ページの画像
PDF
ePub

its manners and traditions. It is not alone to the caprices of the imagination, and the impassioned feelings that she imparts incorporation ; she is also the expression of its religious ideas, and its morals, modified and varied according to the politics and customs of each successive age. I may be here allowed appropriately to introduce some lines of the précis, which I have attempted to draw up on the subject of the history of English architecture, sculpture, and painting. Perhaps these redites will at least exhibit the intimate alliance between the beaux arts and manners, through the vicissitudes of every agé.

The Norman minstrels introduced the fiction of romance into England ; the classic muse of the Greeks and Romans soon quitted the seclusion of the convent; but she re-appeared in the midst of chivalrous manners and feudal institutions. Gothic rites were combined with her worship. The age of Elizabeth still exhibits that strange alliance of two classes of literature, and two opposite religions. If Shakspeare had appeared fifty years later, his genius might, perhaps, have been entirely subjected to the forms and rules of antiquity. Had he been endowed with an imagination a little less independent and capricious, he would have been no more than a pedantic author.

Dramatic compositions were especially in favour under this reign and that of James I. The other

* The mirror and the fashion of the times.-SHAKSPEARE. M. de Bonald has translated these words by this celebrated phrase.

branches of the art were not, however, neglected. Drayton, Beaumont, and Fairfax have left tolerably illustrious names in heroic poetry; but Spencer is alone sufficient to create the glory of that epoch. The plan of his allegorical poem is certainly very imperfect; but, like a skilful painter, he causes the faults to pass unnoticed by the richness of his details, the grace of his principal strokes, and the magic of his colouring.

English literature, during this age, gathered the first fruits of the emancipation of thought effected by the reformation. Shakspeare, Bacon, Spencer, Sydney, and shortly after Hooker, Taylor, Barrow, Milton, Cudworth, and Hobbes, were vast, bold, creative, and original spirits. One can sympathize with the enthusiasm of Warton, when he approaches that golden age at which his history so unfortunately terminates. Campbell equally appreciates it with the feeling of a poet. an age of loyalty, adventure, and generous emulation. The chivalrous character was softened by intellectual pursuits, while the genius of chivalry itself still lingered, as if unwilling to depart, and paid his last homage to a warlike and female reign. A degree of romantic fancy remained in the manners and superstitions of the people, and allegory might be said to parade the streets in their public pageants and festivities. Quaint and pedantic as those allegorical exhibitions might often be, they were, nevertheless, more expressive of erudition, ingenuity, and moral meaning, than they had been in former times. The philosophy of the highest

- This was

minds still partook of a visionary character. A poetical spirit infused itself into the practical heroism of the age, and some of the worthies of that period seem less like ordinary men than like beings called forth out of fiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her dreams. They had high thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy. The life of Sir Philip Sidney was poetry put into action.

. This age was worthy of figuring as it does in the historical pictures of the author of Kenilworth. The reception of Elizabeth at the castle of Leicester, recalls to mind all the classical divinities, as well as those of the chivalresque times, which the queen took pleasure in forming into a heterogeneous royal escort. But the historical romance writer* has felt it necessary, also, to remark, that a general failing infected the so much admired poetry of the Elizabethan epoch ; it was the fatal taste for conceits—that is to say, the mania for substituting all manner of strange associations in sound and sense, for ingenious comparisons, and even for the national eloquence of passion. This style, of which the entire character of Percy Shafton, in the “ Monastery,” is an animated satire, was engendered at the court; a region, the inhabitants of which never imagine that they shine with sufficiently brilliant eclat, as long as they have failed in adopting a systematic language and deportment, which may distinguish them from other men. The royal pedant, James I. could not avoid encouraging

# Dryden's Life, the Monastery, &c.

Euphuism ; the universities made it their tongue, and the poets, whom Johnson calls the metaphysicians, adopted it till after the first revolution. The phrase “metaphysicians' imparts rather an incorrect idea of this school ; for nothing can be less metaphysical than the poems and subtleties of Donne, Herrick, Cowley, and even Waller, Denham, and Carew, although the three last may not have always reverenced the melody of rhythm, the justness of imagery, and the elegance of terms. It is worthy of remark, that the youth of Milton escaped the fatal contagion of this pretending and mannerist style, He preferred to be misunderstood by his age, and after having composed the chaste verses of Comus, Lycidas, the Penseroso, and Allegro, he reserved for immortality the sublime creation of his great epic.

“ His soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.”

WORDSWORTH,

The civil wars occurred to occasion equal interruption to the courtly successes of the beaux esprits, and the solitary inspirations of Milton. By imparting a more serious direction to the public mind, they developed the gloomy and powerful genius of the Cromwells and Harrisons, the more generous enthusiasm of the Blakes, the Hutchinsons, and the Hampdens; the indefatigable activity of Hollis and Vane, and the chivalrous fidelity of Strafford and Faulkland. Severer studies claimed the attention of Milton, who, after having plunged into the tumult of political

and religious controversy, recovered, at least, his lyre, to become the faithful companion of his adversity.

The restoration is not more often reproached in England on the score of its political results, than on account of the influence which it is alleged to have had on national literature. The critics af. firm, that the French taste imported by Charles II.'s court, impaired all the originality of their poetry, and corrupted their morality. This imputation is absurd. The obscene quality of the courtly poets of Charles, the indecency of their satires, the bombast, or frivolity of their dramatic compositions, have little resemblance to the dignity (artificial, it may be granted) with which Louis XIV. surrounded his throne. At all events, it is under the reign of Anne that we recognise the actual imitation of our classics.

It was not a French taste which proscribed Paradise Lost; but rather the prejudices of the emigrants against the secretary of Cromwell. Dryden did not always imitate Corneille and Racine, but La Calprenède and Scudery. Unfortunately, the metaphysical poets remained as much attached, during their exile, to their bad taste, as to their good cause. They brought back the fashion of their extravagant affectation.

“ The muse," says Sir W. Scott,“ arose like the sleeping beauty in the wood, garbed in the ridiculous and superannuated costume in which she had fallen asleep twenty years before.”

Nevertheless, Waller, · Suckling, Denham, Da

[blocks in formation]
« 前へ次へ »