Page images

widely different from this truly praiseworthy patronage, is the disposition to encourage works which are neither beautiful nor useful, and whose only claim (if claim it can be called) is the temporary interest they may offer to the curious, and the compassionate consideration that they are wonderfully good, for writings that were produced under such disadvantages.

Experience does not authorize us to regard it as probable, that the world will be favoured with any poetry of very exalted merit from persons in humble life and of defective education. There have appeared among uneducated persons, many instances of extraordinary capacity for various sciences and pursuits. The science of numbers, of mechanics, of language, of music, painting, sculpture, architecture, have all had followers in humble life, who have discovered a strong native genius for each of these separate branches of art and learning, and have risen to eminence in their peculiar line. But poetry is not equally rich in examples of successful votaries from the ranks of the poor. Not one of the six writers recorded by Mr Southey, can be regarded as a successful example; for nothing but the scarcity of such instances could have preserved them, like other valueless rarities, from the oblivion into which, notwithstanding even the embalming power of Mr Southey's pen, they are fated at no very distant period to fall. It would appear, either that habits of manual labour are unfavourable to poetry, or that a talent for it is less inborn than acquired, or that it is much affected by external circumstances, or that a considerable degree of education is essential to its full developement. To which of these causes we may attribute the dearth of distinguished poets from the humbler walks of life, it is not at present necessary to enquire. The fact of such a paucity is sufficient for our purpose; and it is an additional argument against encouraging the poor and defectively educated to lend their minds to a pursuit in which the presumption of success is so considerably against them. Unless they happen to possess such powerful native talent, as it is needless to encourage and impossible to suppress, they are not likely to produce such writings as will obtain them advancement and success -real, unforced, unpatronised success;-the success which arises from the delight and admiration of thousands, and not from the casual benevolence of individual patronage.

It might have been supposed, that of all things in the world. which are not immoral, one of the least deserving encouragement was indifferent poetry. Mr Southey nevertheless protests indignantly against this opinion. When,' says he, it is laid ' down as a maxim of philosophical criticism, that poetry ought ' never to be encouraged unless it is excellent in its kind-that it



is an art in which inferior execution is not to be tolerated-a ' luxury, and must therefore be rejected unless it is of the very best; such reasoning may be addressed with success to cockered and sickly intellects, but it will never impose upon a healthy understanding, a generous spirit, or a good heart.' Mr Southey, with that poetical tendency to metaphor which sometimes possesses him when he appears to reason, seems to have written the above passage under the influence of rather a forced analogy between the digestive powers of the human frame, and the operations of the mind. If in the above remarks we substitute food' for 'poetry,'' appetite' for 'intellect,' and the 'stomach' for 'the understanding,' much of what Mr Southey has predicated will undoubtedly be true; since it is certain that a perfectly healthy person can eat with impunity many kinds of food that cannot be taken by one who is sickly. It is a sign of bodily health to be able to digest coarse food which cannot be eaten by the invalid; and in like manner, according to Mr Southey, it is the sign of a healthy understanding' to be able to tolerate bad verses, which would be rejected by a 'sickly intellect. Mr Southey may very probably have accustomed himself to talk of poetry as 'food for the mind,' till he has learned to confound the immaterial with the substantial; but we must remind him of one great failure in the parallel on which he appears to lean. It will not, we suppose, be denied, that the mind, and especially that faculty which enables us to judge of the excellence of poetry, requires cultivation, without which it cannot exercise its functions effectively; but we have never yet heard of any such cultivation of the digestive powers. If man were born as decidedly a criticising and poetry-reading, as he is an eating and drinking animal, and were likely to possess these faculties in most perfection in an unsophisticated state of nature, we should then allow that there would be much force in the observations of Mr Southey. But the reverse of this is notoriously the case. Our power of estimating poetry is in a great degree acquired. The boy with an innate taste for poetry, who first finds a copy of bellman's verses, is pleased with the jingle, and thinks the wretched doggrel excellent. He soon finds better verses, and becomes ashamed of the objects of his earliest admiration. In course of time a volume of Pope or Milton falls in his way, and he becomes sensible of what is really excellent in poetry, and learns to distinguish it from that which, although not positively bad, is commonplace and of subordinate merit. Is this boy's mind, we ask, in a less healthy state at this advanced period of his critical discernment, than when he thought the bellman's verses excellent? or has his intellect' been rendered

'sickly' by the dainty fare with which his mental tastes have latterly been pampered?

But the encouragement of inferior poetry is, according to Mr Southey, a sign not only of a healthy understanding' but of 'a 'generous spirit,' and a good heart.' If Mr Southey means that indulgence towards the failings of others, and a disposition to look leniently upon their imperfect productions, are the results of generosity and goodness of heart, we thoroughly agree with him; but it is not merely indulgence for which he contends, it is encouragement. Now, though it is impossible to prove a negative, and it is very possible that the encourager of bad verses may be at the same time very generous and good hearted, yet there is no necessary connexion between that practice and those moral qualities; any more than it is necessarily a sign of generosity and a good heart to deal only with inferior tradesmen, and buy nothing but the worst commodities. A person who should be thus amiably content to buy bad things when he might have better, would, we fear, be considered a fool for his pains, even by those whom he permitted to supply him; and we cannot think that the encourager of bad poetry would remain long exempted from a similar censure. It is useless, we might almost say mischievous, to maintain that any thing ought to be encouraged' that is not excellent in its kind. Let those who have not arrived at excellence be encouraged to proceed, and to exert themselves, in order that they may attain it. This is good and praiseworthy encouragement; but let it be remembered, that this good purpose cannot be effected but by mingling with the exhortation to future exertions, an unqualified censure of present imperfections. This, the only sound and rational encouragement, is directly opposed to that lenient tolerance of 'inferior execution,' which appears to receive the commendation of Mr Southey. Men are encouraged to do really well, not by making them satisfied with their present mediocrity, but by exhibiting it to them in the true light, and stimulating them to higher excellence. Whatever may be speciously said about the virtues of charity and contentment, we may be assured that he is no benefactor of the human race who would teach us to be satisfied with inferior excellence in any thing, while higher excellence is attainable.

Among the statements which we are told can be addressed with success only to cockered and sickly intellects,' is this, that poetry is a luxury, and must therefore be rejected unless it is of the very best." It is needless to discuss this question at much length. It may be natural for the lover of poetry to contend that it is something much better and more important than

a luxury, but it is nevertheless treated as such by the world at large, and we fear that nothing that can be said will induce the public to regard poetry in any other light. All the most important business of life is transacted in prose-all the most important lessons of religion and morality are inculcated in prose-we reason in prose-we argue in prose-we harangue in prose. There were times when laws were chanted, and Orpheus and Amphion were, it is believed, poetical legislators, as were almost all legislators among barbarous people, whose reason must be addressed through the medium of their imagination. But these times are past recall; and we fear, whatever it may be contended poetry ought to be, Mr Southey must be contented with the place which it actually occupies. That place is both honourable and popular; and it will not conduce to its success to claim for it more than is its due.

In conclusion, we must say, that much as we have differed from Mr Southey, we have been glad to see that he is inclined to look with favour upon the mental labours of the poorer classes. We trust that his agreeable pen will be hereafter exercised in their behalf; but with this material difference, that instead of luring them into the flowery region of poetry, he will rather teach them to cultivate pursuits which are more in harmony with their daily habits, and to prefer the useful to the ornamental.

ART. IV.-An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, and on the Sources of Taxation. By the Rev. RICHARD JONES, A.M. 8vo. London: 1831.


HIS is a book written by a gentleman of respectable attainments. His object, as announced in the preface, is to correct what he considers the false and erroneous doctrines and conclusions that have either been embodied in, or engrafted upon the theories of Mr Ricardo and Mr Malthus, particularly the former. But a portion only of this design has been completed. The first part of the work is all that has hitherto appeared; but as that treats of a distinct subject, the origin and progress of Rent, we have presumed to offer a few remarks upon it, without waiting for the publication of the remainder of the work.

We sincerely applaud the pains Mr Jones has taken in his extensive enquiries with respect to the nature of the rents existing in different countries and states of society. Such enquiries have been too much neglected in England; and we consider it

as a favourable symptom that they are at length beginning to attract the attention of scholars and divines. We cannot, however, say, that Mr Jones has been very successful in his researches; we are not indeed aware that he has stated any thing that was not already well known to every one who has the slightest acquaintance with such subjects. His review is extensive, but superficial. He never, in fact, goes below the surface. He follows closely in the track of others, without ever insinuating that any one has gone before him. And the conclusions at which he arrives, though sometimes accurate, are, for the most part, quite foreign to the main object of his work.


The theory of rent expounded by Mr Ricardo, and which Mr Jones exerts himself to overthrow, must be well known to such of our readers as pay any attention to topics of this sort. At all events it will be sufficient here to observe, that Mr Ricardo's book is one of principle only, and that it is not to be judged of by a merely practical standard. He does not pretend to give an exposition of the laws by which the rise and progress of rent, in the ordinary and vulgar sense of the word, is regulated. He justly considers that, in the vast majority of cases, the rent paid by the occupier of a farm to its owner consists partly of a return for the use of the buildings erected upon it, and of the capital that has been laid out upon its improvement. portion may, and, we believe, does in many cases very much exceed that part of the rent which is paid for the use of the soil; supposing the latter were destitute of buildings, and that it had not been drained, fenced, or anywise improved. It is clear, however, that though these two portions of rent be often so blended together as to make it impossible to separate them, they are, in their nature, radically distinct. The former is a return to, or profit upon capital produced by the labour and industry of man; while the latter arises from wholly distinct sources; being derived from that which cost neither labour nor industry of any sort. It is of the last portion only that Mr Ricardo treats in his chapter on rent. He was as well aware as Mr Jones, or any one else, that the rent, the origin and progress of which he had undertaken to investigate, was not that which is commonly called rent. But he thought that the progress of sound science was not likely to be much accelerated by confounding different elements in the same investigation; and that having ascertained the laws which determine the rent paid for the use of the natural and inherent powers of the soil,' he would leave it to others to trace and exhibit the influence of improvements, &c. We think he did right in thus limiting and defining his subject; but whether he did right or wrong, he is not to be

« PreviousContinue »