« 이전계속 »
what they read, from the zealous interest they took in it. Repletion is only bad, when it is accompanied with apathy and want of exercise. They laboured hard, and shewed great activity both of reasoning and speculation. Their fault was that they were too prone to unlock the secrets of nature with the key of learning, and often to substitute authority in the place of argument. They were also too polemical; as was but naturally to be expected in the first breaking up of established prejudices and opinions. It is curious to observe the slow progress of the human mind in shaking off and getting rid of its trammels, link by link, and how it crept on its hands and feet and with its eyes bent on the ground out of the cave of bigotry, making its way through one dark passage after another, those who gave up one half of an absurdity contending as strenuously for the remaining half, the lazy current of tradition stemming the tide of innovation, and making an endless strug gle of it. But in the dullest minds of this period there was a deference to the opinions of others; an imposing sense of the importance of the subject, of the necessity of bringing all the faculties to bear upon it; a weight either of armour or of internal strength, a zeal either for or against; a head, a heart, and a hand, a holding out to the death for conscience' sake, a stern spirit of proselytism-no flippancy, no indifferences, no compromising, no pert shallow scepticism, but truth was supposed indissolubly knit to good, knowledge to usefulness, and the temporal and eternal welfare of mankind to hang in the balance. The pure springs of a lofty faith (so to speak) had not then descended by various gradations, from their rocky cliffs and cloudy heights, to find their level in the smooth, glittering expanse of modern philosophy, or to settle in the stagnant pool of stale hypocrisy! A learned man of that day, if he knew no better than others, at least knew all that they did. He did not come to his subject like some dapper barrister who has never looked at his brief and trusts to the smartness of his wit and person for the agreeable effect he means to produce, but like an old practised counsellor, covered over with the dust and cobwebs of the law. If it was a speaker in Parliament, he came prepared to handle his subject, armed with cases and precedents, the constitution and history of Parliament from the earliest period, a knowledge of the details of business and the local interests of the country; in short, he had taken up the freedom of the House, and did not treat the question like a cosmopolite or a writer in a Magazine. If it were a divine, he knew the Scriptures, and the Fathers, and the Councils, and the Commentators, by heart, and thundered them in the ears of his astonished audience. Not a trim essay or a tumid oration, patronising religion by modern sophisms, but the Law and the Prophets, the chapter and the verse. If it was a philosopher, Aristotle and the schoolmen were drawn out in battle-array against you:-if an antiquary, the Lord bless us! There is a passage in Selden's notes on Drayton's Polyolbion, in which he elucidates some point of topography by a reference not only to Stowe, and Holinshed, and Camden, and Saxo-Grammaticus, and Dugdale, and several other authors that we are acquainted with, but to twenty more obscurer names that no modern reader ever heard of; and so on through the notes to a folio volume, written apparently for relaxation. Such were the intellectual amusements of our ancestors! Learning then ordinarily lay-in of folio volumes: now she has come down to oc
tavos and duodecimos, and will soon, as in France, shrink into single sheets! Poor Job Orton! why should I not record a jest of his (perhaps the only one he ever made,) emblematic as it is of the living and the learning of the good old times? The Rev. Job Orton was a dissenting minister in the middle of the last century, and had grown heavy and gouty by long sitting at dinner and at his studies. He could only get down stairs at last by spreading the folio volumes of Caryl's Commentaries upon Job on the steps and sliding down them. Surprised one day in his descent, he exclaimed, "You have often heard of Caryl upon Job-now you see Job upon Caryl!" This same bed-ridden gouty old gentleman seems to have been one of those "superior, happy spirits," who slid through life on the rollers of learning, enjoying the good things of the world and laughing at them, and turning his infirmities to a livelier account than his patriarchal namesake. Reader, didst thou ever hear either of Job Orton or of Caryl on Job? I dare say not. Yet the one did not slide down his theological staircase the less pleasantly; nor did the other compile his Commentaries in vain. For myself, I should like to browze on folios, and have to deal chiefly with authors that I have scarcely strength to lift, that are as solid as they are heavy, and, if dull, are full of matter. It is delightful to repose on the wisdom of the ancients; to have some great name at hand, besides one's own initials always staring one in the face: to travel out of one's self into the Chaldee, Hebrew, and Egyptian characters; to have the palm-trees waving mystically in the margin of the page, and the camels moving slowly on in the distance of three thousand years. In that dry desert of learning, we gather strength and patience, and a strange and insatiable thirst of knowledge. The ruined monuments of antiquity are also there, and the fragments of buried cities under which the adder lurks, and cool springs, and green sunny spots, and the whirlwind and the lion's roar and the shadow of angelic wings. To those who turn with supercilious disgust from the ponderous tomes of scholastic learning, who never felt the witchery of the Talmuds and the Cabbala of the commentators and the schoolmen, of texts and authorities, of types and anti-types, hieroglyphics and mysteries, dogmas and contradictions, and endless controversies and winding labyrinths and quaint traditions, I would recommend the lines of Warton written in a Blank Leaf of Dugdale's Monasticon.
"Deem not devoid of elegance the sage,
By fancy's genuine feelings unbeguiled,
Who turns of these proud tomes the historic page,
This Sonnet, if it were not for a certain intricacy in the style, would be a perfect one: at any rate, the thought it contains is fine and just.
Some of the caput mortuum of learning is a useful ballast and relief to the mind. It must turn back to the acquisitions of others as its natural sustenance and support; facts must go hand in hand with feelings; or it will soon prey like an empty stomach on itself, or be the sport of the windy impertinence of ingenuity self-begotten. Away then with this idle cant, as if every thing were barbarous and without interest, that is not the growth of our own times and of our own taste; with this everlasting evaporation of mere sentiment, this affected glitter of style, this equivocal generation of thought out of ignorance and vanity; this total forgetfulness of the subject, and display of the writer, as if every possible train of speculation must originate in the pronoun I, and the world had nothing to do but to look on and admire. It will not do to consider all truth or good, as a reflection of our own pampered and inordinate self love: to resolve the solid fabric of the universe into an essence of Della-Cruscan witticism and conceit. The perpetual affectation of effect, the premature and effeminate indulgence of nervous sensibility, defeats and wears itself out. We cannot make an abstraction of the intellectual ore from the material dross, of feelings from objects, of effects from causes. We must get at the kernel of pleasure through the dry and hard husk of truth. We must wait Nature's time. These false births weaken the constitution. It has been observed that men of science live longer than mere men of letters. They exercise their understandings more; their sensibility less. There is with them less wear-and-tear of the irritable fibre, which is not shattered and worn to a very thread. On the hill of science, they keep an eye intent on truth and fame :
"Calm pleasures there abide, majestic pains"—
while the man of letters mingles in the crowd below, courting popularity and pleasure. His is a frail and feverish existence accordingly, and he soon exhausts himself in the tormenting pursuit-in the alternate excitement of his imagination and gratification of his vanity.
"Earth destroys These raptures duly: Erebus disdains!"
Lord Byron appears to me to have fairly run himself out in this debilitating intercourse with the wanton Muse. He had no other idea left but that of himself and the public-he was uneasy unless he was occupied in administering repeated provocations to curiosity, and receiving strong doses of praise or censure in return the irritation at last became so violent and importunate, that he could neither keep on with it, nor take any repose from it. The glistering orb of heated popularity
"Glared round his soul and mock'd his closing eye-lids."
The successive, endless Cantos of Don Juan were the fever that killed him-Old Sir Walter will last long enough, stuffing his wallet and his "wame," as he does, with mouldy fragments and crumbs of comfort. He does not "spin his brains," but something much better. The cunning chiel, the old canty gaberlunzie, has got hold of another cluethat of nature and history-and long may he spin it, "even to the crack of doom," watching the threads as they are about to break through his fringed eyelids, catching a tradition in his mouth like a trap, and heaping his forehead with facts, and then will the old boy turn in his chair,
rest his chin upon his crutch, give a last look to the Highlands, and with his latest breath thank God that he leaves the world as he found it! And so he will pretty nearly with one exception, the Scotch Novels. They are a small addition to this round world of ours. We shall jog on merrily together for a century or two, I hope, till some future Lord Byron asks, "Who reads Sir Walter Scott now ?" There is the last and almost worst of them.-I would take it with me into a wilderness. Three pages of poor Peter Peebles will at any time redeem three volumes of Redgauntlet. And Nanty Ewart is even better with his steady walk upon the deck of the Jumping Jenny and his story of himself, "And her whose foot (whether he came in or went out) was never off the stair." There you came near me, there you touched me, old truepenny!
Learning is its own exceeding great reward; and at the period of which we speak, it bore other fruits, not unworthy of it. Genius, when not smothered and kept down by learning, blazed out friumphantly over it; and the Fancy often rose to a height proportioned to the depth to which the Understanding had struck its roots. After the first emancipation of the mind from the trammels of Papal ignorance and superstition, people seemed to be in a state of breathless wonder at the new light that was suffered to break in upon them. They were startled as "at the birth of nature from the unapparent deep." They seized on all objects that rose in view, with a firm and eager grasp, to be sure whether they were imposed upon or not. The mind of man, "pawing to get free" from custom and prejudice, struggled and plunged, and, like the fabled Pegasus, opened at each spring a new source of truth. Images were piled on heaps, as well as opinions and facts, the ample materials for poetry or prose, to which the bold hand of enthusiasm applied its torch, and kindled it into a flame. The accumulation of past records seemed to form the frame-work of their prose, as the observation of external objects did of their poetry
"Whose body Nature was, and man the soul."
Among poets they have to boast such names, for instance, as Shakspeare, Spenser, Beaumont and Fletcher, Marlowe, Webster, Decker, and soon after, Milton: among prose-writers, Selden, Bacon, Jeremy Taylor, Baxter, and Sir Thomas Brown; for patriots, they have such men as Pym, Hampden, Sydney; and for a witness of their zeal and piety, they have Fox's Book of Martyrs, instead of which we have Mr. Southey's Book of the Church, and a whole host of renegades! Perhaps Jeremy Taylor, and also Beaumont and Fletcher, may be mentioned as rather exceptions to the gravity and severity I have spoken of as characteristic of our earlier literature. It is true, they are florid and voluptuous in their style, but they still keep their state apart, and there is an eloquence of the heart about them, which seems to gush from the "pure well of English undefiled." The one treats of sacred things with a vividness and fervour as if he had a revelation of them : the others speak of human interests with a tenderness as if man's nature were divine. Jeremy Taylor's pen seems to have been guided by the very spirit of joy and youth, but yet with a sense of what was due to the reverence of age, and "tears of pious awe, that feared to have offended." Beaumont and Fletcher's love-scenes are like the meeting
of hearts in Elysium. Let any one have dwelt on any object with the greatest fondness, let him have cherished the feeling to the utmost height, and have it put to the test in the most trying circumstance, and he will find it described to the life in Beaumont and Fletcher. Our modern dramatists with scarce an exception, appeal not to nature or the heart, but to the readers of modern poetry. Words and paper, each couleur de rose, are the two requisites of a fashionable style. But the glossy splendour, the voluptuous glow of the obsolete, old-fashioned writers just mentioned has nothing artificial, nothing meritricious in it. It is the luxuriance of natural feeling and fancy. I should as soon think of accusing the summer-rose of vanity for unfolding its leaves to the dawn, or the hawthorn that puts forth its blossoms in the genial warmth of spring, of affecting to be fine. We have heard much of the pulpit-eloquence of Bossuet and other celebrated preachers of the time of Fenelon; but I doubt much whether all of them together could produce any number of passages to match the best of those in the Holy Living and Dying, or even Baxter's severe but thrilling denunciations of the insignificance and nothingness of life, and the certainty of a judgment to come. There is a fine portrait of this last-named powerful controversialist, with his high forehead and black velvet cap, in Calamy's Non-Conformist's Memorial, containing an account of the Two Thou sand Ejected Ministers at the Restoration of Charles II. This was a proud list for Old England; and the account of their lives, their zeal, their eloquence, and sufferings for conscience' sake, is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the human mind. How high it can soar in faith! How nobly it can arm itself with resolution and fortitude! How far it can surpass itself in cruelty and fraud! How incapable it seems to be of good, except as it is urged on by the contention with evil! The retired and inflexible descendants of Two Thousand Ejected Ministers and their adherents are gone with the spirit of persecution that gave a soul and body to them; and with them, I am afraid, the spirit of liberty, of manly independence, and of inward selfrespect, is nearly extinguished in England. There appears to be no natural necessity for evil, but that there is a perfect indifference to good without it. One thing exists and has a value set upon it, only as it has a foil in some other learning is set off by ignorance, liberty by slavery, refinement by barbarism. The cultivation and attainment of any art or excellence is followed by its' neglect and decay; and even religion owes its zest to the spirit of contradiction; for it flourishes most from persecution and hostile factions.
The different styles of art and schools of learning vary and fluctuate on this principle. After the restoration of Charles, the grave, enthusiastic, puritanical, "prick-eared" style became quite exploded, and a gay and piquant style, the reflection of courtly conversation and polished manners, borrowed from the French, came into fashion, and lasted till the Revolution. Some examples of the same thing were given in the time of Charles I. by Suckling and others, but they were eclipsed and overlaid by the prevalence and splendour of the opposite examples. It was at its height, however, in the reign of the restored monarch, and in the witty and licentious writings of Wycherley, Congreve, Rochester, and Waller. Milton alone stood out as a partisan of the old Elizabethap