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they are too vague and general. The consequence is that we look more to the development of the plot than to the exhibition of the secret springs of action and of mental or moral idiosyncrasies. Take away from the dramatic writer of the present day his incidents and plots, and you leave him poor indeed; but we do not think so much of what happens to the persons of Shakspeare's drama, as of the nature of their hearts or intellects. Their character and not their fate is most present to our minds. Hamlet is an intensely interesting personage, without any reference whatever to his position; and equally so is Macbeth, though a being of a directly opposite nature. When we are presented with such full length pictures of humanity as these, so distinct and animated, we receive an impression that can never fade but with life itself. Did any man, woman, or child, that has been introduced to Hamlet or Macbeth or Othello or Lear, ever happen to forget them? But he who wishes to keep up his acquaintance with the personages of the modern drama, must have a strong memory indeed, if he does not find it necessary to refresh it with occasional re-perusals.
They all wear out of us, like forms, with chalk
We never look in the drama of the day for profound or original delineations of human nature, though it is not to be denied that we often find in it a great deal of elegant poetry, much refined thought and noble feeling, and many striking and pathetic incidents.
It would take up too much space and time on the present occasion, and lead us too far from the main object of this article, to attempt the arduous task of a philosophical explanation of the causes which have operated on the intellectual character of the literature of different periods. Of course, human nature must be always the same, but the development of its energies depends upon an infinite variety of accidents.
All that I now wish to insist upon, is a fact suggested by the curious old volume, the title of which is on the first page of the present paper. It has been asserted by the critics of the artificial school, that we had neither accuracy nor harmony of verse before the time of Waller ; and that Pope brought our versification to a state of excellence, which it would be impossible to surpass. Now, if we even put aside all reference to the elder dramatists, and confine ourselves to the miscellaneous poets, it might easily be shown (unless one unvaried tone be harmony) that Waller and Pope were greatly inferior, as mere versifiers, to the author of the Fairy Queen, and perhaps even his obscure “ acquaintant and friend,” John Chalkhill. We might, if necessary, go so far back as old Chaucer, whose verse, when rightly read, has a fluency, a sweetness, and a variety of modulation, that put to shame the sing-song of the French school
“ That creaking lyre,
That whetstone of the teeth, monotony in wire." Mr. Tyrwhitt has shown that Chaucer's versification, whenever his genuine text is preserved, was uniformly correct, although the harmony of his lines has, in many instances, been lost by the changes that have taken place in the mode of accenting our language. Chaucer was the inventor of the ten syllable or heroic verse to which Pope was so partial, and of which its original inventor left specimens, that Dryden despaired of improving.
That a very favourable change has come over the spirit of our poetical literature since the time of Anne, must be sufficiently obvious to the most casual observer ; and that this change is to be attributed partly to the weariness and disgust occasioned by the vast flocks of rhyming parrots, who have given us perpetual repetitions of the easily echoed verse of Pope, and partly to the attention that has been recalled to our elder writers, will hardly be disputed : but it is perhaps not so generally understood that many even of our miscellaneous poets, who pretend to originality of style, have
only given up one object of imitation for another. The free heroic couplet, with its variety of pause, of such writers as Leigh Hunt, Keats, Shelley, and Barry Cornwall, which many people seem to look upon as a novelty, is several hundred years old. In reading the poem of Thealma and Clearchus, if it were printed with new type, on fine hot pressed paper, with the spelling modernized, we might easily fancy ourselves turning over the pages of the author of Rimini. It is not only the metre, but the entire spirit and manner of the old writers to which our modern poets have returned. Readers do not now look for only wit and good sense in a composition that aims at the dignity of poetry—these qualities do well enough for a prose essay; but in a poem, the fire of imagination is regarded as an essential ingredient. The genuine lovers of our poetical literature can never be sufficiently grateful to the two Wartons, who (the one by his excellent Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, and the other by his History of English Poetry), expedited that revolution in taste, which has made all men acknowledge the superiority in point of poetical merit of descriptions of nature, human and external, to smart satires and witty allusions to fashionable life. Their own poems did something towards bringing nature once more into vogue ; but it was Thomson, Burns, and Cowper, who were the most influential leaders in this happy introduction of a nobler poetical system. If Dryden had possessed a larger share of fancy and feeling, his great superiority over Pope. in the range and energy of his mind, might have effectually prevented the latter from exercising so pernicious an influence on the public taste. But Dryden soon ceased to be a very popular poet, and the world becoming too nice to relish his rough strength, were satisfied with no verses that had not something of the polish and tone of his
Critics do not quarrel with Pope, because he is too harmonious and accurate, but because his harmony is too monotonous, and his accuracy, on which so much stress is laid by his
admirers, is confined to matters of comparatively slight import
It is true that he is more uniformly smooth than Shakspeare himself, but his music is less varied and delightful; he is more uniformly correct in diction and metre, but his descriptions of external nature and the heart of man, besides being more slight and limited, are incomparably less accurate than those of our Prince of Dramatists. Even his accuracy of rhyme and grammar is grossly overrated : his works abound in flagrant violations of both. Lest, however, the reader should think that I mean to allow him no kind of merit, I may as well explain what I really think of him. I agree with those who place him at the head of the second order of poets ; those in the first order being Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton. No writer ever condensed so much good sense into so narrow a compass. Condensation and perspicuity are amongst his most conspicuous merits. not, however, without fancy and feeling. Far from it. He had greatly more of both than his predecessor Dryden. There is a brilliant display of the first quality in his Rape of the Lock, and a pleasing specimen of the latter in his Abelard and Eloisa. But mere fancy will not make a poet of the very first order. Imagination, with which Pope was but sparingly endowed, is what is most required in the loftier efforts of the Muse. His pathos is not of a very powerful nature. It gently wins our sympathy, but I doubt if it ever wrung a tear from readers the most accustomed to the melting mood. It is said that the original letters of Abelard and Eloisa are far more pathetic than the poem. I believe all modern critics of any eminence have agreed to place Pope, as I have done, the first in the second rank, which, if rightly considered, is a highly honorable position. He who doubts this, should cast his eye over our list of poets, and observe how many great names are below him, and how few above.
Of the personal history of John Chalkhill, the author of Thealma aud Clearchus, our knowledge is slight indeed. It is in vain to turn over the pages even of poetical antiquaries to discover any information concerning a writer who has little deserved to fall into such oblivion. In the tenth volume of the Censura Literaria, a work in which so many long forgotten writers have been revived, there are just five lines devoted to our author. This little paragraph contains nothing that was not perfectly well known before. In old Izaac Walton's Complete Angler, two of Chalkhill's songs are introduced : Doctor Johnson translated a part of one of these into Latin. The translation is preserved in Murphy's edition of Johnson's works. Neither Ellis, Warton, nor Headley make any allusion to Chalkhill. Ritson mentions him, but adds nothing, to our scanty knowledge, of the poet or his works. I am not certain whether any of the biographies of Spenser contain an allusion to his “ acquaintant and friend." I suspect not. It is to be regretted that Spenser has devoted no generous line to the fame of his brother poet : a great and popular writer may preserve the literary life of his associates by a single potent word, and bid
Their little barks attendant sail,
Mrs. Cooper, in the Muses' Library, published in 1741, Dr. Drake, in his Shakespeare and his Times, and Mr. Campbell, in his Specimens of the British Poets, are the only authors who have made any quotations from Chalkhill. Mr. Campbell does not give a specimen in the body of his selections ; but in the first volume (printed last), containing his Essay on English Poetry, he apologizes for the omission as an accidental oversight. I am almost uncharitable enough to suspect, that it was not an oversight, but an ignorance on the part of the compiler, subsequently enlightened, that was the real cause of our fine old pastoral writer having failed to obtain an admission into that long rank of poets, in which so many meaner men have an honorable and