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er of poetry in all shapes, and was Ingenia. Inventus sæpe est cui carmins early dragooned into a sort of sulky re- curæ verence for Greek and Latin authors. Cui placeant Musæ, cui sit non læva vo. I was soon favoured with a notion of luntas; the legitimate rule of Homer and Vir- Nititur ille tamen frustra et contendit inani gil. Indeed, the first book I ever read Delusus studio — ” in (willingly,) was Macpherson'strans. To be sure he adds lation of the Iliad ; and though, since that time, I have softened much in my
“ Sæpe tamen cultus frequenis et cura doopinions about this description of “di.
· Imperat ingeniis" vine right," I have ever since that period been aware of a cloudy idea but maugre this qualification, the se. floating about my pericranium, which cret is out. Here lies the rub. If the might have embodied itself in an au- “ Ingenia” are wanting, the rules are dible query, much like the following. now and then found not to answer. “If Horace was at the pains of laying This lurking distrust of the power of down a plain receipt for the composi- precept sometimes gives the whole an tion of poetry, how has it happened air truly ludicrous. The young poeti. that we have not had a dozen or two cal aspirant is warned in one place not of Homers and Virgils since his time, to venture too near the fires of love with a pretty supply of Horaces, ac- but for what reason few readers would cording, as is his rule in such cases, guess. to the demand ?” This was to me " Sæpe etenim tectos immitis in ossibus an inexplicable paradox. But a plain. spoken elder friend, to whom, in Versat amor mollesque est intus cura meo a kind of despair, I ventured to pro
dullas, pose the difficulty, summarily solved Nec miserum patitur vatum meminisse nec it by the application of an old homely undæ proverb, which I fear may be a little Castaliæ." too homely for the polite fastidious. He is to be careful not to get his head ness of your Æsthetic Magazine, as fairly turned, lest he forget his prosoMr Coleridge has so happily termed dy. 'If he burn his fingers, how is he it. “ It's all moonshine," quoth he; to hold his pen to write verses? Now “ let them say what they will, there's
*this is a most edifying warning to the no making a whistle of a pig's tail.”
a pigs tall whole tribe of artificial poets. It is I have been of his opinion ever since,
probable enough, to be sure, that they After all, both Horace, and Vida the author of the “ Poetics” which Pope
e should leave what they affect to like
ope for what they really do like ;--that is condescended to edite, were too sensi.
a to say, the Muses for “one earthly ble men by far to pretend to lay down
m girl.” But to insult a poet of nainfallible rules for the creation of a
ture's making with such a maxim as Poet. Such a generation would be more this
this—to talk to such a man as Burns, miraculous than that of the maniken in Flim Flams,”-a book, by the bye,
" for instance, the natural language of
€, whose passion was poetry, in this style that has not obtained the credit it de
It is enough to make one hate the serves,-or of the misanthropical mon
very idea of all schools, and academies, ster in Frankinstein. If their respec
espec. and canons of criticism, and every tive works be examined, they will be
thing appertaining to those scholastic found to consist of rules, without the
laws, which have served only to breed observance of which, they maintained,
" rhyming pedants and coxcombs, just all poetry must be imperfect. The
ne as all the webs Penelope spun only fillPoetics and the Epistle to the Pisos are
are ed Ithaca full of inoths. really no more than this. The title
e A great deal has been said and write “De Arte Poetica” ought to be render
¿ten about schools of poetry. We have ed, “ concerning the artificial part of ho
O had Byron schools, and Scott schools, poetry," or, more literally, “concern.
• and Lake schools, and Classical schools, ing poetical art.” Vida goes most into
and Italian schools, and French schools, the metaphysics of the matter, and ad
and Frenchified schools, and they have mits in words the inefficiency of his
allone peculiarity. It is, that the foundown rules, in certain cases; to wit:
ers are almost the only persons con* Verum non eadem tamen omnibus esse nected with them, whose reputations memento
stand any chance of being of the value of a “pin's fze" in the eyes of poste- is Butler, like a contraband cutter, rity. If we once admit the principle daringly dashing over the billows; that poetry is a thing to be taught, or there is Prior, an elegant yacht; and “ an art" in any proper sense of the Dryden, a very fine ship; and Young, term, the list of poets seems truly a like Rowland Hill's floating Methodist most paradoxical catalogue. In all Chapel. As for Shakespeare, to whom other arts and sciences, the progress is can we compare him but to the celethat of diligent and gradual inquiry. brated “ Vanderdecken, the Flying Information is piled upon information Dutchman,” who sails when he pleases -example upon example. A man of miraculously against the wind ? Now talent or genius, doubtless, sometimes these names are all founders of schools, pushes the limits of science much be- of which their country had not before yond the extent to which a man of seen the like ; a fact sufficient in itself moderate ability can push them. Still to unsettle one's notions of the mechaupon the whole it goes on in a regular nical nature of poetry. To what this gradation. Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe “ founding of poetical schools," as it led the way to Galileo and Newton; is called, really amounts, is another the Marquis of Worcester to Boulton matter. and Wait; and Friar Bacon to Sir If we set about analysing the nature Humphrey Davy. But the Iliad and of poetical talent, we shall find it to the neid were not the mere precure consist, for the most part, in a union sors of the other celebrated Epics in ad of two qualities. The prominent chas and id, that have been endited since. racteristics of a poet, are a capability They were not sent before to lacquey the of receiving strong impressions from way for the Epigoniad and the Athe- external things, and a liability to the naid. The matter is reversed in toto. intense play of the passions. To these If, after the manner of Tristram Shan- faculties he adds, if it is not inherent dy, we were to construct diagrams in in their possession, a power of nice ins illustration of the state of the arts and tellectual discrimination. He has cor. sciences, we should have a mathema- rect as well as vivid ideas of the beautical pyramid with Newton at the top; tiful and sublime in nature, and of a chemical one with Davy-a natural the affecting and passionate in mental history one with Cuvier-a traveller's emotion, Whether the discussion of with Humboldt-a scholar's with Pora the doctrine of innate propensities and son. But what are we to do with talents is involved here, I do not know, Shakespeare, if we make a dramatic nor do I much care. Whether the pyramid ? Why turn it with the base character of a man, including in that uppermost, Skakespeare at the bottom, term disposition and talent, is part of and the top a sort of “ table-land," his natural constitution originally, or with the heads of Monk Lewis, Mr the after-work of external circumMaturin, Mr Shiel, Mr Barry Corn- stances, seems to be of little consewall, Mr Knowles, and Mr Haynes, in quence, could it even be certainly a horizontal line, unbroken by towerknown which hypothesis is the true ing talent, or reaching originality. If one. Under each theory the event is we go on to review the many volumes equally uncontrollable. The influence of poetry which have been, as Dr Sou- of circumstances is admitted to begin they expresses it, “ cast upon the wa, so early, and to be in itself so inscruters," we shall find that, with a very tably minute and complicated, that as few exceptions, the founders of an ori, far as education is concerned, one supa ginal style only have lived. The “Imiposition is about as unmanageable as tatores, servum pecus” have either the other. Not that I could ever see leaked and foundered after a time, or the slightest probability in the notion else have been so crank and top-heavy, of the constitution of all minds, as to that they capsized before they were natural propensities and capabilities, well launched. There is Milton sailing being, as it were, originally balanced about like a gorgeous Spanish galleon, to a sort of equiponderance. The thing deep in the water, and leaving a lu- is nearly inconceivable. That thinking, minous track as he ploughs the waves whether simple perception or reflecof oblivion, which vainly ripple about tion, depends somehow or other upon his huge sides. What English blank- the brain, seems to be clear that the verse epic of those that have followed difference of fibre, in different men, in his wake, is now sea-worthy? There must involve different states of the
brain, seems unavoidable that differ- subject after him, will become a greatent states of the brain should not ne er and more popular poet. He will do cessarily cause varieties in the strength so because he can delineate more niceof impressions and the vividness of ly, shadow more deeply, and colour ideas, is surely hard to be imagined. more truly, than his precursor. How Be this as it may, whether early con- many Madonnas were painted before tingencies or original conformation be Raphael's ? or who has ever inquired ? the cause, it is sufficient that the mind That the talent of poetry is mainly of a poet must of necessity have been, composed of a capability of vivid imfrom the beginning, chiefly conversant pression from without, and an inwarı! with those ifleas which constitute the susceptibility of mental emotion, is basis of his poetry. For in what does apparent in the fact, that poets have the art of poetizing consist, but in inore frequently been attached to the drawing vivid, and somewhat heights studies of painting and metaphysics, ened, but yet natural pictures of mat- than to that of any other science-muters, which are calculated to produce sic, I believe, not excepted. Salvator pleasing emotions in the mind. It is Rosa was equally eminent in poetry this power of mental painting, this and painting. Some of our moderu correctness of delineation, with this painters have written good verses, as warmth of colouring, that is the es- for instance Shee; and some of our sence of poetry. The power of fully poets have been good painters, as for expressing these ideas in words, is the instance Peter Pindar. The present next requisite. The possession of dis- Professor of Moral Philosophy in the crimination in the choice of subjects, University of Edinburgh, is a striking is the next, but far below the other example of the union of poetical with two in importance. Experience has metaphysical talent --so was his predeshewn, that alınost every object which cessor--so is Sir William Drummond life affords is capable of poetical adorn -so is Coleridge-so is Wordsworth ment-pleasing when depicted, and so were Beattie and Akenside-and naturally connected with reflections so even was Hobbes, the father of of the most interesting description. English metaphysicians, though, to Great poets have not been those who be sure, his translation of Homer is have discovered new and unthought- said to be none of the most readable of subjects for poetry, but those who of books. have discovered excellence and origi. If depth and correctness in the pernality in their powers and style of ception and expression, both of the treating of subjects, in a great degree sensations of external beauty and of familiar. Every poetical theine must, inward emotion, be the mainspring of in fact, be more or less popular, be- the poetical, it is pretty clear, that cause readers must know something of those whom chance or nature has the subject of a picture, to be enabled turned into one favourite channel of to feel and appreciate the merit of the observation from their earliest years, resemblance. To borrow a common are likely to have most of it. The expression, it is because “he sees fur- inclination to observe, and the talent ther into a mill-stone than the man for observation, generally accompany who picks it," that a poet is a poet. and assist each other. The having It is because he knows minutely and one, is a proof of the possession of the deeply, what others know generally other. In all human pursuits, we see and superficially, that he is able to what wonders are effected by this earrouse in them sensations which they ly devotion. Hence the almost supercannot awaken for themselves. He stitious notions of genius overcoming remembers what they have forgotten, every obstacle, and treading, with unand fills up for them the blanks of deviating step, the way which nature their imagination, and heightens for points-hence Sir Isaac Newton is rethem the dim colouring of their fan- ported to have said, that any man of cy. He who hits upon a subject com- good ability, who could have paid the pletely new in poetry, will probably same long and undivided attention to become a popular poet, provided he mathematical pursuits that he did, has, even in a slight degree beyond would have produced the same rehis neighbours, the faculty of poetical sults. Though this was only saying, delineation ; but he who, with much in other words, that any one with more of this faculty, takes the same Newton's genius would have been
Newton; for whether the early ten- and so, above all, are Sir Walter Scott's dency was the effect of strong percep- attachment to antiquarian pursuits, tion of the objects of mathematical and to the local superstitions of his parsuit, or whether it was the effect country. Why are these poets so of inscrutable circumstances in early tinged with those various peculiari. life, and rather the cause than the ef- ties, is the question that immediate fect of the keenness of intellect after- ly presents itself? Because it is only wards manifested, still to produce a through these early peculiarities of similar genius by artificial culture, is thought, that men become poets. Of about as hopeless upon one supposition that which they have all their lives as upon the other. It is difficult, how. been ruminating upon, they have ideas ever, not to think that original orga- more vivid than other people's; and nization is at the bottom, when we by giving those ideas, with all the behold so many of those strange be- force of language they can, they write ings, called “ men of genius," driven poetry. This is true of more than through life by one ruling impulse, poets professed. Old Isaac Walton, with every action tinged by the pre- the sole employment of whose life was vailing prepossession. If it be not in- angling, has, without knowing it, writstinct, it is very like it; and they who ten a poetical pastoral more natural would be indignant at a comparison than Shenstone or Cunningham, more with the marches of the Lemings, or simple than Gesner, and more sincere the Land-crabs, to which rivers and than Thomson. Nay, some of the mountains are said to be no impedi- books of the old pharmacopolists, es ments, may not find it easy to point pecially under the head of “ Cordial out the specific difference. 'Instances Waters," from a habit of observing, of the display of early and decided or imagining, and minutely describing, tendencies towards particular pursuits, the effects of these “ distilments” upare innumerable in the annals of lite- on the nervous system, are as poetical rature. The boy Opie sketched, “with here and there, as any thing in Dr desperate charcoal round his darken'd Armstrong. If we look over the exwalls," the forms which existed in his tensive catalogue of English poetry, young imagination, but which he had we shall find it to be a set of oddities not the means of giving “ a local ha- versified. The poets are a sort of har. bitation and a name.” Little Mozart monious quizzes, and their poems are and Crotch roared to be at the harpsi- tinctured throughout with the partichord, when their fingers had scarcely cularities of disposition—the ideas ari. strength to press down a key; whilst sing from the pursuits of life, nay with Jedediah Buxton appears to have em, the very diseases of the writers. There ployed all his life in discovering recon- is no selection of subject; what they dite modes of arithmetical calculation, felt keenly and saw strongly, they and probably counted before he knew have made poetry of. A sharp phythe names even of the numerals. Mr siologist might trace out the constituHogg seems to have been a poet before tion, profession, and usual residence he learned to write-nay to speak in of a poet, from his works only. Lord decently grammatical, not to say po- Byron, who has travelled, tells about lished language. Burns was something Gondolas, Mantillas, comboloios, Gain the same way; and if we look fur- zelle eyes, mosques, and latticed winther amongst the works of those poets dows. The head of Mr Wordsworth, of whom most is known, we shall find who lives amongst lakes and mounthem to be coloured with those singu- tains, is filled with rocks, clouds, leechlarities of disposition, for which they gatherers, pedlars, daffodils, and wawere remarkable through life. Thus ter-lilies. Mr Crabbe, whose clerical Cowper's morbid low-spirits tinge, al- functions have made him familiar with most without an exception, every one vestries, work-houses, and the whole of his compositions. Milton's scholar- economy of a country parish, in lieu ship and fondness for Italian literature, of the rocks and rills of Mr Wordsare apparent in most of his poems. worth, has extracted poetry out of the Burns' warm feelings, occasional seri- stony hearts of church-wardens, and ousness, and independent spirit, are the scanty stream of parish charity. equally marked in his works. So are We have poems about ships and about Lord Byron's sarcastic, nielancholy, religion about steam-engines and hyand splenetic carelessness of the world; draulic presses-about hunting, shoota pages.
ing, and fishing-about war and waltz- verses in a tavern three hours after he ing-about astronomy and gastrono- could not speak." mie-about bees and silk-wormsand If a certain line of subject, or a cersiphilis and spleen, and diseases in ge- tain method of treating or of ornaneral-about playing at whist and at menting that subject, be not essential chess, and smoking tobacco, and ma- to the poetical, still less is versification. king sugar-wine and cider. In fact, Smoothness of versification has, in fact, there is scarcely any human pursuit been attained as fully by those who that has not been, directly or indirect- have vainly struggled to become poets, ly, introduced into poetry; and the as by those who have really been so. obliquities and excellences of the hu- If this were not true, where is the saman mind have each had about an tire of Pope's “ Song by a Person of equal share in imparting interest to its Quality,” in which there is as much
musical “ no meaning," as in the most To be a poet, then, is not merely to fashionable air of a modern opera. It possess the art of versifying accounts is true, that Dr Johnson and others of battles, or declarations of love, or have even gone so far as to affirin, that descriptions of flowers. It is the art rhyme is essential to the perfection of of making of a subject what no one English poetry,--and they may be else can ;-of treating an old friend af, right. It may be essential to its comter a new and high fashion. In short, pleteness, though not to its existence ; it is the art of being a clever fellow ; -and so in this sense are reading and and, being as it is, poetry can never writing. It needs not the subtlety of be stopped by a lack of subject, nor a Scriblerus—who insisted that he could poet ever made or unmade by the yo- conceive the abstract idea of a Lord lubility or laziness of a university pro- Mayor, divested of his gown, chain, fessor. It is possible enough to ima, and gilt coach-to imagine a poet with gine, that the want of an exciting out the accomplishments of reading, glass of wine, may have rendered abor- writing, or even speaking. He might tive many a sonnet, and its presence possess ideas, without the power of vivified many an anacreontic:--that a communicating them. He might look high-flown ode may have been some- deeply into the beauties and harmonies times drowned in a Pacific ocean of of nature, and excite in himself the water-gruel, and an elegy or an epi- play of fancy and the whirl of passion, gram in a Red Sea of Julep, or “a and yet “ voice be none." "One of Mediterranean of Brewis,”- But that those anomalous cherubim, which con, future Murrays and Blackwoods shall sist of a head and wings only, would ever want customers for lack of cą. be a type of him. What are sounds, nons of criticism," Tilly Psally, Sir or words, or lines, or stanzas, but John!” So little of the mechanical is modes of expressing that which existadmitted by poets themselves to enter ed before them, and independently of into the composition of poetry, that them? The minds of Homer and of most of them have professed to be, as Milton were probably very similar, it were, only semi-voluntary agents though the manner in which they in the matter. Thomson could only have expressed their ideas is totally write in the spring. Pope used to dissimilar? The Greek and Latin cri. keep a servant up all night, to be tics, who doated upon the bexameters ready with pen, ink, paper, and a of“ the blind Mæonides," would have light, that the “ afflatus” might not recoiled in consternation from the be lost; and we have the present Lau- blank-verse or rhyme of the English, reate bargaining that he is only to man. Paradise Lost, or Il Penseroso, write court odes when he will-mean- “ would have made Quintilian stare ing when he can. It should seem, and gasp.” The mental figures of the too, that this wayward faculty remains, poet are eternal, unchangeable, and when less complex, but less deeply adapted to all time ;-the rhythmical rooted, propensities of the mind are adjuncts are capricious, fading, and found to be impracticable. Thus, the changeable. Pope re-versified Donne, last rational act of Swift, was the which only proves, that Donne's vercomposition of the “ Legion Club ;" sification was no part of Donne. Had Smart scrawled sublime stanzas on the Pope given him a new coat for his old walls of his cell; and “it is told of one, it would have been much the the late Dr King, that he used to write same thing.