Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

498

HISTORY OF FREDERICK THE GREAT."

tive and contemptuous ridicule the leading politicians and institutions of the country. The hollowness of great men and the servility of small are lashed with a furious, stinging whip, whose thongs, steeped in the salt. of grim fantastic wit, cut and smart to the

very

bone. Yet many blows are too fierce, too sweeping, and many fall harmless upon sound and honest things.

His Life of John Sterling (1851), a brilliant Essayist who had conducted the “ Athenæum” for a while, and who died prematyrely in 1844, grew out of his dissatisfaction with the picture which Archdeacon Hare had given of the free-thinking curate. It is a fine specimen of literary skill; but the sympathy which the writer shows for the loose religious views of his friend has been heavily blamed.

During recent years Mr. Carlyle, residing chiefly at Chelsen, has been employed upon The History of Friedrich II., called Frederick the Great. This stern soldier has been chosen as the hero of a new work, not because the historian believes him to have been a truly great man, but “because he managed not to be a liar and a charlatan, as his century was. Frederick and Voltaire

are the types of action and of thought in the eighteenth 1858 century. In 1858 the first and second volumes of

“Frederick" appeared; but they were only preliminary

to the greater story of his reign, bringing his life through a tangled thicket of Brandenburg and Hohenzollern genealogy, up to the death, in 1740, of his bearish old father, Friedrich Wilhelm. Mr. Carlyle visited the leading battle-fields of the Seven Years' War, while collecting material for the concluding volumes of his History. Though inferior to his French Revolution, this work presents here and there pictures coloured with that lawless but potent brilliance, that wild, abrupt, impulsive touch, which distinguish this master's style from that of all other writers of English. Clarendon nor Gibbon nor Macaulay, all great masters of the historic pencil and well skilled in the portraiture of men, can scarcely match, can certainly not overmatch, that image of the great Frederick—the very Fritz himself—that starts to life in the opening pages of Carlyle's latest work.

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

A.D.

SPECIMEN OF CARLYLE'S PROSE.

499

PORTRAIT OF FREDERICK THE GREAT,

a

He is a king every inch of him, though without the trappings of a king. Fre: sents himself in a Spartac simplicity of vesture: no crown, but an old military cocked hat-generally old, or trampled and kneaded into absolute softness if new; no sceptre but one like Agamemnon's, a walking-stick cut from the woods, which serves also as a riding-stick (with which he hits the horse “between the ears," say authors); and for royal robes, a mere soldier's blue coat with red facings,– coat likely to be old, and sure to have a good deal of Spanish snuff on the breast of it ; rest of the apparel dim, unobtrusive in colour or cut, ending in high overknee military boots, which may be brushed (and, I hope, kept soft with an underhand suspicion of oil), but are not permitted to be blackened or varnished, ---Day and Martin with their soot-pots forbidden to approach. The man is not of god-like physiognony, any more than of imposing stature or costume: closeshut mouth with thin lips, prominent jaws and nose, receding brow, by no means of Olympian height; head, however, is of long form, and has superlative gray eyes in it. Not what is called a beautiful man; nor yet, by all appearance, what is called a happy. On the contrary, the face bears evidence of many sor. rows, as they are termed, of much hard labour done in this world ; and seems to anticipate nothing but more still coming. Quiet stoicism, capable enough of what joys there were, but not expecting any worth mention ; great unconscious and some conscious pride, well tempered with a cheery mockery of humour, are written on that old face, which carries its chin well forward, in spite of the slight stoop about the neck ; snuffy nose, rather flung into the air, under its old cocked hat, like an old snuffy lion on the watch ; and such a pair of eyes as no man, or lion, or lynx of that century bore elsewhere, according to all the testimony we have. “ Those eyes,” says Mirabeau, “which, at the bidding of his great soul, fascinated you with seduction or with terror.' Most excellent, potent, brilliant eyes, swift-darting as the stars, steadfast as the sun; gray, we said, of the azuregray colour ; large enough, not of glaring size; the habitual expression of them vigilance and penetrating sense, rapidity resting on depth. Which is an excellent combination, and gives us the notion of a lambent outer radiance, springing from some great inner sea of light and fire in the man. The voice, if he speak to you, is of similar physiognomy : clear, melodious, and sonorous; all tones are in it, from that of ingenuous inquiry, graceful sociality, light-flowing banter (rather prickly for most part), up to definite word of command, up to desolating word of rebuke and reprobation.

66

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

THOMAS Hood, born in 1798, was the son of a London bookseller. His literary career began in Dundee, where he contributed to a local magazine. His works abound in sparkling wit and humour, being crammed with the choicest puns and most whimsical turns of thought. But his true power as a poet, unfortunately seldom put forth, appears in such tragic pieces as Eugene Aram's Dream, The Song of the Shirt, and The Bridge of Sighs, or MISS LANDON, MRS. NORTON, MRS. BROWNING. 501 in the Plea of the Midsummer Fairies. A kindred spirit, Jerrold, says that “his various pen touched alike the springs of laughter and the sources of tears." Hood died in 1845.

DAVID MACBETH MOIR, born in 1798 was the Delta of Blackwood's Magazine. The surgeon of Musselburgh found time to cultivate a poetic genius of the first order. A gentle melancholy is the ruling spirit of his works; but from his novel of Mansie Wauch, a mellow Scottish humour shines softly out. He died in 1851.

LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON was born in 1802 at Old Brompton. Her signature of L. E. L. soon became known by her beautiful poems in the Literary Gazette. The Improvisatrice and The Golden Violet are among her principal works. She wrote also three novels, one of which is called Romance and Reality. Having married Mr. Maclean, Governor of Cape Coast Castle in Africa, she went out to that lonely home to die. One October morning in 1839, about two months after her arrival, she was found dead on her bedroom floor, having accidentally, it is thought, taken an overdose of prussic acid. Rich luxuriance of fancy is the characteristic of her poetry.

THOMAS AIRD, born in 1802, at Bowden in Roxburghshire, contributed many poems to Blackwood. He was long editor of the Dumfries Herald. The Devil's Dream is bis noblest poem.

Some

racy prose sketches of Scottish character have also come from his pen.

CAROLINE NORTON (Miss Sheridan), grand-daughter of the celebrated dramatist, was born in 1808. The Sorrows of Rosalie -The Undying One, a legend of the Wandering Jew--The Dream—and The Child of the Islands, may be named among her poems. Stuart of Dunleath is her principal novel.

ELIZABETH BROWNING (Miss Barrett) attracted notice first by a translation of the Prometheus Bound of Æschylus. A long illness in early life, occasioned by the bursting of a vessel in the lungs, enabled her, by a wide and varied course of reading, and much deep, solitary thought, to prepare for the high vocation of a poet. She certainly has given us the sweetest and noblest strains of poetry that have come in the present generation from her sex. 1846 she went to reside at Florence; and what she saw of Tuscan affairs inspired her fine political poem of Casa Guidi Windows.

a

In 502

[graphic]

BROWNING, AYTOUN, BAILEY, DOBELL.

A long poem in blank-verse, Aurora Leigh, depicts the maiden life of a poetess," the autobiography of a heart and intellect.” The principal favourites among Mrs. Browning's poems are, The Duchess May-Bertha in the Lano-Cowper's GraveThe Cry of the Children-Lady Geraldine's Courtship-Sonnets from the Portuguese, This gifted lady died in the earlier part of the year 1861.

ROBERT BROWNING, the husband of the lady just named, was born at Camberwell in 1812. He published Paracelsus in 1836. Then followed Pippa Passes; Strafford (1837), and The Blot on the Scutcheon (1843), tragedies which proved failures on the stage; Bells and Pomegranates; and in 1855, Men and Women. Obscurity is his chief fault (take Sordello, as an example): but the lightning of great poetic genius shines through the clouds. Recently (1869) he has published a new poem entitled The Ring and the Book.

WILLIAM EDMONDSTOUNE AYTOUN was born in 1813 at Edinburgh. While at college his poem of Judith attracted the notica of Professor Wilson. But his fame rests chiefly upon his spiritstirring Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers. He also wrote the historic romance of Bothwell, and a most effective satire on modern poets, entitled Firmilian, a Spasmodic Tragedy, by Percy T. Jones. He filled the chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the University of Edinburgh, and was also Sheriff and Vice-Admiral of Orkney. In conjunction with THEODORE MARTIN, a parliamentary solicitor in London, he wrote Ballads by Bon Gaultier, and joined the same friend in translating the lyrics of Goëthe. Professor Aytoun died in 1865.

PHILIP JAMES BAILEY, born in 1816 at Nottingham, has written some noble but unequal poems. Festus is his chief work (1839). The Angel World and The Mystic followed in succession, both being in the same rapturous and exalted style. In The Age, a Colloquial Satire, he tried another key, pitched as low as his former strains were high.

SYDNEY DOBELL, whose nom de plume is Sydney Yendys, was born in 1824 at Peckham Rye. In the uncongenial atmosphere of a wine-merchant's counting-house-his father followed that

a

[ocr errors]

1

« PreviousContinue »