Imatges de pÓgina

even if they had appeared at the most distant intervals of time. They are the works of Giants-and of Giants of one nation and family; and their characteristics are, great force, boldness, and originality, together with a certain raciness of English peculiarity, which distinguishes them from all those performances that have since been produced upon a more vague and general idea of European excellence. Their sudden appearance, indeed, in all this splendour of native luxuriance, can only be compared to what happens on the breaking up of a virgin soil,-where all indigenous plants spring up at once with a rank and irrepressible fertility, and display whatever is peculiar or excellent in their nature, on a scale the most conspicuous and magnificent. The crops are not indeed so clean as where a more exhausted mould has been stimulated by systematic cultivation, nor so profitable as where their quality has been varied by a judicious admixture of exotics, and accommodated to the demands of the universe, by the combinations of an unlimited trade. But to those whose chief object of admiration is the living power and energy of vegetation, and who take delight in contemplating the various forms of her unforced and natural perfection, no spectacle can be more rich, splendid, or attractive.

In the times of which we are speaking, classical learning, though it had made great progress, had by no means become an exclusive study; and the ancients had not yet been permitted to subdue men's minds to a sense of hopeless inferiority, or to condemn the moderns to the lot of humble imitators. They were resorted to, rather to furnish materials and occasional ornaments, than as models for the general style of composition; and, while they enriched the imagination, and insensibly improved the taste of their successors, they did not at all restrain their freedom, or impair their originality. No common standard had yet been erected, to which all the works of European genius were required to conform; and no general authority was acknowledged, by which all private or local ideas of excellence must submit to be corrected. Both readers and authors were comparatively few in number. The former were infinitely less critical than they have since become; and the latter, if they were not less solicitous about fame, were at least much less jealous and timid as to the hazards which attended its pursuit. Men, indeed, seldom took to writing in those days, unless they had a great deal of matter to communicate; and neither imagined that they could make a reputation by delivering commonplaces in an elegant manner, or that the substantial value of their sentiments would be disregarded for a little rudeness or negligence in the finishing. They were habituated, therefore, both to depend upon their own resources, and to draw upon them without fear or anxiety; and followed the dictates of their own taste and judgment, without standing in awe of the ancients, of their readers, or of each other.

The achievements of Bacon, and of those who set free our understandings from the shackles of papal and of tyrannical imposition, afford sufficient evidence of the benefit which resulted to the reasoning faculties from this happy independence of the first great writers of this nation. But its advantages were, if possible, still more conspicuous in the mere literary character of their productions. The quantity of bright thoughts, of original images, and splendid expressions, which they poured forth upon every occasion, and by which they illuminated and adorned the darkest and most rugged topics to which they had happened to turn themselves, is such as has never been equalled in any other age or country; and places them at least as high, in point of fancy and imagination, as of force of reason, or

comprehensiveness of understanding. In this highest and most comprehensive sense of the word, a great proportion of the writers we have alluded to were Poets: and, without going to those who composed in metre, and chiefly for purposes of delight, we will venture to assert, that there is in any one of the prose folios of Jeremy Taylor more fine fancy and original imagery-more brilliant conceptions and glowing expressions -more new figures, and new applications of old figures-more, in short, of the body and the soul of poetry, than in all the odes and the epics that have since been produced in Europe. There are large portions of Barrow, and of Hooker, and Bacon, of which we may say nearly as much nor can any one have a tolerably adequate idea of the riches of our language and our native genius, who has not made himself acquainted with the prose writers, as well as the poets, of this memorable period.

The civil wars, and the fanaticism by which they were fostered, checked all this fine bloom of the imagination, and gave a different and less attractive character to the energies which they could not extinguish. Yet these were the times that matured and drew forth the dark but powerful genius of such men as Cromwell, and Harrison, and Fleetwood, etc.— the milder and more generous enthusiasm of Blake, and Hutchison, and Hampden-and the stirring and indefatigable spirit of Pym, and Hollis, and Vane-and the chivalrous and accomplished loyalty of Strafford and Falkland, at the same time that they stimulated and repaid the severer studies of Coke, and Selden, and Milton. The drama, however, was entirely destroyed, and has never since regained its honours; and poetry, in general, lost its ease, and its majesty and force, along with its copiousness and originality.

The Restoration made things still worse; for it broke drown the barriers of our literary independence, and reduced us to a province of the great republic of Europe. The genius and fancy which lingered through the usurpation, though soured and blighted by the severities of that inclement season, were still genuine English genius and fancy, and owned no allegiance to any foreign authorities. But the Restoration brought in a French taste upon us, and what was called a classical and a polite taste; and the wings of our English Muses were clipped and trimmed, and their flights regulated, at the expense of all that was peculiar, and much of what was brightest in their beauty. The king and his courtiers, during their long exile, had of course imbibed the taste of their protectors; and; coming from the gay court of France, with something of that additional profligacy that belonged to their outcast and adventurer character, were likely enough to be revolted by the peculiarities, and by the very excellencies, of our native literature. The grand and sublime tone of our greater poets appeared to them dull, morose, and gloomy; and the fine play of their rich and unrestrained fancy, mere childishness and folly; while their frequent lapses and perpetual irregularity were set down as clear indications of barbarity and ignorance. Such sentiments, too, were natural, we must admit, for a few dissipated and witty men, accustomed all their days to the regulated splendour of a court-to the gay and heartless gallantry of French manners-and to the imposing pomp and brilliant regularity of French poetry. But it may appear somewhat more unaccountable, that they should have been able to impose their sentiments upon the great body of the nation. A court, indeed, never has so much influence as at the moment of a restoration but the influence of

an English court has been but rarely discernible in the literature of the country; and had it not been for the peculiar circumstances in which the nation was then placed, we believe it would have resisted this attempt to naturalise foreign notions, as sturdily as it has done on almost every other occasion.

At this particular moment, however, the native literature of the country had been sunk into a very low and feeble state by the rigours of the usurpation; the best of its recent models laboured under the reproach of republicanism; and the courtiers were not only disposed to see all its peculiarities with an eye of scorn and aversion, but had even a good deal to say in favour of that very opposite style to which they had been habituated. It was a witty, and a grand, and a splendid style. It showed more scholarship and art, than the luxuriant negligence of the old English school; and was not only free from many of its hazards and some of its faults, but possessed merits of its own, of a character more likely to please those who had then the power of conferring celebrity, or condemning to derision. Then it was a style which it was peculiarly easy to justify by argument; and in support of which, great authorities, as well as imposing reasons, were always ready to be produced. It came upon us with the air and the pretension of being the style of cultivated Europe, and a true copy of the style of polished antiquity. England, on the other hand, had had but little intercourse with the rest of the world for a considerable period of time; her language was not at all studied on the Continent; and her native authors had not been taken into account in forming those ideal standards of excellence which had been recently constructed in France and Italy, upon the authority of the Roman classics and of their own most celebrated writers. When the comparison came to be made, therefore, it is easy to imagine that it should generally be thought to be very much to our disadvantage, and to understand how the great multitude, even among ourselves, should be dazzled with the pretensions of the fashionable style of writing, and actually feel ashamed of their own richer and more varied productions.

It would greatly exceed our limits to describe accurately the particulars in which this new continental style differed from our old insular one: but, for our present purpose, it may be enough perhaps to say, that it was more worldly, and more townish,-holding more of reason, and ridicule, and authority-more elaborate and more assuming-addressed more to the judgment than to the feelings, and somewhat ostentatiously accommodated to the habits, or supposed habits, of persons in fashionable life. Instead of tenderness and fancy, we had satire and sophistry-artificial declamation, in place of the spontaneous animations of genius-and for the universal language of Shakspeare, the personalities, the party politics, and the brutal obscenities of Dryden. Nothing, indeed, can better characterise the change which had taken place in our national taste, than the alterations and additions which this eminent person presumed - and thought it necessary -to make on the productions of Shakspeare and Milton. The heaviness, the coarseness, and the bombast of that abominable travestie, in which he has exhibited the Paradise Lost in the form of an opera, and the atrocious indelicacy and compassionable stupidity of the new characters with which he has polluted the enchanted solitude of Miranda and Prospero in the Tempest, are such instances of degeneracy as we would be apt to impute rather to some transient hallucination in the author himself, than to the

general prevalence of any systematic bad taste in the public, did we not know that Wycherly and his coadjutors were in the habit of converting the neglected dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher into popular plays, merely by leaving out all the romantic sweetness of their characters-turning their melodious blank verse into vulgar prose-and aggravating the indelicacy of their lower characters, by lending a more disgusting indecency to the whole dramatis personæ.

Dryden was, beyond all comparison, the greatest poet of his own day; and, endued as he was with a vigorous and discursive imagination, and possessing a mastery over his language which no later writer has attained, if he had known nothing of foreign literature, and been left to form himself on the models of Shakspeare, Spenser, and Milton; or if he had lived in the country at a distance from the pollutions of courts, factions, and playhouses, there is reason to think that he would have built up the pure and original school of English poetry so firmly, as to have made it impossible for fashion, or caprice, or prejudice of any sort, ever to have rendered any other popular among our own inhabitants. As it is, he has not written one line that is pathetic, and very few that can be considered as sublime.

Addison, however, was the consummation of this continental style; and if it had not been redeemed about the same time by the fine talents of Pope, would probably have so far discredited it, as to have brought us back to our original faith half a century ago. The extreme caution, timidity, and flatness of this author in his poetical compositions-the narrowness of his range in poetical sentiment and diction; and the utter want either of passion or of brilliancy, render it difficult to believe that he was born under the same sun with Shakspeare, and wrote but a century after him. His fame, at this day, stands solely upon the delicacy, the modest gaiety, and ingenious purity of his prose style;-for the occasional elegance and small ingenuity of his poems can never redeem the poverty of their diction, and the tameness of their conception. Pope has incomparably more spirit, and taste, and animation: but Pope is a satirist, and a moralist, and a wit, and a critic, and a fine writer, much more than he is a poet. He has all the delicacies, and proprieties, and felicities of diction-but he has not a great deal of fancy, and scarcely ever touches any of the greater passions. He is much the best, we think, of the classical continental school; but he is not to be compared with the masters-nor with the pupils of that old English one from which there had been so lamentable an apostasy. There are no pictures of nature or of simple emotion in all his writings. He is the poet of town life, and of high life, and of literary life; and seems so much afraid of incurring ridicule by the display of natural feeling or unregulated fancy, that it is difficult not to imagine that he thought such ridicule would have been very well directed.

The best of what we copied from the continental poets, on this desertion of our own great originals, is copied in the lighter pieces of Prior. That tone of polite raillery-that airy, rapid, picturesque narrative, mixed up of wit and naïveté-that style, in short, of good conversation, concentrated in flowing and polished verses, was not within the vein of our native poets, and probably never would have been known among us, if we had been left to our own resources. It is lamentable, that this, which alone was worth borrowing, is the only thing which has not been retained. The tales and little apologues of Prior are still the only examples of this style in our language.

With the wits of Queen Anne this foreign school attained the summit of its reputation; and has ever since, we think, been declining, though by slow and almost imperceptible gradations. Thomson was the first writer of any eminence who seceded from it, and made some steps back to the 'force and animation of our original poetry. Thomson, however, was educated in Scotland, where the new style, we believe, had not yet become familiar; and lived, for a long time, a retired and unambitious life, with very little intercourse with those who gave the tone in literature at the period of his first appearance. Thomson, accordingly, has always been popular with a much wider circle of readers, than either Pope or Addison; and, in spite of considerable vulgarity and signal cumbrousness of diction, has drawn, even from the fastidious, a much deeper and more constant admiration.

Young exhibits, we think, a curious combination, or contrast rather, of the two styles of which we have been speaking. Though incapable either of tenderness or passion, he had a richness and activity of fancy, that belonged rather to the days of James and Elizabeth than to those of George and Anne;-but then, instead of indulging it, as the older writers would have done, in easy and playful inventions, in splendid descriptions, or glowing illustrations, he is led by the restraints and established taste of his age to work it up into strained and fantastical epigrams, or into cold and revolting hyperboles. Instead of letting it flow gracefully on, in an easy and sparkling current, he perpetually forces it out in jets, or makes it stagnate in formal canals;-and thinking it necessary to write like Pope, when the bent of his genius led him rather to copy what was best in Cowley and most fantastic in Shakspeare, he has produced something which excites wonder instead of admiration, and is felt by every one to be at once ingenious, incongruous, and natural.

After Young, there was a plentiful lack of poetical talent, down to a period comparatively recent. Akenside and Gray, indeed, in the interval, discovered a new way of imitating the ancients;-and Collins and Goldsmith produced some small specimens of exquisite and original poetry. At last, Cowper threw off the whole trammels of French criticism and artificial refinement; and, setting at defiance all the imaginary requisites of political diction and classical imagery-dignity of style, and politeness of phraseology-ventured to write again with the force and the freedom which formed the great characteristic of the old school of English literature, and had been so unhappily sacrificed, upwards of a century before. Cowper had many faults, and some radical deficiencies;-but this atoned for all. There was something so delightfully refreshing, in seeing natural phrases and natural images again displaying their unforced graces, and waving their unpruned heads in the enchanted gardens of poetry, that no one complained of the taste displayed in the selection;-and Cowper is, and is likely to continue, the most popular of all who have written for the present or the last gene


Of the poets who have come after him, we cannot, indeed, say that they have attached themselves to the school of Pope and Addison; or that they have even failed to show a much stronger predilection for the native beauties of their great predecessors. Southey, and Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Miss Baillie, have all of them copied the manner of our older poets; and, along with this indication of good taste, have given great proofs of original genius. The misfortune is, that their copies of those great originals are all liable to the charge of extreme affectation. They do not write as those great

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