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IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW.
No. III. SEPTEMBER, 1851.
Art. I. - POETICAL LITERATURE OF THE PAST
Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the past Half-Century, in Six
Lectures, delivered at the Edinburgh Philosophical Association. By D. M. Moir. (DELTA.) William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1851. “ Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."
Tennyson. It is one of the brotherhood Delta, of that ilk-that marshals in array the high-priests of genius in this latter time, the poets of the last half-century, a period, we may observe, which has been as fruitful in appreciation as prodigal of genius. The ablest critics have walked in the train of the greatest poets—Byron had his Jeffrey, Wordsworth his Wilson. An immense region of literature has been devoted to that very task, which but the other day has occupied the lecturer now under review; and, perhaps the greatest difficulty which presented itself to him in the fulfilment of that task must have been, to compress into the compass of a little volume a subject, which had wooed and won the exuberant diffuseness of a half-century of criticism.
In the early pages of this book Mr. Moir observes,
“ The literature of an age is the reflection of its existing modes of thought, etherialised and refined in the alembic of genius. * * It may also be admitted that the intellectual character of an era must ever be, in a great measure, moulded and modified by contemporaneous exigencies.” VOL. I.-NO. III.
and new phases of manners, accompanying, or immediately following political changes, had prepared the way for a new literature ?
Go behind the year '89, and pass back from the Jacobins to the Jacobites, and “tea-cup times of hood and hoop.” A young nobleman of Nottinghamshire requests Lady Mary Wortley Montague to introduce him to Pope—“hema_himself 'cultivates the Muses,”” and to get up some dish-of-tea-business for that end. “Manuscripts hopefully submitted for the correction—it is hoped the approvalof_a_the_favorite guest of Apollo, and the tuneful nine," (and that lot generally.) How the “note of interrogation”? (so called, because of his crookedness and other qualities, by a “wag" -an animal now extinct, like the red deer, save in remote parts of Ireland), how the note of interrogation does wriggle, and humph, and become doubly a note of interrogation! “Pr'ythee, my lord, do you call this verse? Methinks it is but sorry thought, in unwonted words.” He has got hold of Childe Harold, and does not know what to make of “the stars that are the poetry of heaven." He shovels over to another bundle of paper—". The mind, the'ah!- music'—yes, it is music— breathing'”_here he himself becomes breathless with horror_“from her face.” Respice finem. The tea and flirtation over, Lady Mary's fan put up to rest, poor thing, and the young poet's MSS. swept clean out of sight with the tea-cups, the end of it is, that our Nottinghamshire Viscount, who, not content with his family pedigree, “ claimed kindred” with the “ stars,” establishes his claim to kindred with another heavenly body, and gets to know something of the sanitory (or insanitory) side of the Court of Chancery. Alack! the readers of Debrett shall never read Don Juan. Then, there's our friend, Coleridge. Let us get Horace Walpole to give him letters of marque to Gray. To be sure, you might as well ask Gibbon to dinner, “to meet Carlyle.” However, here we are, the “iron sleet of arrowy shower," and “the bird that made the breeze to blow.” “Pray, sir, be seated," says the iron sleet, “I hope my worthy, and esteemed friend at Strawberry Hill is in the enjoyment of good health and a serene mind—the 'mens sana in corpore sano.' Are you an enthusiast for the Classics ? Ahl-hahl-humph!
• At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came ;
We hailed it in God's name P' An albatross ? A bird, my good sir, do you say? And-andwhat's this?
• I guess 'twas frightful, there to see
A lady so richly clad as she,
Beautiful exceedingly!" Nay, our brisk beaux would not think it so 'frightful to encounter a fair damsel.” Mr. Gray “feareth that a spirit is talking to him.” He proceeds,
""• I fear thee and thy glittering eye
And thy skinny hand so brown.' “My case exactly,” he groans to himself, “shut up here with a lunatic with a glittering eye. My dear sir,” he adds aloud, “I have myself been censured by worthy gentlemen, who, perhaps justly, prefer what is correct to what is striking, for having given too free a rein to the Pegasus of fancy, but,” &c. &c. In brief, neither Coleridge nor the Ancient Mariner shall ever come to be of that company, of whom the former might say as truly as the latter,
" We were the first, that ever burst
Into that silent sea.” We shall take leave of this branch of the subject by a quotation from Mr. Moir having reference thereto:
“While the materials for verse cannot well exist in abundance in the Cimmerian chaos of primal barbarism, ** scarcely more affluent will they be found in the zenith of that luxury which states and peoples generally attain immediately before their decline, and final overthrow and extinction. There is a middle space between light and darkness, a twilight with its receding stars and its rising sun, a table-land separating the confines of barbarism and refinement, which appears to be that best adapted for most things for intellectual enterprise and exercise, as well as for the development of the imaginative faculty; for there the arabesque pageantry of night, and the shadows of darkness have not yet disappeared, and the dawn is fringing the orient clouds with gold. Picturesqueness is the attribute which renders this particular aspect of man the best adapted for representing him in a poetical light. His actions appear in it more