Part 1 out of 6
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME XIII
Dr Lord's Uncompleted Plan, Supplemented with Essays by
Emerson, Macaulay, Hedge, And Mercer Adam
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE,"
This being the last possible volume in the series of "Beacon Lights of
History" from the pen of Dr. Lord, its readers will be interested to
know that it contains all the lectures that he had completed (although
not all that he had projected) for his review of certain of the chief
Men of Letters. Lectures on other topics were found among his papers,
but none that would perfectly fit into this scheme; and it was thought
best not to attempt any collection of his material which he himself had
not deemed worthy or appropriate for use in this series, which embodies
the best of his life's work,--all of his books and his lectures that he
wished to have preserved. For instance, "The Old Roman World," enlarged
in scope and rewritten, is included in the volumes on "Old Pagan
Civilizations," "Ancient Achievements," and "Imperial Antiquity;" much
of his "Modern Europe" reappears in "Great Rulers," "Modern European
Statesmen," and "European National Leaders," etc.
The consideration of "Great Writers" was reserved by Dr. Lord for his
final task,--a task interrupted by death and left unfinished. In order
to round out and complete this volume, recourse has been had to some
other masters in literary art, whose productions are added to Dr. Lord's
In the present volume, therefore, are included the paper on
"Shakspeare" by Emerson, reprinted from his "Representative Men" by
permission of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., the authorized publishers
of Emerson's works; the famous essay on "Milton" by Macaulay; the
principal portion--biographical and generally critical--of the article
on "Goethe," from "Hours with the German Classics," by the late Dr.
Frederic H. Hedge, by permission of Messrs. Little, Brown & Co., the
publishers of that work; and a chapter on "Tennyson: the Spirit of
Modern Poetry," by G. Mercer Adam.
A certain advantage may accrue to the reader in finding these masters
side by side for comparison and for gauging Dr. Lord's unique life-work
by recognized standards, keeping well in view the purpose no less than
the perfection of these literary performances, all of which, like those
of Dr. Lord, were aimed at setting forth the services of _selected
forces_ in the world's life.
NEW YORK, September 15, 1902.
SOCIALISM AND EDUCATION.
Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke
Rousseau representative of his century
Education and early career; engraver, footman
Secretary, music teacher, and writer
His first public essay in literature
Operetta and second essay
Geneva; the Hermitage; Madame d'Epinay.
The "Nouvelle Heloise;" Comtesse d'Houdetot
"Emile;" "The Social Contract"
Books publicly burned; author flees
England; Hume; the "Confessions"
Death, career reviewed
Character of Rousseau
Essay on the Arts and Sciences
"Origin of Human Inequalities"
"The Social Contract"
The "New Heloise"
Influence of Rousseau
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
THE MODERN NOVEL.
Scott and Byron
Evanescence of literary fame
Parentage of Scott
Birth and childhood
Schooling and reading
Becomes an advocate
His friends and pleasures
Writing of poetry; first publication
Marriage and settlement
"Lay of the Last Minstrel;" Ashestiel rented
The Edinburgh Review: Jeffrey, Brougham, Smith
Jeffrey as a critic
Quarrels of author and publishers; Quarterly Review
Duration of poetic fame
Clerk of Sessions; Abbotsford bought
"Lord of the Isles;" "Rokeby"
Fiction; fame of great authors
Great popularity of Scott
"Old Mortality;" comparisons
Scotland's debt to Scott
Prosperity; rank; correspondence
Life at Abbotsford
Works issued in 1820-1825
Bankruptcy through failure of his publishers
Scott's noble character and action
Works issued in 1825-1831
Illness and death
Payment of his enormous debt
Vast pecuniary returns from his works
Difficulty of depicting Byron
Descent; birth; lameness
Schooling; early reading habits
Temperament and character
First publication of poems
Savage criticism by Edinburgh Review
"English Bards and Scotch Reviewers"
Byron becomes a peer
Loneliness and melancholy; determines to travel
Malta; Greece; Turkey
Profanity of language in Byron's time
Instant fame and popularity
Consideration of the poem
Marries Miss Milbanke; separation
Genius and marriage
"The Corsair;" "Bride of Abydos"
Evil reputation; loss of public favor
Byron leaves England forever
Switzerland; the Shelleys; new poems
Degrading life in Venice
Wonderful labors amid dissipation
The Countess Guiccioli
Two sides to Byron's character
His power and fertility
Inexcusable immorality; "Don Juan"
"Manfred" and "Cain" not irreligious but dramatic
Byron not atheistical but morbid
Many noble traits and actions
Generosity and fidelity in friendship
Eulogies by Scott and Moore
Byron's interest in the Greek Revolution
Devotes himself to that cause
Raises L10,000 and embarks for Greece
Collects troops in his own pay
His latest verses
Illness from vexation and exposure
Death and burial
CRITICISM AND BIOGRAPHY.
Froude's Biography of Carlyle
Brief resume of Carlyle's career
Parentage and birth
Slender education; school-teaching
Abandons clerical intentions to become a writer
"Elements of Geometry;" "Life of Schiller;" "Wilhelm Meister"
Marries Jane Welsh
Edinburgh and Craigenputtock
Essays: "German Literature"
"Life of Heyne;" "Voltaire"
Wholesome and productive life at Craigenputtock
Friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson
Carlyle removes to London
Begins "The French Revolution"
Manuscript accidentally destroyed
Habits of great authors in rewriting
Publication of the work; Carlyle's literary style
Better reception in America than in England
Carlyle begins lecturing
Popular eloquence in England
Carlyle and the Chartists
"Heroes and Hero Worship"
"Past and Present"
Carlyle becomes bitter
"Life of Oliver Cromwell"
Carlyle's confounding right with might
Great merits of Carlyle as historian
Death of Mrs. Carlyle
Success of Carlyle established
"Frederick the Great"
Decline of the author's popularity
Public honors; private sorrow
Final illness and death
Carlyle's place in literature
ARTISTIC HISTORICAL WRITING.
Macaulay's varied talents
Descent and parentage
Birth and youth
Character; his greatness intellectual rather than moral
Enters the law
His early writings; poetry; essay on Milton
Social success; contemporaries
Enters politics and Parliament
Sent to India; secretary board of education
Essays in the Reviews
Limitations as a statesman
Devotion to literature
Return to London and public office
Still writing essays; "Warren Hastings," "Clive"
Special public appreciation in America
Drops out of Parliament; begins "History of England"
Prodigious labor; extent and exactness of his knowledge
Self-criticism; brilliancy of style
Remarkable successes; re-enters Parliament
Illness and growing weakness
Conclusion of the History; foreign and domestic honors
Resigns seat in Parliament
Final illness and death; his fame
SHAKSPEARE; OR, THE POET.
BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
The debt of genius to its age and preceding time.
The era of Shakspeare favorable to dramatic entertainments.
The stage a substitute for the newspaper of his era.
The poet draws upon extant materials--the lime and mortar to his hand.
Plays which show the original rock on which his own finer stratum is
In drawing upon tradition and upon earlier plays the poet's memory is
taxed equally with his invention.
All originality is relative; every thinker is retrospective.
The world's literary treasure the result of many a one's labor;
centuries have contributed to its existence and perfection.
Shakspeare's contemporaries, correspondents, and acquaintances.
Work of the Shakspeare Society in gathering material to throw light upon
the poet's life, and to illustrate the development of the drama.
His external history meagre; Shakspeare is the only biographer of
What the sonnets and the dramas reveal of the poet's mind and character.
His unique creative power, wisdom of life, and great gifts of
Equality of power in farce, tragedy, narrative, and love-songs.
Notable traits in the poet's character and disposition; his tone pure,
sovereign, and cheerful.
Despite his genius, he shares the halfness and imperfection of humanity.
A seer who saw all things to convert them into entertainments, as master
of the revels to mankind.
JOHN MILTON: POET AND PATRIOT.
BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.
His long-lost essay on Doctrines of Christianity.
As a poet, his place among the greatest masters of the art.
Unfavorable circumstances of his era, born "an age too late".
A rude era more favorable to poetry.
The poetical temperament highest in a rude state of society.
Milton distinguished by the excellence of his Latin verse.
His genius gives to it an air of nobleness and freedom.
Characteristics and magical influence of Milton's poetry.
Mechanism of his language attains exquisite perfection.
"L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso," "Comus" and "Samson Agonistes"
"Comus" properly more lyrical than dramatic.
Milton's preference for "Paradise Regained" over "Paradise Lost".
Contrasts between Milton and Dante.
Milton's handling of supernatural beings in his poetry.
His art of communicating his meaning through succession of associated
Other contrasts between Milton and Dante--the mysterious and the
picturesque in their verse.
Milton's fiends wonderful creations, not metaphysical abstractions.
Moral qualities of Milton and Dante.
The Sonnets simple but majestic records of the poet's feelings.
Milton's public conduct that of a man of high spirit and powerful
Eloquent champion of the principles of freedom.
His public conduct to be esteemed in the light of the times, and of its
great question whether the resistance of the people to Charles I. was
justifiable or criminal.
Approval of the Great Rebellion and of Milton's attitude towards it.
Eulogium on Cromwell and approval of Milton's taking office (Latin
Secretaryship) under him.
The Puritans and Royalists, or Roundheads and Cavaliers.
The battle Milton fought for freedom of the human mind.
High estimate of Milton's prose works.
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE.
GERMANY'S GREATEST WRITER.
BY FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE.
Fills highest place among the poets and prose-writers of Germany.
Influences that made the man.
Self-discipline and educational training.
Counsellor to Duke Karl August at Weimar, where he afterwards resides.
Visits Italy; makes Schiller's acquaintance; Goethe's personal
His unflagging industry; defence of the poet's personal character.
The "Maerchen," its interpretation and the light it throws on Goethe's
Lyrist, dramatist, novelist, and mystic seer.
His drama "Goetz von Berlichingen," and "Sorrows of Werther".
Popularity of his ballads; his elegies, and "Hermann und Dorothea".
"Iphigenie auf Tauris;" his stage plays "Faust" (First Part) and
The prose works "Wilhelm Meister" and the "Elective Affinities".
His skill in the delineation of female character.
"Faust;" contrasts in spirit and style between the two Parts.
Import of the work, key to or analysis of the plot.
ALFRED (LORD) TENNYSON.
THE SPIRIT OF MODERN POETRY.
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
Tennyson's supreme excellence--his transcendent art.
His work the perfection of literary form; his melody exquisite.
Representative of the age's highest thought and culture.
Keen interpreter of the deep underlying spirit of his time.
Contemplative and brooding verse, full of rhythmic beauty.
The "Idylls of the King," their deep ethical motive and underlying
His profound religious convictions and belief in the eternal verities.
Hallam Tennyson's memoir of the poet; his friends and intimates.
The poet's birth, family, and youthful characteristics
Early publishing ventures; his volume of 1842 gave him high rank.
Personal appearance, habits, and mental traits.
"In Memoriam," its noble, artistic expression of sorrow for Arthur
"The Princess" and its moral, in the treatment of its "Woman Question"
The metrical romance "Maud," and "The Idylls of the King," an epic of
"Enoch Arden," and the dramas "Harold," "Becket," and "Queen Mary".
Other dramatic compositions: "The Falcon," "The Cup," and "The Promise
The pastoral play, "The Foresters," and later collections of poems and
The poet's high faith, and belief that "good is the final goal of ill".
His exalted place among the great literary influences of his era.
Expressive to his age of the high and hallowing Spirit of Modern
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Young Goethe at Frankfort _Frontispiece_
_After the painting by Frank Kirchbach_.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
_After the painting by M. Q. de la Tour, Chantilly, France_.
Sir Walter Scott
_After the painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, R. A_.
_After the painting by P. Kraemer_.
Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire
_After the painting by M. Q. de la Tour, Endoxe Marville
_After a photograph from life_
Thomas Babington Macaulay
_After a photograph by Maule, London_.
_After the "Chandos Portrait," National Portrait Gallery, London_.
_After the painting by Pieter van der Plaas_.
Milton Visits the Aged Galileo
_After the painting by T. Lessi_.
_After the painting by C. Jaeger_.
Alfred (Lord) Tennyson
_After the painting by G. F. Watts, R. A_.
_After the painting by T. E. Rosenthal_.
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU.
SOCIALISM AND EDUCATION.
Two great political writers in the eighteenth century, of antagonistic
views, but both original and earnest, have materially affected the whole
science of government, and even of social life, from their day to ours,
and in their influence really belong to the nineteenth century. One was
the apostle of radicalism; the other of conservatism. The one, more than
any other single man, stimulated, though unwittingly, the French
Revolution; the other opposed that mad outburst with equal eloquence,
and caused in Europe a reaction from revolutionary principles. While one
is far better known to-day than the other, to the thoughtful both are
exponents and representatives of conflicting political and social
questions which agitate this age.
These men were Jean Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke,--one Swiss, and
the other English. Burke I have already treated of in a former volume.
His name is no longer a power, but his influence endures in all the
grand reforms of which he was a part, and for which his generation in
England is praised; while his writings remain a treasure-house of
political and moral wisdom, sure to be drawn upon during every public
discussion of governmental principles. Rousseau, although a writer of a
hundred years ago, seems to me a fit representative of political,
social, and educational ideas in the present day, because his theories
are still potent, and even in this scientific age more widely diffused
than ever before. Not without reason, it is true, for he embodied
certain germinant ideas in a fascinating literary style; but it is hard
to understand how so weak a man could have exercised such far-reaching
Himself a genuine and passionate lover of Nature; recognizing in his
principles of conduct no duties that could conflict with personal
inclinations; born in democratic and freedom-loving Switzerland, and
early imbued through his reading of German and English writers with
ideas of liberty,--which in those conservative lands were
wholesome,--he distilled these ideas into charming literary creations
that were eagerly read by the restless minds of France and wrought in
them political frenzy. The reforms he projected grew out of his theories
of the "rights" of man, without reference to the duties that limit those
rights; and his appeal for their support to men's passions and selfish
instincts and to a sentimental philosophy, in an age of irreligion and
immorality, aroused a political tempest which he little contemplated.
In an age so infidel and brilliant as that which preceded the French
Revolution, the writings of Rousseau had a peculiar charm, and produced
a great effect even on men who despised his character and ignored his
mission. He engendered the Robespierres and Condorcets of the
Revolution,--those sentimental murderers, who under the guise of
philosophy attacked the fundamental principles of justice and destroyed
the very rights which they invoked.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born at Geneva in the year 1712, when Voltaire
was first rising into notice. He belonged to the plebeian ranks, being
the son of a watchmaker; was sickly, miserable, and morbid from a child;
was poorly educated, but a great devourer of novels (which his
father--sentimental as he--read with him), poetry, and gushing
biographies; although a little later he became, with impartial facility,
equally delighted with the sturdy Plutarch. His nature was passionate
and inconstant, his sensibilities morbidly acute, and his imagination
lively. He hated all rules, precedents, and authority. He was lazy,
listless, deceitful, and had a great craving for novelties and
excitement,--as he himself says, "feeling everything and knowing
nothing." At an early age, without money or friends, he ran away from
the engraver to whom he had been apprenticed, and after various
adventures was first kindly received by a Catholic priest in Savoy; then
by a generous and erring woman of wealth lately converted to
Catholicism; and again by the priests of a Catholic Seminary in
Sardinia, under whose tuition, and in order to advance his personal
fortunes, he abjured the religion in which he had been brought up, and
professed Catholicism. This, however, cost him no conscientious
scruples, for his religious training had been of the slimmest, and
principles he had none.
We next see Rousseau as a footman in the service of an Italian Countess,
where he was mean enough to accuse a servant girl of a theft he had
himself committed, thereby causing her ruin. Again, employed as a
footman in the service of another noble family, his extraordinary
talents were detected, and he was made secretary. But all this kindness
he returned with insolence, and again became a wanderer. In his
isolation he sought the protection of the Swiss lady who had before
befriended him, Madame de Warens. He began as her secretary, and ended
in becoming her lover. In her house he saw society and learned music.
A fit of caprice induced Rousseau to throw up this situation, and he
then taught music in Chambery for a living, studied hard, read Voltaire,
Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Leibnitz, and Puffendorf, and evinced an
uncommon vivacity and talent for conversation, which made him a favorite
in social circles. His chief labor, however, for five years was in
inventing a system of musical notation, which led him to Lyons, and
then, in 1741, to Paris.
He was now twenty-nine years old,--a visionary man, full of schemes,
with crude opinions and unbounded self-conceit, but poor and unknown,--a
true adventurer, with many agreeable qualities, irregular habits, and
not very scrupulous morals. Favored by letters of introduction to ladies
of distinction,--for he was a favorite with ladies, who liked his
enthusiasm, freshness, elegant talk, and grand sentiments,--he succeeded
in getting his system of musical notation examined, although not
accepted, by the French Academy, and secured an appointment as
secretary in the suite of the Ambassador to Venice.
In this city Rousseau remained but a short time, being disgusted with
what he called "official insolence," which did not properly recognize
native genius. He returned to Paris as poor as when he left it, and
lived in a cheap restaurant. There he made the acquaintance of his
Therese, a healthy, amiable woman, but low, illiterate, unappreciative,
and coarse, the author of many of his subsequent miseries. She lived
with him till he died,--at first as his mistress and housekeeper,
although later in life he married her. She was the mother of his five
children, every one of whom he sent to a foundling hospital, justifying
his inhumanity by those sophistries and paradoxes with which his
writings abound,--even in one of his letters appealing for pity because
he "had never known the sweetness of a father's embrace." With
extraordinary self-conceit, too, he looked upon himself, all the while,
in his numerous illicit loves, as a paragon of virtue, being apparently
without any moral sense or perception of moral distinctions.
It was not till Rousseau was thirty-nine years of age that he attracted
public attention by his writings, although earlier known in literary
circles,--especially in that infidel Parisian _coterie_, where Diderot,
Grimm, D'Holbach, D'Alembert, David Hume, the Marquis de Mirabeau,
Helvetius, and other wits shined, in which circle no genius was
acknowledged and no profundity of thought was deemed possible unless
allied with those pagan ideas which Saint Augustine had exploded and
Pascal had ridiculed. Even while living among these people, Rousseau had
all the while a kind of sentimental religiosity which revolted at their
ribald scoffing, although he never protested.
He had written some fugitive pieces of music, and had attempted and
failed in several slight operettas, composing both music and words; but
the work which made Rousseau famous was his essay on a subject
propounded in 1749 by the Academy of Dijon: "Has the Progress of Science
and the Arts Contributed to Corrupt or to Purify Morals?" This was a
strange subject for a literary institution to propound, but one which
exactly fitted the genius of Rousseau. The boldness of his paradox--for
he maintained the evil effects of science and art--and the brilliancy of
his style secured readers, although the essay was crude in argument and
false in logic. In his "Confessions" he himself condemns it as the
weakest of all his works, although "full of force and fire;" and he
adds: "With whatever talent a man may be born, the art of writing is not
easily learned." It has been said that Rousseau got the idea of taking
the "off side" of this question from his literary friend Diderot, and
that his unexpected success with it was the secret of his life-long
career of opposition to all established institutions. This is
interesting, but not very authentic.
The next year, his irregular activity having been again stimulated by
learning that his essay had gained the premium at Dijon, and by the fact
of its great vogue as a published pamphlet, another performance fairly
raised Rousseau to the pinnacle of fashion; and this was an opera which
he composed, "Le Devin du Village" (The Village Sorcerer), which was
performed at Fontainebleau before the Court, and received with
unexampled enthusiasm. His profession, so far as he had any, was that of
a copyist of music, and his musical taste and facile talents had at last
brought him an uncritical recognition.
But Rousseau soon abandoned music for literature. In 1753 he wrote
another essay for the Academy of Dijon, on the "Origin of the Inequality
of Man," full of still more startling paradoxes than his first, in which
he attempted to show, with great felicity of language, the superiority
of savage life over civilization.
At the age of forty-two Rousseau revisited Protestant Geneva, abjured in
its turn the Catholic faith, and was offered the post of librarian of
the city. But he could not live out of the atmosphere of Paris; nor did
he wish to remain under the shadow of Voltaire, living in his villa near
the City Gate of Geneva, who had but little admiration for Rousseau, and
whose superior social position excited the latter's envy. Yet he
professed to hate Paris with its conventionalities and fashions, and
sought a quiet retreat where he could more leisurely pursue his studies
and enjoy Nature, which he really loved. This was provided for him by an
enthusiastic friend,--Madame d'Epinay,--in the beautiful valley of
Montmorenci, and called "The Hermitage," situated in the grounds of her
Chateau de la Chevrette. Here he lived with his wife and mother-in-law,
he himself enjoying the hospitalities of the Chateau besides,--society
of a most cultivated kind, also woods, lawns, parks, gardens,--all for
nothing; the luxuries of civilization, the glories of Nature, and the
delights of friendship combined. It was an earthly paradise, given him
by enthusiastic admirers of his genius and conversation.
In this retreat, one of the most favored which a poor author ever had,
Rousseau, ever craving some outlet for his passionate sentiments,
created an ideal object of love. He wrote imaginary letters, dwelling
with equal rapture on those he wrote and those he fancied he received
in return, and which he read to his lady friends, after his rambles in
the forests and parks, during their reunions at the supper-table. Thus
was born the "Nouvelle Heloise,"--a novel of immense fame, in which the
characters are invested with every earthly attraction, living in
voluptuous peace, yet giving vent to those passions which consume the
unsatisfied soul. It was the forerunner of "Corinne," "The Sorrows of
Werther," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and all those sentimental romances which
amused our grandfathers and grandmothers, but which increased the
prejudice of religious people against novels. It was not until Sir
Walter Scott arose with his wholesome manliness that the embargo against
novels was removed.
The life which Rousseau lived at the Hermitage--reveries in the
forest, luxurious dinners, and sentimental friendships--led to a
passionate love-affair with the Comtesse d'Houdetot, a sister-in-law
of his patroness Madame d'Epinay,--a woman not only married,
but who had another lover besides. The result, of course, was
miserable,--jealousies, piques, humiliations, misunderstandings, and the
sundering of the ties of friendship, which led to the necessity of
another retreat: a real home the wretched man never had. This was
furnished, still in the vicinity of Montmorenci, by another aristocratic
friend, the Marechal de Luxembourg, the fiscal agent of the Prince de
Conde. And nothing to me is stranger than that this wandering, morbid,
irritable man, without birth or fortune, the father of the wildest
revolutionary and democratic doctrines, and always hated both by the
Court and the Church, should have found his friends and warmest admirers
and patrons in the highest circles of social life. It can be explained
only by the singular fascination of his eloquence, and by the extreme
stolidity of his worshippers in appreciating his doctrines, and the
state of society to which his principles logically led.
In this second retreat Rousseau had the _entree_ to the palace of the
Duke of Luxembourg, where he read to the friends assembled at its
banquets his new production, "Emile,"--a singular treatise on education,
not so faulty as his previous works, but still false in many of its
principles, especially in regard to religion. This book contained an
admirable and powerful impulse away from artificiality and towards
naturalness in education, which has exerted an immense influence for
good; we shall revert to it later.
A few months before the publication of "Emile," Rousseau had issued "The
Social Contract," the most revolutionary of all his works, subversive of
all precedents in politics, government, and the organization of society,
while also confounding Christianity with ecclesiasticism and attacking
its influence in the social order. All his works obtained a wide fame
before publication by reason of his habit of reading them to
enthusiastic and influential friends who made them known.
"The Social Contract," however, dangerous as it was, did not when
published arouse so much opposition as "Emile." The latter book, as we
now see, contained much that was admirable; but its freedom and
looseness in religious discussion called down the wrath of the clergy,
excited the alarm of the government, and finally compelled the author to
fly for his life to Switzerland.
Rousseau is now regarded as an enemy to Christian doctrine, even as he
was a foe to the existing institutions of society. In Geneva his books
are publicly burned. Henceforth his life is embittered by constant
persecution. He flies from canton to canton in the freest country in
Europe, obnoxious not only for his opinions but for his habits of life.
He affectedly adopts the Armenian dress, with its big fur bonnet and
long girdled caftan, among the Swiss peasantry. He is as full of
personal eccentricities as he is of intellectual crotchets. He becomes a
sort of literary vagabond, with every man's hand against him. He now
writes a series of essays, called "Letters from the Mountain," full of
bitterness and anti-Christian sentiments. So incensed by these writings
are the country people among whom he dwells that he is again forced
David Hume, regarding him as a mild, affectionate, and persecuted man,
gives Rousseau a shelter in England. The wretched man retires to
Derbyshire, and there writes his "Confessions,"--the most interesting
and most dangerous of his books, showing a diseased and irritable mind,
and most sophistical views on the immutable principles of both morality
and religion. A victim of mistrust and jealousy, he quarrels with Hume,
who learns to despise his character, while pitying the sensitive
sufferings of one whom he calls "a man born without a skin."
Rousseau returns to France at the age of fifty-five. After various
wanderings he is permitted to settle in Paris, where he lives with great
frugality in a single room, poorly furnished,--supporting himself by
again copying music, sought still in high society, yet shy, reserved,
forlorn, bitter; occasionally making new friends, who are attracted by
the infantine simplicity of his manners and apparent amiability, but
losing them almost as soon as made by his petty jealousies and
irritability, being "equally indignant at neglect and intolerant of
Rousseau's declining health and the fear of his friends that he was on
the borders of insanity led to his last retreat, offered by a
munificent friend, at Ermenonville, near Paris, where he died at
sixty-six years of age, in 1778, as some think from poison administered
by his own hand. The revolutionary National Assembly of France in 1790
bestowed a pension of fifteen hundred francs on his worthless widow, who
had married a stable-boy soon after the death of her husband.
Such was the checkered life of Rousseau. As to his character, Lord
Brougham says that "never was so much genius before united with so much
weakness." The leading spring of his life was egotism. He never felt
himself wrong, and the sophistries he used to justify his immoralities
are both ludicrous and pitiable. His treatment of Madame de Warens, his
first benefactor, was heartless, while the abandonment of his children
was infamous. He twice changed his religion without convictions, for the
advancement of his fortunes. He pretended to be poor when he was
independent in his circumstances. He supposed himself to be without
vanity, while he was notoriously the most conceited man in France. He
quarrelled with all his friends. He made war on society itself. He
declared himself a believer in Christianity, but denied all revelation,
all miracles, all inspiration, all supernaturalism, and everything he
could not reconcile with his reason. His bitterest enemies were the
atheists themselves, who regarded him as a hypocrite, since he professed
to believe in what he undermined. The hostility of the Church was
excited against him, not because he directly assailed Christianity, but
because he denied all its declarations and sapped its authority.
Rousseau was, however, a sentimentalist rather than a rationalist, an
artist rather than a philosopher. He was not a learned man, but a bold
thinker. He would root out all distinctions in society, because they
could not be reconciled with his sense of justice. He preached a gospel
of human rights, based not on Christianity but on instinct. He was full
of impracticable theories. He would have no war, no suffering, no
hardship, no bondage, no fear, and even no labor, since these were
evils, and, according to his notions of moral government, unnecessary.
But in all his grand theories he ignored the settled laws of
Providence,--even those of that "Nature" he so fervently
worshipped,--all that is decreed concerning man or woman, all that is
stern and real in existence; and while he uttered such sophistries, he
excited discontent with the inevitable condition of man, he loosened
family ties, he relaxed wholesome restraints, he infused an intense
hatred of all conditions subject to necessary toil.
The life of this embittered philanthropist was as great a contradiction
as were his writings. This benevolent man sends his own children to a
foundling hospital. This independent man lives for years on the bounty
of an erring woman, whom at last he exposes and deserts. This
high-minded idealizer of friendship quarrels with every man who seeks to
extricate him from the consequences of his own imprudence. This
affectionate lover refuses a seat at his table to the woman with whom he
lives and who is the mother of his children. This proud republican
accepts a pension from King George III., and lives in the houses of
aristocratic admirers without payment. This religious teacher rarely
goes to church, or respects the outward observances of the Christianity
he affects. This moral theorizer, on his own confession, steals and lies
and cheats. This modest innocent corrupts almost every woman who listens
to his eloquence. This lofty thinker consumes his time in frivolity and
senseless quarrels. This patriot makes war on the institutions of his
country and even of civilized life. This humble man turns his back on
every one who will not do him reverence.
Such was this precursor of revolutions, this agitator, this hypocrite,
this egotist, this lying prophet,--a man admired and despised, brilliant
but indefinite, original but not true, acute but not wise; logical, but
reasoning on false premises; advancing some great truths, but spoiling
their legitimate effect by sophistries and falsehoods.
Why, then, discuss the ideas and influence of so despicable a creature?
Because, sophistical as they were, those ideas contained truths of
tremendous germinant power; because in the rank soil of his times they
produced a vast crop of bitter, poisonous fruit, while in the more open,
better aerated soil of this century they have borne and have yet to bear
a fruitage of universal benefit. God's ways seem mysterious; it is for
men patiently to study, understand, and utilize them.
Let us turn to the more definite consideration of the writings which
have given this author so brilliant a fame. I omit any review of his
operas and his system of musical notation, as not bearing on the
opinions of society.
The first work, as I have said, which brought Rousseau into notice was
the treatise for the Academy of Dijon, as to whether the arts and
sciences have contributed to corrupt or to purify morals. Rousseau
followed the bent of his genius, in maintaining that they have done more
harm than good; and he was so fresh and original and brilliant that he
gained the prize. This little work contains the germ of all his
subsequent theories, especially that in which he magnifies the state of
nature over civilization,--an amazing paradox, which, however, appealed
to society when men were wearied with the very pleasures for which
Rousseau's cant about the virtues engendered by ignorance, idleness, and
barbarism is repulsive to every sound mind, Civilization may present
greater temptations than a state of nature, but these are inseparable
from any growth, and can be overcome by the valorous mind. Who but a
madman would sweep away civilization with its factitious and remediable
evils for barbarism with its untutored impulses and animal life? Here
Rousseau makes war upon society, upon all that is glorious in the
advance of intellect and the growth of morality,--upon the reason and
aspirations of mankind. Can inexperience be a better guide than
experience, when it encounters crime and folly? Yet, on the other hand,
a plea for greater simplicity of life, a larger study of Nature, and a
freer enjoyment of its refreshing contrasts to the hot-house life of
cities, is one of the most reasonable and healthful impulses of our
What can be more absurd, although bold and striking, than Rousseau's
essay on the "Origin of Human Inequalities"! In this he pushes out the
doctrine of personal liberty to its utmost logical sequence, so as to do
away with government itself, and with all regulation for the common
good. We do not quarrel with his abstract propositions in respect to
political equality; but his deductions strike a blow at civilization,
since he maintains that inequalities of human condition are the source
of all political and social evils, while Christianity, confirmed by
common-sense, teaches that the source of social evils is in the selfish
nature of man rather than in his outward condition. And further, if it
were possible to destroy the inequalities of life, they would soon again
return, even with the most boundless liberty. Here common-sense is
sacrificed to a captivating theory, and all the experiences of the world
This shows the folly of projecting any abstract theory, however true, to
its remote and logical sequence. In the attempt we are almost certain to
be landed in absurdity, so complicated are the relations of life,
especially in governmental and political science. What doctrine of civil
or political economy would be applicable in all ages and all countries
and all conditions? Like the ascertained laws of science, or the great
and accepted truths of the Bible, political axioms are to be considered
in their relation with other truths equally accepted, or men are soon
brought into a labyrinth of difficulties, and the strongest intellect is
And especially will this be the case when a theory under consideration
is not a truth but an assumption. That was the trouble with Rousseau.
His theories, disdainful of experience, however logically treated,
became in their remotest sequence and application insulting to the human
understanding, because they were often not only assumptions, but
assumptions of what was not true, although very specious and flattering
to certain classes.
Rousseau confounded the great truth of the justice of moral and
political equality with the absurd and unnatural demand for social and
material equality. The great modern cry for equal opportunity for all is
sound and Christian; but any attempt to guarantee individual success in
using opportunity, to insure the lame and the lazy an equal rank in the
race, must end in confusion and distraction.
The evil of Rousseau's crude theories or false assumptions was
practically seen in the acceptance of their logical conclusions, which
led to anarchy, murder, pillage, and outrageous excess. The great danger
attending his theories is that they are generally half-truths,--truth
and falsehood blended. His writings are sophistical. It is difficult to
separate the truth from the error, by reason of the marvellous felicity
of his language. I do not underrate his genius or his style. He was
doubtless an original thinker and a most brilliant and artistic writer;
and by so much did he confuse people, even by the speciousness of his
logic. There is nothing indefinite in what he advances. He is not a poet
dealing in mysticisms, but a rhetorical philosopher, propounding
startling theories, partly true and partly false, which he logically
enforces with matchless eloquence.
Probably the most influential of Rousseau's writings was "The Social
Contract,"--the great textbook of the Revolution. In this famous
treatise he advanced some important ideas which undoubtedly are based on
ultimate truth, such as that the people are the source of power, that
might does not make right, that slavery is an aggression on human
rights; but with these ideal truths he combines the assertion that
government is a contract between the governor and the governed. In a
perfect state of society this may be the ideal; but society is not and
never has been perfect, and certainly in all the early ages of the world
governments were imposed upon people by the strong hand, irrespective of
their will and wishes,--and these were the only governments which were
fit and useful in that elder day. Governments, as a plain matter of
fact, have generally arisen from circumstances and relations with which
the people have had little to do. The Oriental monarchies were the
gradual outgrowth of patriarchal tradition and successful military
leadership, and in regard to them the people were never consulted at
all. The Roman Empire was ruled without the consent of the governed.
Feudal monarchies in Europe were based on the divine rights of kings.
There was no state in Europe where a compact or social contract had been
made or implied. Even later, when the French elected Napoleon, they
chose a monarch because they feared anarchy, without making any
stipulation. There were no contracting parties.
The error of Rousseau was in assuming a social contract as a fact, and
then reasoning upon the assumption. His premises are wrong, or at least
they are nothing more than statements of what abstractly might be made
to follow from the assumption that the people actually are the source of
power,--a condition most desirable and in the last analysis correct,
since even military despots use the power of the people in order to
oppress the people, but which is practically true only in certain
states. Yet, after all, when brought under the domain of law by the
sturdy sense and utilitarian sagacity of the Anglo-Saxon race,
Rousseau's doctrine of the sovereignty of the people is the great
political motor of this century, in republics and monarchies alike.
Again, Rousseau maintains that, whatever acquisitions an individual or
a society may make, the right to this property must be always
subordinate to the right which the community at large has over the
possessions of all. Here is the germ of much of our present-day
socialism. Whatever element of truth there may be in the theory that
would regard land and capital, the means of production, as the joint
possession of all the members of the community,--the basic doctrine of
socialism,--any forcible attempt to distribute present results of
individual production and accumulation would be unjust and dangerous to
the last degree. In the case of the furious carrying out of this
doctrine by the crazed French revolutionists, it led to outrageous
confiscation, on the ground that all property belonged to the state, and
therefore the representatives of the nation could do what they pleased
with it. This shallow sophistry was accepted by the French National
Convention when it swept away estates of nobles and clergy, not on the
tenable ground that the owners were public enemies, but on the baseless
pretext that their property belonged to the nation.
From this sophistry about the rights of property, Rousseau advanced
another of still worse tendency, which was that the general will is
always in the right and constantly tends to the public good. The theory
is inconsistent with itself. Light and truth do not come from the
universal reason, but from the thoughts of great men stimulated into
growth among the people. The teachers of the world belong to a small
class. Society is in need of constant reforms, which are not suggested
by the mass, but by a few philosophers or reformers,--the wise men who
Rousseau further says that a whole people can never become corrupted,--a
most barefaced assertion. Have not all nations suffered periods of
corruption? This notion, that the whole people cannot err, opens the
door for any license. It logically leads to that other idea, of the
native majesty of man and the perfectibility of society, which this
sophist boldly accepted. Rousseau thought that if society were released
from all law and all restraint, the good impulses and good sense of the
majority would produce a higher state of virtue and wisdom than what he
saw around him, since majorities could do no wrong and the universal
reason could not err. In this absurdity lay the fundamental principle of
the French Revolution, so far as it was produced by the writings of
philosophers. This doctrine was eagerly seized upon by the French
people, maddened by generations of oppression, poverty, and degradation,
because it appealed to the pride and vanity of the masses, at that time
congregated bodies of ignorance and wickedness.
Rousseau had an unbounded trust in human nature,--that it is good and
wise, and will do the best thing if left to itself. But can anything be
more antagonistic to all the history of the race? I doubt if Rousseau
had any profound knowledge, or even really extensive reading. He was a
dreamer, a theorist, a sentimentalist. He was the arch-priest of all
sensationalism in the guise of logic. What more acceptable to the vile
people of his age than the theory that in their collective capacity they
could not err, that the universal reason was divine? What more logical
than its culmination in that outrageous indecency, the worship of Reason
in the person of a prostitute!
Again, Rousseau's notion of the limitations of law and the prerogative
of the people, carried out, would lead to the utter subversion of
central authority, and reduce nations to an absolute democracy of small
communities. They would divide and subdivide until society was resolved
into its original elements. This idea existed among the early Greek
states, when a state rarely comprised more than a single city or town or
village, such as might be found among the tribes of North American
Indians. The great political question in Ancient Greece was the autonomy
of cities, which kept the whole land in constant wars and dissensions
and quarrels and jealousies, and prevented that centralization of power
which would have made Greece unconquerable and the mistress of the
world. Our wholesome American system of autonomy in local affairs, with
a common authority in matters affecting the general good, is organized
liberty. But the ancient and outgrown idea of unregulated autonomy was
revived by Rousseau; and though it could not be carried out by the
French Revolutionists who accepted nearly all his theories, it led to
the disintegration of France, and the multiplication of offices fatal to
a healthy central power. Napoleon broke up all this in his centralized
despotism, even if, to keep the Revolutionary sympathy, he retained the
Departments which were substituted for the ancient Provinces.
The extreme spirit of democratic liberty which is the characteristic of
Rousseau's political philosophy led to the advocacy of the wildest
doctrines of equality. He would prevent the accumulation of wealth, so
that, to use his words, "no one citizen should be rich enough to buy
another, and no one so poor as to be obliged to sell himself." He would
have neither rich people nor beggars. What could flow from such
doctrines but discontent and unreasonable expectations among the poor,
and a general fear and sense of insecurity among the rich? This "state
of nature," moreover, in his view, could be reached only by going
backward and destroying all civilization,--and it was civilization which
he ever decried,--a very pleasant doctrine to vagabonds, but likely to
be treated with derisive mockery by all those who have something
Another and most dangerous principle which was advocated in the "Social
Contract" was that religion has nothing to do with the affairs of civil
and political life; that religious obligations do not bind a citizen;
that Christianity, in fact, ignores all the great relations of man in
society. This is distinct from the Puritan doctrine of the separation of
the Church from the State, by which is simply meant that priests ought
not to interfere in matters purely political, nor the government meddle
with religious affairs,--a prime doctrine in a free State. But no body
of men were ever more ardent defenders of the doctrine that all
religious ideas ought to bear on the social and political fabric than
the Puritans, They would break up slavery, if it derogated from the
doctrine of the common brotherhood of man as declared by Christ; they
would use their influence as Christians to root out all evil
institutions and laws, and bring the sublime truths of the Master to
bear on all the relations of life,--on citizens at the ballot-box, at
the helm of power, and in legislative bodies. Christianity was to them
the supreme law, with which all human laws must harmonize. But Rousseau
would throw out Christianity altogether, as foreign to the duties and
relations of both citizens and rulers, pretending that it ignored all
connection with mundane affairs and had reference only to the salvation
of the soul,--as if all Christ's teachings were not regulative of the
springs of conduct between man and man, as indicative of the relations
between man and God! Like Voltaire, Rousseau had the excuse of a corrupt
ecclesiasticism to be broken into; but the Church and Christianity are
two different things. This he did not see. No one was more impatient of
all restraints than Rousseau; yet he maintained that men, if calling
themselves Christians, must submit to every wrong and injustice, looking
for a remedy in the future world,--thus pouring contempt on those who
had no right, according to his view of their system, to complain of
injustice or strive to rise above temporal evils. Christianity, he said,
inculcates servitude and dependence; its spirit is favorable to tyrants;
true Christians are formed to be slaves, and they know it, and never
trouble themselves about conspiracies and insurrections, since this
transitory world has no value in their eyes. He denied that Christians
could be good soldiers,--a falsehood rebuked for us by the wars of the
Reformation, by the troops of Cromwell and Gustavus Adolphus, by our
American soldiers in the late Civil War. Thus he would throw away the
greatest stimulus to heroism,--even the consciousness of duty, and
devotion to great truths and interests.
I cannot follow out the political ideas of Rousseau in his various other
treatises, in which he prepared the way for revolution and for the
excesses of the Reign of Terror. The truth is, Rousseau's feelings were
vastly superior to his thinking. Whatever of good is to result from his
influence will arise out of the impulse he gave toward the search for
ideals that should embrace the many as well as the few in their
benefits; when he himself attempted to apply this impulse to philosophic
political thought, his unregulated mind went all astray.
Let us now turn to consider a moment his doctrines pertaining to
education, as brought out in his greatest and most unexceptionable work,
In this remarkable book everything pertaining to human life appears to
be discussed. The duties of parents, child-management, punishments,
perception and the beginning of thinking; toys, games, catechisms, all
passions and sentiments, religion, friendship, love, jealousy, pity; the
means of happiness, the pleasures and profits of travel, the principles
of virtue, of justice and liberty; language, books; the nature of man
and of woman, the arts of conventional life, politeness, riches,
poverty, society, marriage,--on all these and other questions he
discourses with great sagacity and good sense, and with unrivalled
beauty of expression, often rising to great eloquence, never dull or
uninstructive, aiming to present virtue and vice in their true colors,
inspiring exalted sentiments, and presenting happiness in simple
pleasures and natural life.
This treatise is both full and original. The author supposes an
imaginary pupil, named Emile, and he himself, intrusted with the care of
the boy's education, attends him from his cradle to his manhood, assists
him with the necessary directions for his general improvement, and
finally introduces him to an amiable and unsophisticated girl, whose
love he wins by his virtues and whom he honorably marries; so that,
although a treatise, the work is invested with the fascination of
In reading this book, which made so great a noise in Europe, with so
much that is admirable I find but little to criticise, except three
things, which mar its beauty and make it both dangerous and false, in
which the unsoundness of Rousseau's mind and character--the strange
paradoxes of his life in mixing up good with evil--are brought out, and
that so forcibly that the author was hunted and persecuted from one part
of Europe to another on account of it.
The first is that he makes all natural impulses generous and virtuous,
and man, therefore, naturally good instead of perverse,--thus throwing
not only Christianity but experience entirely aside, and laying down
maxims which, logically carried out, would make society perfect if only
Nature were always consulted. This doctrine indirectly makes all the
treasures of human experience useless, and untutored impulse the guide
of life. It would break the restraints which civilization and a
knowledge of life impose, and reduce man to a primitive state. In the
advocacy of this subtle falsehood, Rousseau pours contempt on all the
teachings of mankind,--on all schools and colleges, on all
conventionalities and social laws, yea, on learning itself. He always
stigmatizes scholars as pedants.
Secondly, he would reduce woman to insignificance, having her rule by
arts and small devices; making her the inferior of man, on whom she is
dependent and to whose caprice she is bound to submit,--a sort of toy or
slave, engrossed only with domestic duties, like the woman of antiquity.
He would give new rights and liberties to man, but none to woman as
man's equal,--thus keeping her in a dependence utterly irreconcilable
with the bold freedom which he otherwise advocates. The dangerous
tendency of his writings is somewhat checked, however, by the
everlasting hostility with which women of character and force of
will--such as they call "strong-minded"--will ever pursue him. He will
be no oracle to them.
But a still more marked defect weakens "Emile" as one of the guide-books
of the world, great as are its varied excellencies. The author
undermines all faith in Christianity as a revelation, or as a means of
man's communion with the Divine, for guidance, consolation, or
inspiration. Nor does he support one of his moral or religious doctrines
by an appeal to the Sacred Scriptures, which have been so deep a well of
moral and spiritual wisdom for so many races of men. Practically, he is
infidel and pagan, although he professes to admire some of the moral
truths which he never applies to his system. He is a pure Theist or
Deist, recognizing, like the old Greeks, no religion but that of Nature,
and valuing no attainments but such as are suggested by Nature and
Reason, which are the gods he worships from first to last in all his
writings. The Confession of Faith by the Savoyard Vicar introduced into
the fourth of the six "Books" of this work, which, having nothing to do
with his main object, he unnecessarily drags in, is an artful and
specious onslaught on all doctrines and facts revealed in the Bible,--on
all miracles, all prophecies, and all supernatural revelation,--thus
attacking Christianity in its most vital points, and making it of no
more authority than Buddhism or Mohammedanism. Faith is utterly
extinguished. A cold reason is all that he would leave to man,--no
consolation but what the mind can arrive at unaided, no knowledge but
what can be reached by original scientific investigation. He destroys
not only all faith but all authority, by a low appeal to prejudices, and
by vulgar wit such as the infidels of a former age used in their
heartless and flippant controversies. I am not surprised at the
hostility displayed even in France against him by both Catholics and
Protestants. When he advocated his rights of man, from which Thomas
Paine and Jefferson himself drew their maxims, he appealed to the
self-love of the great mass of men ground down by feudal injustices and
inequalities,--to the sense of justice, sophistically it is true, but in
a way which commanded the respect of the intellect. When he assailed
Christianity in its innermost fortresses, while professing to be a
Christian, he incurred the indignation of all Christians and the
contempt of all infidels,--for he added hypocrisy to scepticism, which
they did not. Diderot, D'Alembert, and others were bold unbelievers, and
did not veil their hostilities under a weak disguise. I have never read
a writer who in spirit was more essentially pagan than Rousseau, or who
wrote maxims more entirely antagonistic to Christianity.
Aside from these great falsities,--the perfection of natural impulse,
the inferiority of woman, and the worthlessness of Christianity,--as
inculcated in this book, "Emile" must certainly be ranked among the
great classics of educational literature. With these expurgated it
confirms the admirable methods inspired by its unmethodical suggestions.
Noting the oppressiveness of the usual order of education through books
and apparatus, he scorns all tradition, and cries, "Let the child learn
direct from Nature!" Himself sensitive and humane, having suffered as a
child from the tyranny of adults, he demands the tenderest care and
sympathy for children, a patient study of their characteristics, a
gentle, progressive leading of them to discover for themselves rather
than a cramming of them with facts. The first moral education should be
negative,--no preaching of virtue and truth, but shielding from vice and
error. He says: "Take the very reverse of the current practice, and you
will almost always do right." This spirit, indeed, is the key to his
entire plan. His ideas were those of the nineteenth, not the eighteenth
century. Free play to childish vitality; punishment the natural
inconvenience consequent on wrong-doing; the incitement of the desire to
learn; the training of sense-activity rather than reflection, in early
years; the acquirement of the power to learn rather than the
acquisition of learning,--in short, the natural and scientifically
progressive rather than the bookish and analytically literary method was
the end and aim of "Emile."
Actually, this book accomplished little in its own time, chiefly because
of its attack on established religion. Influentially, it reappeared in
Pestalozzi, the first practical reformer of methods; in Froebel, the
inventor of the Kindergarten; in Spencer, the great systematizer of the
philosophy of development; and through these its spirit pervades the
whole world of education at the present time.
In Rousseau's "New Heloise" there are the same contradictions, the same
paradoxes, the same unsoundness as in his other works, but it is more
eloquent than any. It is a novel in which he paints all the aspirations
of the soul, all its unrest, all its indefinite longings, its raptures,
and its despair; in which he unfetters the imagination and sanctifies
every impulse, not only of affection, but of passion. This novel was the
pioneer of the sentimental romances which rapidly followed in France and
England and Germany,--worse than our sensational literature, since the
author veiled his immoralities by painting the transports of passion
under the guise of love, which ever has its seat in the affections and
is sustained only by respect. Here Rousseau was a disguised seducer, a
poisoner of the moral sentiments, a foe to what is most sacred; and he
was the more dangerous from his irresistible eloquence. His sophistries
in regard to political and social rights may be met by reason, but not
his attacks on the heart, with his imaginary sorrows and joys, his
painting of raptures which can never be found. Here he undermines virtue
as he had undermined truth and law. Here reprobation must become
unqualified, and he appears one of the very worst men who ever exercised
a commanding influence on a wicked and perverse generation.
And this view of the man is rather confirmed by his own
"Confessions,"--a singularly attractive book, yet from which, after the
perusal of the long catalogue of his sorrows, joys, humiliations,
triumphs, ecstasies and miseries, glories and shame, one rises with
great disappointment, since no great truths, useful lessons, or even
ennobling sentiments are impressed upon the mind to make us wiser or
better. The "Confessions" are only a revelation of that sensibility,
excessive and morbid, which reminds us of Byron and his misanthropic
poetry,--showing a man defiant, proud, vain, unreasonable, unsatisfied,
supremely worldly and egotistic. The first six Books are mere annals of
sentimental debauchery; the last six, a kind of thermometer of
friendship, containing an accurate account of kisses given and
received, with slights, huffs, visits, quarrels, suspicions, and
jealousies, interspersed with grand sentiments and profound views of
life and human nature, yet all illustrative of the utter vanity of
earth, and the failure of all mortal pleasures to satisfy the cravings
of an immortal mind. The "Confessions" remind us of "Manfred" and
"Ecclesiastes" blended,--exceedingly readable, and often
unexceptionable, where virtue is commended and vice portrayed in its
true light, but on the whole a book which no unsophisticated or
inexperienced person can read without the consciousness of receiving a
moral taint; a book in no respect leading to repose or lofty
contemplation, or to submission to the evils of life, which it
catalogues with amazing detail; a book not even conducive to innocent
entertainment. It is the revelation of the inner life of a sensualist,
an egotist, and a hypocrite, with a maudlin although genuine admiration
for Nature and virtue and friendship and love. And the book reveals one
of the most miserable and dissatisfied men that ever walked the earth,
seeking peace in solitude and virtue, while yielding to unrestrained
impulses; a man of morbid sensibility, ever yearning for happiness and
pursuing it by impossible and impracticable paths. No sadder
autobiography has ever been written. It is a lame and impotent attempt
at self-justification, revealing on every page the writer's distrust of
the virtues which he exalts, and of man whose reason and majesty he
deifies,--even of the friendships in which he sought consolation, and of
the retirements where he hoped for rest.
The book reveals the man. The writer has no hope or repose or faith.
Nothing pleases him long, and he is driven by his wild and undisciplined
nature from one retreat to another, by persecution more fancied than
real, until he dies, not without suspicion of having taken his own life.
Such was Rousseau: the greatest literary genius of his age, the apostle
of the reforms which were attempted in the French Revolution, and of
ideas which still have a wondrous power,--some of which are grand and
true, but more of which are sophistical, false, and dangerous. His
theories are all plausible; and all are enforced with matchless
eloquence of style, but not with eloquence of thought or true feeling,
like the soaring flights of Pascal,--in every respect his superior in
genius, because more profound and lofty. Rousseau's writings, like his
life, are one vast contradiction, the blending of truth with error,--the
truth valuable even when commonplace, the error subtle and
dangerous,--so that his general influence must be considered bad
wherever man is weak or credulous or inexperienced or perverse. I wish
I could speak better of a man whom so many honestly admire, and whose
influence has been so marked during the last hundred years, and will be
equally great for a hundred years to come; a man from whom Madame de
Stael, Jefferson, and Lamartine drew so much of their inspiration, whose
ideas about childhood have so helpfully transformed the educational
methods of our own time. But I must speak my honest conviction, from the
light I have, at the same time hoping that fuller light may justify more
leniency to one of the great oracles whose doctrines are still cherished
by many of the guides of modern thought.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
THE MODERN NOVEL.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century the two most prominent
figures in English literature were Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. They
are still read and admired, especially Scott; but it is not easy to
understand the enormous popularity of these two men in their own day.
Their busts or pictures were in every cultivated family and in almost
every shop-window. Everybody was familiar with the lineaments of their
countenances, and even with every peculiarity of their dress. Who did
not know the shape of the Byronic collar and the rough, plaided form of
"the Wizard of the North"? Who could not repeat the most famous passages
in the writings of these two authors?
Is it so now? If not, what a commentary might be written on human fame!
How transitory are the judgments of men in regard to every one whom
fashion stamps! The verdict of critics is that only some half-dozen
authors are now read with the interest and glow which their works called
out a hundred years ago. Even the novels of Sir Walter, although to be
found in every library, kindle but little enthusiasm compared with that
excited by the masterpieces of Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, and of
the favorites of the passing day. Why is this? Will these later lights
also cease to burn? Will they too pass away? Is this age so much
advanced that what pleased our grandfathers and grandmothers has no
charm for us, but is often "flat, stale, and unprofitable,"--at least,
I am inclined to the opinion that only a very small part of any man's
writings is really immortal. Take out the "Elegy in a Country
Churchyard," and how much is left of Gray for other generations to
admire? And so of Goldsmith: besides the "Vicar of Wakefield" and the
"Deserted Village," there is little in his writings that is likely to
prove immortal. Johnson wrote but little poetry that is now generally
valued. Certainly his dictionary, his greatest work, is not immortal,
and is scarcely a standard. Indeed, we have outgrown nearly everything
which was prized so highly a century ago, not only in poetry and
fiction, but in philosophy, theology, and science. Perhaps that is least
permanent which once was regarded as most certain.
If, then, the poetry and novels of Sir Walter Scott are not so much
read or admired as they once were, we only say that he is no exception
to the rule. I have in mind but two authors in the whole range of
English literature that are read and prized as much to-day as they were
two hundred years ago. And if this is true, what shall we say of
rhetoricians like Macaulay, of critics like Carlyle, of theologians like
Jonathan Edwards, of historians like Hume and Guizot, and of many other
great men of whom it has been the fashion to say that their works are
lasting as the language in which they were written? Some few books will
doubtless live, but, alas, how few! Where now are the eight hundred
thousand in the Alexandrian library, which Ptolemy collected with so
great care,--what, even, their titles? Where are the writings of Varro,
said to have been the most learned man of all antiquity?
I make these introductory remarks to show how shallow is the criticism
passed upon a novelist or poet like Scott, in that he is not now so
popular or so much read as he was in his own day. It is the fate of most
great writers,--the Augustines, the Voltaires, the Bayles of the world.
It is enough to say that they were lauded and valued in their time,
since this is about all we can say of most of the works supposed to be
immortal. But when we remember the enthusiasm with which the novels of
Scott were at first received, the great sums of money which were paid
for them, and the honors he received from them, he may well claim a
renown and a popularity such as no other literary man ever enjoyed. His
eyes beheld the glory of a great name; his ears rang with the plaudits
of idolaters; he had the consciousness of doing good work, universally
acknowledged and gratefully remembered. Scarcely any other novelist ever
created so much healthy pleasure combined with so much sound
instruction. And, further, he left behind him a reproachless name,
having fewer personal defects than any literary man of his time, being
everywhere beloved, esteemed, and almost worshipped; whom distant
travellers came to see,--sure of kind and gracious treatment; a hero in
their eyes to the last, with no drawbacks such as marred the fame of
Byron or of Burns. That so great a genius as Scott is fading in the
minds of this generation may be not without comfort to those honest and
hard-working men in every walk of human life who can say: We too were
useful in our day, and had our share of honors and rewards,--all perhaps
that we deserved, or even more. What if we are forgotten, as most men
are destined to be? To live in the mouths of men is not the greatest
thing or the best. "Act well your part, there all the honor lies," for
life after all is a drama or a stage. The supremest happiness is not in
being praised; it is in the consciousness of doing right and being
possessed with the power of goodness.
When, however, a man has been seated on such a lofty pinnacle as was Sir
Walter Scott, we wish to know something of his personal traits, and the
steps by which he advanced to fame. Was he overrated, as most famous men
have been? What is the niche he will probably occupy in the temple of
literary fame? What are the characteristics of his productions? What
gave him his prodigious and extraordinary popularity? Was he a born
genius, like Byron and Burns, or was he merely a most industrious
worker, aided by fortunate circumstances and the caprices of fashion?
What were the intellectual forces of his day, and how did he come to be
counted among them?
All these points it is difficult to answer satisfactorily, but some
light may be shed upon them. The bulky volumes of Lockhart's Biography
constitute a mine of information about Scott, but are now heavy reading,
without much vivacity,--affording a strong contrast to Boswell's Life of
Johnson, which concealed nothing that we would like to know. A
son-in-law is not likely to be a dispassionate biographer, especially
when family pride and interests restrain him. On the other hand, it is
not wise for a biographer to be too candid, and belittle his hero by the
enumeration of foibles not consistent with the general tenor of the
man's life. Lockhart's knowledge of his subject and his literary skill
have given us much; and, with Scott's own letters and the critical
notice of his contemporaries, both the man and his works may be fairly
Most biographers aim to make the birth and parentage of their heroes as
respectable as possible. Of authors who are "nobly born" there are very
few; most English and Scotch literary men are descended from ancestors
of the middle class,--lawyers, clergymen, physicians, small landed
proprietors, merchants, and so on,--who were able to give their sons an
education in the universities. Sir Walter Scott traced his descent to an
ancient Scottish chief. His grandfather, Robert Scott, was bred to the
sea, but, being ship-wrecked near Dundee, he became a farmer, and was
active in the cattle-trade. Scott's father was a Writer to the Signet in
Edinburgh,--what would be called in England a solicitor,--a thriving,
respectable man, having a large and lucrative legal practice, and being
highly esteemed for his industry and integrity; a zealous Presbyterian,
formal and precise in manner, strict in the observance of the Sabbath,
and of all that he considered to be right. His wife, Anne Rutherford,
was the daughter of a professor of medicine in the University of
Edinburgh,--a lady of rather better education than the average of her
time; a mother whom Sir Walter remembered with great tenderness, and to
whose ample memory and power of graphic description he owed much of his
own skill in reproducing the past. Twelve children were the offspring of
this marriage, although only five survived very early youth.
Walter, the ninth child, was born on the 15th of August, 1771, and when
quite young, in consequence of a fever, lost for a time the use of his
right leg. By the advice of his grandfather, Dr. Rutherford, he was sent
into the country for his health. As his lameness continued, he was, at
the age of four, removed to Bath, going to London by sea. Bath was then
a noted resort, and its waters were supposed to cure everything. Here
little Walter remained a year under the care of his aunt, when he
returned to Edinburgh, to his father's house in George Square, which was
his residence until his marriage, with occasional visits to the county
seat of his maternal grandfather. He completely regained his health,
although he was always lame.
From the autobiography which Scott began but did not complete, it would
appear that his lameness and solitary habits were favorable to reading;
that even as a child he was greatly excited by tales and poems of
adventure; and that as a youth he devoured everything he could find
pertaining to early Scottish poetry and romance, of which he was
passionately fond. He was also peculiarly susceptible to the beauties of
Scottish scenery, being thus led to enjoy the country and its sports at
a much earlier age than is common with boys,--which love was never lost,
but grew with his advancing years. Among his fellows he was a hearty
player, a forward fighter in boyish "bickers," and a teller of tales
that delighted his comrades. He was sweet-tempered, merry, generous, and
well-beloved, yet peremptory and pertinacious in pursuit of his
In 1779, Walter was sent to the High School in Edinburgh; but his
progress here was by no means remarkable, although he laid a good
foundation for the acquisition of the Latin language. He also had a
tutor at home, and from him learned the rudiments of French. With a head
all on fire for chivalry and Scottish ballads, he admired the old Tory
cavaliers and hated the Roundheads and Presbyterians. In three years he
had become fairly familiar with Caesar, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Horace,
and Terence. He also distinguished himself by making Latin verses. From
the High School he entered the University of Edinburgh, very well
grounded in French and Latin. For Greek and mathematics he had an
aversion, but made up for this deficiency by considerable acquisitions
in English literature. He was delighted with both Ossian and Spenser,
and could repeat the "Faerie Queene" by heart. His memory, like that of
Macaulay, was remarkable. What delighted him more than Spenser were
Hoole's translations of Tasso and Ariosto (later he learned Italian, and
read these in the original), and Percy's "Reliques of Ancient Poetry."
At college he also read the best novels of the day, especially the works
of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett. He made respectable progress in
philosophy under the teaching of the celebrated Dugald Stewart and
Professor Bruce, and in history under Lord Woodhouselee. On the whole,
he was not a remarkable boy, except for his notable memory (which,
however, kept only what pleased him), and his very decided bent toward
the poetic and chivalric in history, life, and literature.
Walter was trained by his father to the law, and on leaving college he
served the ordinary apprenticeship of five years in his father's office
and attendance upon the law classes in the University; but the drudgery
of the law was irksome to him. When the time came to select his
profession, as a Writer to the Signet or an advocate, he preferred the
latter; although success here was more uncertain than as a solicitor. Up
to the time of his admission to the bar he had read an enormous number
of books, in a desultory way, and made many friends, some of whom
afterwards became distinguished. His greatest pleasures were in long
walks in the country with chosen companions. His love of Nature amounted
to a passion, and in his long rambles he acquired not only vigorous
health, but the capacity of undergoing great fatigue.
Scott's autobiography closes with his admission to the bar. From his own
account his early career had not been particularly promising, although
he was neither idle nor immoral. He was fond of convivial pleasures, but
ever had uncommon self-control. All his instructors were gentlemanly,
and he had access to the best society in Edinburgh, when that city was
noted for its number of distinguished men in literature and in the
different professions. His most intimate friends were John Irving, Sir
Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Dalhousie, and Adam Ferguson, with whom
he made excursions to the Highlands, and to ruined castles and abbeys of
historic interest,--following with tireless search the new trail of an
old Border ballad, or taking a thirty-mile walk to clear up some local
legend of battle, foray, or historic event. In all these antiquarian
raids the young fellows mingled freely with the people, and tramped the
counties round about in most hilarious mood, by no means escaping the
habits of the day in tavern sprees and drinking-bouts,--although Scott's
companions testify to his temperate indulgence.
The young lawyer was, indeed, unwittingly preparing for his mission to
paint Scottish scenery so vividly, and Scottish character so charmingly,
that he may almost be said to have created a new country which
succeeding generations delight to visit. No man was ever a greater
benefactor to Scotland, whose glories and beauties he was the first to
reveal, showing how the most thrifty, practical, and parsimonious people
may be at the same time the most poetic. Here Burns and he go hand in
hand, although as a poet Scott declared that he was not to be named in
the same day with the most unfortunate man of genius that his country
and his century produced. How singular that in all worldly matters the
greater genius should have been a failure, while he, who as a born poet
was the lesser light, should have been the greatest popular success of
which Scotland can boast! And yet there is something almost as pathetic
and tragical in the career of the man who worked himself to death, as in
that of the man who drank himself to death. The most supremely fortunate
writer of his day came to a mournful end, notwithstanding his
unparalleled honors and his magnificent rewards.
At the time Scott was admitted to the bar he was not, of course, aware
of his great original creative powers, nor could he have had very
sanguine expectations of a brilliant career. The profession he had
chosen was not congenial with his habits or his genius, and hence as a
lawyer he was not a success. And yet he was not a failure, for he had
the respect of some of the finest minds in Edinburgh, and at once gained
as an advocate enough to support himself respectably among aristocratic
people,--aided no doubt by his father who, as a prosperous Writer to the
Signet, threw business into his hands. Amid his practice at the courts
he found time to visit some of the most interesting spots in Scotland,
and he had money enough to gratify his tastes. He was a thriving rather
than a prosperous lawyer; that is to say, he earned his living.
But Scott was too much absorbed in literary studies and in writing
ballads, to give to his numerous friends the hope of a distinguished
legal career. No man can serve two masters. "His heart" was "in the
Highlands a-chasing the deer," or ransacking distant villages for
antiquarian lore, or collecting ancient Scottish minstrelsy, or visiting
moss-covered and ivy-clad ruins, famous before John Knox swept
monasteries and nunneries away as cages of unclean birds; but most of
all was he interested in the feuds between the Lowland and Highland
chieftains, and in the contest between Roundheads and Cavaliers when
Scotland lost her political independence. He did, however, find much in
Scotch law to enrich his mind, with entanglements and antiquarian
records, as well as the humors and tragedies of the courts; and of this
his writings show many traces.
No young lawyer ever had more efficient friends than Walter Scott. And
richly he deserved them, for he was generous, companionable, loyal, a
brilliant story-teller, a good hunter and sportsman, bright, cheerful,
and witty, doubtless one of the most interesting young men in his
beautiful city; modest, too, and unpretentious, yet proud, claiming
nothing that nothing might be denied him, a favorite in the most select
circles. His most striking peculiarity was his good sense, keeping him
from all exaggerations, which were always offensive to him. He was a
Tory, indeed; but no aristocrat ever had a more genial humanity, taking
pleasure in any society where he could learn anything. His appetite was
so healthy, from his rural sports and pedestrian feats, that he could
dine equally well on a broiled haddock or a saddle of venison, although
from the minuteness of his descriptions of Scottish banquets one might
infer that he had great appreciation of the pleasures of the table.
It is not easy to tell when Scott began to write poetry, but probably
when he was quite young. He wrote for the pleasure of it, without any
idea of devoting his life to literature. Writing ballads was the solace
of his leisure hours. His acquaintance with Francis, Lord Jeffrey began
in 1791, at a club, where he read an essay on ballads which so much
interested the future critic that he sought an introduction to its
author, and the acquaintance thus begun between these two young men,
both of whom unconsciously stood on the threshold of great careers,
ripened into friendship. This happened before Scott was called to the
bar in 1792. It was two years afterwards that he produced a poem which
took by surprise a literary friend, Miss Cranstoun, and caused her to
exclaim, "Upon my word, Walter Scott is going to turn out a poet,
something of a cross between Burns and Gray!"
In 1795 Scott was appointed one of the Curators of the Advocates'
Library,--a compliment bestowed only on those members of the bar known
to have a zeal in literary affairs; but I do not read that he published
anything until 1796, when appeared his translation from the German of
Buerger's ballads, "The Wild Huntsman" and "Lenore." This called out high
commendation from Dugald Stewart, the famous professor of moral
philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, and from other men of note,
but obtained no recognition in England.
It was during one of his rambles with his friend Ferguson to the English
Lakes in 1797 that Scott met Miss Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, or
Charpentier, a young French lady of notable beauty and lovely character.
She had an income of about L200 a year, which, added to his earnings as
an advocate, then about L150, encouraged him to offer to her his hand.
For a young couple just starting in life L350 was an independence. The
engagement met with no opposition from the lady's family; and in
December of 1797 Scott was married, and took a modest house in Castle
Street, being then twenty-six years of age. The marriage turned out to
be a happy one, although _convenance_ had something to do with it.
Of course, so healthy and romantic a nature as Scott's had not passed
through the susceptible time of youth without a love affair. From so
small a circumstance as the lending of his umbrella to a young lady
(Margaret, the beautiful daughter of Sir John Belches) he enjoyed five
years of affection and of what seems to have been a reasonable hope,
which, however, was finally ended by the young lady's marrying Mr.
William Forbes, a well-to-do banker, and later one of Scott's best
friends. "Three years of dreaming and two years of waking," Scott calls
it in one of his diaries, thirty years later; and his own marriage
followed within a year after that of his lost love.
With an income sufficient only for the necessities of life, as a married
man in society Scott had not much to spare for expensive dinners,
although given to hospitality. What money he could save was spent for
books and travel. At twenty-six, he had visited what was most
interesting in Scotland, either in scenery or historical associations,
and some parts of England, especially the Cumberland Lakes. He took a
cottage at Lasswade, near Edinburgh, and began there the fascinating
pursuit of tree-planting and "place"-making. His vacations when the
Courts were not in session were spent in excursions to mountain scenery
and those retired villages where he could pick up antiquarian lore,
particularly old Border ballads, heroic traditions of the times of
chivalry, and of the conflicts of Scottish chieftains. Concerning these
no man in Scotland knew so much as he, his knowledge furnishing the
foundation alike of his lays and his romances. His enthusiasm for these
scenic and historic interests was unquenchable,--a source of perpetual
enjoyment, which made him a most acceptable visitor wherever he chose to
go, both among antiquaries and literary men, and ladies of rank
In March, 1799, Mr. and Mrs. Scott visited London, where they were
introduced to many distinguished literary men. On their return to
Edinburgh, the office of sheriff depute of Selkirkshire having become
vacant, worth L300 a year, Scott received the appointment, which
increased his income to about L700. Although his labors were light, the
office entailed the necessity of living in that county a few months in
each year. It was a pastoral, quiet, peaceful part of the country,
belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, his friend and patron. His published
translation in this year of Goethe's "Goetz of Berlichingen" added to
his growing reputation, and led him on towards his career.
With a secure and settled income, Scott now meditated a literary life. A
hundred years ago such a life was impossible without independent means,
if a man would mingle in society and live conventionally, and what was
called respectably. Even Burns had to accept a public office, although
it was a humble one, and far from lucrative; but it gave him what poetry
could not,--his daily bread. Hogg, peasant-poet of the Ettrick forest,
was supported in all his earlier years by tending sheep and borrowing
money from his friends.
The first genuine literary adventure of Scott was his collection of a
"Scottish Minstrelsy," printed for him by James Ballantyne, a former
schoolfellow, who had been encouraged by Scott to open a shop in
Edinburgh. The preparation of this labor of love occupied the editor a
year, assisted by John Leyden, a man of great promise, who died in India
in 1811, having made a mark as an Orientalist. About this time began
Scott's memorable friendship with George Ellis, the most discriminating
and useful of all his literary friends. In the same year he made the
acquaintance of Thomas Campbell, the poet, who had already achieved fame
by his "Pleasures of Hope."
It was in 1802 that the first and second volumes of the "Minstrelsy"
appeared, in an edition of eight hundred copies, Scott's share of the
profits amounting to L78 10 _s_., which did not pay him for the actual
expenditure in the collection of his materials. The historical notes
with which he elucidated the value of the ancient ballads, and the
freshness and vigor of those which he himself wrote for the collection,
secured warm commendations from Ellis, Ritson, and other friends, and
the whole edition was sold; yet the work did not bring him wide fame.
The third and last volume was issued in 1803.
The work is full of Scott's best characteristics,--wide historical
knowledge, wonderful industry, humor, pathos, and a sympathetic
understanding of life--that of the peasant as well as the knight--such
as seizes the imagination. Lockhart quotes a passage of Scott's own
self-criticism: "I am sensible that if there be anything good about my
poetry, or prose either, it is _a hurried frankness of composition_,
which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active
dispositions." His ability to "toil terribly" in accumulating choice
material, and then, fusing it in his own spirit, to throw it forth among
men with this "hurried frankness" that stirs the blood, was the secret
of his power.
Scott did not become famous, however, until his first original poem
appeared,--"The Lay of the Last Minstrel," printed by Ballantyne in
1805, and published by Longman of London, and Constable of Edinburgh. It
was a great success; nearly fifty thousand copies were sold in Great
Britain alone by 1830. For the first edition of seven hundred and fifty
copies quarto, Scott received L169 6 s., and then sold the copyright
In the meantime, a rich uncle died without children, and Scott's share
of the property enabled him, in 1804, to rent from his cousin,
Major-General Sir James Russell, the pretty property called
Ashestiel,--a cottage and farm on the banks of the Tweed, altogether a
beautiful place, where he lived when discharging his duties of sheriff
of Selkirkshire. He has celebrated the charms of Ashestiel in the canto
introduction to "Marmion." His income at this time amounted to about
L1000 a year, which gave him a position among the squires of the
neighborhood, complete independence, and leisure to cultivate his taste.
His fortune was now made: with poetic fame besides, and powerful
friends, he was a man every way to be envied.
"The Lay of the Last Minstrel" placed Scott among the three great poets
of Scotland, for originality and beauty of rhyme. It is not marked by
pathos or by philosophical reflections. It is a purely descriptive poem
of great vivacity and vividness, easy to read, and true to nature. It is
a tale of chivalry, and is to poetry what Froissart's "Chronicles" are
to history. Nothing exactly like it had before appeared in English
literature. It appealed to all people of romantic tastes, and was
reproachless from a moral point of view. It was a book for a lady's
bower, full of chivalric sentiments and stirring incidents, and of
unflagging interest from beginning to end,--partly warlike and partly
monastic, describing the adventures of knights and monks. It deals with
wizards, harpers, dwarfs, priests, warriors, and noble dames. It sings
of love and wassailings, of gentle ladies' tears, of castles and festal
halls, of pennons and lances,--
"Of ancient deeds, so long forgot,
Of feuds whose memory was not,
Of forests now laid waste and bare,
Of towers which harbor now the hare."
In "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" there is at least one immortal stanza
which would redeem the poem even if otherwise mediocre. How few poets
can claim as much as this! Very few poems live except for some splendid
passages which cannot be forgotten, and which give fame. I know of
nothing, even in Burns, finer than the following lines:--
"Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well!
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,--
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung."
The favor with which "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" was received,
greater than that of any narrative poem of equal length which had
appeared for two generations, even since Dryden's day, naturally brought
great commendation from Jeffrey, the keenest critic of the age, in the
famous magazine of which he was the editor. The Edinburgh Review had
been started only in 1802 by three young men of genius,--Jeffrey,
Brougham, and Sydney Smith,--and had already attained great popularity,
but not such marvellous influence as it wielded ten years afterwards,
when nine thousand copies were published every three months, and at
such a price as gave to its contributors a splendid remuneration, and to
its editors absolute critical independence. The only objection to this
powerful periodical was the severity of its criticisms, which often also
were unjust. It seemed to be the intent of the reviewers to demolish
everything that was not of extraordinary merit. Fierce attacks are not
criticism. The articles in the Edinburgh Review were of a different sort
from the polished and candid literary dissections which made Ste.-Beuve
so justly celebrated. In the beginning of the century, however, these
savage attacks were all the fashion and to be expected; yet they stung
authors almost to madness, as in the case of the review of Byron's early
poetry. Literary courtesy did not exist. Justice gave place generally to
ridicule or sarcasm. The Edinburgh Review was a terror to all
pretenders, and often to men of real merit. But it was published when
most judges were cruel and severe, even in the halls of justice.
The friendship between Scott and Jeffrey had been very close for ten
years before the inception of the Edinburgh Review; and although Scott
was (perhaps growing out of his love for antiquarian researches and
admiration of the things that had been) an inveterate conservative and
Tory, while the new Review was slashingly liberal and progressive, he
was drawn in by friendship and literary interest to be a frequent
contributor during its first three or four years. The politics of the
Edinburgh Review, however, and the establishment in 1808 of the
conservative Quarterly Review, caused a gradual cessation of this
literary connection, without marring the friendly relations between
the two men.
About this time began Scott's friendship with Wordsworth, for whom he
had great respect. Indeed, his modesty led him to prefer everybody's
good poetry to his own. He felt himself inferior not only to Burns, but
also to Wordsworth and Campbell and Coleridge and Byron,--as in many
respects he undoubtedly was; but it requires in an author discernment
and humility of a rare kind, to make him capable of such a
More important to him than any literary friendship was his partnership
with James Ballantyne, the printer, whom he had known from his youth.
This in the end proved unfortunate, and nearly ruined him; for
Ballantyne, though an accomplished man and a fine printer, as well as
enterprising and sensible, was not a safe business man, being
over-sanguine. For a time, however, this partnership, which was kept
secret, was an advantage to both parties, although Scott embarked in the
enterprise his whole available capital, about L5000. In connection with
the publishing business, soon added to the printing, with James
Ballantyne's brother John as figure-head of the concern,--a talented but
dissipated and reckless "good fellow," with no more head for business
than either James Ballantyne or Scott,--the association bound Scott hand
and foot for twenty years, and prompted him to adventurous undertakings.
But it must be said that the Ballantynes always deferred to him, having
for him a sentiment little short of veneration. One of the first results
of this partnership was an eighteen-volume edition of Dryden's poems,
with a Life, which must have been to Scott little more than drudgery. He
was well paid for his work, although it added but little to his fame,
except for intelligent literary industry.
Before the Dryden, however, in the same year, 1808, appeared the poem of
"Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field," which was received by the public
with great avidity, and unbounded delight. Jeffrey wrote a chilling
review, for which Scott with difficulty forgave him, since with all his
humility and amiability he could not bear unfriendly or severe
In a letter to Joanna Baillie, Scott makes some very sensible remarks as
to the incapability of such a man as Jeffrey appreciating a work of the
imagination, distinguished as he was:--
"I really have often told him that I think he wants the taste for
poetry which is essentially necessary to enjoy, and of course to
criticize with justice. He is learned with the most learned in its
canons and laws, skilled in its modulations, and an excellent judge of
the justice of the sentiments which it conveys; but he wants that
enthusiastic feeling which, like sunshine upon a landscape, lights up
every beauty, and palliates if it cannot hide every defect. To offer a
poem of imagination to a man whose whole life and study have been to
acquire a stoical indifference towards enthusiasm of every kind, would
be the last, as it would surely be the silliest, action of my life."
As stated above, it was about this time that Scott broke off his
connection with the Edinburgh Review. Perhaps that was what Jeffrey
wished, since the Review became thenceforth more intensely partisan, and
Scott's Toryism was not what was wanted.
It is fair to add that in 1810 Jeffrey sent Scott advance proofs of his
critique on "The Lady of the Lake," with a frank and friendly letter in
which he says:--
"I am now sensible that there were needless asperities in my review of
'Marmion,' and from the hurry in which I have been forced to write, I
dare say there may be some here also.... I am sincerely proud both of
your genius and of your glory, and I value your friendship more highly
than most either of my literary or political opinions."
Southey, Ellis, and Wordsworth, Erskine, Heber, and other friends wrote
congratulatory letters about "Marmion," with slight allusions to minor
blemishes. Lockhart thought that it was on the whole the greatest of
Scott's poems, in strength and boldness. Most critics regarded the long
introduction to each canto as a defect, since it broke the continuity of
the narrative; but it may at least be said that these preludes give an
interesting insight into the author's moods and views. The opinions of
literary men of course differ as to the relative excellence of the
different poems. "Marmion" certainly had great merit, and added to the
fame of the author. There is here more variety of metre than in his
other poems, and also some passages of such beauty as to make the poem
immortal,--like the death of Marmion, and those familiar lines in
reference to Clara's constancy:--
"O woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light, quivering aspen made,--
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou."
The sale of "Marmion" ultimately reached fifty thousand copies in Great
Britain. The poem was originally published in a luxurious quarto at
thirty-one and a-half shillings. Besides one thousand guineas in
advance, half the profits went to Scott, and must have reached several
thousand pounds,--a great sale, when we remember that it was confined to
libraries and people of wealth. In America, the poem was sold for two or
three shillings,--less than one-tenth of what it cost the English
reader. A successful poem or novel in England is more remunerative to
the author, from the high price at which it is published, than in the
United States, where prices are lower and royalties rarely exceed ten
per cent. It must be borne in mind, however, that in England editions
are ordinarily very small, sometimes consisting of not more than two
hundred and fifty copies. The first edition of "Marmion" was only of two
thousand copies. The largest edition published was in 1811, of five
thousand copies octavo; but even this did not circulate largely among
the people. The popularity of Scott in England was confined chiefly to
the upper classes, at least until the copyright of his books had
expired. The booksellers were not slow in availing themselves of Scott's
popularity. They employed him to edit an edition of Swift for L1500, and
tried to induce him to edit a general edition of English poets. That
scheme was abandoned in consequence of a disagreement between Scott and
Murray, the London publisher, as to the selection of poets.
I think the quarrels of authors eighty or one hundred years ago with
their publishers were more frequent than they are in these times. We
read of a long alienation between Scott and Constable, the publisher,
who enjoyed a sort of monopoly of the poet's contributions to
literature. Constable soon after found a great rival in Murray, who was
at this time an obscure London bookseller in Fleet Street. Both these
great publishers were remarkable for sagacity, and were bold in their
ventures. The foundation of Constable's wealth was laid when he was
publishing the Edinburgh Review. In 1809, Murray started the Quarterly
Review, its great political rival, with the aid of Scott, who wrote many
of its most valuable articles; and William Gilford, satirist and critic,
became its first editor. Growing out of the quarrel between Scott and
Constable was the establishment of John Ballantyne & Co. as publishers
and booksellers in Edinburgh.
Shortly after the establishment of the Quarterly Review as a Tory
journal, Scott began his third great poem, "The Lady of the Lake," which
was published in 1810, in all the majesty of a quarto, at the price of
two guineas a copy. He received for it two thousand guineas. The first
edition of two thousand copies disappeared at once, and was followed the
same year by four octavo editions. In a few months the sale reached
twenty thousand copies. The poem received great commendation both from
the Quarterly and the Edinburgh Review.
Mr. Ellis, in his article in the Quarterly, thus wrote:
"There is nothing in Scott of the severe majesty of Milton, or of the
terse composition of Pope, or the elaborate elegance of Campbell, or the
flowing and redundant diction of Southey; but there is a medley of
bright images, and a diction tinged successively with the careless
richness of Shakespeare, the antique simplicity of the old romances, the
homeliness of vulgar ballads, and the sentimental glitter of the most
modern poetry,--passing from the borders of the ludicrous to the
sublime, alternately minute and energetic, sometimes artificial, and
frequently negligent, but always full of spirit and vivacity, abounding
in images that are striking at first sight to minds of every contexture,
and never expressing a sentiment which it can cost the most ordinary
reader any exertion to comprehend."
This seems to me to be a fair criticism, although the lucidity of
Scott's poetry is not that which is most admired by modern critics.