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We would recommend to Mr. Washington Irving, in whatever quarter of Germany he may be, to post back to England without delay, and look after his particular celebrity; for here is a synonimous gentleman, who has started during his absence, and is not only in the full enjoyment of a slap-dash renown of his own, but from a natural puzzle occasioned by identity of name, is coming in, among certain classes of his admirers, for supplemental honours which of right belong to the author of the Sketch-book.
We have been to "the Caledonian,” the cant appellation by which the scene of Mr. Irving's oratory is now familiarly known, in the neighbourhood of Hatton Garden. We would not willingly exaggeratestill less would we indulge in any thing verging upon irreverent levity --but the exhibition was so new in a place of Christian worship, and so much bustle and curiosity have been excited regarding the principal performer, that, as mere reporters of passing novelties, we consider ourselves fully justified in giving a faithful summary of what we felt
The whole concern has a theatrical air. You must have a ticket of admission. When, installed in your seat, you cast your eyes upon
the scene, you at once perceive that the persons around you are strangers to the place and to the sentiment that should prevail there—that they have come, not to say their prayers, but to have it to say that they have heard Mr. Irving. You look in vain for the keen and homely countenances, and the composed demeanour of a Scotch congregation; in their stead you have a miscellaneous assemblage of tittering misses, corpulent citizens, single gentlemen" from the West end" with their silk umbrellas, members of Parliament, and,“ the flowers of the flock," a gallery full of the choicest specimens of the fair population of chariots and landaulets. The service begins at eleven ; for the preceding halfhour, on the morning of our attendance, the passages leading to the gallery were the scene of tremendous rushing and confusion-all memory of the day and place was obliterated—there was nothing but the most unsightly working of shoulders and elbows, producing combinations of attitude, and varieties of ludicrous endurance, which no gravity could resist. We cannot stop to specify many examples; but the public sympathy is justly due to the young lady with the pink-lined bonnet who was so mercilessly jammed in by a column of dowagers and dandies and never thought of fainting away; and to the apoplecticlooking gentleman in blue, who by one heroic plunge emerged from his wedge, and, losing an arm of his coat in the effort, clambered up the gallery-stairs with this portion of his raiment dangling askant from his back like an hussar's supernumerary jacket.
This extraordinary scene would have astonished us, if we had been less familiar with the fury of a great capital for every thing in the way of sights and novelties. The bare announcement, in our fashionable circles, of the arrival of a Caledonian preacher, whose eloquence opened upon his congregation with the force of a galvanic battery, was quite sufficient to collect around him all the high-born and the loveliest sinners in the land, impatient to partake in the delicious horrors of a shock. Then the whisper ran that the personage in question was
VOL. VIII. NO. XXXIII.
neither more nor less than one of Sir Walter's Covenanters--a palpable, living and authentic illustration of the Scotch Novels--so superior to any of Westall's, that the artist was thinking of applying for an injunction. Here was a sight indeed! and as potent a stimulus for all this bustling and rushing for priority, as if Diana Vernon, or Meg Merrilies, or Old Mortality himself had come to town. There was another ground of attraction, and also of rather a worldly kindMr. Irving had announced his intention of passing the limits of pulpit theology and pulpit exhortation." He determined upon employing weapons not heretofore wielded at the altar, and directing them against the most influential classes in the country. He came “ to teach imaginative men, and political men, and legal men, and scientific men, who bear the world in hand, and having got the key to their several chambers of delusion and resistance, to enter in and debate the matter with their souls, that they might be left without excuse;" and the published example (the work now before us *) of “ this new method of handling religious truth” had apprised the community, that a part of his plan was to level the boldest, and were he not a holy man, we should say, the most bitter personalities against some of the most eminent writers of the day. But, suspending our opinion for the present upon the merits of such a mode of exhortation, was more wanting to secure to the inventor a brilliant auditory? What food for male and female curiosity! What a relief to the ordinary dulness of Sabbath occupation! What woman, with a woman's nature, could resist the prospect of seeing “ the heartless Childe” dragged by a spiritual critic to the altar, and made to undergo a salutary smarting for the petulance and wanderings of his heroes; or of beholding Moore, with all his crimes and Melodies upon his head, soundly belaboured in the pulpit by a Calvinistic chastiser of Anacreontics? What scene of Sheridan's could compare with a debate between Mr. Irving and Mr. Canning's soul, upon the honourable member's Parliamentary ways ? Lord Eldon, too, with bis own and a more illustrious conscience to answer for ; and Mr. Robinson, with the enormities of his budget; and the Broughams and Scarletts; and Sir Humphrey, in spite of his safety-lamp; and Mr. Jeffrey, so carnally insensible to the strains of the water-poets ;---all of these might be summoned by name and roughly communed with (as some of them have already been) to the inexpressible edification of a fashionable and overflowing congreg
ion. But to return from this not altogether irrelevant digression. Mr. Irving ascended the pulpit at eleven o'clock. The first effect of his appearance is extremely startling. He is considerably more than six feet high. He has a pallid face--the outline rather triangular than oval—the features regular and manly. The most striking circumstance about his head is a profusion of coarse, jet-black hair, which is carefully divided in the centre and combed down on either side, after the Italian fashion in the middle ages. The eye-brows and whiskers are in equal abundance. Upon the whole, we thought the entire countenance much more Italian than Scotch, and imagined that we could discover in the softness and regularity about the mouth and chin some resemblance to the Bonaparte family. There is a strongly marked
The Oracles of God; Four Orations. Judgement to come, an argument in Nine Parts, pp. 548.
organical defect in the eyes : when upturned, they convey the idea of absolute blindness. The forehead is high and handsome, and far too anxiously displayed. We were sorry to see Mr. Irving's fingers so frequently at work in that quarter to keep the hair in its upturned position. The petty care bestowed upon this point, and the toilet-associations connected with bleached shirt-wrists, starched collar, and cherished whiskers, greatly detracted from his dignity of aspect, and reduced what might have been really imposing into an air of mere terrific dandyism. His age, we understand, is about forty years. If any one should ask us, take him all in all, what he looked most like, we should say, that when he first glided into view, his towering figure, sable habiliments, pallid visage, and the theatrical adjustment of his black and bushy hair, reminded us of the entry of a wonder-working magician upon the boards of a real theatre.
The style of the discourse we heard was so similar to that of his publication, upon which we shall observe hereafter, that for the present we shall confine ourselves to Mr. Irving's pulpit manner.
His voice is naturally good : it is sweet, sonorous, and flexible, but he miserably mismanages it. His delivery is a tissue of extravagance and incorrectness. There is no privity between his sentiments and accents. There is no want of variety of intonation, but it is so capriciously introduced, that in one half of the emphatic passages his tongue seems to be utterly ignorant of the sense and bearing of what it is commissioned to articulate. The tones are at one moment unmeaningly measured and sepulchral--the next as inappropriately raised to the highest pitch of ecstatic fervour. His discourse took a review of the wonders of the animal and vegetable creation ; and he was as enwrapt and vehement upon the budding of a flower, or the growth of an insect, as if he were throwing off the most appalling thoughts that can agitate the human frame. This want of conformity between the matter and the manner was painfully apparent throughout. Let any one imagine the Battle of Prague, or any other piece of descriptive music, with the marks for expression transposed or dispersed at random, and the leading passages executed accordingly. We should then have pianissimo volleys of cannon, sotto voce trumpet-calls, and maestoso wailings of the faint and expiring. The effect would not be more fantastic and provoking than Mr. Irvings incessant misappropriation of his tones to his topics.
His gesture is equally defective in dignity and propriety. It is angular, irregular, and violent. In many passages intended to be argumentative or persuasive, his hands were going through petty and vulgar evolutions, as if he were attempting to explain by signs! the method of effecting some common mechanical operation. More than once he abruptly grasped with both hands the edge of the pulpit on the right, and reclining his body in that direction, like one seized with a sudden pain in the side, declaimed over his left shoulder to the auditors in the farther gallery. The movements of his countenance were to the full as infelicitous as his attitudes and gesture. Instead of a natural play of features, instead of " looks commercing with the skies," we had forced, anomalous, and at times, quite terrific contortions. In some passages where the subject would ħave demanded composure or elevation of feature, the preacher stooped over the pulpit, so
as to bring one ear almost into contact with the cushion, knit his brow, assumed a sort of smile or leer, and when the period was closed, returned to his position with a kind of triumphant jerk, precisely like a man who felt that he had just made a good satirical hit. There was one circumstance in Mr. Irving's method that would alone have destroyed the effect of any eloquence. He read his discourse, and it so happened that throughout he read it incorrectly. After taking up the commencing clauses of a period, he drew back from the book, and recited them with all the fervour of extemporaneous creation, but suddenly, in the very midst of the sentence, he had to break off and refer to the manuscript again, and here he perpetually failed to catch at once the point from which he was to continue. Five or six times his eye lighted upon the matter he had just delivered, and the congregation had it over again with a clumsy “I say," to give it the air of an intended repetition. This, and frequent mistakings of particular words, and a good many false quantities, (for Mr. Irving seems to be no prosodian), gave altogether a slovenly and bungling character to the entire exhibition. During a discourse of an hour and forty minutes, there was but one short
passage that we can except from these remarks. It was a description of Paradise; and he delivered it well. There was no extravagance of posture or gesticulation, and his tones had sweetness, sincerity, and elevation. With this single exception, he made little impression. As far as we could judge from the demeanour of those around us, they were utterly unmoved. There were now and then some unseemly, though not unnatural titterings among the younger females, at the warmth of the metaphors and personifications introduced into a description of the effects of Spring upon the animal and vegetable worlds.
We had almost omitted to state, that Mr. Irving used a regular white handkerchief, with which he had frequent occasion to remove the starting drops from his brow. We are afraid that the colour was chosen for effect. On retiring from the chapel, when we cast a last look to catch the character of his countenance in repose, we observed him, as he reclined in the back of the pulpit, performing the same operation with an honest Belcher pattern.
We have read Mr. Irving's book. It was no slight task, but we positively have read it through. It now and then evinces some power ; more however in the way of phrase, and in the accumulation of forcible common-places, than in original conception : but on the whole, we regard it as an imprudent publication, and considered with reference to its main object, which has been very pompously announced, the conversion or exposure of the intellectual classes, as an utter failure. The author appears to us to be a man of a capacity a little above mediocrity. He is, we doubt not, thoroughly versed in the theological doctrines of his church; for this is a matter upon which we do not presume to pronounce. His reading among popular English authors seems to have been tolerably extensive. We also give him credit for the most genuine zeal, notwithstanding the unnecessary tone of exaggeration and defiance with which it is accompanied--but here our commendations must cease. His taste is vicious in the extreme. His style is at once coarse and flashy. It is, in truth, the strangest jumble we have ever encountered. There is no single term by which it can be described. He announces his preference for the models in the days of
Milton, but he writes the language of no age. The phraseology of different centuries is often pressed into the service of a single period. We have some quaint turn from the times of Sir Thomas More, puritanical compounds that flourished under Cromwell, followed by a cavalcade of gaudy epithets, bringing down the diction to the day of publication. His affectation of antiquated words is excessive, and quite beneath the dignity of a Christian preacher. Mr. Irving should recollect that wot and wis and ween, and do and doth and hath, upon the latter of which he so delights to ring the changes, are all miserable matters of convention, having nothing in life to do with the objects of his ministry-that there is no charity in giving refuge to a discarded expletiveno glory in raising a departed monosyllable from the dead. His style has another great defect. It is grievously incorrect. When he comes to imagery, his mind is in a mist. He talks of " abolishing pulses,” "evacuating the uses of a law," the " quietus of torment," " erecting the platform of our being upon a new condition of probation.” Some of his sentences are models of “ metaphorical confusion.” We seldom met with a more perfect adept in the art of “torturing one poor thought a thousand ways.
He contrives that a leading idea shall change its dress and character with a pantomimic rapidity of execution. The Bible is with him, at one moment, a star, the very next a pavilion. Again, “ the rich and mellow word, with God's own wisdom mellow, and rich with all mortal and immortal attractions, is a better net to catch childhood, to catch manhood withal, than these pieces of man's wording.” We could multiply examples without number; they occur in every page.
Apart from these defects, which might have been overlooked in a work of less pretension, but which, wherever they prevail, are unequivocal proofs of slovenly habits of thinking, we may generally say of Mr. Irving's composition, that in the unadorned passages, where he prefaces or sums up a topic, it resembles the version of a Papal document, cumbrous, verbose, and authoritatively meek; that in his scriptural imitations, he sometimes succeeds in bringing together masses of awful imagery, the complete effect of which, however, is too often counteracted by the intrusion of some petty quaintness; and that his Platonic personifications of the soul, and the descriptions of its final beatitude, have a good deal of the pastoral manner and gorgeous colouring which render certain parts of the Pilgrim's Progress so delicious a treat to the imagination of the unlettered Christian.
In justice to Mr. Irving we shall select one or two of the most faultless of his impressive passages that we can find. His death-bed scenes are perhaps among the best:
“And another of a inore dark and dauntless mood, who hath braved a thousand terrors, will also make a stand against terror's grisly king—and he will seek his ancient intrepidity, and search for his wonted indifference; and light smiles upon his ghastly visage, and affect levity with his palsied tongue, and parry his rising fears, and wear smoothness on his outward heart, while there is nothing but tossing and uproar beneath. He may expire in the terrible struggle—nature inay fail under the unnatural contest; then he dies with desperation imprinted on his clay!
“But if he succeed in keeping the first onset down, then mark how a second and a third comes on as he waxeth feebler. Nature no longer enduring so much, strange and incoherent words burst forth, with now and then