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be seen in the writings and history of the next and of the follow. ing ages. They are still at work, and will continue to be so. The effects on the poetry of the time were chiefly confined to the moulding of the character, and giving a powerful impulse to the intellect of the country. The immediate use or application that was made of religion to subjects of imagination and fiction was not (from an obvious ground of separation) so direct or frequent, as that which was made of the classical and romantic literature.
For, much about the same time, the rich and fascinating stores of the Greek and Roman mythology, and those of the romantic poetry of Spain and Italy, were eagerly explored by the curious, and thrown open in translations to the admiring gaze of the vulgar. This last circumstance could hardly have afforded so much advantage to the poets of that day, who were themselves, in fact, the translators, as it shows the general curiosity and increasing interest in such subjects, as a prevailing feature of the times. There were translations of Tasso by Fairfax, and of Ariosto by Harrington, of Homer and Hesiod by Chapman, and of Virgil long before, and Ovid soon after; there was Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch, of which Shakspeare has made such admirable use in his Coriolanus and Julius Cæsar; and Ben Jonson's tragedies of Catiline and Sejanus may themselves be considered as almost literal translations into verse, of Tacitus, Sallust, and Cicero's Orations in his consulship. Boccacio, the divine Boccacio, Petrarch, Dante, the satirist Aretine, Machiavel, Castiglione, and others, were familiar to our writers, and they make occasional mention of some few French authors, as Ronsard and Du Bartas; for the French literature had not at this stage arrived at its Augustan period, and it was the imitation of their literature a century afterwards, when it had arrived at its greatest height (itself copied from the Greek and Latin,) that enfeebled and impoverished our own. But of the time that we are considering, it might be said, without much extravagance, that every breath that blew, every wave that rolled to our shores, brought with it some accession to our knowledge, which was en. grafted on the national genius. In fact, all the disposable materials that had been accumulating for a long period of time, either in our own or in foreign countries, were now brought
together, and required nothing more than to be wrought up, pol. ished, or arranged in striking forms, for ornament and use. To this every inducement prompted ; the novelty of the acquisition of knowledge in many cases, the emulation of foreign wits, and of immortal works, the want and the expectation of such works among ourselves, the opportunity and encouragement afforded for their production by leisure and affluence; and, above all, the insatiable desire of the mind to beget its own image, and to construct out of itself, and for the delight and admiration of the world and posterity, that excellence of which the idea exists hitherto only in its own breast, and the impression of which it would make as universal as the eye of heaven, the benefit as common as the air we breathe. The first impulse of genius is to create what never existed before: the contemplation of that which is so created, is sufficient to satisfy the demands of taste ; and it is the habitual study and imitation of the original models that takes away the power, and even wish to do the like. Taste limps after genius, and from copying the artificial models, we lose sight of the living principle of nature. It is the effort we make, and the impulse we acquire, in overcoming the first obstacles, that projects us forward; it is the necessity for exertion that makes us conscious of our strength ; but this necessity and this impulse once removed, the tide of fancy and enthusiasm, which is at first a running stream, soon settles and crusts into the standing pool of dulness, criticism, and virtu.
What also gave an unusual impetus to the mind of man at this period, was the discovery of the New World, and the reading of voyages and travels. Green islands and golden sands seemed to arise, as by enchantment, out of the bosom of the watery waste, and invite the cupidity, or wing the imagination of the dreaming speculator. Fairy land was realized in new and unknown worlds. “Fortunate fields and groves and flowery vales, thrice happy isles," were found floating “like those Hesperian gardens famed of old,” beyond Atlantic seas, as dropt from the zenith. The people, the soil, the clime, every thing gave unlimited scope to the curiosity of the traveller and reader. Other manners might be said to enlarge the bounds of knowledge, and new mines of wealth were tumbled at our feet. It is from a voyage to the Straits of Magellan that Shakspeare has taken the hint of Prospero's Enchanted Island, and of the savage Caliban with his god Setebos.* Spenser seems to have had the same feeling in his mind in the production of his Faery Queen, and vindicates his poetic fiction on this very ground of analogy.
Right well I wote, most mighty sovereign,
Yet all these where when no man did them know,
Fancy's air-drawn pictures after history's waking dream showed like clouds over mountains; and from the romance of real life to the idlest fiction, the transition seemed easy. Shak. speare, as well as others of his time, availed himself of the old Chronicles, and of the traditions or fabulous inventions contained in them in such ample measure, and which had not yet been appropriated to the purposes of poetry or the drama. The stage
* See a Voyage to the Straits of Magellan, 1594.
was a new thing; and those who had to supply its demands laid their hands upon whatever came within their reach: they were not particular as to the means, so that they gained the end. Lear is founded upon an old ballad ; Othello on an Italian novel; Hamlet on a Danish, and Macbeth on a Scotch tradition: one of which is to be found in Saxo-Grammaticus, and the last in Hollingshed. The Ghost-scenes and the Witches in each, are authenticated in the old Gothic history. There was also this connecting link between the poetry of this age and the supernatural traditions of a former one, that the belief in them was still extant, and in full force and visible operation among the vulgar (to say no more, in the time of our authors. The appalling and wild chimeras of superstition and ignorance," those bodiless creations that ecstacy is very cunning in,” were inwoven with existing manners and opinions, and all their effects on the passions of terror or pity might be gathered from common and actual observationmight be discerned in the workings of the face, the expressions of the tongue, the writhings of a troubled conscience. face, my Thane, is as a book where men may read strange mat. ters.” Midnight and secret murders, too, from the imperfect state of the police, were more common; and the ferocious and brutal manners that would stamp the brow of the hardened ruf. fian or hired assassin, more incorrigible and undisguised. The portraits of Tyrrel and Forrest were, no doubt, done from the life. We find that the ravages of the plague, the destructive rage of fire, the poisoned chalice, lean famine, the serpent's mor tal sting, and the fury of wild beasts, were the common topics of their poetry, as they were common occurrences in more remote periods of history. They were the strong ingredients thrown into the cauldron of tragedy to make it “ thick and slab.” Man's life was (as it appears to me) more full of traps and pit-falls; of hair-breadth accidents by flood and field; more way-laid by sudden and startling evils; it trod on the brink of hope and fear; stumbled upon fate unawares; while the imagination, close behind it, caught at and clung to the shape of danger, or “snatched a wild and fearful joy” from its escape. The accidents of nature were less provided against; the excesses of the passions and of lawless power were less regulated, and produced more strange and desperate catastrophes. The tales of Boccacio are founded on the great pestilence of Florence; Fletcher the poet died of the plague, and Marlowe was stabbed in a tavern quarrel. The strict authority of parents, the inequality of ranks, or the heredi. tary feuds between different families, made more unhappy loves or matches.
"The course of true love never did run smooth."
Again, the heroic and martial spirit which breathes in our elder writers, was yet in considerable activity in the reign of . Elizabeth. “ The age of chivalry was not then quite gone, nor
the glory of Europe extinguished for ever.” Jousts and tourna. ments were still common with the nobility in England and in foreign countries. Sir Philip Sidney was particularly distinguished for his proficiency in these exercises and indeed fell a martyr to his ambition as a soldier)--and the gentle Surrey was still more famous, on the same account, just before him. It is true, the general use of fire-arms gradually superseded the necessity of skill in the sword, or bravery in the person : and we find many symptoms of the rapid degeneracy in this respect. It was comparatively an age of peace,
"Like strength reposing on his own right arm;"
but the sound of civil combat might still be heard in the distance, the spear glittered to the eye of memory, or the clashing of ar. mour struck on the imagination of the ardent and the young. They were borderers on the savage state, on the times of war and bigotry, though in the lap of arts, of luxury, and knowledge. They stood on the shore and saw the billows rolling after the storm: “they heard the tumult, and were still.” The manners and out-of-door amusements were more tinctured with a spirit of adventure and romance. The war with wild beasts, &c., was more strenuously kept up in country sports. I do not think we could get from sedentary poets, who had never mingled in the vicissitudes, the dangers, or excitements of the chase, such de. scriptions of hunting and other athletic games, as are to be found in Shakspeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, or Fletcher's Noble Kinsmen.