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BLACKWOOD'S

EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. C.

MAY, 1825.

SIR EGERTON BRYDGES'S RECOLLECTIONS.

We know not well in what way to satisfy all our own feelings in reviewing these volumes. The author is a high-born and high-bred gentleman, of unspotted character, amiable we cannot doubt in all really important matters, and entitled unquestionably to respect as the possessor of very considerable talents, and various extremely elegant accomplishments. He is now well-stricken in years, and complains that he has been ill used by the world. Our inclination, therefore, would lead us, if he only were concerned, to speak of his work with nothing but kindness and respect. But we are constrained to say, that he who writes a book must be contented to have it considered in more points of view than one, and to add that the publication of Sir Egerton Brydges appears to us to be calculated to produce much more of evil than of good among those who are likely to read it.

These, to be sure, are not very many; but Sir Egerton is one, and perhaps stands at the head, of a class of persons, who, without having much influence individually, affect to no inconsiderable degree the general mind of the public, by the pertinacity of their united exertions. Above all,

VOL. XVII.

such authors as this are extremely dangerous to young minds. Youths? possessing some share of natural sensibility, but nothing like the strength of original genius or even talent, are induced to take up the views of persons who write in a tone extremely flattering to their self-love, and encouraged by their idle talk to make literature the business of their lives, to the total ruin, not of fortune merely, but of all peace of mind. The eternal cant, in other words, of Sir Egerton and his associates, is, that the public voice affords no rule whatever as to the real character of new works of literature that criticism is nothing but mockery and malignity-that every one must rely entirely upon himself. To this is generally annexed some enunciation of a theory, than which nothing we conceive is more dangerous to young, sensitive, and imbecile minds: the the ory, namely, that the only thing of real value in literature is the expres sion of what one actually feels in consequence of what one actually meets with in the world, and that art, arrangement, condensation, patient elaboration, revision, and correction, are only so many names for the trickery by whi second-rate beings attempt

* Recollections of Foreign Travel, on Life, Literature, and Self-knowledge. By Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart. 2 vols. London-Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row.-1825.

VOL. XVII.

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in vain to hide their deficiency in genius.

That one word genius has done more harm than anything in the vocabulary. It has been prostituted till it has lost all meaning. Not a beardless driveller in the land who does not expect, if he produces a sonnet on a rose-leaf, that we shall see genius in his bauble. Genius, so help us, inspires the leading articles of our newspapers-the small print of our Magazines is redolent of genius!

Sir Egerton himself is very superior in talents to those who run the greatest risk of being misled by his speculations, and ruined by following his example. He, moreover, although he rails at Lady Fortune, in good set terms, was born to a competent estate, and succeeded in middle life to a splendid one. It is no great matter, therefore, to him and his, that he has occupied himself from twenty to sixty-two in writing and publishing works, not one of which ever paid, we honestly believe, the paper-maker and the printer. But this is not the situation of many of those who, in opening manhood, feel the movements of literary ambition in the absence of that sort of power of mind and talent which alone can enable any man to gain anything like Fortune, or anything like Fame, worthy of the name, by devoting himself to the pursuits of literature as his occupation. We are sickened when we think of the multitudes of naturally amiable tempers that have been for ever soured and embittered by the indulgence in such dreams.

which this sort of thing is inculcated, and see whether a few plain hints of our own may not rob them of their poison. Thus,

Sir Egerton's primary object seems to be to show that what he calls genius is a thing that of necessity incapacitates a man for mixing in the ordinary society and business of the world, and that is injured and degraded exactly in proportion as the possessor suffers himself so to blend in the common stream of life. Now this is a doctrine exceedingly acceptable, no doubt, to many young persons who prefer lounging in a green lane over a Coleridge or a Collins, to the ignoble fatigue of copying briefs or pounding medicines. These are all, in their own estimation, lads of genius, and Sir Egerton Brydges, and all his knot, assure them that they will play false to God and Nature if they do not set their faces decidedly against the shop. We must quote a few of the passages in

"Common business is but the conflict of, or with, shufflers and gamblers who play with loaded dice." Again,

"I am only fit for the calm of domestic society; for solitude, musing, reading, writing, and a short and quiet stroll in the open air. If these are proofs of want of talent, or of inutility to life, I must submit. In the course of my life, I have been drawn at times a good deal into the vortex of business; but I have been as constantly its victim, as I have been engaged in it: the most stupid fellow always beat me; and he beat me perhaps more easily in proportion to his stupidity: the blunted, or turned back upon me by his sharp edge of my temper was always callousness. I wish it had been my fate never to have mingled with the world." Again,

"Men of business and professional men have no conception of anything done for general purposes.”

Again,

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"In the course of a long life, a strenuous author of genius accumulates a mass of golden ore, which puts him be yond much fear of being removed from the eminence that he has raised; loose, careless gatherings may slide from under his feet, or be shaken by the winds of caprice, or slights of thoughtless negligence; but perseverance will settle his labours into a firm and large consistence, sufficient both in size and strength to become durable.

"I have not the presumption to suppose myself one of this order; but I still go on to do my best; and by the uninterrupted performance of my daily task, to swell, though slowly yet with certainty, my not unvirtuous labours into something, which, by their quantity at least, shall have some weight. (!!) I cannot believe that many would have toiled with a spirit so unbroken under such mighty trials, as it has been my lot to endure. I cannot reason on my ardour for literature,-my reason would have abandoned it thirty years ago; but it is somehow a part of my being; I cannot separate it from me; I live for it, and in it; I rise to it in the morning; I go to my rest with it; and think of it at midnight, and in my sleep. I have, however, at last, almost laid books aside, and am conversant only with my own thoughts. These thoughts never fail me ; every day presents them in abundance; and I hope with some diversity and no

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tary to Cromwell? Was not Shakspeare himself a merry good-natured player, who framed the very greatest works of human genius in the mere intervals of his professional labours? Was not Swift a busy churchman and politician all through life? What was Clarendon ?What was Burns himself, (of whom Sir Egerton Brydges is so fond of speaking)-a ploughman, a farmer, an exciseman! What is Scott? has he not been all his life a lawyer, and is he not at this moment both law-officer, occupied in that capacity the best part of the day, during the greater part of the year, and a great farmer and planter to boot, to say nothing of living eternally in company?

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The only answer which THE MOPING SCHOOL can bring to all this, is have done what they have done in spite an assertion that these men of genius of their situations, and would have done much better things had they been Now our remerely men of genius. joinder is not far to seek. Produce, ye of the quiet stroll, the names of the first-rate authors who belong to your Take the world from Adam to Macadam, and show us what you can bring forth.

Again,

"I do not think that men of the world can be poets."

Again,

"If nature does not implant the faculty and bent in us, we cannot be poets; and if it does, we cannot be men of the world. A wit is commonly a man of the world, because his field of action is placed in watching, elucidating, and exposing what lies upon the surface of human manners; but he has scarce ever any heart, any fixed opinions, or any deep judgment.

I never yet read with the smallest emotion or favour the life of any poet, who had not a character marked, peculiar, or over-ruling. I can forgive eccentricities occasionally perverse; I can forgive some fitful indulgencies even of ab. surdity or folly; but I cannot forgive a cold, cautious, calculating, sneering, scornful prudence-what is vulgarly call-school. ed shrewd sense: but it is nothing but an ungenerous, selfish, plotting, fraudulent, ambushed cunning; it never was, and never will, it cannot be, united, to imagination and feeling. There are those who would have everything treated lightly, as if it was to be admired or neglected at will or convenience; gone through with indifference, as it were for fashion; and played with, in a tone and manner as if it was done by a civil condescension from secret and mysterious greatness.-If poetry be a solid fruit of the mind, if it be an imbodiment of truth, then the pleasures and feelings in which it deals cannot be inapplicable to actual life."

Now what does all this amount to? Let us see who are the real great Geniuses of the world. Homer-does any one read him and believe that he was a man only fitted for, and accustomed to, a quiet fireside, and a stroll among the daffodillies? Eschylus-was he not a stirring politician and valiant soldier through life? Pindar-was he not a politician and a high priest? Thucydides was he not an active soldier and statesman? What was Julius Cæsar?-Tacitus?-Cicero?-Sallust? Juvenal? Was Dante a moper ?Was Bacon nothing but a man of contemplative genius?-Was not Milton a schoolmaster and afterwards a Secre

You have, you admit, no first-rate. That you have, notwithstanding, a few men of real genius, we admit. You have Collins, Wordsworth, and one or two more; but it is our opinion, and we venture to say it is the opinion of all mankind, that all these would have been worth fifty times more than they are, had they been compelled to take a hearty part in the active business of life. As for Byron, we cannot permit you to claim him as a subject of triumph. He permitted some wounds of vanity (inflicted by base hands) to drive him out of the society for which he was born, and from the duties which his rank entailed on him. But even as it was, he only went from good company to bad, and bestowed on eternal journeyings, pistol-practisings, and gin-twist, the time which might have been, with at least as much advantage to his genius, bestowed upon the proper occupations of an English landlord and legislator. Do you suppose that his genius was more benefited by his secluded intercourse with Miss Guiccioli, than it would have been by a flirtation of equal intensity, carried on in Kensington Gardens, &c.? Do you seriously opine, that he wrote

308

better poems by drinking toddy with Medwin, &c., than he would have done, had he staid at home to imbibe sound constitutional port in Albemarle Street, or balmy Lafitte in Whitehall? Was Hollands safer for a man of genius than Holland house? Is the solitary indulgence of chewing more suitable to a man of genius than the soulsoothing conviviality of the cigarium? -But these refined people will not look whither their own theory would carry them.

Sir Egerton Brydges's Recollections.

Having in this way done their utmost to persuade young persons of the class we have indicated, to cut themselves off from the ordinary occupations of life as unworthy of genius, the next thing is to protract their delusion, by leading them to undervalue entirely the reception which their efforts in the walk to which they have thus exclusively devoted themselves, may happen to meet with from the public. This, however meant, is, in its effects, the most genuine cruelty. But let us see how the Leader (too good for the place) of the MOPING SCHOOL enunciates his dogma:

"There is something so perverse in our human destiny, that it seldom happens that the attainment of our desires satisfies us, even when they are rational. We wish for honourable fame, it seldom comes; but if it comes, we find scarce any enjoyment in it; it turns out to be a shadow. The absence of it is a grief, its presence is no happiness.

"It does not always fall on those who deserve it; witness Milton, who was very little noticed, and still less praised by his contemporaries; a neglect for which it is idle to attempt to account, by ascribing it to the prejudices entertained against his political character, because, till the Restoration, his politics would have recommended, not depressed, him; and yet the neglect of his poetry was always the same, though his Comus, &c. had been published at least twenty-five years before the return of Charles II. At the same time, numerous contemptible versifiers on both sides were in possession of great celebrity."

Again

"He who has not the public with him will not have friends sincerely with him he must be everything to himself. I dare say that Milton had not a friend in his own day who thought him equal to Cowley, or even to Waller; and that he looked down upon them, when such opinions were unguardedly let out, not per

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haps directly, but by inference from the
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but pitying complacence."
tone of their conversations, with calm
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rited, as in Lord Byron's case; but not
"Sometimes fame falls where it is me-
often! Lord Byron had, perhaps, a great-
real poet in his life; and it was the more
er excess of it than ever happened to a
extraordinary, because it was unwilling
and extorted fame."
Again-

inimitable Odes, because they would not
"Collins burnt all the copies of his
sell; and Warton's History of English
Poetry, after forty years, is not yet re-
printed; and was long, I believe, a drug
in the market. At the same time, Hay-
ley's Triumphs of Temper went through
several rapid editions.”

Again, more concisely still:the vox Dei is as uncertain as the blow"If the vox populi be the vox Dei, then ing of the wind, which blows from the north to-day and from the south to-mor

row."

Or thus:

"On what true genius has fame come in his lifetime equal to his deserts ?"

the examples which Sir Egerton has Now, let us look for a moment at produced. Milton, in the first place, was, it seems, nobody in his own time. On the contrary, his intellectual power was acknowledged by everybody who was capable of understanding anything of the matter. He was known and cefirst of men, and he held in his own lebrated all over Europe as one of the country the high office of conductor of all the foreign correspondence of Oliver Cromwell! But the Paradise Lost lished, and therefore no poet ought to was not popular when it was first pubreverence the opinion of the public! Did it never occur to Sir Egerton, that overlooked was an age in which everythe age in which Milton's poetry was thing that had any connexion with the imaginative faculties of man was despised by those who had the guidance of the public mind in England? Was he ignorant, that if Milthen Homer, Shakspeare, every great ton, as a poet, was little thought of, poet the world had ever known, was equally the object of contemptuous indifference to the sour and malignant spirit of predominating fanaticism? time also in which the Parliament of Did he not know that that was the England sold by auction, to foreign

ers, the most magnificent collection of pictures and statues that England has ever yet possessed, because they preferred a few paltry thousands to all the works of genius that humanity had ever treasured? As for Cowley and Waller, they were never popular until after the Restoration; they were both genuine poets, moreover, at the worst; and if it be true (which we prodigiously doubt) that they were more popular poets than Milton even then, what would this prove, except the intensity to which political feelings predominated, in an age which had witnessed the decapitation of an English king, by the hands of a coldblooded faction, from which all Milton's genius had not been able to keep him aloof? What lesson can any poet of these peaceful days gather from this obvious anomaly?

Collins is another of his examples. It seems his Odes did not sell well just at first, and he burnt the lumbercopies! The fact is, that Collins died at thirty-six, within a very few years after his Odes were first published. Considering the very small extent of his poetical productions, and the very small class of readers for whom they were, or ever could be adapted, we think it no wonder at all that he should not have become in a moment the possessor of any very high and commanding degree of popularity. He was admired, however, by Samuel Johnson, and by all the best judges of his time; and we beg to ask whether he is now, or whether it is at all likely that Collins ever will be, a popular author with more than a very small circle of highly refined readers. He did not play for the great game, and he did not win it.

But "sometimes fame falls where it is merited, as in Lord Byron's case, but NOT OFTEN!" Here is the thunderbolt indeed. Not often!-Did Eschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Pindar, Aristophanes, Menander, Aristotle, Plato, Demosthenes-did none of these men deserve the instant and consummate fame which their works brought them? Were Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Cæsar, &c., &c., all neglected classics? Was Dante-was Petrarch," the friend of princes"was Ariosto-was Tasso neglected? Was not Chaucer the favourite of Edward? was it not "the sweet swan of Avon" that winged

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That so did take Eliza and our James ?" Were Dryden, Pope, Swift, Addison, Johnson, Burke-were they all mere exceptions to the rule, that contemporary fame falls "not often" on those who merit it?

The fact is, that all our great English authors have been, as authors, eminently successful, with, at the utmost, the one exception, already (if it be one) sufficiently accounted for, of Milton. Chaucer made a fortune the best test of fame; so did Spenser, (though he lost it afterwards.) Shakspeare died the richest man in Stratford upon Avon, and in the best house thereof. His granddaughter was a great heiress, and married into a great family; and it was in "the house that Will built" that Maria Henrietta held her court when she stayed at Stratford. Dryden was an imprudent man; yet even he made by his writings, upon an average, £500 ayear, from the time he commenced authorship till the day of his death; and that, if one thinks of the time, was no inconsiderable sum. In fact, it was quite equal to £1500 at present. Pope died as rich as a Jew-Swift ditto. Addison became a secretary of state through his literature only. Johnson did not make a fortune, only because he was the most indolent great man that ever the world saw.

At all events these men, and an innumerable company besides, had abundance of contemporary fame; and is it against this cloud of witnesses that we are to have a single, at the best second-class, poet like Collins, ay, or fifty Collinses, set up, as proving that the public may be right occasionally, but is almost always wrong?

We believe the fact to be, that the public has, in all ages of the world, erred much more on the generous side than the other; and that for any one given example of under-rated merit, we could, if it were worth our while, produce, at half an hour's notice, a hundred examples of over-rated merit. Pause, ye young men of genius, ere ye lay to your souls the flattering unction of Sir Egerton. Believe, if ye will, in the general, that

"There is nothing more magnificent than that calm self-confidence which, judging rightly of its own powers and merits, goes calmly on, not only without

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