Page images
PDF
EPUB

CYCLOPÆDIA

OF

ENGLISH LITERATURE.

SEVENTH PERIOD

(1780—1830)

REIGNS OF GEORGE III. AND GEORGE IV.

This period presents several illustrious names, and accelerated progress in every department of literature. In poetry, the period was pre-eminently distinguished, and is the only one which challenges comparison, in any degree, with the brilliant Elizabethan age. In fiction, or imaginative invention, the name of Scott is inferior only to that of Shakspeare; in criticism, a new era may be dated from the establishment of the Edinburgh Review; and in historical composition, if we have no Hume or Gibbon, we have the results of valuable und diligent research. Truth and nature have been more truly and devoutly worshipped, and real excellence more highly prized. It has been feared by some that the principle of utility, which is recognised as one of the features of the present age, and the progress of mechan. ical knowledge, would be fatal to the higher efforts of imagination, and diminish the territories of the poet. This seems a groundless fear. It did not damp the ardour of Scott or Byron, or the fancy of Moore, and it has not prevented the poetry of Wordsworth from gradually working its way into public favour. If we have not the poetry and romance of the Elizabethan age, we have the ever-living passions of human nature and the wide theatre of the world, now ac. curately known and discriminated, as a field for the exercise of ge nius. We have the benefit of all past knowledge and literature to exalt our standard of imitation and taste, and a more sure reward in the encouragement and applause of a populous and enlightened nation. The literature of England,' says Shelley, 'has arisen, as it were, from a new birth. In spite of the low-thoughted envy which would undervalue contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable age in intellectual achievements, and we live among

(1)

such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since the last national struggle for civil and religious liberty. The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature. The persons in whom this power resides may often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are the ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet compelled to serve the power which is seated on the throne of their own soul. It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day, without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations, for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Pocts are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present ; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire ; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.'

SIR WILLIAM JONES.

* It is not Sir William Jones's poetry,' says Southey, 'that can perpetuate his name.' This is true: it was as an oriental scholar and judge, an enlightened lawyer and patriot, that he earned his laurels. His varied learning and philological researches—he was master of twenty-eight languages--were the wonder and admiration of his contemporaries. Sir William was born in London in 1746. His father was an eminent mathematician, but died when his son was only three years of age, The care of educating young Jones devolved upon his mother, who was well qualified for the duty by her virtues and extensive learning. · When in his fifth year, the imagination of the young scholar was caught by the sublime description of the angel in the tenth chapter of the Apocalypse, and the impression was never cifaced. In 1753 he was placed at Harrow School, where he continued nearly ten years, and became an accomplished and critical classical scholar. He did not confine himself merely to the ancient authors usually studied, but added a knowledge of the Arabic characters, and acquired sufficient Hebrew to read the Psalms. In 1764 he was entered of University College, Oxford. Here his taste for oriental literature continued, and he engaged a native of Aleppo wliom he had had discovered in London, to act as his preceptor. He also assiduously perused the Greek poets and historians.

In his nineteenth year, Jones accepted an offer to be private tutor to Lord Althorp, afterwards Earl Spencer. A fellowship at Oxford was also conferred upon him, and thus the scholar was relieved from the fear of want, and enabled to pursue his favourite and unremitting studies. An opportunity of displaying one branch of his acquirements was afforded in 1768. The king of Denmark in that year visited England, and brought with him an eastern manuscript, containing the life of Nadir Shah, which he wished translated into French. Jones executed this arduous task, being, as Lord Teignmouth, his biographer, remarks, the only oriental scholar in England adequate to the performance. He still continued in the noble family of Spencer, and in 1769 accompanied his pupil to the continent. Next year, feeling anxious to attain an independent station in life, he entered himself a student of the Temple, and, applying himself with his characteristic ardour to his new profession, he contemplated with pleasure the 'stately edifice of the laws of England,' and mastered their most important principles and details. In 1774, he published . Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry,' but finding that jurisprudence was a jealous mistress, and would not admit the eastern muses to participate in his attentions, he devoted himself for some years exclusively to his legal studies. A patriotic feeling was mingled with this resolution. ‘Had I lived at Rome or Athens,' he said, 'I should have preferred the labours, studies, and dangers of their orators and illustrious citizens—connected as they were with banishment and even death--to the groves of the poets or the gardens of the philosophers. Here I adopt the same resolution. The constitution of England is in no respect inferior to that of Rome or Athens.' Jones now practised at the bar, and was appointed one of the Commissioners of Bankrupts. In 1778, he published a translation of the speeches of Isæus, in causes concerning the law of succession to property at Athens, to which he added notes and a commentary. The stirring events of the time in which he lived were not beheld without strong interest by this accomplished scholar. He was decidedly opposed to the American war and to the slave-trade, then so prevalent, and in 1781 he produced his noble Alcaic Ode, animated by the purest spirit of patriotism, and a high strain of poetical enthusiasm. He was appointed one of the judges of the supreme court at Fort William, in Bengal, and the honour of knighthood was conferred upon him. He married the daughter of Dr. Shipley, bishop of St. Asaph; and in April 1783, in his thirty-seventh year, he embarked for India, never to return. Sir William Jones entered upon his judicial functions with all the advantages of a high reputation, unsullied integrity, disinterested benevolence, and unwearied perseverance. In the intervals of leisure from his duties, he directed his attention to scientific objects, and established a society in Calcutta to promote inquiries by the ingenious, and to concentrate the knowledge to be collected in Asia.

In 1784, his health being affected by the climate and the closeness of his application, he made a tour through various parts of India, in the course of which he wrote · The Enchanted Fruit, or Hindu Wife,' a poetical tale, and a “Treatise on the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India.' He also studied the Sanscrit language, being unwilling to continue at the mercy of the Pundits, who dealt out Hindu law as they pleased. Some translations from oriental authors, and original poems and essays, he contributed to a periodical established at Calcutta, entitled • The Asiatic Miscellany.' He meditated an epic poem on the discovery of England by Brutus, and had matured his design so far as to write the arguments of the intended books of his epic, but the poem itself he did not live to attempt. In 1789, Sir William translated an ancient Indian drama, “Sacontala, or the Fatal Ring,' which exhibits a picture of Hindu manners in the century preceding the Christian era. He engaged to compile a digest of Hindu and Mohammedan laws; and in 1794 he translated the Ordinances of Menu,' or the Hindu system of duties, religious and civil. His motive to this task, like his inducement to the digest, was to aid the benevolent intentions of our legislature in securing to the natives, in a qualified degree, the administration of justice by their own laws. Sir William died April 27, 1794. Every honour was paid to his reinains, and the East India Company erected a monument to his memory in St. Paul's Cathedral. The attainments of Sir William Jones were so profound and various, that it is difficult to conceive how he had comprised them in his short life of forty-eight years. With respect to the division of his time, he had written in India, on a small piece of paper, the following lines:

Sir Edward Coke :

Six hours in sleep, in law's grave study six,

Four spend in prayer-the rest on nature fix.
Rather :

Seven hours to law, to soothing slumber seven,
Ten to the world allot, and all to heaven. *

An Ode, in Imitation of Alcæus.
What constitutes a state?
Not high-raised battlement or laboured mound,

Thick wall or moated gate;
Not cities proud with spires and turrets crowned ;

Not bays and broad-armed ports,
Where, laughing at the storm, rich navies ride;

Not starred and spangled courts,
Where low-browed baseness wafts perfume to pride.

No: men, high-minded men,
With powers as far above dull brutes endued

In forest, brake, or den,

As respects sleep, the example of Sir Walter Scott may be added to that of Sir Wil. llam Jones, for the great novelist has stated that he required seven hours of total unconsciousness to fit him for the duties of the day,

As beasts excel cold rocks and brambles rude;

Men who do their duties know,
But know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain,

Prevent the long-aimed blow,
And crush the tyrant while they rend the chain :

These constitute a state,
And sovereign Law, that state's collected will,

O'er thrones and globes elate
Sits empress, crowning good, repressing ill;

Smit by her sacred frown,
The fiend Discretion like a vapour sinks,

And e'en the all-dazzling Crown
Hides his faint rays, and at her bidding shrinks.

Such was this heaven-loved isle,
Than Lesbos fairer, and the Cretan shore !

No more shall Freedom smile ?
Shall Britons languish, and be men no more?

Since all must life resign,
Those sweet rewards, which decorate the brave,

"Tis folly to decline,
And steal inglorious to the silent grave.

A Persian Song of Hafiz.
Sweet maid, if thou wouldst charm my 'Tis all a cloud, 'tis all a dream;
sight,

To love and joy thy thoughts confine, And bid these arms thy neck enfold; Nor hope to pierce the sacred gloom. That rosy cheek, that lily hand, Would give thy poet more delight Beauty has such resistless power, Than all Bokhara's haunted gold, That even the chaste Egyptian dame Than all the gems of Samarcand.

Sighed for the blooming Hebrew boy:

For her how fatal was the hour, Boy, let yon liquid ruby flow,

When to the banks of Nilus came And bid thy pensive heart be glad, A youth so lovely and so coy! Whate'er the frowning zealots say: Tell them, their Eden cannot shew But ah! sweet maid, my counsel hearA stream so clear as Rocnabad,

Youth should attend when those advise A bower so sweet as Mosellay.

Whom long experience renders sage

While music charms the ravished ear; Oh! when these fair perfidious maids, While sparkling cups delight our eyes, . Whose eyes our secret haunts infest, Be gay, and scorn the frowns of age. Their dear destructive charms display, Each glance my tender breast invades, What cruel answer have I heard ? And robs my wounded soul of rest, And yet, by Heaven, I love thee still: As Tartars seize their destined prey. Can aught be cruel from thy lip?

Yet say, how fell that bitter word In vain with love our boscms glow: From lips which streams of sweetness fill, Can all our tears, can all our sighs, Which nought but drops of honey sip? New lustre to those charms impart? Can cheeks, where living roses blow, Go boldly forth, my simple lay, Where nature spreads her richest dýes, Whose accents flow with artless ease, Require the borrowed gloss of art? Like orient pearls at random strung:

Thy notes are sweet, the damsels say;
Speak not of fate : ah! change the theme, But oh ! far sweeter, if they please
And talk of odours, talk of wine, The nymph for whom these notes are
Talk of the flowers that round us bloom:

sung!
The Concluding Sentence of Berkeley's Siris imitated.

Before thy mystic altar, heavenly Truth,
I kneel in manhood as I knelt in youth;
Thus let me kneel, till this cull form decay,

« PreviousContinue »