Page images
PDF
EPUB

Combe appears to Macaulay it would be a difficult thing to say. What Macaulay is thought of by Combe we can understand very well. The man who looks at an argument in its details alone, will not fail to be misled by the one; while he who keeps steadily in view the generality of a thesis will always at least approximate the truth under guidance of the other.

Macaulay's tendency--and the tendency of mere logic in general—to concentrate force upon minutiæ, at the expense of a subject as a whole, is well instanced in an article (in the volume now before us) on Ranke' History of the Popes. This article is called a review-possibly because it is anything else-as lucus is lucus a non lucendo. In fact it is nothing more than a beautifully written treatise on the main theme of Ranke himself; the whole matter of the treatise being deduced from the History. In the way of criticism there is nothing worth the name. The strength of the essayist is put forth to account for the progress of Romanism by maintaining that divinity is not a progressive science. The enigmas, says he in substance, which perplex the natural theologian are the same in all ages, while the Bible, where alone we are to seek revealed truth, has always been what it is.

The manner in which these two propositions are set forth, is a model for the logician and for the student of belles lettres—yet the error into which the essayist has rushed headlong, is egregious. He attempts to deceive his readers, or has deceived himself, by confounding the nature of that proof from which we reason of the concerns of earth, considered as man's habitation, and the nature of that evidence from which we reason of the same earth regarded as a unit of that vast whole, the universe. In the former case the data being palpable, the proof is direct : in the latter it is purely analogical Were the indications we derive from science, of the nature and designs of Deity, and thence, by inference, of man's destiny-were these indications proof direct, no advance in science would strengthen them-for, as our author truly observes, “nothing could be added to the force of the argument which the mind finds in every beast, bird, or flower”—but as these indications are rigidly analogical, every step in human knowledgeevery astronomical discovery, for instance-throws additional light upon the august subject, by extending the range of analogy. That we know no more to-day of the nature of Deity--of its purposes -and thus of man himself—than we did even a dozen years ago -is a proposition disgracefully absurd ; and of this any astronomer could assure Mr. Macaulay. Indeed, to our own mind, the only irrefutable argument in support of the soul's immortalityor, rather, the only conclusive proof of man's alternate dissolution and re-juvenescence ad infinitum-is to be found in analogies deduced from the modern established theory of the nebular cosmogony.* Mr. Macaulay, in short, has forgotten that he frequently forgets, or neglects,-the very gist of his subject. He has forgotten that analogical evidence cannot, at all time, be discoursed of as if identical with proof direct. Throughout the whole of his treatise he has made no distinction whatever.

CHARLES LEVER. *

The first point to be observed in the consideration of "Charles O'Malley." is the great popularity of the work. We believe that in this respect it has surpassed even the inimitable compositions of Mr. Dickens. At all events it has met with a most extensive sale ; and, although the graver journals have avoided its discussion, the ephemeral press has been nearly if not quite unanimous in its praise. To be sure the commendation, although unqualified, cannot be said to have abounded in specification, or to have been, in any regard, of a satisfactory character to one seeking precise ideas on the topic of the book's particular merit. It appears to us, in fact, that the cabalistical words "fun" “ rollicking” and “ devilmay-care,” if indeed words they be, have been made to stand in good stead of all critical comment in the case of the work now under review. We first saw these dexterous expressions in a fly-leaf of

* This cosmogony demonstrates that all existing bodies in the universe are formed of a nebular matter, a rare ethereal medium, pervading spaceshows the mode and laws of formation and proves that all things are in a perpetual state of progress--that nothing in nature is perfected.

+ Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon. By Harry Lorrequer. With Forty Illustrations by Phiz. Complete in one volume. Carey & Hart: Philadelphia

“ Opinions of the Press” appended to the renowned “ Harry Lorrequer” by his publisher in Dublin. Thence transmitted, with complacent echo, from critic to critic, through daily, weekly and monthly journals without number, they have come at length to form a pendant and a portion of our author's celebrity-have come to be regarded as sufficient response to the few ignoramuses, who, obstinate as ignorant, and fool-hardy as obstinate, venture to propound a question or two about the true claims of " Harry Lorrequer" or the justice of the pretensions of “ Charles O'Malley."

We shall not insult our readers by supposing any one of them unaware of the fact, that a book may be even exceedingly popular without any legitimate literary merit. This fact can be proven by numerous examples which, now and here, it will be unnecessary and perhaps indecorous to mention. The dogma, then, is absurdly false, that the popularity of a work is prima facie evidence of its excellence in some respects; that is to say, the dogma is false if we confine the meaning of excellence (as here of course it must be confined) to excellence in a literary sense. The truth is, that the popularity of a book is prima facie evidence of just the converse of the proposition—it is evidence of the book's demerit, inasmuch as it shows a “stooping to conquer"—inasmuch at it shows that the author has dealt largely, if not altogether, in matters which are susceptible of appreciation by the mass of mankind --by uneducated thought-by uncultivated taste, by unrefined and unguided passion. So long as the world retains its present point of civlization, so long will it be almost an axiom that no extensively popular book, in the right application of the term, can be a work of high merit, as regards those particulars of the work which are popular. A book may be readily sold, may be universally read, for the sake of some half or two-thirds of its matter, which half or two-thirds may be susceptible of popular appreciation, while the one-half or onethird remaining may be the delight of the highest intellect and genius, and absolute caviare to the rabble. And just as

Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, so will the writer of fiction, who looks most sagaciously to his own interest, combine all votes by intermingling with his loftier efforts such amount of less ethereal matter as will give general currency to his composition. And here we shall be pardoned for quoting some

observations of the English artist, H. Howard. Speaking of imitation, he

says: The pleasure that results from it, even when employed upon the most ordinary materials, will always render that property of our art the most attractive with the majority, because it may be enjoyed with the least mental exertion. All men are in some degree judges of it. The cobbler in his own line may criticise Apelles; and popular opinions are never to be wholly disregarded concerning that which is addressed to the public—who, to a certain extent, are generally right; although as the language of the refined can never be intelligible to the uneducated, so the higher styles of art can never be acceptable to the multitude. In proportion as a work rises in the scale of intellect, it must necessarily become limited in the number of its admirers, For this reason the judicious artist, even in his loftiest efforts, will endeavor to introduce some of those qualities which are interesting to all, as a passport for those of a more intellectual character.

And these remarks upon painting--remarks which are mere truisms in themselves--embody nearly the whole rationale of the .topic now under discussion. It may be added, however, that the skill with which the author addresses the lower taste of the populace, is often a source of pleasure, because of admiration, to a taste higher and more refined, and may be made a point of comment and of commendation by the critic.

In our review of “ Barnaby Rudge,” we were prevented, through want of space, from showing how Mr. Dickens had so well succeeded in uniting all suffrages. What we have just said, however, will suffice upon this point. While he has appealed, in innumerable regards, to the most exalted intellect, he has meanwhile invariably touched a certain string whose vibrations are omni-prevalent. We allude to his powers of imitation —that species of imitation to which Mr. Howard has referencethe faithful depicting of what is called still-life, and particularly of character in humble condition. It is his close observation and imitation of nature here which have rendered him popular, while his higher qualities, with the ingenuity evinced in addressing the general taste, have secured him the good word of the informed and intellectual.

But this is an important point upon which we desire to be distinctly understood. We wish here to record our positive dissent (be that dissent worth what it may) from a very usual opinionthe opinion that Mr. Dickens has done justice to his own genius -that any man ever failed to do grievous wrong to his own genius-in appealing to the popular judgment at all. As a matter

VOL. III.-19.

of pecuniary policy alone, is any such appeal defensible. But we speak, of course, in relation to fame-in regard to that

spur which the true spirit doth raise To scorn delight and live laborious days. That a perfume should be found by any “true spirit" in the incense of mere popular applause, is, to our own apprehension at least, a thing inconceivable, inappreciable, –a paradox which gives the lie unto itself-a mystery more profound than the well of Democritus. Mr. Dickens has no more business with the rabble than a seraph with a chapeau de bras. What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba? What is he to Jacques Bonhomme* or Jacques Bonhomme to him! The higher genius is a rare gift and divine. Ω 'ταλλων ου παυτι ραεινεται, ος μιν ιση, μεγας ουτος- -not to all men Apollo shows himself; he is alone great who beholds him. And his greatness has its office God-assigned. But that office is not a low commųnion with low, or even with ordinary intellect. The holy—the electricspark of genius is the medium of intercourse between the noble and more noble mind. For lesser purposes there are humbler agents. There are puppets enough, able enough, willing enough, to perform in literature the little things to which we have had reference. For one Fouqué there are fifty Molières. For one Angelo there are five hundred Jan Steens. For one Dickens there are five million Smollets, Fieldings, Marryatts, Arthurs, Cocktons, Bogtons and Frogtons.

It is, in brief, the duty of all whom circumstances have led into criticism-it is, at least, a duty from which we individually shall never shrink-to uphold the true dignity of genius, to combat its degradation, to plead for the exercise of its powers in those bright fields which are its legitimate and peculiar province, and which for it alone lie gloriously outspread.

But to return to “Charles O'Malley,” and its popularity. We have endeavored to show that this latter must not be considered in any degree as the measure of its merit, but should rather be understood as indicating a deficiency in this respect, when we bear in mind, as we should do, the highest aims of intellect in fiction.

* Nickname for the populace in the middle ages. + Callimachus-Hymn to Apollo,

« PreviousContinue »