ePub 版

studied correctness of form, was beginning to tend back toward something more like romantic sentiment; the prose essay had grown heavier and less vital. For the moment the presiding genius of English letters was Dr. Johnson, throughout whose work we can feel that the formalism which under Queen Anne had possessed the grace of freshness was becoming traditional. In conventional good sense his writings, like those which surrounded them, remained vigorous; but their vigour was very unlike the spontaneous, enthusiastic versatility of Elizabethan letters.

About twenty-five years later comes a date so memorable to Americans that a glance at its literary record in England can hardly help being suggestive. The year from which our national independence is officially dated came at the height of Burke's powers, and just between Sheridan's “Rivals," published the year before, and his “School for Scandal,” of the year after. In the record of English publications, 1776 is marked by no important works of pure literature; but in that year Hume died, Jeremy Bentham published his “ Fragment on Government," Gibbon the first volume of his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Adam Smith his “Wealth of Nations,” and Thomas Paine his “ Common Sense;" the second edition of the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” too, appeared in ten volumes. In 1776, it seems, things literary in England, as well as things political in the British Empire, were taking a somewhat serious turn.

In the last ten years of the century, the years when the French Revolution was at its fiercest, there appeared in England works by Burke and by Mrs. Radcliffe, Boswell's “ Johnson,” Cowper’s “ Homer,” Paine's “ Rights of Man,” Rogers's “ Pleasures of Memory,” poems by Burns, two or three books by Hannah More, the first poems of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Scott, and Landor, Godwin's “Caleb Williams,” Lewis's “ Monk,” Miss Burney's “ Camilla,” Roscoe's “ Life of Lorenzo the Magnificent," and Charles Lamb's “ Rosamund Gray." A curious contrast this shows to the state of things in contemporary France. Though in political matters the French had broken away from every tradition, their literature had to wait thirty years more for enfranchisement from the tyranny of conventional form. England meanwhile, more tenacious of political tradition than ever before, had begun to disregard the rigid literary tradition which had been dominant since the time of Dryden. Burns, to this day the greatest British poet of the people, died in 1796. The “ Lyrical Baliads ” of Wordsworth and Coleridge, which may be regarded in literature as declaring the independence of the individual spirit, appeared in 1798, the year when Nelson fought the battle of the Nile. Fiction at the same time seemed less vital. In the hands of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett it had reached high development. Compared with the masterpieces of forty years before, Mrs. Radcliffe's “ Mysteries of Udolpho," Lewis's “ Monk,” and in some aspects even Godwin's “ Caleb Williams,” look more like the vagaries of an outworn affectation than like the heralds of what a few years later was to prove a great romantic period. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, though formal tradition was clearly broken, the renewed strength which was to animate English literature for the next thirty years was not yet quite evident. At the moment, too, no figure in English letters had even such predominance as that of Addison in Queen Anne's time, far less such as Johnson's had been in the later years of George II. Of the elder names mentioned in our last hasty list the most memorable seems that of Burke.

These names of Addison, Johnson, and Burke prove quite as significant of English literature in the eighteenth century · as those of Shakspere, Milton, and Dryden proved of that literature a century before. Shakspere, Milton, and Dryden seem men of three different epochs ; at least comparatively, Addison, Johnson, and Burke seem men of a single type. The trait which most distinguishes them from one another,

indeed, seems that Johnson's temper was rather more serious than that of Addison, and Burke's than Johnson's. After all, the mere names tell enough. Think of Shakspere and Dryden together, and then of Addison and Burke. Think of Milton as the figure who intervenes between the first pair, and of Johnson similarly intervening between the second. You can hardly fail to perceive the trend of English letters. In 1600 these letters were alive with the spontaneity, the enthusiasm, and the versatility of the Elizabethan spirit. By Dryden's time this was already extinct ; throughout the century which followed him it showed little symptom of revival. The romantic revival which in Burke's time was just beginning, had, to be sure, enthusiasm ; but this was too conscious to seem spontaneous. And although the names of Rogers, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, Landor, and Moore, who had all begun writing before 1800, suggest something like versatility, it is rather variety. They differ from one another, but compared with the Elizabethan poets each seems limited, inflexible. Taken together, their works combine in complicated orchestral harmonies. To the end, however, you can hardly imagine any of them as master of more than a single instrument. Versatility can hardly be held to characterise any English man of letters who came to maturity in the eighteenth century.

So far as literature is concerned, then, that century seems more and more what the commonplaces of the school-books call it, a century of robustly formal tradition ; rational, sensible, prejudiced, and towards the end restless ; admirable and manly in a thousand ways, but further, if so may be, from the spontaneous, enthusiastic versatility of Elizabethan days than was the period of Dryden. Above all, throughout this eighteenth century, English literature, like English history, seems more and more marked by that kind of insular temper which nowadays we unthinkingly believe always to have characterised the English.



In broad outline the history of America during the eighteenth century seems as different from that of England as was the case a century earlier. Two facts which we remarked in seventeenth-century America remained unchanged. In the first place no one really cared much who occupied the throne. To any American, the question of who was sent out as governor was generally more important than that of who sent him. In the second place, the absorptive power of the native American race remained undiminished, as indeed it seems still to remain. Though there was comparatively less immigration to America in the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth or the nineteenth, there was enough to show our surprising power of assimilation.

In another aspect, the history of America during the eighteenth century is unlike that of the century before. Until 1700, at least in New England, the dominant English ideal had been rather the moral than the political, — the tradition of the English Bible rather than that of the Common Law. The fathers of New England had almost succeeded in establishing “a theocracy as near as might be to that which was the glory of Israel." The story of the Mathers shows how this theocratic ambition came to grief. Church and State in America tended to separate with true Protestant antagonism. Once separate, the State was bound to control in public affairs; and so the Church began to decline into such formalism as later times, mistaking the lifeless rigidity of Puritan decline for the whole story, have been apt to believe all Puritanism. So, speaking very generally, we may call the eighteenth century in America one of growing material prosperity, under the chief guidance no longer of the clergy, but rather of that social class to whose commercial energy this prosperity was chiefly due.

It is to the eighteenth century, indeed, and to the pre-revolutionary part of it, that New England families owe most of the portraits which still attest their ancestral dignity, now so often a thing of the past. The best of these portraits were painted by the father of the celebrated Lord Lyndhurst. This was John Singleton Copley, a native of Boston who emigrated to England about the time of the Revolution and remained there for the rest of his life. Whoever knows Copley's American portraits will recognise in the people he painted a type of native Americans which had hardly developed in the seventeenth century and which hardly survived the Revolution.

These old New England worthies were mostly merchants who owed their fortune to their own ability. To take a single family, for example, there lived in Cambridge during the seventeenth century a presumably God-fearing man in no way related to the dominant clerical class or to the families conspicuous in the government of the colony. He was in some small way of trade, he married four times, and he left a great many children. One of these removed to Boston, where he so prospered as to be able in his last years to present to the Second Church, then under the ministry of Cotton Mather, a silver communion cup. His son, a grandson of the prolific tradesman of Cambridge, became a merchant of local eminence, whose affairs brought him into correspondence not only with England, but with France, Portugal, and the Indies. He married a lady whose family from the earliest days of the colony had maintained the dignity of what old Yankees used to call quality. And Copley painted them both; and very stately old figures they are ; and their silver bears a fine coat of arms.

« 上一頁繼續 »