« ПредишнаНапред »
That to the decorated pillar lead,
At these words
pp. 270~3. The causes which have prevented the poetry of Mr. Wordsworth from attaining its full share of popularity are to be found in the boldness and originality of his genius. The times are past when a poet could securely follow the direction of his own mind into whatever tracts it might lead. A writer, who would be popular, must timidly coast the shore of prescribed sentiment and sympathy. He must have just as much more of the imaginative faculty than his readers, as will serve to keep their apprehensions from stagnating, but not so much as to alarm their jealousy. He must not think or feel too deeply.
If he has had the fortune to be bred in the midst of the most magnificent objects of creation, he must not have given away his heart to them; or if he have, he must conceal his love, or not carry his expressions of it beyond that point of rapture, which the occasional tourist thinks it not overstepping decorum to betray, or the limit which that gentlemanly spy upon Nature, the picturesque traveller, has vouchsafed to countenance. He must do this, or be content to be thought an enthusiast.
If from living among simple mountaineers, from a daily intercourse with them, not upon the footing of a patron, but in the character of an equal, he has detected, or imagines that he has detected, through the cloudy medium of their unlettered discourse, thoughts and apprehensions not vulgar; traits of patience and constancy, love unwearied, and heroic endurance, not unfit (as he may judge) to be made the subject of verse, he will be deemed a man of perverted geniys by the philanthropist who, conceiving of the peasantry of his country only as objects of a pecuniary sympathy,
starts at finding them elevated to a level of humanity with himself, having their owu loves, enmities, cravings, aspirations, &c., as much beyond his faculty to believe, as his beneficence to supply.
If from a familiar observation of the ways of children, and much more from a retrospect of his own mind when a child, he has gathered more reverential notions of that state than fall to the lot of ordinary observers, and, escaping from the dissonant wranglings of men, has tuned his lyre, though but for occasional harmonies, to the milder utterance of that soft age,_his verses shall be censured as infantile by critics who confound poetry having children for its subject with poetry that is 'childish,' and who, having themselves perhaps never been children, never having possessed the tenderness and docility of that age, know not what the soul of a child is—how apprehensive! how imaginative! bow religious !
We have touched upon some of the causes which we conceive to have been unfriendly to the author's former poems. We think they do not apply in the same force to the one before us. There is in it more of uniform elevation, a wider scope of subject, less of manner, and it contains none of those starts and imperfect shapings which in some of this author's smaller pieces offended the weak, and gave scandal to the perverse. It must indeed be approached with seriousness. It has in it much of that quality which draws the devout, deterring the profane.' Those who hate the Paradise Lost will not love this poem. The steps of the great master are discernible in it; not in direct imitation or injurious parody, but in the following of the spirit, in free homage and generous subjection.
One objection it is impossible not to foresee. It will be asked, why put such eloquent discourse in the mouth of a pedlar? It might be answered that Mr. Wordsworth's plan required a character in humble life to be the organ of his philosophy. It was in harmony with the system and scenery of his poem. We read Pier’s Plowman's Creed, and the lowness of the teacher seems to add a simple dignity to the doctrine. Besides, the poet has bestowed an unusual share of education
him. Is it too much to suppose that the author, at some early period of his life, may himself have known such a person, a man endowed with sentiments above his situation, another Bums; and that the dignified strains which he has attributed to the Wanderer
be no more than recollections of his conversation, heightened only by the amplification natural to poetry, or the lustré which imagination flings back upon the objects and companions of our youth? After all, if there should be found readers willing to admire the
yet feel scandalized at a name, we would advise them, wherever it occurs, to substitute silently the word Palmer, or Pilgrim, or any less offensive designation, which shall connect the notion of sobriety in heart and manners with the experience and privileges which a wayfaring life confers.
: Art. VI.- Cours de Littérature Dramatique. Par A. W.
Schlegel. Traduit d'Allemand. 8vo. 3 vols. pp. 1900. London. 1814.
THIS 'HIS is a work of extraordinary merit. It was originally de
livered at Vienna in the form of lectures, and professed to be a review of dramatic literature in the different countries where it has successively flourished. It has been since carefully revised, and now comes before the public with the author's last touches and improvements.
Mr. Schlegel employs his first chapter in analysing the spirit with which a critic ought to be animated, and in various preliminary remarks which appear essential to the success of his system; he observes, that either from the imperfection of language, or the perversion of ideas, the office of a critic is usually supposed to consist in the talent of detecting faults, rather than in that refined and delicate taste, which is requisite to appreciate the higher order of beauties.
This opinion he acknowledges to be in some measure justified by the proceedings of modern critics, eager to point out the smallest defect, and more ready to eulogise the industrious accuracy of mediocrity than the lofty flights of superior genius. For a long time after the revival of letters, writers were exposed to innumerable disadvantages from the pedantry and presumption of the commentators, who attributed to the ancients an unbounded authority in every branch of literature. Hence the admiratio, so deservedly due to the poets and historians of Athens and Rome, became in some sort injurious to posterity, who were told, by what they considered as authority that nothing could be expected from the labours of man, if he forsook the path of imitation; that the only praise which remained for a modern to acquire, was by closely adhering to those excellent models; and that the slightest deviatiou from the precepts of Aristotle was a proof of degenerated taste.- vol. i. p. 12.
A servile copyist must ever be tame; it is by imbibing the spirit, not by pilfering the ideas of Homer or Virgil, that we can bope to reach the temple of Fame. To this description of men, however, the pedantry of critics long assigned the honourable appellation of modern classics, while they treated those who ventured to follow the inspiration of genius, as bold and barbarous innovators. And the better to establish this absurd theory, they attempted to draw an impassable line between taste and genius. Fortunately, however, the world has discovered that commentators are seldom good judges of taste, and that the plodding perseverance of a Wolf or a Heyne would never have produced the Iliad, or the Georgics. “Taste and genius,' says our author, are unquestionably derived from the
same source, and differ only in the intenseness of the feeling.'vol. i. p. 15.*
The comparative merit of the ancients and moderns has long afforded abundant matter for dispute. Latterly, however, men of literary reputation, particularly in Germany, have endeavoured to simplify the question. Without detracting from the excellence of their precursors, they were desirous of establishing the claims of their contemporaries upon a sure and solid foundation. This investigation led them to distinguish the productions of antiquity by the appellation of classic, those of modern times by that of romantic; a name intended to designate the popular idioms that have been formed by a mixture of the Latin tongue with the ancient dialects of Germany.
With the single exception of the Christian dispensation no cause appears to have operated with such powerful effect, in regulating the progress of cultivation, as the bold and manly character of those people who overturned the empire of the Cæsars; because they introduced new habits of lifē, together with a sterner system of ethics, among the degenerate inhabitants of southern Europe. This change, though it may have checked the excursions of fancy, lent dignity and energy to the soul. The rude mixture of heroisin with religious enthusiasm gave birth to the institutions of chivalry, the leading principle of which was to mitigate the ferocity of uncivilized warriors, and subject force to the controul of humanity. Under the guidance and protection of chivalrous honour, love assumed a more elevated character. It was the rational homage of strength to beauty; it was the a; otheosis of beings, who though naturally weak, are exalted by the attraction of personal charms, and the characteristic virtues of their sex, above the common level of humanity. Even religion appears to consecrate a worship, which presents to our veneration what is purest and most attractive in nature-virgin innocence, and maternal affection.
Thus love and honour, the cherished objects of chivalrous pursuit, became the favourite themes of the poet, wliose songs, perused with enthusiastic avidity by all classes of people, prepared the way for that superior degree of cultivation to which romantic literature afterwards attained. This epoch possesses its appropriate machinery of giants, fairies, and enchanters; an incongruous mixture of the prowess of knights, and the miracles and tempta
* A cultivated taste, combined with a creative imagination, constitutes genius in the fine arts. Without taste, imagination would produce only a random analysis and combination of our cunceptions; and without imagination, taste would be destitute of the faculties of invention. These two ingredients of genius may be mixed together in all possible proportions.-Stewart's Philos. i. 497. + Madame de Staël has made the British public familiar with these expressions. VOL. XII. NO. XXIII.
tions of saints, blended together in heterogeneous confusion; but the marvellous achievements which its legends record, are of a nature totally distinct from the mythological fables of antiquity.
Some philosophers haveasserted, that melancholy forms the characteristic feature of northern poetry; an opinion which our author seems inclined to adopt. Among the Greeks, the most aspiring were content with attaining to that degree of elevation which human nature is calculated to reach, fully satisfied with the triumph so gloriously obtained over the genius and exertions of their competitors; but the Christian is taught that the destiny of man does not terminate with this life; that in his present state of probation he is subjected to trials, which must finally decide his happiness, or misery for ever. The sensual religion of Greece offered only exterual and temporal blessings; to the believer in the gospel every object presents itself in a very different light; all earthly possessions diminish in value, when known to be transient and delusive.
Disgusted with the imperfect gratifications of this world, we delight to escape to another of the poet's creation, where the charms of nature are clothed in eternal bloom, and where sources of pleasure are opened to us, suited to the vast capacities of the human mind. It however presented itself under very different aspects to the Greek and the Scandinavian. The quick sensibility of the former attached him to the joys and glories of the present life; while the climate, the education, and the faith of the latter, all equally contributed to make him thirst after enjoyments, which his bleak mountains were little calculated to afford; and therefore tended to abstract his affections from what was actually within his grasp, and to unfold the dark and awful visions of the ideal world.
Greece appeared to its inhabitants in all the beauty and luxuriousness of uncontrouled vegetation. A republican government called into action all the talents, and passions, and energies of the community. History, philosophy, and poetry combined to elevate the national character. The devotion of the Greeks rather assumed the form of gratitude, than the language of supplication. The grove which embellished, and the hill which bounded his landscape, suggested only the idea of the nymph, or faun, who tenanted their recesses, without raising their contemplation from nature, to nature's God.
Sæpe per autumnum, jam pubescente Lyæo,
Nereis, et dulces rapuit de collibus uvas. ---Statius Sylv. II.