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in request ; it follows, therefore, that the demand was occasioned by a change equally creditable to the superior talents of those who furnished, and the superior information of those who consumed, the supply.
The market, however, has much fallen within these last ten years, and the richest dealer long ago invested his capital in other funds, much to his own emolument and the satisfaction of more customers than any author living besides himself can boast. Lord Byron did worse'; but I am not the judge of his morality here. I shall only remark upon him in his literary character, that had he always selected materials for his verse (Milton uniformly did his best) equal to the power which ne could exercise upon them, his themes would never have been inferior to the loftiest and finest which he adorned in that golden era of his genius between the publication of the first and the fourth cantos of Childe Harold, which era, I believe, comprehends all his masterpieces; nor would his execution ever have fallen below that which, by a few touches, could strike out images of thought equal to Pygmalion's statue in beauty; while, with a breath, he could give them an earthly immor. tality, and by a destiny which no revolution in language or empire can reverse, send them forth to people the minds of millions of admiring readers in all ages to come. He might have done this, almost in. fallibly, in every instance in which he condescended to put forth the whole strength of his intellect, and lavish upon the creation of an exuberant fancy all the riches of a poetical diction, unrivalled among contemporaries, and unexcelled by any of his predeces
Yet no modern author who can lay claim to the highest honours of Parnassus has written a greater
quantity of perishable, perishing rhyme, than the noblest of them all.
In this sketch it is not necessary to expatiate on the particular merits of any other class of poets, these
two masters of the lyre having been more followed than the rest, not only by the servile herd of imitators, but by many men of real talent, who had strength and stock enough of their own to have come out in their original characters, and spoken in their own language. The consequence has been just as it ought to be: there is not one copyist of either Sir Walter Scott or Lord Byron who is popular at this hour; and it may be safely foretold, that not one production resembling theirs, which is not theirs, will last thirty years. There is a small but peculiar class of versifiers, which deserves a word of notice here, if it be but a word of reprobation. The leaders of this select band of poetasters are men of some fancy, a little learning, less taste, and almost no feeling. They have invented a manner of writing and thinking frigidly artificial, while affecting to be negligently natural, though no more resembling nature than the flowers represented in shell-work on lackered grounds, and framed in glass cases by our grandmothers, resembled the roses and carnations which they caricatured. They think, if they think at all, like people of the nineteenth century (for certainly nobody ever thought like them before), but they write in the verbiage of the sixteenth, and then imagine that they rival the poets of Elizabeth's reign, because they mimic all that is obsolete in them, which in fact is only preserved in Spenser and Shakspeare themselves, because it is inseparably united with what can never become obsolete, " thoughts that breathe and words that burn,” not less intelligible at this day than when they were first uttered. It might be shown that the finest passages in our ancient writers are those in which the phraseology has never become antiquated, nor ever can be so till the English shall be a dead language. This school must pass away with the present generation, as surely as did the Della Cruscan of the last century.
Is it not remarkable, while we are rich beyond precedent in every other species of elegant literature, that in the drama we should be poor even to pauperism, if that term in its technical and degrading sense may be so applied ? Not a tragedy that can live on the stage, its own element, beyond the date of a nine days' wonder, has been produced for many years. The phantasmagoria of the Castle Spectre, the magnificent but anomalous Pizarro, the crazy Bertram, are not exceptions, unless they can be shown to be legitimate tragedies, which, by the power of mind over mind alone, obtained not a temporary, but a permanent triumph,-a triumph that must be renewed as often as they are performed. The Stranger, immoral and insidious as it is, long maintained its ground by the aid of consummate acting in its most exceptionable character; but it must be acknowledged by its warmest admirers that the eatastrophe is achieved by a coup de main, a trick of pantomime at last, which amounts to a silent confession of failure, that after all the cunning and elaborate preparation to secure success to the interview, the hero and heroine, like Harlequin and Columbine, could only be reconciled in dumb-show! The Gordian knot of the delicate dilemma is cut, not disentangled; and the imagination of the most enraptured spectator dare not dwell for five minutes behind the curtain after it has fallen upon the scene. The first word uttered by either party there would dissolve the enchantment at once: Mrs. Haller must be Mrs. Haller still, and the Stranger a Stranger for ever. Yet when I name Miss Joanna Baillie, Miss Mitford, Lord Byron, Milman, Sotheby, Sheridan Knowles, and leave my audience to recollect other able writers of tragedy, among our contemporaries there is evidently no lack of great talent for this species of composition, that may delight in the closet, however the taste of play-goers may have degenerated so as to disrelish any thing either highly intellectual or highly poetic on the stage.
It is vain to say that many pieces bearing the name of tragedies have been brought out which deserved a better fate than they experienced ; for whatever may have been the cause of their miscarriage, the fact, the fatal fact remains, that this age has scarcely produced a tragedy which can keep its hold as a tra. gedy in representation; and short of this, whatever be the merits of some of the prematurely slain, they were only dialogues in blank verse. Desert is nothing in such a case, except it can enforce its claim; unless an audience cannot help being pleased, it is idle to argue upon the duty of their being so.
The homage exacted by genius is that which cannot be withheld, although it is voluntarily paid. It would seem as if the age of tragedy, as well as that of epic poetry, were gone for ever; both belong to a period of less refinement in the progress of modern society than the present. This is not the place to attempt a solution of the paradox.
But comedy, -gay, polite, high-spirited comedy, might have been expected to be carried to perfection amid the vicissitudes of the last thirty years, when the energies of men in every rank of life being stimulated beyond example by the great events continually occurring at home and abroad, boundless diversity of character and pursuits must have been ever at hand to furnish materials for scenic exposure ; while the popular mind, incessantly craving for keener excitement, would eagerly have seized upon any novelty in the form of dramatic entertainment. Every novelty, except such as genius alone could bring forth, has been presented on the stage, and accepted with avidity by the frequenters of the theatre ; but no offspring of intellect and taste, at all comparable to the numberless progeny of the same in every other department of literature, has appeared to redeem the credit of the drama from the disrepute into which it has fallen, since Sheridan gave to the world his few but inimitable comedies. These, after surpassing all that went before, seem to have left no hope for any that might follow them. This critique on the present state of the drama in England, refers to it solely as one class of literature, and bears no reference to the questionable morality of theatrical performances
Novels and Romances.
In what are properly called novels, fictitious narratives of common life, the period between Pope and Cowper was more prolific than any preceding one. Indeed, the genuine novel was yet a novelty, which originated, or rather was introduced, in the merry reign of Charles II., but never had been carried to its height of humour and reality till Fielding, Smollett, and Richardson, each in his peculiar and unrivalled way, displayed its utmost capabilities of painting men and manners as they are.
These were followed by “numbers without number,” and without name, that peopled the shelves of the circulating libraries with the motley progeny of their brain. But from the time of the irruption of Southey and his irregulars into the region of Parnassus, where all had been torpor and formality before, with the exception of the little domain of Cowper, poetry rose so rapidly into fashion as to share the patronage of sentimentalists and other idle readers, till the Lady of the Lake and Childe Harold bore away the palm of popularity from the most renowned of their contemporaries—the ladies and gentlemen that live in novels, and nowhere else. There was indeed a long and desperate resistance made on the part of the novelists against the poets; and their indigenous resources failing, they called in to their aid, not German tales only, but—to confound