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Miss CHARLOTTE SMITH, Mr. Bowles, and Miss SEWARD." In sweetness and harmony of versification ; in unaffected elegance of style ; and in that pleasing melancholy which irresistably steals upon and captivates the heart, they have excelled all other writers of the Sonnet, and have shown how erroneous are the opinions of those who deer this species of composition beneath the attention of genius."
Finally, under the general denomination of lyric poetry fall those various species of poetic compositions called Songs, Ballads, &c. of which the last age has been eminently fruitful. Never was there a period before in which the number and the poetic merit of these were so great as during that which is under review. In this department of poetry the Scotch and English have excelled not only their contemporaries, but all preceding writers. But this class of poets is so numerous, and so familiarly known, that no attempt will be made to exhibit even a selection of the best.
That part of the poetry of the eighteenth century which falls under this head is worthy of particular notice. It may be pronounced greatly superior to all the productions of a similar kind which belong to any preceding age. In this section several of the productions of Pope may be, with propriety, arranged, and must have assigned to them a high place. The elegies of HAMMOND, though scarcely possessing first-rate excellence, have been also celebrated. But the writer who confessedly stands in the first rank of elegiac poets is GRAY. His Elegy in a Country Church Yard will be read
c. Drake's Literary Hours, vol. i. p. 113.
with admiration and delight, as possessing beauties of the most rich and exquisite kind, as long as taste and sensibility shall exist." Another distinguished name, entitled to an honourable place in this list, is that of SHENSTONE, who produced at least one Elegy which will ever command admiration. Nor would it be just to pass in silence the name of Miss SEWARD, who, in this department of poetry, has displayed powers in the pathetic, the elegant, and the beautiful, which bid fair long to render her character conspicuous in the annals of English literature,
The best elegiac poetry of the last age is distinguished above that of all preceding periods, by the union of a number of qualities which never before so conspicuously met in this species of composition. These qualities are regularity, correctness, pathos, elevation of sentiment, and purity of moral character. Never before were these characters so frequently assembled, so harmoniously united, or so forcibly exhibited, as in some of the elegiac productions of the century under review.
d Thomas Gray was born in London in 1716, and died in 1771. His character, as drawn by a friend, is as follows : “ Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. He was equally, acquainted with the elegant and the profound parts of science; and that not superficially, but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticisnı, metaphysics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his study. Voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining; but he was also a good man, a man of virtue and humanity." Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, is generally supposed not to have done justice to this celebrated writer. From his Elegy in the Church Yard, indeed, that great Critic could not withhold the warmest praise. “ In the character of this Elegy,” says he, “ I rejoice to concur with the common reader. It abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo. Had Gray written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him.” After all, it must be acknowledged, that he wrote but little; that only a part of that little is in the style of exquisite excel
and that his Elegy is so greatly superior to every other production of his pen, as to excite a suspicion that it was the result of unwearied polish and elaboration, rather than the spontancous effusion of a mighty genius. If this view of the subject be admissible, though Gray will still hold a place in the first rank of lyric and elegiac poets; yet some of the praise which has been bestowed on his genius will be pronounced excessive; and the judgment of Dr. Johnson less liable to exception than is commonly supposed.
The Dramatic Poetry of the eighteenth century bears, in several respects, a distinguished character. An obvious circumstance which deserves to be noted, is the great and unprecedented number of dramatic productions which have appeared during this period. In almost every civilized and literary nation the press has teemed with the efforts of the tragic and comic muse. Perhaps in no department, of literature; if we except Novels, has the taste of the age for multiplying books been more remarkably displayed than in that which is under consideration. In proportion as theatrical amusements, have been multiplied and extended, the love of fame; the hope of profit, or a fondness for the employinent, have prompted many to appear as candidates for supplying the demands of the public. Of the moral effect of this increase in the taste and demand for theatrical representations some notice will be taken hereafter.
The specimens of English Tragedy which belong to the period under review, though numerbus, are yet few of them entitled to the praise of first-rate excellence. After the Mourning Bride, of CONGREVE, which properly belongs to the preceding age, the Fair Penitent, and the Jane Shore, of Rowe, with respect to time, hold the first place. These, though of different relative merit, yet, both
The author is sensible that many dramatic productions cannot with propriety be denominated poetic ; but to avoid multiplying chapters he has thought proper to throw under one head all those works, whether pocsic or not, which belong to the dramatic class.
on account of their plot and language, have deservedly continued to be favourites to the present day. If Rowe paint the passions with less force and conformity to nature than Shakspeare and Orway, he is free from the barbarisms of the former, and the licentiousness of the latter. The Cato, of Addison, is generally known; and the public seem now to be agreed in the opinion, that, notwithstanding all the loftiness of sentiment, and beauty of diction with which it abounds, as a Tragedy, it is too “regularly dull," and unnaturally stiff; for scenic representation. The Revenge, by Dr. Young, displays no small share of that sublimity and fire which the illustrious author so remarkably possessed. Of his several Tragedies, this only keeps possession of the stage. The Grecian Daughter, and the Gamester, of MOORE, will long remain very honourable monuments of the dramatic powers of their author. The Caractacus, of Mason, would have done credit to the most favourable periods of ancient literature. : Douglass, by Mr. HOME, for several reasons, attracted an unusual degree of public attention, when it first appeared, and has ever since maintained a high character. Among the Tragedies of THOMSON; Tancred and Sigismunda alone merits distinction. This, with regard to plot, sentiment, and style, is entitled to high respect; but, perhaps, scarcely to that degree which might have been expected from the great powers displayed in the Seasons. The Irene, of Dr.JOHNSON, though it “furnishes a rich store of noble sentiments, fine imagery, and beautiful language, is deficient in plan, pathos, and general impression.". The Mysterious Mother, of HORACE WALPOLE, though the subject is shocking, displays great talents, especially in depicting the terrible. Miss HanNAH More's Percy is a popular tragic produc, tion. Her Şacred Dramas, though a monument of her piety, and her desire to promote youthful improvement, will scarcely be thought to deserve high praise as works of genius. To these may be added the Zenobia, the Grecian Daughter, and the Alzuma, of Mr. Murphy, which are considered as respectable in their dramatic character, and
of in these and the following remarks on dramatic poetry, the author takes for granted that no reader will consider him as expressing an opinion favourable to theatrical amusements. He is persuaded that the general character and tendency of such amusements are highly immoral; but in this place, and always when he employs favourable expressions concerns ing certain dramas, he begs to be understood as merely delivering opinions of a literary kind.
g Mr. Home was à clergyman of the church of Scotland. The circumstance of a person of his profession giving encouragement to the stage, by writing for it, gave great and just offence, and made his tragedy an object of much more attention and interest than it would otherwise have been. He wrote several tragedies afterwards; but they were all unsuccessful. It seemed as if his genius had been absorbed by his first produce b Percy is said to be a “ bad alteration from Gabrielle de Vergy, by Dự Belloy, a celebrated French Tragedian.” Notwithstanding this charge however, it has maintained a high degrec of popularity.
pure in their moral tendency, but with a remarkable prevalence of terror in their impression.
In the history of English Comedy, the eighteenth century forms an important era. Indeed, the English language scarcely furnished an instance of pure or unmixed comedy prior to the commencement of this period. The comic productions of SHAKSPEARE are well known not to have been of this kind; and those of DRYDEN and SọUTHERN were generally interspersed with too much of the tragic to have a place assigned them in the department of ridicule alone. In the last age a remarkable revolution has taken place in this respect, Specimens of unmixed comedy have become frequent, or rather the most fashionable kind of dramatic composition; and in a few instances the wit and humour of these productions are found