« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT OF GREAT BRITAIN, EUROPE, AND THE
THE QUARTERLY REVIEW FOR OCTOBER.
Japan is a country respecting which curiosity and interest are growing in England, ever since the appearance of Sir Rutherford Alcock's book. Sir E. J. Reed, the late head of the Construction Department of the Admiralty, has been visiting the country at the invitation of the Mikado, for the purpose of laying down the lines on which a Japanese navy may be established; and he embodies the results of his observations and inquiries in two handsome volumes. Miss Isabella Bird, the intrepid female traveller in America and the Pacific, has been similarly making a tour in the Land of the Rising Sun, travelling on horseback through the interior; and she also narrates her experiences in two handsome volumes. These two books are on John Murray's list for the season, and naturally the first article in the Quarterly brackets them in one review. The article is well worth reading, and gives about as much of the cream of the four volumes as the average reader will care to imbibe. But both books are excellent in their way, Sir E. J. Reed's being the more historical and antiquarian, Miss Bird's the more descriptive and amusing. The gentleman has formed a much higher estimate of the denizens of Nipon than the lady, who finds that the Japanese do not improve upon acquaintance, especially when one gets nearer to the aboriginal population. They are, in her opinion, far inferior to the Chinese, who move amongst them as the ruling race, and are certainly the more enterprising and spirited people. Miss Bird holds the Japanese to be a poor race physically, the men being mean and insignificant in appearance, the women far from handsome. Christianity does not make much progress in the islands. On the whole, the reviewer is of the belief that Japan will never become a great country, but “the glory will always be hers of having, first amongst Asiatic States, shown herself capable of marching in the forefront of civilisation, almost abreast with the most advanced nations of the vaunted West."
Cicero's life and character present a theme of inexhaustible interest for all scholars. A new book, in two volumes, by Mr. Anthony Trollope, as well as several smaller works, are on the publisher's list for the season. In a very able review, the whole case for and against the great Roman
orator as a leading actor in the mighty Julian Revolution, is gone over once more; and the verdict delivered is substantially an acquittal on all the counts put forward by the enemies of Marcus Tullius Cicero. He made a “splendid failure;” and, in spite of the “girlish vanity” with which Macaulay credits him, he was a noble Roman, a great man, and the prince of orators.
A gossiping article on "Art Collections" will be read by book-loving persons, bric-a-brac fanciers, and amateurs of art. In this kind of chatty articles the Quarterly is still unrivalled.
Mr. John Morley has been busily employed of late in rehabilitating the characters of the French encyclopedists of last century; one of his subjects being, of course, Denis Diderot, respecting whom Mr. Carlyle has told us about as much as most Englishmen care to know. But Mr. Morley has an object beyond Carlyle's, namely, to vindicate and bring again into fashion the principles promulgated by the knot of French Philosophes. To this latter purpose the reviewer takes the gravest exception, and deals unsparingly with Mr. Morley's laudations of atheism and communism, which doctrines Denis Diderot held and taught with all his might. But what neither Mr. Morley nor his reviewer plainly reveals is the fact that the twenty volumes of Diderot's collective writings contain such a quantity of sheer literary filth, that they disgrace the library in which they are found. His atheism certainly did not teach him purity of morals, nor even decency of manners. There are at least three of his works, for any one of which the writer deserved all the punishment inflicted on Bernard Lintott, cr Curll, or John Wilkes, as men outraging public morality. Happily the works in question are untranslated and untranslateable into English.
The enchaining story of the Camisards, the religious enthusiasts of the Cevennes, is retold in a striking and picturesque manner, by a writer who evidently knows the country where this astonishing episode in French religious history was enacted. It is a most thrilling chapter in the romance of history.
A very learned article, of the Quarterly's classical stamp, is devoted to the recent discoveries in Greece. As the main theme of the writer is Olympia, where the ever-famous athletic games were held, he has much good information to impart respecting the rise, the glory, and the decline, of these famous antique sports. Australian youths will feel interested in such a topic.
An extremely readable article on the Newspaper Press in England gives some astonishing details of the gigantic scale on which journalism is now conducted in the old country. The Times and Daily Telegraph are truly colossal journals; the first having a daily circulation of 100,000 copies, and the second of 250,000! There are about 1376 provincial newspapers in Great Britain, and their aggregate circulation baffles all calculation. The reviewer complains that the Conservatives flout and discourage the newspapers of their party, Lord Beaconsfield showing the example; whilst the Liberals carefully support their journals in every way. The result is that the Conservative press, both as to circulation and influence, is a very long way behind the Liberal press. The article is packed with curious and interesting facts.
A biographical sketch of the Marshal Duke of Saldanha, the great Portuguese soldier and statesman, cannot be passed over by any judicious reader. Saldanha was the Wellington of Portugal, and worthy to be classed with our own warrior-statesman and devoted patriot. His career recalls the stirring times of the First French Empire and the Peninsular Campaign.
The political article, which closes an unusually good number of the Quarterly, is a bitter impeachment of the Gladstone Government, from the pen of a leader of the Conservative party, probably Lord Salisbury.
THE EDINBURGH REVIEW. Lord Lynedoch, a grand old Scotch soldier of the Wellingtonian period, has never had full justice done to his achievements in arms by the British public. An able writer undertakes to present an account of his life and deeds; and the result is an article that may be read as a sequel to that on the Duke of Saldanha, in the Quarterly. The charm of these military biographies never fades.
“ The Annals of Exeter College ” furnish a topic of interest to scholars in the old country, but hardly for Australian readers; although the article includes many anecdotes of English college life in the olden times, and of learned men whose names are not well known to the miscellaneous public.
Some recent volumes issued from the Public Record Office supply materials for a gossiping article on those early English navigators who first voyaged to India, China, and Japan. Amongst other historical incidents recounted, is the terrible one of the massacre of the English traders by the Dutch at Amboyna, in 1624, on which Dryden has founded a truly sensational drama. For Australian readers, the article has an immediate and genuine interest, seeing that the countries included in it are neighbours to our own.
“The Chemistry of the Sun” is the title of an article giving an account of the latest researches in spectrum analysis. Here we are upon Mr. Proctor's ground, and learn many new and wonderful facts touching the unity of creation, and the boundless immensity of the system of which our globe forms a single speck. There is everywhere seen to be a uniform law in operation, but with such occasional breaks in its continuity as irresistibly compel the conviction of one supreme over-ruling Mind.
The Duke of St. Simon, prince of court annalists and gossips, left amongst his papers a parallel between the characters of Henry IV., Louis XIII., and Louis XIV. This paper has recently been published for the first time, and a summary of it is here given, which proves St. Simon to be as keen an anatomist of character as Theophrastus or La Bruyère. The article is eminently readable.
The history of the Mongol race—albeit the Chinaman is forcing himself on the serious attention of the outer world of barbarians on more continents than one—is not an attractive subject for general readers. It is told in a painstaking and conscientious way by Mr. Howorth, in three goodly volumes, the cream of which is skimmed by a reviewer. As bearing on the political relations of Great Britain, Russia, and China, and indirectly on Australian interests, the summary here given is of some importance to us.
The social and political condition of Germany is analysed by a writer well-conversant with that empire and its leading statesmen. The account given is unfavourable under any view, but the religious report is particularly so. According to this writer, Protestantism is practically extinct in Germany, having sunk into blank unbelief.
Mr. George Otto Trevelyan has published an account of the early life of Fox, written studiedly in the style of his uncle, Lord Macaulay Of course, the Edinburgh praises both the writer and the subject of his book;
but, truth to say, the reviewer gives us rather too much of familiar details. We know all about Fox's early career in Parliament, and the Wilkes episode, and the shameful coalition between Fox and Lord North and its consequences. To recount all these matters over again is a good deal like (as the French say) discovering America in 1880.
The political article of the number is a narrative and a defence of the policy of the Candahar campaign. General Roberts has covered himself with glory, vindicated the fame of the British arms, and cleared a menacing difficulty out of the path of the Gladstone Government.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
Lord Sherbrooke, raised to the peerage, is as powerful with his pen in the press as ever was Robert Lowe, the commoner, with his tongue in the House of Commons. There is singular force in all he writes or speaks. His theme now is the legislation that Ireland requires in her present dilemma. Deprecating coercion in every form, and carefully disentangling the knotty question in hand, he shows the impolicy of rash legislation in a crisis of excited public feeling. He is averse to conceding to the tenant farmers all that the Land Leaguers, or even their more moderate friends, are demanding for them. He is for what the doctors term general treatment, not specific, of the “Irish social malady.” He hints at emigration to relieve the over-peopled country, and would discourage the cultivation of the poorer waste lands.
Professor Tyndall lectured on "The Sabbath,” before the Glasgow Sunday Society, on the 25th October last, and the lecture is here reprinted in full. It is, of course, an able and lucid argument for a freer observance of the sacred day than is enjoined by strict Presbyterian notions; but the truth is, the intolerance he protests so stoutly against is the intolerance of public opinion, not of law; and, therefore, it is hard to see how it can be extinguished. And, after all, by what compulsion is any man obliged to observe the Sabbath in a manner irksome and disagreeable to him? Anyhow, the Scotch Sabbath is not that of Australia, and, therefore, the learned Professor's arguments are not applicable here. It may be added that the staple of the reasoning, and the chief facts adduced, are already perfectly familiar to most readers.
The evils of competitive examination are once more exposed to view by an ex-inspector of schools in England, the Rev. A. R. Grant. The system, as he maintains, excludes many powerful and capacious minds, capable of great after-development, and also candidates who may have special qualifications for the service required, but not the special aptitude which competitive examination demands. The system, moreover, by forcing the intellect, permanently enfeebles it; and" coaching" is a species of literary dishonesty. For these and other reasons—which have been often urged before, it may be added, Mr. Grant would supersede competitive examination by selection from amongst candidates who have passed a given standard, and who afterwards exhibit the special ability demanded for the office or profession in view.
Mr. Mallock discusses at length, with his customary ability, the “ Philosophy of Conservatism.” The argument does not admit of condensation ; but it may be said, in the general, that a strong impeachment of Radicalism is set forth, in reasoning that could not be easily refuted.
Mr. Ruskin contributes a fourth
Fiction : Fair and Foul,” as discursive and as irrelevant as any of the three preceding papers. He continues his assault on Wordsworth's poetry and his laudation of Byron's poetry and personal morals ; diverging, in the interval, into the story of Frederic Barbarossa, and closing with an etymological exegesis of the meaning of the word “blasphemy." What is quite unaccountable in these strange papers is, that Mr. Ruskin writes as fiercely against some imaginary class of persons as if they were the visible enemies of mankind. But who are they, in these days, that unduly exalt Wordsworth and depreciate Byron ? These poets represent two different schools, which will always exist in the world of literature.
Major Hallet fulfils, and more than fulfils, the definition of a benefactor to mankind, given by Swift. He shows the means by which, not two grains alone, but twenty grains, of wheat may be reaped where only one grew before. His process is designated "tillering,” and if his statements be quite authentic, it is certain that the fertility of English wheat-lands may be almost indefinitely increased. By that means, the Major holds, the English farmer will get the better of his American competitor. He has counted the number of ears of wheat grown on an acre of land, and finds it to be 1,306,800 on an average.
Mr. M'Cullogh Torrens, M.P., deals with the Government of the city of London. The topic is of curious interest for general readers, seeing that London is so astonishing a city in point of wealth and population; but the matters dealt with are of exclusively local importance.
Mr. Frederic Harrison continues his onslaught on “The Creeds, Old and New.” He would substitute for them what he terms “The Human Synthesis;” by which term is meant the worship of the human race considered as a single colossal (but purely abstract) man. His quarrel with theology is that it leaves untouched, as he says, four-fifths of human life, and does not interfere with secular education, scientific politics, political economy, science, health, poetry, and art. The doctrine of evolution is equally defective, as he holds. It ignores history, and passes at a bound from prehistoric and half-savage man to the sceptics of the eighteenth century.
Therefore, Comtism is the only effective creed and system for the world.
An appreciative review of the works of Sir Henry Taylor, from the pen of Mr. H. G. Hewlett, follows. It is an excellent piece of calm, fair, and thoughtful criticism, in harinony with the style of one of the most intellectual of modern writers. The critic mentions that the character of Wulfstan, in Edwin the Fair, is understood to be a caricature of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Sir Henry Taylor is essentially a poet and dramatist of the Wordsworthian school, which Mr. Ruskin ‘now so strongly denounces.
The recent trials of election petitions in the old country have shown that the introduction of the ballot has in no degree lessened the amount of bribery and corruption in the constituencies. Mr. Sydney Buxton reviews the whole case, and calls earnestly for a revision of the laws against those evil practices. But he is constrained to admit that the disclosures recently made are an "eloquent testimony to the frightful apathy of the public conscience at present on the question of bribery and corruption.". It may be added that Dickens's picture of the electoral doings in the borough of Eatanswill gives but a faint idea of what actually occurred at the last general election in England in at least a score of constituencies.
A summary of remarkable facts in recent science, revised by Professor Huxley, concludes an excellent number of the Nineteenth Century.