Page images
PDF
EPUB

in a new world. Racine the younger translated “ Paradise Lost,” and Rollin took notice of that poem in his “ Traité des Etudes.”

On the accession of William III. to the British crown, the writers of London and Paris enlisted themselves in the quarrel of princes and warriors. Boileau celebrated the Passage of the Rhine ; Prior replies that the sovereign of Parnassus employs the nine muses to sing that Louis has not passed the Rhinewhich was the truth. Philips translated Corneille's “ Pompée,” and Roscommon wrote the prologue to it. Addison celebrated the victories of Marlborough, and paid homage to “ Athalie;" Pope published his “Essay on Criti. cism,” for which “L'Art Poetique” furnished the model. He gives nearly the same rules as Horace and Boileau, but all at once, recollecting his dignity, he proudly exclaims :

“ But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despise." The French poet's “ L'Art Poetique,” was translated ; Dryden revised the text, and merely substituted the names of English writers in place of those of French writers. He renders the “hatez-vous lentement,” gently make haste.

“ The Rape of the Lock” was suggested by “ Le Lutrin,” and the “ Dunciad” is an imitation of the Satires by the friend of Racine. Butler translated one of these satires.

The literary age of Queen Anne is a last reflection of the age of Louis XIV. And as if the great king had been destined to encounter William incessantly and to make conquests, when he could no longer invade England with his men at arms, he penetrated into it with his men of letters: the genius of Albion, which our soldiers could not subdue, yielded to our poets.

PERIODICAL LITERATURE.

ADDISON. POPE. SWIFT. STEELE.

ANOTHER revolution, the consequences of which have been and still continue to be incalculable, now took place. The periodical press, at once political and literary, was established on the banks of the Thames. Steele wrote, on whig principles, the Tatler, the Spectator, the Mentor, the Englishman, the Lover, the Reader, the Towntalk, the Chit-chat, the Plebeian; he attacked the Examiner, written by Swift, in the tory spirit. Addison, Congreve, Walsh, Arbuthnot, Gay, Pope, King, ranged themselves according to their respective opinions, under the banners of Swift and Steele.

Jonathan Swift, born in Ireland, on the 30th of November, 1667, has been most inappropriately called by Voltaire the English Rabelais. Voltaire relished only the impieties of Rabelais, and his humour, when it is good ; but the deep satire on society and man, the lofty philosophy, the grand style of the curé of Meudon, escaped his notice, as he saw only the weak side of Christianity, and had no idea of the intellectual and moral revolution effected in mankind by the Gospel.

The “ Tale of a Tub," in which the Pope, Luther, and Calvin are attacked, and “Gulliver," in which social institutions are stigmatised, exhibit but faint copies of “Gargantua.” The ages in which the two writers lived produce, moreover, a wide difference between them: Rabelais began his language; Swift finished his. It is not certain, however, that the “Tale of a Tub” is Swift's, or that it was written entirely by him ; Swift amused himself by manufacturing verses of twenty, thirty, and sixty feet. Velly, the historian, has translated the satire on the peace of Utrecht, entitled “ John Bull.”

William III., who did so many things, taught Swift the art of growing asparagus in the Dutch manner.

Jonathan fell in love with Stella, took her to his deanery of St. Patrick, and at the end of sixteen years, when he was at the end of his passion, he married her. Esther van Homrigh conceived an affection for Swift, though he was old, ugly, and disgusting: when she learned that he was absolutely married to Stella, who had become quite indifferent to him, she died; Stella soon followed Esther. The hard-hearted man, who caused the death of these two beautiful young women, was not able, like the truly great poets, to bestow on them a second life.

Steele, a countryman of Swift's, became his rival in politics. Having obtained a seat in the House of Commons, he was expelled from it as the author of seditious libels. On the creation of twelve peers, during the administration of Oxford and Bolingbroke, he addressed a cutting letter to Sir Miles Wharton, on the making of peers for particular occasions. Steele did not enrich himself by his connexion with the great corrupter Walpole : relinquishing his pamphlets, he turned his attention to mechanical literature, and invented a machine for conveying salmon fresh to London.

Steele has been deservedly commended for having cleansed the drama of those obscenities with which the writers of the time of Charles II. had infected it: this was so much the more meritorious in the author of the “ Conscious Lovers," inasmuch as his own manners were far from regular. Meanwhile, his contemporary, Gay, the fabulist, brought upon the stage his “Beggars' Opera," the hero of which is a robber and the heroine a prostitute. The “Beggars'Opera," is the original of our melo-dramas of the present day.

« PreviousContinue »