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-or if the anguish of the broken heart, who has not the transcript of sorrow written even on the earliest page of life?
These are instances in which the poet draws immediately from experience, and where his task is only to transmit to others the impression made upon his own mind; but there are other cases where the idea conveyed is derived from a combination of impressions, and this is more exclusively the work of imagination.
The poet who has never seen a lion may use the image of one in his verses, with almost as much precision as the poet who has; because he knows that its attributes are courage, ferocity, and power, and he has been impressed with ideas of these attributes in other objects. He knows that its roar is loud, and deep, and terrific, and he has distinct impressions of the meaning of these words also. Its colour, form, and general habits, he becomes acquainted with by the same means; and thus he makes bold to use the name and the character of the lion to ornament his verse. In the same manner he describes the sandy desert, and with yet greater precision; because he has only to add to the sands of the sea shore, with which he is perfectly familiar, the two qualities of extent
and burning heat, and he sees before him at once the wide and sterile wastes of Arabian solitude. Or if the human countenance be the subject of his muse, and he endeavours to invent one that shall be new to himself as well as to his readers, it is by borrowing different features from faces which have left their im
press on his mind and upon the same principle he proceeds through all that mental process, which is called creating images, and which gives to the works of the highly imaginative, the character of originality; because from the wide scope and variety of their impressions, they are able to select such diversified materials, that when combined, we only see them as a whole, without being aware of any previous acquaintance with their particular parts.
Where distinct impressions, power, and taste are present in full force, and imagination alone, out of the four requisites, is wanting, we speak of the poet as one who borrows from the thoughts of others, or one whose images are too ordinary and common place to interest the reader; because, either limited by the nature of his own mind to a narrow range of ideas, or indolent in the search of materials necessary
for his work, he has laid hold of such as fell most readily within his grasp, and these being few and familiar, and unskilfully arranged, we recognize at once the gross elements of the compound, and see from whence they have been obtained.
Deficiency of imagination is the reason why some, who would otherwise have been our best poets, are mannerists. It is true they may be so from partiality, almost amounting to affection, for some peculiar character or style of writing; but that they are blindly addicted to this fault, is much more frequently owing to their want of capability to conceive any other mode of conveying their ideas.
Lord Byron was unquestionably a writer of the former class. From the variety of his style, the splendour of his imagery, and the brilliant thoughts that burst upon us as we read his charmed lines, it is impossible to believe that his imagination was incapable of any scope, of any height, or any depth, to which it might be directed by inclination; but in the characters he pourtrayed he may justly be called a mannerist, because he evidently preferred the uniformly dark and melancholy; and chose out from the varied impressions of
his own life, that sombre hue, so deeply harmonizing with majesty and gloom, which he spread over every object in nature, like the lowering thunder clouds above the landscape; varying at times the wide waste of brooding darkness, with short-lived but brilliant flashes of sensibility, and wit, and lively feeling, like the lurid streaks that shoot athwart the tempestuous sky, lighting up the world for one brief moment with ineffable brightness, and then leaving it to deeper-more impenetrable night.
As instances of mannerism arising from the actual want of imagination, we might bring forward a long list of minor poets, as well as inferior writers of every description, without however descending so low as to those who have not consistency of mind sufficient for maintaining any particular system of thought, or style of composition. Yet of imagination, as well as impression, we are unable to say decidedly that it does not exist, because, like impression, it only becomes perceptible to us through the medium of words; and as all individuals are not able to use this medium with force and perspicuity, we necessarily lose many of the brilliant conceptions of those around us. We may however assert as an
indisputable fact, that poetry of the highest order was never yet produced without the powerful exercise of the faculty of imagination.
As a wonderful instance of the force and efficacy of imagination, as well as of impression, power, and taste, we might single out Milton, were it not that power is more essentially the characteristic of his works. He has equals in the other requisites of a poet, while in power he stands unrivalled.
But, supreme in the region of imagination is our inimitable Shakespeare; and that he is inimitable is perhaps the greatest proof of the perfection of his imaginative powers. The heroes of Byron have been multiplied through so many copies that we have grown weary of the original; but who can imitate the characters of Shakespeare? And yet how perfectly human is every individual of the multitude which he has placed before us so human, as to be liked and disliked, according to the peculiar cast of mind in the persons who pronounce upon them; just in the same manner as characters in ordinary life attract or repel those with whom they come in contact. Every one forms the same opinion of the Corsair, because he has a few distinctive qualities, by which he is known and copied; while no