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Wolfe's fame chiefly rests on a fine poem to the memory of Sir John Moore.
Lord Byron's merits and defects, as a poet, have been largely attributed to the personal temperament that accounts for, and palliates, his personal career. The constitutional irritability which embittered his days, probably gave birth to the pride, sternness, and misanthropy of his style, its love of the darker passions, and its sullen and angry views of human life. But the error was often nobly redeemed by the outbreak of a noble mind, by touches of the finest feeling ; flashes of sunshine through the gloom; vistas of the rosiest beauty, through a mental wilderness that seemed to have been bared and blackened in the very wrath uf nature.
Like all men of rank, he had temptations to contend with, that severely try man. Fortune, flattering companionship, and foreign life, were his natural perils; and we can only lament that, when a few years more might have given him back to his country, with his fine faculties devoted to her service, and cheered by true views of human life, his career was closed. His moral system as a poet is founded on the double error, that great crimes imply great qualities; and, that virtue is a slavery. Both maxims palpably untrue;
for crime is so much within human means, that
the most stupendous crime may be committed by the most abject of human beings. And common experience shows, that to be superior to our habits and passions is the only true freedom; while the man of the wildest licence is only so much the more fettered and bowed down. But on the grave of Byron there can be but one inscription--that living long enough for fame, he died too soon for his country. All hostility should be sacrificed on the spot where the remains of the great poet sleep; and no man worthy to tread the ground, will approach it but with homage for his genius, and sorrow that such genius should have been sent to darkness, in the hour when it might have begun to fulfil its course, and, freed from the mists and obliquities of its rising, run its high career among the enlighteners of mankind.
The object of this volume is to give such a selection from our eminent writers, as may best exhibit their styles of thought and language. All their beauties it would be impossible to give. But the following pages contain many of those passages on which their authors would perhaps be most content to be tried at
the tribunal of popularity. There are other Authors from whom this volume would gladly have adduced extracts, but its size was previously restricted; and such is the opulence of English poetry, that to comprehend all, many volumes must have been formed, instead of one.
I feel the more privileged to speak favourably of the following Selection, from the limited part which I have borne in it; a considerable portion of the materials having been collected before the work came into my hands. The volume was commenced, and in a great measure carried on, by a literary friend, to whom the idea originally suggested itself as a personal amusement, and who persevered in it from the feeling, that the writings of the great poets of England cannot be put into the popular hand too often, in too pleasing a form, or under too accessible circumstances.