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feeling to vulgar bigotry—and their generous barbarism was softened down into a courtly politeness.
Happily for England, the vices of her Sovereign became the means of her total emancipation from the corruptions of the Romish communion,- and their short-lived and terrible revival under the government of Mary served only to heighten the joy excited by their complete removal. The mind, thus suddenly delivered from the slavery of ages, was filled with new-born energy. While all its sensations were elevated by the restoration of its native liberty, it sprung forward, with a supernatural force, into the vast and untried regions which opened on its rapturous vision. The arm of Omnipotence had smote the rock which had long overshadowed it, and the full effulgence of light burst through the cavity on tracts which had long been desolate. It seemed as if the whole resources of our national genius wbich had for ages been fostered in secret, were bursting forth in one auspicious era ; and the productions, whose roots had been matured beneath the rubbish which impeded its progress, on this first breaking up of the virgin soil, were springing into maturity in wild and beautiful luxuriance. The character of English Poetry was no sooner developed than it was stamped in living and eternal characters. The reigns of Elizabeth, of James the first, and of his unfortunate son Charles, were enriched by this first display of native talent which was formed by the exertions of our older dramatists. Massinger, Ford, Decker, Webster and Marlow, with others now almost forgotten, opened a rich 'mine of thought and imagery and passion which we have too often passed by unnoticed. This circumstance is, however, less to be regretted as we have in one poet, whom we recognise as peculiarly our own, all the highest properties of their genius : we need scarcely name Shakspeare—the immortal sun of that golden age of our poetry, round whom the rest of his contemporaries move at various distances in the highest heaven of invention.
The beauties of these wonderful writers were, in a striking degree, original, and peculiarly worthy of attentive analysis. They formed their style upon no preceding models of acknowledged excellence, and drew neither from the perennial fountain of classic lore, nor from the more abundant sources of romance and marvellous legend, the inspiration which breathed in their tragedies. They aspired not to a dominion over the divine spirits of Olympus, the realıns of the genii, or the domains of fairy enchantment; the human heart was the province which they explored, and its strange and inward workings the machinery which they delighted to employ. Every thing in their writings was filled with human passion and human interest. The loftiest sublimities of the mind, the most secret of its depths, and the humblest and most gentle of its moveNO. X. Pam. VOL. V.
ments, formed the extensive range of these deep philosophers. All their characters, therefore, however dark and revolting, were beings with whom we were compelled to sympathise--not the bideous personifications of vice which we were contented to loathe or to despise, but men in whom the traces of goodness were yet visible, whose vices were the perversion of greatness, and who were still open to the influence of strong and natural emotions. The veil of our nature was withdrawn-we beheld its inmost features, and traced out the connexion of its apparent anomalies with the great properties of the species. Yet while we learned the deepest philosophy, and pried into the most intricate caverns of the soul, we were not left coldly to examine and to moralize; we were filled with the most powerful interest, hurried along in a breathless tumult of passion, impressed with the realities of a fiction even to intenseness, or dissolved in the most kindly and affectionate sympathies. Even while we gazed on the throbbings and palpitations of a bosom laid open to our view, we followed its possessor with breathless anxiety through the strange varieties of his fortune. We were thus completely enchanted by the natural magic of the poet lived and breathed amidst his living and breathing characters; even before we perceived the rich stores of wisdom with which he abounded. He introduced us, it is true, into a new world ; but here we felt all to be real, we were conscious of no illusion: we found the elements of the passions within ourselves which he had embodied with consummate skill: we were led into the inmost heart of our nature, and we knew and felt it to be ours; and while we admired the invention by which abstract feelings and principles had been personified in the breathing creation around us, we almost adored the intuitive wisdom by which we had been guided into the deep recesses of the bosom.
But although the motives and the desires of man were thus wonderfully unfolded, we are not to suppose that we were alone to derive a powerful interest from the working of passion, or to receive oracular insight into the mysterious principles of human action--for these great authors abounded also in the loftiest beauties of imaginative poetry. Although the mind was stripped of all its disguises, was divested of its habits of ceremony and the varied materials of self deception—it was seen through a brilliant medium and covered altho' not concealed with a radiant and unutterable glory. All the characters which we see thus simply invested with humanity are poets capable of a high degree of abstraction not only from their circumstances but from themselves, full of the genius of him who called them into being, and endowed with a rich store of imagery and conception; so that while we feel their kindred with ourselves and trace the elements of their passions in our own bosoms, we are penetrated with the same solemn and reverential awe, which we should feel for the mysterious shadows of a nobler existence. Their sensations are those of perfect nature, but it is nature elevated; not by the pomp and circumstance of kingly apparel, nor by the venerable remoteness of their antiquity, but by the strong divinity of soul with which they are so copiously invested. When their frailty and even their villainy is far renoved from meanness, strong intellectual power rescues them from our contempt and our pity, and while we sympathise with them as kindred, we reverence them as superior beings. While every expression is that of nature, they have something which is not of this world. Former writers had painted kings, warriors and monsters, but these presented us with men--others had soared into imaginary worlds, but these conducted us into realities, developed their richest treasures and filled them with celestial glory-others had adorned their personages with the insignia of rank, but these cloathed theirs with the mental dignities of genius-others had filled their poems with sentiments drawn from the recorded experience of ages, but these enriched theirs with lessons of oracular wisdom, drawn from the intuitive suggestions of an intellect filled with the inspiration of heaven.
It is also to be observed that the stile of these compositions was no less singular, than the substance was original and enchanting. It seemed altogether the work of fortune or of caprice, the lawless and changeable vagary of unchecked and uncriticized genius. When the passion was strong it assimilated with its course and became nervous and majestic. When a pause ensued in the action, or an opportunity offered to excite the poetry of the character, some elegant fancy, some fantastic imagination, some airy idea detained it in the sweetest and most ravishing melodies. Too often, however, it became all that was low and degrading, contemptible in language and revolting in imagery, as if the authors were wholly unconscious of their own powers, and placed, without knowing the distinction, the vilest refuse by the side of the most inimitable excellence. Miserable puns, silly conceits, obscenity the most disgusting and nonsense the most wearisome, filled up the pauses of the most interesting action, and were introduced in the midst of the loveliest pictures of gentleness and purity. While, on the other hand, in the midst of the most odious and ridiculous scenes, a sudden fash of glory breaks forth which throws a light on the deep caverns of the souls and changes all in an instant to rapture and celestial brightness. The causes of these singular vagaries are no doubt to be discovered in the vitiated tastes of the age and the absence of enlightened criticism, but to the same cause we may probably attribute the wild and irregular grandeur of their sublimest conceptions. The worst faults and the most unearthly beauties are so nearly allied, that it is probable they would both have yielded to the pruning of a colder and more refined period. Posterity, however, regard their works with a veneration too deep, very loudly to deplore their trifling exuberances and failures, while they look back on this as the golden age of English literature, and the productions by which it is adorned as forming the living and eternal rock of our national genius.
The natural course of this age, so fertile in talent, was unli appily broken by the civil contentions which terminated in the death of the king and the establishment of a short and feverish republic. Yet there is one circumstance which might redeem the miserable hypocrisy of those melancholy times that amidst the hurricanes with which they were distracted, Milton, that “ mighty orb of song, arose, drawing after him long streams of immortal effulgence from the living throne“ dark with excessive bright.” But we feel that we ought to withdraw from this divine subject, we are entering on holy ground, we shrink from the brink of bis invisible worlds-and dare not profane with feeble panegyric, a name of which silence is the most expressive of applauses.
But the nation soon becaine weary of the reign of revolutionary usurpers. They longed for the more 'kindly—more social and more generous spirit of loyal enthusiasm. They panted for something ancient, something gorgeous, something which they could
While these desires were cherished in the fresh vigor of their youth, the court returned, bringing in its train the literature, the manners, and the taste of the continental regions which had afforded it a l'efuge. The people, then, in their new enthusiasm, neglected the noble productions of our own soil to gaze on the exotics of France; and were enchanted with the easy gaiety, the charming indifference, and the polished elegance of French poetry. The lively nation they were now ambitious to imitate, were constantly open to new impressions, and little disposed to a meditative wisdom, or to the deep tones of elevated passion. Their literature, which they derived from the Latins, was formed exclusively on classical models, and derived a very slight coloring from the romances of the middle ages. But as the mythologies of which they were enamoured, no longer retained the slightest hold on popular belief, and as the very formation of society had been remoulded by the progress of time, the exact resemblance of the great writers of Greece and Rome was comparatively faint and spiritless. The figure was carved after the nicest rules of art-the attitude, the costume, the drapery—all were Grecian; but soul, life, and expression—the Promethean fire of old times, were fled, and nothing remained but an exquisite statue, sculptured by mere modern artists, and therefore destitute of the venerable holiness of antiquity. Tragedy was invested with a pall so gorgeous and sweeping, that the workings of the bosom were concealed beneatha
its foldings; the simple language of warm and tender affections was atifled by monotonous and high-toned declamation. Continued despotism and luxurious indulgence rendered men heartless, and totally incapable of the poetry of nature. Their ennui was relieved by fastidious and elegant criticism, their ear was charmed with the music of hot and crowded saloons, but to the majestic voices of the soul and the universe they were wholly unable to listen. Repartees abounded, wit became keen and brilliant, conversation was filled with sparkling and unnumbered graces, the structure of verse was faultless, the ear was never offended, and the soul was never awakened into rapture. The high destinies of man were forgotten, human life became a jest, and eternity was condensed into an epigram. Thought was diffused or cramped in harmonious couplets, feeling evaporated in ceremony, greatness was tamed into art, and genius ground down to the inconstant fashions of the ballroom and the theatre.
Such was the model which Britain was now anxious to imitate, but which she never more than partially adopted. Her horror of faults was less severe, her gaiety less extravagant, and her wit less delightful. In the midst of the imitations so popular in the space between the restoration of Charles and the death of George the First, we could not wholly repress by epigram or ridicule the energy of that nature of which Shakspeare had been the oracle. Yet the new state of poetry became daily popular. A cold pompous formality reigned at court and in the theatre-Dryden lent to its progress the sanction of his example, Addison triumphed in his Cato which stalked in unnatural stoicism over the stage; and Pope, while he enriched the school with his genius, adorned it with a profusion of fanciful and airy graces. Passion, in these great writers, was rather eloquent than deep, descriptions were dry catalogues of beauties rather than exquisite landscapes of light and shade harmoniously blended, and sentiment, though noble, was more stately than majestic. This, however, was a species of composition which all could enjoy, because it required no elevation of soul to feel, and no leisure to discover its beauties. Unlike those productions whose sublimities could be felt only in solitude, and who gave rather a key to a region of enchantment, than fully recounted its glories, these described their objects in the full glare of their beauty, so that lounging fops could understand, and the gay and careless admire. These, like bright and glaring flowers, were every where to be descried in the sunshine, but it was necessary for those who would enjoy the fragrance of gentler blossoms, to seek the still and shady retirements where their perennial sweets are unfolded.
This species of exotic literature contained, however, within itself the seeds of destruction. It rendered poetry so easy an art, that the town was soon deluged and surfeited by a crowd of inferior pro