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thence his fables. A theory applied in this fashion can not command the assent of any rational thinker. It is the science of history caricatured and travestied. In his present work, M. Taine holds to the same theory, but so qualified as to be little more than a philosophical commonplace. But it is no discovery of his: writers in all ages have noticed the influence of race, of climate, and civilization upon the mind of a people; nay, it is generally taken for granted. It needs no profound philosophy to observe the essential differences between an Englishman and a Frenchman; nor to account for change in the mind of a people in different ages. Every one must be sensible thatno Frenchman could have written "Paradise Lost," nor any Englishman Be'ranger's songs: and that the poetry of Chaucer or Corneille could not have been conceived in the reign of Queen Victoria.* M. Taine's theory may be either a paradox or a truism, according to its application. Sometimes we shall find it pressed as far as in the case of La Fontaine, to the exclusion of individual genius and the free will of man, and sometimes paraded where there is no need of any theory at all. At the same time his theory has naturally tempted him to exaggerate and give undue prominence to those facts which support it, and to overlook other facts, no less material to just conclusions, which happen not to bear upon it
First we are introduced to the original races from which the English people sprang—Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Frisians, and Danes—half-naked savages from the marshes and forests of the North of Europe. A hopeful parentage! Having lived, in their own countries, amid rain and storms, their minds were naturally gloomy; and when they crossed over the seas into Britain, they found a climate congenial to their Northern temperament With perpetual rain, mud, and darkness, what could these savages do but hunt,
fish, and tend swine, gorge themselves with flesh, and get drank with strong liquors'? One solitary virtue, however, was due to this wretched climate. The people, driven to their own firesides for warmth, acquired domestic habits; their descendants have inherited a taste for domestic life as well as drunkenness.f "It is not with such instincts," says M. Taine, "that a people quickly attain cultivation." This is his cherished theme; he is never weary of dilating upon our climate, our drunkenness, and natural stupidity 4 He allows, however, that the Saxons had many virtues: their manners were severe, their inclinations grave, and of a manly dignity; they had no taste for luxurious pleasures; they showed a spirit of independence and freedom; and hacPa grand sense of duty. They made one step out of barbarism, but it was only one step. "This naked brute, who lies all day by his fire-side, in dirt and indolence, between eating and sleeping, whose coarse organs can not trace the delicate lineaments of poetic forms, has glimpses of the sublime' in his agitated dreams. He feels what he can not form; and his faith is already the religion of his heart, as it will be when he rejects in the sixteenth century the ceremonial worship of Rome." We infer from this tirade (if it has any meaning at all)' that our Protestant faith, w:hich we had believed to be due to a study of the Gospel and free inquiry, was simply the work of our vile climate.
Their songs and poetry attest the char- . 1 acter and manners of the Saxons. "The persons represented are not selfish and cunning like those of Rome; but brave hearts, simple and strong, true to their kinsmen and to their lord in battle,firm and
* These influences were well described by Lamcnnnis. "1'lus je vois, plus je rnVmerreillc de voir a qncl point les opinions qui ont en nous les plus protbndes racines dependent dn temps oil nous nvous vecn, de la societe oil nous sommes nes, et dc millecircoustancesi'galcmentpassageres. Songez settlement a ce qne sernient les nolres, si nous •'i H 01 venns ail monde dix siecles plus tot, on dans le memo siecle, :•; Teheran, a Benares, a Taiti."
f The author's description of our ancestors and ourselves is so characteristic that it must be cited from the original: "De grands corps blancs, flegmatiques, avec dcs yeux bleus farouches, et des cheveux d'un blond rougeatre; des estoinacs vornces, repus de viandc et de fromage, rechauffes i pur des liqueurs fortes: nn temperament froid, ; tnrdif pour 1'amour, le gout du Ibyer doniestique, le penchant a 1'ivrognerie brutale: ce sont la encore uujourd'hui leRtntisquerhurediteetlecliniat muintiennent dims la nice, et ce sont ceux queles historiens remains leur decouvrent d'abord dans lour premier pays." (Vol. i. p. S>,) Before M. Tuinc repeats his statement concerning the sera juvenum Venus, he should consult some magistrate conversant with the statistics of paternity. I Vol. i. pp, 13, 75, 94, &c.
staunch towards enemies and friends."* They were loyal to the state, and faithful to their wives, who were serious and respected. They had no love songs, for love with them was not an amusement and a pleasure, but an engagement and a duty. Everything was grave and even gloomy; they had a profound poetic sentiment; but it was one of vehemence and passion; they had no art or natural talent for description. A race so serious, and averse to a sensual and expansive life, •were quite prepared to espouse Christianity. "Unlike the races of the South, naturally pagan, and preoccupied with the pleasures of life, they became Christians by virtue of their temperament and climate;" "and more than any other race in «Europe they were akin, in the simplicity and energy of their conceptions, to the ancient Hebrew spirit, "t But the new faith could not enlighten them; and amid their woods, their mud and snow, and under their inclement and gloomy sky, they continued dull, ignorant, fierce, gluttenous, and brutal, until the Norman Conquest Such is M. Taine's cheerful picture of the first period of our national history. Every English reader will pronounce it overcharged and extravagant: but it favors his cherished theory. We would add that, with all this pretence to ethnological science, he has wholly overlooked the Celtic races of these isles, who differ as widely from the German type as the French from the English.
It was the mission of the Normans— or, in other words, of the French}:—to' introduce civilization into England. The! Normans—themselves a Northern race j —had, by intermixture with the French,: acquired the quickness and cultivation of that lively people; and the invaders were joined by adventurers from all parts of France. When they had conquered the Saxons, they built churches and monasteries; founded schools and libraries, and cultivated learning. They talked with ease and fluency, as we can readily be- i lieve; their poets and chroniclers told' tales of battles, embassies, processions. and the chase, in the spirited and sprightly style peculiar to then- race. They j
• Vol, i. pp. 60, 51. t Vol. i. p. 81. j Vol. i. pp. 80, 81. N«w Suitms—Vol. 11., No. 1.
changed the spirit of war by sentiments of honor and chivalry; and the manners of society by gallantry to women. Light and gay in disposition, they sought amusement in their lives and in literature. Their imagination was never great; but they excelled in conversation, in taste, in method, in clearness and piquancy of style; and these arts they were now to teach the Saxons.§ For two hundred years the literature of the country was French. The ruling race eveu strove to efface the Saxon tongue; but the language of the people prevailed. According to M. Taine, the Saxons were too stupid to learn a foreign language; but, in truth, the conquerors, overcome by numbers, were gradually merged in the masses of their subjects. Terms of law, of science, and of abstract thought were French; but all words in common use continued Saxon. This combination formed the modern English, in which we proudly recognize the mastery of Saxon speech. But M. Taine appears to be utterly unconscious that after, as well as before the Conquest (as we had occasion to show in our very last Number), the essential elements of the national character, laws, liberties, and language, remained unaltered.
The Normans, while setting an example of courtesy and refinement of manners, were ferocious and cruel in temper and disorderly in their lives. Silly and idle tales amused their leisure hours; but no attempt was made to cultivate their minds. Meanwhile their iron rule had repressed the growth of Saxon literature. But the subject race were still the bone aud sinew of the country; they were constantly gaining ground upon their conquerors; and by the middle of the thirteenth century, the two races, united, had grown into the great and free English people, having a voice in public affairs, and returning representatives to Parliament. Men who delighted in ballads of Robin Ho.od and other fighting worthies, were able to maintain their own rights, by courage and the strong right arm; and they won their freedom, while
§••!•'.: mil:i ce qne nos FrancaU du onzieme giecle vont pendant cinq cent ans, it coups de lance, puis a coups de baton, puis a coups dc ferule, enseigner et montrcr & leurs Saxons." (Vol. i. p. 102.)
France and other races were still at the mercy of absolute monarch and feudal lords.* The same spirit which had withstood kings and nobles, was prepared to strive against the wealth, pride, and corruptions of the church. The "Vision of Piers Ploughman," written about 1362, expressed the popular jealousy of the pomp and luxuries of the clergy; and, a few years later, Wiclif translated the Bible, and was preparing the way for the Reformation.
And now, the English language being formed, a great poet arose to prove its richness. Chaucer was an accomplished gentleman and man of the world; he had seen courts and camps, and lived in the nfost polite society of England and the Continent His poetry derived its first inspiration from Italy; but it was otherwise thoroughly English. His temperament was as gay and airy as the French; bat his humor was of the true English savor. With a dramatic conception of characters, and a coarse spirit of satire, he united an impassioned love of nature, and a vein of serious reflection, characteristic of the English mind. His verse was as rich and musical as the half-fashioned language of his time would allow. He has been called the Homer of his country ;j and certainly he was our first great poet.
With a new language and a great master, may be said to have commenced the history of truly English literature; and here M. Taine, laying aside, for awhile, historical speculation, assumes the office of critic, for which he has rare aptitude. When not led astray by delusive theoriei or national prejudice, he apprehends, at once, the distinctive traits 01 a writer's mind; discerns his merits and defects with the nicest discrimination, and assigns him his true place in the commonwealth of letters; and his critical talents become more conspicious as he advances to times and writers more congenial to his taste. He has spared no pains to make his countrymen familiar with our best writers, by admirable translations of selected passages, the originals appearing in the notes-J So true and spirited are
*Vol. i. pp. f Craik's Hii& of Literature, vol. i. p. 46. J The English extracts will need a careful revision in a new edition, as the French printers
some of the translations of Chaucer and other early poets, that his version may serve as a commentary upon obscure phrases in the original text The following lines may be taken as an example:
And as the new abashed nightingale
These lines are thus translated:—
Et comme le jeune rossignol c'tonnc',
Qui s'arrete d'abord, lorsqu'il commence sa chanson,
S'il entend la voix d'un patre,
On quelque chose qui remue dans la haic,§
Pttis, rassure", il deploie sa voix,
Tout de tin-mi- Cresside, quand sa crninte cut cesstf,
Ouvrit son coeur, et lui dit -sa pense'e.' (Vol. i. p. 189.)
Again, we must follow M. Taine as an historian, fertile in theories, and most ingenious in the collocation of facts. We are approaching what he terms "the Pagan Revival" (La RenaissancePdicnne). For seventeen centuries, he says, an idea of the weakness and decay of the human race had taken possession of the minds of men. Greek corruption, Roman oppression, and the dissolution of the ancient world had given rise to it; the Christian religion had kept it alive, by warning its disciples that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; the crumbling ruins of antiquity deepened this gloomy sentiment; and when men were beginning to arouse themselves from the depression of the dark ages, their spirit and hopes were crushed by the Catholic Church. On this point his observations are so striking that we must give them entire:
"The (Christian) religion^ fluid in the first ages, was now congealed into a hard crystal, and the gross contact of barbarians had deposited 111 .c in its surface a layer of idolatry: theocracy and the Inquisition, the monopoly of the clergy, arid the prohibition of the Scriptures, the worship of relics and the sale of indulgences, began to appear. In place of Christianity, the Church; hi place of a free creed, enforced orthodoxy; in the place of
have fallen into many inaccuracies, which the author has overlooked.
§ M. Taino hag missed the sense of the word 'wight,' which is not 'quelque chose,' but 4 quelqu'im.'
moral fervor, fixed customs; instead of the heart and stirring thought, outward and mechanical discipline: such are the characteristics of the middle ages. Under this constraint thinking society had ceased to think; philosophy had turned into a manual, and poetry , into dotage; and man, inert, kneeling, delivering up his conscience and his conduct into' the- hands of his priest, seemed but a niannikin fit for reciting a catechism, and mumbling over his beads." (Vol. i. p. 250.)
At length a new spirit was awakened in the laity. There were discoveries in science and the arts; literature was revived, and religion transformed. "It < seemed as if men opened their eyes all at once, and saw." "The ancient pagan idea reappeared, bringing with it the cul- ] tivation of beauty and force: first in Ita- ] ly—for of all the countries in Europe it is the most pagan, and the nearest to ancient civilization; next in France and Spain, and Flanders, and even in Ger- j many, and lastly in England." Under the Tudors a sense of the beautiful, a taste for enjoyment and refined luxuries, was growing up. The nobles left their gloomy castles and stagnant moats for elegant palaces, half Gothic, half Italian, ornamented with gardens, fountains, and and statues. ■ The fashions of dress, of banquets, and of fotes became more costly and magnificent; masques were played for the entertainment of the Court, preparing the way for the drama. Everything appealed to the senses and to nature. The study of the classics was revived; and after the doleful legends of the middle ages, it was delightful to see once more the radiant Olympus of Greece. The literature of Italy was pagan in its origin, its language, and traditions; and from this source Surrey, Sidney, Spencer, and Shakspeare sought examples and materials for their poetry. The revived art of Italy and her disciples was also pagan. The lean, deformed, and bleeding Christ of the middle ages, and the livid and illfavored Virgin, were changed into noble and graceful forms. It was now the study of artists to represent the human body to perfection, in its unveiled beauty; and the splendid goddesses of antiquity reappeared in their primitive nudity. Even the Madonna was but a Venus draped. Art had again become sensuous, and idolized the body rather than the soul.
All this may be veiy true, but M. Taine must allow us to assure him that it explains nothing in the intellectual life of England. These incidents of this intellectual revival in the sixteenth century are truly and vividly told. But the readerv will hesitate to accept the inference that its inspiration was pagan. True that poets and artists profited by the glorious monuments of ancient genius; but at both periods perfection was attained by a close study of nature; and when men had outgrown the traditional types of monkish times, they resorted to the noble models which nature herself set before them. Homer and Virgil had studied nature; and so did Chaucer, Spencer, and Shakspeare. Praxiteles had studied nature; and so did Raphael and Titian. The human mind and forms of natural beauty are eternal, and the same in ancient Greece, in modern Italy, and in England. The conceptions of modern genius often took their shape and coloring from the examples of antiquity, but not their inspiration, which came direct from nature. And, moreover, it was the genius of Greece and Rome—not their paganism—that found students and admirers. Their heathen faith was dead, and had left no believers: their deities had become the pleasing fiction of poets; and, as has been finely said by an Irish writer of genius, "Religious ideas die like the sun; their last rays, posessing little heat, are expended in creating beauty."*
Even M. Taine, when he has concluded his amusing but fanciful chapter, proceeds to say that ''paganism transplanted into other races and climates receives from each race and each climate distinct traits and an individual character. It becomes English in England: the English revival is the revival of the Saxon genius, "t In other words, this revival is the very reverse of the "renaissance" which took place in the arts and literature of the Catholic nations—of Italy and of France: for this very Saxon genius, as he had already shown, had been, in early times, opposed to pagan worship, and ripe for the spiritual faith of Christ; it had lately purified that faith
* Lecky's History of Rationalism, vol. i, p, 286. t Vol. i, p. 277.
from every taint of paganism derived from Rome; yet we are asked to believe in the pagan inspiration of modern English literature. It is a pleasant conceit, in which M. Taine has mistaken incidents for causes, and suffered an attractive theory to obscure the truth.
But we must proceed with the stoiy of this literary revival. The Earl of Surrey has been called the English Petrarch. Familiar with Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto, he refined the rude verse of his own time with the graces of Italian poetry. His mind was even cast in the same mould as Petrarch's; but his spirit and sentiments were not the less English. This difference is well illustrated by M. Taine in the sentimental abstraction of Petrarch's Laura, and Surrey's devotion to his own wife. "The poetic dream of Petrarch became in Surrey the exact picture of profound and perfect conjugal affection, such as it still exists in England, and such as all the poets, from the author of the 'Nut-Brown Maid' to Dickens,; have never failed to represent it."* Sur- | rey's elegance and taste rendered great services to English poetry: but he wants the tire and passion of poetic genius. M. Taine, with his usual discernment, observes that "in his sonnets he thinks less often of loving well than of writing well." i i
We are next introduced to Sir Philip Sidney, as the first of a host of Elizabethan poets, who, says the author, be ing of a German race, were not restrained, like the Latin races, by a taste for harmonious forms, but preferred a forcible j impression to a beautiful expression. He I sees iu Sidney's poetry "charming im-j aginations—pagan and chivalrous—in! which Petrarch and Plato seem to have j left their memory." In every natural; beauty of the poets of this age he discovers the prevailing paganism; but happily "spiritual iuslincts are already piercing through it, and making Platonists preparatory to making Chiistians."t If the pagan theory can be impressed upon us by repetition, it will be no fault of M. Taine that we are not converts: yet is hard to persuade ourselves that after the Reformation our best English
writers were no nearer to Christianity than Plato. If it were possible for M. Taine to lay his theories on one side, we should accept him with pleasure as one of the most eloquent and discriminating critics who have studied the literature of the Elizabethan age. In his chapters on Sidney and Spencer he rises to a genuine enthusiasm, and the magical charm of these poets has never been more faithfully rendered in a foreign language.
Spencer was the greatest poet of this age, and above all poets who had yet flourished in England. The richness of his imagination, his poetic spirit—at once gentle and impassioned—his deep sense of the beautiful in nature, and in the human mind, the melody of his verse, and the grace and vigor of his language, combined to place him beyond all rivalry. Allegory was the fashion of his time, and M. Taine compares him to Rubens, whose allegory swells beyond all rules, and withdraws fancy from all law, except that of form and color. In a poet so devoted to natural beauty, and so familiar with classical and Italian models, he readily discovers another example of the pagan type in a Christian race, and the worship of form in a Northern imagination. J It would have been at variance with this'theory to believe that an English temperament, without pagan inspiration, could be instinct with a passionate love of nature; yet as a c. itic he can not fail to observe that English poets, above all others, dwell upon the beauties of natural scenery. This sentiment we hold to be indigenous: it breathes through our poetry; it thrills in the hearts of all cultivated Englishmen; it is a strong natural impulse of our race, and not a borrowed fancy. It surpasses the models which we are said to have followed, in freshness, simplicity, and truth.
The school of Elizabethan poets passed away suddenly, like the schools of painting in Italy and Flanders, and was succeeded by a feebler race—by Carew, Suckling, and Herrick—in whom, says M. Taine, "the pretty replaced the beautiful"—by Quarles, Herbert, Babington, Donne, and Abraham Cowley. Poetry was dying out; but the intellect of this • age of revival was not confined to poetry