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9
General View of Literature for the Year 1803.

10 part of this Number) is the largest specimen that has y of them comes under the observation of a literary appeared in the course of last year. ‘Another species reviewer ; but that little gives us no cause to regret which more properly falls under the denomination of that it is not more. To rehearse and perform legitibiography, is the publication of private letters, con- mate tragedy and comedy is too great a labour for the nected perhaps by short narratives, to prevent the performers who enjoy the monopoly of our theatrical thread of the story from being broken. The life of amusements. Vehicles are found a much more Cowper, by Hayley, is a work of this sort ; and (how manageable commodity; and if the author can derive much soever we disapprove her observations on them) considerable profits from his vehicle, why should be the world is obliged to Miss Williams for the private toil at a more finished performance, which will most correspondence of Louis XVI. The public has lately probably be left on his hands? We have this last year been presented with a collection of the letters and had vehicles of all descriptions; vehicles for music, other pieces of the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley for action, for situation ; nay every actor has had his Montague, some of which had never before appeared vehicle for that talent in which he imagines himself in print. There is nothing in general, which can give most to excel : while the meagre skeleton that comes a better opportunity of understanding a man's private to us through the press, makes the country reader character than those letters he never meant for the pub- || wonder how a London audience should be attracted lic eye; but over-officious friends would do well to re- and pleased by what presents to him nothing more collect that by their cares in preserving to the world these than a few ill-arranged and affected expressions interfragments, they often expose weaknesses which mightspersed with abundance of stage directions. As the otherwise have been buried in oblivion. We are also comedy of John Bull has been given to the world only compelled by the collections of letters lately produced, to through a pirated edition, we shall merely observe remark in a particular manner, that the unselected cor- with regard to it, that it is a pity the manager should respondence, not only of obscure individuals, but even buy off the publication of any piece that has pretenof public characters, unless their private habits be in- |sions to nature or humour. teresting, are equally tedious and uninstructive. Of the POETRY of last year, we can enumerate only

In WORKS OF Fancy, the last year has by no means some characteristics ; the reader will find examples been fortunate. Novels, plays, and poems indeed, for himself in any poem of the period which may appear in as rapid succession as --the streamers of the fall into his hands. The strong bent which the ininds northern lights, we would say, were it not improper of men have of late years taken towards experimental to compare with this brilliant meteor those unlustrous | philosophy, has induced men of poetical genius to productions that do not even flash before they disap- attempt adorning these topics with the garland of the pear from the sight for ever. The novels of the pre

The possibility of the attempt we shall not at sent day indeed serve the end of their creation ; they present question ; but must observe that the language bring a little money into the pockets of the writers, of science being chosen merely for its precision, and enable the proprietors of circulating libraries to without any regard to melody or idiom, makes the fill up their shelves at a cheap rate. And did their most grotesque appearance imaginable amidst the whole effects stop here, we should pass them over glowing sentiments and language of poetry; while most willingly in the silence to which they are speedily the results of experimental philosophy, which are obconsigned: but a severer censure ought to attend the tained by separating and classifying groupes of facts, consequences which we daily see flowing from them, || must be again mingled and confounded before they in misleading the imaginations and corrupting the af- can be formed into the new associations of fancy. fections of those young men and women, whose pa- Dr. Darwin perceiving these stubborn obstacles, enrents are not sufficiently careful in directing their deavoured to surmount them by personifying all nature, tastes and strengthening their moral principles. In- and making plants and minerals, as well as abstract stead of affording pictures of real life, and useful les- qualities of all sorts, talk and act like (whimsical) sons for its conduct, the novels which have disgraced men and woinen. The identity of species and qualithe press of last year, exhibit a meagre story, spun ties was thus indeed preserved to those who would out into four or five wide-printed volumes, interspersed | undertake the task of decyphering these stranger than with a few improbable incidents to keep up the inte- mythological fables ; but instead of adorning science rest, embellished with some forid bombast known by and rendering men enamoured of her, the poem was the name of poetical description, and garnished pleasing only so long as science kept out of sight; for throughout with that sentimental jargon which serves as soon as Tetradynamia, or any other equally resto debauch and fritter away all the better feelings of || pectable father of a botanic family made his appear, the young and thoughtless. Madame de Stael's ance in propria persona, the delusion vanished, and Delphine, from the rank of the authoress and the the reader was suddenly transported from a crowded superior extravagance of the performance, stands assembly of gay and splendid personages, to the dry conspicuous among the novels of last year. We should and un.couth catalogues of Linnæus. The perpetual earnestly wish that female performances of this sort personification of herbs and elements, was also too were ever known in this country only by translations ; shocking to the common-sense of grown up persons, nor can we account it a surlicient excuse for the pros- however probable it might appear to the philosophy titution of our country-women's talents, that their of Darwin, which taught him that a cod-fish might novels are usually too great nonsense to produce any in the ordinary course of things, obtain the form and effect either good or bad.

qualifications of a counsellor of state. One might With regard to our theatrical performances, little have hoped that the well-executed ridicule of the

muse.

Livres of the Triangles would have opened his eyes to and already have Swift, Addison, and othar revered the folly of his endless personifications, but his posthu-geniuses, appeared before the public in shreds and mous work The Temple of Nature, which appeared patches, with an ignominious ana tacked to their in the course of last year, presents another instance names. Nothing can be more injurious to the fame of a genius capable of excelling both as a poet and a of an author, than thus to mangle his writings, and philosopher, yet so led astray by a perverted imagin3- | deal them out to readers in detached morsels; and tion, that his labours serve only to corrupt the taste unless parents and teachers strictly guard against the and confound the judgn.ent. If the Temple of Nature rising generation acquiring a taste for such frivolous really do belong to that goddess, we must conclude and unprofitable reading, we may expect soon to find that she reckons it too fine to be inhabited, for certain the true spirit of our best authors forgotten, and their it is, we are able to discover scarcely any trace of her names only known from their ana's. footsteps on its threshold.

In this general review we have comprehended most The superior genius of Darwin, has made us select of the works translated from other languages, as well him as an exaniple of errors we would expose, and as those which have originally appeared in our own. which a numerous tribe of imitators are daily propa-|| A translation of Plato; by Mr. Taylor, which has gating. Nor has he been less successful in hastening | just appeared, will be a valuable present to the public, the corruption of the poetic style. A sickly aversion | if the merit of the translation corresponds with the to the sinallest appearance of ruggedness and uncouth-|| beauty of the work, which is handsomely printed in ness in the versification, has for some time been grow- tive quarto volumes. ing on the public taste; and our late importations of Among the new editions of celebrated authors illusGerman sentiment, so much in unison with soft and strated by the labours of ingenious men, we in parmellifluous periods, bave hastened the banishment of || ticular remark an edition of the British Essayists, by all obstinate ideas which might cbstruct the uninter- | Mr. Chalmers, in which he has introduced some exrupted flow of modulation. This improvement has planatory notes and several prefaces abounding with been greatly facilitared by a new species of expletive. I learning and information. The do's and did's of Queen Anne's days are indeed The superb editions of our most eminent British wholly banished; but their room, and much more authors in prose and verse, which are daily issuing than their room, is occupied by an exhaustless flood from the press, would demand our highest applause, of sonorous epithets. By means of these new exple- | if they were in truth a tribute of respect paid to tives, the fortunate poet is enabled, without niuch | genius: but when we see the same superb decorations thought or talent, to prolong a poem to any given prostituted to the most trivial and insipid performances, length, without adding an idea ; it also enables him we are apt to utter a fervent wish that these fine edito smooth away every appearance of harshness in his tions be not wholly designed for those who may admire lines, and to produce such exact and melodious their appearance too much to sully them by use. rhymes, that for pages together, nothing appears to disturb the repose of the reader “ slumbering pear." It is by means of these convenient expletives that

REVIEW OF BOOKS. Darwin contrives to round and accumulate that endless flow of smooth lines, with which he enwraps his | Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, the early English Poet ; inimaginary personages ; nor has a single poem of any cluding Alemoirs of his near friend and Kinsman length appeared in the course of last year that does John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches not owe much of its length and smoothness to the of the Manners, Opinions and Literature of England, same expedients.

in the Fourteenth Century. Two Volumes. 4to. We cannot close our general view of the literature R. Philips. of 1803, without remarking one most corrupt abuse The notoriety which Mr. Godwin has acquired by that has during that period much encreased in the his publications, as various in subject as in size, naliterary world. We allude to those crude scraps of turally attracts considerable attention to whatever apcelebrated authors which are ushered into the light, || pears under his name. Report has caused the Life of distinguished by the termination ana. Among the || Chaucer to be looked upon as a favourite child, as a light and frivolous authors which swarm at Paris, it work which bas particularly occupied the industry of became customary to collect anecdotes, fragments, the author; and men have been anxious to know what excerpts, &c. of all denominations, unconnected by could be said about a period that has not hitherto been any natural association, and without diligence in the considered as a promising subject for literary labour. author to arrange and digest them. These crude Of the contents and merits of this work we shall atmaterials were, for a trifling price, put into the hands tempt to give a representation, without allowing, if of a bookseller, and soon appeared under some deno-possible, the former reputation or principles of the mination common to the subject matter, with the author, in any degree, to influence our minds : prinaddition of the termination ana. Thus among others ciples may without blame be modified and altered were produced Robespierriana, Bonapartiana, and one by experience ; and to appreciate works by the former still better defined, Asiniana. This fashion having reputation of the author is an error of the public, which been transported to London, soon became the subject has fatally obstructed the exertions and improvenient of imitation. Needy men, without talents or infor- || of the most eminent literary talents. mation, found it convenient to procure a small sum Biography may be divided into two classes: the one of money by dilapidating our most esteemed authors; ll details to us the actions, sentiments, and circumstances

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Godwin's Life of Chaucer.

14 of an individual, with a view to give us a full picture || nections are for the most part only obscurely guessed of his character and situation ; the other, taking the at from the bints which casually occur in his poems ; history of an individual merely as a link to connect a and even of the little handed down to us concerning series of events or opinions, makes him at all times him, there is scarcely one circumstance which has not subservient to this main purpose, and when he ap- || been disputed. Chaucer is also known merely as the pears, it is evident he is made to do so, not so much || early English poet: and therefore to connect, by any for his own sake as to suit the occasions of the author. I thing like a natural association, the history of the reFrom the former species, we become acquainted with ligion, military pursuits, and civil government of his the motives which influence, and the consequences | times, with the events of his life, required no small which follow the actions of mankind; and whatever share of ingenuity and pains. To obviate this difficulty be the rank, talents, or reputation of the character de- || Mr. Godwin has adopted a plan in some degree new : scribed, a well-writter account of him is always en- | instead of employing Chaucer's life to connect the vatertaining and instructive, if he has either said or done rious circumstances of which he treats, it is his aim any thing that deserves to be recorded. The second to make every other subject appear introduced with a species of biography does not so much respect the view to throw light on the sentiments and actions of character as the situation of the individual ; it he has that poet. When it is intended to discover what were founded a system of philosophy, the opinions of that the early associations of ideas in the mind of Chaucer, system may be detailed in his life ; if he has com

Mr. G. thinks himself perfectly well entitled to intromanded the armies of his country, the general history || duce for this purpose a description of every thing the of the wars in which he has borne a conspicuous part, | poet had seen or might have seen, every transaction in may be properly incorporated with his own history ; || which he might bave been engaged, or of which he the poet, the legislator, the artist, who have made any might have heard by report. The state of religion, striking advances in their respective pursuits, may very of architecture, of public amusements, of the city of properly have their lives selected as the connecting | London, during the period of his youth, might all link in the history of these pursuits at the period when || liave influenced the formation of his mind, and these they flourished. The more prominent the figure, the topics are therefore attached to this part of his history; better it is adapted for this purpose ; for the mind re- and in the same manner whatever inight have contrivolts at seeing the actions or opinions of more illustrious buted in the progress of his life to alter his sentiments, men placed in the train of an individual comparatively comes successively under review. obscure. Nor is it doing a less violence to our usual This plan of biography, considering it on general associations, to drag forcibly into the life of an indi- || principles, seems extremely objectionable. It indeed vidual, things quite foreign to those pursuits in which presents to the view a general picture of what might he obtained eminence : to comprehend a history of have influenced the formation of the individual's mind, our civil wars in the life of the poet Milton, or to in- but discovers nothing of what actually did influence troduce into the life of Sir Isaac Newton an account it. When we consider that of the numerous surroundof the state of poetry at the period when he lived, ap- ling objects every man directs his attention to some one pears at once absurd ; we should look into their lives more than another, when we reflect that scarcely two for one species of information, and we should be dis- men are to be found on whom these objects make the appointed and chagrined to find another of an entirely same impression, we must be convinced that to give different nature. Toavoid what so evidently shocks the a general description of what any man might have seen association of ideas, writers, who have been particularly or heard, produces no distinct idea of what really inattached to the form of biography, and who wished to Auenced his mind. It is the province of legitimate introduce under it a greater number of circumstances biography to ascertain this latter point, and thus to than could well be associated with the description of discover the circumstances which distinguish a man any private individual, have chosen the life of the from the rest of his species. Without such informaPrince or public Governor as the connecting link of|tion, to present the reader with a general view of concircumstances which happened during bis administra- comitant circumstances, serves only to bewilder him, tion. A publịc Gorernor occupies in a country nearly and render him liable to error: he has to guess which the same situation as in this species of biography; he of them really influenced the mind of the object of his is the great connecting link to which the eyes of the enquiry; and if he should happen to guess wrong, the whole society are turned; we do not associate the idea biographer is directly chargeable with giving him false of his life with any particular species of pursuit, nor ideas of human motives and actions. But the author are we surprised to find interwoven with it any trans- of the Life of Chaucer does not leave the reader to the action of the country and age in which he lived. dangerous dilemma of guessing; he takes that risque

The Life of Chaucer evidently belongs to the species upon himself; and accordingly, through a great part of biography we have just been describing: the circum- of the work, whenever Chaucer appears, it is for thre stances more particularly relating to himself occupy || purpose of shewing what impressions such and such a comparatively small part of the work: he is chosen circumstances probably produced on his mind. We as the connecting link in a description of the manners, do not blame Mr. G's. industry for not obtaining more literature, and various other circumstances of the times complete information; we believe he has done nearly in which he lived. In adhering to this design, how- all in any man's power for this purpose : but when he ever, Mr. Godwin has had many difficulties to contend saw that time had destroyed almost every document sith; the events of Chaucer's life which have reached from which distinct information could be extracted, us are extremely few; bis sentiments, habits, and con- he should not have eked out his scanty materials by.

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canvas is diversified." The propriety of this arrangethie Life of Chaucer. We must also take the liberty | mnent we have already considered. to say, that the principal figure appears to us dispro- Mr. G. complains of the meagre and dry details portionate to tlic ornaments with which it is sur- which are usually given to the world by antiquaries, rounded. Allowing all due reputation to Chaucer for and states it to have been his wish in this work whatever is certainly known concerning him, allowing carry the workings of fancy and the spirit of philosohim to have introduced a taste for original English || phy into the investigation of ages past." He conpoetry, and to have been the favourite of princes, still gratulates himself on having made many discoveries by we are not a little astonished to find law, religion, resorting to the national repositories in which our ancourts, statesmen and soldiers, starting up on every || cient records are preserved ; a method of investigation side, and all for the sole ostensible purpose of influ- || he says almost entirely neglected by Mr. Tyrwhitt, the encing this early poet's mind. We admire the curious || last editor of Chaucer. The full result of these and splendid machinery of that age; but we are sur-labours however, he has not been permitted to give to prised and half indignant at the purposes to which it the public, as the bookseller assured him that two is applied.

volumes in quarto were as much as the public would We have stated the impression left on our minds by | allow the title of his book to authorise. He assures the plan of Mr. Godwin's work: it is a question in a us also of a very material point, that no reference has great measure distinct from that of the erecution. We been trusced without actually inspecting the book to have been the more particular in stating our reasons which it was made. against the plan he has pursued, as from the prevalence The preface is followed by a dissertation on the of a taste for this mode of biography, we might soon

date of Chaucer's birth, the usual date assigned to expect to see this department of literature intirely lose which is 1328. In a deposition however made by the its character, and the Life of a man brought to signify, a poet in a disputed case of chivalry in 1386, he states collection of whatever happened in his time, whether himself to be forty years and upwards, whereas ache was interested in the circumstances or not.

cording to the commonly received date of his birth, To analyse the work is the best method of enabling || he must then have been fifty-eight years of age. our readers to judge for themselves in what manner After some reasonings on both sides, Mr. G. declares

Vír. Godwin has executed his plan. In the preface, in favour of the received chronology. Indeed, as he
(which by the way is divided into sections in order to confesses, the new computation, if admitted, would
suit the frittering taste of the age) the author gives us destroy the whole fabric of the poet's education and
his own ideas of his work. Every writer may be al- || early pursuits.
lowed to invite attention by magnifying in some degree The date of Chaucer's birth was first assigned to the
the object of his labours ; particularly a biographer year 1328 by Mr. Specht, from comparing the inscrip-
who, as in the present instance, proposes to exalt histion on his tomb in Westminster Abbey, which states
subject above the rank he bears in the ordinary opinion that he died in 1400, with the accounts given by
of mankind : yet with all these indulgences we cannot Leland of the times when he fourished. The place
but be startled at the first sentence of the preface ; of his nativity is assigned to the city of London, from
“ The two names which do greatest honour to the a passage in his works where he speaks of it as exciting
annals of English literature, are those of Chaucer and in him that enthusiasm which all creatures feel towards
of Shakspeare.” That Chaucer was a wonderful poet their native spot. The inferences drawn from this
when we consider the times in which he lived, no man passage are, that he also spent his early years in
will dispute ; but to enthrone him above Milton and all London, and that he was the son of a merchant.
the other splendid geniuses who have adorned our lite- || This latter inference Mr. G. assures us is somewhat
rature both in prose and verse, is an hyperbole of ra- | plausible : there are few hypotheses so ridiculous as
ther inauspicious aspect at the commencement of a not to have this claim, at least, on our belief. The
work. Mr. G. further informs us, that “

mention of London gives occasion to introduce a
man in the history of human intellect ever did more || history of that city, its flourishing state under the
than was effected by the single mind of Chaucer." | Romans, its decay under the Saxons, its recovery
“ The first and direct object of this work is to erect a under the Norman kings ; its rapid increase of popu-
monument to his name, and, as far as the writer was lation, and the wealth of its citizens, some of whom
capable of doing it, to produce an interesting and in the days of Chaucer, were able to give sumptuous
amusing book in modern English, enabling the reader | entertainments to kings.
who might shrink from the labour of mastering the Chaucer's probable initiation in letters in the city
phraseology of Chaucer, to do justice to his illustrious of London, introduces an account of the state of
countryman.” As a secondary object of his plan, he literature in that age. Learning had in a considerable
says, that "if the knowledge of contemporary objects degree recovered from the barbarism of the dark ages;
is the biography of Chaucer, the converse of the pro- || the Norman race of kings were scholars themselves
position will also be true, and the biography of Chau- and the patrons of learning. Travellers had, under
cer will be the picture of a certain portion of the Henry I, begun to import the learning of the Saracens
literary, political, and domestic history of our coun- from the east : several popular histories were translated
try. The person of Chaucer may in this view be or composed, and eagerly received. Literature, how-
considered as the central figure in a miscellaneous ever, still groaned under great disadvantages from the
painting, giving unity and individual application to paucity of books, and the despotism of papal super-

no one

17:

Godwin's Life of Chaucer.

18 stition, which, however, was now on the decline. of the former against the Saracens in Spain was comThe discredit into which the English language had | posed, as tradition has it, by Turpin, archbishop of fallen in consequence of the introduction of a foreign Rheims, in the year 1100; and Geoffrey of Montongue by the Norman invaders, prevented any works mouth discovered in a convent a fabulous history of of literature from being written in our vernacular the kings of Britain, from the Trojan Brutus downidiom. In London, however, in spite of all these | wards. Wace, and Benoit de St. Marc wrote their obstacles, learning was cultivated with considerable romances in the reign of Henry II, and to Wace, the success : it contained in the times of Henry II. three origin of romance, strictly so called, may be ascribed. public schools, besides many private seminaries, in This subject being exhausted, Chaucer again apwhich the arts of logical disputation, the elements of pears. Our author justly asserts the importance of grammar, and exercises in verse, formed the principal proper religious impressions in our early years; and topics of education. Although London had probably, concludes that the poet could not fail to be early inby Chaucer's time, declined in these characteristics of structed in whatever was regarded as seenly, decent, an university, by the rising reputation of Oxford and and venerable:" and thus an opportunity is afforded Cambridge, yet it probably still retained many of its of introducing a description of the Roman Catholic schools; and, inferring from his mercantile birth that religion in the middle ages. The decay of this imChaucer was not educated according to the custom of mense fabric, Mr. G. ascribes to the unfortunate rethose days, as a page to some of the nobility, Mr. G. sult of the crusades. These expeditions “ were atpictures to himself the poet daily resorting to one of tended indeed with the utmost brilliancy and astonishthe seminaries of the metropolis, and there doubtless ment; they propagated a sentiment almost beyond becoming acquainted with the favourite Roman au- the powers and the sphere of the human mind. But thors of the day. The poets of the Augustan age this very circumstance was pregnant with ruin: they were then deserted for the florid writers of later times; stretched too vehemently the religious nerve in the and Greek literature was unknown.

soul of man; and their ultimate defeat recoiled with Among the other early studies of Chaucer, our au- fatal effect to plague their inventors.” Unless this thor thinks it can scarcely be questioned that romance religious nerve means the abject dread of something was a favourite species of reading; and hence he unknown, which we call superstition, we must own takes occasion to elucidate the origin of romance, ourselves at a loss to explain it: if our author means and its concomitant circumstances. Romance arose to assert that these terrors were much dissipated on in the twelfth century from chivalry which prevailed discovering the fallacy of the Pope's pretensions by in the eleventh century; and the origin of the latter the result of the crusades, we allow the truth of the is to be referred to the feudal system which was es- observation; but there were many other circumstances tablished in its most perfect form two centuries be- in the state of European nations and the natural profore. In the description of the feudal system which gress of the human mind, which tended infinitely succeeds, nothing new is added by Mr. Godwin to the more to the overthrow of the Roman Catholic religion labours of former inquirers. In the days of Chaucer, | than the bad success of the crusades. he observes, this system was already a ruin, but its The strong and permanent hold which the Roman effects on society are conspicuous even in our days. Catholic religion gained on the minds of men, God

Romance was a record of the adventures of persons win attributes chiefly to its so forcibly addressing the educated in those arts and habits of thinking, which

Religion," he observes, “is nothing, if it arose from the spirit of chivalry, when every appeal || be not a sentiment and a feeling :” we may add, was made to the sword, and when feats of prowess -that if it be nothing more than a sentiment and a were accounted the noblest of human actions. A || feeling, it is not religion. Unless the grounds of bethousand supernatural and impossible ornaments, lief be ascertained, unless the understanding be inwhich were, however, allowed by the ignorance of the formed and convinced, unless devotion proceeds from age, were intermingled with the narrative. Romances | rational motives, it may be passion, it may be feeling, at first consisted of songs for festivals, and were ac- it may be the tremors of the religious nerte, but it companied with instrumental music. Their origin is cannot be "piety towards God, or love towards man.” referred by our author to the Runic and Scandinavian | By Mr. Godwin's calculation the most ignorant and Scalds.

While poetry was blended with the pagan abject bigot, prostrated before a piece of the true mythology, it was gloomy and obscure; and it was cross, during what he emphatically terms the "relinot till Christianity had broken this connection, that gious ages, was infinitely more possessed of real the compositions of the minstrel became sportful, and Religion, than the enlightened christian of the ninethe great source of pleasure in every scene of festivity. teenth century who founds his belief on conviction, Minstrels were yet in their highest reputation in the and worships God in spirit and in truth. If we esti-. days of Chaucer.

mate Pieligion by Mr. G's scale, the degree of imIt is a characteristic of the old ronance, that it pression produced on the senses by its external ceregives the manners and adventures of chivalry to per- monies, we shall look upon the reformed religion as a sonages drawn even from the remotest periods of very bare and inefficient worship indeed; the Roman Greece and Rome. Charlemagne, Emperor of the Catholic, with all its appendages of images and proWest, and Arthur, king of Britain, with their fol- sessions, will rise higher in the scale ; but the pagan

were the subjects of the two first romances of faith which made a man see in every tree, shrub, and note. A grand prose narrative on the imaginary feats rock, the habitation of some god or demon, who had

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VOL. III.

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