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writer: that elegance which shines on the surface of his compositions seems to dazzle their understanding, and render it a little blind to the depth of sentiment which lies beneath. Thus he loses reputation with them by doubling his title to it. On subjects the most interesting and important, no author of his age has written with greater, I had almost said with equal, weight. And they who commend him for his elegance, pay him such a sort of compliment by their abstemious praise, as they would pay to Lucretia, if they should commend her only for her beauty*"
Criticism might bring some shadows to this portrait. Gray thought that his lute had a sweet tone, but with only two or three notes. In prose he possessed infinite variety and music. His style is so flexible that it accommodates itself to every topic; and so transparent, that it reflects every object with the animation of life. His fancy has "a sober certainty" of delight that pleases and elevates the mind. Steele, whose admiration of his talents was sincere, as his acquaintance with them was familiar, declared that after having formed his plan, he could walk about the room dictating his thoughts into language with a delicate attention to the harmony and coherency of his periods.
He resembles Goldsmith more than any other writer. They are both luminous, natural and unaffected; in both the imagination shines with a gentle radiance that colours the thought without inflaming it; but Addison excels Goldsmith in the liveliness and refinement of his prose, as he, in turn, surpasses Addison in the grace and spirit of his poetry. The Letter from Italy yields to the Tra
* Conjectures on Original Composition, p. 101,—1759.
veller. A treatise on religion engaged, we are informed, the closing days of Addison, and it was his intention to have dedicated all his. future poetry to the cause of piety*. Every one who has read his Sacred Songs must lament that he did not live to fulfil his intentions.
Cowper, in a letter to his friend Joseph Hill, ventured to express an opinion that GRAY was the only sublime poet since Shakspeare. This would not be true, even though we should forget Milton. Cowper had been startled by the loftiness of his lyrical enthusiasm. Of his Odes, Goldsmith has well observed, that while they breathe much of the spirit of Pindar, they have also caught his seeming obscurity, his sudden transitions, and his hazardous epithets. His lasting fame is embalmed in the Elegy; a poem happily illustrative of the motto selected by Mason, and deriving, as the author readily confessed, a large portion of popularity from the captivating pathos of the theme. Like the sweetest of birds, he builds his home upon the ground. Cradock relates that Goldsmith offered to improve the Elegy by omitting a word in every line, but he would not suffer him to complete the mutilation of a stanza. Goldsmith, probably, undertook the task in a spirit of banter. A poem, like the Elegy, coming home to every heart, and addressing itself to the tenderest sympathies of our nature, would awaken a tear in no eye sooner than Goldsmith's. He who had consecrated in undying verse, the religion, the love, and the misfortunes of the poor, was not likely to gaze unmoved upon the "narrow cell" of the fathers of the hamlet; the wife preparing for the return of her husband; or the
Preface to his Works, 4to., 1721.
children climbing the knees of their sire. The touching allusions to the struggles of unfriended genius, would find an echo in the heart of one who, during his early residence in London, had grown pale over his midnight lamp, with the sickness of hope deferred, and knew, from melancholy experience, how slowly merit emerges from poverty and depression.
WHILE Gray enjoyed his learned visions of poetry, and cultivated every branch of literature in the seclusion of Pembroke; within the same walls, a scholar of inferior taste, but of various talents, was chasing the hours with a diversity of amusements, and already displaying those eccentric qualities of the mind, which afterwards darkened into insanity. Few visitors pass through the gloomy courts of that venerable college without being reminded of the path which Smart is reported to have worn in the stone, by continual walking.
CHRISTOPHER SMART was borne at Shipbourne in Kent, April 11th, 1722; on the maternal side he was descended from the celebrated Bernard Gilpin, and was himself destined for the ministry. His father died while he was a boy, and the young poet probably owed his admission into Pembroke Hall to the liberality of Lord Barnard's family at Raby Castle. At Cambridge, his Latin exercises obtained considerable applause, and his translation of Pope's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, was generously commended by the author, who could not, however, have been insensible to the gingling discord of the versification. In 1745, he was elected to a Fellowship; and having taken his Master's degree, he wrote for the Seatonian Prize, with so much success, that he used to call it his Kislingbury estate. For four successive years he vanquished all his competitors.
His marriage, in 1753, interrupted his career of academical prosperity, and he embarked soon after upon the uncertain stream of a literary life, in London, where his talents procured for him the acquaintance of Burney, Garrick, and Johnson, who benevolently contributed several papers to a literary journal, during the mental affliction of Smart, by whom it was conducted. I have no intention of tracing the melancholy progress of this unfortunate poet through the vicissitudes of a life whose prospects were at least overclouded by his own errors. But through the darkest night some gleams of light shone upon his spirit. One of his most striking productions,the Song to David,-was composed during his confinement in a mad-house, when being deprived of pen and ink, he was obliged to "indent his lines with the end of a key upon the wainscot." He died, a prisoner for debt, in the King's Bench, May 18, 1770.
"Smart's was an unhappy life," remarks Southey; "imprudent, drunken, poor, diseased, and at length, insane. Yet he must not be classed with such as Boyse and Savage, who were redeemed by no virtue, for Smart was friendly, liberal, and affectionate. His piety was fervent, and when composing his religious poems, he was frequently so impressed as to write upon his knees *."
Every one remembers Boswell's graphic account of his first interview with Johnson in the little back parlour of Davies the bookseller. A few days after this meeting, Boswell, having enlivened himself, as he informs us, during the morning with the sallies of Churchill and Lloyd, formed the hardy resolution of visiting the Doctor in his chamber in Inner Temple Lane. The conversation
Specimens of the Later English Poets.