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The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt

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"To know another well were to know one's self."






















* * * * *


Mr. Bentham is one of those persons who verify the old adage, that "A
prophet has no honour, except out of his own country." His reputation
lies at the circumference; and the lights of his understanding are
reflected, with increasing lustre, on the other side of the globe. His
name is little known in England, better in Europe, best of all in the
plains of Chili and the mines of Mexico. He has offered constitutions
for the New World, and legislated for future times. The people of
Westminster, where he lives, hardly know of such a person; but the
Siberian savage has received cold comfort from his lunar aspect, and may
say to him with Caliban--"I know thee, and thy dog and thy bush!" The
tawny Indian may hold out the hand of fellowship to him across the GREAT
PACIFIC. We believe that the Empress Catherine corresponded with him;
and we know that the Emperor Alexander called upon him, and presented
him with his miniature in a gold snuff-box, which the philosopher, to
his eternal honour, returned. Mr. Hobhouse is a greater man at the
hustings, Lord Rolle at Plymouth Dock; but Mr. Bentham would carry it
hollow, on the score of popularity, at Paris or Pegu. The reason is,
that our author's influence is purely intellectual. He has devoted
his life to the pursuit of abstract and general truths, and to those

"That waft a _thought_ from Indus to the Pole"--

and has never mixed himself up with personal intrigues or party
politics. He once, indeed, stuck up a hand-bill to say that he (Jeremy
Bentham) being of sound mind, was of opinion that Sir Samuel Romilly was
the most proper person to represent Westminster; but this was the whim
of the moment. Otherwise, his reasonings, if true at all, are true
everywhere alike: his speculations concern humanity at large, and are
not confined to the hundred or the bills of mortality. It is in moral as
in physical magnitude. The little is seen best near: the great appears
in its proper dimensions, only from a more commanding point of view, and
gains strength with time, and elevation from distance!

Mr. Bentham is very much among philosophers what La Fontaine was among
poets:--in general habits and in all but his professional pursuits, he
is a mere child. He has lived for the last forty years in a house
in Westminster, overlooking the Park, like an anchoret in his cell,
reducing law to a system, and the mind of man to a machine. He scarcely
ever goes out, and sees very little company. The favoured few, who have
the privilege of the _entree_, are always admitted one by one. He does
not like to have witnesses to his conversation. He talks a great deal,
and listens to nothing but facts. When any one calls upon him, he
invites them to take a turn round his garden with him (Mr. Bentham is
an economist of his time, and sets apart this portion of it to air and
exercise)--and there you may see the lively old man, his mind still
buoyant with thought and with the prospect of futurity, in eager
conversation with some Opposition Member, some expatriated Patriot, or
Transatlantic Adventurer, urging the extinction of Close Boroughs, or
planning a code of laws for some "lone island in the watery waste,"
his walk almost amounting to a run, his tongue keeping pace with it in
shrill, cluttering accents, negligent of his person, his dress, and his
manner, intent only on his grand theme of UTILITY--or pausing, perhaps,
for want of breath and with lack-lustre eye to point out to the stranger
a stone in the wall at the end of his garden (overarched by two
beautiful cotton-trees) _Inscribed to the Prince of Poets_, which
marks the house where Milton formerly lived. To shew how little the
refinements of taste or fancy enter into our author's system, he
proposed at one time to cut down these beautiful trees, to convert the
garden where he had breathed the air of Truth and Heaven for near half
a century into a paltry _Chreistomathic School_, and to make Milton's
house (the cradle of Paradise Lost) a thoroughfare, like a three-stalled
stable, for the idle rabble of Westminster to pass backwards and
forwards to it with their cloven hoofs. Let us not, however, be getting
on too fast--Milton himself taught school! There is something not
altogether dissimilar between Mr. Bentham's appearance, and the
portraits of Milton, the same silvery tone, a few dishevelled hairs, a
peevish, yet puritanical expression, an irritable temperament corrected
by habit and discipline. Or in modern times, he is something between
Franklin and Charles Fox, with the comfortable double-chin and sleek
thriving look of the one, and the quivering lip, the restless eye, and
animated acuteness of the other. His eye is quick and lively; but it
glances not from object to object, but from thought to thought. He is
evidently a man occupied with some train of fine and inward association.
He regards the people about him no more than the flies of a summer. He
meditates the coming age. He hears and sees only what suits his purpose,
or some "foregone conclusion;" and looks out for facts and passing
occurrences in order to put them into his logical machinery and grind
them into the dust and powder of some subtle theory, as the miller looks
out for grist to his mill! Add to this physiognomical sketch the minor
points of costume, the open shirt-collar, the single-breasted coat, the
old-fashioned half-boots and ribbed stockings; and you will find in Mr.
Bentham's general appearance a singular mixture of boyish simplicity and
of the venerableness of age. In a word, our celebrated jurist presents a
striking illustration of the difference between the _philosophical_ and
the _regal_ look; that is, between the merely abstracted and the merely
personal. There is a lackadaisical _bonhommie_ about his whole aspect,
none of the fierceness of pride or power; an unconscious neglect of
his own person, instead of a stately assumption of superiority; a
good-humoured, placid intelligence, instead of a lynx-eyed watchfulness,
as if it wished to make others its prey, or was afraid they might turn
and rend him; he is a beneficent spirit, prying into the universe, not
lording it over it; a thoughtful spectator of the scenes of life, or
ruminator on the fate of mankind, not a painted pageant, a stupid idol
set up on its pedestal of pride for men to fall down and worship with
idiot fear and wonder at the thing themselves have made, and which,
without that fear and wonder, would in itself be nothing!

Mr. Bentham, perhaps, over-rates the importance of his own theories. He
has been heard to say (without any appearance of pride or affectation)
that "he should like to live the remaining years of his life, a year at
a time at the end of the next six or eight centuries, to see the effect
which his writings would by that time have had upon the world." Alas!
his name will hardly live so long! Nor do we think, in point of fact,
that Mr. Bentham has given any new or decided impulse to the human mind.
He cannot be looked upon in the light of a discoverer in legislation
or morals. He has not struck out any great leading principle or
parent-truth, from which a number of others might be deduced; nor has he
enriched the common and established stock of intelligence with original
observations, like pearls thrown into wine. One truth discovered is
immortal, and entitles its author to be so: for, like a new substance
in nature, it cannot be destroyed. But Mr. Bentham's _forte_ is
arrangement; and the form of truth, though not its essence, varies with
time and circumstance. He has methodised, collated, and condensed all
the materials prepared to his hand on the subjects of which he treats,
in a masterly and scientific manner; but we should find a difficulty
in adducing from his different works (however elaborate or closely
reasoned) any new element of thought, or even a new fact or
illustration. His writings are, therefore, chiefly valuable as _books of
reference_, as bringing down the account of intellectual inquiry to the
present period, and disposing the results in a compendious, connected,
and tangible shape; but books of reference are chiefly serviceable for
facilitating the acquisition of knowledge, and are constantly liable
to be superseded and to grow out of fashion with its progress, as the
scaffolding is thrown down as soon as the building is completed. Mr.
Bentham is not the first writer (by a great many) who has assumed the
principle of UTILITY as the foundation of just laws, and of all moral
and political reasoning:--his merit is, that he has applied this
principle more closely and literally; that he has brought all the
objections and arguments, more distinctly labelled and ticketted, under
this one head, and made a more constant and explicit reference to it at
every step of his progress, than any other writer. Perhaps the weak side
of his conclusions also is, that he has carried this single view of his
subject too far, and not made sufficient allowance for the varieties of
human nature, and the caprices and irregularities of the human will. "He
has not allowed for the _wind_." It is not that you can be said to see
his favourite doctrine of Utility glittering everywhere through his
system, like a vein of rich, shining ore (that is not the nature of the
material)--but it might be plausibly objected that he had struck the
whole mass of fancy, prejudice, passion, sense, whim, with his petrific,
leaden mace, that he had "bound volatile Hermes," and reduced the theory
and practice of human life to a _caput mortuum_ of reason, and dull,
plodding, technical calculation. The gentleman is himself a capital
logician; and he has been led by this circumstance to consider man as a
logical animal. We fear this view of the matter will hardly hold water.
If we attend to the _moral_ man, the constitution of his mind will
scarcely be found to be built up of pure reason and a regard to
consequences: if we consider the _criminal_ man (with whom the
legislator has chiefly to do) it will be found to be still less so.

Every pleasure, says Mr. Bentham, is equally a good, and is to be taken
into the account as such in a moral estimate, whether it be the pleasure
of sense or of conscience, whether it arise from the exercise of virtue
or the perpetration of crime. We are afraid the human mind does not
readily come into this doctrine, this _ultima ratio philosophorum_,
interpreted according to the letter. Our moral sentiments are made up of
sympathies and antipathies, of sense and imagination, of understanding
and prejudice. The soul, by reason of its weakness, is an aggregating
and an exclusive principle; it clings obstinately to some things, and
violently rejects others. And it must do so, in a great measure, or it
would act contrary to its own nature. It needs helps and stages in its
progress, and "all appliances and means to boot," which can raise it to
a partial conformity to truth and good (the utmost it is capable of) and
bring it into a tolerable harmony with the universe. By aiming at too
much, by dismissing collateral aids, by extending itself to the farthest
verge of the conceivable and possible, it loses its elasticity and
vigour, its impulse and its direction. The moralist can no more do
without the intermediate use of rules and principles, without the
'vantage ground of habit, without the levers of the understanding, than
the mechanist can discard the use of wheels and pulleys, and perform
every thing by simple motion. If the mind of man were competent to
comprehend the whole of truth and good, and act upon it at once, and
independently of all other considerations, Mr. Bentham's plan would be
a feasible one, and _the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth_ would be the best possible ground to place morality upon. But
it is not so. In ascertaining the rules of moral conduct, we must have
regard not merely to the nature of the object, but to the capacity of
the agent, and to his fitness for apprehending or attaining it. Pleasure
is that which is so in itself: good is that which approves itself as
such on reflection, or the idea of which is a source of satisfaction.
All pleasure is not, therefore (morally speaking) equally a good; for
all pleasure does not equally bear reflecting on. There are some tastes
that are sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly; and there is a
similar contradiction and anomaly in the mind and heart of man. Again,
what would become of the _Posthaec meminisse juvabit_ of the poet, if
a principle of fluctuation and reaction is not inherent in the very
constitution of our nature, or if all moral truth is a mere literal
truism? We are not, then, so much to inquire what certain things are
abstractedly or in themselves, as how they affect the mind, and to
approve or condemn them accordingly. The same object seen near strikes
us more powerfully than at a distance: things thrown into masses give
a greater blow to the imagination than when scattered and divided into
their component parts. A number of mole-hills do not make a mountain,
though a mountain is actually made up of atoms: so moral truth must
present itself under a certain aspect and from a certain point of view,
in order to produce its full and proper effect upon the mind. The laws
of the affections are as necessary as those of optics. A calculation of
consequences is no more equivalent to a sentiment, than a _seriatim_
enumeration of square yards or feet touches the fancy like the sight of
the Alps or Andes!

To give an instance or two of what we mean. Those who on pure
cosmopolite principles, or on the ground of abstract humanity affect an
extraordinary regard for the Turks and Tartars, have been accused of
neglecting their duties to their friends and next-door neighbours. Well,
then, what is the state of the question here? One human being is, no
doubt, as much worth in himself, independently of the circumstances of
time or place, as another; but he is not of so much value to us and
our affections. Could our imagination take wing (with our speculative
faculties) to the other side of the globe or to the ends of the
universe, could our eyes behold whatever our reason teaches us to be
possible, could our hands reach as far as our thoughts or wishes, we
might then busy ourselves to advantage with the Hottentots, or hold
intimate converse with the inhabitants of the Moon; but being as we are,
our feelings evaporate in so large a space--we must draw the circle of
our affections and duties somewhat closer--the heart hovers and fixes
nearer home. It is true, the bands of private, or of local and natural
affection are often, nay in general, too tightly strained, so as
frequently to do harm instead of good: but the present question is
whether we can, with safety and effect, be wholly emancipated from them?
Whether we should shake them off at pleasure and without mercy, as the
only bar to the triumph of truth and justice? Or whether benevolence,
constructed upon a logical scale, would not be merely _nominal_, whether
duty, raised to too lofty a pitch of refinement, might not sink into
callous indifference or hollow selfishness? Again, is it not to exact
too high a strain from humanity, to ask us to qualify the degree
of abhorrence we feel against a murderer by taking into our cool
consideration the pleasure he may have in committing the deed, and in
the prospect of gratifying his avarice or his revenge? We are hardly so
formed as to sympathise at the same moment with the assassin and
his victim. The degree of pleasure the former may feel, instead of
extenuating, aggravates his guilt, and shews the depth of his malignity.
Now the mind revolts against this by mere natural antipathy, if it is
itself well-disposed; or the slow process of reason would afford but a
feeble resistance to violence and wrong. The will, which is necessary to
give consistency and promptness to our good intentions, cannot extend so
much candour and courtesy to the antagonist principle of evil: virtue,
to be sincere and practical, cannot be divested entirely of the
blindness and impetuosity of passion! It has been made a plea (half
jest, half earnest) for the horrors of war, that they promote trade
and manufactures. It has been said, as a set-off for the atrocities
practised upon the negro slaves in the West Indies, that without their
blood and sweat, so many millions of people could not have sugar to
sweeten their tea. Fires and murders have been argued to be beneficial,
as they serve to fill the newspapers, and for a subject to talk of--
this is a sort of sophistry that it might be difficult to disprove on
the bare scheme of contingent utility; but on the ground that we have
stated, it must pass for a mere irony. What the proportion between the
good and the evil will really be found in any of the supposed cases,
may be a question to the understanding; but to the imagination and the
heart, that is, to the natural feelings of mankind, it admits of none!

Mr. Bentham, in adjusting the provisions of a penal code, lays too
little stress on the cooperation of the natural prejudices of mankind,
and the habitual feelings of that class of persons for whom they are
more particularly designed. Legislators (we mean writers on legislation)
are philosophers, and governed by their reason: criminals, for whose
controul laws are made, are a set of desperadoes, governed only by their
passions. What wonder that so little progress has been made towards a
mutual understanding between the two parties! They are quite a different
species, and speak a different language, and are sadly at a loss for a
common interpreter between them. Perhaps the Ordinary of Newgate bids
as fair for this office as any one. What should Mr. Bentham, sitting at
ease in his arm-chair, composing his mind before he begins to write by a
prelude on the organ, and looking out at a beautiful prospect when he
is at a loss for an idea, know of the principles of action of rogues,
outlaws, and vagabonds? No more than Montaigne of the motions of his
cat! If sanguine and tender-hearted philanthropists have set on foot an
inquiry into the barbarity and the defects of penal laws, the practical
improvements have been mostly suggested by reformed cut-throats,
turnkeys, and thief-takers. What even can the Honourable House, who when
the Speaker has pronounced the well-known, wished-for sounds "That this
house do now adjourn," retire, after voting a royal crusade or a loan of
millions, to lie on down, and feed on plate in spacious palaces, know
of what passes in the hearts of wretches in garrets and night-cellars,
petty pilferers and marauders, who cut throats and pick pockets with
their own hands? The thing is impossible. The laws of the country are,
therefore, ineffectual and abortive, because they are made by the rich
for the poor, by the wise for the ignorant, by the respectable and
exalted in station for the very scum and refuse of the community. If
Newgate would resolve itself into a committee of the whole Press-yard,
with Jack Ketch at its head, aided by confidential persons from the
county prisons or the Hulks, and would make a clear breast, some _data_
might be found out to proceed upon; but as it is, the _criminal mind_ of
the country is a book sealed, no one has been able to penetrate to the
inside! Mr. Bentham, in his attempts to revise and amend our criminal
jurisprudence, proceeds entirely on his favourite principle of Utility.
Convince highwaymen and house-breakers that it will be for their
interest to reform, and they will reform and lead honest lives;
according to Mr. Bentham. He says, "All men act from calculation, even
madmen reason." And, in our opinion, he might as well carry this maxim
to Bedlam or St. Luke's, and apply it to the inhabitants, as think to
coerce or overawe the inmates of a gaol, or those whose practices
make them candidates for that distinction, by the mere dry, detailed
convictions of the understanding. Criminals are not to be influenced by
reason; for it is of the very essence of crime to disregard consequences
both to ourselves and others. You may as well preach philosophy to a
drunken man, or to the dead, as to those who are under the instigation
of any mischievous passion. A man is a drunkard, and you tell him he
ought to be sober; he is debauched, and you ask him to reform; he
is idle, and you recommend industry to him as his wisest course; he
gambles, and you remind him that he may be ruined by this foible; he
has lost his character, and you advise him to get into some reputable
service or lucrative situation; vice becomes a habit with him, and you
request him to rouse himself and shake it off; he is starving, and you
warn him that if he breaks the law, he will be hanged. None of this
reasoning reaches the mark it aims at. The culprit, who violates and
suffers the vengeance of the laws, is not the dupe of ignorance, but the
slave of passion, the victim of habit or necessity. To argue with strong
passion, with inveterate habit, with desperate circumstances, is to talk
to the winds. Clownish ignorance may indeed be dispelled, and
taught better; but it is seldom that a criminal is not aware of the
consequences of his act, or has not made up his mind to the alternative.
They are, in general, _too knowing by half_. You tell a person of this
stamp what is his interest; he says he does not care about his interest,
or the world and he differ on that particular. But there is one point on
which he must agree with them, namely, what _they_ think of his conduct,
and that is the only hold you have of him. A man may be callous and
indifferent to what happens to himself; but he is never indifferent to
public opinion, or proof against open scorn and infamy. Shame, then,
not fear, is the sheet-anchor of the law. He who is not afraid of being
pointed at as a _thief_, will not mind a month's hard labour. He who is
prepared to take the life of another, is already reckless of his own.
But every one makes a sorry figure in the pillory; and the being
launched from the New Drop lowers a man in his own opinion. The lawless
and violent spirit, who is hurried by headstrong self-will to break the
laws, does not like to have the ground of pride and obstinacy struck
from under his feet. This is what gives the _swells_ of the metropolis
such a dread of the _tread-mill_--it makes them ridiculous. It must be
confessed, that this very circumstance renders the reform of criminals
nearly hopeless. It is the apprehension of being stigmatized by public
opinion, the fear of what will be thought and said of them, that deters
men from the violation of the laws, while their character remains
unimpeached; but honour once lost, all is lost. The man can never be
himself again! A citizen is like a soldier, a part of a machine, who
submits to certain hardships, privations, and dangers, not for his own
ease, pleasure, profit, or even conscience, but--_for shame_. What is
it that keeps the machine together in either case? Not punishment or
discipline, but sympathy. The soldier mounts the breach or stands in
the trenches, the peasant hedges and ditches, or the mechanic plies his
ceaseless task, because the one will not be called a _coward_, the other
a _rogue_: but let the one turn deserter and the other vagabond, and
there is an end of him. The grinding law of necessity, which is no other
than a name, a breath, loses its force; he is no longer sustained by
the good opinion of others, and he drops out of his place in society,
a useless clog! Mr. Bentham takes a culprit, and puts him into what he
calls a _Panopticon_, that is, a sort of circular prison, with open
cells, like a glass bee-hive. He sits in the middle, and sees all the
other does. He gives him work to do, and lectures him if he does not do
it. He takes liquor from him, and society, and liberty; but he feeds and
clothes him, and keeps him out of mischief; and when he has convinced
him, by force and reason together, that this life is for his good, he
turns him out upon the world a reformed man, and as confident of the
success of his handy-work, as the shoemaker of that which he has just
taken off the last, or the Parisian barber in Sterne, of the buckle
of his wig. "Dip it in the ocean," said the perruquier, "and it will
stand!" But we doubt the durability of our projector's patchwork. Will
our convert to the great principle of Utility work when he is from under
Mr. Bentham's eye, because he was forced to work when under it? Will he
keep sober, because he has been kept from liquor so long? Will he not
return to loose company, because he has had the pleasure of sitting
vis-a-vis with a philosopher of late? Will he not steal, now that his hands
are untied? Will he not take the road, now that it is free to him? Will
he not call his benefactor all the names he can set his tongue to, the
moment his back is turned? All this is more than to be feared. The charm
of criminal life, like that of savage life, consists in liberty, in
hardship, in danger, and in the contempt of death, in one word, in
extraordinary excitement; and he who has tasted of it, will no more
return to regular habits of life, than a man will take to water after
drinking brandy, or than a wild beast will give over hunting its prey.
Miracles never cease, to be sure; but they are not to be had wholesale,
or _to order_. Mr. Owen, who is another of these proprietors and
patentees of reform, has lately got an American savage with him, whom he
carries about in great triumph and complacency, as an antithesis to his
_New View of Society_, and as winding up his reasoning to what it mainly
wanted, an epigrammatic point. Does the benevolent visionary of the
Lanark cotton-mills really think this _natural man_ will act as a foil
to his _artificial man_? Does he for a moment imagine that his _Address
to the higher and middle classes_, with all its advantages of fiction,
makes any thing like so interesting a romance as _Hunter's Captivity
among the North American Indians?_ Has he any thing to shew, in all the
apparatus of New Lanark and its desolate monotony, to excite the thrill
of imagination like the blankets made of wreaths of snow under which the
wild wood-rovers bury themselves for weeks in winter? Or the skin of a
leopard, which our hardy adventurer slew, and which served him for great
coat and bedding? Or the rattle-snake that he found by his side as a
bedfellow? Or his rolling himself into a ball to escape from him? Or his
suddenly placing himself against a tree to avoid being trampled to death
by the herd of wild buffaloes, that came rushing on like the sound of
thunder? Or his account of the huge spiders that prey on bluebottles and
gilded flies in green pathless forests; or of the great Pacific Ocean,
that the natives look upon as the gulf that parts time from eternity,
and that is to waft them to the spirits of their fathers? After all
this, Mr. Hunter must find Mr. Owen and his parallellograms trite and
flat, and will, we suspect, take an opportunity to escape from them!

Mr. Bentham's method of reasoning, though comprehensive and exact,
labours under the defect of most systems--it is too _topical_. It
includes every thing; but it includes every thing alike. It is rather
like an inventory, than a valuation of different arguments. Every
possible suggestion finds a place, so that the mind is distracted as
much as enlightened by this perplexing accuracy. The exceptions seem
as important as the rule. By attending to the minute, we overlook the
great; and in summing up an account, it will not do merely to insist on
the number of items without considering their amount. Our author's
page presents a very nicely dove-tailed mosaic pavement of legal
common-places. We slip and slide over its even surface without being
arrested any where. Or his view of the human mind resembles a map,
rather than a picture: the outline, the disposition is correct, but it
wants colouring and relief. There is a technicality of manner, which
renders his writings of more value to the professional inquirer than
to the general reader. Again, his style is unpopular, not to say
unintelligible. He writes a language of his own, that _darkens
knowledge_. His works have been translated into French--they ought to
be translated into English. People wonder that Mr. Bentham has not been
prosecuted for the boldness and severity of some of his invectives. He
might wrap up high treason in one of his inextricable periods, and
it would never find its way into Westminster-Hall. He is a kind of
Manuscript author--he writes a cypher-hand, which the vulgar have no key
to. The construction of his sentences is a curious framework with pegs
and hooks to hang his thoughts upon, for his own use and guidance,
but almost out of the reach of every body else. It is a barbarous
philosophical jargon, with all the repetitions, parentheses,
formalities, uncouth nomenclature and verbiage of law-Latin; and what
makes it worse, it is not mere verbiage, but has a great deal of
acuteness and meaning in it, which you would be glad to pick out if you
could. In short, Mr. Bentham writes as if he was allowed but a single
sentence to express his whole view of a subject in, and as if, should he
omit a single circumstance or step of the argument, it would be lost to
the world for ever, like an estate by a flaw in the title-deeds. This
is over-rating the importance of our own discoveries, and mistaking the
nature and object of language altogether. Mr. Bentham has _acquired_
this disability--it is not natural to him. His admirable little work _On
Usury_, published forty years ago, is clear, easy, and vigorous. But Mr.
Bentham has shut himself up since then "in nook monastic," conversing
only with followers of his own, or with "men of Ind," and has
endeavoured to overlay his natural humour, sense, spirit, and style
with the dust and cobwebs of an obscure solitude. The best of it is, he
thinks his present mode of expressing himself perfect, and that whatever
may be objected to his law or logic, no one can find the least fault
with the purity, simplicity, and perspicuity of his style.

Mr. Bentham, in private life, is an amiable and exemplary character.
He is a little romantic, or so; and has dissipated part of a handsome
fortune in practical speculations. He lends an ear to plausible
projectors, and, if he cannot prove them to be wrong in their premises
or their conclusions, thinks himself bound _in reason_ to stake his
money on the venture. Strict logicians are licensed visionaries. Mr.
Bentham is half-brother to the late Mr. Speaker Abbott[A]--_Proh pudor_!
He was educated at Eton, and still takes our novices to task about
a passage in Homer, or a metre in Virgil. He was afterwards at the
University, and he has described the scruples of an ingenuous
youthful mind about subscribing the articles, in a passage in his
_Church-of-Englandism_, which smacks of truth and honour both, and does
one good to read it in an age, when "to be honest" (or not to laugh at
the very idea of honesty) "is to be one man picked out of ten thousand!"
Mr. Bentham relieves his mind sometimes, after the fatigue of study, by
playing on a fine old organ, and has a relish for Hogarth's prints. He
turns wooden utensils in a lathe for exercise, and fancies he can turn
men in the same manner. He has no great fondness for poetry, and can
hardly extract a moral out of Shakespear. His house is warmed and
lighted by steam. He is one of those who prefer the artificial to the
natural in most things, and think the mind of man omnipotent. He has a
great contempt for out-of-door prospects, for green fields and
trees, and is for referring every thing to Utility. There is a little
narrowness in this; for if all the sources of satisfaction are taken
away, what is to become of utility itself? It is, indeed, the great
fault of this able and extraordinary man, that he has concentrated his
faculties and feelings too entirely on one subject and pursuit, and has
not "looked enough abroad into universality."[B]

[Footnote A: Now Lord Colchester.]

[Footnote B: Lord Bacon's Advancement of Learning.]

* * * * *


The Spirit of the Age was never more fully-shewn than in its treatment
of this writer--its love of paradox and change, its dastard submission
to prejudice and to the fashion of the day. Five-and-twenty years ago he
was in the very zenith of a sultry and unwholesome popularity; he blazed
as a sun in the firmament of reputation; no one was more talked of, more
looked up to, more sought after, and wherever liberty, truth, justice
was the theme, his name was not far off:--now he has sunk below the
horizon, and enjoys the serene twilight of a doubtful immortality. Mr.
Godwin, during his lifetime, has secured to himself the triumphs and the
mortifications of an extreme notoriety and of a sort of posthumous fame.

His bark, after being tossed in the revolutionary tempest, now raised to
heaven by all the fury of popular breath, now almost dashed in pieces,
and buried in the quicksands of ignorance, or scorched with the
lightning of momentary indignation, at length floats on the calm wave
that is to bear it down the stream of time. Mr. Godwin's person is not
known, he is not pointed out in the street, his conversation is not
courted, his opinions are not asked, he is at the head of no cabal, he
belongs to no party in the State, he has no train of admirers, no
one thinks it worth his while even to traduce and vilify him, he has
scarcely friend or foe, the world make a point (as Goldsmith used to
say) of taking no more notice of him than if such an individual had
never existed; he is to all ordinary intents and purposes dead and
buried; but the author of _Political Justice_ and of _Caleb Williams_
can never die, his name is an abstraction in letters, his works are
standard in the history of intellect. He is thought of now like any
eminent writer a hundred-and-fifty years ago, or just as he will be
a hundred-and-fifty years hence. He knows this, and smiles in silent
mockery of himself, reposing on the monument of his fame--

"Sedet, in eternumque sedebit infelix Theseus."

No work in our time gave such a blow to the philosophical mind of the
country as the celebrated _Enquiry concerning Political Justice_. Tom
Paine was considered for the time as a Tom Fool to him; Paley an old
woman; Edmund Burke a flashy sophist. Truth, moral truth, it was
supposed, had here taken up its abode; and these were the oracles of
thought. "Throw aside your books of chemistry," said Wordsworth to a
young man, a student in the Temple, "and read Godwin on Necessity." Sad
necessity! Fatal reverse! Is truth then so variable? Is it one thing at
twenty, and another at forty? Is it at a burning heat in 1793, and below
_zero_ in 1814? Not so, in the name of manhood and of common sense! Let
us pause here a little.--Mr. Godwin indulged in extreme opinions, and
carried with him all the most sanguine and fearless understandings of
the time. What then? Because those opinions were overcharged, were they
therefore altogether groundless? Is the very God of our idolatry all of
a sudden to become an abomination and an anathema? Could so many young
men of talent, of education, and of principle have been hurried away by
what had neither truth, nor nature, not one particle of honest feeling
nor the least shew of reason in it? Is the _Modern Philosophy_ (as it
has been called) at one moment a youthful bride, and the next a withered
beldame, like the false Duessa in Spenser? Or is the vaunted edifice
of Reason, like his House of Pride, gorgeous in front, and dazzling to
approach, while "its hinder parts are ruinous, decayed, and old?" Has
the main prop, which supported the mighty fabric, been shaken and given
way under the strong grasp of some Samson; or has it not rather been
undermined by rats and vermin? At one time, it almost seemed, that "if
this failed,

"The pillar'd firmament was rottenness,
And earth's base built of stubble:"

now scarce a shadow of it remains, it is crumbled to dust, nor is it
even talked of! "What then, went ye forth for to see, a reed shaken
with the wind?" Was it for this that our young gownsmen of the greatest
expectation and promise, versed in classic lore, steeped in dialectics,
armed at all points for the foe, well read, well nurtured, well provided
for, left the University and the prospect of lawn sleeves, tearing
asunder the shackles of the free born spirit, and the cobwebs of
school-divinity, to throw themselves at the feet of the new Gamaliel,
and learn wisdom from him? Was it for this, that students at the bar,
acute, inquisitive, sceptical (here only wild enthusiasts) neglected for
a while the paths of preferment and the law as too narrow, tortuous, and
unseemly to bear the pure and broad light of reason? Was it for this,
that students in medicine missed their way to Lecturerships and the top
of their profession, deeming lightly of the health of the body, and
dreaming only of the renovation of society and the march of mind? Was
it to this that Mr. Southey's _Inscriptions_ pointed? to this that Mr.
Coleridge's _Religious Musings_ tended? Was it for this, that Mr. Godwin
himself sat with arms folded, and, "like Cato, gave his little senate
laws?" Or rather, like another Prospero, uttered syllables that with
their enchanted breath were to change the world, and might almost stop
the stars in their courses? Oh! and is all forgot? Is this sun of
intellect blotted from the sky? Or has it suffered total eclipse? Or is
it we who make the fancied gloom, by looking at it through the paltry,
broken, stained fragments of our own interests and prejudices? Were we
fools then, or are we dishonest now? Or was the impulse of the mind less
likely to be true and sound when it arose from high thought and warm
feeling, than afterwards, when it was warped and debased by the example,
the vices, and follies of the world?

The fault, then, of Mr. Godwin's philosophy, in one word, was too much
ambition--"by that sin fell the angels!" He conceived too nobly of his
fellows (the most unpardonable crime against them, for there is nothing
that annoys our self-love so much as being complimented on imaginary
achievements, to which we are wholly unequal)--he raised the standard
of morality above the reach of humanity, and by directing virtue to the
most airy and romantic heights, made her path dangerous, solitary, and
impracticable. The author of the _Political Justice_ took abstract
reason for the rule of conduct, and abstract good for its end. He places
the human mind on an elevation, from which it commands a view of the
whole line of moral consequences; and requires it to conform its acts to
the larger and more enlightened conscience which it has thus acquired.
He absolves man from the gross and narrow ties of sense, custom,
authority, private and local attachment, in order that he may devote
himself to the boundless pursuit of universal benevolence. Mr. Godwin
gives no quarter to the amiable weaknesses of our nature, nor does he
stoop to avail himself of the supplementary aids of an imperfect virtue.
Gratitude, promises, friendship, family affection give way, not that
they may be merged in the opposite vices or in want of principle; but
that the void may be filled up by the disinterested love of good, and
the dictates of inflexible justice, which is "the law of laws, and
sovereign of sovereigns." All minor considerations yield, in his system,
to the stern sense of duty, as they do, in the ordinary and established
ones, to the voice of necessity. Mr. Godwin's theory and that of more
approved reasoners differ only in this, that what are with them the
exceptions, the extreme cases, he makes the every-day rule. No one
denies that on great occasions, in moments of fearful excitement, or
when a mighty object is at stake, the lesser and merely instrumental
points of duty are to be sacrificed without remorse at the shrine of
patriotism, of honour, and of conscience. But the disciple of the _New
School_ (no wonder it found so many impugners, even in its own bosom!)
is to be always the hero of duty; the law to which he has bound himself
never swerves nor relaxes; his feeling of what is right is to be at
all times wrought up to a pitch of enthusiastic self-devotion; he must
become the unshrinking martyr and confessor of the public good. If it
be said that this scheme is chimerical and impracticable on ordinary
occasions, and to the generality of mankind, well and good; but those
who accuse the author of having trampled on the common feelings and
prejudices of mankind in wantonness or insult, or without wishing to
substitute something better (and only unattainable, because it is
better) in their stead, accuse him wrongfully. We may not be able to
launch the bark of our affections on the ocean-tide of humanity, we
may be forced to paddle along its shores, or shelter in its creeks and
rivulets: but we have no right to reproach the bold and adventurous
pilot, who dared us to tempt the uncertain abyss, with our own want of
courage or of skill, or with the jealousies and impatience, which deter
us from undertaking, or might prevent us from accomplishing the voyage!

The _Enquiry concerning Political Justice_ (it was urged by its
favourers and defenders at the time, and may still be so, without either
profaneness or levity) is a metaphysical and logical commentary on some
of the most beautiful and striking texts of Scripture. Mr. Godwin is
a mixture of the Stoic and of the Christian philosopher. To break the
force of the vulgar objections and outcry that have been raised against
the Modern Philosophy, as if it were a new and monstrous birth in
morals, it may be worth noticing, that volumes of sermons have been
written to excuse the founder of Christianity for not including
friendship and private affection among its golden rules, but rather
excluding them.[A] Moreover, the answer to the question, "Who is thy
neighbour?" added to the divine precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour
as thyself," is the same as in the exploded pages of our author,--"He to
whom we can do most good." In determining this point, we were not to be
influenced by any extrinsic or collateral considerations, by our own
predilections, or the expectations of others, by our obligations to them
or any services they might be able to render us, by the climate they
were born in, by the house they lived in, by rank or religion, or party,
or personal ties, but by the abstract merits, the pure and unbiassed
justice of the case. The artificial helps and checks to moral conduct
were set aside as spurious and unnecessary, and we came at once to the
grand and simple question--"In what manner we could best contribute to
the greatest possible good?" This was the paramount obligation in all
cases whatever, from which we had no right to free ourselves upon any
idle or formal pretext, and of which each person was to judge for
himself, under the infallible authority of his own opinion and the
inviolable sanction of his self-approbation. "There was the rub that
made _philosophy_ of so short life!" Mr. Godwin's definition of morals
was the same as the admired one of law, _reason without passion_; but
with the unlimited scope of private opinion, and in a boundless field of
speculation (for nothing less would satisfy the pretensions of the New
School), there was danger that the unseasoned novice might substitute
some pragmatical conceit of his own for the rule of right reason, and
mistake a heartless indifference for a superiority to more natural and
generous feelings. Our ardent and dauntless reformer followed out the
moral of the parable of the Good Samaritan into its most rigid and
repulsive consequences with a pen of steel, and let fall his "trenchant
blade" on every vulnerable point of human infirmity; but there is a want
in his system of the mild and persuasive tone of the Gospel, where "all
is conscience and tender heart." Man was indeed screwed up, by mood and
figure, into a logical machine, that was to forward the public good with
the utmost punctuality and effect, and it might go very well on smooth
ground and under favourable circumstances; but would it work up-hill
or _against the grain_? It was to be feared that the proud Temple of
Reason, which at a distance and in stately supposition shone like the
palaces of the New Jerusalem, might (when placed on actual ground) be
broken up into the sordid styes of sensuality, and the petty huckster's
shops of self-interest! Every man (it was proposed--"so ran the tenour
of the bond") was to be a Regulus, a Codrus, a Cato, or a Brutus--every
woman a Mother of the Gracchi.

"------------It was well said,
And 'tis a kind of good deed to say well."

But heroes on paper might degenerate into vagabonds in practice,
Corinnas into courtezans. Thus a refined and permanent individual
attachment is intended to supply the place and avoid the inconveniences
of marriage; but vows of eternal constancy, without church security, are
found to be fragile. A member of the _ideal_ and perfect commonwealth of
letters lends another a hundred pounds for immediate and pressing use;
and when he applies for it again, the borrower has still more need of it
than he, and retains it for his own especial, which is tantamount to the
public good. The Exchequer of pure reason, like that of the State, never
refunds. The political as well as the religious fanatic appeals from
the over-weening opinion and claims of others to the highest and most
impartial tribunal, namely, his own breast. Two persons agree to
live together in Chambers on principles of pure equality and mutual
assistance--but when it comes to the push, one of them finds that the
other always insists on his fetching water from the pump in Hare-court,
and cleaning his shoes for him. A modest assurance was not the least
indispensable virtue in the new perfectibility code; and it was hence
discovered to be a scheme, like other schemes where there are all prizes
and no blanks, for the accommodation of the enterprizing and cunning, at
the expence of the credulous and honest. This broke up the system, and
left no good odour behind it! Reason has become a sort of bye-word, and
philosophy has "fallen first into a fasting, then into a sadness,
then into a decline, and last, into the dissolution of which we all
complain!" This is a worse error than the former: we may be said to have
"lost the immortal part of ourselves, and what remains is beastly!"
The point of view from which this matter may be fairly considered, is
two-fold, and may be stated thus:--In the first place, it by no means
follows, because reason is found not to be the only infallible or safe
rule of conduct, that it is no rule at all; or that we are to discard it
altogether with derision and ignominy. On the contrary, if not the sole,
it is the principal ground of action; it is "the guide, the stay and
anchor of our purest thoughts, and soul of all our moral being." In
proportion as we strengthen and expand this principle, and bring our
affections and subordinate, but perhaps more powerful motives of action
into harmony with it, it will not admit of a doubt that we advance to
the goal of perfection, and answer the ends of our creation, those ends
which not only morality enjoins, but which religion sanctions. If with
the utmost stretch of reason, man cannot (as some seemed inclined to
suppose) soar up to the God, and quit the ground of human frailty, yet,
stripped wholly of it, he sinks at once into the brute. If it cannot
stand alone, in its naked simplicity, but requires other props to
buttress it up, or ornaments to set it off; yet without it the moral
structure would fall flat and dishonoured to the ground. Private reason
is that which raises the individual above his mere animal instincts,
appetites and passions: public reason in its gradual progress separates
the savage from the civilized state. Without the one, men would resemble
wild beasts in their dens; without the other, they would be speedily
converted into hordes of barbarians or banditti. Sir Walter Scott, in
his zeal to restore the spirit of loyalty, of passive obedience and
non-resistance as an acknowledgment for his having been created a
Baronet by a Prince of the House of Brunswick, may think it a fine thing
to return in imagination to the good old times, "when in Auvergne
alone, there were three hundred nobles whose most ordinary actions were
robbery, rape, and murder," when the castle of each Norman baron was
a strong hold from which the lordly proprietor issued to oppress and
plunder the neighbouring districts, and when the Saxon peasantry
were treated by their gay and gallant tyrants as a herd of loathsome
swine--but for our own parts we beg to be excused; we had rather live
in the same age with the author of Waverley and Blackwood's Magazine.
Reason is the meter and alnager in civil intercourse, by which each
person's upstart and contradictory pretensions are weighed and approved
or found wanting, and without which it could not subsist, any more than
traffic or the exchange of commodities could be carried on without
weights and measures. It is the medium of knowledge, and the polisher of
manners, by creating common interests and ideas. Or in the words of a
contemporary writer, "Reason is the queen of the moral world, the soul
of the universe, the lamp of human life, the pillar of society, the
foundation of law, the beacon of nations, the golden chain let down from
heaven, which links all accountable and all intelligent natures in one
common system--and in the vain strife between fanatic innovation and
fanatic prejudice, we are exhorted to dethrone this queen of the world,
to blot out this light of the mind, to deface this fair column, to break
in pieces this golden chain! We are to discard and throw from us with
loud taunts and bitter execrations that reason, which has been the lofty
theme of the philosopher, the poet, the moralist, and the divine, whose
name was not first named to be abused by the enthusiasts of the French
Revolution, or to be blasphemed by the madder enthusiasts, the advocates
of Divine Right, but which is coeval with, and inseparable from the
nature and faculties of man--is the image of his Maker stamped upon him
at his birth, the understanding breathed into him with the breath of
life, and in the participation and improvement of which alone he is
raised above the brute creation and his own physical nature!"--The
overstrained and ridiculous pretensions of monks and ascetics were never
thought to justify a return to unbridled licence of manners, or the
throwing aside of all decency. The hypocrisy, cruelty, and fanaticism,
often attendant on peculiar professions of sanctity, have not banished
the name of religion from the world. Neither can "the unreasonableness
of the reason" of some modern sciolists "so unreason our reason," as to
debar us of the benefit of this principle in future, or to disfranchise
us of the highest privilege of our nature. In the second place, if it is
admitted that Reason alone is not the sole and self-sufficient ground of
morals, it is to Mr. Godwin that we are indebted for having settled the
point. No one denied or distrusted this principle (before his time) as
the absolute judge and interpreter in all questions of difficulty;
and if this is no longer the case, it is because he has taken this
principle, and followed it into its remotest consequences with more
keenness of eye and steadiness of hand than any other expounder of
ethics. His grand work is (at least) an _experimentum crucis_ to shew
the weak sides and imperfections of human reason as the sole law of
human action. By overshooting the mark, or by "flying an eagle flight,
forth and right on," he has pointed out the limit or line of separation,
between what is practicable and what is barely conceivable--by imposing
impossible tasks on the naked strength of the will, he has discovered
how far it is or is not in our power to dispense with the illusions of
sense, to resist the calls of affection, to emancipate ourselves from
the force of habit; and thus, though he has not said it himself, has
enabled others to say to the towering aspirations after good, and to the
over-bearing pride of human intellect--"Thus far shalt thou come, and no
farther!" Captain Parry would be thought to have rendered a service
to navigation and his country, no less by proving that there is no
North-West Passage, than if he had ascertained that there is one: so Mr.
Godwin has rendered an essential service to moral science, by attempting
(in vain) to pass the Arctic Circle and Frozen Regions, where the
understanding is no longer warmed by the affections, nor fanned by the
breeze of fancy! This is the effect of all bold, original, and powerful
thinking, that it either discovers the truth, or detects where error
lies; and the only crime with which Mr. Godwin can be charged as a
political and moral reasoner is, that he has displayed a more ardent
spirit, and a more independent activity of thought than others, in
establishing the fallacy (if fallacy it be) of an old popular prejudice
that _the Just and True were one_, by "championing it to the Outrance,"
and in the final result placing the Gothic structure of human virtue
on an humbler, but a wider and safer foundation than it had hitherto
occupied in the volumes and systems of the learned. Mr. Godwin is an
inventor in the regions of romance, as well as a skilful and hardy
explorer of those of moral truth. _Caleb Williams_ and _St. Leon_ are
two of the most splendid and impressive works of the imagination that
have appeared in our times. It is not merely that these novels are very
well for a philosopher to have produced--they are admirable and complete
in themselves, and would not lead you to suppose that the author, who is
so entirely at home in human character and dramatic situation, had ever
dabbled in logic or metaphysics. The first of these, particularly, is
a master-piece, both as to invention and execution. The romantic and
chivalrous principle of the love of personal fame is embodied in the
finest possible manner in the character of Falkland;[B] as in Caleb
Williams (who is not the first, but the second character in the piece)
we see the very demon of curiosity personified. Perhaps the art with
which these two characters are contrived to relieve and set off each
other, has never been surpassed in any work of fiction, with the
exception of the immortal satire of Cervantes. The restless and
inquisitive spirit of Caleb Williams, in search and in possession of
his patron's fatal secret, haunts the latter like a second conscience,
plants stings in his tortured mind, fans the flame of his jealous
ambition, struggling with agonized remorse; and the hapless but
noble-minded Falkland at length falls a martyr to the persecution of
that morbid and overpowering interest, of which his mingled virtues and
vices have rendered him the object. We conceive no one ever began Caleb
Williams that did not read it through: no one that ever read it could
possibly forget it, or speak of it after any length of time, but with an
impression as if the events and feelings had been personal to himself.
This is the case also with the story of St. Leon, which, with less
dramatic interest and intensity of purpose, is set off by a more
gorgeous and flowing eloquence, and by a crown of preternatural imagery,
that waves over it like a palm-tree! It is the beauty and the charm of
Mr. Godwin's descriptions that the reader identifies himself with the
author; and the secret of this is, that the author has identified
himself with his personages. Indeed, he has created them. They are the
proper issue of his brain, lawfully begot, not foundlings, nor the
"bastards of his art." He is not an indifferent, callous spectator of
the scenes which he himself pourtrays, but without seeming to feel them.
There is no look of patch-work and plagiarism, the beggarly copiousness
of borrowed wealth; no tracery-work from worm-eaten manuscripts, from
forgotten chronicles, nor piecing out of vague traditions with fragments
and snatches of old ballads, so that the result resembles a gaudy,
staring transparency, in which you cannot distinguish the daubing of the
painter from the light that shines through the flimsy colours and gives
them brilliancy. Here all is clearly made out with strokes of the
pencil, by fair, not by factitious means. Our author takes a given
subject from nature or from books, and then fills it up with the ardent
workings of his own mind, with the teeming and audible pulses of his own
heart. The effect is entire and satisfactory in proportion. The work
(so to speak) and the author are one. We are not puzzled to decide upon
their respective pretensions. In reading Mr. Godwin's novels, we know
what share of merit the author has in them. In reading the _Scotch
Novels_, we are perpetually embarrassed in asking ourselves this
question; and perhaps it is not altogether a false modesty that prevents
the editor from putting his name in the title-page--he is (for any thing
we know to the contrary) only a more voluminous sort of Allen-a-Dale.
At least, we may claim this advantage for the English author, that the
chains with which he rivets our attention are forged out of his own
thoughts, link by link, blow for blow, with glowing enthusiasm: we see
the genuine ore melted in the furnace of fervid feeling, and moulded
into stately and _ideal_ forms; and this is so far better than peeping
into an old iron shop, or pilfering from a dealer in marine stores!
There is one drawback, however, attending this mode of proceeding, which
attaches generally, indeed, to all originality of composition; namely,
that it has a tendency to a certain degree of monotony. He who draws
upon his own resources, easily comes to an end of his wealth. Mr.
Godwin, in all his writings, dwells upon one idea or exclusive view of a
subject, aggrandises a sentiment, exaggerates a character, or pushes an
argument to extremes, and makes up by the force of style and continuity
of feeling for what he wants in variety of incident or ease of manner.
This necessary defect is observable in his best works, and is still more
so in Fleetwood and Mandeville; the one of which, compared with his more
admired performances, is mawkish, and the other morbid. Mr. Godwin is
also an essayist, an historian--in short, what is he not, that belongs
to the character of an indefatigable and accomplished author? His _Life
of Chaucer_ would have given celebrity to any man of letters possessed
of three thousand a year, with leisure to write quartos: as the legal
acuteness displayed in his _Remarks on Judge Eyre's Charge to the
Jury_ would have raised any briefless barrister to the height of his
profession. This temporary effusion did more--it gave a turn to the
trials for high treason in the year 1794, and possibly saved the lives
of twelve innocent individuals, marked out as political victims to the
Moloch of Legitimacy, which then skulked behind a British throne,
and had not yet dared to stalk forth (as it has done since) from its
lurking-place, in the face of day, to brave the opinion of the world. If
it had then glutted its maw with its intended prey (the sharpness of Mr.
Godwin's pen cut the legal cords with which it was attempted to bind
them), it might have done so sooner, and with more lasting effect. The
world do not know (and we are not sure but the intelligence may startle
Mr. Godwin himself), that he is the author of a volume of Sermons, and
of a Life of Chatham.[C]

Mr. Fawcett (an old friend and fellow-student of our author, and who
always spoke of his writings with admiration, tinctured with wonder)
used to mention a circumstance with respect to the last-mentioned work,
which may throw some light on the history and progress of Mr. Godwin's
mind. He was anxious to make his biographical account as complete as
he could, and applied for this purpose to many of his acquaintance to
furnish him with anecdotes or to suggest criticisms. Amongst others Mr.
Fawcett repeated to him what he thought a striking passage in a speech
on _General Warrants_ delivered by Lord Chatham, at which he (Mr.
Fawcett) had been present. "Every man's house" (said this emphatic
thinker and speaker) "has been called his castle. And why is it called
his castle? Is it because it is defended by a wall, because it is
surrounded with a moat? No, it may be nothing more than a straw-built
shed. It may be open to all the elements: the wind may enter in, the
rain may enter in--but the king _cannot_ enter in!" His friend thought
that the point was here palpable enough: but when he came to read the
printed volume, he found it thus _transposed_: "Every man's house is his
castle. And why is it called so? Is it because it is defended by a wall,
because it is surrounded with a moat? No, it may be nothing more than a
straw-built shed. It may be exposed to all the elements: the rain may
enter into it, _all the winds of Heaven may whistle round it_, but the
king cannot, &c." This was what Fawcett called a defect of _natural
imagination_. He at the same time admitted that Mr. Godwin had improved
his native sterility in this respect; or atoned for it by incessant
activity of mind and by accumulated stores of thought and powers of
language. In fact, his _forte_ is not the spontaneous, but the voluntary
exercise of talent. He fixes his ambition on a high point of excellence,
and spares no pains or time in attaining it. He has less of the
appearance of a man of genius, than any one who has given such decided
and ample proofs of it. He is ready only on reflection: dangerous only
at the rebound. He gathers himself up, and strains every nerve and
faculty with deliberate aim to some heroic and dazzling atchievement of
intellect: but he must make a career before he flings himself, armed,
upon the enemy, or he is sure to be unhorsed. Or he resembles an
eight-day clock that must be wound up long before it can strike.
Therefore, his powers of conversation are but limited. He has neither
acuteness of remark, nor a flow of language, both which might be
expected from his writings, as these are no less distinguished by a
sustained and impassioned tone of declamation than by novelty of opinion
or brilliant tracks of invention. In company, Horne Tooke used to make
a mere child of him--or of any man! Mr. Godwin liked this treatment[D],
and indeed it is his foible to fawn on those who use him _cavalierly_,
and to be cavalier to those who express an undue or unqualified
admiration of him. He looks up with unfeigned respect to acknowledged
reputation (but then it must be very well ascertained before he admits
it)--and has a favourite hypothesis that Understanding and Virtue are
the same thing. Mr. Godwin possesses a high degree of philosophical
candour, and studiously paid the homage of his pen and person to Mr.
Malthus, Sir James Macintosh, and Dr. Parr, for their unsparing attacks
on him; but woe to any poor devil who had the hardihood to defend him
against them! In private, the author of _Political Justice_ at one
time reminded those who knew him of the metaphysician engrafted on
the Dissenting Minister. There was a dictatorial, captious, quibbling
pettiness of manner. He lost this with the first blush and awkwardness
of popularity, which surprised him in the retirement of his study;
and he has since, with the wear and tear of society, from being too
pragmatical, become somewhat too careless. He is, at present, as easy as
an old glove. Perhaps there is a little attention to effect in this,
and he wishes to appear a foil to himself. His best moments are with an
intimate acquaintance or two, when he gossips in a fine vein about old
authors, Clarendon's _History of the Rebellion_, or Burnet's _History of
his own Times_; and you perceive by your host's talk, as by the taste
of seasoned wine, that he has a _cellarage_ in his understanding! Mr.
Godwin also has a correct _acquired_ taste in poetry and the drama. He
relishes Donne and Ben Jonson, and recites a passage from either with an
agreeable mixture of pedantry and _bonhommie_. He is not one of those
who do not grow wiser with opportunity and reflection: he changes his
opinions, and changes them for the better. The alteration of his taste
in poetry, from an exclusive admiration of the age of Queen Anne to an
almost equally exclusive one of that of Elizabeth, is, we suspect, owing
to Mr. Coleridge, who some twenty years ago, threw a great stone into
the standing pool of criticism, which splashed some persons with the
mud, but which gave a motion to the surface and a reverberation to the
neighbouring echoes, which has not since subsided. In common company,
Mr. Godwin either goes to sleep himself, or sets others to sleep. He is
at present engaged in a History of the Commonwealth of England.--_Esto
perpetua!_ In size Mr. Godwin is below the common stature, nor is his
deportment graceful or animated. His face is, however, fine, with an
expression of placid temper and recondite thought. He is not unlike the
common portraits of Locke. There is a very admirable likeness of him by
Mr. Northcote, which with a more heroic and dignified air, only does
justice to the profound sagacity and benevolent aspirations of our
author's mind. Mr. Godwin has kept the best company of his time, but he
has survived most of the celebrated persons with whom he lived in habits
of intimacy. He speaks of them with enthusiasm and with discrimination;
and sometimes dwells with peculiar delight on a day passed at John
Kemble's in company with Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Curran, Mrs. Wolstonecraft
and Mrs. Inchbald, when the conversation took a most animated turn
and the subject was of Love. Of all these our author is the only one
remaining. Frail tenure, on which human life and genius are lent us for
a while to improve or to enjoy!

[Footnote A: Shaftesbury made this an objection to Christianity, which
was answered by Foster, Leland, and other eminent divines, on the
ground that Christianity had a higher object in view, namely, general

[Footnote B: Mr. Fuseli used to object to this striking delineation a
want of historical correctness, inasmuch as the animating principle of
the true chivalrous character was the sense of honour, not the mere
regard to, or saving of, appearances. This, we think, must be an
hypercriticism, from all we remember of books of chivalry and heroes of

[Footnote C: We had forgotten the tragedies of Antonio and Ferdinand.
Peace be with their _manes_!]

[Footnote D: To be sure, it was redeemed by a high respect, and by some
magnificent compliments. Once in particular, at his own table, after a
good deal of _badinage_ and cross-questioning about his being the author
of the Reply to Judge Eyre's Charge, on Mr. Godwin's acknowledging that
he was, Mr. Tooke said, "Come here then,"--and when his guest went round
to his chair, he took his hand, and pressed it to his lips, saying--"I
can do no less for the hand that saved my life!"]

* * * * *


The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers; and the reason is,
that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and
Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and doat on past atchievements.
The accumulation of knowledge has been so great, that we are lost in
wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb
or add to it; while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the
looker-on. What _niche_ remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is
the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who
have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who
have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire
without thinking of rivalling it; or like guests after a feast,
who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous
Pan"--perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the
spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and
the clashing of armour and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout
of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past:" his voice is like
the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of
thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a chrystal
lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive
the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye: he who has marked
the evening clouds uprolled (a world of vapours), has seen the picture
of his mind, unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and
ever-varying forms--

"That which was now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water."

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) _tangential_.
There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has
rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick,
forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it
will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives
up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art
and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as
a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is
about to embrace her, his Daphne turns--alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a
speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is
loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat
tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real
extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man,
but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with
rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is
prepared to take up the theme with advantage--from Peter Abelard down
to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the
_Courier_. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but
the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to
strengthen, what is low, to raise and support:" nor is there any work of
genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal,
sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most
impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest
writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and
mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he
had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had
not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared
to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying
to subject the Muse to _transcendental_ theories: in his abstract
reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he
has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be
said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too
rich in intellectual wealth, to need to task himself to any drudgery: he
has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects
expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing
themselves in endless obscurity--

"And by the force of blear illusion,
They draw him on to his confusion."

What is the little he could add to the stock, compared with the
countless stores that lie about him, that he should stoop to pick up a
name, or to polish an idle fancy? He walks abroad in the majesty of an
universal understanding, eyeing the "rich strond," or golden sky above
him, and "goes sounding on his way," in eloquent accents, uncompelled
and free!

Persons of the greatest capacity are often those, who for this reason
do the least; for surveying themselves from the highest point of view,
amidst the infinite variety of the universe, their own share in it seems
trifling, and scarce worth a thought, and they prefer the contemplation
of all that is, or has been, or can be, to the making a coil about doing
what, when done, is no better than vanity. It is hard to concentrate
all our attention and efforts on one pursuit, except from ignorance
of others; and without this concentration of our faculties, no great
progress can be made in any one thing. It is not merely that the mind is
not capable of the effort; it does not think the effort worth making.
Action is one; but thought is manifold. He whose restless eye glances
through the wide compass of nature and art, will not consent to have
"his own nothings monstered:" but he must do this, before he can give
his whole soul to them. The mind, after "letting contemplation have its
fill," or

"Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air,"

sinks down on the ground, breathless, exhausted, powerless, inactive;
or if it must have some vent to its feelings, seeks the most easy and
obvious; is soothed by friendly flattery, lulled by the murmur of
immediate applause, thinks as it were aloud, and babbles in its dreams!
A scholar (so to speak) is a more disinterested and abstracted character
than a mere author. The first looks at the numberless volumes of a
library, and says, "All these are mine:" the other points to a single
volume (perhaps it may be an immortal one) and says, "My name is written
on the back of it." This is a puny and groveling ambition, beneath the
lofty amplitude of Mr. Coleridge's mind. No, he revolves in his wayward
soul, or utters to the passing wind, or discourses to his own shadow,
things mightier and more various!--Let us draw the curtain, and unlock
the shrine. Learning rocked him in his cradle, and, while yet a child,

"He lisped in numbers, for the numbers came."

At sixteen he wrote his _Ode on Chatterton_, and he still reverts to
that period with delight, not so much as it relates to himself (for that
string of his own early promise of fame rather jars than otherwise) but
as exemplifying the youth of a poet. Mr. Coleridge talks of himself,
without being an egotist, for in him the individual is always merged in
the abstract and general. He distinguished himself at school and at the
University by his knowledge of the classics, and gained several prizes
for Greek epigrams. How many men are there (great scholars, celebrated
names in literature) who having done the same thing in their youth, have
no other idea all the rest of their lives but of this achievement, of
a fellowship and dinner, and who, installed in academic honours, would
look down on our author as a mere strolling bard! At Christ's
Hospital, where he was brought up, he was the idol of those among his
schoolfellows, who mingled with their bookish studies the music of
thought and of humanity; and he was usually attended round the cloisters
by a group of these (inspiring and inspired) whose hearts, even then,
burnt within them as he talked, and where the sounds yet linger to mock
ELIA on his way, still turning pensive to the past! One of the finest
and rarest parts of Mr. Coleridge's conversation, is when he expatiates
on the Greek tragedians (not that he is not well acquainted, when he
pleases, with the epic poets, or the philosophers, or orators, or
historians of antiquity)--on the subtle reasonings and melting pathos
of Euripides, on the harmonious gracefulness of Sophocles, tuning his
love-laboured song, like sweetest warblings from a sacred grove; on the
high-wrought trumpet-tongued eloquence of Aeschylus, whose Prometheus,
above all, is like an Ode to Fate, and a pleading with Providence, his
thoughts being let loose as his body is chained on his solitary rock,
and his afflicted will (the emblem of mortality)

"Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny."

As the impassioned critic speaks and rises in his theme, you would think
you heard the voice of the Man hated by the Gods, contending with
the wild winds as they roar, and his eye glitters with the spirit of

Next, he was engaged with Hartley's tribes of mind, "etherial braid,
thought-woven,"--and he busied himself for a year or two with
vibrations and vibratiuncles and the great law of association that binds
all things in its mystic chain, and the doctrine of Necessity (the
mild teacher of Charity) and the Millennium, anticipative of a life to
come--and he plunged deep into the controversy on Matter and Spirit,
and, as an escape from Dr. Priestley's Materialism, where he felt
himself imprisoned by the logician's spell, like Ariel in the
cloven pine-tree, he became suddenly enamoured of Bishop Berkeley's
fairy-world,[A] and used in all companies to build the universe, like
a brave poetical fiction, of fine words--and he was deep-read in
Malebranche, and in Cudworth's Intellectual System (a huge pile of
learning, unwieldy, enormous) and in Lord Brook's hieroglyphic theories,
and in Bishop Butler's Sermons, and in the Duchess of Newcastle's
fantastic folios, and in Clarke and South and Tillotson, and all the
fine thinkers and masculine reasoners of that age--and Leibnitz's
_Pre-established Harmony_ reared its arch above his head, like the
rainbow in the cloud, covenanting with the hopes of man--and then he
fell plump, ten thousand fathoms down (but his wings saved him harmless)
into the _hortus siccus_ of Dissent, where he pared religion down to the
standard of reason and stripped faith of mystery, and preached Christ
crucified and the Unity of the Godhead, and so dwelt for a while in the
spirit with John Huss and Jerome of Prague and Socinus and old John
Zisca, and ran through Neal's History of the Puritans, and Calamy's
Non-Conformists' Memorial, having like thoughts and passions with
them--but then Spinoza became his God, and he took up the vast chain of
being in his hand, and the round world became the centre and the soul of
all things in some shadowy sense, forlorn of meaning, and around him he
beheld the living traces and the sky-pointing proportions of the mighty
Pan--but poetry redeemed him from this spectral philosophy, and he
bathed his heart in beauty, and gazed at the golden light of heaven, and
drank of the spirit of the universe, and wandered at eve by fairy-stream
or fountain,

"------When he saw nought but beauty,
When he heard the voice of that Almighty One
In every breeze that blew, or wave that murmured"--

and wedded with truth in Plato's shade, and in the writings of Proclus
and Plotinus saw the ideas of things in the eternal mind, and unfolded
all mysteries with the Schoolmen and fathomed the depths of Duns Scotus
and Thomas Aquinas, and entered the third heaven with Jacob Behmen, and
walked hand in hand with Swedenborg through the pavilions of the New
Jerusalem, and sung his faith in the promise and in the word in his
_Religious Musings_--and lowering himself from that dizzy height, poised
himself on Milton's wings, and spread out his thoughts in charity with
the glad prose of Jeremy Taylor, and wept over Bowles's Sonnets, and
studied Cowper's blankverse, and betook himself to Thomson's Castle of
Indolence, and sported with the wits of Charles the Second's days and
of Queen Anne, and relished Swift's style and that of the John Bull
(Arbuthnot's we mean, not Mr. Croker's) and dallied with the British
Essayists and Novelists, and knew all qualities of more modern writers
with a learned spirit, Johnson, and Goldsmith, and Junius, and Burke,
and Godwin, and the Sorrows of Werter, and Jean Jacques Rousseau, and
Voltaire, and Marivaux, and Crebillon, and thousands more--now "laughed
with Rabelais in his easy chair" or pointed to Hogarth, or afterwards
dwelt on Claude's classic scenes or spoke with rapture of Raphael,
and compared the women at Rome to figures that had walked out of his
pictures, or visited the Oratory of Pisa, and described the works of
Giotto and Ghirlandaio and Massaccio, and gave the moral of the picture
of the Triumph of Death, where the beggars and the wretched invoke his
dreadful dart, but the rich and mighty of the earth quail and shrink
before it; and in that land of siren sights and sounds, saw a dance of
peasant girls, and was charmed with lutes and gondolas,--or wandered
into Germany and lost himself in the labyrinths of the Hartz Forest and
of the Kantean philosophy, and amongst the cabalistic names of Fichte
and Schelling and Lessing, and God knows who--this was long after, but
all the former while, he had nerved his heart and filled his eyes
with tears, as he hailed the rising orb of liberty, since quenched in
darkness and in blood, and had kindled his affections at the blaze of
the French Revolution, and sang for joy when the towers of the Bastile
and the proud places of the insolent and the oppressor fell, and would
have floated his bark, freighted with fondest fancies, across the
Atlantic wave with Southey and others to seek for peace and freedom--

"In Philarmonia's undivided dale!"

Alas! "Frailty, thy name is _Genius_!"--What is become of all this
mighty heap of hope, of thought, of learning, and humanity? It has
ended in swallowing doses of oblivion and in writing paragraphs in the
_Courier_.--Such, and so little is the mind of man!

It was not to be supposed that Mr. Coleridge could keep on at the rate
he set off; he could not realize all he knew or thought, and less could
not fix his desultory ambition; other stimulants supplied the place, and
kept up the intoxicating dream, the fever and the madness of his early
impressions. Liberty (the philosopher's and the poet's bride) had fallen
a victim, meanwhile, to the murderous practices of the hag, Legitimacy.
Proscribed by court-hirelings, too romantic for the herd of vulgar
politicians, our enthusiast stood at bay, and at last turned on the
pivot of a subtle casuistry to the _unclean side:_ but his discursive
reason would not let him trammel himself into a poet-laureate or
stamp-distributor, and he stopped, ere he had quite passed that
well-known "bourne from whence no traveller returns"--and so has sunk
into torpid, uneasy repose, tantalized by useless resources, haunted by
vain imaginings, his lips idly moving, but his heart forever still, or,
as the shattered chords vibrate of themselves, making melancholy music
to the ear of memory! Such is the fate of genius in an age, when in the
unequal contest with sovereign wrong, every man is ground to powder who
is not either a born slave, or who does not willingly and at once offer
up the yearnings of humanity and the dictates of reason as a welcome
sacrifice to besotted prejudice and loathsome power.

Of all Mr. Coleridge's productions, the _Ancient Mariner_ is the only
one that we could with confidence put into any person's hands, on whom
we wished to impress a favourable idea of his extraordinary powers. Let
whatever other objections be made to it, it is unquestionably a work of
genius--of wild, irregular, overwhelming imagination, and has that rich,
varied movement in the verse, which gives a distant idea of the lofty or
changeful tones of Mr. Coleridge's voice. In the _Christobel_, there
is one splendid passage on divided friendship. The _Translation of
Schiller's Wallenstein_ is also a masterly production in its kind,
faithful and spirited. Among his smaller pieces there are occasional
bursts of pathos and fancy, equal to what we might expect from him; but
these form the exception, and not the rule. Such, for instance, is his
affecting Sonnet to the author of the Robbers.

Schiller! that hour I would have wish'd to die,
If through the shudd'ring midnight I had sent
From the dark dungeon of the tower time-rent,
That fearful voice, a famish'd father's cry--

That in no after-moment aught less vast
Might stamp me mortal! A triumphant shout
Black horror scream'd, and all her goblin rout
From the more with'ring scene diminish'd pass'd.

Ah! Bard tremendous in sublimity!
Could I behold thee in thy loftier mood,
Wand'ring at eve, with finely frenzied eye,
Beneath some vast old tempest-swinging wood!
Awhile, with mute awe gazing, I would brood,
Then weep aloud in a wild ecstasy.

His Tragedy, entitled _Remorse_, is full of beautiful and striking
passages, but it does not place the author in the first rank of dramatic
writers. But if Mr. Coleridge's works do not place him in that rank,
they injure instead of conveying a just idea of the man, for he himself
is certainly in the first class of general intellect.

If our author's poetry is inferior to his conversation, his prose is
utterly abortive. Hardly a gleam is to be found in it of the brilliancy
and richness of those stores of thought and language that he pours out
incessantly, when they are lost like drops of water in the ground. The
principal work, in which he has attempted to embody his general views of
things, is the FRIEND, of which, though it contains some noble passages
and fine trains of thought, prolixity and obscurity are the most
frequent characteristics.

No two persons can be conceived more opposite in character or genius
than the subject of the present and of the preceding sketch. Mr. Godwin,
with less natural capacity, and with fewer acquired advantages, by
concentrating his mind on some given object, and doing what he had to do
with all his might, has accomplished much, and will leave more than
one monument of a powerful intellect behind him; Mr. Coleridge, by
dissipating his, and dallying with every subject by turns, has done
little or nothing to justify to the world or to posterity, the high
opinion which all who have ever heard him converse, or known him
intimately, with one accord entertain of him. Mr. Godwin's faculties
have kept house, and plied their task in the work-shop of the brain,
diligently and effectually: Mr. Coleridge's have gossipped away their
time, and gadded about from house to house, as if life's business were
to melt the hours in listless talk. Mr. Godwin is intent on a subject,
only as it concerns himself and his reputation; he works it out as a
matter of duty, and discards from his mind whatever does not forward his
main object as impertinent and vain. Mr. Coleridge, on the other hand,
delights in nothing but episodes and digressions, neglects whatever he
undertakes to perform, and can act only on spontaneous impulses, without
object or method. "He cannot be constrained by mastery." While he should
be occupied with a given pursuit, he is thinking of a thousand other
things; a thousand tastes, a thousand objects tempt him, and distract
his mind, which keeps open house, and entertains all comers; and after
being fatigued and amused with morning calls from idle visitors, finds
the day consumed and its business unconcluded. Mr. Godwin, on the
contrary, is somewhat exclusive and unsocial in his habits of mind,
entertains no company but what he gives his whole time and attention to,
and wisely writes over the doors of his understanding, his fancy, and
his senses--"No admittance except on business." He has none of that
fastidious refinement and false delicacy, which might lead him to
balance between the endless variety of modern attainments. He does not
throw away his life (nor a single half-hour of it) in adjusting the
claims of different accomplishments, and in choosing between them or
making himself master of them all. He sets about his task, (whatever
it may be) and goes through it with spirit and fortitude. He has the
happiness to think an author the greatest character in the world,
and himself the greatest author in it. Mr. Coleridge, in writing an
harmonious stanza, would stop to consider whether there was not more
grace and beauty in a _Pas de trois_, and would not proceed till he had
resolved this question by a chain of metaphysical reasoning without end.
Not so Mr. Godwin. That is best to him, which he can do best. He does
not waste himself in vain aspirations and effeminate sympathies. He is
blind, deaf, insensible to all but the trump of Fame. Plays, operas,
painting, music, ball-rooms, wealth, fashion, titles, lords, ladies,
touch him not--all these are no more to him than to the magician in his
cell, and he writes on to the end of the chapter, through good report
and evil report. _Pingo in eternitatem_--is his motto. He neither envies
nor admires what others are, but is contented to be what he is, and
strives to do the utmost he can. Mr. Coleridge has flirted with the
Muses as with a set of mistresses: Mr. Godwin has been married twice, to
Reason and to Fancy, and has to boast no short-lived progeny by each.
So to speak, he has _valves_ belonging to his mind, to regulate the
quantity of gas admitted into it, so that like the bare, unsightly, but
well-compacted steam-vessel, it cuts its liquid way, and arrives at
its promised end: while Mr. Coleridge's bark, "taught with the little
nautilus to sail," the sport of every breath, dancing to every wave,

"Youth at its prow, and Pleasure at its helm,"

flutters its gaudy pennons in the air, glitters in the sun, but we wait
in vain to hear of its arrival in the destined harbour. Mr. Godwin, with
less variety and vividness, with less subtlety and susceptibility
both of thought and feeling, has had firmer nerves, a more determined
purpose, a more comprehensive grasp of his subject, and the results are
as we find them. Each has met with his reward: for justice has, after
all, been done to the pretensions of each; and we must, in all cases,
use means to ends!

[Footnote A: Mr. Coleridge named his eldest son (the writer of some
beautiful Sonnets) after Hartley, and the second after Berkeley. The
third was called Derwent, after the river of that name. Nothing can be
more characteristic of his mind than this circumstance. All his ideas
indeed are like a river, flowing on for ever, and still murmuring as it
flows, discharging its waters and still replenished--

"And so by many winding nooks it strays,
With willing sport to the wild ocean!"]

* * * * *


This gentleman has gained an almost unprecedented, and not an altogether
unmerited popularity as a preacher. As he is, perhaps, though a burning
and a shining light, not "one of the fixed," we shall take this
opportunity of discussing his merits, while he is at his meridian
height; and in doing so, shall "nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in

Few circumstances shew the prevailing and preposterous rage for novelty
in a more striking point of view, than the success of Mr. Irving's
oratory. People go to hear him in crowds, and come away with a mixture
of delight and astonishment--they go again to see if the effect will
continue, and send others to try to find out the mystery--and in the
noisy conflict between extravagant encomiums and splenetic objections,
the true secret escapes observation, which is, that the whole thing is,
nearly from beginning to end, a _transposition of ideas_. If the subject
of these remarks had come out as a player, with all his advantages of
figure, voice, and action, we think he would have failed: if, as a
preacher, he had kept within the strict bounds of pulpit-oratory, he
would scarcely have been much distinguished among his Calvinistic
brethren: as a mere author, he would have excited attention rather
by his quaintness and affectation of an obsolete style and mode of
thinking, than by any thing else. But he has contrived to jumble these
several characters together in an unheard-of and unwarranted manner, and
the fascination is altogether irresistible. Our Caledonian divine is
equally an anomaly in religion, in literature, in personal appearance,
and in public speaking. To hear a person spout Shakspeare on the stage
is nothing--the charm is nearly worn out--but to hear any one spout
Shakspeare (and that not in a sneaking under-tone, but at the top of
his voice, and with the full breadth of his chest) from a Calvinistic
pulpit, is new and wonderful. The _Fancy_ have lately lost something of
their gloss in public estimation, and after the last fight, few would go
far to see a Neat or a Spring set-to;--but to see a man who is able to
enter the ring with either of them, or brandish a quarter-staff with
Friar Tuck, or a broad-sword with Shaw the Lifeguards' man, stand up in
a strait-laced old-fashioned pulpit, and bandy dialectics with modern
philosophers or give a _cross-buttock_ to a cabinet minister, there is
something in a sight like this also, that is a cure for sore eyes. It
is as if Crib or Molyneux had turned Methodist parson, or as if
a Patagonian savage were to come forward as the patron-saint of
Evangelical religion. Again, the doctrine of eternal punishment was one
of the staple arguments with which, everlastingly drawled out, the old
school of Presbyterian divines used to keep their audiences awake, or
lull them to sleep; but to which people of taste and fashion paid
little attention, as inelegant and barbarous, till Mr. Irving, with his
cast-iron features and sledge-hammer blows, puffing like a grim Vulcan,
set to work to forge more classic thunderbolts, and kindle the expiring
flames anew with the very sweepings of sceptical and infidel
libraries, so as to excite a pleasing horror in the female part of his
congregation. In short, our popular declaimer has, contrary to the
Scripture-caution, put new wine into old bottles, or new cloth on old
garments. He has, with an unlimited and daring licence, mixed the
sacred and the profane together, the carnal and the spiritual man, the
petulance of the bar with the dogmatism of the pulpit, the theatrical
and theological, the modern and the obsolete;--what wonder that this
splendid piece of patchwork, splendid by contradiction and contrast,
has delighted some and confounded others? The more serious part of his
congregation indeed complain, though not bitterly, that their pastor
has converted their meeting-house into a play-house: but when a lady of
quality, introducing herself and her three daughters to the preacher,
assures him that they have been to all the most fashionable places of
resort, the opera, the theatre, assemblies, Miss Macauley's readings,
and Exeter-Change, and have been equally entertained no where else, we
apprehend that no remonstrances of a committee of ruling-elders will be
able to bring him to his senses again, or make him forego such sweet,
but ill-assorted praise. What we mean to insist upon is, that Mr. Irving
owes his triumphant success, not to any one quality for which he has
been extolled, but to a combination of qualities, the more striking
in their immediate effect, in proportion as they are unlooked-for and
heterogeneous, like the violent opposition of light and shade in a
picture. We shall endeavour to explain this view of the subject more at

Mr. Irving, then, is no common or mean man. He has four or five
qualities, possessed in a moderate or in a paramount degree, which,
added or multiplied together, fill up the important space he occupies in
the public eye. Mr. Irving's intellect itself is of a superior order; he
has undoubtedly both talents and acquirements beyond the ordinary run of
every-day preachers. These alone, however, we hold, would not account
for a twentieth part of the effect he has produced: they would have
lifted him perhaps out of the mire and slough of sordid obscurity, but
would never have launched him into the ocean-stream of popularity, in
which he "lies floating many a rood;"--but to these he adds uncommon
height, a graceful figure and action, a clear and powerful voice, a
striking, if not a fine face, a bold and fiery spirit, and a most
portentous obliquity of vision, which throw him to an immeasurable
distance beyond all competition, and effectually relieve whatever there
might be of common-place or bombast in his style of composition. Put the
case that Mr. Irving had been five feet high--Would he ever have been
heard of, or, as he does now, have "bestrode the world like a Colossus?"
No, the thing speaks for itself. He would in vain have lifted
his Lilliputian arm to Heaven, people would have laughed at his
monkey-tricks. Again, had he been as tall as he is, but had wanted other
recommendations, he would have been nothing.

"The player's province they but vainly try,
Who want these powers, deportment, voice, and eye."

Conceive a rough, ugly, shock-headed Scotchman, standing up in the
Caledonian chapel, and dealing "damnation round the land" in a broad
northern dialect, and with a harsh, screaking voice, what ear polite,
what smile serene would have hailed the barbarous prodigy, or not
consigned him to utter neglect and derision? But the Rev. Edward Irving,
with all his native wildness, "hath a smooth aspect framed to make
women" saints; his very unusual size and height are carried off and
moulded into elegance by the most admirable symmetry of form and ease of
gesture; his sable locks, his clear iron-grey complexion, and firm-set
features, turn the raw, uncouth Scotchman into the likeness of a noble
Italian picture; and even his distortion of sight only redeems the
otherwise "faultless monster" within the bounds of humanity, and, when
admiration is exhausted and curiosity ceases, excites a new interest by
leading to the idle question whether it is an advantage to the preacher
or not. Farther, give him all his actual and remarkable advantages of
body and mind, let him be as tall, as strait, as dark and clear of skin,
as much at his ease, as silver-tongued, as eloquent and as argumentative
as he is, yet with all these, and without a little charlatanery to set
them off, he had been nothing. He might, keeping within the rigid line
of his duty and professed calling, have preached on for ever; he
might have divided the old-fashioned doctrines of election, grace,
reprobation, predestination, into his sixteenth, seventeenth,
and eighteenth heads, and his _lastly_ have been looked for as a
"consummation devoutly to be wished;" he might have defied the devil and
all his works, and by the help of a loud voice and strong-set person--

"A lusty man to ben an Abbot able;"--

have increased his own congregation, and been quoted among the godly as
a powerful preacher of the word; but in addition to this, he went out of
his way to attack Jeremy Bentham, and the town was up in arms. The thing
was new. He thus wiped the stain of musty ignorance and formal bigotry
out of his style. Mr. Irving must have something superior in him, to
look over the shining close-packed heads of his congregation to have a
hit at the _Great Jurisconsult_ in his study. He next, ere the report of
the former blow had subsided, made a lunge at Mr. Brougham, and glanced
an eye at Mr. Canning; _mystified_ Mr. Coleridge, and _stultified_ Lord
Liverpool in his place--in the Gallery. It was rare sport to see him,
"like an eagle in a dovecote, flutter the Volscians in Corioli." He has
found out the secret of attracting by repelling. Those whom he is likely
to attack are curious to hear what he says of them: they go again,
to show that they do not mind it. It is no less interesting to the
by-standers, who like to witness this sort of _onslaught_--like a charge
of cavalry, the shock, and the resistance. Mr. Irving has, in fact,
without leave asked or a licence granted, converted the Caledonian
Chapel into a Westminster Forum or Debating Society, with the sanctity
of religion added to it. Our spirited polemic is not contented to defend
the citadel of orthodoxy against all impugners, and shut himself up
in texts of Scripture and huge volumes of the Commentators as an
impregnable fortress;--he merely makes use of the stronghold of religion
as a resting-place, from which he sallies forth, armed with modern
topics and with penal fire, like Achilles of old rushing from the
Grecian tents, against the adversaries of God and man. Peter Aretine is
said to have laid the Princes of Europe under contribution by penning
satires against them: so Mr. Irving keeps the public in awe by insulting
all their favourite idols. He does not spare their politicians, their
rulers, their moralists, their poets, their players, their critics,
their reviewers, their magazine-writers; he levels their resorts of
business, their places of amusement, at a blow--their cities, churches,
palaces, ranks and professions, refinements, and elegances--and leaves
nothing standing but himself, a mighty landmark in a degenerate age,
overlooking the wide havoc he has made! He makes war upon all arts and
sciences, upon the faculties and nature of man, on his vices and his
virtues, on all existing institutions, and all possible improvements,
that nothing may be left but the Kirk of Scotland, and that he may be
the head of it. He literally sends a challenge to all London in the
name of the KING of HEAVEN, to evacuate its streets, to disperse its
population, to lay aside its employments, to burn its wealth, to
renounce its vanities and pomp; and for what?--that he may enter in
as the _King of Glory_; or after enforcing his threat with the
battering-ram of logic, the grape-shot of rhetoric, and the crossfire of
his double vision, reduce the British metropolis to a Scottish heath,
with a few miserable hovels upon it, where they may worship God
according to _the root of the matter_, and an old man with a blue
bonnet, a fair-haired girl, and a little child would form the flower of
his flock! Such is the pretension and the boast of this new Peter the
Hermit, who would get rid of all we have done in the way of improvement
on a state of barbarous ignorance, or still more barbarous prejudice, in
order to begin again on a _tabula rasa_ of Calvinism, and have a world
of his own making. It is not very surprising that when nearly the
whole mass and texture of civil society is indicted as a nuisance, and
threatened to be pulled down as a rotten building ready to fall on the
heads of the inhabitants, that all classes of people run to hear the
crash, and to see the engines and levers at work which are to effect
this laudable purpose. What else can be the meaning of our preacher's
taking upon himself to denounce the sentiments of the most serious
professors in great cities, as vitiated and stark-naught, of relegating
religion to his native glens, and pretending that the hymn of praise or
the sigh of contrition cannot ascend acceptably to the throne of grace
from the crowded street as well as from the barren rock or silent
valley? Why put this affront upon his hearers? Why belie his own

"God made the country, and man made the town."

So says the poet; does Mr. Irving say so? If he does, and finds the air
of the city death to his piety, why does he not return home again? But
if he can breathe it with impunity, and still retain the fervour of his
early enthusiasm, and the simplicity and purity of the faith that was
once delivered to the saints, why not extend the benefit of his own
experience to others, instead of taunting them with a vapid pastoral
theory? Or, if our popular and eloquent divine finds a change in
himself, that flattery prevents the growth of grace, that he is becoming
the God of his own idolatry by being that of others, that the glittering
of coronet-coaches rolling down Holborn-Hill to Hatton Garden, that
titled beauty, that the parliamentary complexion of his audience, the
compliments of poets, and the stare of peers discompose his wandering
thoughts a little; and yet that he cannot give up these strong
temptations tugging at his heart; why not extend more charity to others,
and shew more candour in speaking of himself? There is either a good
deal of bigoted intolerance with a deplorable want of self-knowledge in
all this; or at least an equal degree of cant and quackery.

To whichever cause we are to attribute this hyperbolical tone, we hold
it certain he could not have adopted it, if he had been _a little man_.
But his imposing figure and dignified manner enable him to hazard
sentiments or assertions that would be fatal to others. His
controversial daring is _backed_ by his bodily prowess; and by bringing
his intellectual pretensions boldly into a line with his physical
accomplishments, he, indeed, presents a very formidable front to the
sceptic or the scoffer. Take a cubit from his stature, and his whole
manner resolves itself into an impertinence. But with that addition, he
_overcrows_ the town, browbeats their prejudices, and bullies them out
of their senses, and is not afraid of being contradicted by any one
_less than himself_. It may be said, that individuals with great
personal defects have made a considerable figure as public speakers; and
Mr. Wilberforce, among others, may be held out as an instance. Nothing
can be more insignificant as to mere outward appearance, and yet he is
listened to in the House of Commons. But he does not wield it, he does
not insult or bully it. He leads by following opinion, he trims, he
shifts, he glides on the silvery sounds of his undulating, flexible,
cautiously modulated voice, winding his way betwixt heaven and earth,
now courting popularity, now calling servility to his aid, and with a
large estate, the "saints," and the population of Yorkshire to swell his
influence, never venturing on the forlorn hope, or doing any thing more
than "hitting the house between wind and water." Yet he is probably a
cleverer man than Mr. Irving.

There is a Mr. Fox, a Dissenting Minister, as fluent a speaker, with a
sweeter voice and a more animated and beneficent countenance than Mr.
Irving, who expresses himself with manly spirit at a public meeting,
takes a hand at whist, and is the darling of his congregation; but he is
no more, because he is diminutive in person. His head is not seen above
the crowd the length of a street off. He is the Duke of Sussex in
miniature, but the Duke of Sussex does not go to hear him preach, as he
attends Mr. Irving, who rises up against him like a martello tower,
and is nothing loth to confront the spirit of a man of genius with
the blood-royal. We allow there are, or may be, talents sufficient to
produce this equality without a single personal advantage; but we deny
that this would be the effect of any that our great preacher possesses.
We conceive it not improbable that the consciousness of muscular power,
that the admiration of his person by strangers might first have inspired
Mr. Irving with an ambition to be something, intellectually speaking,
and have given him confidence to attempt the greatest things. He has not
failed for want of courage. The public, as well as the fair, are won
by a show of gallantry. Mr. Irving has shrunk from no opinion, however
paradoxical. He has scrupled to avow no sentiment, however obnoxious. He
has revived exploded prejudices, he has scouted prevailing fashions.
He has opposed the spirit of the age, and not consulted the _esprit de
corps_. He has brought back the doctrines of Calvinism in all their
inveteracy, and relaxed the inveteracy of his northern accents. He has
turned religion and the Caledonian Chapel topsy-turvy. He has held a
play-book in one hand, and a Bible in the other, and quoted Shakspeare
and Melancthon in the same breath. The tree of the knowledge of good and
evil is no longer, with his grafting, a dry withered stump; it shoots
its branches to the skies, and hangs out its blossoms to the gale--

"Miraturque novos fructus, et non sua poma."

He has taken the thorns and briars of scholastic divinity, and garlanded
them with the flowers of modern literature. He has done all this,
relying on the strength of a remarkably fine person and manner, and
through that he has succeeded--otherwise he would have perished

Dr. Chalmers is not by any means so good a looking man, nor so
accomplished a speaker as Mr. Irving; yet he at one time almost equalled
his oratorical celebrity, and certainly paved the way for him. He has
therefore more merit than his admired pupil, as he has done as much
with fewer means. He has more scope of intellect and more intensity of
purpose. Both his matter and his manner, setting aside his face and
figure, are more impressive. Take the volume of "Sermons on Astronomy,"
by Dr. Chalmers, and the "Four Orations for the Oracles of God" which
Mr. Irving lately published, and we apprehend there can be no comparison
as to their success. The first ran like wild-fire through the country,
were the darlings of watering-places, were laid in the windows of
inns,[A] and were to be met with in all places of public resort; while
the "Orations" get on but slowly, on Milton's stilts, and are pompously
announced as in a Third Edition. We believe the fairest and fondest of
his admirers would rather see and hear Mr. Irving than read him. The
reason is, that the groundwork of his compositions is trashy and
hackneyed, though set off by extravagant metaphors and an affected
phraseology; that without the turn of his head and wave of his hand, his
periods have nothing in them; and that he himself is the only _idea_
with which he has yet enriched the public mind! He must play off
his person, as Orator Henley used to dazzle his hearers with his
diamond-ring. The small frontispiece prefixed to the "Orations" does not
serve to convey an adequate idea of the magnitude of the man, nor of
the ease and freedom of his motions in the pulpit. How different is Dr.
Chalmers! He is like "a monkey-preacher" to the other. He cannot boast
of personal appearance to set him off. But then he is like the very
genius or demon of theological controversy personified. He has neither
airs nor graces at command; he thinks nothing of himself; he has nothing
theatrical about him (which cannot be said of his successor and
rival); but you see a man in mortal throes and agony with doubts and
difficulties, seizing stubborn knotty points with his teeth, tearing
them with his hands, and straining his eyeballs till they almost start
out of their sockets, in pursuit of a train of visionary reasoning, like
a Highland-seer with his second sight. The description of Balfour of
Burley in his cave, with his Bible in one hand and his sword in the
other, contending with the imaginary enemy of mankind, gasping for
breath, and with the cold moisture running down his face, gives a lively
idea of Dr. Chalmers's prophetic fury in the pulpit. If we could
have looked in to have seen Burley hard-beset "by the coinage of his
heat-oppressed brain," who would have asked whether he was a handsome
man or not? It would be enough to see a man haunted by a spirit, under
the strong and entire dominion of a wilful hallucination. So the
integrity and vehemence of Dr. Chalmers's manner, the determined way in
which he gives himself up to his subject, or lays about him and buffets
sceptics and gainsayers, arrests attention in spite of every other
circumstance, and fixes it on that, and that alone, which excites
such interest and such eagerness in his own breast! Besides, he is a
logician, has a theory in support of whatever he chooses to advance, and
weaves the tissue of his sophistry so close and intricate, that it is
difficult not to be entangled in it, or to escape from it. "There's
magic in the web." Whatever appeals to the pride of the human
understanding, has a subtle charm in it. The mind is naturally
pugnacious, cannot refuse a challenge of strength or skill, sturdily
enters the lists and resolves to conquer, or to yield itself vanquished
in the forms. This is the chief hold Dr. Chalmers had upon his hearers,
and upon the readers of his "Astronomical Discourses." No one was
satisfied with his arguments, no one could answer them, but every one
wanted to try what he could make of them, as we try to find out a
riddle. "By his so potent art," the art of laying down problematical
premises, and drawing from them still more doubtful, but not impossible,
conclusions, "he could bedim the noonday sun, betwixt the green sea and
the azure vault set roaring war," and almost compel the stars in their
courses to testify to his opinions. The mode in which he undertook to
make the circuit of the universe, and demand categorical information
"now of the planetary and now of the fixed," might put one in mind of
Hecate's mode of ascending in a machine from the stage, "midst troops
of spirits," in which you now admire the skill of the artist, and next
tremble for the fate of the performer, fearing that the audacity of
the attempt will turn his head or break his neck. The style of these
"Discourses" also, though not elegant or poetical, was, like the
subject, intricate and endless. It was that of a man pushing his way
through a labyrinth of difficulties, and determined not to flinch. The
impression on the reader was proportionate; for, whatever were the
merits of the style or matter, both were new and striking; and the train
of thought that was unfolded at such length and with such strenuousness,
was bold, well-sustained, and consistent with itself.

Mr. Irving wants the continuity of thought and manner which
distinguishes his rival--and shines by patches and in bursts. He does
not warm or acquire increasing force or rapidity with his progress. He
is never hurried away by a deep or lofty enthusiasm, nor touches the
highest point of genius or fanaticism, but "in the very storm and
whirlwind of his passion, he acquires and begets a temperance that may
give it smoothness." He has the self-possession and masterly execution
of an experienced player or fencer, and does not seem to express his
natural convictions, or to be engaged in a mortal struggle. This greater
ease and indifference is the result of vast superiority of personal
appearance, which "to be admired needs but to be seen," and does not
require the possessor to work himself up into a passion, or to use
any violent contortions to gain attention or to keep it. These two
celebrated preachers are in almost all respects an antithesis to each
other. If Mr. Irving is an example of what can be done by the help of
external advantages, Dr. Chalmers is a proof of what can be done without
them. The one is most indebted to his mind, the other to his body. If
Mr. Irving inclines one to suspect fashionable or popular religion of a
little _anthropomorphitism_, Dr. Chalmers effectually redeems it from
that scandal.

[Footnote A: We remember finding the volume in the orchard at
Burford-bridge near Boxhill, and passing a whole and very delightful
morning in reading it, without quitting the shade of an apple-tree.
We have not been able to pay Mr. Irving's back the same compliment of
reading it at a sitting.]

* * * * *


Mr. Horne Tooke was one of those who may be considered as connecting
links between a former period and the existing generation. His education
and accomplishments, nay, his political opinions, were of the last age;
his mind, and the tone of his feelings were _modern_. There was a hard,
dry materialism in the very texture of his understanding, varnished over
by the external refinements of the old school. Mr. Tooke had great
scope of attainment, and great versatility of pursuit; but the same
shrewdness, quickness, cool self-possession, the same _literalness_ of
perception, and absence of passion and enthusiasm, characterised nearly
all he did, said, or wrote. He was without a rival (almost) in private
conversation, an expert public speaker, a keen politician, a first-rate
grammarian, and the finest gentleman (to say the least) of his own
party. He had no imagination (or he would not have scorned it!)--no
delicacy of taste, no rooted prejudices or strong attachments: his
intellect was like a bow of polished steel, from which he shot
sharp-pointed poisoned arrows at his friends in private, at his enemies
in public. His mind (so to speak) had no _religion_ in it, and very
little even of the moral qualities of genius; but he was a man of the
world, a scholar bred, and a most acute and powerful logician. He was
also a wit, and a formidable one: yet it may be questioned whether his
wit was any thing more than an excess of his logical faculty: it did not
consist in the play of fancy, but in close and cutting combinations of
the understanding. "The law is open to every one: _so_," said Mr. Tooke,
"_is the London Tavern_!" It is the previous deduction formed in the
mind, and the splenetic contempt felt for a practical sophism, that
_beats about the bush for_, and at last finds the apt illustration; not
the casual, glancing coincidence of two objects, that points out an
absurdity to the understanding. So, on another occasion, when Sir Allan
Gardiner (who was a candidate for Westminster) had objected to Mr. Fox,
that "he was always against the minister, _whether right or wrong_," and
Mr. Fox, in his reply, had overlooked this slip of the tongue, Mr. Tooke
immediately seized on it, and said, "he thought it at least an equal
objection to Sir Allan, that he was always _with_ the minister, whether
right or wrong." This retort had all the effect, and produced the same
surprise as the most brilliant display of wit or fancy: yet it was only
the detecting a flaw in an argument, like a flaw in an indictment, by a
kind of legal pertinacity, or rather by a rigid and constant habit of
attending to the exact import of every word and clause in a sentence.
Mr. Tooke had the mind of a lawyer; but it was applied to a vast variety
of topics and general trains of speculation.

Mr. Horne Tooke was in private company, and among his friends, the
finished gentleman of the last age. His manners were as fascinating as
his conversation was spirited and delightful. He put one in mind of the
burden of the song of "_The King's Old Courtier, and an Old Courtier of
the King's_." He was, however, of the opposite party. It was curious to
hear our modern sciolist advancing opinions of the most radical
kind without any mixture of radical heat or violence, in a tone of
fashionable _nonchalance_, with elegance of gesture and attitude, and
with the most perfect good-humour. In the spirit of opposition, or in
the pride of logical superiority, he too often shocked the prejudices or
wounded the self-love of those about him, while he himself displayed
the same unmoved indifference or equanimity. He said the most provoking
things with a laughing gaiety, and a polite attention, that there was
no withstanding. He threw others off their guard by thwarting their
favourite theories, and then availed himself of the temperance of
his own pulse to chafe them into madness. He had not one particle
of deference for the opinion of others, nor of sympathy with their
feelings; nor had he any obstinate convictions of his own to defend--

"Lord of himself, uncumbered with a _creed_!"

He took up any topic by chance, and played with it at will, like a
juggler with his cups and balls. He generally ranged himself on the
losing side; and had rather an ill-natured delight in contradiction, and
in perplexing the understandings of others, without leaving them any
clue to guide them out of the labyrinth into which he had led them.
He understood, in its perfection, the great art of throwing the _onus
probandi_ on his adversary; and so could maintain almost any opinion,
however absurd or fantastical, with fearless impunity. I have heard a
sensible and well-informed man say, that he never was in company with
Mr. Tooke without being delighted and surprised, or without feeling the
conversation of every other person to be flat in the comparison; but
that he did not recollect having ever heard him make a remark that
struck him as a sound and true one, or that he himself appeared to think
so. He used to plague Fuseli by asking him after the origin of the
Teutonic dialects, and Dr. Parr, by wishing to know the meaning of the
common copulative, _Is_. Once at G----'s, he defended Pitt from a charge
of verbiage, and endeavoured to prove him superior to Fox. Some one
imitated Pitt's manner, to show that it was monotonous, and he imitated
him also, to show that it was not. He maintained (what would he not
maintain?) that young Betty's acting was finer than John Kemble's, and
recited a passage from Douglas in the manner of each, to justify the
preference he gave to the former. The mentioning this will please the
living; it cannot hurt the dead. He argued on the same occasion and in
the same breath, that Addison's style was without modulation, and
that it was physically impossible for any one to write well, who was
habitually silent in company. He sat like a king at his own table, and
gave law to his guests--and to the world! No man knew better how to
manage his immediate circle, to foil or bring them out. A professed
orator, beginning to address some observations to Mr. Tooke with a
voluminous apology for his youth and inexperience, he said, "Speak up,
young man!"--and by taking him at his word, cut short the flower of
orations. Porson was the only person of whom he stood in some degree of
awe, on account of his prodigious memory and knowledge of his favourite
subject, Languages. Sheridan, it has been remarked, said more good
things, but had not an equal flow of pleasantry. As an instance of
Mr. Horne Tooke's extreme coolness and command of nerve, it has been
mentioned that once at a public dinner when he had got on the table to

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