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position is not produced by the presentation of impressive or delightful forms to the inward vision, nor by any sympathy with the modifying powers with which the genius of the poet had united and inspirited all the objects of his thought; that it is therefore a species of wit, a pure work of the will, and implies a leisure and self-possession both of thought and of feeling, incompatible with the steady fervor of a mind possessed and filled with the grandeur of its subject. To sum up the whole in one sentence. When a poem, or a part of a poem, shall be adduced, which is evidently vicious in the figures and contexture of its style, yet for the condemnation of which no reason can be assigned, except that it differs from the style in which men actually converse, then, and not till then, can I hold this theory to be either plausible, or practicable, or capable of furnishing either rule, guidance, or precaution, that might not, more easily and more safely, as well as more naturally, have been deduced in the author's own mind from considerations of grammar, logic, and the truth and nature of things, confirmed by the authority of works, whose fame is not of ONE country nor of one age.
CHAPTER XIX Continuation-Concerning the real object which, it is probable, Mr. Wordsworth had before him in his critical prefaceElucidation and application of this—The neutral style, or that common to Prose and Poetry, exemplified by specimens from Chaucer, Herbert, and others.
It might appear from some passages in the former part of Mr. Wordsworth's preface, that he meant to confine his theory of style, and the necessity of a close accordance with the actual language of men, to those particular subjects from low and rustic life,
the lieve that consequen, and on
which by way of experiment he had purposed to naturalize as a new species in our English poetry. But from the train of argument that follows; from the reference to Milton; and from the spirit of his critique on Gray's sonnet; those sentences appear to have been rather courtesies of modesty, than actual limitations of his system. Yet so groundless does this system appear on a close examination; and so strange and overwhelming in its consequences, that I cannot, and I do not believe that the poet did ever himself adopt it in the unqualified sense, in which his expressions have been understood by others, and which, indeed, according to all the common laws of interpretation they seem to bear. What then did he mean? I apprehend, that in the clear perception, not unaccompanied with disgust or contempt, of the gaudy affections of a style which passed current with too many for poetic diction, (though in truth it had as little pretensions to poetry, as to logic or common sense,) he narrowed his view for the time; and feeling a justifiable preference for the language of nature and of good sense, even in its humblest and least ornamented forms, he suffered himself to express, in terms at once too large and too exclusive, his predilection for a style the most remote possible from the false and showy splendour which he wished to explode. It is possible, that this predilection, at first merely comparative, deviated for a time into
1 I had in my mind the striking but untranslatable epithet, which the celebrated Mendelssohn applied to the great founder of the Critical Philosophy · Der alleszermalmende Kant', that is, the all-becrushing, or rather the all-to-nothing-crushing Kant. In the facility and force of compound epithets, the German from the number of its cases and inflections approaches to the Greek, that language so
Bless'd in the happy marriage of sweet words. It is in the woeful harshness of its sounds alone that the German need shrink from the comparison.
direct partiality. But the real object which he had in view, was, I doubt not, a species of excellence which had been long before most happily characterized by the judicious and amiable GARVE, whose works are so justly beloved and esteemed by the Germans, in his remarks on GELLERT, from which the following is literally translated. The talent, that is required to make excellent verses, is perhaps greater than the philosopher is ready to admit, or would find it in his power to acquire : the talent to seek only the apt expression of the thought, and yet to find at the same time with it the rhyme and the metre. Gellert possessed this happy gift, if ever any one of our poets possessed it; and nothing perhaps contributed more to the great and universal impression which his fables made on their first publication, or conduces more to their continued popularity. It was a strange and curious phenomenon, and such as in Germany had been previously unheard of, to read verses in which everything was expressed just as one would wish to talk, and yet all dignified, attractive, and interesting ; and all at the same time perfectly correct as to the measure of the syllables and the rhyme. It is certain that poetry, when it has attained this excellence, makes a far greater impression than prose. So much so indeed, that even the gratification which the very rhymes afford, becomes then no longer a contemptible or trilling gratification.''
However novel this phenomenon may have been in Germany at the time of Gellert, it is by no means new, nor yet of recent existence in our language. Spite of the licentiousness with which Spenser occasionally compels the orthography of his words
Sammlung einiger Abhandlungen von Christian Garve.
into a subservience to his rhymes, the whole Faery Queen is an almost continued instance of this beauty. Waller's song, ‘Go, lovely Rose ', is doubtless familiar to most of my readers ; but if I had happened to have had by me the poems of COTTON, more but far less deservedly celebrated as the author of the Virgil Travestied, I should have indulged myself, and I think have gratified many, who are not acquainted with his serious works, by selecting some admirable specimens of this style. There are not a few poems in that volume, replete with every excellence of thought, image, and passion, which we expect or desire in the poetry of the milder muse; and yet so worded, that the reader sees no one reason either in the selection or the order of the words, why he might not have said the very same in an appropriate conversation, and cannot conceive how indeed he could have expressed such thoughts otherwise, without loss or injury to his meaning.
But in truth our language is, and from the first dawn of poetry ever has been, particularly rich in compositions distinguished by this excellence. The final e, which is now mute, in Chaucer's age was either sounded or dropt indifferently. We ourselves still use either beloved' or belov'd' according as the rhyme, or measure, or the purpose of more or less solemnity may require. Let the reader then only adopt the pronunciation of the poet and of the court, at which he lived, both with respect to the final e and to the accentuation of the last syllable; I would then venture to ask, what even in the colloquial language of elegant and unaffected women, (who are the peculiar mistresses of pure English and undefiled ',) what could we hear more natural, or seemingly more unstudied, than the following stanzas from Chaucer's Troilus and Creseide ?
And after this forth to the gate he wente,
mselte in the rode a Sate he
And to the yondir hil I gan her guide, Alas! and there I toke of her my leve: And yond I saw her to her fathir ride; For sorrow of which mine herte shall to-cleve; And hithir home I came whan it was eve, And here I dwel, out-cast from allè joie, And shal, til I maie sene her efte in Troie.
And of himselfe imaginid he ofte To ben defaitid, pale and waxen lesse Than he was wonte, and that men saidin softe, What may it be? who can the sothè gesse, Why Troilus hath al this hevinesse ? And al this n'as but his melancolie, That he had of himselfe suche fantasie.
Another time imaginin he would That every wight, that past him by the wey, Had of him routhe, and that they saien should, I am right sory, Troilus wol dey? And thus he drove a daie yet forth or twey, As ye have herde: suche life gan he to lede As he that stode betwixin hope and drede:
For which him likid in his songis shewe Th' encheson of his wo as he best might, And made a songe of wordis but a fewe, Somwhat his woful herté for to light,