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not to court the favour, by gratifying the palate of the age, is not enough to exempt it from the imputation of a bad or perverted taste. Under all the varieties of exterior, which diversity of fashion, age, or country can occasion, the heart still beats with the same emotions; and however different may be the modes, in which the passions reveal themselves to observation, they are always and immutably the same. Those master hands, then, who could touch and set in motion the deep and hidden springs of feeling and passion, necessarily subjected their readers to a spell, which they could not overcome, and moved them like puppets at their pleasure. They were superior to all the accidents of situation, and to all the changes in the tide of manners, fashion, and opinion. They wrote not for one people only, but for the world; not for one period alone, but for all time ;-they were an universal good, in which all countries and ages might claim a portion. They raised monuments of their genius, imperishable and immortal, and exercised a sway potential and arbitrary not only over their contemporaries, but all succeeding generations. Our love and admiration are not voluntary, but necessary tributes,—not bestowed but exacted; and when we shall cease to feel warmth in the sunshine, or cold in extreme winter frost-to smile when we are glad, or weep when we are sorrowful, then may we expect that those tributes shall cease to be paid. Thus, by a law irresistible as that by which iron is attracted to the magnet, did the profound and genuine nature of Fielding, the deep pathos of Richardson, and the absolute and inimitable reality of De Foe, carry along with them the feelings, and absorb the attention of mankind. But the arts to which authors less profoundly versed in the knowledge of their species, or less powerful in moving the passions, were obliged to have recourse to arrest the attention and win the applause of their contemporaries, may be abundantly seen in the motley, grotesque, and eccentric, but still delightful pages of Smollett and Sterne. Their works are consequently not in that high state of preservation, which those of the immortal three exhibit :their spirit has in some degree evaporated, and time has somewhat impaired the brilliancy of their colouring ; but the others are still as lively, fresh, and blooming, as when they first won all hearts, and attracted all admiration. But they, who, with inferior power, attempted to tread in their footsteps, and were masters only of the lesser avenues to the heart; to whom nature had not revealed her inmost secrets, or unveiled the hidden sources of the deeper and more powerful feelings; these solicited in vain for that attention and regard they were not strong enough to exact. It was not sufficient to be easy, sensible, and natural,--to describe ordinary occurrences and characters, in simple and unaffected language ;-to be capable of insinuating
moral instruction with amusement, and winning the affections, without an apparent effort to attract,—to play round the heart, touching the lesser chords of feeling, and gently pricking the foibles of mankind. Had this been a species of merit, which that age was capable of appreciating, the author of Peter Wilkins had not been defrauded of his just share of fame, nor had we, after being made sensible of his modest worth, and instructed by his pure and innocent conversation, been ignorant what name to repeat, when reckoning up the number of those who have been benefactors to their kind.
The slow and silent, but irrepressible, march of civilization has wrought a mighty revolution in taste, and a corresponding change in every art subject to its influence. The discordant parts of society have at length amalgamated, after having, by the previous friction, rubbed off a considerable portion of each other's rougher peculiarities and more prominent features. Each order and each individual now moves easily in his appointed sphere, without jostling his neighbours, or coming in rude contact with those whom the accident of birth has placed above or below in the great chain of human existence. He who looks abroad on society shall find it exhibits an uniform surface, nicely shaded off from the centre to the extremities, very different from that motley and diversified exterior, broken into rough projections, marked by strong lines of distinction, and made up of great masses of light and shade confusedly jumbled together, which it formerly presented to the eye of the spectator of human life and manners. The different classes too of men, wear not about them now, as they once did, the distinguishing marks of their caste ; but education,-mutual respect, -a quick sense of ridicule, and long habit, have assimilated their language and manners; and taught them to soften or disguise the more prominent traits of their peculiar orders and professions. To read the characters of men, and detect their ruling passions, we must now look below the surface. By this revolution in the manners of our countrymen, we have both lost and gained; but if the question be fairly considered, our gaiu will be found greatly to exceed the loss. The genius for humour, by which the English have been immemorially distinguished, languishes for want of objects to administer food, and a field in which to expatiate. We subsist upon the stores of past ages, to which our own has added little or nothing; and the humours of our grandsires are those, to which we still revert for the gratification of our national appetite. The worst consequence has been, that our drama is impoverished, which can only be rich and flourishing among a people, abounding in characters strongly marked and distinguished, passions fierce and unbridled, peculiarities singular and humorous, and manners gro
tesque and eccentric;-in short, among the earlier and unsettled stages of society. These are no longer exhibited in the intercourse of life; and there is nothing now to call forth the latent dramatic genius of a people, enthusiastically attached to the drama. The feeble attempts which are occasionally put forth —the last expiring shoots of the decayed and sapless trunk, are but the shadows of a shade, and repetitions of character an hundred times repeated. But if we have no longer so rich a harvest of absurdities to regale upon, neither is our penetration so engaged in the chase; and our attention not being absorbed in the contemplation of the caprices and incongruities which nature has manifested among her works, we are more at leisure to view her in the abstract, and to study man, as he is, independent of circumstance and situation. Many discoveries have thus been made into the secrets of his heart, his passions, and his feelings; and this knowledge being dextrously applied to those arts, which have the dominion over his breast and imagination, right principles have been established, the first grand step to successful practice. Hence the skilful artist knows better how to play upon his instrument, and set every fibre in motion, and every pulse a beating; the sources of our gratification being now clearly ascertained, that which comes home to men's bosoms is more diligently studied; and regulating our principles of taste by an appeal to nature herself, we more promptly and truly discriminate between what is genuine and what'is spurious. Accordingly, much that passed current with our ancestors, we are enabled to reject as false and meretricious; and some pearls of rare price, which they trampled upon, unknowing of their value, we have picked up, and placed among the choicest treasures of our literature.
If it be true, that the writers of the earliest days of our literature were a race of giants-invincible in strength-god-like in port-sublime in conception_disdaining even the bounds of creation, and the limits of time; and that the race has, in these latter times, dwindled down to a mere dwarfish stature--yet these pygmies must still be allowed to possess one redeeming property, derived from that very diminutive size, we are so apt to complain of. They possess a clearness of sight and quickness of perception, which, though they may not be able to pursue the Aight of former genius, or look in the sun's face undazzled by its beams, yet enables them to discriminate with the utmost nicety, where all, to the writers of loftier stature, was involved in the deepest obscurity. To draw the line of separation between the true sublime, and mere inflation, and an empty sound -and (what the ancients could never do) to detect, at once, what is forced and unnatural, either in sentiment or expression; and, warned by the unerring monitor, to say, that is not nature's
voice or language-to distinguish between the false glare and meteor flash elicited from strained conceits and the play of words, from the lambent flame of true wit, lighting up with new beauty, and irradiating every object on which it glancesto preserve the serses from being luiled to fatal repose, by the syren song of well-turned periods, and finely modulated verseto strip nature of the cumbrous and ungraceful ornaments with which art had disguised her form, and to show her unadorned by aught but the charms of purity, simplicity, and truth--this is what has been given to the writers of the present age, to compensate for feebler powers, and less sublime conceptions ; and this is what must render it an æra to all succeeding times, from which to date the revival of ancient genius without its errors, and the birth of genuine criticism, and of the true principles of taste.
The renovation of our literature leads us to anticipate for it a career as bright and illustrious as any that has preceded. In the literary history of Greece or Rome, we can mark out the exact period when genius and taste may be said to have reached their acme; and, thence, downward trace their gradual declension, from the age when gold was the coin that circulated among their writers, to that in which they paid in silver and worthless brass. But at each bright period in our own annals, when English literature seemed to have reached that limit, from which it must necessarily begin to decline, it has renewed its youth, assumed fresh and brighter colours, and starting forth with renovated strength, left hope and expectation far behind. The Elizabthan age, the æra of the Revolution, the latter part of the eighteenth century, have each been advocated, as the Augustan age of letters; but if any hope is to be grounded on the complete emancipation that has latterly been effected from the fetters of a corrupt and vitiated taste, we have a period to look forward to, which shall transcend all the glories of the past.
In some departments of literature, this renovation has been gradual and imperceptible, and still continues to work its silent
way ; but in one it was visible, both in its commencement and its progress; and we can trace the revival of poetry, from the faintest glimmering in the horizon, to the broad and full light of day. The first to shake off the trammels of custom and precedent, and to hang his lamp in the firmament, was the divine Cowper; but this might have proved a transitory gleam, and been swallowed up again in darkness, but that its light was caught and propagated by a set of men, who, disgusted at the view of art usurping nature's place, withdrew to seek and converse with her, in the solitudes of her birth-place. There, by the rushing of the torrent, or the lone margin of the
lake, imbowered in lofty mountains, they learnt true wisdom, and drank deep of nature's inspiration. In their verse, you seem to hear the rustling of the leaves, as they are gently stirred by the wind;-the distant sound of falling waters, and the faintest murmurs of the stream ;-you feel the freshness of the evening air, and the coolness of the falling dew;-you catch the last smiles of the sun, as he sets below the hill; and every charm of that still and sacred hour sinks deep into the heart, and every string in the bosom is shook mysteriously. The melody of the Æolian harp, which rises, swells, and dies away with the breeze that agitates its chords, and causes the heart of man to dilate and swell, as though it should burst its tenement, makes not sweeter music, nor leaves the listener in more wrapt attention. What a relief was this from the monotonous chime of that which our fathers held to be poetry; where, if you caught a glimpse of nature, she was so cut and trimmed by the hands of art, that you hardly knew her face again ;-where nought was to be seen or imagined, but slumbrous groves and formal alleys,-smooth shaven lawns and trim parterres,—dull cascades and leaden gods. True it is, that the great restorers of the art worshipped at nature's shrine, till their devotion became mystical, and their enthusiasm bordered on phrenzy ;-bewildered in the pursuit of wild theories and fanciful speculations, they lost sight both of their judgement and discretion; and, viewed through the delusive medium of a heated fancy, the meanest objects became a fit theme for the Muse to handle.
Then was she, who till then had kept none but the best company, been never otherwise than dressed out for a gala, and had dwelt in decencies for ever, bid, without ceremony,
to go spin," and put to servile tasks and household drudgery. But what then?
they were not eagles, nourish'd with the day: What marvel then, at times, if they mistook their way?”
They were the emancipators of poetry from the chains of a mere rhyming age, and sacred be even their
very errors. To. them we owe that the tide of song, instead of mantling in pools, or creeping lazily on through artificial channels, now pours its glad waters sparkling in the sun-beam, through green banks and natural groves; whilst many a wild flower, that the busy pruning hand of elder art would have cast as a weed away, now floats on its stream, or is reflected on the polished mirror of its waves. The muse is free! and shall she not pardon the author of her freedom, his "duffel cloaks," and "boats," and "waggons," &c. or whatever other vile implement it has been his pleasure to put into her hands? The poet, who dates or did date from the Brenta, should reflect, that if he has soared