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He stands over a contemporary performance with all the self-conceit and self-importance of a country schoolmaster, tries it by technical rules, affects not to understand the meaning, examines the hand-writing, the spelling, shrugs up his shoulders and chuckles over a slip of the pen, and keeps a sharp look-out for a false concord and a flogging. There is nothing liberal, nothing humane, in his style of judging: it is altogether petty, captious, and literal. The Editor's political subserviency adds the last finishing to his ridiculous pedantry and vanity. He has all his life been a follower in the train of wealth and power, strives to back his pretensions on Parnassus by a place at court, and to gild his reputation as a man of letters by the smile of greatness. He thinks his works are stamped with additional value by having his name in the Red-Book. He looks up to the distinctions of rank and station as he does to those of learning, with the gross and overweening adulation of his early origin. All his notions are low, upstart, servile. He thinks it the highest honour to a poet to be patronised by a peer or by some dowager of quality. He is prouder of a court-livery than of a laurel-wreath; and is only sure of having established his claims to respectability by having sacrificed those of independence. He is a retainer to the Muses; a door-keeper to learning; a lacquey in the state. He believes that modern literature should wear the fetters of classical antiquity; that truth is to be weighed in the scales of opinion and prejudice; that power is equivalent to right; that genius is dependent on rules; that taste and refinement of language consist in word-catching. Many persons suppose that Mr. Gifford knows better than he pretends; and that he is shrewd, artful, and designing. But perhaps it may be nearer the mark to suppose that his dulness is guarantee for his sincerity; or that before he is the tool of the profligacy of others, he is the dupe of his own jaundiced feelings, and narrow, hood-winked perceptions.
"Destroy his fib or sophistry; in vain →→
But this is less from choice or perversity, than because he cannot help it and can do nothing else. He damns a beautiful expression less out of spite than because he really does not understand it: any novelty of thought or sentiment gives him a shock from which he cannot recover for some time, and he naturally takes his revenge for the alarm and uneasiness occasioned him, without referring to venal or party motives. He garbles an author's meaning, not so much wilfully, as because it is a pain to him to enlarge his microscopic view to take in the context, when a particular sentence or passage has struck him as quaint and out of the way: he fly-blows an author's style, and picks out detached words and phrases for cynical reprobation, simply because he feels himself at home, or takes a pride and pleasure in this sort of petty warfare. He is tetchy and impatient of contradiction; sore with wounded pride; angry at obvious faults, more angry at unforeseen beauties. He has the chalk-stones in his understanding, and from being used
to long confinement, cannot bear the slightest jostling or irregularity of motion. He may call out with the fellow in the Tempest,
"I am not Stephano, but a cramp !" He would go back to the standard of opinions, style, the faded ornaments, and insipid formalities that came into fashion about forty years ago. Flashes of thought, flights of fancy, idiomatic expressions, he sets down among the signs of the times, the extraordinary occurrences of the age we live in. They are marks of a restless and revolutionary spirit: they disturb his composure of mind, and threaten (by implication) the safety of the state. His slow, snail-paced, bedrid habits of reasoning cannot keep up with the whirling, eccentric motion, the rapid, perhaps extravagant, combinations of modern literature. He has long been stationary himself, and is determined that others shall remain so. The hazarding a paradox is like letting off a pistol close to his ear: he is alarmed and offended. The using an elliptical mode of expression (such as he did not use to find in Guides to the English Tongue) jars him like coming suddenly to a step in a flight of stairs that you were not aware of. He pishes and pshaws at all this, exercises a sort of interjectional criticism on what excites his spleen, his envy, or his wonder, and hurls his meagre anathemas ex cathedrd at all those writers who are indifferent alike to his precepts and his example !'
The reputation of Sir Walter Scott, not indeed as the writer of the delightful fictions which have constituted a new æra in the history of our polite literature, but as a political partizan, does not escape some rough handling. Party divisions we have always imagined to be inseparable from a free government. A good citizen, without incurring a very heavy responsibility, may, from early and at the same time virtuous prepossessions; from accident; from the natural and inevitable influences of society; and a thousand other causes, take a part in the divisions of his time, which Mr. Hazlitt may not approve, and which may to him appear the wrong side. The idem sentire de republicá is indeed a pleasing bond of friendship and connection: but the inverse,
that a difference of political thinking is to call down the bitterest invectives upon the head of either of the parties, who may think differently upon subjects that have always divided mankind, — is a harsh and revolting absurdity. Mr. Hazlitt thus concludes his sketch of this eminent and popular writer.
If there were a writer, who, "born for the universe". "Narrow'd his mind, And to party gave up what was meant for mankind who, from the height of his genius looking abroad into nature, and scanning the recesses of the human heart," winked and shut his apprehension up" to every thought or purpose that tended to the
future good of mankind,-who, raised by affluence, the reward of successful industry, and by the voice of fame above the want of any but the most honourable patronage, stooped to the unworthy arts of adulation, and abetted the views of the great with the pettifogging feelings of the meanest dependant on office, who, having secured the admiration of the public (with the probable reversion of immortality), shewed no respect for himself, for that genius that had raised him to distinction, for that nature which he trampled under foot, who, amiable, frank, friendly, manly in private life, was seized with the dotage of age and the fury of a woman, the instant politics were concerned, who reserved all his candour and comprehensiveness of view for history, and vented his littleness, pique, resentment, bigotry, and intolerance on his contemporaries, who took the wrong side, and defended it by unfair means, who, the moment his own interest or the prejudices of others interfered, seemed to forget all that was due to the pride of intellect, to the sense of manhood,-who, praised, admired by men of all parties alike, repaid the public liberality by striking a secret and envenomed blow at the reputation of every one who was not the ready tool of power, who strewed the slime of rankling malice and mercenary scorn over the bud and promise of genius, because it was not fostered in the hot-bed of corruption, or warped by the trammels of servility, who supported the worst abuses of authority in the worst spirit, who joined a gang of desperadoes to spread calumny, contempt, infamy, wherever they were merited by honesty or talent on a different side, who officiously undertook to decide public questions by private insinuations, to prop the throne by nicknames, and the altar by lies, who being (by common consent) the finest, the most humane and accomplished writer of his age, associated himself with and encouraged the lowest panders of a venal. press; deluging, nauseating the public mind with the offal and garbage of Billingsgate abuse and vulgar slang; shewing no remorse, no relenting or compassion towards the victims of this nefarious and organized system of party-proscription, carried on under the mask of literary criticism and fair discussion, insulting the misfortunes of some, and trampling on the early grave of others
"Who would not grieve if such a man there be?
But we believe there is no other age or country of the world (but ours) in which such genius could have been so degraded!'
There is a disposition to nibble a little at the literary, but more especially the poetical, reputation of Sir Walter. Mr. Hazlitt, however, seems pretty well convinced that it is more easy to shake than subvert it.
"Though his bark cannot be lost,
He hints at the innumerable and incessant' instances of bad and slovenly English in the Waverley novels; and
though innumerable and incessant are words too strong and overcharged, we should concur in the justice of the rebuke, if, in the rapid tide of interests and emotions along which we are wafted when we take up those fascinating romances, we could suffer ourselves to be detained by petty and paltry exceptions to the grammatical correctness of an author, who is by far too eloquent and idiomatic to be cribbed and cabined within such narrow restrictions. Still Mr. Hazlitt is disposed to do full justice to the creative powers displayed in the Scotish novels. He objects chiefly to the choice of subjects, which have a tendency, he seems to think, to revive the old and forgotten principles of the Stuarts, by exciting too warm a sympathy with their characters and misfortunes.
As to the political bearing of the Scotch novels, which seems to fill Mr. Hazlitt with so many apprehensions, we are inclined to consider them as
Fears of the brave and follies of the wise."
If Sir Walter's fictions are, as our author suspects, artfully made to serve the cause and to prop up the principles of legitimacy, why does he go about his work so clumsily as to feed and foster our sympathies for the extinct race of the Stuarts? The truth is, that Mr. Hazlitt's almost insane dread of every writer, whose prejudices and partialities upon political subjects are different from his own, renders him the slave of the most absurd and inconsistent suspicions. If the author of Waverley be a concealed partizan of the claims of the Stuarts, he must be a very questionable friend to legitimacy, unless legitimacy be, as Mr. Hazlitt, with Hibernian precision, defines it, lawless power and savage bigotry.' Who, let us ask, would ever dream of making political proselytes by means of such fictions as these? The novel-writer has other business upon his hands. He creates (or borrows sketches and outlines from history which serve the purpose of creations) certain personages with characters modified by the events, in the midst of which he has placed them, and influenced by the opinions and feelings which he has attributed to them. Each acts the part assigned to it; each is faithful to the time, the spirit of that time, and the circumstances which belong to it; each is clothed in bright and glossy, but varied and contrasted colors. Every pageant of this splendid masque, at the moment it is before us, has a strong and powerful interest attached to it: each addresses us through the heart and the imagination; and the reason is left to its repose. Argument, or that balancing of motives and
opinions by which the understanding is usually won over, is out of the question; it would break the charm and destroy the illusion. While we are occupied by each of these delightful figures, we feel like each; we see the same scene, hear the same sounds, draw the same inferences, and undergo the same emotions. Thus we are 66 every thing by turns, and nothing long." Each of the characters sheds over us its peculiar influence. Covenanters, Friars, Presbyterians, Jews, outlaws, are successively in possession of our imagination; and when they quit their hold, leave it ready for some new occupant.It is only to look over the catalogue of the Waverley productions, to be convinced how distant from the mind of their author was the purpose of instilling peculiar prejudices, or inculcating specific tenets.
The observations upon Mr. Malthus are executed with great ability. It is well known that the celebrated Essay on Population was originally written in answer to Mr. Godwin's Theory of Perfectibility. The argument is thus shortly stated and answered by Mr. Hazlitt:
Then comes Mr. Malthus forward with the geometrical and arithmetical ratios in his hands, and holds them out to his affrighted contemporaries as the only means of salvation. "For" (so argued the author of the Essay) "let the principles of Mr. Godwin's Enquiry and of other similar works be carried literally and completely into effect; let every corruption and abuse of power be entirely got rid of; let virtue, knowledge, and civilization be advanced to the greatest height that these visionary reformers would suppose; let the passions and appetites be subjected to the utmost control of reason and influence of public opinione grant them, in a word, all that they ask, and the more completely their views are realized, the sooner will they be overthrown again, and the more inevitable and fatal will be the catastrophe. For the principle of population will still prevail, and from the comfort, ease, and plenty that will abound, will receive an increasing force and impetus; the number of mouths to be fed will have no limit, but the food that is to supply them cannot keep pace with the demand for it; we must come to a stop somewhere, even though each square yard, by extreme improvements in cultivation, could maintain its man: in this state of things there will be no remedy, the wholesome checks of vice and misery (which have hitherto kept this principle within bounds) will have been done away; the voice of reason will be unheard; the passions only will bear sway; famine, distress, havoc, and dismay will spread around; hatred, violence, war, and bloodshed will be the infallible consequence, and from the pinnacle of happiness, peace, refinement, and social advantage, we shall be hurled once more into a profounder abyss of misery, want, and barbarism than ever, by the sole operation of the principle of population!" - Such is a brief abstract of the