THE DUBLIN LECTURES ON ENGLISH LITERATURE.* No educated man who
takes up these lectures can fail to read them with something more than usual interest. They are the work of professional scholars, whose names, indeed, for the most part, are little familiar to Englishmen, but whose position naturally excites curiosity. We need not travel to Ireland for the sake of studying Shakespeare. But when a Fellow and Pro- fessor of Oratory and English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, takes the trouble to write a lecture upon Shakespeare, our attention is not unreasonably awakened. And when the Rev. James Byrne, M.A., formerly Fellow and Donellan Lecturer at the same College, publishes his views on the "Influence of the National Character on English Literature," we feel that the Irish view of such a question when treated by an accomplished man is sure to have some special interest of its own. A Professor of Political Economy is prima facie not, perhaps, the man we should select to give a history of the English drama. But if the Rev. Arthur Houston is half as well up in his political economy as he appears to be in the English drama he
• Lectures on English Literature. Delivered in the Theatre of the Museum of Indurzy, St. Stepheu's Green, Dublin, in 1565. London: Bell and Daldy.
deserves to be congratulated. We have, besides, making up the contents of the very pretty and modest little volume before us, a lecture on "The Classical and Romantic Schools of English
Literature," represented by Spencer, Dryden, Pope, Scott., and Wordsworth, by Mr. Rushton, Professor of History and English Literature at Queen's College, Cork ; one on" Foster's Essays," by the Rev. Edward Whately; and one-on " The Ballad and Lyrical Poetry of Ireland," by Nfr. Randal M'Donnell, ex-Scholar of Trinity College. Thus it will be seen that all the lectures are de- voted to English and Irish literature, properly so called. It is a curious factthat the study of the English Literature as a literature in its general aspects as distinguished from the editorial labours
on particular authors is in greater favour among the Scotch and Irish.- The Scotch are justly proud of their authors, such as Hume, Robertson, Adam Smith, and others, and it is well known that the cultivation of style is part of a liberal Scotch education. So the Irish, with a national difference of their own, have long been students of style, and the "Dublin men" are generally remarked, • when they happen to come to English Universities, for the florid graces of their exuberant diction. In neither do we find the deep, strong, almost rude current of the central sap which flows through the writings of pure English writers ; but, on the other hand,
they have merits, second-hand Merits, perhaps, still distinct merits, of their own.
But the fact that they look at English literature froin an external point of view appears in nanny different ways, and more especially in the tendency to take a generalizing view of the whole. Mr. Byrne, for instance, in his lecture on "The
Influence of National Character on English Literature," analyzes the Saxon and Celtic characters very much as a German might be supposed to do whose abstract learning had not swamped his literary sense. Germanic thought i slow, he says, probably because the German stock was nurtured in the north. Celtio
thought is quick, because the character of the Celt was formed and fixed under southern influences, and southern or tropital
races of men think quickly. As an indication of this slowness of thought on one side and quickness on the other, Mr. Byrne ehoOaes an illustration curiously subtle and un-English; yet, perhaps, founded partially on the truth, and at all events ingenious, namely, that
"The Germanic nations accentuate their words strongly, the French hardly at all. The Germanic nations, therefore, dwell on the separate thoughts which the words. express ; the French pass lightly and quickly over them. It may be observed, also, that the French accentuate, at least dwell on the end of, a sentence or clause. The true Irish also pass quickly over the parts of a sentence,and dwell with an acuteness of voice on its con- clusion, though with them this is obscured by the opposite principle of intonation which is proper to the English language. Thie peculiarity arises from the quickness of the Celt. Ile thinks the elements of a fact with quickness and facility, so that the attention devoted to the fact is less engrossed by the parts, and is rather expended, after the parts have been thought, in contemplating the whole. Germanic thought is expended on the parts, by reason of its slowness in conceiving them, and it has less force left to contemplate the whole. Hence, one great characteristic difference between Germanic and Celtic literature, namely, that the former elaborates the parts more, but has leas sense of general effeet than the latter."
Much of this is evidently true in fact, and the speculation is, as we have said, evidently ingenious and in part profound. Nevertheless, much of it is, also, we think, open to fair criticism.
Is it true that rapid utterance is a sign of rapid thought? Surely very often the swiftness of thought paralyzes speech. Some of the most exhaustive and even the quickest thinkers are the most costive and the lamest speakers. Are the Germans slow in thought ? We doubt it. They are, for instance, notoriously
the most rapid mental calculators in the world. The rapidity with which German stockbrokers calculate intiicate fractions is often mentioned as astonishing. But' is it true even that the Germans are more tongue-tied than the French? On the contrary, The rapidity of German talk and its quantity is often, and that nit we think at all exceptionally, painful and fatiguing in the extreme. To our minds the slowness of Germans in action is due to
over-thought---to the multiplicity of' their thoughts, not to the paucity of their ideas. Their march is impeded by the Persian baggage of their intellects. But if they talk more, do they talk better than the French? Certainly not, and precisely because the secret of all good oratory is to speak slowly, or, better still, to speak at the rate at which your hearer follows you naturally.
What, then, is the sscret of the apparent French quickness? To. us it seems to lie not in the quickness, that is, the multi- plicity of thought, but in its comparative paucity and super- ficiality. The French have the true oratorical tact of selection. Their speech consists in the brisk interchange of coin, not fresh from the momentary mint of their own minds, but.
stamped and rounded and rendered instantly intelligible by long national usage. The rapidity of their thought seems to us to be a pure illusion, arising from the ease with which other peo- ple understand them, inasmuch as they travel so little out of the beaten track of elaborated and crystallized colloquialism. Super- ficiality, when applied to a great nation, is, of course, only relative. The French man of science is, probably, second to none even in depth. Pascal, Descartes, Vesalius, Bichat, Laplace, Cuvier, Champollion, need bow to no foreign celebrity. Yet the characteristic of their thought is not quickness or multiplicity, but clearness. To whatever depths the French intellect pene- trates, its first necessity always seems to be to build a road behind it that the world may tread upon its heels. Hence, the lucidity, the popularizing genius, and hence the apparent quick- ness of French thought, for whatever is once thought, becomes public domain, and is overrun and trampled into popular ground by half the nation. Here we clearly see the effect of a social tendency to rapid interchange of thought, which, no doubt, is essentially southern. This tendency will, no doubt, at first tend to multiply thought ; later it may have the reverse effect. And for a very simple reason. Those who are accustomed to a bright, easy, and sufficiently wide ground of common thought soon find it irksome to travel beyond it. Hence it is that nothing short of the German pickaxe of modern learning was required to lift the French intellect out of the worn-out groove of their classic Louis Quatorze era. To sum up these very disjointed remarks, we believe that even if German thought was in the origin slower, it is now, if anything, quicker and more multiplex than French thought ; and if so, Mr. Byrne has left the knot of the question untouched. For although it is undoubtedly true that the German intellect is more given to detail, while the French intellect is rather prone to consider, not the parts but the whole, this would seem to be due rather to a social difference than to the relative quickness of thought. Another distinction to be taken lies, we think, between the sensuous and the intellectual organization. Society develops the sensuous element, rumination the intellec- tual, czteris paribus. But, cleteris paribus, in the former case all ideas difficult to express are forcibly thrown out and the stock reduced. In the latter case, ideas accumulate indefinitely, and become more and more uuadapted to interchange. Hence, in the latter case, a flood of jargon incapable of verification, which leaves upon the mind of the hearer the mistaken impression of slowness of thought and paucity of ideas.
Mr. Byrne, however, deserves the credit of raising a very neat problem for the discussion of the young men to whom these lectures were benevolently addressed. He has, moreover, very neatly popularized the technical distinction between the subjective and objective under the plain Saxon terms of inner and outer. No doubt the young shopmen who listened to him were much pleased and gratified to learn that, "among the Germanic na- tions, the Anglo-Saxon had an outer mind, the German an inner; among the Celtic nations, the French have an outer, but the Irish an inner mind." Mr. Byrne thinks that, perhaps, these differ- ences arose from the different degrees in which the respective nations were occupied with industry or with adventure when their national character was forming. Very likely. But when be adds that " there was nothing in primitive industry to furnish matter for musing, for it fixed the mind on external things," be is a little at variance with the opinion of modern philology as to the primitive Aryans, for instance, who, seem to have mused not a little, it appears, over their "primitive in- dustry." Whoever first took to sowing fields, or teuding sheep, -or taming horses, must have mused over it almost as much as a South American over the prospects of a cotton crop or a Man- chester operative over the parentage of steam. We had ceased to muse so much over the plough, not because it was new, but because it was so vela, old, and the steam plough is giving rise to much musing precisely because it is in such a very primi- tive state.
But these lectures are much above mere Mediocrity, and, in- deed, if they were understood, speak very highly for the cultiva- tion of those to whom they were addressed. For instance, the lec- ture on "The'Classical and Romantic Schools" is a very thoughtful and cultivated production, and the Secretaries, in their preface, express the not unreasonable hope that the present volume may be thought an additiou too the literary criticism of the year. Perhaps this merit, however, detracts a little from the worth of the lectures as lectures. They are, indeed, more truly essays than lectures or, at all events, such lectures as might be addressed to a small audience of literary men, rather than to a roomful of half-educated youths. We cannot agree with those who de- preciate the value of general lectures for uneducated people ; but then we cannot but think that the worth of each lectures must always be in the direct proportion of their unfitness for publication, except, indeed, as specimens of what lectures under those circumstances ought to be. And in that view the lectures before is are not to our minds perfect. They are too full of detail, too minute, too overladen. The map of the country is smothered with brushwood. The truth is, that the genius of popularization, the tact of popular adaptation, and the sense of perspective necessitry before all things for the task, are very rare endowments indeed. To be penetrated with all the details of an intricate subject, and yet to be able to seize the true and broad outline of it, giving it that relief and breadth which make it look like a daub under the microscope, but a really instructive picture when seen at the distance of ignorance, requires peculiar genius of a certain kind, and one the essence of which is to be superior to being thought ignorant of finer points. Not one really accomplished man in a hundred can get over his more microscopic training sufficiently to paint what seems to him a coarse picture. On the other hand, those who have not his knowledge will paint not merely a coarse, but a bad picture. Hence the rarity of the cord- bination of powers required to write a really good popular lecture. A miniature-painter can hardly help disgust when he looks at a bit of scene-painting. Yet the finest painting of Titian will seem a mere crust of dirty colours if we put our noses close to the canvas.
It would be impossible for us to criticize all the essays in detail. We can only say they are very pleasant reading.