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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; - and 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, thạt 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,
HIS SPECIMENS NOT WELL DISTRIBUTED.
nor professes to be, a collection from obscure and for. gotten authors -- but specimens of all who have merit enough to deserve our remembrance; - and if some few have such redundant merit of good fortune, as to be in the hands and the minds of all the world, it was necessary, even then, to give some extracts from them, that the series might be complete, and that there might be room for comparison with others, and for tracing the progress of the art in the strains of its best models and their various imitators.
In one instance, and one only, Mr. C. has declined doing this duty; and left the place of one great luminary to be filled up by recollections that he must have presumed would be universal. He has given but two pages to SHAKESPEARE — and not a line from any of his plays! Perhaps he has done rightly. A knowledge of Shakespeare may be safely presumed, we believe, in every reader; and, if he had begun to cite his Beauties, there is no saying where he would have ended. A little book, calling itself Beauties of Shakespeare, was published some years ago, and shown, as we have heard, to Mr. Sheridan. He turned over the leaves for some time with apparent satisfaction, and then said, “ This is very well; but where are the other seven volumes ?" There is no other author, however, whose fame is such as to justify a similar ellipsis, or whose works can be thus elegantly understood, in a collection of good poetry. Mr. C., has complied perhaps too far with the popular prejudice, in confining his citations from Milton to the Comus and the smaller pieces, and leaving the Paradise Lost to the memory of his readers. But though we do not think the extracts by any means too long on the whole, we are certainly of opinion that some are too long and others too short; and that many, especially in the latter case, are not very well selected. There is far too little of Marlowe for instance, and too much of Shirley, and even of Massinger. We should have liked more of Warner, Fairfax, Phineas Fletcher, and Henry More — all poets of no scanty dimensions -- and could have spared several pages of Butler, Vason, Whitehead,
SAD MORTALITY OF THE IMMORTALS.
Roberts, Meston, and Amhurst Selden. We do not think the specimens from Burns very well selected; nor those from Prior — nor can we see any good reason for quoting the whole Castle of Indolence, and nothing else, for Thomson — and the whole Rape of the Lock, and nothing else, for Pope.
Next to the impression of the vast fertility, compass, and beauty of our English poetry, the reflection that recurs most frequently and forcibly to us, in accompanying Mr. C. through his wide survey, is that of the perishable nature of poetical fame, and the speedy oblivion that has overtaken so many of the promised heirs of immortality! Of near two hundred and fifty authors, whose works are cited in these volumes, by far the greater part of whom were celebrated in their generation, there are not thirty who now enjoy anything that can be called popularity — whose works are to be found in the hands of ordinary readers — in the shops of ordinary booksellers -- or in the press for republication. . About fifty more may be tolerably familiar to men of taste or literature: - the rest slumber on the shelves of collectors, and are partially known to a few antiquaries and scholars. Now, the fame of a Poet, is popular, or nothing. He does not address himself, like the man of science, to the learned, or those who desire to learn, but to all mankind; and his purpose being to delight and be praised, necessarily extends to all who can receive pleasure, or join in applause. It is strange, then, and somewhat humiliating, to see how great a proportion of those who had once fought their way successfully to distinction, and surmounted the rivalry of contemporary envy, have again sunk into neglect. We have great deference for public opinion; and readily admit, that nothing but what is good can be permanently popular. But though its vivat be generally oracular, its pereat appears to us to be often sufficiently capricious ; and while we would foster all that it bids to live, we would willingly revive much that it leaves to die. The very multiplication of works of amusement, necessarily withdraws many from notice that deserve to be kept in remembrance ;