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FROM 1727 TO 1780.
URING this period Great Britain produced some of the greatest names in the world's
muster roll of men of genius. · We have, among poets, Edward Young, with his solemn and often grand “Night Thoughts"; Thomson with his graphic descriptions of Winter in its gloom and storm ; Spring in its clear sunshine and fitful showers, its peeping flowers and its cheery feelings ; Summer in its gay voluptuousness; and Autumn in its falling leaves, quiet decay, and melancholy fancies. We have John Dyer with his exquisite “Grongar Hill," and Shenstone with his exquisite “ Garden," and Gray with his “ Elegy in a Country Church-yard,” which the world will never let die ; and dear, generous, genial, loving, and beloved Oliver Goldsmith, and Chatterton, the wondrous boy whose monument at that grand old church at Bristol awakens thoughts “too deep for tears.” We have Logan and Bruce, the poetical Wartons, Beattie with his “Minstrel,” Alexander Ross with his “ Woo'd and Married and A';" Christopher Smart with his ill-fated story belongs to this period, and Lady Am Barnard, who has thrown a lustre even on the illustrious family of the Lindsays. We have as Novelists : Samuel Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, the great and noble Samuel Johnson, the delicious author of the “Vicar of Wakefield,” which touches the heart in youth and old age, and Henry Mackenzie.
Among Historians we have David Hume, Dr. William Robertson, William Tytler, Edward Gibbon. In Divinity there shine the names of Butler, Bishop Warburton, Bishop Lowth, Dr. C. Middleton, Dr. Isaac Watts, so simple and so great, this testimony, in passing from an Episcopalian, but from one who loves all good men. We have Hurd, Jortin, the Evangelist John Wesley and his brother Charles, who between them produced some of the most exquisite Hymns in the English language ; Nathaniel Lardner, Leland, Blair, Campbell, add to the list of great and much loved names. We have also the magnificent Edmund Burke. Never shall we forget his generous kindness to poor deserving George Crabbe. All night Crabbe walked on Westminster Bridge after leaving his letter at the great man's house ; little did Burke know that! but all night he walked in suspense ; but when he called next day the helping hand was stretched out, and nobly did Crabbe repay. We have Junius, and Adam Smith, and Sir William Blackstone, and the great Earl of Chatham. It was a glorious period, and Englishmen may well be proud of it.
are free, natural, and picturesque. The latest editor of the poets has, with singularly bad taste, noted some of this author's most nervous and expressive phrases as vulgarisms, among which he reckons that of friendship “the solder of society.' Blair may be a homely and even a gloomy poet in the eye of fastidious criticism; but there is a masculine and pronounced character even in his gloom and homeliness that keeps it most distinctly apart from either dullness or vulgarity. His style pleases us like the powerful expression of a countenance without regular beauty. Blair was a great favourite with Burns, who quotes from "The Grave' very frequently in his letters." — Campbell's “ Specimens.” See Gilfillan's Ed. of Blair's "Grave"; Allibone's “Crit. Dict. Eng. Lit."
ISAAC WATTS. “ This admirable person was born at Southampton on the 17th of July, 1674.
His father, of the same name, kept a boardingschool for young gentlemen, and was a man of intelligence and piety. Isaac was the eldest of nine children, and began early to display precocity of genius. At four he comvenced to study Latin at home, and afterwards, under one Pinhorn, a clergyman, who kept the free-school at Southampton, he learned Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. A subscription was proposed for sending him to one of the great universities, but he preferred casting in his lot with the Dissenters. He repaired accordingly, in 1690, to an academy kept by the Rev. Thomas Rowe, whose son, we believe, became the husband of the celebrated Elizabeth Rowe, the once popular author of · Letters from the Dead to the Living.' The Rowes belonged to the Independent body. At this academy Watts began to write poetry, chiefly in the Latin language, and in the then popular Pindaric measure. At the age of twenty, he returned to his father's house, and spent two quiet years in devotion, meditation, and study. He became next a tutor in the family of Sir John Hartopp for five years. He was afterwards chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey, and, after the Doctor's death, became his successor. His health, however, failed, and, after getting an assistant for a while, he was compelled to resign. In 1712, Sir Thomas Abney, a benevolent gentleman of the neighbourhood, received Watts into his house, where he continued during the rest of his life-all his wants attended to, and his feeble frame so tenderly cared for that he lived to the age of seventy-five. Sir Thomas died eight years after Dr. Watts entered his establishment, but the widow and daughters continued unwearied in their attentions. Abney House was a mansion surrounded by fine
gardens and pleasure-grounds, where the Doctor became thoroughly at home, and was wont to refresh his body and mind in the intervals of study. He preached regularly to a congregation, and in the pulpit, although his stature was low, not exceeding five feet, the excellence of his matter, the easy flow of his language, and the propriety of his pronunciation, rendered him very popular. In private he was exceedingly kind to the poor and to children, giving to the former a third part of his small income of £100 a-year, and writing for the other his inimitable hymns. Besides these, he published a well-known · Treatise on Logic,' another on “The Improvement of the Mind,' besides various theological productions, amongst which his · World to Come' has been pre-eminently popular. In 1728, he received from Edinburgh and Aberdeen an unsolicited diploma of Doctor of Divinity. As age advanced, he found himself unable to discharge his ministerial duties, and offered to remit his salary, but his congregation refused to accept his demission. On the 25th November, 1748, quite worn out, but without suffering, this able and worthy man expired.
“If to be eminently useful is to fulfil the highest purpose of humanity, it was certainly fulfilled by Isaac Watts. His logical and other treatises have served to brace the intellects, methodise the studies, and concentrate the activities of thousands—we had nearly said of millions-of minds. This has given him an enviable distinction, but he shone still more in that other province he so felicitously chose and so successfullly occupied—that of the hearts of the young. One of his detractors called him. Mother Watts.' He might have taken up this epithet, and bound it as crown unto him. We have heard of a pious foreigner possessed of imperfect English, who, in an agony of supplication to God for some sick friend, said, O Fader, hear me! O Mudder, hear me!' It struck us as one of the finest of stories, and containing one of the most beautiful tributes to the Deity we ever heard, recognising in Him a pity which not even a father, which only a mother can feel. Like a tender mother does good Watts bend over the little children, and secure that their first words of song shall be those of simple, heartfelt trust in God, and of faith in their Elder Brother. To create a little heaven in the nursery by hymns, and these not mawkish or twaddling, but beautifully natural and exquisitely simple breathings of piety and praise, was the high task to which Watts consecrated, and by which he has immortalised, his genius." -Gilfillan's “Less-known Brit. Poets," vol. iii., pp. 91-93.
PHILIP DODDRIDGE. “Philip Doddridge, born 1702, died 1751, one of the most distinguished Nonconformist
divines. He was born in London, was edu of nine nights or meditations, is in blank cated among the Dissenters, became minister verse, and consists of reflections on Life, at Northampton, and died at Lisbon, whither Death, Immortality, and all the most solemn he had departed for the benefit of his health. subjects that can engage the attention of the Doddridge was a man of learning and earnest Christian and the philosopher. The general piety. He was beloved and admired by all tone of the work is sombre and gloomy, perthe religious bodies of the country. His style haps in some degree affectedly so, for though is plain, simple, and forcible. He was a critic the author perpetually parades the melancholy of some acumen, and a preacher of great dis personal circumstances under which he wrote, tinction. But his name lives from his practical overwhelmed by the rapidly-succeeding losses works and expository writings, the chief of many who were dearest to him, the reader of which are— Discourses on Regeneration,' can never get rid of the idea that the grief 1741 ; Rise and Progress of Religion in the and desolation were purposely exaggerated for Soul,' 1745; and his greatest and most ex effect. In spite of this, however, the grandeur tensive work, · The Family Expositor,' one of of Nature and the sublimity of the Divine the most widely-circulated works of its class." attributes are so forcibly and eloquently de-Shaw's “ Hist. Eng. Lit."; Allibone's picted, the arguments against sin and in" Crit. Dict. Eng. Lit."; Dr. Kippis, in fidelity are so concisely and powerfully urged, · Biog. Brit.”; Dr. Ralph Wardlaw ; Bishop and the contrast between the nothingness of Warburton; Dr. E. Williams; T. H. Horne; man's earthly aims and the immensity of his Dr. Dibdin; Barrington, Bishop of Durham ; immortal aspirations is so pointedly set before Robert Hall's “ Letters" ; Dr. Francis Hunt; us, that the poem will always make deep imMorell; “ London Evangel. Mag."; Bishop pression on the religious reader.
vailing defects of Young's mind were an irresistible tendency to antithesis and epi.
grammatic contrast, and a want of discrimiEDWARD YOUNG.
nation that often leaves him utterly unable to
distinguish between an idea really just and Edward Young, born 1681, died 1765. “I striking, and one which is only superficially so : now come,” says Shaw, in his Hist. Eng. and this want of taste frequently leads him Lit.,' “ to Edward Young, the most powerful into illustrations and comparisons rather of the secondary poets of the epoch. He puerile than ingenious, as when he compares began his career in the unsuccessful pursuit the stars to diamonds in a seal-ring upon the of fortune in the public and diplomatic service finger of the Almighty. He is also remarkof the country. Disappointed in his hopes able for a deficiency in continuous elevation, and somewhat soured in his temper he entered advancing so to say by jerks and starts of the Church, and serious domestic losses still pathos and sublimity. The march of his further intensified a natural tendency to verse is generally solemn and majestic, though morbid and melancholy reflection. He ob it possesses little of the rolling thundrous tained his first literary fame by his satire melody of Milton; and Young is fond of inentitled the 'Love of Fame, the Universal troducing familiar images and expressions, Passion,' written before he had abandoned a often with great effect, amid his most lofty secular career. It is in rhyme and bears con bursts of declamation. The epigrammatic siderable resemblance to the manner of Pope, nature of some of his most striking images though it is deficient in that exquisite grace is best testified by the large number of ex. and neatness which distinguish the latter. In pressions which have passed from his writings referring the vices and follies of mankind into the colloquial language of society, such chiefly to vanity and the foolish desire of as 'procrastination is the thief of time,' all applause, Young exhibits a false and narrow men think all men mortal but themselves,' view of human motives; but there are many and a multitude of others. A sort of quaint passages in the three epistles, which compose solemnity, like the ornamentation upon a this satire, that exhibit strong powers of Gothic tomb, is the impression which the observation and description, and a keen and Night Thoughts are calculated to make vigorons expression which, though sometimes upon the reader in the present time; and it degenerating into that tendency to paradox is a strong proof of the essential greatness of and epigram which are the prevailing defect his genius, that the quaintness is not able to of Young's genius, are not unworthy of his extinguish the solemnity." -- Dr. Angus's great model. The Second Epistle, describing “Handbook of Eng. Lit.” ; Gilfillan's Ed. of the character of women, may be compared, “ Young's Poems"; Campbell's Speciwithout altogether losing in the parallel, to mens.” Pope's admirable work on the same subject. But Young's place in the history of English poetry--a place long a very high one, and
JAMES THOMSON. which is likely to remain a far from unenviable one-is due to his striking and original poem “ James Thomson, a distinguished Bri* The Night Thoughts. This work, consisting / tish poet, born at Ednam, near Kelso, in
Scotland, in 1700, was one of the nine and Eleonora ;' and Tancred and Sigischildren of the Rev. Mr. Thomson, minister munda ;' but although these pieces were not of that place. James was sent to the school without their merits, the moral strain was too of Jedburgh, where he attracted the notice of prevalent for the public taste, and they have a neighbouring minister by his propensity to long ceased to occupy the theatre. Through poetry, who encouraged his early attempts, the recommendation of Dr. Rundle, he was, and corrected his performances. On his re about 1729, selected as the travelling assomoval from school, he was sent to the ciate of the Hon. Mr. Talbot, eldest son of university of Edinburgh, where he chiefly the Chancellor, with whom he visited most of attended to the cultivation of his poetical the courts of the European continent. During faculty ; but the death of his father, during this tour, the idea of a poem on Liberty his second session, having brought his mother suggested itself, and after his return, he emto Edinburgh for the purpose of educating her ployed two years in its completion. The place children, James complied with the advice of of secretary of the briefs, which was nearly a his friends, and entered upon a course of sinecure, repaid him for his attendance on Mr. divinity. Here, we are told, that the ex Talbot. ' Liberty' at length appeared, and planation of a psalm having been required was dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales, from him as a probationary exercise, he per who, in opposition to the court, affected the formed it in language so splendid, that he was patronage of letters, as well as of liberal reproved by his professor for employing a dic sentiments in politics. He granted Thomson tion which it was not likely that any one of his a pension, to remunerate him for the loss of future audience could comprehend. This ad his place by the death of Lord Chancellor. monition completed the disgust which he felt Talbot. In 1746 appeared his poem, called for the profession chosen for him ; and having “The Castle of Indolence,' which had been connected himself with some young men in several years under his polishing hand, and the university who were aspirants after literary | by many is considered as his principal pereminence, he readily listened to the advice of formance. He was now in tolerably affluent a lady, the friend of his mother, and deter circumstances, a place of Surveyor-General of mined to try his fortune in the great metro the Leeward Islands, given him by Mr. Lyttlepolis, London.
ton, bringing him in, after paying a deputy, “In 1725 Thomson came by sea to the about £300 a year. He did not, however, capital, where he soon found out his college long enjoy this state of comfort; for returning acquaintance, Mallet, to whom he showed one evening from London to Kew-lane, he was his poem of Winter,' then composed in de attacked by a fever, which proved fatal in tached passages of the descriptive kind. August, 1748, the 48th year of his age. He Mallet advised him to form them into a con was interred without any memorial in Richnected piece, and immediately to print it. It mond Church; but a monument was erected was purchased for a small sum, and appeared to his memory, in Westminster Abbey, in in 1726, dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton. 1762, with the profits arising from an edition Its merits, however, were little understood by of his works published by Mr. Millar. the public ; till Mr. Whateley, a person of “ Thomson in person was large and ungainly, acknowledged taste, happening to cast an eye with a heavy, unanimated countenance, and upon it, was struck with its beauties, and having nothing in his appearance in mixed gave it vogue. His dedicatee, who had society indicating the man of genius or refine. hitherto neglected him, made him a present ment. He was, however, easy and cheerful of twenty guineas, and he was introduced to with select friends, by whom he was singularly Pope, Bishop Rundle, and Lord-Chancellor beloved for the kindness of his heart, and his Talbot. In 1727, he published another of his freedom from all the malignant passions which seasons, 'Summer,' dedicated to Mr. Dodding too often debase the literary character. His ton, for it was still the custom for poets to temper was much inclined to indolence, and pay this tribute to men in power. In the he was fond of indulgence of every kind; in same year he gave to the public his 'Poem, particular he was more attached to the pleasures sacred to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton,' of sense, than the sentimental delicacy of his and his · Britannia.' His 'Spring' was pub. writings would induce a reader to suppose. lished in 1728, addressed to the Countess of For the moral tendency of his works, no Hertford ; and the Seasons' were completed author has deserved more praise ; and no one by the addition of 'Autumn,' dedicated to Mr. can rise from the perusal of his pages, without Onslow, in 1730, when they were published being sensible of a melioration of his principles collectively.
or feelings. “As nothing was more tempting to the * The poetical merits of Thomson un. cupidity of an author than dramatic com doubtedly stand most conspicuous in his position, Thomson resolved to become a com 'Seasons,' the first long composition, perhaps, petitor for that laurel also, and in 1728 he of which natural description was made the had the influence to bring upon the stage of staple, and certainly the most fertile of grand Drury-lane his tragedy of Sophonisba. It and beautiful delineations, in great measure was succeeded by Agamemnon;' 'Edward deduced from the author's own observation.