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is not a popular heroic poem in any living language, in which they have been well employed; nay, there is not one in which they have been employed at all, where they are not an absolute encumbrance — not to say nuisance. The truth is, that they destroy poetical probability the moment they appear on the scene; disenchanting the glorious unreality, which the man of true genius makes a million-fold more real to the feelings and fancy of his readers than the most accurate and elaborate representation of facts in history can be. There are, indeed, some lyrical pieces, especially Italian canzoni, and, in our own language, some playful love songs, and other trifles, in which the divinities of ancient times are quite at home.
But from the highest heaven of invention” Jove and his senate are for ever and for ever fallen; so that it would be as rational, and about as easy, to rebuild their temples, and restore their worship, as to reinstate them in the honours and immortality which they once enjoyed on Parnassus, and which, as their only immortality, they will possess so long as the literary relics of Greece and Rome are studied and admired. On the other hand, the oriental mythology, if I may so style it, as soon as the revival of letters in the south of Europe revived the most elegant of all the forms which letters can assume, — Poetry, which is the language of the noblest minds, and itself most noble when most intelligible; — the oriental mythology at once supplied a machinery, gloomy, splendid, gay, and terrible, for every occasion, as the one or the other might be wanted. The poems of modern
date, (those I mean which have outlived their century,) most celebrated, and which will be longest remembered, owe half their inspiration, and more than half their popularity, to its influence. For examples we need but recollect the "Orlando Furioso" of Ariosto, the “Gerusalemme Liberata” of Tasso, the “ Faerie Queene" of Spenser, and, to crown all, the “ Tempest” and “ Midsummer Night's Dream” of Shakspeare. But these belong to a later period.
Of the literature of the middle ages it may generally be said, that it was a voluminous and vast.” Princes, nobles, and even priests then were often ignorant of the alphabet. The number of authors was proportionally small, and the subjects on which they wrote were of the driest nature in polemics—such were the subtleties of the schoolmen ; of the most extravagant character in the paths of imagination such were the romances of chivalry, the legends and songs of troubadours; and of the most preposterous tendency in philosophy, so called,—such were the treatises on magic, alchymy, judicial astrology, and the metaphysics. To say all that could be said on any theme, whether in verse or prose, was the fashion of the times; and, as few read but those who were devoted to reading by an irresistible passion or professional necessity, and few wrote but those who were equally impelled by an inveterate instinct,—great books were the natural produce of the latter, who knew not how to make little ones; and great books were requisite to appease the voracity of the former, who, for the most part, were rather gluttons than epicures in their taste for literature. Great books, therefore, were both the fruits and the proofs of the ignorance of the age : they were usually composed in the gloom and torpor of the cloister, and it almost required a human life to read the works of an author of the first magnitude, because it was nearly as easy to compound as to digest such crudities. The common people, under such circumstances, could feel no interest and derive no advantage from the labours of the learned, which were equally beyond their purchase and their comprehension. Those libri elephantini (like the registers of the Roman citizens, when the latter amounted to millions) contained little more than catalogues of things, and thoughts, and names, in words without measure, and often without meaning worth searching out; so that the lucubrations, through a thousand years, of many a noble, many a lovely mind, which only wanted better direction how to unfold its energies, or display its graces, to benefit or delight mankind, were but passing meteors, that made visible the darkness out of which they rose, and into which they sunk again, to be hid for ever.
It is remarkable, that while the classic regions of Europe, as well as the northern and western colonies of the dissolved Roman empire, were buried in barbarian ignorance, learning found a temporary refuge in some of the least distinguished parts of the then known world - in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Scotland, and even in Ireland.
And here these papers must conclude, having brought our cursory retrospect to the thirteenth century, an era at which the minds of the people of Europe were already prepared (though scarcely conscious of the turn in their favour) for those great and glorious discoveries in literature and philosophy, which — since the adoption of the mariner's compass and the invention of printing, introducing liberty of thought, and, as a necessary consequence of the latter, freedom of speech, - have made way for the diffusion of knowledge, revealing new arts and sciences, and calling up old ones from the dead in more perfect forms.