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more or less; but it does not of necessity follow that the results would have been more valuable. A man's power in literature, as in everything else, is best measured by his accomplishment, just as his stature is best measured by his coffin. The man who can beat his fellows in a ten-mile race, is likely to maintain his superiority in a race for a shorter distance. It is a mistake to suppose that a man's largest work, or the work on which he has expended the greatest labor, is on that account his best. Literary history is full of instances to the contrary. When mental power is equal, that is surest of immortality which occupies the least space; scattered forces are then concentrated, like garden roses gathered into one bouquet, or English beauty in the boxes at the opera. Leisure and life-long devotion to a task have often resulted in tediousness. Large works are often too heavy for posterity to carry. We have too many "Canterbury Tales." The "Faery Queen " would be more frequently read if it consisted of only one book, and Spenser's fame would stand quite as high. Milton's poetical genius is as apparent in " Comus" and " Lycidas " as in his great Epic, which most people have thought too long. Audison's "Essay in Westminster Abbey" is more valuable than his tragedy. Macaulay's Essays on Clive and Warren Hastings are as brilliant, powerful, and instructive as any single chapter of his "History "—with the additional advantage that they can be read at a sitting. Certain readers have been found to admire Wordsworth's "We are Seven" more than the "Excursion." Coleridge talked of spending fifteen years on the construction of a great poem; had he done so, it is doubtful whether his reader would have preferred it to the "Ancient Mariner." From all this it may be inferred that if writers, instead of "frittering themselves away" in periodicals, had devoted themselves to the production of important works, the world would not have been much the wiser, and their reputations not one whit higher. Besides, there are many men more brilliant than profound, who have more ttan than persistence, who gain their victories, like the Zouaves, by a rapid dash; and these ilo their best in periodicals. These the immediate presence of the reader excites, as the audience the orator, the crowded
pit the actor. Jerrold sparkles like a firefly through the tropic night; Hood, in that tragic subject which his serious fancy loved, emits like the glowworm a melancholy ray. But they could not shine for any continuous period, and had the wisdom not to attempt it. Are they to blame that they did not write long books to prove themselves dull fellows? It is of no use to cry out against the present state of things in literature. The magazines are here, and they have been produced by a great variety of causes. They demand certain kinds of literary wares; but whether the wares are valuable or the reverse, depends entirely upon the various workmen. It is to be hoped, if magazine writers possess a specialty, that they will stick to their specialty, and work it out faithfully—that no one will go out of his way, like Mr. Dickens, when he wrote "The Child's History of England," or Mr. Ruskin, when he addressed himself to the discussion of questions in political economy. To the young "writer, the magazine or review has many advantages. In many instances he can serve in the house of a literary noble, as the squire in the fourteenth century served in the house and under the eye of the territorial noble. He may model himself on an excellent pattern, and receive knighthood from his master as the reward of good conduct. If otherwise circumstanced,— if, following no special banner, he writes under the cover of the anonymous, and if unsuccessful,—he. may retire without being put to public shame. In the arena of the magazines he can try his strength, pit himself against his fellows, find out his intellectual weight and power, gradually beget confidence in himself or arrive at the knowledge of his weakness,—a result not less valuable if more rarely acquired. If he is overthrown in the lists, no one but himself is the worse; if he distinguishes himself, it is a little unreasonable to expect him to keep his visor down when roses are showering upon him from applauding balconies. A man eminently successful in the magazines may fairly be forgiven for rushing to a reprint. Actors who make a hit at Drury Lane, almost immediately make a tour of the provinces. A reprint is to the author what a provincial tour is to the actor. If he is an amusing writer, people welcome him in his new shape with the gratitude which people always entertain for those who have amused them; if he is a great writer, people desire to shake hands with him, as the elector is proud to shake hands with the candidate whom he has elected as his representative. And, indeed, the magazinists may fairly be compared to the House of Commons,—a mixed audience, representing every class, stormy, tumultuous, where great questions are being continually discussed; an assembly wherein men rise to be leaders of parties; out of which men are selected to rule distant provinces ;—out of which also, every now and again, a member is translated to the Upper House, where he takes his seat among his peers, in a serener atmosphere, and among loftier traditions.
During the last year or two, there has been a large number of reprints from the magazines, consisting chiefly of essays and novels. With the latter at present we have no concern. The essay has always been a favorite literary form with magazine writers; and in the volumes before us we have specimens of various kinds. Of the most delightful kind of essay-writing, that of personal delineation, which chronicles moods, which pursues vagrant lines of thought, Montaigne is the earliest, and as yet the greatest example. Montaigne is as egotistical in his essays as a poet is in his lyrics. His subject is himself, his thinkings, his surroundings of every kind. He did not write to inform us about the events of his own time, though it was stirring enough; about his contemporaries, although he mingled much in society, and knew the best men of his day; about the questions which stirred the hearts and perplexed the intellects of the sixteenth-century Frenchmen, although be was familiar with them all, and had formed opinions;—these he puts aside, to discourse of his chateau, his page, his perfumed gloves;—to discuss love, friendship, experience, and the like, in his own way, half in banter, half in earnest. Consequently we have the fullest information regarding himself, if we have but little regarding anything else. Of course essays written after this fashion cannot, from the very nature of them, be expected to shape themselves on any established literary form. They do not require to have a middle, beginning, or end. They are a law unto themBelvcs. They are shaped by impulse and
whim, as emotion shapes the lyric. Montaigne wanders about at his own will, and has as many jerks and turnings as a swallow on the wing. He seems to have the strangest notions of continuity, and sometimes his titles have no relation to his subjectmatter, and look as oddly at the top of his page as the sign-board of the Bible-merchant over the door of a lottery office. He assails miracles in his "Essay on Cripples," and he wanders into the strangest regions in his essay " Upon some Verses of Virgil." In his most serious moods he brings illustrations from the oddest quarters, and tells such stories as we might suppose Squire Western to have delighted in, sitting with a neighboring squire over wine, after his sister and Sophia had withdrawn. These essays, full of the keenest insight, the profoundest melancholy, continually playing with death as Hamlet plays with Yorick's skull, whimsical, humorous, full of the flavor of a special character,—philosopher and eccentric Gascon gentleman in one,—are, in the best sense of the term, artistic. There is a meaning in the trifling, wisdom in the seeming folly, a charm in the swallow-like gyrations. All the incongruous elements,— the whimsicality and the worldly wisdom, the melancholy, the humor and sense of enjoyment, the trifling over articles of attire and details of personal habit, the scepticism which questioned everything, the piety and the coarseness,—mix and mingle somehow, and become reconciled in the alembic of personal character. Oppositions, incongruities, contradictions, taken separately, arc mere lines and scratches; when brought together, by some mysterious attraction they unite to produce a grave and thoughtful countenance —that of Montaigne. He explains the essays, the essays explain him. Of course the writer's remoteness from the great French world, his freedom from the modern conditions of publication and criticism, his sense of distance from his reader—if ever he should possess one—contributed, to a large extent, to make himself his own audience. He wrote as freely in his chateau at Montaigne, as Alexander Selkirk could have done in his solitary island. Had there been upon him the sense of a reading public and of critical eyes, he could not have delivered himself up so completely into the guidance of whim. As it is, the essays remain among the masterpieces of the world. He is the first of egotists, because, while continually writing about himself, he was writing about what was noble and peculiar. No other literary egotist had ever so good a subject, and then his style is peculiar as himself. In his essays he continually piques the reader; every now and then more is meant than meets the eye; every now and then a great deal less. He plays at hide-and-seek with his reader round his images and illustrations. In reading Montaigne, we are always thinking we are finding him out.
When the essay became a popular literary form in England, the conditions of things had altogether changed since Montaigne's day. The Frenchman was a solitary man, with but few books except the classics, given to self-communion, constantly writing to please himself, constantly mastered by whim, constantly, as it were, throwing the reins upon the neck of impulse. He had no public, and consequently he did not stand in awe of one. The country was convulsed, martyrs were consumed at the stake, country houses were sacked, the blood of St. Bartholomew had been spilt, tho white plume of Navarre was shining in the front of battle. Amid all this strife and turmoil, the melancholy and middle-aged gentleman sat in his chateau at Montaigne, alone with his dreams. No one disturbed him; he disturbed no one. He lived for himself and for thought. When Steele and Addison appeared as English essayists, they appeared under totally different circumstances. The four great English poets had lived and died. The Elizabethan drama, which had arisen in Marlow, had set in Shirley. The comedy of Wicherley and Congreve, in which pruriency had become phosphorescent, was in possession of the stage. Dryden had taken immortal vengeance on his foes. Fragments of Butler's wit sparkled like grains of salt in the conversation of men of fashion. English literature was already rich; there was a whole world of books and of uccu .nulated ideas to work upon. Then a public had arisen; there was the "town," idle, rich, eagerly inquiring after every new thing, most anxious to be amused. Montaigne was an egotist, because he had little but himself to write about; certainly he had nothing nearly so interesting. He pursued his speculations as he liked, because he had no one
to interfere with him. He was actor and audience in one. The English essayists, on the other hand, had the English world to act upon. They had its leisure to amuse, its follies to satirize; its books, music, and pictures, its public amusements, its whole social arrangements, to comment upon, to laugh at, to praise. As a consequence their essays are not nearly so instructive as Montaigne's, although they are equally sparkling and amusing. We are introduced into a fashionable world, to beaux with rapiers and lace ruffles, and belles with patches on their cheeks; there are drums and card-tables, and sedan chairs and links. The satire in the Spectator is conventional; it concerns itself with the circumference of a lady's hoops, or the air with which a coxcomb carries his cocked hat beneath his arm. The essayists of the eighteenth century were satirists of society, and of that portion of society alone which sneered in the coffee-houses and buzzed round the card-tables of the metropolis. They did not deal with crimes, but with social foibles; they did not recognize passions in that fashionable world; they did not reverence women, they took off their hats and uttered sparkling compliments to the "fair." Theirs was a well-dressed world, and they liked it best when seen by candle-light. They were fine gentlemen, and they carried into literature the fine-gentleman airs. They dressed carefully, and they were as careful of the dress of their thoughts as of their persons. Their epigram was sharp and polished as their rapiers; they said the bitterest things in the most smiling way; their badinage was gentlemanly. Satire went about with a colored plume of fancy in his cap. They brought style to perfection. But even then one could see that a change was setting in. A poor gentleman down at Olney, under the strong power of the world to come, was feeding his hares, and writing poems of a religious cast, yet with a wonderful fascination, as of some long-forgotten melody, haunting their theological peculiarities.which drew many to listen. Up from Ayrshire to Edinburgh came Burns, with black piercing eyes, with all his Eongs about him, as if he had reft a county of the music of its groves; in due time a whole wild Paris was yelling round the guillotine where noble heads were falling. Europe became a battle-field; a new name rose into the catalogue of kings; and when the essayists of our own century began to write, the world had changed, and they had changed with it.
The essayists who wrote in the early portion of the present century — Lamb, Hazlitt, and Hunt— are not only different from their predecessors, as regards mental character; they differ from them also in the variety of the subjects that engaged their attention. And this difference arises not only from the greater number of subjects attracting public interest in their day, but also from the immensely larger audience they had to address. They were not called upon to write for the town, but for town and country both. Society was reading in all its ranks, and each rank had its special interests. The essayists' subject-matter had been vastly enlarged, great actors had trod the boards, great painters had painted, the older poets had come into fashion, outside nature had again re-appeared in literature. The essayist could weave an allegory, or criticise, or describe, or break a social enormity on the wheel, or explode an ancient prejudice, with the certainty of always finding a reader. Lamb, the most peculiarly gifted of the three—who thought Fleet Street worth all Arcadia— confined himself for the most part to the metropolis, its peculiar sights, its beggars, its chimney-sweeps, its theatres, its old actors, its book-stalls; and on these subjects he discourses with pathos and humor curiously blended. For him the past had an irresistible attraction: he loved old books, old houses, old pictures, old wine, old friends. His mind was like a Tudor mansion, full of low-roofed, wainscoted rooms, with pictures on the walls of men and women in antique garb; full of tortuous passages and grim crannies in which ghosts might lurk; with a garden with plots of shaven grass, and processions of clipped yews, and a stone dial in the corner, with a Latin motto anent the flight of time carved upon it, and a drowsy sound of rooks heard sometimes from afar. He sat at the India House with the heart of Sir Thomas Browne beating beneath his sables. He sputtered out puns among his friends from the saddest heart. He laughed that he might not weep. Misery, which could not make him a cynic nor a misanthrope, made him a humorist. And knowing, as now we all know from Sergeant
Talfourd, the tragic shadow which darkened his home for years, one looks upon the portrait of Elia with pity tempered with awe. Lamb extended the sphere of the essay, not so much because he dealt with subjects which till his day had been untouched, but because he imported into that literary form a fancy humor and tenderness which resembled the fancy humor and tenderness of no other writer. The manifestations of these qualities were as personal and peculiar aa his expression of countenance, the stutter in his speech, his habit of punning, his love of black-letter and whiskey-punch. His essays are additions to English literature, just as Potosi silver was an addition to the wealth of Europe—something which it did not previously possess. Whatever his subject, it becomes interpenetrated by his pathetic and fanciful humor, and is thereby etherealized, made poetic. Some of his essays have all the seftness and remoteness of dreams. They are not of the earth earthy. They are floating islands asleep on serene shadows in a sea of humor. The essay on Roast Pig breathes a divine aroma. The sentences hush themselves around the youthful chimney-sweep, "the innocent blackness," asleep in the nobleman's sheets, as they might around the couch of the sleeping princess. Gone are all his troubles,—the harsh call of his master, sooty knuckle rubbed into tearful eyes, his brush, his call from the chimney-top. Let the poor wretch sleep! And then, Lamb's method of setting forth bis fancies is as peculiar as the fancies themselves. He was a modern man only by the accident of birth; and his style is only modern by the same accident. It is full of the quaintest convolutions and doublings back upon itself; and ever and again a paragraph is closed by a sentence of unexpected rhetorical richness, like heavy golden fringe depending from the velvet of the altar cover, —a trick which he learned from the "Beligio Medici," and the " Urn Burial." As a critic, too, Lamb takes a high place. His essay on the Genius of Hogarth is a triumphant vindication of that master's claim to the highest place of honor in British art; and in it he sets forth the doctrine, that a picture must not be judged by externals of color, nor by manipulative dexterity—valuable as these unquestionably are—but by the number and value of the thoughts it contains; a doctrine which Mr. Ruskin has borrowed, and has used with results.
Leigh Hunt was a poet as well as an essayist, and he carried his poetic fancy with him into prose, where it shone like some splendid bird of the tropics among the sobercoated denizens of the farmyard. He loved the country; but one almost suspects that his love for the country might be resolved into likings for cream, butter, strawberries, sunshine, and hay-swathes to tumble in. If he did not, like Wordsworth, carry in his heart the silence of wood and fell, he at all events carried a gillyflower jauntily in his button-hole. He was neither a town poet and essayist, nor a country poet and essayist; he was a mixture of both,—a suburban poet and essayist. Above all places in the world, he loved Hampstead. His essays are gay and cheerful as suburban villas,—the piano is touched within, there are trees and flowers outside, but the city is not far distant; prosaic interests are ever intruding, visitors are constantly dropping in. His essays are not poetically conceived; they deal—with the exception of that lovely one on the "Death of Little Children," where the fancy becomes serious as an angel, and wipes the tears of mothers as tenderly away as an angel could—with distinctly mundane and commonplace matters; but his charm is this, be the subject what it may, immediately troops of fancies search land and sea and the range of the poets for its adornment —just as, in the old English villages on May morning, shoals of rustics went forth to the woods and brought home hawthorns for the dressing of door and window. Hunt is always cheerful and chatty. He defends himself against the evils of life with pretty thoughts. He believes that the world is good, and that men and women are good too. He would, with a smiling face, have offered a flower to a bailiff in the execution of bis duty, and been both hurt and astonished if that functionary had proved dead to its touching suggestions. His essays are much less valuable than Lamb's, because they are neither so peculiar, nor do they touch the reader so deeply; but they are full of color and wit. They resemble the arbors we see in gardens,—not at all the kind of place one would like to spend a life-time in, but exceedingly pleasant to withdraw to for an hour when the sun is hot and no duty is
pressing. He called one of his books, "A Book for the Parlor Window; " all his books are for the parlor window.
Hazlitt, if he lacked Lamb's quaintness and ethereal humor, and Hunt's fancifulness, possessed a robust and passionate faculty which gave him a distinct place in the literature of his time. His feelings were keen and deep. The French Revolution seemed to him—in common with Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge—in its early stages an authentic angel rising with a new morning for the race upon its forehead; and when disappointment came, and when his friends sought refuge in the old order of things, he, loyal to his youthful hope, stood aloof, hating them almost as renegades; and never ceasing to give utterance to his despair: "I started in life with the French Revolution," he tells us; "and I have lived, alas! to see i the end of it. My sun arose with the first dawn of liberty, and I did not think how soon both must set. We were strong to run a race together, and I little dreamed that, long before mine was set, the sun of liberty would turn to blood, or sink once more in the night of despotism. Since then, I confess, I have no longer felt myself young, for with thatmy hopes fell." This was the central bitterness in Hazlitt's life; but around it were grouped lesser and more personal bitternesses. His early ambition was to be a painter, and in that he failed. Coleridge was the man whom he admired most in all the world, in whose genius he stood, like an Arcadian shepherd in an Arcadian sunrise, full of admiration,—every sense absorbed in that of sight; and that genius he was fated to see coming to nothing. Then he was headstrong, violent, made many enemies, was the object of cruel criticism, his financial affairs were never prosperous, and in domestic matters he is not understood to have been happy. 11 , , was a troubled and exasperated man, and this exasperation is continually breaking out in his writings. Deeply wounded in early life, he carried the smart with him to his death-bed. And in his essays and other writings it is almost pathetic to notice how he clings to the peaceful images which the poets love; how he reposes in their restful lines; how he listens to the bleating of the lamb in the fields of imagination. He is continually quoting Sidney's Arcadian image of the shepherd-boy under