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"FRESH fish from Helicon! Who'll buy? Who'll buy?
The precious bargain's cheap-in faith not I.'


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LITERATURE is full of cant. From Canterbury to Canton, the gait of Pegasus, whether poetic or pedestrian,' is invariably that of a can. ter. Some cant in behalf of the glories of modern improvement, while others sing a canticle to the mellow splendor of antiquity. I hope I do not reverence antiquity because it is ancient, any more than I worship the Dagon of to-day, because it is but just erected. But I can't say. Very likely I cant too. If so, I choose to do it in praise of the good old ways. Veneration for the old, and astonishment at the new, are antagonist principles, which divide the soul between them, and rule in harmonious conflict. Both principles are strong, and both are natural. If I

. incline to the former, it is not that I do not gaze in admiration at the rapid progress of our race in physical discoveries, and glow with a rapture, I fear irrational, at the prospect of its moral amelioration. Yet if steam-boats - whose captains may God forgive for their perilous

short-comings ! — have displaced the cumbrous conveyances of old, it does not follow that our poetry has improved. And if I can assign to the student of English poetry a reason for the faith that is in me,'I shall be content with having spoken what think the truth, letting it pass for its value, be the value little or much. It is very easy to sneer at that spirit as timorous, which loves old books and old notions, and prefers to lean on the experience and belief of men, and it is not difficult to declare it conscious of incapacity to form a judgment for itself on any new production. But that seems to me a far more timorous and dependent mind, which dares not stem the current of popular opinion, and doubt the infallibility of contemporary taste, when exercised on contemporary matters.

Arthur Blowtrump announces of Charles Dingdong that he is the first poet of modern days, a bird of Homeric song.' The opener of a new VOL. XXV.


and sparkling avenue through the stars of the crowded concave; and Charles Dingdong, as in duty bound, publishes of Arthur Blowtrump, that he is the most imaginative and deeply-musing of modern minds, alike distinguished for his profundity as a thinker, his acumen as a critic, and his perfect mastery of style. And this manufactured popularity, this interdependent eminence, this partnership reputation, is frequently forced upon us as the mature and undisputed decision of the age. Beside, is not all men's admiration the creature of sympathy ; the child of other men's wonders ? We read in Erasmus that a wag by the name of Poole, when riding out of London one day with some of his acquaintances, suddenly stopped short, and crossed himself in a pretended paroxysm of terror; for he beheld a huge, fiery dragon in the heavens. His companions could not at first discover the whereabout' of the serpent-meteor; but unwilling to be thought so dull-eyed, first one, and then another, and at last all thought they saw, and thinking, found that they actually could see the flaming monster in the bright blue sky of noon-day,

'Swinging the scaly horror of his folded tail.' And very often, both before and since that ludicrous hallucination, have men seen things because they thought that others saw them. Furthermore, every thing new pleases the majority, simply because it is new; and if it possess something of talent, it will interest and delight even those capable of forming a judgment. Now ought you not to guard yourself against this morbid taste for novelty ; this restless curiosity to peruse the tame, fat features of every "parvum in multo’ foetus, that drops hourly from an exuberantly-teeming press ? Otherwise, will you not spend half your life in reading new works in order to discover whether they are worth reading, and in devouring that which is worthless, or less worthy than much that is old and indisputably good ?

There is another and a very strong reason why you should prefer, as familiar friends and faithful teachers, those whose merits are incontestably settled by the consent of several ages, to those who have lately advanced their claims, aided by the passionate feelings of the moment, the love of novelty, the warmth of friendship, and the force of purchased puffs. Every generation has had some peculiar notions in respect to its own characteristic style of thought and language ; notions enforced upon it by the practice of its master-spirit, or pet writer; while at the same time, all have united in their estimate of the great authors of old, however widely differing from their own contemporary standards of excellence. Thus, in the age of Cowley, far-fetched allu. sions, quaint refinements, and the driving of a metaphor to the very verge of annihilation, were thought admirable efforts of genius. The most successful gold-beater, that is to say, he who could hammer out an elegant thought to cover the greatest possible extent of surface, was thought to be the most perfect poet. As Cowley himself carried this malleability of fancy farther than any of his rivals, he was voted the first poet of his day: and yet he lived in the age of Milton and Dryden! At the same time, the countrymen of Cowley read and admired the pure, chaste, simple productions of the ancients. But their taste was so far vitiated by the elegant filigree-work and subtle absurdities of Cowley, that they could not appreciate contemporary writers, who rose infinitely above him, and it was reserved for a subsequent age to discover the greatness of Milton. In the last century, those, on whom the mantle of Pope had fallen without his spirit, were delighted with a cold and soulless harmony of sounds. Yet never was a time, when the ancient, as well as the earlier modern classics, were deluged with a more ceaseless cataract of praise. A like utterly perverted taste in appreciating the authors of their day, characterized the age of Statius among the Romans, of Voiture among the French, and in short has been frequently visible in every nation. Now, as most of us will admit that the Court of Charles II., and the men of a large portion of the last century were utterly mistaken in their estimate of their own cherished favorites, may it not become us to hesitate a little in forming our judgment of our contemporaries and immediate predecessors, especially when their charms are of that kind, which so easily dazzles and deceives ? Let us not be in haste to deify them, lest a more enlightened, or a more impartial age stigmatize us as heretics, or blind idolaters. Let us not be over-zealous to dethrone the ancient Saturn before we are sure we have a veritable Jupiter to instate in his place.

Entertaining these general views, I have thought I might amuse myself, and perhaps interest and benefit many lovers of genuine poetry, by composing two or three rambling essays on the productions of the English Muse. And as neither my leisure and health, nor the circum. scribed limits and diversified character of this Magazine, admit of technical discussion, deep analysis, large quotations and specific proof, I shall content myself with the statement of a few general facts, princi. ples and illustrations, which, I am persuaded, will recommend themselves to the impartial investigator, as rational and true.

My confession of faith,' then, is that the old poets, from Spenser to Cowper, are far more worthy of your earnest attention, than are Scott and Wordsworth, with their contemporaries and successors, who gained so large honors for England, and who found themselves, almost without an effort, in the possession of so wide, so immediate, and so noisy a renown. In listening to the teachings of those ancient and venerable

. masters, you will be in a far safer, and, as I think, a far more instructive school, than in abiding the discipline of this later academy, with its sounding claims and titled professors. And in saying this, I claim, nevertheless, to cherish as much respect, and gratitude, and love for these latter, as any rational admirer can demand. They all by their talents, have been an honor to their country, and some of them in their productions have proved a blessing to mankind. They have enlarged the bounds of poetry, and introduced some valuable changes. Above all, they awakened the English Genius from his sleep of dull and servile imitation, and sent the blood of rejuvenescence through his torpid limbs. He who had at times seemed nearly in his dotage, awoke from his lethargy like a young and vigorous Samson, and almost attained his ancient pride of strength and loftiness of stature. His awakening first caused by Cowper, was followed by some masterly productions, productions too of such sudden celebrity and wild-fire spread, that to be unacquainted



with them would argue unpardonable ignorance. But the resuscitating drugs in that Medean kettle were quite too potent. They made him quite too juvenile; a mad and mighty boy, drunk with exhilarating gas, rioting in the excess of his strength, tearing passion to tatters,' and trampling on Nature, who should have been his mistress. Admiring and loving this rampant, and mischievous, and prodigal youth for his many noble feats, I yet turn with warmer love and deeper admiration to that calm and vigorous man, who lavished not his energies on trifles, but suited his strength to the occasion, and married Genius to Wisdom, and made Minerva strike rare music on the lyre of Apollo.

And now to the exclusive advocates of this modern school, and who think it is destined entirely to supersede the old and crumbling college, of which Chaucer was the founder, and whose presidents have continued in a shining and almost unbroken line to the days of Cowper, I have a word to say. You are quite sure that your favorites are the prime ministers of nature; men of superior genius and more comprehensive capacity than their musty predecessors ? 'Oh! that is self-evident to every feeling heart.' Exactly. But perhaps the feelings have received a perverted bent, and the decision of the heart should always be ratified by the judgment of the head. Can you give me a clear, categorical, definite statement of your grounds for preference? Yes : they have shaken off the dull weight of drowsy centuries, and their unclogged wings are ready for a tireless flight.'

But did it never strike you that this weight of centuries may be the frequent teachings of experience; a ballast necessary to steady and sustain that fight? And would not some of these singing birds, in doubling a windy promontory, have been saved from being blown away into the realms of nonsense, if, like Plutarch's Cretan bees, they had tied a few weights to their bodies ? Are the poets of the nineteenth century wise enough to walk independently of the practice or the counsels of the seven-and-twenty centuries before them ? Has a new and nobler Adam bequeathed his life and intellect to a new and nobler race ?

But they have wrought a great change in the style of poetry ??

I grant it. But was the change desirable ? That's the question. If they had merely displaced the Hayleys, and Anna Matildas, and stupid Della Cruscans of 1760 and 1790, their services to English literature would stand undisputed. But when they attempt to crowd aside the worthies of the Shakspearian and Miltonic and Addisonian eras, I enter a demurrer. If the old authors were good in manner and in matter, why innovate upon them? Why long for change as change, or aim at novelty at all, except so far as the independent imitation of Nature will produce it? Was there any deficiency in the old authors? And if any, wherein did it consist ? Was it in the knowledge of character; the consistency with nature; the fertility of fancy; the utterance of passion; the meltings of pathos; the harmony of numbers; the energy of language ; the order of arrangement; the strength of reason; or the sublimity of thought ? In none of these particulars will the most minute inspection discover any superiority in the sons over the sires, and in several of them a marked inferiority. What! Is there a chamber in the human heart, which Shakspeare has not unlocked and rifled


of its treasures to enrich his cabinet of jewels ? Is there a character among all the varieties of men, which he has not portrayed till it appears more distinct than the original ; more vivid than the very life? Is there a passion, which he has not embodied in human action, and displayed in all its depth and power? For his fancy, may we not say in simplest truth :

* Its glittering wings explore

Earth's farthest realms and ocean's wildest shore?'

Is there any height still higher than high above the Aonian mount,' where Milton soared, singing

• Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme ?'

Is there any energy of language more energetic, or melody of music more melodious than the lines of him

•Whð sed on thoughts, that voluntary moved
Harmonious numbers?'


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But,' say you, 'I compare them not with Shakspeare, or Milton.' Well, let Shakspeare stand aside : for he at least, I


will never be uncrowned as long as the human heart shall beat: but really I had begun to think Milton almost laid on the shelf. I close with you however, on our other classics, and ask you where you can find nobler heroic lines than Dryden's - apart from his tasteless dra.

- where a smoother flow and a more terse compactness than in Pope and Gray; where a gloomier and yet more human sorrow than in Young's Night Thoughts; and where language of more varied ease, from polished elegance to rugged strength, than in the various poems of the timid Cowper? If we look for power of pathos; the language of true and natural passion; where shall we find more moving examples than in the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard ; the Elegy in a Country Church-yard; The Deserted Village ; The Hermit of Parnell, or Cow. per's · Lines to my Mother's Picture;' a poem literally all bathed in tears? What more of your idols ?

"Why, they have introduced into our language new measures, and a freer system of versification.'

But had not our language already been woven into almost every variety of verse, which can be considered elegant or desirable? There is the sonnet, of which Milton is still the supreme master; for his successors have always been too stilted or too tame. There was the Spenserian stanza; the witching step of · L'Allegro' and · Il Pensieroso;' the free verse of Comus and Samson Agonistes; and the facile cadence of the ever admirable Lycidas, and of the hardly less wonderful Hymn on the Nativity. Passing from Milton, look for a minute at the chainless harmony of Alexander's Feast; the spontaneous flow of Collins' Ode on the Passions, and that exquisite relic, the Ode to Evening; the grace. ful and most Virgilian involutions of Thomson ; and the absolute freedom of Cowper's rhythm. Why instance the diversified metres, as well as the poetry, 'more golden than gold, to be found in the works of those sweet old writers, George Herbert, Giles Fletcher, and others too numerous to mention ; • for their name is Legion ?? The modern


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