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tion as to power and civilization to neighbouring countries . . . pre-
vailing occupations . . . soil and climate." Finally, of the influence
of the epoch, Taine says : *' There is yet a third rank of causes ; for,
with the forces within and without, there is the work which they
have already produced together, and this work itself contributes to
produce that which follows. ... It is with a people as with a plant ;
the same sap, under the same temperature, and in the same soil,
produces, at different steps of its progressive development, different
formations, buds, flowers, fruits, seed-vessels, in such a manner that
the one which follows must always be preceded by the former, and
must spring up from its death." All these influences, which Taine
includes under the general name of epoch, correspond precisely to
those that Jeffrey has in mind when he speaks of " the newness or
antiquity" of a society, and of the various stages, through which
nations inevitably pass, in their " progress from rudeness to refine-
ment." In this essay, then, Jeffrey anticipates very strikingly the
points of view, the analysis, and the classification of facts, that Taine
did so much to make popular forty years later, in the Introduction to
his Histoire de la litth'attire anglaise. For Taine's theory see his
History of English Literature, Van Laun's translation. New York,
1891, Introduction. For suggestive criticisms on Taine's position
see Sainte-Beuve, Causer ies du lundi, Paris, 3d ed., XIII, p. 249 ff. ;
Paul Bourget, Essais de psychologic contemporaine, Paris, 1887,
I, p. 180 ff; fimile Hennequin, La critique scientifique, Paris, 1888,
pp. 93-127.

161 31. The Taste of the Nation. The reader should bear in mind
Jeffrey's theory of Beauty, as expounded in the article on the Nature
and P7-inciples of Taste, p. 149 ff. Objects are beautiful according
as they wake in the mind echoes of past passions, — love, hate, pity,
fear, — which have been associated with these objects in actual experi-



NOTES. 211

ence. Now it is at once plain that such widely differing civilizations
as those Jeffrey describes in the text would lead to wide and radical
differences in the associations of pleasure and pain that would cling
about the same object in two different nations. Hence, the same
object would have wholly different aesthetic values for two different
nations. In some such way as this Jeffrey would apply his theory of
Beauty to explain the variations in national standards of Taste.

163 14. On anything so purely accidental. Jeffrey is here not far
from the view of the modern scientific critic, — from that of
Taine, for example. To be sure, Jeffrey regards the character of
Shakspere and the characters of other writers as " on the whole
casual " ; but by this phrase he merely denotes that residuum of
inexplicableness in every individuality that defies the keenest
scientific analysis. Such a residuum remains to-day in spite of all
the advances in physiology and biology, and psychology and
sociology, and in spite of all the talk about heredity and environ-
ment. For Taine, as for Jeffrey, individual character was still
inexplicable, though Taine perhaps brought the " casual " element
within narrower limits than Jeffrey would have believed possible.
The important point to note is that Jeffrey pleads in this essay for a
view of literature that makes it a growth in accordance with law.
Shakspere's poetry, he contends, could not have been produced in
France ; could have been produced only in England. Shakspere's
poetry was therefore determined in character by the miliezi in the
midst of which it was written. Of the nature and degree of the
influence of the epoch Jeffrey is not so sure; and of the influence of
race he has only the vaguest notions. But at least for the time
being, and in theory, he is convinced that literature is something
more than the artificial product of ingenious men, who, in writing
verse and prose, follow idly their own whims and caprices. Cf.
168-22.

168 8. Peculiarities of German taste. In trying to account for
German taste, Jeffrey considers first those influences that Taine
would group under the term moment, and secondly, those that Taine
would class as milieu. Of course the discussion that follows is
grotesquely inadequate ; it could not fail to be inadequate, inasmuch
as Jeffrey had only the merest smattering of a second-hand knowl-
edge of German literature, and was familiar with German history
only as an intelligent English reader might be familiar with it who
had kept close watch on current European politics. Of German
metaphysics and of German literary criticism Jeffrey was consciously



212 NOTES.

and proudly ignorant. Under these circumstances, his explanation
of German taste was bound to be merely a botch of random guesses,
more or less happy intuitions, and superficially clever generalities.
A few years later Carlyle undertook the same problem with
an altogether different equipment and with altogether different
results.

168 22. They grew tired of bemg respected. It seems strange to
find Jeffrey relapsing here into the superficial view of literature as
merely the work of clever artificers trying to show skill and win
fame. His whole preceding argument has tended to prove that the
literature of any epoch is made what ft is because of its spontaneous
adaptation to the social needs of the times. At least, this is the
interpretation that a modern reader, familiar with the views of Taine
and his school, would put on the opening pages of this essay. The
present passage, however, seems to show that Jeffrey only partly
realized the conclusions to which his arguments lead. His problem
is to explain the characteristics of various periods in German
literature. In trying to solve this problem he does not consider how
the literature of each period corresponded to the social needs of the
time, and gave imaginative expression to. the ideals of life that were
current in the period in question. He considers literature apart
from the life of the times and regards it merely as the work of
" authors " writing for their own delectation or for public applause.
He sees that in their choice of subjects and in their methods of
treatment these authors must have been influenced somewhat by
surroundings and epoch. But his analysis of the nature of this
influence is very unconvincing ; and he does not conceive either of
the life of the German nation or of its expression in the literature of
its authors as an evolution in accordance with law. This essay is
almost the only one where Jeffrey ever attempts to use the historical
method in the study of contemporary literature. His failure here
shows just how far he comprehended and had control of the method
in question. He understood in its main principles the theory on
which the use of the method depends for its justification. He even
applied the method with some success to explain the characteristics
of certain earlier periods of English literature. But in the study of
contemporary literature he never used the method successfully;
partly because he was more interested in judging than in explaining ;
partly because he was not broad enough in his sympathies to enter
into all the conflicting ideals of life and of art that surrounded him ;
partly because he had no adequate conception of society as an



NOTES. 213

organism complex in structure and manifold in functions, and no
clear insight into the subtle interplay of social forces.

169 32. Tristram Shandy . . . Richardson, For a somewhat
similar account of the influence of English models on German
authors of the baser sort, see Coleridge's Biographia Literaria,
Bohn's edition, chap. 23.

170 1. The fantastical speculations of fohti B uncle. Thomas
Amory, the author of The Life offohn Buncle, Esq., was born about
1 691 and died in 1788. He is believed to have known Swift, was at
one time intimate with Toland and other Deists, but later lived
almost a hermit's life, and is thought to have been not quite sane.
The first volume of \i\s, fohn Buncle appeared in 1756, the second in
1766. The work is a strange compound of romantic adventures,
rhapsodies over natural scenery, and theological speculations.
Buncle marries and buries seven wives in the course of his tale, all
of them beautiful creatures whom he chances upon in his peregri-
nations through the English lake region. One noteworthy point in
the book is the author's genuine appreciation of picturesque scenery.
Hazlitt devotes Number 18 of his Round Table to a eulogy of
Amory, whom he calls the English Rabelais. Lamb was also a
reader of Buncle. Cf. his essay on the Two Races of Me ft.

173 I. A very curious . . . work. As the extracts in the text
deal hardly at all with Baber it is not worth while to go into the
details of his life. The extracts have been given because they
express Jeffrey's latest ideas touching the influence of race on
civilization, and because they supplement suggestively the specula-
tions at the beginning of the essay on Wilhelm Meister.

180 16. A natural and ifiherent difference. Cf. 159-7 and 159-11.



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Online LibraryFrancis Jeffrey JeffreySelections from the essays of Francis Jeffrey → online text (page 20 of 21)