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“His wit invites you by his looks to come, But when you knock it never is at home.”
Ibid. 1. 303. Absence of occupation is not rest; A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.”
Retirement. 1. 623. An idler is a watch that wants both hands, As useless when it goes as when it stands."
Ibid. 1. 681. "But oars alone can ne'er prevail
To reach the distant coast;
The Sofa. 1. 1. “God made the country and man made the town.”
Ibid. 1. 749. "O for a lodge in some vast wilderness, Some boundless contiguity of shade, Where rumor of oppression and deceit, Of unsuccessful or successful war, Might never reach me more."
The Timepiece. 1. 1. Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free.”
Ibid. 1. 40. "England, with all thy faults I love thee still, My country!”
Ibid. 1. 206. " Variety's the very spice of life.”
Ibid. 1. 606.
That cheer but not inebriate."
The Winter Evening. I. 40. "O Winter, ruler of the inverted year!”
Ibid. 1. 120. "With spots quadrangular of diamond form, Ensanguined hearts, clubs typical of strife, And spades, the emblems of untimely graves.”
Ibid. 1. 217. “But war's a game which were their subjects wise Kings would not play at.”
The Winter Morning Walk. 1. 187.
* Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;
Winter Walk at Noon. 1. 96.
(Though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
Ibid. l. 560. Gilbert White (1720–1793) began in 1767 and published in 1789 his “ Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne," a book which in charm of style is somewhat like Walton's "Compleat Angler.” It has sent many boys to the intelligent study of birds. White used to carry a list of birds in his pocket, and, as he rode or walked, to note daily the continuance or absence of each bird's song.
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES 1. Who wrote the first musical comedy for the English stage? It was a
good one. Was it the last? 2. Who was John Wesley and what thing did he accomplish? 3. Read Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard.” Write one
hundred words presenting the philosophy contained therein. 4. Who was the author of How Sleep the Brave"? 5. What are the qualities that have made “Robinson Crusoe a classic? 6. What were the new principles presented in Adam Smith’s “ The Wealth
of Nations"? 7. Who created the character of Mrs. Malaprop? 8. For what other production is the author of “The Diverting History of
John Gilpin " famed ? 9. Who was the author of “The Analogy of Religion” ? 10. With any book of the eighteenth century that you have in mind as a
background, write a five-hundred-word composition upon the aspects
of the century illustrated in the book.
Suggested Readings.-Thomson's “ Winter ” deserves to be read by everyone interested in natural beauty. An excellent way to obtain familiarity with the work of the eighteenth century poets is to read the poems in any large encyclopædia of English poetry by those men mentioned in the text of this book. You should read Sheridan's “ School for Scandal” for your own delight.
THE RENASCENCE OF WONDER IN POETRY
“The period of wonder in English poetry may perhaps be said to have ended with Milton.
The periwig poetry of Dryden_and Pope crushed out the natural singing of the true poets.
Then came Thomson's 'Seasons' and showed that the worst was over.”—Theodore Watts-Dunton.
THERE are two great impulses governing man—the impulse to take things as they are, and the impulse to look upon the world with eyes of inquiry and wonder. In some ages there is an overpowering tendency to accept as true Pope's maxim, "Whatever is, is right.” In others there is a yearning to get as far as possible away from actual conditions, not only in dress and other material things, but also in the fine arts and in methods of thought. The tendency is for these opposite states of mind to alternate. Thus an age of acceptance is followed by an age of revolt and an age of revolt by an age of acceptance. The more intelligent a race the less is it governed by the instinct of acceptance and the more by that of wonder. In the poetry of an age of acceptance the humor consists in some departure from the laws of polite society, in that of an age of wonder in some departure from the normal as fixed by Nature herself. The first is called relative humor; the second, absolute humor.
In foreign lands the impulse of wonder has to its credit the whole magnificent cycle of Greek poetry, which includes Homer's “Iliad” and “ Odyssey "; the tragedies of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; Pindar's odes; and the pastorals of Theocritus. It may claim also the “ Divine Comedy” of Dante, the first of Italian poets, and the “Faust” of Goethe, the first of German poets. The impulse of acceptance, on the other hand, was back of the best Roman and French literature, and produced the matchless polish of Horace's odes and satires, the stately tragedies of Corneille and Racine, Voltaire's wit, and Moliere's exquisite comedies.
In England we find Chaucer influenced by both impulses, Spenser almost wholly under the influence of wonder, Shakespeare absorbing
the best elements of each, and Milton mainly ruled by wonder. Dryden and Pope, on the other hand, fell almost completely under the spell of Rome and France, produced verse distinguished by great brilliancy and wit, and so dazzled their contemporaries that for nearly a century their ideals were supreme in English literature. From the death of Milton, 1674, to the publication of Thomson's “ Seasons," 1730, hardly a line of verse was written under the influence of wonder. Thomson, however, was only a single spy. Far into the nineteenth century battalions of poets continued to write in Pope's manner. Among these the most eminent were Dr. Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, George Crabbe, Samuel Rogers, Thomas Campbell, Lord Byron, and our own good Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, however, Chatterton, MacPherson, Bishop Percy, and Cowper led a revolt against the school of Pope and Dryden. Then came Burns, whose wit was equal to Pope's but whose literary impulses were diametrically opposed to those of the artificial school. Burns was followed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century by seven great writers whose combined efforts drove the poetry of acceptance off the field and restored the note which had temporarily been lost when Milton died. These seven were William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Charles Lamb.
In these writers the principle of wonder produced a large variety of flowers and fruit. Wordsworth, believing that Nature is animated by a living soul, sought and found in common things both his theme and his inspiration. Coleridge, actuated by the same belief, peopled the air with supernatural beings. Shelley, who lacked their masculine vigor but surpassed both of them in delicacy of fancy, was obviously influenced by both and in some respects surpassed both. Keats's theory, which he must have held constantly in mind as he wrote, was that “beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Scott gave the world both in prose and in verse a magnificent reincarnation of old romance. Byron, whose literary taste led him to admire Pope and indeed to try to write in his manner, was driven by the democratic spirit of the age, by his own rebellious soul, and by the example of these great contemporaries, to write, not indeed in their manner, but in a spirit not unakin to theirs. In Byron, likewise, there was a contest. His appreciation of literary technique, which was as keen as Pope's, linked him with Pope's school, while his environment, his revolt against conventionality, his love of liberty, and his superabundant humor made him a poet of wonder. Lamb's contribution to the reformation of literature was his rediscovery of the old English dramatists and his republication of their chief works.
It should be added that all of the great English poets of the later nineteenth century belong to the natural rather than to the artificial school, though there is hardly one of them whose style does not show a precision which was far from common before the days of Pope.
In order to appreciate fully the spirit of the age of Wordsworth and Coleridge, of Shelley and Keats, it is necessary to hold firmly in mind a few historical facts. Of these the main ones are as follows: In 1789 the French rebelled against their kings. In 1793 this rebellion culminated in a series of bloody massacres which threatened France with anarchy and united Europe against the new republic. From both dangers the French were freed by the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). In 1795 he put down anarchy in Paris. In 1796 he drove the Austrians out of Italy. In 1797 he dictated peace under the walls of Vienna. He was prevented from conquering Egypt and India only by Nelson's victory over the French fleet in the Bay of Aboukir in 1798. Having been made first consul 1799, he again defeated Austria 1800, reconstructed France 1801-1804, and was made emperor 1804. In 1805 he crushed Austria at Austerlitz, in 1806 conquered Prussia at Jena, and 1807 forced Russia to sue for peace. From that time until 1812 England alone seemed to stand between him and universal dominion, having by Nelson's naval victory at Trafalgar 1804 become mistress of the seas. In 1812, however, he met disaster in Russia, in 1813 was beaten in Germany, and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. After a year's exile in Elba, he returned to France and again seized the throne, but was beaten by the English and Prussians at Waterloo and was exiled to St. Helena, where he died six years later. These events exercised a profound influence not only on the details but also on the spirit of contemporary English literature.