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and Northern Europe, to a smaller-skulled, stronger-willed race than the bulk of the people. The large-brained race, that had come so much to the surface after the Reformation by means of the drama and the struggle with the Armada, was about to come to its own again in English literature and English national life. Thanks to the industrial movement, and the torrent of revolutionism that flowed through Europe, it was to mould the imagination of England into truly national forms. Even the aristocracy, which was however recruited from its wealth, was to abandon its old hunting and military pursuits, and to write and exercise the arts for it. Hence it was that poetry went back for its models and inspiration to the older English literature.
Section 17. I. But it was certain to make false starts, to attempt forms of the old that would not suit the new. One of these was Spenserianism. Cowley, Dryden, and Pope professed to have studied Spenser as their master; but we see little or no trace of him in their poetry. It is not till Shenstone's Schoolmistress (1742) that we get clear marks of imitation of the great Elizabethan poet. And these marks are combined with such a sympathetic insight into nature, and a Dutch minuteness of study of lowly human nature, as anticipate the coming age. Shenstone (1714-1763) was a true student of the older literature, as is shown by his exquisite Pastoral Ballad (1743), which has caught the true tone of the pastoral poetry of Robert Greene, George Wither, and William Browne, even though it is in a new, tripping, anapaestic measure, and by his ballad of Jemmy Dawson (1747), which has something of the ballad simplicity, although on a contemporary topic. His poetry, taken as a whole, is, like that of Collins and Gray, a singular medley of the Queen Anne age and the age of Cowper and Burns, of the artificial and the natural.
On every page stand side by side the influence of Pope and that of the new audience. His Songs and Ballads are all pastoral artificialities, like those of Gay and Prior, except Jemmy Dawson, which was written towards the close of his life, when he was assisting Percy to gather his Reliques of Ancient Poetry. His Odes prepared the way for Gray, as for example in Rural Elegance written in 1750, and yet are tinged with pseudo-classicism. His Moral Pieces are half
Popian, half like Thomson ; The Judgment of Hercules (1741) is in heroic couplet, and, though touched with the love of nature that runs through The Seasons, has more of the didacticism of the Essay on Man ; Economy, The Ruined Abbey, and Love and Honour are in blank verse ; but the balance of the rhymed couplet guides the ear that wrote them ; the Progress of Taste, the longest and the most interesting, is in the octosyllabic couplet of Swift; it is autobiographic, describing the development of the poet's mind, and, his usual topic, the narrowness of his fortunes; it is full of Naiads and Dryads, Damon and Delia, the Muses and Apollo, and all the other classical conventionalities of the Queen Anne poetry; but there is a grace, an appreciation of natural beauty, and a simple feeling that anticipate the new time. His Levities, or Pieces of Humour, are mere imitations of the society verses of Prior and Gay. It is his Elegies that, in spite of their false echoes of Virgil's Eclogues, are fullest of his long intercourse with nature, whilst he was transforming his father's farm, The Leasowes, into a garden ; they are deeply tinged with the melancholy of a man, who, whilst loving the country, still sighed for the city, who felt that, ambitious though he was, he was to live and die in his birthplace; all through them he repines at the limits of fortune, and yet girds at the great and wealthy, and praises simplicity; he mourns over the sorrows of life, (" how soon the pleasing novelty of life is o'er "), the estrangement of a friend, untimely death, posthumous reputation, and yet, content with what he is, he will not go abroad. They are in the same metre as Gray's famous Elegy, and often anticipate its mournful sentiments and melody of lamentation. In the eleventh elegy, for example, he bewails the evanescence of youth's dream ;
“Ah me, my friend ! it will not, will not last !
In the thirteenth, he tries to reconcile an estranged friend and asks whether, if they met abroad, they would not clasp each other's hand ;
“Life is that stranger land, that alien clime ;
Shall kindred souls forego their social claim ?
Sad as thou follow'st my untimely bier ;
To let suspicion intermix a fear'”. There is a personal note in them, and a pastoral note as well, that do not belong to Gray's poem; and unlike it, they often fall into the prosaic, if not into bathos, as when he devotes the eighteenth to a "lamentation over the state of the woollen manufactory”, and meditates in the twentyfirst on the character of the ancient Britons, “written at the time of a rumoured tax upon luxury” (1746). In spite of their blemishes, they were the forerunners of Gray's Elegy, and gave the sentiment, theme, metre, and often the imagery and melody to that masterpiece. Johnson "damns them with faint praise"; "wanting combination, they want variety"; "the lines are sometimes smooth and easy”; “his diction is often harsh, improper, and affected"; "his words ill-coined or ill-chosen”); and most critics since have echoed his opinion. Burns is nearer the mark when he says, “His divine elegies do honour to our language, our nation, and our species”; the Scotch poet shows in his laments and songs traces of close study of them. But it is The Schoolmistress that moulded The Cottar's Saturday Night, and has kept his name alive. Gilbert West's On the Abuse of Travelling (1739), a poem much praised by Gray, had preceded it in date of publication as a Spenserian poem in Spenserian stanza. But Shenstone is said to have written his poem at Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1736. The combination of quaint humour and sympathetic observation, of archaic expression and modern realism of art, of sounding heroic verse and homely theme, made it a favourite all through the following century ; only recently has it fallen into neglect. It takes the would-be elevated standpoint of a student at college, and, softening the sublimity by a touch of humour and of loving reminiscence, paints the
portrait of the dame under whose birch the poet in his boyhood had doubtless often suffered; there is indeed too much of the birch in the poem as there probably was in the school, although humour and pathos interchange upon the subject. The picture of the "unruly brats " in school and out of it is masterly andsympathetic ;
“They grieven sore in piteous durance pent,
For unkempt hair, or unconn'd talk, are sorely shent.” The Spenserisms, which he deliberately adopts, are, like all the eighteenth century reproductions of the past, loose and inaccurate. So his imitation of Spenser's "simplicity" and
” "peculiar tenderness of sentiment" is marred by the selfconscious spirit that belongs to all the poetic art of the Queen Anne period; he adopts the mock-heroic and thus departs completely from the atmosphere of the Elizabethan poet,
2. The Castle of Indolence (1746) came four years after The Schoolmistress, and, though less archaic, is nearer to Spenser; it is allegorical, it narrates the allegory as adventures of knights, it introduces fiends and wonderful castles and dungeons, and its diction does not rise so far above its theme. Yet there is the taint of the Queen Anne mock-heroic in it. Thomson (1700-1748) is conscious that, in painting the horrors and downfall of Indolence the magician and the victory of Sir Industry and his bard in the British isles, he will arouse the laughter of the city wits, who all know his indolent habits; and so he tries to disarm their jests by introducing burlesque portraits of himself and some of his friends as inmates of the castle, "a bard more fat than bard beseems ”, “who loathéd much to write, ne caréd to repent", and "
a little round, fat, oily man of God”, with "a roguish twinkle in his eye”; his pictures of the scenes upon “this ant-hill earth”, viewed in the "huge, crystal, magic globe ” of vanity, of “the muckworm" at his desk' with his "scoundrel maxims ", the "gaudy spendthrift heir”—
” “the silly tenant of the summer air”, the authors “scrawling and scribbling" "to be praised” “when they can hear no
more", the politicians “shrugging the important shoulder”, when,
crown'd their cares, In comes another set and kicketh them downstairs ”, the most Christian kings” “ with honourable ruffians in their hire", "the languid beauties ", ("their only labour was
“ to kill the time and labour dire it is and weary woe”), Lethargy, Hydropsy, (“still he drank and yet he still was dry"), Hypochondria, “mother of spleen", Beggary, and Scorn, have all a touch of satire, if not caricature, in them. In his prose Advertisement he shows that he adopts archaisms to give a quaint, and perhaps absurd, air to the poem; “ The obsolete words and a simplicity of diction in some of the lines border on the ridiculous". Yet it is so much influenced by the new currents of poetic inspiration that it is, at least in its first book, the best and most modern of Thomson's work. His Seasons come close to it in attractiveness. But his long blank verse epic called Liberty, (1735-1737), an historical account of the growth of freedom, his Britannia (1727), his tragedies, Sophonisba (1727), Agamemnon (1738), Edward and Eleonora (1739), Tancred and Gismunda (1745), Coriolanus (posthumous), all in blank verse, and his odes and songs, are frigid and uninteresting compared with this. His best effort is his last and his most imitative. Shenstone and he caught the first inspiration of the new study of the older past, and, like most pioneers, took the wrong track. Few poets followed them in their choice of a model; the stanza had to be modified and made lighter, and the archaisms had to be abandoned, before it could be moulded to the serious passion of the nineteenth century by Burns and Shelley and Keats, or to satire by Byron.
3. The only followers of these Spenserians in the eighteenth century were two Scotchmen, William Julius Mickle (1734-1788), the translator of the Lusiad (1775), and best known as the writer of the ballad "Cumnor Hall”,
“There's nae luck about the house”, and James Beattie (1735-1803), the logic professor in Aberdeen, and the author of a piece long well-known to school-books and recitation-books—The Hermit. Mickle's Spenserian attempt was first published under the name of The
and the song