Page images
PDF
EPUB

to his poetry as an entire structure, it has a massive | beauties of creation ; but it gives his taste a con air of sincerity. It is founded in steadfast princi- tentment and fellowship with humble things. li ples of belief; and, if we may prolong the archi- makes him careless of selecting and refining his iectural metaphor, though its arches may be some. views of nature beyond their actual appearances. times gloomy, its iracery 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 “ He is one of the few poets, who have indulged sketched in his pages the ingenious, but incongruous neither in descriptions nor acknowledgments of form of a fictitious mind —Cowper's soul speaks the passion of love ; but there is no poet who has from his volumes."

given us a finer conception of the amenity of Considering the tenor and circumstances of his female influence. Of all ihe verses that have been life, it is not much to be wondered at, that some ever devoted to the subject of domestic happiness, asperities and peculiarities should have adhered to the those in his winter evening, at the opening of the strong stem of his genius, like the moss and fungus fourth book of The Task, are perhaps the most that cling to some noble oak of the forest, amidst the beautiful. In perusing that scene of intimate de damps of its unsunned retirement. It is more sur lights,' 'fireside enjoyments,' and home-born prising that he preserved, in such seclusion, so much happiness,' we seem to recover a part of the for. genuine power of comic observation. There is much gotten value of existence; when we recognise the of the full distinctness of Theophrastus, and of the means of its blessedness so widely dispensed, and nervous and concise spirit of La Bruyère, in his so cheaply attainable, and find them susceptible piece entitled . Conversation,' with a cast of humour of description at once so enchanting and so faithful. superadded, which is peculiarly English, and not to “ Though the scenes of The T'ask are laid in be found out of England."-Vol. vii. pp. 357, 358. retirement, the poem affords an amusing perspec.

live of human affairs. Remote as the poet was Of his greatest work, The Task, he after- from the stir of the great Babel, from the conwards observes,

fusæ sonus Urbis, et illætabile murmur,' he glances “ His whimsical outset in a work, where he engaged the attention of his contemporaries. On

at most of the subjects of public interest which promises so little and performs so much, may be those subjects, it is but faint praise io say that he advantageously contrasted with those magnificent espoused the side of justice and humanity.' Abundcommencement of poems, which pledge both the ance of mediocrity of talent is to be found on the reader and the writer, in good earnesi, to a task.

same side, rather injuring than promoting the Cowper's poem, on the contrary, is like a river, cause, by its officious declamation. But nothing which rises from a playful little fountain, and can be further from the stale commonplace and gathers beauty and magnitude as it proceeds. He cuckooism of sentiment, than the philanthropic leads us abroad into his daily walks; he exhibits eloquence of Cowper-he speaks ‘like one having the landscapes which he was accustomed to con authority.' Socieiy is his debtor. Poetical expotemplate, and the trains of thought in which he sitions of the horrors of slavery may, indeed, seem habitually indulged. No attempt is made to in very unlikely agents in contributing to destroy it; terest us in legendary fictions, or historical recol- and it is possible that the most refined planter in lections connected with the ground over which he the West Indies, may look with neither shame expatiates; all is plainness and reality : But we

nor conipunction on his own image in the pages instantly recognise the true poet, in the clearness, of Cowper. But such appeals to the heart of the sweetness, and fidelity of his scenic draughts; in community are not lost! They fix themselves his power of giving novelty to what is common; silently in the popular memory; and they become, and in the high relish, the exquisite enjoyment of at last, a part of that public opinion, which must, rural sights and sounds, which he communicates sooner or later, wrench the lash from the hand of to the spirit

. " His eyes drink the rivers with de. the oppressor."--pp. 359—364. light.' He excites an idea, that almost amounts to sensation, of the freshness and delight of a rural But we must now break away at once from walk, even when he leads us to the wasteful com- this delightful occupation; and take our final mon, which

farewell of a work, in which, what is original, Overgrown with fern, and rough is scarcely lesz valuable than what is repubWith prickly gorse, that, shapeless and deform'd, lished, and in which the genius of a living And dang'rous to the touch, has yet its bloom, Poet has shed a fresh grace over the fading And decks itself with ornaments of gold,

glories of so many of his departed brothers. Yields no unpleasing ramble. There the turf Smells fresh, and, rich in odorisrous herbs

We wish somebody would continue the work, And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense

by furnishing us with Specimens of our Living With luxuries of unexpected sweets.'

Poets. It would be more difficult, to be sure,

and more dangerous; but, in some respects, “ His rural prospects have far less variety and compass than those of Thomson ; but his graphic it would also be more useful. The beauties touches are more close and minute : not That of the unequal and voluminous writers would

Thomson was either deficient or undelightful in be more conspicuous in a selection; and the circumstantial traits of the beauty of nature, but different styles and schools of poetry would he looked to her as a whole more than Cowper. be brought into fairer and nearer terms of The poet of Olney, on the contrary, regarded comparison, by the mere juxta position of their human philosophy with something of theological best productions; while a better and clearer contempi. To his eye, the great and little things view would be obtained, both of the general of this world were levelled into an equality, by his progress and apparent tendencies of the art, recollection of the power and purposes of Him than can easily be gathered from the separate who inade them. They are, in his view, only as study of each important production. The toys spread on the lap and carpet of nature, for mind of the critic, too, would be at once engious indifference to the world is far, indeed, from lightened and tranquillized by the very greatblunting his sensibility to the genuine and simple lness of the horizon thus subjected to bis 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 eleana 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 inan 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."

[ocr errors][merged small]

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 ac, must 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 facul has 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, ihat the Reformation itself was but one

Ford certainly is not the best of those ne- symptom or effect of that great spirit proglected writers,

-nor Mr. Weber by any means gression 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

pared to what happens on the breaking up of forth upon every occasion, and by which they a virgin soil, — where all the indigenous plants illuminated and adorned the darkest and most spring up at once with a rank and irrepressi- rugged topics to which they had happened to ble fertility, and display whatever is peculiar turn themselves, is such as has never been or excellent in their nature, on a scale the equalled in any other age or country; and most conspicuous and magnificent. The crops places them at least as high, in point of are not indeed so clean, as where a more fancy and imagination, as of force of reason, exhausted mould has been stimulated by or comprehensiveness of understanding. In systematic cultivation; nor so profitable, as this highest and most comprehensive sense where their quality has been varied by a of the word, a great proportion of the writers judicious admixture of exotics, and accom- we have alluded to were Poets : and, without modated to the demands of the universe by going to those who composed in metre, and the combinations of an unlimited trade. But chiefly for purposes of delight, we will vento those whose chief object of admiration is ture to assert, that there is in any one of the the living power and energy of vegetation, prose folios of Jeremy Taylor more fine fancy and who take delight in contemplating the and original imagery—more brilliant concepvarious forms of her unforced and natural tions and glowing expressions—more new perfection, no spectacle can be more rich, figures, and new applications of old figures splendid, or attractive.

more, in short, of the body and the soul of In the times of which we are speaking, poetry, than in all the odes and the epics that classical learning, though it had made great have since been produced in Europe. There progress, had by no means become an exclu- are large portions of Barrow, and of Hooker sive study; and the ancients had not yet and Bacon, of which we may say nearly as been permitted to subdue men's minds tó a much: nor can any one have a tolerably adesense of hopeless inferiority, or to condemn quate idea of the riches of our language and the moderns to the lot of humble imitators. our native genius, who has not made himself They were resorted to, rather to furnish ma- acquainted with the prose writers, as well as terials and occasional ornaments, than as the poets, of this memorable period. models for the general style of composition; The civil wars, and the fanaticism by which and, while they enriched the imagination, and they were fostered, checked all this fine bloom insensibly improved the taste of their suc of the imagination, and gave a different and ressors, they did not at all restrain their free less attractive character to the energies which dom, or impair their originality. No common they could not extinguish. Yet, those were standard had yet been erected, to which all the times that matured and drew forth the the works of European genius were required dark, but powerful genius of such men as to conform; and no general authority was Cromwell, and Harrison, and Fleetwood, &c. acknowledged, by which all private or local —the milder and more generous enthusiasm ideas of excellence must submit to be cor- of Blake, and Hutchison, and Hampdenrected. Both readers and authors were com- and the stirring and indefatigable spirit of paratively few in number. The former were Pym, and Hollis, and Vane—and the chivalinfinitely less critical and difficult than they rous and accomplished loyalty of Strafford and have since become; and the latter, if they Falkland; at the same time that they stimuwere not less solicitous about fame, were at lated and repaid the severer studies of Coke, least much less jealous and timid as to the and Selden, and Milton. The Drama, howe hazards which attended its pursuit. Men, ever, was entirely destoyed, and has never indeed, seldom took to writing in those days, since regained its honours; and Poetry, in unless they had a great deal of matter to general, lost its ease, and its majesty and communicate; and neither imagined that force, along with its copiousness and origithey could make a reputation by delivering nality. commonplaces in an elegant manner, or that The Restoration made things still worse : the substantial value of their sentiments for it broke down the barriers of our literary would be disregarded for a little rudeness or independence, and reduced us to a province negligence in the finishing They were of the great republic of Europe. The genius habituated, therefore, both to 'depend upon and fancy which lingered through the usurtheir own resources, and to draw upon them pation, though soured and blighted by the without fear or anxiety; and followed the severities of that inclement season, were still dictates of their own taste and judgment, genuine English genius and fancy; and without standing much in awe of the ancients, owned no alegiance to any foreign authoriof their readers, or of each other.

ties. But the Restoration brought in a French The achievements of Bacon, and those who taste upon us, and what was called a classical set free our understandings from the shackles and a polite taste; and the wings of our Eng, of Papal and of tyrannical imposition, afford lish Muses were clipped and trimmed, and sufficient evidence of the benefit which re- their flights regulated at the expense of all sulted to the reasoning faculties from this that was peculiar, and much of what was happy independence of the first great wri- brightest in their beauty. The King and his ters of this nation. But its advantages were, courtiers, during their long exile, had of course if possible, still more conspicuous in the mere imbibed the taste of their protectors; and, literary character of their productions. The coming from the gay court of France, with quantity of bright thoughts, of original images, something of that additional profligacy that and splendid expressions, which they poured | belonged to their outcast and adventurer character, were likely enough to be revolted | fashionable style of writing, and actually feel by the peculiarities, and by the very excel- ashamed of their own richer and more varied iences, of our native literature. The grand productions. and sublime tone of our greater poets, ap- It would greatly exceed our limits to depeared to them dull, morose, and gloomy; scribe accurately the particulars in which and the fine play of their rich and unre- this new Continental style differed from our strained fancy, mere childishness and folly: old insular one: But, for our present purpose, while their frequent lapses and perpetual ir- it may be enough perhaps to say, that it was regularity were set down as clear indications more worldly, and more townish,-holding of barbarity and ignorance. Such sentiments, more of reason, and ridicule, and authority too, were natural, we must admit, for a few more elaborate and more assuming-addressdissipated and witty men, accustomed alled more to the judgment than to the feelings, their days to the regulated splendour of a and somewhat ostentatiously accommodated court-to the gay and heartless gallantry of to the habits, or supposed habits, of persons French manners—and to the imposing pomp in fashionable life. Instead of tenderness and and brilliant regularity of French poetry. fancy, we had satire and sophistry-artificial But, it may appear somewhat more unac- declamation, in place of the spontaneous anicountable that they should have been able to mation of genius—and for the universal lanimpose their sentiments upon the great body guage of Shakespeare, the personalities, the of the nation. A court, indeed, never has so party politics, and the brutal obscenities of much influence as at the moment of a resto- Dryden. Nothing, indeed, can better characration : but the influence of an English court terize the change which had taken place in has been but rarely discernible in the litera- our national taste, than the alterations and ture of the country; and had it not been for additions which thís eminent person presumed the peculiar circumstances in which the nation -and thought it necessary—10 make on the was then placed, we believe it would have productions of Shakespeare and Milton. The resisted this attempt to naturalise foreign no- heaviness, the coarseness, and the bombast tions, as sturdily as it was done on almost of that abominable travestie, in which he has every other occasion.

exhibited the Paradise Lost in the form of an At this particular moment, however, the opera, and the atrocious indelicacy and comnative literature of the country had been sunk passionable stupidity of the new characters into a very low and feeble state by the rigours with which he has polluted the enchanted of the usurpation,--the best of its recent solitude of Miranda and Prospero in the models laboured under the reproach of re- Tempest, are such instances of degeneracy publicanism,--and the courtiers were not only as we would be apt to impute rather to some disposed to see all its peculiarities with an transient hallucination in the author himself, eye of scorn and aversion, but had even a than to the general prevalence of any sysgood deal to say in favour of that very oppo- tematic bad taste in the public, did we not site style to which they had been habituated. know that Wycherly and his coadjutors were It was a witty, and a grand, and a splendid in the habit of converting the neglected dramas style. It showed more scholarship and art, of Beaumont and Fletcher into popular plays, than the luxuriant negligence of the old merely by leaving out all the romantic sweetEnglish school ; and was not only free from ness of their characters-turning their melomany of its hazards and some of its faults, dious blank verse into vulgar prose--and but possessed merits of its own, of a charac- aggravating the indelicacy of their lower ter more likely to please those who had then characters, by, lending a more disgusting the power of conferring celebrity, or con- indecency to the whole dramatis persona. demning to derision. Then it was a style Dryden was, beyond all comparison, the which it was peculiarly easy to justify by greatest poet of his own day; and, endued argument; and in support of which great as he was with a vigorous and discursive authorities, as well as imposing reasons, were imagination, and possessing a mastery over always ready to be produced. It came upon his language which no later writer has atus with the air and the pretension of being the tained, if he had known nothing of foreign style of cultivated Europe, and a true copy literature, and been left to form himself on of the style of polished antiquity. England, the models of Shakespeare, Spenser, and on the other hand, had had but little inter- Milton; or if he had lived in the country, course with the rest of the world for a con- at a distance from the pollutions of courts, siderable period of time: Her language was factions, and playhouses, there is reason to not at all studied on the Continent, and her think that he would have built up the pure native authors had not been taken into account and original school of English poetry so firmly, in forming those ideal standards of excellence as to have made it impossible for fashion, of which had been recently constructed in France caprice, or prejudice of any sort, ever to have and Italy upon the authority of the Roman rendered any other popular among our own classics, and of their own most celebrated inhabitants. As it is, he has not written one writers. When the comparison came to be line that is pathetic, and very few that can made, therefore, it is easy to imagine that it be considered as sublime. should generally be thought to be very much · Addison, however, was the consummation to our disadvantage, and to understand how of this Continental 'style; and if it had not the great multitude, even among ourselves, been redeemed about the same time by the should be dazzled with the pretensions of the fine talents of Pope, would probably have so far discredited it, as to have brought us back | tidious, a much deeper and more heartfelt to our original faith half a century ago. The admiration. extreme caution, timidity, and flatness of this Young exhibits, we think, a curious comauthor in his poetical compositions—the nar- bination, or contrast rather, of the two styles rowness of his range in poetical sentiment of which we have been speaking. Though and diction, and the utter want either of pas- incapable either of tenderness or passion, he sion or of brilliancy, render it difficult to be had a richness and activity of fancy that believe that he was born under the same sun longed rather to the days of James and Elizawith Shakespeare, and wrote but a century beth, than to those of George and Anne :-after him. His fame, at this day stands solely But then, instead of indulging it, as the older upon the delicacy, the modest gaiety, and in- writers would have done, in easy and playful genious purity of his prose style ;—for the inventions, in splendid descriptions, or glow. occasional elegance and small ingenuity of ing illustrations, he was led, by the restraints his poems can never redeem the poverty and established taste of his age, to work it up of their diction, and the tameness of their into strange and fantastical epigrams, or into conception. Pope has incomparably more cold and revolting hyperboles. Instead of spirit and taste and animation : but Pope is a letting it flow gracefully on, in an easy and satirist, and a moralist, and a wit, and a critic, sparkling current, he perpetually forces it out and a fine writer, much more than he is a in jets, or makes it stagnate in formal canals; poet. He has all the delicacies and proprie- and thinking it necessary to write like Pope, ties and felicities of diction—but he has not a when the bent of his genius led him rather great deal of fancy, and scarcely ever touches to copy what was best in Cowley and most any of the greater passions. He is much the fantastic in Shakespeare, he has produced best, we think, of the classical Continental something which excites wonder instead of school; but he is not to be compared with the admiration, and is felt by every one to be at masters-nor with the pupils—of that Old once ingenious, incongruous, and unnatural. English one from which there had been so After Young, there was a plentiful lack of lamentable an apostacy. There are no pic- poetical talent, down to a period comparatively tures of nature or of simple emotion in all his recent. Akenside and Gray, indeed, in the writings. He is the poet of town life, and of interval, discovered a new way of imitating high life, and of literary life; and seems so the ancients;—and Collins and Goldsmith promuch afraid of incurring ridicule by the dis- duced some small specimens of exquisite and play of natural feeling or unregulated fancy, original poetry. At last, Cowper threw off the that it is difficult not to imagine that he would whole trammels of French criticism and arti. have thought such ridicule very well directed. ficial refinement; and, setting at defance all

The best of what we copied from the Con- the imaginary requisites of poetical diction tinental poets, on this desertion of our own and classical imagery-dignity of style, and great originals

, is to be found, perhaps, in the politeness of phraseology-ventured to write Tighter pieces of Prior. That' tone of polite again with the force and the freedom which raillery--that airy, rapid, picturesque narra- had characterised the old school of English tive, mixed up with wit and naïvetéthat literature, and been so unhappily sacrificed, style, in short, of good conversation concentra- upwards of a century before. Cowper had ted into flowing and polished verses, was not many faults, and some radical deficiencies; within the vein of our native poets; and prob- --but this atoned for all. There was someably never would have been known among thing 50 delightfully refreshing, in seeing us, if we had been left to our own resources. natural phrases and natural images again disIt is lamentable that this, which alone was playing their unforced graces, and waving worth borrowing, is the only thing which has their unpruned heads in the enchanted gar3ot been retained. The tales and Jittle apol- dens of poetry, that no one complained of the ugues of Prior are still the only examples of taste displayed in the selection ;-and Cow. this style in our language.

per is, and is likely to continue, the most With the wits of Queen Anne this foreign popular of all who have written for the present school attained the summit of its reputation; or the last generation. and has ever since, we think, been declining, Of the poets who have come after him, we though by slow and almost imperceptible cannot, indeed, say that they have attached gradations. Thomson was the first writer of themselves to the school of Pope and Addi. any eminence who seceded from it, and made son; or that they have even failed to shoir a some steps back to the force and animation much stronger predilection for the native beauof our original poetry. Thomson, however, ties of their great predecessors. Southey, was educated in Scotland, where the new and Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Miss style, we believe, had not yet become famil- Baillie, have all of them copied the manner iar; and lived, for a long time, a retired and of our older poets; and, along with this indiunambitious life, with very little intercourse cation of good taste, have given great proofs with those who gave the tone in literature at of original genius. The misfortune is, that the period of his first appearance. Thomson, their copies of those great originals are liable accordingly, has always been popular with a to the charge of extreme affectation. They much wider circle of readers, than either do not write as those great poets would have Pope or Addison; and, in spite of consid- | written: they merely mimic their manner, and erable vulgarity and signal cumbrousness' ape their peculiarities;-and consequently, of diction, has drawn, even from the fas- though they profess to imitate the freest and

« PreviousContinue »