Page images

er able to retain or enjoy; and eagerly follow the scent or the shadow, when the substance has escaped them ;-who are continually prying every where in quest of their game, and equally ready to worry whatever their prurient and morbid imaginations invest with its semblance.

As for the delight afforded by rich, mellow, and splendid harmony of colours and light and shade, we cannot but think that Sir Joshua Reynolds, though so successful in producing it, has unreasonably debased it in his Discourses, by treating it as a pleasure of mere sensuality. There are unquestionably some colours or modifications of light more grateful to the eye than others; but the mere organic pleasure that any of them afford, is so imperceptible amidst the higher gratifications, that it can in no case be properly called sensuality, any more than that arising from the melody of verse. Both are only grateful when employed as the vehicles of meaning; no person, we believe, having ever found pleasure in hearing verse recited in a language, which he did not understand; or in contemplating the materials of a picture spread out on the pallet. Yet, as far as they affect the organs of sense only, each must be the same in both instances.

Even when painting or sculpture are unworthily employed to excite sensuality, they only do it through the medium of the imagination. Neither is it in the power of either to excite much sympathy of passion or affection,-which require more complete scenes than either of them can afford. The productions of both are fixt and stationary, exhibiting but one momentary action or event, and making but one unvaried impression; so that the most impassioned and expressive figure tells no more than one dumb attitude on the stage. We admire the taste and skill of the artist in expressing the sentiments and feelings of the mind in corporeal forms; and our delight arises more from that admiration, than from any sympathy with the sentiments or feelings exprest in his work.

ART. II. Correspondance Literaire, Philosophique et Critique; Adressée à un Souverain d'Allemagne; Depuis 1753 jusqu'en 1769. Par le Baron De Grimm, et par Diderot. 6 tomes, 8vo. Paris, 1813.


HEN the first portion of this learned person's lucubrations was under our notice, we were unwarily led to express a wish for the publication of the rest :--and behold! we have now eleven thick volumes of them on our table! We have not

been able, we confess, to get regularly through the whole of this great mass; 'and only consider ourselves, at present, in a condition to give an account of the first six,-which extend from the year 1753 to 1769, and end where the part originally published, it will be recollected, began. The concluding part of this last publication takes up the Journal where the first ended; and brings down the literary and philosophical history of Paris

from 1782 to 1790.

It would certainly have been agreeable, and might have been instructive, to have considered the whole work at one view; and thus to have been enabled to trace the change of tone, and the succession of leading subjects, that cannot fail to have occurred in the critical annals of half a century. But the size of the work, and the mode of its publication, have made this impracticable; and while we may venture perhaps upon something of the sort when we come to the last part of the worthy Baron's Chronicles, our readers must be contented, for the present, with such desultory remarks as are suggested by the portion more immediately before us.

Of this we cannot help saying, at the outset, that it strikes us as being, on the whole, less interesting than that which we formerly examined; but whether this arises from its having been earlier written, or later read, we really cannot presume to determine. The Baron may have been less practised in his vocation, when he indited these philosophical despatches; or we may have been more fastidious in ours, when we perused them. The difference, however, if there actually be any, seems rather to be in the manner than the matter of his miscellaneous speculations. There is the same cheerful sagacity, and intrepid good sense here, as formerly ;—but rather less, we think, of playfulness, or of that petulant extravagance of pleasantry which so frequently enlivened us on his first introduction to our notice. We are far, however, from intending any disparagement to the worthy Baron, even in his present habiliments-or from lowering him down to any comparison with the common herd of discoursers on literature and philosophy. We think indeed, that the principles of both have been considerably enlarged and exalted since the period when his creed was finally adjusted; but he has bright glimpses even of those coming glories; and frequently anticipates, with wonderful precision, the sentiments and opinions of a more experienced and impartial posterity. He does not indeed exhaust the many interesting themes on which he touches, with the careful and comprehensive analysis of our Smith or Reid; and still less does he soar up, like his own Madame de Staël, to a point above the sphere of their per

plexities, and solve high disputes by transcending the element in which they are generated. He does not, like Johnson, leave behind him, in his casual excursions into the region of speculation, those giant vestiges that serve for ever to guide the track of more laborious adventurers ;-nor scatter, like Burke, from the sportive wings of his genius, those precious gleams of diviner light that seem to reveal to us, for an instant, the inner shrines and recesses of Philosophy. His eloquence is not often lofty, nor his philosophy exalted or exalting; but his conceptions are always clear and vigorous, and his judgments, for the most part, comprehensive and exact. He is no idolater of the brilliant and seducing talents which iliustrated the society in which he lived; and not only commemorates their defects with all the freedom of an impartial spectator, but gives a liberal allowance of praise to foreign and to ancient genius. Though surrounded with the frivolous amusements and petty cabals of an idle metropolis, and chiefly occupied indeed in chronicling their succession, he never forgets that they are frivolous, or affects to magnify their importance in the eyes of his readers. He fairly admits, that he is busy about trifles; and only seeks to justify himself by representing all human occupations as almost equally trifling-although, in the midst of all this levity, we must do him the justice to say, that he seems to be continually actuated by an enlightened, though not very enthusiastic, philanthropy; and to keep an observant, though unimpassioned eye, upon every thing that promises to affect the happiness of the great body of mankind. There is a tone not only of gayety but of good humour throughout all his lucubrations:

[ocr errors]

And a perpetual recollection of the infirmity of human reason-the mutability of systems and opinions-and those successive follies of the wise,' which have so often made the boast of one age the derision of the next, all tend to maintain in him a tone of great temperance and moderation, and to save him from that dogmatism of affirmation, which alone seems to be without the pale of his toleration. Upon the whole, we are of opinion that he would have made an excellent reviewer-and though we certainly think that we could have given him some hints worth attending to, if he had had the good fortune to live in our time, we confess, on the other hand, that there is much, both in respect to temper and to manner, in which it would be well for us and for our fellows, if we could imitate him. It is his opinion, and it is also ours, that it is the duty as well as the privilege of a literary journalist to examine, and if necessary to refute, the doctrines of the authors he notices, and that no trade is so useless to society as that of a mere maker of extracts and abstracts. There are some works, however, which can

scarcely be noticed in any other way; nor shall we often have occasion for the exercise of our high functions in pointing out to our readers what has struck us as most remarkable in the volumes now before us.

One of the very first discussions we meet with, seems to us not a little interesting. It is upon the nature and effects of that peculiar constitution of society in France, of which Frenchmen have been allowed to boast so loudly and so long, that its unrivalled superiority is now become an article of faith over the greatest part of civilized Europe. We have already ventured, on more than one occasion, to call in question this stupendous excellence; and tried to console our countrymen for the want of certain pastimes, the value of which we suspected to be prodigiously exaggerated; and which, at any rate, we thought could never be obtained, but by the sacrifice of far greater advantages. We are delighted to find M. Grimm upon our side in this controversy also. He is decidedly of opinion, that the peculiar character of French society was produced entirely by their want of political freedom, and the consequent absence of all great and interesting occupations--and that its chief effect was not only to efface every thing like national character, but to obliterate the substantial distinctions between talent and imbecility, and to substitute in the place of natural sentiments and varying expressions, a certain conventional jargon, which all were capable of acquiring, and no one permitted to go beyond. It may appear surprising,' he observes, that among the infinite multitude of novels which every day produces at Paris, there should be none that afford a tolerable picture of our domestic manners or national character:-This, however, he adds, I am persuaded, is not for want of painters, but of originals.--Our laws of bienseance and politeness have confounded all shades, • and levelled all distinctions;-and when we have once fairly ⚫ painted our petit maîtres and petites maîtresses, there is an end of the matter; and all that is national among us is exhausted. In free countries, antient and modern, there is nothing of this uniformity-but, with us, little else is visible round the whole horizon of polished society. Let a stranger go into a company of fifteen or twenty persons, and listen for three hours to 'their conversation-at the end of that time, the odds are, that he will not be able to distinguish the greatest blockhead of the party from the man of the highest talents. Every one speaks of the same things, and in the same jargon-so that all who live in what is called society, seem fashioned upon one pattern, and cast in one mould. All professions and con'ditions too are confounded, and every thing that is characterVOL. XXIII. No. 46,

[ocr errors]


istic of them carefully avoided-or rather, every one assumes the tone and character of one profession-that of a man of the world and the only absurdity that presents itself, is that of overdoing this character.' In another place this subject is resumed, and more carefully investigated-with the same or more disadvantageous results.

En effet, pour que la société puisse subsister, il faut nécessairement que la pointe des caractères soit, pour ainsi dire, émoussée et que tout le monde se ressemble; car, pour être bien dans la société, il faut apprendre dès l'enfance à soumettre sa volonté à la volonté générale, et il faut finir par n'en point avoir à soi. Or, comme chacun de son côté s'exerce à cette complaisance et à ces sacrifices continuels, il en doit résulter nécessairement une ressemblance générale, et chacun de son côté doit perdre de son caractère, et sur-tout de cet air original dont on ne se défait jamais quand on en a un. Du moment qu'un homme choque la volonté générale, et qu'il s'avise d'en avoir une à lui, on dit : c'est un homme insupportable dans la société. Mais cette fausse et excessive délicatesse qui fait que, dans le commerce journalier, nous souffrons si impatiemment la dissemblance des manières des autres avec les nôtres, ayant banni les caractères de la société, y a établi l'ennui et l'uniformité; et nous ne remédions aux tristes effets de ces maux que par une vaine et inutile agitation, en changeant continuellement de place et volant d'objet en objet, sans plaisir, sans besoin et sans motif.'

He then proceeds to show, that this perpetual restraint and vigilant attention to so many trifling observances, not only takes away all variety and originality from manners and conversation, but in the long-run from character also-and that it is next to impossible for a great and sublime genius to arise in such a society or at least without setting all its petty ordinances at defiance; the only effectual safeguards against its debasing influences being, according to M. Grimm, to be very short-sighted and very dull of hearing! Besides all this, he candidly admits certain more substantial evils in this vaunted society.

D'ailleurs, il résulte deux inconvéniens de notre habitude de vivre en société. Le premier, que nous restons superficiels et frivoles. Rien ne nous affecte vivement, rien ne nous intéresse à un certain point; une mollesse efféminée et la paresse se glissant dans les cercles des oisifs, énervent bientôt l'âme et l'empêchent de sentir, et notre esprit engourdi aime mieux juger au hasard que de se donner la peine d'approfondir; la beauté mâle et touchante des grands objets ne nous remue plus, nous nous attachons au colfichet, et notre goût devient mince, inconstant et frivole. Un autre inconvénient non moins dangereux et plus humiliant encore, est qu'il s'établit des goûts factices dans tous les genres de littérature, d'arts et de profession, qui ont trouvé leur naissance dans le cerveau de quelque pédant. (car il y en a dans toutes les classes et dans tous les métiers) et qui sont adoptés par la multitude sans autre examen. Aussi n'y a-t-il

« PreviousContinue »