Page images
PDF

All solitary and alone, he plunged among the hills, visited the hermits of the mountains, and he writes, "I have left more than half my soul there, for truly there is no peace but in the woods."

Robert Browning, in his charming poem, Old Pictures in Florence, has expressed the delight he has felt, in wandering through that noble city of modern art and artists, in exercising the gift God has given him of marking

In the mild decline of those suns like moons, Who walked in Florence, besides her men,

We know of no life which more solemnly illustrates the meaning and intention of tnat Poem, the story of "the life long toil till the lump be leaven," and the Btory of

The race of man

That receives life in parts to live in a whole, And grow here according to God's clear plan.

The life of Michael Angelo, more than any life we could easily refer to, exhibits, on a grand scale, these lessons—the saintliriess of work, the consecration to ideals in life and art. In him the Vulcan of labor wrought ever beneath the animation and inspiration of the Venus of beauty. He was accustomed to say, "Those figures alone are good, from which the labor is scraped off, when the scaffolding is taken away." The lesson of work—the spirituality of work, shines through his life. At near eighty years of age, we read of his beginning in marble a group of four figures for a dead Christ, because, he said, to exercise himself with the mallet was good for his health. He wrought on beneath the pressure of disappointments, and the annoyance and persecutions of men who •flirought for pay, his consolation was that he wrought for his art, his ideal, for his work. Eminently he teaches, as he lives, that beauty is truth, and truth beauty. His pictures, especially, more than his sculptures, are, as Cardinal Pola'otus said, pictures should be mute theologians, they should delight, teach, and persuade: the end of a picture should be theology. To him the invisible was all; he shows how possible it is for the great artist, even as a saint of God, to endure as seeing him who is invisible. His emaciated body, his life of toil and self-denial, seem to say—

I bring the Invisible into full play,

Let the visible go to the dogs, what matters?

And then the end at ninety years of age:—

There's a fancy some lean to and others hate—

That, when this life is ended, begins New work for the soul in another state,

Where it strives and gets weary, loses and wins; Where the strong and the weak, this world's congeries,

Repeat in large what they practised in small, Through life after life in unlimited series;

Only the scale's to be changed, that's all.

Yet I hardly know. When a soul has seen

By the means of Evil that Good is best, And through earth and its noise, what is Heaven's serene,—

When its faith in the same has stood the test— Why, the child grown man, you burn the rod,

The uses of labor are surely done:
There remaineth a rest for the peo/>le of God,

And I have had troubles enough for one.

He seems to us in these last hours of life to look especially sublime! Friends or companions had all fallen around him, and left him very lonely among his great works. What a procession he had seen pass away since the time when he had heard Savonarola preach in his native city! Now, by day and night, we see him anxiously tending the death couch of his old servant, and when he died, he turned with a most anxious sympathy to the widow of one, we suppose, to him more a friend than a servant. Would he go on with St Peter's f He said he longed to go home and lay his bones by his fathers. But he might not do so; he had begun, in God's name, he would persevere. He saw the end of another papacy; we may conceive his life to have been more than grave and serious—religious. But during these years, he grieves that he has done so little for his soul; yet no indications of a very good Papist come forth from him. Hifl aspirations were Christian, they were not Catholic; he felt and expressed in sonnets that he had now reached the bounds of life, and now waited for his birth hour. There came upon him, it has been said, an invincible appetite for dying—a soft, sublime melancholy clothed all impressions. He says, "It is twenty-four o'clock, and no fancy comes to his mind but death is sculptured on it." He died of extreme old age—and after his life, no one has any right to say that •work can kill a man. The 18th of Feb-! ruary, 1564, in the ninetieth year of his age, passed away the sublime being, whose name has only two or three which may be spoken of as synonymous to itself in the roll and calendar of great men—Homer, Dante, Sophocles, and Milton. The Shakspeares, Goethes, and Raphaels represent another order, and however high may be our appreciation: of them, in the highest range of the immortals, they can not rank with those. Power is more than beauty; and character is more than grace. After thirty years absence from his native city, he returned. Rome would not part with his dust without a struggle. The coffin was conveyed as merchandise out of the city gates. , Only a few knew who he was who en-' tered the city in the covered coffin; but when it was known that th'e great old prince had come home, that the coffin might be lowered where the cradle had been rocked, the city rose and poured into the church where he lay in state. Over the coffin lay the rich, black velvet, embroidered with gold, the gold crucifix upon it. By the light of torches, carried by the elder artists, the bier was sup- j ported, and carried forth by the younger i artists from the church, where it had temporarily rested, to the sacred pre- i cincts of Santa Croce. There the coffin was opened that Florence might look its last It was three weeks since he died; but the features were unchanged. There were no symptoms of decay, and the appearance was as if death had only just placed upon him his seal. The Duke was afraid lest the return of the old revolu- ] tionary captain should create a commotion in the city; his fears were groundless. Multitudes thronged to gaze as upon the tomb of an old emperor, under whom all was long ago great and glorious; and there they left him to rest— and there his dust reposes—his monument, with those of Dante, Alfieri, Mar chiavelli, in the same church. It is worth noticing, also, that his old house in Florence is still standing.

What an inadequate paper for such a life and such a man! We are grateful to M. Grimm that he has given to us the opportunity of recreating impressions of an intelligence so noble and vast. We have left a whole world of matters in

connection with this great man untouched; his relations to the great movements of his times, which 'beheld the rise of Luther. We think there is every reason to believe that, without being what it was impossible for him to be— an extreme man—he sympathized with, and drank in much of the spirit of the German reformation.

We have not attempted to give the pith and poetry of many of his speeches and poems. When he was rebuked on account of the nudity of some of his figures in the Last Judgment, and told that Pope Paul IV. desired that he should reform this fault, he bravely said: "Tell the Pope that is easily done. Let him reform the world, and he will find the pictures will reform themselves." But criticism and remarks on such a life are needless. We have said enough to create, in every reader's mind, a glow of admiration and homage for the memory of him of whom Raphael said: "I bless God I live in the times of Michael Angelo!"

Edinburgh Review.

TAINE-S HISTORY OF ENGLISH
LITERATURE. •

To master the entire literature of a country in ancient and modern times; to sit in judgment upon its philosophers, poets, historians, and men of letters; to estimate aright the mind and character of its people; aud to combine with scholarly criticism the broadest theories on. the religion and destinies of the human race, is a work which none but. the most gifted or presumptuous of men would venture to undertake. Even if that country were his own,—if he hsfd been familiar with its language and traditions from childhood—if he had studied its literature from his youth upwards, he might shrink from an enterprise of such pretension. What, then, must be the courage of an author who aspires to write the literary history of a foreign countiy? To overcome the perplexities of a strange language, its idioms, its

* 1. Historic de la Literature Anfflaise. Par H. Tainb. 3 vols. 8 vo. Vans: 18«3.

2. Tome Qoatriime et Complementaire: Let Contemjiorains. Paris: 1864.

conventionalities, its changes, is among [ phies and critical essays; and the labors the least of his difficulties. To do jus- of indefatigable editors have illustrated tice to his great theme he should be imbued not only with the spirit of the language, but with the genius of the race who speak it. He must be acquainted

with their history, and the conditions under which their literature was created. Above all he should be able to rise above

the works of all the great masters of English literature. Nor have literary histories been wanting, more or less imperfect. Warton's tedious history of English poetry provokingly concludes with the accession of Elizabeth, and before the commencement of the golden age of Eng

the prejudices of his own nation, and to lish poets. But in truth we possess no identity himself with the sentiments of a broad and comprehensive work to empeople of anotheV race. j brace so vast and varied a theme. HalWe need not wonder, then, that so lam, in his "Introduction to the Literafew comprehensive histories of any na- ture of Europe," examined the literary tional literature have been written. Of history of his own country during the all the countries of Europe, Italy has re-' fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth cenceived the fullest measure of historical I criticism. From the works of Tirabos-1 chi, Muratori, Ginguene, and Sismondi, i a complete history of Italian literature may be collected; whDe the classical!

associations of that country, the genius in his "Sketches of the History of Lilerof its writers, and the charms of its Ian- ature and Learning in England," which guage, have attracted hosts of critics and ! attracted less attention than they debtographers. France, with all her culti- served, from the unpretending form in vation and literary resources, has not yet i which they were published. A revised found 'an author to do justice to the [edition of this work appeared in 1861, history of her own national literature. 'under the title of " A Compendious Ilis

turies; but a work of so wide a scope, however able, could not embrace a complete view of the copious literature of England. In 1844, Professor Craik presented a more comprehensive survey,

The huge work of the Benedictines is an unfinished fragment, and works like those of Laharpe and Nisard hardly attain to the dignity of literary history. M. Sainte-Beuve, who is regarded by M.

tory of English Literature, from the Norman Conquest," which, without pretending to any deep philosophy or original criticism, maps out the whole field of English literature with creditable

Taine as the founder of the school of' scholarship and patient learning. Prohistorical criticism to which he himself fessor Craik was followed, in the present aspires to belong, has given to the world ! year, by Mr. Morley's first instalment of in his varied Essays the nearest approach a work of higher pretensions, which to a history of French literature. Ger- | proposes to tell, in a philosophical spirit,

many, whose searching intellect has surveyed all history, sacred and profane,

the story of the English mind. Meanwhile, however, he has been an

and whose genius had penetrated every : ticipated by a French scholar and critic

department of learning, was, until lately, without any historian of her own literary

of remarkable talents, who has just published a history of English literature,

achievements. The learned and thought- from the earliest ages to the present time, ful history of Vilmar, however, now i To this work we now propose to call presents an historical and critical review ' the attention of our readers.

A French book is rarely altogether dull; we may be sure that its plan will be symmetrical, its style light and spirited, its language epigrammatic. Its 1 theories, even if shallow or unsound,

of a literature, still in its youth if compared with the older literatures of Europe.* Spain owes to Bouterwek, a German, to Sismondi, a Swiss, and to Ticknor, an American, sketches of her literary history, which none of her own writers had supplied.

England abounds in literary biogra

* Geschichte der deutschen National Literatim von A, F. C. Vilmar.

will assuredly be suggested in the happi

• English .Writers. The Writers before Chaucer; with an Introductory Sketch of the Four Periods of English Literature. By Henry Morley. 1864.

est form; and should it relate to England, we naturally expect to meet with pleasant sarcasms upon our climate, our dress, our manners, our cookeiy, our society, and our morals. But the work of M. Taine comes to us introduced by a name already famous in France, and not unknown in England. M. Taine was born in 1828, and his talents were displayed from an early age. At college he was becoming familiar with ancient and modern literature, while other youths were still plodding over their dictionaries and grammars. Nor was he long content with the mere learning of a student: he soon ventured upon original thought and speculation. In an Essay on the Fables of La Fontaine, written for his degree as Doctor of Letters, and published in 1853, he first propounded certain critical theories which he has continued to advocate in his later works. In 185.5, the French Academy awarded him a prize for the best essay on Livy, which displayed not only good writing and scholarship, but views of criticism so bold and original as to startle the grave academicians who sat in judgment upon it. Showing little deference to received opinions, he took an independent line of lus own, which he was able to hold with spirit and a happy confidence in himself. Such a man .was evidently destined to achieve fame in literature. He was not to be tempted by a small professorship, which would have doomed him to teach inferior intellects, again and again, what he had already learned himself, but chose boldly the career of a man of letters, which commands more flattering distinctions in France than in any other country of Europe. His pen has never since been idle; and having further displayed his talents as a critic, in essays upon the French philosophers of the nineteenth century, and upon criticism and history, his efforts have culminated in the more ambitious work which lies before us.*

[ocr errors]

Its intrinsic literary merits come to us recommended by a Committee of the French Academy, who unanimously adjudged a prize to its author. The Academy, however, refused to confirm the award of its Committee, on the ground that M. Taine's system was in violation of the received principles of philosophical orthodoxy, f We may regret that the author should have forfeited this literary honor; and we wish the Academy could have left him the prize, while they protested against his opinions. But the censures with which that learned body has been assailed in France on this occasion are unjust; because in judging of the claims of a philosophical work, it is difficult to separate its literature from its philosophy. Surely the Academy had a right to say that philosophical error, however cleverly maintained, was not entitled to distinction at its hands, f

M. Taine's philosophy will be still less acceptable in England; for while it shocks many received opinions in regard to religion, morals, and history, it is ap- . jJied to our character and literature, in a manner offensive to the national pride and cultivated taste of Englishmen. To many of M. Taine's principles and opinions we entertain strong objections; but though we shall have occasion to contest his conclusions, we are not insensible to the comprehensive scheme of his work, the originality of his style, the felicity of his illustrations, the discrimination of many of his criticisms, and his rare familiarity with the English language. Unfortunately, notwithstanding these merits, M. Taine is entirely deficient in those qualities which are necessary to raise his work to the standard he himself proposes. He has read with marvelous industry a vast number of English books. We can hardly discover any portion of the wide field of our literature which is unknown to him. But he writes of England as the late Mr. Buckle wrote of countries which he knew by books and by books only. His ignorance of the real character of this country and of its people is extreme. Nay, it is

[graphic]

t Le Constitutionnel, 13th June, 1864: Notice par M. Sainte-Beiive.

t We leani, with pleasure, that M. Taine has just been appointed by the Emperor to the chair of Art and ..Esthetics, in the Ecole des Beaux-arts.

worse than ignorance, because he sub-' stitutes for the facts which he does not know the wild and fantastical theories of his own facile pen. He is intoxicated by bia style until he believes in monsters of his own creation. Morality, religion, and the domestic virtues appear to have been among the first objects which attracted M. Taine's attention in England, as if they had not previously fallen within the sphere of his observation; but to this first discovery he soon added a second—that the effect of these peculiarities was only to ripen hypocrisy, the principal fruit of the English soil. It is \ indeed marvelous that a man should have acquired so considerable a knowledge of our books, and so little of the country yhich produced them. But ] with the French, ingenuity is apt to supply the place of observation. No' people in Europe are so incapable of comprehending and appreciating foreign nations. M. Taine's recently published letters on Italy are just as clever and just, as absurd as his estimate of England. He sees as much of the world as a man can do whose whole field of vision ex-; tends along the Boulevards of Paris;' everything else is in the clouds, uusubBtautial, amusing, and essentially untrue.

This work is therefore radically deficient in that soundness of judgment and historical precision which might have given to it a permanent value, even in this country; and we regret its imperfections the more as it is written in a spirit calculated to perpetuate the vulgar prejudices which have too long prevailed be-: tween the two greatest nations of Eu-; rope. M. Taine is never weary of denouncing the forced expressions, the accumulated metaphors, and the complicated structure of English composition. But these are precisely the defects of his own style. Everything he says is overstrained. The art of good writing in the French language is to be essentially clear, simple, | and correct. M. Taine struggles under | a redundancy of ornamentwhich oppresses the reader; and in his perpetual effort to eay everything in a forcible manner he becomes coarse and fatiguing. Indeed, we question whether he has any perception of the highest qualities of style, lie quotes some of the finest passages of Burke

and Junius as specimens of their bitterness of feeling and power of invective; but he does not seem aware of the exquisite polish of the' blade that inflicts so mortal a wound. He dilates on the roughness and strength of Shakspeare, but he entirely fails to catch the delicacy and marvelous fitness of his diction; and we attribute this defect not so much to an imperfect knowledge of the English tongue, as to a want of refinement in M. Taine's own character, which may be traced throughout these volumes.

We will now proceed to follow M. Taine through his survey of English literature,—pausing, when necessary, to express our own opinions, but avoiding lengthened controversy. The Introduction lays down, with scientific precision. M. Taine's historical theory, by which he determines the religion, the laws, the social habits, the literature, and the arts of different nations. Three causes contribute to the, elementary moral condition of a people—"race, position, and period."* The primordial characteristics of the distinct races of mankind are almost immutable: they may be modified by changes of climate and situation, but their distinctive principles are never to be effaced. In the " position" of a nation are included its geographical situation, its climate, the character of its country, and other conditions by which it is surrounded. By "period" is signified any given epoch in the progress of a nation towards civilization. These three conditions of race, position, and period being ascertained, the moral and intellectual character of the people may be determined. Here is the true key to the science of history and criticism. This is very much the doctrine of Mr. Buckle, and we suspect M. Taine has unconsciously borrowed a good deal of his philosophy from the same source. The merits of the theory must be tested by its application. In his essay on La Fontaine, M. Taine pressed his theory to the very verge _of absurdity. La Fontaine wrote his fable's not because he was a man of genius, but because moral necessity made him a poet, and just such a poet as he was. He was a Gaul, he lived in Champagne, and had been admitted to the Court of Louis XIV.,—

* "La Race, le Milieu, et le Moment," p. xxii.

« PreviousContinue »