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Great, Incomprehensible, Self-existent, Eternal! We there discover such unity of design, such beneficence, grandeur, order, and harmony, as cannot fail, not only of forming our minds to virtue, but of instilling into them the principles, and laying the foundation of true taste, in every art that is great, excellent, or praiseworthy.
For these reasons, there are no literary productions of the present day, whose appearance I so cordially welcome as well-written books on Natural History; but, sorry I am to say, that my congratulations on this head, particularly as respects the objects of our own country, are so rarely excited, as almost to induce the melancholy belief that this divine study is in danger of being entirely abandoned, and superseded by the rage for incongruous and idle Novels; the insatiable greediness, of gain, and the noisy discord of distracting politics. Three hundred years have passed away since the first settlement of this country; and twenty millions of its inhabitants have descended to the tomb, without leaving, in this department of Science, one eminently distinguished vestige behind them. Yet every thing around invites to the pursuit; but invites in vain. Numbers of the finny race, that tenant our lakes, seas, and rivers, and many of the feathered tribes that warble in our woods, are totally unknown to us; and though the periodical appearance and departure of others, be as regular and uniform, as the Seasons, yet they never excite in us a single inquiry. They come, we know not whence; exist, we know not how; and go, we know not whither. The air swarms with insects, with which we are totally unacquainted; though the safety of our crops, and the protection of our people, from famine, have, at times, nearly depended on a knowledge of the subject. Multitudes of plants vegetate in our extensive regions, whose very forms have never met our eye; though many of them might probably be highly important as food or medicine to man; even the earth, on which we tread, encloses treasures that we will not be at the trouble or expense of searching for, till they force themselves on our view; contenting ourselves with the same superficial scratching of the surface, with those who went before us; and sending, at a vast accumulation of risk, expense and national dependence, to a distant country for those very supplies, which nature has bountifully scattered at our feet. These assertions, my countrymen, are not merely declamatory; neither are they meant to give offence; but to rouse in your bosoms a love and ambition to excel in these most useful and vir. tuous studies. Every enlightened nation of Europe has become, as it ought to be, the proper historian of its own natural productions; while we have sat down satisfied, ingloriously satisfied, to receive from France, Britain, or Germany, an account of the productions of our own streams, our own fields and forests; and to swallow as facts the crude suggestions of foreign pride, ignorance, and prejudice.
As I propose, in my succeeding numbers, to make application for information to those readers of The Port Folio, who may be disposed to give it, on some subjects of the Natural History of the United States, so I mean not to impose on others, what I would be unwilling to engage in myself. I will, therefore, add example to precept, and shall, from time to time, communicate through the same medium, such interesting particulars of some of our American animals, insects, birds, fishes, plants, minerals, &c., as are either new or not generally known; and which, in numerous extensive tours through the territories of the United States, I have been enabled to collect.
FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
The sun of Genius seldom breaks forth with resplendent lustre in the high heaven of invention, but some untimely cloud of carping calumny, or critical clamor, rises to darken its disk, and intercept its glories from the eyes of an admiring world.
About the middle of the last century the reputation of Pope, which had until then, shone forth with the dazzling ray of originality, suffered dim eclipse, from the malignant curiosity or the eagle-eyed acuteness of the variously erudite Joe Warton. The famed Milton, shortly after, was for a moment overshadowed by the murky wing of literary envy, raised by the arts and the impudence of the base-born Lauder. And even the giant Warburton has in our own day, been accused of having erected the colossal trophies of literary triumph upon the pilfered fragments of the labours of Vandale and Meuisius.
The great weapon which the pigmies of Literature ever wield against the indestructible monuments of the fathers of Science, and of song, is the charge of plagiarism.
But the legitimate critic is not now to learn that Genius ennobles whatever it touches; and that Virgil, when he raked in the dunghill of Eriarius, had the prescriptive right of discovery to the possession and the use of any gem, which chance might have deposited, or cul-ture created in that humble soil. I
• The lay of Moore which has often waked to vibration, each corresponding string of harmony, in every soul not“ dull and dead” to all the melody of mind, has yet, as often roused the envy of those vulgar souls which wait with malignant gaze to triumph in the fall of Genius, what time
- his venturous spirit loves to urge The labouring theme to Reason's utmost verge; Kindling and mounting from the enraptur'd sight,
While anxious Wonder eyes his daring flight. Every scholar must have been delighted with that felicitous introduction of classical or mythological allusion, which dignifies and decorates that sportive and vigorous offspring of Bacchus, and the gayest of the Muses, the Anacreontic glee of “ Oh fly not yet.”
We allude with peculiar emphasis to those lines; lines which even now tingle in our ear:
My not yet, the fount that played,
To burn when night was near. It may perhaps gratify the puny malice of little minds to be in formed that this allusion however happy, is not derived from the original of the elder Pliny, but was borrowed with all the licentious audacity of Genius, from the thrice laboured poetry of the younger Warton.
This University Bard satirizing the nocturnal excesses of a high blooded votary of fashionable frivolity, says that Hippias' blood,
Like Ammon's fount by day ran icy cool,
At night as hot as Hell's sulphureous pool. Every reader of classic taste will readily perceive that the nectareous “rill of song,” which flows thus sweetly from the pen of the British Anacreon, although not drawn immediately from the undefiled well of antiquity, has, by filtration through the mind of Moore, become defecated from all the turbid impurities of Warton.
New-York, May 27th, 1809.
One of the best critics of North Britain, a poet and a prose writer too of very splendid powers thus defends Gray. We know not whether the latter has ever found a more eloquent apologist. EDITOR.
“I have heard the finest ode in the world blamed for the boldness of its figures and for what the critic was pleased to call obscurity. He kad, I suppose, formed his taste upon Anacreon and Waller, whose odes are, indeed, very simple, and would have been very absurd, if they had not been simple. But let us recollect the circumstances of Anacreon, considered as the speaker of his own poetry, and of Gray's Welch Bard. The former warbles his lays reclining on a bed of flowers, dissolved in tranquillity and indolence, while all his faculties seem to be engrossed by one or a few pleasurable objects. The latter, just escaped from the massacre of his brethren, under the complicated agitations of grief, revenge, and despair; and surrounded with the scenery of rocks, mountains, and torrents, stupendous by nature, and now rendered hideous by desolation, imprecates perdition upon the bloody Edward; and, seized with prophetic enthusiasm, foretells, in the most alarming strains, and typifies by the most dreadful images, the disasters that were to overtake his family and descendants. If perspicuity and simplicity be natural in the songs of Anacreon, as they certainly are, a figurative style and desultory composition are no less natural in this inimitable performance of Gray. If real prophecy must always be so obscure, as not to be fully understood till it is accomplished, because otherwise it would interfere with the free agency of man, that poem which imitates the style of prophecy, must also, if natural, be to a certain degree obscure; not indeed in the images or the words but in the allusions. It is in the allusions only, not in the words or images, for these are most emphatical and picturesque, that the poem partakes of obscurity ; and even its allusions will hardly seem obscure to those who are acquainted with the history of England. Those critics, therefore, who find fault with this poem because it is not so simple as the songs of Anacreon, or the love verses of Shenstone and Waller, may as well blame Shakspeare, because Othello does not speak in the sweet and simple language of Desdemona. Horace has nowhere attempted a theme of such animation and sublimity as this of Gray; and yet Horace, like his master, Pindar, is often bold in his transitions, and in the style of many of his odes extremely figurative. But this we not only excuse, but applaud, when we consider, that in those odes the assumed character of the speaker is enthusiasm, which in all its operations is somewhat violent, and must, therefore give a peculiar vehemence both to thought and language.”
FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
In looking over some old papers, I discovered the enclosed account of an interesting interview, in which I partook, some years ago, with that great man, Dr. ROBERTSON, the illustrious Historian of his own and of our country. It is a circumstance which I have often repeated to my friends and acquaintance; but it is now, for the first time, offered to public notice. If you should consider it as entitled to a place in The Port Folio, it is at your service.
Your friend and humble servant,
IMMEDIATELY preceding the death of this great man, several American gentlemen arrived at Edinburgh, on a tour which they were making through Great-Britain.* Having previously heard of the severe illness, under which he then laboured, they had taken no intro ductory letters to him; but finding him still living, they expressed to Mr. Balfour, an eminent bookseller, and one of the executors of Dr. R. their desire to see so distinguished a character.
Mr. Balfour had the kindness to state their wishes to Dr. Robertson, and he was pleased to express a desire to gratify them : he announced to them, through Mr. B. that on the first day, “when he should find himself well enough to see company at all, he would send for the Americans."
To their great gratification, they received the summons, on the third day following. They repaired to his house, about a mile distant from Edinburgh, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon. They were introduced into a drawingroom, and awaited about ten minutes, when he entered from an adjoining apartment.
His first salutation was (alluding to the circumstances under which their introduction was made) “you see, gentlemen, but the wreck of Dr. Robertson”!
He reclined upon a sofa; and aware of the embarrassment his visitors naturally felt, he introduced the conversation, commencing with inquiries as to the state of affairs in the United States, supposing that that subject would to them be most easy and familiar. He spoke of general Washington with enthusiasm. He said that governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, had early predicted to him, (Dr. R.) the eminent rise of general W. in public life. He spoke of Dr. Ewing, the Provost of
* Dr. D. Hosack, Mr. John Morton, and Mr. Childs, of New.York.