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diad." Here also, in 1785, he first published in two volumes the collection of Essays known as “The Observer," which the next year was considerably enlarged, was published in five volumes in 1790, and in 1803 was incorporated with the British Classics. In 1806, he published "Memoirs of his Own Life;'' and in 1811 his last work, entitled “Retrospection, a Poem in Familiar Verse."'! He died on the 11th of May, in the same year.
Of the personal character of Mr. Cumberland, a pretty accurate judgment may be formed from his “Memoirs." His self-esteem was great and his vanity overweening, but he possessed as kind a heart as ever beat in a human breast. In society few men appeared to more advantage in conversation, or evinced a more perfect mastery of the art of pleasing. As a writer, he may be said to be more remarkable for the number than for the distinguished excellence of his works; but many of them, it should be remembered, were hastily produced in order to better his income: and it has been justly said that, “if he has produced much that is perishable or forgotten, he has also evolved creations which have been enregistered as among the finest efforts of genius." Ilis“ Observer” is among the most interesting and instructive of the series called the British Classic3,3 and few books are read with more pleasure than his “ Memoirs of his Own Life."
THE PROGRESS OF POETRY.
The poet, therefore, whether Hebrew or Greek, was in the earliest ages a sacred character, and his talent a divine gift, a celestial inspiration : men regarded him as the ambassador of Heaven and the interpreter of its will. It is perfectly in nature, and no less agreeable to God's providence, to suppose that even in the darkest times some minds of a more enlightened sort should break forth, and be engaged in the contemplation of the universe and its author: from meditating upon the works of the Creator, the transition to the act of praise and adoration follows as it were of course: these are operations of the mind, which naturally inspire it with a certain portion of rapture and enthusiasm, rushing upon the lips in
· For an extract from this poem, see “Compendium of English Literature,"
Dr. Johnson, in a letter to Mrs. Thrale, thus speaks of him: “The want of company is an inconvenience, but Mr. Cumberland is a million.”
3 Of ihis, Dr. Drake thus speaks in the fifth volume of his Essays, p. 393: " The Observer,' though the sole labor of an individual, is yet rich in variety, both of subject and manner; in this respect, indeed, as well as in literary interest, and in feruility of invention, it may be classed with the Spectator' and
Adventurer;' if inferior to the laiter in grandeur of fiction, or to the former in delicate irony and dramatje unity of design, it is wealthier in its literary fund than either, equally moral in its views, and as abundant in the creation of incident. I consider it, therefore, with the exception of the papers just mentioned, as superior, in its porers of attraction, to every other periodical composition.”
warm and glowing language, and disdaining to be expressed in ordinary and vulgar phrase. Poetry then is the language of prayer, an address becoming of the Deity; it may be remembered, it may be repeated in the ears of the people called together for the purposes of worship; this is a form that may be fixed upon their minds, and in this they may be taught to join.
The next step in the progress of poetry from the praise of God is to the praise of men : illustrious characters, heroic actions are singled out for celebration : the inventors of useful arts, the reformers of savage countries, the benefactors of mankind, are extolled in verse, they are raised to the skies: and the poet, having praised them as the first of men whilst on earth, deifies them after death, and, conscious that they merit immortality, boldly bestows it, and assigns to them a rank and office in heaven appropriate to the character they maintained in life. Hence it is that the merits of a Bacchus, a Hercules, and numbers more are amplified by the poet, till they become the attributes of their divinity; altars are raised and victims immolated to their worship. These are the fanciful effects of poetry in its second stage: religion overheated turns into enthusiasm; enthusiasm forces the imagination into all the visionary regions of fable, and idolatry takes possession of the whole Gentile world. The Egyptians, a mysterious, dogmatizing race, begin the work with symbol and hieroglyphic: the Greeks, a vain ingenious people, invent a set of tales and fables for what they do not understand, embellish them with all the glittering ornaments of poetry, and spread the captivating delusion over all the world.
In the succeeding period we review the poet in full possession of this brilliant machinery, and with all Olympus at his command: surrounded by Apollo and the Muses, he commences every poem with an address to them for protection; he has a deity at his call for every operation of nature; if he would roll the thunder, Jupiter shakes Mount Ida to dignify his description; Neptune attends him in his car, if he would allay the ocean; if he would let loose the winds to raise it, Æolus unbars his cave; the spear of Mars and the ægis of Minerva arm him for the battle; the arrows of Apollo scatter pestilence through the air! Mercury flies upon the messages of Jupiter; Juno raves with jealousy, and Venus leads the Loves and Graces in her train. In this class, we contemplate Homer and his inferior brethren of the epic order; it is their province to form the warrior, instruct the politician, animate the patriot; they delineate the characters and manners; they charm us with their descriptions, surprise us with their incidents, interest us with their dialogue; they engage every passion in its turn, melt us to pity, rouse us to glory, strike us with terror, fire us with indignation; in a word, they prepare us for the drama, and the drama for us.
A new poet now comes upon the stage; he stands in person before us: he no longer appears as a blind and wandering bard, chanting his rhapsodies to a throng of villagers collected in a group about him, but erects a splendid theatre, gathers together a whole city as his audience, prepares a striking spectacle, provides a chorus of actors, brings music, dance, and dress to his aid, realizes the thunder, bursts open the tombs of the dead, calls forth their apparitions, descends to the very regions of the damned, and drags the Furies from their flames to present themselves personally to the terrified spectators: such are the powers of the drama; here the poet reigns and triumphs in his highest glory.
The fifth denomination gives us the lyric poet chanting his ode at the public games and festivals, crowned with olive and encompassed by all the wits and nobles of his age and country: here we contemplate Stersichorus, Alcæus, Pindar, Callistratus: sublime, abrupt, impetuous, they strike us with the shock of their electric genius; they dart from carth to heaven; there is no following them in their flights; we stand gazing with surprise; their boldness awes us, their brevity confounds us: their sudden transitions and ellipses escape our apprehension; we are charmed we know not why, we are pleased with being puzzled, and applaud although we cannot comprehend. In the lighter lyric we meet Anacreon, Sappho, and the votaries of Bacchus and Venus; in the grave, didactic, solemn class we have the venerable names of a Solon, a Tyrtæus, and those who may be styled the demagogues in poetry: Is liberty to be asserted, licentiousness to be repressed? Is the spirit of a nation to be roused ? It is the poet, not the orator, must give the soul its energy and spring. Is Salamis to be recovered? It is the elegy of Solon must sound the march to its attack. Are the Lacedemonians to be awakened from their lethargy? It is Tyrtaus who must sing the war-song, and revive their languid courage.
Poetry next appears in its pastoral character; it affects the garb of shepherds and the language of the rustic: it represents to our view the rural landscape and the peaceful cottage. It records the labors, the amusements, the loves of the village nymphs and swains, and exhibits nature in its simplest state: it is no longer the harp or the lyre, but the pipe of the poet, which now invites our attention.
Observer, No. 67.
ÆSCHYLUS AND SIIAKSPEARE COMPARED.
When I see the names of these two great luminaries of the dramatic sphere, so distant in time but so nearly allied in genius, casually brought in contact by the nature of my subject, I cannot help pausing for a while in this place to indulge so interesting a contemplation, in which I find my mind balanced between two objects that seem to have equal claims upon me for my admiration. Æschylus is justly styled the father of tragedy, but this is not to be interpreted as if he was the inventor of it: Shakspeare with equal justice claims the same title, and his originality is qualified with the same exception. The Greek tragedy was not more rude and undigested when Æschylus brought it into shape, than the English tragedy was when Shakspeare began to write: if, therefore, it be granted that he had no aids from the Greek theatre (and I think this is not likely to be disputed), so far these great masters are upon equal ground. Æschylus was a warrior of high repute, of a lofty, generous spirit, and deep as it should seem in the erudition of his times. In all these particulars he has great advantage over our countryman, who was humbly born, of the most menial occupation, and, as it is generally thought, unlearned. Æschylus had the whole epic of Homer in his hands, the Iliad, Odyssey, and that prolific source of dramatic fable, the Ilias Minor: he had also a great fabulous creation to resort to amongst his own divinities, characters ready defined, and an audience whose superstition was prepared for everything he could offer. He had, therefore, a firmer and broader stage (if I may be allowed the expression) under his feet than Shakspeare had. His fables in general are Homeric, and yet it does not follow that we can pronounce for Shakspeare that he is more original in his plots, for I understand that late researches have traced him in all or nearly all. Both poets added so much machinery and invention of their own in the conduct of their fables, that whatever might have been the source, still their streams had little or no taste of the spring they flowed from. In point of character we have better grounds to decide, and yet it is but justice to observe that it is not fair to bring a mangled poet in comparison with one who is entire: In his divine personages, Æschylus has the field of heaven, and indeed of hell also, to himself; in his heroic and military characters, he has never been excelled: he had too good a model within his own bosom to fail of making those delineations natural. In his imaginary being also he will be found a respectable, though not an equal rival of our poet; but in the variety of character, in all the nicer touches of nature, in all the extravagancies of caprice and humor, from the boldest feature down to the minutest foible, Shakspeare stands alone. Such persons as he delineates never came into the contemplation of Æschylus as a poet; his tragedy has no dealing with them; the simplicity of the Greek fable, and the great portion of the drama filled up by the chorus, allow of little variety of character; and the most which can be said of Æschylus in this particular is that he never offends against nature or propriety, whether his cast is in the terrible or pathetic, the elevated or the simple. His versification with the intermixture of lyric composition is more various than that of Shakspeare; both are lofty and sublime in the extreme, abundantly metaphorical, and sometimes extravagant.
Both were subject to be hurried on by an uncontrollable impulse, nor could nature alone suffice for either: Æschylus had an apt creation of imaginary beings at command
He could call spirits from the vasty deep, and they would come; Shakspeare, having no such creation in resource, boldly made one of his own. If Eschylus therefore was invincible, he owed it to his armor, and that, like the armor of Æneas, was the work of the gods: but the unassisted invention of Shakspeare seized all and more than superstition supplied to Eschylus.
Observer, No. 69
OBSERVATIONS ON STYLE.
The celebrated author of the Rambler, in his concluding paper, says, “I have labored to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms, and irregular combinations: something perhaps I have added to the elegance of its construction, and something to the harmony of its cadence." I hope our language hath gained all the profit which the labors of this meritorious writer were exerted to produce. In style of a certain description he undoubtedly excels; but, though I think there is much in his essays for a reader to admire, I should not recommend them as a model for a disciple to copy.
Simplicity, ease, and perspicuity should be the first objects of a young writer. Addison and other authors of his class will furnish him with examples, and assist him in the attainment of these excellencies; but after all, the style in which a man shall write will not be formed by imitation only; it will be the style of his mind: it will assimilate itself to his mode of thinking, and take its color