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Without impertinently discoursing upon the utility of Historical narrative, a topic, which must be obvious to every reflecting reader, we may be permitted to remark that the name of Hume is an ample passport to celebrity. Whatever may be thought of his demerits by the scrupulous, or the pious, as an author, unhappily inclining to the side of Infidelity, his talents, as an Historian and Politician, cannot be too strenuously applauded. Although nearly half a century has elapsed, since the commencement of his literary career, his fame is still augmenting. Among the Scotch, even in the opinion of those, who are acrimoniously disposed towards him as a sceptic, he is considered as the Prince of Modern Historians. Nor does the jealousy of South Britain dispute his precedency. GIBBON, a competent judge, and himself a skilful artificer of language, thus nobly compliments his illustrious predecessor: “ The old reproach that no British altars had been raised to the Muse of History, was recently disproved by the first performances of Robertson and Hume, the Histories of Scotland and of the Stuarts. I will assume the presumption of saying, that I was not unworthy to read them: nor will I disguise my different feelings in the repeated perusals. The perfect composition, the nervous language, the well-tuned periods of Dr. Robertson, enflamed me to the ambitious hope that I might one day tread in his footsteps: the calm philosophy, the careless inimitable beauties of his friend and rival, often forced me to close the volume with a mixed sensation of delight and despair.”
Dr. Johnson, a high and commanding authority, objects to the Gallicisms, which, he avers, sometimes pollute the page of Mr. Hume. As this opinion of a mighty critic has been generally credited, both abroad and at home, the writer of this article hopes that he shall not be taxed with arrogant presumption, if he modestly attempt to vindicate the purity of the style of a favourite writer.
Long before the arrival of the literary manhood of our historian, oppressed by Indigence, and mortified by Neglect, he had, in a sort of despair, abandoned his own country, and sequestered himself for three years in a provincial town in. France. At subsequent periods, he passed much of his time on the continent, and as he was a passionate admirer both of the literature and the character of the Parisians, it is by no means wonderful that his style should occasionally be slightly tinged with the peculiarities of a foreign idiom. Accordingly, in the first editions of his invaluable History, we may discover, on a strict scrutiny, a few phrases which are corrupted by a French infusion. Dr. PRIESTLEY, in his ingenious Grammar, one of the most instructive books he ever published, was, after the usual procession of the periodical critics, the first to discover and indicate these Gallicisms. But though he searched for them with all the perspicacity of a Philologer, his Zeal and Industry could detect but a few, and these of trivial importance. All this criticism is now perfectly nugatory, or worse. It must be remembered that Hume's History has run through repeated editions ; that after its celebrity was sufficiently diffused, the industrious author resided, for periods of long duration, in the Capital, where, from the example of the purest writers and speakers, he could not fail to adjust the accuracy of his diction. Moreover, it is notorious to all, who have the slightest acquaintance with Polite Literature, that the History of England as it now appears, is perfectly English. The author, an ambitious aspirant after literary renown, whose ruling passion was the love of fame, to whom study was the greatest source of enjoyment, and who " regarded every object as contemptible, except the improvement of his talents as a writer," would not and could not fail, after repeated revisions of his work, so to prepare his pages as to defy all the assaults of verbal criticism. In fact Hume is now justly considered as an English classic, and his narrative as a fine model of composition. The beauties in his history are innumerable. He commands all our attention. He has a claim for all our applause, whether he describes the projects of the Duke of Normandy, or the battle of Hastings, the glories of the house of Plantageaet, or the tyranny of the Tudors, the insolence of Becket,
or the pageantry of Wolsey, the primitive simplicity of Latimer, or the archiepiscopal dignity of Laud, the loyalty of Falkland, the wisdom of Strafford, the spirit of Derby, the fidelity of Clarendon, or the murder of Charles.
Let an ambitious Student, imprint on his memory, Mr. Hume's narrative of the Martial Maid of Orleans, the Battle of Agincourt, the approach of the Armada, the cruelties of Mary, the execution of Lady Gray, the fanaticism of the Covenanters, the habitual hypocrisy of Crom. well, and the gross credulity of his Roundheads, and he will scarcely find his mind stored with finer passages by any Historian.
In a spirit of false and malignant Criticism, certain carpers among the French, have rashly pronounced SMOLLET “ but an indifferent writer!” They have audaciously averred that he is both partial and passionate, and makes no atonement for these faults by the elegance of his style. They ignominiously brand him as a dry writer, who touches neither the imagination nor the heart. Just admiration of an accomplished Scotchman, urges us to inform these French Critics, that their opinion of his literary pretensions, is utterly destitute of a shadow of foundation. It is partial, unjust, and absurd. His History though avowedly written in haste, and sometimes in the spirit of a partizan, is full of vivacity and vigour. It is never dull, monotonous, or fatiguing. It abounds in reflections. Its tones are various, and harmonious; and by the energy of some passages, and the eloquence of others, it affects both the imagination, and the heart. A critic must be wholly destitute of discernment, as well as of candour, who pronounces the style of Smollet devoid of energy and grace. Few are more gloriously distinguished than this nervous and fluent writer.
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