Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

be taxed by the mother country, his stern denial that liberty meant or included the principles of the French Revolution, will make his writings and speeches ever memorable.

It is worth notice that he purchased a large Estate at Beaconsfield and would have taken the title of Beaconsfield from that purchase, but that, overwhelmed by the death of his son in 1794, he refused the proffered dignity. The earnestness of the man who would sacrifice a lifelong friendship for political principle is well related in the account given of the Fox and Burke quarrel, in the House of Commons, in 1791.

So particular was this writer that he had all his principal works printed once and often twice at a private press before submitting them to his publisher. 6. Burns, ROBERT (1759-1796). By Principal Shairp (Professor

of Poetry in the University of Oxford). 1879. ::: The Author sets out by remarking that “ in all but his poetry Burns's was a de“ feated life, sad and heart-depressing to contemplate beyond the lives even of most “poets."

Carlyle's Essay on Burns (Collected Works, Vol. VII. pp. 3–71), published in the Edinburgh Review in 1828, is a commentary on his character, judging him “at once, “ wisely and tenderly.” Burns's passionate youth never became clear manhood, his whole life was only youth” (p. 40)—but his failure lies chiefly in his own heart,“ not “ chiefly with the world” (p. 62). In Carlyle's “ Heroes and Hero Worship” he declares Burns to be “the most gifted British soul we had in all that century of his” (see Collected Works, Vol. XII. p. 224).

An ever present consciousness (says a Critic) that his “thoughtless follies” had “ laid “him low" and spoilt the whole purpose of his life—these make up the history of his later days. 7. BYRON, GEORGE GORDON NOEL BYRON LORD (1788–1824).

Ninth Thousand. By John Nichol. 1883. .:: “Alternately the idol and the horror of his contemporaries,” he has been treated almost as an outcast, but now seems on the tide of an increasing popularity. As to “his “matter,” Mr. Nichol makes a clever remark: “We cannot claim for Byron any abso“lute originality. His sources have been found in Rousseau, Voltaire, Chateaubriand, “ Beaumarchais, Lauzun, Gibbon, Bayle, St. Pierre, Alfieri, Casti, Cuvier, La Bruyère, “Wieland, Swift, Sterne, Le Sage, Goethe, scraps of the classics, and the Book of Job. “ Absolute originality in a late age is only possible to the hermit, the lunatic, or the “sensation novelist. Byron, like the rovers before Minos, was not ashamed of his “ piracy.” The Author's summary is: “We may learn much from him still, when we “ have ceased to disparage, as our fathers ceased to idolize, a name in which there is so much warning and so much example." 8. CHAUCER, GEOFFREY (circa 1340-1400). Eighth Thousand.

By Adolphus William Ward. 1881. .: Born the Son and Grandson of well-to-do Vintners, the old Poet and his family made good way in the world. He was 17th on a list of 37 Valetti or Yeomen of the King. He was appointed poet laureate and was paid by a butt of wine every year, which was commuted in 1378 into an annuity of 20 marks. He married Philippa Roet, a sister-in-law of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and one of the demoiselles of Queen Philippa—his son Sir Thomas became Speaker of the House of Commonsand his daughter married the Duke of Suffolk.

The general notion till recently was that he was born in 1328, but neither from his professing in the Poem that Philogenet (the name he assumes in the Court of Love) was 18, nor by the fact that, in 1386, he declared himself to be forty years and upwards, in giving evidence in a case tried at Westminster, is the case made clear. It is thought 1340 better agrees with the known facts.

He is styled by Wordsworth “ The morning star of English Poetry,” and Sir Philip Sidney wrote that his Canterbury Tales were the first of English poems that ever “ could hold children from their play or keep old men near the chimney corner.”

According to the “Plan” of the Tales we should have 62 Tales (two from each Pilgrim and two from the Host); we have only 24, and of these three are incomplete.

It has been written of Chaucer : “Superior to any that preceded him and unsur“passed by any, even the most gifted, of his successors, he must ever be regarded the “great classic of English poesy, as Dante is of Italian or Homer of Greek.” 9. COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR (1772–1834). By H. D. Traill.

1884. .:: The life of Coleridge is as “ romantic as it was sad.” A man of great beginnings, yet he has left much, like his proposed magnum opus on Christianity, and his “ Christabel,” unbegun or unfinished. He says that he composed Kubla Khan in a dream immediately after reading a description of the Kubla's Palace in Purchas's Pilgrims, and that on awaking he wrote it down in its present fragmentary state.

Messrs. Longmans, his publishers, told him that the greater part of the first Edition of the “ Lyrical Ballads” was sold to seafaring men, who, having heard of the “ An“cient Mariner,” took the volume for a naval song-book.

His critical remarks on Shakespeare and the great poets of England and Italy are extremely valuable.

He, Soutbey, and Wordsworth are known as The Lake Poets, from their residing amidst the Cumberland Lakes.

10. COWPER, WILLIAM (1731-1800). Ninth Thousand. By

Goldwin Smith. 1881. ::: He was emphatically a Christian poet, and his poetry is remarkable for its naturalness and originality. It is strange that John Gilpin should have been written by so gloomy and desponding a victim to fits of temporary insanity as poor Cowper, and that this, “ an inexhaustible source of merriment and laughter,” should, as he himself tells us, have been “written whilst he was in his saddest mood.” 11. DEFOE, DANIEL (1661-1731). By William Minto. Ninth

Thousand. 1885. .:: He added the “De” to his family name, which was Foe. He was a prolific writer, and his works are variously reckoned at from 210 to 250, according as their authenticity is admitted or denied. They are mostly political—for some he got reward—for others he was “fined, pilloried, and imprisoned.” His Robinsou Crusoe and some of his fictitious narratives are immortal. Among the latter the best are “ The “ Memoirs of a Cavalier” and “ The History of the Great Plague of London.” “To “no work,” it has been aptly remarked, “can we with greater justice apply Fielding's “boast, than we can to Robinson Crusoe, that in Fiction, as distinguished from his“tory where only the names and dates are authentic, everything is true but the names “ and dates."

There is a venerable story that the “ Apparition of Mrs. Veal” is probably unique in its origin and result. Defoe's publisher had a large Edition of an unsaleable divinity book by one Drelincourt on his shelves, on “ The Consolations of Death.” In despair the Publisher appealed to Defoe, who wrote a Preface consisting of an elaborate narrative of “a true relation of the apparition of one Mrs. Veal the next day after her death to “one Mrs. Bargrave the 8th of September, 1705, which apparition recommends the “perusal of Drelincourt's Book of Consolations against death.” The narrative was complete in its deceptive character, and it would have been next to impossible to guess its intent had not Defoe, towards the end of his story, quietly added : “ Drelincourt's “ Book of Death is, since this happened, bought up strangely.”

The story is now ruthlessly remitted to the limbo of myths. “Mrs. Veal's Apparition “was not published,” we are now asked to believe, with Drelincourt's Book till the fourth Edition of “that work,” which (we are further told) “was already popular.” Evidently all history as to Authors and Literature will be rewritten in this nineteenth century.

The “great pit in Finsbury" spoken of in Defoe's narrative was first used for interment at the time of the Great Plague in 1665. The old burial-ground popularly known as “ Bunhill Fields” contains the graves of many notabilities. There lie Defoe himself, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, General Fleetwood, George Fox the first of the Quakers, and Stothard the great painter. 12. DE QUINCEY, THOMAS (1785-1859).—Sixth Thousand. By

David Masson. 1881. .:: David Masson had the advantage“ of having met and conversed with De Quincey “so as to retain a perfect recollection of his appearance, voice, and manner, and of “ being familiar with the scenes [Edinburgh) amid which De Quincey spent the last “ nine-and-twenty years of his life.”

With the two exceptions of De Quincey's “ Logic of Political Economy” and his novel, Klosterheim,“ all the products of his pen during the forty years of his literary life ap“peared originally in the pages of magazines or other serials.” 13. DICKENS, CHARLES (1812–1870). By Adolphus William Ward.

1882. *.• It is often discussed whether Dickens or Thackeray will“ live” the longer. Mr. Minto, in the Article on Dickens written for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Ninth Edition), maintains that “the novels of Dickens will live longer because they take hold “of the permanent and universal sentiments of the race, sentiments which pervade all “ classes, and which no culture can ever eradicate;

and, unless culture, in “ the future, works a miracle, and carries its changes beneath the surface, we may be “certain that Dickens will keep his hold.”

[ocr errors]

14. DRYDEN, JOHN (1631-1700). Sixth Thousand. By G.

Saintsbury. 1881. ::: An interesting life of the supple timeserver, who was ever willing to espouse the cause that could best recompense him for his support, and who alternately flattered Puritans, Episcopalians, Roundheads, and Royalists, as their power waxed in ascendency.

Lord Macaulay, in his Review of Dryden (Edinburgh Review, 1826; Collected Essays, Vol. I.), says of his Plays: “He was utterly destitute of the power of exhibiting real human beings (p. 128).... We blame Dryden, not because the persons " of his dramas are not Moors or Americans, but because they are not men and women," (p. 131,) and concludes by describing him as “a man who succeeded only in an inferior

department of his art, but who in that department succeeded preēminently" (p. 144). In his best pieces “we find false rhymes—triplets in which the third line appears to “be a mere intruder, and, while it breaks the music, adds nothing to the meaning“gigantic Alexandrines of fourteen and sixteen syllables, and truncated verses for which “ he never troubled himself to find a termination or a partner” (p. 141).

15. FIELDING, HENRY (1707-1754). By Austin Dobson. 1883. :: Of Fielding's twenty theatrical pieces, produced between 1727 and 1732, which “achieved a certain success, practically all have been long forgotten.” In the character of Amelia, the heroine of his last work of fiction (1751), he has “paid a fond tribute “to the memory of his wife, who had died in 1743, in the midst of their pecuniary • struggles.” He could find, says Lady Mary Montague, no relief in “the first agonies “of his own grief, which approached to frenzy, but from weeping along with her “ favourite servant-maid, no solace when a degree calmer, but in talking to her of the “ angel they mutually regretted”: and in 1748 he married the maid and never regretted making her his second wife. 16. GIBBON, EDWARD (1737-1794). Tenth Thousand. By Rev.

James Cotter Morison. 1880. :: Having a tutor who " was one of those men who remember they have a salary to “receive and only forget that they have a duty to perform,” Gibbon became a general reader of all sorts of out of the way reading. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and his relations“ in consternation placed him under the care of a French “ Protestant minister,” who reconverted him, and he renounced all dogmatic religion whatever.

Twenty hours before he died, speaking on the probable duration of his life, he said he thought himself a good life for ten, twelve, or perhaps twenty years. Had he lived to 1804 or 1814 he would have finished his Autobiography, which is now a mere fragment, though intensely interesting, and would probably have pleted much other literary work he had in contemplation. 17. GOLDSMITH, OLIVER (1728–1774). Thirteenth Thousand.

By William Black. 1883. :: Goldsmith, writes Mr. Black, “was the unluckiest of mortals, the hapless victim “of circumstances.” He chose to live his own way and therefore he paid the penalty.

Johnson sums up his case in these words: “ He had raised money and squandered it " by every artifice of acquisition and folly of expense. But let not his frailties be “ remembered : He was a very great man;" and when he died £2000 in debt, Johnson wrote to Boswell : Was ever poet so trusted before ?”

Ten lines a day, we are told by his biographers, were considered a good morning's work when engaged in the composition of his Deserted Village. His comedy, “ She “Stoops to Conquer,” is as bright to-day as on the first night it was played. The main incident of travellers being sent to a Squire's house as to an Inn and ordering meals, and the jolly-hearted old Squire keeping the secret till the period of hospitality has expired, is founded on an actual adventure which occurred to Goldsmith during a holiday ramble in Ireland.

18. GRAY, THOMAS (1716-1771). By Edmund W. Gosse. 1882. ::: Gray passed almost all his life at Cambridge, and yet neither at Peterhouse nor at Pembroke College is there any Memorial raised to his memory. Mr. Gosse has found

expansion instead of compression,” to be the necessary method of treating the Lives of the Poet hitherto published. 19. HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL (1804-1864). Seventh Thou

sand. By Henry James, Junior. 1883. .:: This novelist lived a very quiet, uneventful life. He held the position of Surveyor of the port of Salem three years, and that of United States Consul at Liverpool for four years, and wrote four novels and the fragment of another, five volumes of short tales, a collection of sketches, two Wonder Books for Children, and a life of Franklin Pierce. 20. Hume, DAVID (1711-1776). Thirteenth Thousand. By

Professor Huxley. 1881. .:: This writer's first work, “ A Treatise on Human Nature,” has been described as “ the first systematic attack on all the principles of knowledge and belief, and the most

formidable, if universal scepticism could ever be more than a mere exercise of inge“nuity.” It was published in 1738 but fell dead-born from the press, and a rewritten new Edition (published 1751) shared the same fate.

The first Volume of his History (James I. and Charles I.) was published in 1754, and the Author was “ assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detes“tation. English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, Churchman and Sectary, Free“thinker and Religionist, Patriot and Courtier, united in their rage against the Au“thor, ... and after the first ebullitions of their fury were over, what was still “ more mortifying,” he continues, “ the book seemed to fall into oblivion. Mr. Millar “ told me that in a twelvemonth he sold only 45 copies of it.” The two volumes, “ England under the House of Tudor," raised “almost as great a clamour as the first “ two had done."

His Tombstone bears his name and the years of his birth and death, with the words “ Leaving it to posterity to add the rest.”

Alison says he was too idle to accumulate “ the requisite stores indispensable for cor“rect generalization on the varied theatre of human affairs,” and Macaulay compares “him to an accomplished advocate whose insidious candour only increases the effect of “his vast mass of sophistry.”

« FöregåendeFortsätt »