A Survey of English Literature, 1730-1780 - Vol. 2

A Survey of English Literature, 1730-1780 - Vol. 2

A Survey of English Literature, 1730-1780 - Vol. 2

A Survey of English Literature, 1730-1780 - Vol. 2

Excerpt

THUS the new poets were quickened, and their work was often definitely moulded, by the study of older English masters, and of the classics; the spirit of Greece, and not only that of Horace, was already at work. All these influences, as will appear, meet in Gray, and some of them in Collins and in Chatterton. They are less to be discerned in the poets who are noticed in this chapter, and who, though falling into certain groups, are a scattered band. Few of them are potent writers; and yet, viewed as a whole, they perhaps make us feel, better than Gray or Thomson, the wide distribution of the poetic instinct. They form no school, and often know nothing of one another; and they come out at different dates, like the leaves in the late cold English spring. Before speaking of Dyer and Shenstone, or trying to make a selection from the crowd of lesser names, it is well to interpose a note on the Scottish poetry, which has a history of its own. On the whole, the streams in the two countries run apart, while there are various cross-channels connecting them. Thomson, Blair, and Armstrong, though they did not all come South, belong to English literature; they did not use Scots, or the characteristic national metres. Mac pherson , with his 'Ossian,' is a case apart; and so, in another way, is Percy with his Reliques (Ch. XV.). The popular ballad is a real link between the two nations, being both an English and a Scottish form; it goes to and fro over the Border. It is a lyric, but it is not simply a song; as Shenstone well observed, it 'must contain some little story, real or invented.' It is in song, rightly so called, that the Scots, during this period, excel the English: song which is sung by the people, and the best of which is literature.

Scots is as good as any other form of English; but an Englishman has to learn its vocabulary and also its pronunciation. A poem may contain few Northern words or none, and yet, if read with a Southern accent, it ceases to be itself. This is equally . . .

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