« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
destroyed; but whether the latter event be a subject of regret is a different question. The good examples of history are valuable, but the bad ones work mischief. And what is the proportion that the former bear to the latter ? That of the good to the bad men in Sodom.
We have heard it intimated, that the national legislature proposes to follow the lead of New York, and have a census taken of the Indians under the guardian care of the government. We hope this will prove to be true,
many reasons, which our limits do not permit us to enumerate. And we also hope that Mr. Schoolcraft's valuable services will be secured in the work.
WB. 0. Peabody Art. III. — The Life of Joseph Addison. By Lucy
AIKIN. Philadelphia : Carey & Hart. 1846. 12mo.
We had not ventured to promise ourselves an opportunity of bringing this great man in review before us ; and we are not without misgivings lest the world, which, like poor Lear, is apt to be somewhat disordered in mind, should ask as he did, which is the justice and which the culprit. But we are grateful to Miss Aikin for writing this unpretending life of Addison, and still more so, for doing it in her quiet and sensible manner, contenting herself with a likeness, and not trying to make it fascinating with paint and gilding, after the fashion of the present day. Indeed, there is hardly a subject in the whole range of literature, where affectation and display would be more out of place. Those attractive arts, which snatch at impossible graces, sacrificing truth to effect, and simple nature to quick impression, would be reproved to silence, if not to shame, by the presence of this great master.
The very thought of such treatment is enough to make one wish he were on earth again, exerting the authority which a powerful, refined, and graceful genius like his would have, wherever it existed. It would be a sport to see how many popular authors, who are read and admired by thousands now, would, like the swine in Scripture, which they resemble in coarseness and the spirit that has entered into them, soon be seen running violently down a steep place to perish in the sea of oblivion, – those blessed waters which, it is to be hoped, will never dry away.
There is something in the literary fame of this writer which it is always refreshing to remember; like the Parthenon, it retains its charm, though for ages unvisited by the traveller, laid waste by the barbarian, and weatherstained by time ; so far transcending the adventurous antics of modern art, that, as long as a fragment of pillar or peristyle remains, it will be impossible to doubt the perfection of that which the world of taste adores. Writing always from a full mind, and never for the sake of writing, he is always rich to overflowing in his resources, and, however excellent the work may be, gives the impression that he is able to produce something better. His memory was full of information, all the particulars of which had found their places in his mind in harmony and order, so that classical allusions and suggestions from what he had seen and read presented themselves when they were wanted, giving him power to select the best. Like most other calm and quiet observers of life, he found in his own experience incidents and intimations which, playfully introduced, gave spirit and life to his writings. His movements were so easy and graceful, that no one thought of the hard study and self-discipline by which alone he could have gained so complete a mastery of his own powers. Every thing seemed to be thrown off without an effort, and so indeed it was ; the effort came earlier in the history of his mind ; and certain it is, that, without long and patient thought, such as requires great concentration of the intellectual powers, he never could have acquired a logical exactness so entirely free from all the appearance of art, nor a habit of active and earnest thought so much resembling revery in the familiarity and carelessness of its flow.
One of the most striking traits of Addison's mind was his humor, a quality of writing which is enjoyed more generally than it is understood. It is commonly supposed to be a gift, something belonging to the native constitution of the mind; but if so, the birthright would be found of little advantage without that ready tact and intuitive discernment of the right time and place, which give humor its principal charm. The untimely jest is like the stamp of an awkward man upon a gouty toe ; it is apt to be received with a gratitude bordering on profaneness, and it is a caution to all the prudent to keep out of the way of the offender's disastrous evolutions. Some, like Swift, who would otherwise be masters of the art, disarm themselves of part of their power by an appearance of illnature. Any thing which looks like savageness or an intent to wound always creates antipathy to him who indulges his satirical propensity at the expense of another's feelings. Even if the satire should be wholly impersonal, and aimed at the follies and infirmities of human nature, the caustic and biting reflection which implies bitterness in him who makes it never gives pleasure, nor finds a general welcome.
There is, also, in some humorous writers who have nothing of this misanthropy, a kind of sly coarseness, an apparent enjoyment of sensual allusions, a disposition to tread as near as they dare to such forbidden ground, which the refined and cultivated reader takes as an insult to himself, and does not readily forgive. This is a temptation, a strange and fatal one, from which we are sorry to say a writer of our own land, whom we could otherwise name with the highest honor, is not entirely free. But in Addison's humor no one can trace any of these faults of taste, spirit, or feeling ; it plays like sunbeams through the broken clouds upon the landscape, lighting it up with gladness. Nature herself is not more exempt from severity and grossness; and we see, that, largely gifted as he was with the natural power, he rather restrains than indulges it ; he never looks abroad for the jest, and receives with selection those which present themselves as he is writing. He always distinguishes most accurately the appropriate place and time for producing it ; thus showing that it requires high cultivation of mind, a quick perception of fitness, and a perfect command of the powers, to employ this faculty to advantage. Otherwise it is of no value, and may be even an injury to the possessor ; as the gift of Tell's arrows would be of little avail without the sure hand and eye to use them.
Nothing could be more superfluous than to praise the style of Addison, which has been admired by successive generations as the most perfect of all examples. Art, in its highest cultivation, comes back to nature, and thus, while naturalness is the prevailing charm of his manner, it shows the result, but not the action, of high finish and industrious care. The word gentlemanly would describe it better than
any other, because it implies the union of elegance and refinement with energy and power. In order to be thus natural, style must be the true expression of the habitual movements of the mind ; it is not to be made up or put on at pleasure ; if it is second-hand, it will betray its unlawful origin, like stolen garments which do not fit the wearer. way really to improve a deficient style is, not to change the arrangement and selection of language ; the care in such cases must be applied directly to the mind itself; and its utterance will become free and graceful, in proportion to the order which it establishes among its treasures and resources, and the easy mastery over its own powers which practice enables it to obtain.
We say this, because style is often spoken of as if it was an art, like drawing or painting, which may be acquired by one mind as well as another, by the obscure and feeble as well as the clear and strong. So, in point of fact, the matter is treated by many writers ; those, for example, who have endeavoured to Germanize their manner, practising on it the same arts which jockeys apply to horses' tails, to make them ambitious and exalted. But all the while, the style is not their own ; they are responsible, doubtless, as a man is held to answer for what he borrows or steals ; but it gives no indication of their natural tone of thought, any more than a bell, when it tolls for funeral or worship, expresses its own sorrow or devotion. Should their minds perchance speak out, they would throw all the fine arrangement into confusion, and startle their owners, perhaps, by the plain English which they would employ. We may depend upon it, that Carlyle does not talk Carlylism, nor do the imitators of that eminent person walk in darkness through a conversation as coolly as through a printed page.
When their object is to express their thought, none can do it better ; and till they do the same thing in writing as freely as in ordinary communication with their friends, they may be cheered on with the desperate admiration of a misguided few, but they will find themselves out in their dead reckoning. If they are bound for immortality, or even for general favor, they had better take observations of the great lights of the literary world. From these they will find, that no style can be extensively popular and pleasing which is not a true and direct expression of the writer's way of thinking. It is not
enslaved to any particular form ; it is bound by no narrow and rigid law. The elephantine march of Johnson may be as welcome as the manly gait of Addison, because it represents as truly the movements of his ponderous and gigantic mind.
But the character of this distinguished man is a more important consideration than his talents or his style ; indeed, it was this which, shining through his writings, did as much as his ability to give him influence in his own time, and an illustrious memory in ours. John Foster, who, with all his excellence, occasionally betrayed something of that crustiness which among some sects passes for a Christian grace, spoke in a wholesale and sweeping way of all the chief names in English literature, as opposed to the spirit of the gospel, and aiding and comforting the enemy by their influence and example. To some extent, this was true. There was quite too little sense of responsibility associated with intellectual power ; either the intense effort to keep body and soul to-. gether made them careless in what manner they fed the popular taste, or the jealousies incident to their profession destroyed their conscience and kindness; or in some instances, perhaps, their heads were turned by success. Whatever the cause may have been, a greater proportion than one could have supposed were unfaithful to the high trust which is confided to all who are gifted with high powers. Still, it is extraordinary that with such an example as Addison before him, one which can be contemplated with almost unmingled satisfaction, any moralist should give so hasty a verdict, which savours more of passion than truth even in its application to others, and cannot be sustained for a moment with respect to him. If religion be the great science of duty, it would be hard to show where it ever found a more effective teacher ; and we trust we shall be able to make it appear that, if his tone and profession were high, his life and conversation stood ready to make them good.
But here we are met by some prevailing impressions concerning Addison, which allow that in most respects he was eminently worthy, but nevertheless charge him with certain faults and frailties which throw a shadow over his name ; and, as the subject is an interesting chapter in literary history, we propose to consider it somewhat at large. All who knew him bore witness to his excellence ; his goodness of