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LIBERAL LITERATURE OF ENGLAND.
The Literature of Freedom-The Liberal Literature of England-Pe
riodicals—Edinburgh Review-Its Founders-Its Contributors Its Standard and Style of Criticism–Its Influence-London Quarterly Review Started-Political Services of the Edinburgh-Its Ecclesiastical Tone-Sydney Smith-Decline of the Political Influence of the Edinburgh-Blackwood's Magazine, Tait's Magazine-Westminster Review--The Eclectic-The New Monthly-The Weekly Press-Cobbett’s Register-Hunt's Examiner-Mr. FonblanqueMr. Landor--The Spectator-Douglas Jerrold-Punch-People's and Howitt's Journals—Mr. Howitt-Chambers's Journal-- Penny Magazine and Cyclopedia.
In the times of the Commonwealth, when the mind of England was set free, Milton was the center of a constellation of intellects that exemplified in their writings the value of his own saying—“Give me the liberty to know and to argue freely, above all other liberties." After his sun set, liberty without licentiousness hid behind a cloud, which was not fully cleared away till the storm of the American and French revolutions. While the literature of England depended for sustenance upon the patronage of the great, it was marked, with occasional exceptions, by the brand of servility ; and so long as authors looked for remuneration to the munificence of the lord or lady to whom they dedicated their works, they laid their choicest gifts at the footstool of power and title. As education became diffused, enlarging the circle of readers, writers began to look to the public for patronage, and adapted their works to the popudar faste. Then the publishers and booksellers became the agents, the middle-men, between the author and the reader. Long after this change, however, it was hazardous for a writer to lift his pen against existing institutions in Church and State ; and he who run a tilt against these, were he able to make sale of his works, might deem himself fortunate if he escaped a prosecution for libel or sedition, that emptied his purse of its guineas, or planted his feet in the stocks. Even so late as the beginning of this century, the instances were not a few where writers, who doubted the divinity of the royal Guelphs, and questioned whether all the religion in the kingdom emanated from Lambeth Palace, were fined, cropped, branded, and shipped beyond seas. The impulse given to European intellect by the first French revolution, was not confined to statesmen and warriors. It stimulated thought in all classes. As in politics, so in letters, fetters fell from men's minds, and reason, imagination, and utterance were emancipated. The Fox school of politicians encouraged the growth of a literature in England favorable to freedom. It immediately started up, rank and luxuriant; and though bearing every variety of fruit that could delight the eye, or regale the appetite, or poison the taste, the decided preponderance of the product has been congenial to rational liberty, healthy morals, and sound learning.
In estimating the literary influences which have contributed to the cause of Progress and Reform in Great Britain, during the present century, a high place should be assigned to the EDINBURGH REVIEW.
This celebrated periodical appeared at an era when independence of thought and manliness of utterance had almost ceased from the public journals and councils of the kingdom. The terrors of the French revolution had arrested the march of liberal opinions. The declamation of Burke and the ambition of Napoleon had frightened the isle from its propriety. Tooke had barely escaped the gallows through the courageous eloquence of Erskine. Fox had withdrawn from the contest in despair, and cherished in secret the fires of freedom, to burst forth in happier time
Previous to 1802, the literary periodicals of Great Britain were mere repositories of miscellanies, relating to art, poetry, letters, and gossip, partly original and partly selected, huddled together without system, and making up a medley as varied and respectable as a first class weekly newspaper of the present day. The criticisms of books were jejune in the extreme, consisting chiefly of a few smart witticisms, and meager connecting remarks stringing together ample quotations from the work under review. They rarely ventured into deep water on philosophical subjects, and as seldom pushed out upon the tempestuous sea of political discussion. Perhaps one or two journals might plead a feeble exception to the general rule ; but the mass was weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.
The Edinburgh appeared. It bounded into the arena without the countenance of birth or station, without the imprimatur of the universities or literary clubs. Its ayowed mission was to erect a higher standard of merit, and secure a bolder style and a purer taste in literature, and to apply philosophical principles and the maxims of truth and humanity to politics, aiming to be the manual of the scholar, the monitor of the
As in its advent it had asked permission of no one to be, so as to its future course it asked no advice as to what it should do. Soliciting no quarter, promising no favors, its independent bearing and defiant tone broke the spell which held the mind of a nation in fetters. Its first number revived the discussion of great political principles. The splendid diction and searching philosophy of an essay on the causes and consequences of the French revolution at once arrested the public eye, and stamped the character of the journal. Pedants in the pulpit, and scribblers of Rosa-Matilda verses in printed albums, saw, from other articles in the manifesto, that exterminating war was declared on their inanities and sentimentalities. The new journal was perused with avidity, and produced a sensation in all classes of readers, exciting admiration and envy, love and hatred, defiance and fear. It rapidly obtained a large circulation, steadily rose to the highest position ever attained by any similar publication, reigned supreme in an empire of its own creation for a third of a century, accomplishing vast good mingled with no inconsiderable evil.
The honor of founding this Review belongs to Sydney Smith. He suggested the idea to Messrs. Jeffrey, Brougham, and Murray-he, a poor young curate of Salisbury Plain, “driven in stress of politics” into Edinburgh, while on & voyage to Germany--they, briefless young advocates of the northern capital. They all subsequently rose to eminence ; all becoming lords except Smith, who might have been made a lord bishop if he had not been created the prince of wits. The four adventurers, who met in the eighth or ninth story of Buccleugh Place, and agreed to start a Review, provided they could get the first number published on trust, they not having money enough to pay the printer, could not have dreamed that the journal would be eagerly read for half a century, from London to Calcutta, from the Cape of Good Hope to the sources of the Mississippi, and that Brougham would become Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Jeffrey Lord Justice of the highest court of Scotland, Murray also Lord Justice of Scotland, and Smith Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, firing hot shot at Pennsylvanians for not paying interest on a small loan from his surplus of £70,000.
Did space permit, it might be interesting to attempt to trace the causes of the great power which this periodical exerted over public opinion. The temper of the times when it appeared in respect to politics, and the Dead Sea of dullness in literary criticism that spread all around, gave novelty to an enterprise which proposed to combine the highest literary and scientific excellences with the boldest discussion of public men and affairs. The execution of the plan came up to the lofty tone of the manifesto. In its infancy, and onward to its ma
turity, the Edinburgh surrounded itself with a host of contributors whose names have given and received celebrity from its pages. Smith, Jeffrey, Brougham, Murray, Scott, Playfair, Leslie, Brewster, Stewart, Horner, Romilly, Stephen, Mackintosh, Brown, Malthus, Ricardo, Hallam, Hamilton, Hazlitt, Forster, McCulloch, Macaulay, Carlyle, Talfourd and these are but a tithe-have given it their choicest productions, ranging through the fields of polities, finance, jurisprudence, ethics, science, poetry, art, and letters, in all their multiform departments. The contributions of many of these writers have been extracted and published in separate volumes, which, in their turn, have challenged the criticism of celebrated reviewcrs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Nor was less zest imparted to its earlier pages because ability was not always accompanied with candor, and attacks upon distinguished authors and statesmen were no less fierce than assaults upon popular works and venerable institutions. Persons and principles were alike mixed in the melee. Nobody, nothing was spared that opposed the march of the literary Tamerlane. In the department of literary criticism, its standard was just, lofty, or capricious, according to its mood ; its style, by turns and by authors, grave or sarcastic, eulogistic or saucy, argumentative or sentimental, chaste or slashing, classical or savage.
A man-of-war of the first class, and of the regular service, when civil and ecclesiastical abuses were to be discovered and destroyed, in literary contests it often run up the flag and used the weapons of the buccaneer. Not only did it exterminate the small craft of penny-a-line novelists and poetasters, but it pursued Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, Byron, Montgomery, Lamb, and all with whom they treated or sympathized, with a spirit akin to that of the “ Red Corsair of the Mozambique," when chasing
"Argosies with portly sail, Flying by him with their woven wings, Rich with Barbaric pearl and gold.”