Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

distinguish Britons from foreigners: tion, or even the recollection either he was grave and thoughtful, but of the poet or ourselves. In his also, at times, full of dry humour; Odes he certainly is superior to Gray: be was attached to a retired life ; his painting of the passions is exeoot very fond of society, but more cuted with much more ease, aud disposed to commune with his own brings forth the objects on the canthoughts. It appears to us, that if vass much more like life: we are we reflect on these features in the also disposed to think, that in his character of Gray, and, moreover, Dirge he excels the Elegy of Gray, recollect that he was a man of very in warming the heart more comgreat learning,—and that his taste pletely, and bringing forth its emoand intellectual habits were almost tions more pure, and unmixed with

entirely formed by the classical wri- gross and vulgar feelings. 'ters of Greece and Rome, we shall Both these poets are highly illusdiscover the sources of his poetry, trative of the British character, and and the causes which stampt upon confirm, we apprebend, the truth it its peculiar character. With the and justice of the remarks that we exception of his Elegy in a Country offered in the first Chapter of this Church Yard,-one or two small retrospect. The classical learning pieces published in his Life by Ma- and taste of Gray, and the applicason--and his pieces of humour,- tion necessary to acquire them, as the steroness (if the expression may well as the habits, which during be used) of his classical taste seems their acquisition must have been to have borne down the original and formed, -were not powerful enough innate bent of his mind, and feel- to root out his thoughtfulness, and ings of his heart ; but in his Elegy the other qualities characteristic of be shines forth a truly British poet, the British intellectual and moral with that pensiveness and melan- character, which he naturally poscholy which, to those who do not sessed; the same remark may be permit them to gain the mastery made with regard to Collins. But over them, afford most exquisite de- with the exception of the Elegy of ligbt, and which are among the the former, and the Dirge of the most sacred parts of the British latter, and a few other pieces of moral character.

each, their writings cannot become The poetry of Collins is evidently popular, even in that nation of of two species: in his Dirge there is whose essential character they par. the same tone of feeling which is took so largely; for in them, this displayed in Gray's Elegy; and con- character is affected by causes which, sidering the circumstances of Col- not operating on their readers in lins's life, and the melancholy close general, preclude them from underof it, we are surprised at not finding standing in their full sense, or remore poetry of this description in lisbing in all their exquisiteness, bis writings. His Odes take a much the more elaborate, refined, and clasmore lofty Aight; but, like all poetrysical pieces of these poets. of this very high cast, they rather It is far otherwise with Gold. raise astonishment and admiration, smith; all the warmth and magic than excite those feelings which, by of home, all those feelings which filling the soul completely, leave no attach as to our nearest relationsroom for, astonishment or admira- to our dearest friends to the spot

on

[ocr errors]

Those poets,

on which we were born, or where historian of whom she can boast ;
our earliest associations were formed, and her other writers in prose are
-or to our native land,-are de- more distinguished for the taste,
picted in the most exquisite and al- ease, and elegance of their com-
luring manner by this poet. In his positions, than for their vigour,
poetry there is nothing grand or comprehension, and depth. With
sublime: his thoughts are distin- respect to poetry, Pope, as we have
guished by unadorned simplicity ;- already remarked, introduced an
his descriptions of natural scenery, artificial species of it, which pre-
and his delineations of the feelings vailed even beyond the period of
and emotions of the human breast, which we have just been treating,
are so unaffected, and come forth to with the exception of the great
our view in so easy and familiar a poets whose character we have at-
manner, that we almost forget that tempted to draw.
we are reading; the scenery rises however, constituted a most decided
before our eyes; the feelings and and glorious exception : their wri-
emotions fill our breasts. Hence tings almost bring, back poetry to
Goldsmith must always be one of the state in which it existed in the
the most popular of our poets. His age of Shakespeare, the older Dra-
verse too is admirably suited to the matists, and Milton.
subjects of his poetry; and his lan- There is one circumstance con-
guage is sufficiently adorned, with- nected with the history of the in-
out being adorned so much as to tellectual state of the middle of the
draw off the attention from the eighteenth century, which ought
matter to it.

not to be passed over; we mean the We have thus attempted to draw wonderful correctness, purity, and the character, and to sketch the even elegance of style, which began state of British Literature, during to spring up very generally in almost what may be called the middle of all writers, soon after George III. the eighteenth century: our plan came to the Throne, and which, admits, our object only requires, at the close of the period of which that we should point out those wri- we have been treating, were visible ters who, as it were, from their even in the writers for the daily eminence, stand forth the most pro- press, and other fugitive publicaminent figures in this period. tions. In the early part of the

From the remarks which we have eighteenth century, there are few made, as well as from the reflections authors whose mode of composition and recollections to which, we trust, or style will bear close investigation; these remarks will give rise in the the former, then, was often destitute minds of our readers, it will appear, of method and arrangement, and the that both the prose writers and the latter was still more frequently unpoets of this period differed very grammatical, prolix, involved, colmaterially from those of the period loquial, and vulgar. Perhaps no immediately preceding. It is hardly circumstance indicates more clearly necessary, we should imagine, to or unequivocally the progress which point out the principal marks of this had been made in the culture of difference ;--in the period immedi- intellectual habits and pursuits. ately preceding that of which we Education must have been more gehave just treated, Britain has no nerally and carefully attended to;

reading

[ocr errors]

reading must have been a more fa- boughts, and very obvious arguvourite employment; and, more- ments, are not so frequent as they over, the iboughts must have been used to be. At the same time, we more frequently and closely directed are well aware of the remark, ibat to literary topics,-before such a wben literature is spread over a favourable change could have taken greater surface than formerly, it place, even in the mere act of com- must be more superficial ; but we position. But that it was not con- do not admit its truth, at least, in its fined to the mere act of composition, full avd intended sense. In the will be apparent, if we examine the early periods of our literature, there observations, reflections, and argu- were a few master minds, far surments, contained even in the mere passing, in compass of intellect, all ephemeral productions of the period who have succeeded; but, except of which we have been treating, and these, intellect and information were contrast them with those which ap- at a low ebb. In the succeeding pear in the writings of the preceding period, the quantity of intellect and period : from this examination and information was much increased, comparison, it will, if we mistake but it was divided ainong a much not, be seen, that common-place greater number.

CHAPTER CHAPTER III.

Effects of the French Revolution on Moral and Political Philosophy, and

on Literature in general.

IT,

is a just and well grounded roneous opinions which are in the

remark, that the opinions of remotest degree ininential on the mankind on the most important conduct, lest, if their unsoundness subjects, and especially such opi. be discovered, not only they may be nions as influence their practice, rejected, but also others that are are so interwoven with one another, actually accurate and just. that wbatever cause or circumstance The truth of these remarks will displaces or weakens one of them, be rendered sufficiently obvious, if shakes the foundation of them all. we attend 10 the effects of the This must necessarily be the case, French Revolution on the 'moral whether those opinions are the re- and political philosophy of the age. sult of investigation and inquiry, Into both these species of philosoand depend on obvious and well phy, ignorance and prejudice had digested first principles; or wbether introduced many articles of faith, they are merely the effects of pre- which were not only erroneous, but judice, or of the circumstances in also detrimental to the highest inwhich we have been placed, the terests of mankind. Interwoven education that we have received, with these erroneous and hurtful and the example which has been opinions, were others that were set before us.

sound and beneficial. But the In the first instance, the sound. French Revolution, by the violence ness of the principle, or general of its action on the human mind, truth, on wbich any set of opinions shook not only the former, but also rests,, must lose its hold on the latter to an equal degree. The judgment and belief, if any of those truth of the above remarks may be opinions are found to be erroneous : still further illustrated and conand in the second instance, where firmed by what is known frequently opinions proceed rather from cir- to have taken place among Catho. cumstances acting upon us, than lics, as soon as they discovered the from investigation and inquiry ;- falsehood of any one of their pecuif one link of the association is liar articles of faith ; in such a case broken, the chain must necessarily they niost frequently pass from the be weakened.

extreme of belief, to the extreme of Hence arises the advantage, or unbelief. The belief which, from rather the necessity, of keeping the their infancy, they were accusmind as frec as possible from all er- tomed to give to the most absurd

doctrines

our

doctrines of their religion, and thinking world, by Godwin's Polithat belief which they gave to the tical Justice, but even on those truth of Christianity in general, classes who previously had never resting on the same foundation, and ventured to hint a doubt to themboth being equally the result of pre- selves on the topics agitated in that possession, whenever their under- work: it shook the ancient faith standing becomes open to the ab- most powerfully; and though resurdity and falsehood of the former, flection pointed out the untenable it is too frequently hurried on to nature of the principle on which reject the latter also.

all its doctrines and arguments proIt is not, therefore, to be won- ceeded, it was long before the dered at, that the French Revolu- ancient faith resumed its influence tion acted so powerfully on those on those who had once been induced branches of human knowledge to deviate from it by the perusal of which relate more directly to the the Political Justice. The effects duties of man, and to the principles of the scepticism or heterodoxy thus of government, as for a time to generated by this and similar works, change their whole character ;- may, in our opinion, still be traced : nor is it matter of greater wonder but these effects are of a very oppothat, in the reaction which took site nature ; in some writings they place, after the effects of the Revo- are displayed by a more cherished lution had in a great measure passed and stubborn adherence to the anaway, the opinions on these points cient faith, in all its articles, sound should become more rigid and or- or unsound, just or erroneous; thodox than they even were before whilst in others, they are made this event took place.

manifest by such an amalgamation Long before the French Revolu- of the articles of the ancient and tion, writers on morals had entered modern faith, as, being not the reinto discussions regarding the nature sult of prejudice, but the work of of moral obligation, and the foun- minds at once patient, enlightened, dation of moral duty; but these bold, and cautious, may fairly be discussions were purely speculative; supposed to contain a larger portion and indeed, if examined to the bot- of truth than is to be found either tom, and stript of the obscure and in the ancient faith, or in that ill-defined language in which they which for a time supplanted it. were generally expressed, they The effects of the French Revomight be shewn to be all of them Jution, or, to speak with more phinearly of the same purport. But losophical precision, of those causes the discussions on the nature of and circumstances which generated moral obligation,--the foundation that event, on the science of poof moral duty,—and other con- litics, in all its branches and bearnected topics, which sprung either ings, were still more decided and from the French Revolution, or from unequivocal. With respect to the the same causes that gave birth to origin of government, the doctrines it, were of a much bolder and more entertained by writers on that most audacious character and bearing. important subject, bave ondergone

Many of our readers must recol- various and extraordinary changes. lect the impression which was made, In a preceding Chapter, we bave not merely on the literary and adverted to the notions that were

broached

[ocr errors]

a

« PredošláPokračovať »