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chiefly to brief discussions of light social and moral topics. It is different now. In the form of reviews and magazine articles, the essay deals with every subject of interest or importance. The scholar, the scientist, the philosopher, the historian, each uses the periodical press to set forth the results of his studies and investigations. The cream of human thought and activity is contained in our leading magazines and reviews. Without an acquaintance with their contents, it is difficult to keep abreast with the times.
A notable advance is discernible in the writing of history. Greater prominence is given to the social condition of the people. The sources of information have been greatly enlarged, and historians are expected to base their statements on trustworthy data. Besides, a philosophy of history has been recognized. Greater attention is given to the moving causes of events, and to the general tendencies in national life. With this greater trustworthiness and more philosophic treatment, history has lost nothing of its excellence of style. If it has given up the uniform stateliness of Robertson and Gibbon, it has become more graphic, more varied, and more interesting.
No other department of literature has shown a richer development during the present century than fiction. It occupies the place filled by the drama during the Elizabethan period. The plot is skilfully conducted; the characters represent every class of society; the thoughts are often the deepest of which our nature is capable. Fiction is no longer simply a means of amusement. Without laying aside its artistic character, it has become in great measure didactic. In the form of historical romance, it seeks to reproduce in a vivid manner the thoughts, feelings, and customs of other ages. The novel of contem
porary life often holds up to view the foibles and vices of modern society. In many cases fiction is made the means of popularizing various social, religious, and politi
The many changes in politics, science, and religion have produced a notable change in poetry. The poetic imagery inherited from Greece and Rome has been swept away. Modern science has been too strong for the mythology of the ancients.
Yet the general effect upon poetry of the modern scientific spirit has been salutary. While it has swept away what was unessential and temporary, it has led the way to deeper verities. Poetry now penetrates more deeply into the secrets of human nature and of the physical universe. The revolutionary social and political ideas, with which the century opened, have likewise proved favorable to poetry. For a time, as in Shelley and Byron. it resulted in productions outrageously hostile to existing institutions. But after a time the perturbed current of poetry began to run clear, and it was seen to have gained in volume and power. Throwing aside its anarchical tendencies, it became the advocate of justice, freedom, and truth.
With clearer views of divine truth, poetry has gained in geniality, and in power to reach the profound spiritual part of man. The hardness of Puritanic asceticism has been laid aside. In Christian lyrics of unsurpassed sweetness, poetry breathes the spirit of divine and human love; and in elegies, it draws strength and comfort from the deepest resources of philosophy and inspiration.
While in large measure realistic, poetry has not cast aside its ideal character. Modern progress in culture has
placed it on a high vantage ground- far in advance of all the preceding ages; and from this new position, its penetrating vision pierces farther into the realms of unexplored and undiscovered truth. With its present expansion in thought and feeling, poetry has naturally assumed new forms. While in dramatic poetry there is a humiliating decay in comparison with the Elizabethan era, yet in lyric, narrative, and didactic poetry we find almost unrivalled excellence. With naturalness of form and expression, there is a careful and conscientious workmanship not found in previous periods.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
THE greatest literary figure during the first quarter of the present century is undoubtedly Sir Walter Scott. He occupied scarcely less relative prominence for a time than did Samuel Johnson a few decades earlier. It is not uncommon to associate his name with the period in which he was pre-eminent. He distinguished himself in both poetry and prose. He created a species of romantic poetry that was received with great applause until it was eclipsed by the intenser productions of Byron. "Why did you quit poetry?" a friend once inquired of Scott. "Because Byron beat me," was the remarkably frank reply. He then turned to fiction; and in his splendid series of historical romances he stands pre-eminent not only among the writers of England, but of the world.
Sir Walter Scott descended from a line distinguished for sports and arms rather than letters. One of his remote ancestors was once given the choice of being hanged, or marrying a woman who had won the prize for ugliness in four counties. After three days' deliberation he decided in favor of “meiklemouthed Meg," who, be it said, made him an excellent wife. It was from her that our author possibly inherited his large mouth. His father was a dignified man, orderly in his habits, and fond of ceremony. It is said that he "absolutely loved a funeral;" and from far and near he was sent for to superintend mortuary ceremonies. As a lawyer he frequently lost clients by insisting that they should be just a sturdy uprightness that was transmitted to his illustrious son.
Sir Walter's mother was a woman of superior native ability and of excellent education. She had a good memory, and a talent for narration. "If I have been able to do anything in