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'Methought I glad alighted on an Isle
We take this practice to be hardly allowable, because it breaks down all the distinctions made by the ear between blank verse and prose, and leaves the reader only the barren gratification of beholding the words ranged in lines of apparently similar lengths. While we are upon this subject we would observe, that the license sometimes taken by our author of giving an additional syllable to the end of a line, is liable, from its unexpectedness, to a similar objection. It is indeed used liberally in dramatic poetry; and in a kind of composition so little removed from prose, it has been thought to have a good effect, as giving the versification something of a free and colloquial air. But we are greatly mistaken if it does not strike the ear with a disagreeable harshness, when met with in other kinds of poetry, and accordingly most writers have strictly avoided it.
We dismiss these volumes with feelings of gratitude to the author for the pleasure the perusal of them has afforded us. In the mean time, should he continue to pursue the unprofitable vocation of poetry, we would exhort him never to be seduced by any feeling of lassitude to refuse its labors. Let him apply his talents to the severe tasks it imposes, and he will be sure of obtaining its rewards. No species of composition requires a more perfect abstraction of mind than the writing of poetry, nor tasks the faculties to a more intense and vigorous exertion. When Parnassus is to be scaled, the palm is to him who climbs boldly and directly up its steeps; he who would pick out a safe way among the precipices, and sidle slowly and comfortably along in a circuitous path, will never reach the summit. The mighty and enduring edifices, whose remains our author has celebrated, were not built without immense toil; and all that is great and lasting in literature has been produced by strength attacking and overcoming difficulty.
ART. III.-Letters from Paris, on the Causes and Consequences of the French Revolution. By WILLIAM C. SOMERVILLE. Baltimore. Edward J. Coale. 1822. 8vo. pp. 390.
THIS work, containing a review of the recent political history of France, is obviously the production of one familiar with the literature and language of the French, and industrious in obtaining correct sources of information. An American, returning from a tour in Europe, can hardly perform a more useful service, than by publishing a dispassionate examination of the civil condition of the continental states. This is a subject about which we need information, and such information as cannot be easily collected except in the countries themselves.
It is the leading object of Mr Somerville to show, that the French Revolution was justified by sufficient causes, that the spirit of liberty has not to bear the reproach of the enormities which attended it, that it has been followed by many permanent effects beneficial to France, and, finally, that the cause of liberty is really gaining ground, and must under some form at last be triumphant. We hope that all these positions are true ones. Some of them certainly are so. Our author's remarks extend to a wide range of former history and present politics, and we must content ourselves with touching on some of the general topics which they suggest.
Whoever considers the state of Europe about twenty years before the close of the last century, cannot but perceive that all the forms of government were ripe for change. A desire for civil liberty began to be active among the nations, just as three centuries before the understanding had revolted against the tyranny of the church over the conscience. But at the
time of the reformation, there were no examples of a successful vindication of the freedom of faith; while now the government of England had served for two centuries as a monument of the tranquillity and glory, which are secured by free institutions; and a recent yet splendid revolution, in a distant quarter of the world, had established the advantages of successful resistance.
The constitutions of Europe had outlived themselves. Whatever remained of the forms of the middle ages had
ceased to be respectable, because it was no longer sustained by the state of society. It needed not much of the prophetic spirit to foretell the speedy dissolution of the German empire. And even in the few free governments, the Dutch republic was weakened and distracted by the collisions of armed factions, and the fatal invitation given by each party to foreign princes to join in the struggle; while Venice, like a merchant who has withdrawn from business, was no longer enumerated among the influential powers.
Morals and honor had long since lost their control over politics. For a statesman to have been a philanthropist, or a man of strict integrity in his public functions, would have been an anomaly. The different kings, possessed of scattered dominions, and passionately desirous of consolidating their power and connecting their territories, made exchanges of provinces, as if allegiance and willing submission to government were matters of barter and trade. The strength of kingdoms was measured by the statistical tables, and the moral energy of nations was entirely forgotten.
All the princes of the continent had their standing armies, and the people was everywhere defenceless. But the finances of no one were in a condition, which promised permanent security and prosperity; and no government was strenuously supported by the affections of its subjects.
The power of public opinion, which is now universally conceded, was just beginning to make itself felt and known. Salutary principles were finding their way slowly among the people, but had not yet been defended by loud expressions of general assent.
The principles of a liberal democracy began to be at work in the monarchies, and it was seen, not only that the interests of the people and of the princes, but also their desires and purposes were at variance. The ruler and the ruled were arrayed against each other, and even to the superficial observer there seemed no doubt, which party would be the uppermost. But though the advocates of ancient usage had their armies already organized and at command, and no means of resistance were visible on the other side, it was still obvious, that hereditary rank had lost its control over the mind, and that the resources of the people, when brought into action, would produce results of incalculable importance.
It was easy therefore to foresee, that a struggle would ensue between hereditary privileges and natural rights; and it was also to be expected, that the defenders of the former would be confident in maintaining what long usage had yielded to them, would feel strong in the forces, which were at their disposal, and despise opposition from a party, which had no public representatives, no influence in the government, and no means of organizing or wielding an army.
Add to this, that the manners of the higher orders had grown thoroughly dissolute; the sanctity of marriage contracts was treated as a jest; the connexion between parent and child was dissolved at birth; the bonds of natural fondness served no longer to restrain or guide the energies of the young. And yet the nobility claimed the same superiority, which they enjoyed in the earlier ages, when the spirit of contemplative devotion sanctified and elevated the character of woman, and disinterested valor, and honor, and education, conferred real superiority, no less than a poetic interest, on the champions of chivalry.
The spirits of men rose against this tyranny of vice and rank. The laws, unjustly administered, left the mechanic and the tradesman to defray the expenses of the government, and feed the vices of the nobles; and justice and prudence demanded opposition to so unequal a condition. The haughty superiority claimed by the nobles, was now a superiority of birth, not of intelligence and benefits; and therefore the pride of men could endure it no longer. A word from a minister, a scrap of paper signed by royalty, could imprison at pleasure, without reason, and without termination. Science and poetry were restrained in their efforts, and truth could not make her appearance in the world, unless she too paused, and asked permission in the antichambers of the powerful. Is it strange then, if men grew impatient of the thraldom in which they were held? They felt, moreover, that the cords which bound them were decayed, and that it needed only a strong arm to rend them asunder.
The remarks, which we have made, do not apply to France alone, but to nearly the whole of the European continent. For when the revolution commenced in that kingdom, the other nations were watching its progress with the deepest anxiety, prepared to imitate its institutions if they should prove to be wise and salutary.
In tracing the causes of this state of things in France, Mr Somerville ascends far into anterior history, and shows the gradual operation of evils, which had long been increasing. The greatest and best kings of France,' he observes, 'have been those who were not born with a certain prospect of wearing the crown, but came into possession of it by accident, after having learned wisdom in the school of adversity.' p. 72. Louis Twelfth, Francis First, and Henry Fourth, are the princes, whom he selects as the wisest and most benevolent sovereigns of France prior to the revolution.
The benevolent character of Louis Twelfth, which made him desirous of promoting the happiness of the nation, and careful to avoid oppression, secured to France internal tranquillity and prosperity, though his unhappy desire of Italian conquests continued the ruinous expeditions against Milan. After all his reverses it would still seem, that at his death, little was wanting to the domestic prosperity of France, but the lustre of the fine arts and letters.
The influence of Francis First on the character of his nation was great and permanent. He rendered his own age miserable by his ambition of conquest, and his headstrong chivalrous courage, but he gave an impulse to learning, and introduced the fine arts from Italy. The first of the Lombard artists, the incomparable Leonardo, is said to have died in his embrace, and Benvenuto Cellini, that most ingenious, interesting semibarbarian, was for a considerable time his pensioner. Yet he was too much a voluptuary to be either truly great or truly liberal; and the fires of religious persecution continued to burn, even while policy dictated an alliance with protestant Germany.
The years, which succeeded the death of Francis, exhibit France distracted by internal factions, disgraced by the atrocious crimes of the Guises, and deprived of all foreign influence during the decline of the kingdom. At length Henry Fourth appeared to save and restore her. He had been disciplined in the school of persecution and adversity, and his natural qualities were so excellent and so amiable, that, but for the stain on his morals as a libertine, we might rank him among those, whose memory good men should cherish and defend. Mr Somerville, who is no admirer of Louis Fourteenth, dwells with complacency on the excellence of Henry's