« 上一頁繼續 »
question choose the essay as a vehicle of communication, their success in many cases would be more complete. Their ideas of life, of a foreign land, of modern society, or of human destiny, presented in this shape, with the graces of style, the attraction of anecdote, and the vivacity of wit and feeling, could not but find their way to the only class of readers who will ever estimate such labours; those who read to excite thought, as well as beguile time; to gratify an intellectual taste, as well as amuse an ardent fancy. The novel, too, is in its very nature ephemeral. The very origin of the word associates such productions with the gazettes and magazines--the temporary caskets of literature. And with the exception of Scott's, and a few admirable historical romances, novels seem among the most frail of literary tabernacles. Now, in reference to the class of authors to whom we have alluded, those who have a definite and important point in view, who are enthusiastic in behalf of a particular moral or mental enterprise, the evanescent nature of the popular vehicle is an important consideration. We would behold a more permanent personification of their systems, a more lasting testimony of their interest in humanity. And such we consider the essay. sented, condensed, and embellished in this more primitive form, a fair opportunity will be afforded for the candid examination of their sentiments; and we are persuaded that these .very ideas, thus arranged and disseminated, will possess a weight and an interest which they can never exhibit when displayed in the elaborate and desultory manner incident to popular fiction. An interesting illustration of these remarks may be found in the circumstance that many intelligent men, who are quite inimical to Bulwer, as a novelist, have become interested in his mind by the perusal of England and the English," and "The Student" --works which are essentially specimens of essay writing. The dramatic form of composition has recently been adopted in England, to subserve the theoretical purposes of authors. This, it must be confessed, is a decided improvement upon the more fashionable method, and the favour with which it has been received, is sufficiently indicative of the readiness of the public to become familiar with nobler models of literature.
We are under no slight obligations to Charles Lamb, for so pleasantly reviying a favourite form of English composition. We welcome Elia as the Spectator-redivivus. It is interesting to be amused and instructed after the manner of that delectable coterie of lay-preachers, humourists, and critics, of which Sir Roger de Coverly was so distinguished a member. It is peculiarly agreeable to be talked to in a book, as if the writer addressed himself to us particularly. Next to a long epistle from
an entertaining friend, we love, of all things in the world, a charming essay;-a concise array of ideas--an unique sketch, which furnishes subjects for an hour's reflection, or gives rise to a succession of soothing day dreams. Few books are more truly useful than such as can be relished in the brief intervals of active or social life, which permit immediate appreciation, and, taken up when and where they may be, present topics upon which the attention can at once fix itself
, and trains of speculation into which the mind easily glides. To such a work we suppose a celebrated writer alludes, in the phrase “parlour window-seat book.' Collections of essays are essentially of this order. We would not be understood, however, as intimating that this kind of literature is especially unworthy of studious regard; Bacon's Essays alone would refute such an idea; but from its conciseness and singleness of aim, the essay may be enjoyed in a brief period, and when the mind is unable to attach itself to more elaborate reading. A volunie of essays subserves the purpose of a set of cabinet pictures, or a port folio of miniature drawings; they are the multum in parvo of literature; and, perused, as they generally are, in moments of respite from ordinary occupation, turned to on the spur of mental appetite, they not unfrequently prove more efficient than belleslettres allurements of greater pretension. It is seldom that any desirable additions are made in this important departinent of writing; and among the contributions of the present age, the essays of Elia will deservedly hold an elevated rank.
Much of the interest awakened by these papers, has been ascribed to the peculiar phraseology in which they are couched. Doubtless, this characteristic has had its influence; but we think an undue importance has been given it, and we feel that the true zest of Elia's manner is as spontaneous as his ideas, and the shape in which they naturally present themselves. If we analyse his mode of expression, we shall find its charm consists not a little in the expert variation rather than in a constant maintenance of style. He understood the proper time and place to introduce an illustration; he knew when to serve up one of his unequaled strokes of humour, and when to change the speculative for the descriptive mood. He had a . happy way of blending anecdote and portraiture; he makes you see the place, person, or thing, upon which he is dwelling; and, at the moment your interest is excited, presents an incident, and then, while you are all attention, imparts a moral, or lures you into a theorising vein. He personifies his subject, too, at the appropriate moment; nor idealises, after the manner of many essayists, before the reader sympathises at all with the real picture. Lamb's diction breathes the spirit of his favourite school. He need not have told us of his partiality
for the old English writers. Every page of Elia bears witness to his frequent and fond communion with the rich ancient models of British literature. Yet the coincidence is, in no degree, that which obtains between an original and a copyist. The tinge which Lamb's language has caught from intimacy with the quaint folios he so sincerely admired, is a reflected hue, like that which suffuses the arch of clouds far above the setting sun; denoting only the delightful influence radiated upon the mind which loves to dwell devotedly upon what is disappearing, and turns with a kind of religious interest from the new-born luminaries which the multitude worship, to hover devotedly round the shrine of the past. If any modern lover of letters deserved a heritage in the sacred garden of old English literature, that one was Charles Lamb. Not only did he possess the right which faithful husbandry yields, but his disposition and taste rendered him a companion meet for the noble spirits that have immortalised the age of Elizabeth. In truth, he may be said to have been on more familiar terms with Shakspeare, than with the most intimate of his cotemporaries; and it may be questioned whether the Religio Medici, that truly individual creed, had a more devout admirer in its originator, than was Elia. He assures us that he was “shy of facing the prospective," and no antiquarian cherished a deeper reverence for old china, or the black letter. Most honestly, therefore, came our author by that charming relish of olden time, which sometimes induces in our minds, as we read his lucubrations, a lurking doubt whether, by some mischance, we have not fallen upon an old author in a modern dress.
There is another feature in the style of these essays, to which we are disposed to assign no inconsiderable influence. We allude to a certain confessional tone, that is peculiarly attractive. There is something exceedingly gratifying to the generality of readers in personalities. On the same principle that we are well pleased to become the confidant of a friend, and open our breasts to receive the secret of his inmost experience, we readily become interested in a writer who tells us, in a candid, naïve manner, the story not merely of his life, in the common acceptation of the term, but of his private opinions, humours, eccentric tastes, and personal antipathies. A tone of this kind, is remarkably characteristic of Lamb. And yet there is in it nothing egotistical; for we may say of him as has been said of his illustrious schoolfellow, whom he so significantly, and, as it were, prophetically, called “the inspired charity boy;"—that "in him the individual is always merged in the abstract and general." Writers have not been slow to avail themselves of the advantage of thus occasionally and incidentally presenting glimpses of their private notions and
sentiments; indeed, this has been called the age of confessions; but with Elia, they are so delicately and yet so familiarly imparted, that they become a secret charm inwrought through the. whole tissue of what he denominates his “ weaved up follies.” There are passages scattered through this volume, which exemplify the very perfection of our language. There are successive periods, so adroitly adapted to the sentiment they embody, so easy and expressive, and, at the same time, so unembellished, that they suggest a new idea of the capabilities of our vernacular. There are words, too, at which we should pause, if they were indited by another, to institute a grave inquiry into their legitimacy, or, perchance, prefer against their author the charge of senseless affectation. But with what we know of Elia, in catching ourselves at such a process, we could not but waive the ceremony, and say of it as he has said of some equally heartless vocation-"it argues an insensibility.”
Another striking trait of the Essays of Elia, is the familiarity of their style. In this respect they frequently combine the freedom of oral with the more deliberative spirit of epistolary expression. We have already alluded to one effect of this method of address; it annihilates the distance between the reader and author, and, so to speak, brings them face to face. Facility in this kind of writing, is one of the principal elements in what is called magazine talent. It consists in maintaining a conversational tone while discussing a topic of great interest in a humorous way, or making a light one the nucleus for spirited, amusing, or instructive ideas. The dearth of this popular tact in this country, and its fertility in England, are well known. We think the discrepance can be accounted for by reference to the essential difference in the social habits of the two countries. The literary clubs are the nurseries of this attractive talent in Great Britain. The custom of convening for intellectual recreation, favours the growth of a ready expression of thought, and of a direct and inviting flow of language. Writers are habituated to an attractive style, by being trained in a school of conversation. Intimate connection with the best minds, not only informs and kindles, but induces vivacity of delivery both in speech and writing. We can conceive, for instance, of no ipspiration even to the colloquial powers of an intelligent man, like direct communion with such an individual as Mackintosh ; and we can find no cause for wonder, that one blessed with the companionship of the literati of London and Edinburgh, should acquire the power of talking on paper in a delightful and finished manner. Such society affords, if we may be allowed the expression, a kind of intellectual gymnasium, where the art of interesting with the pen may be, and naturally is, acquired by such as are endowed with VOL. XIX.–No. 37.
native wit, and reflective or graphic ability. With us the case is so widely different, the opportunities for general and exciting association so rare, that it is no matter of surprise that magazine talent, as it is termed, should be of slow growth. How far Charles Lamb was indebted to his social privileges for his style, we are not prepared to say. Yet there are numerous indications of the happy influence of which we speak, interspersed through his commentaries on men and things. We refer, of course, altogether to the style; for as to the ideas, they are entirely his own, bearing the genuine stamp of originality. It seems essential to an efficient light literature, that those interested in its culture should be brought into frequent contact with each other, and with general society. A poet who would evolve representations of humanity in abstract forms, who would present models beyond and above his age, may indeed find, in the shades of retirement, greater scope, and a less disturbed scene wherein to rear his imaginary fabric; and the philosopher whose aim is the application of truth to history, or the delineation of some important principle in science or art, doubtless requires comparative solitude. The position of both is contemplative. The fancy of the one would plume itself for flight, and the eyry of the noblest birds is always among uninvaded haunts; the reflection of the other would grapple with the abstract, and the deepest elemental strife of nature is ever amid her lofty cloud-retreats, or solitary depths. But the writer who would beguile, amuse, or teach his cotemporaries by some winning literary device, who would accomplish all these objects at once, and “do it quickly," must mix with his fellow-creatures, and make a study of the passers-by. He must hold familiar intercourse with the ruling school; not to adopt their principles, but to become disciplined by their conversation; and he should note the multitude warily, in order to discover both the way and the means of affecting them. The legitimate essayist has need of a rich vocabulary, and a flexible manner; a quick perception, and a candid address. And these equipments, if not obtainable, are at least improveable, by social aids. Conversation, were it not utterly misun derstood and perverted, might prove a mighty agent in the culture of the noblest of human powers, and the sweetest of human graces. There was a beautiful fidelity to nature in the habits of the philosophers of the Garden. There are few pictures so delightful in ancient history, as the noble figure of a Grecian sage moving through a rural resort, or beneath a spacious portico, imparting to his youthful companion lessons of wisdom, or curbing his own advanced mind to pioneer that of his less mature auditor through the early mazes of mental experience. The teeming presence of nature and art in all their