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The article which you required was not only there. It was ready. It was in its own proper compartment. In a moment it was brought down, unpacked, and displayed. If those who enjoyed the privilege — for a privilege indeed it was -of listening to Sir James Mackintosh, had been disposed to find some fault in his conversation, they might perhaps have observed that he yielded too little to the impulse of the moment. He seemed to be recollecting, not creating. He never appeared to catch a sudden glimpse of a subject in a new light. You never saw his opinions in the making, still rude, still inconsistent, and requiring to be fashioned by thought and discussion. They came forth, like the pillars of that temple in which no sound of axes or hammers was heard, finished, rounded, and exactly suited to their places. What Mr. Charles Lamb has said, with much humour and some truth, of the conversation of Scotchmen in general, was certainly true of this eminent Scotch
He did not find, but bring. You could not cry halves to any thing that turned up while you were in his company.
The intellectual and moral qualities which are most important in a historian, he possessed in a very high degree. He was singularly mild, calm, and impartial in his.judgments of men, and of parties. Almost all the distinguished writers who have treated of English history are advocates. Mr. Hallam and Sir James Mackintosh alone are entitled to be called judges. But the extreme austerity of Mr. Hallam takes away something from the pleasure of reading his learned, eloquent, and judicious writings. He is a judge, but a hanging judge, the Page or Buller of the High Court of Literary Justice. His black cap is in constant requisition. In the long calendar of those whom he has tried, there is hardly one who has not, in spite of evidence to character and recommendations to mercy,
been sentenced and left for execution. Sir James, perhaps, erred a little on the other side. He liked a maiden assize, and came away with white gloves, after sitting in judgment on batches of the most notorious offenders. He had a quick eye for the redeeming parts of a character, and a large toleration for the infirmities of men exposed to strong temptations. But this lenity did not arise from ignorance or neglect of moral distinctions. Though he allowed perhaps too much weight to every extenuating circumstance that could be urged in favour of the transgressor, he never disputed the authority of the law, or showed his ingenuity by refining away its enactments. On every occasion he showed himself firm where principles were in question, but full of charity towards individuals.
We have no hesitation in pronouncing this Fragment decidedly the best history now extant of the reign of James the Second. It contains much new and curious information, of which excellent use has been made. But we are not sure that the book is not in some degree open to the charge which the idle citizen in the Spectator brought against his pudding; “ Mem. too many plums, and no suet.” There is perhaps too much disquisition and too little narrative; and indeed this is the fault into which, judging from the habits of Sir James's mind, we should have thought him most likely to fall. What we assuredly did not anticipate was, that the narrative would be better executed than the disquisitions. We expected to find, and we have found, many just delineations of character, and many digressions full of interest, such as the account of the order of Jesuits, and of the state of prison discipline in England a hundred and fifty years ago. We expected to find, and we have found, many reflections breathing the spirit of a calm and benignant philosophy. But we did not, we own, expect to find that Sir James could tell a story as well as Voltaire or Hume. Yet such is the fact; and if any person doubts it, we would advise him to read the account of the events which followed the issuing of King James's declaration, the meeting of the clergy, the violent scene at the privy council, the commitment, trial, and acquittal of the bishops. The most superficial reader must be charmed, we think, by the liveliness of the narrative. But no person who is not acquainted with that vast mass of intractable materials of which the valuable and interesting part has been extracted and condensed can fully appreciate the skill of the writer. Here, and indeed throughout the book, we find many harsh and careless expressions which the author would probably have removed if he had lived to complete his work. But, in spite of these blemishes, we must say that we should find it difficult to point out, in any
modern history, any passage of equal length and at the same time of equal merit. We find in it the diligence, the accuracy, and the judgment of Hallam, united to the vivacity and the colouring of Southey. A history of England, written throughout in this manner, would be the most fascinating book in the language. It would be more in request at the circulating libraries than the last novel.
Sir James was not, we think, gifted with poetical imagination. But that lower kind of imagination which is necessary to the historian he had in large measure. It is not the business of the historian to create new worlds and to people them with new races of beings. He is to Homer and Shakspeare, to Dante and Milton, what Nollekens was to Canova, or Lawrence to Michael Angelo. The object of the historian's imitation is not within him; it is furnished from without. It is not a vision of beauty and grandeur discernible only by the eye of his own mind, but a
real model which he did not make, and which he cannot alter. Yet his is not a mere mechanical imitation. The triumph of his skill is to select such parts as may produce the effect of the whole, to bring out strongly all the characteristic features, and to throw the light and shade in such a manner as may heighten the effect. This skill, as far as we can judge from the unfinished work now before us, Sir James Mackintosh possessed in an eminent degree.
The style of this Fragment is weighty, manly, and unaffected. There are, as we have said, some expressions which seem to us harsh, and some which we think inaccurate. These would probably have been corrected, if Sir James had lived to superintend the publication. We ought to add that the printer has by no means done his duty. One misprint in particular is so serious as to require notice. Sir James Mackintosh has paid a high and just tribute to the genius, the integrity, and the courage of a good and great man, a distinguished ornament of English literature, a fearless champion of English liberty, Thomas Burnet, Master of the Charter-House, and author of that most eloquent and imaginative work, the Telluris Theoria Sacra. Wherever the name of this cele. brated man occurs, it is printed “ Bennet,” both in the text and in the index. This cannot be mere negligence. It is plain that Thomas Burnet and his writings were never heard of by the gentleman who has been employed to edite this volume, and who, not content with deforming Sir James Mackintosh's text by such blunders, has prefixed to it a bad Memoir, has appended to it a bad Continuation, and has thus succeeded in expanding the volume into one of the thickest, and debasing it into one of the worst that we ever saw. Never did we fall in with so admirable an illustration of the old Greek proverb, which tells us that half is sometimes more than the whole. Never
did we see a case in which the increase of the bulk was so evidently a diminution of the value.
Why such an artist was selected to deface so fine a Torso, we cannot pretend to conjecture. We read that, when the Consul Mummius, after the taking of Corinth, was preparing to send to Rome some works of the greatest Grecian sculptors, he told the packers that if they broke his Venus or his Apollo, he would force them to restore the limbs which should be wanting. A head by a hewer of mile-stones joined to a bosom by Praxiteles would not surprise or shock us more than this supplement.
The Memoir contains much that is worth reading ; for it contains many extracts from the compositions of Sir James Mackintosh. But when we pass from what the biographer has done with his scissors to what he has done with his pen, we can find nothing to praise in his work. Whatever may have been the intention with which he wrote, the tendency of his narrative is to convey the impression that Sir James Mackintosh, from interested motives, abandoned the doctrines of the Vindiciæ Gallicæ. Had such charges appeared in their natural place, we should leave them to their natural fate. We would not stoop to defend Sir James Mackintosh from the attacks of fourth-rate magazines and pothouse newspapers. But here his own fame is turned against him. A book of which not one copy would ever have been bought but for his name in the titlepage is made the vehicle of the imputation. Under such circumstances we cannot help exclaiming, in the words of one of the most amiable of Homer's heroes,
« Νυν τις ενηείης Πατροκλήoς δείλοίο
Μνησάσθω πάσιν γάρ επίστατο μείλιχος είναι
Ζωός εών" νύν δ' αυ θάνατος και Μοίρα κιχάνει.” We have no difficulty in admitting that, during the ten or twelve years which followed the appear.