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Sketch of the Progress and State of Polite Literature.

whole universe of created things, and merely sketched what they beheld. Civilization, with all its train of changes and improvements, is unjustly contrasted with those ages; yet it is to be observed, that while the ancients sometimes oflend by expressions of appetence and other breaches of decorum, the moderns not unfrequently fall into imbecility, and a forgetfulness of those very rules by which they judge their predecessors.

This dream, however, of greatness and splendor, was broken by the invasions of the barbarous nations about the fifth century; the cry of desolation spread over the world, and states and letters sunk in one universal ruin; there was no longer a home for the poet-there was no longer a shelter for the philosopher, and it seemed as if the general creation rose at one moment to destroy the flowers and the trophies that lay enshrined on its bosom. The empire of Learning was laid desolate, and the spirit of its children died with it; those few who escaped destruction, fled to Constantinople. The darkening atmosphere was at length wrapt in total gloom--the decree of tyranny threw its chain over the actions of Man, and his mind became fettered and enslayed he no longer looked out in the freedom of intellectual vision, for the mist was thickening about him-he felt a cold weight press upon his heart, and, after a vain and ineffectual struggle, he yielded to his destiny. A long period of silence and obscurity followed, in which human energy was weakened; and the only spark of learning that was permitted to remain, was fanned into a flame to illuminate the annals of monkish superstition, and the records of sainted piety :—this was the night of storms through which Genius slept, rocked by the elements that battled around her; and for nine hundred years, the pages of history are filled with the exultations of triumphant ignorance.

About the fourteenth century Dante attempted the revival of the literature of Italy, The scarcity of MSS. and the difficulty of obtaining those that did exist, were almost insurmountable obstacles, and his exertions to conquer them, and overcome the vitiated taste of the age, were but partially effective, till he was followed up by Petrarch and Boccaccio. These are the earliest names amongst the restorers of Learning, which became again forgotten as they declined, until the middle of the fifteenth century, when it was raised from its degradation through the patronage and example of the De Medici family, while the art of Printing, which was just then discovered in Ger

Sketch of the Progress and State of Polite Literature.

many, increased the facilities their munificence afforded. At the latter end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century, Chaucer and Gower appeared in England ; for two hundred years before whose time the Norman metrical legends and romances, which came into Britain with the first William, were the only literary productions that met the public eye. To their efforts, however, towards promoting or establishing Polite Literature, but little merit is due; Chaucer had an excursive genius that might have met better success, had he been more zealous to cultivate it; and Gower wanted the taste and skill such an attempt required. A blank similar to that which followed their cotemporaries in Italy succeeded their names, and English History presents a dreary waste for a period of nearly a century and a half; the minds of the people were engrossed by the dissentions of the clergy, and their spirit was broken by the bitter persecutions of power; civil war raged over the land, and taste and Literature only appeared-like a light that gleams amidst a ruin, and vanishes. The commotions, however, that called forth the general attention at last subsided, and Spencer arose in the reign of Elizabeth. The amazing fertility of his fancythe romantic confusion of his fables—the strength and variety of his imagery-and the playfulness of his wild imagination were too attractive not to find admirers, and his powerful talent seemed to have redeemed the literature of England. In this reign the great struggle with ignorance and prejudice commenced, and the stage appeared to be the vehicle through which learning was to be revived. It was, indeed, the age of the Drama ;-to Spencer immediately succeeded Shakespeare, who was followed by Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Middleton, Shirley, &c. and a number of inferior Dramatists, who were led on by their success. About this period Dr. Donne flourished, who appears to have been the founder of the School of Metaphysical Poetry, afterwards adopted by Cowley and others. brilliant epoch in the annals of England; the triumphs of her armies abroad inspired her with enthusiasm at home, and she became the nurse of genius and talent. On the Continent of Europe she had no rivals, and while other nations were declining, her power daily increased. In this season of Poetry and fiction, Philosophy was not neglected; at this æra lived Hooker and the illustrious Bacon, who were shortly followed by Coke and Spelman. These but retired to give place to characters as splendid--Milton in Poetry, Clarendon

It was a

Sketch of the Progress and State of Polite Literature.

in History, and Tillotson and Locke in Theology and Philosophy; but the great improvements in the tongue were only effected by Otway, Waller and Dryden. This improvement, which commenced after the Interregnum, about the time of Charles the second, was partly owing to the circumstance of the exile of the Royal Family, whose adherents were dispersed over the Continent; in France they had attained a grace and facility which gave a charm to their compositions, and with which the English were totally unacquainted; it did not, however, escape cultivation, and at the Restoration it was carried into Britain with whatever embellishments the genius of the natives enabled them to add. The court of King Charles was licentious, and while wit of a light and agreeable character was cherished, they were indifferent to the useful and the important-language became polished, but the dignity of literature was reserved to be accomplished at a future day.

From this date, taste gradually improved, as the English power advanced. We follow its progress to the reign of Queen Anne, with that pleasure one feels in tracing the effulgence that precedes the dawn-light. In that memorable reign, the standard of literature was fixed, and the glory that had been rising for such a length of time before, now burst in splendor on the world. The nation's fame was drawn from the greatest statesmen and soldiers in Europe-Bolingbroke in the cabinet, and Marlborough in the field ; to these names might be added others, over which no eulogium can be breathed the first and the highest in the land--they carry with them all that is sublime; and the recollections of Ad. dison, Congrevé, Steele, Swift, Pope, Gay, Prior, &c. carry to the mind the most exalted sentiments of mental supremacy. Did our design permit us to run into detail, wo would here indulge the privilege, and dwell with lengthened and increasing rapture over the Augustan age of England; but, if we ran into amplification on a subject of so much interest, we would exceed our intentions; passing it with this brief allusion, we continue to notice the progress of Polite Learning, which imperceptibly decayed from the time of Queen Anne until about the accession of George II. as if the sources of Genius were exhausted, and the prolific bosom of Nature fallen into imbecility. The pause, however, was of short duration; new talents sprung up, and a few great men adorned the latter part of the eighteenth centuryVOL. I.NO. I.

B

Sketch of the Progress and State of Polite Literature.

Hume, Blackstone, Samuel Johnson-our own Goldsmith was with the Poets, and the same period gave birth to Young, Collins, Thomson, and Southern. A deep silence follows names so respected, for we believe they have not been excelled by their successors.

Since that time we have, indeed, beheld the efforts of some distinguished characters : in the senate we had Burke, Sheridan, Pitt and Fox-they are no more.--In Ilistory and Philosophy, we had Smith, Robertson and Gibbon-but the Drama has had no Southern; and who has reached the simplicity of Goldsmith ?

It would not become us to enter into the merits of the writers of the present day,—there are already so many opinions before the public, from men of erudition and ex. perience. We will venture, however, speaking generally, to observe, that Theology and Mathematics have attained a distinguished reputation ; but we would be disposed to think that Poetry and History have declined. We are not unaware of what we hazard in this assertion, but we would add, that although the gloomy and awful magnificence of Byron, the harmonious versification of Campbell, and the beautiful variety of Moore, have been, in the retrospect, rarely equalled, they are but the solitary props of our poetrydeprive us of them, and we are destitute. There are others, we admit, who have their claims, but they are of an inferior order, and will scarcely add many laurels to the age they live in. We refrain from enumeration, more particularly as we will be called on in our critical capacity for distinct and candid delineations, which it will then become our duty to deliver.

In pursuing the course of learning since its revival, we have confined our observations to England, as we conceived that she included all the interest our readers might attach to such an enquiry. The progress of our own country in refinement, is better calculated to excite our regard than the catalogue of names and events of foreign nations; and in mentioning Spencer and Shakespeare, we feared it might have carried us out of our bounds to speak of Ariosto and Tasso. In conclusion, it has been generally considered that the_Augustan age in Italy was the pontificate of Leo X. in France, the reign of Louis XIV.; but our own has been a matter of indecision-Johnson and Swift assigning it to the time of Elizabeth, and others to that of Anne. limits oblige us to be brief; but, should opportunity allow,

Our

Letter from Agatha Amiable.

we will examine, at a future period, the separate merits of each, to elucidate the grounds on which those writers have ventured to differ from the general opinion.

To the Editor of the Dublin Inquisitor, SIR,

I belong to a society of ladies, who have erected themselves into a club, which, from a feeling of equality and unanimity, they call “ THE EQUANIMITIES. We have been formed since last December; and many of us found much comfort during the remainder of the Winter, in convening our meetings three times a week, for the wise purposes of talking over domestic misfortunes, and endeavoring to reform our neighbors. Another consolation arose, Mr. Editor, from the condolence offered by the rest of the company to those ladies who were married unhappily, or overwhelmed with unforeseen calamities; thus, we filled up our time in a discreet and rational manner, to our general satisfaction and edification. It would be desirable if many such institutions could be effected in private life, not only for the gratification of those concerned, but the improvement of their friends. But, Mr. Editor, like many of my sex, I am talking of any thing but what I intended. I sat down for the purpose of writing to you eoncerning your new Magazine, and I am wandering into a description of a Ladies' Ciub.

You are a delightful man; and, without asking to see you, I am positively in love with you. I read your “ Prospectus' last week at Lady ***'s, in Stephen's-green, and I liked it so well, that I persuaded her ladyship and the three Misses * * * to become subscribers. I like it all vastly, because you appear to be a literary man; and I intend to send you a great number of questions in a month or two for explanation. But I have a few hints to suggest, and I erpect, as a man of gallantry, you will adopt them. I like your plan very well, but you have been guilty of an unpardonable omission-you have not said one word about the ladies! This was a shocking oversight, and was really sufficient to ruin the whole undertaking. I am positive, if I had not interfered with our club, you would not have sold five numbers these three months. It is as necessary to talk of the ladies as to talk to them; and you should consider, that

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