The Greyson Letters. Selections from the Correspondence of R. E. H. Greyson, Esq. Edited by Henry Rogers, Author of “The Eclipse of Faith,” &c. Boston: Gould & Lincoln. 1 vol. 12 mo.
We are assured in the American preface to this volume, that while it exhibits Henry Rogers as the peer of Butler as a reasoner, it also shows him not inferior to Lamb as a humorist. Much as we are inclined to echo the critical decisions of prefaces, we regret being unable to indorse this confident statement. In amplitude, vigor, and fertility of thought we must think the author of the “Analogy” holds some slight advantages over the author of “The Eclipse of Faith;” and we seriously doubt if the lovers of Charles Lamb will be likely to rush into mirthful ecstasies over the humor of “The Greyson Letters.” But we suppose that Henry Rogers himself would make no pretensions to the rank of a writer, or reasoner, or humorist of the first class. Far from being a great man, he occasionally slips into the prejudices of quite a little one, and he never wholly puts off the pedagogue and puts on the philosopher. Without much original force of nature, and never unmistakably stamping his own image and superscription either on his arguments or his language, he is still a well-trained theological scholar, a skilful logician, and one of that class of elegant writers who neither offend the taste nor kindle the soul. As a controversialist on themes which are now engaging popular attention, he grasps the questions he discusses at one or two removes from their centre and heart, where they pass out of the sphere of ideas and pass into the region of opinions; and in this region he is candid to the extent of his perceptions, quick to detect the weak points in the formal statements of his opponents, and, without touching the vitalities of the matter in controversy, is always hailed as victor by those who agree with him, but rarely convinces the doubters and deniers he aims to convert. “The Greyson Letters” are evidently the work of an amiable, learned, accomplished, and able man, interested in a wide variety of themes which especially attract the attention of thinkers, but in his treatment of them indicating a lack of deep and wide experience, and of that close, searching thought which pierces to the core of a subject, and broods patiently over its living elements and relations, before it assumes to take them as materials for argumentation. This broad grasp of premises, which implies a penetrating and interpretative as well as dialectic mind, is the distinguishing difference between a great reasoner and an able logician. In regard to the form of the work, we can see no reason why its essays should be thrown into the shape of letters. The epistolary spirit vanishes almost as soon as “Dear Sir” and “Dear Madam” create its expectation. The author’s mind is grave by nature and culture, and is sprightly, as it seems to us, by compulsion and laborious levity. his nature has none of the rich- ness and juiciness, none of the instinctive soul of humor, which must have vent in the ludicrous. Occasionally an adversary or adverse dogma is demolished with excellent logic, and then comes a dismal grin or chuckle at the feat, which hardly reminds us of the sly, shy smile of Addison, or the frolic intelligence which laughs in the victorious eyes of Pascal. Still, with all abatements, “The Greyson Letters” make a book well worthy of being read, contain much admirable matter and suggestive thought, and might be allowed to pass muster among good books of the second class, did they not come before us with professions that seemed to invite the tests applicable to the first.
* * *
Essays in Biography and Criticism. By Peter Bayne, M. A., Author of “The Christian Life, Social and Individual,” &c. First Series. Boston: Gould & Lincoln. 1 vol. 12 mo.
This volume contains essays on De Quincey, Tennyson and his Teachers, Mrs. Barrett Browning, Glimpses of Recent British Art, John Ruskin, Hugh Miller, The Modern Novel, and Currer Bell. Though of various degrees of merit, they all evince careful study and patient thought, and are written with considerable brilliancy and eloquence. As a critic, Mr. Bayne is generally candid, conscientious, and intelligent, with occasional remarks evincing delicacy and depth of thought; but his perceptions are not always trustworthy, and his judgments are frequently of doubtful soundness. Thus when we are told that Wordsworth owed his fame to his moral elevation rather than to his “intellectual or æsthetic capacities,” and that there is hardly an instance of the highest creative imagination in the whole range of his poetry, — when we are informed that since Shakspeare no one “has laid bare the burning heart of passion” so perfectly as Byron, — and when the question is triumphantly asked, “Where, out of Shakspeare, can we find such a series of female portraits as those” in Bulwer’s “Rienzi,” — we feel inclined, in this association of Byron and Bulwer with Shakspeare, and this oversight of Wordsworth’s claim to represent the highest original elements in the English poetry of the present century, to dispute Mr. Bayne’s right to assume the chair of interpretative criticism. But still there are so many examples in his book of fine and true perception, and so evident a sympathy with intellectual excellence and moral beauty, that we do not feel disposed to quarrel with him on account of the apparent erroneousness of some of his separate opinions. Besides, his work is written in a style which will recommend it to a class of readers who are not especially interested in the subjects of which it treats, and it cannot fail to stimulate in them a desire to know more of the great writers of the century.