Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

354

THOMAS CHATTERTON.

THOMAS CHATTERTON, “the marvellous boy that perished in his pride,” was the son of a schoolmaster at Bristol. There the young poet was born in 1752. Educated in the most humble way, he entered an attorney's office at fourteen. The covers of old schoolbooks left by his dead father were formed of valueless parchment deeds, taken from an old chest in the muniment room of a Bristol church. Among these remains of “Mr. Canynge's Coffre,” Chatterton pretended to have found fragments of ancient poems, sermons, and articles descriptive of the city churches, &c. They were all written by himself, in the old lettering and spelling, upon stained parchments. The boy of seventeen went up to London to write for bread and fame. He toiled hard, but sank into infidelity and intemperance. One effort to save himself from this whirlpool-an application for the position of surgeon's mate in Africa-failed. He sent most of his money home to his mother and sisters, with glowing accounts of his prospects. But his prospects proved a deceptive mirage. Soon, stung to the core of his proud heart by neglect and increasing want, he formed the desperate resolve of suicide. One August day in 1770 the lad, not yet eighteen, took a dose of arsenic, and died amid the fragments of his torn papers. Picturesque description is the leading charm of

his poems.

PROSE WRITERS.

PHILIP DODDRIDGE, remarkable as a theological writer, was born in London in 1702. Much of his life was spent at Northampton, where for many years he had a flourishing school. His Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, his Passages in the Life of Colonel Gardiner, and his Family Expositor, are all popular and standard works. Dr. Doddridge died at Lisbon in 1751.

JOHN WESLEY, born in 1703, at Epworth in Lincolnshire, was famous as the most eminent of the founders of Methodism. He was educated at the Charter-house and at Christ Church, Oxford, and afterwards became Fellow of Lincoln College. There, with his younger brother Charles, he joined a few seriously disposed students in private meetings for prayer and in visiting

PROSE WRITERS OF THE SEVENTH ERA.

355

the sick and poor. In conjunction with George Whitefield, a celebrated pulpit orator, whose electric eloquence startled thousands into serious thought, he travelled about and preached with an earnestness little 'understood in that day. His best-known works are his Journal and his Hymns; in the latter of which bis brother gave him important aid. John Wesley died in 1791.

THOMAS REID, born in 1710, at Strachan in Kincardineshire, held in succession the professorships of Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen and Glasgow. His Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764) was an effective reply to Hume's sceptical doctrines. Essays on the Intellectual and Active Powers of Man came afterwards from his pen. Reid died in 1796.

LAURENCE STERNE, author of Tristram Shandy and The Sentimental Journey, was born in 1713, at Clonmel. Educated at Cambridge, he entered the Church, becoming rector of Sutton and a prebend of York. The living of Stillington also added to his income after his marriage. The publication of ' “ Tristram Shandy," beginning in 1759, closed in 1762. His Sentimental Journey was the fruit of his second Continental tour, undertaken in 1765. Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Dr. Slop, Yorick the parson, the widow Wadman, and Susannah are the leading creations of his imagination. Fine humour and delicate pathos appear in Sterne's works; but the grace of these is often marred by the affected glitter of his style and the indecent hints, which betray the wolf in sheep's clothing, the profligate hidden in the parsou's gown. He has been charged with wholesale pillaging from Burton and other old authors. Sterne died in 1768 in a London lodging-house, with no one by his bed but a hired nurse.

DAVID GARRICK, the famous actor and thcatrical manager, employed his pen sometimes in the writing of plays, of which the best are The Lying Valet and Miss in her Teens. Born at Lichfield in 1716, Garrick came up to London with Johnson, studied law, embarked afterwards in business as a winc-merchant, but found bis fitting sphere in 1741, when he became an actor by profession. He died in 1779.

HORACE WALPOLE, the third son of the well-known statesman,

356

PROSE WRITERS OF THE SEVENTE ERA.

was born in 1717. He sat in Parliament for twenty-six years, but never made any figure as a politician. Much of his time and his snug income of £4000 a year went in the decoration of his villa at Twickenham, well known as Strawberry Hill. His tastes were eminently Gothic. Not content with realizing a Gothic mansion in the turrets and stained-glass windows of Strawberry Hill, he wrote a singular Gothic romance, called The Castle of Otranto. But his racy sparkling Letters and Memoirs of his own time, unrivalled in their way, give him his chief title to a place among the best English writers. Walpole, who became Earl of Orford in 1791, died six years later.

Hugh BLAIR, born at Edinburgh in 1718, is best remembered for his polished Sermons and his Rhetorical Lectures. Having filled in succession the pulpits of three Edinburgh churches, and held an honoured place in the best circles of that city, he died there in 1800.

GILBERT WHITE, a country clergyman, born in 1720, has made his Hampshire parish well known through all the land, especially to young readers, by his charming book, The Natural History of Selborne. This simple-minded earnest man has painted, in sweet and natural language, the busy life around his daily walks. White died in 1793. SAMUEL FOOTE, born in 1721 and educated at Oxford, shone

an actor and dramatic writer. In 1747 he commenced his theatrical career. The Minor and The Mayor of Garratt may be named among the twenty plays he gave to the English stage. Foote, who was unrivalled for a mimicry that did not spare the chief characters of his own day, died in 1777.

SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, a celebrated lawyer, born in London in 1723, published in 1765 a popular law-book, entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England, which is still reckoned the great standard work on that subject. He died in 1780, being then a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.

ADAM SMITH was born in 1723, at Kirkcaldy in Fifeshire. He was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, and afterwards a Commissioner of Customs. His great work, The Wealth of Nations, showing that labour is the only source of the opulence of nations,

as

PROSE WRITERS OF THE SEVENTH ERA.

357

laid the foundation of the important science of Political Economy. This book appeared in 1776. Adam Smith had previously published a metaphysical work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He died in 1790.

JUNIUS, the nom de plume of an unknown writer, who wrote in The Public Advertiser a series of political Letters, commencing January 21st, 1769. For fierce invective, piercing, brilliant sarcasm, and appropriate imagery, these “Letters” remain unrivalled. Who Junius was is still a mystery, although Sir Philip Francis, born at Dublin in 1740, who was chief clerk in the War Office between 1763 and 1772, is the man in whose favour the evidence is strongest.

ADAM FERGUSON, who was born in 1724, held in succession two professorships in the University of Edinburgh. He wrote, among other works, The History of Civil Society, and The History of the Roman Republic. He died in 1816.

JAMES BOSWELL, born in 1740, was the son of a Scottish judge. Attaching himself to Dr. Johnson, this conceited and foolish man took notes of the great man's conversation, which he afterwards embodied in his famous Life of Johnson. No better biography has ever been written. Boswell died in 1795.

WILLIAM PALEY, born at Peterborough in 1743, having received his higher education at Christ's College, Cambridge, entered the Church of England, in which he rose to be Archdeacon of Carlisle. His chief works were Elements of Moral and Political Philosophy, (1785); Horce Paulince, (1790); View of the Evidences of Christianity, (1794); and Natural Theology, (1802). His style is simple and homely, but very clear. Paley died in 1805.

358

POETRY AND PROSE.

EIGHTH ERA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.

FROM THE DEATH OF JOHNSON IN 1784 A.D. TO THE DEATH OF

SCOTT IN 1832 A.D.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

When we turn from Milton's “Paradise Lost” to Macaulay's “ History of England,” we perceive at once a difference in the language of the two. The one we call poetry; the other, prose. And when we recollect that we do not talk, at least most of us do not talk, to our friends in the same style as that in wbich Milton describes the Council of Infernal Peers, or Macaulay the Relief of Londonderry, we perceive that language assumes a third, its lowest form, in the conversation that prevails around our dinner tables, or upon our pleasant country walks. Of the three shapes that language takes — poetry, literary prose, colloquial prose-poetry is, undoubtedly, the chief.

Taking English poetry in the common sense of the word, as a peculiar form of language, we find that it differs from prose mainly in having a regular succession of accented syllables. In short, it possesses metre as its chief characteristic feature. Every line is divided into so many feet, composed of short and long syllables arranged according to certain laws of prosody. With a regular foot-fall the voice steps or marches along the line, keeping

« ElőzőTovább »