Imatges de pÓgina

names in which he moved-D'Alembert, Turgot, Conti-stars of the first magnitude in science and in society. Yet there is something awful to think that in this gay and thoughtless assemblage it was not so much the genius as the infidelity of the philosopher which established his popularity; and in contemplating the utter impiety and blasphemy of these polished circles, it is not difficult to descry the seeds which so soon afterwards ripened into appropriate but fearful convulsion.

Hume returned to England in 1766, bringing with him the eccentric madman Rousseau, for whose fancied wrongs Hume's honest sympathy had been excited. But, morbid and ungrateful, Rousseau turned on his benefactor before many months were over; and the baseness and ingratitude of his protégé seem to have roused Hume to more genuine anger than his correspondence anywhere previously betrays. He was not fortunate in his dealings with literary lunatics.

Hume's fortune had been improved by his later occupations, and in 1766 he was appointed Under-Secretary of State, and discharged the duties of the office with a clearness and despatch which showed that he had as much practical ability as power of abstract thought and logical discrimination. His appointment terminated by the ministerial convulsions of the day, and Hume once more retired, with a decent competence, to private life. He resided in Edinburgh till the year 1776, when, compelled by ill health to seek for advice in England, he died at Bath, on the 25th of August of that year, in the 66th year of his age.

Of Hume's merits as a man of letters it is high and deserved praise to say, that himself a Scotchman, speaking the vernacular in all its Doric breadth, his style is purer and more faultless than that of any writer of that century, at least of the latter half of it. It is not such English as Dryden's, nor is it as flowing and florid as Bolingbroke's. It has a little of the constraint of a man writing in a language not quite familiar; still we have no English work of philosophy, the language of which is so purely philosophic, and no history, the style of which is so eminently historical.

His History, however, will not be the lasting memorial of his name. The far-reaching stretch of his philosophy has engraven his name deep in the records of human thought; and melancholy as it may be to think that all the consolation it afforded its author was the conclusion that all was darkness and uncertainty: and many as the minds have been whose steadfastness have been shaken by the daring infidelity of this great master, we yet venture to think that his searching spirit of inquiry has only tended to strengthen those pillars of faith which he intended to shake, and to elucidate in still greater brightness those great truths at which his darts were so unavailingly hurled.

The Public and Private Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with Selections from his Correspondence. By HORACE Twiss, Esq. Three vols., 8vo. London, 1844.

IN an age which, unlike that in which Tacitus wrote, is little liable to the charge of being "incuriosa suorum," this is one of the best biographies, in a literary point of view, that has lately appeared. To write a good life, if not the highest effort of narrative talent, must be one of the most difficult, if we are to judge by the frequency of failure. The incidents, indeed, in the lives of ordinary men, which are of the greatest personal importance to themselves, seldom have enough of point or peculiarity to raise interest in the mind of the general reader; and the biography of many a man whose days have been spent in stirring scenes, and who may have contributed to the great events of his age, may yet, when in the hands of an historian, be little more readable than a merchant's day-book.

There is, however, one secret of story-telling, of which, when the subject admits of it, the biographer may avail himself with great effect. It has been very truly said, that if all the little events of any man's life were narrated from day to day, they would in the end make an interesting book. Perhaps this may arise from the interest we always take in the development of unforeseen results from any regular progress of events; or perhaps it is a branch of that implanted curiosity which creates in all male and female hearts so great a sympathy in their neighbours' concerns, and makes a dinner party or a wedding next

door the subject of mysterious speculation and interest. But certain it is, that this sort of Dutch painting acquires, from its mere detail, a charm, of which the prominent features of the piece may be totally destitute; and the story of how the most commonplace man living ate, slept, and spoke, will sometimes enchain the attention of a reader who would yawn in disgust over pages of bygone Parliamentary eloquence, or the tale of how forgotten fields were won.

It was a conformation of mind fitting him peculiarly for this style of writing, that made Boswell the prince of biographers; and similar qualities in the author gave its character and popularity to Pepys' Diary. Both men of contracted mental vision, the little things they did see made a strong impression on them, and they described them with a vividness and minuteness which greater minds would have thought frivolous. Mr. Twiss has just borrowed enough from their example to give us the little as well as the great incidents in Lord Eldon's life, and has in consequence produced a very diverting and agreeable book, which, if it does not present the hero of it personally before us, has at least the merit of appearing to do so. In the career of a man, from small beginnings and by slow progress, to the heights of power and fame, enjoyed during the most protracted span of human life, he had an admirable subject; and he has used the materials placed at his disposal with great judgment and discrimination, so as to give a lively current to the stream of his narrative, and to avoid being either cursory or prolix. The history flows smoothly on, diversified by a great variety of letters and anecdotes, which reflect vividly the mind and character of his subject, and show him painted by his own hand. The praise of being a very clever and interesting book we most willingly accord to it; and we believe we only express the opinion of it universally entertained. It has other qualities in point of ability, which are less entitled to approbation.

If we turn from the execution of the work, viewed merely as a literary composition, to inquire how far the author has executed his task with fidelity or truth, and done his best to hand down to posterity the true image of a great public character, extenuating nothing, and setting nought down in malice, our opinion of it is neither so decided nor so favourable. Surrounded by the personal friends of the subject of his history, and trammelled by party connexion, the task he undertook was certainly a difficult one, if he had any ambition to rise above the level of a mere panegyrist, and to write for the instruction of future times, rather than please the prejudices of a coterie. Perhaps the circumstances under which he wrote, made Mr. Twiss incapable

of impartial judgment. Had he been to award praise and censure with the stern justice of history, he must have given offence to those by whom his materials were intrusted to him, and the great political party of which Lord Eldon was the type. He may hint a fault in one place, or lay on the colours more faintly in another; but we did not expect, when we opened the book, to find justice meted strictly out-and we did not. We find what we like worse than even pure and indiscriminate laudation : what seems a sedulous and not unsuccessful attempt to create false impressions, and studious efforts to conceal and colour over all circumstances which might have an unfavourable effect upon the reader. While there is a manifest, and almost avowed determination to uphold Lord Eldon throughout, it is done with an air of candour and liberality, as if the reader was put in possession of all the writer knew; while truly we cannot help feeling, that in a great many instances, there is a very plausible and skilful effort to delude. If this be in any degree a wellfounded criticism, the book, whatever may be its ability, ceases to deserve any respect or favour.

The suspicion we have now expressed, is chiefly derived from a perusal of the work itself. The sources of accurate information on the various incidents of so long a life, wrapped up, for the most part, in the secrecy of office, are, of course, in a great degree, remote and inaccessible to the ordinary critic, and are far more open to the biographer than to us. Nor did the impression strike us at first. On the contrary, the interest of the narrative, and the candour of the style, had well nigh so far beguiled us, as to lead us to believe, when we concluded it, that Lord Eldon was all that our author represents him—conscientious, high minded, and pure, throughout all his public career. But on maturer reading, glimpses of the truth are seen. That he was a man of rare endowments, and achieved great things, no one can deny; but that he was not the man Mr. Twiss has drawn him, the book itself contains enough to demonstrate.

Our quarrel with our author is not merely that he has written a party book. This he avows in the preface, where he says

"In such a memoir, a total absence of political feeling would have been hardly attainable, and perhaps not desirable. The life of any modern statesman, if written without a general sympathy in his political views, must have a coldness and flatness, which no tone of impartiality could redeem. The writer of these pages, therefore, though he presumes, in some important instances-even in one so momentous as that of the Catholic Question-to dissent from Lord Eldon's opinions, has not affected an air of indifference as to those stirring questions of politics in which Lord Eldon was mixed, and still less as to


those party attacks of which he was individually the object. the course of the work has led the author into contact with such subjects, he has thought it best to deal with them frankly."—Vol. i., Preface.

To a certain extent, there may be some truth in this assertion. It would be difficult for a man who had no sympathy with Lord Eldon's principles to admire, or, perhaps, to do justice to his public character. At the same time, Mr. Twiss carries his vocation too far. He does not "deal with them frankly." It was not necessary that the biographer should so indiscriminately defend every act in a life of politics so much exposed to observation, or that, from the Treason Trials of 1794, to the Bill of Pains and Penalties, every step in his career should be so resolutely vindicated. The time has gone by for such views. Lord Eldon himself was left at last, not like a great sea mark, saving all that eyed him," but like a vessel moored at spring-tide, which the receding waves had left dry. Mr. Twiss, however, is ambitious of a share of his great leader's reputation; and following in his steps, breaks out into the following obsolete lamentation over the Reform Bill ::


"Wielding this powerful combination of forces, Lord Eldon was enabled, through many a long year of untiring energy, to break the successive tides of revolution,—until at length, in 1831, the ill-starred conjunction of the royal with the democratic will, gave that sinister heave to the constitution which has wrenched it from its frame, and converted its administration from a sytematic government to a succession of conflicts, each doubtful in its issue, and each more dangerous than its antecedent. But, in whatever shape and at whatever season the consequences of that dislocation may come upon us, those who honour the memory of Lord Eldon will have the pride of reflecting, that, to the latest practicable moment, he stood up for the ancient safeguards of the crown and the people; and that when at length the constitution was laid low-when the seal of its doom had been extorted by duress from the Peers, and the House of Commons was levelled to a national convention-even then, at an age surpassing the common limits of mortality, that venerable man refused to despair of his country, and set the brave example of a reaction which has raised up one chance more to England, for regulating the liberties of her people, and restoring the security of her state."-Vol. i., p. 20.

This reads like some fragment of a speech spoken, or intended to be spoken, in the debates on Schedule A. Much folly was spoken, and many idle prophecies ventured, in the excitement of that time but the most foolish of all the forebodings, was the notion, that wealth and rank were to lose their influence through the Reform Bill. Whatever defects it had, there never was a measure which was less entitled to the epithet of revolutionary. It

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