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ferent plea upon an indictment for murder at the Old Baily, yet that he hopes the good-natured reader will have compassion on him, as the gods have on his hero. But raillery apart, sir, what occasion is there for having recourse to an epic poet to tell ourselves by the bye, and by the occasional reflection, that there will be a retribution in futurity, when the Christian has this in his heart constantly and directly, and the Atheist and Free-thinker will make no such reflection "i Tell me truly, sir, would not such a poet appear to you or me, not to have sufficiently considered what a poetical moral is 1 And should not you or I, sir, be obliged, in order to make him comprehend the nature of it, to lay before him that universal moral, which is the foundation of all morals, both epic and dramatic, and is inclusive of them all, and that is, That he who does good, and perseveres in it, shall always be rewarded; and he who does ill, and perseveres in it, shall always be punished 1 Should we not desire him to observe, that the foresaid reward must always attend and crown good actions, not sometimes only, for then it would follow, that sometimes a perseverance in good actions has no reward, which would take away all poetical instruction, and, indeed, every sort of moral instruction, resolving Providence into chance or fate. Should we not, sir, farther put him in mind, that since whoever perseveres in good actions, is sure to be rewarded at the last, it follows, that a poet does not assert by his moral, that he is always sure to be rewarded in this world, because that would be false, as you have very justly observed, p. 60; and, therefore, never can be the moral of an epic poem, because what is false may delude, but only truth can instruct. Should we not let him know, sir, that this universal moral only teaches us, that whoever perseveres in good actions, shall be always sure to be rewarded either here or hereafter; and that the truth of this moral is proved by the poet, by making the principal character of his poem, like all the rest of his characters, and like the poetical action, at the bottom, universal and allegorical, even after distinguishing it by a particular name, by making this principal character at the bottom, a mere political phantom of a very short duration, through the whole extent of which duration we can see at once, which continues no longer than the reading of the poem, and that being over, the phantom is to us nothing, so that unless our sense is satisfied of the reward that is given to this poetical phantom, whose whole duration we see through from the very beginning to the end; instead of a wholesome moral, there would be a pernicious instruction, viz: That a man may persevere in good actions, and not be rewarded for it through the whole extent of his duration, that is, neither in this world nor in the world to come."
It may be sufficient to answer to all this—and to much more of the same kind which our author has adduced— that little good can be attained by representations which are perpetually at variance with our ordinary perceptions. The poet may represent humanity as mightier and fairer than it appears to a common observer. In the mirror which he "holds up to nature," the forms of might and of beauty may look more august, more lovely, or more harmonious, than they appear, in the "light of common day," to eyes which are ungifted with poetic vision. But if the world of imagination is directly opposed to that of reality, it will become a cold abstraction, a baseless dream, a splendid mockery. We shall strive in vain to make men sympathize with beings of a sphere purely ideal, where might shall be always right, and virtue its own present as well as exceeding great reward. Happily, the exhibition is as needless for any moral purposes, as it would be inadequate to attain them. Though the poet cannot make us witnesses of the future recompense of that virtue, which here struggles and suffers, he can cause us to feel, in the midst of its very struggles and sufferings, that it is eternal. He makes the principle of immortality manifest in the meek submission, in the deadly wrestle with fate, and even in the mortal agonies of his noblest characters. What, in true dignity, does virtue lose, by the pangs which its clay tenement endures, if we are made conscious of its high prerogatives, though we do not actually behold the immunities which shall ultimately be its portion 1 Hereafter it may be rewarded; but now it is triumphant. We require no dull epilogue to tell us, that it shall be crowned in another and happier state of being; for our souls gush with admiration and sympathy with it, amidst its sorrows. We love it, and burn to imitate it, for its own loveliness, not for its gains. Surely it is a higher
aim of the poet to awaken this emotion—to inspire us with the awe of goodness, amidst its deepest external debasements, and to make us almost desire to share in them, than to invite us to partake in her rewards, and to win us by a calculating sympathy. The hovel or the dungeon does not, in the pictures of a genuine poet, give the colouring to the soul which inhabits it, but receives from its majesty a consecration beyond that of temples, and a dignity statelier than that of palaces. For it is his high prerogative to exhibit the spiritual part of man triumphant over that about him, which is mortal—to show, in his far-reaching hope, his moveless constancy, his deep and disinterested affections, that there is a spirit within him, which death cannot destroy. Low, indeed, is the morality which aspires to affect men by nothing beyond the poor and childish lesson, that to be virtuous is to be happy. Virtue is no dependant on earthly expediencies for its excellence. It has a beauty to be loved, as vice has a deformity to be abhorred, which are unaffected by the consequences experienced by their votaries. Do we admire the triumph of vice, and scoff at goodness, when we think on the divine Clarissa, violated, imprisoned, heartbroken, dying 1 Must Parson Adams receive a mitre, to assure us that we should love him 1 Our best feelings and highest aspirations are not yet of so mercantile a cast, as those who contend for "poetical justice" would imagine. The mere result, in respect of our sympathies, is as nothing. The only real violation of poetical justice is in the violation of nature in the clothing. When, for example, a wretch, whose trade is murder, is represented as cherishing the purest and the deepest love for an innocent being—when chivalrous delicacy or sentiment is conferred on a pirate, tainted with a thousand crimes—the effect is immoral, whatever doom may, at last, await him. If the barriers of virtue and of evil are melted down by the current of spurious sympathy, there is no catastrophe which can remove the mischief; and while these are preserved in our feelings, there is none which can truly harm us.
The critics of the age of Dennis held, a middle course between their predecessors of old time, and their living successors. The men who first exercised the art of criticism, imbued with personal veneration for the loftiest works of genius, sought to deduce rules from them, which future poets should observe. They did not assume the right of passing individual judgments on their contemporaries—nor did they aim at deciding even abstract questions of taste on their own personal authority—but attempted, by fixing the laws of composition, to mark out the legitimate channels in which the streams of thought, passion, and sentiment, should be bounded through all ages. Their dogmas, therefore, whether they contained more or less of truth, carried with them no extrinsic weight, were influenced by no personal feelings, excited no personal animosities, but simply appealed, like poetry itself, to those minds which alone could give them sanction. In the first critical days of England—those of the Rymers and the Dennises—the professors of the art began to regard themselves as judges, not merely of the principles of poetry, but of their application by living authors. Then commenced the arrogance on the side of the supervisors, and the impatience and resentment on that of their subjects, which contemporary criticism necessarily inspires. The worst passions of man are brought into exercise in reference to those pure and ennobling themes, which should be sacred from all low contentions of" the ignorant present time." But the battle was, at least, fair and open. The critic still appealed to principles, however fallacious or imperfect, which all the world might examine. His decrees had no weight, independent of his reasons, nor was his name, or his want of one, esteemed of magical virtue. He attacked the poets on equal terms—sometimes, indeed, with derision and personal slander—but always as a foe to subdue, not as a judge to pass sentence on them. Criticism, in our own times, has first assumed the air of " sovereign sway and masterdom" over the regions of fantasy. Its professors enforce not established laws, contend no longer for principles, attack poets no more with chivalrous zeal, as violating the cause of poetic morals, or sinning against the regularities of their art. They pronounce the works, of which they take cognizance, to be good or bad—often without professing to give any reason for their decision—or referring to any standard, more fixed or definite than their own taste, partiality, or prejudice. And the public, without any knowledge of their fitness for their office—without even knowing their names—receive them as the censors of literature, the privileged inspectors of genius! This strange supremacy of criticism, in our own age, gives interest to the investigation of the claims, which the art itself possesses to the respect and gratitude of the people. If it is, on the whole, beneficial to the world, it must either be essential to the awakening of genius—or necessary to direct its exertions—or useful in repressing abortive and mistaken efforts—or conducive to the keeping alive and fitly guiding admiration to the good and great. On each of these grounds, we shall now very briefly examine its value. 1. It is evident, that the art of criticism is not requisite to the development of genius, because, in the golden ages of poetry it has had no portion. Its professors have never even constructed the scaffolding to aid the erection of the cloudcapped towers and solemn temples of the bard. By his facile magic he has called them into existence, like the palace of Aladdin, as complete in the minutest graces of finishing as noble in design. Long before the art of criticism was known in Greece, her rhapsodists had attained the highest excellencies of poetry. No fear of a critic's scorn, no desire of a critic's praise, influenced these consecrated wanderers. Nature alone was their model, their inspirer, and their guide. From her did they drink in the feeling, not only of permanence and of grandeur, but of aerial grace, and roseate beauty. The rocks and hills gave them the visible images of lasting might—the golden clouds of even, "sailing on the bosom of the air," sent a feeling of evanescent loveliness into their souls—and the delicate branchings of the grove, reflected in the calm waters, imbued them with a perception of elegance beyond the reach of art. No pampered audiences thought themselves entitled to judge them; to analyze their powers; to descant on their imperfections; to lament their failures; or to eulogize their sublimities, as those who had authority to praise. Their hearers dwelt on their accents with rapturous wonder, as nature's living oracles. They wandered through the every where communicating joy, and every where receiving reverence—exciting in youth its first tearful ecstasy, and kindling fresh enthusiasm amidst the withered affections of age. They were revered as the inspired chroniclers of heroic deeds—the inspirers of national glory and virtue—the depositories of the mysteries and the