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32

ESSAY ON THE ENGLISH POETRY, &c.

and a new minstrelsy be produced. Other poets will then arise who will supersede with the freshness of youth their predecessors, then become venerable names, and who will devise new combinations of thought, and stamp with a new impress the generation over which they are called to preside. But let that time be as distant as it may, the labours of those who last preceded them have cleared for them the way, and furnished them with a glorious starting-point, from which they may soar to an excellence hitherto unattained. They have broken, and we trust for ever, the cold and narrow despotism of art, and restored nature to her legitimate authority. It is true, indeed, that while they fought for this great revolution, there was much in their efforts that partook of the nature of a political anarchy; much of fanaticism in their devotedness to that cause for which they laboured so nobly and so well. But the emancipation itself which they achieved for posterity is a boon so valuable, that its incidental extravagances will be forgotten, or only remembered as warnings and examples. And what a heartinspiring picture might be drawn of the poetry of the future age, thus taught and invigorated from that of the past! By what majestic measures will the onward march of humanity be upheld and conducted, as it progresses towards those glorious destinies in which the world itself shall become like heaven, and man be but “ a little lower than the angels!"

THE

BOOK OF THE POETS.

THE MODERN POETS

(OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY).

This eminent scholar, critic, and satirist, was a bright example of what genius can accomplish when it is directed by prudence and perseverance. Gifford was descended from a family of some consequence in Devonshire, but his father had commenced life under such evil auspices, that he was successively a sailor and a wandering tinker. William, the future reviewer, was born at Ashburton, in April, 1756; and after being sent to school in his childhood, where he acquired only the elements of a common education, he was turned adrift upon the wide world at the age of thirteen, having lost both his parents. He entered on board a coaster as ship-boy and cabin-boy, in which humble calling he remained nearly a twelvemonth, when in consequence of the commiseration which his forlorn condition excited among the fish-women of his native town he was recalled, and put once more to school, where his rapid progress justified the interference of those kind friends who had interposed in his behalf. In his fifteenth year, he resolved to devote himself to the occupation of a schoolmaster; but here he was again disappointed, by being obliged to bind himself apprentice to a shoemaker. Up to this time his reading had been extremely limited, but, with an unquenchable ardour for knowledge, he snatched every chance moment of improvement, and made himself master of algebra, at a time when, to use his own words, "pen, ink, and paper, were as completely out of his reach as a crown and sceptre,' so that he was obliged to note down his calculations upon smooth pieces of leather, with the point of an awl. At this time, also, he was inspired with a tendency to rhyme. His verses were applauded among his humble friends, who thought them wonderful productions; and their admiration was sometimes ex. pressed in the tangible form of a few pence, with which he furnished himself with the long-desired writing materials. Still, however, as at every future period, he did not allow himself to be led away from his other intellectual pursuits by a boyish enthusiasm for verse-making, so that he looked upon poetry merely as an auxiliary in his study of mathematics.

It was his poetry, however, that was to constitute the favourable turning-point in Gifford's eventful life. Mr. Cookesley, a benevolent surgeon, having seen several of the poetical shoemaker's verses, felt a strong interest in their author; and on examining into the nature of the youth's attainments, he was surprised to find so much perseverance in the acquirement of Latin and mathematics, combined with such utter ignorance of general science and literature. He for. tunately saw, however, that Gifford only needed the means of improvement to attain the highest degree of proficiency, and his first effort was to relieve him from the thraldom of apprenticeship, and furnish him with the opportunity of improving himself in the knowledge of the English language. This was happily accomplished by a general subscription; and such was the progress of the emancipated scholar, that, in litle more than two years afterwards, the situation of Biblical Reader was procured for him at Exeter College, Oxford. Here his energy and acquirements had full scope, his knowledge rapidly expanded, his rough verses acquired a classical polish, and through the kind patronage of Lord Grosvenor, with whose son he twice made a tour of the Continent, he was placed in a position to enter public life with distinction. The long career of Gifford after this period is well known. He distinguished himself by his translations of Juvenal and Persius, and by his Baviad and Mæviad, the best of his original productions, in which he lashed the fashionable poetry and fashionable vices of the day; and he edited the works of Ben Jonson, Ford, and Shirley. He earned, however, his chief literary distinction as editor of the Quarterly Review, which important office he held from the commencement of that work until the end of 1825. While he occupied the unenviable office of the Zoilus of the day, he showed a rigid zeal not only against intellectual, but moral delinquencies; and the lash, which he wielded with such merciless vigour, was as often laid upon the back of the sophist as the dunce. Even talent of the highest kind could find no favour in his eyes, unless it was devoted to the cause of truth and virtue. He died on the last day of the following year, in the seventy-first year of his age.

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Lo, Beaufoy tells of Afric's barren sand,
In all the flowery phrase of fairy land:
There Fezzan's thrumb-capp'd tribes, Turks, Christians,

Jews,
Accommodate, ye gods! their feet with shoes;
There. meagre shrubs inveterate mountains grace,
And brushrood breaks the amplitude of space.
Perplex'd with terms so vague and undefined,
I blunder on; till, wilder'd, giddy, blind,
Where'er I turn, on clouds I seem to tread;
And call for Mandeville, to ease my head.

Oh for the good old times! When all was new,
And every hour brought prodigies to view,
Our sires in unaffected language told
Of streams of amber, and of rocks of gold:
Full of their theme, they spurn'd all idle art;
And the plain tale was trusted to the heart.

Now all is changed! We fume, and fret, poor elves,
Less to display our subject, than ourselves:
Whate'er we paint-a grot, a flower, a bird,
Heavens, how we sweat! laboriously absurd !
Words of gigantic bulk, and uncouth sound,
In rattling triads the long sentence bound;
While points with points, with periods periods jar,
And the whole work seems one continued war!
Is not this sad ?

F. “'Tis pitiful," Heaven knows, 66 'Tis wondrous pitiful.”

E’en take the prose;
But for the poetry-oh, that, my friend,
I still aspire-nay, smile not—to defend.
You praise our sires, but, though they wrote with force,
Their rhymes were vicious, and their diction coarse;
We want their strength; agreed: but we atone
For that, and more, by sweetness all our own.
For instance“ Hasten to the lawny vale,
Where yellow morning breathes her saffron gale,
And bathes the landscape"

P. Pshaw; I have it here.
“A voice seraphic grasps my listening ear:
Wond'ring I gaze; when lo! methought afar,
More bright than dauntless day's imperial star,
A godlike form advances.”

F. You suppose
These lines, perhaps, too turgid; what of those ?
6 THE MIGHTY MOTHER—"

P. Now ’tis plain you sneer,
For Weston's self could find no semblance here:
Weston! who slunk from truth's imperious light,
Swells, like a filthy toad, with secret spite,
And, envying the fane he cannot hope,
Spits his black venom at the dust of Pope.

- Reptile accursed !-O memorable long,
If there be force in virtue or in song,
O injured bard! accept the grateful strain,
Which I, the humblest of the tuneful train,
With glowing heart, yet trembling hand, repay,
For many a pensive, many a sprightly, lay!
So may thy varied verse, from age to age,
Inform the simple, and delight the sage;
While canker’d Weston, and his loathsome rhymes,
Stink in the nose of all succeeding times !

Enough. But where (for these, you seem to say,
Are samples of the high, heroic lay)

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