Page images

is always considered as the great criterion of refinement, as the French are to the Esquimaux Indians. Indeed, one cannot help-smiling when the declamations of writers, and of the clergy in particular, against the luxury and refinement of their own several ages, are considered. In the old English days, when the drawing-rooms of palaces were carpeted with clean straw, and maids of honour breakfafted on roast beef, the pulpits shook with virulent invectives against pride of furniture, and delicacy of food. What more can be said now, when forests are robbed of their music for the sake of the rumps of the nightingales? What more will be said, four centuries after this, when, I will venture to prophesy, luxury and refinement will be in . such a state as justly to reflect upon

this appellation of barbarous ?

age the

These remarks are only made with a view to thew the necessity of defining what is meant by barbaric poetry before the subject is further opened. To the poetry of the modern French, just as the above observations may be, we should no more think of giving the epithet of barbarous, than to that of the ancient Greeks or Romans.


B 2

As in youth most people have felt an inchis nation to write verses,' tho in a more mature age they have lost that desire; so it is in the youth of society, if I may fo express myself, that poetry has most flourished. Now this youth of society is commonly, like that of man, lost in tempestuous passions, which call forth extraordinary exertions of mind. Such exertions form the very life and soul of poetry. Homer was a witness of such emotions as arife in a barbarous state of society, ere he recorded them in the Iliad. Violent actions, and sudden calamities of all kinds, are the certain concomitants of uncivilized life: to these we owe a poetry warm, rapid, and impetuous, that, like a large river swelling from a bleak mountain, carries the reader along in the barge of fancy, now by vales fragrant with wild flowers, now thro woods resounding with untaught melody, but most generally thro deserts replete with romantic and with dreadful prospects.

Society always passes through three different stages ere it arrives at refinement. The first is the mere savage state, during which the lord of the world is almost on a level with the


brutes themselves : living like them in caves, or wretched huts, in the woods that saw him born, and subsisting on wild fruits, and such prey as his rude invention can seize by force or guile. Climate has such power over human happiness as sometimes to fix Society in this state without any hope of further progress: as for instance, in Lapland. The poetry of such a country must of course be always barbaric. The second stage is that of pastoral life. The third may be considered as a kind of middle state between barbarism and civilization; and is that in which the Thepherds of the second ftate begin to confederate together, for defence of themselves and their flocks, against such of their neighbours as are yet in the first condi, tion, and who, ignorant of property, would admit of no law but force. For that effect towns are built, and, by the collision of differ. ent minds, the arts and sciences begin to be struck out, which are in time to spread the light of refinement thro the community.

ALL poetry composed in these different periods of society may with propriety be termed barbaric; but more particulary that of the first B 3


and second. The Iliad, if not written during the third, is yet a living picture of its manners: and it is to this, as much as to any other circumstance, that it owes its wonderful superiority. For no state of society can be so interesting as that in which the sun of science is beginning to rise, and discover prospects full of splendor and novelty; and in which the mind, vegetating strongly, begins from a vigorous stem to display the buds of elegance.

As in this stage of society poetry may be carried to the highest perfection, so the two first do not impede its real influence: for what it wants in art, in elegance, in harmony, is fully compensated by a wild force of nature, by a simplicity, by a pathos to which every heart is in unison; attributes no less declarative of the power


poetry than the former. Love, a passion of every age and climate, imparts his tenderness even to the savage breast amid the snows of Lapland, as we may perceive from the songs preserved by Scheffer, which you so much admire; and which may be compared to the roses that grow wild, as Mr. Maupertuis informs us, on the banks of the rivers and lakęs of that dreary country,


FROM what I have written, you will no doubt see that I am still the same sceptic in most matters that you left me; thinking always, with Sir Roger de Coverley, that “ much may be said on both sides;" so that, if you wish to have an opinion on any subject, you

will be much disappointed if you apply to me; but, if you desire to hear doubts instead of decisions, I may perhaps furnish you with a sufficiency.

As I know your fondness for such pieces of rude poetry as have intrinsic merit, I subjoin two that may not perhaps have lain in your way,

The first is extracted from a History of the Canary Islands by Captain Glas; and is one of the most exquisite pieces of elegiac poetry which I have ever met with. In the year 1418, you must know, Guillen Peraza, an enterprizing youth, was Governor of the Canary Islands; but attempting to reduce Palma, one of them, to the power of Spain, he was there killed, The following verses were made on that occafion, and, as our author informs us, are re



« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »