Abbildungen der Seite

and an appreciative notice of Keats did much to remove the sting of the Quarterly's unjust attack on “Endymion.” But Wordsworth, Southey, and even Scott felt the critic's lash, and the famous phrase, “This will never do,” directed against “The Excursion,” has survived to the present day. And, in truth, it takes a very ardent Wordsworthian to wade through that voluminous poem at the present day. Many and famous have been the contributors to the Review, including the most eminent men in politics and literature Great Britain has produced. Macaulay won his first same in its pages, and for nearly twenty years was its chief support. Carlyle was a contributor for a time, but he did not like the way Jeffrey sometimes slashed his articles and toned down his style, and took his wares elsewhere. Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Abraham Hayward, and Thackeray were also acceptable contributors. Since the advent of the monthly reviews the Edinburgh may not have been so popular or so powerful as it once was, but it is to-day a verygreat organ of criticism and it commands attention

throughout the English-speaking world.



FRANCIs Jeffrey's editorship of the Edinburgh Review from 1802 until 1829 was most notable and few men have held critical sway so long and so powerfully. During that period he wrote on general literature, biography, history, poetry, philosophy, jurisprudence, fiction, and politics. It was the period that saw the rise of the great romantic movement in English literature, led by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Scott, and Jeffrey bore his part in it as critic and commentator. He was in sympathy with the movement as a revolt from the so-called “correctness” of the eighteenth century literature, but he did not entirely approve of the methods and style of all the great writers we have mentioned. Some of them he praised while others felt the sharp sting of his criticism.

A volume of his essays, selected by himself, has been published, and it is well worthy of any reader's time and thought. The style is not picturesque and full, like Macaulay's, nor quaint and charming like Charles Lamb's, nor so varied as Hazlitt's, but it is luminous and pleasing and often felicitous.

Jeffrey always goes directly to the point, and holds it firmly. He never divagates, nor goes out of his way to add a grace to his manner. He is usually downright and always dogmatic. His limitations are apparent, but within them he is an acute and often admirable critic.

In many respects he was a model editor, and could turn his hand to anything—a volume on Scotch metaphysics, French memoirs, English poetry or German fiction, and he possessed the audacity that made him afraid of no subject, and the egotism that convinced him he could adequately write upon it. He had a happy knack of touching up the articles sent in to him, often on timely or excellent subjects, but not always well or carefully written. A graceful sentence here and there or an apt quotation was all that was necessary to make them effective. Sometimes, however, he went far beyond the rights of

an editor in this respect, and would change an article to such an extent that its own father would not know it. This “editorial hacking to right and to left” drew a growling protest from Carlyle on more than one occasion. Sydney Smith often laughed at these traits—though Jeffrey never “ doctored " his articles—and used to say that all Jeffrey lacked was modesty to make him the most charming of men. But his industry and versatility were amazing. As a critic Jeffrey meant to be impartial and just, but his range was too narrow and certain of his literary judgments upon his contemporaries have not been confirmed by time. “This will never do,” is the famous sentence with which he began his critique on “The Excursion.” Undoubtedly it is a tedious poem and few readers have the courage to pursue that journey to the end, but the same may be said in these days of “Paradise Lost.” Wordsworth's poem, in spite of its dulness in places, “has done.” So too Jeffrey's remark on “The White Doe of Rylstone” that it was “the very worst poem ever imprinted in a quarto volume” is exaggerated dispraise, though it is the undoubted fact that “The White Doe" is a very dull poem in

many respects. But Jeffrey also lacked in appreciation of Wordsworth's shorter poems, such as the ode on “Immortality,” the “Lines on Tintern Abbey,” and the sonnets. On the other hand he most unduly praised and overestimated Southey—whom he placed far above Wordsworth. The tiresome epics of Kehama” and “Roderick" were received by the Review with acclaim, but modern readers care nothing for them, and they are now seldom, if ever, read. Jeffrey also gave Rogers and Campbell a higher place than Shelley, Keats, and Byron, but a later generation does not confirm this judgment. But when we turn to the mass of his criticism it is sane and abiding. There is nothing better in English criticism than his essays on Swift, on Hazlitt's “Characters of Shakespeare,” on Campbell’s “Specimens of the British Poets,” and on “Byron.” The essay on Swift is particularly fine and marked by a justice which had not then been accorded to the great Dean in a world still under the influence of Dr. Johnson. Jeffrey also recognized the genius of Keats and set the stamp of his critical approval on those immortal poems that were so savagely assailed and vilified in the pages of the Quarterly and of Blackwood's Magazine. Jeffrey's biography, by Lord Cockburn, gives

« ZurückWeiter »