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REVIEW OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
The Round Table, a Collection of Es- tempted also to think that this did
says on Literature, Men, and Man- not arise so much from the sanguine ners. By William Hazlitt. 8vo. quickness and vivacity in which they 2 vols. 1817. Constable, Edin- have been compared to the French,
burgh, Longman, London. as from a stark love of paradox. This Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. By affection for hypothesis, as the sad Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. By experience of many of our neighbours
William Hazlitt. 8vo. pp. 352.
can attest, would appear to be inheritJosephi Scaliger said, “ Les Ecos- ed in by Scotsmen. To say merely sois sont bons philosophes." The ter- that Scotsmen are fond of theory ra incognita of the intellectual world would not be enough. The plain has much decreased since the time of matter of fact men are, after all, the that literary hero. Without vanity, most inveterate theorists of any.
It or weak national feelings, we may is that sort of deception, even in exaver, that the Scots have had their tremes, and thinking to catch truth share in this desirable improvement; by processes equally short and safe, and have continued to merit his en which leads people to like this and comium by keeping pace at least with that, without the trouble of giving the the march of genius elsewhere. To why and the wherefore. By those, ascertain the limits, and appreciate therefore, who boast of their own the varieties of human genius, is a caution in reasoning, and constant attask which, without meaning or pre-. tention to facts, it is certain that the tending to offer a hint on it ourselves, venerable name of Theory has been we venture to assert has not been often much abused by a too constant applior happily attempted by the mercu cation of it to the casual and careless rial wits of our day. In the plenitude lucubrations of men like-minded with of their powers, they have found this our countrymen. Thus are we led to task, so Hattering to the pride of in- characterize whole classes of men by a tellect, rather extensive and laborious few high-sounding words, merely befor them. Our own countrymen af- cause they are a little more inquisitive ford, we think, a good subject for than ourselves, and because they may this kind of distinctive delineation. thus happen to take a longer or more Though reckoned still philosophers, circuitous route for coming at the they are not particularly rich in that truth. We forget, all the while, that kind of acquired knowledge which is they adopt a most excellent process for called scholarship; and, though ra- opening up new directions, or framing ther indisposed either to such exer- unexpected combinations, of thought. tions as tend to those acquirements More than all the speculative faults which constitute the learned character, of our countrymen could be forgiven or to the admiration of them in other them by their free-souled neighbours, people, are not deficient in pursuing provided they were a little less exclutruth through a long train of research, sive in their intellectual habits. But nor in eliciting it, by that power of the Scots have never yet become witty. the mind which is exerted in the act They are rather apt, in the way of criof generalization, from the accumu-, ticism, to dissect a man's pretensions lated labours of those who have gone unmercifully, and take him to pieces before them. As a nation of talkers with a bitter tone of sarcasm that ofand disputers on religion and politics, fends, and wounds, and rankles. There they have been remarkable for “ that is a saturnine air,-a sardonic and not unsettled speculative mode of conver self-satisfied sneer about their humour. sation" of which Johnson complained. They are more caustic than tickling In their set reasonings, they are per. in their attacks. The pastoral quali. haps too contemptuous of facts, and ties of that rude and unmusical patois, too eager to get at a conclusion before which they call their dialect, ‘is fac the proper time. We have been vourable to the expression of broad
humour,--and in that they get on pose of his own, as if that alone pretty well, --when they dare attempt were enough to denote their power it without the fear of being deemed and application at all points. We can foolish. But, for that again, they are not say, on the whole, that they are more cynical than alert in their re- misplaced ; but we may complain that torts. They cannot play round a sub they are not seldom put down with ject. They must grasp and wrench the carelessness of one who sees a cerit in the downright earnestness of their tain length and instantly,--but who natures.-But of this enough. is more solicitous about the grasp and
Our readers, it is presumed, have generality of his idea than about the such confidence in our wisdom as to severe affinity of its relations, or the believe that we could not have said accuracy of its expression. all this for nothing ; and, we can
The Round Table bears his name. freely confess that we have brought But part of it was written and some in these remarks rather a little for of the best parts also, we think, by cibly, it must be allowed, -only to Mr Leigh Hunt. In the manner of shew our own moderation and caution the title-page, however, we shall make in speaking of how people think, and Mr Hazlitt the principal person ; and, what they say at this day in Old Eng as the book on Shakespeare is wholly land. We have been fairly led into his, we shall merely name what we them, by natural association, from think the best essays of the Round the perusal of those agreeable volumes Table, and then proceed with that gewhose titles appear at the head of this neral account of him as a writer to article, and which, in spirit and tem- which the joint consideration of the per, abound with characteristics so two books has fairly given rise. different from those which distinguish The best papers in the Round the compositions of Scotsmen. Table, as they occur to us, are those
It may be observed, probably, that On the tendency of Sects-On Mana it savours of affectation to get up, in ner (a good compound of all that three expensive volumes, a series of we have noted in Mr Hazlitt)-On newspaper criticisms,- and that the Chaucer-On the Causes of Methodcriticisms themselves, from their tone ism-On the Beggar's Opera-On and style, are not fit to be considered Common-Place People-On Mr Kean's as polite literature. This will be the lagom A Day by the Fireside-Cham language of those who are disposed to racters of John Bull, and of Mr Pitt, contemn Mr Hazlitt. But it is e and of Rousseau-On the Literary nough for the character of these intel- Character - On Washerwomen-On ligent and most cheerful compositions, Gusto. But these, of course; will be that the public itself,--the ultimate inarked according to the different tastes and greatest judge of merit, has al- and peculiar associations of different ready decided in their favour.
persons. It would be minute and te-. Mr Hazlitt is not one of the most dious trifling to point out or defend acute thinkers on every subject; nei our sense of their beauties. ther is he the most profound expositor Mr Hazlitt seems to have been earof the theory of literature which the ly aware, that a writer on subjects of present times, prolific enough in talent taste and the lighter departments of of that sort, have produced. But he morals, requires, in addition to a fund is a man with a great deal of elegant of ingenuity, that, to use a peculiar knowledge,—with a wide range of il- phrase, he should have all his wits alustration and reference in polite let- bout him. Men, without having beters. In his airy and brief discus come a whit more sensitive or fanci. sions, we sometimes desiderate har-' ful, are now so sagacious, that it is mony and fulness of view, or preci- extremely difficult for an essayist to sion of thought. But there is never say how he shall attack them. any want of directness. He gives public," as M. Say observes, a number of extraneous elements and public demande à un écrivain dont il extreme points,—not bound together achète le livre, de lui donner du neuf; easily by any common tie, and not et le public se fâche quand on lui very specially designated for their donne quelque chose qui choque les various purposes. They are placed idées reçues ; cette contradiction est together with great sharpness and sur-tout bien sensible en morale, où spirit, and merely named 'for a pure tout ce qui est reçu, est excessive
" Le Le
ment commun, et où tout ce qui ne tie who attempts to guide the public l'est pas, fait rejaillir toujours un cer- opinion, or to excite discussion on the tain degré de blâme sur l'écrivain lesser departments of criticism, or the qui le hasarde "* Mr Hazlitt escapes more transient topics of taste. And all this ; and while he eschews every the consequence is, that these essays thing that is flat or common-place were more generally read, and excited he is such as we have endeavoured a wider interest when they first apfaithfully to represent him in the fole peared in the Examiner, than any lowing very slight and obvious con- thing of the kind which had been prosiderations.
duced for many years. Mr Hazlitt is very far from being An essay is not expected to contain a simple writer, and yet he is, per- the developement of a theory, or the haps, the most pleasing chastiser of complete exposition of ultimate truth. the lighter follies of mankind,--the Its object is to excite others to think best critic on the proper gout for for themselves, or, by the exhibition painting,—and on the tasteful appre- of agreeable imagery, and the use of ciation and fanciful adjustment of the smart allusion, to make them pleased drama. He is the best writer of a with the labour of thinking. * ' If Mr short essay since Goldsmith,-only H. does not expound any new or he cares less about seriously hurting beautiful theory, -he certainly conworthy prejudices or respectable weako veys more vivid images, in a slight nesses, and has infinitely less aver- and unpretending shape, and in the sion from bustle or pretension. In smallest compass, than any other pethis latter respect, indeed, he is quite riodical writer we know. If he pushes up to the tone of the age, and gives his view of a question in taste or manjudgments, and comes to conelusions, ners rather farther than a more grave or deals censures, with great rapidity critic would venture, or than the juand decision. One great charm about dicious or fastidious among his readers him is the apparently unconscious can go along with him,- there is in gravity, and deep tone of absolute im- all he says so much frankness and pression and responsibility with which good humour, that his paradoxes are he dispatches all the trifling details of never distasteful. He never sneers at his subject, and all the fleeting inter- common men,-nor speaks with conests and well-turned small talk with tempt of their humble vocations, or which a critic on actors and plays has disgust at their harmless though unto deal. He is, in this respect, all in enlightened propensities. He freall
. He thinks no more of question- quently discovers, and, in short, never ing the depth and interest of his dis- omits to express, where there is occacussions, than M. De La Place would sion or opportunity for it,-_a warm of making a doubt concerning his in- regard and a noble-minded respect for vestigation of the problem of the three the happiness and liberties of the great bodies, or his theorems of the eccen mass of human beings. His power tricities of the planetary orbits. He of throwing a shade of tasteful and does not seek to cover his assertions, amusing illastration over the most or to justify them by any very minute common topics, from all parts of learnprocess of defence. 'He throws them ing, and especially froin the whole out, and leaves the adjustment and range of poetry, eloquence, painting, harmonising of them to the taste or and the drama, is not equalled, we caprice of his various readers. All believe, by any popular writer of these this is clearly what is wanted in a cri- times. He seems always to have in
his eye that cutting remark of M. Say, We have uncommon pleasure in re
“ Entre un penseur, et un érudit il ferring to a work of light and agreeable y a la même différence qu’entre un literature, published the other day in Paris. “ Petit VOLUME contenant quelques ap Hume is the writer who unites the perçus Des Hommes, et de la Société. Par deepest thought with the winning graces Jean Baptiste Say, De l’Academie Impe- of classical language and the various charms riale de Saint-Petersbourg." The first po- of harmonious composition. A great critic litical economist of his day appears in that of our own time and country, is the man little book as a person of genuine wit and who stimulates the most thought, and simacuteness of observation, and a lover and a plities the exposition of a theory in the successful cultivator of the belles-lettres.
livre et une table des matières," and did not write with a vigour and brilwould appear to regard his learning liancy,-a tasteful, ornate, and uninFery little, if it did not afford him the flated eloquence,--and a rich natural instruments for putting those about vivacity, which are all, to an uncomhim in better humour with them- mon degree, the rightful praise and selves. He seems not to have the smal- the natural possessions of his fine inlest portion of the intellectual satur. tellect. nine about him,--and, while his ob There has been much sneering at ject is to furnish ordinary men with Mr Hazlitt, and reproach of him for those fruits, in which, perhaps, after having dared to say, that he wrote all
, consist the only enviable results" in the manner of the earlier perioof erudition,--he is no pedant him- dical essayists, the Spectator and self, and seems to view it in others Tatler." Nothing, however, it apwith that easy contempt which is more pears to us, could be more absurd likely to put it down, than the angry than this sneering, except the ineffecimpatience with which men of warın tive spleen and littleness of mind apprehensions are apt to meet it. He which gave rise to it. It would be avows his sentiments, and the whole unfair to institute a direct comparison of them, with the fearless openness between Addison and a favoured writof an Englishman. He defers to no er of this day, with all those advanprejudices. He flatters no weak- tages his side, which the progress nesses. And all his efforts seem bent of science and philosophy has given to on producing in the world a greater even the humblest of speculators. stock of candour in judgment,-un- Good taste in manners and in literapretending uprightness in conduct,- ture also have descended to ranks in and feelings of tolerance and kindness society lower than those at which they towards the general mass of human were fixed in Addison's day. This beings. The scope and object of his has given a prepared manner to those writings, indeed, is to increase the who write for the public. There is sum of human happiness, by clearing none of that lordly slovenliness or booand enlarging the avenues of elegant byishly condescending carelessness of and innocent gratification. He la- manner, or privileged contempt of mebours to render common those noble thod in argument, which characterized inquiries of which Mr Payne Knight the Buckinghams, the Halifaxes, and has remarked, in his forcible language, the Shaftesburys, while there is less that they “ bring the highest efforts of the raciness and persuaded intenof human taste or genius into a strong, sity of Molesworth. The standard of er or clearer light,-adding to the taste must still fluctuate. Ideas, intellectual pleasures of man, which bowever, are more fixed; and there are certainly the most valuable be- is less palliation, and less excuse for longing to his nature, because they haste, or indolence, or indistinctness. can be at all times enjoyed without We venerate the name of Addison. injury to health, fame, or fortune.” * We think that there is something of The certain effect of his good temper the bland and calm,—the benevolent and well applied ridicule, is to pull and ingenuous,-the real atticism of down intolerance. His aim is to teach polite letters, associated with it. There the religious part of the community was a grace and chasteness in every to look at their erring brethren with- thing which he wrote,--something, put hating them, and those who in fact, which, if the repose and coldhave been at some pains to form tastes
ness of marble could speak,-is very and habits, and opinions, not to sup- like the air and attitude of his pose that they know all that is worth statue in Westminster Abbey. He knowing, or that the rest of mian is the author of the finest allegorical kind who do not see with their eyes, vision in our language. But, Mr Hazare either very stupid or very weak. litt's writings are incomparably fuller This is the right tone for a public of ideas than Addison's. He cannot writer. It would be reason enough even jest with a subject without letfor us to like Mr Hazlitt, and to ting out notions and fragments of overlook his faults, even though he thought as it were, which have an in
cidence which shews them to be the See “ An Analytical Essay on the product of a philosophical observer. Greek Alphabet." Lond. 4to, 1791. He condenses, we repeat it, a great
many ideas on subjects of taste and by a happy grouping of conceptions, letters, in a small space. Addison's and a simple combination of thought ; thoughts hung too loosely about him. he comes to the end of his logic soonIlis fulness of language,-his quanti- er than we could wish. His process is ty of words,—the cloying redundance so direct, and rests on so few expletive of his expression, are, it strikes us, in- circumstances, or qualifying condiadequate to the result of ideas which tions, that we come to the belief with they convey. He has seldom that which he wishes to inspire us, not with precision of thought which stirs the slow and interrupted pleasure of thought in others. His wit is wire- professed investigation, but we rather drawn, and his mirth languid. Mr receive impressions with the vividness Hazlitt is a different writer. And, of a poetical figure of eloquence, or moreover, we are quite sure he did the soothing titillation which can be not refer to Addison from any undue conveyed by a witty man who gives presumption, or any disrespect to him the best wine, and points all his jokes as the father of our periodical litera- in support of the side we like best. ture.
This costs a much greater expenditure In every thing which Mr Iłazlitt of the energies of the thinking princiwrites there is much of the ease and ple, and goes into an infinitely smalunstudied variety of conversation ; ler space than the wire-drawn stateonly that the flow of language is more ments, and technically supported inornate,—the transitions smoother, genuity, of writers who have neither and, in the painter's terin, better quickness of spirit, nor comprehension shaded in. We have no doubt, in of sympathy, to trust their first imshort, that many essays in the Round pressions. Table are fair copies of his table-talk. As a writer on art, Mr Hazlitt's We know, at least, that the essay on power has been greatly shewn. Here Methodism, one of the most poignant he has, by a rare felicity of language, and effective pieces of satire in the found means to express all the caprishape of essay, was delivered at a li- cious ideas, and minute distinctions, terary converzatione in London, near- and to arrest all the fleeting impresly verbatim as it appears; the dia- sions which enter into our judgment logue on Mr Hazlitt's part, beginning of a picture, or constitute the pleasures “The first methodist on record was we receive from painting. His senDavid. He was the first eminent per tences sparkle with imagery. It is son we read of who made a regular true that he too often appears familiar compromise between religion and mo or affected, and sometimes uses freerality, between faith and good works.” doms with language which it can
We should guess him to be just hardly bear. But his illustrations are that sort of man who could open well so profuse and happy, that he gives to a debateable question, and mark out a criticism on a picture the inventiveits bearings and relations in the way ness and spirit-stirring facility of poebest calculated to excite discussion. try, without losing the propriety of But he might possibly appear to less prose. We would offer him a tribute advantage, if a keen and adroit ques in his own way by saying, that he attioner were to press home on him for tends not merely to the graceful the reason of his faith. He would be grouping of his figures, and the probetter in attack than in reply. He per distribution of his lights and shawould appear, also, to most advantage dows, but elaborates with care the after men of nice belief, and formal minutest objects, and brings out disdistinctions, had exhausted their com- tinctly, by a happy stroke, all the mon-places of good faith. He is fond adjuncts and paraphernalia of his reof cutting at right angles into a sub- presentation. He is a foe to formality, ject, and making short work of bis and a determined lover of gaiety. His conclusions. His talent, however, does air is perhaps rather free and familiar, not appear to be that of simplifying. -his manner tranchant. His art, He is dogmatically facetious. He is however, it is fair to say, might be not lazy-minded, though, like other defined, on the whole, as that of makdogmatists : He does not trifle away ing slight and trivial things the object his time in clothing old saws with ve of serious discussion, rather than of hement amplification, and vigorous the easy and familiar explication of language ;-he produces his results great subjects. His is an acute mind