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Homer, Plato, Demosthenes, or Thucydides, would have expressed the same sentiments, for the purpose of producing a sublime effect. Horace, though he recommends the poet to be acquainted with the writings of philosophers, as a means of acquiring knowledge, yet sends him immediately to the Greek tragedians as exemplars of the poetic taste, and as the proper models for imitation. And what has been the practice of the French critics? To translate, for they have done little more,--the writings of Aristotle and Horace. Boileau in his Art of Poetry, and Bossu, when writing on epic poetry, copied the great masters of antiquity. Thus the most approved critics have only been the greatest admirers, and the most successful followers of the greatest poets.
The province of the critic extended more to the manner than to the matter. He pointed out how the piece was to be constructed, but the poet was to decide of what materials it should be composed. Genius, before this, had been a law to itself, but now it admitted another law, and to write elegantly was more esteemed, than to write originally. Diction was studied more than thought. Poetry was only verbally distinguished from prose, the subject was frequently prosaic, and almost always the idea. Now commenced the poetry of words.
Metre,-verbal arrangement,-sound,-constituted poetry. Smoothness and sweetness of versification have charms, but should never be made substitutes for thought. Language is the magnificent mantle in which high-thcughted poetry clothes her immortal limbs, that she may become visible to our grosser perception; the common element, in which, as an intelligible medium, she condescends to limit her universal freedom for awhile, that she may become audible to our "unpurged ears."
There is a luxury in dress. It is a mean of happiness; the "man clothed in fine raiment," is likewise invested with self-complacency, and has an evident and incontrovertible advantage over the indifferently clad. It is to the wearer a source of pleasure, as conducing to his warmth, his ease, and the elegance of his appearance. So long as these purposes are provided for, a reasonable man would acquiesce in the prevailing fashion for the benefit which it affords in the way of ornament to his person, and the respect which it has a natural tendency to procure. But there is an affectation of fashion, an ostentation of splendid attire, as remarkable for its bad taste, as its departure from common sense, which has more regard for the external embellishment than the thing embellished, impeding rather than assisting the purposes of
warmth, ease, and true elegance of manners, making a biped of the tailor's construction, very different from what God or nature ever made, not imitating nature most abominably,not even caricaturing the human form,-but grotesquely perverting it to an unimaginable monstrosity, as if the Shakesperian Caliban were civilized, and arrayed in an extraordinary clothing, suited to its own extraordinary shape. Scared by this tasteless perversion, your men of sense will sometimes disdain all attention to costume, lest it should be thought that they too were apparently made for it rather than it for them. Others, having no affection for utter negligence, uncleanness, and avarice; yet indulging a well-grounded aversion for the ungraceful contortions and inconsistencies of habit; will hit the exact mean in their costume where vulgarity terminates, and the ridiculous begins..
Melodious cadence, harmonious rhythm,-figurative diction,-elevated style,-who shall deny to poetical thought? They do not, however, always co-exist. Puppets have been so arrayed, to delight the vulgar fancy, only obvious to bombast and fustian and "buckram fulgency.' Verseling fops have strutted abroad in the ill-fitting garment, and by the ungraceful manner of their wearing it, brought disgrace upon its fashion and manufacture. Others have clipped and trimmed it, to suit their own preposterous tastes, narrowing its folds, and contracting its shape and size to an exquisite littleness; mistaking the pretty for the beautiful, and the splendid for the great. They affect the mantle, but the spirit of poesy disowns them. WORDSWORTH went to the other extreme, and affected simplicity of composition, even to utter nudity and baldness, and defended the practice by a theory, by which he found it impossible to abide. Divine thoughts demand a divine dialect, and there is a sort of spontaneous harmony that will accompany the expression of sublime ideas, and break forth in an eloquent vehemence, of which there is music in the very thunder. They were not to be expressed in pedlar's language, and with all his desire to reduce them to its capacity, they would have a diction of their own, and snatched at phrases which no pedlar ever conceived, and were illustrated by associations existing in none but classic minds. For such as were conscious of a want of vigor or originality of thought, or of a defect or inaptitude in the theme, it was natural to endeavour to hide their poverty, and supply its deficiency, by a profusion of finery, and excess of glitter. Men also of rich intellect, and expending it on subjects not unworthy, were betrayed by their love for the concord of weet sounds, and their penchant for embellishment, into an adue
admiration of the bells that jingled at the skirts of the Muses' robe, and the gold and the needlework that embroidered her outer vest.
What we have said of Wordsworth must not be construed into an intention of depreciating his poetical character in the slightest degree, If he clothed poetry in a smock frock and chequered apron, or gave her shepherd weeds and mien, yet it was poetry that he so attired. Her dress might not be appropriate to her vocation and rank, yet she was the real Fidessa, the undoubted Florimel, whose virgin side the magic girdle would not refuse to honour.
Ascetics there are who would depreciate the heavenly muse, having no music in their souls, harmony they despise, and for the higher graces of beauty and sublimity they have no feeling, and no relish. Any thing that would tend to relax the severity of duty, and ameliorate the condition of individual exertion; all inclination to pleasure, all approach to luxury; is an utter abomination, abhorrent to their rigid morality,—to the systematic dogmatism of their sturdy nature, to the inflexible discipline of their daily life, and the contemptuous pride of their bearing and genius. To such "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," compose a mere rhapsody of unintelligible verbosity; in all this there is a "something unearthly, that they know not of," and cannot, therefore, be expected to acknowledge. Let such bethink them whether there be not some to whom these things are as much an inheritance as their lands and tenements,-some who have as much interest in these treasures as they have in their bank stock and ledger debts. Nay, whether they may not be cherished with a feeling somewhat akin to that with which men cherish domestic enjoyments and religious affections, the charities of the heart, and the sanctities of the altar, for the purity and the preservation of which, we are willing to endure the mortal struggle. Wordsworth was impressed with the verity of this sentiment, when he wrote in one of his fine Sonnets, dedicated to Liberty,—
"We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals bold
The fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth of his "Sonnets, dedicated to Liberty, Part First," are founded upon the sentiments which we have endeavoured to illustrate and explain. It is to Poetry that we are to look for the best lessons in patriotism, liberty, and independence, and she teaches by example as well as by precept.
We were led into this train of reflexion, by the obser
vations that accidentally fell from us in the heat of composition, as introductory to the Review of Mr. Campbell's "Reullura," in the last number of this Journal. If we have repeated the sense, or the expressions of any passages in that Review, (whether we have or not, we are far from certain, not having the number at hand to ascertain; yet some indistinct reminiscences intimate that we have,) our readers will be pleased to attribute it to a desire of making this dissertation complete in itself, and of saving them the trouble of unnecessary reference. We believe that we have now completed the circle of our analogy, and shall forthwith proceed to the immediate subject of the present paper.
In the article referred to, we spake of Campbell as he whose poetic efforts had restrained, or tended to restrain, the overviolent reaction which Darwinian excess of refinement had induced. Perhaps it is almost unnecessary to explain, that both in the mention of Darwin and Campbell, we expressed our meaning by a synecdoche, or metonomy. We put a part for the whole-one for another. We must be allowed to enlarge our statement in this particular. From the appearance of Dr. Darwin to Walter (not then sir Walter) Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," a period of about twenty years elapsed. In the mean time Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, endeavoured to restore poetic taste to the simplicity and energy of nature. The novelty of the attempt insured its success. Those who followed the old beaten paths were neglected; Rogers excepted, who, perhaps, succeeded as an exception; the public being willing that one should exist to remind them of the by-gone times: and, for the sake of contrast, that the rule might be confirmed thereby and illustrated. Crabbe, emerging in his old age, had deprived poetry of all her cathedral tones, and invested her instead with a barrel organ, attuned to themes as crabbed as his name. Then came Sir Walter's careless metres and ballad-mongery, (whoever supposes, for all this, we admire not Sir Walter, are egregiously in error;) -then came his careless metres and ballad-mongery-his tales of the deeds of days of other years-his grey-headed harper's lore and a crowd of imitators followed him, groaning discordantly under the weight of
"Perverse, all monstrous, all forbidden things,
Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
Moore laid his graceful and ladylike hand upon the lyre with elegant negligence, and kindled a sort of scintillating harmony, lightly and gently flashing on the intellectual vision.
With stronger coruscations CAMPBELL made his presence felt, but, unaccompanied with thunder, or the lightnings that dazzle whom they enlighten; burning with decent steadiness, not with overpowering brightness, or subduing glare.
Campbell and Rogers partake a similar cast of genius; they combine in their productions the characteristics of the poetry of style, (might it not be appropriately denominated, stylish poetry?) as taught by Dr. Joseph Warton, with some traits of the poetry of matter, as taught by the masters of the more recent schools. Of these, Rogers avoided the harshness and redundancy peculiar to some of the ruder-souled, adopting nothing but what might comport with his Goldsmithian terseness and Shenstonian elegance :-Campbell sometimes indulged in what Byron called "rough sketches." Hence, Campbell is often more vigorous; Rogers, often more correct and classical.
Lord Byron charges Rogers with having paid so minute an attention to the versification and expression of his poem, "the Pleasures of Memory," as to have made every line and word the subject of a separate epistolary correspondence. Campbell, he only implicates of overpolish, by which he wore the sharpness of the outline off, and so spoiled his finest things. Like paintings, he says, poems may be too highly finished. The great art is effect, no matter how produced.
Without subscribing to the latter proposition in the full extent of its application, some inequality of outline may be necessary to illustrate the smoother passages. Nature has her rugged rocks and abrupt hills, as well as her pleasant slopes and gentle vales; and the great difference between our elder and more modern dramatists is, that the former introduced the elaborated, or highly-finished poetical passages, but seldom, and filled up the intermediate parts with level dialogue and stubborn phraseology, that would not be confined to exact measure and dulcet versification. Rogers wants more of this illustration than Campbell. The genius of Rogers is more feminine, that of Campbell more masculine. But they are both rather poets of taste than of genius.
Taste levies contributions upon forerunning genius; its province is to select beauties, to prune redundancies, and to reduce inequalities. The taste of Rogers is more refined, but the genius of Campbell more operative.
If Campbell never wrote any thing so exquisitely simple, affecting, and tender, as "Jacqueline," Rogers never accomplished any thing so nervous and emphatic as the Naval Ode"Ye Mariners of England," or "The Battle of the Baltic." The volume now under notice, contains a production of the same kind, which we are happy to quote :