Imatges de pÓgina

Mr. Griffith, junior, succeeded his father as editor, and continued his labours till May, 1825, when indisposition compelled him to relinquish a siluation he occupied with honour to himself and advantage to the public. The different series of the “ Monthly Review” contain a vast accumulation of general knowledge, and many admirable specimens of philosophical and impartial criticism. It was the first journal which skilfully combined an analysis of books, with critical strictures on their character, and the topics of which they treated. Disquisitions on the subjects of works were only occasionally introduced ; and were contributed by men of established celebrity in the republic of letters. The criticisms were, in general, neither too brief nor too elaborate; but gave a fair abstract of an author's productions, accompanied by a discriminating commentary on their excellencies and defects. Though the “ Monthly” has not maintained the same lofty ground as the “Edinburgh" and i Quarterly Reviews” in learned and profound discussion, it has occasionally sent forth articles of great altraction and permanent value. Ils views on political subjects were always comprehensive and enlightened, and advocated, under circumstances the most discouraging, with firmness, talent, and integrity. On questions of a religious nature it was favourable to the opinions of the unitarian party; but its support was the result of conviction, and invariably rendered in a tolerant spirit. The rights of conscience were strenuously defended by its conductors. Persecution was never justified in the name of religion, nor disabilities, whether civil or political, vindicated as necessary to the existence of the British constitution. Upon the whole, it may be said with truth of this useful journal, that, for a period exceeding seventy years, it has been the “ steady and independent advocate of the general interests of literature, of moral virtue, of political freedom and religious liberty, unawed by the threatening aspect of the worst of times, and unseduced by the alJurements of days of peace and pleasure, which it has been alike its fortune to witness in its protracted career.

The success of the “ Monthly Review” led to the establishment of several other critical journals. The rapidity with which they followed each other may be regarded as a proof of a growing taste for such publications. When authors were few, books rare, and the great majority of the nation without the means of instruction, the want of Reviews was not selt. They are the offspring of an improved state of society, and their progress has kept pace with the advancement of knowledge. It will be found, therefore, that from the period when the “Monthly Review” entered on its career, periodical criticism assumed a more important character, and was sought after with greater avidity.

About a year after Mr. Griffith commenced his work, Dr. Matthew Maty published the first number of the Journal Britannique," which he continued for five years. It came out every two months at the Hague, and contained an account, in French, of the principal books published in England. It met with a favourable reception, and exhibited extensive literary information, Dr. Maty was originally a physician at Leyden, and settled in England in 1740. The learning and genius of which his journal afforded unequivocal proofs, recommended him to the most eminent scholars and writers of that day. To this connection he was indebted for his appointment of under-librarian to the British Museum, at its first institution in 1753 ; and


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* Preface to vol. cvi. of the Monthly Review.

in 1772 for the office of principal librarian. The “Journal Britannique, tbouzh unequal in critical talent to many of its successors, did credit to the research, taste, and judgment of its editor.

It has been remarked, that an intimate connection has always existed between the progress of periodical literature and the spirit of the times. The history of Scotch Reviews and Magazines affords many striking proofs of this observation. Edinburgh has been long celebrated for the variety and importance of its literary and scientific institutions, the reputation of ils men of letters, and the intelligence of its population. These circumstances will account satisfactorily for the number of periodical publications to which that city has given birth, and which have been supported by its most eminent writers.

It is an interesting fact, that the “Edinburgh Review” was the title of the first journal published in Scotland exclusively devoted to criticism. The gentlemen by whom it was projected and conducted afterwards rose to the highest distinction in the literary world. The names of Adam Smith, Dr. Robertson, Lord Chancellor Roslyn, Dr. Blair, and several other writers of pole, are associated with this remarkable work. It contains the earliest efforts of the author of the “Wealth of Nations,” and of the historian of America.

The design of the Review, as expressed in the original Preface, was to "lay before the public, from time to time, view of the progressive state of learning in Scotland; to give a full account of all books published there within the compass of half a year; and to take some notice of such books published elsewhere as are most read in this country, or seem to have any title to draw the public attention.” Only two numbers were published, in July, 1755, and January, 1756. The circumstance of the authors not being known gave an interest to the Review, exclusive of the talent displayed in its management. Eight articles, of which six are on historical subjects, were from the pen of Dr. Roberlson. Among the contributions of Adam Smith, the review of Johnson's Dictionary attracted most attention. Dr. Blair wrote several literary criticisms; and Mr. Jardine, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, reviewed works on theology. It may appear strange that David Hume, the friend and associate of the eminent persons engaged in this undertaking, and whose splendid talents would have increased its reputation, had no share in its management, nor even knew the names of the writers. Prudential considerations influenced the conductors in excluding him from any knowledge of their proceedings. When the Review came out, Scotland was agitated by religious dissensions. The orthodox party had taken alarm at the philosophical writings of Hume. l'oder such circumstances, it would have been most unwise had the Edis tors admitted an avowed Deist into their literary counsels, especially after baving, in their Prefatory Address, slated their determination to oppose, at all times, irreligious doctrines."

The late Mr. Mackenzie, in his Life of John Home, a work that contains a delightful actogat of the literary and philosophical societies of Edinburgh, assigns another reason for concealing from Mr. Hume the secret of the Edinburgh Review; and relates an anedlote, from which it would appear, that a short time before the work was discontinued the mystery was unveiled to him. "I have heard," says the author of the “ Man of Feeling, that the conductors of the Edinburgh Review were afraid both of Mr. Hume's good-nature and his extreme artlessness; that from the one, their criticisms would have hern weakened or suppressed, and from the other the secret discovered. The contents of the work strongly attracted his attention ; and he expressed his surprise to scine of the Notwithstanding this precaution, and the care of Mr. Jardine, the Review was hurried to a premature extinction by the sensitiveness of the Scotch on the subject of religion. It is to be lamented, that an extreme degree of nervousness, amongst theologians and religious bodies, respecting their favourite tenets, should so frequently hinder the fearless investigation of truth.

The Preface to a new edition of the “Edinburgh Review,” with explanatory notes, published in 1818, fully states the causes of its discontinuance. The following extract from this publication is of sufficient interest, as giving a sketch of religious parties in Scotland at the middle of last century, to justify ils insertion here. “At the very moment when Mr. Wedderburn, afterwards Earl of Roslyn (in his nole at the end of the second number), had announced an intention to enlarge the plan, he and his colleagues were obliged to relinquish the work. The temper of the people of Scotland was, at that moment, peculiarly jealous on every question that approached the boundaries of theology. A popular election of the parochial clergy had been restored with the Presbytery by the Revolution. The rights of patrons had been reimposed on the Scottish Church in the last years of Queen Anne, by Ministers who desired, if they did nol meditate, the re-establishment of Episcopacy. But, for thirty years afterwards, this unpopular right was either disused by the patrons, or successfully resisted by the people. The zealous Presbyterians still retained the docirine and spirit of the Covenanters; and their favourile preachers, bred up amidst the furious persecutions of Charles the Second, had rather learned piety and fortitude, than acquired that useful and ornamental learning which becomes their order in limes of quiet. Some of them had separated from the Church on account of lay patronage,' among other marks of degeneracy. But, besides these ‘Seceders,' the majority of the Established clergy were adverse to the law of patronage, and disposed to connive at resistance to its execution. On the other hand, the more leltered and refined ministers of the Church, who had secretly relinquished many parts of the Calvinistic system from the unpopularity of their own opinions and modes of preaching—from their connection with the gentry who beld the rights of patronage—and from repugnance to the vulgar and illiterate ministers whom turbulent elections brought into the Church-became hostile to the interference of the people, and zealously laboured to enforce the execution of a law which had hitherto remained almost dormant. The orthodox party maintained the rights of the people against a regulation imposed on them by their enemies; and the party which in malters of religion claimed the distinction of liberality and toleration, contended for the absolute authority of the civil magistrate, to the destruction of a right, which more than any other interested the conscience of the people of

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gentlemen concerned in it, with whom he was daily in the habit of meeting, at the excellence of a performance, written, as he presumed from his ignorance of the subject, by some persons out of their own literary circle. It was agreed to communicate the secret to him at a dinner, which was shortly after given by one of the number. At that dinner, he repeated his wonder on the subject of the Edinburgh Review. One of the company said he knew the authors, and would tell them to Mr. Hume, on his giving an oath of secrecy: How is the oath to be taken, said David, with his usual pleasantry, 'of a man accused of so much scepticism as I am? you would not trust my Bible oath ; but I will swear by the to xayor and the To #petov never to reveal your secret. He was then told the names of the authors, and the plan of the work ; but it was not continued long enough to allow of his contributing any articles."- Mackenzie's Life of Mr. John Home, p. 25.

Scotland. At the head of this last party was Dr. Robertson, one of the contributors to the present volume, who, about the time of its appearance, was on the eve of eflecting a revolution in the practice of the Church, by at length compelling the stubborn Presbyterians to submit to the authority of a law which they abhorred.

“Another circumstance rendered the time very perilous for Scotch reviewers of ecclesiastical publications. The writings of Mr. Hume, the intimate friend of the leader of the tolerant clergy, very naturally excited the alarm of the orthodox party, who, like their predecessors of the preceding age, were zealous for the rights of the people, but confined iheir charily within the pale of their own communion, and were much disposed to regard the impunity of heretics and infidels as a reproach to a Christian magistrate. In the year 1754, a complaint to the General Assembly against the philosophical writings of Mr. Hume and Lord Kames, was with difficulty eluded by the friends of free discussion. The writers of the Review were aware of the danger to which they were exposed by these circumstances. They kept the secret of their Review from Mr. Hume, the most intimate friend of some of them. They forbore to notice his History of the Stewarts,' of which the first volume appeared at Edinburgh two months before the publication of the Review; though it is little lo say that it was the most remarkable work which ever issued from the

Scottish press.

“They trusted that the moderation and well-known piety of Mr. Jardine would conduct them safely through the suspicion and jealousy of jarring parties. Nor does it, in fact, appear that any part of his criticisms is at variance with that enlightened reverence for religion which he was known to feel; but he was influenced by the ecclesiastical party to which he adhered. He seems to have thought that he might securely assail the opponents of patronage through the sides of Erskine, Boston, and other popular preachers, who were either Seceders, or divines of the same school. He even ventured to use the weapon of ridicule against their extravagant metaphors, their wire-drawn allegories, their mean allusions; and to laugh at those who complained of 'the connivance at Popery, the toleration of Prelacy, the pretended rights of lay patrons of heretical professors in the Universities, and a las clergy in possession of the Churches,' as the crying evils of the time.

“ This species of attack, at a moment when the religious feelings of the public were thus susceptible, appears to have excited general alarm. The orthodos might blame the writings criticised, without approving the tone assumed by the critic. The multitude were exasperated by the scorn with which their favourite writers were treated; and many who altogether disapproved these writings might consider ridicule as a weapon of doubtful propriety against language habilually employed to convey the religious and moral feelings of a nation. In these circumstances, the authors of the Review did not think themselves bound to hazard their quiet, reputation, and interest, by persevering in their attempt to improve the taste of their countrymen.'

It is to be regretted, that a work supported by such men as Adam Smith, Dr. Robertson, and Dr. Blair, and containing indications of their genius, which though feeble are not to be mistaken, should have been discontinued for the reasons assigned in this quotation. That its continuance would have been favourable to the progress of literature, science, and liberal opinions,

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is obvious from the tone and character of the two published numbers. They are animated by an enlightened spirit, and written with considerable vigour and elegance. The contributions of Adam Smith are characterized by extensive information and clearness of reasoning; whilst those of Robertson evince a decided taste for that department of literature, by the successful cultivation of which his name is associated with those of Hume and Gibbon. Of the critical notices furnished by Lord Roslyn and Dr. Blair, little more can be said than that they do no discredit to them, nor to the publication in which they appeared.

The same year that saw the downfall of the “ Edinburgh Review,” gave birth to the “ Critical Journal; or, Annals of Literature.” This was a London journal projected by Mr. Archibald Hamilton, a native of Scotland, and by profession a printer. Having been for some years foreman of Mr. Strahan's printing establishment, his perseverance and talents at length enabled him to commence business on his own account. Hamilton was thus brought into connexion with many persons of literary eminence, amongst whom was Dr. Smollett, with whose assistance he established the “Critical Review." This journal was the unflinching advocate of the Tory and High Church party. The “Monthly Review" had previously obtained considerable influence as the organ of the Whigs and Dissenters; and it was deemed expedient, by the writers engaged in the new undertaking, to occupy different ground, and to avow their strenuous attachment to Church and State. Whatever estimate may be formed of the political doctrines of Dr. Smollett and his coadjutors, there can be no difference of opinion as to the zeal and ability with which they supported them in the “Critical Review."

Like all public writers for the periodical press, the Editors of this journal commenced their labours with fair professions of their determination to discharge their critical functions with dignity and impartiality. But, though their efforts were neither deficient in talent nor energy, they were not free from asperity and petulance. Of the contributions of Smollett, , Dr. Anderson observes:-" His critical strictures evinced sufficient taste and judgment, but too much irritability and impatience, when any of the incensed authors, whose performances he had censured, attempted to relaliate; and a degree of acrimony of style and intemperance of language, that involved him in a variety of disputes frequently more vexatious than credi

table.” *

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Notwithstanding these defects, the work assumed a high rank in periodical criticism, and enjoyed, for many years, the patronage of a large circle of friends. It numbered among its regular contributors some of the master minds of the age. Johnson was the author of several able articles; and several were furnished by Whitaker, the historian of Manchester. One of the most efficient and active writers was the Rev. Joseph Robertson, the author of a great variety of publications. This gentleman was a contributor to the “ Critical Review” for twenty-one years; and, during that long period, furnished for it above 2,620 articles on theological, classical, poetical, and miscellaneous subjects !* The first number of the Literary Magazine, or Universal Review,”

“r appeared in May, 1756, a few months after the “ Critical Review.” The

* Dr. Anderson's Life of Smollett, p. 53.

† Scc a Sketch of his Life in Nichols's “ Literary Anecdotes,” vol. iii. p. 504. In the same work there is a Memoir of Mr. Archibald Hamilton, the individual who established thc“ Critical Review." (vol. iii. p. 398.)

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