Page images
PDF
EPUB

be harsh in the extreme to deny their taine-a fac simile of our delightful Eng. genuine originality. The title of his great lish poet, Gay : work is, « The Characters; or the Manners of the Present Age.” It has the and stupid, knows neither how to speak or

“A person who appears dull, sottish great merit, which very, many cannot to relate what he has seen. If he sets to claim, of declaring its aim and general write, no man does it better ; he makes scope. “ I borrowed,” says he very animals, stones and trees talk, and everymodestly, “ the subject matter of this thing which cannot talk : his works are book from the public.” And richly has full of nothing but elegance, ease, natural he repaid the debt. It is a general epi- sense and delicacy.” tome of his observations and reflections on Corneille concludes the noble triuma variety of subjects, all deeply interest. virate. ing to every man of sense and discernment. He ranges from polite learning to

“ Another is plain, timorous, and tire. the pulpit, and carefully traverses the for another, and judges not of the goodness

some in conversation, mistakes one word intermediate grounds. Society and the of his writings but by the money they bring passions which exist there, the faculties him in; knows not to recite' or to read his to insure success in it, and the manifold

own hand. Leave him to compose and he hues ofthose who mingle in it, are how- is not inferior to Augustus, Pompey, Nicoever, his grand and favorite theme. His demus and Heraclius; he is a king and characters are almost purely artificial. In a great king, a politician, a philosopher ; painting these he is very happy; but all his he describes the Romans, and they are skill deserts him when he takes up one greater and more Romans in his verse than purely natural. In addition to this all his

in their history.” portraits were contemporaries, giving a lo- It was seldom, however, he had such cal character to his work, which must have men to sit to him for their portraits ; he made it, as indeed it was, highly popular passes short but pithy criticisms on Moat the time, though since much neglected. lière, Bossuet, and several other of his Bnt though local and mostly artificial, great contemporaries; but on none is a with but very few exceptions he still judgment passéd more fastidiously correct, touches off their traits in a masterly style. or a compliment more delicately as well Perhaps no man ever lived of a finer or as heartily expressed, than on those just more delicate vein of observation. He quoted. gives the broad features and the subtiler His particular excellence, however, lay parts of a character with equal fidelity, not as much in portrait, as in general reforce and finish. Passing over his por- flection. He had a thorough knowledge traits of bishops and dukes, for whom of the heart, and could trace with unerring nobody cares a rush, we will enumerate skill the sinuous windings of the affecbut four, each of which is perfect. The ab- tions. He was also completely acquaintsent man, made famous by Addison's men- ed with all the mixed modes of artificial tion of him in the Spectator, is most admi- life. On all serious topics he is earnest rable. As it may be readily turned to, we and apparently sincere, nor did he fall into will not quote it, but give the three others, the slough of French Philosophy—atheof Rabelais, Lafontaine, and Corneille- ism. On the contrary, he never alludes three Frenchmen in whom he took gene- to the Supreme Being without respect and rous pride, and writers whom no subse- awe. His general cast of mind was that quent critic has ever anatomized with one of one governed by the strictest rules of half of his skill. The translation is by propriety, not one anxious to be distinRowe the dramatist.

guished as well by a glaring defect as

anything else. Judgment predominated “Rabelais is incomprehensible; his book over his other faculties, though he also is an inexplicable enigma, a mere chimera; possessed keen wit, the acutest penetraa woman's face with the feet and tail of a tion, fine sentiment and finished taste. As serpent, or some beast more deformed ; a monstrous connection of fine and ingenious his only other works being a translation

an author, though far from voluminous, morality with a mixture of beastliness ; where 'tis bad, 'tis abominable, and fit for of Thcophrastus' characters, and a few the diversion of the stable: 'and where addresses to the French Academy, he is good, it is exquisite, and may entertain the remarkably well versed in all the arts and most delicate.”

niceties of composition. To substantiate

this latter assertion we will produce only The following is a portrait of Lafon. three or four passages.

son.

“'Tis as much a trade to make a book as though they are forbidden, 'tis natural to to make a watch ; there's something more desire at least that they were allowed. than wit requisite to make an author.” Nothing can be more charming than they,

“We think of things differently and ex- except the pleasure of knowing how to repress them in a term altogether as different: nounce them by virtue.” by a sentence, an argument, or some other figure—a parallel or a simple comparison, Yet other more worldly maxims disby a story at length or a single passage- played his knowledge of the inconstant by a description or a picture.”

fair. “ To express truth is to write naturally, forcibly and delicately."

“ The woman of the world looks on a "The pleasure of criticising takes away gardener as a gardener, and a mason as a mafrom us the pleasure of being sensibly

Your recluse ladies look on a mason touched with the finest things," &c.

as a man and a gardener as a man." “ A modern author commonly proves the

“ Some ladies are liberal to the church ancients inferior to us in two ways, by rea

as well as to their lovers; and being both son and example: he takes the reason from gallant and charitable, are provided with his particular opinion, and the example places within the rails of the altar, where from his own writings."

they read their billet-doux, aud where, for

anything you can see of them, you would me « Terence wanted only warmth. What think them at their prayers to Heaven." purity, what exactness, what politeness, “The woman who has her eye constantly what elegance, and what characters. Mo- fixed on one particular person, or whose lière wanted only to avoid jargon, and to eyes you may observe constantly to avoid write purely. What fire! what nature! him, makes us conclude but one and the what a source of good pleasantry! what same thing of her.” imitation of manners! what images ! what - The women are at little trouble to ex. satire! What a man might be made out of press what they do not feel; the men are these two comic writers !"

at less still to

express

what they do."

“Sometimes it happens a woman conceals We might multiply extracts, but must from a man the passion she has for him, give others of a different kind. To de. while he only feigns the passion he has for termine his fine insight into the ways of her.” the world, pages might be taken almost

The last sentence reveals the acme indiscriminately from the body of the work, but a few sentences must suffice. of finesse in the mere Art of Love, as The following sentences are worthy of practiced the world over, but such as a the subtlest politician that ever “schemed

Frenchman only would be likely to rehis hour upon the stage.”

mark

His idea of the pleasantest company, is “ He is far gone in cunning, who makes after all the true one: the people believe he is but indifferently cunning.”

“ The best society and conversation is “ Among such as out of cunning hear all that in which the heart has a greater share but say little do you talk less ; or if you will than the head.” talk much, speak little to the purpose.” “What a subtle contrivance'is it'to make

We might quote pages, if not the entire rich presents in courtship, which are not volume, but we shall content ourselves paid for,but after marriage are to be returned with only these epigrams, as full of wit in specie!”

as of wisdom. “'We can't forbear even the company of those persons whom we hate and deride.” missing or discharging servants and depend

“ There are two ways at Court of disOne would think the writer must have ents—to be angry with 'em, or make 'em so been a mere knave and an arrant dissem. angry with us that they resent it."

"The Court is like a marble structurebler, yet was he a man of almost feminine that is, very hard but very polished.” sensibility. This at least should prove it,

“ 'Tis possible to have some people's (allowing his sincerity :)

confidence, without having their hearts; “ A fine face is the finest of all sights ; confidence-every thing is open to him.

but he who has the heart has no need of and the sweetest music the sound of her voice whom we love."

“In friendship we only see the faults

which may be prejudicial to our friendsAnd this:

in love we see none but those by which we

suffer ourselves.” “There are some pleasures to be met with in the course of life which are so dear to In fine, the mind of La Bruyère was us, and some engagements so soft and tender not one of great capacity, nor of extreme

future paper.

sense.

loftiness, nor yet was it very profound; alists, even to mention the name of Ni. but it was as nice, delicate, acute, and of cole, a writer worthy to rank with La as fine a grain, within its limits, as that of Bruyère, and of whom we shall speak by any man that ever lived.

and by. Vauvenangues closes the brief There is but one other French author catalogue of choice writers upon the with whom La Bruyère can be compared, moralists, among the French wits.

We and that is Rochefoucault; though the shall reserve the favorite of Bulwer for a latter has published so little that he can hardly be called an author. Still he is an Meantime we proceed with our present original thinker, a character few authors purpose, and present the reader with can boast. They were both of them men sketches of Montaigne, by his eminent who looked upon the world and its doings critics : the one, (Mr. Hallam,) rather a with the calm eyes of philosophers and historian than a belles letter-ist, and genemen of the world. They had both the rally cold, yet who quite forgets his insame solidity of judgment and quickness difference in speaking of Montaigne, of observation. As writers they both while he is at the same time altogether exhibited powers of great condensation, judicious and discriminating; the other, and employed the same brilliant style. Hazlitt, the chief of modern critics, whose

The general character of his morality is admirable literary portrait supersedes the not of a very lofty or unattainable nature, necessity of an original draught, that but suited to men of business and men of could after all be little else than a copy. the world. He was in prose what Pope We append the two criticisms as a literary was in poetry, the author for the man of study, also affording a fine contrast, and He further possessed a great deal the opportunity of comparing.

“ The of true wit of the kind that grows out of Essays of Montaigne make, in several shrewdness and satire. Although he respects, an epoch in literature-less on never (wisely) pretended to form a sys- account of their real importance or of the tem, or pompously to usher in a new dis- moral truths they contain, than of their covery, yet he has certainly said some influence on the taste and opinions of new things on the most familiar topics. Europe. They are the first provocatio ad Where the matter of his remarks is old populumthe first appeals from the porch the manner compensates for it. The latter and the academy to the haunts of busy is fresh

and sparkling, and produces the and of idle men—the first book that same effect upon the reader as fine elocu- taught the unlearned reader to observe on does on an auditory:

and reflect for himself on questions of La Bruyère we have placed foremost in moral philosobhy. In an age when every the list of French moralists, although topic of this nature was treated systemaMontaigne in point of time comes first, tically, and in a didactic form, he broke and in the opinion of many in point of out without connection of chapters, with excellence also. The latter moralist is all the digressions that levity and garrumore of the author, however, and the lous egotism could suggest ; with a very style (the perfection of prose epigram) is delightful, but at that time most unusual, classic; while Montaigne, doubtless the rapidity of transition from seriousness to greater man and bolder thinker, has much gaiety.” less of the artist and professed author The chief defect of Montaigne's manabout him. Why Charron is called by ner arose from perhaps one of the most Pope more wise, whether in irony or pleasing traits of his intellectual character: from the title of his work of wisdom, he was a loose and rambling writer, be(no very strong proof of his possession of cause he was an unconstrained and indeit,) we agree with Hazlitt in thinking an pendent thinker. His style is rarely enigma hardly worth the solution. In terse, but his thoughts are never formal point of fact, Charron is a mere cold or pedantic. He was, as a writer, so transcriber of the morality of the ancient much of the familiar gossip as to lose the philosophers. Pascal, a far higher name, strictly literary and philosophic character. lies quite out of the scope of our present He had no system of his own, but then criticism, being rather a devotional than he had many good thoughts on all the a merely moral writer in his Pensées.- systems of the speculatists. No convenStephens has done all for his fame that is tionalist in his opinion or habits, he negnecessary; yet the same brilliant writer lected, perhaps a little too much, the prophas neglected, (if we do not strangely errestraints of style and artistic form." Yet mistake,) in his article on the Port Roy. out of his defects arose some of the foremost of his excellences. If he is ram- daring to tell us whatever passed through bling, he is also comprehensive; his his mind in its native simplicity and force, mind took a wide scope, that included what he thought any ways worth commumuch that might have been omitted. nicating. He did not, in the abstract chaMany of his quotations, perhaps, only racter of an author, undertake to say all serve to precede equally fine thoughts of that could be said upon a subject ; but what, his own, or to fire his invention with the he happened to know about it.

in his capacity as an inquirer after truth,

He was desire of rivalry. He is often tedious from neither a pedant nor a bigot. He neither an excessive love of detail, from a pain- supposed that he was bound to know all ful love of the truth, or from a constitu- things, nor that all things were bound to tional ingenuity that required to make the conform to what he had fancied, or would most of every thing. To a modern reader. have them to be. In treating of men and the great evil of his style is his want of manners, he spoke of them as he found precision and concise force. He is apt to them, not according to preconcerted notions look on all sides of a subject, rather than and abstract dogmas; and he began by directly at it. He swoops widely before teaching us what he himself was. In crihe pounces, hawk-like, on the

ticising books, he did not compare them very heart

with rules and systems, but told us what he and vitals of his theme. He is not, how

saw to like or dislike in them. He did not ever, to be judged as critically as later take his standard of excellence “according writers. In his day the French language to an exact scale” of Aristotle, or fall out was not formed, and hence his style, or with a work that was good for anything, rather no style, is not to be scrutinized too because not one of the angles at the four closely.

corners was a right one.' He was, in a The sketch of Montagne has been often word, the first author who was not a book. drawn. His prodigality of quotation ri- maker, and who wrote not to make con. vals even olà Burton's. His obscenity, a

verts of others to established creeds and literary taint similar to that of Rabelais, prejudices, but to satisfy his own mind of Sterne, Swift, Smollett, and Gibbon. The know not which to be most charmed with,

the truth of things. In this respect we inappropriate titles to his chapters, &c., the author or the man. There is an inexhave been sufficiently noticed.

pressible franknesss and sincerity, as well On the favorable side, how much can as power, in what he writes. There is no be said for him of his admirable practical attempt at imposition or concealment, no sense, his wide toleration, his humanity, juggling tricks or solemn mouthing, no lahis wide and just views of life and the bored attempts at proving himself always human heart, his fine unerring judgment in the right and everybody else in the of men and books, his cordiality, his wrong: he says what is uppermost, lays honesty, bis genuine feeling. But all open what floats at the top or the bottom of this has been so much better said than we

his mind, and deserves Pope's character of

him, where he professes to can possibly repeat it, by an eminent critic, Hazlitt, in one of his most admi.

pour out all as plain, rable critical analyses, that we transcribe As downright Shippen, or as old Mon.

taigne.' his literary portrait of Montaigne, equal to a fine painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He does not converse with us like a peda

gogue with his pupil, whom he wishes to “The great merit of Montaigne, then, make as great a blockhead as himself, but was that he may be said to have been the like a philosopher and friend who has first who had the courage to say as an au- passed through life with thought and obe thor what he felt as a man. And as courage servation, and is willing to enable others to is generally the etlect of conscious strength, pass through it with pleasure and profit. he was probably led to do so by the rich- A writer of this stamp, I confess, appears ness, truth, and force of his own observa- to me as much superior to a common booktions on books and men. He was, in the worm, as a library of real books is supetruest sense, a man of original mind ; that rior to a book-case, painted and lettered on is, he had the power of looking at things for the outside with the names of celebrated himself, or as they really were, instead of works. As he was the first to attempt this blindly trusting to, and fondly repeating, new way of writing, so the same strong what others told him that they were. He natural impulse which prompted the under. got rid of the go-cart of prejudice and af- taking carried him to the end of the course. fectation, with the learned lumber that fol- The same force and honesty of mind which lows at their heels, because he could do urged him to throw off the shackles of cuswithout them. In taking up his pen he did tom and prejudice, would enable him to not set up for a philosopher, wit, orator, or complete his triumph over them. Nearly moralist, but he became all these by merely all the thinking of the two last centuries,

LES DIFFERENTES CARACTERES DE

of that kind which the French denominate nothingness of grandeur and inutility of the morale observatrice, is to be found in Mon- sciences, but since he hardly knew of any taigne's Essays—there is the germ at least, other life than the present, has concluded and generally much more. He sowed the that we have nothing more to do than to seed and cleaned away the rubbish, even pass agreeably the little space that has been where others have reaped the fruit, or cul- given us.” tivated and decorated the soil to a greater

He shows discrimination, however, in degree of nicety and perfection. There is

his remarks on different kinds of intel. no one to whom the old Latin adage is more applicable than to Montaigne : • Pereant

lect, (l'esprit :) isti qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.' There has been no new impulse given to thought

L'ESPRIT. since his time,”

“One can have a mind very just, very ra. From the letter of a friend, written tional, very agreeable, and very weak at the

same time. some five or six years ago, we give a

“Extreme delicacy of mind is a species of better character of Nicole, than we

weakness : it perceives eagerly, and yields should attempt to depict from our own too readily. knowledge of his writings. “ Nicole lived “There are some characters gloomy in the 17th century, belonged to the so- throughout. Some minds have surface with. ciety of Jansenists at Paris, wrote various out depth,others depth without surface, and theological works, and was the tutor of there are those in whom both advantages Racine. I have hardly cut the leaves, are united. The first deceive the world but will translate a passage or two at and themselves; the world deceives itself random.

with the second in not judging them for

what they are, but they do not deceive OF ELOQUENCE IN STYLE,

themselves; only the last deceive neither “ There are two sorts of beauties in an others nor themselves. eloquent style. The one consists in thoughts “ There are some who find out truths ; fair

and weighty, but also extraordinary and others images for the truths, as comparistriking; of which kind of beauty Lucan, sons; others who find out truths for imaSeneca and Tacitus are full. The other ges—three different kinds of intellect. The does not, on the contrary, consist in rare first arises from clearness and subtility of thoughts, but in a certain natural air, a facile mind; the second from ardor of mind, simplicity, elegant and delicate ; that pre- which, conceiving vividly, finds by this sents common images, but lively and agree- same vivacity comparisons to express itable, and knows so well the art of follow- self: To what shall I compare you, O ing in its movements, that it never fails to daughter of Jerusalem ? To what shall I express in each topic the parts of which it say you are like? The overflowing of your is susceptible, and to draw forth the pas- iniquity is like the sea ;' the third comes sions and emotions the subject ought natu- from neither ardor or subtility of mind, rally to produce. This beauty blongs to but from a certain agility, which applies Terence and Virgil; and we may see how the same images to different forms of truth, much rarer it is than the other, since there and finds readily such as suit it. are no authors who have been less nearly “ It is a great evil to know the defects of approached than these.”

one's mind, to feel them, and not to be able

to correct them. There is a remark in the preface, attributed to La Bruyère, that Nicole wanted doucement] that they do not perceive it at

There are such gentle fools (sots si the judgment, solidity, profundity and all. Their words and their judgments alexactness of a true writer in morals, ways agree, and they feel no internal rewhich is as much as to say of a horse, it proach to warn them of their defects. appears to me, that he only wants wind, “ The true men of intellect are those who bottom and legs. A fragment on the have but one kind of talent, but it is just, Essays of Montaigne certainly discloses and conceives easily and promptly, what it very littie of the above qualities. expresses in an agreeable manner.”

On the whole, we are inclined to think “ Montaigne appears to me a man, who well of Nicole, and desire his better acafter he had exercised his mind on all the quaintance. He is a devout writer, and affairs of the world to weigh their

good and frequently concludes his moral in divinievil, had light enough to perceive their folly ty. He appears also to be an elegant and and vanity. He has very well exposed the graceful writer.”

UPON THE ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE.

« PreviousContinue »