ページの画像
PDF
ePub

'Let gorgeous Tragedy In scepter'd pall come sweeping by.'

"Even situations far depressed beneath the familiar mediocrity of life, are more picturesque and poetical than its ordinary level. It is certainly on the virtues of the middling rank of life, that the strength and comforts of society chiefly depend, in the same way as we look for the harvest, not on cliffs and precipices, but on the easy slope and the uniform plain. But the painter does not in general fix on level countries for the subjects of his noblest landscapes. There is an analogy, I conceive, to this in the moral painting of tragedy. Disparities of station give it boldness of outline. The commanding situations of life are its mountain scenery -the region where its storm and sunshine may be portrayed in their strongest contrast and colouring." Vol. v. pp. 58-62.

Nothing, we think, can be more exquisite than this criticism,-though we are far from being entire converts to its doctrines; and are moreover of opinion, that the merits of Lillo, as a poet at least, are considerably overrated. There is a flatness and a weakness in his diction, that we think must have struck Mr. C. more than he has acknowledged, and a tone, occasionally, both of vulgarity and of paltry affectation, that counteracts the pathetic effect of his conceptions, and does injustice to the experiment of domestic tragedy.

The critique on Thomson is distinguished by the same fine tact, candour, and concise

ness.

"Habits of early admiration teach us all to look back upon this poet as the favourite companion of our solitary walks, and as the author who has first or chiefly reflected back to our minds a heightened and refined sensation of the delight which rural scenery affords us. The judgment of cooler years may somewhat abate our estimation of him, though it will still leave us the essential features of his poetical character to abide the test of reflection. The unvaried pomp of his diction suggests a most unfavourable comparison with the manly and idiomatic simplicity of Cowper: at the same time, the pervading spirit and feeling of his poetry is in general more bland and delightful than that of his great rival in rural description. Thomson seems to con: template the creation with an eye of unqualified pleasure and ecstasy, and to love its inhabitants with a lofty and hallowed feeling of religious happiness; Cowper has also his philanthropy, but it is dashed with religious terrors, and with themes of satire, regret, and reprehension. Cowper's image of nature is more curiously distinct and familiar. Thomson carries our associations through a wider circuit of speculation and sympathy. His touches cannot be more faithful than Cowper's, but they are more soft and select, and less disturbed by the intrusion of homely objects. It is but justice to say, that amidst the feeling and fancy of the Seasons, we meet with interruptions of declamation, heavy narrative, and unhappy digression-with a parhelion eloquence that throws a counterfeit glow of expression on common-place ideas-as when he treats us to the solemnly ridiculous bathing of Musidora; or draws from the classics instead of nature; or, after invoking inspiration from her hermit seat, makes his dedicatory bow to a patronizing countess, or speaker of the House of Commons. As long as he dwells in the pure contemplation of nature, and appeals to the universal poetry of the human breast, his redundant style comes to us as something venial and adventitious-it is the flowing vesture of the druid; and perhaps to the general experience is rather imposing; but when he returns to the familiar narrations or courtesies of life, the same diction ceases to seem the mantle of inspiration, and only strikes

us by its unwieldy difference from the common costume of expression."-pp. 215-218.

There is the same delicacy of taste, and beauty of writing, in the following remarks on Collins-though we think the Specimens afterwards given from this exquisite poet are rather niggardly.

"Collins published his Oriental Eclogues while at college, and his lyrical poetry at the age of with whatever Milton wrote under the age of thirty. twenty-six. Those works will abide comparison If they have rather less exuberant wealth of genuis, they exhibit more exquisite touches of pathos. Like Milton, he leads us into the haunted ground of imagination; like him, he has the rich economy of expression haloed with thought, which by single or few words often hints entire pictures to the imagination. In what short and simple terms, for instance, does he open a wide and majestic landscape mond or Snowden-when he speaks of the hut to the mind, such as we might view from Benlo

'That from some mountain's side Views wilds and swelling floods.'

"

And in the line, Where faint and sickly winds for ever howl around,' he does not seem nierely to describe the sultry desert, but brings it home to the senses.

"A cloud of obscurity sometimes rests on his highest conceptions, arising from the fineness of his associations, and the daring sweep of his illusions; but the shadow is transitory, and interferes very little with the light of his imagery, or the warmth of his feelings. The absence of even this speck of mysticism from his Ode on the Passions is perhaps the happy circumstance that secured its unbounded popularity. Nothing, however, is common-place in Collins. The pastoral eclogue, which is insipid in all other English hands, assumes in his a touching interest, and a picturesque air of novelty. It seems that he himself ultimately undervalued those eclogues, as deficient in characteristic manners; but surely no just reader of them cares any more about this circumstance than about the authenticity of the tale of Troy.

64

In his Ode to Fear he hints at his dramatic ambition; and he planned several tragedies. Had he lived to enjoy and adorn existence, it is not easy to conceive his sensitive spirit and harmonious ear descending to mediocrity in any path of poetry; yet it may be doubted if his mind had not a passion for the visionary and remote forms of imagination, too strong and exclusive for the general pur poses of the drama. His genius loved to breathe rather in the preternatural and ideal element of poetry, than in the atmosphere of imitation, which lies closest to real life; and his notions of poetical excellence, whatever vows he might address to the manners,' were still tending to the vast, the undefinable, and the abstract. Certainly, however, he carried sensibility and tenderness into the highest regions of abstracted thought: His enthusiasm spreads a glow even amongst the shadowy tribes of mind,' and his allegory is as sensible to the heart as it is visible to the fancy."-pp. 310, 312.

"

Though we are afraid our extracts are becoming unreasonable, we cannot resist indulging our own nationality, by producing this specimen of Mr. Campbell's.

"The admirers of the Gentle Shepherd must perhaps be contented to share some suspicion of national partiality, while they do justice to their own feeling of its merit. Yet as this drama is a picture of rustic Scotland, it would perhaps be saying little for its fidelity, if it yielded no more agreeableness to the breast of a native than he could expound to a stranger by the strict letter of criticism. We should think the painter had finished the likeness of a mother very indifferently, if it

did not bring home to her children traits of undefinable expression which had escaped every eye but that of familiar affection. Ramsay had not the force of Burns; but, neither, in just proportion to his merits, is he likely to be felt by an English reader. The fire of Burns' wit and passion glows through an obscure dialect by its confinement to short and concentrated bursts. The interest which Ramsay excites is spread over a long poem, deline ating manners more than passions, and the mind must be at home both in the language and manners, to preciate the skill and comic archness with which he has heightened the display of rustic character without giving it vulgarity, and refined the view of peasant life by situations of sweetness and tenderness, without departing in the least degree from its simplicity. The Gentle Shepherd stands quite apart from the general pastoral poetry of modern Europe. It has no satyrs, nor featureless simpletons, nor drowsy and still landscapes of nature, but distinct characters and amusing incidents. The principal shepherd never speaks out of consistency with the habits of a peasant; but he moves in that sphere with such a manly spirit, with so much cheerful sensibility to its humble joys, with maxims of life so rational and independent, and with an ascendency over his fellow swains so well main-serious and deliberate falsifications; but it deprived tained by his force of character, that if we could no man of his fame; it had no sacrilegious interfer. suppose the pacific scenes of the drama to be sud- ence with the memory of departed genius; it had denly changed into situations of trouble and danger, not, like Lauder's imposture, any malignant motive we should, in exact consistency with our former to rob a party, or a country, of a name which was idea of him, expect him to become the leader of its pride and ornament. the peasants, and the Tell of his native hamlet. Nor is the character of his mistress less beautifully conceived. She is represented, like himself, as elevated, by a fortunate discovery, from obscure to opulent life, yet as equally capable of being the ornament of either. A Richardson or a D'Arblay, had they continued her history, might have heightened the portrait, but they would not have altered its outline. Like the poetry of Tasso and Ariosto, that of the Gentle Shepherd is engraven on the memory, and has sunk into the heart, of its native country. Its verses have passed into proverbs, and it continues to be the delight and solace of the peasantry whom it describes."-pp. 344-346.

44

the flush of his gay hopes and busy projects terminated in despair. The particular causes which led to his catastrophe have not been distinctly traced. His own descriptions of his prospects are but liule to be trusted; for while apparently exchanging his shadowy visions of Rowley for the real adventures of life, he was still moving under the spell of an imagination that saw every thing in exaggerated colours. Out of this dream he was at length awakened, when he found that he had miscalculated the chances of patronage and the profits of literary labour.

"The heart which can peruse the fate of Chatterton without being moved. is little to be envied for its tranquillity; but the intellects of those men must be as deficient as their hearts are uncharitable, who, confounding all shades of moral distinction, have ranked his literary fiction of Rowley in the same class of crimes with pecuniary forgery; and have calculated that if he had not died by his own hand he would have probably ended his days upon a gallows! This disgusting sentence has been pronounced upon a youth who was exemplary for severe study, temperance, and natural affection. His Rowleian forgery must indeed be pronounced improper by the general law which condemns all

Setting aside the opinion of those uncharitable biographers, whose imaginations have conducted him to the gibbet, it may be owned that his unformed character exhibited strong and conflicting elements of good and evil. Even the momentary project of the infidel boy to become a Methodist preacher, betrays an obliquity of design and a contempt of human credulity that is not very amiable. But had he been spared, his pride and ambition would probably have come to flow their proper channels. His understanding would have taught him the practical value of truth and the dignity of virtue, and he would have despised artifice, when he had felt the strength and security of wisdom. In estimating the promises of his genius, I would rather lean to the utmost enthusiasm of his admirers, than to the cold opinion of those who are afraid of being blinded to the defects of the poems attrib

which is thrown over them.

We think the merits of Akenside underrated, and those of Churchill exaggerated: But we have found no passage in which the amiable but equitable and reasonable indulg-uted to Rowley, by the veil of obsolete phraseology ence of Mr. Campbell's mind is so conspicuous, as in his account of Chatterton-and it is no slight thing for a poet to have kept himself cool and temperate, on a theme which has hurried so many inferior spirits into passion and extravagance.

"The inequality of Chatterton's various productions may be compared to the disproportions of the ungrown giant. His works had nothing of the definite neatness of that precocious talent which stops short in early maturity. His thirst for knowledge was that of a being taught by instinct to lay up materials for the exercise of great and undein-veloped powers. Even in his favourite maxim, pushed it might be to hyperbole, that a man by abstinence and perseverance might accomplish whatever he pleased, may be traced the indications of a genius which nature had meant to achieve works of immortality. Tasso alone can be compared to him as a juvenile prodigy. No English poet ever equalled him at the same age."-Vol. vi. pp. 156-162.

"When we conceive," says Mr. C., the spired boy transporting himself in imagination back to the days of his fictitious Rowley, embodying his ideal character, and giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,' we may forget the impostor in the enthusiast, and forgive the falsehood of his reverie for its beauty and ingenuity. One of his companions has described the air of rapture and inspiration with which he used to repeat his passages from Rowley, and the delight which he took to contemplate the church of St. Mary Redcliffe, while it awoke the associations of antiquity in his romantic mind. There was one spot in particular, full in view of the church, where he would often lay himself down, and fix his eyes, as it were, in a trance. On Sundays, as long as day-tion of daring design, or of fertile invention; but it light lasted, he would walk alone in the country presents, within its narrow limits, a distinct and unaround Bristol, taking drawings of churches, or broken view of poetical delightfulness. His descripother objects that struck his imagination. tions and sentiments have the pure zest of nature. He is refined without false delicacy, and correct without insipidity. Perhaps there is an intellectual composure in his manner, which may, in some pas sages, be said to approach to the reserved and pro.

6.

During the few months of his existence in London, his letters to his mother and sister, which were always accompanied with presents, expressed the most joyous anticipations. But suddenly all

The account of Gray is excellent, and that of Goldsmith delightful. We can afford to give but an inconsiderable part of it.

"Goldsmith's poetry enjoys a calm and steady popularity. It inspires us, indeed, with no admira

saic; but he unbends from this graver strain of | certain tone of exaggeration is incident, we reflection, to tenderness, and even to playfulness, fear, to the sort of writing in which we are with an ease and grace almost exclusively his own: engaged. Reckoning a little too much, perhaps, on the dulness of our readers, we are often led, unconsciously, to overstate our sentiments, in order to make them understood; and, where a little controversial warmth is added to a little love of effect, an excess of colouring is apt to steal over the canvass which ultimately offends no eye so much as our own. We gladly make this expiation to the shade of our illustrious countryman.

and connects extensive views of the happiness and interests of society, with pictures of life, that touch the heart by their familiarity. His language is certainly simple, though it is not cast in a rugged or careless mould. He is no disciple of the gaunt and famished school of simplicity. Deliberately as he wrote, he cannot be accused of wanting natural and idiomatic expression; but still it is select and refined expression. He uses the ornaments which must always distinguish true poetry from prose; and when he adopts colloquial plainness, it is with the utmost care and skill, to avoid a vulgar humility. There is more of this elegant simplicity, of this chaste economy and choice of words, in Goldsmith, than in any modern poet, or perhaps than would be attainable or desirable as a standard for every writer of rhyme. In extensive narrative poems such a style would be too difficult. There is a noble propriety even in the careless strength of great poems as in the roughness of castle walls; and, generally speaking, where there is a long course of story, or observation of life to be pursued, such exquisite touches as those of Goldsmith would be too costly materials for sustaining it. The tendency towards abstracted observation in his poetry agrees peculiarly with the compendious form of expression which he studied; whilst the homefelt joys, on which his fancy loved to repose, required at once the chastest and sweetest colours of language, to make them harmonize with the dignity of a philosophical poem. His whole manner has a still depth of feeling and reflection, which gives back the image of nature unruffled and minutely. He has no redundant thoughts, or false transports; but seems on every occasion to have weighed the impulse to which he surrendered himself. Whatever ardour or casual felicities he may have thus sacrificed, he gained a high degree of purity and self-possession. His chaste pathos makes him an insinuating moralist; and throws a charm of Claude-like softness over his descriptions of homely objects, that would seem only fit to be the subjects of Dutch painting. But bis quiet enthusiasm leads the affections to humble things without a vulgar association; and he inspires us with a fondness to trace the simplest recollections of Auburn, till we count the furniture of its alehouse, and listen to the varnished clock that clicked behind the door.'"-pp. 261-263.

In his observations on Joseph Warton, Mr. C. resumes the controversy about the poetical character of Pope, upon which he had entered at the close of his Essay; and as to which we hope to have some other opportunity of giving our opinions. At present, however, we must hasten to a conclusion; and shall make our last extracts from the notice of Cowper, which is drawn up on somewhat of a larger scale than any other in the work. The abstract of his life is given with great tenderness and beauty, and with considerable fulness of detail. But the remarks on his poetry are the most precious,-and are all that we have now room to borrow.

"The nature of Cowper's works makes us peculiarly identify the poet and the man in perusing them. As an individual, he was retired and weaned from the vanities of the world; and, as an original writer, he left the ambitious and luxuriant subjects of fiction and passion, for those of real life and simple nature, and for the development of his own earnest feelings, in behalf of moral and religious truth. His language has such a masculine idiomatic strength, and his manner, whether he rises into grace or falls into negligence, has so much plain and familiar freedom, that we read no poetry with a deeper conviction of its sentiments having come from the author's heart; and of the enthu siasm, in whatever he describes, having been unfeigned and unexaggerated. He impresses us with the idea of a being, whose fine spirit had been long enough in the mixed society of the world to be polished by its intercourse, and yet withdrawn so simplicity. He was advanced in years before he soon as to retain an unworldly degree of purity and became an author; but his compositions display a tenderness of feeling so youthfully preserved, and even a vein of humour so far from being extinguished by his ascetic habits, that we can scarcely regret his For he blends the determination of age with an not having written them at an earlier period of life. exquisite and ingenuous sensibility; and though he sports very much with his subjects, yet, when he is in earnest, there is a gravity of long-felt conviction in his sentiments, which gives an uncommon ripe. ness of character to his poetry.

There is too much of William Whitehead, and almost too much of Richard Glover, and a great deal too much of Amhurst Selden, Bramston, and Meston. Indeed the ne quid nimis seems to have been more forgotten by the learned editor in the last, than in any of the other volumes. Yet there is by no means too much of Burns, or Cowper, or even of the Wartons. The abstract of Burns' life is beautiful; and we are most willing to acknowledge that the defence of the poet, against some of the severities of this Journal, is substantially successful. No one who reads all that we have written of Burns, will doubt of the sin-sidered as representations of himself, because he cerity of our admiration for his genius, or of forms a striking instance of genius writing the histhe depth of our veneration and sympathy for tory of its own secluded feelings, reflections, and his lofty character and his untimely fate. enjoyments, in a shape so interesting as to engage We still think he had a vulgar taste in letter- the imagination like a work of fiction. writing; and too frequently patronized the belief of a connection between licentious indulgences and generosity of character. But, on looking back on what we have said on these subjects, we are sensible that we have expressed ourselves with too much bitterness, and made the words of our censure far more comprehensive than our meaning. A

unaffectedness and authenticity of his works, con"It is due to Cowper to fix our regard on this

He has invented no character in fable, nor in the drama; but

he has left a record of his own character, which
forms not only an object of deep sympathy, but a
subject for the study of human nature.
His verse,
it is true, considered as such a record, abounds with
opposite traits of severity and gentleness, of play-
fulness and superstition, of solemnity and mirth,
doubtedly, sometimes an air of moody versatility in
which appear almost anomalous; and there is, un
the extreme contrasts of his feelings. But looking

to his poetry as an entire structure, it has a massive | beauties of creation; but it gives his taste a conair of sincerity. It is founded in steadfast princi- tentment and fellowship with humble things. It ples of belief; and, if we may prolong the archi- makes him careless of selecting and refining his lectural metaphor, though its arches may be some- views of nature beyond their actual appearances. times gloomy, its tracery sportive, and its lights and He contemplated the face of plain rural English shadows grotesquely crossed, yet altogether it still life, in moments of leisure and sensibility, till its forms a vast, various, and interesting monument of minutest features were impressed upon his fancy; the builder's mind. Young's works are as devout, and he sought not to embellish what he loved. as satirical, sometimes as merry, as those of Cow- Hence his landscapes have less of the ideally beauper; and, undoubtedly, more witty. But the melan-tiful than Thomson's; but they have an unrivalled choly and wit of Young do not make up to us the charm of truth and reality. idea of a conceivable or natural being. He has sketched in his pages the ingenious, but incongruous form of a fictitious mind-Cowper's soul speaks from his volumes."

66

"He is one of the few poets, who have indulged neither in descriptions nor acknowledgments of the passion of love; but there is no poet who has given us a finer conception of the amenity of female influence. Of all the verses that have been ever devoted to the subject of domestic happiness, those in his winter evening, at the opening of the fourth book of The Task, are perhaps the most beautiful. In perusing that scene of intimate delights,' 'fireside enjoyments,' and home-born happiness,' we seem to recover a part of the forgotten value of existence; when we recognise the means of its blessedness so widely dispensed, and so cheaply attainable, and find them susceptible of description at once so enchanting and so faithful. "Though the scenes of The Task are laid in retirement, the poem affords an amusing perspective of human affairs. Remote as the poet was from the stir of the great Babel, from the 'con fusa sonus Urbis, et illætabile murmur,' he glances at most of the subjects of public interest which engaged the attention of his contemporaries. On those subjects, it is but faint praise to say that he espoused the side of justice and humanity. Abundance of mediocrity of talent is to be found on the same side, rather injuring than promoting the cause, by its officious declamation. But nothing can be further from the stale commonplace and cuckooism of sentiment, than the philanthropic eloquence of Cowper-he speaks like one having authority.' Society is his debtor. Poetical expo sitions of the horrors of slavery may, indeed, seem very unlikely agents in contributing to destroy it; and it is possible that the most refined planter in the West Indies, may look with neither shame nor compunction on his own image in the pages of Cowper. But such appeals to the heart of the community are not lost! They fix themselves silently in the popular memory; and they become, at last, a part of that public opinion, which must, sooner or later, wrench the lash from the hand of the oppressor."-pp. 359-364.

Considering the tenor and circumstances of his life, it is not much to be wondered at, that some asperities and peculiarities should have adhered to the strong stem of his genius, like the moss and fungus that cling to some noble oak of the forest, amidst the damps of its unsunned retirement. It is more surprising that he preserved, in such seclusion, so much genuine power of comic observation. There is much of the full distinctness of Theophrastus, and of the nervous and concise spirit of La Bruyère, in his piece entitled 'Conversation,' with a cast of humour superadded, which is peculiarly English, and not to be found out of England."-Vol. vii. pp. 357, 358.

Of his greatest work, The Task, he afterwards observes,

"His whimsical outset in a work, where he promises so little and performs so much, may be advantageously contrasted with those magnificent commencement of poems, which pledge both the reader and the writer, in good earnest, to a task. Cowper's poem, on the contrary, is like a river, which rises from a playful little fountain, and gathers beauty and magnitude as it proceeds. He leads us abroad into his daily walks; he exhibits the landscapes which he was accustomed to contemplate, and the trains of thought in which he habitually indulged. No attempt is made to interest us in legendary fictions, or historical recollections connected with the ground over which he expatiates; all is plainness and reality: But we instantly recognise the true poet, in the clearness, sweetness, and fidelity of his scenic draughts; in his power of giving novelty to what is common; and in the high relish, the exquisite enjoyment of rural sights and sounds, which he communicates to the spirit. His eyes drink the rivers with delight.' He excites an idea, that almost amounts to sensation, of the freshness and delight of a rural walk, even when he leads us to the wasteful common, which

"

Overgrown with fern, and rough
With prickly gorse, that, shapeless and deform'd,
And dang'rous to the touch, has yet its bloom,
And decks itself with ornaments of gold,
Yields no unpleasing ramble. There the turf
Smells fresh, and, rich in odorif'rous herbs
And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense
With luxuries of unexpected sweets.'

"His rural prospects have far less variety and compass than those of Thomson; but his graphic touches are more close and minute: not that Thomson was either deficient or undelightful in circumstantial traits of the beauty of nature, but he looked to her as a whole more than Cowper. His genius was more excursive and philosophical. The poet of Olney, on the contrary, regarded human philosophy with something of theological contempt. To his eye, the great and little things of this world were levelled into an equality, by his recollection of the power and purposes of Him who made them. They are, in his view, only as toys spread on the lap and carpet of nature, for this childhood of our immortal being. This religious indifference to the world is far, indeed, from Blunting his sensibility to the genuine and simple

But we must now break away at once from this delightful occupation; and take our final farewell of a work, in which, what is original, is scarcely less valuable than what is republished, and in which the genius of a living Poet has shed a fresh grace over the fading glories of so many of his departed brothers. We wish somebody would continue the work, by furnishing us with Specimens of our Living Poets. It would be more difficult, to be sure, it would also be more useful. The beauties and more dangerous; but, in some respects, of the unequal and voluminous writers would be more conspicuous in a selection; and the different styles and schools of poetry would be brought into fairer and nearer terms of comparison, by the mere juxtaposition of their best productions; while a better and clearer view would be obtained, both of the general progress and apparent tendencies of the art, than can easily be gathered from the separate study of each important production. The mind of the critic, too, would be at once enlightened and tranquillized by the very greatness of the horizon thus subjected to his

[ocr errors]

survey; and he would probably regard, both subject him to the most furious imputations with less enthusiasm and less offence, those of unfairness and malignity. In point of contrasted and compensating beauties and courage and candour, we do not know anydefects, when presented together, and as it body who would do it much better than were in combination, than he can ever do ourselves! And if Mr. Campbell could when they come upon him in distinct masses, only impart to us a fair share of his eleand without the relief and softening of so va- gance, his fine perceptions, and his conried an assemblage. On the other hand, it ciseness, we should like nothing better than cannot be dissembled, that such a work would to suspend, for a while, these periodical lube very trying to the unhappy editor's pro- cubrations, and furnish out a gallery of Livphetic reputation, as well as to his imparti- ing Bards, to match this exhibition of the ality and temper; and would, at all events, Departed.

(August, 1811.)

The Dramatic Works of JOHN FORD; with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes. By HENRY WEBER, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 950. Edinburgh and London: 1811.

ALL true lovers of English poetry have-and Napier, and Milton, and Cudworth, been long in love with the dramatists of and Hobbes, and many others;-men, all of the time of Elizabeth and James; and them, not merely of great talents and acmust have been sensibly comforted by their complishments, but of vast compass and late restoration to some degree of favour reach of understanding, and of minds truly and notoriety. If there was any good rea- creative and original;-not perfecting art by son, indeed, to believe that the notice which the delicacy of their taste, or digesting knowthey have recently attracted proceeded from ledge by the justness of their reasonings; but any thing but that indiscriminate rage for making vast and substantial additions to the editing and annotating by which the present materials upon which taste and reason must times are so happily distinguished, we should hereafter be employed,—and enlarging, to an be disposed to hail it as the most unequivocal incredible and unparalleled extent, both the symptom of improvement in public taste that stores and the resources of the human faculhas yet occurred to reward and animate our ties. labours. At all events, however, it gives us Whether the brisk concussion which was a chance for such an improvement; by placing given to men's minds by the force of the in the hands of many, who would not other- Reformation had much effect in producing wise have heard of them, some of those beau- this sudden development of British genius, tiful performances which we have always we cannot undertake to determine. For our regarded as among the most pleasing and own part, we should be rather inclined to characteristic productions of our native genius. hold, that the Reformation itself was but one Ford certainly is not the best of those ne- symptom or effect of that great spirit of proglected writers,-nor Mr. Weber by any meansgression and improvement which had been the best of their recent editors: But we cannot set in operation by deeper and more general resist the opportunity which this publication causes; and which afterwards blossomed out seems to afford, of saying a word or two of a into this splendid harvest of authorship. But class of writers, whom we have long wor- whatever may have been the causes that shipped in secret with a sort of idolatrous determined the appearance of those great veneration, and now find once more brought works, the fact is certain, not only that they forward as candidates for public applause. appeared together in great numbers, but that The æra to which they belong, indeed, has they possessed a common character, which, always appeared to us by far the brightest in in spite of the great diversity of their subthe history of English literature, or indeed jects and designs, would have made them be of human intellect and capacity. There classed together as the works of the same never was, any where, any thing like the order or description of men, even if they had sixty or seventy years that elapsed from the appeared at the most distant intervals of middle of Elizabeth's reign to the period of time. They are the works of Giants, in the Restoration. In point of real force and short, and of Giants of one nation and originality of genius, neither the age of Peri- family; and their characteristics are, great cles, nor the age of Augustus, nor the times force, boldness, and originality; together with of Leo X., nor of Louis XIV., can come at all a certain raciness of English peculiarity, into comparison: For, in that short period, which distinguishes them from all those perwe shall find the names of almost all the formances that have since been produced

very great men that this nation has ever among ourselves, upon a more vague and produced, the names of Shakespeare, and general idea of European excellence. Their Bacon, and Spenser, and Sydney,- and sudden appearance, indeed, in all this splenHooker, and Taylor, and Barrow, and Raleigh, dour of native luxuriance, can only be com

« 前へ次へ »