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CARLYLE's Essay on Burns was first printed in the Edinburgh Review for December, 1828. Though in form a review of the Life of Robert Burns, by John Gibson Lockhart, it is really, like many of the articles in the Edinburgh Review, an entirely independent work. The present art of book reviewing is a creation of our own times.
The English magazines of the eighteenth century
mere publishers' organs, and are inferior to even second-rate periodicals of our own day. The book notices in them are comparable to those that we see in our poorer daily newspapers. The reviewers were usually mere literary hacks, and were content to give a summary of the contents of a book, and then pass judgment on it as a whole,
The out praise or blame in set, formal terms. foundation of the Edinburgh Review, in 1802, by Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Brougham, and others, marks the beginning
new era in English periodical literature. The new magazine had for contributors men of marked learning and originality, leaders in the thought of their time, who were not satisfied, in reviewing a book, with recording the impression that any sane man would gather from a casual reading, but took the title of the book as the text for a thoroughly original treatment of its subject. Succeeding periodicals, as the Quarterly and Blackwood's, however much they differed from the Edinburgh in politics and general tendencies, were all affected by its methods. So it happens that many book reviews in the English magazines
, by men like Carlyle, Macaulay, and Matthew Arnold, have become permanent additions to literature, sometimes surpassing in interest the works that occasioned them.
In the present case, however, the book reviewed continues to be a standard authority. Its author, John Gibson Lockhart, was born in 1794, at Cambusnethan, about twelve miles southeast of Glasgow. When Blackwood's Magazine was founded, in 1817, Lockhart became one of its chief contributors. In 1820 he married the eldest daughter of Sir Walter Scott. In the years following his marriage he published several novels, an edition of Don Quixote, and his translations of Ancient Spanish Ballads. This last work has never been superseded, and is often reprinted. In 1826 he became editor of the Quarterly Review, and retained the position until the year before his death, in 1854. His Life of Robert Burns appeared in 1828, and a Life of Napoleon Bonaparte in the next year. His greatest work, the Life of Scott, appeared in 1836-38, and by general consent has taken in English biographical literature a place second only to that of Boswell's Life of Johnson.
Carlyle was introduced to Lockhart when on a visit to London, in 1832. In his Note Book at that time he calls Lockhart “a precise, brief, active person of considerable faculty," and confesses that he “rather liked the man.” 1 A month later, in a letter to his brother, he calls him “not without force, but barren and unfruitful.” ? after this, when Carlyle was settled in London, he formed the project of writing an article on the working-classes for the Quarterly; with this in mind he called upon Lockhart, and, he
says, “found him a person of sense, good breeding, even kindness.'
"8 Ever after this, though the two men were never intimate friends, they had warm affection and esteem for each other. Lockhart feared to accept Carlyle's article because of its radical opinions, and it was published separately, under the title of Chartism. One more link between
i Froude: Thomas Carlyle, a History of the First Forty Years of kis Life, ii. 188.
2 Ibid., ii. 212.
8 Quoted in Froude: Thomas Carlyle, a History of his Life in London, i. 140, from a letter of Carlyle's to his brother.
the men is Carlyle’s review one of his least satisfactory essays — of the Life of Scott, published in 1838, in the London and Westminster Review. And Carlyle's own judgment of Lockhart widens our knowledge of the char acter of both men.
“A hard, proud, but thoroughly honest, singularly intelligent, and also affectionate man, whom in the distance I esteemed more than perhaps he ever knew. Seldom did I speak to him; but hardly ever without learning and gaining something.” 1
Thomas Carlyle was born December 4, 1795, at Annandale, in Dumfriesshire, in southeast Scotland. His life offers many resemblances, though perhaps more contrasts, to that of Burns. Like Burns, he came from the strong, rough stock of the Scotch peasantry. Of his father, James Carlyle, a man like Burns's father in his strength of character and deeply religious temperament, but unlike him in his complete ignorance of all books except the Bible, Carlyle has himself left us a grand portrait in the Reminiscences. When ten years old, Carlyle was sent to the Annan grammar school. Of his life there we may judge from the veiled account in Sartor Resartus: —
My Teachers were hide-bound Pedants, without knowledge of man's nature, or of boy's; or of aught save their lexicons and quarterly account-books. Innumerable dead Vocables (no dead Language, for they themselves knew no Language) they crammed into us, and called it fostering the growth of mind. . . . The Professors knew syntax enough; and of the human soul thus much : that it had a faculty called Memory, and could be acted-on through the muscular integument by the appliance of birch-rods.” 2
James Carlyle recognized his son's ability, and resolved
1 See note by Carlyle in Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Car. lyle, ed. Froude, i. 107.
2 Sartor Resartus, II. iii.
that he should be an educated man. Yet Carlyle can hardly be said to have been “sent" to the University, for he walked the distance of seventy miles over rough country to Edinburgh. There he worked industriously in the library, and laid the foundations for his wonderful knowledge of books. He tells us later :
What I have found the University did for me, was that it taught me to read in various languages and various sciences, so that I could go into the books that treated of these things, and try anything I wanted to make myself master of gradually, as I found it suit me.
Carlyle had been intended for the ministry, but money was lacking, and he took up school teaching as a temporary occupation. In 1818, having saved ninety pounds, he returned to Edinburgh for study. Meanwhile, the ministry had become closed to him, for reading and thought had undermined his belief in the creed of the Scotch Kirk. But Carlyle's reaction from his ancestral beliefs was occasioned by different circumstances from that of Burns. Carlyle, by deep study and meditation, was stirred from the dogmas of the Scotch Kirk, but adhered strictly to its stern, severe code of morals. Burns, who had a lighter, more facile nature, became disgusted with the hypocrisy of those high in church authority, and was attracted by the more winning characters of the leaders of the progressive party. His passions had already weakened his morals ; and though he still professed the highest respect for religion in the abstract, he was led on from distrust of orthodox Calvinism to what often seems general skepticism and indifference on religious matters.
After an experiment in legal study, Carlyle finally settled on his trade as a “ writer of books." From 1818 to 1822 he lived in Edinburgh, and did hack literary work, largely articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopædia. In 1822 le
1 Address delivered to the Students of Edinburgh University - April 2, 1866.