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the origin or parent of the wide and powerful stream, such as the Thames exhibited itself at its junction with the Medway.
Well then (said Elliot) where will you fix your imaginary line of separation? where does the son begin and the father end? are we to fancy ourselves at this moment upon the vigorous back of the son, or as adding a new burden to the decrepitude of the father? Hudibras, we know, was famous for his distinctions he could split " a hair 'twixt south and south-west side," but you must have a nicer judgment than he to divide the " still-closing waters." As Massinger has it in his " Fatal Dowry,"
"Crystal rivers individually
Flow into one another, make one source
It was here inserted by Morton, that there would, at least, be as much difficulty in doing so as Hector found in "Troilus and Cressida," when he alleged, as a reason for not persevering in his contest with Ajax, that though he would willingly hew away every Grecian inch in his body, he could not make distinction, or preserve the Trojan and destroy the Greek.
It seems to me (observed Bourne, in the same joking spirit), that for such a matter of fact critic, who will have the limits of every thing so exactly defined, the architect of London Bridge has been
the best commentator, and has done all that can be required in the way of separation between old and young Thames: at least he seems to have thought that all parts of the river above bridge were to be considered as the father, and all below as the son; for you will observe the difference between the burden he has imposed upon the one and upon the other nothing heavier than a barge can proceed upwards through the arches, while ships of war and merchantmen of immense tonnage hourly sail downwards upon their distant voyages. Besides, we have Spenser's own authority for saying that the ancient river god reaches at least as far as Oxford,
"But Oxford thine doth Thame most glorifie;"
and neither you nor any of us imagined how venerable a deity we were insulting in our earlier pranks upon the waters in that neighbourhood. Drayton, in the 18th song of his "Poly-olbion," where he has expressly mentioned Spenser's 11th Canto of his fourth book, has not dreamt of starting this objection.
And I should have wondered if he had (interrupted Morton), for he was a poet, and knew in what spirit such personifications ought to be received.
I understand your sarcasm (added Elliot, smiling), but though I may not be quite so deeply read in old poets as yourselves, you must not fancy that you engross all faculty of judging of the productions of
the "divine infusion." I take it that the moderns know quite as well what good poetry is as the ancients (I mean the ancients of our own country), and write much better, with two or three exceptions.
"With two or three exceptions!" Indeed! (said Bourne) is that all you can allow? Omitting Spenser and Shakespeare as out of the question, what say you to Fletcher and Jonson, to Chapman, Drayton, and Nash, to Greene, Lodge, Hall, Marston, Peele, Marlow, Daniel, and perhaps a hundred others?
You may spare yourself the trouble of going through a list of names, many of which are quite as new to me as their works (resumed Elliot). I do not mean to contend with you on the merits of authors I never heard of. When I spoke of two or three exceptions, I alluded to such men as Spenser, Shakespeare, and Jonson, who assuredly have never been equalled, perhaps never can be excelled, and very rarely if ever approached. For the rest, generally speaking, I think the common observation unanswerable, that had they deserved to be as well known as the poets I have mentioned, they would not for so many years have been consigned to "dusty death." As it is, nearly all that people hear of them is what the commentators on Shakespeare have been pleased to quote in the way of illustration in their precious notes. Dr. Johnson might well say, in reference to this subject, that "the great
contention of criticism was to find the faults of the moderns and the beauties of the ancients." Critics are always ready enough to "raise the tardy bust" to "buried merit," but it is with the utmost reluctance, and never without the hard compulsion of general approbation, they admit that a living poet deserves to be read :
Vivis quod fama negatur,
Et sua quod rarus tempora lector amat.
You have little reason to say so now (replied Morton), however true it might be in the time of Martial do we not every day see poems that might be included in small volumes, at the price of a few shillings, sold in immense numbers for about as many guineas? Besides, it is somewhat strange, that, confessing your ignorance of our old poets, you venture to pronounce upon them so dogmatically. To be acquainted with Spenser, Shakespeare, and Jonson is unquestionably to know the three best poets of their age, but they were not the only poets, nor the only good poets, as you would yourself allow even with the information you possess regarding several of the writers who have found a place in our popular collections, or whose dramatic or undramatic works have been recently reprinted. You have been so much abroad of late that though of course you must have heard and read a great deal of our Byrons, our Southeys, our Scotts, and our Campbells (four names always united in the mind
of a devourer of modern poetry), you know little or nothing of the advance that has been made within only the last few years in the acquisition of a knowledge of those, who, for the sake of distinction, I will call the minor poets of the reigns of Elizabeth and James; minor only in comparison with those poets whom you separated from the rest, and who of themselves would make (and, indeed, in the opinion of many up to this day have made) an era in the literature of this country. There is scarcely any praise that you can bestow upon them that I will not immediately allow to be well deserved: so far are they above rivalship, that others will seldom bear even comparison. I do not know any quotation more applicable to Shakespeare, than three lines in one of his own exquisite sonnets, I think the 150th.
"In the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
This, however, I may say, that an author who can write as well as Shakespeare when he wrote his worst, deserves examining and preserving.
Your enthusiastic admiration of Shakespeare (added Bourne), in my opinion carries you a little too far. You think, in the words of Fletcher (for though this is another confirmatory coincidence, I do not believe that Shakespeare had any hand in the first act of the "Two Noble Kinsmen),”