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Oh! there are green spots on the path of time
Our paths are desolate, and far apart-
Lord of the silent tomb! relentless Death!
Insatiate Fiend! at thy blood-dropping shrine,
THEALMA AND CLEARCHUS*.
Dr. Johnson was accustomed to maintain that Pope brought English verse to its utmost possible perfection. He regarded the writers of the Elizabethan period as little better than inspired barbarians. In this respect, he was almost as great a heathen as Voltaire himself, whose opinion of Shakspearet is a much more powerful argument against the character of the critic's own mind, than against the genius of our unrivalled dramatist. The French taste for the smart and artificial in style, introduced into England at the Restoration, lasted much longer than any critic of that day who had a sense of truth and nature, would have at all anticipated. But though truth and nature must at last prevail, it is wonderful for how long a period the influence of fashion may keep them in a state of complete subjection. For a season, and under peculiar circumstances, custom is a second nature, more powerful than the first.
When we look back at the different stages in the progress of English literature, we are struck with the extraordinary simi. larity of character displayed by contemporary writers. superficial view it would almost seem as if genius itself were produced by accidents and conventionalisms. Why should the poets
THEALMA AND CLEARCHUS:-A Pastoral History, in smooth and easy verse. Written long since by John Chalkbill, Esq., an acquaintant and friend of Edmund Spenser. London : Printed for Benj. Tooke, at the ship in St. Paul's Church-yard, 1683.
+ Johnson forced himself to speak well of Shakspeare in his preface to the Plays, but he had perhaps no real relish for the great Prince of Dramatists. He seems in his heart to have liked Addison's Cato better than any of Shak. speare's dramas. His own Irene shows his leaning to the artificial and declama. tory style. He speaks of the “barbarity of the age,” in which so many men of might, besides Shakspeare himself, shed a glory upon our literature that has not been equalled in later times,
of the time of Elizabeth and James be a race of giants, and those of Anne comparatively a race of pigmies ? In both eras, the poets were equally human beings, and of English origin. In the first mentioned period, there was an extraordinary abundance of all the higher faculties of the mind; in the second, there was an equally extraordinary dearth. The richness and facility of invention, the prodigality of fancy, the profound knowledge of human nature, which the old dramatists displayed, seem to be utterly beyond the reach of the intellects of later times. The former had such an entire sympathy with the world at large, that they could afford to forget their own identity, when pourtraying the minds and passions of other men. Hence the truth and variety of their delineations. But we have since had no writer gifted with that degree of the dramatic faculty which seemed so common an endowment in the time of Shakspeare. Cowper has spoken of a period when
The sacred name
And there was this two-fold character displayed by our good old poet and prophet, Daniel, when, in his dedication to the tragedy of Philotas, he thus expressed his opinion of the reign of Elizabeth :
And it may be, the genius of that time
The serious drama in the reign of Anne is, generally speaking, beneath contempt. Even as a work of mere art, without reference to its utter dearth of inspiration, it has very little claim
to the respect of criticism. In the present day, through the study of our elder dramatists, to which the nation has been urged by a small class of original-minded critics, some struggles have been made by several popular writers to return to the longdeserted paths of truth and nature. But it is melancholy to remark with what small success. Our poets are almost all mere egotists. They attempt to lift the curtain of the general human heart, and, instead of discovering, as through a transparent glass, the internal movements of other men, they but behold, as in a mirror, their own self-complacent images. Thus, Lord Byron reproduced himself perpetually, not only in his miscellaneous poems, but in all his dramas. He fancied he was looking into a thousand hearts, while he was only looking into one. He dipped his pencil in his own inflamed and feverish blood, and thought every other man's was of the same colour.
No work since the time of Elizabeth may be looked upon as an original draught from nature by the hand of genius, in which the curtain of the human heart is lifted, and the secrets of our inner being are disclosed as by the power of a God. This degree of excellence was reserved exclusively for Shakspeare and his nobly-gifted contemporaries. There were no such miracles before his time, and there have been none since. It is strange that Nature, who is so sparing of the dramatic faculty, should have reserved all England's share of it, for one particular age. Since that period, we have had highly beautiful poems and romances in the dramatic form, but no genuine drama. In modern tragedy we have not a single new creation. The characters have all a hundred prototypes. They are mere outlines, and are the hereditary property of the stage. The interest depends not upon the minute and full development of character, but upon the nature of the incidents. They are like the poems of Scott, that borrow almost all their charm from the story. It is not that the characters in modern plays are absolutely unnatural, but that