Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

From Chaucer to Tennyson by Henry A. Beers

Part 3 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"artificial" at all, in the sense in which the contemporary tragedy--the
"heroic play"--was artificial. It was, on the contrary, far more
natural, and, intellectually, of much higher value. In 1698 Jeremy
Collier, a non-juring Jacobite clergyman, published his _Short View of
the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage_, which did much
toward reforming the practice of the dramatists. The formal
characteristics, without the immorality, of the Restoration comedy
re-appeared briefly in Goldsmith's _She Stoops to Conquer_, 1772, and
Sheridan's _Rivals_, _School for Scandal_, and _Critic_, 1775-9; our
last strictly "classical" comedies. None of this school of English
comedians approached their model, Moliere. He excelled his imitators not
only in his French urbanity--the polished wit and delicate grace of his
style--but in the dexterous unfolding of his plot, and in the wisdom and
truth of his criticism of life, and his insight into character. It is a
symptom of the false taste of the age that Shakspere's plays were
rewritten for the Restoration stage. Davenant made new versions of
_Macbeth_ and _Julius Caesar_, substituting rime for blank verse. In
conjunction with Dryden, he altered the _Tempest_, complicating the
intrigue by the introduction of a male counterpart to Miranda--a youth
who had never seen a woman. Shadwell "improved" _Timon of Athens_, and
Nahum Tate furnished a new fifth act to _King Lear_, which turned the
play into a comedy! In the prologue to his doctored version of _Troilus
and Cressida_, Dryden made the ghost of Shakspere speak of himself as

Untaught, unpracticed in a barbarous age.

Thomas Rymer, whom Pope pronounced a good critic, was very severe upon
Shakspere in his _Remarks on the Tragedies of the Last Age_; and in his
_Short View of Tragedy_, 1693, he said, "In the neighing of a horse or
in the growling of a mastiff, there is more humanity than, many times,
in the tragical flights of Shakspere." "To Deptford by water," writes
Pepys, in his diary for August 20, 1666, "reading _Othello, Moor of
Venice_; which I ever heretofore esteemed a mighty good play; but,
having so lately read the _Adventures of Five Hours_, it seems a mean

In undramatic poetry the new school, both in England and in France, took
its point of departure in a reform against the extravagances of the
Marinists, or conceited poets, specially represented in England by Donne
and Cowley. The new poets, both in their theory and practice, insisted
upon correctness, clearness, polish, moderation, and good sense.
Boileau's _L'Art Poetique_, 1673, inspired by Horace's _Ars Poetica_,
was a treatise in verse upon the rules of correct composition, and it
gave the law in criticism for over a century, not only in France, but in
Germany and England. It gave English poetry a didactic turn and started
the fashion of writing critical essays in riming couplets. The Earl of
Mulgrave published two "poems" of this kind, an _Essay on Satire_, and
an _Essay on Poetry_. The Earl of Roscommon--who, said Addison, "makes
even rules a noble poetry"--made a metrical version of Horace's _Ars
Poetica_, and wrote an original _Essay on Translated Verse_. Of the same
kind were Addison's epistle to Sacheverel, entitled _An Account of the
Greatest English Poets_, and Pope's _Essay on Criticism_, 1711, which
was nothing more than versified maxims of rhetoric, put with Pope's
usual point and brilliancy. The classicism of the 18th century, it has
been said, was a classicism in red heels and a periwig. It was Latin
rather than Greek; it turned to the least imaginative side of Latin
literature and found its models, not in Vergil, Catullus, and Lucretius,
but in the satires, epistles, and didactic pieces of Juvenal, Horace,
and Persius.

The chosen medium of the new poetry was the heroic couplet. This had, of
course, been used before by English poets as far back as Chaucer. The
greater part of the _Canterbury Tales_ was written in heroic couplets.
But now a new strength and precision were given to the familiar measure
by imprisoning the sense within the limit of the couplet, and by
treating each line as also a unit in itself. Edmund Waller had written
verse of this kind as early as the reign of Charles I. He, said Dryden,
"first showed us to conclude the sense most commonly in distichs, which,
in the verse of those before him, runs on for so many lines together
that the reader is out of breath to overtake it." Sir John Denham, also,
in his _Cooper's Hill_, 1643, had written such verse as this:

O, could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example as it is my theme!
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.

Here we have the regular flow, and the nice balance between the first
and second member of each couplet, and the first and second part of each
line, which characterized the verse of Dryden and Pope.

Waller was smooth, but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full resounding line,
The long resounding march and energy divine.

Thus wrote Pope, using for the nonce the triplet and alexandrine by
which Dryden frequently varied the couplet. Pope himself added a greater
neatness and polish to Dryden's verse and brought the system to such
monotonous perfection that he "made poetry a mere mechanic art."

The lyrical poetry of this generation was almost entirely worthless. The
dissolute wits of Charles the Second's court, Sedley, Rochester,
Sackville, and the "mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease," threw off a
few amatory trifles; but the age was not spontaneous or sincere enough
for genuine song. Cowley introduced the Pindaric ode, a highly
artificial form of the lyric, in which the language was tortured into a
kind of spurious grandeur, and the meter teased into a sound and fury,
signifying nothing. Cowley's Pindarics were filled with something which
passed for fire, but has now utterly gone out. Nevertheless, the fashion
spread, and "he who could do nothing else," said Dr. Johnson, "could
write like Pindar." The best of these odes was Dryden's famous
_Alexander's Feast_, written for a celebration of St. Cecilia's day by a
musical club. To this same fashion, also, we owe Gray's two fine odes,
the _Progress of Poesy_ and the _Bard_. written a half-century later.

Dryden was not so much a great poet as a solid thinker, with a splendid
mastery of expression, who used his energetic verse as a vehicle for
political argument and satire. His first noteworthy poem, _Annus
Mirabilis_, 1667, was a narrative of the public events of the year 1666;
namely, the Dutch war and the great fire of London. The subject of
_Absalom and Ahitophel_--the first part of which appeared in 1681--was
the alleged plot of the Whig leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury, to defeat
the succession of the Duke of York, afterward James II., by securing the
throne to Monmouth, a natural son of Charles II. The parallel afforded
by the story of Absalom's revolt against David was wrought out by Dryden
with admirable ingenuity and keeping. He was at his best in satirical
character-sketches, such as the brilliant portraits in this poem of
Shaftesbury, as the false counselor Ahitophel, and of the Duke of
Buckingham as Zimri. The latter was Dryden's reply to the _Rehearsal..
Absalom and Ahitophel_ was followed by the _Medal_, a continuation of
the same subject, and _Mac Flecknoe_, a personal onslaught on the "true
blue Protestant poet" Thomas Shadwell, a political and literary foe of
Dryden. Flecknoe, an obscure Irish poetaster, being about to retire from
the throne of duncedom, resolved to settle the succession upon his son,
Shadwell, whose claims to the inheritance are vigorously asserted.

The rest to some faint meaning make pretense,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense....
The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull
With this prophetic blessing--_Be thou dull_.

Dryden is our first great satirist. The formal satire had been written
in the reign of Elizabeth by Donne, and by Joseph Hall, Bishop of
Exeter, and subsequently by Marston, the dramatist, by Wither, Marvell,
and others; but all of these failed through an over violence of
language, and a purpose too pronouncedly moral. They had no lightness of
touch, no irony and mischief. They bore down too hard, imitated Juvenal,
and lashed English society in terms befitting the corruption of imperial
Rome. They denounced, instructed, preached, did every thing but
satirize. The satirist must raise a laugh. Donne and Hall abused men in
classes; priests were worldly, lawyers greedy, courtiers obsequious,
etc. But the easy scorn of Dryden and the delightful malice of Pope gave
a pungent personal interest to their sarcasm, infinitely more effective
than these commonplaces of satire. Dryden was as happy in controversy as
in satire, and is unexcelled in the power to reason in verse. His
_Religo Laici_, 1682, was a poem in defense of the English Church. But
when James II came to the throne Dryden turned Catholic and wrote the
_Hind and Panther_, 1687, to vindicate his new belief. Dryden had the
misfortune to be dependent upon royal patronage and upon a corrupt
stage. He sold his pen to the court, and in his comedies he was heavily
and deliberately lewd, a sin which he afterward acknowledged and
regretted. Milton's "soul was like a star and dwelt apart," but Dryden
wrote for the trampling multitude. He had a coarseness of moral fiber,
but was not malignant in his satire, being of a large, careless, and
forgetting nature. He had that masculine, enduring cast of mind which
gathers heat and clearness from motion, and grows better with age. His
_Fables_--modernizations from Chaucer and translations from Boccaccio,
written the year before he died--are among his best works.

Dryden is also our first critic of any importance. His critical essays
were mostly written as prefaces or dedications to his poems and plays.
But his _Essay of Dramatic Poesie_, which Dr. Johnson called our "first
regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing," was in the shape
of a Platonic dialogue. When not misled by the French classicism of his
day, Dryden was an admirable critic, full of penetration and sound
sense. He was the earliest writer, too, of modern literary prose. If the
imitation of French models was an injury to poetry it was a benefit to
prose. The best modern prose is French, and it was the essayists of the
gallicised Restoration age--Cowley, Sir William Temple, and above all,
Dryden--who gave modern English prose that simplicity, directness, and
colloquial air which marks it off from the more artificial diction of
Milton, Taylor and Browne.

A few books whose shaping influences lay in the past belong by their
date to this period. John Bunyan, a poor tinker, whose reading was
almost wholly in the Bible and Fox's _Book of Martyrs_, imprisoned for
twelve years in Bedford jail for preaching at conventicles, wrote and,
in 1678, published his _Pilgrim's Progress_, the greatest of religious
allegories. Bunyan's spiritual experiences were so real to him that they
took visible concrete shape in his imagination as men, women, cities,
landscapes. It is the simplest, the most transparent of allegories.
Unlike the _Faerie Queene_, the story of _Pilgrim's Progress_ has no
reason for existing apart from its inner meaning, and yet its reality is
so vivid that children read of Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond and
Doubting Castle and the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the same
belief with which they read of Crusoe's cave or Aladdin's palace.

It is a long step from the Bedford tinker to the cultivated poet of
_Paradise Lost_. They represent the poles of the Puritan party. Yet it
may admit of a doubt whether the Puritan epic is, in essentials, as
vital and original a work as the Puritan allegory. They both came out
quietly and made little noise at first. But the _Pilgrim's Progress_ got
at once into circulation, and hardly a single copy of the first edition
remains. Milton, too--who received ten pounds for the copyright of
_Paradise Lost_--seemingly found that "fit audience though few" for
which he prayed, as his poem reached its second impression in five years
(1672). Dryden visited him in his retirement and asked leave to turn it
into rime and put it on the stage as an opera. "Ay," said Milton, good
humoredly, "you may tag my verses." And accordingly they appeared, duly
tagged, in Dryden's operatic masque, the _State of Innocence_. In this
startling conjunction we have the two ages in a nutshell: the
Commonwealth was an epic, the Restoration an opera.

The literary period covered by the life of Pope, 1688-1744, is marked
off by no distinct line from the generation before it. Taste continued
to be governed by the precepts of Boileau and the French classical
school. Poetry remained chiefly didactic and satirical, and satire in
Pope's hands was more personal even than in Dryden's, and addressed
itself less to public issues. The literature of the "Augustan age" of
Queen Anne (1702-1714) was still more a literature of the town and of
fashionable society than that of the Restoration had been. It was also
closely involved with party struggles of Whig and Tory, and the ablest
pens on either side were taken into alliance by the political leaders.
Swift was in high favor with the Tory ministers, Oxford and Bolingbroke,
and his pamphlets, the _Public Spirit of the Whigs_ and the _Conduct of
the Allies_, were rewarded with the deanery of St. Patrick's, Dublin.
Addison became secretary of state under a Whig government. Prior was in
the diplomatic service. Daniel De Foe, the author of _Robinson Crusoe_,
1719, was a prolific political writer, conducted his _Review_ in the
interest of the Whigs, and was imprisoned and pilloried for his ironical
pamphlet, _The Shortest Way with the Dissenters_. Steele, who was a
violent writer on the Whig side, held various public offices, such as
Commissioner of Stamps, and Commissioner for Forfeited Estates, and sat
in Parliament. After the Revolution of 1688 the manners and morals of
English society were somewhat on the mend. The court of William and
Mary, and of their successor, Queen Anne, set no such example of open
profligacy as that of Charles II. But there was much hard drinking,
gambling, dueling, and intrigue in London, and vice was fashionable till
Addison partly preached and partly laughed it down in the _Spectator_.
The women were mostly frivolous and uneducated, and not unfrequently
fast. They are spoken of with systematic disrespect by nearly every
writer of the time, except Steele. "Every woman," wrote Pope, "is at
heart a rake." The reading public had now become large enough to make
letters a profession. Dr. Johnson said that Pope was the first writer in
whose case the book-seller took the place of the patron. His translation
of Homer, published by subscription, brought him between eight and nine
thousand pounds and made him independent. But the activity of the press
produced a swarm of poorly-paid hack-writers, penny-a-liners, who lived
from hand to mouth and did small literary jobs to order. Many of these
inhabited Grub Street, and their lampoons against Pope and others of
their more successful rivals called out Pope's _Dunciad_, or epic of the
dunces, by way of retaliation. The politics of the time were sordid, and
consisted mainly of an ignoble scramble for office. The Whigs were
fighting to maintain the Act of Succession in favor of the House of
Hanover, and the Tories were secretly intriguing with the exiled
Stuarts. Many of the leaders, such as the great Whig champion, John
Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, were without political principle or even
personal honesty. The Church, too, was in a condition of spiritual
deadness. Bishoprics and livings were sold, and given to political
favorites. Clergymen, like Swift and Lawrence Sterne, were worldly in
their lives and immoral in their writings, and were practically
unbelievers. The growing religious skepticism appeared in the Deist
controversy. Numbers of men in high position were Deists; the Earl of
Shaftesbury, for example, and Pope's brilliant friend, Henry St. John,
Lord Bolingbroke, the head of the Tory ministry, whose political
writings had much influence upon his young French acquaintance,
Voltaire. Pope was a Roman Catholic, though there was little to show it
in his writings, and the underlying thought of his famous _Essay on Man_
was furnished him by Bolingbroke. The letters of the cold-hearted
Chesterfield to his son were accepted as a manual of conduct, and La
Rochefoucauld's cynical maxims were quoted as authority on life and
human nature. Said Swift:

As Rochefoucauld his maxims drew
From nature, I believe them true.
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.

The succession which Dryden had willed to Congreve was taken up by
Alexander Pope. He was a man quite unlike Dryden--sickly, deformed,
morbidly precocious, and spiteful; nevertheless he joined on to and
continued Dryden. He was more careful in his literary workmanship than
his great forerunner, and in his _Moral Essays_ and _Satires_ he brought
the Horatian epistle in verse, the formal satire and that species of
didactic poem of which Boileau had given the first example, to an
exquisite perfection of finish and verbal art. Dryden had translated
Vergil, and so Pope translated Homer. The throne of the dunces, which
Dryden had conferred upon Shadwell, Pope, in his _Dunciad_, passed on to
two of his own literary foes, Theobald and Colley Cibber. There is a
great waste of strength in this elaborate squib, and most of the petty
writers, whose names it has preserved, as has been said, like flies in
amber, are now quite unknown. But, although we have to read it with
notes, to get the point of its allusions, it is easy to see what
execution it must have done at the time, and it is impossible to
withhold admiration from the wit, the wickedness, the triumphant
mischief of the thing. In the _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_, the satirical
sketch of Addison--who had offended Pope by praising a rival translation
of Homer--is as brilliant as any thing of the kind in Dryden. Pope's
very malignity made his sting sharper than Dryden's. He secreted venom,
and worked out his revenges deliberately, bringing all the resources of
his art to bear upon the question of how to give the most pain most

Pope's masterpiece is, perhaps, the _Rape of the Lock_, a mock heroic
poem, a "dwarf _Iliad_" recounting, in five cantos, a society quarrel,
which arose from Lord Petre's cutting a lock of hair from the head of
Mrs. Arabella Fermor. Boileau, in his _Lutrin_, had treated with the
same epic dignity a dispute over the placing of the reading-desk in a
parish church. Pope was the Homer of the drawing-room, the boudoir, the
tea-urn, the ombre-party, the sedan-chair, the parrot cage, and the
lap-dogs. This poem, in its sparkle and airy grace, is the topmost
blossom of a highly artificial society, the quintessence of whatever
poetry was possible in those

Tea-cup times of hood and hoop,
And when the patch was worn,

with whose decorative features, at least, the recent Queen Anne revival
has made this generation familiar. It may be said of it, as Thackery
said of Gay's pastorals: "It is to poetry what charming little Dresden
china figures are to sculpture, graceful, minikin, fantastic, with a
certain beauty always accompanying them." The _Rape of the Lock_,
perhaps, stops short of beauty, but it attains elegance and prettiness
in a supreme degree. In imitation of the gods and goddesses in the
_Iliad_, who intermeddle for or against the human characters, Pope
introduced the Sylphs of the Rosicrucian philosophy. We may measure the
distance between imagination and fancy, if we will compare these little
filagree creatures with Shakspere's elves, whose occupation it was

To tread the ooze of the salt deep,
Or run upon the sharp wind of the north,...
Or on the beached margent of the sea
To dance their ringlets to the whispering wind.

Very different are the offices of Pope's fays:

Our humble province is to tend the fair;
Not a less pleasing, though less glorious, care;
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let the imprisoned essences exhale....
Nay oft in dreams invention we bestow
To change a flounce or add a furbelow.

Pope was not a great poet; it has been doubted whether he was a poet at
all. He does not touch the heart, or stimulate the imagination, as the
true poet always does. In the poetry of nature, and the poetry of
passion, he was altogether impotent. His _Windsor Forest_ and his
_Pastorals_ are artificial and false, not written with "the eye upon the
object." His epistle of _Eloisa to Abelard_ is declamatory and academic,
and leaves the reader cold. The only one of his poems which is at all
possessed with feeling is his pathetic _Elegy to the Memory of an
Unfortunate Lady_. But he was a great literary artist. Within the
cramped and starched regularity of the heroic couplet, which the fashion
of the time and his own habit of mind imposed upon him, he secured the
largest variety of modulation and emphasis of which that verse was
capable. He used antithesis, periphrasis, and climax with great skill.
His example dominated English poetry for nearly a century, and even now,
when a poet like Dr. Holmes, for example, would write satire or humorous
verse of a dignified kind, he turns instinctively to the measure and
manner of Pope. He was not a consecutive thinker, like Dryden, and cared
less about the truth of his thought than about the pointedness of its
expression. His language was closer-grained than Dryden's. His great art
was the art of putting things. He is more quoted than any other English
poet but Shakspere. He struck the average intelligence, the common sense
of English readers, and furnished it with neat, portable formulas, so
that it no longer needed to "vent its observation in mangled terms," but
could pour itself out compactly, artistically in little ready-made
molds. But this high-wrought brilliancy, this unceasing point, soon
fatigue. His poems read like a series of epigrams; and every line has a
hit or an effect.

From the reign of Queen Anne date the beginnings of the periodical
essay. Newspapers had been published since the time of the civil war; at
first irregularly, and then regularly. But no literature of permanent
value appeared in periodical form until Richard Steele started the
_Tatler_, in 1709. In this he was soon joined by his friend, Joseph
Addison; and in its successor, the _Spectator_, the first number of
which was issued March 1, 1711, Addison's contributions outnumbered
Steele's. The _Tatler_ was published on three, the _Spectator_ on six,
days of the week. The _Tatler_ gave political news, but each number of
the _Spectator_ consisted of a single essay. The object of these
periodicals was to reflect the passing humors of the time, and to
satirize the follies and minor immoralities of the town. "I shall
endeavor," wrote Addison, in the tenth paper of the _Spectator_, "to
enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality....It was
said of Socrates that he brought Philosophy down from Heaven to inhabit
among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have
brought Philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges,
to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses."
Addison's satire was never personal. He was a moderate man, and did what
he could to restrain Steele's intemperate party zeal. His character was
dignified and pure, and his strongest emotion seems to have been his
religious feeling. One of his contemporaries called him "a parson in a
tie wig," and he wrote several excellent hymns. His mission was that of
censor of the public taste. Sometimes he lectured and sometimes he
preached, and in his Saturday papers he brought his wide reading and
nice scholarship into service for the instruction of his readers. Such
was the series of essays in which he gave an elaborate review of
_Paradise Lost_. Such also was his famous paper, the _Vision of Mirza_,
an oriental allegory of human life. The adoption of this slightly
pedagogic tone was justified by the prevalent ignorance and frivolity of
the age. But the lighter portions of the _Spectator_ are those which
have worn the best. Their style is at once correct and easy, and it is
as a humorist, a sly observer of manners, and, above all, a delightful
talker, that Addison is best known to posterity. In the personal
sketches of the members of the Spectator Club, of Will Honeycomb,
Captain Sentry, Sir Andrew Freeport, and, above all, Sir Roger de
Coverley, the quaint and honest country gentleman, may be found the
nucleus of the modern prose fiction of character. Addison's humor is
always a trifle grave. There is no whimsy, no frolic in it, as in Sterne
or Lamb. "He thinks justly," said Dr. Johnson, "but he thinks faintly."
The _Spectator_ had a host of followers, from the somewhat heavy
_Rambler_ and _Idler_ of Johnson, down to the _Salmagundi_ papers of our
own Irving, who was, perhaps, Addison's latest and best literary
descendant. In his own age Addison made some figure as a poet and
dramatist. His _Campaign_, celebrating the victory of Blenheim, had one
much admired couplet, in which Marlborough was likened to the angel of
tempest, who,

Pleased the Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.

His stately, classical tragedy, _Cato_, which was acted at Drury Lane
Theater in 1712, with immense applause, was pronounced by Dr. Johnson
"unquestionably the noblest production of Addison's genius." Is is,
notwithstanding, cold and tedious, as a whole, though it has some fine
declamatory passages--in particular the soliloquy of Cato in the fifth

It must be so: Plato, thou reasonest well, etc.

[Illustration: Dryden, Addison, Pope, Swift]

The greatest of the Queen Anne wits, and one of the most savage and
powerful satirists that ever lived, was Jonathan Swift. As secretary in
the family of Sir William Temple, and domestic chaplain to the Earl of
Berkeley, he had known in youth the bitterness of poverty and
dependence. Afterward he wrote himself into influence with the Tory
ministry, and was promised a bishopric, but was put off with the deanery
of St. Patrick's, and retired to Ireland to "die like a poisoned rat in
a hole." His life was made tragical by the forecast of the madness which
finally overtook him, "The stage dark-ended," said Scott, "ere the
curtain fell." Insanity deepened into idiocy and a hideous silence, and
for three years before his death he spoke hardly ever a word. He had
directed that his tombstone should bear the inscription, _Ubi saeva
indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit_. "So great a man he seems to
me," wrote Thackeray, "that thinking of him is like thinking of an
empire falling." Swift's first noteworthy publication was his _Tale of a
Tub_, 1704, a satire on religious differences. But his great work was
_Gulliver's Travels_, 1726, the book in which his hate and scorn of
mankind, and the long rage of mortified pride and thwarted ambition
found their fullest expression. Children read the voyages to Lilliput
and Brobdingnag, to the flying island of Laputa and the country of the
Houyhnhnms, as they read _Robinson Crusoe_, as stories of wonderful
adventure. Swift had all of De Foe's realism, his power of giving
veri-similitude to his narrative by the invention of a vast number of
small, exact, consistent details. But underneath its fairy tales
_Gulliver's Travels_ is a satire, far more radical than any of Dryden's
or Pope's, because directed, not against particular parties or persons,
but against human nature. In his account of Lilliput and Brobdingnag,
Swift tries to show that human greatness, goodness, beauty disappear if
the scale be altered a little. If men were six inches high instead of
six feet, their wars, governments, science, religion--all their
institutions, in fine, and all the courage, wisdom, and virtue by which
these have been built up, would appear laughable. On the other hand, if
they were sixty feet high instead of six, they would become disgusting.
The complexion of the finest ladies would show blotches, hairs,
excrescences, and an overpowering effluvium would breathe from the pores
of the skin. Finally, in his loathsome caricature of mankind, as Yahoos,
he contrasts them, to their shame, with the beasts, and sets instinct
above reason.

The method of Swift's satire was grave irony. Among his minor writings
in this kind are his _Argument against Abolishing Christianity_, his
_Modest Proposal_ for utilizing the surplus population of Ireland by
eating the babies of the poor, and his _Predictions of Isaac
Bickerstaff_. In the last he predicted the death of one Partridge, an
almanac maker, at a certain day and hour. When the time set was past, he
published a minute account of Partridge's last moments; and when the
subject of this excellent fooling printed an indignant denial of his own
death, Swift answered very temperately, proving that he was dead and
remonstrating with him on the violence of his language. "To call a man a
fool and villain, an impudent fellow, only for differing from him in a
point merely speculative, is, in my humble opinion, a very improper
style for a person of his education." Swift wrote verses as well as
prose, but their motive was the reverse of poetical. His gross and
cynical humor vulgarized whatever it touched. He leaves us no illusions,
and not only strips his subject, but flays it and shows the raw muscles
beneath the skin. He delighted to dwell upon the lowest bodily functions
of human nature. "He saw blood-shot," said Thackeray.

1. History of Eighteenth Century Literature (1660-1780).
Edmund Gosse. London: Macmillan & Co., 1889.

2. Macaulay's Essay, The Comic Dramatists of the Restoration.

3. The Poetical Works of John Dry den. Macmillan &
Co., 1873. (Globe Edition.)

4. Thackeray's English Humorists of the last Century.

5. Sir Roger de Coverley. New York: Harpers, 1878.

6. Swift's Tale of a Tub, Gulliver's Travels, Directions to
Servants, Polite Conversation, The Great Question Debated,
Verses on the Death of Dean Swift.

7. The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope. London:
Macmillan & Co., 1869. (Globe Edition.)




Pope's example continued potent for fifty years after his death.
Especially was this so in satiric and didactic poetry. Not only Dr.
Johnson's adaptations from Juvenal, _London_, 1738, and the _Vanity of
Human Wishes_, 1749, but Gifford's _Baviad_, 1791, and _Maeviad_, 1795,
and Byron's _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, 1809, were in the
verse and the manner of Pope. In Johnson's _Lives of the Poets_, 1781,
Dryden and Pope are treated as the two greatest English poets. But long
before this a revolution in literary taste had begun, a movement which
is variously described as the Return to Nature or the Rise of the New
Romantic School.

For nearly a hundred years poetry had dealt with manners and the life of
towns--the gay, prosaic life of Congreve or of Pope. The sole concession
to the life of nature was the old pastoral, which, in the hands of
cockneys like Pope and Ambrose Philips, who merely repeated stock
descriptions at second or third hand, became even more artificial than a
_Beggars Opera_ or a _Rape of the Lock_. These at least were true to
their environment, and were natural just because they were artificial.
But the _Seasons_ of James Thomson, published in installments from
1726-1730, had opened a new field. Their theme was the English
landscape, as varied by the changes of the year, and they were written
by a true lover and observer of nature. Mark Akenside's _Pleasures of
Imagination_, 1744, published the year of Pope's death, was written,
like the _Seasons_, in blank verse; and although its language had the
formal, didactic cast of the Queen Anne poets, it pointed unmistakably
in the new direction. Thomson had painted the soft beauties of a highly
cultivated land--lawns, gardens, forest-preserves, orchards, and
sheep-walks. But now a fresh note was struck in the literature, not of
England alone, but of Germany and France--romanticism, the chief element
in which was a love of the wild. Poets turned from the tameness of
modern existence to savage nature and the heroic simplicity of life
among primitive tribes. In France, Rousseau introduced the idea of the
natural man, following his instincts in disregard of social conventions.
In Germany Bodmer published, in 1753, the first edition of the old
German epic, the _Nibelungen Lied_. Works of a similar tendency in
England were the odes of William Collins and Thomas Gray, published
between 1747 and 1757; especially Collins's _Ode on the Superstitions of
the Highlands_, and Gray's _Bard_, a Pindaric in which the last survivor
of the Welsh bards invokes vengeance on Edward I., the destroyer of his
guild. Gray and Mason, his friend and editor, made translations from the
ancient Welsh and Norse poetry. Thomas Percy's _Reliques of Ancient
English Poetry_, 1765, aroused the taste for old ballads. Richard Kurd's
_Letters on Chivalry and Romance_, Thomas Warton's _History of English
Poetry_. 1774-1778, Tyrwhitt's critical edition of Chaucer, and Horace
Walpole's Gothic romance, the _Castle of Otranto_, 1765, stimulated this
awakened interest in the picturesque aspects of feudal life, and
contributed to the fondness for supernatural and mediaeval subjects.
James Beattie's _Minstrel_, 1771, described the educating influence of
Scottish mountain scenery upon the genius of a young poet. But the most
remarkable instances of this passion for wild nature and the romantic
past were the _Poems of Ossian_ and Thomas Chatterton's literary

In 1762 James Macpherson published the first installment of what
professed to be a translation of the poems of Ossian, a Gaelic bard,
whom tradition placed in the 3d century. Macpherson said that he made
his version--including two complete epics, _Fingal_ and _Temora_--from
Gaelic MSS., which he had collected in the Scottish Highlands. A fierce
controversy at once sprang up over the genuineness of these remains.
Macpherson was challenged to produce his originals, and when, many years
after, he published the Gaelic text, it was asserted that this was
nothing but a translation of his own English into modern Gaelic. Of the
MSS. which he professed to have found not a scrap remained: the Gaelic
text was printed from transcriptions in Macpherson's handwriting or in
that of his secretaries.

But whether these poems were the work of Ossian or of Macpherson, they
made a deep impression at the time. Napoleon admired them greatly, and
Goethe inserted passages from the "Songs of Selma" in his _Sorrows of
Werther_. Macpherson composed--or translated--them in an abrupt,
rhapsodical prose, resembling the English version of Job or of the
prophecies of Isaiah. They filled the minds of their readers with images
of vague sublimity and desolation; the mountain torrent, the mist on the
hills, the ghosts of heroes half seen by the setting moon, the thistle
in the ruined courts of chieftains, the grass whistling on the windy
heath, the gray rock by the blue stream of Lutha, and the cliffs of
sea-surrounded Gormal.

"A tale of the times of old!"

"Why, thou wanderer unseen! Thou bender of the thistle of Lora; why,
thou breeze of the valley, hast thou left mine ear? I hear no distant
roar of streams! No sound of the harp from the rock! Come, thou huntress
of Lutha, Malvina, call back his soul to the bard. I look forward to
Lochlin of lakes, to the dark billowy bay of U-thorno, where Fingal
decends from Ocean, from the roar of winds. Few are the heroes of Morven
in a land unknown."

Thomas Chatterton, who died by his own hand in 1770, at the age of
seventeen, is one of the most wonderful examples of precocity in the
history of literature. His father had been sexton of the ancient Church
of St. Mary Redcliff, in Bristol, and the boy's sensitive imagination
took the stamp of his surroundings. He taught himself to read from a
black-letter Bible. He drew charcoal sketches of churches, castles,
knightly tombs, and heraldic blazonry. When only eleven years old, he
began the fabrication of documents in prose and verse, which he ascribed
to a fictitious Thomas Rowley, a secular priest at Bristol in the 15th
century. Chatterton pretended to have found these among the contents of
an old chest in the muniment room of St. Mary Redcliff's. The Rowley
poems included two tragedies, _Aella_ and _Goddwyn_, two cantos of a
long poem on the _Battle of Hastings_, and a number of ballads and minor
pieces. Chatterton had no precise knowledge of early English, or even of
Chaucer. His method of working was as follows. He made himself a
manuscript glossary of the words marked as archaic in Bailey's and
Kersey's English dictionaries, composed his poems first in modern
language, and then turned them into ancient spelling, and substituted
here and there the old words in his glossary for their modern
equivalents. Naturally he made many mistakes, and though Horace Walpole,
to whom he sent some of his pieces, was unable to detect the forgery,
his friends, Gray and Mason, to whom he submitted them, at once
pronounced them spurious. Nevertheless there was a controversy over
Rowley hardly less obstinate than that over Ossian, a controversy made
possible only by the then almost universal ignorance of the forms,
scansion, and vocabulary of early English poetry. Chatterton's poems are
of little value in themselves, but they are the record of an industry
and imitative quickness marvelous in a mere child, and they show how,
with the instinct of genius, he threw himself into the main literary
current of his time. Discarding the couplet of Pope, the poets now went
back for models to the Elizabethan writers. Thomas Warton published in
1753 his _Observations on the Faerie Queene_. Beattie's _Minstrel_,
Thomson's _Castle of Indolence_, and William Shenstone's
_Schoolmistress_ were all written in the Spenserian stanza. Shenstone
gave a partly humorous effect to his poem by imitating Spenser's
archaisms, and Thomson reproduced in many passages the copious harmony
and luxuriant imagery of the _Faerie Queene_. John Dyer's _Fleece_ was a
poem in blank verse on English wool-growing, after the fashion of
Vergil's _Georgics_. The subject was unfortunate, for, as Dr. Johnson
said, it is impossible to make poetry out of serges and druggets. Dyer's
_Grongar Hill_, which mingles reflection with natural description in the
manner of Gray's _Elegy written in a Country Churchyard_, was composed
in the octosyllabic verse of Milton's _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_.
Milton's minor poems, which had hitherto been neglected, exercised a
great influence on Collins and Gray. Collins's _Ode to Simplicity_ was
written in the stanza of Milton's _Nativity_, and his exquisite unrimed
_Ode to Evening_ was a study in versification, after Milton's
translation of Horace's _Ode to Pyrrha_, in the original meters.
Shakspere began to be studied more reverently: numerous critical
editions of his plays were issued, and Garrick restored his pure text to
the stage. Collins was an enthusiastic student of Shakspere, and one of
his sweetest poems, the _Dirge in Cymbeline_, was inspired by the
tragedy of _Cymbeline_. The verse of Gray, Collins, and the Warton
brothers abounds in verbal reminiscences of Shakspere; but their genius
was not allied to his, being exclusively lyrical and not at all
dramatic. The Muse of this romantic school was Fancy rather than
Passion. A thoughtful melancholy, a gentle, scholarly pensiveness, the
spirit of Milton's _Il Penseroso_, pervades their poetry. Gray was a
fastidious scholar, who produced very little, but that little of the
finest quality. His famous _Elegy_, expressing a meditative mood in
language of the choicest perfection, is the representative poem of the
second half of the 18th century, as the _Rape of the Lock_ is of the
first. The romanticists were quietists, and their scenery is
characteristic. They loved solitude and evening, the twilight vale, the
mossy hermitage, ruins, glens, and caves. Their style was elegant and
academic, retaining a little of the stilted poetic diction of their
classical forerunners. Personification and periphrasis were their
favorite mannerisms: Collins's Odes were largely addressed to
abstractions, such as Fear, Pity, Liberty, Mercy and Simplicity. A poet
in their dialect was always a "bard;" a countryman was "the untutored
swain," and a woman was a "nymph" or "the fair," just as in Dryden and
Pope. Thomson is perpetually mindful of Vergil, and afraid to speak
simply. He uses too many Latin epithets, like _amusive_ and
_precipitant_, and calls a fish-line

The floating line snatched from the hoary steed.

They left much for Cowper and Wordsworth to do in the way of infusing
the new blood of a strong, racy English into our exhausted poetic
diction. Their poetry is impersonal, bookish, literary. It lacks
emotional force, except now and then in Gray's immortal _Elegy_, in his
_Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College_, in Collins's lines, _On the
Death of Thomson_, and his little ode beginning, "How sleep the brave."

The new school did not lack critical expounders of its principles and
practice. Joseph Warton published, in 1756, the first volume of his
_Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope_, an elaborate review of
Pope's writings _seriatim_, doing him certainly full justice, but
ranking him below Shakspere, Spenser, and Milton. "Wit and satire,"
wrote Warton, "are transitory and perishable, but nature and passion are
eternal....He stuck to describing modern manners; but those manners,
because they are familiar, artificial, and polished, are, in their very
nature, unfit for any lofty effort of the Muse. Whatever poetical
enthusiasm he actually possessed he withheld and stifled. Surely it is
no narrow and niggardly encomium to say, he is the great Poet of Reason,
the first of Ethical authors in verse." Warton illustrated his critical
positions by quoting freely not only from Spenser and Milton, but from
recent poets, like Thomson, Gray, Collins, and Dyer. He testified that
the _Seasons_ had "been very instrumental in diffusing a general taste
for the beauties of nature and landscape." It was symptomatic of the
change in literary taste that the natural or English school of landscape
gardening now began to displace the French and Dutch fashion of clipped
hedges, and regular parterres, and that Gothic architecture came into
repute. Horace Walpole was a virtuoso in Gothic art, and in his castle
at Strawberry Hill he made a collection of ancient armor, illuminated
manuscripts, and bric-a-brac of all kinds. Gray had been Walpole's
traveling companion in France and Italy, and the two had quarreled and
separated, but were afterward reconciled. From Walpole's private
printing-press at Strawberry Hill Gray's two "sister odes," the _Bard_,
and the _Progress of Poesy_, were first issued in 1757. Both Gray and
Walpole were good correspondents, and their printed letters are among
the most delightful literature of the kind.

The central figure among the English men of letters of that generation
was Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), whose memory has been preserved less by
his own writings than by James Boswell's famous _Life of Johnson_,
published in 1791. Boswell was a Scotch laird and advocate, who first
met Johnson in London, when the latter was fifty-four years old. Boswell
was not a very wise or witty person, but he reverenced the worth and
intellect which shone through his subject's uncouth exterior. He
followed him about, note-book in hand, bore all his snubbings patiently,
and made the best biography ever written. It is related that the doctor
once said that if he thought Boswell meant to write his life, he should
prevent it by taking Boswell's. And yet Johnson's own writings and this
biography of him have changed places in relative importance so
completely that Carlyle predicted that the former would soon be reduced
to notes on the latter; and Macaulay said that the man who was known to
his contemporaries as a great writer was known to posterity as an
agreeable companion.

Johnson was one of those rugged, eccentric, self-developed characters so
common among the English. He was the son of a Lichfield book-seller, and
after a course at Oxford, which was cut short by poverty, and an
unsuccessful career as a school-master, he had come up to London, in
1737, where he supported himself for many years as a book-seller's hack.
Gradually his great learning and abilities, his ready social wit and
powers as a talker, caused his company to be sought at the tables of
those whom he called "the great." He was a clubbable man, and he drew
about him at the tavern a group of the most distinguished intellects of
the time: Edmund Burke, the orator and statesman; Oliver Goldsmith, Sir
Joshua Reynolds, the portrait painter, and David Garrick, the great
actor, who had been a pupil in Johnson's school, near Lichfield. Johnson
was the typical John Bull of the last century. His oddities, virtues,
and prejudices were thoroughly English. He hated Frenchmen, Scotchmen,
and Americans, and had a cockneyish attachment to London. He was a high
Tory, and an orthodox churchman; he loved a lord in the abstract, and
yet he asserted a sturdy independence against any lord in particular. He
was deeply religious, but had an abiding fear of death. He was burly in
person, and slovenly in dress, his shirt-frill always covered with
snuff. He was a great diner out, an inordinate tea-drinker, and a
voracious and untidy feeder. An inherited scrofula, which often took the
form of hypochondria and threatened to affect his brain, deprived him of
control over the muscles of his face. Boswell describes how his
features worked, how he snorted, grunted, whistled, and rolled about in
his chair when getting ready to speak. He records his minutest traits,
such as his habit of pocketing the orange peels at the club, and his
superstitious way of touching all the posts between his house and the
Mitre Tavern, going back to do it, if he skipped one by chance. Though
bearish in his manners and arrogant in dispute, especially when talking
"for victory," Johnson had a large and tender heart. He loved his ugly,
old wife--twenty-one years his senior--and he had his house full of
unfortunates--a blind woman, an invalid surgeon, a destitute widow, a
negro servant--whom he supported for many years, and bore with all their
ill-humors patiently.

Among Johnson's numerous writings the ones best entitled to remembrance
are, perhaps, his _Dictionary of the English Language_, 1755; his moral
tale, _Rasselas_, 1759; the introduction to his edition of Shakspere,
1765, and his _Lives of the Poets_, 1781. Johnson wrote a sonorous,
cadenced prose, full of big Latin words and balanced clauses. Here is a
sentence, for example, from his _Visit to the Hebrides_: "We were now
treading that illustrious island which was once the luminary of the
Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived
the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. To abstract the
mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavored,
and would be foolish, if it were possible." The difference between his
colloquial style and his book style is well illustrated in the instance
cited by Macaulay. Speaking of Villiers's _Rehearsal_, Johnson said, "It
has not wit enough to keep it sweet;" then paused and added--translating
English into Johnsonese--"it has not vitality sufficient to preserve it
from putrefaction." There is more of this in Johnson's _Rambler_ and
_Idler_ papers than in his latest work, the _Lives of the Poets_. In
this he showed himself a sound and judicious critic, though with
decided limitations. His understanding was solid, but he was a thorough
classicist, and his taste in poetry was formed on Pope. He was unjust to
Milton and to his own contemporaries, Gray, Collins, Shenstone, and
Dyer. He had no sense of the higher and subtler graces of romantic
poetry, and he had a comical indifference to the "beauties of nature."
When Boswell once ventured to remark that poor Scotland had, at least,
some "noble wild prospects," the doctor replied that the noblest
prospect a Scotchman ever saw was the road that led to London.

The English novel of real life had its origin at this time. Books like
De Foe's _Robinson Crusoe_, _Captain Singleton_, _Journal of the
Plague_, etc., were tales of incident and adventure rather than novels.
The novel deals primarily with character and with the interaction of
characters upon one another, as developed by a regular plot. The first
English novelist, in the modern sense of the word, was Samuel
Richardson, a printer, who began authorship in his fiftieth year with
his _Pamela_, 1740, the story of a young servant girl who resisted the
seductions of her master, and finally, as the reward of her virtue,
became his wife. _Clarissa Harlowe_, 1748, was the tragical history of a
high-spirited young lady who, being driven from her home by her family
because she refused to marry the suitor selected for her, fell into the
toils of Lovelace, an accomplished rake. After struggling heroically
against every form of artifice and violence, she was at last drugged and
ruined. She died of a broken heart, and Lovelace, borne down by remorse,
was killed in a duel by a cousin of Clarissa. _Sir Charles Grandison_,
1753, was Richardson's portrait of an ideal fine gentleman, whose
stately doings fill eight volumes, but who seems to the modern reader a
bore and a prig. All these novels were written in the form of letters
passing between the characters, a method which fitted Richardson's
subjective cast of mind. He knew little of life, but he identified
himself intensely with his principal character and produced a strong
effect by minute, accumulated touches. _Clarissa Harlowe_ is his
masterpiece, though even in that the situation is painfully prolonged,
the heroine's virtue is self-conscious and rhetorical, and there is
something almost ludicrously unnatural in the copiousness with which she
pours herself out in gushing epistles to her female correspondent at the
very moment when she is beset with dangers, persecuted, agonized, and
driven nearly mad. In Richardson's novels appears, for the first time,
that sentimentalism which now began to infect European literature.
_Pamela_ was translated into French and German, and fell in with the
current of popular feeling which found fullest expression in Rousseau's
_Nouvelle Heloise_, 1759, and Goethe's _Leiden des Jungen Werther_,
which set all the world a-weeping in 1774.

Coleridge said that to pass from Richardson's books to those of Henry
Fielding was like going into the fresh air from a close room heated by
stoves. Richardson, it has been affirmed, knew _man_, but Fielding knew
_men_. The latter's first novel, _Joseph Andrews_, 1742, was begun as a
travesty of _Pamela_. The hero, a brother of Pamela, was a young footman
in the employ of Lady Booby, from whom his virtue suffered a like
assault to that made upon Pamela's by her master. This reversal of the
natural situation was in itself full of laughable possibilities, had the
book gone on simply as a burlesque. But the exuberance of Fielding's
genius led him beyond his original design. His hero, leaving Lady
Booby's service, goes traveling with good Parson Adams, and is soon
engaged in a series of comical and rather boisterous adventures.

Fielding had seen life, and his characters were painted from the life
with a bold, free hand. He was a gentleman by birth, and had made
acquaintance with society and the town in 1727, when he was a handsome,
stalwart young fellow, with high animal spirits and a great appetite for
pleasure. He soon ran himself into debt and began writing for the
stage; married, and spent his wife's fortune, living for a while in
much splendor as a country gentleman, and afterward in a reduced
condition as a rural justice with a salary of five hundred pounds of
"the dirtiest money on earth." Fielding's masterpiece was _Tom Jones_,
1749, and it remains one of the best of English novels. Its hero is very
much after Fielding's own heart, wild, spendthrift, warm-hearted,
forgiving, and greatly in need of forgiveness. The same type of
character, with the lines deepened, re-appears in Captain Booth, in
_Amelia_, 1751, the heroine of which is a portrait of Fielding's wife.
With Tom Jones is contrasted Blifil, the embodiment of meanness,
hypocrisy, and cowardice. Sophia Western, the heroine, is one of
Fielding's most admirable creations. For the regulated morality of
Richardson, with its somewhat old-grannified air, Fielding substituted
instinct. His virtuous characters are virtuous by impulse only, and his
ideal of character is manliness. In _Jonathan Wild_ the hero is a
highwayman. This novel is ironical, a sort of prose mock-heroic, and is
one of the strongest, though certainly the least pleasing, of Fielding's

Tobias Smollett was an inferior Fielding with a difference. He was a
Scotch ship-surgeon, and had spent some time in the West Indies. He
introduced into fiction the now familiar figure of the British tar, in
the persons of Tom Bowling and Commodore Trunnion, as Fielding had
introduced, in Squire Western, the equally national type of the
hard-swearing, deep-drinking, fox-hunting Tory squire. Both Fielding and
Smollett were of the hearty British "beef-and-beer" school; their novels
are downright, energetic, coarse, and high-blooded; low life, physical
life, runs riot through their pages--tavern brawls, the breaking of
pates, and the off-hand courtship of country wenches. Smollett's books,
such as _Roderick Random_, 1748; _Peregrine Pickle_, 1751, and
_Ferdinand Count Fathom_, 1752, were more purely stories of broadly
comic adventure than Fielding's. The latter's view of life was by no
means idyllic; but with Smollett this English realism ran into vulgarity
and a hard Scotch literalness, and character was pushed to caricature.
"The generous wine of Fielding," says Taine, "in Smollett's hands
becomes brandy of the dram-shop." A partial exception to this is to be
found in his last and best novel, _Humphrey Clinker_, 1770. The
influence of Cervantes and of the French novelist, Le Sage, who finished
his _Adventures of Gil Bias_ in 1735, are very perceptible in Smollett.

A genius of much finer mold was Lawrence Sterne, the author of _Tristram
Shandy_, 1759-1767, and the _Sentimental Journey_, 1768. _Tristram
Shandy_ is hardly a novel: the story merely serves to hold together a
number of characters, such as Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, conceived
with rare subtlety and originality. Sterne's chosen province was the
whimsical, and his great model was Rabelais. His books are full of
digressions, breaks, surprises, innuendoes, double meanings,
mystifications, and all manner of odd turns. Coleridge and Carlyle unite
in pronouncing him a great humorist. Thackeray says that he was only a
great jester. Humor is the laughter of the heart, and Sterne's pathos is
closely interwoven with his humor. He was the foremost of English
sentimentalists, and he had that taint of insincerity which
distinguishes sentimentalism from genuine sentiment, like Goldsmith's,
for example. Sterne, in life, was selfish, heartless, and untrue. A
clergyman, his worldliness and vanity and the indecency of his writings
were a scandal to the Church, though his sermons were both witty and
affecting. He enjoyed the titillation of his own emotions, and he had
practiced so long at detecting the latent pathos that lies in the
expression of dumb things and of poor, patient animals, that he could
summon the tear of sensibility at the thought of a discarded postchaise,
a dead donkey, a starling in a cage, or of Uncle Toby putting a house
fly out of the window, and saying, "There is room enough in the world
for thee and me." It is a high proof of his cleverness that he
generally succeeds in raising the desired feeling in his readers even
from such trivial occasions. He was a minute philosopher, his philosophy
was kindly, and he taught the delicate art of making much out of little.
Less coarse than Fielding, he is far more corrupt. Fielding goes bluntly
to the point; Sterne lingers among the temptations and suspends the
expectation to tease and excite it. Forbidden fruit had a relish for
him, and his pages seduce. He is full of good sayings both tender and
witty. It was Sterne, for example, who wrote, "God tempers the wind to
the shorn lamb."

A very different writer was Oliver Goldsmith, whose _Vicar of
Wakefield_, 1766, was the earliest, and is still one of the best, novels
of domestic and rural life. The book, like its author, was thoroughly
Irish, full of bulls and inconsistencies. Very improbable things
happened in it with a cheerful defiance of logic. But its characters are
true to nature, drawn with an idyllic sweetness and purity, and with
touches of a most loving humor. Its hero, Dr. Primrose, was painted
after Goldsmith's father, a poor clergyman of the English Church in
Ireland, and the original, likewise, of the country parson in
Goldsmith's _Deserted Village_, 1770, who was "passing rich on forty
pounds a year." This poem, though written in the fashionable couplet of
Pope, and even containing a few verses contributed by Dr. Johnson--so
that it was not at all in line with the work of the romanticists--did,
perhaps, as much as any thing of Gray or of Collins to recall English
poetry to the simplicity and freshness of country life.

[Illustration: Johnson, Goldsmith, Cowper, Burns.]

Except for the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith, and, perhaps, a few
other plays, the stage had now utterly declined. The novel, which is
dramatic in essence, though not in form, began to take its place, and to
represent life, though less intensely, yet more minutely than the
theater could do. In the novelists of the 18th century, the life of the
people, as distinguished from "society" or the upper classes, began to
invade literature. Richardson was distinctly a _bourgeois_ writer, and
his contemporaries--Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, and Goldsmith--ranged
over a wide variety of ranks and conditions. This is one thing which
distinguishes the literature of the second half of the 18th century from
that of the first, as well as in some degree from that of all previous
centuries. Among the authors of this generation whose writings belonged
to other departments of thought than pure literature may be mentioned,
in passing, the great historian, Edward Gibbon, whose _Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire_ was published from 1776-1788, and Edmund Burke,
whose political speeches and pamphlets possess a true literary quality.

The romantic poets had addressed the imagination rather than the heart.
It was reserved for two men--a contrast to one another in almost every
respect--to bring once more into British song a strong individual
feeling, and with it a new warmth and directness of speech. These were
William Cowper (1731-1800) and Robert Burns (1759-1796). Cowper spoke
out of his own life-experience, his agony, his love, his worship and
despair; and straightway the varnish that had glittered over all our
poetry since the time of Dryden melted away. Cowper had scribbled verses
when he was a young law student at the Middle Temple in London, and he
had contributed to the _Olney Hymns_, published in 1779 by his friend
and pastor, the Rev. John Newton; but he only began to write poetry in
earnest when he was nearly fifty years old. In 1782, the date of his
first volume, he said, in a letter to a friend, that he had read but one
English poet during the past twenty years. Perhaps, therefore, of all
English poets of equal culture, Cowper owed the least impulse to books
and the most to the need of uttering his inmost thoughts and feelings.
Cowper had a most unhappy life. As a child he was shy, sensitive, and
sickly, and suffered much from bullying and fagging at a school whither
he was sent after his mother's death. This happened when he was six
years old; and in his affecting lines written _On Receipt of My
Mother's Picture_, he speaks of himself as a

Wretch even then, life's journey just begun.

In 1763 he became insane and was sent to an asylum, where he spent a
year. Judicious treatment restored him to sanity, but he came out a
broken man and remained for the rest of his life an invalid, unfitted
for any active occupation. His disease took the form of religious
melancholy. He had two recurrences of madness, and both times made
attempts upon his life. At Huntingdon, and afterward at Olney, in
Buckinghamshire, he found a home with the Unwin family, whose kindness
did all which the most soothing and delicate care could do to heal his
wounded spirit. His two poems _To Mary Unwin_, together with the lines
on his mother's picture, were almost the first examples of deep and
tender sentiment in the lyrical poetry of the last century. Cowper found
relief from the black thoughts that beset him only in an ordered round
of quiet household occupations. He corresponded indefatigably, took long
walks through the neighborhood, read, sang, and conversed with Mrs.
Unwin and his friend, Lady Austin, and amused himself with carpentry,
gardening, and raising pets, especially hares, of which gentle animals
he grew very fond. All these simple tastes, in which he found for a time
a refuge and a sheltered happiness, are reflected in his best poem, _The
Task_, 1785. Cowper is the poet of the family affections, of domestic
life, and rural retirement; the laureate of the fireside, the tea-table,
the evening lamp, the garden, the green-house, and the rabbit-coop. He
draws with elegance and precision a chair, a clock, a harpsichord, a
barometer, a piece of needle-work. But Cowper was an outdoor as well as
an indoor man. The Olney landscape was tame, a fat, agricultural region,
where the sluggish Ouse wound between plowed fields and the horizon was
bounded by low hills. Nevertheless Cowper's natural descriptions are at
once more distinct and more imaginative than Thomson's. _The Task_
reflects, also, the new philanthropic spirit, the enthusiasm of
humanity, the feeling of the brotherhood of men to which Rousseau had
given expression in France, and which issued in the French Revolution.
In England this was the time of Wilberforce, the antislavery agitator;
of Whitefield, the eloquent revival preacher; of John and Charles
Wesley, and of the Evangelical and Methodist movements which gave new
life to the English Church. John Newton, the curate of Olney and the
keeper of Cowper's conscience, was one of the leaders of the
Evangelicals; and Cowper's first volume of _Table Talk_ and other poems,
1782, written under Newton's inspiration, was a series of sermons in
verse, somewhat intolerant of all worldly enjoyments, such as hunting,
dancing, and theaters. "God made the country and man made the town," he
wrote. He was a moralizing poet, and his morality was sometimes that of
the invalid and the recluse. Byron called him a "coddled poet." And,
indeed, there is a suspicion of gruel and dressing-gowns about him. He
lived much among women, and his sufferings had refined him to a feminine
delicacy. But there is no sickliness in his poetry, and he retained a
charming playful humor--displayed in his excellent comic ballad _John
Gilpin_; and Mrs. Browning has sung of him,

How, when one by one sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
He bore no less a loving face, because so broken-hearted.

At the close of the year 1786 a young Scotchman, named Samuel Rose,
called upon Cowper at Olney, and left with him a small volume, which had
appeared at Edinburgh during the past summer, entitled _Poems chiefly in
the Scottish Dialect by Robert Burns_. Cowper read the book through
twice, and, though somewhat bothered by the dialect, pronounced it a
"very extraordinary production." This momentary flash, as of an electric
spark, marks the contact not only of the two chief British poets of
their generation, but of two literatures. Scotch poets, like Thomson and
Beattie, had written in southern English, and, as Carlyle said, _in
vacuo_, that is, with nothing specially national in their work. Burns's
sweet though rugged Doric first secured the vernacular poetry of his
country a hearing beyond the border. He had, to be sure, a whole
literature of popular songs and ballads behind him, and his immediate
models were Allan Ramsay and Robert Ferguson; but these remained
provincial, while Burns became universal.

He was born in Ayrshire, on the banks of "bonny Doon," in a clay biggin
not far from "Alloway's auld haunted kirk," the scene of the witch dance
in _Tam O'Shanter_. His father was a hard-headed, God-fearing tenant
farmer, whose life and that of his sons was a harsh struggle with
poverty. The crops failed; the landlord pressed for his rent; for weeks
at a time the family tasted no meat; yet this life of toil was lightened
by love and homely pleasures. In the _Cotter's Saturday Night_ Burns has
drawn a beautiful picture of his parents' household, the rest that came
at the week's end, and the family worship about the "wee bit ingle,
blinkin' bonnily." Robert was handsome, wild, and witty. He was
universally susceptible, and his first songs, like his last, were of
"the lasses." His head had been stuffed, in boyhood, with "tales and
songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks,
spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights," etc., told him by one
Jenny Wilson, an old woman who lived in the family. His ear was full of
ancient Scottish tunes, and as soon as he fell in love he began to make
poetry as naturally as a bird sings. He composed his verses while
following the plow or working in the stack-yard; or, at evening,
balancing on two legs of his chair and watching the light of a peat fire
play over the reeky walls of the cottage. Burns's love songs are in many
keys, ranging from strains of the most pure and exalted passion, like
_Ae Fond Kiss_ and _To Mary in Heaven_, to such loose ditties as _When
Januar Winds_, and _Green Grow the Rashes O_.

Burns liked a glass almost as well as a lass, and at Mauchline, where
he carried on a farm with his brother Gilbert, after their father's
death, he began to seek a questionable relief from the pressure of daily
toil and unkind fates, in the convivialities of the tavern. There, among
the wits of the Mauchline Club, farmers' sons, shepherds from the
uplands, and the smugglers who swarmed over the west coast, he would
discuss politics and farming, recite his verses, and join in the singing
and ranting, while

Bousin o'er the nappy
And gettin' fou and unco happy.

To these experiences we owe not only those excellent drinking songs,
_John Barleycorn_ and _Willie Brewed a Peck o' Maut_, but the headlong
fun of _Tam O'Shanter_, the visions, grotesquely terrible, of _Death and
Dr. Hornbook_, and the dramatic humor of the _Jolly Beggars_. Cowper had
celebrated "the cup which cheers but not inebriates." Burns sang the
praises of _Scotch Drink_. Cowper was a stranger to Burns's high animal
spirits, and his robust enjoyment of life. He had affections, but no
passions. At Mauchline, Burns, whose irregularities did not escape the
censure of the kirk, became involved, through his friendship with Gavin
Hamilton, in the controversy between the Old Light and New Light clergy.
His _Holy Fair_, _Holy Tulzie_, _Twa Herds_, _Holy Willie's Prayer_, and
_Address to the Unco Gude_, are satires against bigotry and hypocrisy.
But in spite of the rollicking profanity of his language, and the
violence of his rebound against the austere religion of Scotland, Burns
was at bottom deeply impressible by religious ideas, as may be seen from
his _Prayer under the Pressure of Violent Anguish_, and _Prayer in
Prospect of Death_.

His farm turned out a failure, and he was on the eve of sailing for
Jamaica, when the favor with which his volume of poems was received
stayed his departure, and turned his steps to Edinburgh. There the
peasant poet was lionized for a winter season by the learned and polite
society of the Scotch capital, with results in the end not altogether
favorable to Burns's best interests. For when society finally turned the
cold shoulder on him he had to go back to farming again, carrying with
him a bitter sense of injustice and neglect. He leased a farm at
Ellisland, in 1788, and some friends procured his appointment as
exciseman for his district. But poverty, disappointment, irregular
habits, and broken health clouded his last years, and brought him to an
untimely death at the age of thirty-seven. He continued, however, to
pour forth songs of unequaled sweetness and force. "The man sank," said
Coleridge, "but the poet was bright to the last."

Burns is the best of British song-writers. His songs are singable; they
are not merely lyrical poems. They were meant to be sung, and they are
sung. They were mostly set to old Scottish airs, and sometimes they were
built up from ancient fragments of anonymous popular poetry, a chorus,
or stanza, or even a single line. Such are, for example, _Auld Lang
Syne_, _My Heart's in the Highlands_, and _Landlady, Count the Lawin_.
Burns had a great, warm heart. His sins were sins of passion, and sprang
from the same generous soil that nourished his impulsive virtues. His
elementary qualities as a poet were sincerity, a healthy openness to all
impressions of the beautiful, and a sympathy which embraced men,
animals, and the dumb objects of nature. His tenderness toward flowers
and the brute creation may be read in his lines _To a Mountain Daisy_,
_To a Mouse_, and _The Auld Farmer's New Year's Morning Salutation to
his Auld Mare Maggie_. Next after love and good fellowship, patriotism
is the most frequent motive of his song. Of his national anthem, _Scots
wha hae wi' Wallace bled_, Carlyle said: "So long as there is warm blood
in the heart of Scotchman, or man, it will move in fierce thrills under
this war ode."

Burns's politics were a singular mixture of sentimental Toryism with
practical democracy. A romantic glamour was thrown over the fortunes of
the exiled Stuarts, and to have been "out" in '45 with the Young
Pretender was a popular thing in parts of Scotland. To this purely
poetic loyalty may be attributed such Jacobite ballads of Burns as _Over
the Water to Charlie_. But his sober convictions were on the side of
liberty and human brotherhood, and are expressed in _The Twa Dogs_, the
_First Epistle to Davie_, and _A Man's a Man for a' that_. His sympathy
with the Revolution led him to send four pieces of ordnance, taken from
a captured smuggler, as a present to the French Convention, a piece of
bravado which got him into difficulties with his superiors in the
excise. The poetry which Burns wrote, not in dialect, but in the
classical English, is in the stilted manner of his century, and his
prose correspondence betrays his lack of culture by its constant lapse
into rhetorical affectation and fine writing.

* * * * *

1. James Thomson. The Castle of Indolence.
2. The Poems of Thomas Gray.
3. William Collins. Odes.
4. The Six Chief Lives from Johnson's Lives of the Poets.
Edited by Matthew Arnold. Macmillan, 1878.
5. Boswell's Life of Johnson [abridged]. Henry Holt &
Co., 1878.
6. Samuel Richardson. Clarissa Harlowe.
7. Henry Fielding. Tom Jones.
8. Tobias Smollett. Humphrey Clinker.
9. Lawrence Sterne. Tristram Shandy.
10. Oliver Goldsmith. Vicar of Wakefield and Deserted
11. William Cowper. The Task and John Gilpin. (Globe
Edition.) London: Macmillan & Co., 1879.
12. The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. (Globe
Edition.) London: Macmillan & Co., 1884.




The burst of creative activity at the opening of the 19th century has
but one parallel in English literary history, namely, the somewhat
similar flowering out of the national genius in the time of Elizabeth
and the first two Stuart kings. The later age gave birth to no supreme
poets, like Shakspere and Milton. It produced no _Hamlet_ and no
_Paradise Lost_; but it offers a greater number of important writers, a
higher average of excellence, and a wider range and variety of literary
work than any preceding era. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron,
Shelley, and Keats are all great names; while Southey, Landor, Moore,
Lamb, and De Quincey would be noteworthy figures at any period, and
deserve a fuller mention than can be here accorded them. But in so
crowded a generation, selection becomes increasingly needful, and in the
present chapter, accordingly, the emphasis will be laid upon the
first-named group as not only the most important, but the most
representative of the various tendencies of their time.

[Illustration: Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats.]

The conditions of literary work in this century have been almost unduly
stimulating. The rapid advance in population, wealth, education, and the
means of communication has vastly increased the number of readers. Every
one who has any thing to say can say it in print, and is sure of some
sort of a hearing. A special feature of the time is the multiplication
of periodicals. The great London dailies, like the _Times_ and the
_Morning Post_, which were started during the last quarter of the 18th
century, were something quite new in journalism. The first of the modern
reviews, the _Edinburgh_, was established in 1802, as the organ of the
Whig party in Scotland. This was followed by the London _Quarterly_, in
1808, and by _Blackwood's Magazine_, in 1817, both in the Tory interest.
The first editor of the _Edinburgh_ was Francis Jeffrey, who assembled
about him a distinguished corps of contributors, including the versatile
Henry Brougham, afterward a great parliamentary orator and lord
chancellor of England, and the Rev. Sydney Smith, whose witty sayings
are still current. The first editor of the _Quarterly_ was William
Gifford, a satirist, who wrote the _Baviad_ and _Maeviad_ ridicule of
literary affectations. He was succeeded in 1824 by John Gibson Lockhart,
the son-in-law of Walter Scott, and the author of an excellent _Life of
Scott_. _Blackwood's_ was edited by John Wilson, Professor of Moral
Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, who, under the pen-name of
"Christopher North," contributed to his magazine a series of brilliant
imaginary dialogues between famous characters of the day, entitled
_Noctes Ambrosianae_, because they were supposed to take place at
Ambrose's tavern in Edinburgh. These papers were full of a profuse,
headlong eloquence, of humor, literary criticism, and personalities
interspersed with songs expressive of a roystering and convivial Toryism
and an uproarious contempt for Whigs and cockneys. These reviews and
magazines, and others which sprang up beside them, became the _nuclei_
about which the wit and scholarship of both parties gathered. Political
controversy under the Regency and the reign of George IV. was thus
carried on more regularly by permanent organs, and no longer so largely
by privateering, in the shape of pamphlets, like Swift's _Public Spirit
of the Allies_, Johnson's _Taxation No Tyranny_, and Burke's
_Reflections on the Revolution in France_. Nor did politics by any means
usurp the columns of the reviews. Literature, art, science, the whole
circle of human effort and achievement passed under review.
_Blackwood's_, _Fraser's_, and the other monthlies published stories,
poetry, criticism, and correspondence--every thing, in short, which
enters into the make-up of our magazines to-day, except illustrations.

Two main influences, of foreign origin, have left their trace in the
English writers of the first thirty years of the 19th century, the one
communicated by contact with the new German literature of the latter
half of the 18th century, and in particular with the writings of Goethe,
Schiller, and Kant; the other springing from the events of the French
Revolution. The influence of German upon English literature in the 19th
century was more intellectual and less formal than that of the Italian
in the 16th and of the French in the 18th. In other words, the German
writers furnished the English with ideas and ways of feeling rather than
with models of style. Goethe and Schiller did not become subjects for
literary imitation as Moliere, Racine, and Boileau had become in Pope's
time. It was reserved for a later generation and for Thomas Carlyle to
domesticate the diction of German prose. But the nature and extent of
this influence can, perhaps, best be noted when we come to take up the
authors of the time one by one.

The excitement caused by the French Revolution was something more
obvious and immediate. When the Bastile fell, in 1789, the enthusiasm
among the friends of liberty and human progress in England was hardly
less intense than in France. It was the dawn of a new day; the shackles
were stricken from the slave; all men were free and all men were
brothers, and radical young England sent up a shout that echoed the roar
of the Paris mob. Wordsworth's lines on the _Fall of the Bastile_,
Coleridge's _Fall of Robespierre_ and _Ode to France_, and Southey's
revolutionary drama, _Wat Tyler_, gave expression to the hopes and
aspirations of the English democracy. In after life, Wordsworth, looking
back regretfully to those years of promise, wrote his poem on the
_French Revolution as it Appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement_.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive;
But to be young was very heaven. O times
In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance.

Those were the days in which Wordsworth, then an under-graduate at
Cambridge, spent a college vacation in tramping through France, landing
at Calais on the eve of the very day (July 14, 1790) on which Louis XVI.
signalized the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile by taking the oath
of fidelity to the new constitution. In the following year Wordsworth
revisited France, where he spent thirteen months, forming an intimacy
with the republican general, Beaupuis, at Orleans, and reaching Paris
not long after the September massacres of 1792. Those were the days,
too, in which young Southey and young Coleridge, having married sisters
at Bristol, were planning a "Pantisocracy," or ideal community, on the
banks of the Susquehannah, and denouncing the British government for
going to war with the French Republic. This group of poets, who had met
one another first in the south of England, came afterward to be called
the Lake Poets, from their residence in the mountainous lake country of
Westmoreland and Cumberland, with which their names, and that of
Wordsworth, especially, are forever associated. The so-called "Lakers"
did not, properly speaking, constitute a school of poetry. They differed
greatly from one another in mind and art. But they were connected by
social ties and by religious and political sympathies. The excesses of
the French Revolution, and the usurpation of Napoleon disappointed them,
as it did many other English liberals, and drove them into the ranks of
the reactionaries. Advancing years brought conservatism, and they became
in time loyal Tories and orthodox churchmen.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), the chief of the three, and, perhaps,
on the whole, the greatest English poet since Milton, published his
_Lyrical Ballads_ in 1798. The volume contained a few pieces by his
friend Coleridge--among them the _Ancient Mariner_--and its appearance
may fairly be said to mark an epoch in the history of English poetry.
Wordsworth regarded himself as a reformer of poetry; and in the preface
to the second edition of the _Lyrical Ballads_, he defended the theory
on which they were composed. His innovations were twofold: in
subject-matter and in diction. "The principal object which I proposed to
myself in these poems," he said, "was to choose incidents and situations
from common life. Low and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in
that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil
in which they can attain their maturity...and are incorporated with
the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." Wordsworth discarded, in
theory, the poetic diction of his predecessors, and professed to use "a
selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation." He
adopted, he said, the language of men in rustic life, "because such men
hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of
language is originally derived."

In the matter of poetic diction Wordsworth did not, in his practice,
adhere to the doctrine of this preface. Many of his most admired poems,
such as the _Lines written near Tintern Abbey_, the great _Ode on the
Intimations of Immortality_, the _Sonnets_, and many parts of his
longest poems, _The Excursion_ and _The Prelude_, deal with philosophic
thought and highly intellectualized emotions. In all of these and in
many others the language is rich, stately, involved, and as remote from
the "real language" of Westmoreland shepherds as is the epic blank verse
of Milton. On the other hand, in those of his poems which were
consciously written in illustration of his theory, the affectation of
simplicity, coupled with a defective sense of humor, sometimes led him
to the selection of vulgar and trivial themes, and the use of language
which is bald, childish, or even ludicrous. His simplicity is too often
the simplicity of Mother Goose rather than of Chaucer. Instances of this
occur in such poems as _Peter Bell_, the _Idiot Boy_, _Goody Blake and
Harry Gill_, _Simon Lee_, and the _Wagoner_. But there are multitudes of
Wordsworth's ballads and lyrics which are simple without being silly,
and which, in their homeliness and clear profundity, in their production
of the strongest effects by the fewest strokes, are among the choicest
modern examples of _pure_, as distinguished from decorated, art. Such
are (out of many) _Ruth_, _Lucy_, _She was a Phantom of Delight_, _To a
Highland Girl_, _The Reverie of Poor Susan_, _To the Cuckoo_, _The
Solitary Reaper_, _We Are Seven_, _The Pet Lamb_, _The Fountain_, _The
Two April Mornings_, _Resolution and Independence_, _The Thorn_, and
_Yarrow Unvisited_.

Wordsworth was something of a Quaker in poetry, and loved the sober
drabs and grays of life. Quietism was his literary religion, and the
sensational was to him not merely vulgar, but almost wicked. "The human
mind," he wrote, "is capable of being excited without the application of
gross and violent stimulants." He disliked the far-fetched themes and
high-colored style of Scott and Byron. He once told Landor that all of
Scott's poetry together was not worth sixpence. From action and passion
he turned away to sing the inward life of the soul and the outward life
of nature. He said:

To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

And again:

Long have I loved what I behold.
The night that charms, the day that cheers;
The common growth of mother earth
Suffices me--her tears, her mirth,
Her humblest mirth and tears.

Wordsworth's life was outwardly uneventful. The companionship of the
mountains and of his own thoughts, the sympathy of his household, the
lives of the dalesmen and cottagers about him furnished him with all the
stimulus that he required.

Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His only teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

He read little, but reflected much, and made poetry daily, composing, by
preference, out of doors, and dictating his verses to some member of his
family. His favorite amanuensis was his sister Dorothy, a woman of fine
gifts, to whom Wordsworth was indebted for some of his happiest
inspirations. Her charming _Memorials of a Tour in the Scottish
Highlands_ records the origin of many of her brother's best poems.
Throughout life Wordsworth was remarkably self-centered. The ridicule of
the reviewers, against which he gradually made his way to public
recognition, never disturbed his serene belief in himself, or in the
divine message which he felt himself commissioned to deliver. He was a
slow and serious person, a preacher as well as a poet, with a certain
rigidity, not to say narrowness, of character. That plastic temperament
which we associate with poetic genius Wordsworth either did not possess,
or it hardened early. Whole sides of life were beyond the range of his
sympathies. He touched life at fewer points than Byron and Scott, but
touched it more profoundly. It is to him that we owe the phrase "plain
living and high thinking," as also a most noble illustration of it in
his own practice. His was the wisest and deepest spirit among the
English poets of his generation, though hardly the most poetic. He wrote
too much, and, attempting to make every petty incident or reflection the
occasion of a poem, he finally reached the point of composing verses
_On Seeing a Harp in the shape of a Needle Case_, and on other themes
more worthy of Mrs. Sigourney. In parts of his long blank-verse poems,
_The Excursion_, 1814, and _The Prelude_--which was printed after his
death in 1850, though finished as early as 1806--the poetry wears very
thin and its place is taken by prosaic, tedious didacticism. These two
poems were designed as portions of a still more extended work, _The
Recluse_, which was never completed. _The Excursion_ consists mainly of
philosophical discussions on nature and human life between a
school-master, a solitary, and an itinerant peddler. _The Prelude_
describes the development of Wordsworth's own genius. In parts of _The
Excursion_ the diction is fairly Shaksperian:

The good die first,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
Burn to the socket;

a passage not only beautiful in itself but dramatically true, in the
mouth of the bereaved mother who utters it, to that human instinct which
generalizes a private sorrow into a universal law. Much of _The Prelude_
can hardly be called poetry at all, yet some of Wordsworth's loftiest
poetry is buried among its dreary wastes, and now and then, in the midst
of commonplaces, comes a flash of Miltonic splendor--like

Golden cities ten months' journey deep
Among Tartarian wilds.

Wordsworth is, above all things, the poet of nature. In this province he
was not without forerunners. To say nothing of Burns and Cowper, there
was George Crabbe, who had published his _Village_ in 1783--fifteen
years before the _Lyrical Ballads_--and whose last poem, _Tales of the
Hall_, came out in 1819, five years after _The Excursion_. Byron called
Crabbe "Nature's sternest painter, and her best." He was a minutely
accurate delineator of the harsher aspects of rural life. He photographs
a Gypsy camp; a common, with its geese and donkey; a salt marsh, a
shabby village street, or tumble-down manse. But neither Crabbe nor
Cowper has the imaginative lift of Wordsworth,

The light that never was, on sea or land,
The consecration, and the poet's dream.

In a note on a couplet in one of his earliest poems, descriptive of an
oak-tree standing dark against the sunset, Wordsworth says: "I recollect
distinctly the very spot where this struck me. The moment was important
in my poetical history, for I date from it my consciousness of the
infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the
poets of any age or country, and I made a resolution to supply, in some
degree, the deficiency." In later life he is said to have been impatient
of any thing spoken or written by another about mountains, conceiving
himself to have a monopoly of "the power of hills." But Wordsworth did
not stop with natural description. Matthew Arnold has said that the
office of modern poetry is the "moral interpretation of Nature." Such,
at any rate, was Wordsworth's office. To him Nature was alive and
divine. He felt, under the veil of phenomena,

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thought: a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused.

He approached, if he did not actually reach, the view of pantheism which
identifies God with Nature; and the mysticism of the Idealists, who
identify Nature with the soul of man. This tendency was not inspired in
Wordsworth by German philosophy. He was no metaphysician. In his rambles
with Coleridge about Nether Stowey and Alfoxden, when both were young,
they had, indeed, discussed Spinoza. And in the autumn of 1798, after
the publication of the _Lyrical Ballads_, the two friends went together
to Germany, where Wordsworth spent half a year. But the literature and
philosophy of Germany made little direct impression upon Wordsworth. He
disliked Goethe, and he quoted with approval the saying of the poet
Klopstock, whom he met at Hamburg, that he placed the romanticist Buerger
above both Goethe and Schiller.

It was through Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who was
pre-eminently the _thinker_ among the literary men of his generation,
that the new German thought found its way into England. During the
fourteen months which he spent in Germany--chiefly at Ratzburg and
Goettingen--he had familiarized himself with the transcendental
philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of his continuators, Fichte and
Schelling, as well as with the general literature of Germany. On his
return to England, he published, in 1800, a free translation of
Schiller's _Wallenstein_, and through his writings, and more especially
through his conversations, he became the conductor by which German
philosophic ideas reached the English literary class.

Coleridge described himself as being from boyhood a bookworm and a
day-dreamer. He remained through life an omnivorous, though
unsystematic, reader. He was helpless in practical affairs, and his
native indolence and procrastination were increased by his indulgence in
the opium habit. On his return to England, in 1800, he went to reside at
Keswick, in the Lake Country, with his brother-in-law, Southey, whose
industry supported both families. During his last nineteen years
Coleridge found an asylum under the roof of Mr. James Gilman, of
Highgate, near London, whither many of the best young men in England
were accustomed to resort to listen to Coleridge's wonderful talk. Talk,
indeed, was the medium through which he mainly influenced his
generation. It cost him an effort to put his thoughts on paper. His
_Table Talk_--crowded with pregnant paragraphs--was taken down from his
lips by his nephew, Henry Coleridge. His criticisms of Shakspere are
nothing but notes, made here and there, from a course of lectures
delivered before the Royal Institute, and never fully written out.
Though only hints and suggestions, they are, perhaps, the most
penetrative and helpful Shaksperian criticisms in English. He was always
forming projects and abandoning them. He projected a great work on
Christian philosophy, which was to have been his _magnum opus_, but he
never wrote it. He projected an epic poem on the fall of Jerusalem. "I
schemed it at twenty-five," he said, "but, alas! _venturum expectat_."
What bade fair to be his best poem, _Christabel_, is a fragment. Another
strangely beautiful poem, _Kubla Khan_--which came to him, he said, in
sleep--is even more fragmentary. And the most important of his prose
remains, his _Biographia Literaria_, 1817, a history of his own
opinions, breaks off abruptly.

It was in his suggestiveness that Coleridge's great service to posterity
resided. He was what J.S. Mill called a "seminal mind," and his thought
had that power of stimulating thought in others which is the mark and
the privilege of original genius. Many a man has owed to some sentence
of Coleridge's, if not the awakening in himself of a new intellectual
life, at least the starting of fruitful trains of reflection which have
modified his whole view of certain great subjects. On every thing that
he left is set the stamp of high mental authority. He was not, perhaps,
primarily, he certainly was not exclusively, a poet. In theology, in
philosophy, in political thought and literary criticism he set currents
flowing which are flowing yet. The terminology of criticism, for
example, is in his debt for many of those convenient distinctions--such
as that between genius and talent, between wit and humor, between fancy
and imagination--which are familiar enough now, but which he first
introduced or enforced. His definitions and apothegms we meet
every-where. Such are, for example, the sayings: "Every man is born an
Aristotelian or a Platonist." "Prose is words in their best order;
poetry, the best words in the best order." And among the bits of subtle
interpretation that abound in his writings may be mentioned his
estimate of Wordsworth, in the _Biographia Literaria_, and his sketch of
Hamlet's character--one with which he was personally in strong
sympathy--in the _Lectures on Shakspere_.

The Broad Church party, in the English Church, among whose most eminent
exponents have been W. Frederic Robertson, Arnold of Rugby, F.D.
Maurice, Charles Kingsley, and the late Dean Stanley, traces its
intellectual origin to Coleridge's _Aids to Reflection_, to his writings
and conversations in general, and particularly to his ideal of a
national clerisy, as set forth in his essay on _Church and State_. In
politics, as in religion, Coleridge's conservatism represents the
reaction against the destructive spirit of the 18th century and the
French Revolution. To this root-and-branch democracy he opposed the view
that every old belief, or institution, such as the throne or the Church,
had served some need, and had a rational idea at the bottom of it, to
which it might be again recalled, and made once more a benefit to
society, instead of a curse and an anachronism.

As a poet, Coleridge has a sure, though slender, hold upon immortal
fame. No English poet has "sung so wildly well" as the singer of
_Christabel_ and the _Ancient Mariner_. The former of these is, in form,
a romance in a variety of meters, and in substance, a tale of
supernatural possession, by which a lovely and innocent maiden is
brought under the control of a witch. Though unfinished and obscure in
intention, it haunts the imagination with a mystic power. Byron had seen
_Christabel_ in manuscript, and urged Coleridge to publish it. He hated
all the "Lakers," but when, on parting from Lady Byron, he wrote his

Fare thee well, and if forever,
Still forever fare thee well,

he prefixed to it the noble lines from Coleridge's poem, beginning

Alas! they had been friends in youth.

In that weird ballad, the _Ancient Mariner_, the supernatural is
handled with even greater subtlety than in _Christabel_. The reader is
led to feel that amid the loneliness of the tropic-sea the line between
the earthly and the unearthly vanishes, and the poet leaves him to
discover for himself whether the spectral shapes that the mariner saw
were merely the visions of the calenture, or a glimpse of the world of
spirits. Coleridge is one of our most perfect metrists. The poet
Swinburne--than whom there can be no higher authority on this point
(though he is rather given to exaggeration)--pronounces _Kubla Khan_,
"for absolute melody and splendor, the first poem in the language."

Robert Southey, the third member of this group, was a diligent worker,
and one of the most voluminous of English writers. As a poet, he was
lacking in inspiration, and his big oriental epics, _Thalaba_, 1801, and
the _Curse of Kehama_, 1810, are little better than wax-work. Of his
numerous works in prose, the _Life of Nelson_ is, perhaps, the best, and
is an excellent biography.

Several other authors were more or less closely associated with the Lake
Poets by residence or social affiliation. John Wilson, the editor of
_Blackwood's_, lived for some time, when a young man, at Elleray, on the
banks of Windermere. He was an athletic man of outdoor habits, an
enthusiastic sportsman, and a lover of natural scenery. His admiration
of Wordsworth was thought to have led him to imitation of the latter, in
his _Isle of Palms_, 1812, and his other poetry.

One of Wilson's companions, in his mountain walks, was Thomas De
Quincey, who had been led by his reverence for Wordsworth and Coleridge
to take up his residence, in 1808, at Grasmere, where he occupied for
many years the cottage from which Wordsworth had removed to Allan Bank.
De Quincey was a shy, bookish man, of erratic, nocturnal habits, who
impresses one, personally, as a child of genius, with a child's
helplessness and a child's sharp observation. He was, above all things,
a magazinist. All his writings, with one exception, appeared first in
the shape of contributions to periodicals; and his essays, literary
criticisms, and miscellaneous papers are exceedingly rich and varied.
The most famous of them was his _Confessions of an English Opium Eater_,
published as a serial in the _London Magazine_, in 1821. He had begun to
take opium, as a cure for the toothache, when a student at Oxford, where
he resided from 1803 to 1808. By 1816 he had risen to eight thousand
drops of laudanum a day. For several years after this he experienced the
acutest misery, and his will suffered an entire paralysis. In 1821 he
succeeded in reducing his dose to a comparatively small allowance, and
in shaking off his torpor so as to become capable of literary work. The
most impressive effect of the opium habit was seen in his dreams, in the
unnatural expansion of space and time, and the infinite repetition of
the same objects. His sleep was filled with dim, vast images;
measureless cavalcades deploying to the sound of orchestral music; an
endless succession of vaulted halls, with staircases climbing to heaven,
up which toiled eternally the same solitary figure. "Then came sudden
alarms, hurrying to and fro; trepidations of innumerable fugitives;
darkness and light; tempest and human faces." Many of De Quincey's
papers were autobiographical, but there is always something baffling in
these reminiscences. In the interminable wanderings of his pen--for
which, perhaps, opium was responsible--he appears to lose all trace of
facts or of any continuous story. Every actual experience of his life
seems to have been taken up into a realm of dream, and there distorted
till the reader sees not the real figures, but the enormous, grotesque
shadows of them, executing wild dances on a screen. An instance of this
process is described by himself in his _Vision of Sudden Death_. But his
unworldliness and faculty of vision-seeing were not inconsistent with
the keenness of judgment and the justness and delicacy of perception
displayed in his _Biographical Sketches_ of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and
other contemporaries: in his critical papers on _Pope_, _Milton_,
_Lessing_, _Homer and the Homeridae_: his essay on _Style_; and his
_Brief Appraisal of the Greek Literature_. His curious scholarship is
seen in his articles on the _Toilet of a Hebrew Lady_, and the
_Casuistry of Roman Meals_; his ironical and somewhat elaborate humor in
his essay on _Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts_. Of his
narrative pieces the most remarkable is his _Revolt of the Tartars_,
describing the flight of a Kalmuck tribe of six hundred thousand souls
from Russia to the Chinese frontier: a great hegira or anabasis, which
extended for four thousand miles over desert steppes infested with foes,
occupied six months' time, and left nearly half of the tribe dead upon
the way. The subject was suited to De Quincey's imagination. It was like
one of his own opium visions, and he handled it with a dignity and force
which make the history not altogether unworthy of comparison with
Thucydides's great chapter on the Sicilian Expedition.

An intimate friend of Southey was Walter Savage Landor, a man of kingly
nature, of a leonine presence, with a most stormy and unreasonable
temper, and yet with the courtliest graces of manner, and with--said
Emerson--"a wonderful brain, despotic, violent, and inexhaustible." He
inherited wealth, and lived a great part of his life at Florence, where
he died in 1864, in his ninetieth year. Dickens, who knew him at Bath,
in the latter part of his life, made a kindly caricature of him as
Lawrence Boythorn, in _Bleak House_, whose "combination of superficial
ferocity and inherent tenderness," testifies Henry Crabb Robinson, in
his _Diary_, was true to the life. Landor is the most purely classical
of English writers. Not merely his themes, but his whole way of thinking
was pagan and antique. He composed indifferently in English or Latin,
preferring the latter, if any thing, in obedience to his instinct for
compression and exclusiveness. Thus, portions of his narrative poem,
_Gebir_, 1798, were written originally in Latin and he added a Latin
version, _Gebirius_, to the English edition. In like manner his
_Hellenics_, 1847, were mainly translations from his Latin _Idyllia
Heroica_, written years before. The Hellenic clearness and repose which
were absent from his life, Landor sought in his art. His poems, in their
restraint, their objectivity, their aloofness from modern feeling, have
something chill and artificial. The verse of poets like Byron and
Wordsworth is alive; the blood runs in it. But Landor's polished,
clean-cut _intaglios_ have been well described as "written in marble."
He was a master of fine and solid prose. His _Pericles and Aspasia_
consists of a series of letters passing between the great Athenian
demagogue; the hetaira, Aspasia; her friend, Cleone of Miletus;
Anaxagorus, the philosopher, and Pericles's nephew, Alcibiades. In this
masterpiece, the intellectual life of Athens, at its period of highest
refinement, is brought before the reader with singular vividness, and he
is made to breathe an atmosphere of high-bred grace, delicate wit, and
thoughtful sentiment, expressed in English "of Attic choice." The
_Imaginary Conversations_, 1824-1846, were Platonic dialogues between a
great variety of historical characters; between, for example, Dante and
Beatrice, Washington and Franklin, Queen Elizabeth and Cecil, Xenophon
and Cyrus the Younger, Bonaparte and the president of the Senate.
Landor's writings have never been popular; they address an aristocracy
of scholars; and Byron--whom Landor disliked and considered
vulgar--sneered at him as a writer who "cultivated much private renown
in the shape of Latin verses." He said of himself that he "never
contended with a contemporary, but walked alone on the far Eastern
uplands, meditating and remembering."

A school-mate of Coleridge at Christ's Hospital, and his friend and
correspondent through life, was Charles Lamb, one of the most charming
of English essayists. He was a bachelor, who lived alone with his sister
Mary, a lovable and intellectual woman, but subject to recurring
attacks of madness. Lamb was "a notched and cropped scrivener, a votary
of the desk;" a clerk, that is, in the employ of the East India Company.
He was of antiquarian tastes, an ardent playgoer, a lover of whist and
of the London streets; and these tastes are reflected in his _Essays of
Elia_, contributed to the _London Magazine_ and reprinted in book form
in 1823. From his mousing among the Elizabethan dramatists and such old
humorists as Burton and Fuller, his own style imbibed a peculiar
quaintness and pungency. His _Specimens of English Dramatic Poets_,
1808, is admirable for its critical insight. In 1802 he paid a visit to
Coleridge at Keswick, in the Lake Country; but he felt or affected a
whimsical horror of the mountains, and said, "Fleet Street and the
Strand are better to live in." Among the best of his essays are _Dream
Children_, _Poor Relations_, _The Artificial Comedy of the Last
Century_, _Old China_, _Roast Pig_, _A Defense of Chimneysweeps_, _A
Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis_, and _The Old
Benchers of the Inner Temple_.

The romantic movement, preluded by Gray, Collins, Chatterton,
Macpherson, and others, culminated in Walter Scott (1721-1832). His
passion for the mediaeval was excited by reading Percy's _Reliques_ when
he was a boy; and in one of his school themes he maintained that Ariosto
was a greater poet than Homer. He began early to collect manuscript
ballads, suits of armor, pieces of old plate, border-horns, and similar
relics. He learned Italian in order to read the romancers--Ariosto,
Tasso, Pulci, and Boiardo--preferring them to Dante. He studied Gothic
architecture, heraldry, and the art of fortification, and made drawings
of famous ruins and battle-fields. In particular he read eagerly every
thing that he could lay hands on relating to the history, legends, and
antiquities of the Scottish border--the vale of Tweed, Teviotdale,
Ettrick Forest, and the Yarrow, of all which land he became the
laureate, as Burns had been of Ayrshire and the "West Country." Scott,
like Wordsworth, was an outdoor poet. He spent much time in the saddle,
and was fond of horses, dogs, hunting, and salmon-fishing. He had a keen
eye for the beauties of natural scenery, though "more especially," he
admits, "when combined with ancient ruins or remains of our forefathers'
piety or splendor." He had the historic imagination, and, in creating
the historical novel, he was the first to throw a poetic glamour over
European annals. In 1803 Wordsworth visited Scott at Lasswade, near
Edinburgh; and Scott afterward returned the visit at Grasmere.
Wordsworth noted that his guest was "full of anecdote, and averse from
disquisition." The Englishman was a moralist and much given to
"disquisition," while the Scotchman was, above all things, a
_raconteur_, and, perhaps, on the whole, the foremost of British
story-tellers. Scott's Toryism, too, was of a different stripe from
Wordsworth's, being rather the result of sentiment and imagination than
of philosophy and reflection. His mind struck deep root in the past; his
local attachments and family pride were intense. Abbotsford was his
darling, and the expenses of this domain and of the baronial hospitality
which he there extended to all comers were among the causes of his
bankruptcy. The enormous toil which he exacted of himself, to pay off
the debt of L117,000, contracted by the failure of his publishers, cost
him his life. It is said that he was more gratified when the Prince
Regent created him a baronet, in 1820, than by the public recognition
that he acquired as the author of the Waverley Novels.

Scott was attracted by the romantic side of German literature. His first
published poem was a translation made in 1796 from Buerger's wild ballad,
_Leonora_. He followed this up with versions of the same poet's _Wilde
Jaeger_, of Goethe's violent drama of feudal life, _Goetz Von
Berlichingen_, and with other translations from the German, of a similar
class. On his horseback trips through the border, where he studied the
primitive manners of the Liddesdale people, and took down old ballads
from the recitation of ancient dames and cottagers, he amassed the
materials for his _Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border_, 1802. But the
first of his original poems was the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_,
published in 1805, and followed, in quick sucession by _Marmion_, the
_Lady of the Lake_, _Rokeby_, the _Lord of the Isles_, and a volume of
ballads and lyrical pieces, all issued during the years 1806-1814. The
popularity won by this series of metrical romances was immediate and
wide-spread. Nothing so fresh or so brilliant had appeared in English
poetry for nearly two centuries. The reader was hurried along through
scenes of rapid action, whose effect was heightened by wild landscapes
and picturesque manners. The pleasure was a passive one. There was no
deep thinking to perplex, no subtler beauties to pause upon; the
feelings were stirred pleasantly, but not deeply; the effect was on the
surface. The spell employed was novelty--or, at most, wonder--and the
chief emotion aroused was breathless interest in the progress of the
story. Carlyle said that Scott's genius was _in extenso_, rather than
_in intenso_, and that its great praise was its healthiness. This is
true of his verse, but not altogether so of his prose, which exhibits
deeper qualities. Some of Scott's most perfect poems, too, are his
shorter ballads, like _Jock o' Hazeldean_, and _Proud Maisie is in the
Wood_, which have a greater intensity and compression than his metrical

From 1814 to 1831 Scott wrote and published the _Waverley_ novels, some
thirty in number; if we consider the amount of work done, the speed with
which it was done, and the general average of excellence maintained,
perhaps the most marvelous literary feat on record. The series was
issued anonymously, and takes its name from the first number: _Waverley,
or 'Tis Sixty Years Since_. This was founded upon the rising of the
clans, in 1745, in support of the Young Pretender, Charles Edward
Stuart, and it revealed to the English public that almost foreign
country which lay just across their threshold, the Scottish Highlands.
The _Waverley_ novels remain, as a whole, unequaled as historical
fiction, although here and there a single novel, like George Eliot's
_Romola_, or Thackeray's _Henry Esmond_, or Kingsley's _Hypatia_, may
have attained a place beside the best of them. They were a novelty when
they appeared. English prose fiction had somewhat declined since the
time of Fielding and Goldsmith. There were truthful, though rather tame,
delineations of provincial life, like Jane Austen's _Sense and
Sensibility_, 1811, and _Pride and Prejudice_, 1813; or Maria
Edgeworth's _Popular Tales_, 1804. On the other hand, there were Gothic
romances, like the _Monk_ of Matthew Gregory Lewis, to whose _Tales of
Wonder_ some of Scott's translations from the German had been
contributed; or like Anne Radcliffe's _Mysteries of Udolpho_. The great
original of this school of fiction was Horace Walpole's _Castle of
Otranto_, 1765; an absurd tale of secret trap-doors, subterranean
vaults, apparitions of monstrous mailed figures and colossal helmets,
pictures that descend from their frames, and hollow voices that proclaim
the ruin of ancient families.

Scott used the machinery of romance, but he was not merely a romancer,
or an historical novelist even, and it is not, as Carlyle implies, the
buff-belts and jerkins which principally interest us in his heroes.
_Ivanhoe_ and _Kenilworth_ and the _Talisman_ are, indeed, romances pure
and simple, and very good romances at that. But, in novels such as _Rob
Roy_, the _Antiquary_, the _Heart of Midlothian_, and the _Bride of
Lammermoor_, Scott drew from contemporary life, and from his intimate
knowledge of Scotch character. The story is there, with its entanglement
of plot and its exciting adventures, but there are also, as truly as in
Shakspere, though not in the same degree, the observation of life, the
knowledge of men, the power of dramatic creation. No writer awakens in
his readers a warmer personal affection than Walter Scott, the brave,
honest, kindly gentleman; the noblest figure among the literary men of
his generation.

Another Scotch poet was Thomas Campbell, whose _Pleasures of Hope_,
1799, was written in Pope's couplet, and in the stilted diction of the
18th century. _Gertrude of Wyoming_, 1809, a long narrative poem in
Spenserian stanza, is untrue to the scenery and life of Pennsylvania,
where its scene is laid. But Campbell turned his rhetorical manner and
his clanking, martial verse to fine advantage in such pieces as
_Hohenlinden_, _Ye Mariners of England_, and the _Battle of the Baltic_.
These have the true lyric fire, and rank among the best English

When Scott was asked why he had left off writing poetry, he answered,
"Byron _bet_ me." George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was a young man of
twenty-four when, on his return from a two years' sauntering through
Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece, and the Levant, he published, in the
first two cantos of _Childe Harold_, 1812, a sort of poetic itinerary of
his experiences and impressions. The poem took, rather to its author's
surprise, who said that he woke one morning and found himself famous.
_Childe Harold_ opened a new field to poetry: the romance of travel, the
picturesque aspects of foreign scenery, manners, and costumes. It is
instructive of the difference between the two ages, in poetic
sensibility to such things, to compare Byron's glowing imagery with
Addison's tame _Letter from Italy_, written a century before. _Childe
Harold_ was followed by a series of metrical tales, the _Giaour_, the
_Bride of Abydos_, the _Corsair_, _Lara_, the _Siege of Corinth_,
_Parisina_, and the _Prisoner of Chillon_, all written in the years
1813-1816. These poems at once took the place of Scott's in popular
interest, dazzling a public that had begun to weary of chivalry romances
with pictures of Eastern life, with incidents as exciting as Scott's,
descriptions as highly colored, and a much greater intensity of passion.
So far as they depended for this interest upon the novelty of their
accessories, the effect was a temporary one. Seraglios, divans, bulbuls,
Gulistans, Zuleikas, and other oriental properties deluged English
poetry for a time, and then subsided; even as the tide of moss-troopers,
sorcerers, hermits, and feudal castles had already had its rise and

But there was a deeper reason for the impression made by Byron's poetry
upon his contemporaries. He laid his finger right on the sore spot in
modern life. He had the disease with which the time was sick, the
world-weariness, the desperation which proceeded from "passion incapable
of being converted into action." We find this tone in much of the
literature which followed the failure of the French Revolution and the
Napoleonic wars. From the irritations of that period, the disappointment
of high hopes for the future of the race, the growing religious
disbelief, and the revolt of democracy and free thought against
conservative reaction, sprang what Southey called the "Satanic school,"
which spoke its loudest word in Byron. Titanic is the better word, for
the rebellion was not against God, but Jupiter; that is, against the
State, Church, and society of Byron's day; against George III., the Tory
cabinet of Lord Castlereagh, the Duke of Wellington, the bench of
bishops, London gossip, the British constitution, and British cant. In
these poems of Byron, and in his dramatic experiments, _Manfred_ and
_Cain_, there is a single figure--the figure of Byron under various
masks--and one pervading mood, a restless and sardonic gloom, a
weariness of life, a love of solitude, and a melancholy exaltation in
the presence of the wilderness and the sea. Byron's hero is always
represented as a man originally noble, whom some great wrong, by others,
or some mysterious crime of his own, has blasted and embittered, and who
carries about the world a seared heart and a somber brow. Harold--who
may stand as a type of all his heroes--has run "through sin's
labyrinth," and feeling the "fullness of satiety," is drawn abroad to
roam, "the wandering exile of his own dark mind." The loss of a
capacity for pure, unjaded emotion is the constant burden of Byron's

No more, no more, O never more on me
The freshness of the heart shall fall like dew:

and again,

O could I feel as I have felt--or be what I have been,
Or weep as I could once have wept, o'er many a vanished scene;
As springs in deserts found seem sweet, all brackish tho' they be,
So, midst the withered waste of life, those tears would flow to me.

This mood was sincere in Byron; but by cultivating it, and posing too
long in one attitude, he became self-conscious and theatrical, and much
of his serious poetry has a false ring. His example infected the minor
poetry of the time, and it was quite natural that Thackeray--who
represented a generation that had a very different ideal of the
heroic--should be provoked into describing Byron as "a big sulky dandy."

Byron was well fitted by birth and temperament to be the spokesman of
this fierce discontent. He inherited from his mother a haughty and
violent temper, and profligate tendencies from his father. He was
through life a spoiled child, whose main characteristic was willfulness.
He liked to shock people by exaggerating his wickedness, or by
perversely maintaining the wrong side of a dispute. But he had traits of
bravery and generosity. Women loved him, and he made strong friends.
There was a careless charm about him which fascinated natures as unlike
each other as Shelley and Scott. By the death of the fifth Lord Byron
without issue, Byron came into a title and estates at the age of ten.
Though a liberal in politics he had aristocratic feelings, and was vain
of his rank as he was of his beauty. He was educated at Harrow and at
Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was idle and dissipated, but did a
great deal of miscellaneous reading. He took some of his Cambridge
set--Hobhouse, Matthews, and others--to Newstead Abbey, his ancestral
seat, where they filled the ancient cloisters with eccentric orgies.
Byron was strikingly handsome. His face had a spiritual paleness and a
classic regularity, and his dark hair curled closely to his head. A
deformity in one of his feet was a mortification to him, and impaired
his activity in many ways, although he prided himself upon his powers as
a swimmer.

In 1815, when at the height of his literary and social _eclat_ in
London, he married. In February of the following year he was separated
from Lady Byron, and left England forever, pursued by the execrations of
outraged respectability. In this chorus of abuse there was mingled a
share of cant; but Byron got, on the whole, what he deserved. From
Switzerland, where he spent a summer by Lake Leman, with the Shelleys;
from Venice, Ravenna, Pisa, and Rome, scandalous reports of his
intrigues and his wild debaucheries were wafted back to England, and
with these came poem after poem, full of burning genius, pride, scorn,
and anguish, and all hurling defiance at English public opinion. The
third and fourth cantos of _Childe Harold_, 1816-1818, were a great
advance upon the first two, and contain the best of Byron's serious
poetry. He has written his name all over the continent of Europe, and on
a hundred memorable spots has made the scenery his own. On the field of
Waterloo, on "the castled crag of Drachenfels," "by the blue rushing of
the arrowy Rhone," in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, in the Coliseum at
Rome, and among the "Isles of Greece," the tourist is compelled to see
with Byron's eyes and under the associations of his pilgrimage. In his
later poems, such as _Beppo_, 1818, and _Don Juan_, 1819-1823, he passed
into his second manner, a mocking cynicism gaining ground upon the
somewhat stagey gloom of his early poetry--Mephistophiles gradually
elbowing out Satan. _Don Juan_, though morally the worst, is
intellectually the most vital and representative of Byron's poems. It
takes up into itself most fully the life of the time; exhibits most
thoroughly the characteristic alternations of Byron's moods and the
prodigal resources of wit, passion, and understanding, which--rather
than imagination--were his prominent qualities as a poet. The hero, a
graceless, amorous stripling, goes wandering from Spain to the Greek
islands and Constantinople, thence to St. Petersburg, and finally to
England. Every-where his seductions are successful, and Byron uses him
as a means of exposing the weakness of the human heart and the
rottenness of society in all countries. In 1823, breaking away from his
life of selfish indulgence in Italy, Byron threw himself into the cause
of Grecian liberty, which he had sung so gloriously in the _Isles of
Greece_. He died at Missolonghi, in the following year, of a fever
contracted by exposure and overwork.

Byron was a great poet but not a great literary artist. He wrote
negligently and with the ease of assured strength; his mind gathering
heat as it moved, and pouring itself forth in reckless profusion. His
work is diffuse and imperfect; much of it is melodrama or speech-making,
rather than true poetry. But, on the other hand, much, very much of it
is unexcelled as the direct, strong, sincere utterance of personal
feeling. Such is the quality of his best lyrics, like _When We Two
Parted_, the _Elegy on Thyrza_, _Stanzas to Augusta_, _She Walks in
Beauty_, and of innumerable passages, lyrical and descriptive, in his
longer poems. He had not the wisdom of Wordsworth, nor the rich and
subtle imagination of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats when they were at
their best. But he had greater body and motive force than any of them.
He is the strongest personality among English poets since Milton, though
his strength was wasted by want of restraint and self-culture. In Milton
the passion was there, but it was held in check by the will and the
artistic conscience, made subordinate to good ends, ripened by long
reflection, and finally uttered in forms of perfect and harmonious
beauty. Byron's love of Nature was quite different in kind from
Wordsworth's. Of all English poets he has sung most lyrically of that
national theme, the sea; as witness, among many other passages, the
famous apostrophe to the ocean which closes _Childe Harold_, and the
opening of the third canto in the same poem,

Once more upon the waters, etc.

He had a passion for night and storm, because they made him forget

Most glorious night!
Thou wert not sent for slumber! Let me be
A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,
A portion of the tempest and of thee!

Byron's literary executor and biographer was the Irish poet, Thomas
Moore, a born song-writer, whose _Irish Melodies_, set to old native
airs, are, like Burns's, genuine, spontaneous singing, and run naturally
to music. Songs such as the _Meeting of the Waters_, _The Harp of Tara_,
_Those Evening Bells_, the _Light of Other Days_, _Araby's Daughter_,
and the _Last Rose of Summer_ were, and still are, popular favorites.
Moore's Oriental romance, _Lalla Rookh_, 1817, is overladen with
ornament and with a sugary sentiment that clogs the palate. He had the
quick Irish wit, sensibility rather than passion, and fancy rather than

Byron's friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), was also in fiery
revolt against all conventions and institutions, though his revolt
proceeded not, as in Byron's case, from the turbulence of passions which
brooked no restraint, but rather from an intellectual impatience of any
kind of control. He was not, like Byron, a sensual man, but temperate
and chaste. He was, indeed, in his life and in his poetry, as nearly a

Book of the day: