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batants. Newspapers, Magazines, and Reviews were enriched with the contributions of the first scholars and most eminent politicians of the day. Appeals were made through the press, that abounded in learning, in cogent reasoning, and high-wrought sentiment. The understandings of mankind were cultivated, whilst their passions were deeply roused; and a spirit was kindled, in every part of the community, which continued to blaze out in fits of passionate excitement, until the French Revolution burst forth to dazzle and terrify the world.
From this memorable crisis in its affairs, the periodical press of Great Britain continued to increase in influence. Conducted on a comprehensive plan, aiming at objects of permanent utility, and bringing to the execution of ils duties the highest order of intellect, the events which followed widened, to an unlimited extent, the sphere of its power. The Revolution in France may be said to have completed that change in the character and tendency of our periodical literature which had previously commenced. It furnished new subjects of investigation, gave circulation to novel theories and startling opinions, inflamed the passions of the populace; and was productive of as much extravagance and folly in the parlisans of unlimited authority as in the wildest advocates of equality. Its effects on literary productions were no less remarkable and sudden, than on the political movements of society.
The influence of the French Revolution on literature, is strikingly evinced in the publications that denounced or vindicated its principles, lamented or rejoiced in its tendency. The originality of thought, freedom of opinion, and power of style, displayed in these productions, present a singular contrast to the tame and uninteresting articles that used to form the staple commodity of the English press. Amongst the pamphlets of that day, those of Burke, Mackintosh, and Paine, made the most powerful impression. The age that could understand and appreciate those masterpieces of political controversy must have advanced considerably in intellectual cultivation. Their merits were canvassed by thousands ; ihey were eagerly read by the great mass of the population; and the momentous lopics of which they treated were as familiar to the mechanic and the artisan, as to the rulers of the nation, and the members of the two houses of the Legislature.
Looking at the French Revolution, therefore, in its political and intellectual effects, there can be no question that it has, on the whole, been lavourable to liberty and to knowledge. Like all great convulsions, it brought in its train devastation, violence, and blood. Ils excesses have furnished the enemies of political improvement with a weapon which they have employed to injure the cause of liberty. "The massacres of war,” says a great author, recently removed from amongst us by the hand of death, “and the murders committed by the sword of justice, are disguised by the solemnities which invest them. But the wild justice of the people has a naked and undisguised horror. Its slightest exertion awakens all our indignation; while murder and rapine, if arrayed in the gorgeous disguise of acts of state, may with impunity stalk abroad. Our sentiments are reconciled to them in this form; and we forget that the ends of anarchy must be short-lived, while those of despotic government are fatally permanent.”
An unbiassed observer of the progress and results of the French Re
• Vindiciæ Gallica, by Sir James Mackintosh.
volution must lament the frightful progeny of crime to which it gave but he will likewise admit, that it called into action a brilliant display of genius, and accelerated the march of intellect. It is not surprising, that the despotism by which the French had been long enthralled, and the vices and ignorance of the court, the clergy, and the nobles, should have demoralized the people, and rendered them the dupes of unprincipled demagogues. Let it not be forgotten, however, that iheir mischievous doctrines were incapable of deluding a numerous class of moderate and intelligent politicians, who, with passions more subdued, with judgments more matured, and minds more deeply cultivated, could listen to the thunder as it rolled, and watch the heavings of the waves as they dashed their foam over diadems, coronets, and mitres, without being terrified, on the one hand, into the support of despotism as a refuge from revolution'; or, on the other, becoming so enamoured of popular liberty as to rush into unbridled licentiousness.* That at a period of such overwhelming interest, the people should have manisested an uncontrollable desire for political discussions, is not surprising. Amid the overthrow of dynasties and the crash of thrones, need we wonder that they threw aside, as puerile and unattractive, every publication that had not a direct reference to the new principles al work in ihe bosom of society? Moral dissertations, though slamped with the impress of genius; pictures of human life, though drawn with exquisite taste, and vivid with the colouring of reality; lost their power to awaken curiosity
• Mr. Moore, in his “Life of Sheridan,” makes the following sound observations on the effects of the French Revolution upon the opinions of the partisans of arbitrary power and the friends of liberal principles : -“It was an event,” says that cloquent writer, " by wbich the minds of men throughout all Europe were thrown into a state of soch leverish excitement, that a more than usual gree of tolerance should be exercised towards the errors and extremes into which all parties were hurried during the paroxysm. There was, indeed, no rank or class of society whose interest and passions were not deeply involved in the question. The powerful and the rich, both of State and Churcb, must naturally have regarded with dismay the advance of a political beresy, whose path they saw strewed over with the broken talismans of rank and authority. Many, too, with a distinguished reverence for ancient institutions, trembled to see them thus approached by rash hands, whose talents for ruin were sufficiently certain, but whose powers of reconstruction had yet to be tried. On the other hand, the easy triumph of a people over their oppressors was an example which could not fail to excite ihe bopes of the many as actively as the fears of the few. The great problem of the natural rights of mankind seemed about to be solved in a manner most flattering to the majority; the zeal of the lover of liberty was kindled into enthusiasm, by a conquest achieved for his cause upon an arena so vast; and many, who before would have smiled at the doctrine of human perfectibility, now imagined they saw, in what the Revolution performed and promised, almost enough to sanction the indulgence of that splendid dream. It was natural, too, that the greater portion of that Esemployed, and, as it were, homeless talent, which, in all great communities, is ever abroad on the wing, uncertain where to settle, should now swarm round the light of the new principles, while all those obscure but ambitious spirits, who felt their aspirings clogged by the medium in which they were sunk, would as naturally welcome such a state of political effervescence, as might enable them, like enfranchised air, to Dount at once to the surface. Amidst all these various interests, imaginations, and fears, which were brought to life by the dawn of the French Revolution, it is not surprising that errors and excesses, both of conduct and opinion, should be among the first products of so new and sudden a movement of the whole civilised world; —that the friends of popular rights, presuming upon the triumph that had been gained, should, in the ardour of pursuit, push on the vanguard of their principles somewhat further than was consistent with prudence and safety; or that, on the other side, Authority and its supporters, alarmed by the inroads of the revolutionary spirit, should but the more stubbornly intrench themselves in established abuses, and make the dangers they apprehended from liberty a pretext for proscribing its very existence.”-Yol. ii. p. 91–93.
and command admiration. The reading portion of the community ceased to be amused with tales, allegories, and ethical disquisitions. Politics alone
wore a charmed life,” and spell-bound the intellectual world. Our Reviews, no longer the repositories of stale facts, of vapid gossip, and an " asylum for destitule authors," aspired to instruct their readers in science, philosophy, and government; and the master spirits of the age, intent upon the wonderful scenes passing around them, employed them as the most appropriate channels for conveying to the people their opinions upon every question affecting the freedom and happiness of the species.
An anonymous writer,' in reference to this subject, observes, “ that the Reviews, which multiplied so rapidly after the French Revolution, occupy to a certain extent the ground of our Essayists, because they embody the floating good sense and opinions of the age; but they add more to the progress of ideas than of manners, and address themselves to the reason rather than to the fancy of their readers. On the other hand, the enthusiasm, splendour, and energy of the modern school of poetry, have produced a craving for strong excitement, and taught us to despise those light and delicate graces of execution, which are almost the only beauties consistent with the nature of Essays on life and manners. In short, no work can now be long popular, which does not either exercise the reason or stir the feelings strongly. The British Essayists do neither. Poetry and fiction have grown up side by side with philosophy, and writers who excel in either department will succeed; but those who, like some of the writers in the Spectator' and · Tatler,' hold an intermediate place—who appeal to the reason without depth of thinking, and to the fancy without enthusiasm or passion-cannot enjoy a permanent degree of popularity.”
The powerful impulse given to public opinion and intellectual improvement by the Revolution in France, was very sensibly felt in Scotland. Until the close of the American War, the Scotch were comparatively indifferent to political publications. This apathy may have been partly occasioned by their defective representative system, which, by depriving them of the rights of free citizens, diminished the interest they would have felt, under more favourable circumstances, in the events of the times. It is a remarkable fact, that, fisty years ago, there were not a dozen newspapers published in Scotland, and of that number not one was conducted with sufficient spirit and talent to influence in any considerable degree the opinions of the nation. They were little better than uninteresting chronicles of passing occurrences; compiled without judgment, and arranged without taste or skill. The editors were incompetent to instruct their readers on national policy; and, their political sentiments being, in general, of a servile character, they were not the most suitable agenls to keep alive popular feeling, and to inspire the middle and lower classes of the community with a love of freedom. The weekly and monthly journals, with the exception of those already enumerated, were in no respect superior to the ordinary newspapers, equally devoid of useful information and political independence.
It has been previously observed, that the French Revolution created a new class of readers and thinkers. The Scottish peasantry were qualified by their education, and their desire for the acquisition of knowledge, to profit by the improved publications which the altered spirit of the times ealled into existence. They read with avidity the productions which referred to political transactions. These were multiplied in proportion to the increased demand, and the anxiety of the people to become familiar with the questions which they discussed. It was observable that they assumed à more decided tone, and adapted their opinions to the state of public feeling. They were under the direction of men whose talents were known and appreciated; and the essays they contained were written in a plain, forcible style, calculated to arouse the excitable feelings of the populace. But at this important period, Edinburgh was without any periodical journal suited to the intelligence and taste of the citizens. The time, therefore, at which the conductors of the Edinburgh Review entered upon their undertaking, was well chosen. All classes, from the aristocrat to the labourer, had entered upon a course of mental and political training, which rendered them peculiarly susceptible to the impressions made by a work of eminent ability, professing to address itself to the understandings of its readers, and to enlighten them upon those subjects in which their religious and political liberties were concerned.
* See a sensible and argumentative Essay on the causes of the declining popularity of the British Essayists, published in Constable's " Edinburgh Magazine,” for, I believe, March, 1819.
These were the principal causes which made the public hail the Edinburgh Review, on its first appearance, with so cordial a welcome; but there was another, of sufficient importance to be specified, though it may be ranked among the accidental circumstances which facilitated the purposes contemplated by the projectors of that journal. It has been shown, that the critical state of political affairs, boih on the Continent and at home, soon after the French Revolution, gave ample scope to the speculations of the periodical press; and that the opinions advocated in the various publications of the day produced a greater effect, upon all classes of readers, than could have been anticipated under less favourable circumstances. The Edinburgh Review derived considerable advantage from those tendencies in the public mind, which disposed it to receive a favourable impression from the writings of those whose views were in accordance with that liberal and reforming spirit which had begun to effect a complete change in the frame and functions of society. The position of parties in Scotland had also a favourable influence on the success of the work. The Tories were powerful by their wealth, their station, and their close union. They clung firmly to the fundamental principles of their political faith, which were, an obstinale resistance to all change, and a bigoted attachment to those institutions and forms of polity sanctioned by antiquity. The Whigs were superior to their adversaries in talent, eloquence, and in all those attractive qualifications calculated to gain the confidence of the multitude. Without adopting the extreme opinions and visionary theories of the partisans of democracy, they encouraged by their speeches and publications the diffusion of moderate and rational principles of reform. Though opposed to sudden and extensive innovation, they were the advocates of constitutional changes, rendered necessary by the increase of wealth, the progress of general information, and the advancement of the great mass of the people in political knowledge. These principles naturally led them to support the cause of freedom in every part of Europe, and to oppose any undue interference with the rights of other nations in the pursuit of liberty. The grand characteristics of their domestic policy were, - the abolition of civil disabilities on account of religious belief; the gradual removal of abuses connected with our laws; the extinction of commercial monopolies; a more efficient and economical discharge of public duties; a gradual reduction of taxation; and the extension of mental cultivation among the working classes. A journal in which these enlightened and popular views were most ably advocated could not fail to create a very extraordinary sensation. It was admired by all the liberal party, which comprised a large portion of the aristocracy; by the most opulent of the mercantile classes ; and by the best educated part of the middle orders. Even the Tories, though they could not assent to its political opinions, applauded the eloquence, ability, and fearlessness with which they were maintained ; and so deeply impressed were they with apprehensions of the spread of revolutionary doctrines, that they regarded Whiggism as infinitely preferable to the wild and violent doctrines propagated by the anarchists of France. This circumstance induced them to look upon the Edinburgh Review with less jealousy than they would have evinced, had they not deemed it a necessary agent in correcting the absurd and theoretical notions, with respect to government and society, which then prevailed. Besides, they were conscious, perhaps, of their inferiority to their adversaries in intellectual power; and the ablest of that party did not permit political prejudices to cloud their judgment, as to the genius and information displayed in the favourite journal of the Whigs.
The circumstances now alluded to, added to the various and brilliant attainments of its principal conductors, gave the Edinburgh Review a circulation unrivalled in extent, not only through the three kingdoms, but in all parts of Europe. Its popularity exceeded the most sanguine expectalions; and the productions of its contributors were received with the homage due to men who had given a new character to criticism, and created, public opinion in their native land. In every circle, the merits of the Review were the theme of discussion. Disappointed authors condemned its supercilious tone; the enemies of political improvement declaimed against its jacobinical doctrines; and religious enthusiasts affected to discover the scorpion of infidelity lurking beneath the foliage of ils wit. But men of laste and acquirements, to whatsoever party they professed to belong duly valued the rich mental banquet which it afforded. Its speculations were perused by the leading political characters of the day with intense interest. Its prophecies were meditated in the cabinets of kings; and Napoleon was not the only sovereign who respected the opinions it put forth. It was to be expected, that many of the critical decisions of the work, which were conveyed in a bold, unqualified, and caustic style, would rouse a spirit of retaliation. Accordingly, authors became indignant, and vented their spleen in angry effusions. The artillery of the press was brought into action, and fired off an astounding though harmless volley of pamphlets, letters, and rejoinders. Of these the editors deigned to notice a few only. Their antagonists speedily found that they were no less formidable in the arena of controversy than in that of critical warfare. In fact, the Edinburgh Review, soon after its appearance, overcame every difficulty with which literary envy and political hostility struggled to impede its progress. Itinstructed by its learning, animated by its spirit, and subdued opposition by its firmness and courage. An able writer has done justice to its general characteristics in the following remarks :-“ It was the first periodical journal in Scotland, which, with any thing like a spirit of championship, came forth into the great arena of public controversy. It was the first, in fact, which manifested any trust in its own strength; which was conducted by men of talent and vigorous intellects, determined