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dealing in affectations of every kind; and there was an ornate style, studded with sesquipedalian Latinisms, Grecisms, and Hebraisms, and Arabicisms, which might frequently send the best scholar to his Lexicons. Indeed, a dictionary was published* for enabling some persons to read, and others to write in this refined language. The most remarkable examples of it are found in the poems of Henry More, and in the works of Sir Thomas Brown; to whose peculiar genius, however, this sort of language was so well suited, that it would not have been possible for him to have expressed his thoughts so felicitously, or so naturally, in any other manner. But it required the knowledge, and the power, and the feeling of such a man to render it tolerable. Its effect upon inferior writers was to mar good matter, or to render what was worthless intolerable. Hamond L'Estrange was infected with this style; and whoever peruses his history of Charles I., (which is otherwise a book of considerable merit,) will see good reason for supposing that his son, Sir Roger, by a strong perception of this fault as there exhibited, was induced to adopt a manner of writing which was carried to the opposite extreme. Sir Roger aimed at introducing a style of racy, idiomatic English --and he succeeded. But more frequently he fell below the mark, owing alike to a want of dignity in himself and in his subjects aiming at present effect, and at nothing beyond, he brought into our written language the contractious and the debased coin of colloquial and common speech, the phrases of the day, and whatever obtained currency for a while from the mintage of high or low vulgarity.
A re-action of the same kind was taking place in poetry. The strained and conceited style which Johnson has, not very happily, called metaphysical, fell into disuse, in despite even of Cowley's example. Norris of Bemerton was the last of that school who obtained a temporary reputation. Vicious as the metaphysical poetry was, it required more learning than was possessed by the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease,' and more thought than they were accustomed to exert. It was a species of poetry in which great parts might be wasted, but in which mean ones could do nothing.
*To the understanding of the more difficult authors already printed in our language, and the more speedy attaining of an elegant perfection of the English tongue, both in reading, speaking, and writing.' The second part contains the vulgar words, which, whensoever any desirous of a more curious explanation, by a more refined and elegant speech, shall look into, he shall receive the exact and ample word to express the same." The following may serve as a specimen of these exact and ample words by which our language was to be improved :-to babble, deblaterate; a babbler, inaniloquous; much babbling, dicacity, vaniloquy; baked, pistated; a bier, orcamon, sandapile. This folly obtained so much vogue, that the English dictionary, or interpreter of hard English words, by H. C.' (Henry Cockeram), which is before us, is of the seventh edition; and it is not the only book of its kind.
In Cowley it spoiled one who, had he fallen on better times, was eminently qualified to be a true poet. Butler (and Cleveland before him) gave it its proper direction; then it disappeared, leaving nothing better to succeed it: for Dryden stood alone, and there was no one to emulate the sensible and manly style of his better works, though in the vile tragedies and viler comedies by which the English drama and the English nation were degraded, he found imitators and rivals in abundance. Concerning the other poets of this and the succeeding generation, it has been said, that they understood their own character better than it was understood by their successors: they called themselves wits, instead of poets; and wits they were: the difference is not in degree, but in kind. They succeeded in what they aimed at :-in satire, and in panegyric; in ridiculing an enemy, and in flattering a friend; in turning a song, and in complimenting a lady; in pointing an epigram, and in telling a lewd tale: in these branches of literary art the Birmingham trade of verse-they have rarely been surpassed.' But this applies only to a few of them. Some easy verses, and some vigorous ones, were thrown off by those unhappy men, who, being capable of better things, abandoned themselves to the debauchery of the times; but in general the manner of the current poetry became as worthless as its matter. Even the art of versification was debased. To say that if it rhymed and rattled all was well,' implies a merit in the verses thus satirized which they did not possess; for if they rattled, it was as a cart rattles in its slow progress along a rugged road. The lines limped and halted; sometimes they were crammed and choked with elisions; more frequently they were eked out with attenuated syllables and drawling expletives, as feeble in sound as they were empty of meaning. So degraded was the public taste, that Shadwell and Settle rivalled Dryden, and provoked him by their success to perpetuate their names in those satires, for which alone they are now remembered. Shadwell succeeded Dryden in the laureateship when Dryden was deposed; and upon the decease of Shadwell, Nahum Tate reigned in his stead, a succession worthy of the age in which Sir Richard Blackmore wrote epic poems, and Mr. Locke praised them. The decline and fall of poetry, from the age of Virgil to that of Prudentius, was not so great as this.
This was the golden age of the mediocrists: they had the field to themselves; and one of them had the odd fortune to obtain an hundred years of unrivalled popularity. Pomfret's poems are not now to be found, as they were five-and-twenty years ago, always on sale at the stalls of itinerant venders and at country booksellers, printed upon coarse paper and in sheepskin binding, in company with Robinson Crusoe, the Pilgrim's Progress, Religious Court
ship, Young's Night Thoughts, and Harvey's Meditations; but during the whole of the eighteenth century no other volume of poems was so often reprinted, or held in such popular estimation. It was even printed in America in the middle of that century, when so few books had been printed there, that two pages might comprise the catalogue. Johnson said of him, he pleases many; and he who pleases many must have some species of merit.' What that merit is it would not be easy to discover: Johnson himself can only say, that in his poems 'there is an easy volubility; the pleasure of smooth metre is afforded to the ear, and the mind is not oppressed with ponderous or entangled with intricate sentiments.' This is, indeed, a rare, perhaps, a singular case, of long-lived reputation, founded neither upon desert, nor mis-desert, but preserved by prescription among low printers and provincial booksellers, who kept the book continually in the market. Other reputations, which had something more to support them, passed away as easily as they were made. 'The matchless Orinda' was more generally known, and, consequently, more applauded in her day, than Mrs. Hemans is now, with all her superiority of natural talents and acquired power, or than the authoress of the Widow's Tale, and those sweet poems in the little volume of Solitary Hours,' which for truth and depth of feeling, and for tenderness and holiness of thought, are among the most beautiful that have been produced in this generation. Orrery and Roscommon eulogized her in her life; and Cowley, who with a host of meaner poets had, in like manner, praised her while living, pronounced after her death, that if ever Apollo should appoint a woman-laureate, Orinda would be the person. Yet if her name had not been seen in the superscription to Cowley's Odes, it would soon have been forgotten that such a person as Katherine Philips (accomplished and truly excellent as she appears to have been) had ever existed, or written a line.
The readiness with which any indication of literary talents was then acknowledged, when men were not rendered illiberal and unjust by personal dislike, or political enmity, is one of the best features of that bad age. A few tolerable verses were a passport into good society, and to the notice of those who had the will as well as the power to assist a deserving adventurer in his course of life. Here is a young fellow,' says Swift, in his journal to Stella, 'has writ some sea-eclogues,-poems of mermen, resembling pastorals of shepherds; and they are very pretty, and the thought is new. Mermen are he-mermaids,-Tritons, natives of the sea. His name is Diaper. I must do something for him, and get him out of the way. I hate to have any new wits rise; yet when they do rise, I would encourage them. But they tread on our heels,
and thrust us off the stage." Afterwards he says, the author of the sea-eclogues sent books to the society yesterday, and we gave him guineas a-piece, and may do further for him.' And again, 'Mr. Diaper presented to Lord Bolingbroke a new philosophical poem, the Dryades or the Nymphs' prophecy, which is a very good one, and I am to give him a sum of money from my lord. And I have contrived to make a parson of him, for he is half one already, being in deacon's orders, and serves a small cure in the country, but has a sword at his tail here in town. It is a poor little, short wretch, but will do best in a gown, and we will make lord keeper give him a living.' Unfortunately for the poet, lord keeper and his friends lost the power which they had administered so villainously for their country, before this good intention could be carried into effect; Diaper died without promotion, in early life; and his sea-eclogues might have lain for ever fathoms deep, where they had sunk, if they had not been fished up by good John Nichols, the most diligent and indefatigable of men, who, during his long and useful life, has been the true friend and patron obscurorum virorum. Without his interference, this poor relation of OoTER and King Pepin would have been known only for the incidental and characteristic mention thus made of him by Swift, in some of his kindly moods.
The state of things in which any poet could make a little reputation, while there were none to deserve a great one, was put an end to by the ascendancy of Pope. Could his Homer be forgotten, he might deservedly be called the reformer of English poetry; and though he introduced, with that too-celebrated trans-. lation, a corruption of his own, which will long continue to taint the public taste, the reformation which he actually wrought has counterbalanced the evil, and will outlast it. The expletive does-s and do-s and did-s were banished for ever from our versification by a single stroke of his pen. It is for some philological antiquary to investigate how this not more useful than abused verb obtained its auxiliary sense in our language, underived as it is from any parent or adjunct dialect. There are but two or three examples of it in Gower, and not more (if there be any) in Chaucer. The abuse which converted it into a mere expletive cannot be traced to Spenser, because it was used systematically by him, not to eke out his lines; he had constructed a scheme of language for himself, in which he deserved to find no followers, and found none : but to Pope, undoubtedly, it is that we are indebted for ridding. us of a barbarous and slovenly form of speech, and restricting the verb as an auxiliary to that emphatic use which is one of the feli cities of our tongue. After Pope's time, it was in vain for the Walshes and Stepneys, the Eusdons and Welsteds, the Dukes and
Kings, the Sprats and Minnows of poetry, to come forward as candidates for reputation. It was still possible, as it ever will be, to obtain a temporary success by glittering faults; but nothing could rise into notice without at least the appearance of desert, without some pretensions to originality, some native vigour, or some attempt at high finish and careful execution.
The English are the only people who have any general collection of their poets. In forming these there was no principle of selection used with the Minorites and Minims of Parnassus; the adventurous bookseller, who had the merit (and it is no light one) of making the first, inserted in his list the names which were familiar to him in his trade, and (with few exceptions) they have continued to take their place by prescription in subsequent publications of the same kind. By virtue of this prescription, they passed muster with John Bell, with Dr. Johnson and his booksellers, who formed+ the list according to their copyrights, with Dr. Anderson, the most good-natured of all critical editors, thought not the most judicious, and with Mr. Alexander Chalmers, whose good-nature certainly was not such as to atone for his want of judgement. But the prescription which placed them there obtains no longer; and their very collections exemplify the effect which Pope produced; for, from his time, they became to a certain degree select. Till then, every one who could rhyme claimed and acquired the privilege of a poet, just as the culprit who could spell out a verse in the Testament was allowed to plead his clergy: it was granted now to none but those who could produce a fair qualification. Meantime, a change was going on, equal in degree to that which the vigour of Pope had brought about. We were brought back by Thomson and Dyer to the love of natural objects. Young taught us with what success a true poet might appeal to the religious feelings of the human heart. Akenside elevated his readers by a high, moral, and philosophical strain. Glover set before them a plain and equal style-which, rejecting all meretricious ornaments, with a severity like that of Alfieri, relied upon the strength and
The Parnaso Italiano consists only of selections, though it includes long works; and the Parnaso Moderno comprised only the poems of living writers. The Portuguese have a 'Corpus Illustrium Poetarum Lusitanorum qui Latine scripserunt;' and the Italians and the Jesuits have similar collections: but there is no general collection of the poets in any living language except our own; and whoever has attended to the poetical literature of any other country, must have felt the want of one. Our own are so imperfect, that it would require a large supplement to make the best of them what it pretends, and ought to be.
+ Boswell tells us, that 'the poets were selected by the several booksellers who had the honorary copyright, which is still preserved among them by mutual compact, notwithstanding the decision of the House of the Lords against the perpetuity of literary property.' Boswell does not appear to have perceived the extreme injustice of the law which has taken that perpetuity from authors and their families.
Pope himself, it should never be forgotten, edited an edition of Shakspeare. The edition is nothing now: but the service at the time was great.