Immagini della pagina

his own.

have named, or at the second-hand of that adroit and industrious lady (Mrs. Oliphant), who has just now died in her Scottish home, and who has made a vast number of eager readers beholden to her for her pleasant pictures of the makers of Venice, and of the makers of Florence. Again, there comes to mind as we turn over the mediæval pages that rare tale of “ The Crusaders," where Saladin the Great and Richard the Lion-hearted try forces, and with a large chivalry weigh and admit their respective merits - as a Sampson might or a Schley.

The same master romancer takes us upon a trans-continental gallop into the dungeons of middle France, where a rancorous, ungainly Louis XI. (whom we know as Sir Henry Irving, with Satan's mask on him) tortures his prisoners, and rages in the background of those Burgundian scenes, where the blithe and adventurous Quentin Durward comes to

It is a large refreshment on book journeys through the Middle Ages to come upon such bouncing romance - as shrewd, as lavish of byplay, as piquant, and as entertaining as the charmingest novel of to-day or yesterday!

Then there are Romola and Savonarola : who should not wish for a new half-hour's snatch of dalliance with that gracious, filial, high-minded daughter of the Bardi — outgrowing her girl love for a recreant Greek - and posing with Christian altitudes amid the terrors of a plague? Savonarola, notwithstanding all the eloquent preachments which Villari tells us of, — under the shadows of the Piazza dei' Signori, made no nobler figure, nor was blessed with a serener trust.

I name here, too, that story of King Arthur (by Sir Thomas Malory) which belongs to these times, and has presentment in these volumes — with the swift realism of flesh and blood reflected upon it by the living lines of Tennyson's " Merlin and Vivien."

Chaucer, too, is now in regal presence, and strews those pearls of “ Canterbury Tales ” which will be caught up always, and strung anew, on every page where jewels are gathered. Nor shall that quiet, serene book-lover and God-lover Thomas à Kempis be forgotten. A little man, of quiet conversation, placid, kindly, with soft brown eyes — by virtue of his simple rules of life, living till ninety; genial and plodding; copying psalms and singing them, in days when Europe was all ablaze with the fire that Huss had kindled in Bohemia; writing that little book about the “ Imitation of Christ”(as most authorities agree) and putting into it such teachings of love, of self-denial, of charity, as to make of it a sort of Christian handbook of the heart - more widely translated and printed than any book, save the Bible.

Dante and Boccaccio will, or should, have their pictures here, but we must hie away to that wider field of vision, where those English letters which make up the bulk of these volumes begin to pile together monumentally — in shapes of history or fiction — and when the art of writing deploys its forces under the governance of rhetorical law, and dares not any longer to exploit itself, — as in the case of Thomas à Kempis - in a joyous ebullition of Christian faith and love.


It was some time within a month of our present writing that the Hon. John Morley (one of the most scholarly among British political leaders) said, in inaugurating a free library in some Scottish town, -" The purpose [of good reading] is to bring sunshine into our hearts, and to drive moonshine out of our heads” – to which we say, bravo! for Mr. Morley.

There was a good deal of head moonshine in the days when Madame Scudéry was writing, and when Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot and the rest were formulating designs for remodel. ing human nature. Cervantes, indeed, had indulged at a thwack upon earlier “moonshiners," with a better result than Don Quixote found in his battle with the windmills (somewhere set forth on these pages of ours): everybody knows how that battle came out; and yet Spanish knighthood still capari


sons itself to fight - vainly — against the revolution of forces which are set a-going, and kept a-going, by all the winds of Heaven!

If there was a good deal of moonshine in the “Midsummer Night's Dream” that found its way into the heads of readers, and played there with Thisbe, through “ a hole in the wall,” it was an imported Greek moonshine ; while all up and down, from the pages of this play actor of Stratford, there streams a sunshine that is altogether English, and is good for English and American hearts. And what shall we say of that other master of English verse, who gave his bolstering to the republican measures of Cromwell ? What would such a set of vol. umes be worth without their dashes, here and there, of the high organry of Milton, or without some masterly “stops” at command of him who “set up Comus," and who, so wisely and deftly, governed all the harmonies of poetic conduct?

It counts not a little toward the values of such an assemblage of chapters and fragments as this series of books presents, that one — within the limits of a morning's reading - can make direct and easy comparisons between those we know and honor.

On one page, for instance, we delight in the rhetorical roll and lingual felicities of Dryden; and on the next we fasten upon the grip and sparkle and burning brevities of Pope : here, it is Milton who convoys us, under classic oar, into the reddened scenes of Pandemonium ; and by the twirling of a few leaves only, we cool ourselves in the quietudes of Wordsworth's “Tintern Abbey,” or in the rush of Southey's story of the “ Waters at Lodore."

Without rising from our chair, we can match the humor of “ John Gilpin " with the fun of Thomas Hood - clinking them together - as suspicious shopkeepers clink doubtful coin. Again, it will be profitable (and easy) for those brooding over such books as these, to weigh the dignified and simple measures of Hume's “ Episodes of Early English History” against Macaulay's impassioned advocacy of Whiggism, or the rhetorical lusters of Froude's learning and aplomb. As for Gibbon, we shall find here a taste — if only a taste- of those magniloquent and sonorous periods on which his story of the “Fall of Rome” caracoled in stately fashion to its end.

Here, again, in a platoon of pages — not too many, as whoso reads shall find — are set forth two or three great crises in English history, by that clever young clergyman, John R. Green, who died only a few years since in the prime of life, upon the shores of the Mediterranean. Who, pray, among all book lovers has not read that “Short History of England (very much better than the longer one, which was a publisher's rather than an author's book); or who has not loved that full and lucid and easy-going story of his English forbears? How came it that his work went at once upon the rolls of fame? He was not more painstaking than Professor Stubbs; not giving a more artistic turn to his periods than Froude; not more erudite than Freeman (whom he honored by calling master); yet wherever either of these masters has one reader, Green has ten. He knows what to tell : that is the secret, as much as knowing how to tell it. He spares us dullness; he cuts short interminable statistics and the fatiguing roll of dates. His whims did not carry him away ; his foregone prejudices did not put him on a hunt to build up forlorn reputations ; he had no Teutonic maggot in his brain, that he sought to hatch by tedious incubation; but with unerring instinct he pounced only upon the facts which helped his story. Such good choosers are the best entertainers, if not the best teachers.

But English history with its beguilements cannot veil or dim the philosophic lights shining here at intervals. Adam Smith shows the courage of his kindly beliefs — about tying wealth and workers together by better bonds than are used ; Herbert Spencer discourses on moral education in a way that ought to plant many of his utterances on the walls of homes ; Mill — built out of logic — kindly and clear-thoughted, but pitiably without a religious sense; Darwin, even more kindly and eager to establish us all in good cousinship with the brute creation; Huxley, lucidly expounding the wastes of protoplasm, and zealous to redeem the waste by solid thinking; and Tyndal, the benign, clear as crystal, and putting a boy's exuberance into his mountain climbing, of which he makes us a part in his story of the “ Weisshorn."

Carlyle and Emerson, in turn, preach their sermons to us – one bristling, the other serene; nor do these and many another of their pith — but more mildly spoken – forbid our keeping ears and eyes open for the story-teller proper. Manzoni, as vividly as in his own Italian, is Englished in the loves and trials of the “ Betrothed”; and the light from his book dances spectrally and delightfully along the shores of Maggiore and of the Lago di Guarda. Those who read Balzac here will get a taste that will beget eagerness for the whole sweet story of Eugénie Grandet. As for Miss Mulock, her glimpse of a bread riot, with John Halifax at the front- showing a heart that beat just as those of the rioters beat — tempts one to say, “Bravo, for the Gentleman”; and his nerve and kindliness make a sermon of resolve, of faith, and of that moral beauty which stamps true heroes — putting power into their words, and into their hands something better than guns.

And what a change from this to the lively sparring match of “ Tom Brown,” at Rugby ; I mean that with William the "slugger ” — when the good fellow, East, sponged Tom's head with the dearest care ; and the light-weight parries the big blows of the heavy one, and clinches and throws him ; then comes the wait, and the new sponging and all goes on gayly and thwackingly till the old doctor sidles out of his turret door, and the slugger vanishes, and the crowd dissolves, and the battle is over. Hurrah! for Tom Brown at Rugby -- and wherever else he turns up, though it were on the dismal heights of Santiago !

Oddly enough — yet the collocation is not inapt this Rugby business is coupled with Smike and “Dotheboys Hall." 'Tis a great change, to be sure — as if pork chops were to fol

« IndietroContinua »