« AnteriorContinuar »
In his pursuits as a scholar his enthusiasm knew no bounds. He always seemed to have a book in his hand, whether at the table, on the street, in the fields, or in bed, drinking in its contents with an avidity and a quickness almost incredible. It is said of him that he could read from six to eight lines at a single glance. Although we cannot give credence to this report, yet it serves to show that he seemed to others to grasp thought as by intuition. Such was his facility as a linguist, he would read the Greek philosophers in the original for hours without the use of a lexicon, and with the French, Italian and Spanish languages he was equally conversant. Homer, one of his favorite authors, he read, re-read and read again, no one knows how many times, always keeping a copy within reach. Ariosto was also to him a fountain of perpetual pleasure. He indeed approached the works of all the master minds of antiquity with a most profound reverence; and however abstruse and subtile their reasonings, his mind never grew weary, so intense and so insatiable his desire to discover truth. From a very early age he evinced for the study of physics great aptitude and relish, and pursued it with unbounded ardor. It was not until he had entered Oxford, had suffered from an explosion, had taken arsenic by mistake, and well-nigh ruined his books, his furniture and his clothing with chemicals, that he threw aside retort and test-tube, and set at work with the same characteristic fervor to disentangle those endless gossamer threads of thought metaphysicians take such delight in spinning. While thus engaged he embraced among other theories the Platonic doctrine of preexistence. The wild warmth with which he welcomed his new creed came out quaintly one day while he was passing along Magdalen Bridge. A woman met him with a baby in her arms. He at once dextrously snatched it from her, greatly alarming her by his abruptness. In high tenor and with eager looks he asked, “Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, madam.” At first she made no reply, thinking him insane; but seeing that the queer man meant no harm, and Shelley repeating his question with the same vehemence, she said, “He can't speak.” “Worse and worse," cried Shelley greatly disappointed; “ but surely the babe can speak if he will, for he is only a few weeks old. He may fancy perhaps that he cannot, but it is only a silly whim. He cannot have forgotten entirely the use of speech in so short a time; the thing is absolutely impossible.” After the answer of the mother that she had never heard him speak, nor any one so young, Shelley patted the boy's cheek, praised his rosy health, and passed him back to his mother, remarking as he walked away, “ How provokingly close these new-born babes are; but it is not the less certain, notwithstanding their cunning attempts to conceal the truth, that all knowledge is reminiscence. The doctrine is far more ancient than the times of Plato, and as old as the venerable allegory that the Muses are the daughters of Memory; not one of the nine was ever said to be the child of Invention.”
But we must go to some of those poems with which he has enriched our literature if we would see his enthusiasm at the flood-to that drama of “Hellas,” to those Odes to Naples and to Liberty, to the songs of triumph which constitute the closing act in his “Prometheus Unbound;" for here there are rhapsodies, and choral melodies, and lyric bursts, such as could have come only from a soul in transport. A glory of transfiguration rests upon his thought. In such rapt moods his face must have shone as the face of an angel. In his “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" he appears, strange as it may seem, in the role of a religious enthusiast. It is true that in his attempts to rid his conceptions concerning God of all anthropomorphisms he has fallen into vagueness, leaving us an ideal which, while whiter than Parian marble, is also, alas! more cold; yet his worship is no less devout than was Ignatius Loyola's. His heart burns with the same fierce fires of devotion. There is the same chivalric zeal, the same exhausting vigils, the same importunate prayer.
We have thus far found Shelley a highly imaginative, sensitive, positive, volatile creature, singularly unsuited to the circumstances in which he was placed. No wonder his enthusiasm soon became diseased. His mind was not of a judicial cast. There was not the first characteristic of a trimmer about him, even taking that word in its best sense, as given by Halifax. He was by nature a radical, an extremist. No fear restrained him, no constitutional conservatism, not even common-sense caution. He loved truth better than he loved life. He fairly famished for it. Indeed, driven by his intense hunger, he committed the grave error of overloading his faculties until their action became dyspeptic. Impressionable, sincere, simple-hearted as a child, he inconsiderately gave assent to theories that would not for an instant bear the test of dispassionate logic, simply because they were specious, ably argued, and apparently tended to ameliorate society. As soon as accepted, his imagination threw upon them its strong calcium light, and they at once assumed a brilliancy and a coloring not their own.
•Persecution stepped in only to enhance their value and confirm their truth. His enthusiasm ran wild. His pursuit was too eager, and he was too elated over what he chanced to find. His precipitancy blinded him. Hotspurs can never become successful discoverers in the domain of philosophy.
To this same disposition we can trace the cause of his restless wanderings from place to place, like his own Ahasuerus. Each locality was successively selected for his permanent home. There, as he used to phrase it, he was to live forever. But he was no sooner settled than a new plan, suggesting itself, carried everything before it, and he would again start on his travels. His departures and arrivals were always precipitate, usually from excess of enthusiasm. To this also we can trace the exceeding crudeness of his plans for social reform; his championship and abandonment of Irish liberty. His first marriage, which terminated so disastrously, resulted from the sudden adoption of the suggestions of his sympathy. It was no love affair. A pretty girl came to him with a most pitiful tale, and to help her out of trouble he gallantly, but with fatal thoughtlessness, helped himself, and her, too, more deeply in.
WM. W. KINSLEY. ( To be Concluded.)
RECENT ECONOMIC LITERATURE.
UR age is one of economic fermentation; what the past re
cognized as true is growing more and more uncertain to us; the beliefs of the future have not yet authenticated themselves to mankind. Tongues that once were among the loudest and the most confident are ceasing; knowledge that seemed unquestionable is vanishing away. The adherents of recognized systems, losing sight of their logical coherence, are beginning to renounce or essentially to qualify the fundamental principles of those systems, while they yet seek to hold fast to the practical inferences and rules which were derived from those principles. Loyal defenders of economic orthodoxy are chiefly strong on the exceptions which they take to the teachings of its founders. They repeat the old formulas and rehearse the old lessons; but they comfort their souls with their private fling at the creed by way of showing their mental freedom.
Thirty years ago one would have prophesied that William Rathbone Greg would live and die in the ranks of the orthodox. Himself a Manchester loom-lord, a shining light in the great Corn-law discussion, and a representative of the hard, clear, common-sense intellect of northern England, he seemed committed alike by interest, position, intellect and record, by all his powers and by all their limitations, to the Manchester gospel of final prosperity and salvation for England and the world through the removal of restrictions on commercial intercourse. But in his Problems of Life he threw a stone at the brittle edifice of English Political Economy, successfully assailing the Malthusian law of population, which is the foundation of the English theories of land tenure, of wages and of labor. And now in his Rocks Ahead' he takes up the role of Cassandra to warn the English people that the practical outcome of all their policies and their plannings bids fair to be national ruin and bankruptcy. The three “rocks ahead” are the political, the economic and the religious rock. The first two are very closely related to each other. The Reform Bill of 1867, by taking the power out of the hands of the class on whom it was conferred by the Whig Reform, Bill of 1832, could not but very greatly interfere with the prospects and the ideals of the class which Mr. Greg especially represents. An England governed by the bourgeoisie, by middle class men and middle class ideas, was the very object aimed at in the first reform. And for the thirty-five years of its tenure of power, the middle class did great things for England, but not the very greatest." It reformed many branches of administration, simplified the laws and their administration, and put under restraint the selfishness of the more powerful classes, where it intrenched on the rights of others. It abolished privileges, and worked out a modified equality before the law. It reformed the higher and the middle class of educational institutions, called the municipalities to account for their trusts, and swept away a host of fungus-like abuses in all places and corners where ancient drones were living on more ancient endowments. But it left the vaster tasks entirely untried. It never awoke to a consciousness of the evils inflicted on England by the disproportion of her manufacturing to her agricultural industries; it never lifted a finger to secure to the English people their traditional customary rights to the land, or to distribute among the millions hungry for a bit of land the millions upon millions of cultivatible soil which lie untilled and uncared for. It made England more and more dependent with every year upon foreign harvests for the staff of life. It adopted a foreign policy in accordance with that dependence—a policy weak and contemptible in the extreme, a policy of bullying the weak and the feeble, of truckling to the strong. It left the unenfranchised voters at home in their ignorance and their squalor, making no large and generous effort to secure a system of national education, until constrained to do so by the transfer of power to that class.
1 Rocks AHEAD; or, the Warnings of Cassandra. By W. R. Greg. Pp. xli. 233. Crown 8vo. Boston, James R. Osgood & Co.
And so Mr. Greg takes up his parable of woe and desolation over the England that he and his friends have made and fashioned during their long tenure of power. With Burke he fears for England, not “the day of judgment,” but “the day of no judgment," and he thinks that his country is fast drifting to that. We agree with English opinion in treating most of his alarms as needless; the old country has a moral vitality, which is greater than he seems to think. She bids fair for another millennium of national existence. But she will have a hard pull up the hill in getting free of the mischiefs of narrow-minded, hard-headed policy which Mr. Greg and the Whigs in general have advocated.
Mr. Greg, in his first chapter, labors to show what will be the effect of transferring political power from the wages-paying to the wages-receiving class, and of course he makes much of the frightful example of the United States. The city of New York, itself under the control of the worst class of naturalized, but not Americanized, foreigners, is taken as a sample of American character and the effect of democratic institutions; and the sins of the civil service system as a specimen of our way of government. In explanation and confirmation of what he says of the latter, he reprints as his own the remarkable pap on “ Three Men and Three Eras,” which appeared in The National Review at the beginning of the war. We well remember the effect which that paper had on us at the time an effect exactly opposite to that which Mr. Greg would now wish it to convey. We were just becoming alive to the abuses of the American