Page images
PDF
EPUB

haps, not going beyond the truth to say, that a å greater amount of poetic composition was published in the course of the eighteenth century, than all former ages together could furnish.

It may also be stated as a general truth, that the poetry of the last age is more distinguished for taste than genius; more remarkable for polish, smoothness, and harmony, than for invention, strength, and boldness of thought and imagery; and abounds more in those qualities which soothe, amuse, and please, than in those which elevate, astonish, and transport the mind. To some of the names mentioned in the foregoing pages, it is readily acknowledged that exalted genius belongo ed; but, without staying to perform the task, equally invidious and difficult, of adjusting the different claims of authors on this head, it may cers tainly be hazarded, as a general remark, that the prevailing character of modern poetry is that of correctness and taste. While those who were most distinguished in preceding times, for originality and sublimity, were often guilty of the grossest violations of taste; while, in many of their writings, blunders and absurdities were frequently found mixed

up,

in nearly equal proportions, with beauties and graces, it may be said, to the honour of the first class of poets of the eighteenth century, that if they fall below some of their predecessors in the bold, the original, and the sublime, they as much exceed them in taste, refinement, uniform propriety, and general elegance of versification.

It may further be asserted, that a greater portion of the poetry of the last age is purely moral, than was ever before offered to mankind. Most of the distinguished poets of former times were faulty in this respect, and some of them grossly so.

When we look particularly into the English poets who lived prior to the eighteenth century, we find them

all, if we except SPENCER, SHAKSPEARE, and MilTON, representing love rather as an appetite than a chaste and dignified passion. Accordingly they were accustomed to put language into the mouths of the most virtuous and delicate females; utterly inconsistent with our ideas of decorum. It has been said that Prior’s Henry and Emma is the first poem in the English language, keeping in view the exception before stated, in which love is treated with the decency and delicacy to which it is entitled.

Among many of the later poets we find a chasteness in the exhibition of characters and manners, a purity of morals; and a delicacy of sentiment, which transcend all former example. The greater part of the moral pieces of Pope may be safely applauded in this view, as more worthy of imitation than those of most of his predecessors. YOUNG has enlisted the sublimity of imagination, and the music of numbers, on the side of virtue and piety, with the most happy success. The muse of THOMSON, while pouring forth the most splendid beauties, dictated

“ Nothing which, dying, he could wish to blot." For the same kind of excellence GOLDSMITH and, Johnson deserve the highest praise. In this respect, also, Cowper is inferior to none. His various performances display beauty of description and vigour of language, blended with dignity of virtue and piety, to a degree which places his character, both as a man and a Christian, in a most honourable point of light. In short, to discard coarse indelicacy from the pictures of poetry; to recal genius from the paths of vice and folly, and enlist her in the service of chaste enthusiasm, and divine morality, are among the shining honours of the last age. And, perhaps, on no ground does its poetic cha

[ocr errors]

VOL. II.

2 H,

racter deserve higher eulogium than for the

production and the general popularity of such writers as Pope, YOUNG, KLOPSTOCK, GESNER, THOMSON, and CowPER.

Finally, the discoveries in science which distinguish the eighteenth century have also conferred some peculiarity on the poetic character of the age, by furnishing the poet with new images, and more just and comprehensive views of nature. It would not be difficult to show that the improvements in every

branch of the physical sciences, and particufarly in Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Natural History, have all produced new materials for the labours of poetic genius, enriched the stores, both of imagery and diction, and thus contributed to render this kind of composition at once more inštructive and more pleasing.

CHAPTER XXI.

LITERARY JOURNALS.

IN the former part of the seventeenth century, * it was a consolation, at least for the unsuccessful writer, that he fell insensibly into oblivion. If he committed the private folly of printing what no one would purchase, he had only to settle the matter with his publisher: he was not arraigned at the public tribunal as if he had committed a crime of magnitude"". But in the latter part of that century, periodical Criticism began to brandish its formidable weapon, and those who undertook to write for the public were placed in a new situation. Publications, made at stated intervals, giving accounts and abstracts of new books, and announcing new discoveries and improvements in science, then took their rise, and have been ever since continued. The eighteenth century is chiefly remarkable for an increase of their number, for various changes in their form and character, for their more general circulation, and for a corresponding extension of their influence on the taste and opinions of the public,

y Curiosities of Literature, vol. i. p. I.

The first work of this kind ever undertaken, was the Journal des Scavans, published at Paris, by M. ŞALLO," in 1665. The original plan of this work comprehended a vast variety of subjects. " It gave an account of all books which appeared in Europe, contained eulogies on deceased celebrated men, and announced whatever had been invented that was useful in art, or curious in science. Experiments in physic and chemistry, celestial and meteorological observations, discoveries in anatomy, the decisions of ecclesiastical and secular tribunals, and the censures of the Sorbonne, were all proposed to be noticed.” This attempt of Sallo was so well received, that in the course of a few years it was imitated in almost all the literary countries of Europe, and his work was translated into various languages.

In 1671 appeared the Acta Medica Hafnensia, published by M. BARTÆOLIN. To this work succeeded Memoirs des Arts et des Sciences, established in France, by M. DENNIS, in 1672; the Acta Eruditorum, of Leipsic, by MeŅKenius, in 1682; the Nouvelle de la Republique des Lettres, by M.

% DENNIS DE SALLO was an Ecclesiastical Counsellor in the Parliament. of Paris. He published his Fournal in the name of the Sieur de HedouVILLE, his footman; perhaps because he entertained but a faint hope of success; or because he thought the scurrility of criticism might be pere. mitted on account of its supposed author.

BAYLE, in 1684; the Bibliotheque Universelle, Choisie, et Ancienne, et Moderne, by Le Clerc, about the same time, the History of the Works of the Learned, by M.BASNAGE, in 1686; the Monathlichen Unterredungen, of Germany, in 1689; the Boockzal van Europe, by Peter RABBUS, in Hol Jand, in 1692; an Historical Treatise of the Journals of the Learned, in Latin, by JUNCKER, the same year; the Nova Literaria Maris Balthici, in 1698; together with several others in Germany, France, and Italy. The first work of the kind established in Great-Britain was the History of the Works of the Learned, begun in London, in 1699. Such was the state of Europe, with respect to literary journals, at the close of the seventeenth century. It will be observed, that, as they began in France, so they were most numerous and most encouraged in that country for a long time afterwards.

Soon after the commencement of the eighteenth century these publications greatly increased, both in number and in the extent of their circulation. But this increase, for the first forty years of the period we are considering, was chiefly confined to the continent of Europe. The attempts in Great Britain were few and short-lived. About the beginning of the century M. De La Roche formed an English Journal, entitled Memoirs of Literature.' To this succeeded the Present State of the Republic of Letters, by Reid, the Censura Temporum, established in 1708, and the Bibliotheca Curiosa, about the same time. These, however, were by no means so instructive and interesting as modern Reviews. They only gave notices of a few principal publications, and retailed selections from foreign journals; and, together with several others, too unimportant to be named, were soon discontinued

« PreviousContinue »