Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

her master Satan has mines and hidden treasures in his gift; but no matter, she is for all that very poor, and lives on alms. She

goes to Sisly the cookmaid for a dish of broth, or the heel of a loaf, and Sisly denies them to her. The old woman goes away muttering, and perhaps in less than a month's time Sisly hears the voice of a cat, and strains her ankles, which are certain signs that she is bewitched.

A farmer sees his cattle die of the murrain, and the sheep of the rot, and poor goody is forced to be the cause of their death, because she has been seen talking to herself the evening before such an ewe departed, and had been gathering sticks at the side of the wood where such a cow run mad.

The old woman has always for her companion an old gray cat, which is a disguised devil too, and confederate with goody in works of darkness. They frequently go journeys into Egypt upon a broom-staff, in half an hour's time, and now and then goody and her cat change shapes. The neighbors often overhear them in deep and solemn discourse together, plotting some dreadful mischief, you may be sure.

There is a famous way of trying witches,* recommended by king James I. The old woman is tied hand and foot, and thrown into the river, and if she swims she is guilty, and taken out and burnt; but if she is innocent, she sinks, and is only drowned.

The witches are said to meet their master frequently in

• ["Some only for not being drown'd,

And some for sitting above ground
Whole nights and days upon their breeches,
And feeling pain, were hang'd for witches;
And some for putting knavish tricks
Upon green geose or turkey chicks,

Or pigs,"—&c.Hudibras.] + [“ King James, in treating of this mode of trial, lays down, that as witches have renounced their baptism, so it is just that the element through which the holy rite is enforced, should reject them.”-Sir W. Scott, Demon. ology, p. 248.]

churches and church-yards. I wonder at the boldness of Satan and his congregation, in revelling and playing mountebank farces on consecrated ground; and I have as often wondered at the oversight and ill policy of some people in allowing it possible.

It would have been both dangerous and impious to have treated this subject at one certain time in this ludicrous manner. It used to be managed with all possible gravity, and even terror; and, indeed, it was made a tragedy in all its parts, and thou. sands were sacrificed, or rather murdered, by such evidence and colors, as, God be thanked ! we are at this day ashamed of. An old woman may be miserable now, and not be hanged for it.

THE AUGUSTAN AGE OF ENGLAND.

The history of the rise of language and learning is calculated to gratify curiosity rather than to satisfy the understanding. An account of that period only, when language and learning arrived at its highest perfection, is the most conducive to real improvement, since it at once raises emulation and directs to the proper objects. The age of Leo X. in Italy is confessed to be the Augustan age with them. The French writers seem agreed to give the same appellation to that of Louis XIV., but the English are yet undetermined with respect to themselves.

Some have looked upon the writers in the times of Queen Elizabeth as the true standard for future imitation; others have descended to the reign of James I., and others still lower, to that of Charles II. Were I to be permitted to offer an opinion upon this subject, I should readily give my vote for the reign of Queen Anne, or some years before that period. It was then that taste was united to genius; and as before our writers charmed with their strength of thinking, so then they pleased with strength and grace united. In that period of British glory, though no writer attracts our attention singly, yet, like stars lost in each other's brightness, they have cast such a lustre upon the age in which they lived, that their minutest transactions will be attended to by posterity with a greater eagerness than the most important occurrences of even empires, which have been transacted in greater obscurity.

At that period there seemed to be a just balance between patronage and the press. Before it, men were little esteemed whose only merit was genius; and since, men who can prudently be content to catch the public are certain of living without dependence. But the writers of the period of which I am speaking, were sufficiently esteemed by the great, and not re warded enough by booksellers, to set them above independence. Fame consequently then was the truest road to happiness; a sedulous attention to the mechanical business of the day makes the present never-failing resource. The age of Charles II., which our countrymen term the age of wit and immorality, pro duced some writers that at once served to improve our language and corrupt our hearts. The king himself had a large share of knowledge and some wit, and his courtiers were generally men who had been brought up in the school of affliction and experi

For this reason, when the sunshine of their fortunes turned, they gave too great a loose to pleasure, and language was by them cultivated only as a mode of elegance. Hence it became more enervated, and was dashed with quaintnesses, which gave the public writings of those times a very illiberal air.

L'Estrange, who was by no means so bad a writer as some have represented him, was sunk in party faction, and having generally the worst side of the argument, often bad recourse to scolding, pertness, and consequently a vulgarity, that discovers itself even in his more liberal compositions. He was the first

ence.

writer who regularly enlisted himself under the banners of a party for pay, and fought for it through right and wrong for upwards of forty literary campaigns.* This intrepidity gained him the esteem of Cromwell himself, and the papers he wrote even just before the Revolution, almost with the rope about his neck, have his usual characters of impudence and perseverance. That he was a standard writer cannot be disowned; because a great many very eminent authors formed their style by his. But his standard was far from being a just one; though, when party considerations are set aside, he certainly was possessed of elegance, ease, and perspicuity.t

Dryden, though a great and undisputed genius, had the same cast as L'Estrange. Even his plays discover him to be a party man, and the same principle infects his style in subjects of the lightest nature ; but the English tongue, as it stands at present, is greatly his debtor. He first gave it regular harmony, and discovered its latent powers. It was his pen that formed the Congreves, the Priors, and the Addisons, who succeeded him; and had it not been for Dryden, we never should have known a Pope, at least in the meridian lustre he now displays. But Dryden's excellencies as a writer were not confined to poetry alone. There is in his prose writings an ease and elegance, that have never yet been so well united in works of taste or criticism.

The English language owes very little to Otway, though, next to Shakspeare, the greatest genius England ever produced in tra

* [Sir Roger L'Estrange set up in 1663, “The Public Intelligencer,' and continued it to 1665, when it was followed by the London Gazette.' He also began, in 1679, • The Observator,' likewise a ministerial paper. He was born in 1616, and died in 1704.]

+ [" In talking over the list for prose authors, Mr. Pope named but four as anthorities for familiar dialogues and writings of that kind,--Ben Jonson, L'Estrange, Congreve, and Vanbrugh."-SPENCE.)

1 ["I learned versification wholly from Dryden's works, who had improved it much beyond any of our former poets.'— Pope ; SPENCE.]

gedy. His excellencies lay in painting directly from nature, in catching every emotion just as it rises from the soul, and in all the powers of the moving and pathetic. He appears to have had no learning, no critical knowledge, and to have lived in great distress. When he died (which he did in an obscure house near the Minories) he had about him the copy of a tragedy, which it

eems he had sold for a trifle to Bentley the Lookseller. I have seen an advertisement at the end of one of L'Estrange's political papers, offering a reward to any one who should bring it to his shop. What an invaluable treasure was there irretrievably lost, by the ignorance and neglect of the age he lived in !*

Lee had a great command of language, and vast force of expression, both which the best of our succeeding dramatic poets thought proper to take for their models. Rowe, in particular, seems to have caught that manner, though in all other respects inferior. The other poets of that reign contributed but little towards improving the English tongue, and it is not certain whether they did not injure rather than improve it. Immorality has its cant as well as party, and many shocking expressions now crept into the language, and became the transient fashion of the day. The upper galleries, by the prevalence of party spirit, were courted with great assiduity, and a horse-laugh following ribaldry was the highest instance of applause, the chastity as well as energy of diction being overlooked or neglected.

Virtuous sentiment was recovered, but energy of style never was. This, though disregarded in plays and party-writings, still prevailed amongst men of character and business. The dis

* [Otway died in April 1685, in his 33rd year. In the • Observator' for November 27, 1686, appeared the following advertisement:—Whereas Mr. Thomas Otway some time before his death made four acts of a play, whoever can give notice in whose hands the copy lies, either to Mr. Thomas Betterton or Mr. William Smith at the Theatre Royal, shall be well rewarded for his pa'ns.”]

« AnteriorContinuar »