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ginai thoughts and fine observations with, of Diaries and journals--autobiographers who, which it abounds. As a mere narrative there without having themselves done any thing is not so much to be said for it. There are memorable, have yet had the good luck to live but few incidents; and the account which we through long and interesting periods; and have of them is neither very luminous nor who, in chronicling the events of their own very complete. If it be true, therefore, that unimportant lives, have incidentally preservthe only legitimate business of biography is ed invaluable memorials of contemporary with incidents and narrative, it will not be manners and events. The Memoirs of Eveeasy to deny that there is something amiss lyn and Pepys are the most obvious instances either in the title or the substance of this of works which derive their chief value from work. But we are humbly of opinion that there this source; and which are read, not for any is no good ground for so severe a limitation. great interest we take in the fortunes of the
Biographies, it appears to us, are naturally writers, but for the sake of the anecdotes and of three kinds—and please or instruct us in at notices of far more important personages and least as many different ways. One sort seeks iransactions with which they so lavishly preto interest us by an account of what the indi- sent us; and there are many others, written vidual in question actually did or suffered in with far inferior talent, and where the design his own person: another by an account of is more palpably egotistical, which are perused what he saw done or suffered by others; and with an eager curiosity, on the strength of the a third by an account of what he himself same recommendation. thought, judged, or imagined—for these too, The last class is for Philosophers and men we apprehend, are acts of a rational being- of Genius and speculation-men, in short, who and acts frequently quite as memorable, and were, or ought to have been, Authors; and as fruitful of consequences, as any others he whose biographies are truly to be regarded can either witness or perform.
either as supplements to the works they have Different readers will put a different value given to the world, or substitutes for those on each of these sorts of biography. But at which they might have given. These are all events they will be in no danger of con- histories, not of men, but of Minds; and their founding them. The character and position value must of course depend on the reach and of the individual will generally settle, with capacity of the mind they serve to develope, sufficient precision, to which class his me- and in the relative magnitude of their contrimoirs should be referred; and no man of com- butions to its history. When the individual mon sense will expect to meet in one with the has already poured himself out in a long series kind of interest which properly belongs to of publications, on which all the moods and another. To complain that the life of a war- aspects of his mind have been engraven (as in rior is but barren in literary speculations, or the cases of Voltaire or Sir Walter Scott), there that of a man of letters in surprising personal may be less occasion for such a biographical adventures, is about as reasonable as it would supplement. But when an author (as in the be to complain that a song is not a sermon, or case of Gray) has been more chary in his comthat there is but little pathos is a treatise on munications with the public, and it is yet posgeometry.
sible to recover the precious, though immaThe first class, in its higher or public de- ture, fruits of his genius or his studies,partment, should deal chiefly with the lives of thoughts, and speculations, which no intellileaders in great and momentous transactions gent posterity would willingly let die--it is -men who, by their force of character, or the due both to his fame and to the best interests advantage of their position, have been enabled of mankind, that they should be preserved, to leave their mark on the age and country to and reverently presented to after times, in which they belonged, and to impress more such a posthumous portraiture as it is the buthan one generation with the traces of their siness of biography to supply. transitory existence. Of this kind are many The best and most satisfactory memorials of the lives in Plutarch ; and of this kind, still of this sort are those which are substantially more eminently, should be the lives of such made up of private letters, journals, or writmen as Mahomet, Alfred, Washington, Napo- ten fragments of any kind, by the party himleon. There is an inferior and more private self; as these, however scanty or imperfect, department under this head, in which the in- are at all events genuine Relics of the indiviterest, though less elevated, is often quite as dual, and generally bearing, even more au. intense, and rests on the same general basis, thentically ihan his publications, the stamp of of sympathy with personal feats and endow- his intellectual and personal character. We ments-we mean the history of individuals cannot refer to better examples than the lives vrhom the ardour of their temperament, or the of Gray and of Cowper, as these have been caprices of fortune, have involved in strange finally completed. Next to these, if not upon adventures, or conducted through a series of the same level, we should place such admiraextraordinary and complicated perils. The ble records of particular conversations, and memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini, or Lord Her- memorable sayings gathered from the lips of bert of Cherbury, are good examples of this the wise, as we find in the inimitable pages romantic sort of biography; and many more of Boswell,—a work which, by the general might be added, from the chronicles of an- consent of this generation, has not only made cient paladins, or the confessions of modern us a thousand times better acquainted with malefactors.
Johnson than all his publications put together, The second class is chiefly for the compilers I but has raised the standard of his intellectual character, and actually made discovery of do by being caught in undress: but all who large provinces in his understanding, of which are really worth knowing about, will, on the scarcely an indication was to be found in his whole, be gainers; and we should be well writings. In the last and lowest place-in so content to have no biographies but of those far, at least, as relates to the proper business who would profit, as well as their readers, by of this branch of biography, the enlargement being shown in new or in nearer lights. of our knowledge of the genius and character The value of the insight which may thus of individuals-we must reckon that most be obtained into the mind and the meaning common form of the memoirs of literary men, of truly great authors, can scai
carcely be overwhich consists of little more than the biogra- rated by any one who knows how to turn pher's own (generally most partial) descrip- such communications to account; and we do tion and estimate of his author's merits, or of not think we exaggerate when we say, that elucidations and critical summaries of his in many cases more light may be gained from most remarkable productions. In this divi- the private letters, notes, or recorded talk of sion, though in other respects of great value, such persons, than from the most finished of must be ranked those admirable dissertations their publications; and not only upon the which Mr. Stewart has given to the world un- many new topics which are sure to be started der the title of the Lives of Reid, Smith, and in such memorials, but as to the true characRobertson,—the real interest of which con- ter, and the merits and defects, of such pubsists almost entirely in the luminous exposi- lications themselves. It is from such sources tion we there meet with of the leading specu- alone that we can learn with certainty by lations of those eminent writers, and in the what road the author arrived at the conclucandid and acute investigation of their origi- sions which we see established in his works; nality or truth.
against what perplexities he had to struggle, We know it has been said, that after a man and after what failures he was at last enabled has himself given to the public all that he to succeed. It is thus only that we are often thought worthy of its acceptance, it is not fair enabled to detect the prejudice or hostility for a posthumous biographer to endanger his which may he skilfully and mischievously reputation by bringing forward what he had disguised in the published book-to find out withheld as unworthy,--either by exhibiting the doubts ultimately entertained by the authe mere dregs and refuse of his lucubrations, thor himself, of what may appear to most or by exposing to the general gaze those crude readers to be triumphantly established, -or conceptions, or rash and careless opinions, to gain glimpses of those grand ulterior specuwhich he may have noted down in the pri- lations, to which what seemed to common vacy of his study, or thrown out in the confi- eyes a complete and finished system, was, in dence of private conversation. And no doubt truth, intended by the author to serve only as there may be (as there have been) cases of a vestibule or introduction. Where such such abuse. Confidence is in no case to be documents are in abundance, and the mind violated; nor are mere trifles, which bear no which has produced them is truly of the highmark of the writer's intellect
, to be recorded est order, we do not hesitate to say, that more to his prejudice. But wherever there is power will generally be found in them, in the way and native genius, we cannot but grudge the at least of hints to kindred minds, and as suppression of the least of its revelations; and scattering the seeds of grand and original are persuaded, that with those who can judge conceptions, than in any finished works which of such intellects, they will never lose any the indolence, the modesty, or the avocations thing by the most lavish and indiscriminate of such persons will have generally permitted disclosures. Which of Swift's most elaborate them to give to the world. So far, therefore, productions is at this day half so interesting from thinking the biography of men of genius as that most confidential Journal to Stella? Or barren or unprofitable, because presenting few which of them, with all its utter carelessness events or personal adventures, we cannot but of expression, its manifold contradictions, its regard it, when constructed in substance of infantine fondness, and all its quick-shifting such materials as we have now mentioned, moods, of kindness, selfishness, anger, and as the most instructive and interesting of all ambition, gives us half so strong an impres- writing-embodying truth and wisdom in the sion either of his amiableness or his vigour? vivid distinctness of a personal preseniment, How much, in like manner, is Johnson raised --enabling us to look on genius in its first in our estimation, not only as to intellect but elementary stirrings, and in its weakness as personal character, by the industrious eaves- well as its strength, -and teaching us at the droppings of Boswell
, setting down, day by same time great moral lessons, both as to the day, in his note-book, the fragments of his value of labour and industry, and the necesmost loose and unweighed conversations? Or sity of virtues, as well as intellectual endow what, in fact, is there so precious in the works, ments, for the attainment of lasting excellence. or the histories, of eminent men, from Cicero In these general remarks our readers will to Horace Walpole, as collections of their pri- easily perceive that we mean to shadow forth vate and familiar letters? What would we our conceptions of the character and peculiar not give for such a journal-such notes of merits of ihe work before us. It is the history conversations, or such letters, of Shakespeare, not of a man of action, but of a student, a Chaucer, or Spenser? The mere drudges or philosopher, and a statesman; and its value coxrombs of literature may indeed sufler by consists not in the slight and imperfect acsuch disclosures—as made-up beauties might I count of what was done by, or happened to,
the indivi.lv al, but in the vestiges it has lections of all who had most familiar access to fortunately preserved of the thoughts, senti- him in society. It was owing perhaps to this ments, and opinions of one of the most power- vigour and rapidity of intellectual digestion ful thinkers, most conscientious inquirers, and that, though all his life a great talker, there most learned reasoners, that the world has never was a man that talked half so much
It is almost entirely made up of who said so little that was either foolish oj journals and letters of the author himself; frivolous; nor any one perhaps who knew and impresses us quite as strongly as any of so well how to give as much liveliness and his publications with a sense of the richness poignancy just and even profound observaof his knowledge and the fineness of his un- tions, as others could ever impart to startling derstanding--and with a far stronger sense extravagance, and ludicrous exaygeration. The of his promptitude, versatility, and vigour. * vast extent of his information, and the natural
His intellectual character, generally, can- gaiety of his temper, made him independent not be unknown to any one acquainted with of such devices for producing efiect; and, his works, or who has even read many pages joined to the inherent kindness and gentleof the Memoirs now before us; and it is need- ness of his disposition, made his conversation less, therefore, to speak here of his great at once the most instructive and the most knowledge, the singular union of ingenuity generally pleasing that could be imagined. and soundness in his speculations—his per- Of his intellectual endowments we shall fect candour and temper in discussion--the say no more. But we must add, that the pure and lofty morality to which he strove to Tenderness of domestic affections, and elevate the minds of others, and in his own the deep Humility of his character, were as conduct to conform, or the wise and humane inadequately known, even among his friends, allowance which he was ready, in every case till the publication of those private records: but his own, to make for the infirmities which For his manners, though gentle, were cold; must always draw down so many from the and, though uniformly courteous and candid higher paths of their duty.
in society, it was natural to suppose that he These merits, we believe, will no longer be was not unconscious of his superiority. It is, denied by any who have heard of his name, therefore, but justice to bring into view some or looked at his writings. But there were of the proofs that are now before us of both other traits of his intellect which could only these endearing traits of character. The be known to those who were of his acquaint- beautiful letter which he addressed to Dr. ance, and which it is still desirable that the Parr on the death of his first wife, in 1797, readers of these Memoirs should bear in breathes the full spirit of both. We regret mind. One of these was, that ready and pro- that we can only afford room for a part of it. digious Memory, by which all that he learned seemed to be at once engraved on the proper
" Allow me, in justice to her memory, to tell compartment of his mind, and to present you what she was, and what I owed her. I was itself at the moment it was required ; another, my youth. I found an intelligent companion, and
guided in my choice only by the blind aflection of still more remarkable, was the singular Ma- a vender friend ; a prudent monitress, the most turity and completeness of all his views and faithful of wives, and a mother as tender as children opinions, even upon the most abstruse and ever had the misfortune to lose. I found a woman complicated questions, though raised, without who, by the tender management of my weaknesses, desigu or preparation, in the casual course of She became prudent from affection; and though of
gradually correcied the most pernicious of them. conversation. In this way it happened that the most generons nature, she was taught economy the sentiments he delivered had generally and frugality by her love for me. During the most the air of recollections—and that few of those critical period of my life, she preserved order in my with whom he most associated in mature life, affairs, from the care of which she relieved me. She could recollect of ever catching him in the genıly reclaimed me from dissipation; she propped
my weak and irresolute nature'; she urged my inact of making up his mind, in the course of dolence 10 all the exertions that have been useful the discussions in which it was his delight to or creditable to me, and she was perpetually a hand engage them. His conclusions, and the grounds to admonish my heedlessness and improvidence, of them, seemed always to have been pre- To her I owe whatever I am; to her whatever ! viously considered and digested; and though shall be. Such was she whom I have lost! And he willingly developed his reasons, to secure
I have lost her alter eight years of struggle and dis.
tress had bound us fast together, and moulded our the assent of his hearers, he uniformly seemed tempers to each other,—when a knowledge of her to have been perfectly ready, before the cause worth had refined my youthful love into friendship, was called on, to have delivered the opinion and before age had deprived it of much of its origi. of the court, with a full summary of the argu- nal ardour, -I lost her, alas! (the choice of my ments and evidence on both sides. In ihe youth. and the partner of my misfortunes) at a mo. work before us, we have more peeps into the ment when I had the prospect of her sharing my
better days! preparatory deliberations of his great intellect
“The philosophy which I have learnt only teaches --that scrupulous estimate of the grounds of me that virtue and friendship are the greatest of decision, and that jealous questioning of first human blessings, and that their loss is irreparable. impressions, which necessarily precede the It aggravates my calamity, instead of consoling me formation of all firm and wise opinions:—than consolation, Governed by those feelings, which
But my wounded heart seeks another could probably be collected from the recol- have in every age and region of the world actuated
the human mind, I seek relief, and I find it, in * A short account of Sir James' parentage, edu- the soothing hope and consolatory opinion, that a cation, and personal history is here omitted. Benevolent Wisdom inflicts the chastisement, as
well as bestows the enjoyments of human lise ; that In the same sad but gentle spirit, we hive Superintending Goodness will one day enlighten this entry in 1822:the darkness which surrounds our nature, and hangs over our prospects; that this dreary and wretched “ Walked a little up the quiet valley, which on life is noi the whole of man; thai an animal so this cheerful morning looked pretty. While sitting sagacious and provident, and c pable of such pro- on the stone under the tree, my mind was soothed ficiency in science and virtue, is not like the beasts by reading some passages of — in the Quarterly that perish ; that there is a dwelling-place prepared Review. With no painful humility I feli thai an for the spirits of the just, and that ihe ways ul God enemy of mine is a man of genius and viriue ; and will yet be vindicated to man.
that all who think slightingly of me may be right." We may add part of a very kind letter,
But the strongest and most painful expies written from India, in 1808, in a more cheersion of this profound humility is to be found ful mood, to his son-in-law Mr. Rich, then on in a note to his Dissertation on Ethical Philoa mission to Babylon,—and whose early death sophy; in which, after a beautiful eulogium so soon blasted the hopes, not only of his afflict- on his deceased friends, Mr. George Wilson ed family, but of the whole literary world. and Mr. Serjeant Lens, he adds
“And now, my dear Rich, allow me, with the " The present writer hopes that the good-natured liberty of warm affection, earnestly to exhort you reader will excuse him for having thus, perhaps to exert every power of your mind in the duties of unseasonably, bestowed heartfeli commendation your station. There is something in the serious-on those who were above the pursuit of praise, and ness, bosh of business and of science, of which your the remembrance of whose good opinion and goodvivacity is impatient. The brilliant variety of your will helps to support him, under a deep selise of attainments and accomplishments do, I fear, flatter faults and vices." you into the conceit that you may 'indulge your
The reader now knows enough of Sir genius, and pass your life in amusement; while James' personal character to enter readily you smile at those who think, and at those who act. But this would be weak and ignoble. The success into the spirit of any extracts we may lay be. of your past studies ought to show you how much fore him. The most valuable of these are you may yet do, instead of soothing you with the supplied by his letters, journals, and occareflection how much you have done. * Habits of seriousness of thought and action are tive leisure of his Indian residence, or the
sional writings, while enjoying the comparanecessary to the duties, to the importance, and to the dignity of human life. What is amiable gaiety complete leisure of his voyage to and from at twenty-four might run the risk, if it was unac that country: and, with all due deference to companied by other things, of being thought frivo. opposite opinions, this is exactly what we lous and puerile at forty-four. I am so near forry should have expected. Sir James Mackirifour, that I can give you pretty exact news of that tosh, it is well known, had a great relish for you are travelling towards it, and must, I hope, Society; and had not constitutional vigour pass through it.
(after his return from India) to go through “I hope you will profit by my errors. I was much Business without exhaustion and fatigue. once ambitious to have made you a much improved In London and in Parliament, therefore, his edition of myself. If you had stayed here, I should powerful intellect was at once too much dishave laboured to do so, in spite of your impatience; sipated, and too much oppressed; and the as it is, I heartily pray thai you may make your traces it has lest of its exertions on those self something much better.
“ You came here so early as to have made few scenes are comparatively few and inadequate. sacrifices of friendship and society at home. You In conversation, no doubt, much that was decan afford a good many years for making a hand- lightful and instructive was thrown out; and, some fortune, aud still return home young. You for want of a Boswell, has perished! But, do not feel the force of that word quite so much as though it may be true that we have thus lost I could wish : But for the present let me hope that the prospect of coming to one who has such an the light and graceful flowers of anecdote and affection for you as I have, will give your country conversation, we would fain console ourselves some of the attractions of home. If you can be with the belief that we have secured the more allured to it by the generous hope of increasing the precious and mature fruits of studies and enjoyments of my old age, you will soon discover meditations, which can only be pursued to in it sufficient excellences to love and admire ; and advantage, when the cessation of more imporit will become to you, in the full force of the term, tunate calls has left us leisure to be wise." a home.” We are not sure whether the frequent as- struck us more than the singular vigour and
With reference to these views, nothing has pirations which we find in his private letters, alertness of his understanding during the dull after the quiet and repose of an Academical situation, ought to be taken as proofs of his small cabin, in a tropical climate, in a state
progress of his home voyage. Shut up in a humility, though they are generally expressed of languid health, and subject to every sort in language bearing that character. But there of annoyance, he not only reads with an inare other indications enough, and of the most dustry which would not disgrace an ardent unequivocal description-for example, this Academic studying for honours, but plunges entry in 1818:
eagerly into original speculations, and finishes has, I think, a distaste for me. I think off some of the most beautiful compositions the worse of nobody for such a feeling. Indeed I in the language, in a shorter time than would often feel a distaste for myself; and I am sure I be allowed, for such subjects, to a contractor should not esteem my own character in another for leading paragraphs to a daily paper. In person. It is more likely that I should have dis. less than a fortnight, during this voyage, he respectable or disagreeable qualities, ihan that should have an unreasonable antipathy.
seems to have thrown ofi nearly twenty elabo Vol. ii. p. 344.
rate characters of eminent auihors or states
men in English story-conceived with a just-, both extremes are condemned to perpetual revolu. ness, and executed with a delicacy, which tion. Those who select words from that permanent would seem unattainable without long medi part of a language, and who arrange them according
to jis natural order, have discovered the true secret tation and patient revisal. We cannot now of rendering iheir writings permanent ; and of preventure, however, to present our readers with serving that rank among the classical writers of more than a part of one of them; and we take their country, which men of greater intellectual ou extract from that of Samuel Johnson. power have failed to attain. Of these writers, whose
language has not yet been at all superannuated, “In early youth he had resisted the most severe Cowley was probably the earliest, as Dryden and esis of probiiy. Neither the extreme poverty nor Addison were assuredly the greatest. The uncertain income to which the virtue of so many
“ The third period may be called the Rhetorical, men of letters has yielded, even in the slightest de- , and is distinguished by the prevalence of a school gree weakened his integrity, or lowered the dignity of writers, of which Johnson was the founder. The of his independence. His moral principles (if the fundamental character of this style is, that it em. language may be allowed) partook of the vigour of ploys undisguised art, where classical writers appear his understanding. He was conscientious, sincere, only to obey the impulse of a culiivated and adorned determined; and his pride was no more than a
nature, &c. steady consciousness of superiority in the most valu
" As the mind of Johnson was robust, but neither able qualities of human nature. His friendships nimble nor graceful, so his style, though sometimes were not only firm, but generous and tender. be. significant, nervous, and even majestic, was void reaih a rugged exterior. He wounded none of those of all grace and ease; and being ihe most unlike feelings which ihe habits of his life enabled him to of all styles to the natural effusion of a cultivated -stimare; but he had become too hardened by se.
mind, had ihe least pretensions to the praise of elo. rious distress not to contract some disregard for quence. During the period, now near a close, in those minor delicacies which become so keenly sen. which he was a favourite model, a stiff symmetry jible, in a calm and prosperous fortune. He was a
and tedious monotony succeeded to that various Tory, not without some propensities towards Jacob- music with which the taste of Addison diversified itism; and a High Churchman, with more altachment his periods, and to that natural imagery which his 10 ecclesiastical anthority and a splendid worship, beautiful genius seemed with graceful negligence to than is quite consistent with the spirit of Protestant. scatter over his composition." ism. On these subjects he neither permitted himself to doubt, nor tolerated diffi-rence of opinioni muhers. curring
in the substance of this masterly clas
We stop here to remark, that, though conbe estimated by his opinions on subjects where it sification of our writers, we should yet be diswas bound by his prejudices, than the strength of a posed to except to that part of it which man's body by the efforts of a limb in fetters. His represents the first introduction of soft
, graceconversation, which was one of the most powerful ful, and idiomatic English as not earlier than instruments of his extensive influence, was artiticial, the period of the Restoration. In our opinior. with the most admirable versatility, to 'every sub. it is at least as old as Chaucer. The English ject as it arose, and distinguished by an almost un. Bible is full of it; and it is among the most paralleled power of serious repartee. He seems to common, as well as the most beautiful, of the have considered himself as a sort of colloquial mag. many languages spoken by Shakespeare. istrate, who inflicted severe punishment from just Laying his verse aside, there are in his longer sensibilities, which such severity wounds, as fantas. passages of prose--and in the serious as well ric and effeminate ; and he entered society too late as the humorous parts—in Hamlet, and Bruto acquire those habits of politeness which are a sub- tus, and Shylock, and Henry V., as well as in situle for natural delicacy.
Falstaff, and Touchstone, Rosalind, and Bene“In the progress of English style, three periods dick, a staple of sweet, mellow, and natural may be easily distinguished. The first period ex English, altogether as free and elegant as that tended from Sir Thomas More to Lord Clarendon; of Addison, and for the most part more vigorof the rudeness and Auctuation of an unformed lan. ous and more richly coloured. The same may guage, in which use had not yet determined the be said, with some exceptions, of the other words that were to be English. Writers had not dramatists of that age. Sir James is right yet discovered the combination of words which hest perhaps as to the grave and authoritative wrisuits the original structure and immutable constituion of our language. While the terms were Eng. ters of prose; but few of the wils of Queen lish, the arrangement was Latin–the exclusive lan- Anne's time were of that description. We guage of learning, and that in which every truih in shall only add that part of the sequel which science, and every model of elegance, was ihen contains the author's general account of the contemplated by yourh. For a century and a half, | Lives of the Poets. ineffectual attempts were made to bend our vulgar tongue to the genius of the language supposed to be “Whenever understanding alone is sufficient for superior; and the whole of this period, ihough not poetical criticism, the decisions of Johnson are without a capricious mixture of coarse idiom, may generally right. But the beauties of poetry must be called ihe Latin, or pedantic age, of our style. be felt before their causes are investigaied. There,
“ In the second period, which extended from the is a poetical sensibility, which in the progress of the Restoration to the middle of the eighteenth century, a mind becomes as distinct a power as a musical ear series of writers appeared, of less genius indeed than or a picturesque eye. Without a considerable de. their predecessors, but more successful in their expe- gree of this sensibility, it is as vain for a man of the riments to discover the mode of writing most adapied greatest understanding to speak of the higher beau. 10 the genius of the language. About the same pe- iies of poetry, as it is for a blind man 10 speak of riod that a similar change was effected in France colours. But to cultivate such a talent was wholly by Pascal, they began to banish from style, learned foreign from the worldly sagacity and stern slirewd. as well as vulgar phraseology; and to confine them- ness of Johnson. As in his judgment of life and selves to the part of the language naturally used in character, so in his criticism on poetry, he was a general conversation by well-educated men. That sort of free. Thinker. He suspected the refined of middle region which lies between vulgarity and affectation; he rejected the enthusiactic as absurd, pedantry, remains commonly unchanged, while I and he took it for granted that the mysterious was