« AnteriorContinuar »
And Hope's last ray, scarce lingering there,
'Twas on this day the Saviour died,
This day the bloody deed was done;
Eve saw the fatal change begun :
Nature her sable weeds put on;
- Her brightest, noblest glory gone:
Deep fissures rend the groaning ground !
The riven rocks fall thundering round:
The graves their sainted dead restore,
Themselves foretold in days of yore:
The birds of darkness flap their wings;
And with their shrieks the mountain rings.
A phantom train, draw sadly near,
In strains of mournfulness and fear;
The present may, without doubt, be called the “Golden Age of Authors.” We no longer have instances of men starving in a garret, while the world is feasting on the fruits of their brain...Grub-street has passed into oblivion. There are no Curlls in the present day, to keep a tribe of ravenous authors to criticize, to defame, toʻvilify at a moment's notice. There are no instances of popular authors dependant on this or that bookseller for an uncertain and stinted subsistence. The course of a literary life is now as smooth and gainful, as, a hundred years ago, it was rough and poverty-stricken.
Let us take instances from the Authors of the present day. Witness the humorous and lively Boz Four years ago his name was unheard of; he was obscure, and in poverty. He published his “ Sketches,” and commenced his “ Pickwick. He at once rose to fame and competence; and if accounts speak true, he has already realized a comfortable fortune. How different was the fate of Fielding, Smollett, and Goldsmith! Fielding wrote many popular works before the production of those pieces which bave rendered his name immortal. He still remained in poverty. He wrote "Joseph Andrews," one of the wittiest novels in existence, and one of the most universally popular. He gained fame by this production; but he gained nothing else. He now produced “ Tom Jones,” a novel which if inferior to any that ever was written, is inferior alone to that prince of novels, “ Don Quixote.” And what did he obtain from that stupendous effort of genius ? Why, less than Southey, or any other successful Author of the present day, would procure for three or four articles in the Quarterly Review. Would it be believed, that two hundred pounds was his reward for a work which has given more amusement, obtained greater popularity, and gone through more editions than any other work of fiction in the language ; and bas even been naturalized into several of the languages of the continent, as Gil Blaş and Don Quixote are naturalized into ours ?
Boz, without doubt, well deserves his success; he is original, fertile in imagination, quick in invention, and doubly quick in execution. Still he sinks into nothing when compared to Fielding He writes carelessly, and with all his merits few Authors can shew more faults, and more incongruities. Fielding was as truly classical in his style as he was lively and unrivalled in his imagination; and has the merit, moreover, of having been the first to introduce the novel, properly so called, into our language. Mudford, the critic, makes the following observation :- When Joseph Andrews' appeared, there was no novel in the English language which exhibited a faithful picture of human life, for that merit can scarcely be ascribed, in its full extent, to Richardson, whose pages are not wholly free from an intermixture of high-wrought fiction, which violates the sober reality of truth. Fielding, therefore, is justly entitled to that merit of originality upon which he insists in his preface; and to the success of his first attempt we doubtless owe the most perfect model of a comic romance which the literature of any country can boast.”
To take another instance. What can more clearly shew the truth of the assertion at the beginning of this article, than that Mr. Grant, the Author of “ The Great Metropolis,” is a flourishing, popular, and thriving writer ? Whether his success arises from having his works illustrated by Cruikshanks, is a doubtful question ; certainly it would be a difficult matter to point out any other merit in them. Yet by dint of publishing much and often, he has obtained, in a short time, a notoriety which Goldsmith and Johnson did not arrive at until they had undergone years of hard labour and almost starvation.
it would not be difficult to trace the regular path to temporary fame. A young man finds or fancies that he has a facility for writing ; he begins to disdain his avocations, and longs to be an Author; he ventures a letter or an essay in a newspaper ; his gratuitous services are accepted, and he already sets up for a literary character, He now
begins to write “tales” and “ sketches from real life.” After two or three years' unsuccessful attempts, he manages to make interest with some publisher of some obscure magazine, to have his productions admitted; and now another step is gained in the ascent to Parnassus. Plus ultra is still his motto. One step succeeds another. He at length is a paid writer for some of the leading Miscellanies; and now gives up every other avocation to attend to that of Authorship, which he finds the most profitable trade he can apply to. His tales take well; his name becomes known among booksellers; a publisher wishes to start a new Magazine, and engages him as the editor. He now blazes forth in his long-desired glory before the public; his name reaches every corner of the empire; he issues a novel, in monthly parts, with illustrations; and behold him at the top of the pinnacle!
Such is the state and such the character of Authorship in the present day: and it may be remarked that the gains of Authors have increased in just proportion with the increase of frivolous literature. It is a melancholy truth, that those men whose efforts have raised our literature to the high station which it now holds have generally laboured hard, suffered much, and gained little : while the ephemeral Authors who have just wit sufficient to attain to a temporary celebrity, are rewarded for corrupting our tastes and adulterating our literature, with wealth, ease, and distinction.
Many circumstances have conspired to bring about this change in the welfare of Authors. The immense increase of magazines and newspapers has excited a mania for desultory and light reading, greatly to the detriment of sound learning and real knowledge. In no age has a love of novelty prevailed to a greater extent than in the present. Novelty is a sufficient recommendation for almost any work, however trifling or however senseless. And the Author who can contrive to publish frequently, will seldom fail to make a profitable speculation of it. Again, in the days of our ancestors, an Author's fame travelled very slowly beyond London. The sale of his works was almost confined to that city, and the profit of publication in consequence proportionably less. In our times a new book is to be found in every provincial town in the kingdom within a week of its publication in London.
In short, it were an almost endless task to enumerate each several reason. Let us rejoice that merit does not meet neglect, however frivolity may meet encouragement. We can pardon the favours which have been poured out on the heads of the undeserving, in consideration of the ready distinction and warm reception which the really deserving have met with of late years. And we trust that the extension of a taste for reading through all classes of the population, as it has produced the evil, may in time work out its own cure; when the public mind, cloyed with novelty and frivolity, shall fall back upon those classical inodels which form the real standard of national literature.
How sweet is the spot where Contentinent appears !
yoli ask for the reason,-Contentment is there,
gem of Contentment, if worn in the breast,
FEW REMARKS ON AN ANCIENT, AND NOBLE, BUT MUCH
66 NEGLECTED POEM, ENTITLED- THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT.”
Much has been said, and much has been written, of late years, upon the decline of a true taste for poetry, and we think with no little truth. The world, in these days, is too busy making railways, building Great Western Steamers, and forming joint-stock companies, to think or care much about such trifles. Nevertheless, we constantly hear much boast about “ enlightened times," “ the march of intellect," &c. The“ times” are truly “enlightened,” so far as to see their own supereminent merit; and “intellect” does indeed “march,”-it marches so far in advance, that it forgets to look behind, and gives that praise to its own puny performances, which is due only to such sterling and standard works as time has stamped for its own.
Horace, in one of his epistles, complains that the Roman people would neither read, nor listen to any thing new, and that they were too apt to esteem á work just in proportion to the number of years
it had been written. Jf he had lived in the nineteenth century, his complaint would have been reversed; he would have lamented the avidity with which men read the latest novel, or the sentimental productions of some sorry poetaster, who has the üharins of novelty on his side ; whilst the works of Milton, and Shakespeare, and such poems as we are now about to comment on, lie very quietly on the shelf, getting some praise, it is true, but more dust.
O tempora ! O mores!”
It has been frequently remarked, that it is no small testimony to the beauty of poetry, that it strikes the imagination of the young ; indeed it will be found to be a remarkable truth, that it is almost invariably the finest specimens of the muse which gain the admiration of the youthful mind. This recommendation the poem before us possesses in an eminent degree, and no wonder that it should; the affecting pathos,—the simplicity,—the variety of incident,—the beautiful concatenation of events, and lastly, the felicity of its conclusion, are sufficient reason for its being such a general favourite.
The date which we are to assign to this noble effort of genius, has been the subject of much discussion among commentators, and alas ! we fear will never be satisfactorily decided. We shall not trouble our readers with an account of our own researches on this subject, but proceed immediately to point out some of its principal beauties. And first, the magnificent manner in which the subject is introduced
“ This is the house that Jack built." We are dazzled, we are confounded,—we know not what to notice first. What a confusion of beauties ! How full of meaning is this single line! We are at once thrown into the midst of the subject in true epic style. Our poet does not begin by telling us who Jack was, and who his father and grandfather were, as some scribblers would have done; he does not tell us about the laying of the foundation of the house, or what circumstances induced Jack to build it, and how he was puzzled to find a suitable situation. No; he brings the whole scene before us at once, in a most vivid, nay, in a mnost sublime manner. Upon examining the line more narrowly, we shall find three prominent points attracting our attention. First, The hero Jack; Second, His enterprise in building; Third, The effects of that enterprise,--the house.
First, then, The hero Jack. Here we would remark the peculiar propriety with which the name of the hero is introduced in the very first line. It is thus that Homer mentions the name of Achilles in the first line of the Iliad ; and Virgil, although he does not actually name Æneas, opens his poem-—“ Arma virumque cano.” What need have we of further precedent ?
Secondly, His enterprise in building. Here the poet gives us some idea of the loftiness of soul in his hero, L“ the house that Jack built.” Jack, then, is no common man; he built the house,--he did not begin a house and then leave it unfinished. No, he began it,he went through with it—he completed it. Here is no common decision of character.
But we hurry on to the third point, The effects of his enterprise, The house. And here let us notice the beautiful manner in which our author just says sufficient, and leaves sufficient unsaid. He does not give us a minute description of the house; that is most wisely left to the imagination of the reader. It might be a beautiful little rustic cottage, with roses and woodbines, and all other appendages; it might be a tall, respectable house, in a row. Lastly, (we shall only offer one more conjecture) it might be a neat country inn, which