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IN presenting ourselves to Public notice, we wish to offer a few remarks on British Poetry in general, and to point out the distinguishing features of the following work.
If the legitimate design of Poetry is to combine instruction with pleasure, and profit with delight; to subordinate the labours of imagination and the play of fancy to the promotion of Virtue and Religion in the world, we fear that most of our Bards deserve a greater meed of censure than applause. From CHAUCER to COWPER how few Masters of Song, by making poetry the handmaid of piety, have decked theinselves with an unfading wreath. Silly and affected love-ditties, praises of nature, with little reference to nature's God, absurd flattery, or malignant satire, fairy pictures of human life and happiness, or misanthropic effusions, abound in their works, and exhibit a desecration of genius, deeply, and ever to be deplored. SURRY and SACKVILLE, CAREW and SUCKLING, are mere amatory Rhymers, and pander to all the vapid sentiments of their tribe. SPENSER was a genuine Poet; but in his great work, "The Faery Queene," indulged an excess of imagination which enervates the mind; while in some of his smaller pieces he descended to adorn and circulate sentiments unworthy of his Muse. We wish, however, to tread lightly upon his ashes, as he repented of his folly, and bequeathed to posterity, a few sacred composures of great beauty and excellence. BISHOP HALL is better known as a Theologian than as a Poet, though his satires do not merit the epithet "toothless," which Milton has conferred upon them, and are free from the malice and impurity, common to works of that class. Omitting DAVIES, (who has furnished us with a few lines) DONNE, DRAYTON, and others, who on account either of their tediousness, or quaintness, are little known and less read, we find much in the FLETCHERS to admire and commend. Their genius, truly Spenserian, was adorned with piety, and sacred to virtue. Though now generally neglected, they were highly lauded in their day, nor did even Milton disdain to borrow from one of them. We hope that the extracts we have given from them will be acceptable to our readers, and induce them to peruse the whole of their works. SHAKSPEARE adorned every thing he wrote with peculiar felicity of genius, but the general tendency of his poetry can not be approved by enlightened and virtuous minds, BEN JONSON was a mere trifler in verse. His religious poems are not destitute of merit, but being found almost upon the same page with his indelicate effusions, they lose all their charm. The poetry
of CRASHAW is chiefly devoted to pious subjects, and yet it is in general so extravagant as to deserve little notice. His paraphrase, however, of the twenty-third Psalm, (page 165) though a little quaint, is touching, and impressive. COWLEY is no favourite with us. Like other metaphysical Poets, he sometimes loses himself in the clouds, and has attempted sacred poetry with little success.
The times of the Commonwealth produced more Heroes than Poets; but we ought not to forget that, in strictness, MILTON belongs to them; though his immortal work was not published until after their close. In daring sublimity of thought, unsullied purity of sentiment, and sustained dignity of expression, he stands unrivalled. We have given his description of the Creation, which, though lengthy, is peculiarly happy, and the most appropriate which our language has produced. We wish to see an inexpensive edition of his works, which, by means of notes, should explain his numerous classical allusions, as from want of this, he is more praised than read, and more read than understood. BUTLER, that inimitable droll, wickedly endeavoured to identify Puritanism with cant, and to hold up to contempt, men whose morals were in general a libel upon his own. DRYDEN, though he excelled in command of numbers and vigour of expression, debased his Muse by employing it in defence of a corrupt system both of civil polity and Religion. The Poets connected with the court of Charles II. were like their Monarch, witty and profligate, and their writings deserved to have been committed to the flames, rather than to the press.
In what is commonly called the Augustan age of our literature, a constellation of Poets appeared. Then came ADDISON, with "attic taste" and "in holiday trim :"POPE with his exact harmony, and "galaxy of poetical felicities" and ARBUTHNOT and SWIFT with their humorous and satirical vein. Though these were men of genius above their fellows, we regret that we cannot unite in all the praise which the excellent CowPER has bestowed upon them in his "Table Talk." ADDISON, we think, seldom, if ever, attained sublimity, and though his poetry may "polish or delight," it is not adapted to "furnish the mind." His Rosamond is worse than trifling, and in his Cato, by advocating, he promoted suicide*. We however not merely except from censure, but highly commend his few religious poems, and sincerely lament that he did not live to enlarge their number. We admire the Rosicrucian machinery of POPE'S "Rape of the Lock," the tender pathos of his "Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady," as well as the taste and tact displayed in some of his other pieces; yet we fear it cannot be truly said that he gave "Virtue and Morality a grace." He is not free from improper allusions, and his satire is malignant and reckless. His religious ideas, derived from the School of Bolingbroke, are worthy of that Arch-Infidel, and, as we understand from credible authority, are peculiarly adapted to Braminical taste. His Messiah, as might be expected from its merit, has found a place in our pages. O si sic omnia! The wit of SWIFT is so low and degraded, that his works ought never to be submitted to indiscriminate perusal. "PRIOR'S ease" is no atonement for PRIOR'S folly and impurity. PARNELL is among the least
exceptionable of the Poets of his age, and, could we have found room, we should have derived pleasure from inserting his " Hermit," as alike beautiful and instructive. The Night Thoughts" of YOUNG are a poetical book of Ecclesiastes, with the truths of the gospel superadded. With one hand, he lays bare the vanity of the world, and the disappointment attendant on human pursuits; with the other, he points to "enduring substance," and presents the healing balm of the Cross. His descriptions of the glories of Redemption have been rarely surpassed. Whatever may be the imperfections of his work, arising from the morbid character of some of its passages, we know of few that are so well adapted to impress mankind with just views of the value of time, the grandeur and immortality of the soul, and the necessity of preparation for the Eternal World. We admire THOMSON as the Painter of Nature, and the Advocate of Liberty; yet, in his "Seasons" he is not uniformly pure, and in his finest poetical work, "The Castle of Indolence," suffers his imagination to luxuriate
* The case of Eustace Budgell is here referred to,
into descriptions which may entertain, but neither strengthen nor elevate the mind. GRAY, fastidious in taste, and jealous of reputation, has left few productions of his Muse, but they are exquisite in their kind. His well-known Elegy, will be read while there is a human mind capable either of feeling or of taste; yet must we lament its entire destitution of those truths, which by bringing "life and immortality to light" have robbed death of its sting, and the grave of its terrors. This deficiency has been supplied by an anonymous American poet, whose interesting lines will be found on the 253rd page. COWPER is the most useful and interesting of Christian Poets, Greatly inferior to MILTON in creative genius, he excels him in moral effect, by coming home to the business and bosoms of men. If he does not, like our Epic Bard, enable us to range through ideal worlds, he shows us as in a lucid and faithful mirror the scenery and interests of our own. If he does not, like him, invest the facts of Revelation with high imaginings, he inculcates its special verities with unsparing fidelity and poetic charm. Even his satire is kindly severe, wounding to heal; while in his humorous pieces, it is the moral which adorns the tale. Contemporary with Cowper, though a Poet of very different order, was the unhappy BURNS. We admire his Hogarth-like humour, his thrilling pathos, his native grace and fire, but we lament his abuse of the extraordinary talents with which "the Father, of lights" had endued him. His "Cotter's Saturday-Night" will transinit to distant ages a faithful picture of Scottish piety in humble life. Its length alone prevented its insertion. Of the same nation with Burns, was the meek, tender, and pious GRAHAME. The several pieces introduced from his works carry with them their own recommendation.
Having arrived at our own time, BYRON, its brightest poetical ornament, claims our first attention. We are not insensible either to the might or the charm of his Lordship's genius, but we confess that his productions remind us of poison presented in a golden chalice, or of the serpent which fascinates to deceive, and lures to destroy. Even his descriptions of Nature are interwoven with sentiments which no believer in the truth of Scripture, or friend to human happiness can approve. We have, though not without difficulty, furnished a few unexceptionable extracts from his works.
We cannot refrain from expressing our admiration of "The Course of Time." It is a Poem which will live when some of its more flashy compeers shall have been forgotten. It may have been over-praised; it is occasionally harsh and prosaic; but withal, it is a work of extraordinary merit and promise ;-promise alas,-never to be realized in the present world! Its highly-gifted Author can no more be soothed by flattery, nor grieved by censure. His earthly Harp lies broken and silent in death, but he has taken up the "Harp of Eternity” and is singing the "new song" in rapt and undying strains
"In the blest kingdom meek of joy and love,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
And wipe the tear forever from his eyes."
POLLOK, by his premature removal to a better world, reminds us of the lamented KIRK WHITE, whose memory Southey and Byron have united to embalm. His Poetry is now identified with the affecting history of his life, and
"Each gives each a double charm."
His early death is among those hidden mysteries of Providence, which we wait the light of Eternity to reveal.
Our notice of living Poets, must be very brief. WORDSWORTH abounds in musings, which are exceedingly beautiful, though occasionally obscure. CRABBE is the poetic Morland of the day. His graphic sketches of life cannot fail to interest and please, though we wish they were less morbid, and not deformed by occasional caricatures of Evangelical Truth. CAMPBELL, who has written no second work worthy of his superior genius, seems determined to leave us to "The Pleasures of Hope." We find in SIR W. SCOTT several faithful pictures of Nature and well-told tales of olden time, but it is not by his poetry chiefly that he will be known to posterity; indeed its reputation seems to be already on the decline. SOUTHEY has exchanged his Aonian flights for the more profitable walks of prose, and as his principles have greatly improved in his maturer years, we wish that he would favour us with more frequent effusions of his Muse; of a different class, however, from his "Vision of Judgment." COLERIDGE, if he had written nothing but his "Chamouny," included in this Selection, would deserve to rank with Poets of a superior order. MONTGOMERY, more than any other living Poet, resembles the amiable CowPER, and is entitled to the rare praise of having written
"No line which dying he need wish to blot."
The Poetry of Mrs. HEMANS reminds us of her first name, as few excel her in correctness of sentiment, or Felicity of diction. She is worthy of being associated with a BARBAULD, a H. MORE, and a J. TAYLOR. BOWRING has not only transfused the beauties of Foreign Poets into his own language, but is himself a Poet of no ordinary merit.
In this brief notice of many of the Poets of our Country, we have omitted several names, dear both to genius and to piety, and from whose works we have enriched our Selection.
In compiling our volume, we have endeavoured to confine ourselves to Poetry of a superior order, except in instances in which the pith and unction of the sentiment more than compensate the defects of the Muse. Rigid attention has been paid to the principles of the Work, so that we hope it contains nothing offensive to the purest Morals, or inconsistent with Revealed Truth.
The Arrangement will we hope be found convenient, and supply a deficiency which must have been often remarked in works of a similar kind.
We beg to acknowledge our obligations to various living Authors; particularly to Messrs. MONTGOMERY, BOWRING, EDMESTON, and CONDER; also to our gifted, but too-much-neglected Townsman, CARRINGTON.
We are much indebted to our Subscribers, and beg them to accept the Vignette, as an expression of our gratitude for their kind Patronage of the volume, which we now commend to their judgment-to public inspection—and to the blessing of God.