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tion." But this “ poetry of learning and artificial life," having no root in the deeper sympathies of humanity, withered over the reigns of the first two Georges, until the poetical literature of England became a mere hortus siccus of mummied flowers, retaining the elegant outline of their forms, but without blood in their dead veins, or odour in their sapless leaves. In the voices of Thomson, Collins, Gray, and Goldsmith, and, in Scotland, in those of Allan Ramsay and other lyrists, humble yet sweet singers, the life of true poetry was heard: but the latter part of the century sleepily dosed over what had become the mere “sing-song” of the age of Anne, till the artificial school expired in the transient flutter of enthusiasm that hailed the metallic melody of Darwin.
This age, then, though remarkable for the progress of science and philosophy in many departments, was almost dead in poetry, when the advent of Cowper and Burns began to change the scene. The elder poetical literature had been in some measure revived by the researches of critics (often of an unpoetical antiquarian cast), by the great editions of Shakspeare, by the publication of Dr Percy's " Relics," and other “ Florilegia,” and, above all, by Warton's " History of Poetry.” The Gothic legends of Germany? also nursed the rising genius of more than one great poet ; and perhaps that country has done, in a proportional degree, as much for the modern poetic literature of England, as her scholarship and philosophy have achieved for the progress of the human race. A popular writer remarks that, in “ the three last great sunbursts of our literature, viz. those of Elizabeth, Anne, and George III., the inspiration in each case came from a foreign source ; in the first from Italy, in the second from France, in the third from Germany."3 And, if there be any logical sequence between great political events and the progress or decline of poetry and other arts, the impulse of improvement was increased by the results of the incidents of the first French revolution. A convulsion which overturned or shook the theories of society, government, religion, and morality, could not be without its influence on a literary art so intimately en wreathed as poetry with the current of social existence. The age whose ear was deafened by the thunder of the most tremendous events could no longer listen to the smooth“ liquid lapse” which had dwindled into the ripple of Della Cruscan effeminacy. A mighty time required a mightier poetry ; and a crowd of harps, nobly strung, responded to the want. The fifty years of the middle of the eighteenth century number only three or four names, and these not of the highest class ; the first ten of the nineteenth present about a dozen poets of first-class merit in the various departments of their art. The character of the products, moreover, was totally changed. The splendours of past centuries were resuscitated in a form of far more magnificence and elegance than a ruder age had been able to invest them with. Descriptive painting was no longer the heavy, laborious, and minute process, whose endless details bad delighted our wondering forefathers; nor was it a succession of trim garden pictures, of scenes where hills, and lakes, and mists, and sunlight, and moonshine, were anachronized
See pp. 336, 355.
2 See note 2, p. 425. 3 Craik's “Literature and Lcarning in England.' (Knight's Weekly Volumes.)
into glittering confusion, but men had been taught to look " at Nature," and to feel her reflected, not in their ears or their fancies, but in their souls : the human heart itself was penetrated ; the pulses of the deeper passions and affections throb in the pages of modern poetry ; no way of life was too mean for the free and ardent footsteps of the muse's walk ; and the humble cottager, his hopes, and fears, and fates, nay, his grass plot and his faithful dog, shared with the scutcheoned baron and the towered palace the ardour of the poet's lay and the interest of his listener. The incidents of this poetry, in their stirring impetuosity and their thundering grandeur ; its sentiments broad, majestic, and pervading; its language and melody varied, sparkling, and impressive of a thousand heart-stirring emotions, present a complete contrast to the poetical literature of any age except that of Elizabeth, which in some respects it resembles. There is the same bold impetuosity which pauses at no new region ; the same vigour of imaginative wing, for which no height is too formidable ; there is the same varied action of intellect and emotion ; but our age is fortunately purged from the baser elements that mingled with the more barbaric period, and possesses a purer and more classic taste in the arrangement and ornament of its more extensive acquire ments.
It is remarked by Hallam, that an age of learning is not always found to be one of poetical excellence ; and a similar observation has been applied to the effect of the scientific and utilitarian tendencies of the present times, as if these acted repressively on the development of poetry. There does not seem to exist any necessary sequence between the decline of the art and the growth of these tendencies. If our poetry is inferior to the products of forty years ago, it is a phenomenon naturally to be expected after a period of activity in this pursuit so very remarkable. The great eras of our literature have always been followed by intervals of decline or stagnation. In other respects the time seems to be favourable for poetical industry; its pecuniary rewards are infinitely above those of the ages when a patron's aid was absolutely necessary to float a poet's name on a precarious popularity ; the universal diffusion of intellectual products, in the cheapest remunerative forms, affords to wholesome and sound literature a better chance than formerly of success ; the copyright laws act in a manner favourable to the interests of owners of literary property; and the British mind, filled with the associations and attachments of a brilliant history and a time-honoured patriotism, and animated by home affections and enlightened religion, seems constructed for the perpetual relish of pure, high-toned, and earnest poetry.
1 One great evil which the poetry of the present day has to dread is efflorescence of mere language. Our tongue has become so exact and regular in its grammar (and the gram. matical education of our youth is daily inculcating the smoothing of its salient points), that any introduction of the ellipitical, terse, picturesque phraseology of our ancestors startles and offends. In its advance to what is reckoned perfection of accuracy, the language has been weakened in its powers of mental training. Any instructor who compares his resources of examination on the vocables of an elder author, with those of a modern, will be sensible of this. Our greatest modern writers, Byron and Southey especially, are not exempt from this sin of efflorescent verbiage.
2 In this comparison we leave Shakspeare out of view.
POETRY AND POETS OF BRITAIN.
GROFFREY CHA UCER, venerated as the father of English poetry, was boru in the year 1328, it is supposed at London. In the “ Testament of Love" he has these words,“ The city of London, that is to me so dear and sweet, in which I was forth grown; and more kindly love have I to that place than to any other in earth, as every kindly creature hath full appetite to that place of his kindly ingendure." Of his origin and rank the accounts are various and uncertain ; as the name is Norman, he may have been of noble or knightly descent. Both universities claim a share in the honour of his education. He is supposed in his youth to have travelled, and afterwards to have studied law in the Inner Temple. He married the sister of the lady who ultimately became the wife of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III.; and thus “ acquired the powerful support of the Lancastrian family." His abilities and amiable qualities rendered him a favourite in the court of Edward, at that time the most splendid in Europe. He was employed by that prince in various political objects ; and served with reputation in Edward's invasion of France in 1359. He enjoyed several lucrative offices, and was liberally pensioned by the king. During the whole of Edward's reign, prosperity smiled on the poet. On the accession of Richard II., during the court factions among the king's uncles, and the decline of the power of John of Gaunt before the influence of Gloucester, Chaucer's fortunes changed. He was involved in the riot or insurrection in London, headed by John of Northampton, the disciple of Wycliffe. The tenets of Wycliffe were favoured, and his followers protected, by John of Gaunt ; this circumstance, if we are not authorised to say the poet's personal convictions, may account for his connection with the reforming party. Chaucer was compelled to avoid the vengeance of the government by flight to the Continent, and was probably deprived of his pensions and offices. Abroad he was reduced to great distress, partly by his generosity to his fellow-sufferers, and partly by the villany of the trustees to whom he had committed his property in England. He was ultimately forced to return, but was seized and imprisoned. It is asserted that he recovered his liberty by revealing the circumstances of the conspiracy; but it is difficult to discover, from the obscurity of our information, if any dishonour on the part of the poet can be inferred. He was restored to his einoluments; but shortly after, in his 64th year, he resigned his offices, and retired into private life. In this seclusion, “ probably at Woodstock,” and at this advanced period of his life, he wrote the Canterbury Tales. He died in the first year of Henry IV. (1400), and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The mird of Chaucer appears to have been joyous and happy, generous and affectionate. Jie possessed that intense relish for the beauties of nature that is so characteristic of the genuine poet. His works abound with enthusiastic descriptions of spring, morning, groves, green solitudes, with birds and flowers. But his mind has no effeminacy ; and it is strong in many moods; his life busy, and in some measure stormy, made him familiar with all phases of human life and human character. Nature, courts, camps, characters, passions, motives, are the things with which he deals. A vigorous tempera ment, a penetrating and observing intellect, and a strong and comprehensive good sense, are the instruments with which he operates on his poetical materials. “ His words," says Hazlitt,“ point as an index to the objects, like the eye or finger. There were none of the common-places of poetic diction in our author's time ; no reflected lights of fancy; no borrowed roseate tints ; he was obliged to inspect things for himself; to look narrowly, almost to handle the object. .... Chaucer had an equal eye for truth of nature and discrimination of character ; and his interest in what he
ave new dis tinctness and force to his power of observation." This is just. Chaucer is the poet of objects, not of words or of mere sentiment.
Chaucer's versification has been the subject of keen dispute. Its condemnation by Dryden or by Johnson, in ages when the phonetic principles of the language had not only been altered, but regarded as fixed, is not wonderful. “ Chaucer's versification, considering the time at which he wrote, and that versification is a thing in a great degree mechanical, is not one of his least merits. It has considerable strength and harmony, and its deficiency in the latter respect arises chiefly from the alterations which have since taken place in the pronunciation or mode of accenting the words of the language. The best rule for reading him is to pronounce the final e as in reading Italian.” (Hazlitt). In the following extracts the orthography is modernized, except where the change would impair either the measure or the spirit of the pas sage.
The principal works of Chaucer, besides the Canterbury Tales, are " The Romaunt of the Rose," a condensed translation from a French romance ; * Troilus and Cresseide ;" “ The Legende of Good Women ;" « Chaucer's Dreme ;" “ The House of Fame ;" “ The Flower and the Leaf,” &c. ; some of the “ Canterbury Tales," and his “ Testament of Love," written during his imprisonment, exhibit him as a vigorous and elegant writer in prose.
KXTRACTS FROM TUE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES.
MEETING OF THE PILGRIMS.
1 April is masculine by classical analogy ; feminine in modern poetry.
2 Sote or suite, sweet ; o and e are very frequently interchangeable in English etymo logy, as break, broke; wcar, uore; float, ficet.
3 Such moisture : swiche, silk, analogous to which, whilk, &c. • A height covered with trees (Tooke); a grove.
THE KNIGAT AND THE SQUIRE.
The tender croppés!; and the youngé sun
Befell that in that season on a day,
THE KNIGHT AND THE SQUIRE.
| The e or i of the plural in old poetry is always sounded when the verse requires it. 2 The spring equinoctial sign of the zodiac. & Y is the old English prefix of the past participle ; Saxon and German ge. • Birds. Sen, the plural, infinitive, and participial termination in Old English. 6 Feelings; inclination; Fr. cæur.
7 Inf. for goen. 8 Pilgrims returned from the Holy Land, so called from bearing palm branches.
9 The old form of this and similar words is strond, hond, lond, &c. Spencer, in his imitation of the obsolete dialect, uses this form.
10 Holies, shrines.
u Known, celebrated; p. part. of cunnan, (Sax.) to know, to be able; the cognate words are, can, could, cunning, con, ken, know. The idcas, knowledge, power, sight, are in Languages often denoted by words of the same origin.
11 We retain the past tense went in the verb go. 13 St Thomas a Becket. 14 Now the " Talbot;" tabard is a herald's coat.
15 Singular verbs were anciently often used with plural nominatives: "There is tears for his love."--Shakesp. Jul. Cæs.
On chaliced flowers that lies.- Jd. Cymbeline. 16 Chance, Fr.
18 At the. 13 Prom, retained in to and fro, and in froward.
% Liberality. a Fer, adv. (Sax.) far; comp. ferre, farther.