« AnteriorContinuar »
HE author of the latest memoir of Steele, who thinks, and thinks justly, that Thackeray, in his " Esmond," has caricatured him, and, "for the sake of being "graphic and dramatic," has given the reader the general impression of his being a sort of Captain Costigan, is an apologist and advocate of the worthy knight. His work is an attempt to reproduce the age of Queen Anne "through the medium of a life of "Steele." The animus is undoubtedly good; but we fear the attempt must be considered unsuccessful, inasmuch as it has resulted in very unsatisfactory performance. It will furnish those who are altogether unacquainted with the history of England and its literature during the period treated with a large number of facts relating to eminent persons and great affairs which
* Sir Richard Steele, Memoir of the Life and Writings of. By H. R. Montgomery.
DUTIES OF A BIOGRAPHER.
'cannot fail to be of value. It is a collection of very useful materials, that in a second edition may be turned to good account. But to the student of the period-to him who is already familiar with so important and critical a period in our annals as the reign of Queen Anne-it can in its present form have but the slightest interest. He will find in its pages nothing that will be new; and what is old will lose all interest, by reason of the inefficient treatment it has received.
What is above all things required in a biographer is the power of forcibly bringing before the reader the individual whose life he has undertaken to write. He must abstract that which belongs to him in common with others, and present only the result. There must be no generalities, no stringing together of illselected epithets, no incongruities in the presentment; but the portrait must preserve all the characteristics of the original. Few men are able successfully to do this. Mr. Carlyle, in his "History of the "French Revolution," has proved himself to be one of the great masters of the art. Some of his portraits are marvellous for the vigour with which they are conceived and represented; they have all the distinguishing marks of having been drawn from the life; and although, we believe, several of them, in very important particulars, bear but the faintest resem
blance to the particular personages with whose names they are labelled, each of them seems to have the merit of being a real portrait of somebody. We feel there are real men and women before us, and are ready to be convinced that we see the texture of their skin, and hear the sound of their voices, and know the phraseology in which they are about to address us. The reader will be disappointed if he expects to find in this work manifestations of so desirable a power as that possessed by Mr. Carlyle. And it has another defect. It is now usually agreed that a biography should confine itself to the actions and fortunes of the individual; everything that does not bear upon the development of his character or course of life should be excluded, and the successive events should be so narrated as to enable the reader to have a true portraiture of the man. In these memoirs, however, there is no individuality. From the seven hundred pages which form the two volumes, he will not derive so distinct a notion of Steele, or any of his contemporaries, as he now possesses of the fictitious De Coverley from the few papers devoted to that hero in The Spectator. The work is a madeup work. It contains too much and too little. As a whole it is sadly deficient in the unity essential to such a work as this.
Not only have we biographies of the persons who
wrote for the several publications with which Steele was connected a group of sketches around the "central figure"-but, "in accordance with the ex'pressed aim of the design," we are presented with sketches of those to whom the several volumes of the works were dedicated. Nor is there the least art displayed in the grouping or presentment of the figures that pass before us. The people who are introduced are introduced on the slightest pretext. A casual allusion to a name, or its occurrence in correspondence, will evoke its former owner and trot him through a dozen pages. The author has failed to give us an intelligible picture of the age, or a striking portrait of the man, but instead thereof offers disconnected memoirs and world-famous anecdotes. We have the old story of the loves of Swift, and are told, in the words often employed before, how one day, entering the room where Vanessa was sitting, "with "that terrible look which he assumed when angry, "he flung down a packet on the table and strode "out without uttering a word;" how a bullying lawyer, provoked by the great Dean's keen satire, called at the Deanery to revenge himself, and having sent up his name as Serjeant Bettesworth, was met by the Dean, who calmly demanded the name of the regiment to which he belonged; that when "Gulli"ver's Travels" appeared, a master of a vessel said
"he knew Gulliver well, but that he lived at Wap"ping, and not at Rotherhithe;" how King William taught the famous Irish parson to cut asparagus. Once again, we read in these volumes the fate of the unfortunate Budgell, and have Pope's stinging lines on the event; of the quarrel between Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; of Wycherley making acquaintance with the Duchess of Cleveland, and of his marriage with the Countess of Drogheda; of Congreve's friendship with the Duchess of Marlborough, and the fantastic way in which her Grace, after the death of the poet, is said to have preserved his memory by inviting to her table, as a constant guest," an automaton model of him in ivory "-and of scores of similar stories, as well known to ordinary readers as the Nelson Column to the porter at Northumberland House. The author's insight into character may be learned from the expression of his belief that when Steele left the University without a degree, and enlisted in the Horse Guards, "great "admiration of the character of King William had
something to do with it;" and his taste and fairness from the regret he avows that Steele was not equally wise in his generation with "the Reverend "Dr. Swift, who had gone such lengths in doing the "foul work of party, to earn the wages of mercenary "apostacy." Our author's opinion of the Dean may