Imágenes de páginas

that the learned of the seventeenth mechanically serviceable. But the century should have deemed it a sort period was fast approaching when this of degradation of their character to despised and “ rascally multitude," think or write exclusively for the peo- as they were sometimes termed, were ple. Yet such was the fact. Nor to acquire a consideration in the scale should it surprise us when we recol- of society, that was to render it no lect, that knowledge was then confin- longer either disreputable or unprofited, comparatively speaking, to a few able for talents and genius to solicit individuals, while the distinction it their notice. The civil wars between thus necessarily conferred had a natu- Charles I. and the Parliament, howral tendency to flatter their vanity, ever disastrous in other respects, were, and make them look down with an nevertheless, attended with this ad air of superiority, bordering on con- vantage that they accustomed even tempt, on the unlettered multitude the lowest of the people to habits of below.

reflection. It was necessary that every · Philosophy was in those days too man should choose his party, and take proud, too aristocratic, if we may say his side in the great national conflict. So, to let herself down to the compre And though it should be supposed hension of ordinary mortals; but to that many did so from improper mocondescend to enter into their views, to tives or erroneous views, it must also come into friendly contact, as it were, be admitted, that, in a matter of such with their prejudices, to instruct importance, they would endeavour to their ignorance, to contribute to their justify their choice by such arguamusement, or to assist and encour- ments as they were masters of.” age them in the attempt to approach It is a common remark, that civil nearer to that intellectual eminence on war and other great national emerwhich herself was seated, was not gencies never fail to call forth the taonce thought of. There can be no lent and genius suited to the occadoubt, indeed, that the great body sion. But while they do this, it of the people were held by the write should not be forgotten, that they do ens of that age as utterly unworthy of what is of infinitely more importance. their notice. This is apparent from They improve and invigorate the nam the language they habitually employ tional intellect at largę, by habituatwhenever they have occasion to speak ing, every member of the state to exof them. “The mob,” “the canaille," ercise his judgment on questions of " the vulgar herd,” “ and the many- the highest moment-questions not headed beast," are the courteous epi- merely interesting to the philosopher thets bestowed on all who had not re as matters of speculation, but which ceived the benefit of an university or come home to the feelings, and in forinal education, or whose rank and their results directly affect the personprofession did not require or imply it. al comfort and interest of the great The following passage trom Foster's ad- body of the citizens. Thus even civil mirable Essay on the Evils of Popu- war, that worst of national calamities, lar Ignorance is as just as it is forci- is not altogether without its advanbly and eloquently expressed. “The tages, which, though trifling and writers," says. he, are habitually light as air when put in the balance seen in the very mode of addressing against the miseries and the mischiefs their readers, recognising them as a it occasions, are yet gladly laid hold sort of select community, and any re- of by the philanthropist as a slight ferences to the main bulk of society are compensation for ills he deplores, but in a manner unaffectedly implying cannot prevent. that it is just merely recollected as a While the political and religious herd of beings existing on quite other dissensions of the seventeenth and terms, and for quite other purposes eighteenth centuries thus stimulated than we fine writers, and you our ad- and prepared the minds of men for miring readers.” “Indeed," continues the acquisition of knowledge, the difhe, “it is apparent in our literature fusion of wealth, and a more liberal of that age, that the main national po- establishment for the education of pulation were held by the mental youth, furnished them with the lords in the most genuine sovereign means of making the acquisition. contempt, as creatures to which souls Hence it happened, that, at the acceswere given just to render their bodies sion of Queen Anne, there existed a


sort of new order in the state, since practical tendency in all. With reknown by the name of the reading spect to the Rambler and some other public, comprising a numerous and papers, written at a later period, by the respectable body of all ranks, and, in well-known pen of Dr Johnson, though a literary point of view, occupying a they have the same practical tendenmiddle place between the learned by cy 'as the works above mentioned, profession on the one hand, and the they are yet very different in their totally illiterate on the other. Such style and manner. The style of the were the persons for whom the perio- Spectator is simple and flowing, often dical press of Great Britain was, for diffuse, and sometimes feeble. That the first time we may sảy, instituted of the Rambler is dignified and con-for whose instruction and amuse cise. The former is distinguished by ment the lucubrations of an Addison, a sort of playful ease, inclining the a Steele, and a Swift, were penned. reader to look on his author as a frank

On the character and tendency of good-natured companion, who takes the the periodical labours of those cele- liberty to offer his advice in a friendbrated authors, it is unnecessary to ly way, without presuming to enforce say much. They are in every body's it by his authority. The latter, on hands. The Spectator is as familiar. the contrary, assumes at once the air ly known as the Bible or Book of and attitude of a master ; never relaxes Common Prayer, and is not unfre- into familiarity ; speaks with a tone quently to be found occupying the of decision commanding at once the same shelf. Perhaps no writings in attention and respect of his readers, the English language ever obtained so and maintaining, throughout, a stateuniversal a circulation ; and it is not liness of carriage well adapted to the too much to affirm that few or none grave sentiments he inculcates. Perwere ever more deserving. As to haps no writer ever understood so their style, it has long been held, by well the power of the English lanthe best authorities, as a model of guage. None certainly ever wielded chaste simplicity-elegant without it with more dexterity and effect. affectation-perspicuous without be- In his choice of words, he is detering diffuse.

mined more by their force, than by a The papers in the Spectator are, regard to their smoothness. His pewith a few exceptions, of a practical riods never appear laboured. They tendency. Man, as a moral and ac seem rather to flow with ease, but it countable being, is the chief object. is the ease of majesty and strength. The authors address their readers, Johnson's style was his own. It was not so much in their political capacity new:- medium between the manly of citizens, as in their more general strength of the old English authors of character of individual men and wo the time of Elizabeth, and the chaste men, holding certain relations in so elassic elegance of the days of Anne. ciety, and having duties to perforin, It possesses all the vigour of the forerrors to correct, faults to amend, mer, without their stiffness, and nearand virtues to improve or confirm. ly all the grace, without any of the They inveigh against vice with all the feebleness of the latter. Were we cogency of argument. The follies and writing a critique on his works, we the eccentricities that elude or defy should, as far as style is concerned, reasoning, they assail with the suc- give the preference to his Rasselas. cessful weapons of wit and satire. There is less of his peculiarities in it They reprove, exhort, remonstrate, than in his other productions, and, laugh, and even frown, with all imagin- both in sentiment and style, is justly able good nature. They are circum- considered one of the most beautiful stantial, but not personal. They attack compositions extant in any language. the sin, but spare the sinner. Their The leading characteristic of those aim is to warn and instruct the fool, writings, and that which chiefly disnot to hurt the feelings of the man. tinguishes them from similar producThese remarks will apply to more of tions of our own times, is an almost the other periodical works of the total absence of politics and political eighteenth century. There is the controversy. They were, as I have same manly simplicity of style--the already said, teachers of good breedsame force of reasoning the same ing, guardians of good taste and pubdelicate vein of humour, and the same licitorals, and nothing more. They

left it to the responsible agents of go- unwilling to display their generosity vernment-the ministers of state-to to a band of hireling writers, whose manage the affairs of the state, to im- business it was to defend the measures pose taxes, nominate to places, con- of their masters, and heap abuse on clude peace, or proclaim war, just as all who had the courage or honesty to they thought proper.

question their propriety. To vindiThis political apathy, so different cate themselves from the aspersions of from what obtains in the present those venal scribes, and expose what times, and which, to some, may seem they conceived the ruinous policy of to savour of servility, was owing to their employers, the friends of Amethe state of the country at that period. rican liberty had recourse, in their For a period of more than forty years turn, to the agency of the press. previous to the Revolution of 1688, Thus, while the armies of England the people of England had been engag were employed in an inglorious, and, ed in an arduous and painful struggle finally, unsuccessful crusade against with despotic power. They had la- the liberties of America, their fellowvished their money, and shed the best citizens at home were engaged with blood of the nation, to recover the li- no less zeal, and hardly less bitterness, berty which they had lost, or to secure in a sort of literary civil warfare, of and confirm what yet remained. which liberty also was the object. The Success was for a long time doubtful. newspapers, hitherto little more than No sooner had they shaken off the dry registers of public events, now yoke of one tyrant, than another, and teemed with reflections, embodying a worse, usurped his place. So that, and recommending the political prinby the time they had finally gained ciples of their editors. The example their object, they were something in of the daily press was speedily followthe situation of exhausted combatants, ed by the literary magazines, reviews, glad to repose from their toils, and and periodical journals of almost every forget their past labours in contem- description, which ranged themselves plating the victory in which they had on the one side or the other, as inteissued. The writers of that age, rest or principle dictated, propagating therefore, like the generality of writ- and defending the tenets of their reers of every age, readily accommodated spective parties. theinselves to the public taste. They Such was the state of feeling in this neglected politics, and, instead of country when the French Revolution wearying their readers with the in- first broke out. That mighty event, trigues of courts, or the turbulence of the effects of which are not yet perfaction, they amused them with the haps fully developed, was hailed by more harmless politics of the draw- one half of mankind as the harbinger ing-room, the disputes of lovers, or of a new and better order of things, the jealousies of an elderly husband and dreaded and detested by the other over his young and beautiful spouse. as a moral plague, that was to destroy

It was not till towards the close all social institutions, and introduce of the last century, that the periodical universal anarchy and confusion. No press of Great Britain began to as where, however, did it produce a more sume a complexion decidedly politi- powerful impression than in our own cal. In this, however, it was not island. The public mind might be leading, but following in the wake of said to have been absorbed in it. All public opinion. The first American ranks of men not only thought, but War, and the questions it gave rise to, felt for or against it. Its principles, excited an uncommon degree of inte- its progress, its tendency, its prorest both in the senate and the na- scriptions, massacres, and murders, tion at large. Everywhere the popu were the constant theme of conversalar feeling was loudly expressed for tion. None were found hardy enough or against the measures of administra to justify the excesses to which it untion with respect to the colonies. fortunately led, but there were many, The press followed, and lent its power- who, while they lamented its horrors, fal aid to the partisans of each of the approved of its principle, and wished two great parties into which the state it success. In short, popular feeling was then, and still continues to be, was roused to the utmost stretch of divided. The ministry, glad to find intensity. Meanwhile, a spirit of support by whatever means, were not republicanism seemed fast gaining

ground. Liberty and Equality, the nue to do so for a long time to come. Shibboleth of the Revolutionists on the The recent revolutions in favour of Continent, were echoed with rapture liberty in so many countries of Euous enthusiasm by thousands, and rope the emancipation of the South tens of thousands, from one end of the American colonies, (for their emanciisland to the other; and without some pation is now no longer problematiprompt and decisive measure, it was calo)--and, above all, the spirit of bold evident a crisis was at hand. To pre- and independent thinking peculiar to vent, therefore, the spread of Jacobi- the age-afford a moral certainty that nical notions, and overawe their abet- the day is yet far distant when politors, the whole force and authority of tics, in the extended sense of the government soon became necessary. term, shall cease to interest a British În Ireland the flames of rebellion were public. already kindled, and it was generally It remains to consider the effect apprehended, that nothing but a spark which periodical literature, as at prewas wanting to kindle them at home. sent conducted, is calculated to pro

While men's minds were thus agi- duce on the learning and morals of tated, and their passions heated, it the

country. certainly ought not to astonish us, That it is favourable to the intethat mere literature, formal criticism, rests of learning, cannot, we think, and calm dispassionate dissertations admit of a doubt. It makes knowon life and manners, should appear ledge accessible to the very lowest or dull and insipid to the majority of the ders of the community. By means of reading public. In fact, there was an monthly and quarterly publications in absolute impatience of moral maxims a cheap and commodious form, the and sober precept. Even that more discoveries of the learned in the difpopular species of writing addressed ferent departments of the arts and to the imagination failed to arrest at- sciences are made known, explained, tention. Nothing was listened to that and illustrated to thousands, who had not a reference, more or less direct, would otherwise never have heard of to the great principles and events of the them. They keep alive a taste for day. Nothing else would take, no- reading among the people, which is thing else would go down. And the often of more advantage than the vawriter who wished to be reall, or even lue of the information they contain, tolerated, was obliged, whatever might They are favourable to the cultivation be his individual taste, to sacrifice of the intellectual powers, by contilargely to the taste of that tribunal nually presenting new subjects of rebefore which he chose to appear. flection, and new topics of conversaThere was no necessity, indeed, for tion to persons whose range of ideas his sacrificing his political opinions, is necessarily limited. They bring but there was a necessity for his ex- down knowledge to the level of ordipressing, with energy and decision, nary understandings, serving as a methose which he held. Nor was this dium of communication between the necessity confined to the newspapers, professed philosopher and man of and works professedly political ; it ex. science on the one hand, and the tended, in no inconsiderable degree, practical man of business, and the into periodical publications of almost dustrious mechanic and laborious arevery description. Not a country ma tizan, on the other. It is not their gazine that did not find it convenient object, nor do they pretend, to make to take its side, and avow its tenets, their readers perfect masters of every while the more eminent publications subject they treat, or to render them then existing, or since set on foot, profound scholars and philosophers; were soon as much distinguished by but they do what is of far more imtheir party feelings, and attachment portance. They make them all more to a certain system of politics, as by or less enlightened.--they remove abthe talent and ability with which they solute ignorance, gross prejudices, and were conducted.

increase the aggregate of national inThe same remarks will apply, and telligence, on which, let it be rememperhaps even more forcibly, to all the bered, national happiness and improvesubsequent periodical writings of the ment depend : for it signifies little kind mentioned, down till the present how many erudite critics or linguists, day, and in all probability will conti or how many able divines or lawyers,

[ocr errors]

or how many eminent poets or paint. rally speaking, favourable in the same
ers, a country can boast, if the mass degree to the other. What enlight-
of its population be in a state of ab ens the mind improves it. Ignorance
ject ignorance. Perhaps England is the mother, not only of devotion, but
could reckon as many men of pro- superstition. Mental prejudices ge-
found skill and genius in the arts and nerate practical errors, and knowledge,
sciences a century ago as she can at though it may be perverted for a time,
the present time; yet it will hardly directs its possessor, in the end, to
be denied that the general talent, and right conduct.
the intellectual attainments, of the The greater part of the periodical
nation, are, beyond all comparison, prese of Great Britain is at this mo-
greater now than in the days of George inent so much engrossed with poli-
the First.

tics, or with the discussion of ques.
After this, it would be a mere waste tions and controversies connected with
of time and words to attempt to re- politics, that it is exceedingly difficult
move the prejudices (for they can to assign the precise amount of in-
scarcely be called arguments) which fluence it is calculated to exert on the
are sometimes entertained against the moral feelings of the nation. In the
publications in question. It has days of Addison and Johnson, that
been alleged, for instance, that they influence could be determined at once
tend to encourage habits of indolence simply by a perusal of their papers.
-to make knowledge extremely vague They were professed teachers of mo-
and superficial-and, worst of all, to rals, and discoursed directly on the
flatter the vanity of every smatterer subject. But this is not the age of
in learning, who is apt to imagine he practical essays. Not one in a hun-
can attain all that is necessary of any dred of our periodical journals makes
subject in a single evening, by merely it its business directly to influence
glancing over at his leisure some do the religious sentiments or moral con-
zen pages of a manageable octavo, duct of its readers. The influence
hot from the press, and neatly done they exert, therefore, is only indirect
up in a blue or yellow cover. It and accidental, unknown, at least un-
should be remembered, however, that studied, by the writers, and not thought
all this, supposing it to happen, is but of by their readers. Yet it is not, for
an incidental evil-the abuse of a good all that, the less real. The spirit they
thing. If a student, from laziness, or breathe, the nature of the subjects
whatever cause, satisfy himself with a they discuss, and, above all, the tone
popular review of a work, when he and temper they display towards those
should have consulted and studied who differ from them, insensibly, but
the work itself, there is no help for powerfully, affect the opinions and
it A student who deserves the name habits of the people.
will not satisfy himself so easily; if If we look at the temper some of our
he do, there are ten chances to one, periodical journals display towards one
that, but for the review, he would another in the various controversies
have remained ignorant of the subject they have occasion to discuss, we shall
altogether. But that is not the ques be obliged to confess that it is not the
tion. Periodical publications are prin- most conciliating. There is an im-
cipally designed, not for students, but patience of contradiction, a sort of
for the people ; and if, as we have en- fretful irritation, discoverable in their
deavoured to show, they have contri- discussions, that too often betrays
buted more, perhaps, than any thing them into a degree of warmth unbe-
else to enlighten and instruct, as far coming inquirers after truth. Were
as their education and circumstances that warmth always confined to the
will permit, the great body of the mere attack and defence of prin-
people, we may well console ourselves ciples and opinions, however undig-
for the vanity of a few self-conceited nified in literary men, the evil would
sciolists and shallow pretenders. be less. But, unfortunately, it has,

The same arguments that establish in some instances, carried them farthe beneficial influence of the periodi- ther. It has led them to attack persal press on the literature, are equally sons as well as opinions. Argument conclusive of its good effects on the has been exchanged for invective. morals of a country. Indeed, what. The exercise of cool judgment has ever is favourable to the one is, gene- yielded to the display of angry feel

[ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »