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1V presenting ourselves to Puhlic 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 comhine instruction with pleasure, and profit with delight; to suhordinate the lahours of imagination and the play of fancy to the promotion of Virtue and Religion in the world, we fear that most of our Bauis deserve a greater meed of censure than applause. From Chaucer to Cowfer howfew Masters of Song, hy making poetry the handmaid of piety, have decked them selves with an unfading wreath. Silly and affected love-ditties, praises of nature, with little reference to nature's God, ahsurd flattery, or malignant satire, fairy pictures of human life and happiness, or misanthropic effusions, ahound in their works, and exhihit a desecration of genius, deeply, and ever to he deplored. Surry and Sack^ille, Carew and Suckling, are mere amatory Rhymers, and pander to all the vapid sentiments of their trihe. Sfenser was a genuine Poet; hut 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 Mase. We wish, however, to tread lightly upon his ashes, as he repented of his folly, and hequeathed to posterity, a few sacred composures of great heauty and excellence. Bishof Hall is hetter 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 v.:th a few lines; Donne, Drayton, and others, who on account either of their tedioosness, 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 horrow from one of them. We hope that the extracts we have given from them will he acceptahle to our readers, and induce them to peruse the whole of their works. Shaksfeare adorned every thing he wrote with peculiar felicity of genius, hut the general tendency of his poetry can not he approved hy enlightened and virtuous minds, Ben Jonson was a mere trifler in verse. His religious poems are not destitute of merit, hut heing found almost upon the same page with his indelicate effusions, they lose all their charm. The poetry of Crash Aw is chiefly devoted to pious suhjects, 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; hut we ought not to forget that, in strictness, Milton helongs to them; though his immortal work was not puhlished until after their close. In daring suhlimity of thought, unsullied purity of sentiment, and sustained dignity of expression, he stands uurivalled. 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, hy 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 inimitahle droll, wickedly endeavoured to identify Puritanism with cant, and to hold up to contempt, men whose morals were in general a lihel upon his own. Dryden, though he excelled in command of numhers and vigour of expression, dehased his Muse hy employing it in defence of a corrupt system hoth of civil polity and Religion. The Poets connected with the court of Charles II. were like iheir Monarch, witty and profligate, and their writings deserved to have heen committed to the flames, rather than to the press.
In what is commerily called the Augustan age of our literature, a constellation of Poets appeared. Then came Addison, with " attic taste" and " in holiday trim ;"— Pofe with his exact harmony, and " galaxy of poetical felicities": and Arelthnot and Swift with their humorous and satirical vein. Though these were men of genius ahove their fellows, We regret that we cannot unite in all the praise which the excellent Cow^JER has hestowed upon them in his " Tahle Talk." Addison, we think seldom, if ever, attained suhlimity, 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, hy advocating, he promoted suicide*. We however not merely except from censure, hut highly commend his few religious poems, and sincerely lament that he did not live to enlarge their numher. We admire the Rosicruciati machinery of Pofe's "Rape of the Lock/* the tender pathos of his "Elegy on ah Unfortunate Lady," as well as the taste and tact displayed in some ot his other pieces; yet we fear it cannot he 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 religions ideas, derived from the School of Bolinghroke, are worthy of that Arch-Infidel, and, as we understand from credihle authority, are peculiarly adapted to Braminical taste. His Messiah, as might he expected from its merit, has found a place in our pages. O & sic omnia! The wit of Swift is so low and degraded, that his works ought never to he suhmitted to indiscriminate perusal. ** Prior's ease" is no atonement for Prior's folly and impurity. Parnell is among the least exceptionahle of the Poets of his age, and, could we have found room, we should have derived pleasure from inserting his " Hermit," as alike heautiful and instructive. The "Night Thoughts" of Young are a poetical hook of Ecclesiastes, with the truths of the gospel superadded. With one hand, he lays hare the vanity of the world, and the disappointment attendant on human pursuits; with the other, he points to " enduring suhstance," and presents the healing halm of the Cross. His descriptions of the glories of Redemption have heen rarely surpassed. Whatever may he the imperfections of his work, arising from the morhid 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 grandenr 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 Liherty; yet, in his "Seasons" he is not uniformly pure, and in hii fmest poetical work, "The Castle of Indolence," suffers his imagination to luxuriate
• The case of Eustace Badge!! is here referred to.