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and the acuteness and grasp of thought with which they often seized the darkest and most tangled questions of metaphysical divinity.
But it is in the position they occupy in English history, that we most delight to contemplate the Puritans. We believe, that, as a body, they were the most sincere and zealous advocates of the Reformation. The taint of selfishness, of political expediency, of worldly ambition and worldly lusts, is seen in the motives which influenced the secession of the Church of England from the Church of Rome. It was a political more than a religious movement. It had its first inspiration from appetite, not from conscience. We reverence the Puritans for their honesty, in refusing to submit to the exactions of the new oppression, - for their dislike of any coquetry between Protestantism and Popery, - for their opposition to the mingling of temporal with spiritual interests, and to the coöperation of the church in the sins and corruptions of the state. Their stern and sturdy adherence to what they deemed the requisitions of conscience and the will of God will never cease to act as an inspiration to all who raise, in after times, the banner of revolt against accredited tyranny and established falsehood. Through the reign of Elizabeth, of James the First, of Charles the First, of Charles the Second, constantly pelted as they were with satire, and exposed to the most brutal wrongs and contumelies, - with literature, fashion, taste, power, all arrayed against them, - they ever preserved those titles to respect which cling to virtue and religion. Compared with the greedy politicians, the time-serving priests, the effeminate and dissolute courtiers, the venal writers, who honored them with their hatred or their ridicule, they loom up in almost colossal proportions, and frown rebuke on the corruptions of their age. We are not blind to their errors; we do not sympathize with their theology; we could wish that much of their enthusiasm had received a better direction, and that much of their piety had been accompanied by more kindliness of spirit; but when we consider the trials they underwent, the school of persecution in which they were trained, the character of the abuses which they assailed, the meanness and baseness of too many of their adversaries, and the inestimable services they rendered to the world, their faults and errors seem to dwindle before the light of their faith, their virtue, and their heroic selfdevotion.
The Puritans, — there is a charm in that word which will never be lost on a New England ear.
It is closely associated with all that is great in New England history. It is hallowed by a thousand memories of obstacles overthrown, of dangers nobly braved, of sufferings unshrinkingly borne, in the service of freedom and religion. It kindles at once the pride of ancestry, and inspires the deepest feelings of national veneration. It points to examples of valor in all its modes of manifestation, - in the hall of debate, on the field of battle, before the tribunal of power, at the martyr's stake. It is a name which will never die out of New England hearts. Wherever virtue resists temptation, wherever men meet death for religion's sake, wherever the gilded baseness of the world stands abashed before conscientious principle, there will be the spirit of the Puritans. They have left deep and broad marks of their influence on human society. Their children, in all times, will rise up and call them blessed. A thousand witnesses of their courage, their industry, their sagacity, their invincible persever
ance in well-doing, their love of free institutions, their respect for justice, their hatred of wrong, are all around us, and bear grateful evidence daily to their memory. We cannot forget them, even if we had sufficient baseness to wish it. Every spot of New England earth has a story to tell of them; every cherished institution of New England society bears the print of their minds. The strongest element of New England character has been transmitted with their blood. So intense is our sense of affiliation with their nature, that we speak of them universally as our “fathers.” And though their fame everywhere else were weighed down with calumny and hatred, though the principles for which they contended, and the noble deeds they performed, should become the scoff of sycophants and oppressors, and be blackened by the smooth falsehoods of the selfish and the cold, there never will be wanting hearts in New England to kindle at their virtues, nor tongues and pens to vindicate their name.
The imaginative literature of the present century is a subject which criticism has not yet exhausted. At the period in which its great works were produced, many causes prevented them from being judged in a spirit of fairness. The acknowledgment of an author's merit depended, to a great extent, on personal and political considerations. Malignity and partisanship both warped the straight line of analysis. The numerous disquisitions which have appeared since these passions have been somewhat allayed have still left room for individual diversities of opinion. We have thought that a view of the character and tendencies of the imaginative literature of the present age, in connection with the individual and poetical characters of its four great exponents, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Scott, would not be distasteful to our readers. We have selected these from the large army of contemporary poets, because in this, as in other armies, we must look to the leaders for the direction of the march, and the conduct of the war.
We commence with Wordsworth. Literature has its ebb and flow, its periods of plenty and barrenness, of progress and retrogression. At one time, we observe a race of authors spring up, as if by
* The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Philadelphia : James Kay, Jr., & Brother. 8vo. 1837. - North American Review, October, 1844.
magic, who reflect and modify current tastes and opinions, communicate a new energy to all departments of letters, become the founders of a school of literature, and trail after them an admiring body of disciples and imitators. But their influence gradually decays. The spirit that animated their writings dies out. New ideas and new ideals take possession of the national mind. Those of the school who remain copy their master's manner, without catching any of their master's soul. Then generally follows a period of mental sterility, a weary waste in intellectual history, dotted by only a few spots of verdure and beauty. Soon, however, a reaction commences. The dulness and debility consequent upon a cringing and servile admiration of past merit gradually provoke the best-natured " reading public” into wrath. A new order or development of literature supplants the old, - a literature more affected by contemporary events and opinions, more expressive of the advancing character of the people, more original and bold. This, again, when emancipated from the slavery of the past, exercises its tyranny upon the future.
These facts account in some degree for the wide diversities observable in the intellectual history of civilized nations. . In one age, we find the loftiest genius, in another, the meanest mediocrity, in the high places of letters. Edmund Spenser, John Dryden, Colley Cibber, Henry James Pye, and Robert Southey, have all been poet-laureates of England. The age of Pericles, of Augustus, of Lorenzo de Medici, of Elizabeth, of Queen Anne, periods of peculiar brilliancy in literary annals, were succeeded by times in which imitation, rather than creation, was the poet's boast. A great author thus establishes a kind of despotism over his successors. The