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Elished scholar, every person of opulence and power was umble and charitable, and every prelate an apostle. Astraa must have left the earth much later than report has commonly given out.
The letters of the Doctor's friends constitute the smaller, yet a considerable proportion of the series. Those of-Mrs. Montagu are greatly superior to the rest, and excel in some respects those of Dr. Beattie himself. The general praise of good language is due to the whole collection. It may appear a caprice of our taste, to dislike the frequent recurrence of the words credit and creditable. "Highly creditable to his understanding and his heart," "does equal credit to his talents and his character," &c. &c. are phrases returning so often, that they become disagreeable intruders on the eye and ear. The sameness of phrase is however strikingly relieved by novelty of application, in a letter of condolence from a learned prelate to Dr. Beattie, after the death of his second son. Vol. II. p. 309. The mourning father is told that, "The faith, the piety, the fortitude, displayed by so young a man, on so awful an occasion, do infinite credit to him." As if dying were a matter of exhibition, to be performed handsomely to please the spectators.
Among the sensible and entertaining pieces of criticism to be found in the Doctor's letters, we might refer to his observations on the novel of Clarissa, Ossian's poems, the Nouvelle Eloisej Metastasio, Tasso, Cajsar's Commentaries, the diction of the Orientals, and the Henriade. In connection with the subjects of criticism, are the curious remarks on the character of Petrarch, and the truly fantastic picture of Lord Monboddo. A selection of about one third of the materials composing these volumes, would make a very interesting and instructive l?ook.
Though we have complained of the mass of extraneous matter, yet some of the facts incidentally related, are such as ought not to have been lost. The account of the excellent lady, whose husband, with all his property, perished at sea, and who was niece to the once celebrated Mrs. Catharine Cockburn, would be very interesting, were we not convinced, from the internal evidence, that it is most incorrectly stated. According to this account she lived, till that late period when Mrs. Montagu settled on her an annuity for the short remainder of her life, in great penury; insomuch that it was a matter of wonder how she contrived to preserve a tolerable appearance in respect of clothing. Now this must be an utter mistake or misrepresentation; for we are told that she Was ^vell known to many persons of eminent rank, and in particular was highly esteemed by the Duchesss of Gordon, the possessor, as we learn from Dr. Beattie, of every beneficent virtue, as well as every charm, under heaven. The transport of surprise and gratitude displayed by the aged sufferer,' on heing informed what Mrs. Montagu had done, and which the narrative of Dr. Beattie and Sir vV. Forbes would really leave us to attribute to her having never experienced much bounty before, was owing unquestionably to a very different cause. It was her benevolent joy that a part of the ample supplies which she had received from her former munificent patrons and patronesses, and especially the Duchess, might now be applied to the support of other deserving persons in distress. While remarking on the error of the statement, it strikes us as equally singular and meritorious, that ri'e, who were never honoured with a smile or nod from a peer or peeress, that we, in our obscure garrets, labouring at our occupation during the day by the few glimpses of light that can steal through windows almost stopped up with old hats and bits of board to keep out the rain, and during the night by the lustre of farthing candles, should be more solicitous about the reputation of people of high rank, than Sir W. Forbes, the intimate friend of so many of them, appears in this instance to have been. We hope that this our virtue, in default of other recompense, will be its own reward; and we trust it will be a pledge, that, whatever culpable dispositions may belong to reviewers, they feel no inclination to speak evil of dignities.
We could have wished to entertain an unmingled respect for the moral habits and religious views of Dr. Beattie; and it is an ungracious thing to detect any signs of a moral latitude inconsistent with the religion which he wished to defend. One of these signs is his passion for the theatre. Who would ever dream, on reading the following passage, that it could have been written by a zealous friend of the religion of Christ?
I rejoice to hear that Mr. Garrick is so well as to be able to appear in tragedy. It is in vain to indulge one's self in unavailing complaints, otherwise I could rail by the hour at Dame Fortune, for placing me beyond the reach of that arch-magician, as Horace would have called him. I well remember, and I think I can never forget, how he once affected me in Macbeth, and made me almost throw myself over the front seat of the two shilling gallery, I wish I had another opportunity of risking my neck and nerves in the same cause. To fall by the hands of Garrick and Shakespeare would ennoble my memory to all generations. To be serious, if all actors were like this one, I do not think it would be possible for a person of sensibility to outlive the representation of Hamlet, Lear, or Macbeth: wh'ch, by the bye, seems to suggest a reason for that mixtuie of comedy and tragedy of which our great poet was so fond, and which the Frcnehifyed crities think such an intolerable outrage both against nature and decency. Against nature, it is no outage at all; the inferior officers of a court know very little of what passes among kings and statesmen; and maybe very merry, when their superiors are very sad; and if so the, Porter's Soliloquy in Macbeth may be a very just imitation of nature. And I can never accuse of indecency the man, who, by the introduction of a little unexpected merriment, saves me from a disordered head, or a broken heart. If Shakespeare knew his own powers, he must have seen the necessity of tempering his tragic rage, by a mixture of comic ridicule ; otherwise there was some danger of his running into greater excesses than deer-stealing, by sporting with the lives of all the people of taste in these realms. Other play-wrights must conduct their approaches to the human heart with the utmost circumspection, a single false step may make them lose a great deal of ground; but Shakespeare made his way to it at once, and could make his audience burst their sides this moment, and break their hearts the next—I have often seen Hamlet performed by the underlings of the theatre, but none of these seemed to understand what they were about. Hamlet's character, though perfectly natural, is so very uncommon, that few, even of our critics, can enter into it. Sorrow, indignation, revenge, and consciousness of his own irresolution, tear his heart; th'e peculiarity' of his circumstances often obliges him to counterfeit madness, and the storm of passions'within him often drives him to the verge of real madness. This produces a situation so interesting, and a conduct so complicated, as none'but Shakespeare could have had the courage to describe, and none but Garrick will ever be able to exhibit.—Excuse this rambling; I know you like the subject; and for my part I like it so 'much, that when I once get in, I am not willing- to iind my way out of it." Vol. I. pp. 218— '220.
Werriayalso be allowed to ask, how it consisted with that full approbation which he uniformly avowed of the established cHurch of England, to- spend the Sabbath in a convivial party with Sir J. Reynolds, baretti, and other persons, some of whom would most likely have laughed at him, had he hinted any recollection of the' duty of public worship. This w^s not' 'a 'singular offence with him.
Religious opinions, in the strict sense, are scarcely disclosed, in any part of the work, except occasionally by implication, as.in the following sentence: "The virtue of even the best man ritusti, in order to appear meritorious at the great tribunal, have something added to it which man cannot bestow." We were sincerely grieved to meet with so grand a mistake of the nature of" Christianity. On the whole, we fear Dr. Beattie conformed in his moral principles' too much to the fashion of reputable men of the world, and in his religious ones too much to the fashion of scholars arid philosophers. This fear was iii no degree obviated, by our finding the first of his jjrecepts to a young minister of the gospel to be exactly this, '—" Read the classics day and night.'' We were forcibly" reminded,-by contrast, of. the injunctions given to Timothy by the prince of. tlie apostles. , , „ , , • .. . . ■
We question too, whether the Doctor, in another instance, acquitted himself very uprightly as a " Soul-doctor," (for thus he ternis himself;) we refer to his-prescription for a nobU Duchess, whose name occurs very often within-these pages. There was a period* we find, when that lady.was disposed to. solitude and reflection; one of those awful periods at which the destiny of an individual seems oscillating in suspence, and a small influence of advice, or circumstance, has the power to decide it. How Dr. Beattie used this entrusted moment, may be seen from the following admonitions.
'Seasons of recollection may be useful; but when one begins to find pleasure in sighing over Young's "Night Thoughts" in a coiner, it i» time to shut the book, and returnto the company....Such things may help to soften a rugged mind; and I believe I might hive been the better for them. But your Grace's heart is already "too feelingly alive to each fine in>A pulse;" and, therefore, to y u I would recommend gay thoughts, cheerful books, and sprightly company." Vol. II. pp. 28,29. t ',
We are doubtful which most to admire, the rigid friendship^ '. of the adviser, or the notorious docility of the pupil; the degree in which they both exemplify the predominance of a devotional spirit, appears to be nearly equal.
Here our remarks must be concluded. The closing part of' Dr. Beattie's life is as affecting as any tragedy we ever read, and will appeal irresistibly to the sympathy of every reader who can reflect or feel. His health had been ruined by intense study, and the hopeless grief arising from the circumstance already mentioned.. Under the loss of his nearest relative by what'* was far worse than her death, his elder son, an admirable youth, became the object of; unbounded affection. At the ag« of- twenty-two he died. A few years after, his remaining son,' •flot equally interesting with the other, but yet an excellent young man, died also; The afflicted parent manifested a resignation to the divine will which cannot be surpassed. But nature sunk by degrees into a state, from which his friends could not but congratulate his deliverance by death.
*** Since this article was prepared for the press, we hays learnt that Sir W. Forbes is dead. If while writing any part of it we had been /conscious" of violating the principles of' critical justice, the feelings awakened by such' a seriou*?' event would have constrained us to alter it.
Art. III. An (A) Historical View of the Rise and Progress of Infidelity; with a Refutation of its Principles and Reasonings: in Sermons preached for the Lecture founded by the Hon. Mr. Boyle, from 1802 to 1805. By the Rev. William Van Mildert, M. A. Rector of St. Mary Le Bow, London. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. xxvii, 495,495. Price lCs. Rivingtons. 1806.
Ty E feci more than common pleasure in devoting our pages to the notice of works, whose tendency is to promote the best interests of human kind; which detect and expose error in its diversified forms, maintain the essential importance of Revealed Religion, and contend for its distinguishing principles. Of this description are the volumes now before us, which with much satisfaction we introduce to our readers.
Mr. Van Mildert assigns, as an inducement for the publication of these volumes, a desire to recall genera) attention to the Institution founded by that great and good man, the Hon. Robert Boyle We observe with some concern, that, during a period of great exertion and hostility on the part of Infidels, the Sermons preached by the Boylean Lecturers were confined to the congregations before which they were delivered. The last of those which have been printed, were published in the year H83. Mr. V. M.'s motive is entitled to our approbation, . and we shall be glad to find that his wish and example are not expressed or given in vain.
These volumes contain twenty-four Sermons; in which it is proposed to treat Infidelity systematically; to exhibit it in its true and proper light, as the work of that evil Spirit who was a murderer from the beginning; to shew its invariable tendency to evil, and its repugnance to the happiness of mankind.
In the first volume, the author takes a comprehensive view of the attempts made to counteract the.revealed will of God, in the times antecedent to the Christian dispensation, by the _ introduction and prevalence of Idolatry; and considers the opposition of Jews and Gentiles to the Gospel, and their various efforts to overthrow it, to the downfall of Paganism in the Roman empire ;—The rise and progress of Mahometanism ;—The Papal usurpations;—The state of Infidelity during the middle ages;—The Reformation, and the efforts made to, overthrow it;—The origin of Deism, and its history to the present time. In this historical sketch, many important facts are stated, and much interesting discussion occurs, which will ■impart instruction and benefit to the serious reader, increase his veneration for the Oracles of God, and establish him in "the faith once delivered to the saints."