Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

ly contributed to ensure success and become a spiritless analysis, or, at best, popularity to a work conducted on the a prosing speciality, in which the book rational and literary principles which under review was alone considered ; the Edinburgh Review professed. Cri- and the reviewer shewed himself, as it ticism, in the English journals, was were, acquainted with no other sub

Dr Robert Jackson's " Letter to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review" complains, in the same strain of Thelwall and Dr Thomson, of“ garbled statements, supported by rash assertion and pointed invective," (p. 2.); and Lord Lauderdale, much about the same time (1804), also brought similar, and even greater charges against the Reviewers, on account of his work on Public Wealth. In a pamphlet which they published in reply to his Lordship, they endeavour to answer an accusation of malignity, another of want of truth, a third, that the Reviewer of his Lordship's work wished to recommend himself to Mr Pitt, by attacks on Lord Lauderdale's work. So much, therefore, for the sensation it produced.

It is not easy to imagine a greater blemish in the character of a critic, than what is implied in the charge of misrepresentation of the author's meaning, and malicious misquotations of his sytle and statement. And yet there are charges against the Edinburgh Review which go even farther, and accuse it of being occasionally lent to purposes of personal pique and detraction. This we should hope is not well founded. It is, we believe, true of it, as of other pe riodical works, that besides the articles of regular correspondents, it has now and then illuminated the world with certain efforts on the part of “persons of quality.” I have been told, that the present Marquis of Lansdowne, when Lord Henry Petty, was a contributor, and that his Lordship favoured mankind with a review of one of his own published speeches, in which, without saying a word about the speech, he has spoken in very creditable terms of himself. This is, however, not very atrocious; but the Rev. Mr Cockburn, in a pamphlet published at Cambridge, in 1803, entitled, a Letter to the Editors of the Edinburgh Review, in conclusion, after exposing a deal of most nefarious criticism, and cloudy reasoning, says:

“ Before I take my leave, gentlemen, let me ask one question: W'as the critirism ga my Work really written by any of those gentlemen who usually conduct the Edinburgh Review ? I think not :-The Introduction contained in the two first pages is, probably, by one of yourselves ; the neat and terse criticism on my style at the conclusion, the sting in the tail of the wasp, speaks the same acuteness which we have been accustomed to admire in your Review ; but all the body of the work is dull and confused. If I am not misinformed, you do frequently accept of foreign assistance. Have you not, in the present instance, allowed some disappointed candidate for Mr Buchanan's Prize, so vent his anger and ill-will against the Examiners and me, and to bring disgrace upon you ?”

The next work in my collection of notices respecting the delinquency of the Edinburgh Review, is “ A letter to Francis Jeffrey, Esq. by an Anti-reformist, Edinburgh 1811.". The author imputes to the Review a tendency or design to render the people “ dissatisfied and sulky.”

“I am unwilling,” says he, “ to impute such a sign to any set of men ; but though your intentions may have been pointed to another object, certainly your language has always tended to produce this effect. Throughout your pages, the sentiments

favour se strongly, so systematically, any uncharitable constructions of this nature, that many will be of opinion, and certainly not without very strong grounds, that you had in vies the full design of exciting general discontent at least, if not absolute insurrection. In analyzing the system of criminal jurisprudence, established in France by Buonaparte, you compare with it the analogous part of our own code. And what must be the feels ings the indignation of every true Briton, on hearing that our criminal law is consider ed as in many respects inferior to Buonaparte's caricature of justice !”—P. 27.

Another of the unanswered accusations of the French and anti-national predilections of the Edinburgh Review, is from the same work :

“I cannot, sir, bring these remarks to a close without commenting on the almost unaccountable eagerness with which you seize every opportunity to palliate the revoking crimes of Buonaparte, and to hold him out to the country as irresistible from his talents and resources. In this partiality for him, you are not the only, though the loudest partizan. “While we,' exclaimed Lord Melville, with honest indignation, have been best. ing up the spirit of the country, and encouraging the people to encounter manfully the diffioulies and dangers to which they were unavoidably exposed,” &c.-P. 69.

ject than the particular matter imme-, be traced in the meagre and manifold dlately before bim. The personality articles of the monthly press. The and bitterness of a Dennis, and the spirit of the art was at once stale and philosophy and dignity of a Warbur-, acrid on particular topics, insipid and ton and a Johnson, could no longer odious with respect to others. No ate;

we

The controversy between the English Universities and the Edinburgh Review, it is now unnecessary to notice. The ignorance of the associates," was completely exposed, and the result is known to so many of those who were filally interested in the discussion, that it is needless almost to refer to it. But, independent of the general question, there were particular topics intruded that ought to be noticed, as they serve to prove the ignorance of the Reviewers on the very subjects which they affected to discuss most learnedly. For some of these I would refer to the Rev. Mr S. Butler's letter to the Rev. Mr C. J. Blomfieldpublished at Shrewsbury, in 1810.—The letter respects the Cambridge Eschylus, and the Oxford Strabo.

The Edinburgh Review,” says Mr Butler, “observes, that there is reason, however, to believe, that some of the libraries on the continent conceal manuscripts, more valuable than any which have yet been collated by any editor ; one in particular, of venerable antiquity, is preserved in the Medicean library at Florence ; unless, as it is most probable, it has been conveyed with the other treasures of that city, to the vast museum of learning and arts at Paris.'”. -“ Now from hence,” says Mr Butler, “ must infer that the Medicean MS. has never been collated. The contrary is the fact ; I have now two very accurate collations of that MS. lying before me, one of which is transcribed from the book already mentioned, (a book which the Reviewer saw,) and was made for Dr Nedham, by Salvini, &c.-I put it therefore to you, my dear sir, whether the Reviewer, in this instance, is not guilty of a most unfair and illiberal insinuation ? He could not be ignorant of what must have stared him in the face in every note; he must, therefore, have been silent through the basest and most malevolent de sign.”—P. 13.

Mr R. Wharton, we ought to have mentioned, in 1809, published “Remarks on the jacobinical tendency of the Edinburgh Review, in a letter to the Earl of Lonsdale,” which may, perhaps, account for the violence which has subsequently been expressed by some of the Reviewers against the noble Lord and his family; but it is not my object, nor the design of these brief and cursory sketches, to notice matters of this sort. There is, however, an amusing letter by a personage who styles himself Senex, published by Hatchard about the same time, that deserves some attention. Pages 5th and 6th are, indeed, particularly entertaining, wherein the writer alludes to certain physiognomical peculiarities of the writers in the Review, as indicatory of their character ; but I cannot afford to quote such passages, and it would destroy their effect to abridge them.

In 1809, an Expostulatory Letter was addressed to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, published by Longman. It seems to have been called

forth by the want of critical discernment in the review of the works of Miss Baillie.

“ You have uniformly,” says the author, “ treated all feminine attempts in literature as King Lear's fool describes the cook-maid to have treated the live eels that she was putting in a pye. Whenever they lifted their heads, she rapped them on the coxcombs with a stick, and cried, Down, wantons, down." ***

66 Witness the unmanly and illiberal treatment of your fair and ingenious countrywomen, Mrs H. and Miss B. The pretensions of the first to poetical elegance, in the very limited department which she has modestly chosen, have been already acknowleged by the public, to whom

you, as well as she, must finally submit, as your ultimate judge." • ** “Miss B. without pretensions to learning, and too much occupied by the duties of a life singularly useful and innocent, even to find leisure for extensive reading, has been urged, by the irresistible impulse of a daring and truly original genius, to throw into a dramatic form the noble conceptions of her untutored mind. Thus circumstanced, and thus impelled, she certainly claims every indulgence." P. 20.

But the author, in a subsequent paragraph, says, “ It is not altogether the matter, but the caustic harshness of the manner, to an author so modest, defenceless, and respectable, that produced general disgust.

It was about 1808-9, that the Edinburgh Review reached the acme of insolence. It had then become fearless and infatuated, and the cry began to rise from all sides against it. Among others who attacked it at that time, the

temps was made to govern or direct nected students, to ridicule and con public taste, or public opinion, but tempt. The persons concerned in the only to puff to palling the works of inglorious profession of a London re the trade-hacks, and to sentence, in a viewer of that period, were unknown single sentence, the labours of uncon- and the ignorance of the world, which

[ocr errors]

deadliest wound it received was from a pamphlet entitled, “ The Dangers of the Edinburgh Review ; or a brief Exposure of its Principles in Religion, Mo rals, and Politics." The writer accused it “ of infidelity in religion ; licentiousness in morals; and seditious and revolutionary principles in polities." P. 4 And, with considerable ability and great temper, substantiates the first of these grave accusations. “ As these Reviewers," says he,“ recommend infidel books, $0, in perfect consistency, they despise the Scriptures."

“ We shall leave it,(say they, No. 13, p. 99.) * to others to decide, whether the taste of that critic be very good, who prefers the harp of the Jetos to the lyre of the Greeks ; and who plucks the laurel from the brow of Homer, to place it on the head of good King David." P. 6.

And as the Edinburgh Reviewers despise the Scriptures, so of course they reject their doctrines.

"We do not,(say they, No. 14, p. 418 and 419,)“ know the designs of the Crea. tor in the construction of the universe, or the ultimate destination of man. The idea of its being our duty to co-operate with the designs of Providence, we think the most impious presumption !” 6 Now, Christians do know the ultimate destination of man ; they know that he will arise at the last day from the dead, and will be either eternally happy or eternally miserable. Infidels do not know this.” &c. P. 8.

In No. 24, p. 357, they scruple not to call Plato, Zeno, and Leibnitz, the “sublimest teachers of moral wisdom." "Now believers in the Gospel think that Jesus Christ is the sublimest teacher of moral wisdom,” &c. P. 10.

The writer of the pamphlet, after shewing the infidel spirit that pervaded the Review, proceeds with the proofs of its licentiousness.

“ Now," says he, “ no man of strict moral principles can speak of vicious and levd books but with reprehension ; but the Edinburgh Reviewers speak of Voltaire's Can. dide, one of the most obscene books, as a work which afforded them much pleasure.

***" A work, whose great object it was to ridicule a Providence, and which abounds with the most lewd and licentious incidents and descriptions.” P. 16.

Upon the subject of its seditious tendency I shall say nothing. Party spirit at the time ran high,--the Whigs had been expelled from office by the late King, and they were still, like the outcast devils of the Paradise Lost, weltering in the torments of mortified ambition, fallen from such a height.

I have already said that it is unnecessary to notice the controversy respecting “ The Calumnies of the Edinburgh Review against the University of Oxford;" but I have before me an Edinburgh pamphlet, written by Mr H. Home Drummond, in which it appears that the Reviewers were ignorant of the subject on which they had written; and that their observations, instead of applying to the then state of the University, referred to a period long prior.

“ It is strange,” says Mr Drummond, “ that while these authors can set at defiance the anti-commercial decrees of Buonaparte, and present their readers with such ingenious and interesting pictures of foreign literature ; that while Paris, and Petersburgh, and Turkey, the East and West Indies, and the whole continent of America, are open to their researches, their supplies of information from the West of England should be 80 miserably scanty, that ten long years shall elapse before they are perfectly aware' that a new system of education is established at Oxford.” P.71.

The Reviewers probably knew as little of the state of literature in other countries as they did of the University of Oxford. But these notes have already extended to such a length that I must conclude them. They are sufficient to shew that a work, which failed so essentially in all the rules of just criticism, could not possibly endure long. Smartness and pertness for a tlme may amuse ; but qualities of a more solid kind are requisite to preserve the public approbation.

It was my intention to have mentioned the conduct of the Review towards the late amiable Mr Grahame's beautiful poem of the “ Sabbath;" but Jeffrey personally expressed his grief and contrition for the spleen he indulged on that occasion, it is unnecessary..

as

Mr

their vulgar conceptions of taste and liberality and discernment of the geninanners constantly betrayed, shewed tleman and connoiseur. The great pothat their condition was as obscure as litical events that were so loudly retheir names. Now and then an ama- sounding on all sides, had awakened teur article, of a better kind, the ef- a universal curiosity, the gratification fusion of college friendship to recom- of which rapidly increased the intellimend some abstruse illustration of gence of the people, even down to the me unread elassic, did appear among very artizans. the congregation of trade articles, like a The inference, therefore, to be drawn

gruce divine in the crowd of Cheap- from all this; from the previous sus- : side. But even in those learned essays, ceptibility arising from the rejection

which the London Reviews, in their of the insane dogmas of the democrats;? Jotage, were so proud, there was no- from the state of periodical criticism in thing that came home to men's business London, and from the improved inteland bosoms; they had all a scholastic ligence and literary taste of the age, enand unpractical character. They might sured to such an undertaking as the have been ornamental in the ponder- Edinburgh Review the most splendid ous tomes of Scaligerian érudition; and unprecedented success. perhaps have merited the approbation Having thus stated the causes and of a Dacier, or a Porson ; but they circumstances which contributed to neither instructed the age, nor ex- the rise of that celebrated journal, it panded the horizon of knowledge. A may now be proper to take a view of work, therefore, which assumed a chas its progress; the last is more invidiracter the reverse of the London Re- ous, because it may be supposed to inviews, and which undertook to treat: volve the necessity of estimating the of things as they are, and to consider talents and powers of particular indipassing events and existing opinions, viduals; but the brief limits to which as affecting the comfort and condi- this sketch is restricted,' obviates that tion of the living world, could not necessity in a great degree, and conbut, on its first appearance, be hail- fines the disquisition to the general ed with preference and respect, , by characteristics and features of the book that new and numerous class of read alone. ers, whom the spreading taste for lite Besides those universal motives rature, and the more generous educa- which induced the public to receive : tion of recent times had raised in the with no ordinary welcome the first nations ;-a class, who, without any appearance of the Edinburgh Review, pretensions to the literary character, the work, by addressing itself to the carried into the seats and haunts of patronage of the Whigs, at that time business, a degree of critical acumen, strong and formidable by their implied of knowledge, and sometimes even of union with the democratical faction, science, which qualified them to esti- secured at once the personal interest mate the merits of authors, while it and applauses of a numerous and most enlarged the sphere of their profes- loquacious association. Delighted with sional pursuits. Nor will the fact a work on their side, in which so much be disputed, that, at the time when more talent and practical sense appearthe Edinburgh Review made its ap- ed than in any other of the kind, they pearance, there existed, among all ranks were loud and vehement in their plauand orders in this country, a general dits, and the genius of the writers was: intellectualization, if the expression magnified to the skies--the Tories, too, may be used, on every subject, not on were pleased to see a work which left ly on those which affected agriculture, at such an immeasurable distance the manufactures and commerce, but the raving nonsense of the anarchy press ; enjoyments of taste and art; in a word, and though they disliked its anti-naon all with which the feelings and the tional principles and prejudices, they reasoning are interested. Themerchant joined in regarding it as å meritorious had become, by his wealth, qualified publication, calculated in the main to to associate with princes, and, by his assist in the restoration of those ancient accomplishments, to entertain philoso- feelings and venerable affections which phers. The maxims of national polity had been so outrageously violated and were as familiar to the physician as to broken. The consequence was immethe statesmân; and the lawyer judged diate. The circulation of the Review of the productions of genius with the rapidly exceeded the most sanguine

4 Q

Vol. X.

hopes of the projectors, and all the som, the stateliest of all the anciens honours and homages of a premature bay-trees. of literature. Events, to ar immortality were bestowed on the began to falsify the brave arroganced contributors. They were allowed a its political predictions, and the perse pontifical authority in taste, a pro- verance and constancy with which the phetical, in politics; the fatesof authors Tory administration adhered to the and of kingdoms were alike commit- principles on which the war had been ted to their decision and foresight--and undertaken, seemed to partake of some Jeffrey and Brougham became the Mi- nobler quality than the obstinacy and es nos and Rhadamanthus of literature.folly with which they were charged w

But this prodigality of praise, this by the Whig orators and their echoes it superstitious admiration, was soon dis- in the Review. It was also discovered covered to be excessive. The spirit that the Reviewers wrote rather of, s of the publication was certainly less than to, the public mind; that their irrational than that of its predeces- pages were but so many mirrors, which ox sors in the democratic interest, but only reflected opinions that already vi it possessed a full measure of Jaco- existed. bin antipathy against the political ad But nothing so effeetually arrested 133 versaries of the Whig party. Doubts the progress of the Edinburgh Review, also arose as to the soundness of many as the establishment in London of the of its opinions in matters of taste, in Quarterly. The northern work bsd consequence of authors, whom it con- become so intolerant; success had se signed to derision, growing upinto fame, made it so insolent, that it could to be and overshadowing, with a vast lux- longer be endured by the moderate Touriance of vigour in bough and blos- ries; (c) and they longed for another,

(c) It is perhaps difficult to point out any particular cause in the conduct of the Edinburgh Review, which completed the disgust of the Tories with the intolerant party character of the work; we are, however, inclined to think, that Number XXXI., published in April, 1810, occasioned their decision. The despicable spirit in which the Review of Lord Erskine's speeches wes drawn up, to say nothing of its literary incongruities, not only roused their indignation, but was viewed as something partaking of the rabia of insanity and infatuation by many, even of the most sensible Whigs themselves. - Cob bet, himself, appears a gentleman when speaking of the living, compared to the manner in which the frantic reviewer speaks of the deceased Mr Pitt, and the abhorrence which the article produced at the time, was sharpened by the report that it was from the pen of one who had sneaked to earn his favour; who had not only traduced Lord Lauderdale’s pamphlet, as his Lordship said, to ingratiate himself with that statesman, but was understood to have accepted front Mr Pitt himself a non-descript mission to Portugal

, almost as base as that of spy--we say almost, because it may be possible that there are secret diplomatic appointments which do not partake of such an odious character, and the one alluded to may have been one of them. The Whigs, of late, have been making a clamorous outcry against the personality of the Tory press; but since the death of Mr Fox, has any thing appeared from it reflecting on his character 6 COTEpare with the following ?

“Mr Frost had been a reformer too, and had even held a high office among the mar. bers of Mr Pitt's society. In this capacity, he had constant communications with that distinguished personage'; and at his trial, could even produce the most cordial and to spectful letters on the interests of their “ great and common cause." The casting the sage of Harrison, or the steady virtue of Hutchison, were not more hateful to Crotte well_Danton and Brissot were not more formidable

to Robespierre_Sieyes is less odious to Buonaparte-a catholic petition to Lord Castlereagh_or, to come nearer to the pointa the question of the abolition to the same Mr Pitt himself, after his periods had been turned on the slave traffic; than such men as Frost, Hardy, Thelwall, and Holcroft, were to that convicted reformer of the Parliament. After he had once forsworn the error of his way, and said to corruption, “ thou art my brother,” and called power, * rather place, his God, (for he truckled too much for the sake of keeping in-he was ** mean in his official propensities to deserve the name of ambitious,)--the sight of a no former was a spectre to his eyes--he detested it as the wicked do the light of tyrants do the history of their own times, which haunts their repose even after the goocietet

« VorigeDoorgaan »