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embraces persons, things, and conduct. It has been already shown that poetry is the liberation of beautiful analogies; it must now be shown that the beauty of poetry, like every other sort of beauty, attaches only to utility, and that the utility of poetry is akin to that of statuary and painting, and consists in the inculcation of a moral. Few persons will, I presume, be inclined to deny that there is a very large element of morality in all true poetry, for that is the natural result of the greater scope of subject, which, by the addition of human conduct, is possessed by the art. If it be urged that there is a great deal of poetry that contains no moral, I reply, there is a great deal of “poetry” that is not poetical—a great deal which passes for poetry, but which is not poetry—as there is a great deal which passes for beautiful painting which is not beautiful. Surely everything that pretends to be art is not art; surely all that glitters is not gold. In every true poem, even, there is a great deal that is not poetic; there is necessarily much that is merely narrative or descriptive, and which, though it helps to make the poem, is not itself poetry. “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day” —this is poetry, because a knell is for the dead, and it is only as a metaphor that we can apply it to the day. The next two lines, however—“The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, the ploughman homewards plods his weary way,”—are description only, and may be literally true; they are not productive of analogy, and therefore cannot be termed poetry. All true poetry obeys the same law. The purpose of a poem, whatever its subject, must be the inculcation of a moral. If this condition be ignored, though the piece be in verse, though it be in rhyme, though it be witty and ingenious, it will not be in good taste or it will not be poetic; for what is poetic is admirable, and so-called poetry which is without a moral is not in good taste, is not admirable. When I say that some things which are admired are not beautiful, I must be understood to mean that a just education and true culture is the only arbiter in matters of this kind. A good taste I take to be not that which points us to something independently, externally, eternally, or necessarily true, but simply that which will stand the test of ages; and a false taste that which will blow over, perhaps in the lifetime of the admirer, perhaps in the course of a few years. Many things which we ourselves once admired we now think of with as much contempt or disgust as we regard the codes of beauty which savages adopt.
The application of the foregoing remarks to the vast majority of verse productions, their subject and their aim, will present no difficulty; whether the theme be melancholy or merry, sanguine or despondent, pious or patriotic, martial or peaceful, stern or tender, public or domestic, national or cosmopolitan, we shall, if we look for it, find the moral, or it may be series of morals, intended to be taught. If the subject-matter of the poem be an animal, the animal will be clothed with personality, and made to speak feelingly to us of others and ourselves; if it be an activity of unreasoning nature or of unsentient existence, the activity will in like manner be humanised, appropriated, and endowed with moral eloquence, which association alone can bestow. To prove these propositions would be to go over the whole range of poetical composition, and to point out what, in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, is perfectly obvious. In the hundredth case the moral might not be very perspicuous, but it would as certainly be present if the piece or verse belonged to true poetry.
The remarks above, applied to the subject of a poem as a whole, apply also to the subject of its details, and, as in architecture, the same principle of utility which rules the whole regulates the part. If it be essential that the main theme should teach the understanding as well as touch the soul, it must also be essential that the minor accessories —the adventitious images-should teach as well as ornament, should elevate as well as illustrate, should ennoble as well as enlighten. All poetic imagery, in other words, must be founded on utility. This proposition may be tested by the number of analogies already cited in Chapter III., any further additions to which would be wearisome. It may, however, be advisable to verify the assertion negatively by showing that when the analogy is not beautiful, when the image is not the subject of utility, when it is not itself suggestive of admirable things, it cannot be poetic and will not be admired.
WIT THE LIBERATION OF ANALOGIES NOT BEAUTIFUL.
If neither the theme to be illustrated nor the object referred to as an illustration be capable of entering into poetry—if, in other words, neither the suggesting subject nor the suggested object be itself beautifully suggestivethe comparison, though it may be witty, cannot be poetical. A simile to be poetical must, as has been remarked, elevate and adorn-in other words, excite admiration; and this it can only do by establishing a relation between two beautiful things; so that when either the suggesting subject or the suggested object is mean or ugly, the result, though it may be mirth or ridicule, cannot be admiration. An examination of any standard work of wit or humour would, I think, confirm this proposition; but as the subject is immensely extensive, we must content ourselves with handling only a very small portion of it. It will, I presume, suffice briefly to overhaul some of Falstaff's similes and metaphors as specimens of wit sufficiently representative and cosmopolitan.
Falstaff, when he would describe the effect of a lady's eye, does not indulge in “sapphires set in snow," or in the raining of influence, or in stars, or planets, or spirits. His comparison is a burning-glass—“Her eye did scorch me up like a burning-glass.” A burning-glass is an object with which, when brought to bear on the human skin, we associate mischief and pain; it is, therefore, not a thing beautifully suggestive or calculated to enhance by com
parison the influence of a lady's gaze; the effect, therefore, is mirth or ridicule, and not admiration. So, again, when melancholy is to be illustrated, the illustration Falstaff uses is very far from being poetical. Melancholy in the hands of a poet is a noble and a powerful instrument for liberating beautiful metaphors—“A tongue chained up without a sound, ... a sigh that piercing mortifies; “pensive nun, devout and pure, . . a goddess sage and holy, . . . whose saintly visage is too bright to hit the sense of human sight," &c. To Falstaff melancholy suggests “the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe," a simile to which Prince Henry adds, “ a hare, or the melancholy of Moorditch.” Moorditch was a filthy morass in the moat outside the city of London wall, and lay between the posterns called Moorgate and Bishopsgate; and as to the hare, Mr. Staunton, in his “Shakspere," throws some light on that analogy by quoting from Turberville's book on “Hunting and Falconry" the following passage :
The hare first taught us the use of the hearbe called wyld succory, which is very excellent for those which are disposed to be melancholicke. Shee herselfe is one of the most melancholicke of beasts that is, and to heale her own infirmitie she goeth commonly to sit under that hearbe.” This sally of Prince Henry's may fairly be fathered on Falstaff, for “I am,” says the latter," not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men." In each of the foregoing examples of wit—a lady's eye compared to a burning-glass, and melancholy to the drone of a bagpipe—one of the factors is sufficiently noble to enter into poetry, as we have seen; but being brought into contact with a factor relatively mean or contemptible, the result is comedy. In the following examples both factors are mean, or the noble one, as before, is made to appear so by comparison, and the effect is produced by the action and reaction of one upon
the other. A wildfowl might, indeed, be the subject of a poetic reference in regard to its lofty flight and free career, but when we
come to look for its “ valour in the
of a sportsman, the animal drops below the poetic level. We are not less inclined to smile, therefore, when Falstaff tells us that “ there is no more valour in that Poins than in a wildduck," than when he declares that he himself fears not “Goliah with a weaver's beam,” because he knows also “life is a shuttle.” The knight belittles the credit of his hostess by telling her, “ There is no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune, nor no more truth in thee than in a drawn fox.” Falstaff's pecuniary extravagance is thus commented on by himself—“I can get no remedy against this consumption of the purse; borrowing only lingers and lingers it out, but the disease is incurable.” This allusion is a little more than wit and less than poetry. Falstaff frightens Sir John Colevile into surrendering himself by comparing the sweat which the conqueror would lose in killing him to the tears of a lover_“Do ye yield, sir? or shall I sweat for you? If I do sweat, they are the drops of thy lover's tears, and they weep for thy death; therefore rouse up, fear and trembling."
Pistol, the parasite, hangs out of Falstaff like a corpse from a gallows or a weight from a crane—“Hang no more about me; I am no gibbet for you.” The metal of this Pistol is not of the most sterling kind; for when the hostess becomes hysterical and trembles "an 'twere an aspen leaf” at the approach of swaggering Pistol, Falstaff allays her terror with the following assurance—“He's no swaggerer, hostess; a tame cheater he; you may stroke him as gently as a puppy greyhound , he will not swagger with a Barbary hen if her feathers turn back in any show of resistance"-an illustration which may be compared with the wild-duck valour of Poins. Being admitted to the inn, however, Pistol creates a brawl and must be put out. Bardolph is commissioned to expel him, to throw him like a quoit down the stairs—“ Quoit him down, Bardolph, like a shovegroat shilling.” Bardolph, however, being himself a man of the same kidney as the offender,