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Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its Drapery, Motion its Life, and Imagination the Soul that is everywhere, and in each ; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.:1
11 [The reader is referred generally to Mr. Coleridge's Literary Remains, vol. II. Ed.]
The specific symptoms of poetic power elucidated in a critical analysis of
Shakspeare's VENUS and ADONIS, and RAPE OF LUCRECE.1
In the application of these principles to purposes of practical criticism, as employed in the appraisement of works more or less im. perfect, I have endeavored to discover what the qualities in a poem are, which may be deemed promises and specific symptoms of poetic power, as distinguished from general talent determined to poetic composition by accidental motives, by an act of the will, rather than by the inspiration of a genial and productive nature. In this investigation, I could not, I thought, do better, than keep before me the earliest work of the greatest genius that perhaps human nature has yet produced, our myriad-minded? Shakspeare. I mean the VENUS AND ADONIS, and the LUCRECE ; works which give at once strong promises of the strength, and yet obvious proofs of the immaturity, of his genius. From these I abstracted the following marks, as characteristics of original poetic genius in general.
1. In the VENUS AND ADONIS, the first and most obvious excel, lence is the perfect sweetness of the versification ; its adaptation to the subject; and the power displayed in varying the march of the words without passing into a loftier and more majestic rhythm than was demanded by the thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of preserving a sense of melody predominant. The delight in richness and sweetness of sound, even to a faulty excess, if it be evidently original, and not the result of an easily imitable me.
[See Literary Remains, vol. II. Ed.] 2 'Avìp ruptóvous, a phrase which I have borrowed from a Greck monk, who applies it to a Patriarch of Constantinople. I might have said, that I have reclaimed, rather than borrowed, it: for it seems to belong to Shakspeare, de jure singulari, et ex privilegio naturæ.
chanism, I regard as a highly favorable promise in the composi. tions of a young man. The man that hath not music in his soul, can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery-(even taken from nature, much more when transplanted from books, as travels, voyages, and works of natural history)-affecting incidents, just thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings, and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem —may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talent and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius ; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the peculiar means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination ; and this, together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur, non fit.”
2. A second promise of genius is the choice of subjects very remote from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself. At least I have found, that where the subject is taken immediately from the author's personal sensations and experiences, the excellence of a particular poem is but an equivocal mark, and often a fallacious pledge, of genuine poetic power. We may perhaps remember the tale of the statuary, who had acquired considerable reputation for the legs of his goddesses, though the rest of the statue accorded but indifferently with ideal beauty ; till his wife, elated by her husband's praises, modestly acknowledged that she had been his constant model. In the VENUS AND ADONIS this proof of poetic power exists even to ex. cess. It is throughout as if a superior spirit, more intuitive, more intimately conscious, even than the characters themselves, not only of every outward look and act, but the flux and reflux of the mind in all its subtlest thoughts and feelings, were placing the whole before our view ; himself meanwhile unparticipating in the passions, and actuated only by that pleasurable excitement,
3 ["The man that hath not music in himself.”—Merchant of Venice, iv., sc. 1 Ed.]
which had resulted from the energetic fervor of his own spirit in so vividly exhibiting what it had so accurately and profoundly contemplated. I think, I should have conjectured from these poems, that even then the great instinct, which impelled the poet to the drama, was secretly working in him, prompting himby a series and never broken chain of imagery, always vivid and, because unbroken, often minute; by the highest effort of the picturesque in words, of which words are capable, higher perhaps than was ever realized by any other poet, even Dante not excepted ;-—to provide a substitute for that visual language, that constant intervention and running comment by tone, look, and gesture, which in his dramatic works he was entitled to expect from his players. His Venus and Adonis seem at once the characters themselves, and the whole representations of those characters by the most consummate actors. You seem to be told
4 [“ Consider how he paints,” says Mr. Carlyle, “ he has a great power of vision ; seizes the very type of a thing; presents that and nothing more. You remember the first view he gets of the Hall of Dite; red pinnacle, red hot cone of iron glowing through the immensity of gloom ;—so vivid, so distinct, visible at once and for ever! It is as an emblem of the whole genius of Dante.” “Milton,” says Lessing in his Laokoon, “ can indeed fill no galleries. Yet is the Par. Lost the first Epic after Homer no whit the less because it affords few pictures, than the History of Christ is a Poem, because we cannot put so much as a nail's head upon it without hitting on a place which has employed a crowd of the greatest artists." “ A poetic picture is not necessarily that which can be converted into a material picture ; but every stroke or combination of strokes, by which the Poet makes his object so sensuous to us, that we are more conscious of this object than of his words, may be called picturesque.” Thus Dante's squilla di lontano (Purg., c. viii., 1. 5) may well be called a picture. His picture-words have not done much for the material painter's art, if we may judge by Flaxman's illustrations. The famous image in the Purgatorio
is, as has been shown, not a mere presentation of “picturable matter," but a picture ready drawn and “so clearly visible that the pencil cannot make its outline clearer.” (See Art on Pindar, Q. Review, March, 1834.) Yet it would be nothing in a material painting, because the illustration and the thing illustrated could not be given together. S. C.]
nothing, but to see and hear everything. Hence it is, from the perpetual activity of attention required on the part of the reader ; from the rapid flow, the quick change, and the playful nature of the thoughts and images; and above all from the alienation, and, if I may hazard such an expression, the utter aloofness of the poet's own feelings, from those of which he is at once the painter and the analyst ;—that though the very subject cannot but detract from the pleasure of a delicate mind, yet never was poem less dangerous on a moral account. Instead of doing as Ariosto, and as, still more offensively, Wieland has done, instead of degrading and deforming passion into appetite, the trials of love into the struggles of concupiscence ;-Shakspeare has here represented the animal impulse itself, so as to preclude all sympathy with it, by dissipating the reader's notice among the thousand outward ima. ges, and now beautiful, now fanciful circumstances, which form its dresses and its scenery: or by diverting our attention from the main subject by those frequent witty or profound reflec. tions, which the poet's ever active mind has deduced from, or connected with, the imagery and the incidents. The reader is forced into too much action to sympathize with the merely passive of our nature. As little can a mind ihus roused and awakened be brooded on by mean and indistinct emotion, as the low, lazy mist can creep upon the surface of a lake, while a strong gale is driving it onward in waves and billows.
3. It has been before observed that images, however beautiful, though faithfully copied from nature, and as accurately repre. sented in words, do not of themselves characterize the poet. They become proofs of original genius only as far as they are modified by a predominant passion; or by associated thoughts or images awakened by that passion; or when they have the ef. fect of reducing multitude to unity, or succession to an instant; or lastly, when a human and intellectual life is transferred to them from the poet's own spirit,
6 [“ The truth is, he does not possess imagination in its highest form,that of stamping il più nell uno." Table Talk, 281, 2d ed.
“ The Imagination modifies images, and gives unity to variety; it sees all things in one, il più nell uno." Ib., p. 306. Ed.]