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to his poetry as an entire structure, it has a massive air of sincerity. It is founded in steadfast principles of belief; and, if we may prolong the architectural metaphor, though its arches may be sometimes gloomy, its tracery sportive, and its lights and shadows grotesquely crossed, yet altogether it still forms a vast, various, and interesting monument of the builder's mind. Young's works are as devout, as satirical, sometimes as merry, as those of Cowper; and, undoubtedly, more witty. But the melancholy and wit of Young do not make up to us the idea of a conceivable or natural being. He has sketched in his pages the ingenious, but incongruous form of a fictitious mind-Cowper's soul speaks from his volumes.” “Considering the tenor and circumstances of his life, it is not much to be wondered at, that some asperities and peculiarities should have adhered to the strong stem of his genius, like the moss and fungus that cling to some noble oak of the forest, amidst the damps of its unsunned retirement. It is more surprising that he preserved, in such seclusion, so much genuine power of comic observation. There is much of the full distinctness of Theophrastus, and of the nervous and concise spirit of La Bruyère, in his piece entitled “Conversation,' with a cast of humour superadded, which is peculiarly English, and not to be found out of England.”—Vol. vii. pp. 357, 358.
Of his greatest work, The Task, he afterwards observes,
“His whimsical outset in a work, where he promises so little and performs so much, may be advantageously contrasted with those magnificent commencement of poems, which pledge both the reader and the writer, in good earnest, to a task. Cowper's poem, on the contrary, is like a river, which rises from a playful little fountain, and athers beauty and magnitude as it proceeds. He É. us abroad into his daily walks; he exhibits the landscapes which he was accustomed to contemplate, and the trains of thought in which he habitually indulged. No attempt is made to interest us in legendary fictions, or historical recollections connected with the ground over which he expatiates; all is plainness and reality: But we instantly recognise the true poet, in the clearness, sweetness, and fidelity of his scenic draughts; in his power of giving novelty to what is common; and in the high relish, the exquisite enjoyment of rural sights and sounds, which he communicates to the spirit. “His eyes drink the rivers with delight.' He excites an idea, that almost amounts to sensation, of the freshness and delight of a rural walk, even when he leads us to the wasteful common, which
— ‘Overgrown with fern, and rough With prickly gorse, that, shapeless and deform'd, And dang'rous to the touch, has yet its bloom, And decks itself with ornaments of gold, Yields no unpleasing ramble. There the turf Smells fresh, and, rich in odorif'rous herbs And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense With luxuries of unexpected sweets.'
“His rural prospects have far less variety and compass than those of Thomson; but his graphic touches are more close and minute : not that Thomson was either deficient or undelightful in circumstantial traits of the beauty of nature, but he looked to her as a whole more than Cowper. His genius was more excursive and philosophical. The poet of Olney, on the contrary, regarded human philosophy with something of theological contempt. To his eye, the great and little things of this world were levelled into an equality, by his recollection of the power and purposes of Him who made them. hey are, in his view, only as toys spread on the lap and carpet of nature, for this childhood of our immortal being. This relif: indifference to the world is far, indeed, from
lunting his sensibility to the genuine and simple
beauties of creation; but it gives his taste a contentment and fellowship with humble things. It makes him careless of selecting and refining his views of nature beyond their actual appearances. He contemplated the face of plain rural English life, in moments of leisure and sensibility, till its minutest features were impressed upon his fancy; and he sought not to embellish what he loved. Hence his landscapes have less of the ideally beautiful than Thomson's; but they have an unrivalled charm of truth and reality. “He is one of the few poets, who have indulged neither in descriptions nor acknowledgments of the passion of love; but there is no poet who has #. us a finer conception of the amenity of emale influence. Of all the verses that have been ever devoted to the subject of domestic happiness, those in his winter evening, at the opening of the fourth book of The Task, are perhaps the most beautiful. In perusing that scene of ‘intimate delights,’ ‘fireside enjoyments,’ and “home-born happiness,' we seem to recover a part of the forgotten value of existence; when we recognise the means of its blessedness so widely dispensed, and so cheaply attainable, and find them susceptible of description at once so enchanting and so faithful. “Though the scenes of The Task are laid in retirement, the poem affords an amusing perspective of human affairs. Remote as the poet was from the stir of the great Babel, from the “confusae sonus Urbis, et illetabile murmur,’ he glances at most of the subjects of public interest which engaged the attention of his contemporaries. On those subjects, it is but faint praise to say that he espoused the side of justice and humanity. Abundance of mediocrity of talent is to be found on the same side, rather injuring than promoting the cause, by its officious declamation. But nothing can be io from the stale commonplace and cuckooism of sentiment, than the philanthropic eloquence of Cowper-he speaks “like one having authority.’ Society is his debtor. Poetical expositions of the horrors of slavery may, indeed, seem very unlikely agents in contributing to destroy it; and it is possible that the most refined planter in the West Indies, may look with neither shame nor compunction on his own image in the pages of Cowper. But such appeals to the heart of the community are not lost They fix themselves silently in the popular memory; and they become, at last, a part of that public opinion, which must, sooner or later, wrench the lash from the hand of the oppressor.”—pp. 359-364. But we must now break away at once from this delightful occupation; and take our final farewell of a work, in which, what is original, is scarcely less valuable than what is republished, and in which the genius of a living Poet has shed a fresh grace over the fading glories of so many of his departed brothers. We wish somebody would continue the work, by furnishing us with Specimens of our Living Poets. It would be more difficult, to be sure, and more dangerous; but, in some respects, it would also be more useful. The beauties of the unequal and voluminous writers would be more conspicuous in a selection; and the different styles and schools of poetry would be brought into fairer and nearer terms of comparison, by the mere juxtaposition of their best productions; while a better and clearer view would be obtained, both of the general progress and No. tendencies of the art, than can easily be gathered from the separate study of each important production. The mind of the critic, too, would be at once enlightened and tranquillized by the very greatness of the horizon thus subjected to his
'um?y; and he wouid probably regard, both «•ilk less enthusiasm and lees offence, those .•n.itrasted and compensating beauties and! lefects, when presented together, and as it were in combination, than he can ever do «Vu they come upon him in distinct masses, i:.n w.thout the relief and softening of so varii-1 an assemblage. On the other hand, it luiinot be dissembled, that such a work would be very trying to the unhappy editor's prophetic reputation, as well as to his impartiiilit) ami temper; and would, at all events,
subject him to the most furious imputations of unfairness and malignity. In point of courage and candour, we do not know anybody who would do it much better than ourselves! And if Mr. Campbell could only impart to us a fair share of his elegance, his fine perceptions, and his conciseness, we should like nothing better tnan to suspend, for a while, these periodical lucubrations, and furnish out a gallery of Living Bards, to match this exhibition of the Departed.
Tkt Dramatic Works of John Ford; with an Introduction and Explanatory Notes. By HekrÏ Weber, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 950. Edinburgh and London: 1811.
All true lovers of English poetry have Ьеел long in love with the dramatists of the time of Elizabeth and James; ала "j«t Live been sensibly comforted by their late restoration to some degree of favour ami notoriety. If there was any good reaMU; indeed, to believe that the notice which they have recently attracted proceeded from aay thing but that indiscriminate rage for "loriíaiid annotating bv which the present times are so happily distinguished, we should '- disposed to hail it as the most unequivocal symptom of improvement in public taste that bas yet occurred to reward and animate our labours. At all events, however, it gives us a chance for euch an improvement ; by placing ш the hands of many, who would not otherwise have heard of them, some of those beauив! performances which we have always '"-•¿Tiied as among the most pleasing and characteristic productions of our native genius. Ford certainly is not the best of those negtated writers,—nor Mr. Weber by any means :: bist of their recent editors: But we cannot rcsist the opportunity which this publication 'wms to afford, of saying a word or two of a cha of writers, whom we have long worshipped in secret with a sort of idolatrous ^ration, and now find once more brought forward as candidates for public applause. TV ara to which they belong, indeed, has «»»ye appeared to us by far the brightest in Щ- history of English literature.—or indeed °f human intellect and capacity. There '"er was, any where, any thins like the •itty or seventy years that elapsed from the iille of Elizabeth's reign to the period of шр Restoration. In point of real force and >ny.nality of genius, neither the age of Peri'•"x- :.or the age of Augustus, nor the times ?' ko X., nor "of Louis XIV., can come at all 1: :" comparison: For, in that short period. *e shall find the names of almost all the great men that this nation has ever ,—the names of Shakespeare, and and Spenser, and Sydney, — and ker.and Taylor, and Barrow, and Raleigh,
—and Napier, and Milton, and Cud worth, and Hobbes, and many others ;—men, all of them, not merely of great talents and accomplishments, but of vast compass and reach of understanding, and of minds truly creative and original ;—not perfecting art by the delicacy of their taste, or digesting knowledge by the justness of their reasonings; but making vast and substantial additions to the materials upon which taste and reason must hereafter be employed.—and enlarging, to an incredible and unparalleled extent, both the stores and the resources of the human facul ties.
Whether the brisk concussion which was given to men's minds by the force of the Reformation had much effect in producing this sudden development of British genius, we cannot undertake to determine. For our own part, we should be rather inclined to hold, that the Reformation itself was but one symptom or effect of that great spirit of progression and improvement which had been set in operation by deeper and more general causes; and which afterwards blossomed out into this splendid harvest of authorship. But whatever may have been the causes that determined the appearance of those great works, the fact is certain, not only that they appeared together in great numbers, but that they possessed a common character, which, in spite of the great diversity of their subjects and designs, would have made them be classed together as the works of the same order or description of men, even if they had appeared at the most distant intervals of time. They are the works of Giants, in short,—and of Giants of one nation and family:—and their characteristics are, great force, boldness, and originality; togethiT with a certain raciness of English peculiarity, which distinguishes them from all those performances that have since been produced among ourselves, upon a more vague and general idea of European excellence. Their sudden appearance, indeed, in all this splendour of native luxuriance, can only be com
pared to what happens on the breaking up of a virgin soil, where all the 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, an 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 comaratively few in number. The former were infinitely less critical and difficult 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 much in awe of the ancients, of their readers, or of each other. - The achievements of Bacon, and 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 *. of old figures— more, in short, of the body and the soul of ;. than in all the odes and the epics that ave 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 famaticism 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, those were the times that matured and drew forth the dark, but powerful genius of such men as Cromwell, and Harrison, and Fleetwood, &c. —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 destoyed, and has never since regained its honours; and Poetry, in o lost its ease, and its majesty and o along with its copiousness and origimality. - +. Restoration made things still worse: for it broke down the barriers of our literary independence, and reduced us to a province of the great republic of Europe. The genius and o 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 Eng: lish 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 ão profligacy that belonged to their outcast and adventurer character, were likely enough to be revolted by the peculiarities, and by the very excellences, 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 was 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 huxuriant 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 y 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 cop 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, ...”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 o: 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 animation of genius—and for the universal language of Shakespeare, the personalities, the rty politics, and the brutal obscenities of ryden. Nothing, indeed, can better characterize 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 o of Shakespeare and Milton. The eaviness, 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 persona. 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 Shakespeare, 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 to 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, wo probably have so 2
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 bora under the same sun with Shakespeare, 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 lameness 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 thmk; 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 apostacy. 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 would have thought such ridicule very well directed.
The best of what we copied from the Continental poets, on this desertion of our own great originals, is to be found, perhaps, in the lighter pieces of Prior. That tone of polite raillery—that airy, rapid, picturesque narrative, mixed up with wit and naivete—that style, in short, of good conversation concentrated into 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 jot been retained. The tales and little apolusues of Prior are still the only examples of ihis 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, thouííh 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 fas
tidious, a much deeper and more hearüVi admiration.
Young exhibits, we think, a curions «Tabulation, or contrast rather, of the two йл1и of which we have been speaking. Ti.<-_incapable either of tenderness or pa^;',: had a richness and activity of fancy that blonged rather to the days of Jame» and Elizabeth, than to those of George and Anw— But then, instead of indulging it. as the cM-: writers would have done, in easy and pbyiti inventions, in splendid descriptions- or doming illustrations, he was led. by the restrajcu and established taste of his age. to work it tp into strange and fantastical epigrams, or into cold and revolting hyperboles. Instead o: letting it flow gracefully on, in an easy к-.' sparkling current, he perpetually force? it os! in jets, or makes it stagnate in formal сапа;-: and thinking it necessary to write like P<tv when the bent of his genius led him rait» г to copy what was best in Cowley and ant fantastic in Shakespeare, he has prodüc-í something which excites wonder instead t! admiration, and is felt by every one to be i! once ingenious, incongruous, and unnatural
After Young, there was a plentiful ¡;.o¿ poetical talent, down to a period comparative^ recent. Akenside and Gray, indeed, in thf interval, discovered a new way of imitât:.: the ancients ;—and Collins and Goldsmith prrduced some small specimens of exquieitear: original poetry. At last. Cowper threw off !iwhole trammels of French criticism and arficial refinement; and, setting at defiarre?the imaginary requisites of poetical <l:ct<? and classical imagery—dignity of style, i' '. politeness of phraseology—ventured to w :• again with the lorce and the freedom «fc'' had characterised the old school of Erd.'literature, and been so unhappily racritx-p' upwards of a century before. Cowper hr' many faults, and some radical deficienci"' —but this atoned for all. There was Ke-thing so delightfully refreshing, in ter".: natural phrases and natural imagos ал:: playing their unforced graces, and \гатг.their unpruned heads in the enchanted гг:dens of poetry, that no one complained of tí/ taste displayed in the selection ;—and Сечper is. and is likely to continue, the ns« popular of all who have written for the presei: or the last generation.
Of the poets who have come after him. «т cannot, indeed, say that they have attach«! themselves to the school of Pope and A • • son; or that they have even failed to show a much stronger predilection for the native Nasties of their great predecessors. Soti.V; and Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and Mis Baillie, have all of them copied the mnr.: •: of our older poets; and, along with this m-iication of good taste, have given great pr<-'? of original genius. The misfortune is. that their copies of those great originals arc I.*'..' to the charge of extreme affectation. Th-:\ do not write га those great poets would hrn • written : they merely mimic their manner, a:.: ape their peculiarities j—and consequently, though they profess to imitate the freest aiid