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The Critical and Miscellaneous Writings of Henry Lord Brougham, to which is Prefixed a Sketch of his Character. Two volumes. Lea and Blanchard.
That Lord Brougham was an extraordinary man no one in his senses will deny. An intellect of unusual capacity, goaded into diseased action by passions nearly ferocious, enabled him to astonish the world, and especially the "hero-worshippers," as the author of Sartor Resartus has it, by the combined extent and variety of his mental triumphs. Attempting many things, it may at least be said, that he egregiously failed in none. But that he preeminently excelled in any cannot be affirmed with truth, and might well be denied a priori. We have no faith in admirable Crichtons, and this merely because we have implicit faith in Nature and her laws. "He that is born to be a man," says Wieland, in his 'Peregrinus Proteus,' "neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, nor better than a man," The Broughams of the human intellect are never its Newtons or its Bayles. Yet the contemporaneous reputation to be acquired by the former is naturally greater than any which the latter may attain. The versatility of one whom we see and hear is a more dazzling and more readily appreciable merit than his profundity; which latter is best estimated in the silence of the closet, and after the quiet lapse of years. What impression Lord Brougham has stamped upon his age, cannot be accurately [column 2:] determined until Time has fixed and rendered definite the lines of the medal; and fifty years hence it will be difficult, perhaps, even to make out the deepest indentations of the exergue. Like Coleridge, he should be regarded as one who might have done much, had he been satisfied with attempting but little.
The title of the book before us is, we think, somewhat disingenuous. These two volumes contain but a small portion of the "Critical and Miscellaneous Writings" of Lord Brougham; and the preface itself assures us that what is here published forms only a part of his anonymous contributiom to the Edinburgh Review. In fact three similar selections from his "Miscellaneous Works" have been given to the world within a year or two past, by Philadelphian publishers, and neither of these selections embrace any of the matter now issued. The present volumes, however, are not the less valuable on this account. They contain many of the most noted and some of the best compositions of the author. Among other articles of interest we have the celebrated "Discourse on the Objects, Pleasures and Advantages of Science" -- a title, by the way, in which the word "pleasures" is one of the purest supererogation. That this discourse is well written, we, of course, admit, since we do not wish to be denounced as blockheads; but we beg leave to disagree, most positively, with the Preface, which asserts that "there was only one individual living by whom it could have been produced." This round asseveration will only excite a smile upon the lips of every man of the slightest pretension to scientific acquirement. We are personally acquainted with at least a dozen individuals who could have written this treatise as well as the Lord Chancellor has written it. In fact, a discourse of this character is by no means difficult of composition -- a discourse such as Lord Brougham has given us. His whole design consists in an immethodical collection of the most striking and at the same time the most popularly comprehensible facts in general science. And it cannot be denied that this plan of demonstrating the advantages of science as a whole by detailing insulated specimens of its interest is a most unphilosophical and inartistical mode of procedure -- a mode which even puts one in mind of the [[Greek text:] xxxxx [[:Greek text]] offering a brick as a sample of the house he wished to sell. Neither is the essay free (as should be imperatively demanded in a case of this nature) from every gross error and misstatement. Its style, too, in its minor points, is unusually bad. The strangest grammatical errors abound, of which the initial pages are especially full, and the whole is singularly deficient in that precision which should characterise a scientific discourse. In short, it is an entertaining essay, but in some degree superficial and quackish, and could have been better written by any one of a multitude of living savans.
There is a very amusing paper, in this collection, upon the authorship of Junius. We allude to it, now especially, by way of corroborating what we said, in our January number, touching the ordinary character of the English review-system. The article was furnished the Edinburgh Quarterly by its author, who, no doubt, received for it a very liberal compensation. It is, nevertheless, one of the most barefaced impositions we ever beheld ; being nothing in the world more than a tame compendium, fact by fact, of the book under discussion -- " The Identity of Junius with a Distinguished Living Character Established." There is no attempt at analysis -no new fact is adduced -- no novel argument is urged --and yet the thing is called a criticism and liberally paid for as such. The secret of this style of Review-making is that of mystifying the reader by an artful substitution of the interest appertaining to the text for interest aroused by the commentator.
[The attribution of this item to Poe is certain. A portion of the review is printed in the Griswold edition of "Marginalia" (1850) as item CXVIII.]
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