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termination of the fight. The infidel race which aimed at the dominion of the world, served only by their efforts to increase the strength of its destined rulers; and from amidst the ruins of its power emerged the ark which was to carry the tidings of salvation to the Western, and the invincible host which was to spread the glad tidings of the gospel through the Eastern world.
Great, however, as were the powers thus let into human affairs, their operation must have been comparatively slow, and their influence inconsiderable, but for another circumstance, which at the same time came into action. But a survey of human affairs leads to the conclusion, that when important changes in the social world are about to take place, a lever is not long of being supplied to work out the prodigy. With the great religious change of the sixteenth century arose the art of printing; with the vast revolutions of the nineteenth, an agent of equal efficacy was provided. At the time when the fleets of England were riding omnipotent on the ocean, at the very moment when the gigantic hosts of infidel and revolutionary power were scattered by the icy breath of winter, STEAM NAVIGATION was brought into action, and an agent appeared upon the theatre of the universe destined to break through the most formidable barriers of nature. In January 1812, not one steam-vessel existed in the world; now, on the Mississippi alone, there are a hundred and sixty. Vain hereafter are the waterless deserts of Persia, or the snowy ridges of the Himalaya—vain the impenetrable forests of America, or the deadly jungles of Asia. Even the deathbestridden gales of the Niger must yield to the force of scientific enterprise, and the fountains of the Nile themselves emerge from the awful obscurity of six thousand years. The great rivers of the world are fast becoming the highways of civilisation and religion. The Russian battalions will securely commit themselves to the waves of the Euphrates, and waft again to the plains of Shinar the blessings of regular government and a beneficent faith; remounting the St Lawrence and the Missouri, the British emigrants will carry into the solitudes of the Far West the Bible and the wonders of English genius. Spectators of, or actors in, so marvellous a progress, let us act as becomes men called to such mighty destinies in human affairs. Let us never forget that it is to regulated freedom alone that these wonders are to be ascribed; and contemplate in the degraded and impotent condition of France, when placed beside these giants of the earth, the natural and deserved result of the revolutionary passions and unbridled ambition which extinguished prospects once as fair, and destroyed energies once as powerful, as those which now direct the destinies of half the globe.
(BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 1849)
AUTOBIOGRAPHY, when skilfully and judiciously done, is one of the most delightful species of composition of which literature can boast. There is a strong desire in every intelligent and well-informed mind to become familiar with the private thoughts, and secret motives of action, of those who have filled the world with their renown. We long to learn their early history, to be made acquainted with their first aspirations, to discover how they became so great as they afterwards turned out. Perhaps literature has sustained no greater loss than that of the memoirs which Hannibal wrote of his life and campaigns. From the few fragments of his sayings which Roman admiration or terror has preserved, his reach of thought and statesmanlike sagacity would appear to have been equal to his military talents. Cæsar's Commentaries have always been admired; but there is some doubts whether they really were written by the dictator; and, supposing they were, they relate almost entirely to military movements and public events, without giving much insight into private character. It is that which we desire in autobiography: we hope to find in it a window by which we may look into a great man's mind. Plutarch's Lives owe their vast and enduring popularity to the insight into private character which the innumerable anecdotes he has collected of the heroes and statesmen of antiquity afford; and the lasting reputation of Boswell's Johnson is mainly to be ascribed to the same cause.
Mémoires d'Outre Tombe. Par M. le VICOMTE DE CHATEAUBRIAND. 4 vols. Paris : 1846-9. Raphae. Par M. DE LAMARTINE.
2 B VOL. III.
Gibbon's autobiography is the most perfect account of an eminent man's life, from his own hand, which exists in any language. Independent of the interest which naturally belongs to it as the record of the studies, and the picture of the growth of the mind of the greatest historian of modern times, it possesses a peculiar charm from the simplicity with which it is written, and the judgment it displays, conspicuous alike in what is revealed and what is withheld in the narrative. It steers the middle channel so difficult to find, so invaluable when found, between ridiculous vanity on the one side, and affected modesty on the other. We see, from many passages in it, that the author was fully aware of the vast contribution he had made to literature, and the firm basis on which he had built his colossal fame. But he had good sense enough to see that those great qualities were never so likely to impress the reader, as when only cautiously alluded to by the author. He knew that vanity and ostentation never fail to make the character in which they predominate ridiculous—if excessive, contemptible; and that, although the world would thankfully receive all the details, how minute soever, connected with his immortal work, they would not take off his hands any symptom of himself entertaining the opinion of it which all others have formed. It is the consummate judgment with which Gibbon has given enough of the details connected with the preparation of his works to be interesting, and not enough to be ridiculous, which constitutes the great charm, and has occasioned the marked success, of his autobiography. There are few passages in the English language so popular as the well-known ones in which he has recounted the first conception and final completion of his history, which, as models of the kind, as well as passages of exquisite beauty, we cannot refuse ourselves the pleasure of transcribing, the more especially as they will set off, by way of contrast, the faults in some parallel passages attempted by Chateaubriand and Lamartine.
“At the distance of twenty-five years, I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the Eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum. Each memorable spot—where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Cæsar fell—was at once present to my eyes ; and several days of intoxication were lost, or enjoyed, before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation. It was at Rome, on the 15th October 1764, as
I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing this Decline and Fall of the city first started to my mind. But my original plan was circumscribed to the decay of the city, rather than of the empire; and though my reading and reflections began to point towards that object, some years elapsed, and several avocations intervened, before I was seriously engaged in the execution of that laborious work." — Life, p. 198, 8vo edition.
Again, the well-known description of the conclusion of his labours :
"I have presumed to mark the moment of conception : I shall now commemorate the hour of my final deliverance. It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the conntry, the lake, and mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on recovery of my freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion; and that, whatever might be the future fate of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.”—Life, p. 255, 8vo edition.
Hume's account of his own life is a model of perspicuity, modesty, and good sense; but it is so brief that it scarcely can be called a biography.
It is not fifty pages long. The wary Scotch author was well aware how vanity in such compositions defeats its own object : he had too much good sense to let it appear in his pages. Perhaps, however, the existence of such a feeling in the recesses of his breast may be detected in the prominent manner in which he brings forward the discouragement he experienced when the first volume of his History was published, and the extremely limited sale it met with for some time after its first appearance.
He knew well how these humble beginnings would be contrasted with its subsequent triumphant success. Amidst his many great and good qualities, there is none for which Sir Walter Scott was more admirable than the unaffected simplicity and good sense of his character, which led him to continue through life utterly unspotted by vanity, and unchanged by an amount of adulation from the most fascinating quarters, which would probably have turned the head of any other man.
Among the many causes of regret which the world has for the