« ПредишнаНапред »
of legitimate and orderly government. But praise to this amount, or of this kind, is not what Buonaparte and his partisans demand; and we are well aware that no concession, which truth will permit us to make, will satisfy their presumptuous arrogance.
We are glad to find the opinion of so respectable and competent a judge as Mr. Eustace coincident with that which we have formed, and though, on some points, we differ from him, we can safely recommend his observations on this subject as the most just of any that we have seen. With a few remarks which this gentleman has made on the manner and character of the modern Parisians, we shall conclude an article which has grown under our hands to a length that we did not contemplate at the outset.
• Has the Revolution altered their ancient babits, or are they still the same good-humoured and lively people, proud of themselves, and indulgent to others, content with the amusement of the day, with little foresight or retrospect, polite and attentive, always desirous to please, and not unfrequently very pleasing ?--Alas! no, my friend-so many deeds of blood, so many scenes of misery, so many years of military oppression, and such a familiarity with injustice and slaughter, must be supposed not only to have checked the native sprightliness of the race, but to have instilled into it a considerable portion of gloom and ferocity.'
In these observations we can only now express our general concurrence ; but we trust we shall have some future opportunity of investigating the extent of the change in the national character, and of considering what its effects are likely to be on European Society.
ART. III.-The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to
Cowper; including the Series edited, with Prefaces Biographical and Critical, by Dr. Samuel Johnson; and the most approved Translations. The additional Lives by Alexander Chalmers
, F.S.A. In 21 vols. Royal Octavo. London: Printed for all
the Booksellers. MR.
R. Chalmers's collection of English Poets, which, imper
fect as it is, exceeds, in bulk and in value, all that have preceded it, tempts us to offer some remarks upon the history of English poetry. In this, as in our laws and institutions, however it may have been occasionally modified by the effect of foreign models, a distinct national character has predominated. It is the highest branch of literature,--the highest effort of the human mind, ---and it is that also in which England may proudly challenge competition with the world.
Little reflection can be required to perceive how much the poetry of every country must be influenced by its language. There are some savage tongues in which verse of any kind must be impossible,—that of the Five Indian nations for instance, in which Sayanertserio taggwaghnereaghsheagh stands for Good Lord deliver us, and A Prayer for all Conditions of Men is rendered YondadJereanaiyentdaghkweanietha Siokniyagodaweaghse Onwehogough. The excellent Eliot translated the whole Bible into this language; but to render David's Psalms into metre in such a language would require as much inspiration as to have written them. This is the mere ore of speech, which must be refined before it be ductile enough for verse. On the other hand, the process of refining may be carried too far; and there are civilized nations who have rendered their tongue incapable of the highest species of poetry, by subjecting it to capricious rules. Thus the beauty of a poem in Chinese depends entirely on the selection of the characters, not on the expression, or the arrangement of sounds; it is addressed to the eye, not to the ear; and a blind Mandarin is as much bereft of any pleasure which he might derive from verse, as a deaf one is of the delights of music. But we need not go to China for an example: the unfitness of the French for heroic poetry is acknowledged every where except in France,—and even there, it has been confessed by Fenelon, by J. J. Rousseau, by Florian, by St. Pierre, and by Madame de Staël. The Spanish poets are prevented from moving with the firm and manly step of natural strength and grace, because it is required that they should always be mounted upon stilts. If our poets are not also in shackles it is not owing to our critics, who have been, and who continue to be, the worst in Europe ;-the most shallow, the most contradictory, and the most presumptuous.
Mr. Chalmers asserts that the writers or translators of our metrical romances, before Chaucer's time, neither invented nor imported any improvement in the art of versification :-this is not the fact. There are three poets of that age whose works have been preserved, Robert of Gloucester, Robert of Brunne, and that extraordinary man who is best known by his assumed character of Piers Ploughman. The two former wrote in that form of couplet which Drayton has used in his Polyolbion, and which in that improved state is the same as the heroic measure of the French. The metre of Piers Ploughman is said by Ritson to be originally Gothic; it is, however, certainly not Saxon, and how the fashion of any other Gothic language should have reached Piers Ploughman, Ritson has not shown. We know from the competent authority of Mr. Turner, that neither rhyme nor alliteration formed the constituent character of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which more generally depends upon a cadence similar to that of Adonic verse. But both rhyme and alliteration are agreeable to the ear, and useful as hints for memory; both therefore found their way into proverbs and poems, and from being the ornaments of verse, became for a while its distinguishing characteristics. In this state the writers or translators of the metrical romances found our versification, and they improved it most essentially. The beauty of their incidents, and the spirit with which their narrations are conducted, are not more admirable than the flow of their verse, whether it be in the octave couplet like Ywain and Gawain, or the twelve-lined stanza of Lybeaus Desconius, Amis and Amelion, &c. The Scalds of the North, and the bards of our Welsh neighbours, subjected their versification to fantastic and capricious rules which destroy the very essence of poetry; the former made up a monstrous diction of metaphors and hyperboles founded upon a mythology to which they themselves seem to have given form and consistence; and the latter appear to have studied how to increase the difficulties of an art of which they were the graduated and privileged professors. Happily for us our verse beginning among the people, necessarily assumed from its birth a popular character; and when the English minstrel was admitted into castles and courts, the language of life and passion was the language of English poetry.
dence thou here in Sir Tristrem; Over gestes it has the steem, Over all that is or was, If men it sayd as made Thomas. Bot I here it no man so say, That of som copple som is away. So thare fayre saying here beforne, Is thare travayle nere forlorne.
More complex metres and a more elaborate style were tried for noble and courtly auditors; but their success was only for a time, and extended not beyond the circles for which they were composed. That which was not readily comprehended could not be generally admired, and verses of too artificial a structure could never be committed to memory so as to be widely circulated, and long remembered. Robert of Brunne has an important passage in the prologue to his Chronicle to this effect, concerning Kendale, none of whose works are known to exist, and Thomas of Erceldoun, whose Sir Tristrem has been so ably edited, so richly annotated, and completed with such consummate skill by Walter Scott.
I see in song in sedgeyng tale
Thai sayd it for pride and nobleye,
So strange Inglis as they wroght. For this reason, he says, he had been advised to write in a plain intelligible style for the people.
And men besoght me many a tyme
For luf of the lewed man. And again declaring his determination to write in a language which should be generally understood, he mentions those kinds of verse which were too difficult and complicated for common auditors.
Als thai haf wryten and sayd
So that fele men that it herde
Suld not witte howe that it ferde. The Clerk of Tranent's poems, as well as Sir Tristrem, show that old Robert's complaint was not ill founded. Of the kinds of verse which he mentions Hearne has given but a lame interpretation. Couwe, or koree, he explains to be a sort of verse so called from its being sharp and cutting, couwe signifying a tail or something sharp. Rime couwe is more likely to have been mis-written for rime coupé, than to be derived from a queue. Baston he interprets ' battune, cudgel : but here it denotes a sort of verse in rhythm that was pungent and biting,' like the stroke of a cudgel we may suppose! Now the context shews that baston and enterlace (which Hearne explains to mean interlace, a kind of rhythm so called') are used for the same thing. The latter evidently implies a stanza, and baston is a staff, or stave, a synonym for stanza which is not yet entirely obsoleie.
In Spain, in Italy, and in England, great poets arose in the first age of their vernacular poetry. The Spaniards have not yet discovered the high value of their metrical history of the Cid, as a poem : they will never produce any thing great in the higher branches of the art till they have cast off the false taste which hinders them from perceiving it. It may be asserted, without fear of refutation, that of all the poems which have been written since the Iliad, this is the most Homeric in its spirit: but the language of the peninsula was at that time crude and unformed, and the author seems to have lived too near Catalonia. He built with rubbish and unhewn stones; Dante and Petrarca with marble. Chaucer's materials more resembled those of the Spaniard than of the Italian poets. This has been in some degree unfortunate for himself, inasmuch as the progressive improvement of our tongue has at length rendered him obsolete, (or rather caused him to be thought so,) and thus deprived him of that extensive and pre-eminent popularity which he long and deservedly enjoyed. But it is from the very want of that sweetness of diction upon which the Italians pride themselves, that English poetry has in great measure derived its distinguishing excellence; for English verse being incapable of supporting itself, like the Italian, merely by sweet sounds, we have been taught to require something more. Feeble wits have attempted to supply what was wanting by finical ornaments, and affectations of various kinds; men of stronger intellect and richer fancy have gone astray in a different manner; and the public taste has been frequently corrupted : but such corruptions endure only for a season; and our great poets have given to their writings a body of thought which is become the characteristic of English poetry, and breathed through them a spirit of imagination which