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as a profession. With eminent abilities, and a perseverance and industry altogether beyond the grasp of ordinary men, he had but to choose his path in life in order to ensure success.
After one or two experiments in other directions, Southey felt that for him literature was the only congenial vocation; and throughout a long and arduous life-a life full of struggles and of heroism, of noble aspirations and hard matter-of-fact duties—he clung to the mistress of his choice with all the ardour of a first love.
It has been often said, and things which are frequently repeated are as often believed, that the life of a literary man can only have a contracted interest, since it is usually passed in retirement, and is not associated with conspicuous actions or with events commonly termed historical.
But the student of human nature, and the man who wishes to gain a knowledge of his own spirit, will receive most important aid from every biography that is written with truthfulness and candour; and the student of literature listens with an eager curiosity to any account of the author to whom he has been indebted for hours of happy thought, or whose noble imagination has sent the life-blood bounding through his veins. To readers such as these, a well-written biography of Robert Southey would present the most vivid attractions. And even now-chaotic, cumbersome, and ill-arranged as the materials of those six volumes are—there is enough that is precious in them to make one tolerate and almost forgive the blunders of the writer. Yet we cannot avoid contrasting, sorrowfully, the difference between that biography and some of those fine specimens of the art which Southey himself gave to the world; specimens so perfect, as far as composition and artistic arrangement are concerned—we say nothing of faults, since we are speaking only of literary ability—that his son might well have taken a lesson from them, and either have told the story better or confided it to more capable hands.
Two of James Montgomery's acquaintances have published a life of the poet so interminable and so dismal, that we question whether any poet since the world began had ever more reason to forswear his friends. Montgomery, in spite of some weaknesses, was a good man and a true poet, or he would have been ruined “entirely” by Messrs. Holland and Everett. We believe they meant well—we know they have done surpassingly ill ; but already they have been severely flagellated, and we will spare them in pity.
Something better than this, or at all events more interesting in its contents, is the biography of our National Melodist, by Lord John Russell. But what a strange medley that life is. If the materials from which it is concocted had been shakep together in a bag, and then taken out at random by a printer's devil, the confusion would hardly have been “worse confounded." Here, again, the great length of the work—even though it contained less of lumber than it does would suffice to daunt the reader, however interested he might be in Thomas Moore.
Very rapidly we must pass over a few more unfortunate biographies. Gilman's “Life of Coleridge," of which, happily, one volume only
was published, was justly said by Professor Wilson to be “deader than a door nail.”
Wordsworth's biography has scarcely any claim to the title ; and indeed, the learned author seems to take praise to himself for the way in which he has viewed the character of his illustrious uncle. All true lovers of poetry will, of course, read these two heavy volumes, not for the delight thereof, but from a sense of duty. They will perhaps gain from them many suggestions and some food for thought, but those who wish to read a simple and interesting narrative of the poet's life must wait until some more fortunate biographer shall have superseded Dr. Christopher Wordsworth.
Another doleful production, albeit not of the literary class, is the “Life and Diary” of good Mrs. Fry—a most worthy and admirable woman, of whose actions, which "smell sweet and blossom in the dust,” we are glad to hear, but whose private and retired thoughts might well have been spared. Indeed, the publication of a journal seems to us very much like a breach of faith. The secret meditations of an earnest Christian were never intended for a public exhibition, any more than those confidential letters which are too often paraded in print in contempt of all good feeling. And while on this matter of a Diary, our thoughts turn involuntarily to the “Life of William Wilberforce,” in which, according to the journalistic method, the minutest facts and most frivolous thoughts are jotted down in the same page which contains a glimpse of the higher and nobler phases of the philanthropist's character.
Let us not be misunderstood. We would not lose one trait, however minute, by which the biographer is able to bring out the character of his hero into greater relief; of such traits there are scores in Boswell's “Life of Johnson,” but every one of them occupies a place in the picture which would otherwise be left unfinished. Precisely opposite in character are the many insignificant commonplaces by means of which the “Life of Wilberforce” swells itself into five volumes.
We do not doubt that Wilberforce's Diary was useful to himself, as reminding him of what he had done and what he intended to do ; but for any other purpose, a goodly portion even of that selected for publication is, to our thinking, absolutely worthless.
Take, for instance, the 49th page of the first volume, which, with the omission of three lines connected with a foregoing paragraph, we extract verbatim :
“ 24th. House-spoke very well. “ 25th. Dined Lord Chatham's. 66 26th. Pitt's.
“ Jan. 1st, 1784. After breakfast to Cambridge-Comba-room. Town. shend asked me if Pitt would stand ?
“ 3rd. Set off for Exton—where got late, and slept.
" 4th. In vain pressed Mr. Noel to attend Monday, 12th. - « 20th. House coalition talked of. Dined Independents.opera-and supped Goosetree's.
** 23d. House-Pitt's Bill up at three.
« Feb. 2nd. House till twelve. Then home, and dreamed about debate.
“ 10th. White's to ballot for a committee-supped there. Wanted, but in vain, old North to come in.
“ 22nd. Dined G. Hardinge's. Mrs. Siddons sung charmingly.
How easy is it to manufacture volumes with such stuff as this ?and in the “ Life of Wilberforce” there are scores of pages filled in this manner, or not much more wisely.
Under the same category of spoilt biographies, we may class Roberts's “Life and Correspondence of Hannah More,” in four volumes.
Certainly that dear good lady, who, in the infancy of this century, was in very high repute, did manage to write a number of very (useful no doubt bat) dull volumes on all kinds of grave subjects. She was, as the Scotch would
unco cannie body ;” very earnest, very sincere, very busy, and set such good store upon her time, that she would not even punctuate her manuscript, until bodily illness restrained her from more important occupation. Her pet heroine, Lucilla, too, is equally exemplary, and divides out her hours with the most careful exactness, hanging her watch upon a tree when she takes her recreation in the garden, lest she should exceed the apportioned minutes.
Perhaps Hannah More's object in writing * Cælebs," was to disprove the general belief, that novels are “light reading ;" for to peruse that tale is certainly a labour, and not entirely of love. It is “
It is "dismally dull and dolefully dawdling," as The Press newspaper said of Tennyson's “ Maud.” Not, however, in a spirit of fault-finding would we part with this gentle spinster, who did a good work in her generation, but the truth is, Mr. Roberts has ruffled our usually equable temper, and therefore we had better, although somewhat hastily, dismiss the subject.
We have said enough-have we not ?-concerning those men and women whose dust has been maltreated by injudicious, incapable, or careless biographers, and perhaps this tirade may seem to run counter to our assertion, that Biography is emphatically an art of modern time. But is it not so ? Look back to our great men, who flourished three or even two hundred years ago. How little do we know about them, save that they fought, or wrote, or sung, and then returned to their mother earth. Almost all domestic incidents, characteristic anecdotes, habits of thought or life, aspirations, hopes, or efforts, are hidden from us, and we receive just that dry, bare recital of facts-facts too far from being well authenticated—which gives no impress of the character, and therefore fails to excite any vivid or personal interest. In this our nineteenth century, on the contrary, our idea of what biography should be is more comprehensive and more just, and although too often, in our efforts to obtain it, we fall into the error of over-much diffuseness, and are apt to entangle ourselves amid the mass of materials we collect, yet, notwithstanding this, the mark at which we aiming is assuredly the right one, and by many biographers it has already been successfully reached. Even those whose failure is the most conspicuous will, by their labours, mightily assist some future
life-writers, who may possess a more delicate sight, a firmer hand, and greater practice in the use of their literary weapons.
A few fine examples there are which these men may study with advantage. The lives of Arnold, Buxton, Crabbe, Stephenson, and Nelson; Forster's “Goldsmith," Lewis' “ Goethe," Lockhart's “Burns,” Dixon's “ Admiral Blake," and the “Life of Mrs. Hemans," by her sister, are all worthy of a place in our library, on the shelves devoted to standard authors, or to books which we open again and again, in search of some new beauty or suggestive thought, and which we never open in vain.
She has not lost her childish ways,
Her simple childish arts,
Like light upon our hearts.
Were all from sorrow free;
She's still a child to me.
Still the same grave and saintly brow,
The same pure thoughtful eyes ;
of Love's sweet mysteries.
The same face sweetly, sadly pale,
With the same happy glow,
Upon the spotless snow.
Yet, gentler seems her gentle voice,
And sadder than of old,
Even to me untold.
And often on soft summer days
I see her gaze on high,
In yonder shining sky,
And then I tremble at the change,
The only change I see,
A GLIMPSE INTO THE GLACIER WORLD.
In that red-bound, gilt-lettered book, which marks the Briton upon his travels as surely as doth his accurate accent and polished demeanour, there occurs a rich little bit of humbug relative to dangerous expeditions, which certain classes of tourists are apt to dwell upon with great unction and belief. The paragraph to which we allude, after hinting pretty broadly that any one who undertakes such expeditions is a fit and proper person upon whom to issue a commission “de lunatico inquirendo," goes on with fine philanthropy to tell us, that whatever right such idiots may possess to endanger their own worthless necks, they have clearly none to imperil those of the unfortunate guides whose "poverty, and not their will, consents” to their following so dangerous a metier.
Now I am greatly afraid that the motives of these friends of humanity will not bear too close a scrutiny. I very much doubt but that, on a nearer view, considerations of a personal nature will be found to leaven this righteous indignation ; and an excellent way of testing the reality of such feelings will be found in a slight statistical examination of the various individuals in whose mouths such sentiments are common. Thus, taking a hundred as the unit, the integral parts will be found to be as follows: Stout elderly gentlemen, whom obesity and “Dira Podagra" preclude from pedestrianism.
30 Honey-mooning brides, who are clearly of opinion that when
a man marries be should give up all that sort of thing. - 20 Mild young men (generally addicted to spectacles, weak in
eyes and intellect) who believe in "Murray" implicitly 10
Glaciers, as miserably as do hens when their brood of
adventure, although they cordially detest that waste of
0 This proportion, arrived at after much experience, calculation, and observation, will, I believe, be found nearly correct ; and as I feel sure that such illiberal persons form but an infinitesimal fraction of the intelligent readers of this Magazine, I shall proceed without any hesitation to describe exactly such an expedition, undertaken without a rag of excuse in the shape of scientific motive, and solely from a love of adventure, and a desire to see with my own eyes the marvels of the Upper Alpine regions, a sight to which the price of admission is, always some little peril and a good deal of exertion.
Having once made up my own mind on the subject, the next thing was to find a friend of the same way of thinking, and accordingly was highly delighted to secure in Majors a companion whose bottom and