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Art. I.-Philip Van Artevelde ; a Dramatic Romance. By
HENRY TAYLOR. 2 vols. 8vo. London : 1834.
poetry * Artevelde' for something more than temporary amusement. He is entitled to their acknowledgments, not only as a good poet, but as a useful experimentalist. In a period of marked indifference to poetical productions, he has brought forward a work which is at once a test whereby to prove whether a taste for poetry is dead or only dormant,—and a remedy for that overexcited and unhealthy tone of feeling of which this marked indifference is the result. It is such a work as the public needed—such a work as he who would minister to a taste diseased' should be anxious to recommend. At the same time it is not such a work as is likely to be hailed with acclamations of astonishment and pleasure. To some it may appear that the languid indifference of a satiated public requires the stimulus of novelties more attractive, of originality more startling, of a style more brilliant and exciting than Mr Taylor's work can offer. But such judgments would be founded on a misconception not less of the causes of the present indifference towards poetry, and of the remedy which that indifference requires, than of the peculiar species of merit in relation to that state of public feeling, which the author of
Philip Van Artevelde' has brought into the literary field. That he has been the brilliant originator of something novel and startling in poetry, is not the praise that we are either able, or should, à priori, have been most anxious to accord. To open a new field in literature is not always the best and safest attribute in a
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writer. In literature, as in navigation, he who detects a rock and erects a lighthouse, deserves our thanks perhaps as much as the more daring discoverer of a north-west passage. Mr Taylor has, both directly and indirectly, both by precept and example, in his preface and in his drama, succeeded in rendering apparent those rocks and shallows on which the poetical taste of the public has been stranded, and he has held forth a steady light which may tend to guide it in a safer course.
Since the commencement of the present century, our poetical annals have exhibited the extremes of wealth and poverty, of enthusiasm and indifference. In the former half of that period the supply and the demand for poetry were exuberant and eager in an unusual degree,—during the latter half they have dwindled down to the present state of barrenness and apathy. The fact is notorious, but where lies the fault? The cause, it is true, may be briefly stated in one word-satiety. But it may still be asked whence this satiety? Does it arise from some imperfection in the public taste ? or from the nature of that poetical aliment with which the public has been fed ? Be the cause what it
may, we may, in the first place, be assured that in that cause there must be something wrong. Prolonged satiety is not a natural effect of the enjoyment of any thing that is profitable for our minds or bodies. If a zest for poetry were akin to a desire for useful knowledge, satiety could not be the consequence ; for, by a happy constitution of our nature, the love of knowledge is progressive. It is a thirst which knowledge never slakes. It increases in proportion as the necessity for it would seem to be diminished; and while the ignorant, to whom information is most needful, remain incurious, the well-informed, to whom it appears least needful, are most eager to increase their store; a circumstance which tends to show that while there is a limit to the wants of our bodies, there is no assignable limit to the wants and capacities of our minds.
If the love of poetry had resembled the love of knowledge, satiety could not have occurred. But it has occurred, because the pleasure derived from much of the most attractive poetry of the present century was not akin to that which we derive from the acquisition of knowledge-and because true knowledge was not conveyed by that poetry. It resembled a luscious delicacy rather than a wholesome food. The pleasure which it afforded was rather a feverish and unhealthy excitement, than that serene, but intense and durable satisfaction, which is experienced by a well-ordered mind in the acquisition of a valuable truth. It was produced by an appeal rather to the passions and the senses than to the higher qualities of the intellect,---rather to that which is