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say that on a nearer inspection it wore off! He was excessively shy and reserved; and was content to let it take the dress of pride and reserve.
We expect in one, whose “mind is his kingdom," a manner careless of little observances, absent, silent or talkative by fits, indifferent to petty distinctions, scorning puffed-up rank, ardent in opinion, and eloquent and forcible, if unequal, in language. Too vehement for affectation or precision, we expect to see him with a neglected person, and eyes beaming an irregular and fearful fire. If there should enter one in a habit neat and studied, with a formal and “ travelled” and artificial address; an effeminate voice; and looks rolling warily as if to catch minute breaches of form; should we believe that man to be a poet?
In the freedom of the closet, in the hours of unrestrained solitude, the little vile passions of artificial society never mingled themselves with the purity of Gray's thoughts. There his expanded soul contemplated nature in its general operations; and studied the movements of the human bosom independent of the casual effects of particular seasons and places. The sentiments of the Elegy in the Churchyard must be delightful to all ranks and conditions, in every country, and in every state of our civilized nature.
It seems extraordinary that one, who could write so well, should have written so little : nor am I sure that he can be quite acquitted of having hidden that talent, which is not given to be hidden. 66 Of him to whom much is given, much shall be required.” The larger portion, and the best, of his poems, were composed in the year, in which he lost his friend West. Did low spirits suppress his future efforts? Or were his powers paralyzed by too anxious a desire to preserve rather than hazard his established fame? Such an anxiety would prove that timid weakness, which seems to me the main defect in the poet's character.
Facility is acquired by practice; and ease and simplicity of manner, which are among the greatest charms of composition, are the probable result. Gray therefore might even have improved his powers by further exercise. But even if he had not, it becomes a manly mind not to be too fearful of fame: we should endeavour to deserve it by rational means; and have the fortitude to endure the consequences,
if we fail. A petty solicitude never yet obtained its end.
It is not sufficient to feel and think poetically ; before any one can win the wreath of a poet, he must be able to arrest, clothe in language, and communicate to others, his thoughts. This is, in truth, the very difficulty and essence of the art; our ideas are so transient and fugitive, (and they are generally so in proportion to the richness and variety of the mind, which produces them,) that it requires great happiness, great practice, and a great and rapid command of words to seize and delineate them. If they are not thus seized, if the production is the result of slow thoughts, and forced conceptions, they may wear the outward form of poetry, and obtain the praise of a cold-hearted critic who judges by rule; but they will never exhibit the charins of true poetry, nor be permanently popular.
Gray therefore would have deserved still better of posterity, if he had exercised the wonderful faculties given him by Nature more frequently.
April 8, 1808.
No. XXX. On the severity of fashionable Criticism.
“ Let no unworthy mien her form debase, But let her smile, and let her frown with grace.” Brown.
INDISCRIMINATE praise is nauseous; but there is a fashion, lately grown up, still more disgusting than indiscriminate praise. The public is now to be gratified by malignant criticism, exercised upon all occasions at the expense of justice and truth.
It is a bad trait of the age, that it can be gratified at such an abuse of the powers of argument and wit. Ill temper may, no doubt, be connected with acute discrimination and admirable faculties of taste. But when we know that writers are actuated by mercenary motives to feed a depravity of public appetite, we are so far from feeling the motive to be an apology, that we think it less excusable, than if they were impelled by the spleen of a bitter judgment.
To turn the tide of fashion, to counteract that extreme to which the popular rage is always verging, may indeed admit of some excuse, and deserve even some praise. An insipid style of criticism may gradually lose all the wholesome powers of correction, which are necessary to be exercised by the public censors. But it is at least equally injurious, and far more unamiable, to be uniform in the use of the ing into
rod! False praise never yet exalted the undeserv
permanent popularity; false abuse hạs nipped the bud of many a rising genius, and silenced
many an inspired tongue for ever.
The exquisite and almost angelic strains of Kirke White, emanating from the lips of a boy, were nearly extinguished by the stupid, ignorant, and insolent sarcasms of a tasteless and presumptuous reviewer; and Cowper was told, on the publication of his first volume, that he had not a spark of genius, or poetical fancy. When Charlotte Smith first published her Sonnets, some of the hireling crities spoke of her, as one of whom motives of charity might induce them to speak leniently, but who scarcely deserved a place among the meanest of our versifiers.
They, who know how our works of periodical criticism are manufactured, will not wonder at this; but it would be vain to deny that they have a temporary
and wide effect on the public. When a certain Review came out, and I noticed it in the possession of one, who I thought 'cared little about literature, “ Yes,” said he, “I can take but one; and I am determined that that shall be piquant !”
But will not high-seasoning at last lose its effect? Dram-drinkers in the end lose all the pleasure of the taste, but feel the result in the decay of their bodily and mental faculties.
While the public keenness is thus gratified only to have its sense of enjoyment palled, what possible good can arise from thus damping all energy, and even annihilating hope in the candidates for honourable fame? The pretender is not deterred; he is too presumptuous and unfeeling; the well-qualified
aspirer to intellectual honours shrinks like the sensitive plant at the touch, and perhaps closes his leaves, and shuts his bosom for ever!
There is no work which may not be made ridiculous, if the sole object be to find fault; there is none perhaps, to which ingenuity may not discover well-founded objections. Were the Paradise Lost to be now given to the world for the first time, how practicable it would be, according to the modern system of criticism, to convince those who had not seen it, that it was a work dull, prosaic, tedious, and without a spark of genius!
April 9, 1808.
No. XXXI. On adulation of the Great.
Principibus placuisse viris non ultima laus est.”
There is nothing so disgusting in a character which has pretensions of its own to notice, as a mean admiration of rank or wealth. It is impossible to deny that it is a foible, which has sometimes accompanied great abilities. Dr. Johnson had this weakness : “ His respect,” says Boswell, “ for the hierarchy, and particularly for dignitaries of the church, has been more than once exhibited in the course of this work. Mr. Seward saw him once presented to the Archbishop of York, and described his bow to an ARCHBISHOP, as such a studied elaboration of homage, such an extension of limb, such a flexion of body, as have seldom or ever been equalled.”