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CYCLES OF LITERATURE.
“I HAVE often thought," said the Bachelor one evening, “ that there are cycles of particular literature. One age excels in the drama, another in history, another in general poetry, the present seems to be that of novels.”
« And it is natural that it should be so," replied the Nymph. “ After epochs of action and enterprise, in which individual peculiarities are called into impassioned exercise, we should expect the drama to thrive: the history of English literature shows as much. The conflicts of the York and Lancaster wars; the controversies of the Reformation ; the vicissitudes of fortune, arising from the changes induced by them; the struggles and conspiracies of faction ; the wrongs done to private affection by the same causes, all combined to prepare the way in England for some extraordinary display of dramatic power; and accordingly we find in Shakspeare, and his illustrious contemporaries, such a stupendous store of talent for that species of writing as never was seen at any one period in the world before.
« The dramatic age was followed by the historical. The compilations in that sort of composition, both in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, and
throughout the whole of King James the First's time, are still the most valuable and important that have yet been made in English literature. The literature of no other country possesses any thing to be put into comparison with the Chronicles of these kingdoms.
“ After the historical cycle came that of general poetry, the genius of which addressed itself not to the description of scenes or of feelings, but almost exclusively to the associations which constitute the basis of rational knowledge. Pope may be said to have been the chief in this species of composition, and I am not sure that, since his time till the present, the literature of this country has had any decided character, or made any important progress. It has been classical, correct, moral and philosophical, perhaps beyond the attainments of the existing epoch, but it has been general, and, in some respects, I may almost say, featureless. It has consisted rather of compendious views of what had been done and established in preceding times, than of additions to our knowledge respecting the recesses of nature and of passion.
“ We are now, I think, evidently entered into a new cycle. All the past has become, in some degree, obsolete, or is only drawn on to furnish illustrations to characters, possessing something in common with that high state of excitement into which we have ourselves been raised by the vast and wonderful events of the age. The theatre, owing to the general ignorance and conceit of the players, being, in the management, so much under the common level of the taste and knowledge of the time, has gone out of fashion, and the consequence is, that the talent, which would otherwise have been directed in another state of things to furnish the empty stage with life, energy, and truth, is now engaged in providing a similar sort of entertainment in the shape of tales and romances, so highly imbued with poetical ornament, and the emphatic disclosures of sentiment and passion, that they bear scarcely any likeness to the compositions which, during the earlier part of the late reign, were called novels, while they have much of the air and complexion of the works of the old dramatists.
“ When this cycle is run out, then we shall have another historical period, and what themes for eloquence, aphorisms, and description, await the pen of the unborn Humes, and Robertsons, and Gibbons, in the gorgeous calamities and magnificent crimes and enterprises of the Revolutionary war!-a subject in itself, from the beginning to the end, the most complete and epic which the whole history of mankind affords.
“ In the meantime, we may expect to meet with occasional preparatory passages, treated with discrimination and ability, and which will serve the future historian as materials for his « imperial theme.” Of this kind I consider Southey's History of the Peninsular War,-a work, so far as it has gone, highly creditable to his industry and talents, and, indeed, one of the most favourable specimens of narration which has yet appeared on the greatest of subjects; I speak of the whole conflict, of which the peninsular war, like the Egyptian expedition, can only be considered as a chapter.” .
56 I have not yet read his volume, " said Benedict,"
" Then I advise you to do so with all possible speed,” replied Egeria. “What I will read to you, his sketch of the siege of Zaragoza,-is a picture which wanted but the circumstantial pencil of Josephus to have been none inferior in interest to the unparalleled description of the destruction of Jerusalem :"
« On the 4th of August the French opened their batteries within pistol-shot of the church and convent of St Eugracia.
“ The mud walls were levelled at the first discharge; and the besiegers rushing through the opening, took the batteries before the adjacent gates in reverse. Here General Mori, who had distinguished himself on many former occasions, was made prisoner. The street of St Eugracia, which they had thus entered, leads into the Cozo, and the corner buildings where it thus terminated, were, on the one hand, the convent of St Francisco, and, on the other, the general hospital. Both were stormed and set on fire ; the sick and the wounded threw themselves from the windows to escape the flames, and the horror of the scene was aggravated by the maniacs, whose voices, raving or singing in paroxysms of wilder madness, or crying in vain to be set free, were heard amid the confusion of dreadful sounds. Many fell victims to the fire, and some to the indiscriminating fury of the assailants. Those who escaped were conducted as prisoners to the Torrero ; but when their condition had been discovered, they were sent back on the morrow, to take their chance in the siege. After a severe contest and dreadful carnage, the French forced their way into the Cozo, in the very centre of the city, and before the day closed, were in possession of one half of Zaragoza. Lefebvre now believed that he had effected
horror of the windows to escam wounded threw
his purpose, and required Palafox to surrender, in a note containing only these words :
‘Head-quarters, St Eugracia. -Capitulation! “The heroic Spaniard immediately returned this reply:-• Head-quarters, Zaragoza.-War at the knife's point!
“ The contest which was now carried on is unexampled in history.-One side of the Cozo, a street about as wide as Pall-Mall, was possessed by the French ; and in the centre of it, their general, Verdier, gave his orders from the Franciscan convent. The opposite side was maintained by the Arragonese, who threw up batteries at the openings of the cross streets, within a few paces of those which the French erected against them. The intervening space was presently heaped with dead, either slain upon the spot, or thrown out from the windows. Next day the ammunition of the citizens began to fail. It was almost certain death to appear, by daylight, within reach of those houses which were occupied by the other party. But under cover of the darkness, the combatants frequently dashed across the street to attack each other's batteries; and the battles which began there, were often carried on into the houses beyond, where they fought from room to room, and floor to floor. The hostile batteries were so near each other, that a Spaniard in one place made way under cover of the dead bodies, which completely filled the space between them, and fastened a rope to one of the French cannons; in the struggle which ensued, the rope broke, and the Zaragozans lost their prize at the very moment when they thought themselves sure of it. ......
.....“A new horror was added to the dread. ful circumstances of war in this ever-memorable siege. In general engagements the dead are left upon the field of battle, and the survivors remove to clear ground, and an untainted atmosphere ; but here-in Spain, and in the month of August, there where the dead lay the