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Famous Reviews by Editor: R. Brimley Johnson

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has already heard of a charming situation in the depths of Ireland--all
with a brutal jocoseness which most women of spirit, unless grievously
despairing of any other lover, would have resented, and any woman of
sense would have seen through. But Jane, that profound reader of the
human heart, and especially of Mr. Rochester's, does neither. She meekly
hopes she may be allowed to stay where she is till she has found another
shelter to betake herself to--she does not fancy going to Ireland--Why?

"It is a long way off, Sir." "No matter--a girl of your sense will not
object to the voyage or the distance." "Not the voyage, but the
distance, Sir; and then the sea is a barrier--" "From what, Jane?"
"From England, and from Thornfield; and--" "Well?" "From _you_, Sir."
--vol. ii, p. 205.

and then the lady bursts into tears in the most approved fashion.

Although so clever in giving hints, how wonderfully slow she is in
taking them! Even when, tired of his cat's play, Mr. Rochester proceeds
to rather indubitable demonstrations of affection--"enclosing me in his
arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips"--Jane
has no idea what he can mean. Some ladies would have thought it high
time to leave the Squire alone with his chestnut tree; or, at all
events, unnecessary to keep up that tone of high-souled feminine
obtusity which they are quite justified in adopting if gentlemen will
not speak out--but Jane again does neither. Not that we say she was
wrong, but quite the reverse, considering the circumstances of the case--
Mr. Rochester was her master, and "Duchess or nothing" was her first
duty--only she was not quite so artless as the author would have us

But if the manner in which she secures the prize be not inadmissible
according to the rules of the art, that in which she manages it when
caught, is quite without authority or precedent, except perhaps in the
servants' hall. Most lover's play is wearisome and nonsensical to the
lookers on--but the part Jane assumes is one which could only be
efficiently sustained by the substitution of Sam for her master. Coarse
as Mr. Rochester is, one winces for him under the infliction of this
housemaid _beau ideal_ of the arts of coquetry. A little more, and we
should have flung the book aside to lie for ever among the trumpery with
which such scenes ally it; but it were a pity to have halted here, for
wonderful things lie beyond--scenes of suppressed feeling, more fearful
to witness than the most violent tornados of passion--struggles with
such intense sorrow and suffering as it is sufficient misery to know
that any one should have conceived, far less passed through; and yet
with that stamp of truth which takes precedence in the human heart
before actual experience. The flippant, fifth-rate, plebeian actress has
vanished, and only a noble, high-souled woman, bound to us by the
reality of her sorrow, and yet raised above us by the strength of her
will, stands in actual life before us. If this be Jane Eyre, the author
has done her injustice hitherto, not we.

* * * * *

We have said that this was the picture of a natural heart. This, to our
view, is the great and crying mischief of the book. Jane Eyre is
throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined
spirit, and more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle
and self-control which is liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to
observe the inefficient and unsound foundation on which it rests. It is
true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the
strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian
grace is perceptible upon her. She has inherited in fullest measure the
worst sin of our fallen nature--the sin of pride. Jane Eyre is proud,
and therefore she is ungrateful too. It pleased God to make her an
orphan, friendless, and penniless--yet she thanks nobody, and least of
all Him, for the food and raiment, the friends, companions, and
instructors of her helpless youth--for the care and education vouchsafed
to her till she was capable in mind as fitted in years to provide for
herself. On the contrary, she looks upon all that has been done for her
not only as her undoubted right, but as falling far short of it. The
doctrine of humility is not more foreign to her mind than it is
repudiated by her heart. It is by her own talents, virtues, and courage
that she is made to attain the summit of human happiness, and, as far as
Jane Eyre's own statement is concerned, no one would think that she owed
anything either to God above or to man below. She flees from Mr.
Rochester, and has not a being to turn to. Why was this? The excellence
of the present institution at Casterton, which succeeded that of Cowan
Bridge near Kirkby Lonsdale--these being distinctly, as we hear, the
original and the reformed Lowoods of the book--is pretty generally
known. Jane had lived there for eight years with 110 girls and fifteen
teachers. Why had she formed no friendships among them? Other orphans
have left the same and similar institutions, furnished with friends for
life, and puzzled with homes to choose from. How comes it that Jane had
acquired neither? Among that number of associates there were surely some
exceptions to what she so presumptuously stigmatises as "the society of
inferior minds." Of course it suited the author's end to represent the
heroine as utterly destitute of the common means of assistance, in order
to exhibit both her trials and her powers of self-support--the whole
book rests on this assumption--but it is one which, under the
circumstances, is very unnatural and very unjust.

Altogether the auto-biography of Jane Eyre is pre-eminently an
anti-Christian composition. There is throughout it a murmuring against the
comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor, which, as
far as each individual is concerned, is a murmuring against God's
appointment--there is a proud and perpetual assertion of the rights of
man, for which we find no authority either in God's word or in God's
providence--there is that pervading tone of ungodly discontent which is
at once the most prominent and the most subtle evil which the law and
the pulpit, which all civilized society in fact has at the present day
to contend with. We do not hesitate to say that the tone of mind and
thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and
divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same
which has also written Jane Eyre.

Still we say again this is a very remarkable book. We are painfully
alive to the moral, religious, and literary deficiencies of the picture,
and such passages of beauty and power as we have quoted cannot redeem
it, but it is impossible not to be spell-bound with the freedom of the
touch. It would be mere hackneyed courtesy to call it "fine writing." It
bears no impress of being written at all, but is poured out rather in
the heat and hurry of an instinct, which flows ungovernably on to its
object, indifferent by what means it reaches it, and unconscious too. As
regards the author's chief object, however, it is a failure--that,
namely, of making a plain, odd woman, destitute of all the conventional
features of feminine attraction, interesting in our sight. We deny that
he has succeeded in this. Jane Eyre, in spite of some grand things about
her, is a being totally uncongenial to our feelings from beginning to
end. We acknowledge her firmness--we respect her determination--we feel
for her struggles; but, for all that, and setting aside higher
considerations, the impression she leaves on our mind is that of a
decidedly vulgar-minded woman--one whom we should not care for as an
acquaintance, whom we should not seek as a friend, whom we should not
desire for a relation, and whom we should scrupulously avoid for a

There seems to have arisen in the novel-reading world some doubts as to
who really wrote this book; and various rumours, more or less romantic,
have been current in Mayfair, the metropolis of gossip, as to the
authorship. For example, Jane Eyre is sentimentally assumed to have
proceeded from the pen of Mr. Thackeray's governess, whom he had himself
chosen as his model of Becky, and who, in mingled love and revenge,
personified him in return as Mr. Rochester. In this case, it is evident
that the author of "Vanity Fair," whose own pencil makes him grey-haired,
has had the best of it, though his children may have had the
worst, having, at all events, succeeded in hitting the vulnerable point
in the Becky bosom, which it is our firm belief no man born of woman,
from her Soho to her Ostend days, had ever so much as grazed. To this
ingenious rumour the coincidence of the second edition of Jane Eyre
being dedicated to Mr. Thackeray has probably given rise. For our parts,
we see no great interest in the question at all. The first edition of
Jane Eyre purports to be edited by Currer Bell, one of a trio of
brothers, or sisters, or cousins, by names Currer, Acton, and Ellis
Bell, already known as the joint-authors of a volume of poems. The
second edition the same--dedicated, however, "by the author," to Mr.
Thackeray; and the dedication (itself an indubitable _chip_ of Jane
Eyre) signed Currer Bell. Author and editor therefore are one, and we
are as much satisfied to accept this double individual under the name of
"Currer Bell," as under any other, more or less euphonious. Whoever it
be, it is a person who, with great mental powers, combines a total
ignorance of the habits of society, a great coarseness of taste, and a
heathenish doctrine of religion. And as these characteristics appear
more or less in the writings of all three, Currer, Acton, and Ellis
alike, for their poems differ less in degree of power than in kind, we
are ready to accept the fact of their identity or of their relationship
with equal satisfaction. At all events there can be no interest attached
to the writer of "Wuthering Heights "--a novel succeeding "Jane Eyre,"
and purporting to be written by Ellis Bell--unless it were for the sake
of more individual reprobation. For though there is a decided family
likeness between the two, yet the aspect of the Jane and Rochester
animals in their native state, as Catherine and Heathfield
[Transcriber's note: sic], is too odiously and abominably pagan to be
palatable even to the most vitiated class of English readers. With all
the unscrupulousness of the French school of novels it combines that
repulsive vulgarity in the choice of its vice which supplies its own
antidote. The question of authorship, therefore, can deserve a moment's
curiosity only as far as "Jane Eyre" is concerned, and though we cannot
pronounce that it appertains to a real Mr. Currer Bell and to no other,
yet that it appertains to a man, and not, as many assert, to a woman, we
are strongly inclined to affirm. Without entering into the question
whether the power of the writing be above her, or the vulgarity below
her, there are, we believe, minutiae of circumstantial evidence which at
once acquit the feminine hand. No woman--a lady friend, whom we are
always happy to consult, assures us--makes mistakes in her own _metier_--
no woman _trusses game_ and garnishes dessert-dishes with the same
hands, or talks of so doing in the same breath. Above all, no woman
attires another in such fancy dresses as Jane's ladies assume--Miss
Ingram coming down, irresistible, "in a _morning_ robe of sky-blue
crape, a gauze azure scarf twisted in her hair!!" No lady, we
understand, when suddenly roused in the night, would think of hurrying
on "_a frock_." They have garments more convenient for such occasions,
and more becoming too. This evidence seems incontrovertible. Even
granting that these incongruities were purposely assumed, for the sake
of disguising the female pen, there is nothing gained; for if we ascribe
the book to a woman at all, we have no alternative but to ascribe it to
one who has, for some sufficient reason, long forfeited the society of
her own sex.


[From _The Quarterly Review_, October, 1860]

1. _Scenes of Clerical Life_ [containing _The Sad Fortunes of the
Reverend Amos Barton; Mr. Gilfil's Love Story_; and _Janet's
Repentance_]. By GEORGE ELIOT. Second Edition. 2 vols. Edinburgh and
London, 1859.

2. _Adam Bede_. By GEORGE ELIOT. Sixth Edition, 2 vols. 1859.

3. _The Mill on the Floss_. By GEORGE ELIOT. 3 vols. 1860.

We frequently hear the remark, that in the present day everything is
tending to uniformity--that all minds are taught to think alike, that
the days of novelty have departed. To us, however, it appears that the
age abounds in new and abnormal modes of thought--we had almost said,
forms of being. What could be so new and so unlikely as that the young
and irreproachable maiden daughter of a clergyman should have produced
so extraordinary a work as "Jane Eyre,"--a work of which we were
compelled to express the opinion that the unknown and mysterious "Currer
Bell" held "a heathenish doctrine of religion"; that the ignorance which
the book displayed as to the proprieties of female dress was hardly
compatible with the idea of its having been written by a woman; but
that, if a woman at all, the writer must be "one who had, for some
sufficient reason, long forfeited the society of her own sex."

In attempting to guess at the character and circumstances of the writer,
a reviewer could only choose among such types of men and women as he had
known, or heard, or read of. An early European settler in Australia, in
conjecturing whether his garden had been ravaged by a bird or by a
quadruped, would not light readily on the conception of an
ornithorhynchus; and assuredly no one accustomed only to ordinary men
and women could have divined the character, the training, and the
position of Charlotte Bronte, as they have been made known to us by her
biographer's unsparing revelations. It was not to be expected that any
one should have imagined the life of Howorth [Trasncriber's note: sic]
parsonage; the gifted, wayward, and unhappy sisterhood in their
cheerless home; the rudeness of the only society which was within their
reach; while their views of anything beyond their own immediate circle,
and certain unpleasing forms of school-life which they had known, were
drawn from the representations of a brother whose abilities they
regarded with awe, but who in other respects appears to have been an
utterly worthless debauchee; lying and slandering, bragging not only of
the sins which he had committed, but of many which he had not committed;
thoroughly depraved himself, and tainting the thoughts of all within his
sphere. There was, therefore, in "Jane Eyre," as the reviewer supposed,
the influence of a corrupt male mind, although this influence had been
exerted through an unsuspected medium. We now know how it was that a
clergyman's daughter, herself innocent, and honourably devoted to the
discharge of many a painful duty, could have written such a book as
"Jane Eyre" but without such explanations as Mrs. Gaskell has placed
(perhaps somewhat too unreservedly) before the world, the thing would
have been inconceivable. Indeed there is very sufficient evidence that
the Quarterly reviewer was by no means alone in entertaining the
opinions we have referred to: for the book was most vehemently cried up--
the society of the authoress, when she became known, was most eagerly
courted--assiduous attempts were made (greatly to her annoyance) to
enlist her, to exhibit her, to trade on her fame--by the very persons
who would have been most ready to welcome her if she had been such as
the reviewer supposed her to be. And it is clear that the gentleman who
introduced himself to her acquaintance on the ground that each of them
had "written a naughty book" must have drawn pretty much the same
conclusions from the tone of Miss Bronte's first novel as the writer in
this Review.

In like manner a great and remarkable departure from ordinary forms and
conditions has caused extreme uncertainty and many mistaken guesses as
to the new novelist who writes under the name of George Eliot. One
critic of considerable pretensions, for instance, declared his belief
that "George Eliot" was "a gentleman of high-church tendencies"; next
came the strange mystification which ascribed the "Eliot" tales to one
Mr. Joseph Liggins; and finally, the public learnt on authority that the
"gentleman of high church tendencies" was a lady; and that this lady was
the same who had given a remarkable proof of mastery over both the
German language and her own, but had certainly not established a
reputation for orthodoxy, by a translation of Strauss's "Life of Jesus."

It is now too late to claim credit for having discovered the female
authorship before this disclosure of the fact. But it seems to us
impossible, when once the idea has been suggested, to read through these
books without finding confirmation of it in almost every page. There is,
indeed, power such as is rarely given to woman (or to man either); there
are traces of knowledge which is not usual among women (although some of
the classical quotations might at least have been more correctly
printed); there is a good deal of coarseness, which it is unpleasant to
think of as the work of a woman; and, as we shall have occasion to
observe more fully hereafter, the influence which these novels are
likely to exercise over the public taste is not altogether such as a
woman should aim at. But, with all this, the tone and atmosphere of the
books are unquestionably feminine. The men are a woman's men--the women
are a woman's women; the points on which the descriptions dwell in
persons of each sex are those which a woman would choose. In matters of
dress we are assured that "George Eliot" avoids the errors of "Jane
Eyre"; for no doubt she has had better opportunities of study than those
which were afforded by the Sunday finery of Howorth church. The sketches
of nature, of character, of life and manners, show female observation;
penetrating where it alone could penetrate, and usually stopping at the
boundaries beyond which it does not advance....

On looking at these very slight sketches we cannot but be struck by the
uniformly melancholy ending of the tales. The first culminates in the
death of the heroine (a word which in relation to these stories must be
very loosely interpreted), Mrs. Barton; the second, in the death of the
heroine, Mrs. Gilfil; the third, in the death of the hero, Mr. Tryan;
the fourth, in the death of one of the heroines, Hetty Sorrel; the
fifth, in the simultaneous death of the heroine and her brother, who is,
we suppose, to be regarded as the chief hero. Surely this is an
exaggerated representation of the proportion which sorrow bears to
happiness in human life; and the fact that a popular writer has (whether
consciously or not) brought every one of the five stories which she has
published to a tragical end gives a very uncomfortable idea of the tone
of our present literature. And other such symptoms are only too
plentiful--the announcement of a novel with the title of "Why Paul
Freeoll Killed his Wife" being one of the latest. With all respect for
the talents of the lady who offers us the solution of this question, we
must honestly profess that we would rather not know, and that we regret
such an employment of her pen.

And in "George Eliot's" writings there is very much of this kind to
regret. She delights in unpleasant subjects--in the representation of
things which are repulsive, coarse, and degrading. Thus, in "Mr.
Gilfil's Story," Tina is only prevented from committing murder by the
opportune death of her intended victim. In "Janet's Repentance," a
drunken husband beats his beautiful but drunken wife, turns her out of
doors at midnight in her night-dress, and dies of "_delirium tremens_
and _meningitis_." ...

So, in "Adam Bede" we have all the circumstances of Hetty's seduction
and the birth and murder of her illegitimate child; and in the "Mill on
the Floss" there are the almost indecent details of mere animal passion
in the loves of Stephen and Maggie. If these are, as the writer's more
thorough-going admirers would tell us, the depths of human nature, we do
not see what good can be expected from raking them up,--not for the
benefit of those whom the warnings may concern (for these are not likely
to heed any warnings which may be presented in such a form), but for the
amusement of ordinary readers in hours of idleness and relaxation.
Compare "Adam Bede" with that one of Scott's novels which has something
in common with it as to story--the "Heart of Midlothian." In each a
beautiful young woman of the peasant class is tried and condemned for
child-murder; but, although condemned on circumstancial evidence under a
law of peculiar severity, Effie Deans is really innocent, whereas Hetty
Sorrel is guilty. In the novel of the last generation we see little of
Effie, and our attention is chiefly drawn to the simple heroism of her
sister Jeanie. In the novel of the present day, everything about Hetty
is most elaborately described: her thoughts throughout the whole course
of the seduction, her misery on discovering that there is evidence of
her frailty, her sufferings on the journey to Windsor and back (for it
is the Edie and not the Jeanie of this tale that makes a long solitary
journey to the south), her despairing hardness in the prison, her
confession, her behaviour on the way to the gallows. That all this is
represented with extraordinary force we need not say; and doubtless the
partisans of "George Eliot" would tell us that Scott could not have
written the chapters in question. We do not think it necessary to
discuss that point, but we are sure that in any case he _would_ not have
written them, because his healthy judgment would have rejected such
matters as unfit for the novelist's art.

The boldness with which George Eliot chooses her subjects is very
remarkable. It is not that, like other writers, she fails in the attempt
to represent people as agreeable and interesting, but she knowingly
forces _dis_agreeable people on us, and insists that we shall be
interested in their story by the skill with which it is told. Mr. Amos
Barton, for instance, is as uninteresting a person as can well be
imagined: a dull, obtuse curate, whose poverty gives him no fair claim
to pity; for he has entered the ministry of the English Church without
any particular conviction of its superiority to other religious bodies;
without any special fitness for its ministry; without anything of the
ability which might reasonably entitle him to expect to rise; and
without the private means which are necessary for the support of most
married men in a profession which, if it is not (as it is sometimes
called) a lottery, has very great inequalities of income, and to the
vast majority of those who follow it gives very little indeed. Mr.
Barton is not a gentleman--a defect which the farmers and tradespeople
of his parish are not slow to discover, and for which they despise him.
He is without any misgivings as to himself or suspicion of his
deficiencies in any way, and his conduct is correctly described in a
lisping speech of the "secondary squire" of his parish, "What an ath
Barton makth of himthelf!" Yet for this stupid man our sympathy is
bespoken, merely because he has a wife so much too good for him that we
are almost inclined to be angry with her for her devotion to him.

Tina is an undisciplined, abnormal little creature, without good looks
or any attractive quality except a talent for music, and with a temper
capable of the most furious excesses. Although Janet is described as
handsome, amiable, and cultivated, all these good properties are
overwhelmed in our thoughts of her by the degrading vice of which she is
to be cured; while her prophet, Mr. Tryan, although very zealous in his
work, is avowedly a narrow Calvinist, wanting in intellectual culture,
very irritable, not a little bitter and uncharitable, excessively fond
of applause without being very critical as to the quarter from which it
comes, and strongly possessed with the love of domination. Tom Tulliver
is hard, close, unimaginative, self-confident, repelling, with a stern
rectitude of a certain kind, but with no understanding of or toleration
for any character different from his own. Philip Wakem is a personage as
little pleasant as picturesque. Maggie, as a child--although in her
father's opinion "too clever for a gell"--is foolish, vain, self-willed,
and always in some silly scrape or other; and when grown up, her
behaviour is such, even before the climax of the affair with Stephen
Guest, that the dislike of the St. Ogg's ladies for her might have been
very sufficiently accounted for even if they had not had reason to envy
her superior beauty.

But of all the characters for whom our authoress has been pleased to
bespeak our interest, Hetty Sorrel is the most remarkable for unamiable
qualities. She is represented as "distractingly pretty," and we hear a
great deal about her "kitten-like beauty," and her graceful movements,
looks, and attitudes. But this is all that can be said for her. Her mind
has no room for anything but looks and dress; she has no feeling for
anybody but her little self; and is only too truly declared by Mrs.
Poyser to be "no better than a peacock, as 'ud strut about on the wall,
and spread its tail when the sun shone, if all the folks i' the parish
was dying"--"no better nor a cherry, wi' a hard stone inside it."[1]
Over and over this view of Hetty's character is enforced on us, from the
time when, early in the first volume, we are told that hers "was a
springtide beauty; it was the beauty of young frisking things,
round-limbed, gambolling, circumventing you by a false air of
innocence.[2] ..."

[1] "Adam Bede," i. 228; ii. 75.
[2] _ibid_., i. 119.

Her conduct throughout is such as to offend and disgust; and the
authoress does not seem to be sufficiently aware that, while the
descriptions of the little coquette's beauty leave that to be imagined,
her follies and faults and crimes are set before us as matters of hard,
unmistakeable fact, so that the reader is in no danger of being blinded
by the charms which blinded Adam Bede, and Hetty consequently appears as
little else than contemptible when she is not odious. Yet it is on this
silly, heartless, and wicked little thing that the interest of the story
is made to rest. Her agonies, as we have already said, are depicted with
very great power; yet, if they touch our hearts, it is merely because
they _are_ agonies, and our feeling is unmixed with any regard for the
sufferer herself.

This habit of representing her characters without any concealment of
their faults is, no doubt, connected with that faculty which enables the
authoress to give them so remarkable an air of reality. There are,
indeed, exceptions to this, as there are in almost every work of
fiction. Thus, Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel strike us as old
acquaintances whom we have known not in real life, but in books. We are
not altogether sure of stately old Mrs. Irwine, and are sceptical as to
Dinah Morris, notwithstanding the very great pains which the authoress
has evidently bestowed on her--perhaps because she is utterly unlike
such female Methodists as have fallen within our own (happily, small)
experience; and Bob Jakin is a grotesque caricature, which would have
been far better done by Mr. Dickens, who is undeniably great in the
production of grotesques, although we do not remember that throughout
the whole of his voluminous works he has ever succeeded in embodying a
single natural and lifelike character. But, with a very few exceptions,
"George Eliot's" personages have that appearance of reality in which
those of Mr. Dickens are so conspicuously wanting. And while Mr.
Dickens's views of English life and society are about as far from the
truth as those of the French dramatists and romancers, "George Eliot" is
able to represent the social circumstances in which her action is laid
with the strongest appearance of verisimilitude. We may not ourselves
have known Shepperton, or Hayslope, or St. Ogg's; but we feel as much at
home in them as if we had....

Tulliver may be cited as another well-imagined and well-executed
character, with his downright impetuous honesty, his hatred of
"raskills," and his disposition to see rascality everywhere; his
resolution to stand on his rights, his good-natured contempt for his
wife, his very justifiable dislike of her sisters, his love for his
children, and his determination that they shall have a good education,
cost what it may,--the benefits of education having been impressed on
his mind by his own inability to "wrap up things in words as aren't
actionable," and by the consequent perception that "it's an uncommon
fine thing, that is, when we can let a man know what you think of him
without paying for it."[1] His love of litigation is reconciled with his
belief that "the law is meant to take care o' raskills," and that "Old
Harry made the lawyers" by the principle that the cause which has the
"biggest raskill" for attorney has the best chance of success; so that
honesty need not despair if it can only secure the professional
assistance of accomplished roguery. And when, notwithstanding this, the
law and Mr. Wakem have been too much for him, great skill is shown in
the description of poor Tulliver's latter days; his prostration and
partial recovery; the concentration of his feelings on the desire to
wipe out the dishonour of insolvency, and to avenge himself on the
hostile attorney. Indeed, we confess that, notwithstanding his somewhat
unedifying end, Tulliver is the only person in "The Mill on the Floss"
for whom we can bring ourselves to care much.

[1] "The Mill on the Floss," i. 32.

The reality of which we have been speaking is connected with a peculiar
sort of consciousness in the authoress, as if she had actually witnessed
all that she describes, and were resolved to describe it without any
attempt to refine beyond the naked truth. Thus, the most serious
characters make their most solemn and most pathetic speeches in
provincial dialect and ungrammatical constructions, although it must be
allowed that the authoress has not ventured so far in this way as to
play with the use and abuse of the aspirate. And her dialect appears to
be very carefully studied, although we may doubt whether the
Staffordshire provincialisms of "Clerical Life" and "Adam Bede" are
sufficiently varied when the scene is shifted in the latest book to the
Lincolnshire side of the Humber. But where a greater variation than that
between one midland dialect and another is required, "George Eliot's"
conscientiousness is very curiously shown. There is in "Mr. Gilfil's
Story" a gardener of the name of Bates, who is described as a
Yorkshireman, and in "Adam Bede" there is another gardener, Mr. Craig,
whose name would naturally indicate a Scotchman. Each of these
horticulturists is introduced into the dialogue, and of course the
reader would expect the one to talk Yorkshire and the other to talk some
variety of Scotch. But the authoress, apparently, did not feel herself
mistress of either Scotch or Yorkshire to such a degree as would have
warranted her in attempting them, and therefore, before her characters
are allowed to open their mouths, she, in each case, is careful to tell
us that we must moderate our expectations: "Mr. Bates's lips were of a
peculiar cut, and I fancy this had something to do with the peculiarity
of his dialect, which, as we shall see, was individual rather than

[1] "Scenes of Clerical Life," i. 191.

"I think it was Mr. Craig's pedigree only that had the advantage of
being Scotch, and not his 'bringing up'; for, except that he had a
stronger burr in his accent, his speech differed little from that of the
Loamshire people around him."[2] In short, except that lucifer matches
are twice introduced as familiar things in days when the tinder-box was
the only resource in general use for obtaining a light,[3] we have not
observed anything in which the authoress could be "caught out."

[2] "Adam Bede," i. 302.
[3] "Adam Bede," i. 219, 362.

But this conscientious fidelity has very serious drawbacks. It seems as
if the authoress felt herself under an obligation to give everything
literally as it took place; to shut out nothing which is superfluous; to
suppress nothing which is unfit for a work of fiction (for not only have
we a report of Dinah Morris's sermons, but the very words of the prayer
which she put up for Hetty in the prison); to abridge nothing which is
tiresome. People and incidents are described at length, although they
have little or nothing to do with the story. We may mention as instances
the detailed history and character which are given of Tom Tulliver's
tutor, the Reverend Walter Stelling, and the account of Mr. Poyser's
harvest-home, which, however good in itself, is utterly out of place
between the crisis and the conclusion of the story. But most especially
we complain of the fondness which the authoress shows for exhibiting
uninteresting and tiresome people in all their interminable tediousness;
and if the morbid tone which we have already mentioned reminds us of a
French school of novelists, her passion for photographing the minutest
details of dullness reminds us painfully of those American ladies who
contribute so largely to the literature of our railway-stalls, by
flooding their boundless prairies of dingy paper with inexhaustible
masses of blotchy type. We quite admit the naturalness of the
tradespeople and other small folks whom this writer has perhaps explored
more deeply than any earlier novelist; but surely we have far too much
of them. It has indeed been said that we are spoiled by the activity of
the present day for enjoying the faithful picture of what life was in
country parishes and in little country towns fifty years ago; but we
really cannot admit the justice of this attempt to throw the blame on
ourselves. Dullness, we may be sure, has not died out within the last
half century, but is yet to be found in plenty; and, if times were dull
fifty or a hundred years ago, the novelists of those days--Scott and
Fielding, and Smollett, and even Goldsmith in his simple tale--did not
make their readers groan under their dullness....

But _are_ we likely to feel more kindly towards such people as those of
whom we are now complaining, because all their triviality, and
smallness, and tediousness are displayed at wearisome length on paper?
If some Dutch painters bestowed their skill on homely old women and
boozy boors, there is no evidence that they were capable of better
things, and their choice of subjects is no justification for one who
certainly can do better. Nor do we complain that we have an old woman or
a coarse merrymaking occasionally, but that such things in their
monotonous meanness fill whole rooms of "George Eliot's" gallery; and,
in truth, the real parallel to her is not to be found in the old
Dutchmen who honestly painted what was before their eyes, but rather in
the perverseness of our modern "pre-Raphaelites." It is of these
gentlemen--who, by the way, in their reactionary affectations are the
most entire opposites of the simple, unaffected, and forward-striving
artists who really lived before Raphael--it is of these gentlemen, with
their choice of disagreeable subjects, uncomely models, and uncouth
attitudes, their bestowal of superfluous labour on trifling details, and
the consequent obtrusiveness of subordinate things so as to mar the
general effect of the work, that "George Eliot" too often reminds us.

How very wearisome is the conversation of the clique of inferior women
who worship Mr. Tryan! how dismally twaddling is that respectable old
congregationalist, Mr. Jerome, with his tidy little garden and his
"littel chacenut hoss"! We feel for Mr. Tryan when in the society of
such people, although to him it was mitigated by the belief that he was
doing good by associating with them, and that by love of incense from
any quarter which is described as part of his character. But why should
it be inflicted in such fearful doses on us, who have done nothing to
deserve it, who have no "mission" to encounter it, and are entirely
without Mr. Tryan's consolations under the endurance of it?

Adam Bede's mother is another sore trial of the reader's patience--with
her endless fretful chatter, and all the details of her urging her sons,
one after the other, to refresh themselves with cold potatoes: nay, we
are not reconciled to these vegetables even by the fact that on one
occasion they are recommended as "taters wi' the gravy in 'em."[1] But
it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the plague of tedious conversation
reaches its height. Mrs. Tulliver is one of four married sisters, whose
maiden name had been Dodson, and in these sisters there is a studious
combination of family likeness with individual varieties of character.
Mrs. Tulliver herself--whose "blond" complexion is generally associated
by our authoress with imbecility of mind and character--belongs to that
class of minds of which Mrs. Quickly may be considered as the chief
intellectual type. Mrs. Pullet--the wife of a gentleman farmer, whose
great characteristic is a habit of sucking lozenges, and whom Tom
Tulliver most justly sets down as a "nincompoop"--is almost sillier than
Mrs. Tulliver. She has the gift of tears ever ready to flow, and sheds
them profusely on the anticipation of imaginary and ridiculous woes. Her
favourite vanity consists in drawing dismal pictures of the future and
in priding herself on the bodily sufferings of her neighbours; that one
had "been tapped no end o' times, and the water--they say you might ha'
swum in it if you'd liked"; that another's "breath was short to that
degree as you could hear him two rooms off"; and her highest religion--
the loftiest exercise of her faith and self-denial--is the accumulation
of superfluous clothes and linen, in the hope that they may make a
creditable display after her death. Mrs. Deane is "a thin-lipped woman,
who made small well-considered speeches on peculiar occasions, repeating
them afterwards to her husband, and asking him if she had not spoken
very properly"; and of her we see but little. But of the eldest of the
four, Mrs. Glegg, we see so much that we are really made quite
uncomfortable by her; for she is a very formidable person indeed,--
utterly without kindness, bullying everybody within her reach (her
husband included), holding herself up as a model to everybody, and
shaming all other families--especially those into which she and her
sisters had married--by odious comparisons with the Dodsons. All this we
grant is very cleverly done. The grim Mrs. Glegg and the fatuous Mrs.
Tulliver and Mrs. Pullet talk admirably in their respective kinds; and
we can quite believe that there are people who are not unfairly
represented by the Dodsons--with, the narrow limitation of their
thoughts to their own little circle--the extravagantly high opinion of
their own vulgar family, with the corresponding depreciation of all in
and about their own rank who do not belong to it--their perfect
conviction that their own family traditions (such as the copious eating
of salt in their broth) are the standard of all that is good--their
consecration of all their most elevated feelings to the worship of
furniture, and clothes, and table-linen, and silver spoons--their utter
alienation from all that, in the opinion of educated people, can make
life fit to be enjoyed. The humour of Mrs. Glegg's determination that no
ill desert of a relation shall interfere with the disposal of her
property by will on the most rigidly Dodsonian principles of justice,
according to the several degrees of Dodsonship, is excellent; and so is
the change in her behaviour towards Maggie, whom, after having always
bullied her, she takes up for the sake of Dodsondom's credit when
everybody else has turned against her....

[1] "Adam Bede," i. 54.

The writer does not seem to be aware that the fools and bores of a book,
while they bore the other characters, ought not to bore but to amuse the
reader, and that they will become seriously wearisome to him if there be
too much of them. Shakespeare has contented himself with showing us his
Dogberry and Verges, his Shallow and Slender, and Silence, to such a
degree as may sufficiently display their humours; but he has not filled
whole acts with them, and, even if he had, a five-act play is a small
field for the display of prolix foolishness as compared with a
three-volume novel. Lord Macaulay has been supposed to speak sarcastically
in saying that he "would not advise any person who reads for amusement to
venture on a certain _jeu d'esprit_ of Mr. Sadler's as long as he can
procure a volume of the Statutes at Large";[1] but we are afraid that we
should not be believed if we were to mention the books to which _we_
have had recourse by way of occasional relief from the task of perusing
"George Eliot's" tales.

[1] "Miscellaneous Writings," ii. 68.

In the case of "these emmet-like Dodsons and Tullivers," the authoress
again defends her principle. "I share with you," she says, "the sense of
oppressive narrowness; but it is necessary that we should feel it, if we
care to understand how it acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie."[2] We
must confess that we care very little for Tom and Maggie, who, although
the inscription on their tombstone and the motto on the title-page of
the book tell us that "in their death they were not divided," do not
strike us as having been "lovely and pleasant in their lives." We do not
think the development of the brother and the sister a matter of any
great interest; and, if it were, we believe that a sufficient ground
might have been laid for our understanding it without so severely trying
our patience by the details of the "sordid life" amid which their early
years were spent.

[2] "The Mill on the Floss," ii. 150.

Another mistake, as it appears to us, is the too didactic strain into
which the authoress occasionally falls--writing as if for the purpose of
forcing lessons on children or the poor, rather than for grown-up and
educated readers. The story of "Janet's Repentance" might, with the
omission of a few passages such as the satirical flings at Mr. Tryan's
female worshippers, be made into a very edifying little tract for some
"evangelical" society. Mr. Tryan's opponents are all represented as
brutes and monsters, drunkards and unclean, enemies of all goodness;
while, with the usual unscrupulousness of party tract-writers, we are
required to choose between an alliance with such infamous company and
unreserved adhesion to the Calvanistic curate, without being allowed any
possibility of a third course. And, in addition to Mr. Tryan's victory,
there is the conversion of Mrs. Dempster, not only from drunkenness to
teetotalism (which might form the text for a set of illustrations by Mr.
Cruikshank, in the moral style of his later days), but from hatred to
love of the Gospel according to Mr. Tryan. In its place we should not
care to object to such a story, or to a great deal of the needless talk
which it contains both of sinners and of saints; but we _do_ object to
it in a book which is intended for the lighter reading of educated
people, and the more so because we know that it comes from a writer who
can feel nothing of the bitter but conscientious bigotry which the
composition of such a story in good faith implies....

In reading of Maggie's early indiscretions, we--hardened, grey-headed
reviewers as we are--feel something like a renewal of the shame and
mortification with which, long decades of years ago, we read of the
weaknesses of Frank and Rosamond,--as if we ourselves were the little
girl who made the mistake of choosing the big, bright-coloured bottle
from the chemist's window, or the little boy who allowed himself to be
deceived by the flattery of the lady in the draper's shop. In order that
her hair may have no chance of appearing in curls on a great occasion
(according to her mother's wish), Maggie plunges her head into a basin
of water. On getting an old dress and a bonnet from her unloved aunt
Glegg, she bastes the frock along with the roast beef on the following
Sunday, and souses the bonnet under the pump. In consequence of the
continual remarks of her mother and aunts, about the un-Dodsonlike
colour of her hair, she cuts it all off. She makes the most deplorable
exhibition of her literary vanity at every turn. Out of spite she pushes
her cousin Lucy, when arrayed in the prettiest of dresses, into the
"cow-trodden mud," and thereupon she runs off to a gang of gipsies, with
the intention of becoming their queen,--an adventure from which we are
glad that she is allowed to escape with less of suffering than Miss
Edgeworth might perhaps have felt it a matter of duty to inflict on her.
For the Toms and Maggies, the Franks and Rosamonds, of real life, such
monitory anecdotes as these may be very good and useful; but it seems to
us that they are out of place in a book intended for readers who have
got beyond the early domestic schoolroom.

We cannot praise the construction of these tales. The plots are very
slight; the narrative drags painfully in some parts, and in other parts
the authoress has recourse to very violent expedients, as where she
brings in the "startling Adelphi stage-effect" of the flood to drown Tom
and Maggie, in order to escape from the unmanageable complication of her
story. Both in "Adam Bede" and in "The Mill on the Floss" the chief
interest is over long before the tale comes to an end; and in looking at
the whole series together we see something of repetition. Thus, both
Tina and Hetty set their hearts on a young man above their own position,
and turn a deaf ear to a longer-known, more suitable, and worthier
suitor. Each disappears at a critical time, and each, after a
disappointment in the higher quarter, falls back on a marriage with the
humbler admirer; with the difference, however, that, as Hetty had
committed murder, and as Tina had just been saved from doing so, the
marriage in the first case never actually takes place, and in the second
it ends after a few months. And as a smaller instance of repetition, we
may compare the bedroom visit of the seraphic Dinah Morris to the
earthly Hetty with that of the pattern Lucy Deane to the tempestuous
Maggie Tulliver.

There is less of affectation in these books than in most of our recent
novels, yet there is by far too much. Among the portions which are most
infected by this sin we may mention the description of scenery,--thanks,
doubtless, in no small measure, to the influence of that very dangerous
model Mr. Ruskin....

Before concluding our article we must notice the authoress's views on
two important subjects which enter largely into her stories--love and
religion. That ladies, of their own accord and uninvited, fall in love
with gentlemen is a common circumstance in novels written by ladies; and
we are very much obliged to Madame D'Arblay, Miss Austen, and the other
writers of the softer sex, who have let us into the knowledge of the
important fact that such is the way in real life. But the peculiarity of
"George Eliot," among English novelists, is that in her books everybody
falls in love with the wrong person. She seems to be continually on the
point of showing us, with the author of "The Rovers"--

How two swains one nymph her vows may give,
And how two damsels with one lover live.

Love is represented as a passion conceived without any ground of
reasonable preference, and as entirely irresistible in its sway. Tina
bestows her affections on Captain Wybrow, while the Captain, without
caring for anybody but himself, is paying his addresses to Miss Assher;
and Mr. Gilfil is pining for Tina, whom, if he had any discernment at
all, he could not but see to be quite unfitted for him. Adam Bede is in
love with the utterly undeserving Hetty, while Dinah Morris and Mary
Burge are both in love with Adam, Hetty with Arthur Donnithorne, and
Seth Bede with Dinah. At last, Hetty is got out of the way, Dinah comes
to a clearer understanding of her feelings towards Adam, and Adam, on
being made aware of this, is set on by his mother to make a successful
proposal; but "quiet Mary Burge" subsides into a bridesmaid, and Seth,
the "poor wool-gatherin' Methodist," is left without any other
consolation than that of worshipping his sister-in-law.

But it is in "The Mill on the Floss" that the unwholesome view which we
have mentioned finds its most startling development. Maggie is in love
with Philip, and Philip with Maggie; Stephen Guest is in love with Lucy
Deane, and Lucy with Stephen, while at the same time she has an
undeclared admirer in Tom Tulliver. But as soon as Maggie and Stephen
become acquainted with each other, they exercise a powerful mutual
attraction, and the mischief of love (as the passion is represented by
our authoress) breaks loose in terrible force. The reproach which Tom
Tulliver had coarsely thrown in Philip's teeth, that he had taken
advantage of Maggie's inexperience to secure her affections before she
had had any opportunity of comparing him with other men, turns out to be
entirely just. Stephen is a mere underbred coxcomb, and is intended to
appear as such (for we do not think that the authoress has failed in any
attempt to make him a gentleman); his only merit, in so far as we can
discover, is a foolish talent for singing, and, except as to person, he
is infinitely inferior to Philip. But for this mere physical superiority
the lofty-souled Maggie prefers him to the lover whom she had before
loved for his deformity; and the passion is represented as one which no
considerations of moral or religious principle, no regard to the claims
of others, no training derived from the hardships of her former life or
from the ascetic system to which she had at one time been devoted, can
withstand. Here is a delicate scene, which is described as having taken
place in a conservatory, to which the pair had withdrawn on the night of
a ball:--

Maggie bent her arm a little upward towards the large half-opened rose
that had attracted her. Who has not felt the beauty of a woman's arm?
--the unspeakable suggestions of tenderness that lie in the dimpled
elbow, and the varied gently-lessening curves down to the delicate
wrist, with its tiniest, almost imperceptible nicks in the firm

A mad impulse seized on Stephen; he darted towards the arm and
showered kisses on it, clasping the wrist.

But the next moment Maggie snatched it from him, and glanced at him
like a wounded war-goddess, quivering with rage and humiliation.

"How dare you?" she spoke in a deeply-shaken, half-smothered voice:
"what right have I given you to insult me?"

She darted from him into the adjoining room, and threw herself on the
sofa panting and trembling.[1]

[1] iii. 156.

We should not have blamed the young lady if, like one of Mr. Trollope's
heroines, she had made her admirer feel not only "the beauty of a
woman's arm," but its weight. But, unwarned by the grossness of his
behaviour on this occasion, she is represented as admitting Stephen to
further intercourse; and, although she rescues herself at last, it is
not until after having occasioned irreparable scandal. A good-natured
ordinary novelist might have found an easy solution for the difficulties
of the case at an earlier stage by marrying Stephen to Maggie, and
handing over Lucy (who is far too amiable to object to such a transfer)
to her admiring cousin Tom; while Philip, left in celibacy, might either
have been invested with a pathetic interest, or represented as justly
punished for the offence of forestalling. But George Eliot has higher
aims than ordinary novelists, and to her the transfer which we have
suggested would appear as a profanation. Her characters, therefore,
plunge into all manner of sacrifices of reputation and happiness; and it
is not until Maggie and Tom have been drowned, and Philip's whole life
embittered, that we catch a final view of Mr. Stephen Guest visiting the
grave of the brother and sister in company with the amiable wife, _nee_
Lucy Deane. If we are to accept the natural moral of this story, it
shows how coarse and immoral a very fastidious and ultra-refined
morality may become.

It is with reluctance that we go on to notice the religion of these
books; but since religion appears so largely in them, we must not
decline the task. To us, at least, the theory of the writer's "High-Church
tendencies" could never have appeared plausible; for even in the
"Scenes of Clerical Life" the chief religious personage is the
"evangelical" curate Mr. Tryan, and whatever good there is in his parish
is confined to the circle of his partisans and converts; while in "Adam
Bede" the Methodess preacheress, Dinah Morris, is intended to shine with
spotless and incomparable lustre. Yet, although the highest characters,
in a religious view, are drawn from "evangelicism" and Methodism, we
find that neither of these systems is set forth as enough to secure the
perfection of everybody who may choose to profess it....

Mr. Parry, although agreeing with Mr. Tryan in opinion, is represented
as no less unpopular and inefficient than Mr. Tryan was the reverse; and
the Reverend Amos Barton is a hopeless specimen of that variety of
"evangelical" clergymen to which the late Mr. Conybeare gave the name of
"low and slow,"--a variety which, we believe, flourishes chiefly in the
midland counties. On the other hand, Mr. Gilfil and Mr. Irwine,
clergymen of the "old school," are held up as objects for our respect
and love; and Mr. Irwine is not only vindicated by Adam Bede in his old
age, in comparison with his evangelical successor Mr. Ryde, but the
question between high and low church, as represented by these two, is
triumphantly settled by a quotation which Adam brings from our old
friend Mrs. Poyser:--

Mrs. Poyser used to say--you know she would have her word about
everything--she said Mr. Irwine was like a good meal o' victual, you
were the better for him without thinking on it; and Mr. Ryde was like
a dose o' physic, he griped and worrited you, and after all he left
you much the same.[1]

[1] "Adam Bede," i. 269.

In "The Mill on the Floss," too, the "brazen" Mr. Stelling is
represented as "evangelical," in so far as he is anything; while Dr.
Kenn, a very high Anglican, is spoken of with all veneration; although,
perhaps, "George Eliot's" opinion as to the efficiency of the high
Anglican clergy may be gathered from the circumstance that when the
Doctor interferes for the benefit of Maggie Tulliver, he not only fails
to be of any use, but exposes himself to something like the same kind of
gossip which had arisen from Mr. Amos Barton's hospitality to Madame
Czerlaski. As to Methodism, again, the reader need hardly be reminded of
the sayings which we have quoted from Mrs. Poyser. And while the feeble
and "wool-gathering" Seth Bede becomes a convert, the strong-minded Adam
holds out, even although he is so tolerant as to marry a female
Methodist preacher, and to let her enjoy her "liberty of prophesying"
until stopped by a general order of the Wesleyan Conference.

From all these things the natural inference would seem to be that the
authoress is neither High-Church nor Low-Church nor Dissenter, but a
tolerant member of what is styled the Broad-Church party--a party in
which we are obliged to say that breadth and toleration are by no means
universal. It would seem that, instead of being exclusively devoted to
any one of the religious types which she has embodied in the persons of
her tales (for as yet she has not presented us with a clergyman of any
liberal school), she regards each of them as containing an element of
pure Christianity, which, although in any one of them it may be alloyed
by its adjuncts and by the faults of individuals, is in itself of
inestimable value, and may be held alike by persons who differ widely
from each other as to the forms of religious polity and as to details of
Christian doctrine.

But what is to be thought of the fact that the authoress of these tales
is also the translator of Strauss's notorious book? Is the Gospel which
she has represented in so many attractive lights nothing better to her,
after all, than "fabula ista de Christo"? Are the various forms under
which she has exhibited it no more for her than the Mahometan and Hindoo
systems were for the poet of Thalaba and Kehama? Has she been carrying
out in these novels the precepts of that chapter in which Dr. Strauss
teaches his disciples how, while believing the New Testament narrative
to be merely mythical, they may yet discharge the functions of the
Christian preacher without exposing themselves by their language to any
imputation of unsoundness? But, even apart from this distressing
question, there is much to interfere with the hope and the interest with
which we should wish to look forward to the future career of a writer so
powerful and so popular as the authoress of these books--much to awaken
very serious apprehensions as to the probable effect of her influence.
No one who has looked at all into our late fictitious literature can
have failed to be struck with the fondness of many of the writers of the
day for subjects which at an earlier time would not have been thought
of, or would have been carefully avoided. The idea that fiction should
contain something to soothe, to elevate, or to purify seems to be
extinct. In its stead there is a love for exploring what would be better
left in obscurity; for portraying the wildness of passion and the
harrowing miseries of mental conflict; for dark pictures of sin and
remorse and punishment; for the discussion of questions which it is
painful and revolting to think of. By some writers such themes are
treated with a power which fascinates even those who most disapprove the
manner in which it is exercised; by others with a feebleness which shows
that the infection has spread even to the most incapable of the
contributors to our circulating libraries. To us the influence of the
"Jack Shepherd" school of literature is really far less alarming than
that of a class of books which is more likely to find its way into the
circles of cultivated readers, and, most especially, to familiarize the
minds of our young women in the middle and higher ranks with matters on
which their fathers and brothers would never venture to speak in their
presence. It is really frightful to think of the interest which we have
ourselves heard such readers express in criminals like Paul Ferroll, and
in sensual ruffians like Mr. Rochester: and there is much in the
writings of "George Eliot" which, on like grounds, we feel ourselves
bound most earnestly to condemn. Let all honour be paid to those who in
our time have laboured to search out and to make known such evils of our
social condition as Christian sympathy may in some degree relieve or
cure. But we do not believe that any good end is to be effected by
fictions which fill the mind with details of imaginary vice and distress
and crime, or which teach it--instead of endeavouring after the
fulfilment of simple and ordinary duty--to aim at the assurance of
superiority by creating for itself fanciful and incomprehensible
perplexities. Rather we believe that the effect of such fictions must be
to render those who fall under their influence unfit for practical
exertion; while they most assuredly do grievous harm in many cases, by
intruding on minds which ought to be guarded from impurity the
unnecessary knowledge of evil.


In the early days of the nineteenth century Edinburgh certainly aspired
to prouder eminence as a centre of light and learning than it has
continued to maintain. Tory energy, provoked by the arrogance of
Jeffrey, had found its earliest expression in London, but the northern
capital evidently determined not to be left behind in the game of
unprincipled vituperation. _Blackwood_, unlike its rivals in infancy,
was issued monthly, and its closely printed double columns add something
to the impression of heaviness in its satire.


There is admittedly something incongruous in any association between the
genial and laughter-loving Christopher North and the reputation incurred
by the periodical with which he was long so intimately associated. He
had contributed--as few of his confederates would have been permitted--
to the _Edinburgh_; but he was Literary Editor to _Blackwood_ from
October, 1817, to September, 1852. Originally a disciple of the Lake
School, at whom he was frequently girding, he migrated to Edinburgh
(where he became Professor of Moral Philosophy in 1820), and attracted
to himself many brilliant men of letters, including De Quincey.

The "mountain-looking fellow," as Dickens called him, the patron of
"cock-fighting, wrestling, pugilistic contests, boat-racing, and
horse-racing" left his mark on his generation for a unique combination
boisterous joviality and hardhitting. Well known in the houses of the
poor; more than one observer has said that he reminded them of the
"first man, Adam." He "swept away all hearts, withersoever he would."
"Thor and Balder in one," "very Goth," "a Norse Demigod," "hair of the
true Sicambrian yellow"; Carlyle describes him as "fond of all
stimulating things; from tragic poetry down to whiskey-punch. He snuffed
and smoked cigars and drank liqueurs, and talked in the most
indescribable style.... He is a broad sincere man of six feet, with long
dishevelled flax-coloured hair, and two blue eyes keen as an eagle's ...
a being all split into precipitous chasms and the wildest volcanic
tumults ... a noble, loyal, and religious nature, not _strong_ enough to
vanquish the perverse element it is born into."

The foundation of Wilson's criticism, unlike most of his contemporaries,
was generous and wide-minded appreciation, yet he "hacked about him,
distributing blows right and left, delivered sometimes for fun, though
sometimes with the most extraordinary impulse of perversity, in the
impetus of his career." With all a boy's love of a good fight, he shared
with youth its thoughtless indifference to the consequences.

His not altogether unfriendly criticisms inspired one of Tennyson's
lightest effusions--

You did late review my lays,
Crusty Christopher;
You did mingle blame and praise
Rusty Christopher.
When I learnt from whence it came,
I forgave you all the blame,
Musty Christopher;
I could not forgive the praise
Fusty Christopher.

The _Noctes Ambrosianae_ is certainly a unique production. Though
ostensibly a dialogue mainly between himself, Tickler (i.e., Lockhart),
and Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd--with other occasional dramatis personae;
the main bulk of them (including everything here quoted) was written by
Wilson himself--in this form, to produce an original effect. The
conversations are, for the most part, thoroughly dramatic, and cover
every conceivable subject from politics and literature to the beauty of
scenery, dress, cookery, and the various sports beloved of Christopher.
There is much boisterous interruption for eating, drinking, and personal

Of the longer quotations selected we would particularly draw attention
to the humorous and epigrammatic parody of Wordsworth, on whom Wilson
elsewhere bestows generous enthusiasm; and the broad-minded outlook
which can appreciate the contrasted virility of Byron and Dr. Johnson.
But it would be impossible to give an approximately fair impression of
the _Noctes_, without many examples of those paragraph criticisms
scattered broadcast on every page, which we have presented as "Crumbs"
from the feast. The magnificent recantation to Leigh Hunt--on whom
_Blackwood_ had bestowed even more than its share of abuse--has passed
into a proverb.


As in the case of the _Quarterly_ these untraced effusions may be
assigned, with fair confidence, to the principal originators of the
magazine: Wilson himself, Lockhart, and William Maginn (1793-1842), a
thriftless Irishman who helped to start _Fraser's Magazine_ in 1830, and
stood for Captain Shandon in Pendennis; author of _Bob Burke's Duel with
Ensign Brady_, "perhaps the raciest Irish story ever written."

They almost certainly combined in the heated attack on "The Cockney
School," of which Leigh Hunt's generous, but not always judicious,
advertisement was an obvious temptation to satire, embittered by
political bias. Coleridge, also, provided easy material for scorn from
vigorous manhood; and Shelley, as Wilson remarks elsewhere, was "the
greatest sinner of the oracular school--because the only true poet."

[1] A Discussion of the Edition by Bowles.

[From _Noctes Ambrosianae_, March, 1825]

_Tickler._ Pope was one of the most amiable men that ever lived. Fine
and delicate as were the temper and temperament of his genius, he had a
heart capable of the warmest human affection. He was indeed a loving

_North._ Come, come, Timothy, you know you were sorely cut an hour or
two ago--so do not attempt characteristics. But, after all, Bowles does
not say that Pope was unamiable.

_Tickler._ Yes, he does--that is to say, no man can read, even now, all
that he has written about Pope, without thinking on the whole, somewhat
indifferently of the man Pope. It is for this I abuse our friend Bowles.

_Shepherd._ Ay, ay--I recollect now some of the havers o' Boll's about
the Blounts,--Martha and Theresa, I think you call them. Puir wee bit
hunched-backed, windle-strae-legged, gleg-eed, clever, acute, ingenious,
sateerical, weel-informed, warm-hearted, real philosophical, and maist
poetical creature, wi' his sounding translation o' a' Homer's works,
that reads just like an original War-Yepic,--His Yessay on Man that, in
spite o' what a set o' ignoramuses o' theological critics say about
Bolingbroke and Croussass, and heterodoxy and atheism, and like haven,
is just-ane o' the best moral discourses that ever I heard in or out o'
the poupit,--His yepistles about the Passions, and sic like, in the
whilk he goes baith deep and high, far deeper and higher baith than mony
a modern poet, who must needs be either in a diving-bell or a balloon,--
His Rape o' the Lock o' Hair, wi' a' these Sylphs floating about in the
machinery o' the Rosicrucian Philosophism, just perfectly yelegant and
gracefu', and as gude, in their way, as onything o' my ain about
fairies, either in the _Queen's Wake_ or _Queen Hynde_,--His Louisa to
Abelard is, as I said before, coorse in the subject-matter, but, O sirs!
powerfu' and pathetic in execution--and sic a perfect spate o'
versification! His unfortunate lady, who sticked hersel for love wi' a
drawn sword, and was afterwards seen as a ghost, dim-beckoning through
the shade--a verra poetical thocht surely, and full both of terror and

_North._ Pope's poetry is full of nature, at least of what I have been
in the constant habit of accounting nature for the last threescore and
ten years. But (thank you, James, that snuff is really delicious)
leaving nature and art, and all that sort of thing, I wish to ask a
single question: what poet of this age, with the exception, perhaps, of
Byron, can be justly said, when put in comparison with Pope, to have
written the English language at all....

_Tickler._ What would become of Bowles himself, with all his elegance,
pathos, and true feeling? Oh! dear me, James, what a dull, dozing,
disjointed, dawdling, dowdy of a drawe would be his muse, in her very
best voice and tune, when called upon to get up and sing a solo after
the sweet and strong singer of Twickenham!

_North._ Or Wordsworth--with his eternal--Here we go up, and up, and up,
and here we go down, down, and here we go roundabout, roundabout!--Look
at the nerveless laxity of his _Excursion!_--What interminable prosing!--
The language is out of condition:--fat and fozy, thick-winded, purfled
and plethoric. Can he be compared with Pope?--Fie on't! no, no, no!--
Pugh, pugh!

_Tickler._ Southey--Coleridge--Moore?

_North._ No; not one of them. They are all eloquent, diffusive, rich,
lavish, generous, prodigal of their words. But so are they all deficient
in sense, muscle, sinew, thews, ribs, spine. Pope, as an artist, beats
them hollow. Catch him twaddling.

_Tickler._ It is a bad sign of the intellect of an age to depreciate the
genius of a country's classics. But the attempt covers such critics with
shame, and undying ridicule pursues them and their abettors. The Lake
Poets began this senseless clamour against the genius of Pope.


[From _Noctes Ambrosianae_, October, 1825]

_North._ People say, James, that Byron's tragedies are failures. Fools!
Is Cain, the dark, dim, disturbed, insane, hell-haunted Cain, a failure?
Is Sardanapalus, the passionate, princely, philosophical, joy-cheated,
throne-wearied voluptuary, a failure? Is Heaven and Earth, that
magnificent confusion of two worlds, in which mortal beings mingle in
love and hate, joy and despair, with immortal--the children of the dust
claiming alliance with the radiant progeny of the skies, till man and
angel seem to partake of one divine being, and to be essences eternal in
bliss or bale--is Heaven and Earth, I ask you, James, a failure? If so,
then Appollo has stopt payment--promising a dividend of one shilling in
the pound--and all concerned in that house are bankrupts.

_Tickler._ You have nobly--gloriously vindicated Byron, North, and in
doing so, have vindicated the moral and intellectual character of our
country. Miserable and pernicious creed, that holds possible the lasting
and intimate union of the first, purest, highest, noblest, and most
celestial powers of soul and spirit, with confirmed appetencies, foul
and degrading lust, cowardice, cruelty, meanness, hypocrisy, avarice,
and impiety! You,--in a strong attempt made to hold up to execration the
nature of Byron as deformed by all these hideous vices,--you, my friend,
reverently unveiled the countenance of the mighty dead, and the
lineaments struck remorse into the heart of every asperser.


[From _Noctes Ambrosianae_, April, 1829]

_North._ I forgot old Sam--a jewel rough set, yet shining like a star,
and though sand-blind by nature, and bigoted by Education, one of the
truly great men of England, and "her men are of men the chief," alike in
the dominions of the understanding, the reason, the passions, and the
imagination. No prig shall ever persuade me that _Rasselas_ is not a
noble performance--in design and execution. Never were the expenses of a
mother's funeral more gloriously defrayed by son, than the funeral of
Samuel Johnson's mother by the price of _Rasselas_, written for the
pious purpose of laying her head decently and honourably in the dust.

_Shepherd._ Ay, that was pittin' literature and genius to a glorious
purpose indeed; and therefore nature and religion smiled on the wark,
and have stamped it with immortality.

_North._ Samuel was seventy years old when he wrote the _Lives of the

_Shepherd._ What a fine old buck! No unlike yoursel'.

_North._ Would it were so! He had his prejudicies, and his partialities,
and his bigotries, and his blindnesses,--but on the same fruit-tree you
see shrivelled pears or apples on the same branch with jargonelles or
golden pippins worthy of paradise. Which would ye show to the
Horticultural Society as a fair specimen of the tree?

_Shepherd._ Good, kit, good--philosophically picturesque. (_Mimicking
the old man's voice and manner._)

_North._ Show me the critique that beats his on Pope, and on Dryden--
nay, even on Milton; and hang me if you may not read his essay on
Shakespeare even after having read Charles Lamb, or heard Coleridge,
with increased admiration of the powers of all three, and of their
insight, through different avenues, and as it might seem almost with
different bodily and mental organs, into Shakespeare's "old exhausted,"
and his "new imagined worlds." He was a critic and a moralist who would
have been wholly wise, had he not been partly--constitutionally insane.
For there is blood in the brain, James--even in the organ--the vital
principle of all our "eagle-winged raptures"; and there was a taint of
the black drop of melancholy in his.

_Shepherd._ Wheesht--wheesht--let us keep aff that subject. All men ever
I knew are mad; and but for that law o' natur, never, never, in this
warld had there been a _Noctes Ambrosianae_.



_North._ Miss Mitford has not in my opinion either the pathos or humour
of Washington Irving; but she excels him in vigorous conception of
character, and in the truth of her pictures of English life and manners.
Her writings breathe a sound, pure, and healthy morality, and are
pervaded by a genuine rural spirit--the spirit of merry England. Every
line bespeaks the lady.

_Shepherd._ I admire Miss Mitford just excessively. I dinna wunner at
her being able to write sae weel as she does about drawing-rooms wi'
sofas and settees, and about the fine folk in them seeing themsels in
lookin-glasses frae tap to tae; but what puzzles the like o' me, is her
pictures o' poachers, and tinklers, and pottery-trampers, and ither
neerdoweels, and o' huts and hovels without riggin' by the wayside, and
the cottages o' honest puir men, and byres, and barns, and stackyards,
and merry-makins at winter ingles, and courtship aneath trees, and at
the gable-end of farm houses, 'tween lads and lasses as laigh in life as
the servants in her father's ha'. That's the puzzle, and that's the
praise. But ae word explains a'--Genius--Genius, wull a' the
metafhizzians in the warld ever expound that mysterious monosyllable.--
_Nov, 1826._


_Shepherd._. He had a curious power that Hazlitt, as he was ca'd, o'
simulatin' sowl. You could hae taen your Bible oath sometimes, when you
were readin him, that he had a sowl--a human sowl--a sowl to be saved--
but then, heaven preserve us! in the verra middle aiblins o' a
paragraph, he grew transformed afore your verra face into something
bestial,--you heard a grunt that made ye grue, and there was an ill
smell in the room, as frae a pluff o' sulphur.--_April, 1827._


_Shepherd._ Wordsworth tells the world, in ane of his prefaces, that he
is a water-drinker--and its weel seen on him.--There was a sair want of
speerit through the haill o' yon lang "Excursion." If he had just made
the paragraphs about ae half shorter, and at the end of every ane taen a
caulker, like ony ither man engaged in geyan sair and heavy wark, think
na ye that his "Excursion" would hae been far less fatiguesome?--_April,

_North._ I confess that the "Excursion" is the worst poem, of any
character, in the English language. It contains about two hundred
sonorous lines, some of which appear to be fine, even in the sense, as
well as sound. The remaining seven thousand three hundred are quite
ineffectual. Then, what labour the builder of that lofty rhyme must have
undergone! It is, in its own way, a small tower of Babel, and all built
by a single man.--_Sept., 1825._


_North._ James, you don't know S.T. Coleridge--do you? He writes but
indifferent books, begging his pardon: witness his "Friend," his "Lay
Sermons," and, latterly, his "Aids to Reflection"; but he becomes
inspired by the sound of his own silver voice, and pours out wisdom like
a sea. Had he a domestic Gurney, he might publish a Moral Essay, or a
Theological Discourse, or a Metaphysical Disquisition, or a Political
Harangue, every morning throughout the year during his lifetime.

_Tickler._ Mr. Coleridge does not seem to be aware that he cannot write
a book, but opines that he absolutely has written several, and set many
questions at rest. There's a want of some kind or another in his mind;
but perhaps when he awakes out of his dream, he may get rational and
sober-witted, like other men, who are not always asleep.

_Shepherd._ The author o' "Christabel," and "The Ancient Mariner," had
better just continue to see visions, and dream dreams--for he's no fit
for the wakin' world.--_April, 1827._


_North._ James, I wish you would review for Maga all those fashionable
novels--Novels of High Life; such as _Pelham_--the _Disowned_.

_Shepherd._ I've read thae twa, and they're baith gude. But the mair I
think on't, the profounder is my conviction that the strength o' human
nature lies either in the highest or lowest estate of life. Characters
in books should either be kings, and princes, and nobles, and on a level
with them, like heroes; or peasants, shepherds, farmers, and the like,
includin' a' orders amaist o' our ain working population. The
intermediate class--that is, leddies and gentlemen in general--are no
worth the Muse's while; for their life is made up chiefly o' mainners,--
mainners,--mainners;--you canna see the human creters for their claes;
and should ane o' them commit suicide in despair, in lookin' on the dead
body, you are mair taen up wi' its dress than its decease.--_March,


_Shepherd._ What sort o' vols., sir, are the _Traits and Stories of the
Irish Peasantry_ [W. Carleton], published by Curry in Dublin.

_North._ Admirable. Truly, intensely Irish. The whole book has the
brogue--never were the outrageous whimsicalities of that strange, wild,
imaginative people so characteristically displayed; nor, in the midst of
all the fun, frolic, and folly, is there any dearth of poetry, pathos,
and passion. The author's a jewel, and he will be reviewed next number.
--_May, 1830._


_Shepherd._ I shanna say ony o' mine's [songs] are as gude as some sax
or aucht o' Burns's--for about that number o' Robbie's are o' inimitable
perfection. It was heaven's wull that in them he should transcend a' the
minnesingers o' this warld. But they're too perfeckly beautifu' to be
envied by mortal man--therefore let his memory in them be hallowed for
evermair.--_August, 1834._

_Shepherd_. I was wrang in ever hintin ae word in disparagement o'
Burn's _Cottar's Saturday Night_. But the truth is, you see, that the
subjeck's sae heeped up wi' happiness, and sae charged wi' a' sort o'
sanctity--sae national and sae Scottish--that beautifu' as the poem is--
and really, after a', naething can be mair beautifu'--there's nae
satisfying either paesant or shepherd by ony delineation o't, though
drawn in lines o' licht, and shinin' equally w' genius and wi' piety.--
_Nov., 1834._


_Shepherd_. Leigh Hunt truly loved Shelley.

_North_. And Shelley truly loved Leigh Hunt. Their friendship was
honourable to them both, for it was as disinterested as sincere; and I
hope Gurney will let a certain person in the City understand that I
treat his offer of a reviewal of Mr. Hunt's _London Journal_ with
disdain. If he has anything to say against us or against that gentleman,
either conjunctly or severally, let him out with it in some other
channel, and I promise him a touch and taste of the Crutch. He talks to
me of Maga's desertion of principle; but if he were a Christian--nay, a
man--his heart and head too would tell him that the Animosities are
mortal, but the Humanities live for ever--and that Leigh Hunt has more
talent in his little finger than the puling prig, who has taken upon
himself to lecture Christopher North in a scrawl crawling with forgotten
falsehoods. Mr. Hunt's _London Journal_, may dear James, is not only
beyond all comparison, but out of all sight, the most entertaining and
instructive of all the cheap periodicals; and when laid, as it duly is
once a week, on my breakfast table, it lies there--but is not permitted
to lie long--like a spot of sunshine dazzling the snow.--_Aug_., 1834.


[From _Blackwood's Magazine_, October, 1817]

ESQ., 1817

When a man looks back on his past existence, and endeavours to recall
the incidents, events, thoughts, feelings, and passions of which it was
composed, he sees something like a glimmering land of dreams, peopled
with phantasms and realities undistinguishably confused and
intermingled--here illuminated with dazzling splendour, there dim with
melancholy mists,--or it may be shrouded in impenetrable darkness. To
bring, visibly and distinctly before our memory, on the one hand, all
our hours of mirth and joy, and hope and exultation,--and, on the other,
all our perplexities, and fears and sorrows, and despair and agony,--
(and who has been so uniformly wretched as not to have been often
blest?--who so uniformly blest as not to have been often wretched?)--
would be as impossible as to awaken, into separate remembrance, all the
changes and varieties which the seasons brought over the material
world,--every gleam of sunshine that beautified the Spring,--every cloud
and tempest that deformed the Winter. In truth, were this power and
domination over the past given unto us, and were we able to read the
history of our lives all faithfully and perspicuously recorded on the
tablets of the inner spirit,--those beings, whose existence had been
most filled with important events and with energetic passions, would be
the most averse to such overwhelming survey--would recoil from trains of
thought which formerly agitated and disturbed, and led them, as it were,
in triumph beneath the yoke of misery or happiness. The soul may be
repelled from the contemplation of the past as much by the brightness
and magnificence of scenes that shifted across the glorious drama of
youth, as by the storms that scattered the fair array into disfigured
fragments; and the melancholy that breathes from vanished delight is,
perhaps, in its utmost intensity, as unendurable as the wretchedness
left by the visitation of calamity. There are spots of sunshine sleeping
on the fields of past existence too beautiful, as there are caves among
its precipices too darksome to be looked on by the eyes of memory; and
to carry on an image borrowed from the analogy between the moral and
physical world, the soul may turn away in sickness from the untroubled
silence of a resplendent Lake, no less than from the haunted gloom of
the thundering Cataract. It is from such thoughts, and dreams, and
reveries, as these, that all men feel how terrible it would be to live
over again their agonies and their transports; that the happiest would
fear to do so as much as the most miserable; and that to look back to
our cradle seems scarcely less awful than to look forward to the grave.

But if this unwillingness to bring before our souls, in distinct array,
the more solemn and important events of our lives, be a natural and
perhaps a wise feeling, how much more averse must every reflecting man
be to the ransacking of his inmost spirit for all its hidden emotions
and passions, to the tearing away that shroud which oblivion may have
kindly flung over his vices and his follies, or that fine and delicate
veil which Christian humility draws over his virtues and acts of
benevolence. To scrutinize and dissect the character of others is an
idle and unprofitable task; and the most skilful anatomist will often be
forced to withhold his hand when he unexpectedly meets with something he
does not understand--some confirmation of the character of his patient
which is not explicable on his theory of human nature. To become
operators on our own shrinking spirits is something worse; for by
probing the wounds of the soul, what can ensue but callousness or
irritability. And it may be remarked, that those persons who have busied
themselves most with inquiries into the causes, and motives, and
impulses of their actions, have exhibited, in their conduct, the most
lamentable contrast to their theory, and have seemed blinder in their
knowledge than others in their ignorance.

It will not be supposed that any thing we have now said in any way bears
against the most important duty of self-examination. Many causes there
are existing, both in the best and the worst parts of our nature, which
must render nugatory and deceitful any continued diary of what passes
through the human soul; and no such confessions could, we humbly
conceive, be of use either to ourselves or to the world. But there are
hours of solemn inquiry in which the soul reposes on itself; the true
confessional is not the bar of the public, but it is the altar of
religion; there is a Being before whom we may humble ourselves without
being debased; and there are feelings for which human language has no
expression, and which, in the silence of solitude and of nature, are
known only unto the Eternal.

The objections, however, which might thus be urged against the writing
and publishing accounts of all our feelings,--all the changes of our
moral constitution,--do not seem to apply with equal force to the
narration of our mere speculative opinions. Their rise, progress,
changes, and maturity may be pretty accurately ascertained; and as the
advance to truth is generally step by step, there seems to be no great
difficulty in recording the leading causes that have formed the body of
our opinions, and created, modified, and coloured our intellectual
character. Yet this work would be alike useless to ourselves and others,
unless pursued with a true magnanimity. It requires, that we should
stand aloof from ourselves, and look down, as from an eminence, on our
souls toiling up the hill of knowledge;--that we should faithfully
record all the assistance we received from guides or brother pilgrims;--
that we should mask the limit of our utmost ascent, and, without
exaggeration, state the value of our acquisitions. When we consider how
many temptations there are even here to delude ourselves, and by a
seeming air of truth and candour to impose upon others, it will be
allowed, that, instead of composing memoirs of himself, a man of genius
and talent would be far better employed in generalizing the observations
and experiences of his life, and giving them to the world in the form of
philosophic reflections, applicable not to himself alone, but to the
universal mind of Man.

What good to mankind has ever flowed from the confessions of Rousseau,
or the autobiographical sketch of Hume? From the first we rise with a
confused and miserable sense of weakness and of power--of lofty
aspirations and degrading appetencies--of pride swelling into blasphemy,
and humiliation pitiably grovelling in the dust--of purity of spirit
soaring on the wings of imagination, and grossness of instinct brutally
wallowing in "Epicurus' stye,"--of lofty contempt for the opinion of
mankind, yet the most slavish subjection to their most fatal prejudices--
of a sublime piety towards God, and a wild violation of his holiest
laws. From the other we rise with feelings of sincere compassion for the
ignorance of the most enlightened. All the prominent features of Hume's
character were invisible to his own eyes; and in that meagre sketch
which has been so much admired, what is there to instruct, to rouse, or
to elevate--what light thrown over the duties of this life or the hopes
of that to come? We wish to speak with tenderness of a man whose moral
character was respectable, and whose talents were of the first order.
But most deeply injurious to every thing lofty and high-toned in human
Virtue, to every thing cheering, and consoling, and sublime in that
Faith which sheds over this Earth a reflection of the heavens, is that
memoir of a worldly-wise Man; in which he seems to contemplate with
indifference the extinction of his own immortal soul, and jibes and
jokes on the dim and awful verge of Eternity.

We hope that our readers will forgive these very imperfect reflections
on a subject of deep interest, and accompany us now on our examination
of Mr. Coleridge's "Literary Life," the very singular work which caused
our ideas to run in that channel. It does not contain an account of his
opinions and literary exploits alone, but lays open, not unfrequently,
the character of the Man as well as of the Author; and we are compelled
to think, that while it strengthens every argument against the
composition of such Memoirs, it does, without benefiting the cause
either of virtue, knowledge, or religion, exhibit many mournful
sacrifices of personal dignity, after which it seems impossible that Mr.
Coleridge can be greatly respected either by the Public or himself.

Considered merely in a literary point of view, the work is most
execrable. He rambles from one subject to another in the most wayward
and capricious manner; either from indolence, or ignorance, or weakness,
he has never in one single instance finished a discussion; and while he
darkens what was dark before into tenfold obscurity, he so treats the
most ordinary common-places as to give them the air of mysteries, till
we no longer know the faces of our old acquaintances beneath their cowl
and hood, but witness plain flesh and blood matters of fact miraculously
converted into a troop of phantoms. That he is a man of genius is
certain; but he is not a man of a strong intellect nor of powerful
talents. He has a great deal of fancy and imagination, but little or no
real feeling, and certainly no judgment. He cannot form to himself any
harmonious landscape such as it exists in nature, but beautified by the
serene light of the imagination. He cannot conceive simple and majestic
groupes of human figures and characters acting on the theatre of real
existence. But his pictures of nature are fine only as imaging the
dreaminess, and obscurity, and confusion of distempered sleep; while all
his agents pass before our eyes like shadows, and only impress and
affect us with a phantasmagorial splendour.

It is impossible to read many pages of this work without thinking that
Mr. Coleridge conceives himself to be a far greater man than the Public
is likely to admit; and we wish to waken him from what seems to us a
most ludicrous delusion. He seems to believe that every tongue is
wagging in his praise--that every ear is open to imbibe the oracular
breathings of his inspiration. Even when he would fain convince us that
his soul is wholly occupied with some other illustrious character, he
breaks out into laudatory exclamations concerning himself; no sound is
so sweet to him as that of his own voice; the ground is hallowed on
which his footsteps tread; and there seems to him something more than
human in his very shadow. He will read no books that other people read;
his scorn is as misplaced and extravagant as his admiration; opinions
that seem to tally with his own wild ravings are holy and inspired; and
unless agreeable to his creed, the wisdom of ages is folly; and wits,
whom the world worship, dwarfed when they approach his venerable side.
His admiration of nature or of man, we had almost said his religious
feelings towards his God, are all narrowed, weakened, and corrupted, and
poisoned by inveterate and diseased egotism; and instead of his mind
reflecting the beauty and glory of nature, he seems to consider the
mighty universe itself as nothing better than a mirror in which, with a
grinning and idiot self-complacency, he may contemplate the Physiognomy
of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Though he has yet done nothing in any one
department of human knowledge, yet he speaks of his theories, and plans,
and views, and discoveries, as if he had produced some memorable
revolution in Science. He at all times connects his own name in Poetry
with Shakespeare, and Spenser, and Milton; in politics with Burke, and
Fox, and Pitt; in metaphysics with Locke, and Hartley, and Berkely, and
Kant--feeling himself not only to be the worthy compeer of those
illustrious Spirits, but to unite, in his own mighty intellect, all the
glorious powers and faculties by which they were separately
distinguished, as if his soul were endowed with all human power, and was
the depository of the aggregate, or rather the essence of all human
knowledge. So deplorable a delusion as this, has only been equalled by
that of Joanna Southcote, who mistook a complaint in the bowels for the
divine afflatus; and believed herself about to give birth to the
regenerator of the world, when sick unto death of an incurable and
loathsome disease.

The truth is that Mr. Coleridge is but an obscure name in English
literature. In London he is well known in literary society, and justly
admired for his extraordinary loquacity: he has his own little circle of
devoted worshippers, and he mistakes their foolish babbling for the
voice of the world. His name, too, has been often foisted into Reviews,
and accordingly is known to many who never saw any of his works. In
Scotland few know or care any thing about him; and perhaps no man who
has spoken and written so much, and occasionally with so much genius and
ability, ever made so little impression on the public mind. Few people
know how to spell or pronounce his name; and were he to drop from the
clouds among any given number of well informed and intelligent men north
of the Tweed, he would find it impossible to make any intelligible
communication respecting himself; for of him and his writings there
would prevail only a perplexing dream, or the most untroubled ignorance.
We cannot see in what the state of literature would have been different
had he been cut off in childhood, or had he never been born; for except
a few wild and fanciful ballads, he has produced nothing worthy
remembrance. Yet, insignificant as he assuredly is, he cannot put pen to
paper without a feeling that millions of eyes are fixed upon him; and he
scatters his Sibylline Leaves around him, with as majestical an air as
if a crowd of enthusiastic admirers were rushing forward to grasp the
divine promulgations, instead of their being, as in fact they are,
coldly received by the accidental passenger, like a lying lottery puff
or a quack advertisement.

This most miserable arrogance seems, in the present age, confined almost
exclusively to the original members of the Lake School, and is, we
think, worthy of especial notice, as one of the leading features of
their character. It would be difficult to defend it either in Southey or
Wordsworth; but in Coleridge it is altogether ridiculous. Southey has
undoubtedly written four noble Poems--Thalaba, Madoc, Kehama, and
Roderick; and if the Poets of this age are admitted, by the voice of
posterity, to take their places by the side of the Mighty of former
times in the Temple of Immortality, he will be one of that sacred
company. Wordsworth, too, with all his manifold errors and defects, has,
we think, won to himself a great name, and, in point of originality,
will be considered as second to no man of this age. They are entitled to
think highly of themselves, in comparison with their most highly gifted
contemporaries; and therefore, though their arrogance may be offensive,
as it often is, it is seldom or ever utterly ridiculous. But Mr.
Coleridge stands on much lower ground, and will be known to future times
only as a man who overrated and abused his talents--who saw glimpses of
that glory which he could not grasp--who presumptuously came forward to
officiate as High-Priest at mysteries beyond his ken--and who carried
himself as if he had been familiarly admitted into the Penetralia of
Nature, when in truth he kept perpetually stumbling at the very

This absurd self-elevation forms a striking contrast with the dignified
deportment of all the other great living Poets. Throughout all the works
of Scott, the most original-minded man of this generation of Poets,
scarcely a single allusion is made to himself; and then it is with a
truly delightful simplicity, as if he were not aware of his immeasurable
superiority to the ordinary run of mankind. From the rude songs of our
forefathers he has created a kind of Poetry, which at once brought over
the dull scenes of this our unimaginative life all the pomp, and glory,
and magnificence of a chivalrous age. He speaks to us like some ancient
Bard awakened from his tomb, and singing of visions not revealed in
dreams, but contemplated in all the freshness and splendour of reality.
Since he sung his bold, and wild, and romantic lays, a more religious
solemnity breathes from our mouldering Abbeys, and a sterner grandeur
frowns over our time-shattered Castles. He has peopled our hills with
Heroes, even as Ossian peopled them; and, like a presiding spirit, his
Image haunts the magnificent cliffs of our Lakes and Seas. And if he be,
as every heart feels, the author of those noble Prose Works that
continue to flash upon the world, to him exclusively belongs the glory
of wedding Fiction and History in delighted union, and of embodying in
imperishable records the manners, character, soul, and spirit of
Caledonia; so that, if all her annals were lost, her memory would in
those tales be immortal. His truly is a name that comes to the heart of
every Briton with a start of exultation, whether it be heard in the hum
of cities or in the solitude of nature. What has Campbell ever obtruded
on the Public of his private history? Yet his is a name that will be
hallowed for ever in the souls of pure, and aspiring, and devout youth;
and to those lofty contemplations in which Poetry lends its aid to
Religion, his immortal Muse will impart a more enthusiastic glow, while
it blends in one majestic hymn all the noblest feelings which can spring
from earth, with all the most glorious hopes that come from the silence
of eternity. Byron indeed speaks of himself often, but his is like the
voice of an angel heard crying in the storm or the whirlwind; and we
listen with a kind of mysterious dread to the tones of a Being whom we
scarcely believe to be kindred to ourselves, while he sounds the depths
of our nature, and illuminates them with the lightnings of his genius.
And finally, who more gracefully unostentatious than Moore, a Poet who
has shed delight, and joy, and rapture, and exultation, through the
spirit of an enthusiastic People, and whose name is associated in his
native Land with every thing noble and glorious in the cause of
Patriotism and Liberty. We could easily add to the illustrious list; but
suffice it to say, that our Poets do in general bear their faculties
meekly and manfully, trusting to their conscious powers, and the
susceptibility of generous and enlightened natures, not yet extinct in
Britain, whatever Mr. Coleridge may think; for certain it is, that a
host of worshippers will crowd into the Temple, when the Priest is
inspired, and the flame he kindles is from Heaven.

Such has been the character of great Poets in all countries and in all
times. Fame is dear to them as their vital existence--but they love it
not with the perplexity of fear, but the calmness of certain possession.
They know that the debt which nature owes them must be paid, and they
hold in surety thereof the universal passions of mankind. So Milton felt
and spoke of himself, with an air of grandeur, and the voice as of an
Archangel, distinctly hearing in his soul the music of after
generations, and the thunder of his mighty name rolling through the
darkness of futurity. So divine Shakespeare felt and spoke; he cared not
for the mere acclamations of his subjects; in all the gentleness of his
heavenly spirit he felt himself to be their prophet and their king, and

When all the breathers of this world are dead,
That he entombed in men's eyes would lie.

Indeed, who that knows any thing of Poetry could for a moment suppose it
otherwise? Whatever made a great Poet but the inspiration of delight and
love in himself, and an empassioned desire to communicate them to the
wide spirit of kindred existence? Poetry, like Religion, must be free
from all grovelling feelings; and above all, from jealousy, envy, and
uncharitableness. And the true Poet, like the Preacher of the true
religion, will seek to win unto himself and his Faith, a belief whose
foundation is in the depths of love, and whose pillars are the noblest
passions of humanity.

It would seem that in truly great souls all feeling of self-importance,
in its narrower sense, must be incompatible with the consciousness of a
mighty achievement. The idea of the mere faculty or power is absorbed as
it were in the idea of the work performed. That work stands out in its
glory from the mind of its Creator; and in the contemplation of it, he
forgets that he himself was the cause of its existence, or feels only a
dim but sublime association between himself and the object of his
admiration; and when he does think of himself in conjunction with
others, he feels towards the scoffer only a pitying sorrow for his
blindness--being assured, that though at all times there will be
weakness, and ignorance, and worthlessness, which can hold no communion
with him or with his thoughts, so will there be at all times the pure,
the noble, and the pious, whose delight it will be to love, to admire,
and to imitate; and that never, at any point of time, past, present, or
to come, can a true Poet be defrauded of his just fame.

But we need not speak of poets alone (though we have done so at present
to expose the miserable pretensions of Mr. Coleridge), but look through
all the bright ranks of men distinguished by mental power, in whatever
department of human science. It is our faith, that without moral there
can be no intellectual grandeur; and surely the self-conceit and
arrogance which we have been exposing, are altogether incompatible with
lofty feelings and majestic principles. It is the Dwarf alone who
endeavours to strut himself into the height of the surrounding company;
but the man of princely stature seems unconscious of the strength in
which nevertheless he rejoices, and only sees his superiority in the
gaze of admiration which he commands. Look at the most inventive spirits
of this country,--those whose intellects have achieved the most
memorable triumphs. Take, for example, Leslie in physical science, and
what airs of majesty does he ever assume? What is Samuel Coleridge
compared to such a man? What is an ingenious and fanciful versifier to
him who has, like a magician, gained command over the very elements of
nature,--who has realized the fictions of Poetry,--and to whom Frost and
Fire are ministering and obedient spirits? But of this enough.--It is a
position that doubtless might require some modification, but in the
main, it is and must be true, that real Greatness, whether in Intellect,
Genius, or Virtue, is dignified and unostentatious; and that no potent
spirit ever whimpered over the blindness of the age to his merits, and,
like Mr. Coleridge, or a child blubbering for the moon, with clamorous
outcries implored and imprecated reputation.

The very first sentence of this Literary Biography shows how incompetent
Mr. Coleridge is for the task he has undertaken.

It has been my lot to have had my name introduced both in conversation
and in print, more frequently than I find it easy to explain; _whether
I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited circulation of my
writings, or the retirement and distance in which I have lived, both
from the literary and political world_.

Now, it is obvious, that if his writings be few, and unimportant, and
unknown, Mr. Coleridge can have no reason for composing his Literary
Biography. Yet in singular contradiction to himself--

"If," says he, at p. 217, vol. i, "_the compositions which I have made
public_, and that too in a form the most certain of an extensive
circulation, though the least flattering to an author's self-love, had
been published in books, they _would have filled a respectable number of

He then adds,

Seldom have I written that in a day, the acquisition or investigation
of which had not cost me _the precious labour of a month!_

He then bursts out into this magnificent exclamation,

Would that the criterion of a scholar's ability were the number and
moral value of the truths which he has been the means of throwing
into general circulation!

And he sums up all by declaring,

By what I _have_ effected am I to be judged by my fellow men.

The truth is, that Mr. Coleridge has lived, as much as any man of his
time, in literary and political society, and that he has sought every
opportunity of keeping himself in the eye of the public, as restlessly
as any charlatan who ever exhibited on the stage. To use his own words,
"In 1794, when I had barely passed the verge of manhood, I published a
small volume of juvenile poems." These poems, by dint of puffing,
reached a third edition; and though Mr. Coleridge pretends now to think
but little of them, it is amusing to see how vehemently he defends them
against criticism, and how pompously he speaks of such paltry trifles.
"They were marked _by an ease and simplicity_ which I have studied,
_perhaps with inferior success,_ to bestow on my latter compositions."
But he afterwards repents of this sneer at his later compositions, and
tells us, that they have nearly reached his standard of perfection!
Indeed, his vanity extends farther back than his juvenile poems; and he
says, "For a school boy, I was _above par in English versification_, and
had already produced two or three compositions, which I may venture to
say, _without reference to my age, were somewhat above mediocrity_."
Happily he has preserved one of those wonderful productions of his
precocious boyhood, and our readers will judge for themselves what a
clever child it was.

Underneath a huge oak-tree,
There was of swine a huge company;
That grunted as they crunch'd the mast,
For that was ripe and fell full fast.
Then they trotted away for the wind grew high,
One acorn they left and no more might you spy.

It is a common remark, that wonderful children seldom perform the
promises of their youth, and undoubtedly this fine effusion has not been
followed in Mr. Coleridge's riper years by works of proportionate merit.

We see, then, that our author came very early into public notice; and
from that time to this, he has not allowed one year to pass without
endeavouring to extend his notoriety. His poems were soon followed (they
may have been preceded) by a tragedy, entitled, the "Fall of
Robespierre," a meagre performance, but one which, from the nature of
the subject, attracted considerable attention. He also wrote a whole
book, utterly incomprehensible to Mr. Southey, we are sure, on that
Poet's Joan of Arc; and became as celebrated for his metaphysical
absurdities, as his friend had become for the bright promise of genius
exhibited by that unequal, but spirited poem. He next published a Series
of political essays, entitled, the "Watchman," and "Conciones ad
Populum." He next started up, fresh from the schools of Germany, as the
principal writer in the Morning Post, a _strong opposition paper_. He
then published various outrageous political poems, some of them of a
gross personal nature. He afterwards assisted Mr. Wordsworth in planning
his Lyrical Ballads; and contributing several poems to that collection,
he shared in the notoriety of the Lake School. He next published a
mysterious periodical work, "The Friend," in which he declared it was
his intention to settle at once, and for ever, the principles of
morality, religion, taste, manners, and the fine arts, but which died of
a galloping consumption in the twenty-eighth week of its age. He then
published the tragedy of "Remorse," which dragged out a miserable
existence of twenty nights, on the boards of Drury-Lane, and then
expired for ever, like the oil of the orchestral lamps. He then forsook
the stage for the pulpit, and, by particular desire of his congregation,
published two "Lay Sermons." He then walked in broad day-light into the
shop of Mr. Murray, Albemarle Street, London, with two ladies hanging on
each arm, Geraldine and Christabel,--a bold step for a person at all
desirous of a good reputation, and most of the trade have looked shy at
him since that exhibition. Since that time, however, he has contrived
means of giving to the world a collected edition of all his poems, and
advanced to the front of the stage with a thick octavo in each hand, all
about himself and other Incomprehensibilities. We had forgot that he was
likewise a contributor to Mr. Southey's Omniana, where the Editor of the
Edinburgh Review is politely denominated an "ass," and then _became
himself a writer in the said Review_. And to sum up "the strange
eventful history" of this modest, and obscure, and retired person, we
must mention, that in his youth he held forth in a vast number of
Unitarian chapels--preached his way through Bristol, and "Brummagem,"
and Manchester, in a "blue coat and white waistcoat"; and in after
years, when he was not so much afraid of "the scarlet woman," did, in a
full suit of sables, lecture on Poesy, to "crowded, and, need I add,
highly respectable audiences," at the Royal Institution. After this
slight and imperfect outline of his poetical, oratorical, metaphysical,
political, and theological exploits, our readers will judge, when they
hear him talking of "his retirement and distance from the literary and
political world," what are his talents for autobiography, and how far he
has penetrated into the mysterious non-entities of his own character.

Mr. Coleridge has written conspicuously on the Association of Ideas, but
his own do not seem to be connected either by time, place, cause and
effect, resemblance, or contrast, and accordingly it is no easy matter
to follow him through all the vagaries of his Literary Life. We are

At school _I enjoyed the inestimable advantage_ of a very sensible,
though at the same time a very severe master.--I learnt from
him that Poetry, even that of the loftiest and wildest odes, had a
logic of its own as severe as that of science.--Lute, harp, and lyre;
muse, muses, and inspirations; Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hippocrene;
were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now
exclaiming, _"Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and Ink! Boy you mean! Muse! boy!
Muse! your Nurse's daughter you mean! Pierian Spring! O Aye! the
cloister Pump!"_--Our classical knowledge was the least of the good
gifts which we derived from his zealous and conscientious tutorage.

With the then head-master of the grammar-school, Christ Hospital, we
were not personally acquainted; but we cannot help thinking that he has
been singularly unfortunate in his Eulogist. He seems to have gone out
of his province, and far out of his depth, when he attempted to teach
boys the profoundest principles of Poetry. But we must also add, that we
cannot credit this account of him; for this doctrine of poetry being at
all times logical, is that of which Wordsworth and Coleridge take so
much credit to themselves for the discovery; and verily it is one too
wilfully absurd and extravagant to have entered into the head of an
honest man, whose time must have been wholly occupied with the
instruction of children. Indeed Mr. Coleridge's own poetical practices
render this story incredible; for, during many years of his authorship,
his diction was wholly at variance with such a rule, and the strain of
his poetry as illogical as can be well imagined. When Mr. Bowyer
prohibited his pupils from using, in their themes, the above-mentioned
names, he did, we humbly submit, prohibit them from using the best means
of purifying their taste and exalting their imagination. Nothing could
be so graceful, nothing so natural, as classical allusions, in the
exercises of young minds, when first admitted to the fountains of Greek
and Latin Poetry; and the Teacher who could seek to dissuade their
ingenious souls from such delightful dreams, by coarse, vulgar, and
indecent ribaldry, instead of deserving the name of "sensible," must
have been a low-minded vulgar fellow, fitter for the Porter than the
Master of such an Establishment. But the truth probably is, that all
this is a fiction of Mr. Coleridge, whose wit is at all times most
execrable and disgusting. Whatever the merits of his Master were, Mr.
Coleridge, even from his own account, seems to have derived little
benefit from his instruction, and for the "inestimable advantage," of
which he speaks, we look in vain through this Narrative. In spite of so
excellent a teacher, we find Master Coleridge,

Even before my fifteenth year, bewildered _in metaphysicks and in
theological controversy_. Nothing else pleased me. _History and
particular facts_ lost all interest in my mind. Poetry itself, yea
novels and romances, became insipid to me. This preposterous pursuit
was beyond doubt _injurious, both to my natural powers and to the
progress of my education._

This deplorable condition of mind continued "even unto my seventeenth
year." And now our readers must prepare themselves for a mighty and
wonderful change, wrought, all on a sudden, on the moral and
intellectual character of this metaphysical Greenhorn. _"Mr. Bowles'
Sonnets, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto volume_
(a most important circumstance!) _were put into my hand!"_ To those
sonnets, next to the School-master's lectures on Poetry, Mr. Coleridge
attributes the strength, vigour, and extension, of his own very original

By those works, year after year, I was enthusiastically delighted and
inspired. My earliest acquaintances will not have forgotten the
undisciplined eagerness and impetuous zeal with which I labored to
make proselytes, not only _of my companions, but of all with whom I
conversed, of whatever rank, and in whatever place._ As my school
finances did not permit me to purchase copies, I made, within less
than a year and a half, _more than forty transcriptions, as the best
presents I could make to those who had in any way won my regard._ My
obligations to Mr. Bowles were indeed important, and for radical good!

There must be some grievous natural defect in that mind which, even at
the age of seventeen, could act so insanely; and we cannot but think,
that no real and healthy sensibility could have exaggerated to itself so
grossly the merits of Bowles' Sonnets. They are undoubtedly most
beautiful, and we willingly pay our tribute of admiration to the genius
of the amiable writer; but they neither did nor could produce any such
effects as are here described, except upon a mind singularly weak and
helpless. We must, however, take the fact as we find it; and Mr.
Coleridge's first step, after his worship of Bowles, was to see
distinctly into the defects and deficiencies of Pope (a writer whom
Bowles most especially admires, and has edited), and through all the
false diction and borrowed plumage of Gray! But here Mr. Coleridge drops
the subject of Poetry for the present, and proceeds to other important

We regret that Mr. Coleridge has passed over without notice all the
years which he spent "in the happy quiet of ever-honoured Jesus College,
Cambridge." That must have been the most important period of his life,
and was surely more worthy of record than the metaphysical dreams or the
poetical extravagancies of his boyhood. He tells us, that he was sent to
the University "an excellent Greek and Latin scholar, and a tolerable
Hebraist"; and there might have been something rousing and elevating to
young minds of genius and power, in his picture of himself, pursuits,
visions, and attainments, during the bright and glorious morning of
life, when he inhabited a dwelling of surpassing magnificence, guarded
and hallowed, and sublimed by the Shadows of the Mighty. We should wish
to know what progress he made there in his own favourite studies; what
place he occupied, or supposed he occupied, among his numerous
contemporaries of talent; how much he was inspired by the genius of the
place; how far he "pierced the caves of old Philosophy," or sounded the
depths of the Physical Sciences. All this unfortunately is omitted, and
he hurries on to details often trifling and uninfluential, sometimes
low, vile, and vulgar, and, what is worse, occasionally inconsistent
with any feeling of personal dignity and self-respect.

After leaving College, instead of betaking himself to some respectable
calling, Mr. Coleridge, with his characteristic modesty, determined to
set on foot a periodical work called "The Watchman," that through it
"_all might know the truth_." The price of this very useful article was
_"four-pence."_ Off he set on a tour to the north to procure
subscribers, "preaching in most of the great towns as a hireless
Volunteer, in a blue coat and white waistcoat, that not a rag of the
Woman of Babylon might be seen on me." In preaching, his object was to
show that our Saviour was the real son of Joseph, and that the
Crucifixion was a matter of small importance. Mr. Coleridge is now a
most zealous member of the Church of England--devoutly believes every
iota in the thirty-nine articles, and that the Christian Religion is
only to be found in its purity in the homilies and liturgy of that
Church. Yet, on looking back to his Unitarian zeal, he exclaims,

O, never can I remember those days _with either shame or regret!_
For I was _most sincere, most disinterested! Wealth, rank, life
itself,_ then seem'd cheap to me, compared with the interests of
truth, and the will of my Maker. I cannot even accuse myself of having
been actuated by _vanity!_ for in the expansion of my enthusiasm _I
did not think of myself at all!_

This is delectable. What does he mean by saying that life seemed cheap?
What danger could there be in the performance of his exploits, except
that of being committed as a Vagrant? What indeed could rank appear to a
person thus voluntarily degraded? Or who would expect vanity to be
conscious of its own loathsomeness? During this tour he seems to have
been constantly exposed to the insults of the vile and the vulgar, and
to have associated with persons whose company must have been most odious
to a Gentleman. Greasy Tallow-chandlers, and pursey Woollen-drapers, and
grim-featured dealers in Hard-ware, were his associates at Manchester,
Derby, Nottingham, and Sheffield; and among them the light of truth was
to be shed from its cloudy tabernacle in Mr. Coleridge's Pericranium. At
the house of a "Brummagem Patriot" he appears to have got dead drunk
with strong ale and tobacco, and in that pitiable condition he was
exposed to his disciples, lying upon a sofa, "with my face like a wall
that is white-washing, _deathly_ pale, and with the cold drops of
perspiration running down it from my forehead." Some one having said,
"Have you seen a paper to-day, Mr. Coleridge?" the wretched man replied,
with all the staring stupidity of his lamentable condition, "Sir! I am
far from convinced that a Christian is permitted to read either
newspapers, or any other works of merely political and temporary
interest." This witticism quite enchanted his enlightened auditors, and
they prolonged their festivities to an "early hour next morning." Having
returned to London with a thousand subscribers on his list, the
"Watchman" appeared in all his glory; but, alas! not on the day fixed
for the first burst of his effulgence; which foolish delay incensed many

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