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For JANUARY, 1807.
Ουκ αρα πανυ ημιν ουτω φροντιζειν δ, τι εξουσιν οι πολλοι ήμας, αλλ' οτι επάνων περι των δικαίων και αδίκων, Ο ̔ΕΙΣ, και ΑΥΤΗ Η ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ.
PLATO, in Critone, § 8.
The prime object of our consideration is, not the suffrage of the multitude, but that of the one Great Judge of right and wrong, that of Truth itself!
Art. I. An Account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, LL. D. late Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic, in the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen; including many of his Original Letters. By Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo, Bart. 2 vols. pp. 850. 4to, 21. 12s. 6d. extra bds. royal, 51. 5s. Longman and Co. 1806.
WHEN a man of humble condition and education, who has
cultivated literature under the pressure of many disad vantages, and perhaps distresses, comes before the public with a work which has cost him great labour, costs the purchaser but a moderate price, and communicates very necessary, or at least very useful and scasonable information, he may justly claim for the faults of his book, the very last degree of forbearance, which criticism can exercise, without surrendering its essential laws. But when a man of fortune, who had a liberal education, who has been intimate with many of the most distinguished individuals, both in literature and rank, for forty years, who would indignantly disown any wish to raise money on the grave of his friend, who knows that an ample memoir of that friend has already been given to the public, and who adopts the easiest of all possible modes of making up volumes, publishes a splendid work, he will naturally disdain to be under any obligation to the clemency of critics. We shall therefore feel perfectly at liberty to express our honest opinion on VOL. III.
these volumes; and laying out of the question all the excellences which the author doubtless possesses, we shall consider him simply in the character which he has assumed in appearing before the public.
We cannot but earnestly wish that the present epidemical disease in literature, the custom of making very large books about individuals, may in due time find, like other diseases, some limit to its prevalence, and at length decline and disappear. What is to become of readers, if the exit of every man of some literary eminence is thus to be followed by a long array of publications, beginning with duodecimos, extending into octavos, and expanded at last into a battalion of magnificent quartos? This is reviving to some purpose the Theban method of attacking in the form of a wedge; and we do hope the curiosity, diligence, and patience of readers will at last be completely put to the rout.
This swelling fungous kind of biography confounds all the right proportions in which the claims and the importance of individuals should be arranged, and exhibited to the attention of the public. When a private person, whose life was marked by few striking varieties, is thus brought forward in two volumes quarto, while many an individual of modern times, who influenced the fate of nations, has been confined to a sixth part of the compass, it reminds us too much of that political rule of proportion by which Old Sarum, consisting of one house, is represented by two illustrious senators, while many very populous towns are not represented at all. If a professor of a college is to lie thus magnificently in state, what must be done for such a man as Mr. Pitt or Mr. Fox? And still more, what must be done after the exit of some persons who are at present acting their part in human affairs? The French Encyclopedie will be, in point of bulk, but a horn-book in comparison of the stupendous host of folios, which must come forth after the departure of Bonaparte and Talleyrand; provided, that is to say, that sufficient materials, in the way of paper, ink, &c., can then be obtained wherewithal to furnish out this mighty blazon of monumental history. And by the way, the makers of paper will do well to take the hint from us, and have their warehouses ready for the event which will happen sooner or later in their favour, though to the confusion and dismay of the most courageous and indefatigable readers. As to reviewers, the most industrious and incorruptible of all the servants of the public, they will then have the plea of absolute necessity for resorting to the practice of which they have sometimes been most unrighteously accused, that of reviewing books without inspecting them.