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ral warfare of indignation and ridicule a The following is his account of gainst iurpitude and absurdity. Those writ- Chaucer : ers were Langlande and Chaucer, both of who have been claimed, as primitive re
“ The simple old narrative romance had
become too familiar in Chaucer's time, to formers, by some of the zealous historians
invite him to its beaten track. The poverty of the Reformation. At the idea of a full
of his native tongue obliged him to look separation from the Catholic Church, both
round for subsidiary materials to his fancy, Langlande and Chaucer would possibly have been struck with horror. The doctrine of modern foreign source that should not ap
both in the Latin language, and in some predestination, which was a leading tenet of
pear to be trite and exhausted. The first Protestants, is not, I believe, avow.
was, unfortunately, little conversant with ed in any of Chaucer's writings, and it is
the best Latin classics. Ovid, Claudian, expressly reprobated by Langlande. It is,
and Statius, were the chief favourites in nevertheless, very likely that their works
poetry, and Boethius in prose. The alle. contributed to promote the Reformation. Langlande, especially, who was an earlier gorical style of the last of those authors,
seems to have given an early bias to the satirist and painter of manners than Chaucer, is undaunted in reprobating the corruptions first, and long continued predilection was
taste of Chaucer. In modern poetry, his of the papal governinent. He prays to
attracted by the new and allegorical style of Heaven to amend the Pope, whom he
romance, which had sprung up in France charges with pillaging the Church, interfering unjustly with the King, and causing Lorris. We tind him, accordingly, during
in the thirteenth century, under William de the blood of Christians to be wantonly shed; and it is a curious circunstance, that he pre
a great part of his poetical career, engaged dicts the existence of a king, who, in his among the dreams, emblems, flower-wor
shippings, and amatory parliaments, of' that vengeance, would destroy the monasteries.”
Langlande, the supposed author of visionary school. This, we may say, was a the Visions of Piers Plowman, is thus exercise for so strong a genius ; and it must
gymnasium of rather too light and playful characterized :
be owned, that his allegorical poetry is often “ The verse of Langlande is alliterative, puerile and prolix. Yet, even in this walk without rhyme, and of triple time. In mo of fiction, we never entirely lose sight of dern pronunciation it divides the ear be. that peculiar grace and gaiety which distween an anapæstic and dactylic cadence; tinguish the Muse of Chaucer; and no one though some of the verses are reducible to who remembers his productions of the House no perceptible metre. Mr Mitford, in his of Fame, and the Flower and the Leaf, will Harmony of Languages, thinks that the regret that he sported for a season in the more we accommodate the reading of it to an field of allegory. Even his pieces of this cient pronunciation, the more generally we description, the most fantastic in design, and shall find it run in an anapæstic measure. tedious in execution, are generally inter. His style, even making allowance for its an spersed with fresh and joyous descriptions of tiquity, has a vulgar air, and seems to indic external nature. cate a mind that would have been coarse, “ In this new species of romance, we per. though strong, in any state of society. But, ceive the youthful Muse of the language, in on the other hand, his work, with all its love with mystical meanings and forms of tiresome homilies, illustrations from school fancy, more remote, if possible, from reality, divinity, and uncouth phraseology, has some than those of the chivalrous fable itself; and interesting features of originality. He em. we could sometimes wish her back from her ploys no borrowed materials; he is the emblematic castles, to the more solid ones earliest of our writers in whom there is a of the elder fable; but still she moves in tone of moral reflection, and his sentiments pursuit of those shadows with an impulse of are those of bold and solid integrity. The novelty, and an exuberance of spirit, that zeal of truth was in him ; and his vehement is not wholly without its attraction and demanner sometimes rises to eloquence, when light. he denounces hypocrisy and imposture. The Chaucer was afterwards happily drawn mind is struck with his rude voice, proclaim. to the more natural style of Boccaccio, and ing independent and popular sentiments, from him he derived the hint of a subject, from an age of slavery and superstition, and in which, besides his own original portraits thundering a prediction in the ear of papacy, of contemporary life, he could introduce which was doomed to be literally fulfilled at stories of every description, from the most the distance of nearly two hundred years. heroic to the most familiar.” His allusions to contemporary life afford Surely the reader misses something some amusing glimpses of its manners. here. He expects that when the first There is room to suspect that Spenser was mighty name of English Poetry is ther from accident or design, has the ap- dwell with some plenitude of descripa acquainted with his works ; and Milton, ei- brought before him, the author will pearance of having had one of Langlande's passages in his mind, when he wrote the tion on the great faculties and powers sublime description of the lazar-house, in of a spirit, which, if the age in which Pa adise Lost."
it lived among men had left of itself
no other memorial than the works that sures of its literary attainments ; but when spirit produced, could still have a it came to England, with a very few ex. vouched to us the existence, at that ceptions, it could not be said, for the pur. day, in its young native vigour, of the pose of diffusing native literature, to be a whole character of the English mind. hostile to the national genius, may certainly
A circumstance, additionally The existence of the works of Chaucer be traced in the executions for religion, changes, it may be said, to our appre- which sprung up as a horrible novelty in hension, the whole character of the age our country in the fifteenth century. The -raising up to our mind an image of clergy were determined to indemnify them. thoughtful intellectual cultivation, and selves for the exposures which they had met of natural and tender happiness in the with in the preceding age, and the unhalsimplicity of life, which would other. lowed compromise which Henry IV. made wise be wanting in the dark stern pic- cession, armed them, in an evil hour, with
with them, in return for supporting his acture of warlike greatness and power, the torch of persecution. In one point of As a philosophical critic, Mr Campbell improvement, namely, in the boldness of ought, we think, to have said some- religious inquiry, the North of Europe thing more adequate to just expect- might already boast of being superior to the ation, respecting an event which was South, with all its learning, wealth, and a phenomenon in itself, and the cause elegant acquirements. The Scriptures had of subsequent phenomena.
been opened by Wickliff, but they were
again to become “ a fountain sealed, and a The second part of the Essay opens spring shut up.". Amidst the progress of with the following philosophical ac letters in Italy, the fine arts threw enchantcount of the decay of poetry in the ment around superstition ; and the warm 15th century:
imagination of the South was congenial with “ Warton, with great beauty and justice, English mind had already siewn, even
the nature of catholic institutions. But the compares the appearance of Chaucer in our language, to a premature day in an
amidst its comparative barbarism, a stern English spring ; after which the gloom of independent spirit of religion; and from winter returns, and the buds and blossoms, this single proud and elevated point of its which have been called forth by a transient character, it was now to be crushed and sunshine, are nipped by frosts and scattered beaten down. Sometimes a baffled struggle by storms. The cause of the relapse of our
against oppression is more depressing to the
human faculties than continued submission. poetry, after Chaucer, seem but too apparent in the annals of English history, which,
“ Our natural hatred of tyranny, and we during five reigns of the fifteenth century, may safely add, the general test of history continue to display but a tissue of conspi
and experience, woula dispose us to believe racies, proscriptions, and bloodshed. Infe. religious persecution to be necessarily and rior even to France in literary progress, essentially baneful to the elegant arts, no Engiand displays in the fifteenth century
less than to the intellectual pursuits of mana still more mortiíying contrast with Italy. kind. It is natural to think, that when puItaly too had her religious schisms and pub. nishments are let loose upon men's opinions, lic distractions; but ler arts and literature they will spread a contagious alarm from had always a sheltering place. They were
the understanding to the imagination. They even cherished by the rivalship of indepen. will make the heart grow close and insendent communities, and received encourage
sible to generous feelings, where it is unacment from the opposite sources of com
customed to express them freely; and the mercial and ecclesiastical wealth. But we graces and gaiety of fancy will be dejected had no Nicholas the Fifth, nor house of and appalled. In an age of persecution, Medicis. In England, the evils of civil
even the living study of his own species war agitated society as one mass. There must be comparatively darkened to the poet. was no retuge from then-no inclosure to
He looks round on the characters and counfence in the field of improvement--no
tenances of his fellow.creatures, and instead mound to ster the torrent otpul lic troubles.
of the naturally cheerful and eccentric ra. Before the death of Henry VI. it is said riety or their humours, he reads only a sullen that one helf or the nobility and gentry in and oppressed unitormity. To the spirit of the kingdom had perished in the field, or
poetry we should conceive such a period to on the scatold. Whilst in England the
be an impassable Avernus, where she would public spirt was thus brutalized, whilst the drop her wings and expire." valueand security of life were abridged, whilst
Over this dreary tract Mr Campbell the wealth of the rich was employed only in swiftly passes, and his heart seems to war, and the chance of patronage taken leap within him, while he hails the from the scholar; in Italy, princes and ma- approach of the Elizabethan age, as if, gistrates vied with each other in calling men of genius around them, as the brightest or.
“ Far off its coming shone.” naments of their states and courts. The art “ But better days were at hand. In the of printing came to Italy to record the trea- reign of Elizabeth, the English mind put
forth its energies in every direction, exalted and robust power which characterise the by a purer religion, and enlarged by new very greatest poets ; but we shall nowhere views of truth. This was an age of loyalty, find more airy and expansive images of via adventure, and generous emulation. The sionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, chivalrous character was softened by intel or a finer Aush in the colours of language, lectual pursuits, while the genius of chi. than in this Rubens of English poetry. His valry itself still lingered, as if unwilling to fancy teems exuberantly in minuteness of depart, and paid his last homage to a war circumstance, like a fertile soil sending like and female reign. A degree of ro bloom and verdure through the utmost exmantic fancy remained in the manners and tremities of the foliage which it nourishes. superstitions of the people ; and allegory On a comprehensive view of the whole work, might be said to parade the streets in their we certainly miss the charm of strength, public pageants and festivities. Quaint and symmetry, and rapid or interesting progress; pedantic as those allegorical exhibitions for, though the plan which the poet designmight often be, they were nevertheless more ed is not completed, it is easy to see that no expressive of erudition, ingenuity, and mo additional cantos could have rendered it ral meaning, than they had been in former less perplexed. But still there is a richness times. The philosophy of the highest minds in his materials, even where their coherence still partook of a visionary character. A is loose, and their disposition confused. poetical spirit infused itself into the practical The clouds of his allegory may seem to heroism of the age ; and some of the wor spread into shapeless forms, but they are thies of that period seem less like ordinary still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. men, than like beings called forth out of Though his story grows desultory, the sweetfiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her ness and
grace of his manner still abide by dreams. They had “ High thoughts seated him. He is like a speaker whose tones conti. in a heart of courtesy.
The life of Sir nue to be pleasing, though he may speak too Philip Sydney was poetry put into action.” long ; or like a painter who makes us fore
We looked anxiously for Mr Camp- get the defect of his design, by the magic bell's picture of Spenser's mind; and of his colouring. We always rise from perit certainly is impossible to conceive using him with melody in the mind's ear,
and with pictures of romantic beauty im. any thing more delicately character. pressed on the imagination.” istic. " He brought to the subject of The of the Fairy Queen, expressed with a
After a few strictures on the defects Fairy Queen,' ture of stanza, elaborate and intricate, but manly decision, but with the utmost well contrived for sustaining the attention of courtesy towards the image of the the ear, and concluding with a majestic ca matchless poet, Mr Campbell thus puts dence. In the other poets of Spenser's age the finishing touches to his picture. we chiefly admire their language, when it Upon the whole, if I may presume to seems casually to advance into modern po measure the imperfections of so great and lish and succinctness. But the antiquity of venerable a genius, I think we may say, Spenser's style has a peculiar charm. The that if his popularity be less than universal mistaken opinion that Ben Jonson cen and complete, it is not so much owing to his sured the antiquity of the diction in the obsolete language, nor to degeneracy of mo• Fairy Queen,' has been corrected by Mr dern taste, nor to his choice of allegory as a Malone, who pronounces it to be exactly subject, as to the want of that consolidating that of his contemporaries. His authority and crowning strength, which alone can esis weighty; still, however, without reviving tablish works of fiction in the favour of all the exploded error respecting Jonson's cen. readers and of all ages.
This want of sure, one might imagine the difference of strength, it is but justice to say, is either Spenser's style from that of Shakespeare's, solely or chiefly apparent when we examine whom he so shortly preceded, to indicate the entire structure of his poem, or so large that his gothic subject and story made him a portion of it as to feel that it does not imlean towards words of the elder time. At pel or sustain our curiosity in proportion to all events, much of his expression is now its length. To the beauty of insulated pas. become antiquated ; though it is beautiful sages who can be blind ? The sublime dein its antiquity, and like the moss and ivy scription of “ Him who with the Night on some majestic building, covers the fabric durst ride," The House of Riches,” of his language with romantic and venerable “ The Canto Jealousy,” “ The Masque associations.
of Cupid," and other parts, too many to “ His command of imagery is wide, easy, enumerate, are so splendid, that after read. and luxuriant. He threw the soul of har. ing them, we feel it for the moinent invi. mony into our verse, and made it more dious to ask if they are symmetrically united warmly, tenderly, and magnificently de- into a whole. Succeeding generations have scriptive, than it ever was before, or, with acknowledged the pathos and richness of his a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. strains, and the new contour and enlarged It must certainly be owned, that in descrip- dimensions of grace which he gave to Lingtion he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes lish poetry. He is the poetical father of a
Milton and a Thomson. Gray habitually in our dramatic poetry. His fancy is read him when he wished to frame his rich and tender, and his conceptions thoughts for composition, and there are few of dramatic character have no inconsieminent poets in the language who have derable mixture of solid vivacity and not been essentially indebted to him.
ideal beauty. There is no such sweet“ Hither, as to their fountain, other stars
ness of versification and imagery to be Repair, and in their urns draw golden light.” found in our blank verse anterior to
We have no wish to quality our Shakspeare.” Mr Campbell then speaks praises of such writing as this; yet of the Swan of Avon ; and notwithwe have a most decided objection to standing all that has lately been write calling Spenser a Rubens. There is ten about him by Schlegel, Coleridge, in those fine spirits, no doubt, some Hazlitt, Jeffrey, and other men of tapoints of resemblance--a prodigality of lents, perhaps our readers will agree genius-a rich and lavish exuberance with us in thinking, that there is a deof invention-a wealth inexhaustible- licately discriminating admiration in a wand of enchantment under which the following observations that has not airy fabrics spring up as fast as spirits been exhibited by any other critic: can build them. In both, too, there “ Among these precursors of Shakspeare is a character of imagination changing we may trace, in Peele and Marlowe, a the aspect of the world that is shewn pleasing dawn of the drama, though it was from the reality of existence, and by no means a dawn corresponding to so marking it with the impression of the bright a sunrise as the appearance of his
mighty genius. He ereated our romantic poet's or painter's individual genius; and, both of them, which is a point of drama, or if the assertion is to be qualified, more individual resemblance, are fond
it requires but a small qualification. There
were undoubtedly prior occupants of the of Ideal Impersonations. But such dramatic ground in our language : but they features of resemblance as these leave appear only like unprosperous settlers on yet wide room for unlikeness in the the patches and skirts of a wilderness, which essential principles of character, and he converted into a garden. He is there. in the form that invests it Of Spen- fore never compared with his native predeser's spirit, it may be said, that the
Criticism goes back for names essential principle is love-love in its worthy of being put in competition with his, soft ethereal essence, and heavenly
to the first great masters of dramatic inven
tion; and even in the points of dissimilarity beauty. The principle (if it be not
between them and him, discovers some of presumptuous to speak in this way of the highest indications of his genius Com. such minds) of Rubens' genius would pared with the classical composers of antirather appear to us power-and that quity, he is to our conceptions nearer the not perhaps the very highest-on fire character of an universal poet; more acwith the ungovernable action of its quainted with man in the real world, and own impetuous energies. A visionary
more terrific and bewitching in the preter. softness of beauty, with celestial gleams the drama beyond the limits that belonged
natural. He expanded the magic circle of brightening through, invests the off
to it in antiquity ; made it embrace more spring of Spenser's muse ; but stern time and locality, filled it with larger busiand unassailable strength, and dark and
ness and action, with vicissitudes of gay and tumultuous force, and blazes of rich- serious emotion, which classical taste had est splendour are the form and appear. kept divided ; with characters which deveance in which we are used to know the loped humanity in stronger lights and subtler giant-progeny of the imagination of movements, and with a language more Rubens. It therefore does not appear and passion, than was ever spoken on any
wildly, more playfully diversifi d by fancy to us, that two minds, of which the stage. Like nature herself, he presents als works and powers can, with any degree ternations of the gay and the tragic ; and of justice, be so differently charactered, his mutability, like the suspense and premay, with any propriety, be brought cariousness of real existence, often deepens under the identity of a name.
the force of our impressions. He converted Mr Campbell touches very lightly imitation into illusion. To say that, magi. on the dramatic writers previous to cian as he was, he was not faultless, is only Shakspeare. Of these his favourites
to recal the flat and stale truism, that every justly are" Brave Marlow bathed in thing human is imperfect. But how to esthe Thespian springs,” and Peele,
timate his imperfections ! To praise him is whose “ David and Bethsabe” is, in his easy-In facili causa cuivis licet esse diserto
But to make a special, full, and accurate opinion, “ the earliest fountain of pa- estimate of his imperfections, would require thos and harmony that can be traced a delicate and comprehensive discrimination,
and an authority which are almost as seldom traced the principles of what lie denominates united in one man as the powers of Shak. the romantic, in opposition to the classical
He is the poet of the world. drama ; and conceives that Shakspeare's The magnitude of his genius puts it beyond theatre, when tried by those principles, will all private opinion to set defined limits to be found not to have violated any of the the admiration which is due to it. We unities, if they are largely and liberally unknow, upon the whole, that the sum of derstood. I have no doubt that Mr Schleblemishes to be deducted from his merits is gel's criticism will be found to have proved not great, and we should scarcely be thank- this point in a considerable number of the ful to one who should be anxious to make works of our mighty poet. There are traits, it. No other poet triumphs so anomalously however, in Shakspeare, which, I must own, over eccentricities and peculiarities in com appear to my humble judgment incapable position, which would appear blemishes in of being illustrated by any system or prinothers; so that his blemishes and beauties ciples of art. I do not allude to his historihave an affinity which we are jealous of cal plays, which, expressly from being histrusting any hand with the task of separat torical, may be called a privileged class. ing. We dread the interference of criticism But in those of purer fiction, it strikes me with a fascination so often inexplicable by that there are licences conceded indeed to critical laws, and justly apprehend that any imagination's “ charter'd libertine," but man in standing between us and Shakspeare anomalous with regard to any thing which may shew for pretended spots upon his disk can be recognized as principles in dramatic only the shadows of his own opacity
When Perdita, for instance, grows “ Still it is not a part even of that en from the cradle to the marriage altar in the thusiastic creed, to believe that he has no course of the play, I can perceive no unity excessive mixture of the tragic and comic, in the design of the piece, and take refuge no blemishes of language in the elliptical in the supposition of Shakspeare's genius throng and impatient pressure of his images, triumphing and trampling over art. Yet no irregularities of plot and action, which Mr Schlegel, as far as I have observed, another Shakspeare would avoid, if “ na makes no exception to this breach of temture had not broken the mould in which she poral unity ; nor, in proving Shakspeare a made him,” or if he should come back into 'regular artist on a mighty scale, does he the world to blend experience with inspira- deign to notice this circumstance, even as tion.
the ultima Thule of his licence. If a man * The bare name of the dramatic unities contends that dramatic laws are all idle reis apt to excite revolting ideas of pedantry, strictions, I can understand him ; or if he arts of poetry, and French criticism. With he says that Perdita's growth on the stage is none of these do I wish to annoy the reader. a trespass on art, but that Shakspeare's I conceive that it may be said of those uni- fascination over and over again redeems it, ties as of fire and water, that they are good I can both understand and agree with him. servants but bad masters. In perfect rigour But when I am left to infer that all this is they were never imposed by the Greeks, and right on romantic principles, I confess that they would be still heavier shackles if they those principles become too romantic for were closely rivetted on our own drama. It my conception. If Perdita may be born would be worse than useless to confine dra- and married on the stage, why may not matic action literally and immoveably to Webster's Duchess of Malfy lie-in between one spot, or its imaginary time to the time the acts, and produce a fine family of tragic in which it is represented. On the other children? Her Grace actually does so in hand, dramatic time and place cannot sure Webster's drama, and he is a poet of some ly admit of indefinite expansion. It would genius, though it is not quite so sufficient as be better, for the sake of illusion and proba- Shakspeare's, to give a “ sweet oblivious bility, to change the scene from Windsor to antidote" to such “ perilous stuff.” It is London, than from London to Pekin ; it not, however, either in favour of Shakwould look more like reality, if a messenger, speare's or of Webster's genius that we shall who went and returned in the course of the be called on to make allowance, if we justify play, told us of having performed a journey in the drama the lapse of such a number of of ten or twenty, rather than of a thousand years as may change the apparent identity miles, and if the spectator had neither that of an individual. If romantic unity is to nor any other circumstance to make him ask be so largely interpreted, the old Spanish how so much could be performed in so short dramas, where youths grow
greybeards upon a time.
the stage, the mysteries and moralities, and “ In an abstract view of dramatic art, its productions teeming with the wildest anaprinciples must appear to lie nearer to unity chronism, might all come in with their than to the opposite extreme of disunion, in grave or laughable claims to romantic legiour conceptions of time and place. Giving timacy. up the law of unity in its literal rigour,
Nam sic there is still a latitude of its application Et Laberi mimos ut pulchra poemata mirer. which may preserve proportion and har
HOR. mony in the drama.
The brilliant and able Schlegel has On a general view, I conceive it may be