« AnteriorContinuar »
miseration; and while we survey them, we are apt altogether to forget her frailties: we think of her faults with less indignation; and approve of our tears, as if they were shed for a person who had attained much nearer to pure virtue.
With regard to the queen's person, a circumstance not to be omitted in writing the history of a female reign, all contemporary authors agree in ascribing to Mary the utmost beauty of countenance, and elegance of shape, of which the human form is capable. Her hair was black, though, according to the fashion of that age, she frequently wore borrowed locks, and of different colours. Her eyes were a dark gray, her complexion was exquisitely fine, and her hands and arms remarkably delicate both as to shape and colour. Her stature was of an height that rose to the majestic. She danced, she walked, and rode with equal grace. Her taste for music was just; and she both sung and played upon the lute with uncommon skill. Towards the end of her life she began to grow fat; and her long confinement, and the coldness of the houses in which she was imprisoned, brought on a rheumatism, which deprived her of the use of her limbs. No man, says Brantome, ever beheld her person without admiration and love, or will read her history without sorrow.
XIII. CHARACTER OF JAMES I.
No prince, so little enterprising and so inoffensive, was ever so much exposed to the opposite extremes of calumny and flattery, of satire and panegyric. And the factions which began in his time, being still continued, have made his character be as much disputed to this day, as is commonly that of princes who are our contemporaries. Many virtues, however, it must be owned, he was possessed of; but scarce any of them pure, or free from the contagion of the neighbouring vices. His generosity bordered on profusion, his learning on pedantry, his pacific disposition on pusik
lanimity, his wisdom on cunning, his friendship on light fancy and boyish fondness. While he imagined that he was only maintaining his own authority, he may perhaps be suspected, in a few of his actions, and still more of his pretensions, to have somewhat encroached on the liberties of his people while he endeavoured, by an exact neutrality, to acquire the good-will of all his neighbours, he was able to preserve fully the esteem and regard of none. His capacity was considerable; but fitter to discourse on general maxims than to conduct any intricate business: his intentions were just; but more adapted to the conduct of private life, than to the government of kingdoms. Awkward in his person and ungainly in his manners, he was ill qualified to command respect; partial and undiscerning in his affections, he was little fitted to acquire general love. Of a feeble temper more than of a frail judgment; exposed to our ridicule from his vanity; but exempt from our hatred by his freedom from pride and arrogance. And upon the whole, it may be pronounced of his character, that all his qualities were sullied with weakness and embellished by humanity. Of political courage he certainly was destitute; and thence chiefly is derived the strong prejudice which prevails against his personal bravery-an inference, however, which must be owned, from general experience, to be extremely fallacious.
XIV. THE FOUR LEARNED AGES.
Ir is a singular phenomenon, and one which has often employed the speculations of curious men, that writers and artists, most distinguished for their parts and genius, have generally appeared in considerable numbers at a time. Some ages have been remarkably barren in them; while at other periods Nature seems to have exerted herself with more than ordinary effort, and to have poured them forth with a profuse fertility.
Various reasons have been assigned for this. Some of
the moral causes are obvious; such as favourable circumstances of government and of manners, encouragement from great men; and emulation excited among the men of genius.
But as these have been thought inadequate to the whole effect, physical causes have been also assigned; and some writers have collected many observations on the influence which the air, the climate, and other natural objects may be supposed to have upon genius. But whatever the causes be, the fact is certain, that there have been periods or ages of the world much more distinguished than others for the extraordinary production of genius.
Learned men have marked out four of these happy ages. The first is the Grecian age, which commenced near the time of the Peloponnesian war, and extended till the time of Alexander the Great; within which period we have Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Eschines, Lysias, Isocrates, Pindar, Eschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Menander, Anacreon Theocritus, Lysippus, Appelles, Phidias, and Praxiteles.
The second is the Roman, or, as it is commonly called, the Augustan age, included nearly within the days of Julius Cæsar and Augustus, affording us Catullus, Lucretius, Terence, Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, Phædrus, Cæsar, Cicero, Livy, Sallust, Varro, and Vitruvius.
The third age is that of the restoration of learning, under the Popes Julius II. and Leo X., when flourished Ariosto, Tasso, Sannazarius, Vida, Machiavel, Guicciardini, Davila, Erasmus, Paul Jovius, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, Aldus, and the Stephani.
The fourth comprehends the age of Louis XIV. and Queen Anne, when there flourished in France, Corneille, Racine, Moliere, De Retz, Fontaine, Boileau, Rousseau, Bossuet, Fenelon, Bourdaloue, Fontanelle, Masillon, Pascal, Malebranche, Bruyere, and Bayle; and in England, Dryden, Pope, Addison, Prior, Swift, Parnell, Arbuthnot, Congreve,
Otway, Young, Rowe, Atterbury, Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Tillotson, Temple, Boyle, Locke, Newton, and Clarke.
Other ages of learning will doubtless be characterized by posterity, and we may hope that our own will not be deemed unworthy of such distinction.
XV.-CHARACTER OF MR. PITT.
THE secretary stood alone. Modern degeneracy had not reached him. Original and unaccommodating, the features of his character had the hardihood of antiquity. His august mind overawed majesty itself; and one of his sovereigns thought royalty so impaired in his presence, that he conspired to remove him, in order to be relieved from his superiority. No state chicanery, no narrow system of vicious politics, no idle contest for ministerial victories, sunk him to the vulgar level of the great; but, overbearing, persuasive, and impracticable, his object was England, his ambition was fame. Without dividing, he destroyed party; without corrupting, he made a venal age unanimous. France sunk beneath him. With one hand he smote the house of Bourbon, and wielded in the other the democracy of England. The sight of his mind was infinite; and his schemes were to affect, not England, not the present age only, but Europe and posterity. Wonderful were the means by which these schemes were accomplished; always seasonable, always adequate, the suggestions of an understanding animated by ardour, and enlightened by prophecy.
The ordinary feelings which make life amiable and indolent, were unknown to him. No domestic difficulties, no domestic weakness, reached him; but, aloof from the sordid occurrences of life, and unsullied by its intercourse, he came occasionally into our system, to counsel and to decide.
A character so exalted, so strenuous, so various, so authoritative, astonished a corrupt age; and the treasury trembled at the name of Pitt, through all her classes of
venality. Corruption imagined, indeed, that she had found defects in this statesman, and talked much of the inconsistency of his glory, and much of the ruin of his victories; but the history of his country, and the calamities of the enemy, answered and refuted her.
Nor were his political abilities his only talents: his eloquence was an era in the senate, peculiar and spontaneous, familiarly expressing gigantic sentiments and instinctive wisdom; not like the torrent of Demosthenes, or the splendid conflagration of Tully; it resembled sometimes the thunder, and sometimes the music, of the spheres. Like Murray, he did not conduct the understanding through the painful subtilty of argumentation; nor was he, like Townsend, for ever on the rack of exertion; but rather lightened upon the subject, and reached the point by the flashings of his mind, which, like those of his eyes, were felt, but could not be followed.
Upon the whole, there was in this man something that could create, subvert, or reform; an understanding, a spirit, and an eloquence, to summon mankind to society, or to break the bonds of slavery asunder, and to rule the wildness of free minds with unbounded authority; something that could establish or overwhelm empire, and strike a blow in the world that should resound through the universe.
XVI.-CHARACTER OF HIM AS EARL OF CHATHAM.
His genius, like Burke's, burned brightest at the last. The spark of liberty, which had lain concealed and dormant, buried under the dirt and rubbish of state intrigue and vulgar faction, now met with congenial matter, and kindled up "a flame of sacred vehemence" in his breast. It burst forth with a fury and a splendour that might have awed the world, and made kings tremble. He spoke as a man should speak, because he felt as a man should feel, in such circumstances. He came forward as the advocate of liberty,