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and bistorians. The Greek motto fixed to the “Progress of Poesy” signifies that they are vocal only to the initiated. There is not a line that is not charged with a historical allusion. So marvellous is the rhythm that single stanzas may be read with delight; but the significance of the whole demands study. The substance of them is a series of ecstatic visions of historical events ; of the personal emotions felt by a historian who was also a man of feeling and imagination. The “Bard” is full of alliteration and personification, and exemplifies the rhetoric of Gray. There is a quick transition when the Bard foretells the accession of the House of Tudor and the glory of Elizabeth :

"But oh ! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's height

Descending slow their glitt'ring skirts unroll ?
Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,
Ye unborn Ages, crowd not on my soul !
No more our long lost Arthur we bewail.
All hail, ye genuine Kings, Britannia's Issue, hail !'
• In the midst a Form divine ;
Her lyon-port, her awe-commanding face,
Attempered sweet to virgin-grace.
What strings symphonious tremble in the air,
What strains of vocal transport round her play !
Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear ;
They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.
Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,
Waves in the eye of Heav'n her many-colour'd wings.”"






I GAVE some account in my last lecture of the great poets of the middle part of the eighteenth century. Why there was such a scarcity of good poetry during that period is a question that admits of great diversity of opinion ; that there was a scarcity of it is a matter of fact, and it was felt at the time. In this, as in most other social facts, there were probably several causes at work. One of these causes is very plainly hinted at in a contemporary letter by a very shrewd observer, Horace Walpole, second son of the great Prime Minister. Writing to his friend Sir Horace Mann in 1742, he said : “ If you did amuse yourself with writing any thing in poetry, you know how pleased I should be to see it, but for encouraging you to it, d'ye see, 'tis an age most unpoetical ! 'Tis even a test of wit to dislike poetry; and though Pope has half a dozen old friends that he has preserved from the taste of last century, yet I assure you the generality of readers are more diverted with any paltry prose answer to old Marlborough's secret history of Queen Mary's robes. I do not think an author would be universally commended for any production in verse, unless it were an ode to the Secret Committee, with rhymes of liberty and property, nation and administration."

This is in effect to say that, in the opinion of Horace

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Walpole, fashionable society was too much occupied with politics to have any interest to spare for poetry. To understand how this was possible we must remember that political power was then confined to a very narrow circle. It was not, as you are aware, till nearly a century afterward that the middle classes, the commercial classes, obtained a share of political influence. The men who had any chance of a voice in the management of the affairs of the nation were the men whose wives and daughters constituted polite society in the metropolis—“the town,” as they called themselves. And intrigues were incessantly going on to keep Ministers on or put Ministers out, in all of which the wives and daughters took a keen interest. The affairs of the State were the affairs of the town, and had an exclusive absorbing and personal interest that they no longer possess for any single section of the commuity now. Hence the literature that had most direct interest for the town was political, and a damaging attack on a Minister, a piece of scandal or argument, whether in prose or in verse, was apt to eclipse any production that depended for its effect on the interest peculiar to poetry.

The absorbing interest in politics among those who were at the time the chief patrons, promoters, and con-sumers of literature was probably one of the causes of the poetic barrenness of the middle of the eighteenth century. This political interest was fed and nourished by the press with a regular supply, weekly, bi-weekly, and daily.

Among the other things that may be mentioned as taking the place of poetry among the enjoyments of a life of leisure at this time is the stage. Queen Anne and her Ministers exerted themselves to purify and reform the stage. Under Charles II. ladies went to the theatre masked, and things were spoken that were not very fit for them to hear. Queen Anne prohibited the wearing of masks, and instituted a moral censorship of




plays, insisting that every thing intended for public performance should first be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain. That official was not so particular as he is now, but there was a marked improvement in the morality of plays. The theatre took a more important place among fashion- . able amusements. It has not, I think, been remarked that the dreariest period in the poetic annals of the ti eighteenth century is almost exactly coincident with the career of David Garrick. You will see how a powerful counter-attraction at the theatre, such as would occupy the serious attention of intellectually disposed people, would diminish the demand for poetry, and rob the poet of that devoted sympathy in the absence of which he cannot work with full power, if you consider for a little how people of leisure at that time distributed their day. There is an amusing paper in the Spectator, No. 323, which professes to give the diary of a lady of quality. It is, of course, a caricature, but it gives us an idea of the arrangement of a fashionable day, of the hours that were kept by fashionable people :


From three to four.—Dined. Mrs. Kitty called upon me to go to the Opera before I was risen from table.

From dinner to six.-Drank tea. Turned off a footman for being rude to Veny.

Six o'clock. — Went to the Opera. I did not see Mr. Froth till the beginning of the second act. Mr. Froth talked to a gentleman in a black wig. Bowed to a lady in the front box. Mr. Froth and his friend clapped Nicolini in the third act. Mr. Froth cried out Ancora. Mr. Froth led me to my chair. I think he squeezed my hand.

Eleven at night. Went to bed. Melancholy dreams. Methought Nicolini said he was Mr. Froth.”

The morning was spent in reading, if there was any thing to read, playing with pets, seeing to the dressmaker, shopping, going to church, the mid-day service at St. Paul's, where the music was good, being especially fashionable. Half-past two or three was the dinner

hour. After dinner was the time for making calls or walking in the Mall; and in the evening there were public entertainments and private assemblies. There was probably then a greater separation than exists now in the social amusements of men and women ; after dinner the men went to the coffee-houses if they did not go to the play, and the women went to tea-parties, where throughout the greater part of the century card-playing was the chief alternative to scandal and other small talk. The theatres opened at five o'clock, and the entertainment lasted till nine. You will thus see that the theatre filled an important gap in the day ; and that, when it was the rage; it was likely to absorb not a little of fashionable interest. Under Garrick revivals of Shakes

. pearian plays were the great theatrical events ; earlier in the century, revivals of Dryden. The morning was the chief time for reading. Addison's lady of quality on two of her mornings read Dryden's “ Aurengzebe, or the Indian Emperor”; if she had lived thirty years

; later, she would probably have spent the same time over Shakespeare. Can you wonder that such solemn ponderosities as Johnson's “ London or “Vanity of Human Wishes,” or such intricate harmonies and sublimities as Collins's “ Ode to Evening" or Gray's “Progress of Poesy,” failed to arrest general attention when the vacant hours of the morning could be spent in reading the thrilling scenes of “Richard III.” or “ Othello," and the evening in seeing Shakespeare's heroes impersonated by the most original modern actors ? The town naturally yielded to the greatest attraction, and there was no body of readers outside this fashionable society in whose sympathy the poet might find nourishment.

Two kinds of literature, then, imperatively claimed a portion of the hours available for reading in the reigns of the first Georges-political journals and plays. People in society were bound to read these, because they were talked about ; and not to know them or appear to

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