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by Hugh Walker (1910)


Previous Page  ...decline in literature are really what we may call periods of germination. When the great French writers of the age of Louis XIV gradually passed away, they seemed to leave a vacancy; and no doubt for a time they did so. It was a vacancy never to be filled again by men of their stamp, men pursuing their aims or dominated by their ambitions. Moliere, Corneille and Racine, the men who made the French drama, and who gave France her literary pre-eminence in Europe, died, the first in 1673, the last in 1699; but in no long time Voltaire and Rousseau, who did so much to determine the course of French history during the eighteenth century, were ripe to take their place; and already before the death of Racine, Bayle's Dictionary, that curious armoury from which so many of their weapons were drawn, was collected and arranged. The old descend to the grave with the laurels on their brow, and the world laments the loss; the young, with their laurels still to win, are already preparing to take their place; but the world will not and cannot take the laurels upon trust. It is a law of life that we know the greatest only when it is passing or has already passed away.

"The gates of fame and of the grave
Stand under the same architrave."

If we turn to England, we are confronted more than once in the not distant past by the same spectacle of rise and decline. Within a period of twenty-one years are recorded the deaths of Hume, Johnson, Adam Smith, Gibbon and Burke; and with them the eighteenth century in its literary aspect passes away. But again we see how the losses are made good. Wordsworth, Scott and Coleridge were all born before the death of the first of the men named; Byron, Shelley and Keats, before the death of the last. The work of these men may be said, with sufficient accuracy for the present purpose, to form the English contribution to the great romantic revival, or the Literature of the Revolution. They are separated from one another by very wide differences, yet the world is not mistaken in believing that they were stirred to work by common impulses, and that there are points of connexion between them which do not and cannot exist between ...Next Page

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