Images de page
PDF
ePub

fatigues, the real atlas, supporting the whole weight of the globe on his truly laborious shoulders?'

Several of the pieces in these volumes are much shorter than that we have given, and seem rather intended to contain the materials of thought, or the substratum of more elaborate composition. Such is the paper of our author upon facility, which exhibits a confiderable portion of taste in a few lines.

• I like an easy genius. The file of such has a gracefulness, a freedom, a certain striking, but an animated air. They do not laboriously consume their time confined to a closet; they look around them, mix with the world, and there imbibe subjects for reflection. The most effential matters furnish a crowd of ideas to their minds; they are not diffusive on extraneous subjects, they hit rapidly on what fhould please, they have the instinct of the art; and those indefatigable labourers, who put the work twenty times in the loom, are patient workmen, to whom time, at length, brings fome lucky chance, whilst the others have the exterior ease and brilliancy of men of quality. La Fontaine and Voltaire's verses, and Fenelon's profe, resemble a clear and copious stream, which flows with ease. What just reflection does not produce in an instant, it will not be able to effect in months ; it is luminous and rapid; it compares and combines fpeedily, or remains sunk in the clouds that obscure it.'

The qualities of M. Mercier, which we have already enu-, merated, his imagination, his sensibility, and his taste, so far as it is the offspring of fenfibility, will be denied him by no reader capable of relishing these departments of excellence. The intrepid and erect turn of his mind has added grace and ornament to his native powers, and which render his performances the favourite amusement of the friend of virtue and humanity. But we are by no means inclined to acquit him of

The characteristic of the truly great writer is to respect the public and himself, and to intrude nothing upon the world that has not been the fruit of accurate investigation, or of protracted improvement. The inferior author, on the contrary, publishes every thing indiscriminately, and imagines his most crude reflections worthy of the curious eye of literature, or the untainted mind of innocence. If these maxims be true, M. Mercier can by no means be admitted to rank in the very first class. The present performance, we are informed, is the collection of his daily effusions, and they seem to have been obtruded upon the prels without any discrimination. If some of his papers are replete with ingenious thinking, accurate reflection, and spirited beauties, there are others empty and frivolous beyond any thing that can be imagined. . His taste, as we have already hinted, is partial; and in that species of tafte, which originates in the more delicate lines of the

understanding,

every blemish.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

understanding, and the regularity of cultivation, he is deficient. Some of his figures are accordingly far fetched and uncouth; his fictions harsh, naked and disgusting; and his decisions the fruit of ignorance, impertinence, and quackery. This appears in the very title of his performance, which, at the same time that it is quaint, cabalistical, and unmeaning, suggests to us an idea course, vulgar, and indelicate.

But the most accomplished example is to be found in his critique upon Homer. It is true he had never read him in the original; but why then intrude his undigefted animadversions upon

the world? He had also never read, if we are to judge from the evidence of this dissertation, any thing in the remoteft degree relative to the heroic ages. His favourite chimera is that of the Iliad, being written in two different and diffimilar ages. The ground work, according to our author, was “ composed in the rude and obscure times that Theseus lived,” that is, about fourscore years before the fiege of Troy. The difcovery indeed is wonderful, and M. Mercier appears proportionably delighted with its ingenuity. “. This, says he, is plausible.” And then he goes on to confirm it by an interesting story about Theseus and Gideon. But all this, however plausible, in favour of the hypothesis of the Iliad being the production of different authors, does not content the vigorous and demonstrative genius of our author. He discovers a great variety of stile in the composition, and he proves it thus.

• He describes old Nestor as the model of wisdom, and the most respectable of his heroes; and this wife man, with his boasted eloquence, tells his soldiers ; My honest fellows, I believe none of you would chuse to return home, without firft baving lain with the wife of fome Trojan.This shameful speech is put into the mouth of an old man, inspired by Minerva, the moft chaste of goddesses. His Achilles, whose majestic wrath punishes the Grecian heroes, by his inaction, after having pardoned the hoary head of Priam, and even relenting over this un. happy father, ftruck with the idea of his own aged parent, fells, [ may say, to this old man, who kissed his murdering hands, the body of his fon Hector, by meanly accepting the presents brought him. This son of Thetis, this demi-god, whole noble valour disdained to spill vulgar blood, coolly cuts the throats of twelve Trojans on the tomb of Patroclus ; and we dare not fathom the principle of his grief or his friendship. In a word, he only ferves his country to revenge the death of Patroclus.

Agamemnon, as brutal, with his own hand kills Adrastus, who had surrendered to Menelaus, who wished to spare him; and he en: dures the reproaches of this haughty chief, who is represented as the model of heroism. Things so unlike cannot proceed from the same brain.

How, again, can we reconcile the initarces where Homer piously adores his gods, with others where he ridicules them? Did he believe in a Juno, who he infiames with a celestial jealous wrath; a Jupiter, who ENG. Rev. Vol. VI. May 1786.

Y

Takes

as

[ocr errors]

fhakes Olympus with knitting his brows, while he laughs at lame Vak can? This unfortunate god had received from his brutal and inhuman father such a kick in the hip, that he was lamed for the remainder of his eternal days.

There must bave been many heads employed in framing fuch nonsense, to finish the édifice of this confused system, in which one cannot avoid discovering the traces and mixture of other worships.'

These arguments are too absurd to admit of an answer. But there is another argument yet behind. “ Add to this," bays he, “ the difference of dialect acknowleged by all those who understand the language.” This is excellent indeed. Had M.Mer. cier understood one word of Greek, had he condescended to enquire of the most illiterate school-master in Neuchatel, he might have known that this difference of dialect does not lie in different parts of the composition, but that all the dialects are mixed in almost every single verse, and that the simple and majestic uniformity of Homer's stile is equal to that of any writer that ever existed. But perhaps our author imagines, that the gentleman who lived in the days of Thefeus composed the Iliad in prose, and that the business of his ingenious fucceffor was to turn it into verse.

We have already found that our author knows nothing of Theseus, nothing of the ancient mythology, and nothing of the Grecian dialects; and upon all which subjects he declaims with so much gravity and composure. It remains to be seen, that he knows as little of his author, whom he pretends to have read in all his translations, as he does of any of these subjects. The following passage is decifive. “ The wrath of Achilles is idle, impotent, and unreasonable; he fculks nine years in his tent: there lies his armour; nine years inactivity, for depriving him of Briseis : pretty employment for a hero sprung from a goddess !" Unfortunately, these nine years do not amount in Homer to as many weeks.

Again, “the moral of the Iliad is much praised, but one must have the penetrating eye of Horace to see it.” Indeed, Sir! we always thought the moral of the Iliad, the admirable *manner in which it exposes the consequences of public discord, of all things most obvious. But no! says our author ; " for his Jupiter, his Juno, his Venus, his Mercury, as well as the rest of his gods, are always at variance, are in general unjust, mifchievous, and licentious." And what then, Sir ? Does the moral of a performance imply any thing else, than the ethical inference deducible from the whole ? and does it follow, becaufe a performance contains some things immoral and licentious, that it affords us such inference ? “We don't even see the taking of Troy, which is the constant subject.” If we did, if we were presented with any thing fo foreign to the desigu of the poet,

thea

then indeed would the Iliad be deftitute of a moral. What consummate ignorance and misapprehension! “ and the real utility of this long work evades speculation, unless it is to prove the discord of princes, brings on dreadful consequences ; a truth their people feel without the assistance of poetry.” Admirable! And so in M. Mercier's opinion the poet and the novelist are to teach no lesson, the morality or the truth of which was obvious before they incalcuted it.

One imagination of our author completes the whole. He demonstrates that the very fact of a poem having survived for a course of centuries, and especially for 3000 years, affords a Itrong presumption that it has no merit at all.

"Perhaps in thirty ages, after the destruction of our arts, of our books, and the Journal of Bouillon, a romance of our days, little read or despised, escaping univerfal ruin, may obtain the honour of sublimity; and the crowd of commentators, with gaping mouths, will pronounce it to possess every beauty: the first learned man will give to the work the name that has survived, and perhaps several volumes will be filled with the life of a poor author, who would have had some difficulty to obtain a place in a modern bill of mortality. Who knows even if they would not go so far as to confound commentator and author, and if, for example, they might not attribute Moliere's comedies to' M Brett ? For indeed his name is for ever tacked to the works of the author of the Misanthropit. Such a miftake might very poffibly happen. In such a future academy, situated in a corner of North America, fome learn-' ed academician, if there were any, would perhaps affert, in a language which we should certainly not understand, that M. Brett, in the eighteenth century, composed the Tartuffe and Gazette of France.'

We shall conclude our business respecting this work with two words to the translator. We remember to have seen his

performance advertised some inonths previous to its publication, by the epithet of "an elegant translation of Mercier's Mon Bon. net de Nuit." We had always an instinctive aversion to this kind of self-proclamation; but we hope that the example before us will put an end to the abuse for ever. Since elegance is the characteristic of the translation, we will attempt a receipt for this author's idea of elegance. The most wretched perversion of grammar, the most aukward, uncouth, and unintelligible expreffions, are a principal ingredient. If there will not content the aspiring genius, he has only to translate from a language of which he underftands not a word, and to metamorphose an agreeable miscellany into the most repulfive and detestable book that ever existed.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

Art. III. A Treatise upon the Gout, in which the primitive Cause of

that Disease, and likewise of Gravel, is clearly ascertained; and an easy Method recommended, by which both may be with Certainty prevented, er radically cured. izmo. 2s. éd.' Cadell, London. 1786.

FROM the earliest ages of physical knowledge, no disease has

more exercised investigation than that which is the subject of the present treatise. Though successively imputed to every species of acrimony in the Auids, and a peculiar affection of the folids, neither one nor the other has hitherto been ascertained upon any eitablished principle of science; and after all the efforts of ingenuity, exhausted in researches, an impartial inquirer is still at a loss to form any fatisfactory and decided opinion concerning the immediate cause of this complaint, With regard to the predisponent cause of the gout, the author of the treatise now before us supposes it to exist in a calcareous earth in the fluids; and such an hypothesis, he thinks, is strongly supported by the observation, not only that gouty and nephritic complaints are often united in the same person, but that the medicines, usually recommended in the gravel, have had the effect of preventing the paroxysms of the gout. This argument however by no means proves that these two disorders originate from one common caufe. For, in the first place, the conjunction of the gout and gravel is not sufficiently frequent to render such an inference conclusive, and in the next we can easily conceive how medicines, which promote the urinary difcharge, may operate, as they certainly often do, towards palliating an arthritic complaint ; though the latter should proceed from a faline acrimony in the fluids, and not from calcareous earth. Indeed the existence of such matter, as the cause of disease, in any other form than that of concretion, is not fupported by any physiological observations. Nor can we therefore, from the force of any arguinent which our author has adduced, subscribe to the doctrine that a susceptibility of the gout is a consequence of any unusual quantity of calcareous earth in the fluids.

The author, after establishing his favourite system upon the foundation of hypothesis, proceeds to consider the circumfances which tend to produce a calcareous habit; and these he ascribes principally, or rather entirely, to acids. We shall lay before our readers the mode of reasoning by which he supports this opinion.

• Perhaps the stomach and intestines are never free from a mixture of calcareous earth ; it may be taken in by accident, with a variety of substances which we eat and drink, or it may be formed by the process of digestion ; but this I do not take upon me to affert positively,

having

« PrécédentContinuer »