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of themselves poetry, literally speaking, whoever reads the florid Meditations of Harvey, the pompous Orations of Philips, or the turgid Novels of Lady Morgan, Marturin, or John Neal, Esq. of Baltimore, will be sufficiently convinced—for no one can consider these works to be poems, and yet their flights are as extravagant, and their expressions as much overhung with ornament, as those of any legitimate poetry extant.
By a figure of speech, indeed, not only has prose of a certain stamp acquired the epithet of poetical, but feelings and actions have metaphorically acquire l the same epithet. Enthusiasm has been metaphorically styled the poetry of feeling, chivalry the poetry of manhood, and sensibility the poetry of womanhoodnay, if we mistake not, one of the authors just mentioned, Lady Morgan, calls dancing the poetry of motion. But all these expressions are mere tropes, and have no power whatever to alter the true philosophy of things. Composition, according to this philosophy, if destitute of musical numbers, must be prose, and if possessed of them, must be poetry, in spite of metaphors.
Such then, it appears evident, at least to us, is the true distinction between the two kinds of writing; and, while the nature of the human mind, and the forms of human speech continue to be what they are, such will continue to be the distinction.
If harmonious measure, therefore, constitutes poetry, it must follow that the goodness of the poetry will depend very much on the degree of its harmony. That a good taste, however, will require something besides mere harmony of verse, to give it satisfaction, is freely admitted. But we are not at present investigating the various ingredients that may be admitted into a poem to heighten its flavour ; we are only enquiring after that ingredient which forms its intrinsic character, and without which it ceases to exist. Wine is naturally distinguished from water by the spirit it contains, but wine itself is more or less 'excellent according to the absence or presence of many other adventitious qualities, such as the sacharine principle, fixed air, &c. Without spirit, however, it is not wine, and with spirit it is not water-neither is composition, poetry, without harmony of numbers, and with barmony of numbers it cannot be prose.
We have dwelt on this subject longer than we should have clone, had we not been introducing to the notice of our readers, the works of a poet, who has obtained more praise among our literati than any other votary of the Muses that ever sang in this country. Our responsible situation as conductor of a public Journal, we presume, gives us a right to enquire into the justice of the praises so abundantly bestowed on this poet; and requires us to elucidate, to the best of our ability, the true extent of his claims upon the admiration of the world. To do this fairly, and with effect, we considered it proper to point out what we believe to be the principle constituent quality of poetry, and because many, at present, affect to doubt the utility of its possessing that quality at all, to detail some of the leading reasons for our belief,
We have said enough to show that, necessary as we think harmony to be to the constitution of poetry, we do not conceive that its presence alone is sufficient to render a poem worthy of approbation. Other qualities, qualities that indicate force of mind and warmth of feeling, as well as delicacy of taste, are necessary to make pleasing poetry; but these are also necessary to make pleasing prose. Every quality, in fact, that is advantageous to one of these species of composition, is advantageous to the other, except musical numbers, which would be absolutely ruinous to prose.
Inattention, or rather perhaps, a studicd disregard, to the harmonious—a word which, if our doctrine be true, is synonymous with the poetical-structure of our language, is one of the faults, which we have to allege against Dr. Percival ; although he does not exhibit it so uniformly, nor carry it to such an excess as to render it the principal one. But as many people who profess to be judges of poetry, and among others, no doubt, Dr. Percival himself, may not consider this a fault, we thought it but fair, since we intend to pronounce it such, to advance some reasons for our opinion.
Dr. Percival, however, as a writer offends in a more essential point than this, by enwrapping his ideas, especially in his longer poems, in such clouds of obscurity that there is frequently
no penetrating to his meaning. This is chiefly owing to the intolerable mass of verbiage in which his thoughts are clothed. A ondness for orientalisms and prettinesses of expression seems to be the besetting sin which he can never resist. It would appear to a reader of an unhacknied understanding, as if he thought poetry consisted altogether in metaphors ; that simplicity and perspicuity of expression were beneath the dignity of the Muses; and that harmony of cadence, and musical numbers were mere incumbrances upon the wild freedom with which the nine deities should be permitted to drag us through all the entanglements and confusion of an ill-assorted, unconnected, and heterogenous mass of cogitations, conglomorated into one indefinable collection, by the wonderous instrumentality of that mighty father of discordance and grotesque originality, known by the name of haphazard.
We have, indeed, something more than conjecture for believing that Dr. Percival disdained to confine his Muse, when composing the greater part of the volume before us, within the bounds of accuracy, perspicuity and plain sense. We have it from under his own hand, recorded in one of his prefaces, * that he would look upon it as 6 a mournful task to distil off the vivida vis that comes out in the happy moments of excitement, and reduce the living materials to a caput mortuum of chaste and sober reason."
Thus, chaste and sober reason is to be banished from the regions of poetry, and branded with the degrading caput mortuum, which in English means, almost literally, blockheadism. But the Doctor's antipathy to correct poetical writing is still more pointedly asserted in the same preface. "I do not like," says he, “that poetry which bears the mark of the file and the burnisher.” Well, indeed, would it be for all slovenly and lazy verse-makers, if the world should be infected with the same dislike for polished versification, and intelligible and solid sense. Then the prolix mystifications of the Haphazard poems might have some chance of becoming popular. Then might they write on ceaselessly, and with as much carelessness
See preface to the second part of "Prometheus,” published in 1822.
and prolixity as they please, without being obliged, as Dr. Percival in his peculiar mystical way, expresses it, “when there is a quick swell of passion, to press it down to its solid quintescence.” No, no, this would be utterly incompatable with the sublimity of the poet's function. Whatever flowers or fruits his productions may happen to bear, the weeds which cover them from sight, and the thorns which guard them from detection, must be cleared away by no hand but the reader's own, who must submit to the task without regard to either fatigue or danger, before he can reach the fruit, which, after all his pains, it is probable he will find worth nothing.
But this writer goes on still more boldly to express his admiration of that confused and unsystematized style of poetry where meaning, when it can be found, is so difficult to be followed, that common patience cannot endure the toil; and of which the volume he has lately published affords too many examples. He says, “I like" (this elegant word like seems to be a favourite with him) “to see something savage and luxuriant in works of imagination, throwing itself out like the wild vines of the forest, rambling and climbing over the branches, and twining themselves into a maze of windings." Since such happens to be Dr. Percival's taste, he will meet with abundant gratification in the rhapsodical productions of John Neal, Esq. and some parts of Counsellor Philips's Speeches.
With such sentiments, it would be wrong to expect that Percival should treat us, in his effusions, with much of that polish, terseness, perspicuity, and neatness of composition, of which, we are old fashioned enough to confess ourselves admirers; and perhaps we should not blame him for not doing what he does not intend. But with his intentions we have no business. Here is his book before us. It is a tolerably large volume of poems, we have undertaken to criticise it, and we must do so as impartially as we can, without reference to the author's view's, intentions, prospects, connexions, or any other earthly consideration, except our duty to our own conscience and the public.
The first poem in the collection is in blank verse, and is entitled The Wreck, a Tale." It contains many beautiful passages, which sufficiently demonstrate that nature intended Dr. Percival for a poet ; but the fostering of a bad taste bas almost defeated her intentions, by leading him into a quaint and careless habit of versification, which renders the reading of his longer poems in particular, rather a task, than a recreation.
Dr. Percival must be sensible that poetry is generally read for pastime and pleasure, in times of relaxation from severer studies. The readers of it are, in consequence, rapid and frequently somewhat negligent in its perusal ; at least, it is not one in ten of them, that can bear to have their faculties kept on the stretch in order to penetrate the poet's meaning. Force and ease, and, above every thing else, perspicuity should be studied both in the thoughts and the language. Now, although the Wreck” does not offend quite so much in these particulars, as the poem which follows it, called “Prometheus,” yet in perusing it, we felt under the unpleasant necessity of pausing in our progress and reperusing several passages, before we could exactly comprehend their meaning. That this was not altogether owing to our stupidity, we have reason to believe, from the circumstance of more than one of our friends whose acuteness of understanding is above the common level, having acknowledged to us the experiencing a similar difficulty. We do not deny that there is meaning in every passage of this poem, for we have always succeeded in detecting it when we were careful to bend our faculties to the task. What we complain of is, the necessity that obliged us to undertake this task, for like most other readers of poetry, we wish to read it at our oase.
Whether Dr. Percival had any model for his blank verse in view, when he first formed its structure, we cannot tell. From the predeliction for metaphysics and the Spenserian stanza, which he has manifested in the long poem of “Prometheus,” and from his avowed as well practical disregard of neat and correct versification, we might have supposed that he had Byron's style in view. But he differs from Byron in being less perspicuous, while he is more uniformly quaint and stately. He approaches nearer to the heavier, moralizing strain of Cowper. Indeed the tone of gloomy discontent, and morbid sensibility which