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sufficiently so to engage and deserve our attention.
The earliest species of popular composition was, as we know, heroic poetry; for the art of transcription being rare, and that of reading very confined, to render any composition popular, it was necessary that, grateful to the ear, it should be easily remembered and repeated; nor was there any method of diffusing it but itinerant recitation.
As great towns arose and spread themselves, however, the poet naturally suited himself to larger audiences, and his muse adopting the drama, attained most that we at present know of theatrical art.
But civilization does not arrive so far as this point without the existence of a large class who, wealthy, indolent, and refined, require some unfatiguing, intellectual amusement, which, if the stage supplied in any way to those resident in cities, it left it still wanting to all who found themselves in the solitude of a country life.
That such a want should first display itself in the east, seems, from the habits of the people, natural; and we may therefore easily fall into the common belief that it was through the
colony of Miletus that
novels or romances
first reached Italy and Greece.
As might have been expected, they treated chiefly of licentious love, and of the martial heroism of the middle ages. This species of composition (whether such alteration were Gothic or Arabian in its origin, or merely the natural birth of the existing state of mankind) received a new colouring; and in tales of chivalry and enterprize the spirit of the day was at once represented and excited.
The wanderings of Palmerin and Amadis, however, did not extend to the voluptuous Italy, where the Decameron, similar in its kind to other Italian productions that had preceded it, resembled in some sort the ancient Milesian stories.
The pastoral romance was a reaction from the chivalric and heroic, at the head of which Madame Scuderi may be placed—a kind of prolix medley of the two-owing its success in France partly to real personages being concealed under a fictitious genii, partly to the character of the French nobility themselves, who, until their independence was destroyed in the court of Louis XIV, had a warlike and enterprizing frame of mind which the adventures of Polyan
dre or the Great Cyrus' might very well interest and please.
But the two species of modern novels* most in vogue, until another of late years appeared, were those descriptive of living manners-at the head of which Le Sage, transporting comedy from the stage to the boudoir, took his place; and those more analytically descriptive of sentiment, of which we must again accord a foreigner, writing in French, J. J. Rousseau, to be the chief. The one was still a comedian while a novelist; the other always a moralist.
Le Sage wrote for Paris and the audience he had been accustomed to at his theatre: he painted the life of an adventurer to a large city, where every one was struggling to make his fortune-not quite a honest man, yet not a rogue-with few scruples that could prevent his getting on in life: with no crimes that could justly condemn him to the gallies.
* What I say of light literature is almost entirely confined to novels, as the most popular branch of it. The only poets out of the drama of any note, are Beranger and Lamartine, and these are already so well known, and have been so often criticized, that it would hardly be worth while to interrupt the course of these observations by repeating what has frequently been better said of their style and merits.
What he describes is the level of life in large communities such as he resided in: there is no heroic passion, - no enthusiasm of any kind in his story-for the bye-ways of ambition are not romantic. Still the tale of GilBlas had great success, for it described, not merely what was passing round the author, but what was passing round most men pursuing the hackneyed existence of what in their separate countries was called-the world.
As Le Sage was essentially the man of the city, Rousseau was as essentially the man of solitude. All that he knew of mankind was what he knew of Rousseau. The only mode he had of describing human nature, was that of describing the workings of his own breast; -he was the creature of sentiment and emotion-so was his book. Indeed, it is easier at a first glance to see why Rousseau should have written the Nouvelle Héloise, than it is at a first glance to see, why the Héloise, appearing amidst the worldly, the polished, the voluptuous, and selfish society of Louis XV, should have had such success. But there are in most men two natures—that nature which they acquire in action and from custom, which makes them do to-day as they did yesterday, and as they see others doing, without
reflection or passion, but from habitual impulse-and that other nature-which we only find when we seek for it, but which is in the depths of all our souls; which we find alone, and when we are called upon to think; a nature of higher and nobler energies, such as from the very elevation at which it aims, can rarely be carried into action save by men of great powers. I speak of that source of sublimity within us from which all religions flow; of that source of superiority and strength which we discover in sickness, in suffering, and oftimes in great perils; raising us above what we have been accustomed to consider ourselves; coming not from stoicism, not from superstition-but simply from solitude and self-commune ;-for it was said wisely and profoundly by the philosopher, "Enter yourselves-there you will find the Gods!"
Rousseau and Byron, both different in action from what they were in thought, yet living much in solitude, addressed our more lonely and thinking side of the heart: they spoke to man at the time when he momentarily withdraws himself from the world, not at the time when he is mechanically moving in the world; and this is why they produced a deeper impression upon the mind of their age, and