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which are common to all poetic composition; yet in our day, there has been an example of this successful imitation which in every other respect has been a total failure. The Paradise of Coquettes, published a few years ago, was a work of much taste and genuine talent in its mechanical construction, as well as in the playful, delicate, pungent satire with which it abounded; yet this piece, worthy of the highest admiration in its way, though elaborately criticised and profusely commended in the reviews, never shone beyond their precincts, and was scarcely read except in quotations. or in their pages. This miscarriage afforded also an encouraging proof to ill-treated authors, or authors who imagine themselves ill-treated,—that permanent fame depends not upon contemporary criticism; for whatever reviews may effect in advancing or retarding the hopes of a candidate under their examination, final success depends upon a tribunal whose decision they cannot always, with their keenest sagacity, anticipate.
English Literature of the present age. With the exceptions already named, there was not a poet between Pope and Cowper who had power to command in any enviable degree, or even for a little while, that popular breath of applause which the aspirant after immortality inhales as the prelude of it. Verse, indeed, was so low in public estimation, and so little read, that few of the fugitive pieces of the hour, on their passage to oblivion, attracted sufficient notice to defray the expenses of their journey thither. Cowper's first volume, partly from the grave character of the longer pieces and the purposely rugged, rambling, slip-shod versification, was long neglected, till The Task, the noblest effort of his muse, composed under the inspiration of cheerfulness, hope, and love, unbosoming the whole soul of his affections, intelligence, and piety,-at once
made our countrymen feel that neither the genius of poesy had fled from our isle, nor had the heart for it died in the breasts of its inhabitants. The Task was the first long poem from the close of Churchill's brilliant but evanescent career, that awoke wonder, sympathy, and delight by its own ineffable excellence among the reading people of England.
“ The happy miracle of that rare birth,
(HABINGTON's Haleyon.) could not fail to quicken many a drooping mind, which, without such a present evidence both of genuine song and the genuine effects of song amid the previous apathy to this species of literature, would hardly have ventured to brood over its own conceptions in solitude and obscurity, till they too were warmed into life, uttered voices, put forth wings, and took their flight up to the “highest heaven of invention.”
From Cowper may be deduced the commencement of the third great era of modern English literature, since it was in no small measure to the inspiration of his Task that our countrymen are indebted, if not for the existence, yet certainly for the character, of the new school of poetry, established first at Bristol, and afterward transferred to the Lakes, as scenery more congenial and undisturbed for the exercise of contemplative genius. Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth started almost contemporaneously in the same path to fame,-a new one, indeed, untrodden and entangled with thorns or obstructed with stones, yet in many parts fertile and wildly diversified ; blooming with all the beauty, and breathing with all the fragrance, of the richest and most cul. tivated enclosures of the Muses. The minds and the feelings, the passions and prejudices of men of all ranks and attainments, from the highest to the low.
est, were at that time roused and interested by the fair and promising, the terrific and stupendous events of the French Revolution; and the excitement of this portentous phenomenon in the state of Europe prepared this nation especially (from the freedom with which all questions might be discussed) for that peculiar cast of subjects and of style, both in verse and prose, for which the present period is distinguished from every former one.
The first era of our modern literature, already defined as extending from Elizabeth to the close of the protectorate, was that of nature and romance combined: it might be compared to an illimitable region of mountains, rocks, forests, and rivers--the fairy land of heroic adventure, in which giants, enchanters, and genii, as well as knights-errant, and wandering damsels guarded by lions, or assailed by fiery flying dragons, were the native and heterogeneous population; where every building was a castle or a palace, an Arcadian cottage or a hermitage in the wilderness.
The second era, from Dryden to Cowper, bore a nearer resemblance to a nobleman's domain, surrounding his family mansion, where all was taste, and elegance, and splendour within ; painting, sculpture, and literature forming its proudest embellishments—while, without, the eye ranged with voluptuous freedom over the paradise of the park, woods, waters, lawns, temples, statues, obelisks, and points of perspective so cunningly contrived as to startle the beholder with unexpected delight; nature and art having changed characters, and each, in masquerade of the other, playing at hide-and-seek amid the self-involving labyrinths
of landscape gardening, At length, when both the eye and the heart had been wearied for more than a century with the golden mediocrity of these, in which nothing was so awful as deeply to agitate, nor so familiar as tenderly to interest, the Bristol youths already named boldly broke through the restraint, and hazarded a new style, in which simplicity, homeliness, common names, every-day objects, and ordinary events were made the themes and the ornaments of poetry. These naturally assimilate themselves with what is em phatically called “ the country'--"each rural sight, each rural sound;" the loves and graces of domestic life, the comforts of our own fireside ; the flowery array of meadows, the green gayety of hedge-rows, the sparkling vivacity of rivulets; kind intercourse with neighbours, the generous ardour of patriotism, and the gentler emotions of benevolence. Such furnished the “ perpetual feast of nectared sweets" set before their readers by those innovators on the courtly formality of the old school; but the charm of their song was too often interrupteu by the coarse. ness of vulgar manners and the squalidness of pove erty—too nearly associated with physical disgusts to be the unpolluted source of ideal delights.
This, therefore, could not last long; the subjects which might be rendered interesting were soon exhausted. Hence this ramble after Nature in her humblest forms and her obscurest haunts was only a holyday frolic; and these wayward sons of genius, by their high endowments, were destined to give a more heroic tone, a more magnificent character, 10 the literature of their country. Southey, by his marvellous excursions in the regions both of history and romance-Coleridge, by his wild fictions of a class entirely his own, in which there is an indescribable witchery of phrase and conceit, that affects the imagination as if one had eaten of "the insane root that takes the reason prisoner”-and Wordsworth, by his mysticism, his Platonic love of the supreme good and the supreme beauty, which he seeks everywhere, and finds wherever he seeks, in the dancing of daffodils, the splendour of the setting sun, the note of a cuckoo flitting like a spirit from hill to hill, which neither the eye nor ear can follow, and in the everlasting silence of the universe to the man born deaf and dumb_these were the three pioneers, if not the absolute founders, of the existing style of English literature ; which has become so diversified, artificial, and exquisite-so gorgeously embellished, and adapted to every taste, as well as so abundant in its resources by importations from the wealth of every other land, that it may challenge sir tude to the great metropolis of our empire, where the brain of a stranger, like myself, is bewildered amid the infinite forms of human beings, human dwellings, human pursuits, human enjoyments, and human sufferings ; perpetual motion, perpetual excitement, perpetual novelty ; city manners, city édifices, city luxuries: all these being not less strikingly characteristic of the literature of this age than the fairy-land of adventure, and the landscape gardening of “ Capability Brown” were characteristic of the two periods from Spenser to Milton, and from Dryden to Cowper.
If the literature of the middle ages (as was shown in a former paper*) were principally composed of crude, enormous, indigestible masses, fitted only to monkish appetites, that could gorge iron like ostriches, when iron was cast into the shape of thought, or thought assumed the nature of iron; the literature of the present day is entirely the reverse, and so are all the circumstances connected with it. Then there were few readers, and fewer writers ; now there are many of both; and among those that really deserve the name of the former, it would be difficult to ascertain the relative proportion of the latter, for most of them in one way or another might be classed with writers. The vehicles, opportunities, and temptations of publishing are so frequent, so easy and unexpensive, that a man can scarcely be connected with intelligent society, without being
* Boo the Third Part of “ A Retrospect of Literature," &c.