Puslapio vaizdai

again gather. His hostages have at length been given and accepted, and, as Voltaire says

'On en vaut mieux quand on est regardé :

L'oeil du public est aiguillon de gloire.'

That a book overflowing with personal anecdotes and allusions, published by one who, with all his ineffable follies, was a gentleman of birth, station, and unsullied honour, while almost all the individuals concerned in its stories or glanced at in its hints were living, the greater part of them too in much the same circles with its author-that such a book would have need of a diligent and skilful annotator, after the lapse of nearly half a century, was sufficiently obvious. Had the task been much longer deferred, hardly a single individual that had ever moved in the society of Johnson and his worshipping biographer would have remained. Even the generation that had fed in youth upon the table-talk of the great doctor's surviving associates, were beginning to be thinned among us. Mr. Croker's character and position offered, of course, the readiest access to such living sources of information as could still be appealed to; and probably few would have questioned his sagacity in detecting the proper points of inquiry-his prompt and unwearied diligence in following out hints and suggestions; in short, his abundant qualifications for discharging, in regard to such a book, all the editorial functions which were likely to have occurred to the mind of a Malone. But if Mr. Croker had only done in the most satisfactory manner what was thus looked for at his hands, we should have had a far different book before us, and his general reputation would have owed little, if anything, to the achievement. He has gone a long way, indeed, beyond the usual scope and purpose of anecdotical note-makers. Not satisfied with hunting out whatever facts could be explained as to detail, or added to the already enormous mass, from the dust of forgotten pamphlets, the scattered stores of manuscript correspondence, and the oral communications of persons of all ranks and conditions, from Lord Stowell, Sir Walter Scott, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr. D'Israeli, and Mr. Markland, down to the obscurest descendants of Johnson's connexions in early provincial life ;—not satisfied with equalling, to all appearance, in this sort of diligence the utmost exertions of any commentator that ever staked his glory on the rectification of a date, he has brought his own piercing, strong, and liberal understanding, enriched with most multifarious knowledge of books, more especially of literary and political biography, and expanded by as extensive observation of men and manners, as has fallen to the lot of any living person-he has brought, in a word, the whole vigour of his own mental resources to bear upon this, at first sight, sufficiently un


ostentatious field of labour-and produced, in consequence, a book which, were every correction of detail it contains, every hiatus it fills up as to mere matters of fact, every name, every date, even every new anecdote it gives, all obliterated at a stroke, would still keep its place and its worth ;-nay, which, if it actually had omitted all and every one of these things, would, perhaps, have done more for Mr. Croker's estimation with the general mob of readers, than it has done, or must do, in its present more complete condition.

The world measures excellence with a narrow eye; and when forced to admit that one thing has been well done by any given individual, will seldom, without extreme reluctance, believe him to have been equally successful in another, even if it were not a higher, way. How flattering to the indolence and the envy, alike characteristic of the present tone of intellect, the off-hand decision, that he who writes a dozen of letters, all to discover whether it was on a Thursday or a Friday that a certain human being dined sixty years ago with a certain club, must be incapable of entering with a liberal and philosophic spirit, into any given question of moral weight, naturally springing up in the course of long and painful study of the details of that individual's life, whether as a man or as an author. It would, we have no doubt, have been more agreeable to the multitude of our literati, if Mr. Croker had not urged pretensions of so many sorts at one and the same time upon their candour. We may flatter ourselves, if we will, that we are geniuses, but we all know pretty well whether we really are or are not students. To any real superiority in the intellectual gifts of nature we may oppose the phantoms of our own vanity; but we are forced to acknowledge labor improbus, wherever exerted; and many of us are apt to regard with the least satisfaction that part of our neighbour's excellence, which upbraiding conscience tells us we might have rivalled had we pleased. Hence, however, the prevailing fashion-the fruit of laziness, self-love, and jealous spleen-of at least affecting to consider the display of extraordinarily minute and persevering diligence as proof of the absence of comprehensive original faculties. The doctrine is, perhaps, started under merely a vague and distinct half-hope of deceiving the million, as to points concerning which the heresiarch sees the truth clearly enough himself. But what is said once, in a tone at all pleasing to human weakness, is sure to be lustily re-echoed; and this particular specimen of mystification to which we are alluding appears now to have worked its way so widely into the actual bona fide creed of those who make up perhaps nineteen-twentieths of the blind, drowsy mass commonly styled the reading public,' that we see no reason for retracting the expression of our belief, that

B 2

that if Mr. Croker had put forth his philosophical reflections on Johnson's character and genius, without adding a tittle to what the children of Martinus had formerly accumulated as to the questo vexata, whether J. B. in a given page of Boswell mean John Brown or James Black, and the like-the popular disposition to give his edition credit for what

The cant of the hour

Has taught babes to call power,'

would have been considerably more on the alert.

Many, again, who think, like ourselves, of the style in which Mr. Croker has acquitted himself of the higher part of his task, will perhaps wish that he may never in future undertake any such task at all, but exercise his talents in original works alone. Heartily concurring, however, in the hope that many purely original works may hereafter proceed from his pen, we cannot but express, nevertheless, our earnest desire that we may have him from time to time before us in the editorial capacity also. The English library has hitherto been poorer in nothing than in this department. We are inclined to attribute the lamentable neglect into which a vast array of our true classics have already fallen, to no one cause,—not even the infantine rage for what pretends to be novelty so much as the stupid, perplexing, soul-tantalizing method in which the best existing editions of them have been prepared; and entertain, in fact, considerable doubts whether at this time of day a liberal scholar, uniting strong natural judgment, sound taste, extensive information, and industrious habits, with some spice of the practical tact of the man of business and the world, could in any way whatever render more important service to the literature of his country, or even achieve, in the long run, a more distinguished reputation for himself, than by devoting his time and energies to a series of English editions. Of our great old dramatists we have no editions that can be called tolerable, except those of the late Mr. Gifford; and even their faults are obvious, numerous, and some of them of an offensive description. He has not indeed handed down his venerable favourites burdened, after the fashion of their master, Shakspeare, with the accumulated rubbish of a sixty years' succession of obtuse, purblind, wrangling pedants-some incapable of understanding the plainest of common-sense, expressed in the clearest of English; almost all of them as incapable of comprehending the rapid flashing felicities of a soaring inspiration, as poor Omai was of understanding upon what principle his English friend thought of ascending in a balloon when he might have called a hackney coach at the next corner; perpetually abusing each other, at the bottom of the page of a godlike poet, about some nonsense of colons or semicolons,

semicolons, and overlaying us with their clumsy officiousness where nobody but one of their own narrow-browed breed could have discovered a difficulty. Such abominations as the Shakspeares of Stevens, Malone, and last, and of course worst of all, the younger Boswell, could never have been re-ushered into the world by Mr. Gifford; but he fell into two or three pervading errors which have rendered even his editions very far inferior to what might have been expected. He could not somehow, with all his strong faculties, raise himself to his poet, so as to imbibe the desirable calmness of contempt for the poet's preceding commentators. He could not be satisfied with writing his dele by the side of the grossest blunder; he too must stop to anatomize, expatiate, vituperate, and exult. On the other hand, he could not-as how many men of even the greatest talents have failed to do?-take home to himself, kind-hearted, feeble in health, and variable in spirits as he was, a sufficiently firm sense of the vast superiority of his own understanding over the understandings of persons with whom he had been constantly in the habits of familiar intercourse. Ruthless and relentless to dead strangers, he certainly seems to have had a most extraordinary measure of tolerant milkiness at the service of living friends, not a bit more brilliant perhaps than the dullest of his victims; and has accordingly suffered the close, terse shrewdness of his own annotations to be continually mixed up and contrasted with the mawkish common-place of some of the heaviest prosers of his generation. New editions of Spenser, Milton, and Pope are now, indeed, announced ;-but how long have the two former continued to groan in fellowship under the merciless incubism of omne quod exit in Todd; while the third, the lightest, brightest, and most tasteful of English poets, has been dragging with his every airy sparkling couplet a whole Scribleriad of random guesses, mid-day gropings, and misty dreamy excursus, forsooth, such as might have been well enough placed in some appendix to Jacob Behmen or Jeremy Bentham? Even Swift and Dryden, though they have found in our own time an editor whom posterity will rank at least as high as either of them for extent and variety of original talents, have, we are constrained to say, been dealt with by him in a fashion by no means favourable to the living popularity of their collective works. Sir Walter Scott's lives of these two great men will always keep their place among the most fascinating of his narratives; but valuable, indeed wonderful, as is the mass of knowledge he has poured out in his notes on their writings, it must be admitted he never seems to have even suspected that if information be the first requisite in an annotator, a second, and scarcely, in the case of a voluminous author, a less important one, is compression.

We might easily extend our list of poets, dramatists, and others who have been, at best, imperfectly and hastily edited, but what


is to be said as to those really great writers who, from the nature of their productions most especially demanding annotation, havé never received it at all? On the whole body of our later comedians, from Congreve to Foote, crammed as they of course are, more than any other series of authors in the language, with passages the very soul and spirit of which depend on evanescent allusions, it may we believe be asserted, that not one single scrap of annotation has, down to this time, been bestowed! Very nearly the same thing may be said of the great comic novelists, dramatists in all but name and form-and more than dramatists will ever again be in power-of the days of George II. But all these omissions are trivial as compared to graver cases still; take, for one example out of at least twenty, Hume's History of England. That book has taken its place as the classical record, and can no more be supplanted by anything else on the same subject than Macbeth, or the Paradise Lost, or the Dunciad. Yet though new lights as to the details of many of the most important periods have been pouring on the world in floods since Hume wrote, it is only now, at the close of 1831, that any one seems to have opened his eyes to the propriety of condensing the pith and essence of this information at the foot of Hume's beautiful pages. In place of this we have had ever and anon some new History of England,' which, after at best tumbling half seen in the wake of the good ship David for a few years, has sunk for ever, to be replaced by some equally short-lived specimen of book-craft. To drive Hume out of the market is impossible. The nation is no more disposed to welcome a new history than a new constitution; but in the former case, at all events, the application of a firm, though respectful hand, to correct admitted errors, and fill up inconvenient blanks, will be sure of a zealous reception. Admiring, as we do, the many graces of thought and diction scattered over Sir James Mackintosh's recent volumes, and the profound learning and, here and there, original and masterly conceptions of Mr. Palgrave, we hope to be pardoned for expressing our opinion that even pens like theirs would have been better employed in annotating and commenting on Hume, than in anything like an attempt to re-write the immortal history of Great Britain. With respect to Dr. Lingard and the others who have been labouring with more solemn pretensions in this vain walk, we are sure the best compliment they need look for at the hands of posterity will be the finding room for a few extracts and abridgments from their operose tomes at the end of the permanent and inimitable narrator's paragraphs or chapters.

The present miserable stagnation for which the book market, like most other markets, feels duly obliged to Lord Grey, will hardly, it is to be hoped, endure much longer; and as, when that terminates, the usual re-action, and even a redoubled


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