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several countries, is brought under consideration, These, by a prescription which cannot now be set aside, and which it would be vain to dispute, have obtained such universality, as well as firm footing of fame, that they may be already ranked with the ancients afore-mentioned. Partly by primogeniture, but principally by uninherited and intransmissible nobility of genius, born with them in times peculiarly favourable to its fullest development, these few illustrious fathers, founders, and exemplars of the intellectual character of their respective nations, have acquired that supremacy, which, whatever be their comparative merits or faults, -- and whatever the abstract claims of contemporaries or successors, -it becomes more and more difficult, through every improving age, for later aspirants to attain.
Of this small number of patrician names, Italy has had the glory of producing four,—Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso; Spain and Portugal one each,
- Cervantes and Camoens; France, two (of very late growth)-Corneille and Racine; Holland might have furnished one,-Erasmus, but he chose rather to embalm his thoughts in a dead language, than keep them alive in his own; England adds two to the honourable list, - Shakspeare and Milton; Spenser (whom none but himself could have excluded by his perverse affectation of a style never spoken by man) ought to have been a third ; and Chaucer might have been a fourth, the first, indeed, in date) but time has dealt hardly with him, and almost forgotten the rugged tongue in which the merry bard delighted him of old, with many a tale of men and manners
seen no more on earth. For the rest of Europe, it will require a pause to think of another name to represent the literature of any one, or all its populous provinces; though the very circumstance of an effort being necessary, in such a case, to single out an individual,
Whose soul was like a star and dwelt apart,"
among the hundreds recorded in biographical dictionaries, is sufficient proof that not one is to be found of the class to which allusion is now made ;whose rank is so conspicuous, and his celebrity so unequivocal, that his existence, and the primal literature of his native soil being identified, a casual recurrence to either will bring to remembrance the other.
No stress is here laid upon any thing but the bare fact, that, among the multitude of eminent writers in Italy, Spain, France, England, and the rest of Christendom, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries, (I purposely exclude all later born, as not having yet passed their full ordeal,) there are scarcely so many as twenty, of whom it can be unhesitatingly assumed, that, whatever be the future multiplication and extinction of books, their names and their works must last till a revolution in society, equal, but not similar, (for it is unimaginable that barbarism should ever again prevail,) to that which overthrew the empire and the arts of Greece and Rome,-shall utterly change the whole character of literary taste throughout the civilised world; or a scattering abroad of its
people, like that after the confusion of tongues at the building of Babel, shall dissipate the languages in which they have apparently immortalised their thoughts, or which have been immortalised by being made the vehicle of the same.
It is not questioned here, that many others may possibly survive as long as these, but it is not in the nature of things that many more, like them, should be men of all ages and all countries. . The productions of those who shall most slowly descend from contemporary splendour into gradual obscurity and final oblivion, will necessarily be reduced, in the course of two centuries, to rarities in literature, seldom consulted, and read never, though from courtesy enumerated with honour in the catalogues of collectors; while a few of their more precious fragments may, perhaps, be preserved and quoted in popular selections for the use of schools, or the delight of holiday readers. Every generation will produce its Cowleys and Drydens, its Wallers and Carews, whose “ freshe songis,” (to use the antique phrase of Chaucer) in perennial succession, shall supersede the strains of their immediate predecessors.
The pre-eminence which the above-named, and a few others, have held, and must continue to hold, is scarcely more owing to their superior talents, than to some felicity, which may be called good fortune, either in the originality of their style, the choice of their subjects, or the lucky combination of both,– and that, not in all, nor even in their largest performances, but in some portion only, on which their better planets shone at the conception, and their bet
ter genius presided over the birth. This circumstance also (irrespective of other contingencies) gives the few indestructible compositions of those master-spirits of elder times, an importance in a moral and intellectual point of view, which no other literary works of their own, and still less those of rivals (who may have otherwise been their equals or superiors) can claim. In these they have built monuments upon rocks above the high-water mark of time, which the flood of
years (amidst perpetual vicissitudes, perpetually advancing,) shall never overwhelm.
Poetic Aspirations and Pursuits.
Rare, however, as attainment to the highest honours in literature may be, there is no reason to believe that the compositions of any poet equal in rank to those unapproachable ancients, and those insurpassable moderns, already named, have been lost in the wreck of time past.
Every civilised age produces its poets of the second order, who necessarily attract most of the admiration of their contemporaries, without injustice to those of the same standard, who preceded them, and whose fame, having passed the full, by an irreversible law of nature wanes till it becomes extinct, never to be renewed. Yet, since the peerage of Parnassus is not limited by the constitution of the commonwealth, and the chance of two hundred thousand millions to one, though fearful odds, does not imply absolute impossibility of any new aspirant reaching that dignity ; - moreover, as there has been one Homer, Pindar, Virgil, Horace,
&c. in that number of human beings, there may be another, and who knows but I am he? So reasons every young poet, in whose breast has been once fairly kindled that spark which flames up, though the fuel be but stubble, for immortality. No feeling, no passion of our nature is so easily and exquisitely quickened, so deeply and intensely cherished, so late and reluctantly abandoned. It is sometimes awakened on the mother's knee, “ I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.”
It is only foregone at the brink of the grave, where, as the lover to his mistress, the poet to his muse, exclaims with his last breath, • Te teneam moriens, deficiente manu.”
TIBULLUS. “ Dying I'll hold thee with a failing hand.” Might it not be inferred, however, that the desire of establishing an indestructible name, by the incalculable uncertainty of success, would be so repressed in all, that none, even among those who were gifted with the requisite powers, would ever achieve it from defect of adequate exertion ? To this it may be answered, that hope is always bold, energetic, and persevering, in proportion to the conceived magnitude of its object; and the difficulties which dishearten him who calculates, only urge him who presumes to more resolute and indefatigable pursuit. Hence, it is the number only, not the ardour, of selfconfident candidates for posthumous fame, which is lessened by the unimaginable disparity between