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“Fairer and brighter spreads the reign of May;
In the “Prevalence of Poetry,” we perceive the exuberance of Percival's mind displayed with fine effect. The fancy and sentiment of the piece seem to flow directly from the true inward sources of the ideal.
“The world is full of poetry—the air
He evinces a thorough knowledge of what poetry is not, while he pours out his heart in praise of what poetry is.
“”T is not the chime and flow of words that move
That meet him in the charm of grace and power.
Percival has less subjectivity, -less of the brooding, philosophizing spirit, — than any of his eminent contemporaries. His imagination, considered as a shaping faculty, is not so great as Dana's, Longfellow's, and perhaps Bryant's; but in fancy he excels them all. Indeed, the quickness with which the latter quality works, and the disposition of Percival to hurried composition, have not been favorable to the culture of high imaginative power. When the mind is really disturbed by the “fine frenzy,” the imagination has no lack of activity in its motions; but when the poet, instead of being frenzied, is only a little “light-headed,” it disdains to give its aid. In Percival, the feeling is often high and the verse winged, when the imagery is only common. His poems do not always seem adequately to convey the whole power of the mind from which they proceed.
Few poets in Mr. Griswold's motley collection excel FITz-GREENE HALLEck in popularity. His metrical compositions, though not deficient in high qualities, do not require a very subtle taste in the reader in order to be appreciated. The frequent blending of serious thought and emotion with playful and careless fancies, enables him to pass at once for a man of sentiment and a man of the world. He has more of the faculty than the feeling of the poet. He reposes little faith in his own creations. He is hardly willing to plant himself with undoubting confidence upon the eternal principles of the soul, on which the poetical is based, and avoid or repel the fleeting feelings and opinions which sometimes threaten and cloud their dominion. By the impertinence of his wit, he almost gives the impression that poetry is a mere juggle, and that he cares not to keep the secret. At times he places the ideal and the actual face to face, and remains himself an indifferent spectator of the result At others, he will evoke spirits from the vasty deep of imagination, only to point and fleer at them, when they have obeyed his call. He has few serious thoughts that are not more or less associated with ludicrous ideas. A little laughing imp seems to sit opposite the fountains of his heart, and dispel with the merry flash of his eye every shade and thin essence which rise in misty beauty from their surface. In perusing some of his poems, we are tempted to call him a man of pure sentiment and fine imagination ruined by reading “Don Juan.” There are poetical powers displayed in “Marco Bozzaris,” “Burns,” “Woman,” and others of his serious poems, which we dislike to see played with and perverted. To produce a shock of surprise by the sudden intrusion of an incongruous idea into a mournful or sentimental flow of feeling, is but little above the clap-trap of the stage. We are aware that, in Halleck's case, this is done in an inimitable manner, and that the effect on one's risible faculties is irresistible; but still, there are very few who desire to be choked with a laugh, at the very moment when the tears are starting from their eyes. It introduces a species of scepticism, which is destructive to the enjoyment of poetry. The loftiness, purity, and tenderness of feeling, which Halleck can so well express, when he pleases, and the delicate and graceful fancies with which he can festoon thought and emotion, should never be associated with what is mean or ridiculous, even to gratify wit or whim. There is a kind of merry malevolence in the abasement of ennobling feelings and beautiful images, which is less pardonable than open scoffing, because more injurious. Perhaps, in Halleck, this mischievous spirit is to be referred, in some degree, to that fear of being sentimental which is apt to characterize robust and healthy natures. It is quite common for the critics of LONGFELLow's poetry to escape the trouble of analysis by offering some smooth eulogium to his taste, and some “lip-homage * to his artistical ability. Mr. Griswold satisfies his conscience by saying that “Longfellow's works are eminently picturesque, and are distinguished for nicety of epithet, and elaborate, scholarly finish. He has feeling, a rich imagination, and a cultivated taste.” It seems to us that these terms are as applicable to other American poets as to Longfellow. They do not indicate the characteristics of his genius, or give a glimpse of the spirit by which it is pervaded. A person, in reading the “Psalm of Life,” does not say that this poem is “distinguished for nicety of epithet, and elaborate, scholarly finish; ” but rather, that this poem touches the heroic string of my nature, —breathes energy into my heart, — sustains my lagging purposes, – and fixes my thoughts on what is stable and eternal. Without questioning the artistical excellence of this poet, we still think that it is thrust forward too prominently in all notices of his writings. That which lies behind his style and mere mechanical skill should be first considered. The thought is of more importance than the manner of saying it. If the former be worthless, then the latter is not worth consideration. A poet who expresses nothing, with great “nicety of epithet,” or with “elaborate, scholarly finish,” is still only good for nothing. The questions which are of real moment relate to qualities which lie deeper than rhetoric. The great characteristic of Longfellow, that of addressing the moral nature through the imagination, of linking moral truth to intellectual beauty, is a far greater excellence. His artistical ability is admirable, because it is not seen. It is rather mental than mechanical. In truth, it may be doubted if he is more distinguished as an artist than Dana or Bryant. If, by saying that a poem is artistical, we mean that its form corresponds with its spirit, that it is fashioned into the likeness of the thought or emotion it is intended to convey, then “The Buccaneer” and “Thanatopsis” are as artistical as any of the “Voices of the Night.” If mere skill in the use of multitudinous metres be meant, then Percival is more artistical than either. If mechanical ingenuity in forcing sentiment into forms to which it has no affinity be the meaning, then to be artistical is a fault or an affectation. The best artist is he who accommodates his diction to his subject, and in this sense, Longfellow is an artist. By learning “to labor and to wait,” by steadily brooding over the chaos in which thought and emotion first appear to the mind, and giving shape and life to both before uttering them in words, he has obtained a singular mastery of expression. By this we do not mean that he has a large command of language. No fallacy is greater than that which confounds fluency with expression. Washerwomen, and boys at debating clubs, often display more fluency than Webster; but his words are to theirs as the roll of thunder to the patter of rain. Language generally receives its significance and power