« AnteriorContinuar »
sopher or a good man; but it cannot be necessary to display that vice to the world. Yourself an author and (not " a writer of verses,” but which is very different) a poet, in you it would seem like envy to disturb the ashes of the dead in search of their private faults, when your business with them, like ours, is only as public characters. The world is connected with an author only by his works : and, as you justly observe in
criticism on the Memoirs of Mrs. Carter, it is unworthy of a strong mind to be biassed in the opinion of a work by the private character, or rather what you conceive to be so, of the author. And this, Sir, naturally leads me to advise
you— for what claim have you to escape the fate of your brother Essayists?-rather to finish some of those poems which you have already begun, and of which parts are published in your Censura. By what right (if I may assume that angry tone) do you so tantalize the expectations of your readers ? Month after month have we been expecting the conclusion of Retirement, and the remaining Visits of your WIZARD, to seats in your own county, consecrated by the historic Muse. If the bent of your genius does not at present take that direction,
try,” to use your ingenious correspondents words, 66 another chord of your many-stringed harp;" yet still exert your own talents, and instead of depend. ing on such casual communications as the lively essay of Mr. Random, or the present contrast to it, give us more of your own original compositions. Strike the harp again, (though not in praise of Bragela ;) unmask pretended patriotism; detect the empiricism of ministers; unlock the treasures of historic lore; pour out, on any subject, the fruits of a well-stored
mind, and as your great predecessor says, write yourself out before you die.
Your Bath correspondent alludes to your juvenile production of Mary de Clifford. I have read that elegant and affecting tale more than once with renewed pleasure ; but though I can say with Dryden,
“ Old as I am, for ladies' love unfit,
The power of beauty I remember yet,” still I cannot wish that you should now employ your powers on a similar work. “To every thing,” said the wisest of men, “there is a season," and that which became you in youth, and was creditable to your early genius, would be a waste of the strength of your mind in maturity.
From you, Sir, we now expect something of more consequence; something which, while it may delight your equals, may help to form the minds of the youthful; something which may lead to the important conviction, that morality is not necessarily dulness, nor instruction tediousness. Hac itur ad astra—this is the road to that double immortality, to which both as an author and as a man you must, and ought to aspire; that you may in neither respect be disappointed is the sincere wish of Your unknown friend,
ART. DCCXIII. No. XIV. On ihe Traits and Concomitants of Poetical
Genius. “ Sic animis natum inventumque poema juvandis,
Si paulum a summo discessit, vergit ad imum.”
It has seldo'n happened that a man has finally obtained the fame of a poet, whose life has not
exhibited some traits in coincidence with the character of his art. The Muse is a jealous mistress, that will scarcely ever suffer any other to divide the attentions she considers due to her. And whoever is devoted to her alone, must necessarily possess many peculiarities.
There have been some poets indeed, who have held forth, that their productions were the mere amusement of a few leisure hours. But such as sertions originated from a silly and unbecoming affectation. To have a taste for poetry, and to read it with delight, even though it be only occasionally and accidentally indulged, is very common; but to create it, requires a very different sort of power and habit.
If therefore we examine into the biography of those, who have aspired to this highest rank of authors, we shall find that those, who did not make it the principal, if not exclusive, object of their ambition, were either mere versifiers, deficient in all the main distinctions of this celestial art, or so weak in execution, that all their struggles fell lifeless in the attempt.
Ansty, and Cambridge, and Graves, might write doggrel verses; and John Hoole, and Potter, and Murphy, and Carlyle, might translate ; but I can scarcely allow them the character of poets. The Wartons, Mason, Burns, Bampfylde, Cowper, Hurdis, Darwin, Beattie, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Smith, and Kirke White, &c. exhibit a very different picture. In each of these will be found many prominent and striking features. It will be perceived that those of them especially, who have most the power of affecting the heart, were themselves the victims of extreme sensibility. Something romantic and uncongenial with the ordinary routine of life, marks the whole progress of their existence. Their lot, as far as wealth and honours are concerned, is obscure; and their efforts are unattended with the smallest success. Some of them absolutely incapable, and others enabled with great difficulty, to emerge from the gripe of poverty itself, they seem almost to prove, that the smile of the Muse is a signal for being condemned to pecuniary embarrassment, or anxiety.
The abstraction of mind, which generates and nourishes poetical excellence, is inconsistent with those minute attentions, by which people make their way in the world. Liberal sentiments, an indignant spirit, and a tender heart are all constantly checking the progress of such a journey. But these are the very fountains, from whence the bard draws the living colours of his song.
Hence the mere harmonious 'rhymer, the lively delineator of familiar manners, the writer of dry ethical precepts, which address the understanding only, even in verse the most musical, and diction the most correct, may, perhaps, assort more advantageously with worldlings, and succeed as they do. But he is not a poet; he is deficient in the soul of poetry. If the composition neither furnishes food to the fancy, nor elevates or softens the heart, the very essence of the Muse is wanting.
Nothing disgusts me more than the vulgar habit of confounding the versifier with the poet. The versifier is a very common kind of being; the gift
of poetry is among the rarest of Nature's endowments. It requires no waste of the spirits ; no exhausting thrills of the bosom; no world-forgetting excursions of the imagination to produce thousands of the most melodious rhymes. But the temperament of a poet is that of passion.
Perhaps of all the lately deceased poets the two most popular have been Burns and Cowper. And never was popularity more justly bestowed. They had both of them been steeped in the stream of Parnassus. They lived, as well as wrote, with every mark of the Muse upon their daily habits. They were the children of sensibility, which was the bane, as well as the source of their happiness. Had they deadened this sensibility, by giving up their talents to worldly pursuits, they might have been lawyers, or statesmen, or heroes, but the wellfount of poetry would have been dried
up It seems extraordinary that the Muse should be able to exert herself with success in the midst of anxities, sorrows, and sufferings; but experience furnishes perpetual instances of it. The “ Fairy Queen" must have been composed amidst perpetual alarms, in a country of barbarous rebels, impelled by want, revenge, and despair; in momentary insecurity ; when a successful incursion of the threatening hordes who surrounded the author, would, even if he could save himself and his family from murder, condemn the remainder of his days to poverty and ruin. The “ Paradise Lost” was dica tated by the sublime and inspired Bard, under the clouds of proscription and disgrace, with the sword of state dangling, almost by a hair, over his head. It