16 MARCH 1878, Page 17


Classics for English Readers," has for its immediate successors an account of Voltaire, by the well-known author of Lady Lee's Widowhood, and an account of Pascal, by Principal Tulloch. We regret to say that we cannot speak very highly in favour of the first of these books, and we fear that the summary with which Colonel or rather General Hamley concludes his book gives us only too accurate a gauge of its value :— " It is," he says, "chiefly as a literary phenomenon that Voltaire is now interesting to us. In that light, it appears to the present writer that no inconsiderable part of his extraordinary fame was owing to the circumstances of the period, and the conditions in which he wrote, and has reasonably vanished with the lapse of time. That he still retains so eminent a position in France is due, in great measure, to those gifts of expression which do not much aid in extending a suitor's reputation beyond his own country. But, after the winnowing of generations, a wide and deep repute still remains to him ; nor will any diminution which it may have suffered be without compensation, for with the feeling of old prejudices, and with better knowledge, his name will be regarded within- creased liking and respect. Yet it must not be supposed that he is here held up as a pattern man. He was, indeed, an infinitely better one than the religious bigots of the time. He believed, with far better effect on his practice than they could boast, in a Supreme Ruler. He was the untiring and eloquent advocate at the bar of the universe of the rights of humanity. He recognised and lamented all the evils permitted by • Foreign Classics for English Readers. " Voltaire,"by Colonel Hamley. "Pascal," by Principal Tulloch. London and Edinburgh; W. Black wood and Sons. Providence. But he forgot, except sometimes in theory, to return thanks- for the blessings which are showered along with those evils on the earth, and thus the great intellect and the high purpose are left without the crowning grace of reverence."

There is truth, no doubt, in these remarks, but it is truth in solution, so to speak, and reminds us rather unpleasantly of some of the publications which emanate occasionally from our Religious Societies. It is not truth that is lacking in the well- meant diatribes of these well-meaning bodies, but literary power and the absence of literary power is doubly unfortunate, when the subject almost imperiously demands a double dose of that entertaining succedaneum. To write a dull book about a Hegel, or a Schlegel, or a Schopenhauer is excusable enough—a venial sin, that no feeling or impartial critic would be forward to condemn,.

—but to write a dull book about Voltaire is, from a literary point of view, unpardonable. Now Colonel Hamley, so far as we can form an opinion, has written a dull book about Voltaire, and his failure, since failure we are forced to call it, is not without its teachings. It is quite unnecessary to say that he and his brother- novelist, Mr. Trollope, are both of them endowed with high and un- common literary gifts. It is impossible not to remark that the latter's

Ctesar and the former's Voltaire are salient proofs that the warn.- big addressed of old to the cobbler has not lost its significance. To speak more explicitly, neither or these distinguished writers basso saturated himself with his subject as to be able to do it full justice. Macaulay's Life of Johnson is, we take it, the model on a small scale of what a book in such a series as this of "Foreign Classics" ought to be ; and literary skill, however great, will not make up for the omission of the saturating process. Other- wise, indeed, Mr. Carlyle's essay on Voltaire, one-sided and incomplete as it confessedly is, might be strongly recommended to the "English reader," in preference to Colonel Hamley's work. Space fails us to specify with more particularity the grounds on which we have felt compelled to give this unfavourable verdict, but we may appeal to the chapter on the Ilenriade as a proof that we

have not been too severe. Colonel Hamley has indeed studied that poem with an amount of patient attention such as we could never command, but will he find many students to agree with his assertion that it ranks among the great epics of the world, which "may be counted on the fingers "? On the fingers of one hand we believe that those rarities might be counted, but if we include

the Ilenriade, we shall need more than two pairs of hands for

our digital arithmetic. Be this as it may, the poverty of Voltaire's epic muse is dismally apparent in Colonel Hamley's translation, and we may say here, though we may not find space to prove it by a quotation, that Pascal's prose fares at times quite as badly at the hands of Principal Tulloch.

But Principal Tulloch's book about Pascal is distinctly and notably superior to its companion. This writer, at all events, cannot be charged with superficiality. We feel even from the preference which old usage makes him give to Faugere's edition

of the Pensees, over the more elaborate edition by M. Havet, and

the splendid edition by M. Rochet, that we have to do with a writer who has not "got up" his subject for the occasion, and who is handling it in a congenial spirit. Exceptions have indeed been taken to Principal Tulloch's book on the score that it is not a new contribution to the study of Pascal. But this, we

think, is to mistake its scope altogether. Principal Tulloch has given us an able re:vunic" of the views which he has derived from

the best French critics concerning Pascal, and he has supple- mented those views with some able remarks from his own point of view. The English reader will get from his book as good an idea of Pascal as the English reader, pure and simple, is likely

ever to get. Pascal loses more by translation than even Leasing does, and we cannot pay his style a greater compliment. But the quarrel which led to the Provincial Letters, as they are rather in- accurately called, has grown very uninteresting to us, and there is nothing in Pascal's treatment of theology which bears much

upon the tendencies of modern theological thought. The moss interesting and, unless we are mistaken, the most valuable

of this great writer's "Thoughts" are those which have exposed him to the charge of scepticism. And a sceptic, in one sense, Pascal undoubtedly was. He was a sceptic malgr6 lui. The shafts of Montaigne pierced the robur et ws triplex of his ortho- doxy, and rankled in his subtle and truth-loving intellect as if they had been, as indeed they were to him, tipped with deadly poison. A more painful sight than that of this intellectual Hercules struggling in his Nessus shirt can hardly be conceived. He was a conqueror, and more than a conqueror, so far as his own belief was concerned, but at what a cost ! There is nothing, we think, more pathetic in literature, when read by the light of

Pascal's real life, than the following passage from his Discours vur les Passions de 1'A:flour :—

"Qu'une vie eat heureuse quand elle commence par l'amour, et qu'elle finit par l'ambition ! Si j'avais a en choisir uno, je prendrais celle-lit. Taut que l'on a du feu, l'on oat aimable ; male ce feu s'aeint, il se perd : alor quo la place eat belle et grande pour l'ambition ! La vie tumul-


tueuse eat agr6able au x grands esprits, mais ceux qui sent mediocres n'y out aucun plaisir,—ils soot machines partout. C'est pourquoi l'amour 43t l'ambition commencant et finissant Is vie, on eat dans Mat le plus heureux dent ht nature humaine eat capable."

If ever there was one of the sons of men who deserved to be called a grand esprit, it was Pascal himself. He was unsuccessful in love, and he " suicided himself," so far as ambition was concerned, at Port Royal. It may be imagined how differently doubt worked upon an -eminently religious spirit that could write such a passage as the above, and upon the careless temperament of Montaigne, who -derided love as heartily as he despised ambition. Pascal turned passionately to the Unseen World for comfort, and we may not doubt that he found it. It would be wrong to. say that his ex- ample may not be followed with profit by men of temperaments like his own. Sickness sees with other eyes than health sees, -and Pascal's life was one long sickness. He was a brave man, and a pious man, and a man of superb intellect, but his flesh was weak in another sense than the Apostle's, and Dryden's magnificent lines Apply to him more closely even than they apply to Keats :—

"A fiery soul which, working out its way,

Fretted the pigmy-body to decay, And o'er informed the tenement of clay."

We. may shrink, as we do, from explaining the mystery of the Incarnation as Pascal explained it, and from drawing from it the inferences which Pascal drew, but we cannot escape from the clutches, if we may say so, of his sincerity. It is to this sincerity, backed of course by the splendid intellect which it inspired, that the writings of Pascal owe their undying charm. Mutatis mutandls, it is to the same sincerity—as different a thing, be it said, as possible from the "wild sincerity" of Mr. Carlyle's Dantons and Dlarats—that Dante owes his immortal fame. It is the absence of this sincerity which impairs so fatally, in spite of his apparent outspokenness, the influence of Voltaire. Principal Tulloch has noticed this, in words so much more eloquent than any we can command, that we feel compelled to quote his account of what we quite agree with him in thinking is the eupreme excellence of Pascal

:- "'If we ask ourselves," says the Principal, "in conclusion, what is the chief charm of the Pensies, we feel inclined to answer,—their touching reality. They are the utterances of one who thought not only deeply, but passionately. A strange thrill of personal emotion runs through them all, animating them with vitality, even when one-sided and -extravagant. One of his own countrymen has said of Pascal that it was his mission to do for theology what Socrates did for philosophy,—to bring it down from heaven to earth. And certainly there is the breath- ing movement as of a human heart through his whole writings. More than anything else, it is this vitality, combined with his exquisite lite- rary art, which sets him above all his friends and contemporaries. When we read the Provincial Letters or the Pensas, we feel ourselves in -communion with a living writer, who knew how to light up with an immortal touch both the follies of ecclesiasticism and the struggles of a solitary spirit after truth. The tenderness of a genuine insight mingles with all the sublimity and severe reserve of the thought, and

so we get close to a true soul, distant as Pascal himself in some respects remains to us. The play of human feeling which we miss in the man moves us in his writings, and tenches our hearts with an ineffable sympathy, even when we remain unconvinced or un- -enlightened."