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OCT 9 1940



201-213 East Twelfth Street





The history of English Verse in the nineteenth century implies more than appears in the Verse itself, for granting that it is understood by contemporary students—a supposition which is contradicted by literary history in general—its origins are still to be sought and discovered. Bibliography enables us to trace its progress from year to year, and, if it be carefully studied, enables to trace its intellectual direction likewise. Biography is also of service, conducting us through its special province like a guide who is familiar with the ground that he traverses ; and history is of the greatest service, provided it be largely written and intelligently read, for so written and read, it authenticates and justifies all that it embraces—the violence of passion as well as the repose of power, Thersites and Ajax as well as Achilles and Nestor. If we place ourselves in thought on the threshold of the nineteenth century, and look back with critical eyes upon the poetical literature of the eighteenth century-or upon the small portion of it which continued to be read at its close—the prospect is not an enlivening one. To say that it was in any large sense a poetical period would not be true. It was not a creative period like the age of Elizabeth, for though its most famous hands cultivated the art of writing tragedies, and produced their Catos, Jane Shores, Distrest Mothers, Mariamnes, Sophonisbas, Irenes, and what not besides, they added nothing to the English Drama. The creative energy of the eighteenth century exhausted itself in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. Pope carried the satire of manners and of character as far as it could go: he was a wit, but not a poet. Thomson tried to open the eyes of his contemporaries to Nature, and succeeded in a measure, though not nearly so well as Collins in his unrhymed Ode to Evening, or Gray in the opening stanzas of his immortal Elegy. The Elegy is more read to-day than any poem of its time, partly because it is the most perfect specimen of its poetic art, and partly because the train of thought which runs through it can never be dismissed from the human mind. It will live as long as men live and die. It was surpassed, perhaps, by certain poetic qualities in the Odes of Collins, which fell dead from the press about four years before it was published, but it was not surpassed or equalled by anything else. Looking back upon it now we can see what Gray's contemporaries could not see—that it was a great landmark in the monotonous waste of their verse. The dead level of prose to which Pope had reduced all metrical writing surrounded it like a desert. While he lived the springs of his genius watered the roots of stately palms, but when he died only stunted reeds remained to show where the watercourses had been. Ethics had dwindled into didacticism, and the heroic measure into jingling couplets which school-boys wrote for pastime. If we had lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, and had shared the poetic taste of our contemporaries, what would we have had to read ? We would have had to read The Splendid Shilling and the Cyder of Philips, the Pastorals of Pope and his Essay on Criticism, Gay's Rural Sports and Shepherd's Week, Glover's Leonidas, and Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad. A little later we would have had to read Young's Night Thoughts, Armstrong's Art of Preserving Health, Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination, Dyer's Fleece, and Grainger's Sugar Cane. If the saccharine production of good Dr. Grainger had not been to our liking, and it is possible that we might have found its sweetness a little cloying, we could have taken the prescription of another physician-an uncouth, pockmarked Irishman, who had studied at Edinburgh and Leyden, and, after travelling about the Continent on foot, occasionally playing upon the flute for his victuals when his funds ran low, had settled down in London as a bookseller's hack.

We could have read Dr. Goldsmith's Traveller, or a Prospect of Society, and if we had done so we could not but have felt the spell of his frank and manly genius. We might have been prompted to make his acquaintance, if we had chanced to be in London at the time, and perhaps the acquaintance of his bullying friend and patron, the great Dr. Johnson, who, if he had taken a fancy to us, after a good dinner at the Mitre Tavern, might have asked us to visit him at his lodgings in Bolt Court, where we would have seen his strange menagerie of pensioners—Robert Levett, practitioner of physic, poor, stuttering Miss Jane Williams, the blind poetess, Miss Carmichael, Mrs. Dumoulin, the widow of a writing-master, the negro, Francis Barber, and that pert young coxcomb (cowed there), Mr. James Boswell, advocate, of Auchinleck, Scotland. Goldsmith would no doubt have told us of Johnson's kindness to him, particularly in selling the manuscript of his Vicar of Wakefield, and releasing him from the clutches of his landlady, who insisted upon his marrying her or settling his score, and have asked us to subscribe to Johnson's Shakespeare, which we would have done gladly, having already upon our shelves the editions of Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Hanmer, and Warburton, to say nothing of the Folios, which we had inherited with the old manor-house in Surrey. Six years later we would have had another poem from the pen of the ingenious Dr. Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, and the public journals would have informed us of the death of Dr. Akenside. They might also have informed us of the death of one Thomas Chatterton, a Bristol boy of eighteen, who was supposed to have poisoned himself; but the paragraph, if we had seen it, would have had no significance to us, for little was talked about then in the coffee-houses except the letters of Junius in the Public Advertiser. The dearth of good contemporary poetry in the seventh decade of the eighteenth century drove us back to the earlier poets, of whom we could not well help knowing something by that time, since the Reverend Dr. Thomas Percy, a Northumberland vicar, whom we remember to have met one day in the chambers of Dr. Goldsmith (the very day, by the way, in

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