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CYCLOPEDIA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
FROM 1727 TO 1780.
HE fifty-three 3 years between 1727 and 1780, comprehending the reign of George II., and a portion of that of George III, produced more men of letters, as well as more men of science, than any epoch of similar extent in the literary history of England. It was also a time during which greater progress was made in diffusing literature among the people at large, than had been made, perhaps, throughout all the ages that went before it. Yet while letters, and the cultivators of letters, were thus abundant, it must be allowed that, if we keep out of view the rise of the species of fiction called the novel (including the delineation of character, and not merely incidents), the age was not by any means marked by such striking features of originality or vigour as some of the preceding eras.
For about a third of this period Pope lived, and his name continued to be the greatest in English poetry. The most distinguished of his contemporaries, however, adopted styles of their own, or at least departed widely from that of their illustrious master. Thomson (who survived Pope only four years) made no attempt to enter the school of polished satire and pungent wit. His enthusiastic descriptions of nature, and his warm poetical feeling, seemed to revive the spirit of the elder muse, and to assert the dignity of genuine inspiration. Young in his best performances -his startling denunciations of death and judgment, his solemn appeals, his piety, and his epigram-was equally an original. Gray and Collins aimed at the dazzling imagery and magnificence of lyrical poetry -the direct antipodes of Pope. Akenside descanted on the operations of the mind, and the associated charms of taste and genius, in a strain of melodious and original blank verse. Goldsmith blended mora
lity and philosophy with a beautiful simplicity of expression and numbers, pathetic imagery, and natural description. Beattie portrayed the romantic hopes and aspirations of youthful genius in a style formed from imitation of Spenser and Thomson. And the best of the secondary poets, as Shenstone, Dyer, and Mason, had each a distinct and independent poetical character. Johnson alone, of all the eminent authors of this period, seems to have directly copied the style of Pope and Dryden. The publication of Percy's Reliques, and Warton's History of Poetry, may be here adverted to, as directing public attention to the early writers, and to the powerful effects which could be produced by simple narrative and natural emotion in verse. It is true that few or none of the poets we have named had much immediate influence on literature: Gray was ridiculed, and Collins was neglected, because both public taste and criticism had been vitiated and reduced to a low ebb. The spirit of true poetry, however, was not broken; the seed was sown, and in the next generation, Cowper completed what Thomson had begun. The conventional style was destined to fall, leaving only that taste for correct language and versification which was established by the example of Pope, and found to be quite compatible with the utmost freedom and originality of conception and expression.
În describing the poets of this period, it will not be necessary to include all the names that have descended to us dignified with this title. But we shall omit none whose literary history is important, singular, or instructive.
RICHARD SAVAGE is better known for his misfortunes, as related by Johnson, than for any peculiar
novelty or merit in his poetry. The latter rarely rises above the level of tame mediocrity; the former were a romance of real life, stranger than fiction. Savage was born in London in 1698, the issue of an adulterous connexion between the Countess of Mac
clesfield and Lord Rivers. The lady openly avowed her profligacy, in order to obtain a divorce from her husband, with whom she lived on unhappy terms, and the illegitimate child was born after their separation. He was placed under the charge of a poor woman, and brought up as her son. The boy, how ever, obtained a superior education through the care and generosity of his maternal grandmother, Lady Mason, who placed him at a grammar-school in St Albans. Whilst he was there Lord Rivers died, and in his last illness, it is said the countess had the inhumanity and falsehood to state that Savage was dead, by which he was deprived of a provision intended for him by his father. Such unnatural and unprincipled conduct almost exceeds belief. The boy was now withdrawn from school, and placed apprentice to a shoemaker; but an accident soon revealed his birth and the cause of its concealment. nurse and supposed mother died, and among her effects Savage found some letters which disclosed the circumstances of his paternity. The discovery must have seemed like the opening of a new world to his hopes and ambition. He was already distinguished for quickness and proficiency, and for a sanguine enthusiastic temperament. A bright prospect had dawned on him; he was allied to rank and opulence; and though his birth was accompanied by humiliating circumstances, it was not probable that he felt these deeply, in the immediate view of emancipation from the low station and ignoble employment to which he had been harshly condemned. We know also that Savage was agitated by those tenderer feelings which link the child to the parent, and which must have burst upon him with peculiar force after so unexpected and wonderful a discovery. The mother of the youth, however, was an exception to ordinary humanity-an anomaly in the history of the female heart. She had determined to disown him, and repulsed every effort at acknowledgment and recognition
Alone from strangers every comfort flowed. His remarkable history became known, and friends sprang up to shield the hapless youth from poverty. Unfortunately, the vices and frailties of his own character began soon to be displayed. Savage was not destitute of a love of virtue and principles of piety, but his habits were low and sensual. His temper was irritable and capricicus; and whatever money he received, was instantly spent in the obscure haunts of dissipation. In a tavern brawl he had the misfortune to kill a Mr James Sinclair, for which he was tried and condemned to death. His relentless mother, it is said, endeavoured to intercept the royal mercy; but Savage was pardoned by Queen Caroline, and set at liberty. He published various poetical pieces as a means of support; and having addressed a birth-day ode to the queen, calling himself the Volunteer Laureate' (to the annoyance, it is said, of Colley Cibber, the legitimate inheritor of the laurel), her majesty sent him £50, and continued the same sum to him every year. His threats and menaces induced Lord Tyrconnel, a friend of his mother, to take him into his family, where he lived on equal terms, and was allowed a sum of £200 per annum. This, as Johnson remarks, was the golden period' of Savage's life. As might have been foreseen, however, the habits of the poet differed very widely from those of the peer; they soon quarrelled, and the former was again set adrift on the world. The death of the queen also stopped his pension; but his friends made up an annuity for him of equal amount, to which Pope generously contributed £20. | Savage agreed to withdraw to the country to avoid the temptations of London. He selected Swansea,
but stopping at Bristol, was treated with great kindness by the opulent merchants and other inhabitants, whom he afterwards libelled in a sarcastic poem. In Swansea he resided about a year; but on revisiting Bristol, he was arrested for a small debt, and being unable to find bail, was thrown into prison. His folly, extravagance, and pride, though it was pride that licks the dust,' had left him almost without a friend. He made no vigorous effort to extricate or maintain himself. Pope continued his allowance; but being provoked by some part of his conduct, he wrote to him, stating that he was determined to keep out of his suspicion by not being officious any longer, or obtruding into any of his concerns.' Savage felt the force of this rebuke from the steadiest and most illustrious of his friends. He was soon afterwards taken ill, and his condition not enabling him to procure medical assistance, he was found dead in his bed on the morning of the 1st of August 1743. The keeper of the prison, who had treated him with great kindness, buried the unfortunate poet at his own expense.
Savage was the author of two plays, and a volume of miscellaneous poems. Of the latter, the principal piece is The Wanderer, written with greater care than most of his other productions, as it was the offspring of that happy period of his life when he lived with Lord Tyrconnel. Amidst much puerile and tawdry description, The Wanderer' contains some impressive passages. The versification is easy and correct. The Bastard is, however, a superior poem, and bears the impress of true and energetic feeling. One couplet is worthy of Pope. Of the bastard he says,
He lives to build, not boast a generous race: No tenth transmitter of a foolish face.
The concluding passage, in which he mourns over the fatal act by which he deprived a fellow mortal of life, and over his own distressing condition, possesses a genuine and manly pathos :-
For mischief never meant, must ever smart?
Far be the guilt of homeshed blood from all
O fate of late repentance! always vain: Thy remedies but full undying pain. Where shall my hope find rest? No mother's care Shielded my infant innocence with prayer: No father's guardian hand my youth maintained, Called forth my virtues, or from vice restrained; Is it not thine to snatch some powerful arm, First to advance, then screen from future harm? Am I returned from death to live in pain? Or would imperial pity save in vain? Distrust it not. What blame can mercy find, Which gives at once a life, and rears a mind? Mother, miscalled, farewell-of soul severe, This sad reflection yet may force one tear:
All I was wretched by to you I owed;
Lost to the life you gave, your son no more,
[From The Wanderer.]
Yon mansion, made by beaming tapers gay, Drowns the dim night, and counterfeits the day; From lumined windows glancing on the eye, Around, athwart, the frisking shadows fly. There midnight riot spreads illusive joys, And fortune, health, and dearer time destroys. Soon death's dark agent to luxuriant ease Shall wake sharp warnings in some fierce disease. O man! thy fabric 's like a well-formed state; Thy thoughts, first ranked, were sure designed the
Passions plebeians are, which faction raise;
The miser-spirit eyes the spendthrift heir, And mourns, too late, effects of sordid care. His treasures fly to cloy each fawning slave, Yet grudge a stone to dignify his grave. For this, low-thoughted craft his life employed; For this, though wealthy, he no wealth enjoyed; For this, he griped the poor, and alms denied, Unfriended lived, and unlamented died. Yet smile, grieved shade! when that unprosperous
Fast lessens, when gay hours return no more;
Folly exhibits thus unmanly sport,
While plotting mischief keeps reserved her court.
There sits the sapient bard in museful mood, And glows impassioned for his country's good! All the bright spirits of the just combined, Inform, refine, and prompt his towering mind!
Mr Southey has incautiously ventured a statement in his Life of Cowper,' that Blair's Grave is the only poem he could call to mind which has been composed in imitation of the Night Thoughts.' 'The Grave' was written prior to the publication of the Night Thoughts,' and has no other resemblance to the work of Young, than that it is of a serious devout cast, and is in blank verse. The author was an accomplished and exemplary Scottish clergyman, who enjoyed some private fortune, independent of his profession, and was thus enabled to live in a superior style, and cultivate the acquaintance of the neighbouring gentry. As a poet of pleasing and elegant manners, a botanist and florist, as well as a man of scientific and general knowledge, his society was much courted, and he enjoyed the correspondence of Dr Isaac Watts and Dr Doddridge. Blair was born in Edinburgh in 1699, his father being minister of the Old Church there. In 1731 he was appointed to the living of Athelstaneford, a parish in East Lothian. Previous to his ordination, he had
written The Grave,' and submitted the manuscript to Watts and Doddridge. It was published in 1743. Blair died at the age of forty-seven, in February 1746. By his marriage with a daughter of Mr Law, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh (to whose memory he dedicated a poem), he left a numerous family; and his fourth son, a distinguished lawyer, rose to be Lord President of the Court of Session.
'The Grave' is a complete and powerful poem, of limited design, but masterly execution. The subject precluded much originality of conception, but, at the same time, is recommended by its awful importance and its universal application. The style seems to be formed upon that of the old sacred and puritanical poets, elevated by the author's admiration of Milton and Shakspeare. There is a Scottish presbyterian character about the whole, relieved by occasional flashes and outbreaks of true genius. These coruscations sometimes subside into low and vulgar ideas, as towards the close of the following noble passage:
Where are the mighty thunderbolts of war?
From kings of all the then discovered globe;
And only mock whom they were meant to honour!
The death of the strong man is forcibly depicted-
See, how he tugs for life, and lays about him,
Invidious Grave! how dost thou rend in sunder Whom love has knit, and sympathy made one! A tie more stubborn far than nature's band. Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul! Sweetener of life! and solder of society!
I owe thee much. Thou hast deserved from me
Mended his song of love; the sooty blackbird Mellowed his pipe, and softened every note: The eglantine sinelled sweeter, and the rose Assumed a dye more deep; whilst every flower Vied with its fellow-plant in luxury
Of dress! Oh! then the longest summer's day
Some of his images are characterised by a Shakspearian force and picturesque fancy of suicides he says
The common damned shun their society,
Men see their friends
Drop off like leaves in autumn; yet launch out
The divisions of churchmen are for ever closed-
On the long-wished-for shore. Prodigious change!
Each earth-born joy grows vile, or disappears,
Nor shall it hope in vain: the time draws on
Each soul shall have a body ready furnished;
And put them as they were. Almighty God
Shall rush, with all the impatience of a man
'Tis but a night, a long and moonless night; We make the grave our bed, and then are gone! Thus, at the shut of even, the weary bird Leaves the wide air, and in some lonely brake Cowers down, and dozes till the dawn of day, Then claps his well-fledged wings, and bears away.
ISAAC WATTS-a name never to be pronounced without reverence by any lover of pure Christianity,
vided for placing him at the university, but he early inclined to the Dissenters, and he was educated at one of their establishments, taught by the Rev. Thomas Rowe. He was afterwards four years in the family of Sir John Hartopp, at Stoke Newington. Here he was chosen (1698) assistant minister by an Independent congregation, of which four years after he succeeded to the full charge; but bad health soon rendered him unfit for the performance of the heavy labours thus imposed upon him, and in his turn he required the assistance of a joint pastor. His health continuing to decline, Watts was received
in 1712 into the house of a benevolent gentleman of | There is no circumstance in English literary biograhis neighbourhood, Sir Thomas Abney of Abney phy parallel to the residence of this sacred bard in Park, where he spent all the remainder of his life. I the house of a friend for the long period of thirty