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raonsaoR Of Universal History In The University or Edinburoh,
A SLIGHT TOKEN OF GRATITUDE FOR CANDID CRITICISM, AND OF RESPECT FOR ENLIGHTENED ERUDITION.
London, October Kth, 1843
Nearly twenty years have" how'"elapsed since the publication of Hazlitt's "Spirit of the -Age," and a new set of men, several e"f th^m'anirfiated by a new spirit, have obtained eitfinerit! posii'.ohs in the public mind. \__""-',''"'' "'"-~ ~-'
Of those selected by Hazlitt, three are introduced in the present publication, and two also of those who appeared in the " Authors of England," for reasons which will be apparent in the papers relating to them. With these exceptions, our selection has not been made from those who are already " crowned," and their claims settled, but almost entirely from those who are in progress and midway of fame.
It has been throughout a matter of deep regret to the editor, more keenly felt as the work drew towards its conclusion, that he found himself compelled to omit several names which should have been included; not merely of authors who, like himself, belong only to the last ten or fifteen years, but of veterans in the field of literature, who have not been duly estimated in collections of this kind. Inability to find sufficient space is one of the chief causes ; in some cases, however, the omission is attributable to a difficulty of classification, or the perplexity induced by a versatility of talents in the same individual. In some cases, also, names honoured in literature could not be introduced without entering into the discussion of questions of a nature not well suited to a work of this kiqd—or, rather, to this division of a possible series—yet with which great questions their names are identified.
The selection, therefore, which it has been ,thought most advisable to adopt, has been the i •napits'pT Chose* mps t.em inent in general literature, 'stnd''representing-fe(5st extensively the Spirit of thfriAge. yapdjhe names of two individuals, who, in.t'ljis.y«'ofk,>i*3present those philanthropic prin\cfglcs Jjow.ifl'fluerjcing the minds and moral feeling':} p'f alHlitJ Jfstjintellects of the time. Sufficient cause will* be• apparent in the respective articles for the one or two other exceptions.
For most of the onrssions, however, one remedy alone remains. The present work, though complete in itself, forms only the inaugural part of a projected series, the continuation of which will probably depend upon the reception of this first main division, which, in any case, may be regarded as the centre of the whole.
Should the design of the projectors be fully carried out, it will comprise the "Political Spirit of the Age," in which, of course, the leading men of all parties will be included; the " Scientific Spirit of the Age," including those who most conspicuously represent the strikingly opposite classes of discovery or development, &c.; the "Artistical Spirit of the Age," including the principal painters, sculptors, musical composers, architects, and engravers of the time, with such reference to the theatres and concert-rooms as may be deemed necessary; and the "Historical, Biographical, and Critical Spirit of the Age."
But more than all, the editor regrets that he could afford no sufficient space for an examination of the books for children, which must be regarded as exercising so great and lasting an influence upon the mind and future life. He is well assured, while admiring a few excellent works like those of Mrs. Marcet and Mary Howitt, that there are innumerable books for children, the sale of which is enormous, as the influence of them is of the most injurious character. But this could only be appropriately dealt with under the head of Education.
It will readily be understood that the present volume refers simply to our own country, and (with one exception) to those now living. In the biographical sketches, which are only occasional, the editor has carefully excluded ail disagreeable personalities, and all unwarrantable anecdotes. The criticisms are entirely on abstract grounds.
There is one peculiarity in the critical opinions expressed in this volume; it is that they are never balanced and equivocal, or evasive of decision on the whole. Where the writer doubts his own judgment, he says so; but in all cases, the reader will never be in doubt as to what the critic really means to say. The editor, before commencing this labour, confesses to the weakness of having deliberated with himself a good half hour as to whether he should "try to please everybody;" but the result was that he determined to try and please one person only. It may seem a bad thing to acknowledge, but that one was " himself." The pleasure he expected to derive, was from the conviction of having fully spoken out what he felt to be the Truth; and in the pleasure of this consciousness he is not disappointed. His chief anxiety now is (and more particularly, of course, with respect to those articles which have been writen by himself), that the reader should never mistake the self-confidence of the critic for arrogance, or the presumptuous tone of assumed superiority, which are so revolting; but