Page images
PDF
EPUB

The day will no doubt come when his Journals may be published without mutilation or reserve; and we are inclined to believe-rather however from our knowledge of the man than from the cautious selections given in these volumes that they will preserve some faint idea of Mackintosh's conversation and social qualities; which, after all, were his chief distinction among his contemporaries. It is to the Journals of the London life, from 1812 downward, that we particularly allude. We shall never see them-for although we are convinced, as well from the specimens we have, as from the habitual shyness and reserve of the man, that even to his wife Mackintosh would rarely speak out with entire freedom, yet it is hardly possible but that there must be too much of personal observation to permit their unreserved publication till the existing generation shall have passed away. They will also have, we cannot doubt, the frequent fault of partiality, and occasionally of prejudice; because, though Mackintosh, as we have said, was exceedingly candid, courteous, and cautious in his intercourse with society, it does not follow that his secret pen was always so discreet, either in praise or blame; and it is absolutely impossible that he should have lived so long in the atmosphere of party without being, occasionally at least, inflamed by its heat, and infected by its miasma. Nor can a diary written to amuse an absent friend be without some spice of satire and scandal. In the few extracts given of the later Journal, we see sufficient indication (if we needed any evidence of what is so natural as to be inevitable) of these deviations from impartial truth, as when—to give only two examples—he talks of his abhorrence of the Alien Bill-a measure identically as necessary and as just as Sir James's right to shut and open the door of his own house in New Norfolk Street; and when-in the fervour of kindness with which Lord Holland's personal amiability inspires all his friends—Mackintosh is so transported as to declare, that in the highest attributes of an orator's genius, he (Lord Holland) excels not only Brougham, but—Canning!!

We notice these prejudices and partialities thus slightly because we could not go deeper without giving pain; we notice them at all, because, if we did not thus enter our caveat, it might be alleged hereafter, when the Journals shall come to be fully published, that even we had not ventured to breathe a doubt of their accuracy and impartiality. We, therefore, here register—not a doubt, but a conviction (which even now we have abundant materials to justify)—that Mackintosh's judgment of the men, measures, and manners of his day—though probably in the main moderate and just-must still be read with those wholesome suspicions and that prudent scepticism, from whose scrutiny no man--and, above all,

no

no man who has taken any share in the political parties of his time-ever has been or ought to be exempt.

In conclusion, we have no difficulty in saying, that this is, though not a good Life of this eminent man, a most interesting and entertaining collection of Mackintoshiana ; and that, amidst the necessary defects of a filial editor, it is impossible not to admire the modest but manly tone and spirit, and unaffected good taste, of Mr. Robert Mackintosh's own connecting narrative.

The book includes two likenesses of Sir James—one from a portrait by Lawrence, painted in his thirty-eighth year; the other after a bust by Mr. Barlowe, done when he had reached the age of sixty-six : to the fidelity of this last representation of a mild and thoughtful good man we can bear witness.

THE

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

SEPTEMBER, 1835.

Art. I.-1. A Dictionary of the English Language. By S.

Johnson, LL.D. With numerous Corrections and Additions,

by the Rev. H.J. Todd, A.M. 4 vols. 4lo. London. 1818. 2. A Dictionary of the English Language. By Noah Webster,

LL.D. 2 vols. 4to. New York. 1828. Reprinted, Lon

don, 1832. 3. A New Dictionary of the English Language. By Charles

Richardson. Parts I. and II. London. 1835. THOUGH we were never enrolled in Pinkerton's

corps

of mighty Goths, being neither believers in his theories, nor admirers of the spirit and temper in which he maintained them, we do not mean to deny that we feel a strong partiality for almost every branch of the great Gothic and Teutonic family, by whatever appellation it may be designated. We may, perhaps, be a little out of humour at present with the Belgians—but we have a great regard for the Dutch, a still greater for the Germans, and an absolute enthusiasm for all the sons of Odin, whether Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, or Icelanders. Our Gallic neighbours, or rather the doctors of one of their literary sects, may still affect to doubt si un Allemand peut avoir de l'esprit'—but if even these fine gentlemen reflect on the part acted by the Germans and their kindred on the theatre of the world since Arminius struck Rome the blow from which she never recovered, they can hardly deny them power and valour, and a knowledge of the arts by which dominion is acquired and preserved. Our interest on behalf of this remarkable race extends not only to their history and civil polity, but also to their language, in all its branches. We well remember our delight at the discovery that Justin and Justinian originally bore the respectable names of Upright and Stock. We look upon Ulphilas's Moso-Gothic Gospels as one of the most precious relics of antiquity, and would have every word of genuine Teutonic descent carefully preserved, whether spoken by the prince or the peasant,

Of course, we include English in our list of favourites, and believe, as in duty bound, that, take it for all in all, there is no tongue superior to it in the whole European circle. We are disposed, also, to take it as we find it, and are very far from wishing to banish any terms of southern descent that can produce proper warrants of naturalization. We are fully sensible of the advantage VOL, LIV, NO, CVIII.

of

х

of possessing such words as flower, florid, flourishing, along with their counterparts bloom, blooming, blow, blossom ; and feel-as every one must—that the union of the two classes furnishes a strength and richness of diction, and a choice of terms to express primary and secondary ideas, compared with which the vocabulary of the French and the Italians is poverty itself. But, after all, terms of Saxon and Northern origin constitute the sinews of our speech, and must be the most attentively studied by those who would form clear ideas of its genius and structure. Indeed, one principal reason why we prize a knowledge of the German and Scandinavian dialects, and would recommend it to others, is that they throw a light on the analogies of our own language, and the principles of its grammar, which cannot be obtained from any other source.

We know that it is easy to sneer at such pursuits, and to ask-who but a dull pedant can see any use in confronting obscure and antiquated English terms with equally obscure German ones, all which might, without any great injury, be consigned to utter oblivion? It would have been equally easy to ask fifty or sixty years ago-and would at that time have sounded quite as plausibly-what can be the use of collecting and comparing unsightly fragments of bone that have been mouldering in the earth for centuries? But now, after the brilliant discoveries of Cuvier and Buckland, no man could propose such a question without exposing himself to the laughter and contempt of every man of science. Sciolists are very apt to despise what they do not understand; but they who are properly qualified to appreciate the matter know that philology is neither a useless nor a trivial pursuit,--that, when treated in an enlightened and philosophical spirit, it is worthy of all the exertions of the subtlest as well as most comprehensive intellect. The knowledge of words is, in its full and true acceptation, the knowledge of things, and a scientific acquaintance with a language cannot fail to throw some light on the origin, history, and condition of those who speak or spoke it. Who knew anything about the gipsies, till an examination of their language proved beyond all doubt that they came from the banks of the Indus? Who knows anything certain about the Pelasgi? And who does not perceive that two connected sentences of their language would tell us more clearly what they really were than all that has hitherto been written about ihem? The Irish antiquaries give magnificent accounts of the learning and civilization of their ancestors two or three thousand years ago; but when we find that their language, in some respects a copious as well as beautiful one, is utterly destitute of scientific terms, and cannot convey the import of them without a clumsy peripbrasis, we are enabled to appreciate such statements at their real value.

We

We are aware that Dugald Stewart, while combating the metaphysical conclusions of Horne Tooke, thought proper to speak somewhat slightingly of etymological investigations. With all due respect for such authority, we think that he took an insufficient as well as an unfair view of the matter. When he represents the cultivation of this branch of knowledge as unfavourable to elegance of composition, refined taste, or enlargement of the mental faculties, he seems to have forgotten the grammatical and etymological speculations of Plato, Cæsar, and Cicero—and that the collection and comparison of the provincialisms of Germany was a favourite employment of the illustrious Leibnitz. We fully assent to Mr. Stewart's strictures on the absurdity of Tooke's favourite position, that words ought always to be used in their primitive signification. A wise man employs the language of the country according to its current acceptation, as he uses the national coin according to its current value, taking care in both cases to choose the genuine and reject the counterfeit. But when Mr. Stewart tries to make it appear that it is better in many cases to remain iguorant of the original meaning of words than to know it, we think him singularly unfortunate both in his position and in the illustration which he brings forward to support it. The learned Professor says:

The argument against the critical utility of these etymological researches might be carried much farther, by illustrating their tendency with respect to our poetical vocabulary. The power of this (which depends wholly on association) is often increased by the mystery which hangs over the origin of its consecrated terms; as the nobility of a family gains an accession of lustre, when its history is lost in the obscurity of the fabulous ages.

• A single instance will at once explain and confirm the foregoing remark. Few words, perhaps, in our language have been used more happily by some of our older poets than harbinger; more particularly by Milton, whose “Paradise Lost," has rendered even the organical sound pleasing to the fancy

“ And now of love they treat, till th' evening star,

Love's harbinger, appear'd." How powerful are the associations which such a combination of ideas must establish in the memory of every reader capable of feeling their beauty; and what a charm is communicated to the word, thus blended in its effect with such pictures as those of the evening star, and of the loves of our first parents !

• When I look into Johnson for the etymology of harbinger, I find it is derived from the Dutch herberger, which denotes one

who

goes to provide lodgings or a harbour for those that follow. Whoever may thank the author for this conjecture, it certainly will not be the lover of Milton's poetry. The injury, however, which is here done to the word in question, is slight in comparison of what it would have been,

« PreviousContinue »