“No example could prove to us better than his to what degree the faculty of tender, sensitive criticism is an active faculty. We neither feel nor perceive in this way when there is nothing to give in return. This taste, this sensibility, so swift and alert, justly supposes imagination behind it. It is said that Shelley, the first time he heard the poem of ‘Christabel’ recited, at a certain magnificent and terrible passage, took fright and suddenly fainted. The whole poem of ‘Alastor’ was to be foreseen in that fainting. Pope, not less sensitive in his way, could not read through that passage of the Iliad without bursting into tears. To be a critic to that degree, is to be a poet.”
Thanks, eloquent and judicious scholar, so lately gone from the world of letters! A love of what is best in art was the habit of Sainte-Beuve’s life, and so he too will be remembered as one who has kept the best company in literature,—a man who cheerfully did homage to genius, wherever and whenever it might be found.
I intend to leave as a legacy to a dear friend of mine an old faded book, which I hope he will always prize as it deserves. It is a well-worn, well-read volume, of no value whatever as an edition,—but it belonged to Abraham Lincoln. It is his copy of “The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., to which is prefixed the life of the author by Dr. Johnson.” It bears the imprint on the title-page of J.J. Woodward, Philadelphia, and was published in 1839. Our President wrote his own name in it, and chronicles the fact that it was presented to him “by his friend N.W. Edwards.” In January, 1861, Mr. Lincoln gave the book to a very dear friend of his, who honored me with it in January, 1867, as a New-Year’s present. As long as I live it will remain among my books, specially treasured as having been owned and read by one of the noblest and most sorely tried of men, a hero comparable with any of Plutarch’s,—
brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,
New birth of our new soil, the first American.”
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What Emerson has said in his fine subtle way of Shakespeare may well be applied to the author of “Vanity Fair.”
“One can discern in his ample pictures what forms and humanities pleased him; his delight in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful giving._
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"He read the hearts of men and women, their probity, and their second thought, and wiles; the wiles of innocence, and the transitions by which virtues and vices slide into their contraries."