24 NOVEMBER 1855, Page 12



THESE Cambridge Essays, like their Oxford companion, are simply a series of papers by members of the University, with no other bond of union as regards the collection than that the writers have all been "trained by one university." They thus differ from the Quarterly Reviews in not enforcing uniformity of opinion, in not being the organ of any party, and in publishing the name of each contributor. They closely resemble them in the nature of the subjects and mode of treating them : both sets of essays may be considered as a series of articles all of which might have ap- peared in a Quarterly, and would have excited attention for ori- ginality of thought or its application, for scholarly or scientific acquirement, or for literary research directed by critical acumen and exhibited with skill.

On the whole, we incline to award the palm to the Cambridge Essays, at least as regards variety and living interest in the choice of subjects. Of the nine essays contained in the volume, three bear directly on public principles as affecting instant affairs ; two essays are on scientific questions, with a reference, though not so immediate, to the business of men; three are on literary criticism, two of which relate to contemporary topics ; the last essay may also be considered literary with a present bearing. It treats of the pe- miliar words which the Americans of the 'United States have en- grafted on the English language ; and whether English in Ame- nice is likely to maintain itself against native corruption and the foreign element imported by so many emigrants. The "Future Prospects of the British Navy," by Robert Edgar Hughes, is the most important paper of the whole. It discusses a question about which the public mind is not satisfied, if the public tongue is not very clamorous—the cause of our slight naval suc- cess in the present war, and in the Pacific our failure. It con- siders the likelihood of a change in the present unsatisfactory system, and the means by which it may be accomplished. The author takes a survey of the modes by which the masterly -seamanship of the old school was attained and the causes which .are leading to its decline. He examines the steam system which should supersede it. In the course of his extended inquiry, he brings a number of facts to bear upon his topics, sometimes drawn from passing occurrences, sometimes.liatorical, but always having a direct purpose, and animated, so far as-we can judge, by a prac- tical knowledge, which draws the line between what is possible and what merely seems so. From the new thought brought to bear upon floating knowledge, this essay is one of the most re- marka:!reufzers that has appeared for some time; and it deserves close if not separate republication. Even in those parts which do not exhibit any peculiar knowledge, but are simply thought out as it were from facts obvious to all, there is force ,and freshness. Take for example this little homily on "dare." "Perilous enterprises and energetic measures are the food they live on and the air they breathe. Two or three hairbreadth escapes will teach a sailor more than a thousand theories. A man who has never been in a scrape has no notion of the extent of his own resources, or the capabilities of his ship to get out of one. 'The loss of a ship should count nothing as compared with the success of an enterprise. It is in vain to calculate with shopkeeping accuracy the balance between the expenditure of a brilliant action and its cost to the foe. To make the calculation just, we must have a phobometer to gauge the con- sternation of the enemy, and logarithmic tables -to express the value of his fears in current coin of the realm. In 1810, when four frigates were lost at Grand Port, in the Isle of France, the gallant defence of the Nereid°, and noble behaviour of her officers and crew, threw such a halo of glory around the defeat of Grand Port, that in -public opinion, at least., the loss of four frigates was scarcely considered a misfortune.' "It was always the policy of Nelson to support and encourage a captain who, in a daring affair, had the misfortune to lose a ship ; and in his de- spatches he espouses the cause of an officer so circumstanced, in the warmest terms. Relying on the support of such a chief, 'Nelson's officers were ready- to go anywhere and to do anything. " Now, however, it is the usage of the day not to encourage, but to deter. An officer going into action receives a homily on the virtue of caution; and the, prudence of those that refrain and the judgment of those who retire are sure to be lauded in the despatch. An exaggerated sense of responsibility is fatal to the success of an active fleet. No British officer is deterred by dislike for fighting, or fear of death ; many are daunted by the fear of failure and the dread of reproof. " Meanwhile the disease will spread downwards.- It is just possible that there may be by this time such a strange rasa avis in the service as a cap- tain who is a little shy, and in another year or two of inaction we shall be- gin to discover a lieutenant who is enamoured of prudence, or a midshipman 'Witt) has a sense of his responsibilities."

"One of Cooper's nautical novels describes the effect of an Eng- -pilot's wonderful skill an the mind of a Negro sailor, and his -master, as the ship is carried up to London—" Massa, he will make her talk." This is the way in Which all 'British seamen were of necessity trained before steam-vessels and steam-tugs removed danger, and with it care. "It was not to the facility afforded us by our numerous harbours that our skill was chiefly due ; on -the contrary, it was -to their very difficulty and -perplexity. The approach to London, from the South Foreland to Orford- BNB, is a complete network of sands. The same is the case (more or less) with Hull, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow. The track of our colliers winds among sands, rocks, and whirling tides almost from Newcastle to London Bridge. I may say, without fear of contradiction, that an Indiaman encoun- tered more difficulty between Beachy Head and the London Docks than from the Cape to the Lizard. The manoeuvres by which a heavy ship is conducted through these narrow waters are of the greatest delicacy, and put the skill of him who commands and of those who obey to the severest test. A young officer could neither leave his country nor return to port without receiving a • Cambridge Essays contributed by Members of the University: 1855. Published Parker and Bon. practical lesson in the powers and properties of a ship, which at present'a voyage round the world would-fail-to afford him. The same was the cue with the men. ,Constantly and unavoidably exercised i in all the details of seafaring life, they c-ould not fail to appreciate the labour which a clumsy officer imposed upon them, and the quickness and address with which a clever commander worked his ship; and they acquired a degree of intelligence which no artificial exercise or drilling could supply. Our enormous com- merce furnished numerous pupils to this admirable school; and it was the pride of our officers that the Royal service should always maintain the front rank in skill and smartness, as well as in daring and resolution.

"These circumstances, and others, combined to give English seamen a de- gree of tact and savoir faire which appeared to be intuitive, and which other nations in vain attempted to supply by theoretic education. An illiterate, pudding-faced British skipper, who knows nothing on earth but his latitude, will contrive, with his clumsy, half-manned collier, to scramble out of a scrape where an intelligent and well-educated foreigner, with a smart ship and a strong crew, will infallibly go ashore."

The essay which next to this has the most direct bearing on actual affairs is Mr. Charles Buxton's "Limitations to Severity in War." The principles he lays down are just enough, but with .a lean- ing to the liberality that benefits the enemy and injures yourself, which characterizes a good many speculations at present. In his judgment on the, destruction of "property valued at 300,0001." at 17Ieaborg, he overlooks a consideration which operates in war, and indeed in everything—that of relative proportion. The little coaster or fishing-vessel is spared, as a sentinel or other single man is spared ; the gain to the cause by the destruction is nothing, the loss to the individual everything. The large ship, and still more the large collection of timber and sea-stores, which, be they whose they may at the moment, are all available to a government, and whose loss like that of a body of soldiers is important, are de- stroyed. It may be remarked as an instance of the diversity of opinion this volume starts with allowing, that the conclusion of Mr. Hughes is in direct opposition to that of Mr. Buxton. Mr. Hughes would not limit but increase the "severity of the war," in order the more quickly to induce a peace.

"An active system of coast warfare has a great effect in rendering the war irksome and unpopular with the enemy. Even in the most despotic country public opinion must have weight, and it must be impossible, or at least un- safe, to protract an unpopular war. "Now, nothing can have so strong an effect upon the popular mind as the feeling of personal loss and insecurity. A bloody war between soldiers and sailors a long way off is usually popular with the masses,—the stirring nar- ratives excite their feelings and rouse their martial ardour; but, as a near neighbour, no man loves war. A citizen who has seen warehouses and dwellings in a blaze, who has heard the shell crashing through the black ruins, once the sources of wealth and the abode of domestic peace, who has seen at his own door the ghastly forms of wounded men, who has shuddered at the cold features of the dead,—a citizen who has.had such experiences of war is sure to be a member of the Peace party ; people do not like being killed and wounded and losing all their property.

" And we-hold that the truest humanity-is that which tends soonest to bring so great a curse as war to an end. Not to pursue this subject into de- bateable gnpud, even if private property be spared, the approach of hostile ships, the sight of armed enemies burning semaphores, destroying barracks, blowing up batteries, towing off ships,—the din of their guns and the roar of conflagrations,—all these things keep a coast in constant anxiety and alarm, and have more influence upon popular opinion-than even the -hies of a distant stronghold, or the slaughter of a heat of soldiers."

The criticism -which bears most directly on current topics is Mr. Brimley's essay on Tennyson's Poems. It is an elaborate-paper; the work of a loyal but not an indiscriminate .admirer, who is thoroughly familiar with every poem that Tennyson has written. The criticism traces him from his publication of 1830, -crude and juvenile, but displaying clearly enough the type of all hisluture merits, except the connexion of the theme with the life of-man, its feelings, joys, and sorrows, down to Maud, which is now setting critics and politicians by the ears, but which Mr. Brimley boldly defends on 'the ground of its truth to nature, though it may be exceptional truth, and for its dramatic consistency. Besides the closest study of Tennyson, and a thorough apprehension of the scope, character, and purpose of the poet, the criticism exhibits searching penetration into the nature of his genius, a dear com- prehension of the principles of his composition, and a nice ex- pression of the deductions drawn from that comprehension. A part of the critilsm on Mariana may be quoted as an example.

"The poem which, better than any other in the that series, exhibits the power of concentrating the imagination upon the subject, to the exclusion of an extraneous and discordant train of thought, and at the same time fur- nishes an admirable instance of dramatic landscape-painting, or passion re- flecting itself on landscape, is Mariana. As the physiologists tell us that the organs of the higher animals are found in an undeveloped state in those

of lower i type, we may look upon this poem as a foreshadowing of a kind of poetry that, n the later volumes, will be found in full perfection. In Ma- riana, the landscape details are presented with the minute distinctness with which they would strike upon the morbid sensibility of a woman abandoned to lonely misery, whose attention is distracted by no cares, pleasures or sa- tisfied affections. To the painter in search of the picturesque, or a' happy observer seeing the sunny side of everything, or a utilitarian looking for tine productive resources of the scene, the whole aspect of the fen-scenery would be totally different. But selected, grouped, and qualified by epithets, as the sutural objects of the landscape are in the poem,. they tell of the years of pain and weariness associated with them in the mind of the wretched Mari- ana, and produce an intense impression of hopeless suffering, which no other treatment of the single figure could have produced. The minute enumera- tion of detail would be a fault in a mere landscape-artist, whose object was to describe a natural scene. It is an excellence here, because no other means could so forcibly mark the isolation, the morbid sensitiveness, and the mind vacant of all but misery ; because, used thus, it becomes eminently dramatic, —the landscape expresses the passion of the mind which contemplates it, and the passion gives unity and moral interest to the landscape. There is not, throughout the poem' a single epithet which belongs to the objects irrespec- tive of the story with which the scene is associated, or a single detail intro- duced which does not aid the general impression of the poem. They mark either the pain with which Mariana looks at things, or the long neglect to which she has been abandoned, or some peculiarity of time and place which marks the morbid minuteness of her attention to objects. * * "The effect is felt by the reader with hardly n consciousness of the -skill of the writer, or of the intense dramatic concentration implied in such employ- ment of language. If expression were the highest aim of poetry, Monona in the Hosted Orange must be counted among the most perfect of poems, in spite of an occasional weakness of phrase. But almost perfect as the execu- tion is, the subject is presented too purely as a picture of hopeless unrelieved suffering, to deserve the name of a great poem. The suffering is, so to speak, distinct and individual ; but the woman who suffers is vague and indistinct; we have no interest in her, because we know nothing about her story or her- self in detail; she is not a wronged and deserted woman, but an abstract generalization of wronged and deserted womanhood; all the individuality is bestowed upon the landscape in which she is placed."

The same distinct conception of subtile beauty prevails through- out : not always, we think, the same refined soundness of judg- ment The critic appears occasionally to allow his own imagina- tion to colour the poem, and sees beauties of his own creation, or at least beauties which a great number might not find to support his description.

Of the other essays, Mr. Galton's "Notes on Modern Geogra- seems to us to have the freshest matter,—that is, facts drawn

ctly from reality, with the opinions they naturally suggest.

Its popular attraction is somewhat marred by the rather technical cast of some parts, that run too far into the details of map-making. The paper, however, contains the pith of an explorer's experience, —as, for example, in this cheek to the conceit of home travellers.

"It is a mistake too often made, that in a country were natives exist, a White man who has his wits about him is sure to find enough upon which he also may live. But it is not so. A savage is skilled at finding the proper roots, is able to digest worthless rubbish which an European stomach would reject, or be poisoned by : he is able to subsist one, two, or more days, with- out anything whatsoever to eat; whilst an European, who has not served a hard apprenticeship in bush life, is faint under a hot sun at the loss of his , breakfast or his dinner. Added to this, a savage's whole time, from morn- ing to night, is employed, during the scarcer time of the year, in hunting about the country for his food ; he lives like the beasts of the field in barren countries, who never cease to hunt for and crop up the scanty blades of grass ; and yet grass is far easier to come at than roots edible by man. A savage bas no leisure to travel, unless his food be given him. It is the same with cattle; for when gram is scanty, an explorer will find it scarcely possible for him to move on. The daylight hours, during which alone it is safe to let the animals seek for their pasture, are scarcely long enough to supply them with food ; and if they be encroached upon by travel, the ani- mals must starve. It is only along a river-side, or in swell-watered country, that travellers can creep 'forward, step by step, an hour or two each day, according to their-strength. In desert lands, such as those we are speaking of, if the travellermoves at all he must be prepared to move long stages, and these without food are impracticable."

The remaining essays exhibit -equal power of writing; and as much mastery in their particular subjects as the .papers we have . But those subjects have been more exhausted, or do not so directly to the present mind—do not "come home to our as and bosoms." Altogether, the Cambridge Essays for 1855 markable book—earnest, conscientious, and abounding with ty matter, new information, or original thinking giving new- 1U3S8 to old topios.