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creations of fancy, and the imagination, lying as it were torpid, awaited the moment when it should be again called into life and action, a work, applying itself chiefly to that faculty of the mind, was likely to be coldly received, and unduly appreciated. In the first ages of our literature, when the bright sun was indeed risen, but the shadows of the past long night, rolling themselves slowly away before it, occasioned a sort of imperfect twilight, the imaginations of all men had been strongly excited ; and he who read, had a fancy prepared to kindle at the visions of him who wrote. Then, in the glimmering obscurity of the midsummer's night, the poet's eye beheld shapes unreal; and embodying his waking dreams, he gave to view Titania and her fairies, and all the wonders of the enchanted isle—bright and glorious creations, such as the world may never hope to see again. The refined and cultivated taste of the present day, by leading us back to the study of the olden time, has called forth the powers of the imagination into new being; and the Peris of Moore, and the Glendoveers of Southey, and many a bright vision beside, have been the fruits of this its second and artificial birth. But the intervening period was a dull, matter-offact, and uninventive age, when no creation of the fancy, however beautiful, could any more hope to prolong its existence, than the swallow, which has ventured from its retreat in the month of January, shall live to wheel its airy circles in the calm of the long summer's evening. No wonder, then, that the aërial creature of our author's fancy, his glums and gawreys, chilled by the inclement atmosphere of that untoward season, should have flagged, and drooped their pinions, and sunk again to the earth, there to lie till warmer suns should dispel the vapours, and call them once more on the wing.
Considered merely as an attempt to copy the realities of the world, and to delineate, in a fictitious narrative, the various accidents and adventures of a wandering life, its close resemblance, and, at the same time, sensible inferiority to a work, which had preoccupied all men's hearts and fancies, necessarily precluded, in some degree, the possibility of its being either kindly received, or hospitably entertained. Imitations, however great their merit, rarely meet with extensive or lasting popularity, but those who have attempted to pursue the track of the author of Robinson Crusoe, have been singularly unfortunate ; that celebrated production having, like the unnatural father of heathen mythology, devoured its own progeny, and its brethren to boot, born of the same pen, and conceived in the same brain with itself.
But there was anotherand more fatal course militating against its popularity, and that was the absolute incapability of the age, to relish any work of that modest and unostentatious beauty
which it exhibits. The merit of ease and simplicity, which at the present day is so much looked for in every species of composition, could not then, as now, in the absence of higher or more showy qualities, recommend a work to popular favour; nor was nature itself, if naked and unadorned, always sure of finding a passport to the reader's heart. It was not that our fathers, in estimating works of taste and genius, referred them to any other, than that universal standard of all ages and nations; but the nature they sought and worshipped was either raised above, or sunk below the common level ;-they cared little for her in her ordinary dress, simple, plain, and unambitious, but loved to see her tricked out to advantage, and to hear her speak in good set phrase, and measured terms; or they gloried in her eccentricities, and were delighted to view her in situations and habits, grotesque and strange, with features distorted and action caricatured. To the condition of mankind, and the state of manners at the time, must we look for the causes of this prevailing humour. The elements, of which society is composed, were not reduced to that perfect order and complete harmony which the present age exhibits ; but still existing in a somewhat chaotic state, produced various jarrings and collisions, such as arrested forcibly the attention of men, and cherished in them a passion for the strange and eccentric. The scale of rank too being not so finely graduated as it now is, nor the various orders and descriptions of men in that perfect keeping which a view of life would at this day discover, opportunity was given for numberless strange and ludicrous conjunctions, in which the peculiarities of character and manner, which men had not yet learnt to modify or disguise, were strikingly displayed, and oddly contrasted. The observation of a people possessing naturally a large fund of humour, was thus taken up with catering for the gratification of its own taste for the ridiculous; and in detecting and exposing the absurdities, which every turn and change in the fluctuating scene of life so plentifully revealed. The writers of the day, who are the index of the public taste, in whose
page the manners of the age may be seen reflected, trimmed their sails to the popular breeze, and carried to excess the prevailing passion for the ludicrous and eccentric. They did not, it is true, forsake nature altogether, and draw entirely from their own fancy; but they took her in strange attitudes, and singular habits :they chose for their model every thing that was most outrageousin character, and most oddly combined, or whimsically opposed in situation, and viewing all objects with a desire to extract from them food for the popular appetite, they insensibly exaggerated and embellished, distorted or caricatured, every aspect and feature of common life. The existence, or even the popularity, of one or two great writers, whose genius stooped not to court the favour, by gratifying the palate of the age, is not enough to exempt it from the imputation of a bad or perverted taste. Under all the varieties of exterior, which diversity of fashion, age, or country can occasion, the heart still beats with the same emotions; and however different may be the modes, in which the passions reveal themselves to observation, they are always and immutably the same. Those master hands, then, who could touch and set in motion the deep and hidden springs of feeling and passion, necessarily subjected their readers to a spell, wbich they could not overcome, and moved them like puppets at their pleasure. They were superior to all the accidents of situation, and to all the changes in the tide of manners, fashion, and opinion. They wrote not for one people only, but for the world; not for one period alone, but for all time ;-they were an universal good, in which all countries and ages might claim a portion. They raised monuments of their genius, imperishable and immortal, and exercised a sway potential and arbitrary not only over their contemporaries, but all succeeding generations. Our love and admiration are not voluntary, but necessary tributes,-not bestowed but exacted ; and when we shall cease to feel warmth in the sunshine, or cold in extreme winter frost—lo smile when we are glad, or weep when we are sorrowful, then may we expect that those tributes shall cease to be paid. Thus, by a law irresistible as that by which iron is attracted to the magnet, did the profound and genuine nature of Fielding, the deep pathos of Richardson, and the absolute and inimitable reality of De Foe, carry along
with them the feelings, and absorb the attention of mankind. But the arts to which authors less profoundly versed in the knowledge of their species, or less powerful in moving the passions, were obliged to have recourse to arrest the attention and win the applause of their contemporaries, may be abundantly seen in the motley, grotesque, and eccentric, but still delightful pages of Smollett and Sterne. Their works are consequently not in that high state of preservation, which those of the immortal three exhibit :their spirit has in some degree evaporated, and time has somewhat impaired the brilliancy of their colouring ; but the others are still as lively, fresh, and blooming, as when they first won all hearts, and attracted all admiration. But they, who, with inferior power, attempted to tread in their footsteps, and were masters only of the lesser avenues to the heart; to whom nature had not revealed her inmost secrets, or unveiled the hidden sources of the deeper and more powerful feelings; these solicited in vain for that attention and regard they were not strong
. It was not sufficient to be easy, sensible, and natural,—to describe ordinary occurrences and characters, in simple and unaffected language ;—to be capable of insinuating
moral instruction with amusement, and winning the affections, without an apparent effort to attract,—to play round the heart, touching the lesser chords of feeling, and gently pricking the foibles of mankind. Had this been a species of merit, which that age was capable of appreciating, the author of Peter Wilkins had not been defrauded of his just share of fame, nor had we, after being made sensible of his modest worth, and instructed by his pure and innocent conversation, been ignorant what name to repeat, when reckoning up the number of those who have been benefactors to their kind.
The slow and silent, but irrepressible, march of civilization has wrought a mighty revolution in taste, and a corresponding change in every art subject to its influence. The discordant parts of society have at length amalgamated, after having, by the previous friction, rubbed off a considerable portion of each other's rougher peculiarities and more prominent features. Each order and each individual now moves easily in his appointed sphere, without jostling his neighbours, or coming in rude contact with those whom the accident of birth has placed above or below in the great chain of human existence. He who looks abroad on society shall find it exhibits an uniform surface, nicely shaded off from the centre to the extremities, very different from that motley and diversified exterior, broken into rough projections, marked by strong lines of distinction, and made up of great masses of light and shade confusedly jumbled together, which it formerly presented to the eye of the spectator of human life and manners. The different classes too of men, wear not about them now, as they once did, the distinguishing marks of their caste ; but education,-mutual respect,
-a quick sense of ridicule, and long habit, have assimilated their language and manners; and taught them to soften or disguise the more prominent traits of their peculiar orders and professions. To read the characters of men, and detect their ruling passions, we must now look below the surface. By this revolution in the manners of our countrymen, we have both lost and gained; but if the question be fairly considered, our gain will be found greatly to exceed the loss. The genius for humour, by which the English have been immemorially distinguished, languishes for want of objects to administer food, and a field in which to expatiate. We subsist upon the stores of past ages, to which our own has added little or nothing; and the humours of our grandsires are those, to which we still revert for the gratification of our national appetite. The worst consequence has been, that our drama is impoverished, which can only be rich and flourishing among a people, abounding in characters strongly marked and distinguished, passions fierce and unbridled, peculiarities singular and humorous, and manners grotesque and eccentric;-in short, among the earlier and unsettled stages of society. These are no longer exhibited in the intercourse of life; and there is nothing now to call forth the latent dramatic genius of a people, enthusiastically attached to the drama. The feeble attempts which are occasionally put forth —the last expiring shoots of the decayed and sapless trunk, are but the shadows of a shade, and repetitions of character an hundred times repeated. But if we have no longer so rich a harvest of absurdities to regale upon, neither is our penetration so engaged in the chase; and our attention not being absorbed in the contemplation of the caprices and incongruities which nature has manifested among her works, we are more at leisure to view her in the abstract, and to study man, as he is, independent of circumstance and situation. Many discoveries have thus been made into the secrets of his heart, his passions, and his feelings; and this knowledge being dextrously applied to those arts, which have the dominion over his breast and imagination, right principles have been established, the first grand step to successful practice. Hence the skilful artist knows better how to play upon his instrument, and set every fibre in motion, and every pulse a beating; the sources of our gratification being now clearly ascertained, that which comes home to men's bosoms is more diligently studied; and regulating our principles of taste by an appeal to nature herself, we more promptly and truly discriminate between what is genuine and what is spurious. Accordingly, much that passed current with our ancestors, we are enabled to reject as false and meretricious; and some pearls of rare price, which they trampled upon, unknowing of their value, we have picked up, and placed among the choicest treasures of our literature.
If it be true, that the writers of the earliest days of our literature were a race of giants—invincible in strength-god-like in port-sublime in conception-disdaining even the bounds of creation, and the limits of time; and that the race has, in these latter times, dwindled down to a mere dwarfish stature--yet these pygmies must still be allowed to possess one redeeming property, derived from that very diminutive size, we are so apt to complain of. They possess a clearness of sight and quickness of perception, which, though they may not be able to pursue the Aight of former genius, or look in the sun's face undazzled by its beams, yet enables them to discriminate with the utmost nicety, where all, to the writers of loftier stature, was involved in the deepest obscurity. To draw the line of separation between the true sublime, and mere inflation, and an empty sound -and (what the ancients could never do) to detect, at once, what is forced and unnatural, either in sentiment or expression; and, warned by the unerring monitor, to say, that is not nature's