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(James Beattie was born at Laurencekirk in 1735, and died at Aberdeen in 1803. He published his first volume of poems in 1761, The Judgment of Paris in 1765, and Some Lines on the Proposed Monument 10 Churchill in 1766. The first part of The Minstrel appeared in 1770, the second in 1774.]
Beattie is perhaps the most difficult poet of the eighteenth century for a nineteenth-century reader to criticise sympathetically. His original poetical power was almost nil. But he had a delicate and sensitive taste, and was a diligent student of the works of Gray and Collins on the one hand, and of the ballads which Percy had just published on the other. His earlier poems are merely so many variations on the Elegy and the Ode on the Passions. His Fudgment of Paris and his Lines on Churchill are perhaps those of his works in which he was least indebted to others, and they are almost worthless intrinsically, besides being (at least the Churchill lines) in the worst possible taste. As for The Minstrel, it is certainly a most remarkable poem. The author has shown his judgment in prefixing no argument to either book, for in truth neither admits of one. The poem has neither head nor tail, and the central figure of the youthful Edwin is a mere peg on which to hang descriptive passages, moral disquisitions, and digressions of
The general effect upon the modern reader is exactly that of a sham ruin or a Gothic edifice of the Wyatt period. Yet the poem was, and long continued to be, extremely popular ; and it gave the impulse in many cases to the production of much better work than itself. In fact it exactly reflected the vague and ill-instructed craving of the age for the dismissal of artificial poetry and for a return to nature, and at the same time to the romantic style. This fact must always give it an interest which its elegant secondhand imagery, its feeble Werterisms, and above all its extraordinary incoherence, may on closer acquaintance fail to sustain.
Beattie would have been a poet if he could, and his sedulous efforts and gentle sensibility sometimes bring him within sight, though at a long distance, of the promised land. But he never reaches it, and his best work is only made up of reminiscences of others' visits and of far-off echoes of the heavenly music.
FROM "THE MINSTREL,' Book I.
When the long-sounding curfew from afar
Or, when the setting moon, in crimson dyed
Anon in view a portal's blazoned arch
With merriment, and song, and timbrels clear,
To right, to left, they thrid the flying maze ;
The dream is fled. Proud harbinger of day,
Forbear, my Muse. Let Love attune thy line.
But who the melodies of morn can tell ?
The cottage-curs at early pilgrim bark;
O Nature, how in every charm supreme !
[Thomas CHATTERTON was born at Bristol on the 20th of November, 1752. From 1767 to 1770 he produced a mass of poetry, the more noticeable portions of it being the pseudo-antique Rowley Poems which were collected alter his death by Thomas Tyrwhitt, in 1777. He died by his own hand in London on the 24th of August, 1770, aged 17 years and 9 months.)
Chatterton has been neglected of late years, but Mr. Skeat's modernised version of the 'Rowley' Poems will, very likely, direct as much attention to them as can be afforded by an age embarrassed already by the wealth it has inherited and by the luxuriance of its own poetic growths. And if in the following selections I have not availed myself of Mr. Skeat's modernised text, but have rather chosen a text of my own, it has been from no defective appreciation of the acuteness, the industry, and the learning apparent in every page of his edition, but because he sometimes seems to miss that peculiar musical movement governing Chatterton's ear, which often renders it impossible to replace, by any modern word whatsoever, an archaism or pseudo-archaism of his, whether invented by himself or found in Bailey or Speght. Dominated as he commonly was by eighteenth-century movements, Chatterton yet showed at times an originality of ear that has never been appreciated. As far as I know, indeed, his metrical inventiveness has never been perceived—certainly it has never been touched upon-by any of his critics, from Tyrwhitt downwards. Yet it seems necessary to touch upon it here—technical its the enquiry may seem-or how can we gauge the undeniable intluence Chatterton has had, both as to spirit and as to form, upon the revival in the present century of the romantic temperthat temper, without which English poetry can scarcely perhaps