Imágenes de páginas

ulous solitude of books with his reveries, and weaving a cobweb of melancholy cogitation over the crowded shelves. Books talk to him as he sits pensive and alone : they tell him the history of those who read and those who wrote them; names inscribed centuries ago upon their margins or blank pages suggest strange surmises as to the fate of those who bore them; and the vices or virtues, the weal or the woe of their deceased authors seem to cluster round, or to flash out from the dumb volumes, and to stir the leaves with “airs from heaven or bļasts from hell." It is the day-dream of a strange but holy soul. And turning round from his books, how closely does he grapple in a series of interrogations with the hearts and consciences of his readers ! It is like a spirit talking to us of eternity, over the mouth of the grave, and by the light of a waning moon. How strict yet tender the ques. tionings ! The conscience, a discoloured form, is naked and bare before the questioner's eye, and writhes visibly in the force of his tremendous investigation.

He has written, besides all this, a series of very unequal articles in The Eclectic Review, (since collected into a vol. ume,) where, amid much that was weighty and profound, he perpetrated a great deal of unwieldy, slovenly, dreary, and leaden prose. In them he has painted, with much force, what he calls the “ Tragedy ” of Hume's death-bed ;-he has made a desperate but unsuccessful effort to solve the problem of Coleridge's genius,—a subject on which no one but Hazlitt has, hitherto, written adequately, who seemed created to criticise Coleridge ;—he has written a long analy. sis and panegyric of Southey's prodigious poem, “ The Curse of Kehama ;” and condescended to break the butterfly, Mrs. Montague, on his austere wheel, and to moralize on the memoirs of the miserable Foote. We recollect, too, with much zest, some articles intensely and terribly sarcastic, on the

Hindoo mythologies, and their English defenders. His style ponderous, powerful, like the trample of an elephant, constantly bewrays him; but it is a proud reflection for his ad. mirers, the more especially since his departure, that all his writings, anonymous or acknowledged, have the welfare of the human race as their grand object,—that, too peculiar, too unbent, before the Dagon of conventional taste, to be popular, in the ordinary sense at present, they bide their time,—that as it is, they have secured for him, already, an earthly immortality; and, what is far more, they are, doubtless, destined, from their moral and religious influences, to lend lustre to that crown of eternal life of which he was the eager but humble expectant. Of his private history we have heard little. In his youth, as we have hinted, he is said to have been tinged with skeptical sentiments, which were gradually exchanged for a consistent and genuine, though a gloomy form of religion. He was reared under the tutorship of Dr. Ryland, the well known Baptist minister of Broad-mead, Bristol, who told our informant that the first thing which attracted his particular notice, was a sermon he delivered before him, in which occurred the remarkable expression, “ It was as impossible for Christ's body to have rested in the sepulchre, as for snow to remain, unmelted, on the surface of the sun.” He became a preacher ; but not a popular one. His matter was too profound for the apprehen. sion of his audience,-his manner stiff and cold, his voice low and husky. To listen to a man solely from the prestige of his reputation, was soon found to be a tax too heavy to be paid often or long. He is currently said to have emptied— cleaned out—in the most masterly style,-two or three chapels. “ His words,” said Hall, “may be fire within, but the moment they leave his lips they freeze, and fall down at his feet.” He ultimately gave up preaching, and came to

reside at Stapleton, near Bristol. He attended for years, while there, the ministry of Robert Hall. He enjoyed his intimacy, and so commanded his respect, and almost terrorthat the great preacher felt embarrassed if he saw him while he was going on; and the Essayist used to sit in a corner of the chapel, where he could not be seen! He thus qualified himself for writing the somewhat hypercritical estimate which was published after Hall's death. Like Dr. Johnson, he was notoriously reluctant to write, and yet, like Dr. Johnson, he wrote a great deal ;-much that has been published, and, perhaps, more that has fed the flames. He was a mo. dest and unassuming man. Once introduced to Coleridge, he was asked, at the close of the interview, why he had been so silent ? He replied, “Oh, who durst speak while he was talking.” He was one of the most faithless and forgetful of correspondents, as Dr. Chalmers and others can testify. Within these few years he confined his composition princi. pally to an article now and then in a newspaper. Several political papers in The Morning Chronicle, about the years 1834–5, and 6, were attributed to his pen. He took, all along, a lively interest in missions, and particularly in the Baptist mission to Hindostan. He was, as already stated, more awfully impressed, than most men, by the great myste. ries of being; and was once known, in a moment of deep despondency, when asked for a subscription to some new means of religious instruction,—a chapel, we think,—to refuse, with the words, “ What good can it do? Men seem determined to go to the Devil, do what we will to prevent it.” This could only, however, have been a temporary ebullition. In his youth he was very romantic in his ten. dencies, and moonlight solitary walks of extraordinary length are laid to his charge. In October, 1843, at the advanced age of seventy-six, he rendered back his strong and gloomy soul to his Creator.


Our sketch, at present, is of a very extraordinary man; the wise, the witty, the warm-hearted, the eloquent Professor of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh University, John Wilson, to his familiars; Wilson, to his foes; Professor Wilson, to his students ; Christopher North, to all Europe !

We know not at what corner of this many-sided man to commence our rapid review. John Wilson is a host, he is a continent in himself. Like “Leviathan, he lies floating many a rood.” Whether we view him as the generous, copious, acute, and ardent critic,-as the pathetic and most eloquent lecturer,-as the tender poet,-as the popular and powerful tale-writer,—as the fervid politician,-as the kindly man ;we have before us one of the most remarkable, and, next to Brougham, the cleverest man of the nineteenth century. It is probable, indeed, that the very variety and versatility of Wilson's powers have done him an injury in the estimation of many. They can hardly believe that an actor, who can play so many parts, is perfect in all. Because he is, confessedly, one of the most eloquent of men, it is doubted if he can be profound : because he is a fine poet, he must be a shallow metaphysician ;-because he is the editor of Blackwood, he must be an inefficient professor. There are "more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy.” There is such a thing, on this round earth, though not, perhaps, within the categories of their limited and false theories, as diffusion along with depth, as the versatile and vigorous mind of a man of genius mastering a multitude of topics, while they are blunderingly acquiring one,-as a man “multiplying himself among mankind, the Proteus of their talents,” and proving that the Voltairian activity of brain has been severed, in one splendid instance at least, from the Voltairian sneer, and the Voltairian shallowness. Such an instance as that of our illustrious Professor, who is ready for every tack,—who can, at one time, scorch a poetaster to a cinder, at another cast illumination into the “dark deep holds” of a moral question, by a glance of his genius;

—at one time dash off the picture of a Highland glen, with the force of a Salvator, at another, lay bare the anatomy of a passion with the precision and the power of an Angelo,— write, now, the sweetest verse, and now the most energetic prose,—now let slip, from his spirit, a single star, like the “evening cloud,” and now unfurl a Noctes upon the wonder. ing world,-now paint Avarice till his audience are dying with laughter, and now Emulation and Sympathy till they are choked with tears,—write now “The Elder's Deathbed," and now the “Address to a Wild Deer,”—be equally at home in describing the sufferings of an orphan girl, and the un. dressing of a dead Quaker, by a congregation of ravens, under the brow of Helvellyn.

Professor Wilson, as a lecturer and professor, has great and peculiar merit. Inferior to Dugald Stewart in the ele. gance and refinement of metaphysical criticism,—to Thomas Brown, in original and daring speculation—in the combination of subtlety, depth, and beauty which distinguished that prince of Scottish philosophers,—to Chalmers in the intensity of his mind, and the contagious fury of his manner, he is inferior to none in the richness of his fancy, and in that singular vein of pathetic and original eloquence which gives such a charm to his spoken style. Chalmers rouses, Wilson melts. Chalmers has, now at least, but slender command over the sources of tears, Wilson touches them at his pleasure. Chalmers has a strong but monotonous fancy, Wilson has

« AnteriorContinuar »