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ART. VII.-Classic and Historic Portraits. By JAMES BRUCE 2 vols. London: Hurst & Blackett. 1853.

In spite of learned reprehension,' says the author of these entertaining volumes, those works in which the narrative of great 'public affairs is mixed up with the more minute private and personal details and descriptions, which pedants and philosophers consider to be below what they call the dignity of history,' are, I believe, read with more pleasure than more pretending volumes, in which this disagreeable dignity of history' is stiffly and 'proudly sustained.'

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Mr. Bruce is perfectly correct in his remark. People do like to know all that they can about the personal appearance and habits of any celebrated man or woman in whom they take an interest. They instinctively feel, as it were, that they have a firmer hold of any historical personage, and can understand better all that he did or could do, when they have authentic information about his face, figure, stature, voice, dress, gait, and ordinary manner of behaviour. Nor are they far wrong. When, for example, one is told that Thomas Aquinas was such a big silent fellow that he used to be called the large mute ox of Sicily,' one certainly does see the old schoolman with a degree of corporeal distinctness which assists wonderfully in giving a human interest to his metaphysics. So, again, when we know that Cromwell had a salmon-coloured' face, our ideas of the whole history of his period will be more correct than if we went on, as many have done, fancying him a swart man. Again, much as was written about Coleridge before Mr. Carlyle published his well-known description of him in his Life of Sterling, we believe that every reader of that book will confess that he has known the sage a great deal better since Mr. Carlyle reproduced, and, by clever typographical aid, conveyed to the eye, his recollection of the kind of humming sniffle with which the sage spoke. Sum-m-ject' and' om-m-ject'-who knows how much of the Coleridgian philosophy might have been now wanting, had its founder's utterance of these and similar words been less nasal and prolonged?

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Pedants and philosophers, as Mr. Bruce says, are apt to have a horror of such gossip, and do not willingly condescend to it themselves. But in literature, recently, the tide has been going against them, and the dignity of history' has been obliged to bend its knees a little. Observing how all the world runs after such books as Plutarch's Lives, or Boswell's Memoir of Johnson, and seeing, for example, how much more vivid a glimpse we obtain of Cortez and his doings in Mexico from the old Chronicle


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of Bernal Diaz, than from the lucid and elegant pages of Robertson, both the writers of history and their critics have been more deferential of late than they used to be to the popular taste for anecdote, physiognomical delineation, and personal gossip. This change may, in part, be attributed to the powerful example of such writers as Sir Walter Scott, who, feeling that their strength lay in their own inborn relish for the picturesque and the concrete, naturally and without reference to any theory, allowed this relish to determine the character of their works. But theory itself is now on the same side, and the popular taste for the anecdotic in history is considered to be capable of sound scientific defence. It is made a question now whether Herodotus was not a man of greater historical genius than Thucydides; people are not afraid of going to Suetonius for facts to illustrate the nobler narratives of Tacitus; the ponderous tomes of Alison, where the dignity of history' is still kept up, do not find such favour with judicious critics as the lighter essays of Macaulay and others; and it is regarded as the indispensable duty of every one who professes to write a history of any period, that he shall dive down below the surface, consult the contemporary chronicles, and variegate his text, even to its typographic injury, with rough bits of old spelling and racy morsels of old gossip selected from thence. In biography, of course, there is a still more peremptory demand for interesting anecdotes and personalities. It is considered an essential part of the modern biographic art that, in the story of any man's life, the biographer shall contrive to inweave not only any interesting letters, or other similar emanations from the man's own pen that may survive, but also as much information as he can possibly scrape together respecting the man's eyes, nose, and mouth, his legs and feet, the colour of his coat, the dishes he liked for dinner, the hour of his getting up in the morning, his favourite authors and pet quotations, the condition of his aunts and other relatives, and the temper and economic talent of his wife.

The rigorousness of biography in this respect may, in fact, well strike terror into those who are notable enough to become the subjects of it. There are limits, as all know, to what it is pleasant or expedient to commemorate in connexion even with those respecting whom the world is most laudably curious. It is not every man worthy to have his biography written that has a circle of uncles and aunts all historically presentable, or that could afford to lay open, for the inspection of future centuries, every cupboard in his household. And so, generalizing the matter, it is, perhaps, only a per-centage of the facts of the past that Time and the historians ought to roll down to us. What the facts

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are that should be included in this per-centage, different men will define differently. Only those which are, in themselves, noble and heroic, say some; only those which are interesting from the cosmopolitical point of view, say others; only those which we are intelligent enough to see tolerantly and in their true proportion, say a third class of persons. In the main, perhaps, all these various definitions amount to the same thing; though the last is the largest in its sweep, and points to a time when, the soul of the world being clearer and deeper-its intellectual digestion, so to speak, stronger-it may safely charge itself with the recollection of much that it now more wisely forgets. Meanwhile one can certainly see directions in which the passion for gossip may carry biographers and others too far. It is questionable, for instance, whether too much literary attention is not now given to Causes Celèbres, Lives of Celebrated Criminals, and other carrion of that kind; and whether, all due allowance being made for the necessity of estimating the Aphrodisaic influence in history, there is not more of private prurience than of genuine historic zeal in the persevering readings which some bestow on the Byzantine sources of Gibbon's footnotes and the scandalous French memoirs of later times. So also there is surely a limit to what is desirable in the way of biographic investigation into the conduct of a man's aunts and uncles, the way in which a man may have spent his evenings in his youth, and the contents of his cupboards after he has come to be master of a household. It is difficult, however, to fix the limitto say, for example, what should be told of Goethe or Burns; what cast aside as unnecessary to be told of them, even if authentic. Some saltless souls, indeed, there have been, even among men of intellectual note, who have proscribed biography altogether, and have carried their theoretical contempt for it, in their own case, so far as to refuse all information about their earlier years even to their intimate friends, and to persist to their dying day in not allowing their portraits to be taken. The notion of these enemies of the concrete is, that what emanates from a man in the way of new intellectual meaning alone is of consequence; and that when this mingles with the rush of mind from those antecedent souls of other centuries, of so few of whom we have any individual knowledge, we have all of the man that we need care to have, and may leave his husk to rot where it fell. This notion is not confined to persons whose tastes are for the abstract. A modified form of it, applicable especially to literary biography, seems to have been entertained even by so true a son of the concrete as the poet Wordsworth. If we remember aright, it is Wordsworth who objects to the intrusion of a biographic spirit into literary criticism; maintaining that a poem, or other work of art, ought to be judged



by its own merits, as a kind of existence that has floated quite loose from its author, and not by any reference to what may be independently known of the author's character or principles as a Thus, to a fair estimate of Endymion, it would be necessary, according to Wordsworth, to confine the regards to the poem itself, forgetting all that may have been learnt of the social position and the private habits of Keats.


On the whole, however, we would, for our part, do nothing to discourage the passion for biographical gossip, the excesses of which will probably correct themselves. We demur even to Wordsworth's modified protest against this passion as affecting the tone of modern criticism of works of pure imagination. Admitting that poems and other works of art may be regarded as existences that have floated loose from the minds that originated them, and may be tried and pronounced excellent or the reverse according to certain fixed canons of judgment applicable to such compositions generally, we yet hold that, in a certain deep sense, every poem or work of art, however imaginative, is then best viewed when it is viewed as a revelation of the special humanity of its author; and that, as, on the one hand, a critic will appreciate such a work all the more profoundly and intimately from knowing its author personally beforehand, so, on the other hand, and in other cases, that species of criticism is the most thorough which aims, as it were, at doing nothing more with a work than educe from it, and cunningly chase out of it, the lineaments, one by one, of its unknown author. In short, so fully do we sympathize with that popular taste for the personal and the anecdotic in history and biography, which it is Mr. Bruce's object in the present work to defend and to cater for, that we have often wished to see in our libraries some large work, supplementary to our ordinary biographical dictionaries, in which, the alphabetical arrangement of the names being retained, and the ordinary summaries of the biographical facts being either inserted or omitted, all the recoverable details should be collected respecting the physiognomies and personal habits of all the men and women that have made themselves eminent, whether in war, politics, social life, art, literature, or science. To show what we mean we will attempt what might perhaps pass for two articles in this ideal Dictionary of historic physiognomies. We select two personages, the materials respecting whom chance to lie nearest to our hands, not pretending, however, to give respecting them all, or nearly all, that might be given, had we time for the necessary researches.

CHAUCER, GEOFFREY. Poet. Born, London, A.D. 1328; [here may be inserted, if thought desirable, the main facts of his life] died A.D. 1400. In his mature age, a portly well-shaped man, with fair complexion, hair and beard of the hue of ripe wheat [authority for this last

Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, Cervantes, Sir Kenelm Digby, John Sobieski, Anne of Austria, Ninon de l'Enclos, Madame de Montpensier, the Duchess of Orleans, Madame de Maintenon, Catharine of Russia, and Madame de Staël. These fifty-eight personages, thirty-one of whom are women, are sketched in a lively way with the help of such records as Mr. Bruce had been able to consult, and the sketches are varied by somewhat droll remarks and disquisitions on all subjects, literary, artistic, and ecclesiastical, introduced à propos. Mr. Bruce is evidently an original after his fashion, and raps out the oddest propositions on the gravest matters with a kind of rough energy which is very amusing. Thus, speaking of the comedies of Roswida, a nun of the tenth century, he says

"The Christian theatre was then, as it had always been since its origin with St. Gregory of Nyssa, and continued to be till about the end of the sixteenth century, the faithful ally of the pulpit and the church. Little did the cheerful and good-humoured nun dream that the time would come when a set of sour, surly fellows, calling themselves what she would not have called herself-godly, would rise up and make a divorce between religion and everything that is agreeable, and declare that such innocent and instructive recreations as had produced roars of salutary laughter amongst her spiritual sisters, were the inventions and contrivances of Satan; who, according to the Puritans, is the author of everything that is pleasant, graceful, or elegant, or that tends, in any measure, to make the burden of this weary life bearable * * * The question has been raised, were the comedies of Roswida intended for performance, and actually performed, or only designed for perusal? From the specimen of their character, and the nature of the fun which pervaded them, as given by M. Chasles, I cannot doubt that they were actually performed. Mr. Hallam (Introduction to the Literature of Europe, lib. i. c. 14) speaks with contempt of the nun's comedies; but Hallam speaks contemptuously of Bayle's Dictionary, and had (sic) a perfect passion for everything that is dry and unreadable, and an utter destitution of all imagination, taste, or feeling.'

How the Puritans and Mr. Hallam will survive such an attack, we do not know; but the passage is quite in Mr. Bruce's way. Here is another passage, in the same strain, in which our good Dr. Merle D'Aubigné is the sufferer, and Luther is painted in what Mr. Bruce thinks his true colours.

"The biographers of illustrious persons have generally shown a disposition, while intending to exalt the character of their heroes and heroines, to paint them like themselves, and often to lower them to their own standard. This D'Aubigné, trying to exalt Luther, makes him like a modern evangelical preacher; and by leaving out one-half, and that certainly not the worse half of his character, has succeeded

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