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even the deaf may play, so as to delight the many. Sometimes (for it is with similes, as it is with jests at a wine table, one is sure to suggest another) I have attempted to illustrate the present state of our language, in its relation to literature, by a press-room of larger and smaller stereotype pieces, which, in the present AngloGallican fashion of unconnected, epigrammatic periods, it requires but an ordinary portion of ingenuity to vary indefinitely, and yet still produce something, which, if not sense, will be so like it as to do as well. Perhaps better: for it spares the reader the trouble of thinking; prevents vacancy, while it indulges indolence; and secures the memory from all danger of an intellectual plethora. Hence of all trades, literature at present demands the least talent or information; and, of all modes of literature, the manufacturing of poems. The difference indeed between these and the works of genius is not less than between an egg and an egg-shell; yét at a distance they both look alike.
Now it is no less remarkable than true, with how little examination works of polite literature are commonly perused, not only by the mass of readers, but by men of first rate ability, till some accident or chance discussion have roused their attention, and
In the course of one of my Lectures, I had occasion to point out the almost faultless position and choice of words, in Pope's original compositions, particularly in his Satires and moral Essays, for the purpose of comparing them with his translation of Homer, which I do not stand alone in regarding as the main source of our pseudo-poetic diction. And this, by the by, is an additional confirmation of a remark made, I believe, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, that next to the man who forms and elevates the taste of the public, he that corrupts it, is commonly the greatest genius. Among other passages, I analysed sentence by sentence, and almost word by word, the popular lines,
As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night, &c.
(Iliad., B. viii.)
much in the same way as has been since done, in an excellent article on Chalmers's British Poets, in the Quarterly Review. The impression on the audience in general was sudden and evident: and a number of enlightened and highly educated persons, who at different times after
[The article to which the Author refers was written by Mr. Southey, and may be found in Vol. XI. of the Quarterly Review, p. 480. But it contains nothing corresponding to Mr Coleridge's remark, whose reference is evidently mistaken. Ed.]
put them on their guard. And hence individuals below medi ocrity not less in natural power than in acquired knowledge; nay, bunglers who have failed in the lowest mechanic crafts, and whose presumption is in due proportion to their want of sense and
wards addressed me on the subject, expressed their wonder, that truth so obvious should not have struck them before; but at the same time acknowledged (so much had they been accustomed, in reading poetry, to receive pleasure from the separate images and phrases successively, without asking themselves whether the collective meaning was sense or nonsense) that they might in all probability have read the same passage again twenty times with undiminished admiration, and without once reflecting, that
ἄστρα φαεινὴν ἀμφὶ σελήνην φαίνετ' αριπρεπέα
(that is, the stars around, or near the full moon, shine pre-eminently bright) conveys a just and happy image of a moonlight sky: while it is difficult to determine whether, in the lines,
Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumber'd gild the glowing pole,
the sense or the diction be the more absurd. My answer was; that, though I had derived peculiar advantages from my school discipline, and though my general theory of poetry was the same then as now, I had yet experienced the same sensations myself, and felt almost as if I had been newly couched, when, by Mr. Wordsworth's conversation, I had been induced to re-examine with impartial strictness Gray's celebrated Elegy. I had long before detected the defects in The Bard; but the Elegy I had considered as proof against all fair attacks; and to this day I cannot read either without delight, and a portion of enthusiasm. At all events, whatever pleasure I may have lost by the clearer perception of the faults in certain passages, has been more than repaid to me by the additional delight with which I read the remainder.
Another instance in confirmation of these remarks occurs to me in the Faithful Shepherdess. Seward first traces Fletcher's lines;
More foul diseases than e'er yet the hot
to Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar,
sensibility; men, who being first scribblers from idleness and ignorance, next become libellers from envy and malevolence,— have been able to drive a successful trade in the employment of the booksellers, nay, have raised themselves into temporary name and reputation with the public at large, by that most powerful of all adulation, the appeal to the bad and malignant passions of mankind. But as it is the nature of scorn, envy, and all malignant propensities to require a quick change of objects, such
The rampant lion hunts he fast
With dogs of noisome breath;
Whose baleful barking brings, in haste,
Pine, plagues, and dreary death!
He then takes occasion to introduce Homer's simile of the appearance of Achilles' mail to Priam compared with the Dog Star; literally thus
"For this indeed is most splendid, but it was made an evil sign, and brings many a consuming disease to wretched mortals."* Nothing can be more simple as a description, or more accurate as a simile; which (says Seward) is thus finely translated by Mr. Pope:
Terrific Glory! for his burning breath
Taints the red air with fevers, plagues, and death!
Now here (not to mention the tremendous bombast)—the Dog Star, sc called, is turned into a real dog, a very odd dog, a fire, fever, plague, and death-breathing, red-air-tainting dog: and the whole visual likeness is lost, while the likeness in the effects is rendered absurd by the exaggeration. In Spenser and Fletcher the thought is justifiable; for the images are at least consistent, and it was the intention of the writers to mark the seasons by this allegory of visualized puns.
• Especially in this age of personality, this age of literary and political gossiping, when the meanest insects are worshipped with a sort of Egyptian superstition, if only the brainless head be atoned for by the sting of personal malignity in the tail;-when the most vapid satires have become the objects of a keen public interest, purely from the number of contemporary characters named in the patch-work notes (which possess, however, the comparative merit of being more poetical than the text), and because, to increase the stimulus, the author has sagaciously left his own name for whispers and conjectures [From The Friend, Vol. II., Essay 1. On the
Errors of Party Spirit, pp. 9-10, 4th edit. S. C.]
* [λαμπρύτατος μὲν ὅδ ̓ ἐστί, κακὸν δέ τε σῆμα τέτυκται,
Iliad. xxii., 30. S. C.]
writers are sure, sooner or later, to awake from their dream of vanity to disappointment and neglect with embittered and envenomed feelings. Even during their short-lived success, sensible in spite of themselves on what a shifting foundation it rests, they resent the mere refusal of praise as a robbery, and at the justest censures kindle at once into violent and undisciplined abuse; till the acute disease changing into chronical, the more deadly as the less violent, they become the fit instruments of literary detraction and moral slander. They are then no longer to be questioned without exposing the complainant to ridicule, because, forsooth, they are anonymous critics, and authorized, in Andrew Marvell's phrase, as "synodical individuals" to speak of themselves plurali majestatico! As if literature formed a caste, like that of the Paras in Hindostan, who, however maltreated, must not dare to deem themselves wronged! As if that, which in all other cases adds a deeper dye to slander, the circumstance of its being anonymous, here acted only to make the slanderer inviolable !10 Thus, in part, from the accidental tempers of individuals-(men of undoubted talent, but not men of genius) tempers rendered yet more irritable by their desire to appear men of genius; but still more effectively by the excesses of the mere counterfeits both of talent and genius; the number too being so incomparably greater of those who are thought to be, than of those who really are men of genius; and in part from the natural, but not therefore the less partial and unjust distinction, made by the public itself between literary and all other property;-I believe the prejudice to have arisen, which con
10 If it were worth while to mix together, as ingredients, half the anecdotes which I either myself know to be true, or which I have received from men incapable of intentional falsehood, concerning the characters, qualifications, and motives of our anonymous critics, whose decisions are oracles for our reading public; I might safely borrow the words of the apocryp hal Daniel; "Give me leave, O SOVEREIGN PUBLIC, and I shall slay his dragon without sword or staff." For the compound would be as the "pitch, and fat, and hair, which Daniel took, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof; this he put in the dragon's mouth and so the dragon burst in sunder; and Daniel said, Lo, THESE ARE THE GODS YE WORSHIP."
siders an unusual irascibility concerning the reception of its products as characteristic of genius.
It might correct the moral feelings of a numerous class of readers, to suppose a Review set on foot, the object of which should be to criticise all the chief works presented to the public by our ribbon-weavers, calico-printers, cabinet-makers, and china-manufacturers; which should be conducted in the same spirit, and take the same freedom with personal character, as our literary journals. They would scarcely, I think, deny their belief, not only that the genus irritabile would be found to include many other species besides that of bards; but that the irritability of trade would soon reduce the resentments of poets into mere shadow-fights in the comparison. Or is wealth the only rational object of human interest? Or even if this were admitted, has the poet no property in his works? Or is it a rare, or culpable case, that he who serves at the altar of the Muses, should be compelled to derive his maintenance from the altar, when too he has perhaps deliberately abandoned the fairest prospects of rank and opulence in order to devote himself, an entire and undistracted man, to the instruction or refinement of his fellow-citizens? Or, should we pass by all higher objects and motives, all disinterested benevolence, and even that ambition of lasting praise which is at once the crutch and ornament, which at once supports and betrays, the infirmity of human virtue-is the character and property of the man, who labors for our intellectual pleasures, less entitled to a share of our fellow feeling, than that of the wine-merchant or milliner? Sensibility indeed, both quick and deep, is not only a characteristic feature, but may be deemed a component part, of genius. But it is not less an essential mark of true genius, that its sensibility is excited by any other cause more powerfully than by its own personal interests; for this plain reason, that the man of genius lives most in the ideal world, in which the present is still constituted by the future or the past; and because his feelings have been habitually associated with thoughts and images, to the number, clearness, and vivacity of which the sensation of self is always in an inverse proportion. And yet, should he perchance have occasion to repel some false charge, or to rectify some erroneous censure, nothing