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The sobriety of the succeeding reigns allayed this fever of profanity, but no genius arose sufficiently powerful to break the spell that still withheld us from the use of our own peculiar gifts and faculties. On the contrary, it was the unfortunate ambition of the next generation of authors, to improve and perfect the new style, rather than to return to the old one; and it cannot be denied that they did improve it. They corrected its gross indecency-increased its precision and correctnessmade its pleasantry and sarcasm more polished and elegant-and spread through the whole of its irony, its narration, and its reflection, a tone of clear and condensed good sense, which recommended itself to all who had and all who had not any relish for higher beauties.
This is the praise of Queen Anne's wits, and to this praise they are justly entitled. This was left for them to do, and they did it well. They were invited to it by the circumstances of their situation, and do not seem to have been possessed of any such bold or vigorous spirit as either to neglect or to outgo the invitation. Coming into life immediately after the consummation of a bloodless revolution, effected much more by the cool sense than the angry passion of the nation, they seem to have felt that they were born in an age of reason rather than of feeling or fancy; and that men's minds, though considerably divided and unsettled upon many points, were in a much better temper to relish judicious argument and cutting satire than the glow of enthusiastic passion or the richness of a luxuriant imagination. To those accordingly they made no pretensions; but, writing with infinite good sepse, and great grace and vivacity, and, above all, writing for the first time in a tone that was peculiar to the upper ranks of society, and upon subjects that were almost exclusively interesting to them, they naturally figured, at least while the manner was new, as the most accomplished, fashionable, and perfect writers which the world had ever seen; and made the wild, luxuriant and humble sweetness of our earlier authors appear rude and untutored in the comparison.
Men grew ashamed of admiring and afraid of imitating writers of so little skill and smartness; and the opinion became general, not only that their faults were intolerable, but that even their beauties were puerile and barbarous, and unworthy the serious regard of a polite and distinguishing age.
These and similar considerations will go far to account for the celebrity which those authors acquired in their day; but it is not quite
so easy to explain how they should have so long retained their ascendant. One cause undoubtedly was the real excellence of their productions, in the style which they had adopted. It was hopeless to think of surpassing them in that style; and, recommended as it was by the felicity of their execution, it required some courage to depart from it, and to recur to another, which seemed to have been so lately abandoned for its sake. The age which succeeded, too, was not the age courage or adventure. There never was, on the whole, a quieter time than the reigns of the two first Georges, and the greater part of that which ensued. There were two little provincial rebellions indeed, and a fair proportion of foreign war; but there was nothing to stir the minds of the people at large, to rouse their passions, or excite their imaginations--nothing like the agitations of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, or of the civil wars in the seventeenth. They went on, accordingly, minding their old business, and reading their old books, with great patience and stupidity. And certainly there never was so remarkable a dearth of original talent—so long an interregnum of native genius-as during about sixty years in the middle of the last century. The dramatic art was dead fifty years before ; and poetry seemed verging to a similar extinction. The few sparks that appeared, too, showed that the old fire was burnt out, and that the altar must hereafter be heaped with fuel of another quality. Gray, with the talents rather of a critic than a poet, with learning, fastidiousness, and scrupulous delicacy of taste, instead of fire, tenderness, or invention, began and ended a small school, which we could scarcely have wished to become permanent, admirable in many respects as some of its productions are, being far too elaborate and artificial either for grace or for fluency, and fitter to excite the admiration of scholars than the delight of ordinary men. However, he had the merit of not being in any degree French, and of restoring to our poetry the dignity of seriousness, and the tone at least of force and energy. The Whartons, both as critics and as poets, were of considerable service in discrediting the high pretensions of the former race, and in bringing back to public notice the great stores and treasures of poetry which lay hid in the records of our older literature. Akenside attempted a sort of classical and philosophical rapture, which no eloquence of language could easily have rendered popular, but which had. merits of no vulgar order for those who could study it. Goldsmith wrote with perfect elegance and
beauty, in a style of mellow tenderness and elaborate simplicity. He had the harmony of Pope without his quaintness, and his selectness of diction without his coldness and eternal vivacity. And last of all came Cowper, with a style of complete originality; and, for the first time, made it apparent to readers of all descriptions, that Pope and Addison were no longer to be the models of English poetry.
In philosophy and prose writing in general the case was nearly parallel. The name of Hume is by far the most considerable which occurs in the period to which we have alluded. But, though his thinking was English, his style is entirely French; and being naturally of a cold fancy, there is nothing of that eloquence or richness about him which characterises the writings of Taylor, and Hooker, and Bacon; and continues, with less weight of matter, to please in those of Cowley and Clarendon. Warburton had great powers, and wrote with more force and freedom than the wits to whom he succeeded; but his faculties were perverted by a paltry love of paradox, and rendered useless to mankind by an unlucky choice of subjects, and the arrogance and dogmatism of his temper. Adam Smith was nearly the first who made deeper reasonings and more exact knowledge popular among us ; and Junius and Johnson the first who again familiarised us with more glowing and sonorous diction ; and made us feel the tameness and poorness of the serious style of Addison and Swift.
This brings us down almost to the present times, in which the revolution in our literature has been accelerated and confirmed by the concurrence of many causes. The agitations of the French revolution, and the discussions as well as the hopes and terrors to which it gave occasion—the genius of Edmund Burke, and some others of his land of genius--the impression of the new literature of Germany, evidently the original of our lake-school of poetry, and of many innovations in our drama--the rise or revival of a more evangelical spirit in the body of the people—and the vast extension of our political and commercial relations, which have not only familiarised all ranks of people with distant countries and great undertakings, but have brought knowledge and enterprise home, not merely to the imagination but to the actual experience of almost every individual. All these and several other circumstances have so far improved or excited the character of our nation, as to have created an effectual demand for more profound speculation, and more serious emotion than was dealt in by the writers
of the former century, and which, if it has not yet produced a corresponding supply in all branches, has at least had the effect of decrying the commodities that were previously in vogue, as unsuited to the altered condition of the times.
JOHN WILSON. SUBLIME solitudes of our boyhood! where each stone in the desert was sublime, unassociated though it was with dreams of memory, in its own simple native power over the human heart ! Each sudden breath of wind passed by us like the voice of a spirit. There were strange meanings in the clouds—often so like human forms and faces threatening us off, or beckoning us on, with long black arms, back into the long withdrawing wilderness of heaven. We wished then, with quaking bosoms, that we had not been all alone in the desert—that there had been another heart, whose beatings might have kept time with our own,
that we might have gathered courage in the silent and sullen gloom from the light in a brother's eye—the smile on a brother's countenance. And often had we such a friend in these our far-off wanderings, over moors and mountains, by the edge of lochs and through the umbrage of the old pine-woods. A friend from whom
we had received his heart and given him back our own,”-such a friendship as the most fortunate and the most happy-and at that time we were both—are sometimes permitted by Providence, with all the passionate devotion of young and untamed imagination, to enjoy, during a bright dreamy world of which that friendship is as the polar star. Emilius Godfrey! for ever holy be the name! a boy when we were but a child—when we were but a youth, a man. We felt stronger in the shadow of his arm-happier, bolder, better in the light of his countenance. He was the protector—the guardian of our moral being. In our pastimes we bounded with wilder glee--at our studies we sat with intenser earnestness, by his side. He it was that taught us how to feel all those glorious sunsets, and imbued our young spirit with the love and worship of nature. He it was that taught us to feel that our evening prayer was no idle ceremony to be hastily gone through-that we might lay down our head on the pillow, then soon smoothed in sleep--but a command of God, which a response from nature summoned the humble heart to obey. He it was who for ever had at command, wit for the sportive, wisdom for the serious hour. Fun and frolic flowed in the merry music of his lips--they lightened from the gay glancing of his eyes--and then, all at once, when the one changed its measures, and the other gathered, as it were, a mist or a cloud, an answering sympathy chained our own tongue, and darkened our own countenance, in intercommunion of spirit felt to be, indeed, divine! It seemed as if we knew but the words of language--that he was a scholar who saw into their very essence. The books we read together were, every page, and every sentence of every page, all covered over with light. Where his eye fell not as we read, all was dim or dark, unintelligible, or with imperfect meanings. Whether we perused with him a volume writ by a nature like our own, or the volume of the earth and the sky, or the volume revealed from Heaven, next day we always knew and felt that something had been added to our being. Thus imperceptibly we grew up in our intellectual stature, breathing a purer moral and religious air; with all our finer affections towards other human beings, all our kindred and our kind, touched with a dearer domestic tenderness, or with a sweet benevolence that seemed to our ardent fancy to embrace the dwellers in the uttermost regions of the earth. No secret of pleasure or pain--of joy or griefof fear or hope—had our heart to withhold or conceal from Emilius Godfrey. He saw it as it beat within our bosom, with all its imperfections—may we venture to say, with all its virtues. A repented folly—a confessed fault—a sin for which we were truly contrite-a vice flung from us with loathing and with shame--in such moods as these, happier were we to see his serious and his solemn smile than when in mirth and merriment we sat by his side, in the social hour, on a knoll in the open sunshine. And the whole school were in ecstasies to hear tales and stories from his genius; even like a flock of birds, chirping in their joy, all newly alighted in a vernal land In spite of that difference in our age-or oh! say rather because that very difference did touch the one heart with tenderness, and the other with reverence; how often did we two wander, like elder and younger brother, in the sunlight and the moonlight solitudes ! Woods into whose inmost recesses we should have quaked alone to penetrate, in