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narrative out of this mass of materials was prodigious. His style is rather pretentious, and high-sounding, which has somewhat detracted from the popularity of the history; but his accuracy is generally acknowledged. Like Hume, Gibbon was a sceptic, and is described by Byron as 'sapping a solemn creed with solemn sneer. With all the grandeur of his style he has introduced into his history several somewhat indecent stories, which he would have been wiser to suppress, and for which he has been severely censured.
The simple but eloquent style of William Robertson (1721-1793), a Scottish clergyman, is more pleasing than the artificial and elaborate periods of Gibbon. He gave the world three historical works: a History of Scotland, embracing the whole reign of Mary, and that of James VI. till he ascended the throne of England; a History of the Reign of Charles V., and a History of the Discovery of America. Robertson, though not uniformly correct in his facts, was a man of great research; and he displays a breadth and liberality in his views, which at that time were rarely found. He is, however, too much given, as Lord Brougham has pointed out, to what has since got the name of 'hero-worship;' and with him the dazzling qualities of a monarch, or a succession of brilliant victories, are too often accepted as a compensation for great crimes or a faulty administration.
V. MISCELLANEOUS WRITERS.
Dr. Hugh Blair (1718-1800), an Edinburgh clergyman, is chiefly known by his Sermons, and his Rhetorical Lectures, both of which works are much studied by theological students at the Scotch universities.
Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773), a man of versatile talents, extensive reading, and highly polished manners, was too much engaged in political life to become a voluminous writer. He was at once a diplomatist, a wit and a critic, and such was his reputation as an orator, that he acquired the name of the British Cicero. For a time he held the important political office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. His most popular work is his series of Letters, addressed to his natural son, Philip Stanhope, envoy at the court of Dresden, and published by Mr. Stanhope's widow, after Lord Chesterfield's death. Most of these letters are altogether excellent, but it must be confessed that the morality of some of them is very lax, though Johnson's savage
judgment that they teach the 'morality of a courtesan and the politeness of a dancingmaster,' is a gross exaggeration and injustice.
To Lady Mary Montagu (1690-1762) we have already incidentally alluded, in connexion with Alexander Pope. She has been rarely equalled as a letter-writer, both with regard to style and matter. Lively, chatty and witty, she describes and relates with equal grace, and well merits Byron's flattering epithet, 'the charming Mary Montagu.' Her masculine understanding lent a vigour to her style, which in our days might be deemed unfeminine, but which in her own times, and in the English circles she frequented, was not looked on as unbecoming. In 1718 she conferred a great benefit on her country by the introduction of inoculation for small-pox, as she had seen it practised in Turkey; and though this prophylactic was superseded in 1796 by Jenner's discovery of vaccination, it saved, during the intermediate 78 years, many lives, and prevented much suffering.
Edmund Burke (1730-1797) was a poet, an orator, a philosopher and a statesman. His first publication was his ironical Vindication of Natural Society, written in the style of Lord Bolingbroke, and intended to expose the unsatisfactory and paradoxical character of that sceptical nobleman's mode of reasoning. His Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful contained much that was new, bold and striking, expressed in forcible and perspicuous language. When the French revolution broke out, Burke confidently predicted the course it would take, and the excesses to which it would lead; and though this cost him the friendship of his Whig friends, Fox included, he continued to denounce the revolutionary doctrines in his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, and his Letters on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory of France. In the memorable trial of Warren Hastings, Burke was one of the managers of the impeachment, and we are told that his sublime but terrible philippic against the accused held his auditors, as if spellbound, in breathless expectation of each succeeding word. Hastings afterwards acknowledged, that at moments he believed himself to be the guiltiest wretch on earth. The horrors of the Reign of Terror in France induced Burke to finally abandon the Whig party, and enrol himself among the Tories. He was the first of that brilliant succession of Irish parliamentary orators (including Sheridan, Grattan, O'Connell, and in our own days Lord Cairns), who have
MODERN ENGLISH LITERATURE.
procured their country so high a reputation for easy-flowing and sparkling eloquence. The authorship of the celebrated Letters of Junius, which appeared in the Public Advertiser, from the beginning of 1769, with occasional interruptions, till 1777, long remained undiscovered. Among others, they were ascribed to Lord George Sackville, Horne Tooke, Lord Temple, etc. O'Connell always maintained, they must have been written by Burke, and he was probably confirmed in this opinion by the following incident. A tory correspondent of the Gazetteer, who signed himself Modestus, alleged that Junius must be an Irishman, 'for,' as he added, with a poor attempt at wit, 'the absurdity of his writings betrays him.' In replying to this writer, in Letter XXIX, Junius first proves that he had written no absurdities, and then warmly resents the pretended demonstration given by Modestus of his nationality, as ridiculous and insulting. 'I do not wonder,' he says, at the unremitted rancour with which the Duke of Bedford and his adherents invariably speak of a nation, which we well know has been too much injured to be easily forgiven.' This retort-that the wrong-doer never forgives, though the wronged may-is certainly such as an Irishman might have made, but it fails to show, that the Irishman in question We believe that the mystery was Burke. hanging round the authorship of these letters was cleared up, in 1816, by the publication of a work with the title: Junius identified with a celebrated living Character; and in which it is proved, by the strongest circumstantial evidence, that Junius was Sir Philip Francis. This gentleman, who was born in Dublin in 1740, and died in 1818, held for a time a post in the Ministry of War, and afterwards went as a member of the government of Bengal to India, where he fought a duel with the GovernorGeneral, Warren Hastings, and was wounded. The external evidence (of the authorship),' says Macaulay, 'is, we think, such as would support a verdict in a civil, nay, in a criminal proceeding.' Though Junius violently assails the Dukes of Grafton and Bedford, government, his and other members of the political opinions, on the whole, are moderate. His style is brilliant and polished; and the letters may be taken as specimens of the purest and most elegant English.
VI. THE TRANSITION SCHOOL.
the French school, and restoring the noble
Though Thomson wrote a great deal,
In the Castle of Indolence, Thomson has closely, and we may add successfully, imitated Spenser. The poem is of moderate length; so that the allegory is not pursued so far as to make it tedious. The author here banters his friends on their want of energy and love of ease; and the whole poem is pervaded by an agreeable and placid humour. In the lines beginning with A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems, he gives us a portrait of himself; and as -his ditty sweet a proof of his own indolence he tells us: He loathed much to write, ne cared to repeat.
The friend, 'who quite detested talk,' is Dr. Armstrong, the poet; the guest, of sense refined, George, Lord Lyttelton; the Esopus of the age, the actor Quin; the 'little, round, fat, oily man of God,' his friend and biographer, Dr. Murdoch.
The Castle of Indolence, in the opinion of many, is superior to the Seasons, uniting
the beauties of the earlier poem with the matured fruits of a refined taste. His verses on Liberty, dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales, are too languid for the subject, and never became popular. The same remark applies to his plays.
Diverging still farther from the poets of the artificial French school, William Cowper (1731-1800) broke through all conventional rules, and 'quite unindebted to the tricks of art' founded a new school of poetry, which can boast of many worthy representatives down to the present time. His poetical language is strikingly natural, and differs little from that of his elegant and interesting letters; but so accustomed had the public been to pedantic phraseology, allusions, tropes, and similes borrowed from the ancients, that it was some time before people learned to appreciate Cowper's unaffected and manly style of writing. It was not till late in life that his poetical talents were developed; and his first poems appeared only in 1781. Indeed, his sole object in becoming an author was to procure himself a respite from his own painful thoughts. If we except a few of his shorter productions, such as the amusing John Gilpin, almost all his poems take a religious tone, but we find in them no trace of that morbid melancholy, which was the bane of his existence. On the contrary, we might apply to his poetry the beautiful simile of Moore, in describing one of his oriental heroines:
-through some shades of earthly feeling, Religion's soften'd glories shine, Like light through summer foliage stealing.
Cowper's greatest and most popular poem is the Task. Here we find combined beautiful descriptions of village landscapes, and highly attractive sketches of in-door life in winter. The homeliest subjects are invested by him with a charm and a dignity which no previous writer suspected them to be capable of receiving. In the pictures he gives us of peasant life he is always natural, neither sinking into coarseness nor hiding stern realities under a meretricious colouring. On the tranquil joys of the family circle he dwells with such fondness, that he has earned for himself the name of the poet of the domestic affections.' Of satire he is sparing, and employs it only, as in the Tirocinium, for the public welfare and in the hope of correcting abuses; never to merely gratify a personal pique. A biographer of Cowper has said: 'Among the few, the very few, who have possessed that gift of a spirit full of the sweetness
and the music of poetry, with this pure morality of purpose, is Cowper. He is, it is true, not to be compared with the great masters of the art, whose lofty and creative imaginations place them in a sphere of their own, but he had a power of collecting the scenes and harmonies of Nature into the focus of his own heart, and of embuing them there with light and grace. He was endowed with all the powers which a poet could want, who was to be the moralist of the world, the reprover but not the satirist of men.'
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) has left us but little, yet that little is of the highest classical purity. Having spent the greater portion of his life at Cambridge in studious retirement, we can detect in most of what he has written the influence of the Greek poets. His fastidious taste allowed him to publish nothing that had not received the highest degree of polish. His most popular poem is his Elegy, of which Johnson, who in general is not partial to Gray, acknowledges, that it 'abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo.' Of his Odes, the Bard is full of fire and energy, but the effect is somewhat marred by the great abundance of historical allusions, which the ordinary reader will find some difficulty in following.
The poetical reputation of Goldsmith depends chiefly on his two fine poems, the Traveller (1764) and the Deserted Village (1779). In the first, which is a didactic poem, he attempts to solve the question: What is the best form of government?' and after examining the political and social condition of Italy, Switzerland, France and Holland, the author comes to the conclusion, that our happiness depends very little on the form of government under which we live; for, he adds:
Our own felicity we make or find. Germany is not mentioned in the Traveller; and it is probable that Goldsmith hardly touched it in making his tour of Europe. In the Deserted village, Auburn stands for Lissoy, in the west of Ireland, but the description is that of a village in Kent or somewhere else in the south of England. This has led Macaulay to remark that the poem is incongruous in its parts; for in no single country or stage of society could so much misery and felicity co-exist, as Goldsmith has here placed before us; but after all the objection is of only secondary importance, for the main charm of the poem lies in the delightful pictures it
presents us of rural life, and in the admirable portraits of the clergyman and the schoolmaster. It has been urged, further, that the poem contains much false political economy; that in general land is more productive in the hands of capitalists than in the possession of peasant proprietors, and that it is better for the latter to dispose of their holdings and to emigrate. This is a question we will not discuss; but we believe that English military officers, at least, deplore the gradual depopulation of the Highlands of Scotland, from which so many fine recruits were formerly obtained, and are entirely of Goldsmith's opinion, that
- a bold peasantry, their country's pride, When once destroy'd, can never be supplied.
The poems of Ossian, as they were given to the world by James Macpherson (17381796), are now universally acknowledged to be forgeries. They have always been more popular in France and Germany than in England, where from the first they were received by the educated classes (Gray and a few others excepted) with the deepest suspicion. In Scotland it was considered a matter of patriotism to believe in their authenticity, but even in that country most of the learned maintained a neutral attitude. In Ireland their appearance was met with a burst of indignation; the poems were recognised as garbled and amplified versions of Gaelic legends and songs existing among the Celtic-speaking peasantry of the County Antrim glens; and various books were published to show the true character of these popular poems, which belong equally to both sides of the North Channel. Macpherson alleged that he had copied Ossian from ancient Gaelic manuscripts in the Saxon character, but these manuscripts he never produced. Pretended copies could not be received as evidence, and when Johnson demanded the originals, Macpherson was so ill-advised as to threaten him with personal chastisement. The courageous old man, in a letter to Macpherson replied: 'Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself the law shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian. After a long delay, the Gaelic originals, as they were asserted to be, appeared in print, but were soon discovered to be translations from the English, the language not being the old Erse, but in all respects identical with the Gaelic spoken in the Highlands at the present day, and containing a considerable admixture of
Latin and even modern English words, though the poems were alleged to belong to the second century. The fact, that Johnson, when he visited Scotland, could discover no Gaelic manuscript, in public or private libraries, older than fifty years, settles the question of ancient manuscripts. But internal evidence is quite sufficient to disprove the authenticity of Macpherson's Ossian. Not only are the castles, the armour, the weapons, and the chariots borrowed from Homer, but innumerable passages have been plagiarized from the Bible, Milton, and even from many more recent authors.
In the year 1765 Dr. Thomas Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, published his Reliques of English Poetry, a collection of the oldest English ballads, many of which are quoted, and others referred to, by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Among the finest we may mention those written to celebrate the exploits of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; Gernutus, King Leir, the Not-browne Mayd, Adam Bell, and the grand old ballad of Hardyknute, which so powerfully affected young Walter Scott.
The greatest and most national of Scottish poets is undoubtedly Robert Burns (17591796), whom we may reckon among the lyrical poets, his tender and beautiful songs being his best-known and most numerous compositions. Long before the time of Burns, the high adaptability of the Scottish dialect to poetical purposes had been repeatedly demonstrated. James I. of Scotland (not to be confounded with James I. of England) wrote the King's Quhair or Book, and other poems; Blind Harry, of whom we know but little, composed a poem to celebrate the exploits of the patriot Wallace; Dunbar, among other poems, wrote the Merle and the Nightingale; Ramsay was the author of the pastoral, the Gentle Shepherd; Fergusson wrote the Farmer's Ingle, and other poems; and all these made use of the manly, harmonious thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Scottish. But the predecessors of Burns were mere pygmies, compared with the great peasant-poet. They had neither his pathos nor his humour, neither his wide sympathy with his fellow men, and with all that lives and moves, nor his flowing verse and his wonderful facility of expression.
Burns has written no poem of great length-his longest being the humorous Tam O'Shanter-but he always intended to produce one on some great national topic, and probably had he lived a few
years longer, he would have carried out this intention. Of his serious poems, the Cotter's Saturday Night is generally allowed to be the finest, and as the language is only semi-Scottish, it has been more generally read, out of Scotland, than most of the others. The Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the verses on the death of James, Earl of Glencairn-both very touching poems-are in a similar style. In his humorous and satirical poems, such as Death and Dr. Hornbook and The jolly Beggars, he writes in a much broader Scotch dialect. It has been maintained by some critics that his poems written in pure English possess least poetic merit, and they adduce, as an example, his Address to Edinburgh, but the remark appears to us too sweeping, and ought not to include his beautiful poems: Man was made to mourn, and To Mary in Heaven. Of his songs we need say nothing. Who does not know and love: Ye banks and braess o' bonny Doon; My Nannie, O; John Anderson, my jo, and Auld Lang Syne? Like most men of true genius, Burns heartily hated sham and hypocrisy, and he made himself not a few enemies by exposing the vices of pretenders to religion, as he does with great drollery in Holy Willie's Prayer, and The Holy Fair. Of his native kindliness of disposition we have a remarkable illustration in the lines to the field-mouse, whose nest he had accidentally turned up in ploughing. He styles himself the little alarmed creature's
-poor earth-born companion,
In the Rivals, two of the principal characters, Captain Absolute and Mrs. Malaprop, have been evidently borrowed from Smollett's Matthew Bramble and Mrs. Winifred Jenkins in Humphrey Clinker. Bob Acres, the clownish country squire, seems to have been suggested by Tony Lumpkin, in Goldsmith's comedy, She stoops to conquer. In the School for Scandal, the two opposite characters of Charles and Joseph Surface correspond to Jones and Blifil in Fielding's novel of Tom Jones. For the plot, the comic situations, and the sparkling wit, however, Sheridan is indebted to no one; they are exclusively his own. The Duenna is a droll little piece in three acts, enlivened by a large number of agreeable melodies. St. Patrick's Day is a trifle in one act, with an amusing false doctor, in the style of Molière. The Critic, a farce in three acts, is an imitation of the Duke of Buckingham's Rehearsal, of which we have already spoken in our notice of Dryden, and the subject is likewise the rehearsal of a mock tragedy, the production of Mr. Puff, who is introduced by Sheridan as a type of the bombastic tragic author. The character of Sir Fretful Plagiary is intended for Sheridan's dramatic rival, Richard Cumberland. In all these pieces, the wit is scattered with such profusion, that it seems to be taken out of an inexhaustible treasury. The Trip to Scarborough is a revival and greatly improved version of Vanbrugh's old piece of the same name. Sheridan has written but one serious piece, Pizarro (1799), the subject of which is borrowed from Kotzebue's Spanier in Peru. It is remark
and he observes with mixed humour and able for the numerous vigorous passages it sadness, that
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (17511816) Byron says that he has written the two best comedies in the English language (the Rivals and the School for Scandal), the best opera (the Duenna), the best farce (the Critic), and that he made the best parliamentary speech (in defence of the Begums or princesses of Oude in the trial of Warren Hastings) ever heard in England. It is in reference to this great burst of oratory that the noble poet wrote:
His was the thunder-his the avenging rod, The wrath, the delegated voice of God! Which shook the nations through his lips, and
Till vanquish'd senates trembled as they praised.
contains with a covert allusion to the French revolution and the high-flying pretensions of France to regenerate the world. Thus, Rolla, in his address to his army, comparing the Spanish invaders with the patriotic Peruvians, says:
for power, for plunder, and extended rule: 'They, by a strange frenzy driven, fight we, for our country, our altars, and our homes. They follow an adventurer whom they fear, and obey a power which they hate: we serve a monarch whom we love, a God whom we adore. Whene'er they move in anger, desolation tracks their progress! Whene'er they pause in amity, affliction mourns their friendship! They boast they come but to improve our state, enlarge our thoughts, and free us from the yoke of error. Yes: they will give enlightened freedom to our minds, who are themselves the slaves of passion, avarice and pride. They offer us their protection: