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here venture to give an opinion; except to express our firm belief that they have never been influenced by motives unworthy of a man of genius.
Mr. Campbell has not done much which is excellent in poetry, but that which he has written well is admirable in its kind. His battle-odes are simple, affecting, and sublime.— Few passages can exceed the dying speech of Gertrude, in sweet pathos, or the war-song of old Outalissi, in stern and ferocious grandeur. It is astonishing, that he, who could produce these and other pieces of most genuine poetry, should, on some occasions, egregiously mistake gaudy words for imagi. nation; and heap up fragments of bad metaphors, as though he could scale the "highest heaven of invention," by the accumulation of mere earthly materials.
It is the singular lot of Moore, to seem in his smaller pieces, as though he were fitted for the highest walk of poetry; and, in his more ambitious efforts, to appear as though he could fabricate nothing but glittering tinsel. The truth is, however, that those of his attempts, which the world thinks the boldest, and in which we regard him as unsuccessful, are not above but beneath his powers. A thousand tales of veiled prophets, who wed ladies in the abodes of the dead, and frighten their associates to death by their maimed and mangled countenances, may be produced with far less expense of true imagination, fancy, or feeling, than one sweet song, which shall seem the very echo "of summer days and delightful years." Moore is not fit for the composition of tales of demon frenzy and feverish strength, only because his genius is of too pure and noble an essence. He is the most sparkling and graceful of triflers. It signifies little, whether the Fives Court or the Palace furnish him with materials. However repulsive the subject, he can "turn all to favour, and to prettiness." Clay and gold, subjected to his easy inimitable hand, are wrought into shapes, so pleasingly fantastic, that the difference of the subject is lost in the fineness of the workmanship. His lighter pieces are distinguished at once by deep feeling, and a gay festive air, which he never entirely loses. He leads wit, sentiment, patriotism, and fancy, in a gay fantastic round, gambols sportively with fate, and holds a dazzling fence with care and with sorrow. He has seized all the " snatches of old tunes," which yet lingered about the wildest regions of his wild and fanciful country; and has fitted to them words of accordance, the most exquisite. There is a luxury in his grief, and a sweet melancholy in his joy, which are old and well remembered in our experience, though scarcely ever before thus nicely revived in poetry.
The works of Crabbe are full of good sense, condensed thought, and lively picture; yet the greater part of them is almost the converse of poetry. The mirror which he holds up to nature, is not that of imagination, which softens down the asperities of actual existences, brings out the stately and the beautiful, while it leaves the trivial and the low in shadow, and sets all things which it reflects in harmony before as: on the contrary, it exhibits the details of the coarsest and most unpleasing realities, with microscopic accuracy and minuteness. Some of his subjects are, in themselves, worthless—others are absolutely revolting—yet it is impossible to avoid admiring the strange nicety of touch with which he has felt their discordances, and the ingenuity with which he has painted them. His likenesses absolutely startle us.— There are cases in which this intense consciousness of little circumstances is prompted by deep passion; and, whenever Mr. Crabbe seizes one of these, his extreme minuteness rivets and enchants us. The effect of this vivid picturing in one of his tales, where a husband relates to his wife the story of her own intrigue before marriage, as a tale of another, is thrilling and grand. In some of his poems, as his Sir Eustace Grey and the Gipsy-woman's Confession, he has shown that he can wield the mightiest passions with ease, when he chooses to rise from the contemplation of the individual to that of the universal; from the delineation of men and things, to that of man and the universe.
We dissent from many of Leigh Hunt's principles of morality and of taste; but we cannot suffer any difference of opinion to prevent the avowal of our deep sense of his poetical genius. He is a poet of various and sparkling fancy, of real affectionate heartiness, and of pathos as deep and pure as that of any living writer. He unites an English homeliness, with the richest Italian luxury. The story of Rimini is one of the most touching, which we have ever received into our "heart of hearts." The crispness of the descriptive passages, the fine spirit of gallantry in the chivalrous delineations, the exquisite gradations of the fatal affection and the mild heart-breaking remorse of the heroine; form, altogether, a body of sweetly-bitter recollections, for which none but the most heartless of critics would be unthankful. The fidelity and spirit of his little translations are surprising. Nor must we forget his prose works;—the wonderful power, with which he has for many years sent forth weekly essays, of great originality, both of substance and expression; and which seem now as fresh and unexhausted as ever. We have nothing here to do with his religion or his politics;—but, it is impossible to help admiring the healthful impulses, which he has so long been breathing " into the torpid breast of daily life;" or the plain and manly energy, with which he has shaken the selfism of the age, and sent the claims of the wretched in full and resistless force to the bosoms of the proud, or the thoughtless. In some of his productions—especially in several numbers of the Indicator—he has revived some of those lost parts of our old experience, which we had else wholly forgotten; and has given a fresh sacredness to our daily walks and ordinary habits. We do not see any occasion in this for terms of reproach or ridicule. The scenery around London is not the finest in the world; but it is all which an immense multitude can see of nature, and surely it is no less worthy an aim to hallow a spot which thousands may visit, than to expatiate on the charms of some dainty solitude, which can be enjoyed only by an occasional traveller.
There are other living poets, some of them of great excellence, on whose merits we should be happy to.dwell, but that time and space would fail us. We might expatiate on the heaven-breathing pensiveness of Montgomery—on the elegant reminiscences of Rogers—on the gentle eccentricity of Wilson—on the luxurious melancholy of Bowles—or on the soft beauties of Ettrick Shepherd. The works of Lloyd are rich in materials of reflection—most intense, yet most gentle—most melancholy, yet most full of kindness—most original in philosophic thought, yet most calm and benignant towards the errors of the world. Reynolds has given delightful indications of a free, and happy, and bounteous spirit, fit to sing of merry out-laws and green-wood revelries, which we trust he will suffer to refresh us with its blithe carollings.
Keats, whose Endymion was so cruelly treated by the critics, has just put forth a volume of poems which must effectually silence his deriders. The rich romance of his Lamia—the holy beauty of his St. Agnes' Eve—the pure and simple diction and intense feeling of his Isabella—and the rough sublimity of his Hyperion—cannot be laughed down, though all the periodical critics in England and Scotland were to assail them with their sneers. Shelley, too, notwithstanding the odious subject of his last tragedy, evinced in that strange work a real human power, of which there is little trace among the old allegories and metaphysical splendours of his earlier productions. No one can fail to perceive, that there are mighty elements in his genius, although there is a melancholy want of a presiding power—a central harmony—in his soul. Indeed, rich as the present age is in poetry, it is even richer in promise. There are many minds—among which we may, particularly, mention that of Maturin—which are yet disturbed even by the number of their own incomplete perceptions. These, however, will doubtless fulfill their glorious destiny, as their imaginations settle into that calm lucidness, which in the instance of Keats has so rapidly succeeded to turbid and impetuous confusion.
The dramatic literature of the present age does not hold a rank proportioned to its poetical genius. But our tragedy, at least, is superior to any which has been produced since the rich period of Elizabeth and of James. Though the dramatic works of Shiel, Maturin, Coleridge, and Milman, are not so grand, and harmonious, and impressive, as the talent of their authors would lead us to desire, they are far superior to the tragedies of Hill, Southern, Murphy, Johnson, Philipps, Thomson, Young, Addison, or Rowe. Otway's Venice Preserved alone—and that only in the stucture of its plot—is superior to the Remorse, to Bertram, Fazio, or Evadne. And then—more pure, more dramatic, more gentle, than all these, is the tragedy of Virginius—a piece of simple yet beautiful humanity—in which the most exquisite succession of classic groups is animated with young life and connected by the finest links of interest—and the sweetest of Roman stories lives before us at once, new and familiar to our bosoms.
We shall not be suspected of any undue partiality towards modern criticism. But its talent shows, perhaps, more decidedly than any thing else, the great start which the human mind has taken of late years. Throughout all the periodical works extant, from the Edinburgh Review down to the lowest of the Magazines, striking indications may be perceived of " that something far more deeply interfused," which is now working in the literature of England. We not rarely see criticisms on theatrical performances of the preceding evening in the daily newspapers, which would put to shame the elaborate observations of Dr. Johnson on Shakspeare. Mr. Hazlitt—incomparably the most original of the regular critics—has almost raised criticism into an independent art, and, while analyzing the merits of others, has disclosed stores of sentiment, thought, and fancy, which are his own peculiar property. His relish for the excellencies of those whom he eulogizes, is so keen, that, in his delineations, the pleasures of intellect become almost as vivid and substantial as those of sense. He introduces us into the very presence of the great of old time, and enables us almost to imagine that we hear them utter the living words of beauty and wisdom. He makes us companions of their happiest hours, and share not only in the pleasures which they diffused, but in those which they tasted. He discloses to us the hidden soul of beauty, not like an anatomist but like a lover. His criticism!, instead of breaking the sweetest enchantments of life, prolongs them, and teaches us to love poetic excellence more intensely, as well as more wisely.
The present age is, also, honourably distinguished by the variety and the excellence of productions from the pen of women. In poetry—there is the deep passion, richly tinged with fancy, of Baillie—the delicate romance of Mitford—the gentle beauty and feminine chivalry of Beetham—and the classic elegance of Hemans. There is a greater abundance of female talent among the novelists. The exquisite sarcasm of humour of Madame D'Arblay—the soft and romantic charm of the novels of the Porters—the brilliant ease and admirable good sense of Edgeworth—the intense humanity of Inchbald—the profound insight into the fearful depths of the soul with which the author of Glenarvon is gifted—the heart-rending pathos of Opie—and the gentle