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be written by Sir Henry Wotton; and he employed Walton, as an acquaintance and ardent admirer of the deceased, to collect the necessary materials for
Sir Henry, however, died before finishing the work, and there was no one to undertake the completion of it but Walton; who having, in these circumstances, been induced to apply himself to the task, produced a very interesting piece of biography, which was placed at the head of the first edition of Donne's Sermons, and has since been frequently reprinted. At this time he was still in business; but a few years after, having attained a competent fortune, he retired, and spent the evening of his life chiefly among his friends in the country, and in those literary occupations for which the success of his first attempt had shewn him he was fitted. His next production was a Life of Sir Henry Wotton; and it was followed by those of Hooker, George Herbert, and Bishop Sanderson, all of which were well received by the public, and still rank among the most esteemed pieces of biography in the language. His ‘Complete Angler' appeared for the first time in 1653, and went through many editions, even during the lifetime of the author, who died in 1683, at the age of ninety. In his latter days he published also a poetical work of considerable merit, entitled • Thealma and Clearchus,' purporting to be written by John Chalkhill, but which has been recently suspected, upon reasons of some plausibility, to have been the production of his own pen.
There is another celebrated name which we may mention here, although it would be out of place for us to attempt even the most rapid sketch of the varied and eventful history of the person to whom it belongs. It is that of DANIEL Defoe, the immortal author of Robinson Crusoe. Defoe was only twenty-one years of age when he commenced that career of author
ship in which he subsequently shewed such extraordinary fertility; and was then, and for some time afterwards, engaged in trade, having been first a horse-factor, and next a maker of bricks at Tilbury Fort. He soon, however, relinquished every thing else for literature and politics; for which, indeed, his temper and talents adapted him much more than for business. In the new profession which he had chosen, his industry was almost altogether unparalleled, as the mere list of his productions may suffice to shew; nor does either misfortune, disease, or old age appear to have abated his exertions. For a long time it was the fashion to regard Defoe as merely the unprincipled hireling and vulgar libel-monger of a party ;-a reputation for which he was probably not a little indebted to a heartless line of Pope's, whose connections happened to unite him most closely with the faction in the state to which Defoe was chiefly opposed. It is gratifying to think that public opinion is at last beginning to do justice to one whose writings testify him to have been uniformly the honest and intrepid advocate of what he deemed to be right, without regard to the views or interests of any party, and whom his whole history demonstrates to have never shrunk from any danger or any sacrifice in the defence or avowal of his principles. As a man of genius, nobody entitled to express an opinion upon such matters can fail to think highly of the author of Robinson Crusoe, which, however, is by no means the only one of his productions that evinces extraordinary powers, both of invention and of writing
We may here also notice the name of another man of genius, George Lillo, the author of “Fatal Curiosity,' George Barnwell,' and other well-known dramatic pieces. Lillo was born in London in 1693, and spent his life in business as a jeweller in the city. Few particulars of his history, however, have come down to us; nor do we know any thing of the education he received, although there is reason to believe that he owed his literary acquirements chiefly to his own application and love of reading. He is recorded to have been attentive to business, and to have acquired, as a tradesman, a high character for probity, and a competent, if not an abundant fortune. Yet, although he died at the early age of forty-six, he had already produced eight or nine dramas, several of them of great power. A few months after his death, his character was sketched in the following terms by his friend Fielding; “ He had a perfect knowledge of human nature, though his contempt of all base means of application, which are the necessary steps to great acquaintance, restrained his conversation within very narrow bounds. He had the spirit of an old Roman, joined to the innocence of a primitive Christian; he was content with his little state of life, in which his excellent temper of mind gave him an happiness beyond the power of riches, and it was necessary for his friends to have a sharp insight into his want of their services, as well as good inclination or abilities to serve him. In short, he was one of the best of men, and those who knew him best will most regret his loss.”
Men circumstanced like Walton, Defoe, and Lillo, are well fitted, it may be remarked, to give new vigour to the literature of a country, by infusing into it something of what we may call the spirit of the living world, when it is waxing feeble under the regimen of recluse students and dealers in mere erudition. Their works are almost sure to bear the stamp of originality in conception and manner, which is in literature the very principle of life and strength. The point from which they look to their subject is different from that which the mere scholar
would naturaHy select; their subject itself is probably not one which he would have chosen; and, at all: events, the conceptions it suggests will amalgamate with different associations, and take altogether a different shape and character. Erudition, that should be but the furniture, is too often made the food, of the mind; which, under such unfit sustenance, is apt to languish and dry away. A man who mixes much with the world is little liable to have his powers of thinking thus destroyed by being crushed under the worn and cast-off thoughts of his predecessors; for his mind cannot fail to be kept awake by the stir of the living world about him, which will act upon it like a healthy breeze, blowing away all dust and rubbish, and keeping its faculties in their proper tone. But if, in addition to this salutary intercourse, a man: of true genius shall have been further exposed to the necessity of acquiring his knowledge of literature principally by his own efforts, and of working out his own way to that mastery over his thoughts and expressions which constitutes the power of writing, it is probable that, whatever may be his deficiencies in other respects (which if they were ever so many, the possession of true genius will go far to cover) his productions will have the advantage, in respect of originality, over those of an equally gifted but more regularly educated mind.
In the very style of the writers we have mentioned, especially of the two first, there is a charm of nature, which we generally look for in vain among the compositions of more learned wits. In Defoe's political works, too, there is often all the vigour and dexterity of a most consummate rhetorick, rendered only more effective by many a racy idiom which would probably have been rejected by a mere rhetorician of the schools. Lillo's tragedies, again, full of power and pathos, are unlike any thing else in
the dramatic literature, either of our own or any other country. It seems as if we could tell almost by the perusal of them that their author must have been in business—that he was a regularly bred tradesman, as well as a self-taught poet. The humblest and the highest walks of life are both favourite regions of poetry; Lillo is the only poet of middle life. His personages are merely the ordinary men and women we meet with every day,-neither heroes and emperors, nor beggars and banditti ; and his scenes are
re mostly in streets or on country roads by daylight, and at evening in domestic parlours. Yet even to common life he has communicated not a little of the excitement of poetry. This is true originality ; one of the feats of genius, to which nothing is impossible.