« AnteriorContinuar »
frank, fearless, and friendly: already, as we hear, countesses and duchesses lift up astonished eyes at being told by one who is a favourite in their sacred circle, that the women of Boston, Baltimore, and New York-" creatures" belonging to merchants, lawyers, and men of letters—are as good as themselves.
In turning over the pages of Mr. Thackeray's Lectures, (which, by the way, abound in misprints, requiring the vigilance of the proof-corrector for the next edition,) we find, as we expected, many points of literary criticism on which questions could and will be raised. Persons whose tastes and studies have led them to our older literature and history, no less than those whose training is emphatically modern, will consider that Mr. Thackeray has placed far too high the general moral and intellectual level of the eighteenth century.
To those who attended the lectures the book will be a pleasant reminiscence, to others an exciting novelty; and all will be interested in looking over the accompanying notes, (which might have been and may yet be made more complete,) as an agreeable selection of the facts and passages from writings on which the lecturer's judgment was founded.
From The Examiner (London), June 11, 1853.
Followed by admiring audiences “in England, Scotland, and the United States of America,” these lectures have obtained their purpose, have achieved all
reasonable fame as well as other substantial results for the lecturer, and present very little to us now to challenge attention from a reviewer. The chase is over, the sport run down, there was no place in the hunt for the critic, and where at last should he come · in but with the laggers who fill up the cry. What matters his good or ill word ? The book is sure to sell.
Of criticism in the strict sense of the word, indeed, however masterly their descriptive passages, the lectures may
be said to have contained little, to have pretended to little.
the lecturer must excuse us for saying that he is too fond of looking up to great imaginary heights, or of looking down from the same; and that hence, too often, he places his heroes in the not enviable predicament on the one hand of being too much coaxed, patronised, or (which is much the same thing) abused; and on the other of being put upon a top shelf so very hig and out of the way, that if we do not take Mr. Thackeray's word that they really are there, we should not, in those inaccessible places, be in the least likely ourselves to discover them. We could not for the life of us have recognised our old friend Addison in the grand, calm, pale, isolated attitude which he is here shown off in, as one of the lonely ones of the world; any more than we should have looked for the wise and profound creator of Mr. Shandy and my Uncle Toby in the ruff and motley clothes of a travel
ling jester, laying down his carpet and tumbling in the street.
But what fine things the lectures contain! what eloquent and subtle sayings, what wise and earnest writing! how delightful are their turns of humour; with what a touching effect, in the graver passages, the genuine feeling of the man comes out; and how vividly the thoughts are painted, as it were, in graphic and characteristic words. For those who would learn the art of lecturing, the volume is a study. The telling points are so happily seized, and the attention always so vividly kept up, yet never with a pressure or strain. The lecture-room is again before us as we read—the ready responses of the audience flashing back those instant appeals of the speaker—and a great, intelligent, admiring crowd, stirred and agitated in every part with genial emotions and sympathy.
Mr. Thackeray's lectures, we may observe in conclusion, are printed pretty much as they were spoken, except that additions have been made (we notice this particularly in Swift) in connection with particular writings of the humourists not at first introduced, and that a great many notes are appended illustrative of statements or opinions in each lecture. We are not quite sure that these notes will be thought an improvement. They are not generally very apt, they have no merit of rare or out-of-the-way reading, and here and there they have tant soit peu of a book-making aspect. The lectures had better have been left to run alone, which they could well afford to do.
[This comment on the notes affords an interesting contrast to the opinion expressed by the Spectator. See above. ]
From The Athenæum (London), June 18, 1853 and a second notice
in issue for the June 25, 1853. How far the lives and works of such personages as Swift, Steele, Prior, Fielding, and Smollett-five figures in Mr. Thackeray's gallery of Humourists—could be at once plainly and humorously treated by the most devoted Humour-worshipper, for the edification of an audience of the two sexes, admits of debate.
From a portion of his audience—with such themes as his-many things had to be either hidden, or indicated so darkly and distantly as to be unmeaningly harmless. Thus, a certain tone of trifling must inevitably have been assumed as the leading tone of such lectures by any one desirous of suiting means to ends. Now, all the world knows this to be Mr. Thackeray's habitual mood. Real earnestness never spoke with so little apparent earnestness as in his mouth. When his audiences sat down to listen to him, he warned them in the outset that he could not hope to entertain them “ with a merely humorous or facetious story." Yet, after this, he could treat them to a drolling digression, to a dangling of good and evil in day-light, star-light, and lamp-light, so that the one should seem the other, and “both, neither"—to a conclusive inconclusive
to a pleasant song, in brief, rather than a literary essay of any deep authority or value. Slight, however, as is the work, it is not without valuable treasures, deep imbedded here and there among its shallows.
Proceeding with these desultory notes, it may be observed, that while some readers of these ' Lectures will deem our author's estimate of Addison over-elaborate in its praise, -others (and ourselves among the number) will fancy that he has been hard on Congreve.
When The Spectator' was placed on a pedestal at the expense of 'The Way of the World,' our shrewd student of the Augustan life and literature of England forgot what were the several destinations of the two works,-and laid too unfairly on the author's individuality the blame belonging to the miry place down to which Comedy lured the pretty fellows and toasts of the town to find their diversion.
We return to this welcome book at the name of Prior,-of whom, we think, the lecturer might have made more had it pleased him to exercise his poignant skill in painting a conversation picture showing the English diplomatist at the Hague.
Our lecturer thinks that Moore has read Prior closely. It may be so, but the signs of such study escape us.
Perhaps the figure in this gallery on which our Lecturer has bestowed his utmost pains is Pope. Here