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PROSE WRITERS OF THE SEVENTH ERA.
was born in 1717. He sat in Parliament for twenty-six years, but never made any figure as a politician. Much of his time and his
snug income of £4000 a year went in the decoration of his villa at Twickenham, well known as Strawberry Hill. His tastes were eminently Gothic. Not content with realizing a Gothic mansion in the turrets and stained-glass windows of Strawberry Hill, he wrote a singular Gothic romance, called The Castle of Otranto. But his racy sparkling Letters and Memoirs of his own time, unrivalled in their way, give him his chief title to a place among the best English writers. Walpole, who became Earl of Orford in 1791, died six years later.
HUGH BLAIR, born at Edinburgh in 1718, is best remembered for his polished Sermons and his Rhetorical Lectures. Having filled in succession the pulpits of three Edinburgh churches, and held an honoured place in the best circles of that city, he died there in 1800.
GILBERT WHITE, a country clergyman, born in 1720, has made his Hampshire parish well known through all the land, especially to young readers, by his charming book, The Natural History of Selborne. This simple-minded earnest man has painted, in sweet and natural language, the busy life around his daily walks. White died in 1793. SAMUEL FOOTE, born in 1721 and educated at Oxford, shone
an actor and dramatic writer. In 1747 he commenced his theatrical career. The Minor and The Mayor of Garratt may be named among the twenty plays he gave to the English stage. Foote, who was unrivalled for a mimicry that did not spare the chief characters of his own day, died in 1777.
SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, a celebrated lawyer, born in London in 1723, published in 1765 a popular law-book, entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England, which is still reckoned the great standard work on that subject. He died in 1780, being then a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.
ADAM SMITH was born in 1723, at Kirkcaldy in Fifeshire. He was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, and afterwards a Commissioner of Customs. His great work, The Wealth of Nations, showing that labour is the only source of the opulence of nations,
PROSE WRITERS OF THE SEVENTH ERA,
laid the foundation of the important science of Political Economy, This book appeared in 1776. Adam Smith had previously published a metaphysical work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He died in 1790.
Junius, the nom de plume of an unknown writer, who wrote in The Public Advertiser a series of political Letters, commencing January 21st, 1769. For fierce invective, piercing, brilliant sarcasm, and appropriate imagery, these “Letters” remain unrivalled. Who Junius was is still a mystery, although Sir Philip Francis, born at Dublin in 1740, who was chief clerk in the War Office between 1763 and 1772, is the man in whose favour the evidence is strongest.
ADAM FERGUSON, who was born in 1724, held in succession two professorships in the University of Edinburgh. He wrote, among other works, The History of Civil Society, and The History of the Roman Republic. He died in 1816.
JAMES BOSWELL, born in 1740, was the son of a Scottish judge. Attaching himself to Dr. Johnson, this conceited and foolish man took notes of the great man's conversation, which he afterwards embodied in his famous Life of Johnson. No better biography has ever been written. Boswell died in 1795.
WILLIAM PALEY, born at Peterborough in 1743, having received his higher education at Christ's College, Cambridge, entered the Church of England, in which he rose to be Archdeacon of Carlisle. His chief works were Elements of Moral and Political Philosophy, (1785); Horce Paulinæ, (1790); View of the Evidences of Christianity, (1794); and Natural Theology, (1802). His style is simple and homely, but very clear. Paley died in 1805.
POETRY AND PROSE.
EIGHTH ERA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
FROM THE DEATH OF JOHNSON IN 1784 A.D. TO THE DEATH OF
SCOTT IN 1832 A.D.
SOME NOTES ON POETRY AND CRITICISM.
Poetry and prose.
Use of figures.
WHEN we turn from Milton's “Paradise Lost” to Macaulay's
History of England,” we perceive at once a difference in the language of the two. The one we call poetry; the other, prose. And when we recollect that we do not talk, at least most of us do not talk, to our friends in the same style as that in which Milton describes the Council of Infernal Peers, or Macaulay the Relief of Londonderry, we perceive that language assumes a third, its lowest form, in the conversation that prevails around our dinner tables, or upon our pleasant country walks. Of the three shapes that language takes — poetry, literary prose, colloquial prose-poetry is, undoubtedly, the chief.
Taking English poetry in the common sense of the word, as a peculiar form of language, we find that it differs from prose mainly in having a regular succession of accented syllables. In short, it possesses metre as its chief characteristic feature. Every line is divided into so many feet, composed of short and long syllables arranged according to certain laws of prosody. With a regular foot-fall the voice steps or marches along the line, keeping
time like the soldier on drill, or the musician among his bars. In many languages syllables have a quantity, which makes them intrinsically long or short; but in English poetry that syllable alone is long on which an accent falls. Poets, therefore, in the use of that license which they have, or take, sometimes shift an accent, to suit their measure. The inversion of the order of words, within certain limits, is a necessary consequence of throwing language into a metrical form. Poetry, then, differs from prose, in the first place, in having metre; and, as a consequence of this, in adopting an unusual arrangement of words and phrases. The object of inverting the order, however, is often not so much to suit the metre as to give additional emphasis or rhetorical effect.
But we find more than this in poetry, else poetry and verse are one and the same thing. That they are not, we know to our cost, when we are compelled to wade through some of those productions which throng our booksellers' windows at times,—without, all mauve and gleaming gold—within, all barrenness and froth.
We must have, in addition to the metrical form, the use of uncommon words and turns of expression, to lift- the language above the level of written prose. Shakspere, instead of saying, as he would, no doubt, have done in telling a ghost-story to his wife, “The clock then striking one,” puts into the mouth of the sentinel, Bernardo, “ The bell then beating one.” When Thomson describes the spring-ploughing, the ox becomes a steer, the plough is the shining share, and the upturned earth appears in his verse as the glebe. The use of periphrase (the round-about mode of expression) here comes largely to the poet's aid. Birds are children of the sky, songsters of the grove, tuneful choirs, &c. ; ice is a crystal floor, or a sheet of polished steel. These are almost all figurative forms, and it is partly by the abundant use of figures that the higher level of speech is gained.
Yet there is something beyond all this. Smoothly the metre may flow on, without a hitch or hinderance---brilliantly the tropes may cluster in each shining line-lofty as a page of the “ Rambler” may be the tone of the faultless speech—yet, for all, the composition may fall short of true poetry. There is a something,
THE ESSENCE OF POETRY.
an essence, which most of us can feel when present, or at once detect the lack of, which is yet entirely indefinable. We are as little able to define the essence of poetry as to describe the fragrance of a rose, or the nature of that mysterious fuid which shows itself in a flash of lightning and draws the needle towards the north. Let us be content to enjoy the sweet effect of that most subtile cause, which has baffled the acutest thinkers in their attempts to give it “ a local habitation and a name.” Lying, as it does, in the thought, we can no more express it in words than we can assign a shape or colour to the human soul. It is the electric fluid of the soul, streaming always through the world of thought and speech and writing, flashing out occasionally into grand thunder-bursts of song and the lightning play of true genius. Some minds are highly charged with the brilliant essence -positive minds, an electrician would call them: others are negative to the last degree. Some minds, as good conductors, can easily receive and give out the flow of thought; very many have no conducting power at all, being incapable alike of enjoying the pleasures of poetry, or of communicating those pleasures to other minds.
All poetry, so far as its form goes, may be classed, for purposes of convenience, under three heads-Epic, Dramatic, and Lyric. Blair defines the Epic poem to be “a recital of some illustrious enterprise in a poetic form.” To this it may be added that the epic poem is generally composed in the highest form of verse that the prosody of the language possesses—in a word, in the heroic measure of the tongue. Milton's " Paradise Lost” is undoubtedly the great epic of the English tongue, founded upon one of the loftiest themes that could employ any pen, and written in that stately blank-verse, that noble iambic pentameter, which holds the place in our tongue that is held in Greek and Latin by the hexameter of the “Iliad” and the “ Æneid.”
Dramatic poetry assumes the form that we commonly call a play, breaking into the two branches,—Tragedy and Comedy. We can easily single out a great example here among our English authors; for one name—that of Shakspere-stands far above the crowd of