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The motives of the present work-Receptiou of the Author's first publication
The discipline of his taste at school—The effect of contemporary writers on youthful minds-Bowles's sonnets-Comparison between the Poets before and since Mr. Pope.
It has been my lot to have had my name introduced, both in conversation and in print, more frequently than I find it easy to explain, whether I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited circulation of my writings, or the retirement and distance in which I have lived, both from the literary and political world. Most often it has been connected with some charge which I could not acknowledge, or some principle which I had never entertained. Nevertheless, bad I had no other motive, or incitement, the reader would not have been troubled with this exculpation. What my additional purposes were, will be seen in the following pages. It will be found, that the least of what I have written concerns myself personally. I have used the narration chiefly for the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, in part for the sake of the miscellaneous refloctions suggested to me by particular events, but still more as introductory to the statement of my principles in politics, religion, and philosophy, and the application of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism. But of the objects which I proposed to myself, it was not the least important to effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic diction : and, at the same time, to define with the utmost impartiality, the real poetic character of the poet, by whose writings this controversy was first kindled, and has been since fuelled and fanned.
In 1794, when I had barely passed the verge of manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems. They were received with a degree of favor which, young as I was, I well knew was bestowed on them not so much for any positive merit, as because they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to come. The critics of that day, the most flattering, equally with
. the severest, concurred in objecting to them, obscurity, a general turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new-coined double epithets.* The first is the fault which a writer is the least able to detect in his own compositions ; and my mind was not then sufficiently disciplined to receive the authority of others, as a substitute for my own conviction. Satisfied that the thoughts, such as they were, could not have been expressed otherwise, or at least more perspicuously, I forgot to inquire, whether the thoughts themselves did not demand a degree of attention unsuitable to the nature and objects of poetry. This remark, however, applies chicfly, though not exclusively, to the Religious Musings. The remainder of the charge I admitted to its full extent, and not without sincere acknowledgments to both my private and public censors for their friendly admonitions. In the after editions, I pruned the double epithets with no sparing hand, and used my best efforts to tame the swell and glitter, both of thought and diction; though, in truth, these parasite plants of youthful poetry had insinuated themselves into my longer poems with such intricacy of union, that I was obliged to omit disentangling the weed, from the fear of snapping the flower. From that period to the date of the present work, I have published nothing, with my name, which could, by any possibility, have come before the board of anonymous criticism. Even the three or four poems, printed with the works of a friend, as far as they were oculsured at all, were charged with the same or siunilor derects, though,
* The authority of Milton and speare may be usefully pointed out to young authors. In the ouuus, and earlier poems of Milton, there is a superfluity
of double epithets; while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, and in the Paradise Regained, scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally true of the Love's Labor Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, compared with the Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet of our great dramatist. The rule for the admission of double epithets seems to be this : either that they should be already denizens of our language, such as blood-stained, terror-stricken, selfapplauding; or when a pew epithet, or one found in books only, is bazarded, that it, at least, be one word, not two words made one by mere virtue of the printer's hyphen. A language which, like the English, is almost without cases, is ivdeed in its very genius unfitted for compounds. If a writer, every time a compounded word suggests itself to him, would seek for some other mode of expressing the same sense, the chances are always greatly in favor of his finding a better word. “Tanquam scopulum sic vites insolens verbum," is the wise advice of Cæsar to the Roman orators, and the precept applies with double force to the writers in our own language. But it must not be forgotten, that the same Cæsar wrote a grammatical treatise for the purpose of reforming the ordinary language, by bringing it to a greater accordance with the principles of logic or universal grammar.
I am persuaded, not with equal justice: with an excess OF ORNAMENT, in addition to strAINED AND ELABORATE DICTION, (Vide the criticism on the" ANCIENT MARINER,” in the Monthly and Crilical Reviewers of the first volume of the Lyrical Ballads.) May I be permitted to add, that, even at the early period of my juvenile poems, I saw and admitted the superiority of an austerer, and more
I natural style, with an insight not less clear than I at present possess. My judgment was stronger than were my powers of realizing its dictates; and the faults of my language, though indeed partly owing to a wrong choice of subjects, and the desire of giving a poetic coloring to abstract and metaphysical truths, in which a new world then seemed to open upon me, did yet, in part likewise, originate in unfeigned diffidence of my own comparative talent. During several years of my youth and early manhood, I reverenced those who had re-introduced the manly simplicity of the Grecian, and of our own elder poets, with such enthusiasm, as made the hope seem presumptuous of writing successfully in the same style. Perhaps a similar process has happened to others; but my earliest poems were marked by an ease and simplicity which I have studied, perhaps with infe. rior success, to impress on my later compositions.
At school I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master. He * early moulded my taste to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius, (in such extracts as I then read,) Terenoo, and, above all, the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages, but with even those of the Augustan era ; and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, to see and assert the superiority of the former, in the truth and nativeness, both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons: and they were lessons, too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learnt from him thal poetry, even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more
* The Rev. James Bowyer, many years Head Master of the Grammar school, Christ Hospital.
fugitive causęs. In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word ; and I well remember, that, availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose; and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original text.
In our own English compositions, (at least for the last three years of our school education,) he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, utisupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre; muse, muses, and inspirations; Pe gasus, Parnassus, and Hipocrene, were all an abomination to him, In fancy, I can almost hear him now, exclaiming, “ Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse, boy, Muse ? Your Nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? Oh, aye! the cloister-ptimp, I suppose !” Nay, certain introductions, similes, and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdiction. Among the similes, there was, I remember, that of the Manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects; in which, however, it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander and Clytus, which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the theme. Was it Ambition ? Alexander and Clytus ! Flattery? Alexander and Clytus! Anger? Drunkenness? Pride? Friendship? Ingratitude ? Late repentance? Still, still Alexander and Clytus! At length, the praises of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation, that. hau Alexander been holding the plough, he would not have run his friend Clytus through with a spear, this tried and serviceable old friend was banished by public edict in secula seculorum. I have sometimes ventured to think, that a list of this kind, or an index expurgatorious of certain well-known and ever-returning phrases, both introductory and transitional, including the large assortment of modest egotisms, and flattering illeisms, &c. &c. might be hung up in our law-courts, and both houses of parliament, with great advantage to the public, as an important saving of national time, an incalculable relief to his Majesty's ministers, but, above all, as ensuring the thanks of the country attorneys and their clients, who have private bills to carry through the house.
Be this as it may, there was one custom of our master which I cannot pass over in silence, because I think it imitable and worthy of imitation. He would often permit our theme exercises, under some pretext of want of time, to accumulate, till each lad had four or five to be looked over. Then placing the whole number abreast on his desk, he would ask the writer, why this or that sentence might not have found as appropriate a place under this or that thesis : and if no satisfying answer could be returned, and two faults of the same kind were found in one exercise, the irrevocable verdict followed; the exercise was torn up, and another on the same subject to be produced, in addition to the tasks of the day. The reader will, I trust, excuse this tribute of recollection to a man, whose severities, even now, not seldom furnish the dreams, by which the blind fancy would fain interpret to the mind the painful sensations of distempered sleep, but neither lessen nor dim the deep sense of my moral and intellectual obligations. He sent us to the University excellent Latin and Greek scholars, and tolerable Hebraists. Yet our classical knowledge was the least of the good gifts which we derived from his zealous and conscientious tutorage. He is now gone to his final reward, full of years, and full of honors, even of those honors which were dearest to his heart, as gratefully bestowed by that school, and still binding him to the interests of that school, in which he had been himself educated, and to which, during his whole life, he was a dedicated thing.
From causes, which this is not the place to investigate, no models of past times, however perfect, can have the same vivid effect on the youthful mind, as the productions of contemporary genius. The discipline my mind had undergone, “ Ne falleretur rotundo sono et versuum cursu, cincinnis et floribus; sed ut inspiceret quid
; nam subesset, quæ sedes, quod firmamentum, quis fundus verbis ; an figuræ essent mera ornatura et orationis fucus : vel sanguinis e materiæ ipsius corde effluentis rubor quidam nativus et incalescentia genuina ;" removed all obstacles to the appreciation of excellence in style without diminishing my delight. That I was thus prepared for the perusal of Mr. Bowles's sonnets and earlier
poems, at once increased their influence and my enthusiasm. The great works of past ages seem, to a young man, things of another race, in respect to which his faculties must remain passive and submiss, even as to the stars and mountains. But the writings of a con