Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Russian Libraries; came out first in the masterly version of Goethe, in 1805; and only (after a deceptive re-translation by a M. Saur, a courageous mystifier otherwise,) reached the Paris public, in 1821,—when perhaps all, for whom, and against whom it was written, were no more!—It is a farce-tragedy; and its fate has corresponded to its purport. One day it must also be translated into English ; but will require to be done by head; the common steam-machinery will not meet it.

We here (con la bocca dolce) take leave of Diderot in his intellectual aspect, as Artist and Thinker: a richly endowed, unfavourably situated nature; whose effort, much marred, yet not without fidelity of aim, can triumph, on rare occasions; is perhaps nowhere utterly fruitless. In the moral aspect, as Man, he makes a somewhat similar figure; as indeed, in all men, in him especially, the Opinion and the Practice stand closely united; and as a wise man has remarked, “the speculative principles are often but a supplement (or excuse) to the practical manner of life.” In conduct, Diderot can nowise seem admirable to us; yet neither inexcusable; on the whole, not at all quite worthless. Lavater traced in his physiognomy“ something timorous;” which reading his friends admitted to be a correct one. Diderot, in truth, is no hero: the earnest soul, wayfaring and warfaring in the complexities of a World like to overwhelm him, yet wherein he by Heaven's grace will keep faithfully warfaring, prevailing or not, can derive small solacement from this light, fluctuating, not to say flimsy existence of Diderot: no Gospel in that kind has he left us. The man, in fact, with all his high gifts, had rather a female character. Susceptible, sensitive, living by impulses, which at best he had fashioned into some show of principles; with vehemence enough, with even a female uncontroulableness; with little of manful steadfastness, considerateness, invincibility. Thus, too, we find him living mostly in the society of women, or of men who, like women, flattered him, and made life easy for him; recoiling with horror from an earnest Jean Jacques, who understood not the science of walking in a vain show; but imagined (poor man) that truth was there as a thing to be told, as a thing to be acted.

We call Diderot, then, not a coward; yet not in any sense a brave man. Neither towards himself, nor towards others, was he brave. All the virtues, says M. de Meister, which require not “ a great suite (sequency) of ideas” were his: all that do require such a suite were not his. In other words, what duties were easy for him he did : happily Nature had rendered several easy. His spiritual aim, moreover, seemed not so much to be enforcement, exposition of Duty, as discovery of a Duty-made-easy. Natural

enough that he should strike into that province of sentiment, caur-noble, and so forth. Alas, to declare that the beauty of virtue is beautiful, costs comparatively little: to win it, and wear it, is quite another enterprize,—wherein the loud braggart, we know, is not the likeliest to succeed. On the whole, peace be with sentiment, for that also lies behind us !--For the rest, as hinted, what duties were difficult our Diderot left undone. How should he, the caur sensible, front such a monster as Pain? And now, since misgivings cannot fail in that course, what is to be done but fill up all asperities with foods of Sensibilité, and so voyage more or less smoothly along? Est-il bon ? Est-il méchant? is his own account of himself. At all events, he was no voluatary hypocrite; that great praise can be given him. And thus with Mechanical Philosophism, and passion vive ; working, flirting; “ with more of softness than of true affection, sometimes with the malice and rage of a child, but on the whole an inexhaustible fund of goodnatured simplicity," bas he come down to us, for better or worse: and what can we do but receive him?

If now we and our reader, reinterpreting for our present want, that Life and Performance of Diderot, have brought it clearer before us, be the hour spent thereon, were it even more wearisome, no profitless one! Have we not striven to unite our own brief present moment more and more compactly with the Past and with the Future; have we not done what lay at our hand towards reducing that same Memoirism of the Eighteenth Century into History, and “weaving” a thread or two thereof nearer to the condition of a “ web?

But finally, if we rise with this matter (as we should try to do with all) into the proper region of Universal History, and look on it with the eye not of this time, or of that time, but of Time at large, perhaps the prediction might stand here, that intrinsically, essentially liüle lies in it; that one day when the net-result of our European way of life comes to be summed up, this whole as yet so boundless concern of French Philosophism will dwindle into the thinnest of fractions, or vanish into nonentity! Alas, while the rade History and Thoughts of those same "Juifs nuiserables," the barbaric War-song of a Deborah and Barak, the rapt prophetic Utterance of an unkempt Isaiah, last now (with deepest significance) say only these three thousand years,- what has the thrice-resplendent Encyclopédie shrivelled into, within these three score! This is a fact which, explain it, express it, in which way he will, your Encyclopedist should actually consider. Those were tones caught from the sacred Melody of the All, and have barmony and meaning for ever; these of his are but outer discords, and their jangling dies away without result

“ The special, sole and deepest theme of the World's and Man's History,” says the Tbinker of our time," whereto all other themes are subordinated, remains the Conflict of UNBELIEF and Belief. All epochs wherein belief prevails, under what form it may, are splendid, heart-elevating, fruitful for contemporaries and posterity. All epochs, on the contrary, wherein Unbelief, under what form soever, maintains its sorry victory, should they even for a moment glitter with a sham splendour, vanish from the eyes of posterity; because no one chooses to burden himself with study of the unfruitful."

Art, II.- Reflexions sur l'Etude des Langues Asiatiques, ad

dressées à Sir James Macintosh; suivies d'une Lettre à M. Horuce Hayman Wilson. Par A. W. Schlegel, Professeur à

l'Université Royale de Bonn, &c.* Bonn; 1832. 8vo. In one of those periods when the fine arts were most triumphant, there lived a painter of acknowledged eminence, to whose genius his cotemporaries paid instinctive homage, all whose works challenged and obtained universal approbation. He saw, however, that there were potent rivals to contest the palm with him in the ordinary branches of the pictorial art, and deemed it essential to his fame to discover some new department in which he night reign“ alone in his glory." A bright thought struck him; most of the pictures of lions that existed in his day resembled rather the monsters of heraldry than any thing in nature—what better plan could he adopt than to remedy this gross defect, to displace the leonine caricatures, and substitute bonâ fide portraits of the monarchs of the wilds? He tried and he succeeded; his lions seemed ready to spring from the canvass, the timid shuddered as they contemplated the terrific representations, the curious in natural history deserted the menageries and crowded the painter's studio. He became intoxicated with success; bis vanity took the form of a syllogism in Barbara, running nearly thus:

Lion-painting is the very perfection of art;

I paint lions better than any one ;

::: I am the greatest man in the universe." But, alas ! the painter lived in the midst of a disputatious and perverse generation; his major proposition was denied almost as

* We have not copied the long list of titles wbich the author has appended to his name, but there is one among them which we cannot pass over without remark; he is, it appears, a Knight Commander of the Guelpliic Order, the only literary person who has yet attained that distinction, such men as Leslie, Herschel, and Brewster being deemed worthy only of the Knight Companionsbip. Our rulers have on many occasions shown a desire to give foreigners a preference over English scholars : " Verily they have their reward ;" for those whom they have thus distinguished, have generally proved to be the most virulent libellers of England.

soon as propounded. Men came who spoke of Claude's sweet landscapes, of Salvator's wild scenery, of Raphael's sublime conceptions, and Murillo's repetitions, rather than representations, of human life. At first the reply was easy,

“has any of themi painted a lion ?" for when the answer was in the negative, there came the obvious inference, “why then do you dare to compare him with me?" But in process of time some wicked wit advanced a step further in the argument, and declared that if they had not painted lions, they had painted what was just as good, if not better. Hereupon issue was about to be joined, when our painter learned that his minor proposition had not been permitted to pass uncontroverted; claims were made by and for other painters of lions, and one had the hardihood to assert that no. body could paint lions properly who had not visited tropical climates and actually seen the beast in his lair. Such conduct might have driven an angel to fury; no wonder that it roused our worthy painter to deeds of which he inight well be ashamed in his more sober hours. He forthwith concocted a pamphlet, vituperating in no measured terms all the painters of the age ; extolling lions, and himself, their only good delineator, to the third heavens, and accusing his oriental rival of having painted a lion with an unnatural curve in the tail, a gross exaggeration of the whisker, and a horrible distortion in the great toe-nail. The pamphlet was, however, eloquent, pointed and sarcastic; it proved equally the strength of the author's talents and the weakness of his temper, the depth of his knowledge and the shallowness of his discretion. In short, it was just such a brochure of splenetic egotism, woundled conceit and disappointed vanity, as the extraordinary pamphlet now lying before us.

A. W. Schlegel enjoys a European reputation, and deserves to enjoy it; we are not the persons to deny his extraordinary merits, or refuse homage to his great abilities. But we meet him now in a contest where he has voluntarily resigned his privileges, and descended from his vantage-ground. While Marius retained the stern majesty of virtue, no Cimbrian would dare to strike him, even in the dungeon; but when that same Marius bad yielded to the petulance of wrath and the violence of passion, he forfeited those moral claims which had been previously his best protection. And in the same manner, when Professor Schlegel abdicates his dignity, rushes into the lists not as a noble cavalier but as an angry boxer, runs a muck like an insane Malay or an inebriated Irishman, he, too, forfeits his claim to deference, and must be treated like any other pamphleteer whom mortified pride and disappointed expectations had driven into authorship.

The principal subjects of the Professor's pamphlet are: an attack on the Oriental Translation Fund for their plan in general,

and the details in particular, -rather a curious specimen of logical arrangement; a complaint against the East India Company for not cancelling their edition of the Hitôpâdêsa, and adopting that of Professor Schlegel; an extravagant eulogy of the Sanscrit

, with a cursory review of its grammars and dictionaries; a plan for the better cultivation of oriental literature in England; a complaint respecting the management of the British Museum, and a vindictive assault on Professor Wilson, for not having spoken of Professor Schlegel with sufficient respect. The offence given by the English professor is contained in the two following sentences ;

" I should think it an indispensable requisite, in the first professor of the Sanscrit language, that he had acquired his knowledge in India. Schlegel has not ventured in translation beyond those works which have been previously translated by English scholars." Will it be believed that the author calls these simple words a declaration of war? that he treats them as a deliberate denial of fame to the continental Orientalists, for he deems himself

“Knight of the shire, who represents them all," and regards them as a full justification for the constant deprecia. tion of the labours of all the English writers on Eastern languages, which runs in an under current through every page of this book ?

With only the first of the Professor's topics have we any concern; the others may be briefly dismissed. We trust that, if India stock rises, the Company will buy the whole edition of the Hitôpâdêsa ; to the long and laboured praise of Sanscrit literature we say, as the philosopher did to the eulogy on Hercules, “Quis vituperavit ? Professor Wilson is right well able to defend his own cause, and would probably feel little obliged to us for volunteering his defence. Omitting, then, these matters, we shall examine the particulars of the accusation brought against the Oriental Translation Fund, seriatim ; it will be scarcely necessary to refute them, for in the most important parts the Professor has spared us the trouble, and either in a note, or in a subsequent page, contradicted his charges almost as soon as they were made.

His first objection is to the entire system of publishing translations, as a means of diffusing information respecting the nations of the East. He says:

“I maintain that encouragements offered exclusively to translations, far from advancing a methodical and truly scientific study of the driental languages, tend to injure it, and must exercise an influence pernicious in proportion to the extent that the committee's projects are realized. Now, if this fundamental study be neglected, I say more, if Asiatic philology be not brought to greater perfection than it has yet attained, it will be impossible to procure good translations."

The first assertion, in this brief paragraph, is contradicted by general experience ; translations, even bad translations, have led

« ZurückWeiter »