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There is reason for hoping that Mr. Skillett may have recovered some portion of his arrears of rent from the publication of the Essays. The secret of the authorship leaked out; a second edition was called for ; Mr. Skillett's preface was omitted ; and a formal dedication to Thomas Moore, Esq., who advised the publication of the fragments, was added by his ‘attached friend,’ the author.
The Essays are seventeen in number. They are on many subjects, from political economy, which the author pronounces “an awful thing,' to orders of knighthood, which “you now see . . . are not always the reward of merit, and even are sometimes given to cover the want of it.' No especial interest attaches to the majority of them. But they incidentally throw considerable light on their author's biography. For of the seventeen essays only six are undated, while of the remaining eleven, six are dated from Paris, two of the six in 1815, one from Brussels in 1816, and one from Milan in 1818. It is plain, therefore, that, in addition to the numerous journeys already recorded, Lord John was in Paris in 1815, in Belgium in 1816, and in Italy in 1818." These dates probably explain Lord John's frequent absences from his Parliamentary duties.
The following passage from one of these Essays will give a fair example of Lord John's style. The thoughts are the thoughts of a young man of twenty-three.
The English and the French, after an absence of twenty years, have again met in the common intercourse of life, and are exchanging bows, ideas, and sentiments.
I overheard, one day, a young Englishman entertaining a French lady with profligate principles and profane jests. Although she had often heard morality and religion attacked before, she was so scandalised by the coarseness of his conversation that she at last told him his language might suit the vicious society of London, but was too wicked for Paris. His companion was at the same time
Lord John Russell reached Florence early in November 1817. He left on the 8th for Leghorn, to embark for Malta; and from thence to seek an opportunity of going to Greece. But he returned to Florence early in December, and stayed there till the end of January. I inser, therefore, that for some reason he gave up his projected journey to Malta and the East. (Miss Berry's Journal, iii. 146, 149).
telling an obscene story to a young lady who fell asleep in the middle of it. These young men are not improved by travel. An English lady, whom I knew, was remarkable for the plainness of her dress, the modesty of her manners, and the piety of her conduct. She went from Paris this year with her head made into a stand for flowers, her ears never open but to flattery, and her mouth full of the pretty phrases, ‘a little flirtation,’ &c. . . . She is not improved by travel. I know a sensible English tradesman, who used to shut a Frenchman out of doors, and laughed at everybody who did not speak English as correctly and even as vulgarly as himself; he was so pleased with the kind reception that he got in France, and the patient attention with which all his blunders were listened to, that he promises he will go and do likewise. He is improved by his travels. A farmer of good sense and good heart travelled through France soon after the peace. He found that the people were neither sulky in their manner, nor full of hatred against the English, nor utterly abandoned to vice and folly, as he had been told ; but, on the contrary, civil, gay, and ingenuous; nay, he found tolerable farmers and honest fathers of families, fewer paupers than in England, and much good effected by the Revolution. He imputed the old quarrels of his nation with theirs to the Government, and recommends to the people to give each other the right hand of friendship. This man is improved and will improve others. No one can read this passage without mentally making an addition to the category. The man who can so write is one of those who are improved by travel. Lord John Russell, however, cannot claim to take high rank as an essayist. His ambition, at this period of his life, was probably poetry, and the pieces which he has left in print, as well as those which he has left in manuscript, show that he had much facility in verse. Yet, in this as in other matters, he stands at a disadvantage. The critic can hardly forget that his author rose to be Prime Minister, and tries him by a higher standard than he applies to other men. Prime Ministers are not required to write poetry; but, if they write at all, they are expected to excel. Whether he excelled or not, Lord John certainly displayed variety in his poetry. “Don Carlos' is written in blank verse; the imitation of Juvenal in decasyllabic couplets; the translation of the ‘Odyssey' in the metre of ‘Don Juan.” The second of these pieces was suggested by Mr. Moore's misfortunes.
Yes, Moore, the debt of sympathy is paid
Smooth and easy verses, which have, however, no special interest for us now. ‘Don Carlos or Persecution, a Tragedy in five Acts,' is a much more ambitious performance. It has been, perhaps, more unfavourably criticised than any tragedy in the language. It was an obvious and easy occupation, for those who were opposed to the author's political principles, to raise a laugh against him as the pretentious rival of Schiller. Yet, if any one will read the tragedy through, he will probably understand why it went through five editions during the year in which it was published. The tragedy may not be an acting play; it was never put on the stage ; but it contains dramatic situations, and passages of power. The drama, too, has a biographical interest because it points to the moral which Lord John was never tired of enforcing. Don Carlos represents the cause of religious liberty.
I do remember well—too well, alas !
He describes the horrors of an auto-da-fé, and adds—
I should have told
' The Epistle was anonymous, only fifty copies being printed for distribution among Mr. Moore's friends. (Moore's Memoirs, ii. 356.)
VOL. I, H
Which I, unwilling, took. I thereby swore
But it is unnecessary to pursue the narrative. Don Carlos is
There are probably ten people alive who have read ‘Don Carlos' for every person who has read the translation of the fifth book of the “Odyssey.' Yet those who are acquainted with both these performances may possibly be inclined to rate the translation above the tragedy. Lord John indeed told Mr. Moore that Lord Holland declared against it “because he likes Homer so much he thinks nobody can do him justice. All that I could get him to say was that, if the “Odyssey” were translated in a different metre from mine, and by a different person, it might do.’ What Lord Holland probably meant was that Lord John's scholarship was hardly equal to the task which he had set himself, and that he had needlessly increased his difficulties by his choice of a Imetre.
Probably no translator can do Homer justice. But, in our own time, it is fashionable to attempt the task of translating the ‘Iliad' and ‘Odyssey.' Lord John is neither the only statesman nor the only Prime Minister who has made the attempt. Yet there is no gainsaying the force of Lord Holland's criticism. When an author translates káAmö' (TTov “an untrained horse,' it is reasonable to suspect the deficiencies of his scholarship. When we compare such a passage as
Dismiss him straight, nor brave the chastening hand
with Pope's epigrammatic line
we begin to suspect the difficulties of the metre. Yet, when all this has been said, it must be added that the translation has fidelity and force, and that the translator has triumphed in a signal manner over the difficulties of his subject. Take, for instance, the famous passage near the beginning of the book describing the flight of Mercury :
The golden sandals on his feet he tied,
When Lord John wrote ‘wing'd,' he was probably thinking more of Virgil's version, or of John of Bologna's statue, than of Homer's language; and, when he threw in the addition “if applied with other aim,' he was sacrificing force to the exigencies of his metre. But in all other respects the passage is Surely an admirable rendering of the original. Or take Ulysses' speech in the storm :—
Ah me! what woes are now to close my care?