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partook of the spirit of their founder, should have devolved upon Mr. John Galt. But the truth is, these great men well knew, that a contemporary and original life of Wolsey, by the hand of a master, already existed, and that it was neither the part of taste nor of honesty to beat out a mass of old gold into an expanded surface of worthless tinsel, or to multiply words on a subject in proportion as intelligence was wanting. They reflected, no doubt, that what was known of this most conspicuous character was known to all; that, during his administration, the history of Wolsey was the history of his country, and that the subject was so thoroughly exhausted by the inquiries of former historians, as to preclude the hope of every thing but mere gleanings from future research. It was from some such reasons as these, not from indifference or apathy, that Wolsey received not the same tribute from his sons which was paid to the memories of Wickham and Wainflete, and Smith and Pope: for in proportion as these excellent men were less conspicuous in the annals of their country, their lives were better adapted to biography, while the public suffrage has at once applauded the selection of the topics, and the execution of the works.
In the choice of his subjects, however, a modern bookmaker has no such feelings nor reserves; he has a right to any topic on which he can lay his hands- the lavish charter' impudence appropriates all he sees'-a native of the eighteenth century can affect to know more of a native of the fifteenth than his own confidential servant; and an enemy of academical institutions and endowments can, without blushing, undertake to be not only the biographer, but the panegyrist of the founder of Christ Church.
But Mr. Galt, having formed himself, as he humbly conceives, on the model of Hume, comes forth not as an historian only, but a philosopher. Beholding, therefore, with great concern, the fatal consequences which must result to society from the present rapid march of invention and incredulity, and being, as it would seem, of a sanguine complexion, he deems it even yet practicable to recal us to those days of genuine science, when astronomers were not, as now, idly employed on discovering new planets, and regulating the laws by which the universal system is guided and governed; but in shewing the influences of the heavenly bodies on the conduct and understanding of mortals: when chemists, instead of analyzing the combinations of matter, and reducing them to their component principles, bestowed their time much better, in transmuting metals, and hunting for the grand elixir. The words of the wise are precious, and pity it were to suppress theni.
'Astrology has long, by the absurd pretensions of its professors, been
so effectually consigned to oblivious contempt, that books, which treat of its principles, are rarely to be found even in libraries of curious literature, and are never enquired for, without provoking a sort of compassionate ridicule, not easily withstood. And yet the study itself, as professing to discover, by celestial phænomena, future mutations in the elements and terrestrial bodies, ought not to be despised. The principles of astrology, like those of every other science, must have been founded on some species of experience. The tides varying with the phases of the moon, would early obtain attention: their regular increase, corresponding to her opposition and conjunction, would lead to the consideration of the solar. Thence perhaps it was observed, that when certain planets were in particular constellations, and the sun in certain signs of the zodiae, the tides were otherwise affected. Hence the qualities of the planetary influence came to be studied. A transition from the tides to the variation of the atmosphere, was very natural, and as valetudinarians are particularly affected by the weather, the progress towards that branch of astrology, which relates to diseases, would be the consequence. If the disesaes of man be regulated by the stars, why not his passions also? And as his passions govern his actions, why not, by the means of his passions, regulate his fortune?'-pp. 5-7.
We would seriously request of Mr. Galt to consult Moore's Almanack, a work, no doubt, in high estimation with him, in order to ascertain what might be the precise situation of the moon, when this note was written.
Whether the professors of alchemy did or did not possess the art of making gold, may be fairly questioned, until the knowledge of their secrets is complete, and their experiments have been renewed; but that no natural impediment exists to the attainment of the art, Mr. Davy has gone far to shew.
We do not believe that this enlightened chemist will be very thankful for the honor of being subpoenaed as a witness on this occasion; nor shall we tire ourselves or our readers by transcribing all the stuff which follows, about John Frederick Helvetius, Paracelsus, Raymond Lully, and Sir John Sinclair, any more than the long and perplexed catalogue of testimonies to the reality of this exploded art, which are thrust into the Appendix, and among which actually appears the name of a man who was hanged by Cardinal Richelieu as an impostor.
Equally clear and profound is our author's acquaintance with the history and antiquities of English law. The right of primogeniture and the law of entails, had, it seems, their origin in the doctrine of purgatory, to which, of course, eldest sons and heirs male lawfully begotten, ought to feel themselves deeply indebted. The docwine of purgatory supplied ample resources. The mortmain
laws but feebly restrained the profusion of post obit piety. To prevent the total alienation of the lands to the priesthood, primogeniture, entails, and various other pernicious limitations in the descent of property were contrived.' If men will undertake to write, without a glimpse of information, they deserve to be exposed; and to transcribe such nonsense is quite enough for the purpose.
The following, which is an oblique stroke at priestcraft, displays such a total absence of observation, as well as of reflection, that we must again refer Mr. Galt to his astrological oracle—the Almanack.
The history of the church from the age of Charlemagne to that of Napoleon demonstrates the insignificance of military talents on the destiny of mankind, and mortifies the pride of statesmen by shewing them that their influence is small and secondary, and that they are themselves but the implicit agents of deep and general predilections previously nourished among the public.'
In other words, the real cause of the dreadful war which now rages in the Russian empire, is not the frantic ambition of one man and the patriotic resistance of a brave and loyal people, but certain deep and general predilections instilled into the two parties by Pius the VIIth, and Platow, Archbishop of Moscow.
Physicians also, like other men, have, it seems, received unmerited honours from the ignorance of mankind. In consequence, we are told that Dr. Harvey did not discover, but only demonstrated the circulation of the blood. That honour is reserved for Shakespeare. As dear to me as are the ruddy drops That visit my sad heart.'
By this rule, if the poet had written
Warm as the drops that visit these sad eyes,'
it would have proved his knowledge of the circulation of tears. Besides that in the case of phenomena, to discover is to demon
Kings also, as might be expected, come in for their portion of our author's spleen.
'Which,' says he, of the great authors of England was indebted for opulence to the patronage of the sovereign? With the exception of the vain and presumptuous Lewis XIV, there is not an instance on record of a monarch who regarded the fostering of knowledge as part of his regal duty.'
We fear that Mr. Galt's opinion of kings will never be altered by his own experience.
To this mass of nonsense and malignity we should have added a long and absurd note on the origin and nature of witchcraft, but we are compelled to desist by weariness and disgust: if such be the
philosophy of history in the nineteenth century, may we be sent back to the meagre chronicle of the thirteenth! More tolerable by far is the simple barbarism which precedes refinement, than the conceit and affectation which accompany its decline.
With respect to the manner in which the subject is treated, compared with the original life by Cavendish, the effect is such as if, in the last declension of Roman literature, Ammianus Marcellinus had expanded the life of Agricola into a volume as large as his his tory. There is this exception, indeed, in favour of the half-learned soldier of Julian, that with all the vices of his style, he was no pretender to philosophy, and was moreover a sensible, a candid, and a benevolent man.
The choice of Wolsey for the biographical pen of any ordinary modern betrays an equal absence of taste and modesty. Trite and familiar, yet vast and magnificent, it would have required the powers of Johnson to bestow upon it any degree of interest, as well as to reach the dignity and expression of such a portrait. Instead of these gifts, which are scarcely conferred on one man in a century, the author has spontaneously placed himself in a situation, where with a very mean or rather a very cloudy understanding, and with little power of expression, he has to contend against universal information to which little can be added, and universal satiety, which is hardly capable of being renovated into appetite. Speak of Wolsey, and instead of the stimulating particularities of biography, the hackneyed sorrows of Catharine, the boisterous passions of Henry, the subtilty of Charles, the gallantry of Francis, topics of every schoolboy's declamation and every scribbler's song, rise up by irresistible association; and a story over which everlasting repetition has taught us almost to doze in the pages of Hume and Robertson, becomes, in the clumsy narrative of this writer, absolutely nauseous: not to mention that whole pages of common-place are inserted in which the name of Wolsey never appears, as the well known and oft repeated story of Flodden Field, for the introduction of which he had no excuse but the casual discovery of an old dispatch on the subject, addressed to his hero.
In addition to all this, tedious dissertations, in the shape of notes, are here and there appended to the text; thus an ignorant and blundering discourse on witchcraft, extending through several pages, is fastened to the idle tale of exchanging the clothes of the children of Francis the First to prevent incantation. Mr. Galt has indeed the merit of having discovered some curious and original papers, particularly on Scottish affairs; but they have no particular reference to Wolsey, excepting as having been addressed to him in his public capacity: among these, we were astonished to find the editor exhibiting, as a new discovery, the letter of the Earl of Surry on
the burning of Jedburgh, long since published by Mr. Walter Scott in the Border Minstrelsy.
It is impossible not to be struck with a perpetual effort (and especially in the notes) after the Scottish spirit of philosophising, to which, after all, the biographer is unable to attain. Pompous inanity, truisms, and a certain haziness in his intellectual atmosphere, through which he contemplates every object, rank him in the number of those unhappy writers who, labouring to be profound, become perplexed and obscure. Abstract political reasonings, which from their metaphysical nature, demand, in order to be intelligible, equal clearass of conception and felicity of expression, are not adapted to Mr. Galt.
The third book opens thus:
"It is the peculiar quality of legitimate ambition to urge its subjects to make themselves illustrious by beneficial actions. The love of distinction alone is but a perishable vanity, and without the ennobling energy of benevolence the passion of adding kingdoms to kingdoms is only avarice, and the achievements of conquerors are but crimes. The reputation of statesmen is never venerated unless connected with institutions of public utility. Nor is success always the criterion of merit: for sometimes the motives, as seen in the means of enterprise, so unequivocally indicate honourable intentions, that Fame follows even failure and defeat. In the biography, therefore, of eminent men, it is proper to keep in view, the peculiar qualities of their ambition, in order to determine whether they are entitled to the respect of posterity.'
Those who have read this miserable common-place under the influence of the same comfortable repose of mind with which it was written, may require to be told that what they have learned from it is in substance, that, the objects of legitimate ambition are legitimate, that mere vanity is a perishable vanity, and that conquest, unless carried on in the spirit of benevolence, is a crime.
Leo the Tenth has not been singularly fortunate in the tramontane attentions which have lately been paid to his life and character, but never before, was that elegant, though worthless man, caricatured by such a sign-post daubing as the following.
His station, equanimity, and affable demeanour, would without talent have secured him the admiration of mankind; yet his mental endowments were such, as without the factitious aids of rank and manner, might have insured the respect of the wise, and the esteem of the virtuous. But indolence overgrew his nobler faculties, and induced such a poverty of moral honour, that he died an object of pity to the good, and of contempt to the libertine. His public conduct was stained with crimes, but they have lost their hideousness by the elegance with which they have been recorded.'
We have heard (and a very reprehensible sentiment it was) that