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er of poetry in all shapes, and was early dragooned into a sort of sulky reverence for Greek and Latin authors. I was soon favoured with a notion of the legitimate rule of Homer and Virgil. Indeed, the first book I ever read in (willingly,) was Macpherson's translation of the Iliad; and though, since that time, I have softened much in my opinions about this description of "divine right," I have ever since that period been aware of a cloudy idea floating about my pericranium, which might have embodied itself in an audible query, much like the following. "If Horace was at the pains of laying down a plain receipt for the composition of poetry, how has it happened that we have not had a dozen or two of Homers and Virgils since his time, with a pretty supply of Horaces, according, as is his rule in such cases, to the demand?" This was to me an inexplicable paradox. But a plainspoken elder friend, to whom, in a kind of despair, I ventured to propose the difficulty, summarily solved it by the application of an old homely proverb, which I fear may be a little too homely for the polite fastidiousness of your Esthetic Magazine, as Mr Coleridge has so happily termed it." It's all moonshine," quoth he; "let them say what they will, there's no making a whistle of a pig's tail." I have been of his opinion ever since. After all, both Horace, and Vida the author of the "Poetics" which Pope condescended to edite, were too sensible men by far to pretend to lay down infallible rules for the creation of a Poet. Such a generation would be more miraculous than that of the maniken in Flim Flams,"—a book, by the bye, that has not obtained the credit it deserves, or of the misanthropical monster in Frankinstein. If their respective works be examined, they will be found to consist of rules, without the observance of which, they maintained, all poetry must be imperfect. The Poetics and the Epistle to the Pisos are really no more than this. The title "De Arte Poeticâ" ought to be rendered," concerning the artificial part of poetry," or, more literally, "concern ing poetical art." Vida goes most into the metaphysics of the matter, and admits in words the inefficiency of his own rules, in certain cases; to wit: "Verum non eadem tamen omnibus esse
but maugre this qualification, the secret is out. Here lies the rub. If the "Ingenia" are wanting, the rules are now and then found not to answer. This lurking distrust of the power of precept sometimes gives the whole an air truly ludicrous. The young poetical aspirant is warned in one place not to venture too near the fires of lovebut for what reason few readers would guess.
"Sæpe etenim tectos immitis in ossibus ignes
Versat amor mollesque est intus cura medullas,
Nec miserum patitur vatum meminisse nec
He is to be careful not to get his head fairly turned, lest he forget his prosody. If he burn his fingers, how is he to hold his pen to write verses? Now this is a most edifying warning to the whole tribe of artificial poets. It is probable enough, to be sure, that they should leave what they affect to like for what they really do like ;-that is to say, the Muses for "one earthly ture's making with such a maxim as But to insult a poet of nagirl." this to talk to such a man as Burns, for instance, the natural language of whose passion was poetry, in this style
-It is enough to make one hate the and canons of criticism, and every very idea of all schools, and academies, laws, which have served only to breed thing appertaining to those scholastic rhyming pedants and coxcombs, just ed Ithaca full of moths. as all the webs Penelope spun only fill
ten about schools of poetry. We have A great deal has been said and writhad Byron schools, and Scott schools, and Lake schools, and Classical schools, and Italian schools, and French schools, and Frenchified schools, and they have all one peculiarity. It is, that the founders are almost the only persons connected with them, whose reputations stand any chance of being of the value
of a "pin's fee" in the eyes of posterity. If we once admit the principle that poetry is a thing to be taught, or "an art" in any proper sense of the term, the list of poets seems truly a most paradoxical catalogue. In all other arts and sciences, the progress is that of diligent and gradual inquiry. Information is piled upon information -example upon example. A man of talent or genius, doubtless, sometimes pushes the limits of science much beyond the extent to which a man of moderate ability can push them. Still upon the whole it goes on in a regular gradation. Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe led the way to Galileo and Newton; the Marquis of Worcester to Boulton and Watt; and Friar Bacon to Sir Humphrey Davy. But the Iliad and the Æneid were not the mere precursors of the other celebrated Epics in ad and id, that have been endited since. They were not sent before to lacquey the way for the Epigoniad and the Athenaid. The matter is reversed in toto. If, after the manner of Tristram Shandy, we were to construct diagrams in illustration of the state of the arts and sciences, we should have a mathematical pyramid with Newton at the top; a chemical one with Davy-a natural history one with Cuvier-a traveller's with Humboldt-a scholar's with For son. But what are we to do with Shakespeare, if we make a dramatic pyramid? Why turn it with the base uppermost, Skakespeare at the bottom, and the top a sort of "table-land," with the heads of Monk Lewis, Mr Maturin, Mr Shiel, Mr Barry Cornwall, Mr Knowles, and Mr Haynes, in a horizontal line, unbroken by towering talent, or reaching originality. If we go on to review the many volumes of poetry which have been, as Dr Southey expresses it, "cast upon the waters," we shall find that, with a very few exceptions, the founders of an original style only have lived. The "Imitatores, servum pecus" have either leaked and foundered after a time, or else have been so crank and top-heavy, that they capsized before they were well launched. There is Milton sailing about like a gorgeous Spanish galleon, deep in the water, and leaving a luminous track as he ploughs the waves of oblivion, which vainly ripple about his huge sides. What English blankverse epic of those that have followed in his wake, is now sea-worthy? There
is Butler, like a contraband cutter, daringly dashing over the billows; there is Prior, an elegant yacht; and Dryden, a very fine ship; and Young, like Rowland Hill's floating Methodist Chapel. As for Shakespeare, to whom can we compare him but to the celebrated" Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman," who sails when he pleases miraculously against the wind? Now these names are all founders of schools, of which their country had not before seen the like; a fact sufficient in itself to unsettle one's notions of the mechanical nature of poetry. To what this "founding of poetical schools," as it is called, really amounts, is another matter.
If we set about analysing the nature of poetical talent, we shall find it to consist, for the most part, in a union of two qualities. The prominent characteristics of a poet, are a capability of receiving strong impressions from external things, and a liability to the intense play of the passions. To these faculties he adds, if it is not inherent in their possession, a power of nice intellectual discrimination. He has correct as well as vivid ideas of the beautiful and sublime in nature, and of the affecting and passionate in mental emotion, Whether the discussion of the doctrine of innate propensities and talents is involved here, I do not know, nor do I much care. Whether the character of a man, including in that term disposition and talent, is part of his natural constitution originally, or the after-work of external circumstances, seems to be of little consequence, could it even be certainly known which hypothesis is the true one. Under each theory the event is equally uncontrollable. The influence of circumstances is admitted to begin so early, and to be in itself so inscrutably minute and complicated, that as far as education is concerned, one supposition is about as unmanageable as the other. Not that I could ever see the slightest probability in the notion of the constitution of all minds, as to natural propensities and capabilities, being, as it were, originally balanced to a sort of equiponderance. The thing is nearly inconceivable. That thinking, whether simple perception or reflection, depends somehow or other upon the brain, seems to be clear-that the difference of fibre, in different men, must involve different states of the
brain, seems unavoidable-that different states of the brain should not necessarily cause varieties in the strength of impressions and the vividness of ideas, is surely hard to be imagined. Be this as it may, whether early contingencies or original conformation be the cause, it is sufficient that the mind of a poet must of necessity have been, from the beginning, chiefly conversant with those ideas which constitute the basis of his poetry. For in what does the art of poetizing consist, but in drawing vivid, and somewhat heightened, but yet natural pictures of matters, which are calculated to produce pleasing emotions in the mind. It is this power of mental painting, this correctness of delineation, with this warmth of colouring, that is the essence of poetry. The power of fully expressing these ideas in words, is the next requisite. The possession of discrimination in the choice of subjects, is the next, but far below the other two in importance. Experience has shewn, that almost every object which life affords is capable of poetical adornment-pleasing when depicted, and naturally connected with reflections of the most interesting description. Great poets have not been those who have discovered new and unthoughtof subjects for poetry, but those who have discovered excellence and originality in their powers and style of treating of subjects, in a great degree familiar. Every poetical theme must, in fact, be more or less popular, because readers must know something of the subject of a picture, to be enabled to feel and appreciate the merit of the resemblance. To borrow a common expression, it is because "he sees further into a mill-stone than the man who picks it," that a poet is a poet. It is because he knows minutely and deeply, what others know generally and superficially, that he is able to rouse in them sensations which they cannot awaken for themselves. He remembers what they have forgotten, and fills up for them the blanks of their imagination, and heightens for them the dim colouring of their fancy. He who hits upon a subject completely new in poetry, will probably become a popular poet, provided he has, even in a slight degree beyond his neighbours, the faculty of poetical 'delineation; but he who, with much more of this faculty, takes the same
subject after him, will become a greater and more popular poet. He will do so because he can delineate more nicely, shadow more deeply, and colour more truly, than his precursor. How many Madonnas were painted before Raphael's? or who has ever inquired?
That the talent of poetry is mainly composed of a capability of vivid impression from without, and an inward susceptibility of mental emotion, is apparent in the fact, that poets have more frequently been attached to the studies of painting and metaphysics, than to that of any other science-music, I believe, not excepted. Salvator Rosa was equally eminent in poetry and painting. Some of our moderu painters have written good verses, as for instance Shee; and some of our poets have been good painters, as for instance Peter Pindar. The present Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, is a striking example of the union of poetical with metaphysical talent-so was his predecessor-so is Sir William Drummond -so is Coleridge-so is Wordsworth -so were Beattie and Akenside-and so even was Hobbes, the father of English metaphysicians, though, to be sure, his translation of Homer is said to be none of the most readable of books.
If depth and correctness in the perception and expression, both of the sensations of external beauty and of inward emotion, be the mainspring of the poetical, it is pretty clear, that those whom chance or nature has turned into one favourite channel of observation from their earliest years, are likely to have most of it. The inclination to observe, and the talent for observation, generally accompany and assist each other. The having one, is a proof of the possession of the other. In all human pursuits, we see what wonders are effected by this early devotion. Hence the almost superstitious notions of genius overcoming every obstacle, and treading, with undeviating step, the way which nature points-hence Sir Isaac Newton is reported to have said, that any man of good ability, who could have paid the same long and undivided attention to mathematical pursuits that he did, would have produced the same results. Though this was only saying, in other words, that any one with Newton's genius would have been
Newton; for whether the early tendency was the effect of strong perception of the objects of mathematical pursuit, or whether it was the effect of inscrutable circumstances in early life, and rather the cause than the effect of the keenness of intellect afterwards manifested, still to produce a similar genius by artificial culture, is about as hopeless upon one supposition as upon the other. It is difficult, how ever, not to think that original organization is at the bottom, when we behold so many of those strange beings, called " men of genius," driven through life by one ruling impulse, with every action tinged by the prevailing prepossession. If it be not instinct, it is very like it; and they who would be indignant at a comparison with the marches of the Lemings, or the Land-crabs, to which rivers and mountains are said to be no impediments, may not find it easy to point out the specific difference. Instances of the display of early and decided tendencies towards particular pursuits, are innumerable in the annals of literature. The boy Opie sketched, "with desperate charcoal round his darken'd walls," the forms which existed in his young imagination, but which he had not the means of giving " a local habitation and a name.' Little Mozart and Crotch roared to be at the harpsichord, when their fingers had scarcely strength to press down a key; whilst Jedediah Buxton appears to have employed all his life in discovering recondite modes of arithmetical calculation, and probably counted before he knew the names even of the numerals. Mr Hogg seems to have been a poet before he learned to write-nay to speak in decently grammatical, not to say polished language. Burns was something in the same way; and if we look further amongst the works of those poets of whom most is known, we shall find them to be coloured with those singularities of disposition, for which they were remarkable through life. Thus Cowper's morbid low-spirits tinge, almost without an exception, every one of his compositions. Milton's scholarship and fondness for Italian literature, are apparent in most of his poems. Burns' warm feelings, occasional seriousness, and independent spirit, are equally marked in his works. So are Lord Byron's sarcastic, melancholy, and splenetic carelessness of the world;
and so, above all, are Sir Walter Scott's attachment to antiquarian pursuits, and to the local superstitions of his country. Why are these poets so tinged with those various peculiarities, is the question that immediately presents itself? Because it is only through these early peculiarities of thought, that men become poets. Of that which they have all their lives been ruminating upon, they have ideas more vivid than other people's; and by giving those ideas, with all the force of language they can, they write poetry, This is true of more than poets professed. Old Isaac Walton, the sole employment of whose life was angling, has, without knowing it, written a poetical pastoral more natural than Shenstone or Cunningham, more simple than Gesner, and more sincere than Thomson. Nay, some of the books of the old pharmacopolists, especially under the head of " Cordial Waters," from a habit of observing, or imagining, and minutely describing, the effects of these "distilments" upon the nervous system, are as poetical here and there, as any thing in Dr Armstrong. If we look over the extensive catalogue of English poetry, we shall find it to be a set of oddities versified. The poets are a sort of harmonious quizzes, and their poems are tinctured throughout with the particularities of disposition-the ideas arising from the pursuits of life, nay with the very diseases of the writers. There is no selection of subject; what they felt keenly and saw strongly, they have made poetry of. A sharp physiologist might trace out the constitution, profession, and usual residence of a poet, from his works only. Lord Byron, who has travelled, tells about Gondolas, Mantillas, comboloios, Gazelle eyes, mosques, and latticed windows. The head of Mr Wordsworth, who lives amongst lakes and mountains, is filled with rocks, clouds, leechgatherers, pedlars, daffodils, and water-lilies. Mr Crabbe, whose clerical functions have made him familiar with vestries, work-houses, and the whole economy of a country parish, in lieu of the rocks and rills of Mr Wordsworth, has extracted poetry out of the stony hearts of church-wardens, and the scanty stream of parish charity. We have poems about ships and about religion-about steam-engines and hydraulic presses-about hunting, shoot
ing, and fishing-about war and waltzing-about astronomy and gastronomie-about bees and silk-worms-and siphilis and spleen, and diseases in general-about playing at whist and at chess, and smoking tobacco, and making sugar-wine and cider. In fact, there is scarcely any human pursuit that has not been, directly or indirectly, introduced into poetry; and the obliquities and excellences of the human mind have each had about an equal share in imparting interest to its pages.
To be a poet, then, is not merely to possess the art of versifying accounts of battles, or declarations of love, or descriptions of flowers. It is the art of making of a subject what no one else can ;-of treating an old friend after a new and high fashion. In short, it is the art of being a clever fellow; and, being as it is, poetry can never be stopped by a lack of subject, nor a poet ever made or unmade by the yolubility or laziness of a university professor. It is possible enough to imagine, that the want of an exciting glass of wine, may have rendered abortive many a sonnet, and its presence vivified many an anacreontic:-that a high-flown ode may have been sometimes drowned in a Pacific ocean of water-gruel, and an elegy or an epigram in a Red Sea of Julep, or a Mediterranean of Brewis."-But that future Murrays and Blackwoods shall ever want customers for lack of canons of criticism-" Tilly Psally, Sir John!" So little of the mechanical is admitted by poets themselves to enter into the composition of poetry, that most of them have professed to be, as it were, only semi-voluntary agents in the matter. Thomson could only write in the spring. Pope used to keep a servant up all night, to be ready with pen, ink, paper, and a light, that the "afflatus" might not be lost; and we have the present Laureate bargaining that he is only to write court odes when he will-meaning when he can. It should seem, too, that this wayward faculty remains, when less complex, but less deeply rooted, propensities of the mind are found to be impracticable. Thus, the last rational act of Swift, was the composition of the "Legion Club;" Smart scrawled sublime stanzas on the walls of his cell; and "it is told of the late Dr King, that he used to write
verses in a tavern three hours after he could not speak."
If a certain line of subject, or a certain method of treating or of ornamenting that subject, be not essential to the poetical, still less is versification. Smoothness of versification has, in fact, been attained as fully by those who have vainly struggled to become poets, as by those who have really been so. If this were not true, where is the satire of Pope's "Song by a Person of Quality," in which there is as much musical "no meaning," as in the most fashionable air of a modern opera. It is true, that Dr Johnson and others have even gone so far as to affirm, that rhyme is essential to the perfection of English poetry,-and they may be right. It may be essential to its completeness, though not to its existence; and so in this sense are reading and writing, It needs not the subtlety of Scriblerus-who insisted that he could conceive the abstract idea of a Lord Mayor, divested of his gown, chain, and gilt coach-to imagine a poet without the accomplishments of reading, writing, or even speaking. He might possess ideas, without the power of communicating them. He might look deeply into the beauties and harmonies of nature, and excite in himself the play of fancy and the whirl of passion, and yet "" I voice be none." One of those anomalous cherubim, which con sist of a head and wings only, would be a type of him. What are sounds, or words, or lines, or stanzas, but modes of expressing that which existed before them, and independently of them? The minds of Homer and of Milton were probably very similar, though the manner in which they have expressed their ideas is totally dissimilar? The Greek and Latin critics, who doated upon the hexameters of" the blind Mæonides," would have recoiled in consternation from the blank-verse or rhyme of the Englishman. Paradise Lost, or Il Penseroso, "would have made Quintilian stare and gasp." The mental figures of the poet are eternal, unchangeable, and adapted to all time;-the rhythmical adjuncts are capricious, fading, and changeable. Pope re-versified Donne, which only proves, that Donne's ver sification was no part of Donne. Had Pope given him a new coat for his old one, it would have been much the same thing.