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TRANSITION FROM CLASSIC LITERATURE TO DIDACTIC, DESCRIPtive, anD SENTIMENTAL LITERATURE.
POEMS OF DIFFERENT WRITERS.
ENGLISH classic literature, which resembled ours as nearly as the difference of national manners would permit, degenerated rapidly, and passed from the Classic to the Spirit of the eighteenth century. We then became in our turn imitators: we fell to work to copy our neighbours, with an eagerness which still seizes us by fits. Here the subject is so well known and so completely exhausted, that it would be tiresome to proceed in chronological order, and to repeat what every body is acquainted with.
Moral, technical, didactic, descriptive poetry includes the names of Gay, Young, Akenside, Goldsmith, Gray, Bloomfield, Glover, Thomson, &c.; the novel boasts of Richardson and Fielding;
history of Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon, who have been followed by Smollett and Lingard.
Besides all these poets, there were read in their day" The Art of Preserving Health," by Armstrong, "The Chase," by Somerville, "The Actor," by Lloyd, "The Art of Poetry," by Roscommon, "The Art of Poetry," by Francis, "The Art of Politics," by Bramston, "The Art of Cookery," by King.
"The Art of Politics" possesses spirit. The exordium of these different poems is imitated from the opening of the Ars Poetica of Horace. Bramston compares a man at once Whig and Tory to a human figure with
a lady's bosom and a tail of cod."
Delacourt in his " Prospect of Poetry" aimed at that imitative technical harmony, which has since been cultivated in France by M. Piis.
RRs jar untuneful o'er the quiv'ring tongue,
Akenside's "Pleasures of Imagination," is deficient in imagination; and Stillingfleet's poem on "Conversation," could only have been composed among a people who knew not how to converse.
I ought further to mention "The Shipwreck,” by Falconer; "The Traveller," and "The De
serted Village," by Goldsmith; by Blackmore, and "The Judgment of Hercules," by Shenstone.
Let me also name Dyer and Denham. Poet's Complaint," by the unfortunate Otway, is worth reading, as is also "The Wanderer," by the still more unfortunate Savage, who has there painted in a striking manner the fury of Suicide:
A fiend in evil moments ever nigh
Death in her hand and frenzy in her eye!
She muses o'er her woe-embroider'd vest
Now the green ground where colour fades away.
YOUNG has founded a bad school, and was not himself a good master. He owed part of his early reputation to the picture presented in the opening of his "Night Thoughts." A minister of the Most High, an aged father, who has lost his only daughter, awakes in the middle of the night to mourn upon graves; with Death, Time, and Eternity, he associates the only great thing that man has within himself-grief. This is a striking picture.
But draw nearer; when the imagination, roused by the exordium of the poet, has already created a world of sorrows and of reveries, you find nothing of what you have been promised. You find a man racking his brains for tender and melancholy ideas, and who arrives only at a morose philosophy. Young, whom the phantom of the world pursues, even among the tombs, betrays, in his declamations on on death, merely a disappointed ambition he takes his peevishness for melan
choly. There is nothing natural in his tenderness, nothing ideal in his grief: it is always a heavy hand moving slowly over the lyre.
Young strove to give to his meditations the character of sorrow: that character is derived from three sources-the scenes of nature, the crowd of recollections, the thoughts of religion.
As for the scenes of nature, Young has endeavoured to make them subservient to his complaints he apostrophises the moon, he addresses the stars, and the reader remains unmoved. I cannot tell where lies that melancholy which a poet draws forth from pictures of nature: it is hidden in deserts; it is the Echo of fable, pining away with grief, and dwelling invisible upon the mountains.
Such of our good writers as were acquainted with the charm of reverie have surpassed the English divine. Chaulieu has, like Horace, mingled the thoughts of death with the illusions of life.