Imagens das páginas

mise for the human being, made of matter and spirit, who tries to "reach the true" by "practice with the false." The amphibian, in fact, reminds us of the description of the hippopotamus given by the proverbial showman: "He can't live on the land and dies in the water; but, however, he does pretty well in a cage." 'Then there is the vision of fair women, from Fifine at one end of the scale through Helen and Cleopatra and a nameless saint up to the perfect Elvire, which tends to suggest that there is some good at each stage, even in Fifine, who has nothing beyond mere sensual attractions and an absence of hypocrisy. Elvire herself naturally argues that when you have got the highest you should not revert to the lowest. That question, says Don Juan, shows how terribly incapable women are of "mental analysis," and leads to another elaborate illustration. Don Juan tells at full length how he once bought a splendid Raphael, and still considers it to be a priceless possession, though he can amuse himself at odd moments by turning over Doré's last picture-book. That means, then, as his wife retorts, that after all he likes the lowest form of æsthetic stimulus. He replies by another series of illustrations, showing in the first place how by scrawling lines on the sand with a broken tobacco-pipe he can suggest various types of beauty. That shows, it seems, how "soul" can make use of "sense." After all, Elvire unkindly suggests, this is mere make-belief; it is trying to deceive her or himself or God; it is the pleasures of the senses not of the soul that really attract him; the charm for him after all is that of the women of the Fifine type. Poor Don Juan has to take a very wide excursion in order to get round that difficulty, and to draw illustrations from the sea and the jelly-fish and the porpoises which happen to turn up opportunely, and to

suggest dolphins and Arion, and gradually works round to show how much more satisfactory women are than men as associates; they give everything, and take nothing. Why then, inquires Elvire, are you not content with the best women? He replies by another roundabout illustration from a boat which they have lately seen. It is pleasant, it seems, to have the excitement of an occasional voyage in the "rakish craft" Fifine, and leave Elvire for a time to refit in port. Fifine, it seems, may even take him to Athens for a trip, though he will come back to the superior ship. The answer still seems to leave a gap in the logic, and Don Juan falls back upon further illustrations of his general principle. He explains that he has been playing Schumann's "Carnival," which suggests the strange vision of the Carnival at Venice. The figures in St. Mark's Place, when seen from a height, appear to be monstrous. When he descends to their level, he perceives-"quite contrary to what one would expect"-that the absurdities diminish. He infers that in the great carnival of human life, there is in reality "just enough and not too much of hate, love, greed and lust." We come, that is, once more to the optimist conclusion that everything is somehow for the best, if you can get once to the right point of view. Then, too, it appears that human nature remains the same under all changes, and what we take to be new forms of thought are mostly new ways of expressing the old truth. This finally is driven home by his last illustration. The pair are passing an old Druid monument. The learned can tell us nothing about it, but we inquire of a peasant, and characteristically have to be told how he is carrying a basket of mushrooms for sale at the great house. Ultimately, however, he manages to explain how the curé declared it to represent a pagan superstition, but that


it really contained something permanent. It was, it seems, a symbol, erroneous in a sense, but yet leaving a deposit of the truth-and gives the "principle of things" upon which the ancient and modern creeds only perform superficial variations.

Browning is really trying to solve the problem, how to write something which shall be at once a poem and a discursive argument.

The old grammarian was an impressive symbol of an idea -and of an idea which suggests a theory of life. The more concrete and individualized, the more impressive he becomes. Even his eccentricity gives a sting to the thought which he embodies. As Browning says of "grand rough old Martin Luther's" fable, it is "the better the uncouther, do roses sting like thorns?" So far the method is perfectly legitimate. But as a logician he wants in other cases to expand the argument, to show its ramifications and relation to other theories. "Fifine" is an attempt to do this, and still to be poetical. To be poetical, Browning holds that he must, as always, be thoroughly concrete; that is, reason by such illustrations and analogies as can be got out of the visible tangible world. But then, the embodiment is no longer subordinate to the central thought. Instead of making Don Juan a vivid symbol of the idea, all manner of incidental circumstances are added to persuade the imagery to follow the argu

The National Review.

ment. Not only so, but Browning thinks it necessary to complete the story by explaining how the illustrations come to be suggested-to introduce the mushroom gatherer and the shoal of porpoises which have nothing whatever to do with the argument. It is no wonder that the attempt to combine two such inconsistent aims should produce unsatisfactory results; that the reasoning should become intricate and perplexed, and wander off into speculations which are quite irrelevant to Don Juan's main purpose; and that, on the other side, the imaginative effect should be hopelessly bewildered and enfeebled by the teasing interference of the logic. Yet one feels that Browning is after all the same throughout, and must have appeared to himself to be applying the same method. The odd thing is that he does not seem to have understood why when he accepts certain conditions they generate poetry of extraordinary power, and, when he fails to accept them, lead to those singular "amphibious" productions which, using his own illustration, belong neither to the upper air nor to the solid earth. Our comfort must be that, though Browning wasted too, much energy upon the impracticable he succeeded-even by a kind of accident-in achieving so many superlative triumphs that we need not bother ourselves, if we want poetry, by puzzling over the failures.


Nothing is perhaps more striking, even to the casual observer, than the fluctuations of literary fashion which succeed one another with such rapidity within what is generally known as intellectual society. In the more or less cultivated circles which do not pretend to exclusive literary illumination, such changes are, of course, far more gradual, though in the end more complete. The general reader (and by the general reader we do not mean the devotee of ephemeral fiction) is often, as Scotch people phrase it, "slow at the uptak' "; but he is correspondingly loyal in his predilections. Unaffected by the shortlived shibboleths of esoteric culture, he goes on his quiet way, provincial or suburban; and, like other unfashionable people, has sometimes experience of the truth, that the whirligig of time brings its revenges. Captivated by Macaulay's great history on its first appearance, he has never wavered in his allegiance. Meanwhile, in more fastidious quarters, a brief fascination soon made way for the inevitable reaction; and the prejudice of Macaulay, his errors and his mannerisms, became the commonplace of journalism. Men without a tithe of his powers or of his information, could at least disparage both; and sneered complacently at his elaborate rhetoric and his Philistine views of life.

This phase, we are interested to learn, may be regarded as finished. In the brilliant little article on Macaulay which Mr. Paul contributed as long ago as March, 1900, to the AngloSaxon Review,' "the notion that Macaulay was shallow or superficial" is said to have "died with Cotter


1 And which has more recently become available, in a volume of collected essays, to those of us who are not millionaires.

Morrison." A few months ago, it is true, in the page of pleasant chit-chat which Mr. Clement Shorter contributes to a contemporary, we seem to have recognized a few venerable charges; but perhaps, to adopt the useful formula of Mr. Kipling-"that is another story."

Meanwhile, no churlish censure disfigured Mr. Paul's own essay. The warmth and substantial justice of its eulogy, the happy touches of epigrammatic criticism with which it positively sparkles, must have excited the sincere gratitude of all lovers of Macaulay. But these excellences could not quite atone for a certain thinness of treatment. What Mr. Paul said was excellent; but he left so much unsaid. Mr. Paul, in fact, never seems to have grasped the deeper justification underlying certain charges, of which, in their superficial form, he made very short work.

Yet, on the face of it, how felicitous he is! How triumphantly he vindicates Macaulay's accuracy! confining the controversy, as in justice it must be confined, to those deliberate historical efforts which alone can evoke the strict canons of evidential virtue. How aptly he insists on the enormous range and minute precision of the documentary evidence upon which, as upon a structural framework, Macaulay's great history is founded! The subsequent discovery of subsidiary evidence may have enabled us to supplement, in some cases even to supersede, Macaulay's version of events; but in point of actual extent, his knowledge of later seventeenth-century authorities remains unsurpassed. And if, even in matters which fell within his possible cognizance, errors have been detected by the criticism of experts, or the


righteous zeal of indignant partisans, it is the very vogue of his history which has thrown into exaggerated relief these charges and corrections. Macaulay was, in fact, occasionally mistaken, as all historians are mistaken: for human accuracy is at best comparative. We are none of us infallible, not even the dullest of us; mathematicians may err, micologists have been known to nod; and the modest student of constitutional history watches, with a chastened awe, as erudite Germans and accomplished Englishmen, fiery Celts and staid Civilians, drive their respective coaches and fours through the monumental hypotheses of Dr. Stubbs.

How appreciatively, again, Mr. Paul champions the robust political optimism which renders the works of Macaulay so bracing to a pessimistic age: how appropriately he dilates on the experimental knowledge of political life which preserved Macaulay from the pitfalls of the political theorist; how justly he applauds the lofty sense of moral rectitude which Macaulay carried not only into the academic walks of literature, but into the storm and stress of the actual political arena. Macaulay, politically speaking, neither a pedant nor a prude; but he was, what we so seldom find, a man with the courage of his convictions. Strong in his political creed, he neither believed, nor affected to believe, that majorities are always right, nor mechanics exclusively virtuous. flattered no one, and nothing-not even a mob; and he dared to warn his constituents, as a matter of principle, that he did not hold himself bound to subscribe to local charities.



Another passage in Mr. Paul's essay seems to suffer from the not uncommon fault of an illegitimate antithesis. Like most historical writers of the

As Macaulay has himself remarked of Burnet. CLECTIC. VOL. LXXII. 468

present day, whatever their leanings, Mr. Paul draws a broad distinction between the literary and the unliterary, the picturesque and the scientific, the readable and the unreadable schools of history; and taking his own stand on the side of the artistic angels, "damns with faint praise" all scientific apostates from his canons of literary art.

But is not the antithesis, strictly speaking, double-barrelled; or even (if we admit so modern a simile), something of a logical "Mauser"? For literary and unliterary, picturesque and scientific, readable and unreadable are not necessarily convertible distinctions. Mr. Paul, in fact, is so convinced of the omnipotence of style that he ignores the fundamental differences of subject-matter. Theoretically he would hardly deny that history can be studied either comprehensively or piecemeal-to speak more by the book, either synthetically or analytically. History, in short, is equally history, whether it aims at a survey which, within certain limits of time and

space, shall be practically complete and reconstructive; or whether it fix upon a single aspect or single department of human activity for more rigorous analysis. Moreover, in the latter case such aspect or such department must by its very nature be either popular or repellent, picturesque or the reverse. There are topics which, adequately treated, appeal at once to the instincts of the many. There are themes as important, but more abstruse, which, however handled, are necessarily restricted to the few. But men who add to knowledge a saving faith in that characteristic perfection of utterance which we agree to denominate "style," may be found in every field. Nor has either camp a monopoly of those misguided fanatics who appear to believe that as long as you have something to say it is immaterial

how you say it; and that a diction at once slovenly in construction and adorned by an appropriate "derangement of epitaphs" constitutes an adequate medium for the communication of truth. We do not, of course, deny that a history such as can assert a peculiar claim to the suffrage of the general reader-a history which aims at representing in its integrity, as an artistic whole, some period of salient interest or the career of an exceptional individual, must embody the loftier ambition and make the heavier demand upon those artistic and literary faculties for which it affords the supreme scope. For such works are necessarily defective unless they take account, among other data, of the picturesque externals of history-of those scenic aspects of individual and civic life which require for their reproduction a certain rhetorical faculty. Nor can they be said to attain success unless the writer possess that touch of genius which enables him to discriminate the finer shades of thought and feeling, while yet casting into bold relief the salient outlines of his subject; which enables him to revive the passions with the actions of the past, and to create for us the most elusive of literary effects, an historical atmosphere. Those of us, therefore, who are wanting in literary genius may appropriately confine ourselves to those more modest tasks, which expose our powers of expression to a less exacting trial. A catena of documents, the dissection of dubious evidence, or the naked severity of an analytical monograph require little more of their exponents than propriety of arrangement and that apt simplicity of language which good taste demands; and we can all, if we take sufficient pains, write English which shall be at least accurate, lucid and scholarly. But language, however lucid, however scholarly-we may add, however brilliant-cannot popularize

that which in its essence appeals to the restricted sympathies and exceptional knowledge of the expert. Take Mr. Paul's own bugbear, Bishop Stubbs himself. We do not wish to dispute the undoubted fact that his Constitutional History is one of the worst constructed works which this long-suffering language can boast; but how can a Constitutional history, at its best, be either popular or picturesque? Its distinctive topic, the development of institutions, does not appeal to the multitude. Tallages afford no scope to the descriptive faculty; it is difficult to infuse a strong human interest into the origin of burgage tenures; while the most brilliant rhetoric could not cast a glamour over the Statute of Præmunire. Dr. Stubbs might have written "like an angel" or a Burkeor rather (to employ Mr. Paul's own more modest comparison) he might have always written with the admirable force which occasional passages display, and his great work would still be "caviare to the general." Its perusal would still be confined to professional experts, and to the hapless young persons who, lured by the faint receding hope of a first class in the history finals, plod their weary way through those three portentous vol


But why, in the name of wonder, oppose the two schools? Are they not complementary? is there not room for both? Can any of us afford to deny that the abstract elucidation of special departments is an admirable work, by which the general historian is the first to profit? The anatomist in this world has his task no less than the painter. It is, of course, in the strictest sense of the word, a very narrow task. The dry bones of purely abstract history will no doubt remain dry bones to the end of time, unless clothed and inspired by the historic imagination. Still, some of us take an interest in

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »