ePub 版


TO this gallant admiral, (who died a few days ago, at the advanced age of seventy-four) very flagrant injustice was done in the year 1805. It will, doubtless, be remembered by our readers that, with an inferior force, he defeated the combined squadrons of France and Spain, on the twenty-second of July, and captured two sail of the line. At some periods this would have been deemed a glorious achievement. A senseless and ungrateful clamour, however, was raised against him, for not having accomplished more. A court-martial, too, thought proper to find him guilty of an error in judgment, and to sentence him to be severely reprimanded. This sentence deserves to be spoken of with no great portion of respect. On such subjects there are probably few persons who will venture to differ in opinion from Lord Nelson. Now the opinion of Lord Nelson was decidedly in favour of the calumniated admiral. A gentleman, who visited his lordship at Merton, and who communicated to me the conversation, took the opportunity of asking him, what he thought of Sir Robert Calder's conduct. His lordship's answer was, "Sir, I conceive Sir Robert to have done all that a brave and skilful commander could do, under such circumstances. He is a very ill-used man, and ought to have been rewarded, instead of being traduced and brought to trial."


SOME people estimate the merit of a composition by the length of it, like Peter Pindar's burgomaster, who thought his brother a great poet, because he had written 66 von book as big as all dis cheese." "Why do you write nothing but short pieces? Why do you not produce a long poem?" is their eternal cuckoo cry. The late Mr. Pratt seems, at least at one period of his life, to have been infected with this folly. Many years ago, when it was the fashion at Bath to furnish verses for Lady Miller's famous vase at Batheaston, a friend of mine, afterwards an eminent civilian, had obtained the sprig of myrtle, which was the prize of the best poem. Mr. Pratt walked up to him, and exclaimed, "Upon my word, sir, your's is a very pretty poem! Very pretty indeed for the length of it.". *. *. D.







ON looking back to the learning of our ancestors, the splendid periods of our two queens, Elizabeth and Anne, particularly attract our notice.

I have not unfrequently heard it remarked (though chiefly by the superficial or the austere), that we have no pretensions to the learning of Elizabeth's time, or the elegance of Queen Anne's. This observation on the depth of erudition in the first Augustan period (for such has it been termed), is partly owing to a mistaken notion, that all people of education were little less familiar with the Greek and Latin, than the queen herself. Elizabeth, no doubt, had cultivated an acquaintance with the classics. From the paucity of publications in her vernacular tongue, she had, necessarily, recourse to books in other languages; but I much question whether she could have read Greek with a boy of the first form in Westminster school.

We should also take this along with us, that the age of Elizabeth was, in every thing, an affected age; and, where affectation prevails, the fair sex are always strongly tinctured by it. A little learning may be swelled to an enormous size by artifice, ostentation, and pedantry; hence, perhaps, that wonderful display of erudition in another female personage. Roger Ascham tells us, that going to wait on Lady Jane Grey, at her father's house in Leicestershire, he found her reading Plato's work in the Greek, whilst the rest of the family were hunting in the park. He seemed surprised; but she assured him, that Plato was her highest amusement. Possibly the lady had no objection to be interrupted in her studies: she was hunting for applause. But I have no wish to detract from the merit of these illustrious females. I will join issue with their panegyrists, I will do homage to their scho

larship and their talents; yet, in just vindication of our own times, I will venture to oppose to them a Carter or a Montague.

In Elizabeth's reign, the superior orders can hardly be said to have been illiterate, if a mere acquaintance with words will constitute the scholar; but they were miserably deficient in many points of useful knowledge. In those times, when the great body of the people are so greatly ignorant, but when science is beginning to shed her lustre on a few, the clergy are generally observed to catch the first illumination.

The clergy, however, in Eliza's golden days, were irradiated by a species of light, which generated obscurity. Distracted by the jargon of scholastic ambiguities, the priests of Elizabeth were skilled in such argumentation, as never produced conviction in themselves or others. Their sophistry was worse than ignorance. "For the soul to be without knowledge is not good," saith Solomon; but I would rather acquiesce in dreary emptiness, than fill my mind with logical barbarities. Despising their mother tongue, they were accustomed to address the people in Latin; though, however fashionable Latin sermons might have been, they must have seen the absurdity of preaching in a language which few of their audience understood. An English sermon indeed, stuffed with all the terms in theology, must have been almost as unintelligible.

For the information of the common people, the Bible was translated into English; but, as the common people were unable to read English, they could not, even now, approach the scriptures. There followed, therefore, a pretty general institution of reading seminaries.

The authors, who distinguished themselves in this reign, were men of great abilities; but they were rari nantes in gurgite vasto. At such a season, true genius and learning always shine transcendently, contrasted, as they must be, with the general darkness. I was going to add, that men of ingenuity are encouraged to exert their utmost powers, by the applauses of an age which cannot restrain its admiration; but the praises of the ignorant neither soothe nor stimulate. The history of Sir Walter Raleigh must place

him high in our esteem, when we consider the barba rous language with which he struggled. The ecclesiastical policy of Hooker, who was superior to the pedantry of the times, is worthy the present age, for its liberal and manly sentiment; and few have dared contend with a Verulam or a Shakspeare.

But letters were not generally cultivated. Shakspeare himself was illiterate.

In the reign of our other queen, the learned languages were taught with a view to real knowledge; though the acquisition of Greek or Latin, in former reigns, was little else than the acquisition of words.

And our own language was much enriched and polished. The productions, however, of writers in general, had no claim to elegance. Few were in possession of a correct taste. Clark was a deep theologian, but he was phlegmatic and dull; Shaftesbury dazzles with a false brilliancy of style; Berkeley puzzles by his subtleties. In the mean time Locke and Newton may be gazed at with wonder, though the reputation of the former seems to be gradually declining. In poetry, we see a cluster of pleasing writers; and Pope and Addison are mentioned as the most conspicuous. But Pope is not original, and Addison is no longer regarded as a poet, though he will ever be esteemed as a moralist. In his prose essays, indeed, a late ingenious critic hath discovered a want of precision. Grammatical accuracy, and exactness of expression, were reserved for a Lowth and a Harris.

But, to proceed in this manner would be endless. I proposed only a sketch of our best ages, in order to awaken the memories of those who might be willing to decide on the question, whether this present race hath any marks of degeneracy from the learning or the virtue of their forefathers?

If I am not mistaken, it already appears that the English nation hath made a gradual progress in literature, from the time of Elizabeth to that of Anne. Indeed, even our morose declaimers have allowed, that Queen Anne's was properly the Augustan age of this country. The streams of knowledge were deep and clear, and yet diffused.

At this moment literature is still more extensively

spread abroad; but, " 'tis grown shallow, it seems, in proportion to its diffusion."

There is a want of candour and of reflection in this trite remark. The analogy of the stream will no longer hold good. Is it not ridiculous to say, that, because we may have five hundred literary men amongst us, each individual is less learned, than if we had only half the number; or, that none, in such a number, are deep, because many are superficial? The contrary position would be much more rational. I should rather suppose, that the prize of learning would be contended for with stronger emulation, on account of the numerous competitors. At such a crisis as this, when there are so many men of ability, it must require very great talents to be distinguished above the rest. For a clearer illustration of this, let us look only to the present state of poetry.

More than a third part of those who have a classical education, can now write tolerable verse. Those of our Wickhamists are superior, in versification, to the best poets under Queen Anne, if we except Pope and Parnell.

Among the choir of poets, therefore, who charm us with their mingled melodies, that bard must possess peculiar sweetness, to attract our chief attention to himself. Among the multitude, who rise far above mediocrity, it must require exalted talents to be greatly distinguished.

The same observation may be applied to other species of literature. He, whose acquirements are now no more than common, would formerly have been regarded as a deep scholar, and would not have been overlooked in a crowd of literati. Perhaps we have, at this juncture, as many writers as there were readers in the age of Elizabeth; and, while the greater part of the community have minds improved and cultivated into elegance, our poetry is musical and rich, our history is luminous and elaborate, our philosophy is enlarged and liberal, and our theology is simple and pure; and it may, I think, be justly observed, "So distinguished an age hath never before existed, when he, who was educated under the Wartons at Winchester and at Oxford, might converse on poetry with

« 上一頁繼續 »