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LECTURES

ON

ENGLISH POETRY.

LECTURE I.

OBJECT OF THE COURSE-POETRY THE EMINENCE OF LITERATURE-THE HISTORY

OF LITERATURE ILLUSTRATED BY GENERAL HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY-THE LIVES OF SPENSER AND MILTON-A CATHOLIC TASTE IN POETRY-VARIETY OF POETRY-INTOLERANCE OF LITERARY JUDGMENT-RYMER AND VOLTAIRE ON SHAKSPEARE-JOHNSON ON MILTON-JEFFREY ON WORDSWORTH-QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ENLIGHTENED CRITIC-UTILITARIAN CRITICISM-THE TRUE USE OF POETRY-ITS DEPRECIATION AND ABUSE-ALBUMS AND SCRAP-BOOKS-BEN JONSON'S PANEGYRIC ON HIS ART-WORDSWORTH-OBJECT OF THESE LECTURES NOT TO ENCOURAGE POETICAL COMPOSITION-SYDNEY'S DEFENCECONNECTION OF POETRY AND SCIENCE—THE SPIRIT OF OUR TIMES-MATERIAL ISM AND INFIDELITY-INFLUENCE ON IMAGINATIVE POWER-VINDICATION OF POETRY.

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THE course of Lectures I am about attempting is the first of a

contemplated series upon English Poetry, undertaken as well from an uncalculating impulse, as from a conviction that, in our systems of education, it is a department more than any neglected. The treasures of the English tongue are sacrificed to the attainment of those which are more recondite in the dead or foreign languages. As, year after year, I have wandered through the forsaken region (if I may be indulged in so far speaking of myself) and contemplated the mighty achievements of our English mind, a glowing admiration has kindled, higher and higher, the hope that it might not be beyond my strength to be the humble guide of others to the same unfailing springs of intellectual happiness. The portion of literature to be treated of is that which

may

be garded as its eminence,—its Poetry. I have ventured to speak of it as the noblest portion of our noble literature; and, if I shall succeed in awakening a thoughtful admiration of that which has been given to the world by the souls of mighty poets finding utterance in the music of English words, that opinion will not be condemned for its extravagance. It is a large field to travel over; and, therefore, among the introduc

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tory topics at present to be noticed, it is necessary to advert to the general plan, which will, however, more satisfactorily appear when practically illustrated in the succeeding lectures. It will be my

aim to convey such information on the history of English poetry as the circumstances under which we meet will allow. To penetrate the obscurity of an early age, and thence to trace the progress of poetry from its rude beginnings down to modern years,—to show it in its successive eras,—to discover the connection between the poetry and the spirit of the age acting and reacting on each other,—to see how at one time the muse has soared and at another crept,

-are topics which the idea of these lectures comprehends, how far soever the execution may fall short of it. And here let me beg your reflection on the remark that there are few higher functions of criticism than to reveal the connection between illustrious literary production and the contemporaneous state of opinion and feeling, and to show especially the poet's inspirations in their relation to dominant thoughts and passions. For it is not to be questioned that, in God's providence over the destinies of the human race, men are called into being with powers to cheer or rebuke the spirit of their times with voices prophetic of weal or woe. This consideration with regard to literary history will, therefore, involve, to a certain extent, allusion to what is usually and eminently entitled history; I mean the narrative of national events. Further than this, comprehensive criticism embraces considerations of a biographical character ; for, in studying the works of genius, it is a matter of no slight interest to examine the gradual structure, or rather growth, of the individual powers that have produced them. I should, for instance, deem that but an imperfect comment on the Faery Queen which took no heed of the age in which its author lived,-a time animated by a high, adventurous spirit, when the sentiment of chivalry was still for a season outliving its institutions and usages, and which the poet sought imaginatively to perpetuate in his matchless allegory. It would also be a faulty negligence to turn away from the personal history which portrays Spenser embodying his high imaginings while dwelling in a barbarous island, and, at length, heart-stricken with neglect and domestic

It comes within the range of an enlarged criticism to tell of the young instincts ard presages of Milton's genius, such as break forth in the exquisite inspiration of Comus, and thence to trace his sombre-coloured life till, after having consorted with the stern Republicans, defending their sternest deed, and eulogizing their mightiest chieftain, he retired, in danger and the darkness of a hopeless blindness, to build up the immortal epic of the Paradise Lost.

sorrow.

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