Page images

whole, inferior to that of several; inferior not to our own only, but to that of Italy, nay, perhaps to that of Spain. Their Philosophy, too, must still be regarded as uncertain ; at best only the beginning of better things. But surely even this is not to be neglected. A little light is precious in great darkness : nor amid the myriads of Poetasters and Philosophes, are Poets and Philosophers so numerous that we should reject such, when they speak to us in the hard, but manly, deep, and expressive tones of that old Saxon speech, which is also our mothertongue.

We confess, the present aspect of spiritual Europe might fill a melancholic observer with doubt and foreboding. It is mournful to see so many noble, tender, and high-aspiring minds deserted of that religious light which once guided all such ; standing sorrowful on the scene of past convulsions and controversies, as on a scene blackened and burnt up with fire; mourning in the darkness, because there is desolation, and no home for the soul; or what is worse, pitching tents among the ashes, and kindling weak earthly lamps which we are to take for stars. This darkness is but transitory obscuration ; these ashes are the soil of future herbage and richer harvests. Religion, Poetry is not dead; it will never die. Its dwelling and birthplace is in the soul of man, and it is eternal as the being of man. In any point of Space, in any section of Time, let there be a living Man; and there is an Infinitude above him and beneath him, and an Eternity encompasses him on this hand and on that; and tones of Sphere-music, and tidings from loftier Worlds, will fit round him, if he can but listen, and visit him with holy influences, even in the thickest press of trivialities, or the din of busiest life. Happy the man, happy the nation that can hear these tidings; that has them written in fit characters, legible to every eye, and the solemn import of them present at all moments to every heart! That there is, in these days, no nation so happy, is too clear; but that all nations, and ourselves in the van, are, with more or less discernment of its nature, struggling towards this happiness, is the hope and the glory of our time. To us, as to others, success, at a distant or a nearer day, cannot be uncertain. Meanwhile, the first condition of success is, that in striving honestly ourselves, we honestly acknowledge the striving of our neighbour; that with a Will unwearied in seeking Truth, we have a Sense open for it, wberesoever and howsoever it may arise.

ART. III.-Six Discourses delivered before the Royal Society, at

their Anniversary Meetings, on the Award of the Royal and Copley Medals, preceded by an Address to the Society on the Progress and Prospects of Science. By Sir HUMPHRY Davy, President of the Royal Society. 4to. pp. 148. London. Murray. 1827.

WE unusual length of time which has lately elapsed since this

highly distinguished person has contributed to the stores of Physical Science, is, we fear, but too well accounted for by the infirm state of his bodily health, requiring him to lead the life of a traveller and an invalid. Nor will the scientific world be willing to receive the contents, elegant though they be, of this volume, as a substitute for the more weighty matters of Philosophy. It exhibits the circumstances attending upon the representation of the Presidency-the trappings of his office-not the substantial labour of the Academician; we have this eminent chemist only doing the honours of the chair, which any man could do well enough, and many little men could do far better than he; not the philosopher on his proper ground-doing the work of his laboratory, wielding the great agents of heat and electricity, and pursuing those astonishing discoveries, with which their agency bas enabled him beyond any other living man to enrich the domains of science.

This volume makes us acquainted with a fact, certainly hitherto little known, that of late years Sir Joseph Banks had revived a practice formerly prevalent,--at least it was used by Sir John Pringle, though subsequently dropt,—of pronouncing a Discourse as often as he gave away the annual medal upon

Sir Godfrey Copley's donation. Sir Humphry bestows several tributes of applause upon his eminent predecessor's success in this department of his official duties; and commemorates his pe

culiar sagacity and happy talent of illustration,' in discoursing upon scientific matters. Sagacity, we should have expected from that high quarter, certainly; but that any very felicitous illustration should proceed from thence, was less to be dreamt of. Sir Joseph Banks never, we believe, appeared before the world as an author ; unless he may have described some plant or some insect in a letter to a friend, afterwards made public, and now forgotten-if he ever even did so much. To begin at this time of day praising his powers of eloquence and description is somewhat out of date; he was a man of many and considerable merits; he was a liberal patron of science; he devoted a large fortune, and all his personal attention, as well as influence, to the furtherance of what he believed to be the interests of what he thought the most important branches of Natural Knowledge, -Natural History, as cultivated by orderly and obedient persons being duly elected Fellows of the Royal Society—that is, chosen through his protection ; his fine library and other collections were first open to men of letters during his life, and afterwards became public property by his bequest. With these grounds of favour from men of science, were joined claims of a higher order to celebrity; he had abandoned ambition, and pleasure, and ease, at an age, and in a station, which make those seductions the most irresistible to ordinary minds; and had exposed himself to all the hardships and all the perils of a long voyage of discovery; one of the greatest in its results that have illustrated the nautical history of his country. Such a man can well afford to have the plain truth spoken of him, as himself was wont to speak it bluntly of others; and to forego the praise of writing Academic Panegyricks; which, if they were delivered by him with success, must have been composed by others. He was, in fact, as little capable of such essays as any captain of a vessel that ever kept a log; and his habits of thinking, and his prejudices,-his bluntness, and his impatience of opposition; his plain homely sense, and his contempt for speculation-all his qualities, good and bad, were strongly redolent of the cabin and the quarter-deck—the confinement of the one, and the dominion of the other. He was a most distinguished and praiseworthy individual ; a warm friend and a bitter enemy; clear-sighted and narrow-minded; and though equal to much better things, yet as fit to deliver fine discourses, upon state occasions, as an English Head of a House, or the Secretary of a French Academy, to command a ship in a battle, or a storm. But the misfortune of such discourses as we are sure he held cheap, and as his successor (a far more eminent man) has now published, is, that they sacrifice truth to courtesy, and degenerate into empty collections of fine, flowery, and smoothly rounded periods. Sir Humphry Davy has performed his task as well as it could be done, but it is the nature of such work that it cannot be done very well; he has abstained, as far as was possible, from the vices incident to this kind of writing; but it is a kind of writing with which the greatest vices of composition are inseparably connected.

To praise often, whether there is ground for it or not; but, at any rate, to overpraise, and to suppress on all occasions the opposite side of the account, is the besetting sin of such discourses -whether pronounced upon the memory of the dead or the merits of the living. Our neighbours, the French, in their Academies, have long been renowned for such displays, and though the severity of the Republican times interrupted them, the Restoration seems to have brought them back, and made them flourish with the luxuriance to be expected in so congenial a soil. So well, indeed, does this sort of oratory thrive in France, that we are apt to call it by a French name, and to speak of Eloges as if the thing were of French origin; whereas we ought rather to call them Panegyricks, in remembrance of their Attic origin ; for the Greeksy it must be confessed, with all their chasteness of taste, and all the perfection of their inimitable models of true eloquence, indulged in a species of composition the most foreign to all ideas of a practical kind, the most widely removed, indeed, from nature as well as from business, and which, being termed by them the Epideictic, may, without any exaggeration, be called by us the Showy, because it was wholly for the display of the speaker's art, without any regard to the subject—it was eloquence, and what on a fit occasion might have been eloquence, thrown away upon nothing, and for no purpose; it was intended to convince no one of anything; it was calculated to please no one of the least taste; it was a poor attempt of Rhetoric to imitate the inferior arts of Poetry and Music; she stooped from her lofty station among the high and difficult places of human affairs, to the stage of the theatre, and she only exposed herself to scorn; for the mimes surpassed her.

We confess ourselves jealous of all attempts to naturalize this foreign growth in this country. The taste, and genius, and sense of our people, is extremely alien from the cultivation of it. Whensoever it is tried, its failure is marked. Funeral sermons alone have been borne amongst us; and even these have had far less success here than everywhere else. A vicious practice had of late years crept into the House of Commons, of all places the least calculated for such gratuitous outrages upon sense, taste, and plain business-like habits. It never indeed went far; and the greatest English statesmen, Chatham, Fox, Burke, Pitt, * having departed without such honours, it is to be hoped that the custom may not be persevered in. But we have now to do with a place, if possible, less appropriate to such displays,

the Royal Society for the Advancement of Natural Knowledge.' Can anything be worse adapted to the cultivation of the severe

* The debate on Mr Pitt is no proof that the practice was applied in his case ; it was a debate on a question, and followed by a division. To this there can be no objection ; both sides were heard, and the discussion of his merits was necessary, because the proposal made was to pay his debts and raise a monument to his memory.

sciences, than an admixture of the epideictic kind of rhetoric, or blending of Isocrates with Archimedes? Can the gravity of men be more inhumanly taxed than in listening to a flowery panegyrical discourse, delivered upon the merits of a method for integrating a cramp fluxurial formula, and addressed, perhaps, to the man of number and quantity, who, having solved the problem in a few pages, consisting of hardly any words, but a good collection of signs and letters, is more puzzled to follow the demonstration* upon his method, than he was to invent and demonstrate the method itself.

It must be further remarked, that the panegyrics upon the dead, pronounced either in the French Academy or in the Pulpit, the two great scenes of this kind of oratory in modern times, are far less objectionable in some respects than discourses on living merit. Sermons are addressed to a


different audience from men of science. The subject, too, in both cases, is removed from the contentions of the world; in the former case,


be allowed to soothe the grief of friends, or associates, or the public, for his loss. It may, for the same reason, be permitted to draw up only one side of the account, and to suppress the mention of what was unfavourable. No deception could thus be practised; for the whole was deemed, and was known to be, a tribute to friendship, or a way of indulging feelings of sorrow. Then the party praised was gone from among us, and could not turn the praise given, and the suppression suffered, to an improper account. But we lament to say, that in importing the French fashion, we have improved upon it. Our academy lauds living and dead; she eulogizes men in the prime of life; she addresses them while engaged in controversy upon the subject of dispute; she notices the dead, too, in a way to introduce unfair comparisons and undue preferences ; her praising-matches, when the fit is on her, do not resolve themselves into a mere tedious account of some one's good qualities, with a fair enumeration of the acts and works he was known by; when she takes to it, there are half a dozen of the lately deceased passed in review, (some of them now first heard of,) and according to their nation, or their connexions, or some other accidental bias, their allowances of praise are doled out with no very nice attention to the turning of the scales in which those merits are weighed.

We must again observe, that in these remarks, and in the instances we are about to give for the purpose of illustrating them, our objections are confined entirely to the practice of Panegy

* The Romans rendered epideictick, by the word demonstrative.

« PreviousContinue »