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on Magnesia, Quicklime, and other Alkaline Substances, published in 1755. Fixed air, or, as it is now called, carbonic acid, had indeed been long before recognized as something distinct from common air by Van Helmont; but his notice of it appears to have been quite forgotten when it was again detected by Black, who also first examined it with any degree of care, and ascertained its most remarkable properties. Another was the great discovery of latent heat, which he made a few years later. The most eminent names in the mathematical and physical sciences belonging to the earlier part of the reign of George III. are those of Cavendish (the discoverer of the composition of water), Priestley, Herschel (the discoverer of the planet Uranus), Bliss, who was the fourth, and Maskelyne, who was the fifth astronomer royal, Horsley, Vince, Maseres, Charles Hutton, James Hutton (the author of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth), Cullen, Brown (the propounder of the Brunonian System of Medicine), John and William Hunter, the anatomists, &c. Under this head may also be noticed the several government voyages of discovery conducted by Commodore Byron, 1764–1766 (in the course of which he discovered the Duke of York's Island and the Isles of Danger); by Captain Wallis, 1766– 1768 (in which he discovered the Island of Otaheite); by Captain Carteret, 1766–1769; by Captain Cook, accompanied by Mr. Green, the astronomer, and Dr. Solander and Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Banks, the naturalists, 1668–1771 (in which the transit of Venus over the sun was observed at Otaheite 4th June, 1769, and New South Wales was discovered, and New Zealand rediscovered); by Captain Cook, 1772–1775 (in which he discovered New Caledonia); and by Captain Cook, 1776–1780 (in which the great navigator discovered the Sandwich Islands, and lost his life there, at Owhyhee, on the 14th of February, 1779).
THE LATTER PART OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
The death of Samuel Johnson, in the end of the year 1784, makes a pause, or point of distinction, in our literature, hardly less notable than the acknowledgment of the independence of America,
year before, makes in our political history. It was not only the end of a reign, but the end of kingship altogether, in our literary system. For King Samuel has had no successor ; nobody since his day, and that of his contemporary Voltaire, who died in 1778, at the age of eighty-five, has sat on a throne of literature either in England or in France.
Of the literary figures, however, that had previously appeared upon the scene, many continued to be conspicuous for years
after this date, some throughout the rest of the century or longer. Burke, the most eminent of them all, survived till 1797 ; and, having already raised himself to distinction by his publications and speeches in connection with the American war, won his highest fame in the finishing part of his career by his wonderful oratorical displays on the impeachment of Hastings, and his writings, outblazing everything he had before produced, on the French revolution. Adam Smith did not die till 1790; his countryman, Dr. Robertson, not till 1793; Robertson's illustrious brother-historian, Gibbon, not till 1794. Of the poets and cultivators of light literature, or the belles-lettres, who have been already mentioned, Thomas Warton lived till 1790, Ossian Macpherson till 1796, Mason and his friend Horace Walpole till 1797, Joseph Warton till 1800. Other writers, again, who have been noticed in preceding pages, outlived Johnson by many years.
Thus Beattie only died in 1803; Anstey, the author of the New Bath Guide, in 1805 ; John Home, the author of Douglas, in 1808 ; Bishop Percy and Richard Cumberland in 1811; Adam Ferguson, the historian of the Roman Republic, in 1816; Richard Brinsley Sheridan the same year ; Sir Philip Francis, presumed to be Junius, in 1818; Miss Sophia Lee in 1824; Henry Mackenzie in 1831; Miss Burney (afterwards Madame d'Arblay) not till 1840. These writers, and others whose names might be added, had all produced the
works by which they were first made known, most of them those to which they chiefly owe their reputation, before the close of the Johnsonian era.
It is a remarkable fact that, if we were to continue our notices of the poets of the last century in strict chronological order, the first name we should have to mention would be that of a writer, who more properly belongs to what may almost be called our own day. Crabbe, whose Tales of the Hall, the most striking production of his powerful and original genius, appeared in 1819, and who died so recently as 1832, published his first poem, The Library, in 1781: some extracts from it are given in the Annual Register for that year. But Crabbe's literary career is divided into two parts by a chasm or interval, during which he published nothing, of nearly twenty years; and his proper era is the present century.
One remark, however, touching this writer may be made here: his first manner was evidently caught from Churchill more than from 'any other of his predecessors. And this was also the case with his contemporary Cowper, the poetical writer whose name casts the greatest illustration upon the last twenty years of the eighteenth century. William Cowper, born in 1731, twenty-three years before Crabbe, we pass over his anonymous contributions to his friend the Rev. Mr. Newton's collection of the Olney Hymns, published in 1776, - gave to the world the first volume of his poems, containing those entitled Table-Talk, The Progress of Error, Truth, Expostulation, Hope, Charity, Conversation, and Retirement, in 1782; his famous History of John Gilpin appeared the following year, without his name, in a publication called The Repository; his second volume, containing The Task, Tirocinium, and some shorter pieces, was published in 1785; his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey in 1791; and his death took place on the 25th of April, 1800. It is recorded that Cowper's first volume attracted little attention: it certainly appears to have excited no perception in the mind or eye of the public of that day that a new and great light had arisen in the poetical firmament. The
Annual Register for 1781, as we have said, gives extracts from Crabbe's Library ; a long passage from his next poem, The Village, is given in the volume for 1783; the volume for 1785 in like manner treats its readers to a quotation from The Newspaper, which he had published in that year; but, except that the anonymous History of John Gilpin is extracted in the volume for 1783 from the Repository, we have nothing there of Cowper’s till we come to the volume for 1786, which contains two of the minor pieces published in his second volume. Crabbe was probably indebted for the distinction he received in part to his friend and patron Burke, under whose direction the Register was compiled ; but the silence observed in regard to Cowper may be taken as not on that account the less conclusive as to the little or next to no impression his first volume made. Yet surely there were both a force and a freshness of manner in the new aspirant that might have been expected to draw some observation. Nor had there of late been such plenty of good poetry produced in England as to make anything of the kind a drug in the market. But here, in fact, lay the main cause of the public inattention.
The age was not poetical. The manufacture of verse was carried on, indeed, upon a considerable scale, by the Hayleys and the Whiteheads and the Pratts and others (spinners of sound and weavers of words not for a moment to be compared in inventive and imaginative faculty, or in faculty of any kind, any more than for the utility of their work, with their contemporaries the Arkwrights and Cartwrights); but the production of poetry had gone so much out, that, even in the class most accustomed to judge of these things, few people knew it when they saw it.
It has been said that the severe and theological tone of this poetry of Cowper's operated against its immediate popularity; and that was probably the case too; but it could only have been so, at any rate to the same extent, in a time at the least as indifferent to poetry as to religion and morality. For, certainly, since the days of Pope, nothing in the same style had been produced among us to be compared with these poems of Cowper's for animation, vigor, and point, which are among the most admired qualities of that great writer, any more than for the cordiality, earnestness, and fervor which are more peculiarly their
Smoother versification we had had in great abundance ; more pomp and splendor of rhetorical declamation, perhaps, as in Johnson's paraphrases from Juvenal ; more warmth and glow of
imagination, as in Goldsmith's two poems, if they are to be considered as coming into the competition. But, on the whole, verse of such bone and muscle had proceeded from no recent writer, not excepting Churchill, whose poetry had little else than its coarse strength to recommend it, and whose hasty and careless workmanship Cowper, while he had to a certain degree been his imitator, had learned, with his artistical feeling, infinitely to surpass. Churchill's vehement invective, with its exaggerations and personalities, made him the most popular poet of his day: Cowper, neglected at first, has taken his place as one of the classics of the language.
Each has had his reward — the reward he best deserved, and probably most desired.
As the death of Samuel Johnson closes one era of our literature, so the appearance of Cowper as a poet opens another. Notwithstanding his obligations both to Churchill and Pope, a main characteristic of Cowper's poetry is its originality. Compared with almost any one of his predecessors, he was what we may call a natural poet.
He broke through conventional forms and usages in his mode of writing more daringly than any English poet before him had done, at least since the genius of Pope had bound in its spell the phraseology and rhythm of our poetry. His opinions were not more his own than his manner of expressing them. His principles of diction and versification were announced, in part, in the poem with which he introduced himself to the public, his Table-Talk, in which, having intimated his contempt for the creamy smoothness
" of modern fashionable verse, where sentiment was so often
sacrificed to sound,
Give me the line that ploughs its stately course
Quite unindebted to the tricks of art.