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strange, novel, and attractive in their subject. The public taste seems also to have decided that a poem must not be long. The pleasurable excitement which ought to arise from the perusal of poetry is, like that produced by music or painting, necessarily of short duration. We know it is impossible for the most ardent admirer of those arts to listen very long to the most exquisite music, or gaze long upon the finest paintings, without some sensation of fatigue-not merely fatigue to the organs of sense, but lassitude and satiety succeeding to the prolonged excitement of the feelings and imagination. Such is also the effect of poetry, if read, not tamely and without interest, but with that intense and lively satisfaction, which it is comparatively valueless if it does not produce.
The consequence of our treating poetry differently,—of our demanding from it a much higher species of gratification than that with which our forefathers were content, is very naturally this, that we read less poetry, and only such as is of the highest stamp. This is the consequence as regards the readers; as for the writers, it follows naturally that there should be fewer, as compared with those who engage in other departments of literature. It has become inadvisable (to use an agricultural metaphor) to pursue a species of husbandry in which none but the best soils will yield a remunerating produce. Even they whose poetical powers are of acknowledged excellence, are fearful of encountering failure, and disappointing a public to which they cannot always afford novelty and originality, and which they might chance to weary by producing only imitations of their former successful efforts. Another consequence of the present feeling with regard to poetry is, that it is now more expressly calculated to administer that excitement which we expect from it. There has been a gradual change from the tame and didactic, to poetry the most stirring, romantic, and impassioned. The poetry of the last twenty years has been more the poetry of feeling than that of any other period. There have also been more striking and marvellous varieties of subject; more fresh soil has been broken up; there has been a louder call for originality; and, on the whole, a more exciting appeal, both to our emotions and to our love of novelty. Commending, on the whole, this change, we still cannot say that it is unmixed good. The alloying qualities which we encounter are, eccentricity and exaggeration, a false and feverish view of nature,-a proneness to mystify and distort,-a proneness, also, to travel out of the homely working-day world,'-to pass even the bounds of time and space in search of themes. One of the principal characteristics of the poetry of the last few years is, its choice of subjects,
with which none but the mightiest genius could effectively grapple, and in treating which the employment even of the mightiest genius is of questionable taste and wisdom. Pictures of other states of being are now familiarly set before us; we have Visions of Heaven, of Hell, and of Creation. The Revolt of the Angels, and the Field of Armageddon, must help us to beguile the listlessness of a vacant hour; half-fledged poets must try their wings beyond the narrow limits of the visible world; despising earthly standards of vicious grandeur, they adopt for their hero 'Satan,' and talk as familiarly of the crack of doom,'' as maids of fifteen do of puppy dogs.'
Of this class is the gentleman on whose high-sounding works we have undertaken to comment. The titles of the poems in his first publication are, Cain the Wanderer,'' A Vision of Heaven,' Darkness,' and On Deity:' in his second, The 'Revolt of the Angels,' 'The Fall from Paradise,' and 'A Vision ' of Creation.' The selection of such subjects by a hitherto unknown poet, for his earliest efforts, may be thought to savour of boldness, if not of presumption; but with this choice, perhaps, the age is a little chargeable, and Mr Reade must be in some sort absolved. A poet of moderate powers must, in order to be read and produce an effect, have recourse to something analogous to what in theatrical matters is called a clap-trap. The advantage of subjects such as those chosen by Mr Reade is, that they not only astonish by their sublimity, but create, a priori, a very favourable presumption of the powers of the author who has ventured to undertake them. There are many who think, that to treat a subject which presents to us another sphere and state of existence, must be immeasurably more difficult than to pourtray the scenes and occurrences of this world, and of beings constituted like ourselves. This, however, we doubt, and for several reasons. The writer who undertakes such subjects, can revel undisturbed in the most unbounded license. There are no troublesome tests by which the truth of his delineations can be tried. No charge of inconsistency, of improbability, of defective description, can easily be advanced against him. He absolves himself from almost all those rules to which authors are usually amenable. Every one who has tried must know, that it is not at all an easy matter to represent nature as it is; and that it is much easier to set up a nature of one's own, and to attend only to the promptings of one's own imagination. One must be careful, in drawing the characters of men, to make them conformable to the principles of human nature; but the demi-god and the demon may be made to pursue any course of sentiment
or action, without its being easy to demonstrate the impropriety. It is easy, too, for writers whose ideas are not very distinctly defined, to turn even this defect to some account in the treatment of such subjects, by enveloping them with a sort of misty vagueness, which, acting like the natural mist on external objects, invests them with an apparent grandeur, which the idea, if more clearly conveyed, would not be found to possess.
Mr Reade has not only selected subjects on which, though it may be easy to write something, it is extremely difficult to write any thing good, but has boldly measured his strength against Milton and Byron. Those who have read the powerful drama Cain,' may have the pleasure of reading a continuation from the pen of Mr Reade. Lord Byron's Darkness' is well known -Mr Reade has also written a poem on Darkness. A new survey of the ground which we thought had been left to Milton, is presented in Mr Reade's second publication, wherein we find the Revolt of the Angels,' and the Fall from Para'dise.' It is but justice to the former of these poems to say, that there is nothing in it which is very like Milton's; and that, in the latter, our author is effectually prevented from clashing with him, by a happy departure from the history which we find in Genesis. Availing himself of a suggestion of Goethe's, he makes Lucifer the creator of Adam, and leaves to the Deity only the task of creating Eve!
The longest and most elaborate of Mr Reade's productions is Cain the Wanderer,' which, he tells us, he surrenders to 'candour and time, with a calm confidence; knowing that they ' are the tests which, sooner or later, pass a just and impartial 'judgment on all things.' In the dialogue which serves as a preface to Cain,' he very properly professes an aversion to puffs. Not one puff,' says he, shall my book have, if I can help it. I will have no articles written for it by friends, or 'write any myself. I do not remember that our old standard poets ever flew to these pitiful resources;-neither will I.' The determination is worthy of a man conscious of genius. But favourable criticisms must not be stigmatized as 'puffs;' and it is therefore quite compatible with the above to say, in the preface to his second publication, If the opinions passed on it' (i. e. 'Cain the Wanderer') by the "fit audience though few," were 'the objects of my ambition, and for which I wrote, as they 'certainly were, then, that my point was gained, will best appear by a few of the chief public testimonies respecting it, which I have retained in this volume,-not from motives of vanity ' and self-love, but as sterling proofs, which I can turn to with
'an honest satisfaction, to show that I fully succeeded in the hazardous subject I undertook.' We turn to these public testimonies' retained in this volume,' and collect from a rich banquet of daily, hebdomadal, and monthly criticisms, that Cain is written in the very tone and spirit of Lord Byron, and in ' execution equal,'-that it is equally nervous, equally close, 'equally argumentative,'-that we have had nothing in poetry 'at once so high and so pure for many years,'-that in depth ' of thought and power of imagination it has scarcely an equal,' -that it is beyond all comparison the finest poem that has been 'published since the days of Byron,'-and that for loftiness of conception, boldness and magnificence of imagery, depth of 'feeling, variety and extent of thought, we should be puzzled to find its equal.' It is difficult to approach a work so praised with that cool judgment and moderated expectation with which we ought to apply ourselves to the task of criticism; but we will try. As for the object and tendency of the drama, to avoid mistakes we will let the author speak for himself:—
'I have endeavoured to develope Cain as a powerful and daring mind, of which pride is the basis, as it is that of almost all strong minds; mis. taking his own impulses and acts of passion as predestinations of Deity, instead of the natural effects of unformed and unthwarted principles. From hence arises the struggle to oppose such supposed influence, and cling to good, not from feeling the beauty of its nature, but from the same opposition of pride which would blindly set itself against the decrees of Providence, and act according to its own. Consequently from this are doubts, questionings, and wavering faith, which, though fed and strengthened by the Tempter, by argument, and visible signs, are never wholly overthrown. To escape from this state of restlessness, he seeks and obtains a temporary forgetfulness in a higher realm of sense and imagination; the cup is exhausted, and then nothing is left to fly to; and, the wreck of himself, he stands an example, that happiness, which is peace and tranquillity of mind, cannot be founded on baseless pride or on the senses, but stands on the purity and fixedness of early-instilled principles, on faith, on hope, and, on content; and, these overthrown, is lost for ever. In short, in Cain I have developed man as he is; his early thoughts, and hopes, and trials, and yieldings, and wrestlings, and his despair; perhaps, too, here and there, to quote the words of poor Schutze
"The bliss, the bale, through which my heart hath run,
The Drama has a Prologue, which is a sort of paraphrase of the commencement of the Book of Job. It opens with The 'Lord and the Host of Heaven,' to whom enters Lucifer, and says,
< Therefore do I come;
The mark of trial between us, and do ye
With petty wants and lusts, which yielded, bless
Passion; and yet which checked, like a flame hidden,
Too brief, too frail, even in their natural course!
Fear, which is hate disguised, shall still be his.'
Lucifer says much more, but we forbear quoting the rest of his speech, for we do not think he is made quite so eloquent as he ought to have been. The opening scene brings before us Cain, Ada his wife, and their son Enoch. Cain awakes, and describes to Ada a vision which was not a vision,' and which description will afford a fair and favourable specimen of the author's style.
'It was not a vision,
But a reality as distinct as thee
I look on now. I stood upon the heath:
I' the distance stretched our father's tents; before me
I heard their evening hymn, and my heart swelled
Their quiet happiness; I felt that I
Might have been happy! when methought I heard
I turned and saw
Him, the Fallen One!
I gazed and stood in fascination fixed:
I could not move away, I felt his power.