Imágenes de páginas

deavouring to clear up, as speedily as possible, the confusion which has hence been suffered to gather round the best established facts, and left their recognition or denial at the mercy of chance or caprice. While a salutary jealousy of extensive Combinations, in the Political World, distinguishes the present age, there has been organised in that of Letters, almost unobserved in this country, a confederacy which has gradually drawn to itself, and skilfully consolidated, a power that may now be pronounced truly formidable. It has already begun to speak out plainly the language of dictation. The great literary achievement of modern Francethe “Biographie Universelle—is at length brought to a close, completing by the fifty-second volume its triumph over the alphabet. It is a work destined, unquestionably, to exercise an important influence over the Rights of the Dead of all Nations. When it stated that the list of contributors contains the names of more than three hundred writers of the highest literary eminence in France, from the year 1810, when the first volume appeared, to the present time, that every article is accompanied by the name of the author to whom it had been assigned in reference to his habitual studies, and that not a line appeared without having been previously submitted to several contributors in succession, it must be obvious that the character of such a work is matter of deep and universal interest.

A Supplement is announced, in which notice will be taken of any inaccuracy, after which doubt and controversy must cease.

Les assertions ou les faits qu'on n'y pas rectifiés ou démentis devront par ce moyen être regardés comme à peu-près incontestables et sans réplique.”

Thus The Dead, of the most remote age, are summoned to appear before this tribunal, and a charge is to be taken for confessed, unless an Answer be put in before the period (which yet is left indefinite) when the Supplement shall go to press.

press. We may smile at this sally of self-importance, but ought not to forget that the authority of these volumes, whether for good or evil, will unquestionably be extensive and commanding. Facts, and with them reputation, cannot, it is true, be irrevocably stereotyped; yet a perilous circulation may be given to the erroneous version, and a work which will influence, directly or indirectly, a majority of those whose opinions constitute fame, it were idle to treat with contempt, and unjust not to attempt to rectify, where its statements disparage a national benefactor.

It must be conceded that an omission of names cannot fairly be laid to the charge of the Biographie Universelle. The stream of time has been dragged with humane perseverance, and many who, it was supposed, bad sunk to rise no more, are made to reappear at the surface. As to the more important question, how far, there are manifested, in general, extent and accuracy of knowledge, and skill in its display, it might be unjust to offer an opinion without going into much greater detail than is here practicable. But it is quite fair to assert that the many shameful marks of haste, heedlessness and gross ignorance which it falls within the present limited inquiry to expose—and more particularly in bibliography which is the subject of especial vaunt -may suffice to show how idle must be considered its claim to infallibility, even after the appearance of the Supplement. In the article devoted to the subject of

the present Memoir, the generous conclusion is announced, after a tissue of errors, that although no evidence exists to establish the scene of his discoveries, yet they ought not to be deemed altogether fabulous, as some historians would represent (“comme fabuleuses ainsi que quelques historiens ont été tentes de le penser”). An effort is now made finally to secure his fame from the effects of either carelessness or malevolence.






With a view to greater clearness, it is proposed to attempt, in the first instance, the settlement of certain points around which confusion has been suffered to gather, and which, demanding only a careful examination of authorities, may be advantageously considered apart from the narrative.

The first question—as one affecting materially the claim of Cabot to the character of an intrepid navigator—is as to the point to which he urged his way in the north, a fact with regard to which statements exist seemingly quite irreconcilable.

The volumes of Hakluyt, usually regarded as of the highest authority, are supposed to present, on this subject, a chaos which, so far from lending assistance to clear up difficulties, rather dims, and threatens every moment to extinguish, the feeble light supplied from other quarters. In the “Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions, &c. by John Barrow, F. R. S.,” it is said (p. 32), “ there is no possible way of reconciling the various accounts collected by Hakluyt, and which amount to no less a number than six, but by supposing John Cabot to have made one voyage at least

« AnteriorContinuar »