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But wherefore need I wander wide
Deserted stream and mute?
Been soothed by Pity's lute.
Come, Pity, come! By Fancy's aid,
Thy temple's pride design:
In all who view the shrine.
There Picture's toil shall well relate
O'er mortal bliss prevail :
With each disastrous tale.
There let me oft, retired by day,
Allowed with thee to dwell:
To hear a British shell!
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
SECTION FOURTH: THE LITERATURE OF THE THIRD GENERATION.
PROSE. 1. The Historians-Their Literary Character and Views of Art-Hume's His
tory.-2. Robertson and Gibbon- The Character of each-Minor Historical Writers. -3. Miscellaneous Prose--Johnson's Talk and Boswell's Report of it--Goldsmith's Novels-Literature in Scotland--The First Edinburgh Review-Mackenzie's Novels -Other Novelists.-4. Criticism---Percy's Reliques--Warton's History-Parliamentary Eloquence--Edmund Burke-Letters.-5. Philosophy—(1.) Theory of Literature--Burke-Reynol is--Campbell Home-Blair-Smith-(2.) Political Economy -Adam Smith.-6. Philosophy continued--(3.) Ethics-Adam Smith-TuckerPaley--(4.) Metaphysics and Psychology—Thomas Reid.—7. Theology-(1.) Scientific—Campbell — Paley-Watson-Lowth-(2.) Practical -- Porteous--Blair-Newton and others.-Poetry. 8. The Drama--Home's Douglas--Comedies of Goldsmith and Sheridan-Goldsmith's Descriptive Poems.-9. Minor Poets—Their Various Tendencies-Later Poems--Beattie's Minstrel.–10. The Genius and Writings of Cowper and Burns.
1. BETWEEN the period we have last studied, and the reign of George the Third, there were several connecting linksOne of these was formed by a group of Historians, whose works must always be classical monuments in English literature. The publication of Hume's History of England began in 1754: Robertson's History of Scotland appeared in 1759, and was followed by his Reign of Charles the Fifth, and his History of America; and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was completed in twelve years from 1776.
These celebrated men, and others who profited by their teaching, viewed a great history as a work of literary art, as a work in which the manner of communication ought to possess an excellence correspondent to the value of the knowledge communicated. It is likewise characteristic of them, that, while all were active thinkers, and found or made occasion for imparting the
fruits of their reflection, their works are properly Histories, not Historical Dissertations. They are narratives of events, in which the elucidation of the laws of human nature or of the progress of society is introduced merely as illustrative and subordinate. The distinction is note-worthy for us, in whose time the favourite method of historical writing is of the contrary kind.
Perhaps history, so conceived and limited, was never written b. 1711. ( better than by David Hume. Never was the narrative d. 1776. 3 of interesting incidents told with greater clearness, and good sense, and quiet force of representation : never were the characters, and thoughts, and feelings of historical personages described in a manner more calculated to excite the feeling of dramatic reality, yet without overstepping the propriety of historical truth, or trespassing on the prominence due to great facts and great principles. llis style may be said to display, generically, the natural and colloquial character of the early writers of the century. But it is specifically distinguished by features giving it an aspect very unlike theirs. It has not their strength and closeness of idiom ; a want attributable to two causes.
Hume was a Scotsman, born in a country whose dialect was then yet more distant than it now is from English purity; and French studies concurred with French reading in determining still further his turn of phraseology and construction. It has been the duty of more recent writers to protest against his strong spirit of partisanship, which is made the more seductive by his constant good temper and kindliness of manner; and his consultation of original authorities was so very negligent, that his evidence is quite worthless on disputed historical questions. But, if his matter had been as carefully studied as his manner, and if his social and religious theories had been as sound as his theory of literary art, Hume's history would still have held a place from which no rival could have hoped to degrade it.
2. In their manner of expression, Robertson and Gibbon, though unlike each other, are equally unlike Hume. They want his seemingly unconscious ease, his delicate tact, his calm yet lively simplicity. Hume tells his tale to us as a friend to friends: his successors always seem to hold that they are teachers and we their pupils. This change of tone had long been coming on, and was now very general in all departments of prose : very few writers belonging to the last thirty years of Johnson's life escaped the epidemic disease of dictatorship. Both Robertson and Gibbon may have been, by circumstances peculiar to each of them, predisposed to adopt the fashionable garb of dignity. The temptation of the former lay simply in his provincial position, which made his mastery of the language a thing to be attained only by study and imitation. An untravelled Scotsman might have aspired to harangue like Rasselas, but durst not dream of talking
7. 1722. d. 1793.
like Will Honeycomb. Yet Robertson attained a degree of facility, smoothness, and correctness, which in the circumstances was wonderful. Gibbon's pompousness, which has justly become proverbial, was probably caused in part by his self-esteem, naturally inordinate, and pampered by years of solitary study; and it must have been cherished also by his half-avowed consciousness of the hostility in which his evil religious opinions placed him, towards those to whom his work was addressed. The peculiarity of his very peculiar style may perhaps be analyzed into a few elements. His words are always those of Latin root, not of Saxon, unless when these cannot be avoided : his favourite idioms and constructions are French, not English : and the structure of his sentences is so complex as to threaten obscurity, but so monotonously uniform that his practised dexterity of hand easily avoided the snare.
Robertson is an excellent story-teller, perspicuous, lively,
and interesting: his opinions are formed with good judgment, and always temperately expressed : and his disquisitions, such as his view of the Progress of Society in the Middle Ages, are singularly able and instructive. His research was industrious and accurate, to a degree which, notwithstanding many unfavourable circumstances, makes him still to be a valuable historical authority.
The learning of Gibbon, though not in all points very d. 1794. ) exact, was remarkably extensive; and it was fully sufficient to make him a trustworthy guide through the vast region he traverses, unless in those quarters where he was inclined to lead us astray. His work was first conceived in Rome, sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter : ” and its prevalent tone might, with no very wide stretch of fancy, be supposed to retain symptoms of that evening's meditation. There is a patrician haughtiness in the stately march of his narrative, and in the air of careless superiority with which he treats both his heroes and his audience; and, contemplating the actions of his story in such a spirit as if he shrunk from Christian truth because he had known it only as alloyed by superstitious error, he honours the ruthless bravery of the conqueror and the politic craft of the statesman, but is unable to appreciate the hermit's humble piety or the heroic self-sacrifice of the martyr. His manner wants that dramatic animation, which would entitle him to be ranked in the highest order of historians, and for which he was disqualified by his coldness of feeling. He seems to describe, not scenes in which living men act, but pictures in which those scenes are represented :
as he b. 1728.
and in this art of picturesque narration he is a master. Nor is he less skilful in indirect insinuation ; which, indeed, is his favourite and usual method of communicating his opinions, although most striking in those many passages in his history of the church, where be covertly attacks a religion which he neither believed nor understood.
Among other historians of the time was Smollett, whose History of England has no claim to remembrance except the celebrity otherwise gained by the author. Ferguson's History of the Roman Republic is not only well written, but meritorious for its researches into the constitution of Rome. Of the many historical and antiquarian works, the value of whose matter exceeds their literary merit
, it may be enough to name those of two Scotsmen; Henry's History of Great Britain, and Sir David Dalrymple's Annals of Scotland, both of which have saved much toil to their
To this period, more conveniently than to the next, may be assigned the Grecian Histories of Gillies and Mitford, each useful in its day, especially the latter, but both now altogether superseded.
3. While the historians thus produced works on which, more than on anything else, the literary reputation of the time depended, other men of letters exerted themselves so actively and so variously, that it is difficult to describe their efforts briefly.
Johnson, seated at last in his easy-chair, talked inces
santly for twenty years: his dogmatical announcements of opinion were received as oracular by the literary world : and, soon after his death, Boswell's clever record of his conversations gave to the name of this remarkable man a place in our literature, which, in our day, is commonly held to be more secure than that which he had obtained by his writings.
In the large circle of his friends and admirers, none was more d. 1774. } Goldsmith. Yet none of them had so much native origi
respectful or more beloved than the amiable and artless
} nality of genius, or deviated so far from the track of his patron. Though his poems had never been written, he would stand among the classics of English prose, in virtue of the few trifles on which he was able, in the intervals snatched from his literary drudgery, to exercise his power of shrewd observation and natural invention, and to exhibit his warm affections and purity of moral sentiment. Such is his inimitable little novel, “ The Vicar of Wakefield;" and such, though less valuable, is the good-natured satire on society which he called “The Citizen of the World.” It consists of letters in which a Chinese, visiting England, relates to friends at home what he saw and what he thought of it. In good-huinoured
b. 1709. d 1779.