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Bible. The age of Cromwell displayed much error, much fanaticism, much hypocrisy ; but it also displayed much of that holy zeal which equally seeks the honour of God and the good of man. With this better spirit Milton was deeply imbued; he was the poet of his country and his time.
The restoration of Charles the Second effected a great, but by no means a beneficial change in the literature of England. The stern rule of the Puritans had produced a dangerous reaction, and Religion suffered for the errors of the fanaticism that had usurped her name. It was the misfortune of Dryden that he flourished in this unhappy period, and that he had not firmness to resist its seductions. He was fortunately educated in a more rigid school, and the religious instructions he had received were never wholly forgotten ; but guilty compliances with prevailing profligacy weakened his intellectual strength, as much as it deteriorated his moral principle. While he defended the cause of good government, and directed his unrivalled satire against the weak Monmouth and the ambitious Shaftesbury, he shines as a poet; but when, to please James the Second, he attempts to defend the absurdities of the Romish church, he proves a bad reasoner, and no very excellent versifier.
Dryden may be considered as the founder of the artificial school of poetry, or the school which describes the mixed modes of social life, and inculcates precepts of action: but Pope must indisputably be regarded as its head. Sound commonsense, refined taste, almost bordering on the fastidious, and exquisite elegance, are his characteristics. The subjects, however, of artificial life are limited; the mere mechanical part of versification is no very difficult attainment, and the uniform harmony of the couplet becomes at last tiresome. On this account, the followers and imitators of Pope have sunk into neglect, which they did not all merit: and even his versification is found to cloy by its very sweetness, and to fatigue the ear by the unvarying monotony of its cadences.
The poetry of Queen Anne's reign will not bear comparison with that of Elizabeth: the truth is, that the compositions have too little in common to allow of a comparison being instituted. In prose, we should laugh at the person who dreamed of comparing John Locke and Sir Walter Scott as writers
and metaphysical essays are scarcely more removed from novels, than is the poetry of nature froin the poetry of manners.
The elder writers belonged to a school, of which strength, vigorous conception, and daring execution, were the characteristics; the wits of Queen Anne's reign were, on the contrary, distinguished for delicacy, elegance, and polished ease. To borrow an illustration from the art of sculpture, the one reminds us of the mighty Hercules; the other of the graceful Antinoüs. The disadvantage of the latter school was, that its range was bounded; that its style was more easily imitated; and that from both causes its resources were sooner exhausted.
In the interval between Pope and Cowper, few names can be found, likely to enjoy poetic immortality. The exquisitely simple beauty of Goldsmith will always be appreciated, and Gray's odes possess much of the severe majesty of the ancient models; but Young, Thomson, and Akenside, severally labour under the charge of affectation; they aimed, rather to write eloquent language, than to form lofty conceptions. Hence their poems are frequently turgid and bombastic; their expressions, vague, obscure, and indefinite. English poetry seemed to be about sharing the fate of Latin poetry; and the marks of its decline might be traced in the pages of Roman history. A change in its constitution, or its speedy extinction, was the only, alternative, and once more the Bible afforded the means of renovation.
Cowper was sincerely religious; he lived at a time when a lukewarm carelessness respecting the great concerns of eternity was too common a feeling, and when those who thought more seriously were deterred from speaking by a dread of ridicule. Too weak in spirit and constitution to fill the office of a rigid censor, he assumed an expostulating tone, and strove to lead, rather than to force amendment. He returned, also, to nature, loving more to dwell on the great world of God's creation, than on any of the artificial modes of life that man has devised. In both respects he was a reformer, and one of no ordinary powers; he achieved a great revolution in the national literature and national taste; and he weakened, if he did not destroy, that habit of judging of excellence by conventional standards, which is, at once, the sign and the cause of a nation's literary decay.
The last century was drawing to its close, when three young poets appeared, who completed the revolution that Cowper had commenced. They were unlike him; they were unlike each other; but they had, in common, an unaffected love of natural beauty; and, as a necessary consequence, a deep reverence for the older English bards, and a thorough contempt for all poetry that rested its claims on polished diction and smooth versification.
Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey, were of the favoured class that are born poets; they have lived to see themselves ranked among the standard writers of England, to know that their labours for the revival of British literature have been preeminently successful, and, unfortunately, to find that those who have profited the most by their toils are the last to acknowledge the obligation.
Scott and Wilson came to share in the victory that had been achieved; the first revived the romance of chivalry, and united modern graces to the wild achievements of the middle ages. Wilson displayed a tenderness and depth of feeling which instantly found its way to the reader's heart.
Looking to the selections we have made from others, Rogers, Campbell, Milman, Croly, and Felicia Hemans, we cannot but see that religion has added 110 little, both of strength and beauty, to their verse. And it is consoling to reflect that all who now can be ranked among the band of English poets, show in their works the conviction that genius is most worthily employed in the service of its Almighty bestower, and that when so employed its triumphs are most brilliant and most delightful.
But this consideration becomes much more interesting and important, when we look beyond the Atlantic. America must be regarded as the intellectual child of England, the inheritor of our language, our laws, and our national feelings. To us, such a country can never be an object of indifference, and there are few Englishmen that will read the specimens of American poetry in this volume without pride and pleasure. All the qualities that make our national literature valuable, the Americans have preserved, in substance, if not in degree ; though beyond the Atlantic there are not, as yet, names that can compete with our poets of the first rank, there are many of a secondary order, approaching the first class more nearly than the third. Few poets ever described the charms of external nature with more simple and affecting beauty than Bryant. In no one is the Christian philosopher and Christian poet more completely united than in Dana. Pierpont's odes are full of fire and vigour. The others must speak for themselves. In all, however, will be found a spirit of unfeigned devotion to the Author of all good, and an acknowledgment that the poetic powers, like every other perfect gift, are derived from “the Father of lights, in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
In this rapid survey, we have by no means intended to give a history of English poetry. Our object has been simply to show that in England, more perhaps than in any other country, it has been proved that the national happiness and the national literary glories have ever been connected with its zeal for religion. And that it is as true in a literary, as it is in a moral sense, that “Righteonsness exalteth a nation, but sin is the ruin of any people."
A VERSE or line of poetry is divided into feet, and each foot consists of two or more syllables. The ancient languages rested their versification on the quantity, that is, the length or shortness of the syllables; in the English, and in most modern languages, the melody of the verse depends upon the accent, that is, the stress laid upon each syllable in pronunciation. The long syllable in Greek and Latin, and the accented syllable in English verse, is marked by a short straight line -; the short, or unaccented syllable, by a little curve v. There are in English verse eight principal feet, of which four consist of two syllables, and four of three syllables.
1. The Iambus
as, rělēnt, bětrāy. 2. The Trochee
as, füirěst, hāughtý. 3. The Spondee
as, pūre göld, bright sūn. 4. The Pyrrhic
as, on thě, în å.
TRISSYLLABIC Feer. 5. The Anapæst
as, contradict, ăcquiesce. 6. The Dactyl..
as, lābourer, căpital. 7. The Amphibrach
as, relēnting, bětrāying. 8. The Tribrach.....
as, nu-měrăble, hon-oŭráblě. Four of these, the lambus, Trochee, Anapest, and Dactyl, are called principal feet, because verses may be wholly, and must be chiefly, formed from them: the others are called secondary, because they are only used to diversify the metre, and prevent the ear from being wearied by the constant repetition of the same metres.
I. IAMBIC VERSE.
1. The shortest form of the English Iambic consists of an Iambus and an additional short syllable, that is, it has the form of an Amphibrach. It is only found in stanzas, or parts of a poem, being too short to be continued through any great number of lines. Assailing,