« AnteriorContinuar »
thing but the pitiable state of the critic's own taste and sensibility? On opening the Review they see a favorite passage, of the force and truth of which they had an intuitive certainty in their own inward experience confirmed, if confirmation it could receive, by the sympathy of their most enlightened friends ; some of whom perhaps, even in the world's opinion, hold a higher intellectual rank than the critic himself would presume to claim. And this very passage they find selected, as the characteristic effusion of a mind deserted by reason ; as furnishing evidence that the writer was raving, or he could not have thus strung words together without sense or purpose! No diversity of taste seems capable of explaining such a contrast in judgement.
That I had over-rated the merit of a passage or poem, that I had erred concerning the degree of its excellence, I might be easily induced to believe or apprehend. But that lines, the sense of which I had analysed and found consonant with all the best convictions of my understanding; and the imagery and diction of which had collected round those convictions my noblest as well as my most delightful feelings; that I should admit such lines to be mere nonsense or lunacy, is too much for the most ingenious arguments to effect. But that such a revolution of taste should be brought about by a few broad assertions, seems little less than impos
sible. On the contrary, it would require an effort of charity not to dismiss the criticism with the aphorism of the wise man, in animam malevolam sapientia haud intrare potest.
What then if this very critic should have cited a large number of single lines and even of long paragraphs, which he himself acknowledges to possess eminent and original beauty ? What if he himself has owned, that beauties as great are scattered in abundance throughout the whole book? And yet, though under this impression, should have commenced his critique in vulgar exultation with a prophecy meant to secure its own fulfilment? With a “ THIS WON'T DO !" What? if after such acknowledgements extorted from his own judgement he should proceed from charge to charge of tameness, and raving ; flights and flatness ; and at length, consigning the author to the house of incurables, should conclude with a strain of rudest contempt evidently grounded in the distempered state of his own moral associations? Suppose too all this done without a single leading principle established or even announced, and without any one attempt at argumentative deduction, though the poet had presented a more than usual opportunity for it, by having previously made public his own principles of judgement in poetry, and supported them by a connected train of reasoning !
The office and duty of the poet is to select the most dignified as well as
“ The happiest, gayest, attitude of things."
The reverse, for in all cases a reverse is possible, is the appropriate business of burlesque and travesty, a predominant taste for which has been always deemed a mark of a low and degraded mind. When I was at Rome, among many other visits to the tomb of Julius II, I went thither once with a Prussian artist, a man of genius and great vivacity of feeling. As we were gazing on Michael Angelo's Moses, our conversation turned on the horns and beard of that stupendous statue ; of the necessity of each to support the other ; of the super-human effect of the former, and the necessity of the existence of both to give a harmony and integrity both to the image and the feeling excited by it. Conceive them removed, and the statue would bebecome un-natural, without being super-natural. We called to mind the horns of the rising sun, and I repeated the noble passage from Taylor's Holy Dying. That horns were the emblem of power and sovereignty among the Eastern nations, and are still retained as such in Abyssinia ; the Achelous of the ancient Greeks ; and the probable ideas and feelings, that originally suggested the mixture of the human and the brute form in the figure, by
which they realized the idea of their mysterious Pan, as representing intelligence blended with a darker power, deeper, mightier, and more universal than the conscious intellect of man ; than intelligence ;-all these thoughts and recollections passed in procession before our minds. My companion who possessed more than his share of the hatred, which his countrymen bore to the French, had just observed to me, “a Frenchman, Sir! is the only animal in the human shape, that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or poetry;" When, lo! two French officers of distinction and rank entered the church ! Mark you, whispered the Prussian, " the first thing, which those scoundrels~--will notice (for they will begin by instantly noticing the statue in parts, without one moment's pause of admiration impressed by the whole) will be the horns and the beard. And the associations, which they will immediately connect with them will be those of a HE-GOAT and a CUCKOLD.” Never did man guess more luckily. Had he inherited a portion of the great legislator's prophetic powers, whose statue we had been contemplating, he could scarcely have uttered words more coincident with the result: for even as he had said, so it came to pass.
In the Excursion the poet has introduced an old man, born in humble but not abject circumstances, who had enjoyed more than usual advantages of education, both from books
and from the more awful discipline of nature. This person he represents, as having been driven by the restlessness of fervid feelings, and from a craving intellect, to an itinerant life ; and as having in consequence passed the larger portion of his time, from earliest manhood, in villages and hamlets from door to door,
“ A vagrant merchant bent beneath his load.”
Now whether this be a character appropriate to a lofty didactick poem, is perhaps questionable. It presents a fair subject for controversy; and the question is to be determined by the congruity or incongruity of such a character with what shall be proved to be the essential constituents of poetry. But surely the critic who, passing by all the opportunities which such a mode of life would present to such a man ; all the advantages of the liberty of nature, of solitude and of solitary thought; all the varieties of places and seasons, through which his track had lain, with all the varying imagery they bring with them ; and lastly, all the observations of men,
“ Their manners, their enjoyment and pursuits,
Their passions and their feelings” which the memory of these yearly journies must have given and recalled to such a mind the critic, I say, who from the multitude of