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This was also the vital charm of the poetry of Cowper, who says, speaking of the country,
“ I never fram'd a wish, or form’d a plan,
But it has been doubted, and justly doubted, whether descriptions of this kind will long interest without much intermixture of sentiment and moral remark. Man must form an important part of the picture; and to develope its operations on him will always give it its highest interest.
I will venture to say, that no ambitious verbal delineation, no unchaste and gorgeous heaping together of imagery, no laboured combination of objects, will gain the approbation of judges, or the sympathy of those, who have a genuine taste. They, whose writings are dictated by artifice and imitation, want those infallible directors in selecting and combining their materials, which are to be found in the voluntary impulses of the head and the heart endowed with genius. These mocking birds of poetry catch perhaps distinct parts of the songs of their masters with tolerable exactness; but being insensible of the flow of soul, by which they have been produced, they jumble them together in an association so unnatural, as to retain no part of the charms which the originals possessed. We see similar defects every day exhibited in pictures; we see glaring colours, distorted invention, and incredible toil: but all is vain; and whatever the mob may pronounce, the eye of skill turns away from them unaffected, except with disgust. In the mean time the real painter combines without effort; embodies the unsought visions of his fancy; and meets delight in every cultivated spectator; and a mirror in every well-formed bosom.
The test which I have now, and often before, mentioned, I believe to be infallible, if applied to the merits either of poetry or painting. It will shew where lies the radical defect of the multitudes of second-rate rhymers, who follow at the heels of the few poets of every age. It will account for the similitude of the outward forms of their productions; and the marked dissimilitude of the souls which animate them. In the first a secret power carries us along with them in every line; in the others it is vor et præterea nihil.
Let us instance in a poetess lately dead. Where lies the charm of those little poems of Mrs. Smith, which she has entitled Sonnets? Is it in description? We shall find many among her cotemporaries, whose descriptions are more abundant, more uncommon, and more splendid than her's! But are they equally natural? Do they seem equally to breathe the freshness and vigour of original feeling ? And is the association such as equally to command the sympathy of the reader?-Is it in sentiment ? Perhaps few among her rivals exhibit sentiments less recondite, or even less free from some appearance of triteness. But have they the effect of triteness in her? No: because they evidently spring from the fulness of a pure, a pathetic, and an overflowing heart.
The well-spring of natural eloquence was never yet tedious or insipid. The unsophisticated ideas,
whose vividness shines through the language in which they are clothed, possess a permanent attraction; and though they are such as have appeared to the world a thousand times before, still continue to delight. Stupid critics analyse, and the charm is gone; they separate the parts and find nothing in them. We may say with Burns,
These “ pleasures are like poppies spread;
But the charm will be renewed; and real poetry will always delight, as it re-appears, in spite of critics and analysers; while all the rules of writing, and all the praise of the mechanical judges, will not preserve a production where the soul of poetry, is wanting. A simple, touching, and vivid description of the scenery of nature, is an ingredient which has never been known to fail in giving permanent interest to a composition.
Dec. 15, 1808.
* Tam O'Shanter.
ART. DCCLV. No. LVI. On the Allegorical Style of Poetry of
Collins ;--with a Comparison of it with that of Sackville.
“ Melior fieri tuendo." I doubt whether there are any poems in our language more elegant and highly finished than those of Collins. There scarcely occurs an imperfect line, a lame sentence, or a flat and improper word. They are perhaps more marked by the singular praise of being such as none but himself could have produced than the compositions of any other author. On the other hand they are, I think, deficient in some ingredients, which constitute the very first charms of poetry. Let me be forgiven, if with a love of this great poet above that of most men, l endeavour with candour to point these out; while I trust I shall shew myself fully sensible of his inimitable beauties.
His Odes are principally descriptive of single allegorical figures. We know that in painting no subjects are more generally tiresome than these. Whether it requires too great a habit of abstraction, or whether the condensing into one person all the varieties of a passion, too much narrows our ideas, or whatever be the cause, it is certain that even of those who are pleased with such exhibitions at first, the major part soon grow weary. Collins's delineations partake of this defect; and partake of them the more, because he has chosen to delineate them too much in the manner of a painter. He has not sufficiently enriched his figures with sentiment; and with that expression of the movements of the soul, which the pencil of the painter, and he who is merely conversant with matter, can never reach. I do not mean that he has not gone beyond the painter; because a painter cannot exhibit the successive movements of a figure, nor place it in a variety of situations and circumstances in the same picture, nor express any of those invocations, which the dulness of the spectator will seldom be able to supply to the lips of the person worshipping the goddess which
forni the main feature on the canvass. But why should the poet so much curtail, if he do not entirely forego, his superiorities? Why should he leave those paths, whither the painter cannot follow him, for others, in which the painter in some important points has even the advantage. The finest Ode of Collins, next to that to the Passions, is the Ode to Fear; it contains the strongest expression of the internal workings of the spirit of the personified Being addressed: but perhaps even this sublime composition is in some degree liable to these objections.
The animated and inimitable groups of the Passions themselves disclose their characteristic impulses by action only.
There is I think another trait in the allegorical personages of Collins. They are almost too abstract; too far removed from human creatures; instead of earthly beings somewhat elevated and purified. I can more easily illustrate this by instances, than by definition. When Gray personifies Adversity, he manages his invention in such a manner, as to give it a more moral effect, and bring it more “ home to men's business and bosoms,” while his composition loses nothing of the poetical character.