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ranked with the ancients afore-mentioned. Partly by primogeniture, but principally by uninherited and intransmissible nobility of genius, born with them in times peculiarly favourable to its fullest development, these few illustrious fathers, founders, and exemplars of the intellectual character of their respective nations, have acquired that supremacy, which, whatever be their comparative merits or faults, and whatever the abstract claims of contemporaries or successors,-it becomes more and more difficult, through every improving age, for later aspirants to attain.
Of this small number of patrician names Italy has had the glory of producing four,-Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso; Spain and Portugal one each, -Cervantes and Camoens; France two (of very late growth)-Corneille and Racine; Holland might have furnished one,-Erasmus, but he chose rather to embalm his thoughts in a dead language, than keep them alive in his own; England adds two to the honourable list,-Shakspeare and Milton; Spenser (whom none but himself could have excluded by his perverse affectation of a style never spoken by man) ought to have been a third; and Chaucer might have been a fourth (the first, indeed, in date), but time has dealt hardly with him, and almost forgotten the rugged tongue in which the merry bard delighted him of old, with many a tale of men and manners seen no more on earth. For the rest of Europe, it will require a pause to think of another name to represent the literature of any one, or all its popu lous provinces; though the very circumstance of an effort being necessary, in such a case, to single out an individual,
"Whose soul was like a star and dwelt apart." WORDSWORTH.
among the hundreds recorded in biographical dictionaries, is sufficient proof that not one is to be
found of the class to which allusion is now made; not one whose rank is so conspicuous, and his celebrity so unequivocal, that his existence, and the primal literature of his native soil being identified, a casual recurrence to either will bring to remembrance the other.
No stress is here laid upon any thing but the bare fact, that, among the multitude of eminent writers in Italy, Spain, France, England, and the rest of Christendom, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries (I purposely exclude all later born, as not having yet passed their full ordeal), there are scarcely so many as twenty of whom it can be unhesitatingly assumed, that, whatever be the future multiplication and extinction of books, their names and their works must last till a revolution in society, equal, but not similar (for it is unimaginable that barbarism should ever again prevail), to that which overthrew the empire and the arts of Greece and Rome,-shall utterly change the whole character of literary taste throughout the civilized world; or a scattering abroad of its people, like that after the confusion of tongues at the building of Babel, shall dissipate the languages in which they have apparently immortalized their thoughts, or which have been immortalized by being made the vehicle of the same.
It is not questioned here that many others may possibly survive as long as these, but it is not in the nature of things that many more, like them, should be men of all ages and all countries. The productions of those who shall most slowly descend from contemporary splendour into gradual obscurity and final oblivion, will necessarily be reduced, in the course of two centuries, to rarities in literature, seldom consulted, and read never, though from courtesy enumerated with honour in the catalogues of collectors; while a few of their more precious fragments may, perhaps, be preserved and quoted in popular selections for the use of schools, or the
delight of holyday readers. Every generation will produce its Cowleys and Drydens, its Wallers and Carews, whose "freshe songis" (to use the antique phrase of Chaucer) in perennial succession, shall supersede the strains of their immediate prede
The pre-eminence which the above-named, and a few others, have held, and must continue to hold, is scarcely more owing to their superior talents than to some felicity, which may be called good fortune, either in the originality of their style, the choice of their subjects, or the lucky combination of both,and that, not in all, nor even in their largest performances, but in some portion only, on which their better planets shone at the conception, and their better genius presided over the birth. This circumstance also (irrespective of other contingencies) gives the few indestructible compositions of those master-spirits of elder times an importance in a moral and intellectual point of view, which no other literary works of their own, and still less those of rivals (who may have otherwise been their equals or superiors), can claim. In these they have built monuments upon rocks above the high-water mark of time, which the flood of years (amid perpetual vicissitudes, perpetually advancing), shall never overwhelm.
Poetic Aspirations and Pursuits.
Rare, however, as attainment to the highest honours in literature may be, there is no reason to believe that the compositions of any poet equal in rank to those unapproachable ancients, and those insurpassable moderns, already named, have been ost in the wreck of time past. Every civilized age produces its poets of the second order, who necessarily attract most of the admiration of their conemporaries, without injustice to those of the same
standard, who preceded them, and whose fame, having passed the full, by an irreversible law of nature wanes till it becomes extinct, never to be renewed. Yet, since the peerage of Parnassus is not limited by the constitution of the commonwealth, and the chance of two hundred thousand millions to one, though fearful odds, does not imply absolute impossibility of any new aspirant reaching that dignity; moreover, as there has been one Homer, Pindar, Virgil, Horace, &c. in that number of human beings, there may be another, and who knows but I am he? So reasons every young poet, in whose breast has been once fairly kindled that spark which flames up, though the fuel be but stubble, for immortality. No feeling, no passion of our nature is so easily and exquisitely quickened, so deeply and intensely cherished, so late and reluctantly abandoned. It is sometimes awakened on the mother's knee,
"I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
It is only foregone at the brink of the grave, where, as the lover to his mistress, the poet to his muse, exclaims with his last breath,
"Te teneam moriens, deficiente manu."
TIBULLUS. "Dying I'll hold thee with a failing hand.">
Might it not be inferred, however, that the desire of establishing an indestructible name, by the incalculable uncertainty of success, would be so repressed in all, that none, even among those who were gifted with the requisite powers, would ever achieve it from defect of adequate exertion? To this it may be answered, that hope is always bold, energetic, and persevering, in proportion to the conceived magnitude of its object; and the difficulties which dishearten him who calculates, only urge him who
presumes to more resolute and indefatigable pursuit Hence, it is the number only, not the ardour, of selfconfident candidates for posthumous fame, which is lessened by the unimaginable disparity between the hazard of acquiring and the probability of missing it. Few, therefore, even among those who are called poets, fix their hopes or aims quite so high as has been stated; and of those few, just so many appear for a while to have reached the meridian, as to induce more, in every age, to risk the glorious venture, in which even to miscarry is to fall from the chariot of the sun.
Among those, who are in truth so magnificently endowed, that they seem to have been sent into the world to enlarge and enlighten the compass of human intellect, to adorn and exalt the sphere of human enjoyment, among those who, like the youthful Samson, in the camp of Dan, feel the early movings of a mighty spirit within them indicating the superiority, and prompting them to the trial, of their prowess, it is deeply to be lamented that so many, like the same Samson, should spend their strength in dalliance, or waste it in unprofitable achievements, instead of employing it for the benefit,-may we not say, for the salvation?-of their fellow-creatures. Genius is an awful trust, and when powers like those of the Hebrew champion's are abused, they frequently recoil, like his, in self-destruction upon their possessors' heads. Nothing can endure, even in this "naughty world," but virtue. To profit mankind a poet must please them; but unless he profits them, he will not please them long. Every age has its fashion of licentiousness, and will have its peculiar panders to vice, reckless of the profligacy of the ancients, and deaf to the songs of seducers, whose ribaldry has become as obsolete as the laced waistcoats, point-cravats, and full-bottomed periwigs of Charles the Second's day. It would not, perhaps, be too hardy to affirm, that whatever may have been the