Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“
[blocks in formation]

that he was also deficient in real inventiveness or practical sayacity, his forte being to denounce and destroy what was wrong, while he was the last man in the world to whom one would look for a definite plan of rectification or improvement. One had to listen again and again to these criticisms; they were repeated in review-articles and across dinner-tables, and each time with the same look of confidence, and almost in the same set words. The mode of attack being thus fixed, no wonder that the opposite party were prepared with their line of defence. Mr. Carlyle's style, they said, was certainly strange and anomalous, but it was still such as might conceivably belong to a sane human being : it was, in the first place, indubitably natural to him, being in fact exactly that set of verbal conditions and methods which his mind had wrought out as best adapted for the production of what was most valuable in it; and it was, moreover-its characteristic eccentricities apart-a singularly accurate and careful style, rigid to its very commas and semicolons, and put together so as to defy philologically even the test of the inicroscope. Then, again, in the matter of his intellectual originality, Mr. Carlyle, they admitted, did not belong in any strict sense to the class of purely speculative thinkers, and many of his favourite forms of thought were really to be found in tlie works of Goethe, Jacobi, Fichte, and Richter; but they maintained, at the same time, that if he had seized these continental truths, he had seized them as scarcely another man of his age had done, perpetrating in the very act of seizure what was almost the highest intellectual feat open to a writer in this island at the time; they maintained, also, that the manner in which he had seized these truths, and the unexampled force and significance he had given to them, argued intellectual as well as moral originality, some deep Scottish pith and differentia not to be found in Goethe, in Fichte, or in any German soul of them; and, finally, they retaliated by affirming that this test of the newness of a writer's propositions or conclusions was in itself a poor and beggarly one, a thing of mere speech and thoughtlessness, that, if fairly applied and carried out, would sweep all mere men of letters whatever out of the estimation of mankind, and leave us only Aristotle and the cold fishy demigods. Lastly, as regarded the charge of a mere propensity to negation and destructiveness, unaccompanied by practical inventiveness, or by a power to give any clear and positive instructions for reform, Mr. Carlyle's admirers were accustomed to argue (what Mr. Grote has very beautifully argued in his appreciation of the character of Socrates) that this same critical or purely dialectic function has been very much maligned ; that to leave a man shivering without a rag of dogma that he can logically pin around him, is often the greatest service you can for the moment do him ; adding, moreover, that the office of diffusing great transcendental generalities regarding truth and justice through the sentiment of a people, was in itself a higher one than that of initiating specific social remedies or modes of palliation, and also that they believed that even in this latter respect, Mr. Carlyle had more sense and sagacity than he usually got credit for. As vigorously as the adversaries of Mr. Carlyle plied their criticisms, so vigorously did his admirers ply these responses. Still, however, in review-articles and at dinner-tables, the criticisms reappeared." His style is ’orrible ; he is a very disagree

“ ’ able writa'," said Mr. A.; “A mere Richter in kilts," insinuated B.; “I wish he would tell us what he would have us do,” said all the rest of the alphabet. And so the controversy went gaily on.

The publication of the Latter-Day Pamphlets has brought the controversy to a crisis. Never before, probably, was there a publication so provocative of rage, hatred, and personal malevolence. Whatever amount of antipathy to Mr. Carlyle previously existed throughout the reading community, has been by this concentrated and brought out into explicit manifestation. Simultaneously over the whole kingdom the scattered elements of dislike have mustered themselves; so that nearly the whole force of the critical demonstration that has been made apropos of the author's reappearance in the field of literature, has been on the part of the reaction. In all circles, and on the most various occasions, there have been outbreaks of a spirit of resistance to him amounting almost to malignity. Lord John Russell in the House of Commons takes a highly elaborated revenge for certain impolite allusions to him in the Pamphlets, by incidentally referring to their author as “a clever but whimsical writer.” With a similar affectation of condescending unconcern to cover what is in reality the most intense bitterness of feeling, some critics write as if they would have it believed they thought of the author only as a poor driveller that all persons of sense had long ceased to listen to. Others, again, more honestly, assail and vituperate him with the whole force of their undisguised abhorrence. The correspondent of one American newspaper coolly accounts to the Transatlantic public for the “insane” tone of the Pamphlets by the information that “ Thomas is believed to have recently taken to whiskey.” We have ourselves heard him cursed by name in open society; and were it possible to accumulate in some distinct and visible shape all the imprecations and other expressions of rage and ill-will that the pamphlets have elicited, we fancy the display would be something fearful. In short, at the present moment, Mr. Carlyle is unpopular with at least one half of the kingdom.

piece

con

Reception of the Pamphlets.

7
Now, this is no doubt partly the mere determination upon
this new publication of the feelings already existing against the
author. All Mr. Carlyle's previous offences, or supposed offen-
ces, against the literary canons of taste and opinion, have been
here boldly repeated by him; and, as a criminal is visited with
severer punishment in proportion to the number of convictions
already registered against him, so the critical public has deemed
it right to come down, on this occasion, with a heavier exhibition
of critical resentment. Accordingly, all the old criticisms upon
Mr. Carlyle's manner of writing have been this year abund-
antly reiterated. Punch, for example, amongst others, takes
up the wearisome topic of his style; and, in a mood alarm-
ingly serious for so comic an organ, takes the trouble to read
Mr. Carlyle a lecture on style, by showing him one of his own
sentences translated into decent English-a sad blunder, as
everybody thought at the time, for the shrewd little periodical
to have committed, seeing that the “decent English" occupied
in Punch's own columns nearly twice the length of the “
of jargon” it was meant to supersede. And, along with this re-
newed outcry against the barbarism of the author's style, have
been revived hints of his intellectual indebtedness to those
venient creditors, the dead old gentlemen of Weimar, and re-
vived complaints of his want of practicality and constructive
precision.

But there are deeper reasons for the formidable display of
animosity with which the Pamphlets have been greeted. The
Pamphlets contain in themselves matter more irritating and blis-
tering than any of the author's previous writings. They come
more directly into conflict with prevailing sentiments, parties,
and interests ; and are, in fact, a more explicit assertion than the
author had before made, that he detaches himself from the de-
votees of pure and pleasurable literature, and regards himself as
a social agent or recognised force in the country, charged with
a special commission and special responsibilities. He has here,
as it were, completed his career of respect for his fellow-men;
parted with the last shred of his care for their approbation ;
reached the pulpit, where it is the condemnation of his own soul
if he does not speak out, even if they stone him; and determined
with himself that whatever may have been his method hitherto,
now it his function most emphatically to “ make a row about
things.” And certainly he has done so. If we may judge of
others from ourselves, we

should say that there can hardly have been an individual reader of these Pamphlets endowed with the least sensitiveness or the least tendency to try whether the cap that is offered fits him, that has not felt himself aggrieved, wounded, and thrown into a state of dudgeon by mucki

that he

1

[ocr errors]

there read. We have heard of people rising from their seats and marching out of church, because, either from the extreme searchingness of the sermon, or from the paucity of the audience, they had an uneasy sense that the preacher was getting personal. Something similar, we should think, must have been the effect of certain passages in these Discourses upon the minds of individual readers. At one time, the reader being in a blunt, untender, and self-conceited frame of mind, the effect of some such passage might be “ Psha! mere ethical sound and clamour !" while there would remain, after all, a kind of sullen sense of having been insulted; at another time, the mind being in a better and more docile condition, there would follow, from the same passage, all the nervous deliquescence of a conscience

, touched to its depths, and a paroxysm of self-reproach giving vent to such ejaculations as this—" What a wretch I am; and how much more nobly this man feels than I do!” Precisely so also in those cases where the matter involved might not be pertinent to the character or mental shortcomings of the reader as an individual, but to his social relations and the antecedents of his public career. In these Pamphlets, for example, not only is there a blow in the face all round for Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy, Political Economy, Protectionism, Mammon-worship, and such other recognised interests and social entities as have already been more or less accustomed to be girded at; but other interests and entities that thought themselves safe and consecrated from attack by the high guardianship of universal opinion, have found themselves ridiculed and made a mock of. The “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question," published by Mr. Carlyle anonymously in Fraser's Magazine for December 1849, was a sort of forewarning to the public of what they were to expect from him should he come forward to treat habitually of such subjects. Even the horror of that paper, however, was outdone by certain of the pamphlets. One remembers yet the simultaneous cry of “shame” which was elicited by a passage in the first of them where he spoke of first admonishing, then flogging, and finally shooting paupers if they would not work ; and the yet louder cry which greeted him in the second, where he spoke of sweeping criminals into the dust-bin, tumbling them and their concerns over London Bridge, and so getting rid of them.

In considering this extremely unpopular reception which the Latter-Day Pamphlets have met with, not in all, certainly, but in inany quarters, one thing surely seems pretty clear; to wit—that nobody knew better that the outburst was coming than the author did himself. Whatever unpopularity has been or may yet be the consequence of these Pamphlets, the author has knowingly,

Popularity, how far valuable.

9

!

resolutely, and deliberately braved it. And here lies one of the characteristic differences between his procedure as a social agent by means of the pen, and the procedure of such as are devotees of pure literature. Much as neglected authors and artists console themselves now-a-days by talking, after Wordsworth, about the necessary unpopularity of all great works, and the propriety of writing or painting only for the few, it is certainly a maxim, approved by the profoundest investigation into human nature, that all works of art ought to desire popularity-i.e., the immediate satisfaction of those that have mastered on each specific occasion the mere essential technick; and also, that the greatest works of art do infallibly obtain it. Hence desire to please is so far a fair literary instinct. Watch the author or authoress of a first poeni or novel. What eagerness there is to see all the reviews; what fluttering anxiety till the Athenaum or other leader among the critical periodicals comes out; what manœuvring, indirectly, to ascertain what you in particular think of the book, and what all your friends, and especially Magnus Apollo, privately said to you about it! And how many persons are there, that, even after their apprenticeship to literature or to art is over, can honestly say that this feeling has quite left them? Raphael must have liked to hear his pictures praised; nor was the approbation of the German public indifferent even to the octogenarian Goethe. But, though the artist or practitioner of pure literature may so far make a merit of popularity, it is highly different with the moral teacher, or agent of great social changes. Popularity may, indeed, happen to flow from the exertions of such a man; but, to himself, this popularity should exist not as a reward or incentive testifying to the intrinsic fitness or excellence of what he has done; but rather as a means of deciding what proportion of society he has already impregnated, or at least superficially moved in the direction of his own spirit, and how much yet remains to be invaded and brought into subjection. In certain cases, indeed, as where a man charged with a reforming doctrine appears in the midst of a sensual and embruted community, it might even be proper to lay it down as a maxim, that he cannot honestly or efficiently accomplish his office without the production, in the first instance, of pain and anger at every step he takes. It was pedantic in Phocion, but by no means a mere antique attempt at a bon mot, when, hearing the people cheer him as he spoke, he turned round on the hustings to the Greek gentleman that held his hat, and asked whether he had said anything more than usually stupid. When the soldiers of Cortez knocked down the idols of the Mexicans and white-washed the bloody walls of their temples, they did not expect native applause; but had they set up a theatre, and acted

a

« AnkstesnisTęsti »