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difficult for me to judge of it independently of any knowledge of the man himself."
Coming from one who is perhaps the most accomplished of living critics, this view is particularly worth considering. Within ceitain limits, it is a view with which nobody is likely to quarrel. The more we know about men, especially; about men of exceptional talent or ge- I nius, the more we may be expected to! have our sympathies widened and our j practical judgment of character expanded and refined. Even if we do not care to imitate the conduct of a man of genius "in the matter of money, in the matter of women, in his daily plan of life," it is impossible for us to know too much of plans of life which rest on principles opposed to our own. Such knowledge is the only means of keeping the mind clear ] from that pedantic conceit which makes j what the French call a Grocer, and the j Germans a Philistine. Some men, again,: of whom Dr. Johnson is the almost pro- I verbial type, interest us solely by their j characters and plans of life, and not at all j by what they have written. Their writings may first have drawn our attention to them, but it is not their writings for \ which they are most valued. Dr. Arnold, and, in a less degree, Edward Irving are more recent examples of men whose bi- j ographies will be more durable than their' own books and sermons. And, in judging of the scope and force of a man's genius, we ought clearly to take into account all the external circumstances of his life which were of a kind to restrict' the free play of his powers in their own , proper bounds. A critic would have a j very poor notion of his business who at- < tempted to estimate the natural genins; and vigor of Shelley without reference to the fact that he was only in his. twenty- j ninth year when he was drowned; or of Byron, without remembering that he was an aristocrat, and had a very unwise woman for his mother. So far as all this | goes, M. Sainte-Beuve's position is im-; pregnable. The knowledge of the char- [ acter of an author is always interesting. There arc some authors whose character is the most interesting thing about them. And, thirdly, in the words of M. Villemain, "it is only by studying a man's entire life, his character, his habitual thoughts,
that we can gain a thorough understanding of his works and his talent" One of the chief merits of a very eminent English writer of the present day is the prominence which he has given to this view. Those who have read the essays on Burns and on Johnson, on Diderot and on Voltaire, have been most effectually taught that there is no divorcing a man from his book; or, in other words, that a book is, after all, only one portion, and perhaps not the most importantportion, of the author's whole existence. Even while we admire the interest and graphic force which the adoption of this view lends to the more elaborate pieces of criticism, it is impossible to help noticing that such a view is apt to lead to a confusion between the two distinct provinces of the critic and the moralist. The function of the moralist may be much loftier and more valuable than that of the genuine critic, but it does not lie in the same matter, nor seek the same end. A moralist is con cerned with conduct, a critic with intellectual ideas and the forms of expressing ideas—in other words, with thought and style. It may, indeed, be justly said that a man's conduct is more or less regulated by his ideas, and, by the force of an inevitable re-action, his ideas in turn are powerfully colored by his conduct This is quite true. Still, the thoughts are one thing and the conduct is another, and it is proper that they should be looked at from different points of view, and judged in different ways. A man's life and his book may shed some light on one another, but we may have good reasons for thinking the book very excellent and admirable, and the life just the reverse; as, on the other hand, we may revere a man's conduct, and yet deem what he writes and publishes to be the greatest trash in the world. It is the business of two men, or at least of one man in two quite different capacities, to point out whatever may be worth pointing out in the conduct and character of an author, and to sh'ow us what is good and bad, lofty and mean, in his writings. The moralist or the moralizing biographer does the first, the genuine critic the second. To borrow an illustration from painting. Can we not pronounce a judgment on Turner's landscapes and sea-pieces until we have first carefully investigated the truth of the stories about his avarice, and his orgies at Wapping, and all the rest of it? Anybody who was writing .an essay on Turner's life or character would naturally busy himself with these stories, and, if they were true, might find exten- i uating circumstances, or, if he could not even do that, might bid the rest of us not to be too ready to throw stones. But a man might write the truest and most instructive criticism upon Turner's pictures, and yet never have known Turner's name or a single incident of his life. And in poetry and history, and every other department of literature and thought, the case is exactly the same. We can judge the work without judging the workman. The critic, as such, confines himself to the product, and leaves the habits of the producer to the moralist. Take Wordsworth's poems, for instance. If Mr. Carlyle were to write upon them, they would be the text for a vigorous and penetrating essay, not upon the poems at all, but upon the sincerity and honesty of Wordsworth's nature, and upon the rebuke which his simple life conveyed to an artificial and grossly material age. The result would be a piece of moralizing, in which logical flaws enough might be found, but which, on the whole, young men would feel to be very inspiring and elevating. Still this is not criticism. It may be a much finer thing than the fashion in which Lord Jeffrey wrote about Wordsworth; but then Jeffrey was not a moralist, and Mr. Carlyle is not a critic in the sense in which Jeffrey was a critic. We think, then, that M. Sainte-Beuve's idea tends—and among inferior writers the tendency may be seen very plainly— to extinguish criticism proper, and to substitute for it either pleasant biographical gossip or else a never-ending stream of sermonizing. In France there would be most of the gossip, and among ourselves most of the sermonizing. Instead of examining the thing written, men would all begin to twaddle, either anecdotically or morally, about the writer. Tbte purveyors of little items of the personal history of authors would become the critic's most valuable auxiliaries. It would be impossible to pronounce upon the worth of the speculations of a philosopher, or the beauty and tenderness of a poet, or the vigor and depth of a satirist, till we had
found out how the philosopher, the poet, and the satirist comported themselves in the matters of money and women. As has been admitted, there is something in this view; but, unless vigilantly kept under, it is so pleasant to the indolence of writers who prefer easy gossip about people, and vague fine-sounding generalities about life, to the more troublesome process of seeking truth, that it would soon grow so rank as to conceal the highest and most valuable side of criticism. M. Sainte-Beuve seems to think that the first thing with which a critic ought to busy himself in a book is to discover its origin, to explain how the ideas which it embodies came to enter the head of the author, and, in order to do this, of course he must know all about the author's habits and mode of life. This is all very well in its place, if the author belongs to the small band of men the origin of whose ideas it is at all instructive to seek out. But in no case does it comprise the critic's first duty; and there never was a time when this fact, that merely to " account for" his author's doctrines or style is not the critic's first duty, was in more pressing need of being recognized. And, in using the word critic, we mean, of course, as much the critical reader as the man who writes criticisms for others. If a poem appears, everybody's earliest care seems to be to classify it, to place it in a school, to trace the influences to which the poet has been most susceptible. The question whether the poem is in itself a work of art is looked upon as quite subsidiary. If a philosopher gives birth to a new speculation, the only thing, apparently, with which we need trouble ourselves is to ascertain how he came to conceive such a speculation. The question of its soundness ought, only to come before the critic in a dim and imperfect way. About that there is nothing urgent. All the time we forget that, under such conditions, there would be no such thing as criticism. There would be a history of opinon and a history of the various conceptions of beauty; but criticism is the process of answering, as well as the ci'itic's lightenables him, the two questions whether this work of art is more beautiful and finished than another, whether this opinion is truer than another. If there is any substance whatever in the conceptions, of Art in one department of literature, and of Truth in another—and the practical worth of the conceptions is quite independent of the great controversy as to there being absolute truth and absolute beauty—then every book, from a five-act tragedy to a treatise on logic, is in the first place to be brought up and measured by these standards. To explain and account for a book being good or bad will generally be interesting and instructive; but it is much more important to us to know whether the ideas which it contains are worth little, or much, or nothing. In order to ascertain this, we need know positively nothing about the writer's dealings in the matters of women and money.
MEMORIES OF THE AUTHORS OF
BY 8. C. HALI^ F.8.A., AND MBS. 8. C. HALL.
In 1837 I received this letter from Ebenezer Elliott:—" I was born at Masbro, in the parish of Kimbenvorth, a village about five miles from this place (Sheffield), on the 17th of March, 1781 ; but my birth was never registered except in a Bible, my father being a Dissenter and thorough hater of the Church as by law established;" and not long afterwards he gave me some further particulars of his life. There can be no reason why I should not print them, although they were supplied to me as notes, out of which I was to write a memoir to accompany some selections of his poems in the Book of Gems.
"Ebenezer Elliott—not ill-treated, but neglected in his boyhood, on account of his supposed inability to learn anything useful—suffered to go to school, or to stay away, just as he pleased, and employ, at his own sweet will, those years which often leave an impression on the future man that lasts till the grave covers him—listening to the plain, or coarse, snd sometimes brutal, but more often instructive and pathetic, conversation of workmen, or wandering in the woods and fields, till he was thirteen years old
—is altogether the poet of circumstances. The superiority, mental and bodily, of his elder brother—though Ebenezer never envied it—cast him into insignificance and comparative idiocy, and could hardly fail to throw a shade of sadness over a nature dull and slow, but thoughtful and affectionate. Sowerby's 'English Botany' made him a collector of plants, and Thomson's 'Seasons' a versifier, in the crisis of his fate, when it was doubtful whether he would become a man or a maltworm; shortly afterwards, or about which time, the curate of Middlesmoor —a lonely hamlet in Craven—died, and left his father a library of many hundred valuable books, among which were 'Father Herepin's Travels of M. de la Salle in America,' the 'Royal Magazine,' with colored plates in natural history, Ray's 'Wisdom of God in the Creation,' Derham's 'Physico-Theology,' Hervey's 'Meditations,' and Barrow's 'Sermons,' which latter author was a great favorite with the future rhymer, he being then deeply shadowed over with a religion of horrors, and finding relief in Barrow's reasoning from the dreadful declamation which it was his misfortune hourly to hear. To these books, and to the conversation and amateur preaching of his father, an old Cameronian and born rebel, who preached by the hour that God could not damn him, and that hell was hung round with span-long children—to these circumstances, and to the pictures of Israel Putnam, George Washington, Oliver Cromwell, <fec., with which the walls of the parlor were covered, followed by the events of the French revolution and awful reign of terror, may be clearly traced the poet's character, literary and political, as it exists at this moment. Blessed or cursed with a hatred of wasted labor, he was never known to read a bad book through, but he has read again and again, and deeply studied all the maslerpieces of the mind, original and translated, and the masterpieces only; a circumstance to which, more than to any other, he attributes his success such as it is. He does not now know, for he never could learn, grammar, but corrects errors in composition by reflection, and often tells the learned, 'that the mouth is older than the alphabet.' There is not, he says, a good thought in
his works that has not been suggested by some object actually before his eyes, or by some real occurrence, or by the thoughts of other men; but he adds, 'I can make other men's thoughts breed.' He can not, he says, like Byron, pour out thoughts from within, for his mind is exterior, 'the mind of his own eyes.' That he is a very ordinary person (who, by the earnest study of the best models, has learned to write a good style in prose and verse) is proved by phrenology, his head being shaped like a turnip, and a boy's hat fitting it 'My genius,' says he, 'if I have any, is .a compound of earnest perseverance, restless observation, and instinctive or habitual hatred of oppression. He is thought by many to be a coarse and careless writer; but that is a mistake. He never printed a careless line. 'Moore himself, with his instinct of elegant versification, could not,' he says, 'improve my roughest Corn Law Rhymes.' Of his political poems, 'They met in Heaven' is the best. The 'Recording Angel,' written on the final departure of Sultan George from the harem, is the best lyric. Of his long poems, 'The Exile' is the most pathetic. 'Withered Wild Flowers' is his favorite; it is a perfect epic in three books, and the idea of telling a story in a funeral sermon is new. But his masterpiece, both as a poem and as a character, is the 'Village Patriarch,' the incarnation of a century of changes and misrule, on which he has stamped his individuality. The critics say he succeeds best in lyric poetry ; he thinks he ought to have written a national epic, and if he had time he would yet make the attempt. He thinks also there is merit in his dramatic sketch of 'Kehonah,' particularly in the character of Nidarius, and the dramatic introduction of the supposed executioner of King Charles."
The ancestors of Ebenezer Elliott were "canny Elliots" of tho Border, whose "derring deeds" were warning proverbs in the debatable land; border thieves they were, who "lived on the cattle they stole." His father, who, for his eccentricities and ultra "religious" views, was named "Devil Elliott," had been apprenticed to an iron-monger at Newcastlenpon-Tyne, after which he became a clerk in the celebrated cannon foundry
of Messrs. Walker, at Masbrougb, near Rotherham. He soon left that situation, and went as a servant to the "New Foundry" in the same town; and there the poet was born, and baptized either by his father or by "one Tommy Wright," a Barnsley tinker and brother Berean. Ebenezer was one of seven children, three sons and four daughters, of a father bearing the same baptismal name. His first book lessons, after those of his mother, were with an Unitarian schoolmaster of the name of Ramsbottom, of whom he has made grateful mention in one of bis poems. But he had the anxiety of a curious and ingenious child to see something of the world beyond the foundry and his teacher's garden. "My ninth year," says he, in a letter I copy, " was an era in my life. My father had cast a great pan, weighing some tons, for my uncle at Thurlstone, and I determined to go thither in it, without acquainting my parents with my intention. A truck with assistants having been sent for it, I got into it, about sunset, unperceived, hiding myself beneath some hay which it contained, and we proceeded on our journey. I have not forgotten how much I was excited by the solemnity of the night and its shooting stars, until I arrived at Thurlstone about four in the morning. I bad not been there many days before I wished myself at home again, for my heart was with my mother. If I could have found my way back I should certainly have returned, and my inability to do so shows, I think, that I really must have been a dull child. My uncle sent me to Penistone school,* where I made some little progress. When I got home from school I spent my evenings in looking from the back of my uncle's house to Hayland Swaine for I had discovered that Masbrough lay beyond that village; and ever, when the sun went down, I felt as if some great wrong had been done me. At length, in about a year and a half, my father came for me; and so ended my first irruption into the great world. Is it not strange that a man who from his childhood has dreamed of visiting foreign countries, and yet, at the age of sixty, believes that he shall see the Falls of Niagara, has never been twenty miles out of England, and has yet to see for the first time the beautiful scenery of Cumberland, Wales, and Scotland '>."
* The house is still standing at Thnrlstone in which was bom, in 1682, the celebrated blind mathematician, Dr. Nicholas Sanderson, who learnt to read by feeling the letters on the gravestones in the churchyard of the adjacent town of Jfenistone.
But school days with Elliott, as with his more or less hopeful companions, caine to an end; the iron-casting shop awaited him, and from his sixteenth to his twentythird year he worked for his father, "hard as any day-laborer, and without wages."
According to his own account, he had been a dull and idle boy, but poetry, instead of nourishing his faults, stimulated him to industry as well as thought. Thus, while his early days were spent amid the disheartening influences of an ascetic home and defective education, nature not only spoke to his senses, but worked within him,—
"His books were rivers, woods, and skies, The meadow and the moor!"
In all his sentiments and sympathies, from first to last, he was emphatically one of the people, illustrating his whole life long, by precept and example,
"The nobility of labor, the long pedigree of toil!'
How far, or whether at all, the tastes of the son were iuduenced in any way favorably by those of the father, who was spoken of under the above ugly appellation, does not appear; but it is worthy of remark that the elder Elliott himself was a rhymester. "In 1792," says Mr. Holland, in his " Poets of Yorkshire," "he published a 'Poetical Paraphrase of the Book of Job,' agreeable to the meaning of the sacred text."
Long afterwards, Ebenezer, in writing of his father, says,—" Under the room where I was born, in a little parlor, like the cabin of a ship, which was yearly painted green, and blessed with a beautiful thoroughfare of light—for there was no window tax in those days—my father Used to preach, every fourth Sunday, to persons who cauie from distances of twelve to fourteen miles to hear his tremendous doctrines of ultra-Calvinism. On other days, pointing to the aquatint pictures on the walls, he delighted to de
clajm on the virtues of slandered Cromwell and of Washington the rebel."
It is not material in this brief notice of the " Corn-Law llhymer," to trace him from his father's foundry, atMasbrough,to his own shop, as a steel-seller, in Sheffield, nor to describe his earliest efforts in verse. His poem of "Love" attracted no attention from readers of any class; while his "Night"—the scene of which is the picturesque spot identified with the legend of "The Dragon of Wantley "—was declared by one reviewer to be "in the very worst style of ultra-German bombast and horror!" But his taste rapidly improved, and that—strange as it may appear—under the stimulus of the intensest Radical politics! There was, in fact, a touch of the morbid in his temperament—a dramatic taste for the horrible in fiction— as witness his own "Bothwell" with a special dislike of -hereditary pride or grandeur. But though almost insane in his denunciation of the aristocracy, and absolutely rabid at times, both in his conversation and his writings, there was in his heart an innate love of the graceful and the beautiful in nature; the fiercer passions evaporated in a green lane, and wrath was effectually subdued by the gentle breezes of the hill-side. Ills stronglymarked countenance bespoke deep and stern thought; his pale grey eyes, restless activity; his every look and motion indicated an enthusiastic temperament; his overhanging brow was stern, perhaps forbidding ; but the lower portions of his face betokened mildness and benevolence; and his smile, when not sarcastic, was a most sweet and redeeming grace.
"The meanest thing, earth's feeblest worm,
He feared to ^corn or hate;
William Howittdescribes him as "one of the gentlest and most tender-hearted of men;" yet his mind seemed incapable of reasoning when the higher orders of society were praised; he could not tolerate even the delicate hint of Mr. Howitt, that " among them were some amiable men." He at once "blazed up," exclaiming furiously, "Amiable men !— amiable robbers, thieves, murderers!"
Yes, on that subject he was absolutely insane. The stern, bitter, irrational, and unnatural hatred, was the staple of his