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er in Great Britian now joins in the general acclamations on the rise of Wordsworth to the top of his profession, who a few years ago was very generally spoken of with almost unmitigated contempt. The truth is, that the mob of critics, however capable of discovering, or rather of appreciating, when pointed out by others, the beauties of individual authors, when forced into popularity or fame, are not generally guided in their judgments by any fixed and independent principles; and accordingly, they must receive a hint either from the public or from some leading member of their own class, before they have the courage to deal in general praise or censure. It is a comparatively easy task to point out beauties or defects in a writer whose character is settled. The difficulty is to decide on the real character of a poet, before any clue is derived from higher individual authority than our own, or before his success or failure at the bar of the public. A smart school-boy, well acquainted by report with the character of Milton, or of Shakespeare, would find it no very difficult task to select their most beautiful passages ; but if the works of those mighty authors were presented to an ordinary full grown critic for the first time, unaccompanied by a single whisper of their greatness, it is by no means certain that he would rightly and at once understand the nature of their claims. The history of literature teems with the ludicrously false judgments of professed critics. And yet the fate of authors is not a mere lottery or accident. We find that all truly great writers have received full justice, sooner or later ; and that mere flashy scribblers, however popular in their day, have gone out at last like a waxen taper, and have left nothing but an impenetrable gloom of oblivion behind them. It is certain then, that a due study of the nature of literary merit must give to a sagacious critic, who is independent of extrinsic and adventitious considerations, the power to prognosticate with tolerable accuracy, the future fate of a contemporary author, let his present reception from the public be what it may. He need not inquire at the publishers of a poet, whether his poems are saleable or not—that is no criterion. He has only to consider, whether there is the degree of truth and nature in his productions, which he recognizes in the works of those who have acquired a lasting fame. The public are often for a while as fickle as children, and are delighted with one new toy and disgusted with another, for little or no apparent reason ;—but their final and deliberate decisions are almost invariably right.
neate his own sombre character. His eloquent misanthropy and his disdain. ful pride produced at first a powerful effect from their novelty and boldness ; but latterly, nothing but the force and animation of his style enabled him to retain his influence over the public mind. It became thoroughly understood that it was in vain to expect any absolutely new creations from the mint of Byron's fancy. His own lordly physiognomy was stamped on every coin. But this uniformity of style and barrenness of invention were forgiven him, on account of his impassioned sensibility and his incomparable energy of expression. He had always ready at his command the thoughts that breathe and the words that burn. His concentration, his force, and his perspicuity, were qualities that rendered him acceptable to all classes of readers. The same degree of egotism and the same monotony of tone and subject in a feebler writer, would hardly have been tolerated for a day. But genuine intellectual power, however illdirected, must always secure the attention of mankind. It may be feared or hated, but it cannot be despised.
We may prophecy with perfect safety, that the poetry of Lord Byron, though it will probably be less highly esteemed by posterity than it was by his contemporaries, will never be neglected or forgotten.
Perhaps, no great poet has made more mistakes in criticism than Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He praised Bowles's sickly-sentimental effusions, for their manliest melancholy, and in every respect prodigiously overrated their merit; while he could see nothing but deformities in Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, of which even his captious and unfriendly critic Johnson very truly observed, that had the poet often written thus, it would have been vain to praise, and useless to blame him. Johnson was himself an indifferent critic of highly imaginative poetry, but of that order of genius which is best adapted to the apprehension and delight of the general reader, he was perhaps one of the best judges that ever lived. He would have had little to say, how. ever, in favor of such a writer as Coleridge himself, or of Keats and Shelley. They are out of the sphere in which he lived and moved, and had his being. His imagination had no wings, or if it had, they were of little use. It had no alacrity in rising from the ground, and was more like the ostrich than the eagle. It ran swiftly and safely enough on the solid ground, but ventured on no aërial experiments-on no voyages of discovery through the fields of air. He was too ponderous and substantial for that subtle at. mosphere. Shakespeare says, that a knavish (or cunning) speech sleeps in a foolish ear, and certainly the effect of fine poetry in a similar way must depend very much on the intellectual character of the reader ; and as we cannot expect that the multitude who devour the new novels of the circulating library, should listen with eagerness to the voice of a charmer like Coleridge, charm he never so wisely, we must not suppose that he will ever become the idol of the many, though they may be compelled to acknowledge the greatness of his genius. No man supposes that Milton is even at this day a popular writer ; comparatively speaking very few read, though all praise him. Doctor Johnson acknowledged, that he had not read Milton through, until he found it necessary to do so, in order to select examples of the use of words for his English dictionary. Christabel and the Ancient Mariner, are not likely to be half so popular as some of Byron's melodramatic tales of blood and thunder. Perhaps even Coleridge's most exquisite Tale of Love, is a little too delicate and quiet and refined for the general reader, though nothing that he ever wrote is so pure and lovely in the conception, and so perfect in the execution. It is a gem of the first water. But this and the other two poems just mentioned, have the marks of immortality upon them, and will always delight readers of imagination and sensibility. There is a large quantity of his smaller miscellaneous poems that almost any body might have written, and which one regrets to see bound up for ever with productions of the
rarest excellence. What a pity it is that poets are not severer self-judges, or that they will not allow a few friends of taste aud discretion to suggest the omission from their collected works of all that is absolutely below the character of their genius. The poets of the present day, far beyond those of any previous period, are too self-indulgent, and imagine that everything that proceeds from them, is equally worthy of immortality. How many pages might be struck out of the works of Southey and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley, that would be no loss to the public, while they only weaken the effect and obstruct the circulation of what is truly excellent !
NO. XII.-LEIGH HUNT.
Few poets have more faults than Leigh Hunt. But if they were fifty times as many—if they were “thick as the autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallombrosa,” they would not conceal or overpower his peculiar beauties. His best friends must observe with regret his studied negligence of metre, his affected novelties of diction, and the occasional idiomatic vulgarity of his style. But who would not forgive the rose its thorns, and pass over numerous defects, for the sake of still more numerous excellencies? His sunny brightness of fancy, his depth and delicacy of observation, his freshness and tenderness of feeling, his intense love of nature, his happy power of description, his exuberant flow of animal spirits, the cheerful tone of his philosophy, his genuine worship of truth and freedom, and his frank, cordial, and familiar manner, are qualities which even those who may be most alive to his faults are often amongst the foremost to acknowledge and appreciate. These remarks apply with equal justice to his essays
As an essayist, he is in the same class as Lamb and Hazlitt, and takes his station perhaps between the two, mingling in his own works a large portion of the beauties of both. As a poet, some critics have connected him with the
and his poems.
Lake school; but though in his abhorrence of the more precise and formal style that was fashionable in what has been erroneously called the Augustan Era of English Poetry, he resembles the poets of the Lakes, he differs from them in many points of a very characteristic nature. Wordsworth would not acknowledge him as a disciple. He belongs to no school. Perhaps of all living poets the one to whom he may be most easily compared is Thomas Moore, and to whom he has already been compared by Hazlitt, though, as he is far less smooth, terse, and polished than the bard of Erin, the resemblance between them does not immediately strike the casual reader. Though he is not so well fitted to delight the drawing-room with brilliant common-places, his wealth of imagery, his sparkling and elaborate descriptions, his frequent richness and felicity of phrase, and, above all, a certain gay and social spirit, frequently remind us of some of the happiest traits of the author of Lalla Rookh. If he were more uniformly careful and fastidious in his diction, and aimed more at point and antithesis of style, the resemblance would be nearer. But trimness, smartness, and regularity, are Leigh Hunt's aversion. He affects “harmonious discords," and is ambitious to snatch a grace beyond the reach of art. Though he frequently gains his object, his failures are great and glaring in proportion to the glory of his success. One of his own beautiful lines may afford us an illustration. Moore directs the smooth, shining stream of his verse into a thousand beautiful meanderings, like lakes in pleasure-grounds ; but Leigh Hunt lets it " wander at its own sweet will,” or overrun, as it were, some breezy height, until,
“It shakes its loosening silver in the sun."
Leigh Hunt has perhaps a less grasp of intellect than Hazlitt, but his temperament is more joyous and tender, his perceptions more delicate and refined, and his fancy more poetical. What a frequent burst of sunshine lights up the pages of his Rimini !