Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

recollection ; his lunacy consists, no doubt, oply in one idea ; but this is so absorb ing that it perverts the evidence of his senses, and predominates in all his language, It is to be observed, therefore, in relation to the nobleness of soul ascribed to Don Quixote, that every sentiment he utters iş borrowed with a punctilious rigour from the romances of his library : he resorts to them on every occasion for precedents ; if he is intrepidly brave, it is because his madness and vanity have made him believe himself unconquerable; if he bestows kingdoms, it is because Amadis would have done the same ; if he is honourable, courteous, a redresser of wrongs, it is in pursuance of these prototypes, from whom, except that he seems rather more scrupulous in chastity, it is his only boast not to diverge. Those who talk of the exalted character of Don Quixote seem really to forget that, on these subjects, he has no character at all : he is the echo of romance ; and to praise him is merely to say, that the tone of chivalry, which these productions studied to keep up, and, in the hands of inferior artists, foolishly exaggerated, was full of moral dignity, and has, in a subdued degree of force, modelled the character of a man of honour in the present day. But throughout the first two volumes of Don Quixote, though in a few unimportant passages he talks rationally, I cannot find more than two in which he displays any other knowledge or strength of mind than the original delineation of the character would lead us to expect.

The case is much altered in the last two volumes. Cervantes had acquired an immense popularity, and perceived the opportunity, of which he had already availed himself, that this romance gave for displaying his own mind. He had become attached to a hero who had made him illustrious, and suffered himself to lose sight of the clear outline he had once traced for Quixote's personality. Hence we find in all this second part, that, although the lunacy as to knights-errant remains unabated, he is, on all other subjects, not only rational in the low sense of the word, but clear, acute, profound, sarcastic, cool-headed. His philosophy is elevated, but not enthusiastic: his imagination is poetical, but it is restrained by strong sense. in fact, two Don Quixotes ; one, whom Cervantes first designed to draw, the foolish gentleman of La Mancha, whose foolishness had made him frantic; the other a highly gifted, accomplished model of the best chivalry, trained in all the court, the camp, or the college could impart, but scathed in one portion of his mind by an inexplicable visitation of monomania. One is inclined to ask why this Don Quixote, who is Cervantes, should have been more likely to lose his intellects by reading romances, than Cervantes himself. As a matter of bodily disease, such an event is doubtless possible ; but nothing can be conceived more improper for fiction, nothing more incapable of affording a moral lesson than the insanity which arises wholly from disease. Insanity is, in no point of view, a theme for ridicule ; and this is an inherent fault of the romance (for those who have imagined that Cervantes has not rendered Quixote ridiculous have å strange notion of the word); but the thoughtlessness of mankind, rather than their insensibility, for they do not connect madness with misery, furnishes some apology for the first two volumes. In proportion as we perceive below the veil of mental delusion a noble intellect, we feel a painful sympathy with its þumiliation ; the character becomes more complicated and interesting, but has less truth and naturalness; an objection which might also be made, comparatively speaking, to the incidents in the latter volumes, wherein I do not find the admirable probability that reigns through the former

But this contrast of wisdom and virtue with insanity in the same subject, would have been repulsive in the primary delineation, as I think any one may judge by supposing Cervantes had, in the first chapter, drawn such a picture of Quixote as Bouterwek and Sismondi have drawn for him.

I must, therefore, venture to think as, I believe the world has generally thought

There are, for two centuries, that Cervantes had no more profound aim than he proposes to the reader. If the fashion of reading bad romances of chivalry perverted the taste of his contemporaries, and rendered their language ridiculous, it was natural that a zealous lover of good literature should expose this folly to the world by exaggerating its effects on a fictitious personage. It has been said by some modern writer, though I cannot remember by whom, that there was a prose side in the mind of Cervantes. There was indeed a side of calm strong sense, which some take for unpoetical. He thought the tone of those romances extravagant. It might naturally occur how absurd any one must appear who should attempt to realize in actual life the adventures of Amadis. Already a novelist, he perceived the opportunities this idea suggested. It was a necessary consequence that the hero must be represented as literally insane, since his conduct would have been extravagant beyond the probability of fiction on any other hypothesis ; and from this happy conception germinated in a very prolific mind the whole history of Don Quixote. Its simplicity is perfect; no limit could be found save the author's discretion, or sense that he had drawn sufficiently on his imagination ; but the death of Quixote, which Cervantes has been said to have determined upon, lest some one else should a second time presume to continue the story, is in fact the only possible termination that could be given, after he had elevated the character to that pitch of mental dignity which we find in the last two volumes.

Few books of moral philosophy display as deep an insight into the mechanism of the mind as Don Quixote. And when we look also at the fertility of invention, the general probability of events, and the great simplicity of the story, wherein no artifices are practised to create suspense, or complicato the action, we shall think Cervantes fully deserving of the glory that attends this monument of his genius. It is not merely that he is superior to all his predecessors and contemporaries. This, though it might account for the European fame of his romance, would be an inadequate testimony to its desert. Cervantes stands on an eminence below which we must place the best of his successors. We have only to compare him with Le Sage or Fielding, to judge of his vast superiority. To Scott indeed he must yield in the variety of his power ; but, in the line of comic romance, we should hardly think Scott his equal.

48.-CHARACTER OF JAMES WATT.

JEFFREY. (THE following · Notice and Character,' from the pen of one of the most accomplished critics and writers of the present half century, appeared in the 'Scotsman' Edinburgh Newspaper, in 1819. Francis Jeffrey, whose death, at the begi ning of 1850, has left a blank which will not easily be filled up, was born in 1773. He was one of the eminent young men who established the · Edinburgh Review, and for many years was its Editor. In 1834 he was appointed one of the Judges of the Court of Session in Scotland; and in that capacity his judicial skill and integrity were as admirable as his earlier merits as an advocate.]

Mr. James Watt, the great improver of the steam engine, died on the 25th of August, 1819, at his seat of Heathfield, near Birmingham, in the 84th year of

his age.

This name fortunately needs no commemoration of ours; for he that bore it survived to see it crowned with undisputed and unenvied honours ; and many generations will probably pass away, before it shall have gathered "all its fame.” We have said that Mr. Watt was the great Improver of the steam engine ; but, in truth, as to all that is admirable in its structure, or vast in its utility, he should rather be described as its Inventor. It was by his inventions that its action was so regulated as to make it capable of being applied to the finest and most delicate manufactures,

a

a.zd its power su increased as to set weight and solidity at defiance. By his admirable contrivance, it has become a thing stupendous alike for its force and its flexibility—for the prodigious power which it can exert, and the ease, and precision, and ductility, with which that power can be varied, distributed, and applied. The trunk of an elephant, that can pick up a pin or rend an oak, is as nothing to it. It can engrave a seal, and crush masses of obdurate metal before it draw out, without breaking, a thread as fine as gossamer, and lift a ship of war like a bauble in the air. It can embroider muslin and forge anchors—cut steel into ribands, and impel loaded vessels against the fury of the winds and waves.

It would be difficult to estimate the value of the benefits which these inventions have conferred upon this country. There is no branch of industry that has not been indebted to them; and, in all the most material, they have not only widened most magnificently the field of its exertions, but multiplied a thousand-fold the amount of its productions. It was our improved steam-engine, in short, that fought the battles of Europe, and exalted and sustained, through the late tremendous contest, the political greatness of our land. It is the same great power which now enables us to pay the interest of our debt, and to maintain the arduous struggle in which we are still engaged (1819)

, with the skill and capital of countries less op pressed with taxation. But these are poor and narrow views of its importance. It has increased indefinitely the mass of human comforts and enjoyments ; and rendered cheap and accessible, all over the world, the materials of wealth and prosperity. It has armed the feeble hand of man, in short, with a power to which no limits can be assigned ; completed the dominion of mind over the most refractory qualities of matter; and laid a sure foundation for all those future miracles of mechanic power which are to aid and reward the labours of after generations. It is to the genius of one man, too, that all this is mainly owing! And certainly no man ever bestowed such a gift on his kind. The blessing is not only universal, but unbounded ; and the fabled inventors of the plough and the loom, who were deified by the erring gratitude of their rude contemporaries, conferred less important benefits on mankind than the inventor of our present steam-engine.

This will be the fame of Watt with future generations : and it is sufficient for his race and his country. But to those to whom he more immediately belonged, who lived in his society and enjoyed his conversation, it is not, perhaps, the character in which he will be most frequently recalled—most deeply lamented—or even most highly admired. Independently of his great attainments in mechanics, Mr. Watt was an extraordinary, and in many respects a wonderful man. Perhaps no individual in his age possessed so much and such varied and exact information--had read so much, or remembered what he had read so accurately and well. He had infinite quickness of apprehension, a prodigious memory, and a certain rectifying and methodizing power of understanding, which extracted something precious out of all that was presented to it. His stores of miscellaneous knowledge were immense—and yet less astonishing than the command he had at all times over them. It seemed as if every subject that was casually started in conversation with him, had been that which he had been last occupied in studying and exhausting-such was the copiousness, the precision, and the admirable clearness of the information which he poured out upon it, without effort or hesitation. Nor was this promptitude and compass of knowledge confined in any degree to the studies connected with his ordinary pursuits. That he should have been minutely and extensively skilled in chemistry and the arts, and in most of the branches of physical science, might perhaps have been conjectured. But it could not have been inferred from his usual occupations, and probably is not generally known, that he was curiously learned in many branches of antiquity, metaphysics, medicine, and etymology, and perfectly at home in all the details of

a

23

JEFFREY.]
CHARACTER OF JAMES WATT.

165 architecture, music, and law. He was well acquainted, too, with most of the modern languages—and familiar with their most recent literature. Nor was it at all extraordinary to hear the great mechanician and engineer detailing and expounding, for hours together, the metaphysical theories of the German logicians, or criticizing the measures or the matter of the German poetry.

His astonishing memory was aided, no doubt, in a great measure, by a still higher and rarer faculty — by his power of digesting and arranging in its proper place all the information he received, and of casting aside and rejecting, as it were instinctively, whatever was worthless, or immaterial. Every conception that was suggested to his mind seemed instantly to take its proper place among its other rich furniture ; and to be condensed into the smallest and most convenient form. He never appeared, therefore, to be at all encumbered or perplexed with the verbiage of the dull books he perused, or the idle talk to which he listened; but to have at once extracted, by a kind of intellectual alchemy, all that was worthy of attention, and to have reduced it, for his own use, to its true value and to its simplest form. And thus it often happened, that a great deal more was learned from his brief and vigorous account of the theories and arguments of tedious writers, than an ordinary student could ever have derived from the most painful study of the originals-and that errors and absurdities became manifest from the mere clearness and plainness of his statement of them, which might have deluded and perplexed most of his hearers without that invaluable assistance.

It is needless to say, that, with these vast resources, his conversation was at all times rich and instructive in no ordinary degree : but it was, if possible, still more * pleasing than wise, and had all the charms of familiarity with all the substantial treasures of knowledge. No man could be more social in his spirit, less assuming or fastidious in his manners, or more kind and indulgent towards all who approached him. He rather liked to talk—at least in his latter years : but though he took a considerable share of the conversation, he rarely suggested the topics on which it was to turn, but readily and quietly took up whatever was presented by those around him; and astonished the idle and barren propounders of an ordinary theme, by the treasures which he drew from the mine they had unconsciously opened. He generally seemed, indeed, to have no choice or predilection for one subject of discourse rather than another ; but allowed his mind, like a great cyclopædia, to be opened at any letter his associates might choose to turn up, and only endeavoured to select, from his inexhaustible stores, what might be best adapted to the taste of his present hearers. As to their capacity he gave himself no trouble ; and indeed, such was his singular talent for making all things plain, clear, and intelligible, that scarcely any one could be aware of such a deficiency in nis presence. His talk, too, though overflowing with information, had no resemblance to lecturing or solemn discoursing, but, on the contrary, was full of colloquial spirit and pleasantry. He had a certain quiet and grave humour, which ran through most of his conversation, and a vein of temperate jocularity, which gave infinite zest and effect to the condensed and inexhaustible information which formed its main staple and characteristic. There was a little air of affected testiness, too, and a tone of pretended rebuke and contradiction, with which he used to address his younger friends, that was always felt by them as an endearing mark of his kindness and familiarity,—and prized accordingly, far beyond all the solemn compliments that ever proceeded from the lips of authority. His voice was deep and powerful,--though he commonly spoke in a low and somewhat monotonous tone, which harmonized admirably with the weight and brevity of his observations; and set off to the greatest advantage the pleasant anecdotes which he delivered with the same grave brow and the same calm smile playing soberly on his lips. There was nothing of effort, indeed, or impatience,

any more than of pride or levity, in his demeanour: and there was a finer expression of reposing strength, and mild self-possession in his manner, than we ever recollect to have met with in any other person. He had in his character the utmost abhorrence for all sorts of forwardness, parade, and pretensions; and indeed never failed to put all such impostures out of countenance, by the manly plainness and honest intrepidity of his language and deportment.

In his temper and dispositions, he was not only kind and affectionate, but generous, and considerate of the feelings of all around him; and gave the most liberal assistance and encouragement to all young persons who showed any indications of talent, or applied to him for patronage or advice. His health, which was delicate from his youth upwards, seemed to become firmer as he advanced in years; and he preserved, up almost to the last moment of his existence, not only the full command of his extraordinary intellect, but all the alacrity of spirit and the social gaiety which had illumined his happiest days. His friends in this part of the country never saw him more full of intellectual vigour and colloquial animation-never more delightful or more instructive-than in his last visit to Scotland in autumn 1817. Indeed, it was after that time that he applied himself, with all the ardour of early life, to the invention of a machine for mechanically copying all sorts of sculpture and statuary ; —and distributed among his friends some of its earliest performances, as the productions of a young artist, just entering on his eighty-third year!”

This happy and useful life came, at last, to a gentle close. He had suffered some inconvenience through the summer ; but was not seriously indisposed till within a few weeks from his death. He then became perfectly aware of the event which was approaching; and with his usual tranquillity and benevolence of nature, seemed only anxious to point out to his friends around him the many sources of consolation which were afforded by the circumstances under which it was about to take place. He expressed his sincere gratitude to Providence for the length of days with which he had been blessed, and his exemption from most of the infirmities of age ; as well as for the calm and cheerful evening of life that he had been permitted to enjoy, after the honourable labours of the day had been concluded. And thus, full of years and honours, in all calmness and tranquillity, he yielded up his soul, without pang or struggle,-and passed from the bosom of his family to that of his God.

49.-SAINT PAUL AT ATHENS.

MILMAN.

[The Reverend Henry Hart Milman is the present Dean of Saint Paul's. He is the son of an eminent physician, Sir Francis Milman, and passed through his university education at Brazenose College, Oxford, with distinguished honours. Mr. Milman's poetical works are full of grace : his tragedy of ‘Fazio’ is perhaps the most finished dramatic production of our times, though others may have surpassed it in force of character and stage effect. His · Fall of Jerusalem' is a truly beautiful conception, and some of its lyrical pieces remarkable for tenderness and sublimity. As a prose writer, Mr. Milman may justly take rank amongst “ the best Authors." The following extract is from his learned, and unaffectedly pious, History of Christianity:']

At Athens, at once the centre and capital of the Greek philosophy and Heathen superstition, takes place the first public and direct conflict between Christianity and Paganism. Up to this time there is no account of any one of the apostles taking his station in the public street or market-place, and addressing the general multitude. Their place of teaching had invariably been the synagogue of their nation, or, as at Philippi, the neighbourhood of their customary place of worship. Here, however,

« EelmineJätka »