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From all the tenants of the warbling shade
The world's foundations; if to these the mind
He meant, he made us to behold and love
Inscription for a Monument to Shakspeare.
O youths and virgins: O declining eld:
The secrets of your bosom? Here then round
Inscription for a Statue of Chaucer, at Woodstock. Such was old Chaucer: such the placid mien Of him who first with harmony informed The language of our fathers. Here he dwelt For many a cheerful day. These ancient walls Have often heard him, while his legends blithe He sang; of love, or knighthood, or the wiles Of homely life; through each estate and age, The fashions and the follies of the world With cunning hand portraying. Though perchance From Blenheim's towers, O stranger, thou art come Glowing with Churchill's trophies; yet in vain Dost thou applaud them, if thy breast be cold To him, this other hero; who in times Dark and untaught, began with charming verse To tame the rudeness of his native land.
As a poet, LYTTELTON might escape remembrance, but he comes before us as a general author, and is, from various considerations apart from literary talent, worthy of notice. He was the son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton of Hagley, in Worcestershire (near the Leasowes of Shenstone); and after distinguishing
Hagley, the seat of Lord Lyttelton.
himself at Eton and Oxford, he went abroad, and passed some time in France and Italy. On his return, he obtained a seat in parliament, and opposed the measures of Sir Robert Walpole. He became secretary to the Prince of Wales, and was thus able to benefit his literary friends, Thomson and Mallet. In 1741 he married Miss Lucy Fortescue of Devonshire, who, dying five years afterwards, afforded a theme for his muse, considered by many the most successful of his poetical efforts. When Walpole and the Whigs were vanquished, Lyttelton
was made one of the lords of the treasury. He was afterwards a privy councillor and chancellor of the exchequer, and was elevated to the peerage. He died August 22, 1773, aged sixty-four. Lyttelton was author of a short but excellent treatise on The Conversion of St Paul, which is still regarded as one of the subsidiary bulwarks of Christianity. He also wrote an elaborate History of the Reign of Henry II., to which he brought ample information and a spirit of impartiality and justice. These valuable works, and his patronage of literary men (Fielding, it will be recollected, dedicated to him his Tom Jones, and to Thomson he was a firm friend), constitute the chief claim of Lyttelton upon the regard of posterity. Gray has praised his Monody on his wife's death as tender and elegiac; but undoubtedly the finest poetical effusion of Lyttelton is his Prologue to Thomson's Tragedy of Coriolanus. Before this play could be brought out, Thomson had paid the debt of nature, and his premature death was deeply lamented. The tragedy was acted for the benefit of the poet's relations, and when Quin spoke the prologue by Lyttelton, many of the audience wept
at the lines
Advice to a Lady.
The counsels of a friend, Belinda, hear,
Hence, by fond dreams of fancied power amused,
Be good yourself, nor think another's shame
A maid unasked may own a well-placed flame;
Then, waking to the sense of lasting pain, With mutual tears the nuptial couch they stain; And that fond love, which should afford relief, Does but increase the anguish of their grief: While both could easier their own sorrows bear, Than the sad knowledge of each other's care. Yet may you rather feel that virtuous pain, Than sell your violated charms for gain, Than wed the wretch whom you despise or hate, For the vain glare of useless wealth or state. E'en in the happiest choice, where favouring Heaven Has equal love and easy fortune given, Think not, the husband gained, that all is done; The prize of happiness must still be won: And oft the careless find it to their cost, The lover in the husband may be lost; The Graces might alone his heart allure; They and the Virtues meeting must secure. Let e'en your prudence wear the pleasing dress Of care for him, and anxious tenderness; From kind concern about his weal or wo, Let each domestic duty seem to flow. The household sceptre if he bids you bear, Make it your pride his servant to appear: Endearing thus the common acts of life, The mistress still shall charm him in the wife; And wrinkled age shall unobserved come on, Before his eye perceives one beauty gone: E'en o'er your cold, your ever-sacred urn, His constant flame shall unextinguished burn. Thus I, Belinda, would your charms improve, And form your heart to all the arts of love. The task were harder, to secure my own Against the power of those already known; For well you twist the secret chains that bind With gentle force the captivated mind; Skilled every soft attraction to employ, Each flattering hope, and each alluring joy; I own your genius, and from you receive The rules of pleasing, which to you I give.
[Prologue to the Tragedy of Coriolanus-Spoken by Mr Quin.]
I come not here your candour to implore
No sect-alike it flowed to all mankind.
He loved his friends-forgive this gushing tear: Alas! I feel I am no actor here
He loved his friends with such a warmth of heart, So clear of interest, so devoid of art,
Such generous friendship, such unshaken zeal,
If to those friends your kind regard shall give What they no longer can from his receive, That, that, even now, above yon starry pole, May touch with pleasure his immortal soul.
To the 'Castle of Indolence,' Lyttelton contributed the following excellent stanza, containing a portrait of Thomson :
A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems, Who, void of envy, guile, and lust of gain, On virtue still, and nature's pleasing themes, Poured forth his unpremeditated strain: The world forsaking with a calm disdain, Here laughed he careless in his easy seat; Here quaffed encircled with the joyous train, Oft moralising sage: his ditty sweet He loathed much to write, ne cared to repeat.
THOMAS GRAY was born at Cornhill, London, December 26, 1716. His father, Philip Gray, was a money-scrivener-the same occupation carried
on by Milton's father; but though a 'respectable citizen,' the parent of Gray was a man of harsh and violent disposition. His wife was forced to separate from him; and it was to the exertions of this excellent woman, as partner with her sister in a millinery business, that the poet owed the advantages of a learned education, first at Eton, and afterwards at Cambridge. The painful domestic circumstances of his youth gave a tinge of melancholy and pensive reflection to Gray, which is visible in his poetry. At Eton, the young student had made the friendship of Horace Walpole, son of the prime minister; and when his college education was completed, Walpole induced him to accompany him in a tour through France and Italy. They had been about a twelvemonth together, exploring the natural beauties, antiquities, and picture galleries of Rome, Florence, Naples, &c., when a quarrel took place between them at Reggio, and the travellers separated, Gray returning to England. Walpole took
the blame of this difference on himself, as he was vain and volatile, and not disposed to trust in the better knowledge and the somewhat fastidious tastes and habits of his associate. Gray went to Cambridge, to take his degree in civil law, but without intending to follow up the profession. His father had died, his mother's fortune was small, and the poet was more intent on learning than on riches. He had, however, enough for his wants. He fixed his residence at Cambridge; and amidst its noble libraries and learned society, passed the greater part of his remaining life. He hated mathematical and metaphysical pursuits, but was ardently devoted to classical learning, to which he added the study of architecture, antiquities, natural history, and other branches of knowledge. His retired life was varied by occasional residence in London, where he revelled among the treasures of the British Museum; and by frequent excursions to the country on visits to a few learned and attached friends. At Cambridge Gray was considered as an unduly fastidious man, and this gave occasion to practical jokes being played off upon him by his fellow-inmates of St Peter's college, one of whicha false alarm of fire, by which he was induced to descend from his window to the ground by a ropewas the cause of his removing (1756) to Pembroke Hall. In 1765 he took a journey into Scotland,
he saw' in correspondence with his friends, and occasionally ventured into the realms of poetry and imagination. He had studied the Greek poets with such intense devotion and critical care, that their spirit and essence seem to have sunk into his mind, and coloured all his efforts at original composition. At the same time, his knowledge of human nature, and his sympathy with the world, were varied and profound. Tears fell unbidden aniong the classic flowers of fancy, and in his almost monastic cell, his heart vibrated to the finest tones of humanity.
Gray's first public appearance as a poet was made in 1747, when his Ode to Eton College was published by Dodsley. Two years afterwards, his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard was printed, and immediately became popular. His Pindaric Odes appeared in 1757, but met with little success. His name, however, was now so well known, that he was offered the situation of poet-laureate, vacant by the death of Colley Cibber. Gray declined the appointment; but shortly afterwards he obtained the more reputable and lucrative situation of Professor of Modern History, which brought him in about £400 per annum. For some years he had been subject to hereditary gout, and as his circumstances improved, his health declined. While at dinner one day in the college hall, he was seized with an attack in the stomach, which was so violent, as to resist all the efforts of medicine, and after six days of suffering, he expired on the 30th of July 1771, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He was buried, according to his desire, by the side of his mother, at Stoke, near Eton-adding one more poetical association to that beautiful and classic district of England.
Gray's Window, St Peter's college, Cambridge. and met his brother poet Dr Beattie, at Glammis castle. He also penetrated into Wales, and made a journey to Cumberland and Westmoreland, to see the scenery of the lakes. His letters describing these excursions are remarkable for elegance and precision, for correct and extensive observation, and for a dry scholastic humour peculiar to the poet. On returning from these agreeable holidays, Gray set himself calmly down in his college retreat-pored over his favourite authors, compiled tables of chropology or botany, moralised on all he felt and all
The poetry of Gray is all comprised in a few pages, yet he appears worthy to rank in quality with the first order of poets. His two great odes, The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard, are the most splendid compositions we possess in the Pindaric style and measure. They surpass the odes of Collins in fire and energy, in boldness of imagination, and in condensed and brilliant expression. Collins is as purely and entirely poetical, but he is less commanding and sublime. Gray's stanzas, notwithstanding their varied and complicated versification, flow with lyrical ease and perfect harmony. Each presents rich personification, striking thoughts, or happy imagery
Sublime their starry fronts they rear.
'The Bard' is more dramatic and picturesque than 'The Progress of Poesy,' yet in the latter are some of the poet's richest and most majestic strains. As, for example, the sketch of the savage youth of Chili:
Far from the sun and summer gale,
In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid, What time, where lucid Avon strayed, To him the mighty mother did unveil
Her awful face: the dauntless child
Of Horror that, and thrilling Fears,
feeling, with a touch of the gossip, and sometimes not over fastidious in his allusions and remarks. He was indolent, yet a severe student-hating Cambridge and its college discipline, yet constantly residing there. He loved intellectual ease and luxury, and wished, as a sort of Mohammedan paradise, to lie on a sofa, and read eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon.' Yet all he could say of Thomson's Castle of Indolence,' when it was first published, was, that there were some good verses in it! Akenside, too, whom he was so well fitted to appreciate, he thought often obscure, and even unintelligible.' As a poet, Gray studied in the school of the ancient and Italian poets, labouring like an artist to infuse part of their spirit, their melody, and even some of their expressions, into his inimitable Mosaic work, over which he breathed the life and fragrance of eternal spring. In his country tours, the poet carried with him a plano-convex mirror,
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding which, in surveying landscapes, gathers into one confined glance the forms and tints of the surrounding scene. His imagination performed a similar The Ode to Eton College,' the 'Ode to Adversity,' operation in collecting, fixing, and appropriating and the far-famed Elegy,' present the same careful the materials of poetry. All is bright, natural, and and elaborate finishing; but the thoughts and ima- interesting-rich or magnificent-but it is seen but gery are more simple, natural, and touching. A for a moment. Yet, despite his classic taste and train of moral feelings, and solemn or affecting asso-models, Gray was among the first to welcome and ciations, is presented to the mind, in connection admire the Celtic strains of Macpherson's Ossian; with beautiful natural scenery and objects of real and he could also delight in the wild superstitions of life. In a letter to Beattie, Gray remarks- As to the Gothic nations: in translating from the Norse description, I have always thought that it made the tongue the Fatal Sisters and the Descent of Odin, most graceful ornament of poetry, but never ought he called up the martial fire, the rude energy and to make the subject.' He practised what he taught; abruptness of the ancient ballad minstrels. Had for there is always some sentiment or reflection his situation and circumstances been different, the arising out of the poet's descriptive passages. These genius of this accomplished and admirable poet are generally grave, tender, or pathetic. The cast of would in all probability have expanded, so as tomhis own mind, and the comparative loneliness of his brace subjects of wider and more varied interestsituation and studies, nursed a sort of philosophic of greater length and diversity of character. spleen, and led him to moralise on the vanity of life. Byron and others have attached inordinate value to the Elegy,' as the main prop of Gray's reputation. It is, doubtless, the most frequently read and repeated of all his productions, because it is connected with ordinary existence and genuine feeling, and describes, in exquisite harmonious verse, what all persons must, at some time or other, have felt or imagined. But the highest poetry can never be very extensively popular. A simple ballad air will convey pleasure to a greater number of persons than the most successful efforts of accomplished musical taste and genius; and, in like manner, poetry which deals with subjects of familiar life, must find more readers than those inspired flights of imagination, or recondite allusions, however graced with the charms of poetry, which can only be enjoyed by persons of fine sensibility, and something of kindred taste and knowledge. Gray's classical diction, his historical and mythological personifications, must ever be lost on the multitude. Even Dr Johnson was tempted into a coarse and unjust criticism of Gray, chiefly because the critic admired no poetry which did not contain some weighty moral truth, or some chain of reasoning. To restrict poetical excellence to this standard, would be to blot out Spenser from the list of high poets, and to curtail Shakspeare and Milton of more than half their glory. Let us recollect with another poet-the author of the Night Thoughts-that 'a fixed star is as much in the bounds of nature as a flower of the field, though less obvious, and of far greater dignity.'
The subdued humour and fancy of Gray are perpetually breaking out in his letters, with brief picturesque touches that mark the poet and man of taste. The advantages of travelling and of taking notes on the spot, he has playfully but admirably summed up in a letter to a friend, then engaged in making a tour in Scotland :-Do not you think a man may be the wiser (I had almost said the better) for going a hundred or two of miles, and that the mind has more room in it than Liost people seem to think, if you will but furnish the apartments? I almost envy your last month, being in a very insipid situation myself; and desire you would not fail to send me some furniture for my Gothic apartment, which is very cold at present. It will be the easier task, as you have nothing to do but transcribe your little red books, if they are not rubbed out; for I conclude you have not trusted everything to memory, which is ten times worse than a lead pencil. Half a word fixed upon or near the spot is worth a cartload of recollection. When we trust to the picture that objects draw of themselves on our mind, we deceive ourselves, without accurate and particular observation, it is but ill-drawn at first, the outlines are soon blurred, the colours every day grow fainter, and at last, when we would produce it to anybody, we are forced to supply its defects with a few strokes of our own imagination.'
In the character of Gray there are some seeming inconsistencies. As a man, he was nice, reserved, and proud-a haughty retired scholar; yet we find him in his letters full of English idiom and English
Nor second he, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstacy,
He passed the flaming bounds of space and time:
He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car
Impressed with the opinion he here inculcatos, the poet was a careful note-taker, and his delineations are all fresh and distinct. Thus, he writes in the following graceful strain to his friend Nicholls, in commemoration of a tour which he made to Southampton and Netley Abbey:- My health is much improved by the sea, not that I drank it or bathed in it, as the common people do: