« PreviousContinue »
energy of a poet's power. The poet, the lover, and the scholarall who have sympathy with sweetest imaginations—with the purest love and the bitterest misfortunes, see nothing in Ferrara but the place of his captivity,
“ Who pour’d his spirit over Palestine,"
“ But Thou—when all that birth and beauty throws
r-but too late.”.
Art. IV. The Holy State and Profane State, by Thomas Ful
ler, B. D. and Prebendary of Sarum. The fourth Edition, London 1663. pp. 511, with Portraits.
If ever there was an amusing writer in this world, the facetious Thomas Fuller was one.—There was in him a combination of those qualities which minister to our entertainment, such as few have ever possessed in an equal degree. He was, first of all, a man of extensive and multifarious reading; of great and digested knowledge, which an extraordinary retentiveness of memory preserved ever ready for use, and considerable accuracy of judgment enabled him successfully to apply. He was also, if
we may use the term, a very great anecdote-monger; an indefatigable collector of the traditionary stories related of eminent characters, to gather which, his biographers inform us, he would listen contentedly for hours to the garrulity of the aged country people whom he encountered in his progresses with the king's army. With such plenitude and diversity of information, he had an inexhaustible fund for the purposes of illustration, and this he knew well how to turn to the best advantage. Unlike his tasteless contemporaries, he did not bring forth or display his erudition on unnecessary occasions, or pile extract on extract, and cento on cento, with industry as misapplied as it was disgusting.–With Fuller, a quotation always tells : learning with him was considered as a sort of mortar to strengthen, interlace, and support his own intellectual speculations, to fill up the interstices of argument, and conjoin and knit together the corresponding masses of thought; not as a sort of plaster to be superinduced over the original products of his mind, till their character and peculiarities were lost amid the integuments which enveloped them. So well does he vary his treasures of memory and observation, so judiciously does he interweave his anecdotes, quotations, and remarks, that it is impossible to conceive a more delightful chequer-work of acute thought and apposite illustration, of original and extracted sentiment, than is presented in his works. As a story-teller, he was most consummately felicitous. The relation which we have seen for the hundredth time, when introduced in his productions, assumes all the freshness of novelty, and comes out of his hands instinct with fresh life and glowing with vitality and spirit. The stalest jest, the most hacknied circumstance, the repetition of which by another would only provoke our nausea, when adopted by him, receives a redintegration of essence not less miraculous than the conversion of dry bones into living beings—Wherever we dip in his works we are certain to meet
with some narrated incident or apothegm to detain us, and we are insensibly led on from anecdote to anecdote, and from witticism to witticism, without the power to put the book upon the shelf again. How delightful must have been the conversation of Fuller, varied as it was with exuberance of knowledge, enlivened with gossiping, chastened by good sense, and sparkling with epigrammatical sharpness of wit, decorated with all its native fantastical embroidery of humorous quaintness. We verily declare for ourselves, that if we had the power of resuscitating an individual from the dead to enjoy the pleasure of his conversation, we do not know any one on whom our choice would sooner fall than Fuller.
Of human life and manners through all their varieties, he was also a most sagacious and acute observer, and the quantity of vigorous and just observation, in this department of inquiry
alone, contained in his works, it is hardly possible to calculate with correctness or appreciate with justice. He united the cool penetration of the philosophical speculatist, with the less erring because less refined contemplation of the practical experimentalist in the ways of man. He was learned, yet his learning did not take away his perspicuity in judging of the modes of every-day existence; he was indefatigable in literature, yet amidst his pursuits he found leisure to look into life with the acuteness of a Rochefoucault: he was addicted to meditation, yet he never was blinded to the observation of things without, while occupied with the abstractions within. More profundity of remark, more accuracy of discernment, more justness of perception, than this topic always produces from his pen, it would be difficult elsewhere to find. Few scholars excelled more in sound and practical good sense, and consequently very few ever coined maxims of more irresistible and incontrovertible wisdom. To him the whole complete machinery, which composes the great work of existence, in all its parts, springs, and dependencies lay exposed, and no subtlety in its regulations could deceive his intuitive quickness, no artificial intermingling of its interest could obscure his unerring penetration.-But great as all these his endowments were, his qualifications of authorship, it is not perhaps to any of them, that our chief satisfaction in reading the works of Fuller can justly be attributed. Others, many others, have doubtless possessed them in an equal if not in a superior degree, and the attractions of our author carry a peculiar individuality about them, which no other can share or divide with him. These particular attractions which he alone monopolised, are doubtless the results of his unrivalled facetiousness and quaintness. The praises of wisdom and learning he must ever divide with countless multitudes, and in the pages of multitudes of writers may equal proofs of that learning and wisdom be met with. But for the facetiousness which breaks forth on all themes and subjects, and which hides itself but to burst forth again, like the river Arethusa, in all the creamy effervescence of sparkling frothiness—which throws over his gravest disquisitions an air of irresistible jocularity, and over his most solemn adjurations an appearance of lurking and irrepressible slyness, - which diffuses over the obscure duskiness of church history a quaint oiliness of conceit, and enriches even geographical barrenness by its everlasting fecundity of wit;- for the hearty and chuckling fullness of mirth, which catches at a joke as a boy does at a butterfly, and impresses every possible play of words of necessity into its service,- for the sedulous and resolute quest after humour which no consideration could divert or stop, and which would at any time spoil a good argument, or burlesque a serious observation to hitch in an epigram, good, bad, or indifferent-where shall we search but in the pages of the inimitable, the
incomparable Fuller? It is not because he is generally successful in his attempts to be witty that we experience this gratification and delight, for nine of his attempts out of ten are certain to be complete failures; nor can it arise from the trueness of his wit, for commonly it consists of little more than puns, quibbles, and antitheses: it is not certainly from these, but from other causes that our satisfaction originates, from his glorious and enthusiastic intrepidity in his sallies to the land of humour, from his bold and determined quixotism after wit and facetiousness, from his readiness to grasp at any thing which bore the most distant resemblance to them, from his buoyant and eternal spirit of drollery, from his indefatigable and adventurous knight-errantry which would traverse the whole universe for wit, from his peculiar singleness of observation, which could see
" Humour in stones, and puns in every thing." He absolutely communicates something of his own fervour to his reader : it is almost impossible to read his works without going along with him in his hunt for jokes, and without participating in his satisfaction when he has found them. His quaint facetiousness was communicable to every thing, Graft it on whatever tree he chose, and it would bud out, blossom forth, and luxuriate. Like a fisherman, he threw out his capacious net into the ocean of wit, and rejected nothing that it brought up, however miscellaneous or motley were its contents; pleased, and perhaps thinking that others would be pleased, with their variety. There is besides such an apparent self-satisfaction discernible throughout his works—we can almost fancy we see him chuckling over his forth-coming jests as they successively issue from his brain, preparing us by his triumphant exultation for the stroke which is to follow : or revelling in uncontroled and uncontrolable merriment over the vagaries of which he had discharged his head by communicating them to paper. Such was the disposition of Fuller. The qualities of mind which would in another have produced a buffoon, in him, without losing their power of entertainment, lost all their grosser and more offensive traits, and became, from their very superfetation, less imbued with the rankness of farce. To him the language of jocularity had something of the gravity of earnest : it was his own vernacular idiom, in which every thing which issued from his mind was clothed; it was something so intimately connected with him, that all attempts to strip it off would be useless; something settled and fixed in his intellect, and stamping and marking its whole character. By being therefore more generalized, it had less of marked purport and design, and as it was assumed on all subjects was indecorous on none.-Fuller, we think, would hardly have scrupled to crack a joke upon the four Evangelists; but
certain we are, it would have been without any idea of indecency or intention of irreverence.
This characteristic peculiarity is equally visible in all his productions, from his Holy War to his Worthies, and consequently they are all almost equally entertaining. His Holy War and Church History, particularly the last, are two of the most agreeable works we know; replete, besides their Fullerism, with perspicacious observation, profound thought, deep discernment, and narrative power. There are specimens of historical painting in these works which perhaps have never been excelled, conceived with great energy and executed with happiness.-In his delineation of characters, he exhibits such unrivalled acumen, ability, and penetration, together with such candour and uprightness of judgment, that it is difficult which most to admire, his sagacity or his sincerity. His Pisgah Light of Palestine, which is also in part an historical work, is a happy elucidation of what Fuller always excelled in, sacred story: and no work of his better displays the riches of his mind or the plenitude and fertility of its images. His Worthies is, we believe, more generally perused than any of his productions, and is perhaps the most agreeable ; suffice to say of it, that it is a most fascinating storehouse of gossiping, anecdote, and quaintness; a most delightful medley of interchanged amusement, presenting entertainment as varied as it is inexhaustible. His Good Thoughts in Bad Times, and lesser works, are all equally excellent in their way, full of admirable maxims and reflections, agreeable stories, and ingenious moralizations. It was however in biography that Fuller most excelled.
If he was frequently too careless and inaccurate in his facts, it was not from heedlessness as to truth, which no one reverenced more than he did, but because he considered them but as the rind and outward covering of the more important and more delicious stores of thinking and consideration which they inwardly contained; because he thought life too short to be frittered away in fixing dates and examining registers: what he sought was matter convertible to use, to the great work of the improvement of the human mind, not those more minute and jejune creatures of authenticity, which fools toil in seeking after, and madmen die in elucidating. In this he has been followed by a great biographical writer of the last age, with whom he had more points than one in common. Leaving therefore such minor parts of biography for the investigation of others, and seizing only on the principal events, and those distinguishing incidents or anecdotes which mark a character in a moment, and which no one knew better than Fuller to pick out and select, he detailed them with such perspicuity and precision, and commented upon them with such accuracy of discrimination, strength of argument and force of reason, and threw