DEAN ALFORD.* THE difficulty of writing such a biography as
shall satisfy living admirers, and yet not exhaust the patience of readers in after times—still more, delight them—is immeasurably increased when the subject of it is not only not a man of action, but even as a man of thought is one whose character is more the object of admiration than the originality or the acuteness of his thought. Such, certainly, was Dean .Alford. How is a memoir interest- ing to the public to be made out of the too brief life of one who was, for great part of it, a quiet country clergyman, with a personal history probably even less eventful than falls to the lot of most men, and whose time was spent in the usual round of parish duty, the training of young men for the University, and the more learned pursuits of the study ; diversified only by the brief annual tour which is now so much an institution of this country that its adventures present few points of novelty ? And yet it would naturally be felt that a Dean of Canterbury and a popular editor of the Greek Testa- ment must certainly not be made an exception to the modern rule. Does not every good man of any remarkable degree of eminence in any walk of life become, now-a-days, the subject of a memoir? And for our own part, we rejoice that it is so. Nothing exceeds in interest the well-told tale of a real life ; nothing excites one to emulation so much as the successful issue of struggles like our own ; nothing rouses in us a purer spirit of patience and fortitude, than the picture of the gently and yet bravely borne suffering of those who have endured to the end. It is, therefore, an opportunity not to be lost, when a man of sufficient note to warrant a biography, arrives at the end of his pilgrimage. But who shall write his life ? Cir- cumstances generally decide this question with less difficulty than satisfaction. A wife is at once the very best and the very worst bio- grapher. Supposing her to be, as in the case before us she eminently is, sufficiently cultivated to undertake the task, no one can tell us as she can what we most desire and need to know,—all that he had to overcome and all that be had to endure, and in what spirit be overcame and triumphed, or failed and endured. No one else can follow so minutely—anyone else, indeed, must follow at an infinite distance—all the variations of feeling, all the alternations of hope and fear, of despondency and elation of spirit, as the one who has been always at his side, and knows from the movement of a muscle the thought or feeling that stirred it ; no one else can so appre-
* Life. .Tournals, and Letters of Henry Alford, RD., late Ran of Canterbury. Edited by his Widow. London: Rivingtons. ciate the effort or make allowance for the failure. But then, on the other hand, no one would hide so instinctively and unconsciously,
from the cold and censorious outsiders, from the unsympathetic reader, the careless public, and the keen-eyed if not sneering critic, the faults and failings of one she so loved, and whose re- putation it is now hers to make or mar ; and again, no one is so certain to over-appreciate the works and attainments of the sub- ject of her memoir, and to fail in separating what is only dear to her own feelings and sacred to her own recollections, from that which is valuable and interesting to the student of the human heart who never knew the one of whom she writes.
Mrs. Alford cannot be too much admired for the perfect truthfulness, the courageous candour with which—always, with- out doubt, at the painful sacrifice of her own feelings, and often, we cannot but think, with a morbid conscientiousness—she has avoided the danger of concealing those points in the Dean's. character which were less admirable than others ; points which, though few and trifling, we feel loth to dwell on ourselves, and which we shall leave our readers to discover during their perusal of her book. But the other danger Mrs. Alford has not had quite the discrimination to avoid,—the danger, that is, of in- troducing details interesting only to herself, or at most to the circle of Dean Alford's most intimate friends. It is, of course, more than possible that Mrs. Alford wrote more especially for that circle, and desired to bring into a compact form not only the more important events of his life, but all those trifling incidents round which clustered the dear memories of his family and friends. We cannot but feel, however, that this has been a serious mistake, and that for the pleasure and gratification of a few living friends, whose interest in the Dean's life will, for the most part, terminate with the century, she has impaired the usefulness of the book to future generations. It is very complete, certainly ; and at the end a list of everything the Dean printed is appended, and also a convenient reference index to all that the book contains. But this is vastly too ponderous, and from the very beginning to the end the page is seldom free from some passage or reference that one feels only the partiality of a wife would have inserted, or else the anxiety for completeness of a chronicler, who had been an actor in the scenes described, could for a moment have supposed deserved a place within it. The volume is overloaded with exact dates the writing of every poem is recorded, and the very page and volume where it will be found generally noted ; innumerable extracts from journals,—frequently of the baldest description, and during travel, often the merest record of time and place ; the name, arrival, and departure of each pupil ; lists of guests met in society, or of clergymen officiating at ecclesiastical cere- monies ; bare outlines of quiet days' work, very excellent, but quite ordinary ; religious reflections, and much other matter of a similar kind, swell the book to unreasonable limits, and
exhaust the patience of the reader. More interesting, but still much too abundant, are the extracts from journals and letters which treat of plans of future work, future poems, and so forth. These take us almost painfully behind the scenes, and seem to reveal the Dean as what he was not in spirit, a "book- maker." Every act of his life was a religious and conscientious. one ; and with so much real work on hand, it would have been im- possible to him to write books for the sake of writing books. But he was so earnestly impressed with the necessity of doing all be could, of losing no opportunity of being useful, that he fell, it seems to us, into the error of forcing himself into an attitude of mind not perfectly spontaneous and natural. He gives us constantly the impression of thinking it wrong to allow an in- cident of any kind to pass unimproved by its appropriate letter or poem ; he seems often to be possessed by a restless spirit of "good works," to see, or think he sees, the feeling that ought to be in- duced by the existing circumstances, and to compel himself to call up that feeling and work out its appropriate expression. It is this that seems to inspire prayer—often painfully incongruous— at the close of all sorts of matter-of-fact considerations ; and to suggest numerous letters to friends too heavily weighted with religious advice,—a habit begun very early, in correspondence with cousins and fellow-students, before the office of a clergyman could have made such communications seem a part of his office. We think we trace this idea—that it is right to pass by no oppor- tunity of intellectual or spiritual culture—in many of his poems, where the feeling seems somewhat forced and artificial, and the rhythm, from the same cause, not altogether flowing and easy ; and also in his descriptions of natural scenery. His poetic and artistic sense—more the outcome of his religious affections and grateful impulses, than of any natural genius—are so seriously drawn upon by this fear of neglect of the proper objects of inspira- tion, as to lose their spontaneity, and therefore their true fire. A want of humour, which, we think, we clearly discern, helps to this inability to discriminate the genuine from the spurious sources of deep feeling. The following passage is an instance of this habit of deliberately planning what should surely arise only from a strong spontaneous impulse : — JOURNAL. —" It may be, that not yet, but at some future time, I feel persuaded, that I shall be able to bring myself to undertake and carry through a long and earnest poem on the great subjects which now agitate the inner and more serious thoughts of the better part of mankind. For this end much is wanting, my spirit must be more thoroughly imbued than it is now with the thoughts, and the tone of the great masters of poetry and of poetic prose. A complete reading of the works of Milton and Jeremy Taylor seems to be requisite ; that I may sink deep into the ' harping symphonies of the one, and learn to weave the fancy's web with something of the happy skill of the other.' A careful re-perusal of Wordsworth is necessary. The Guesses of Truth of Archdeacon Hare, I have found very suggestive of earnest thought on the highest subjects."
Dean Alford was a man of great intellectual acuteness and of wide cultivation,—an artist and musician, as well as, to some extent, a poet; of indomitable energy and perseverance, though without originality ; but what is more, he was, though an extremely self-conscious, yet also a wonderfully simple man ; intensely self- conscious, in that he was always questioning, searching, trying, testing, fearing himself, and considering every—the minutest— event in its effect on himself ; on the other hand, simple in the absolute unity of his life and purpose,—to do his duty always, and leave the issues with God. And can any example or lesson be more deeply touching and valuable than this?—of which his widow's memoir, with all its defects, leaves us in no doubt whatever ; so that the desire of her heart and the object of her great, though loving labours, are amply, if not perfectly, attained.