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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

As Wordsworth described Samuel Taylor Coleridge


was one of the memorable events of the reign. Crabbe might well be described in the words which a later singer set out for his own epitaph, as "the poet of the poor." Crabbe pictured the struggles, the sufferings, the occasional gleams of happiness which are common to the lives of the poor with a realism as vigorous and as vivid as the prose of Charles Dickens himself could show, and he had touches here and there of exquisitely tender poetic feeling which were not unworthy of Keats or Wordsworth. Nothing was nobler in the life of Burke than his early appreciation and generous support of Crabbe. Hannah More died in 1833. The fame of this remarkable woman has somewhat faded of late years, and even the {283} most successful of her writings find probably but few readers among the general public. She has, however, won for herself a distinct place in history, not less by her life itself than by her work in various fields of literature. In her early days she had been an associate of Samuel Johnson, Burke, and Goldsmith, and Reynolds, and she had known Macaulay from his childhood. She was always a writer with a purpose, whether she wrote a religious tract or an ethical essay, a tragedy or a novel. She always strove to be a teacher, and the intellectual gifts with which she had been endowed were only valued by her in so far as they enabled her to serve the education and the moral progress of humanity. "The rapt One of the godlike forehead, the heaven-eyed creature," as Wordsworth described Samuel Taylor Coleridge, died in 1834. Coleridge belonged to an order of intellect far higher than that to which Crabbe or Hannah More had any claim. He was indeed a man of genius in all but the very highest meaning of the word. He was poet, philosopher, teacher, and critic, and in each department, had he worked in that alone, he must have won renown. Perhaps if he had not worked in so many fields he might have obtained even a more exalted position than that which history must assuredly assign to him. His influence as a philosopher is probably fading now, although he unquestionably inspired whole schools of philosophic thought, and the world remembers him rather as the author of "The Ancient Mariner" than as the metaphysical student and teacher. As a critic, in the highest sense of the word, he will always have the praise that should belong to the first who aroused the attention of Englishmen to the great new school of thoughtful criticism which was growing up in Germany under the influence of Lessing and of Goethe. He would have deserved fame if only for his translations of some of Schiller's noblest dramas. It has been justly said that Coleridge by his successful efforts to spread over England the influence of the higher German criticism did much to restore Shakespeare to that position as head of the world's modern literature from which English {284} criticism and English tastes had done so much to displace him since the days of Dryden.

[Sidenote: 1775-1836--Mrs. Siddons and Edmund Kean]

The death of Coleridge was soon followed by that of Charles Lamb, and, indeed, Coleridge's death may have had some effect in hastening that of his dear and devoted friend. In the same poem from which we have just quoted the lines that picture Coleridge, Wordsworth tells how "Lamb, the frolic and the gentle, has vanished from his lonely hearth." Lamb was the most exquisite of essayists and letter-writers, a man whose delicate humor, playful irony, and happy gift of picturesque phrase claim for him true poetic genius. The present generation has probably but a faint memory of Felicia Hemans, whose verse had at one time an immense popularity among all readers with whom sweetness of sentiment, musical ease, fluency of verse, and simple tenderness of feeling were enough to constitute poetic art. She, too, died not long before the close of the reign. Many men who had won wide fame as pulpit orators and as religious teachers of various orders marked by their deaths as well as by their lives this chapter of history. Rowland Hill was one of these, the great popular preacher, who flung aside conventionalities, and was ready to preach anywhere if he had hope of gathering an audience around him whom he could move and teach, whether he spoke from the pulpit of a church or a chapel, or from a platform in the open air, or in the midst of a crowd with no platform at all. Another was Robert Hall, admittedly one of the most eloquent preachers of modern times. Yet another was Adam Clarke, the author of the celebrated "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures." Of course the fame of these men and women does not belong in the fuller sense to the reign of William the Fourth. Some of them had wellnigh done their work before the reign began, none of them can be said to have won any new celebrity during the reign. Their names are introduced here because their deaths were events of the moment and lend, in that way, additional importance to the reign's history.


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