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John Evelyn." The one is the daily record of the pleasures, feastings, junketings, expenses, and clothes of a parvenu secretary of the navy (b. 1632, d. 1703), a greedy, avaricious, vain, and little-capable man, but yet one who, by putting down exactly what he saw, and heard, and felt, has thrown a more vivid light on the domestic manners of the people and the Court in the times in which he lived, than could possibly be done by a studied attempt. It is, like “ Boswell's Life of Johnson,” one of the most realistic books in existence ; for, as with Defoe in fiction, the reader can see, hear, and touch the persons whom Pepys describes. “Evelyn's Diary” is of another character. It is the work of a learned and thoughtful gentleman (b. 1620, d. 1706), with a fine and cultivated mind, and sufficiently brings before us the riot, the waste, and the irreligion of the days of Charles II. ; but it has not the vivida vis of the citizen chronicler above referred to. Both of these books—which are much more interesting than any novel—will be necessary to a thorough understanding of the important period which they treat of and elucidate.*

One word of explanation may here properly be offered. The reader, perhaps, will be somewhat disheartened by the large array of works that, in this and the ensuing papers, have been, or will be, set before him ; and at their seeming inaccessibility, owing to the fact that many of them are only to be obtained at a price generally beyond the means of a self-improving student. But both these difficulties may be dispelled from the mind at once. With regard to the first named, the extent of the reader's time can be the only limit to his reading ; and the writer of these papers has deemed it advisable to allow of a wide selection, pointing out as briefly as possible the respective merits and demerits of the various works. As to any volume mentioned being beyond the reach of even the humblest student, it may be said that, at the present time, this is almost an impossibility. There are few institutes, clubs, libraries at which these cannot he obtained at the outlay of only a few shillings' yearly subscription.

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HE student's attention will now, for a short space, be turned aside from historical reading and its branches, and directed to a more pleasant, and not less useful

field of literature—that cultivated by the poets. Now, the English poets are, take them for all in all, the finest in the world ; and of all gifts or studied acquirements, that of poetry is the first. It follows then, that he that studies truly, and with sufficient intelligence and love, English poetry, betakes himself to the most exalted, beneficent, and humanizing study possible.

A definition of poetry is not here needed. It is articulate music, noble feeling put into words; it is worship, love, expression, the eloquence and very soul of language. It is so grand that nothing mean can live near it; and true poets are so great, too, that they are the only remaining prophets that we have on earth. The oracles are dumb else; but they remain, and speak to us and rule us from their graves. It has been said

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that poetry is to philosophy what Sunday is to the weekdays--a divine rest. Lord Bacon, whom few, save in the grandeur of his conceptions, will suspect of being a poet, said in his pithy style, “Poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity, morality, and to delectation;" that is, it brings and gives greatness of mind, goodness of manners, and the delight of life. “ It has been to me,” said Coleridge, who was indeed a poet, “its own exceeding great reward; it has soothed my afflictions, it has multiplied and refined my enjoyments, and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and the beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me. Here, then, you have from the lips of a true Christian the very effect of divine charity given to poetry.

. And Coleridge was right. All God's prophets, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Job, and Isaiah, were poets. The very heathen called the poet Vates, a prophet; nay, the Greek subtilty refined this even more, and, trying to find God in the dreams of their great poet, called him ο ποιητής, the Maker.

The cold Northern intellect of the ordinary Briton has somehow, since the times of the Puritans, depreciated poets and poetry. For this there may be two reasons, perhaps three. 1. He did not understand the essential nature of poetry, and thought it was jingling

2. Poets have been hitherto rather poor. “ Thou source of all my joy and all my woe,

That found me poor at first, and keep'st me so," says Goldsmith ; and, indeed, God, to keep the poet pure, has covered him with a divine mantle made of trial, poverty, and sensitiveness, so that the world touches him not too closely, and revenges itself by abusing what it cannot understand, and inventing all

verse.

PIERS PLOUGHMAN.

41

sorts of calumnies about him. 3. Poets themselves have deserved now and then the harsh censure of the world, for the meaner sort of them have affected rough and uncouth ways, have been uncleanly and vicious in their courses, and have brought down upon themselves, like the foolish prophet, the lion to rend them, while he spared the ass that stood by. But the world has now grown to a better understanding of its true teachers.

The student who takes up poetry as a study should begin with a few early poets. Taking Chambers's course of “ English Literature,” which is an admirable work, or some other text-book, such as Scrimgeour's or Dr. Smith's, he should first ascertain which are those worthy to be known, and then procure their works ; for to read all poets were but lost time, since there are so many inferior, and of lower growth, while the study of one of eminence is sufficient to set open a man's heart and enlarge his intellect.*

The first poem of any note in the language, and which is the most remarkable specimen of the class of verse that found general favour with the great body of the people at the time of its production, is the famous “Vision of Piers Ploughman,” or, as it is given in the Latin title, “ Visio Willielmi de Petro Plouhman," the Vision concerning Peter or Piers Ploughman. The construction of the poem is in alliterative verse with

* I purposely omit reference to the early English metrical romances, and also to the early English metrical chronicles, as to touch upon these and other kindred matters would interfere with the arrangement and scope of the present work. It is possible that, on a future occasion, a supplementary volume sup: plying these omissions, and entering into matters of a technical and more advanced nature, may be offered to the student. It is to be distinctly understood that the present papers aim only at being elementary.

*

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