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a fear that the great stream of English poetry may for a time be intermitted. Commencing at the close of the long interval which elapsed after Chaucer's time, the series of eminent poets may be regarded as continuous from the date of the revival of poetry with the Earl of Surrey down to the present day. Sir Philip Sidney followed soon after that early period : he was mourned by Spenser, whose career was a little earlier than Shakspeare's. The retired manhood of Shakspeare, and the youth of Milton, touched the same period of time. There is a tradition of an interview between Milton, in his old age, and the youthful Dryden,--an interview, by the by, sought by the latter for the purpose of making a request which gave but sorry promise of his subsequent power : he was seeking permission to turn" Paradise Lost” into a rhyming tragedy, called “The State of Innocence.” In one of his letters Pope has recorded having once seen Dryden, with a lament that his acquaintance reached no further, “ Virgilium tantum vidi.” Gray and Cowper brought the series down towards the close of the last century, and Crabbe and Rogers may be looked on as the connecting links with the great contemporary poets. Of these, Coleridge, Walter Scott, and Byron, are in their graves; Southey seems to have taken up his abode “in the cool element of prose." The light is yet burning upon Rydal-Mount--with vigour enough, we fervently trust, to send forth its kindly influences upon human nature for years to come. But the course of nature is coming on; and in his beautiful lines on the death of the Ettrick Shepherd, "the old nian eloquent" has told of the warning he has felt in the death of his contemporaries :
“Like clouds that rake the mountain summits,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
"Who next will drop and disappear ?? » When Wordsworth, too, shall have passed to his rest--well earned by a long life devoted, without reserve or intermission, to elevating the feelings and character of mankind--where, we
· This play contains such minute stage directions, that it would seem to have been intended for scenic representation. Sir Walter Scott, in his life of Dryden, thinks there would have been difficulty about the costume. Dramatists, who have gone back to the age of the antediluvians, have generally been more or less embarrassed by this subject: the period of the antefiğleafians has been attended with additional difficulties to those who have ventured on it. In the days of Charles II., however, we should think, Adam and Eve might have had “a run."
have sometimes asked ourselves, shall he be found who may prove equal to the inheritance ? If there be no one worthy to transmit the trust which for three centuries has not been forfeited, it will tell that a sad change has come over the spirit of that race who speak the English tongue. Let not this be thought an exaggeration ; it is only the vulgar in intellect, and the indiscriminating, who look upon poetry as a mere superfluity-an ornament, perhaps, but still only an excrescence of the mind. Who, half as much as the poets, have given permanency to the thoughts and feelings of the world as it was long ago ? What unaided human spirit in the wide universe of letters ever wrought half the influence of Shakspeare ?—what name suggests a tithe of his genius and power? “No man,” said the elder Coleridge, “was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher; for poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language.” No poet, it may be added, entertaining an inadequate conception of his calling, can approach to eminence in it. We have no desire to wage a war for the poetasters--the inspired of the annuals, whether of souvenirs or of the addresses of watchmen and newspapercarriers; we are speaking of other gentry. The sublime notion of poetry, which should always guide a critical taste, has been upheld in a fine panegyric by Wordsworth, in one of his prose treatises, which are not known as they should be, and from which we are therefore the more induced to quote the passage :
“ The man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor-he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge—it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science. Emphatically may it be said of the poet, as Shakspeare hath said of man, that he looks before and after. He is the rock of defence of human nature-an upholder and. preserver, carrying every where with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs, in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed, the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth and over all time. The objects of the poet's thoughts are every where; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favourite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—it is immortal as the heart of man. If the labours of men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the man of science-not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest discoveries of the
chemist, the botanist, or mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the poet's art as any upon which it can be employed--if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and suffering beings. If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the being thus produced as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.' Wordsworth's Poetical Works, Appendix II. Observations, fc.
Now, with our minds filled with such conceptions of the divine art, let us look whether Hartley Coleridge gives promise of being worthy to continue the succession of English poets; let us see what is the character of his poetic aspirations, and how high they have carried him. We find a partial answer in two of his sonnets, which serve a double purpose of showing his conception of his calling, and his power over language and metre to give it utterance:
“Who is the poet ? Who the man whose lines
Live in the souls of men like household words?
“A thousand thoughts were stirring in my mind,
That strove in vain to fashion utterance meet,
And making peace 'twixt liberty and duty.”
“POIETES APOIETES," in, which after lamenting his own feebleness, he tells, with a very pleasing allusion to his nativity and infancy, and a dark intimation of some unhappiness, of his poetic longings :
“Divinest Poesy ! 'tis thine to make
Age young-youth old—10 baffle tyrant Time,
And with familiar grace to crown new rhyme.
Yet large the debt my spirit owes to thee,
Rocking the cradle of my infancy.
From thee I learn'd within my soul to treasure ;
Charms the world's tempest to a sweet, sad measure,
Hopes which no power of Fate can give again,-
From dear domestic joys-nor all the train
That dog the rear of youth unwisely wasted,
Or sour the sweetness that in thee I tasted."
We are glad to find Hartley Coleridge expressing his sense also of the characteristic weakness of a great deal of contemporary verse. The danger, to which the cause of poetry appears chiefly to be exposed, is the process of evaporation or sublimation, by which modern versifiers so frequently separate its more superficial properties of sound and diction from its deeper and more abiding qualities of thought and feeling; for dealing out their light wares, they give a pretext to the prose-witted ground walkers to sneer even at real poetry and turn away from it as if it too were milk for babes. These evils seem to lie beyond the reach of remedy, and until the wit of criticism shall devise some artillery light enough for the warfare, the butterflies and the humming-birds must flutter with impunity. The manufacturers of the fantastic commodities of modern versification have become of late years so numerous, that they are setting up all the world over their little tabernacles of rhyme, which in solidity of structure mightily remind us of the faery palace described by old Michael Drayton :-
“ The walls of spiders' legs are made,
Well morticed and finely laid,
It curiouslie that builded :
The windows of the eyes of cats,
With moonshine that are gilded." The self-complacent tribe--no longer the "genus irritabile"are chided by Hartley Coleridge with great gentleness in a sonnet of exquisite beauty :
“ Whither is gone the wisdom and the power
That ancient sages scatter'd with the notes
every cell and every blooming bower
Sustain our spirits with their roundelays.” One of the best indications in this volume of poems is the power of reflection which pervades most of its pages. The sonnets, of which there are a considerable number, are of the first order of that difficult form of composition. It would not be easy to suggest three higher themes for the sonnet than are presented in those we are about to quote, and it would be extreme fastidiousness to desire an execution more faithful to their lofty conceptions.
“ Far from all measured space, yet clear and plain
As sun at noon, 'a mighty orb of song'
“ The soul of man is larger than the sky,