Critical and Historical Essays — Volume 1 eBook

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Temple, however, will scarcely carry with him any great accession of authority to the side either of religion or of infidelity.  He was no profound thinker.  He was merely a man of lively parts and quick observation, a man of the world among men of letters, a man of letters among men of the world.  Mere scholars were dazzled by the Ambassador and Cabinet counsellor; mere politicians by the Essayist and Historian.  But neither as a writer nor as a statesman can we allot to him any very high place.  As a man, he seems to us to have been excessively selfish, but very sober, wary, and far-sighted in his selfishness; to have known better than most people what he really wanted in life; and to have pursued what he wanted with much more than ordinary steadiness and sagacity, never suffering himself to be drawn aside either by bad or by good feelings.  It was his constitution to dread failure more than he desired success, to prefer security, comfort, repose, leisure, to the turmoil and anxiety which are inseparable from greatness; and this natural languor of mind, when contrasted with the malignant energy of the keen and restless spirits among whom his lot was cast, sometimes appears to resemble the moderation of virtue.  But we must own that he seems to us to sink into littleness and meanness when we compare him, we do not say with any high ideal standard of morality, but with many of those frail men who, aiming at noble ends, but often drawn from the right path by strong passions and strong temptations, have left to posterity a doubtful and checkered fame.


(July 1835)

History of the Revolution in England, in 1688.  Comprising a View of the Reign of James the Second from his Accession to the Enterprise of the Prince of Orange, by the late Right Honourable Sir James Mackintosh; and completed to the Settlement of the Crown, by the Editor.  To which is prefixed a Notice of the Life, Writings, and Speeches of Sir James Mackintosh. 4to.  London:  1834.

[In this review, as it originally stood, the editor of the History of the Revolution was attacked with an asperity which neither literary defects nor speculative differences can justify, and which ought to be reserved for offences against the laws of morality and honour.  The reviewer was not actuated by any feeling of personal malevolence:  for when he wrote this paper in a distant country, he did not know, or even guess, whom he was assailing.  His only motive was regard for the memory of an eminent man whom he loved and honoured, and who appeared to him to have been unworthily treated.

The editor is now dead; and, while living, declared that he had been misunderstood, and that he had written in no spirit of enmity to Sir James Mackintosh, for whom he professed the highest respect.

Many passages have therefore been softened, and some wholly omitted.  The severe censure passed on the literary execution of the “Memoir” and “Continuation” could not be retracted without a violation of truth.  But whatever could be construed into an imputation on the moral character of the editor has been carefully expunged.]

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