Page images

England, turning to her suffering neighbours, to her enslaved foes, may exulting proclaim, that she is till

Happy in freedom and laborious swains :
Our peasants cheerful to the field repair,
And can enjoy the labours of the year;
Whilst your's, beneath some tree, with mournful eyes,
See, for their haughty lords, their barvest rise :
Then silent sigh; but stop their slavish breath :

They silent sigh; for, should they speak—'tis death !" To Britons, too, it must be peculiarly pleasing to perceive, that, notwithstanding the horrors of war, and the weight of taxation under which that evil compels us to labour, in this island, literature and the arts flourish with unprecedented vigour. Never, within our recollection, have so many literary performances met the public eye within a similar period, as during the last eighteen months; and, although death has deprived us of some of our most eminent artists, never did the school of British painting exhibit more numerous, or more interesting productions of the pencil.

Between the publication of this, and the preceding volume of the FlowERS OF LITERATURE, an unusually long interval has unavoidably elapsed; but we flatter ourselves that the delay will be atoned for, by the additional number of works which it enables us to notice. To offer an opinion respecting every individual book which has appeared during the last fifteen or eighteen months, would carry us far beyond the limits of our plan; but none of those performances, which particularly merit the attention of the public, shall be passed over in silence*.

* From a wish to expedite the publication of the present volume, the Editor has been induced to deviate from his ac. customed mode, of referring, specifically, to the “ALPHABETICAL List") at the close of the work: the reader, therefore, when wishing for additional particulars, is requested to turn to the brief criticisms" contained in that list, agreeably to the initial letter of the title of the work reviewed.

Like the florist, eyer sedulous in his researches •after beauty, and ever anxious to improve his arrangement, we shall this year venture upon a slight transposition of the respective classes of literature, as hitherto noticed in our introductory sketch. Regarding Clio, therefore, as our patroness, we shall, in the first place, offer a few remarks upon


" Sometimes some fain'd historian's pen.
Recalls past ages back agen.".

It is not the lot of every year, nor of every age, to. produce a Hume, a Robertson, or a Gibbon; and we are sorry to observe, that notwithstanding the great number of literary performances in general, which has lately issued from the press, there has been a considerable dearth of history.

In general, neither writers nor readers appear to be aware of all the requisites of an historian, nor of the research and labour which it is requisite to bestow upon a work, before it can possess any legitimate claim to the title of historical composition, It is not in the collecting, arranging, or compiling of facts and documents, that the writing of history consists; though many, when they have proceeded thus far in their labours, sit down with the greatest complacency, erroneously considering that they have performed all which is requisite. But this is only a preparative to history, it is the mere adaptation of materials. The task of the historian is, to reason. both analytically and synthetically; to trace effects from their causes, and causes in their effects; and, having succeeded in the object of research, to place

the result in simple and perspicuous, yet eierated and. dignified language. The meanest capacity will suffice for the collection of facts; a superior one is re

quisite for the arrangement of them, and a stille

[ocr errors]

more exalted intellect is necessary for their discussion.

With these ideas respecting historical composition, we must confess, that we have not lately met with any performance strictly deserving the name of history. Some slighter works of this class, however, demand a cursory

notice. To those who wish to acquire a superficial knowledge of Ireland, rather than an intimate acquaintance with that country, Gordon's History will be found serviceable. It is, however, too succinct to satisfy the inquisitive reader; though, perhaps, some what too ponderous for others. Its principles, also, approach too near to those of the partial Plowden, for it to merit unqualified commendation.

Barry's History of the Orkney Islands, comprehending an account of their present, as well as of their ancient state, possesses considerable merit ; as throughout the work, the author has ulted instruction with entertainment. Dr. Barry is well acquainted with geology; and possesses taste and powers for describing the beauty, magnificence, and grandeur of nature. His style is natural, perspicuous, and proper, rising into elevation, or becoming more familiar, according to his subject ; and as a man, he appears to be a lover of truth and candour, and a cordial friend to his country

Harwood's History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Litchfield, a thick and heavy quarto, is not destitute of information ; but certainly does not furnish all that might be expected from the subject.

The History and Antiquities of Stratford-uponAvon,

“ Where his first. infant lays sweet Shakespeare sung, Where the last accents faulter'd on his tongue.”

will not afford much satisfaction to the general reader. The account of the parish church and its monumental records, occupies about eighty pages, whilst the life

of Shakespeare is comprized in four ; being compiled from the printed accounts which have been long before the public, without a single addition or emendation. The documents, so ostentatiously announced in the title-page, elucidate no point of Shakespeare's life or character, and are equally uninteresting and useless. The graphie and typographic neatness of the work forms its chief recommendation.

Mr. Derrick has acquired much credit for the industry which he has displayed in his Memoirs of the Royal Navy: they will be found of great utility to the future historian ; but, consisting chiefly of tables and official documents, they are but little calculated for general perusal.

The disastrous events which have taken place upon the continent, have furnished us with several politico-historical works; amongst which we shall only particularize Burke's History of the Campaign of 1805, in Germany, Italy, the Tyrol, &c. This performance, calculated less for the military student than for the public at large, presents an interesting and a striking picture of those distressing occurrences which deluged one half of Europe with blood, and laid the crowns of rightful sovereigns at the feet of a barbarous and unprincipled usurper.

We thus dismiss the meagre catalogue of listorians, and proceed to notice the more prolific race of




Here and there I see a master line,
I feel and I confess the power divine."


One of the most pleasing, most instructive, and most elegant specimens of biography, which it has for a long time been our good fortune to peruse, is the Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, written by himself. Frequently has the propriety of a man's writing his own life been discussed. “ Among the ancients," observes a contemporary author, “ Pliny and Cicero disapprove of the practice, while Plutarch and Tacitus recommend it, and Cæser sanctions it by the example of his Commentaries. Among the moderns a difference of opinion also prevails. Swift, in his Memoirs of a Parish Clerk, ridicules the frivolous egotism of the self biographer; while Jobpson, in, perhaps, the best dissertation ever written on the subject, maintains that the writer of his own life is the most competent to the undertaking, as he possesses the first qualification of an historian, the knowledge of the truth ; and that, not only his veracity may be most depended on, but even his impartiality, as he must be well aware that many of his contemporaries will be vigilant to detect and expose any vanity or misrepresentations that he may be guilty of : whereas the man who writes the life of another, is not so much restrained by delicacy, but may exalt virtue, or aggravate vice, according to his prejudices, even, sometimes, with the credit due to an able advocate.” On the same subject, the experienced Fielding remarks, that, “ let a man be never so modest, the account of his own conduct will, in spite of himself, be so very favourable, that his vices will come purified through his lips, and, like foul liquors well strained, will leave all their foulness behind. For though the facts themselves may ap. pear, yet so different will be the motives, circumstances, and consequences, when a man tells his own story, and when his enemy tells it, that we can scarce recognise the facts to be one and the same." Notwithstanding these remarks of Fielding, we perfectly coincide with the opinion of Dr. Johnson; for, not even a man's most intimate friend can ascertain the motives of his conduct with half that precision with which he can ascertain and develope them himself. We mean this as particularly applying to men of known candour and integrity,


« PreviousContinue »