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bring them into use. The fire which burns through his poems was not elaborated spark by spark from mechanical friction in the closet. It was in the open field, under the cope of heaven, this poetical Frank, lin caught his lightnings from the cloud as it passed over him; and he communicated them, too, by a touch, with electrical swiftness and effect. Thus, literally, amid the inspiration of a thunder-storm, on the wilds of Kenmore, he framed the “Address of Bruce to his Soldiers at Bannockburn,” which will only be forgotten with the battle itself; that is, with the glory and existence of his country.
The high praises here bestowed upon the compositions of this author must be confined to the best and the purest in morals and in taste. His ordinary and his satirical ones--I dare not except “Tam O'Shanter," that prodigy of wayward fancy-are so often debased by ribaldry and profaneness, that they can scarcely be perused without shuddering by any one whose mind is not utterly corrupted. The genius of Burns resembled the pearl of Cleopatra, both in its worth and its fortune; the one moulded by nature in secret, beneath the depths of the ocean; the other was produced and perfected by the same hand, in equal obscurity, on the banks of the Ayr. The former was suddenly brought to light, and shone for a season on the forehead of imperial beauty; the latter, not less unexpectedly, emerged from the shade, and dazzled and delighted an admiring nation, in the keeping of a Scottish peasant. The fate of both was the same: each was wantonly dissolved in the cup of pleasure, and quaffed by its possessor at one intemperate draught.
RETROSPECT OF LITERATURE,
FROM THE EARLIEST PERIOD TO THE TWELFTH CENTURY
OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
The Permanence of Words. An eloquent, but extravagant, writer has hazarded the assertion, that “words are the only things that last for ever.
Nor is this merely a splendid saying, or a startling paradox, that may be qualified by explanation into commonplace; but with respect to man, and his works on earth, it is literally true. Temples and palaces, amphitheatres and catacombs -monuments of power, and magnificence, and skill, to perpetuate the memory, and preserve even the ashes, of those who lived in past ages-must, in the revolutions of mundane events, not only perish themselves by violence or decay, but the very dust in which they perished be so scattered as to leave no trace of their material existence behind. There is no security beyond the passing moment for the most permanent, or the most precious of these; they are as much in jeopardy as ever, aster having escaped the changes and chances of thousands of years. An earthquake may suddenly ingulf the pyramids of Egypt, and leave the sand of the desert -as blank as the tide would have left it on the seashore. A hammer in the hand of an idiot may break to pieces the Apollo Belvedere, or the Venus de' Medici, which are scarcely less worshipped as miracles of art in our day than they were by idolaters of old as representatives of deities.
* The late Mr. William Hazlitt.
Looking abroad over the whole world, after the lapse of nearly six thousand years, what have we of the past but the words in which its history is recorded? What besides a few mouldering and brittle ruins, which time is imperceptibly touching down into dust,-what, besides these, remains of the glory, the grandeur, the intelligence, the supremacy of the Grecian republics, or the empire of Rome ? Nothing but the words of poets, historians, philosophers, and orators, who being dead yet speak, and in their immortal works still maintain their dominion over inferior minds through all posterity. And these intellectual sovereigns not only govern our spirits from the tomb by the power of their thoughts, but their very voices are heard by our living ears in the accents of their mother-tongues. The beauty, the eloquence, and art of these collocations of sounds and syllables, the learned alone can appreciate, and that only in some cases) after long, intense, and laborious investigation; but as thought can be made to transmigrate from one body of words into another, even through all the languages of the earth, without losing what may be called its personal identity, the great minds of antiquity continue to hold their ascendency over the opinions, manners, characters, institutions, and events of all ages and nations through which their posthumous-compositions have found way, and been made the earliest subjects of study, the highest standards of morals, and the most perfect examples of taste, to the master-minds in every state of civilized society. In this respect, the " words” of inspired prophets and apostles among the Jews, and those of gifted writers among the ancient gentiles, may truly be said to “last for
Words are the vehicles by which thought is made visible to the eye, audible to the ear, and intelligible to the mind of another; they are the palpable forms of ideas, without which these would be intangible as the spirit that conceives or the breath that would utter them. And of such influence is speech or writing, as the conductor of thought, that, though all words do not “last for ever,” and it is well for the peace of the world, and the happiness of individuals, that they do not-yet even here every word has its date and its effect; so that with the tongue or the pen we are continually doing good or evil to ourselves or our neighbours. On a single phrase expressed in anger or affection, in levity or seriousness, the whole progress of a human spirit through life-perhaps even to eternity—may be changed from the direction which it was pursuing, whether right or wrong. For in nothing is the power and indestructibility of words more signally exemplified than in small compositions, such as stories, essays, parables, songs, proverbs, and all the minor and more exquisite forms of composition. It is a fact, not obvious perhaps, but capable of perfect proof, that knowledge, in all eras which have been distinguished as enlightened, has been propagated more by tracts than by volumes. We need but appeal, in evidence of this, to the state of learning in our own land at the present day, when all classes of people are more or less instructed. On this point I shall have a future opportunity of expatiating, and will therefore, at present, offer only two examples of the permanence of words, involving sacred or important truth, of equal value and application, in all periods and coun. tries, and among all people to whom they may be delivered.
In the youth of the Roman commonwealth, during a quarrel between the patricians and plebeians, when the latter had separated themselves from the former, on the plea that they would no longer labour to maintain the unproductive class in indolent luxury, Menenius Agrippa, by the well-known fable of a schism in the human body, in which the limbs mutinied against the stomach, brought the seceders to a sense of their duty and interest, and reconciled a feud which, had it been further inflamed, might have destroyed the state, and turned the history of the world itself thenceforward into an entirely new channel, by interrupting the tide of events which were carrying Rome to the summit of dominion. The lesson which that sagacious patriot taught to his countrymen and contemporaries, he taught to all generations to come. His fable has already, by more than a thousand years, survived the empire which it rescued from premature destruction.
The other instance of a small form of words, in which dwells not an immortal only, but a divine spirit, is that prayer which our Saviour taught his disciples. How many millions and millions of times has that prayer been preferred by Christians of all denominations! So wide, indeed, is the sound thereof gone forth, that daily, and almost without intermission, from the ends of the earth, and afar off upon the sea, it is ascending to Heaven like incense and a pure offering ; nor needs it the gift of prophecy to foretell, that though “heaven and earth shall pass away,” these words of our blessed Lord " shall not pass away,” till every petition in it has been answered-till the kingdom of God shall come, and his will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
We now proceed to the immediate purpose of these papers-to take a brief, and necessarily iniperfect, but perhaps not altogether uninteresting, retrospect of the history of literature, from the ear