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of majesty itself, till they look supremely ridiculous. Sometimes he secures his ludicrous effects by the mere daring effrontery of his onset, as in his celebrated chapter, “ Errors and Nonsense in a King's Speech ;" often by the unexpected introduction of political or personal allusions amid serious or indifferent subjects; sometimes, as we have seen, by the dexterous use of nicknames and slang; and often by the sieer power of exuberant and dauntless egotism.
He had very little of what is strictly called wit, or the power of perceiving unexpected resemblances and contrasts, and no dry severe irony. Coleridge defined Swift as the soul of Rabelais in a dry place. Cobbett may perhaps be defined the soul of Swift in a softer, sunnier, sappier, place. Swift was a machine of humor; he himself derived neither good nor pleasure from the lavish mirth he distributed to others. Cobbett, on the contrary, was compelled by his own tickling sensations to tickle the whole world besides ; his humor was not a voluntary exercise of power, but a vent for surcharged emotion.
His gift, as Shakspeare has it, of " iteration” he turned , to account for more purposes than those of humor. His arguments, his facts, as well as his favorite nicknames, such as the “Wen,” “Old Bloody," the “Press-gang,” &c., he repeated again and again. He sat, like a starling," opposite the treasury and the bank, and hallooed out what he deemed offensive truths, and recounted untoward events, the more pertinaciously that the truths were offensive, and that the events had been untoward. And then, worst of all, his croaking was so unlike that of all other croakers, it was so funny, so far from a dull monotony, founded so much on fact, and so widely listened to, that government, between amusement and provocation were “perplexed in the extreme.” They durst neither openly laugh nor cry. For here was no hunger-bitten scribbler, no lean Cassius, no wild-eyed emaciated fanatic, but a joyous jolly prophet, six feet high and proportionably broad, whom it was difficult either to bribe or to kill, pouring out his endless predictions and warnings under the sign of a gridiron, on which it was quite as likely that they as that he should be roasted alive.
Was it from this practice of incessant repetition that there sprung that egotism with which he has been so often
charged ? Was it that, as he could not help talking about other things over and over again, so he could not help, much more, talking about himself ? Cobbett, in fact, was not more an egotist than the majority of writers, only he spoke of himself directly and not by implication. Some speak of themselves while praising their idols, and others while indulging their hobbies. But William Cobbett, a plain blunt man, instead of veiling his egotism under the guise of sentimental sonnets, or working it up into imaginary conversations, or throwing it out into imaginary heroes, writes it down as plain was downright Shippen or as old Montaigne." We must say we like this trait in his character, believing that there is often more of the spirit of egotism discovered in avoiding than in using its language. Why, the editorial word “we” contains in it the double-distilled essence of egotism, modest as it looks. And how much intolerable self-conceit is concealed under the phrases “we humbly think," " it appears to us,” and “our feeble voice," &c. Cobbett was as great an enemy to shams as Carlyle. He had a vast notion of himself, and he took every opportunity, proper and improper, of declaring it. Unlike the boy Tell, he was great, and knew how great he was." His opinion, at any rate, was perfectly sincere, and as such required, nay, demanded expression. He felt himself, and was, a reality among mewing and moping, painted and gilded, starred, gartered, and crowned phantoms; and who shall quarrel with him because ever and anon he touched his strong sides and brow with his strong arms, and said, “ Here I am, this is solid, were all else the shadow of a shade." Bulwer, our readers are aware, thought proper, many years ago, to quarrel with the use of the anonymous in periodical literature. We think that Cobbett had been a worthier champion for supporting this quarrel than Sir Edward. No mask or visor would ever have become or fitted him. His personality seen at every turning in the lane, every opening in the hedge of his argument—his abuse or his humorwas his power. He was not a knight of chivalry, bearing no device upon his shield, and covering his face in the hollow of his helm, but a Tom Cribb or Spring, open-faced, strong, stripped, and ready to do battle with all comers. The anonymous seemed to him anti-English, and he re
signed it to the Italians, the “press-gang," and the author of Junius.
As Scott seemed to draw into his single self the last national spirit of his country, as Byron was our last purely English poet, so Cobbett was our all but last purely English prose writer. He seemed, next to Churchill, the most striking personification of John Bull. There were the brawny form, the swagger, the blustering temper, the broad humor, the pertinacity, the variability, the dogmatic prejudice, the rudeness, the common sense, the sagacity, the turbulence, the gullosity, and the pugnacity of a genuine Englishman as ever drank beer, bolted bacon, or flourished singlestaff
. How he could upon occasion flatter national prejudices and prepossessions! How he could stir up into absolute springtide the English blood! How he used to pelt, when he pleased, the French and the Scotch ! What a chosen champion to the chaw-bacons! It is not too much to say that he understood his countrymen as well as Napoleon did the French, and, had he possessed the fighting talent, could, in the event of a revolution, have led it and risen upon its wave. As it was, for a season he was the real king of the masses, and even after, through want of discretion, he lost his sovereignty, his rebel subjects, as often has happened in the history of rebellions, frequently felt their hearts palpitating, their ears tingling, and their knees instinctively bending to the voice of their ancient leader.
A pleasing feature in Cobbett's character was his love for the country. We remember him, in one of his “Registers,” expressing his wonder that one like himself, who relished intensely all rural sights and sounds, should have passed so large a portion of his life amid the smoke and din and strife of cities. It was not, indeed, the great features of nature that he admired; its more ethereal aspects, and that mysterious symbolic relation which it bears to the nature and history of man, he did not comprehend, and would have laughed at any one who pretended to do. We can fancy him thus criticising Emerson-“Wonders will
Here comes a Yankee prophet-yes, a Yankee prophet—talking transcendental (query, transcendent ?) nonsense by the yard, and trying to get the gullible goose
John Bull to listen to him, at the rate of seven guineas for each hour's lecture. He'd better—for us, at any ratehave stopped at home, and fed his pigs, or prophesied to his henroost. May I be roasted on a gridiron, if there's not more sense in this one number of the Twopenny Trash' than in all that this man Emerson ever wrote or ever will write till his last breath. And yet who'll pay me seven guineas for each of my lectures ? This half-crazy quack, I am told, pulls down the old prophets, Jeremy, Daniel, and the rest, and sets himself up in their stead
as prophet Ralph Waldo. I venture to predict to prophet Ralph, that he won't see Boston Bay again ere his gulls would rather by twenty times have their guineas in their pockets than his lectures in their memories. But I beg Ralph's pardon, for it's not in the power of any mortal man, I'm told, to mind one word that Ralph says to them, or to come off with any thing but a general notion that they have been quacked out of their sixpences. They say that the fellow is rather good-looking, a glib talker, and has a smattering of the German, but never gives his hearers one good round fact in all his lectures: has no statistics or arguments either; and you would never guess, while hearing him, whether you were in America or England, the earth or the moon. But enough of prophet Raff: I hope I have settled his hash as effectually as I did that of a much cleverer fellow, sqinting prophet Ned, of Hatton Garden."
Thus Cobbett would have thought and said. Others, with Cobbett's prejudices, but destitute of his powers and his outspoken directness, have recently thought, but have not courage to say the same. And yet, while utterly incapable of feeling, and of affecting to feel, a high ideal view of nature, he loved sincerely and passionately this green earth, its fresh breezes, its soft waters, and its spring sky, blue, as if newly dyed, as the bridal-curtain of the youthful season. He cared nothing for the stars; these, which are rather like paintings than works of nature, he disregarded nearly as much as he did the pictures of man's pencil; he loved the moon only as it lighted up the harvest-field; but the hedgerows, the trees, and the cornfields, of merry England grew in his heart, and waved over, and cooled the stream of his life's blood. It is pleasant to come upon such passages in his
We linger and coo over them, like a breeze caught amid the woods which surround some spot of insulated loveliness. They raise and soften our opinion of the man; and whenever we are disposed to think or speak harshly of William Cobbett, we are calmed by remembering his dying moments, when he requested to be carried round his farm, that he might see for the last time the fields which he loved so dearly. The fact that this desire was so strong at death itself proved that it, and no lower or fiercer feeling, was his ruling passion.
From this love of homely, English nature, and from his minute habits of observation, sprang that abundant and picturesque imagery with which his writings abound. A fresh breeze from the “ farm” is always felt passing over his driest discussions, and mingling with his bitterest personalities. It is this which prevents him from being ever vulgar; for, as Hazlitt has remarked, Cobbett is never vulgar, though often
And why? Because nature, though often coarse, is never vulgar—though often common, is never mean; and because Cobbett is never himself, and will never permit his reader to be, long or far away from the sweet, balmy breath of nature. Coleridge, in one of his little poems, speaks of trying, by abstruse research, to steal from himself is all the natural man
--a process difficult, we suspect, in any case, but in Cobbett's, even had he made the attempt, impossible ; for he was nothing, if not natural. Like Caliban, he seems newly dug out, and smelling strongly of the virgin earth.
What shall we say of his style? That it was a forcible and fit expression to his thought-little more. It did not pretend to be elegant; it was not so accurate as it pretended to be. It were not difficult retorting upon many passages of his own writing the lynx-eyed system of criticism which he directed against the slovenly compositions of Sidmouth and Wellington. In fact, no style can stand minute criticism, just as the most beautiful countenanco shrinks before the eye of the microscope.
And let Blair's contemptible cavillings at the style of Addison-whose very errors, like the blunders of a beautiful child, are graceful and interesting—stand a perpetual monument of the folly of going too near to the masterpieces of literature. Cobbett's style is composed of the purest Saxon, and