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" Count each affliction, whether light or grave
God's messenger sent down to thee. Do thou
Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
Again : another living poet does but teach how to apply a well-known text, and feel its truth the more, when he says :
“We live not in our moments or our years—
Knowing that mercy ever will endure.”+ This is a poet's teaching of the cheerfulness of Christian faith and the love of Christian content and happiness; and this is but the rebuke of unchristian sullenness, and the praise of Christian thankfulness :
* Aubrey De Vere's Waldenses, with other poems quoted in an Essay on De Vere's Poems, in Taylor's Notes from Books, p. 215.
† Sonnet by the Rev. R. C. Trench, quoted in Church Poetry, or Christian Thoughts in Old and Modern Verse, p. 62.
"Some murmur, when their sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
In their great heaven of blue.
If but one streak of light,
The darkness of their night.
In discontent and pride,
And all good things denied ?
How love has in their aid
Such rich provision made.”*
* Trench's Poems, p. 116.
Literature of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. *
Milton's old age--Donne's Sermons—No great school of poetry with
out love of nature--Blank in this respect between Paradise Lost and Thomson's Seasons—Court of Charles the Second-Samson Agonistes—Milton's Sonnets-Clarendon's History of the Rebellion-Pilgrim's Progress—Dryden's Odes-Absalom and Achitophel-Rhyming tragedies-Age of Queen Anne-British statesmen-EssayistsTatler—Spectator—Sir Roger De Coverley—Pope-Lord Bolingbroke-English infidels—Johnson's Dictionary-Gray-CollinsCowper-Goldsmith—The Vicar of Wakefield— Cowper-Elizabeth Browning
In proceeding to the literature of the close of the seventeenth century, we approach a period which is marked by great change. Heretofore in the succession of literary eras there had been a continuity of influence, which had not only served to give new strength and develope new resources, but to preserve the power of the antecedent literature unimpaired. The present was never unnaturally or disloyally divorced from the past. The author in one generation found discipline for his genius in reverent and affectionate intercourse with great minds of other days. Such was their dutiful spirit of discipline, strengthening but not surrendering their own native power—the discipline so much wiser and so much more richly rewarded in the might it gains, than the self-sufficient discipline, which, trusting to the pride of origi
* Thursday, February 14, 1850.
nality or the influences of the day, disclaims the ministry of time-honoured wisdom. Milton was studious of Spenser, and Spenser was grateful and reverent of Chaucer; and thus, as age after age gave birth to the great poets, they were bound "each to each in natural piety.” But when we come to those who followed Milton, the golden chain is broken. The next generation of the poets abandoned the hereditary allegiance which had heretofore been cherished so dutifully, transmitted so faithfully.
It was at this time that the earlier literature began to fall into neglect, displaced with all its grandeur and varied power of truth and beauty, displaced for more than a century by an inferior literature, inferior and impurer, so that for more than a hundred years, many of the finest influences on the English mind were almost wholly withdrawn. Indeed, it is only within the present century that the restoration of those influences has been accomplished. Here we see within our own day, the revival of early English literature, bringing from dust and oblivion the old books to light and life again, to do their perpetual work upon
the earth—the work that was denied to them by an age that was unworthy of them. No longer since than ten years or less, there was no good edition of the complete works of Chaucer Ten years ago, the sermons of the greatest preacher of the times of James the First, Donne, the Dean of St. Paul's, were almost inaccessible, entirely so, I might say, to scholars in this country, in the first and very rare folio edition. Even the writings of Jeremy Taylor were a rare treasure, until about twentyfive years ago. Bishop Heber did the good service of giving ready access them in a modern edition; and not to speak of the miscellaneous literature, over which the dust
lay so thick, all the early dramatists, save Shakspeare, lay in comparative neglect till their recent restoration.
I refer to this neglect as both a symptom and a cause of the decline of English literature, which began at the close of the seventeenth century, and lasted for about a century. Genius of a higher order would never have divorced itself from such an influence. It would have strengthened itself by loyalty to it.
Besides their disloyalty to the great poets who had gone before, the poets of the new generation were guilty of another neglect, equally characteristic, and more fatal perhaps to high poetic aspirations; I refer to the neglect of the poetic vision of nature, external nature, the sights and sounds of this material world, the glory of which, proclaimed in divine inspiration, is ever associated with “the consecration and the poet's dream.” Who can question, without questioning the Creator's wisdom and goodness, that the things of earth and sky have their ministry on man's spiritual nature? We may not be able to measure or define it, but it is a perpetual and universal influence, and it must be for good. Most of all is it recognised by the poet, prepared as he is
“By his intense conceptions to receive,
No great poet, perhaps I may say no great writer, is without the deep sense of the beauty and glory of the
* The Excursion, book i. 397.