Imatges de pÓgina

66 This

swell into the subsequent tangibility of actual existence, and sometimes to evaporate into airy nothing. Can any one avoid sympathizing with Milton's proud consciousness of power and difficulty of determinate object, when, after promising to undertake something, he yet knows not what, that might be of use and honour to his country, he proceeds: is not to be obtained but by devout prayer to the Eternal Spirit that can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases. To this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation, and insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs ; till which in some measure be compassed, I refuse not to sustain this expectation.” Well might Johnson add, that from a promise like this, at once fervid, pious, and rational, might be expected « Paradise Lost.” In Milton's Latin verses to Manso, Marquis of Villa, whom Tasso in his Jerusalem compliments,

“ Fra cavalier magnanimi e cortesi
Risplende il Manso,"

he indicates his intention of selecting the exploits of King Arthur for his muse. Prince Arthur, as well as King Arthur, fell subsequently into the very different hands of Blackmore; and the blind bard, " long choosing and beginning late," having at length made good advances in his sacred poem, seems to rejoice that he had not sung the exploits of chivalry, not being sedulous by nature

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" To describe races and games,
Or tilting furniture, emblazon'd shields,
Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds,
Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joist and tournament; then marshall'd feast,
Served up in hall with sewers and seneschals."

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While, still preserving his proud confidence in his subject, he adds :

“ Me of these
Nor skilled, nor studious, higher argument
Remains, sufficient of itself to raise
That name, unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp iny intended wing
Depressed ; and much they may if all be mine,

Not hers, who brings it nightly to my ear." Pope, besides many hints and schemes of intended works, has left behind him the complete plan of an epic poem, to be written in blank verse, upon the subject of the Trojan Brutus. Dr. Johnson gave Mr. Langton a catalogue of books which he had projected, amounting to forty-four in prose, and five in poetry. Hayley contemplated a grand national poem about king John's barons and Magna Charta. Mr. Coleridge in our own days, is understood to be so voluminous an author of unwritten books as to be obliged to keep a copious catalogue for the purposes

of reference to them.
“ Half of your book is to an index grown;

You give your books contents, your readers none." “Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis ’ris true,” that a mind so richly stored as his should impart so little of its intellectual opulence. His overloaded head is like an overful bottle of nectar, whose particles, in their contention for preference of escape, do mutually “choke their utterance."

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Thou lignum-vitæ Roscius, who
Dost the old vagrant stage renew,

Peerless, inimitable Punchinello!
The Queen of smiles is quite outdone
By thee, all-glorious king of fun,

Thou grinning, giggling, laugh extorting fellow!

At other times mine ear is wrung
Whene'er I hear the trumpet's tongue,

Waking associations melancholic;
But that which heralds thee recalls
All childhood's joys and festivals,

And makes the heart rebound with freak and frolic.

Ere of thy face I get a snatch,
O with what boyish glee I catch

Thy twittering, cackling, bubbling, squeaking gibber-
Sweeter than Syren voices-fraught
With richer merriment than aught

That drops from witling mouths, though utter'd glibber!
What wag was ever known before
To keep the circle in a roar,

Nor wound the feelings of a single hearer?
Engrossing all the jibes and jokes,
Unenvied by the duller folks,

A harmless wit-an unmalignant jeerer.
The upturn’d eyes I love to trace
Of wondering mortals, when their face

Is all alight with an expected gladness ;
To mark the flickering giggle first,
The growing grin-the sudden burst,

And universal shout of merry madness.

I love those sounds to analyse,
From childhood's shrill ecstatic cries,

To age's chuckle with its coughing after;
To see the grave and the genteel
Rein in awhile the mirth they feel,

Then loose their muscles, and let out the laughter.
Sometimes I note a hen-peck'd wight,
Enjoying thy martial might,

To him a beatific heau ideal ;
He counts each crack on Judy's pate,
Then homewards creeps to cogitate

The difference 'twixt dramatic wives and real.

But, Punch, thou 'rt ungallant and rude
In lying thy persuasive wood ;

Remember that thy cudgel's girth is fuller
Than that compassionate, thumb-thick,
Establish'd wife-compelling stick,

Made legal by the dictum of Judge Buller.

When the officious doctor bies
To cure thy spouse, there's no surprise

Thou shouldst receive him with nose-tweaking grappling ;
Nor can we wonder that the mob
Encores each crack upon his nob,

When thou art feeing him with oaken sapling.

As for our common enemy
Old Nick, we all rejoice to see

The coup de grace that silences his wrangle:
But, lo, Jack Ketch !-ah, welladay !
Dramatic justice claims its prey,

And thou in hempen handkerchief must dangle.
Now helpless hang those arms which once
Rattled such music on the sconce ;

Hush'd is that tongue which late out-jested Yorick ;
That haunch behind is shrugg'd no more,
No longer heaves that paunch before,

Which swagg’d with such a pleasantry plethorick.

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But Thespian deaths are transient woes,
And still less durable are those

Suffer'd by lignum-vitæ malefactors;
Thou wilt return, alert, alive,
And long, oh long may'st thou survive,

First of head-breaking and side-splitting actors!



No, I.

NOTHING is more common than to hear lamentable complaints of the downfall of the British Drama, and nothing is more rare than to find that the authors of these doleful exclamations have bestowed any pains in investigating the extent, causes, or consequences of the calamity they deplore. Like other ill news, the dictum flies apace from mouth to mouth, and its circulators are too busy in spreading the report to stop to analyze its truth. The assertion, however, is neither limited to the present time, nor to the stage itself; for men, in all ages, have been prone to speak in raptures of the ancient poets,

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dramatists, painters, and historians, while they bewailed the inferiority of their own days; to reason as if the progress of knowledge were retrograde, and to indulge in gloomy reveries, as if the world, instead of advancing in intellectual refinement, were relapsing into darkness and barbarism. “There are some prejudices," as Dr. Aikin justly observes,* “which, when once broken through, leave the mind in astonishment that it could ever have submitted to them. Such is that of annexing authority to antiquity. In consequence of a false analogy, we associate the idea of age and experience to the circumstance of having lived long ago; and thus we invert the proper notice of the 'wisdom of ages, and look for it at the wrong end." He proceeds to remark, that, “ in fact, all the authority which accumulated knowledge and experience can bestow, is on the side of a modern, when compared with an ancient." Yet few old men will allow the operation of this principle upon their contemporaries! although they are very ready to admit the conjunctive progress of improvement with the march of time, so far as it respects themselves. To men of this sort every thing appears to be wofully altered for the worse, since the days of their youth: they are sailing from the land of promise, and fancy it is receding from them; they are changed themselves, and imagine that the world is altered, as the old beauty complained that the looking-glasses were not half so good as they used to be when she was young. This mental delusion must be attributed to the confused association of our ideas, in confounding our own aptitude to receive delight from certain objects with the power of those objects to impart it. Losing, with the buoyant susceptibility of youth, the novelty which supplied it with a constant round of pleasurable impressions, we eagerly attach to every thing rather than to ourselves the fault of this decay in

• Letters to his Son, vol. ii. page 89.

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