Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

she has passed too lightly over some important names; and if some lesser ones have escaped her altogether, to receive with humility any strictures which may be pronounced upon her on this account. Her aim has been to set forth the remarkable outburst of new and noble genius by which the end of last century and the beginning of our own was distinguished, and made into a great and individual age in literature. It is hard to cut the line clear across all those intertwinings of human life and influence by which one generation links itself to another ; and consequently the story will be found to overlap the boundaries on both sides, now going too far back, now reaching too far forward. The kind and sympathetic reader will see how this comes about, and how the uneven lines of life—some cut so sadly short, some holding on their course up to old age cannot fail to leave an irregular outline. For all faults of omission or redundancy, she makes her apology beforehand, with the hope of being able to amend them at some future time.

[blocks in formation]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

THE LITERARY HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

INTRODUCTORY.

its own.

us.

The literary history of every country follows a course of

It is independent to a great measure of the political existence of the race in which it is developed, and except in so far as a period of remarkable intellectual activity in other ways is generally distinguished also by one of the great outbursts of literary genius which recur from time to time, it cannot be said to follow any of the rules of historical progress known to

Even in this respect there is no fixed rule; for though the glory of the Elizabethan age was a sort of universal flood-tide, swelling the veins of every manner of man, and communicating greatness to every section of the national life, there was no public soul whatever in Germany when the great literature of that country arose at a bound; and few ages have seen more vigour and grace in letters than the period, so little remarkable otherwise, in which Louis Philippe reigned in France, Neither does Literature develop historically as national life does. In the history of men and of commonwealths there is a slow progression, which, however faint, however deferred, yet gradually goes on, leaving one generation always a trifle better than that which preceded it, with some scrap of new possession, some

VOL. I

[ocr errors]

B

[ocr errors]

right assured, some small inheritance gained. From age to age the advance may be small, yet it is appreciable. Great statesmen and little, together work out something for us that we had not possessed before. Even in the countries most behindhand in the race, things which were easy and invariable a hundred years ago have now become impossible. New modifications and conditions arise continually, the public sense is awakened, or it is cultivated, or at all events it is changed. There will of course always be a large and respectable portion of mankind, to whose ideas progress is a mistake, and the old always better than the new; but even this class so far recognises the reality of the new, as to agree that the civilised races cannot retrace their steps, and that the old order, if it remains a thing to sigh for, yet cannot be brought back. “Our little systems have their day;" but that day being over, humanity passes on and cannot return. The reforms from which we have hoped most, the advances for which we have struggled most strenuously, do not produce all the good we expected; but we cannot, nor would we, undo them. In everything there is a current onward, perhaps downward, but never back. In individual life, and all its personal manifestations, it is true enough that the thing that hath been is that that shall be; but in history there is a gradual working out and working on, a certain logic, and some traceable principle of development. The principle indeed changes from time. It comes to a climax. It is a despotism growing and ripening towards a great catastrophe; it is a hot democracy, dropping asunder into anarchy and confusion; it is a struggle of force against force, of kings and populace, of nobles and adventurers, of those who have and those who would have each working towards destruction or towards consolidation, by means which are dimly or grandly traceable across the ages, but each leading to

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »