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r. The dramatic literature of the present age does not hold a rank proportioned to its poetical genius. But our tragedy, at least, is superior to any which has been produced since the rich period of Elizabeth and of James. Though the dramatic works of Shiel, Maturin, Coleridge, and Milman, are not so grand, and harmonious, and impressive, as the talent of their authors would lead us to desire, they are far superior to the tragedies of Hill, Southern, Murphy, Johnson, Philipps, Thomson, Young, Addison, or Rowe. * Otway's Venice Preserved alone and that only in the structure of its plot-is superior to the Remorse, to Bertram, Fazio, or Evadne. And then-more pure, more dramatic, more gentle, than all these, is the tragedy of Virginius—a piece of simple yet beautiful humanity-in which the most exquisite succession of classic groups is animated with young life and connected by the finest links of interest—and the sweetest of Roman stories lives before us at once, new and familiar to our bosoms.
We shall not be suspected of any undue partiality towards modern criticism. But its talent shews, perhaps, more decidedly than any thing else, the great start which the human mind has taken of late years. Throughout all the periodical works extant, from the Edinburgh Review down to the lowest of the Magazines, striking indications may be perceived of “ that something far more deeply interfused,” which is now working in the literature of England. We not rarely see cri- ! ticisms of theatrical performances of the preceding evening in the daily newspapers, which would put to shame the elaborate observations of Dr. Johnson on Shakspeare. Mr. Hazlitt-incomparably the most original of the regular critics-has almost raised criticism into an independent art, and, while analysing the merits of others, has disclosed stores of sentiment, thought, and fancy, which are his own peculiar property. His relish for the excellencies of those whom he eulogises, is so keen, that, in his delineations, the pleasures of intellect become almost as vivid and substantial as those of sense. He introduces us into the very presence of the great of old time, and enables us almost to imagine that we hear them utter the living words of beauty and wisdom. He makes us companions of their happiest hours, and shares not only in the pleasures which they diffused, but in those which they tasted. He discloses to us the hidden soul of beauty, not like an anatomist but like a lover. His criticism, instead of breaking the sweetest enchantments of life, prolongs them, and teaches us to love poetic excellence more intensely, as well as more wisely. 1 The present age is, also, honourably distinguished by the variety and the excellence of productions from the pen of women. In poetry-there is the deep passion, richly tinged with fancy, of Baillie-the delicate romance of Mitford-the
gentle beauty and feminine chivalry of Beetham-and the classic elegance of Hemans. There is a greater abundance of female talent among the novelists. The exquisite sarcasm of humour of Madame D'Arblay—the soft and romantic charm of the novels of the Porters—the brilliant ease and admirable good sense of Edgeworth—the intense humanity of Inchbald—the profound insight into the fearful depths of the soul with which the author of Glenarvon is gifted—the heart-rending pathos of Opie-and the gentle wisdom, the holy sympathy with holiest childhood, and the sweet imaginings, of the author of Mrs. Leicester's School-soften and brighten the literary aspect of the age. These indications of female talent are not only delightful in themselves, but inestimable as proofs of the rich intellectual treasures which are diffused throughout the sex, to whom the next generation will owe their first and their most sacred impressions.
But, after all, the best intellectual sign of the present times is the general education of the poor. This ensures duration to the principles of good, by whatever political changes the frame of society may be shaken. The sense of human rights and of human duties is not now confined to a few, and, therefore, liable to be lost, but is stamped in living characters on millions of hearts. And the foundations of human improvement thus secured, it has a tendency to advance in a true geometrical progression. Meanwhile, the effects of the spirit of improvement which have long been silently preparing in different portions of the globe, are becoming brilliantly manifest. The vast continent of South America, whether it continue nominally dependent on European states, or retain its own' newly-asserted freedom, will teem with new intellect, enterprise, and energy. Old Spain, long sunk into the most abject degradation, has suddenly awakened, as if refreshed, from slumber, and her old genius must revive with her old dignities. A bloodless revolution has just given liberty to Naples, and thus has opened the way for the restoration of Italy. That beautiful region again will soon inspire her bards with richer strains than of yore, and diffuse throughout the world a purer luxury. Amidst these quickenings of humanity, individual poets, indeed, must lose that personal importance which in darker periods would be their portion. All selfism-all predominant desire for the building up of individual fame must give way to the earnest and single wish to share in and promote the general progress of the species. He is unworthy of the name of a great poet, who is not contented that the loveliest of his imaginations should be lost in the general light, or viewed only as the soft and delicate streaks which shall usher in that glorious dawn, which is, we believe, about to rise on the world, and to set no more !
Vol. II. Part II.
ART. I. Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne, made English
by Charles Cotton, Esq.; 3 vols. 8vo.; 4th edition. London, 1711.
In the world of literature there is food adapted for all palates, be they ever so various-solid and substantial fare for those of healthy and wholesome digestions—light and nutritive for the weak or idle, and stimulative for the languid: so that a man need never be at a loss for literary matter suitable to his inclination or constitution, and he may vary it as often as he pleases, according to the mood in which he finds himself, with the happy consciousness, that let him consume as much as he will, he can never exhaust the common stock.
“ Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale
Its infinite variety.” Of those books to which we have recourse for pleasure or recreation, we have a particular fancy for a gossipping book, a collection of choice morceaux and short dissertations, in which an author gives us the cream of a diversity of subjects, without calling upon us for any rigid attention or nice examination of his arguments. A kind of reading which resembles the very best conversation, but which is, at the same time, more artificially dressed up and more elegantly turned. When, for instance,
VOL. II, PART II.
we have been wading through a ponderous or tedious volume, for the purposes of analysis or for the sake of a few good extracts, we return, with a keen relish, to a literary gossip with an author of this kind, whom we can take up with the certainty of being instructed and amused- the smooth current of whose thoughts we can follow without effort or constraint, and to whose guidance we abandon ourselves with a desultory, but luxurious, indifference: and whom, when we have read so much as to our humour or idleness seemeth good, we can lay down without a sense of weariness, or a feeling of dissatisfaction. And then, if his disquisitions be short, and have no sequel or dependance upon each other, we can select from the bundle such as, in length or quality, may suit our time or fancy. Truly this may be an idle, but it is a pleasant mode of reading, and that is sufficient to recommend it. Indeed, we do not see why it should not be carried even farther than for the mere purposes of relaxation and amusement. It is, without doubt, much better to pursue an agreeable road to the temple of knowledge, than to pick out the most rugged and uninviting path. The latter course, it is true, calls upon us for a greater sacrifice of ease and comfort-it requires more resolution and pains-taking, and we ourselves should have no objection to it, where it is inaccessible by any other means. But to select this briery path in preference to one more easy and agreeable, voluntarily to laceraté ourselves with the thorns which stick in the way, is, we cannot help thinking, a labour of supererogation—an infliction of penance for its own sake; the effect of which can only be to discourage and disgust. And one would think there are pleasures few enough sprinkled in this pilgrimage of three-score and ten, to induce us not inquisitively to make “ that little, less. Nor can 'such a mode of study be called vain and unproductive, for the
richest fruit grows on the sunny aspect of the hill, where nature has been busiest in scattering her May-flowers and ornaments of a gay season. The countenance of wisdom is not naturally harsh and crabbed, and repulsive; if it be wrinkled, it is not with care and ill-temper, but with the lines of deep thought. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness,” and her smile is as genial and refreshing as that of young beauty, and equally invites us to be joyous and glad. She teaches us
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We feel no sympathy with those authors who would do every thing by the square and compass, who would rudely snap the springs of feeling, and torture us into wisdom or virtue. It is the author who gives utterance to the promptings of the heart, who mingles human feelings with all his knowledge, that lays fast hold of our affection, and whom, above all, we love and venerate. And such a one is the lively old Gascon, whose essays stand at the head of this article. He is, indeed, the author for a snug fire-side and an easy armed chair, and more particularly whilst (as at this moment) the rain is pattering against the window at intervals, as the gusts of wind come and go, and, with the sea's hoarse murmuring in the distance, makes harsh music, which shews that Nature is somewhat out of tune. At such a time, Montaigne's self-enjoyment becomes doubly our own. His everlasting gaiety and good humour is more grateful from the contrast; and yet, in the midst of these comfortable reflexions, we cannot avoid thinking of the rude fisherman, who ventures out with his young boy, to be tossed up and down on the watery element “in such a night as this,” (a rugged nurture for so slender a frame) and casts his net, without thinking much of the world's rough outside or this turmoil, which it gives us such a sensible delight to be protected from. If he knew aught of Montaigne, he would not follow his vocation with more success, but he might, perchance, be more content with his gains. Montaigne wrote sans peur, but not sans reproche. He is not content with a little sprinkling of “ salt in the lines, to make the matter savoury”-he is fond of high seasoning. The licentiousness which would drive an author of our days from all honest company, cannot be tolerated even in an old writer. Antiquity cannot sanctify nor age palliate obscenity. It is probable, however, that what, according to our system of manners, is highly indelicate, was read by the modest of his age, by a wife or a daughter, without the disgust which it would now deservedly excite. Some of his Essays are even addressed to ladies, it may be, of exemplary lives. Mademoiselle Gournay, a young lady who had conceived such an affection for the author, that she wished to be styled his adopted daughter, after his death published an edition of them, with a preface and defence. And, after all, manners are but the fashions of the time, and how variable they are we need no ghost from the dead to tell us. The customs of one nation or age are considered indecorous in another. Thus, the kiss of ceremony or salutation which Montaigne erroneously affirms to be peculiar to France, and which he censures as disagreeable to both sexes, became not long afterwards to be regarded as a piece of great immodesty, as appears from Dr. Heylin's France painted to the life. When the doctor visited. that country in 1625, he thought it strange and uncivil that