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LETTER TO MR.
WEST POINT, 1831. DEAR B
Believing only a portion of my former volume to be worthy a second edition--that small portion I thought it as well to include in the present book as to republish by itself. I have, therefore, herein combined “ Al Aaraaf” and “ Tamerlane" with other Poems hitherto unprinted. Nor have I hesitated to insert from the “Minor Poems,” now omitted, whole lines, and even passages, to the end that being placed in a fairer light, and the trash shaken from them in which they were imbedded, they may have some chance of being seen by posterity.
It has been said, that a good critique on a poem
may be written by one who is no poet himself. This, according to your idea and mine of poetry, I feel to be false—the less poetical the critic, the less just the critique, and the converse. On this account, and because there are but few B- -s in the world, I would be as much ashamed of the world's good opinion as proud of your own. Another than yourself might here observe, “Shakespeare is in possession of the world's good opinion, and yet Shakespeare is the greatest of poets. It appears then that the world judge correctly; why should you be ashamed of their favourable judg. ment?” The difficulty lies in the interpretation of the word "judgment” or “opinion.” The opinion is the world's, truly, but it may be called theirs as a man would call a book his, having bought it: he did not write the book, but it is his; they did not originate the opinion, but it is theirs. A fool for example thinks Shakespeare a great poet-yet the fool has never read Shakespeare. But the fool's neighbour, who is a step higher on the Andes of the mind, whose head (that is to say his more exalted thought) is too far above the fool to be seen or understood, but whose feet (by which I mean his every-day actions) are sufficiently near to be discerned, and by means of which that superiority is ascertained, which but for them would never have been discovered—this neighbour asserts that Shakespeare is a great poet—the fool believes him, and that is henceforward his opinion. This neighbour's own opinion has, in like manner, been adopted from one above him, and so, ascendingly, to a few gifted individuals, who kneel around the summit, beholding, face to face, the master spirit who stands upon the pinnacle.
You are aware of the great barrier in the path of an American writer. He is read, if at all, in preference to the combined and established wit of the world. I say established : for it is with literature as with law or empire-an established name is an estate in tenure, or a throne in possession. Besides, one might suppose that books, like their authors, improve by travel -their having crossed the sea is, with us, so great a distinction. Our antiquaries abandon time for dis