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The progress of the nation page 13


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A number of satires and other poems appeared at this time which deserve only a mere mention. These are "The Pursuits of Literature," by Thomas James Mathias; "Anticipation," by Tickell, being an anticipation of the king's speech, and the debates of parliament; " An Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers," by Mason, under the assumed name of Malcolm Macgregor; " The Rolliad," also a political satire, in 1785. To this succeeded " Probationary Odes," from the same party. These were thrown into the shade by the various publications of Dr. John Wolcot, under the name of Peter Pindar, who for twenty years kept the public laughing by his witty and reckless effusions, in which the king especially was most unmercifully ridiculed. Wolcot had the merit of discovering Opie, the painter, as a sawyer in the neighbourhood of Truro, and pushing him forward by his praises. To the Royal Academicians he was a relentless enemy, and addressed several sets of odes, of the most caustic and damaging kind. It is enough to mention the names of James Pye, laureate; Hayley, with his " Triumphs of Temper; " Payne Knight's romance of " Alfred; " the epics of Cumberland - " Richard I.," " The Exodiad," &c. - Pratt, Melmoth, Stockdale, Hannah More's "Poetical Tales " and "Sacred Dramas;" Sotheby, whose best work was the translation of Wieland's " Oberon;" and the sonnets of William Lisle Bowles, which possess considerable merit.

But in the midst of this waste of mediocrity, of this mob of the learned, of this warfare of wits against euphuists, and of one' small creature against another, there came a voice from Scotland that filled with envy the crowd of second-rate poets of London, and marked the dawn of a new era. A simple but sturdy peasant - with no education but such as is extended to every child in every rural parish of Scotland, "following the plough along the mountain- Bide," laboriously sowing, and reaping and foddering neat; instead of haunting drawing-rooms in bob-tailed coat and kid gloves, dancing on the barn-floor, pr hob-nobbing with his rustic chums at the next pot-house - set up a song of youth, of passion, of liberty and equality, so clear, so sonorous, so ringing with the clarion tones of genius and truth, that all Britain, north and south, stood still in wonder, and the most brazen vendor of empty words and impudent pretensions to intellectual power owned the voice of the master, and was for a moment still. This master of song was Robert Burns. Need we say more? Need we speak of the exquisite beauty of the " Cotter's Saturday Night?" - of the fun of " Tam O'Shanter? " - of the satiric drollery of his laughter at antiquarian and other pretenders? - of the scathing sarcasms on sectarian cant, in " Holy Willie's Prayer," and a dozen other things? - of the spirit of love and the spirit of liberty welling up in his heart in a hundred living songs? - of the law of man's independence and dignity stamped on the page of eternal memory in the seven words - " A man's, a man for a' that?" Are not these things written in the book of human consciousness, all the world over? Do not his fellow-countrymen sing them and shout them in every climate under heaven? At the time when they appeared the poems of Robert Burns clearly showed that true poetry was not altogether extinct, and effectually put an end to that fatal rage of imitation of the artificial school of Johnson and Pope which then prevailed.

From this date, indeed, little need be said of our poets; they are as familiar to every reader as his own fire-side faces. They have been criticised over and over, and every one has passed his own judgment upon them, and set them in their several niches, higher or lower, according to his capacity and his taste. We have little more to do than name them.

First came what has been called the Lake school, because the poets lived more or less amongst the lakes of Westmoreland and Cumberland; but which would have been more correctly called the natural school, in contradistinction to the artificial school which they superseded. The chief of these were Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. Wordsworth and Coleridge had travelled in Germany, when few Englishmen travelled there, and all of them had more or less imbibed that spirit of intense love of natural beauty and of mental philosophy which prevails in Germany. In Southey this evaporated in ballads of the wild and wonderful, with a strong tinge of Teutonic diablerie. In Wordsworth and Coleridge these elements sunk deeper, and brought forth more lasting fruits. But there was another cause which went greatly to the formation of Wordsworth's poetic system. He was thoroughly indoctrinated by his early friends, Charles Lloyd and Thomas Wilkinson, members of the Society of Friends, with their theory of worship and psychology. They taught him that the spirit of God breathes through all nature, and that we have only to listen and receive. This system was enunciated in some of Wordsworth's lyrical poems, but it is the entire foundation of his great work, the " Excursion." In his earliest poems Wordsworth wrote according to the spirit and manner of the time, and there is nothing remarkable in them; but in his " Lyrical Ballads," the first of which appeared in 1798, there was an entire change. They were of the utmost simplicity of language, and some of them on subjects so homely that they excited the most unmeasured ridicule of the critics. In particular, the "Edinburgh Review" distinguished itself by its excessive contempt of them. The same fate awaited his successive publications, including his great work, the " Excursion; " and the tide of scorn was only turned by a series of laudatory criticisms by professor Wilson, in " Blackwood's Magazine," after which the same critics became very eulogistic.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge published his earliest poems in association with his friends, Wordsworth, Charles Lloyd, and Charles Lamb. But the manner and spirit of his contributions, especially of the "Ancient Mariner," soon pointed them out as belonging to a genius very different. In his compositions there is a wide variety, some of them being striking from their wild and mysterious nature, some for their elevation of both spirit and language, and others for their deep tone of feeling. His " Genevieve," his "Ancient Mariner," and his " Hymn in the Vale of Chamouni," are themselves the sufficient testimonies of a great master. In some of his blank verse compositions the tone is as independently bold as the sentiments are philosophical and humane. Besides his own poetry, Coleridge translated part of Schiller's " Wallenstein," and was the author of several prose works of a high philosophical character. Southey was as different from Coleridge in the nature of his poetical productions as Coleridge was from Wordsworth. In his earliest poems he displayed a strong resentment against the abuses of society; he condemned war in his poem on "Blenheim," and expressed himself unsparingly on the treatment of the poor. His " Botany Bay Eclogues " are particularly in this vein. Anon he changed all that, and became one of the most zealous defenders of things as they are. His smaller poems are, after all, the best things which he wrote; his great epics of " Madoc," " Roderick, the Last of the Goths," "The Curse of Kehama," and "Thalaba," now finding few readers. Yet there are parts of them that must always charm.

Since the appearance of the Waverley Novels the poetry of Scott has been somewhat depreciated, but his metrical romances, if not of the highest class of poetry, are always fresh from their buoyancy, and the scenery in which they are laid. They are redolent of the mountain heather and summer dews; and the description of the sending of the' "fiery cross " over the hills, and the battle in " Marmion," as well as other portions, are instinct with genuine poetic vigour. Campbell, who won an early reputation by his "Pleasures of Hope," is more estimated now for his heroic ballads - "Hohenlinden," "The Battle of the Baltic," and his "Mariners of England; " Moore, by his "Irish Melodies," than by his " Lalla Rookh; " Byron, by his " Childe Harold," rather than by his earlier love tales of the east, or his later dramatic poems. Amongst the very highest of the poets of that period stands Shelley, the real poet of spiritual music, of social reformation, and of the independence of man. Never did a soul inspired by a more ardent love of his fellow-creatures receive such a bitter portion of unkind- ness and repudiation by the critics. John Keats, of a still more delicate and shrinking temperament, also received, in return for strains of the purest harmony, a sharp judgment, in no degree, however, equal to the severity of that dealt out to Shelley. In his " Ode to the Nightingale," and his " Lamia," Keats left us examples of beauty of conception and felicity of expression not surpassed since the days of Shakespeare. In his "Hyperion" he gave equal proof of the strength and grandeur to which he would have attained.

The number of distinguished poets still thronging the close of this period would require voluminous space to particularise their works: the vigorous and classic Savage Landor; the graceful, genial Leigh Hunt; Charles Lamb, quaint and piquant; Rogers, lover equally of art and nature; John Wilson, tender, but somewhat diffuse; the Ettrick Shepherd, linked in perpetual memory with his "Kilmeny" and the "Bird of the Wilderness;" Allan Cunningham; MacNeil; Grahame, author of " The Sabbath; " James Montgomery, amongst the very few successful poets of religion; Tennant, author of " Anster Fair; " Kirke White, Sotheby, Frere, Maturin, Proctor (Barry Cornwall), Milman, Joanna Baillie, Miss Mitford, Mrs. Hemans, Mrs. Howitt, Richard Howitt, Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer, but who had written long before his most beautiful poems. These had been for twenty years steadily ignored by the whole English press, till accidentally discovered by Sir John Bowring. But for this accident some of the most tender, the most exquisitely descriptive, and most vigorous poetry in the language might have perished in oblivion. Could it be believed that volumes of verse like the following, assiduously put before the eyes of the critical world from year to year, could have been wholly passed over, and the rhymy trash of dinner-giving poetasters praised as divine? -

Father! we stand upon the mountain stern,
That cannot feel our lightness, and disdains
Reptiles that sting and perish in their turn,
That hiss and die - and, lo! no trace remains
Of all their joys, their triumphs, and their pains!
Yet, to stand here might well exalt the mind:
These are not common moments, nor is this
A common scene. Hark! how the Coming wind
Booms like the funeral dirge of woe, and bliss,
And life, and power, and mind, and all that is!
How, like the wafture of a world-wide wing
It sounds and sinks - and all is hushed again!
But are our spirits humbled? No; we string
The lyre of death with mystery and pain,
And proudly hear the dreadful notes complain
That man is not the whirlwind, but the leaf,
Torn from the tree, to soar and disappear.
Grand is our weakness, and sublime our grief.
Lo! on this rock I shake off hope and fear,
And stand released from clay! - yet am I here,
And at my side are blindness, age, and woe.
physical science, and progress in social arts.

In ail those arts which increase the prosperity of a nation, England made the most remarkable progress during this reign. A number of men, rising chiefly from its working or manufacturing orders, arose, who introduced inventions and improvements in practical science, which added, in a most wonderful degree, to the industrial resources of the country. Agriculture at the commencement of the reign was in a sluggish and slovenly condition, but the increase of population, and the augmented price of corn and cattle, led to numerous inclosures of waste lands, and to improvements both in agricultural implements and in the breeds of sheep and cattle. During the thirty-three years of the reign of George II. the number of inclosures averaged only seven per annum, but in the first twenty-five years of the reign of George III. they amounted to forty-seven per annum. During that period the number of inclosures was one thousand one hundred and eighty-six, the number each year rapidly increasing. The value of the produce also stimulated the spirit of improvement in tillage as well as inclosure. Many gentlemen, especially in Northumberland, Kent, Norfolk, and Suffolk, devoted themselves to agricultural science. They introduced rotation of crops instead of fallows, and better manuring, and also cultivated various vegetables on a large scale in the fields which before had generally been confined to the garden, as turnips, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, parsnips, &c. Their example began to be followed by the ordinary class of farmers, and the raising of rents greatly quickened this imitation. At the opening of the reign the rental of land did not exceed ten shillings per acre, on an average; the rental of the whole kingdom in 1769 being sixteen million pounds, according to Arthur Young, but, in a few years, it nearly doubled that. This gentleman, who has left us so much knowledge of the agricultural state of the kingdom, in his "Tours of Survey," tells us that, northward especially, the old lumbering ploughs, and other clumsy instruments, were still in use, instead of the improved ones, and that there was, therefore, a great waste of labour, both of man and beast, in consequence. But still improvement was slowly spreading, and already Bakewell was engaged in those experiments which introduced, instead of the old large-headed and ill- shaped sheep a breed of superior symmetry, which at once consumed less food and yielded a heavier carcase. It was at first contemptuously said, by the old race of farmers and graziers, that Bakewell's new herd of sheep was too dear for any one to purchase, and too fat for any one to eat. As he was pursuing his improvements in Leicester-: shire, Culley prosecuted similar ones in Northumberland, I in both sheep and cattle. If any one would know the wonderful metomorphosis effected in cattle, horses, and sheep by these and other gentlemen, he has only to look at the woodcuts of the old sorts in " Bewick's Natural History." Under the management of these enlightened men, the disproportionate mass of bone was reduced, and flesh increased, and the whole figure assumed a regular and handsome contour. The quality of the meat was as greatly improved.

Under the operation of the corn laws, the price of wheat. rose to one hundred and fifty-six shillings a quarter in 1801, and the inclosure of waste lands kept pace accordingly; and upwards of a million of acres were inclosed every ten years. From 1800 the amount of inclosure in ten years was a million and a half of acres. The rapid increase of population, through the growth of manufactures, and the introduction of canals, as well as the fact that the people at large began to abandon the use of oats and rye in bread, and to use wheat, promoted the growth of that grain immensely. In 1793 Sir John Sinclair established the Board of Agriculture, which was incorporated, and received an annual grant from parliament. The indefatigable Arthur Young was elected its secretary, and agricultural surveys of the kingdom were made. The reports of these were published, adding greatly to a comprehension of the real state of cultivation. In 1784 Young had commenced the publication of the " Annals of Agriculture," by which invaluable information was diffused, and new prizes were offered by the board for improvements, and great annual sheep-shearings were held at Woburn and Holkham, by the duke of Bedford and Mr. Coke, afterwards lord Leicester, which tended to stimulate the breed of better sheep. The king himself had his model farms, and introduced merino sheep from Spain. It was long, however, before the better modes of ploughing could be introduced amongst the farmers. The Scotch were the first to reduce the number of the horses which drew the plough, using only two, whilst in England might still be seen a heavy, clumsy machine drawn by from four to six horses, doing less work, and that work less perfectly.

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