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original genius, - that every subjcct which ranges within the career of rigid science, is analyzed with that métaphysical, critical, and philosophic acumen, which place us far above all former ages, in the sciences, universal literature, and the fine arts,--that the latter have thrown a charm over the austerity of the former, unknown to our ancestors,—that genius herself, putting off, in some degree, the grosser incumbrance of the senses, and clothing herself in the buoyant robes of unessential being, may be said to explore the remotest regions of possible existence, and to wing her daring and majestic flight through the great sublime of the intellectual world, that those who resign themselves blindly to the guidance and impulse of their feelings alone, frequently attain to beauties which would lie eternally concealed from them, had they suffered their ardour to be allayed by the lime labor, et mora of the classical school; but still he insists, that the very causes which have led to the production of these beauties, have also led to that wild anarchy of images and associations, which the madding riot of licentious genius creates around it; when, acknowledging no other guide than the impulse of its own feelings, it rejects the light of reason, and bursts through the empalement, within which taste and criticism would confine its flight. . Hence it is, that when we meet with a beautiful image in modern poetry, it frequently seems to , stand solitary and alone, and to claim no kindred with the vulgar herd of sentiments and images with which it is mated. The poet who trusts too much to the guidance of his own feelings, must be necessarily irregular, and, therefore, he must frequently fail in producing those chaster beauties, which, while they please the imagination and refine our sympathies, present no harsh and discordant feature to offend the understanding. Perhaps, the most prominent and characteristic feature of modern poetry, is an affectation of producing effect at the expense of truth and reason, of wandering from the path of nature in search of forbidden beauties and catachrestical decorations, of despising all fixed rules and canons of criticism, of re
Pulse en affectul, or fical Serious the
jecting the authority and practice of the best writers, ancient and modern, under the imposing veil of adhering closer to nature, of writing as the spirit moveth, whether it moveth to good or to evil, whether it inspireth sense or nonsense, whether it mistake the affected for the simple, the ironical for the serious, the ridiculous for the ludicrous, the artifical for the natural, the gaudy for the beautiful, or the turgid for the sublime; in a word, an affectation of yielding implicitly to the impulse of the spirit, let it dictate what it will.
Poeta nascitur non fit, says Horace, and almost all the writers since his time, have been converts to this opinion. Helvetius thought differently ; while those who maintain that poetry is more ancient than prose, that it is, in fact, the language of the savage state, would make us all born poets. With neither of the two last theories we agree, and yet if we adopt that of Horace, we may be asked, is nature in a more poetical mood at one time than another? If we answer in the affirmative, we do away with the general belief, that the laws of nature are fixed and immutable: if we reply in the negative, we shall be told, that facts are against us, and that, if all the poets now living came from the hand of nature, she must be in a more poetic mood, at present, than she has ever been in before. We see no way of getting over these queries, unless we reject the long established opinion, that nature alone is concerned in the formation of a poet, and adopt a less popular, but, perhaps, not a less rational one; namely, that the poet is not the offspring of one parent, and that Nature is his father, and Education his mother.
Alter alterius auxilio eget. If this be the fact, we can have no difficulty in accounting for the number of living poets, as education is now, in a certain degree, extended to all classes, and in a considerable degree to most. There were no poets among the Northamptonshire peasants in the time of Pope, because peasants were then only learning to spell : at present, they are learning to read.
The poets of the present day, however, will not, we feel convinced, acknowledge their mother. On the contrary, they maintain that poetry has more to fear from education and the progress of science, than from any other quarter; and, not satisfied with adopting the opinion of Horace, that the poet is the child of nature alone, they go farther, and maintain, that whoever is born a poet, must be a poet, whether he will or will not that he can lisp only in numbers, and that whatever he writes or speaks must be poetry. Hence, they have thrown aside all regard for the beauties of style and poetic expression, because they take it for granted, that whatever form of expression they happen to make use of, must be poetical ; in which they reresemble those religious enthusiasts, who believed that, having once got in favour with God, and purified themselves from all sin, they might ever after live as they pleased, as no act of theirs could be sinful. It is so with our living poets : they imagine they cannot write unpoetically, and they require of us to be such implicit believers in their infallibility, that when they write flat prose, we must believe it to be pure and unmixed poetry. Their creed is--believe it is poetry, and it is poetry. For our ownselves, we are not so easy of belief, nor are we disposed to take that for inspiration which we do not understand. There are three species of poetry :--the first is the poetry of art; the second, the poetry of feeling ; the third, the poetry of imagination. The poetry of art, which is, perhaps, improperly called poetry, is lifeless and barren. He who abounds in knowledge and method, but not in feeling, is out of his proper element the moment he enters the confines of Parnassus. The philosopher, who descends from the throne of reason, and attempts to be witty and jocular, only makes himself an object of pity to some, and of ridicule to others. If he excite a laugh, it is at himself, not at the wit or humour of bis jest. It is so with all who move out of their proper element; and it is so with all men who have more learning than feeling, when they attempt poetry. The poetry of which we now speak, though it has not been distinguished as a distinct species by any critic that we know of, belongs to a remarkable era in the history of English poetry, we mean, the era which preceded the classical school. Theirs was neither the poetry of feeling nor of imagination ;-they wrote entirely from the head. Wit and pun, and coarse jest and play upon words, and those far-fetched associations, which are always within the reach of the learned pedant, formed the distinguishing characteristics of their poetry. They took every opportunity to display their learning, and were totally unacquainted with the art of concealing art. On the contrary, they studied to make the most of what they knew, and to conceal nothing.
The second species of poetry succeeded to the first. It was the poetry of feeling and passion; but it did not come entirely unaccompanied with some remains of the former species, or, if we choose, the former school of poetry. The poetry of feeling and passion, is that wherein the heart and its affections are chiefly called into action :-it is that poetry which requires no exercise of reason to be understood; it is recognized instinctively by the heart. We do not wait to reason upon it; or, rather, we have not time. Our feelings steal a march upon our reason, and we are pleased before we have time to analize the cause of our pleasure. The poetry of passion is of the highest order, and, therefore, the most rare and difficult to be met with. Goldsmith is, perhaps, the only English poet who can claim the exclusive merit of writing from the heart alone; not that he has not written pieces of wit and humour, but that his principal poems are the pure offspring of feeling and passion. It was, however, a subdued passion, for there is more pathos in Eloisa to Abelard, than in any of his productions, or in any other production of the English language. The same may be said of the translation of the Iliad; it contains all the fire and glowing energy of the original. But Pope had such a versatility of talent, that he sported with
the lighter graces of the imaginative muse, and even attempted to render didactic subjects poetical. Hence, a certain class of critics would deny him that power which he possessed, whenever he chose to exert it. Have any of these critics been able to shew, that all the various subjects which he touched, are not of the first order in their kind, if we except St. Cecilia's Day. Is there any thing in the whole range of English poetry superior to “The Rape of the Lock,” in its kind? What satirical work have we superior to his Dunciad? What imitations, superior to his imitations of the Epistles and Satires of Horace? What poetical Essays on men and manners, superior to his “ Moral Essays,” and his “Essay on Man?” Of Pope, it may not only be said what Dr. Johnson said of Goldsmith, that he “was a man of such variety of powers, and such felicity of performance, that he always seemed to do best what he was doing ;' but it may be added, that he always seemed to do that which he was doing, better than any other. Had Pope entirely confined himself to the pathetic muse, it would not now remain a question, whether he should rank with the first poets of his country : on the contrary, the question would be, whether the first poets of his country should rank with him? for, surely, it will not be contended, that there is a particle of the pathetic in Milton, from beginning to end. His Paradise Lost and Regained, his Allegro and Penseroso, &c. are the pure offspring of imagination, and require not the sympathies of the heart to perceive their beauties. They entirely address themselves to the understanding and imagination. The poets that have chiefly distinguished themselves in the pathetic, are Shakspeare, Pope, Shenstone, Mickle, and Goldsmith. There is much fire and enthusiasm in Mickle's translation of Camoëns, and very little in Dryden's translation of Virgil. This, however, was not Dryden's fault. The Æneid is particularly deficient in epic fire: compared to Homer, it is a taper before the sun. The great beauty of the Æneid, consists in the purity and classic elegance of įts language, the piety of its moral, and the delicacy