Page images

reconstructed too much on the principle of no punishment, syrup for senna, geraniums in every window, and every man his muffin for breakfast. We mistake, however, if Mr. Jerrold would be willing with Mr. Hunt, to affirm his disgust with the sternness of Dante, and his preference for the doctrine of the mild reading-desks of England. Here, we think, his own earnestness, and powers of scorn, would step in to save him. And, as regards his theory itself, one cannot but respect it when it takes the form, as it often does, of enthusiastic argument in behalf of political equality, popular education, and other specific measures of social improvement. Too often, indeed, his scorn of the hollow conventionalities of the


and more comfortable classes, disposes him to look with a corresponding degree of prejudice on the lower. Upon occasions, all the virtues seem to pass over somewhat too readily, at his bidding, from the side of the washed to that of the unwashed. This is not to trim the vessel, but to give us one lurch in the place of another. There has been rather too much of this of late in certain sections both of French and English literature.

It is little more than a repetition of the statement just made, to say that Mr. Jerrold is a firm believer in the doctrine of human progress.

His faith in this doctrine appears throughout all his writings; and in some of them, as in the essay entitled Elizabeth and Victoria, he has attempted a special exposition of it. That the cry of the good old times of merry England' is absurd and contradicted by fact, and that upon the whole, plentiful as are our still existing abuses, we are—what with our printing-press, our improved sanitary regulations, our enlarged civil freedom, &c.-members of a better condition of society than that in which our ancestors lived-is a conviction in which he seems to find no ordinary amount of satisfaction himself, and which he never ceases to press upon others. Now, although we do not find that in any particular point of comparison between the past and the present, he has overstated the truth, and although we conceive this strong faith in the doctrine of continued human progress to be almost a necessary article in the creed of every active or speculative reformer, yet we have a suspicion that Mr. Jerrold's views on this subject are infected with à tinge of that error which Mr. Macaulay, more perhaps than any living author, bas contributed to extend among us. Believe Mr. Macaulay, and we were a kind of Caribs till the Romans came among us; they raised us to the level of South Sea Islanders ; under Saxon rule we rose to an Arab pitch; the Normans made us civilized Englishmen; and the whigs organized our matchless constitution. And so with other nations, each rising from the Carib to the civilized state, through a gradual series of intermediate phases. A view of history this, as false in fact as it is unphilosophic! Our ancestors of Roman times were not Caribs, they were men, (allowing for subsequent modifications of race by immigration) of the same substantial brain and build with ourselves, acting as honourably, thinking, in their way, as strongly, talking as wittily. And so with other nations, and with the world at large. The progress of all the superior races of the world individually, and of the world as a whole, has been but a progress in scientific knowledge, and in the arts, numerous and important, that rest upon it. We have engines, institutions, and comforts that our ancestors had not; but there are not among us more poetic, more energetic natures.

On no topic is Mr. Jerrold more fierce than on that of war. Burnt into his mind, it would seem, by certain powerful youthful impressions, and deepened still farther by his maturer reflections, his hatred of war is intense and unmitigated. No partizan of the peace movement could go farther than he in his denunciations of the folly of the sword, and the delusion of military glory. There is scarcely one of his writings that does not contain some passage of satire against the occupation of a soldier. Here, however, his superior intellect, and his generosity of sentiment, preserve him from a certain gross and narrow mode of thinking, to which men of less cultivation are liablea mode of thinking which reveals itself in the constant and indiscriminate use of sweeping phrases of condemnation against all characters of the past that have acted on the condition of the world by any other than a peaceful instrumentality. The madman Alexander, the monster Cæsar, the bandit William the Norman, the wholesale butcher Napoleon-it is not in such phrases as these, alike braggart and untrue, that Mr. Jerrold finds it necessary to couch his just sense of the horrors of international warfare.

There is but one other article in the creed of this author as shown in his writings, to which it seems necessary in particular to allude-his opinion, we mean, on the subject of capital punishments. We are not sure that those who are opposed to Mr. Jerrold's views on this question, have not missed a somewhat subtle but yet very profound train of thought that pervades his reasonings on the matter, and distinguishes them from the ordinary argumentations of our platform orators. It is not so much on account of the supposed barbarity of the practice of capital punishments, or on account of its alleged inefficacy to keep down crime, that Mr. Jerrold would desire to see its

abolition; it is because the practice appears to him to be an outrage on the sanctity of that act of death which all living must inevitably perform at some time or other. That an event to which equally the babe in the cradle and the saint of a neighbourhood are liable, and which it is the aim of our religion to represent as a holy and beautiful thing, should be seized upon for a sile social purpose; that society, bethinking itself of the most horrible thing it could do to a man for his crimes, should resolve simply to send him out of the world some years before his time-seems to him either, on the one hand, a treachery of all to the faith that is professed, or, on the other, a base pandering by the higher to the superstition of meaner natures. Such, so far as we can gather it, is Mr. Jerrold's view; the present is not the place either to maintain or to controvert it; it is sufficient only to point out the intellectual delicacy that distinguishes it. Those who would oppose it, must meet it by some counter-transcendentalism—as, for example, that the instinct of justice which is scattered through the human race, is God's vicegerent in the moral world, charged by Him with that power which he has deputed even to the physical law of gravitation, of punishing with death and instant cessation of being the higher class of offences against it. That a man should die by a fall from the roof of a house, such persons might argue, is as distinct a desecration of the act of death, as that a man should die by the hands of the executioner. And thus the question would still be prolonged.

And now, having, as was proposed, briefly pointed out what we conceive to be the chief characteristics of Mr. Jerrold's authorship, both as a comic writer, and as a man of serious aims and opinions, it only remains to add a word or two respecting what may be called the technical peculiarities of his style. Mr. Jerrold, we should imagine to be, on the whole, a careful writer. His language is pregnant, clear, and terse; exhibiting, sometimes, as is natural in an author who feels strongly, a certain hurry and confusion of metaphor; but rarely weak or redundant. He has evidently read much; and in his writings there is not a little of that habit of miscellaneous allusion for which the works of the German Richter are so remarkable. Occasionally, however, we remark a tendency towards coarseness, towards a too liberal use of what we should call the Stokes element in human life. As an instance, we would refer to an otherwise admirable passage in his Man made of Money, that where, under the allegoric form of a discourse between two fleas, he foreshadows the miraculous change that is to occur in the constitution of Mr. Jericho. Few persons, we believe, will read that very powerful passage without feeling that there is a needless offensiveness in the fiction that forms the subject of it. Beds, blankets, &c., ought not to occupy much space in literature. There is a special department of this general Stokes element, in which, perhaps more than in any other, Mr. Jerrold is apt to offend-that which, to use a favourite word of his own, we would designate the toothsome,' and which consists in too detailed allusions to viands, especially if in course of preparation, and to unæsthetic beverages. Leaving such criticisms, however, one is glad to be able to notice, in conclusion, one fact relating to Mr. Jerrold as a literary man-to wit, the manifest progress that he has made since he began to write, and the increased strength and freedom of his later as compared with his earlier works. His last production, the Man made of Money, seems to us decidedly the best. Seeing then that he is yet in the prime of his faculties, may we not expect still higher things from him ?

ART. IX.-Sacred and Legendary Art, by Mrs. JAMESON. 2 vols.


WHILE mediæval literature has of late claimed so much atten. tion, and chronicle, ballad, local traditions, even the nursery tale, have all been carefully sought out and as carefully edited, that widest department, combining so much strange, though often most poetically-mingled truth and fiction,-mediæval legend, has singularly enough been almost neglected. Some few writers, indeed, less distinguished for depth than shallowness, have cursorily glanced at the subject, but as cursorily dismissed it with fierce invective, as merely a part and parcel of • blind papistry,' or with cool scorn, as proofs of the wisdom of our ancestors; but no writer duly qualified for the task has yet done--for what was indeed the popular literature of all Europe for seven long centuries—what so many classical scholars have effected for the graceful, but far less influential, mythology of Greece and Rome. This is much to be regretted, when we remember the important bearing which popular literature, even in its rudest forms, has been found to possess in illustrating many a point in the early history of nations. Surely, then, a literature which, during the middle ages, was that of the high as well as the low, of the scholar as well as the churl, is well worth contemplating for the light it may cast on many an obscure point in the history of European art and civilization.

To the student in the fine arts, indeed, some knowledge of mediæval legend is almost indispensable ; for, from that large storehouse, the greater portion of the subjects of the convent artist were drawn, and even the scriptural subject was often modified as to its accessories by the influence of the legend. Indeed, legendary lore, as Mrs. Jameson beautifully says, 'had worked itself into the life of the people, and became, like the antique mythology, as a living soul diffused through the love'liest forms of art, still vivid and vivifying, even when the old faith in its mystical significance was lost or forgotten.' To supply information on this hitherto greatly neglected subject, chiefly with a view of aiding the artist and the lover of the arts, is Mrs. Jameson's object in the very interesting work before us; taking throughout the æsthetic and not the religious view

of those productions of art which, in as far as they are informed with a true poetic and earnest feeling, and steeped in that beauty which emanates from genius inspired by faith, may cease to be religion, but cannot cease to be poetry.' Those of our readers who are acquainted with Mrs. Jameson's fine taste and poetic feeling, combined with such extensive knowledge of the arts, will, we are sure, be well pleased that she has undertaken a subject so well suited to her, and will be prepared right willingly to follow, as, to use her own graceful, but too modest figure, she beckons us onward, 'like a child that has sprung on a little way before its playmates, and caught a glimpse of some varied Eden, after one rapturous survey, runs 'back, and catches its companions by the hand, and hurries them forwards to share the new-found pleasure.'

The first volume is devoted to what may be more strictly considered as sacred art. It commences with a beautiful chapter on “Angels,'tracing their pictorial representationsfor legendary lore has meddled but little with them from the stark, stiff, Byzantine models—to the general characteristics of which we alluded in a former article ;-the formal figure in robes of heavy broidery, or cuirass of weightiest metal, with wings intended for any purpose save that of flight; to the graceful, imaginative forms of the early Italian school, where the fair creature of the elements' seems actually to float in mid air, upheld by its own buoyancy, and where the ample wings, yet so light and etherealized, deck not merely the shoulders, but form the extremities of the figure. Beautiful creations are these, of Cimabue, Orcagna, and him so well named fratre Angelico,' winged intelligences,-the archangels with features and attitude so expressive of lofty command, the angels of love, of joy, even of grief, but still so pure, so passionless! As



« PreviousContinue »