Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

We

[ocr errors]

lips of the poet, to whom we commit flicting circumstances in which we our weakness as well as our wisdom. ourselves seem, for the time, to be He is also freed, in a great measure, involved. If the work has not this from that obligation of consistency predominant interest of a story, it may with himself, which is imposed on all be a good book for many purposes, other writers. If the sentiments he but it is no novel. Now, this excite. expresses are contradictory - if one ment of a keen impetuous curiosity, ode, or one elegy, be utterly at va cannot possibly be united either with riance with its predecessor-yet, if in that deep impassioned thought, or with each instance he expounds what we that subtle play of fancy, which are ourselves have thought, or felt, or can the main boast and glory of the poet. be made to feel, he escapes without If the novelist pause to reflect and censure. In discoursing on human refine if he would throw the mind life, we should hold it discreditable back upon itself, or task it with discur. in the graver moralist, if in one page sive efforts of the imaginationof his writings he should depict our grow impatient, and our impatience is existence as a fruitless toil or weary just in proportion to the success with idleness, as a scarce mitigated griev. which he had engaged us in that busy, ance, replete with pain and disap stirring, complicated scene, which, pointment, and yet in some future like another real life, he was creating page break forth in exclamations of around us. He cannot expect, after delight at this admirable state of be- having thus disturbed the repose of his ing, so happily devised, so full of ac reader, to have him in that is still and tivity, so gay with hope, so rich in quiet time," when the mind is free to affections ! But the poet is allowed, take those varied and delicate.moveafter this very fashion, “ to change ments which, in such quick succession, his hand and check the measure.' of the verse of a master spirit is capable such conflicting representations as of impressing on it.

When the poet these, neither can, of course, express undertakes to conduct us along the what is generally and permanently course of some narrative, we have no true of human life, but both portray such haste or trepidation. If we find an actual and veritable condition of ourselves borne with violence, it is on our changeful minds. Both, there-' the wings of passion; we are not torfore, belong to the poet. The very mented by a craving curiosity in the truth he seeks is to be found in this plot, which is tempered and subdued, versatility of thought; he is pledged and made subordinate to other modes to the follies, he must be faithful to of excitement. When we travel with the inconsistencies, of mankind. the minstrel we have abundant leisure

We may here, perhaps, be asked on our hands; we have no place to why-if poetry is to be described as reach, or are in no haste to reach it; that species of literature which has we pause, we loiter, we wander, wherintellectual pleasure and excitement ever and as long as he pleases. The for its very purpose-wby the novel very music of his verse delays and which is certainly written for our detains the spirit. We linger as we amusement, and cannot often be ac listen, and rather fear to go too fast cused of having any other object in than are impatient to proceed. The view-should not be classed under the novel, therefore, appears to be marked head of poetry ? To us it seems that out from the poem, not only by its the novel is not only divested of the prosaic form, and a coarser selection form of verse, and is not only less se of topics, but by its dependence on a lect in the objects presented by it to species of interest incompatible with the imagination, but that it depends that mood of reflection so necessary to for its power over us on a species of the enjoyment of poetic thought. But interest incompatible with what is here, as in all such distinctions, the most peculiar and refined in the sub two provinces are seen to be separate, stance itself of poetry. The inter but it is utterly impossible to draw est of a novel depends on a strong the boundary line between them. In excitement of our curiosity. We the poem, the interest of a narrative are carried from event to event with may so predominate that the work breathless haste, and our agitation shall be little more than a tale in continually increases to know the verse ; while in the novel that interest results of those entangled and con may be so subdued, and the page so

fraught with feeling and imagination, ful a celebrity in their day. The that the composition, though it loses enthusiasm of the times makes them its merit as a tale, becomes a poem in poetry. Such strength of passion, all but the absence of metrical form. like the supernatural force of Sam

Reflection is almost the perpetual son, disparages all noble arms; it attitude of the poet. He is full, in needs not the polished steel of the deed, of passion; but, instead of con. artificer ; the first trivial thing that ducting to active effort, it lies involved comes to hand serves it as well. in-thought. There have, doubtless, And here, we apprehend, lies the been strains of poetry inspired by the explanation of whatever there is of vivid direct impulse of passiou ; but truth in the often-quoted and oftenthese must have been few and brief. disputed remark of Dr Johnson on The natural mood of the poet is that the inferior nature of devotional poetry of intense reflection. Even when he -a remark which is sometimes too pours forth his personal and bitter la rashly and too absolutely contradicted. mentations, he rather recalls his an. There is no unfitness, we allow, in the guish than immediately suffers under theme itself, for the sentiment of Chris. it ; his grief is a reminiscence while tian piety has inspired some of the he writes ; it is not the present tyran most elevated strains of poetry ; vor ny of his bosom. Those thoughts is the writer so peculiarly situated, that voluntary move

with regard to this sentiment, that he Harmonious numbers,”

is unable to exercise his mind with

freedom upon it, or to surround it with are not the sudden and violent out

poetic associations. But there is this pourings of passion. Melody may peculiarity in the case, that strains of be described as the grace of speech, a very humble character in respect to and, like the grace of action, requires human genius, are, in this order of self-control, and gains half its charms

poetry, sustained in existence and refrom the expression of that self-go putation by the strength of feeling to vernment. And how could the poet, which they are addressed, so that an unless his heart were free as it is full, air of mediocrity is given to the entire take that wide survey of his knowledge class. When verse is employed as an which is necessary to the successful instrument to excite devotion, it meets practice of his art? The same tem with a feeling too strong for the poet per of mind which is brought to the -a feeling too imperative and obligaproduction, should be brought also in tory, to rise and fall with the scale of some measure to the perusal of poetry. Jiterary merit. The humblest verse Nor is this heady and impatient curi. is raised to the level of the most suosity of the novel, to which we have

blime—nay, above that level. It is been alluding, the only interference to with the sacred hymn as it was in the due enjoyment of this intellectual olden times with the sacred pictureluxury. If the mind, it is worth ob its character as a work of art is enserving, he already possessed and over. tirely lost sight of in the piety of its mastered by the very passion the poet subject. would excite, it is no longer fit audi Thus have we attempted, in a very ence for his higher and more compli. humble manner, to describe the discated strains. Of what avail to such tinguishing characteristics of poetry, a one are the delicate touches of his and have traced them to a peculiarity art? They are not felt, they are not in the ostensible end which this species appreciated; or rather, whatever he

of writing has in view. We have not says on the too favoured theme, is felt contrived to raise any thing mysterious without measure, and without distinc. about the nature of the poetic, nor tion.is applauded. The passion has have wrapped our meaning, as we outrun the poet; it makes superfluous easily might have done, in terms which all his moving tropes and fine and would have given it an air of profund. subtle associations, and gives equal ity, by reason of their sheer obscurity. effect to the coarsest material. It is The qualities which distinguish the thus we often find but little merit in

poet, are such as all writers, and ina national hymns, which yet are re deed all men, possess, but not in equal sponded to by all classes of society, measure. Poetry and prose, when even the highest, and in those revolu- the terms are intended to relate to tionary songs which have had so fear- "any thing more than the form of com

[ocr errors]

men.

position, mark a difference of degree, dislike all talk of schools of poetry, not of kind; and a difference of de where the one is extolled to the cease. gree, moreover, which is broad and less disparagement of the other. He obvious. This we add, because an who admires Wordsworth and Cole. altogether fruitless perplexity may be ridge, admires not more wisely because raised, by asking whether this or that he depreciates Pope and Dryden. We verse-maker is to be called a poet. It would have none of the laureate fratera is a perplexity, in fact, out of which, nity neglected-none who stands high in some instances, there may be no in his own order. Not, indeed, that escape whatever, because the words

every writer who has happened to prose and poetry are not fitted to de. survive, by accident of chronological signate minute differences in those position or other caprice of fortune, qualities of authorship to which they will therefore invite or repay perusal. refer, but apply only to broad distinc There is a certain class of authors tions, palpable and interesting to all whose works are to be found built in

In proportion to the capability and incorporated, as it were, in those of the poet's subject to sustain high massive collections of poetry which passions and high thoughts-in pro. keep their station on the earth by mere portion to his own power to think and weight and bulk. Authors whose feel, and to collect around him all names, though never mentioned by auxiliary topics, and to use the resour the lips of living admirers, are still ces of language and of melody, which seen to take their turn on title

pages, last is never to be forgotten, and has and the gold lettering of the long row an influence over us greater than we

of volumes_uncouth names and ungenerally suspect-in such proportion musical, such as Garth, and Sprat, will he be worthy of his high title. If and Blackmore-these no man thinks less fortunate in his theme if less gift- of disturbing. Scarcely can their ed with imaginative powers-he may memories be said to survive, but to still share the honours of the laurel. suffer a slow and lingering oblivion. But to decide in every case which Their works are preserved, indeed, may be suggested, whether the pro- but much as mummies are preserved ; saic element has preponderated or not they bear no aspect of life; they are -to fix the exact minimum of poetry but mementoes of the dead, and frauds which shall pass muster in the ranks upon the tomb. If the spirits of these to determine when that mediocrity, so departed poets, for poets they must detestable to gods and men, loses even

be called for lack of any other name, the sad claim of mediocrity ; this is still wander amongst us, it is only in impossible, and happily of no manner shame and sorrow, because these sad of interest. It is a problem of the remains—this dust they have left be. same nature as that ancient piece of hind them-has not been honestly in. sophistry, wherein you are told to take terred. Such unhappy authors, who grain after grain from a heap of sand, have ceased to live but to whom the and are asked at each removal whether grave denies its repose, it is charity to the quantity that remains is still to be pass unquestioned ; let their ghosts called a heap. Of course, you must glide by in silence and unspoken to, arrive by this process at a point where that they may the sooner rest in peace. the name is no longer applicable; but But of names which by any large secas the term heap is not a measure for tion of society are held in affectionate an exact number of grains, it is im- remembrance, it is always worth while possible to fix upon the exact moment to investigate the claim to celebrity. in the process when the name is lost, Wherever the popular voice continues and is no longer appropriate. Whe- to applaud, there is distinguished merit ther the problem be of grains of poetry of some kind-merit which in its own or grains of sand, it has the same sort order still remains unsurpassed, and of difficulty, and about the same im which, therefore, ought to be duly acportance.

knowledged and honoured. In setting down the muster-roll of This brief description of the nature poets, it should not be forgotten that of poetry, discloses to us at once the

are judging for mankind, not part which is to be allotted to it in the merely for ourselves, and that we great work of mental cultivation. ought, therefore, to cultivate a catho. Appealing as it does to passion, and licity of taste. For our own part, we regarding always the beauty of its

we

exposition rather than the justice or been his peculiar achievement to excompleteness of its reasoning, it never tend our sympathies towards the necan be considered on any subject as glected and forgotten, towards the a positive final instructor. Its office humble and the weak, who need them is to incite to reflection, and pro not the less because they have few vide materials of thought; to accom- qualities to attract them. Witness pany, not to direct, our progress. that little piece, - The Cumberland Variety of topic, variety of view, Beggar," which throws so singular a variety of sentiment and opinion, are charm over a torpid slow old man, indispensable for mental culture; and creeping along the highway with his it is not easy to see how better the head bent to the earth, not more by mind is to be provided with these, and age and infirmity than with sluggish roused from its natural sloth, than by apprehension. The old man creeps a perusal of the poets, whose very task along with scarce a thought-no fic. it is to give forth the various subjects titious sentiment is infused into his of human thonght in their most cap- mind—no ideal grace is added to his tivating and impressive form.

figure-there is nothing in all the pic. Of course, the perusal of poetry is ture but the simplest reality- there is not to be urged in the same dictatorial nothing new but the poet's heart, manner in which other studies may be which, however, has circled its object advocated and enforced. No one can with so singular an interest, that it is sit down to the work of the poet as he impossible for any one who has read might to that of the mathematician, the poem, ever again to look with with great labour to understand, and perfect apathy upon one of these old with great labour to enjoy it. This children of the earth. Of such writis against the very nature of poetry; ings there will not be two opinions. it cannot be made task-work of. If But what are we to say of his conthe pages of genius laid open before temporary, Byron? Ilis teaching exthe attentive mind will not attract, tends not our sympathies, but our will not rivet, will not delight, then contempt, over mankind, and justifies for that mind, so constituted, there must this arrogance towards others by an be other literature, other incitement. equal self-disparagement. He teaches But if it does delight, then let the his pupil to despise the homely expedicharm work. Do not think, you who ent of regulatiug the passions of his have the supervision of our youth, own bosom, and to preserve the tumult, that your pupil is reflecting to 10 and with it the wild license of infinite purpose, because he is reflecting with complaint. In his own vivid phrase, greatest ardency. He is not idle who we are “half dust, half deity." He sits apart with the slender volume in does not raise wliat is in us of divine, his hand, wrapt utterly and most de. but teaches us perpetually to contemliciously from the world around him, plate with bitterness that part which the vision of the poet on his eye, the is dust and clay. He teaches half the music of the poet in his ear. His lesson, and there leaves his tortured mind is making more rapid growth in and disquieted reader. If every books, those hours of heartfelt passionate especially of poetry, were looked on thinking, than in days, and weeks, and as a sole instructor, who would not years of steadfast and very commend- feel compelled to denounce such able labour, where the heart, however, writings ? But many books, many is unengaged.

thoughts, much contradictory and per. It is only by understanding and plexing and turbulent matter, go to keeping in view the exact office of the making up of a cultivated mind. poetry, that any fair defence can be Every mode of thinking has its place; made for such writings as those of and the very best is not the best until Byron. The beneficent influence of it has been viewed in juxtaposition such a poet as Wordsworth, no one with others. He who has read, and will dispute. He not only leads to felt, and risen above the poetry of reflection, but reflection of the purest Byron, will be for life a wiser man kind. He has taken it for his profor having once been thoroughly acvince even to correct many associations, quainted with the morbid sentiments which, other poets finding in the minds which there meet with so full and of men, have taken advantage of, with powerful an expression. And so fariout calculating their tendency. It has ously are we constituted, that there

are some who find themselves best some effort of reflection we are apt roused to vigorous and sound think. to perceive, to those associations of ing by an author with whom they thought which imaginative writers have to contend. There are who can have brought about. better quiet their own perturbed minds We need not enter into any discusby watching the extravagances of a sion on the origin of this sentiment; stronger maniac than themselves, than it is on all hands admitted that it is in by listening to placid strains, however most instances the result of an agreeeloquent. Some there are, who seem able association of ideas. These assodestined to find their entrance into ciations the poet multiplies, and his philosophy, and into its calmest re combinations, extending through all cesses, through the avenue of moody literature, become the common proand discontented reflection.

perty of mankind. A little child As to that description of poetry how attractive an object, and yet how which is dramatical, where the writer small a part of the interest it excites does not advocate any distinct class of is owing originally to its mere form! opinions or sentiments, but sets forth As you meet one of these round corthe various deeds and passions of men pulent urchins, scarce balancing itself, with depth but impartiality of colour- and as yet imperfect in every moveing-what need be said of this, but ment, muttering some sad mimicry of that it is the study of the world itself language meaning nothing, and lookin a more manageable form? It is the ing out with such charming ignorance study of mankind, facilitated and ren on all things-you slacken pace, you dered most attractive. Of all litera. pause, you contemplate it with a feel. ture, it may be said that it carries us ing of delight, which you express in the out of ourselves, and brings us ac term beautiful, or some other kindred quainted with the endless diversities epithet. The feeling seems instantaof our fellow-men ; but this is here neous, and yet it was the result of the very function of the writer, who many previous reflections connected gains his title and his intellectual rank with childhood, of comparisons drawn by performing it with pre-eminent between it and maturity, and of that effect. Humanity in all its forms is play of imagination which suggests a crowding round the student of drama. sort of ideal happiness for infancy. tic literature ; nor is any metropolis All this, or the greater part, was due in the world half so full of strange to the poet, unless we choose to say we shapes, goodly and marvellous, as the should have been sufficient poets for solitary chamber of that student after ourselves, and refuse our acknowledgthe incantation of the poet has been ment to the long line of men of pecu. read.

liar genius who have made the world We are not inclined to prose any familiar with their thoughts. longer, upon a theme so easy as the The beauty of the fair sex may praises of poetry, and where our read seem to require, and to admit, of no ers would perhaps prefer to prose each touches from any art whatever ; and it one for himself. We will add only, must be confessed that, without aid that there are many influences of poe- from poetic or other literature, and try which reach even those who have without much meditation of any kind no personal acquaintance with it. soever, men who see beauty nowhere Those who are repugnant to verse, else, are capable of descrying it here. and avoid, as much as possible, all But that peculiar refinement attached contact with rhyme as a thing purely to female charms, by which the sex vexatious, are not, perhaps, aware how acquires so mysterious, so respectful, much they are indebted, indirectly, to and so tender a homage--this comes the labours of the poet. Many a feels from the poet. He has been busy in all ing they would not willingly relin ages, in all countries, in all languages, quish, has originated or been fostered investing, by a thousand delicate assoby the ideas thrown into general cir- ciations, the form of female beauty culation by a succession of poetic with every

moral grace-surrounding teachers. The sentiment of beauty in it with every image pleasing to the all its modifications - a sentiment fancy or dear to the affections. Nay, which adds so much to the pleasure of has he not carried that form first into life, so much to the refinement of cha- the skies, to people his celestial regions racter is due, far more than without with, and then brought it back again

« IndietroContinua »