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“ And to the end we may with better ease
Discern the true discourse, vouchsafe to show
“ Ten kings had from the Norman Conqu’ror reign'd
With intermix'd and variable fate,
“ For first, the Norman, conqu’ring all by might,
By might was forc'd to keep what he had got ;
Will it be contended, on the one side, that these lines are mean and senseless? Or on the other, that they are not prosaic, and for that reason unpoetic ? This poet's well-merited epithet is that of the “ well-languaged Daniel ;" but likewise, and by the consent of his contemporaries no less than of all succeeding critics, the “ prosaic Daniel.” Yet those, who thus designate this wise and amiable writer from the frequent incorrespondency of his diction to his metre in the majority of his compositions, not only deem them valuable and interesting on other accounts: but willingly admit, that there are to be found throughout his poems, and especially in his EPISTLES and in his HYMEN'S TRIUMPH, many and exquisite specimens of that style which, as the neutral ground of prose and verse, is common to both. A fine and almost faultless extract, eminent as for other beauties, so for its
17 [Book i. Stanzas vii., viii., and 1x.]
perfection in this species of diction, may be seen in Lamb's DRAMATIC SPECIMENS,18 a work of various interest from the nature of the selections themselves—all from the plays of Shakspeare's contemporaries),--and deriving a high additional value from the notes, which are full of just and original criticism, ex. pressed with all the freshness of originality.
Among the possible effects of practical adherence to a theory, that aims to identify the style of prose and verse—if it does not indeed claim for the latter a yet nearer resemblance to the ave. rage style of men in the vivâ voce intercourse of real life)we might anticipate the following as not the least likely to occur. It will happen, as I have indeed before observed, that the metre itself, the sole acknowledged difference, will occasionally become metre to the eye only. The existence of prosaisms, and that they detract from the merit of a poem, must at length be con
18 [Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of Shakspeare, with notes by Charles Lamb. Vol. i., p. 284.
The first extract, Love in Infancy, is as follows:
Ah, I remember well (and how can I
Two other extracts are also given; Love after death
Fie, Thyrsis, with what fond remembrances
Dost thou, &c. and the story of Isulia. S. C.]
ceded, when a number of successive lines can be rendered, even to the most delicate ear, unrecognisable as verse, or as having even been intended for verse, by simply transcribing them as prose : when if the poem be in blank verse, this can be effected without any alteration, or at most by merely restoring one or two words to their proper places, from which they had been transplanted 19 for no assignable cause or reason but that of the author's convenience; but if it be in rhyme, by the mere exchange of the final word of each line for some other of the same meaning, equally appropriate, dignified, and euphonic.
The answer or objection in the preface to the anticipated re19 As the ingenious gentleman under the influence of the Tragic Muse contrived to dislocate," I wish you a good morning, Sir! Thank you, Sir, and I wish you the same,” into two blank-verse heroics :
To you a morning good, good Sir! I wish.
You, Sir! I thank; to you the same wish I. In those parts of Mr. Wordsworth's works which I have thoroughly studied, I find fewer instances in which this would be practicable than I have met in many poems, where an approximation of prose has been sedulously and on system guarded against. Indeed, excepting the stanzas already quoted from THE SAILOR'S MOTHER, I can recollect but one instance: that is to say, a short passage of four or five lines in The BROTHERS,* that model of English pastoral, which I never yet read with unclouded eye. “ James, pointing to its summit, over which they had all purposed to return together, informed them that he would wait for them there. They parted, and his comrades passed that way some two hours after, but they did not find him at the appointed place, a circumstance of which they took no heed: but one of them, going by chance into the house, which at this time was James's house, learnt there, that nobody had seen him all that day.” The only change which has been made is in the position of the little word there in two instances, the position in the original being clearly such as is not adopted in ordinary conversation. The other words printed in italics were so marked because, though good and genuine English, they are not the phraseology of common conversation either in the word put in apposition, or in the connexion by the genitive pronoun Men in general would have said, “ but that was a circumstance they paid no attention to, or took no notice of;" and the language is, on the theory of the preface, justified only by the narrator's being the Vicar. Yet if any ear could suspect, that these sentences were ever printed as metre, on those very words alone could the suspicion have been grounded.
* (P. W., 1. s. C.
mark “that metre paves the way to other distinctions,"20 is contained in the following words.' “ The distinction of rhyme and metre is regular and uniform, and not, like that produced by (what is usually called) poetic diction, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices, upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case the reader is utterly at the mercy of the poet respecting what imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion.” But is this a poet, of whom a poet is speaking ? No surely! rather of a fool or madman: or at best of a vain or ignorant phantast! And might not brains so wild and so deficient make just the same havoc with rhymes and metres, as they are supposed to effect with modes and figures of speech? How is the reader at the mercy of such men ? If he continue to read their nonsense, is it not his own fault? The ultimate end of criticism is much more to establish the princi. ples of writing, than to furnish rules how to pass judgment on what has been written by others; if indeed it were possible that the two could be separated. But if it be asked, by what princi. ples the poet is to regulate his own style, if he do not adhere closely to the sort and order of words which he hears in the market, wake, high-road, or plough-field ? I reply ; by principles, the ignorance or neglect of which would convict him of being no poet, but a silly or presumptuous usurper of the name. By the principles of grammar, logic, psychology. In one word by such a knowledge of the facts, material and spiritual, that most appertain to his art, as, if it have been governed and applied by good sense, and rendered instinctive by habit, becomes the representative and reward of our past conscious reasonings, insights, and conclusions, and acquires the name of Taste. By what rule that does not leave the reader at the poet's mercy, and the poet at his own, is the latter to distinguish between the lan. guage suitable to suppressed, and the language, which is characteristic of indulged, anger ? Or between that of rage and that of jealousy? Is it obtained by wandering about in search of angry or jealous people in uncultivated society, in order to copy their words? Or not far rather by the power of imagination
20 (Preface, p. 316. S. C.]
21 [Ib., pp. 325-6. S. C.]
proceeding upon the all in each of human nature ? By meditation, rather than by observation ? And by the latter in consequence only of the former ? As eyes, for which the former has pre-determined their field of vision, and to which, as to its organ, it communicates a microscopic power ? There is not, I firmly believe, a man now living, who has, from his own inward experience, a clearer intuition, than Mr. Wordsworth himself, that the last mentioned are the true sources of genial discrimination.
Through the same process and by the same creative agency will the poet distinguish the degree and kind of the excitement produced by the very act of poetic composition. As intuitively will he know, what differences of style it at once inspires and justifies; what intermixture of conscious volition is natural to that state ; and in what instances such figures and colors of speech degenerate into mere creatures of an arbitrary purpose, cold technical artifices of ornament or connexion. For, even as truth is its own light and evidence, discovering at once itself and false. hood, so is it the prerogative of poetic genius to distinguish by parental instinct its proper offspring from the changelings, which the gnomes of vanity or the fairies of fashion may have laid in its cradle or called by its names. Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be poppwois, not toinois. The rules of the Imagination are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colors may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths. We find no difficulty in admitting as excellent, and the legitimate language of poetic fervor self-impassioned, Donne's apostrophe to the Sun in the second stanza of his PROGRESS OF THE SOUL.
“ Thee, eye of heaven! this great Soul envies not ;
By thy male force is all, we have, begot,