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wrote several tragedies, of which The Grecian Daughter, one by no means of eminent merit, has alone taken its place among our ordinary acting plays. The Caractacus of Mason (1759), was an attempt to revive the severe simplicity of the ancient Greek drama; but the lyrics introduced in accordance with that model, though pronounced beautiful as poems, were found inconsistent with modern dramatic taste, and the play failed to produce the effect which constitutes successful representation. About this time, a portion of natural feeling was restored to the tragic stage by EDWARD MOORE, in the fine moral play of The Gamester (1755), of which the characters were from common life ; and by John HOME, a Scottish clergyman, whose Douglas (1757), though neither in diction nor in character superior to contemporary productions, represents the emotions of maternal and filial affection with so much simple tenderness, that it never fails to draw both tears and applause. The Mysterious Mother, also, by Horace Walpole (1768), while involving incidents peculiarly revolting, and hardly fit even for private study, has the merit of being comparatively free from the trammels imposed by custom; it is written in a manly and vigorous style, and contains characters that are not representatives of classes, or vehicles of particular lines of sentiment, but show bold, true, and original features. But these are instances which, after all, tend little to relieve the general flatness of tragedy throughout the age under our notice.
While the tragic drama languished under the influence of the same rules and modes which deprived serious poetry of all passion and sublimity, comedy experienced a prosperity such as was to be expected in an age in which the forms of social life were so much the subject of attention. This was peculiarly the age of what is called genteel comedy—that is, plays like those of the preceding era, but rendered more moral, and in a slight degree more sentimental, while the characters were equally derived from the higher orders of society. In this department of literature no name stands above that
of GEORGE COLMAN, whose Jealous Wife (1761), and Clandestine Marriage (1766), are perfect models of dramatic excellence. The Good-Natured Man (1768), and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), of Goldsmith, cannot be ranked so high; for, though full of humourous dialogue and character, they call
in the aid of disguise and ambuscade-experiments originally derived from the Spanish drama after the Restoration, but now generally confined to the minor plays called farces, which, it may be observed, were little known before this age, and of which Garrick and Murphy wrote some excellent specimens. The Suspicious Husband of Hoadly (1747), partakes so much of the sprightly license of the school of Farquhar, that it can hardly perhaps be ranked in the class of genteel comedy. In the early part of the reign of George III., sentiment had taken a decided place in our comic drama, and was the ground of the success of Hugh Kelly,whose False Delicacy, and School for Wives, though now almost forgotten, proved, for the reason stated, more attractive in their day than even the plays of Goldsmith.
The Beggar's Opera, which has already been adverted to as a production of the preceding period, was the means of creating a new class of dramas, which flourished side by side with the genteel comedies, and still maintain a respectable place on the British stage. This was the English Opera, in which the pervading dialogue is in no respect different from that of an ordinary comedy, but is enlivened at frequent intervals with songs by one or more persons. The best productions of this kind, which appeared during the period under notice, are The Maid of the Mill, and Love in a Village, by Isaac Bickerstaff, who has never been excelled upon the stage in delineations of simple rural life.
It is somewhat remarkable that, although the essays of Steele and Addison were immediately imitated by many writers (there was even a Scottish Tatler, by Donald M'Staff), no work of the kind obtained a classic reputation until nearly forty years had elapsed, when several excellent series were produced. The first of these was the Rambler, by SAMUEL JOHNSON ; it was commenced on the 20th of March, 1750, and continued to appear twice a-week, till March 14, 1752, when it had extended to two hundred and eight papers. The Rambler was devoted, like its predecessors of the reign of Queen Anne, to the discussion of subjects connected with ordinary life and the lesser morals, but treated them in a more grave and philosophical manner, with a gloomy pathos peculiar to the author, who was affected by a constitutional melancholy. Lively and trivial matters are not overlooked by this most majestic of all the essayists; but it was the fault of Johnson, that he had only one manner of composition, so that a thoughtless fop is described in the same solemn and laboured diction which is used in moralizing on the uncertainty of human life. The next in point of time, and perhaps also of merit, entitled the Adventurer, was commenced in November, 1752, by Dr. John HAWKESWORTH (1715– 1773), who ranks among the most elegant miscellaneous writers of the eighteenth century. This work, to which Johnson lent his valuable assistance, and which was aided by Bathurst and Joseph Warton, extended to one hundred and forty numbers, and terminated in March, 1754. It was favourably received by the public, and merited its success by the purity of its morals, the elegance of its critical disquisitions, and, the acquaintance it displayed with life and manners. The papers of the editor, about seventy in number, resemble in style the Ramblers of Johnson, with somewhat less pomp of diction. Those which have been most admired consist of Eastern tales, and stories of domestic life; in the former of which Hawkesworth exhibits a fine imagination, and in the latter a considerable knowledge of human character. The excellent morality of the Adventurer procured for the editor the degree of doctor of civil law, which was conferred upon him by Archbishop Herring. In January, 1753, the World, a paper hardly less celebrated, was commenced by MR. EDWARD MOORE, author of the tragedy of The Gamester, with the assistance of the Earl of Chesterfield, Horace Walpole, Soame Jenyns, and other writers of reputation. This work
extended to two hundred and ten numbers, the last being published in the year 1756. The contributions of the editor are lively and judicious, though the perpetual use of irony, to which dangerous figure of rhetoric he was much addicted, gives them an unpleasant sameness. The Connoisseur, which was published weekly by GEORGE COLMAN and BONNELL THOMPSON, between January 1754 and September 1756, and was thus partially contemporary with The Adventurer and The World, professes to criticise town manners with greater freedom than those papers, and is altogether a work of greater gayety and smartness, though apparently not less zealous in the cause of morality. All these periodicals had an extensive sale in their original form, and the appearance of so many at once, by different authors, is a striking proof of the temporary opulence of English genius in this department of literature. In April, 1758, Johnson commenced his Idler, which extended to one hundred and ten numbers, and is a more playful work than The Rambler. With this work closes the series of the English periodical essayists; for the detached pieces of Shenstone, Goldsmith, and Knox, bearing no dates, must be ranked with the miscellaneous effusions of lite. rature. This mode of writing and of publication was, however, revived in Scotland, at a time somewhat in advance of that now under consideration. The Mirror (1779–80), and The Lounger (1785-9), by Mr. Henry Mackenzie, and other writers of less note, showed that the talent for this kind of composition might be found to the north of the Tweed, though the subjects in general had little or no reference to native manners or ideas. But it may be questioned if the literary value of these and most of the preceding essayists is not much exaggerated. When a reader fresh from modern literature looks into them, he is surprised to find that their views of human character generally refer only to those superficial modes which constitute what is called fashion, while many of their moral precepts and discussions bear upon points long since silently acquiesced in by cultivated society, or touch on vices of which the existence is now hardly discernible. A perusal of the essayists is thus not unlike a visit to a museum containing antiquated dresses and pictures of inconvenient buildings long since removed. They are certainly valuable as records of an artificial kind of life which once existed ; but, wanting the solid and enduring groundwerk of actual human nature, they can claim hardly any other merit. In the vices which they censure there is a grossness, and in the virtues which they celebrate a fastidiousness and puritanism, alike unknown to modern times, the errors and excellencies of which are of a totally different character, and would accordingly require a different treatment. The style is equally unsuitable to modern taste, having a faint and mincing propriety, and a tame neatness and dimness as far removed as possible from the strong, graphic, straightforward, and, it may be, less correct, manner which has risen in its place.
At this period no class of writers had arisen in America, who might be called essayists: certainly there were none who appeared in periodical productions of the literary, miscellaneous kind, which so abounded in Great Britain ; nor are we aware that this species of literature has ever greatly flourished in the United States. Indeed, since the time of the Lounger, it has not been much cultivated in the British Isles. Its place has been occupied both in England and America, by Magazines and Reviews, constituting a kind of periodical literature and criticism, which has had a wonderful currency for many years. It will hereafter be more particularly noticed. Writers there were in the provinces, who occasionally produced essays. Among these were Jeremy Belknap, Mather Byles, Nathan Fiske, Samuel Mather, and Samuel Phillips.*
In introducing this class of authors, who have since assumed so high a rank in literature, it is not necessary to trace the novel from the rise of prose fiction in the fourth century, or even from the adoption of the word by the Italian tale writers of the fourteenth. Suffice it to state, that in France, a class of fictitious compositions arose in the seventeenth century, under the denomination of heroic romances, from which the modern senti
* AM. ED.