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s this work, consisting of two Plays and AS an Interlude, is equal in length to about Work six such plays as are adapted to repre
Ro sentation, it is almost unnecessary to say that it was not intended for the stage. It is properly an Historical Romance, cast in a dramatic and rhythmical form. Historic truth is preserved in it, as far as the material events are concerned, of course with the usual exception of such occasional dilatations and compressions of time as are required in dramatic composition.
This is, perhaps, all the explanation which is absolutely required in this place; but as there may be readers who feel an inclination to learn something of an author's tastes in poetry before they proceed to the perusal of what he has written, I will take the opportunity which a preface affords me of expressing my opinions upon two or three of the most prominent features in the present state of poetical literature, and I shall do so the more gladly because I am apprehensive that, without some previous intimations of the kind, my work might occasion disappointment to the admirers of that highly colored poetry which has been popular in these latter years. If in the strictures which, with this object, I may be led to make upon authors of great reputation I should appear to be wanting in the respect due to prevalent opinions,- opinions which, from the very circumstance of their prevalence, must be assumed to be partaken by many to whom deference is owing, - I trust that it will be attributed not to any spirit of dogmatism, far less to a love of disparagement; but simply to the desire of exercising, with a discreet freedom, that humble independence of judgment in matters of taste which it is for the advantage of literature that every man of letters should maintain.
My views have not, in truth, been founded upon any predisposition to depreciate the popular poetry of the times. It will always produce a powerful impression upon very young readers, and I scarcely think that it can have been more admired by any than by myself, when I was included in that category. I have not ceased to admire this poetry in its degree ; and the interlude which I have inserted between these plays will show that, to a limited extent, I have been desirous even to cultivate and employ it; but I am unable to concur in opinion with those who would place it in the foremost ranks of the art ; nor does it seem to have been capable of sustaining itself quite firmly in the very high degree of public estimation in which it was held at its first appearance and for some years afterwards. The poetical taste to which some of the popular poets of this century gave birth appears at present to maintain a more unshaken dominion over the writers of poetry than over its readers.
These poets were characterized by great sensibility and fervor, by a profusion of imagery, by force and beauty of language, and by a versification peculiarly easy and adroit, and abounding in that sort of melody which, by its very obvious cadences, makes itself most pleasing to an unpractised ear. They exhibited, therefore, many of the most attractive graces and charms of poetry, its vital warmth not less than its external embellishments; and, had not the admiration which they excited tended to produce an indifference to higher, graver, and more various endowments, no one would have said that it was, in any evil sense, excessive. But from this unbounded indulgence in the mere luxuries of poetry has there not ensued a want of adequate appreciation for its intellectual and immortal part ? I confess that such seems to me to have been both the actual and the natural result; and I can hardly believe the public taste to have been in a healthy state whilst the most approved poetry of past times was almost unread. We may now perhaps be turning back to it; but it was not, as far as I can judge, till more than a quarter of a century had expired, that any signs of reaction could be discerned. Till then the elder luminaries of our poetical literature were obscured or little regarded ; and we sate with dazzled eyes at a high festival of poetry, where, as at the funeral of Arvalan, the torchlight put out the starlight.
So keen was the sense of what the new poets possessed, that it never seemed to be felt that anything was deficient in them. Yet their deficiencies were not unimportant. They wanted, in
the first place, subject-matter. A feeling came more easily to them than a reflection, and an image was always at hand when a thought was not forthcoming. Either they did not look upon mankind with observant eyes, or they did not feel it to be any part of their vocation to turn what they saw to account. It did not belong to poetry, in their apprehension, to thread the mazes of life in all its classes and under all its circumstances, common as well as romantic, and, seeing all things, to infer and to instruct: on the contrary, it was to stand aloof from everything that is plain and true; to have little concern with what is rational or wise : it was to be, like music, a moving and enchanting art, acting upon the fancy, the affections, the passions, but scarcely connected with the exercise of the intellectual faculties. These writers had, indeed, adopted a tone of language which is hardly consistent with the state of mind in which a man makes use of his understanding. The realities of nature, and the truths which they suggest, would have seemed cold and incongruous, if suffered to mix with the strains of impassioned sentiment and glowing imagery in which they poured themselves forth. Spirit was not to be debased by any union with matter, in their effusions, dwelling, as they did, in a region of poetical sentiment which did not permit them to walk upon the common earth or to breathe the common air.
Writers, however, whose appeal is made so exclusively to the excitabilities of mankind will not find it possible to work upon them continuously without a diminishing effect. Poetry of which sense is not the basis, — sense rapt or inspired by passion, not bewildered or subverted, poetry over which the passionate reason of Man does not preside in all its strength as well as all its ardors, — though it may be excellent of its kind, will not long be reputed to be poetry of the highest order. It may move the feelings and charm the fancy ; but failing to satisfy the understanding, it will not take permanent possession of the strongholds of fame. Lord Byron, in giving the most admirable example of this species of poetry, undoubtedly gave the strongest impulse to the appetite for it. Yet this impulse is losing its force, and even Lord Byron himself repudiated, in the latter years of his life, the poetical taste which he had espoused and propagated. The constitution of this writer's mind is not difficult to understand, and sufficiently explains the growth of his taste.
Had he united a philosophical intellect with his peculiarly poetical temperament, he would probably have been the greatest poet of his age. But no man can be a very great poet who is not also a great philosopher. Whatever Lord Byron's natural powers may have been, idleness and light reading, an early acquisition of popularity by the exercise of a single talent, and an absorbing and contracting self-love, confined the field of his operations within narrow limits. He was in knowledge merely a man of belles-lettres ; nor does he appear at any time to have betaken himself to such studies as would have tended to the cultivation and discipline of his reasoning powers or the enlargement of his mind. He had, however, not