Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Literary Chit-Chat

Previously mentioned on these pages were the literary works of Captain D.L. Richardson,  which were contemporaneous with Macaulay’s (Thomas Babington) presence in Calcutta.
D.L. Richardson’s “Literary Chit-Chat” is available on Google Books. In the foreword, D.L.R. expressed the hope that via this work, he might “contribute, however indirectly, to raise the tone of conversation in the homes of the rising generation of Hindus”.   Some excerpts might serve as a suitable memorial to the civilizing mission of the imperialists.  An added benefit is an amusing view of Macaulay.

Literary Chit-Chat
No. 1

A.—You have just had an interview, I hear, with Thomas Babington Macaulay—What do you think of him?
H.—In some respects he appeared the most extraordinary person I ever met with.  His conversational powers are marvellous.
A.—My friend J—thinks him a shallow fellow, and in his grave dull way, speaks contemptuously of him “as a mere reviewer.”
H.—As a mere reviewer! As if any blockhead could write a review! Such reviews, indeed appear in some of our literary periodicals, any body could write, who has no dislike to self-degradation.  But the criticisms in the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews are generally original papers of great power, and often surpass in the same characteristic excellence the work they commend most highly and with most justice.  I consider some of Macaulay’s criticisms in the Edinburgh to be amongst the very finest compositions of that kind in our language.  Perhaps Johnson’s analysis of Dryden’s powers is the Doctor’s best performance, but it is quite equaled by Macaulay’s brilliant and sagacious criticism on the same poet.
A.—I did not think you had so high an opinion of Macaulay as an author.   To me he appears flippant, dogmatical, labored—though he is not without a showy cleverness.   His style is never easy and natural.  He has not the art to hide his art.  It is not so difficult to construct the short, snappish, independent French sentences of which he is so fond, and which are agreeable enough to vulgar readers, because they move lightly, and are unencumbered with a weight of thought.   To use an illustration of Coleridge’s, they have only the same connexion with each other that marbles have in a bag.
H.—It may be easy enough to compose short sentences, but it is not so easy to point them with the wit and truth of Macaulay.
A.—At all events, you must grant that he is arrogant, and self-conceited.
H.—You are thinking of the man, and not of the author.  I do not suppose that a reader unacquainted personally with the writer would discover these faults, and even private intercourse Macaulay is usually courteous and polite.
A.—I know not how you can say so.  He left an impression on my mind that he despised every one but himself.  He talks incessantly, and will hardly allow any one at his own table to wedge in a single word.  He is overwhelming.  He soon tires the most admiring hearer.
H.—He never tired me, either in private life or in the House of Commons, where one of his brilliant orations throws all other speakers in the shade.  It is still more delightful to read than to hear them.  They are so polished, so terse, and so full of close reasoning and general truths.  They are the only speeches we now see in the newspapers that remind us of the eloquence of Burke.   I do not mean to say that they exhibit the same fine imagination, or the same depth of philosophy or force of genius, but they have that breadth of thought and that absence of purely temporary and local detail which make Burke’s speeches as readable now as the day after they were delivered.
A.—All this appears to me to be very extravagant; but I suppose we shall never agree upon the subject of Macaulay’s genius.   I should like, however, to know what sort of conversation you had with him at the Albany.
H.—Oh! He talked about the poets of England—the living poets—and I was delighted to listen.
A.—I cannot read Southey myself.  His arrogance and self-praise are intolerable.
H.—Macaulay considers him the greatest writer of his age.
A.—If by greatness he means bulk or voluminousness, I say ditto to Macaulay—making one exception—that of Sir Walter Scott, who wrote wagon-loads.
H.—What think you of Macaulay’s own verses?
A.—His Lays of Ancient Rome have neither imagination nor fancy, but they exhibit a thorough intimacy with the spirit of Ancient History, and are clear, animated and energetic.
H.—Poetry is not perhaps his forte-but yet his verses are such as any man might be proud of. It is as a Critic and Essayist that he will be known to posterity.
A.—If he should be known at all.