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The progress of the nation page 10


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Far greater, however, as the wielder of human sympathies by the recital of wrongs and oppression, was William Godwin in his " Caleb Williams " and " Leon." " Caleb Williams" is a model for narrative: lively, clear, simple yet strong, moving in a rapid career - in fine contrast to the slow, wire-drawn progress of the modern three-volume novel - till it winds up in an intensity of sensation. Then came Miss Burney, better known as Madame D'Arblay, with her " Evelina," " Cecilia," and " Camilla," returning again to the details of social life. Afterwards came Dr. John Moore with " Zeluco," &c.; Mrs. Inchbald with her charming " Simple Story; " Mrs. Opie with " The Father and Daughter" in 1801, followed by various other novels; and in the same year Miss Edgeworth commenced her splendid career with " Belinda," and in the next year " Castle Rackrent." To this period also belongs lady Morgan with her " Wild Irish Girl," though she continued to live and write long after this reign.

Amongst the novelists of the later period of the reign we may name Horace Smith, author of " Brambletye House," &c.; Leigh Hunt, the poet, author of " Sir Ralph Esher;" Peacock, author of "Headlong Hall;" Beckford, author of the wild eastern tale of " Vathek;" Hamilton, author of " Cyril Thornton," &c.; Maturin, author of " Melmoth the Wanderer," &c.; Mrs. Brunton, author of " Discipline," " Self-Control," &c.; Miss Austen, authoress of " Pride and Prejudice," " Mansfield Park," " Sense and Sensibility," &c., all distinguished by the nicest sense of character; and Miss Ferrier, authoress of " Marriage " and other novels of a high order.

But far above all rose, at this period, the already popular romantic poet, Walter Scott. Before him, in Scotland, Henry Mackenzie had occupied for a long time the fore- ground as a writer of fiction, in "The Man of Feeling," " Julia de Roubigné, " &c., but in a very différent class of invention. As Walter Scott had opened up the romance of the Scottish Highlands in his poems, so he now burst forth, on the same ground, in historic romance, with a vigour, splendour, and wonderful fertility of imagination and resource of knowledge which far exceeded everything which had gone before him in the history of literature since the days of Shakespeare. We need not attempt to characterise the voluminous series of what are called the " Waverley Novels," which, in their ample range, occupied almost every country of Europe and every climate, from the bleak rocks of Orkney to the glowing plains of Syria and India; they are familiar to all our readers, and closed this period with a splendour from the mingled blaze of invention, poetry, and science, which no succeeding age is likely to surpass.

In history, as in fiction, a new school of writers arose during this period, at the head of which stood Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon. Hume had already acquired a great reputation by his " Philosophical Essays concerning the Human Understanding," his " Enquiry into the Principles of Morals," and his " Natural History of Religion." In these metaphysical works he had indulged his extreme sceptical tendency, and in the "Essay on Miracles" believed that he had actually exploded the Christian religion. His works on this subject did not, at first, gain much attention; but in a while were seized on by the deistical and atheistical philosophers both here and on the continent, and have furnished that class of writers with their principal weapons. His two first volumes met with the same cold reception as his metaphysics at first had done. He commenced his history with that favourite period with historians - the reigns of James I. and Charles I. - because then began the great struggle for the destruction of the constitution, followed by the still more interesting epoch of its battle for and triumph over its enemies. Hume had all the tory prejudices of the Scotch jacobite, and the reigns of James I. and Charles I. were extremely to his taste, but as little to that of the English public. Hence the dead silence with which it was received. But on the publication of the second volume, containing the Commonwealth and the reigns of Charles H. and James II., the storm broke out. In these he had run counter to all the received political ideas of the age. But this excitement raised both volumes into notice, and he then went back, and, in 1759, published two more volumes, containing the reigns of the Tudors; and, going back again, in 1762, he completed his history, by bringing it down from the invasion of Julius Caesar to the accession of Henry VII. It was afterwards continued by Smollett.

The history of Hume was much over-estimated in his own time, in spite of the despotic notions which abound in it. It was held up, as Macaulay's history has been recently, as a miracle of eloquence and acuteness. But after times always correct the enthusiasm of contemporaries, and Hume's history has been, and Macaulay's is already beginning to be, found not in every case strictly reliable. Both historians had their violent prejudices, which warped them from the truth; and both have been found more elegant in phraseology than profound in research. When we now, indeed, take up Hume, we are surprised to find it a very plain, clear narrative of events, with many oversights and perversions, and nothing more. We wonder where are the transcendent beauties which threw our ancestors into raptures, for which language scarcely gave expression. Whoever will read the correspondence of contemporaries with Hume, will find him eulogised rather as a demigod than a man, and his works described in the most extravagant strains of praise.

The "History of Scotland, during the Reigns of Queen Mary and James II.," by Dr. Robertson, was published in 1759, the year of the appearance of Hume's " History of the House of Tudor." It was at once popular; and Hume, writing to him, attributed this to the deference which he had paid to established opinions, the true source of the popularity of many works. This was followed, in 1769, by his " History of Charles V.," and, in 1777, by his " History of America." Robertson's chief characteristic is a sonorous and rather florid style, which extremely pleased his age, but wearies this. His histories drew great attention to the subjects of them at that period; but time has shown that they are extremely superficial, and have needed supersedence by Tytler, on the same era in Scotland, and by Prescott, on Spanish and American subjects; as Hume has needed the labours of Turner, Hallam, Lingard, and others, to make good his deficiencies.

" The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," by Gibbon, began to appear in 1776, a few months before the death of Hume, and was not completed till 1788. It consisted of six ponderous quarto volumes, and now occupies double that number of octavos. It is a monument of enormous labour and research, filling the long, waste, dark space betwixt ancient and modern history. It traces the history of Rome from its imperial splendour; through its severance into East and West; through ita decadence under its luxurious and effeminate emperors; through the ravages of the invading hordes of the north, to the present, when the nations of Europe began, in the dawn of a new morning, to rise from the depth of barbarism into life, form, and power. The faults of this great work are, that it is written, like Hume's " History of England," in the sceptical spirit of the period; and that it marches on, in one high-sounding, pompous style, with a monotonous step, over every kind of subject. The same space and attention are bestowed on the insignificance of the feeblest emperors, and the least important times, as on the greatest and most eventful. It is a work which all should read, but a large part of it will be waded through rather as a duty than a pleasure. Still, Gibbon holds his own indispensable position; no other man has yet risen to occupy it better.

Besides these leading histories, this reign produced many others of great value. Amongst these appeared a " History of England," by a lady, Catherine Macaulay, from James I. to the accession of the House of Hanover, in 1763; which was followed by another series, from the revolution to her own time. Mrs. Macaulay was a thorough-going republican; had gone to America expressly to see and converse with Washington, and her history presented the very opposite opinions and phase of events to those of Hume. Lord Lyttleton wrote a " History of Henry II.," in by no means a popular style; but valuable as illustrating constitutional questions by original documents. In 1776 appeared the first volume of lord Hailes valuable " Annals of Scotland," and in 1771 commenced the " Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland," from the end of Charles I.'s reign to the time of king William; Macplierson's " History of Great Britain after the Restoration;" Stuart's "History of the Reformation in Scotland," and " History of Scotland from the Reformation to the Death of Queen Mary; " Whitaker's " History of Manchester; " Warner's " History of Ireland; " Leland's " History of Ireland; " Grainger's " Biographical History of England; " Ferguson's " History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic; " Watson's " History of Philip II. of Spain; " Orme's " History of the British Nation in Hindostan; " Anderson's " Annals of Commerce." In 1784 Mitford published his " History of Ancient Greece," and two years later Gillies published another " History of Greece." In 1789 Pinkorton published a " History of the House of Stuart down to Queen Mary," filling up the intervals left by Hailes and Robertson. In 1790 Boswell published his " Life of Johnson; " in 1796 Roscoe his " Life of Lorenzo de'Medici," and, in 1805, the " Life and Pontificate of Leo X." We may add, that at the close of this period Southey, Sharon Turner, Lingard, and Napier were preparing to add substantially to our historical literature.

The miscellaneous literature of this reign was immense, Consisting of travels, biographies, essays on all subjects, and treatises in every department of science and letters. Prominent amongst these are the "Letters of Junius," who, in the early part of the reign, kept the leading statesmen, judges, and the king himself, in terror by the relentlessness of his scarifying criticisms. These letters, which are the perfection of political writing, have been ascribed to many authors, but most generally to Sir Philip Francis; though it is hard to speak on the subject with certainty. The writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson furnish many items to this department. His " Dictionary of the English Language" was a gigantic labour; his " Lives of the Poets," his " Tour to the Western Isles," would of themselves have made a reputation, had he never written his poetry, his periodical essays, or edited Shakespeare. Burke, too, besides his Speeches, added largely to general literature. He wrote his " Inquiry into the Origin of the Sublime and Beautiful; ' ' assisted in the composition of the " Annual Register" for several years; and, in 1790, published his most famous work, " Reflections on the French Revolution." Besides these he wrote a mass of political letters and essays. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu produced her celebrated Letters about the middle of the century, and many other ladies were popular writers at this period: Sophia and Harriet Lee - whose " Canterbury Tales" ought to have been mentioned under the head of novels - Anna Maria Williams, Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. Catherine Talbot, Elizabeth Carter, the translator of Epictetus, Mrs. Montagu, an essayist on Shakespeare, Mrs. Chapone, author of "Letters on the Improvement of the Mind," Mrs. Barbauld, and Mrs. Charlotte Smith. In theology, metaphysics, and intellectual philosophy, the earlier portion of the reign was rich. In rapid succession appeared Reid's "Enquiry into the Human Mind; " Campbell's " Answer to Hume on Miracles;" Beattie's "Essay on Truth;" Wallace's "Essay on the Numbers of Mankind;" and Stuart's " Enquiry into the Principles of Political Economy." But, nine years after Stuart's work, appeared another on the same subject, which raised that department of inquiry into one of the most prominent and influential sciences of the age. This was the famous treatise " On the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith. This great work has produced a real revolution in the doctrines of the production and accumulation of wealth. Many of its axioms have, as might be expected, been proved to be unsound; but, as a whole, its principles remain as the guide to certain wealth and prosperity; and, in teaching the advantages of the division of employments, and of free trade, have rendered incalculable services to mankind. But their very success has led to a dangerous national error of thought and habit that wealth is the chief end of human existence. To accomplish this end, the rights, and interests, and moral claims of whole masses of human beings have been sacrificed, and it is only now that a higher and more Christian philosophy is stepping in to control the operations of this science: the philosophy that men have rights far superior to any considerations of the growth of wealth; that the true end of being is not the accumulation of capital, but the acquisition of the highest moral and religious benefits by mankind; that capital, in whatever hands it lies, is but a loan from the great Master of life, for the distribution of benefits to his creatures; that capital has its duties as well as its powers; and that these duties will be as rigorously exacted by the Father of all, as interest is exacted by the capitalist himself. There is, therefore, a science of moral economy still higher than political economy; and the perfect conduct of human affairs cannot be reached till this is acknowledged and universally practised.

Besides those already mentioned as distinguished in various branches of literature, there was a host of others whom we can only name. In theology there were Warburton, South, Horsley, Jortin, Madan, Gerard, Blair, Geddes, Lardner, Priestley; in criticism and philology, Harris, Monboddo, Kames, Blair, Sir William Jones, Walpole; in antiquarian research, Hawkins, Burney, Chandler, Barrington, Stevens, Pegge, Farmer, Vallancey, Grose, Gough; in belles lettres and general literature, Chesterfield, Hawkesworth, Brown, Jenyns, Bryant, Hurd, Melmoth, Potter, Francklin, &c.; in mathematical and physical science, Black, the discoverer of latent heat, Cavendish, the discoverer of the composition of water, Priestley, Herschel, Maskelyne, Horsley, Vince, Maseres, James Hutton, author of " The Huttonian Theory of the Earth," Charles Hutton, Cullen Brown, the founder of the Brownian theory of medicine, John and William Hunter, the anatomists, Pennant, the zoologist, &c.; discoverers of new lands, plants, and animals, commodore Byron, captains Wallis, Cook, Carteret, Flinders, &c., Dr. Salander, Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. Green.

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