THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.*
THE eleventh volume of The Cambridge History of English Literature deals with the period of the French Revolution, and has for its outstanding names Burke, Cowper, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Crabbe, Blake, and Burns. When we add that the volume also contains chapters on political writers and speakers, Bentham and the early Utilitarians, Southey and the lesser poets of the later eighteenth century, the prosody of the eighteenth century, the Georgian drama. the growth of the later novel, book production and distri- bution, the Bluestockings, and children's books, it will be seen how impossible it is within the limits of a brief review to render justice to so far-ranging a survey.
Where drastic selection is inevitable many of these topics must be overlooked. We must not fail, however, to call attention to Professor Grierson's admirable study of Burke, which is at once judicial and sympathetic. Burke's whole life, he reminds us, was "a prolonged warfare against the folly and injustice of statesmen ; but there was no admixture in his nature of what the old physiologists called the sanguine temperament." This lack of confidence in legislative panaceas distinguished him from the great poets of the romantic revival, with whom he had otherwise much in common. He fought many
splendid battles, but they were on the losing side. Yet he was no visionary, but upheld party as an indispensable instrument of practicable statesmanship. " Utility, but utility rooted in man's moral constitution, is Burke's court of appeal in all questions of practical politics." He believed in expediency as the guiding star of statesmanship, but he was no opportunist; in the last resort his politics rested onthe convictionthat"human authority and laws derive from an ultimate divine authority and law." Speaking of the chief characteristics of his thought and style, Professor Grierson happily observes that " Burke's political aphorisms are so pregnant that they distend the mind with the same sense of fulness with which Shakespeare's lines affect the student of the passions and movements of the human heart," and he places the speech on Conciliation beside the greatest masterpieces of our literature. Burke's unique power as an orator lay "in the peculiar interpenetration of thought and passion. Such oratory is not likely to be imme- diately effective. One always came away from Burke with one's mind full,' Wordsworth declared; but it was necessary first to have a mind." Professor Grierson sums up :- " He brought into politics the faults as well as the genius of a man of letters and a prophet. When all is said, his is one of the greatest minds which have concerned themselves with political topics, and, alike, the substance and the form of his works have made him the only orator whose speeches have secured for them- selves a permanent place in English literature beside what is greatest in our drama, our poetry and our prose. Of his many literary and artist friends, Johnson, Goldsmith, Reynolds, and others, the foremost is Johnson. They differed radically in party politics, but they were knit together by a practical philosophy rooted in common sense and religious feeling."
The assigning of the chapter on Wordsworth to M. Emile Legouis, of the Sorbonne, and the sensitiveness of his appreciation of so essentially English a poet, are an inter-
esting proof of the literary entente which has grown up in
the last generation. Professor Legonis opens with a discussion of Wordsworth's essential Rousseanism, and his combination of a tenacious aim with changed ideas. "The young revolutionist evolved into a grey-haired conservative, the semi-atheist and pantheist into a pattern of uniformity. But, all the time, he kept true to his fixed centre, the search for the greatest good." For a while the influence on him of the French Revolution was profound; but, though a decided reformer, he never was one of the Jacobins, and
• The Cambridge History of English Literature. Edited by Sir A. W. Ward and A. B. Waller. Vol. XL, "The Period of the French Revolution." Cam- bridge: at the University Press. Ds. net.]
when the Republic changed a defensive into an aggressive war Wordsworth lost his trust in immediate social reform.
Professor LoSgouis traces the effect of Coleridge's innate transcendentalism on Wordsworth, and discusses the fruitful association which reached its climacteric in 1805. Summing up, he finds Wordsworth's chief originality in his poetry of Nature —"in his extraordinary faculty of giving utterance to some of the most elementary, and, at the same time, obscure sensa- tions of man confronted by natural phenomena." And he contrasts Wordsworth's healthy sensibility with the abnormal and hypertrophied sensitiveness of Shelley. But "nature never engrossed all his thoughts Many were given to man, chiefly to the feelings of man"; and Professor Legouis dwells on his mastery in the delineation of the hidden germs of feeling, a mastery which came rather from long brooding than from intuitive discovery. He notes also his unsurpassed but intermittent verbal felicity, his weakness in construction, and his failure to achieve perfect harmony except in poems of moderate length, lyrics and sonnets. Mr. T. F. Henderson contributes, as might be expected from his fine literary record, an admirable essay on Burns and lesser Scottish verse. Burns was an anomaly, a literary Melchisedek ; and yet, though eminently a romanticist, in technique he was largely
indebted to Pope. Mr. Henderson shows with great felicity how Burns was aided by the character of his environment, by his close and perpetual contact with humble life. "He did not need to set himself to search for themes. He was encom- passed by them ; they almost forced themselves on his attention; and he wrote as the spirit moved him." But while paying full homage to his genius, Mr. Henderson insists that it was mainly "because of the large and various inheritance of old verse, which he was free to manipulate and reshape, that he was able to supply the world with so rich an assortment of songs, and to appeal so fully and irresistibly to Scottish sentiment and emotion." In fine, "his achievements as lyrist . . . could never have been so great, varied, and unique as they are except for his partial partnership with older bards." The section dealing with the lesser writers gives high praise to Lady Lindsay and Lady Nairne, but accords most space to James Hogg, the picture of whom in the Nocfes Ambrosianae Mr. Henderson pronounces to be an unfair caricature. Mr. Harold Child brings out well in his essay on Crabbe the contrast between the style and the matter of that great but gloomy realist, who emerged in a barren time when nothing new had arisen to take the place of Pope, and " told the plain truth about peasants." He dwells on
Crabbe's marvellous power as a story-teller, and the impulse which he gave to the novel of humble life. Another interesting chapter is that on Blake by Mr. J. P. R. Wallis, who points out that, though an isolated and secluded figure, Blake was none the less a true pioneer of romanticism, and displayed the characteristics of the new spirit some years before it appeared elsewhere :—
"His first volume of poems contained songs such as had not been sung for more than a century; the nearest parallel in time is Burns. While Wordsworth was still a schoolboy, Blake had found, and was using with consummate art, a diction almost perfect in its simplicity, aptness and beauty. His earlier attitude to nature, as has already been noticed, has none of the com- placency that distinguishes his age : to him, it was the revelation of a universal spirit of love and delight, the Divine Image, less austere than Wordsworth's 'overseeing power.' It has also been seen that he had the romantic sympathy with quaint or terrible imaginings, such as appeared later in Keats and Shelley. His passion for freedom was, also, akin to that which moved Words- worth, Coleridge and Southey in their earlier years, though, in its later form, it came nearer to Shelley's revolt against convention."
We regret that we have reached the limits of our space without being able to do more than merely mention Professor Saintsbury's genial estimate of Southey, and his survey of the growth of the later novel, and Mr. C. E. Vaughan's thoughtful study of Coleridge. The value of the volume is greatly en- hanced by a bibliography of more than a hundred pages com- piled by Messrs. A. T. Bartholomew, G. A. Brown, and H. V. Routh.