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Having thus sketched a short The life of Gibbon by himself is comparison of the advantages of the of a very different description : the different species of Biography, we author evidently is always on his shall merely add, that in Self-Bio- guard to exhibit himself only in graphy, British Literature is rich, those colours in which he thought not so much from the number as he would appear to the most advanfrom the excellence of the articles. tage: but much more of his real If we might be allowed to rank character than he seems to have Franklin's life among British works, been aware, breaks forth, notwithwe should say, without fear of con- standing all his caution. Even in tradiction, that, in every point of this respect, however, as a work view, it is the most admirable displaying the author's own cba. specimen of Self-Biography extant racier, it is far inferior to the life in any language. No work unfolds of Franklin. Indeed it is chiefly the character of the subject of it valuable on account of the insight so completely as it does: no work that it gives into the discipline and enables the reader to trace all the instruction of his mind; into the steps by which that character was gradual advancement of his inforforined with so much minuteness mation and intellect, till they beand satisfaction ; no work can be came fit for the great task which 50 valuable in teaching the best he afterwards accomplished. It is lessons that a man can have for his also interesting and instructive, on guidance through life; in teaching account of its literary history; but him how to act prudently, and the for the grand purposes of Biography, advantages of thus acting ; how to in which Franklin's life is so rich, conciliate the good will, and at the it must ever be of little value. same time correct the errors and From this short sketch of the vices of man; or how to discharge British Biography of the present in the most exemplary manner, age, it will be seen that it ranks every kind of duty, that either public high, not on account of the talents or private life, in all their various with which it is written, but from
elations, requires: no work teaches the manner, and the materials of so impressively and pleasingly the which it is composed. And this close and intimate connexion be- species of Biography must always tween happiness and real respecta- be most congenialto, as well as bility, and useful and honourable most worthy of the British national conduct. And all this insight into character ; for being a domestic the character of Franklin, all these people, that minute Biography, valuable and most important lessons which relates to the events of early are conveyed in the most interesting life, and opens, as it were, the doors manner; we are delighted with the of the most private aparıments of style; we are delighted with the the house in which the subject manner; and in the midst of this of it resides in the midst of his delight, the most important rules family, and discovers him unbending for all the practical purposes of life, his mind, and indulging his doglide into our minds, and take fastmestic babits, and discharging all bold of our judgment and our the softer and finer characters of the memory.
human heart; must always be richer in materials here than in any other form some estimate of our advances country, and also be more accepta- in this respect. With respect to the ble and instructive. CHAPTER VIII.
advances in physical Geography, The Voyages and Travels, which we should reflect, that travellers have been published, during the at present go forth, much better present age, in Britain, have added prepared, with larger stores of very considerably to our stock of knowledge on all branches of information respecting foreign coun- natural science, than they ever did tries. They may, generally speak- before. Political economy and ing, be divided into two classes : statistics also being now a more in the first class, we would place favourite and general study, trathose which had man principally vellers, whose object is man in for their object; we mean those society and under government, voyages and travels, the object of rather than inanimate nature, must the authors of which was prin- reap a richer harvest than could ci pally to depict the character of have been obtained formerly. nations,-their laws, institutions, British Literature is indeed very manners, literature, &c. In the rich in travels; and though they second class, we would place those do not pour forth such an abunwhich relate to the various depart- dant-but in many cases, inappliments of natural science. Who- cable, and superfluous flow of learnever compares the information ing as the older travels contain; and possessed half a century ago, re- though as literary compositions, specting foreign countries, with many of them cannot rank high,what we possess at present, will be yet it may be justly said, that from convinced, that we have made great British books of travels, more accuadvances in both these classes of rate and extensive information may travels.
be gathered, regarding nearly all With respect to the bare geo- the countries of the world, on the graphy of the world, let us reflect grand points of their natural hison what has been done by our most tory, their antiquities, and their celebrated voyagers, by our tra- literature, science, statistics, polivellers in Africa, the East, and tical institutions, and character, ihan America, and we shall be able to from most foreign books of travels.
State and Character of the Dramatic Works--the Drama and the Fine
Arts-Painting and Sculpture of the present Age.
F Britain may safely and boldly incidents, or in the language, that
challenge competition with could have given it so protracted a the other nations of Europe, in hold on the stage. the branches of literature which
If we compare the comedy of we have already passed under re- older times, the comedy of Beauview (with the exception of His- mont and Fletcher, Farqubar, Contory) it must be acknowledged, that greve, Cibber, Centlivre, Gold. in Dramatic literature, we cannot smith and Sheridan, with what is claim even the lowest prize. Since now most inaptly and unwortbily the period that witnessed the pro- designated by that appellation, we duction of the Gamester and of shall be still more forcibly struck Douglas, what tragedy can with the vast inferiority of the bring forward, possessed of a mo- present age in this species of draderate degree of merit? What tra- matic literature. In the comedies gedy that still retains even of the old masters there is a richfeeble and occasional hold on the ness of character, that seems often public approbation? And yet both to have been too exuberant for the Gamester and Douglas are ida- management; and a display of wit nimate and feeble, when compared in the dialogue equally exuberant. with the tragedies of Shakespeare, The characters exhibited display, Otway, Rowe, and Young. The not merely the passing and superformer draws its chief, if not its sole ficial fashions and foibles of the merit from its domestic character, day, but are also drawn from a and from the circumstance of the clear and deep insight into buman author, (rather from moderate talents temper and dispositions, as they than from judgment and taste, keep- are variously affected and modified ing down high and ambitious ge- by the circumstances of human nius,) not having passed beyond the life. Hence these comedies are feelings and language of common attractive, not merely because they domestic life. The latter is a let us into the knowledge of the very jejune and insipid perform- manners of the times, but more ance; and were it not for the powerfully so, because they expose story, which the author merely to our view, the workings of all the adapted to the stage, there is nothing minor feelings and emotions of the in the pourtrayment of the charac- human heart. Of the latter species ters, in the management of the of knowledge and attraction, our
modern comedies are ignorant : A question naturally arises, they may be consulted hereafter, whence does it happen that the prebecause they display some of the sent age is so very poor in Dramatic most trifling and absurd fashions Literature ? This question it is exand foibles of the age, but they tremely difficult to answer in a sawill never be read because they tisfactory manner : it might be exexhibit any acquaintance with the pected, that those poets who had human heart, or even because the enriched their writings with powerhigher fashions and foibles, that go ful paintings of the passions, and deeper than the mere dress or lan- who were able to transport us into guage, and are in some degree con- a world of their own creation, nected with, or derived from the would redeem the age from the imreal stamina of character, are putation of wanting tragedies, to painted in them to the life.
compare, at least with those of The poverty of talent from Rowe, Young, Moore and Home; which they are drawn may easily and that our great novelists might, and clearly be seen, by comparing on their part, throw into a dramatic the exactness and vividness with form adapted to the stage, those which they place before us the brilliant displays of character with most superficial and contemptible which their novels abound. foibles and follies of the age, with But, whatever may be the reason the very general, or very inaccurate that our dramatic literature is at likeness which they contain of present so poor, we should not be every feature of character. The justified in looking to those who former is taken from life, the have distinguished themselves in latter from imagination ; the former what are regarded as allied and reis well and fully filled up, the sembling branches of literature, as latter is seldom even a striking the persons who are most likely to outline; the former may be recog- remove the stigma of poverty in this nized as pictures by all who have department of literature. A person seen the class of beings to whom may excel in poetry; he may be they allude, but in vain shall we able to raise up before the eyes of consult our own hearts, or study his reader, all the personages whom the character of mankind to find he introduces in his poem, and all any resemblance in nature to the the circumstances and incidents that latter.
he narrates, with so much vividness, There are doubtless exceptions; that it shall seem as if the poem but nearly all the comedies of the were acted before him by the inost present age deserve the sentence perfect performers: the delusion we have passed on them through- may be as great as be ever felt when out; and in the exceptions, there witnessing the representation of the are only a very few short and oc- best of Shakespeare's plays, by casional passages that approach in Siddons, Kemble, Cooke, Kean, the slightest and remotest degree and O'Neil ; and yet the same perto the legitimate character and son will probably fail if he attempt object of comedy. The plot (where a regular drama for the stage. This it can be called a plot) the inci- is not mere supposition; it is an dents and the language are equally undoubted fact. And the fact is below the standard ofour old comedy. still more undoubted and glaring
with regard to comedy: who would guised workings of the stronger not have supposed that the author emotions and passions of the human of Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, heart ; but not to such a degree as must have written excellent come- to prevent the dramatist from finddies, and yet in this branch of dra- ing ample materials, or to render matic literature how miserably has the reader or witness of his perhe failed.
formance incapable of judging, from We shall not enter into a long or his own beart, whether he paints elaborate reply to the questions, - truly to nature. Even allowing, whence does it happen, that the however, that such a state of society present age is so very poor in dra- is unfavourable to the production of matic literature; and what is the excellent tragedies, it must be adreason that those who are so power- mitted, that it has increased the fully or pleasingly dramatic in supply of materials for comedy, by poetry or fictitious narrative are varying and multiplying, almost to so feeble and tiresome, when they infinitude, the fornis into wbicb the write plays ? In reply to the first foibles and follies of inankind are question, it has been said, that the thrown. taste of the public is not favorable That he who can write an adto, does not call for, and probably mirable poem filled with dramatic would not approve and encourage characters and incidents, painted to high dramatic talent: but this the very life, should not excel in assertion does not rest, in our opi- tragedy ; or that he, who has been pion, on any solid ground. In equally successful in fictitious narother departments of literature, the rative, should fail equally in copublic look for high merit; they medy,--will not perhaps excite our are accustomed to it; and hence surprise and disappointment, if we the natural, as well as the candid reflect on a few circumstances. In inference would be, that if bigh the first place the drama requires merit were displayed in the drama, that the incidents should be much it would be favourably received, and more compressed, and that they, duly appreciated. It has also been
as well as the characters, should be said, that the present advanced, unaccompanied by any of those inreformed, and complicated state of troductory or intervening explanasociety, does not afford such abun- tions which the poet or novelist dant and rich materials for the can, at any time or to any required drama as former times did : but extent, so easily supply. A painter this assertion, like the former, seems may be able to paint an excellent to us to be unfounded : it is indeed full-length portrait, and yet he may most pointedly contradicted by facts. fail utterly, if he attempt a miFor if our best poets and writers of niature resemblance of ibe same fictitious narratives, experience no person. There are many parts of difficulties in finding ample and Roderic Random, Peregrine Pickle, rich materials, how can it be, that Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, of the same stores are not open to the Waverley, and the other novels by dramatist ? An advanced, refined, the same Author, which, if acted and complicated state of society, no well on the stage, would produce doubt, greatly represses and keeps as powerful an effect as the best down these powerful and undis- passages in our best comedies: and