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feelings of a people. But the poetry of the Essay on Man,' however founded on an erroneous system, has the great preservative qualities that send down authorship to remote times. Its dignity, force, and grandeur fix it on the throne of didactic poetry. Pope's compliance with habits, then sanctioned by the first names of society, has humiliated his muse. But no man will desire to extinguish the good for the sake of the evil; and in the vast and various beauty, morality, and grace of Pope, we may wisely forget that he ever wrote an unworthy line.
It is not the purpose of this rapid sketch to more than allude to subsequent writers. Our own age has produced individuals, whose ability will be honoured to the latest period of the language. But the genuine praise of the Poet rests with posterity: and of those noble ornaments of our country, and it can possess none nobler, happily all survive, with the exception of Keats, Wolfe, and the mightier name of Byron.
Keats died at an early age, probably long before his powers were matured; but not till he had given promise of excellence in his peculiar style. His versification was chiefly formed on the model of Spencer; and few as his poems are, they exhibit a rich and delicate conception of the beauty of our language
Wolfe's fame chiefly rests on a fine poem to the memory of Sir John Moore.
Lord Byron's merits and defects, as a poet, have been largely attributed to the personal temperament that accounts for, and palliates, his personal career. The constitutional irritability which embittered his days, probably gave birth to the pride, sternness, and misanthrophy of his style, its love of the darker passions, and its sullen and angry views of human life. But the error was often nobly redeemed by the outbreak of a noble mind, by touches of the finest feeling; flashes of sunshine through the gloom; vistas of the rosiest beauty, through a mental wilderness that seemed to have been bared and blackened in the very wrath of
Like all men of rank, he had temptations to contend with, that severely try man. Fortune, flattering companionship, and foreign life, were his natural perils; and we can only lament that, when a few years more might have given him back to his country, with his fine faculties devoted to her service, and cheered by true views of human life, his career was closed. His moral system as a poet is founded on the double error, that great crimes imply great qualities; and, that virtue is a slavery. Both maxims palpably untrue; for crime is so much within human means, that the most stu
pendous crime may be committed by the most abject of human beings. And common experience shows, that to be superior to our habits and passions is the only true freedom; while the man of the wildest license is only so much the more fettered and bowed down. But on the grave of Byron there can be but one inscription—that living long enough for fame, he died too soon for his country. All hostility should be sacrificed on the spot where the remains of the great poet sleep; and no man worthy to tread the ground, will approach it but with homage for his genius, and sorrow that such genius should have been sent to darkness, in the hour when it might have begun to fulfil its course, aud, freed from the mists and obliquities of its rising, run its high career among the enlighteners of mankind.
The object of this volume is to give such a selection from our eminent writers, as may best exhibit their styles of thought and language. All their beauties it would be impossible to give. But the following pages contain many of those passages on which their authors would perhaps be most content to be tried at the
tribunal of popularity. There are other Authors from whom this volume would gladly have adduced extracts, but its size was previously restricted; and such is the opulence of English poetry, that to comprehend all, many volumes must have been formed, instead of one.
I feel the more privileged to speak favourably of the following Selection, from the limited part which I have borne in it; a considerable portion of the materials having been collected before the work came into my hands. The volume was commenced, and in a great measure carried on, by a literary friend, to whom the idea originally suggested itself as a personal amusement; and who persevered in it from the feeling, that the writings of the great poets of England cannot be put into the popular hand too often, in too pleasing a form, or under too accessible circumstances.