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experiment be tried. Perhaps the Stories from Shakspeare, compiled by the late kind-hearted Charles Lamb, will be found excellent auxiliaries, and the best introduction to the Plays themselves. The only difficulty in the accomplishment of the proposed benevolent task, is that of not attempting too much : the Lecturer must be a total stranger to literary ambition : he must descend with a good grace to the very humble level of his audience. Such a person we certainly possess, at Liverpool, in the truly Christian Minister who has already done so much for the most destitute among the poor. May we not extend our hopes to other towns of this great kingdom? We may indeed, if the formidable evil which we have escaped—the spirit of Proselytism -do not poison the roots of benevolence, and spread a fanatical gloom over its naturally smiling works.
J. B. W.
ÅRT.V.-CARLYLE ON THE FRENCH REVOLUTIOX.
A History, in 3 rols.
This is, perhaps, the worst written book in the English language; and we feel the more called upon to signalize its singularls sicious style, because its faults do not arise from incapacity to write well, but from determination to write ill. Mr. Carlsle is known to the reading Public as a man of extensive learning, deep research, and vigorous and original thought. He eminently possesses the power of graphic, picturesque, and forcible description; and in the concise enunciation of brilliant and profound reflections, he is surpassed by none. If he could only be persuaded to write like a man he would become a very fascinating, and a widels popular author. But his work cannot be said to be written in English, or indeed in any known tongue. It has the appearance of a bald, literal, and we might almost sar, interlinear, translation from the German. There is a union of affectation and carelessness in the style which is unworthy of a writer of Mr. Carlyle's acknowledged powers, and which must have induced numbers to lar down the book in despair and disgust, after a perusal of the first few pages. From long and too exclusive derotion to German literature in general, and to one author in particular, who mar be termed an incarnation of its peculiar spirit, (Jean Paul Richter, Mr. C. has become enamoured of words, and combinations of words, wholly foreign to the genius of our language, and which grate harshly on ears attuned to the classical beauties of a genuine English style. “World-History," _“ Down-rushing of a World,”—“ Foul old Rome screams execratively her loudest,”—“ Death-birth of a World,”—and a number of similar expressions, which Mr. C. is fond of introducing, are not, whatever he may think, admissible in a work professing to be written in the English language.
But we have a more serious complaint yet to bring against Mr. C. He has not sufficient respect for his Readers. He takes little pains to render his ideas clear, either to hiraself, or to them. Like his German prototype, and model, he throws out reflections and remarks so crude, rague, and undefined, that it is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to ascertain, not only what they mean, but whether ther mean anything at all. He is satisfied with what we hare heard Dr. Chalmers call the inkling of an idea; and apparently shrinks from the labour of elaborating it into such a definite form as to make it accessible to his Readers. Frequently we meet with passages which Mr. C. himself calls transcendental—we presume, because they transcend all human comprehension; and which, after several perusals, we have been compelled to conclude are written in cipher; so entirely do they fail to convey to us the slightest dawn of meaning.—În a word, Mr. C., we fear, is by no means free from the error of confused and lazy thinkers—that of employing language, not as the instrument, but as the substitute for thought.
We have indulged our remarks with greater freedom, because we regret to see the sanction of a name like Mr. Carlyle's given to encourage a growing evil in the literary world. It is a doctrine industriously propagated by the indolent and incapable writers of the day; that style is a matter of no moment, and that every man is entitled to write as he pleases. If this unworthy notion be not speedily repressed, our language and literature can scarcely escape rapid and serious degeneration. Already both have suffered grievously; and many writings which now pass current, as good and valuable, would have been scouted as clumsy and inelegant in the days of Addison and Bolingbroke, or even in those of Burke and Goldsmith. It is difficult (we believe we might say impossible,) to name any author who has exercised wide influence over his race, or obtained an extensive and permanent reputation, with whom style, by which we mean purity, clearness, and force of language, was not an object of sedulous attention. Burke, Johnson, and Bolingbroke, had too much regard for their own reputation, and too much respect both for their subjects and their Readers, not to elaborate their compositions with the most careful and refined attention. The styles of Voltaire and of Rousseau are perfect of their kind; and if we refer to those models of eternal beauty which antiquity has bequeathed to us, we find them to have been the result of the most minute and reiterated polish. No sculptor could bestow greater pains, or more finishing and refining touches on the statue which was to ensure and commemorate his fame, than did the authors and orators of antiquity on the productions which they sent forth into the world. Demosthenes repeatedly re-wrote and re-constructed his choicest passages, for he addressed a people of “ polished and religious ears ;"* and Cicero bestowed upon almost all his compositions the last laborious polish of which human language t is susceptible. Had the writers of ancient Greece and Rome been as careless of style as those of modern England, the literature of antiquity would have perished ages since.
or could bestow most minute and find them to ha
*“ Aures teretes, atque religiosæ.”— Cicero, Orat. ix. + Lord Brougham's Dissertation on Ancient Eloquence.
It cannot be too constantly borne in mind, that a writer who permits himself slovenly and ineffective habits of composition, is guilty of great injustice to the matter which he handles. If he feels, as every one who comes before the public ought to feel, that his views and statements are of serious importance to those whom he addresses, he must desire to present them in such a form as will be most likely to ensure them a favourable reception; and we have a right therefore to conclude, that an author must be little impressed with the value of his own thoughts, and little interested in their elucidation, who neglects the instrument which is to convey them to the reader's mind.
There are four periods of History eminently rich in the materials of political and social wisdom. 1. The early Republics of Greece. 2. The Italian Republics of the middle ages. 3. The History of England, during the seventeenth Century; and 4. The French Revolution. Other Histories should be read,—these should be studied, investigated, brooded over. These are the periods at which human society has attained its highest perfection, or made its most rapid strides; and they will be found to comprise a very large proportion of the brilliant virtues, and commanding intellects which have shed lustre on our race.
In taking a comprehensive view of the French Revolution, our attention is forcibly arrested by four salient facts, and four salient names. The four facts are, I. The effect of Famine, in producing and modifying the course of events. II. The schoolboy exaltation, and ranting heroism which over-rode the common sense of the nation. III. The union of Fear with Ferocity, or rather, the effect of Fear in producing Ferocity. And IV. The extreme youth of the most prominent actors, especially during the latter period of the revolution.
The four names are Talleyrand, Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Murat.
I. The harvest of the year 1788 was a very defective one, and the consequent scarcity spread itself over the three following years : for though the ensuing crop was plentiful, the usual channels of industry and commerce had by that time become so completely disorganized, that bread was nowhere to be obtained in sufficient quantity, and the scarcity soon amounted to a famine. In the market-places the corn sacks had to be guarded by dragoons, “often more than one dragoon to each sack.” The bakers' shops were beset by a famishing populace, who were obliged to stand in a long string, often reaching above one hundred yards, that each might be served in turn. Even when obtained, they complained, probably with truth, that the bread was adulterated with Plaster of Paris, and produced an effect on the intestines; and “the Mayor of St. Denis, so black was his bread, was hanged at the lamp-post by a dyspeptic populace.” A pound of black bread cost half-a-franc. Many were reduced to “meal husks and boiled grass." Finally, an ounce and a half of bread, daily, was the utmost that could be afforded to each individual, and onions and pulse must fill up the deficiency; nay, during the insurrection at Versailles, a horse, which had been slain in the riot, was eagerly seized upon for food.
The effect of all this upon a people of singular excitability, and to whom bread is a staple article of food, may be easily conceived. “ Parties might have suppressed and smothered one another in the ordinary bloodless Parliamentary way, on one condition; that France had at least been able to exist all the while. But the sovereign people has a digestive faculty, and cannot do without bread.”—Carlyle, iii. 182. Accordingly, we find that the first outbreak of a hungry populace was against an unlucky individual, who was reported to have said that “a man might live in comfort on sevenpence a day.” The insurrection was with difficulty quelled by a reluctant soldiery, and four hundred men were left dead in the streets. Then followed attacks upon tax-gatherers, and toll-keepers who interfered, or were thought to interfere with the free transmission of grain. Then bakers suspected of adulteration or short weights, were summarily executed, in spite of the constituted authorities, whose power diminished with every fresh outrage. The first man who was hanged at the lamp-post, in a fit of famished phrensy, was Foulon, whose only crime—a great one in the eyes of hunger- was having said in a moment of levity, “ The People may eat grass." The National Guard originated in the voluntary armed association of the inhabitants of towns, to protect their property against the assaults of hungry mobs. The soldiers invariably, and most naturally, showed themselves reluctant to quell by violence any outrages or insurrections arising from scarcity, a cause of discontent in which they could so fully sympathise. “ Hence, in a great measure, arose that change of the military character, that destruction of military subordination,—that sympathy between the people and the troops, which entirely neutralized the efforts of the aristocracy for the recovery of their ascendancy, and of the King and the popular Governments, for the maintenance of order and public tranquillity. Had the army retained its old habits of military obedience, the course of History would have been greatly changed.” “Rien (says Mad. de Stael,) ne dispose le peuple au mécontentement commes les craintes sur les subsistences ;”—and perhaps we may briefly express the peculiar
Vol. I. No. 5.–New Series.