CHARACTERISTICS, AND PLACE IN LITERATURE.
Lord Jeffrey at the close of a once-famous review quaintly laments: “The tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber, and the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth, and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the field of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry, and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride.” Of the poets of the early part of this century, Lord John Russell thought Byron the greatest, then Scott, then Moore. “Such an opinion,” wrote a National reviewer, in 1860, “is not worth a refutation; we only smile at it.” Nothing in the history of literature is more curious than the shifting of the standard of excellence, which so perplexes criticism. But the most remarkable feature of the matter is the frequent return to power of the once discarded potentates. Byron is resuming his place: his spirit has come again to our atmosphere; and every budding critic, as in 1820, is impelled to pronounce a verdict on his genius and character. The present times are, in many respects, an aftermath of the first quarter of the century, which was an era of revolt, of doubt, of storm. There succeeded an era of exhaustion, of quiescence, of reflection. The first years of the third quarter saw a revival of turbulence and agitation; and, more than our fathers, we are inclined to sympathize with our grandfathers. Macaulay has popularized the story of the change of literary dynasty which in our island marked the close of the last, and the first two decades of the present, hundred years.
The corresponding artistic revolt on the continent was closely connected with changes in the political world. The originators of the romantic literature in Italy, for the most part, died in Spielberg or in exile. The same revolution which levelled the Bastille, and converted Versailles and the Trianon—the classic school in stone and terrace—into a moral Herculaneum and Pompeii, drove the models of the so-called Augustan ages into a museum of antiquarians. In our own country, the movement initiated by Chatterton, Cowper, and Burns, was carried out by two classes of great writers. They agreed in opposing freedom to formality; in substituting for the old, new aims and methods; in preferring a grain of mother wit to