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ful? Has he power even to define those gigantic useful in putting down the pretensions of those shadows reflected on the pure mirror of the who aspire, without just claim, to the honours poet's imagination, from the eternal things of genius. This, indeed, in so far as it is unwhich mortal eyes cannot discern? At best, favourable, is its chief object in modern times. he can but reason from what has been to what The most celebrated of literary tribunals takes should be; and what can be more absurd than as the motto of its decrees, “ Judex damnatur this course in reference to poetic invention ? cum nocens absolvitur;" assuming that to A critic can understand no rules of criticism publish a dull book is a crime, which the pubexcept what existing poetry has taught him. lic good requires should be exposed, whatever There was no more reason, after the production laceration of the inmost soul may be inflicted of the Iliad, to contend that future poems should on the offender in the process. This damnain certain points resemble it, than there was tory principle is still farther avowed in the before the existence of that poem to lay down following dogma of this august budy, which rules which would prevent its being what it is. deserves to be particularly quoted as an exThere was antecedently no more probability plicit declaration of the spirit of modern critithat the powers of man, harmoniously exerted, cism : could produce the tale of Troy divine, than “There is nothing of which nature has been that, after it, the same powers would not pro- more bountiful than poets. They swarm like duce other works equally marvellous and the spawn of the cod-fish, with a vicious equally perfect, yet wholly different in their fecundity that invites and requires destruction. colouring and form. The reasons which would To publish verses is become a sort of evidence prevent men from doing any thing unlike it, that a man wants sense; which is repelled, would also have prevented its creation, for it not by writing good verses, but by writing was doubtless unlike all previous inventions. excellent verses ;-by doing what Lord Byron Criticism can never be prospective, until the has done ;-by displaying talents great enough resources of man and nature are exhausted. to overcome the disgust which proceeds from Each new world of imagination revolves on satiety, and showing that all things may beitself, in an orbit of its own. Its beauties create come new under the reviving touch of genius." the taste which shall relish them, and the very -Ed. Rev., No. 43, p. 68. critics which shall extol their proportions. The It appears to us, that the crime and the evil first admirers of Homer had no conception denounced in this pregnant sentence are enthat the Greek tragedies would start into life tirely visionary and fantastic. There is no and become lasting as their idol. Those who great danger, that works without talent should lived after the times when these were perfected, usurp the adıniration of the world. Splendid asserted that no dramas could be worthy of error may mislead; vice linked to a radiant praise, which were not fashioned according to angel, by perverted genius, may seduce; and their models and composed of similar mate- the union of high energy with depravity of rials. But, after a long interval, came Shak- soul may teach us to respect where we ought speare-at first, indeed, considered by many as to shudder. But men will not easily be dazzled barbarous and strange-who, when his real by insipidity, enchanted by discord, or awed merits are perceived, is felt to be, at the least, by weakness. The mean and base, even if equal to his Greek predecessors, though violat- left to themselves unmolested, will scarcely ing every rule drawn from their works. Even grow immortal by the neglect of the magnani. in our short remembrance, we can trace the mous and the wise. He who cautions the complete abolition of popular rules of criticism, public against the admiration of feeble proby the new and unexpected combinations of ductions, almost equals the wisdom of a sage, genius. A few years ago, it was a maxim who should passionately implore a youth not gravely asserted by Reviews, Treatises, and imprudently to set his heart on ugliness and Magazines, that no interesting fiction could age. And surely our nerves are not grown so effectively be grafted on history. But “mark finely tremulous, that we require guardians how a plain tale” by the author of Waverley who may providently shield us from glancing "puts down” the canon for ever! In fact, on a work which may prove unworthy of unless with more than angel's ken a critic perusal. It is one high privilege of our earthly could gaze on all the yet unpossessed regions lot, that the best pleasures of humanity are of imagination, it is impossible that he should not balanced by any painful sensations arising limit his discoveries which yet await the bard. from their contraries. We drink in joy too He may perceive, indeed, how poets of old have deep for expression, when we penetrate the by their magic divided the clouds which bound vast solitudes of nature, and gaze on her rocky man's ordinary vision, and may scan the re- fortresses, her eternal hills, her regions "congions which they have thus opened to our secrate to eldest time.” But we feel no angaze. But how can he thus anticipate what swering agony while we traverse level and future bards may reveal—direct the propor- barren plains; especially if we can leave tions, the colours and the forms, of the realities them at pleasure.-Thus, while we experience which they shall unveil-fix boundaries to re- a thrilling delight, in thinking on the divinest gions of beauty yet unknown; determine the imaginations of the poet, we are not plunged, height of their glory-stricken hills; settle the by the dullest author, into the depths of sorrow. course of their mighty waters; or regulate the At all events, we can throw down the book at visionary shapes of superhuman grace, which once; and we must surely be very fastidious shall gleam in the utmost distance of their far if we do not regard the benefit conferred on perspectives?
printers and publishers, and the gratification 3. But it may be urged, that criticism is of the author's innocent and genial vanity, as
amply compensating the slight labour which which may prevent minds, gifted with the we have taken in vain.
richest faculties, from exerting them at the But, perhaps, it is the good of the aspirants first with success. The very number of themselves, rather than of their readers, which images, crowding on the mirror of the soul, the critic professes to design. Here, also, we may for a while darken its surface, and give think he is mistaken. The men of our gene- the idea of inextricable confusion. The young ration are not too prone to leave their quest poet's holiest thoughts must often appear to after the substantial blessings of the world, in him too sacred to be fully developed to the order to pursue those which are aërial and world. His soul will half shrink at first from the shadowy. The very error of the mind, which disclosure of its solemn immunities and strange takes the love for the power of poetry, is more joys. He will thus become timid and irresolute goodly than common wisdom. “But there are tell but a slight part of that which he feelscertain seasons, we believe, in life-some few and this broken and disjointed communication golden moments at least-in which all men will appear senseless or feeble. The more have really perceived, and felt, and enjoyed, deep and original his thoughts—the more dazas poets. Who remembers not an hour of zling his glimpses into the inmost sanctuaries serious ecstasy, when, perhaps, as he lay be- of nature the more difficult will be the task neath some old tree and gazed on the setting of imbodying these in words, so as to make sun, earth seemed a visionary thing, the glo- them palpable to ordinary conceptions. He ries of immortality were half revealed, and will be constantly in danger, too, in the ferthe first notes a universal harmony whispered vour of his spirit, of mistaking things which to his soul ?—some moment, when he seemed in his mind are connected with strains of dealmost to realize the eternal, and could have licious musing, for objects, in themselves, been well contented to yield up his mortal stately or sacred. The seeming commonbeing ?—some little space, populous of high place, which we despise, may be to him the thoughts and disinterested resolves-some index to pure thoughts and far-reaching detouch upon that “line of limitless desires," sires. In that which to the careless eye may along which he shall live in a purer sphere ? seem but a little humble spring-pure, perhaps, -And if that taste of joy is not to be renewed and sparkling, but scarce worthy of a glanceon earth, the soul will not suffer by an attempt the more attentive observer may perceive a to prolong its memory, It is a mistake, to depih which he cannot fathom, and discover suppose that young beginners in poetry are that the seeming fount is really the breaking always prompted by a mere love of worldly forth of a noble river, winding its consecrated fame. The sense of beauty and the love of way beneath the soil, which, as it runs, will the ideal, if they do not draw all the faculties soon bare its bosom to the heavens, and glide into their likeness, still impart to the soul in a cool and fertilizing majesty. And is there something of their rich and unearthly colour- not some danger that souls, whose powers of ing. Young fantasy spreads its golden films, expression-are inadequate to make manifest slender though they be, through the varied their inward wealth, should be sealed for ever tenour of existence. Imagination, nurtured by the hasty sentences of criticism ? The name in the opening of life, though it be not de- of Lord Byron is rather unfortunately introveloped in poetic excellence, will strengthen duced by the celebrated journal which we the manly virtue, give a noble cast to the have quoted, into its general denunciation thoughts, and a generous course to the sympa- against youthful poets. Surely the critics thies. It will assist to crush self-love in its must for the moment have forgotten, that at first risings, to mellow and soften the heart, the outset of the career of that bard, to whose and prepare it for its glorious destiny. Even example they now refer, as most illustriously if these consequences did not follow, surely opposed to the mediocrity which they condemn, the most exquisite feelings of young hope are they themselves poured contempt on his ennot worthy of scorn. They may truly be deavours! Do they now wish that he had worth years of toil, of riches, and of honour. taken their counsel ? Are they willing to run Who would crush them at a venture-short the hazard, for the sake of putting down a and uncertain as life is—and cold and dreary thousand pretenders a few months before their as are often its most brilliant successes ? time, of crushing another power such as they What, indeed, can this world offer to compare esteem his own? Their very excuse—that, at with the earliest poetic dreams, which our the time, his verses were all which they had admodern critics think it sport or virtue to judged them-is the very proof of the impolicy destroy?
of such censures. If the object of their scorn “Such views the youthful bard allure,
has, in this instance, risen above it, how do As, mindless of the following gloom,
we know that more delicate minds have not Till peace go with him to the tomb.
sunk beneath it? Besides, although Lord And let him nurse his fond deceit,
Byron was not repelled, but rather excited by And what if he must die in sorrow;
their judgment, he seems to have sustained Who would not cherish dreams so sweet,
from it scarcely less injury. If it stung him Though care and grief should come to-morrow ?"
into energy, it left its poison in his soul. It But, supposing for a moment that it were first instigated his spleen ;-taught him that really desirable to put down all authors who spirit of scorn which debases the noblest fado not rise into excellence, at any expense of culties and impelled him, in his rage, lo atpersonal feeling, we must not forget the risk tack those who had done him no wrong, to which such a process involves, of crushing scoff at the sanctilies of humanity, and to preundeveloped genius. There are many causes tend to hate or deride his species !
He deems their colours shall endure
And, even if genius is too deep to be sup- the most divine. The very trade of the critic pressed, or too celestial to be perverted, is it himself—the necessity of his being witty, or nothing that the soul of its possessor should brilliant, or sarcastic, for his own sake-is be wrung with agony? For a while, criticism sufficient to disqualify him as a judge. Sad may throw back poets whom it cannot anni-thought!—that the most sensitive, and gentle, hilate, and make them pause in their course and profound of human beings, should be deof glory and of joy, “confounded though im- pendent on casual caprice, on the passions of a mortal.” Who can estimate those pangs, bookseller, or on the necessities of a period ! which on the “purest spirits” are thus made 4. It may be perceived, from what we have to prey
already written, that we do not esteem criticism "as on entrails, joint, and limb,
as a guide more than as a censor. The general With answerable pains but more intense ?"
effect on the public mind is, we fear, to dissiThe heart of a young poet is one of the most pate and weaken. It spoils the freshest charms sacred things on earth. How nicely strung even of the poetry which it praises. It destroys are its fibres-how keen its sensibilities—how all reverence for great poets, by making the shrinking the timidity with which it puts forth world think of them as a species of culprits, its gentle conceptions! And shall such a heart who are to plead their genius as an excuse for receive rude usage from a world which it only their intrusion. Time has been when the poet desires to improve and to gladden? Shall its himself-instead of submitting his works to nerves be stretched on the rack, or its appre- the public as his master-called around him hensions turned into the instruments of its tor- those whom he thought worthy to receive his ture? All this, and more, has been done to-precepts, and pointed out to them the divine wards men of whom “this world was not lineaments, which he felt could never perish. worthy." Cowper, who, first of modern poets, They regarded him, with reverence, as most restored to the general heart the feeling of favoured of mortals. They delighted to sit in healthful nature-whose soul was without one the seat of the disciple, not in that of the particle of malice or of guile—whose suscep-scorner. How much enjoyment have the peotible and timorous spirit shrunk tremblingly ple lost by being exalted into judges! The from the touch of this rough world—was ascent of literature has been rendered smooth chilled, tortured, and almost maddened, by and easy, but its rewards are proportionably some nameless critic's scorn. Kirke White lessened in value. With how holy a zeal did the delicate beauties of whose mind were des- the aspirant once gird himself to tread the un. tined scarcely to unfold themselves on earth-worn path; how delectably was he refreshed in the beginning of his short career, was cut by each plant of green; how intensely did he to the heart by the cold mockery of a stranger. enjoy every prospect, from the lone and emA few sentences, penned, perhaps, in mere bowered resting-places of his journey! Now, carelessness, almost nipped the young blossoms distinctions are levelled—the zest of intellecof his genius "like an untimely frost;" palsied tual pleasures is taken away; and no one hour, for a while all his faculties-imbittered his little like that of Archimedes, ever repays a life of span of life-haunted him almost to the verge toil. The appetite, satiated with luxuries cheaply of his grave, and heightened his dying agonies! acquired, requires new stimulants—even critiWould the annihilation of all the dulness in cism palls—and private slander must be the world compensate for one moment's an- mingled with it to give the necessary relish. guish inflicted on hearts like these?
Happily, these evils will, at last, work out their We have been all this time considering not own remedy. Scorn, of all human emotions, the possible abuses, but the necessary tenden- leaves the frailest monuments behind it. That cies, of contemporary criticism. All the evils | light which now seems to play around the we have pointed out may arise, though no weapons of periodical criticism, is only like sinister design pervert the Reviewer's judg. the electrical flame which, to the amazement ment—though no prejudice, even unconscious of the superstitious, wreathes the sword of the ly, warp him-and, even, though he may decide Italian soldier on the approach of a storm, fairly “from the evidence before him." But it vapourish and feeting. Those mighty poets is impossible that this favourable supposition of our time—who are now overcoming the should be often realized in an age like ours. derision of the critics—will be immortal wit. Temper, politics, religion, the interests of rival nesses of their shame. These will lift their poets, or rival publishers—a thousand influ- heads, “like mountains when the mists are ences, sometimes recognised, and sometimes rolled away,” imperishable memorials of the oniy felt-decide the sentence on imaginations I true genius of our time, to the most distant ages.
MODERN PERIODICAL LITERATURE.
[New MONTHLY MAGAZINE.)
LITTLE did the authors of the Spectator, all sympathize; without a command of images, the Tatiler, and the Guardian, think, while he has a glittering radiance of words which gratifying the simple appetites of our fathers the most superficial may admire; neither too for our periodical literature, how great would hard-hearted always to refuse his admiration, be the number, and how extensive the influ- nor too kindly to suppress a sneer, he has been ence, of their successors in the nineteenth cen- enabled to appear most witty, most wise, and tury. Little did they know that they were most eloquent, to those who have chosen him preparing the way for this strange era in the for their oracle. As Reviewers, who have world of letters, when Reviews and Magazines exercised a fearful power over the hearts and supersede the necessity of research or thought the destinies of young aspirants to fame, this -when each month they become more spirited, gentleman, and his varied coadjutors, have more poignant, and more exciting-and on done many great and irreparable wrongs. every appearance awaken a pleasing crowd of Their very motio, “ Judex damnatur cum noturbulent sensations in authors, contributors, cens absolvitur," applied to works offending and the few who belong to neither of these only by their want of genius, asserted a ficti. classes, unknown to our laborious ancestors. tious crime to be punished by a voluntary Without entering, at present, into the inquiry tribunal. It implied that the author of a dull whether this system be, on the whole, as bene- book was a criminal, whose sensibilities justice ficial as it is lively, we will just lightly glance required to be stretched on the rack, and whose at the chief of its productions, which have inmost soul it was a sacred duty to lacerate ! such varied and extensive influences for good They even carried this atrocious absurdity or for evil.
farther-represented youthful poets as prima The Edinburgh Review—though its power is facie guilty; “swarming with a vicious fecun. now on the wane-has perhaps, on the whole, dity, which invited and required destruction;" produced a deeper and more extensive impres- and spoke of the publication of verses as evision on the public mind than any other work dence, in itself, of want of seuse, to be rebutted of its species. It has two distinct characters-only by proofs of surpassing genius.* Thus that of a series of original essays, and a criti. the sweetest hopes were to be rudely brokencal examination of the new works of particular the loveliest visions of existence were to be authors. The first of these constituies its dissipated—the most ardent and most innocent fairest claim to honourable distinction. In this souls were to be wrung with unutterable anpoint of view, it has one extraordinary merit, guish-and a fearful risk incurred of crushing that instead of partially illustrating only one genius too mighty for sudden development, or set of doctrines, it contains disquisitions equally of changing its energies into poison-in order convincing on almost all sides of almost all that the public might be secured from the posquestions of literature or state policy. The sibility of worthlessness becoming attractive, “bane and antidote" are frequently to be found or individuals shielded from the misery of in the ample compass of its volumes, and not looking into a work which would not tempt unfrequently from the same pen. Its nys their farther perusal! But the Edinburgh Reon Political Economy display talents of a very view has not been contented with deriding the uncommon order. Their writers have con- pretensions of honest, but ungifted, aspirants ; trived to make the dryest subjects enchanting, it has pursued with misrepresentation and and the lowest and most debasing theories ridicule the loftiest and the gentlest spirits of beautiful. Touched by them, the wretched the age, and has prevented the world, for a dogmas of expediency have worn the air of little season, from recognising and enjoying venerable truths, and the degrading specula- their genius. One of their earliest numbers tions of Malthus have appeared full of benevo- contained an elaborate tissue of gross derision lence and of wisdom. They have exerted the on that delicate production of feeling and of uncommon art, while working up a sophism fancy—that fresh revival of the old English into every possible form, to seem as though drama in all its antique graces-that piece of they had boundless store of reasons to spare, natural sweetness and of wood-land beauty, a very exuberance of proof-which the clear- the tragedy of John Woodvil. They directed ness of their argument rendered it unnecessary the same species of barbarous ridicule against to use. The celebrated Editor of this work, the tale of Cristabel, trying to excite laughter with little imagination-little genuine wit-and by the cheap process of changing the names no clear view of any great and central princi- of its heroines into Lady C. and Lady G., and ples of criticism, has contrived to dazzle, to employing the easy art of transmuting its astonish, and occasionally to delight, multitudes romantic incidents into the language of frivoof readers, and, at one period, to hold the tem- lous life, to destroy the fame of its most proporary fate of authors at his will. His quali found and imaginative author. The mode of ties are all singularly adapted to his office. criticism adopted on this occasion might, it is Without deep feeling, which few can understand, he has a quick sensibility with which
* See Ed. Rev., No. 43, p. 68.
obvious, be used with equal success, to give tions on the state of the poor have been often to the purest and loftiest of works a ludicrous replete with thoughts “informed by nobleness," air. But the mightiest offence of the Edin- and rich in examples of lowly virtue, which burgh Review is the wilful injustice which it have had power to make the heart glow with has done to Wordsworth, or rather to the mul- a genial warmth which Reviews can rarely titude whom it has debarred from the noblest inspire. stock of intellectual delights to be found in Its attack on Lady Morgan, whatever were modern poetry, by the misrepresentation and the merits of her work, was one of the coarsest the scorn which it has poured on his effusions. insults ever offered in print by man to woman. It would require a far longer essay than this to But perhaps its worst piece of injustice was expose all the arts (for arts they have been) its laborious attempt to torture and ruin Mr. which the Review has employed to depreciate Keats, a poet, then of extreme youth, whose this holiest of living bards. To effect this work was wholly unobjectionable in its tenmalignant design, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and dencies, and whose sole offence was a friend. Southey, have been constantly represented as ship for one of the objects of the Reviewer's forming one perverse school or band of inno- hatred, and his courage to arow it. We can vators-though there are perhaps no poets form but a faint idea of what the heart of a whose whole style and train of thought more young poet is, when he first begins to exercise essentially differ. To the same end, a few his celestial faculties-how eager and tremupeculiar expressions—a few attempts at sim- lous are his hopes—how strange and tumultuplicity of expression on simple themes-a few ous are his joys—how arduous is his difficulty extreme instances of naked language, which of imbodying his rich imaginings in mortal the fashionable gaudiness of poetry had incited language-how sensibly alive are all his feel-were dwelt on as exhibiting the poet's intel- | ings to the touches of this rough world! Yet lectual character, while passages of the purest we can guess enough of these to estimate, in and most majestic beauty, of the deepest pathos, some degree, the enormity of a cool attack on and of the noblest music, were regarded as a soul so delicately strung-with such aspiraunworthy even to mitigate the critic's scorn. tions and such fears in the beginning of its To this end, Southey-who, with all his rich high career. Mr. Keats—who now happily and varied accomplishments, has comparative- has attained the vantage-ground whence he ly but a small portion of Wordsworth's genius may defy criticism-was cruelly or wantonly -and whose “wild and wondrous lays” are held up to ridicule in the Quarterly Reviewthe very antithesis to Wordsworth's intense to his transitory pain, we fear, but to the lasting musings on humanity, and new consecrations disgrace of his traducer. Shelley has less of familiar things-was represented as redeem- ground of complaining—for he who attacks ing the school which his mightier friend de established institutions with a martyr's spirit, graded. To this end, even Wilson-one who must not be surprised if he is visited with a had delighted to sit humbly at the feet of martyr's doom. All ridicule of Keats was unWordsworth, and who derived his choicest in- provoked insult and injury-an attack on Shel. spirations from him-was praised as shedding ley was open and honest warfare, in which unwonted lustre over the barrenness of his there is nothing to censure but the mode in master. But why multiply examples ? Why which it was conducted. To deprecate his attempt minutely to expose critics, who in principles-o confute his reasonings—to exthoughts which do often lie too deep for tears” pose his inconsistencies- to picture forth vividcan find matter only for jesting—who speak of ly all that his critics believed respecting the the high, imaginative conclusion of the White tendencies of his works-was just and lawful; Doe of Rylston as a fine compliment of which but to give currency to slanderous stories they do not know the meaning-and who begin respecting his character, and above all, darkly a long and laborious article on the noblest to insinuate guilt which they forebore to dephilosophical poem in the world with—“ This velope, was upmanly, and could only serve to will never do?"
injure an honourable cause. Scarcely less The Quarterly Review, inferior to the Ediu- disgraceful to the Review is the late elaborate burgh in its mode of treating matters of mere piece of abuse against that great national work, reason-and destitute of that glittering elo- the new edition of Stephens's Greek Thesaurus. quence of which Mr. Jeffrey has been so lavish It must, however, be confessed, that several -is far superior to it in its tone of sentiment, articles in recent numbers of the Review have taste, and morals. It has often given intima- displayed very profound knowledge of the subtions of a sense that there are more things jecis treated, and a deep and gentle spirit of in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in criticism. the philosophy" of the Northern Reviewers. The British Review is, both in evil and good, It has not regarded the wealth of nations as far below the two great Quarterly Journals. every thing, and the happiness of nations as It is, however, very far from wanting ability, nothing—it has not rested all the foundations and as it lacks the gall of its contemporaries, of good on the shifting expediences of time, and speaks in the tone of real conviction, it has not treated human nature as a mere though we do not subscribe to all its opinions, problem for critics to analyze and explain. we offer it our best wishes. Its articles on travels have been richly tinged The Pamphleteer is a work of very meritorious with a spirit of the romantic. Its views of design. Its execution, depending less on the religious sectarianism-unlike the flippant im- voluntary power of its editor than that of any pieties of its rival-have been full of real other periodical work, is necessarily unequal. kindliness and honest sympathy. Its disquisi. On the whole, it has imbodied a great number