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1 'W It is very seldom that a story in a Magazine excites any enthusiasm , for it is very seldom that the stories are anything more than clever reproductions of what has already been familiar to readers of fiction . Even when the writers get hold of a new idea , or a new character , they generally fail to give it the truthful or original presentation which alone can produce a vivid impression on the public ; while for the most part , instead of drawing from their own experience the materials of their fiction , they seem irresistibly impelled to draw upon their memories .
In JBlackwood we have the commencement of a new aerial , which , to judge from one number , will fulfil that very condition we have just declared to be indispensable to success . It is entitled " The Sad Fortunes of the Rev . Amos Barton , " and is obviously the representation in fiction of direct and observant experience . The manner is cjuiet , the style concrete , humorous , and easy ; the presentation very vivid , and the story evolved with dramatic skill . " Thelife described is that of a smalt country town , and the time a quarter of a century ago . The farmers , the gentry , the clergyman and his family , are made to live before our eyes . To give our readers a taste of this writer ' s quality , we will extract a bit of the scene of Baeton ' s preaching at the workhouse , a scene which las a profound and even tragic significance under its humour , showing as it does the extreme remoteness of clerical teaching from the sympathies and intelligence of tbe lower orders : —
But now Amos Barton has made hia way through the aleet aa far as the College , has thrown off Ms hat , cape , and boa , and is reading , in the dreary stone-floored diningroom , a portion of the morning service to the inmates seated on the benches before him . Remember , the new poor-law had not yet come into operation , and Mr . Barton was not acting 1 as paid chaplain of the Union , but as the pastor who had the cure of all souls in his parish , pauper as well as other . After the prayers he always addressed to them a short discourse on some subject suggested by the lesson for the day , striving if by this means some edifying matter might nud its way into the pauper mind and conscience—perhaps a task as trying as you could well imagine to the faith and patience of any honest clergyman . For , on the very first bench , these were the faces
on which hia eye had to rest , watching whether there was any stirring under the stagnant surface . Bight in front of him—probably because he was stone-deaf , and it yra . % deemed more edifying to hear nothing at a-short distance than at a long one—sat " Old Maxum , " as he was familiarly called , his real patronymic remaining a mystery to most persons . A fine philological sense discerns in . this cognomen an indication that the pauper patriarch had once been considered pith y and sententious in his speech ; but now the weight of ninety-five years lay heavy on his tongue as well as in his ears , and he sat before the clergyman -with protruded chin and munching mouth , and eyes that seemed to look at emptiness .
Next to him sat Poll Podge—known to the magistracy of her country a 3 Mary Higgins—a one-eyed woman , with a scarred and seamy face , the most notorious rebel in the workhouse , said to have onco thrown her broth over the master ' s coat-tails , and -who , in spite of nature ' s apparent safeguards against that contingency , had contributed to the perpetuation of the Fodge characteristics in the person of a small boy , who was behaving naughtily on one of the back benches . Miss Fodge fixed her one sore eye on Mr . Barton with a sort of liardy defiance . Beyond this member of the softer sex , at the end of the bench , sat " Silly Jim , " a young man , afflicted with hydrocephalus , who rolled his head from side to side , and gazed at the point of hia nose . These "were the supporters of Old Maxuna on hia right .
On his left sat Mr . Fitchett , a tall fellow , who had once been a footman in tho Oldinport family , and in that giddy elevation had enunciated a comtemptuous opinion of boiled beef , which had been traditionally handed down in Shepperton as the direct cause of his ultimate reduction to pauper commons . . . . Mr . Fitchett had an irrepressible tendency to drowsiness under spiritual instruction , and in the recurrent regularity with which he dozed off until he nodded and awaked himself , he looked not unlike a piece of mechanism , ingeniously contrived for measuring tho length of Mr . Barton ' s discourse . Perfectly wide-awake , on the contrary , was his left-hand neighbour , Mrs . Brick , one of those hard undying old women , to whom ago seems to have given a network of wrinkles , as a coat of magic armour against the attacks of winters , warm or cold . Tho point on which Mrs . Brick was still sensitive—the theme on which you might possibly excite her hope and fear—was snuff . It seemed to be an embalming powder , helping her soul to do the office of salt .
And ^ ow , eke out an audience of which this front bcnchful was a sample , with a certain number of refractory children , over whom Mr . Spratt , the master of tho workhouso , exercised an irate surveillanco , and I think you will admit that tho universitytaught clergyman , whose office it is to bring homo the gospel to a handful of such souls , has a sufficiently hard task . For , to have any chance of success , short of miraculous intervention , he must bring his geographical , chronological , exegctical mind pretty nearly to tho pauper point of view , or of no view ; he must have some approximate conception of the mode in which tho doctrines that have so much vitality in the plenum of hia own brain will comport themselves in iiaciio— that is to say , in a brain that is neither geographical , chronological , nor oxogetical . It is a flexible imagination that can take such a leap as that , and an adroit tongue that can adapt its speech to unfamiliar Tho
ao a position . Rev . Amos Barton had neither that flexible imagination , nor that adroit tongue . Ho talked oflarael and its 8 ins , of choson vesacls , of the 1 aschal lamb , of blood as a mediu m of reconciliation ; and he strove in this way to convey religious truth withm reach of the Podge and Fitchett mind . This very morning , tho first lesson was the tweWtli chapter of Kxodus , and Mr . Barton ' s oxpoaition turned on unleavened bread . Nothing in tho world more suited to tho simple understanding than instruction through familiar types and symbols ! But there is always this danger attending it , that the interest or comprehension of your hearers may stop short precisely at tho point wliero your spiritual interpretation begins . And Mr iJarton thia mormng succeeded in carrying tho pauper imagination to tho doughtub but unfortunately was not ablo to carry it upwards from that well-known object to the unknown truths which it was intended to shadow forth
. Aloa ! a natural incapacity for teaching , finished by keeping " terms" at Cambridge , whore there arc alia mathematicians , and butter ia sold by the yard , is not apparently the medium through which Christian doctrine will distil as welcome aow on withered souls .
In striking contrast to the truth and freshness of these " Scenes of Clerical Life" stands another story in the same Magazine called "A . Ohristmas Tale , " which once more repeats the thousand times repeated trick of solving a mystery by making the whole story a dream . Nothing but consummate skill could justify so worn-out a device . The review of Aurora Lei gh , though warm enough in eulogy , seems to us ill-directed an its blame . That the story of Aurora Leigh is neither probable , nor good as a story , we have already intimated ; but the story of
Samlet is even more absurd , and Rymer has shown what havoc can be made with Othello , if tested by such criticism . And when the reviewer in Black - wood objects to Aurora Leigh that certain attempts to picture the present " would lead to a total sacrifice of the ideal , " one is tempted to ask , And ¦ what then ? He seems to object to the humorous and satirical passages in this poem on the ground of their modern tone ; and tries to make out a case against them b y printing them , as prose . But this kind of criticism would be injurious to any poet .
Fraser opens with tbe first part of a new story by the author of JDigby Grand e lively enough , and taking us to new countries ; but the most striking papers in the number are " Sermons and Sermonizers , " and " The Triumph of Barbarism . " The first is apropos of Spukgeon , whose brimstone eloquence has made him one of the men of the time ; and indeed it requires but little ability to achieve notoriety in England if that little be devoted to vociferous damnation . Mawworm liked to be despised—the English relish being damned . As Charles Lamb said , "I can ' t give up my Hell . " Life is too solemn , and dreary in our dismal atmosphere to do without
dramdrinking and the prospect of hell fire . And the prodigal use made of the imagery of hell by Spcrgeon , Cumming , and other amiable teachers , carries with it a fascination which the thousands willingly acknowledge , the more so as the majority of preachers content themselves with the placid utterance of lithographed sermons , price 9 d . each . The lesson taught by Spurgeon is said by Fraser to be a lesson on the folly of preaching fro ni sermons bought instead of written by the clergymen . "We fancy there is something more in it than that , although that doubtless is a great cause of the inefficiency of the pulpit .
In the article on " Occult Philosophy" a good defence is made of the old Alchemists , which our readers are advised to meditate . The writer falls into an error , singular in a man of science , in speaking of the old Greek philosophers as " physiologists , " which , although the term applied to them by Aristotle , is in English applied exclusively to those who study the organic sciences . We borrow from him the interesting passage in which he illustrates the idea of Lie big : — Four bodies ( he says ) , three of them condense ! gases , have , we find , clothed him from head to foot ; all that he wears is composed of oxygen , hydrogen , aud carbon , with the addition of some nitrogen in his boots and coat . He himself is made up of the same four constituents , together with a little calcium and phosphorus . There are , it is true , traces of iron and sodium , and one or two other matters to be
found in him r but these are accidental and not constitutional . The book in his hand is a condensation of carbon , hydrogen , and oxygen ; ao is the table before him ; so is almost everything on and about him , until we come to the watch in hia pocket and the shilling in his purse ; and each of these insignificant articles requires an element all to itself . Does not this seem like & waste of power , not to say a poverty of invention , on the part of Mother Nature , who , having effected so much by solidifying and combining four or five aeriform invisible bodies , forgets her usual economy , and has recourse to new and distinct materials for the manufacture of such very similar substances as gold and silver ? Does it not seem more probable that the plan of nature is uniform , and that the same causes , or at least causes similar to them , which produce organic effects , are also > tho basis of inorganic matter ? If so , it is probable that tho metals are capable of decomposition . If they can bo decomposed , chemistry shows that it is not impossible to recompose them . We have already outrun our limits , and must reserve for next week the notice of other periodicals .
OREENE AND MARLOWE . Poems of Robert Greene , and Christopher Marlowe . Edited by Robert Bell . J . " VV . Parker and Son . The reading public has for some years been gradually making up its mind as to the resil mediocrity of those contemporaries of Shakspeare who , after a well-merited oblivion of many generations , were suddenly ' rehabilitated ' by the lovers of the Elizabethan drama , and were held up as men of rare genius , interesting not only on account of their connexion with the age of Shakspeare , but on account of their own splendid though imperfect achievements . Lamb ' s " Specimens of the Dramatic Poets " was a book to give wide currency to tins false direction of the public taste : it contained so
many real beauties , and was so felicitous and enthusiastic in its criticisms , that even cautious critics thought a new mine of poetic wealth had been detected . We cannot here enter into the examination of so large a question ; but after having given great attention to the " Old Dramatists , and having for many years studied them in the hope of discovering the pearls of great pr ice which weic confidently said to be discoverable there , wo feel bound to declare our conviction that our labour was wretchedly misspent , and that the " Old Dramatists" no more deserve the serious attention of tho present age than tho Ainsworths and Jameses will deserve tho attention of our descendants , because these novelists happen to ' flourish' in the age of Dickens and Thnckoray . But whatever may he the opinion entertained of these Old Dramatists as Dramatists , or rather ns daring writers capable of great occasional effects , there can bo little hope of their gaining tho world ' s attention as -writers of poems ; nud this volume , which Mr . Bell has added to tho list of the " Annotated Edition of the English , Poets , ' will task tho patience of the most patient . Tlio poems tiro deplorably mediocre . Greene is inferior to
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' ICiitrato .
Critics are notthelegislators . butthe judges and police of literature . They do not make laws— they interpret and try to enforce them . — Edinburgh Bevtev ) '
Leader (1850-1860), Jan. 3, 1857, page 16, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/l/issues/vm2-ncseproduct2174/page/16/