Page images
PDF
EPUB

Greaten, and that not less eminent philosopher Mr Mackenzie Cocf his. In spite, however, of his connection with these well-known ornaments of our country, he was so ill informed about us as to fancy that our government was always laying plans to torment him. If he was hooted at Sainles, probably by people whose relations he had murdered, it was because the cabinet of St. James had hired the mob. If nobody would read his bad books, it was because the cabinet of St. James had secured the reviewers. His accounts of Mr. Fox, of Mr. Pitt, of the Duke of Wellington, of Mr. Canning, swarm with blunders, surpassing even the ordinary blunders committed by Frenchmen who write about England. Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt, he tells us, were ministers in two different reigns. Mr. Pitt's sinking fund was instituted in order to enable England to pay subsidies to the powers allied against the French Republic. The Duke of Wellington's house in Hyde Park was built by the nation, which twice voted the sum of £200,000 for the purpose. This, however, is exclusive of the cost of the frescoes, which were also paid for out of the public purse. Mr. Canning was the first Englishman whose%eath Europe had reason to lament; for the death of Lord Ward, a relation, we presume, of Lord Greaten and Mr. Co»f his, had been an immense benefit to mankind.

Ignorant, however, as Barere was, he knew enough of us to hate us; and we persuade ourselves that, had he known us better, he would have hated us more. The nation which has combined, beyond all example and all hope, the blessings of liberty with those of order, might well be an object of aversion to one who had been false alike to the cause of order and tj the cause of liberty. We have had amongst us intemperate zeal for popular rights; we have had amongst us also the intemperance of loyalty. But we have never been shocked by such a spectacle as the Barere of 1794, or as the Barere of 1804. Compared with him, our fiercest demagogues have been gentle; compared with him, our meanest courtiers have been manly. Mix together Thistlewood and Bubb Dodington, and you are still far from having Barere. The antipathy between him and us is such, that neither for the crimes of his earlier, nor for those of his later life, does our language, rich as it is, furnish us with adequate names. We have found it difficult to relate his history without having perpetual recourse to the French vocabulary of baseness. It is not easy to give a notion of his conduct in the Convention, without using those emphatic terms, guillotinadt, noyade, fusillade, mtraiUadc. It is not easy to give a notion of his conduct under the consulate and the empire, without borrowing such words as mouchtrrd and mouton.

We, therefore, like his invectives against us much better than any thing else that he has written; and dwell on them, not merely with ccmplacency, but with a feeling akin to gratitude. It was but little, that he could do to pro

mote the honour of our country; but that little, he did strenuously and constantly. Renegade, traitor, slave, coward, liar, slanderer, murderer, hack-writer, police-spy—the one small service which he could render to England, was to hate her: and such as he was may all who hate her be.

We cannot say that we contemplate with equal satisfaction that fervent and constant zeal for religion, which, according to M. Hippolyte Carnot, distinguished Barere; for, as we think that whatever brings dishonour on religion is a serious evil, we had, we own, induiged a hope that Barere was an atheist. We now learn, however, that he was at no time even a sceptic, that he adhered to bis faith through the whole Revolution, and that he has left several manuscript works on divinity. One of these is a pious treatise, entitled, "Of Christianity and of its Influence." Another consists of meditations on the Psalms, which will doubtless greatly console and edify the church.

This makes the character complete. Whatsoever things are false, whatsoever things are dishonest, whatsoever things are unjust, whatsoever things are impure, whatsoever things are hateful, whatsoever things are of evil report, if there be any vice, and if there be any infamy, all these things, we knew, were blended in Barere. But one thing was still wanting, and that M. Hyppolyte Carnot has supplied. When to such an assemblage of qualities a nigh profession of piety is added, the effect becomes overpowering. We sink under the contemplation of such exquisite and nninifold perfection; and feel, with deep humility, how presumptuous it was in us to think of composing the legend of this beatified athlete of the faith, Saint Bertrand of the Carmagnoles.

Something more we had to say about him. But let him go. We did not seek him out, and will not keep him longer. If those who call themselves his friends had not forced him on our notice, we should never have vouchsafed to him more than a passing word of scorn and abhorrence, such as we might fling at his brethren, Hebert and Fouquier Tinville, and Carrier and Lebon. We have no pleasure in seeing human nature thus degraded. We turn with disgust from the filthy and spiteful Yahoos of the fiction; and the filthiest and most spiteful Yahoo of the fiction was a noble creature when compared with the Barere of history. But what is no pleasure, M. Hyppolyte Carnot has made a duty. It is no light thing, that a man in high and honourable public trust, a man who, from his connections and position, may not unnaturally be supposed to speak the sentiments of a large class of his countrymen. should come forward to demand approbation for a life, black with every sort of wickedness, and unredeemed by a single virtue. This M. Hippolite Carnot has done. By attempting to enshrine this Jacobin carrion, he has forced us lu gibbet it; and we venture to say that, from the eminence of infamy on which we have placed it, he will not easily take it down.

MR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY'S POEMS.*

Iedihbcboh Review, Afril, 1830.]

The wise men of antiquity loved to convey instruction tinder the covering of apologue; and, though this practice of theirs is generally thought childish, we shall make no apology for adopting it on the present occasion. A generation which has bought eleven editions of a poem by Mr. Robert Montgomery, may well cortdescend to listen to a fable of Pilpay.

A pions Brahmin, it is written, made a vow that on a certain day he would sacrifice a sheep, and on the appointed morning he went forth to buy one. There lived in his neighbourhood three rogues who knew of his vow, and laid a scheme for profiting by it. The first met him and said, "Oh, Brahmin, wilt thou buy a sheep 1 I have one fit for sacrifice."—"It is for that very purpose," said the holy man, "that I came forth this day." Then the impostor opened a bag, and brought out of it an unclean beast, an ugly dog, lame and blind. Thereon the Brahmin cried out, "Wretch, who touchest things impure, and uttcrest things untroe.'callest thou that cur a sheep 7"—"Truly," answered the other, "it is a sheep of the finest fleece, and of the sweetest flesh. Oh, Brahmin, It will be an offering most acceptable to the <ods."—"Friend," said the Brahmin, "either ion or I must be blind."

Just then one of the accomplices came up.

* Praised be the gods," said this second rogue, •' that I have been saved the trouble of going to the market for a sheep! This is such a sheep as I wanted. For how much wilt thou sell ill" When the Brahmin heard this, his mind waved to and fro, like one swinging in the air at a holy festival. "Sir," said he to the new comer, "take heed what thou dost; this is no sheep, but an unclean cur."—"Oh, Brahmin," said the new comer, "thou art drunk or madr

At this time the third confederate drew near.

* Lei us ask this man," said the Brahmin, "what the creature is, and I will stand by what he shall say." To this the others agreed; and the Brahmin called out, "Oh, stranger, what dost thou call this beast V"—« Surely, oh. Brahmin," said the knave, "it is a fine sheep." Then the Brahmin said, "Surely the gods have taken away my senses,"—and he asked pardon of him who carried the dog, and bought it for a measure of rice and a pot of ghee, and offered it up to the gods, who, being wroth at this unclean sacrifice, smote him with a sore disease in all his joints.

Thus, or nearly thu.-, if we remember rightly, runs the story of the Sanscrit uEsop. The moral, like the moral of every fable that is

The Omnipresmre of the Deity, a Poem. By Robkbt Montoomehy. Eleventh Edition. London. J830.

S. Satan, a P*em. Bv Roop.nr Montgomery. Second Ertillon. London IMC.

Vol. vv_<n

worth the telling, lies on the surface. The writer evidently means to caution us against the practices of puffers,—a class of people who have more than once talked the public into the most absurd errors, but who surely never played a more curious, or a more difficult trick, than when they passed Mr. Roben Montgomery off upon the world as a great poet.

In an age in which there are so few readers that a writer cannot subsist on the sum arising from the sale of his works, no man who has not an independent fortune can devote himself to literary pursuits, unless he is assisted by patronage. In such an age, accordingly, men of letters too often pass their lives in dangling at the heels of the wealthy and powerful; and all the faults which dependence tends to produce, pass into their character. They become the parasites and slaves of the great. It is melancholy to think how many of the-highest and most exquisitely formed of human' intellects have been condemned to the ignominious labor of disposing the commonplaces of adulation in new forms, and brightening them into new splesdour. Horace invoking Augustus in the most enthusiastic language of religious veneration,—Statius flattering a tyrant, and the minion of a tyrant, for a morsel of bread,— Ariosto versifying the whole genealogy of a niggardly patron,—Tasso extolling the heroic virtues of the wretched creature who locked him up in a mad-house,—these are but a few of the instances which might easily be given of the degradation to which those must submit, who, not possessing a competent fortune, are resolved to write when there are scarcely any who read.

This evil the progress of the human mind tends to remove. As a taste for books becomes more and more common, the patronage of individuals becomes less and less necessary. In the earlier part of the last century a marked change took place. The tone of literary men, both in this country and in France, became higher and more independent. Pope boasted that he was the "one poet" who had "pleased by manly ways;" he derided the soft dedica tions with which Halifax had been fed,asserted his own superiority over the pen sioned Boileau,—and glorified in being not the follower, but the friend, of nobles and princes. The explanation of all this is very simple. Pope was the firtt Englishman who, by the mere sale of his writings, realized a sum which enabled him to live in comfort and in perfect independence. Johnson extols him for the magnanimity which he showed in inscribing his Iliad, not to a minister or a peer, but to Congreve. In dur time, this would scarcely be a subject for praise. Nobody is astonished when Mr. Moore pays a complimcrt of tlm kind to Sir Walter Scott, or Sir Walter Scott to Mr. Moore. The idea of either of those gentlemen looking out for some lord who would be likely to give him a few guineas in return for a fulsome dedication, seems laughably incongruous. Yet this is exactly what Dryden or Otway would have done; and it would be hard to blame them for it. Otway is said to have been choked with a piece of bread which he devoured in the rage of hunger; and, whether this story be true or false, he was, beyond all question, miserably poor. Dryden. at near seventy, when at the head of the literary men of England, without equal or second, received three hundred pounds for his Fables —a collection of ten thousand verses,—and such verses as no man then living, except himself, could have produced. Pope, at thirty, had laid up between six and seven thousand pounds,—the fruits of his poetry. It was not, we suspect, because he had a higher spirit, or a more scrupulous conscience, than his predecessors, but because he had a larger income, that he kept up the dignity of the literary character so much better limn they had done.

From the time of Pope to the present day, the readers have been constantly becoming more and more numerous: and the writers, consequently, more and more independent. It is assuredly a great evil, that men fitted by their talents and acquirements to enlighten and charm the world, should be reduced to the necessity of flattering wicked and foolish patrons in return for the very sustenance of life. But though we heartily rejoice that this evil is removed, we cannot but see with concern that another evil has succeeded to it. The public is now the patron, and a most liberal patron. All that the rich and powerful bestowed on authors from the time of Maecenas to that of Harley would not, we apprehend, make up a sum equal to that which has been paid by English booksellers to authors during the last thirty years. Men of letters have accordingly ceased to court individuals, and have begun to court the public. They formerly used flattery. They now use puffing.

Whether the old or trie new vice be the worse,—whether those who formerly lavished insincere praise on others, or those who now contrive by every art of beggary and bribery to stun the public with praises of themselves, disgrace their vocation the more deeply,—we shall not attempt to decide. But of this we are sure,—that it is high time to make a stand against the new trickery. The puffing of books is now so shamefully and so successfully practised, that it is the duty of all who are anxious for the purity of the national taste, or for the honour of the literary character, to join in discountenancing it. All the pens that ever were employed in magnifying Bish's lucky office, Romanis's fleecy hosiery. Packwood's razor strops, and Rowland's Kalydor,

all the placard-bearers of Dr. Eady,—all the wall-chalkers of Day and Martin—seem to have taken service with the poets and novel' ists of this generation. Devices which in the lowest trades are considered as disreputable, are adopted without scruple, and improved

| upon with a despicable ingenuity by people engaged in a pursuit which never was, and never will be, considered as a mere trade by any man of honour and virtue. A butcher of the higher class disdains to ticket his meat. A mercer of the higher class would be ashamedto hang up papers in his window inviting the passers-by to look at the- stock of a bankrupt, all of the first quality, and going for half the value. We expect some reserve, some decent pride, in our hatter and our bootmaker. But no artifice by which notoriety can be obtained is thought too abject for a man of letters.

It is amusing to think over the history of most of the publications which have had a run during the last few years. The publisher is often the publisher of some periodical work. In this periodical work the first flourish of trumpets is sounded. The peal is then echoed and re-echoed by all the other periodical works over which the publisher or the author, or the author's coterie, may have any influence. The newspapers areforafortnightlilltil with puffs of all the various kinds which Sheridan recounted, —direct, oblique, and collusive. Sometimes the praise is laid on thick for simple-minded people. "Pathetic," "sublime," "splendid," "graceful, brilliant wit," "exquisite humour," and other phrases equally flattering, fall in a shower as thick and as sweet as the sugarplums at a Roman carnival. Sometimes greater art is used. A sinecure has been offered to the writer if he would suppress his work, or if he would even soften down a few of his incomparable portraits. A distinguished military and political character has challenged the inimita ble satirist of the vices of the great; and the puffer is glad to learn that the parties have been bound over to keep the peace. Sometimes it is thought expedient that the puffer should put on a grave face, and utter his panegyric in the form of admonition! "Such attacks on private character cannot be too much condemned. ■ Even the exuberant wit of our author, and the irresistible power of his withering sarcasm, are no excuses for that utter disregard which he manifests for the feelings of others. We cannot but wonder that the writer*of such transcendent talents,—a writer who is evidently no stranger to the kindly charilies and sensibilities of our nature, should show so little tenderness to the foibles of noble and distinguished individuals, with whom, it is clear, from every page of his work, that he must have been constantly mingling in society." These are but tame and feeble imitations of the paragraphs with which the daily papers are filled whenever an attorney's clerk or an apothecary's assistant undertakes to tell the public, in bad English and worse French, how people tie their neckcloths and cat their din. ners in Grosvenor Square. The editors of the higher and more respectable newspapers usually prefix the words "Advertisement," or "From a Correspondent," to such paragraphs. But this makes little difference. The panegyric is extracted, and the significant heading omitted. The fulsome eulogy makes its appearance on the covers of all ihe Reviews and Magazines, with "Times" or "Globe" affixed, though the editors of the Times and the Globe have no more to do with it than with Mr. Goss's way of making old rakes young again.

That people who live by personal slander should practise these arts is not surprising. Those who stoop to write calumnious books may well stoop to puff them;—and that the basest of all trades should he carried on in the basest of all manners, is quite proper, and as it should be. Bat how any man, who has the least self-respect, the least regard for his own personal dignity, can condescend to persecute the public with this rag-fair importunity, we do not understand. Extreme poverty may, indeed, in some degree, be an excuse for employing these shifts, as it may be an excuse for stealing a leg of mutton. But we really think that a man of spirit and delicacy would quite as soon satisfy his wants in the one way as in the other.

It is no excuse for an author, that the praises of journalists are procured by the money or influence of the publisher, and not by his own. It is his business to take such precautions as may prevent others from doing what must degrade them. It is for his honour as a gentleman, and, if he is really a man of talents, it will eventually be for his honour and interest as a writer, that his works should come before the public, recommended by their own merits alone, and should be discussed with perfect freedom. If his objects be really such as he may own without shame, he will find that they will, in the long ran, be better attained by suffering the voice of criticism to be fairly heard. At present, we too often see a writer attempting to obtain literary fame as Shakspeare's usurper obtains sovereignty. The publisher plays Buckingham to the author's Richard. Some few creatures of the conspiracy are dexterously disposed here and there in a crowd. It is the business of these hirelings to throw up their caps, and clap their hands, and utter their vivas. The rabble at first stare and wonder, and at last join in shouting for shouting's sake; and thus a crown is placed on the head which has no right to it, by the huzzas of a few servile dependants.

The opinion of the great body of the Beading public is very materially influenced even by the unsupported assertions of those who assume a right to criticise. Nor is the public altogether to blame on this account. Most, even of those who have really a great enjoyment in reading, are in the same state, with respect to a book, in which a man, who has never given particular attention to the art of painting, is with respect to a picture. Every man who has the least sensibility or imagination, derives a certain pleasure from pictures. Yet a man of the highest and finest intellect might, unless he had formed his taste by contemplating the best pictures, be easily persuaded by a knot of connoisseurs that the worst daub in 8omerset-hoase was a miracle of art. If he deserves to be laughed at, it is not for his ignorance of pictures, but for his ignorance of men. He knows that there is a delicacy of taste in painting which he docs not possess; that he cannot discriminate hands, as prac

tised judges can; that he is not familliar with the finest models; that he has never looked at them with close attention; and that, when the general effect of a piece has pleased him, or displeased him, he has never troubled himself to ascertain why. When, therefore, people whom he thinks more competent to judge than himself, and of whose sincerity he entertains no doubt, assure him that a particular work is exquisitely beautiful, he takes it for granted that they must be in the right. He returns to the examination, resolved to find or imagine beauties; and if he can work himself up into something like admiration, he exults in his own proficiency.

Just such is the manner in which nine readers out of ten judge of a book. They are ashamed to dislike what men, who speak as having authority, declare to be good. At pre sent, however contemptible a poem or a novel may be, there is not the least difficulty in procuring favourable notices of it from all sorts of publications, daily, weekly, and monthly, la the mean time, little or nothing is said on the other side. The author and the publisher are interested in crying up the book. Nobody has any very strong interest in crying it down. Those who are best fitted to guide the public opinion, think it beneath them to expose mere nonsense, and comfort themselves by reflecting that such popularity cannot last. This contemptuous lenity has been carried too far. It is perfectly true, that refutations which have been forced into an unnatural bloom, fade almost as soon as they have expanded; nor have we any apprehensions that puffing will ever raise any scribbler to the rank of a classic. It is, indeed, amusing to turn over some late volumes of periodical works, and to see how many immortal productions have, within a few months, been gathered to the poems of Blackmore and the novels of Mrs. Behn; how many "profound views of human nature," and " exq uisite delineations of fashionable manners," and "vernal, and. sunny, and refreshing thoughts," and "high imaginings," and "young breathings," and "embodyings," and "pinings," and "minglings with the beauty of the universe," and "harmonies which dissolve the soul in a passionate sense of loveliness and divinity," the world has contrived to forget. The names of the books and the writers are buried in as deep an oblivion as the name of the builder of Stonehedge. Some of the well-puffed "fashionable novels" of the last, hold the pastry of the present year; and other" of the class, which are now extolled in language almost too high-flown for the merits of Don Quixote, will, we have no doubt, line the trunks of eighteen hundred <md thirty-one. But though we have no apprehensions that puffing will ever confer permanent reputation on the undeserving, we still think its influence most pernicious. Men of leai merit will, if Ihey persevere, at last reach the station to which they are entitled, and intruders will be ejected with contempt and derision. 'But it is no small evil that the avenues to fame should be blocked up by a swarm of noisy, pushing, elbowing pretenders, who, though they will not ultimately b« able to make Koci their own entrance, hinder, in the mean time, those who have a right to enter. All who will not disgrace themselves by joining in the unseemly scuffle, must expect to be at first hustled and shouldered back. Some men of talents, accordingly, turn away in dejection from pursuits in which success appears to bear no proportion to desert. Others employ in selfdefence the means by which competitors, far inferior to themselves, appear for a time to obtain a decided advantage. There are few who have sufficient confidence in their own powers, and sufficient elevation of mind, to wait with sec ute and contemptuous patience, while dunce after dunce presses before them. Those who will not stoop to the baseness of the modern fashion are too often discouraged. Those who stoop to it are always degraded.

We have of late observed with great pleasure some symptoms which lead us to hope, that respectable literary men of all parties are beginning to be impatient of this insufferable nuisance. And we purpose to do what in us lies for the abating of it. We do not think that we can more usefully assist in this good work, than by showing our honest countrymen what that sort of poetry is which puffing can drive through eleven editions; and how easy any bellman might, if a bellman would stoop to the necessary degree of meanness, become ■ a master-spirit of the age." We have no enmity to Mr. Robert Montgomery. We know nothing whatever about him, except what we have learned from h'is books, and from the portrait prefixed to one of them, in which he appears to be doing his very best to look like a man of genius and sensibility, though with less success than his strenuous exertions deserve. We select him, because his works have received more enthusiastic praise, and have deserved more unmixed contempt, than any which, as far as our knowledge extends, have appeared within the last three or four years. His writing bears the same relation to poetry which a Turkey carpet bears to a picture There are colours in the Turkey carpet, out of which a picture might be made. There are words in Mr. Montgomery's verses, which when disposed in certain orders and combinations, have made, and will again make, good poetry. But, as they now stand, they seem to be put together on principle, in such a manner as to give no image of any thing in the "heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth."

The poem on the Omiriprwenre of the Deity commences with a description of the creation, in which we can find only one thought which has the least pretension to ingenuity, and that one thought is stolen from Dryden, and marred in the stealing—

"Last, softly beautiful as music's clone,
Angelic woman Into being roes."

rhe all-pervading influence of the Supreme Being is then described in a few tolerable linesborrowed from Pope, and, a great many intolerable lines of Mr. Robert Montgomery's own. '•"he fol.owing may stand as a specimen—

"But who could trace Thine unremitted Cootm.
Though Fanry follow'd with immortal force?
There's nol a blossom fondled by the hreexe.
There's not a fruit that beautifies the trees.
There's nol a panicle in sea or air.
But nature owns thy plastic influence there I
With fearful ease, stilt be it mine to see
How all is rilled and vivified by Thee;
Upon thy mirror, earth's majectic view,
To paint Thy Presence, and to feel it too."

The last two lines contain an excellent specimen of Mr. Robert Montgomery's Turkey carpet style of writing. The inajertic view of earth is the mirror of God's presence; and on this mirror Mr. Robert Montgomery paints God's presence. The use of a mirror, we submit, is nol to be painted upon.

A few more lines, as bad as those which we have quoted, bring us to one of the most amusing instances of literary pilfering which we remember. It might be of use to plagiarists to know as a general rule, that what they steal is, to employ a phrase common in advertisements, of no use to any but Ihe right owner. We never fell in, however, with any, plunderer who so little understood how to turn his booty to good account as Mr. Montgomery. Lord Byron, in a passage which every body knows by heart, has said, addressing the sea,

"Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow."

Mr. Robert Montgomery very cooly appropriates ihe image, and reproduces the stolen goods in ihe following form I

"And thou, vast Ocean, on whose awful face
Time's iron feel can print no ruin trace."

So may such ill-got gains ever prosper!

The effect' which the Ocean produces on Atheists is then described in the following lofty lines:

"Oh! never did the dark-soul'd Atheist stand,
And wati h the breakers boiling on the sirand.
And, while creation staggered at his nod.
Mock the dread presence of the mighty fiod!
We hear 111m in Ihe wind .heaved orean's roar,
HurlingJier billowy crags upon the shores
We hear him in the riot of the blast.
And shake, while rush the raving whirlwinds past:"

•f Mr. Robert Montgomery's genius were not far too free and aspiring to be shackled by the rules of syntax, we should suppose that it is at the nod, of the Atheist that creation shudders, and that it is this same dark-souled Atheist who hurls billowy crags upon the shore.

A few more lines bring us to another instance of unprofitable theft. Sir Walter Scott has these lines in the Lord of the Isles,

"The dew that on the violet lies.
Mocks the dark lustre of thine eyes."

This is pretty, taken separately, and, as is almost always the case with good things of good writers, much prettier in its place than can even be conceivW by those who see it only detached from the context. Now for Mr. Montgomery—

"And the bright dew-bead on the bramble lies. Like liquid rapture upon beauty's eyes."

The comparison of a violet, bright with the dew, to a woman's eyes, is as perfect as a comparison can be. Sir Walters lines are part of a song addressed to a woman, and the

« PreviousContinue »