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found of the class to which allusion is now made; not one whose rank is so conspicuous, and his celebrity so unequivocal, that his existence, and the primal literature of his native soil being identified, a casual recurrence to either will bring to remembrance the other.
No stress is here laid upon any thing but the bare fact, that, among the multitude of eminent writers in Italy, Spain, France, England, and the rest of Christendom, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries (I purposely exclude all later born, as not having yet passed their full ordeal), there are scarcely so many as twenty of whom it can be unhesitatingly assumed, that, whatever be the future multiplication and extinction of books, their names and their works must last till a revolution in society, equal, but not similar (for it is unimaginable that barbarism should ever again prevail), to that which overthrew the empire and the arts of Greece and Rome,-shall utterly change the whole character of literary taste throughout the civilized world; or a scattering abroad of its people, like that after the confusion of tongues at the building of Babel, shall dissipate the languages in which they have apparently immortalized their thoughts, or which have been immortalized by being made the vehicle of the same.
It is not questioned here that many others may possibly survive as long as these, but it is not in the nature of things that many more, like them, should be men of all ages and all countries. The productions of those who shall most slowly descend from contemporary splendour into gradual obscurity and final oblivion, will necessarily be reduced, in the course of two centuries, to rarities in literature, seldom consulted, and read hever, though from courtesy enumerated with honour in the catalogues of collectors; while a few of their more precious fragments may, perhaps, be preserved and quoted in popular selections for the use of schools, or the
delight of holyday readers. Every generation will produce its Cowleys and Drydens, its Wallers and Carews, whose "freshe songis” (to use the antique phrase of Chaucer) in perennial succession, shall supersede the strains of their immediate prede
The pre-eminence which the above-named, and a few others, have held, and must continue to hold, is scarcely more owing to their superior talents than to some felicity, which may be called good fortune, either in the originality of their style, the choice of their subjects, or the lucky combination of both,and that, not in all, nor even in their largest performances, but in some portion only, on which their better planets shone at the conception, and their better genius presided over the birth. This circumstance also (irrespective of other contingencies) gives the few indestructible compositions of those master-spirits of elder times an importance in a moral and intellectual point of view, which no other literary works of their own, and still less those of rivals (who may have otherwise been their equals or superiors), can claim. In these they have built monuments upon rocks above the high-water mark of time, which the flood of years (amid perpetual vicissitudes, perpetually advancing), shall never overwhelm.
Poetic Aspirations and Pursuits. Rare, however, as attainment to the highest honours in literature may be, there is no reason to believe that the compositions of any poet equal in rank to those unapproachable ancients, and those nsurpassable moderns, already named, have been lost in the wreck of time past. Every civilized age produces its poets of the second order, who necessarily attract most of the admiration of their coniemporaries, without injustice to those of the same standard, who preceded them, and whose fame, having passed the full, by an irreversible law of nature wanes till it becomes extinct, never to be renewed. Yet, since the peerage of Parnassus is not limited by the constitution of the commonwealth, and the chance of two hundred thousand millions to one, though fearful odds, does not imply absolute impossi. bility of any new aspirant reaching that dignity; moreover, as there has been one Homer, Pindar, Virgil, Horace, &c. in that number of human beings, there may be another, and who knows but I am he ? So reasons every young poet, in whose breast has been once fairly kindled that spark which flames up, though the fuel be but stubble, for immortality, No feeling, no passion of our nature is so easily and exquisitely quickened, so deeply and intensely cherished, so late and reluctantly abandoned. It is sometimes awakened on the mother's knee,
“I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came."
It is only foregone at the brink of the grave, where, as the lover to his mistress, the poet to his muse, exclaims with his last breath,
w Te teneam moriens, deficiente manu.'
TIBULLUS. “Dying I'll hold thee with a failing hand."
Might it not be inferred, however, that the desire of establishing an indestructible name, by the incalculable uncertainty of success, would be so repressed in all, that none, even among those who were gifted with the requisite powers, would ever achieve it from defect of adequate exerti in? To this it may be answered, that hope is al ays bold, energetic, and persevering, in proportion to the conceived magnitude of its object; and the difficulties which dishearten him who calculates, only urge him who presumes to more resolute and indefatigable pursuit Hence, it is the number only, not the ardour, of selfconfident candidates for posthumous fame, which is lessened by the unimaginable disparity between the hazard of acquiring and the probability of missing it. Few, therefore, even among those who are called poets, fix their hopes or aims quite so high as has been stated; and of those few, just so many appear for a while to have reached the meridian, as to induce more, in every age, to risk the glorious venture, in which even to miscarry is to fall from the chariot of the sun.
Among those, who are in truth so magnificently endowed, that they seem to have been sent into the world to enlarge and enlighten the compass of human intellect, to adorn and exalt the sphere of human enjoyment,-among those who, like the youthful Samson, in the camp of Dan, feel the early movings of a mighty spirit within them indicating the superiority, and prompting them to the trial, of their prowess-it is deeply to be lamented that so many, like the same Samson, should spend their strength in dalliance, or waste it in unprofitable achievements, instead of employing it for the benefit,-may we not say, for the salvation ?-of their fellow-creatures. Genius is an awful trust, and when powers like those of the Hebrew champion's are abused, they frequently recoil, like his, in self-destruction upon their possessors' heads. Nothing can endure, even in this “ naughty world,” but virtue. To profit mankind a poet must please them ; but unless he profits them, he will not please them long. Every age has its fashion of licentiousness, and will have its peculiar panders to vice, reckless of the profligacy of the ancients, and deaf to the songs of seducers, whose ribaldry has become as obsolete as the laced waistcoats, point-cravats, and full-bottomed periwigs of Charles the Second's day. It would not, perhaps, be too hardy to affirm, that whatever may have been the case formerly, or whatever flagrant exceptions may be quoted, of modern date,-there is now scarcely any alternative left between an honest fame" and “none.” No living writer can hope for immortality in its only enviable earthly sense, who does not occupy his talents on subjects worthy of them, and, at least, not disreputable to their Author,-the Father of lights! The follies, the sins, and the misfortunes of poets have, indeed, been proverbial since the proudest days of Greece. I shall neither expatiate upon these, nor palliate them; but a word or two may be expedient.
In youth, when we first become enamoured of the works of the great poets, we naturally imagine hose must themselves be the happiest of men who can communicate such unknown and unimagined emotions of pleasure, as seem at once to create and to gratify a new sense within us; while, by the magic of undefinable art, they render the loveliest scenes of nature more lovely, make the most indifferent topics interesting, and fro sorrow itself awaken a sympathy of joy unutterably sublime and soothing. He who in early years has never been so smitten with the love of sacred song as to have wished, nay, to have dreamed, that he was a poet,-as Hesiod is said to have done, though few, like him, awaking, have found their dream fulfilled,-is a stranger to one of the purest, noblest, and most enduring sources of mortal blessedness. When, however, glowing with enthusiastic admiration, we turn from the writings to the lives of these exalted beings, we find that they were not only liable to the same infirmities with ourselves, but that, with regard to many of them, those vehement passions, which they could kindle and quell at pleasure in the bosoms of others, ruled and raged with ungovernable fury in their own, hurrying them, amid alternate penury and profusion, honour and abasement, through the vicissitudes of a miserable life, to a premature, deplorable, and some.