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of a bold and tumultuous democracy. Changes of religion and of government, civil or foreign wars, conquests which derive splendor from distance or extent or difficulty, long tranquillity, -all these, and indeed every conceivable modification of the state of a community, show themselves in the tone of its poetry, and leave long and deep traces on every part of its literature. Geometry is the same, not only at London and Paris, but in the extremes of Athens and Samarcand; but the state of the general feeling in England, at this moment, requires a different poetry from that which delighted our ancestors in the time of Luther or Alfred.

"During the greater part of the eighteenth century, the connection of the character of English poetry with the state of the country was very easily traced. The period which extended from the English to the French Revolution was the golden age of authentic history. Governments were secure, nations tranquil, improvements rapid, manners mild beyond the example of any former age. The English nation, which possessed the greatest of all human blessings, a wisely constructed popular government, necessarily enjoyed the largest share of every other benefit. The tranquillity of that fortunate period was not disturbed by any of those calamitous, or even extraordinary events, which excite the imagination and inflame the passions. No age was more exempt from the prevalence of any species of popular enthusiasm. Poetry, in this state of things, partook of that calm, argumentative, moral, and directly useful character, into which it naturally subsides when there are no events to call up the higher passions, when every talent is allured into the immediate service of a prosperous and improving society,—and when wit, taste, diffused literature, and fastidious criticism, combine to deter the young writer from the more arduous enterprises of poetical genius. In such an age, every art becomes rational. Reason is the power which presides in a calm. But reason guides, rather than impels; and, though it must regulate every exertion of genius, it never can rouse it to vigorous action.

"The school of Dryden and Pope, which prevailed till a very late period of the last century, is neither the most poetical nor the most national part of our literary annals. These great poets sometimes, indeed, ventured into the regions of pure poetry; but their general character is, that not in fancy's maze they wandered long;' and

that they rather approached the elegant correctness of our continental neighbors, than supported the daring flight, which, in the former age, had borne English poetry to a sublimer elevation than that of any other modern people of the West.

"Towards the middle of the century, great, though quiet changes, began to manifest themselves in the republic of letters in every European nation which retained any portion of mental activity. About that time, the exclusive authority of our great rhyming poets began to be weakened, while new tastes and fashions began to show themselves in the political world. A school of poetry must have prevailed long enough to be probably on the verge of downfall, before its practice is embodied in a correspondent system of criticism.

"Johnson was the critic of our second poetical school. As far as his prejudices of a political or religious kind did not disqualify him for all criticism, he was admirably fitted by nature to be the critic of this species of poetry. Without more imagination, sensibility or delicacy, than it required, not always with perhaps quite enough for its higher parts, he possessed sagacity, shrewdness, experience, knowledge of mankind, a taste for rational and orderly compositions, and a disposition to accept, instead of poetry, that lofty and vigorous declamation in harmonious verse, of which he himself was capable, and to which his great master sometimes descended. His spontaneous admiration scarcely soared above Dryden. Merit of a loftier class he rather saw than felt.' Shakspeare has transcendent excellence of every sort, and for every critic, except those who are repelled by the faults which usually attend sublime virtues, — character and manners, morality and prudence, as well as imagery and passion. Johnson did, indeed, perform a vigorous act of reluctant justice towards Milton; but it was a proof, to use his own words, that


At length our mighty bard's victorious lays
Fill the loud voice of universal praise;
And baffled Spite, with hopeless anguish dumb,
Yields to renown the centuries to come.'

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The deformities of the Life of Gray ought not to be ascribed to jealousy, for Johnson's mind, though coarse, was not mean, but to the prejudices of his university, his political faction, and his poetical

sect; and this last bigotry is the more remarkable, because it is exerted against the most skilful and tasteful of innovators, who, in reviving more poetical subjects and a more splendid diction, has employed more care and finish than those who aimed only at correct


"The interval which elapsed between the death of Goldsmith and the rise of Cowper is perhaps more barren than any other twelve years in the history of our poetry since the accession of Elizabeth. It seemed as if the fertile soil was at length exhausted. But it had in fact only ceased to exhibit its accustomed produce. The established poetry had worn out either its own resources, or the constancy of its readers. Former attempts to introduce novelty had been either too weak or too carly. Neither the beautiful fancy of Collins, nor the learned and ingenious industry of, Warton, nor even the union of sublime genius with consummate art in Gray, had produced a general change in poetical composition. But the fulness of time was approaching; and a revolution has been accomplished, of which the commencement nearly coincides-not, as we conceive, accidentally -with that of the political revolution which has changed the character, as well as the condition, of Europe. It has been a thousand times observed, that nations become weary even of excellence, and seek a new way of writing, though it should be a worse. But, besides the operation of satiety, the general cause of literary revolutions, several particular circumstances seem to have affected the late changes of our poetical taste; of which, two are more conspicuous than the


"In the natural progress of society, the songs which are the effusion of the feelings of a rude tribe are gradually polished into a form of poetry still retaining the marks of the national opinions, sentiments and manners, from which it originally sprung. The plants are improved by cultivation; but they are still the native produce of the soil. The only perfect example which we know, of this sort, is Greece. Knowledge and useful art, and perhaps in a great measure religion, the Greeks received from the East; but, as they studied no foreign language, it was impossible that any foreign literature should influence the progress of theirs. Not even the name of a Persian, Assyrian, Phenician, or Egyptian poet is alluded to by any Greek writer. The Greek poetry was, therefore, wholly national.


Pelasgic ballads were insensibly formed into Epic, and Tragic, and Lyric poems; but the heroes, the opinions, and the customs, continued as exclusively Grecian as they had been when the Hellenic minstrels knew little beyond the Adriatic and the Ægean. The literature of Rome was a copy from that of Greece. When the classical studies revived amid the chivalrous manners and feudal institutions of Gothic Europe, the imitation of ancient poets struggled against the power of modern sentiments, with various event. in different times and countries, but everywhere in such a manner as to give somewhat of an artificial and exotic character to poetry. Jupiter and the Muses appeared in the poems of Christian nations. The feelings and principles of democracies were copied by the gentlemen of Teutonic monarchies or aristocracies. The sentiments of the poet in his verse were not those which actuated him in his conduct. The forms and rules of composition were borrowed from antiquity, instead of spontaneously arising from the manner of thinking of modern communities. In Italy, when letters first revived, the chivalrous principle was too near the period of its full vigor to be oppressed by his foreign learning. Ancient ornaments were borrowed; but the romantic form was prevalent; and where the forms were classical, the spirit continued to be romantic. The structure of Tasso's poem was that of the Grecian epic; but his heroes were Christian knights. French poetry, having been somewhat unaccountably late in its rise, and slow in its progress, reached its most brilliant period when all Europe had considerably lost its ancient characteristic principles, and was fully imbued with classical ideas. Hence it acquired faultless elegance; hence also it became less natural,- more timid and more imitative, -more like a feeble translation of Roman poetry. The first age of English poetry, in the reign of Elizabeth, displayed a combination, fantastic enough, of chivalrous fancy and feeling with classical pedantry; but, upon the whole, its native genius was unsubdued. The poems of that age, with all their faults, and partly perhaps from their faults, are the most national part of our poetry, as they undoubtedly contain its highest beauties. From the accession of James, to the Civil War, the glory of Shakspeare turned the whole national genius to the drama; and, after the restoration, a new and classical school arose, under whom our old and peculiar literature was abandoned, and

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almost forgotten. But all imported tastes in literature must be in some measure superficial. The poetry which once grew in the bosoms of a people is always capable of being revived by a skilful hand. When the brilliant and poignant lines of Pope began to pall on the public ear, it was natural that we should revert to the cultivation of our indigenous poetry.

"Nor was this the sole, or perhaps the chief agent which was working a poetical change. As the condition and character of the former age had produced an argumentative, didactic, sententious, prudential and satirical poetry, so the approaches to a new order (or rather at first disorder) in political society were attended by correspondent movements in the poetical world. Bolder speculations began to prevail. A combination of the science and art of the tranquil period with the hardy enterprises of that which succeeded gave rise to scientific poems, in which a bold attempt was made, by the mere force of diction, to give a political interest and elevation to the coldest parts of knowledge, and to those arts which have been hitherto considered as the meanest. Having been forced above their natural place by the wonder at first elicited, they have not yet recovered from the subsequent depression. Nor will a similar attempt be successful, without a more temperate use of power over style, till the diffusion of physical knowledge renders it familiar to the popular imagina-. tion, and till the prodigies worked by the mechanical arts shall have bestowed on them a character of grandeur.

"As the agitation of men's minds approached the period of an explosion, its effects on literature become more visible. The desire of strong emotion succeeded to the solicitude to avoid disgust. Fictions, both dramatic and narrative, were formed according to the school of Rousseau and Goethe. The mixture of comic and tragic pictures once more displayed itself, as in the ancient and national drama. The sublime and energetic feelings of devotion began to be more frequently associated with poetry. The tendency of political speculation concurred in directing the mind of the poet to the intense and undisguised passions of the uneducated, which fastidious politeness had excluded from the subjects of poetical imitation. The history of nations unlike ourselves, the fantastic mythology and ferocious superstition of distant times and countries, or the legends of our own antique faith, and the romances of our fabulous and heroic

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