« PreviousContinue »
SATAN'S ADDRESS TO THE SUN.
O thou, that, with surpassing glory crown'd,
Or from without, to all temptations arm'd.
say I could repent, and could obtain,
Which would but lead me to a worse relapse
GREAT and rapid as have been the changes in all that constitutes the moral, political, and productive power of England, not one among the varied features of her character, has, within the same space of time, undergone so thorough a revolution as her literature. It is as different now from the state in which it was a century ago, both in the number and nature of its productions, not merely as at any two periods in the history of the same country, but as the literature of any two civilized and co-existing nations could possibly be. Whether the change has been for the better or the worse, may possibly in some minds admit of doubt; but of the certainty of the change itself, there can be but one opinion.
The main cause of this, has been the increased wealth of the higher, and the increased knowledge of the lower orders of the people. These gave the first impulse to a demand for an increased number of books; and the very circulation which supplied such demand, served only to create
fresh desires: so that cause and effect, continually revolving in a circle, have gone on producing and re-producing, with such an accelerating speed, that if we continue thus to advance in almost geometrical progression, we may contemplate, at no very distant period, such an accumulation of literary productions, as to verify, without hyperbole, the Oriential peroration of the Evangelist, who apprehended that “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."
To the increased production of food, the limited surface of the earth sets bounds. To the increase of population, disease, poverty, and crime, operate as checks. And even if either of these attain, at any one period, a considerable superabundance, forth stalks the destroying angel in the shape of famine, pestilence, or war, to sweep away the surplus, and bring back things to what, in the language of the modern school, is called “ their healthy and natural level.” Since the days of Omar, however, who burned the Alexandrian library—because all the books it contained, were, if they accorded with the Koran, unnecessary; and if differing from it, pernicious!—we have had no barbarian-destroyer sufficiently powerful to stay the torrent of light and knowledge that is now fast covering the whole earth. Men die and disappear; the most skilful productions of their ingenuity or labour perish, and are forgotten; and even the most colossal monuments which their admiring contemporaries or successors erect, to carry down their names and deeds to posterity, crumble into dust. But books—and books onlycan be made to endure for ever. The pyramids may be razed to the level of the rock on which they were erected, or buried in the sands of the surrounding desert; an earthquake would effect the one, and a whirlwind accomplish the other. But the books in which the mysteries of the Egyptians, the history of the Jews whom they held in bondage, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts, are described,
can never perish. The Acropolis of Athens is in ruinsthe statue of Olympian Jupiter is no more -the Parthenon is fast hastening to destruction and the Athenæum, that sacred edifice dedicated to Minerva, in which the poets, orators, and philosophers of Greece, recited their several compositions,—lives but in name! Yet Homer, Hesiod, Anacreon, and Theocritus—Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Sophocles—Heroditus, Xenophon, Plutarch, and Thucydides, are still existing—still our own; the constant companions of hundreds, the occasional administrators of instruction and delight to thousands; and nothing short of that great conflagration, in which
“ The globe itself, And all which it inhabit, shall dissolve,” can destroy these precious records of ancient wisdom, genius, and taste.
CASABIANCA, THE ADMIRAL's son.
The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but him had fled;
Shone round him o'er the dead:
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A proud, though child-like form.
The flames rolld on-he would not go,
Without his father's word;
His voice no longer heard.