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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 early. 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 rest.
- 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. The 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 wbom our old and peculiar literature was abandoned, and 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 imagination, 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 ages, became themes of poetry. Traces of a higher order of feeling appeared in the contemplations in which the poet indulged, and in the events and scenes which he delighted to describe. The fire with which a chivalrous tale was told made the reader inattentive to negligences in the story or the style. Poetry became more devout, more contemplative, more mystical, more visionary,
more alien from the taste of those whose poetry is only a polished prosaic verse, more full of antique superstition, and more prone to daring innovation, — painting both coarser realities and purer imaginations than she had before hazarded, --sometimes buried in the profound quiet required by the dreams of fancy, sometimes turbulent and martial, — seeking .fierce wars and faithful loves' in those times long past, when the frequency of the most dreadful dangers produced heroic energy and the ardor of faithful affection.
“Even the direction given to the traveller by the accidents of war has not been without its influence. Greece, the mother of freedom and of poetry in the West, which had long employed only the antiquary, the artist and the philologist, was at length destined, after an interval of many silent and inglorious ages, to awaken the genius of a poet. Full of enthusiasm for those perfect forms of heroism and liberty which his imagination had placed in the recesses of antiquity, he
gave vent to his impatience of the imperfections of living men and real institutions in an original strain of sublime satire, which clothes moral anger in imagery of an almost horrible grandeur ; and which, though it cannot coincide with the estimate of reason, yet could only flow from that worship of perfection which is the soul of all true poetry.
“ The tendency of poetry to become national was in more than one case remarkable. While the Scottish middle age inspired the most popular poet, perhaps, of the cightecnth century, the national genius of Ireland at length found a poetical representative, whose exquisite ear, and flexible fancy, wantoned in all the varieties of poetical luxury, from the levities to the fondness of love, from polished pleasantry to ardent passion, and from the social joys of private life to a tender and mournful patriotism, taught by the melancholy fortunes of an illustrious country, with a range adapted to every nerve in the composition of a people susceptible of all feelings which have the
color of generosity, and more exempt, probably, than any other from degrading and unpoetical vices.
“ The failure of innumerable adventurers is inevitable, in literary, as well as in political, revolutions. The inventor seldom perfects his invention. The uncouthness of the novelty, the clumsiness with which it is managed by an unpractised hand, and the dogmatical contempt of criticism natural to the pride and enthusiasm of the innovator, combine to expose him to ridicule, and generally terminate in his being admired (though warmly) by a few of his contemporaries, remembered only occasionally in after times, and supplanted in general estimation by more cautious and skilful imitators. With the very reverse of unfriendly feelings, we observe that erroneous theories respecting poetical diction, -exclusive and proscriptive notions in criticism, which, in adding new provinces to poetry, would deprive her of ancient dominions and lawful instruments of rule, and a neglect of that extreme regard to general sympathy, and even accidental prejudice, which is necessary to guard poetical novelties against their natural enemy, the satirist, have powerfully counteracted an attempt, equally moral and philosophical, made by a writer of undisputed poetical genius, to enlarge the territories of art, by unfolding the poetical interest which lies latent in the common acts of the humblest men, and in the most ordinary modes of feeling, as well as in the most familiar scenes of nature.
“ The various opinions which may naturally be formed of the merit of individual writers form no necessary part of our consideration. We consider the present as one of the most flourishing periods of English poetry ; but those who condemn all contemporary poets need not on that account dissent from our speculations. It is sufficient to have proved the reality, and in part perhaps to have explained the origin, of a literary revolution. At no time does the success of writers bear so uncertain a proportion to their genius, as when the rules of judging and the habits of feeling are unsettled.
“ It is not uninteresting, even as a matter of speculation, to observe the fortune of a poem which, like The Pleasures of Memory, appeared at the commencement of this literary revolution, without paying court to the revolutionary tastes, or seeking distinction by resistance to them. It borrowed no aid either from prejudice or innovation. It neither copied the fashion of the age which was passing away, nor