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CAMPBELL-ACCOUNT OF BEN JONSON.
The marble pavement hid with desert weed,
His satires are neither cramped by personal hostility, nor spun out to vague declamations on vice; but give us the form and pressure of the times, exhibited in the faults of coeval literature, and in the foppery or sordid traits of prevailing manners. The age was undoubtedly fertile in eccentricity." — vol. ii. p. 257, 258.
What he says of Chamberlayn, and the extracts he has made from his Pharonnida, have made us quite impatient for an opportunity of perusing the whole poem.
The poetical merits of Ben Jonson are chiefly discussed in the Essay; and the Notice is principally biographical. It is very pleasingly written, though with an affectionate leaning towards his hero. The following short passage affords a fair specimen of the good sense and good temper of all Mr. Campbell's apologies.
“ The poet's journey to Scotland (1617) awakens many pleasing recollections, when we conceive him anticipating his welcome among a people who might be proud of a share in his ancestry, and setting out, with manly strength, on a journey of 400 miles, on foot. We are assured, by one who saw him in Scotland, that he was treated with respect and affection among the nobility and gentry; nor romantic scenery of the country lost upon his fancy. From the poem which he meditated on Loch-Lomond, it is seen that he looked on it with a poet's eye. But, unhappily, the meagre anecdotes of Drummond have made this event of his life too prominent, by the overimportance which has been attached to them. Drummond, a smooth and sober gentleman, seems to have disliked Jonson's indulgence in that conviviality which Ben had shared with his Fletcher and Shakspeare at the Mermaid. In consequence of those anecdotes, Jonson's memory has been damned for brutality, and Drummond's for perfidy. Jonson drank freely at Hawthornden, and talked big-things neither incredible nor unpardonable. Drummond's perfidy amounted to writing a letter, beginning, Sir, with one very kind sentence in it, to the man whom he had described unfavourably in a private memorandum, which he never meant for publication. As to Drummond's decoying Jonson under his roof with any premeditated design on his reputation, no one can seriously believe it." - vol. iii. p. 150, 151.
NOTICE OF COTTON AND LILLO.
The notice of Cotton may be quoted, as a perfect model for such slight memorials of writers of the middle order.
“ There is a careless and happy humour in this poet's Voyage to Ireland, which seems to anticipate the manner of Anstey, in the Bath Guide. The tasteless indelicacy of his parody of the Æneid has found but too many admirers. His imitations of Lucian betray the grossest misconception of humorous effect, when he attempts to burlesque that which is ludicrous already. He was acquainted with French and Italian; and among several works from the former language, translated the Horace of Corneille, and Montaigne's Essays.
"The father of Cotton is described by Lord Clarendon as an accomplished and honourable man, who was driven by domestic afflictions to habits which rendered his age less reverenced than his youth, and made his best friends wish that he had not lived so long. From him our poet inherited an incumbered estate, with a disposition to extravagance little calculated to improve it. After having studied at Cambridge, and returned from his travels abroad, he married the daughter of Sir Thomas Owthorp, in Nottinghamshire. He went to Ireland as a captain in the army ; but of his military progress nothing is recorded. Having embraced the soldier's life merely as a shift in distress, he was not likely to pursue it with much ambition. It was probably in Ireland that he met with his second wife, Mary, CountessDowager of Ardglass, the widow of Lord Cornwall. She had a jointure of 15001. a year, secured from his imprudent management. He died insolvent at Westminster. One of his favourite recreations was angling; and his house which was situated on the Dove, a fine trout stream which divides the counties of Derby and Stafford, was the frequent resort of his friend Isaac Walton. There he built a fishing house, Piscatoribus sacrum,' with the initials of honest Isaac's name and his own united in ciphers over the door. The walls were painted with fishing-scenes, and the portraits of Cotton and Walton were upon the beaufet."—p. 293, 294.
There is a very beautiful and affectionate account of Parnell. — But there is more power of writing, and more depth and delicacy of feeling, in the following masterly account and estimate of Lillo.
• George Lillo was the son of a Dutch jeweller, who married an Englishwoman and settled in London. Our poet was born near Moorfields, was bred to his father's business, and followed it for many years. The story of his dying in distress was a fiction of Hammond, the poet; for he bequeathed a considerable property to his nephew, whom he made his heir. It has been said, that his bequest was in consequence of his finding the young man disposed to lend him a sum of money at a time when he thought proper to feign pecuniary distress, in order that he might discover the sincerity of those calling themselves his friends. Thomas Davies, his biographer and editor, professes to have got this anecdote from a surviving partner of Lillo. It
HAZARDS OF DOMESTIC TRAGEDY.
bears, however, an intrinsic air of improbability. It is not usual for sensible tradesmen to affect being on the verge of bankruptcy; and Lillo's character was that of an uncomp
mmonly sensible man. Fielding, his intimate friend, ascribes to him a manly simplicity of mind, that is extremely unlike such a stratagem.
“ Lillo is the tragic poet of middling and familiar life. Instead of heroes from romance and history, he gives the merchant and his apprentice; and the Macbeth of his . Fatal Curiosity' is a private gentleman, who has been reduced by his poverty to dispose of his copy of Seneca for a morsel of bread. The mind will be apt, after reading his works, to suggest to itself the question, how far the graver drama would gain or lose by a more general adoption of this plebeian principle. The cares, it may be said, that are most familiar to our existence, and the distresses of those nearest to ourselves in situation, ought to lay the strongest hold upon our sympathies; and the general mass of society ought to furnish a more express image of man than any detached or elevated portion of the species. But, notwithstanding the power of Lillo's works, we entirely miss in them that romantic attraction which invites to repeated perusal of them. They give us life in a close and dreadful semblance of reality, but not arrayed in the magic illusion of poetry. His strength lies in conception of situations, not in beauty of dialogue, or in the eloquence of the passions. Yet the effect of his plain and homely subjects was so strikingly superior to that of the vapid and heroic productions of the day, as to induce some of his contemporary admirers to pronounce, that he had reached the acmè of dramatic excellence, and struck into the best and most genuine path of tragedy, George Barnwell, it was observed, drew more tears than the rants of Alexander. This might be true; but it did not bring the comparison of humble and heroic subjects to a fair test; for the tragedy of Alexander is bad, not from its subject, but from the incapacity of the poet who composed it.
It does not prove that heroes, drawn from history or romance, are not at least as susceptible of high and poetical effect, as a wicked apprentice, or a distressed gentleman pawning his movables. It is a different question whether Lillo has given to his subjects from private life, the degree of beauty of which they are susceptible. He is a master of terrific, but not of tender impressions. We feel a harshness and gloom in his genius, even while we are compelled to admire its force and originality.
“The peculiar choice of his subjects was, at all events, happy and commendable, as far as it regarded himself; for his talents never succeeded so well when he ventured out of them. But it is another question, whether the familiar cast of those subjects was fitted to constitute a more genuine, or only a subordinate walk in tragedy. Undoubtedly the genuine delineation of the human heart will please us, from whatever station or circumstances of life it is derived : and, in the simple pathos of tragedy, probably very little difference will be felt from the choice of characters being pitched above or below the line of mediocrity in station. But something more than pathos is required in tragedy; and the very pain that attends our sympathy, would seem to
JUDGMENT ON THOMSON.
require agreeable and romantic associations of the fancy to be blended with its poignancy. Whatever attaches ideas of importance, publicity, and elevation to the object of pity, forms a brightening and alluring medium to the imagination. Athens herself, with all her simplicity and democracy, delighted on the stage to
Let gorgeous Tragedy
In scepter'd pall come sweeping by.' · Even situations far depressed beneath the familiar mediocrity of life, are more picturesque and poetical than its ordinary level. It is certainly on the virtues of the middling rank of life, that the strength and comforts of society chiefly depend, in the same way as we look for the harvest, not on cliffs and precipices, but on the easy slope and the uniform plain. But the painter doos not in general fix on level countries for the subjects of his noblest landscapes. There is an analogy, I conceive, to this in the moral painting of tragedy. Disparities of station give it boldness of outline. The commanding situations of life are its mountain scenery — the region where its storm and sunshine may be portrayed in their strongest contrast and colouring."— vol. v. p. 58 – 62.
Nothing, we think, can be more exquisite than this criticism, — though we are far from being entire converts to its doctrines; and are moreover of opinion, that the merits of Lillo, as a poet at least, are considerably overrated. There is a flatness and a weakness in his diction, that we think must have struck Mr. C. more than he has acknowledged,—and a tone, occasionally, both of vulgarity and of paltry affectation, that counteracts the pathetic effect of his conceptions, and does injustice to the experiment of domestic tragedy.
The critique on Thomson is distinguished by the same fine tact, candour, and conciseness.
“Habits of early admiration teach us all to look back upon this poet as the favourite companion of our solitary walks, and as the author who has first or chiefly reflected back to our minds a heightened and refined sensation of the delight which rural scenery affords us. The judgment of cooler years may somewhat abate our estimation of him, though it will still leave us the essential features of his poetical character to abide the test of reflection. The unvaried pomp of his diction suggests a most unfavourable comparison with the manly and idiomatic simplicity of Cowper: at the same time, the pervading spirit and feeling of his poetry is in general more bland and delightful than that of his great rival in rural description. Thomson seems to contemplate the creation with an eye of unqualified pleasure and ecstasy, and to love its inhabitants with a lofty and hallowed feeling of religious happiness ; Cowper has also his philanthropy, but it is dashed with
HIS NOTICE OF COLLINS,
religious terrors, and with themes of satire, regret, and repreheusion. Cowper's image of nature is more curiously distinct and familiar. Thomson carries our associations through a wider circuit of speculation and sympathy. His touches cannot be more faithful than Cowper's, but they are more soft and select, and less disturbed by the intrusion of homely objects. It is but justice to say, that amidst the feeling and fancy of the Seasons, we meet with interruptions of declamation. heavy narrative, and unhappy digression - with a parhelion eloquence that throws a counterfeit glow of expression on common place ideas as when he treats us to the solemnly ridiculous bathing of Musidora; or draws from the classics instead of nature; or, after invoking Inspiration from her hermit seat, makes his dedicatory bow patronizing countess, or speaker of the House of Commons. As long as he dwells in the pure contemplation of nature, and appeals to the universal poetry of the human breast, his redundant style comes to us as something venial and adventitious – it is the flowing vesture of the druid; and perhaps to the general experience is rather imposing : but when he returns to the familiar narrations or courtesies of life, the same diction ceases to seem the mantle of inspiration, and only strikes us by its unwieldy difference from the common costume of expression."- p. 215 - 218.
There is the same delicacy of taste, and beauty of writing, in the following remarks on Collins — though we think the Specimens afterwards given from this exquisite poet are rather niggardly.
Collins published his Oriental Eclogues while at college, and his lyrical poetry at the age of twenty-six. Those works will abide comparison with whatever Milton wrote under the age of thirty. If they have rather less exuberant wealth of genius, they exhibit more exquisite touches of pathos. Like Milton, he leads us into the haunted ground of imagination; like him, he has the rich economy of expression haloed with thought, which by single or few words often hints entire pictures to the imagination. In what short and simple terms, for instance, does he open a wide and majestic landscape to the mind, such as we might view from Ben-Lomond or Snowden—when he speaks of the hut
· That from some mountain's side
Views wilds and swelling floods.' And in the line, · Where faint and sickly winds for ever howl around,' he does not seem merely to describe the sultry desert, but brings it home to the senses.
"A cloud of obscurity sometimes rests on his highest conceptions, arising from the fineness of his associations, and the daring sweep of his allusions ; but the shadow is transitory, and interferes very little with the light of his imagery, or the warmth of his feelings The absence of even this speck of mysticism from his Ode on the Passions is perhaps the happy circumstance that secured its unbounded popularity. Nothing, however, is common place in Collins. The