turnips; and, finally, he sank under its voluptuous seductions, when he heard of others upon DUNG. There are, therefore, as different notions about a 'remuneration' in this case, as the poor fool had met with it in his case. We, however, unappalled by the bad names of 'Goth,' 'Vandal,' and so forth, shall honestly lay before the reader our notions.
When Dryden wrote his famous, indeed matchless, epigram upon the three great masters (or reputed masters) of the Epopee, he found himself at no loss to characterize the last of the triad—no matter what qualities he imputed to the first and the second, he knew himself safe in imputing them all to the third. The mighty modern had everything that his predecessors were ever thought to have, as well as something beside. So he expressed the surpassing grandeur of Milton, by saying that in him nature had embodied, by concentration as in one focus, whatever excellencies she had scattered separately amongst her earlier favourites. But, in strict regard to the facts, this is far from being a faithful statement of the relations between Milton and his elder brothers of the Epos: in sublimity, if that is what Dryden meant by 'loftiness of thought,' it is not so fair to class Milton with the greatest of poets, as to class him apart, retired from all others, sequestered, 'sole-sitting by the shores of old romance.' In other poets, in Dante for example, there may be rays, gleams, sudden coruscations, casual scintillations, of the sublime; but for any continuous and sustained blaze of the sublime, it is in vain to look for it, except in Milton, making allowances (as before) for the inspired sublimities of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and of the great Evangelist's Revelations. As to Homer, no critic who writes from personal and direct knowledge on the one hand, or who understands the value of words on the other, ever contended in any critical sense for sublimity, as a quality to which he had the slightest pretensions. What! not Longinus? If he did, it would have been of little consequence; for he had no field of comparison, as we, knowing no literature but one—whereas we have a range of seven or eight. But he did not: [Greek: To hypselon], or the elevated, in the Longinian sense, expressed all, no matter of what origin, of what tendency, which gives a character of life and animation to composition—whatever raises it above the dead level of flat prosaic style. Emphasis, or what in an artist's sense gives relief to a passage, causing it to stand forward, and in advance of what surrounds it—that is the predominating idea in the 'sublime' of Longinus. And this explains what otherwise has perplexed his modern interpreters—viz. that amongst the elements of his sublime, he ranks even the pathetic, i. e. (say they) what by connecting itself with the depressing passion of grief is the very counter-agent to the elevating affection of the sublime. True, most sapient sirs, my very worthy and approved good masters: but that very consideration should have taught you to look back, and reconsider your translation of the capital word [Greek: hypsos]. It was rather too late in the day, when you had waded half-seas over in your translation, to find out either that you yourselves were ignoramuses, or that your principal was an ass. 'Returning were as tedious as go o'er.' And any man might guess how you would settle such a dilemma. It is, according to you, a little oversight of your principal: 'humanum aliquid passus est.' We, on the other hand, affirm that, if an error at all on the part of Longinus, it is too monstrous for any man to have 'overlooked.' As long as he could see a pike-staff, he must have seen that. And, therefore, we revert to our view of the case—viz. that it is yourselves who have committed the blunder, in translating by the Latin word sublimis at all, but still more after it had received new determinations under modern usage.
[Footnote 5: The beauty of this famous epigram lies in the form of the conception. The first had A; the second had B; and when nature, to furnish out a third, should have given him C, she found that A and B had already exhausted her cycle; and that she could distinguish her third great favourite only by giving him both A and B in combination. But the filling up of this outline is imperfect: for the A (loftiness) and the B (majesty) are one and the same quality, under different names.]
[Footnote 6: Because the Latin word sublimis is applied to objects soaring upwards, or floating aloft, or at an aerial altitude, and because the word does sometimes correspond to our idea of the sublime (in which the notion of height is united with the notion of moral grandeur), and because, in the excessive vagueness and lawless latitudinarianism of our common Greek Lexicons, the word [Greek: hypsos] is translated, inter alia, by [Greek: to] sublime, sublimitas, &c. Hence it has happened that the title of the little essay ascribed to Longinus, [Greek: Peri hypsous], is usually rendered into English, Concerning the sublime. But the idea of the Sublime, as defined, circumscribed, and circumstantiated, in English literature—an idea altogether of English growth—the sublime byway of polar antithesis to the Beautiful, had no existence amongst ancient critics; consequently it could have no expression. It is a great thought, a true thought, a demonstrable thought, that the Sublime, as thus ascertained, and in contraposition to the Beautiful, grew up on the basis of sexual distinctions, the Sublime corresponding to the male, the Beautiful, its anti-pole, corresponding to the female. Behold! we show you a mystery.]
[Footnote 7: No word has ever given so much trouble to modern critics as this very word (now under discussion) of the sublime. To those who have little Greek and no Latin, it is necessary in the first place that we should state what are the most obvious elements of the word. According to the noble army of etymologists, they are these two Latin words—sub, under, and limus, mud. Oh! gemini! who would have thought of groping for the sublime in such a situation as that?—unless, indeed, it were that writer cited by Mr. Coleridge, and just now referred to by ourselves, who complains of frivolous modern readers, as not being able to raise and sequester their thoughts to the abstract consideration of dung. Hence it has followed, that most people have quarrelled with the etymology. "Whereupon the late Dr. Parr, of pedantic memory, wrote a huge letter to Mr. Dugald Stewart, but the marrow of which lies in a nutshell, especially being rather hollow within. The learned doctor, in the first folio, grapples with the word sub, which, says he, comes from the Greek—so much is clear—but from what Greek, Bezonian? The thoughtless world, says he, trace it to [Greek: hypo] (hypo), sub, i. e. under; but I, Ego, Samuel Parr, the Birmingham doctor, trace it to [Greek: hyper] (hyper), super, i. e. above; between which the difference is not less than between a chestnut horse and a horse-chestnut. To this learned Parrian dissertation on mud, there cannot be much reasonably to object, except its length in the first place; and, secondly, that we ourselves exceedingly doubt the common interpretation of limus. Most unquestionably, if the sublime is to be brought into any relation at all to mud, we shall all be of one mind—that it must be found above. But to us it appears—that when the true modern idea of mud was in view, limus was not the word used. Cicero, for instance, when he wishes to call Piso 'filth, mud,' &c. calls him Caenum: and, in general, limus seems to have involved the notion of something adhesive, and rather to express plaister, or artificially prepared cement, &c., than that of filth or impure depositions. Accordingly, our own definition differs from the Parrian, or Birmingham definition; and may, nevertheless, be a Birmingham definition also. Not having room to defend it, for the present we forbear to state it.]
Now, therefore, after this explanation, recurring to the Longinian critiques upon Homer, it will avail any idolator of Homer but little, it will affect us not much, to mention that Longinus makes frequent reference to the Iliad, as the great source of the sublime—
'A quo, ceu fonte perenni, Vatum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis';
for, as respected Grecian poets, and as respected his sense of the word, it cannot be denied that Homer was such. He was the great well-head of inspiration to the Pagan poets of after times, who, however (as a body), moved in the narrowest circle that has ever yet confined the natural freedom of the poetic mind. But, in conceding this, let it not be forgotten how much we concede—we concede as much as Longinus demanded; that is, that Homer furnished an ideal or model of fluent narration, picturesque description, and the first outlines of what could be called characteristic delineations of persons. Accordingly, uninventive Greece—for we maintain loudly that Greece, in her poets, was uninventive and sterile beyond the example of other nations—received, as a traditional inheritance, the characters of the Paladins of the Troad. Achilles is always the all-accomplished and supreme amongst these Paladins, the Orlando of ancient romance; Agamemnon, for ever the Charlemagne; Ajax, for ever the sullen, imperturbable, columnar champion, the Mandricardo, the Bergen-op-Zoom of his faction, and corresponding to our modern 'Chicken' in the pugilistic ring, who was so called (as the books of the Fancy say) because he was a 'glutton'; and a 'glutton' in this sense—that he would take any amount of cramming (i. e. any possible quantum of 'milling,' or 'punishment'). Ulysses, again, is uniformly, no matter whether in the solemnities of the tragic scene, or the festivities of the Ovidian romance, the same shy cock, but also sly cock, with the least thought of a white feather in his plumage; Diomed is the same unmeaning double of every other hero, just as Rinaldo is with respect to his greater cousin, Orlando; and so of Teucer, Meriones, Idomeneus, and the other less-marked characters. The Greek drama took up these traditional characters, and sometimes deepened, saddened, exalted the features—as Sophocles, for instance, does with his 'Ajax Flagellifer'—Ajax the knouter of sheep—where, by the way, the remorse and penitential grief of Ajax for his own self-degradation, and the depth of his affliction for the triumph which he had afforded to his enemies—taken in connection with the tender fears of his wife, Tecmessa, for the fate to which his gloomy despair was too manifestly driving him; her own conscious desolation, and the orphan weakness of her son, in the event which she too fearfully anticipates—the final suicide of Ajax; the brotherly affection of Teucer to the widow and the young son of the hero, together with the unlooked-for sympathy of Ulysses, who, instead of exulting in the ruin of his antagonist, mourns over it with generous tears—compose a situation, and a succession of situations, not equalled in the Greek tragedy; and, in that instance, we see an effort, rare in Grecian poetry, of conquest achieved by idealisation over a mean incident—viz. the hallucination of brain in Ajax, by which he mistakes the sheep for his Grecian enemies, ties them up for flagellation, and scourges them as periodically as if he were a critical reviewer. But really, in one extremity of this madness, where he fixes upon an old ram for Agamemnon, as the leader of the flock, the [Greek: anax andron Agamemnon], there is an extravagance of the ludicrous against which, though not exhibited scenically, but simply narrated, no solemnity of pathos could avail; even in narration, the violation of tragical dignity is insufferable, and is as much worse than the hyper-tragic horrors of Titus Andronicus (a play which is usually printed, without reason, amongst those of Shakspeare) as absolute farce or contradiction of all pathos must inevitably be a worse indecorum than physical horrors which simply outrage it by excess. Let us not, therefore, hear of the judgment displayed upon the Grecian stage, when even Sophocles, the chief master of dramatic economy and scenical propriety, could thus err by an aberration so far transcending the most memorable violation of stage decorum which has ever been charged upon the English drama.
[Footnote 8: There is a difficulty in assigning any term as comprehensive enough to describe the Grecian heroes and their antagonists, who fought at Troy. The seven chieftains against Thebes are described sufficiently as Theban captains; but, to say Trojan chieftains, would express only the heroes of one side; Grecian, again, would be liable to that fault equally, and to another far greater, of being under no limitation as to time. This difficulty must explain and (if it can) justify our collective phrase of the Paladins of the Troad.]
From Homer, therefore, were left, as a bequest to all future poets, the romantic adventures which grow, as so many collateral dependencies,
'From the tale of Troy divine';
and from Homer was derived also the discrimination of the leading characters, which, after all, were but coarsely and rudely discriminated; at least, for the majority. In one instance only we acknowledge an exception. We have heard a great modern poet dwelling with real and not counterfeit enthusiasm upon the character (or rather upon the general picture, as made up both of character and position), which the course of the Iliad assigns gradually to Achilles. The view which he took of this impersonation of human grandeur, combining all gifts of intellect and of body, matchless speed, strength, inevitable eye, courage, and the immortal beauty of a god, being also, by his birth-right, half-divine, and consecrated to the imagination by his fatal interweaving with the destinies of Troy, and to the heart by the early death which to his own knowledge impended over his magnificent career, and so abruptly shut up its vista—the view, we say, which our friend took of the presiding character throughout the Iliad, who is introduced to us in the very first line, and who is only eclipsed for seventeen books, to emerge upon us with more awful lustre;—the view which he took was—that Achilles, and Achilles only, in the Grecian poetry, was a great idea—an idealised creation; and we remember that in this respect he compared the Homeric Achilles with the Angelica of Ariosto. Her only he regarded as an idealisation in the Orlando Furioso. And certainly in the luxury and excess of her all-conquering beauty, which drew after her from 'ultimate Cathay' to the camps of the baptised in France, and back again, from the palace of Charlemagne, drew half the Paladins, and 'half Spain militant,' to the portals of the rising sun; that sovereign beauty which (to say nothing of kings and princes withered by her frowns) ruined for a time the most princely of all the Paladins, the supreme Orlando, crazed him with scorn,
'And robbed him of his noble wits outright'—
in all this, we must acknowledge a glorification of power not unlike that of Achilles:—
'Irresistible Pelides, whom, unarm'd, No strength of man or wild beast could withstand; Who tore the lion as the lion tears the kid; Ran on embattl'd armies clad in iron; And, weaponless himself, Made arms ridiculous, useless the forgery Of brazen shield and spear, the hammer'd cuirass, Chalybean temper'd steel, and frock of mail, Adamantean proof; But safest he who stood aloof, When insupportably his foot advanced Spurned them to death by troops. The bold Priamides Fled from his lion ramp; old warriors turn'd Their plated backs under his heel, Or, groveling, soil'd their crested helmets in the dust.'
These are the words of Milton in describing that 'heroic Nazarete,' 'God's champion'—
'Promis'd by heavenly message twice descending';
heralded, like Pelides,
'By an angel of his birth, Who from his father's field Rode up in flames after his message told';
these are the celestial words which describe the celestial prowess of the Hebrew monomachist, the irresistible Sampson; and are hardly less applicable to the 'champion paramount' of Greece confederate.
[Footnote 9: 'To his own knowledge'—see, for proof of this, the gloomy serenity of his answer to his dying victim, when, predicting his approaching end:—
'Enough; I know my fate: to die—to see no more My much-lov'd parents, and my native shore,' &c. &c.]
This, therefore, this unique conception, with what power they might, later Greek poets adopted; and the other Homeric characters they transplanted somewhat monotonously, but at times, we are willing to admit, and have already admitted, improving and solemnizing the original epic portraits when brought upon the stage. But all this extent of obligation amongst later poets of Greece to Homer serves less to argue his opulence than their penury. And if, quitting the one great blazing jewel, the Urim and Thummim of the Iliad, you descend to individual passages of poetic effect; and if amongst these a fancy should seize you of asking for a specimen of the Sublime in particular, what is it that you are offered by the critics? Nothing that we remember beyond one single passage, in which the god Neptune is described in a steeple chase, and 'making play' at a terrific pace. And certainly enough is exhibited of the old boy's hoofs, and their spanking qualities, to warrant our backing him against a railroad for a rump and dozen; but, after all, there is nothing to grow frisky about, as Longinus does, who gets up the steam of a blue-stocking enthusiasm, and boils us a regular gallop of ranting, in which, like the conceited snipe upon the Liverpool railroad, he thinks himself to run a match with Sampson; and, whilst affecting to admire Homer, is manifestly squinting at the reader to see how far he admires his own flourish of admiration; and, in the very agony of his frosty raptures, is quite at leisure to look out for a little private traffic of rapture on his own account. But it won't do; this old critical posture-master (whom, if Aurelian hanged, surely he knew what he was about) may as well put up his rapture pipes, and (as Lear says) 'not squiny' at us; for let us ask Master Longinus, in what earthly respect do these great strides of Neptune exceed Jack with his seven-league boots? Let him answer that, if he can. We hold that Jack has the advantage. Or, again look at the Koran: does any man but a foolish Oriental think that passage sublime where Mahomet describes the divine pen? It is, says he, made of mother-of-pearl; so much for the 'raw material,' as the economists say. But now for the size: it can hardly be called a 'portable' pen at all events, for we are told that it is so tall of its age, that an Arabian 'thoroughbred horse would require 500 years for galloping down the slit to the nib. Now this Arabic sublime is in this instance quite a kin brother to the Homeric.
[Footnote 10: On the memorable inaugural day of the Liverpool railroad, when Mr. Huskisson met with so sad a fate, a snipe or a plover tried a race with Sampson, one of the engines. The race continued neck and neck for about six miles, after which, the snipe finding itself likely to come off second best, found it convenient to wheel off, at a turn of the road, into the solitudes of Chat Moss.]
However, it is likely that we shall here be reminded of our own challenge to the Longinian word [Greek: hypselon] as not at all corresponding, or even alluding to the modern word sublime. But in this instance, the distinction will not much avail that critic—for no matter by what particular word he may convey his sense of its quality, clear it is, by his way of illustrating its peculiar merit, that, in his opinion, these huge strides of Neptune's have something supernaturally grand about them. But, waiving this solitary instance in Homer of the sublime, according to his idolatrous critics—of the pseudo sublime according to ourselves—in all other cases where Longinus, or any other Greek writer has cited Homer as the great exemplary model of [Greek: hypsos] in composition, we are to understand him according to the Grecian sense of that word. He must then be supposed to praise Homer, not so much for any ideal grandeur either of thought, image, or situation, as in a general sense for his animated style of narration, for the variety and spirited effect with which he relieves the direct formal narration in his own person by dialogue between the subjects of his narration, thus ventriloquising and throwing his own voice as often as he can into the surrounding objects—or again for the similes and allusive pictures by which he points emphasis to a situation or interest to a person.
Now then we have it: when you describe Homer, or when you hear him described as a lively picturesque old boy [by the way, why does everybody speak of Homer as old?], full of life, and animation, and movement, then you say (or you hear say) what is true, and not much more than what is true. Only about that word picturesque we demur a little: as a chirurgeon, he certainly is picturesque; for Howship upon gunshot wounds is a joke to him when he lectures upon traumacy, if we may presume to coin that word, or upon traumatic philosophy (as Mr. M'Culloch says so grandly, Economic Science). But, apart from this, we cannot allow that simply to say [Greek: Zakunthos nemoessa], woody Zacynthus, is any better argument of picturesqueness than Stony Stratford, or Harrow on the Hill. Be assured, reader, that the Homeric age was not ripe for the picturesque. Price on the Picturesque, or, Gilpin on Forest Scenery, would both have been sent post-haste to Bedlam in those days; or perhaps Homer himself would have tied a millstone about their necks, and have sunk them as public nuisances by woody Zante. Besides, it puts almost an extinguisher on any little twinkling of the picturesque that might have flared up at times from this or that suggestion, when each individual had his own regular epithet stereotyped to his name like a brass plate upon a door: Hector, the tamer of horses; Achilles, the swift of foot; the ox-eyed, respectable Juno. Some of the 'big uns,' it is true, had a dress and an undress suit of epithets: as for instance, Hector was also [Greek: korythaiolos], Hector with the tossing or the variegated plumes. Achilles again was [Greek: dios] or divine. But still the range was small, and the monotony was dire.
And now, if you come in good earnest to picturesqueness, let us mention a poet in sober truth worth five hundred of Homer, and that is Chaucer. Show us a piece of Homer's handywork that comes within a hundred leagues of that divine prologue to the Canterbury Tales, or of 'The Knight's Tale,' of the 'Man of Law's Tale,' or of the 'Tale of the Patient Griseldis,' or, for intense life of narration and festive wit, to the 'Wife of Bath's Tale.' Or, passing out of the Canterbury Tales for the picturesque in human manner and gesture, and play of countenance, never equalled as yet by Pagan or Christian, go to the Troilus and Cresseid, and, for instance, to the conversation between Troilus and Pandarus, or, again, between Pandarus and Cresseid. Rightly did a critic of the 17th century pronounce Chaucer a miracle of natural genius, as having 'taken into the compass of his Canterbury Tales, the various manners and humours of the whole English nation in his age; not a single character has escaped him.' And this critic then proceeds thus—'The matter and manner of these tales, and of their telling, are so suited to their different educations, humours, and calling, that each of them would be improper in any other mouth. Even the grave and serious characters are distinguished by their several sorts of gravity. Even the ribaldry of the low characters is different. But there is such a variety of game springing up before me, that I am distracted in my choice, and know not which to follow. It is sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty.' And soon after he goes on to assert (though Heaven knows in terms far below the whole truth), the superiority of Chaucer to Boccaccio. And, in the meantime, who was this eulogist of Chaucer? Why, the man who himself was never equalled upon this earth, unless by Chaucer, in the art of fine narration: it is John Dryden whom we have been quoting.
Between Chaucer and Homer—as to the main art of narration, as to the picturesque life of the manners, and as to the exquisite delineation of character—the interval is as wide as between Shakespeare, in dramatic power, and Nic. Rowe.
And we might wind up this main chapter, of the comparison between Grecian and English literature—viz. the chapter on Homer, by this tight dilemma. You do or you do not use the Longinian word [Greek: hypsos] in the modern sense of the sublime. If you do not, then of course you translate it in the Grecian sense, as explained above; and in that sense, we engage to produce many scores of passages from Chaucer, not exceeding 50 to 80 lines, which contain more of picturesque simplicity, more tenderness, more fidelity to nature, more felicity of sentiment, more animation of narrative, and more truth of character, than can be matched in all the Iliad or the Odyssey. On the other hand, if by [Greek: hypsos] you choose absurdly to mean sublimity in the modern sense, then it will suffice for us that we challenge you to the production of one instance which truly and incontestably embodies that quality. The burthen of proof rests upon you who affirm, not upon us who deny. Meantime, as a kind of choke-pear, we leave with the Homeric adorer this one brace of portraits, or hints for such a brace, which we commend to his comparison, as Hamlet did the portraits of the two brothers to his besotted mother. We are talking of the sublime: that is our thesis. Now observe: there is a catalogue in the Iliad—there is a catalogue in the Paradise Lost. And, like a river of Macedon and of Monmouth, the two catalogues agree in that one fact—viz. that they are such. But as to the rest, we are willing to abide by the issue of that one comparison, left to the very dullest sensibility, for the decision of the total question at issue. And what is that? Not, Heaven preserve us! as to the comparative claims of Milton and Homer in this point of sublimity—for surely it would be absurd to compare him who has most with him whom we affirm to have none at all—but whether Homer has the very smallest pretensions in that point. The result, as we state it, is this:—The catalogue of the ruined angels in Milton, is, in itself taken separately, a perfect poem, with the beauty, and the felicity, and the glory of a dream. The Homeric catalogue of ships is exactly on a level with the muster-roll of a regiment, the register of a tax-gatherer, the catalogue of an auctioneer. Nay, some catalogues are far more interesting, and more alive with meaning. 'But him followed fifty black ships!'—'But him follow seventy black ships!' Faugh! We could make a more readable poem out of an Insolvent's Balance Sheet.
[Footnote 11: The description of Apollo in wrath as [Greek: nukti eoiko], like night, is a doubtful case. With respect to the shield of Achilles, it cannot be denied that the general conception has, in common with all abstractions (as e. g. the abstractions of dreams, of prophetic visions, such as that in the 6th AEneid, that to Macbeth, that shown by the angel Michael to Adam), something fine and, in its own nature, let the execution be what it may, sublime. But this part of the Iliad, we firmly believe to be an interpolation of times long posterior to that of Homer.]
One other little suggestion we could wish to offer. Those who would contend against the vast superiority of Chaucer (and him we mention chiefly because he really has in excess those very qualities of life, motion, and picturesque simplicity, to which the Homeric characteristics chiefly tend), ought to bear in mind one startling fact evidently at war with the degree of what is claimed for Homer. It is this: Chaucer is carried naturally by the very course of his tales into the heart of domestic life, and of the scenery most favourable to the movements of human sensibility. Homer, on the other hand, is kept out of that sphere, and is imprisoned in the monotonies of a camp or a battle-field, equally by the necessities of his story, and by the proprieties of Grecian life (which in fact are pretty nearly those of Turkish life at this day). Men and women meet only under rare, hurried, and exclusive circumstances. Hence it is, that throughout the entire Iliad, we have but one scene in which the finest affections of the human heart can find an opening for display; of course, everybody knows at once that we are speaking of the scene between Hector, Andromache, and the young Astyanax. No need for question here; it is Hobson's choice in Greek literature, when you are seeking for the poetry of human sensibilities. One such scene there is, and no more; which, of itself, is some reason for suspecting its authenticity. And, by the way, at this point, it is worth while remarking, that a late excellent critic always pronounced the words applied to Andromache [Greek: dakryoen gelasasa] (tearfully smiling, or, smiling through her tears), a mere Alexandrian interpolation. And why? Now mark the reason. Was it because the circumstance is in itself vicious, or out of nature? Not at all: nothing more probable or more interesting under the general situation of peril combined with the little incident of the infant's alarm at the plumed helmet. But any just taste feels it to be out of the Homeric key; the barbarism of the age, not mitigated (as in Chaucer's far less barbarous age) by the tenderness of Christian sentiment, turned a deaf ear and a repulsive aspect to such beautiful traits of domestic feeling; to Homer himself the whole circumstance would have been one of pure effeminacy. Now, we recommend it to the reader's reflection—and let him weigh well the condition under which that poetry moves that cannot indulge a tender sentiment without being justly suspected of adulterous commerce with some after age. This remark, however, is by the by; having grown out of the [Greek: dakryoen gelasasa], itself a digression. But, returning from that to our previous theme, we desire every candid reader to ask himself what must be the character, what the circumscription, of that poetry which is limited, by its very subject, to a scene of such intense uniformity as a battle or a camp; and by the prevailing spirit of manners to the exclusive society of men. To make bricks without straw, was the excess even of Egyptian bondage; Homer could not fight up against the necessities of his age, and the defects of its manners. And the very apologies which will be urged for him, drawn as they must be from the spirit of manners prevalent in his era, are reciprocally but so many reasons for not seeking in him the kind of poetry which has been ascribed to him by ignorance, or by defective sensibility, or by the mere self-interest of pedantry.
[Footnote 12: But the Odyssey, at least, it will be said, is not thus limited: no, not by its subject; because it carries us amongst cities and princes in a state of peace; but it is equally limited by the spirit of manners; we are never admitted amongst women, except by accident (Nausicaa)—by necessity (Penelope)—or by romance (Circe).]
From Homer, the route stretches thus:—The Grecian drama lies about six hundred years nearer to the Christian era, and Pindar lies in the interval. These—i. e. the Dramatic and Lyric—are the important chapters of the Greek poetry; for as to Pastoral poetry, having only Theocritus surviving, and a very little of Bion and Moschus, and of these one only being of the least separate importance—we cannot hold that department entitled to any notice in so cursory a review of the literature, else we have much to say on this also. Besides that, Theocritus was not a natural poet, indigenous to Sicily, but an artificial blue-stocking; as was Callimachus in a different class.
The drama we may place loosely in the generation next before that of Alexander the Great. And his era may be best remembered by noting it as 333 years B. C. Add thirty years to this era—that will be the era of the Drama. Add a little more than a century, and that will be the era of Pindar. Him, therefore, we will notice first.
Now, the chief thing to say as to Pindar is—to show cause, good and reasonable, why no man of sense should trouble his head about him. There was in the seventeenth century a notion prevalent about Pindar, the very contradiction to the truth. It was imagined that he 'had a demon'; that he was under a burthen of prophetic inspiration; that he was possessed, like a Hebrew prophet or a Delphic priestess, with divine fury. Why was this thought?—simply because no mortal read him. Laughable it is to mention, that Pope, when a very young man, and writing his Temple of Fame (partly on the model of Chaucer's), when he came to the great columns and their bas-reliefs in that temple, each of which is sacred to one honoured name, having but room in all for six, chose Pindar for one of the six. And the first bas-relief on Pindar's column is so pretty, that we shall quote it; especially as it suggested Gray's car for Dryden's 'less presumptuous flight!'
'Four swans sustain a car of silver bright, With heads advanc'd, and pinions stretch'd for flight: Here, like some furious prophet, Pindar rode, And seem'd to labour with th' inspiring god.'
[Footnote 13: The other five were Homer, Virgil, Horace, Aristotle, Cicero.]
Then follow eight lines describing other bas-reliefs, containing 'the figured games of Greece' (Olympic, Nemean, &c.). But what we spoke of as laughable in the whole affair is, that Master Pope neither had then read one line of Pindar, nor ever read one line of Pindar: and reason good; for at that time he could not read the simple Homeric Greek; while the Greek of Pindar exceeds all other Greek in difficulty, excepting, perhaps, a few amongst the tragic choruses, which are difficult for the very same reason—lyric abruptness, lyric involution, and lyric obscurity of transition. Not having read Homer, no wonder that Pope should place, amongst the bas-reliefs illustrating the Iliad, an incident which does not exist in the Iliad. Not having read Pindar, no wonder that Pope should ascribe to Pindar qualities which are not only imaginary, but in absolute contradiction to his true ones. A more sober old gentleman does not exist: his demoniac possession is a mere fable. But there are two sufficient arguments for not reading him, so long as innumerable books of greater interest remain unread. First, he writes upon subjects that, to us, are mean and extinct—race-horses that have been defunct for twenty-five centuries, chariots that were crazy in his own day, and contests with which it is impossible for us to sympathise. Then his digressions about old genealogies are no whit better than his main theme, nor more amusing than a Welshman's pedigree. The best translator of any age, Mr. Carey, who translated Dante, has done what human skill could effect to make the old Theban readable; but, after all, the man is yet to come who has read Pindar, will read Pindar, or can read Pindar, except, indeed, a translator in the way of duty. And the son of Philip himself, though he bade 'spare the house of Pindarus,' we vehemently suspect, never read the works of Pindarus; that labour he left to some future Hercules. So much for his subjects: but a second objection is—his metre: The hexameter, or heroic metre of the ancient Greeks, is delightful to our modern ears; so is the Iambic metre fortunately of the stage: but the Lyric metres generally, and those of Pindar without one exception, are as utterly without meaning to us, as merely chaotic labyrinths of sound, as Chinese music or Dutch concertos. Need we say more?
[Footnote 14: Viz. the supposed dragging of Hector three times round Troy by Achilles—a mere post-Homeric fable. But it is ludicrous to add, that, in after years—nay, when nearly at the end of his translation of the Iliad, in 1718—Pope took part in a discussion upon Homer's reasons for ascribing such conduct to his hero, seriously arguing the pro and con upon a pure fiction.]
Next comes the drama. But this is too weighty a theme to be discussed slightly; and the more so because here only we willingly concede a strong motive for learning Greek; here, only, we hold the want of a ready introduction to be a serious misfortune. Our general argument, therefore, which had for its drift to depreciate Greek, dispenses, in this case, with our saying anything; since every word we could say would be hostile to our own purpose. However, we shall, even upon this field of the Greek literature, deliver one oracular sentence, tending neither to praise nor dispraise it, but simply to state its relations to the modern, or, at least, the English drama. In the ancient drama, to represent it justly, the unlearned reader must imagine grand situations, impressive groups; in the modern tumultuous movement, a grand stream of action. In the Greek drama, he must conceive the presiding power to be Death; in the English, Life. What Death?—What Life? That sort of death or of life locked up and frozen into everlasting slumber, which we see in sculpture; that sort of life, of tumult, of agitation, of tendency to something beyond, which we see in painting. The picturesque, in short, domineers over English tragedy; the sculpturesque, or the statuesque, over the Grecian.
The moralists, such as Theogins, the miscellaneous or didactic poets, such as Hesiod, are all alike below any notice in a sketch like this. The Epigrammatists, or writers of monumental inscriptions, &c., remain; and they, next after the dramatic poets, present the most interesting field by far in the Greek literature; but these are too various to be treated otherwise than viritim and in detail.
There remains the prose literature; and, with the exception of those critical writers who have written on rhetoric (such as Hermogenes, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Demetrius Phalerius, &c. &c., some of whom are the best writers extant, on the mere art of constructing sentences, but could not interest the general reader), the prose writers may be thus distributed: 1st, the orators; 2nd, the historians; 3rd, the philosophers; 4th, the literateurs (such as Plutarch, Lucian, &c.).
As to the philosophers, of course there are only two who can present any general interest—Plato and Aristotle; for Xenophon is no more a philosophic writer than our own Addison. Now, in this department, it is evident that the matter altogether transcends the manner. No man will wish to study a profound philosopher, but for some previous interest in his doctrines; and, if by any means a man has obtained this, he may pursue this study sufficiently through translations. It is true that neither Sydenham nor Taylor has done justice to Plato, for example, as respects the colloquial graces of his style; but, when the object is purely to pursue a certain course of principles and inferences, the student cannot complain much that he has lost the dramatic beauties of the dialogue, or the luxuriance of the style. These he was not then seeking, by the supposition—what he did seek, is still left; whereas in poetry, if the golden apparel is lost, if the music has melted away from the thoughts, all, in fact, is lost. Old Hobbes, or Ogilbie, is no more Homer than the score of Mozart's Don Giovanni is Mozart's Don Giovanni.
If, however, Grecian philosophy presents no absolute temptations to the attainment of Greek, far less does Grecian history. If you except later historians—such as Diodorus, Plutarch, and those (like Appian, Dionysius, Dion Cassius) who wrote of Roman things and Roman persons in Greek, and Polybius, who comes under the same class, at a much earlier period—and none of whom have any interest of style, excepting only Plutarch: these dismissed, there are but three who can rank as classical Greek historians; three who can lose by translation. Of these the eldest, Herodotus, is perhaps of real value. Some call him the father of history; some call him the father of lies. Time and Major Rennel have done him ample justice. Yet here, again, see how little need of Greek for the amplest use of a Greek author. Twenty-two centuries and more have passed since the fine old man read his history at the Grecian games of Olympia. One man only has done him right, and put his enemies under his footstool; and yet this man had no Greek. Major Rennel read Herodotus only in the translation of Beloe. He has told us so himself. Here, then, is a little fact, my Grecian boys, that you won't easily get over. The father of history, the eldest of prose writers, has been first explained, illustrated, justified, liberated from scandal and disgrace, first had his geography set to rights, first translated from the region of fabulous romance, and installed in his cathedral chair, as Dean (or eldest) of historians, by a military man, who had no more Greek than Shakspeare, or than we (perhaps you, reader) of the Kalmuck.
Next comes Thucydides. He is the second in order of time amongst the Grecian historians who survive, and the first of those (a class which Mr. Southey, the laureate, always speaks of as the corruptors of genuine history) who affect to treat it philosophically. If the philosophic historians are not always so faithless as Mr. Southey alleges, they are, however, always guilty of dulness. Commend us to one picturesque, garrulous old fellow, like Froissart, or Philip de Comines, or Bishop Burnet, before all the philosophic prosers that ever prosed. These picturesque men will lie a little now and then, for the sake of effect—but so will the philosophers. Even Bishop Burnet, who, by the way, was hardly so much a picturesque as an anecdotal historian, was famous for his gift of lying; so diligently had he cultivated it. And the Duchess of Portsmouth told a noble lord, when inquiring into the truth of a particular fact stated by the very reverend historian, that he was notorious in Charles the Second's court, and that no man believed a word he said. But now Thucydides, though writing about his own time, and doubtless embellishing by fictions not less than his more amusing brethren, is as dull as if he prided himself on veracity. Nay, he tells us no secret anecdotes of the times—surely there must have been many; and this proves to us, that he was a low fellow without political connections, and that he never had been behind the curtain. Now, what business had such a man to set himself up for a writer of history and a speculator on politics? Besides, his history is imperfect; and, suppose it were not, what is its subject? Why simply one single war; a war which lasted twenty-seven years; but which, after all, through its whole course was enlivened by only two events worthy to enter into general history—viz. the plague of Athens, and the miserable licking which the Athenian invaders received in Sicily. This dire overthrow dished Athens out and out; for one generation to come, there was an end of Athenian domination; and that arrogant state, under the yoke of their still baser enemies of Sparta, learned experimentally what were the evils of a foreign conquest. There was therefore, in the domination of the Thirty Tyrants, something to 'point a moral' in the Peloponnesian war: it was the judicial reaction of martial tyranny and foreign oppression, such as we of this generation have beheld in the double conquest of Paris by insulted and outraged Christendom. But nothing of all this will be found in Thucydides—he is as cool as a cucumber upon every act of atrocity; whether it be the bloody abuse of power, or the bloody retribution from the worm that, being trampled on too long, turns at last to sting and to exterminate—all alike he enters in his daybook and his ledger, posts them up to the account of brutal Spartan or polished Athenian, with no more expression of his feelings (if he had any) than a merchant making out an invoice of puncheons that are to steal away men's wits, or of frankincense and myrrh that are to ascend in devotion to the saints. Herodotus is a fine, old, genial boy, that, like Froissart or some of the crusading historians, kept himself in health and jovial spirits by travelling about; nor did he confine himself to Greece or the Grecian islands; but he went to Egypt, got bousy in the Pyramid of Cheops, ate a beef-steak in the hanging-gardens of Babylon, and listened to no sailors' yarns at the Piraeus, which doubtless, before his time, had been the sole authority for Grecian legends concerning foreign lands. But, as to Thucydides, our own belief is, that he lived like a monk shut up in his museum or study; and that, at the very utmost, he may have gone in the steamboat to Corfu (i. e. Corcyra), because that was the island which occasioned the row of the Peloponnesian war.