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living poet assert their poetic existence, under the form of defending the science of the stars:
“For Fable is Love’s world, his home, his birth-place;
The poet is the inheritor of the imaginative treasures of all creeds which reason has now exploded. The dim gigantic shadows of the north—the gentle superstitions of the Greeks —the wild and wondrous prodigies of the Arabian enchantment—the dark rites of magic, more heart-stirring than all—have their places in the vast region of his soul. When we climb above the floating mists which have so long overspread humanity, to breathe a purer air, and gaze on the unclouded heavens, we do not lose our feeling of veneration for majestic errors, nor our sense of their glories. Instead of wandering in the region of cloud, we overlook it all, and behold its gorgeous varieties of arch, minaret, dome, or spire, without partaking in its delusions.
But we have no need of resort to argument, in order to show that genius is not gradually declining. A glance at its productions, in the present age, will suffice to prove the gloomy mistake of desponding criticism. We will sketch very lightly over the principal living authors, to illustrate this position—satisfied that the mere mention of their names will awaken, within our readers, recollections of delight, far more than sufficient triumphantly to contravene the theory of those who believe in the degeneracy of genius.
And first—in the great walk of poesy—is Wordsworth, who, if he stood alone, would vindicate the immortality of his art. He has, in his works, built up a rock of defence for his species, which will resist the mightiest tides of demoralizing luxury. Setting aside the varied and majestic harmony of his verse—the freshness and the grandeur of his descriptions —the exquisite softness of his delineations of character—and the high and rapturous spirit of his choral songs—we may produce his “divine philosophy” as unequalled by any preceding bard. And surely it is no small proof of the infinity of the resources of genius, that in this late age of the world, the first of all philosophic poets should have arisen, to open a new vein of sentiment and thought, deeper and richer than yet had been laid bare to mortal
* Coleridge's translation of Schiller's Wallenstein.
eyes. His rural pictures are as fresh and as lively as those of Cowper, yet how much love. lier is the poetic light which is shed over them! His exhibition of gentle peculiarities of character, and dear immunities of heart, is as true and as genial as that of Goldsmith, yet how much is its interest heightened by its intimate connection, as by golden chords, with the noblest and most universal truths? His little pieces of tranquil beauty are as holy and as sweet as those of Collins, and yet, while we feel the calm of the elder poet gliding into our souls, we catch farther glimpses through the luxuriant boughs into “the highest heaven of invention.” His soul mantles as high with love and joy, as that of Burns, but yet “how bright, how solemn, how serene,” is the brimming and lucid stream? His poetry not only discovers, within the heart, new faculties, but awakens within, its untried powers, to comprehend and to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom. Not less marvellously gifted, though in a far different manner, is Coleridge, who, by a strange error, has been usually regarded as belonging to the same school, partaking of the same peculiarities, and upholding the same doctrines. Instead, like Wordsworth, of seeking the sources of sublimity and of beauty in the simplest elements of humanity, he ranges through all history and science, investigating all that has really existed, and all that has had foundation only in the strangest and wildest minds, combining, condensing, developing, and multiplying the rich products of his research with marvellous facility and skill; now pondering fondly over some piece of exquisite loveliness, brought from a wild and unknown recess; now tracing out the hidden germ of the eldest and most barbaric theories; and now calling fantastic spirits from the vasty deep, where they have slept since the dawn of reason. The term, “myriad-minded,” which he has happily applied to Shakspeare, is truly descriptive of himself. He is not one, but Legion—"rich with the spoils of time,” richer in his own glorious imagination and sportive fantasy. There is nothing more wonderful than the facile majesty of his images, or rather of his worlds of imagery, which, even in his poetry or his prose, start up before us self-raised and all perfect, like the palace of Aladdin. He ascends to the sublimest truths, by a winding track of sparkling glory, which can only be described in his own language—
“the spirits' ladder, That from this gross and visible world of dust Even to the starry world, with thousand rounds Builds itself up; on which the unseen powers Move up and down on heavenly ministries— The circles in the circles, that approach The central sun with ever-narrowing orbit.”
In various beauty of versification, he has never been exceeded. Shakspeare, doubtless, has surpassed him in linked sweetness and exquisite continuity, and Milton in pure majesty and classic grace—but this is in one species of verse only—and, taking all his trials of various metres, the swelling harmony of his blank verse, the sweet breathing of his gentler odes, and the sybil-like flutter alternate with the murmuring charm of his wizard spells, we doubt if even these great masters have so fully developed the music of the English tongue. He has yet completed no adequate memorials of his genius; yet it is most unjust to assert, that he has done nothing or little. To refute this assertion, there are, his noble translation of Wallenstein—his love-poems of intensest beauty —his Ancient Mariner, with its touches of profoundest tenderness amidst the wildest and most bewildering terrors—his holy and most sweet tale of Christabel, with its rich enchantments and its richer humanities—the depths, the sublimities, and the pensive sweetness of his tragedy—the heart-dilating sentiments scattered through his “Friend"—and the stately imagery which breaks upon us at every turn of the golden paths of his metaphysical labyrinths. And, if he has a power within mightier than that which even these glorious creations indicate, shall he be censured because he has deviated from the ordinary course of the age, in its development; and, instead of committing his imaginative wisdom to the press, has delivered it from his living lips? He has gone about in the true spirit of an old Greek bard, with a noble carelessness of self, giving fit utterance to the divine spirit within him. Who that has heard can ever forget him—his mild benignity —the unbounded variety of his knowledge—the fast succeeding products of his imagination— the child-like simplicity with which he rises, from the driest and commonest theme, into the widest magnificence of thought, pouring on the soul a stream of beauty and of wisdom, to mellow and enrich it for ever? The seeds of poetry, which he has thus scattered, will not perish. The records of his fame are not in books only, but on the fleshly tablets of young hearts, who will not suffer it to die even in the general ear, however base and unfeeling criticism may deride their gratitude! Charles Lamb is as original as either of these, within the smaller circle which he has chosen. We know not of any writer, living or dead, to whom we can fitly liken him. The exceeding delicacy of his fancy, the keenness of his perceptions of truth and beauty, the sweetness and the wisdom of his humour, and the fine interchange and sportive combination of all these, so frequent in his works, are entirely and peculiarly his own. As it has been said of Swift, that his better genius was his spleen, it may be asserted of Lamb that his kindliness is his inspiration. With how nice an eye does he detect the least hitherto unnoticed indication of goodness, and with how true and gentle a touch does he bring it out to do good to our natures? How new and strange do some of his more fantastical ebullitions seem, yet how invariably do they come home to the very core, and smile at the heart! He makes the majesties of imagination seem familiar, and gives to familiar things a pathetic heauty or a venerable air.
Instead of finding
ness of his thought looks, in the quaintness of his style, like a modest beauty, laced-in and attired in a dress of the superb fashion of the elder time. His versification is not greatly inserior to that of Coleridge, and it is, in all its best qualities, unlike that of any other poet. His heroic couplets are alternately sweet, terse, and majestical; and his octo-syllabic measures have a freeness and completeness, which mark them the pure Ionic of verse. Barry Cornwall, with the exception of Coleridge, is the most genuine poet of love, who has, for a long period, appeared among us. There is an intense and passionate beauty, a depth of affection, in his little dramatic poems, which appear even in the affectionate triflings of his gentle characters. He illustrates that holiest of human emotions, which, while it will twine itself with the frailest twig, or dally with the most evanescent shadow of creation, wasting its excess of kindliness on all around it, is yet able to “look on tempests and be never shaken.” Love is gently omnipotent in his poems; accident and death itself are but passing clouds, which scarcely vex and which cannot harm it. The lover seems to breathe out his life in the arms of his mistress, as calmly as the infant sinks into its softest slumber. The fair blossoms of his genius, though light and trembling at the breeze, spring from a wide, and deep, and robust stock, which will sustain far taller branches without being exhausted. In the vision, where he sees “the famous Babylon,” in his exquisite sonnets, and yet more in his Marcian Colonna, has he shown a feeling and a power for the elder venerableness of the poetic art, which, we are well assured, he is destined successfully to develope. Some of our readers will, perhaps, wonder, that we have thus long delayed the mention of the most popular of the living poets. But, though we have no desire to pass them by, we must confess, that we do not rest chiefly on them our good hope for English genius. Lord Byron's fame has arisen, we suspect, almost as much from an instinctive awe of his nobility, and from a curiosity to know the secrets of his diseased soul which he so often partially gratifies, as from the strength and turbid majesty of his productions. His mind is, however, doubtless cast in no ordinary mould. His chief poetic attributes appear, to us, to be an exceedingly quick sensibility to external beauty and grandeur, a capability and a love
of violent emotion, and a singular mastery of
language. He has no power over himself, which is the highest of all qualifications for a poet as it is for a man. He has no calm meditative greatness, no harmonizing spirit, no pure sense of love and of joy. He is as far beneath the calmy imaginative poets as the region of tempests and storms is below the quiet and unclouded heavens. He excites intense feeling, by leading his readers to the brink of unimaginable horror, by dark hints of nameless sins, or by the strange union of virtues and
that every thing in his writings is made the of vices, which God and nature have for ever
Inost of, we always feel that the tide of sentiment and of thought is pent in, and that the airy and variegated bubbles spring, up from a far depth in the placid waters. The loveli
divided. Yet are there touches of grace and beauty scattered throughout his works, occasional bursts of redeeming enthusiasm, which make us deeply regret the too-osten “admired disorder” of his soul. The stream of his genius falls, from a vast height, amidst bleakest rocks, into depths, which mortal eye cannot fathom, and into which it is dangerous to gaze; but it sends up a radiant mist in its fall, which the sun tints with heavenly colouring, and it leaves its echoes on the golden and quiet clouds! The too frequent perversion of his genius does not prevent it from showing, in its degree, the immortality of the most sublime of the human faculties.
Sir Walter Scott, if his poetry is not all which his countrymen proclaim it, is a bard, in whose success every good man must rejoice. His feeling of nature is true, if it is not profound; his humanity is pure, if it is not deep ; his knowledge of facts is choice and various, if his insight into their philosophy is not very clear or extensive. Dr. Percy's Reliques prepared his way, and the unpublished Christabel aided his inspirations; but he is entitled to the credit of having first brought romantic poetry into fashion. Instead of the wretched sentimentalities of the Della Cruscan school, he supplied the public with pictures of nature, and with fair visions of chivalry. If he is, and we hope as well as believe that he is, the author of the marvellous succession of Scotch romances, he deserves far deeper sentiments of gratitude than those which his poems awaken. Then does he merit the praise of having sent the mountain breezes into the heart of this great nation; of having supplied us all with a glorious crowd of acquaintances, and even of friends, whose society will never disturb or weary us; and of having made us glow a thousand times with honest pride, in that nature of which we are partakers'
Mr. Southey is an original poet, and a delightful prose-writer, though he does not even belong to the class which it has been the fashion to represent him as redeeming. He has neither the intensity of Wordsworth, nor the glorious expansion of Coleridge; but he has their holiness of imagination, and childlike purity of thought. His fancies are often as sweet and as heavenly as those which “may make a crysome child to smile.” There is, too, sometimes an infantine love of glitter and pomp, and of airy castle-building, displayed in his more fantastical writings. The great defect of his purest and loftiest poems is, that they are not imbued with humanity; they do not seem to have their only home on “this dear spot, this human earth of ours,” but their scenes might be transferred, perhaps with advantage, to the moon or one of the planets. In the loneliest bower which poesy can rear, deep in a trackless wild, or in some island, placed “far amid the melancholy main,” the air of this world must yet be allowed to breathe, if the poet would interest “us poor humans.” It may heighten even the daintiest solitude of blessed lovers,
“All the while to feel and know, That they are in a world of wo, On such an earth as this.”
Mr. Southey's poems are beautiful and pure, yet too far from our common emotions. His Joan of Arc, his Thalaba, and his Roderick, are
full of the stateliest pictures But his Kehama is his greatest work—the most marvellous succession of fantasies, “sky tinctured,” ever called into being, without the aid of real and hearty faith ! Mr. Southey's prose style is singularly lucid and simple. His life of Nelson is a truly British work, giving the real heartiness of naval strength of our country, without ostentation or cant; his memoir of Kirke White is very unaffected and pathetic; and his Essays on the State of the Poor, really touching in their benevolence, and their well-regulated sympathies. Of the violences of his more decidedly political effusions, we shall not here venture to give an opinion; except to express our firm belief, that they have never been influenced by motives unworthy of a man of genius. Mr. Campbell has not done much which is excellent in poetry, but that which he has written well is admirable in its kind. His battleodes are simple, affecting, and sublime.—Few passages can exceed the dying speech of Ger. trude, in sweet pathos, or the war-song of old Outalissi, in stern and ferocious grandeur. It is astonishing, that he, who could produce these and other pieces of most genuine poetry, should, on some occasions, egregiously mistake gaudy words for imagination: and heap up fragments of bad metaphors, as though he could scale the “highest heaven of invention,” by the accumulation of mere earthly materials. It is the singular lot of Moore, to seem, in his smaller pieces, as though he were fitted for the highest walk of poetry; and in his more ambitious efforts, to appear as though he could fabricate nothing but glittering tinsel. The truth is, however, that those of his attempts, which the world thinks the boldest, and in which we regard him as unsuccessful, are not above, but beneath his powers. A thousand tales of veiled prophets, who wed ladies in the abodes of the dead, and frighten their associates to death by their maimed and mangled countenances, may be produced with far less expense of true imagination, fancy, or feeling, than one sweet song, which shall seem the very echo “ of summer days and delightful years.” Moore is not fit for the composition of tales of demon frenzy and feverish strength, only because his genius is of too pure and noble an essence. He is the most sparkling and graceful of triflers. It signifies little, whether the Fives Court or the Palace furnish him with materials. However repulsive the subject, he can “turn all to favour, and to prettiness.” Clay and gold, subjected to his easy inimitable hand, are wrought into shapes, so pleasingly fantastic, that the difference of the subject is lost in the fineness of the workmanship. His lighter pieces are distinguished at once by deep feeling, and a gay festive air, which he never entirely loses. He leads wit, sentiment, patriotism, and fancy, in a gay fantastic round, gambols sportively with fate, and holds a dazzling fence with care and with sorrow. He has seized all the “snatches of old tunes,” which yet lingered about the wildest regions of his wild and fanciful country; and has fitted to them words of accordance, the most exquisite. There is a luxury in his grief, and a sweet melancholy in his joy, which are old and well remembered in our experience, though scarcely ever before thus nicely revived in poetry. The works of Crabbe are full of good sense, condensed thought, and lively picture; yet the greater part of them is almost the converse of poetry. The mirror which he holds up to nature, is not that of imagination, which softens down the asperities of actual existences, brings out the stately and the beautiful, while it leaves the trivial and the low in shadow, and sets all things which it reflects in harmony before us: on the contrary, it exhibits the details of the coarsest and most unpleasing realities, with microscopic accuracy and minuteness. Some of his subjects are, in themselves, worthless—others are absolutely revolting— yet it is impossible to avoid admiring the strange nicety of touch with which he has felt their discordances, and the ingenuity with which he has painted them. His likenesses absolutely startle us.-There are cases in which this intense consciousness of little circumstances is prompted by deep passion; and, whenever Mr. Crabbe seizes one of these, his extreme minuteness rivets and enchants us. The effect of this vivid picturing in one of his tales, where a husband relates to his wife the story of her own intrigue before marriage, as a tale of another, is thrilling and grand. In some of his poems, as his Sir Eustace Grey and the Gipsy-woman's Confession, he has shown that he can wield the mightiest passions with ease, when he chooses to rise from the contemplation of the individual to that of the universal : from the delineation of men and things, to that of man and the universe. We dissent from many of Leigh Hunt's principles of morality and of taste; but we cannot suffer any difference of opinion to prevent the avowal of our deep sense of his poetical genius. He is a poet of various and sparkly fancy, of real affectionate heartiness, and of pathos as deep and pure as that of any living writer. He unites an English homeliness, with the richest Italian luxury. The story of Rimini is one of the most touching, which we have ever received into our “heart of hearts.” The crispness of the descriptive passages, the fine spirit of gallantry in the chivalrous delineations, the exquisite gradations of the fatal affection and the mild heart-breaking remorse of the heroine, form, altogether, a body of sweetlybitter recollections, for which none but the most heartless of critics would be unthankful. The fidelity and spirit of his little translations are surprising. Nor must we forget his prose works;–the wonderful power, with which he has for many years sent forth weekly essays, of great originality, both of substance and expression; and which seem now as fresh and unexhausted as ever. We have nothing here to do with his religion or his politics;–but, it is impossible to help admiring the healthful impulses, which he has so long been breathing “into the torpid breast of daily life;” or the plain and manly energy, with which he has shaken the selfism of the age, and sent the claims of the wretched in full and resistless force to the bosoms of the proud, or the thoughtless. In some of his productions—especiallyMurphy, Johnson, Philipps, Thomson, Young, Addison, or Rowe. Otway's Venice Preserved alone—and that only in the structure of its plot—is superior to the Remorse, to Bertram, Fazio, or Evadne. And then—more pure, more dramatic, more gentle, than all these, is the tragedy of Virginius—a piece of simple yet beautiful humanity—in which the most exquisite succession of classic groups is animated with young life and connected by the finest links of interest—and the sweetest of Roman stories lives before us at once, new and familiar to our bosoms. We shall not be suspected of any undue partiality towards modern criticism. But its talent shows, perhaps, more decidedly than anything else, the great start which the human mind has taken of late years. Throughout all the periodical works extant, from the Edinburgh Review down to the lowest of the magazines, striking indications may be perceived of “that something far more deeply interfused,” which is now working in the literature of England. We not rarely see criticisms on theatrical performances of the preceding evening in the daily newspapers, which would put to shame the elaborate observations of Dr. Johnson on Shakspeare. Mr. Hazlitt—incomparably the most original of the regular critics—has almost raised criticism into an independent art, and, while analyzing the merits of others, has disclosed stores of sentiment, thought, and fancy, which are his own peculiar property. His relish for the excellencies of those whom he eulogizes is so keen, that, in his delineations, the pleasures of intellect become almost as vivid and substantial as those of sense. He introduces us into the very presence of the great of old time, and enables us almost to imagine that we hear them utter the living words of beauty and wisdom. He makes us companions of their happiest hours, and share not only in the pleasures which they diffused, but in those which they tasted. He discloses to us the hidden soul of beauty, not like an anatomist but like a lover. His criticisms, instead of breaking the sweetest enchantments of life, prolongs them, and teaches us to love poetic excellence more intensely, as well as more wisely. The present age is, also, honourably distinguished by the variety and the excellence of productions from the pen of women. In poet —there is the deep passion, richly tinged wit fancy, of Baillie—the delicate romance of Mitford—the gentle beauty and seminine chivalry of Beetham—and the classic elegance of Hemans. There is a greater abundance of female talent among the novelists. The exquisite sarwasm of humour of Madame D'Arblay—the
in several numbers of the Indicator—he has revived some of those lost parts of our old experience, which we had else wholly forgotten; and has given a fresh sacredness to our daily walks and ordinary habits. We do not see any occasion in this for terms of reproach or ridicule. The scenery around London is not the finest in the works ; but it is all which an immense multitude can see of nature, and surely it is no less worthy an aim to hallow a spot which thousands may visit, than to expatiate on the charms of some dainty solitude, which can be enjoyed only by an occasional traveller. There are other living poets, some of them of great excellence, on whose merits we should be happy to dwell, but that time and space would fail us. We might expatiate on the heaven-breathing pensiveness of Montgomery —on the elegant reminiscences of Rogers—on the gentle eccentricity of Wilson—on the luxurious melancholy of Bowles—or on the soft beauties of the Ettrick Shepherd. The works of Lloyd are rich in materials of reflection—most intense, yet most gentle—most melancholy, yet most full of kindness—most original in philosophic thought, yet most calm and benignant towards the errors of the world. Reynolds has given delightful indications of a free, and happy, and bounteous spirit, fit to sing of merry out-laws and green-wood revelries, which we trust he will suffer to refresh us with its blithe carollings. Keats, whose Endymion was so cruelly treated by the critics, has just put forth a volume of poems which must effectually silence his deriders. The rich romance of his Lamia—the holy beauty of his St. Agnes' Eve—the pure and simple diction and intense feeling of his Isabella—and the rough sublimity of his Hyperion—cannot be laughed down, though all the periodical critics in England and Scotland were to assail them with their sneers. Shelley, too, notwithstanding the odious subject of his last tragedy, evinced in that strange work a real human power, of which there is little trace among the old allegories and metaphysical splendours of his earlier productions. No one can fail to perceive, that there are mighty elements in his genius, although there is a melancholy want of a presiding power—a central harmony—in his soul. Indeed, rich as the present age is in poetry, it is even richer in promise. There are many minds—among which we may, particularly, mention that of Maturin—which are yet disturbed even by the number of their own incomplete perceptions. These, however, will doubtless fulfil their glorious destiny, as their imaginations settle into that calm lucidness, which in the instance of Keats has so rapidly succeeded to turbid and impetuous confusion. The dramatic literature of the present age does not hold a rank proportioned to its poetical genius. But our tragedy, at least, is superior to any which has been produced since the rich period of Elizabeth and of James. Though the dramatic works of Shiel, Maturin, Cole ridge, and Milman, are not so grand, and har monious, and impressive, as the talent of their authors would lead us to desire, they are far superior to the tragedies of Hill, Southern.
soft and romantic charm of the novels of the Porters—the brilliant ease and admirable good sense of Edgeworth—the intense humanity of Inchbald—the profound insight into the fearful depths of the soul with which the author of Glenarvon is gifted—the heart-rending pathos of Opie—and the gentle wisdom, the holy sympathy with the holiest childhood, and the sweet imaginings, of the author of Mrs. Leicester's School—soften and brighten the literary aspect of the age. These indications of female talent are not only delightful in themselves, but inestimable as proofs of the rich intellectual treasures which are diffused throughout the sex, to whom the next genera- | tion will owe their first and their most sacred impressions.
But, after all, the best intellectual sign of the present times is the general education of the poor. This ensures duration to the principles of good, by whatever political changes the frame of society may be shaken. The sense of human rights and of human duties is not now confined to a few, and, therefore, liable to be lost, but is stamped in living characters on millions of hearts. And the foundations of human improvement thus secured, it has a tendency to advance in a true geometrical progression. Meanwhile, the effects of the spirit of improvement which have long been silently preparing in different portions of the globe, are becoming brilliantly manifest. The vast continent of South America, whether it continue nominally dependent on European states, or retain its own newly-asserted freedom, will teem with new intellect, enterprise, and energy. Old Spain, long sunk into the most abject degradation, has suddenly awakened, as if refreshed from slumber, and her old genius must revive with her old dignities. A bloodless revolution has just given liberty to Naples, and thus has opened the way for the restoration of Italy. That beautiful region again will soon inspire her bards with richer strains than of yore, and diffuse throughout the world a purer luxury. Amidst these quickenings of humanity, individual poets, indeed, must lose that personal importance which in darker pe. riods would be their portion. All selfism—all predominant desire for the building up of individual fame—must give way to the earnest and simple wish to share in, and promote, the general progress of the species. He is unworthy of the name of a great poet, who is not contented that the loveliest of his imaginations should be lost in the general light, or viewed only as the soft and delicate streaks which shall usher in that glorious dawn, which is, we believe, about to rise on the world, and to set no more"