« PreviousContinue »
effect of the modest reserve which, but for the seducing examples of total nonchalance which the Scotch Press presents rather too frequently, a sensible man would strictly keep in his first literary adventures. We do not remember to have been annoyed by the coarser displays of this taste in Mr. Strang's volumes; but he has certainly been betrayed into that gaiety and inappropriate humour which arises from unexamined recollections of cheerfulness within a certain circle ;-from the notion that what raised the laugh among a particular set of friends, will have the same exhilarating effect on the public. The humour of his travelling companion may afford merriment to his and the author's friends, on the north side of Tweed; but why should every reader be informed of that gentleman's falling asleep during the representation of Faust, of his being made fidgetty by the usual slight disasters of a Journey? What have we to do with his anxiety for a bottle of Mountain Dew, which was in danger of being condemned as a fair prize by the Prussian Customhouse officers; and which owed its escape to the truly Caledonian presence of mind, with which he declared it to be a remedy for the Cholera, then raging in several parts of Germany? We beg Mr. Strang not to suspect us of malice against his work; its merits have already been acknowledged, and we mean to dwell upon them in some detail. But as he is likely to travel, and to write again, we wish him to reflect on the nature of a literary task, for which he has, indeed, many natural qualifications. The traveller may plan an account of what he has seen, in intimate connexion with his own feelings and temper, and so contrive the whole narrative, as to make him thoroughly and favourably known to his readers. The Greeks called this quality in a work 0os, the moral air of the writer. This, however, requires a peculiar talent. The public had some time ago a very good specimen in Mr. Latrobe's Rambles in America." We will not decide whether Mr. Strang could write travels in that style; but we know that he is able to write an undramatic narrative with success; and we venture to recommend his adhering to the latter form without mixing the two manners. That this advice may not appear to be uncalled for, we must notice an instance of bad 0os, or want of tact, connected with his stepping forward in the midst of a plain account of his progress through Germany. Mr. Strang informs us that both himself and his companion were thrown into great perplexity at the Post Office of Potzdam, owing to their luggage being heavier than is allowed by the strict regulations of the Prussian Government. A slight mention of such difficulties might be excusable; but we have the scene at length; and such a scene as Mr. Strang himself
must, on calm reflection, regret to have intended as an amusing anecdote. We are coolly told that he pretended to be upon a political mission to Vienna, and that he "backed his tale by a well-timed, heart-touching, piece of gold," which he slipped into the hand of the secretary of the Post Office. The subject is too serious for this trifling. If Mr. Strang, through the impatience arising from the fear of delay on a journey of mere pleasure, forgot the clear moral principle which ought to have prevented his bribing an officer of any Government to act against the law, he surely, for his own sake, ought not to proclaim this slip of his conscience; and much less should he have overlooked that in the way he describes it, this anecdote might easily cause the ruin of the man he seduced from his duty. When shall this recklessness of British travellers have an end? When shall the feeling become national, that the advantages which an Englishman enjoys, as the member of a great, free, refined, and prosperous people, should be the most powerful motive for his setting the best example of respect to law and morality among nations which have the misfortune of still being behind his own in many important respects?
We are anxious to get over the last topic of disapprobation, in order to proceed to the more agreeable part of our task. proportion to the real merit of Mr. Strang's style of local description must be the vexation of a discriminating reader at the fits of affected language which come now and then upon that able writer. We cannot conceive, for instance, why he should go out of his way only to repeat versant, instead of conversant or versed, which would be still better. Has he quarelled with that multitude of compound words, which, not capriciously, as Mr. Strang seems to imagine, but in consequence of the true analogies of language, modify the signification of a verbal root by the addition of con? Does he wish us to say siderate, stant, tiguous? This touch of pedantry might, however, be overlooked, if our author had not, in mere wantonness, given to his style some most deliberate airs of affected refinement. He uses, without the least pretext for the substitution, vocables, for words; vulgate delectation, for vulgar pleasures; patent, for open. Then we hear of "the heavenizing pursuit of Music,"* and, as a proof of his taste for that Art, he gives the reader a bravura of metaphors, not indeed about an Opera or a Concert, but a propos of the couch on which Frederick the Great expired, and the window from which he used to see his troops at their daily exercise. "These (he says) are glorious key-notes for historical association,
* Vol. ii, p. 95.
and, to him who is versant with the events of the early part of the last century, cannot fail to call up chords of the most brilliant and chromatic nature."* We beg leave to observe that the italics are not our own, but the author's. Unfortunately for his intended display of musical knowledge, every musician will perceive in this passage, that whatever natural ear and taste he may possess, he does not understand the meaning of the technical terms he employs.
In a similar manner (and we have done with censure), Mr. Strang affects a knowledge of History and Mental Philosophy, with both of which he betrays himself to be very imperfectly, if at all, acquainted. He tells us, for instance, that John Huss was brought to the stake by a decree of the Council of Prague :† as if, in looking for the history of that truly great man and intrepid reformer, his eye had caught the end of the name of Jerome of Prague, the second victim of the Council of Constance, and mistaken it for the locality of that atrocious Clerical Assembly. More unpardonable still is the liberty he takes with the memory of Fichte, and the character of his philosophy. We should like to know, by the study of which of Fichte's works Mr. Strang has qualified himself to dispose at once of his system in the expressions, "the lifeless, godless Egoismus of Fichte.”‡
These words betray a total ignorance of what they so severely condemn. It is not easy to find an appropriate English word for the philosophical German Ich; but Egoismus would be the last that a person tolerably acquainted with Fichte's profound views on that subject would choose. To whatever objections the Fichtean system may be open, the analysis of human consciousness in respect to personal individuality which it contains, is mentioned with the highest respect by those who have seriously studied it. M. Victor Cousin, in his Fragmens de Philosophie,' has, in a considerable degree, placed the subject of personality, as analyzed by Fichte, within the reach of any attentive reader; and Mr. Strang would probably feel sorry for the abuse he has blindly bestowed, if he took the pains to examine the state of the question. The Egoismus which our author so perfectly misunderstands, is mentioned by the distinguished French philosopher to whom we have referred as, le fait à la description du quel Fichte a pour jamais attaché son nom. The application of the epithet godless to Fichte's philosophy, must have been made in perfect ignorance of the immediate, practical tendency of even the most accessible works in which that philosophy is explained and applied to the moral feelings.
* Vol. ii, p. 45.
† Ib. p. 45.
Ib. p. 77.
Insensible indeed to genuine piety must a man be who, having read Fichte's 'Anweisung zu dem seeligen Leben,' and his 'Bestimmung des Gelehrten,' should still use the word godless in describing his philosophy. We do not suspect Mr. Strang of such unfeelingness, or such bigotry: he must have followed mere hearsay.
We have not spared the blemishes of Mr. Strang's work; and it is now our pleasant duty to recommend its merits. The most pervading and valuable quality of these volumes is the evidently sincere love of mental and political freedom which they breathe. We may indeed venture to call that love sincere, because it does not seek for occasions of display: it animates almost every page, but it does not fume and hiss in declamation. The state of public opinion-not that mere feeling which is frequently mistaken for it; a mistake from which much practical confusion and evil arises-the views of those who think in Germany, may be satisfactorily collected from various unpretending statements scattered over these two volumes. That country appears to be divided into two portions, in direct consequence of the two opposite principles upon which they are governed: and the governments, again, may be classed into those who follow the Austrian and those who imitate the Prussian policy. According to the Metternich system the people are allured by sensual pleasure and animal happiness to think only on the present moment, and leave all care, except that of daily subsistence, to a paternal government, which, like many parents, endeavours with all its power, to keep its children in a never-ending nonage. The Prussian policy consists in preventing general discontent, not indeed by a deliberate plan to animalise the people, but, on the contrary, by such a diffusion of knowledge, as will diffuse habits of mind directly opposed to violence and confusion. Frederic William would not stop the mental progress of the people, were it in his power to do so by a pure act of the will: his wish is to collect, as expeditiously as possible, such a mass of sober, quiet, yet thinking subjects, as shall be sufficient to prevent the political convulsions which arise from the mutual activity of selfish interests and partial truths. It is not, on the contrary, from want of will, but of power, that Metternich does not attempt the restoration of the period of the Golden Bull: but seeing clearly the impossibility of checking the general progress of the leading portion of mankind, he contents himself with retarding it in his immediate neighbourhood, by encouraging mental indolence, through the allurements of pleasure. Superstition of the grossest kind comes in for a large share of this work. The picture which
Mr Strang gives of Bohemia, contrasted with Saxony, which borders upon it, is not more interesting than it is instructive. Here the dominion of a most influential priesthood over the mind, makes oppression quite safe on the part of the Government. But let us hear Mr. Strang.
"You may easily conceive, that a country thus subject to the influence of priestcraft, will give no trouble to the Government; and so it is. Bohemia is king-ridden, as well as priest-ridden; for although, from all I can learn, there is not a little dissatisfaction among the people, in consequence of poverty and taxation, still the priest can always command them; and these idle knaves are ever found on the side of aristocracy and tyranny. Of all the dependencies of Austria, none are governed with greater severity than Bohemia. The peasantry are placed under the degrading vassallage of the feudal system in its worst form. The middle classes are subjected to heavy taxation, the hardship of which is aggravated by the vicious mode of collection. The tax-gatherer here, buys his office, and in the exercise of power, appears to be somewhat akin to the underlings of the Turkish Sultan. The noblesse, rich and highly privileged, look down upon the general mass of society as beings of almost a different species, and arrogate to themselves even a higher rank than the more modern nobility of Austria. There is in Bohemia a Landtag, or National Council, similar to that of Saxony, which occasionally meet; but the individuals who compose this assembly, rather study their own interests than those of the people, whose voice is never heard in it. A small minority once made a struggle for certain ameliorations in the existing system; but the party of the Government prevailed, and reform was nipped in the bud. Among the nobility, there is no doubt a strong feeling against the general principle of absolutism on the part of the Emperor; but their own privileges are so much mixed up with the question, that little can be expected from them in favour of better government. The want of political information among the people, and, what is of greater consequence, the want of confidence in one another, are the great bars to their political improvement as a nation. . . I have noticed the beauty of the river and its islands, as seen from the bridge. These islands form the chief points of attraction for the people of Prague on a Sunday, because there they can obtain, at a cheap rate, every sort of refreshment and amusement. On the Gross Venedig, or Great Venice, for instance, which is the principal resort of the lower classes, the scene is a perfect carnival. At one corner, you have music and dancing; at another, eating and beer-drinking; both under the wide-spreading canopy of the lime and the chestnut-tree. Here the stranger finds a pretty fair sample of the Prague populace, whose appearance and habits are very different indeed from those of their neighbours in Saxony. Instead of the grenadier figure and staid expression of the Dresdeners, you find the generality of the men about the middle size,active and nervous, with long black hair, hanging about a face whose chief characteristic is derived from a cock-nose and a projecting chin. Their countenances, upon the whole, rather indicate a careless roving disposition, and