There was manifestly a great temptation to adventurous men—with sufficient learning, and with no high notion of honor—to creep into the distant past; to enact, in mask and domino, its literary parts, and endeavor to deceive an age already enthusiastic for antiquity.
Thus, in the third century, if we may believe the Scotch and Irish traditions, there existed in Scotland a great chieftain named Fion na Gael—modernized into Fingal—who fought with Cuthullin and the Irish warriors, and whose exploits were, as late as the time of which we have been speaking, the theme of rude ballads among the highlands and islands of Scotland. To find and translate these ballads was charming and legitimate work for the antiquarian; to counterfeit them, and call them by the name of a bard of that period, was the great temptation to the literary forger. Of such a bard, too, there was a tradition. As brave as were the deeds of Fingal, their fame was not so great as that of his son Ossian, who struck a lofty harp as he recounted his father's glory. Could the real poems be found, they would verify the lines:
From the barred visor of antiquity Reflected shines the eternal light of Truth As from a mirror.
And if they could not be found, they might be counterfeited. This was undertaken by Doctor James Macpherson. Catering to the spirit of the age, he reproduced the songs of Ossian and the lofty deeds of Fingal.
Again, we have referred, in an early part of this work, to the almost barren expanse in the highway of English literature from the death of Chaucer to the middle of the sixteenth century; this barrenness was due, as we saw, to the turbulence of those years—civil war, misgovernment, a time of bloody action rather than peaceful authorship. Here, too, was a great temptation for some gifted but oblique mind to supply a partial literature for that bare period; a literature which, entirely fabricated, should yet bear all the characteristics of the history, language, customs, manners, and religion of that time.
This attempt was made by Thomas Chatterton, an obscure, ill-educated lad, without means or friends, but who had a master-mind, and would have accomplished some great feat in letters, had he not died, while still very young, by his own hand.
Let us examine these frauds in succession: we shall find them of double historic value, as literary efforts in one age designed to represent the literature of a former age.
JAMES MACPHERSON.—James Macpherson was born at Ruthven, a village in Inverness-shire, in 1738. Being intended for the ministry, he received a good preliminary education, and became early interested in the ancient Gaelic ballads and poetic fragments still floating about the Highlands of Scotland. By the aid of Mr. John Home, the author of Douglas, and his friends Blair and Ferguson, he published, in 1760, a small volume of sixty pages entitled, Fragments of Ancient Poetry translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. They were heroic and harmonious, and were very well received: he had catered to the very spirit of the age. At first, there seemed to be no doubt as to their genuineness. It was known to tradition that this northern Fingal had fought with Severus and Caracalla, on the banks of the Carun, and that blind Ossian had poured forth a flood of song after the fight, and made the deeds immortal. And now these songs and deeds were echoing in English ears,—the thrumming of the harp which told of "the stream of those olden years, where they have so long hid, in their mist, their many-colored sides." (Cathloda, Duan III.)
So enthusiastically were these poems received, that a subscription was raised to enable Macpherson to travel in the Highlands, and collect more of this lingering and beautiful poetry.
Gray the poet, writing to William Mason, in 1760, says: "These poems are in everybody's mouth in the Highlands; have been handed down from father to son. We have therefore set on foot a subscription of a guinea or two apiece, in order to enable Mr. Macpherson to recover this poem (Fingal), and other fragments of antiquity."
FINGAL.—On his return, in 1762, he published Fingal, and, in the same volume, some smaller poems. This Fingal, which he calls "an ancient epic poem" in six duans or books, recounts the deliverance of Erin from the King of Lochlin. The next year, 1763, he published Temora. Among the earlier poems, in all which Fingal is the hero, are passages of great beauty and touching pathos. Such, too, are found in Carricthura and Carthon, the War of Inis-thona, and the Songs of Selma. After reading these, we are pleasantly haunted with dim but beautiful pictures of that Northern coast where "the blue waters rolled in light," "when morning rose In the east;" and again with ghostly moonlit scenes, when "night came down on the sea, and Rotha's Bay received the ship." "The wan, cold moon rose in the east; sleep descended upon the youths; their blue helmets glitter to the beam; the fading fire decays; but sleep did not rest on the king; he rode in the midst of his arms, and slowly ascended the hill to behold the flame of Sarno's tower. The flame was dim and distant; the moon hid her red face in the east. A blast came from the mountain; on its wings was the spirit of Loda." In Carthon occurs that beautiful address to the Sun, which we are fortunate in knowing, from other sources than Macpherson, is a tolerably correct translation of a real original. If we had that alone, it would be a revelation of the power of Ossian, and of the aptitudes of a people who could enjoy it. It is not within our scope to quote from the veritable Ossian, or to expose the bombast and fustian, tumid diction and swelling sound of Macpherson, of which the poems contain so much.
As soon as a stir was made touching the authenticity of the poems, a number of champions sprang up on both sides: among those who favored Macpherson, was Dr. Hugh Blair, who wrote the critical dissertation usually prefixed to the editions of Ossian, and who compares him favorably to Homer. First among the incredulous, as might be expected, was Dr. Samuel Johnson, who, in his Journey to the Hebrides, lashes Macpherson for his imposture, and his insolence in refusing to show the original. Johnson was threatened by Macpherson with a beating, and he answered: "I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian ... I thought your book an imposture; I think it an imposture still ... Your rage I defy ... You may print this if you will."
Proofs of the imposture were little by little discovered by the critics. There were some real fragments in his first volume; but even these he had altered, and made symmetrical, so as to disguise their original character. Ossian would not have known them. As for Fingal, in its six duans, with captional arguments, it was made up from a few fragments, and no such poem ever existed. It was Macpherson's from beginning to end.
The final establishment of the forgery was not simply by recourse to scholars versed in the Celtic tongues, but the Highland Society appointed a committee in 1767, whose duty it was to send to the Highland pastors a circular, inquiring whether they had heard in the original the poems of Ossian, said to be translated by Macpherson; if so, where and by whom they had been written out or repeated: whether similar fragments still existed, and whether there were persons living who could repeat them; whether, to their knowledge, Macpherson had obtained such poems in the Highlands; and for any information concerning the personality of Fingal and Ossian.
CRITICISM.—The result was as follows: Certain Ossianic poems did exist, and some manuscripts of ancient ballads and bardic songs. A few of these had formed the foundation of Macpherson's so-called translations of the earlier pieces; but he had altered and added to them, and joined them with his own fancies in an arbitrary manner.
Fingal and Temora were also made out of a few fragments; but in their epic and connected form not only did not exist, but lack the bardic character and construction entirely.
Now that the critics had the direction of the chase made known, they discovered that Macpherson had taken his imagery from the Bible, of which Ossian was ignorant; from classic authors, of whom he had never heard; and from modern sources down to his own day.
Then Macpherson's Ossian—which had been read with avidity and translated into many languages, while it was considered an antique gem only reset in English—fell into disrepute, and was unduly despised when known to be a forgery.
It is difficult to conceive why he did not produce the work as his own, with a true story of its foundation: it is not so difficult to understand why, when he was detected, he persisted in the falsehood. For what it really is, it must be partially praised; and it will remain not only as a literary curiosity, but as a work of unequal but real merit. It was greatly admired by Napoleon and Madame de Stael, and, in endeavoring to consign it to oblivion, the critics are greatly in the wrong.
Macpherson resented any allusion to the forgery, and any leading question concerning it. He refused, at first, to produce the originals; and when he did say where they might be found, the world had decided so strongly against him, that there was no curiosity to examine them. He at last maintained a sullen silence; and, dying suddenly, in 1796, left no papers which throw light upon the controversy. The subject is, however, still agitated. Later writers have endeavored to reverse the decision of his age, without, however, any decided success. For much information concerning the Highland poetry, the reader is referred to A Summer in Skye, by Alexander Smith.
OTHER WORKS.—His other principal work was a Translation of the Iliad of Homer in the Ossianic style, which was received with execration and contempt. He also wrote A History of Great Britain from the Restoration to the Accession of the House of Hanover, which Fox—who was, however, prejudiced—declared to be full of impudent falsehoods.
Of his career little more need be said: he was too shrewd a man to need sympathy; he took care of himself. He was successful in his pecuniary schemes; as agent of the Nabob of Arcot, he had a seat in parliament for ten years, and was quite unconcerned what the world thought of his literary performances. He had achieved notoriety, and enjoyed it.
But, unfortunately, his forgery did fatal injury by its example; it inspired Chatterton, the precocious boy, to make another attempt on public credulity. It opened a seductive path for one who, inspired by the adventure and warned by the causes of exposure, might make a better forgery, escape detection, and gain great praise in the antiquarian world.
THOMAS CHATTERTON.—With this name, we accost the most wonderful story of its kind in any literature; so strange, indeed, that we never take it up without trying to discover some new meaning in it. We hope, against hope, that the forgery is not proved.
Chatterton was born in Bristol, on the Avon, in 1752, of poor parents, but early gave signs of remarkable genius, combined with a prurient ambition. A friend who wished to present him with an earthen-ware cup, asked him what device he would have upon it. "Paint me," he answered, "an angel with wings and a trumpet, to trumpet my name over the world." He learned his alphabet from an old music-book; at eight years of age he was sent to a charity-school, and he spent his little pocket-money at a circulating library, the books of which he literally devoured.
At the early age of eleven he wrote a piece of poetry, and published it in the Bristol Journal of January 8, 1763; it was entitled On the last Epiphany, or Christ coming to Judgment, and the next year, probably, a Hymn to Christmas-day, of which the following lines will give an idea:
How shall we celebrate his name, Who groaned beneath a life of shame, In all afflictions tried? The soul is raptured to conceive A truth which being must believe; The God eternal died.
My soul, exert thy powers, adore; Upon Devotion's plumage soar To celebrate the day. The God from whom creation sprung Shall animate my grateful tongue, From Him I'll catch the lay.
Some member of the Chatterton family had, for one hundred and fifty years, held the post of sexton in the church of St. Mary Redcliffe at Bristol; and at the time of which we write his uncle was sexton. In the muniment-room of the church were several coffers, containing old papers and parchments in black letter, some of which were supposed to be of value. The chests were examined by order of the vestry; the valuable papers were removed, and of the rest, as perquisites of the sexton, some fell into the hands of Chatterton's father. The boy, who had been, upon leaving school, articled to an attorney, and had thus become familiar with the old English text, caught sight of these, and seemed then to have first formed the plan of turning them to account, as The Rowlie papers.
OLD MANUSCRIPTS.—If he could be believed, he found a variety of material in this old collection. To a credulous and weak acquaintance, Mr. Burgum, he went, beaming with joy, to present the pedigree and illuminated arms of the de Bergham family—tracing the honest mechanic's descent to a noble house which crossed the Channel with William the Conqueror. The delighted Burgum gave him a crown, and Chatterton, pocketing the money, lampooned his credulity thus:
Gods! what would Burgum give to get a name, And snatch his blundering dialect from shame? What would he give to hand his memory down To time's remotest boundary? a crown! Would you ask more, his swelling face looks blue— Futurity he rates at two pound two!
In September, 1768, the inauguration or opening of the new bridge across the Avon took place; and, taking advantage of the temporary interest it excited, Chatterton, then sixteen, produced in the Bristol Journal a full description of the opening of the old bridge two hundred years before, which he said he found among the old papers: "A description of the Fryers first passing over the old bridge, taken from an ancient manuscript," with details of the procession, and the Latin sermon preached on the occasion by Ralph de Blundeville; ending with the dinner, the sports, and the illumination on Kynwulph Hill.
This paper, which attracted general interest, was traced to Chatterton, and when he was asked to show the original, it was soon manifest that there was none, but that the whole was a creation of his fancy. The question arises,—How did the statements made by Chatterton compare with the known facts of local history?
There was in the olden time in Bristol a great merchant named William Canynge, who was remembered for his philanthropy; he had altered and improved the church of St. Mary, and had built the muniment-room: the reputed poems, some of which were said to have been written by himself, and others by the monk Rowlie, Chatterton declared he had found in the coffers. Thomas Rowlie, "the gode preeste," appears as a holy and learned man, poet, artist, and architect. Canynge and Rowlie were strong friends, and the latter was supposed to have addressed many of the poems to the former, who was his good patron.
The principal of the Rowlie poems is the Bristowe (Bristol) Tragedy, or Death of Sir Charles Bawdin. This Bawdin, or Baldwin, a real character, had been attainted by Edward IV. of high treason, and brought to the block. The poem is in the finest style of the old English ballad, and is wonderfully dramatic. King Edward sends to inform Bawdin of his fate:
Then with a jug of nappy ale His knights did on him waite; "Go tell the traitor that to daie He leaves this mortal state."
Sir Charles receives the tidings with bold defiance. Good Master Canynge goes to the king to ask the prisoner's life as a boon.
"My noble liege," good Canynge saide, "Leave justice to our God; And lay the iron rule aside, Be thine the olyve rodde."
The king is inexorable, and Sir Charles dies amid tears and loud weeping around the scaffold.
Among the other Rowlie poems are the Tragical Interlude of Ella, "plaied before Master Canynge, and also before Johan Howard, Duke of Norfolk;" Godwin, a short drama; a long poem on The Battle of Hastings, and The Romaunt of the Knight, modernized from the original of John de Bergham.
THE VERDICT.—These poems at once became famous, and the critics began to investigate the question of their authenticity. From this investigation Chatterton did not shrink. He sent some of them with letters to Horace Walpole, and, as Walpole did not immediately answer, he wrote to him quite impertinently. Then they were submitted to Mason and Gray. The opinion of those who examined them was almost unanimous that they were forgeries: he could produce no originals; the language is in many cases not that of the period, and the spelling and idioms are evidently factitious. A few there were who seemed to have committed themselves, at first, to their authenticity; but Walpole, the Wartons, Dr. Johnson, Gibbon the historian, Sheridan, and most other literary men, were clear as to their forgery. The forged manuscripts which he had the hardihood afterwards to present, were totally unlike those of Edward the Fourth's time; he was entirely at fault in his heraldry; words were used out of their meaning; and, in his poem on The Battle of Hastings, he had introduced the modern discoveries concerning Stone Henge. He uses the possessive case yttes, which did not come into use until long after the Rowlie period. Add to these that Chatterton's reputation for veracity was bad.
The truth was, that he had found some curious scraps, which had set his fancy to work, and the example of Macpherson had led to the cheat he was practising upon the public. To some friends he confessed the deception, denying it again, violently, soon after; and he had been seen smoking parchment to make it look old. The lad was crazy.
HIS SUICIDE.—Keeping up appearances, he went to London, and tried to get work. At one time he was in high spirits, sending presents to his mother and sisters, and promising them better days; at another, he was in want, in the lowest depression, no hope in the world. He only asks for work; he is entirely unconcerned for whom he writes or what party he eulogizes; he wants money and a name, and when these seem unattainable, he takes refuge from "the whips and scorns of time," the burning fever of pride, the gnawings of hunger, in suicide. He goes to his little garret room,—refusing, as he goes, a dinner from his landlady, although he is gaunt with famine,—mixes a large dose of arsenic in water, and—"jumps the life to come." He was just seventeen years and nine months old! When his room was forced open, it was found that he had torn up most of his papers, and had left nothing to throw light upon his deception.
The verdict of literary criticism is that of the medical art—he was insane; and to what extent this mania acted as a monomania, that is, how far he was himself deceived, the world can never know. One thing, at least; it redeems all his faults. Precocious beyond any other known instance of precocity; intensely haughty; bold in falsehood; working best when the moon was at the full, he stands in English literature as the most singular of its curiosities. His will is an awful jest; his declaration of his religious opinions a tissue of contradictions and absurdities: he bequeathes to a clergyman his humility; to Mr. Burgum his prosody and grammar, with half his modesty—the other half to any young lady that needs it; his abstinence—a fearful legacy—to the aldermen of Bristol at their annual feast! to a friend, a mourning ring—"provided he pays for it himself"—with the motto, "Alas, poor Chatterton!" Fittest ending to his biography—"Alas, poor Chatterton!"
And yet it is evident that the crazy Bristol boy and the astute Scotchman were alike the creatures of the age and the peculiar circumstances in which they lived. No other age of English history could have produced them. In an earlier period, they would have found no curiosity in the people to warrant their attempts; and in a later time, the increase in antiquarian studies would have made these efforts too easy of detection.
POETRY OF THE TRANSITION SCHOOL.
The Transition Period. James Thomson. The Seasons. The Castle of Indolence. Mark Akenside. Pleasures of the Imagination. Thomas Gray. The Elegy. The Bard. William Cowper. The Task. Translation of Homer. Other Writers.
THE TRANSITION PERIOD.
The poetical standards of Dryden and Pope, as poetic examples and arbiters, exercised tyrannical sway to the middle of the eighteenth century, and continued to be felt, with relaxing influence, however, to a much later period. Poetry became impatient of too close a captivity to technical rules in rhythm and in subjects, and began once again to seek its inspiration from the worlds of nature and of feeling. While seeking this change, it passed through what has been properly called the period of transition,—a period the writers of which are distinctly marked as belonging neither to the artificial classicism of Pope, nor to the simple naturalism of Wordsworth and the Lake school; partaking, indeed, in some degree of the former, and preparing the way for the latter.
The excited condition of public feeling during the earlier period, incident to the accession of the house of Hanover and the last struggles of the Jacobites, had given a political character to every author, and a political significance to almost every literary work. At the close of this abnormal condition of things, the poets of the transition school began their labors; untrammelled by the court and the town, they invoked the muse in green fields and by babbling brooks; from materialistic philosophy in verse they appealed through the senses to the hearts of men; and appreciation and popularity rewarded and encouraged them.
JAMES THOMSON.—The first distinguished writer of this school was Thomson, the son of a Scottish minister. He was born on the 11th of September, 1700, at Ednam in Roxburghshire. While a boy at school in Jedburgh, he displayed poetical talent: at the University of Edinburgh he completed his scholastic course, and studied divinity; which, however, he did not pursue as a profession. Being left, by his father's death, without means, he resolved to go to the great metropolis to try his fortunes. He arrived in London in sorry plight, without money, and with ragged shoes; but through the assistance of some persons of station, he procured occupation as tutor to a lord's son, and thus earned a livelihood until the publication of his first poem in 1726. That poem was Winter, the first of the series called The Seasons: it was received with unusual favor. The first edition was speedily exhausted, and with the publication of the second, his position as a poet was assured. In 1727 he produced the second poem of the series, Summer, and, with it, a proposal for issuing the Four Seasons, with a Hymn on their succession. In 1728 his Spring appeared, and in the next year an unsuccessful tragedy called Sophonisba, which owed its immediate failure to the laughter occasioned by the line,
O Sophonisba, Sophonisba O!
This was parodied by some wag in these words:
O Jemmie Thomson, Jemmie Thomson O!
and the ridicule was so potent that the play was ruined.
The last of the seasons, Autumn, and the Hymn, were first printed in a complete edition of The Seasons, in 1730. It was at once conceded that he had gratified the cravings of the day, In producing a real and beautiful English pastoral. The reputation which he thus gained caused him to be selected as the mentor and companion of the son of Sir Charles Talbot in a tour through France and Italy in 1730 and 1731.
In 1734 he published the first part of a poem called Liberty, the conclusion of which appeared in 1736. It is designed to trace the progress of Liberty through Italy, Greece, and Rome, down to her excellent establishment in Great Britain, and was dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales.
His tragedies Agamemnon and Edward and Eleanora are in the then prevailing taste. They were issued in 1738-39. The latter is of political significance, in that Edward was like Frederick the Prince of Wales—heir apparent to the crown; and some of the passages are designed to strengthen the prince in the favor of the people.
The personal life of Thomson is not of much interest. From his first residence in London, he supported, with his slender means, a brother, who died young of consumption, and aided two maiden sisters, who kept a small milliner-shop in Edinburgh. This is greatly to his praise, as he was at one time so poor that he was arrested for debt and committed to prison. As his reputation increased, his fortunes were ameliorated. In 1745 his play Tancred and Sigismunda was performed. It was founded upon a story universally popular,—the same which appears in the episode of The Fatal Marriage in Gil Bias, and in one of the stories of Boccaccio. He enjoyed for a short time a pension from the Prince of Wales, of which, however, he was deprived without apparent cause; but he received the office of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands, the duties of which he could perform by deputy; after that he lived a lazy life at his cottage near Richmond, which, if otherwise reprehensible, at least gave him the power to write his most beautiful poem, The Castle of Indolence. It appeared in 1748, and was universally admired; it has a rhetorical harmony similar and quite equal to that of the Lotos Eaters of Tennyson. The poet, who had become quite plethoric, was heated by a walk from London, and, from a check of perspiration, was thrown into a high fever, a relapse of which caused his death on the 27th of August, 1748. His friend Lord Lyttleton wrote the prologue to his play of Coriolanus, which was acted after the poet's death, in which he says:
"—His chaste Muse employed her heaven-taught lyre None but the noblest missions to inspire, Not one immoral, one corrupted thought, One line which, dying, he could wish to blot."
The praise accorded him in this much-quoted line is justly his due: it is greater praise that he was opening a new pathway in English Literature, and supplying better food than the preceding age had given. His Seasons supplied a want of the age: it was a series of beautiful pastorals. The descriptions of nature will always be read and quoted with pleasure; the little episodes, if they affect the unity, relieve the monotony of the subject, and, like figures introduced by the painter into his landscape, take away the sense of loneliness, and give us a standard at once of judgment, of measurement, and of sympathetic enjoyment; they display, too, at once the workings of his own mind in his production, and the manners and sentiments of the age in which he wrote. It was fitting that he who had portrayed for us such beautiful gardens of English nature, should people them instead of leaving them solitary.
THE CASTLE OF INDOLENCE.—This is an allegory, written after the manner of Spenser, and in the Spenserian stanza. He also employs archaic words, as Spenser did, to give it greater resemblance to Spenser's poem. The allegorical characters are well described, and the sumptuous adornings and lazy luxuries of the castle are set forth con amore. The spell that enchants the castle is broken by the stalwart knight Industry; but the glamour of the poem remains, and makes the reader in love with Indolence.
MARK AKENSIDE.—Thomson had restored or reproduced the pastoral from Nature's self; Akenside followed in his steps. Thomson had invested blank verse with a new power and beauty; Akenside produced it quite as excellent. But Thomson was the original, and Akenside the copy. The one is natural, the other artificial.
Akenside was the son of a butcher, and was born at New Castle, in 1721. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he studied medicine, and received, at different periods, lucrative and honorable professional appointments. His great work, and the only one to which we need refer, is his Pleasures of the Imagination. Whether his view of the imagination is always correct or not, his sentiments are always elevated; his language high sounding but frequently redundant, and his versification correct and pleasing. His descriptions of nature are cold but correct; his standard of humanity is high but mortal. Grand and sonorous, he constructs his periods with the manner of a declaimer; his ascriptions and apostrophes are like those of a high-priest. The title of his poem, if nothing more, suggested The Pleasures-of Hope to Campbell, and The Pleasures of Memory to Rogers. As a man, Akenside was overbearing and dictatorial; as a hospital surgeon, harsh in his treatment of poor patients. His hymn to the Naiads has been considered the most thoroughly and correctly classical of anything in English. He died on the 23rd of June, 1770.
THOMAS GRAY.—Among those who form a link between the school of Pope and that of the modern poets, Gray occupies a distinguished place, both from the excellence of his writings, and from the fact that, while he unconsciously conduced to the modern, he instinctively resisted its progress. He was in taste and intention an extreme classicist. Thomas Gray was born in London on the 26th December, 1716. His father was a money scrivener, and, to his family at least, a bad man; his mother, forced to support herself, kept a linen-draper shop; and to her the poet owed his entire education. He was entered at Eton College, and afterwards at Cambridge, and found in early life such friendships as were of great importance to him later in his career. Among his college friends were Horace Walpole, West, the son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and William Mason, who afterwards wrote the poet's life. After completing his college course, he travelled on the continent with Walpole; but, on account of incompatibility of temper, they quarrelled and parted, and Gray returned home. Although Walpole took the blame upon himself, it would appear that Gray was a somewhat captious person, whose serious tastes interfered with the gayer pleasures of his friend. On his return, Gray went to Cambridge, where he led the life of a retired student, devoting himself to the ancient authors, to poetry, botany, architecture, and heraldry. He was fastidious as to his own productions, which were very few, and which he kept by him, pruning, altering, and polishing, for a long time before he would let them see the light. His lines entitled A Distant Prospect of Eton College appeared in 1742, and were received with great applause.
It was at this time that he also began his Elegy in a Country Churchyard; which, however, did not appear until seven or eight years later, and which has made him immortal. The grandeur of its language, the elevation of its sentiments, and the sympathy of its pathos, commend it to all classes and all hearts; and of its kind of composition it stands alone in English literature.
The ode on the progress of poetry appeared in 1755. Like the Elegy, his poem of The Bard was for several years on the literary easel, and he was accidentally led to finish it by hearing a blind harper performing on a Welsh harp.
On the death of Cibber, Gray was offered the laureate's crown, which he declined, to avoid its conspicuousness and the envy of his brother poets. In 1762, he applied for the professorship of modern history at Cambridge, but failed to obtain the position. He was more fortunate in 1768, when it again became vacant; but he held it as a sinecure, doing none of its duties. He died in 1770, on the 3d of July, of gout in the stomach. His habits were those of a recluse; and whether we agree or not, with Adam Smith, in saying that nothing is wanting to render him perhaps the first poet in the English language, but to have written a little more, it is astonishing that so great and permanent a reputation should have been founded on so very little as he wrote. Gray has been properly called the finest lyric poet in the language; and his lyric power strikes us as intuitive and original; yet he himself, adhering strongly to the artificial school, declared, if there was any excellence in his own numbers, he had learned it wholly from Dryden. His archaeological tastes are further shown by his enthusiastic study of heraldry, and by his surrounding himself with old armor and other curious relics of the past. Mr. Mitford, in a curious dissection of the Elegy, has found numerous errors of rhetoric, and even of grammar.
His Bard is founded on a tradition that Edward I., when he conquered Wales, ordered all the bards to be put to death, that they might not, by their songs, excite the Welsh people to revolt. The last one who figures in his story, sings a lament for his brethren, prophesies the downfall of the usurper, and then throws himself over the cliff:
"Be thine despair and sceptered care, To triumph and to die are mine!" He spoke, and headlong from the mountain's height, Deep in the roaring tide, he plunged to endless night.
WILLIAM COWPER.—Next in the catalogue of the transition school occurs the name of one who, like Gray, was a recluse, but with a better reason and a sadder one. He was a gentle hypochondriac, and, at intervals, a maniac, who literally turned to poetry, like Saul to the harper, for relief from his sufferings. William Cowper, the eldest son of the Rector of Berkhampsted in Hertfordshire, was born on the 15th of November, 1731. He was a delicate and sensitive child, and was seriously affected by the loss of his mother when he was six years old. At school, he was cruelly treated by an older boy, which led to his decided views against public schools, expressed in his poem called Tirocinium. His morbid sensitiveness increased upon him as he grew older, and interfered with his legal studies and advancement. His depression of spirits took a religious turn; and we are glad to think that religion itself brought the balm which gave him twelve years of unclouded mind, devoted to friendship and to poetry. He was offered, by powerful friends, eligible positions connected with the House of Lords, in 1762; but as the one of these which he accepted was threatened with a public examination, he abandoned it in horror; not, however, before the fearful suspense had unsettled his brain, so that he was obliged to be placed, for a short time, in an asylum for the insane. When he left this asylum, he went to Huntingdon, where he became acquainted with the Rev. William Unwin, who, with his wife and son, seem to have been congenial companions to his desolate heart. On the death of Mr. Unwin, in 1767, he removed with the widow to Olney, and there formed an intimate acquaintance with another clergyman, the Rev. William Newton. Here, and in this society, the remainder of the poet's life was passed in writing letters, which have been considered the best ever written in England; in making hymns, in conjunction with Mr. Newton, which have ever since been universal favorites; and in varied poetic attempts, which give him high rank in the literature of the day. The first of his larger pieces was a poem entitled, The Progress of Error, which appeared in 1783, when the author had reached the advanced age of 52. Then followed Truth and Expostulation, which, according to the poet himself, did much towards diverting his melancholy thoughts. These poems would not have fixed his fame; but Lady Austen, an accomplished woman with whom he became acquainted in 1781, deserves our gratitude for having proposed to him the subjects of those poems which have really made him famous, namely, The Task, John Gilpin, and the translation of Homer. Before, however, undertaking these, he wrote poems on Hope, Charity, Conversation and Retirement. The story of John Gilpin—a real one as told him by Lady Austen—made such an impression upon him, that he dashed off the ballad at a sitting.
THE TASK.—The origin of The Task is well known. In 1783, Lady Austen suggested to him to write a poem in blank verse: he said he would, if she would suggest the subject. Her answer was, "Write on this sofa." The poem thus begun was speedily expanded into those beautiful delineations of varied nature, domestic life, and religious sentiment which rivalled the best efforts of Thomson. The title that connects them is The Task. Tirocinium or the Review of Schools, appeared soon after, and excited considerable attention in a country where public education has been the rule of the higher social life. Cowper began the translation of Homer in 1785, from a feeling of the necessity of employment for his mind. His translations of both Iliad and Odyssey, which occupied him for five years, and which did not entirely keep off his old enemy, were published in 1791. They are correct in scholarship and idiom, but lack the nature and the fire of the old Grecian bard.
The rest of his life was busy, but sad—a constant effort to drive away madness by incessant labor. The loss of his friend, Mrs. Unwin, in 1796, affected him deeply, and the clouds settled thicker and thicker upon his soul. In the year before his death, he published that painfully touching poem, The Castaway, which gives an epitome of his own sufferings in the similitude of a wretch clinging to a spar in a stormy night upon the Atlantic.
His minor and fugitive poems are very numerous; and as they were generally inspired by persons and scenes around him, they are truly literary types of the age in which he lived. In his Task, he resembles Thomson and Akenside; in his didactic poems, he reminds us of the essays of Pope; in his hymns he catered successfully to the returning piety of the age; in his translations of Homer and of Ovid, he presented the ancients to moderns in a new and acceptable dress; and in his Letters he sets up an epistolary model, which may be profitably studied by all who desire to express themselves with energy, simplicity, and delicate taste.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE TRANSITION SCHOOL.
James Beattie, 1735-1803: he was the son of a farmer, and was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he was afterwards professor of natural philosophy. For four years he taught a village school. His first poem, Retirement, was not much esteemed; but in 1771 appeared the first part of The Minstrel, a poem at once descriptive, didactic, and romantic. This was enthusiastically received, and gained for him the favor of the king, a pension of L200 per annum, and a degree from Oxford. The second part was published in 1774. The Minstrel is written in the Spenserian stanza, and abounds in beautiful descriptions of nature, marking a very decided progress from the artificial to the natural school. The character of Edwin, the young minstrel, ardent in search for the beautiful and the true, is admirably portrayed; as is also that of the hermit who instructs the youth. The opening lines are very familiar:
Ah, who can tell how hard it is to climb The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar;
and the description of the morning landscape has no superior in the language:
But who the melodies of morn can tell? The wild brook babbling down the mountain side; The lowing herd; the sheepfold's simple bell; The pipe of early shepherd dim descried In the lone valley.
Beattie wrote numerous prose dissertations and essays, one of which was in answer to the infidel views of Hume—Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism. Beattie was of an excitable and sensitive nature, and his polemical papers are valued rather for the beauty of their language, than for acuteness of logic.
William Falconer, 1730-1769: first a sailor in the merchant service, he afterwards entered the navy. He is chiefly known by his poem The Shipwreck, and for its astonishing connection with his own fortunes and fate. He was wrecked off Cape Colonna, on the coast of Greece, before he was eighteen; and this misfortune is the subject of his poem. Again, in 1760, he was cast away in the Channel. In 1769, the Aurora frigate, of which he was the purser, foundered in Mozambique Channels, and he, with all others on board, went down with her. The excellence of his nautical directions and the vigor of his descriptions establish the claims of his poem; but it has the additional interest attaching to his curious experience—it is his autobiography and his enduring monument. The picture of the storm is very fine; but in the handling of his verse there is more of the artificial than of the romantic school.
William Shenstone, 1714-1763: his principal work is The Schoolmistress, a poem in the stanza of Spenser, which is pleasing from its simple and sympathizing description of the village school, kept by a dame; with the tricks and punishment of the children, and many little traits of rural life and character. It is pitched in so low a key that it commends itself to the world at large. Shenstone is equally known for his mania in landscape gardening, upon which he spent all his means. His place, The Leasowes in Shropshire, has gained the greater notoriety through the descriptions of Dodsley and Goldsmith. The natural simplicity of The Schoolmistress allies it strongly to the romantic school, which was now about to appear.
William Collins, 1720-1756: this unfortunate poet, who died at the early age of thirty-six, deserves particular mention for the delicacy of his fancy and the beauty of his diction. His Ode on the Passions is universally esteemed for its sudden and effective changes from the bewilderment of Fear, the violence of Anger, and the wildness of Despair to the rapt visions of Hope, the gentle dejection of Pity, and the sprightliness of Mirth and Cheerfulness. His Ode on the Death of Thomson is an exquisite bit of pathos, as is also the Dirge on Cymbeline. Everybody knows and admires the short ode beginning
How sleep the brave who sink to rest By all their country's wishes blest!
His Oriental Eclogues please by the simplicity of the colloquies, the choice figures of speech, and the fine descriptions of nature. But of all his poems, the most finished and charming is the Ode to Evening. It contains thirteen four-lined stanzas of varied metre, and in blank verse so full of harmony that rhyme would spoil it. It presents a series of soft, dissolving views, and stands alone in English poetry, with claims sufficient to immortalize the poet, had he written nothing else. The latter part of his life was clouded by mental disorders, not unsuggested to the reader by the pathos of many of his poems. Like Gray, he wrote little, but every line is of great merit.
Henry Kirke White, 1785-1806: the son of a butcher, this gifted youth displayed, in his brief life, such devotion to study, and such powers of mind, that his friends could not but predict a brilliant future for him, had he lived. Nothing that he produced is of the highest order of poetic merit, but everything was full of promise. Of a weak constitution, he could not bear the rigorous study which he prescribed to himself, and which hastened his death. With the kind assistance of Mr. Capel Lofft and the poet Southey, he was enabled to leave the trade to which he had been apprenticed and go to Cambridge. His poems have most of them a strongly devotional cast. Among them are Gondoline, Clifton Grove, and the Christiad, in the last of which, like the swan, he chants his own death-song. His memory has been kept green by Southey's edition of his Remains, and by the beautiful allusion of Byron to his genius and his fate in The English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. His sacred piece called The Star of Bethlehem has been a special favorite:
When marshalled on the nightly plain The glittering host bestud the sky, One star alone of all the train Can fix the sinner's wandering eye.
Bishop Percy, 1728-1811: Dr. Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore, deserves particular notice in a sketch of English Literature not so much for his own works,—although he was a poet,—as for his collection of ballads, made with great research and care, and published in 1765. By bringing before the world these remains of English songs and idyls, which lay scattered through the ages from the birth of the language, he showed England the true wealth of her romantic history, and influenced the writers of the day to abandon the artificial and reproduce the natural, the simple, and the romantic. He gave the impulse which produced the minstrelsy of Scott and the simple stories of Wordsworth. Many of these ballads are descriptive of the border wars between England and Scotland; among the greatest favorites are Chevy Chase, The Battle of Otterburne, The Death of Douglas, and the story of Sir Patrick Spens.
Anne Letitia Barbauld, 1743-1825: the hymns and poems of Mrs. Barbauld are marked by an adherence to the artificial school in form and manner; but something of feminine tenderness redeems them from the charge of being purely mechanical. Her Hymns in Prose for Children have been of value in an educational point of view; and the tales comprised in Evenings at Home are entertaining and instructive. Her Ode to Spring, which is an imitation of Collins's Ode to Evening, in the same measure and comprising the same number of stanzas, is her best poetic effort, and compares with Collins's piece as an excellent copy compares with the picture of a great master.
THE LATER DRAMA.
The Progress of the Drama. Garrick. Foote. Cumberland. Sheridan. George Colman. George Colman, the Younger. Other Dramatists and Humorists. Other Writers on Various Subjects.
THE PROGRESS OF THE DRAMA.
The latter half of the eighteenth century, so marked, as we have seen, for manifold literary activity, is, in one phase of its history, distinctly represented by the drama. It was a very peculiar epoch in English annals. The accession of George III., in 1760, gave promise, from the character of the king and of his consort, of an exemplary reign. George III. was the first monarch of the house of Hanover who may be justly called an English king in interest and taste. He and his queen were virtuous and honest; and their influence was at once felt by a people in whom virtue and honesty are inherent, and whose consciences and tastes had been violated by the evil examples of the former reigns.
In 1762 George Augustus Frederick, Prince of Wales, was born; and as soon as he approached manhood, he displayed the worst features of his ancestral house: he was extravagant and debauched; he threw himself into a violent opposition to his father: with this view he was at first a Whig, but afterwards became a Tory. He had also peculiar opportunities for exerting authority during the temporary fits of insanity which attacked the king in 1764, in 1788, and in 1804. At last, in 1810, the king was so disabled from attending to his duties that the prince became regent, and assumed the reins of government, not to resign them again during his life.
In speaking of the drama of this period, we should hardly, therefore, be wrong in calling it the Drama of the Regency. It held, however, by historic links, following the order of historic events, to the earlier drama. Shakspeare and his contemporaries had established the dramatic art on a firm basis. The frown of puritanism, in the polemic period, had checked its progress: with the restoration of Charles II, it had returned to rival the French stage in wicked plots and prurient scenes. With the better morals of the Revolution, and the popular progress which was made at the accession of the house of Hanover, the drama was modified: the older plays were revived in their original freshness; a new and better taste was to be catered to; and what of immorality remained was chiefly due to the influence of the Prince of Wales. Actors, so long despised, rose to importance as great artists. Garrick and Foote, and, later, Kemble, Kean, and Mrs. Siddons, were social personages in England. Peers married actresses, and enduring reputation was won by those who could display the passions and the affections to the life, giving flesh and blood and mind and heart to the inimitable creations of Shakspeare.
It must be allowed that this power of presentment marks the age more powerfully than any claims of dramatic authorship. The new play-writers did not approach Shakspeare; but they represented their age, and repudiated the vices, in part at least, of their immediate predecessors. In them, too, is to be observed the change from the artificial to the romantic and natural, The scenes and persons in their plays are taken from the life around them, and appealed to the very models from which they were drawn.
DAVID GARRICK.—First among these purifiers of the drama is David Garrick, who was born in Lichfield, in 1716. He was a pupil of Dr. Johnson, and came up with that distinguished man to London, in 1735. The son of a captain in the Royal army, but thrown upon his own exertions, he first tried to gain a livelihood as a wine merchant; but his fondness for the stage led him to become an actor, and in taking this step he found his true position. A man of respectable parts and scholarship, he wrote many agreeable pieces for the stage; which, however, owed their success more to his accurate knowledge of the mise en scene, and to his own representation of the principal characters, than to their intrinsic merits. His mimetic powers were great: he acted splendidly in all casts, excelling, perhaps, in tragedy; and he, more than any actor before or since, has made the world thoroughly acquainted with Shakspeare. Dramatic authors courted him; for his appearance in any new piece was almost an assurance of its success.
Besides many graceful prologues, epigrams, and songs, he wrote, or altered, forty plays. Among these the following have the greatest merit: The Lying Valet, a farce founded on an old English comedy; The Clandestine Marriage, in which he was aided by the elder Colman; (the character of Lord Ogleby he wrote for himself to personate;) Miss in her Teens, a very clever and amusing farce. He was charmingly natural in his acting; but he was accused of being theatrical when off the stage. In the words of Goldsmith:
On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting; 'Twas only that when he was off, he was acting.
Garrick married a dancer, who made him an excellent wife. By his own exertions he won a highly respectable social position, and an easy fortune of L140,000, upon which he retired from the stage. He died in London in 1779.
In 1831-2 his Private Correspondence with the Most Celebrated Persons of his Time was published, and opened a rich field to the social historian. Among his correspondents were Dr. Johnson, Boswell, Goldsmith, Gibber, Sheridan, Burke, Wilkes, Junius, and Dr. Franklin. Thus Garrick catered largely to the history of his period, as an actor and dramatic author, illustrating the stage; as a reviver of Shakspeare, and as a correspondent of history.
SAMUEL FOOTE.—Among the many English actors who have been distinguished for great powers of versatility in voice, feature, and manner, there is none superior to Foote. Bold and self-reliant, he was a comedian in every-day life; and his ready wit and humor subdued Dr. Johnson, who had determined to dislike him. He was born in 1722, at Truro, and educated at Oxford: he studied law, but his peculiar aptitudes soon led him to the stage, where he became famous as a comic actor. Among his original pieces are The Patron, The Devil on Two Stilts, The Diversions of the Morning, Lindamira, and The Slanderer. But his best play, which is a popular burlesque on parliamentary elections, is The Mayor of Garrat. He died in 1777, at Dover, while on his way to France for the benefit of his health. His plays present the comic phase of English history in his day.
RICHARD CUMBERLAND.—This accomplished man, who, in the words of Walter Scott, has given us "many powerful sketches of the age which has passed away," was born in 1732, and lived to the ripe age of seventy-nine, dying in 1811. After receiving his education at Cambridge, he became secretary to Lord Halifax. His versatile pen produced, besides dramatic pieces, novels and theological treatises, illustrating the principal topics of the time. In his plays there is less of immorality than in those of his contemporaries. The West Indian, which was first put upon the stage in 1771, and which is still occasionally presented, is chiefly noticeable in that an Irishman and a West Indian are the principal characters, and that he has not brought them into ridicule, as was common at the time, but has exalted them by their merits. The best of his other plays are The Jew, The Wheel of Fortune, and The Fashionable Lover. Goldsmith, in his poem Retaliation, says of Cumberland, referring to his greater morality and his human sympathy,
Here Cumberland lies, having acted his parts, The Terence of England, the mender of hearts; A flattering painter, who made it his care To draw men as they ought to be, not as they are.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.—No man represents the Regency so completely as Sheridan. He was a statesman, a legislator, an orator, and a dramatist; and in social life a wit, a gamester, a spendthrift, and a debauchee. His manifold nature seemed to be always in violent ebullition. He was born in September, 1751, and was the son of Thomas Sheridan, the actor and lexicographer, His mother, Frances Sheridan, was also a writer of plays and novels. Educated at Harrow, he was there considered a dunce; and when he grew to manhood, he plunged into dissipation, and soon made a stir in the London world by making a runaway match with Miss Linley, a singer, who was noted as one of the handsomest women of the day. A duel with one of her former admirers was the result.
As a dramatist, he began by presenting A Trip to Scarborough, which was altered from Vanbrugh's Relapse; but his fame was at once assured by his production, in 1775, of The Duenna and The Rivals. The former is called an opera, but is really a comedy containing many songs: the plot is varied and entertaining; but it is far inferior to The Rivals, which is based upon his own adventures, and is brimming with wit and humor. Mrs. Malaprop, Bob Acres, Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and the Absolutes, father and son, have been prime favorites upon the stage ever since.
In 1777 he produced The School for Scandal, a caustic satire on London society, which has no superior in genteel comedy. It has been said that the characters of Charles and Joseph Surface were suggested by the Tom Jones and Blifil of Fielding; but, if this be true, the handling is so original and natural, that they are in no sense a plagiarism. Without the rippling brilliancy of The Rivals, The School for Scandal is better sustained in scene and colloquy; and in spite of some indelicacy, which is due to the age, the moral lesson is far more valuable. The satire is strong and instructive, and marks the great advance in social decorum over the former age.
In 1779 appeared The Critic, a literary satire, in which the chief character is that of Sir Fretful Plagiary.
Sheridan sat in parliament as member for Stafford. His first effort in oratory was a failure; but by study he became one of the most effective popular orators of his day. His speeches lose by reading: he abounded in gaudy figures, and is not without bombast; but his wonderful flow of words and his impassioned action dazzled his audience and kept it spellbound. His oratory, whatever its faults, gained also the unstinted praise of his colleagues and rivals in the art. Of his great speech in the trial of Warren Hastings, in 1788, Fox declared that "all he had ever heard, all he had ever read, when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapor before the sun." Burke called it "the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united, of which there was any record or tradition;" and Pitt said "that it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient or modern times."
Sheridan was for some time the friend and comrade of the Prince Regent, in wild courses which were to the taste of both; but this friendship was dissolved, and the famous dramatist and orator sank gradually in the social scale, until he had sounded the depths of human misery. He was deeply in debt; he obtained money under mean and false pretences; he was drunken and debauched; and even death did not bring rest. He died in July, 1816. His corpse was arrested for debt, and could not be buried until the debt was paid. In his varied brilliancy and in his fatal debauchery, his character stands forth as the completest type of the period of the Regency. Many memoirs have been written, among which those of his friend Moore, and his granddaughter the Hon. Mrs. Norton, although they unduly palliate his faults, are the best.
GEORGE COLMAN.—Among the respectable dramatists of this period who exerted an influence in leading the public taste away from the witty and artificial schools of the Restoration, the two Colmans deserve mention. George Colman, the elder, was born in Florence in 1733, but began his education at Westminster School, from which he was removed to Oxford. After receiving his degree he studied law; but soon abandoned graver study to court the comic muse. His first piece, Polly Honeycomb, was produced in 1760; but his reputation was established by The Jealous Wife, suggested by a scene in Fielding's Tom Jones. Besides many humorous miscellanies, most of which appeared in The St. James' Chronicle,—a magazine of which he was the proprietor,—he translated Terence, and produced more than thirty dramatic pieces, some of which are still presented upon the stage. The best of these is The Clandestine Marriage, which was the joint production of Garrick and himself. Of this play, Davies says "that no dramatic piece, since the days of Beaumont and Fletcher, had been written by two authors, in which wit, fancy, and humor were so happily blended." In 1768 he became one of the proprietors of the Covent Garden Theatre: in 1789 his mind became affected, and he remained a mental invalid until his death in 1794.
GEORGE COLMAN. THE YOUNGER.—This writer was the son of George Colman, and was born in 1762. Like his father, he was educated at Westminster and Oxford; but he was removed from the university before receiving his degree, and was graduated at King's College, Aberdeen. He inherited an enthusiasm for the drama and considerable skill as a dramatic author. In 1787 he produced Inkle and Yarico, founded upon the pathetic story of Addison, in The Spectator. In 1796 appeared The Iron Chest; this was followed, in 1797,. by The Heir at Law and John Bull. To him the world is indebted for a large number of stock pieces which still appear at our theatres. In 1802 he published a volume entitled Broad Grins, which was an expansion of a previous volume of comic scraps. This is full of frolic and humor: among the verses in the style of Peter Pindar are the well-known sketches The Newcastle Apothecary, (who gave the direction with his medicine, "When taken, to be well shaken,") and Lodgings for Single Gentlemen.
The author's fault is his tendency to farce, which robs his comedies of dignity. He assumed the cognomen the younger because, he said, he did not wish his father's memory to suffer for his faults. He died in 1836.
OTHER HUMORISTS AND DRAMATISTS OF THE PERIOD.
John Wolcot, 1738-1819: his pseudonym was Peter Pindar. He was a satirist as well as a humorist, and was bold in lampooning the prominent men of his time, not even sparing the king. The world of literature knows him best by his humorous poetical sketches, The Apple-Dumplings and the King, The Razor-Seller, The Pilgrims and the Peas, and many others.
Hannah More, 1745-1833: this lady had a flowing, agreeable style, but produced no great work. She wrote for her age and pleased it; but posterity disregards what she has written. Her principal plays are: Percy, presented in 1777, and a tragedy entitled The Fatal Falsehood. She was a poet and a novelist also; but in neither part did she rise above mediocrity. In 1782 appeared her volume of Sacred Dramas. Her best novel is entitled Caelebs in Search of a Wife, comprehending Observations on Domestic Habits and Manners, Religion and Morals. Her greatest merit is that she always inculcated pure morals and religion, and thus aided in improving the society of her age. Something of her fame is also due to the rare appearance, up to this time, of women in the fields of literature; so that her merits are indulgently exaggerated.
Joanna Baillie, 1762-1851: this lady, the daughter of a Presbyterian divine, wrote graceful verses, but is principally known by her numerous plays. Among these, which include thirteen Plays on the Passions, and thirteen Miscellaneous Plays, those best known are De Montfort and Basil—both tragedies, which have received high praise from Sir Walter Scott. Her Ballads and Metrical Legends are all spirited and excellent; and her Hymns breathe the very spirit of devotion. Very popular during her life, and still highly estimated by literary critics, her works have given place to newer and more favorite authors, and have already lost interest with the great world of readers.
OTHER WRITERS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS.
Thomas Warton, 1728-1790: he was Professor of Poetry and of Ancient History at Oxford, and, for the last five years of his life, poet-laureate. The student of English Literature is greatly indebted to him for his History of English Poetry, which he brings down to the early part of the seventeenth century. No one before him had attempted such a task; and, although his work is rather a rare mass of valuable materials than a well articulated history, it is of great value for its collected facts, and for its suggestions as to where the scholar may pursue his studies farther.
Joseph Warton, 1722-1800: a brother of Thomas Warton; he published translations and essays and poems. Among the translations was that of the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, which is valued for its exactness and perspicuity.
Frances Burney, (Madame D'Arblay,) 1752-1840: the daughter of Dr. Burney, a musical composer. While yet a young girl, she astonished herself and the world by her novel of Evelina, which at once took rank among the standard fictions of the day. It is in the style of Richardson, but more truthful in the delineation of existing manners, and in the expression of sentiment. She afterwards published Cecilia and several other tales, which, although excellent, were not as good as the first. She led an almost menial life, as one of the ladies in waiting upon Queen Charlotte; but the genuine fame achieved by her writings in some degree relieved the sense of thraldom, from which she happily escaped with a pension. The novels of Madame D'Arblay are the intermediate step between the novels of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett, and the Waverly novels of Walter Scott. They are entirely free from any taint of immorality; and they were among the first feminine efforts that were received with enthusiasm: thus it is that, without being of the first order of merit, they mark a distinct era in English letters.
Edmund Burke, 1730-1797: he was born in Dublin, and educated at Trinity College. He studied law, but soon found his proper sphere in public life. He had brilliant literary gifts; but his fame is more that of a statesman and an orator, than an author. Prominent in parliament, he took noble ground in favor of American liberty in our contest with the mother country, and uttered speeches which have remained as models of forensic eloquence. His greatest oratorical efforts were his famous speeches as one of the committee of impeachment in the case of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of India. Whatever may be thought of Hastings and his administration, the famous trial has given to English oratory some of its noblest specimens; and the people of England learned more of their empire in India from the learned, brilliant, and exhaustive speeches of Burke, than they could have learned in any other way. The greatest of his written works is: Reflections on the Revolution in France, written to warn England to avoid the causes of such colossal evil. In 1756 he had published his Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. This has been variously criticized; and, although written with vigor of thought and brilliancy of style, has now taken its place among the speculations of theory, and not as establishing permanent canons of aesthetical science. His work entitled The Vindication of Natural Society, by a late noble writer, is a successful attempt to overthrow the infidel system of Lord Bolingbroke, by applying it to civil society, and thus showing that it proved too much—"that if the abuses of or evils sometimes connected with religion invalidate its authority, then every institution, however beneficial, must be abandoned." Burke's style is peculiar, and, in another writer, would be considered pompous and pedantic; but it so expresses the grandeur and dignity of the man, that it escapes this criticism. His learning, his private worth, his high aims and incorruptible faith in public station, the dignity of his statesmanship, and the power of his oratory, constitute Mr. Burke as one of the noblest characters of any English period; and, although his literary reputation is not equal to his political fame, his accomplishments in the field of letters are worthy of admiration and honorable mention.
Hugh Blair, 1718-1800: a Presbyterian divine in Edinburgh, Dr. Blair deserves special mention for his lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, which for a long time constituted the principal text-book on those subjects in our schools and colleges. A better understanding of the true scope of rhetoric as a science has caused this work to be superseded by later text-books. Blair's lectures treat principally of style and literary criticism, and are excellent for their analysis of some of the best authors, and for happy illustrations from their works. Blair wrote many eloquent sermons, which were published, and was one of the strong champions of Macpherson, in the controversy concerning the poems of Ossian. He occupied a high place as a literary critic during his life.
William Paley, 1743-1805: a clergyman of the Established Church, he rose to the dignity of Archdeacon and Chancellor of Carlisle. At first thoughtless and idle, he was roused from his unprofitable life by the earnest warnings of a companion, and became a severe student and a vigorous writer on moral and religious subjects. Among his numerous writings, those principally valuable are: Horae Paulinae, and A View of the Evidences of Christianity—the former setting forth the life and character of St. Paul, and the latter being a clear exposition of the truth of Christianity, which has long served as a manual of academic instruction. His treatise on Natural Theology is, in the words of Sir James Mackintosh, "the wonderful work of a man who, after sixty, had studied anatomy in order to write it." Later investigations of science have discarded some of his facts; but the handling of the subject and the array of arguments are the work of a skilful and powerful hand. He wrote, besides, a work on Moral and Political Philosophy, and numerous sermons. His theory of morals is, that whatever is expedient is right; and thus he bases our sense of duty upon the ground of the production of the greatest amount of happiness. This low view has been successfully refuted by later writers on moral science.
THE NEW ROMANTIC POETRY: SCOTT.
Walter Scott. Translations and Minstrelsy. The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Other Poems. The Waverly Novels. Particular Mention. Pecuniary Troubles. His Manly Purpose. Powers Overtasked. Fruitless Journey. Return and Death. His Fame.
The transition school, as we have seen, in returning to nature, had redeemed the pastoral, and had cultivated sentiment at the expense of the epic. As a slight reaction, and yet a progress, and as influenced by the tales of modern fiction, and also as subsidizing the antiquarian lore and taste of the age, there arose a school of poetry which is best represented by its Tales in verse;—some treating subjects of the olden time, some laying their scenes in distant countries, and some describing home incidents of the simplest kind. They were all minor epics: such were the poetic stories of Scott, the Lalla Rookh of Moore, The Bride and The Giaour of Byron, and The Village and The Borough of Crabbe; all of which mark the taste and the demand of the period.
WALTER SCOTT.—First in order of the new romantic poets was Scott, alike renowned for his Lays and for his wonderful prose fictions; at once the most equable and the most prolific of English authors.
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, on the 15th of August, 1771. His father was a writer to the signet; his mother was Anne Rutherford, the daughter of a medical professor in the University of Edinburgh. His father's family belonged to the clan Buccleugh. Lame from his early childhood, and thus debarred the more active pleasures of children, his imagination was unusually vigorous; and he took special pleasure in the many stories, current at the time, of predatory warfare, border forays, bogles, warlocks, and second sight. He spent some of his early days in the country, and thus became robust and healthy; although his lameness remained throughout life. He was educated in Edinburgh, at the High School and the university; and, although not noted for excellence as a scholar, he exhibited precocity in verse, and delighted his companions by his readiness in reproducing old stories or improving new ones. After leaving the university he studied law, and ranged himself in politics as a Conservative or Tory.
Although never an accurate classical scholar, he had a superficial knowledge of several languages, and was an industrious collector of old ballads and relics of the antiquities of his country. He was, however, better than a scholar;—he had genius, enthusiasm, and industry: he could create character, adapt incident, and, in picturesque description, he was without a rival.
During the rumors of the invasion of Scotland by the French, which he has treated with such comical humor in The Antiquary, his lameness did not prevent his taking part with the volunteers, as quartermaster—a post given him to spare him the fatigue and rough service of the ranks. The French did not come; and Scott returned to his studies with a budget of incident for future use.
TRANSLATIONS AND MINSTRELSY.—The study of the German language was then almost a new thing, even among educated people in England; and Scott made his first public essay in the form of translations from the German. Among these were versions of the Erl Koenig of Goethe, and the Lenore and The Wild Huntsman of Buerger, which appeared in 1796. In 1797 he rendered into English Otho of Wittelsbach by Steinburg, and in 1799 Goethe's tragedy, Goetz von Berlichingen. These were the trial efforts of his "'prentice hand," which predicted a coming master.
On the 24th of December, 1797, he married Miss Carpenter, or Charpentier, a lady of French parentage, and retired to a cottage at Lasswade, where he began his studies, and cherished his literary aspirations in earnest and for life.
In 1799 he was so fortunate as to receive the appointment of Sheriff of Selkirkshire, with a salary of L300 per annum. His duties were not onerous: he had ample time to scour the country, ostensibly in search of game, and really in seeking for the songs and traditions of Scotland, border ballads, and tales, and in storing his fancy with those picturesque views which he was afterwards to describe so well in verse and prose. In 1802 he was thus enabled to present to the world his first considerable work, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, containing many new ballads which he had collected, with very valuable local and historical notes. This was followed, in 1804, by the metrical romance of Sir Tristrem, the original of which was by Thomas of Ercildoune, of the thirteenth century, known as Thomas the Rhymer: it was he who dreamed on Huntley bank that he met the Queen of Elfland,
And, till seven years were gone and past, True Thomas on earth was never seen.
The reputation acquired by these productions led the world to expect something distinctly original and brilliant from his pen; a hope which was at once realized.
THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.—In 1805 appeared his first great poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which immediately established his fame: it was a charming presentation of the olden time to the new. It originated in a request of the Countess of Dalkeith that he would write a ballad on the legend of Gilpin Horner. The picture of the last minstrel, "infirm and old," fired by remembrance as he begins to tell an old-time story of Scottish valor, is vividly drawn. The bard is supposed to be the last of his fraternity, and to have lived down to 1690. The tale, mixed of truth and fable, is exceedingly interesting. The octo-syllabic measure, with an occasional line of three feet, to break the monotony, is purely minstrelic, and reproduces the effect of the troubadours and trouveres. The wizard agency of Gilpin Horner's brood, and the miracle at the tomb of Michael Scott, are by no means out of keeping with the minstrel and the age of which he sings. The dramatic effects are good, and the descriptions very vivid. The poem was received with great enthusiasm, and rapidly passed through several editions. One element of its success is modestly and justly stated by the author in his introduction to a later edition: "The attempt to return to a more simple and natural style of poetry was likely to be welcomed at a time when the public had become tired of heroic hexameters, with all the buckram and binding that belong to them in modern days."
With an annual income of L1000, and an honorable ambition, Scott worked his new literary mine with great vigor. He saw not only fame but wealth within his reach. He entered into a silent partnership with the publisher, James Ballantyne, which was for a long time lucrative, by reason of the unprecedented sums he received for his works. In 1806 he was appointed to the reversion—on the death of the incumbent—of the clerkship of the Court of Sessions, a place worth L1300 per annum.
OTHER POEMS.—In 1808, before The Lay had lost its freshness, Marmion appeared: it was kindred in subject and form, and was received with equal favor. The Lady of the Lake, the most popular of these poems, was published in 1810; and with it his poetical talent culminated. The later poems were not equal to any of those mentioned, although they were not without many beauties and individual excellences.
The Vision of Don Roderick, which appeared in 1811, is founded upon the legend of a visit made by one of the Gothic kings of Spain to an enchanted cavern near Toledo. Rokeby was published in 1812; The Bridal of Triermain in 1813; The Lord of the Isles, founded upon incidents in the life of Bruce, in 1815; and Harold the Dauntless in 1817. With the decline of his poetic power, manifest to himself, he retired from the field of poetry, but only to appear upon another and a grander field with astonishing brilliancy: it was the domain of the historical romance. Such, however, was the popular estimate of his poetry, that in 1813 the Prince Regent offered him the position of poet-laureate, which was gratefully and wisely declined.
Just at this time the new poets came forth, in his own style, and actuated by his example and success. He recognized in Byron, Moore, Crabbe, and others, genius and talent; and, with his generous spirit, exaggerated their merits by depreciating his own, which he compared to cairngorms beside the real jewels of his competitors. The mystics, following the lead of the Lake poets, were ready to increase the depreciation. It soon became fashionable to speak of The Lay, and Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake as spirited little stories, not equal to Byron's, and not to be mentioned beside the occult philosophy of Thalaba and gentle egotism of The Prelude. That day is passed: even the critical world returns to its first fancies. In the words of Carlyle, a great balance-striker of literary fame, speaking in 1838: "It were late in the day to write criticisms on those metrical romances; at the same time, the great popularity they had seems natural enough. In the first place, there was the indisputable impress of worth, of genuine human force in them ... Pictures were actually painted and presented; human emotions conceived and sympathized with. Considering that wretched Dellacruscan and other vamping up of wornout tattlers was the staple article then, it may be granted that Scott's excellence was superior and supreme." Without preferring any claim to epic grandeur, or to a rank among the few great poets of the first class, Scott is entitled to the highest eminence in minstrelic power. He is the great modern troubadour. His descriptions of nature are simple and exquisite. There is nothing in this respect more beautiful than the opening of The Lady of the Lake. His battle-pieces live and resound again: what can be finer than Flodden field in Marmion, and The Battle of Beal and Duine in The Lady of the Lake?
His love scenes are at once chaste, impassioned, and tender; and his harp songs and battle lyrics are unrivalled in harmony. And, besides these merits, he gives us everywhere glimpses of history, which, before his day, were covered by the clouds of ignorance, and which his breath was to sweep away.
Such are his claims as the first of the new romantic poets. We might here leave him, to consider his prose works in another connection; but it seems juster to his fame to continue and complete a sketch of his life, because all its parts are of connected interest. The poems were a grand proem to the novels.
While he was achieving fame by his poetry, and reaping golden rewards as well as golden opinions, he was also ambitious to establish a family name and estate. To this end, he bought a hundred acres of land on the banks of the Tweed, near Melrose Abbey, and added to these from time to time by the purchase of adjoining properties. Here he built a great mansion, which became famous as Abbotsford: he called it one of his air-castles reduced to solid stone and mortar. Here he played the part of a feudal proprietor, and did the honors for Scotland to distinguished men from all quarters: his hospitality was generous and unbounded.
THE WAVERLEY NOVELS.—As early as 1805, while producing his beautiful poems, he had tried his hand upon a story in prose, based upon the stirring events in 1745, resulting in the fatal battle of Culloden, which gave a death-blow to the cause of the Stuarts, and to their attempts to regain the crown. Dissatisfied with the effort, and considering it at that time less promising than poetry, he had thrown the manuscript aside in a desk with some old fishing-tackle. There it remained undisturbed for eight years. With the decline of his poetic powers, he returned to the former notion of writing historical fiction; and so, exhuming his manuscript, he modified and finished it, and presented it anonymously to the world in 1814. He had at first proposed the title of Waverley, or 'Tis Fifty Years Since, which was afterwards altered to 'Tis Sixty Years Since. This, the first of his splendid series of fictions, which has given a name to the whole series, is by no means the best; but it was good and novel enough to strike a chord in the popular heart at once. Its delineations of personal characters already known to history were masterly; its historical pictures were in a new and striking style of art. There were men yet living to whom he could appeal—men who had been out in the '45, who had seen Charles Edward and many of the originals of the author's heroes and heroines. In his researches and wanderings, he had imbibed the very spirit of Scottish life and history; and the Waverley novels are among the most striking literary types and expounders of history.
PARTICULAR MENTION.—In 1815, before half the reading world had delighted themselves with Waverley, his rapid pen had produced Guy Mannering, a story of English and Scottish life, superior to Waverley in its original descriptions and more general interest. He is said to have written it in six weeks at Christmas time. The scope of this volume will not permit a critical examination of the Waverley novels. The world knows them almost by heart. In The Antiquary, which appeared in 1816, we have a rare delineation of local manners, the creation of distinct characters, and a humorous description of the sudden arming of volunteers in fear of invasion by the French. The Antiquary was a free portrait or sketch of Mr. George Constable, filled in perhaps unconsciously from the author's own life; for he, no less than his friend, delighted in collecting relics, and in studying out the lines, praetoria, and general castrametation of the Roman armies. Andrew Gemmels was the original of that Edie Ochiltree who was bold enough to dispute the antiquary's more learned assertions.
In the same year, 1816, was published the first series of The Tales of my Landlord, containing The Black Dwarf and Old Mortality, both valuable as contributions to Scottish history. The former is not of much literary merit; and the author was so little pleased with it, that he brought it to a hasty conclusion; the latter is an extremely animated sketch of the sufferings of the Covenanters at the hands of Grahame of Claverhouse, with a fairer picture of that redoubted commander than the Covenanters have drawn. Rob Roy, the best existing presentation of Highland life and manners, appeared in 1817. Thus Scott's prolific pen, like nature, produced annuals. In 1818 appeared The Heart of Mid-Lothian, that touching story of Jeanie and Effie Deans, which awakens the warmest sympathy of every reader, and teaches to successive generations a moral lesson of great significance and power.
In 1819 he wrote The Bride of Lammermoor, the story of a domestic tragedy, which warns the world that outraged nature will sometimes assert herself in fury; a story so popular that it has been since arranged as an Italian opera. With that came The Legend of Montrose, another historic sketch of great power, and especially famous for the character of Major Dugald Dalgetty, soldier of fortune and pedant of Marischal College, Aberdeen. The year 1819 also beheld the appearance of Ivanhoe, which many consider the best of the series. It describes rural England during the regency of John, the romantic return of Richard Lion-heart, the glowing embers of Norman and Saxon strife, and the story of the Templars. His portraiture of the Jewess Rebecca is one of the finest in the Waverley Gallery.
The next year, 1820, brought forth The Monastery, the least popular of the novels thus far produced; and, as Scott tells us, on the principle of sending a second arrow to find one that was lost, he wrote The Abbot, a sequel, to which we are indebted for a masterly portrait of Mary Stuart in her prison of Lochleven. The Abbot, to some extent, redeemed and sustained its weaker brother. In this same year Scott was created a baronet, in recognition of his great services to English Literature and history. The next five years added worthy companion-novels to the marvellous series. Kenilworth is founded upon the visit of Queen Elizabeth to her favorite Leicester, in that picturesque palace in Warwickshire, and contains that beautiful and touching picture of Amy Robsart. The Pirate is a story the scene of which is laid in Shetland, and the material for which he gathered in a pleasure tour among those islands. In The Fortunes of Nigel, London life during the reign of James I. is described; and it contains life-like portraits of that monarch, of his unfortunate son, Prince Charles, and of Buckingham. Peveril of the Peak is a story of the time of Charles II., which is not of equal merit with the other novels. Quentin Durward, one of the very best, describes the strife between Louis XI. of France and Charles the Bold of Burgundy, and gives full-length historic portraits of these princes. The scene of St. Ronan's Well is among the English lakes in Cumberland, and the story describes the manners of the day at a retired watering-place. Red Gauntlet is a curious narrative connected with one of the latest attempts of Charles Edward—abortive at the outset—to effect a rising in Scotland. In 1825 appeared his Tales of the Crusaders, comprising The Betrothed and The Talisman, of which the latter is the more popular, as it describes with romantic power the deeds of Richard and his comrades in the second crusade.
A glance at this almost tabular statement will show the scope and versatility of his mind, the historic range of his studies, the fertility of his fancy, and the rapidity of his pen. He had attained the height of fame and happiness; his success had partaken of the miraculous; but misfortune came to mar it all, for a time.
PECUNIARY TROUBLES.—In the financial crash of 1825-6, he was largely involved. As a silent partner in the publishing house of the Ballantynes, and as connected with them in the affairs of Constable & Co., he found himself, by the failure of these houses, legally liable to the amount of L117,000. To relieve himself, he might have taken the benefit of the bankrupt law; or, such was his popularity, that his friends desired to raise a subscription to cover the amount of his indebtedness; but he was now to show by his conduct that, if the author was great, the man was greater. He refused all assistance, and even rejected general sympathy. He determined to relieve himself, to pay his debts, or die in the effort. He left Abbotsford, and took frugal lodgings in Edinburgh; curtailed all his expenses, and went to work—which was over-work—not for fame, but for guineas; and he gained both.
His first novel after this, and the one which was to test the practicability of his plan, was Woodstock, a tale of the troublous times of the Civil War, in the last chapter of which he draws the picture of the restored Charles coming in peaceful procession to his throne. This he wrote in three months; and for it he received upwards of L8000. With this and the proceeds of his succeeding works, he was enabled to pay over to his creditors the large sum of L70,000; a feat unparalleled in the history of literature. But the anxiety and the labor were too much even for his powerful constitution: he died in his heroic attempt.
HIS MANLY PURPOSE.—More for money than for reputation, he compiled hastily, and from partial and incomplete material, a Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, which appeared in 1827. The style is charming and the work eminently readable; but it contains many faults, is by no means unprejudiced, and, as far as pure truth is concerned, is, in parts, almost as much of a romance as any of the Waverley novels; but, for the first two editions, he received the enormous sum of L18,000. The work was accomplished in the space of one year. Among the other task-work books were the two series of The Chronicles of the Canongate (1827 and 1828), the latter of which contains the beautiful story of St. Valentine's Day, or The Fair Maid of Perth. It is written in his finest vein, especially in those chapters which describe the famous Battle of the Clans. In 1829 appeared Anne of Geierstein, another story presenting the figure of Charles of Burgundy, and his defeat and death in the battle with the Swiss at Nancy.
POWERS OVERTASKED.—And now new misfortunes were to come upon him. In 1826 he had lost his wife: his sorrows weighed upon him, and his superhuman exertions were too much for his strength. In 1829 he was seized with a nervous attack, accompanied by hemorrhages of a peculiar kind. In February, 1830, a slight paralysis occurred, from which he speedily recovered; this was soon succeeded by another; and it was manifest that his mind was giving way. His last novel, Count Robert of Paris, was begun in 1830, as one of a fourth series of The Tales of My Landlord: it bears manifest marks of his failing powers, but is of value for the historic stores which it draws from the Byzantine historians, and especially from the unique work of Anna Comnena: "I almost wish," he said, "I had named it Anna Comnena." A slight attack of apoplexy in November, 1830, was followed by a severer one in the spring of 1831. Even then he tried to write, and was able to produce Castle Dangerous. With that the powerful pen ended its marvellous work. The manly spirit still chafed that his debts were not paid, and could not be, by the labor of his hands.
FRUITLESS JOURNEY.—In order to divert his mind, and, as a last chance for health, a trip to the Mediterranean was projected. The Barham frigate was placed by the government at his disposal; and he wandered with a party of friends to Malta, Naples, Pompeii, Paestum, and Rome. But feeling the end approaching, he exclaimed, "Let us to Abbotsford:" for the final hour he craved the grata quies patriae; to which an admiring world has added the remainder of the verse—sed et omnis terra sepulchrum. It was not a moment too soon: he travelled northward to the Rhine, down that river by boat, and reached London "totally exhausted;" thence, as soon as he could be moved, he was taken to Abbotsford.
RETURN AND DEATH.—There he lingered from July to September, and died peacefully on the 21st of the latter month, surrounded by his family and lulled to repose by the rippling of the Tweed. Among the noted dead of 1832, including Goethe, Cuvier, Crabbe, and Mackintosh, he was the most distinguished; and all Scotland and all the civilized world mourned his loss.
HIS FAME.—At Edinburgh a colossal monument has been erected to his memory, within which sits his marble figure. Numerous other memorial columns are found in other cities, but all Scotland is his true monument, every province and town of which he has touched with his magic pen. Indeed, Scotland may be said to owe to him a new existence. In the words of Lord Meadowbank,—who presided at the Theatrical Fund dinner in 1827, and who there made the first public announcement of the authorship of the Waverley novels,—Scott was "the mighty magician who rolled back the current of time, and conjured up before our living senses the men and manners of days which have long since passed away ... It is he who has conferred a new reputation on our national character, and bestowed on Scotland an imperishable name."
Besides his poetry and novels, he wrote very much of a miscellaneous character for the reviews, and edited the works of the poets with valuable introductions and congenial biographies. Most of his fictions are historical in plot and personages; and those which deal with Scottish subjects are enriched by those types of character, those descriptions of manners—national and local—and those peculiarities of language, which give them additional and more useful historical value. It has been justly said that, by his masterly handling of historical subjects, he has taught the later historians how to write, how to give vivid and pictorial effects to what was before a detail of chronology or a dry schedule of philosophy. His critical powers may be doubted: he was too kind and genial for a critic; and in reading contemporary authors seems to have endued their inferior works with something of his own fancy.
The Life of Scott, by his son-in-law, J. G. Lockhart, is one of the most complete and interesting biographies in the language. In it the student will find a list of all his works, with the dates of their production; and will wonder that an author who was so rapid and so prolific could write so much that was of the highest excellence. If not the greatest genius of his age, he was its greatest literary benefactor; and it is for this reason that we have given so much space to the record of his life and works.
THE NEW ROMANTIC POETRY: BYRON AND MOORE.
Early Life of Byron. Childe Harold and Eastern Tales. Unhappy Marriage. Philhellenism and Death. Estimate of his Poetry. Thomas Moore. Anacreon. Later Fortunes. Lalla Rookh. His Diary. His Rank as Poet.
In immediate succession after Scott comes the name of Byron. They were both great lights of their age; but the former may be compared to a planet revolving in regulated and beneficent beauty through an unclouded sky; while the latter is more like a comet whose lurid light came flashing upon the sight in wild and threatening career.
Like Scott, Byron was a prolific poet; and he owes to Scott the general suggestion and much of the success of his tales in verse. His powers of description were original and great: he adopted the new romantic tone, while in his more studied works he was an imitator and a champion of a former age, and a contemner of his own.
EARLY LIFE OF BYRON.—The Honorable George Gordon Byron, afterwards Lord Byron, was born in London on the 22d of January, 1788. While he was yet an infant, his father—Captain Byron—a dissipated man, deserted his mother; and she went with her child to live upon a slender pittance at Aberdeen. She was a woman of peculiar disposition, and was unfortunate in the training of her son. She alternately petted and quarrelled with him, and taught him to emulate her irregularities of temper. On account of an accident at his birth, he had a malformation in one of his feet, which, producing a slight limp in his gait through life, rendered his sensitive nature quite unhappy, the signs of which are to be discerned in his drama, The Deformed Transformed. From the age of five years he went to school at Aberdeen, and very early began to exhibit traits of generosity, manliness, and an imperious nature: he also displayed great quickness in those studies which pleased his fancy.
In 1798, when he was eleven years old, his grand-uncle, William, the fifth Lord Byron, died, and was succeeded in the title and estates by the young Gordon Byron, who was at once removed with his mother to Newstead Abbey. In 1801 he was sent to Harrow, where he was well esteemed by his comrades, but was not considered forward in his studies.
He seems to have been of a susceptible nature, for, while still a boy, he fell in love several times. His third experience in this way was undoubtedly the strongest of his whole life. The lady was Miss Mary Chaworth, who did not return his affection. His last interview with her he has powerfully described in his poem called The Dream. From Harrow he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he lived an idle and self-indulgent life, reading discursively, but not studying the prescribed course. As early as November, 1806, before he was nineteen, he published his first volume, Poems on Various Occasions, for private distribution, which was soon after enlarged and altered, and presented to the public as Hours of Idleness, a Series of Poems Original and Translated, by George Gordon, Lord Byron, A Minor. These productions, although by no means equal to his later poems, are not without merit, and did not deserve the exceedingly severe criticism they met with from the Edinburgh Review. The critics soon found that they had bearded a young lion: in his rage, he sprang out upon the whole literary craft in a satire, imitated from Juvenal, called The English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, in which he ridicules and denounces the very best poets of the day furiously but most uncritically. That his conduct was absurd and unjust, he himself allowed afterwards; and he attempted to call in and destroy all the copies of this work.
CHILDE HAROLD AND EASTERN TALES.—In March, 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords, where he did not accomplish much. He took up his residence at Newstead Abbey, his ancestral seat, most of which was in a ruinous condition; and after a somewhat disorderly life there, he set out on his continental tour, spending some time at Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Malta, and in Greece. On his return, after two years' absence, he brought a summary of his travels in poetical form,—the first part of Childe Harold; and also a more elaborated poem entitled Hints from Horace. Upon the former he set little value; but he thought the latter a noble work. The world at once reversed his decision. The satire in the Latin vein is scarcely read; while to the first cantos of Childe Harold it was due that, in his own words, "he woke up one morning and found himself famous." As fruits of the eastern portion of his travels, we have the romantic tale, The Giaour, published in 1811, and The Bride of Abydos, which appeared in 1813. The popularity of these oriental stories was mainly due to their having been conceived on the spots they describe. In 1814 he issued The Corsair, perhaps the best of these sensational stories; and with singular versatility, in the same year, inspired by the beauty of the Jewish history, he produced The Hebrew Melodies, some of which are fervent, touching, and melodious. Late in the same year Lara was published, in the same volume with Mr. Rogers's Jacqueline, which it threw completely into the shade. Thus closed one distinct period of his life and of his authorship. A change came over the spirit of his dream.