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some little space, populous of high thoughts and disinterested resolves—some touch upon that “line of limitless desires,” along which he shall live in a purer sphere?—And if that taste of joy is not to be renewed on earth, the soul will not suffer by an attempt to prolong its memory. It is a mistake, to suppose that young beginners in poetry are always prompted by a mere love of worldly fame. The sense of beauty and the love of the ideal, if they do not draw all the faculties into their likeness, still impart to the soul something of their rich and unearthly colouring. Young fantasy spreads its golden films, slender though they be, through the varied tenour of existence. Imagination, nurtured in the opening of life, though it be not developed in poetic excellence, will strengthen the manly virtue, give a noble cast to the thoughts, and a generous course to the sympathies. It will assist to crush self-love in its first risings, to mellow and soften the heart, and prepare it for its glorious destiny. Even if these consequences did not follow, surely the most exquisite feelings of young hope are not worthy of scorn. They may truly be worth years of toil, of riches, and of honour. Who would crush them at a venture—short and uncertain as life is—and cold and dreary as are often its most brilliant successes What, indeed, can this world offer to compare with the earliest poetic dreams, which our modern critics think it sport or virtue to destroy!
“Such views the youthful bard allure
IHe decms their colours shall endure
And let him nurse his fond deceit,
Who would not cherish dreams so sweet,
But, supposing for a moment that it were really desirable to put down all authors who do not rise into excellence, at any expense of personal feeling, we must not forget the risk which such a process involves of crushing undeveloped genius. There are many causes which may prevent minds, gifted with the richest faculties, from exerting them at the first with success. The very number of images, crowdings on the mirror of the soul, may for a while darken its surface, and give the idea of inextricable confusion. The young poet's holiest thoughts must often appear to him too sacred to be fully developed to the world. His soul will half shrink at first from the disclosure of its solemn immunities and strange joys. He will thus become timid and irresolute—tell but a slight part of that which he feels—and this broken and disjointed communication will appear senseless or feeble. The more deep and original his thoughts—the more dazzling his glimpses into the inmost sanctuaries of nature, the more difficult will be the task of embodying these in words, so as to make them palpable to ordinary conceptions. He will be constantly in danger, too, in the servour of his spirit, of mistaking things which in his mind are connected with strains of delicious musing, for objects, in themselves, stately or sacred. The seeming common-place, which we despise, may be to him the index to pure thoughts and far-reaching desires. In that which to the careless eye may seem but a little humble spring—pure, perhaps, and sparkling, but scarce worthy of a glance—the more attentive observer may perceive a depth which he cannot fathom, and discover that the seeming fount is really the breaking forth of a noble river, winding its consecrated way beneath the soil, which, as it runs, will soon bare its bosom to the heavens, and gilde in a cool and fertilizing majesty. And is there not some danger that souls, whose powers of expression are inadequate to make manifest their inward wealth, should be sealed for ever by the hasty sentences of criticism! The name of Lord Byron is rather unfortunately introduced by the celebrated journal which we have quoted, into its general denunciation against youthful poets. Surely the critics must for the moment have forgotten, that at the outset of the career of that bard, to whose example they now refer, as most illustriously opposed to the mediocrity which they condemn, they themselves poured contempt on his endeavours : Do they now wish that he had taken their counsel? Are they willing to run the hazard, for the sake of putting down a thousand pretenders a few months before their time, of crushing another power such as they esteem his own ; Their very excuse—that, at the time, his verses were all which they adjudged them—is the very
proof of the impolicy of such censures. If the object of their scorn has, in this instance, risen above it, how do we know that more delicate minds have not sunk beneath it? Besides, although Lord Byron was not repelled, but rather excited by their judgment, he seems to have sustained from it scarcely less injury. If it stung him into energy, it left its poison in his soul. It first instigated his spleen ;-taught him that spirit of scorn which debases the noblest faculties--and impelled him, in his rage, to attack those who had done him no wrong, to scoff at the sanctities of humanity, and to pretend to hate or deride his species !
· And, even, if genius is too deep to be suppressed, or too celestial to be perverted, is it nothing that the soul of its possessor should be wrung with agony? For a while, criticism may throw back poets whom it cannot annihilate, and make them pause in their course of glory and of joy, “confounded though immortal.” Who can estimate those pangs which on the “purest spirits" are thus made to prey
" as on entrails, joint, and limb,
The heart of a young poet is one of the most sacred things on earth. How nicely strung are its fibres—how keen its sensibilities—how shrinking the timidity with which it puts forth its gentle conceptions! And shall such a heart receive rude usage from a world which it only desires to improve and to gladden? Shall its nerves be stretched on the rack, or its apprehensions turned into the instruments of its torture? All this, and more, has been done towards men of whom “ this world was not worthy." Cowper, who, first of modern poets, restored to the general heart the feeling of healthful nature-whose soul was without one particle of malice or of guile-whose susceptible and timorous spirit shrunk tremblingly from the touch of this rough world was chilled, tortured, and almost maddened, by some nameless critic's scorn. Kirke White-the delicate beauties of whose mind were destined scarcely to unfold themselves on earth in the beginning of his short career, was cut to the heart by the cold mockery of a stranger. A few sentences, penned, perhaps, in mere carelessness, almost nipped the young blos
soms of his genius “ like an untimely frost;" palsied for awhile all his faculties—embittered his little span of life haunted him almost to the verge of his grave, and heightened his dying agonies! Would the annihilation of all the dulness in the world compensate for one moment's anguish inflicted on hearts like these?
We have been all this time considering not the possible abuses, but the necessary tendencies, of contemporary criticism. All the evils we have pointed out may arise, though no sinister design pervert the Reviewer's judgment—though no prejudice even unconsciously warp him-and, even, though he may decide fairly “from the evidence before him.” But it is impossible that this favourable supposition should be often realized in an age like ours. Temper, politics, religion, the interests of rival poets, or rival publishers—a thousand influences, sometimes recognised, and sometimes only felt-decide the sentence on imaginations the most divine. The very trade of the critic himself-the necessity of his being witty, or brilliant, or sarcastic, for his own sake -is sufficient to disqualify him as a judge. Sad thought ! that the most sensitive, and gentle, and profound of human beings, should be dependant on casual caprice, on the passions of a bookseller, or on the necessities of a period !
4. It may be perceived, from what we have already written, that we do not esteem criticism as a guide more than as a censor. The general effect on the public mind is, we fear, to dissipate and weaken. It spoils the freshest charms even of the poetry which it praises. It destroys all reverence for great poets, by making the world think of them as a species of culprits, who are to plead their genius as an excuse for their intrusion Time has been when the poet himself-instead of submitting his works to the public as his mastercalled around him those whom he thought worthy to receive his precepts, and pointed out to them the divine lineaments, which he felt could never perish. They regarded him, with reverence, as most favoured of mortals. They delighted to sit in the seat of the disciple, not in that of the scorner. How much enjoyment have the people lost by being exalted into judges! The ascent of literature has been rendered smooth and easy, but its rewards are proportionably lessened in value. With how holy a zeal did the aspirant once gird himself to tread the unworn path; how delectably was he refreshed by each plant of green; how intensely did he enjoy every prospect, from the lone and embowered resting places of his journey! Now, distinctions are levelled the zest of intellectual pleasures is taken away; and no one hour, like that of Archimedes, ever repays a life of toil. The appetite, satiated with luxuries cheaply acquired, requires new stimulants—even criticism palls—and private slander must be mingled with it to give the necessary relish. Happily, these evils will, at last, work out their own remedy. Scorn, of all human emotions, leaves the frailest monuments behind it. That light which now seems to play around the weapons of periodical criticism, is only like the electrical flame which, to the amazement of the superstitious, wreathes the sword of the Italian soldier on the approach of a storm, vapourish and fleeting. Those mighty poets of our timewho are now overcoming the derision of the critics—will be immortal witnesses of their shame. These will lift their heads, “ like mountains when the mists are rolled away," imperishable memorials of the true genius of our time, to the most distant ages.