Page images

In London, this piece has, we are happy to find, succeeded only in the minor houses, where the audience are accustomed to look for coarse and violent stimulants. It was first produced at the Coburgh; and, assisted by splendid scenery and powerful melo-dramatic acting, was attractive for some time; but has given way to real operas, got up with great liberality, and the graceful performances of a young gentleman named Smith, who acts with more taste and feeling than the clever aspirants of his age usually exhibit. It was afterwards announced at both the winter theatres; but, fortunately for Covent-Garden, Drury-Lane obtained the precedence, and the good sense of Mr. Kemble profited by the example set before him. Here the enormities were somewhat foreshortened, being compressed into two acts, but unredeemed by a single trait of kind or noble emotion. Cooper, as the more potent devil, and Wallack, as his disgusting tool, played with considerable energy; but no talent could alleviate the mingled sense of sickness and suffocation with which their slimy infamies oppressed the spectators. Although much curiosity had been excited, the piece did not draw, and was speedily laid aside; while at Covent-Garden, where its announcement was dignified by the names of Kemble, Ward, and Miss Kelly, it was most wisely suppressed in the shell. At the Adelphi, we have been told that it was rendered somewhat less revolting; but we could not muster courage to face it here, or even to endure it in the improved version of the Surrey, where, according to the play-bills, the Manager has, “after due correction, reformed his hero, and restored him to happiness and virtue.” What a fine touch of maudlin morality! To hear Elliston deliver it from the stage, with all the earnestness of his mock-heroic style, we would undergo the purgatory with which he threatens us. He is the reforming Quaker of dramatic legislation, and his stage, during the run of the piece, was a court of ease to Brixton, as Drury-Lane was to Newgate. Nothing can equal the benevolent discrimination of his theory, except that of a popular preacher, whom we once heard deprecating the orthodox doctrine of the eternity of future punishment and cheering his audience with the invigorating hope, that, after being tormented for three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, the wicked would be made good and happy. We are thankful, nevertheless, that Mr. Elliston's tread-mill for gamblers has rested with the axes and ropes of his more sanguinary rivals; and that the young gentlemen addicted to play have finished their lesson. How it may operate in Paris and the neighbourhood of St. James's, will be ascertained in the ensuing winter.



[From "The Examiner” and “The Review of William Hazlitt."]


As an author, Mr. Hazlitt may be contemplated principally in three aspects,—as a moral and political reasoner; as an observer of character and manners; and as a critic in literature and painting. It is in the first character only that he should be followed with caution. His metaphysical and political essays contain rich treasures, sought with years of patient toil, and poured forth with careless prodigality,-materials for thinking, a small part of which wisely employed will enrich him who makes them his own,—but the choice is not wholly unattended with perplexity and danger. He had, indeed, as passionate a desire for truth as others have for wealth, or power, or fame. The purpose of his research was always steady and pure; and no temptation from without could induce him to pervert or to conceal the faith that was in him. But, besides that love of truth, that sincerity in pursuing it, and that boldness in telling it, he had earnest aspirations after the beautiful, a strong sense of pleasure, an intense consciousness of his own individual being, which broke the current of abstract speculation into dazzling eddies, and sometimes turned it astray. The vivid sense of beauty may, indeed, have fit home in the breast of the searcher after truth,—but then he must also be endowed with the highest of all human faculties, the great mediatory and interfusing power of Imagination, which presides supreme in the mind, brings all its powers and impulses into harmonious action, and becomes itself the single organ of all. At its touch, truth be

comes visible in the shapes of beauty; the fairest of material things appear the living symbols of airy thought; and the mind apprehends the finest affinities of the worlds of sense and of spirit “ in clear dream and solemn vision.” By its aid the faculties are not only balanced, but multiplied into each other; are pervaded by one feeling, and directed to one issue. But, without it, the inquirer after truth will sometimes be confounded by too intense a yearning after the grand and the lovely,—not, indeed, by an elegant taste, the indulgence of which is a graceful and harmless recreation amidst severer studies, but by that passionate regard which quickens the pulse, and tingles in the veins, and “hangs upon the beatings of the heart. Such was the power of beauty in Hazlitt's mind; and the interfusing faculty was wanting. The spirit, indeed, was willing, but the flesh was strong; and when these contend it is not difficult to foretel which will obtain the mastery; for “ the power of beauty shall sooner transform honesty from what it is into a bawd, than the power of honesty shall transform beauty into its likeness.” How this some-time paradox became exemplified in the writings of one whose purpose was always single, may be traced in the history of his mind, at which it may be well to glance before adverting to the examples.

William Hazlitt was the son of a dissenting minister, who presided over a small Unitarian congregation at Wem, in Shropshire. His father was one of those blameless enthusiasts who, taking only one view of the question between right and power, embrace it with singleness of heart, and hold it fast with inflexible purpose. He cherished in his son that attachment to truth for its own sake, and those habits of fearless investigation which are the natural defences of a creed maintaining its ground against the indolent force of a wealthy establishment, and the fervid attacks of combining sectaries without the fascinations of mystery or terror. In the solitude of the country, his pupil learned, at an early age, to think. But that solitude was something more to him than a noiseless study, in which he might fight over the battle between Filmer and Locke; or exult on the shattered dogmas of Calvin; or rivet the links of the immortal chain of necessity, and strike with the force of ponderous understanding on all mental fetters. A temperament of unusual ardour glowed

amidst those lonely fields, and imparted to the silent objects of nature a weight of interest akin to that with which Rousseau has oppressed the picture of his early years. He had not then, nor did he find till long afterwards, power to embody his meditations and feelings in words; the consciousness of thoughts which he could not hope adequately to express increased his natural reserve; and he turned for relief to the art of painting, in which he might silently realize his dreams of beauty, and repay the bounties of nature. A few old prints from the old masters awakened the spirit of emulation within him; the sense of beauty became identified in his mind with that of glory and duration; while the peaceful labour calmed the tumult in his veins, and gave steadiness to his pure and distant aim. He pursued the art with an earnestness and patience which he vividly describes in his essay 6 “ On the Pleasure of Painting;" and to which he frequently reverts in some of his most exquisite passages; and, although in this, his chosen pursuit, he failed, the passionate desire for success, and the long struggle to attain it, left deep traces in his mind, heightening his strong perception of external things, and mingling, with all the thoughts, shapes and hues which he had vainly striven to render immortal. A painter may acquire a fine insight into the nice distinctions of character, -he may copy manners in words as he does in colours,— but it may be apprehended that his course as a severe reasoner will be somewhat “ troubled with thick coming fancies." And if the successful pursuit of art may thus disturb the process of abstract contemplation, how much more may an unsatisfied passion ruffle it, bid the dark threads of thought glitter with radiant fancies unrealized, and clothe its diagrams with the fragments of picture which the hand refused to execute! What wonder, if, in the mind of an ardent youth, thus struggling in vain to give palpable existence to the shapes of loveliness which haunted him, “ the homely beauty of the good old cause " should assume the fascinations not properly its own! At this time, also, while at once laborious and listless, he became the associate of a band of young poets of power and promise such as England had not produced for two centuries, whose genius had been awakened by the rising sun of liberty, and breathed forth most eloquent music. Their political creed resembled his own; yet, for

« PreviousContinue »