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THREE FORMS OF POETRY. 361
his brother dramatists. Without being at all strictly true, there is a good deal of sense in a familiar mode of distinguishing tragedy from comedy—namely, that a tragedy completes its plot with the death of the principal characters, while a comedy is sure to end in their marriage. The tragedy, like the epic poem, generallyadopts the leading measure of the tongue; the language of prose better suits the lower level of comedy, which depicts the scenes of every-day life rather than the great sufferings or great crimes that form the proper material for a tragic poem. A tragedy, in its usual form, contains five acts, each act consisting of a variable number of scenes. The third, or central act, is the natural place for the crisis of the plot; and the fifth for the catastrophe, or wind-up smash of the whole. Thus, in “Hamlet,” the play-scene and the fencingscene are so arranged, that we have a central point as well as a final point of interest; and in “Julius Caesar,” the murder at the Capitol and the battle of Philippi are placed upon the same artistic principle. By writers of the Artificial school much attention is paid to preserving the three unities of action, place, and time. The need of making all the incidents tend to one great centre of the plot, and thus preserving the unity of action, is very manifest; for nothing is more confusing than the attempt to carry on several plots within the same play. But the need of sticking. always to one place, and of confining the time supposed to pass in the dramatic story to the few hours actually spent in the representation of the play, does not so manifestly appear, when we find our greatest dramatist continually violating both of these unities without in the least marring the effect of his magnificent creations. Of Lyric poetry, which is composed chiefly of songs and short poems, such as might be set to music, the works of Robert Burns afford our finest example. Thomas Moore, too, in his “Irish Melodies” has given us some splendid lyrics; but there is in these considerably more of the artificial than we find in the sweet fresh verses of the Ayrshire peasant. We have used the word “school” in speaking of poetry. It is applied, as well in literature as in art, to a set of men whose works
362 VARIOUS SCHOOLS OF POETRY.
are founded on a certain known principle, which appears in all as a distinctive feature. Thus we have that Metaphysical or Unnatural school, of which the poet Donne was head-boy; we have the Artificial or French school, represented by Dryden and Pope; the Transition school, of which Thomson, Gray, and Collins are good specimens; the Lake school, deriving its name from the fact that its founders, Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge, lived for the most part among the lakes of northern England; and the German school, of which Tennyson and Longfellow are the modern exem. plars. These are the “schools” to which most frequent refer. ence is made by critics. We close this rambling chapter with another note. Two metaphysical words, objective and subjective, have been much used of late in reference to the poetic treatment of a theme. The former expresses chiefly the picturing of outward life, as perceived by the senses of the observer, or realized by his fancy: of this style, Scott is one of the greatest masters. The latter denotes that kind of poetry which gives, instead of the outward scene, the various thoughts and feelings excited by it in the poet's mind. For example, let a deserted house be the subject. The objective poet paints the moss-grown steps—the damp-stained walls—the garden tangling with a wilderness of weeds—the rusty hinges of the door —the broken or dirt-incrusted panes of the closed windows; while the subjective poet broods over the probable history of its scattered tenants, or, attracted by a solemn resemblance, conjures up the image of a human body—this house of clay we all inhabit —deserted by its immortal inmate—its eyes, “those windows of the soul,” closed and sealed up in the long sleep of death.
ON an October evening in the year 1764, a young English gentleman of twenty-seven resolved to write a book of history. His own words tell us of the romantic circumstances in which the great resolve was made :
"As I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, the idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the city first started to my mind.”
The same man, Edward Gibbon, has thus described the completion of his great work at Lausanne, when he had passed his fiftieth year :
“ It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of
freedom, and perhaps the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion; and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.”
364 EARLY LIFE OF GIBBON.
Gibbon was born in the year 1737, at Putney in Surrey. The delicate boy received much of his early education from his aunt; and when he went to Westminster School at the age of twelve, ill health prevented him from giving very close attention to his studies. In 1752 he became a gentleman commoner of Magdalen College, Oxford, arriving at that seat of learning, as he tells us himself, “with a stock of erudition that might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which a school-boy would have been ashamed.” The key to this statement we find in the fact, that, while too ill for study during his school-days, he had been devouring works of all sorts, especially enjoying with the keenest relish books of history and geography. As was the case with Walter Scott, the mind of the youthful invalid never lost the colouring with which these sick-bed readings had saturated its fibres. At Oxford, Gibbon led a wild and idle life for fourteen months, when, as the result of his private reading, he turned to the Roman Catholic Church. This change closed his university career. After spending a year in the house of a Protestant clergyman at Lausanne in Switzerland, where his father had placed 1754 him, he returned to the Protestant Church, expressing his A.D. belief in the commonly accepted truths of Christianity. But there is reason for more than fear that any change he made was made as a mere matter of form. The truth seems to be, that Gibbon had read himself into infidelity; and in his History he makes very light indeed of Christianity as a motive power in the civilization of man. His five years at Lausanne made him a perfect master of French, and considerably advanced his neglected Latin studies. Some time after his return to England he published his first work, a little French treatise, entitled Essai sur l’Etude de la Littérature; which, in England at least, was soon forgotten. Acting for a while as captain in the Hampshire Militia, he gained considerable insight into modern military tactics; and we can easily fancy the great historian of the Roman Empire pausing, pen in hand, as he sat in after years in his summer-house by the blue waters of Lake Leman, writing the story of some mediaeval battle, to think
“THE DECLINE AND FALL.” 365
of the days when he used to drill his grenadiers in the barrackyards of England. When his father died in 1770, leaving him an estate much hampered with debt, he settled in London, and began to write. From the outset of the work he felt the magnitude and difficulty of the theme. All was dark and doubtful. Three times he composed the first chapter, and twice he composed the second and third, before he felt satisfied with them; but, as he advanced, what seemed to be a chaos of tangled facts, mixed in hopeless confusion, grew under his shaping hand into an orderly and beautiful narrative ; and before he had gone very deep into his subject, his gorgeous and stately style had grown so familiar to his pen, that he made no second copy of what he wrote, but sent the first manuscript direct to the printer. In 1776, when he had been already two years in Parliament as member for Liskeard, the first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 1776 was published; and the author sprang at once into A.D. literary fame. In five years (1781) the second and third volumes made their appearance; soon after which the historian, disappointed in his hopes of a permanent government post, retired to the house of a literary friend at Lausanne, where he wrote the rest of the work. His life at Lausanne was simple and studious. Rising before eight, he was called from his study to an English breakfast at nine. He then shut himself up among his books and papers till half-past one, when he dressed for the two o'clock Swiss dinner, at which a friend or two often joined the table. Light reading, chess, or visiting filled up the interval between dinner and the assemblies. A quiet game of whist and a supper of bread and cheese passed the evening hours, and eleven o'clock saw all in bed. This life, with slight interruption, Gibbon lived for the four years which he spent in the completion of his great work. After the publication of the last volumes, which he saw through the press in 1788, he returned to Lausanne, and did not leave it until the death of Lady Sheffield in 1793 brought him hastily to London, in order to console the bereaved husband, who was his