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(1603 to 1625.) It has been remarked by Bishop Percy, that almost all the poetry which was composed during the early part of the preceding reign was remarkable for the facility and musical flow of its versification ; whereas the compositions of Donne, Jonson, and many of their contemporaries are, in general, unusually harsh and discordant.
Indeed, our literature could not fail of reflecting, in some degree, the manners of the court. Our maiden queen, unable to submit without some degree of peevishness and regret to the ravages made in her charms by the attacks of age and infirmity, spread uneasiness and constraint all around her ; and the playful gallantry inseparable from a female court was gradually succeeded by a more cold and gloomy system of manners. Poetry, which had long been busied with the loves and graces, was now only occupied with the abstruse researches of science; and fancy seemed to be crushed and overlaid by the weight of learning.
The accession of James I., who brought to the throne the accomplishments and dispositions of a pedagogue, contributed to the growth of pedantry and affectation ; and at the same time the sullen spirit of puritanism, which
began to be widely diffused, concurred in vitiating the national taste. The theatres alone seem to have been the refuge of genius, nor has any æra of our history produced so many models of dramatic excellence : but the wretched spirit of criticism which prevailed in the closet is evinced by the multiplied editions of Donne, Herbert, and similar versifiers ; by the general preference of Jonson to Shakspeare ; and by the numberless volumes of patchwork and shreds of quotation which form the prose compositions of this age.
It is remarkable, that the series of Scotish poets terminates abruptly in this reign, and that no name of eminence occurs between those of Drummond and Thomson. Indeed it is not extraordinary that the period which intervened between the union of the two crowns and that of the countries should have proved highly unpropitious to Scotish literature. Scotland, becoming an appendage to the sister kingdom, was subjected, as Ireland has since been, to the worst of all governments, being abandoned to the conflict of rival families, who were alternately supported by the English administration, so that it exhibited a species of anarchy under the auspices of a legitimate sovereign.
James I. was himself a poet, and specimens of his talent, such as it was, are to be found in many of our miscellanies. He also wrote some rules and cautels, for the use of professors of the art, which have been long, and perhaps deservedly, disregarded.
The most favourable sample of his Majesty's poetic skill has been lately obtained from the College library, Edinburgh, and will be found in the following page. It is prefixed to Fowler's translation of the Triumphs of Petrarch, a MS, before described.
We find by proof that into every age
In Phoebus' art some glistering star did shine, Who, worthy scholars to the Muses sage,
Fulfill'd their countries with their works divine.
So Homer was a sounding trumpet fine Amongst the Greeks, into his learned days ;
So Virgil was among the Romans syne
In tongue Italic, in a sugar'd style,
For he, by poems that he did compile,
Signed “ J. Rex.” ROBERT BURTON,
OTHERWISE known by the name of Democritus junior, was born in 1576, of an ancient and genteel family, at Lindley, in Leicestershire. In 1593, he was entered a commoner at Brazennose College, in 1599 elected student of Christ-Church, and in 1616 made vicar of St. Thomas's, Oxford, which preferment, with the rectory of Segrave in Leicestershire, “ he kept,” says Wood, “ with much ado to his dying day.” The same writer adds, “ He was an exact mathematician, a curious calculator of nativities, a general-read scholar, a thro'-paced philologist, and one that understood the surveying of lands well ;" and though“ a melancholy and humorous person,” yet“ of great honesty, plain-dealing, and charity." Wood had also heard some of the antients of Christ-Church often say, " that his company was very merry, facete, and juvenile." His “ Anatomy of Melancholy," a very singular work, in which Dr. Ferriar has detected the source of many of Sterne's most admired passages, was first published in 4to, 1621, and, after subsequently passing through seven edi. tions in folio, has been lately republished. Wood says the bookseller got an estate by it ; and that “'tis a book so full of variety of reading, that gentlemen who have lost their time, and are put to a push for invention, may furnish themselves with matter for common or scholastical discourse and writing." From what he farther observes, it should seem that Sterne was not without precedent in his depredations upon Burton. “Several authors have unmercifully stolen matter from the said book without any acknowledgment, particularly one Will. Greenwood,” &c., “who, as others of the like humour do, sometimes takes his quotations without the least mention of Democritus junior.” Dr. Johnson thought highly of the “ Anatomy of Melancholy;" see Boswell's Life ; and Mr. Warton, in his notes to Milton's minor poems, p. 94, second edition, supposes that great poet “to have borrowed the subject of L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, together with some particular thoughts, expressions, and rhymes,” from the subsequent specimen. “ As to the very elaborate work,” says Mr. Warton,“ to which these visionary verses are no unsuitable introduction, the writer's variety of learning, his quotations from scarce and curious books, his pedantry, sparkling with rude wit and shapeless elegance, miscellaneous matter, intermixture of agreeable tales and illustrations, and perhaps, above all, the singularities of his feelings, cloathed in an uncommon quaintness of style, have contributed to render it, even to modern readers, a valuable repository of amusement and information.”
Burton was fond of poetry, and left behind him a very curious poetical and miscellaneous library, out of which he bequeathed to the Bodleian all the books not already contained in it. He died in 1639, (very near the time of his own calculation,) and was buried in Christ-Church Cathedral, where his bust may be seen, as well as a short Latin inscription, his own composition, on a monument erected by the care of his brother William, the antiquary and historian of Leicestershire.
The Abstract of Melancholy.