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and then pick out, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, or perhaps more compendiously from his* Gradus, halves and quarters of lines, in which to embody them.
I never object to a certain degree of disputatiousness in a young man from the age of seventeen to that of four or five and twenty, provided I find him always arguing on one side of the question. The controversies, occasioned by my unfeigned zeal for the honor of a favorite contemporary, then known to me only by his works, were of great advantage in the formation and establishment of my taste and critical opinions. In my defence of the lines running into each other, instead of closing at each couplet; and of natural language, neither bookish, nor vulgar, neither redolent of the lamp, or of the kennel, such as I will remember thee; instead of the same thought tricked up in the rag-fair finery of, Thy image on her wing Before my FANCY's eye shall MEMORY bring, I had continually to adduce the metre and
In the Nutricia of Politian there occurs. this line: "Pura coloratos interstrepit unda lapillos." Casting my eye on a University prize-poem, I met this line, "Lactea purpureos interstrepit unda lapillos."
Now look out in the Gradus for Purus, and you find as the first synonime, lacteus; for coloratus, and the first synonime is purpureus. I mention this by way of elucidating one of the most ordinary processes in the ferrumination of these centos.
diction of the Greek Poets from Homer to Theocritus inclusive; and still more of our elder English poets from Chaucer to Milton. Nor was this all. But as it was my constant reply to authorities brought against me from later poets of great name, that no authority could avail in opposition to TRUth, Nature, LOGIC, and the LAWS of UNIVERSAL GRAMMAR; actuated too by my former passion for metaphysical investigations; I labored at a solid foundation, on which permanently to ground my opinions, in the component faculties of the human mind itself, and their comparative dignity and importance. According to the faculty or source, from which the pleasure given by any poem or passage was derived, I estimated the merit of such poem or passage. As the result of all my reading and meditation, I abstracted two critical aphorisms, deeming them to comprize the conditions and criteria of poetic style; first, that not the poem which we have read, but that to which we return, with the greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power, and claims the name of essential poetry. Second, that whatever lines can be translated into other words of the same language, without diminution of their significance, either in sense, or association, or in any worthy feeling, are so far vicious in their diction. Be it however observed, that I excluded from the list of wore
thy feelings, the pleasure derived from mere novelty, in the reader, and the desire of exciting wonderment at his powers in the author. Oftentimes since then, in perusing French tragedies, I have fancied two marks of admiration at the end of each line, as hieroglyphics of the author's own admiration at his own cleverness. Our genuine admiration of a great poet is a continuous under-current of feeling; it is every where present, but seldom any where as a separate excitement. I was wont boldly to affirm, that it would be scarcely more difficult to push a stone out from the pyramids with the bare hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a word, in Milton or Shakspeare, (in their most important works at least) without making the author say something else, or something worse, than he does say. One great distinction, I appeared to myself to see plainly, between, even the characteristic faults of our elder poets, and the false beauty of the moderns. In the former, from DONNE to COWLEY, we find the most fantastic out-of-the-way thoughts, but in the most pure and genuine mother English; in the latter, the most obvious thoughts, in language the most fantastic and arbitrary. Our faulty elder poets sacrificed the passion, and passionate flow of poetry, to the subtleties of intellect, and to the starts of wit; the moderns to the glare and glitter of a perpetual, yet broken and hete
rogeneous imagery, or rather to an amphibious something, made up, half of image, and half of abstract* meaning. The one sacrificed the heart to the head; the other both heart and head to point and drapery.
The reader must make himself acquainted with the general style of composition that was at that time deemed poetry, in order to understand and account for the effect produced on me by the SONNETS, the MONODY at MATLOCK, and the HOPE, of Mr. Bowles; for it peculiar to original genius to become less and less striking, in proportion to its success in improving the taste and judgement of its contemporaries. The poems of WEST indeed had the merit of chaste and manly diction, but they were cold, and, if I may so express it, only dead-coloured; while in the best of Warton's there is a stiffness, which too often gives them the appearance of imitations from the Greek. Whatever relation therefore of cause or impulse Percy's collection of Ballads may bear to the most popular poems of the present day; yet in the more sustained and elevated style, of the
*I remember a ludicrous instance in the poem of a young tradesman :
"No more will I endure love's pleasing pain,
Or round my heart's leg tie his galling chain."
then living poets Bowles and Cowper* were, to the best of my knowledge, the first who combined natural thoughts with natural diction; the first who reconciled the heart with the head.
It is true, as I have before mentioned, that from diffidence in my own powers, I for a short time adopted a laborious and florid diction, which I myself deemed, if not absolutely vicious, yet of very inferior worth. Gradually, however, my practice conformed to my better judgement; and the compositions of my twentyfourth and twenty-fifth year (ex. gr. the shorter blank verse poems, the lines which are now adopted in the introductory part of the VISION in the present collection in Mr. Southey's Joan of Arc, 2nd book, 1st edition, and the Tragedy of REMORSE) are not more below my present ideal in respect of the general tissue of the style, than those of the latest date. Their faults were
* Cowper's task was published some time before the sonBets of Mr. Bowles; but I was not familiar with it till many years afterwards. The vein of Satire which runs through that excellent poem, together with the sombre hue of its religious opinions, would probably, at that time, have prevented its laying any strong hold on my affections, The love of nature seems to have led Thompson to a chearful religion; and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The one would carry his fellow-men along with him into nature; the other flies to nature from his fellowmen. In chastity of diction however, and the harmony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thompson unmeasureably below him; yet still I feel the latter to have been the born poet.