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of the preceding age: they have the same fulness of sentiment, clothed in diction equally grand and ample.
The degeneracy which corrupted English poetry in the metaphysical poets, produced about the same time in our prose what may be denominated the quaint style. As quaintness in ornamental devices means a singularity or oddness of form, a combination of unusual or discrepant appearances, whose intention is to strike the eye by novel and peculiar outlines, without any regard to beauty of shape or symmetry of parts, so the writers of the quaint manner sought for their effect, by an unexpected association of words, and an unnatural union of images. Their aim was not to delight but to astonish ; and they accomplished it by a witty but distorted expression, by strange conceits and fantastic allusions. Many of them were men of great learning and brilliant fancy, and in their works there is an occasional felicity of diction, or beauty of imagery; but upon the whole they are read with little pleasure, since they convey the impression of a laborious and painful effort towards a frigid and unprofitable result. We have a favourable example of this style in Fuller, whose manner however is redeemed by the genuine simplicity of his character, and the intrinsic excellence of his sentiments. Sir Thomas Brown also is corrupted by the same infection, though he commands admiration by the ingenious application of extensive learning ; by a philosophic liberality, a rich imagination, and a style superior to his time in melody and correctnesss.
The next striking advance in English literature appears in the great divines who lived at the restoration. If ever men deserved the appellation of universal scholars, these may claim it. Many of them combined an unusual proficiency in the eastern and scriptural languages, an accurate knowledge of the fathers, and the entire compass of scholastic and theological investigation, with the depths of wisdom included in the civil and canon law, and whatever modern literature or the metaphysical and exact sciences could impart of instruction or ability. When these acquisitions of laborious study were aided, as in some instances they were, by a vigorous genius, an active invention, a fluent eloquence, the results were proportionate, and fill the mind with their magnitude and excellence. Such instances were Taylor, Barrow, and South, who enriched and adorned the same age by their intellectual achievements. Taylor is distinguished by a delicate sweetness, a pathetic tenderness of sentiment and manner ; there is a poetical luxuriance chastised by a dignified solemnity, as the husbandman, in his anxiety for fruit, restrains the exuberant foliage of the vine; there is splendour and festivity, but they belong to the service of the most high ; gladness, but attempered by sanctity, like that which flows from the divine mind, and in his own exquisite language, “is so great, that it runs over and wets the fair brows, and beauteous locks of cherubim and seraphim.” There is a profusion in all the qualities of his genius, which he is continually curbing with a holy severity: and his learning was so extensive and familiar, that the sentiments and language of antiquity seem naturally to rise in his mind, and spontaneously to clothe and decorate his page. In the genius of Taylor imagination is prevalent ; but in South we discern the predominance of intellect. He possesses the full power of reaching the understanding. There is a clearness, a brilliancy in his reasoning, which, like the sword of Michael, cuts through all armour of defence, and lays his opponent bare to the stroke. His language is as transparent as his argument; he descends to the mind with the splendour and rapidity, . the force and subtlety of the heavenly fire. His imagination is rich, and his learning profound, but they are only used to give an edge to his weapon, or to add wings to the bolt which he darts. He is a natural orator ; formed to wield the force of keen argument, sarcastic indignation, and expostulatory vehemence; to unravel the mazes of sophistry, to expose the delusions of error, to shake the foundations of falsehood, and alarm the confidence of vice. Barrow proceeds with an equable and majestic pace; like a serene but mighty river, which moves forward with smooth tranquillity but irresistible force, and spreads wealth and gladness through the whole of its vicinity. He exhibits the important principles of moral and religious truth in all their comprehensive relations ; places them in an endless variety of lights ; confirms them by the strongest arguments, expands them by frequent illustration, and enforces them by energetic persuasion. He is equally copious in his sentiments and expression ; he fathoms every subject which he attempts, and seems to exhaust the very language in discussing it. Each of these great men possessed abundantly the qualities of true eloquence ; but if regarded distinctly according to the
leading commendations of an orator, it is the property of Taylor to delight, of South to convince, and of Barrow to instruct. Barrow informs the understanding with principles, South overpowers the reason and pierces the conscience, Taylor elevates the imagination, conciliates the affections, and softens the heart. They resemble the great lights of the Elizabethan age in depth of learning, fulness of thought, and magnificence of language, but exceed them in elegance and Auency. To have been the greatest orators whom the world has seen, they needed nothing but the retrenchment of some excrescences, and an increase of facility : nor is it too much to affirm that the student who is not familiar with their works, is still unacquainted with the powers of the English language, and its ample stores of splendid imagery and forcible argument.
With all, however, that our language had yet attained, there was still something deficient. It was prolific in words, stately in its structure, and adequate to the extremes of grand and soft expression ; but it wanted facility, a nearer approach to the language of conversation, and the comprehension of the vulgar ; a style adapted not only to the expression of truth, but to its diffusion; to become the medium of universal instruction as well as of learned delight. It was rich in mines of solid bullion, but required the stamping hand which should give it currency, convert it to the purposes of elegant intercourse, and bring it into familiar use. This last perfection it was destined to receive from Dryden, to whom our poetical language is indebted for its grace and harmony. It is somewhat remarkable in the history of our literature, that many of our first poets have equally excelled in prose ; perhaps more remarkable that the same individual should have so greatly contributed to the finished expansion of each mode of writing. The style which he created, combines properties apparently incompatible. It is nervous and energetic, yet light and graceful ; simple in its formation, yet various in its melody; never fatigues the ear with intricate periods, nor disgusts it by monotonous repetitions. It applies to the exigences of serious business, yet is suitable to the occasions of familiar life; it seems the appropriate language of the high and refined, yet is peculiarly intelligible to the ignorant and rude. It lends an elegance and novelty to mean and hackneyed subjects, whilst it brings abstruse and difficult investigations within the comprehension of the unlearned and superficial.
To estimate correctly the merit of Dryden, we must not merely examine his numerous and valuable productions, but remark his general power in the art of composition, and his decisive influence on our language ; and it will then appear that none can claim a higher rank in the annals of literature, or is more justly entitled to the gratitude of Englishmen. Perhaps no individual ever surpassed him in capability of diction, in wielding and managing the power of words, or more contributed to the force and fluency of the English tongue. It is surely then no mean superiority to excel in that gift, which distinguishes mankind from the lower animals, by which reason is augmented and