Famous Reviews eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 678 pages of information about Famous Reviews.
a greater admixture of other—­we know not whether to call them literary or moral—­defects, than the insulated passages sufficiently exhibit.  These faults, as we think them, but which may to some readers be the prime fascinations of the work, abound on its surface.  And their very number and their superficial prominence constitute a main charge against the author, and prove, we think, his mind to be unfitted for the severity of historical inquiry.  He takes much pains to parade—­perhaps he really believes in—­his impartiality, with what justice we appeal to the foregoing pages; but he is guilty of a prejudice as injurious in its consequences to truth as any political bias.  He abhors whatever is not in itself picturesque, while he clings with the tenacity of a Novelist to the piquant and the startling.  Whether it be the boudoir of a strumpet or the death-bed of a monarch—­the strong character of a statesman-warrior abounding in contrasts and rich in mystery, or the personal history of a judge trained in the Old Bailey to vulgarize and ensanguine the King’s Bench—­he luxuriates with a vigour and variety of language and illustration which renders his “History” an attractive and absorbing story-book.  And so spontaneously redundant are these errors—­ so inwoven in the very texture of Mr. Macaulay’s mind—­that he seems never able to escape from them.  Even after the reader is led to believe that all that can be said either of praise or vituperation as to character, of voluptuous description and minute delineation as to fact and circumstance, has been passed in review before him—­when a new subject, indeed, seems to have been started—­all at once the old theme is renewed, and the old ideas are redressed in all the affluent imagery and profuse eloquence of which Mr. Macaulay is so eminent a master.  Now of the fancy and fashion of this we should not complain—­quite the contrary—­in a professed novel:  there is a theatre in which it would be exquisitely appropriate and attractive; but the Temple of History is not the floor for a morris-dance—­the Muse Clio is not to be worshipped in the halls of Terpsichore.  We protest against this species of carnival history; no more like the reality than the Eglintoun Tournament or the Costume Quadrilles of Buckingham Palace; and we deplore the squandering of so much melodramatic talent on a subject which we have hitherto reverenced as the figure of Truth arrayed in the simple argments [Transcriber’s note:  sic] of Philosophy.  We are ready to admit an hundred times over Mr. Macaulay’s literary powers—­brilliant even under the affectation with which he too frequently disfigures them.  He is a great painter, but a suspicious narrator; a grand proficient in the picturesque, but a very poor professor of the historic.  These volumes have been, and his future volumes as they appear will be, devoured with the same eagerness that Oliver Twist or Vanity Fair excite—­with the same quality of zest, though perhaps with a higher degree of it;—­but his pages will seldom, we think, receive a second perusal—­and the work, we apprehend, will hardly find a permanent place on the historic shelf—­ nor ever assuredly, if continued in the spirit of the first two volumes, be quoted as authority on any question or point of the History of England.

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