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MR. FOX'S HISTORY
EARLY PART OF THE REIGN OF JAMES II.
HAVING stated my expectation that Mr. Fox's projected His. tory would not be unworthy of his general fame, and that the correctness of the style would be proportionate to the importance of the matter, I intended to cominunicate to you such remarks as might occur to my mind upon the perusal of a work which had not appeared when I began to address you. But my opinions have been so largely anticipated, so luminously expressed, and so judiciously defended by two very able writers in the Edinburgh and Monthly Reviews, that, having little to add to those critiques, and nothing to oppose to them, I abandoned my determination. “ By the common sense of readers,” says Johnson, “ uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty, and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours.” * This observation may be extended to every kind of literary composition. Enough has been already done by criticism to assist the judgment of the public upon Mr. Fox's work; and when political partialities and animosities shall have spent their force, the merits of that History will be more distinctly understood, and more justly appreciated. Possible it is that my own deep reverence and affectionate regard for the writer, may have some degree even of undue influence upon my own mind. But after a most careful perusal, I find no reason to change any one opinion which I had previously formed, except that in which I supposed that he would not stoop to the use of
* Life of Gray.
low expressions. What indeed they are, in a dead or even in a living language, must often be decided by the different tastes of different inen. From principle Mr. Fox employed many familiar phrases, which I should have rejected as inconsistent with the gravity and dignity of the historic style. But from his wellknown diligence and solicitude in the correction of his own writings, I am persuaded that he would have altered several passages in which wen of sense must perceive negligence in the choice of his phraseology, intricacy or laxity in the structure of his sentences, and harshness or feebleness in the rhythm of his periods.
If Demosthenes was content to retort the poignancy, without disputing the justice of the remark made by Pythias, “ élvxviwy özelv avtoŨ Tà évOvunuara”*-if Plato “ toùs éautoū Alalóyovs κτενίζων, και βοστρυχίων, και πάντα τρόπον αναπλέκων, ου diéditev oydonkovta yeyovùs črn,” and if in his tablets were found several variations of the short sentence “ karéßnv xoès eis Herpaia,"t-if Cicero doubted whether, as a Homo Romanus, he should write Piræum or Piræa, and whether he should or sbould not use a preposition when he spoke of it, not as Oppidum, but Locum 1-if, in his correspondence with Atticus, he anxiously corrected a favourite correction of a favourite passage in lib. i. De Oratore, and thus wrote “ inhibere § illud tuum quod valde mihi arriserat, vehementer displicet ; est enim verbum totum nauticum : quanquam id quidem sciebam. Sed arbitrabar sustineri Remos, cum inhibere essent jussi. Jd non esse ejusmodi didici heri, cum ad Villam nostram Navis appelleretur, non enim sustinent, sed alio modo remigant. Dices hoc idem Varroni, nisi forte mutavit." || If in such great writers Mr. Fox had er
.* Vid. Plutarch. in Vit. Demosth.
+ Vid. Dionys. Halicar, de Struct. p. 239, Upton's edit. and Quintil. lib. viii. cap. 6.
# Vid. Epist. iii. ad Attic. lib. 7.
LUCAN, lib, iii. v. 659. || Epist. xxi. ad Attic. lib. 13. Upon the authority of a letter of Tiro, Aulus Gellius informs us that, when Pompey had inquired of some learned men at Rome, whether, in an inscription for the Æd. Victoria, which he was about to dedicate, it should be written tertium or tertio, Cicero felt the same uncertainty,
amples of such great diligence, he must have known that the limæ labor et mora were not unworthy of his own taste, or age, his dignified situation as a statesman, or his established fame as a speaker in Parliament. We may trust his good sense for having endeavoured to avoid that Kakóanlov into which writers are seduced, “ quoties ingenium judicio caret et specie boni fallitur;" and we may be assured that he never would have been tempted, “ quod recte dici potest, circumire aniore verborum, et quod uno verbo patet, pluribus onerare."*
Mr. Fox read extensively; he reflected deeply; but he seldom composed. The remark which Cicero makes upon the qualifications which are necessary for a good speaker, may be applied more directly and more frequently to that exercise of the mind which is necessary to form a very good writer. “Caput est, quod, ut vere dicam, minime facimus, est enim magni laboris quem plerique fugimus, quam plurimum scribere. Stylus est optimus et præstantissimus dicendi effector et magister.,'t This position of Tully is noticed hy Quintilian, who, with his usual good sense, has assigned a chapter to the subject in his tenth book, and, with his usual sagacity, demonstrated the necessity “ scribendi diligentissime et quam plurimum." Mr. Fox, who carried about him as an author the same artlessness and docility which pervaded every other part of his character, would have profited by the instructions of such masters as Tully and Quintilian.
There is always danger lest the habit of public speaking should have some influence on the mind of a writer, and infuse into the productions of his pen such peculiarities of manner as distinguish
which, in truth all scholars must sometimes feel, and ingenuously said, “ se judicare de viris doctis veritum esse.” He therefore advised Pompey, “ut neque tertium neque tertio scriberetur : sed ad secundum usque T fierent Litteræ, ut verbo non prescripto res demonstraretur: sed dictio (i. e, the pronunciation) tamen ambigui verbi lateret." Men of letters, I believe, now write according to the opinion of Varro, which A. Gellius has recorded : “ Quarto locum adsignificat, et tres ante factos. Quartum tempus adsignificat, et ter ante factum."--Vid. A. Gell. lib. x. cap. 1. Non. Marcell. cap. 5. par. 50, and Cornel. Fronto, p. 1340 of the Auctores Latini, published Colon. Allobrog. 1629.
* Quintil. lib. viii. Proæm. et cap. 3.
his speeches. This effect is often visible in the political writings of Mr. Burke, though, in justice to that wonderful man, I would except his “ Thoughts upon the Causes of popular Discontents ;" and we all remember that his admirable work on the Sublime and Beautiful had been prepared for the press before he became known to the public as an orator. It is, however, worthy of remark, that in the rhetorical, philosophical, and epistolary writings of Cicero, scarcely any vestiges can be found of the exuberance and splendour which appear in his orations. We always indeed meet with perspicuity and elegance, and sometimes even with copiousness. But the general character of his style is uniformly adapted to the matter or the occasion; and though we recognise Cicero, we lose sight of the orator.
“ Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet.” Mr. Fox, for a time, might have found it difficult to disengage his thoughts or his words from the form which they had been accustomed to assume, and perhaps the order in which they had been accustomed to occur to him, when he was speaking in Parliament. But with all the imperfections which the acutest critic can discover in his History, and which leisure would have enabled him to correct, the excellencies which characterise his best speeches in the House of Commons, often present themselves to our view in the work lately published. In conformity to the precept of Cæsar, “ habuit semper in memoria atque in pectore, ut tanquam scopulum, sic fugeret inauditum et insolens verbum.”* He shunned the faults into which Hortensius is said to have fallen. When we reflect upon Mr. Fox as a speaker, “ longius procedens et in cæteris eloquentiæ partibus tum maxime in celeritate et continuatione verborum adhærescens, sui dissimilior non videbatur fieri quotidie.” If we turn to him as a writer, “ cum jam honores et illa senior auctoritas gravius quiddam requireret, rernanebat idem, et decebat idem." +
In a very elaborate, and, I believe, a rare book of Falster, called Memoriæ Obscuræ, the second chapter treats “ de Ingeniis Romanis, quæ Eruditionis et Litterarum gloria absque scriptis
* See Fragment in the Editions of Cæsar.