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Surely, then, when the materials which Nature afforded had been first offered to the Ancients ; when from the whole multitude of objects and mass of materials so many had been selected, and those only left which were either undiscovered or despised --surely Modern Genius has herein suffered an incalculable privation, and been opposed by a mighty obstacle; a privation which could not have been repaired, an obstacle which could not have been overcome, had not learning and civilization extended its prospects, and stimulated its exertions-had they not opened to it new scenes of wonder, and new sources of wealth.
Many, however, among those who stand at the head of the list of Modern authors have laboured under singular disadvantages.
What situation could be more unhappy than that of our own Shakspeare? He had to contend with prejudice, to expect contempt; before him lay
Without friends, without experience, without instruction, without learning, did this extraordinary man, by the innate powers of his mighty mind, engage in the arduous contest, and achieve the splendid triumph. Formed more to rule and govern the public taste than to receive, through its capricious revolutions, popularity and renown at one time, oblivion and contempt at another, he claimed the admiration he deserved ; he inscribed his name in characters of everlasting brilliancy on the tablet of Renown, and raised for himself an imperishable monument in the productions of his mighty mind-- he left that name the pride of Englishmen, and those works, never to be touched by the ravages of time-never to be assailed by the malignity of envy
Non illud carpere Livor
but to remain through succeeding generations as the shrine whereat the whole civilized world might combine to lay down their tribute of praise and veneration.
Let the case of Milton be compared to that of Virgil. The latter, having the model of the Iliad before him, dwelling in the midst of ease, leisure, and tranquillity ; fostered by patronage, encouraged by applause, and not scrupulous as to appropriating the property of others as his own, possessed every advantage for research, meditation, and composition. But John Milton spent the best years of his life in the midst of the horrors of civil war : and his pen had been long imbued with the bitterness of party virulence, (as how few were not so imbued, during that unhappy time ?) before he proceeded to the execution-perhaps even to the choice of a subject for his splendid master-piece. And when he had chosen and did execute-when he explored a new, and a lofty, and an unattempted, road to the pinnacle of Fame-when the secrets of Creation and the councils of Heaven were the subjects of his awful meditations—how little aid, comparatively speaking, could he derive from watching the progress of the ferocity of Achilles, or from following the milk-and-watery, yet savage, Æneas through his long-continued wanderings. Were these the materials on which he worked, or were these the wings on which he soared, when he cried, exulting,
“ Into the Heaven of Heavens I have presumed,
An earthly guest, and drawn empyrean air?" Though the auxiliaries which other countries can afford are both numerous and powerful, our own must bear the brunt of the battle. It would be unjust, however, to leave such men as Lope de Vega, and Cervantes, of Spain; Goethe, Schiller, and their fellow dramatists, of Germany ; Petrarch, Tasso, Dante, Ariosto, and some few more of Italy, and many French writers, in the shade. Many may not be brought forward, simply from their not being required to establish my position ; and many more will certainly be omitted from that feeling of compassion and humanity towards my readers which so often teaches me to lop the redundant luxuriancies of my imagination. In numbers, if we looked to them for victory, we are certainly most powerful; as either England, Italy, or France, could, I believe, exhibit a catalogue of authors, exceeding the whole sum of the ancient writers. In some branches of the subject, the comparison may be instituted between man and man: in others, we must be contented with a more general view. To find a parallel to Horace, I must select from the works of several : yet the Odes of Dryden, Gray, Collins, Byron, and other not despicable auxiliaries, may match those of Pindar and Horace: and the latter, with Juvenal and Persius, at least incur no disgrace by being compared with such men as Pope and Dryden, Boileau and Swift, Byron and Churchill, and Butler, and John
son, and Gifford.
But if we were obliged to have recourse to such a method of retaliation as condemning the whole of either side on account of the difficulty of matching individuals, we might safely ask for an Ariosto, a Chaucer, a Spencer, a Byron, or a Butler, among Ancients.
Few or none will, I apprehend, now be found prepared to dispute the immense superiority of the Moderns in political philosophy, and in general science. Such men would be laughed at, more than argued with, for their pains; and such, probably, do not exist. The sum of practical genius now in operation in this country is immense, in almost every branch of science; and many a one, whose daily labour now can but earn his daily bread, would, in ancient times, have been hailed as a prodigy, or worshipped as a god, for the skill he could display, and the wonders he could work. And in those branches of philosophy which the Ancients have touched upon, who will compare for depth of research, sublimity of conception, and soundness of reasoning, the vague and futile systems of Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero, with the truths established even to demonstration, by Newton and La Place, Kepler and Galileo, Bacon, Locke, and Boyle? Extraordinary as was the ingenuity and ability manifested by the ancient philosophers and mathematicians, here, at least, we have been placed on an exalted eminence--an eminence, an object of wonder to all, and of admiration, it is to be hoped, to many. Let all the institutions which have been formed, all the lights which have shone, among us, THE ROYAL SOCIETY in particular, testify on how lofty a throne Science has estab
lished her position among us.
And it is glorious to think, that she is still in her infancy; that others may look back on us as we look back on those who have gone before ; that there are still new regions to be explored, new secrets to be revealed, and new pleasures to be enjoyed, by those to whom it is given to remove the veil from the face of Nature, and expose her to the gaze of
Perhaps in History, even Davila and Guicciardini, Hume, and Robertson, and Mitford, Gibbon and Clarendon, may, by some, not be considered equal to Herodotus and Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius, Livy and Tacitus. But I really know not whether I should place Herodotus in the list, or set his works in a separate division, as a parallel to Robinson Crusoe and the Arabian Nights ; for one is nearly as credible as the other. And if Xenophon actually was a romance writer, sure I am that we have many better.
In that great branch of Poetry, the Epic,† Milton and Dante may well meet Homer and Virgil. Tasso we will give upon trust for Varius. The Lusiad, the Messiah, and the Henriade may surely stand against Lucan and Statius; and the poem of the Creation does credit to
* It has been remarked, that little has been done of late in this country to facilitate the acquisition of mathematical knowledge, and that the elementary works published at Cambridge seem more calculated to inspire the learner with awe, than to relieve him from ignorance. Some foreign ones are considered much more clear: and, in many branches of speculative science, it is thought that France has, for years, much surpassed us.
+ It is in deference to the probable prejudices of the great body of my readers that I do not adduce Ossian, or Macpherson, or whaterer the name be, as a very powerful auxiliary: such I cannot help considering him.