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ought to be founded on our opinion of the work itself, and that we have primarily no right to travel out of the record (to use a legal phrase), and to consider the character of the writer, while analysing the merits or defects of his production. If the character of the writer is to be weighed together with his work, why should not the same rule be applied to painting, sculpture, and the rest of the fine arts? Yet who would imagine that the world's admiration of the Apollo Belvidere would be affected at all by the discovery of a biography of the sculptor? There is no other theory, we believe, necessary for the formation of literary judgments than the possession of a capacity for taste -a much rarer quality than is supposed--and the assiduous study of good models.
Moreover, about the authors of many of the greatest of literary works we know little or nothing. We know nothing about Homer, little about the Greek tragic poets, and little about Plato. Of Shakspeare, Spenser, and most of the Elizabethan poets, our knowledge is limited indeed. The author of the Imitatio Christi' is absolutely unknown; and the fact, moreover, is that the lives of many poets and men of letters have been in direct contrast to their works. Authors of materialist and Epicurean philosophies have led the lives of ascetics. Seneca, who wrote eulogies on poverty and abnegation, lived in imperial splendour; Redi, who wrote a poem which is counted classic on the wines of Tuscany, was a water-drinker; and if Wordsworth could be proved to be the reverse, that would not at all affect the character of his poetry. The fact is that in the case of many writers, and in that of poets especially, they are while in the act of production in an abnormal state of mind. The Est Deus in nobis, favente calescimus illo, is no empty figure of speech; even a Delphic prophetess might be a very ordinary person when not on her tripod.
The consideration of the moral character of a writer and that of his biography may indeed satisfy literary curiosity, which is justifiable enough when restrained within due bounds and directed by good taste. They may also be explanatory of his text, as in the case of Dante and others, by rendering it more intelligible and investing it with new interest, but we reject altogether the notion that they should form any component part of the elements out of which we are to construct our critical judgment. One has no need, in forming an opinion of the relative beauty of two roses, to pull them to pieces, or to enter into details of vegetable physiology, or to know the accidents of their growth.
Sainte-Beuve had, in his imagination of an improved critical
system, some ideas in common with the celebrated theories of M. Taine, and those of M. Émile Deschanel, in his work styled *La Physiologie des Ecrivains et des Artistes,' an · Essai de • Critique naturelle.' The tendency of criticism is no doubt working in that direction. Sainte-Beuve, however, in his articles on M. Taine or M. Deschanel, takes care to make clear how far he stops short of the materialist principles of these writers. M. Taine, with his famous theory by which he makes literary talent to be a combined product of the race, the milieu, and the moment, attempts through it to construct the brain of an author, fibre by fibre and cell by cell. Given the race, the milieu, and the moment, add so much phosphorus for the brain, so much phosphate of lime for the bones, and so much carbon for the body, and your genius can be constructed for you. Sainte-Beuve shows, however, how utterly ineffective is M. Taine's system to account for the singular apparition of genius, and for its diversity :
Supposez un grand talent du moins, supposez le moule, ou mieux, le miroir magique d'un seul vrai poète brisé dans le berceau de sa naissance, il n'en ressuscitera plus jamais un autre qui soit exactement le même ni qui en tienne lieu. Il n'y a de chaque vrai poète qu'un exemplaire.
• Je prends un autre exemple de cette spécialité unique de talent. Paul et Virginie porte certainement des traces de son époque; mais si Paul et Virginie n'avait pas été, on pourrait soutenir par toutes sortes de mesurements spéciaux et plausibles, qu'il était impossible à un livre de cette qualité virginale de naître dans la corruption du dixhuitième siècle ; Bernardin de Saint-Pierre seul l'a pu faire. C'est qu'il n'y a rien, je le répète, de plus imprévu que le talent, et il ne serait pas le talent s'il n'était imprévu, s'il n'était un seul contre plusieurs, un seul entre tous.'
Leaving, however, such questionable theories aside, and regarding Sainte-Beuve's Essays simply as biographical literary studies—they are in this respect most estimable; his knowledge of human nature is great, he has wide sympathy with all its sentiments, emotions and passions, his own poetic instincts and poetic fineness of expression have free and constant exercise, while his delicacy of perception is such that an expression, sometimes the frequent use of a word or even a single word, will act as a revelation of a leading trait of a character. Such admirable biographical essays in so small a compass are nowhere else to be found. They are miniatures of the most exquisite workmanship.
His faculty of criticism is also beyond measure admirable, and his taste had, as we have noted, toned down considerably in his later
years. What rare qualities and conspiring circumstances
were necessary in his opinion to co-operate in the formation of a delicate taste, he has left a record in a note written in one of the volumes of his library.
'La jeunesse est trop ardente pour avoir du goût. Pour avoir du goût il ne suffit pas d'avoir en soi la faculté de goûter les belles et douces choses de l'esprit; il faut encore des livres, une âme libre et vacante, redevenue comme innocente, non livrée aux passions, non affairée, non bourrelée d'âpres soins et d'inquietudes positives, une âme désintéressée et même exempte du feu trop ardent de la composition, non en proie à sa propre verve insolente; il faut du repos, de l'oubli, du silence, de l'espace autour de soi. Que de conditions, même quand on a en soi la faculté de les goûter, pour jouir des choses délicates!'
If we accept these conditions laid down by Sainte-Beuve, and they are worth reflecting on, and add to them the maxim of Vauvenargues,' il faut avoir de l'âme pour avoir du goût,' it must be confessed that the formation of a taste is one of the most difficult of human achievements, and one to which the conditions of the present busy age are not very favourable.
That the taste of Sainte-Beuve advanced with his years in delicacy and refinement is indisputable. Nevertheless, with all its delicacy and universality, there is one fundamental deficiency, which may be attributed to the doctrine of. Indifference,' which he laid down in the article before alluded to on Bayle, as one of the distinguishing qualities of a writer. It cannot be denied that Sainte-Beuve had some taste for the sublime, since he has shown frequent traces of it in his 'Étude sur Virgile' and in other essays; but nevertheless it was a taste to which he did not show a devotion of a much higher order than that which he bestowed on inferior kinds of literary beauty. Hence it is, however, that he was enabled to rescue so many obscure writers and inheritors of unfulfilled renown from oblivion; for large is the number of writers and persons of small account in history; such existences cachées, as he professed, had an attraction for him, whose lives by mere force of human sympathy and elaborate care he has invested with attraction for the reader. His minute and fine manner of criticism is applicable equally to small and to great men, to small events and to great ones ; it is in fact like a magic optic glass which would diminish great objects and magnify small ones till all appear of equal magnitude. There is a certain want of perception of the difference of proportion between one class of talent and another, a certain want of elevation of vision and fire and depth in the flow of his enthusiasm. His natural taste, indeed, was such as led him to prefer what may be called regulated and harmonious talents to extravagant and overflowing and even colossal genius. This natural taste was rendered still more predominant by culture; consequently in English literature such poets as Pope and Cowper, on both of whom he has written fine essays, were more congenial to him than Shakspeare or Milton.
Nevertheless, in spite of all shortcomings, he was a writer of European renown and of marvellous elegance, of wondrous fertility and inexhaustible energy. And whatever judgment may be passed upon the settled mood of scepticism into which he subsided during his later years, one cannot but admire the inextinguishable love of literature and genial sympathy with humanity which supplied to him the place of religion and animated him up to his death. As a pure man of letters it will be long, we imagine, before France, and perhaps even Europe, will produce his rival ; he was an epitome of the finest culture of modern time.
ART. VI.-1. A Manual of Ancient History, from the Earliest
Times to the Fall of the Western Empire. By GEORGE RAWLINSON, M.A., Camden Professor of Ancient History in the University of Oxford. Oxford: at the Clarendon
Press. 1869. 2. A Manual of the Ancient History of the East to the Com
mencement of the Median Wars. By F. LENORMANT, SubLibrarian of the Imperial Institute of France, and E. CHEVALLIER, Member of the Royal Asiatic Society, London.
London: 1869. TA TAE historian, it may be safely said, has to deal only with
facts; and unless the deeds which he relates as facts have been actually done by men, his toil is altogether wasted. Whatever be the subject which he chooses to treat, he must be able to bring his facts before us with the clearness which would be needed to establish a fact in a modern court of justice, or he must confess his inability to do so. His assertions must rest on the evidence of eye-witnesses or of contemporaries to whom those eye-witnesses have related their share in the several incidents narrated, or he must admit candidly that he can appeal to no such testimony. It is, of course, quite possible that he may have discovered evidence which his predecessors had neglected or forgotten; or he may exhibit in a new light facts which must materially affect our judgment of a given man or a given age; but in no case shall we be called upon to accept any conclusion as really ascertained except on evidence of a kind which would suffice to bring home to a criminal a charge involving pains and penalties; in no case will he appeal to any secondary motives or lay claim to a power of divination, which can be acquired only by those who have devoted their lives to the solution of historical enigmas.
To take an instance—the story of the great Earl Godwine has been told by writers who lived in his own day as well as by men who took up the tale after he was dead. The story is not without difficulties, and some of these difficulties are exceedingly perplexing. But we are perfectly ready to weigh every argument which a historian may urge in favour of his guilt or innocence in connexion with the murder of the Etheling Alfred, because on the evidence of strictly contemporaneous writers we are as well assured of the general sequence of the history as we are of the course of events which have taken place during the present century. We should refuse to entertain the question if the historian, while pleading the cause of Godwine, should be obliged to admit his ignorance of the time in which Godwine lived, and to lay before us the reasons which led some to place him before the Norman Conquest, while others made him the contemporary of King John. Nor would our resolution be shaken if we were told that our knowledge of Godwine was obtained from bricks on which his name was found written in a way which made it very doubtful whether it might not be deciphered as Godgifu, and that we had no means for determining the order in which the several kings reigned with whom Godwine is said to have been brought into contact.
Such, to speak briefly, are the convictions with which we have always taken up the works of writers who profess to tell us of things that were done, whether in our own land or in any other. Our one wish and determination has been to ascertain the facts, and not to give the name of facts to any probabilities, surmises, and conjectures. In other words, we have felt that our obligations differed in no essential respects from those of jurymen, and that our duty is honestly to fulfil that trust in spite of impassioned appeals to our feelings or of warnings that we shall lose the benefit of rich stores of information if we remain obstinate. This sense of duty alone impels us to notice many volumes which otherwise we should have been well content to pass by in silence; and we thus find ourselves constrained once more, in the interests of truth and of the education of the young, to call attention to two works in which fictions are exhibited as likelihoods and probabilities are transmuted into facts. This not very grateful office we shall perform