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Above all, let me entreat that no one will yield to that poor fallacy which teaches that Byron's infirmities and vice were attributes of genius :
“If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Of young imagination have kept pure,
Difficulties in the way of a proper appreciation of contemporary
genius — Candour rare in criticism — Controversy in regard to Wordsworth's school of poetry-Comparative criticism between the poetry of Wordsworth and Byron - Correspondence of Wordsworth's life with the spirit of true poetry-Continuity of his moral life - Recollections of his childhood — His love of nature and of man-His sympathy with the French Revolution-His seclusionCommunion with his brother-poets-Aim of his career of authorship-Lines composed in the neighbourhood of Tintern Abbey“ The Excursion"_"Sonnet on Westminster Bridge"--"Lines on the Death of Mr. Fox"_" Tribute to a favourite Dog”_"Simon Lee" “Story of the Deserted Cottage”—His political poemsConclusion.
We are now nearing the close of that glorious registry we have been engaged in examining. When I placed my mind, upon the imaginative point of vision, by the side of Chaucer, the father of English poetry, and looked forward, over the tract of nearly five hundred years, to the noble company of his successors, it was a joy to know that modern times would not be found to bring with them modern degeneracy.
There was encouragement in the assurance that, in quitting the companionship of the mighty men of old, we should not pass into the society of a dwarfish and dwindling race. It is a proud feeling, too, that there is shining upon us not only those rays which travel down from former, generations, but the light of the living genius of our own. I have been zealous to display the vast spaces of our English poetry; and especially to show how that domain has been, in successive eras, acquired, whenever a poet of original powers has arisen to discover and reclaim the unknown and neglected region. Remember how we have seen one territory after another thus appropriated and added to our imaginative literature. There was a time when the language was almost without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of its literature. The rude inventions of a barbarian minstrelsy appeared; but soon came Chaucer, the great poet of the fourteenth century. Like the Ancient Mariner, “ he was the first that ever burst into that silent sea.' It is only necessary to recur to the progress of the English Muse to learn how wrong is the notion which leads to the belief that the dominion of poetry has reached its utmost confines. The poorest pedantry is that which, not unfrequently, has taught implicit, passive obedience to the authority of a few models, and bound down genius to the servile toil of reiterated imitation. This cannot be : the universe is infinitely wide; and the highest proof is when it holds on high a light which reveals to the world realms which had been unknown as belonging to the sovereignty of imagination. It is the highest attribute of original powers to enlarge the sphere of human sensibility. Think, for instance, how the light of Spenser's imagination at once disclosed to view the untravelled latitudes of his marvellous allegory,-how
there soon came the discovery of what may be called the world of Shakspeare,—and how all to whom the spirit and the sounds of our sublimest poetry are dear have been borne, by the imagination of Milton, through regions radiant with angelic light, through the happy home on the infant and sinless earth, and through the dark and dismal dwellings of the lost spirits. It is grand to find our language made subservient to such uses, and ennobling to contemplate the powers with which the most gifted of our race are endowed, employed to enlarge the compass of human thought. In the history of any department of knowledge, it is easier to recognise how this has been accomplished by those whose approved fame time has sanctioned, than to understand and appreciate similar services rendered by contemporary genius. Nor is this strange. Fame is a slow, and often a reluctant, gift. There is a constitutional frailty in us which explains why it is so. The actual presence is an obstacle to that honour which should be rendered to prophet and poet in his own country or his own generation. This must needs be so in poetry above all. When a poet of truly original powers arises, his very originality can be shown only by extending the light of his genius to regions of thought and feeling unillumined before. Now, too often this is regarded not so much as an enlargement of our ancient and best possession, but an encroachment upon them, and therefore to be resisted. Old landmarks are changed, and time is not taken to inquire whether the change has increased or contracted the territory. Settled literary opinions and tastes, carelessly acquired at first, are disturbed; and this, it seems to me, is one solution of the antagonist reception which every original poet of the higher order of genius is doomed to encounter from the world. It is a warfare that he must wage,-a conquest to be effected,-happily if controlled by the meek spirit of magnanimity. In criticism, candour, with its comprehensive sympathies, is as rare as bigotry is frequent; and therefore the world has never yet been quick to welcome the greatest poets that have blessed it. The seclusion of Stratford, and the deeper seclusion of the grave, had long closed over Shakspeare before a thousandth part of his genius was known. The pure and gentle heart of Edmund Spenser wasted beneath neglect and the frustrated hope of his unfinished poem. The indomitable spirit of Milton calmly knew how little he had to expect from his contemporaries. So it has ever been. What else is the reason of that tradition which, when all else that is personal respecting the father of poetry has perished, has come down to us upon the cloudy wings of three thousand years, the tradition that Homer was a beggar? It has been finely said, “What a glorious gift God bestows upon a nation when he gives them a poet!" It might be added, with a sadder truth, that, when the poet enters upon his mission of gladdening and purifying and spiritualizing the hearts of men, the world is ready with the insult, the scoff, the ridicule, and all the weapons of a stupid and ignorant enmity. There is a blindness blinder than the mole's; there is a deafness deafer than the adder's : it is the blindness, the deafness of literary bigotry!