Page images
PDF
EPUB

We are mistaken if the following remarks, in the Atlas newspaper, upon a criticism of Sir Walter Scott's, are not by the same hand. We know not whether we are trenching on any newspaper delicacies; and whatever might be thought to the contrary from our own connexions, are really not aware whether the author has any regard for ourselves; nor did we ever so much as see him; but unless somebody here has been catching his style, he is the only prose author (now writing) whom we look upon as a man of wit in the good old sense of the word,—and who makes us laugh. Elia, it seems, will write no longer, though we have not given up all hopes of his throwing in an eleemosinary joke or so to this our Companion. Mr Hazlitt makes us think and feel; puts our faculties to the utmost; and renders dishonest critics and politicians very contemptible: but he is not a man of wit, nor does he make us laugh for laughing's sake. Sir Walter Scott (and we have now named the only three writers to whose volumes we are in the habit of turning, for the pleasure of reading them again and again) can paint humorous characters, at which we laugh; but neither is he a man of wit; his sentences do not tell after the manner of Swift and others; his ideas are not laughable, unconnected with the whole history of a man's character and behaviour: they are not bappy in themselves and from immediate juxta-position; and indeed he abounds as little as any man in quotable sentences, whether serious or comic. There is perhaps no man of genius that ever wrote (unless it be Smollet) from whom you can less extract mottos or pithy sayings: and the reason is, that he is nothing except as a painter of what has gone before him, and a writer of narrative. He is a

in her letter; and Lord Howden, a tolerant nobleman enough, in his reply concurs so completely in the sentiment as to say, “Situated as the world is, and with so much of the same going on in every direction, among the very highest as well as those of an humble class, I cannot bring myself to consider it as an inexpiable offence; but had he done what you suspected that he hadbrought and fixed the person in your village, as it may be said at your very door, I should, as you did, have deemed it a crime and an insult not to be pardonedan act of insanity scarcely to be conceived.'

• From this position we may arrive at some mathematical conclusions in morals. The crime in question increases in direct proportion to its propinquity to the great lady's house. At her door it is unpardonable; a league off, the way of the world. It is thus, according to two exalted authorities, argued as entirely a matter of topography, and the degree of peccability is regulated by the distance from the mansion of the mistress of the estate.”Rationale of Polite Morals.

very great novelist; a very mediocre poet; and to our thinking, no critic at all. He is so great a man in one way, that he cannot but interest you in any. Let him talk ever so wide of the mark, he talks agreeably; but his criticism, we think, is nothing but agreeable talking, and that of nothing new. He lives entirely in the past; and cannot think, feel, or hope anything, that is not made up of the great mass of conventionality; the very shadow of which haunts and holds him in like a talisman; so that he cannot laugh but there is something melancholy at the bottom of it; nor feel anything but the anger of timidity and hopelessness, at those who seek for an enlightenment of the darkness. It is curious to find him, in the passage here criticised, expressing his opinion, that mankind at large-the inhabitants of his “ vale of blood and tears,” (as he has called it)—are more sensible of the comic than the pathetic. We should fancy there was more at the bottom of this mistake, than appears at first sight; but it is only one of the sure and certain errors which he commits, when he undertakes to be critical. He has been taking some other mistake for a principle to go upon, and made an erroneous deduction accordingly. It would be enough for him, for instance, to consider that Molière was more popular in the world at large than Racine; and from this circumstance, as if Racine and pathos were the same thing, because there are pathetic things in that author, he would conclude that comedy is more popular than tragedy.—But to our extract.

“Sir Walter Scott, in an article on Molière, in the Foreign Quarterly Review,” says our pleasant critic, “affirms that 'the sense of the comics is far more general among mankind, and far less altered and modified by the artificial rules of society, than that of the pathetic; and that a hundred men of different ranks, or different countries, will laugh at the same jest, when not five of them perhaps would blend their tears over the same point of sentiment. Take, for example, the Dead Ass of Sterne, and reflect how few would join in feeling the pathos of that incident, in comparison with the numbers who would laugh in chorus till their eyes ran over at the too lively steed of the redoubtable John Gilpin.'

“It may be conceded that a hundred men of different ranks and different countries will laugh at the same jest, when not five of them perhaps would blend their tears over the same point of sentiment'-simply because it is not the habit of men to indicate their sensibility by tears, and it is their habit to manifest their mirth by laughter. The test proposed is therefore a false one. Newspaper editors indeed shed a tear over the distress of Ireland, and the ravages of Greece, or the troubles of Portugal; but we are aware of no other class of men who make a boast and parade of their larmoyant propensities; and we have considerable doubts whether the said editors are as good as their word when they make these shed-a-tear professions. For this we can vouch, speaking from some experience, that we never caught one of them in the act of weeping over the woes of the world when composing; and we have often wished them to inform us of the opportunity they take to drop their tear. We use the word in the singular, as the newspaper establishments in their collective capacity (expressed by the we) only club a tear.

“So much for the test of weeping.

“The example we consider as faulty as the test. Few may, we grant, join in feeling the pathos of the incident of the Dead Ass in Sterne, while many will laugh in chorus at the performances of John Gilpin; but will this observation tend to prove that the comic is more generally apprehended than the pathetic? Are we quite certain that the Dead Ass of Sterne is as true to the pathetic as the adventures of John Gilpin are to the comic? Our own opinion is, that genuine pathos will be felt by a greater number of persons than genuine comedy, and naturally with increased intensity. In youth, tragedy is preferred to comedy; and it is only as we acquire knowledge of the world that our delight in tragedy gives place to a relish for comedy. Of the million who live, and breathe, and see, and hear, without acquiring this knowledge, or acquiring only a slender portion, the large majority retain their admiration for tragedy. Ask the vulgar which they prefer, a tragedy or a comedy, and we are persuaded that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the answer will be tragedy. We are ready to concede to Sir Walter Scott his Dead Ass; we admit that John Gilpin will ride triumphantly over it; and we think that if he meets Maria washing on the road, he will prove too much for her also, and her pockethandkerchief to boot; but we will match Le Fevre against even John Gilpin- and here is the less doubtful pathetic placed in comparison with the true broad comic.

“From his portable form, Gilpin has an advantage which is scarcely fair over most prose instances; but, in his own metrical lists, we would pit against him, as a candidate for popularity, the ballad of the Babes in the Wood.

“Sir Walter Scott has, we think, erred in his comparative estimate of the sensibility to the pathetic and the comic, from attaching an undue weight to the outward indications. Men generally feel pathos more than they choose to express it, and express more mirth than they feel. The indication of deep feeling is repressed as a weakness, while that of merriment is rather volunteered as a sign of good humour. For this reason, independent of other reasons of equal force, we may, as Sir Walter says, find a hundred men to laugh together at a joke, while it is almost impossible to beat up two or three Billy Lackadays to blend their tears over the same point of sentiment. Weeping is, however, not the test of sensibility.” :

This is a long extract for our small work; but our Companions must imagine we are reading it to them at table. It is not the first time. The “ other reasons of equal force," which are numerous, we shall endeavour to supply in a future article; unless we can get a friend of ours, a true critic, and of the first order, to do it better. Sir Walter has forgotten, among forty other things, that comedy itself is founded in manners and sophistications, and is the greater in proportion as it illustrates some contradiction to what is natural; whereas the pathetic has to do with the whole circle of humanity, in savage nations and civilized, and in the shape, not only of sorrow and mortality, and every tragic experience that is common toʻus, but of hope, and even joy, and everything beyond the artificial.

THE ROUÉ. [The title of Roué by the bye is surely a mistake,-meaning rather a worn-out old libertine, broken on the wheel of his bonnes fortunes, than a young one in full possession of it.] We have got among the good things of our neighbours this week, and know not where to leave off. This comes of reading the papers. We only wish we had nothing to do but to make extracts every week, and comment upon them. We quote the following passage however from one of the above newspapers, to object as well as agree. The writer praises the new novel for its “ intellectual vigour and literary mastery,” but thinks it dangerous. Now there is surely no literary mastery in it. It is constantly missing the word proper to be used, and is even full of mistakes in grammar. We particularly allude to the repetition of the conjunction that. But the author is a very shrewd, and for all the pains he has bestowed on his libertine hero, we should think a very good-hearted observer. He writes with great dash and animal spirits, pouring out cleverness and common-places in abundance, like good or bad wine, no matter which, so that the stream flows on; and by no means loses sight, as he goes, of the claims, the virtues, and (though he hardly dares to say as much to himself, or perhaps would think it wise in his generation) of the hopes of humanity. We thank him for his picture of Mrs Tresor, whom that clever fool of a fellow, his hero, might have loved to so much better purpose. And poor Fanny Pearson, the reckless and bloated wanderer in the streets, once all that was lovely! His account of her is in the innermost part of the heart of tragedy, and well and manfully done. He minces nothing loathsome, in his zeal for a cure; for though he sees no cure after the ordinary fashion, we are much mistaken if he is altogether without hope for one of a better sort, and if the object of his book is not to hint as much. At all events we are sure there is nothing dangerous in it. " The idea,” says the critic we have just alluded to," of a man who bends all the attraction of a fine person, and powers of a highly-cultivated mind, to systematic seduction, is anything but a new conception ; but it is dealt with very forcibly in the present instance, and the work being written with a perfect knowledge of the world of fashion of the day, will succeed much better than it ought to do.

Yet,” he continues, “ it makes its villain the victim of his own selfish treachery after all, but not exactly in the right way to operate beneficially, nor in fact correctly as to verisimilitude. However flauntily and triumphantly the general seducer may carry it, sooner or later in his career he is sure to find, on striking the balance, that in real happiness he is a loser. How frequently does he discover that his victim has fallen a sacrifice to vanity rather than love ; how often, with all his skill, is he made a dupe, and played upon by female artifice in return! What thorns often attend on the stupid éclat in which his vanity so much delights! The late Sir

« PreviousContinue »