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finds it worth his while to draw in despair of a fit paraphrase, we have
Familiar as we all profess to made free to borrow the title) has so be with the great fact that human happily styled the Terrific Diction ? nature remains the same always “ There are men who seem to think through all the varying modes of its nothing so much the characteristic of expression, it might still astonish, and a genius as to do common things in an might possibly even humiliate, the uncommon manner; like Hudibras, to triumphant young geniuses of our day tell the clock by algebra ; or, like the to find how much in common they have lady in Dr. Young's satires, to drink with their fathers who bore them. tea by stratagem; to quit the beaten Grub Street is pulled down ; its place track only because it is known, and knoweth it no more; but though on take a new path, however crooked or an ampler stage, and by players more rough, because the straight was found resplendently bedizened, the mixed out before." With such a text he drama of comedy and tragedy that would be a dull dog indeed who could went on behind those dingy walls goes not find matter for a sermon to-day ! on still. It is to these papers that we Very few of our readers probably must turn to find Johnson at his best. have a copy of the ‘Idler' on their When satirizing, never malicious even shelves : not many more, we suspect, when most painfully true, the vagaries are likely to be at the pains of pro. of authors, or of their natural enemies, curing one at our recommendation. the critics, he is on his own ground. We shall save, therefore, much time Different as the manner would have and trouble (which all are surely ready been, Addison himself could hardly to save on any terms) by attempting have bettered the 'Account of an some small exposition of the purpose Author travelling in Quest of his own of this most pertinent essay. Fame,' or • The Author's Art of After starting with the tolerably praising Himself.'
And he is never, evident assumption that the nearest we say again, malicious, as Pope was : way to truth is the best, the teacher he makes no universal war on Grub goes on to say : “Every man speaks Street. He never laughs at the and writes with intent to be underignorant or the dull merely for their stood ; and it can seldom happen but ignorance or dulness.
It is against he that understands himself might vanity and presumption and affecta- convey his notions to another, if, contion and insincerity that his pen is tent to be understood, he did not seek pointed, and even then more, as the to be admired ; but when once he phrase goes, in sorrow than in anger. begins to contrive how his sentiments "Ignorance or dulness,” he says, “ have may be received, not with most ease to indeed no power of affording delight, his reader, but with most advantage but they never give disgust except to himself, he then transfers his conwhen they assume the dignity of sideration from words to sounds, from knowledge, or ape the sprightliness of sentences to periods, and, as he grows wit.”
more elegant, becomes less intelligible.' One of these papers has a special Then are shortly classified some of the and curious significance for us. The species of authors whose “labours thirty-sixth number of the Idler' counteract themselves." There is “the might in other words have been man of exuberance and copiousness, written yesterday. It is hard, indeed, who diffuses every thought through so not to fancy that the spirit of pro- many diversities of expression, that it phecy must have perched on the old is lost like water in a mist;" there is man's quill, and inspired him to write “ the liberal illustrator, who shows by not for his time only, but for our own examples and comparisons what was as well--nay, like Shakespeare, for all clearly seen when it was first protime. Was ever a generation more posed”; and “the stately son of rich than this in what he (from whom, demonstration, who proves with mathe
matical formality what no man has made up (as so many now are, more's yet pretended to doubt.” Lastly comes the pity) of various critical disquisithe author of a style which has for its tions that have been aired before in first purpose to disguise evident truths sundry quarters where such things in such a way “that a man will as abound. Nothing Mr. Swinburne has easily mistake his own positions, if he written has ever missed the public ear, meets them thus transformed, as he or could miss it: one may disagree may pass in a masquerade his nearest with him, but one must hear him. acquaintance.” This particular style These articles are sure to have been of writing is more explicitly described. read at first hand by all who care for “It may be called the terrific, for its that sort of writing, and some of them, chief intention is to terrify and amaze; at least, have been freely discussed, it may be termed the repulsive, for its both then and since. It is not, therenatural effect is to drive
the fore, our intention to repeat an already reader; or it may be distinguished, in more than twice-told tale; to depreplain English, by the denomination of cate Mr. Swinburne's contempt for the bugbear style, for it has more terror Byron or to re-echo his praise of than danger, and will appear less Wordsworth; to follow him through formidable as it is more nearly ap- the dark unsavoury maze in which all proached.” Then follow some samples must lose themselves who still wish to of this sort of eloquence from a book verify the guilt or the innocence of then lately published, Letters on Mary Stuart; or to take a seat on the Mind,' by a writer whose name sur- bench beside him as he sums up on vives only in a foot-note. To offer the rival claims of Lord Tennyson and any of these to our readers would be De Musset. To criticise Mr. Swinindeed to send owls as wonders to burne's criticisms is hardly, indeed, Athens. But the conclusion of it all one man's work.
No two living men deserves to be quoted. “This, my dear can have read so much and so widely. reader, is very strange: but though it And then, his qualities as a critic are be strange, it is not new : survey these so well known. His likes, so cordial wonderful sentences again, and they and so catholic; his dislikes, equally will be found to contain nothing more catholic and even more cordial; his than very plain truths, which, till this unrivalled command of language; his author arose, had always been delivered wonderful keenness of vision alterin plain language.”
nated with an obliquity more wonderOne would not, as we have said, have ful still. Every quality that a critic to cast about very far to find in our should have is his,—and mixed with current literature examples in abun. each, alas! is something of every quality dance of the various styles. Illustrious a critic should not have. To borrow a examples, indeed, of nearly all of them metaphor from his own poetry, readers have lately been provided by a writer who essay to follow him through the who, many as the ways are in which perilous paths of his critical wanderhe has distinguished himself
, has not ings are like those “weak ships and yet chosen to distinguish himself by spirits in his Garden of Proser. discovering the nearest way to truth. pine; Above all writers of his day Mr. Swin
They drive adrift, and whither burne has been pre-eminently "the They wot not who make thither. man of exuberance and copiousness; and above all the volumes that he has No attempt, then, will here be made published, in prose and verse, his last to examine any of the critical judgperhaps displays those qualities in their ments expressed in this volume; but richest profusion,
from it we shall venture to take an The volume is for the most part illustration or two of a phase of the 1 'Miscellanies,' by Algernon Charles Swin
Terrific Diction not included in Johnburne. London, 1886.
son's category, by the use of which
Mr. Swinburne does more to counteract necessity. To insist on calling a spade a toothhimself than any other writer of our
pick is not more foolish than to insist on time. It is not (again to borrow his
calling a toothpick a spade. All effect is de
stroyed, all force is withdrawn from the own words) “the positive worth and
strongest phrases in the language, when a actual weight of his message "that we critic who merely objects to the method or propose to consider so much as the impugns the conclusions of an author is asmethod of its delivery."
sailed in such terms as would be simply proper
and requisite to define the character of a The power of judging himself is one detractor who εkulks aside or sneaks away of the rarest and most precious pos- from responsibility for words which he might sessions of a writer : the possession of
be called upon, by the force of general opinion
or the law of literary honour, at once to this power in a very remarkable
swallow or to prove." degree (as all who have read his letters will know) was, for example, And then, in the very next paragraph, one of the most striking of the many Mr. Swinburne proceeds to call a toothstriking gifts of Keats. What is
pick a spade in terms which he himself less rare, less precious, yet perhaps has been obliging enough to define
more curious, is the power of unconsciously seeing oneself in "A brainless and frontless trafficker in others; and of all the conspicuous
scandal, a secret and scurrilous traducer who
strews insult and scatters defamation in the writers of our time none have pos
holes and corners of crepuscular and furtive sessed this power so vividly as Carlyle literature, behind the backs of men who have and Mr. Swinburne. A little thought .
met with equally contemptuous indifference will enable any one at all conversant
his previous advances and his previous imwith his writings to recall many in
pertinences, must, if he be a responsible crea
ture, know himself to be, in the eyes of any stances of it in the case of the former; one with any pretension to honour, a person in the case of the latter there is more of such unspeakably infamous character that than one signal instance of it in the every foul word or insolent allusion which in
conscious security from all chance of reprisals present volume.
he may venture to cast at his superiors does In the paper on Charles Reade Mr.
but more loudly proclaim him a liar and a Swinburne touches on what Trollope, slanderer, a coward and a cur. Such an one with happy euphemism, has styled
is, in homely English, by common consent a Reade's amazing misconception of the
blackguard ; and a blackguard who invites
and challenges the chastisement of exposure duty of literary honesty, a misconcep- is not less indisputably a blockhead.” tion which Mr. Swinburne thinks likely to prove more injurious to A little of yelling and foaming here, Reade's fame than his “unhappy and surely : but, no—“These, in such a
: ludicrous habit of sputtering at any case, are terms of scientific definition objection taken to any part or feature rather than of individual obloquy." of his work, of yelling and foaming at There is but one parallel that we know any reflection cast on any one who had of to this remarkable statement. In the fortune or misfortune of his friend- one of John Leech's immortal drawship or acquaintance.” No one, he ings, a small Special Constable during says, could suppose that Reade's pil- the Chartist Riots of '48 is represented ferings were due to the “necessity of saying to some burly waflian preparing conscious incompetence"; but, he goes for action : “ Now, if I kill you it's on,
nothing, but if you kill me, by jingo,
it's murder." “This does not improve either the morality There are other points about Mr. or the comprehensibility of his position ; nor does it justify, however fully it may explain,
Swinburne's method of delivering his the rabid virulence of his on those who differed message on which it were possible to from his theory or objected to his practice. comment, still illustrating the comStrength and plainness of speech are thoroughly mentary from his own pages. Whose commendable only when the application of plain terms and strong epithets is so mani
style, for example, had he in his mind festly just that no man of common honesty
when he was writing of the “detestand candour will question its justice or its able as well as debateable land of
pseudo-poetic rhapsody in hermaphro- has treated him not unkindly. True, ditic prose”? Did no soft compunc- in his early days there were passages tion touch him as he characterised between them ; but even those carping the Spenserian metre as one which creatures called critics have not been leaves some readers, “after a dose of altogether unjust to the author of a few pages, overgorged with a sense • Atalanta in Calydon' and • The that they have been eating a whole Garden of Proserpine;' they have hive's harvest of thick pressed honey agreed to forget • The Leper,' and they by great spoonfuls, without one half- have read · Bothwell.' Mr. Swinburne pennyworth of bread to this intolerable having proved himself so strong, is it deal of sweet-stuff" } But we prefer not time now that he should be to keep to the point we originally merciful! started from the unnecessary In all seriousness, does Mr. Swinstrength and directness of the “scien- burne consider not only how hard he tific definitions” Mr. Swinburne selects is on us (which perhaps might not to explain things which really at this move him much), but how unfair he stage of human intelligence need no is to himself, how sadly he counterexplanation at all.
acts his own labours by this abnormal The age has been often congratu- method of delivery? The retorts dislated on the great improvement visible courteous that two disappointed placein its literary manners when contrasted hunters may fling at each other across with those of its predecessor. In what- the floor of the House of Commons, or ever else (if in anything) we have gone
in the columns of the newspapers, back, in this respect at least we have matter nothing. Your politician is all, in honest Joe Gargery's phrase, a chartered libertine, and in their gentlefolked amazingly. It should be Parliamentary sense words and things so; the newspapers are for ever con- take a meaning, or a no-meaning, of soling us with this comfortable fact
But in literature it is and giving us such earnest of it, too ! different. Literature has its duties, And yet with this volume before us, its responsibilities, and the word once and some recent freaks of Mr. Rus- written abides. Mr. Swinburne could kin's this way still but too fresh in be of much service to his age. His our memory, it does seem a little hard knowledge of literature, native and to believe that our literary state is foreign, ancient and modern, is imone of such perfect grace.
mense, and it is all at first hand : he Mr. Swinburne has, it is true, been has read it, not merely read about it a man of war from his youth upwards, —though that knowledge, too, is his and though he must now have some in a surprising degree. His apprecia“relish of the saltness of time,” it is tion is as vast as his knowledge. All very clear he has not lost the joys of sorts and conditions of writers he battle or forgotten his “swashing can find good in; in Victor Hugo blow." “In
my younger days,” once as well as in Shakespeare, in Pope said the good old Johnson to Miss as well as in Keats, in George Eliot Reynolds, “it is true I was much in- as well as in Walter Scott. Nor clined to treat mankind with asperity ever man's appreciation more and contempt; but I found it answered hearty. It does one good in this no good end. I thought it wiser and Alexandrian age to hear him rolling better to take the world as it goes. out the full tide of his praise, till one Besides, as I have advanced in life I feels inclined to forgive him all his have had more reason to be satisfied faults, quia multum amavit. And with it. Mankind have treated me with when not distracted by prejudice or more kindness, and of course I have intoxicated by delight, how fine and more kindness for them.” This does true is his sense of all that is good ! not seem to be Mr. Swinburne's view Imbedded and entombed in blocks of of things. Yet on the whole mankind shapeless and inharmonious burlesque
(the expression is his own) lies many their foul mouths foam over in futile and à rare jewel ; golden words, happy
furious response, reeking and rabid with viru
lent froth and exhalations of raging ribaldry. phrases, flashing a ray of light straight
Yet when, like those that swarmed at the to the heart of the matter. One might heels of Milton, the vermin venture on all say
of him that when he treats himself possible extremes of personal insult and impufairly he never praises wrongly. In
tation to which dulness may give ear or malice short, let us say it again, there is no
may give tongue, a man cannot reasonably be
held to derogate from the duty and dignity of one quality a critic should have of
self-respect if he spurns or scourges them out which Mr. Swinburne does not own of his way. To give these rascals rope is a at least some proportion.
needless waste of hemp. A spider's thread, And all these gifts, so useful as
spun from the inner impurity of his own
venomous vitals, will suffice for such a creature they might be made now, when criti
to hang himself.” cism is, like Mistress Doll, sick of a calm, or, a captive Samson, plods its But, in truth, it is no very dignified weary round,
amusement that we ourselves “Eyeless, in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,”.
engaged in, and there shall be an end
of it. After all, what is there to say all these gifts Mr. Swinburne wil- but, the pity of it!--the pity of seefully makes of no avail by freaks (to ing a writer with (to borrow the last give them no harsher name) which
popular phrase) such gifts and graces out-Reade Reade himself in the very voluntarily debasing himself to the height of those “unwise and violent
level of " verminous fellows whom the extravagances in the field of personal higher Muses at least should be conor critical controversy,” for which he tent to leave in the native and natural so justly brings the collector of
shelter of that obscene obscurity which · Readiana' to task. How may we alone is proper to such autocoprophatake a critic seriously who can gravely gous animalcules as make the filth assert that all who hesitate to con
they feed on.” And yet the man who firm his opinion of Lord Tennyson's wrote this wrote this also of Charles • Rizpah' must be “either cancerous Lamb: with malevolence or paralytic with stupidity"? Here, in truth, is the in all those qualities which most Terrific Diction in full flower : for, endear his memory to us all he holds really of when this wonderful sentence is sur
no man but himself. It is impossible merely
to like him ; you must, as Wordsworth bade veyed again, what is it more than that
the red-breast whom he saw chasing the Mr. Swinburne has no high opinion butterfly, of those who differ from him ? What
"'Love him, or leave him alone.' good end is served by calling the
“All men worthy to know him would seem Carlyles “Thomas Cloacinus and his
always to have loved him in proportion to Goody," because they did not appreci- their worthiness, and this inevitable affection ate the worth of Lamb's proffered would seem again to have given them for a friendship-a blindness which surely time the very qualities most wanting to their
usual habit of mind. It fixed the inconstancy was its own punishment? Is it possi
of Coleridge : it softened the austerity of ble to believe a man an authority on Wordsworth. It withdrew for a moment the the “ duty and dignity of self-respect," author of The Friend' from contemplation of who can write in these terms of metaphysics, and the author of The Prelude'
from meditation on himself.” Milton's deplorable readiness to engage with unworthy adversaries?
Was ever Lamb praised more finely? “It is certainly no very dignified amuse- Reading this, even with the memory ment, no very profitable expenditure of energy of so much that is otherwise still or time, to indulge in the easy diversion of
fresh, what can one say but, “if the making such curs yelp, and watching them writhe under the chastisement which an in
rascal have not given me medicines to sulted superior may condescend to inflict, till
make me love him, I'll be hanged"!