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“entitled to bear them.' After this, what is to be said or thought of the flippant assumption of the critic, who declares the right to supporters to be a question which never had and could never have arisen among English country gentlemen!
There is one piece of philology on which Mr. Macaulay's censor ventures, which is hit off with so classical an air, and is yet so plainly the result of mere ignorance, that we cannot refrain from exposing it. We do it with less regret, that the topic is a curious one.
Mr. Macaulay refers, in his earlier chapters, to a legend related by Procopius, concerning the then mysterious
island of Britain. For this he is sharply corrected. It seems Procopius did not, and could not refer to Britain, but to another island, called Brittia, which, wherever it was, was not Britain. And then the critic says, in stern and solemn conclusion, We again • wonder that a grave historian should think that such a story • could possibly relate to an island in possession of the greater
part of which the Romans had been for upwards of four cen• turies, and introduce it to prove nothing as far as we can see .but what we own it does prove- that “able historians may « “ tell very foolish stories, and that an over anxiety to show ““ one's learning may betray the smallness and occasionality of co the stock.”'
Now this all sounds very learned, though we perfectly agree with the sentiment with which it concludes; but there are one or two things about the subject which the writer has still to learn. First, the man who penned the last sentence probably did not know that Mr. Macaulay is not the first 'grave his* torian’ who has given this proof of a scanty stock of learning. He will find in the thirty-eighth chapter of Gibbon the very legend given at length from Procopius, and attributed to Britain; and also a note in which Gibbon remarks, · The Greek his*torian himself is so confounded by the wonders which he relates, ' that he weakly attempts to distinguish the islands of Brittia 6 and Britain, which he has identified by so many inseparable
circumstances.' He will find also that the historian of Rome, so far from thinking it impossible that the legend could relate to an island which the Romans had possessed for four centuries, quotes this among other authorities to prove the singular fact that what had been a Roman province was again lost among o the fabulous islands of the Ocean.' Yet Gibbon never took his learning at second hand. But farther, Procopius having written in the sixth century, John Tzetzes, who wrote in the twelfth century, mentions the identical legend, with express reference to Britain. By that time England had taken its place as one of the great Norman kingdoms, and must have been emphatically known, from the communication which the Crusades had opened with our Western world. The passage occurs in his Scholium on Hesiod's Works and Days, 1. 169. (Gaisford's Poetæ Græci Minores, Oxon. 1820, vol. iii. p. 120.) It begins as follows:
• Περί δε των εν Ωκεανώ νήσων"Όμηρος, και ουτοσίν ο Ησίοδος, “ και Λυκόφρων, και Πλούταρχος, και Φιλόστρατος, και Δίων, και “ έτεροί τινες συγγεγραφήκεσαν, ως αγαθή τε η χώρα εστι, και αει
καταπνεομένη ζεφύρω, τρίς έτους εκάστου αναδίδωσι τους καρπούς. • Εκείσε δέ φασι και τας των αποβεβιωκότων ψυχάς διαπορθμεύ“ εσθαι, γράφοντες τοιάδε. « Περί την ακτών του περί την Βρε* * ταννίαν νήσον Ωκεανού, άνθρωποί τινες oικoύσιν ιχθυοθήραι,
κατήκοοι μεν Φράγγοις, φόρον δε μη τελούντες αυτοίς,”' &c. We need not, after this, say that, as usual, Mr. Macaulay had ample authority for what he said, and that the critic censured because he did not understand. It is not very likely, indeed, that the classical accuracy of Gibbon and Macaulay could be seriously impeached by an author who writes
κλαδι τον ξιφον φορησω, a line for the mutilation of which, a twig, not of myrtle, but of
• εν μυρτου
* We subjoin a translation of the whole passage for the benefit of the less learned reader, and especially the erudite critic, to whom such assistance, we suspect, will be a great accommodation:Now . concerning the islands in Ocean, Homer and our Hesiod himself, and • Lycophron and Plutarch and Philostratus and Dion, and some others, have given an account – how good the country is and how, being fanned continually by Zephyrus, it produces three crops each year. And they say that thither the spirits of the deceased are transported . — writing in this manner — “On the shore of the Ocean which sur* “ rounds the island of Bretannia, dwell a race of fishermen, subjects * “ of the Franks but not paying them tribute. These people while • "sleeping in their own houses, hear a voice calling them and are "" sensible of a bustle about their doors, and on getting up, they find 6“ certain vessels not their own, full of passengers. Embarking in ““ these ships, in a single stretch, they reach the island of Bretannia • “rowing ; although they could hardly reach it in their own ships, • “even under sail, in a whole day and night. There they disembark
“ and land their unknown passengers, and though they see no one, “ they hear the voice of persons admitting them and calling them by ** name and tribe and family and trade; and them in like manner * “ making answer. And so they sail home again in one stretch, and * “ perceive the ships lighter than when they had those passengers «« aboard.” Hence all the sons of the Greeks say the spirits of the • departed dwell there.' VOL. XC. NO. CLXXXI.
birch, would be the only suitable recompence. The new reading would not have been a greater shock to Frere and Canning in its present place, than to Dr. Hawtrey in the exercise of an Eton boy.
We stop here, because our space and our patience are alike exhausted. We might fill pages with errors as gross and exposures as palpable. We have only given our readers some means of estimating, as the well-informed among them could easily have done without our help, how far the critic has succeeded in the very humble object of his ambition. But we are weary of beating the air. We feel as we have sometimes done on a summer evening, when with arms fatigued by a constant combat with the musquitoes, we retreat at last, and leave the field of battle to the victorious insects. Singly, none of them are worth the crushing, and life is too short to make away with them all. Suffice it to say, that of all the imaginary mistakes in fact, of which our cotemporary has laboured to convict Mr. Macaulay, there is not one which does not, like the examples given above, proceed either on bold misquotation or palpable ignorance. We are wrong, however, there is one. Mr. Macaulay calls Sir Winston Churchill a baronet- when he was only a knight. But the error was corrected in 4000 copies in full circulation three months before this critique saw the light — and this, we believe, is the full extent of the victory which has been gained over the historian in this contest de minimis. We therefore quit the subject, satisfied that the specimens we have given leave nothing farther to be said or thought of this solitary grumbler. We would rather, for the credit of our craft, that his splenetic arrows had never been launched from such a quiver. Were all the paltry cavils as true as they are absurdly false, they would not dim one single gem in Mr. Macaulay's glittering circlet. Being untrue, they have only brought down deserved derision on their author. Dryden, in • Mac Flecknoe,' has a forced, but striking conceit, that St. Patrick's destruction of poisonous reptiles prevented the malice of his countrymen from ever being dangerous. Had this suicidal onslaught come from an Hibernian instead of an English pen, we might very justly have said with the poet, that
• In his heart though venom lies, It doth but touch his Irish pen -- and dies.' It was a great mistake to assail this work on the score of accuracy:
Its author was the last man likely to be caught tripping on that head. But with all the praise, and not exaggerated praise, we have bestowed on it, there are faults which an ill-natured critic might enlarge on, and a friendly one point out. And with a word or two on these we shall conclude.
The first lies on the surface; and is one of style. With great familiarity of expression on some few occasions, the author, nevertheless, is too constantly on his high-stepping steed, and trots over the common pathway with too uniform an air of grandeur. However brilliant the composition ; — and however much the interest excited may conceal the blemish, it is one which calls for correction; because, in the more humble though necessary parts of the narrative, it throws an air of constraint over them. In his great efforts Mr. Macaulay never fails; and he makes great occasions out of materials which would be but ordinary to ordinary men. The defect which is most apparent -- and, indeed, almost the only one in manner — is his difficulty in saying a simple thing simply.
We do not stop to quote examples. The reader, we admit, never wearies for an instant; and the imposing glow and richness of the context prevents their jarring on the ear or offending the judgment. Still it would be well to have the preludes and accompaniments of so striking a piece in strict harmony and accordance with their immediate theme. It is not so great an art to say a common thing in common words, as to say a brilliant thing in splendid words: but it is also an art in its
way. • Descriptas servare vices, operumque colores,' is advice as old as Horace; and Mr. Macaulay would lose nothing in impressiveness, and would gain in taste and accuracy, by reducing the more level parts of the narrative to a more purely historical standard.
As to the substance of the work, there is but one fault which strikes us as important -and that would be a serious one, were it not tempered and chastised in our author by a logical head, an accurate memory, and an instinctive love for fair play. His talent for description sometimes gets the better of him; and although he neither invents nor imagines incidents, it now and then happens that he loads a fact with more inferences and accessories than it can easily sustain. We have alluded to this before ; and though we do not think that the ultimate impression conveyed can in any instance be justly said to be exaggerated, he at times colours his picture more from his inward reflection than the outward fact. His chapter on the customs and society of England in the seventeenth century may afford an example of what we mean— where he has dashed off' a picturesque conclusion, which, we are not satisfied, was always in nature quite so striking in all its features. This, perhaps, arises in some re
spects from the materials with which he was there obliged to work: his description being the concentrated reflection of rays borrowed from satirists, and caricaturists, and writers of fiction, with whom truth is always subservient to point and vivacity of effect. It is right, however, to say, that the defect we refer to occurs much more rarely in his narrative, and never when the occasion is important; and the discussion on the manners and habits of the time, though a graceful and almost necessary accompaniment to the narrative, may be supposed to admit of bolder speculation than the more austere parts of the volume. It is necessary, too, to bear in mind, in criticisms of this nature, that, unless allowance is made for our different points of view and for our different estimates of the relative importance of different particulars, nobody would be safe in describing an event or drawing a character.
In his general view of the history of these times, we have nothing to condemn or to suggest. It seems to us, from first to last, fresh, coherent, and true. Perhaps a Northern Whig might think that he has too little favour for the Puritans, and passes too lightly over the Scottish persecutions of Charles and James the Second. But even in this case we do not say that he has not exercised a wholesome moderation.
We now take our leave of Mr. Macaulay, not without good hope of a speedy and happy meeting again. We trust that this noble foundation may
be crowned with a structure still more magnificent, —and that he may live to complete the great monument which he purposes to rear to the constitution of his country. But should his fame as an historian rest solely on the volumes before us, we acknowledge them as a noble offering on the altar of our liberties; and, we doubt not, their author will be venerated in after times as having been foremost in that first duty of patriotism, --in training up for future years good citizens of that country, the intense and ardent love of which glows in every page, and gives life to the fervid eloquence of his pen.
No. CLXXXII. will be published in October.