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I too have in my time imitated the "Elegy in a Country Church-yard;" indeed, who has not?
que sont les honneurs ? l'enfant de la victoire,
Peut-être ici la mort enchaine en son empire
Ainsi brille la perle au fond des vastes mers;
Gray's example proves that a writer may indulge in reverie without ceasing to be noble and natural, and without despising harmony.
His "Ode on a Distant View of Eton College" is worthy, in some of the stanzas, of the "Elegy in a Country Church-yard."
Ah happy hills! ah pleasing shade!
Ah fields belov'd in vain!
Where once my careless childhood stray'd,
A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales that from you blow
Who has not felt the sentiments and the regrets expressed here with all the sweetness of the Muse? Who has not been affected at the remembrances of the sports, the studies, the loves, of his early years! But can we recal them to life? The pleasures of youth re-produced by memory are ruins viewed by torch-light.
Gray was ambitious to be thought gentlemanlike; he could not bear to hear any one talk of his poetry, of which he was ashamed. He prided himself on being deeply versed in history, and so he really was; he turned his attention also to the
natural sciences, and had pretensions to chemistry; as Sir Humphrey Davy lately aspired, but with reason, to poetical renown. Where are the gentlemanlikeness, the history, and the chemistry of Gray? He lives only in a melancholy smile of those Muses whom he despised.
Thomson has expressed, like Gray, but in a different manner, his regrets for the days of childhood.
Welcome kindred glooms!
And sung of nature with unceasing joy,
As the English had their Thomson, so we have our St. Lambert and our Delille. The masterpiece of the latter is his version of the Georgicswith the exception perhaps of some of his sentimental poems-but it is as if you were reading Racine translated into the language of Louis XV. There are pictures of Raphael's copied by Mignard; such are the pictures of Virgil imitated by the Abbé Delille.
His "Jardins " a charming work. A bolder style is observable in some of the cantos of his translation of "Paradise Lost." Be this as it may, the technical school, placed between the Classic
school of the seventeenth and the Romantic school of the nineteenth century, is finished: its studied boldnesses, its labours to ennoble things that are not worth the trouble, to imitate sounds and objects which it is useless to imitate, have given to the Technical school but a factitions life, that has passed away with the factitious manners from which it sprang. This school, without lacking the natural, lacks nature: occupied with puerile arrangements of words, it is neither sufficiently original as a new school, nor sufficiently pure as an ancient school. The Abbé Delille was the poet of modern mansions as the troubadour was the poet of the ancient castles: the verses of the one, the ballads of the other, make you feel the difference between aristocracy in the vigour of age and aristocracy in decrepitude: the Abbé describes readings and games at chess in the halls where the troubadour sang of the crusades and of tournaments.
The prose and the verse of M. de Fontanes are like one another, and possess a merit of the same nature. His thoughts and his images have a melancholy unknown to the age of Louis XIV., which was acquainted only with the austere and holy sadness of religious eloquence. This melancholy is found to pervade the works of the author of "Le Jour des Morts," as the impress of the period in which he lived: it shows that he was born since
Rousseau, not immediately after Fénélon. If the works of M. de Fontanes were reduced to two small volumes, one of prose, the other poetry, it would be the most elegant funeral monument that could be erected over the grave of the Classic school.
Among the posthumous Odes of M. de Fontanes, there is one on the anniversary of his birth; it possesses the charm of the "Jour des Morts," with a more penetrating and more individual sentiment. I recollect only these two stanzas: -
La vieillesse déja vient avec ses souffrances.
Le passé, le present, l'avenir, tout m'afflige;
If anything in the world ought to have excited antipathy in M. de Fontanes, it was my way of writing. In me commenced, with the school called Romantic, a revolution in French literature: yet my friend, instead of being disgusted at my barbarism, was a passionate admirer of it. I certainly did observe astonishment in his countenance