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But there is another light in which this work has a claim to be considered, which is that of a narrative, meant to exemplify the curious system of Border manners. In this respect it is unrivalled: no history has yet appeared which gives so just an account, so interesting a picture of the lawless ravages of the Borders, which were equally a disgrace to both nations. With regard to these the romance has the .. singular advantage of being a true history as to the general facts, and the usual conduct of the Moss Troopers; and the characters of the two English leaders, Howard * and Dacre, are admirably discriminated, and evidently drawn from the most authentic sources of information.
ART. DCCVI. N°. VII. On the proper objects of Biography. “ Nec ea solum in claris et honoratis viris, sed in vita etiam privata, et quiete.”
CIC. DE SENECT. It is a palpable, but a very common, error, that lives of activity and adventure only can afford proper materials for biography. " What interest,” it is asked,
can the Memoirs of ** **** exhibit ? That person passed through the world, in peace, leisure, and retirement, without encountering any extraordinary events!” “Is it possible,” I answer,
• Of the singular character of Lord William Howard there are some curious traits recorded by Gilpin in his tour to the Lakes. There is a history of the Borders, by Ridpath, in 4to, and an account of the “ Ancient State of the Borders” in Burn and Nicolson's Hists of Westmorland and Cumberland; but a more complete account of them would be very acceptable to the lovers of history, and there are abundant materials for that purpose.
as that this remark can be made on a character of transcendent talent, erudition, and virtue; whose writings have illuminated more than half a century, and whose labours in the closet were calculated to produce effects a thousand times more extensive, than all the busy results of the most practical industry?”
Pictures of the mind, delineations of the movements of the heart, the records of the private and undisguised opinions of those, who have been distinguished for their intellectual endowments, are the ingredients which a cultivated reader most values in personal history. “Hair-breadth escapes, and perilous accidents by sea and land,” are calculated principally to interest a vulgar curiosity. The relation of the ramble of a man of genius in a field of daisies, or along banks scented with the early primrose, if it describes his sensations, or any of the visions that floated across his fancy, is more affecting and more instructive, than the account of the most surprising actions, in which a man of a common understanding has been engaged.
If these observations are just, the memoir of one, whose life has been employed in exercising and improving the best faculties of the soul, is of all others, when properly executed, the most attractive, and the most important; even though it should have been spent in the most unvaried solitude, or the most equable course of outward circumstances. We are anxious to know the confidential thoughts of those, on whom Nature has bestowed the power of deeper insight into human affairs, on those points of our existence which come most home to our
bosoms, and on which every reflecting mind must occasionally ruminate. Sometimes perhaps we are pleased to find in them weaknesses congenial with our own; and we are consoled with this sympathy, which makes us appear less despicable to ourselves.
The great characteristic of persons of genius seems to be, not that they feel differently from others, but that they feel more acutely, and with more distinctness, and are capable therefore of clearly and forcibly delineating what they feel. Thus the sentiments contained in Gray's Elegy, “find," as Johnson says, “an echo in every bosom;” they are instantly acknowledged to be such, as its readers have continually experienced; but which they could not before analyse, or perceive with sufficient vividness to be expressed by them. When the picture is thus brought before them, they are surprised that they never produced such an one themselves; and, while they admit its truth, think they hereafter could paint like it with the greatest facility. We hear much, among the critics, about INVENTION as the first characteristic of poetry: but is not this INVENTION?
Endued as they are with powers of this kind, we peruse with eagerness all the private letters, the careless sketches, and retired and unambitious memorials of those, who have been thus distinguished for mental superiority. We delight to see the fleeting visions of the head, or the heart, embodied in language; and fixed before us for leisurely contemplation. What avails the opportunity of having seen“ many men and many cities," unless the traveller, like Ulysses, has the talent to make observations and profit by the experience! What signifies, to have beheld all the sublime scenery of Salvator Rosa, unless he, who has viewed it, has the pencil able to paint, or the pen to describe it! Bloomfield, in the early confinement to a poor village in the most flat and unpicturesque part of Suffolk,* could produce descriptions full of a combination of images so brilliant, and so touching, as he, who has been all his life familiar with the richest scenes of Nature, can never, with inferior gifts, produce by any effort !
The mind is surely the scene of action, which we are most interested in studying. When we compare its capacities with those of material power ; when we know that in one minute it can perform journies and gain victories, which it would consume the whole lives of the most active travellers, and the most able generals to execute, what more copious, what more important theme for delineation can we require? It is this consideration which elevates the study of ethics among the first in the scale of human knowledge; and as long as intellect is superior to matter, it must be classed in the highest rank of philosophy. Its nice and evanescent colours, which, seeming to leave much to conjecture, give to dull faculties an opportunity to call it shadowy and unsubstantial, are the very characteristics, which stamp its value.
Never then let it be said, that the life of a person of genius affords no materials for biography, because it was passed in retirement and inaction. If there remain records of his mental occupations, if his opinions, his feelings, and the rainbow-like colours of his fancy can be remembered, and properly told, they will contribute essentially to the best and most interesting department of human intelligence. March 21, 1807.
* See a most interesting volume of Scenery, illustrative of Bloomfield's poems, published by Mr. Brayley.
N°. VIII. On Rowley and Ossian. “ Amovitque sinus, et gentes maluit ortus Mirari, quam
TO THE RUMINATOR.
In this age of critical inquiry; of patient, accurate, and laborious investigation; it might be sup. posed that no author would be so hardy as to attempt to deceive the world; it might be thought that no literary in posture could be so well carried on, as to escape discovery from the lynx-like eyes of the wise and learned, or the acute discernment of the readers of the works of other times. Yet in point of fact, this does not appear to be the case; deceits of this kind are often attempted, and not always, at least satisfactorily, discovered. Though that ingenious young gentleman, Master Ireland, made a full confession (but not till it was too late) and even had the hardiness to “glory in his shame,” the fountains of other works of much greater merit are still as much concealed as those of the Nile; and other authors, translators, or editors of much higher genius and pretensions have quietly stolen out of