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EASIER TO BE FAIR TO THE DEAD.
being apprehensive. that the effects of this bias would be apparent in his work; and that, with all his talent and discernment, he would now and then be guilty of great, though unintended injustice, to some of those whose manner was most opposite to his own. We are happy to say that those apprehensions have proved entirely groundless; and that nothing in the volumes before us is more admirable, or to us more surprising, than the perfect candour and undeviating fairness with which the learned author passes judgment on all the different authors who come before him; the quick and true perception he has of the most opposite and almost contradictory beauties - the good-natured and liberal allowance he makes for the disadvantages of each age and individual-and the temperance and brevity and firmness with which he reproves the excessive severity of critics less entitled to be severe. No one indeed, we will venture to affirm, ever placed himself in the seat of judgment with more of a judicial temper- though, to obviate invidious comparisons, we must beg leave just to add, that being called on to pass judgment only on the dead, whose faults were no longer corrigible, or had already been expiated by appropriate pains, his temper was less tried, and his severities less proved, than in the case of living offenders, and that the very number and variety of the errors that called for animadversion, in the course of his wide survey, must have made each particular case appear comparatively insignificant, and mitigated the sentence of individual condemnation.
It is to this last circumstance, of the large and comprehensive range which he was obliged to take, and the great extent and variety of the society in which he was compelled to mingle, that we are inclined to ascribe, not only the general mildness and indulgence of his judgments, but his happy emancipation from those narrow and limitary maxims by which we have already said that poets are so peculiarly apt to be entangled. As a large and familiar intercourse with men of different habits and dispositions never fails, in characters of any force or generosity, to dispel the prejudices with which
BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF A LARGE SURVEY,
we at first regard them, and to lower our estimate of our own superior happiness and wisdom, so, a very ample and extensive course of reading in any department of letters, tends naturally to enlarge our narrow principles of judgment; and not only to cast down the idols before which we had formerly abased ourselves, but to disclose to us the might and the majesty of much that we had mistaken and contemned.
In this point of view, we think such a work as is now before us likely to be of great use to ordinary readers of poetry-not only as unlocking to them innumerable new springs of enjoyment and admiration, but as having a tendency to correct and liberate their judgments of their old favourites, and to strengthen and enliven all those faculties by which they derive pleasure from such studies. Nor would the benefit, if it once extended so far, by any means stop there. The character of our
poetry depends not a little on the taste of our poetical readers;—and though some bards have always been before their age, and some behind it, the greater part must be pretty near on its level. Present popularity, whatever disappointed writers may say, is, after all, the only safe presage of future glory;-and it is really as unlikely that good poetry should be produced in any quantity where it is not relished, as that cloth should be manufactured and thrust into the market, of a pattern and fashion for which there was no demand. A shallow and uninstructed taste is indeed the most flexible and inconstant-and is tossed about by every breath of doctrine, and every wind of authority; so as neither to derive any permanent delight from the same works, nor to assure any permanent fame to their authors; while a taste that is formed upon a wide and large survey of enduring models, not only affords a secure basis for all future judgments, but must compel, whenever it is general in any society, a salutary conformity to its great principles from all who depend on its suffrage.-To accomplish such an object, the general study of a work like this certainly is not enough:-But it would form an excellent preparation
CHIEFLY BY RECALLING THE FORGOTTEN.
for more extensive reading—and would, of itself, do much to open the eyes of many self-satisfied persons, and startle them into a sense of their own ignorance, and the poverty and paltriness of many of their ephemeral favourites. Considered as a nation, we are yet but very imperfectly recovered from that strange and ungrateful forgetfulness of our older poets, which began with the Restoration, and continued almost unbroken till after the middle of the last century.-Nor can the works which have chiefly tended to dispel it among the instructed orders, be ranked in a higher class than this which is before us.-Percy's Relics of Antient Poetry produced, we believe, the first revulsion- and this was followed up by Wharton's History of Poetry.-Johnson's Lives of the Poets did something; and the great effect has been produced by the modern commentators on Shakespeare. Those various works recommended the older writers, and reinstated them in some of their honours; but still the works themselves were not placed before the eyes of ordinary readers. This was done in part, perhaps overdone, by the entire republication of some of our older dramatists and with better effect by Mr. Ellis's Specimens. If the former, however, was rather too copious a supply for the returning appetite of the public, the latter was too scanty; and both were confined to too narrow a period of time to enable the reader to enjoy the variety, and to draw the comparisons, by which he might be most pleased and instructed.-Southey's continuation of Ellis did harm rather than good; for though there is some cleverness in the introduction, the work itself is executed in a crude, petulant and superficial manner,and bears all the marks of being a mere bookseller's speculation. As we have heard nothing of it from the time of its first publication, we suppose it has had the success it deserved.
There was great room therefore, and, we will even say, great occasion, for such a work as this of Mr. Campbell's, in the present state of our literature; we are persuaded, that all who care about poetry, and
GREAT RANGE OF ENGLISH POETRY,
are not already acquainted with the authors of whom it treats and even all who are cannot possibly do better than read it fairly through, from the first page to the last-without skipping the extracts which they know, or those which may not at first seem very attractive. There is no reader, we will venture to say, who will rise from the perusal even of these partial and scanty frag ments, without a fresh and deep sense of the matchless richness, variety, and originality of English Poetry: while the juxta-position and arrangement of the pieces not only gives room for endless comparisons and contrasts, but displays, as it were in miniature, the whole of its wonderful progress; and sets before us, as in a great gallery of pictures, the whole course and history of the art, from its first rude and infant beginnings, to its maturity, and perhaps its decline. While it has all the grandeur and instruction that belongs to such a gallery, it is free from the perplexity and distraction which is generally complained of in such exhibitions; as each piece is necessarily considered separately and in succession, and the mind cannot wander, like the eye, through the splendid labyrinth in which it is enchanted. Nothing, we think, can be more delightful, than thus at our ease to trace, through all its periods, vicissitudes, and aspects, the progress of this highest and most intellectual of all the arts-coloured as it is in every age by the manners of the times which produce it, and embodying, besides those flights of fancy and touches of pathos that constitute its more immediate essence, much of the wisdom and much of the morality that was then current among the people; and thus presenting us, not merely with almost all that genius has ever created for delight, but with a brief chronicle and abstract of all that was once interesting to the generations which have gone by.
The steps of the progress of such an art, and the circumstances by which they have been effected, would form, of themselves, a large and interesting theme of speculation. Conversant as poetry necessarily is with all that touches human feelings, concerns, and occupations, its
AND GREAT INTEREST OF ITS HISTORY.
character must have been impressed by every change in the moral and political condition of society, and must even retain the lighter traces of their successive follies, amusements, and pursuits; while, in the course of ages, the very multiplication and increasing business of the people have forced it through a progress not wholly dissimilar to that which the same causes have produced on the agriculture and landscape of the country; - where at first we had rude and dreary wastes, thinly sprinkled with sunny spots of simple cultivation then vast forests and chases, stretching far around feudal castles and pinnacled abbeys - then woodland hamlets, and goodly mansions, and gorgeous gardens, and parks rich with waste fertility, and lax habitations—and, finally, crowded cities, and road-side villas, and brick-walled gardens, and turnip fields, and canals, and artificial ruins, and ornamented farms, and cottages trellised over with exotic plants!
But, to escape from those metaphors and enigmas to the business before us, we must remark, that in order to give any tolerable idea of the poetry which was thus to be represented, it was necessary that the specimens to be exhibited should be of some compass and extent. We have heard their length complained of- but we think with very little justice. Considering the extent of the works from which they are taken, they are almost all but inconsiderable fragments; and where the original was an Epic of Tragic character, greater abridgment would have been mere mutilation, and would have given only such a specimen of the whole, as a brick might do of a building. From the earlier and less familiar authors, we rather think the citations are too short; and, even from those that are more generally known, we do not well see how they could have been shorter, with any safety to the professed object, and only use, of the publication. That object, we conceive, was to give specimens of English poetry, from its earliest to its latest periods; and it would be a strange rule to have followed, in making such a selection, to leave out the best and most popular. The work certainly neither is,